Upping the Suzi

old suzi
My little 1991 Suzuki Sierra and I — or `Suzi’ as readers of my book know her — have been together for five years. We’ve had many adventures during which she’s been a reliable mate.

I liked her basic utilitarian style, her individuality and can-do attitude no matter how muddy the track — but I needed to do more highway kilometres than she is comfortable for.

So reluctantly I gave her the spring-clean of her life and put her up for sale. The first to see bought: he’d been regretting selling his last Suzi a few years ago.

I know he’ll give her a good home, and I’ll miss her.

I do have a replacement, a 1999 Suzuki Jimny, very comfy and, best of all, red. She’s too smart for me by half, though I can get used to that.

new suzi

BUT she has carpet on the floor, which is bad for my muddy lifestyle, and electric windows, which I have always hated.

I am already fond of her, to the extent of buying car polish!

She came from a three-times Suzi owner, with his special SUZI-lover plates.

I’ll bet he’ll miss her too. Suzis are like that. Beetle owners know what I mean.

Bathful of tadpoles

The only bathtub around here is outdoors, cold water only — the toothpaste green bathtub that serves as the horse trough. One day in late summer, after rain had caused it to overflow, I noticed it was full of tiny brown tadpoles.

The water level is usually well below the rim, but some misguided frog must have taken it for a pond in its brief overabundance, and made a deposit for the future.

I don’t know what these little fellows were eating but the layer of poo in the bottom grew larger and so did the tadpoles. I couldn’t empty it out to clean as I normally would because that would have been frogicide.

tadpoles in bath

One day I tore a piece of mountain flat bread (lavash bread) into scraps, and let them flutter down into the tub like a discarded love letter.

At first they didn’t approach these strange pale papery objects that floated above them. Perhaps when these soften and disintegrate, I thought, they’ll get the idea that this is food, even if unlike anything ever seen in their tubby universe.

Then one of the smallest nosed up to a scrap and began nibbling. Just like with humans, it’s the kids who are game to try new things, who work out how to deal with new technology.

tadpoles eating

By the time I got back with my camera, the bigger ones had caught on and in twos and threes were swimming about pushing a piece of flat bread in front of them. Some were underneath, wearing the scrap like a hat, while smarter ones wedged it against the tub side to attack it.

But some still weren’t convinced. Luddites, I figured.

After the rain

sun and rain 1
After a week of non-stop rain, I awoke with a start. Something was wrong, different, out-of-the-ordinary. And then it hit me – silence. No rain on my tin roof.

What’s more, I could see beyond the first belt of trees. And soon after, I saw the sun, returning in a most spectacular fashion. Ta-dah!!!

Filtered through mist, yet everything sparkled with gratitude, trees and grass, fences and spiderwebs — and me, looking out my kitchen window at it all.
sun and rain 2

The art of camouflage

We’ve learnt all we know about camouflage from Nature. It would be impossible to beat the intricate deceptive details that have been
incorporated into the design of this large stick insect.

It was easy to spot on the back of the truck where for some reason it had landed. Not good camouflage for metal and grease. Once carefully relocated with a real stick to a young birch tree, silhouetted, it was easy to miss.

stick insect 1

Closer inspection showed tiny bumps, as if a twig had snapped off there, and shades and patterns of bark-like colour.

It used to be lumped in with grasshoppers and crickets and cockroaches, but now has its own order, Phasmida.

Apparently these ‘Walking Sticks’ are now popular pets: interesting, quiet, vegetarians – but awfully fragile.

I could see its folded wings, but I’ve never seen one fly. Has anyone out there?

stick insect 2

Snoopy skink

snoopy skink
This very sleek and speedy lizard is a frequent visitor to my verandah. At about 180mm (7 inches) long, much bigger than the most common garden variety, he’s probably a Southern Water Skink, but could be an Eastern one. Regardless of his exact title, I know he’s an inquisitive skink.

Often when I’m at the computer I catch sight of him snooping round the corner of the open door, then scurrying in and off across the timber floor, usually disappearing behind my wood ‘box’(actually the liner of an old copper) near the fuel stove.

Occasionally I worry about him being trapped inside when I close the door at night, but I suspect he’s also a clever skink and knows when to make his exit. I just don’t see it.

Seed Savers bush conference

This year the Seed Savers’ Network held their conference in rural Gulgong, near Mudgee, a world apart from Byron Bay, where Seed Savers is based.

Gulgong, the town on the $10 note, is quaint, and so was the event. Set in and around the tin sheds of the Gulgong Showground generously catered for by the ladies and gentlemen of the Gulgong Show Society, the pace was relaxed.

That didn’t prevent many stimulating topics, like genetically modified foods or climate change farming, and ideas thereon, from sparking up the delegates. Seed Savers do a great job on many levels — have a look at their website.

mike pridmore
The local Seed Savers branch organised it so some speakers were local, like Mike and Sue Pridmore, who collect and sell native tree seeds.

sue pridmore
Sue also makes beautiful baskets from just about anything that once grew. As Mike is also an ex-potter and renowned mud home builder, you could say they are truly in touch with the earth.

But the unique part of this conference was the Saturday night entertainment, when the Mayor, and then his old mate in the cowboy hat, recited or sang their own and other’s ditties — unaccompanied. Henry Lawson would have been impressed.

Natural art

bark sculpture
In the Giant Snow Gum Walk in Coolah Tops National Park, I saw this strange suspended sculpture ahead. A cocoon?

Pink one side, elephant grey on the other, it proved to be a strip of intensely wrinkled bark. I could see the mould that made it on the tree trunk above.

Artlessly natural, as we say, or naturally arty?
bark scar

Giant snow gums

The Giant Snow Gums Walk in Coolah Tops National Park took me into a world totally new to me.

Here Eucalyptus pauciflora grow tall and straight, not low and blizzard-racked like the sort of snow gum I had in mind, as in the Snowy Mountains.

This open forest has a lower storey of a strange wattle, slender dark trunks bearing no lower branches beneath their oriental umbrellas of bluish-green.

To me their fluid shapes have a rather sinister frozen-in-action look. And are they whispering to each other up there as they lean towards each other?

Or are they receiving instructions to let me pass or not? Perhaps from the gargoyle mouth on the mighty snow gum just ahead?

Tops that rock

hunter dustEarly in March I went to the Coolah Tops National Park for the first time. Averaging 1100 metres, they offer what would be stunning views over the Liverpool and Breeza Plains—if the Hunter coalmines’ dust haze hadn’t got that far. But I’d actually come for the Coolah Tops Jazz Festival.

coolah screerocksbandBefore the music began I did note that each ridge top was of loose basalt rocks, that screes on mountainsides were common, and that certain freestanding rocks were glaring rather balefully at the tourists snapping them.

Then the Bogalusa Strutters started strutting about, making music on the move and being cheeky. We left the rocks alone.

As the afternoon progressed towards evening, the Eskies and folding camp chairs multiplied, coats and beanies replaced the sunhats, and artists like the George Washingmachine Band and Julie O’Hara took to this stage at the edge of the world.

In between we had displays of Australian wildlife such as writhing but friendly pythons, a closely held crocodile and even an amiable Joanna Goanna.

NPWS guides led short bushwalks nearby for those who wanted to stretch their legs or slow down on the Shiraz.

It was a fun country sort of day in a great setting, where most people camped overnight nearby, after dancing in the dark on a dance ‘floor’ the size of a football field. Bit like picnic races I imagine.dancefloor

Marsupial resort

lone kangarooApart from the many Eastern red-necked wallabies, I share my place with small groups of other hoppy marsupials.

Only a few wallaroos come by, usually a small family trio, but this male has been hanging about the little dam on his own lately.

I wonder if he’s grown up and been asked to move out? As you can see, he doesn’t seem at all bothered by me and in fact lay down and went to sleep while I was there.

So I think he must have been raised around here to be so used to me and my behaviour.

Unmistakable with his long shaggy fur and broader features, he is not as dark all over as the males usually are, while the females are pale grey. It will be interesting to see if he changes.
kangaroos sunning
Later, after the sun had come out, I spotted a family of kangaroos sunbathing and snoozing at the same spot on the grassy bank.

Clearly a popular resort: for the food and drink, the water views and the entertainment of watching me go about my strange business in the house yard just up the hill.