Wednesday, 31 December 2008

2008 in Review

Administrative stuff

I have tried to put in a few hyperlinks to other pages, but they do not seem to function too well at the moment, so bear with me while I try to figure out why!! The same applies to the weather table that appears below.

As it has been reported to me that some spammers have tried to use these pages to contact people (dobriden gospodini) I have declined to put our email addresses in this. So, anyone that wishes to comment – and who doesn’t already know our addresses – should post a comment to the page.


The year was essentially one of continuing on from 2007. I was going on to say “with no major shifts in our lifestyle” when a small terrier walked in the room, so that has been revised to the title of the next section.

A few major shifts in life style

The first of these was Frances’ mum having to move, from her house in Brighton to a nearby residential care facility. The major consequence of this for us was the move of the small terrier from Brighton to Carwoola. We have all three now adjusted to this, so we (now) rarely have to offer thanks that we have no carpet!

On the totally positive side of things we have joined the Australian Native Plants Society and go on their walks each Wednesday. What makes this a major shift is the amount of added pleasure we get from our morning walks, as Frances (in particular) is able to identify a whole bunch of plants. There are many pages scattered through the year with photos of various flowers – possibly the highlight was the first sun-orchid on the block.


Martin has continued to be ‘sort of retired’ doing some contract work for the Secretariat to the Pacific Community. In 2008 this involved 1 visit to the Solomon Islands and 2 to Vanuatu, thus adding two entries to his country list (which now stands at 49). He has also continued to be the Coordinator of the Garden Bird Survey for the Canberra Ornithologists Group (COG).
Frances is still officially ‘retired’ but is formally contributing to society by volunteering as a guide at the
National Gallery of Australia.


This continues to take up as much time as we are able (temporally, physically and mentally) to put in to it. Since one gets out of it what one puts in we are greatly enjoying the outcome. We have something in bloom most of the year and are self sufficient in fruit and vegetables for about 5 months of the year (and in some cases – spuds, onions and apples - nearly all year). Again, there are many pages about this. The highlight has been the amount of strawberries and raspberries we have picked this year. Yum!

Personal Statistics

These relate to Martin as Frances is not afflicted with the need to reduce the broad tapestry of her life to a few numbers.

Exercise: while my efforts to keep fit are, overall, a little down on last year they are still in front of the years in Tanzania. The most difficult month was October when I scored a really foul cold and just couldn’t force myself out for a jog for several days.
Birds: I added several new species to my life list on the overseas trips mentioned above. Several others were added on a midyear trip involving Queensland - thanks Mat! This boosted the list from 1572 to 1595. The year’s summary is:





New Caledonia
Solomon Islands

The best birding experience of the year is difficult to nominate as (apart from the lifers) there are 2 very strong contenders. Both are nesting events and I have ended up deciding that as this is a personal tale I will put the Tawny Frogmouths in front of the Royal Spoonbills since the former were in our garden at Carwoola.

Other Statistics

Weather: It has basically been another dry year, although not as bad as 2005/06 (which we missed as we were in New York).

Month 2007 2008 Diff Ave


Jan 70 64 -6 67
Feb 127 54 -73 91
Mar 41 44 3 43
Apr 42 24 -18 33
May 43 8 -35 26
Jun 129 32 -97 81
Jul 25 43 18 34
Aug 10 46 36 28
Sep 16 41 25 29
Oct 43 38 -5 41
Nov 109 117 8 113
Dec 91 104 13 98
Total 746 615 -131 681
Days >5mm 41 42 1 42

GFC: this is apparently the official acronym for the cause of everything bad, the Global Financial Crisis. Personally I’d shorten it to one letter , pronounced Dubya, and thank Deity that he is getting his sorry backside kicked outtathere.

We also thank Deity for the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme not being directly linked to the performance of the dweets who manipulate the stock market.

The other aspect of the GFC that has been notable for us is the cost of petrol. For this one I’ll allocate the blame next door to the White House and give two erect fingers to Cheney: I am actually sorry he has got his sorry backside outtathere, because he seems to be going home with his billions rather than going, with nothing, to the place Damon Runyon used to refer to as Ossining College. The most interesting aspect of petrol pricing is how it has dropped in the last 6 months.
The Chart shows our fuel consumption as cents per kilometre.

The July and December spikes are country trips, where the higher prices in rural areas more than balance out the better fuel consumption that we usually get on long runs.

That’s all folks: on to 2009.

Friday, 26 December 2008

The rhythym of the plums

When we were first shown around this place we were shown a lot of fruit trees which had a very high wire frame around them to allow netting. That first summer there were no fruit on the trees, since they hadn’t been pruned for about 3 years. A fair proportion of the wire frame was destroyed when the yellow box tree fell on it.

Last year, after a reasonable pruning (mostly deliberate, but certainly aided by the descending tree) we got a bit of fruit, but so did the possums and parrots. It was our intention to net the plum trees in particular but this has turned into a job requiring incentive.

The incentive arrived on Christmas morning in the shape of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo sitting in our biggest garden tree munching on an unripe plum. Should it have turned up later with its relatives we could have lost the lot in about 10 minutes. So the netting task commenced on Boxing Day.

During the course of this exercise we (Frances and I) realised several things:
  • Next year we will prune more vigorously to reduce the height of the trees;
  • We will do the netting at or before blossom time so that we don’t knock off so much fruit to rattle off my head onto the ground (hence the title of this post); and
  • The English language is very deficient in obscenities – I was getting very repetitive as the green plums rained down.

Despite all of this we managed to get the net erected so as to cover both plum trees while reaching the ground all around. Although the ground had lot of plums on it, there were a sufficient number on the tree at the time of typing.

In addition to this there were a few other development on the fruit and vegetable front:

  • A very good serve of strawberries and raspberries were collected;

  • The final lot of currants (mainly black, but a few red) were picked; and

  • Frances bandicooted our first spuds of the season. (For the benefit of the marsupially-challenged the bandicoot is a small mammal which scrapes around on the ground to get at the roots on which it feeds. Thus scrabbling around with your hands near the base of potato plants - as opposed to digging up the whole shebang - is known as bandicooting.)

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Christmas at Church

The local media (ie the Bungendore Mirror and the public noticeboard at the start of Captains Flat Road) announced that there was to be a Communion Service at St thomas's Church in Carwoola on Christmas Eve. As we have wanted to see inside this little church for some time we toddled along.

It was indeed a lovely little church. We sat next to a window with a stained glass image of an ANZAC, and a dedication to the donor's son who died during WW1. Nearby was plaque to some local residents who died in the 1910s.

The place was full: perhaps 100 people, which should have been nice for the organisers of the service. It was a bit of a contrast to my last church service: St Bartholomew's on Park Avenue on September 11th 2005. Rather than a huge organ thundering away this was more like a harmonium operated by the pedalling of the lady organist. The sermon was not up to the St Bart's standard being a rather academic treatise about the vicars view of God, rather than a political polemic against Dubya and his ilk. But in terms of a return to traditional values I thought it was rather good.

A classic moment was when the usher called out from the back "Someone who parked a ute in the road has left their lights on. " This called to my mind a Barry Humphries skit in which he, as an Australian preacher, asked "The owner of a green Chevrolet to move it as its screwing up the traffic."

A good way to start celebrating Christmas, especially since we didn't hit any of the roos on the way home!

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


On 22 December 2008 I went for a haircut. Even for me this is not a remarkable experience. It did however lead me to reflect on a lifetime of tonsorial activity. In composing it I have been astonished at the trivia I have been able to pull out of my mind: there is a warning in that for the alert, and time deprived, reader. I hope these memories haven’t occupied space that could have been put to better use!

My first memory of such things places me at around 7 or 8 and riding a pushbike with my father from Mayland, Essex to Southminster in the same County. I think I was taken to the salon of one Wally Gooch who provided the required facilities to my dad. Later, the word got around my school that Mrs Cant, also in that village, did a better job: with hindsight, I suspect this meant she used a range of pudding bowl sizes, rather than the ‘one size fits all’ approach that Wally used. I have tried to get a Google Earth image of these establishments but the Poms don’t seem to have the street view available.

High school haircuts pass in a blur. My memory is that most of the conversation at school about such matters was about the prominence or otherwise of adverts for what Rimmer (from Red Dwarf) refers to as a ‘packet of three’. The same blurriness applies to Uni: since this was the ‘60s the trend was for a bit of length in the locks so I recall having a haircut at the end of each term and perhaps an extra one after the long vac. Primarily the latter was to give less grip to opposing forwards while playing for the Wye College Rugby Club.

On moving to Adelaide in 1970 my only memorable haircut was at the salon owned by one Glynn Pretty - a jockey. It was in the back of his boutique in Gawler Place, and they did a good job until the day Glynn won some big race (by Adelaide standards - the Balaclava Plate perhaps). He celebrated by putting a fair bit of champagne around the shop and I scored a haircut from his newt-like barber. A colleague fixed up the worst of this in the office.

I don’t remember having a haircut in Denver (1981). Possibly this was one of the areas in which I overacclimated, in the Grizzly Adams direction.

Getting to Canberra it was mainly a matter of trying to get some stability so that I didn’t have to explain every time why I had a huge scar on my scone (answer – a bike prang when I was 12). I recall the initial treatments were administered by a nice young lady named Sabrina: she was about a foot shorter and differently complexioned to the British ‘actress’. But she moved on and haircuts were boring until 1997.

That year we took some leave and toured Europe. After 8 weeks learning Italian it was time to get scalped in a foreign (to me, not the Italians) language and thus mistakes could be very embarrassing. Whatever, it all seemed to work OK and we made it through a whole lot more countries until we got back to Canberra. 4 more years of boredom, until I got to Tanzania.

As with everything else in Tanzania it was a matter of finding out the right place to go to get a trim. In Scandinavian circles the answer was a salon, the name of which I can’t remember, on Haile Selaisse Road. Rather close to the Karibu Hotel (where we stayed), the Morogoro Stores (purveyors of booze and Tinga-tinga art) and the Q-bar Guest House and brothel (which we didn’t go to for anything). They did what was needed every few months and were so unremarkable that I didn’t refer to them at all in my trip reports..

I think when we had left Canberra we were using Just Cuts, a very cost and time effective place in Belconnen Mall. We certainly went there on our return, until we headed for the Great S@t@n of New York City.

Having heard many stories of how expensive it was to live in NYC I was surprised to find a great number of barber shops around the place offering the basic ear-lowering services for about $10. I used a place on Second Avenue at about 45th St, where a nice lady looked after me for the going rate. She was somewhat older than me, and far more comfortable speaking Russian than English, but I was there for a hair job. About 6 months before we left the business changed hands so I got haircuts in Yiddish. They even trimmed my sideburns while muttering sotto voce about meshuge goys. Oy vey: they should take my money and kvetch.

Returning to Canberra we moved to Carwoola, and found a Just Cuts in Queanbeyan. They now charged a good but more than $10 and never seemed to have enough staff to keep up with trade. This culminated on 22 December 2008 when I fronted for a trim – it being about 2 months since the last and I was starting to look like Harpo Marx. Although there were only two people waiting , and there being two boganesses nattering on the counter they couldn’t offer a cut as they were fully booked that day.

So off I go to find the other barbers I recalled seeing advertised on Monaro St. This turned out to be called Tony’s. They had a small wait, but Tony (I presume) got to work and did what was needed. They will be getting my future business.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas festivities

Being traditionalists we have got a Christmas tree, which I acquired through some alpha-male activity on a pine tree on our main track. The first image shows it, decorated with souvenirs from all over the place, including an embrodiered hanging created for Ingrid by some friends in Denver in 1981.

Here follows an E-card created from a photo of the flowers of Kunzea ericoides , which flowers profusely in this area around Christmas, giving us a white Christmas. Possibly more so than many places in the Northern Hemishpere in these times of climate chang.

With respect to 2009, HAVE A GOOD ONE!

Why Kangaroos grunt!

This series of images were taken from my study window. The final one brought tears to my eyes. A squirrel tackle is one thing , but Australian squirrels are BIG!

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Hakuna Umeme

The first word of this title will be familiar to those who have seen the Disney animation "The Lion King". In that manifestation it is followed by the word 'matata' which together give the African continental motto that can be translated from Kiswahili as "we have no problems".

The second word in this case slightly changes things to a phrase also very commonly used in Africa (and should be used in New Zealand following privatisation) that translates as "we have no electricity".

While we lived in urban Canberra (I hesitate to use the word metropolitan for that overgrown suburb) electricity failures were few and far between. Unless, of course, the fire brigade had a controlled hazard reduction conflagration in the area.

However out in the bush we have a lot of kilometres of wire and a lot trees underneath them. Also a lot of lightning-prone hills. So it is not unusual to get the power to fritz out about once every couple of months. A quick phone call to Country Energy usually elicits the information that something has happened, or is happening, somewhere within 30kms and a guess at when it will be fixed.

However on 17 December my call of "Hakuna umeme" got an English equivalent to the response "Hakuna Matata." The nice lady walked me through a number of steps to check that all was OK and logged a job. Had she been in East Africa she'd have said "I'll send a fundi." but she didn't have the Kiswahili so just sent a guy in a truck. A further difference to East Africa is that her answer to my final question "When will they be here?" would not have been "About 20 minutes." but rather "Any time from now."

To my great embarrassment when the fundi turned up - a very pleasant chap, as they usually are from Country Energy - he found that one of our circuit breakers had tripped. Thus they were still 'Hakuna matata" we have potentially "Matata moja" or "one problem". Watch this space!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


During the warmer months we have a very good supply of lizards of one sort or another. Many of them are rather small and very fast (thus providing a constant challenge to Tammy). Others, such as those pictured here are rather larger, but also very fast when they feel like it.

Shinglebacked skink (which I have heard referred to as the two-headed turd)

Blotched Blue-tongued Lizard, engaging in Darwinian behaviour of basking on a road.

Gippsland Water Dragon: when they decide to move they make a lot of noise as they splash through the water.

Eastern Bearded Dragon, probably improving the quantity of insects on our lawn (at least until I scared it, taking the photograph to the left). On the right, a typical rocky pose.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Wild flowers, December 2008

It seems that many of the local wildflowers have done their dash. However there are still a few around our place. We were particularly pleased to find a Hyacinth Orchid growing in the (still rather) bald paddock in front of the house; the Kunzea ericoides is heading towards the Carwoola White Christmas; and the Eucalypts are still procreating away (although the one shown below was photographed at Monarto Conservation Park in South Australia).

Garden Flowers, December 2008

The images below show the Asiatic Lilies and a close up of a Penstemon. They look great in the garden and not too bad here. So I thought I'd share them with you.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Uses of a terrier.

As well as providing basic entertainment for us, and being very nice to come home to, we have found two very good uses for our small Tenterfield Terrier, Tammy-the-rat.

The first came about when we took her with us on a visit to Frances' Mum (the original owner of the beast) who now lives in a residential facility in Somerton, South Australia). We expected Frances' Mum to be pleased to see her, but were very pleasantly surprised to see how much the other residents enjoyed her. Two of the gentlemen in particular seemed to greatly enjoy giving her a cuddle, and all seemed pleased to see her.

The second use is closer to home - and probably more traditional. I was doing something indoors when Frances reported that she had been in my shed - and I cannot really think of a more terrifying set of words - and found "evidence" of mice. In fact once the light was turned on it was barely possible to ignore the:
  • for very polite people - droppings;
  • for scientists - faeces; and
  • for those from Texas - whole lotta mouse poop.
So I went and got the dog and started to explore the shed habitat. Eventually a mouse emerged and got a 12 inch start on the dog which was just enough for it to get into further cover. Unfortunately - for the mouse - the canine honker tracked it down and the second chomp was very direct. To my surprise Tammy didn't eat the corpse, but just gave it a real good chewing.