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:
Here's the link to my book page, where you can sample or purchase the book:

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.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Willie wagtail my totem

Not long ago an Aboriginal woman told me that her totem is a Willie wagtail. The occasion was a meeting in Mitchell of "All Us Bush Women" and her words rang true to me also. Wherever I go there is always a Willie wagtail to greet me in the morning, and in the garden their cheerful chatter lifts my spirits.

Even on the beach at Phillip Island they follow me along the beach, swooping around the dogs as they bound along the sand, through clumps of seaweed and into the waves. On moonlit nights a wagtails trill of "Sweet Pretty Creature" alerts my senses, gives me a surge of pleasure. So yes, I believe the Willie wagtail is my totem too and I thank my Aboriginal friend for alerting me to this realisation.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Frogs and marimbas make music in Mitchell

Frogs are out and about after another substantial fall of rain. After our marimba practice last night at the school, we ran through torrential rain to the car, sidestepping around large green tree frogs -- there was even a frog in one of the music stand bags that we caught, carried out side and let go in the school garden. Then home to a bathroom plumbing in full frog song.
What with torrential rain pounding the iron roof and frogs singing their vast repertoire of croaks, booms and trills, our marimba band had competition. But perhaps we were all singing the same tune?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Arrival of friar birds

The arrival of noisy friar birds marks the end of winter -- at least for me. As I listen to their raucous shrieks and cheerful squabbling my eyes linger among the bright red callistemon flowers. In another month or so our silky oak will burst into flower and provide another feast of nectar. Many of the trees we've planted here over the past few years have been chosen to attract birds and butterflies. Gradually our three quarter acre block is looking more and more like parkland, especially with newly mown green grass. After an exceptionally wet winter, no one would know this was an arid region in outback Queensland.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Making Music in Mitchell

Shoppers in Mitchell were in for a treat this afternoon as the Mitchell Combined Schools Band gave a pavement performance alongside the Mitchell Pharmacy. Under the guidance of Naden Gray, 23 children (from Mitchell State School and St Pat's) and two adults made music in Mitchell. In dappled shade, three young boys and a girl played percussion instruments, their faces creased in concentration as a road train thundered by on the Warrego Highway, only metres from their drums. "George of the Jungle" received the greatest applause, with clarinets, trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a euphonium coming together to a crowd-pleasing finale.
Reaching out into the community and sharing their love of music, the Mitchell Band makes regular appearances around Mitchell and throughout the region. Such is their gift.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Oolines, orchids and earthquakes

In our front garden we have an ooline stump on which are growing several clumps of orchids (Cymbidium canaliculatum) indigenous to this area. Over the past week, 15 or so flower spikes have emerged from the reed-like foliage. How amazing that a plant can produce such beauty without the nutrients normally found in soil. These orchids rely only on a mass of roots within the trunk of a tree; living or dead.

With news of earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, I'm reminded of the time Doug and I experienced earthquakes while staying in a two-storey stone farmhouse in the hills just out of Assisi, in Italy. It was terrifying to wake in the middle of the night with a quake so severe that it felt like you were having a heart attack and an electric shock both at the same time. With the power off we stumbled outside with bits of plaster and stone falling out of the ceiling.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Health benefits of Mitchell

It's days like these that I'm reminded of the main reason why we live in Mitchell. On Phillip Island, strong winds, rain and a high of only 15°C means that I wouldn't be able to go for a walk without getting chest pain due to angina. Here in Mitchell, however, it's fine, still and a balmy 25°C. Consequently, we've eaten meals outside on the verandah and I've enjoyed a walk along the river with Major.
There are many other people who have chosen to live in Mitchell for health reasons. The artesian spa is especially helpful for those with joint and muscular problems. In addition, the air is dry and free of pollution which is an added health benefit.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Waterfront position

The cancellation of the Birdsville Races and the wild winds, torrential rain, power cuts and floods of central Victoria (where we bred Angus cattle in a Euroa district, in the 1990s) have dominated the news bulletins today. Meanwhile, here in Mitchell, heavy rain has wiped clean the vegetation and added a freshness to the air. But the Maranoa River remains at a level that just trickles over the old crossing. Major and I can easily jump over it.

During the winter months, the Maranoa River is usually a series of pools, with large stretches of golden sand in front of our house. It is said that the river flows beneath the surface of the sand. Over the summer, the river usually receives sufficient water from the Carnarvon Ranges to flow strongly, and it even floods some years. This winter has been different though. We've had enough rain to keep the river flowing; therefore, I can honestly say we a have waterfront position on the Maranoa River!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Poppy's Boutique

When I first looked through the window of Poppy's Boutique I thought, "Surely you'd never sell clothes like this in Mitchell." I was wrong! For the women of this small outback community, getting "frocked up" seems a sport. Any occasion -- large or small -- is an excuse for stepping into something slinky and fashionable. Katrina Henry (who's owned the boutique for three years) lives on a property close to Mitchell, knows her customers well, and has a flair for fashion and style. The perfect outfit for every woman for every occasion is there at Poppy's, along with all the accessories. Consequently, a shopping expedition to Brisbane is seldom necessary.
This afternoon a wedding took place at the Mitchell Anglican Church uniting two families who own properties north and east of Mitchell. This was a wonderful opportunity to "frock up", with many of the outfits purchased from Poppy's Boutique. What with Tina's hairstyles and Poppy's outfits, the women of Mitchell and district (from the very young to the elderly) looked one million dollars!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Flying Doctor

An all-weather bitumen strip, with night lights and fencing to keep out kangaroos means that Mitchell is well-serviced by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Last night, when we heard the distinctive roar of the Flying Doctor aircraft we knew who was on board; our neighbour in need of emergency surgery. As the plane rose up and over our house, heading towards Toowomba, I felt a rush of concern. On average, we hear the engines of the Beechcraft Kingair two or three times a week. For me, the roar of those engines always pulls me up, causes a stab of sympathy for whoever is on board, and then an appreciation of the Flying Doctor that offers a lifeline to people living and travelling in outback Australia.
The excellence of our hospital and medical team here in Mitchell is a great comfort to all of us living in this remote outback town.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A day in the big 'smoke'

A day in Roma (85 km east of Mitchell) gives a full-on look at the mining boom that's currently hit inland Queensland. Factories and new housing estates spill out onto the wide open plains surrounding this town, and big machinery moves slowly along roads lined with bottle trees. With a population of around 7000 people you can buy anything and everything in Roma. Indigenous to the area and planted widely throughout Roma and along most roads, bottle trees give this outback town an air of distinction. The bottle trees are, however, a reminder of all the young men and women of this area who lost their lives in war. Plaques in the main street remind us of their sacrifice. The intersections in Roma are the most pedestrian-friendly roads I've ever come across. I always associate Roma with hot sunny days, a big sky and bottle trees. Although a day in Roma is necessary every now and then, I'm always glad to return to our much smaller, friendlier Mitchell.

Due to an exceptionally wet winter, vast areas of country around Roma are under cereal crops, with other land prepared for summer sorghum. It is shaping up to be a bumper year.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gas pipeline across 'Bonus Downs'

A traditional 'smoko' morning tea with Madonna and Lyle Connolly of Bonus Downs is a special treat. Like everything else they do, the Connolly's do morning 'smoko' to perfection; they are the perfect hosts. Located 46 km from Mitchell, Bonus Downs is a cattle property that runs a tourism enterprise as well. The homestead of 60 squares is a fine example of Queensland architecture. Built in 1911 by Sir Samuel McCaughey -- and restored by the Connolly's -- the homestead is designed for coolness, comfort and elegance. Madonna and Lyle open their hearts and home to travellers from all over the world, offering guests the opportunity to see how early pioneers lived and worked.

Like an ugly scar, however, a gas pipeline is currently under construction through their property. Slashing its way across properties located between the Surat Basin and the southwest corner of Queensland, this pipeline will carry gas from east to west, and then pump it south to Adelaide and Melbourne. Today -- at Bonus Downs -- progress competes with the elegance of life 100 years ago.