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October 29, 2007: last Saturday, the final evening of Standard Time, we went to Springwood, a Blue Mountains town about 40 minutes towards Sydney, for a performance of arias and other opera "favorites" at the Norman Lindsay Gallery. It's the National Trust property that I wrote about back on the 15th of March, a country house preserving artwork and sculpture by Lindsay, the most rococo of Australian artists. The performance was by the Sydney-based Very Small Opera Company -- 7 singers and an excellent accompanist.

By about 5:30, the crowd of about 300 had set up their picnic baskets, chairs and blankies on the lawn in front of the house. Some people brought tables; one even had a candelabra on it.

As the sun was going down at about 6:30, the singers performed a quartet from Fidelio, accompanied by the pianist (on the left) and the raucous screeching of  cockatoos heading to their roosts.

A little later, the bird song replaced by the night sounds of the bush (including some incredibly loud frogs),  the company performed a chorus from La Traviata.

A very nice way to enter into summer, although I wish the teenage boy who had been dragged along by his parents had brought something other than a wind-up flashlight to illuminate his Harry Potter book. And the lady in front of me, once the wine got to her, began to hum along in a quavering vibrato rather like the Hammond organs they have in funeral parlours.

For a complete change, when we got home we flicked on the tellie to watch an excellent documentary of Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock -- the complete performance. Which put me in mind of an anecdote I read a few weeks ago: when the dying (or already dead) Hendrix was wheeled into a London hospital nearly 40 years, the young intern who signed the death certificate was an Australian named Bob Brown. Now a Senator, he's the leader of the Australian Green Party.

- with the return of summer comes the return of the Aussie Waddle. You see it mostly in shopping malls, like the huge one we stopped at in Penrith the other day on our way into the big city. To do the Official Waddle you have to wear flip-flops, the rubber thong sandals that are cheap as chips and very popular in the suburbs, push your feet flatly out ahead of your body so the flip-flops don't flip off or become caught in the escalator, and tilt your body back slightly, letting your arms dangle limply at your sides if they aren't holding packages. The best performances are by the Suburban Obese, common in the big malls.
October 21, 2007:This attractive structure is my possum-proof, cockatoo-defying Advanced Vegetable Enclosure, erected along the side fence in the backyard. We've been advised that the possums will choff any vegetable they can get at, and both the cockatoos and the kurrawongs are notorious for tearing things apart and ripping them up, seemingly just for laughs. So our rocket (as arugula is known here), lettuce, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and basil are safe from everything bigger than the multitudes of snails that will no doubt descend upon them and devour them in the next week or so.

The other issue is water and, in spite of the local dams being nearly full, the Blue Mountains is still on Level 3 water restrictions. That means either using a watering can or else watering garden beds just twice a week with a hand-held hose, and no watering of lawns (which is okay, as it just supports lawn-mowing). The rationale from the Council is that it will encourage good long-term conservation habits. It hasn't rained here for weeks, so it's probably good policy.

Out west, on the inland side of the mountains, it's bone dry, the drought ongoing for 7 years. It's inconceivable to us, having squelched around our Langley farm for a dozen years, that there could be this level of environmental crisis. And the signs point to more extreme, longer droughts in the future due to climate change.

Not surprisingly, water is one of the big election issues (along with health care, labour relations and the broader issue of climate change), so it was interesting to read a special insert in the weekend paper that defined exactly where the parched nation's water supplies are going. The impression one gets, for example, of urban Australians filling their swimming pools while farmers' crops sizzle, or of huge amounts of water used on wet-climate crops like rice and cotton, is only partly born out. The charts below are from the report --

When you think of Australian exports, you think of wool, lamb, and wine. Cheap milk, butter and cheese are almost a birthright here. But cotton consuming almost as much water as the dairy industry? And the real kicker was the statement in the report that the irrigation industry, which developed more than half a century ago when farms were smaller and water more plentiful, loses 900 gigalitres a year -- more than twice Melbourne's consumption -- to evaporation and leakage. When we travelled down through the Riverina agricultural area last May, we were amazed at the shallow open ditches under the hot sun, and the random puddles from leaking pipes. Obviously, a part of the water crisis is simply bad management.

And in this election year, with climate change being such an issue, there are grants up the wazoo for natural gas conversions, solar hot water, solar grid power, and rain-water tanks (we're installing a 7,000-litre one for toilets, washing and the garden). You learn all this interesting stuff, such as one millimetre of rain on one square metre of roof equals a litre of water. But the simplest energy-conservation technique -- insulation -- attracts no government grants at all, as we found out when we bought 200 square metres of "pink batts" for the attic. Not sexy enough, perhaps.

October 20, 2007: We went on a hike yesterday organized by the Mount Wilson Bushwalking Club. Mount Wilson is a village not too far from here, as the kurrawong flies, but 45 minutes by car due to the rugged topography.

The walk started at Mount Irvine and ranged over several kilometres en route to "the pavements," a.k.a the "Tesselated Pavements," a rocky outcropping on a high ridge on the eastern side of Wollemi National Park. It was not so much tough walking as the trail was narrow through dense bush and there were way more flies than birds. But the trek was enlivened by the fabulous flowering shrubs, which Christine will no doubt write about on her blog, and the views from the edges of the ridge down into sculpted gullies clothed in eucalypts. Absolute wilderness where you could get lost in seconds; no tiny rills or surface water anywhere, rather daunting for a Canadian used to fresh water almost everywhere. A couple of photos below show the general lay of the land and the hats of the fellow hikers (only one Tilley in sight!):

-the cicadas are in full voice, sometimes deafeningly, everywhere. The sound of summer. Locals are saying it's a successful year for them, more so than last year. On the hike, a Greengrocer landed on the leg of one of the bushwalkers; she, like the Northern Cherrynose in the last entry, is a she because a) she had a short, cone-shaped bottom that she uses to dig into the ground for laying her eggs, and b) she had no noise-making "drums" on her underside. Only the males make noise...

October 14, 2007: The last entry was about cicadas leaving their old rigid clothes in our backyard tree. Today, when we went to Blackheath (two towns west of here) the cicadas were singing their hearts out, and around one park near the Sunday market there were numerous exoskeletons in the trees and the odd victim, like the critter below, who made it out of her old skin but then got whacked by a bird or something, yet avoided being eaten. She was freshly deceased when I immortalized her digitally.

Christine always talked about how in her childhood the cicadas heralded a hot summer day, and how they had names for the different types: the "Greengrocer" was the most common, while the "Black Prince," the "Yellow Monday" and the "Cherry Nose" were much rarer. On the net, at , there are some photos of these types and others, the statement that Australians are the best in the world at naming animals, and the suggestion that many of the names of these extraordinary insects came from children. Having had a good look at the site and, later, looking at the Boys Big Book of Cicadas (not its real title) at brother-in-law Graham's, it appears this one is a Northern Cherrynose.

I remember one year when Sarah Jane was in about Grade 4 we pulled her out of school for a month and went to Australia. The deal was she had to learn long division and do a project in return for skipping out on whatever it was she was supposed to learn. In her project, which became the subject of a "show and tell" when she got back to class, she included a cicada exoskeleton. Years later, in Arles, Christine found a brooch of "la cigalle" -- the cicada, a symbol of Provence and specifically of Arles -- that she wore on her coat for years. But I digress....

-We've been meaning to go back to the Mount Vic Flicks since we went with neighbour Roland several months ago to see "Becoming Jane." Mount Vic is Mount Victoria, the town past Blackheath, about a 20-minute drive. It is so small and charming; except for the details of the architecture, you would think you've stumbled upon a tiny French or Italian hilltown. In the daytime, the theatre looks like this ....

So off we went ....

The huge lineup 10 minutes before showtime ...

Luxury-priced goodies are a feature of the concession stand inside ....

A few minutes before the show begins, they roll a welcoming slide and a series of ads for local businesses....

One of our local cafes advertises. Unfortunately, my photo of the ad for the local goat dairy didn't turn out ....

And the film we went to see? Oh yeah, what was it? Uh, it was Sicko, the new Michael Moore documentary. It was very curious watching it there, surrounded by people who have a pretty good universal Medicare and have little sense of what life in the USA is like. And laughing at the references to "hooking a Canuck" -- marrying a Canadian in order to get free health care.

-today, Sunday, he finally did it. John Howard has called a federal election for November 24. If the polls are anything to go by, it will be bye-bye for him, but Labour will need to win quite a number of strategic ridings in order to win government. It's rather like the situation the Liberals in BC were in: they could easily win the popular vote, but their vote was not "efficient" in capturing the swing ridings.

October 11, 2007: I mentioned the bogan moths the other day. The newsreader on the TV tonight suddenly began waving his right arm in the middle of a sentence as a moth attempted a crash dive into his head. Another sign of Spring here is the crysa ... the chrysal .... uh, the outer skins of the cicadas left on the trees. The two photos below were taken at our cherry tree in the backyard: two exoskeletons left behind as the cicadas head off in their new suit of clothes. It hasn't been hot enough yet for them to sing -- the only time other than their change of costume that you really become aware of them. But we're having a thunderstorm tonight as I write this -- the first one in five or six months -- so it is getting warmer.

- a few days ago all the newscasts noted it had been three years since the last election gave the Howard government a three-year mandate. When's he gonna call it? they chorused. Another sign that an election is imminent was the announcement today by the Prime Minister that a new history curriculum, focusing on a conservative, "dead white men" version of Australia's past (that's my interpretation of it), will be mandated. Howard has always cared about the nation-building aspect of historical awareness and has gleefully waded into the "culture wars," eschewing the "black-armband school of cultural relativism," but the key to this one is that it's a wedge issue -- a stick he can use to beat the State governments, all of which are Labour. His announcement comes a week after the introduction of a citizenship test, an innocuous multiple choice quiz no more complicated than the Canadian one that Christine aced a few years ago.

-in the middle of the massive concern for global warming and climate change, which has been dominating the undeclared election campaign, it was ironic to read that the Hummer SUV was about to be imported into Australia for the first time. Oh no, said the spokesman, it's not the H2 monster that's on North American streets -- this is the H3, which is about average in fuel consumption and size for SUVs here, where the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Nissan Pajero overflow the narrow roadway lanes. (According to our daughter Sarah Jane's South American ESL students, "pajero" means wanker -- I wonder what that beast is called there?)

October 7, 2007: - by the grace of the quarantine office and customs, all of our goods from Canada arrived on Friday: a container on the back of a flat-deck. Thus officially ends the 15 months of "camping" that began with the packing up and culling of the farm in the northern summer a year ago. The key then was to reduce our belongings to fit inside a 20-foot shipping container -- about 900 cubic feet of objects, mainly books, it seems -- which is a definition of mobility for the middle-aged. In my 20s mobility was owning just enough to fit inside the archetypal VW bus; before that it was getting by with what would fit into a rucksack.

Three blokes brought our stuff and unloaded it. The oldest guy was my age and walked with a limp; the youngest guy was about the size of a tree and had a classic mullet* hairstyle -- he could have been featured on my favorite website, Mullets Galore. Really good-natured, happy Aussies, as are most of the tradesmen in our experience. It took them from about 9 til one to get everything into the house, including the furniture we'd brought. One of the last pieces on the truck was a kitchen cabinet called a Hoosier which we'd had at the farm (a Hoosier is a resident of Indiana, but a century ago it was also the name for a state-of-the-art piece of kitchen furniture -- the standard gift to a new bride from her mother-in-law). Christine and I then sat down amid the boxes to have some lunch.

Our routine is that I go and get 2 cookies out of the jar in the kitchen after we've eaten our fruit salad or sandwich or whatever. On auto-pilot, I walked into the kitchen, which has no similarity at all to the one we had on the farm, went straight to the Hoosier and started to lift the roller door covering the place where the cookie jar lived during our time on the farm! Deep memories and old habits ...

* In Australia, a mullet is not only a hairstyle, it's a rather spiny, useless fish. In slang, a mullet is a stupid person, an alternative to calling someone a galah, which is a very common type of parrot that flies in huge, noisy flocks.  Below, two galahs about to have lunch on a beach.

October 2, 2007:

-Last weekend was a long one due to Labour Day, which is the traditional kick-off for spring/summer. The weather cooperated and mobs hit the road, but many of them camped or stayed at places where there was access to a pub, or at least a TV, to watch the kick-off of the Grand Finals of the AFL and the ARL. The former is the weird "Aussie Rules" football game, the latter Rugby League, like what we played in highschool. As a gesture toward incipient Australianess, I watched the AFL game between the Manly Sea Eagles (pronounced almost like "seagulls") and the Melbourne Storm. It turned out to be a rout for the very good Melbourne team, but watching it was like seeing refrigerators collide repeatedly. The game was held at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, with nearly 82,000 high-paying spectators. Now, with that out of the way, it's time for the Melbourne Cup (horse-racing) and cricket.

As it's spring, the house is warm and we've taken to eating dinner again in the Sun Room at the back of the house, rather than in the "lounge room" with its gas fireplace. Hundreds of  "bogan moths" with glowing orange eyes fluttered against the windows, attracted by the light, and the first big Huntsman spider made an appearance. It must be spring. According to Sarah Jane, a bogan is a redneck in Aussie slang.


I decided to put a couple of paintings into the Open Exhibition for the Blackheath Art Prize, one of the juried shows that attracts artists from the various Blue Mountains communities. Most everything we liked in the show got no recognition from the judge, who was from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, but my Lawson 10-piecer (a decatych?) won the People's Choice Award: every Aussie art show has a people's choice award, voted on by the flocking crowds. An art career is born!!

There's a much bigger image of this painting on my Aussie artwork page.

Return to home page
Read September 2007 blog
Read August 2007 blog Read June 2007 blog
Read May 2007 blog Read April 2007 blog  Read March 2007 blog
 Read February 2007 blog Read January 2007 blog Read December 2006 blog

Go to my 2001-2 Australia travel book