Friday, December 28, 2012

Rolex Sydney to Hobart 2012

I have a new appreciation for yachting after having experienced the homecoming of the boats in the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race for 2012. My past experience was one run out from Bowen as part of the Cruising Yacht Clubs twilight sailing series in December last year on a small yacht, crewed by two, with two spectators.....and a top speed of perhaps 10 knots. These yachts are crewed by approximately 18 crew, are 100 foot long and sail at up to 30 knots. Chalk and cheese really. The buzz in Hobart over the last couple of days has been incredible. It really has been fun to be a part of it. Seeing Wild Oats XI come up the mouth of the Derwent and into Constitution Dock was amazing. The size of these craft, their dependence on the air currents and the fact that they were so far ahead of the second boat to cross the line is inspiring. The money invested in these yachts is in the seven digits. Crews are professional and spend their year sailing the world honing their craft. While we watched Wild Oats XI come across the line from our room - perfectly positioned adjacent to the action, we headed down to the dock mid morning and saw not only other boats crossing the line, but were allowed access to the marina to view the boats from close quarters. Seeing them up close and personal makes you realise the passion those people who sail them must have. No creature comforts, limited protection from the ocean and almost two days at sea. Dedication to the max. Even the guy steering has a bum rail only to lean against - no seat! People in Hobart have really got behind the race and each and every time a yacht crosses the line there is a crowd of people lining the docks to wish the crew well and cheer them home. Restaurant staff are up with current details and there is a leader board with yacht names and estimated finish times which is updated as each boat crosses the line. As for my race favourites? Living Doll retired with a broken rudder, but Black Jack crossed the line fourth! Not a bad effort for one of the little guys. With three quarters of the fleet still to come in, it looks like Wild Oats XI might take out the trifecta - line honours, race record and handicap. I guess that can only be seen as a good investment for her owners, the Oatleys from Hamilton Island.

Swallows nesting

I had been looking for where the swallows might have been nesting, given they were absent from their usual position in the wood shed. Finally the location of their new nest was revealed as being within the old aviary. Once used for breeding budgerigars, it has been unused for some time. That said, the swallows have worked out an access point, swooping down and entering between the roof post and iron sheeting. How they do this at the speed they do, navigating the tiny space available is beyond me. So after watching them come and go for a day I decided to explore further as their continued activity suggested that they were busy for a reason.....and what a reason. Perched just above head height, on a ledge inside the doorway is a beautiful little mud nest. Lined with feathers, what I originally thought to be a nest ready for eggs, was in fact filled tight with baby birds. I had to drag a rock in to stand on so that I could look down into the nest itself, but this improved view revealed that what I originally thought was a feathered lining was the babies themselves. They are wedged in so tight I have been unable to count them as yet....but am guessing perhaps three babies. They have an inbuilt mechanism to sit quietly so that predators are unaware of their location. So they sat, eyes closed, barely moving, snug in their little nest, protected from the wind. I imagine this changes as soon as a parent comes back with food....then it will be on, all of them clamouring for food. Incredible to think that these migratory birds will soon be headed off on a long distance trek.

Echidna heaven

Amazingly we saw not one, but two, echidna's in the wild today. The plan was to head from the farm into Hobart for a couple of days to enjoy the yachts coming in on the finish line for the end of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart. An added bonus being to participate in the Hobart Food and Wine Festival so it was excitement all around. As you leave the farm, there is a stretch of dirt road, about 10 minutes driving, before you turn onto sealed roads. It was on this stretch we saw the first little echidna. Initially I was distracted by the two goats running along the side of the road. These we slowed down for. Then we realised that between our position and the goats, there was an echidna walking along. We stopped the car and I jumped out for a better view. Incredibly the echidna continued walking straight towards me....and kept coming. I only had access to the iPhone so the photos aren't the best, but this little guy just kept on coming. Perhaps the wind was disguising my presence, but he kept coming straight towards me....just before he would have had to climb into my lap to go up and over he turned off, headed down the ditch and went on his way. An incredible experience as he was so close I could have touched him....if I was stupid! Those quills would put most people/animals off. The second echidna experience was less a warm and fuzzy one than one whereby we held our breath as we watched another, larger, echidna survive crossing the road into oncoming traffic. The echidna survived, the car that stopped for him almost written off by the caravan behind as cars tried to avoid the confusion. Too close for comfort in my book!

Hidden treasure

On a side note I was interested to discover an anomaly about Dreaming in colour. Because I am away from home at the moment, I took the dust jacket off the book so that I minimised the risk of damage to this beautiful book. I was surprised to note that the text on the dust jacket varies compared to that on the hard cover that the book is bound into. In addition, I was delighted to find that the hard cover was in fact even more colourful and an example of beautiful graphic design work. This little gem would have gone undiscovered unless I removed the paper cover.....what a loss. As for the endpapers? I will let you decide.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A book is forever

It interests me that there is still ongoing debate about the value of books, but particularly the life expectancy of print books. While I received many beautiful gifts for Christmas (Italian pasta machine included in the tally) it is one of the books that I received that has most inspired me. One of those books best described as a visual feast, full of colour, inspiration and creativity, it is the autobiography of Kaffe Fassett - Dreaming in colour. A combination of autobiographical musings, photographs of people significant to this artist and bulging with images of his artwork this book was always going to be a favourite. One of Kaffe's earlier works, Glorious Inspiration, sits on my shelf at home. It too has given me hours of pleasure over the years. Focused less on his paaterns and more on his designs and on what has given him inspiration over the years it is full of collectible items and object d'art from places the world over, including the Victoria and Albert Museum. Some items, readily identified within his artwork and design. As an artist he is perhaps unique in that his career spans across a range of artistic medium....some less traditional than others....from knitting and textile design, to patchwork, mosaic and more traditional forms of painting. Add to that the fact that although he was US born, he was setting out as an artist in the UK in the sixties, and his story was always going to be an interesting one. I had the pleasure of listening to Kaffe speak at a public lecture some 15+ years ago, so this early introduction to the man and his work suggests that this book will keep me happily occupied, continuing to inspire for some time to come. As for the print vs electronic debate? Give me a living breathing book that you can hold, browse, smell and touch anytime. Where is the romance in a backlit version?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Around the farm

Today we again spent time working around the farm. This can mean all or any of the following with breaks for lunch, to answer the phone, when neighbours stop by, toilet stops and for a cold drink - depending on the need. Visiting the sheep is now a favourite past time. While still timid, I think they are beginning to tolerate me. We are having ongoing water issues. A fix it option for the pump held temporarily but has now failed and expert assistance is required. In the interim I had cleaned out the water trough (full of weed) and we had refilled the trough with water pumped in from one of the tanks. At the rate the water has disappeared though, there are still issues, so today we moved the sheep from the bottom paddock into the top paddock which has its own dam. Bingo! Water problem solved. While the flock moved pretty well there are always a couple of silly sheep who break away and do their own thing. Entertaining perhaps, but annoying when you want to achieve something specific with them. Eventually we got everything sorted though so they should be good now while we get the pump sorted. While the quad bike is still firm favourite in the farm toys stakes, I advanced to the ride on mower today. So, after some instructions and safety alerts from Frank I headed off to mow the area around the house, shed and entrance to the chicken run. Not a bad effort for a beginner. Frank in the meantime hitched the slasher to the tractor and headed off to cut the grass in the orchard and within the chicken run. For the uninitiated, the chicken run is about a quarter of an acre. He then started running along the edges of the paddock on the fence line. A good idea, in theory, as snakes can be an issue and a clear access point is sensible. The thing is,the tractor didn't know this and decided to spit the dummy. By the time I wandered down to see what was happening Frank was headed for home, with the tractor limping along with no steering. Apparently you can manoeuvre a tractor without steering - with individual brakes for the rear wheels you can steer of sorts. Enough at least to get you out of trouble. Even so, it was a slow return to the home paddock. The orchard has apple and cherry trees in it, as well as one solitary olive. With no one around on a regular basis though it is unlikely the fruit will be edible this year. Apparently without sufficient water, the fruit is quite tart. Definitely an acquired taste. I have never seen cherries growing before so it was interesting to see the fruit forming on the tree. I now know why we pay $20 a kilo for these little red treasures. They would have to be picked by hand and as such most of the cost must be in labour. Nothing beats a good cherry! With the tractor confined to the shed we went to Plan B, with Frank mowing the lawn around the house, while I continued to do battle with the weeds. The garden shows signs of having been quite beautiful at some stage with more flowers than I can identify. With natural rocks edging the beds and the soil a beautiful dark loam, the beds are pretty easy to weed. I think that after working off and on for the past three days I have probably tidied up 1/5 of what is needed. I have also dug out more weeds from the lawn than I can count. You know those sneaky ones that have a long root and lots of leaves that cluster together and you need a special tool to lever them out with? I have the bruised hand to prove it. The lawn looks like some little animal has been popping up here and there, with little patches of bare dirt where there was once a weed. Hope the grass recovers! That little lot pretty much kept us busy for the best part of the day. Doesn't leave much time for getting into mischief!

Christmas in Tasmania

Christmas in Tasmania is quite unlike anything I have yet experienced. That said, the number of cold Christmases I have experienced can be counted on one hand. Venice in 2006 with chicken and mass in Italian in the morning both highlights, as was the queue outside Louis Vuitton on Christmas Eve. For 2012 a fire in the hearth and holly in the garden made it a memorable day. The pace of Christmas on the farm is something special too. Slow breakfast, gifts, a wander up to see the sheep, leisurely roast lunch, phone call to family, time before the fire, drinks with friends in the afternoon. Perfect.

Daylight saving

I'm afraid I can't quite get my head around daylight saving. Seems to me having more hours in the day just means you run around more, doing more, then have dinner at some odd (late) hour, then you sit around for a bit longer as your brain is telling you it is just too weird to go to bed when it is still daylight. Then at the other end of the day it is still confusing as I am waking up with the light to find I have "slept in!"

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Lamb whispering

There is nothing sweeter than waking to the sound of the sheep talking. Until you realise that one is a lot closer than it ought to be. With a number of paddocks surrounding the farmhouse, you get good at gauging where the sheep are. They tend to stay close together and the volume of noise is melodically consistent. So, to hear one dissenter in the crowd makes you sit up and take note. Translate that as leapt out of bed and go to investigate. So, it was no surprise to see one lamb wandering the home paddock (that is, where the sheds are located, vehicles and equipment are stored) mournfully crying out for Mum. I closed the gate to confine him to that area, then pondered my next move. Luckily for me he headed in the right direction, moving towards the gate securing the main paddock where the rest of the flock were. I like to think it was my lamb whispering ability, then again, it could have been the site of me in gumboots and t-shirt so early in the morning. Either way, he headed exactly where I needed him. Thankfully there was a happy with visions of opening a gate to return one lamb and 200 others heading out of the gate in the opposite direction was inconceivable. The lamb wiggled and pushed and somehow managed to squeeze back through where the gate joins the fence, to run straight to Mum for some comforting. No squeezing through for me though, so I opened the gate and went through to see how everyone was. When I was visiting the farm last it was just in time for the lambing. Now this batch of tiny wee things have had a couple of months of feeding with Mum, lots of summer grass and sunshine and they are thriving. Most lambs are now almost half the size of their Mums which makes for some fun antics when they feed, which they still do. Have you ever seen a sheep do star jumps? I witnessed just this thing when rather large twins decided to hit Mum up for a feed. One each side, head butting to stimulate the flow of milk was enough to raise her back legs off the ground. To see her tolerate this for a few minutes was the most entertaining thing I have seen in some time. Finally having had enough, she moved off with twins following after her. The bond between the sheep and their young is strong, with family units very much sticking together. Lily has again proven herself to be a great Mum, and her lamb Roger is now a hefty young lad. Lily was one of the hand reared lambs from a few years back, and she is by far the friendliest, coming when you call her. She will let me touch her, although Roger remains at a safe distance on the other side of Mum. Jessie, one of the Black Faced Suffolk sheep will also come and say hi....she just takes a little longer to come forward but will do so when she is ready. Another of the Black Faced Suffolk's Sweet Pea has also decided to make friends this trip. Seeing a couple of hundred sheep flooding up the hill to the top of the paddock where you are standing is quite awe inspiring. Turns out they thought I had food, so they happily came up to say hi, swarming around me bleating. Getting up close and personal is a great way to start the day, so happy ending for all.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bird spotting

Incredible though it is to believe the best spot for bird watching at the farm is from inside the house. This beautiful old farm house has many windows with a garden outlook. My favourite spot is in the family room, just off the kitchen. Catching the morning sun it is the perfect spot to look out onto the garden. With a little patch of lawn, some garden beds and a wild patch left for the local wildlife, birds seem to love this spot. As for me, with a sofa, and fire place I too am snug while I look out at the world beyond. The tally so far is as follows - a Little Wattlebird enjoying the nectar from the bottlebrush. Although the name suggests otherwise, this guy wasn't so little. A good sized bird, although obviously smaller than other wattle bird species, he had beautiful speckled feathers and was obviously enjoying the nectar. The Superb Fairy Wrens are still here, although not as easily spotted as my last visit. The male comes around in the late afternoon sunshine, working over the lawn for a last snack before settling down for the evening. His Jennies, of which there are currently two, watch proceedings from the safety of the nearby bushes. They seem to be erring on the side of caution, as opposed to my last visit where they regularly came down into the garden, dancing across the lawn and displaying on low lying shrubs. That said, their favourite haunt then, was in another part of the garden. More secluded and sheltered, with a natural little amphitheatre formed by foliage. It was the perfect viewing point for these little birds. Now, if they would only stay still long enough for me to take their photo! The Green Rosella's have taken me by surprise. Whereas previously I had only seen them up on the high part of the property, in the farthest corner from the house, yesterday they came down into the trees adjacent to the farm house. A small group of four or five birds flew in and settled to feed for a while. These Rosella's are less flamboyant than the Eastern Rosella's we get at home, but they are equally beautifully. It amazes me that from behind they camouflage so well, yet if you see them from the front, or as they take off in flight, a vivid flash of colour announces their presence. The Starlings get the award for the most numerous and the dumbest birds on the farm. They are in such healthy numbers they can only be considered in pest proportions, yet I still find myself rescuing them if I can. It seems these kamikazes of the bird world like nothing better than to launch themselves into the chimneys and fire flues. Wouldn't be a problem if they could get out again, but they can't. So, current tally is three birds rescued and one who wasn't discovered in time. Rescuing these twits involves closing all doors, windows and other egress points, gathering a towel or the like, stealthily opening the door to the firebox, then trying to secure the bird/birds before they launch themselves into the room. Fingers crossed, but so far so good....and even though considered a pest, rescue is much preferable to a slow death through smoke inhalation or starvation. One happy little visitor has been the Common Blackbird. As their name suggests these guys sport jet black plumage, but have a bright orange beak. This and their attitude makes them appear to be the comedians of the farm. If birds could talk these guys would be the ones cracking jokes. They are always busy getting about their business, whatever that might be. Better get back to my bird watching....might miss something if I spend too long blogging instead of bird spotting. Late addition...spotted a European Goldfinch this afternoon. It was sitting in a nearby tree singing a beautiful song until a Myna came and scared it off. Bummer.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Digging potatoes

In Tasmania there is something called a pink eye. On spotting a road side sign I originally thought pink eyes were fish. Not so. Apparently they are a variety of potato. Best boiled and eaten with a slab of butter and some fresh herbs. If you want to roast or mash your potatoes a pink eye is not for you. So, variety taken care of, it is now all about how you get them. One option is to buy them. Woolies and Coles count on this. But why buy them when wonderful neighbours grow them and share their harvest with you. We were offered a bucketful....way beyond our requirements...but I still took the opportunity to go and learn how to "dig" potatoes. First you need the right gear. This translates as ditching city footwear for country style work boots. Ok, the pair I borrowed didn't quite fit, and everyone laughed as I revealed my city slicker socks, but a borrowed pair of Blundstones would see me through. Then it was hiking up the hill to the potato paddock, with a Cascade carton in hand. Empty, the recycled carton becomes the perfect receptacle to fill. Once in the paddock we easily spotted the harvest point - the pitch fork sticking out of the ground being a dead give away. Neat rows of knee high plants sprouted like sentries on parade. With so many to choose from it was interesting to learn that you don't just select the next one in line. Rather, you look for the plant that is growing little "tomatoes". Actually called potato "apples", these provide a handy visual signal that the potatoes buried below are ready to harvest. Next step then is to isolate the base of the stalk, and assess where the stalk and earth meet. Then you estimate half a metre out from the stalk and dig the pitchfork into the soil. As you lever the pitch fork down, the earth crumbles open and potatoes are revealed. You shake the excess soil off and gently gather the potatoes into your box. The soil, dark and loamy, just invites you to sink your hands in to feel for any renegade potatoes. There are always one or two sitting snuggly in the soil that didn't come up in the first pull. The incredible thing about fresh pink eyes is that their skin is so soft you can brush it off by hand. Gently applying pressure from your fingers the skin just peels back to reveal, creamy yellow potato flesh. After pulling the plant up and collecting the potatoes you lay the plant down over the dip in the earth and move on to look for more "tomatoes". Then you repeat the process again and again, until your box is full. You leave just enough room in the top to gently tuck in one or two plant stalks to act as a protective cover over your treasure then head back down the hill to the farm house. Dinner sorted. As for me, I recommend Duck River, the best butter in Tassie.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wildlife spotting

The best place to see kangaroos in Cunnamulla is the local cemetery. With the groundskeeper looking after the lawns and maintenance there is a ready supply of water and grass, so the local kangaroo population seem to know they are onto something good. The local mob must number 30 or more animals. While they were great to see, the most incredible nature experience of the visit (although watching the swallows was right up there) was the opportunity to see an echidna in the wild. We went late one afternoon over the bridge at the edge of town and out to the sunset viewing platform. As we walked along the path we came across an echidna just starting out on his evenings activities. Ambling along, he was disturbed by our interest so he immediately dug down at the base of a tree. From seeing his snout and little face, suddenly all we had was a view of his menacing prickles. You would have to be mad to go in for a closer look. So, with breath held, I waited for him to relax. Soon, his little head came up, his snout sniffed the air, then he went back to business, climbing over a branch, then heading off into the grass to continue his evening foraging. As for the sunset? Yes, it was lovely, but it couldn't compare to seeing this little guy in his natural environment.

Nest spotting

Local knowledge is a valuable resource. There was no way I would have spotted this Willie Wagtail nest without being shown where it was located. So, thanks are in order to my colleague from Yowah. He showed me the exact spot to look to see this hanging safely up in the tree. The incredible thing was that when I went back the next day to show a friend, I had trouble finding it - even though I knew exactly where it was. It was almost as though the leaves had grown up around it overnight to obscure it from prying eyes.

Cunnamulla bird life

The bird life in Cunnamulla is perfect for any beginner twitchers. On the road into town we saw an emu with his five chicks. Something I didn't know was that chick stealing is rife, with males trying to take over broods from other birds. While I didn't see it, a local told us of one male who currently has twenty chicks in his brood. Incredible thought! All those mouths to feed. I saw galahs and short billed corellas in large numbers - a flock of corellas must have numbered in the hundreds. We also saw the local gaggle of geese. This group lives down on the banks of the Warrego River, seeming right at home, evidently well loved (and fed) by locals. The birds that amazed me the most were the swallows. They nest at this time of year under the eaves of local buildings. While the local NAB has the most nests, it was those outside of the window of the Paroo Shire Council building that I was best able to observe. It really was a privilege to spy on these guys through the window. The nests are made of mud. Constructed in such a way that they cling to the eaves, with a bulge to hold eggs/babies, which then has a tube like entry point for the parent bird to squeeze in and out of to gain access to the nest. Made of mud the mind boggles at how many thousands of trips backwards and forwards the swallows must make with a mouthful of mud, to add to the construction. The nest ends up being sort of striped, and quite beautiful. I can only imagine this is because the source of the mud changes, or dries at a different rate. Actually I have no idea what causes the stripes, but I am in awe of these little birds. I know little about swallows, but do know that some are migratory travelling huge distances, so can only assume that these little guys fly half way around the world, then on arrival have to build their nest. What a mammoth effort! Postscript - since returning home I have perused my trusting Field guide to Australian birds, and am pleased to report that these little guys actually seem to be Martins, not Swallows....oops.

Cunnamulla Railway Station gets a HistoryPin make over

This site really was a highlight of my visit to Cunnamulla. While still in use for freight train access, the station is now looking a little tired and neglected. That said, this grand old girl is still well worth a visit. The unique thing about the station is that it has a covered platform. Apparently there are only three covered platforms in Queensland. While the station started being used in 1878, the current structure dates from 1930 as the original was destroyed by fire. Interestingly, there is an historic photo in our collection at SLQ of the Cunnamulla Railway Station - complete with car parked out the front. So, of course, we tried to capture the contemporary version of this scene via HistoryPin. Unfortunately for us, though we returned on two occasions, for some reason we were in a black spot and as such couldn't take an overlay image of the contemporary view onto the historic. Telstra let us down as we just couldn't get a signal. We did however take photos - with our Mitsubishi Lancer positioned where the car was in the original photo. This we will add to the site once we are back in Brisbane.


Cunnamulla is a town full of history. As such it was easy to inspire library staff to appreciate the scope of what the UK based HistoryPin can do. With the core concept being as simple as loading photos (historic and contemporary) and "pinning" the geographic location, it really is pretty easy to use. Colleagues had posted some historic images from our SLQ collections. We then tried to match contemporary views of the same historic point of interest in Cunnamulla - and if the site was no longer recognisable added contemporary images of other points of interest instead. The old to new idea is fun and actually allows for a "fade in" overlay mechanism so that the years disappear before your eyes. Pretty neat really. We went on an afternoon excursion, everyone walking around town with their iPads at the ready to take photos and "pin" away. Much to the amusement of local townspeople. Even some of the local kids stopped to see what we were doing....the sight of the "oldies" using iPads was too good to pass up...."what you doing with iPads Miss?" So, tally for the afternoon was to capture contemporary views of the ambulance building, the Invincible Theatre and the Cunnamulla fountain as overlays of historic images. In addition we pinned the Paroo Shire Council building (funnily enough this appears on the main Cunnamulla post card), the now derelict Trappers Inn which is an historic hotel and the old RSL Cub. Currently for sale if anyone has disposable funds and wants to look at redeveloping the site. A solid brick building on a corner site it could again become a key destination in the community.


I have just spent the last week working from a base in the Paroo Shire Council Chambers in Cunnamulla. The Boardroom no less. What a great experience. Along with staff from the public library in Cunnamulla we also had staff from Wyandra, Yowah and Thargomindah join us. For those of you not too sure of where Cunnamulla is - imagine a 9 hour drive west of Brisbane and you would be close. Wyandra is an hour out of town on the Charleville road. As for Thargomindah? Irene had a four hour return trip each day to join us. How's that for she made it seem like it was just down the road - no trouble at all. Country people, and their outlook on life continue to amaze me. They really are inspiring. So, what did we do? Databases, OneSearch (the State Library) catalogue, eBooks, iPads, online resources, making your own eBooks and HistoryPin.....children's resources, story telling and craft activities, digital readers, research support and a whole swag of good stuff. It was interesting to see how the group embraced new ideas, and saw ways of connecting ideas back into practical ways for engaging with their community. Hopefully these images will give you a hint to what life in Cunnamulla is about - heat (local bar sign), humour (road sign) and highlights (detail of the Cunnamulla fountain).