Category Archives: our story

… a little bit of summer

flowers against a blue sky

flowers against a clear, blue, February sky…

February in this part of the world can either be the height of summer, with soaring temperatures and long, dry days, or a time when autumn winds make an early appearance, bringing drizzly weather.

early signs of autumn...

… and early signs of autumn’s approach

The year Will was born, February was a sizzler… I remember it well, because, Will being Will, he was late.  You really feel the heat when you are 9+ months pregnant.

This summer, not so.

It’s definitely been summer, with plenty of summery storms, but the temperatures have been mild.  The most you can really say is that it has been February…

…Will’s birthday month.

 

 

February birthdays can be a bit awkward. Being only just back at school makes it hard to provide friends with an adequate time frame for party invitations, and lots of families are too busy trying to get back into the swing of things to want to make the effort of a lengthy drive out to the bush.

This year felt like a bit of an anti climax for Will, too, as he had a very expensive Christmas gift that was also supposed to be for his birthday, as well, and many of the relatives that we usually rely on to be part of a family celebration were away on various holidays (one on the other side of the country).

I’ve promised that once the start of year madness has settled down we’ll organise a day at the go kart track or try our hand at some archery again, but for the time being it was just him and us. Our plan for fish and chips at the lake (take-away food is a rare event in our household) was cancelled due to an impending storm, but, since Will has recently discovered calamari rings, Matt decided to ‘do’ some calamari at home for something a bit different.

This might seem straightforward until you realise that prepared calamari is all highly gluten-y and way off my diet. Hey, you say, but weren’t you about to eat fish and chips down at the lake? No, not I.  I would have been bringing my own home-made salmon salad to eat while the boys had the fish and chips.

And… only ‘controllable’ gluten products usually make it into our kitchen (into a separate cupboard where only the brave dare go), so this calamari was going to be a Seventy Seven Acre special.

Matt went into the kitchen innocent of any major plan and, after some time turned out a dish that, to be honest, I had to be suspicious of… isn’t it a well known fact that squid has to be cooked incredibly quickly? Well, this took hours!

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

It. Was. Delicious. Tender. And. Juicy.

And I could eat it. Yay.

So here it is: Seventy Seven Acre ‘Calamari’ a la Matt

You will need…

  • squid (one tube was sufficient for the three of us)
  • lemon
  • coriander seeds
  • black pepper
  • chilli powder (or fresh chilli if you prefer, we didn’t have any on hand)
  • garlic
  • a decent sized mango (!)
  • small red and small green capsicum (peppers)
  • olive oil
  • white wine (enough to splash)

And so it begins…

  • get some squid rings (or a tube to slice up yourself) from a fishmonger who sells it (relatively) fresh – we live about 140 km away from the sea as the crow flies, and about 240 km via a windy road – so we had to take that the squid was fresh on trust – I’ve learned to be wary of frozen products which often have flour around them so they don’t stick together)
  • 4 hours (yep, that’s a 4) before you plan to serve it, marinade in lemon juice (about half a lemon freshly squeezed), freshly ground coriander and black pepper, chilli powder and garlic (to taste)
  • slice up the mango and add about a third of it to the marinade
  • let it all sit for 2 and a half hours (or so, while you head off to do something vitally important)

Later…

  • roughly dice the capsicum (peppers)
  • heat a minimal amount of olive oil in a pan suitable for sauteing (stainless steel is best)
  • saute capsicum, add the rest of the mango
  • add white wine to make a very wet sauce
  • bring to simmer
  • add the (by now well-marinated) squid
  • bring slowly back to a simmer and cook long and slow to reduce the sauce (this is the bit that made me suspicious, I was expecting a ‘throw it in and swish it around a few times’)

Much later…

  • Serve with salad of choice.
  • And / or rice if you wish.

PS Gran was good enough to make Will a superb birthday cake – my attempts having failed due to a lack of conventional oven and the little convection oven we’ve been using until we can afford to replace the now dead oven in our kitchen apparently being completely unsuitable for baking nut flour based cakes. Sadly. And expensively.

 

PPS the quote “…a little bit of summer” that I used for the title is actually about winter:

“One must maintain a little bit of summer,
even in the middle of winter.”

~Henry David Thoreau

but it seemed quite appropriate to our summer this year, which has seemed to be only a little bit of summer (although, I have loved our milder, rainier weather this year… really).

By the light of the silvery moon…

Sometimes magic happens when you go to do the most mundane of jobs.

It was a pretty cold evening (for an Australian summer) and the only reason I was outside was to check on the new diesel pump that we were running in by filling our fire-fighting water tank.

I’d already gone back in once to get a cardigan, but I was soon running back inside a second time to fetch the camera.

Matt was totally focused on the pump and how quickly it was filling up the big blue tank, but I had glanced up in time to see the full moon rising over the hills above our house.

A globe of brilliant, white light, stark in a dark sky, abruptly lit the clouds and created mysterious silhouettes of the trees behind our garden.

I was too slow to catch the moon cradled in the fold of the hills, and too shaky to hold the camera still for the two second exposure needed to get a clear picture, but Matt came up with the clever idea of leaning on our Landrover to hold the camera steady while we took the shot.

by the light of the silvery moon...

by the light of the silvery moon…

The picture will never do justice to the true beauty of the moment, but it preserves the sense of it, to gently remind me of it at a later time.

I would like to say that all you could hear was the whisper of the wind in the trees, but, sadly, any romantic sounds were well and truly drowned out by the pounding of the pump.

It really doesn’t matter, though, because, back in suburbia, I would never have seen the vision of the moon, resplendent and silver, because I would have been tucked up inside, avoiding the cold wind, with no reason to venture outside on such a chilly evening.

Instead, I got to share that magic moment with Matt, and have a memory filled with warmth and companionship, by the light of the silvery moon…

 

On a side note, By the Light of the Silvery Moon was a song by Edward Madden and Gus Edwards, published in 1909, and sung by Doris Day and Gordon McCrae in a 1950s movie of the same title. I remember it fondly – not because I was around then (either of the thens), but because my mother used to sing it to me as a lullaby when I was little. I suspect it meant a lot to her (possibly because of my dad, and possibly because her mother had sung it to her) and, if I remember rightly, she had the sheet music (I must check if she still has it). In the way of oral traditions, I’m pretty sure that I’ve sung it to my children as a lullaby, too. It is, of course, not a lullaby, but a love song:

By the light of the silvery moon
I want to spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon

Place, park, scene, dark
Silvery moon is shining through the trees
Cast, two, me, you
Summer kisses floating on the breeze
Act one, be done
Dialogue, where would ya like to spoon?
My cue, with you
Underneath the silvery moon

By the light of the silvery moon
I wanna spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honey moon, keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon

Act two, Scene new
Roses blooming all around the place
Cast three, You me
Preacher with a solemn-looking face
Choir sings, bell rings
Preacher, you are wed forever more
Act two, all though
Every night the same encore

By the light, not the dark but the light
Of the silvery moon, not the sun but the moon
I wanna spoon, not croon, but spoon
To my honey, I’ll croon love’s tune
Honeymoon, honeymoon, honeymoon
Keep a-shinin’ in June
Your silvery beams will bring love’s dreams
We’ll be cuddlin’ soon
By the silvery moon
The silvery moon

Watched by a Wombat

Mostly, all we ever see of him is a handful of cube shaped calling cards that he leaves heaped on a rock or a fallen log nearby.  For ages, we didn’t even see that, but, bit by bit, he has been venturing closer and closer, and, for a while now, we have found his scats quite closely arranged in an ever decreasing circuit around the perimeter of our garden.  There was even evidence of a brief foray into the garden, once, to investigate his old hole.

I feel as though we are being watched.

We’ve been at Seventy Seven Acres for three years now, and, right from the start, the Eastern Greys just sort of took us for granted. To them, we’re family.  There is a Swamp Wallaby that considers us his catering crew, and a family of Brush Tailed Possums with a similar view, not to mention the myriad of birds that watch me through the window every morning, waiting to see if there is anything for breakfast.

The Echidna occasionally turns up at my study window searching for insects caught in the cobwebs (I’d rather have the spiders than the poison and am too lazy to go around with a brush too often), and we have seen turtles at the dam and blue tongue lizards and water dragons on the track.

Wombat remains (mostly) invisible.

Wombat on track... facing off with our car before dashing into the bush...

Wombat on track… facing off with our car before dashing into the bush…

We know he is there.  As I said, he leaves his scats prominently displayed, and I did stop the car in great excitement once to take his photo as he charged across the track.  The previous owners also had photos of him pottering around the garden in a slide show they had cannily left playing on their giant TV screen (it was pictures of the snow on the same screen that caused me to say, “Snow?  that’s it!” and caused the Real Estate Agent a moment of, “Oh, it’s not every year… maybe once every three years… and not very much…”, not realising that it was a selling point for me, not a turn off, and, little did she know, we were already sold by then).

He was a rescue wombat, and I don’t know the full story but I’m pretty sure it involved a car.  Wombats and cars are not a good mix.  Since moving here I have seen too many of them upside down by the side of the road.  Not much seems to scavenge on them (I gather from the story Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan that they are very tough eating) so they tend to be lying there for some time, a sad reminder of the toll on wildlife brought about by our fast paced age.  Wombats are not too good for cars either.  I’ve seen the resulting damage to a visitor’s car after an altercation along the valley.  Best to try and miss them if you can.  Although, that can be difficult, as they are very quick little creatures.  Well, quite big creatures, actually.

Anyway, my understanding is that he was brought up from a joey elsewhere, and released here as a young adult.  There is a wombat hole in the garden, and there was a pile of sand for his digging pleasure, and there are definitely other wombats around, so he is not alone.

The ex-owners told us tales reminiscent of Diary of a Wombat (the lovely picture book by Jackie French) but did warn us that he had become less people oriented as he became older — which was, indeed, the aim of the game.  We, clearly, are not the right people at all, and, quite rightly, he maintains his distance.

Although that distance is getting smaller… and we are being watched.

Some Wombat Facts

Wombats, one of Australia’s famous marsupials, are squat and sturdy in build, with a large head and small eyes and ears.  They have short, muscular legs, which, teamed up with their sharp claws, make them amazing diggers, and the females have a backwards facing pouch so that joeys don’t get showered in dirt as Mum digs.  Wombats can dig burrows that are up to 30 metres long and a couple of metres deep, and they generally stay inside during the day, where they can keep cool in summer and warm in winter, often sharing with other wombats.

Don’t be fooled though, those short legs can carry them at fairly high speeds.  I have memories of reading about one that was clocked at 40 kilometres an hour, and I’ve seen them hike across a road at an alarming speed.  I suspect this is why they get hit so often – people just don’t realise how quickly a frightened animal can turn and run across the road in front of them.

Wombats are generally grazing animals, mostly eating native grasses, but I’m given to understand that they are also partial to carrots and parsnips, and even the occasional bowl of oats!  They are very territorial about their feeding grounds, however, and will chase off challengers with lots of noisy grunts and snorts.

Mating in spring, between September and December, Wombats produce one offspring, which crawls its way to the pouch and usually stays there for about seven to twelve months.  They are tiny when they are born, weighing about one ounce, but they grow quickly in the protection of the pouch.  Wombats reach maturity and are able to have young of their own at about two years of age.

In New South Wales, wombats are protected but continue to face threats from cars and wild dogs, as well as suffering from competition for feeding from domestic animals.  The Common Wombat (like our friend) is not considered threatened, but the Northern and Southern Hairy Nosed Wombats are on the endangered list.

Information from http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/animals/Wombats.htm (and care of Jackie French’s wonderful book Diary of a Wombat )

 

 

…One White Cockatoo

The poem, White Cockatoo, by Banjo Paterson starts

Now the autumn maize is growing,
Now the corn-cob fills,
Where the Little River flowing
Winds among the hills.
Over mountain peaks outlying
Clear against the blue
Comes a scout in silence flying,
One white cockatoo…

Of course, one white cockatoo is joined by clouds of cockatoos, descending like snow upon the ripening corn-cobs, and I guess that’s it for the crop…

Common across all of eastern Australia, these noisy birds can form huge flocks, resting in regular roosts close to water during the heat of the day and generally heading out to open country to feed either earlier in the morning or later on, when it is a little cooler.

Luckily, the pair of Sulphur Crested Cockatoos that stopped by my garden recently didn’t presage the arrival of a huge flock, but they did provide a few moments of pleasing entertainment.

ImageContrary to the way it may seem, I have a bit of a soft spot for these raucous natives.  They are the clever clowns of the garden and are not immune from playing practical jokes.  We had a large old pine tree in the garden of our house in suburbia where a small family of cockatoos used to congregate to break open the pine cones and eat the nuts.

No worries there.

Not so sure about the pine cones they used to drop on unwary gardeners and small children.

No.  I’m not kidding.  They used to wait until someone was passing underneath and then, basically, throw a pine cone at them.  And laugh.  True.

Or they would fly a low pass overhead and screech at the top of their voices from just behind their chosen victim.  Believe me, they are loud.  Does wonders for getting the heart pumping.

Whilst I had no objection to them eating the pine nuts, I was a little less pleased when they got stuck into our almonds.  There was no keeping them out either.  They generally found a way into or under any netting we put over our young trees, and looked at us with scorn if we tried to chase them off.  They just laughed at the dog, who would stand at the base of the tree, barking, knowing full well that there was nothing that she could do!

Of all the birds, I think that the cockatoo has the most developed sense of humour.

When we moved up from Melbourne some years ago, our new neighbours had a pet cockatoo that lived on a perch on their front verandah.  Our cat was a keen birder, despite our best efforts, multiple bells and water spray therapy.  She took one look at Cocky and you could see her eyes light up.  Heaven.  On a stick.

I was chatting with our neighbour, Anne, at the time and spotted her (the cat, not the neighbour) stalking across the garden.  With huge apologies, I went to prevent what I thought would be a disastrous introduction only to be stopped in my tracks.

“No, watch this,” Anne said, grinning.

A little reluctantly, I watched.

My feline friend continued her soundless approach, while the ‘unsuspecting’ cockatoo completely failed to notice.  I nervously explained that our cat was a very efficient hunter.

“Trust me,” Anne countered.

Cocky was by now preening his feathers peacefully while the Great Hunter bunched up her muscles, poised for the pounce.

And pounce she did.

I swear she was already in flight when Cocky suddenly exploded in size, fluffing up his feathers, extending his wings and opening out his beautiful yellow crest, giving an ear piercing, blood-curdling screech.

The Great Hunter turned in mid-air (against all the laws of physics) and disappeared under our deck, from whence she refused to return until Cocky went to bed.

Cocky bounced up and down on his perch, while Anne explained that this was his normal way of greeting any visiting cats.

I would like to say that our cat was cured of her hunting tendencies as a result of that event, and, indeed, it did cramp her style for quite a while (nor did she ever approach Cocky again), but we still had to perform the occasional rescue over the last few years of her life.

Meanwhile, Cocky’s favourite idea of a joke was to call out to passer’s by, usually inviting them to go to the pub with him, in a voice so realistic that people unfamiliar with him would be looking around for their erstwhile new friend.

Cocky was one of many pet birds around Canberra that were released as the 2003 fires raged through the suburbs.  By then we lived elsewhere (and our Great Hunter had passed on to the Great Hunting Ground in the Sky), but I often fancied that Cocky came to visit us, nonetheless, perhaps throwing pine cones at us from the tree in our backyard.  Perhaps he was the ‘scout’ that led all the others in their mischief…Image

The visitors to our garden the other day were, by comparison, quite benign.  Although they did spend some time investigating our weather station.  And I’m not saying that they wouldn’t have attacked our fruit trees if the wallaby had left them anything to attack.

Still, I’m happy for them to be occasional guests, stopping by once in a while… just, please, not in clouds, descending like snow.

 

 

 

Post Script: Also, just in case you were wondering, here’s a settler’s recipe for cockatoo stew:

Take one cockatoo and pop it in a billy of boiling water with a rock and a handful of root vegetables.  Boil until rock is tender then throw away the cockatoo!

I gather they are a bit on the tough side.  Never felt the urge to find out, personally, but there you go.

Post Post Script: the collective noun for these comedic birds is recorded, variously, as a chattering, clattering, cluttering, crackle, or cacophony of cockatoos.  My vote is for the cacophony.

Post Post Post Script: if you are keen to encourage these delightful birds into your garden by feeding them, I’m given to understand that they are partial to all kinds of seeds, nuts and fruit.  They are also partial to eating any wood that your house or garden structures may be made from, bird netting or shade cloth, and the occasional TV aerial.

 

 

Our garden or theirs?

One of the amazing privileges of having ‘gone bush’ is the proximity to the wildlife with which we share our home. When we first arrived at Seventy Seven Acres, one regular visitor was a small kangaroo of the Eastern Grey persuasion who had obviously suffered some trauma in the past. She had scars on her hip and an extra bend in her tail.

She may well have been a rescue ‘roo, because she showed no concern at our arrival, and turned up most evenings to munch on the grass and clover in our lawn. We knew nothing about kangaroos, really, but had been used to the mob that hung around our old place in the suburbs of Canberra. This little lady was quite a bit smaller and had some dark markings that we didn’t recognise. Perhaps she was some sort of wallaby?

Didn’t matter.

She provided hours of watching pleasure, especially since she had a joey of delicate build and cheeky nature who often had a ‘mad half hour’, leaping joyously around the garden. Sometimes she would curl up under the grevillea to have a nap, and, in the rain, she would hide under the eaves right outside the big glass door of our bedroom.

Yeah, I know it seems stupid, but we ended up giving her a name… although we simply called them ‘A’ and ‘B’ to begin with. But ‘B’ came to be Beatrice (Bea for short), so we had to give ‘A’ a name. She became Anastasia, or Annie, and what a calm nature and self-contained character she displayed.

No, we couldn’t exactly approach her, and, no, we didn’t want to do so, but she wouldn’t run away if we went outside to, say, bring the washing in, pick some fruit or veg from the garden, or put scraps on the compost heap. She would maybe look up, check what we were doing, and then return to concentrating on her meal.

Once, she was visiting the garden early in the morning and an admirer had followed her up. Big, muscley guy, he was. All boy. I turned the tap on in the kitchen to fill the kettle for my morning cuppa, and he turned and ran.

Annie didn’t even blink. The fella stopped at the back gate and looked back, and you could have sworn he was saying something like, “Come on, I’ll keep you safe!”

Annie’s response? Well, if she could she would have rolled her eyes.

Bea didn’t move either.

The following year Annie had a new joey, and I nearly expired with impatience waiting to see little Cherise eventually appear from the pouch. If anything, in the end, Cherise was madder and even cheekier than Bea, now a young ‘teen’, sometimes there with Annie, more often running with a mob of young bucks.

This year, Annie had another joey, Desiree, to keep Cherise company.

And Bea came back, with Eugenie.

Bea and Eugenie calmly enjoying their evening meal, taking advantage of the spray from our sprinkler during a recent heatwave...

Bea and Eugenie calmly enjoying their evening meal, taking advantage of the spray from our sprinkler during a recent heatwave…

We actually see Bea and Eugenie more often than the others at the moment.

Okay, we know this naming thing is going to get way out of hand, but these ‘roos are kinda like family, now. Others come to visit (I once came home to find a whole mob of young males occupying the back garden), but these girls are part of the scenery.

We talk to them, they twitch their ears, look at us placidly as they chew their cud, and gallantly let us live on their patch.

Thunder Drops and Passing Storms

 As I sit in the family room listening to the thunder drops on our tin roof and the rumble of the storm as it passes overhead, and smell the the tang of eucalypt in the air and the wet earth, I still can’t believe that I’m here. It was raining the first time I came here, gentle rain, and I stood in the back garden completely oblivious to the real estate agent pointing out various features of the property. It didn’t matter. I was in love.

...a stunning view down into the valley from just above the house

…a stunning view down into the valley from just above the house

All that I could hear was the rain – on the roof,on the ground, splattering on the trees – no cars, no neighbours, no dogs barking, and all around me were trees. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the amazing view across to The Hill or down to The Valley, where grapes and olives cut across the paddocks and large, docile cattle grazed beside The Creek. No. At that point there was just me, the house, and the bush.

And, at that point, I knew that this was a dream that had no chance of coming true.

Except it did.

That was two years ago. Somehow a miracle happened and we were able to buy the place, despite not being ready to sell the house we were renovating in the suburbs. We weren’t going to move in right away. Uh, uh. We were going to finish the other house, first, and make sure that we would get a good return when we sold.

I think we were still in denial.

How did it happen?

How could we have become the custodians of this little piece of bush paradise?

It couldn’t possibly be true, so moving in was… something to look forward to. After all, we’d been waiting over twenty years already.

So, explain how it was that we came up here ‘just to camp for the weekend’ and never went back? Bit by bit our stuff migrated out of town, the old couch we were sleeping on was replaced by our bed, we bought a new fridge, we bought an old Landrover… and here we were. It was the cat that did it – he hated being in the car, so we couldn’t put him through the torture of taking him back to town. Could we?

Every morning I still wake up enchanted.

I drive through the valley totally awed by the beauty, ever changing through the seasons.

I’m still in love.

And I’m here.