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. 

#Book Snap Sunday – Leap

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Tyger Tyger, burning bright,

In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame they fearful symmetry?

(William Blake 1794)

 

 

From the striking cover, tigers have a presence in Myfanwy Jones’ novel Leap, shortlisted for the 2016 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Every week, on the same day, at the same time, Elise visits the zoo. Escaping a faltering marriage and the pain of grief, she is drawn to the tiger enclosure, where she sits, watches and draws. 

Joe works shifts in cafes and bars, mentors the troubled Deck and spends his spare time training in parkour, a discipline that involves moving within a complex environment without the use of any assistive equipment. He runs, climbs, jumps and rolls, all in preparation to make the leap. Joe is also consumed by grief and guilt.

As the story moves between Joe and Elise, the tragic death of Jen is slowly revealed, piece by piece. Jen is vibrant, intense, passionate.

she would come for him, stealthily then full throttle, ready to tear out his heart…But he couldn’t stay away from her, and she couldn’t leave him be. 

 LEAP is a beautiful urban fairytale about human and animal nature, and the transformative power of grief. While at its heart is a searing absence, this haunting and addictive novel is propelled by an exhilarating life force, and the eternally hopeful promise of redemptive love.

Like Elise, I am drawn to tigers. Of all the animals in the zoo, it is the tigers I love best – huge, solitary, deadly. Their curved canines are the longest of any of the big cats, reaching up to 90mm.  Males can measure up to almost 4 metres in length and weigh up to 306 kilograms, depending on species.  While one of the most popular and charismatic of the mega fauna, tigers have been listed as endangered since 1986, with a current global population of between 3,000 – 4,000. 

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We have a long history of being fascinated with the beauty and power of the tiger. They are featured in mythology and folklore, claimed as national animals and team mascots, and can take pride of place among the stuffed toy collection of many a child. My own tiger, pictured with Leap, has traversed this country, accompanying me as I have moved from place to place and has survived in one piece. It would indeed be a most terrible shame if future generations only knew tigers from the pages of a book.      

I really enjoyed reading Leap and I look forward to reading more from Myfanwy Jones. I think tigers must be close to her heart too, for she has dedicated proceeds from the sale of Leap to the WWF Save Tigers Now campaign.

Happy Reading 

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.

Toowoomba – Garden City

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On most mornings of the week, after I take Dan to Yellow Bridge, I like to take a walk along the West Creek walkway. Passing walkers with dogs straining at the leash and children on bikes, enjoying their last days of freedom before the end of the school holidays, I realise how spoilt we are for parks in Toowoomba. Throughout the city there are over 240 parks and gardens. Most are just little parks or playgrounds, usually within walking distance, dotted around the suburbs, like this one that was just a few steps down the road from our last house….

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Then there are the more formal gardens of Toowoomba, such as the Japanese Gardens, Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge, where Dan goes every week, Picnic Point  with scenic views of the Darling Downs, and Queens Park right in the CBD. Every September these gardens attract thousands of visitors as Toowoomba hosts the Carnival of Flowers. Even in the midst of drought, the parks and gardens provide a little oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. Despite its city status, the open spaces of Toowoomba’s gardens and parklands help to foster a friendly country atmosphere. It is one of the things that I like most about Toowoomba and it reminds me of my hometown, Adelaide in South Australia.

But it wasn’t always this way. 

Travelling back in history, I discovered that Toowoomba once provided a very different view. Back in 1878, the streets of Toowoomba were littered with…

overflowing cesspits, filthy pigsties, dirty poultry houses, offensive middens … putrefying accumulations of fruit and vegetables, ill kept drains and stagnating slop-water and slime’

Sounds delightful, doesn’t it. Hardly the picture of a garden city, but probably no different to any other city in the world during the nineteenth century. It is quite shameful to think how quickly European settlers were able to turn a pristine location into a cesspit of filth and slime. I am reminded of the story of King Midas, except that instead of turning things to gold, we have a tendency for turning things to filth.

But we can turn it around.

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As I wander along the walkways and around the gardens today, past the artificial lake where enthusiasts sail their remote controlled boats, past the floating water lilies or the waterfall gushing down the quarry cliff-face, it is hard to imagine the overflowing cesspits and stagnating slime. In a city known for its gardens and clean mountain air, it’s difficult to imagine typhoid epidemics and schools without proper sanitation. We may not always be able to return locations to their original condition, but we can always do something to turn a cesspit into an oasis.

I think the Toowoomba Regional Council should be commended for their efforts to create a healthy, attractive and sustainable environment for the city’s residents and visitors. All through the year, and especially in the lead up to the Carnival, you can see them hard at work, planting, pruning, irrigating and mowing all the parks and gardens. With around  1000 hectares of parkland to maintain, it’s certainly a massive job.

But wherever we live in the world, we can all play our part. It’s always a shame to see our environment littered with refuse – especially just a few steps from a bin. It’s not hard to…

  • Put your rubbish in the bins provided or take it with you.
  • Recycle your containers and rubbish
  • Keep the waterways clean for the fish, turtles and birdlife

Do you have some favourite parks or gardens in your hometown? I’d love to hear about them and if you’re ever in Queensland in September, please come on down to the Carnival.

 

Reference

Enid Barclay, “Fevers and Stinks: Some problems of Public Health in the 1870s and 1880s”, Qld Heritage, Vol 2, no. 4 1971 pp 3-13.