Waiting for the Train

 

Australians have a pretty good sense of humour. It is somewhat dry, irreverent, ironic and a little quirky. We love to take the mickey out of people, especially our not so illustrious leaders, and ourselves, but it may be a little puzzling for those outside our borders. I  once heard someone describe Australians as “earthy”. Perhaps it’s because we don’t beat about the bush. So how did we come to be this way?  Some say the answer lies in our convict past. Convicts had a reputation for being rebellious, unruly and unsurprisingly, rather anti-authoritarian. You would be too if you were shipped to the end of the world for stealing a loaf of bread. Our ANZACs too,  had a reputation for possessing an irreverent streak and displaying a dark sense of humour as they faced the prospect of death in battle. Many ANZACs originated from the bush so they would have been quite used to facing the dangers of venomous snakes and inhospitable terrain, not to mention drought, bushfire and flood. And it’s in the bush that we still see this ironic sense of humour displayed. Here are a few things we came across that tickled our funny bones on our trip to South Australia in July. 

The Eba Railway Siding

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Once upon a time railway lines connected small rural towns with larger centres and the ports. In those days, travelling was a leisurely activity where the journey was more important than the actual destination. But now travelling long distances by train is a by-gone thing. In our fast paced 21st century, everyone wants to get to their destination by yesterday.  Abandoned railway sidings like this one at Eba, are a common sight, but I fear these people are waiting for the train in vain. The siding and the sign may be still there, but the rails are long gone.

Eba was a small settlement not far from Morgan in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia. The railway siding was built in 1878 and the township had its own post office, school, blacksmith, grocery store and even a cricket team! I believe that the scene at the siding is a bit of a community effort with people adding bits and pieces as time goes on. It’s a very humourous way of marking a time gone past.

The Balaklava Boots and Bras Tree

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Just outside of Balaklava, in the Mid North region of South Australia, we came across this display of boots and bras hanging from the branches . No explanation was provided, except for a sign that says “Boots and Bras”. There are all sorts of theories about how something like this might start – hanging boots out to dry while camping, displaying lost items found on the road, some kind of strange Australian ritual….or maybe just another case of Aussie humour spicing up the drive on a long stretch of road. I believe there are other examples around Australia, such as a fence hung with boots in NSW titled “Lost Souls” and apparently quite a few trees across the Nullabor are also hung with boots, bras, thongs and anything else you care to think of – anything to relieve the boredom of a long barren stretch. If you are passing by, feel free to donate!

Balaklava is located approximately 90km north of Adelaide, on the Wakefield River, and was named after the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War in 1854. One of the  interesting things to come out of this battle was…The Charge of the Light Brigade. It is a grain growing area, with a great passion for the arts, holding it’s own Eisteddfod every year and my family’s home town for a number of generations.

The Frogs of Balranald

Balranald is in the Riverina district of New South Wales, close to the Victorian border. During the late 1800s it was attracting attention and a reputation for its unruly and rowdy nature, like many inland towns of that time. Considering that in 1881 the pubs outnumbered the grocery stores, it is probably little wonder. Today Balranald has a far more positive reputation on account of its frogs. If you keep your eyes open, and follow the trail, you will discover at least 18 frog sculptures around the town, with more probably destined to appear. What’s with the frogs?

Balranald is home to the Southern Bell frog, which is unfortunately on the endangered species list as a result of disease, habitat loss and the introduction of exotic species. The frog sculptures started as a bit of a novelty but the idea of using the sculptures to both highlight the cause of the frogs and promote the town took hold. Visitors can even purchase their own frog sculpture. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to follow the trail but we did spot these two beauties in the main street. I think it’s great to see a whole town come together to promote the conservation of one of its own native species and with a dash of that old Aussie humour, has found a delightful and amusing way to promote their town as well. 

The Last Stop

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The Great Australian Dream

For decades now the Great Australian Dream has been a home of one’s own. We grow up aspiring to be home-owners. When I was growing up, it was the quarter acre block. Nowadays blocks are a lot smaller, but the dream is still the same – a home of one’s own.

Since I first moved out of home, many years ago now, I have been a renter more than I have been an owner. I have lived in the city, by the coast, out west and now on the top of the Great Dividing Range. I have lived in units, regular houses and on a semi-rural block. I have moved house numerous times for a variety of reasons. Less than two years ago I wrote about my 18th move which you can read about here. And now we are gearing up for move number …19!

After four years of renting in Toowoomba, we are finally moving into a home of our own. We moved from our home out west for a few reasons, namely so Bec could finish high school and Dan could access better support. Initially we thought we would rent for a while and then buy a house somewhere. Unfortunately this took a lot longer than we expected. The boom and bust mining cycle can play havoc with the regional real estate market. But finally we have a new home and we can’t wait to move in. 

The Last Stop

Why is this post titled The Last Stop? After so many moves, Paul has asked whether I have Gypsy blood – not to my knowledge. He asked whether our new house will be “the last stop”. Straight away we knew that would be the perfect name for our new house – The Last Stop. I am certainly hoping it will be the last stop for quite some time. Bec has noted that the longest time she has ever lived in one house is six years. I am hoping we can beat that record. In fact, I told Paul the only way I was leaving this next house was in a box!  

The Last Stop is located on a block just outside of Toowoomba. It is one of those places that requires a little TLC but has plenty of room for Dan to ride his bike, for Bec to have chooks again, for a garden that consists of more than just pots and for Paul to indulge his passion for woodwork. We have been a little crowded in our small duplex. Some mornings the kitchen is just not big enough for the three of us. And when Paul comes down for the weekend, well, there is even less space. 

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We all like to have our own space. We like peace and quiet. We like to see open space, smell the country air and hear the sounds of nature. We need places where we can find solitude. And we are looking forward to finding places for all our bookshelves and books and other stuff too.  

Just knowing we will have our own home again has fertilised our imagination. Those home renovation mags which we usually ignore have suddenly become far more interesting.  A master plan of future possibilities is starting to take shape in our minds. Who knows, perhaps you may see some Reno posts sometime down the track. 

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Renting can have its advantages but it is not the same as your own place. Over the last four years we have lived in three different rentals, which were all perfectly nice places but they weren’t a home. Two of them had perfectly blank walls without a single hook. We weren’t allowed to hang anything – not even a clock. They may well have had a modern and sleek interior, but they were cold and sterile. They weren’t a home. So we are looking forward to pulling out our family photos and artwork to hang on the walls. We are looking forward to creating a home. 

In your own home, when something gets broken or needs fixing, you can fix it! You don’t have to go through the whole rigmarole of reporting maintenance issues to the real estate office and then wait for ages for them to get around to actually getting it fixed.  And, best of all, no more routine inspections!

So move number 19 is fast approaching. Another round of packing and unpacking boxes, loading up furniture and negotiating stairs, corners and hallways.  But this is a move we are all really looking forward to. We can’t wait.

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Mr Percival in the Creek

 

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Strolling along the West Creek walkway, we spot a variety of birdlife. We see ducks swimming on the pond or waddling near the bank, little birds that flit over our heads,  and as we start to approach magpie season,  those black and white marauders that like to swoop on unsuspecting walkers. There is even a rogue goose on the loose on which we do need to keep a watchful eye. Most of the time we see it swimming happily in the middle of the lake but occasionally we have been pushed to the other side of the road when it decides to make a bee line for us, wings flapping and honking loudly.

The other day though, was the first time I had ever seen a pelican swimming in the creek. I had to look twice – yes, it is Mr Percival! That tell-tale bill stretched wide open is always a dead give away. I couldn’t let this photo opportunity slip by, so approaching very slowly and carefully while drawing the phone out of my pocket at the same time, I managed to snap a couple of photos before it took to the sky.

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Now, I am not exactly sure that it was Mr Percival. It could have been Mr Ponder or even Mr Proud. After all, pelicans do look pretty much the same to the untrained eye. And if you are not sure what I am talking about, then it’s time to read Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, a classic Australian story about a young boy and some orphaned pelicans. I haven’t seen the recent remake but I do remember seeing the original film back in my primary school days. Perhaps it’s time to dust off my old copy too.

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#Book Snap Sunday – The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

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I am joining in again with Sharon for #Book Snap Sunday and it seems that we both had the same idea; taking inspiration from our natural environment. As you can see from the picture above, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, by Holly Ringland, is perched somewhat precariously on a branch in what I think is a Grevillea bush.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is a beautiful book. Not only is the cover beautifully illustrated with Australian Native flowers, but each chapter is named after an Australian flower. Visually the book is reminiscent of a nature journal, complete with definitions, descriptions and drawings of each Australian flower. Ringland’s prose is equally beautiful and yet the story packs a punch, with themes of loss, trauma, betrayal and domestic violence.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart is Ringland’s first book and I think it is a stunning debut. One of the themes that resonated with me concerns protection of the ones we love. It is natural as a parent, grandparent or carer to want to protect our children from harm. Sometimes though, in our attempt to keep them safe, we can inadvertently make them vulnerable and actually put them at risk. Without giving too much away, I found this aspect of the story to be thought provoking. It’s hard to watch your child experience the spills and hurts of life, but it is through these experiences that they will develop resilience and learn to thrive – much like the wildflowers of the Australian bush.

Australian flowers play a big part in Alice’s journey so it only seemed right for native flowers to be present in the Book Snap. Sadly, my small courtyard doesn’t have any native plants, but luckily I spied this flowering bush along the walking path that follows the West Creek parklands. It is one of our favourite walking tracks in Toowoomba and you can read more about it here.

Until next time, happy reading.

A Day at Victor Harbor

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Victor Harbor is a small coastal town, 71km south of Adelaide on the Fleurieu Peninsula. It has a long history as a popular holiday destination for many South Australian families and it holds a special place in the hearts of my family. Back in the 1930’s, when my grandmother was a young woman, she enjoyed holidays at Victor Harbor with her friends and family. Later, when she was married and had a family of her own, she continued to enjoy the time they spent every summer at Victor Harbor. My mum and aunty remember these holidays with great fondness: building sandcastles on the beach, eating fish and chips on the grass under the tall Norfolk Pines, and going for a drive around to see the Bluff. As one of the next generation, I also have fond memories of summer holidays at Victor Harbor with my grandparents and cousins. 

 It’s funny how place becomes important to us as we grow older. Victor Harbor was a favourite place for my grandmother because it held so many memories for her. Even in her old age, she still liked to go there, to sit on a bench overlooking the sea, and remember. My grandmother passed away quite a few years ago now, but still Victor Harbor remains a special place for the rest of her family. We are all scattered across Australia, but when we do get together in South Australia, Victor Harbor is always at the top of our list. We remember the family holidays, but most of all, we remember my grandmother and we always feel close to her in Victor Harbor. 

Before we even left Queensland for our recent trip to South Australia, I knew that I wanted to visit Victor Harbor. It’s such a special place for all of us, that when my aunty learned we were all going for a day trip, she burst into tears. Living in Queensland too, she doesn’t get down to South Australia very often either, and given the circumstances of our trip, she didn’t expect she would have the opportunity for a visit to Victor Harbor. I knew then, that come what may – wind, hail, or even snow, we had to go to Victor Harbor.

  Even at the height of summer, the weather in Victor Harbor can be cool. In the middle of winter, it can be downright cold, wet and windy. And that was exactly what I was expecting. But I didn’t care. We were going to Victor Harbor, whatever the weather. Fortunately, it turned out to be a beautiful day – cool, overcast but fine. In the summer you would hardly be able to move for the crowds, but if you don’t mind the cold, blustery weather of a southern winter, then July is a good time to go.

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Looking back towards the mainland

One of the major attractions of Victor Harbor is Granite Island, which is connected to the mainland by a pedestrian causeway. After crossing the causeway, visitors can follow a walking path around the island and take in the beautiful ocean views. I don’t know how many times I have walked around Granite Island but I never get tired of the view. I love the ocean. It’s the one thing I miss living in Toowoomba. This time there was something new. Some very interesting and sometimes quite unusual modern sculptures had been erected around the island, complete with signs not to climb on them, which of course is a direct invitation for any child! 

Granite Island used to be home to a large colony of Fairy Penguins. In past years, if you were there at the right time, you could spot them making their way back to their burrows. Sadly, the penguins have fallen victim to fur seals and worst of all, local vandals. In 2012 the colony was numbered at just 7 penguins! You can still take a penguin tour at dusk but otherwise access to the island is restricted at night in order to protect the penguins. We didn’t see any penguins but we did see this sign! 

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One of my favourite attractions at Victor Harbor is the horse drawn tram. It is one of only two horse drawn trams in the world that still maintains a daily schedule. The tram is drawn by one of six clydesdales and carries visitors out to the island and back again along the causeway.  The tram began operating as a tourist attraction way back in 1894. Over the years there have been a number of different trams but sadly the service came to an end in the mid 1950s. However it was never forgotten by the many South Australians who holidayed at Victor Harbor. For them, Victor Harbour was never quite the same without the horse drawn tram.

In 1986 South Australia celebrated it’s 150th Jubilee and as part of the celebrations, a number of community projects came into being, including the reprisal of the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service . Unfortunately the old trams were long gone. One ended up in the US in a museum; the other in the sea after years of deterioration and vandalism. So they had to build them from scratch based on the original designs.  In June 1986 the Victor Harbor horse drawn tram service had a grand re-opening and since then has continued to cart visitors back and forth over the causeway. After all my visits to Victor Harbor over the years, this was the first time that I finally got to have a ride on the tram!

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The day would not have been complete, of course, without fish and chips. In the summer there are plenty of lovely spots to throw out a picnic rug under the Norfolk Pines, but in the middle of winter we had to be content with the foreshore cafe. This was our last day in South Australia, so it was so lovely to spend it with our family in a place that means so much to all of us.

 If you ever visit South Australia, a trip to Victor Harbor is a must. Stroll around the island, enjoy a relaxed ride on the horse drawn tram and have fish and chips on the grass under the pines. And if you have time, take a penguin tour at dusk. I don’t know when my next trip to South Australia will be, but you can bet it will include a trip to Victor Harbor.

April Reading Update

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April turned out to be quite a busy month, with Easter, ANZAC Day, and an Australian history essay to get done somewhere in between.  So the reading was a little steady, however I did manage to read …

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan 
  • Eden by Candice Fox
  • Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

… and ticked off two more boxes for Book Bingo.

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  • Novella (less than 150 pages) – Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • Crime – Eden by Candice Fox

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington was both a reread and part of an Australian history assignment. It tells the story of three young Aboriginal girls who are taken from their home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to a settlement far away from their family. Molly, the oldest girl and Doris Pilkington’s mother, decides they’re not staying and so begins their long journey back home, following the rabbit-proof fence.

 It is 1931 and the child removal policy is in full swing. The child removal policy was at best misguided and at worst rooted in prejudiced and racist ideology. Indigenous children were separated from their families in an attempt to destroy the link with their culture and assimilate them into white society. They are the Stolen Generations. Sadly Doris was also separated from her mother Molly for many years. She says that writing the book helped her to reconnect with her family and culture, and heal the pain and trauma of the loss of her family, culture and identity. 

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence belongs to a genre of writing often known as Aboriginal Life Writing and I think it is helpful to understand a bit about Aboriginal Life Writing when reading Pilkington or any other texts from this genre. Aboriginal Life Writing is often different from the usual kind of memoirs or autobiographies that are written in the western tradition. Storytelling is a very important tradition in Indigenous culture and Aboriginal Life Writing continues that tradition. But it also serves as a mechanism for healing the pain and trauma of dispossession, for reconnecting Indigenous people with their history and culture, for teaching non-Indigenous readers about Aboriginal culture and their own history, and for promoting the necessity of reconciliation for all of us.

 In 1992, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, said….

[Reconciliation] begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. (Attwood 2001, p. 201)

It is shocking to think that here we are almost 30 years later, and still little seems to have changed. Racism, inequity, poor health and shorter life expectancy plus numerous other social issues continue, but the capacity for Indigenous writers such as Pilkington to extend forgiveness and compassion is deeply humbling. In an interview with Anne Brewster, Doris explained how her involvement in the reconciliation process revealed her own need to forgive, saying

“…how can I expect them to say sorry to me, when I don’t have any forgiveness and compassion for them? ” (Brewster 2005, p. 145)

 Forgiveness. Compassion. Repentance. Respect. Dignity. Consideration. Equality. 

These are the building blocks of a kind, just and ethical society.

I live in hope. 

Happy Reading

 

Attwood, Bain 2001, ‘”Learning about the truth” The stolen generations narrative’ in B Attwood and F Magowan (eds) Telling Stories: Indigenous history and memory in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, NSW, pp. 183-212

Brewster, Anne 2005, ‘The Stolen Generations: Rites of Passage: Doris Pilkington interviewed by Anne Brewster’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol 41, No. 1, pp143-159

March Reading Update

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March has come and gone and I cannot believe that it is April already. Where has the time gone? March turned out to be a very busy month. Since late February I have been back into the study mode and that puts a big dent in my reading progress. This semester I am studying Ethics and Australian History, so there is a fair bit of heavy reading.

Last time I talked about how I like to read different types of books at different times of the day. I study during the day while Dan is at Yellow Bridge. It’s a bit hard to study when he is around – he gets rather vocal and it’s difficult to concentrate. So during the day, when I feel fresher and more alert (supposedly!) I have been reading about Utilitarianism, Deontology, Consequentialism, Human Rights, Indigenous History and the Frontier wars. Yeah, some really big words there! By the time evening comes around I’m feeling rather brain dead. I’m looking for some fun, laughter and escapism. Hence, there’s been a lot of Rick Riordan this month.

I knew this would happen once study rolled around again but that’s the rhythm of life. Reading for fun, like other things, has to fit around the ebb and flow of life. Luckily semester break is just around the corner so April may look a little better. But here’s what I managed to read during March…

  • The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
  • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  • The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee
  • The Secret War: A true history of Queensland’s Native Police by Jonathan Richards

The Secret War is a non-fiction book I read for an Australian History tutorial presentation. It’s about the Frontier Wars in Queensland and particularly the role that the Queensland Native Police had in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.

“In Queensland, the Native Police played a major role in the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, the almost complete destruction of Aboriginal law, and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.” (Richards, 2008, p. 5)

I thought it was an excellent read. It is certainly a shocking and shameful part of Australia’s history. It’s uncomfortable facing the dark side of our human nature. Our capacity for cruelty, violence and inhumanity often seem to know no bounds. But we are also capable of so much more – honesty, compassion, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation requires us to acknowledge the past so that we can create a better future – a future that is based on equity, understanding, inclusion and belonging.  

Book Bingo for March

I only ticked off one book for this month – oh well. January and February were pretty good months so I guess it’s okay to have a slow month now and then.

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Book with a Red Cover: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Hopefully it won’t be another whole month before I see you here again. In the mean time…

Happy Reading

 

Book Review: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

 

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Last year as part of my studies, I completed a creative writing unit called Writing About Place. We conducted roving workshops in the natural and urban environment, explored personal essays and short stories about the importance of place and were required to select two texts to review, as well as write our own fiction and non-fiction pieces. When choosing a nature book to review, Inga Simpson’s book, Where the Trees Were (2016), immediately came to mind. Inga Simpson is an Australian writer known for her love of nature.

 

First of all, the blurb…

Finding a grove of carved trees forged a bond between Jay and her four childhood friends and opened their eyes to a wider world. But their attempt to protect the grove ends in disaster, and that one day on the river changes their lives forever.

Seventeen years later, Jay finally has her chance to make amends. But at what cost? Not every wrong can be put right, but sometimes looking the other way is no longer an option.

 and now the review…

In the summer holidays of 1987, Jay and her friends spend their days on the river, swimming, climbing trees and catching yabbies. When they discover a grove of carved trees, they immediately sense the need for secrecy and swear an oath to protect the trees. Inga Simpson’s Where the Trees Were follows Jay and her friends as they negotiate adolescence, relationships and high school, while trying to keep their promise to each other and the trees. However, two incidents occur that will test their friendship and change their lives forever.

Moving back and forth in time, from Jay’s childhood home in the Lachlan Valley to Canberra 2004, where she works as a conservator at the National Museum, the story pulls together the themes of identity, Indigenous Land Rights, conservation and the consequences of secrets. Simpson deftly negotiates the shifts in time and place by alternating the narration between first and third person, while still maintaining Jay’s point of view.

Where the Trees Were is Simpson’s third book and was shortlisted for an Indie Book Award, as well as being longlisted for the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, the Australian Book Industry Awards, and the Green Carnation Prize. Simpson has also been a winner of the Eric Rolls Nature Essay Prize. She describes Where the Trees Were as “a deeply personal story” and her passion for nature is evident throughout the book. Nature is everywhere. It is not just in Jay’s observations of the stringy barks and red gums that line the river, or the dragonflies, cockatoos and platypus, but the way the river and the trees speak to her. Even in Canberra, Jay is constantly aware of the plane trees and currawongs, the crimson rosellas and the fresh snow on the Brindabellas. Simpson brings an attention to the detail of nature that enlivens the senses. 

However, Where the Trees Were does more than just draw the reader’s attention to the nature that surrounds them. While Jay carts grain before heading off to university, she notes, “That harvest was theirs; they were part of it, almost part of the land itself.” Food, and the harvesting of food from nature, is everywhere, from the simple roast pork and vegetables, to the fancy dishes of the Canberra cafés, from gathering blackberries and apples along the river, to drinking a nice red from the local winery. Simpson gently underscores the relationship we have with nature, no matter how urbane our lives might be, and our responsibility for its protection.    

Where the Trees Were is a beautifully told story that evokes memories of a more carefree time, when children could wander and explore from dawn to dusk, discover the secrets of the natural world, climb trees and camp out under the stars. It calls us away from our screens, to see and hear and reconnect with nature and each other. 

Reconnecting with Nature

As I read Where the Trees Were, I was inspired by Inga to recapture some of that connection we have with nature. Living in a regional city, it is easy to forget that the food from the supermarket, packaged and labelled in plastic, once started life as a living, growing plant. I wanted to reconnect with nature by growing and harvesting food from our garden, to feel it’s freshness as we prepare it in our own kitchen, and taste the textures and flavours straight from our plate.

We only have a small courtyard, but we have started growing a few vegetables and herbs in pots. We’ve planted spring onions, leeks, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, lettuce and a wide range of herbs. It is quite surprising how much you can grow in a small courtyard when you put your mind to it. We’ve even got some climbing snow peas.

There were a few stops and starts, like remembering that plants need water too, but finally we achieved our goal – a garden salad where everything came from our garden. It was actually pretty exciting. I’m having to wait now for the next handful of cherry tomatoes to ripen, but it feels good to add a little something from the garden, even if it’s only some fresh herbs. 

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I love the way a book can have a direct impact on your life. It is one of the things that I think is so important about literature. It can take us physical places like the Lachlan Valley or Canberra, but it can also take us to places in our mind, where we can reflect on the one question that sits at the heart of our being: what does it mean to be human? As we read, we discover a little more about ourselves, our relationship with the world and with each other. Where the Trees Were invites us to leave the office once in a while and reconnect with nature. It may even rekindle some childhood memories of your own.

Happy Reading

Inga Simpson (2016), Where the Trees Were, Hachette.

 

 

 

 

 

Big Red Bash #7: Signs for the Times

I know. It’s been a long time between drinks. I had intended for this post to be out some time ago. Then life happened. A bunch of assignments, a sudden death in the family, a sick kid…

But here we are finally at the end of our outback adventure and as I promised last time, this final instalment is about a special project I had going during our trip. Travelling through the Australian outback necessitates long stretches of driving. Sometimes the scenery doesn’t change all that much. Occasionally we spot some livestock or pass another vehicle. We also have to keep a look out for kangaroos who decide the grass is greener on the other side of the highway. But there is one thing that often catches our attention – town signs.

Not so long ago, the town signs around Australia were pretty standard – a simple white sign with black lettering. But this is not the case any more. I have noticed a  change in recent years to utilise a wide variety of designs which reflect something about the town’s location, industry or history. I think it’s a good idea. Not only are there some really interesting and beautiful designs, but the signs give little clues to the history that might be discovered and inspire travellers to stop a while to explore.

As we set off on our trip, I thought it would be interesting to get a photo of every town sign on our route, after all it might be quite a while before we were back that way. I managed to do this for almost all of the towns we passed through, stopped for a cuppa or stayed for a while. Here are some of the interesting things we noticed on route or have discovered since coming home.

 

Australian towns have some very interesting names and sometimes you wonder where they came from. Towns like Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Wallumbilla are believed to originate from the indigenous names for the area. Others, like Condamine, Mitchell and Roma are named after Colonial figures and explorers.

 

It became quite apparent that towns within the same shire often shared similar designs, shapes and backgrounds, yet included a feature specific to their own area. I really liked the signs for Bollon and St George, which I thought were not only beautifully designed but also quite original.

 

I also liked some of the signs in the Maranoa shire which had a very pretty purple, pink and red sunset background with a striking black silhouette.

 

Four of the towns on our route – Condamine, Cunnamulla, Birdsville and Wallumbilla – are all featured in the Australian version of the song “I’ve Been Everywhere”. Even Toowoomba gets a mention too.

 

As rural towns decline and the population migrates to the big cities or the coast, tourism becomes an essential industry throughout the interior. Much as we always say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover or a town by its sign – the truth is that we do. So anything that might encourage people to stop for a while in towns they would usually drive straight through, is a really great tourism initiative. The signs remind us that every town is unique, and despite the dwindling population, that these little places have been home to many people over the years and have their own place in our history.

Big Red Bash #5: Lining Up in Birdsville

Birdsville Hotel – Version 2So far, on our Big Red Bash adventure, we have followed The Adventure Way, been sobered by the tragic tale of Burke and Wills and the Dig Tree, and been quietly impressed by the revival of the Betoota Pub. After four days of travelling the outback roads of Queensland, we rolled into Birdsville – two days ahead of schedule! This turned out to be a good thing.

As we drove in past the town sign, we couldn’t help but see 4WDs and caravans pulled up and camped – everywhere! Birdsville is a small outback town – a very small outback town. The population only numbers a little over 100. Except for two events in the year, when it explodes to about … 7,000 (+/-). The Big Red Bash is the first event and the Birdsville Races, held in September, is the second.

With such an influx of visitors the town’s resources are stretched to the max and beyond. You quickly get used to lining up – for fuel, for bread, for pies and just about everything else. When we arrived in Birdsville on Friday, we had very little trouble fuelling up and booking into the Caravan Park. But by Sunday afternoon – it was a different story. The line of incoming vehicles stretched out along the main road, out past the bridge and out of sight. This was the line up for the fuel station. Only thing was – the town had run out of fuel. People just had to wait in the line for the fuel tanker. I think the whole town heard the cheer go up when it finally arrived.

Fuel Line Up – Version 2

As the Big Red Bash only started on Tuesday afternoon, we had a few days to explore Birdsville and socialise with the other Bashers camped in the Caravan Park. One of the good things about a town as small as Birdsville is that you can walk everywhere. In fact, with so many vehicles everywhere, it was probably quicker to walk anyway.

The Bash organisers had set up a registration and merchandise centre in the middle of town. So on Saturday morning we strolled down and joined the line to register, get our wrist bands and entry sticker for the car. Then we lined up to get some merchandise. After coming all this way, we wanted some proof of our adventure, and who knows if we would get the chance to come again. I was impressed at how well it was organised. A display area had been set up where you could look at everything, check sizes and so on, and once you had made your choice, one of the attendants would check things off on a list. Then you lined up with your list to collect the merchandise. Then you joined the line to pay for the merchandise. It was actually pretty streamlined.

Bash sticker – Version 2

Then we took a walk around town and joined the line streaming out of the Birdsville Bakery. Every morning there was a long line of people queueing up for freshly baked bread. This time we were lining up for camel pies.  Yes, I did say “camel” pies.  The Birdsville Bakery has a reputation for their camel pies. Are they really made from camel? Apparently so, and they tasted pretty good.

Birdsville Bakery 2

Of course, you can’t go past the Birdsville Pub. You need to at least step through the doors into the bar and look up. See the hat collection attached to the ceiling! With so many visitors in town, patrons needed to eat in shifts for the evening meal.

Birdsville Pub 2

Another building well worth seeing is the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum which has a good display of medical equipment and photos of Birdsville’s history. The hospital was once housed in the Royal Hotel which was built in 1883. The hotel is now heritage-listed and its ruins are pictured below.

Version 2

Despite the pressure that a population explosion places on a town like Birdsville, events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville Races are critical for the survival of outback towns. Okay, so the town ran out of fuel, and out of bread, and out of pies, but as tourists, we didn’t mind having to line up. It’s all part of the Bash experience and it gives us plenty of time to chat with each other as we wait. Besides, we’ll have to do plenty of lining up out at the Bash. That’s we’re headed next.