Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Richard the Snake Catcher

As far as snakes are concerned, Richard Malpass is their protector. He offers a free service to the people of Mitchell and surrounds -- 24 hours/7 days -- to capture troublesome snakes and then release them in bushland. Richard the Snake Catcher is also Richard the Warrior; a young man with a mass of curly black hair and a hearty laugh who's been responsible for stopping the burning off at the local dump, and also the burning of pine offcuts and sawdust at the Mitchell cypress mill. Prior to Richard's action, Mitchell was frequently shrouded in smoke. Committed to eliminating the damaging effects of smoke pollution in Mitchell, Richard set out on a campaign. He's the sort of person who notices a problem, researches it and then jumps into action. Never afraid to stick his neck out, forever persistent and with a wide variety of tactics up his sleeve, Richard gets things done.

Passionate about animal welfare, recycling and sculpture, Richard the Snake Catcher is also known for his controversial sculpture displayed at the Maranoa Gallery in Mitchell. A large charred cross provides a platform for a very in-your -face statement about man's inhumane treatment of animals. Thanks to Richard -- our neighbour and friend -- the people of Mitchell breathe clean air and need have no fear of venomous snakes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Morse code faster than texting

Just as I'm getting my mind around blogs, facebook and twitter, I'm whizzed backwards -- or is it forwards? While eating lunch yesterday at the Major Mitchell Campsite, the distinctive "Dit, dah" (short dots and long dashes) of a message carried across the clearing, a distance of about 50 m. Instantly we were taken back to the days of girl guides and scouts when we learnt the international Morse code for transmitting messages. As we wandered over to say, "G'day", an elderly man (ex-N Z Air Force) appeared and greeted us warmly. A simple canvas awning (attached to a camper trailer and Land Rover) protected his Morse code key, with an aerial wire strung up into a nearby eucalypt. "Under competition rules," he informed us, "Morse code is twice the speed of the fastest texting."
Here we were -- in 2010 -- listening to an incoming code invented by the American Samuel Morse, in 1835. This message connected this amateur radio operator to fellow Ham enthusiasts all over the world. This man was alone yet not alone. Amazed by the simplicity of a code that links outback Australia to the world, I think of that other technology, the Internet. Both beam across the airways, connecting people. Each, in its own way is extraordinary. At this present time, however, I have to lean towards the simplicity of Morse code, invented 165 years ago, 11 years before Major Mitchell camped here on his epic journey up the Maranoa River.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Major Mitchell Campsite

Today was my birthday. Unwrapping birthday presents provided Major (12-month-old German shepherd) with great excitement. Tissue paper, corrugated cardboard and envelopes were ripped and carried around proudly. Not my presents though: a book containing 250 watercolour paintings of eucalypts by Stan Kelly; and ooline platter, created locally from an ooline burl: and two framed photographs, of galahs and boab trees. In the late morning we drove 40 km north of Mitchell to where the famous explorer Major Mitchell set up a base camp in 1846. On the banks of the Maranoa River we lit a small fire, made billy tea and ate a picnic lunch. There were no flies, no mosquitoes and no sand flies! After lunch we strolled up the sandy riverbed, past pools of water containing small fish and over rocky parts where pieces of petrified wood lay studded amongst other colourful stones. With the temperature a balmy 24°C, and the sandy bed of the Maranoa soft and clean, a siesta seemed an excellent idea. Cradled in the arms of this mighty river I slipped into a state of well-being. Who could ask for more? Yet I had more. An armful of golden acacia blooms gathered from bushland growing in rusty red sand, and then a late afternoon birthday cake and pot of tea shared with our friends Rod and Angie. Today was the best birthday ever!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Camels back in Mitchell

Wearing saddle rugs-- a patchwork of gold, red and purple -- the five camels allowed themselves to be mounted and then raced the short course, cheered on by an enthusiastic crowd of around 700 people. One of the riders, a 71-year-old, gained particular applause. The smell of crushed green grasses and medics rose from the pounding hooves of the camels as they passed us by. It looked a bumpy ride, the jockeys clinging to anything and everything they could hang on to. Yet all reached the finishing line. Fast food and drinks added to the swirl of smells hanging in the balmy air that settled over this small town in outback Queensland. A Fashion on the Field competition brought forth many glamorous young women strutting around in high stiletto heels, slinky dresses and exotic hats -- mostly in colour combinations of black and red. Mostly though, the crowd (of all ages) dressed for comfort and the occasion wearing the more usual jeans, shirts and hats.

Prize money for the various camel races, animated bidding, a Ute Show, novelty events, dog jumping and live entertainment kept the crowd happy throughout the afternoon and evening.

Friday, August 27, 2010

An event around books and reading - outback style

Visitors to Mitchell thought the town was celebrating a win by the local footy team. In fact, this small outback town had come together to 'Paint the Town Read'. Everyone wore a red; the main street was decorated with red balloons, streamers and shopfront displays; and stories were read throughout town, by shop owners keen to participate in a day designed to encourage everyone to read books. The Maranoa Art Gallery and Library was the meeting place for the final event, a shadow puppet play of the story Jack and the Beanstalk. A Dreamtime story -- created and read by Aunty Irene, an Aboriginal Elder -- concluded the storytelling.

Since this event marks the birthday of Mitchell's Reading Bug (a colourfully dressed 'bug' who arrived in style at the library in the town's fire truck), there was, of course, a birthday cake, followed by the giving out of reading show bags for the children. The community of Mitchell comes together every year to celebrate reading and books. 'Paint the Town Read' is outback Australia at its very best.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bimble box

It's been unusually windy today. On my walk along the river this afternoon I passed through a patch of bimble box trees. These eucalypts have shiny round leaves. The breeze in the bimble box bounces off the foliage in a particular way: a shiny, round, leathery sound. It's as if the leaves are talking to one another, an animated conversation that I would love to join in with.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I'm trying to get my mind around the different format required for an ebook. There are no pages, size 12 and 14 font only and a very particular layout. I plan to do 'Travelling with Pets' and a children's story to begin with. It's still raining here!

More Rain

The roads are muddy and squashed tortoises are not an uncommon sight. This is a change from kangaroos and lizards that make up the normal road kill. People around here say that this is the wettest year since the mid-1970s, and no one is complaining. The river is running at quite a rate, making a pleasant gurgling, splashing sound as it runs over the old crossing. By jumping and taking large steps you can still walk across the river at the old crossing. I love this river, the mighty Maranoa.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Soft, warm rain

Crows compete with galahs, while Labor and Liberal battle it out. Meanwhile, soft warm rain is falling across inland Queensland, which is ideal for Doug's newly planted trees. All the trees are natives, chosen to attract birds and butterflies. From the kitchen window I'm watching a rhodantha snuggling into the soil, it's blue-grey leaves sparkling with droplets of moisture while its roots settle and spread. Will it mature into a sprawling eucalypt like its parent tree at Parkes in New South Wales? Will its twisted limbs burst forth with huge red flowers, followed by large dish-like seed pods?
Today I needed a doctor and could have an appointment on the same morning with the doctor of my choice. How fortunate we are in Mitchell.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flood debris

Clumps of flood debris, caught high in the branches of red river gums are a reminder of recent floods and the enormous quantity of water that roared down the Maranoa River in January this year.
Some clumps are elegant: fringes of bleached grasses hanging from branches, as if they've been created by an artist. Touched with light from the setting sun they strike me with their beauty.

On the other hand, people around here and Roma are still cleaning up after flood waters -- repairing homes, mending broken fences, rebuilding roads. No one, however, is complaining about the rain. No one in this semi -arid region of Australia would dare complain about rain.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Election morning in Mitchell

It seemed everyone was in the main street of Mitchell this morning, voting either Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard, and then shopping at the Saturday morning market and street sales at Samios and Poppy's -- followed by browsing in the Maranoa Gallery and library.
On the way home we called in to see a friend's recent purchase, a gyrocopter Rod plans to use for contract cattle mustering. Sandy's newly purchased house needed a quick visit too. Within minutes of arriving home, Tilly and Kel called in carrying armfuls of home-grown mandarins. The smell of citrus filled my nostrils as I accepted their gift, an aroma that transferred to the sun-filled living area. Such was election morning in Mitchell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rain follows heat

At five in the afternoon, it was 27°C, so I took Major for a walk to the river. Ants scurried around, rain birds were singing and dark clouds were building up on the western horizon. Apparently rain has been falling out west in the Channel Country so rain is predicted for Mitchell too.

Looking up the Maranoa River from the Old Crossing-- towards the bridge -- is a large expanse of water. Major is a strong swimmer and as I watched him plunge into reflected images of river red gums, ripples ran across the surface of the water as he headed towards the stick I'd thrown. I watched as 60 kg of dog moved rhythmically below the surface with just his head and erect ears prominent. I'm amazed he can keep afloat! After his swam Major was frisky and towed me up the hill and onto the Yumba track. This track is lined with stones individually decorated with colourful Aboriginal art. On either side of the track tall frost-bleached grasses grow along with bimble box. Their rounded leaves captured in the last rays of afternoon sunshine. There's a feeling here of oneness with Nature, and peace.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Adult Literacy

Although I've taught adult literacy students in other places we've lived, today was my first student from Mitchell. I like to teach one on one and in my own home, sitting at the kitchen table with my bonsai bottle tree in the centre and sunshine spilling through the north-facing window into the sitting area. That way I achieve the best results. It is such a thrill to be able to give adults improved reading and writing skills. Building confidence in a relaxed home setting is the key to success, I believe. Katie Siamese, stretched out in the sun, and Del and Major sprawled beneath the table create an atmosphere conducive to learning. There is nothing so relaxing as stroking a dog or cat, and relaxation is the key to unlocking past blockages in learning.

Today is still, sunny and 30°C, whereas on Phillip Island it's windy with showers, and a high of 11°C. This is one of the many reasons we choose to live in Mitchell over winter and spring.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Community and trees

Never before have I lived in a community where I know so many people and where every day there is at least one social event organised. Differences are recognized yet accepted; people are friendly without being intrusive. With a population of about 700 people, I think Mitchell is the ideal size.

Today, my attention is drawn to the tall silky oak living in our garden. Silky oaks thrive in the semi-arid region of Mitchell and likewise in our garden. Today, the seeds -- nestled within elegant dark brown pods -- are releasing their winged seeds. Perhaps frost is the trigger. My mind fast tracks to spring when these same trees burst into golden blooms rich with nectar: a gift for the honeyeaters and flying foxes that flock to the area.

Frogs and lizards

After a spell of cool weather, the temperature suddenly jumped to 26°C. Stego (my 39-year-old pet stumpy-tailed lizard) decided to come out of hibernation. So I gave him a soak in the laundry trough in shallow luke-warm water (he said he felt sticky, thirsty and dry) and then hand-fed him a meal of ripe banana. After that he basked for a few hours in sunshine that beamed into his Mitchell lizard house, located by our front door. No doubt the wild lizards and snakes will be also be up and about. I'll have to keep my eyes open while walking Major along the river.

Yesterday, while rinsing my hands in the bathroom sink, a desert tree frog poked his little face up through the plug hole. How delightful!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Survivors and Mitchell's artesian spa

Although Phillip Island and outback Queensland are vastly different in climate, succulents and geraniums are the best survivors in each place. This is surprising to me. Salt-laden winds lash the vegetation on Phillip Island, and in Mitchell, repeated frosts and extreme dryness test plants to the limit of their endurance. Consequently, our garden in each place consists of indigenous plants, succulents and geraniums -- and nothing fancy at all.

Mitchell's artesian spa works magic for travellers and residents alike. With faces flushed and a lightness of step, travellers leave the spa and make their way down the riverbank, across the foot bridge spanning the Maranoa River and then up the other side to the Caravan Park. With joints soothed, faces smile more easily now.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The difference between 2006 and 2010

In August 2006 -- the first year of our Double Life -- the ground was bone dry and almost completely devoid of vegetation. The drought had cut deep into the land and its people, but within months we were privileged to witness the coming of rain, the flowing of the Maranoa River, and the breaking of the seven-year drought.

Now -- in August 2010 -- there have been a series of good years and the country looks healthy and prosperous. Today, the Maranoa River flows in its lazy loop around the township of Mitchell. Knee-high buffel grass (bleached by repeated frosts), brilliant green marshmallow and medic, and a variety of other plants (both good and bad) clothe the soil. The cattle in outback Queensland are sleek and fat, and the wildlife busy reproducing. The only concern is bushfire, especially when the season of thunder and lightning occurs in the spring and summer months.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Before sitting down at my computer each morning to write, I sketch some part of a plant. This is a lovely way to begin every new day. I use pencil, pen and watercolour. My aim is to learn to draw (this is not a natural talent!) and also to learn about the vegetation of this semi-arid region -- which is new to me. Today's sketch is of a Eucalyptus rhodantha seed case. This exotic dish-shaped fruit was collected from the gardens surrounding the Parkes Radio Telescope. Was this plantation grown because the fruits resemble The Dish? Does anyone know? Six young rhodantha trees await planting in our garden, all grown by Doug from seed he collected at Parkes. The thick greyish-silver leaves suggest they will tolerate the severe frosts and dryness of Mitchell's climate.
Today's task has been to do a printout of my book Double Life. Interestingly, hard copy is my editor's preference for her first read through. Double-spaced, it took a huge number of pages -- being approximately 120,000 words in length. Tomorrow it will be posted from Queensland to Tasmania.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Although teaching is an occupation I'm very familiar with, teaching music is something new. My challenge -- every Monday -- is to encourage a love of music in the minds of my five and seven-year-old Mitchell students along with an understanding of basic piano, keyboard and marimba music. What a joy and privilege. I love the way young minds are so "plastic", so easily and enriched and moved in positive ways. Yet again, Mitchell is giving me the opportunity to explore new horizons.

Today I made an important decision. After much research I chose an editor -- Karen Ward from Tasmania -- to work on my book Double Life. I predict an interesting journey.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Watercolour Workshop

Held at the Mitchell State School, Bill Morton's watercolour workshop was attended by 12 eager students aged from mid 20s to mid-80s. Bill taught us the finer points of watercolour painting: basic composition, with attention on the centre of interest, tonal colour and a scratching technique to create highlights (I used this method to add sparkle to water). In addition, we learned a sight and measure method of drawing a structure such as the Mitchell water tower.

Let loose to create our own images, we became immersed in our own work, mine being a view from our Phillip Island home, out across the water to the Mornington Peninsula, West Head and the sunset. How strange, I thought, to have my mind swing back to Phillip Island when I feel so fully engaged with the Mitchell community and outback Queensland. Perhaps this is what a double life is all about?