Winter appetites

As the grass grows more slowly, the wallabies and roos are being driven to eat plants they don’t regularly fancy. 

This wallaby was being very intense about one of the rosemary bushes, which are all grotesquely pruned each winter to leggy topknots.


Several branches were held firmly together in his paws while he stripped them. Still holding these, he then stretched up to seize yet another with his mouth. ‘Greedy beast!’ I muttered through the window.


Hearing me, he dropped the branches and turned around with an expression of great innocence.

H-mm. I wonder if rosemary-fed wallaby would be a gourmet dish like rosemary-fed lamb?

Just kidding.

Summer Surprises

After so much rain, the early summer heat is encouraging growth and blossoming and inviting birds and bees to sample the offerings.
It doesn’t seem to bother the plants that this heat alternates erratically with chilly mornings and nights.

And of course these are all plants blessed by being despised by my munching macropods!


My most spectacular summer surprise is always the clump of Spider Lilies. From nothing they arch forth their broad straps of leaves and then their extravagantly designed flowers, trailing enticing scarves of white and extending shamelessly come-hither stamens.


A close second are the Lilliums, heading for the sky afresh each summer and making at least two metres before they trumpet their bunches of elegant bells.


Far less showy but making up for this lack in abundance is the Lilli-Pilli shrub, much loved by a world of insects. Who would miss Spring with such annual Summer surprises? It’s always incredible to me that these plants resurrect themselves, unaided and unreminded, every year.

Awesome, ancient Kaputar

Mt Kaputar National Park in north-west New South Wales is rugged, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. The mainly agricultural countryside here is very flat, so the Nandewar Range and its volcanic rock sentinels are distinctive — and old. It’s estimated that the volcanic activity that formed them was 17-21 million years ago.

At 1510 metres above sea level, Mt Kaputar itself has been calling to me for years as I drove along the Kamilaroi Highway to Narrabri or Moree for book talks.

I never had time to turn off for a few hours to answer that call.

But last week, in between protest actions against Santos CSG project in the Pilliga Forest,  I made time. My Gypsy camper and I wound our way up easily — caravans aren’t allowed — and spent two nights at the highest camping area, Dawsons Springs. I had to work, so only did a few walks one morning — but I’ll be back.

This is quite swish camping for $5 a night, with hot showers and flushing loos, but the site still feels high and wild, replete with browsing Eastern Grey kangaroos and many birds.



Snow gums and silvertop stringybarks arch over soft mounds of Poa tussock grass and many small flowering herbs. I can’t decide whether to look up or down!


There are an incredible number of fallen trees thoughout the forest, uprooted and broken. I can only imagine how strong the winds must blow at this height — and how fiercely this would all burn.


From open forest to strange rocky heaths, this place has a spine-tingling presence and great cultural significance to the Gomeroi people.  When I return, I hope to be guided by them, as elder Alf Priestley, whom I re-met at the Pilliga Ten Mile Dam camp, has offered to do.


As always, I am fascinated by the details of shape and colour, of natural artistry, from lichens to bark…


My pleasure was only spoiled by the reality check of what I saw from one lookout. In an echo of the Hunter, the overburden scar of the Boggabri mine near Leard Forest was clearly visible. How much bigger will this be if the nearby Maules Creek mine goes ahead?

Flower balm

After last weekend, my spirit was in sore need of healing. Especially as I’d spent, not just Saturday, but the past week in town standing on hard cement all day each day, offering hopeful one-liners and how-to-vote leaflets for The Greens at the pre-poll booth too.

So getting back to the Mountain was urgent.

And no, I’m not going to comment on the election results, except to say that it is imperative now that we all get more active regarding climate change if our grandchildren are not to inherit a nightmare world.


In the hot week away, Spring had forced many early flowerings: Jasmine, May, Wisteria, Pittosporum… scents and sights as balm for my soul.

The rock orchids above the outdoor loo were truly stunning — a frothing shower of white on one clump, while the other’s slight delay gave honeysuckle varied tones.

In the early morning light, as they caught the first sunlight, they were breathtaking.


Unfortunately the warm weather had also brought increased bushfire worries, as escaped hazard reduction burns linger uncontrolled in difficult country. 

The air was smoky anyway but on this morning it mingled with early rising mist and this newly blooming camellia glowed like a beacon before it. As with all my camellias, it is unattractively swathed in netting to keep the wallabies and roos from eating it. The camellias were all grown from cuttings from an old garden, so are especially precious.

Even a few days there helped restore my positivity before I had to go to Sydney to speak at the 350º Divestment Forum. Always a boost to see so many people passionate about acting to save our only planet.

Rocks and revival

I had to spend a week in the Toowoomba region lately, so I shared the time between two national parks. I wasn’t really sightseeing, as I had to work, but I prefer a bush setting for my solar powered camper/office. 

Crows Nest National Park is about 50 km up the New England Highway from Toowoomba. It’s high, and ‘rocky’ is an understatement.

Huge granite boulders are stacked and tossed about in the creek and the gorge, with uprooted tree trunks wedged amongst them from past raging floods.


The Bottlebrush Pool looked as blue as the brave kids who’d just hopped out when I arrived.


Apart from the occasional Weeping Bottlebrush in bloom, there were already quite a lot of shrubs or small trees in flower, many of which I didn’t know. Still don’t exactly, as the ranger’s promise of a flora species list didn’t eventuate.


There’d obviously been fires through some of the park, and it was heartening to see the struggling new growth at the base of shrubs and trees. There may be more rocks than topsoil here, but nature’s programmed revival is under way.


This magnificent grass tree in blossom was a stark lime green contrast to its surrounds.


The rocks are beautifully bedecked with lichen here, and in the unburnt park, away from the turmoil of the creek’s history and the falls of the cliffs, their shapes are more gently rounded. Gentle too, are the softly curving small trees that form a matted forest, a guard of honour for the sandy path. 

I found Crows Nest National Park to be one of contrasts, from the lookout over the Valley of Diamonds to the creekside picnic ground, and clearly a tough survivor.

Who needs roses?

The resident macropods have killed all my roses bushes by their perseverance in eating every shoot or bud that dares to peek through the sad grey wood of the remnants.

But they do not eat bulb leaves or flowers. I don’t know why, but I am very, very grateful, because each winter I am treated to displays like these.

The Erlicheer jonquils (above) come first, forming a perfumed bank below my now bare verandah vines. Their dense clusters are a little like roses;  I love the deep buttery depths of their cream petals.



The tall white jonquils of a simpler, more open design are less strongly scented, while the orange-hearted yellow ones are mainly there for colour and cheeriness — and because they keep coming back each year.


My childhood favourite was always the clumps of snowflakes, dainty white bells whose picot edges are decorated with just the right amount of green.


Before their flowering gives a lighter touch, there’s a different charm in the strong blades of the leaves as they jostle for space around the birch tree. I ought to be separating these clumps; people say they will flower more if I do, but when a clump like this comes out it is as bountiful as I can imagine.

Seeds of promise

The leaves have fallen from many of my garden trees and vines, so the seed pods are spectacularly visible. This White Cedar tree is a rare deciduous native, Melia Azedarach, often called Persian Lilac for its flowers, but also Bead Tree, for the now-obvious reason. They are indigenous to my region, amongst many others.


I have just pruned back the vines on my verandah, to reduce the build up of woody old growth (for bushfires), to promote new growth in spring, and to let in maximum winter sunlight. Before I did, I captured some of the masses of seed pods.

These are from the Chilean ‘jasmine’ (which it isn’t), Mandevilla laxa, whose scented white trumpet flowers produce hundreds of paired long skinny seed pods, now ‘popped’ apart and bursting with tiny feather-winged seed darts. They obligingly self-propagate.


These papery extra-terrestrials clawing skywards are from my very tall white lilliums.


The fat velvety brown pendulums of the White Wisteria do the opposite, hanging heavy, pointing to the soil where they want to land and grow. But these I will collect and attempt to aid the process in my glasshouse. The flowers are so ethereal I want more.

Visiting the lilypads

I haven’t been down close to my small dam, my waterlily world, for months, mainly because I usually come across a red-bellied black snake there.

I’d only looked from a distance, as when the White-necked Heron came.

Today I took the camera and went there on purpose, to see how the lilies were growing and what was gadding about amongst them.

To my surprise the Heron was there! Does he visit far more often than I notice, or is this just coincidence?


With several harsh croaks he flew up into a nearby tree and assumed an aloof pose until I should leave, which he’d have to notice out of the corner of his eye, as he wasn’t deigning to be seen watching me.


But it’s no wonder he visits, quite apart from the aquatic tucker, as the little dam looks very pretty.

The two pots of waterlilies (one pink/white, one lemon/white were planted in separate spots. They are thriving, the pink spreading further than the lemon and indeed, jostling for space at its claimed end.


As always, I see lots of tiny wildlife on and around the waterlilies; the more I look, the more I see: spiders, dragonflies, beetles, grasshoppers. I see no frogs or tortoises but I know they’re here.

Back on the mountain

After almost a month away, I half-expected the critters to have taken over the last bit left to me, the cabin.

They hadn’t, really — just the usual antechinus invasion, persistent but not escalated.

The verandah wasn’t so lucky. The spiders had tied the cane chair to my dad’s coffee table, with a densely woven zig-zag mesh. No room for even a skeleton to fit their legs in between table and chair.

The possum had knocked the pot of the flourishing red Wandering Jew-type plant right off the railing to crash and empty on the ground below.  One of its trailing arms hung like a decoration, caught in the climbing rose.

The destruction is particularly aggravating as this was one of the few plants that the possum doesn’t eat.

But down on the ground most of the bulbs had bloomed while I was away. Snowdrops and yellow jonquils in their large naturalised clumps had joined the Erlicheer jonquils that were, as always, first out.

The tuberoses, strongest smelling and longest lasting when cut, were flashing their incongruous pink (left) amongst all the white and yellow and green.

Up in Queensland, it had been spring, with fruit trees in blossom and deciduous trees in bright green bud. Here we are usually about six weeks behind.

Fearing I had missed the brief bridal show in my orchard, I am relieved.

The change of seasons is still an anticipated pleasure!

However, as this is my particular Eden, the warmer weather also brings out the snake in the grass — or the snowdrops!

Cloud blossoms

When I wake up to a white world it’s not usually because it has snowed — although that has happened — but because a cloud has decided to descend and join me, poor earthbound being that I am.

At such times the only bright colour is in close things, seen sans veil of finest white muslin.

My thinner north-east verandah sunshade is the Mandevilla Laxa vine, currently unfurling its pure white bells and perfuming my the air around my cabin.

Since the wallabies eat the lower parts of most ground-based vines, they have to survive to taller-than-wallaby height before they can burst into full production and show me once more why I’d planted them.

This year, given how tasty the self-seeding but fragile old-variety sweet peas would be when they popped their heads out of the ground, I broke my rule of ‘survival of the fittest’ and planted some in the pots on the wallaby-proof (so far) verandah.

With that extra metre or so leg-up they have climbed up the Mandevilla and hit the roof, adding their unmistakable scent and their candy pink colours to my cloud-white day.

Lofty Lilliums

Each summer these powerful plants re-shoot, sending up thick stems metres into the air in a race to the roof with the Glory Vine. I do have to tie them to the verandah railings before they become top heavy, as dozens of burgundy pods explode into these elegant blooms.

Beautiful as they are in cream and pink and yellow, they all used to be pure white, which only one plant now produces.

To see them I have to go outside and walk below to look up into their dripping throats — in between keeping an eye out for leeches looping their way up the side of my gumboots.

There is only one small ‘window’ in the verandah’s summer greenery where I can poke the camera through and see over the tops of the Lilliums, but perhaps the best view is from underneath anyway — despite the leeches.

Close encounters

I have now completed a lattice gate to prevent the wallabies from coming onto the verandah and eating the plants from there.

A few do still come up the steps and nibble what they can reach from there, so the summer vine cover is not as advanced as it should be.


This one couldn’t be bothered climbing the steps, but for several hours the other warm day, while the shade lasted, lay right at the foot of the steps. As it happened to be a washing day, I went up and down the steps and past the lolling lass quite a few times. My stepping over her tail occasioned no more than a flick of an ear.

So far none of them have jumped over the gate, so I am enjoying my beautiful Crepuscule climbing rose, blooming in profusion along my verandah ‘windows’ once more, munched bare though it is from below.