Staying home like never before

“Home is where love resides, memories are created, friends and family and laughter never ends.”

Unknown

How many of us thought that 2021 would be different to the previous year which was so consumed with the impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic? Here in my home state of Victoria we are currently in a snap five-day hard lockdown with Level 4 restrictions because of issues with the emergence of the UK strain believed to have come from someone in quarantine. After several weeks of doughnut days as per my previous posts we are once again confined to barracks even in regional areas where we have no cases. It came as a shock to many businesses in my rural community and many events were cancelled.

Thankfully, two hours before the announcement, I had stocked up on essentials including toilet paper. Sadly, supermarkets had to implement limits on certain items again because of panic buying. The authorities seem to have the cases under control now but with one more day to go, one can never be sure with such an infectious virus. On the eve of the lockdown, we joined good friends and neighbours for dinner and drinks. If COVID has taught us anything it is better to accept invitations when you can!

My home has certainly become my castle during COVID. I am fortunate to share it with my husband who has plenty to do keeping 25 acres under control and my much indulged cat Rambo. We are surrounded by hills and trees which attract a wide range of native birds and animals such as wombats and kangaroos. There is also plenty of black Angus cattle in our neighbouring paddocks and cows are just starting to calve.

No pandemic will ever be long enough for me to get through all the books on my shelves that are waiting to be read or to complete those craft projects started with good intentions.

I am hoping that as news breaks this week of a vaccination rollout in Australia and overseas, that while life may still be governed by COVID to a certain extent there will be a return to normal activities. That may mean sharing my home with a wider group of family and friends. May your home always be your castle not a prison.

Cat on the hospital payroll

I usually start my day with a cup of coffee in bed listening to Melbourne ABC radio with morning host Sammy J. As a comedian he provides some levity during a time when media is saturated with Coronavirus coverage. This morning he talked to the owner of Elwood the cat who has become a social media sensation because he spends his days across the road from his inner-suburban home on the steps of the Epworth Hospital. I did an internet search and discovered Elwood’s fame has spread far and wide. For those of us who know the power of cat therapy, this is a feel good story.

A purrfect feel good tale!

The real deal…

The real deal…in Aussie lingo if you hear someone described this way, it is a high compliment indeed. Genuine, what you see is what you get, knowledgeable, not arrogant, a willingness to give of themselves generously, true-blue, and an ability to get on with anyone; are some of the attributes that come to mind. This year I had the pleasure of meeting two such individuals.

One a highly credentialed senior journalist and the other a skilled horseman and country musician. I’m not sure that they have ever met but they do have in common a love of Australia and sharing stories of people and places.

Heather Ewart, esteemed and seasoned television journalist with the ABC for many years, is the real deal. From hard-nosed reporting on the 7.30 Report to fronting the series Back Roads she is travelling across Australia with her producer and camera crew to capture the essence of places and people that are off the beaten track. Usually, smaller communities with characters and stories aplenty to share feature.

Our paths crossed recently during the annual Tolmie Sports Day held each February for 133 years in a bush setting in the hills about halfway between Mansfield and Whitfield in Victoria’s north-east. The day showcases traditions such as the wood chop, woodwork and blacksmithing and newer ones to include a chain saw competition. Equestrian events offer various novelties and jumping competitions for younger and older riders. The foot races judging by their names cater for all abilities and ages; ranging from the single ladies race to the Cooked Chooks through to the bloke’s Old Buffer’s Race and the Prime Bucks. The dog jump is always a crowd pleaser and so was the special display by the “Flipping Disc Dogz” which promotes a positive message of encouraging young children that they are capable of doing great things. It has a feel of an English fete with an a bush flavour. There are historical displays and of course the ever-popular Devonshire teas.

The day starts in brilliant sunshine but after lunch, the clouds rolled in and the rain poured down. But the local CFA (Country Fire Authority) volunteers agreed with me the much needed rain was preferably to dealing with bush fires. Despite the down pour and the risk of frizzy hair, Heather and her camera crew continued filming and interviewing some of the local identities and personalities. There were still smiles all round and good-natured banter. Heather posed for photographs with many of the local volunteers and assisted with the raffle draw taking it all in her stride.

Having followed Heather’s career and her more recent foray into presenter of the popular Back Roads series, one can see her ability to tell a story and to engage with individuals on all levels. Heather grew up as a country girl in the Victorian town of Murchison on the Goulburn River. There is a relaxed, laid back manner about her and a genuine interest in people’s stories. She manages to dig up some real gems like old-timer Tarpot in a recent episode featuring Windorah in outback Queensland. Sadly, Tarpot died recently but he is immortalised on screen. If I told Heather I thought she was “the real deal” she would probably brush it off and tell me she had encountered much more worthy contenders for the title.

The new Back Roads series including the Tolmie episode is due to return to our ABC television screens from June 17. While on the subject of ABC television, it is worth noting journalist icon, Barrie Cassidy, as well as being husband of Heather Ewart, retired in June after 18 years presenting Insiders, a successful current affairs show with shrewd insights into Australian politics . Described by many as tough but always fair, the accolades and response from the public and politicians alike, puts Barrie into the category of the real deal as we hear “back to you Barrie” for the last time. One hopes that Barrie and Heather get to spend more time together on a back road somewhere!

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-27/abc-tv-back-roads-heather-ewart-the-road-back-home/8001104

https://www.abc.net.au/news/about/backstory/television/2019-06-09/barrie-cassidy-signs-off-from-insiders/11186060


My other contender is Tom Curtain, respected horseman, dog handler and a golden Guitar winner at the Tamworth Country Music festival held every year in NSW. I met Tom in his home town of Katherine in the Northern Territory playing at the tourist motel where I was staying with my husband and friends in 2012. My Mum, a country journalist interviewed him when he was performing at the “Man From Snowy River Festival” in Corryong some time before. Growing up on a large cattle station one of five boys his life revolved around horses, dogs, music and all things country.

Tom Curtain can play his guitar on a horse with no bridle…if you are lucky you may even catch him standing up on a horse and playing.

His lyrics echo the stories of so many who call Australia home – that great dividing line where the city ends and bush begins. As a young man while out in the mustering camps, Tom would try to hone up his playing skills. Obviously, a combination of perseverance and talent, came together in the 2004 release of his first album Smack Bang providing insights into life in the territory. He has gone on to win, the prestigious “Australian Independent Artist of the Year” at the 2018 Southern Stars Australian Independent Country Music Awards in Tamworth, NSW.

Tom also knows about resilience and having to reinvent one’s self when one door closes and take on a new venture which was to be the Katherine Outback Experience after his livelihood disappeared due to a downturn in the pastoral industry because of the Australian Government’s ban on live export of cattle in 2011.

Tom and his partner Annabel embarked on a whirlwind tour across Australia performing at small towns including Mansfield in Victoria(slide show above) and big cities such as Melbourne, earlier this year as part of his “Speak Up” tour. This tour was a result of the “Speak Up” single duet with Sara Storer that Tom penned in memory of Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett who at 14 took her own life after being bullied. This had a huge impact on Tom, a parent himself, who knew Dolly as a part of his local community. The song and the video clip was possible thanks to the generous support of several musicians who kindly donated their time and studios with 100 per cent of all proceeds and royalties from the song going to ‘Dolly’s Dream’. The Dolly’s Dream Foundation has been established by family and friends to help raise awareness about bullying and get more educational programs into schools. As part of this awareness program, Tom, arranged school visits and media interviews to spread the word about Dolly’s Dream while on the road with his “Speak Up” Tour.

Tom is the real deal when it comes to his work ethic and ability to connect to so many people through his horsemanship skills, working dogs’ display and undisputed musical talent. Watching him in action, it is wonderful to see how he can get the young kids up and dancing. His passion for sharing Dolly’s story is evident and a positive part of her legacy. Check out the two websites below to find out more about Tom Curtain’s music, his Katherine Outback Experience show and supporting Dolly’s Dream.

https://www.katherineoutbackexperience.com

https://www.tomcurtain.com.au/

The slow-burn of summer

As school returns for another term and the holiday makers disappear, the car spaces return outside the local supermarket and a sense of normality is resumed. Some may have gone home earlier due to the extreme heat wave conditions and fire activity close to popular camping areas. Last week our weather station was recording outside temperatures in the high 30s with some days hitting almost 44 degrees Celsius which is unusual for this part of the world. But to be honest, what is normal these days? Regardless of your thoughts on climate change, there is no doubt our weather patterns are changing.

Any sign of green grass has been replaced with an extremely dry landscape which adds to the risk of fire with the long, brittle grasses scorched by the blazing sun.

February 7, 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday which was one of the darkest days in Victoria’s history and changed how as a community we dealt with the dangers of bush fire. ABC TV aired a documentary this week “The Aftermath: Beyond Black Saturday” stories of survivors and their struggles. Despite the horrors and heartbreak, that will always stay with individuals, there are the stories of hope and love; and lives rebuilt which pay testament to the ability of the human spirit to overcome. https://iview.abc.net.au/show/aftermath-beyond-black-saturday

Although I was not directly involved in the 2009 bushfires which during January and February destroyed many parts of Victoria, it was heart-breaking to hear of the 173 deaths, thousands of homes and other buildings lost, and the 400,000 hectares that were burnt (cfa.vic.gov website).

The scale of the tragedy saw more than 78 Victorian communities directly affected. The anniversary on February 7, marks the devastation of several towns including Marysville, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Narbethong, Flowerdale and Strathewen. The Country Fire Authority (CFA) ultised more than 19,000 members in frontline firefighting, incident management and support behind the scenes (cfa.vic.gov website). For a more detailed account of the fires it is worth visiting the CFA website to understand fully what these firefighters were up against on the day. Hopefully many lessons have been learnt from that event to prepare us much better 10 years on. https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/about/black-saturday

Our move to the country has made us think more about being fire-prepared and to realise the real possibilities of a fire. The recent hot weather makes one nervous, especially when surrounded by dry, grass. But we are fortunate to have good neighbours who help out and keep others in the loop if there is a problem. We also have three CFA brigades reasonably close by. The former owners of our property were smart in setting up a sprinkler system around the house which pumps water up from our dam.

This past week has seen us concerned about friends who live at Grantville, near Western Port Bay, in Victoria due to a fire that got out of control in a nature reserve. For a week now, they have been observing a watch and act advice. While they have been relatively safe, it has been unnerving for them. Transport yourself to far-north Queensland and I have another friend who has been struggling with the impact of flooding with a record 1000mls over one week. Talk about extremes. Yesterday, we received 25mls in one hour and yet the nearby township only 20 minutes away got zilch.

Apart from being immersed in the weather conditions, my husband and I are always amazed at the wildlife and birds that live here. His discovery of a metre-long snake skin makes me not keen to meet the former occupant! I am finding the odd dead frog indoors who has sadly succumbed to being dried out because of the hot weather. Before it rains, I often find large, sugar ants busily running around on my front porch.

The extreme heatwave is hard on native birds, especially the magpies. The young ones take a while to work out that the silver tray is full of water just for them. We have also been watching a family of Willy Wagtails in their tiny, mud-built nest in the oak tree. Every time, I walked past the tree I would get dive-bombed by mummy bird to warn me off going near her three little babies. Today, we noticed that there is only one left in the nest.

From small palm-sized birds to majestic giants, we happened to come across a pair of wedge tail eagles in a nearby paddock last week. As we were driving past, I thought they were perched on a fallen log. We turned the car to go back for a closer look and found it was a dead sheep they were standing on (I imagine the sheep had died of natural causes). I was too slow to get a decent photo but they were magnificent to see. Several days later, while we at home enjoying a coffee outside, we spotted what we think is the same pair soaring across our paddock and perching in the dead gum tree. It was incredible to watch the smaller birds trying to scare them off. I also warned Friskie my cat to keep well away or he would end up as a tasty snack!

So life in the country is anything but dull; and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Summer days herald the New Year in the High Country!

Spring rains have produced long green grasses now dried golden by the hot baking sun.

Several of my good intentions never materialised including a blog post to herald the start of summer on December 1. This was due to the busyness of my life before Christmas. I can’t blame it on Yuletide preparations. I come from a small family with members scattered across Australia, and Christmas tends to be low-key. My husband has a married brother with two adult children living near London, in England. We spent Christmas with them in 2015, followed by New Year’s Eve in Vienna, in Austria. It was such a special time because we don’t get to see each other very often being so far away. But thankfully the internet and cheap overseas call rates helps us stay in touch.

Some members back home avoid Christmas all together which is fine by us. Bolly (my husband) and I were once again invited to join friends in town for Christmas lunch with their extended family. This year there was 12 of us compared to 16 last year. I got out of cooking again! The only problem with this is I don’t have any left overs for our traditional Boxing Day picnic outing. Never mind, we made do with pizza and beer at Wrong Side Brewing at Jamieson on a hot summer’s day.

The end of the year was extremely busy with our local agricultural show on the 17th November involving lots of work beforehand and after. Took me the secretary, two weeks to recover! The hard work of all the committee obviously paid off, not only were we blessed with a beautiful late spring day, but our gate takings were the best ever in several years and everyone commented on a great atmosphere enjoyed by young and old alike. Of course, behind the scenes we can see areas that need to be streamlined before next year which will be our 130th show. Our next event is the annual campdraft in March. This has evolved from mustering cattle into one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in Australia.

I was also trying to keep on top of my studies. In lieu of doing a community development placement I was allowed to do a project on my involvement with the Friends of Venilale group and my return trip to East Timor in September. This country has a special place in my heart and I now have several Timorese friends on Facebook. The local Friends’ group continues to meet monthly. Fundraising efforts in 2018 included a stall four times per year at the annual bush market, the ridgeline walk across several local farms, special guest talks, a trivia night, a book launch and a film afternoon. Despite being time poor, I managed to produce a 1500 word essay and an audio-visual presentation. In early December I started a new study period doing an elective unit “Drugs in Society” which is proving most interesting. End of February, I will commence my final core unit for my sustainability major. This will leave me with two more electives to complete and hopefully my double degree before the end of the year!

November was also a time to commemorate the contribution of our service men and women 100 years later at our local Remembrance Day Service on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. This was preceded by a procession of those who were returned servicemen and women, and those who proudly marched wearing medals passed down through their families. My husband wore his grandfather’s World War One service medals for the first time. It is a real community event with young people involved in the service.

As 2018 drew to a close, temperatures began to climb into the high 30s and even 40 degrees Celsius on a couple of days. The nearby hills have lost their green tinge by becoming brown in the hot sun. Our paddocks look wave-like as the long, dried golden grass moves in the breeze. Our fire warning ratings have hovered between high (blue) and very high (orange) this week. The weather has been unsettled over the Christmas and New Year period with some heavy rainfalls followed by high humidity. During the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, we were surrounded by constant storms with lightening and thunder. Rambo my cat tough by name not nature, hid under the bed all afternoon. We received a phone call from a neighbour to alert us to a nearby grass fire at the end of our road. I checked out the emergency services’ website, to find there was another incident of a small fire two roads away. But both were under control. Early evening we learn that another neighbour has a tree on fire on his property which was also dealt with quickly. All three were caused by lightening strikes! We need to revisit our fire plan and be sure that we are prepared in an emergency.

We enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with just the two of us. I made a special dinner including wine trifle for dessert. We had an early night so we could get up early to drive to Melbourne and celebrate New Year’s Day with my Sri Lankan friend and her family. It is a annual lunch with loads of traditional Sri Lankan food, drinks and even dancing to work it off! We love catching up with my friend who was a former employee of mine. Bolly and I limit our alcohol consumption so we can make the three-hour trip back home. As much as we love visiting our friends and family in the city, we are always keen to get back to our country haven.

As normality returns to our lives, it is time to prepare for the coming year and setting goals so our time doesn’t get squandered. Just before Christmas we invested in solar panels for our north facing roof of our house. It will take about four years to start to recoup our money but at least we are doing our bit for the environment. I follow the tracker for our energy provider and notice less usage when the solar panels are operating during the day. Other jobs include finishing painting the outside doors and windows. We have two new homes being built nearby so we are going to do a huge tree planting along our fence line. Today sees a change of neighbours directly behind us, who no doubt will want to make their mark on a new property acquisition. Life is full of changes and sometimes we just have to embrace them! While Christmas is behind us, or until the Christmas tree and decorations come down, I thought I would include the video below as a reminder of striving for peace and harmony throughout the world in 2019. May we all find joy and personal satisfaction in the coming months.

Defining Spring…in the High Country

Hard to believe but spring has arrived again; in all its magnificent and fickle ways. How do I define spring here in the hill country of Victoria, in the Southern Hemisphere? My fellow bloggers and other social media friends on the other side of the world begin to retreat into their cocoons for approaching winter months while we here are emerging from ours. Layer by layer we peel off the extra garments and tentatively risk flaunting  our summer fashions.  But the layers gained from winter comfort food, cheery bottles of red and chocolate on the couch watching TV in front of the open fire, are now exposed!

Spring and the advent of warmer days heralds thoughts of venturing outdoors and getting into shape – a better shape than what I’m currently in! It is a time for the clocks to spring forward for daylight saving which lures us outdoors for longer and hence later dinners. Spring rains much welcomed has produced a flurry of green growth, especially grass which seems to be growing in front of our very eyes this week. My husband despairs that he can’t keep up with the slashing and keeping it at bay.

Yesterday, I tackled one of our garden beds full of brilliant yellow irises competing with the long grass. Something satisfying about weeding. Friskie enjoys a romp in the garden as my companion. Our hard work over the last two years, is starting to pay off. Where another garden bed against the house was overrun with blackberries, it is now full of  plants flowering for the first time, adding a burst of colour.

Spring is a busy time for primary producers, new-born calves and lambs fill the nearby paddocks. We miss our old cows but it was the right thing not to let them suffer through a bitterly cold winter. One of our friends wants to put their bull in our paddock to rest him for a month or so. We can still take up the offer of our neighbour to run some of his steers on our place to help keep grass at bay. At the moment we seem to be home to rabbits(who seem to multiply in spring!), wombats intent on digging huge holes, with  occasional visits from several kangaroos, and red foxes around the dam where wild ducks frequent. My get-fit campaign is being thwarted by a pesky magpie dive-bombing me when I walk down our driveway. These black and white, native Australian birds, are beautiful the way they warble and their cheeky personalities make them lovable. Come spring and new chicks, they become very territorial. I could say it is just an act of revenge for not winning this year’s Australian Rules Football Grand Final against the Eagles from Western Australia.

One of the downsides of the warmer weather, is the emergence of snakes which is a worry when you have dogs and cats. My husband saw a rather large Eastern Brown and a Tiger snake within five minutes of each other while over near our wood pile last week. Another good reason to keep vegetation around the house cleared. This year the annual fire season is commencing earlier than usual in response to the extra fuel load from our recent rains. This means no burning off. Bolly, my husband, is working down in the city for a month, so won’t get a chance to do any more this year.

Spring also means the horse racing carnival is in full swing and ladies are busy searching for new head-wear, with dresses and shoes to match. The Melbourne Cup always run on the first Tuesday in November, is the reason for a public holiday in Melbourne. Mansfield’s High Country Festival over the weekend preceding the cup, is a hive of activity with a grand parade, bush-market, local produce to sip and devour, and artistic endeavours to admire. The town hosts its own cup meeting on the same day as the big Melbourne event and gives racegoers the opportunity to enjoy themselves without the big crowds of Flemington. I am rather partial to frocking up for the races and imbibing in a glass of bubbles or two!

Spring also means the start of the agricultural show circuit with our own show on November 17. It also means an extremely busy time for the secretary (meaning me!) and all the other volunteers on the committee.  So time to spring into action while enjoying this season of renewal.

Snow, rain, and the road less travelled

This winter seems like a blur – the third one we have experienced in our new country home. Each day a kaleidoscope of colours mingled with smells and sounds that speak of  that time suspended between autumn and spring.  My life has fallen into that trap of busyness and too little time to do all the things I want. Sounds like my old working life – there are times when anxieties try to raise their ugly heads and I have to force them back down. I like to be busy and doing useful stuff, but there are times when I long for long periods of just being. Sometimes  I manage it. Anyone would think I am talking about the winter of my discontent!

 

From a delightful autumn we have tumbled into winter with some unexpectant heavy snowfalls on the lower hills. I was quite surprised to awake to snow falling at our place which is only 400m above sea level. As an Australian, I am always fascinated and enraptured when I see snow falling. My English-born husband doesn’t have quite the same enthusiasm!

It has been a cold and wet winter here. Unlike all of NSW and huge parts of Queensland, gripped in a crippling drought, Victoria with the exception of Gippsland, has enjoyed heavy rain falls. The beginning of the year here was dry but as the year progressed we would get a little bit more each month, until this month when we received over 35ml overnight! Now we need our gumboots if we want to walk around outside because the ground is so sodden. But it was so exciting to see our dams overflowing and even our dry gullies flowing. I love paddling through the impromptu puddles and water courses because it reminds me of my childhood.

 

 

I am still beavering away at my studies; the closer I get to the end the harder it seems at times. Being a mature age student may be a challenge but the joy of learning and incorporating your lived-experiences makes it a rewarding journey. Speaking of journeys, we did a big road trip from end of June to July, covering more than 6000 kms in three weeks. There was a purpose for this trip so we tried to make it a bit of an adventure as well. The purpose was carried out but was not without its stresses.  It was a rushed trip and despite heading north, we got rain on the Sunshine Coast and managed even in drought areas to be welcomed with muddy campgrounds. We took our camper trailer which is really just a tent on wheels! But compared to the two-man dome tent we use to crawl out of, this is luxury and we still feel like we are camping, without having to haul a large caravan behind us.

Our road trip which went through outback NSW and inland Queensland, made us realise just how bad the drought was. Miles of bare, earth paddocks without stock. In all my years of country driving, I had never seen so much road kill as I did on this trip. Starving and water-deprived kangaroos and emus, ending up as dinner at the side for the hundreds of opportunistic crows, dotted every metre or so along many parts of the road. Water is the lifeblood of this country and when you venture out into the rural heartland away from safe, comfortable urban surrounds, it hits you in the face. One farmer near Lightening Ridge said they were feeling sorry for the kangaroos which are usually considered a nuisance when they are in large numbers. Faced with hand feeding whatever stock that they may still have, the kangaroos were so hungry that they were eating the bags that the grain for sheep came in. Life is not pretty in these conditions but it serves to remind us that whatever we do we are so insignificant compared to the forces of nature.

 

Got to visit some great communities and shared a bit of our money where it was needed. Enjoyed campfires and good company. Saw some parts of the country I hadn’t seen since the early ’80s and some new places. Will do a travel blog to expand a bit more on the places we visited.

 

We had to be home before the end of July because I had study commitments and the biggest thing I had to face was removal of three wisdom teeth which had been “grumbling” (as the dental surgeon described it) for more than five years. This was hanging over me like a cloud as dark as Lucifer and a piece of coal (anyone who knows Cowboy Junkies will understand this reference!). July 26 I went under the knife for the first time in my life. I survived but ended up extremely ill for two weeks. I won’t go into details but it wasn’t pleasant to say the least.

I am finally getting back up to full-strength and trying to catch up with everything that got put on hold. The sun still comes up and goes down – sometimes I am treated to the most stunning views and I count my blessings. We have a mob of 14 kangaroos including some joeys in the pouch who seem to like the green, juicy grass on our lawn – usually they turn up early in the morning and late afternoon. Our resident wombats continued to dig holes around the place to our annoyance. The daffodils are out so despite the snow on the hills, there is a glimpse of spring to come.

#

Winter cometh amid change

IMG_7749

Remnants of gold and red have lingered on from a delightful autumn to be embraced by the crisp, clear, first day of winter. A touch of frost is evident in the lower paddock and the dawn shadows are slowly replaced as the sun rises over the nearby hill behind our house. After throwing another log on the fire and brewing fresh coffee, I love nothing more than being snuggled up in bed with my electric blanket and furry friends, sipping on my morning cuppa as the view unfolds outside my window. Each day is different.

 

IMG_7287IMG_7274IMG_7278

More than 18 months have passed since the permanent tree-change. This is our life now. City life is like a distant memory and somewhere we still visit occasionally for special events, appointments and catch up with friends. Lying in bed listening to the ABC’s Melbourne Radio (it is hard to give up some habits after 30 years!), the traffic reports remind me how much I loathed the congestion on the city roads and travelling across from eastern suburbs to the west for work.  We have other obstacles to dodge now but the pace of life is slower so not rushing around everywhere.

The nights are really drawing in now, the sun is dipping behind the hills around 5pm. This week we have been treated to some sunny days and we have finally got around to cycling during the warmest part of the day to our roadside mail box 4km away. Our social cycling group that meets on Wednesdays has moved its start time from 8.30am to 9.30am during the winter months.

My husband Bolly and I have found another social group to join which I found on a local Facebook group page calling for musicians and singers to get together to encourage one another and for the sheer joy of making music in a relaxed and comfortable environment. The first gathering was in the lounge room of a young man with three singers and two guitarists unknown to each other. Almost two months later others have joined and we now have a permanent home at the local RSL club.  We are invited to bring music to the group for us to learn and practice. It is a diverse group with a range of tastes ranging from pop, rock and through to country. Numbers such as Eva Cassidy’s haunting cover of Fields of Gold, Under the Milky Way by The Church and classic country favourites by Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. The group is still evolving and bonding but we look forward to our Thursday night sessions. Music has such a positive impact on people and without the pressure of having to perform in public it provides an opportunity for us to learn. I own a blue guitar bought for my birthday from Aldi that sits on the KISS book for learning chords in my lounge room in anticipation of me finding time to learn.

My other consuming passion is photography. A local Facebook group encourages photographers to share their images and improve our skills behind the camera. Living in such a beautiful part of the world sees lots of wonderful outdoor shots including mountains, rivers and animals featured.  I was quite pleased with several awards for photos I entered in the local show last November. The administrator of the page also puts out challenges to develop our creativity. One member is a professional portrait photographer and gave up his time for free to conduct a workshop for interested members. So about three weeks ago, three of us had the opportunity to learn how to do studio-quality portraits with a professional model. The only cost was a contribution towards the hire of the model (also a trained actor) who was an amazing subject to capture. Also got some tips on editing with a professional software package.

On the study front, I have just completed a unit in Overseas Development which I enjoyed and gained several new insights into how aid is delivered in developing countries. Now I am embarking on a unit called Sustainability, Ecology & Communities which involves a major project. Slowly getting closer to the end!

There is no shortage of activities to keep us occupied. My duties as show secretary have kept me a lot busier than expected and I am still on a committee for a community house in Melbourne. But we did manage a week away using my timeshare allocation down at Victoria’s Phillip Island. The Penguin Parade is an a popular national and international tourist attraction. The little penguins nightly descent from the sea up to their burrows above the beach has made Phillip Island one of the must-see places. There is a lot of new building there to expand the site for the increased tourist numbers. But there is plenty of other things to do on the island which is linked by a bridge from San Remo on the mainland.

 

We weren’t worried about seeing the little penguins because we have done that before when we were still living in Melbourne. One area that has had a significant makeover is near The Nobbies. Gone is the tired-old bright blue kiosk covered in seagull droppings. In its place is a fairly new attraction called the Antarctica Journey which uses a mixture of cinema and photography to create a stunning visual display. There is an interactive section popular with young and old – with lots of selfies the order of the day. It is a wonderful way to experience what it would be like to be in Antarctica in an eco-friendly way. We loved it so much, we ended going again the following day with friends who hadn’t been there in 10 years. They loved it too. Of course there is a shop and a licensed café that looks over the wild seascape as it lashes against the rock formations known as The Nobbies. It was freezing cold and wet but if one is wrapped up, the walk along the boardwalk provides great views and you may even see the blow-hole in action.

 

 

Later in the week we did a boat cruise out to Seal Rocks which is not far past The Nobbies. Be warned you can feel a bit queasy from the choppy sea and if you are down wind of the seals, the smell can be overwhelming too. It was worth the trip to see so many Australian fur seals in one place. The younger pups frolic around the boat and leap out of the water and dive below in great numbers. On the rocks the adults including several large males are sunning themselves. Several 100 seals have chosen this wild part of the coast as home.

IMG_6556_editedIMG_6527_edited

IMG_8723_edited
Leaping seals, Seal Rocks.

 

Despite the rain every day, we managed to fit in some walks on the various surf beaches, a change from looking at our hills and mountains. Another worthwhile visit while on the island was to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. A war that caused a lot of division among many Australians with many protesting our involvement in an American conflict. Sadly, when serving soldiers returned, they did not receive the welcome back that those from World War 1 and 2 did. The Vietnam War had a profound impact on the physical and mental health of many men. It has taken many years, but finally recognition for their service is happening and sites such as this museum honour their contribution.

After a wet week away we return home to dry, sunny days. But winter has arrived with icy blasts felt from the mountains this week and 21ml of rain over one day.  The town is overflowing with visitors during this long June weekend in honour of the Queen’s birthday (which is in April!) and the official start of the snow season. Not much snow to be had but plenty of fun. Bolly and I enjoyed a day up  at Mt Buller last weekend while entry was still free. Freezing cold but enough snow for tobogganing and snow ball fights.

 

We have some friends from the city staying for the weekend with their two young children so our house is full. Always lovely to have young people around and see the world through their eyes! Attempts to catch yabbies in our dam proved fruitless but a lot of fun anyway. The seasons are changing and so are we, as we adapt to our new life and routine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rhythm of life

IMG_6729_edited

Waking to a sky washed with shades of pink and grey, accompanied by the melodious dawn chorus, is deeply satisfying. This morning we were also treated to the sight of four kangaroos outside our bedroom window. Sadly, these native animals because of their large numbers are culled by local farmers trying to preserve pasture for stock and we hadn’t seen any on our place for several weeks. Earlier in the year we had seen three rather large males vying for dominance. We haven’t seen them since. You still have to exercise caution when driving on our country roads during the hours of darkness because they can suddenly appear from nowhere.

Introduced species also cause havoc such as the fox.  While they are a magnificent looking creature they are a threat to young lambs and chickens. One morning I was enjoying a bowl of cereal gazing out the window well after sunup when a fox appeared outside the kitchen door.  Another morning a wayward wombat, usually a nocturnal  animal, was running across our front lawn.

Although the 40 Celsius plus days seem to have gone, the sun is still baking hot and with little rain in the past month, everything is looking brown and withered.  There some hints of autumn colour with our poplar trees sporting orange and yellow leaves. It shouldn’t be long before the local vineyards follow suite. I had a good friend come to stay who tended my rose bushes with loving care. I am amazed how hardy old roses can be. They give me great pleasure.

 

After only 7 ml rain for the whole of February, a week ago we received more than 34 ml in less than 24 hours. It is the most wonderful sound when the runoff from the gutters splashes into our rainwater tanks. This week for the first time this year, we lit our wood fire when there was a dusting of snow on the nearby mountain. But it doesn’t take long and the weather returns to sunny days of 26 degrees Celsius  plus. This bodes well for the four-day Easter break and the start of school holidays. Many take the opportunity to enjoy the good weather and as a last gasp before winter arrives. Our country town is overflowing with many tourists and visitors. For the locals, it is a good time to retreat to their homes until we can reclaim our roads and town once again. I had to laugh last year, when I heard tourists complaining there were too many tourists!

But tomorrow both Bolly (my husband) and I will volunteer our time to help out during the Easter Saturday bush market. Our Anglican church is popular with shoppers looking to relax with a cuppa and freshly baked scones enjoyed under the old pin-oak. My husband helps with the set-up and I will be on the stall for our Friends of Venilale group which raises funds for East Timor.

Two weeks ago we hosted a Trivia Night at our church which supports remote area schools in Timor-Leste in partnership with the “Friends” group. We had run similar nights in Melbourne but were not sure how we would go here in a new place. But thanks to a lot of support and a good turn-out on the night it was a highly successful event as well as being a lot of fun.

As if the weekend was not already busy enough I also helped out at the local campdraft (an Australian competition which involves horses and cattle) which was run the same weekend. I am on the local agricultural and pastoral show society committee which supports the event which is held at the showgrounds. Dry and very dusty conditions. On the Sunday, the wind was horrendous, with a very high fire warning being issued. Fortunately, no fires in our part of the world although other parts of Victoria suffered property and stock losses due to bush fires. Although we had a good drenching last weekend, we still need follow-up rains.

We are enjoying a quiet, relaxing afternoon on this Good Friday. Church this morning was an opportunity to reflect and think about the sacrifice made for us all on the cross. Life and death entwined. For some it is a highly emotional time and a reminder of grief in our own lives. Other denominations are invited to join the Catholic parish as they walked the stations of the cross in one of our main streets. A visible reminder to those passing by on foot or car about the reason for Easter.

There seems to be a rhythm to our daily routines as we settle into our second year as permanent residents.  We now have new friends that we welcome into our home and lives, as well as our old city friends. Wednesday has become our social bike riding day. For health reasons, I had avoided cycling for over two years but decided to give it a go. Our group has a mixture of men and women, some retired and others working part-time. It has proved to be a wonderful experience with everyone getting on so well and really considerate of each other regardless of how slow we may be! It has morphed into a farm drop in session as we cycle around and enjoy hospitality at each other’s homes. Sometimes we do short rides around the township followed by morning tea at a popular local café, or along the rail-trail for longer rides of up to 28kms or ride out to Lake Eildon.

The rhythm of life is interrupted for our friends and neighbours when they lose love ones. We attended one funeral for my girlfriend’s father, buried not far from his farm in a quiet, country graveyard with extended views of the hills beyond. It was a fitting end to a life well-lived. The other funeral was the brother of our neighbour who we had never met because he was living and working overseas. We felt privileged to be able to share in hearing about the life of a man taken too soon who lived his life to the full. Again we are reminded of the fragility of life and how precious each moment is.

It has taken some months but finally, I feel this is where I am supposed to be.  I have found that rhythm and with a tweak here and there, my life is like a river meandering through this beautiful landscape, that never fails to lift my spirits.

IMG_4670 (2)

 

 

 

 

The permanent tree change – one year on

IMG_5019
The hill behind our property by artist Greg Footit

Still busy clearing up after last month’s storm with the help of several special friends and recovering from the festive season, so there has been little time to reflect on our transition to full-time country life. This month also marks one year since my husband retired from full-time work, although he has just spent three weeks down in the city filling in over the new year at his old job! Of course, the storm hit while he was away.

We enjoyed a pre-Christmas lunch at our house with our new friends who we met through the local church last year. Had our new neighbours over for a barbecue tea with their three young children before Christmas. I forgot how lively five-year old boys can be! But great kids.  Then we got to enjoy a splendid Christmas Day lunch with 16 others at another friend’s home in town. Then it was up early to travel to the city to enjoy Boxing Day celebration with my husband’s two sons. The eldest boy loves to cook and is addicted to the TV cooking channel!

This time of year also brings extreme heat waves with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. Always seems to coincide with the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne. When we made our permanent move this time last year, it was hot then too. The addition of a reverse cycle last March has made those exceptionally hot days bearable.  We try not to run our air-conditioner any more than we have to in interest of keeping costs down and trying to be more environmentally friendly. The year has flown and the list of jobs around the place doesn’t seem to get any shorter!  But we are not complaining – we love our new lifestyle and enjoy being surrounded by the great outdoors despite the challenges it throws at us.

img_5018-e1516412633831.jpg
An artist’s impression of our new home by Greg Footit. Painted in spring following a wet winter.

Our days and nights, weeks and months, are now marked by the ever-changing seasons, the surrounding views of nature and man at work, a passing parade of wildlife and bird life in what we now call our bubble!  Connecting with the outdoors in such a personal and engaging way, makes it difficult to leave here sometimes. This doesn’t mean we have turned into hermit monks; my internet connection and other activities in town make sure of that. I have just picked up a part-time administration role with a local community organisation which looks like keeping me very busy. My studies continue with six units to complete to get my degree. I continue to discover the joys of blogging and connecting with many others from across the world.  It provides a wonderful opportunity to write and be read by a diverse range of people.

My husband Bolly and I have reconnected with old friends and made some new ones in the past year. We are so blessed to live in such a vibrant and active local community. My passion for Timor Leste continues with my involvement with the local friendship group and I hope to return again soon with Bolly. Throughout the year we have been involved with Landcare Group activities and still thinking through the best use of our small acreage.

Work on the house which is mainly cosmetic is still ongoing. The kitchen and bathrooms are earmarked as major renovation projects this year. But then there is still my dream of being a horse owner again and getting back on board after many years!

I have earmarked 2018 as my best year ever. I think 2017 was like a gap year for me but it is time to spread my wings and see what lies over the horizon.  Escape to the High Country is part of that journey and I look forward to others travelling with me into a new year.

The storms of summer continue…

The fury of  what I can only describe as being  akin to a tornado battered our property late afternoon on December 28.  In a scary five minutes it managed to wreak havoc.  It  ripped healthy limbs from solid old gum trees and strewn them several metres away including under our veranda. Our spacious lawn area was covered in leafy branches and the canopy of our majestic gum had been shredded to pieces leaving it to look rather sparse. A mix of hail, rain and extreme winds hit the house horizontally, tossing my pot plants asunder and blowing the outdoor furniture down the paddock. It was wild. So much water was coming in under the doors, that I had to use nearly every towel I owned on the sodden carpets.  It wasn’t safe to venture outdoors. Then as quickly as it came, the storm abated leaving just drizzle and a huge mess to clean up.

 

Fortunately, I had grabbed my two cats prior to the onslaught. The day had been muggy and oppressive, so a storm wasn’t unexpected given the clouds that rolled in later. But this was nothing, I had experienced before. My husband was down in the city working so I didn’t get to share this with him until much later. When it was calmer and safer I took a walk outside. I was gob-smacked at the damage to our trees. Our olive tree and weeping cherry were  spilt through the centre. My exercise ball was over the fence in my neighbour’s paddock. The cover over our rain water tank pump had been blown off some distance away. In my previous post, I talked about the damage to our driveway from a previous storm; well it has got a whole lot worse now. Just waiting for a very busy local guy to come and fix it.

Neighbours rang to see if we were OK. One family had lost all their chickens and another couple got the brunt of the storm with huge trees uprooted, gates ripped off their hinges and the well-maintained grape vines battered beyond belief. The storm was fairly localised.  The following day, I could see where numerous trees had been uprooted or branches snapped off in a row and the next row of trees left untouched. Sadly, I did hear a nearby property reported loss of cattle and someone else heard a horse had died as well. Given the large number of cattle and horses in the area, it was amazing there were not more losses.

We did feel for our builder and neighbour, who unfortunately had a tree collapse on the roof of his house and work ute. Like good neighbours people rallied round to lend him a helping hand. I had an older husband and wife team arrive with chain saw and dressed for work, help me clear some of the fallen branches and limbs while my husband was away.

The sound of chain saws can be heard throughout the valley as landholders deal with the aftermath of the storm. No shortage of wood for next winter. It has been a bit tricky trying to clean up with the heat wave and a total fire ban day as well. My husband Bolly and I were so proud of ourselves that we had done such a great job getting fire ready and this latest storm undid all that good work. At least, I’m getting a good workout by raking leaves and carting wood. I’m hoping the new year will be a bit calmer weather-wise!

 

IMG_6369