The Old Brush magic

Recently I spent a few nights at the Old Brush reserve near Quorrobolong, in the Hunter Valley of NSW

It’s where I had my 60th birthday back in February, when it was so wet I didn’t get a chance to relax and appreciate its beauty.

Owner, professional photographer Robert Bignell, was to take the author photo for my next book, and I gladly accepted the invitation to stay longer and catch up with Robert and his wife Gail over dinner, outdoors of course in such a beautiful place.

The quaint little cabin where I stayed was Robert’s original owner-built home; called the Studio Hut, available for rent, it’s a delight.

Dawn birdsong and reflections on the still lagoon where a statue of Nefertiti reigns, a bush walk through palm forests, alongside busy creeks and giant mossy boulders, then an evening on the verandah by the outside fire, where a wallaby with joey on board visited, totally fearless.

Check out the charms of The Old Brush here.

Swallow quads

Finally it was evident that there were four baby swallows after all.

Their fluffy heads were showing above the nest most of the time: eyes still closed, white-lipped beaks shut tight until a parent appeared.

They look quite comical; I suspect because they resemble the old blackface makeup of the Al Jolson era.

Then they snap their beaks open and show the yellow-orange interior for a long period, blindly hoping food will be placed in there.

The adult’s beak is black-rimmed, so it will be interesting to see just when the colour changes.

As the parent opened its own beak, I saw that the inside of its mouth is also orange, which I hadn’t realised.

Still no sound from the babies, but the parents chatter a lot, so I guess they’re silently learning, taking it in as babies do.

Bringing up babies

My Welcome Swallows seemed to have finished nest-building and were spending time sitting on what I assumed were their eggs.

Last week I found half of a tiny white eggshell on the verandah, and I feared a furred or feathered predator had robbed the nest and eaten the contents.

Then I noticed the mother was making poking actions when she returned to the nest. Since she was no longer nestbuilding, I guessed she was feeding babies, but could see nothing.

Five days later the first baby’s head appeared above the mud rim. Well, not much head was visible beyond the pointed white beak edging a very large and constantly agape mouth, bright orange-yellow inside. I thought I could see a faint halo of grey fluff on top of the head.

An odd large feather, perhaps part of the nest lining, was sticking up confusingly, but I doubt it is attached to a baby.

Then I spotted two or perhaps three more little heads, crammed in on the far side of the nest, their pink naked throats upthrust, beaks closed. They didn’t appear to open their beaks as much as brother greedy on the right; perhaps he was first to hatch and therefore boss.

No sounds yet; no squeaking or squawking, just a silent perpetual demand.

Welcome Swallows

A pair of Welcome Swallows has turned up for the annual nesting adventure.  They took a few weeks to decide just where, but as usual, they have chosen poorly.

They’ve begun their mud dab nest on a rafter of my unlined verandah roof, up against the mud wall. It’s good adhesion, but bad positioning.

Far too close to the tin so it will be far too hot for the baby birds as the weather heats up. I’ll have to get up on the roof and weigh down a piece of plywood or something to give them some extra insulation.

The extensive verandah strings of fairy lights are providing them with circus type swings, from which they can more widely spatter their white and black droppings.

Sandals especially must now be checked first before allowing bare feet to make contact.

I do like these handsome little swallows and I look forward to the nestling stage, now that they didn’t choose to nest outside my bedroom window!

My redneck neighbours

The perimeter of my house yard fence is patrolled by small groups of Eastern rednecked wallabies. From my verandah I watch them nibble their way along the fence, stopping for a sunbake or a scratch, as this fellow is doing.

Older joeys like this one are still carried in the mother’s pouch, and still drinking from her, but when she leans down to graze, it has a munch as well. Free rides and free lunch!


These two Laughing Kookaburras decided to share my occasional bird feeder.

Not that they were interested in birdseed, but it made a good vantage point for wormwatching.

They weren’t into team diving, however, and they wouldn’t have shared the worm.

Probably siblings from one of the large kookaburra family tribes on my place, they’d be used to helping feed younger brothers or sisters, so maybe they were hunting to take back to the nest.

Remarkable women

Recently my publisher, Exisle, arranged a few joint talks at libraries, by myself and two other of their female authors. One talk was accompanied by supper, the other by a high morning tea. All very civilised.

They titled the talks, ‘True stories of remarkable women’. We were all as different as our stories.

Cheryl Koenig had written the very personal Paper Cranes, a journey of renewal and courage as she and her husband helped her son Jonathan recover from a serious car accident and brain damage.

Jane Mundy had told of her impulsive leap into adventure and romance as she travelled around Bolivia with a newly met potential partner. Cholas in Bowlers is funny and informative.

And me, well, I just spoke about my mountain life as usual.

Bush rat babies

For weeks I’d been trying to find and block every hole where a bush rat had been getting into my cabin.

It tunnelled anew under the rock and cement footings each night. It gnawed plastic, seeds, photo albums and – unforgivably – books.

It had to go. I borrowed a live trap big enough to take the critter I saw race along the same rafter each night.

The friend lent me two so I set them both, using apple spread with peanut butter as ‘bait’.

Next morning I had two mini bush rats – ‘it’ must have been a ‘she’.

Quite cute for rats, but nevertheless they were relocated.

The next day I caught Mum. I was heading to Sydney that day so she rode with me to the spot where the kids had been ejected.

So for the next few days in the city it was not only the dried mud on the Suzi but the rat cage in the back that gave us away as bushies.

Leafy treasure

leafy window
This small horizontal stained glass window was made years ago by a friend, Nigel, who was attending hobby classes. He proved very capable in the craft itself but not so on the design side.

I offered to do his designs if he made me a window to replace a cracked one on my western wall. I wanted to reduce the summer sun entry but still see out, hence the clear central oval.

This year, for the first time, the ornamental grape vine on my verandah had spread so vigorously along the side wall that it shaded my own viney window.

Now its autumn pinks and reds and latent greens are complementing and enhancing the leafy stained glass design in a double-take of twining colours and shapes. Unplanned and perfect.

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.

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.