Tree pods

I’ve been on the road a bit lately, researching for a book.  It means I get to use my cute little tent, camping in new places. I do like the freedom of being able to stop as and where I like — affordably.

My first night was spent at Coolah, where for $7 I got a great camp site, access to a campers’ kitchen and clean amenities with hot showers. Plus the shade of a beautiful spreading tree, which was very welcome as I sweated and struggled to erect the tent in the late afternoon.

Camp set up, glass of wine in hand, I began to look more closely at my surroundings.

There were willows by the creek, and cows — and a bull — in the adjacent paddock, separated from me by a single wire that I assumed was electrified.

I don’t have much knowledge of introduced trees, and was wondering if the beauty under which I sat was an elm, when I noticed some seed pods suspended within reach. Might be nice to grow a tree like this at home!

They seemed to be the only ones on the tree; luckily I refrained from picking one long enough to realise they were not seeds. Like Indian clubs, these smooth creations were hanging from a criss-cross of spider webs.  I could just see the spider’s legs protruding from its dry leaf shelter (circled).

Once home, my I.D. attempts tell me this is a Bolas spider. The egg sacs are described as being like spindles, but the photos show them to be as rounded as these. Given that the egg sacs were about 50mm long, I was surprised to read that the spider is small — the female is 12mm and the male 2mm!

If you want to identify that spider, the Findaspider website is the place to visit.

Heading up the Hunter

Scone-LibraryIn a few weeks I’ll be heading up the Hunter Valley, past all the horrible coal mines of the two shires south of Upper Hunter Shire to Scone, seat of local government and Horse Capital of Australia.

(That’s Scone with a long ‘o’ as in ‘bone’, not Scon(e) with a a short ‘o’ as in ‘box’, served with jam and cream in Devonshire teas.)

For the first time I’ll be speaking at Scone Library, about my book, Mountain Tails — in association with a terrific local bookshop, Hunt-a-books.

It’s an evening talk and I hope to meet folk from my email environmental info lists there, as well as friends and readers.

See you at Erina

erina-50In early October I’m returning to my rural roots, so to speak, and heading back to Erina on the NSW Central Coast hinterland, where I grew up on a small farm.

This is me aged 11 with my younger sisters one dewy morning in our orange orchard in 1959.

Erina is more a commuter suburb of Sydney these days, and the orchards have given way to lifestyle blocks and fancy houses. But it’s still recognisable, and the privet lining the roadsides still smells the same.

I’ll be talking about my book, Mountain Tails, at the Erina Library in the mighty Erina Fair Shopping Centre. In my day a super-modern drive-in (or so it was at the time) had made history, replacing the original orchard and chook farm with a popcorn-and-pluto-pup-scented occasion of sin.

The talk is at 3.30pm on Wednesday 7th October. They will be offering light refreshments as well as my scintillating speech and readings.

Bookings are required (02 4365 6725) — but the event is free. 

Me and Mountain Tails at Tamworth

Soon I’ll be heading up the hills to Country Music Capital, Tamworth, to speak about my book, Mountain Tails, at Tamworth Library. The talk will be at 11 am on Wednesday 23rd September; Tamworth’s modern library is at 466 Peel St, (02) 6767 5640.

And no, I won’t be singing, although I’ll probably have Lucinda Williams on the CD as I hit town on Tuesday night.

garden-ausSpotted a nice little review in ABC Gardening Australia magazine, August 2009 issue, by Denis Crawford:

This delightful novel gives a lively and personal account of the animals that share the author’s wildlife refuge. The book is clearly written and is illustrated with the author’s own whimsical drawings.

Read about romping joeys, quolls in the kitchen and marsupial mice in the bedding pile. It would be enjoyed by anyone with even a passing interest in the natural world and is the sort of book to while away a winter afternoon.

Wattle takeover


Winter gold flourishes in the Wollombi Valley as I drive through on a dull day. Wattle, acacia, mimosa — our national flowering tree has many names and many species.

Not all have blooms as richly yellow as these soft powderpuff clusters, but most are hardy and quick-growing, if short-lived.


Where land has been disturbed they colonise thickly. I pass what seems to be a plantation of wattles on a flat creekside paddock, fenced and tidily contained in rows.

Then I see it is actually a takeover of what was once some city hobby farmer’s dream vineyard. It is small, not commercial — would have produced just a few dozen bottles to share with friends, to show off his own label.

The grapevines are still there, but the wattles have shot way past them and have claimed it for their own, re-labelled it Wattle Flat.

I am a little sad, wondering what happened to the dream.


Mid-western culture, Mudgee style

Recently I spoke at Mudgee Library for the first time. Somehow I missed it for my first book, but It will definitely be on my list for any future ones. This Mid-western Council library is situated in a charming old shopfront building in the heart of Mudgee, which is itself full of lovely heritage buildings.

It is well supported by the Friends of the Library who organised the supper after my talk, patronised by the local booklovers who came to hear me, and most admirably run by Eilagh Rurenga (below).


Eilagh gave me a most thoughtful and original introduction, and had thought of everything for the evening — including alerting me to possible loud thuds from books landing in the after-hours chute box behind my lectern.


I took the opportunity to warn Mudgee folk of the spreading coal frenzy just to the north of them, not wanting this picturesque district to go the way of the Hunter — but I fear they can’t imagine the devastating effects of so many current mine approvals, let alone proposals and sneaky land buyups in advance of more. 

Mudgee has everything going for it, but they will lose it unless the community sees that the threat from unbridled coalmining is not just an issue for greenies: it’s a matter of local survival. Coal is not the smart way to create jobs — just the dirty way.

Photographer Brett Maguire took the pictures on the night; these are just a few. I was impressed with how few double chins he caught — thanks, Brett. He’s obviously a man who knows what women of a certain age want.

mudgee-3Brett and his wife Aimee are newcomers to Mudgee, seeking a quieter lifestyle, which  Mudgee still offers, along with a wealth of cultural, commercial and culinary facilities, not to mention being surrounded by wineries.

Julie from local bookshop Books in Mudgee provided books for sale and, as always, I had some great chats with people like Norman Leonard (left) while I signed their copies.

Brett Maguire, BRAW Photography: 0422 278 234.

The Woman in the Warrumbungles

warrumbungles-1I was able to sneak a few days after recent book talk commitments out west to meet two cousins who were going camping in the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran, New South Wales,

It was the perfect time to try out my new tent, a Hamersley Tourer, which is intended to go with me on various future forays into other ‘wild edge’ places than my own Mountain.

It passed the first test in that I erected it on my own. That, and being able to stand upright in it, were two of my main criteria.

My cousins didn’t arrive until dark, by which time I had a fire going. Their tent was a much bigger dome tent with several layers: definitely not a one-person job to put up!
Next morning was fine and we walked one of the many trails in the park, heading up to a ridge and around the base of a higher spire that mad rockclimbers undertake.

The Warrumbungles are dotted with strangely shaped, spectacular volcanic remnant plugs and crater walls.
The symmetrical native cypress pines, looking like garden escapees, share the rocky ridges with blackened ironbarks, ethereal White Gums and decorative large Kurrajongs.

This was the first time I have seen Kurrajongs in their natural shape, unlopped over their lives as fodder for stock, their shining, almost heart-shaped leaves dangling from widely spread branches.

Such hardy trees seem to be able to take root in any crack and tiny ledge on the rugged cliffs.
Caves abound, both large and small, and all clearly put to good use as shelter by the local critters.

Lichens and mosses paint the rocks with ice blues and sage greens, between dark weepings and a range of surface weatherings.


On the coast north of Coffs Harbour are many small beaches. Friends took me to one for a walk through sheltered tunnels in windswept bush, where pandanus and banksia trees lined the immediate rocky sea edge.
Reaching the bare grassy headland, we sat to watch dolphins leaping and sea birds whirling and nosediving in splashy accuracy, and to wonder at the small islands off the coast, with apt names like Split Solitary.
A small bird ran busily over and through the grass in front of us, barely stopping, so that I had trouble following it with the camera. I have no experience with seaside birds, or much with grassland ones, so is this an Australian Pipit? Or?
The wild storms and high seas of May have cut away the long beaches, scoured the sand from the rock shelves and deposited long tangled tide-rows of driftwood, including very large logs, like this one, sandblasted to an intricate weaving of smooth strands and crevices.

The magical New England National Park

On the way in to the New England National Park I began passing snow gums and trees so hoary with mosses and lichens that I couldn’t say what they were underneath.

At over 1500m above sea level, this park has spectacular views looking out but also looking in.
Gondwanaland plants like Antarctic Beech and tree ferns make some of the walks here as eerie and green as a trip into the land of Lord of the Rings.
Treading gingerly over damp tracks and beween giant mossy rocks on the side of the escarpment brought me to the Weeping Rock – whose tears were frozen mid-fall.
And thence to Point Lookout itself, where I wasn’t game – yet again– to venture on to the cantilevered viewing platform.

By the time I got to the Wollomombi Falls, the highest in Australia, the sun had sunk too low to get a good photo of these rugged and quite scary falls. You’ll have to go there yourself!
But I walked a little and heard so many bird calls, one after the other, that I knew a lyrebird was about. And then I saw him! In a small copse of shrubs, singing through his wide repertoire of mimickings, and displaying his beautiful tail. What a treat!
Aren’t national parks great?

Waterfall country

Along the aptly-named Waterfall Way from Dorrigo to Armidale, there are plenty of opportunities to experience really wild country in several national parks: rugged escarpments and gorges, deeply incised rivers and breathtaking waterfalls.

I stopped first at Ebor Falls in the Guy Fawkes River National Park. It was still early in the morning so most of the gorge was in shadow.
Some of the tracks were closed; it was plain that the strong winds and heavy rain in May had uprooted many trees and caused slips that would take a long time to fix. But the high altitude was already evident in the vivid lichen on the bark of trees, so vivid that I had to look twice to be sure it wasn’t out of a paint spraycan.
As I don’t like heights I found myself walking with my body on an angle, sloped well away from the lower edge – and the ravines below. I was imagining crumbling edges and slipping feet, trees and rocks – and bodies – tumbling to the silver strip of river at the bottom of the gorge.

I can recommend a terrific little book by Roger Fryer, called Wildlife and Wilderness in the Waterfall Country as guide and background information for anyone going through this whole wonderful area. It’s available from the CSIRO (at the special price of $19.95 until mid-July, regularly $29.95)

Up among the mountains

My travels have recently taken me up from the NSW north coast to a truly wild world of mountains. After my book talk at the new Bellingen Library I drove up a very winding road to the Dorrigo Plateau.

Concentrating on the bends, I couldn’t see much apart from tree ferns and tall tres and red mud road slips being mended.
But right at the top was my motel, the Lookout Motor Inn. And look out it certainly did, all the way back to the sea.
A nearby lookout further along the side road that the motel was on (Maynard Plains Road) gave stupendous views to the west, where mountains crumpled forever into the distance. My heart warmed at seeing such a vast wilderness area.
Next morning I headed off towards Armidale, but the Dorrigo Plateau continued to offer car-stopping views.

Famous for dairying and potato growing as well as rainforest, the combination of the rich green man-made paddock foregrounds and the wild country just over the edge made beautiful compositions and contrasts.

North coast talks

In June I will be speaking about and reading from Mountain Tails at several NSW north coast libraries – assuming the floods recede and do not re-occur.

Bellingen Library — 11 am Thursday 11th

Forster Library — 7pm Monday 15th

Kempsey Library — 1pm Tuesday 16th

Port Macquarie Library — 10 am Wednesday 17th

After that I’ll be mainly listening — at the 2009 Watermark Literary Muster (19-22) at Kendall. The theme is ‘Wood’  and I hope to talk with many of the guest speakers there, especially those with a passion for nature, like Peter Hay, Mark Tredinnick and Roger McDonald.

See the Watermark website for details.