Powerful stories and a powerful teacher: The Man from Snowy River to the Boer War

I began my blog, Canberra’s Green Spaces to write about gardens and green spaces. However blogging is often about storytelling, and in memory of one of my teachers, Mrs O’Brien, I decided to dedicate this post to her teaching and story-telling.

I was born and brought up in Zambia, and Zimbabwe, I loved reading and talking, and listening to stories. Yet my memory of school was of long boring lessons, mediocre grades, and being told by one teacher that I was ..“nothing but a flibbertigibbet!

In my last year of school I changed from my high school in Zimbabwe to a tutorial college in Cape Town, South Africa. A tiny brown-eyed woman of about fifty introduced herself as Mrs O’Brien, our English and History teacher. As a newcomer to South Africa, I just hoped I would not be asked too many questions..

The Man from Snowy River (National Film and Sound Archives of Australia.)

I did not need to worry, Mrs O’Brien began with the Australian poem by Banjo Patterson, The Man from Snowy River.

Man from Snowy River Bush Festival (National Film & Sound Archives of Australia.)

Some of these photos are taken from the movie, The Man from Snowy River… (The movie was shot in Victorian High Country near Mansfield Victoria.)

Scenes taken during the filming of the movie..(National Film and Sound Archives of Australia)

As Mrs O’Brien read and talked, the class was transfixed. Although I had not been to Australia I could see the horses charging over the gullies and through the rivers and past the stringy barks …Clancy’s gnarled Australian face was easily transported into our African classroom.

When I came to Australia I immediately recognised the landscape that Mrs O’Brien had easily portrayed through her reading of the poem. Yet she had not been out of the Cape Province. The power of the teacher, the power of the poem.

Headwaters of the Snowy River and walking tracks..

As good fortune would have it, Paul and I live close to the Snowy Mountains, and I often think of her, while we are walking in this rugged but beautiful countryside.

Spring in the Snowy Mountains

Mrs O’Brien’s greatest strength was teaching us South African history. Everything came alive, the Voortrekkers, the Zulus, the massacres, the peace treaties….

Just looking at these pictures of the Boer wars brought back memories..

The picture below belonged to my mother (who lived in South Africa when she was young). This was her favourite print, called The Great Trek 1838 and it depicts the hardships of people in bygone eras.

The Great Trek painted by Tinus De Jongh
Paul and I walking in the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa

My family immigrated to Australia, and a few years later I married Paul. We went on a trip to South Africa and spent some time in the Drakensberg Mountains which held some of the turbulent history of the time. Needless to say, Mrs O’Brien’s words and stories remained with me.

At the end of the year, I went back home, we immigrated to Australia and I never saw Mrs O’Brien again. I hope she kept on teaching and telling stories, and how lucky I was to spent time listening to her stories.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today.

May the sun shine and the days be cheerful where ever you are in the world today.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved ..

A dawn walk at the National Arboretum and a stirring to my heart..

We have had some hot humid days in late January and February….and some nights are warm and uncomfortable.

The best part of the day is early morning…and here we are, off to the National Arboretum to watch the sun rise.  I took a photo of the view as we left home, the cloud was just rising across the Brindabella Mountains..

The Arboretum is beautiful in the early morning and the light was shining right across the trees and rolling hills.

As we walked down the path from Dairy Farm Hill we could see the dome of the Village Centre.

The sun came out as we walked slowly down the mountain.

Along the wider paths below there were a few groups of cheerful early morning cyclists, unfortunately they had disappeared, before I had a chance to take a photo..

The photo below was taken at another day and time, but shows Lake Burley Griffin and parts of the city..

As we walked towards the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion (where our daughter recently got married) we came across three magpies, singing to their heart’s delight. Magpies have a lovely melodious song, and even more so when there are three of them in tune.

Two of them became a bit bashful, and left it to the youngest one to continue the song by herself…..very brave for such a young one! She did a good job too.

My father, who is Scottish, always said that listening to the Welsh or Scottish rugby teams singing the anthem before a game , “brought a stirring to his heart

Well, I feel that about Magpies, singing away in the early morning….. it brings a stirring to my heart.

Once the Magpie had finished we walked along the pretty Crepe Myrtle pathway, back to the carpark….

A happy start to the day, and it turned into a sunny but mild day… my favourite! 

Best wishes to everyone, thank you for taking the time to read my blog today.

Another favourite of mine is the Desiderata poem:

“With all its sham and drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

Cockatoos, Christmas and Mount Taylor …..

Just before Christmas, we had an unexpected visitor. ..

A group of cockatoos were helping themselves to the flowers on our apricot tree, and when Paul chased them away he noticed that one of birds was walking, rather than flying away.

It seemed to be a young cockatoo, perhaps a male, with a very protective mother who walked along the path with him. (I wish I’d taken a photo of them)

 I hoped they would both fly away, and I returned to the house to get on with Christmas preparations.

Anxious relatives watching from the carport roof..

However, a few hours later, the cockatoo was still sitting under a tree in the garden. He has a mark on his head…..we wondered if he’d had a “crash landing” in the garden while the apricot raid was on..

...behind the cockatoo there are.. two metal statues of magpies

I decided to call WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue, & Education service.) and I had a chat to a very helpful person called Lyn. She asked if the cockatoo had a tail, (which he didn’t have, compared with the other cockatoos) and this indicated he was definitely a Juvenile.

This photo was taken some time ago, and gives an example of the wing-span and tail of a healthy youngster..

Lyn then gave me an interesting, and amusing insight into the life of a young cockatoo. During the mating season, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos nest high in the hollow of gum (Eucalyptus) trees. The parents share the incubation of two to four eggs and feed nestlings for about 6 -8 weeks. Cockatoos may have as many as four young cockatoos in the hollow for a long time.!

Lyn said, ‘‘as you can imagine they are quite stunned and very reliant on their parents when they leave the hollow!”

These two photos were taken in Rushcutters’s Bay in Sydney last spring

Lyn said WIRES members, understandably do not take young birds if they are being fed by their parents. When the parents stop feeding the juvenile cockatoos starts to become independent and usually have developed well enough to fly.

The young mother on the left, looking after the juvenile cockatoo

The young cockatoo, settled into one of our Japanese Maple trees. He pulled himself up by his beak and claws, looking a little stunned, but always with his mother close by.

The mother of the young Cockatoo feeding him.

Fortunately our cockatoo family were very quiet (which is VERY unusual). His mother was completely devoted to him, she arrived about dawn every morning, fed him and often spent time preening him, and then she flew off, and came back in the evening to feed him again.. Paul and I sometimes wondered if he was going to be bigger than his mother..

Meanwhile Christmas was just a few days away, and our daughter, son-in-law and our two grandchildren were arriving any minute. They live in the inner city of Melbourne, and so they greeted the idea of a young cockatoo in the tree, with great interest.

Christmas day was a happy family time, fortunately the young cockatoo and his energetic mother had moved to a densely covered Bottlebrush at the bottom of the garden, and we made sure they had peace and quiet there. Our granddaughter made the cockatoo a nest out of paper plates, and thoughtfully left it under the plum tree.

The parents continued to watch over their youngster, and his mother spent time gently spreading out his wings …very poignant to watch.

The cockatoo family gradually moved to another very quiet garden, and we are not sure exactly what has happened to him now, but I hope he is learning to fly..

Once Christmas was over, presents had been opened, visitors had come and gone, there were a couple more things to do. Paul wanted to harvest his abundant bed of carrots, and had two willing helpers. They loved it, nothing like getting your hands in soil!

Once the carrots were harvested and cleaned, we had one more box to tick….we don’t have many traditions in Canberra, but almost everyone enjoys the outdoors.

We have lived on the slopes of Mount Taylor for many years. Our tradition is that when we get together, we make a bit of a trek along the path to the middle section of Mount Taylor .

The following photos have been taken over the span of many years …

When our daughters were young we walked up the path to look at the view, to see if we could spot our house, and to look for the kangaroos.

Lake Tuggeranong and surrounding suburbs
the kangaroos relaxing on Mt Taylor..

Paul, our son-in-law Anthony, and our grandson and granddaughter walked half way up Mt Taylor. They didn’t see many kangaroos, but they loved the climb, especially our grandson who is three and half years old. He couldn’t wait to tell his Mum ..

“I went to the mountain: and I loved it!”

the path leading home ….
Guess what they saw while they climbed the mountain…a cockatoo looking ahead..

Happy New Year to everyone, and thank you for taking the time to read my blog post, during this busy time of the year.

In the words of David Attenborough:

It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement, the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest..it is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living...

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

Fishermans Bay: New Zealand, a trip down memory lane..

In the last few weeks, my camera died completely (after valiant service), and within a day my computer broke down. We took trip to Sydney, and we were delayed a day because we had a puncture in the car tyre (this is starting to sound like a country and western song)

……and so close to Christmas!

Fortunately everything is going well now. However, without my camera I was at a loss to send a post before Christmas. As good fortune would have it, a couple of days ago, Face Book sent me a “memory” showing some photos of our visit to a wonderful garden in New Zealand in December 2019.

The garden, called Fishermans Bay is in the south Island of New Zealand, and nearby the picturesque bay called Akaroa. I hope readers who have seen my post on Fishermans Bay in 2019 won’t mind seeing this gorgeous garden again, not to mention Akaroa itself.

The holiday house we rented in Akaroa was proof alone that the town and surrounds had an abundance of flowers and greenery and gorgeous gardens . ..

We walked across the lovely gardens to have coffee by the bay each morning. .

Akaroa Bay is wonderful in the soft afternoon light. …

Fishermans Bay Garden was a scenic drive out of Akaroa, along a dramatic coastline.

Jill Simpson is the gardener helped along by her husband Richard. As it was mid-December, and almost Christmas , it was especially kind of Jill and Richard to allow us plenty of time to wander through this splendid garden.

They did casually tell us they have ten children between them, and a full house for Christmas!

Needless to say, Paul and I both spent time admiring the garden, and taking quite a few photos.

We were extremely lucky to have such a warm sunny day, the weather was near perfect. …

Many thanks to Jill and Richard, this is a garden we will never forget…

View of the Banks Peninsula from the Fishermans Bay garden..

Best wishes to everyone for a very happy Christmas and may the New Year bring some joy and tranquillity.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Canberra in late spring: ladders and gardens….

Lately we’ve had a very busy time spring cleaning the house and garden.

Paul suggested painting the cabin, which was long overdue. The good news was we had recently bought (at great expense) a very solid and reliable ladder.

However, I had recently read about the many household and garden accidents as a result of home usage of ladders.

Despite our new ladder, I was concerned about “the father of the bride”.

So, it was agreed, I would come out and hold the ladder where there were uneven surfaces.

Everything went smoothly, and while I held the ladder occasionally , I had time to look around the garden, on that lovely warm spring day..

While I stood holding the ladder, I saw some of the flowers in the garden that I hadn’t noticed recently. When there was a chance, I went inside to get my camera.

Love in the mist …taking over the garden, but in a pleasant way..

After a while I sat in a garden seat, but still kept an eye on Paul’s progress, especially when he changed the position of the ladder.

From my new position, it seems the garden is changing daily. The last of the sweet peas have almost doubled in size, competing with the hedge to reach the sun. They still have their wonderful scent, which always reminds me of my mother.

The Wormwood shrub was shining in the sun, whereas the Chinese lanterns in the photo below are closing up….. enough sun!

Lupin

The Lupin above has been featured in a previous post of mine, and I’m proud of this showy shrub because we have tried to grow them in previous years, with no luck.

However from my observation garden seat, I noticed for the first time that the Lupin had several saplings self seeded in the pathway! I’m now hoping we can grow more Lupins for the garden.

Years ago, I read and kept a great quote from a fellow gardening blogger, Rhonda, whose blog is called Down to Earth.

A garden will give you much more than vegetables, herbs, and fruit…..if you let it. It gives a sense of peace and connecting with the natural world, a place to think and a quiet haven from a noisy world…When you create your garden make sure you have a few seats to remind you to linger……”

It is lovely to turn into our street and see the beautiful Brindabella Mountains, everything is looking green and we are all hoping for a peaceful summer without bushfires.

Best wishes, and where ever you are in this noisy world, may you find a quiet haven.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Spring time in Canberra, the garden, the birds and housing for chickens..

Despite the changeable weather, and perhaps because we have had so much rain, all the spring flowers and bulbs were smiling this year..

The wind blows relentlessly across this part of the garden, but the tulips stand firm… I love them!

The Aquilegias are thriving in the garden, which is quite remarkable because the possum (and family, we think) pay a nightly visit to this part of the garden…. they jump into and over the flowers to get onto the plum tree. Very very annoying!

The garden looks a colourful yellow in early spring, the daffodils defy all odds and come up looking stronger every year. The yellow flowering plant on the left is Bulbinella Nutans, which we bought at Lambley Nursery in Victoria.

Australian native plants have their own colour and beauty especially in the early morning light.

This part of the garden has become very shady, with maturing Manchurian Pear trees, Japanese Maples and big and small birdbaths. All birds have their favourites!

This delicate Japanese Maple attracts the tiny Silver-eye birds and the Honey-eaters. These birds come to the tree even when we are sitting under the branches. Our granddaughter says this is because it is a magic tree.

Paul has grown some lovely vegetables this year. He has just cut some Silverbeet and he gave some to our neighbours, Lois and Sandi.

Sandi made four Spanakopita pies and gave one to us. It was delicious and we took a photo of our empty plates, and sent them to him. Spanakopitas is a Savoury Greek spinach pie.

In early spring we noticed this little Sulphur Crested Cockatoo while we were walking up Heartbreak Hill. It was soon joined by a large (noisy) group of Cockatoos. Phew!

We are frequent visitors to Open Gardens, and quite often we see varied chicken coops.

A chicken coop with a creative flair.
I liked Cluckingham Palace

This chicken coop is in the wonderful estate of Retford Park in Bowral. What lucky chickens, it may even be temperature controlled.

The Retford Park gardens

I hope you are enjoying spring, or autumn in your part of the world. During this time of turbulence across the world, I am acutely aware of the peace, tranquillity, and friendship we find in our garden, our home and our neighbourhood.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

The Daintree River Cruise in North Queensland: birds and crocodiles

Although I have written many posts about Far North Queensland, this was the first time we had ventured down the Daintree River.

We had invited our Canberra friends (who are our neighbours) to holiday with us, so we decided it was time to go further afield.

We did this trip in August 2019, and as Covid arrived soon after that, I did not get the chance to write about it. However, this is one place in the world that probably remains the same much of the time. (unless they are experiencing flooding, which is very common)

We were staying in Port Douglas, and the river cruise started very early in the morning, so we left our accommodation in the dark, and watched the sun rise over this beautiful countryside…..

We drove through open farmland into coastal lowland rainforest, until we could see the Daintree river, which is one of the longest rivers on the Australian East Coast.

While we were waiting for our boat, I took the above photo, because it suddenly looked as if we were in the middle of Ireland the hills were so green! (as a result of recent flooding, we were told)

In this part of the world, the average summer temperature is 24 to 33 (C), 74-91 (F) and very humid. The average winter is between 16 and 26 (C).61-79(F)

It was pleasantly warm considering we arrived at 6.30 in the morning, but we did not abandon our raincoats!

This region has a wide range of birds, and is a very popular place with bird watchers.

I was thrilled to see the Azure Kingfisher, as this beautiful bird is very elusive, but perhaps, so early in morning the birds were happy to stay still for a while.

Here is the Tawny Frogmouth, a champion at camouflage…

and the green tree snake was also so well camouflaged, I would not have seen this snake unless the guide pointed it out.

The Daintree river is the habitat of the saltwater crocodile, known locally as ‘the salties’. Our guide pointed out a few resident crocodiles in this area, and we were happy enough to watch from afar (I used my zoom lens for these photos naturally)

I was surprised to see some birds standing quite still in vulnerable parts of the river..

The guide was concerned about one of the old crocodiles, locally known as Scarface, (old and battle-scarred ..we were told) who had not been seen in the river for a few weeks. When were back home we read in a local paper that Scarface had died. Perhaps old age?

It all seemed a bit like a slice out of The Godfather…another world!

The Heron

The white Egret had the very best view of everything it seemed!

Although the above photo is very blurry I thought it was interesting to show a house in the middle of a rainforest. No doubt a beautiful view!

The day began to clear as we ended the cruise, and what an experience it was!

Thanks for taking the time to read a little more about Australia, much as I love my home and garden, it is a pleasure, and quite an education to see another part of the country I call home.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

Canberra: A spring morning walk after a wedding…

September has been a very busy month, as we had a wedding in the family!

Our daughter Jess and her lovely husband Mike got married in the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion, a beautiful venue built up high on the hills around the National Arboretum.

Margaret Whitlam Pavilion

My apologies for using the above photo in my last post, however, it shows the height of the building and the views. This photo was taken a while ago and the trees around it have grown.

September is the beginning of our spring, and a festive time in Canberra. The biggest event is Floriade, a month long event in the Commonwealth Park, with huge garden beds exploding with colourful spring flowers. (the planning and planting for this festival goes on all year.) Tulip Tops is a smaller, but equally pretty display for spring, and the photo below shows some tulips called The American Dream.

Canberra is well known for its very cold winters (by Australian standards) and so we tend to celebrate spring as if we were in the Northern Hemisphere! We all long for warmth and sunshine by September, and even more so with a wedding coming up. Fortunately the stars were aligned and delivered a warm day with continual sunshine. The winds were blowing, but that was better than rain!

It was a lovely happy wedding with everyone in a festive mood. The gods were smiling on us. I hope to have some photos soon.

All good things must come to an end, and we enjoyed our time with family and friends. Our older daughter Rebecca lives in Melbourne and she and her family came to stay for a few extra days, which was an added bonus.

Needless to say, when everyone left, we missed the patter of little feet, and the early morning chatter of our grandchildren….not to mention our children and close relatives!

The Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House) looks down on the The Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade

However, the weather was still warm and sunny and we decided to take a walk around Lake Burley Griffin. As Floriade was in full in swing we had to park near “Old Parliament House”.

Once we parked the car, we went to the gardens of Old Parliament House to see the lovely wisteria decorating some of the elegant buildings outside Old Parliament House (now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy.)

We were too late to see the white wisteria on the right hand side, and now looks as if it needs a trim.

Beyond the bench is a Bowling Green and an accompanying cottage.

Paul worked in Old Parliament House for a while and enjoyed the quiet elegance of the building and the gardens.

Beyond the gardens we found new statues of two important women in our history, both looking very elegant wearing their hats and holding their handbags. There was a plaque for both which told how much they had achieved…

Dame Dorothy Tangney and Dame Enid Lyons

Dame Dorothy Tangney (1907 – 1985) was elected to the Senate and was the first female member of the Labor Party to be elected to the Federal Parliament.

Dame Enid Lyons (1897-1981) was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives and the first female member to be appointed to Federal Cabinet. She married Joseph Lyons who became Prime Minister. She supported him greatly, and they had eleven children and the 12th child died in infancy. What tough lives they had!

We walked down to the lake, but unfortunately we had missed the white blossoms of the Manchurian Pear trees. Fortunately I had a photo from 2019 which showed the lovely blossoms and life before Covid!

We walked along the pathway and all the trees were looking very green and fresh. On the right there are Manchurian Pear trees and on the left there are Claret Ashes. Needless to say this avenue of trees looks glorious in the autumn.

Many thanks for spending some time to read my blog post, and may your gardens be flourishing regardless of the weather!

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved

Happy Wattle Day, National Arboretum Canberra, and a wedding

Wattle day is the beginning of spring in Australia, and Canberra is just exploding with lovely soft yellow wattle flowers and colourful birds

This was one of the first photos I took when I began my blog in 2014, and I chose the National Arboretum in Canberra at dawn.

The proposal for the site was to have 100 Forests 100 gardens…and this began to be implemented in 2005.

The building in the distance is the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion and when I took this photo, I never dreamt that one day the younger of our two daughters would be getting married in this Pavilion, and in this beautiful setting.

The wedding is planned for spring time, and we are hoping for a sunny day, but we will enjoy the day regardless of weather.

The grassy rolling hills next to the Pavilion always seem to be a big attraction for children.

There will be children at the wedding and I’m sure they will enjoy a run and play after the wedding.

The Village Centre is not far from the Pavilion, and has an Information Centre, a café, a restaurant and a gift shop.

The photos in this post were taken between 2014 to 2020, and since that time we have had some good years of rain, and the trees are flourishing. The National Arboretum has become a wonderful place of recreation for Canberrans and visitors alike.

Needless to say, for our family, this will be an extra special place in our hearts.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog, and I hope your gardens are flourishing regardless of rain, hail or snow!

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.

Far North Queensland and Hemingway’s on the Hill..

Far North Queensland: Port Douglas

Canberra is well known for having cold winters (by Australian standards). June to August can be cold, rainy and miserable in Canberra.

Fortunately the temperatures in Far North Queensland are mild and pleasant during these months. Many Australians from the southern states, including our family, go on holiday to Queensland during our winter months.

This year in mid-June, Paul’s much loved mother, at the age of 96, passed away. She had eight children and many grandchildren and great grandchildren, and will be sadly missed by everyone.

The last few months have been very busy, and at times very sad. However, we had planned a holiday in Far North Queensland and a few weeks ago, we packed our bags, and flew to Cairns.

Despite the overcast view that day, it is always a pleasure to see the coastline as the plane turns to land in Cairns.

We decided to start our holiday with a few quiet days in the Atherton Tablelands, despite it being a little colder than along the coast.

Paul found us a small cottage in the Atherton Tablelands and it was called Hemingway’s on the Hill.

It was quiet, rustic and peaceful, and just what we needed….a break away from everything.

On the way to our cottage we stopped at a pretty country town called Yungaburra and bought pizzas, a bottle of wine, and a few extra food supplies for our first meal at Hemingway’s on the Hill.

The drive into the pretty town of Yungaburra and Nick’s Pizzas not far away..

The cabin had all kinds of interesting books and magazines. The owner of the cottage lived on a farm nearby. She had packed the fridge and kitchen with fruit, eggs, bacon, butter, jams, honey and yogurt.

Everything we ate there came from local farms.. what a feast!

Paul lit the fire on the first evening and we sat quietly watching the sun going down …..it was cold, but a very pleasant quiet time…there is nothing like a flickering fire for relaxing.

In the morning we had better views of the rolling hills, and farms dotted across the mountains. The Atherton Tablelands provides food for many parts of Australia, with its rich volcanic soil there are an amazing amount of crops grown in this area. (more of that in another post)

The owner of the property had left instructions for everything, but this little note at the back of the folder made me smile….be warned of noises when you are in the countryside in Australia.

We did hear the Curlew birds in the night….my impression is that they have a rather sad cry, and always late at night. However, my cousin, who lives not very far from this area, says she loves coming home and listening to their long song.

A Bush Stone-curlew bird Photo: Birdlife Australia

We have never had bandicoots in our garden, (thank goodness), but possums are a perennial problem and they bounce across our carport roof quite often in the night, usually looking for fruit and vegetables.

Our three days at Hemingway’s cottage was spent eating good nourishing food, having quiet times by the fire, and reading books…..we slept well, and were completely unaware of any night time activity during our stay.

Before we left for our second holiday house at the coast, I took some photos of the two colourful flowers that were growing in the gardens at Hemingway’s. As with all flowers and shrubs in this part of the world, they are large, bright and cheerful.

There are many interesting parts of Far North Queensland to see and enjoy, and I’ll write a few posts on some very different parts of Queensland.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my post today, and may you have some sunshine where ever you are in the world.

Copyright: Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved.