Thursday, June 30, 2011

Mt Lonsdale Garden Day

Today was mid-winter, yet sunshine spilled into Cecily Douglas's extensive garden, creating pools of warmth protected by trees, shrubs and elegant curved garden beds.

Mount Lonsdale, located north of Mungalalla, and about three-quarters of an hour's drive west of Mitchell, is a cattle station that has been in the Douglas family for generations. Five years ago this country was ' down on its knees' after seven years of crippling drought. Today, after several excellent seasons, both the country and the cattle are thriving.

Cecily's garden is an oasis of green surrounded by extensive paddocks of grasses bleached golden by frosts and lack of moisture. This is summer rainfall country. After morning tea on the verandah, we wandered around the garden admiring Cecily's creativity. Pieces of sculpture blend into garden beds where colour, texture and shape have been artistically arranged.

The greatest surprise, as far as I was concerned, was a pear tree devoid of leaves, yet hanging on to its crop of desiccated pears. Apparently fruit fly spoiled the fruit for eating. The dry air of the outback has, however, preserved the fruit.

The cluck of hens, the distinctive call of guinea fowl, the chatter of apostle birds, the occasional bellow of cattle and the murmur of conversation -- these were the only sounds heard in this outback oasis.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pincushion hakeas and yabbies

This morning I attempted to sketch a pincushion hakea (Hakea laurina) -- using watercolour pencils. The leaves and seed case turned out okay, but not the flower. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get it right. So it 's away now and I feel discouraged. Maybe photography is more my thing?

On a brighter note, I found this dry yabby skeleton on a sand bank in the Maranoa River, in Mitchell. With touches of blue and iridescent green/purple, it would have been a magnificent creature. It reminds me of the yabby I once kept as a pet. His name was Yowie, and he became quite tame and showed remarkable intelligence.

When I gave him a slice of carrot and he wanted to take it into his cave to eat, but it wouldn't fit through the doorway, he tipped it up onto its side and rolled it through the doorway like a wheel.
After keeping him in a large aquarium on our kitchen table for nine months I let him go in a dam on our property. I like to think he lived a long life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Going bush in Mitchell outback QLD

Feeling the need to 'go bush', Doug and I drove a distance of less than 1 km from Mitchell, stopped the Ute and wandered into a piece of previously unknown bush-- not knowing what if anything we'd find.

Within five minutes we were exploring a deep yet almost completely dry creek bed. Over summer, a huge amount of water must have roared through here, a massive energy force headed for the Maranoa River. We had the feeling we were the first humans to tread this route and perhaps we were.

We sat for five minutes beside a small waterhole, and in that brief interlude saw a pair of yellow-throated miners, and brilliantly coloured mallee ring-neck parrots drink and bathe. Also a wallaby and many butterflies.

A feeling of timelessness hangs over this special place of polished rocks, banks of golden sand, eroded cliffs, tangled flood debris, and exposed roots clinging precariously to life on the edge.

In outback Australia, it's always possible to get away from the madding crowd: find peace and quiet.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reflections: on life and in the Maranoa River

It's five years since we began our double life. The Phillip Island part of our year explores territory familiar to us, whereas the outback part is new.

As I reflect on our life in Mitchell, Queensland, I come to the realisation that in the outback anything and everything is possible. I'm learning to play the guitar and the marimba; I'm having a go at sketching native plants; and photography is a new interest.

Doug has enough space for an ever-expanding shed complex (to house his old motorcycles and cars), a large vegetable garden and plenty of space to grow trees. Our two German shepherds have three-quarters of an acre in which to run and play.

Every day I walk along the river amongst river red gums. We are fortunate to have friendly neighbours, and lots of good friends with wide ranging interests.

Out here in the middle of nowhere, life is rich.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Major's second birthday celebration walk

To mark the occasion of my German shepherd's second birthday, I took him for a longer than usual walk.

Overhead, eight sulphur-crested white cockatoos screeched as they flew towards the river, their wings lit with sunshine.

One of the tracks we walked along brought to mind how different the climate is in outback Queensland, compared to 'down south' at Phillip Island. You can see it in the grasses. The summer rain has produced waist high grass, and now, in mid-winter the soil's bone dry and the grass is bleached by repeated frosts. So much so, there's a fire risk.

On the other hand though, I like the look of tall golden grasses. I also enjoy the feel and sound as the grass crunches brittle beneath my feet.

On a walk that took us about three-quarters of an hour, several Willie wagtails swooped and flirted around us, chattering excitedly. I like to think they were saying, "Happy birthday Major!"

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Neil Turner Weir on the Maranoa

Before the Neil Turner weir filled with sand, there were river cruises on the Maranoa, and water sports that attracted people from all over the region -- and interstate too.

When the weir was in the planning stages, locals warned that the engineering was faulty, that the weir would fill with sand. The authorities took no notice.

Before long the weir did fill with sand, to the degree that river cruises and water sports could no longer be held. This was a huge blow to this arid region, both in terms of tourism and the recreational opportunities for local people. At the present time, fishing from the bank or from a small dinghy, canoe or kayak are the only opportunities. The water is too shallow for anything else.

Local people understand the land and the river in much greater depth than so-called experts from 'away'. In order to avoid costly mistakes, it's always wise to listen carefully to the wisdom of people living and working on the land.

Far too often their voice is heard but neither recognized nor heeded.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Maranoa murals tell a story

The murals on the bridge pylons at Mitchell paint a vivid picture of life in this small outback town.

Every time the Maranoa River floods, there is damage to the murals. Mud is no problem as it either washes off or dries to dust and blows away. However, flood debris (in the form of logs and branches) does damage the murals by crashing into the pylons or scraping past.

Nevertheless, most images are still vibrant with colour and meaning. The murals depicting fishing and horse riding show two popular activities. The Royal Flying Doctor mural shows a service that is vital to the outback. Cattle, and the cypress mill are important industries. Bottle trees stamp the area as outback, and an historic image suggests a time when horse and buggies, and Cob and Co coaches were the norm.

Every evening, as Major and I walk over the foot bridge crossing the Maranoa River, past and present merge in a delightful way.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Combining old with new

Doug's recent purchase of a 1940 Plymouth sedan brings to mind other old things and how they can be blended into a modern setting.

While having coffee at Mitchell's artesian spa last week I noticed an old wheelbarrow, tastefully decorated with succulents.

Some people have a knack of using historic pieces to enhance and add interest to public and home settings. This artistic flair is a gift, but not one I possess.

Plenty of pumpkins

Our harvest of over 80 Kent pumpkins has been spread around neighbours and friends, and still there are plenty left to last us throughout the winter months.

My favourite ways of eating pumpkin are as a creamy soup, or dry baked with the skin left on. When our main course includes baked pumpkin, that's the most popular part of the meal, and that's what we're having tonight. I can smell it cooking!

Doug makes a remarkably simple soup that has a creamy consistency and is full of flavour. Its only ingredients are pumpkin, red lentils, salt and water. I know other people add all sorts of other exotic ingredients to pumpkin soup, but I often think simple is best.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes

On my walk with Major, late this afternoon, I paused to talk to a secondary school art teacher, who's travelling to the Northern Territory during her 12 month break from teaching.

"Mitchell seems very much into the arts," she commented, and I agreed. Reaching out to pat my German shepherd she asked, "Does he eat ox heart?"

Surprised, I replied, "Yes," and then she went on to say, "My friend bought a huge ox heart to use as bait for crayfish and we only need a small portion. Would you like the rest?"

Back at their camp in the Major Mitchell Caravan Park she sliced off a piece and wrapped the remaining hunk in two layers of plastic. Handing it to me she continued, "It'd be a pity to have it go to waste when your dog could eat it."

The parcel of meat was remarkably heavy (over 2 kg), so by the time I'd walked all the way home I was glad to place its straight in the freezer.

It's amazing to think that the heart of a bullock weighs so much. But it's equally amazing to have been the recipient of such an unusual gift!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The value or otherwise of Council Planning Sessions

Planning for the future was the aim of the Maranoa Regional Council's Placemaking Design Session, held at the Mitchell Memorial Hall -- this afternoon between 2 and 6 p.m.

I went along to suggest the building of several interconnected walking tracks: along the river to the weir; and along the river, over the old crossing, through the Yumba and then over the foot bridge to the spa.

One of the consultants, Shaun Walsh, listened attentively to what I suggested and then, using a map of the town, discussed various options with me. However, another member of the team slept through the 10 minutes or so I was there. It was five o'clock and presumably he'd had hard day! Alternatively, he may have found what I had to say, incredibly boring. Only he will know the truth.

I find myself a bit cynical about the value of sessions like this. We tell the council what we want for the benefit of our town, and then maybe, in two years time, something will be done.

But I like things to happen sooner rather than later. If something is deemed to be advantageous, why not implement it straight away?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Doug has a passion for old cars and motorcycles

Everyone needs a passion: something they love to do, collect or enjoy creating. It may be breeding top-quality dogs, or doing up old cars and motorcycles. Or it may be creating a garden oasis, or collecting antique furniture, or even writing a novel.

It doesn't matter what it is, as long as it is something to feel passionate about.

Yesterday, Doug took delivery of a 1940 Plymouth sedan. It came from the Victorian Wimmera. Doug arranged for it to be transported up here to Mitchell, rather than Phillip Island, where salty winds and rust are the norm. In outback Queensland the air is dry and rust is rare.

Already the Plymouth has been christened the "Opal Queen", due largely to its colour -- blue with touches of fiery red. There's lots to be done on the car -- engine and body-wise -- but that's good because Doug loves restoring things to their former glory.

With no body rust and its original leather upholstery, dashboard etc, it's a rare find and has found a good home with my husband!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Talking with strangers

For me, one of life's greatest pleasures is talking with strangers: making a connection.

As a child I was a dreamer and very shy. I can't remember a turning point, so perhaps my transition was gradual. When I did discover the joy of meeting people, however, I lost no time.

Of course there are risks as not everyone is as we would have them be. On the whole though, most people are honest and have a point of view worth listening to. Doctor's waiting rooms, buses, trains, airports and shopping queues -- all these offer opportunities to speak with strangers, offer words of praise or encouragement, or simply give a friendly smile to lighten someone's day.

No matter who you talk to or where, it's common to find connections. For instance, if I mention the fact that we lived and raised sheep on King Island in the 1980s, nearly everyone knows someone who either lived on or visited the island.

Whenever we feel like meeting people from 'away', we go to the spa for coffee and conversation. Doug enjoys these encounters too, so this is a shared pleasure.

Every afternoon I take Major for a walk along the river to the bridge and caravan park, and nearly always I meet a local or traveller-- sometimes from overseas, mostly interstate.

It's well-known that if you are walking a dog you are seven times more likely to talk to people than if you're walking alone. Major is a good ambassador of his breed, behaves well with people of all ages, and waits patiently when a conversation evolves.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Museum Day at Mitchell State School, Queensland

The Prep/Grade 1 classroom at Mitchell State School turned into a museum this morning, with plenty of community involvement from parents, grandparents and other interested people. Doug and I came into the 'other interested people' category, with a special invitation from Sophie, handwritten with a quill.

Doug's contribution was an old push-type lawnmower which gave children the opportunity to have a go at hand-mowing grass.

I brought along a hand beater, two brown eggs and two glass bowls -- all wrapped in brown paper. No plastics in those days! Sophie cracked the eggs, separated yokes from whites and began the process of whipping the whites into a stiff, fluffy consistency. Everyone had a turn.

Other activities included Sandi who spun wool using her spinning wheel; and Angie who taught the children how to crochet. A collection of things 'from the olden days' was also on display.

The Prep/Grade 1 teacher, Deb Moore, is a dedicated and talented teacher who has created an attractive and stimulating space where children can achieve their full potential. Inviting the community to share this space links the school to the community of Mitchell in a very special way.

Thank you Sophie for inviting us to your Museum Day.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Salad greens for spotted bower birds

Doug's vegetable garden is his pride and joy, so when his young snow peas, broccoli and cabbage plants began disappearing he became concerned. Were the culprits caterpillars or grubs -- or birds?.

After close observation, Doug discovered that spotted bower birds were nipping off the soft green leaves, considering them the most delicious salad greens ever! On looking around, we could see the reason why the birds had moved into Doug's garden. Repeated frosts have burned off some of the more edible grasses and weeds -- but in reality, there's plenty left for the birds.

Resourceful as ever, Doug erected what he calls "The Cathedral", a tent-like structure covered with soft bird netting -- over his young plants. Our other circular garden was already covered.

Home-grown vegetables (especially greens) taste much better than supermarket vegetables. Ours have the added benefit of being grown without chemical fertilisers or sprays. I love to pick rocket, lettuce and parsley from the garden only minutes before eating.

A cold spell in Mitchell keeps me indoors

Due to low temperatures and frequent showers of rain, today's been an inside day for me and the dogs.

I've been fully occupied doing the second last read-through of my book "Double Life". Every time I read it I find things to either improve or alter slightly. One day I'm going to have to say, "It's finished!". Meanwhile, my exercise bike, located in our living area, has kept me exercised; and socially, two lots of neighbours have called in.

Katie is content to sleep alongside my chair, and Del and Major to play with their many toys indoors.

Our two German shepherds have a cardboard box full of soft toys (some squeaky), balls and pieces of rope. Both dogs are content to play and entertain themselves -- much to our amusement.

Frequent runs outside to chase away feral cats, mice and crows have given the dogs sufficient exercise. This morning, each dog had a juicy bone to eat on the verandah, and now I'm just about to feed them their evening meal. Of course, they eat before us!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mitchell water works its magic

Although I'm well aware of the health-giving benefits of soaking in Mitchell's artesian water, and also in drinking it, I was surprised to discover an additional benefit -- in relation to our 13-year-old Siamese cat, Katie,.

While living at Phillip Island and drinking tank water, Katie needs regular doses of Catlax, and struggles with constipation. At Mitchell, she drinks artesian water, and miracle, miracle, no constipation at all. Everything else is the same -- her food and exercise -- only the water is different.

Mitchell water contains a unique blend of bicarbonate, sodium, chloride, potassium and magnesium.

Mitchell's water is estimated to be about 2 million years old and is stored in the Great Artesian Basin, one of the world's largest underwater supplies. The basin underlies over 20% of Australia and extends beneath the arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and South Australia.

Two bores supply the township of Mitchell with water, one of which is located near the white water tower shown in the photo. The depth of each bore is about 1 km. The water comes out hot, with a slight but not unpleasant smell. Surprisingly, it makes good tea and coffee -- even without milk or sugar.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Camp fire at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park

Looking back to our more primitive origins, a camp fire has always been a welcome source of warmth, light and security. Every caveman had a fire! So, it's not surprising that travellers are drawn to a camp fire, especially when staying in unfamiliar territory.

Here in this arid region of outback Australia, the timbers are dense, slow burning and throw out huge quantities of heat. Mulga, gidgea, desert oak, ironwood, bloodwood, beefwood, brigalow and coolibah -- all make excellent camp fires.

Travellers who stay at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park bring with them a wide variety of talents and skills. Musical instruments of all shapes and sizes provide entertainment, along with singing, bush poetry and stories of outback Australia.

This late afternoon, early evening camp fire in Mitchell provides warmth, light, somewhere to cook your camp oven dinner, and an opportunity to socialise.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tourists love the word FREE

One of Doug's many volunteer jobs around Mitchell is to provide travellers with up-to-date info relating to this small outback town.

With this in mind, Doug built two notice boards and placed them where the pathway leads from the Major Mitchell Caravan Park, down to the Maranoa River, across the bridge and over to the spa and township of Mitchell.

One notice board gives tourists info about all the FREE things they can do and see around the town. The other concentrates on events -- many of which are free too. The aim is to persuade travellers to stay longer in Mitchell, so they can relax at the spa and enjoy the many attractions.

At the same time, it's hoped they will help boost the economy of the town through purchases of food, fuel and accommodation.

Mitchell is a friendly town and welcomes visitors with a smile and a "G'day".

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Musical stock grid in Mitchell, outback Queensland

Last year, a musical stock grid and booming drum were built on the banks of the Maranoa River, below the swimming pool. This is a fun instrument designed for use by both adults and children.

When newly installed, the range of notes and variety of tunes able to be played, using two mallets, was considerable, and the tone was pleasing.

Unfortunately, the notes and tone have recently been spoiled by sand within the metal tubing, therefore, the instrument badly needs an overhaul.

It is, however, a lovely idea to have a musical instrument out of doors and available for everyone to play.