Unprecedented

Nature is a picture of resilience

Several words have become the new catch phrases of our world-wide “new normal” during the Coronavirus pandemic including “unprecedented”, “stay home” and “we’re all in this together”. So stay home I have except for one trip into town, my first in two weeks. It was an eerie feeling and not a lot of joy to be had. Strict hygiene measures were in place at the pharmacy and supermarkets. People giving me a wide berth on the street as part of their social distancing. There are still shortages of certain items and limits are in place.

There was an hour and a half wait to pick up prescriptions so my husband and I had to fill in time. It is not worth going home when you live more than 20 minutes away. Cafes are only open for takeaway coffees but you are not allowed to sit outside to drink them. An older friend of ours got moved on the other day by the police for enjoying a coffee in the median strip with a friend after their bike ride.

You are allowed to exercise (just don’t congregate) so we did a walk around town which was very quiet. Otherwise, we have been self-isolating on our 25 acres where we are surrounded by fresh air and nature in abundance. No complaints from us, it could be a lot worse and is for a lot of people.

We enjoyed stunning autumn days beginning of the week which has now ended with more 60ml of rain which was much needed. During the week I have enjoyed exploring photo opportunities and been playing around with some editing tools. Lovely to have time to do these things without feeling guilty that you should be doing other tasks.

While it is surreal staying home and not being engaged in any activities beyond our boundary fences, there has been positives in getting more jobs done and the chance to phone friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time. As they say “‘We’re all in this together” and if we pull together then hopefully sooner rather than later we will get through to the other side.

Would love to hear your comments for survival during COVID-19.

Hope beyond grief

We are drawn to the light…

Today marks the first anniversary of losing my stepson, Matt. At age 39 he made a decision to end it all. For his Dad and I it has been a journey of trying to make sense of this action and how we share his story to encourage others to talk about suicide. I wrote a post about this last year where I encouraged people to reach out to others who may be struggling

I don’t feel it is right to share his images with strangers or without his permission. I have never been one for sharing my personal grief on social media although I respect those that find it helpful. We are all different in our responses to grief. However, Matt’s Dad and I believe, that the best thing we can do is live our life to the full and honour his memory in that way.

I was clicking through my numerous photos today and I was struck by how the vision of the sun shining through the mist offered a glimmer of hope. The restorative power of nature should never be underestimated. I have gathered several pictures that resonated with me and provided a sense of beauty that speaks to the soul even when we are in a dark place.

Please remember there is help out there for yourself and loved ones. Useful links for two Australian organisations are below:

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Frenzied February!

It seems in an eye blink this month has flown with March snapping at my heels already. I guess life is like that especially when you have a diary full of activities and trips away. I started the month with a 46 degrees Celsius heatwave followed by a 22-hour power outage due to a severe storm. This did not bode well for local businesses already suffering from the economic downturn from the January fires.

Despite the heat I headed off on a mini road trip to Hay, NSW on the first weekend of February to catch up with my Mum and enjoy Tom Curtain’s “We’re Still Here” show. Air-conditioned cars and motel rooms certainly help one survive the sweltering hot weather out on the vast, flat, salt-bush plains. Although I love my home in the high country of Victoria, I have a great affection for the sweeping flat country that meets the sky on the horizon wherever you gaze. As a young girl we lived at Deniliquin about 100 kms from Hay on similar country. My big skewbald gelding Patch disappeared one day and was found on a large property several miles away a week later. I remember riding him back home on open flat country with wide roadside verges and a full-moon beaming down on us. I was only 12 but that memory is one of my favourites.

The heat was certainly intense and I felt like I was the only person travelling on the roads on my drive over to Hay. It was a thrill for me to be part of such an isolated landscape and to escape the confines of more urban areas. I came across a large herd of cattle enjoying a green pick by the edges of the large irrigation canal. This part of Australia is struggling with drought conditions. Signs on fences “water = life” and “stock needs water” emphasises the water management issues and lack of rain.

On arrival in Hay, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a ghost town. Even some of the popular tourist attractions such as Shear Outback and Bishops Court were closed. No doubt when the mercury gets into the high 40s, volunteers can’t be expected to work in those conditions. My Mum and I found an oasis being the Riverine Hotel in the main street where we drank some beers in air-conditioned comfort with many others with the same idea. The main street was empty except for the occasional B-double truck passing through with donated round bales of hay to help out those struggling to feed stock. That night the local take away was flat out with many opting out of cooking at home.

Thankfully, early next morning some rain did arrive and cooled things down considerably. That night was a pleasant temperature in the Hay Park to watch Tom and his team treat us to music, horsemanship skills, dog handling, audience participation with the young children, and a couple of goats even mingled with the crowd!

Earlier in the day Mum and I drove out to the One Tree Plain Hotel, once a staging post for the Cobb & Co drivers and horses. The rustic building is not open to the public and is now used for special events. Back in town we checked out the old Hay Gaol which also houses many historical items. The gaol in 1961 became an institution for young girls and was quite grim.

The next day Mum I fitted in checking out the local op shops and I found a couple of bargains. A coffee and toasted sandwich at newly opened café called The Black Sheep which was a cute eatery afterwards and said our goodbyes. The trip home was an easy run and I managed to fit in a side trip nearer Benalla, in Victoria’s North East to see the silo art installation at in the quaint village of Devenish, which commemorates our First World War involvement. Beautifully done. Another example of the value of public artworks.

Back home to my committee commitments. To make life more interesting my husband and I auditioned for a new local theatre group production late last year and rehearsals began in earnest this month with three sessions per week. “The Kastle” is an original stage show which carries on from where the much loved Aussie movie “The Castle” left off. The next generation of Kerrigans recreate the struggle between the ordinary working class person and beaucracy. The castle in dispute is their home. Lots of pub choir music and crazy dialogue guarantees a fun-filled performance.

However, we take our leave from rehearsals for a week so I can travel to Perth, Western Australia for my graduation ceremony. After five challenging years of studying part time via distance learning, I received my Bachelor of Arts degree. My husband Bolly and I thought it was a good reason to fly to the other side of the country and enjoy a break away at the same time. We chose a hotel in the centre of Perth which was a perfect base for lots of outings. The graduation ceremony was held outside at Murdoch University and more than 350 students were there to collect their awards. It was a special night.

Loved our time in Perth. Discovered lots of street art, good bars and eateries, and enjoyed a lively time at the Irish pub around the corner. Managed a day trip to Rottnest Island where we hired bicycles and swam at the most gorgeous beaches. Will need to do another post about our trip.

We fly back home in time for the two of us to do bar duties for the Mansfield “We’re Still Here” tour gig by Tom Curtain. It was great to catch up with Tom and the team so soon after his Hay show. Good night had by all.

Since then we have managed to fit in some cycling with our social group. We have helped friends net their grape vines to protect the fruit from the birds. Makes one appreciate the end product in a bottle even more!

This week we had an overnight trip to Melbourne for the Australian premiere of the documentary film directed by my friend Mark Street “William Kelly’s Big Picture – Can Art Stop a Bullet?” at the Nova Cinema in Carlton. This is a really thought provoking film and the artist himself was there for Q&A afterwards. The power of art for good is a strong message in this film. Please check out the website for more information about William Kelly and screenings.

https://www.kellysbigpicture.com/

Now we are back home to our country retreat to recharge for the coming month which should coincide with the start of autumn but Mother Nature may have other plans!

Weathering summer…Down Under

Where the hell did January go? I finally took down my Christmas tree late in the month rather reluctantly because I love an excuse to turn it on at night and enjoy the sparkling white lights against my blue and silver decorations. I still uphold the tradition of exchanging Christmas cards especially with those who live a long way from us and our overseas friends and families. Letters and family snaps fall out of the cards, giving us a glimpse of other people’s year that was.

The fires and smoke haze have disappeared for now in our part of the world. Kids are back at school. After a reprieve from hot days and almost 60ml of rain in the last week or so, one can almost be forgiven for thinking that we are through the worst. But the temperature gauge started to sneak up again and today it was 32 degrees Celsius at 10am. Tomorrow it will get into the mid-40s in places. January is always a funny month like that. One has plans to do lots during the quieter holiday period but when the weather is extreme it robs one of their mojo!

The holiday period has been a disaster for those who rely on the busy tourism period, so some of us locals have been trying to do our bit by spending money locally. While it is nice to be able to get a park outside your regular supermarket in town, the deserted streets are testament to a huge economic hit taken by businesses. Hard to imagine how much worse it is for those towns and regions actually burnt out.

But us Aussies are a resilient bunch and we bounce back with some help from our mates. A social media campaign “Fill Your Esky” is promoting the idea of people from the city and elsewhere to head off to places impacted by the fires and fill their ice boxes with produce and other goodies during their visit. We decided to head up to the hills to Jamieson, a pretty old timber village on the river about a half-hour drive from our home for lunch at Deb’s Café and a couple of craft beers at the Jamieson Brewery to do our bit. The Australia Day long weekend did see an influx of visitors especially for the annual river regatta which starts at Kevington. From what I heard it was well supported and loads of fun.

Here’s hoping for better things to come in 2020.

Beyond the smoky haze

Sunset through the smoke haze
Nearby hills are obscured by thick smoke haze

Summer in Australia includes the Christmas and New Year celebrations followed by fun filled relaxing holidays by the beach or camping in the bush. Boating, fishing and water-skiing are popular on large lakes and rivers. December and January have marked a period of heartache and devastation as fires raged across the country with NSW, Victoria and South Australia receiving the brunt of the damage. Many people’s holiday plans have been impacted by the closure of our national and state parks by authorities where there are fires and significant threat to life. There was the mass exodus of holidaymakers through our town when the evacuation order was made. Now it is strangely quiet and many local businesses are suffering from loss of income from the impact of the fires. Most of Victoria and NSW has been shrouded in smoke for several days with reports of smoke haze in New Zealand and South America.

We have been fortunate to only be subjected to smoke haze when so many have suffered lost of lives, homes, livelihoods, massive stock losses and trauma elsewhere. But it has been difficult to escape the wall-to-wall coverage of the fires and the social media frenzy without feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Situations like this also seems to bring out the best and the worse in humans. Stories of unsung heroes and the compassion for others has been uplifting. Another sad aspect of our bushfires is the huge loss of our native flora and fauna.

We continue to ensure on the hot days that there are plenty of water bowls around the house for all the different birds that visit us ranging from the tiny finches through to the larger magpies. Bolly(my husband) has been working extremely hard clearing any fallen leaves and branches from around our property. The hot windy days are nuisance because you have to clear up all over again! We have complied a “what to do in a fire” situation book of instructions and photos for us to refer to and for any house sitters or visitors. We have a fire-fighting pump near our dam and sprinklers in our lawn if needed. While we don’t feel in any particular danger being in cleared farming land there is still the risk of grassfires and lightening strikes hitting paddock trees.

A most welcome cool change overnight has brought 7ml of rain followed by clear, blue skies, this morning. One has to be optimistic if we are to support one another and look after our mates to get through the tough times.

The Spring that was…and the start of Summer that wasn’t.

It is not the language of the painters but the language of nature to which one has to listen.

– Vincent van Gough (1853-1890) Dutch painter

The end of November is technically the end of spring in the Southern Hemisphere but since when has Mother Nature complied with calendar definitions of the seasons? The start of summer here in the high country of Victoria saw a dump of snow on nearby Mt Buller and chilly days for the locals. We were talking to family in England and there wasn’t much difference between their temperatures and ours.

But the sun has returned with the promise of warmer days ahead. Our neighbour has tackled our long grass and soon it will be turned into large round bales for fodder. Our November has been a busy month and brings with it a mixture of joy and sadness.

The local Mansfield Festival over the unofficial Melbourne Cup long weekend brings an influx of visitors from the city to join in the activities. I help out early at the bush market on a stall to raise funds and awareness of our East Timor Friends of Venilale group while Bolly my husband is at the Anglican church setting up for the book stall and Devonshire Teas. Then at 11am myself and several others from our agricultural society group gather to participate in the annual street parade. Great opportunity to promote our up and coming show on the 16th November. Part of our display was a rusty 1937 Chevrolet farm ute which attracted plenty of attention. The rain held off until after the parade.

This Chevy hasn’t been on the high street since the 1950s! Road closed for parade traffic only.

Sunny skies were the order of the day for the Mansfield Melbourne Cup Day horse races and despite recent bad publicity about the treatment of some racehorses after their career is over, there was a good crowd and a social atmosphere for all ages. These country events also provide much needed fundraising for community groups.

We join the members of our RSL sub-branch and the wider community to pay our respects on Remembrance Day with a special service.

I somehow managed to find time to write a short story for the local Bushy Tales competition. This year’s theme was to be based on an “animal”. While I did not win with my piece about Friskie, our beautiful bushy-tailed friend who we sadly lost in October, it was published in a collection of stories and poems. I was invited on the presentation night to share my story which was written as part of my healing from the grief of losing a much-loved pet.

The 130th Mansfield Show was hailed as one of the most successful in years which was helped by perfect sunny spring weather. Without the huge effort by committee members and many other volunteers the show would not happen. As secretary my November was extremely busy. It was good to see horse entries up this year and the number of young children entering the various pavilion sections.

We entertain two lots of visitors during November and always enjoy sharing our little bit of country with them. The kids especially enjoy a ride in the trailer and wielding an axe! There are birthdays to celebrate not far from home, one a 70th and the other an 80th in idyllic rural settings. November is also sad as I remember family members who died five years ago.

But as the year draws to end, we reflect on the good things and learn from the not so good, and continue to count our blessings

Blooming spring or is there is something in the air?

These red-rumped finches are among the native Australian birds to visit us during spring.
A field of daisies to some and just annoying cape weed to others!

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!

A day to celebrate cats of the world

A social media post brought to my attention that August 8 is International Cat Day which has prompted me to share some of my favourite cat photos with the rest of the world. For more information on how this day came into being check out this link https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/international-cat-day/

I love all animals big and small but my feline friends Rambo (the black and white one) and Friskie have a special place in my heart and in my bed at times! They wandered into our suburban backyard over 13 years ago and have embraced the tree-change.

Winter solstice a reason to light up

June 1 heralds the start of winter in the southern hemisphere. From the idyllic autumnal days of warming sunshine we have plunged headlong into an extremely cold season for this part of the world. This morning I had to add a minus sign to the temperature of 3 degrees! Usually I get up early but this morning I was struggling to get warm. My feet still feel like ice-blocks but that might have something to do with popping outside to photograph a somewhat icy but stunning landscape. It reminds me of my winter travels to Lancashire and Yorkshire as I look across the open paddocks with rolling hills. But hopefully, with the sun on the way up, it will warm up soon.

To celebrate our winter solstice the Mansfield Lantern Festival now in its fifth year runs an event for all the family to get involved. In the weeks leading up to the event there are lantern workshops to encourage children to make their own. My husband and I, did the lazy adult’s version with my Ikea Christmas lanterns replacing the candles with safer lighting being the flashing red tail light from my bicycle and his head torch! There was a procession to the area which had been set up for the festivities. Loved seeing the families and the little ones with their lanterns. The cast from the forthcoming Dr Seuss musical had donned the red and white stripy tall hats with lights to promote their show. The night was clear but cold so parkas and gloves were a must. For a town of 4000 there was an excellent turn-out accounting for the queues for food and drink including a mulled cider which I can recommend. The two huge fire pits were most appreciated by festival goers and added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the atmosphere of an European city in winter. For some with littlies the nearby pub for a meal and a chance to warm up was a popular option. It is always great to talk to new people and catch up with locals. Life in this small town is never boring!

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.

Oh, well spotted deer!

Living on our 25 acres we are often surprised by special animal visitors. We often see kangaroos but deer are much rarer. Our property is surrounded by cleared farming land and lots of cattle. Up in the hills and towards the mountains Samba deer are common and considered a feral nuisance. This little fellow was prancing outside our kitchen door on our lawn late afternoon on Boxing Day. Because it was a bit nervous, I was trying to take photos through my dirty windows so the quality may not be up to my usual standard. However, my husband and I were thrilled to have such a pretty visitor. I did wonder if Santa Claus had left one of his team behind on Christmas Day. It finally with little leaps and bounds disappeared to where we don’t know.