Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Debutante Ball: Outback Queensland style

Mitchell's Anglican Debutante Ball -- held on Saturday 27 October 2012 at the Mitchell Memorial Hall -- was a grand affair that demonstrated yet again the strength and vibrancy of the community existing in and around the small outback town of Mitchell, Queensland, Australia.

Ten Debutantes, each attended by a flower girl and page boy, were presented individually on stage.  The formalities began with a reading of Dorothea McKellar's 'My Country', a poem reflecting life in the outback where this year's February flood and the bush fires of the past week are foremost in the mindset of this community.

Yet the people here are strong and positive, evidence being in the presentation of ten beautiful teenage girls, their handsome partners and charming young attendants -- all on the eve of their life here in Mitchell and beyond.

Surprisingly formal for this day and age, these young people willingly dressed the part, courtesied, bowed, cut a special cake, and danced a series of old-style dances with skill and grace.

A crowd of around 300 people of all ages gathered together to support the Deb Ball.  We were the guests of John and Cathy Beitz whose daughter Hannah was one of the Debs.  My greatest pleasure was to see Hannah make her entrance and watch her presented  -- and then to see her deliver an excellent speech on behalf of all the Debs.  In addition, Doug and I enjoyed talking to our many friends, some of whom had sons, daughters and grandchildren involved in the formalities.  

I decided it would be fun to learn at least one of the dances so I googled 'The Pride of Erin' and we learned the dance here at home, much to the amusement of our two dogs!  However, when it came to dancing 'The Pride of Erin' they did it differently in this part of Queensland and so, in the end, we didn't end up showing our skill on the dance floor! We enjoyed a few other dances though. 

In ten years time, many of these flower girls and page boys will be making their own Debut: in the same hall, in front of the same community.  In ten years time, many of these Deb's and their partners will be returning to this community with tertiary qualifications and long-term partners from 'away'.  So the generations roll on, each strengthening the one before -- in their own way, in their own time.

This ball symbolises why we love living in Mitchell.  It's about strong community and friendly down-to-earth people.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Gigi's Garden Day: Katie 16: snakes and geckoes

Last Sunday's Garden Day at Gigi and Scott's property 'Westwood' was inspirational.

'Westwood' sits comfortably on both sides of Australia's famous Dingo Fence (called the Dog Fence, locally) and is a typical large semi-arid cattle property.  Blue-grey scrub blends into native grasses, with improved pastures in some places.

An extensive vegetable garden and orchard keeps this family well-fed and healthy.  No chemicals are used. Fertilisers and mulches are home-grown using plentiful cattle and poultry manures.  Vegetables are protected from bird and insect attack by means of tents made of fine mesh.

A family of talkative guinea fowl sound the alarm whenever a King brown snake slivers into the garden. Then they round up the snake and drive it out through the boundary fence or into netting.  Apostle birds also have a distinctive snake alarm call.

Today -- on the home front -- we saw our first brown snake.  It was 1 1/2 metres long and disappeared beneath the house.  I confess to feeling anxious regarding the safety of our dogs. Our first gecko in the house was, on the other hand, a delight!

But back to the Garden Day.  Apart from guinea fowl, Gigi has a collection of rare and exotic hens and ducks -- and a very special pet rooster that loves being patted.  One breed lay chocolate coloured eggs.  Then there are pet kangaroos, a Siamese cat and of course, cattle dogs.  This is a place where life is good for all creatures great and small  --  plants included.

Although the temperature hovered in the mid 30s C, a large group of people came from far and wide to partake of the warm hospitality given by Gigi and Scott.  Plants were exchanged; conversations and laughter flowed easily as friends shared hints about plants and gardens.

On the way back to Mitchell we detoured to Orchard Hill where I discovered three new flowering plants.  There's always something happening in this particular patch of bush.  Aside from the flowers, the aroma of red sand and blue-green herbage filled my nostrils: an aroma typical of the Australian bush on a hot sunny day.  This is the Australia I love.  

Katie turned 16 this week, a fine age for a very special and dearly love Siamese.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ooline Park; Markets; Red Gum Concert; A box of paintings

Saturday Markets and an Art Exhibition at the small outback town of Mungallala (west of Mitchell) proved a pleasant way to spend Saturday morning.  Brian Waldron creates beautiful woodwork using local timbers, and his wife Ruby sews, knits and does crochet with equal skill.  Together, their stall demonstrates a couple who use their time productively and creatively.

On Saturday night Mitchell was treated to a concert by the famous band 'Red Gum'.  This powerful concert was part of the Mental Health Week activities held in our town.  Many people are still suffering trauma, as well as lack of motivation, following last February's disastrous flood.  Getting together, talking, laughing and enjoying music all help in the recovery process.

On our way home from Mungallala we stopped at Ooline Park to see the oolines.  These ancient trees go way back to Gondwanan times and are closely related to Antarctic beech.  Interestingly, the leaves are similar, yet each species grows in an entirely different climate.  Here in outback Queensland  the climate is arid, whereas Antarctic beech grow on mountains in areas of high rainfall.

To walk through an ooline forest is to step back in time, the only sound being the crunch of dry grasses and leaves underfoot and birdsong in the treetops.  There's a feeling of peace and tranquillity, born of timelessness.  Soon the oolines will be flowering but that's another story.

Yesterday we emptied the last of our belongings from the storage shed in Mitchell's Industrial Estate, where our belongings were 'dumped' after the flood waters receded.  A box of original paintings were in this last load.  These 8 paintings were created by a New Zealand artist for my book 'Darwin's Tortoise'.  After the book was launched I had the opportunity to buy the original paintings, and since Harriet spent so much of her life in Queensland, our Mitchell home seems the right place to hang them -- and in the kitchen where we see them often.  I feel incredibly thankful that we didn't lose any of our paintings.

I've included a photo that shows the neck and head of an Australian bustard, a handsome bird native to this part of outback Queensland.  It's so well camouflaged that you'll have to look hard to see it!  A clue: it's in the right hand side of the photo, in the middle.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Shedding dogs, nesting birds: "I threw him an olive branch'

With summer temperatures fast approaching, Del's coat is shedding in huge handfuls.  Her coat is the typical short-haired German shepherd, whereas Major's is a middle-length shepherd coat.  You'd think that Major's coat would be more of a problem, however, he sheds very little and a quick nightly brush keeps him looking great.  On the other hand, Del sheds in vast amounts, especially in springtime.  Every day brushing and pulling out of large tufts of fur leaves a carpet of snow-like fur on the grass.  But it only remains there for a few hours due to the busy gathering of it by nest-building birds.  Every nest in our locality will now be lined in Del's fur.

Last week Doug set up a bird bath in the shrubbery of our garden.  Only five days later, our Willie wagtail braved the new 'thing' in the bushes and then had a bath that he clearly enjoyed.  Next came the sparrows, wrens, doves and honey-eaters in quick succession.  But it was our Willie wagtail who was the leader.

Our bush orchid (Cymbidium canaliculatum) has burst into full flower.  When looked at through a magnifying glass, each flower is extraordinarily complex and beautiful.

The saying "I threw him an olive branch" came into a recent conversation between two of my friends.  It's a saying I haven't heard for years and as an admirer of olive trees as symbolic of peace, I love the saying and will try to use it whenever applicable.  Meanwhile my youngest olive tree is thriving in Mitchell's spring warmth.

The white flower is an Eremophila that's growing in our garden.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Major Mitchell's Campsite 1846 - 2012

From a raging torrent in February 2012 (that flooded 80 per cent of homes in Mitchell), the Maranoa River at the Major Mitchell Campsite is a clear bubbling stream that meanders towards Mitchell from Mount Moffat in the Carnarvon Ranges.  Pieces of petrified tree trunk nestle amongst banks of rounded pebbles and stones, polished smooth by the action of water, sand and rock -- over millions of years.  

I never could resist picking up interesting stones, consequently it wasn't long before I had several pieces of heavy petrified wood clutched in my hand.  My mind backtracked several million years to a tree growing way before the Age of Dinosaurs.  Their heaviness and distinctive bands of colour marked them as special.

We saw evidence of feral pigs (with piglets) on the sandy bank where they'd been rooting around.  A dozen or so cattle grazed the herbage.  No other human's footprint or presence spoiled the tranquillity of this special place.  We had an outback wilderness to ourselves.  And what a privilege it was soak in this ancient place.

On our way back home to Mitchell we stopped at the top of Orchard Hill where grevilleas (Grevillea juncifolia) and sticky hop bushes (Dodonaea viscosa) are in full flower. Although this grevillea species is a poor-looking straggly plant, it has amazing flowers. Only a month ago this hillside was ablaze with golden wattles (acacias). Now these same trees are dripping long green pods, ripe with seed.

The fence posts in the photo show the activity of termites (white ants).  Thankfully our home is constructed of native cypress pine: a timber that's termite resistant.