Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mornington Peninsula Toy Run

This is the twelfth year of the Mornington Peninsula Toy Run, and the first where I've happened to be in the vicinity with my phone/camera! 

Hundreds of bikes and riders dress up as Santas and elves and many also enter their bikes in a best decorated competition. This year there were lots of cheerful Santas, chirpy elves as well as tinsel sneaking coyly from under black leathers, fluttering like a Mata Hari scarf.

The goal is to help underprivileged families on the Peninsula to enjoy Christmas with food and gifts which have been donated. In 2011, 1500 hampers were made from donated goods, though it's sad to realise so many families are struggling financially.

The deep roar of the convoy, complete with motor cycle police and flanked by police cars with flashing lights, can be easily heard over the cheerful Saturday morning coffee crowds spilling onto the footpaths, already getting into the Summer holiday spirit. Around 800 riders and their bikes were expected this year, and judging from the snaking parade rumbling noisily down Main Street, I suspect that number was reached easily. 
Children squeal excitedly and tug at their parent's hands to hurry them away from a lazy cappuccino. Far more fun to rush the park and gaze in awe and some disbelief at the unusual sight. A fully decorated Christmas tree on the back of a gleaming trike isn't something to be easily ignored!


Friday, November 30, 2012

Since when does 58% = 100%?

     Whoops! You're out of space. You are currently using 100% of your 1 GB quota for photos.
     Yet when I open the storage and plan area it shows:
1 GB of Picasa (58% used)

I have no photos stored in Picasa and I wish a well meaning person had never downloaded the program as I've rarely used it.

I've read that if I delete Picasa entirely, every photo I've ever posted in my blogs will also disappear - is this true? 

Any help appreciated.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


Kick, kick, kick

I've been peppered with spam lately and today was so bad that I decided to disable anonymous comments.

First however, I went into the comments area to remove the tedious, nasty things, got distracted, and came back to see a screen full of the drivel and clicked to remove the lot of them.

So far, so good. Except, I hadn't gone into the spam folder aaarrrgggghhh so I've just removed all the lovely comments which I really appreciate - they were all from kind, genuine people.

In the past I've scrolled down to check, but after looking through 1000s of the time-wasting, moronic and sometimes downright offensive things I tend not to bother nowadays. I'd never found a genuine comment which had snuck into the spam folder. So I just click and remove in bulk.

Real people make the effort to craft a thoughtful response and pfft, just like that - gone. Grrrrrr.

I don't suppose they're in a bin somewhere that I can retrieve them from?

Sigh. Sometimes crap happens.

Sorry :(


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

on guest posting

I'd doing a happy dance as I've got a guest post appearing today over at The Blogging from A-Z April Challenge .

It's the first time I've presented a guest post. My initial reaction when the  invitation came from Arlee Bird was 'that's nice, but it's not for me', but as happened with The A-Z Challenge, the more I thought about it the more it seemed like a good idea!

Arlee Bird initiated the *A-Z Challenge back in 2010 when he thought it would be fun to invite bloggers to blog thematically, A through to Z for every day in April except Sundays. In 2010 around 100 bloggers joined in, by the following year there were well over 1000, and by 2012 it had become so big that a team of 9 is now dedicated to ensuring everything runs smoothly.

The A-Z Blogging Challenge now has its own blog and has grown from being an event held in April, to being a year long festival including video blogging, guest posts and hints and tips about blogging in general as well as how to enjoy a blog-fest. As the song by Paul Kelly says, From Little Things, Big Things Grow.

However, back to my guest post. My concerns were: What would people be interested in? How long should a guest post be? Which of my assorted interests should I focus on?

It took a while to sift through and discard ideas but I eventually settled on something of middling length, explaining a part of Australia, in words and photos, which isn't on the standard tourist route, with a bit of current history included. It got to the stage where I wanted to include more and more, particularly about Aboriginal Dreamtime stories related to the vast arid spaces and infrequent waterholes, but it simply wasn't possible. Although that's something else I could consider for next year's Challenge!

When I was writing as a guest, I realised that I find it easy to go into "shorthand mode" and forget that not everyone understands the significance of place names and locations. I think I might sometimes leave readers 'hanging' wondering what on earth I'm on about though I've tried to make an effort for than not to happen over at Blogging from A-Z.

Guest posting was a good experience and I'd encourage you to try if you have the opportunity. It nudged me out of my comfort zone and made me look at my blogging in a new way.
Waterholes in the distance!
*There's a bit more history about the A-Z blogging challenge here

For the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge in 2012, I blogged about climate and the environment
in An A-Z of Climate Matters.

For the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge in 2011, I blogged about Workplace Bullying in An A-Z of Workplace Bullying over at traverselife, and also had fun here with alliterative drabbles related to learning difficulties, and the environment.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Dear weather and fishing gods #2

Dear weather and fishing gods,

Thankyou for listening to my request and arranging a perfect spring day for us to go fishing up near Marysville. And while it might seem absurd for someone who doesn't particularly like fish or fishing to choose to spend a day involved with said pass-time, it made sense at the time.

We wanted to do our bit for the region after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires nearly 4 years ago, so why not head up there and fish! The town is still doing it pretty tough, although the tourists have returned bringing lots of vibrant colour and joyous laughter! They were certainly making the most of the cafes, spilling out into the streets, chattering and enjoying the food and wine on a perfect spring afternoon.

However, I hadn't expected to be so deeply affected by the devastation. Blackened tree trunks, gaps where atmospheric old buildings used to be, bright sun where there used to be shade, forlorn  flowers in untended remains of gardens where not so long ago there was a home and family.

It's sobering to realise that lots of locals are still in dongas (a small relocatable hut often used near mines for temporary accommodation) nearly four years after the town was obliterated. Rebuilding is painfully slow for all sorts of frustrating and convoluted reasons. 

I can't even begin to imagine the terror of having a firestorm reduce your town and region to ash, and it's something I hope never to experience again, even from the sidelines. Can weather gods prevent horrendous weather events occurring? I suspect not.

I've described the weather conditions during the Black Saturday bushfires here

But back to the fishing!

I caught my first fish ever which took both me and the salmon by complete surprise. Foolish, foolish salmon. 

I know it's kind of cheating to throw a baited hook into a well stocked dam and call it fishing, but I felt a sense of achievement mixed with a good dose of stunned disbelief at my success. I'll refrain from referring to myself as a fisherperson, however, as that'd be stretching the truth a bit.

Slimy, icky salmon.
Here's the salmon that insisted on leaping energetically onto the hook I'd halfheartedly dropped into the dam at the Marysville fish farm. The first one got away - truly! It was big and heavy and flapping so vigorously that it snapped the line as I was reeling it in .... it was this big ..................................................... holds hands way apart in true fisherperson style ;-)

The proprietor gutted the fish, and after the long drive home, where they nestled snugly in the compact car frig, I put them in freezer bags and wrapped them in newspaper as per instructions, before making little nests in the freezer. No doubt they're now solid blocks of raw fish. We caught four between us, 3 trout and 1 salmon. This is going to present a bit of a challenge - what to do with them next?

The photo below is of one of the fishing ponds and the dead and blackened eucalypt trunks. Eucalpyts regrow from little nodules under the bark which are called epicormic shoots. You can see these epicormic shoots sprouting from around the trunks of some of the trees as well as revegetated areas at the fish farm.  


Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear weather gods #1

Dear weather gods

Could we possibly have a nice warm day soon.



PS: In case all the energy you're expending on changing our climate has got you confused, I've included a few photos to jog your memory.  We'd like a bit less of this:
Mornington Pier
and a bit more of this:
Frankston Pier
Kananook Creek. Frankston
Southbank Brisbane
Southbank - Brisbane
PPS: It'd be awesome if you could prove the hundreds and hundreds of highly qualified scientists wrong about climate change. Things are a bit tense and fraught at times down here. The fossil fuel industry seems to have got our politicians and decision makers by the balls, and it's not doing the rest of us any good. Could you perhaps have a bit of a chat with some of the other relevant gods about that?


Friday, November 9, 2012

A whiff of death

This looked like a potentially perfect fishing spot -
alpine mountain backdrop, gentle breeze and mild spring weather,
a gurgling river, tumbling happily over a small pebble race.

But something's not quite right.
Muddy eddies of a receding flood have almost,
but not quite,
covered a body ... a dog or sheep perhaps.
Stagnating quietly, putridly, in this picturesque backwater.

Sunlight glistens gold on the rocky bed.
Trout twist and turn,
efficiently avoiding the supposedly tantalising bait.

Determined to make the most of the tranquil setting,
I focus on the graceful old trees lining the river.

Follow, with my eyes, the arching branches
and see high up, tangled with weed and flood debris,
(showing the frightening height and power of last year's flood),
flesh and protruding bones strung up.
Festooning the tree's limbs
like last year's Halloween decorations.

Forgotten, discarded, worthless junk - only lacking the tacky fake plastic colouring.
The foetid flesh has been rubbed clean of fur and drips grotesquely;
distinguishing features long gone.

The excited buzz of blowflies keen to feed on broken flesh
tangled in the fresh spring growth -
evidence that life goes on regardless.

My throat contracts and gag reflex threatens.

In the distance a crow caws lazily.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

A blokey weekend.

A swagger of utes thunder past, kicking up swirls of fine smelly dust.
Rear trays are shrouded in camouflage green canopies concealing -
who knows what?

Too muscular to be contained by any flimsy cabin,
bulging tattooed forearms rest on dusty door-frames,
languidly rise and wave a cheery hello, at odds with their physical menace.

Bringing up the rear of the rumbling group,
his ute surely unroadworthy with rusty holes and massive dints;
is a lone driver - unsmiling - 'don't mess with me, I mean business'.
The open tray contains a single, reinforced steel cage
barely contains two enormous wild-eyed, salivating, hunting dogs.

A moulding stiff legged deer at the side of the road
is evidence of an earlier successful expedition. 
Not all utes survive the hunting trip.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Knitting on The Frankston Line

Swaying on the cracked leather seat of the old red-rattler*, 
clickety clacking along the Frankston Line,
knee to knee with fellow passengers 
trying awkwardly not to touch or intrude on their space.

Tedious, irritating commuting.

Then watching with fascination, a garment growing.  
Rhythmic knitting, rhythmic swaying.

She’s untroubled with the jolting stops and starts between stations.
Content in creating.
Bringing something into being from a strand of yarn, unfurling from her bag.

Day after day I watched it grow.

Now, I too create and often pause to watch in wonder the single strand of yarn evolving, impossibly, into something new.

*red rattler is a train which used to run on the Melbourne rail network. They were uncomfortable, the windows never seemed to close properly, but they had style!

A drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Zombie Granny

Small children hide behind their mother’s legs as I shuffle past, 
stumbling on minute cracks in the paving.

Hesitant, cautious steps; arms reaching, fingers clasping at railings and walls, indeed anything that is reliably stable. Marshmallow eyed and miserable, I hear:
“Look mummy, there’s a grandma zombie. Her eyes are leaking from her face”.

University students, not generally known for their squeamishness, give me wide berth and glance furtively from a safe distance. Perhaps they’ve taken this zombie-craze belief to heart? 

Pomegranate red eyes, my right eye dribbling vivid orange tears, is not an attractive look, and perhaps my attempt at a reassuring smile is interpreted as a zombie ploy, to feign friendliness, but with a sinister ulterior motive?

Such is the result of a scratched cornea. Variously referred to as an ulcer, an abrasion or a tear. Forget the terminology, it’s bloody painful and debilitating.

My eyeball feels like it’s been studded with sharp pebbles, exploding with effervescent liveliness at every infentisimal movement.

The Emergency Department doctor – the third I’ve seen in two days, which makes sense in the circumstances – compares the photographs taken on my trusty phone the previous day, and declares confidently he can see an improvement.

Sadly my eye hasn’t caught up with this happy news and I continue to flinch and weep with every painful, grainy blink.

A few things I didn't know about having a scratched cornea, which I pass on as a public service, particularly if you're travelling and your regular optometrist is a few thousand kilometres away.
- phone your own optometrist first thing for advice!
- don't try to flush your eye with water, it could harbour germs
- don't immerse yourself in a swimming pool or spa, apparently they're teeming with all sorts of bacteria which would find the open wound in your eye a very attractive breeding ground
- when showering keep your eyes shut, stray drops of water not only hurt like the blazes, but they can also harbour bacteria
- an eye patch loosely applied brings some relief, not only from light, but helps prevent blinking which is excruciating
- the anaesthetic used prior to the drops to make the abrasion show up provides blissful relief for up to an hour
- if possible (in Australia at least) go to an optometrist immediately. I had no idea you could drop in unannounced off the street, and they'll make time for you. They have the expertise and equipment to confidently assess the trauma and treat it. As this happened in the early morning we went to the local Emergency Department where I queued with other patients. Even though I was assessed as being high priority, naturally enough heart attack and road trauma patients take precedence. Whilst the doctors were professional, efficient and caring, the first wasn't perfectly at ease with the basic optometric equipment and diagnosis and I was pleased he asked for a second opinion. I'm not being in the least bit critical as, of necessity, they're generalists. In hindsight I could have waited (in agony and fearful that something horrendous was happening) till an optometrist opened the doors. But as I noted I wasn't aware that was an option.
- there was apparent disbelief that I wasn't aware I'd scratched my cornea. The comments "that's huge, how could you not know it happened" weren't encouraging. I honestly didn't know how it happened. I woke up at around 3am in excruciating pain and had trouble going back to sleep. I assumed an eyelash was irritating by eye, and that allowing my eyes to water copiously would remove it.
- the optometrist I eventually saw on the insistence of my regular, trusted and ever reliable optometrist was fantastic. Reassuring, informative, helpful and he added some more reassurance for good measure - just in case the first amount wasn't enough. Apparently what can happen -it's rare but possible - is for a scratch to happen during the day that's not too bad. When you sleep the wound begins to heal and creates scar tissue which sticks to the eyelid. Then, when you open your eye, the scar tissue can rip off making the original tiny tear into a more dramatic wound.

I'd like to thank the doctors and staff at both the Tamworth Base Hospital and Coffs Harbour Emergency Departments for their professional assistance and follow up phone calls.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

"50 lashes" at Blinman

"I'll have 50 lashes please!"
Old graves at the Blinman cemetery
It's not my typical order I'll admit, but in the town of Blinman it was perfectly appropriate and my request was delivered with speed and charm from a smiling, friendly barmaid.

50 lashes was a very welcome James Squire beer after a hot and dusty walk around the town. What a great way to remove the dust (temporarily) from the vocal chords.
The old 'pug and pine'* hospital built in the 1860s. 
I don't remember the dust affecting my voice any other time I've been in arid and desert country, but this time it was playing havoc with not only my skin, now dry and flaking, but my voice had a distinct husky quality. Not in a good way either - it hurt.

The barmaid (I hope her employer realises what a gem she is) easily persuaded us to stay in town for a couple of days rather than scampering through with the hit and run, 'been there done that', rushed visit. She enquired with apparent interest about where we were camping and heartily approved of our choice bush camping at the lovely Alpana Station.
Looking towards the Flinders Ranges from a hill
on the 6000acre Alpana Station
She then enthused about the famous Friday Pizza Night at the Blinman Hotel.

Whoohoo, a night off cooking! No washing up! Cold beers on tap! Perfect.

The pub is very popular with locals and tourists alike - no surprises there! The pizzas weren't humdrum, bland, commercial mass produced gunk, but were generously mounded with the fresh toppings and  extremely tasty. It was way too easy to overindulge, but with a long walk planned for the next day, a bit of overindulgence seemed to be in order.
The excellent trail notes provided in the brochure (readily available from the tourist centre and the Pub) tell me that the photo above is of acacia tetragonophylla aka Dead Finish. What a great name for a stunted scraggly bush with distinctly sharp, spiky, unwelcoming leaves.
The track to the war memorial on the top of the hill overlooking town was dusty, and in parts seemed to have been bordered with long lines of tilting rocks. But these are natural and give some of the surrounding hills the appearance of the back of a stegosaurus.
This part of the Flinders Ranges is somewhere in the vicinity of 800 million years old. It's easy to say those numbers quickly, but that's an extraordinary amount of time considering that aboriginals are only known to have come here in small groups from about 60,000 years ago.

Millions of years ago, this land was covered in a shallow sea, and there are areas where fossilised sea creatures embedded in ancient rock have been pushed to the surface by the immense force of uplift over many millennia.
The war memorial on top of the hill overlooking the town was built to honour the ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) who fought in WW1. "It was built in 1918 by the children of the Blinman School and stone for the monument was carried up the hill in the side car of the teacher's motorcycle".

When I look at the rough rocky track and steepness of the hill, I can't imagine how anyone got an old motor bike, let alone a sidecar filled with large rocks up this hill. They must have been a small, but dedicated group and were no doubt encouraged by the local community, many of whom lost too many family members in that war.

The monument can be seen from the town, and it's sobering to visit other tiny towns dotted throughout the country and see family groups remembered. Those left back home would have suffered extreme hardship attempting to continue farming in this harsh, unforgiving environment without much needed manpower.
The dramatic, geologically rich landscape now inspires artists of all types, and we were able to travel down the Flinders Ranges to see some beautiful art for sale at different locations. Before we left, we attended the opening of the "Flinders Ranges - a brush with art" exhibition at the Blinman Memorial Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed wandering round dreaming of spending oodles of money on the outstanding art, while enjoying good SA wines and delectable nibbles!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Misunderstandings about frogs at Farina

Industrial sized tap on the outer wall of the sturdy sleeper toilets at
Coward Springs.
"There's a frog in the nearest toilet."

"So? There's a frog and a lizard in the far one."

"Er, so how did you go?"

Wrinkling of brow and extremely perplexed look. "What do you mean?"

Seems like we're talking at cross purposes here and my questions are considered a bit too personal.

"I had no problem"

"But ... what did they ... how did you ... didn't they ... aaargh ...
Where did they go when you went?"


The light goes on.


"There's a frog in the toilet bowl and it's staring at me.  I don't want to put my hand in and get it out. Is the other one ok to use then?"

"Yeah, I think they scuttled off when I opened the door, you should be fine."
Toilet in the historic women's jail at Burra. SA.
There's now the obvious temptation to make ribald jokes about sitting atop said frog, it seeing its means of escape being removed with the darkening of the exit by the lowering of the buttocks, and somehow incorporating the phrases "kick arse" and "kiss my butt" - but I'll resist the temptation.
Disused long drop. Burra. SA.
The toilets (surprising to see flushing ones at this not entirely urban camp ground) were the only place we saw much wildlife at Farina. Lots of birds evident, and their glorious, amazingly loud and varied morning chorus, but very few animals other than emus.

Farina is a historic town in outback South Australia which has been preserved by a group of committed volunteers. There are helpful, well presented information boards, giving details of the old, often crumbling buildings, how they were used as well as some insight into the people who lived in the thriving town in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

It's dry out there, the land is harsh and unforgiving and whilst the pioneers wished for rain, choking dust storms were far more frequent. The cemetery shows that even in death there are some dividing lines that aren't crossed and the graves of each ethnic and religious group are neatly and respectfully separated.

Reminder to self: in these days of not needing to get film processed ... TAKE MORE PHOTOS!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Springtime birdsong

By five am
birds stir in their slumber,
restless with the merest hint of pre dawn light.
Begin to cough away the threads of sleep;
remember their designated song and hesitantly give voice in a desultory way.
Rainbow Lorikeet

Some time later, a full throated cacophony wakens me fully -
seamlessly evolves into a more harmonious chorus
rising and falling as more and more birds join in, like a well rehearsed springtime orchestra.

Little corella
The full throated warbling of a lone magpie is my favourite this week - he’ll hop to the back door later in the morning and treat me to a private serenade.

A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Flowers on The Dutchmans Stern

The wallaby hunched a few metres from the track in scraggly shade, barely stopped his grooming to watch my irregular, stumbling progress towards the car and a mug of tea.
This walk has been tougher than I expected. It's not that 10ks is completely beyond me yet, so perhaps it was the heat and rocky gradient that had me puffing and looking for excuses to stop every few metres.

I'd been longing for years to see the famed beauty of outback wildflowers and the walk struggle up to The Dutchmans Stern was everything I'd dreamed of. Whilst this area wouldn't be considered "Real Outback" by a lot of people, and they'd be quite dismissive of the walk, the further into the centre you go, the drier it becomes and the less variety of flowers there are to be drooled over.

And so, the exhausting expedition at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges became an excuse to stop, bend and click, walk a bit, then stop, bend and click.

But ... there's always a but isn't there?

I stuffed up far too many of the photos. Whether it was my dark glasses with their out of date prescription, or the sweat dripping into my eyes, or just plain stupidity, and not checking after each shot, too many of the photos are out of focus to be considered worth sharing to even the most generous and forgiving reader.


However, a few were worth sharing and many flowers were asking to be described in all their rich, vibrant glory:

Minute hair like stems with a lone brilliant yellow flower 4ml in diameter (about 1/8inch) emerged from the harsh rocky soil, not a dense carpet, but singly, apparently alone, but actually in sparse clusters. They stretch the length of my thumb to the sky, fragile, delicate, exquisite in their perfection.

Other, vine-like, straggle up a sparse bush, drooping vine like clusters of 'egg and bacon' -  golden/rust pea-like flowers, almost hidden by the scratchy leaves and insignificant yellow flowers of the host bush.

Puffballs of gold, wattles of assorted varieties. Generous, vivid yellows contrast dramatically with the red soil. Some have harsh spiky leaves,
others more forgiving for a bare armed passer-by.

Small yellow flowers (so much yellow!) like buttercups, improbably located out here, but appear to follow the sun. I couldn't bear to pick any as they'd struggled so valiantly to bloom in these harsh conditions.

Tiny mauve and white flowers, mostly single stemmed, but sometimes growing in clusters, then, what appeared to be a miniature iris next to some "daisy chain daisies". Is that possible?
Crisp everlasting daisies, with balls of yellow petals, joyous, long-lasting as their name suggests. Starbursts of yellow and white, just like a child's painting of a flower, complete with foraging bee.
At one place there were sweeping drifts of daisy bushes, the profusion of pure white flowers improbably clean in this dusty land.
Puffy mauve delicate things, ranging all the way through to rich regal purples, some minutely fringed like a royal ruff.
White and yellow, infinitesimal things; kneeling on unfriendly, rocky ground to try to capture the delicate beauty and fragile nature of these tiny beauties. You can just see some of the yellow ones in the photo above, the fringed mauve flower is about 1cm (less than 1/2 inch) in diameter - the yellow flowers are tiny!
And ants, everywhere ants. An abundance, a profusion of ants. Do you know that song "Itsy bitsy fuzzy wuzzy worm" and one line is "big fat juicy ones, long thin tiny ones" well, this was the ant version of that song!

Ants aren't my favourite creature on earth. I acknowledge their importance in removing debris and changing it from one form into another. But I don't like them on me, crawling in a focused, meaningful way up an unprotected limb. Ants aren't friendly.

Busy ants, scurrying ants, some neat and orderly, playing follow the leader with deep intent, others bustling, some appear frantic and undisciplined, seem to spiral out of control. So many varieties - small, medium, large, fat, thin, dark, or pale and translucent, all moving as if the other types simply didn't exist. Billions upon billions of ants.

And the flies. The constant background drone of flies eternally buzzing, crawling, tickling, crawling up under your glasses to drink at the moisture around your eyes. And for goodness sake, don't breathe deeply through your mouth. You'll likely breathe one in and spend the next long minutes coughing pathetically to evict the horrible little bugger from the depths of your throat where it will have got caught and is making an unhappy nuisance of itself.

After that unpleasant interlude, you might enjoy the heady fragrance of the sage and curry-bushes, releasing their aromatic oils in the warm air. Listen to the clash and clatter of shale dislodged by ferral goats, the demanding bleat of a lost kid and compare it to the gentle footfall of a wallaby, perfectly suited to its environment.

... and start thinking about recipes for ferral goats and how much better for the environment it'd be if those culled were somehow able to be sold for food.
The gold of the Flinders Ranges wattle on the right, looking over The Dutchmans Stern more or less toward the plane where Quorn is located and Southern Flinders Ranges.

Friday, September 28, 2012

An unwelcome lunchtime guest

Be wary when you sit on a picnic bench.
And whilst that's possibly speciesist, I wouldn't want this Huntsman sharing my lunch or scuttling up a bare limb in protest at me sitting uninvited at his table.
After years of believing Huntsman spiders to be not much more than an annoyance, I've been assured recently that they are poisonous. I'm thinking of all the ones I've caught under an upturned glass with the gentle encouragement of a piece of cardboard to nudge them into the glass to be firmly evicted from the house and shaken vigorously over the fence into the neighbour's back yard with the firm words "and don't come back". And now I find they all could have bitten me. Each and every one.
Actually I knew they could bite and had thought it was what they'd recently been feasting on that was the problem in creating festering sores, not that they were actually poisonous. Out with the vacuum cleaner next time!
Our local Huntsman have an unsettling tendency to lurk in cars and creep out from behind the sun-visor, which makes driving interesting when they're playing hide-n-seek in heavy traffic. Years ago, I was taking an international colleague for a drive on a hot summer's day to see the local sights in my old grey Austin A30. We'd come to an intersection, and I was looking for a gap in the traffic, when he chattily enquired if I was frightened of spiders.
"No, not particularly, I just don't like them on me."
"Oh, mmm."
As I accelerated into the stream of traffic, out of the corner of my eye I saw a long hairy leg waving at me from behind the sun-visor. Next thing the enormous, well fed, but sprightly spider leapt from the visor onto my bare leg (remember, it was a hot summer's day and shorts were perfectly appropriate attire in the late 70's.) It paused for a moment to decide which way to run, then scuttled down my leg and under the seat.
Thankfully I'm not terrified of spiders and was able to pull over and conduct a thorough search for the offending uninvited passenger. Some people aren't so lucky, and accidents aren't unknown. It could possibly explain some of the single car accidents on country roads. If you're scared of spiders and one with a leg span of 8+ cm (around 3") runs up a sleeve or down a collar it wouldn't be surprising that you'd run off the road.
There was another time I'd pulled up at the local petrol station to fill the car and a humungous one waved a few legs tauntingly from behind the sun-visor (they really seem to like that spot). I had two small children safely strapped in, and the spider thoroughly enjoyed his romp around the car, between the children, under their seats, over head restraints, back and forth with me contorting into all sorts of unbecoming postures to try to catch him.
I tried ferreting him out with a bit of paper, but to no avail. Tried poking at him with the tip of an umbrella which seemed to irritate him - no idea why! He finally snuck out one of the open doors and headed for the safety (!) of the fuel cap. Ha!
When, flustered and dishevelled, I finally found my wallet (and checked in passing if there were any of the Huntsman's mates lurking in my bag) and went to pay, the attendant asked kindly if I'd been having trouble with a spider. Note that the sod hadn't come out to help and had been having a laugh at my expense from behind the safety of plate glass. Wimp.
After that I tucked a large can of fly spray in the car...but worried about using it if the kids were in there as it'd probably asphyxiate them too. It seems cruel and unnecessary, but having an accident would be no fun for any of us either.
In the home, Huntsman will often settle behind curtains or picture frames and come out at night to feed. It can be unpleasant to unfurl a roller curtain and have a large corpse drop out onto the floor. But what is even worse is when you pull the blinds and one drops to your feet with a mangled leg or two and contorts pitifully on the floor waving its remaining legs, twitiching in apparent agony. I'm not good at squashing them, because the body can be bloated with whatever it's been eating and it can be gooily messy. (Is gooily a word? does it matter?)
Some people keep Huntsman as pets. There was a teacher at the local school who had one in her classroom. The children learnt a lot about sharing space, tolerance, respect for other species, how not to be frightened and a range of other important life issues. To the teacher's credit, there wasn't one child in that room who was scared of spiders! All went well for months until the teacher became ill and had to take leave.
To the utter horror of the entire class, within an hour of settling in, the replacement teacher had unceremoniously splattered the spider (whose name I've unfortunately forgotten) on the wall with a broom - in front of 30 loudly protesting and protective children shrieking that this was their pet and he was due to be fed.
They were collectively outraged and despised her from that moment.
Perfectly understandable in the circumstances.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Slip-sliding away

Some camp sites simply aren't designed for comfort. Rocky, unforgiving and with a distinct slope. The fact that ours was the only tent within cooee should have been a warning of something not quite right here. But I was tired and cranky, anything was acceptable.

Foolish, foolish decision.
The ground fights the intrusion of pegs being hammered into the red shaley 'earth'. Prickles, at first invisible, make their way into socks and between tenderly sweating toes.

Water, in containers filled at the last bore a couple of days ago has a distinct mineral flavour, perfectly acceptable when all was well, but tastes intrusive and annoying when I'm already irritable. Sigh. This camping lark can be a bit of a trial sometimes.

My nostrils twitch unhappily with the acrid smell of the refuse previous campers have discarded into a still smouldering fire. Double sigh. Off to get the spade and see what can be done to clear up after them. Feet drag listlessly. Bring on a cup of tea!

Later, during the night, after settling and being soothed by the glorious clear, deep sky and fabulous vastness of dark and stars, I find myself cocooned unnaturally tightly in my sleeping bag, unable to move my legs, feet or toes. My knees are wedged at an odd angle to my feet, my toes are bent back unnaturally, sort of in a zig-zag shape. Attempt to wriggle. Nope, not possible. An exploratory stretch of my right leg - resistance. Left? No, equally unforgiving. I'm crumpled like a piece of thoughtlessly scrunched and discarded copy paper at the bottom of a waste paper basket. Mega sigh.

Darn gravity, bloody sloping ground, horrible rocks.

Wriggle, wriggle, wriggle. Shuffle, shuffle. Puff, puff. Pause to catch breath. Slide back. Repeat. I finally claw my way back to the top of the bag by alternately caterpillaring, then clutching at the mattress and clawing my way up the unbelievably steep slope to my beloved pillow.

And repeat at annoyingly frequent intervals during the excruciatingly long night. Why oh why did we choose this site?



Monday, September 24, 2012

River beds

According to Wikipedia, a river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river.

Good old Wikipedia!

Except that sometimes things aren't what they seem, and it's a good reminder why you should always check your information against local knowledge.

The temptation when seeing the word River on a map - which you see with remarkable regularity when looking at maps of inland Australia, is to assume there will be water in them. After all isn't that why the word river is used in the name of this particular feature?

You've possibly even thought about a spot of fishing and surreptitiously tucked into your gear a compact, secret rod, reel and lures.

Your visions of a delightful dip in a welcoming, fresh, cool and incredibly inviting river will be sadly shattered. Thoughts of gurgling pleasantness, a place to sluice off the inevitable outback sweat, dust and prickles, somewhere to soothe your flaking, dry, chapped skin are pointless.

That word river is a trap for the unwary - and heaven help you if there is a deluge somewhere upstream and you've taken it into your naive head to pitch your tent or park your car or van in the river bed. Foolish, foolish people.

Before you camp, look up. Often high above your head will be solid evidence of the power of a previous deluge, limbs waiting to tumble. Tangles of fences, bushes and bones. Whole large tree trunks, complete with intricate root systems have been swept many metres before they get caught and stuck fast. Photos of cars and  caravans in similar positions of repose adorn the walls of various tourist destinations in the outback as a warning of what NOT to do. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words.

What you don't see in my photo is the sheer size of the horizontal tree. A 6'+ tall person could easily stroll under the resting trunk, and would have to leap energetically to touch the underside of the hefty trunk...

No doubt dislodging irritated ants and shedding bark onto an upturned face...

The sensible leaper would have checked for snoozing snakes and grumpy goannas before leaping of course!

Flood damage can be significant, with roads, causeways, crops and livestock being washed away. Sometimes the considerable expense in replacing them is considered too much and some infrastructure is simply not replaced. The flat white things in the photo below are massive slabs of concrete (?) and were part of the road and causeway near Silverton NSW washed away in the 2011 floods.

As a means of navigation, mentioned as another feature of rivers in Wikipedia - that's perfectly feasible - just follow the depressions and trees growing in the watercourses. The green of the leaves on whatever trees are growing tends to be quite obvious amongst the surrounding dust and rocks.

Below are almost vertical rocks, laid horizontal eons ago at the bottom of a forgotten seabed, then over the intervening hundreds of thousands of years forced by pressure deep in the earth to their current dry position to become a shaley river bed.
... and then of course, are the occasional treasures, beautiful pools, unbelievably cold, restful, welcome. The source of life for animals (unfortunately including ferral goats) for kilometres around.

Most photos taken in the Northern Flinders Ranges.