Thursday, December 30, 2010

Temperatures soar on Phillip Island, with the whole of Victoria on Bushfire Alert

Although Phillip Island is located about 1600 km south of Mitchell (Queensland), today's temperature on the island exceeded that in Mitchell. It was 37°C compared to 34C in Mitchell. But by evening, on the island, there'll be a cool breeze blowing off the ocean and tomorrow is only predicted to be 22°C.

With memories of Black Saturday still imprinted in the minds of all Victorians, days like this (with temperatures exceeding 40°C in some places, very strong northerly winds, low humidity and a high fuel load) cause most people anxiety. On Phillip Island, however, we are in a fortunate position with water all around. A bushfire on the island is limited in the distance it can burn. Penguin and mutton bird rookeries are the most vulnerable places because of all the dry tussocky grasses and coastal scrub that covers the burrows dug into the sand. Every mutton bird burrow contains a parent sitting on an egg; every penguin burrow is likely to contain one or two downy chicks . It would be an environmental catastrophe if a bushfire burned through a rockery.

Since arriving back on the island in early December, it's been consistently too cold for me; too cold for Stego lizard who's slipped into a state of hibernation (sensible boy!); and too cold for my bonsai bottle trees. There have been no new leaves since we left Mitchell.

Sitting in a loop of the Maranoa River, Mitchell faces the danger of floods

With the Queensland floods achieving top position in news broadcasts Australia-wide, my mind swings to the Maranoa River in Mitchell. Today's technology is so immediate and so accurate that with a few clicks of the mouse we can see a graph showing the rising level of water in the river, the exact river height (4.7 m), and also photos of swirling muddy water gushing over the weir wall and then sweeping under the bridge. The water level is over the top of the murals painted on the concrete pylons; and over "my" favourite mulberry tree growing beside the bridge.

Phone calls from Mitchell keep us up-to-date with the mood of the town: irritation due to swarms of sand flies and mosquitoes; gratitude that the rain grows grass to fatten cattle; anxiety about people cut off by flood waters; worry because heavy rain has fallen in the Carnarvon Ranges and will arrive in Mitchell in four days time. Will the river spill over into the town? Pallets of sand bags, positioned at "weak" spots along roads suggest rising concern by authorities. With all roads north, south, east and west cut off by flood waters, Mitchell is stranded with no mail or food deliveries. People who have been away on holidays or business can't get home.

While I sit here on the verandah at Phillip Island, our friend Angi from Mitchell tells me (by phone), "If things get any worse we're going around to your place to get to your dinghy." My imagination runs riot as I picture her and Rod rowing up the main street in Mitchell.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mutton birds fly free yet live by the calendar


Birds soaring overhead, no matter the species, are a reminder of freedom, pure and simple. Yet, if the bird is a mutton bird, that freedom to swoop and glide is tightly controlled within a framework of dates that punctuate their calendar -- varying only by a day or so.



26 September Mutton birds arrive back on their breeding islands in Bass Strait
30 October Mate
25 November Lay their large single egg
15 January Chick hatches
18 April Adults leave rookery on their migration flight to the Bering Sea and Alaska
30 April Young birds leave to follow parents to the Bering Sea.


Then it begins all over again! For me, the mutton bird calendar is symbolic of my own migration from Phillip Island to Mitchell in Outback Queensland -- except that I don't lay a large single egg and raise a chick while spending the summer on Phillip Island.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Is the air within your home as fresh and clean as the air outside?


My new blog (http://chemicalfreehome.wordpress.com/) suggests ways in which you can detox your home. Reducing the use of chemicals in the home is my passion and one I'd like to share with you.

Everyone is affected by chemicals to some degree: everyone benefits by reducing their use of chemicals -- especially in the home. My best-selling book Chemical Free Home (published by Black Inc, Melbourne, Australia) continues to sell well; however, I see this new blog as an easy-to-follow and immediate way to help people all over Australia and the world.

The challenge of keeping the air indoors as fresh as outside is a big one. We must all be vigilant. Here on Phillip Island the wind blows off the Southern Ocean and we have some of the cleanest air on Earth. Mitchell in Outback Queensland (where we live during the winter and spring) also has excellent air quality. Large cattle properties surround Mitchell, and because there's no irrigation or cropping done in this area, pesticides and weedicides are seldom used. In Outback Queensland, most winds originate in the great yawning space of Australia's arid interior. The air is clean and dry.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kites are flying high on Phillip Island

The distance between our home and the sea is about 100 m, and is made up of grass cut regularly by the Council, a narrow strip of coastal vegetation and then the cliff. The grassed area (because of lack of powerlines) is a favourite place for kite flying -- especially as wind is commonplace.

Today the wind was perfect, and judging by the number of kites flying, I'm guessing that Father Christmas gave out many colourful and exotic-shaped kites on Christmas Day. Interestingly, it is the fathers that are having the most fun, with their kids the spectators. Swooping, crashing head-first into the tea tree, sailing ever upwards, the kites entertained a group of a dozen or so people gathered together cheering, yelling out and clapping. Fun in the sun, with brilliant yellows, reds, blues and greens against a clear blue sky.


Tonight, mutton birds will swoop and glide overhead, playing in the wind
-- but they will be more graceful than the kites and come with chuckles and coos.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Christmas / New Year message of love, peace and hope

Love, peace and hope: these powerful words express the Christmas /New Year message and all it means to me.

Kindness is another favourite word that extends from humans to all creatures great and small -- and also to our precious environment. We are all interdependent and connected.

For me, the highlight of Christmas and New Year is the opportunity to reconnect with family and friends all over the world. Doug and I do this by means of visits, cards, phone calls, e-mail and Facebook, and it's always a thrill to hear news and exchange good wishes.

A rare find on the beach on Christmas Day




Clusters of white cuttlefish egg-capsules are a rare find, but today -- Christmas Day on Phillip Island -- we found two lots washed ashore.





These pearly-white eggs are like strings of beads, clustered together. They're jelly-like, slippery and glisten with moisture. Because I wanted them to hatch into squid, I picked them up and tossed them out into the waves as far as I could -- unfortunately I'm not a natural when it comes to throwing balls or cuttlefish eggs!


It is, however, common to find cuttlefish (the internal skeleton of a squid) washed ashore on island beaches, and some people collect them for sale to pet shops where they're sold to people with caged birds, because the white lime of the cuttlefish keeps bird's beaks in good condition.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The population is about to explode on Phillip Island


With all the holiday hordes arriving on Phillip Island on Christmas and Boxing Day, today (the day before Christmas) is our last opportunity for a relaxed dog walk along "our" beach.


Over the Christmas period the population swells from around 7000 to 50,000 plus, consequently there are people and dogs everywhere. During this time, we choose to leave our two shepherds at home. There will be lots of dogs on the beach and the potential for our dogs to be rushed at by yapping, snapping little dogs off leads is too high. So today's walk, with the dogs free to run along the beach at high speed and plunge into the waves to cool off, was appreciated. Today was a glittering blue day with the tide part-way out.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The rare green flash that follows sunset


When the sun sets over the ocean, at this time of year, we make a point of standing still and watching as the last of the sun disappears "into the ocean".



If the atmospheric conditions are of a particular nature, a vivid green flash of light can be seen immediately after the last of the sun. It's a rare treat and lasts only a fraction of a second. From our verandah here on Phillip Island I've seen it about six times in about 12 years of looking. What a privilege! Tonight there was no green flash, but there was a stunning golden sunset.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Flotsam tells a complex story


The flotsam washed ashore on our part Phillip Island (the southwest corner) tells a complex story of tides, currents, storms and the action of waves.



The southerly beaches on the island bear the full force of the Roaring 40s that sweep across Bass Strait. Bull kelp, surf, jagged rocks, penguins and seals frequent these waters. On the easterly side of the island the water is calm and protected; consequently mangroves, mud flats, boat harbours and jetties are located here. Our southwest corner is a comfortable mid-way point: not too rough, not to calm. We discover flotsam from all parts of the island: the occasional strand of bull help from the southern side, and today, a bright green mangrove seedling from the east. There is no way this seedling will establish itself here because the waves are too big, but it will try. Nature is always nudging the boundaries.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cats: the good and the bad


There's nothing as comforting as a cat snuggled against you and purring. On the other hand, cats kill precious native birds -- given half a chance. There is, however, a solution.
Our Siamese cat Katie is an envirocat, meaning she lives entirely indoors. She is a bird observer rather than a bird killer. Utterly indulged and content she moves from window to window, following the sun. With numerous toys, our bed to sleep in at night, and a feeding station and litter tray she's easy to please. In return she is generous in the affection she gives, the amusement she provides and the comfort she offers in times of hardship. Our two German shepherds give Katie big slurping kisses but wouldn't dream of challenging her position as "top dog" of our family. Any other cat that ventures into our garden though, is chased out at high speed. As a result, birds are safe, and we delight in the company of wrens, honeyeaters and all manner of other feathered friends.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Treasures from the sea


In the centre of our table I've placed a large abalone shell that contains a selection of treasures found on our seashore.


In 2003, about 30 paper nautilus shells washed up onto the sand after a very high tide. These delicate creamy white shells are the eggcase of a female octopus. Last year we found just one, and it sits in pride of place in the abalone shell. Other treasures include shells exquisite in their shapes, sizes and colours, and a piece of driftwood weathered by salt, sun and sea. I tend to walk along the beach in a bit of a trance, picking up shells, nudging things with my feet, walking just above where the waves break, for here is the hardest sand. I love the smell of salt, seaweed and sun on sand; the sound of waves breaking and gulls crying; and the feel of sand between my toes.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Shipwrecks leave a feeling of foreboding

The recent Christmas Island shipwreck tragedy brings to mind the hundreds of ships wrecked on islands in Bass Strait: King Island and Phillip Island in particular, because we've lived on both islands.
Four hundred people died when the emigrant ship Cataraqui crashed into submerged rocks on the southwest corner of King Island, in 1845. The coastline of the sheep property where we lived was strewn with dead bodies. As a result of the Cataraqui tragedy 165 years ago, a heavy feeling of foreboding hangs over this stunningly beautiful coastline. My heart goes out to all those people involved in the recent Christmas Island shipwreck.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sleeping arrangements in the Stewart household


The sleeping arrangements in our home are perhaps different to most. Doug and I share a double bed (not unusual), with Katie Siamese snuggled between us, purring contentedly and with her head on my pillow.


Major, our 16-month-old black German shepherd chooses to sleep beside my side of the bed, mostly on his back with feet in the air. He avoids soft dog beds in favour of hard timber or tiles. Interestingly, he only comes to bed when the last us to shower is safely in bed. All 60 kg guards the bathroom door, sensing our vulnerability. Del prefers to sleep on a comfortable dog bed on the verandah. That way she is free to patrol our back and front garden, like her look-like, Inspector Rex. Lastly, Stego lizard sleeps in his lizard house which is full of dry grasses, only waking when sunlight floods his garden enclosure. So that's us and our sleeping arrangements!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blue-tongued lizards and Cape Barren geese


This morning Doug came inside carrying a young blue-tongued lizard he'd found in the garden. Using tweezers, we removed five ticks from one ear and three from the other, and then let it go in the shrubbery, with chopped up banana in case it was hungry.
On our way to Cowes (the "capital" of Phillip Island, but quite small) and only half a kilometre from home, we stopped to let a family of Cape Barren geese cross the road. The female led, while the male took up the rear, shepherding his five half-grown chicks safely off the road. These proud grey geese have a distinctive pale green patch on their heads, graze green grass and live and breed on islands in Bass Strait.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Controversial wind turbines and de-sal plant at Wonthaggi


Our closest service town is Wonthaggi, a 45 minute drive away from the island: over the bridge and east. It's where we do a big shop every now and then, and have our eyes checked by an optometrist, which we did today. Enormous cranes mark the site of a de-sal plant under construction at Wonthaggi, and a drilling rig can be seen anchored in the bay. Then there is the pipeline being laid through the hills, connecting the de-sal plant to the city of Melbourne. A bank of wind generators adds to what locals consider pollution of their previously unspoilt coastal vista. Locally, the de-sal plant and wind generators are very sore issues!


Back on our island, I look with renewed appreciation at the coastal scene before me. Using soft pastels, I want to capture this outlook in all its moods -- golden sunset, a sliver of new moon, full silver moon, glittering blue ocean and green hills, stormy sky of greys and blacks -- the variation is amazing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A cold front means I'm indoors today


With most of the house and caravan sorted out I began today on two of my summer projects: learning to play the guitar, and drawing the plants native to this coastal area.
The plant I chose was a blueberry rush that has dainty blue flowers that transform into green and then blue berries. The guitar involved a preliminary fiddle and a realisation that I need someone to show me a few rudimentary principles. I have a learn to play the guitar book but somehow it doesn't connect with my brain! Doug's five fig trees are laden with fruit. One small tree has two enormous figs, saved from the mouths of brush tailed possums by Del who maintains a nightly patrol of the garden. Major sleeps indoors by our bed. Writing-wise. While my book about our Double Life is being edited, I'm going to do a revision of a book I wrote years ago about St Francis and his gift with animals -- and then I'll publish it as an e-book. Probably.

Mutton birds punctuate our calendar, their timing spot on


The walking track to our beach meanders through a mutton bird rookery with tea tree, blueberry rush, pussy tails, saltbush, boobialla, correa and other native plants bordering the narrow sandy track. Thousands of mutton bird burrows surround the track, many with entrances draped artistically with the succulent foliage of New Zealand spinach.

Some people walk this track thinking the burrows belong to rabbits, however, the musky smell of the birds is a giveaway. At present, the birds are taking it in turns to sit on their large single egg, laid on 25 November. At dusk, when the flock returns after feeding on krill in the waters of Western Port Bay and Bass Strait, there is huge excitement as couples reunite in their burrows, chuckling and cooing. The nightly return of the birds is, for me, a highlight of the day, especially as it coincides with the last golden glow of sunset over the water.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Over the bridge and onto mainland Australia


A medical appointment in Melbourne today meant we had to leave the island and drive two and a half hours to the city. My gastroenterologist (Dr Virginia Knight) is a remarkable young woman who, aside from her medical practice has two young children and is doing a PhD, the subject of which is a function of the liver. She has a lovely warm personality as well as being an excellent specialist. In and around Melbourne, there is unbelievable bumper-to-bumper traffic, car exhaust fumes, traffic lights and density of housing and associated businesses, factories and shops. Both Doug and I were brought up in Melbourne but we couldn't escape fast enough, and it's only by necessity that we make a trip to the "big smoke". Rarely is it for pleasure. No way do we linger. Thankfully we can escape back to our island where wide open space opens out in front of where we live -- a grassed area, then the cliff face, sandy beach, Western Port Bay and the Mornington Peninsula. And to the west, a mutton bird rookery, then Bass Strait and the sunset beyond. Who could ask for more?

More gales lash the island, while in Mitchell the river is rising

For the third day in a row, Phillip Island has been in the direct path of rain squalls and gale force winds. From our lounge room window we can see the approach of storms, see them whip up the ocean into a frenzy of white-capped waves and rolling swell. On fine days, yachts and the Seal Rocks ferry frequent the waters of this part of Western Port Bay, but they are absent today -- it's far too rough.
Socially, we've caught up with neighbours here and talked on the phone with friends in Mitchell. Apparently the Maranoa River is rising, and mosquitoes and sand flies are becoming a serious problem. Doug has taken two trailer loads to the local tip; a deep freeze that no longer works and a load of tree and grass clippings. Our garden is gradually being brought under control after running wild for seven months. The low temperature (14°C) and the chill factor caused by the wind makes outside conditions unpleasant -- as well as giving me angina. How I long to be warm!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Gales, visitors and coffee at Harry's


Thirteen years ago I started a girls-only group on Phillip Island. Every Saturday at 11 a.m. we meet at Harry's On The Esplanade, Cowes, and enjoy excellent coffee, conversation and laughter. Today eight of us met, with Brenda driving from Melbourne to be with us (Brenda used to live on Phillip Island). It's an informal group with no minutes, excuses or obligations, just a sharing of life's experiences -- the highs and the lows -- with a generous serving of good humour. At the same time, but at a different venue in Cowes, Doug meets with his motorcycle friends and also enjoys friendship and fun.


In between squalls of horizontal rain this afternoon, our friend Robyn and her partner visited. Robyn is a fellow author and I was astonished to find that she used the same editor (Karen Ward from Tasmania) as is working on my book now. What a coincidence! Last night, I went to sleep listening to the sound of the wind howling, waves crashing and mutton birds chuckling as they circled the house. This is very much Phillip Island.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Gale force winds lash Phillip Island

After 10 days on the road, our washing machine is working hard while I dust, put away, iron, clean and rearrange our island home. Meanwhile, gale force winds lash the island -- yet our sea views are magnificent. Rabbit chasing is Major and Del's new sport, but I'm not too worried about the rabbits as they run faster than the dogs and have plenty of escape routes.

Our garden has survived well with grevilleas, blue agapanthus, proteas and red poppies in full bloom. Doug's lemon tree and 5 fig trees are thriving, likewise my olive; however, the apples, apricots and pears have no fruit this year. The succulents in pots on the front verandah have received sufficient rain to survive, but not to thrive. At present, Doug is busy with the lawnmower working his way through thick green grass that is too long to cut easily. It's been an incredibly wet year. I haven't been outside today because if I did, I'd end up with angina. This is frustrating as I'd love to walk to the beach with the dogs. I have to be patient though, and realise this weather will not last forever.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

An overseas journey on this our last day on the road


To avoid towing our caravan through the middle of Melbourne, we caught the car ferry at Queenscliff. This large catamaran crosses Port Phillip Bay and lands at Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. With a capacity of around one hundred vehicles, and costing us $116 for our ute, caravan, two people, two dogs, one cat and one lizard, the voyage takes about 40 minutes and crosses the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. Fortunately Major handled the unusual clunking sounds of the ferry without stress. Before continuing our car journey, both dogs had fun letting off steam by running, playing and swimming in the still shallow water of the bay -- then rolling in golden sand, so lamingtonising their coats!
From Sorrento it's a two-hour drive to San Remo, then on to the bridge that separates Phillip Island from the rest of Australia. It was with mixed emotions that we drove towards our summer home at Grossard Point.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The wonder of century-old trees

Throughout inland Queensland, New South Wales and now Victoria, we've travelled within and around unusually severe weather events. Today has followed the same pattern. Our detour into Western Victoria to see my 92-year-old mother (who's living with my brother and sister-in-law) saw country drenched with recent rain. At Camperdown we stopped to exercise the dogs, with the walk extending into the Botanic Gardens. Designed in 1879, the gardens perch on top of a volcanic rim, with two lakes, one on each side. Cavelike, an avenue of old elms create their own mini-climate, while around them flourish other exotics: conifers, oaks and a huge bank of roses in full bloom.

Back at the caravan park in Colac (also located beside a lake and alongside a Botanic Garden) we found a bunya pine about 30 m high, with the trunk about 2 1/2 metres in diameter -- and aged well over 100 years. I paused beside its massive, gnarled trunk, stroked its bark, felt the flow of energy, felt the wonder of its very presence.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Street kid to a Ph.D.: Paul's journey

Victoria is mild in climate, green and closely settled. It's the place where both Doug and I were born and raised until adulthood, therefore, you would expect a feeling of "coming home". Instead I feel a disconnection and a certain sadness. Seeing Paul and Heidi in Maldon was today's highlight. They (like our Mitchell friends Richard and Debbie) believe in minimalist living, buying locally and eating fresh organic foods. Paul's PhD in Creative Dance is almost complete and he also teaches yoga. Heidi is doing well with her graphic design and photography. They are a fine young couple and a privilege to know. Paul came to us as a street kid and did Year 12 while living with us. He is one of the most sensitive, deep-thinking people I know. Always I leave his presence with a little more understanding of what it means to live in harmony with the universe. What a great gift! On the way through to Colac, where we stayed the night, we drove past the first home we ever owned -- 13 acres with the original Ondit railway house. That was in the late 1960s, and by just cleaning it up and reselling, we had the opportunity to move on to something bigger.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Inland New South Wales, the Murray River and Victoria: a downward spiral

Described as "Your Oasis on the Edge of the Outback", the caravan park at Deniliquin seemed idyllic until the mosquitoes, sandflies and locusts moved in. At one stage the inside of the van was literally hopping with locusts. After Siamese Katie had pounced on a few, she left the rest for us to capture. The sandflies were not so easily dealt with as they squeezed through the insect netting and swarmed around the lights -- then as we slept, bit. At least mosquitoes give a warning wine! More insidious though was the heavily chlorinated water supply (river water) which ended up making me feel quite unwell before I realised that cause and stopped drinking it. This has made me even more appreciative of Mitchell's artesian water supply accessed from the Great Artesian Basin 1 km beneath the surface. No pollution down there; no need to add chemicals to make the water safe to drink. Aside from the insects and chlorinated water, however, stately river red gums and ash trees dotted expansive green lawns with well-kept walking tracks perfect for dog walks through dry red gum forests. The discovery of a billabong at dusk was the highlight of my day. As the forest settled itself into the mirror surface, all was calm, all was still.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Culture shock as we head south: less means more

Shopping in West Wyalong supermarket this morning came as a shock. So much of everything. Is it in our best interests to have 30 or more varieties of everything? Much of what was on offer was junk food in increasingly large serves, and with obesity also evident my mind swings back to Mitchell and our three small outback supermarkets. Shelves are stocked with most things but absent is the huge range of choices and junk food. With no McDonald's, Kentucky Fried or Red Rooster, temptation is largely absent, so obesity is less common. People living in Mitchell seem more content. Less consumerism and greed leads towards a more caring community. By having less you actually have more!

A pair of Major Mitchell cockatoos (the first I've ever seen in the wild) perched in trees at Rankins Springs where we had lunch. Locusts are becoming more and more obvious. Our two shepherd's swam in the Murrumgidgee River at Hay and needed wetting down at Deniliquin, due to high temperatures.

The Parkes Radio Telescope, flood waters and road closures


Reminded of the Australian film The Dish, Parkes Radio Telescope provided an opportunity for coffee and interest after stressful flooded road conditions in and around Dubbo. An apple tree growing at The Dish is said to be a descendant of the famous Isaac Newton apple tree and is currently loaded with fruit, even though small. Also growing at The Dish is a plantation of Eucalyptus rhodanthas with large dish-shaped seed cases and exotic red flowers. Whoever planned the native tree plantings around the CSIRO Radio Telescope had an imagination and also a keen interest in eucalypts. We found an exquisite creamy-coloured moth on the doorway leading into The Dish cafe so bought a CSIRO book about moths.
Many road closures and detours, water over the road and rain storms between Gilgandra and West Wyalong made for a fairly stressful day, but we arrived safely. Unfortunately Major became so stressed at the very loud noise made while passing through deep water that he lost control -- the result being diarrhoea in the back of the ute. Trusty vinegar and bicarb soda cleaned the mess and he is okay now that things are back to normal.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Frogs, rain and swollen rivers -- as we head south


Frogs are here in abundance, clearly rejoicing in the rain that continues to fall in and around Gilgandra. Their croaks swing my mind back to Mitchell. Angi's spa is like a magnet to frogs, but she doesn't like the fact that they do their business in her spa. So, every day Rod catches half a dozen or so frogs and takes them to the river to release. After a recent visit to Rod and Angi's we volunteered to do the catch and release. In no time at all we had a large plastic container full of green tree frogs -- all sizes and every shimmering shade of green. One in particular was large and a bright iridescent green. He sat cupped in my hand for five minutes, exquisite and totally calm. At the old crossing we chose a place where tall green grass offered protection and, with our blessing, released them one by one. Life, when confined to a Ford ute and small caravan can get a bit crammed when shared with 2 German shepherds, a Siamese cat, and a pet stumpy-tailed lizard. Yet, the fact that we have everything we need and want, and all within such a small space, makes me wonder about houses and all the unnecessary "stuff" that fills them. With no TV we play Scrabble, write letters and read. There is much less housework and less distractions from the outside world. It's like living in a cocoon.

Castlereagh River is an 'upside-down' river


Although the Castlereagh River is now fast flowing and in flood, normally it's a dry sandy riverbed with its water flowing through and under the sand -- plentiful enough to supply over 10 thousand people in six towns with all their water requirements. Gilgandra means long waterhole. We've never seen it in flood before, so a 4 km walk along its banks allowed us to witness its swiftly flowing current and the debris it carries, including a heavy load of orange-coloured silt. The caravan park here at Gilgandra is set amongst a collection of magnificent mature trees, my favourites being lemon-scented gums whose aroma hangs heavy in the air around their massive white trunks. Crushing a leaf between my fingers reminds me of keeping emperor gum caterpillars as a child and watching their amazing metamorphosis into a large velvety moth. The Castlereagh River is one of the few rivers in Australia that flows east, south, west and then north in the form of a semicircle, like the number 6. Gilgandra sits near the base of the northern part, with Coonamble near the top. At present, 1000 people in Coonamble are ready to evacuate and many roads are closed.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lightning Ridge population sign a ?


Lightning Ridge isn't the end of the world, but locals say you can see it from here. People from all over the world are attracted to the Ridge and its opals with the newsagent stocking a huge range of overseas papers. The place to buy opal ear-rings is Lost Sea Opals, so I did, and afterwards, at the cafe alongside, and with Major on a lead, we enjoyed excellent coffee and conversation with locals and tourists. We were warned of heavy rain and flooding predicted for the Castlereagh River around Coonamble. Therefore, we packed in a hurry and left Lightning Ridge, hoping to get through to Gilgandra before the river cut the highway. Walgett and Coonamble -- with their barred windows -- suggests a high crime rate and leave an unpleasant taste. It reminds me of the recent run of thefts in Mitchell which have left the residents shocked and anxious. People in Mitchell expect to feel safe and secure and nine times out of 10 they are. But until police catch the criminals responsible for these recent thefts, people in Mitchell are locking up and looking sideways. Even in my wonderfully perfect Mitchell there are times when the community needs to tighten up against an outside element before slipping back into its more usual open, trusting, friendly self. A sobering thought but true as we continued on our way south to Gilgandra. By tomorrow this road will be closed. Already, floodwaters are over it in many places. We will just get through.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Arriving at the opal capital of the world: Lightning Ridge

Woke this morning to find the caravan covered with jacaranda petals . Last night, Major and Katie slept in the caravan with us, while Del and Stego stayed in the ute. Although Major is 50 kg and only 16 months old, he has a remarkable capacity to stay still and actively seeks out confined spaces with a hard floor. Consequently, life in a small caravan suits him well, whereas Del prefers more personal space and a softer bed. Katie is on Clomicalm medication as travel stresses her a little, especially at night. And us? Well, we need to remember where we put things and get used to limited space (both in the caravan and the ute) without resorting to irritation, which we manage -- most of the time! As the days slip by though, travelling south is changing from tolerable to more pleasurable. With a menagerie on board our days are punctuated by dog walks, the best being at Dirranbandi along the banks of the Balonne River which runs full and upside down. Coffee at Hebel rated 10 out of 10, then into New South Wales where we lost an hour. Onto Lightning Ridge -- the opal capital of the world where torrential rain has left the country oozing mud and water -- and croaking with countless frogs and trilling crickets.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

St George, Mitchell Road suggests a land of drought and flooding rains

The contrast between now and the last year of the drought (a few years ago) is incredible, especially on the Mitchell to St George Road. The drought saw the landscape almost completely devoid of grasses and herbage, with trees on their "last legs". Splattered with the bodies of 'roos, the road attracted feral pigs and wedge-tailed eagles to feast on the carcasses that littered the bitumen. It was not a pretty sight.

Now -- at the end of November 2010 -- knee-high, emerald-green grasses clothe the soil, and trees hang heavy with new foliage. The narrow black bitumen road snakes its way south, with roadside markers suggestive of floods, and the earth, in places, such a vivid orange-red colour, you 'd think someone had painted it. This is truly outback Australia; this is a landscape I'm reluctant to leave..

I feel sad to be leaving Mitchell and the Maranoa

Ever since arriving in Mitchell in the first week of May I've felt no desire to cross the bridge into the outside world. Mitchell has held everything I needed; everything I desired. Now, at the end of November we are leaving our outback home; migrating south for the summer. Like migratory birds there is a pull to 'fly' south to our island -- Phillip Island -- but there is also a sadness to be leaving our friends, the warmth of the land and the rhythms of the mighty river, the Maranoa.

On another subject, the mystery of the hairy black caterpillars is solved. They are white cedar caterpillars that spin a cocoon and emerge as a fairly nondescript pale fawn moth. They have evolved to eat (almost exclusively) the leaves of white cedar trees and are considered a pest because firstly, people like white cedars, and secondly, these caterpillars tend to congregate in large numbers and strip away all the leaves, leaving behind a skeletal trunk and branches.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dancers, gymnasts and mice dance in Mitchell's Shire Hall

Three nights this past week have seen us seated at the Mitchell Shire Hall; the first two nights were school break-ups and last night, a dance concert. The 'Magic Toy Shop' was a fun concert with lively, colourful dances and gymnastic displays involving children aged five years to mature age, and all body shapes. The dancers and gymnasts were encouraged by an enthusiastic crowd with lots of clapping and cheering -- and good-natured laughter whenever there was an obvious slip-up.
This small outback community is rich in artistic and musical talent and, at present, has a mouse plague as well. One precocious mouse scampered right across the hall, running beneath chairs and between the feet of people seated in the audience. It actually ran between my sandals !

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Crocker's hilltop oasis at Muckadilla

A gnarled pepperina tree in Jennifer Crocker's hilltop garden at Muckadilla (east of Mitchell) invites children to peep inside crusty hollows and crevices. Miniature fairies, elves, mermaids and toadstools nestle in cavities, ready to take the viewer (young or old) into their own imaginary wonderland.
A bank of bottle trees (planted in 1927) form an impressive edge to the large garden surrounding the Crocker homestead. With expansive views across downs country in all directions, and a garden fluttering with butterflies, this is the sort of place I can imagine myself happily living in. Here is a place that feels truly centred. Thank you Jennifer and Malcolm for welcoming us to your lovely home.

Mitchell State School's Celebration Night

An enthusiastic crowd of parents, grandparents and guests gathered together at the Mitchell Shire Hall to support the teachers and children of Mitchell State School for their end-of-year Celebration Evening. Children from Prep to Year 10 (colourfully dressed in uniforms of navy, gold, white and maroon) entertained the gathering with poetry, singing, plays, marimbas, the band and Kaitlyn Brindley's moving euphonium solo performance.
The Year 10 students looked stunning in evening dress. Hannah Beitz in particular played a leading role throughout the evening and was awarded the highest certificates for academic excellence, commitment and effort. These fine young people are leaving their home town of Mitchell for boarding schools in Toowoomba, and secondary colleges in Roma. They leave the strong community of Mitchell, knowing they have a huge bank of support should they ever need it. As they venture over the bridge and into the big wide world beyond the Maranoa, we wish them all the very best for the future.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

St Patrick's School in Mitchell: Year 7 Graduation

Last night, St Patrick's School in Mitchell held their Year 7 Graduation Night with the theme "I am the Vine -- You are the Branches". Four Year 7 students (Charlie Brumpton, Sarah Cicero, Ryleigh Currie and Emily Henry" stood up the front of Mitchell's large Shire Hall to receive their certificates.

These fine young people -- on the eve of their transition from this small local school to large boarding schools in Toowoomba, and St John's in Roma -- received an enthusiastic applause from the crowd of teachers, parents, grandparents and other interested people who'd gathered together to celebrate the completion of the school year and to wish these 4 special students success, good health and happiness in the years ahead.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Our last week in Mitchell is a busy one

With cockroaches, clothes moths, mice, dust and mould in mind, this last week of our timeslot in Mitchell, Queensland, seems to be one of almost continual clothes washing, packing and cleaning. I've emptied the linen cupboard and packed the contents into two large suitcases because the cupboard cannot be sealed against pests. Likewise some of our clothes. Bedding cannot be left on beds, it has to be bundled up, wrapped in sheets and placed on top of tables -- along with pillows and cushions.
The contents of the pantry need to be either transferred to the caravan or the foods sealed in tin, stainless steel or glass containers. Computers we take with us as well as several boxes of books and research notes. Outside, Doug is busy cutting grass, mulching garden beds and putting a dripper system on 60 or so young trees he's planted. Add to that a full social calendar and its a busy week!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Caterpillars stripping white cedar trees

Does anyone know what type of butterfly lays the eggs that hatch into caterpillars that strip the leaves off white cedar trees? The caterpillars are dark in colour and furry. They swarm towards white cedars, and in the process become trapped in verandas and around doorways.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Google doesn't know about oolines

If you type in the word oolines, Google fails to recognize it as the rare Gondwanan tree Cadellia pentastylis, but Heather Bowen knows all about oolines and loves birds, plants -- and children. Her large garden reflects her values and interests. There is nothing fussy; it's relaxed and rambling -- rich in birdlife and butterflies.

I first heard about Heather in relation to her grove of 20 or so ooline trees, grown by her from seed she gathered from trees growing in the hills on the cattle property she owns in partnership with her husband, Bob. These rare Gondwanan trees grow in isolated pockets in southwest Queensland and north-west New South Wales. Oolines are difficult to grow from seed -- we know because Doug has tried with only limited success. Five of the smallest of Doug's ooline trees I've put in a tiny pot and plan to bonsai them -- providing they survive, of course.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mitchell gives blokes another chance

The community of Mitchell welcomes a Work Program run by Queensland Corrective Services that gives low-risk prisoners work on various community projects around Mitchell, such as cutting the grass along the river, in the Showgrounds and at the cemetery; developing the historical museum; and building raised garden beds at the Retirement Village.

Last night I e-mailed Double Life to my editor who lives in Hobart, Tasmania and who will do the final work on the manuscript. The book is 120,000 words in length, and divided into 14 chapters. So another phase in the process has begun. Late this afternoon our young neighbours Richard and Debbie called in for a cup of tea. They are like a breath of fresh air and we always enjoy a good conversation with plenty of laughter. Who could ask for more?

Friday, November 19, 2010

What is your passion?

It doesn't matter what your passion is, as long as you have one. Dogs, horses, writing, photography, art, old cars or motorcycles, antique furniture -- -- -- the possibilities are endless. Today, at the Mitchell Showgrounds, I met a 46 year old racehorse trainer, Mark, along with his jockey and his two thoroughbreds that will race tomorrow at Roma. Mark was exercising his horses after transporting them from Longreach. Never before have I seen horses with such magnificent muscle and gloss.

"My passion is horses," Mark told me, "I spray paint to support my wife and two boys, but my heart is with my horses -- -- -- and my wife is allergic to horses, would you believe?"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mitchell's flying foxes and creamy blossoms

The cadaghi (Corymbia torelliana) growing beside our house is so laden with blossoms that its branches are sagging under the weight. At this very minute, 20 or so flying foxes are fluttering about in the branches, squabbling and swinging from branch to branch like monkeys. They are feasting on the cream blossoms which are bursting out of their tight little caps, releasing a rich mix of nectar, pollen and scent.

Fortunately the flying foxes arrive while there is still sufficient light to bring them closer using binoculars. You can see their translucent wing membranes and the claws on their first two fingers that they use to swing from branch to branch. What amazing creatures!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bulbous bottle trees

With eyes focused on the structure of a particularly quaint bottle tree but minds meandering across a wide range of topics, my friend Jo and I spent the morning sketching a bottle tree growing beside the road in Mitchell. Although we both drew the same bulbous tree, each of us a created different interpretation. But that's what art is all about, isn't it; that and conversation.

My two bonsai bottle trees are growing well and seem to like their position on a sunny windowsill in our kitchen. I'll take them back to Phillip Island for the summer months and hope it won't be too cold for them. It will be interesting to see how they grow, and whether or not they develop bulbous trunks as miniatures.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

There's a mouse plague in Mitchell

Mice are out and about in Mitchell, causing people a lot of stress and cats to wear a perpetual smile. Huge consignments of mouse traps at the hardware disappear within a day. In 12 hours, a neighbour caught 76 mice in 12 traps. Last year, Del was taught how to catch mice by our neighbour's Jack Russell terrier; and this year Del has passed on the tricks of the trade to our younger shepherd, Major. Del and Major hunt mice with Major flushing out and Del grabbing, crunching -- and then spitting out. Our neighbour had an electrician investigate her stove, only to discover 8 dead mice in amongst the electrics. In this part of outback Queensland a mouse plague usually follows a year of above-average rainfall, so people are slow to complain. Yet the smell they leave in their droppings is hard to ignore, especially when they venture into food, linen and clothes cupboards. Squeezing through impossibly tiny holes they gain entry and the only solution seems to be an indoor cat, which we have. By her very presence, Katie Siamese is a deterrent, but I think mice have more to fear from our shepherds.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Celebrating my 100th blog

For 100 days in a row I have written this blog! Some days I've had to push myself to keep the daily blog habit, but most of the time it's been a pleasure to share my love of the outback. Over the years, we've lived and worked in 10 different places located throughout country Victoria and Tasmania, but never before have we experienced such a warm welcoming community as that of Mitchell and surrounds.

This outback community is rich in art, culture and a love of gardens, which may come as a surprise to many people from "away". Frogs, butterflies and flying foxes are here in abundance, due mainly to lack of pollution. At night, the large dome of outback sky is a blaze of stars -- no light pollution out here. Living in Mitchell has connected me to a strand of grassroots culture and mateship that I imagined to be a thing of the past. It is, however, alive and well in Mitchell.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Angel Flight Art Auction in Mitchell

Over 100 pieces of art were auctioned at the Maranoa Gallery last night, to raise money for Angel Flight. Throughout the auction -- and at regular intervals -- a green tree frog added his bids, in deep booms.
Although the event competed with a large local wedding, a dinner and a marimba festival in Maleny, an enthusiastic and friendly crowd of around 80 people gathered together to support Nichole Harper and Sharlene Keating in making this event a success.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Finishing a book, a bit of a letdown

After spending three years writing a book about our double life -- and pouring my heart and soul into it -- you'd think I'd be feeling happy. But I'm not! It's as if I've lost something precious, and I have in a way. So, today I've been sorting through piles of drafts and files of information, and doing a lot of throwing out. This is always a risky process, because what if I need what I've thrown out? But you can't keep everything.

Meanwhile, the flower buds of a eucalypt growing close to our house have begun to open and last night the flying foxes were there to drink of the nectar.

,

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hearing where flowers bloom

Usually it's our eyesight that alerts us to where blossoms are at their most abundant around Mitchell and along the meandering course of the Maranoa River. At this time of the year, however, it's our ears that alert us to the blossoms eaten by noisy friar birds and flying foxes.

And what a lot of noisy excitement there is in the treetops and how fortunate we are to have these blossom nomads visit during November in particular.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Teaching traditional skills to children at Mitchell State School

Respected Aboriginal elder Irene Ryder sat in dappled shade, her fingers busy with a few handfuls of glossy bimble box leaves and twigs that she was weaving together to create a hat.

Bimble box leaves (Eucalyptus populnea, also known as a poplar box) are shiny and rounded, therefore the finished hat looked distinctive and would definitely serve to protect the head from rain and also from the heat of the summer sun. Children at Mitchell State School are privileged to have Aunty Irene come to their school to teach them Gunggari language and traditional skills.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bimble box, bluebells and bush medicine in Mitchell

Bimble box and bluebells border the soft sandy track leading from the Warrego Highway to Mitchell's Yumba, the former home of the Aboriginal population living in and around Mitchell. Today this special place came alive as a group of women created soaps, each containing a bush medicine picked the previous day.

Sandalwood with thick, leathery, dull green leaves; emu bush with long thin leaves; wild orange with stiff, oval, dull green leaves; wait-a-while with narrow green leaves arranged along zigzag stems; and gumbi gumbi with shiny dark green leaves with pale undersides -- all these were finely chopped as we sat around a long table chatting easily. Each bush medicine was added to a hot soap base and beeswax mixture then poured into plastic moulds where they were left to set. When cool, the individual soaps dropped out easily and were wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a ribbon; a different colour for each bush medicine. The oils from these indigenous plants are known to cure a wide variety of skin complaints.

Mixing the generations at Mitchell State School

Grandparents and interested older people were invited to Mitchell State School to see the children at work and at play. Times have changed. Education today is vastly improved to that dished up to us in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The children at Mitchell State School are well behaved and have a team of excellent teachers committed to giving each and every child a well-rounded education and a firm base of literacy skills.

A new moon stamps the western sky. Against the golden glow of sunset thousands of flying foxes flap and swoop as they make their way towards the flowering eucalypts and silky oaks around Mitchell. They are a welcome presence and remind me of the mutton birds that flock to the Bass Strait islands at sundown.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Mitchell's new swimming complex

Although the Maranoa River loops around the township of Mitchell, its water is muddy and studded with floating logs. It is not suitable for children to swim in, although some do, of course. Therefore, the construction of a new six lane 25 m swimming pool with renovated buildings and landscaping is of huge importance to people living on properties as well as those living in the township of Mitchell.

Located alongside the Great Artesian Spa, the new pool and surrounds are almost complete, along with a children's zero depth aquatic playground with water spouts and sprays. An enormous orange ball that fills with water then tips up and spills out huge quantities of water look incredibly good fun for kids.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dancers perform to an enthusiastic crowd at Mitchell

The close bond between Jodie Noon and her students was clear to see at the annual Dance West Concert held at the Mitchell Shire Hall last night. Jodie is the sort of teacher who coaxes perfection from her eager bright-eyed girls -- and her students rewarded her passion and efforts with a performance to be proud of.
Twenty short dances -- with a supper interval -- entertained the responsive crowd of around 300 plus people.. For a small country town this is an amazing turn-out! Two of the girls are off to boarding school next year, so a tearful farewell at the conclusion of the concert brought home, yet again, the close bond between these lovely dancers and their teacher. Congratulations for an amazing night that combined stunning costumes with music and dance.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Bottle trees are the solar heaters of the outback

Kangaroos know that to huddle close to bottle trees on a cold winter's night provides welcome warmth. Early pioneers also knew this simple truth; especially seeking those trees hollowed out by termites.
The sun shines brightly throughout winter in outback Queensland, the warmth of which penetrates the large bulbous trunks of bottle trees, there to be stored in the fibrous material
that contains pockets of air and water. This massive store of solar heat radiates back out of the bottle tree trunk during nights when the temperature frequently drops below zero.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mutton birds dying on Phillip Island

Our friend Jeanette from Phillip Island told me on the phone last night that lots of dead mutton birds are being washed up on beaches, all around the island. Apparently the birds arrived back from the Bering Sea in September, in light condition, and haven't found sufficient food (krill) in the waters around Phillip Island to put on weight.

Add to that, a series of very severe storms and the mutton birds are dying. This is the time of year when they would normally be mating, with their large single egg laid around November 25. There will be fewer chicks this year and serious concerns about the long-term future of the birds. Will climate change mean less krill for the mutton birds to eat both in the Bering Sea and Bass Strait? If so, the future of mutton birds (and all the other creatures dependent on krill) is bleak.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

If flying foxes were called flying possums

If flying foxes were called flying possums I believe their image would be greatly improved, and this would please me. Every evening I watch as thousands fly overhead, heading for eucalypts in full blossom.

Hundreds land in the trees around our house in Mitchell, swinging in the branches and chattering loudly. With their cute little faces, pricked ears and furred bodies it's amazing that they can fly as well as birds, but they can. Because flying foxes cover such vast distances, they play a vital role in the pollination of our forests. So long live flying foxes!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Angel Flight Gala Auction in Mitchell

An Out of the Blue Art Exhibition and Gala Charity Auction is creating a lot of interest and activity. Mitchell artists Sharlene Keating and Nicole Harper thought of the idea and organised the event to be held at the Maranoa Gallery on November 13. All proceeds will be donated to Angel Flight, a charity funded by private donations that coordinates free non-emergency flights for financially and medically needy people travelling to or from medical facilities anywhere in Australia -- this is not an alternative to the Flying Doctor Service, rather a support service.
Anyone can submit something, you don't have to be a professional artist. Consequently, people are busy creating artworks, photography, crafts, sculptures, sewing, jewellery and many other items using any medium. How much money can we raise? That's the main aim of this fantastic event with its monster auction, live music, guest speaker, dinner and bar. Congratulations Nicole and Sharlene on a great idea that the people of Mitchell and surrounds are throwing all their energies and creativity into making a huge success!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Melbourne Cup in Mitchell, Outback Queensland

Way out in "the back of beyond" the Melbourne Cup is still an important event . In fact, in Outback Queensland dressing up for the Melbourne Cup is a sport itself. Poppy's Boutique in the main street of Mitchell offers a wide range of glamorous hats, outfits, shoes and other accessories. Even though our population is only around 900 people, we have it all in Mitchell.

There is no need for anyone to go shopping anywhere else because if you can't get it at Poppy's Boutique all you need do is cross over the road and have a look in Samios, where Therese will help you choose an outfit that looks top-of-the-line but more rural in style.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A full blown orchestra in our bathroom

With the onset of warmer weather, the frogs living in our bathroom are becoming more vocal. Today, when Doug plugged in his electric shaver and turned it on, the sound triggered an explosion of croaks from the green tree frogs living in the toilet plumbing. Whenever water runs out of our hand basin, a desert tree frog pops his tiny head up through the holes in the drainage pipe to say, "Hello."

Last year a desert tree frog lived in our shower recess and was not the slightest bit perturbed about our showering. We were careful, however, not to splash soapy water on to his glistening fawn coloured skin which was dusted in gold.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Old-time values in a modern era

Decorated in the theme of emerging butterflies, the Mitchell Shire Hall was last night the grand venue for 10 young girls to make their debut. Purple, mauve and white balloons and butterflies decorated the hall, along with magnificent Australian native foliage and flowers from Jenny and Roly Walker's property. A crowd of about 400 people came to watch as the 10 local girls, beautifully dressed in white, and with partners and flower girls, walked the long hall and were presented on the stage. After the formalities, the crowd clapped and cheered as the young couples took to the dance floor. The band played all the old-time dances as well as a few fun dances for the young and the young at heart. There were couples whose expertise on the dance floor was faultless and those of us who stumbled through the steps, but had fun! Knowing two of the debs made our evening especially enjoyable, likewise the fact that we knew so many people. All ages blended together to support the debs and their partners, and to have fun celebrating old-time values in a modern era.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Is the red designed to attract or scare away predators?

I gave myself a treat this morning by doing a watercolour drawing of a doolan branch with open seed pods. Although the doolan is a very plain looking acacia that most people don't like because it drops branches, its seed pods are extraordinary. The seed is jet black and shiny and is surrounded by a layer of bright red material. When the seed drops to the ground the occasional flash of red betrays its position in the leaf litter. I wonder if the red colour around the seed has evolved to attract or scare away eaters of seed?

A descendant from the First Fleet

Following on from yesterday, at Gigi's Garden Day, an unusual rose caught my attention. Years ago Gigi collected a rose hip from a plant that was a descendant of a rose from the First Fleet. She kept the seed in her fridge for about a month and after planting and germination, nurtured the young seedlings until one in particular became the fine specimen in her garden today. Growing in a shade house, taro and arrowroot add to her list of unusual plants.
A visit to Gigi's outside toilet opened the door to a photo gallery of framed photos with wildlife the subject. One in particular caught my attention, frog with a moth perched on its back. These photos are the work of Gigi and her son Lachlan. On our way out to the car, I paused beneath the shade of the tree to say good bye to a friend. The dense shade was the result of an acacia carrying such a heavy load of green seed pods that the leaves were barely visible. Driving away I caught a fleeting glance of a Siamese as it stalked around the edge the gathering; regal, untouchable. Then we were on our way, stopping at three gates before we reached the bitumen; one gate at the Dingo Fence.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gigi and Scott believe in natural pest control

Gig's green touch is evident the minute you step into the the oasis she and her husband Scott have created around their home, located on a cattle property north of Mitchell. No-dig vegetable gardens (some shaded and netted); an orchard producing amazing quantities of fruit which they bottle; a rose garden with blooms so perfect you'd be forgiven for thinking them artificial; and all manner of unusual flowering plants and succulents spill out to the boundary fence where paddocks stretch way into the distance. 30 or so people gathered under a long shady verandah at Gigi and Scott Robertson's home to celebrate gardening in the outback, to talk with friends, exchange plants and drink tea and coffee, with some food as well. This is a monthly occasion, with a different garden open each month; a relaxed gathering with a love of plants and gardening the thread that binds the group together. Guinea fowl,silky bantams, and light Sussex chooks gobble up any insect that even looks like it might eat a plant. Gigi and Scott believe in natural pest control and never use pesticides. As a result the produce from their garden is 100% organic and all their plants are flourishing.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mutton birds and flying foxes darken the sky

When we live on Phillip Island, the nightly return of thousands of mutton birds to the rookery beside our house is a highlight of our day. Now, in Mitchell, hundreds of flying foxes flap and quark overhead at dusk as they stream from their roosts along the river to feed on the silky oaks and eucalypts that are in full flower all over town. It's a wonderful sight and sound.

Snakes are out and about, with tracks seen in the sandy soil and many sightings around town. I hope our dogs keep a respectful distance from any snake that enters our property. Doug keeps the grass short in and around the house so at least we can see if there's a king brown around.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do what you love to do and don't look at the clock

Do what you love to do and don't look at the clock was the theme of Karen Wolski's acceptance speech at the Maranoa Club last week. The Joan Robinson Award for Educational Excellence is open to anyone in the Roma and district area that works in the field of education. It's an annual award. Karen is a secondary school teacher at Mitchell State School and well-known as a teacher who puts in an incredible amount of time, energy and expertise into everything that she does at the school. A bit of trivia: three Karen's in a row have won this award! Congratulations Karen!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The gift of sunshine and conversation

Pegging sheets on our rotary clothes line this morning, under a wide blue sky got me thinking about the gift of sunshine. Although too much sun causes skin cancer, small amounts of sunshine give us essential vitamin D. As I pegged the sheets to the line, I thought of the smell of sunshine on sheets and pillow slips, and the fact that sunshine kills house dust mites that tend to live in bedding. A large silky oak tree acts as a backdrop to the clothes line and at present it's covered with golden flowers that act as a magnet to the friar birds that squabble in its branches.
On my walk this evening with Major I met a young couple and their daughter who are spending the night at the Mitchell Showgrounds with a big horse transport. Isabelle home schools her daughter Cindy as they travel throughout Queensland and the Northern Territory, delivering horses far and wide. Mitchell is their favourite place to spend the night; in fact they love Mitchell so much they've bought a block of land here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Siamese Katie's 14th birthday party

Everyone entered into the spirit of Katie's 14th birthday party with a cake, candles, presents and cards. Sitting on my lap Katie enjoyed her favourite meal (cooked chicken breast in juice, warmed in the microwave), while our guests enjoyed coffee, savouries and cake.
As elegant, demanding and affectionate as ever, Katie continues to give us pleasure while at the same time maintaining her position as head of the household.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dunkeld a small community with a great heart

Dunkeld is a small community located 55 km south of Mitchell -- between Mitchell and St George. Over 200 people gathered together today at the Dunkeld Sporting Complex to celebrate 75 years of exercise, friendship and fun. Our Mitchell Marimba group performed twice throughout the afternoon, followed by a sitdown dinner for 240 people in a huge marquee. Memorabilia, arranged tastefully round the walls and on tables enabled people to browse and talk, and talk and talk. Most people dressed up for the occasion, and felt relaxed in the balmy warmth of the day, and in the full moon that followed.

What is amazing is that Dunkeld is such a small and remote community yet has such a huge heart with such a strong beat.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The meaning behind names

Gradually I'm learning the names of the trees and shrubs growing in this part of outback Queensland: brigalow, myall, emu apple. mulga, bimble box, bottle tree, woody pear, quinine tree, zig-zag acacia, budgeroo, wait-a-while, wilga, coolibah, currawong. What lovely names, some Aboriginal in origin. They roll off the tongue, giving hints as to their appearance.

Then there are the butterflies that live in round in and around Mitchell: chequered swallowtail, common crow, scarlet jezebel, common eggfly, meadow argus, Australian painted lady, lemon migrant. All these and more flutter in the treetops, sipping nectar, absorbing the warmth of the sun in an environment relatively free of pesticides.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remarkable women in Outback Queensland

Living on a remote cattle property called The Peaks, Marion Moore shares her home was blue wrens, echidnas, a pet kangaroo and an elderly cat. Set on the easterly side of a series of spectacular rocky peaks, Marian's garden is a riot of colour. Echidnas wander into her kitchen, and do an excellent job in keeping her large timber home free of termites. A pair of blue wrens wake her in the morning by sitting on her bed head and chattering, and then at morning tea, sit on her knee and shoulder sharing her morning biscuit. Roo is close by, a delightful hand-reared red kangaroo female who prunes throughout the extensive garden.

Marion loves trees and is an accomplished artist, with her walls hung tastefully with watercolour paintings of the surrounding countryside. Elderly, yet remarkably agile, Marion has a warm personality with natural charm and enormous resilience. Outback Queensland has introduced me to some remarkable women, and Marion Moore is up near the top.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mitchell's Fire and Water Spectacular

Prepared to be amazed was how I felt as I sat to watch a one hour spectacular put on by 177 children from Mitchell State School, St Pat's, Mungallala and Dunkeld State Schools and Charleville School of Distance Education. Brightly painted T-shirts, lanterns, banners, silvery plumes, a shadow river scene and campfire, and as the finale, the burning of two giant fish and crayfish.
Meanwhile, moonlight lit the faces of the crowd who watched in awe as every child from every school performed. In typical outback Queensland style, several roadtrains thundered by, loaded with cattle, while flying foxes swooped overhead on their way from the river to feed on silky oaks in the town. Tonight the whole community came together in a spectacular celebration of fire, water and artistic endeavour.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bimble box and brightly painted stones

Bimble box grow alongside the interpretive trail connecting the Major Mitchell Caravan Park to the Yumba, their round leaves shiny when sunshine falls from a cloudless sky. Brightly coloured stones also line the trail, the work of local school children using colours and patterns reflecting Aboriginal themes.

People are not the only ones to walk this trail; often kangaroos, snakes, lizards and echidnas leave their prints on the soft sandy surface -- along with ants and the giant footprints left by my German shepherd Major.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Killing mosquitoes, flies and cockroaches

After hearing a lot about the danger of mosquitoes in relation to the transfer of Ross River Fever and Dengue Fever in particular, we had a look around our garden, checking for places where mosquitoes may be breeding. One place we thought could be a problem turned out to be the home of three large green tree frogs. With their glistening green skin, bulging eyes and appetite for mosquito larvae we left this small ecosystem intact and moved on to check other places.
Mosquitoes are one of the few living creatures I don't have any qualms about killing; likewise flies and cockroaches.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Flowers speak to us of people and places

In two large pots by our front door we have petunias in full and glorious bloom. Pink, purple, and red with white stripes, the colours are vibrant. The season has been so generous in terms of rain, few frosts and no extreme heat that escapee petunias are growing in all sorts of strange places, including gutters in and around Mitchell. The longer the petunias have been away from cultivation, the smaller and paler in colour they become.

Escapee sunflowers are another plant that does well in this climate. Mel planted snap dragons for her children's delight. They take me back to my own childhood in Melbourne where I loved to snap open and shut these flowers on my way to and from school.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Strong community spirit in Mitchell

Most of us take good health for granted until it hits us. It's only then that we realise the difficulties faced by those with chronic and terminal illnesses. And all too often those who are afflicted are the warmest and loveliest of people. Hundreds of people gathered together at the Mitchell Bowls Club today to raise funds to purchase equipment for use by those in need. Deb Wilson and her family organised the event which included a game of bowls, a barbecue and drinks, stalls, raffles and a monster auction of sporting memorabilia.
The turnout today proves beyond doubt that Mitchell cares about those in need and has an incredibly strong community spirit. Why would you want to live anywhere else?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Bottle Tree Bulletin for Mitchell

Our first Maranoa Region Community Newsletter arrived in the mail last week to the delight of most residents. Good quality colour photographs, attractive lay-out and graphics and informative articles made this first bulletin a good read. Congratulations to all involved in the production of our first Bottle Tree Bulletin -- and what a great name!

The Mitchell footbridge is up

Two of our neighbours had birthdays today so a group of us celebrated with birthday cakes and a large pot of tea out on a back veranda in a balmy 25°C. With ages ranging from 80 to 20, and easy warm friendships, it was as good as it gets. Naturally, the fact that the foot bridge spanning the Maranoa River at Mitchell had been lifted from its normal position to higher ground, was talked about.

Thunderstorms in the catchment are predicted and already the ground is saturated and the river swollen with muddy water. The prospect of flood waters sweeping down the river is exciting. I look forward to hearing it roar!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mitchell's abundant grasses and weeds

In 1846, when Major Mitchell explored the Maranoa, he found abundant feed because the rainfall was similar to that of 2010. Likewise, when my ancestor Horatio Spencer Wills selected Cullin-la Ringo Station near Springsure, my great great-grandfather found pastures superior to anything he'd ever seen "down south".
Today I waded through lush green grasses and weeds that varied from knee to hip to shoulder height, and marvelled at the goodness of the river loam. It's a simple equation:
fertile soil +rain + sun = growth. Never before have I ever seen such abundance growth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There are wonders at every level

Walking across the foot bridge -- spanning the Maranoa River at Mitchell -- brought to mind the impact of an experience when we use all of our senses. Fairy martins swooped beneath the road bridge, bills full of mud for nest building; a road train thundered overhead its vibration felt in every cell of my body, the odour of its load suggesting cattle; and the river spread out in front, tranquil, with river red gums mirrored on its surface. There are wonders at every level in and around this majestic river.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creativity in young children

My five and seven-year-old music students gave me a thrill today. Teaching their little fingers to play the C scale and learn simple pieces of music on the marimba and keyboard is what I expected, but what I hadn't anticipated was their ability to create their own compositions.

Today we ruled lines on paper, learnt to draw the treble and bass clefs, and then coloured in notes to create a melody, which they played on the marimba and then the keyboard. To teach children is always a privilege and thrill but to give them the space where creativity ignites and then blooms, this is something else altogether.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The road to perfection is practice

It is well-known that learning to play a musical instrument is one of the best ways to create new pathways in the brain, as well as maintain maximum function. As a teenager I learned to play the piano and I believe it taught me much more than the piano. It was a discipline and commitment that has helped me as a writer.

In Mitchell, Doug and I are learning to play the marimba and belong to the Mitchell Marimba Band. Children in this outback town are fortunate to have an excellent music teacher and have the opportunity to perform regularly. The focus and practice required to learn an instrument is not only good for your brain, it's great fun too!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A message held on blades of glistening grass

A dog's sense of smell is so much more powerful than ours that it's hard for me to imagine the intensity of smells that a walk along the river reveals to my German shepherd, Maj0r. Sometimes I give an impatient tug on the lead when he lingers too long over individual blades of bright green grasses glistening with droplets of rain: sniffing, interpreting. Has a fox lifted its leg, or a dog, a kangaroo or feral cat? Major knows, and in addition will be able to determine its sex, state of health, energy level and whether or not it's stressed.
Last year I trained Del (also a German shepherd) to find a small hidden article by scent alone. She is extraordinarily fast and accurate and I marvel at her ability. I'm sure Major will be just as good. It brings to mind the countless stories of humans rescued by dogs, using their amazing sense of smell. Next time Major wants to sniff for an extended period of time I'll try to be more patient. Who knows, someone's life may -- in the future -- depend on his sense of smell.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Olive trees symbolise peace

In 100 years time, when the olive tree I planted four years ago in Mitchell matures, it will rival those I saw in and around Assisi, in Italy. I'm pruning it carefully to ensure a single trunk and well-balanced branches, and to date it's growing very well with its silvery grey foliage a contrast to that of the natives planted behind. This year, for the first time, it is laden with fruit.
To me, an olive tree symbolises peace, and it is for this reason I plant an olive tree in every place we live. And yes, we have an olive tree growing in our garden at Phillip Island, and it too is growing very well and bearing fruit.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The penalty of sun

In outback Queensland we are blessed with one of the sunniest climates on this planet but it comes at a cost: skin cancer. Consequently, Mitchell Hospital is kept busy dealing with all types of skin cancers: burning off the smaller lesions with liquid nitrogen, doing punch biopsies, and cutting out larger lesions and doing skin grafts.

Today was Doug's turn, with two skin cancers to be removed. The one on his hand was less
complex than the one on his forehead, that required a skin graft. In Mitchell we are fortunate to have a modern well-equipped operating theatre in our local hospital along with experienced doctors and nurses -- all within four minutes of home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Meditating on an orchid

The meditation process can be achieved in a wide variety of ways from the most conventional to the most unusual. Recently I discovered that the process of drawing plants and then using watercolour pencils to add colour puts me into a very focused yet calm state of mind, and isn't that what meditation is all about. Today I spent a couple of hours drawing a spike of orchids (Cymbidium caniculatum) growing on a clump located outside our kitchen window. These orchids are native to our part of outback Queensland.

There are 44 buds on this one spike, all in different stages of unfurling -- from fully open to small tight buds. I know I've chosen a difficult subject but I want to record the intricate beauty before me, and as I focus I feel myself going deep into the heart of the orchid itself and there I drift in the calm -- -- --. Tiny black ants are scurrying up and down the flower spikes, harvesting nectar. Their frantic activity is in sharp contrast to how I feel after drawing the orchid on which they're feeding.

My children's book TSUNAMI is now FREE!

This remarkable story is guaranteed to appeal to young readers. Noah's world is shattered when a tsunami sweeps his home away and he and his grandmother escape in a small boat. While lost at sea they rescue three animals, finally landing in a deserted cove surrounded by mountains. Months later Noah meets an ancient man and is given clues to help them return home. But then the old man dies. Noah's grandmother becomes ill and their rescue depends on Noah alone. Will he be able to follow the clues and find help? Will Noah and his grandmother ever return to their island home?

Simply go to: http://www.smashwords.com and type Tsunami in the search box. I hope enjoy reading the story.

Coffee at the Mitchell Cafe

Coffee at the Mitchell Cafe is always a pleasant social event, especially when we take our two German shepherds and sit outside in the shade of an umbrella, with two life-size concrete kangaroos lounging between the tables and the Warrego Highway. This morning, a 4 year-old girl dressed in pink and white sat astride the larger of the two 'roos, her face wide with smiles as she hung on to its large erect ears.

A steady stream of people coming in and out of the cafe ensures plenty of friendly greetings, while inside, Janelle serves everyone as if in her own home. With a warm sunny personality she is everyone's friend and confidante, and well-known by travellers who stop off in Mitchell to enjoy good coffee and one of her home-made pies with salad.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bright red callistemons in Mitchell

Native to this part of outback Queensland and now in full bloom, red-flowering callistemons (Callistemon viminalis) are bringing lots of friar birds and other nectar-loving birds and butterflies to Mitchell.

When the Warrego Highway (that runs through the heart of Mitchell) had its facelift last year they planted these callistemons up the median strip. In terms of size, colour and ability to survive in this climate, this was a wise choice of plant. The noisy chatter of friar birds feeding in the callistemons in our garden brings me joy. The joy of spring.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Historic hut at Morven in Outback Queensland

An historic hut made from flattened kerosene tins -- located in the small outback town of Morven -- is a grim reminder of the harsh living conditions of the Great Depression. During the summer months, with temperatures in the 40s C, the heat must have been hard to bear. There was no air-conditioning, fans or insulation back then. At least during winter a campfire could be kept burning for warmth. To see a hut like this makes me feel incredibly grateful for the living conditions of today.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Open Garden Day with ballroom dancing

Where else but in outback Queensland would you have an Open Garden Day with 12 children from the local school giving a ballroom dancing performance (Pride of Erin, Canadian Three-step, and Gypsy Tap) on a tennis court, with a backdrop of a huge dam gliding with swans, egrets and ducks? The colourful garden, spread over the top of a hill, is the creation of Dulcie Nielsen, a sprightly woman in her 80s. Bananas, mangoes, avocados, mulberries, citrus and passionfruit thrive at 'Brunell' because of its frost-free hilltop location.

While visitors ate their lunch beneath the shade of a bank of trees, two talented musicians entertained everyone with popular songs accompanied by guitar and mouth organ. With a warm friendly personality Dulcie is the perfect hostess, and also the volunteer who teaches ballroom dancing at Morven State School. Every type of flowering plant seems to be in her garden, and flowering, a reflection of the warmth and vitality of its creator.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mitchell's talented hairdresser known by her nickname

Only today, as she cut my hair, did I learn that Tina's real name is Bettina. Always pleasant in manner and immaculately groomed, Tina has a salon in the main street of Mitchell and caters for the hair needs of most people in this small outback town.

As the only hairdresser in Mitchell she's busy, especially prior to events such as weddings, parties and balls. With years of experience behind her, natural talent and skill, Tina is a huge but possibly unrecognized asset to Mitchell.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Jade plants for good luck, prosperity and friendship

According to the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui, the placement of a jade plant at the entrance to a home creates harmony and the flow of good energy. For this reason jade is considered a symbol of good luck, prosperity and friendship. Native to Asia, jade is an easy plant to share because it grows easily from cuttings. Consequently it's often called the friendship plant.

The jade I have growing by our front door in Mitchell dates back 40 years to a cutting given to me by a special friend, Sally. Whenever we've moved, a piece of this plant has come too, so continuing its line. In Mitchell it's flourishing and continues to create its flow of harmony and good energy in and around our home.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Mulberries and silkworms

Over a period of four years I've watched the seasons come and go in relation to a mulberry tree growing alongside the Maranoa River, next to the Mitchell road bridge. This tree survived the seven-year drought even producing crops of mulberries throughout those desperately dry years. Then in January 2010 floodwaters knocked the tree over and I thought it was dead.

But this tree is resilient and up shot a mass of stems, perhaps around 100 in number. Each stem is like a mini-tree with some branches, large heart-shaped leaves and a crop of fruit at the pale red stage. It won't be long till the fruit swells with juices and turns black in colour -- ready to eat. Mulberry trees remind me of the silkworms of my youth, of cocoons spun of golden silk that I unwound and made into a plait.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Glenda matches people with books

Although the Mitchell Library does not contain the number of books found in libraries servicing larger populations, we do have a librarian who knows the individual interests of the people of Mitchell and surrounds. As a result, Glenda offers a unique service not often found in larger areas.

Ordering in books for particular people is something Glenda likes to do, then she offers them as surprise gifts of the mind. The latest -- for me -- was a recently published book about Charles Darwin, a subject I'm particularly interested in. Sometimes I'll wander into the library, my mind blank as to the fiction and I want to read, and I'll say to Glenda, "Can you recommend something?" And knowing me she'll choose a selection of books that I'm sure to enjoy. It is Glenda's ability and willingness to match people with books that makes her such an excellent librarian.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Barter system alive and well in Mitchell

In a community the size of Mitchell (around 900 people) giving and receiving cements feelings of belonging. A jar of home-made jam, a bunch of flowers, a pot plant -- anything and everything can be bartered.
With Doug's vegetable garden producing large quantities of chemical-free vegetables we have the pleasure of giving away cabbages, lettuces, rocket and broccoli. In return we are well-supplied with eggs and even snails, which are the food of choice for my 40-year-old stumpy-tailed lizard. Today we've given away spinach, snow peas and carrots and received a bunch of flowers, and the loan of a treasured book about botanical art in Australia.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My marimba 'buddy' and her boutique homeware store

Our Mitchell Marimba Band has around 16 members, with Joy Foott our teacher. Usually we play two people per marimba, with one playing mid and the other high. The three people who play bass have an instrument to themselves. Three parts (base, middle and high) make a whole, a coming together that produces the distinctive earthy beat of marimba music -- of Zimbabwean heritage.
My marimba 'buddy' is Krystal Kouvaras who owns and runs Lemon Pie, an upmarket gift shop next to the Mitchell Chemist. Krystal's aim is to give the people of this outback town fresh, exciting quality homeware and she succeeds admirably!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Aladdin's Cave of Artwork

Now that the Landmark Art Show has finished, we've had the pleasure of hanging four new pictures on our walls. All are photos that symbolise outback Queensland. My favourite won first prize and is the creation of Gigi Robertson of Westwood. The subject is six apostle birds cuddled up together along a wire fence.

The second photograph taken by Gigi is of galahs perched in a tree. Lachlan Robertson, Gigi's son, was highly commended for a head study of a goanna. It now has pride of place on our kitchen wall. The fourth photograph is the creation of Jenny Walker from Iwona, and is a stunning bulbous boab.


Like Aladdin's cave, the walls of our kitchen and eating area are a vibrant gallery of artwork reflecting our double life: outback Queensland and Phillip Island.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Snow White the egret symbolises peace

Snow White the egret has been part of my daily walk along the river for over four years. I've learned her favourite haunts, seen her in every sort of action and inaction. When the river began its run five days ago, she moved from her usual position near the bridge to the old crossing. Here she can catch more than her fill of fish as they're swept in the swirling water over the causeway. Always solitary, and full of elegance and grace, Snow White symbolises the peace and strength of this mighty river, the Maranoa.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

My first e-book published today

Thanks to Qld Writers Centre I had my first e-book published today through the online publisher Smashwords. It was the monthly magazine of the Qld Writers Centre that gave me up-to-date info. on the latest digital technologies and how to tap into them. The fact that Doug and I (both of us find computer technology difficult) managed to create a digital book cover, convert my 16,500 word manuscript into the correct e-book format, and follow the online instructions is a credit to Tony our Mitchell computer expert, and the Smashword's guidelines. Inspired by my friend Janet Watt's dream and located on an island, Tsunami is an adventure story with strong animal and environmental themes. Writing is what I love to do, so please share this story among friends and family with children aged eight plus. 50 per cent is free, and for $4. 95 US you can read the rest. My main wish is that children -- the world over -- enjoy the story. Here's the link to my Smashwords author profile: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/outbackwriter
Here's the link to my book page, where you can sample or purchase the book: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/24986

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Frogs in ecstasy in Mitchell

The highest temperature measured at the Mitchell Post Office on Sunday was only 11.4°C which is 14 degrees below average. No wonder we were so cold. Today's 25° has triggered the most extraordinary growth of grasses, weeds and leaves. You can just about see the plants growing. So far this year Mitchell has had 900 mm (36 inches) of rain which is about 50% more than the yearly average -- and it's only September. The frogs are in ecstasy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The river is running in Mitchell

Overnight the mighty Maranoa spilled over the weir wall and went swirling downstream, carrying its load of silt and debris. Walking over the footbridge this morning (with Major) I met and talked to a couple of groups of people from "away". Muddy water flowed swiftly beneath us, less than 1 m from our feet. Overhead, fairy martins swooped as they darted between their bottle-shaped nests built beneath the bridge and the river where they collected beakfuls of mud.
At the old crossing, where the flow was barely a trickle yesterday, water roared over the road. Today our house is most definitely waterfront in position.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jack Russell Races and Dog Jumping at Mitchell

Fun with dogs was the theme for Saturday afternoon at the Mitchell Showgrounds. Lap dogs, Jack Russell's, kelpies, Border collies, a Great Dane, corgi and dachshund, and an assortment of cross-breds and pig dogs gathered together for races and other competitions. The three hot favourites seemed to be Peanut from the Tully stable, Flying Freddie, and the rat dog Rattler.
Wearing muzzles (some dogs were adorned with ribbons and coats as well) the dogs were persuaded to run towards hand waving, shouting owners eager for a first prize. To liven up the Jack Russell race they didn't let go a box full of mice. In hindsight, perhaps it would have been a good idea if they had!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

13°C and rain, yet Mitchell Marimbas Make Music

Sunday saw us immersed in marimbas as the Mitchell Marimba Band played the Fire and Water piece composed by Fatima from Maleny. Jambezi (her seven piece marimba band) travelled to Mitchell with her to perform and play with our band. Wow! What an experience to be part of a much greater musical event.

Dressed in marimba T-shirts and funky gypsy-like accessories (including gumboots and hats!) our band of 16, led by our brilliant teacher Joy Foott, were drawn into the magic rhythmic beat of a professional group until we too performed better than ever before. Thank you Fatima and the Jambezi team. You gave us an experience of a lifetime.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Mitchell's Street Markets, Music and Drama

Everyone was in the main street of Mitchell this morning, rugged up but smiling! Nine street musicians from Dunkeld Primary School (a one teacher school located about 40 minutes south of Mitchell) entertained shoppers outside the cafe with ukuleles, guitars, dance and a medley of songs. Two songs in particular were crowd pleasers and both were created by the children under the guidance of their excellent teacher Joy Foott. A moving anti-whaling song was followed by a song about Queensland, "I think it's great, Mate; Living in the best, State".

Outside the library and gallery, Mitchell State School teacher Karen Wolski and a group of students acted out an original drama "Fire and Water", with two deep booming drums to create atmosphere. With Fire and Water displays in every shop, music and drama, and street markets and stalls selling local art and craft, Mitchell was in festive mode.

Friday, September 17, 2010

No vacant shops in Mitchell

Laura Douglas opened her gallery "The School Hours Gallery" this afternoon. Located in the main street of Mitchell, next door to the cafe, this artspace will serve as a place where Laura can do her graphic design work and hang some of her wonderful art. Described by Laura as a "funky place" the make-over of the shop is an added attraction for Mitchell. With new houses being built and no vacant shops, it's clear that Mitchell is alive and well -- inspite of amalgamation!

Mitchell's Fire and Water Festival opened at 6 p.m. this evening with an Indigenous Fire Dance, followed by a film festival.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Marimbas Make Music in Mitchell

With one more practice to go, our community marimba band (led by Dunkeld State School principal Joy Foott) will perform at Mitchell's Fire and Water Festival this coming weekend.
A workshop on Saturday, led by Sunshine Coast based Jambezi Marimba Band will teach us new skills and spread the word about the joy of playing marimbas. The performance of a special piece of music (created especially for this event) will happen at a concert at the Neil Turner Weir on Sunday -- weather permitting. If it rains, the event will be held at the Mitchell Showgrounds. Our group will wear screen printed marimba T-shirts along with other colourful clothing. The marimba part of the festival promises to be a day full of fun and music.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mitchell's Fire and Water Festival

Next weekend's Fire and Water Festival in Mitchell promises to be a spectacular event. On the subject of water, Mitchell has already received 30 inches of rain this year, with much of it falling throughout the winter. Consequently, water lies in every hollow, the ground squashes underfoot and grasses and weeds are brilliant green in colour. This is unusual because winter in Mitchell is usually dry, with repeated frosts burning off any new growth. There's plenty of water in the weir and enough water in the Maranoa River for it to be flowing. So, the water part of the festival is very apparent in this arid region of outback Queensland.

School children from Mitchell State School , St Pat's, Mungallala, Dunkeld and Charleville School of Distance Education have been busy creating lanterns, painting T-shirts and making other artistic pieces to use and display at the festival. Every child from every school will participate in the closing ceremony: a Fire Event Spectacular. This festival of river rhythms, film, food and family fun promises to be an event that brings together the whole community in a celebration of fire, water and artistic endeavour.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Maranoa from a dinghy

Our dinghy, with its electric motor moves slowly and silently up the river, consequently birds are unafraid. The number of herons, ibis, cormorants, egrets, ducks and hawks we saw suggests a multitude of fish in the murky water.

Beneath a densely leafed river red gum we ate our lunch, glad of the shade. Like exotic flowers, six white egrets with yellow legs perched in the naked branches of a nearby gum. Close by, bark was scribbled with the artistic creations of termites and borers. Large black butterflies fluttered by, their white markings lit by sunshine; a red dragonfly hovered; blue wrens and rainbow bee eaters busied themselves in the rustling reeds. Only five minutes from home and here we were, the only humans in an environment rich beyond words. Mitchell on the Maranoa.

With the certainty of no crocs and no visual evidence of snakes, the Maranoa River at Mitchell has a serenity rarely experienced in coastal Queensland.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Humane horse transport between Brisbane and Mt Isa

While exercising Major at the Mitchell Showgrounds (where I can let him run off lead), I noticed a large horse transport parked alongside the horse yards. With Major back on the lead I wandered over to say, "G'day," to the bloke feeding and watering the horses. Seven thoroughbreds, nine stock horses, a stallion and a miniature Shetland pony were in transit between Brisbane and Mt Isa and clearly appreciated this overnight rest stop in Mitchell.
With the sun setting golden in the western sky and the temperature a balmy 25°C, I felt a rush of pleasure that these horses were being transported with such respect and care. A pair of galahs screeched overhead as I said farewell and continued my walk home along the river. A hush fell over me. All was calm.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sculpture workshop in Mitchell

Although Doug has worked extensively with timber and steel, all previous projects have been strictly practical -- until this weekend. As part of September's "Creativity and Culture Celebrations" in the Maranoa, Cezary Stulgis (artist and teacher) conducted a two-day workshop exploring sculptural form and using wire, wood, plaster, cement and clay to build models suitable for display out-of-doors.
With a Dreamtime goanna in mind, Doug let his mind float free and for the first time in his life created a sculptural piece that served no purpose whatsoever other than a form speaking of shape, texture and movement. By the end of the weekend Doug's 1 1/2 metre long creature had come to life. Beneath the hands of the other eight workshop participants over a dozen models were created. While walking Major later that same day, I met Cezary, his wife and daughter on the bridge spanning the Maranoa River. Together we admired the murals spray painted on the bridge pylons.