Icy records

This morning broke several winter records at my place. They won’t impress some of you hardy Tableland and Tassie types, but their rarity here sure impressed me.

At 7am, the sunlight not yet having found us, it was zero degrees on my verandah, which we have had on rare occasions before. What struck me was the whiteness beyond.

I am in the habit of saying ‘Oh, we don’t really get frosts; too high up, you know. Just a little on the mulch now and then.’ I can say that no longer. I don’t know what is normal weather to ‘get’ any more.

Frozen birdbath

The whole yard was iced: the solar panels, grass, rocks, small shrubs. The birdbath water was frozen solid, the horse tub had an 8mm icy crust.

Frozen dam

But what caught my eye was a strange texture down on the little dam. In disbelief I approached, still in my slippers, so treading gingerly, with childhood memories of frosty slips and bruised bottoms.

Out the gate and crunching over frozen mud decorated with delicately ice-edged hoof prints – equine Brandy Alexanders.

The whole dam was iced over. Not thick enough for skating, but too thick to break with a tap of my foot.

Sharyn Munro’s dam at noon

In fact, it was still frozen at noon, when the sun had long been sparkling over its criss-cross crystal patterns.

Today, plants went down with frostbite that have been here for decades.

Today, I thought of a future like this, with ongoing unpredictable extremes, as has already been happening—unseasonable snow, heatwaves, bushfires, floods. How will farmers cope?

Mountain ‘roads’


Up here the rain falls long and hard; the trees grow tall and the ruts in our clay roads grow ever deeper.

The Council classes them as ‘Unmaintained Roads’ and that they surely are.

The 13-16 inches we received in those June downpours have just about rendered this 3.5 km section of my primary access road as ineligible for the term ‘road’.

My little Suzi can just squeeze beside some of the worst ruts – when the road is dry and smoothed out a bit.

Mountain Road

In the wet times she has to straddle the chasm as we edge our way down the steep hill. One slip and I’d be either stuck in thick clay churned up by other struggling vehicles, or do an axle.

I keep telling myself it could be worse: I could be battling to get home in three lanes of endless and almost stationary traffic.

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!

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.’

Read more

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.

Read more