Sun ray revelation


My mountain was enveloped in cloud when I got home late this afternoon. Everything was damp and dripping, shrouded in white mystery.

I’d just unpacked the car and lit the fire when the phone rang. It was an old friend in Victoria. We’d chatted for a while, when, very abruptly, I said, ‘Gotta go. I’ll call you back!’ and hung up.

In a corner of the window in front of my desk, I’d caught a glimpse of a very special roseate colour filtering through the thin cloud mist in the forest. I knew what that meant and how briefly it would exist – and I didn’t want to miss it.

No doubt she thought I was struck down with some violent tummy bug, but in fact it was a rare event that I’ve only seen three times in thirty years.

I describe it in the ‘Wet and wild’ chapter of my book:

The cloud might visit me for a morning, a day or a week. …. ‘As the cloud rises, its leave-taking has occasionally coincided with the sun setting through the tree rim on the western edge, creating some breathtaking special effects of refracted fiery light, fanning out like rays of revelation. If the gods had anything to say to us mortals they’d say it then, or if there were a mythmaker about, she’d make one.’




Before I lived on my mountain, on the same level as the sky, and with no need for curtains to hide it from my view at night, I thought sunsets were the big blockbuster event of the sky’s day.

Now I realise I rarely saw a sunrise except at the beach, when that enormous red orb popping out of the horizon is indeed amazing.

But in the city, my sleep ended by loud alarm clock rather than silent dawn, for decades I was deprived of this spectacular show.

The windows beside my bed here are set low, so from my morning pillow I can watch the first lightening of the sky beyond the black filigree of the treeline.

If there are clouds, their early grey begins to be edged, then flushed, with the softest rose pink; the grey becomes lilac.

There ought to be violins.

Within seconds that maiden blush has taken fire, a hectic gypsy tarantella of gold and orange. Fiddles do play, feet stamp and skirts swirl.

But it is so fleeting.

Soon dull daylight steps briskly into place, unimaginative, up front, to set the workaday world in action. Time to get up and go rake some horse manure, I suppose. But what a way to start the day!

And if I’m good, maybe they’ll put on another show tomorrow?


Return to Erina

In 1955 my family moved from Sydney’s west to a small farm at Erina on the central coast of NSW. Until I left to go to University in 1965, there was but one tiny post office/ shop at Erina, amidst a lot of chook sheds, orange orchards and untidy paddocks. The sole change, and a huge one for the district, had been the building of the Erina Drive-in Cinema.


This week I returned, to Erina Fair, the largest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere when built, I was told. It had been erected partly on the site of the long-defunct drive-in.

My Dad had sold the farm and moved north when the first set of traffic lights was installed in Gosford, the main town. It was getting too busy for him. He simply could not have believed there’d ever be lights at Erina itself, let alone continuous shops and industries, traffic jams and roundabouts.

I was there to visit the ABC Shop and hopefully sign books for hordes of eager readers. The shop’s manager, Alison Brown, had made such an impressive display window that I felt I ought to be more famous to deserve it!

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Rednecks — of a nicer sort


When the sun finally remembered how to shine after all that grey sky and sleety rain, the wallabies were out to make the most of it.

There was a small gang of young male Red-necked Wallabies basking on the grass just outside my house fence, so I walked up to the fence and snapped a few. They did look up, but were too sundrowsed to bother with me and my little black clicking thing.

They are a most attractive wallaby, with soft fur, subtly coloured to give perfect camouflage in my tussock-floored forest.

Apart from their more-muscled build, it’s easy to pick the males. Note their low-hanging testicles; they hang down even lower when they are aroused.

From Chapter 4 – ‘An introduction to society’ in my book:

The most memorable courtship was heralded by violent crashing through the bush and constant grunting, sounding more like wild pigs than wallabies. Going closer to the fence to see what all the commotion was about, I saw one female flying from the very pressing advances of a big male, with five other young blades also in hot pursuit! Someone, presumably the dominant male, was grunting very loudly and vehemently.

“She must have been on heat to attract such a crowd of panting males, all jostling to get close to her. Their tender crescent dicks were all exposed, their balls on strings hanging low — so vulnerable, I thought, with the blady grass and tussocks and fences they were belting through.”


Words about my book


I seem to be spending much time away from the mountain, talking about my book, reading from it, and answering questions. Most events have been indoors, and some have been combined with food, like the first lunch at Wallsend Library, attended by about 60 booklovers, including writer Pam Jeffrey, who wrote the following review for The Hunter Writers Centre newsletter.

But the one at the Lavender Gate Cafe in Wollombi was the most fun, being semi-outdoors and sunny. It was booked out, overflowing with wining and dining readers. I felt like the Queen at a garden party!

Next Thursday (28th) I’ll be at the ABC Shop at Erina Fair, doing an interview there for local ABC radio at 11.30 and then signing books.

Here’s Pam Jeffrey’s review:

Based on her diaries and documenting her astonishing life from the 1970s to the present day, The Woman on the Mountain is a substantial and eminently readable memoir. Written in response to the often asked question of why she would live there, the book charts her journey as a young wife and mother, through a broken marriage and single parenthood, failed partnerships and now alone as a grandmother, land-owner and ‘custodian’ of the mountain. This is a task that requires the ‘man-size’ work of reforesting and tending the mountain she has grown to love over decades.

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A little adventure for Suzi and me

I reached my mountain range about 6 pm, after driving for over 11 hours from sunny Ballina. Desperate to get home after 8 days away, I’d expected my mountains to have dried out a little.

Assuming the torrential nine inches we’d had before I Ieft would have washed away the short road, I headed round the long ridge way through the national park. After about 10 kms, I stopped: a gumtree had fallen, its top covering the road, very firmly joined to its downhill trunk, so immovable, and no way around it.

The short way it would have to be, no matter how rough. Back the 10 kms, then gingerly easing over ruts and washouts and slides down to the creek crossing, another 5 kms. Lucky the Suzi and I are a seasoned 4WD team.


But no way here either.

I backed up to a friend’s house nearby. They said big 4WDs had been getting through, but my Suzuki is very small, and light. Marg insisted I eat while Barrie put on his armpit-high waders – took a flashlight – and waded. It was flowing very strongly, mid-thigh deep. Suzi and I do not like challenges, especially where it involves cold and wet and maybe swift passage downstream.

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Golden gifts

autumn wisteria

As Autumn nears its end, my verandah view is no longer filtered through the pink and burgundy curtain of the ornamental grape vine leaves, for they have all fallen, leaving long lost woody stems that reproach me as I pass, waving bony arms and begging to be pruned.

Now I look through to the darker native forest via a tracery of gold and butter yellow, from the wisteria. Grown from a cutting, this wisteria has never flowered, but I don’t care, for I love its summer gift of shading green and its autumn golden glory.

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Extreme weather


Sometime during the night the silence woke me: no rain on the tin roof, after three continuous days of bombardment, eight inches in all.

I stumbled out on to the verandah at about 6.45 a.m., feet fumbling for the thongs, eyes peering at the thermometer – 4 degrees – then the ritual glance into the distance. Blink. Wow!

The first snowfalls on my opposite ridge, which is about 5,300 feet high. No matter how light the dusting of white, the sight is always a bonus gift, since it is no colder here than in many snowless places.

I feed the horses and check their rugs: they are warm and dry under there. Ready for more rain, or snow.

I am marooned on my mountain, but safe, as we have not had the big winds that went with the rain nearer the coast. Newcastle certainly had an ‘extreme weather event’, more of which have been forecast as global warming increases.

Which it certainly will if Mr Sartor keeps fuelling it with more coalmines – like Anvil Hill.

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After the rain


In the 24 hours to 10 o’clock this morning, 5 inches of rain fell – very heavily – on my mountain. I received a call from my daughter to say that she’d heard that the creek was nearly up to the bridge down on the tar road and I’d better hurry if I wanted to get out. Well, I did, but tomorrow had been the plan.

However, I didn’t want to be stuck for days, so I threw a few essentials together – toothbrush, computer, Drizabone, camera – stepped into my ever-ready gum boots and raced off. The creek on my usual route would definitely be up, so I drove the long way, 25 kms extra, through the National Park.

Half way round I met a local coming the other way. ‘It’s three feet over’, he said, looking down at me from the height of his big Toyota, ‘No way I’d risk it.’

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Salvation Sunday at Anvil Hill

Several hundred people from all over NSW had made their way to the property near Anvil Hill by Saturday’s nightfall. Faces by firelight, beanie-topped, scarf-swathed, hard to recognise. Wood smoke and cooking smells – the Hare Krishnas’ curry competing with the steak sandwiches.

Music and talk with passionate folk from Canberra to Byron Bay: the mood is optimistic. We CAN save Anvil Hill!


Next morning is foggy, the hundreds of small dome tents like brightly coloured fungi emerging from the grey ground cover of sticks and bark, where the vicious tiger pear leaves await the unwary. Some try to migrate, hitch a ride on my tyres.


As the fog lifts and the sun warms our bodies, hundreds more people arrive, in vans and cars and buses big and small. Their blue-clad numbers warm our hearts.

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Chatting with Charles


Early in May Charles Wooley interviewed me for his national radio program, ‘Across Australia’, about my book, The Woman on the Mountain. He was in Tasmania, I was on my NSW mountain, with only the still-incomprehensible wonder of the telephone linking us.

Yet he was so in tune with my book’s many layers and main themes, and so warm and funny, that it felt like we were sitting here on my verandah – just chatting. Sympatico – must be the Scottish connection!

NB: We’re having a few technical problems with the download below. Will be back with a fix asap.

You can download an MP3 audio of the interview here [1.6Mb].

You will need Quicktime to listen. It is free and downloadable here.

High Noon at Anvil Hill

Don’t let them turn this


into this


Next weekend, June 2 and 3, I’ll be heading to Anvil Hill near Wybong in the Upper Hunter Valley.

Centennial Coal wants to turn it into a monster open cut coal mine, 2000 hectares of it, destroying precious remnant valley floor woodlands.

I’ve seen it, and still can’t believe anyone would contemplate approving a mine in a place called ‘The Ark of the Hunter’ because of its rich biodiversity. But, having postponed his decision until after the election, NSW Minister for Planning, Frank Sartor, will be delivering it soon.

Local winemakers and horsebreeders don’t want this mine any more than the farmers or the environmentalists do. Lots of people from all over the state will be there this weekend too, to draw a metaphoric line in the sand and say to Mr Sartor, ‘No new coalmines’.

Check out the Anvil Hill Alliance for details like directions, special buses from Sydney and Newcastle on the Sunday, and bookings.

Coal is proven to be toxic for the planet: how insane is it to be helping fuel global warming, to the tune of around 25 million tonnes of C02 per annum??!!

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