The glories of Renner Springs: travelling south mid-June

Sunset at Renner SpringsWell those who’ve ever been to Renner Springs will find that description to be rather strange, but having said that, we saw some beautiful things when we overnighted on our way south recently. Where is Renner Springs? Well it’s about 820kms south of Darwin down the Track or Stuart Highway. Not much there except the roadhouse and outlying properties. But have a look at these photos and see whether you agree we saw lovely things from sundown to sunup.  The poor little night heron was not too amused by being pursued by a woman with a long camera lens. The empty cattle road train was evocative given the recent embargo on live cattle export to Indonesia.

A night heron looking for dinner - and trying to avoid me.

Having been on the go with house events were blissfully unaware that we were going to be in prime viewing position for the lunar eclipse so when we woke up early that morning we were a bit befuddled by the disappearing moon. As we couldn’t get on the road until there was some light I took some dawn photos with the partial eclipse. It looks rather pretty.

Sunrise and the lunar eclipse at Renner Springs mid-June 2011

An empty cattle road-train heading north early in the live-cattle embargo.

Bagpipe Appreciation Day

Darwin & Districts Pipes and Drums: Harmony Day festivities, Darwin, March 2011

Geneabloggers tells us that today is Bagpipe Appreciation Day so with bagpipes in my blood stream how could I let this go. I’ve posted before about my McCorkindale pipers, my grandmother’s brothers ..if you missed that post please have a look at the photos which I think are so evocative.  But to branch out today I thought I’d give you some photos of pipers from recent events. The first is the Darwin & Districts Pipes & Drums at the Harmony Day festivities at the Darwin Waterfront a few months ago. The others are from the recent International Tartan Daycelebrations in Brisbane

This bonnie wee tartan-clad bairn enjoyed every moment of the afternoon.

in early July. The bonnie wee lassie in the tartan absolutely loved her day and was enjoying the pipes as much as any of us. If you have bagpipes in your blood stream it’s just something you love while others find they sound like crazed cats. I can hear the pipes from a great distance and they call me in. They are stirring and can be melancholic, celebratory, or a call to arms, claymore in hand. Flower of Scotland!

The massed pipes included some very young pipers from the Queensland Police Juvenile Pipes and Drums (Cops in Kilts...love the slogan!)

Beauty & the Beast, united in death

Beauty and the Beast: the night heron and the cane toad.

I think this image speak volumes of the march of the cane toad into the Northern Territory (apart from all those shades of brown).  We stopped to look at some brolgas near a waterway on our drive home from down south, and happened to see this tableau.

It may not be the case, but it looked to me like the night heron had possibly pecked at the toad, killing it, only to die itself from the toad’s poison. It certainly reminds us that the cane toad migration is in full force and has a substantial impact on the native wildlife. This is the first year we’ve had them on our suburban block. Call in Toadbusters and the toad traps.

For those unfamiliar with cane toads, some bright spark brought them in the 1930s to combat the cane beatle which was affecting crops. Like so many introduced species it then went crazy and has had a terrible effect on native animals. Unfortunately there’s also a native frog in the Top End which at a casual glance looks similar to a cane toad -those we don’t want to destroy!

BTW I am not a bird expert so if my bird identification is incorrect please leave a comment and set me straight.

Top End Open Gardens: Jade Vine is this week’s star

The spectacular jade vine in all its glory taken at Anthill Gardens today.

One of the joys of the Top End in the Dry Season is the array of gardens which are open and visiting them is part of our “social” agenda. Unfortunately due to our interstate trip we’ve missed a few but last week’s garden and this week’s have been delightful. I loved the intimacy of last week’s garden with its many rooms, lush foliage, fun mosaics and absolute privacy. This week, the feature plant at today’s garden, Anthill Gardens, was the Jade vine. Apparently the combination of a heavy Wet Season and a chilly spell in the Dry has produced a good flowering season. I thought you might like to see some images of this vine which is native to the Philippines but don’t get too carried away and plant it in your own garden unless you have lots of space. Apparently it has a tendency to take over. This garden (with which I have no connection) is about to be a commercial tourist attraction in the Top End as Tropical Display Gardens.If you’re travelling around it will be worth a look. The front of the property has some fairly spectacular termite mounds too. In fact, if you’re touring the Top End and enjoy gardens, keeping an eye out for the Open Garden information is well worth while for a pleasant outing….it’s unlikely you’d be disappointed.

A glade of jade vine flowers

On the road again: Territory colours

This week we were driving the nearly 4000kms to get back to Darwin from Canberra. Yesterday as we drove through 1000kms of Territory bush I was moved by the many colours and images. I’m no poet but here are my thoughts in vaguely poetry form rather than prose.

Territory Colours

Dawn breaks deep red against the lightening sky

The horizon so vast in an encompassing ocean of green

White-trunked gums with leaves of lime

In a sea of shrubs fringed with red grevillea

And trimmed with a bright blue sky

Buttes of ochre-red dot-painted with grey-green spinifex

A parade of turkey bush fresh-flowered in purple

Laced with yellow from grevillea, kapok and wattle

Cycads waving their new-grown umbrellas and

New grass tufts vivid-green against the fire-burnt ground

Contrast the shimmering purple seed heads of older grass

Lime, shamrock, white, purple, blue, red, green and yellow

Home again to the colours of the Territory bush.

Living with Top Gun in the Top End

Boeing's F/A18s against the sunset from http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/fa18/index.htm

There are days when our house is like an extra in Top Gun: you know, the movie with Tom Cruise, fly-boys in leather jackets, great soundtrack, lots of super-fast planes and serious motorbikes for those with that predilection. Being the Dry Season in the Top End the annual manoeuvres are on and Exercise Aces North is in full flight with the fighter jocks enjoying our clear blue skies. Unfortunately when the wind is in the right (or wrong?!) direction it means they do take-offs heading straight for us, then a fast-turn of their F/A18s for the next leg right over our roof, with accompanying explosion of noise: tends to scare cats and small children….and sometimes annoys grumpy women-of-a certain-age. Being a bit of a plane junkie I used to get a thrill out of seeing this burst of military might but right now, I’d choose lamb roast over Tom Cruise too!  (for those unfamiliar with this 1990s advertising, do have a look at the video.. it’s amusing!).

Opera under the stars in Darwin

We have just returned from a wonderful evening listening to Opera under the stars with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra with guest stars, tenor Rosario la Spina, and soprano Antoinette Halloran. What a treat it was to hear such talented performers here in Darwin and for a mere twenty dollars as well! I have their Puccini Romance CD so was super-keen to hear them live. I can’t even imagine what it would be like be able to produce such beautiful sounds but I guess while there’s a need for an audience I’ll have a role.

The largely volunteer members of the DSO and the Darwin Chorale also did a great job! Good job on the drums Chris! A splendid night out.

Chilling out in Darwin

This pink frangipani is growing in my courtyard garden. Beautiful against the blue morning sky.

For those who think it never gets chilly in Darwin, this morning was a breezy 16C. Yes I can hear all you non-tropical people laughing like mad but when the normal range is 25 to 32 daily you get a bit spoiled. So when it drops to temps in the teens everyone is in shock, even those of us who love it…count me in the latter group. Out

Desert rose in my garden...currently flowering hot pink.

on the acreage blocks about 25kms south of Darwin it even drops <10 sometimes.

You can be confident that there will be any number of people out and about in Darwin wearing jumpers/cardigans and boots or even Ugg boots, and my grandson will have his jeans on. Serious business!

This morning the Navy patrol boats were out on the water. It’s all “go” for Defence in Darwin as we regularly have international manoeuvres here during the Dry and the Fly Boys are up having fun in their fighter jets. Darwin is after all on Australia’s northern boundary and a front-line defence position so it’s not unknown to encounter an Army APC (aka tank) driving down the road with everyone on their gun positions. A bit freaky the first time you encounter it I must say. (Friday update -the RAAF jet-jockeys were up in their FA-18s this afternoon, doing U’ies over our roof so we got the sonic boom as they took off on the next leg of their circuits….shades of Top Gun without Tom Cruise).

Meanwhile it’s been a lovely clear blue sky kind of day and the tropical flowers are gorgeous. The burn-off has started and the smell of smoke from the fires is in the air daily. Up by the waterfront the exquisite crimson finches were dashing and “peeping” everywhere….their call is a distinctive “peep, peep”. Unfortunately they’re much too fast and flighty for me to capture on camera.

Here are some photos I took today of our beautiful tropical flowers.

I think this is my favourite frangipani but not in my garden, sadly.

A recent acquisition - not sure if I'll be successful with it.

This vivid orange Ritzi hibiscus didn't go with my garden's colour scheme but I had to have it anyway, and it does look gorgeously sunny and sparks up the garden.

52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 18 Weather

The topic for Week 18 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is”Weather”: Do you have any memorable weather memories from your childhood? How did your family cope and pass the time with adverse weather? When faced with bad weather in the present day, what do you do when you’re stuck at home?

For me this topic overlapped with those on seasons and also disasters, so I had to think about short term weather patterns.

When I think of bad weather I tend to think of being caught in tents while camping and having to re-peg the tent as the wind howled around. As a family we would then either read or play board games until the weather returned to normal.

If there was bad weather (usually heavy rain) when we were at home my mother would often bake cakes or sew and Dad and I would read. Sometimes as an adult I’d do some sewing on those wet and dreary days. But overall, bad weather = good reading times. For the kids it would be about board games or reading.

Jim Jim Falls in Kakadu National Park thunders in a big Wet Season but can only be seen from the air.

Heavy rain in Darwin is the norm for about four months of the year, plus a few more months on occasions. It is often accompanied by tremendous thunder and lightning, making it difficult to hear yourself think. On the flip side we have months when we can pretty well guarantee no rain and clear blue skies accompanied by breezes. Delightful!

Brisbane is also rather prone to hail storms, something mercifully missing in Darwin. When the sky turned green it was common for people to dash to their cars and get them under cover, or “run” for home if it was near the end of the working day. Some hail would be the size of golf balls making a severe dent in your car’s paint work. We had some spectacular hailstorms and this picture shows a house in our suburb with a snow-like layer of hail on the ground.

Hail storm in Brisbane

As a child I was staying with my parents in a very basic holiday accommodation on Magnetic Island off Townsville  when a cyclone passed over. It was a biggish one and did some damage so the island was isolated without groceries for a few days as the seas ran high. Ultimately we were all evacuated by the Army on amphibious “ducks”. An adventure but I’ve no recollection of what we did while we waited for the “cavalry”. My mother has not-so-fond memories of the subsequent trip to another island some days later  when the sea was so rough and  the boat pitched from side to side so much that virtually everyone on board was sick, including the captain.

When I was a child, if it was hot I would make a tent under the steps and “chill out” there. It was also common to put a sprinkler on a hose and splash through that to cool down. No backyard swimming pools then. Of course, the many years of water restrictions in Brisbane have curtailed both pools and sprinklers including times for watering plants. Typical of Australia, and rather ironically, these years of drought and fears for diminishing water reserves,  have been closely followed by floods and full dams. Darwin on the other hand has been largely immune from these concerns, partly because of its Wet Season rainfall and partly because of its smaller population.

Another random “weather” memory or two: when we lived in Alotau we had my first earthquake (guria). I had no idea what had happened at first and thought a truck had run into the house so I rushed to get my infant daughter and the kittens and cat. When we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands District I became more accustomed to earthquakes and we have amusing memories of our friends in relation to them: he would rush to save his precious stereo and his wife would save the baby!

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 17: Pets

The topic for Week 17 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Pets”. Did you have any pets as a child? If so, what types and what were their names. Do you have pets now? Describe them as well.

My life with cats

Cats have been a constant presence in my life. They are not so much pets as part of the family. My life moves off its axis if I don’t have a cat…something that’s only happened for a total of <12 months of my life. Even when my furry friend goes off to his cattery on holidays we miss him for the few hours between his departure and ours, and can’t wait to pick him up on our return.

As a child we also had a budgie (budgerigar) for some years whose name was, innovatively, Bluey. You won’t be astonished to discover he was blue! He could talk a little and his singing would attract the local birds to our yard. The kookaburras which we fed were also in some ways pets though not tame ones.

As adults we’ve had a dog too, one we inherited when friends “went finish”[i] from Papua New Guinea. This bequeathing of pets was a pragmatic solution to a problem when strict quarantine laws meant it was then almost impossible to bring pets home to Australia. Our inherited dog, Whisky, had been dog-napped as a puppy and lived in a squatter’s settlement where she lived on diet of mackerel pike and rice (for ever after she was addicted to mackerel pike tins!). Somehow she came back to her original owners and then subsequently came to live with us. She loved going to Ela Beach in the back of our station wagon and got very excited by the adventure. Although we left her with friends when we in turn left PNG, she chose to go bush again and live with the house staff. We can only hope she lived a happy life.

Cats: so many, so much loved, and so many tears when each one died.

Springer goes fishing

All of our cats have been hybrids, mostly tabby. Our current young man is a long-haired tabby with a fluffy Persian-like tail which he flies like a banner. He prances along when he’s in a good mood, tail flying, earning him the occasional name of Trotsky. He earned the name of Springer for his leaping and springing out at us and for his karate-kicks at our hip height. He is a nervous nelly, but a good watch-cat: his anxiety sends him scurrying inside when stranger-danger arrives, so I know someone is coming towards the house. His downside is that he just doesn’t do cuddles, which is disappointing but he does like to be near us. He’s about the same age as the grandchildren who he doesn’t regard with great affection –gets quite jealous at them invading his space. They’ve learned to be respectful of his quick swipe and nip. I’ve posted previously about his Christmas adventures with us.

It's hard work helping Mum with family history -I need a rest -a very little Springer.

At times Springer seems to have channeled our previous old girl, Kizzle, who lived with us for 18 years, dying while we were travelling overseas. Believe me there were no shortage of tears on that occasion. She was a lovely companion and had a nice nature. She had a traumatic experience when she had to be flown to Darwin when we relocated here –she talked about it for ages after we picked her up…very definitely telling us all about the trip. She’d not long been able to miaow….she’d only ever opened her mouth until she had her nose broken by the neighbour’s car days before we left (entirely not their fault) while she was hiding from the packers. After that she could miaow loudly. Go figure. Her other adventures were hiding in our cupboards from burglars and on another occasion, falling down behind the (fixed) kitchen cupboards as she tried to hide while our Brisbane house was on the market. It was an adventure getting her out let me tell you…lying across the sink with a

Kizzie helps with my family history notes.

“fishing rod” with beef bait on it until I could yank her up by the scruff! She really wasn’t into moving house or towns!

Then there was Ginger Megs (aka Gemma for his initials G M): what a character he was! If we’d known about his personality we’d probably have called him Garfield because he was a mischief maker. Totally intimidated by the female felines sharing his house, he knew his place! He arrived as a stray being chased about 30 feet up a gum tree in our yard by some dogs. Skinny and scruffy he proceeded to settle in and eat like he might be back on the road any day. He wound up as a 20lb fellow though he thought he was sylph-like as he’d edge around the bath or through the ornaments on the bookcase! His favourite trick was hitting everything off the bed-side table to wake you up. He had to be put to sleep with cancer after living with us for about 8 years….more tears!

Nanna-napping with Gemma's weight loss program

Our first cat when we returned to Brisbane from PNG was the beautiful Socks. She’d been part of a litter delivered by a totally wild mother at my parents’ place. My parents kept one of the others but we picked out Socks as we knew we’d be returning soon. She had the most beautiful nature, so cuddly and affectionate with all of us including the new baby and children. She was a beautiful colour of grey with white socks (of course) and a vet later told us she probably had Burmese in her. This was one feisty cat: we remember a time when a Doberman came into our yard –she dispatched it with not a qualm in the world.  She faded away with cancer after she’d lived with us for ten years: it was a very sad day.

A very sad sight at the end of her days -our beautiful Socks-cat

Our cats in Papua New Guinea were equally loved and central to our lives. We inherited our last cat there from neighbours who were going finish. She was already called Brandy and as she lived with us along with Whisky the dog, we thought perhaps we should get a bird called “Rum” or “Soda” but we didn’t. Brandy was a beautiful multi-coloured cat, also very affectionate. She loved to tease our cat-fearing friend by immediately sitting beside her on the lounge. Brandy had a lucky escape when she was savaged by a group of Labradors which we had to beat off. She came through after a few days shock and resting. Sadly she was still well and healthy when we left PNG but we had no one to leave her with so she had to be put to sleep. If we cry when we have to have a cat put down for illness, you might imagine there were buckets of tears shed on this occasion. I swear to this day she knew as she sat on my lap, good as gold, just looking at me while I cuddled her and told her how much we loved her.

Ironically the cat previous to Brandy was a little male tabby, not unlike our current Springer. Pedro had come to Goroka with us from Alotau but he was unsettled when we moved across town and not long after Brandy frightened him away. Repeated attempts to find him were unsuccessful and as there was a village and a squatter’s camp close by we ultimately concluded he’d possibly wound up in a cooking pot.

Pedro’s mother, Tabitha, joined us in Alotau soon after I went to live there. Her speciality was catching butterflies by high-flying leaps into the air. We were also minding my in-law’s daschund whose speciality was shredding tissues with her claws. We’d all too often wake up to a bedroom floor littered with tissues and butterflies. Tabitha’s “hall of fame” moment was delivering her litter of kittens (well one of them) straight onto my face on Anzac Day! Believe me the rest were delivered beside the bed!

And so the litany and homage to the cats who shared our adult lives. Both of us have stories of the cats of our childhood.

Sooty, yet another tabby, was my constant companion as a child and teenager. She would walk down the street with us to the phone box and always slept with me. It didn’t matter that this would sometimes make me sneeze…having her there was the important thing. Preceding Sooty was Chips, an old male tomcat, and Tammy who had several litters.

This is my homage to the beautiful, character-ful animals who’ve shared our lives and made them so much richer. Every tear shed over their deaths or loss, has been more then compensated for by the love and uncritical affection they’re given us.


[i] This expression was used to indicate that people were leaving Papua New Guinea for good rather than just on holidays.