Monday, November 30, 2009

twin update...

Last week I minded the twins for two days while their mum had a well earned break. We had fabulous fun. They’re eleven months now, crawling, into everything, vocalising… so we made lots of animal sounds and sang songs and played with balls endlessly. I discovered how hard it is to get down on the floor and then up again quickly. The girls have totally opposite personalities and don’t really look all that alike now, even though they’re supposedly identical. So it’s fascinating to watch them develop into unique little people. But yes, I was a tad weary at the end of two days… not nice to realise I’m not so young any more. Then again, grandmothers aren’t meant to be young, are they? J This is Milla. And here's Sophie. And yes, it's very hot in Townsville now. Hence the lack of clothing.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A new talent...

Would you like to know more about a brand new North Queensland author? Helene Young is a guest today at the Romance Writers of Australia blog. Her debut book sounds fabulous! It'll be released in March and I'm so looking forward to reading it. Go Helene!

Last call... for a great opportunity...

Successful RADF applicant Mark Reed recieved funds to invite NIDA teacherFrancesca Smith to conduct a 5 day playwrighting Intensive at the MagneticIsland Recreation Centre. Thanks to Townsville RADF participants will onlyhave to cover the cost of meals and ferry fares. Date:Tuesday 1st December Sign In at the Recreation Centre after 5pm or early Wednesday morning Workshops run all day from Wednesday 2nd to Sunday 6th. All accommodation and joining fees covered by RADF
Meals: $135 and Ferry $29 return to be coverd by participants
Contact: Mark Reed for registration and payment detailsPho: 4721 5433Mobile:0401 435333

Saturday, November 21, 2009

the continuing guinea fowl tragedy...

My deadline is fast approaching, so I'm trying to keep away from the Internet, but I knew I should keep you posted.
Sadly, three of our guinea fowl keets succumbed after the horrors of that first cold night. We've since learned that because they're equatorial birds the babies need to be kept very warm. The one surviving chick has been in our house each night and on a warm spot on the veranda each day and he/she (Gloria or Lazarus??) seems to be thriving. We will take him with us when we go back to Townsville. Adult guineas are fine.
We were supposed to be heading off today, but in a burst of getting as much done as possible before we leave, I spent the morning in the garden and ended up being stung by something nasty.
The blessings of country life, huh?
Right now I'm thinking longingly of my nice comfy city apartment. But I'm getting drowsy from antihistamine, so we'll delay out trip south till tomorrow.
Meanwhile I thought you might enjoy a few snaps of Spring on the Tablelands, and sometime soon I will tell you about Tarzali's centenary celebrations.

Our orchids are doing better than ever this year.

The flame trees are glorious.
A lovely splash of bougainvillea.

And the buddleia is out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

naming our babies...

I'm so glad people asked about names for our guinea fowl. I was going to mention straight up that blog visitors may like to help us with names, but I wasn't sure if you'd be shy...
Anyway, before we talk names, I have some sad news.
Last night we had a very cold night and
a) we didn't realise how cold it was. I was shocked to get up and read the thermometer and see it was 11 degrees
b) we didn't realise that guinea fowl really don't like the cold
c) we didn't realise that our mother guinea fowl wasn't interested in sitting on her babies and keeping them warm.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Yes, dear reader, I'm sad to report that when Elliot checked the pen this morning, the babies were in a terrible state -- at death's door. In fact, one of them has since died, which is just awful. Two are quite fit but another isn't well. As you can imagine, they are all inside with us tonight, tucked up in a woolly sweater. Fingers crossed all will be well from now on.
And so to naming...
We have to call one of the adult females Matera... because when we were at the Women's fiction festival in Matera a few years ago, there was a guinea fowl in one of the ancient stone houses near us. It used to sit in the window and call out and we've never forgotten.
Elliot wants to call the baby that almost died but seems to have revived Lazarus.
And he's chosen Icarus for an adult male that keeps flying high and hitting the roof.
But there are four other birds as yet un-named and we're very open to suggestions. There's a female and a male and two babies of as yet uncertain gender. Anyone like to toss a name in the ring?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

new additions to the family...

We are now officially country folk with a little flock of guinea fowl. Four adults and four babies (the babies are called keets.)

Elliot has built them a house, with lovely leaf litter on the floor full of worms and insects and they have an automatic grain feeder and an automatic water dispenser, a mirror for them to admire themselves (they adore it!) and perches on which they can roost -- oh, and shade as well as protection from the rain.
We’ll keep them in the pen for three to four weeks, and after that they’ll be able to free range on the block, the plan being that they’ll return to the pen to roost each night. There’s a special high opening and shelf for them to fly back in that keeps them safe from cats etc.
Here they are checking themselves out in the mirror. E read about this trick on the internet. Honestly, they stay there for hours admiring themselves, or trying to work out what the heck these other birds are -- and at least it stops them from fretting about being in the pen while they get used to our place. We already have one egg, but we’re not planning to eat it. I’ve begged that we don’t eat any of the birds either, in case you were wondering. One reason we wanted guinea fowl, apart from the fact that they’re quiet and look cute running around the place in their flocks, is that they’re reputed to be very good at catching and eating ticks and chasing snakes. In other words, they deal with two drawbacks of country life in one blow.
If you’re worried about what will happen to them while we’re doing our city stints, our lovely neighbours will be keeping an eye on them. A big plus of country living. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The trip continued...

OK. Carrying on from yesterday's post about travelling north between Townsville and the Tablelands...
Just north of Cardwell, this iconic structure has given me endless fascination. Isn’t it gorgeous? Or am I plain weird? Anyway, it’s an old smokehouse – where pork became bacon and beef became corned… beef, and behind it now is a nice modern white farm house and a banana plantation.
Ahead of us now, the mountains loom even larger as we approach Tully, and we know that our Tablelands are up there, too… somewhere in the clouds. If I remember correctly from long ago geography lessons, it’s thanks to the height of these mountains that Tully has the highest annual rainfall in Australia. The south east trades blow up the coast, warming over tropical waters, then they have to rise to go over the mountains and they cool and condense. It’s called orographic rainfall. There, that’s a little bit of information you may want to forget…
Anyway, we drive on through Tully and towns like El Arish, where soldiers settled after WW1, and named after the battle in the Middle East, and then we come to the turn off where we leave the coast and head for the hills.

For us, the turn off is marked by this Italian house that stands head and shoulders above the surrounding cane fields. We always get a bit excited when we reach this point.
We pass banana plantations that were flattened a few years ago by Cyclone Larry, and for six months the whole of Australia went without bananas, or paid astronomical prices for imports.

And then we keep driving west, moving first into the uplands, which are already greener and cooler, and we pass tea plantations. Doesn’t tea grow neatly? If you double click on this photo, you will see how it grows in neat hedgerows. Mechanical harvesters clip the new growth, helping to keep it neat. Did did you know tea is a relative of the camellia? (Another trivia fact) Australia’s famous pesticide free Nerada tea is grown near here.
Now we watch the car’s external thermometer start to drop as we climb the Palmerston Highway through thick rainforest and past crystal creeks… until we emerge on the Tablelands where it’s invariably misty and green. Here sugar cane and bananas have given way to dairy cows and milk factories… and we truly do feel as if we’ve arrived in another country.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The trip...

I talk a lot about travelling between the city and the country and back again, but I've never described the trip for you, so I thought it was about time I did. I want to show you that in the space of a few hours between Townsville and the Tablelands, we almost feel like we're going to a different country. If we were in the UK, I guess we easily could be.
Townsville is in the dry tropics, so when we head north, we first go through rather a long stretch of rather uninteresting bush. But maybe I find it uninteresting because I grew up in the south where the bush is softer and greener. My son, who was born here, loves the straggly bush around Townvsille.

Depending on the time of day, we sometimes stop at a place about forty-five minutes to the north called Frosty Mango. Here they sell fabulous ice cream made from tropical fruits -- mango (growing on trees to the left), pineapple, banana, soursop, black sapote -- as well as popular favourites like tiramasu and strawberry vanilla. These mango trees and coconut palms grow in the surrounding gardens, as well as a variety of tropical fruit, so it's quite a tourist draw card.

From there we drive on to Ingham, a small sugar-growing town with a large Italian population. Actually, all the North Queensland sugar towns were settled by Italian migrants and the delis are fabulous -- full of divine salamis and homemade pasta and pannetone etc. The cemetery in Ingham is worth a visit because of the rather splendid Italian gravestones -- and, as with all cemeteries, the headstones tell so many stories.

This year's sugar crop has been harvested, and the new cane is only a a few inches high (just looks like grass). By next June it will be well over six feet and topped by pale mauve feathery plumes.

Have I mentioned that crocodiles are a distinct possibility in all waterways in Far North Queensland ? So unfortunately no swimming outside the safe enclosures.

All the way, as we travel north, we have the Great Dividing Range (called Seaview Range here) to our left. These mountains get taller around Ingham and they often remind me of a dragon's spine. Just north of Ingham they tumble down to the coast and offshore they become Hinchinbrook Island. We have to climb over the range and on the crest, we have a fab view of the winding waterways in the Hinchinbrook passage (above). Then we drive down a windy road with rainforest on either side, and on to Cardwell.

Cardwell is right by the sea and a must stop spot! I love it here, sitting on the beach where the Coral Sea (protected by the Great Barrier Reef) laps gently at tangled mangrove roots. You can look out at Hinchinbrook and Gould Islands, watch sailing boats and wonder about the adventures they're having...

This the half way point in our journey. More tomorrow...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

books into movies...

This week (in the city) I've watched two movies based on books I've loved -- Mao's Last Dancer written by Li Cunxin, and The Time Traveller's Wife written by Audrey Niffennegger.

As we all know, sometimes movies don't work as well as books, but in both these cases, I think the directors have captured the spirit of the books and then added something more. I loved both movies -- loved the visual details of Li Cunxin's peasant village in Communist China, was blown away by the extraordinary dancing, and cried buckets at the end. This story had a beautiful arc.

I also loved visual details in The Time Traveller's Wife. I mean... Eric Bana gets to run around naked quite a bit, which is a bonus. But a big plus for me in this movie, apart from the story and the acting were the fascinating and atmospheric interiors of the various places where Claire and Henry lived, especially the final house.
I thought the romantic edge to this story was very involving. (Mind you, I was familiar with all the time jumps from reading the book, so I knew to expect this. The movie handled them much better than I thought it might.) And although the ending was different from the book and a tad Hollywoodised, I adored it. Wept oceans. Loved it, loved it, and thought it was an improvement on the book's ending.
But then I would, wouldn't I? If you see it for yourself, you'll know why.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Melbourne Cup sweeps

Tomorrow in Australia we have a horse race which is reputed to stop the nation. It's pretty much true. While the Melbourne Cup is running, people all over the country are glued to their televisions or radios. Many businesses stop work for those few minutes of the race.
And there are parties galore -- and hats!!! Lots of hats. I still have to find mine.
When I was a child, my grandparents always used to visit us in November, and I remember my grandfather running sweeps. We children would put in sixpence from our pocket money and the thrill of having a winning horse was huge.
This year I'm in a cyber sweep with writer mates organized by the fab Bronwyn Jameson, and I've drawn Newport and Alcopop. I had no idea until last night that there's been a lot of excitement about Alcopop. His trainer, Jake Stephens (32, and pictured here) is a South Australian cattleman and restaurateur (how appropriate), and he trains his horses on the beach apparently. I've only been quickly gathering info, but it seems he missed out on entering Alcopop in the Caufield Cup (the precursor to Melbourne), because he forgot to pay one of the registration fees, but the horse powered home in another race that earned him a place in the big race, and now he's one of the favourites. In another unconventional touch, Bron tells me he's using an unknown jockey rather than one of the big city names.
I haven't found out anything about Newport yet, but I mustn't neglect him. If you have a horse in a sweep, or if you're placing bets, good luck!!! And don't forget to find a hat!