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: 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.