Saturday, July 30, 2011

Maranoa River a magnet to the people of Mitchell

Weekends in Mitchell see many people gather along the banks of the river -- the majestic Maranoa. It's like a magnet, this river, as it loops and meanders around the small outback town.

Fishing, walking, photography, sharing a barbecue lunch by a campfire -- all these and more provide relaxation, exercise and stimulation for all age groups from the very young to the elderly.

Yesterday, as I paused on the foot bridge, a flock of about 50 white cockatoos flew overhead, screeching, sulphur-crests raised in anticipation of the evening feast of grain provided by Rob and Brian at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park.

My gaze moved to the riverbank where Snow White the egret stood, still like a statue. Further down, on the naked branch of a river red gum, perched a white-necked heron, surveying the river. Her dark eyes locked onto mine, then she took wing, effortlessly lifting over the shining water; mirrored, deep with reflections.

It was like I was flying too.

As I breathed in the sharp smell of eucalyptus and the dusky aroma of the river, my eyes rested on the smooth, silver-lit water.

Here it was possible to drift back in time, to reflect about the origins of life on earth.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Opening of Mitchell's Landmark Art Show

Mitchell's 12th Landmark Art Show opened last night at the Maranoa Gallery, situated behind the library.

It was a vibrant affair with a large gathering of people keen to support the arts in Mitchell. As was the case at the art workshop held the previous day, all ages were represented-- from a five week-old baby to people in their 80s.

The evening began at 5:30 p.m. with drinks and nibbles, which was followed by hot soup and a bar in the courtyard. Our marimba band provided the entertainment, with happy, rhythmic music reflecting the mood of the crowd.

When the judge, Des Rolf, announced the prices for each section, Doug and I received an incredible thrill when Doug's opal pendant was awarded second place in the mixed media section. Doug created the pendant, using a boulder opal stone that we purchased in Yowah on our way up to Mitchell, earlier in the year. It is a beautiful stone, in that as you gaze into its centre you can see a landscape of muted yet fiery colours. The appeal of boulder opal is that the opal is set naturally with ironstone behind, to highlight the colour.

The Landmark Art Show Opening is the best organised and most enjoyable event we have ever attended. One of the greatest pleasures was the fact that we knew such a large number of people and had so many enjoyable conversations.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wattles and kookaburras declare Australia

Wattle and kookaburras are well-known things that symbolise Australia. Our floral emblem is a wattle (usually Acacia pycnantha, commonly called golden wattle). No matter where you live in Australia, there is nearly always at least one species of acacia in flower.

The photos included in this blog were taken up the Forest Vale Road, north of Mitchell. When viewed against the red earth of this particular hill, the gold of the wattle looks striking.

Whenever I hear a kookaburra laugh it makes me smile, lightens my spirits. It is as if the sun has emerged from a bank of heavy cloud. The Laughing kookaburra is Australia's largest kingfisher. It has a massive bill able to tackle large snakes. The Blue-winged kookaburra lives in northern Australia, and as its name suggests, has striking blue markings on its wings.

A kookaburra's laugh is a joyful sound that rings through the Australian bush. When combined with wattles in full bloom, the effect is dramatic and uplifting.

A pair of kookaburras live in and around the river red gums over the road from us here in Mitchell. Often we hear their laughter and my hope is that they help clear the area of venomous snakes.

Opportunity to learn from an artist -- in Mitchell, outback Qld

As part of the annual Landmark Art Show, the judge, Des Rolph, gave a one-day workshop in Mitchell. I was one of the 15 keen participants who attended. One of the loveliest things about the group was that our ages ranged from a baby of five weeks to people in their 80s.

Des, who is well-known for adding a spiritual dimension to her landscape painting, showed us various techniques to improve the way we portrait the Australian landscape. There was a warm energy circulating in the room, an energy created by a group of people enthusiastic about art and keen about learning.

All of us love the splendour of the Australian landscape, so to have a teacher who helped us add strength and energy to our work was a great gift.

Thank you, Des.

The photo is of Des and Lesa.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Royal Flying Doctor Service

Once again, Doug and Angi provided a pancake breakfast for the travellers at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park, with all the proceeds going to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

It was a frosty morning, so hot pancakes made a welcome breakfast. In total, well over 150 generous- sized pancakes were cooked and eaten.

Hardly a day goes by that we don't hear the Flying Doctor plane over our house and then hear it come in to land at the airstrip on the western edge of the township of Mitchell. It's a vital service to people in the outback. Not only the locals benefit, but also anyone travelling in the outback.

In fact, at this very moment, I can hear the flying doctor plane overhead. Who, I wonder is critically ill, or has there been an accident?

The photo shows a mural depicting the Flying Doctor Service which is painted on the pylon of the road bridge crossing the Maranoa River, Mitchell.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Railway bridge over the Maranoa River opened in 1885

Every Wednesday and Friday evening, at about 10 p.m., the Westlander (which begins its journey at Charleville) stops at Mitchell Railway Station to pick up passengers bound for either Toowoomba or Brisbane.

You can sit up or choose a sleeper which includes a bed, wash basin and cupboard. In the corridor there are toilets and showers. Doug travelled by train to Brisbane last year, and by booking a sleeper, found the journey pleasant and an interesting experience.

Livestock are also transported by rail, with Quilpie the usual loading point. In many ways this seems a more humane method of transport than road trains.

The railway bridge over the Maranoa River is upstream from the road bridge. It was opened in 1885 and was one of the first bridges built on concrete piers. There are three bridge spans of 32 m (100 feet) on concrete piers with timber approaches. The total length is 218 m (688 feet). The coming of the railway revolutionised the transport of livestock, wool, mail and passengers between the coast and outback Australia.

The sound of the train whistle (as the train crosses roads within Mitchell) on cold frosty nights is a rather mournful sound, yet it also means people are travelling, and it always gives me pleasure to think of people enjoying a train journey.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The HANGING in Mitchell's Maranoa Gallery

Today -- Monday 25 July -- marked the day when a group of talented artists and helpers hung the artwork that comprises Mitchell's annual Landmark Art Show.

Over 200 pieces of art were entered, from all over Australia, as well as many from Mitchell and the surrounding area. Paintings, photography, sculptures, weaving and jewellery -- all needed to be tastefully displayed to show their individual beauty and creativity. Hanging is an art in itself.

Doug was there too, climbing ladders, banging in hooks and nails, and doing other handyman tasks around the gallery.

Now in its 12th year, the Landmark Art Show is well-known for its high-quality art work. This year's guest judge is Des Rolf, an artist famous for her spiritual and energised landscapes. She will be giving a workshop on Thursday, which I will attend. On Friday the 29th of July, Des will judge the entries and then declare the art show open at 5:30 p.m.

Today's hanging in the Maranoa Gallery was the start of a very busy week of art and culture in Mitchell, outback Australia.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

'My' mulberry tree by the river is in resting mode

'My' mulberry tree, growing alongside the bridge that spans the Maranoa River at Mitchell, has lapsed into dormancy, as a result of a series of severe frosts. A few shrivelled brown leaves (attached to bare branches) are all that remain.

For me, this tree is a true example of the abundance of Nature. When winter turns into spring, the tree will bud, grow large hearted-shaped leaves, and then give generously of itself with an abundant crop of delicious black mulberries. Every evening, Major and I walk past the mulberry tree and often we pause, thinking of juicy fruit. Major enjoys eating mulberries too, especially when they are black and sweet.

But for now the tree is resting, tranquil in its setting alongside the Maranoa River in outback Queensland.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Difference is accepted in outback Australia.

Mitchell, in outback Queensland is the sort of town where difference is accepted -- most of the time.

A few streets from our home lives a bloke who believes the world will end next year, on May 27. A sign out the front of his house declares the news for all to see -- to the accompaniment of loud music.

In the outback space is abundant. Consequently, house blocks in Mitchell are large (usually three-quarters of an acre or more) and the streets are wide. For this reason there doesn't seem to be much of a "Keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. People cut their grass and wash their cars when they feel like it. People have time to smile and say, "G'Day."

The indigenous population blends in with the rest of the town; along with the disabled and those hard on luck.

In Mitchell, you can be whoever you want to be.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Ace Drapers No 1 in Roma is an outback legend

When we bought our home in Mitchell, five years ago, we furnished it as inexpensively as possible because we didn't know how much of each year we'd spend in the outback, or to what degree we'd enjoy the experience.

Consequently, the table and chairs we bought were actually an outdoor setting. Five years down the track I find myself wanting to upgrade certain things, especially the table, because in reality we love living in Mitchell and spend over seven months of every year here in the outback.

The problem was that I couldn't find another small, circular, glass-topped table: so think laterally, Robin. Perhaps a tablecloth would improve the image?

But, although I searched high and low in Melbourne, Phillip Island, Mitchell and on the Internet, I couldn't find a circular, green coloured cloth. In Roma though, at Ace Drapers No 1 (nicknamed the Overflow), I found a tablecloth which was perfect -- circular, good quality cloth in a plain sage green,. This shop is a legend in the outback. With boxes stacked sky-high and every imaginable article in stock, the owner can put his hands on everything anyone could possibly want -- along with a smile.

So I have my tablecloth, and the table setting is greatly improved!

PS. You can see a bit of our marimba in the background.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A place of your own, where there's peace of mind

Everyone needs a place of their own, somewhere that gives you space and freedom of mind. It may be a favourite room in your home, a special place in the garden, a fishing spot by the sea or alongside a river, or beside a special tree, a tree that gives you strength.

For me (living in Mitchell, outback Queensland), my special place is beside the Maranoa River. Over the road from our home is a narrow, winding track that leads me to a special hidden place beside the river. Here, beneath the branches of a giant river red gum and on the banks of the river, I can see upstream and downstream.

Here there is tranquillity.

Here my mind is free to wander at will. In peace.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You have to cross a bridge to get to Roma

Our closest service town is Roma, a journey by car of about one hour in an easterly direction, towards the coast -- and Brisbane. The Warrego Highway suffered a lot of damage over the summer period, as a result of severe flooding. Consequently, roadworks are currently under way and frequently cause delays to traffic.

Roma is well-known for its avenues of bottle trees, planted in memory of those who lost their lives in past wars. Viewed from some angles, these quaint bulbous trees appear almost human-like, and it's for this reason I find myself feeling sad. This outback town in Queensland has lost several generations of fine young people. What a tragic waste!

At the present time, Roma is a thriving mining town (oil and gas), with a busy shopping centre and the most pedestrian-friendly roads I've ever experienced. I have to confess though, I'd much prefer to shop in Mitchell. I like the slower more friendly pace, and Mitchell has most things. I doubt we need ten or more varieties of individual items. In Roma, there seems too much of everything.

Therefore, next time I'm tempted to shop in Roma, I'll think again and most likely choose to stay snug in the loop of the Maranoa River. In other words, I won't cross the bridge!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Snow White the egret at home on the Maranoa

Pretending to be a statue, Snow White the egret gazes across the river, meeting my gaze in unspoken communication. This is her river, the mighty Maranoa, a river flapping with fish.

Every evening, as Major and I walk along the river, I make a point of looking for this special egret-- and then pause to say, 'Hello'. This routine has been going on for five years, and although I can't be sure, I believe I'm seeing the same bird.

A truly expert fish catcher, Snow White doesn't need a huge territory in order to have sufficient to eat. She lives in and around the Mitchell road bridge, with her favourite snags bordering the large pool downstream of the bridge. It is here where I usually catch sight of her, and often I see her reflection in the water. The photo I've included is the best I can do with my camera. Unfortunately the focus is not good, but it does give you an image of this special bird.

In flight, she looks magnificent; and when swooping to catch a fish, her dive is swift and accurate. I love to see the fish go down her long neck; and then see her stretch out one long leg -- as graceful as a ballerina.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Musical stock grid in Mitchell, outback Australia

Work continues on Mitchell's musical stock grid, located on the banks of the Maranoa River. This past week has seen the addition of steel posts arranged in circles to create a maze-like arrangement around the drum and musical grid.

Last month, cattle stations in the semi-arid country surrounding Mitchell were invited to contribute their own entrance gates, which will form part of the maze. Bonus Downs and Hillyview gates are already in place and look great, with historic touches such as a cow bell, horse shoes, hand shears and an axe head.

Late this afternoon, as Major and I walked along the river, a young boy was playing the grid, creating pleasing music that drifted down into the riverbed. He finished off with a haunting drumbeat.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The latest and tiniest visitor to our Mitchell home

Scooped carefully from the lip of the toilet bowl, this baby desert tree frog (or is he a baby green tree frog?) is about as cute as can be.

After admiring and then photographing him, Doug returned the frog to the toilet. There's no accounting for taste, is there?

Having lived 'down south' for most of my life, I still find frogs in bathrooms both surprising and delightful. In Mitchell (outback Queensland), however, frogs in bathrooms are commonplace.

Like a sedative, rain falls in outback Queensland

After the harshness of repeated frosts and extreme dryness, soft rain is falling throughout outback Queensland. It's almost as if a light sedative has been sprinkled over the land; softening the vegetation, yet at the same time heightening the colour of red dirt and green foliage.

The family of apostle birds (affectionately known as squarkers) that live in our garden here in Mitchell, are happy about the rain. Together they forage for food; together they raise their young; together they protect their territory. Cheerful chatter makes up for their drab plumage. The name -- apostle birds -- came about because these birds usually live in groups of about twelve, like the disciples of Jesus Christ.

'My' willie wagtail is also telling me about the rain, going from window to window and chattering excitedly. Birds give me great pleasure and as I watch their behaviour I find myself learning more and more about their unique place in the web of life that surrounds me in this semi-arid region.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The pull of my island home

Although I love life in outback Queensland, deep down is the pull of an island 'down south', with its muttonbirds. Living alongside a rookery on Phillip Island has led to my habit of thinking in tune with the muttonbirds' remarkable migration flight to Alaska and back, and then of their return to the island to breed over the summer period.

Beachcombing on golden beaches, watching the silvery pathway of the moon across water, living on an island populated with penguins, seals and other wildlife sounds idyllic. But then I remember the biting southerly gales that lash the island throughout winter and spring, and of chest pain -- and I'm glad I'm here in Mitchell, where I feel a deep sense of belonging.

Our Double Life sounds an ideal lifestyle. There are, however, ups and downs as I strive towards true contentment. This platter of treasures from the sea takes me back to Phillip Island; reminds me of our other reality.

ArtRageous at Maranoa Gallery in Mitchell, outback Queensland

The small outback town of Mitchell (in outback Queensland) is a vibrant arts community with its school age children eager participants. The official opening of ArtRageous -- held this afternoon at the Maranoa Gallery -- displays the artwork of students attending Mitchell State School.

The school's art teacher, Karen Wolski, has a passion for art and teaching, which she shares with the children in her care. Consequently, colour and creativity shine from paintings and drawings hung tastefully on the walls of the gallery.

An enthusiastic crowd of teachers, parents and interested people from the community attended the opening, clapping and congratulating individual students. Entertainment was provided by the school's marimba band, and afternoon tea was served.

How wonderful it is to see young people passionate about art, proudly sharing their work with the community. Well done, Mitchell State School!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peach blossom, burst pipes and another severe frost

Another -4.1° C temperature this morning saw a breakage of a tap in our backyard, causing a geyser-like spout of water, which a neighbour alerted us to. Fortunately Doug is able to fix things, so within one hour the tap was replaced and the water turned on again.

The mulberry tree growing beside the Maranoa River is now completely devoid of leaves, yet this afternoon I picked an armful of peach blossom from a tree growing in the bush beside the river.

My guess is that a peach branch got caught up in flood water upstream of Mitchell (outback Queensland) and ended up lodged in the bank, where it grew into a tree. This tree produces peaches every summer, but the fruit ends up spoiled by fruit fly.