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 ( 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.