Sunday, January 30, 2011

Our German shepherd who outsmarts himself

Our young German shepherd outsmarts himself with bones -- every day! Both dogs sit and wait obediently to receive their morning treat: a raw beef bone. Del is given the smaller bone; Major the larger one.

Major is larger, greedier and more dominant, therefore he stands over Del until she drops her bone. He then drops his larger bone and grabs her smaller one, thinking he'll have two. Whereupon Del snatches up Major's larger bone and takes it out onto the grass where she guards it zealously and crunches on it for an hour or so.

Their evening meal is different. Del maintains total control over her plate and its contents and for whatever reason, Major respects this. Admittedly, we've never allowed Major to take Del's dinner so probably this is more a matter of training. As time goes by, it will be interesting to see if Del can maintain her position of top dog against Major's 60 kg body and dominant nature. I've always found dog psychology to be a fascinating subject and our two shepherds provide plenty of raw material for study, observation and amusement.

Banksia driftwood to die for

When you think about it, most of the flotsam washed ashore is made up of dead plant and animal material; however, because of the combined effects of sand, salt and sun, most of these skeletons have no odour. They compost slowly on the sand with their nutrients washing back into the sea, there to fertilise the complex ecosystem of the reef.

A large piece of banksia driftwood, silvered and smoothed by the action of rocks, salt water and sun has washed ashore on our beach. How great it would look on our front verandah, I think to myself. Doug breathes a sigh of relief when I point it out -- it's far too heavy to move, let alone carry up to the house!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Summer, the season when people shed clothes, lizards moult and crabs discard old shells

Just as I shed layers of clothes today when the temperature reached 30°C, so Stego lizard (my 40-year-old stumpy-tailed pet) sheds his skin on a regular basis, and along the seashore crab shells are found in great numbers -- in amongst flotsam.

These crab shells are not the remains of dead crabs; rather discarded outer shells that the crabs exchange for a new, slightly larger shell. Moulting time for crabs occurs during summer and this is the season when Stego is more likely to shed his skin too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Capturing bulbous bottle trees on paper

Drawing is not something I'm naturally good at; however, I love art and have the desire to learn how to draw native plants and trees -- using watercolour pencils. I began in Mitchell, sketching the plants of the arid outback, and now, on Phillip Island, I'm attempting to draw the coastal vegetation.

This past week or so, I've been trying to capture the bulbous bottle trees that grow in outback Queensland. They are so quaint, so unique! With several on the go, I'm experimenting after consigning last week's attempts to my waste bin. Learning to play the guitar is my other current challenge. I'm learning from a book and with daily practice I am improving.

For the past three years I've concentrated all my energy on writing a book about our double life. As the book is now complete and currently with my editor over January, I have the space, time and energy for art and the guitar. It makes a change and a challenge -- but more importantly, I'm enjoying these new pursuits far beyond my expectations.

Dog people are a breed apart, in the eyes of a 14 year old

"People who don't have dogs have limited emotional capacity." This statement burst from the lips of a 14-year-old girl I met on our track to the beach. The point of introduction was the meeting of her three golden retrievers and our two German shepherds, where wagging tails and huffing and puffing punctuated the conversation that flowed freely between us and the family that included the girl.

What caused her to come out with such a profound statement I'll never know. What I do know, however, is that dogs live in a heightened sensory world that is far superior to that of humans. I also know that dogs give me companionship, pleasure and a feeling of deep emotional connection.

It's pure and simple: I couldn't live without dogs!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A dead penguin washed ashore

The bodies of seabirds are often found on Phillip Island beaches, the remains of which we always check for metal bands on legs or flippers, or, in the case of penguins, a microchip over their shoulder. These bands and microchips are inscribed with a unique number, aimed at tracking the movements of birds and to gather information about their habits and lifespan. The Phillip Island Nature Park has a dedicated team of marine biologists who welcome information from the public regarding these bands and microchips.

Today, a Little Penguin (commonly called a fairy penguin ) was washed ashore, but there was no ID. Likewise, we saw a mutton bird skeleton. A seal, found further down the beach was putrid, so we kicked sand over it to lessen the unpleasant smell. Sometimes the seal is a large male, with fighting injuries; other times dead pups are washed up on beaches. These youngsters have usually been weaned too early and are not strong enough to fend for themselves. Therefore, they starve, drown or are attacked by sharks. At Seal Rocks, Phillip Island, 5000 seal pups are born every year, so there are bound to be casualties.

From time to time we see seals fishing offshore, and sometimes they come up on to the beach to rest on the sand. People are advised to stay at laest 5 m away and avoid stressing the seal.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A tsunami coming towards the island -- a children's story

Every now and then, as I gaze out over the bay towards the Mornington Peninsula, I see the distant land mass as a tsunami coming towards the island. I know my imagination works overtime, but this, combined with a dream, has ended up as a book.

A chance encounter on the beach -- several years ago -- led to a friendship and the idea for a children's story which was recently published as an ebook. The conversation I had that day revolved around a dream. Janet, who has a holiday house near us, dreamed that her father put a dinghy on the roof of their house which they used to escape from a tsunami that swept over the island. It was an idea I played around with for several months, finally writing a rough copy on paper. Countless drafts later I had a story written for eight to 12-year-olds.

Using the online publisher Smashwords, I've published it myself as an e-book, and now anyone can read it, with no cost involved. So please feel free to go to: , type the word Tsunami in the search panel, enjoy the story and share with friends.

Now, every time I meet Janet, I remember our first conversation and think: tsunami, before going on to talking about subjects of a more normal nature.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Richard practices natural mouse control

Although living on Phillip Island at present, my heart is often in our other home: Mitchell in outback Queensland. Frequent phone calls to friends and neighbours, and Facebook keeps us in touch with the community and the Maranoa River that loops its way around the town. Yesterday the subject turned to mice and pythons.

Our friend 'Richard the Snake Catcher' is a popular figure in Mitchell. Offering a 24/7 service, free of charge, Richard will capture any rogue snake and then relocate it out of town. Last week he had a call from Mitchell's Great Artesian Spa in relation to a 5 foot coastal python found in their pump room. As Richard had a mouse problem (currently there's a mouse plague) in and around his sheds, he released the python in a shed and then watched as the slender snake grew fat and mouse numbers dwindled to zero -- within four days.

With its tail lightly coiled around a piece of wall timber, the python hung with its neck and head in a loop ready for a lightning strike. No mouse living in Richard's shed stood a chance. Richard practices natural pest control to perfection


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Swimming with my young German shepherd

Only a five minute walk from home, there's a little cove that lies in an arc below Grossard Point. At sunset, its red and orange cliffs cast a red stain over the bay, and on warm sunny days like today, the water sparkles blue and the beach sand is golden.

It has to be hot for me to want to swim in the sea, but it was hot enough today. With the water crystal clear, the swell gentle and the bottom sandy I eased my way into the icy water, Major by my side. This is the first time I've been swimming with my young German shepherd and he was very well behaved, dog paddling around me and never scratching with his claws.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Oil rigs shipped into Western Port Bay from Bass Strait oil and gas fields

Bass Strait -- a turbulent stretch of water located between Tasmania and the southern shores of Phillip Island -- is of economic importance due to its rich oil and gas reserves. Although our position here on Phillip Island is environmentally-rich there are regular reminders of these oil and gas reserves.

Yesterday a most unusual-looking ship passed by our sea-scape; an oil rig conveyor designed to carry a 5000 tonne oil drilling rig to and from Bass Strait for servicing in the protected waters of Western Port Bay.

This shipping is a reminder that progress marches on at an ever-increasing rate.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Phillip Island Classic Racing at Grand Prix Circuit

Although I'm not a motorcycle enthusiast, my husband, his brother and a group of friends here at Phillip Island have a passion for old British motorcycles. Doug's pride and joy are his 1950 Norton Dominator and his 1949 Ariel Square Four, and other bikes that he rebuilds in his shed.

Competitors from all around Australia, as well as teams with motorcycles (25 years of age and older) from the UK and N Z compete over the next three days with classes for all sizes and ages of motorcycles and sidecars. Today Doug went with his brother to watch fellow enthusiasts practice and prepare for the races on Saturday and Sunday.

The Grand Prix Circuit at Phillip Island has a spectacular setting on the southern side of the island, overlooking the ocean. A large lake lies in the middle of the circuit, surrounded by lush green grass grazed by several pairs of Cape Barren geese. -- some with young. These wild birds graze the grasses, seemingly undisturbed by the roar of motorcycle engines.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Weird and wonderful things I've found on the beach

Over the years I've found some weird and wonderful things along the seashore. When I was in my late teens I found a bottle on the beach at Queenscliff, with a message in it from a Scottish sailor who worked on an oil tanker. Of course I wrote back and so began a correspondence that lasted three years. We met twice, then the relationship drifted apart.

On King Island, where we lived in the 1980s, we discovered the bones of a whale washed up in a little clove on our coastline; rusted nails from shipwrecks; and a roll of pornographic film.

Usually we carry a plastic bag to collect any human rubbish we find on the beach, and then take it home to dispose of correctly. Plastic bags, fishing line, hooks, bottles and cans are unsightly and dangerous to marine life. Fortunately our piece of coastline is relatively free of rubbish, thanks to the locals who are vigilant in picking up anything that has been carelessly dropped.

Eleven years ago, on Phillip Island, I saw an unusual shoebox-sized container washed up on our beach. At first I thought it was rubbish, but on closer inspection realised it was a container for somebody's ashes. When I brushed off the sand I could see a name inscribed in the plastic, his date of birth, where and when he was cremated, and the name of the funeral parlour. When I shook the container I discovered it was full. But was it sand or somebody's ashes? Other neighbours joined me on the sand and we discussed the situation.

Subsequently the funeral parlour was phoned, and they asked us to look inside the receptacle. If the contents looked like kitty litter, they said, it was in fact the ashes. Apparently the container was tossed overboard in Fremantle shortly after the cremation. From Western Australia the container travelled all the way to Phillip Island, an amazing journey in itself. After unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with the family, the funeral parlour asked us to sprinkle the ashes in the sea, which we did. So ended the journey of Frank's ashes. The funeral parlour said a lot of people have the big ceremony on the beach and no one has a Swiss army knife to take the seal off the top, so they throw the whole box away.

Bare-foot on the beach, finding treasure

It's got to be around 30°C before I'm tempted to remove my runners and walk barefoot along the seashore. Soft strands of seaweed squeeze between my toes as well as course golden sand. It's a delectable sensation, especially when combined with the salty smell of seaweed!

On different parts of the shore, the texture of the sand varies enormously -- from fine silky gold to coarse shell grit which is sought after for caged birds, to keep their beaks in good shape. I'm always on the lookout for anything different or rare like a cowrie or nautilus. That's what's so exciting about a walk along our beach on Phillip Island; you will always find something different or beautiful, something to make your day.

Today my treasure was a creamy white sea egg (urchin) about the size of a golf ball with bands of purple creating an exquisite pattern. After carrying it a little way, I placed it on top of a "mountain" of sea grass for someone else to find. With our two shepherds running through the waves and Doug and I the only people on the beach, I felt a rush of well-being and gratitude about where I am at this point in time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meeting a bull ant on the beach

If you've ever had a bull ant climb up an inside leg of your jeans, I'm sure you'll agree it can be an agonising experience. Naturally the removal of your jeans is top priority, regardless of amused spectators. And then soothing the pain becomes a matter of urgency as well.

Almost everyone is familiar with bull ants, also called bulldog ants because once they grab you you with their nippers it's as if their powerful jaws lock like the jaws of a bulldog. Probably the world's largest ant (up to 20 mm long), and one of the most primitive living ants on Earth, bull ants live almost entirely within Australia, with about 60 species making up the group.

Today I met a lone bull ant on the beach. The ant wasn't at all sure it wanted to meet me, but meet me it did, where gentle waves washed up on to the sand. My guess is it was foraging for food amongst the flotsam washed ashore, or perhaps it was after some salt? It became very agitated when I stepped up close, waving its nippers about and telling me in no uncertain terms about the poison it would inject if I came any closer. With memories going back to when I was a five-year-old and was bitten by a bull ant on the foot, and then in my 30s having a bull ant run up the inside of my jeans and bite me repeatedly, I backed off. I gave the bull ant the space it needed and continued on my way, wondering why it had made its way down to the sea.

The following is a unique outback remedy used by Australian bushman. This first aid treatment for a gash uses a bull ant to bite into the flesh, with its nippers on either side of the wound. The bushman then cuts off the ant's head, leaving the nippers to hold together the wound until healed!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sand castles, mermaids and hot sand of my youth

At this time of the year, elaborate sand castles built on the sandy shore suggest the delights of play and the knowledge of things European and historic. Castles, complete with turrets, arches, moats and bridges lie moulded from wet golden sand, with shells as windows, and kitchen gardens made from seaweeds.

Major, my young German shepherd expresses great interest in these creations, sniffing about and looking. I think he's picking up the scent of the kids who created the sand castles. Perhaps he's wondering about the purpose of the exercise? Some of my happiest childhood memories are of playing on the beach at Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula where we build elaborate sand castles, boats, dressed our naked bodies with long strands of slippery bull kelp and then pretended to be mermaids. After swimming in the cold water of Bass Strait, it was always a delectable feeling to run from the water up the beach to the hot dry sand and then roll over and over, coating our bodies like lamingtons.

Those were carefree days where, as a family, we were the happiest. Dad went fishing, Mum reduced housework to the bare minimum and we kids ran free and barefooted in the sand-dunes and coastal scrub. We made our own fun.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Figs, the fruit of the gods

Soft, ripe figs (straight from the tree) are one of my husband Doug's favourite delicacies. Home-made fig jam, and dried and glazed figs are also favourites. In our backyard -- here on Phillip Island -- we have five young fig trees, propagated by Doug from cuttings collected locally from our Croatian friend's trees.

At present, the trees are laden with fruit and protected from being eaten by possums by our two German shepherds that patrol the backyard throughout the night. Figs are not true fruits, but rather a collection of flowers that have turned in on themselves. And the little crunchy bits aren't seeds, they're actually unfertilised ovaries.

Doug doesn't have any competition from me because I don't like the taste of figs; however, I do love the rough feel of the large three-lobed leaves and the sensual look of ripe figs splitting open as a result of too much rain.

Mud, Mould and Mildew On Many Minds

A huge clean-up is underway throughout much of Australia as floodwaters recede in some areas and continue to rise in others. It's not generally known that mould releases trillions of microscopic spores and chemical vapours that float in the air and are spread by wind or water.

When these spores and chemical vapours are inhaled, swallowed or land on the skin they can cause health problems such as asthma, eczema, sinusitis, conjunctivitis or hayfever in susceptible people. Mucous membranes are particularly vulnerable. Therefore, it's important to reduce -- as much as possible -- the growth of mould and mildew in and around your home.

In my new blog -- which suggests ways of reducing the use of chemicals in your home -- I've begun a practical section dealing with chemical-free methods of cleaning away mould and mildew. For about 10 days in a row I'll suggest practical things you can do in relation to cleaning up after flood waters, especially where humidity is high as well. Please feel free to go to: and share with your friends.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baby rabbits rescued from drowning by teenage boys

While walking our dogs of this afternoon we met two teenage boys crouched on the ground, digging with their hands to save five baby rabbits from drowning in their burrow. The ground was oozing with water and so were the bunnies.

The boy's eyes were tender with compassion as they lifted each of the five babies from the flooded burrow. The last to be retrieved looked dead, but cupped in the warmth of one of the boy's hands, it came to life -- slowly.

We left the baby rabbits in the protection of clumps of grasses, where sunshine fell on their lightly furred bodies: warming, drying. We feel certain that the parents will return, and move their family to a drier place, but I will check in a few hours to make sure this happens.

With dramatic flooding occurring throughout Australia, this small act of compassion -- by teenage boys -- towards helpless creatures warmed my heart; gave me hope for the future.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Flooding in the mutton bird rookery kills chicks about to hatch

With Australia in the grips of devastating floods, and torrential rain falling over huge areas, Phillip Island -- in the far south -- has not escaped damaging rains, flash flooding and deaths in the mutton bird rockery.

With only two days to go before the mutton birds hatch, a low-lying part of the rookery flooded today. Presumably the adults sitting on eggs would have escaped, although I can't be certain about that. I'm sure though, that the chicks in the eggs will have died.

Walking in the rain along the beach this afternoon revealed areas of bad erosion caused by over-loaded stormwater drains emptying into Western Port Bay. It is this type of pollution that's affecting the diversity of life in the bay.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A short, "Hello", due to a day in hospital

A short, "Hello", tonight, as I've spent the day in hospital in Melbourne having a fairly uncomfortable procedure. With instructions to do nothing involving physical effort, concentration or decision-making for the rest of the day and night, I've decided to reduce my blog content as well.

Best wishes to my friends throughout Australia and around the world -- and "Good night".

Monday, January 10, 2011

A national emergency is unfolding in Queensland -- and escalating

With news of devastating flood waters affecting much of Queensland, our hearts go out to all those people who have lost loved ones, and whose homes, property and businesses have either been swept away or inundated by floodwaters.

The whole country is in a state of shock, disbelief and deep sympathy and sorrow. Meanwhile torrential rain continues to fall, walls of water threaten more homes and instead of subsiding, the situation is escalating.

Sitting in my office -- on Phillip Island -- I'm surrounded by the vast waters of Western Port Bay and Bass Strait. Heavy rain is falling, and I'm finding it difficult to think of anything else but water and the escalating emergency in Queensland. Nothing but a tsunami could flood Phillip Island.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hen and chicken reef announces low tide

From our house, a group of rocks (resembling a hen with chickens) exposes itself at low tide, and in doing so tells us whether or not we can walk along the beach to Grossard Point and beyond. In fact, it's possible to walk along the beach all the way to Cowes (the main town on Phillip Island), a distance of about 6 km.

At high tide, rocky headlands block the route to Cowes, but by walking west, you can walk about 4 km before rocks make progress difficult and slow.

It's possible to walk all the way around the island, but this takes several days and the tide needs to be low.

Our coastline has a blend of wide sandy beaches, rocky headlands and rocky reefs. When exposed at low tide, these reefs contain rock pools, and all manner of shellfish, sea weeds and other marine life. Sadly, in the 12 years we've lived on Phillip Island and explored these rocky ledges, the diversity of life in and around the pools has diminished. Pollution within Western Port Bay has to be the culprit.

An enormous oil rig passed by our window today

An enormous oil rig-- the Kan Tan iv-- passed by our sea-scape today. Standing at least 50 m above sea-level, and with six huge "legs" and three cranes it was an impressive sight.

Heavy duty red tugs, complete with heli-pads, towed the oil rig from Bass Strait to an anchoring point off Cowes, where maintenance work will be carried out. The Far Scinar tug pulled the rig, while the Far Fosna tug-- at the rear -- kept it towing in the right direction. Its progress was slow, which helped the "bush telegraph" alert people along the route.

The stage across which the oil rig moved -- Western Port Bay -- lay as flat as a pancake, a rare event in itself.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Seal Rocks ferry sees more than seals

Once daily during fine weather (and up to four times a day when tourist numbers peak over summer) the Seal Rocks ferry crosses our span of Western Port Bay on its way between Cowes and Seal Rocks on the western tip of Phillip Island.

The main attraction is Australia's largest fur seal colony, and while moored in calm water, visitors can watch seal pups frolicking in the shallows; adults basking in the sun or lazing about on slippery black rocks; and males squabbling for territory. Congregating in numbers exceeding 10,000, they are an impressive sight with their dog-like faces, soulful eyes and their strong musky odour -- never forgotten!

On the way to and from Seal Rocks (a two hour round trip) passengers on the modern catamaran see Phillip Island's scenic north-west coast, and sometimes sight a white pointer shark (that love nothing better than a meal of seal pup!) or even a whale or two. The Seal Rocks colony is an important seal breeding area and nursery. About 5000 seal pups are born here, every year. Using satellite technology, transmitting devices (glued to the backs of bull seals) have obtained important information about their feeding habits and movements throughout Bass Strait and Tasmania.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An 18 year old, with a passion for birds

On our way to Melbourne on Wednesday, we stopped at a pet supplies to buy Halter leads for our dogs. Different to a Halti lead (which acts like a horse halter) this lead incorporates a collar, with padded Sherpa sleeves that go behind the front legs. The lead and padded sleeves don't hurt the dog but they do stop it pulling, and instantly. It's a great find for us, as both our dogs are pullers. And Major weighs over 60 kg.

The 18-year-old who served us has a passion for birds and breeds cockatiels, Princess parrots and Superb parrots. He hand feeds and tames the chicks, his latest a delightful eight-week old cockatiel that lives on the counter during office hours. I was reminded of the budgie I had years ago that lived free in the house and was one of the most charming animal friends we've ever enjoyed as part of our family.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To the "big smoke" of Melbourne, for the day

It was with a degree of reluctance that yesterday I entered "the city gates" and partook of life in Melbourne for the day. Even though I was born and raised there, I prefer living in the country.

On the outskirts, a mushroom of pollution hung over the city; a haze of petrochemicals that left me with a bad headache. I'm used to the fresh air of the island where the wind blows clean off the ocean. However, I have to accept that there are times when I need the services and expertise found only in areas of high population -- especially medical services.

It takes two and a half hours to drive from our home on the island to Melbourne, with most of the distance being via freeways. Nevertheless, it's not an easy drive. The rate at which Melbourne is sprawling in most directions is astounding, with many country towns now considered suburbs of Melbourne. East of the city, housing estates are mushrooming on prime vegetable growing land, where deep fertile soils, along with abundant and reliable rainfall once produced high-quality vegetables. To allow housing estates to be built on this land, and then import vegetables from Asia, doesn't make sense -- at least to me!

On arriving home at about 10 o'clock in the evening, I stepped out of the car and breathed in the salty tang of air fresh off the ocean -- with just a hint of seaweed. Overhead, mutton birds circled the house, chuckling and cooing as they swooped and glided, playing in the wind before landing in the rookery to take their turn at sitting on the egg. Inside the gate, two very excited German shepherds greeted us, then inside the house, Katie yowled that distinctive Siamese call that voiced her disapproval of being left alone for the day. But soon she was in my arms and purring happily. A day spent in the city always leaves me feeling grateful that we live in the wide open spaces of Phillip Island and outback Queensland.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dog-friendly beaches on Phillip Island attract people who love dogs

When we were buying our home on the island, I asked the Real Estate agent about dog regulations and she replied, "This is the dog capital of the world!". Over the years I've noticed that people often buy houses on our part Phillip Island because we have the most dog-friendly beaches on the island -- you can walk in both directions with dogs.

Generally speaking, the southern and western coastlines of the island are reserved for penguins, and the main beach at Cowes, for holidaymakers. What remains of the island is divided into off-lead and on-lead dog beaches. Over the summer period, however, dogs are excluded from all beaches except for the hours between seven and 10 a.m. and five to 8 p.m. Most people with dogs are responsible when it comes to cleaning up after their dogs and keeping them under control.

With German shepherds, we realise we have additional responsibilities, as some people are afraid of big dogs. Therefore, our dogs are on leads unless there is no one else on the beach, and then they run free. I've always had a passion for dogs, and Doug likewise, so the time we share walking on the beach with our dogs is a highlight of our day.

Penguins tagged and microchipped on Phillip Island

Occasionally a dead penguin is washed ashore on Phillip Island and we always check it for either a tag on its flipper or microchip on its back.

The microchips used on penguins are the same as those used on pet dogs and cats. Peter Dann and other marine biologists have been studying the movements and life cycle of the Little penguin (often called fairy penguins) for well over 30 years, and these microchips and tags have helped in the gathering of information.

When we lived and farmed sheep on King Island in the 1980s, we were involved with the banding of penguins on our coastline. One of the penguins we banded on King Island, Peter Dann picked up on Phillip Island a year later. And then we found that same penguin dead in our King Island rookery a couple of years further down the track. Bass Strait is a turbulent stretch of water and it's surprising to find that penguins move so freely between islands, with some venturing as far as southern Tasmania.

There is nothing quite as delightful as watching penguins tumble out of the waves at sundown, and then see them waddle up the beach in their quaint little dinner suits, to be met at the entrance to their burrows by hungry trilling chicks.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday shacks bulldozed to build mansions

With Melbourne only 2 1/2 hours away, Phillip Island has always been a popular holiday destination. Twelve years ago, beach shacks were commonplace, with some upgraded when their owners reached retirement. Over the past five years, however, many of these homes have been bulldozed and double-storied McMansions erected in their place -- especially along the foreshore and anywhere with a sea view. Along with the luxury and glitz came sophisticated security systems and interestingly, a reduction in their use.

Many people reminisce about carefree days spent at their beach shack, hidden in tea tree scrub but only a few steps from the beach. Wet towels, sandy feet, dogs, kids, and fishing rods slide more easily into life in a fibro shack than in a McMansion. In the days of beach shacks, nothing was ever locked, housework was put on the back burner, men went fishing and kids were free to make their own fun.

During the 12 years we've lived on Phillip Island there have been big changes. No longer is there a feeling of community and this contrasts hugely with the strong community we enjoy in Mitchell, Outback Queensland. Along our road on Phillip Island, there are only two single storey houses remaining: ours and another halfway up the rise. From our single storey we have a breath-taking sea view and feel no need to have security alarms or cameras. We are beginning to feel like the odd ones out. But we are not about to change!

Sea eggs (urchins) tossed up on Phillip Island beaches

Finding a sea egg (sea urchin) washed ashore is one of my greatest pleasures. It's almost as if the ocean itself has laid these exquisitively patterned 'eggs'. Each varies in colour from white to purple; and in size, from a large marble to a tennis ball; and is made up thin, limy plates that are beautifully patterned and interlocked more accurately than any man-made jigsaw or mosaic.

When the sea urchin is alive its round, rigid case is covered with spines (sometimes red-tipped) resembling the prickly back of a hedgehog. They are not good to tread on with a bare foot! The living, breathing sea urchin has a mouth and anus but no trailing arms or legs.

When sea urchins die they are washed ashore, and in the process are rolled around by waves, and crashed onto rocky reefs and sand bars until all their spines are either broken or worn away. Usually the rounded case is broken too.

Every now and then though, a perfect sea egg washes up onto the sand, lying as treasure in a tangle of flotsam. Whenever I find and pick up one of these exquisitively patterned eggs, I think of it as a priceless gift from the sea.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year at Grossard Point in the golden glow of sundown

New Year's Eve was shared with friends at the Grossard Point light, boardwalk and viewing platform overlooking Western Port Bay and the Mornington Peninsula. When the sun dipped into the ocean at around 9 p.m. there were no crimsons, mauves or purples; simply a deep velvety gold. With drinks and nibbles we sat and talked, with muttonbirds dotting the sky, the occasional burst of fireworks, stars twinkling overhead and a vast seascape before and around us.

Other people came and went: young people, couples with dogs on leads, older people wanting to celebrate the New Year with neighbours and friends. On the cliff's edge and inside a high ring-lock fence, the Grossard Point beacon warns of a dangerous 700 m reef which extends towards the busy shipping channel. Below and to the west, rose-coloured cliffs surround a small, secluded sandy bay which is a popular swimming place for locals.

We didn't wait until midnight, preferring to say our Happy New Year's at about 11 p.m.. By midnight we were in bed, but heard the fireworks announce the New Year. Fortunately our shepherds are not afraid of fireworks, guns or thunder, but one firecracker was so loud and so near that Katie Siamese (who sleeps between us) jumped in fright.

The sharing with friends of the velvety gold sunset was, for me, symbolic of the closing of 2010; of hope for the New Year.