Smoke gets in your eyes… and nose…

29 04 2010

We left our last location to get away from the threat of bushfires and the smoke from controlled and uncontrolled burns. So far, so good. Until 5 days ago. That’s when we started smelling smoke — just a little to start with. Two days ago that little became a LOT.

The local shire is doing a lot of controlled burns in the region at the moment, and the smoke is really bad. We’ve had the windows closed totally for the past 3 days, but still it wafts in. The mornings are the worst as the cool night air puts a blanket over the thick smoke and won’t let it escape. Add to that little or no sea breezes for the past week, and the smoke just keeps hanging around.

Usually by the afternoon, it’s lifted a little. And we’re getting the most spectacular and colourful sunrises and sunsets. However, I’d just like to open the windows or get on my bike and get some fresh air. I feel really sorry for those who have respiratory conditions — this must be a really bad time for them.

I took the pictures below while driving home from the shops at noon today. They give just a hint of how this smoke is hanging around.

That line on the horizon? That's the sand dunes on the other side of the inlet -- they're usually clear and sharp enough to see the dunes poking above some of the trees

Smoke haze through the trees

See also: Local news report on these controlled burns with pictures taken in the morning of the Bunbury Port shrouded in smoke:

Etsy Treasury #17

27 04 2010

My Piet Mondrian-inspired journal cover has been featured in an Etsy Treasury titled Who is Piet Mondrian?: [click on the image to see it full size].

Thanks to Zuzu’s World for adding my journal cover to her Treasury!

Bank ‘loses’ 64K of our money

22 04 2010

Westpac have done it again! They’ve stuffed up yet another property settlement of ours.

This time, they ‘lost’ nearly $64K between getting it at noon yesterday and this morning when I checked our accounts online and realised there was a significant shortfall. I’ve since been in contact with our ex-local branch people and it looks like it’s sorted, though until I check the accounts tomorrow I won’t know for sure. Thank goodness for the relationship we had with the terrific staff at our previous branch! Without that, I think I would’ve been on hold on the phone most of the day.

So, how did the bank mess it up? Well, I really don’t know, but I’m going to take a guess based on what I *do* know. And that guess is incompetency and not double checking all details. Again.

In one of the documents we had to sign prior to settlement, we had to nominate (in writing) how we wanted the funds disbursed after the sale of the property. In that document I clearly wrote that I wanted an amount taken off our main mortgage (for this example, let’s say it was $150K). Not only did I nominate this amount, but I also had to provide full details like the BSB and Account Number of that mortgage account.

The other part of that form asked us to nominate where we wanted the balance to go after all other settlement fees etc. were taken into account. We nominated our savings account (also with Westpac) and provided its BSB and Account Number. We didn’t know how much would be going in there, but for the sake of this example, let’s assume it was around $146K. This form was duly sent to our settlement agent, and there was no problem with it.

When we put this property on the market some months ago, I had sat down with Tracy in our then local branch and we’d gone through what would happen on the sale — an unused line of credit account would be closed, and the line of credit on the mortgage account would be reduced after we had paid the $150K into the mortgage. Clear, right? I thought so; Tracy thought so.

So, come the day of settlement (yesterday) and the settlement agent transfers the balance of the funds to Westpac to be disbursed as per our instructions ($150K off the mortgage, balance — expected to be ~$146K — into our savings). Simple. Obviously not…

This morning I check our online accounts and find that the bank has put $150K into our savings and $82,400.04 into our mortgage account (where *did* they get that number from???). That means not only did they put the wrong amounts into the accounts, but there’s also now a shortfall of nearly $64K!!!! I checked every one of our accounts and the $60+K hadn’t been deposited into any of them.

So, there I am at 6:30 AM, looking at my online accounts and seething at the incompetency of Westpac for stuffing up ANOTHER settlement (see for details on the most recent one before this — there was one before that, too!). I’m madly printing off bank statements, emailing the settlement agent to get the final statement detailing how much was to be disbursed, getting my ducks in a row, and faxing page after page to the local branch asking them to call me ASAP. Finally, I got a call just after 9:30 AM from the helpful Rob (whom I’ve dealt with before). I explained each page of my fax to him — the documentary evidence that shows that the bank has put the monies into the wrong accounts and that show that the bank hasn’t disbursed all the monies — and left him to chase up those in the bank (the Mortgage Processing Centre??) who might be able to give me an answer… and give me my missing money back!

An hour or so later, Rob calls. And here’s what he said the bank told him:

  • They had never seen the account nomination form from the settlement agent before. (Unlikely. If they hadn’t, how did they know to put $150K into one of the accounts — admittedly, the wrong one? I don’t buy that. I’ve also used our settlement agent several times over the past few years, and she’s REALLY competent at her job. She would have forwarded that information to the bank ages ago. And Tracy and Rob at the local branch are equally competent people.)
  • They split the balance amount for the mortgage payment in two, one amount for the weird $82K figure, and the other for the $60K figure. (Why???? We gave no authorisation for that balance to be split, so what gave the bank the right to split it without our knowledge and without our authority? What else can they do with our money without our signatures??? That’s scary.)
  • When they put the $82K into the mortgage, that triggered the line of credit to be reduced (that’s fine — we wanted that).
  • But when they tried to put the $60K into the mortgage immediately after, it was rejected ‘because the line of credit had been reduced’! (I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that — they were trying to PAY OFF a large part of our mortgage, NOT take money out of it! I can’t see how reducing a line of credit should stop them from putting money IN to the account. That’s just crazy, if it’s the case. Besides, it should’ve been a lump sum in the first place!)

Rob also told us that the bank would pay us the day’s interest on the $64K they held — it’s meant to be processed against the mortgage account overnight tonight. That’s the least I’d expect for yet another stuff up.

So, I’ll wait and see… Tomorrow I’ll check the bank accounts as soon as I wake up, and see if they’ve got it right this time. I’ve decided not to get them to swap the amounts around — the figures are close enough to each other that I can transfer funds from one account to the other easily if I decide to do so. Besides, I really don’t trust them to get it right! Of course, it could’ve been nasty and cost us dearly if one of these incorrect amounts was critical for a specific payment — would the bank admit their error and pay any penalty fees, had that been the case?? Not without a fight, I suspect.

It will be a VERY HAPPY day when we no longer have a mortgage and won’t have to deal with incompetent bozos.

Update 23 April 2010:

  • The ‘lost’ money went in overnight and I could see it in my online accounts list. Yay!
  • But now there was a fee for $400, then another for $400 which had been reversed. So I still had a $400 fee charge against that account.
  • And there was another unnamed fee for $110, which was also duplicated then reversed, with the net result of a $110 charge against that account.

I wrote another fax to my friendly local branch people, and got a phone call later in the morning explaining these fees, and why the money was split.

  • The $110 was a ‘registration fee for changing the name of the mortgage title with Landgate’. So why not say that on the statement? Why just ‘FEE’? And when I asked Rob about the debit/credit reversal for the same amount, he said ‘that always happens in the system with these sorts of transactions’ and he didn’t know why. I was horrified at the amount of time (and therefore money) Westpac waste because their staff have to answer phone calls and visits from customers selling properties who are querying these charges (and reversals). I have no idea how many property settlements are done per day around Australia, but I suspect there would be thousands. As one of the ‘big 4’ Australian banks Westpac alone would deal with hundreds of these settlements. That’s hundreds of queries every day from customers wanting to know why they’ve been charged a fee twice and why one of those has been reversed ‘by the system’. That’s incredibly wasteful!!
  • The $400 ‘FEE’ was in two parts — $250 for Westpac to ‘attend’ the settlement (do they REALLY attend, or is it all done electronically?), and a $150 ‘document handling fee’ for adjusting the details on the mortgage account. Again, do documents really get produced or is it done electronically? This fee is also another that ‘the system’ duplicates, then reverses one. More wasted money for staff to answer questions from disgruntled customers…
  • The reason I was given for splitting the mortgage payment amount in two was that the $82K amount was to reduce the mortgage to our new limit. Once that was done, the balance was to take more off the mortgage. However, for the second transaction (the $60K one), the ‘wrong code’ had been put on the amount so it was rejected by ‘the system’ — until I jumped up and down and asked lots of questions! How many people DON’T check their statements closely? What would’ve happened to that $60K had I not queried it?? Would the bank have told me they had it and asked me what to do with it??
  • I still haven’t seen any credit for the interest my $60K would’ve earned them for a day…

Bottom line: Westpac’s computer systems suck at dealing with these sorts of transactions.

You too can look like a poodle!

22 04 2010

Saw this in Spotlight’s most recent catalogue (Crafting with Mum), advertising yarn and offering a free project sheet to make this outfit. Great outfit — if you want to look like a POODLE!

Stolen quilt

20 04 2010

I saw this plea to find a stolen quilt in the newsletter. It seems the quilt was stolen from an exhibition in St Helens, Tasmania. Details below of who to contact etc. if you see it anywhere.

Great quote!

12 04 2010

I think was from a recent ‘Saturday Night Live’; I got it from a Twitter friend:

“When your body looks like a dirtbag’s binder from 7th grade metal shop, it doesn’t bode well for your character.”

Love it!

Find out how many seats are left on a flight

10 04 2010

Kirsty T alerted me to today after she told me there were still 5 seats available on a flight she wanted to get on. I asked her how she knew as I thought this was ‘secret squirrel’ stuff kept by the airlines and perhaps travel agents — you definitely can’t get it from the airline websites (at least, not Qantas).

I put in a destination (SYD to LAX) on Qantas for a particular date  and got my results. I switched to Booking Class view, and was able to see how many seats were still available on that flight in a particular fare class (9 available means 9 or more, which could mean 10 or 50!).

It helps to know the fare classes (and they can vary between airlines). Kirsty said that on Qantas A and F were First Class (I wish!); C, D, J, and I were Business Class; W, R, T were Premium Economy; and presumably the other codes are for the various fares in Economy (discount economy, full economy, etc.). (If you’re interested, there’s a full list of air fare codes on Wikipedia:

This is very cool site and is a nice companion to, which I also use to see where a seat is on a particular aircraft for a particular airline.

Thanks for sharing, Kirsty!

16th Etsy Treasury

9 04 2010

An Etsy user, kaleidoscopekcloset, made a really colourful Treasury that features a set of my pepper coasters. As usual, Treasuries only last a few days, so I grabbed a screen shot of it:

Say it isn’t so!

7 04 2010

If I hadn’t seen this picture, I wouldn’t have believed it possible! Melted cheese in a crispy bacon mug… Heart attack territory!


Australian wines in the US

5 04 2010

Chris, who I met at the recent conference I attended in the US, asked me to recommend some Australian wines that are available in the US. Having been to the US often, I’m reasonably familiar with the brands of Australian wine sold there. Here’s what I advised Chris:

Personally, I’m a red drinker — preferably shiraz (syrah) variety, or perhaps a cab sav (cabernet sauvignon).

Some of the wines you get in the US that are supposedly from Australia are cr*p! Especially those labelled with Aussie icons or Aussie-sounding names — e.g. Alice White, Yellow Tail, anything with a koala or kangaroo in the name or on the label!

Some of the legitimate Australian wines you can get there under the names we know here include: Penfolds, Lindemans, Rosemount, Jacobs Creek etc. You usually can’t go wrong with a Penfolds (Bin 128, Bin 389 are particular favourites of mine), or, for a quaffer, Jacobs Creek or Penfolds Thomas Hyland. Personally, I don’t drink Lindemans or Rosemount — typically they are blends from all over.

Read the label. And as you do, be aware there’s no such appellation in Australia as ‘South Eastern Australia’. That’s a big red flag that the wine is a blend of cr*p from who knows where. I see it often on wines bottled for the US market. So watch out for them. They may be OK as quaffers, but basically the wines are rejects, and no self-respecting winemaker wants to put their name to them.

Good wine growing regions in Australia include:

  • Hunter Valley (NSW)
  • Coonawarra (South Australia)
  • Margaret River (Western Australia)
  • Yarra Valley (Victoria)
  • Clare Valley (South Australia)
  • Barossa (South Australia)

and many more!

We have a robust wine industry in Western Australia, so almost all the wines I drink these days are local ones — you’re unlikely to find those in your local bottle shop/liquor store. Western Australia’s most noted wine regions are Margaret River, Swan Valley, and Great Southern. Others are Blackwood Valley, Geographe, Pemberton, and others.

Here’s a good map showing the various Australian wine regions:¬†