West Creek Reserve

 

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We’re pretty spoiled for parks here in Toowoomba. There are the Japanese Gardens at USQ, the waterfall and walking track up at Picnic Point and Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge where Dan goes everyday. Right in the centre of town there is Queen’s Park where many events and festivals are held. And then there are the numerous small parks and playgrounds dotted around the suburbs.

Just a few minutes walk from our place is the West Creek Corridor, a stretch of parkland that follows the creek into the centre of town. It not only provides a recreational area for locals but also a wetland sanctuary for birdlife. One of the main features, though, is a walking and cycling track that follows the creek. On any given day, weather permitting, you will see any number of walkers, joggers, cyclists, mums with prams and dog-walkers out for a spot of exercise or just a bit of fresh country air.

Most days I try to find time for a walk along the path too. I like the way the path meanders through different environments – under a canopy of tall palm trees, over open grassland and through a patch of tall, dark forest. The path criss-crosses the creek, so even if you go for a walk everyday, you can still take a slightly different route each time. And if you follow the path far enough, you will pass thousands of bats hanging from the trees.

The bats are a story in themselves. There used to be a miniature railway under those trees. Until the bats moved in. After fruitless and expensive attempts to move the bats on, it turned out to be cheaper to move the railway across the road to a different spot in the corridor. Once a month the Toowoomba Live Steamers run miniature steam trains along the railway and for the cost of a two dollar gold coin, anybody, even adults, can have a ride.

There are other fun things to do along the West Creek Corridor. You can rest for a while on a bench and watch the ducks and ibis on the lake. Or, if you’re more the energetic type, you can make use of the free fitness equipment scattered along the walkway. You can bring a picnic lunch or cook some snags on the BBQ while the kids explore the playground.

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When I wander along the walkway and see the birdlife, the leaves changing colour or the trees beginning to flower,  I find it hard to believe that Toowoomba was once known as The Swamp.  Sadly, I see that the magpies are starting to gather. Magpie season is just around the corner, which means we might soon need to give the walkway a miss for a while.

Lucky for us, though, we have lots of other places we can go for a walk in the park.

The Japanese Gardens – Ju Raku En

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens are one of my favourite places in Toowoomba. A walking path meanders around the gardens, past tall trees, over traditional red bridges and past waterfalls and lakes. In springtime, the cherry blossoms are in flower and the ducks and other wildlife are nesting.  The garden’s official name is Ju Raku En, which means “enjoying peace and longevity in a public place” and it certainly lives up to its name.

When Bec was still at school, Dan and I would often come to the Japanese Gardens for a walk. After dropping Bec off at school, we always had some time to fill in before Dan’s day at Yellow Bridge began. We would wander along the pathways, although with Dan it was a bit more of a gallop. Sometimes we would climb up the steps to the ‘Distant Pavillion’, sit in one of the shelters and look out on the ‘Crowd of Ducks Lake’ or watch the water rushing down the ‘Dragon Gates Falls’.

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This morning I visited the gardens for the first time in a while. After walking through the large red gates, I took the path that runs along the perimeter, paused on the footbridge to take a quick photo of the waterfall (you know how much I love waterfalls), and then crossed over a red bridge to a shelter by the lake. Apparently the red bridges are a traditional Japanese feature, designed to ward off bad omens. I didn’t see any swooping magpies, so maybe it works.

As I came up to the lake, I was just in time to see a group of ducks,  swimming in formation from the island in the middle of the lake, right past where I was standing. Right in the centre of the group, were some fluffy ducklings, out for a morning swim. So cute.

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I love the lush green foliage in the gardens. It always feels cool and refreshing and makes a fabulous backdrop for the bright red bridges. The shelters are the perfect place to hide away with a book, and being right next to the university, the gardens are a great place for students to find some peace and quiet in between lectures. Thousands of visitors enjoy the peace and tranquility of Ju Raku En every year. Perhaps one morning I’ll see you here too.

The Curse of the Green Ant

Bluebottles, redbacks, green ants – funny how some of the nasty stingers of Australia are known for their colour. We are the country of the great outdoors, the wide open spaces, the bush and the beach, but we also have some of the most poisonous wildlife. You don’t need to venture into the bush or frolic in the surf to be assaulted by a native stinger. Danger lurks within the safety of the suburban backyard. Yes, I’m talking about the green ant.

Rhytidoponera metallica is their official title, but we just call them green ants. I was always a little puzzled by the nickname of green ant as they always looked somewhat black to me. However, up close they are a metallic green colour. I’ve never really taken the opportunity to have a close look at a green ant. Usually I’m just jumping around, swearing and grabbing an icepack as fast as I can. You don’t usually feel the bite, but you know when you’ve been bitten. They hurt. They really really hurt. Enough to make you cry. It’s the worst sting I’ve ever experienced.

In the last few weeks I’ve had two close encounters with green ants. The first time I was wearing thongs, hanging up the washing, and then… Ow! You little ****! I finish hanging up the washing, all the while my toe is throbbing and I can’t wait to get inside. I spent the next four hours with an icepack on my toe. Yes. You read that right. Four hours. They hurt for a very long time and the only thing that I have found to give some relief is an icepack.

The second time, I thought I was prepared for the outdoors, but the little varmint crawled up my shoe and inside my sock to attack my ankle. Apparently they only bite when they get lost. Well, if they stayed in the grass and didn’t go wandering all over my feet, they wouldn’t get lost! Another morning spent with an icepack wrapped around my ankle. This time I figured out a way of holding the icepack in place so I could get some work done.

Today I bought a large container of ant sand and sprinkled it liberally under the clothesline and around the edge of the patio. I usually have a live and let live approach to wildlife, except for spiders that invade the house. I don’t necessarily want to kill the green ants, I just want to keep them away from the areas we use the most. I guess green ants are just one of those things we have to learn to live with.

Queensland– beautiful one day; stinging the next.

 

Just Too Cold!

The rain splatters across my windscreen, as the wipersrain-275314_1920 track back and forth, left to right. The road is littered with debris; broken branches, leaves and bits of rubbish that circle and flutter across the road. As we sit in our car, parked temporarily at the traffic lights, I watch a group of pedestrians cross the road, umbrellas held tightly in their hands. As they make a 90° turn and head down Herries Street, their umbrellas suddenly lurch into inside-out mode.

Over the past few days, some parts of South-East Queensland have received the equivalent of a month of rain. Apparently, it is even flooding further up north. It looks and feels like the middle of winter, yet my calendar tells me it is the middle of October. Spring. Where has the sunny weather gone?

This sudden burst of cold, wet weather has sent us digging out the winter woollies we had packed away until next year. We are scrounging through the pantry and freezer for hot soup, pies and hearty stews to warm us up from the inside. We have even had to turn the heater on.

Despite the cold weather, the rain is certainly welcome. After a dry winter, the grass was looking rather brown and bare and the water tank had been empty for some time. When I look out the window now, I can see that the weeds are growing beautifully. They are tall, green and lush. Hopefully the grass will catch up soon.

After living in Queensland for almost 16 years, I have had a recent reminder of what I have been missing from down south. Just a few weeks ago, prior to this cold snap, we packed our suitcases, boarded the plane in Brisbane and flew down to Adelaide for a week’s holiday with family. My Dad has just turned 80. The day that we left Brisbane, it was expected to be about 35°C. A little warmer than usual for this time of year, but quite enjoyable. When we arrived in Adelaide, the pilot announced it was currently 14°C. Are you kidding!

Adelaide is always a little cooler than Queensland, so we had checked the forecast and packed accordingly. But we forgot. We forgot that even though the numbers look the same, they don’t feel the same. 17°C in Queensland is different to 17°C in Adelaide. In Queensland it would be OK, maybe a little cool, but all right. In Adelaide – it is freezing. We froze.

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I grew up in Adelaide and I can remember the long, cold, wet, windy winters. I remember putting my school uniform inside my bed, so that it would be warmed up by the electric blanket while I was having breakfast. I remember huddling in front of the gas heater and wearing so many layers that I felt like a penguin. I remember all of this, and yet I was still unprepared for the cold.

Neither of my siblings live in Adelaide anymore either. My brother lives in Perth and my sister lives near Sydney. My brother and his family were able to come to Adelaide for my Dad’s birthday too, and they froze as well. I didn’t feel so bad then. We were all wearing at least three layers of clothing, while my mother was only wearing one and seemed to take great delight in telling us that it wasn’t cold. My mother never feels the cold.

It’s funny though, how we have acclimatised to a different environment. After years of us all living interstate, we all agree. We could never go back to living in Adelaide. It’s just too cold!

 

Spring – At Last!

 

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, the sun was shining, and there was just a little breeze. It was the perfect start to a new season. I am so glad to see the back of winter, even though this winter has been unseasonably warm. When we moved to Toowoomba, just over two years ago, it was the middle of winter. That first week was absolutely freezing. One of the first things we did, was go out and buy electric blankets. I haven’t needed an electric blanket since I left Adelaide, twenty-one years ago. Technically, the Australian winter is June to August, but down south, winter can be much longer than that, beginning well before June and lasting well into spring. I can remember wearing so many layers of clothing that I felt like a waddling penguin. Queensland is different though. Winter in Toowoomba can be quite cold but at least it is short.

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When we first moved to Queensland from South Australia, the constancy of the warmer seasons was quite apparent. Down south we could have heat waves with temperatures over 40°C for up to five days straight. But then a cool change would come in from the ocean and the temperature could drop dramatically overnight. It’s not like that here. There are small fluctuations but generally the weather is fairly constant. It is definitely the land of the long hot summer.

The beginning of spring always seems to give a new burst on life. It’s the time to get outside, go for a walk, get active and shake off the winter blues. In Toowoomba it is almost time for the Carnival of Flowers. The city’s parks and gardens are a hive of activity, getting the floral displays ready for the influx of visitors.

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Laurel Bank Park, Toowoomba, QLD

Sadly, we don’t have much of a garden. Living in a rented house, we’re not exactly allowed to dig up the yard and plant stuff, but we do have a lovely little patio at the back which we have been busy filling up with pots of herbs, veggies and flowers. It’s surprising how many plants can grow quite well in a pot. The cherry tomatoes and strawberries are already flowering and I can imagine there will be an argument over who gets to taste the first strawberry.

As the weather warms up, we are looking forward to getting outside, spending warm evenings on the patio, with a cool drink and some nibbles, and watch the sun set in the west. Spring at last. Hooray!

 

Waterfalls

I have a thing for waterfalls. There is something about them that always draws my attention. Perhaps it is the sound of the water as it rushes down the rock face and hits the water below. Perhaps it is the freshness of the spray that lingers in the air. Or maybe it is just the way the sunlight dances on the water as it pours over the escarpment and weaves its way over and around the rocks. It is a symbol of life; quenching thirst, refreshing dry skin, essential for survival.

I grew up in South Australia: the driest state in the driest continent. There are a few waterfalls in South Australia, but like many Australian waterfalls, they can be seasonal. Most of Australia’s waterfalls are found in the Great Dividing Range, which runs from the tip of Queensland down through New South Wales to the Grampians in Victoria. It is over 3,500km long and the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range, or the Range, as it is often called.

One of my favourite places in Toowoomba is a recreation area called Picnic Point. It is actually one of the oldest recreation areas in Toowoomba, established around 1885, and has undergone a lot of changes since then. On a clear day, there is a great view to the east, down the Range, to the Lockyer Valley and beyond. But my favourite place at Picnic Point is the waterfall garden.

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It’s not a real waterfall. It was constructed back in 1965 on the face of a bluestone quarry and over the years they’ve done a lot of work to create a rainforest setting. It’s quiet, shady and secluded. Except for the steady drone of the traffic in the background, you could almost forget that you were in a large regional city. The rock face is about 5m high, so it’s certainly not a big waterfall, but I like the sound of the water as it drops from the top and flows down through a series of pools. On either side of the largest pool at the bottom, there are two old-fashioned lampposts that remind me of The Chronicles of Narnia.

As soon as I step out of the car, I can hear the waterfall. I know that every time I come to Picnic Point, except in times of severe drought, I can expect to hear that sound. Just the idea of a waterfall fills us with expectation. On our recent trip to the Crows Nest National Park I was filled with that same expectation. After walking through the bush, past the water pools, up and down numerous steps, I was expecting to see a waterfall. Sadly, I was disappointed. There was no water. Not even a trickle. It’s been a very dry season. Despite the disappointment, I am determined to go again. No matter how many times you see the same waterfall, it is never the same. Every time is different and that is the beauty of nature.

In the meantime, I know that I can go back time and time again to Picnic Point, wander down the short path to the waterfall garden, sit in the shelter, listen to the kookaburras laugh and watch the water as it tumbles down the rocks. When I have had my fill of serenity and solitude, I can return to the hustle and bustle, refreshed and replenished – until the next time.

Bush Running

 

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Every week my son, Dan, goes bush walking with a support worker up at Picnic Point. Dan is tall and thin and has long legs. It comes in handy sometimes. When we do the grocery shopping, he can reach the items on the top shelf. Dan didn’t inherit his long legs from me. He is very active, so when he walks, he is like a man on a mission. Once he gets into the zone, he just goes. There are two speeds–stop and go. His support workers have nick-named their bush walking excursions as “bush running.”

Now if you want to get fit, walking (or running) with Dan is a great idea. However, it does have its downsides. While he is in the zone, he has no sense of road safety. If he knows where he is going, he just goes, across the road without looking. One time I thought it would be a good idea for us to go for a walk around our suburb. As long as Dan was in view I thought it was okay. But then he got just a bit too far ahead, and it didn’t matter how much I called–he was in the zone. There was no way I could keep up with him and worried about what would happen when he reached the road, I had to ask someone to help me catch him .

Dan also has a tendency not to see people. When we are out among crowds, he tends to just barge through people. Fortunately, nobody has been injured yet. But it does mean that when we go out, I need to hold on to him and manoeuvre him in and around people and obstacles. In the past, he has even walked straight into a pole.

On the weekend, Dan, Bec and I went for a drive out to Crows Nest National Park, not far from Toowoomba, to see the waterfall. The walking paths to the pools, the look out and the falls, all have steps. Lots and lots of steps. I’m not really all that keen on bush running, so as we go down the path, Bec sets the pace from the front (she has long legs too) and Dan brings up the rear. As we were going down all the steps to the water pool, I  thought about how we would have to come back up all those steps. No matter. I put Dan in front, held on and he pulled me all the way to the top. As I said, he can be quite handy!

We laugh about the bush running and admire Dan’s stamina, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though he is mostly non-verbal, he is always happy and makes our life very entertaining.