Quarantining in Canberra and gardening for mental health..

At the end of two weeks of self-isolation in our home in Canberra, our neighbours sent us this lovely, and much appreciated card.

We recently visited our daughter and family in Melbourne, Victoria, during a time when Melbourne’s Covid numbers were on the rise. In order to do this we agreed to self-isolate in our own home for two weeks once we came back to Canberra. We had regular police visits during this time to check that we were doing just that. We also had a Covid test at the end of the fortnight.

All went well, but I’m glad we could open the gate at the end of a fortnight

The yellow Wattle bushes were flowering and the Manchurian Pear trees have pretty white buds. The pink almond blossoms can be seen in the distance.

Spring growth in the garden was just beginning when we left for Melbourne.

By the time we got home, thanks to the frequent rainfall this year, everything had grown and the garden was full of lush greens and yellows.

The tulips in the front garden were a lovely surprise, and even impressed the police who came to check on us. We couldn’t go into the front garden, but could view them from the window, and that was enough.

Unfortunately we missed the lovely apple tree blossoms, but here is a photo from last year…at almost the same time.

Canberra has an abundance of busy birds visiting gardens in spring, and our plum tree attracts various parrot families at this time of the year.. The plum tree is near the house, and so it is easy to take photos and watch them all day ……instead of looking up exercise programs, and/or de-cluttering the cabin.

The King Parrots eating in the plum tree
A Juvenile Crimson Rosella

On rainy days the cockatoos fly in to check on the almond tree….they love almonds, especially if the shells have been softened by rain.

I have read that cockatoos spread out their crests when they are happy, active, annoyed, or purposefully going somewhere. Perhaps active and happy in this photo.

While we were weeding all through the garden (Paul did 90% and I did 10%) I listened to a podcast on gardens, gardening and our mental health.

Geraldine Doogue on Radio National was interviewing Sue Stuart Smith, the author of a new book called The Well Gardened Mind. As a psychiatrist the author was interested in the connection between gardening and mental health. Her grandfather, Ted, had been a P.O.W. during the war, in a camp near Gallipoli. He returned home malnourished and shell-shocked.

His wife took great care of him on his return to England, but he still remained traumatised by his experiences. In 1920 he was able to enrol in a government program, a Horticultural Rehabilitation scheme in Hampshire. This program taught people the full range of horticultural skills, tending the soil, growing vegetables, seasonal changes. Ted became a keen gardener, and lived a long and full life, growing his own vegetables.

Sue Stuart Smith writes about cultivating the land, and the enormous benefit human beings have when connecting with the land. The gardener is drawn into the rhythm of the garden, the structure of the seasons is stabilizing, and we are pulled along by its growth.

The garden doesn’t let you procrastinate for too long, the seeds have to be sown in autumn or spring, the weeds have to be removed!

I haven’t yet read the book, but everything Sue Stuart Smith said in the interview was interesting and so true.

While we were self-isolating we received regular messages from ACT Health to check on any Covid symptoms, but also on our mental health during this period of isolation.

Over the two week period we had a few friendly conversations with the police who visited daily. Each time they mentioned that most people self-isolating in Canberra, are returning from overseas, and have no choice but to quarantine in small rooms in hotels or motels, often with small children.

During our two week of quarantining we had enough living space in our house, and plenty of gardening jobs to fill four weeks rather than two.

One of the young policemen said ”well you’ve got your garden…you’re okay!”

I bet he comes from a family of gardeners!

Ixias ..another spring surprise

As well as the garden, the cockatoos provided a bit of every day humour to our lives. This cockatoo doesn’t look impressed with his pick of the crop…

I’d trade this for an almond any day

Our garden was very important during this period of isolation, along with the birds, family, friends and neighbours. I will definitely buy Sue Stuart Smith’s book to read further on this interesting topic.

Here is a lovely quote from her interview:

When we sow a seed, it is an action of hope”

Thank you for taking the time to read my post, and may you have a few rays of hope in your garden today.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Canberra in August, the joys and hazards of spring…unless you have a Muesli Bar

Winter in Canberra becomes dreary and seemingly endless by late July.

This year has been a particularly damp winter, and while we always welcome rain in Canberra, grey skies and drizzling rain can dampen the spirits during a pandemic!

Just when spring was around the corner, we had freezing temperatures, and snow on the mountains….

Michael McCoy, in Gardening Australia writes that winter is bleak in his patch,

‘but then, sometime in August it’s as if someone flicks on a dimmer switch preset at its lowest setting and starts to turn up the dial.”

Almond tree blossoms
Manchurian Pears beginning to flower, flowering Almond tree nearby, and the beautiful yellow Snowy River Wattle bush

Not only does the light change in August, but bird songs change too…..during winter and early spring, we hear the territorial call of the raucous Wattle Bird, who seems to be telling us off every time we go into the garden.

The Wattle Bird has been feeding steadily from the Grevillea bush (Wee Jasper) all through the winter.

Now we hear the early morning magpies warbling melodiously, and during the longer spring evenings the blackbirds start to sing…… a joy to hear.

Magpies are one of the most common birds in Canberra, known and loved for their friendly visits to suburban gardens. Most of the year they are affable birds, companions in the garden, without causing too much damage. They not only have a beautiful morning call, but are also skilled mimics, and are known to imitate barking dogs, sheep, chain-saws, and during the bushfires they very quickly learnt how to imitate fire engine sirens.

However, once spring starts, some Magpies become territorial, and the swooping season is upon us! As Canberra has so much bushland between suburbs, the magpies are naturally nesting close to suburban houses. Traditionally magpies swoop as a means to protect their patch while they care for their young.

Magpies are a protected species of bird in Australia, and so there are plenty of warning signs for people, walkers and cyclists especially, to be alerted to swooping magpies.

Bike riders and and people on small motorbikes are particularly targeted, perhaps because they are moving rapidly across the bird’s territory.

Spare a thought for all the people who work outside during spring.

Surviving as a postman/woman in Canberra has always been quite a challenge during spring…. a helmet and a waving yellow flag might help, but a territorial magpie can be very persistent.

In 2017 this young postman won local fame by trying a new technique.

” I get some pretty good quality Muesli bars specifically to feed the birds. You have to develop a relationship with the birds, that is the way to do it in spring”

However, times have changed. The magpies in this postman’s area are, no doubt very disappointed because Canberra now have new electric bikes for delivers of mail.

The new high-tech electric Australia Post vehicles have been adapted from the Swiss Post Model. These bikes are energy efficient, and more stable than a motor bike. They are also so quiet no one notices when their mail is being delivered.

They have the capacity to carry many more parcels, and with increased online shopping parcel deliveries now outweigh letter deliveries.

There are some definite downsides to the vehicles, but they are here to stay, and I think all posties will be glad of protection against rain, wind and heat in summer.

The roof of the vehicle gives 100 percent UV protection and an added consideration……. protection from swooping magpies in spring!

Our local postie was very enthusiastic about her new vehicle, and when I asked if the new model was keeping swooping magpies away she said

”well, yes, so far……. but they’ll find a way!”

I’ d be interested to know how other readers are receiving their mail these days.

I hope the sun is shining and your garden is growing where ever you are in the world today. In these uncertain times the garden, city parks, country walks, bush trails are a wonderful distraction.

Stay safe and sane!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Canberra in winter: …silver linings

Kookaburras are tree kingfishers found in Australia and New Guinea

This young kookaburra is new to our garden this year. Looking through my photos, I realise that near the end of winter, almost every year, one or two juvenile Kookaburras arrive in our garden.

This young kookaburra is waiting patiently by the birdbath.

Kookaburras are often found in family groups around suburbs bordering Canberra’s nature reserves. In the evening and the morning, the kookaburras get together and give a loud cackle.

I can quite understand why early settlers were terrified by this cackle…it is a loud raucous sound. However, this call is enough to bring tears to my eyes when I’ve just returned home from overseas…nothing sings Australia like a Kookaburra call.

I have read that a Kookaburra in your garden is a good omen because they bring laughter to your home. Well, I’m not usually into omens, but this one sounds good doesn’t it?

All birds are welcome…and who would not be cheered by the colours of the King Parrot, another regular visitor in winter.

Resplendent in his plumage of scarlet, a shiny blue tail, and emerald green wings and back, the male King Parrot is the only parrot to have a red head..

King Parrots feed on fruits and seeds gathered from trees. They spend many happy hours eating seeds from our Japanese Maple. This tree is very close to the house, so we look out on these colourful birds almost every morning.

I’m enjoying the birds more than ever this winter, they are a constant in the garden, and full of life. On a very foggy morning, I noticed the buds are developing on the plum tree. …I’m looking forward to spring.

I have always enjoyed company, conversation and friendship, but it takes on a whole new meaning during a pandemic!

Canberra no longer has full lock down and we can have a gathering of six people, with social distancing of course.

Paul and I meet up with two other couples for soup on Friday, and we are lucky enough to be within walking distance to each other’s houses, so we can build in a walk before eating.

Our friend Maggie has a very cute cat who has slipped into her seat to join the party..

During the week two friends visited, each bringing some sweet smelling Daphne and spring flowers. A friendly gesture which means a great deal.

If Paul and I are in the front garden, nearby walkers will call out to greet us, and chat about flowers and gardens and weather. Did this always happen? Perhaps it is just more frequent since the pandemic. Friendly contact with friends and neighbours helps to lighten the never-ending stream of negative news broadcasts.

One of our daughters and family are living in Melbourne, and Victoria has gone back into Level 4 lock-down. Hopeful this will end before our daughter has baby number two in September.

Way back in January…remember those days? we took our granddaughter to a wildlife reserve. Here children can measure themselves against an Eastern Grey kangaroo, or a Wallaby, or the smallest, a Pademelon, and Joanie is measuring herself against the Pademelon…..she is probably a lot bigger now.

Pademelons are small marsupials of the genus Thulogale

In the meanwhile this is our view as we return from our walk….a far cry from those dreadful photos I posted in summer of the fires across the Brindabella Ranges. These mountains look their very best on a clear winter’s day.

I wish we were at the coast now.

I hope you are enjoying your season, where ever you are in the world. I’m taking the same attitude as the writer, Jane in her blog called https://theshadybaker.com/, where she says
”I am always looking for the joy in small things especially in winter.”

Many thanks for taking the time to visit my blog. I enjoy reading blog posts from around the world, another small but pleasurable part of the day.

Stay safe and sane!

Geraldine Mackey Copyright: All Rights Reserved.

When is a plant a weed?

This pretty flower is called Patterson’s Curse

When I first came to Australia I went to university in a country town called Bathurst in New South Wales. Bathurst is a pretty town surrounded by rolling hills and golden fields. My new university friends offered to drive me to neighbouring towns, to get to know the area.

A field of Patterson’s Curse (photo by Lush Garden Services)

When I first saw a blazing purple and green field I was stunned by its beauty ‘‘Isn’t that a pretty field!”

My country friends were horrified, ”oh no, don’t say that, the purple stuff is Patterson’s curse!

Patterson’s Curse comes from the Mediterranean, some might know it as Salvation Jane, Blueweed, Lady Campbell weed or Riverina Blue Bell. The plant began arriving through mail order catalogues in the 1840s in Australia and was sold as a cut flower in Sydney markets. From gardens it rapidly invaded farms. By the 1900s it was well established as a weed throughout South-eastern Australia.

Patterson’s Curse is toxic to livestock, particularly horses.

Many years later, we don’t have to deal with Patterson’s Curse in our garden, but like all gardeners, we have to deal with our share of unwelcome plants…..Valerium being one of them!

A Valerium plant growing in between rocks in our garden.

Just look at the sizeable root of this plant, working its way under rocks to new territory!

Since Lockdown, we have really had a chance to work on the garden, and, as always, the weeds come first. Some plants, like violets, were welcomed and loved in our garden, at first..

A handful of violets to give to my neighbour, who often used them while cooking. She dipped the flowers in icing sugar to decorate a cake..

During my years of teaching in the Introductory English Centre in Canberra, our Teacher’s Assistant often brought little bunches of violets into office for us, especially on Monday,….in her words ”Monday is always a very unstable day”…and she was right!, We taught five to seven year old students, who had just arrived in Australia, and there were as many languages spoken as there were children.

At first the violets were lovely green borders in our garden, as can be seen on the left of the above photo..
In the above photo the violets are creeping up on the tulips..
and here they are taking over the garden!

Our garden is spread-out, and the violets had tucked themselves behind every nook and cranny. The violet roots are tough and can survive drought. As they so efficiently cover an plant bed, they cover up the soil and prevent precious plants like my Japanese maple from getting enough soil and water.

Paul has spent over a week pulling out violets, and has filled two trash packs with them…. no more violets!

I have long believed the Gardener’s Adage

The best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull it out. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.”

I hope you are enjoying your garden, your neighbourhood, and your season, where ever you are in the world today. During this very unpredictable time in all our lives I have enjoyed reading blogs from all over the world, a reassuring and interesting way to find out about real people are dealing with the CV 19 roller-coaster!

I have started using Block Editor, so I’m just crossing fingers and hope it is all working!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Canberra’s autumn in Lockdown, rain, sunshine and birds

As the calendar pages turn towards the middle of 2020, uncertainty and Lockdown continues in Australia, and the world.  As if to compensate, autumn has been magnificent in Canberra this year…

After a dreadful summer of bushfires and thick smoke, it is wonderful to see trees, and plants flourishing with good rainfalls around Canberra in March, April and May.

The  weather looks wild through the Eucalyptus trees, but the trees are loving it….

not to mention the birds!

Photos could not really capture the sheer delight these cockatoos are having in some nearby Eucalyptus trees during the rain..

They are flying into the trees, calling (screeching) to each other..

….and sinking down gently into the rain-filled branches. A couple of them were hanging upside down on the outer branches, with wings spread out (I missed that photo opportunity)

Watching their games and delight, it is a reminder of how much they have missed the rain too.

The Crimson Rosellas are also back in the garden in bigger numbers than we have seen for a few years.. a little more sedate in their response to rain..

Here in Canberra  the autumn colours of the  landscape are often muted greens and soft greys, but this year, everything is looking very, very green.

Our Lockdown rules allow for a walk every day, and this one is a favourite of ours because it is not far from our house.

We follow this path until we come to what is known by locals as ”Heartbreak Hill” or ”Cardiac Arrest” Hill.  Actually it is not steep at all, with lovely views of the mountains, along the way.

One morning we were walking up Heartbreak Hill and we came across these two delightful young parrots… called Gang Gangs. A parent is watchful in the leaves behind them.

Does anyone know the ”Where’s Wally?” children’s books?

This could be “Where are the Gang Gangs?” amongst the autumn colour.

We have never seen Gang Gangs in our suburb, but, so much natural habitat in the bush has been lost in the fires, it is not surprising birds are moving into suburban areas for food.

They are most welcome!

Years ago I used to walk down this path almost every day. An elderly gentleman was always working in his garden and one day when I admired his roses, he told me I could come in and cut some roses to take home, at anytime!

He passed away some time ago, but he would love to see these roses continuing to flower.

It made me wonder how long do roses last?

Paul has been painting the cabin and the deck, and now to the garden!  My contribution so far was to ‘trim’ a very old Rosemary bush…once I started I couldn’t stop! Paul called it the ”Rosemary Bush Massacre”.

There is a large green grevillea near the deck called ”Wee Jasper”. This bush brings the Wattle Bird and also the elusive  Eastern Spinebill to our garden, because it flowers all through autumn and winter.

However, because it does flower for such a long period of time, and has birds and bees buzzing around,  it is seldom pruned.

While I had my garden clippers at hand, I decided to trim some of the older branches of the Wee Jasper..

As I reached into the branches of the Wee Jasper,  the Eastern Spinebill flew into the bushes and settled on a branch very close to me. I couldn’t believe how close it was, and how still. This is a bird almost impossible to photograph as he usually moves so fast and is very elusive.

I have just enough Irish blood in me to wonder if that tiny little bird was warding me off his bush…perhaps he was watching while I trimmed the Rosemary Bush..

…Eastern Spinebill one, Gerrie nil.

The Eastern Spinebill feeding from the Pineapple Sage, photo taken two years ago.

We are lucky to have one of our daughters working from her home here in Canberra, and it has been a few months now since we have seen our elder daughter, our son-in-law and our granddaughter.

Just after Christmas our granddaughter helped us pick this very cute koala for the garden. ..  a happy reminder of her.

We look forward to more State borders opening in Australia, so that we can get together again.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog posts, and thanks also to the nurses and health workers all over the world. ..what a service to communities they do!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Paul’s graduation, and days to be remembered ..

The first few months of this year have slipped away, unnoticed, since the global grip of CV 19. Yet February 2020 was quite a milestone for Paul, and for our family.

On 12th February 2020 Paul was awarded his PHD in Health Policy. The ceremony was held at the Deakin University Campus at Geelong.

Our little granddaughter Joanie was not at all phased by her grandfather’s long gown, but nearly ready to take off in the wind, on this most exciting day!

Five years ago, Paul retired, and immediately began his PHD.  Both Paul and I have always loved learning, and we were both surprised at how many people were amazed that he should start a PHD at 60 years of age.

Paul’ s father and uncles were pharmacists, and many of his family work as health professionals of various kinds.

Not long after Paul was born, (the first child in a family of eight children) Paul’ s father, Frank bought a pharmacy in a small town, Oak Flats on the south coast of New South Wales.

Rebecca and I with Paul’s parents, Margaret and Frank.

Frank, a quietly spoken, knowledgeable man was the perfect pharmacist for a region not blessed with many  health facilities, doctors or clinics. At the end of every day he returned home only after he had delivered prescriptions to elderly patients. As the children grew, the older boys in the family delivered prescriptions  on their bikes on the weekend.

Years after Paul and I had settled in Canberra we met a middle-aged woman who came from Oak Flats. When we mentioned Paul’s father she said,

Oh, I remember Mr Mackey! I came from a big family and my Mum used to get us to ride up to Mr Mackey’s pharmacy when one of the little ones were sick. We couldn’t afford to go to the doctor every time, and Mr Mackey was just as good!”

I always relied on Frank when either of our daughters were sick, and trusted his judgement completely. He was a calming influence to all those who had young children. When we visited Frank and his wife Margaret, our daughters, (the first of many grandchildren) always remembered him making them toast and orange juice before changing into his crisp white coat and going on his long commute to work.

Our daughters Jessica and Rebecca with Frank, in retirement.

As young adults Paul and I left Sydney to work in Canberra. I began teaching, and Paul began his career in the Research Service at the former Provisional (for 60 years!) Parliament House. This building is now the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Over time Paul took over the portfolio of Health, a perfect fit for someone with his background.

As with many young families, we juggled life with one car. Much as I love the Walter Burley Griffin plan of space between suburbs in Canberra, it makes for a long commute home from the centre of the city.

I always parked along the edges of the building to admire the roses nearby.

Most days I would put the girls in the car, drive to Old Parliament House, and park almost outside the front door. I’d often sing songs so that our younger daughter, Jess, didn’t fall asleep while waiting for Dad.

During the time Paul spent at Old Parliament House, a Christmas party for children of employees was held in the lovely grounds of Parliament House every December.

The Christmas party was held in the cricket pitch!

The Senate gardens were spilling over with roses and irises..

What a mild and carefree time it was…

Now there are fences around the building and it looks quite different.

Once new Parliament House was built, Paul moved into this office in Parliament House.

When Parliament was sitting Paul often had to work until 10.00 pm. Our daughters were still young, and it was a long evening without Paul!

Occasionally I would take the girls into Parliament House and meet Paul in the cafeteria for dinner.  The car park we used would be completely inaccessible to the public now. September 11 changed many things over time.

Paul has worked in many sectors of Health since his early days at Parliament House. Throughout his long and varied career he has remained passionate about health care, and equality in our Health system.

Since  Paul retired and began his PHD he has enjoyed juggling studying, gardening, travelling and being a grandparent ….a perfect fit…

You are never too young to learn about sprinkler systems in Australia..

Paul has given papers at many conferences, and I’ve enjoyed going along, hearing and talking to Health professionals. As a bonus we have both enjoyed visiting gardens in various cities, places we may never have visited if not for Paul’s studies.

Brisbane, one of Australia’s northern cities, relaxed and warm in winter!

Auckland, the biggest city in New Zealand. A wonderful country to visit.

Paul and his supervisor enjoying a coffee in Palermo as he prepares for his conference in the city.

Palermo a vibrant and fascinating city, one we might never have seen. Salute to Paul!

On a very windy day in February, Paul graduated, and he wrote a wonderful acknowledgement at the beginning of his PHD, for the support of myself, our daughters, Rebecca, Jessica, and our son-in-law, Anthony, and he ended with this important acknowledgement:

I would also like to thank my mother and late father for all they did to start my learning journey many years ago. This thesis is dedicated to my granddaughter, Joanie, with the hopeful wish for an equitable future.

The pandemic today has shown us all how fragile and central health systems are in our countries, and our world…..and the importance of equity in the survival of us all.

I hope you are all well, and surviving in this new and restrictive world. Where ever you are in the world, I wish you sunshine and warmth, and if you have a garden, may it flourish!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

Canberra Magpies on border patrol..

As we adjust to our ”new normal”,  Paul and I decided to make sure we went for a long walk every day, to help us keep fit, and sleep well.

Fortunately, Canberra has been designed to have corridors of bushland between suburbs, and there are many fire trails (backtracks) that skirt around suburbs.

Crimson Rosella

Life in the bush is thriving again since the recent rain, and to our delight, we saw quite a few birds as we walked.

Rainbow Lorikeets

I noticed a splash of colour and saw two baby Rainbow Lorikeets preening themselves in the hollow of a gnarled old Eucalyptus tree.

A juvenile Galah

and this endearing little Galah also resting and nesting in the same tree……all unhurried and blissfully unaware of world events around them..

The Brindabella Mountains are recovering from the dreadful summer fires and now there are only clouds overhead, rather than smoke rising from them.

In the distance we could see Sulphur Crested Cockatoos swirling and swooping through the suburbs like shining white kites. (unfortunately hard to capture without a good lens on the camera)

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos are not very common in Canberra, but since the fires, many of these parrots have come to Canberra for the water and vegetation.

They are the smallest  bird in the Cockatoo family, and make a sound like a creaking door. They mate for life, and live in family groups, and they are very low-key compared with their cousins, the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

My mother used to say the black cockatoos bring the rain……we would welcome the rain and the cockatoos any day.

On the way back home we saw a group of Magpies; very familar to all Canberrans.

They stood together, warbling softly to each other..indignation written all over those intense stares…

There is certainly something going on here…

The problem is the Magpie in the nearby tree. She has long white markings on her back.

This Magpie is  a ”ring-in” …… an outsider. Her striking white markings suggest she is a coastal Magpie… and not from this area.

This Magpie comes from the State of New South Wales, not our state, known as the Australian Capital Territory.

She hasn’t heard the news…the borders are closed!

Never mind, the Canberra Magpies border patrol  are on to it!

We left them to it , and I hope all went well.

A day in the sunshine, walking and looking at the birds, cheered us up immensely.

Less news and more walking is our plan!

Hard not to smile at these two …absolutely no social distancing going on in the koala world. (photo from Pinterest)

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and may you enjoy at least a little of each day in these unpredictable times !

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved 

 

Canberra’s summer……heat, fires, hail and rain, and flowers..

The photos below seem like a dream to me now: this was our garden in November….late spring.

We had some rain, which made the garden look quite green.  I looked at these photos at the end of summer and I had to double-check the date on my camera to make sure it was just a few short months ago.

Despite the fairly calm conditions in Canberra in spring, the hot dry winds, the drought in much of Australia, and the early and unusual fires in other parts of Australia, were the warning signs of the terrible summer to come.

Australia’s Parliament House at midday in December. Photo AAP.

During December fires had spread across the country, and the winds blew the thick smoke through Canberra… some days the air quality was the worst of any major city in the world.

The agapanthus flowered valiantly, blue and white balls of colour through our smoky summer days.

The Gardenia flowered so gracefully on one of our hottest days…(40 degrees C) Incredible!

Our home is part of a group of suburbs not far from the Namadgi National Park, with views of the Brindabella Mountains…all mountain photos are taken from our garden or our street.

Inevitably the winds, and the searing hot temperatures spread the fires across the mountains.

Even more apocalyptic was the sight of the fires burning across the mountains at night.

During some of evenings, when our suburbs were on ”high alert” and it was hard to sleep, we shared meals and glasses of wine with neighbours…a memorable time.  There was an acute sense of camaraderie and community during  the  fires.

Then came a sudden chance of rain, which became a freak hail storm…

Paul rushed to get the unexpected hail out of the entrance of the water tank, before the water had a chance to overflow and/or hail damaged the tanks litter strainer.

Finally some nice, steady rain came! The whole garden looked as if it was having a bad hair day!

However, in many parts of Eastern Australia there were floods and road closures …

ABC news photo

…even more trauma and heartbreak for people and particularly wildlife.

Finally, in February the cooler weather and rain enabled the ACT Emergency Services to gradually reduce the fires in the mountains.

Miraculously, everything started to look green again. Canberra, at the end of summer could do with more rain, but all normal weather patterns do not apply this year!

Cautiously at first, the birds are coming back to the garden..

The almond tree had endured hot dry winds, leaves stripped from the hail storm, and reduced water…

but it has flourished and has a bumper crop of almonds this year..who know why?

”…and he said, and she said….””

The cockatoos are back….noisily cracking almond nuts and gossiping in the trees…..life is back to normal.

During the last few months many animals have been moved out of Namadgi National Park for their safety. Amongst them, platypus, koalas, rock wallabies and even Northern Corrobboree Frogs. I hope to do a post on their return soon.

After seeing the plight of so many koalas this summer,  here is a link to a video clip of an endearing young koala called Willow, and her first encounter with a butterfly. 

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-03/butterfly-photobombing-koala-joey-goes-viral/7897804

 

I hope your season, summer or winter, has been less traumatic than ours, and that you are ready, as we are, to enjoy the mellow days of autumn.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Australian bushfires..you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone…

The devastating bush fires burning across much of Australia has made this a long and sombre summer for most Australians.  The extent of the bush fires, and the ferocity of those fires is unprecedented.

Today’s  newspaper has a photo of an older man, former owner of a lovely home in a community he and his wife loved; he pointed to the charred rubble on the ground and said…

life was good, and then suddenly there was nothing.”

In December and January many holiday makers go to the pretty NSW South Coast of Australia, and this year we too, intended to meet up with our family there for Christmas.

We cancelled our holiday just before Christmas, and stayed at home. Luckily we did. We had a lovely time at home, and cleaning birdbaths and watering was a daily occurrence.

In early January the fires tore across the south coast, destroying homes, and communities, and with some loss of lives.

The Brindabella Mountains during a hot summer.

Canberra too, is in a fire prone area, and, in January, as the fires continued to burn in National Parks and along the coast, we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility of leaving our homes at short notice.

What do you take when you may be leaving your home for good?  

A suitcase of clothes, essential documents, water, a full tank of petrol in the car, photos, and sleeping bags (where did they go…given away years ago?) USBs, chargers, torches, batteries, candles, matches, the list goes on.

If there is no power, we are back to torches, matches and candles…. the real world!

We have lived in Canberra for over 30 years, and those of you who follow this blog know that one of the joys of living in Canberra is that almost every suburb is surrounded by bush, and the birds, the kangaroos, wallabies are part of every day living for us.

A young kangaroo watching us as we walk up Mount Taylor is spring. (before the drought)

A very important looking Cockatoo, on his/her way to Mount Taylor..

However, this comes at a price during droughts and bush fires season.

Two young Galahs who always stay in family groups, or in pairs.

Communications during bush fire threats are much better these days, it brings a chill to all Canberrans to remember how poor the communication was during the 2003 fires.

These days we have a helpful app called “Fires Near Me” which gives daily and hourly updates on fires in our region.

During the really hot days, everything is quiet,  and the smoke from the surrounding fires is thick in the air. A quality index reading above 200 is considered hazardous to health. On one particular day the reading in Canberra was 5,000, the highest level in the world for that day.

It is a great relief when a cool change comes,  the smoke haze improves (for a while), and the birds come back again.

As the weather clears, the cockatoos fill the skies with their screeching as they swing confidently into the garden to check the almond tree..(miraculously full of fruit).

This  gives us an endearing sense of normality.

Cockatoos feeding in a nearby garden.  Paul says the cockatoos have an App called “Food Near Me”

Needless to say, they and all animals and birds are welcome to any food we can give them.

We live near Mt Taylor, home to many kangaroos, wallabies, birds, butterflies, lizards, insects, indeed, a smorgasbord of animal and insect life. Now, in the early morning and the late evening some kangaroos, one with a joey, come down our street to drink from the birdbaths, and buckets of water we leave out for them.

A group of volunteers called Water our Wildlife put stations of water in the same place daily so that the animals know where to go for predictable water supplies.

 As I write there are no active fires in or very near Canberra, however, we have been in a state of alert since the beginning of  January.  So much has been written about the fires, and so much sadness,  that I decided to just show some photos of our two most loved holiday destinations, both of which are also on high alert..

Kosciusko National Park ..(some contained fires in the higher regions)

This is an area rich in flora and fauna……

A sign near this beautiful Snow Gum (Eucalyptus trees) says “these grandfather trees are two and three hundred years old. Aboriginal tradition says that the spirit of ancestral travellers live in these warraganj (old snow gums)

During all the fires, there is the devastating loss of wildlife, flora and fauna, and loss of habitat for those who survive.

However, this little Pygmy Possum (a mouse sized marsupial) is capable of surviving for almost two weeks by bringing its body down to the low temperatures during times of extreme cold or heat. The biggest threat to this little possum is clearance of the land…another story.

Our second frequent and much loved holiday destination is:

The NSW South Coast ..also on alert..

We have spent many happy days with friends  walking along these pretty beaches solving world problems .

The bird life in this part of the world is amazing, and to see the birds fly between these beautiful spotted Eucalyptus trees, with jet pilot  precision,  is both stunning and a privilege.

The Rainbow Lorikeets are very noisy in spring when they feed off the flowers from the Spotted Eucalyptus  trees…and then reverse into the bird bath for drinks…ever cautious..

 

A walk through a wooded area near the sea..

I hope this young Swamp Wallaby, and others, have found safety..

Firefighters are often fighting for long days with extreme temperatures…no wonder they are sleeping on the ground.

Amongst all that is lost, and fear of what may be lost, is the absolute admiration and out pouring of gratitude for the fire-fighters.

They are the first port of call for wildlife too

this firefighter nearly missed the birth of his son.

The son of fallen volunteer fire-fighter Geoffrey Keaton receives a posthumous award on his behalf, from RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. Photo NSW RFS

Some firefighters have been killed, most with young families. These families have to grow up without a father, which is a life long sentence.

There is so much more to say about the generosity and kindness of ordinary Australians, the leadership and calmness of RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, and the heartfelt worldwide response, but I will leave that for another post.

Jessica, (blog:  Rusty Duck) will have seen that Kangaroo Island has suffered badly in every way from the fires, and has lost most of its Ligurian honey bees, believed to be the last remaining pure stock of bees found anywhere in the world.

Many thanks to all of you who have sent good wishes, it is lovely to have a blogging community across many worlds.

PS I will write about the gardens in New Zealand in February.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Season’s greetings and blinded by greenery in New Zealand..

Looking back at this photo,  taken in November this year, it hardly seems possible that the mountains were so blue and the trees so healthy looking just a month ago.

The Brindabella Mountains near our home in Canberra

During December Canberra has had strong hot winds, and no rain….it is a bone dry brown city.

Although Canberra is not directly affected by bush fires at the moment, there are many bushfires (large and small)  burning across the country, most contained…..for the time being.

Depending on the winds, the grey clouds of smoke from nearby bush fires creep through the city most afternoons.

It was heartwarming to look back through photos and see this lovely King Parrot in spring, eating happily in our plum tree.

In November we also had a new group of Galahs coming to the birdbaths every morning.

Since this early start to a very hot summer, we keep the birdbaths full, and put little pebbles in the smaller bowls, to help the bees and and other insects land on the pebbles, before drinking. All need shade, and water is paramount.

Paul was due to go to conference in Auckland, New Zealand, in early December.

We were somewhat apprehensive about leaving home during these uncertain times, however, we took all the precautions we could before we left, and also had someone to come and water the garden.

photo by Affordable Travel Club

Looking at the above map you can see we are closer to New Zealand than to many parts of Australia. The map below shows that it only takes three hours to get to New Zealand from our region.

Despite our proximity to New Zealand, it is a very different country to Australia.  New Zealand  is lush and green with an abundance of water.

After leaving our smoke-filled city,  we landed in New Zealand, and as we  got off the plane we were almost blinded by the light and the greenery everywhere!

Water…water everywhere..

New Zealand is full of friendly people, magnificent scenery, National Parks, and wonderful gardens..

I intend writing a few posts on New Zealand after Christmas….but spoiler alert..

our Air BnB in Akaroa ..surrounded by a wonderful garden

The pretty little French town of Akaroa on the South Island is  a delight  to  visit…..

….and I have a few tempting photos of an incredible garden which will just take your breath away, Fisherman’s Bay Garden…

Jill Simpson, a keen gardener, has, with the help of her husband Richard, created a garden along the rugged and dramatic coastline of the Banks Peninsula. (New Zealand’s South Island)

In more recent times she was influenced by the new perennial movement in the UK and Europe, and the Prairie style in the US.

The garden has something for everyone…and to think they are at the Southern tip of the Banks Peninsula and are exposed to the winds from the Antarctic…..there is no excuse for the rest of us!

This is a garden that will make you want to jump onto the next flight to New Zealand, and if you can’t do that, well, at least you can read my blog posts early next year on this garden and more..

Meanwhile, back home, it has been a very tough week for most of Australia. Record high temperatures, fires and smoke in almost every state. Thank goodness the temperatures are due to drop next week…and hopefully in time for Christmas.

I know what Australians would love most for Christmas……… rain!

Many thanks for reading my blog today, and during the year. I enjoy writing about green spaces, and I love reading blogs from all over the world….a little slice of life from other people, who may be far away, but share ideas and ideals…. how similar we all are despite our differences.

Season’s greeting to you all, and may Christmas and the New Year, bring peace, harmony and some common sense to the world in 2020.

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.