Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Surrounded by coal, camped near Mordor.

My image of Mordor is a region of never ending, noisy, repetitive production, ceaseless activity by blank faced automatons, endless mechanical sounds, the ear jarring screech of metal on metal, the deep rumbling, stomach-churning thud, thud, thud of heavy machinery and a pervasive stench, which permeates and taints the air for many kilometres around. An odour hard to remove from clothing by washing and which seeps into pores, eyes, nose and lungs relentlessly.

I never expected to visit, and camp beside a lake which conjured up exactly that image, despite its beguiling beauty, the active birds and deceptively welcoming water.
We thought it'd be good to camp beside water for a change. Lake Liddell appeared, from the guide book, to offer swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, fishing and other cheery, family friendly, water based activities, and we figured that if we arrived lateish, and left early, it could be a peaceful place for a night.

There'd be frogs, water birds wading merrily and diving for fish, the quaking of ducks and no crocodiles ... most enticing!

How wrong we were.

We were greeted by a friendly, welcoming woman, who explained in a frank, forthright manner, that under no circumstances should we have anything at all to do with the lake water. No fishing, no wading, no kayaking and definitely don't splash it on your face, or allow any droplets at all to enter your nose. There's something in the water that can enter your brain and kill you. It doesn't happen often, but when it does - whammo. She told us that all taps in the camp ground which would normally use lake water had been locked off, and even if we discovered that one had been overlooked we should definitely NOT use it. She reassured us that the showers were safe to use, as the water in the amenities block had been trucked in and was perfectly fine!

This wasn't what we'd expected.

What we also hadn't been aware of (strangely, the guide book is quiet on this aspect of the park) was that just over the toxic lake, then over the hills in front of our tent is a coal mine which operates all day and night, every day of the year. To enable this to happen, massive massive lighting systems are used, so it's a bit like the glaring illumination from a large city which, unlike Paris, doesn't dim its lights during the wee hours. When he noticed, my husband commented drily "It's good the coal industry only runs 9-5".

So much for the anticipated tranquil night's sleep.

The mine's ceaseless activity ensures that what appear to be kilometre long coal trains, with not quite fully enclosed wagons, rumble and clang their way around the camp ground not far from where we set up camp. All day. All night. Seemingly every 1/2 hour or so. They come from between the hills in the distance to our left, slowly grunt and clatter their way along and rumble off, somewhere to the back of us. By daylight, we can see the mountainous tailings from the mine.

The steady, deep rumble, rumble, rumbling from the incessant trains, drowned out the cheeping, quacking, croaking and flapping of every living creature around, including, earlier in the evening, the raucous partying of a large group of young campers. That's quite an achievement. Between trains, the persistent mechanical hum from the generators of the power plant over to our right is the constant background noise. Very Mordor.

I woke early (I didn't get much relaxing sleep), and as I walked along the shoreline in the crisp morning air, there was the distinctive smell of what I think of as briquette dust (well known to those of us who grew up in Melbourne in the 60's and 70's.) It's a smell which lingers unpleasantly and it wasn't possible to avoid.

This is the scenario which the current federal government supports and wants to extend. Not only that, but they also persistently run smear campaigns against renewable energy, particularly wind. A couple of weeks ago we stood next to a wind generator farm wondering what the fuss was about. No smell. No threat of fire and toxic pollution. A whooshing noise as the blades turned, and that was the sum of the experience.

I wondered as I walked, if I was tempting fate and that my steps would disturb the lake's lethal legacy and some vapour droplets would find their way into my nostrils. I lengthened my stride to reach higher ground a bit quicker than normal.

How privileged I've been. I've never lived near where coal is mined and used for power generation. The coal mining lobby and their political allies insist coal is here for the long term, and are desperate to extend mining and other fossil fuel extraction into prime agricultural lands. It's hard to be as enthusiastic knowing the extensive, reputable, well researched negative health and environmental impacts.

We have alternatives. We don't need to put all our eggs in the one basket. Companies want to invest in clean energy. People want jobs in the renewables sector. Citizens want to support sustainable options. Coal mining is scarring the land, having a massive impact on water (which is used extensively in mines and plant) not to mention the potential for fire as happened at Hazelwood Victoria. (Here and here.)

I'm glad I've experienced what it's like to live near a coal mine and coal fired power plant, and I'm so, so grateful we can leave; this is too close to my vision of Mordor for comfort. 

Further reading:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A night time of fireflies at Adels Grove - Outback Queensland

You know that feeling when people think you're bonkers and you're completely sure you're sane?
We recently experienced that up at Adels Grove near Boodjamulla National Park (formerly Lawn Hill). It's about a hundred and something kilometres from the Gulf of Carpentaria nearish where the western side of Cape York dips into the gulf. It's a long, long way from home in the south where we have proper winters and dry heat summers. It's hot, HOT, HOT, at this time of year and HUMID. UGH, UGH, UGH. Nothing dries out. Not us, not clothing, not anything. You take off your damply sweaty clothing at night and put it back on, still damply sweaty in the morning. (Limited space prohibits many changes, which wouldn't have made much difference anyhow as they'd have felt damp too.)
We were camped in the 'grove' - the quiet spot for people mostly in tents and without generators. The trees are thick, rotten (one fell less than a metre from a nearby camp with a massive whumpfh) and with a very, very dense canopy. There's a constant dropping of what we could only guess was poo from billions of small tree dwelling creatures overhead, so we covered our mugs at all times, shook clothing out constantly, and I brushed my hair not at all. It was kind of like itty bitty soft pellets like those tasty chocolate sprinkles you decorate cakes with. yup. really.
We tend to sit in the dark after dinner, watching ... nothing in particular ... just soaking up the ambience, keeping an eye out for bats, listening for night birds. That kind of thing. Most people don't. They use lanterns, torches, made big fires (in 32C heat! - crazy) which means they don't see special things that their night eyes have adapted to see. 
Like fireflies!
The first night we were at Adels Grove, I had no idea what I was seeing, but a wee light seemed to float up from behind the table, over the stove, and waft up into a tree.
A cautious question; "Um, Trav, did you see that?" Thankfully he had. But what was it? Lights don't usually float gracefully upwards and settle in a tree. It wasn't a one off though, it kept happening in different locations around the campsite. Next morning I made a point of asking at reception, but the blank looks and cautious, but calm backing away made it clear what they thought. "Batty old woman, probably had too much to drink, gotta keep an eye out for that kind of person."
We watched night after night. If I believed in fairies, that's what they'd look like at night! I was mesmerised. I'd wake during the night, and with the fly of the tent off (trying to make use of any stray breeze to cool down just a morsel, please!) and fly-mesh covering the roof, I could see them flashing and pulsing, in groups, singly, sometimes clustered, at other times apparently wafting on a not-really-there breeze between branches.
As I said, the people at reception seemed to think I was living in fantasy land, and no other campers we spoke to had seen anything, but a ranger I cornered at Boodjamulla had seen one recently, so took my questions seriously. She didn't know much about them, but knew they existed in Australia. Gotta love park rangers! ... Except she asked hopefully if I'd caught one - no, no, no and no ... for all I knew it could have been a land form of the irukandji jellyfish which would leave me paralysed, in agony for ever, or possibly dead. 
Anyhow, now I'm home with reasonable internet and data, I can say with confidence that they were fireflies, and it seems we were there at just the right time to see them in abundance. 

There's a bit more about them here:

This is not a firefly. My guess is it's a locust. They were thick everywhere and hopped/flew, getting pelted noisily against the car covering it with sticky, smelly, brightly coloured bug gunge. When we camped at Mt Moffatt, the birds (pied butcherbirds?) had a wonderful time picking them out from behind the numberplate, under the car, and up in the mudguards. They feasted.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Boiled and baked cake with pineapple and zucchini!

The zucchini plants are producing lots of wonderful golden vegetables! But what to do with the excess? We've gorged on zucchini fritters, zucchini salads, stir fried zucchini and zucchini slice.

I like carrot cake, and have enjoyed cakes with beetroot as a colourful addition, so why not zucchini?

I love fruit cake and wondered if I could find a recipe for a boiled and baked pineapple and zucchini cake. The internet is a wonderful thing and lo and behold I almost found what I was looking for ;-) By combining a number of recipes, I baked these delicious cakes. More than enough to share!


  • 1 x 450g tin crushed pineapple with juice. (Pineapple pieces work, but aren't as delicate.)
  • 250g butter
  • 500g mixed fruit (including raisins, sultanas, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries etc)
  • 2 cups sugar (I've used white, brown and palm, they all work, but give a slightly different flavour)
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • a slosh of brandy, rum, blackberry nip or similar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon marmalade

Put all of the above in a saucepan - bring to the boil then allow to cool.

Now stir in: 
2 teaspoons bicarb soda. (It'll foam and froth in an entertaining way.)

Next add:

  • 3 lightly beaten eggs, if they're really small, use 4
  • 1 cup grated zucchini


  • 2 cups plain white flour
  • 1 cup wholemeal flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • pinch salt

If you're feeling decadent, you can chop up some chocolate and add it too!

Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Stir till mixed.

Cook the large cake about 1 - 1 1/4 hours at 160C until a skewer comes out clean. The small ones only took 30 mins. I turned them after 20 mins and moved the front one to the back as my oven doesn't heat evenly.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A ship shipping ship and free trade shenanigans

There was an article in the Daily Mail (UK) recently about this extraordinary ship which clearly called for some witty alliteration. I don't know who came up with the tongue twister, but I'd like to thank them for the fun I and some others on G+ have had spinning off from the original. The fanciful story below is a tale of caution, and is in no way a slight on the ship builders, on their engineering expertise, craftsmanship, morals or professional integrity.

If you shuffle over here, I'll share a startling story about the ships and the ship builders who were to ship them in ship shape fashion to shipping regions around the world.

Shh, it's a bit shady and I doubt the shop steward knows about the shortcomings of his boss.

The super ships were built by Shonky Brothers, the showy local company with the significant signage. It's an unfortunate surname, but their ships are in no way similar to the name. They're superbly slick ship shapers! Rumour has it the ships were to be shunted from the Schippol shipyard slipway, but I'm not sure of that summary.

Significantly, last summer, one of the ship shaping siblings, it's said it was Cyril, was shagging shapely Charleen in the shade of a super ship in his classic Scorpion. Because of the deep shade in the chartreuse Scorpion, they surmised they were sheltered from suspicious eyes. Silly them! Shush wasn't their forte! In a spirited moment, Cyril shouted "shazam" and they were seen by Shane who'd snuck out for a siesta and subsequently shamed the sugar coated Cyril. There were lots of sniggers, smirks and snide comments. Statuesque Charleen, the sexy sheila who usually shimmies around looking sultry, was really shirty.

Cyril was a bit of a sun-baked character. He used to stride around unshaven, with a scarlet parrot on his shoulder singing sea shanties and saying, "Shiver me timbers!" at regular intervals. Sure beats being stuffy!

Sadly, Charleen's shifty snaky boss, Sheldon found out (not about the singing, the shagging). He fancied Charleen and felt sorely snubbed. Sheldon is a smooth talking senior in a litigious multinational that wanted the significant contract to shape the shiny ships. He thought "I'll sue the shit out of them", but that wasn't enough for the smitten spewing Sheldon. If Sheldon couldn't have Charleen, then he'd make Cyril suffer. (It's an odd kind of logic, but some sad sods are like that.)

Sheldon really shouldn't have chosen a skirmish, he could have shrugged and suffered the snub in silence. Sadly he's a slave to his emotions and being a short tempered bastard, he shot Cyril Shonky in his shagging equipment. 

Sheldon's company, which shall evermore be called, We Shit On You From A Great Height Ha Ha, swiftly sued the sovereign state that'd contracted the local ship shaping company. 

These sneaky sharks (apologies to all sharks - this kind of sloppy analogy makes you sound sinister) sleuthed around and found a shocker of a sadistic, but subtle ISDS* clause, under the shameful TPP agreement (or TTIP** depending on where you live). Many smart systematic thinkers believe the ISDS clauses should be shelved because sovereign states will surely suffer substantially. The shocking sneaky clauses leave many speechless. 

It's such a sad situation. Some soar, others are shattered. But is this skulduggery sustainable? Will sovereign states be subsumed by self serving multinationals? That's sobering ... are we stuffed? Secrecy isn't soothing.

The Shonky Brothers previously successful ship shaping business has suffered significant setbacks. Staff were suddenly laid off and are now getting by on a shoestring. Some were paid shush money, others are sick. 

Cyril struggles to sit without slouching. He's really suffering from the shooting of his shagging equipment. 

The whole state shudders to watch We Shit On You From A Great Height Ha Ha erode carefully crafted environmental protection laws and shamelessly shaft the small country which is struggling to cover costs of the suing skulduggery. When questioned about ethics, integrity and honesty, they quote the ISDS clauses, sneer and snort "It's legal, shan't change. We can shoulder your local laws aside! We won't shelve anything, so sod off." 

Something stinks when super-powered multinationals can sue countries virtually unsupervised. It sucks.


Massive protests this weekend in Berlin: (Oct 10 2015)

ISDS clauses: ISDS is a mechanism for corporations to sue governments.
... the authority of sovereign courts is ignored in favour of an international dispute tribunal.

If this is such a great deal, why are they hiding it? There is, among other things, a four-letter answer to this question: ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement). ISDS is a mechanism for corporations to sue governments.

Water and waste management giant Veolia is suing the government of Egypt for lifting the minimum wage. 
Canada is being sued for a ban on fracking and 
Germany for its phasing out of nuclear power; all actions taken under ISDS clauses in free trade pacts.
US corporations are the biggest litigants, having brought some 127 cases thus far against sovereign government decisions which they claim have damaged their financial interests. Taxpayers have the pleasure of footing the legal defence bills. Even worse, the authority of sovereign courts is ignored in favour of an international dispute tribunal.
The reality is this TPP free trade deal is as much about free trade as it is about entrenching the interests of large multinational corporations.

In 2011, the Australian Gillard government announced it would no longer adopt international investment arbitration into its trade agreements and investment treaties with other states on the basis that investor state arbitration “constrains the ability of the Australian Government to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters; concerns no doubt based in part on Philip Morris’s claim against Australia under the Hong Kong-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
Australia has now mollified its approach under the Abbott government;

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Maralinga; a world apart. It's much more than a place where nuclear experiments were conducted, and well worth visiting.

The tale of secretly testing numerous atomic bombs, and a wide variety of nuclear devices in Australia in the 1950's and 60's, by the British, is a yarn of epic proportions; with twists, turns and sub-plots worthy of an airport novel bought for a long haul flight. 

There are lies and cover-ups, as well as betrayal, misplaced trust, wilful blindness and the obsequious kowtowing to the British, by what appears, from our current time and place, to be a fawning Anglophile Prime Minister (Menzies). 

Personnel involved in the programme, who had strong moral and ethical ideals were warned that Maralinga had become British territory and that whistle blowing on the reality of what happened, the hugely secretive goings on, could result in being shot, or a 30 year jail term under the British Secret Service Act (page 43 Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists). 

Trust us! Nobody could have been out in the blast areas, was the cry. But there were people out there. 

Families, such as the Milpuddie's, who were found camped in a crater formed by a bomb blast - innocent inhabitants going about their daily lives, had their lives changed forever (further information here). The ongoing negative ramifications of living, eating food and drinking water from dangerously contaminated land, lives on in children and grandchildren. 

There were human guinea pigs (Indoctrinee Volunteers and here), animal and vegetation experiments and numerous weapons development tests alongside the more dramatic and "explosive" weapons tests.  Much of the information only came to light 30 years or so after the events. Much more is considered so secret by the British government, that it's been classified (hidden), and will remain that way, forever. 

It's quite a story.

Walking on sites where world changing events occurred can have a deep impact. Sometimes immediate, sometimes surfacing and resurfacing long after the event.

People talk about the impact that visiting Gallipoli had on them, or the sobering effect of seeing the trenches and hearing stories of WW2 battles at Flanders Fields. Sites such as these, of Pearl Harbour, Hiroshima, The Berlin Wall, and similar places around the world have become places of pilgrimage. Destinations where hordes of diverse people gather to share thoughts, reflections, prayers, and hope. Hope that powerful people in the future will pause, tread cautiously and act wisely before making decisions which will set in motion similar catastrophic events. 

Although Maralinga has a different history to those above, in its own way, the impact of what happened there changed the world, many servicemen, and more locally, the landscape and displaced Maralinga Tjarutja indigenous people, forever. 

It needs to be remembered warts, dirty dealings and all. 
I didn't know what to expect as we drove up the long, often featureless, un-signposted road to the gate in the Boundary fence at Maralinga, where the caretaker and tour guide, Robin Matthews, greeted us with gentle courtesy. 

The place was a name from my childhood and not much more. Like others of my generation, I knew there was something to do with testing an atomic bomb, but as a child I suspect my parents didn't discuss the implications of this in depth, and shielded me from discussion. The Cold War was also little but a name. In hindsight, I expect there was unspoken communication between my parents and relatives, as carefully worded news filtered out about what was happening at Maralinga. But having a father who'd been deeply scarred from service during WW2, I also suspect they didn't want to dwell on details or meaning.

So Maralinga remained nothing more than a little visited memory. There was a vague recollection of a Royal Commission, (part of the official report is here) but mostly, it was a place off-limits, with prohibited entry, closed to the world, out in the desert .... somewhere. 

Then  a few months ago, my husband suggested visiting. He'd been doing some research and found that tours were possible. Due to the remote location in South Australia, two nights camping, and a one day escorted tour in a minibus, could be arranged by contacting Maralinga Tours. Being stumped for an idea for his 60th birthday, I figured it'd be a memorable gift! A bit out of the ordinary, educational (an important aspect for gifts in our family!) and completely different. Also, I felt ashamed at my complete lack of knowledge of the area or history of this significant event in recent Australian history

We'd been listening to Len Beadell's Blast the Bush as an audio book over what felt like a few hundred kilometres of corrugated, dusty red roads, sometimes having to turn it off as the rattling made it impossible to hear! I was beginning to get a feel for the challenges Beadell had faced, surveying roads to be ready for the expected heavy machinery and hoards of military and other personnel who'd follow to conduct a wide variety of highly secret tests.

But what would be here now? The dot on the map stated in confident black print Maralinga, though some maps show "Maralinga Village" and elsewhere, "Maralinga Community". 

Words have power. River. Lake. Village. City people and visitors from overseas are regularly perplexed about the use of these words in outback Australia where rivers are often parched, barren depressions in baked rusty-red sand, and lakes are crunchy with glittering white salt. This often leads to discussions about why there aren't more people living in remote areas. "There's no water" we say, and their reply is "But look at all the lakes and rivers on the maps, there must be!"

Confusion reigns. How can you explain desert to someone who lives in a place blessed with generously regular rainfall, and has never known drought? How do you explain that so much of our harsh, beautiful land is unforgiving and deadly to those who don't know how to live there? Water is scarce. Without it we die.
Strolling on Lake Gairdner

And so it is with the village of Maralinga. It's a village in name only. The word village conjures up something alien to this land, it's a foreign word, and sits uncomfortably here. If you're visualising a cosy holiday-style, quaint village you'll be sadly disappointed. There are no cheerful homes with the warm glow of lights at night, no bustling tourist stores selling a variety of wares of questionable quality and value. No drinks machines with chilled beverages for the dust covered, weary traveller. Just a kind of ghostly silence, the soughing of a stray breeze through dry leaves of she-oak and desert oak, and the constant regular thump, thump, thump, of the intrusive generator bringing power to the caretaker Robin, and his family, as well as the small groups of tourists. (Bring on the solar panels!!)

Maralinga village is a sombre place. Starkly beautiful in a desolate, almost, but not quite, abandoned way. 

"Camp anywhere you like" says Robin, "make a fire, and if you run out of wood, we've got lots more." 
And so, between the checkerboard ranks of chipped and cracked concrete slabs, 
which were once the termite resistant bases of barracks and laboratories used by thousands of men, we set up camp, walked up to what was once a fountain ... 
... near the remains of the swimming pool ...

... watched the sun set, and phoned home ....

... by accessing the Telstra mobile phone towers which dot the distant railway line linking the east and west coasts of Australia.

But what of the tour itself? 

Tour guide Robin's breadth and depth of knowledge of the various tests and impacts on the Maralinga Tjarutja peoples, his generosity in sharing, his passion for educating others, unflagging energy and enthusiasm were extraordinary. 

This is our history. Up close and personal. Dramatic events on Australian soil with far ranging consequences, which should be taught in schools. Relevant. Confronting .... and regularly ignored. 
298 burial pits, up to 26 metres deep, are now filled with pulverised buildings, contaminated soil, machinery, planes, Toyota LandCruisers, double decker busses, tanks, bulldozers, labs, almost everything which had been left or discarded has finally been decontaminated, burnt, bull-dozered and buried - over 30 years after the British left, pretending that everything was safe, but knowing full well it wasn't. It took around 6 years and $108million to conduct the clean up which was finished in 2000, (More here)
Lunchtime at the decontamination and maintenance sheds.
No one wanted to picnic in the decontaminations shed. 

We'd been joined by other visitors, and for some, the sheer scale of ... everything .... was overwhelming. So much destruction. Vast areas of land impacted (the site measures about 3,300 square kilometres) Too many bombs and experiments, exploring the unknown effects of ways to .... not to put too fine a point on it ... kill people or render equipment useless. 

When the nuclear tests were conducted, little was known about the effects of atomic (and other) bombs and weapons - how do you find out unless you do trials and tests? The military and British government wanted answers to their questions, and what is now known to have occurred shows that the decision was that The End Justifies the Means. 

What happens when an atomic bomb blast hits a bus, a plane, specific plants - at this distance? At a different distance? How about at this angle? And this? And what of people? What happens if they roll, unprotected in the radioactive dust? Now wearing different clothing? How can we decontaminate them? Can we? How do we clean up after contaminating the land? Can we? How much can we get away with before the public begins to question? Do we need to share information? How can we convince the people of Australia and the UK that these experiments are vital to our security? Do they need to know? 

And from the British government, the thoughts seem to have been: "How secretive can we be? Do we need to tell the Australian people (or our own for that matter) what we're doing and how much it's costing?" 6.8 million pounds was spent to build just the airstrip and village - and that was barely the beginning. This was at a time when the British people were enduring severe rationing and using food stamps sparingly. Yet many, many millions of pounds were poured into further construction, the various tests and transporting vast quantities of equipment (including double decker busses, planes, trucks etc etc etc) and people overseas to Australia. Not a cheap exercise by any means.

Little of this is comforting, or nice, or reassuring. Naively placing trust in our elected political representatives without maintaining constant vigilance and questioning what's happening, wasn't then, and isn't now, wise. 
"... Menzies agreed to allow the British to use Australian territory and personnel for the tests without question or even serious discussion with his colleagues: “Cabinet papers show he devoted more time to organising the young Queen Elizabeth’s first visit to Australia than he spent on the atomic tests.”
The official line was that there were no Aboriginals in the fall out zone of around 800,000 square kilometres, - roughly 5 times the size of the UK. But for men who reported sightings, the penalty of sharing that "embarrassing" information with anyone other than superiors was that they could be shot or jailed for 30 years. (here) There was strong incentive to keep quiet! 
The reality was that this vast area had been home to the Maralinga Tjarutja people for thousands of years: "A labyrinth of criss-crossing dreamtime tracks connected the Tjarutja to their ancestors, their stories, their living community. The Tjarutja showed no signs of deprivation in an environment in which Europeans couldn't last longer than a few days without help. Early Europeans who encountered them noted their nomadic qualities, their love of walking great distances through a magical garden of spirits, to meet relatives, to sample new food, to visit their favourite rock holes, to attend corroborees."
 "Despite claims to the contrary, Aboriginal people did wander through radiated lands. They camped in fresh craters, to keep warm and to trap rabbits blinded by cobalt pellets. When discovered, they were compulsorily showered, their finger nails scrubbed with soap. The women suffered mscarriages. They were herded in trucks or pushed onto trains, expelled from a sacred site at Ooldea, a day's walk from Maralinga airport." 

The Maralinga airstrip is still in use, and at 2.4 km long with a 600 metre offshoot at each end, could, if needed, be used to land the Space Shuttle. It's routinely used for military training exercises, visiting dignitaries and camels. Mounds of fresh camel poo were evidence of a reasonably large group of them passing through, possibly on their way to reliable water supplies. 

Dramatic. Mesmerising. Overwhelming. Words soon fail when looking at the vastness of the areas impacted. Soil turned to glass, burial pits, land where there were trees, but now nothing grows, no life, everything blasted into vapour. Warning signs. Danger - don't camp here. Don't make a cooking fire. Death and destruction. Yet, for all of that, I want to go back. See more. Try to understand (though I doubt that will ever be possible) what it is that enables one country to be a doormat and allow its land, people, employees to be nothing more than a disposable commodity, an experiment, to be used and abused without question or apology.

What, if anything, have we learnt about integrity and honest, ethical behaviour, from this ongoing chapter in Australian history?

We only need to read the final sentence from this report in the Australian Institute of Criminology to know the answer:  "One wonders if the interests of a 'handful of natives' might on some future occasion again be deemed subordinate to those of the dominant culture."

Thinking about the closures of Aboriginal Communities currently happening around Australia, about the vilification of whistle blowers, denigration of scientists concerned about our changing climate, the scornful belittling of those who work to protect our environment, the cruel treatment of lawful asylum seekers, it's obvious that our dominant political groups and culture still have a lot of room for positive, wholesome growth, not just in regard to the Traditional Owners of this country, but relating to many other groups as well.  


Further reading:

There's a lot more about the deliberately hidden and devastating costs of the programme here:

Too high a price to pay video with footage from the tests and cleanup:!/media/105376/nuclear-tests-at-maralinga

This link should take you to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and an article about the extreme secrecy, the coverups, Australia's pathetically lax attitude to vast quantities of dangerous tests, and the appalling treatment of the traditional owners of the land. 


British nuclear tests at Maralinga – Fact sheet 129

Maralinga, prohibited area sign on the Emu/Nawa Road (A6457, P042)
Between 1952 and 1963 the British Government, with the agreement and support of the Australian Government, carried out nuclear tests at three sites in Australia – the Monte Bello Islands off the Western Australian coast, and at Emu Field and Maralinga in South Australia. An official history of the tests (JL Symonds, A History of British Atomic Tests in Australia, AGPS, Canberra) was published by the Department of Resources and Energy in 1985.
Maralinga was developed as the permanent proving ground site, following a request of the British in 1954, and, after its completion in 1956, was the location of all trials conducted in Australia. It was developed as a joint facility with a shared funding arrangement. Following the two major trials (Operation Buffalo in 1956 and Operation Antler in 1957) there were a number of minor trials, assessment tests and experimental programs (dating from 1959) held at the range until 1963. Maralinga was officially closed following a clean-up operation (Operation Brumby) in 1967.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I'll see if I can quietly sneak over here without anyone noticing, check out what's on the table and snaffle that sandwich. Tippy toe, tippy toe ... shhhhh.
Oops, they've noticed me, I'll pretend I'm just strolling past, scuffing my feet in the dirt. Nope I wasn't looking at your food. No, not me. True dinks. Cross my heart and hope to die. Must have been someone else.
Look! Behind you! There! That's the emu you're looking for!

Hrmph, they didn't fall for it.

Oh I give up pretending. I'll stretch myself to my full height and stare them down. Intimidation and threats always work!
 What's this? Foiled?
Did they read the signs saying not to feed me?? Damn.
If at first you don't succeed .....

... Emu entertainment on site 34, Mambray Creek, Mount Remarkable National Park.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Big Bugs!

Near the Eyre Peninsula are some wonderful sand dunes and I came across these strange "fossilised" shapes in the sand. Turning them over gave no indication of what they were, or why there were there. Was it something to do with lightning strikes fusing the sand in the extreme heat? They weren't fossilised wood, as they were too uniform and tree roots and branches are anything but uniform! In my mind they look like Dead Man's Fingers, gnarled and arthritic.

I posted a picture on FB and G+ and had some interesting suggestions, but nothing seemed to fit with the location, shape and sheer number of them. They only seemed to come in two shapes, finger-like ones, some hollow, some solid; and egg shaped ones, some incredibly fragile, others thicker and filled with sand. When tapped gently together, they make a flat, glass-like sound.

They're clearly different to the formations below, which look like sand, blown into random formations by salt laden winds. These are strange, surreal shapes, some like skinny mushrooms on top of spindly trunks, others curled and twisted into tortured shapes.
And different again to tree roots or branches. These are long, misshapen, hollow and generally near the tree line or vegetation. There's lots of variability in both length and shape.

My mystery objects were spread over a wide area, and didn't appear to be specifically related to the vegetation at all. They seemed to be mostly in large (really large!) bowl like depressions and I wondered (not knowing anything about these things at all) if it could have something to do with salt laden winds somehow blowing the sand up the incline and it rolling back making the shapes. Unlikely and weird, but nature can be like that sometimes!

Frustrated by conflicting suggestions, I wondered if the Museum of Victoria might have someone there who could confidently solve the puzzle. One email, and a couple of hours later I had this response from Simon at the Discovery Centre:
We think these are the remains of cocoons of a native weevil, Leptopius duponti. These calcified cocoons are not always regarded as ‘fossils’ in the strictest sense, but nonetheless may be quite old depending on their original locality – for example they are quite common in the sand dunes of the West Coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Some examples of these calcified cocoons have proved to be made of sand or gravel cemented together, and sometimes of limestone. The distinction of whether they are fossils or not depends on the chemistry of the material that holds the cocoons together.
In 1925 it was reported by A. M. Lea in the Records of the South Australian Museum (3; 35-6) that these sands contained the calcified pupal cases of insects, more specifically weevils of the genus Leptopius (see attached for this article and illustrations). As this type of weevil is still alive today, commonly called “Wattle Pig”, we now know the adult female Leptopius sp. feeds on the foliage of acacia trees and lays her eggs on the leaves. When the larvae hatch, they are thought to burrow underground to feed on roots, and when ready to pupate they make a chamber in the soil instead of a true cocoon which is cemented by a secretion from the larvae (rather than a webbing, in the case of other taxa). The emergent adult then climbs the trees to feed, and the empty cases are left to weather underground and can become mineralised. Some of these cocoons from the Eyre Peninsula are estimated to be up to 40,000 years old.
Hooray for Simon at the Discovery Centre!!

And as someone commented, that's one large weevil, and from the point of view of the acacia trees, it could well be an evil weevil!

Now to find out what these are! About 10cm long, found at Mt Remarkable.

And then there's this critter lurking in the toilets at Mt Remarkable, he looks particularly unfriendly ... I hate the thought of finding him under the toilet seat! That's a standard house brick (3"or 75mm) he's sauntering over and looked like something I'd expect to see in the tropics.
And last, but by no means least, a moth the size of a small bird at Mt Ive. It was quivering and difficult to photograph with a phone, but you can get a sense of the size (again on a standard house brick). He and the centipede are about the same length, but the wings on the moth were massive!
Isn't nature awesome!


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Apples galore = time to bake an apple cake!

The apple tree is laden, and I'm stewing, dehydrating, and giving them away. I'm also cooking them into all sorts of yummy things.

Yesterday's effort was this lovely moist German (or Dutch?) apple cake, source unknown.

  • 500 gm apples (I used Granny Smith) Peel, core, slice thinly. (You can sprinkle lemon juice on stop them browning)
  • Mixed spice - a generous pinch and a bit more because it tastes good
  • 225 gm butter
  • 195 gm caster sugar
  • 6 eggs (you could possibly use 4 if that's all you have, and use milk or yogurt to make up the extra liquid - I'll try this next time and see how it goes)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 195 gm plain flour
  • ... mixed with 2 flat teaspoons baking powder
  • Salt - a pinch
  • Cinnamon - 1/2 teaspoon or more generous if you like
  • 75 gm ground almonds (I think walnuts would go well - or macadamias!)
  • an extra Tablespoon of caster sugar to sprinkle on top

Oven @ 160 Celsius
23cm circular cake tin (spring form works well, lined with baking paper)

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl

  • Cream the softened butter and sugar
  • add vanilla
  • add eggs one at a time - beat well after each egg. 
  • After the 3rd egg,  add 1/2 the dry ingredients
  • after the 6th egg add the remainder of the dry ingredients.

Taste test if you're that way inclined and don't have problems eating raw egg!

Ladle 1/2 the batter into the lined tin, layer on 1/2 the apples.
Put the rest of the batter on top of the apple layer and cover with the remaining apple.

Lightly dust with cinnamon.

Put in the centre of the preheated oven for 1 hour, turn 1/2 way through if your oven cooks unevenly. At about one hour, sprinkle with the 1 Tablespoon caster sugar and cook for a further 15 or so minutes. I got distracted and it was at least another 1/2 hour. Thankfully I didn't have a charred disaster!


I've now tried the recipe with extra apple, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon nutmeg. It was delicious! I also want to try it with some finely chopped preserved ginger and cardamom instead of the nutmeg.

Terry McNeil (G+ profile here) suggested the following: try adding some citrus zest, either lemon or orange. You could replace a little of the liquid with a tablespoon or so of a liqueur like Calvados. Drizzle some caramel over the cake. If you're feeling adventuresome,, the tiniest bit of freshly minced rosemary is a nice addition or some dried fruit.

Thank you Terry! So many variations to try!