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.
Spring fever has hit early with a vengeance this year and has curtailed my usual activities. From feeling a bit off-colour to full-blown hay fever and a chest infection I am currently limping along. The coughing spasms and lack of energy do little to inspire the creative juices. But in-between coughing fits I have been reviewing some of my most recent photos and trying to do a cull and select a few that represent spring in my part of the world until I feel better to write about some of the things that have been happening in my life in recent weeks. Until then better stock up on those hay fever pills!
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.
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.