March- April 2015
Eight Principessas and one Laundrette are off to the International Book Fair and Laureate Summit in Bologna. The Principessas, all major dignitaries of Australian children’s literature, have taken Calvin Trillin’s advice that when travelling it helps to refer to your spouse – or by extension other travelling companions – as the Principessa.
I’m the Laundrette, being given that title by a young interviewer a few weeks ago. I rather like it. There is symbolism there somewhere, but haven’t quite nailed it yet.
Bags packed. They’ll be repacked another three or four times, but they look pretty much ready to go. Many small packages in the freezer, labelled ‘tomato chicken curry’, ‘potato and carrot soup with chives’, ‘lemon chicken’, ‘hot beef cheeks’ and a dozen more, for Bryan’s lunches and dinners, including some extra large portions if he cares for more company than that of the wombats. The wombats have been farewelled, just in case they don’t appear before I leave.
Columns up to date. I hope. Passport and other papers photographed. Notes prepared. Courage lifted from my boots, as this is mildly terrifying. Next week is the International Laureate Summit in Bologna. And it matters ... read more
January- February 2015
I need a TARDIS. Just a small one. Even a time-share TARDIS would do. A way to get to three conferences and four schools in a day, and still have time to sleep. And at least one quiet family meal with Bryan. Managed that for the first time in two months tonight, though, admittedly, half an hour later I am tapping this.
It has been wonderful. Chaotic. Humbling, standing in the same room with so many extraordinary people, who give so much to so many with no thought of return. Overwhelming covers it most accurately, with so much happening that there hasn’t been time to absorb it all, much less process what has happened.
Sitting here in the valley it is as if it all happened to someone else, up there on a stage in the wind on Australia Day. I gave up counting after eighty-four interviews. And now ... read more
Phil was such a sweet little wombat, survivor of many operations on his leg, bashed up by the other wombats… how could we not give him carrots?
Except that the carrots lured other wombats, who decided they loved carrots too. And Phil grew brave enough to defend his carrots, biting the back and neck of any wombat who tried to munch them first. ... read more
Introduction and Wombat News
Wild Whiskers is not happy. My crimes are thus:
- Being absent without leave from the wombats, thus depriving them of carrots in mid-winter, when a bit of crunch is most needed.
- Deliberately pruning the salvias, winter jasmine and passionfruit, which temporarily blocked easy access to the carrot garden, forcing her to the sidetrack under the roses.
- Apologising insufficiently for the crimes above.
A wombat has to keep an eye on humans. Or, at least, a vigilant nose. Next thing you know, they’ll be mowing the grass, which obviously belongs in an unmolested state to the wombats ... read more
Introduction and Wombat News
The wombats are not happy. It’s winter, which means chilly paws and cold, wet tummies for an animal built so close to the ground. The grass is cold too. The wombats want their carrots, which I am happy to supply. But how do you convince five wombats that five carrots can be equally divided? Or even ten carrots.
It’s Phil’s fault. He was such a small, timid wombat two years ago, bullied and bashed up, he would cower by the house until he recovered.
And then he got even ... read more
Wear Whiskers for Wildlife Month
It is impossible to look at a wombat and not grin. When they walk the front half goes one way and the back half the other, though both go in the same direction when they run. Or decide to bite your leg, which adds a certain spice to turning the hose off at night here. You never know if a brown lump is going to materialise out of the darkness and go chomp.
I became a director of The Wombat Foundation, set up to raise funds to help preserve one of the world’s most endangered species, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat – even more endangered than the panda – without ever having met a Northern Hairy Nose. I still haven’t, though the funds we raise have paid for the DNA hair census (which enables the identification of each individual by analysing the hair left on sticky-tape strips left at all burrow entrances) that shows that the species is slowly recovering, from about 35 individuals to almost 200 at last count ... read more
Three festivals and two time zones in one week, plus the premier of Pete the Sheep.
Baa. Excuse me. Am still a bit dazed.
But it was wonderful. Magic. Monkey Baa’s musical brought back every memory of the time and place Pete the Sheep came from, because there was a sheep, though his name was Dunmore, not Pete, and a half serious half desperate plan to give sheep to preschools in the drought. We’d become a troupe of wandering shearers giving the most gorgeous haircuts in Australia. I’d have cried, just a little, at Pete the Sheep, especially as Ratso’s harmonica mourned into the darkness, except I was laughing too much.
Before the curtain went up, the sophisticated kid next to me had declared he didn’t like musicals. He thought he was far too mature for Pete the Sheep. Within forty seconds he was giggling too hard to stay in his seat.
‘Do you like musicals now?’ I asked him afterwards.
‘Yep,’ he said ... read more
The wombats are not happy.
Someone has been moving dirt – and it is not them. Someone has been moving rocks too. Wild Whiskers now sniffs each stone suspiciously as soon as she wakes each dusk, and Small Whiskers won’t come out at all until at least two other wombats have inspected the area thoroughly.
It’s my fault. Every visitor takes photos of the wombat hole under the bedroom, the one featured in Diary of a Wombat, begun by Mothball, Wild Whisker’s mum, abandoned when it filled with water, moved back into when we built the new bedroom above it, thus giving her a waterproof roof and a giant back veranda ... read more
Two new wombats, both munching near their mums.
One new job - Australian Children’s Laureate 2014/2015.
Some mild terror – that I won’t do what’s needed; and even more, that I may do what isn’t needed. (Not all my ideas are good ones. Though I do listen when friends tell me that they’re not.)
But mostly joy, so deep that it surprised me, that I have two years to give back to the children’s literature community that has given me so much for a quarter of a century… well, all my life really, since Mum read me my first book, which was probably a gift from Grandma and almost certainly Australian ... read on
Two new wombats, both munching near their mums.
One new job - Australian Children’s Laureate 2014/2015.
Some mild terror – that I won’t do what’s needed; and even more, that I may do what isn’t needed. (Not all my ideas are good ones. Though I do listen when friends tell me that they’re not.)
But mostly joy, so deep that it surprised me, that I have two years to give back to the children’s literature community that has given me so much for a quarter of a century… well, all my life really, since Mum read me my first book, which was probably a gift from Grandma and almost certainly Australian ... read on
The bushfire smoke is sifting like flour across the ridges. It billowed this afternoon, but then dispersed. I feel guilty sitting here in comfort, tapping this, when things are so hard for so many just now. We have checked the gutters, ready to fill them, try to keep the debris raked from about the house, though when the wind whips up to gale strength that is hard. Thirty-five years of climbing rose growth collapsed on the front gate two days ago. I spent the afternoon like Prince Charming hacking his way to Sleeping Beauty so we could get out. A tree is over half the road, which Bryan will clear tomorrow. The fire pump is ready, the tanks full. This is the other side of living in the bush. If the winds are bad
… read on.
Two of them! One is Mothball’s grandson – Mothball is the heroine of Diary of a Wombat (that book is not fiction). Like his mother, Wild Whiskers, this baby was so big the pouch dragged on the ground for weeks before he decided to walk on four paws instead of having Mum lug him about. He is almost a third her size and as brown as Mothball.... read on.
Apologies, apologies, apologies… In retrospect, having two large books due in the same month was too much even for someone who keeps creating books in her sleep. Actually, writing the books was fine. It was the unexpected ballooning of footnotes, bibliographies, biographies, blurbs, covers, pics, proofreading and all the things my daydreams never included when I dreamed of being a writer.
Even the worst of a writer’s profession is good. But for the first time in my life, last month there were times when I didn’t want to write another word. Which meant no newsletter.
Plus the last two months have been full of other wondrous times, the birth of a grandson who is gorgeous and darling and funny and has the same smile as his father and great-grandmother, uncle and aunt, magically familiar as soon as he grinned at me. A niece married, and much family happiness ... read on
Wombats always win.
It was a simple plan. Feed Phil the young wombat early every morning till he put on a bit of weight.
Phil came to us over a month ago, after having had surgery for most of his young life. Miraculously- or rather, as a result of excellent surgery- he is able to walk even though his front leg was badly hurt as a baby.
All went well for a few weeks. Phil industriously dug out the hole under our bedroom to make a more luxurious wombat residence. But then a fortnight ago he turned up with big patches of fur missing, a classic ‘in hole’ attack from a bigger wombat.
He was a sore and sorry little wombat. He even followed me around the garden for two days, though he’d been avoiding me ever since he arrived.
I spread cream on his wounds, which were nicely scabbed and not infected. As the lotion is bright pink, Phil became a pink and grey wombat. . But he was a bit thin when he arrived, and was even thinner now. A bit of extra feeding was needed.
Except every time I put out food for Phil one large wild wombat with luxuriant whiskers would turn up, snarl and Phil would scamper for the burrow ... read on
There are seasons in life when things are good, and this is one of them: the valley green, the creek clear and the pools still and deep; summers flowers blooming once again now the heat has vanished, the trees turning gold and red and orange in autumn, and a million yellow leaves drifting past my window.
The words on the screen for Down the Road to Gundagai almost seem as though the book has already be written and I’m just pulling it from the air, enjoying it as much or more than if I had the book to read. The wombats are fat and the birds are flying and the whole extended family seems happy and fulfilled in the extraordinarily diverse world we all have chosen.
Admittedly there are times when I wish our entire family all lived in the same street, and possibly even all worked for the firm of French French French French French French French French and French. Or at least were close enough to all meet each Sunday for lunch. But there are phones and email and weddings to share ... read on
One Amazing Wombat
As I write this Phil the wombat is digging. And digging. And digging.
And it’s a miracle of love and determination, both human and wombat.
Phil’s life began with tragedy: his Mum died when a car hit her. A Good Samaritan searched her pouch and found Phil: small and fuzzy and still alive. She called the RSPCA and the RSPCA called Phillip and Lesley of Wildcare who picked him up.
‘He weighed in at 1.6 kg and was a typical bundle of fun,’ said Phillip.
But something was wrong. His front leg hung back and he didn’t seem able to move it. It seemed that his leg might have been injured when he was rescued.
A wombat needs four legs to feed and to dig. Normally, a baby wombat who had been hurt so badly, with little hope of recovery, is euthanised.
Phil was lucky. Howard Ralph, a vet who specialises in marsupial care and surgery – one of tragically few in Australia – would be in the area. He examined Phil and diagnosed nerve damage in Phil’s upper leg ... read on
The heat has been sitting on the valley like a large damp dog. Showers are ‘possible’ say the Bureau of Meteorology.
It’s ‘possible’ my Great Aunt Gladys might leave me a million dollars, if I had a Great Aunt Gladys. World peace and flying wombats are also ‘possible’. But just now wombats with wings seem as possible as decent rain and cool weather.
At least the heat has kept me working at my desk. I should probably dedicate the next book to ‘The summer heat wave of 2013’. Even the tomatoes have gone on strike. At times like this I am very glad that humans invented houses and that I’m living in one.
Twenty minutes later: apologies to the BoM and the rain clouds. It is raining ... and raining. Soft lovely rain and the air smells of leaves and mist and the clouds are touching the tree-tops. We should sleep long and deeply tonight, with the wondrous sound of rain on the roof, and tomorrow the pomegranates and dahlias et al will put out more flowers.
Will now keep a watch out for flying wombats or even an email from Aunt Gladys … read on
Why don’t cowboys dribble? After the punch up, I mean. Why doesn’t James Bond dribble sometimes, too? They get this whopping great punch to the face, end up with a black eye and stitches, and are still able to sweep the heroine off her feet, or at least seductively sip a martini.
I am dribbling. No, I haven’t been in a punch-up, just had a lump removed from my cheek. The result is the same: black eye, a row of stitches across my cheek and what Bryan says is the miraculous removal of all my wrinkles, though only on one side of my face where it’s swollen. (The black eye does spoil the effect a bit.)
By the time you read this the stitches will be out and the scar almost invisible: the doctor who removed the lump is so tall I need to peer up at him, and has hands like dinner plates, but does the most superb stitching. But just at the moment I look like I’ve had a heavy night down at the pub.... read on
I blinked this morning, and suddenly it’s nearly Christmas. Where did the year vanish, she asks, waving hands distractedly towards the wrapping paper. At least the presents are piled on the spare bed, and have been for several months. There’s only Hank’s dog biscuits to get, Hank being a dog of conservative digestion who will be visiting over Christmas.
The cake is made and has been made since mid-winter, and half eaten too, but the other half will see us through till at least the end of January – a good fruit cake lasts, and this one was BIG. No Christmas pud this year a.) because I eat half of it by myself and b.) because no one else eats the other half, except a taste ‘because it’s Christmas’. Bryan reckons the cake gives him all the dried fruit he needs.
This year dessert will be a rich chocolate tart, slightly crunchy at the base, that takes ten minutes to make and probably less for everyone to eat their first helpings and ask for seconds ...
Sometimes life is perfect.
Five seconds ago Bryan said, ‘Do you know you have flowers in your hair?’ I fluffed my hair and he was right – tiny mauve white cedar flowers that must have dropped last time I wandered through the garden, among roughly six million four hundred thousand and twenty two roses in every shade from red to pink with a detour into parchment (Buff Beauty).
Even the climbing roses I planted years ago in the drought to clamber up the fruit trees are blossoming now after two good years of rain. Irises, grevilleas, banksias, species gladioli, still fluffs of native clematis and the wattle yet to bloom all up the hills.
The veg garden is already full of spring greens, the tomatoes look determined to fruit by Christmas, and every single carrot seed I planted has germinated, for possibly the first season ever. Oranges, macadamias, cumquats, citrons, lemons, limes, the fattest avocadoes ever, so many that a mob of 30 currawongs has been carolling in them for the past month, in between guzzling and they still haven’t put a dent in the crop...
I have the flu. The flu? A flu, one of the 10,397 varieties, with various complications that have me barking like a Great Dane after a burglar. Whatever it is has lasted through most of the past six weeks – note to everyone I’ve spoken to in that time, the doctor assures me that I stopped being infectious about the same time as I began to really feel ill.
Anyway. I seem to have missed most of the past month lying on the sofa and looking at the apple and pear blossom out the window, and the wallabies munching the grass between the fallen petals. Plus, it has to be admitted (including to the doctor who laughed then gave me lecture no 46) writing parts of a book and giving talks on the days when I thought that the flu – or whatever it is – had flown. And then, of course, it came back again. Moral: rest, do not work and you will recover faster. (One day I might even take my own advice)...
A Year (almost) of Reading
I’m sitting here tapping this on my laptop overlooking the estuary at Metung, in Victoria. By the time you read this I’ll be home, washing my own towels again (i.e. not using two fresh ones every day). But just now two nankeen kestrels have flown across the lake, the pelicans have glided across the tree tops, and it is almost time to put on shoes, lipstick, coat, scarf and check myself for tomato sauce stains before I head off to give another talk.
It has been a month of talks. Actually, make that eight months – the Year of Reading has meant the Year of Talking for most authors. I’ve spoken to over 3,000 people in the last six days – not counting any who were listening on radio – and the year still has three conferences and Floriade and a visit to Lithgow to go.
It has been inspiring, hectic, throat rasping; have put on five kilograms from the all too yummy cakes and slices and muffins brought in as treats – please, please, please don’t bring me slices or muffins, as I feel guilty when I don’t eat them, but really shouldn’t. ...
How to Sing to a Wombat
It’s every person’s dream to have wildlife come up to you, like Snow White with bluebirds sitting on her hands, or even have wild animals just ignore you, grazing while you garden or have a picnic. (Okay, it’s every nice person’s dream. Nasty people please stop reading.)
Years ago I mentioned singing to wombats, as a way of getting close enough to observe their lives. Somehow, ever since then, I seem to have been answering questions about how exactly do you sing to wombats, and get them to trust you enough to watch them closely. Trust me: I am no Snow White, nor does my singing voice have anything magical about it.
Wild animals do get used to humans. Down on the south coast of NSW the roos graze on the green lawns and in the picnic places, and visitors are asked not to feed them in case they get mugged by a determined male roo or cause the kangaroos genuine health problems by encouraging them to fill up on junk food like slices of bread....
It’s scone season. Pumpkin scones eaten with soup, full of nutty barley and vegetables and good things, or warm soft scones with loganberry jam and cream. Peg and I tucked in to a plateful yesterday. We have decided that everyone needs to eat scones at least once a fortnight in winter, with friends as well as jam and cream.
A good crisp apple is best crunched by yourself- or maybe with an equally good book- so no one else hears the munching or get sprayed with apple juice. Mangoes are best slurped alone, too. But scones with jam and cream should be eaten with at least one friend, so you can encourage each other to eat them all.
Grandma made the best scones I have ever eaten. Two minutes after the wonderfully Grandma scented hug (part talcum powder, part Pear’s soap, part fresh scone or apple tea cake an cinnamon) she’d ask ‘Now, would you like a scone?’ Grandma could see the car drive up, turn on the oven, whip out the mixing bowl, and as she said ‘have the scones cooked by the time the tea brewed.’
No one ever turned down one of Grandma’s scones. I remember one boyfriend (who I eventually married) bringing me home after a visit to the ballet and expecting a long good night kiss at the door. Instead he was confronted by a small round woman with brown hair faded to gold, saying firmly ‘now, would you like a scone?’
He ate six, and two small sandwiches...
I was walking up the mountain this morning, peacefully watching my feet on the wet clay, when suddenly I was in the middle of a thousand tiny silvereyes. Every tree was dappled with hopping bird shadows, so it was almost impossible to see what were leaves and what were birds.
Silvereyes graze here most of the year, hopping over the grass eating the seeds, or dragging long strings of bark about twice their length and weight up into the rambling rose bushes to add an extension for their communal nests. The nests get larger every year, then suddenly one year they decide it’s time to move house, and start again in another rose bush, while the old nest slowly decays, or we haul it out when we’re at last able to prune the rose bush, which we can’t do when there’s a silvereye nest in it.
But the birds this morning were coming from the south, flying above Baine’s Gully, resting briefly in the trees along the road, then flying almost due north, along the gorge, up past Major’s Creek ...
The sky is blue, the grass is the greenest and lushest it has ever been, the garden filled with great spires of red and purple sage and a million Eastern spinebills dipping their beaks into the blossom. The apple trees are drifting golden leaves onto the ground, the persimmons ripe, the limes plump, the chestnuts cascading to the ground..
… and I want to be out in it, instead of inside writing this. So please excuse the shortness of this newsletter. Autumn is the magic time here, soft and sweet and generous before winter freezes the wombat droppings, and I want to be out in it.
No shrieks at the back door from Mothball for yet another month. But, on the other hand, there have been wombat shrieks and a new aggressive wombat leaving fat droppings around the house each night. Still haven’t given up hope that when the winter begins to bite she’ll be peering angrily at me from the door mat as though to say, ‘I’m cold and hungry and it’s all your fault.’ ...
6 am. Woken up by tree crashing down on the hill behind the house. Realise that 1 litre of water = 1 kg = heavy tree tops after summer’s rain.
6.05. Go back to sleep.
6.10 Bryan gets up. May as well get up too.
6.20-8 am. Lug fallen branches to the avocado trees and mulch. The soil under the trees ‘eats’ even big thick trunks, helped by the lyrebirds who scratch it all up to help it break down. The lyrebirds aren’t trying to be helpful – lyrebirds don’t do helpful. They are looking for grubs and other goodies in the rich soil
8 am-9 am. Mooch around the bush a bit. Lots of new wombat droppings on the front stairs. A big owl pellet on the track. A Little Eagle glares at me till I stop staring at it. (Fair’s fair – I don’t like people staring at me when I’m having a break either).
9am. Shower. Breakfast. Pick veg and make soup for lunch.
9.30 am. Answer emails. Work.
1 pm. Lunch – the soup with Matt’s bread from Dojo bakery up in town. Eat fourth slice. Probably shouldn’t have....
We’ve been living in the clouds for a week; mist so thick that you can just see the trees twenty metres away, raindrop lace shining from every leaf on the rare moments the sun shone through. The creek was milk and froth, the wombats not amused.
No real flood. Just rain, and more rain. It did flood in Canberra the day of the launch of A Day To Remember, but there was a small damp band who actually made it to the War Memorial with traffic at a standstill outside, and Grandma’s Anzac Biscuits were still a hit 96 years after Great Grandma wrote the recipe down for her in what was to become the cook book that Grandma pasted recipes in all her life, some in her own hand, most from letters that women sent to women in those days before mobile phones and email, usually with a recipe at the end, especially during the rationing in World War Two, like the ‘prune pudding’ that used the sweetness and moisture of prunes to replace rationed sugar and butter ...
Living with Larrikin Lyrebirds
‘Quack,’ it said. ‘Quack, quack, quack!’
I looked out my study window. No duck. Instead a large male lyrebird raced past with wings outstretched, tail up.
‘Quack!’ it yelled. ‘Quack, quack!’ Up on the hill another lyrebird scrambled up under the lemon trees, obviously totally intimidated by the quacking.
You can live with animals for decades and they can still surprise you. I’ve heard lyrebirds imitate a tractor (we thought ours had engine trouble till we turned it off, but the engine sound continued), chooks, a telephone and my almost in tune rendition of Beethoven’s 9th (the lyrebird’s ‘Variations on a Theme by Beethoven’ were far superior to mine).
But I have never heard one quack before. I’m not sure whether it has only just learnt to quack – there’s a new family of ducklings on the swimming hole – or had decided that ‘quack’ was the most threatening sound in its repertoire. Anyhow, it worked – the sight of the other lyrebird fleeing up the hill must have assured him that he had chosen the correct soundtrack ...
Is there anyone who ever admits that Christmas isn’t perfect? Okay, there are the grouches who give graphic accounts of Uncles Steve and Bernie’s stoush among the backyard petunias and the slur that there is only one Christmas cake in the world that is passed around uneaten from year to year (I think one of my favourite authors, Lionel Trilling, came up with that idea first).
But what of those who felt that it wasn’t quite, well, Christmas this year?
I don’t think it was just us, nor trying to work at light speed and failing for the last six months of 2011 so that Christmas arrived like a superfast train, silently and about to dash away before we knew it was there. Our town didn’t have a Christmas tree in the park this year, and there were so few Christmas decorations the annual fund-raising tour of them was stopped. Maybe there was a general feeling of unease about the world and the many, many meanings that Christmas can have just got slightly buried . . . .
Christmas is coming, the wombats are getting fat.
And fatter. And fatter…
This is a good summer for wombats. The grass is green, the creek is flowing. Mothball has been annoyed a few times that we’ve dared to have visitors here, especially the Open Garden workshops and the afternoon tea for the Lions Club last Sunday.
Mothball doesn’t like having the scent of too many humans around. (I think she only tolerates me because I bring carrots.) When Mothball is annoyed she bites my ankle. Actually she bites my jeans or my ugg boots. I learnt long ago not to talk to Mothball unless my ankles were protected.
Mothball is an old wombat now. . . .
Four giant fruitcakes, laced with whisky, to serve 260 slices: check;
200 spice biscuits: check;
260 Christmas biscotti, rich in crystallised pineapple, red and green cherries and raw almonds: check;
8 gluten-free apple cakes: check;
8 plum and coconut cakes: check;
260 gluten-free chocolate rice crisps: still to be made;
300 rounds of varied sandwiches and rice crackers topped with varied good things: still to be made.
Marquees ready to go up.
Urn ready to go.
Bumps on the track almost filled in…
It’s our annual open garden workshops next week: 260 people in four workshops over a weekend. The roses are blooming – in fact some are already past their best, but that is the way our garden is planned, a treat for every week of the year, so there is never one time when all the glorious things bloom together. The wombats are fat, and the grass is green. . .
Four giant fruitcakes, laced with whisky, to serve 260 slices: check;
200 spice biscuits: check;
260 Christmas biscotti, rich in crystallised pineapple, red and green cherries and raw almonds: check;
8 gluten-free apple cakes: check;
8 plum and coconut cakes: check;
260 gluten-free chocolate rice crisps: still to be made;
300 rounds of varied sandwiches and rice crackers topped with varied good things: still to be made.
Marquees ready to go up.
Urn ready to go.
Bumps on the track almost filled in…
It’s our annual open garden workshops next week: 260 people in four workshops over a weekend. The roses are blooming – in fact some are already past their best, but that is the way our garden is planned, a treat for every week of the year, so there is never one time when all the glorious things bloom together. The wombats are fat, and the grass is green.
To say we are busy is a slight understatement . . .
I’ve meant to write this for two days but have been playing hooky in the garden, planting the tomatoes a month earlier than I ever have before, picking the first asparagus spears, watching the rhubarb leaves emerge from the soil and, yes! – the cassava bushes have survived winter and are growing about 10 cms a day and once again the banana grove has survived -9º C frosts, battered but sending out new leaves. No bananas this year, but then our bananas are poor confused beasties and fruit when it feels like it instead of when well behaved northern bananas are fruiting.
Every bird seems to twittering from yet another branch laden with blossom. The only grumpy beast around is Mothball wombat – I watched her bite a mouth full of fur from Short Black the other day . . .
From Jackie (August 2011)
This is the month when the lyrebirds yell across the valley in great singing competitions and scratch up the herb garden; when the chooks realise the days are getting longer and suddenly the laying boxes are full, not empty, and when I’m juggling plane schedules and trying to remember to fill up my car so I can get home from the airport when the flight gets in at 10 pm and there’s a two-hour drive ahead.
Book ‘week’ lasts for a couple of months, and a good thing too. Fabulous schools in Brisbane, wonderful kids in Cairns, more kids to talk to in Brisbane tomorrow and then off to SA… I love it, but just sometimes wish that somehow I could be cloned or be in six places at once – and one of those places would be on the sofa with a book in one hand and an apple in the other, or dozing listening to the lyrebirds.
It’s been the coldest winter in years, down to minus 9.6 one night, but there have been lots of ‘mild’ nights too and, so far, there’s been less frost damage than during the drought years, with clear skies and frozen ground . . .
From Jackie (July 2011)
There are baby wombats frisking all over the mountain, all brown, all winter fuzzy and none of them quite sure what to do when approached by a car or a human and two legs, or rather two and half legs as I have a bung knee and I am using a stick for a while.
The babies were a surprise, as none of the ones here I’ve been keeping notes on had babies in their pouches. But they are all elderly, like Mothball, who is 16 years old now, or male, like Bruiser and Bounce. I didn’t realise that the wombats really had been turned on by the last twelve months of good grass till the babies began racing all over the place.
After winds with snow in their bite a few weeks ago winter has settled down to blue skies and dark shadows. The navel oranges are ripe, cold sweet flesh and surprisingly sweet skins; the limes are soft, the medlars turned into jelly, the chestnuts and pecans still falling from the trees. The spinebills are looting the purple sage . . .
From Jackie (May 2011)
The wombats said it’d be an early winter.
Usually when there’s good grass around the wombats pick and choose: a munch here, a few mouthfuls there, and then back to their burrows. When humans have spare time we crate great artworks or sing karaoke. When wombats have spare time they sleep.
But about a month ago the wombats started to hoover up the grass as fast as they could. It was a dedicated type of eating, efficiently munching everything in reach before moving on.
Mothball has been bashing the front door most summer nights till we give her some wombat tucker, but till recently she only ate a mouth full or two before wandering off. A fortnight ago though she began to eat it all . . .
From Jackie (April 2011)
The shadows have turned purple and the sky that high deep autumn blue. A cloud of red-browed finches has descended on the grass seed, bobbing and pecking among the fallen leaves. The bell peppers are red, the pomegranates fat, the chillies fire-engine coloured and avocadoes are swelling and the first Tahitian limes are almost ripe.
It’s hard to look at it and think, ‘In a year, or two or three, all this may be gone.’
As I write this two geologists arrive today for yet another independent assessment of the threat of the gold mine and processing project proposed upstream. The developer claims there’ll be no effect at all; the independent experts say that much more testing needs to be done to begin to have an idea of the effect but that, given similar mining experiences, it looks bad. Some of those experts will put their names to reports. Others can’t, because of repercussions to their careers in the industry, though they will help with information and assessments . . .
From Jackie (March 2011)
Sitting on a brown snake is possibly one of the stupidest things I’ve done.
’Watch out for brown snakes,’ I tell everyone who comes here in summer. ‘Look where you put your hands and feet.’
And then I went and sat on one.
It was a cold day, which is no excuse. The air may feel cool here in summer, the ground is usually warm enough to tempt snakes out. But that day it was cold enough to wear ugg boots, and when I went out to pick tomatoes for lunch I just sort of forgot there might be snakes about. And when I saw the weed sticking up next to the young Jonathon apple tree (I love Jonathon apples) I reached down to pull it out...
From Jackie (February 2011)
She sat just outside the bathroom window, eyes shut in ecstasy, pear juice dripping down her fur. She’d slurped her way down to the core before she opened her eyes and saw me.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a startled wallaby. She’d probably never seen a human before, certainly not one having a shower. She flung the core away and bounded up between the apple trees up the hill.
I’ve seen her again a few times – she’s becoming more used to us, or maybe the ripening pears are irresistible . . .
From Jackie (January 2011)
I’m sitting here listening to the frogs and the rain. The valley is lush, the grass ankle high, the mist seeping down into the gullies.
Somehow in the past four months it’s rained nearly every day without a flood. The ground is saturated, and any heavy fall would mean a torrent. But the rain has touched us gently this year, bringing fat wombats, not flood.
The same rain that is murmuring above the valley is bringing destruction to so many. I’ve just got off the phone to my father, to see if they are evacuating yet. Other friends and family are cut off, but safe and with full larders- or were, when we last heard, before the phones went off.
It’s been a day of phone calls, the sort that can only say ‘are you alright?’ and ‘we’re thinking of you’, as at this stage there is nothing else that most of us can do.
To all in the floods that’s really all I can say now: ‘are you alright?’ and ‘we’re thinking of you.’ . . .
From Jackie (December 2010)
This is where the wombats and I should be wishing you a ‘Merry Christmas’, except wombats don’t do Christmas or merry either. (Though they do give a small wombat type grin of triumph sometimes.)
So this is ‘Merry Christmas’ just from me and may the New Year bring peace and joy and rain and green grass… or at least large portions of all four.
It’s been a complicated year, part wonderful, part hard, including the threat of a goldmine just upstream from us. (See below.) But the good bits have been very, very good – including the extraordinary support from many countries when I appealed for help about the mine. There is no way I can thank everyone enough for passing the message on and for the submissions made in such a short time.
Christmas here will be quiet, filled with family (both acquired as well as family by genes and marriage). There usually isn’t much wildlife about on Christmas day – too hot, and this year the animals are so fat they just munch a bit near dawn then go back to sleep. Fabia will probably renew her friendship with the sugar gliders by torchlight… nicely tubby sugar gliders they are too. They’ve decided that avocado blossom is even better than grevilleas, and have been tucking in all spring and early summer as one variety after another bloomed. . .
From Jackie (November 2010)
What went wrong at our Open Garden Workshops?
. It rained – two great deluges on the Saturday, the sort that drench you in ten seconds.
. A watermelon exploded in the living room before it could be cut up for guests. I mean EXPLODED. I walked in the front door and wondered why the carpet was wet… and then saw the red foam around the room. Then I noticed the sagging watermelon shell…
What went right at our Open Garden Workshops?
. The garden was a million shades of green, the creek sang, and so did the lyrebirds- though I suspect most of what they were singing meant : go away noisy humans.
. The new marquees turned out to be rainproof –and even the deluges turned into fun. We giggled like school kids as we passed plates of choc slices and apple and rhubarb cake and spring vegetable frittata between the tents.
. Mothball wombat, star of Diary of a Wombat and very much a real wombat, turned up midway through the first talk ...
From Jackie (October 2010)
This is one of those times when I seem to have three lives: the gardener and the moocher about the bush, watching wombats and the flowers of spring; the writer, so deep in a book that hours pass before I remember to take a break; and a third person that includes wife, mother, friend and the one who answers the phone and emails, makes the dinner and picks the peas…
Which is why this newsletter is so short. For the first time in a decade we have water for tomatoes, corn, lettuce, and celery...all the annual veg I’ve ignored for so long, relying on our drought resistant perennial veg instead, the deep rooted avocadoes, sturdy apple trees. I’m planting; Bryan is mulching with woodchips from some felled wattles; the wombats fat on grass and fallen fruit.
Every moment at my computer is spent lost in the past…no, not lost. Firmly rooted in the idealistic decades before Federation with A Waltz for Matilda, the 1790’s, or the sequel to Queen Victoria’s Underpants (not for next year- Bruce is working on another Wombat book for 2011).
Anyway, I’m there, not here, if that makes sense. I promise, there’ll be a longer and better newsletter next month...
From Jackie (August 2010)
Just call us ‘Brigadoon’. (or those who never saw the movie, brigadoon was a Scottish village that only appeared every 100 years, cut off from the chaos of the world outside.)
As I write this 150kph winds are bashing the tablelands above us. I can hear the scream of the wind, and every now and then a gust wriggles down the gorge and jumps out at us. But mostly here deep in the valley the last of the autumn leaves are floating from the trees, in no particular hurry to find the ground. The first of the plum and peach flowers are blooming, the wombats nosing under the budding rose bushes for neglected tufts of grass, the avocados fat on the trees.
It is, as it’s been called in various languages for thousands of years, the valley of peace.
Peace is precious, just now. It’s been one of those months when so much has happened that I need another six months to remember all the good bits and taste them again. And they have been very very good bits…just a few too many in too few weeks. . .
From Jackie (July 2010)
It’s cold. My toes are cold, my fingers are cold, the wombats are cold. Mothball is outside my study window looking in with that accusing look as though to say, ‘My paws and tummy are too close to frozen ground. Change the thermostat immediately.’
I can’t remember when it’s been as cold as this. Nights are often frosty here in winter, going down to minus nine at times. But even today, when the sky is a high clear blue there’s no warmth in the sunlight. Bryan says there’s a large band of cold air trapped high above us, blocking the heat. And it’s true, weather seems to have vanished. As I look outside none of the leaves or rose petals (mutabilis blooms even in winters like this) are even trembling with the slightest breeze. It’s like summer 2003, when month after month was dry bushfire wind, as though all weather patterns have taken a holiday . . .
From Jackie (June 2010)
It rained and the lyrebirds went crazy.
I really do mean crazy. The ground has been baked hard and brown since the last rain in February, and the lyrebirds were looking scrawny and starting to lurk behind me when I took buckets of shower water out to the vegie garden.
Lyrebirds are good at lurking. Or they think they are. They hide behind a tree, then scuttle over to the next one, head and tail down in a sort of lyrebird arrow. They’re never quite hidden behind a tree - either the tail or the beak (or both) pokes out. Lyrebirds are still convinced they are the James Bonds of the bird world.
But this rain sent them wild. They ran around trees, across roads, chortling and gurgling – not chasing each other (males will take turns chasing each other for days) just skittering around with goofy looks on their faces, glorying in the rain.
I felt like doing the same.
150 mls in one week: the creek is gurgling – more tunefully than the lyrebirds – turning from the frothy chocolate milk of flood to clear water slipping between the rocks. The avocadoes have sent their leaves skywards again, instead of drooping dustily down. And I have been out picking the last of the tomatoes (hiding among the tea camellias) and the first of the sweet navel oranges, making grapefruit marmalade and breathing in that wonderful clear rain-washed air and draining the solar hot water tank every morning with a half hour shower. (It’s okay: Bryan showers first and by evening the water’s hot again.)
The only ones who don’t approve of the rain are the wombats. The grass is wet and tickles their tummies. The wet soil tends to close the entrances to their holes requiring immediate renovation. The wombats are annoyed . . .
From Jackie (May 2010)
Am just back from Brisbane- a wonderful time, with wonderful people, both family and at the schools and seminar I spoke at.
But oh blimey: every time I fly I can’t believe what humans endure and accept as ‘normal’. Budgies in cages have more room than passengers in planes; even at it’s best, the food is only edible; most times it’s hardly that, but you eat it anyway because of the long foodless hours ahead.
This time I ate an airline apple- softer and more tasteless than any other apple on the planet- and water, which tasted of the plastic it’s bottled in.
I think what irritates me is that it’s all so silly. There is so much great simple food that could be taken up on planes: good cheese with decent crackers, fruit that has seen trees and sunlight sometime in the past month; olives and marinated vegetables and salads with varied greens; decent bread rolls with tubs of butter or pesto or genuine jam.
It isn’t hard to get decent bread; all you need is flour and yeast and water and knowledge of how to cook it, and good bread freezes well, too. It doesn’t need to be the spongy preservative filled blobs you get on planes. Biscotti with almonds, flour free almond macarooons, and a proper cup of tea or coffee. . .
From Jackie (April 2010)
For the first time doing this newsletter I’m not sure what to write: part of my brain is still with a novel I began over Easter. Whenever I start a novel I am sure it isn’t working, that it will never work, that I will never be able to write a novel again.
Finally the words have begun to feel like a book. It no longer feels as though I am creating it, but am merely pushing aside the shadows to let it emerge.
It is a difficult reality to leave.
The other part of my brain is marvelling at what I just saw out the window – a sudden movement from the corner of my eye, so I turned around to see a lyrebird soar perhaps 200 metres across the garden, down from the mountain behind me; land on a branch perhaps 30 metres up, warble as he danced down the branch – definitely a ‘he’ with tail outspread – then do a ballet-type leap of his toes, to soar again down the slope to a tree by the creek. . . .
From Jackie (March 2010)
There is a dog up the top of the avocado tree outside my study. Also three chooks, a currawong, a mobile phone, a mopoke, a trail bike, a koookaburra, a pallid cuckoo and a whip bird. Or possibly there’s a lyrebird instead.
I’m betting on the lyrebird, especially as it was there strutting up and down a branch when I went for my walk this morning, its tail fanned out, kicking its legs up like a can can dancer. It gave a startled croak, then ignored me and kept on dancing. The wildlife around here regard me as much less interesting – and less of a threat - than a brown snake or a red goshawk.
It’s the wrong time of year for lyrebird calls, but he’s a very young lyrebird, either full of teenage energy or determined to make his mark by singing all year round. “Hey, look, don’t you want me as the father of your eggs? I can sing for a whole twelve months.”
I doubt the females will take much notice. Most male courting displays – lyrebirds’ dances, blue wrens’ battles, decorated bowerbird bowers, or bright red sports cars for that matter, seem to impress other blokes more than females . . .
From Jackie (February 2010)
Working From Home
8.50 am. Finish breakfast, walk ten paces into study. Turn on computer. Ready to begin work. Read headlines instead.
9.10. Take last gulp of coffee, finish reading online headlines, ready to start work. Answer emails from Peg, Elaine, Noel instead.
9.35. Ready to start work. First replies in from Elaine, and Peg.
9.45. Ready to start work. Reply email from Noel.
10.05. Ready to start work. Dad rings to say hello.
10.27. Ready to start work. Answer another email from Elaine. Decide I need another coffee.
10. 38. Ready to start work. Email arrives with pic of Hank (dog) wearing glasses. Cute.
10. 40. Finish coffee. Ready to start work. Knock on door. Electricity linemen wanting to cut trees under power line. (Not our power lines- we have solar- the power lines that run through a corner of our place . . .
From Jackie - January 2010
A New Year and a New Earth
Here’s the good news; the increased CO2 that is heating our planet will also help plants grow more strongly.
The bad news, of course, is that the much of the planet’s trees will die as the weather gets hotter, or more extremes of heat and cold and storms, or floods.
The good news: other areas will get wetter…possibly far more of the planet will grow trees than now. Other good news; humans are very, very good at growing in all sorts of conditions.
The Copenhagen talks failed, no matter what spin they put on it. No government it seems today is going to tell their major power producers and manufacturers to stop or radically change
The trouble is that in the past 100 years we’ve come to think of the government as all powerful. Governments are in charge of education, health, police, defence – all the major things in our lives.
Or are they?
Most caring for the sick is still done by families; we only have enough police – or not enough police – to cope with major crimes and a bit of road traffic and other education. Society still runs because we work together, as families or as neighbours or as givers and volunteers . . .
Plus . . . A Heck of a lot of Recipes
I like to cook. (I like to eat, too). Which means that there was so much food at Christmas that we are still eating it now…and will be for at least another few weeks, if not months.
Some of the female Christmas guests asked for my cook book, assuming that somewhere among the 140 odd books (they’re not all that odd) there’d be a cook book.
From Jackie (December 2009)
Christmas is a coming, the geese are getting fat, except here it’s the lyrebirds. In winter and spring the male lyrebirds spend so much time prancing and dancing that they grow thin and tatty about the tail feathers. Now they’re properly sleek and gorgeous … and scratching out my new potatoes.
The creek has shrunk to dirty waterholes – mostly diluted duck and wallaby droppings, but the valley and garden were green for our annual Open Garden workshops. I am coming to love them more each year, as we get the routine of urn and books and cups et al perfected and can just enjoy the company and the happiness of the days.
Everyone arrives in the Open Garden bus… well, the local school bus, but ours for the weekend. This year everyone got out down past the cliff, so they could wander up the track by the creek and see the boulders washed down by floods in the years when great sheets of wet stuff still dropped from the sky. . . .
From Jackie (November 2009)
There’s been a wombat revolution.
Most people think wombats just eat, sleep, and dig.
In the last fortnight Bruiser wombat- the small shy wombat who was too scared to live alone- has finally moved out of the burrow under the house. He now has a palatial hole way down the orchard, under the avocado trees, with two entrances...or rather three, as I fell down one of his ‘side tunnels’ yesterday. Bruiser now has a leaking ceiling and I have a wrenched ankle.
The new wombat under the bedroom is Bounce, Mothball’s first baby, now about eight years old. I’m pretty sure it’s Bounce. She’s deep brown, like her father Totally Confused (another story). She also has the U shaped scar on her rear end at that bounce had when mothball led her up the mountain eight years ago, and returned without her . . .
From Jackie (October 2009)
It’s spring: winds, dust and enough blossom to satisfy a million wild hives of bees and at least a dozen sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are messy eaters- the ground is littered with flowers after they’ve been munching. They like the big grevilleas and the avocado blossom best.
The dust started out red and quite pretty, streaking all the white lilies and wonga vine blossom. But the last lot was grey, which is plain dismal. Luckily there are so many flowers you don’t notice the grey splodges on the leaves.
Everything goes crazy here in spring. The lyrebirds are chasing each other, squawking and flapping up and down the road and through the fruit trees. The wombats are snapping at each other; the echidnas following each other, like long echidna road trains; the bees are so busy they don’t even fly away when I cut a bunch of flowers – which means we have confused bees bumping at the window trying to get back to their hives. . .
From Jackie (September 2009)
It’s been a quiet month. Really quiet. I lost my voice for about a month (a medical procedure that went haywire). Most of the time I had a husky Marlene Deitrich style voice for about half an hour a day, so was still able to pretend things were normal for short radio segments and the odd phone call. But poor Bryan has spent the month deciphering my hand signals. I don’t think the wombats noticed. I smelled more or less the same, which is what matters to wombats. I still can’t speak loudly now, or for too long without going husky, but my voice is definitely returning. And a good thing too. Have just done an interview with Talking Heads. Would have been… interesting… trying to tell the story of my life in mime . . .
From Jackie (August 2009)
Backyard Chooks Can Save the World
Four eggs this morning!
One of them is small and round – a bantam egg from Dulcie. Dulcie is what you might call a ‘bit of everything’ chook, her ancestors crossbred for hundreds of generations in backyard chook pens. She’s one half Australorp bantam plus a bit of Rhode Island Red and white Leghorn. She’s also fourteen years old, and only lays in winter, which is when the rest of our elderly mob of chooks stop laying.
The other eggs have come from our gorgeous new chooks. Mike bought them up from the coast for us last week. I discovered a big tin of chocolate walnut biscuits, so they had those with the rest of their tucker the next day. I reckon that’s what did it- two eggs the next day, and more every day since.
Backyard chooks are one of the best things you can do to reduce global warming, pollution, exhaustion of our natural resources and noise from trucks rumbling through the city. They’ll also give you endless fun watching them establish their pecking order. And just watching chooks scratch happily around under the lavender makes the stress flow out of you like someone has pulled out the plug. (The fact that I love chooks, of course, doesn’t mean that I am in the least biased) . . .
From Jackie (July 2009)
It’s cold. The sky is that high washed out winter blue, and the wombats are blonde and fluffy, which means it’s going to be a long cold winter. There are brown frost burns on leaves that have never been touched by cold before. The leaves hanging limply, even on the camellias in full bloom.
Despite the cold, winter is a gentle time. The creek is usually flowing; no bushfire smoke on the horizon; trees drooping with avocados, pecans , chestnuts, macadamias, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangelo, lemonade fruit, oranges, cumquats, calamondins, the giant chilacayote melons still hanging 20 metres up on the pear and avocado trees, endangering anyone who walks underneath.
You don’t have to race to pick things before they rot or the fruit fly get them in winter; except when your fingers turn blue, anyhow. Our little lone auracana chook is still giving us an egg a day, too. She’s about 16 now, and her fellow araucanas have long fallen off the perch. In fact all our chooks are ‘loners’ now, having outlived the others in their batch of chooks. The youngest is 12, a home reared Australorpe . . .
From Jackie (June 2009)
What do wombats do in their spare time?
Most wombats spend their lives finding food and water to stay alive. But a few of the wild wombats at our place have struck it lucky. They get to eat the leftover rich food – alpaca mix and oats and other goodies from the wombats we care for.
Which means they don’t have to spend nearly as much time looking for their own food.
So do wombats develop hobbies? Contemplate the universe?
Actually they seem to sleep a lot. Which makes sense. When you’re an Australian marsupial in a land of droughts it makes sense to sleep whenever you don’t need to be out looking for food.
They seem to dig a bit more too, though only the young ones, sometimes new holes but mostly renovating old ones, up to two or three wheel barrow fulls of dirt and rocks can be excavated in a night.
But mostly they just become picky eaters. Instead of chomping the grass like lawn mowers they nibble a choice bit here, some tussock over there. And then go back to bed. . . .
From Jackie (April 2009)
Last Saturday afternoon, while mixing an apple cake and listening to the radio, I suddenly realised I was seeing all the politicians mentioned in terms of biscuits, or in a few cases, cakes.
Which isn’t as silly as it sounds. If we call someone a pig, a savage beast, a peacock, or a noble lion it says a lot about their character. So why not think about politicians in terms of cakes and biscuits?
The first one was obvious. Kevin Rudd is a sure fire lamington. Sort of warm and fuzzy and just a bit dry in the middle. Both come from Queensland too. A good lamington is delicious… but sometimes both the world and your appetite need something just a bit less traditional.
Julia Gillard has to be a ginger nut. Not that either of them are the least nutty, just crisp and a bit spicy and with a good helping of ginger. Malcolm Turnbull? I’d go for rocky road, heavy on the marshmallow. Julie Bishop is a 9 grain cracker with cheese, tomato and black pepper. John Howard . . .
From Jackie (March 2009)
The Perils of Emily
Emily likes to bounce, mostly over the daises in the lawn or through the dahlias. She likes to play with shadows, too. She isn’t fond of grass. She loves apples, as long as they aren’t too big for her paws to hold, and when the wind blows hot or cold she sprints across the lawn and dives headfirst back into Rosie’s pouch. Mostly she still likes milk, so after ten minutes dedicated bouncing she sticks her head into the pouch again for a drink.
We’ve been watching Emily since she looked like a hopping mouse, her fur like grey velvet, darting across the grass behind the bathroom while Rosie picked the early apples and at them delicately, wiping her paws on her fur. Joeys grow fast. Rosie has to stand taller these days, so her pouch doesn’t drag along the ground, and even then Emily doesn’t quite fit inside. Most times it’s her feet that are sticking out- giant ones, almost as long as she is ...
From Jackie (February 2009)
I’m writing this as it’s 39C outside, and soon to get hotter. The valley is full of smoke from the bushfire about 20k away, and the world smells like someone is cooking hamburgers. I’ve just had an email from a friend in Victoria- she’s been without power for two days as the power stations are overwhelmed, the trams aren’t running and neither are most trains.
The cities can’t cope.
Once upon a time we created cities to shelter us. Cities still shelter us- but only while the power still runs. Take away the power and the lights go out, the lifts stall, the water no longer flows, people in high rises and even hospitals start to die- you need air conditioning to survive in them.
Okay, many places have had their hottest day in 70 years...but it’s not much hotter than other years. If we’ve had weeks like this 70 years ago we’ll have them again. To put it bluntly, our power stations can’t cope with peak energy demands now- and yet our population is still rising. Most of our towns and cities don’t have enough water either...and nor do most of our farming areas, not just in the Murray Darling systems . . .
From Jackie (January 2009)
Today is a diamond day, too bright to shatter. It’s a day when I am simply happy, with every wish fulfilled and no clouds on the horizon, either symbolically or literally. The sky is a hard tight blue, the cicadas are singing, and the peaches hang heavy on the trees so full of juice that the bees are clustered about sipping from the stems.
Even the lyrebirds are singing, which they shouldn’t, as it’s 32ºC and lyrebirds shouldn’t sing till autumn. I suspect that the mulch and good living in our garden has bred a colony of big dumb birds, who assume they can sit in the avocado branches and imitate currawongs, whip birds, chooks and the telephone all year round.
The last six months have been hard – family illnesses, other crises. But by December it seemed that miracles do happen. This Christmas and the family wedding that followed have been perfect. Simply, gloriously perfect. . . .
December 2008 - early edition.
WARNING: this newsletter contains cake
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
For some reason- an email from my sister in law, I think, remembering times past- I’ve been remembering a Christmas almost a quarter of a century ago. Santa rode up that year on a horse that had eaten dust and blackberries for four years. It was white once. Now it was the colour of the paddocks.
The kids ran to meet him- drought kids, who’d never seen a flood or swum in the creek. But there were presents for all of them in the sack- St Vinnies gave us a whole sackful for only $20. None of the kids worried that the dolls lacked a bit of hair, or the rabbit’s ears were frayed. That was just the way toys came.
It was a good Christmas that year, despite the drought. We lived in bits of houses, poured washing up water on the tomatoes. (My son didn’t have any new clothing till he was seven, except for his nappies.) That Christmas we had all brought plates to share, wholemeal pikelets with apricot jam (the trees bore all through that drought then went on strike. They didn’t fruit again for 15 years) white Christmas, spinach and cheese triangles, brown rice salad, zucchini pickles. A skinny sheep turned on a spit by the dry creek. The grownups sat on the veranda drinking orange wine and watched the moon come up while the kids slept on cushions under borrowed blankets inside ..
It’ll be different this Christmas. Our houses are comfortable now, home made houses that have grown with the decades. The seedlings we planted are trees, most laden this Christmas- it hasn’t been a great season, but there’s been just enough rain to swell the fruit. But the memories are still there, in every wall that we helped each other put up. The kids who danced under the willow trees will wander back, even if they don’t get here by Christmas day.
We’ll have a vegan Christmas this year, partly because Fabia is bringing her vegan boyfriend from the Netherlands, but also because Christmas is a chance to cook all the things that Bryan doesn’t like, eggplant with golden yoghurt and potato salad with peanut sauce an cashew and mango salad with chickpeas and coriander, though there’ll be a ham (which I don’t eat) in the fridge for various meat starving males to dip into . . .
From Jackie (November 2008)
We have a Bunyip hole.
I’m serious. I am not superstitious- black cats can walk in front of me and I’ll just give them a polite ‘goo morning.’ I’ll walk under any ladder that doesn’t have a can of paint on top and if row 13 is the exit row with lots of wing room I’ll sit there happily, only occasionally wondering if the plane’s wings are going to fall off- but I do that in whichever seat I sit in. But we still have a Bunyip Hole.
The Bunyip Hole is in the creek, with bare cliff on one side, and treed cliff on the other. The light is always shadowed near the Bunyip Hole. The air is cold, too, even if it’s 50C five metres away. And nothing ever drinks from the Bunyip Hole, even when the creek dries up and it’s a Bunyip Puddle. Wallabies, wombats, even red bellied black snakes avoid it.
I don’t believe in Bunyips. But I still walk fast, okay run, if I’m walking past it by myself at night . . .
From Jackie (October 2008)
Spring came suddenly this year- or maybe I was just too preoccupied to notice. One morning it was winter- long Johns, fire lit in the kitchen, wood brought down from the shed. By afternoon it was summer and the flies were bumbling at the windows.
That was three weeks ago, and today the air is saying summer, though the trees are still yelling 'spring'. More blossom every time I turn around.
It’s a good day for growing things. The soil is warm, even if the early morning air freezes my fingers till I’m half way up the mountain, and I meet the line of sunlight coming down as the sun rises over the mountains. . . .
From Jackie (September 2008)
Once upon a time (in other words I can't be bothered looking up the date) King Edward I decided to give his Queen a present – the sort of ‘Hey, darling, I’m supremely rich and powerful’ present that only a king could give.
Silver plate? A ruby ring? Brocade? No, it was a lemon – a shiny perfumed lemon, with a few bitter oranges as well. Back then lemons were more precious than a ruby ring… and to be honest, even these days I’d prefer the lemons to the rubies. (Admittedly I rarely wear rings – even my platypus wedding ring i.e. a ring shaped like a platypus a friend made when Bryan and I were married, not the ring I wore when I married a platypus) . . .
From Jackie (August 2008)
It’s good to be home again. Wombats scratching under the floor at 2 a.m., possums dancing in gumboots on the roof while we’re watching a DVD – but mostly just seeing the valley’s changes in the week I’ve been away (and the feeling of loss every time – like a mum who’s missed her baby’s first smile and knows there’ll never be that moment again).
The first tiny white plum blossoms bloomed while I was away in Byron, and the double daffs have grown fat and yellow and the tangelos, those deep orange luscious things, have grown soft and sweeter in the frost that also left the banana grove looking like a fashionably tattered brown and green skirt.. . .
From Jackie (July 2008)
The air is full of flying chokoes (that wind is fierce) and I’ve been shovelling gravel on to our road.
I’ve shovelled a lot of gravel in the past 40 years. Roughly a 100 tonnes? 1,000? Enough to build the stone bits of this house, large parts of a friend’s house, plus repair our entrance road... 100 times? More?
When people think about living in the bush they mostly think about a garden (I‘ve spent many years declaring that you really can plant a garden to feed and delight you that needs only a day’s work or less a year). But I’ve just realised that what I don’t say is that there’ll be a heck of a lot of other heavy work you’ve never thought of. Deep furrows in the driveway that get bigger so gradually you don’t notice them till you hit your sump - or more likely a friend hits their sump… or even more likely, tells you tactfully that they’d rather come for lunch not dinner so they can see the potholes…Trees that fall over the driveway just as you’re heading to the airport (never travel after a high wind without a chainsaw). Bogged tourists who don’t know how to drive out of the mud trap. Potholes . . .
From Jackie (June 2008)
A Wombat Weather Forecast
The wombats say it’s going to rain – a damp winter and good spring too. So do the black-tailed wallabies. (Just about every pouch in the valley has a joey in it, and the wallabies are mating yet again). The gully gums have decided it’s going to be a good spring too – I’ve never seen so many buds. And the indigophera and black wattles have assumed it won’t be a bad fire season this summer, thank goodness. They have hardly any seed pods at all.
Wombat weather forecasts are pretty accurate – or they have been for the past ten years, since I learned how to understand a bit of wombat. The only problem is that they are very, very local (i.e. for the northern end of the Araluen Valley). Wombats don’t worry much about what’s happening over the mountain. So there’s going to be good grass till Christmas at least here, and unless some twit does something dumb down at the camp ground on a hot dry day, we won’t have a bad bushfire either.
But weather is often a very local thing. Most of our local district is in drought, with drying dams, brown paddocks and dusty ground. And I can’t very well pick up a wombat and take it thirty kilometres away and ask it what the weather’s going to do. It wouldn’t like it . . .
From Jackie (May 2008)
It’s a short newsletter this month because
- I’m brain dead
- The trees have turned gold, there isn’t a cloud in the sky, and the shadows are going to turn cold and purple in an hour and a half and I want to get away from the computer and out in it all before the sun sinks behind the ridges; and
- I’m brain dead
I’m brain dead mostly because I’ve just been to Brisbane, which was wonderful, especially watching the moon rise along the river with Dad, and the schools I visited, each one wonderful and an inspiration, and the CBC Book launch of A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Lyn Linning, (which made me cry), and Dad having his first Japanese food at lunch and liking it so much that we went back there for dinner. (I didn’t tell him he’d eaten raw fish and seaweed till after the waitress fussed over him and he’d told her how much he’d liked it) . . .
From Jackie (April 2008)
World’s Largest Potato
I think I may just have eaten the world’s largest potato. Well, part of the world’s biggest potato, anyhow. Bryan and I had part of it for dinner last night- his was mashed, mine was baked. Then I added most of the rest to a giant pot of leek and potato soup, and baked the last piece to have with a tomato and vegie sauce.
It was only as I swallowed the last mouthful (which was delicious, thank you) that I realised that if I’d had any sense I’d have weighed the spud before we ate it, or photographed it, or at least Googled ‘giant spuds’ to see how big potatoes can grow...
From Jackie (March 2008)
Wombats are noisy eaters. Somehow a black tailed wallaby can munch of a whole giant apple without a single slurp (some of the cooking apples ripe at the moment weigh more than 500gm each). But a wombat can’t eat anything without crunching, even the soft overripe pears.
The wallabies hold the fruit in their paws. They’re messy eaters- the juice dribbles down their fur. And they look very very happy. This season has been paradise for wallabies, far more fruit than they can eat.
Wallabies are gourmets- they only eat grass if there’s nothing more interesting around. And at the moment they have a choice of seven varieties of apple and two varieties of pears. There are also lemons, which they only eat if they’re bored with grass or very hungry, mandarins (ditto) a few late navel oranges which I’ve never seen a wallaby even taste, and various nuts which they’re not interested in at all. There were eight wallabies around the apple trees below the house when I went on my walk this morning. They gazed up at me as though to say ‘Go away. We are having breakfast and do not want to be disturbed ...
From Jackie (February 2008)
I discovered two new authors this month.
Okay, the rest of the world- well, some of it- discovered them years ago. But it’s a bit like my invention of a hunk of fresh bread covered with chopped up fresh tomato and a drizzle of fruity olive oil. The Italians may have been calling it ‘bruschetta’ ever since the tomato was hauled back from South America a few hundred years back, when someone said ‘Hey, Antonio, try a bit of this on bread.’ But I still invented it independently a quarter of a century ago, when there was nothing in the house but half sack of flour, some elderly yeast and olive oil, plus a well stocked vegie garden.
Finding two new writers is even better than finding the well boiled (in case of botulism) and plastic wrapped (in case of choking and heavy metal pollution) coin in the plum pudding, which is supposed to ensure wealth for the next 12 months, unless of course you swallow it.
Twelve months of wealth is all very nice, but two new writers last longer; at least they do when they’ve been writing books for a decade or two. Two whole booklists to order and read . . .
From Jackie (January 2008)
Why Australia Needs Half Hour Showers
I came face to face with a wallaby this morning. I suddenly looked up and there it was, it’s whiskers about 10cm from my nose.
It gave one short bound then ignored me. I kept on walking up the mountain.
No, it wasn’t a tame wallaby- I don’t think we’ve even met before. It wasn’t scared of me partly because of the way I was walking, steadily and evenly, not pausing as though to think ‘aha! Who are you and can I eat you for breakfast.
But mostly it was because of my hat.
It’s a big floppy hat with a wide brim. Which means that when I’m walking with my head down animals can’t see my face.
I have a predator’s face.. . .
From Jackie (December 2007)
The wombats were right!
Way back at the beginning of the year the wombats started mating, the full yelling growling wombat way. It was the first time we’d heard shrieks in the night like that for six years ... or was it seven?
Those shrieks meant - rain.
And it has rained. Lovely gentle steady rain for months. And thanks to the wombats we ordered trees and flowers last winter to plant in spring (which we hadn’t, mostly for years). And now they are growing and everything is green. Not just green, but THICK green. I’d forgotten what really lush trees and grass looked like. It’s a wonderful summer. Well, okay, some of the apricots have brown rot. And Fishtail the dopey lyrebird that we trapped and took three gullies away has finally found his way home again- he was back shrieking defiance at the dining room windows this morning, which will be a nice surprise for Bryan . . .
From Jackie (November 2007)
I think one of the deepest pleasures in my world is being ignored by animals. Not dogs and cats, of course- it is an honour when a friend’s cat decides it’s your lap she wants to sit on during the dinner party, or their dog dribbles on your knee as they watch the last bit of dinner travelling from plate to mouth.
But wallabies who keep grazing as I walk by the in the morning; wombats who sniff suspiciously then go back to scratching; a wedgetail who gazes down contemptuously from the tree above the house as though to say: it’s going to take more than you to interrupt my hunting - it is the greatest compliment of all to be regarded as just another animal in the bush, not a predator to run away from.
There are times, I must admit, when I’m not quite so delighted. When the lyrebirds refuse to stop scratching up the carrot seedlings even if I run at them yelling; when the King parrots in the blood orange trees just yell back when I shout at them. Just occasionally it would be nice to be thought of as at the head the of animal kingdom.
There was one other time too. It was two seasons back, when the largest brown snake I have ever seen slithered across the grass by the house and wound its way up the pergola, winding across the hanging baskets till it came to my study window.. . . .
From Jackie (October 2007)
5.37 am Woken by strange screech from up on the roof.
5.38 am Realise it’s not a nightmare from too many mangoes after dinner. Sit up in panic.
5.39 am Screeching noise comes again, this time accompanied by huge black claw scrabbling at the window.
5.40 Sound of claws slowly slipping down the tin roof.
5.41 Realise we’re not in a horror movie, it is just Peabrain the lyrebird attacking his refection in the window above the bed.
5.42 Try to go back to sleep.
5.43 Peabrain makes it back onto the roof. Sound of his claws slipping and sliding as he tries to attack again.
We are under siege! In the last two months Peabrain has attacked the bathroom window, the spare room window, the dining room windows, the kitchen window (balancing on the mop bucket to reach it). He’s clawed a doormat to shreds, dug up all my primulas, ripped up a giant zucchini left on the grass since last autumn, and left white streaks on windows, car, washing, gum boots and all the outdoor furniture. . . .
From Jackie (September 2007)
Spring creeps up on you. One minute I’m hunting for a clean pair of thermal underwear in the cupboard (It gets coooollld in the garden here in winter.) The next we’re leaving the doors open for all the scents to flood in...early daffodils and the first plum blossom, scented camellias and sages, plus that almost indescribable scent of grass which has decided to start growing, instead of just sitting there being chomped by hungry wombats. The first sign of spring here is usually dirty fingernails . . .
From Jackie (August 2007)
Just down the hill from my study is the Library Rock.
It’s not a human type library, of course- it’s a big flat rock covered in wombat droppings. Every night at least six wombats trudge up to the rock and…well, you can imagine the rest.
Wombats tell each other stories with their droppings. I don’t know what the stories say, of course, as I can’t read wombat. But most of the time I’m very very glad that humans read their books instead of smelling them.
(The rest of the time? Well, let’s just say that just sometimes- say the first three days of trying to get a book working- I feel there has to be some easier way of getting the themes in my head onto paper . . .
From Jackie (July 2007)
Do kids still share their iceblocks? Or their lamingtons at morning tea?
It’s funny how memories leap out at you. I was eating one of the best scones I’ve ever tasted at Wellington High School last week, served by the students who were catering for the SLANZA Conference, and suddenly the memory came flooding back of sharing one of Grandma’s date scones with friends at school.
No one in our group ever brought a treat from home without sharing it around...a bite of the slice of apple pie for every one of us, or a nibble of moon cake. And if you bought an iceblock every one in the group was offered a chunk, so you became expert in biting off exactly the same amount as everyone else. . . . .
From Jackie (June 2007)
I’ve just come back from the Sydney Writer’s Festival, ideas spreading everywhere like honey on toast, except I didn’t get to hear most of it (or for that matter get time to eat honey on toast, or anything other than a gulped bowl of porridge at the hotel) as I was one of three authors dashing to Wollongong, Parramatta and Newcastle for the Kid’s Big Night Out. Which was fun, exhausting (for the kids too I think- it’s a BIG night out for the under five’s) and magically organised, with every microphone working, every chair in place, every event on time...trust me, for kids’ events, that’s a miracle. . . .
From Jackie (May 2007)
I always forget how much I love autumn. Pomegranates weighing down the branches, avocadoes, the first chilacayote melons- giant vines that bloom as the days cool and produce small zucchini like gourds- quite delicious if you can get them on day one. After that they start to grow into whoppers that can only be cut with an axe or a machete, but good for melon and ginger jam or in stir fries or fruit salads i.e. they don’t taste of much, but the texture is good and they take on the flavours of whatever they are cooked with. Make a reasonable curry, too.
It’s magic looking out my study window now. Every time I look up another tree has changed colour. It’s been such a gentle season that the leaves are clinging to the trees, too, instead of falling prematurely. I don’t think I have ever seen as autumn as beautiful. Yellow poplars and apple trees, flagrant orange persimmon, flaming red maples, chokos dripping from the lemon trees, limes ripe and great velvet spikes of blue and purple, red and yellow salvias.. It’s a pity we can’t slow earth’s orbit to give us four months of autumn and four months of spring, and just a glimpse of the other seasons to make us appreciate the gentle times. . . .
From Jackie (April 2007)
Bryan is digging, and so are the wombats. As a matter of fact I’m digging too.
Not that Bryan and I are digging a wombat hole. (Though sometimes- say in bushfire season- the idea of an underground house that’s fireproof and stays the same temperature all year round is appealing.)
Bryan is making a new rock garden. Every so often he gets carried away by rocks, or rather the rocks get carried away by him and a new garden bed emerges somewhere at the edge of the garden.
I’m not so much digging as moving dirt- pulling out ‘farmers friends’, so called because they stick to you, those big smelly weeds with cobblers pegs on the top that work their way into your clothes and start digging into you when you least expect it, like on the plane half way to Sydney and suddenly there’s one in your underwear.
We don’t do much weeding here, but with all the bare ground in the dry and last month’s rain suddenly what was the lower vegie garden is now the lower cobbler’s peg garden, or was till I pull them out.
Actually there are still a surprising lot of veg under the cobbler’s pegs, all growing happily now the soil is damp again. They’re the sorts of veg you just plant and pick, and throw a handful of mulch to every year or so- perennial leeks and perennial beans, perennial leeks, spring onions, Italian chicory, mizuna and mitsuba, burdock, kale, chokos, warrigal spinach and maybe a dozen others . . .
From Jackie (March 2007)
It’s rained. And rained.
The first rain sent a flash flood down the gorge, all mud and logs and froth, a wall of water higher than I am and a roar like 1,000 helicopters. The flood went down 10 minutes later ... and the ground was still dry, baked so hard that almost no moisture penetrated.
But then it rained again... and again... thunderstorm after thunderstorm.
I watched a puzzled echidna trying to dig for ants under 3 cm of water, and the lyrebirds dance along the fences. Rosie wallaby has even stopped eating roses, and is just munching grass- lovely soft green stuff that even tempts a blacktail wallaby who likes variety in her diet. And Mothball has given up biting any other creature- including me- that comes onto HER patch of grass, and just emerges from her hole to munch for a few hours then goes back to bed.
Since I last write here I’ve been to WA, mildly terrifying for someone who hates flying, and when the last plane I was in suddenly lost pressure, dived groundwards and limped along just above the trees . . .
From Jackie (February 2007)
The Wombat Wars have begun again. (As opposed to the Wars of the Roses, which don’t happen, because all the roses around here belong to Rosie Wallaby. All the other wallabies are either Rosie’s sons or daughters, and all have very nicely decided that ‘Mum Gets First Go at the Roses.’)
Wombats, however, don’t do etiquette. Not when there’s a good patch of grass around.
The Wombat Wars are over the only bit of green grass in the district, except where bores or pumps are draining the last bit of the water table to keep their owners lawns lush, weird little private oases in a world of brown and hungry animals.
Anyhow, the Wombat Wars grass is between the water tank and the house. I suspect gets a bit of seepage from our roof pipe to the tank, which is why it’s always green. It’s also kikuyu so it grows fast, and is sheltered so it doesn’t brown off. I go to sleep most nights listening to Mothball Wombat munch away at it, and she’s munching away there when I wake up.I don’t think she stays there all night.
Well, I know she doesn’t . . .
From Jackie (January 2007)
It’s hot. I’m hot. The garden is hot. The wombats aren’t hot, as they’re sensibly deep down their holes where the temperature doesn’t change much all year round. (The next house I build is going to be partly underground. Seriously. Except I profoundly hope I never will have to build another house. I’m glad I did it once. But once is enough.)
It hasn’t been a bad Christmas. Well, Christmas itself was lovely, a slow trickle of friends calling in over the past three weeks. But the weather was about as good as it could be…okay, 100 mm of rain would have been better. Let’s just say it was as good as one can expect in a drought. The southerlies blew nicely from the alps and the arctic, the days were cool, the nights even cooler, and even better, there were a few days of drizzle, enough to leave the grass green and growing even if the soil below was dust, and give us all- humans, wombats, wallabies etc- a feeling that we might all survive the summer.
Even the garden perked up. Somehow the beans are producing with less than 20 mm of rain since I planted them- and absolutely no watering either. I mulched them deeply as soon as they came up; the wallabies munched them about a week alter. And then I forgot about them in the dry and heat, till just before Christmas I noticed the beans.
Wacko. And lovely tender things they are too, full of flavour . . .
From Jackie (December 2006)
It's dry. Not desperate dry- there's still grass from spring showers, the leaves are limp, not brown, and there were raindrops on them this morning from the mist over night. I felt like licking them, as I did when I was a kid and Grandma told me dew tastes sweet.
She was right.
There are still too many flowers for it to feel desperate. Bright orange pomegranate flowers- come the next wet year I'm going to plant at least six more pomegranates just for the flowers, though the fruit is good too, great fat red and yellow things when ripe, and sweet and crunchy in salads when green. The autumn leaves are butter coloured too- there's may six weeks a year when the tree isn't stunning.
The salvias are blooming now too, so many that the eastern spinebills out my study window don't know which to stick their bills into first, short blue, rich purple, brick red, flagrant pink, all glowing and drought hardy, so the poor birds are just fluttering around confused . . .
From Jackie (November 2006)
Once upon a time there was a kangaroo. Her name wasn't Josephine. It was Fuchsia. Her mother had been shot but Fuchsia, her joey, had survived, and in a round about way she ended up with us.
This was long before I ever wrote a book... well, no, actually, I'd written lots and sent a couple away, but neither had been published yet. My marriage had broken up and I lived on the few dollars from the odd article or story, and by cooking at a local restaurant on Saturday nights, while Edward and his baby sitter watched TV upstairs, and ate garlic bread and mushroom steak and great bowls of salad, which I think has remained Edward's idea of a grand meal ever since.
Down in the valley we still lived in what was basically a machinery shed . . .
From Jackie (October 2006)
Woken up by a dog barking yesterday morning. Looked, but no dog. (We're a wildlife refuge, and with baby wombats and baby wallabies around at the moment I was a bit worried).
More barking at breakfast. No dog.
Then just as I was walking home at dusk I heard the dog again. Or rather two dogs, kelpie by the sound of them. Woof woof, arf arf woof! But this time they were barking 10 metres up a pittosporum tree.
The lyrebirds are busy. Busy being kelpies, currawongs, wonga pigeons, kookaburras . . .
From Jackie (September 2006)
It's been a strange sort of a month. Started with a trip to Adelaide for Books Alive, which was fun, except for the usual culture shock after a month of seeing no one except a few friends and the wombats to suddenly be in the middle of city/ audiences/ traffic. But it was all so impeccably organised- always forget how much I like Adelaide.
Then Sydney for book week. Thought that would be a doddle but ended up locked alone in a bare hotel foyer late at night for three quarters of an hour (I'm sorry madam, said the girl at the after hours number, but the automatic unlocking mechanism doesn't seem to be working. No madam, I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about it till the manager arrives at 8 am tomorrow.)
Finished the month with Melbourne Writer's Festival, which was wonderful except for the 2 seconds in which I tore a tendon in my hand (the right one, naturally) while brushing my teeth on night one. (No doctor, it wasn't a wild night last night. No, I didn't have lots to drink. Well, only water. Am quite sure he didn't believe me... heck, I wouldn't have believed me . . .
From Jackie (August 2006)
Many years ago I decided that I'd never feel broke if I had bunches of flowers to give away, as well as fill every vase in the house. (At the moment our vases are filled with branches of camellias, old fashioned pink ones that don't drop off for weeks.) Flowers don't cost anything if they're grown from seed gathered last season, or cuttings from a neighbour down the road.
Good tea was a necessary luxury too. The difference between really expensive tea and cheap stuff isn't much . . . .
From Jackie (July 2006)
Have just come back from Fremantle (which was wonderful - the Fremantle Children's Literature Centre is extraordinary, one of those magic ideas that makes you think, 'Why doesn't every town have something this fantastic?')
But getting to Fremantle means flying (would rather have gone by camel but always suspect camels haven't really accepted domestication. They just can't be bothered getting rid of their riders. Yet.)
Anyhow flying also means eating food at 20,000 metres, which in my case meant white sludge with red topping. The hostess said it was pasta with tomato sauce.
Pasta with tomato sauce is one of the world's glorious dishes. Peasant eating at its very best: pasta made by mum and grandma, left to dry over the back of the kitchen chair, the tomatoes growing out on the hillside, boiled and crushed with a dash of olive oil maybe, a touch of garlic hanging by the stove, a scatter of fresh basil leaves . . . .
From Jackie (June 2006)
And rained and rained and rained ... Three lovely days' worth - and proper rain too, not the mingy 'showers clearing about the ranges' stuff which is all we've had for years, or the thunderstorm that drenches the world but it's all dry again ten hours later.
This was a band of clouds that just sat there and let it all down. Result: the ground is more saturated than any time in the past, well, six years I think. Not that the drought is over. We've had about three inches (75 mls) and we need about ten (250 mls) more to even start replenishing the watertable. But the grass is growing, the wilted leaves have all perked up and the wombats are royally annoyed . . . .
From Jackie (May 2006)
I passed a treasure on my walk this morning. Actually it was just a tatty orange golf ball. But to a bowerbird that's REAL treasure.
Bowerbirds love anything bright, or blue, to decorate their bower. They'd love diamonds and pearls, of course, because they're bright too. But to a bowerbird an orange golf ball is just as good. Better actually- when did you last see a diamond as big as a golf ball?
I've no idea where the golf ball came from. Or why it was orange, come to think of it. (I don't play golf). It's 40 minutes drive to the nearest golf course, up in town, and I don't suppose the bower bird pinched it from there, as town is surrounded by bare paddocks and no bower birds. And a golf ball is a big treasure for a bowerbird to carry off.
But bowerbirds do happily steal from cars, laundries, kitchens . . . .
From Jackie (April 2006)
I'm sitting here at my desk looking out the window at a possibly insane lyrebird jump from potted plant to hanging basket, then up the curves in the kiwi fruit stem up onto the pergola, then down again.
I don't know if the silly thing thinks it's going to nest above the front door. Or maybe it's just exploring or feeling autumn-ish.
Autumn comes suddenly here in the valley. One moment the wind is like the breath of hell and the sun is sucking all the moisture from the world. The next, the sun sits lower in the sky, the light is gentle, the creek is trickling from pool to pool where there were only dry rocks before. And the lyrebirds are prancing through the garden and the wombats are leaving droppings every couple of metres. . .
From Jackie (March 2006)
Woke up this morning to 1642 currawongs, singing about a metre from my ear. There are worse things to wake up to (pneumatic drills, a helicopter accidentally spraying herbicide here instead of next door, or a small voice saying 'Mum! I didn't mean to do it ...) But it would have been nice if the currawongs had perched just a little way down the orchard before they launched into the Hallelujah Chorus.
Currawongs mean it's autumn . . .
From Jackie (February 2006)
Yesterday was 44
C and everything was wilting, including me. Then Araluen Billy arrived
... Araluen Billy is the local sea mist. I don't know why it's called
Billy. It does look a bit like an old man's beard as it drifts over the
mountains between us and the coast, so it might be that.
The mist was snaking through the trees as I drove down the mountain from home, and by the time I was down in the valley it was cool and mizzling and the lyrebirds were singing.
It was still misty this morning. Showered with a small black tailed wallaby peering through the bathroom window . . .
From Jackie (January 2006)
Happy New Year!
And the rest of the year too for that matter.
It was a lovely Christmas here. Family, friends, wombats, no bushfires nearby, water in the creek and a possibly insane lyrebird who hopped up onto the hanging basket to yell 'pok pok pok' at all arriving visitors because they were disturbing the peace of his garden.
The creek has dried up now- the last six months have seemed wet, but that's only because the last four years have been so dry. We didn't even get our 'average' fall. So everything dried up again as soon as we got three hot weeks.
But there's water in the tanks and flowers in the garden and so much fruit on the trees that the parrots are just sitting there, stuffed. And the wombats are so fat with all the grass that they only come out at 2 am, munch a bit, and go back to bed . . .
From Jackie (December 2005)
My umbrella. I'm not mentioning any names, mind you, but suspect they were brown, furry and with long whiskers.
The umbrella has been living just outside the front door ready to be grabbed when anyone heads outside. This is because it's been raining ... and raining ... and raining. Which after four years of drought has been glorious. (Drought gets very boring after a while.)
The wombats have been too fat to worry about us lately. Mothball just rolls out of her hole about 1.00 a.m., munches for a couple of hours then goes back to bed. Wombats are energy conservative, mostly. If they don't need to eat they'll sleep instead . . .
From Jackie (October 2005)
Written with grubby fingers - I've scrubbed them but they're still grubby - and a big bowl of asparagus and three blood oranges on my desk, excuse the dribbles.)
Woke up this morning to the sound of a thousand small birds cheeping - the silvereyes are in the avocado trees, eating.
Spring down here mean so much blossom you could almost float on the scent and the thunk of falling limes and avocadoes. The avocadoes are 'overripe now' - still firm because avocados don't ripen on the tree unless they've been pecked by birds, but splitting at the bottom. Which means there's easy access for silver eye beaks. . . .
From Jackie (September 2005)
Interesting day so far ... have just got in from my usual morning walk, down through the orchards then up the mountain to Mary's Pinch. (Not sure who Mary was- Edward thinks she must have been a bushranger, but I suspect her buggy just overturned there- it's a pretty awesome hairpin turn.)
Anyhow, ... I was just opening the gate past the avocado trees when I noticed my hand felt cold and wet.
I looked down. Bright red blood dripping off my palm . . .
From Jackie (August 2005)
I think I've worked out why kids don't eat fruit and vegies. Because they taste yuk.
We've been buying some of our veg this year, partly because of four years drought and partly after my illness. And blimey Charlie .. there's no flavour in most of them!
They all look great- nice big shiny green apples that tasted like canned mush and perfectly shaped oranges that tasted of nothing in particular and tomatoes that had forgotten to taste at all . . .
From Jackie (July 2005)
The wind is howling, the rain splattering and I've just missed being hit by a flying choko, which would have been a terrible epitaph, felled by a flying choko.
It's wonderful weather. Well, it is after you've had four boring years of drought and blue skies. The creek is all mud and froth and we can hear the rocks grinding as the water races around them. Blast it, this is what winter should be like! Grey skies and wet ground and sleet and gales . . .
From Jackie (June 2005)<
It's cold. The wombat droppings have white furry whiskers every morning, there's frost on the grass, the shadows are dark purple and I'm up to two hot water bottles a night - much nicer than an electric blanket as you don't get dehydrated and they're still warm under the doonas in the morning.
It's been a lovely month of pottering: making cumquat marmalade, lots of reading, a bit of writing, much lunching with friends, walking every afternoon. I'm officially still recovering, but part of the time I feel a heck of a lot more energetic than I have for years . . .
>From Jackie (May 2005)
[and out soon The Secret
World of Wombats]
I've just come in from listening to the lyrebirds down the orchard- which sounds all sweet and romantic till you realise it was actually a lyrebird battle, the two of them yelling at each other and leaping claws out, which can be fearsome as lyrebird claws are BIG. And every time they leap they leave a long white dropping on the ground.
The two of them are arguing about who owns the giant pittosporum tree. It's growing on a bank and a lyrebird can climb up branch by branch . . .
From Jackie (April 2005)
I woke up this morning to find two small furry wallaby faces about a
metre away from me, peering through the bedroom window. They were was a
mum and her baby, just old enough to clamber out of the pouch and still
looking more rat like than wallaby like. They were having breakfast ...
a bite of apple, a munch of apple leaves, a chomp of grass then back to
the apples again.
The apples are Lady Williams, which don't ripen here till July. There are plenty of other apples ripe now . . .
From Jackie (March 2005)
Still no wombats about till late at night, but lots of snarls shrieks and back scratching at 2 am under the bedroom. They're not mating type shrieks and snarls, just 'that is my bit of grass IF you don't mind thank you very much' type snarls. Mothball does not like sharing her territory. Trouble is, none of the other wombats take any notice unless she bites them. This February has been the Month of the Brown Snake- the biggest and most aggressive I've ever seen. It is at least 2 metres long but thicker than my arm- and yes, I'm sure it's a brown snake . . .
From Jackie (February 2005)
My brain is marshmallow, and thunder is shaking the house and the grass
growing so fast it's about to sneak in the window and strangle my
computer, or maybe that's just wishful thinking.
I've spent the last fortnight on Phredde and the Runaway Ghost Train. She has finally flown off to Harper Collins, to be edited, illustrated, bounced off to the printers and then hopefully to kids next November, while I write this and hope my brain returns by tomorrow, so I can get into more research for a book of a quite different kind . . .
From Jackie (January 2005)
Just occasionally, looking out the window as I write, it's total
paradise: the Leeuwin honeyeater who has built a nest 10 cm from my desk
feeding a long and still wriggling worm to the small head peering out
from the passionfruit leaves; fruit trees almost breaking under the
fruit, flowers dripping everywhere, friends about to arrive for lunch
that is almost all home grown(salad, chook, potato cakes, fruit jellies
in case you are curious)
A mooch is just a mooch ...
From Jackie (December 2004)
I've been mooching. Mooching means wandering without any set purpose- it's not walking TO anywhere in particular, though my mooches usually end up sitting down at the swimming hole watching the wind on the water. They're not meant to Do anything either, though I mostly end up with a skirt full of fallen avocadoes (The currawongs knock them off the top of the trees) and a few late limes and maybe a blood orange or two, and quite a lot of asparagus.
A mooch is just a mooch . . .
From Jackie (November 2004)
I know it's spring when I throw the last mouldy kiwi fruit out of the fridge, and slice the last shrivelled Sturmer Pippin apple into a salad. (The apple may look shrivelled but it is stunningly delicious- Sturmer Pippins get better as they get wrinkly, unlike kiwi fruit, who just turn squishy.)
Spring is the time you feel like counting every tiny apricot on the tree, but don't, mostly because there isn't time and anyone who saw you would think you were bonkers. But it's such a promising time... the blossom turning to fruit, roses dripping from the trees . . .
From Jackie (October 2004)
Real genuine soaking WET rain. We haven't had rain like this since the 14th of December last year, not that I am counting . . .
It is totally absolutely glorious. Clouds hanging so low down the mountain you can't see the end of the orchard, wet rosellas who have probably never even SEEN rain like this before and don't know they need to shelter. And the sound...not just rain on the roof, which is the best thing to sleep with in the world, but that steady drip drip sound of everything wet and even the creek is muttering plus that deep soaking sound, too low to really hear it but you can feel it in your bones.
And it's still raining . . .
From Jackie (September 2004)
Mothball has a baby!
We thought she had a baby in her pouch two months ago..but then there was no sign of it. But suddenly today, after I fed Mothball her oats, she disappeared .. and came back with a small bouncing wombat! Maybe Mothball learnt her lesson with her last baby, Hark...he refused to come out of her pouch till he was so big the pouch dragged on the ground. . . .
From Jackie (August 2004)
The End of a Garden
What is brown and grey, looks like a sumo wrestler and sits on the doormat chewing splinters off the doorstep?
Answer: one angry wombat.
Mothball is on the rampage again. The world is cold and dry . . .
From Jackie (July 2004)
On the day that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon I went to school as usual. But today at school assembly the headmaster didn't give us the usual time table changes and detentions. He just smiled, as though he was excited too, and said, 'The moon walk has been brought forward to twelve o'clock. Anyone who wishes to go home to see it can leave immediately. Those who don't have a TV at home can stay and watch it in the music room . . .
From Jackie (May 2004)
The wind is howling, the air is thick with yellow leaves, the fire is glowing in the kitchen and there is a brown blob outside slowly vacuuming up the grass. I'm pretty sure the blob is Grunter (Mothball wombat's son and once called Hark, but renamed because he burps all the time- from both ends. Though come to think of it Grunter's digestion has improved since he stopped guzzling all the fallen pears and apples. . . .
From Jackie (April 2004)
What eats grapes, apples, pomegranates, pears, nashis, strawberries and grass, and leaves giant droppings on the front steps?
I THINK the answer is a wombat, but I'm not sure. But they are the most colourful droppings I've ever seen, all made of bits of squished up fruit like a health bar, except hopefully no one will pick that one up and try to eat it.
Or it might be a fox's dropping. Foxes eat mostly fruit around here at this time of year- they climb trees too . . .
From Jackie (March 2004)
Would anyone like some apples? LOTS of apples? Figs? Tamarillos? Lemons? Pears?
Okay, some are a bit wombat chewed or bird pecked, and you might have to wrestle a black tailed wallaby to get at the pears. She is very fond of pears, and so is her joey.
It's a very cute joey. We get to watch it through the dining room window every breakfast. We eat stewed pears and they eat fresh pears, mum wallaby with a pear in her hands going munch munch munch, and baby in the pouch with a pear in it's hands too, going nibble nibble nibble . . .
From Jackie (February 2004)
A Letter to Our Wildlife
Hi, it's me. The human in the gum boots who pinches your apples just as you are about to peck them, munch them, or tear them off branch and all. In case you haven't noticed- well, I'm sure you all HAVEN'T noticed- we humans are supposed to boss the planet. This means that I am supposed to be boss of the garden too.
I know some of you may dispute that. Okay, ALL of you would dispute that, especially Mothball wombat and Lacy goanna. So I just thought we might have a little friendly word or two . . .
From Jackie (January 2004)
New Year Resolutions
I, Jackie French, do hereby make the following new year resolutions:
1. I will stop lecturing. If someone asks me how my salad is I won't give them a short history of the tomato, a story about lettuce growing in ancient Egypt and a dissertation on why 'basil loves tomatoes' is a myth.
2. I will not plant any more apple trees. Bryan is right. 109 apple trees are quite enough and we DO NOT NEED ANY MORE! (Except for the nine I ordered last year and I haven't told Bryan about yet.)
From Jackie (December 2003)
Intro...the queens have arrived!
Schedule for next Year
Some Recipes (including a home made weed killer plus others that won't poison you)
Last minute Christmas presents- including what to give blokes
Home Made Christmas Crackers
Two Hour Garden Makeover for Christmas
How to Mow the Lawn
(ie when you can't face another dry charred sausage all oozing fat and crave some veg)
We have just had a visit from royalty! Three queens arrived last Sunday. We felt like blowing trombones . . .
From Jackie (November 2003)
It's rained. And rained. And rained.
Actually it hasn't been a lot of rain - just three or four showers every day, and cold grey days in between. I don't suppose much has soaked into the soil.
But it is all GREEN - and weedy. We have the Open Garden workshops this weekend . . .
From Jackie (October 2003)
Schedule for this Year
A Solitary Wombat Joke
Surviving Drought- again
Gourmet Chokoes and other Easy to Grow veg
It must be spring. We've just seen the first red bellied black snake. It was asleep by the back doormat, and we both got a terrible fright when I bent down and tried to pick it up . . .
From Jackie (September 2003)
It's definitely springish. For the last three nights Mothball wombat has been extending her hole- the one under our bedroom. Every night at 2 am there's been great bangings as rock fly up and hit the floor, and every morning another heap of dirt for Bryan to wheelbarrow away ...
From Jackie (August 2003)
(Written with a sticky jumper)
I've got cumquat busters thumb. It's a little known medical condition- comes from pressing 1,862 ripe cumquats with your thumb till they burst ...
From Jackie (July 2003)
So far This Morning....
2 am. Earthquake rattles bedroom. Open my eyes and realise it isn't an earthquake, just Mothball wombat scratching her back on the floor joist under the floor below my bed.
2.30. Go back to sleep.
2.35 am. Wake up as possum leaps onto the bedroom roof from the apple tree. Possum slides down roof . . .
From Jackie (June 2003)
How did the lyrebirds know it's winter? First day of winter, there they were, ripping up my vegetable garden again, their great feet scratching out all the potted catci, and the wire covers Bryan put on the pots last winter to keep them out. I wish I could put up a sign that says. . .
From Jackie (May 2003)
What a month! Absolutely no doors broken down by furious wombats; no doormats chewed by enraged marsupials, no garbage bins bashed by a hungry Mothball...it's been raining every second day for the past two months, and the garden looks like a giant has tromped through scattering flowers, . . .
From Jackie (April 2003)
It's difficult to believe this place was in drought two months ago. It's the perfect time of year now - cold green grass that must be the wombat equivelent of icecream, all soft and sweet, dahlias as big as footballs.
Actually football would be a lot more interesting if they used dahlias. . .
From Jackie (March 2003)
This is a confession. Mothball wombat is no longer AT ALL like the sweet cheeky wombat in Diary of a Wombat. Mothball is now the size of a dwarf hippopotomous, with shoulders like a sumo wrestlers and a bite like an angry tyranosaurus rex. She had a go at me last nigh. . .
From Jackie (February 2003)
Oh, for a boring day.... we spent this morning helping a naked, bloody, disoriented man who wandered out of the gorge and past our house. The police and helicopter had been searching for him for days. . . .
From Jackie (January 2003)
What a lousy start to the day! First of all a small bent winged bat crawled into my shoe when I was in the shower. I discovered it when I tried to put my shoe on again and felt something soft and wriggling. I'd met the bat last night too- something was rustling in the box of lemons and when I looked inside the bat flew out. I shut the bedroom door at once as I don't like bats flying over my nose when I'm asleep- their breeze wakes me up. . .
From Jackie (December 2002)
Merry Christmas! And a green and fruitful Christmas too. We've just had half an inch - about 14 mm - of rain, the first we've had since the start of March. It has been desperately dry and still is ... but at least we know it still CAN rain! And today at least the winds are down and not screaming through the valley, and even though the bushfires are still burning at least today with no gales they can be fought. Wombat news. . .
From Jackie (November 2002)
10.00pm Bryan and I
go to sleep
10.10pm Something screams out the window. Wake up again. No, it's not someone being murdered. It's the 'screaming woman bird' or barking owl. The dopey bird is only supposed to scream in autumn, but it's decided to do it now.
10.12pm Go back to sleep again.
10.20pm A bulldozer starts work under our bed. On second thoughts it's not a bulldozer, it's a wombat enlarging the hole under our bedroom floor . . .
From Jackie (October 2002)
Phredde and the Leopardskin Librarian is out and there are tiny wombat droppings on the back steps! To deal with the most important news first- it looks like Mothball must have had a baby in her pouch- the droppings are real baby wombat scats, all brown and tiny. There's no sign of either Mothball or her baby though- Mothball moved down to the hole under the giant avocado tree a few months ago- I think the hammering above her hole for our new room disturbed her sleep . . . .
From Jackie (September 2002)
It's official. Mothball has a baby. Or maybe she hasn't..... Her pouch LOOKS as though there might be a baby there. But by now it should be a largish baby, and maybe poking its head out too. I'd love another baby wombat about the place, but it isn't a good time for one. We haven't had rain for nearly six months now. The creek is going to dry up as soon as we have hot weather, and the only grass is around the house . . . .
From Jackie (August 2002)
I sometimes get the feeling that the animals around here just don't realise that humans are supposed to be the superior species and that they should be scared of us. A golden whistler - really pretty little bird with a voice three times as big as it is - started bellowing away last week when we were trying to film a segment for 'Burke's Backyard'. Mitch, the cameraman, went to shoo it away but it refused to budge . . .
From Jackie (July 2002)
PS 'New' Phredde story at the end of the newsletter.
It's cold, it's cold, it's cold, the wombat droppings have frozen white whiskers out the back door, and the garden is filled with king parrots and currawongs down from the high country where it's even colder than here, all munching bird seed and paddling in the fountain and yelling at each other. Yelling at us too, sometimes, if Bryan doesn't put out the bird seed RIGHT NOW every morning. . . .
From Jackie (June 2002)
Okay, Mothball has won! For those who didn't read last month's newsletter, we have been having a minor battle with Mothball wombat. Well, she's been battling us actually- we've just been sitting inside listening to all the bangs and gnawing during the night and assessing the damage in the morning. Anyway, the battle began when . . .
From Jackie (May 2002)
If I was ever in any doubt, we now have proof that Mothball wombat is an animal of extreme intelligence and initiative. As I mentioned last month she was a bit miffed at first that we built our extension over her hole in the bank behind my study. (A bit miffed means she chewed up the washing line. We now have a new washing line). But then she realised: . . . read on
From Jackie (April 2002)
This is the stunningly perfect time of year: blue sky all day and then it rains at night, fruit dripping off the trees- apples and pears and quinces and pomegranates and tamarilloes and lemons and passionfruit and grapes and the first new season avocadoes are nearly ripe and we've picked the first few limes too . . .
From Jackie (February 2002)
It's rained! A whole week of mist sifting down the gullies and steady drops galloping on the roof, which means no more smoke through the valley, grass ankle high, mildrewed beetroot tops . . .
From Jackie (October 2001)
Suddenly the garden has turned into paradise. Each gust brings down another shower of apple blossom, and the scent of early roses and late jonquils and a hundred other flowers is almost thick enough to slice. Even the hills behind us are a blaze of indigophera, and wonga vine and wild clematis are dripping off the thorn bushes. . . .
From Jackie (September 2001)
The daffodils are daffodillying, the lyrebirds are digging up the carrots and sneaking from tree to tree (anyone who thinks a lyrebird is stately and elegant has never lived with lyrebirds) and there are now three wombats in the . . .
From Jackie (June 2001)
It's damp as I write
this...not wet...I think the sky has forgotten how to rain. We really need
about three weeks of good steady wet stuff.
But the mist is sagging over the ridges and there's a soggy wallaby looking longingly through the fence at the rose bushes . . .
From Jackie (May 2001)
Help!!!!! I'm getting a whole host of mail with no return addresses!!! (If anyone knows Bridget Mattingly or Katherine Nicholson of Adelaide in particular, please ask them to send me their address!). I receive anywhere from 5- 50 letters a day (34 to answer in today's mail)- my fingers are just about falling off as it is...which means I don't keep all the letters I answer (there wouldn't be room for us in the house if i did) and I don't keep a note of addresses either- . . .
From Jackie (April 2001)
Autumn is perfect. This is the sort of month I'd like to live over and over again, gentle sunlight all blue and gold and deep purple shadows and the fruit contentedly sitting on the trees, not ripening and falling and rotting as it does in mid summer, so you're frantic to catch up with it. April is a civilised month, when crops. . . .
From Jackie (March 2001)
No one mention tomatoes! We are eating tomato soup, tomato relish, tomato and passonfruit jam, tomato salad, tomato gravy with just about everything..it's times like these I wish we had a freezer, but we don't, basically because we don't have room to put it anywhere, and after all, there's fruit and veg gluts of just about something all year, and there's a limit to what two people can eat. . . .
From Jackie (February 2001)
Arrrrk! I'm writing this with my head full of Mongol armies feasting on roast meat, and ancient Roman armies throwing out their apple cores as they pass and US servicemen in Sydney in 1944 demanding hamburgers ....and have suddenly realised it's nearly February and it's time I wrote this, plus did a few other things that involve moving away from my desk for more than 10 minutes at a time . . .
From Jackie (January 2001)
Hi! Christmas is behind us, the geese have come back from hiding up the creek (they are far too tough for Christmas dinner but it's hard to explain that to geese) . . . read on