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.

After the storm

I am heartily sick of the rain and the storms: the hillsides perpetually oozing water and the tracks washing away on the slopes and forming into deep mudslides in the gullies; keeping up dry kindling and wood; feeding the horses in a damp Drizabone coat and dripping Akubra hat—which also has holes in the top; keeping up with where the elusive leak in my roof will manifest itself next in the house…

I bemoan the inaction on global warming that is causing such unseasonal climate chaos worldwide, but if I have to have almost daily storms, I hope to have more of such beauty afterwards. No matter how many rainbows one sees, they are never clichéd—despite Judy Garland.

mountain rainbow
Think I’ll have to write another book just so I can have this on the cover.

How brown is my valley

brown hunter
As I drove over a hill just outside Muswellbrook, I was treated to this panoramic view of the new hillscape. Highlit by the late sun, the man-made range was shown in its full brown beauty.

It isn’t brown because it’s Autumn: it’s that colour all year round, with shades of grey, depending on where the dumps have come from in that huge hole nearby that is the Bengalla coalmine.

The only change is that unlike real hills—the green sort—Hunter Valley hills keep getting bigger and more numerous. And this is despite constant loss as the winds carry the dust over the skies of the Valley—turning them brown too.

To quote from a recent industry expo supplement: ‘Open cut coal mining occupies much of the open space between Singleton and Muswellbrook.’

And they were boasting, not apologising.

Mountain morning

mountain mist
A wet season here means lots of mornings when the day hasn’t yet decided what it will do.

At 3000 feet, my place is inside the clouds as they hover between earth and sky, unable to rise above the nearby higher mountains of 5000 feet or more.

When they do begin to lift, the sun gets its chance in often spectacular ways. From the window over my kitchen sink, I get a great view of this brief beauty to the north-east.

Up my track and through the forest, the ordinary is illuminated by a lighting effects whizz.

Spotlit, backlit and highlit, alternating softening and scintillating lenses—trees and tussocks, bracken and bark, mud and puddles—all transformed.

What a start to the day—good morning, mountain!

Ephemeral jewels

jewel web
Sometimes Nature throws up a combination that takes my breath away with its beauty.

In the wet wet world of my mountain this year, water droplets are nothing special, yet one morning they got together with a complex and multi-level spider’s web to create a stunner.

Diamonds, pearls, and the finest silver wire, netted and looped and swagged between a stringybark tree and the elkhorn I have growing on another stringy close by.

Half an hour later and the jewels had evaporated. It was ‘just’ an admirable web.

Coincidentally, these tree trunks rise from the very spot chosen by the slime moulds of a few months ago.

Given that this is only a few metres uphill from my outdoor, door-less toilet, is it any wonder that I prefer not to have a door? Think what I’d miss!

Bush bash

Recently I held a party. My mountain often being inaccessible, I chose to have my do in the next best bush place I know: The Old Brush.
Surrounded by forested ridges, it’s a green valley floor with man-made lagoons, rainforest borders, shady seats and quirky statuary – like Woodhenge. Kangaroos graze and birds abound.

It’s a small paradise that the owners are generous enough to share with the bushwalking and picnicking public.
brush cabin
Robert BignellRobert and Gail Bignell are friends, originally met when I interviewed Robert for an Owner Builder magazine story about his charming handmade bush cabin.

A professional photographer, that day Robert snuck a picture of me which later became the author photo for my book.

It had rained for weeks and continued on the party day—until the marquee and tarps had been erected beside the guest cabin down by the dam.

Then the sun came out and stayed out till the stars took over. A slightly boggy good time was apparently had by all—I left them to it at 3am—and Robert made a DVD to remind me that although I officially turned 60 I had fun doing it.


These are some of his photos. More on The Old Brush web site.

Country Viewpoint

The ABC Radio National programme ‘Bush Telegraph’ has a segment called Country Viewpoint and they have been kind enough to let me have my say from time to time.

My next viewpoint is about the appallingly high levels of fine dust concentrated in the air of the NSW Upper Hunter Valley.

It’s called ‘Clean country air?’ and will be broadcast at 11:55am AEST on Monday 25th February, so tune in if you can.

Or you can listen later on streaming audio or download a podcast from the Bush Telegraph website.