Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mountains of sand and stick debris suggest huge floods

North of Mitchell, at the Major Mitchell Campsite, the river has carved a wide, deep course. The quantity of deposited sand, and the large collections of logs and stick debris -- when combined with the deep U- shaped riverbed -- suggest huge quantities of water roar down this river, at a fast rate.

During the summer months, when the river floods, the Maranoa River is the fastest flowing river in Queensland.

When Doug and I walked downstream, a couple of days ago, we saw these mountains of debris and sand. I felt in awe of this mighty river, the Maranoa.

Yesterday I was unwell, and so missed out on writing my blog. Apologies to my loyal readers.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Turtle and goanna at Major Mitchell Campsite

Every visit to Major Mitchell's 1846 Campsite (located alongside the Maranoa River, half an hour's drive north of Mitchell, outback Qld) reveals yet another layer of understanding in a place that breathes history and stark beauty.

Although we've had a series of good seasons with above average rainfall, the river level is low -- only just flowing over the causeway. In 1846 Major Mitchell's men fished from boats on the river and there was plenty of water for 80 bullocks, 17 horses and 30 men, along with water for a vegetable garden. That year -- 1846 -- must have been extraordinarily wet.

Today, apart from birds, of which there were many, we saw a sand goanna fossicking in a rotting log, a fresh-water turtle feeding in the shallows and bright blue yabby claws.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Frogs celebrating the falling of rain

Two falls of very heavy rain yesterday in Mitchell was sufficient to bring forth an explosion of frog song from the Maranoa River -- also from gardens all around town. When Doug picked the broccoli for our evening meal it was after dark. In the torchlight there were frogs leaping in all directions: tiny pale cream ones up to large green frogs

Later, in the bathroom, a green tree frog the size of the palm of my hand was leaping about. The photographs are of this frog and show the striking cream and red markings on its legs.

Mitchell would have to be the frog capital of Australia.

Mitchell's Annual Camel Races

The Annual Camel Races and Ute Show was held today at the Mitchell Showgrounds. After a fine warm day yesterday, today was, unfortunately, quite wet; however, that didn't stop the crowd enjoying the Calcutta Race program, Ute show, wheelie bin and hoop races for the kids, hot food, ice creams and the bar.

This annual event recognizes and celebrates the camel's role in opening up vast areas of outback Australia, Mitchell included. Old photographs taken in the 18oo's show strings of camels hauling huge loads of wool through the newly established township of Mitchell and over the Maranoa River at the old crossing -- to markets on the east coast. On their return trek, the camel trains brought provisions for the new settlers.

Camels, with their soft feet, their ability to haul loads on limited water intake and diet of rough native grasses and shrubs are superior to horses in their endurance.

Today Mitchell celebrated camels and their part in our history.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Out of hibernation, my 40 year old lizard

I know it's not world shattering news but Stego (my 4o-year-old stumpy-tailed lizard) ate half a banana today, after not eating anything since March of this year.

I left his banana on top of his enclosure and out of his reach for about 15 minutes because Stego prefers his food warm. With the temperature around 26°C (in Mitchell, outback Queensland) and the aroma of sun-warmed banana spilling into his house, Stego's nostrils began twitching and he reached up eagerly as I hand fed him as much as he wanted, which was half a banana.

There was no snatching, accidental biting, nor a sticky mouth. This stumpy-tailed lizard of mine has perfect manners.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Garden Day at The Peaks: Outback Queensland

Marion Moore's garden -- located on the eastern side of The Peaks, north of Mitchell -- is spacious, a riot of colour and has magnificent views across naturally rolling grasslands.

An elderly blue flyer kangaroo (female red kangaroo) called Roo grazes within the garden and is as bonded to Marion as a dog. Wire netting protects some plants, but by and large Marion tolerates Roo nibbling hibiscus, rose and other delicacies.

West Australian eucalypts are a feature of the garden with some in full flower at present -- especially Eucalyptus woodwardii (yellow flowers) and Eucalyptus youngiana (red flowers). Bottle trees, Chinchilla gums, eremophilas, geraniums and an amazing variety of other plants and trees grow in Marion's garden -- also vegetables, passionfruit and lemons.

Here is a place where plants, kangaroos, echidnas, birds, butterflies, lizards and frogs are welcome, and live in harmony. With a balmy temperature of around 27°C and a gentle breeze, wandering with friends around the garden, through patches of dappled shade and pools of sunshine was a delightful way to spend the morning.

Marion Moore is the perfect hostess.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pancake breakfasts in aid of the Flying Doctor

Doug Stewart and Angie Reed make pancake breakfasts every Wednesday morning at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park, with all profits going to the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Beginning at 8 a.m. and finishing at 9:30 a.m., Doug and Angie cook and serve pancakes in an attractive outdoor setting at the caravan park. Travellers pay five dollars and can have as many generous-sized pancakes as they can eat.

Toppings include ice cream, lemon and sugar, golden syrup, honey, three types of home-made jams and toppings (strawberry, chocolate and caramel). The most popular topping is vanilla ice cream, followed closely by freshly squeezed Mitchell lemons and Queensland sugar.

Donations are always welcomed and often come from people with personal experience of the Flying Doctor Service.

Doug makes up the mixture the night before, at home, using this recipe:
1 cup self raising flour
1 cup of milk
one egg.

Doug also sets up the cooking equipment the night before: a couple of flat-surface gas barbecues and several tables.

So far, Doug and Angie have organised 11 pancake breakfasts at the caravan park this winter, and will continue for as long as they can clear $200 per breakfast. Doug estimates that he cooks 200 pancakes per breakfast, which means that in total he's cooked around 2000 pancakes! Angie does everything else: collects the money, organises the toppings, and keeps everything clean and tidy. They make an excellent team.

All profits go to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, with the grand total to date being $2240. I think this is a great effort, especially since many of the mornings had below zero temperatures.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Helicopter seeds: pleasure in simple things

Finding pleasure in simple things is a gift and one often found while observing Nature. The woody pear (Xylomelum cunninghamianum) that grows in the semi-arid region surrounding Mitchell in outback Queensland is a fairly ordinary looking tree yet has seed capsules that have unique charm.

A couple of days ago my two woody pear seed capsules split open to form ' smiling' heads, and then, a day later, they released their seeds.

Each capsule contains two winged seeds and each is a delight. As long as my ring finger and about as wide, each seed looks a bit like a golden tadpole, with its 'head' containing the seed and a 'tail' that gives it the ability to fly down from the treetops.

Last night I had fun holding each seed high in the air then liberating it. After a slight drop, the seed spins and rotates. The shape of the tail, its curve and the weight of the seed allows the spinning rotating action, designed to slow down its fall (from the treetops) which, of course, gives it a greater chance of being picked up by a breeze and dispersed further afield -- away from the parent tree.

Like a miniature helicopter, the woody pear's seed charms me with its simplicity: yet complexity too.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mulberry tree goes from single trunk to multiple

Every day I watch the leaves growing on 'my' mulberry tree (located beside the bridge that spans the Maranoa River) reaching out into the warmth of the sunshine that spills down on the small outback town of Mitchell. Before long, each heart-shaped leaf will be the size of my hand.

In 2007, this tree had a thick single trunk; however, as a result of the flood waters that swept down the river in 2008, the mulberry tree was knocked over at ground level. Every year since then, the river has flooded and the tree has been further damaged, but this mulberry tree is a survivor!

Now, multiple trunks bear healthy leaves that will in turn bear delicious black mulberries -- plenty to feed everyone who walks by; plenty for the birds too.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Art Auction to support Mitchell's Aged Care Facility

The 'For Old Time's Sake' Art Auction and Gala Night held at the Mitchell on Maranoa Gallery began at 5 p.m. and included live entertainment, hot food, drinks and the auction of 30 items.

Talented local auctioneer Seamus Filan cleverly coaxed the crowd into spirited bidding, with amusing banter as well. Andrew Hughes' peacock sculpture created the most bids and sold for around $300. Pieces of pottery, quilts, paintings, jewellery and other artistic pieces sold well, with nothing passed in.

The Mitchell Retirement Village is a vital local service which is currently under threat, but the small outback town of Mitchell once again demonstrated its support through their attendance at the auction, with all proceeds going towards its aged care facility.

All 30 items auctioned were 100% donated, and brought in over $3500. Money raised through food, drinks and donations are still to be added.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mistletoe and viruses that circulate

Mistletoe and the viruses that plague mankind may seem unrelated; however, in my present state of mind I see similarities.

In spite of our distance from large population centres, Mitchell in outback Queensland gets its fair share of viruses, and this week has seen me laid low. My body is fighting, hurting and feeling exhausted, but at least I know I will gradually return to normal, even though weakened for a time.

Trees with mistletoe struggle too, as the parasitic plant sucks nutrients from its host. Some trees with mistletoe look barely alive, while others seem okay. Of course, it's not in the mistletoe's best interest to kill the tree, as without its host it too would die.

So I look at trees bearing great clumps of mistletoe and feel sorry for them in their weakened state.

I wonder if trees feel pain or exhaustion? I wonder if they communicate between themselves? I wonder if trees are aware of people, especially those who pause, stroke their trunks and gaze up into their branches?

Kids, cubby houses and climbing trees

As a child, playing in cubby houses and climbing trees were some of life's greatest pleasures, and even though I was brought up in suburban Melbourne, our home was over the road from a park where trees were plentiful.

But there wasn't a river.

Here in Mitchell, outback Queensland, children have the mighty Maranoa, a river that floods over the summer months creating mysterious cubby houses along its banks.

Last summer (as shown in the photo), the swirling, fast-flowing water knocked over a river red gum leaving a tangle of roots and limbs that in turn collected other flood debris. Beneath this fallen tree children discovered a cave with sun-baked mud walls, a thatched roof and logs to sit on. Here children felt free to dream - - - -.

Birds twittered in the surrounding bush, a heron fished from a snag, kangaroos grazed the rough native grasses, an echidna gobbled up ants, snakes slithered by. The kids rode their bikes along rough bush tracks to this secret hideaway, set a yabby trap, threw in a line.

Too dangerous some would say. What if they fell into the river and drowned? What if a King brown snake bit one of the children? Watching these children play with their bare legs and feet and confident laughing faces, I see resilient kids creating a storehouse of rich memories.

Looking back, memories of cubby houses, midnight feasts and Secret Seven meetings held high up in trees punctuate my childhood. This is where we practised independence, social skills and had fun -- away from adult supervision.

We felt free.

There was no blog yesterday because I have a stomach problem that's making me feel far from well. I'm still suffering but not as badly as last night. I don't know if it's a virus or just my stomach having a play-up.