Demanding magpies

30 01 2009

A couple of weeks ago I posted about the maggies that were now coming to the back veranda for a feed. Well, things have moved up a notch! About 5 or 6 of the 8 to 12 that turn up are regularly eating out of my hand now, and the family tends to come twice a day. I give them sausage meat in the morning and peanuts or cashews in the afternoon. And they just stand quietly right at the back door most times, waiting for one of us to notice them, though sometimes they start carolling loudly announcing their presence. They all have personalities and I can now recognise one or two from the others.

Here are some pics taken yesterday…

Waiting for their food source

Waiting for their food source

Massing at the back door

Massing at the back door

So, do you have any food for me and my mob?

So, do you have any food for me and my mob?

Maybe I'll have a drink while we wait...

Maybe I'll have a drink while we wait...





When the fire jumped the highway

26 01 2009

Here are some pictures I took from the car when we were driving home from Perth yesterday. These are all about 5 kms north of Bridgetown, on the South West Highway and show how the bushfire ravaged pine and eucalypt plantations, native bush, fences, paddocks, and buildings, as well as jumping the highway.

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Neil Young in concert, Sydney, 24 January 2009

26 01 2009

24 January 2009, Sydney Entertainment Centre.

My Morning Jacket“, a young rock band from Louisville, Kentucky started their brisk 45-minute set right on time at 7:30PM (I like it when concerts start on time!). I didn’t know any of their songs, but their music was appreciated by the crowd. The lead singer has an amazing voice, with a big vocal range and some serious power.

After a 35 minute interval it was time for the main event — Neil Young. Who is not so young any more. He’s 63 now, but you would never believe it from his performance. From 8:50PM until after 10:30PM he played and sang like a man possessed, with only a slight break between the final number and the encore.  I’m not a big Neil Young fan — that’d be my husband — but I REALLY enjoyed this concert.

In the dark I tried to jot down all the songs he performed, but some of them I didn’t catch the title of, so I’ve put in a few key lyrics and hopefully my husband can fill me in on the correct titles later (he has pretty much every album and CD that Neil Young has ever released…)

  1. “Love and only love”
  2. “Sea change”
  3. “Everybody knows this is nowhere”
  4. “Spirit Road”
  5. “Cortez the Killer” (my husband’s favourite of the night)
  6. “Cinnamon Girl”
  7. “Oh Mother Earth” (on harmonica and pipe organ!)
  8. “The needle and the damage done”
  9. “Light a candle”
  10. “Four strong winds” (my favourite)
  11. “Unknown legend”
  12. “One of these days”
  13. “Get back to the country”
  14. “Words”
  15. “Just singing a song won’t change the world”
  16. “Rockin’ in the free world”

When the band came back on for the encore, they played something surprising, especially considering the tens of thousands of songs Neil Young has written. They played Lennon/McCartney’s “Day in the life”. And what a performance that was! If we thought the concert had been pretty rocky and grungy earlier (with a softer set in the middle), we were gravely mistaken. Neil Young spent an amazing 10+ minutes playing his version of this song and totally wore out a guitar in the process — literally. Unbelievable. The crowd went wild…

This guy has not lost it — his voice is as clear as ever, his guitar work is frenzied and almost demonic. If half of us had the energy that he has at 63, we’ll be doing very well indeed!

Other notes from the concert:

  • Band members: Anthony Crawford (guitar), Chad Cromwell (drums), Pegi Young (Neil’s wife, piano player, percussion, backup vocals), Rich Rosas (electric bass), Ben Keith (slide guitar)
  • There was an artist (painter) in the background working on a new canvas which ended up being of skulls. He finished that one then started another. Strange. But interesting. (A Google search has just brought up some stuff about these paintings.)
  • Official review from the Sydney Morning Herald.

So, was it worth the 6 hour drive to Perth and back, the Perth–Sydney return flights, the 4 nights accommodation (2 in Perth, 2 in Sydney), the meals out, the cost of the tickets? In a word — yep!





A long long weekend

26 01 2009

Our Australia Day long weekend started early with a trip to Perth on Thursday to have our 6-monthly dental checkups. I was OK, but my husband had to have a temporary crown done (he gets the permanent one in a few weeks plus he’ll have a filling done then too).

We had dinner with our friends W & D at the Ten Ten Restaurant in East Victoria Park. Boy, we’ve missed their food! Don’t look too closely at the decor or the service — just enjoy the food! We had Salted Chilli Squid, Satay Chicken, Sizzling Mongolian Lamb, Beef Rendang, a large Nasi Goreng, and some vegetable samosas to start. Including corkage, the entire meal for four of us was just under $80.

We stayed overnight at the Esplanade River Suites in Como (the old Broadwater and before that the Pagoda), as it was close to where we used to live so we knew how to get to/from the places we needed to be. The room was a bit tiny though — the TV unit stuck out and nearly bumped into the king bed, so you had to sidle past it and hope you didn’t hit your elbow, shoulder or whatever. $150 a night, so not cheap. But then, there’s very little in Perth under that rate that’s halfway decent.

On Friday we dropped the car at W & D’s place and W took us to the airport. We had a smooth flight to Sydney (I’ll tell you in a minute why we went to Sydney for the long weekend), arriving around 6:30PM to a wall of humid heat! Instead of grabbing a cab (~$50 each way), we opted for an airport shuttle to the city. The worst part of that was waiting for it to arrive, and when it did arrive, waiting for it to depart. The driver packed in as many passengers as he could and it was a hot and sweaty — and very cramped — ride into Sydney.

We were staying at the Novotel Rockford in Darling Harbour (right opposite the Sydney Entertainment Centre and on the edge of Chinatown). It was blessedly cool in their foyer and in our room ($209/night). We wandered out into the evening and down to Cockle Bay Wharf about 10 minutes away where we had a lovely meal at the Adria Rybar and Grill (no, I have no idea what a ‘rybar’ is…). By then there was a breeze coming in over the water, which helped make the night more pleasant.

Saturday was predicted to be a stinker — and so it was. After negotiating the heat, humidity and sheer mass of people in Paddy’s Markets, we caught the Monorail into the CBD, went to the Virgin Megastore and another record store, then stopped off at The Forbes Hotel for a couple of cold beers for my husband and a pint of iced water for me! Last stop was Haighs Chocolate at Strand Arcade before catching the Monorail back to the Paddy’s Markets stop and walking to the hotel. The Monorail had a sign up saying that the air conditioning may not work well in temperatures over 35C. It was 42C on Saturday in Sydney, and the Monorail’s air conditioning didn’t work at all. With no opening windows, we were like stewed sardines! And I was wearing jeans… We got back mid-afternoon and just flopped onto the bed in the cool of the air conditioning.

We met my husband’s brother and sister-in-law around 5:00PM and went for a drink at the bar at the Holiday Inn (the Novotel’s bar is the Pumphouse and all the seating is in the open — way too hot!). Then we had an early dinner at the Red Chilli Szechuan restaurant opposite the hotel. Well, what an experience that was! I have never seen so many dishes on a menu that I wouldn’t eat in a fit! Pretty much every part of every animal was a ‘feature’ in every dish — pig’s ears, pig’s feet, tripe, jellied who knows what… Yuck! We picked three dishes that looked vaguely familiar and like they may be palatable — and they were, thank goodness. They were huge servings, but reasonably pricey — the meal (including two bottles of wine) for four was just under $170.

By the time we’d finished our meal the southerly was in cooling things down tremendously, and then we were off to the concert. Which was the whole reason for going to Sydney — to see Neil Young perform at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. (I’ll write about the concert in a separate blog post.)

Sunday was spent having breakfast in the hotel with the BIL and SIL, then wandering the Powerhouse Museum (the old computers brought back a few memories for me!) for a couple of hours. Then waiting in the hotel foyer for the shuttle, then a crazed drive to the airport, then waiting to get on the plane back to Perth, and finally catching the flight. We got in to Perth after 8:30PM and got the shuttle to the motel (cheap — and nasty. And with an incredibly noisy air conditioner that we had to have on all night as it was a stinker. No more to be said about that experience, except we’ll never stay there again… At $125 a night it was an absolute rip-off, especially compared to other hotels we stayed in that cost only a little more.)

And finally today, Australia Day. W & D picked us up from the motel and took us to their place where our car was, then we headed home. We stopped in at Mandurah for some fish and chips at Cicerello’s, and at the Fruit Barn in Donnybrook for some fresh fruit and veges. Then it was home to unpack, deal with a mountain of emails (400+) and write this. Next up… the post about the Neil Young concert!





Appropriate names

22 01 2009

I’ve been working on a lot of documents written by environmental scientists recently. And last week I was working on a document related to marine animals. In the list of references were three author names that stood out: Salmon, Pike, and Pilcher (sounds like ‘pilchard’).





Map of where the bushfire went

20 01 2009

Today, some of the local shops had maps displayed of where the fire went. I got a copy from the DEC website and reproduce it here. The big red lines at the bottom are the streets in our town (other red lines are main roads), the green dot at the top is Greenbushes, the red dots are the closed roads, and the black shaded area is where the fire went…

Extent of the Bridgetown bushfire

Extent of the Bridgetown bushfire





Fire update

18 01 2009

With a change in winds and cooler temperatures — and the awesome dedication by volunteer firefighters, the water bombers, and all their support crews —  the Department of Environment and Conservation advises that the fires are now contained and the immediate threat to Bridgetown, Greenbushes and Balingup has passed.

Some of the roads are still closed, including South West Highway between Bridgetown and Greenbushes. And it’s an awfully long detour to go the way that Main Roads is advising (PDF of route map) so add an extra one to two hours to your journey. The highway is expected to remain closed all this weekend. The Bridgetown to Boyup Brook Rd has re-opened, though the Greenbushes to Boyup Brook Rd and Maranup Ford Rd are still closed.

So, what was it like being that close to a major bushfire? Scary as hell. Even though we live on the eastern side of town and the fire was on the west, we could see the massive plumes of smoke heading our way. I’d been working all day (Friday), with my back to the back door, and only when I spoke to friend on the phone around 3pm did I even realise there was a fire (we don’t listen to the radio and nothing was on the news websites I check occasionally). She’d just got in after helping organise food and drink for fire crews until midnight the previous night and all day Friday. I then looked out the back windows and saw this massive amount of yellowish smoke. She said the fire was headed toward Highlands Estate, which is about 5 km from town, and then looked like it was heading towards town.

Like many others, we live near the top of a hill, and immediately behind us is a BIG bush block. I know what fire does — it goes up, and if it gets into eucalypt trees, they can explode…

We hadn’t put together a fire management plan, but some time back I’d printed out a “What to do in the case of fire” from the FESA website and that was pinned to the fridge. I checked it over to see what we could do now, and put into action those steps that applied to us. Some of the things we did: filled the bath and laundry tubs and buckets with water; pulled out some blankets and towels ready for use; packed a bag; put vital papers into a box; found safety glasses and face masks; put out torches; unrolled long garden hoses; brought in outdoor furniture, etc. Work took a very big back seat! Though I did copy over critical business files from the server onto the laptop, and put the external backup drive into the box of important stuff.

And then we watched that scary smoke every few minutes. The bird noise disappeared entirely. And the insect noise (I didn’t realise the insects were quiet too, until the cicadas started up again). It was very quiet and still, and stinking hot. And standing out on the back porch watching the smoke, I could see little bits of blackened leaves floating down on the back lawn. None were alight, but it made me realise the power of fire to set off sparks in places some distance away from the fire front. We were getting blackened leaves in our yard and we were probably some 5 to 10 kms from where those leaves originated.

By this stage we had the local radio on and every few minutes there was a warning to residents in the Peninsula area (one of my favourite bits of country around here) to evacuate NOW or stay and defend.

Then I noticed a little wind. It was probably about 5:00pm. It was hard to tell, but the wind appeared to be coming from the south west. Then gradually the smoke in the south west began to clear and the plumes were definitely going in a north north easterly direction.

We watched the regional TV News and they had some news about the fire, but no maps of where it was. The state News at 6:00pm had not much more (they were mostly covering the fires in and around Perth), then we lost power. We had expected a power outage as one of the radio news reports said that FESA had advised Western Power to turn off the main power line to Nannup (some 45 km away), and that it was likely that power would be cycled around the Bridgetown area as required.

So what do you do when waiting for the power to come back on? We played euchre! Fortunately, with daylight saving we had reasonable light until around 8:30 pm, which is when the power came back on. We had intermittent power surges and blackouts over the next 12 hours.

But it appeared that the immediate danger to the town had passed. By 8:30pm the plume of smoke was definitely headed NNE and we could see through the smoke to the hills on the other side of town.

It’s now Sunday morning. The weather was cooler yesterday, and right now I can hear the blessed sound of rain drops! It probably won’t be a lot of rain, but anything is better than nothing in dampening down the remnants of the fire.

And now we can get angry. It seems the fire may have been deliberately lit. What kind of person lights a fire in a tinder dry eucalypt plantation in the middle of a 40C day???? News reports indicate that the fire may have been deliberately lit, and that our town was under major threat from the fire and only the wind shift saved it.

Some 6000 ha of farmland and bush have been destroyed, including four houses, livestock, native birds and animals. Some 150 VOLUNTEER firefighters — members of our small community and communities nearby — have been fighting this fire since Thursday, trying to protect our town, our lives and our properties, all the while wondering what’s happening on their own property and causing a lot of heartache for their own families who no longer have them close by (and mobile phones didn’t work for a while as the smoke blotted out the sky near the main mobile phone tower for the town).

The crime of arson now carried a hefty jail sentence and up to $250,000 fine. I hope if they catch this person that they throw the book at him.








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