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‘I listened to them fade away till all I could hear was my memory of the sound.’ Ken Kesey.

I was fifteen when my mum and dad decided that the family should move back to England to live.  (When I say ‘back’,  I mean that mum and dad were going back, my sisters and I were born in either Australia or New Zealand and had never been to England.)  That was nearly 45 years ago (gulp—that’s a bit scary when you say it out loud) and the world was a different place then.  England was all the way over on the other side of the world (well—it still is, technically) and, although many English people had relatives in Australia, if was so far flung that the average person didn’t really seem to know all that much about it.  (These was the dark ages remember—no internet, no social media, no skype.)  All they knew about Australia was from old movies or reruns of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.  As you might imagine, my sisters and I attracted a lot of attention . . .

I remember being ‘the new kid’ at school and forever being asked to talk about Australia.  Tell us what it’s like . . . (Er, well . . .)  Is it always hot?  (Well, yes, in the summer.)   Have you ever seen rain?  (Me—lost for words.)  Did you have a kangaroo in your back yard?  (We lived in the city—so no.)  Are the spiders really all that big? (Bigger.)  Does everyone talk funny? (Excuse me, could you repeat that please.  I can’t understand a word you just said.)  Do you know my Auntie Ethel?she lives in Australia . . .  (sigh.)

I never really got comfortable in England (or any other country I lived in really).  I missed Australia.  I missed all sorts of things about it—the warmth (damn it gets cold in England), the people, the colours, the trees, the tim-tams—but when I really thought about it, I mean really thought about it, what I missed most were the sounds.  The inevitable dawn chorus (the magpies, the cockatoos, the kookaburras—which, by the way, can often start their songs long before dawn!), the sound of motorboats and jetskis on the water, the interminable drone of lawnmowers (not quite sure why I missed that, but I did)—and the cicadas . . .

OMG the cicadas!!  Why on earth did I miss the cicadas??   Somewhere along the line my ‘memory of the sound’ must have muted their continuous ear-slitting roar to a gentle hum—it’s the only explanation!  Well I am certainly not missing them now.  All the planets must have recently aligned because we certainly have had a ‘bumper crop’ of them this year.

Cicadas are the loudest insects in the world and there are more than 200 species in Australia. And (wouldn’t you know it) Australian cicadas (specifically the ‘green grocer’ and the ‘double drummer’) are amongst the loudest species on earth.  (BTW, I had no idea cicadas has such cool names—Black Princes, Floury Bakers, Yellow Mondays  . . . )  At close range these cicadas are noisier than any lawnmower chainsaw or jackhammer (in excess of 120 decibels, which is approaching the pain threshold of the human ear.  Don’t I know it!)  Apparently it is only the males who ‘sing’, which is probably just as well because if all the females were singing as well all of humankind would be deaf within days . . .

But, you know, I’ve decided I’m not going to be too hard on them.  Most of their lives are spent underground and for some species this can be for a period of up to several years.  And then, once above ground, many of them only live five or six weeks.

When I look at it that way, if I had dragged myself up out from under the cold dark earth into the bright sun and clear air, I’m pretty sure I would want to sing my little heart out too . . .

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Simply because the nanny-state wants to hug you doesn’t mean it’s not tyrannical if you don’t want to be hugged.’ Jonah Goldberg

Australia has always been known as a relaxed, laid back sort of place.  A country that praises character, individuality and celebrates the weird and the wonderful.  People are known to be easy-going, generous and generally hard to ruffle and any slight indiscretions are more likely to be met with a ‘No worries, mate, she’ll be right’ attitude rather than a standup argument or a psychotic rant on social media.  Well, that certainly used to be the case but lately I fear our live-and-let-live attitude is being sorely tested on a daily basis . . .

I absolutely understand the need for rules and regulations.  People need to feel safe, comfortable and deserve not to have their individual rights stomped on by those of a less considerate nature and although I may not agree with them all I have never considered myself to be a rule-breaker.  (A rule-bender, perhaps—it would be kind of un-Australian not to be—but not a rule breaker.)   At least I thought that was the case butwowit seems I was mistaken.  Looking around at the multitude of do-not-must-not-absolutely-definitely-prohibited signage I see these days it is quite possible that I (and probably everyone else I know) have been easily breaking at least one law every day without even realising it, just by quietly going about my humdrum life.  And it is really beginning to bother me.  Maybe it is my age (ahem) but I suddenly find myself becoming very, very tired of seeing ‘not allowed’ every time I turn around . . .

I can’t quite remember what prompted the conversation but earlier this week we spent a very funny morning-tea happily reminiscing and relating tales (and hilarious consequences) of some of the games we used to play as kids.  Among them were British Bulldog, Red Rover, Dodgeball, Freeze Tag and Scrag.  (That last one I hadn’t heard of but the college manager (who is a Kiwi) assured us that dropping a rag into a rain puddle (of which there were always plenty) until it was saturated and then hurling it at your friends, was an absolute hoot . . . )  

None of the games we loved best would ever be allowed in today’s school yards of course (although how a person is ever expected to get through life without learning how to  ‘duck’ is beyond me).  Even seemingly simple pursuits like running, jumping or cartwheeling are now frowned upon at some schools, and in NSW and Victoria swings, see-saws, flying foxes and roundabouts have already been banned.  The once staple of our playgrounds, the monkey bars, have also been removed from many schools.  (I know I have never had children of my own and am therefore not allowed an opinion but—really?)  

Of course, children now will grow up dealing with the laws that are in place today and they know no different, so I guess this does set them up well for when they eventually become adults and have to deal with the morass of (ever-increasing) rules they will have to learn to live by.

Still, it seems a shame to me that many children today will never grow up to knowing the pleasures of playing frisbee or sand volleyball on the beach (so dangerous!) or riding a bicycle without a helmet (how all those Europeans manage to stay alive is a miracle) or, when older, having a quiet beer or glass of wine sitting in the sun while watching their own kids play in the local park while celebrating Grandma Alice’s 95th birthday.  (Good luck finding a park that will allow you to bring beer or wine and please also remember, if Grandma’s family revellers number over 20 people you’ll need a special permit to use the park for your picnic . . . and don’t you dare bring the dog!)

Ohand by then of course, everyone in their family will probably, by law, have to be wear a hat, and protective eyewear and ankle-to wrist-coverings before being allowed to venture out into the lovely Australian sunshine because, naturally, your average Australian obviously cannot be trusted to decide for themselves whether they are likely to get sunburnt or not.

Do I sound like I am over-exaggerating?  GodI hope so.

Now look what’s happened.  Writing about this has made me all bad-tempered and cross.  Still, hopefully, sooner or later, a lot of other people are going to become bad-tempered and cross about it too and decide enough is enough with the silly minutae (perhaps we should start teaching the concept of personal responsibility again—there’s a thought) and maybe we can persuade the government to spend their time and energy (and our money) on more pressing issues and leave some of us lesser mortals to work out some of the smaller details ourselves.  I guess time will tell.

So anywaythat’s my rant for this week and now I find I have only one more thing to say on the subject of our burgeoning nanny-state. . .

(. . . but don’t get caught doing this either.  The Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Act of 2016 bans mooning (and streaking).  First time offenders face up to 2 months in jail . . . )

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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“. . . and remember, the next scream you hear may be your own!” The Birds. (1963)

Well, it’s definitely Spring—the girls and I have just been ‘swooped’ by our first cranky magpie . . .

For the average Australian that statement needs no further explanation.  Australia—Land of deadly snakes, humungous spiders, man-eating sharks . . . and homicidal magpies.  September and October is swooping season for the native magpie. This black-and-white bird with the spooky red eyes can become highly aggressive during the nesting season, attacking anything it feels poses a threat to its chicks. The fact that anything that isn’t another magpie is usually blissfully unaware there are even any chicks in the area is obviously totally irrelevant to the average man-of-the-house -magpie . . .  

Signs are already appearing around the place warning people of aggressive birds and I daresay it won’t be long before we also start to see people parading about wearing ice cream containers on their heads, bike helmets with long wavy plastic antennae sticking out of them, or hats with eyes drawn on the back . . .  (Spoiler alert . . . )

Magpies belong to the family Corvidae, which also includes ravens, crows, jackdaws, and jays. They display a range of intelligent behaviors that not only surpass that of other birds, but most mammals as well.  They mate for life, can live up to 20 years in the wild (which I guess is why the ‘teenagers’ stay goofy for so long), form close knit communities and they have the ability to solve complex problems (like how to still get at you in spite of the fact you are wearing a silly hat, a mask, or are hiding under an umbrella!)

Magpies and I have always had a bit of a love-hate relationship.  I love them because they are inquisitive and hilarious (especially when still babies), they sound fabulous when they come and sing to you, and they are wicked smart.  And magpies remember.  That much is clear.  They remember people who have been nice to themand they also remember those who haven’t . . .

You may recall I wrote once about my little magpie family who regularly came tap-tap-tapping at my office door to get their daily treat.  Occasionally, if I saw them before they saw me, I could go outside and call them and Mum and Dad would immediately come gliding gracefully down and the two babies would waddle on their fat little legs towards me, squarking and gurgling with their mouths agape.  They would all four sit happily at my feet as I fed them their treats. Those babies have already moved on but I fully expect Mum and Dad to be back at my office door when their next batch of babies arrives.  (Sally = Food)

But then there was that other incident which happened, not at the office, but in my front garden—the attempted murder of Little Bird.  There is no doubt in my mind that those two magpie youngsters would have killed that little injured bird without a moment’s thought if I had not got in their way.  They were mean and vicious and it took all my courage (and one of my shoes) to face them down and send them screeching on their way.  I can still remember the look one of them gave me as I made off with his prize. That ‘I’m-gonna-get-you-for-this . . . ‘ kind of look.  (Sally = Food-thief and shoe-wielding lunatic . . . )

Remembering that look got me thinking—perhaps the magpie that attacked us today was that same youngster I chased so unceremoniously from my garden and he is now all grown up and bent on revenge! Perhaps he has never met his magpie relatives who live near my office and so they haven’t had the chance to tell him that I really am quite a nice person (‘No—you must be wrong.  Sally’s lovely—and she feeds us.  You must have just caught her on a bad day . . . ‘ ) 

Worse still, perhaps he will never meet them and so never change his mind about me and continue to see me only as a dangerous shoe-tossing mad woman for the next twenty years!!

Gulp.  Suddenly some of those silly head-gear options aren’t looking quite so ridiculous . . .

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree …’ Emily Bronte.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

Before I moved back to the coast about 13 years ago I lived for many years in Armidale, up high on the Northern Tablelands.  Armidale is a beautiful place, and unlike much of the rest of Australia, it also has four distinct seasons.  My favourite season has always been the autumn and I especially loved those Armidale autumns.  The nights would be getting cooler and the early mornings would often be foggy, but when the fog burnt off the days were bright and sunny and still quite warm . . .

. . . and the city itself was gorgeous—everywhere you looked there were corridors of trees all dressed in the most magnificent autumn colours . . .

(I realise I might sound a little nostalgic here but I would like to point out that I am very happy living here in the Camden Haven and I am not remembering Armidale entirely through ‘autumn-coloured’ glasses.  Armidale autumns were gorgeous, that’s true—but the winters were downright vicious.  It was those long . . . long . . .  long . . . icy winters that eventually drove me away and back to more temperate climes . . . )

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Save the trees? Trees are the main cause of forest fires!’ Billy Connolly.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . 

treehuggerThe trees in the park at the end of my street took a bit of a battering last year.  They were set on fire (deliberately it would seem) in two separate incidents, both times in the very early morning . . .

As you can imagine, it is somewhat unnerving to open your front door in the early morning to see bright orange flames climbing skyward and what appears to be a whole park on fire.  (As it turned out the whole park wasn’t actually on fire—it just looked that way from where I was standing . . . )

(For the benefit of my overseas friends . . . The trees in this park are nearly all gumtrees (eucalypts) which although native to Australia can now be found all over the world.  These trees have adapted to survive—and even thrive—after a fire.  When their leaves fall they create dense carpets around the base of the trees and the trees’ bark also tends to peels off in long streamers, adding to the flammable ground cover.  The eucalyptus oil contained within these trees is also highly flammable.  When these trees catch fire, they really catch fire . . . )

We were lucky.  Both times our local fire brigade had the fire under control very quickly and very little damage was done.  The scrubby undergrowth was completely burnt away (hopefully whatever little critters were in there managed to get well away too) and the trunks of the trees were seared and charred  . . . but they were all still standing.

Months later the undergrowth has completely regenerated, the little critters have returned and the only reminder of the fires are the blackened scorch marks reaching high into the trees.

I am happy the firemen saved the trees. I’ll be even happier if they catch the bastard that set them on fire in the first place . . .

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Posted by on February 28, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Time’s Fun When You’re Havin’ Flies’ – Kermit The Frog.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . .

frog-under-leafMy garden is home to a number of frogs.  I know this because, although I don’t actually see them very often, I hear them all the time . . .  (although, maybe not quite so much lately.  This summer has been so hot perhaps they have been, literally, keeping their heads down and staying where it’s dark and cool . . . )

But the temperature dropped slightly over the weekend and we even had a bit of rain . . .

(. . .  by the way, commiserations to all those of you who have recently had ‘more than a bit’ of rain. A nice cleansing shower is one thing, but no-one needs the biblical deluges some places received . . . )  

frogandmegaphoneAnyway . . . back to the frogs.   The front door was open to catch the fresh breeze and the girls and I were enjoying a quiet moment.  I was reading (and enjoying the sound of the rain pattering softly outside) and the girls were dozing in their favourite doggie spots.  Suddenly, and totally unexpectedly, our peace was shattered by an almighty bellow which brought us all immediately to our feet.  (Poor Molly, woke up with such a fright she actually rolled off the sofa!)  It took me several minutes to realise (and several more minutes to calm the dogs down) that the sound was actually coming from a frog . . . and that frog was right outside my front door . . .

tinyfrogAlthough initially a bit wary about confronting any creature that could make a sound like that, I ‘manned up’ and went outside to look.  I was astonished (gobsmacked!) to find that the loudest frog I had ever heard also turned out to be one of the teeniest, tiniest, itty-bittiest creatures I have ever seen—a tiny green speck of a thing, perched contentedly on my front porch and happily telling everyone who would listen (like the whole neighbourhood) how much he was enjoying the rain.

I admit it.  I did spend some time ferreting around in the bushes close by searching for his godzilla-proportioned older brother (who was obviously also a practising ventriloquist) because . . .  well . . . no way!   I just could not get my head around that sound coming out of that frog . . .

But it did.  It really did.  And it kind of made my day . . .

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Posted by on February 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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‘Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody ever seems to do anything about it.’ Willard Scott.

Stories from my Sketchbook . . . .

Before coming to work this morning I tuned in briefly to America’s ‘CBS This Morning’ and watched the reports of the massive winter storms that have been sweeping certain parts of that country.  People were being warned to stay inside, take extreme care when going out of doors, try to stay warm . . . .

too hotWe here in Australia received almost identical warnings last weekend, with one major exception—we were told to stay inside, take extreme care when going out of doors, and to try to stay cool . . .

Last Sunday the temperature in Port Macquarie reached 47 degrees Celsius (116.6F) which is extraordinarily hot for almost anywhere, but especially so for us here on the New South Wales mid-north coast.  We rarely get extremes of weather around here—hot or cold (one of its many attractions as far as I am concerned . . . )

dogwithfanAs you can imagine my little household took the warnings very much to heart and our weekend was spent doing as little as humanly (or doggily) possible. Mabel and Maude’s only discernible movements were in staggering back and forth to the waterbowl in the kitchen or occasionally re-aligning themselves in front of one of the several fans which were running at full capacity around the living room . . .

Molly did even less than that.  Not known for over-extending herself at the best of times, Molly made it perfectly clear from very early on in the day that she was literally going to die if she had to get up and walk all the way into the kitchen every time she needed a drink of water.  Eventually, after much puffing, panting, groaning and beseeching looks cast in my direction ( I am such a sucker) a water dish was obligingly laid at her poor hot little feet . . .

Thus ‘molly-fied’ (ha—couldn’t resist that) she then spent the rest of a very trying day ‘resting’ under a cool wet towel . . . reapplied at appropriate intervals by her favourite chump of a hand-maiden, of course.

It’s a hard knock life . . .

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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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