I invite you to visit also my literary blog: Journeys in Creative Writing where I post original fiction including short stories, poetry and 'Paternity', a full length mystery novel.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Of Bush Babies and Big Bad Banksia Men

The Australian bush is filled with excitement, weird shapes and ugly beauty.

Today I wish to share a recent walk in a seaside area which is being regenerated by a bush care group.

These enthusiastic, energetic people are hoping to rid this small section of our land from invasive foreign weeds, and to preserve natural balance for the plants and animals which live here.

This is the 'flower' of an Australian banksia tree. It develops through several stages, each of them beautiful in different ways. Even the pale blue-grey backs of the leaves and the reddish branches of the tree itself have a stunning beauty.

This is a longer view of the same tree. Look closely to see other, woodier stages towards the development from flower to seed. You'll see the finished article below, lying on the ground along with fascinating dead leaves and sticks.

The photograph shows the banksia cone where the little seeds lie before being blown away to find a safe spot to germinate. The cone is the source of the mythical Big Bad Banksia Man, a character of May Gibbs' stories upon which Australian children have been fed for generations.

The Banksia Man was the dreaded dark shadow in the lives of May Gibbs' bush people, including the Bush Babies. Snugglepot and Cuddlepie were inspired by the blossoms of gum trees, and are seen below sitting on a gum leaf.

A May Gibbs illustration

The longer, thinner leaves here are 'gum' or eucalyptus leaves, a species which has both positive and negative properties so far as humans are concerned. It's the source of eucalyptus oil which is used widely for medicinal purposes.

However, that same oil is the demon which explodes, and feeds our bushfires, turning them into monsters riding on the winds of destruction.

Mind you, some Australian trees and shrubs require the heat of fire to activate their seeds, so nature knew what she was doing ...

Many forms of eucalypt trees are found almost throughout Australia.

These delicate tendrils and nuts belong to the Australian Casuarina or She-Oak. They grow close to the shore in sandy areas of bush, and even on the cliff tops. They are one of my favourites.

The nuts are quite lovely in appearance and make great native plant jewellery.

My bloggy mates have met the pandanus tree before - regal in its ugly beauty.

As with nature everywhere, you discover only when you really take time to look. This patch of Australian bush holds secrets that only curiosity and patience will reveal.

Here is a long view of the track I travelled with you today. We'll do it again in our next post, and make more discoveries.

Have you really looked at the natural surroundings near your home? Even a city park will reveal amazing detail. Tell me about what you found in a comment ...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Mummies - History is What You Make It!

These are mummies of people who were embalmed in Italy in the 1500s. Bodies were preserved after being dried, covered with vinegar and kept in cool surroundings. They’re now a tourist attraction, and scientists are looking at them anew to discover secrets which might come to light given the latest technological advances.


If you enjoy history as much as I do, you'll enjoy the following. It's a pot pourri of the way things used to be in the 1500s, and a key to the origin of some of our seemingly peculiar sayings.

I'm sorry I don't know the source of these wonderful bits of information, so don't take them as gospel ...

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odour. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, don't throw the baby out with the bath water..

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying It's raining cats and dogs.

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, dirt poor.

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance way. Hence the saying a thresh hold.

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme 'peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old'.

Sometimes people could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell or was considered a dead ringer.

And that's the truth...Now, whoever said history was boring!

Do you know any similar gems from the past that give a clue or two to the way we speak today?

Friday, 13 March 2009

Another Disaster - I Can't Believe It!

A disastrous spill, likely to involve 100,000 litres of oil, is covering more than 60km of beaches north of Brisbane today. This is five times the amount of oil first reported, according to the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Many beaches from Moreton and Bribie Islands and the Sunshine Coast tourist strip are affected by the sludge, described as two inches thick in places, and smelling of diesel. Many of the affected areas were formerly near to pristine, with much wild life, including dugongs.

The Evironment Protection Authority is calling for volunteers to help with the situation by calling 1300 130372. However, they are warning that people should not approach the toxic polluted area individually.

The full impact of this is only just becoming understood.

A report from SBS World News Australia

The oil leaked from a container ship called the Pacific Adventurer on Wednesday, as it moved into dangerous seas whipped up by Tropical Cyclone Hamish.

The ship's cargo of 31 containers, many filled with the toxic chemical ammonium nitrate fertiliser, was swept overboard piercing the ship's fuel tanks as it fell. The containers themselves have not been found and it is concerning that they may leach nitrogen, creating further huge problems for the environment.

Large seas are spreading the oil further. The area has now been declared a disaster zone, and clean up teams have moved in.

Some of the events leading up to this disaster are described in my post about the effects of Hamish.

This tragedy is occurring 130km north of my home, and pictures I have featured recently of my local beaches are reminiscent of the area now covered in oil.

It is likely that the captain and the owner of the Pacific Adventurer, registered in Hong Kong, will face charges as a result of the accident.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Cat 5 Cyclone - To Be or Not To Be?

Strong winds began blowing yesterday on Point Danger, the headland that is shared by two Australian States - New South Wales and Queensland. Would it be followed by a cyclone as strong as Katrina? We had feared for days that it could be, even though this would have been a very rare event indeed.

These girls had big trouble keeping hold of their belongings as they stood on the viewing platform above the Point Danger Marine Rescue Station. It was very difficult for me to hold my camera still.

The Bureau of Meteorology put out a warning for damaging winds, abnormally high tides and dangerous surf on the exposed coast. Seas further out could be 'phenomenal'.

For the past few days we've been nervously watching a cyclone the intensity of Katrina wending its way down the Queensland coast in our direction. It is true that such storms generally diminish as they come south. This one however, seemed to be maintaining a deal of its strength for a lot longer than usual.

News services have been tracking Severe Tropical Cyclone Hamish as he played with us, lurking just off the coast. He moved relentlessly southward for a thousand kilometres , threatening to cross to the land, bringing destruction with him, even though he was still offshore.

Hamish strengthened to Category 5, softened to Category 4 and then strengthened again to 5. Right now its still 300 km away and down to Category 3.

We watched reports as towns battened down, thousands were evacuated from danger areas, and gale force winds wreaked their havoc. Idyllic tropical islands just off the coast have been badly damaged.

I bought a new torch and some masking tape for my windows. Just in case, mind you.

Tropical cyclones don't often get as far south as the North Coast of New South Wales, but with the weather and climate change being what they are, you can't be sure. Normally we'd shrug our shoulders and get on with life, knowing that most such storms dissipated before they became our direct concern.

However our weather has been erratic lately, to say the least, producing such record catastrophes as the Victorian bushfires. Hundreds of kilometres of land in the northern Gulf country have been under water for two months now, with farmers isolated and dependent on fodder drops.

There was even an almost unheard-of earthquake this week, not far from Melbourne. I like to look on the bright side, but ...

So when the winds strengthened and waters churned into white horses yesterday, we couldn't help wondering.

I took myself off to Point Danger. I could see that Duranbah, the beautiful beach below me, had already lost much of its sand from an abnormally high tide, and the waves were angry. Clouds were swirling.

To the north, on the Queensland side of the border, I could see some of the crowds watching surfboard riders valiantly competing in a carnival at Snapper Rocks, regarded as one of the more sheltered surf breaks.

Everyone knew that the competition was likely to be cancelled at any time soon.

This afternoon the Bureau updated its gale warning south to Point Danger, saying south-easterly winds to 34/45 knots were expected to whip up seas and swell to three and five metres. Our direction.

It also said that Severe Tropical Cyclone Hamish was expected to slow down and gradually weaken.

We'll see.

9am AEDT 13th March 2009

It seems that the extent of the oil spill had been underestimated by the captain of the ship responsible for the event.

More than 60km of the world famous Queensland tourist coast have been affected by thick oil washed up on previously pristine beaches. The area has been declared a disaster zone as cleanup teams moved in yesterday as the extent of the damage became obvious. Workers are looking for affected wildlife.

So far the spill has affected the beautiful Moreton Bay and its islands near Brisband and, further north, Bribie Island and parts of the Sunshine Coast.

Big seas, the legacy of ex-Tropical Cyuclone Hamish are hampering efforts and spreading the oil.

8am 12th March 2009
Well, it seems as though we have the last laugh. Hamish became Ex-Tropical Cyclone Hamish late last night. We're left with the seas he whipped up, together with a high pressure system that came from the south to join him. I'll wander down to the shore today to survey the scene and take a picture or two.

This shot of Snapper Rocks was taken from the same spot as the pic above, but this morning after Hamish and the high pressure system had done its work. You can see there are still surfers out there! The sea has taken over the vantage point of yesterday's watchers. (Sadly my camera is acting up, with the shutter stuck on this one.)

The swell was up today, certainly.

And this was the bar of the Tweed River nearby. Crossing anybody?

3pm AEDT 12th March 2009

Bad news. It is now becoming clear that a 20 tonne oil spill from cargo ship just off Brisbane yesterday has created damage to beaches at the near-pristine Moretan Island, and on the mainland a little further north. A reporter from the Australian Broadcasting Commission says there is oil on the sand 'as far as he could see' on Moreton Island (see below). Volunteers are looking for affected wildlife.

ABC TV photo

The spill occurred when the ship's cargo of 31 containers of ammonium nitrate spilled overboard in rough seas caused by Tropical Cyclone Hamish. One container pierced the ship's fuel tanks on the way into the sea. There is no sign of the containers or the chemical, which is presumed sunk.

Pardon me if I ask: What Next?

Are there cyclones where you live? I've never been in one, and I don't think I want to be.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Chocolate Cake and Porpoises at Fingal Headland

Today was idyllic. I spent most of the morning on the cliff at Fingal Head near the village I featured in my most recent post. It was a time of teal coloured water, blue skies, porpoises and magic waves and rocks.

I took a knapsack holding my camera, a bottle of water and a very large slice of chocolate cake. Bliss.

Fingal Headland is but five minutes drive from where I live on the North Coast of New South Wales in Australia. Lucky me!

A visit by a dozen porpoise who swam lazily past around the headland was a real highlight of my visit. These guys often frolic in the waves, but this lot was quite relaxed and content to go with the flow of the currents.

The island off the headland is named after James Cook, the British navigator who won the race to 'discover' the east coast of Australia, the Great South Land, in 1770.

It's very close indeed to the Tweed River on the border of New South Wales and Queensland and Fingal carries on the Scottish theme. It was named after these amazing rocks (below) which are very similar to Fingal's Cave in the New Hebrides in Scotland, and the Great Causeway in Northern Ireland.

The rocks are hexagonal shaped columns formed when hot lava shrank in a way similar to mud cracks when it dries, and the cracks apparently extended downwards into the mass of lava as it cooled and shrank, and the columns were later exposed due to erosion.

The lava at our Fingal came from the plug of a volcano called Mount Warning a few kilometres inland, and also named by Cook who gave the the mountain the credit for 'warning' him of the presence of a rugged coastline.

These beautiful rocks formed right around the headland and established a causeway which the locals call 'The Giant's Causeway' after the Irish formation.

The sea rushes through the causeway at this point, creating dramatic plumes of white spray - exciting against the lovely teal blue of the ocean on a sunny day.

There is a small lighthouse at the tip of the headland.

It's been on this site since 1872 as part of network of navigation aids around the Australian coastline - as the sign says.

It really adds quite a bit of drama to the beauty of this place.

Naturally, the headland is quite a favourite with people who like to fish. I once saw a huge ray rise up from the sand as I gazed into the sea below the rocks. Impressive!

I didn't see this guy catch anything.

More basalt rocks and, of course, pandanus. Our cliffs wouldn't be quite the same without them.

The teal sea looks tranquil and some people are lulled into a false sense of security.

Get too far down the cliff and a rogue wave can knock you right off the ledge. I was being the ultimate shutterbug when this lass received quite a shock. Her dry seating place was suddenly bombarded with spray and moments later she was very wet indeed.

Look carefully and you'll see someone else tempting fate here.

Me - I'd rather find a safer swimming hole ... There are plenty of them around.

When it's summer at your place, can you go for a swim?