Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting' frocked-up' in outback Queensland

The first time I looked at the window display in Poppy's Boutique in Mitchell I thought, I can't imagine clothes like this selling in Mitchell. But I was wrong. Completely wrong.

Getting dressed-up in Mitchell is a sport, of sorts. Any occasion -- and there are an amazing number of events and celebrations -- sees the women 'frock-up' into their best clothes and accessories, and many of these come from Poppy's Boutique.

Katrina Henry, who owns and manages the boutique, is skilled at buying outfits for particular people for particular occasions. Combine that with helpful advice and a friendly manner and you have a very successful business.

Often I hear people admit that they've shopped for clothes in Brisbane only to come home to Mitchell and find something much better at Poppy's.

Located next door to the library and gallery, and over the road from the cafe, Poppy's Boutique is in a good position for either a quick browse or more serious shopping.

Road trains in outback Australia

This afternoon, while pausing on the foot bridge that spans the Maranoa River, a road train thundered overhead, crossing the river on the road bridge.

Every cell of my body vibrated; my ears rebelled against the sound; my eyes, uplifted, saw the bulk and length in awe; and the smell of diesel drifted down.

Brisbane to Darwin Daily printed along the side of the road train brought to mind the huge distance travelled by these road trains, across the vast land mass of outback Australia. From Brisbane to Darwin is approximately 3500 km.

Major (my German shepherd) never flinches, even when the noisiest vehicle rattles and roars overhead. Thunder, fireworks and guns don't affect him either. Both our shepherds are good this way.

Road trains can be up to 53 m long, and because many roads in outback Queensland are narrow, caution needs to be taken when a road train is coming towards you. It's necessary to slow down, move to the side of the road and let them pass, particularly as the trailers on some road trains swing about quite alarmingly if there's a bump in the road.

I know that road trains are essential; however, I believe that a lot of the freight they carry would be better moved by rail.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Reflections and shadows in the Maranoa River

Today I find myself reflecting on the wealth of talent contained within the small outback town of Mitchell, in outback Queensland.

The Mitchell Agricultural Show, with its popular sections displaying local art, craft and photography; and now, this weekend's Patchwork Quilt and Bush Sculpture exhibitions show a community busy creating works of beauty and inspiration. And for the remainder of this year, the Mitchell Arts calendar is full to overflowing.

You may be wondering how this photo that I took of the Maranoa River relates to this blog. The two words reflections and shadows came to mind when I saw the image. So my mind reflected on the wealth of arts and crafts seen in the outback and then the thought that, in times of shadow, creativity, no matter what form it takes, is a great release and comfort.

Doing something creative is a type of meditation. It takes the mind away from troubles and channels thought into a place where relaxation and positive thought can grow and ultimately flourish.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Quilt exhibition in Mitchell, outback Queensland

The Mitchell on Maranoa Gallery (behind the library) is now hung with 44 magnificent quilts, all of which were created in the past 12 months, by local people.

The exhibition was officially opened yesterday, with the work to be on display until 9 July. Afternoon tea, with an amazing selection of home-made cakes was offered to everyone who came to the opening.

Vibrant colours, textures and designs are a feature of the quilts, each created with passion and skill by the Kenniff Country Quilters Group.

A few years ago I heard an interesting anecdote about quilts. Some religions (particularly the Amish) deliberately make a 'mistake' in the intricate pattern of their quilts. Just one tiny imperfection. Their belief is that only God is perfect. To spot this minute imperfection is a challenge.

The ancient art of quilting is still alive and well throughout Australia, uniting groups, especially in remote and country areas.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bush sculpture on display in Mitchell

Today was the official opening of Andrew Hughes exhibition of bush sculpture. Displayed in the sculpture courtyard (an outdoor setting behind the Mitchell library and gallery), Andrew's creations sparked a lot of interest and favourable comment.

Using old farm junk such as bits of ploughs, chains, bolts, engine parts and weathered corrugated iron, Andy creates unique pieces of sculpture. His main tool is a welding torch. Here is a man who excels at turning trash into treasure, with help and encouragement from his wife and family.

These sculptures, using recycled materials, are ideal to place in a garden setting. They demonstrate what a keen imagination, a trip to the town dump and a welder can produce.

Open until 9 July, the exhibition is called Menagerie Marvellous Metallic and includes 25 sculptures.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Native cypress pines and acacias

After spending a lot of time over the summer sketching plants, I had a break of a couple of months due to writing commitments and our move back to Mitchell.

Today, in the company of two friends, I began again. After a frosty start to the day, the sun poured through our windows making the living area a bright, warm sunny place.

The seed case of a white cypress pine was my subject. The native cypress growing in and around Mitchell is widely used as a building material, due to it being termite resistant. Our house is built mainly of cypress pine.

My next subject is the acacia I photographed last week. They say there is an acacia (wattle) species flowering every month of the year, in most places throughout Australia.

The acacias that flower throughout the winter brighten up the bush with their vibrant yellow flowers.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Australia's Biggest Morning Tea at the Mitchell Spa

Australia's Biggest Morning Tea (in aid of the Cancer Council of Australia) was held in two places in Mitchell: at the Hospital and at the Great Artesian Spa.

We chose the spa and enjoyed sitting out on the deck with a group of friends. Tea, coffee and a delicious array of home-made cakes and slices -- combined with interesting conversation -- made for a pleasant morning.

Meanwhile, the spa attracted visitors and locals to soak in the thermal mineralised waters of the two billabong-shaped pools -- one naturally heated, the other cool.

Relaxing tired muscles, easing tension and rejuvenating the soul are the benefits of a soak in these ancient waters. The attractive garden setting and seating around the pools encourages people to relax further.

Whenever I see people walking back to the caravan park after a soak at the spa, their step seems lighter and their faces more relaxed and ready to smile.

Some people stay at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park for several months at a time, because of the therapeutic benefits of the artesian spa.

Sorry about the dud photo. I don't know what went wrong.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Mitchell Post Office is a busy place

In spite of today's sophisticated avenues of communication, post offices are still important places in most towns throughout Australia.

A bank of private mailboxes and a notice board stand at the entrance to the Mitchell Post Office. It is here that people pause to chat, hands clutching the all-important mail while they scan the noticeboard for any new announcement or article for sale.

Yes, people still write letters, and with eBay so popular now, post offices handle an ever-increasing number of parcels. Inside the post office, the staff are friendly and helpful, and no problem is ever too difficult to handle.

The Mitchell Post Office is here to stay.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Small steps make a larger whole

Although the majority of my time and thoughts this week have been focused on yet another edit of my memoir Double Life, I'm aware that every step I make contributes to a larger whole. This book has been over three years in the writing, and although I would like to be able to say, It's finished. It's not. Perhaps in another three months I'll be able to say those two lovely words!

Taking steps along the main street of Mitchell brings together the major themes of this small outback town in Queensland, Australia: the community, its river, birds and animals, and history.

An imaginative image of the Maranoa River winds and loops its way along the pavement, with small colourful mosaics set into the concrete in various places -- as shown in the photos.

The footpath, when combined with the many other artistic touches to the town, makes Mitchell what it is today. Unique and a great place in which to live.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Outback artist -- Nicole Harper

While enjoying a picnic lunch at the Major Mitchell Campsite recently, my gaze settled on a patch of vegetation. All of a sudden I thought, That's what inspired Nicole's painting!

So, to show you what I mean, I've included my photo of the bushland, and also a photo of Nicole's painting. It's one we bought at an exhibition held in Mitchell last year.

I believe Nicole Harper has huge talent. She is also a great supporter of the arts in and around Mitchell; home-schools her young children; and is active in the running of a large cattle property north-west of Mitchell.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A picnic lunch and cake to celebrate Doug's birthday

It was Doug's birthday yesterday, a date shared with my brother Alan who lives in the mountains behind Cooktown.

A picnic lunch at the Major Mitchell Campsite (north of Mitchell) was Doug's choice, and in spite of a nasty cold virus that seems intent on lingering, he enjoyed spending time in this unspoilt outback setting under a wide blue sky.

While Doug rested, I walked down a steep bank (in places, a vertical cliff as shown in the photo), and across a wide stretch of sand to the Maranoa River. Never before have I seen the river flowing at this point. Usually the flow is beneath the sand. But it was yesterday!

Huge piles of sticks, logs and other debris are piled up in many places, evidence of the flood waters that raged downstream over the summer period. It was this river that supplied water for the base camp that the explorer Major Mitchell established here in the mid-1800s.

A late afternoon tea birthday party, held at our home with four special friends helped further lift Doug's spirits.

Katie Siamese insisted on being part of the celebration, and the dogs too, of course!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Frosty nights and Ugg boots in outback Australia

Frosty nights have got people talking about Ugg boots and fleecy-lined slippers, and since I have neither, I made a point today of visiting Theresa's shop in Mitchell -- Samios Trading -- where friendly and helpful service are abundant.

Located next door to the Mitchell Cafe, Samios carries a huge and varied range of products: from horse saddles to bullets; from ballet shoes to steel; from bedding to high-quality working and country casual clothing and footwear.

It was the Ugg boots (made from sheep skins with the wool on the inside, and a suede outer finish) that caught my attention so I bought a pair and now my feet are cosy and warm.

They may not the height of fashion, but they are Australian-made and certainly keep out the winter chill.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Making Marimba Music in Mitchell

My first marimba lesson (after an absence of 5 1/2 months) was a challenge -- yet fun as well.

Joy (our leader and principal of a small school south of Mitchell) is a teacher who exudes encouragement and enthusiasm, and as a result, achieves excellent results both with her primary aged children and adult marimba group.

We meet at the Mitchell State School between six and 7 p.m., once every week. Last night's group was smaller than our usual 10 or 12, as some members are away on holidays. Laughter, challenging note sequences and rhythms, and friendly talk make the hour-long lesson pass in a flash.

Marimba music is written in three parts: low, middle and high. Each player has two mallets that are used to strike the timber notes to create a three-part melody with a bouncy rhythm. A drummer and vocalist are added to some of our pieces.

Last year Doug built a marimba for us to play at home, here in Mitchell. He plays low and I play either middle or high, so we can have fun together. But playing in a group is even more enjoyable. Already our group has entertained guests at this year's Mitchell Races, and we have two more engagements coming up, the highlight being at Bonus Downs in October.

So I must practice -- to catch up!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Felling a bottle tree: Mitchell, outback Queensland

We've been back in Mitchell two weeks today and just about everything is "back to normal".

Today's felling of a dead bottle tree, along with an acacia renowned for dropping limbs was the main work -- followed by a pot of tea and the sun. Richard (our neighbour and friend) and Doug work well together with a lot of amusing banter passing between them, as well as a wide range of topics discussed.

The bottle tree was rotten inside and therefore fell with the lightest of pulls. The trunk, although broad, was incredibly light to pick up and throw into the trailer.

Bottle trees are very much a stamp of outback Queensland and common in and around Mitchell. I love their varied and quaint shapes and sizes.

PS. The photo of the live bottle trees growing in a neighbour's garden are typical of the bottle trees in Mitchell.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In times of trouble, Mitchell's river is an inspiration

A few viruses seem to be circulating in and around Mitchell and unfortunately we've not been immune.

Last week I suffered incredible fatigue and stomach problems and this week Doug has a nasty cold which is developing into a hacking cough.

At times like these I like to hold an image in my mind, and it depends on where I am, which image I choose.

In Mitchell, I think of the Maranoa River and its majestic river red gums -- as seen from a point midway along the foot bridge. There is serenity in this image which I'll share with you in this blog.

It's my hope that this photo will inspire you to choose your special place to help in times of distress or illness.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Old Crossing over the Maranoa River

Before the road bridge was constructed in Mitchell, all traffic between Brisbane and Charleville crossed the Maranoa River at a natural rocky section of the river, downstream from where the bridge now stands. Concrete -- added to the rocky shelf in more recent times -- makes the crossing more stable now.

Called The Old Crossing this place is steeped in history: Cobb and Co coaches, horse and buggies, camel trains, all these and more crossed the Maranoa River at this point.

In 2010, the river flowed over the crossing throughout the whole year, which is unusual. This place is a favourite haunt of water birds that catch fish as they swirl over the crossing. Boats can be launched from here, and for people who fish or simply enjoy looking for birds, this place is perfect.

Often I see kids catching yabbies, building cubby houses and generally 'mucking about' at the Old Crossing. These children revel in the freedom to explore, take reasonable risks and have fun.

For me, I love the Old Crossing, especially when the reflections of river red gums are mirrored on the surface water. It's a place that breathes history, enjoyment -- and serenity.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Major Mitchell Caravan Park has a reputation

Located on the banks of the mighty Maranoa River, the Major Mitchell Caravan Park is well-known for its warm hospitality, entertainment and pleasant surroundings -- Australia-wide.

Travellers of all types and ages stay at the caravan park, bringing with them a wealth of talents and interests to share.

At present, visitors sit around a central campfire -- in the late afternoon -- and are entertained with bush poetry and stories, and tunes played using a gum leaf as the instrument.

At other times there's singing with a guitar, keyboard or piano accordion to accompany the voices. Camp oven dinners and pancake breakfasts are organised for the peak of the tourist season.

In a recent survey of travellers, the Major Mitchell Caravan Park was voted number 14 out of 70 caravan parks state-wide.

A modern camp kitchen, and park-like trees and lawns add to the caravan park's appeal.

You can take a leisurely walk to the Great Artesian Spa and Mitchell's shopping centre that takes only five minutes. Majestic river red gums, a foot bridge over the river, murals and a well-maintained pathway make this a popular walk.

People who enjoy fishing can 'throw in a line' either from the foot bridge or the banks of the river, and catch a yellowbelly or two for dinner.

All in all, and from personal experience, the Major Mitchell Caravan Park is one of the very best we've ever stayed in (the ensuite sites in particular) -- and over the years, we sampled a lot.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Colour contrasts in Mitchell, outback Queensland

Today I've been noticing colour, illuminated by sunshine falling from a cloudless sky.

First was a male red-capped robin who sat on our fence and then flitted around the garden catching insects. The intensity of the red was incredible. Major and Del (German shepherds) are vigilant in keeping cats out of our garden, so the birds are safe -- I hope the news that we are back in Mitchell has travelled around the local bird population. Our inside Siamese, Katie, is not a cat, according to our dogs and is treated with great respect and affection.

Next were two handfuls of brilliant green tree frogs that Doug retrieved from the toilet (the cistern was blocked with frogs!) and relocated outside to a bird water bowl in the garden. No doubt the frogs will be back in the toilet in no time at all -- there is no accounting for taste! Green tree frogs have a reputation for 'homing'.

Last were the trunks of the river red gums across the road and bordering the Maranoa River. In the late afternoon light the trunks and branches were a brilliant silvery-white.

I could go on, but these three colour contrasts in particular captured my attention.