Monday, November 21, 2011

Be someone's Christmas angel

My favourite grumpy angels

The festive season is upon us. If, like moi, you don’t have a lot of cash, but want to take part in the spirit of the season and not feel too mean and scroogelike,  then here are a couple of ideas. The first few are nicked from  the Christmas edition of  Better Homes and Gardens. Most of the others are from Random Acts of
    • Take your old Mobile phone to one of the major suppliers – Optus, Telstra etc.  and OXFAM will convert them into chickens for poor people in Laos, not to eat but to supply eggs for their families and to sell at the market. That sounds like a neat trick. Two phones equal one chook. If you aren’t near a phone shop, take them to your Post Office who will supply free pre -addressed postbags for your phonRing them  on 1300 730 070  or check their website  http//  for  more information.
    •  Take your old glasses to OPSM who will send them to help someone in the Third World. Outside Australia, one of the major chemist chains does it in the UK and you could ask optometrists or charity shops in other countries
    •   For $25 you can make a small loan to help someone start a business or improve their life through the KIVA FOUNDATION Watch the video
    How Kiva Works from Kiva on Vimeo.
    I will be doing this this year instead of sending Christmas cards -less landfill, and the returns can't possibly be worse than on my shares.

    •       If you are more concerned about the planet than the people, you can make small changes to your usage and consumption patterns, save money and help make a big collective difference to our impact as a whole by checking out the website If you take their pledge  and I didn’t tick every box, they will make a $1 donation to the Murray – Darling Basin buy back scheme, to improve the health of our largest river.
    Each click helps the cause of your choice in some way - children, animals, the environment, women,  provison of water, disease prevention and research etc. I'm not exactly sure how it works or benefits the relevant causes, but will let you know when I find out. It's a nice site anyway.

    The following ideas are included because they are more original than most.

    Using a reusable water bottle is an easy way to reduce waste in a landfill and help protect the environment. These would make nice not -too -expensive presents for people.

    Many of the other ideas on Random Acts of Kindness are what I call plain good manners e.g. Give your seat up to someone on a bus, help someone with their shopping, let someone have your parking space or your place in line. It all adds up to a bit of good cheer and only costs a little time or thought. Those below are a bit more original.

    Trying to find a job can be extremely challenging, especially for someone who has been out of the job market for a while. If you recently found a job yourself, you might have some great insight for a friend who is out of work.

    We all get frustrated in traffic at one time or another. However, simply because traffic is moving slowly doesn't mean that we can't let another driver into our lane. One additional car in front of you isn't going to make you arrive any earlier or later than you already would have. So the next time someone is waiting and waiting and waiting to merge, but the kind person who let's them in.
    Well maybe an $AUD. The next time you do your laundry at the Laundromat, leave some coins for the next person. You could even leave them on top of the machine with a note saying "Have a great day!" Or maybe Merry Christmas!

    And have one yourself while you are at it!

    Please feel free to add more. Would love to hear from my sole reader.

    Sunday, November 20, 2011

    The great bicycle conspiracy

    They are coming! 
    They are taking over our streets and houses. They lurk on verandahs, in backyards, in garages and behind locked gates. They are taking over shops and restaurants, parks and city streets. They congregate in large numbers at the university and plot secretly in dark alleys. They are getting ready to take over cities and governments. You never see  riders.  Just bikes.
    You see them in hallways and sunrooms....

    In kitchens and probably bathrooms too.

    On verandahs... 
    In front yards...
    ..and back

    ...and they probably visit one another  too.
    Taking over parks and parking spots



    .... and even the Museum for heaven's Sake!

    Taking on the market

    I can hear them now, "Arise and unite two -wheelers! Let us free ourselves from the domination of the car!"
    In Tasmania they have quietly taken over our backroads. In Taiwan the bicycle paths are linking up.
    Too bad about the weather in Tas. and I don't see how I can fit a bed on one, though I have seen some original designs and bikes that cost more than my last car.
     The Revolution is coming. The bikes are getting ready to spring.

    I’ll keep you posted.

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    I hate instant messaging

    I hate instant messaging at the best of times. For a start, there are all those cryptic acronyms and one friend uses no vowels at all which can lead to misunderstandings. Secondly, it's not instant, particularly when you are stuck in intuitive text mode and don't have your glasses on, but I now have two more reasons.

    I especially came back early from Cradle Mountain because a friend who'd had an operation on his hand was due to come out of hospital and I was supposed to pick him up.
    I didn't hear from him on Thursday and assumed  that he'd been kept in another day, or the operation had been delayed. When there was still no word from him on Friday, I rang him. He sounded fine but a little cool. He was home now thanks. Someone else had picked him up. 
    On Saturday night at 8 p.m. I finally received his message dated Thursday lunchtime. "Yes, Roni, I'm ready to come home now, anytime you're ready."

    When I rang him again, he said yes, when he hadn't heard from me, he assumed that I had forgotten or was out gallivanting somewhere out of range, or worse still, that he had offended me in some way. Anyway, we somehow managed to smooth that one over, but yesterday I got the oddest text from someone else.
    It went like this:

    I just made u
    open ur phone
    for nothing. It’s
    great being in
    control. Who’s my
    bitch? Ur my
    bitch! Now ur
    smiling like my
    bitch and after
    smiling ur going
    to send to
    another  bitch,
    who’s going to
    become your bitch.
    Now close it and
    go about ur
    business til I
    need u again!

    I was expecting a call from a friend of my sister's who didn't speak English all that well, but I didn't think this could be it. Before I relayed it to both my texting friends, I thought I should find out who it was from. I have been called many things in my life, but not someone's bitch. It wasn't signed and I didn't recognise the phone number, so  I phoned back. You have never heard anyone so embarassed in your life. Honestly I could hear someone - a female, turning several shades of purple at the other end of the phone while mumbling. "Sorry, wrong number," before quickly hanging up.

    So there you go. That's another reason for not texting. Your words are immortalised forever, no matter what state you might have been in at the time. There's a whole website devoted to texts people have sent in error, while drunk etc. Will post it here when I find it again.

    Yes, well I have, at least youngest son has kindly supplied web address. On re -reading, most of these are fairly offensive, so don't look it up if you have a delicate constitution, can't stand mangled language,  three or four letter words, juvenile humour etc. 

    Did rather like this though, also part of the same site, what with the festive season coming up:

    and I could also relate to expectations vs. reality  #8

    Save the Internet

    There is new proposed legislation in the US which will affect us all since the US controls most of the internet. It will require service providers to police the activities of their users and blacklist sites which are deemed unacceptable in any way.
    Read the full story and sign the petition here:

    Sunday, November 13, 2011

    World Kindness Day

    My volunteer flowers (on left) are doing so much better than the ones I planted

    It turns out that I am being kind to myself today. I finally took a tray up to the bedroom and made myself coffee upstairs. I would have had it on the balcony but it is raining hard outside, so I have brought the outdoor table in and I am having it here and afterwards I am going to read my book. It makes the place feel like a motel room. All it needs is a mini bar with expensive drinks and overpriced chocolates. I was kind to someone yesterday though - or at least hope I was, and I have made a small donation to the Fred Hollows Foundation today.

    There are many noble causes of course, too many, but Fred Hollows was a man after my own heart. He was a bit of an offbeat character who called a spade a spade and even, shock, horror! smoked, but when he saw a problem in the real world he just went ahead and started fixing it, without asking for permission, making submissions or going through the proper channels.

    In consequence he was able to give the gift of sight to millions of people in places like Nepal, Erritrea and Vietnam. I particularly like that he didn't just go around removing cataracts, which were one of the major causes of blindness, but also trained people within those countries to do it themselves and set up factories to make the replacement lenses cheaply.
    He was also very concerned about the health problems of Aboriginal people here in Australia, which continue to defy all government efforts to remedy them, despite large amounts of money being spent. The work he started however - establishing medical clinics in remote communties, continues.

    The other thing I like about Fred Hollows is that he studied hard and worked hard for selfless reasons and not to make a buck. Take note you greedy CEOs and others! Nor did he do it for honours. Being somewhat opposed to meddling by governments and churches, he turned down the Order of Australia in 1990,  though he has since been honoured in other ways - for example, in the naming of parks and streets and in the 2010 issue of the $1 coin.

    There are always spoilsports of course. As Brendan O'Neill  reports in this weekend's Weekend Australian (November 12 -13, 2011: 22), psychologists in the USA, while agreeing that good deeds stimulate certain areas of the brain in the same way that drugs do, regard it as a form  of pathology. If  that's true, then let me say I would find it preferable to other forms of insanity like say serial killing and definitely of far greater benefit to society than other  known ways of getting high like getting drunk or shooting up in a dark alley. Let's have more of it, I say.
    What a bizarre society we have become, to find pursuit of wealth for it's own sake acceptable and altruism a problem. Only a few weeks ago there was the shocking incident of a little girl being run over in  a Chinese market, not once, but several times and no one noticing or coming to her aid. Is this the kind of world we want? I don't, thanks. Perhaps the passers-by all just needed glasses.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Roads even less travelled - The Way Back

    Time Travel
    If you want to hum along, the music for this segment would have to be Noel Harrison's Windmills of your Mind .  Yes, I know it's from the late '60's but we are going back in time to the mid seventies now and  the lines "...Down a hollow to cavern (sorry, I always thought that said cabin) where the sun never shone..."  and
    "Pictures hanging in a hallway
    And a fragment of a song
    Half remembered names and faces
    , but to whom do they belong..." are particularly appropriate.

    Mt. Roland, just behind Sheffield. The view that greets you when you arrive by ferry

    On the way home I took a different route, via Staverton, No Where Else, Sheffield, Paradise and Promised Land. The last time I travelled the road through Paradise was when I was pregnant with my daughter and we were looking for land. The land is still green and beautiful, the blue wrens still flit before you, and the cows look fat and contented on the hills, but I’m sure that the owners would be just as reluctant to sell even a shovelful of it now as they were then. Mind you, they probably didn't want to waste good farmland on people who had no idea how to farm.

    The Alpacas are new

    I still like the placenames around here
     Most of us ended up with marginal land a long way from the towns and villages. I used to know people down most of these roads but now have difficulty finding my way around.  I also wonder what happened to them all. Mouse and Kathleen, Shane and Sue, Kim and Karen, the Tobins, Carol and was it Jim? Noeline and Mick ? And what about that red -haired girl who was learning to make violins? And  what happened to all the children who must be in their twenties and thirties now?

    Most of the people moved on long ago, but as I am close to one the places where I once lived I make a slight detour to Jackey’s Marsh. This road is overgrown too and is as rough as ever. The small cottage has apparently been moved up the hill, but nothing is visible from the road except a new drive and a locked gate. Giant wattles stand where the ‘front lawn’ and the vegie patch used to be. The house next door where Dave Holmgren did the research for Bill Mollison's first Permaculture book is still there but looks small and forlorn now.  I look around for Annie's Cottage which used to be across the road. I still have the paints she gave me when she went to join a Buddhist Monastery.  There is no trace of her house at all.

    Shane and Sue's old house

    Kim and Karen's old place
    There is still a bit of magic here. There used to be a big greenhouse with chairs, a swing and flowerbeds which was used as a lounge in winter. I wonder if that's it there?

    A woman on a horse tells me that Jim, one of the original Teapot members (the commune), still lives in the area. She points to a driveway leading steeply up a hill. "I don't think you'll ever get your van up there though," she says.
    I start walking. If I had known how long it was, I would have brought lunch. Jim always said that one day he would build a house on top of the ridge, so I guess he has succeeded. When I finally reach the top, I'm disappointed to find that he's not home. The house is eclectic but unfinished - a work in progress obviously, but the garden is superb. An irrigation system is running. The trees are netted and olives are growing along the drive.I never thought they would survive in this area.

    Even the landscape has changed.  There are fresh scars on the mountain from landslips, red tipped eucalyptus plantations have taken over the foothills and some of the farmland- a subtle change, but a change nonethless, though the forest industry swears plantations are only a small proportion of the mix.  The background used to be bluish green. When I try to visit Smoko Creek, another favourite spot, there’s a new dam along the way and just a rough new track which can only be traversed by four wheel drives. It has all become alien and unfamiliar. The feeling is bittersweet. Maybe one should never go back or never go away. I don't know why  I expected things to stay the same while I wasn't here, but I wouldn't have wanted  to miss the adventures I've had in the meantime either. I've had enough nostalgia for one day. I head back over the Lake Highway, thinking fondly of electric blankets, flushing toilets and a nice hot bath.

    Tree near Bothwell
      Not sure why I wanted to put this photo in. Maybe it represents all the dead branches in my life or  something Chris Dent said before he moved away:
    "We thought we were in the vanguard of a new world, but the old world will move on regardless and we will just become a dead branch."

    I'm not sure that's entirely true, but I'm less concerned about going back over old roads than where they will lead next. "The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began...." as Frodo said. Right now I hope it will lead me home and straight to bed.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Roads Less Travelled 2 Under the Great Western Tiers

    The Great Western Tiers provide the backdrop for this barn "with character" as youngest son would say.

    The mood changes as I near the end of the Lakes Highway and enter gentle farming country. The music this landscape evokes is more like the tender ballads of John Denver, especially Country Roads.  These country roads make right angled turns around farmers’ fields and their edges are lined with buttercups and daisies and hawthorn in bloom.

    Another old farm building with character

    It must have been a spring like this when I first fell in love with Tasmania. The grass is lush and green, the fields of poppies are almost in flower and fluffy lambs, fat cows and sleek horses graze in the paddocks, all watched over by the Great Western Tiers. It’s something to do with scale, but the roads and houses nestle into the landscape here and seem friendly rather than intrusive. I notice there are quite a few bicycle touring route signs out this way (from Liffey Falls onwards). The rich, fat scent of hawthorn fills the air, birds sing, bees buzz and hawks hover on the thermals. It would be a lovely way to travel, except for those enormous hills at either end of the valley.   Luckily there isn’t a lot of traffic so no one minds as I crawl slowly uphill. 

    Outbuildings at Cheshunt
    These pictures were taken near Cheshunt, one of the few places where the road was wide enough to pull over. It was one of those grand old estates. Though the main building is intact and I get a glimpse of lovely gardens, many of the outbuildings are falling down. Places like Chesthunt and Old Wesleydale near Chudleigh were virtually self -sufficient villages. Most however, could never have survived without convict labour and indentured servants which more or less ended when transportation ceased in 1840. Since then, many of these large estates have been subdivided or fallen into disrepair although a few have been salvaged by private owners and the National Trust.

    William Archer (1820 -1874) who owned and built Cheshunt, was the scion of a wealthy pastoral family which also owned Woolmers near Longford and Mona Vale at Ross. As well as being a pastoralist, Archer was also a notable architect, botantist and politician, but died in poverty in 1874, a broken man. He also designed Calstock near Deloraine and this has found new life as luxury tourist accommodation (
    When I first came I was very impressed with buildings like these and it is well worth a peek inside, but now I have far greater admiration for those small farmers and wood cutters who somehow managed to raise large families in those tiny cottages which lie unsung on the way to the Hunstman Valley. Pity there was nowhere to stop to take a photo of one of these, but I'll leave a space.

    From there, it’s on through Mole Creek, past the fabulous caves and into the dark and mountainous Mersey Forest Reserve. There are fantastic views here too, if you can ever find a spot to pull over. There is one lookout at the top of Round Hill, just before you plunge down into the Valley. In common with many other deep valleys around Tasmania this one was  carved out by glaciers on their way to the sea. There are several large dams here and Gowrie Park is what remains of the construction camp. There is also a pleasant camping spot at O’Neill’s Creek, a few Km towards Sheffield, but it is already quite busy, and I want to be as close as possible to Cradle Mountain for an early start in the morning. It’s a long hard slog up the hill on the other side of Gowrie Park and the van is taking it hard, but nowhere near as hard as the Suzuki Swift in front of me. There’s nowhere to pass or pull over, so I just have be patient and keep changing gears.

    View from Round Hill, just before plunging down into the Mersey Valley
    Exhausted, my shoulders and arms aching from so many turns of the wheel, I end up at Lea’s Paddocks, an area scoured out by moving ice sheets at the end of the Ice Age, leaving a number of small lakes. This is another old Mountain Cattlemen’s haunt. The roads are breaking up and growing over here and I can’t find the little hut which used to be near the Lake. In that curious golden light of late afternoon, haunt is the right word. You get the sense that this was once a lively place but now that the old ones have gone, it has fallen silent  and another little bit of history is lost. For some reason I get that feeling often on this trip. Hope I will be able to get back up past the potholes. On the way down I had the law of gravity on my side.
    'Night all!

    The old roads are growing over
     Meanwhile, some of the native vegetation is coming back.
    This is Celery Top Pine which is related to and dates from the same geological era as the Pencil Pines

    This is Tasmania's endemic Waratah
    In another week or so these buds will turn into the most shameless red flowers.

    Roads Less Travelled - The Lakes Highway

    Part of the Circle of Standing Stones at the Steppes Historic Reserve
    Driving over the roof of Tasmania

    The Lakes Highway runs up the centre of Tasmania North to South or vice versa, from Bothwell to Deloraine. Although this route is officially shorter, it’s a hard drive with lots of bends, long uphills and gravel sections, so it takes twice as long as driving on the main highway through the Midlands. However, since it was a long weekend and fearing bumper to bumper traffic on the sealed road, I thought I would give it a try. It had been twenty years since I had come this way, so I vaguely hoped that the road might have been finished by now, but things hadn’t changed much. There was a bit of new work around Bothwell. There were a few more shacks and some were a bit fancier than before and there were quite a lot more muscle cars towing large boats.

    Detail of one of the Sculptures by Stephen Walker

    Because it passes over the Central Plateau this road is very exposed and is often impassable by conventional cars because of ice and snow. The few settlements are small and far between.  Mostly they are clusters of holiday shacks used in summer and on weekends. The boats parked outside them are often bigger and the fishing is supposed to be excellent.

    The Great Lake - This is the first time I have seen it in good weather

    I had never seen the Lake looking blue before. The last time I came through, the clouds came right down to the road. This is harsh country which was previously only  known to trappers and mountain cattlemen who brought herds up here in summer. Apart from genteel pastoral properties hidden behind imposing gates around Bothwell, it still seems like a blokey kind of place where men go to escape from work or family responsibilites for a while. Think barbies and tinnies and Eskies full of fish, though I did see at least one family walking their dog.
    Beware of large utes towing boats.They rarely slow down
     I pass a small car crumpled at the side of the road. The driver may have lost control on the gravel. It pays to drive slowly and there is less risk of windscreen damage too.

    Loved some of the names along the way
    There's a place called Mother Lords Plains just around the bend and when I read a sign saying Ripple Creek, I couldn't get that song by Arlo Guthrie out of my head.
    "I don't need no diamond ring
    I don't need no Cadillac car
    I just want to drink my Ripple Wine
    Down in the Lightning Bar ...”
    Did I mention that the radio in my car doesn't work and I often sing quite lustily to myself while driving, much to the astonishment of other drivers.
    There are Aboriginal place names here too - Miena, Liawenee and Waddamana, which variously mean 'Lake,' 'Cold Water' and 'Noisy Water,' though not necessarily in that order. It does suggest that these places were known to aboriginal people. They didn't fish, but they probably hunted here in the summers. Certainly there is still plenty of game, especially very large kangaroos, both dead and alive, so watch out for them on the road too.
    Liawenee and Miena regularly compete to see which is the coldest place in Tasmania.

    Sometimes the boats look bigger than the shacks
    After leaving the Lake with it's clutch of villages, the road rises again and the landscape changes and becomes more desolate. You could imagine what the country might have looked like thousands of years ago, before Tasmania separated from Antarctica. There are several ancient species here.

     Pencil Pines at Pine Lake
    Pencil pines are cousins of the Califoria Redwoods and are left over from Gondwana times. Related trees exist in New Zealand and South America and are part of the evidence that all three countries were once conjoined. The Pine Lake Walk is one of the few places where you can see them easily without having to go bushwalking for hours. Some of these survivors are over 1,000 years old.

    The bright green mounds are Cushion Plants
    Cushion plants are a bit like corals in that they are tiny individual plants which huddle together to protect themselves against the cold. The ones above are probably around a hundred years old and they are very delicate. The plant on the left in the picture is Richea Scoparia. It doesn't look much now, but in a month or so it will flower in a blaze of pinks and reds and orange. 
    From the top of the Plateau there are some fabulous glimpses of mountain scenery and views over valleys and foothills of rich farmland stretching all the way to the sea. Then it’s a long, long way down.