Friday, October 11, 2013

Flies, flies and more flies. The curse of the Aussie bush fly or: More Than You Ever Wanted To Know About Flies.

Here they are up inside the fly net.
Sometimes you just have to laugh at the rash claims of advertisements. Not that I would have wanted to be without a fly net, but as for the statement that the flies won't want to go inside the fly net, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA who do they think they're kidding! "...bush flies sit happily on fine mesh fly veils ... but steer well clear of the demarcation line ..." they won't go inside the fly net.

This year's bush flies obviously hadn't read the ad!

My fetching fly net, purchased in desperation after unladylike curses became the norm rather than the exception, came complete with a draw cord around the neck (best not to think too much about what would happen if it got caught on a branch) and the little buggers found some tiny spots where they could sneak up inside the mesh, then saunter up to see what the world looked like from inside the lenses of my prescription sunglasses. You'd think with the way their eyes are arranged they wouldn't be interested, but there they were, balancing on my eyelashes, pirouetting on the arms of my glasses, queueing up to get a turn to see what all the excitement was about.

And of course, now they're inside the flynet, and the drawstring is closed around my neck, I can't get at them can I? They're completely free to wander where they will, inside my ears, up my nose, explore the edges of my tightly shut mouth and worst of all between my eyes and glasses so that I can't even attempt to brush them away.
Immediately after brushing them off, they're back.
Do you remember Samantha from Bewitched? She'd wiggle her nose and magic would happen. These guys didn't even notice my frantically twitching nose let alone move. They do a little exploratory foray up into a nostril ... maybe there's something interesting up there? I do a deliberate outwards snort and the fly just clings on tighter, "Wheeeeeeeeee" it seems to call to its mates, "this is fun, come on in and have a go!" Some of them are far more curious about the corners of my eyes, but I suspect they're communicating with each other "Hurry up, surely it's my turn now?"

Bush flies are extremely excitable, it's like they've been guzzling caffein since breakfast. Actually, some of them had, and had managed to drown themselves in the hot brew. I'm not sure how many others had just wandered down into the mug, had a bit of a slurp, then shimmied up and flown off again in that hyperactive way they have. It's not worth making a second mug after fishing out the tiny carcasses. You'd never get to enjoy a cuppa at all. Suicidal flies. Who would have realised!

My barely damp tee-shirt is being sucked dry.
Australian bush flies just looooooooove the moisture around your eyes, mouth, ears and nose as well as any sweat anywhere on your body or clothing. They are the most irritating, sticky, persistent, bloody minded insects known to man and they seem to be able to detect you with unerring precision even before you've stepped outside the tent, pub, house or car. They wait. They hover. They buzz persistently. Then they pounce. Not just one or two, but billions upon billions of them. Simultaneously. I reckon if you were weighed before going outside then after, you'd have gained a kilo or more in weight. Honestly.

You can see them kicking each other aside to get at any hint of delectable moisture. They stand on top of each other and kick and shove. It's amazing to watch. Which I did. Quite a lot. You tend to get a bit fixated when they're this bad. Even the locals were commenting "Me and my ten thousand new best friends went for a walk." Yep, the flies were bad.

A billionth of a second after pointlessly
trying to shoo them away.
And the irritating sods tickle with their tiny little feet and wings giving you very unwelcome fairy kisses. Sometimes they land, pause, stand around singly or in groups then appear to look around and assess which are the prime locations. Toes? Between the fingers? Under the watch? Variety is the spice of life! They rub their front legs together like a used car salesman who has seen a potential customer enter the car-yard. Bwahahahahaaa.

Then of course there's the danger of breathing. With any sharp intake of breath through nose or mouth, such as the intake of breath with exercise or laughter, there is the danger of breathing in dozens of wriggling little bodies. Learning to be a ventriloquist has never been easier! But it's not so easy to prevent a cough or sneeze. Were you aware that the intake of breath is quite substantial with those perfectly normal functions? Guess how many flies it's possible to kill with the inhalation prior to a sneeze? Naturally this results in more coughing as your body tries to expel the now rather worse for wear intruders. And when you cough you breathe in again. UGH.

As for smiling, such as when telling a joke or sharing news, the rule of thumb is DON'T. It's not that Aussies are taciturn or lacking in humour, but the risk of ingesting unwanted protein is never far from the mind. A couple of blokes we met failed to heed this advice. I doubt I'll ever forget watching flies land on the teeth of a really friendly, smiling bloke, or another spitting little carcasses out of his mouth with monotonous regularity - it was a long and interesting story he was sharing, but I couldn't help but be distracted.  ICK.
Naturally one needs to brush ones teeth when on holiday. Regular dental hygiene is undoubtedly important ... except ... flies.
One day I learnt a new lesson about flies.

When it's a glorious Spring day in the Flinders Ranges and the cicadas are chirruping contentedly, the birds are cheeping and calling with joyous abandon, when flowers are carpeting the ground in ones and two's or hundreds upon thousands, when the sky is blue and flocks of cloud-sheep are being buffeted across the sky by the gentle breeze, and when it's fly season, that brushing your teeth outdoors is, not to put too fine a point on it, positively gross.

Because with all those spring delights of the impossible greens after good rains, the fabulous reds of the soil and amazing blues of the sky, come the little black bush flies. Squadrons of them appear just when you thought there was a break in the barrage and that it was safe to brush your teeth. Brushing your teeth produces froth. Flies like dampness. Froth is damp. Froth escapes from the corners of your mouth. Flies burrow in with glee. Gag, gag, gag.
And last but not least: Did you know that after a cool night, that flies do exercises? They do, honestly! When the gentle rays of the morning sun hit them, say at 6:30 am, they kind of stretch one wing this way and that, then they stretch the other one, then one leg and so on. It's all quite elegant in a controlled tai chi kind of way! They they give a little experimental buzz, have a bit of a rest, then they're ready for another day of searching out a feast. Nom, nom, nom!

My son on seeing the photos asks "What's the attraction of going bush mum?" and I don't have an answer.
A useless attempt to protect my mug of tea from curious invaders.
For more detailed information about the Australian bush fly you can't go past this well written, amusing and helpful booklet:
Comfortingly I'm reminded that these little irritating bush flies aren't like the common house fly. In comparison they're positively hygienic and unlikely to spread illnesses. Just as well really.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

World's End. SA.

World's End. How could you not stay at a place with such a fantastic name!?

The last time we were here the unrelenting gale force winds weren't conducive to erecting a tent (one of the few times I've thought a van would be worthwhile). And whilst the winds were marginally less fierce this year, the random squalls of rain weren't welcoming. 

On the plus side, it's free camping! (Apparently there was an honesty box, but it appeared to have gone AWOL when we were there.) And we could have a fire with the wood we'd brought from home!! It would be a rain splattered fire admittedly, but a fire! And it wasn't busy - always a plus! All in all, worth the soggyness and squelch underfoot as we wander around peering upwards to observe overhanging limbs and check the wind direction. Choosing the right spot for one night's camping can be quite an ordeal sometimes ;-)
But what's this? The solid looking picnic table is subsiding into the ground, in a somewhat dangerous way and it's been placed in an interesting location directly under a red river gum. These beautiful large trees are well known for randomly dropping limbs - not the little ones like the limb of an arm, but massive ones that all too frequently make people and vehicles go splat with in a terminal kind of way. 
Oh well, we'll need to put up the tent by the not entirely enticing creek. For a transit spot, World's End is fine, but it's possibly not the ideal spot for a long visit - although some folk did seem to be well set up ... to watch TV in their vans. 

Reminder to self: It takes all types; be tolerant! I just hope they don't have their generators going all night.

Driving in along the Goyder Highway, the mist had been hanging heavy and thick over the distant hills, occasional squalls were lashing the paddocks full of blueish saltbush. Definitely atmospheric, but not what I'd visualised - blue skies with fragrant spring flowers carpeting the side of the road in glorious colour, playful breeze, you know the vision! Idyllic this wasn't.

You may have noticed the blue sky in the photos above. I took those last year. While the wind was ferocious then, the sky was clear and the only danger was leaves, twigs and larger branches being torn from the trees and flung across the paddock. Ah the joys of the great outdoors!

We managed to manhandle the tent into something resembling well erected, dragged out the raincoats and extra tarps and listened to the frogs croaking melodiously in the creek to the backdrop of rumbling thunder and sheet lightning blanketing the sky. The thunder sounded like convoys of road trains rumbling past in quick succession. The slightly wonky, but solid, practical tarps provided shelter from the intermittent, heavy dumps of rain, but we needed extra poles to stop the awning and tarps from caving in under the weight of water. Not the setup to grace the pages of a camping magazine! 

And it was cold. And wet, though I think I mentioned that already. Jeans legs are rolled up to stop wicking - the grass here hasn't been mown for some time, and allows the wind to chill exposed flesh above my woolly socks - but at least they slow down the biting mozzies. Darn, the hem stitching is coming undone and the whole lot is frayed, though I doubt anyone will notice. Or care.   

The quick succession of squalls move on and become less frequent during the night. At one stage, I'd counted 3 storms converging from different directions, but it could have been four. 

An animal scrambles noisily up a nearby red gum, shredding bark and dropping it to the ground - a bit later it scrambles down just as noisily. Some sort of goanna perhaps? Bats chirp in that high pitched way they have. The tent is buffeted noisily by random gales and I lie awake hoping the extra poles hold the tarps and awning up not just from the heavy rain, but from the rising wind. 

Not one of the more restful nights I've had camping. 

South Australia is full of amazing stone houses built when it appeared to be a welcoming fertile land. It isn't. Rainfall is temperamental and unreliable and the early overstocking of fragile lands led to severe problems. 
They also have unfriendly plants - I'm still using pliers to remove steel-like bindis from my thongs (flip flops).
 And yet another abandoned house.
As for the camp fire I'd been looking forward to. Hahahahaha. Everything was way too wet and windy. Maybe next time?


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Grampians - western Victoria

Head west to go north. Not the obvious or recommended direction, but whilst Hattah Kulkyne National Park would have been more direct, I wanted to revisit a different part of the state.

What was completely unexpected was to have billions and billions of school groups and international visitors swarming over the Grampians. It was also a bit of a surprise to have one whole camping ground closed due to asbestos contamination and various other known and loved campsites off limits.

Sigh, sharing a camping ground and drop toilets with mobs of hormonal teenagers it'd have to be.

After many years of being a teacher on school camps I know that not all students behave well when they're in an unfamiliar environment, so I'm always a bit wary when I see school groups. I also always try to give positive feedback when groups are respectful of others.

Fortunately the kids must have been well primed by the wranglers (aka teachers) and all was well. There wasn't too much yahooing through the chilly night, and the peace was broken at the almost respectable hour of 7am by one bright spark deciding to wake his mates by shouting at the tent flap - oblivious to the fact that sound carries exceedingly well in the bush. In the scheme of things that's pretty minor so with a wave and cheery "great group you've got there" comment to the staff, we packed up the soggy tent ready to explore before heading to drier/warmer northern areas.

We set off expecting to have a bit of a stroll through the bush, but as so often happens the pre morning-tea stroll extended into something more resembling a 12 km walk across gurgling creeks ...
behind waterfalls - complete with water! ...
 over big rocks, little rocks, stable rocks and not so friendly rocks ...
and finally, panting and puffing up to a lookout where the wind was too strong and cold to relax and take photos.

Eventually a patch of blue sky peeped through the clouds at just the right moment to capture a lone tree appearing to teeter over the top of a (much higher than it looks) chasm. Timing is everything! 
And finally a belated picnic lunch! Thank goodness for a hot thermos. This tiny flower had dropped from a small bush by the picnic bench. I love the little shadows it cast that look like the legs of an insect.
And onward to World's End!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Sorry to bother you mate, but I've just run over mum."

This really isn't a great way to begin a phone conversation with your son who has just this minute popped down to the store to pick up some bread for a convivial family luncheon.

The son had come over to help his retired, but not elderly parents chainsaw the ornamental tree uprooted by the fierce winds during the recent dramatic storms.

The storms had lit the night sky with angry cracking lightning, and walloping deluges of rain flooded streets and yards. The SES had been extremely busy clearing streets of massive fallen trees, uncovering cars bent beneath limbs and leaves, and providing emergency covering for houses unroofed by the violent winds.

This tree hadn't produced quite as much drama as others had experience around the state, and had been neatly and efficiently chainsawed up by father and son into dinky pieces of wood, suitable for a petite pot bellied stove. The chainsaws used for this exercise had been recently unboxed with a flourish; cute little electric numbers, just the ticket for tidy suburbia!

It's a bit of a challenge to put a positive spin on running over your children's dearly loved mother. Not a call that one would be proud or eager to make. It's not as if it was deliberate or anything like that, just a mistake. Unfortunate admittedly, unintentional (surely that doesn't need to be stated?) and extremely distressing for those involved.  But really, anyone could have confused the figure standing by the letterbox with a broom in her hands busily sweeping up fallen leaves and debris for a limb from the tree - couldn't they?

He'd said "Shall I move the car so you can sweep underneath?"

She'd said "Leave it a minute while I finish the driveway."

He'd decided to move the car regardless. Whether he didn't hear her, who knows, but the next thing she knows is that above the shwooshing sound of leaves being briskly whisked away to a new location, she hears the sound of the car, then whammo, she's on the ground, just missing cracking her skull on the brickwork holding up the metal letterbox. Oops.

Startled by the shock of finding herself on the tidily edged lawn face first in recently swept leaves, and aware of a sudden, unpleasant rise in blood pressure, she began cautiously to take stock.
Limbs intact? Check.
Gushing blood? No, thank goodness.
Obviously broken bones?  Hmm, possibly not.
Headache? Yes, definitely.
Nausea and shaking? Ugh, yes.

Husband's horrified face appeared in her line of vision - she shrieks, with a certain amount of force "don't touch me", no doubt sending the neighbours to the front windows to see what the commotion was all about.

"Ohmygodohmygod what have I done are you alright honey ohshitohshitohshit I didn't see you there I didn't mean to hurt you are you ok? ... What's that noise?"

She's dimly aware of him frantically looking back to the car.

He begins to take a step towards where it should have been, looks at her with undisguised shock and disbelief, and though he's clearly desperate to be by her side to comfort and apologise and tender assistance, he leaps gazelle like towards the violent metallic crunching, tearing, ripping LOUD noise moving steadily away from them into the road.

Craning her thankfully unbroken neck, she sees him leap into the driver's seat just inches before the car reverses into the over-the-road neighbour's front garden, and with the front driver's side door swingingly drunkenly at an extremely awkward angle, (definitely not according to the manufacturer's specifications) he swiftly and gracefully manoeuvres the runaway vehicle onto the nature strip ... without further incident ... or, more accurately none that she's aware of or that he admits to.

Apparently in the shock of the moment of hearing the thud of wife on ground in response to being nudged by the rear bumper bar, he'd leapt out, forgetting to shift the gear out of reverse and put it into park; forgetting to pull the handbrake on and also forgetting to shut the door. Oops.

Throughout the ordeal (I think it's fair to refer to it as such?) she managed to maintain her ladylike composure from her prone position, nose to dirt, and not utter any words that would have made her mother blush, although I wonder if in the privacy of the house later on, her comments might have been a touch more terse and colourful.

Bodies generally heal, the wifely one was bruised, shaken and distinctly upset, her blood pressure was unhealthily high, but is expected to settle quickly. I suspect she will invest in a high vis vest, flack jacket and crash helmet for gardening in future, it's clearly a dangerous pastime.

The car whilst technically drive-able was assuredly unroadworthy and unable to shelter its occupants from drizzle, rain or wind, and needed the tender, and no doubt expensive ministrations of the local smash and repair centre.

Interestingly this couple was thinking of purchasing a new vehicle. My suggestion would be to go for something with clear rearview vision, few blind spots and possibly a reversing camera. It's a no brainer really.
Thank goodness the paramedics weren't needed!

Blogged by Sue Travers
& based on a true story.