Blue move

A few months ago, some necessary clearing of shrub weeds like lantana was undertaken along the fence line. A few weeks ago, the burning of the large pile of rubbish from that clearing was finally possible.

What it revealed was a Satin Bower-bird’s ‘bower’ — the grass U-shaped ‘avenue’ surrounded by a mat of grass and decorative items in shades of blue, from pegs to bottle tops to flowers.

blue-2

I see and hear the females often here, but this last week I have seen the glossy violet-black male as he has patiently relocated his bower.

blue-3

First he flattened the avenue of grass and then, one by blue one, he has picked up the decorations in his beak and flown off.

There is barely a flash of blue left.

I have not yet found where the new bower is located, but when I do, I’ll be sure to leave it well protected by shrubbery — even if it’s lantana.

Co-existence with coal?

Hadyn Wilson is a friend of mine from the Hunter Valley — south of the coal wasteland, but he’s deeply aware of it. He is also a fabulous painter, a deep thinker and a sincere environmentalist. 

Recently I saw an exhibition of his work at the Frances Keevil Gallery in Double Bay, Sydney. Hadyn describes this exhibition, entitled ‘Incidental Landscapes’, as representing “a particular approach to ‘landscape’ which looks at the way this genre has changed and the cultural shifts that have occurred, particularly in relation to concepts of nature and land use within Australia.

 “The paintings therefore sometimes borrow imagery from that tradition and comment playfully on the way these references have perhaps changed in their reception over a century or more and particularly in relation to environmental considerations today.”

The painting above is called ‘Hunter Valley Landscape’. At 200 x 150 cm, it’s a big work, but then this is a big topic.

Knowing how the once-rural landscape between Singleton and Muswellbrook has been drastically changed for the worse by runaway coal mining, I find this work tragically moving, because so true and yet also highly symbolic.

I reckon this painting ought to be owned and publicly and permanently exhibited by a Hunter regional gallery, like the Newcastle or the Muswellbrook galleries.

 Perhaps the state authorities who have allowed this destruction should buy it as a token of their abject apologies to us and future generations – who may actually need farmland more than coal – for the harm they have done. 

And not only in the Hunter. Look at what is being proposed on the Liverpool Plains.
Even if the mines don’t wreck the precious water sources, the coal and overburden dust will contaminate the crops nearby. Would our customers like their wheat leaded or unleaded?

There’s a great video of Hadyn on the exhibition’s website, a precursor for a film. (link)

I sometimes call myself a literary activist, modelling on the amazing Arundhati Roy. I write books to spread the word.

At Bimblebox Nature Refuge (link) they hold artists’ camps with participants from multiple disciplines, with ensuing illuminating exhibitions. 

Here’s an extract from Hadyn’s essay on the role of artists in activism:

“Artists have throughout history stood with others against those who would destroy the natural and aesthetic realms to appease the gods of progress.”…

“At a time when this country is making decisions which will effect generations long after we have gone, what role can the artist play and how can that role effect any sort of broader cultural shift towards considering more seriously, our environment, our landscape and our future?.

“Charles Dickens, a man who lived through the industrial revolution and witnessed the excesses of that period, famously said “self preservation is the first law of Nature”. The measure of what we do next will be determined to a large extent by our ability to creatively respond to the incontestable reality that our environment, our landscape is what we are. If we look after that, then Dickens first law of nature will be taken care of.” 

See more here.

wilson-2

No painting, but tragic realism nevertheless. This my photo of cattle co-existing with coal, somewhere near Clermont in Queensland. Apart from the cattle grazing on coal-contaminated grass, look at the trees dying in the background. That’s from the longwall mine strip underneath.

Dead trees, poisoned grass — happy cows — and happy consumers?

New kids on the block

I have reluctantly become a grazier.

These two Friesian dairy steer calves are now our permanent resident lawnmowers, and company for Clancy the horse.

This block is cursed with setaria grass, introduced for cattle, but harmful for horses. That’s it towering over them on the right.

It depletes horses’ calcium, so Clancy needs supplementary calcium, even though he doesn’t prefer the setaria over the kikuyu and couch grasses.

It seemed ridiculously unsustainable to keep paying to have the paddock slashed.

Hence the live solution of pet cows. Handreared, they are gradually getting used to me as I feed them their calf pellets.

My granddaughters have named them Salt and Pepper, given their colourings.

As their owner quipped when he delivered them: ‘At least you’ve saved them from being salted and peppered!’

For they’d have ended up as someone’s weiner schnitzel.

Male dairy calves aren’t good for anything else…

As a vegetarian, I would not have used beef breeds, despite all the advice as to how many quid I could make.

calves-2

Pepper has the prettiest heart-shaped blaze. Salty is the pushiest, which is no doubt why he’s bigger. 

Today they let me stroke them, for the first time since they came a week ago. Very cute!

Ladder snake

I have seen a tree snake trying to climb a water tank here. I suspect this is the same slender Green Tree Snake, made smarter by that experience.

Now it uses the ladder.

laddersnake-2

My book says that this snake will inflate the fore part of its body when threatened; I’m not sure if it was me or the ladder that it considered threatening but it was clearly fatter at the front.

laddersnake-3

Just look at the way it manages to hang on to the ladder while investigating the old guttering leaning against the wall beside it. As unwelcoming a climbing surface as the water tank was…

My book also said that this snake can be can be grey, green, blue, brown, black or yellow, so I’m only assuming I’ve identified this one correctly.

laddersnake-4

The skin between the scales is apparently most revealed when the snake inflates – blue – but this one seems dotted with blue…?

Horse Houdini

The other Saturday night Nature gave us what used to be known as ‘a dump’: 150mm of rain in one storm.

The sight that greeted me in the morning showed we’d had a lot of rain even before I checked the rain gauge, which overflows after 150mm, so we may have had more.

The little creek had come up and over the flats, and on its way had cleaned out the brush to the extent of depositing logs and branches and greenery all along the fences, enough to render the fence horizontal in several places.

houdini-2

I could see that the flood had risen higher before dropping, as the long grass on the whole creek flat had been levelled and raked — stangely, in rows — by the force.

The horse paddock had lost its bottom corner, but that was still under water; surely no horse would walk through a flood and over a four-wire-laid-down fence?

houdini-3

Just in case,I checked; sensible Clancy was standing up near the stable on drier land. What a relief!

Ten minutes later I had a phone call asking if I’d lost a horse.

One answering to Clancy’s description had been sighted well down the road, munching by the roadside and chatting over a neighbour’s fence to their horse.

A rescue and recovery operation went into place with help from neighbours and Clancy spent the morning in a set of cattle yards until his owner, my daughter, could get here. Then, for his boldness, he spent the afternoon in the stable until she and her husband could re-erect the electric fence on slightly higher ground.

He had indeed done the unlikely, and a large tree trunk had lifted the bottom external gate off its hinge peg, so he saw Freedom.

Talk about seizing an opportunity.

I felt like he’d just waited for me to check – to call the roll – and then off he’d gone.

houdini-4

The water has receded; the creek has been redesigned and redirected along much of its length. The sheets of galvanised iron that used to hang from the wire where the fence crossed the creek were lying in my paddock; we’ve just propped them up so the farmer can see to re-connect them.

The rationale for their visual blot on my view had been that they would float and not be broken by logs like wire would, hence allowing the cattle in…

An extra electric-fenced paddock below the house has now been created for Clancy, so he should be too busy eating to think of indulging his wanderlust. Or his Houdini talents.

But I keep checking — just in case.

Of birds… and an elephant

I’m not allowed on my front verandah at present. Two sets of protective parents say so.

The Welcome Swallows have hatched a second set of babies in the original nest. I have spotted three sets of panting baby beaks so far.

Perhaps being second time parents on my verandah in one season has made them more relaxed around me.

chicks-2

But the Willy Wagtails frantically circle and flit above me, chittering incessantly, even when I keep my distance or stand inside at my bedroom window to watch the babies. I wish they’d accept my assurances and spend more time feeding and watering the babies.

So I don’t go as close to take the photo as the Swallows permit.

I am feeling anxious myself for all the nestlings as the days heat up; 38 degrees on that verandah yesterday, and their parents have built the nests right up under the tin roof, which is lined but not insulated.

iucn

Conversely, I have just spent a week in icy airconditioning. I’ve been in way-too-crowded Sydney with four bush and bird loving ladies: L to R, Sheena Gillman, Patricia Julien, me, Paola Cassoni and Lee Curtis. We were on the Bimblebox/Protect the Bush Alliance stand at the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) World Parks Congress.

This Congress has been 10 years in the planning. People have whispered to us that the IUCN would never have chosen Australia as the venue for this Congress had they known what our government would be like in 2014: anti-environment and anti-action on climate change. And stupidly pro-coal. There are about 2000 people here but apparently others had opted out in disgust. Everyone knew about the Reef. 

People were actually commiserating with us for having such an embarrassingly regressive prime minister. I offered to swap him several times but there were no takers.

For my part, I have been apologising to all for our coal fuelling their climate chaos pain. 

Unfortunately the IUCN did not acknowledge the current and threatened impacts from coal to our ‘protected’ places like the Reef and Bimblebox. We know Bimblebox is home to 154 bird species… and counting. Worth far more than a coal mine for Clive Palmer.

As the only stand that mentioned mining, we did our best to arouse the very large elephant in the Dome. We made sure overseas delegates knew that our governments put Coal before Conservation every time.

Greg Hunt gave a backpatting closing ceremony talk that made me want to throw up. Conservation starts at home, Mr Hunt.

Later a young Indigenous man dared to let the elephant roar in his speech: extractive industries must not be allowed to harm the Reef any further, any longer.

Nature wins

The Nature Conservation Council of NSW (NCC) recently held its annual conference. This growing umbrella association is the key voice for nature in NSW, and now has over 120 member groups and about 60,000 supporters, including individuals like myself.

One of the things they do at the conference is announce and give out awards to groups and individuals for their work for the natural world.

See all the awards on the About page of the NCC website.

I was overwhelmed to receive the 2014 Dunphy Award for ‘the most outstanding environmental effort of an individual’. The Greens leader Christine Milne presented it, seen above with NCC Chair Don White.

Many of you will know the name ‘Dunphy’, as Milo and Myles Dunphy worked tirelessly to protect our natural environment in many ways, not least to secure our national parks.

I am honoured to have my name even distantly assocated with theirs.

award-2

The Nature Conservation Council has been in operation for over 50 years. Its current CEO is Kate Smolski, whose enthusiasm and optimism gives us all hope in the many prolonged battles in which NCC members are involved.

award-3

Other awards were given (some seen above), and I was especially pleased to see that the Lithgow Environment Group received the Member Group Award and that Frontline Action on Coal shared the Community Action Award.

Congratulations to both these inspiring and persevering groups, with whom I have personal connection and experience of their work.

ncc-logo

Our place

I was used to sharing my old home with the wildlife. Here I am discovering that I mainly share with birds.

First there were the swallows nesting on the verandah.

Their babies left the nest soon after I came here but the whole family comes back to roost near it … and of course to decorate the decking below as well as verandah rafters.

The most noticeable bird here is the Willy Wagtail; a noisy exhibitionist who delights me with sashaying and twirling that seems irrepressible.

They flit everywhere, from rail to gutter, pecking the magpies on the head if they dare to walk across the grass in front of the verandah.

ourplace-2

Then I noticed a fresh patch of ‘decoration’ further along the verandah. No wonder they are so territorial; they are making a nest up there.

ourplace-3

There seem to be a few Willy Wagtails but no one bird is still for long. Then I was given a treat: the sight of a pair sitting together for at least two minutes!

The prospective parents?

I am happy sharing with little nesting birds instead of little marsupials who want to move inside closer than the verandah.  Willy Wagtails and Blue Wrens and certain honeyeaters are beautifully numerous, but so far no rosellas or other parrots.

Yet from afar I have seen waterbirds down in the creek: too far to properly identify, but I think a pair of Black Ducks, and some sort of long-legged wader, a heron? And I was surprised to catch a glimpse of lavish purply blue as a large-ish bird scuttled up into the shrubbery behind the house tank: a Swamp Hen!

I can’t wait to see what waterbirds come for longer stays when I have my billabong put in.

Morning treats

I am waking up around 5.30 a.m. here, and I am realising that, just as on my other mountain, I will be rewarded with ephemeral treats like this one when I do so.

There is so much to do that I don’t even want to stay in bed!

This house is built on a cut-and-fill site – much like where I was – but it’s quite a steep drop off the level strip in front of the house. By the time the sun was hitting the site, I’d breakfasted and unpacked three boxes of books.

Then I saw, through the rather grubby sliding glass doors, a pair of ears visible above the level of the bank.

morning-t-2-480

A young male, I think, and the same Eastern Redneck Wallaby variety that I am used to.

I said ‘Hello, you! Are you on your own? Welcome!! No harm here, mate; no dogs!’

He looked unimpressed, and took off across the slope. I saw him join a mate over on my boundary treeline.

I am overjoyed; there is wildlife here of the hoppy native sort, when I’d been half expecting rabbits.

Cleaning up

As the cloud lifted and daylight tried to become sunlight, the kookaburras watched for emerging worms and the wallabies were out drying off. 

These two mums were close to the cabin.

The nearest had an inquisitive joey, lightly furred over its pink skin. Head out, but wisely not interested in venturing from the warm pouch.

cleanup-2

Mum had work to do, cleaning up after the muddy days and dealing with the fleas and ticks. Her joey just had to duck the odd angles that put her in.

First the tail, laid out in front, thoroughly scratched and the fur sifted.

cleanup-3

Then between the toes, licked and nibbled. This sent the joey back inside for a moment.

cleanup-4

Then the ears, which doubled mum up even more.

cleanup-5

It was all so exhausting that Mum decided it was time for a nap. She flopped sideways and almost at soon as she hit the ground bub disappeared to sleep in the soft silky pink world of her pouch. What a life!

World’s edge

Some mornings when we have been inside a cloud, as it rises it leaves us lightly damp and not yet sunlit, but the valleys below me are bright.

I imagine the wallaby inhabitants down there looking up to see the cloud cap lifting off my mountain.

I can also imagine that my tree-rimmed clearing is perched on the edge of the world.

And it often does feel like our own remote world, just me and the wallabies and the roos and the teeming other creatures that share this refuge with us.

edge-w-2

The kangaroos are the big bosses here, especially the males. I take care not to approach or look too interested in roo families, for fear the blokes will feel obliged to flex those impressive shoulder muscles to prove who’s tops.

Amongst the feeding wallabies this male is alone, which is usual, but as I posted a few weeks ago, one family is feeding together frequently. In the damp preceding day I had seen them again, a bedraggled but still tight nuclear trio.

edge-w-3

One day…

In any given day here I can be offered small moments of splendour or surprise.

One day last week I had three.

It began with a shining morning, where the low early sun set the leaves on trees and shrubs and even the bracken ferns to sparkle and dazzle. A solitary wallaby sat amongst the tussocks, backlit and bright-edged.

 Later in the morning a rare family group of kangaroos grazed amongst the spent jonquil bulb leaves. 

Usually I see the mum and joey together and the male separate, or else only following close to them when he thinks she might be on heat. 

There’s  been quite a bit of that going on lately, leading to a few barneys between old and young competing males.

But this trio stayed together for ages: the family that feeds together…?

And then, when the sun had set in the west and my forest had passed into darkness, this high bank of northern clouds took fire. Turner, eat your heart out!