After the storm

I am heartily sick of the rain and the storms: the hillsides perpetually oozing water and the tracks washing away on the slopes and forming into deep mudslides in the gullies; keeping up dry kindling and wood; feeding the horses in a damp Drizabone coat and dripping Akubra hat—which also has holes in the top; keeping up with where the elusive leak in my roof will manifest itself next in the house…

I bemoan the inaction on global warming that is causing such unseasonal climate chaos worldwide, but if I have to have almost daily storms, I hope to have more of such beauty afterwards. No matter how many rainbows one sees, they are never clichéd—despite Judy Garland.

mountain rainbow
Think I’ll have to write another book just so I can have this on the cover.

How brown is my valley

brown hunter
As I drove over a hill just outside Muswellbrook, I was treated to this panoramic view of the new hillscape. Highlit by the late sun, the man-made range was shown in its full brown beauty.

It isn’t brown because it’s Autumn: it’s that colour all year round, with shades of grey, depending on where the dumps have come from in that huge hole nearby that is the Bengalla coalmine.

The only change is that unlike real hills—the green sort—Hunter Valley hills keep getting bigger and more numerous. And this is despite constant loss as the winds carry the dust over the skies of the Valley—turning them brown too.

To quote from a recent industry expo supplement: ‘Open cut coal mining occupies much of the open space between Singleton and Muswellbrook.’

And they were boasting, not apologising.

Mountain morning

mountain mist
A wet season here means lots of mornings when the day hasn’t yet decided what it will do.

At 3000 feet, my place is inside the clouds as they hover between earth and sky, unable to rise above the nearby higher mountains of 5000 feet or more.

When they do begin to lift, the sun gets its chance in often spectacular ways. From the window over my kitchen sink, I get a great view of this brief beauty to the north-east.

Up my track and through the forest, the ordinary is illuminated by a lighting effects whizz.

Spotlit, backlit and highlit, alternating softening and scintillating lenses—trees and tussocks, bracken and bark, mud and puddles—all transformed.

What a start to the day—good morning, mountain!

Ephemeral jewels

jewel web
Sometimes Nature throws up a combination that takes my breath away with its beauty.

In the wet wet world of my mountain this year, water droplets are nothing special, yet one morning they got together with a complex and multi-level spider’s web to create a stunner.

Diamonds, pearls, and the finest silver wire, netted and looped and swagged between a stringybark tree and the elkhorn I have growing on another stringy close by.

Half an hour later and the jewels had evaporated. It was ‘just’ an admirable web.

Coincidentally, these tree trunks rise from the very spot chosen by the slime moulds of a few months ago.

Given that this is only a few metres uphill from my outdoor, door-less toilet, is it any wonder that I prefer not to have a door? Think what I’d miss!

Bush bash

Recently I held a party. My mountain often being inaccessible, I chose to have my do in the next best bush place I know: The Old Brush.
Surrounded by forested ridges, it’s a green valley floor with man-made lagoons, rainforest borders, shady seats and quirky statuary – like Woodhenge. Kangaroos graze and birds abound.

It’s a small paradise that the owners are generous enough to share with the bushwalking and picnicking public.
brush cabin
Robert BignellRobert and Gail Bignell are friends, originally met when I interviewed Robert for an Owner Builder magazine story about his charming handmade bush cabin.

A professional photographer, that day Robert snuck a picture of me which later became the author photo for my book.

It had rained for weeks and continued on the party day—until the marquee and tarps had been erected beside the guest cabin down by the dam.

Then the sun came out and stayed out till the stars took over. A slightly boggy good time was apparently had by all—I left them to it at 3am—and Robert made a DVD to remind me that although I officially turned 60 I had fun doing it.


These are some of his photos. More on The Old Brush web site.

Country Viewpoint

The ABC Radio National programme ‘Bush Telegraph’ has a segment called Country Viewpoint and they have been kind enough to let me have my say from time to time.

My next viewpoint is about the appallingly high levels of fine dust concentrated in the air of the NSW Upper Hunter Valley.

It’s called ‘Clean country air?’ and will be broadcast at 11:55am AEST on Monday 25th February, so tune in if you can.

Or you can listen later on streaming audio or download a podcast from the Bush Telegraph website.

Forest fruit

rosewood thicket
rosewood fruit
rosewood seedsMy forest does not have much understorey but in the damper dips and gullies there are always pockets of a small tree—scentless rosewood, Synoum glandulosum.

It has made its presence very evident lately because of its profusion of clusters of pinkish red fruit.

Unfortunately for me they are not as succulent and appetising as they look, being really only fleshy seed capsules.

They remind me of mini-pomegranates—but only visually.

These are now splitting open into three sections to reveal orange-red seeds, which birds seem to like.

A rainforest pioneer, it is one of the few I do not need to raise and plant as, with help from the birds, it has looked after its own future very satisfactorily.

eBook Treasure

treasure ebookAs a lover of the physical fact of books—their weight and feel, their look and smell, and their cumulative presence as they cover my walls—I have not been in favour of eBooks.

But I have just downloaded my first eBook, a collection of short stories by Rachael Treasure, and appropriately called Treasure’s Tales. It seems I had forgotten that what’s inside the book is after all the greatest pleasure.

As a keen short story writer and reader, I think this is a lovely collection of a writer’s progression, with finely observed details so that characters and settings are vividly real.

The stories themselves are surprising, quirky, perceptive, funny or moving, and whether set in rural or urban Australia, their human truths are universal. I thought the personal intro to each one was a great idea too.

The good plain prose makes them very accessible, as does this instant and inexpensive e-method of delivery from writer to reader. Terrific for isolated bushies like me. I can now see there’s a place for both types of publishing.

The A4 format means I’ll store Treasure’s Tales vertically, as I do magazines, and I won’t be re-reading them in bed—but I’ll certainly be re-reading them!

You can buy Rachael Treasure’s eBook here.

Tree homes

elkhorn farAs you might expect, given that I live in forest country, I love trees.
elkhorn closeup

On my place I keep planting more where they haven’t managed to regenerate by themselves after the clearing and burning and grazing of years ago.

Mostly I look at the forest as a wall, I suppose—and thus miss the individuality of the trees.

I ought to look up into my treetops more often, for koalas, not seen here since the 2002 fires.

I keep hoping, as I think I heard one a few months ago.

No koalas yet, but other things live in trees, like this beautifully healthy and quite old elkhorn high up in a casuarina.

When they get this big they can be too heavy for the tree or branch, and hence vulnerable to snapping off in a storm.

broken treeEven when a tree is totally destroyed, its trunk broken off and laid low, taken from skydweller to ground hugger, it takes on new life as host. Like this mighty ancient, which blocked the track for some time until a big enough chainsaw came along.

Where possums and birds may have lived in it before, now termites and beetles and fungi are residents.

fungoid colony
This fungus colony has taken shelter in the horizontal overhang created by what was once vertical.

Nothing is wasted in nature.

Looking up

angophora growthWhen walking along the forest tracks, I am usually so busy keeping my eyes directed downwards for snakes—and currently for the rare dry strips between the puddles—that I don’t often look up to the treetops.

And besides, to do so I’d have to stop, which is when the army of leeches gets its chance.

‘Up and at’ er!’ comes the order, and within seconds the troops are climbing up my gumboots.

But last week I did stop, and in all the years I’ve driven past this spot, I’ve never noticed this particular angophora tree.

Angophoras twist and turn by nature, but I haven’t seen one pout before!

Just another animal

houdini ponyWhen I feed the horses I have to tie them up so the greedy ones don’t annoy the others.

The worst is the little one, Shari, who’ll pick up the rim of the rubber bucket with her teeth and drag it away from a bigger horse, or just muscle in with her shaggy head.

I tie her up outside my house fence, just above the small dam.

There are often animals drinking there or feeding around the bank, like this family of Eastern Grey kangaroos.

Even if I’m going crook on Shari — a common occurrence — or calling the other horses to come, they remain undisturbed at the noise.

I warrant a brief interruption, a look — but oh, it’s only her — and they resume grazing. Human or horse: it’s just another animal.

By the way, anyone fancy a small fat pony, cute but cunning, and with Houdini abilities?

Budget Paradise

paradise bed
scary old manIf ever you’re passing through Wollongong (NSW) do stop in at the amazing Nan Tien Buddhist temple just south of the city.

Defiantly built right beside the freeway and towering above the industrial area of Port Kembla, perhaps to heal its surroundings, and facing the distant mountains, this is a beautiful place of terraced gardens and lotus ponds, dotted with statues of cheery bald buddhas, fat but impish baby ones, and scary old men with gargoyle eyes.

The exotic buildings and temples are elaborately decorated and include a teahouse for visitors.

Most people are day visitors, but the lesser-known treasure is the Pilgrims’ Lodge, where for less than youth hostel prices visitors can stay overnight in stylish motel-type accommodation—fluffy white towels, the lot!

There are shared basic kitchen and laundry facilities for guests to use too.

Meals are extra, and I didn’t enjoy the Chinese vegetarian fake-meat type of cuisine much, but you might. I’ll be staying there again, but eating out.

Take a look at the temple’s website here.