On a sour note

 

Spring seems definitely to have sprung, finally. It’s remained soggy underfoot until the past week, but there’s been enough sunshine to rouse the first spring blossoms. The garden is full of birds and bees!

Our resident roos

It’s a little disappointing, though, to look out over the paddocks and not to see new lambs gambolling about. We gave away our ram last summer, and thinned out the flock somewhat, since the sheep were beginning to live beyond their means. That’s made room for more kangaroos, of course, but there’s plenty of grass to go around at present. The poor roos tend to get shot if they stray onto our neighbours’ properties though.

As I may have mentioned, we now have rabbits trying to move in, since the National Parks mob eradicated our family of foxes. I’d thought we had a handy ecological balance going, but now we’re going to have to do something about the bunnies!

Citrus and sourdough

We’ve been enjoying a bumper crop of citrus; fresh-squeezed blood oranges for breakfast, with home-made sourdough bread and marmalade made from our own oranges, preserved lemons and fresh limes to squeeze over seafood!

 

 

 

 

 

Rhino the Fisherman has been keeping us in herring and bream, with some blue swimmer crabs thrown in. We also got onto a good supplier of baby squid, scallops and king prawns. Succulent!

Plum blossom

The new orchard is doing very well, apart from a couple of apple trees, which are slow starters. The stone fruits especially are thriving and we should get our first crop of produce this year!

 

 

 

We haven’t seen a single snake yet, but the gossip in downtown Walpole is that they’ve woken up and are a bit snappy!

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Stop-press: Rogue Kangaroo Runs Amok

You wouldn’t believe it! The pesky kangaroo who had taken a particular liking to nibbling our fruit trees broke into the orchard last night, then couldn’t find its way back out. It has torn about thirty holes in our bird mesh. As we say here in Australia…Bugger!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The fruits of our labour

 

We’ve finally got around to netting our orchard and an arduous business it was! The birds have only been able to help themselves to our first small crop of peaches so far, but the brown Turkish plums are looking good! A greater problem has been that our friends the kangaroos have been hopping over the fence and nibbling the leaves off some of our trees. They don’t even take a run-up, the cheeky bastards! Mind you, February is the driest month and there hasn’t been a lot of grass for them, so they can’t really be blamed. The sheep have been hungry too, so we’ve had to buy some silage for them.

It’s quite an intricate business, getting the  tension on the bird netting just right, so that the roof doesn’t sag or the sides gather in drapes, using a conversion factor to allow for a shortening in the length when the net is stretched across. Also, the netting has to be suspended so as not to rub and fray against the posts and wires. Since we’ve now seen a couple of rabbits about the place, we had to attach a skirt of galvanised mesh at ground level and bury it, to keep out the bunnies.

When we’d finally got it all into place, I staggered up to the house for a celebratory ale, then, about fifteen minutes later, remembered that I hadn’t closed the orchard gate, so I returned and did so. When we went down next morning to put on the finishing touches, there, trapped inside the orchard, was a very tired and disgruntled tawny frogmouth (not an owl, but owlish), not at all happy about having been caught in the sunlight!

Our house garden has become a haven for hundreds of little birds, including many more variegated fairy wrens than we’ve had previously, and quite a few spotted pardalotes.

With the warm weather, I’ve been on the lookout for snakes, but I’ve only seen one glossy, robust specimen of a tiger snake, who came out to watch me mowing. A very handsome fellow!

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a new wildflower, down at the back of our big dam, a climbing trigger plant, Stylidium lacianatum, which I hadn’t known existed! I sent a photo to my botanist friend, Isaac, who ultimately identified it, though he was beaten to the punch by Sue, our community nurse. From what I’ve since been able to read, it has a tiny distribution, only around our local area. It looks for all the world like a spray of tiny pink orchids.

 

 

The red-flowering gum-trees and olives we planted around the house and along the the entrance road are growing like topsy!

I’ve rediscovered swimming as an enjoyable form of exercise, so I’ve been swimming a kilometre a day in the big dam, particularly pleasant when one is hot and dusty!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Flying duck orchids and pobblebonks

It’s been a long wet winter. Here we are, half way through spring and the rain is tumbling down still! It’s rained pretty much non-stop for the past 48 hours. When I went out this morning, there were worms crawling over the grass, so as not to drown in the sodden earth. Great pools of water lay like lakes in the paddocks, happily inhabited by a flock of handsome mountain ducks.

Ernest the Ram has obviously been working overtime! Everywhere we look are new lambs; lots of twins, and a couple of sets of triplets. In fact, he’s done himself out of a job. We have more than enough sheep and it’s all looking a bit incestuous as well, so Ernest is going to be given away to a neighbour who has need of new ovine blood.

 

We have a bumper citrus crop, far more than we can eat, juice, or make into marmalade, but what we don’t eat, the birds will. Our new orchard, down by the dam, is looking very healthy too. We may even get our first crop of stone fruit, apples and pears. We haven’t netted the orchard yet, to keep the parrots out, but with all this rain its just too difficult at present.

There’s a certain appealing logic to a suggestion from one of the carpenters who built our house. Forget the nets, he said; put plenty of guinea pigs in the orchard. They’ll eat the grass, and they’ll attract wedge-tailed eagles, then the eagles will keep the parrots away!

Golden comets

Speaking of hungry birds, when we built our pond in front of the house, we put in nine goldfish. They promptly disappeared, eaten, we presumed, by kookaburras. Three years later, I had occasion to drain the pond, and in the remaining ankle deep puddle, lo and behold, were three very substantial goldfish, a bit put out by their reduced circumstances! Last week I got to thinking a few more fish would be nice, so I went out and bought two cute little shubunkins and a couple of golden comets. They seemed very happy, I thought, when I released them, but they haven’t been seen since. Eaten by kookaburras? Eaten by their bigger cousins? Or hiding from both of the above. Time will tell!

 

Pobblebonk

I refer to the pond as “the frog pond”, because it does have a thriving population of frogs, which obviously breed elsewhere, away from hungry fish. They’re mostly “motorbike frogs” and slender tree frogs, but I’ve seen three or four other types, and I’ve heard, but hadn’t seen western banjo frogs (“pobblebonks”). The other night, though, when I was walking up the driveway, on my way home from dinner with my brother-in-law, Pete and his wife, Sonja, the torchlight fell upon a fine, robust frog, hopping towards me. We both stopped and had a good look at each other. I don’t know what he made of me, but I was able to recognise him, from his silver and black, giraffe-like markings, as the elusive pobblebonk!

 

 

I do love the sound of our fountains, the recycled circular saw-blade from the old timber mill that was on our property, in our frog pond, and the naked lady in her private bath in the garden. So, I’ve made up my mind, since we spend so much time looking out of the kitchen window over the herb spiral, to replace it with a more formal construction, with mortared rock walls, a central pond, crowned by a fountain and birdbath, and an encircling herb garden.

We’ve also decided to build new raised garden beds closer to the house, to replace the over-large vegetable garden down near the shed.

 

 

I’ve spent a few hours on these recent rainy days doing a bit of woodwork. We now have new pantry shelves, made to fit preserving jars, a new sign hanging on the letterbox at our entrance gate, and a sign pointing to The Oval (the flattish bit of paddock in front of the house where we play cricket.)

I drove into sleepy little Walpole today, to go to the hardware store, among other errands. I asked the owner, Norm, for a 2mm drill bit, and he said “You might have to make do with a 5/64, I haven’t got around to stocking metric yet. Really, Norm! Australia’s been metric since 1966!

Banksia grandis

The wildflowers are late to blossom this year, but a few banksia grandis have lit up the wooded area behind our house (South Park) with their huge yellow flowers. The black cockatoos should be arriving any day to feast on them!

 

 

 

Hovea

I went for a walk on Tuesday with my neighbour, Anne, looking for spider orchids. We didn’t find any, but there were plenty of hovea, boronia, acacias, dampieri (I think), conostylus, running postman, and a bunch of other flowers I don’t know the name of. I walked in the same area two weeks ago, and saw hardly a flower!

 

 

 

Our garden is full of blossom: calistemons, grevilleas, hibiscus, hakea, mint bush and banksias to name a few, and it’s therefore alive with birds: honeyeaters, western rosellas, Port Lincoln parrots and splendid blue wrens mostly. I even surprised a wood duck on the frog pond one morning!

 

 

I haven’t seen any snakes yet, but they’ll be waking up, lean and hungry, glossy in their new skins pretty soon, I guess.

 

Spider orchid

Stop Press: I went orchid hunting again with Anne on Wednesday and Thursday. We found enamel orchids, cowslips, king-in-his-carriage orchids, pink fairy orchids, some wispy, powder-blue orchids I don’t know the name of, jug orchids, bird orchids, flying duck orchids and a rabbit orchid. Heading home, Anne suddenly shouted , “Stop! Stop, stop!”. There, in the gravel beside the road was a perfect little spider orchid!

 

 

 

 

We’ve had two lots of visitors recently; our friend, Christine, and then Joe and Cathy, which, of course, involved plenty of good food and wine and, as always, an excuse to drive around and visit our favourite places.

 

 

I was struck, as I walked past a big old red tingle tree by the image of a grumpy, ogre-ish monster trying to escape from the tree where he, perhaps, had been magically trapped!

 

To my shock and horror, yesterday I saw the first rabbit I’ve ever seen on Faraway. The foxes in the bushy paddock near the road aren’t keeping up their end of the deal! We let them live there on the condition that they eat any rabbit that heads our way.

NATIVE ORCHIDS

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Thylacines in tingle forest

img_0291I have a favourite T-shirt, forest-green and covered with orange thylacines, given to me about 25 years ago by my sister, who is a professor of environmental law, and was working in Tasmania at the time. It’s my oldest surviving T-shirt.

Thylacines, or Tasmanian tigers were Australia’s apex predator, formidable dog-like marsupials, which lived throughout Australia and in New Guinea before mankind existed. Fossil records of thylacines in Australia date back 23 million years!

After the arrival of the Aboriginal people in Australia, more than 50,000 years ago, and later of the dingo, perhaps 4,000 years ago, the thylacine became extinct on mainland Australia, and by the time of the arrival of white settlers, it existed only in Tasmania, where it was relentlessly hunted into extinction. The last known Tasmanian tiger died in Beaumaris Zoo, in Hobart in 1936.

There have been several thousand unproven sightings of thylacines since 1936, but no conclusive evidence of survivors has been found, despite many well resourced attempts to do so, and the fact that the general public, aware of the romance and the tragedy surrounding the thylacine, have been vigilant.

A few years ago, I was wearing my thylacine shirt when I walked into the local road-house, where my friend Barbara (Barb) works. She looked up and said “I saw one of them once.”

“I don’t think so”, I replied.

“You think I’m mad, don’t you”, said Barb. “You think I don’t know what I’m talking about. They’re thylacines, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I saw one once.”

I was openly incredulous. I’m pretty romantic, I love a bit of mystery, but I worked in a science-based profession, and I have no time for urban myths and conspiracy theories. Barb likes a beer, but probably no more than me, and she’s nobody’s fool. Much as I’d have loved to believe that thylacines survived, and practically on our doorstep, I simply couldn’t bring myself to do so.

“I was driving home from work”, said Barb. “I lived down the end of a long dirt road then, (not named, to prevent an invasion of adventurous thylacine seekers), and you’ll think I was drunk, but I was stone cold sober. As I came around a bend, this big animal ran onto the road in  front of my car and stopped, staring into the headlights. It was like a big dog, with shorter back legs and it had stripes. It was a bloody thylacine!”

I guess I stood there with my mouth open for a while, and said that I really hoped that that it was a thylacine.

Faraway is situated on the boundary of The Walpole-Nornalup National Park, a 68,000 hectare, well-nigh impenetrable forest, the only place in the world where massive red tingle trees grow. It’s such difficult country to traverse that, though, on walkabout, they passed through the forest, along the rivers and creeks, and along the coast, the Noongar aboriginal people had no permanent presence in this area. The Walpole-Nornalup forest, too, is part of a much bigger forest eco-system. It’s been massively damaged by logging and clearance for agriculture, but remains an extraordinary wilderness still.

If a remnant population of thylacines exists, it may well be here, in one of the last pockets of original forest in Australia, protected by nature itself from the depredations of modern civilisation. Let’s hope so!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Surviving at Faraway

February is the driest month. The paddocks brown off, with long dry grass stems waving in the breeze. The grass dies right back over rocky and gravelly areas. Looking at it, it’s hard to imagine it can recover. Our native garden around the house only gets watered when we turn on the fire sprinklers, but it survives.

I worry about the long grass; a fire would race through it, if one were to occur, so I mow it. The ground cover of kikuyu, though, remains surprisingly green. A week ago we had three days of unseasonal rain and the landscape came to life! The grass around the house grew two inches in a week!

img_3004Our new orchard is thriving, except for one unfortunate mariposa plum, which never put out a leaf. I’ve ordered a replacement, as well as a beurre bosc pear and a black cherry, all dwarf varieties. We’ll have to put up the bird netting in a few months.

 

 

Red ficifolia, Walpole cemetery

Red ficifolia, Walpole cemetery

I had a man come out with a clever little Dingo machine to improve the drainage around the house and shed, in preparation for the wet season. I also got him to drill holes with his auger for eighteen new trees around the house fence and along our entrance road, mostly ficifolias, but also a few olive trees.

We’ve begun to stock our big dam with marron (crayfish). Hopefully they’ll grow fast and be meal-size in a year or two. We’re also thinking of putting in some golden perch, but we’d have to install a ramp in the spillway to stop them escaping into the Frankland River. It would be good fun to be able to dangle a line off the jetty and catch a fish for dinner!

Actually, I swear that three times recently I’ve seen fish jumping in the big dam. The thing is, though, that we’ve never put any fish in there, and there are no streams that flow into it, only groundwater running down off the hills into our little valley! I’m forced to conclude, therefore that a small miracle has occurred!

img_2890I went for a drive and a beautiful walk with our neighbour, Anne, up to the end of Nutt Road, near Peaceful Bay. There are surprising views at the top, back north to the tingle forest and south to the coastline. We walked along a disused road, much overgrown, through wonderful old twisted and scorched casuarinas and eucalypts. There were some of the biggest, oldest ficifolias I’ve ever seen, with trunks several metres around, and  kingias (grass trees) about four metres high! In places there were kangaroo trails through the fallen needles of the casuarinas a metre deep!

On the way home, we drove along fire trails through the forest taking us to places I didn’t know existed, with wonderful big karri trees and red tingles. Sadly, the Department of Parks and Wildlife is threatening to do a prescribed burn in this, the only tingle forest in the world!

I had an unpleasant surprise last week; something stung me out in the paddock, and a raised red, itchy, linear weal came up on my arm. Where I took off my clothes later on, I found a little scorpion! I didn’t even know we had scorpions.

I was very pleased, though, to learn from our neighbour, Joe, that we still have button quail. I’d thought they had all been eaten by foxes. They’re beautiful little birds. I’m so glad they’ve survived!

We’ve splurged and bought a flash new barbecue and a gas pizza oven, so outdoor entertaining is even more fun than before! Memo to self: restock the wine cellar!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Roos

 

I took the photos above last night near sunset, when I looked out of our house and found a large family of kangaroos just below our garden.

We have a permanent population of western grey kangaroos on Faraway. My brother-in-law, Pete, who has the farm next door, estimates there are about 100 kangaroos living on our two farms.

Early in the morning, they come down the hill behind our house to graze in the paddocks, then they disappear into the forest, to lie up in the shade in the middle of the day. Late in the afternoon they emerge to graze, but also, it seems, just to socialise. The babies, (joeys) play boisterously, watched over by their mothers. The juvenile males spar in mock combat, serious practice for mating contests when they reach maturity. The big males,  (boomers), as big as a man, stand guard over the mob, alert to the slightest untoward sound or movement. Our roos, though, know us, and tolerate us, knowing we aren’t a threat. Other farmers in the district do shoot them, either for food, or in the misguided belief that they’re pests. In fact the roos make little impression on our pastures, and are less destructive than our sheep.

At sunset, the roos retire to what we call the dormitory paddock, above our house, to sleep, amicably shoulder to shoulder with our sheep.

When I’m woken in the morning by the sunrise and the magpie song, I often find roos nibbling breakfast on our lawn. Occasionally, I’ve found an inquisitive roo looking through my bedroom window.

They’re beautiful creatures, gentle and graceful, but powerful and formidable in their own way. A boomer will not be intimidated, and is quite capable of causing death or serious injury. They’ve been observed to kill hunting dogs by disembowelling them with their hind claws! They have a highly developed social structure, obviously, which seems basically tribal or clannish. I like to think that we share Faraway with them, and they with us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment