Author Archives: Greta

The perils of house-hunting

It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.

Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.

One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.

There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.

It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.

We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.

In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.

The wound required 8 stitches. It has healed nicely

You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.

And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.

 

Best wishes for Easter

Good Friday is one of only two days in the year when it’s difficult to find a shop or anything else open in Australia. The other is Christmas Day. You can go to just about any town centre and shoot a cannon down the main street without any fear of hitting anybody. Both are holy days, the most profound in the Christian calendar – although, as usual, there are overlaps with many other faiths. For Christians, Good Friday (I’ve always had to wonder about ‘good’ in this context) was the day Jesus was crucified. The Jews celebrate the Passover, when the children of Jewish slaves were spared in Egypt.

Everybody knows that Easter incorporates a lot of ‘pagan’ symbolism about a time of rebirth and the arrival of Spring – eggs, rabbits, and so on, so I won’t bore you with that. But there are some modern discrepancies which I feel are worth mentioning. For a start, some of my UK Facebook friends say Good Friday is a ‘bank holiday’. I assume that means the banks are closed. Is anything else? It just seems to be a curious description for such a holy day. Is Christmas day described as a bank holiday? (Himself had a look on Google (as you do). Seems Good Friday and Easter Monday are both just holidays in UK, same as Oz. Gotta check Everything these days.)

In that most Christian of Western countries, the USA, it seems Good Friday isn’t a holiday at all. Pete tells a story of a business visit to the US. When setting up meeting dates, someone noticed some meetings were scheduled for Easter. “That’s Good Friday,” an Australian pointed out. “So?” the American replied, shrugging. Curious.

Needless to say, in our consumer-driven world, Easter and Christmas have been commercialised within an inch of their religious lives. Hot cross buns appear on the shelves pretty much as soon as the shops open after Christmas. Chocolate eggs and rabbits are not displayed until the end of February, and after that we’re all exhorted to buy seafood for our Easter feast. Shops are packed on the Thursday before the holiday as people stock up for that one shop-free day. The shops will also be packed on Saturday as people make up for that day of abstinence. Needless to say, Easter Sunday has lost its status as a shop-free day, and it’s almost back to normal trading. For most Australians Easter is an extra-long-weekend with Easter Monday tacked on at the end. They take breaks, go on holidays, spend time with family or friends. For others it is a time for worship and reflection.

Whichever way you celebrate the Easter break, we wish you all the best. If you’re travelling on the nation’s roads take care.

Stained glass window

Picture of roses from my garden

Roses from my garden

Waves

Lake Geneva

Who deserves Justice?

(c) Depositphotos_73325631

You might recall a few blogs ago I wrote a review for ‘They all love Jack: Busting the Ripper’ by Bruce Robinson.

It’s a dense book, packed with names and details, and I’ve read it again to pick up the details I inevitably missed the first time. I’ve also dwelt on its themes and what I think it’s REALLY about. For me, that comes down to one word: JUSTICE. The fact that the book is about the Jack the Ripper murders is almost incidental. They are graphic, horrific, revolting events, but they almost pale in comparison with the way the killings were treated by the Establishment. Whether or not you accept Mister Robinson’s argument that Michael Maybrick, much-lauded icon of the Victorian musical world, was the Ripper, the author has in my opinion proved the case that the Ripper murders were parodies (if that is an appropriate word) of Freemasonic ritual. Jack was either a Freemason, or someone who knew more than he should about Freemasonry. Robinson argues that the identity of the murderer was deliberately covered up by the Metropolitan Police, and through its leadership (Sir Charles Warren), the political system to which it answered.

I could not help but feel that our current Establishment is not very different.

My mind kept returning to the cover-up of child abuse in institutions set up to care for children. Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals covered up for paedophile clerics, moving these predatory monsters from parish to parish to PROTECT THE CHURCH. Never mind the kids. I can imagine one of these bastards rubbing his hands with glee as he took up his post in a new parish. Ahahahaha new blood. The hypocrisy of the leadership of these organisations beggars belief. Never mind the men whose lives were ruined because, as eight-year-old boys, they were routinely buggered by a pervert. If they  complained to the hierarchy (as some did) they were  called liars, making things up. We must protect the good name of the Church. In 1888, it was never mind the disgusting low-born whores, (there are plenty more where they came from), we must protect the secret rituals of the Freemasons.

It’s not just the church. In our day, in Western society anyway, the church is not the mighty edifice it was in Victorian times. Now, large institutions rule the roost. Remember the deaths of thousands of poor Indians in the Bhopal gassing? The owners were convicted of negligence and effectively slapped on the wrist with a minimal fine and a few paltry criminal convictions. Or the tragic story of men working with asbestos who contracted mesothelioma. The dangers of asbestos and its link to cancer were well known, yet even now sufferers have to fight a company for a share of inadequate compensation. These days, of course, we have the other side of such cases of industrial mismanagement, as lawyers offer to make claims against offending companies.

Coming closer to home, what about the Global Financial Crisis? It happened because of the greed of moguls in Wall Street and other financial hubs. Governments paid billions (and more) to prop up teetering banks. The cascading effect ruined the aspirations of millions of people: ordinary people trying to buy a house, or small companies trying to earn a buck were bankrupted. Jobs disappeared, rents skyrocketed, superannuation funds lost money. Many, many people took their own lives. The losers were, inevitably, the little people. The people who created this debacle might have spent a sleepless night or two. Maybe. But their wealth and position in society remained unaffected. There are plenty of programs dissecting what happened in 2009. Here’s a link to just one. I need hardly add that nobody went to jail. Oh- I tell a lie. One person was charged with insider trading, I think. Only the Iceland Government had the balls to cancel the debts and charge the bankers.

Okay, I’d better get off the soapbox.

I’ll finish with one more aspect of Robinson’s book. He claims that Michael Maybrick murdered his brother, James, and framed James’s American wife, Florence, with the murder. Be that as it may, reading the details of this travesty of a trial is gut-wrenching. Once again, Robinson argues that it was in the interests of the establishment that Florence should be effectively silenced by being convicted of a murder that she did not commit. This perhaps foolish woman was lucky to escape the death penalty, but was sentenced to life in prison. She was released after fifteen years. Here’s a Wikipedia article about the case.

It’s not hard to find modern examples of where justice was meted out to the wrong person. The case of Darryl Beamish is just one. Another case more pertinent to the Establishment is that of the Birmingham Six, convicted of planting IRA bombings during the Irish terrorism of the seventies.

I guess in such cases as Beamish and the Irishmen, justice has finally prevailed. Unfortunately, the greedy bastards who caused the GFC won’t get their come-uppance.  Such a pity. And certain cardinals and bishops will escape justice, too – let alone the disgusting perverts whose deeds they covered up. Many of them have died, and presumably Rest in Peace. It’s one of the few times I regret my lack of religion. I’d like to imagine one of those priests fronting up at the Pearly Gates and getting his ticket for the elevator downstairs, where I hope he rots for all eternity.

Pretty pictures. I’m sure I’ve got some.

The aftermath

ex-tropical cyclone Debbie wreaks havoc down the east coast

Cyclone Debbie has certainly cut a swathe through the holiday islands of the Whitsundays and their gateway, Airlie Beach. Bowen and Ayr bore the brunt of the storm and that takes nothing away from all the smaller places in the way. Cane fields, vegetable crops, and banana fields were flattened, destroying farmers’ incomes for at least one season – to say nothing about destruction of infrastructure and homes, loss of power, stock losses and the like. And then there’s the native wildlife who have to hunker down just like we humans. She was a massive storm. Here she is from the ISS.

Cyclones travel in a clockwise direction, and this was a huge storm, so after Debbie crossed the coast anything within eight hundred kilometres or so to the south was going to get wet. Mackay and Rockhampton were well in the zone and suffered substantial wind and water damage. With rainfall of hundreds of millimetres the rivers rose and roads were flooded. Even Hervey Bay copped the end of an outlying cloud band, although 80mm of rain without gale-force winds was actually welcome. As a side note, while Pete and I would have been quite safe at Cairns, we wouldn’t have been able to drive home. And that is why we hurried home when we did.

After they cross the coast cyclones rapidly downgrade to a tropical low, and the clean-up starts in their wake. It doesn’t mean the danger is over, though. The models suggested three tracks after Debbie crossed the coast, all tracking south. We expected her to come down through the interior, but the lady had other plans. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gale-force winds and very heavy rain all the way down the east coast of Australia from Mackay. Inland from Mackay, over a metre of rain fell in two days. The cyclone made landfall on Tuesday lunchtime. On Thursday the State Government closed all schools from just north of Bundaberg to the Queensland border for two days. Businesses followed suit. Our local bank closed its doors at 10am to give staff the chance to get home and off potentially flooding roads. Falls of five hundred millimetres were expected around the Southeast corner of the state, along with gale force winds. It was unprecedented. Australia is used to cyclones – but not one that does a left-hand turn, taking it down into heavily populated areas.

As usual, Hervey Bay fared well enough. Although rainfall this March (396mm or roughly 16″) is the third highest monthly rainfall we have experience in our time here, the previous two months were so dry that the rainfall is still well below the average for this time of year. I’m sure residents further south won’t be saying the same thing.

I thought I’d finish this clean-up post with a few things from our trip I hadn’t mentioned.

The view over Townsville from Castle Hill

Driving up to Cairns, we stayed overnight in Townsville, where Pete had his very first Mexican meal in a busy restaurant in Palmer Street. I love Mexican food, but Pete has never been interested. However, it was his suggestion – and he enjoyed it. Next morning before we moved on we drove up to Castle Hill, overlooking the town and with views to Magnetic Island just across the water, and to the hills surrounding the town.

Castle Hill from the city

From Palm Cove we drove up to Port Douglas. It’s only about forty km following the Captain Cook Highway along the coast. The road seems to have been built on a ledge between the sea and the mountains, twisting and turning with every cove and inlet. Port Douglas is mainly a resort town, with golf courses and hotels. One hotel (the Mirage) was famously built by Christopher Skase before he fled his debtors and went to live on Majorca. For us, the place didn’t have much to offer. It seems to be a jumping-off point for the Daintree and the reef. But I took some pictures.

Looking south from Port Douglas. The longest of those sandbars is where we stopped to take a picture (see below)

There’s no doubt the coastline is picturesque. I’d asked Pete to stop (on the way back) at a stopping place where I’d noticed a great photo opportunity, which he did, safely. I’d hardly got out of the car when a car horn honked. Some idiot had seen the view and decided to stop, with a car right behind him. The driver of the offending car pulled to one side to let the other driver pass. This is all happening just near a curve, too. The offending car moves back out into the road. For a minute I think it’s going to turn around, doing a three-point-turn, but another car comes along and our mate drives off, with the person in the passenger seat holding their phone out the window. It was a great picture, but really, people, I wouldn’t have thought it was to die for her. Or even sustain an injury.

A storm is gathering over Port Douglas – not Debbie, just a normal tropical storm

On our way back from Hartley’s croc park we stopped to take pictures of these weird rock sculptures. I have no idea what they are for, but I’d guess they’re a bit like the padlock fad, where lovers attach a padlock to the wires on a bridge. However, just as the authorities have been forced to cut away the padlocks, which in those quantities can weigh a great deal, sometime a storm will hit these piled up stones and scatter them back on the beach.

No idea what these ‘sculptures’ are meant to signify

That’s it for this journey. Be sure to join us next time we venture away from home. If you want to go back to the start of this trip, here’s the link. Say hello to Cyclone Debbie

Australia’s cuddliest critter (not)

Would you believe not all of Australia’s animals are cute and cuddly? You would, wouldn’t you? The place is crawling with lethal snakes, deadly spiders, murderous little octopuses, excruciatingly painful jellyfish… It’s all true, of course, but it’s pretty much a case of if you leave them alone, they leave you alone.

But not salt water crocodiles.

They’re ancient, clever, sneaky, and as far as they’re concerned, you’re just another sort of meat. Crocodile hunting was banned in the 1970’s because their numbers were so low. They were an easy target and their skins were worth a fortune – so much of a fortune that they were nearly wiped out. Since then, they’ve re-established themselves and become a tourist drawcard. So we went to look at crocs, as you do. This link will give you detailed information about the species.

See that lump of wood just under that overhanging foliage? That’s Ted’s snout

In Australia we call the salt water, or estuarine, crocodiles salties. The name is misleading because ‘salt water’ crocodiles can live very happily in fresh water, as well as in the ocean. In the wild they can become very large, and a danger to people and livestock. A big croc will take a cow, let alone a dog, a kangaroo, or a man. Farmers can’t shoot them anymore, but rangers will trap them and relocate them to a croc farm, where the big boys will live out their years making baby crocs. Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, where we went to see crocodiles, has one male (Ted) who is over five metres long – the second largest croc in captivity. They reckon he’s around one hundred years old, he’s lost all but one of his teeth and one eye, and the eye he does have is blind. It seems he still enjoys the mating season, though. We were told that one of the park’s most recent additions, a four and half metre male called Snappy Tom, was caught on the golf links at Port Douglas, where it had taken to lunging at golfers. The ranger also told us about one big male who had been placed into solitary confinement. He’d taken to attacking the females, and ended up killing one. Bottom line: crocs are not nice. For Americans, alligators are similar in appearance to salties, but they don’t get as big. A four-metre alligator is big, a saltie has a way to go. According to the rangers, they’re also not as nasty. Every big saltie has bits missing – tail, claws, teeth. They fight for females and territory, the females fight to protect their nests. They grow up ornery.

In the short time we were in Cairns it became obvious that crocodiles are becoming a growing problem. I read a heart-wrenching story about a man whose elderly dog was taken from the shallows. He’d thrown a stick for her, just a couple of feet. As she was coming back he saw a bow wave behind her – and that was that. A spearfisherman was taken by a 4.8 metre croc. And an imbecile escaped with his life after trying to impress a girl. Seems this 18yo idiot told a backpacker that crocs only took tourists and jumped into the Johnstone River to prove it. He no sooner hit the water when a big croc latched on to his arm. He managed to escape with a badly lacerated arm, but apparently his brain cells are as bad as ever – he said he’d do it again. Keep an eye out for him in the Darwin Awards. Here’s the story from the news.

These guys are destined to be handbags.

At Hartleys we were taken to see the croc farm where male salties are raised for mainly leather used for handbags, belts, and the like. There’s a demand in Asia for top quality hides to be made into handbags that sell for as much as $38,000. (Pass) The meat is used, too, and any leftovers are ground down for fertiliser, so there’s no wastage. Our guide told us it’s the same as running a beef property, or a chicken farm. The animals are raised as a commodity.

Boat on the lagoon at Hartley’s. There are crocs in that water

We were taken for a boat ride on the lagoon. It’s shady and dirty, perfect for the twenty-one crocodiles who live in there. They behave as they would in the wild, and any eggs the females lay are collected for the farm, where they are incubated at just the right temperature so the hatchlings are all male. Our guide brought along food (chicken heads and wings) so the reptiles would actually show up. They are usually stealth hunters, sneaking up and lunging. But they can move very fast, and jump quite high. And of course, they knew to expect a meal. They’re smart. Up in Northern Australia the bushmen will tell you never to go fishing at the same spot three nights in a row. If you go back that third time, there’ll be a croc waiting for you.

After the boat trip the rangers showed us salties in a different setting where we could get a better feel for their size and speed. That’s a female croc, and she’s not specially big.

The jaws are very powerful. They kill by grabbing hold of the prey and drowning it, rolling over in the water.

And then on to the freshies.

Don’t try this with a saltie

Australia has two croc species. So far, I’ve talked about the salt water crocodile. Fresh water, or Johnson River, crocodiles are a very different beast. They’re smaller, are much more docile, and their skins are worthless for the leather trade. This croc is like most Australian critters – leave it alone and it will leave you alone. Poke it with your foot (as one tourist apparently did) and it might get upset. After all, it’s still a crocodile. The ranger is in there amongst the freshies – he would not do this with a saltie. That would win him a Darwin award.

The resident buck – an Eastern Grey

A couple of wallabies – like Alan (see below)

Hartley’s park has quite a few other animals, too. This is another place where you can get your picture taken with a koala, or if you prefer, a python or a baby crocodile (no doubt with its jaws taped shut – they’re born nasty). We decided to look at the kangaroos and wallabies instead. Like most zoos, these marsupials are housed in a walk-in compound. Many are tame enough for tourists to approach. On our way out through the double gates we noticed someone hand feeding a wallaby. The man walked away but the wallaby hung around and we noticed a sign with a photo of a wallaby. “My name is Alan. Don’t let me sneak through the gates” or words to that effect. We figured Alan must have escaped from the roo enclosure, so we let him back in and went on our way to photograph birds of prey. While Pete, Sandy and I thought we’d done the right thing with Alan, Col wasn’t so sure. Maybe we shouldn’t have let him into the compound. We all poo-pooed that. After all, shouldn’t a wallaby be with the other wallabies?

On our way back from the aviary we came upon a ranger and Col asked him about Alan. “We keep Alan out of there,” the ranger explained. “He’s antisocial and chases everybody.” Admitting nothing, we went back through the roo enclosure – and there was Alan, chasing a female kangaroo that must have been three times his size. Oops.

Oh well. As we pointed out to the ranger, the sign wasn’t clear.

Let’s finish with a couple of the lovely raptors in the bird enclosure – another walk-through environment.

Dozing. Of course. An Australian sooty owl

A brown goshawk

Riding the sky rail

Swingin’ up over the rain forest

One of the fun things to do in Cairns is to take a ride up into the tablelands on a cable car, and come back down again on a vintage train after you’ve pottered around at the quaint little town of Kuranda. (or vice versa – here’s all the info) Kuranda is one of those very touristy places, with cafes and restaurants, and markets filled with didgeridoos, T shirts, postcards, artwork, tea towels, stuffed kangaroos… you get the picture. But it also has some other attractions, such as a bird sanctuary, a butterfly house, and a wildlife exhibition where you can get your picture taken holding a koala (for a price, of course). Here’s the Kuranda website.

Tropical Cyclone Debbie wasn’t even a twinkle in a meteorologist’s eye at this stage – but there’s a reason they call it rain forest. There’s always a risk of a shower. So far so good, though. We caught the cable car up to Kuranda, gliding up the mountain over the rain forest, admiring the view over Cairns to the Coral Sea. Helicopters were used to put all the pylons that support the cables into place, causing minimum disruption to the landscape.

A walk through the treetops

We hopped off the cable car at Red Peak, the journey’s highest point, and took a walk along a board walk through the top of the rain forest. Tour guides take groups along and explain the ecology, and you can admire the view for as long as you like before you jump back into a car to continue the journey to the viewing platform for Barron Falls. I was really, really looking forward to that. I’d seen some pictures online from just a few weeks before, showing the falls thundering down into its gorge.

Barron gorge with a bit of waterfall. That’s the train on the opposite side to give some context.

So yeah, I was very, very, very disappointed. Oh well. Ma Nature runs according to her own rhythms. And the dam at the top of the falls did the rest. On to Kuranda.

After we’d pottered around the markets for a while, we headed for the bird sanctuary, a large, free-fly aviary with an assortment of native and exotic birds, many of them very friendly, especially if you brought in food (sold by the sanctuary). We were warned before we went in that the birds would be attracted to jewellery, buttons on caps and the like. It’s true… it’s true. One parrot immediately landed on Col’s baseball cap and pulled off the button at the top. One bird landed on Pete’s shoulder, and several other people had birds sitting on their arms or shoulders.

At one stage as we walked around most of the birds suddenly stared upwards. Sure enough, a wedge-tailed eagle soared high above the sanctuary. They were safe, of course, but old habits remain.

Here’s a selection of pictures.

This Alexandrine made a beeline for Col’s hat

Male red tailed cockatoo

Female red tailed cockatoo

Deep in conversation with a Columbian sun conure

A cattle egret showing off

A male eclectus parrot (native Australian)

Female eclectus parrot. This is one of those rare occasions where the female is brighter than the male

A koala doing what koalas do best

I expect somebody is going to ask to see the picture of me holding a koala. There isn’t one. Few places today allow tourists to handle koalas since it’s believed it stresses the animal. Think about it. You’re a sedentary, mainly solitary creature. You spend between 18 and 22 hours per day sleeping, and quite a lot of the rest eating. You’re carried out by someone you know, and you’re handed over to a complete stranger who probably has no idea what to do with you and maybe giggles excitedly while somebody else pokes a camera at you. Phew. That’s over. You seek refuge with your usual handler. And then a new stranger comes along and you have to do it all over again. So no. Not me.

Mind you, there are a number of koalas at the few places that allow strangers to handle the animals. I expect there’s a rotation so one koala only features in a few shots at a time, and they would be carefully supervised by handlers. I also appreciate that offering the opportunity might make money to help with conservation, but I can’t help but feel it’s a bit like sacrificing some koalas for the many. Koalas are now endangered because humans have encroached on their habitat. We need to give them room to live safely away from dogs and cars. Here’s a bit of info about koalas.

We had lunch with rain squall accompaniment (we were inside, watching from a veranda), and after we’d bought a few T shirts, we caught the train back down to the valley. It’s an old train with antique carriages where the air conditioning is you opening the windows. It was like being in a sauna as the train crept down the steep gradients. We stopped for ten minutes at Barron Falls, which was just as disappointing from this side as it had been from the other. All the way, we learned about how this railway line had been built in the 1880’s, opening in 1891. Here’s a little of the history. OH&S hadn’t been invented then. All the tunnels (there are fifteen) were dug by hand after initial blasting, and the workers were expected to bring their own tools. Same with bridges and track. There are spectacular views across Cairns of course, and the train stopped for a few moments so we could take photos of Stoney Creek Falls – which almost made up for Barron Falls. (Did I mention how disappointed I was?)

Stoney creek Falls – right next to the railway line. Photo taken from the train.

One of several tight curves on the track. This one’s on a bridge.

The sun was setting when we got back to Palm Cove. It had been a Big Day Out.

In search of waterfalls

Peppers from the Esplanade

Palm Cove is the northern-most of Cairns’s northern beaches, most of it strung along a picturesque esplanade hugging the beach.  The first thing we noticed is the way the massive paperbark trees are incorporated into the landscape – and the buildings.  There’s no doubt the land our building was built on was reclaimed from a swamp. The frogs started up at sundown, just on the other side of the path to our room. The biggest trees are estimated at three to five hundred years old.

A massive paperbark next to Peppers

The Peppers resort comprised six buildings, most of them set around a very large swimming pool, complete with white sand and a swim-up bar. You can swim in the ocean – but there are signs warning about marine stingers and crocs. We were told quite a large croc was known to sun itself on the sandbar at the end of the beach. More about crocs in another post. For those desperate to try the sea, a stinger enclosure (a floating tube defining a rectangle with suspended fine netting to stop the stingers from getting in) had been set up opposite the hotel. All that lovely beach – but you’re safer in the hotel swimming pool. That’s how it is in (F)ar (N)orth (Q)ueensland. Read more about stingers here. We saw a couple of staff members trawling a net outside the enclosure to check for stingers. They both wore lycra stinger suits, covering their bodies from head to foot. Stingers deliver excruciating pain and are not to be messed with.

We were in an apartment on the third floor – and there were no lifts. I expect it did us good trudging up and down the stairs several times a day. The apartment had a nice tropical feel, and a spa bath on the balcony, if that was your fancy. Although the room was air conditioned, the restaurant wasn’t, relying on what breeze there was from the beach just across the road. But that was just for breakfast and one special dinner. The esplanade itself has a multitude of eateries catering for every taste and wallet. Friends of ours were also staying at Palm Cove and we tried a number of restaurants with them.

Peppers seems to be a great place to chill out, get a massage, do not much. But we wanted to see some of the sites, number one on the list for me and for Sandy, was the Atherton Tablelands and the waterfall circuit. Along that part of the coast the mountains come close to the beach, and although they’re not high by international standards, they’re steep and covered in rainforest. Rainforest means rain means watercourses means waterfalls. We didn’t see them all, but I’ve included a few.

The Atherton tablelands. Rainforest and rich farmland.

Driving up the mountain was an adventure in itself. I reckon the last time I was on anything like such a winding, snaking, narrow, challenging road was in Switzerland. Even Sandy and Col, who regularly drive in similar conditions where they live, remarked on how steep and winding it was.

Sandy and I had a wonderful time with the cameras, despite the occasional rain squall. And we could have done without the local Mr Plod who stopped us for speeding when we passed a clown behaving erratically. Still and all, he must have taken pity on a bunch of old farts and a driver with a spotless record. He stopped us again (flashing lights and all) and reduced the severity of the penalty. Col reckons he made a mistake and was covering up. Could be.

Anyway, here are the waterfalls.

Malanda falls. There was a wonderful information centre here, a great place to find out about the environment, and the plants and animals.

Millaa Millaa fals, complete with bikini-clad tourists

The top of Zillie Falls. The descent was a bit too steep and challenging for us.

Walking through the rain forest

This is the river that feeds Elinjaa falls, hurrying along for its date with destiny

A tortoise takes a sun bathe. This was a chance to try out the new Big Lens

 

Say hello to TC Debbie

The Coral Sea from Palm Cove

We’ve just come back from FNQ (Far North Queensland), after spending a week at Peppers Palm Cove resort, just north of Cairns. Normally I’d write about the trip and what we saw and experienced, but this time, I’ll start at the end, because the trip was cut short. You see, Debbie decided to visit.

When we arrived at Palm Cove, which is right on the beach, the view was gorgeous, as shown above. It’s a tropical climate, so cumulus stacks gather above the warm ocean, maybe moving inland for an afternoon rain squall. Standing out there gazing at the sea the sweat trickles down your skin. A swim would be nice, but the air is still and the ocean bath-tub warm – perfect for marine stingers. The crocs don’t mind, either, so you either swim in the stinger enclosure at the beach or use the pool at the hotel, which has a swim-up bar. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s such a waste of a beautiful beach.

It has been a strange summer all over Queensland from a weather point of view. Rain has fallen inland, the monsoon arrived late in the North, and around the sub-tropical Fraser Coast where we live, we’ve not seen such a savage drought. While we were up in the tropics we heard that Cyclone Caleb had been declared – only the third of the season! I don’t know why we thought it was in the Coral Sea, where we were, but it was actually far out to sea off the coast of Western Australia.

Maybe that mistake turned out to be prophetic.

On our second-last day at Palm Cove that idyllic beach scene looked like this.

A rain storm out sea

A massive rainstorm hung over the ocean on the horizon. And then we heard the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) was keeping a whether eye on a deepening low off the Queensland coast. We weren’t surprised. The sea’s always warm up here, but I’d heard thirty degrees. Maybe the coral reefs were praying for rain to cool them down. Standing on the beach it was easy to imagine some massive beast out there beyond the horizon, hovering over the ocean, sucking up moisture, swelling and strengthening. The clouds scudded by driven by a brisk south-easter, drawn into the dance around the as-yet-nameless storm. By evening her name was Debbie and our proposed visit to Cooktown, north of Cairns, was scratched. Cyclones are unpredictable beasts. Models showed Debbie heading for landfall in an area about 750 kilometres wide, but if she decided to veer north, Cooktown might be in the way. Even if she didn’t, we might reach Cooktown, but extensive flooding further south would make it a long, slow road home. And with predictions of Debbie becoming a high category four, or even a cat five before she crossed the coast, there would be flooding. This is a good explanation of cyclones.

Experiencing a full-blown tropical cyclone isn’t an item on my bucket list, but we figured we didn’t have to run for it straight away. We had one more day at Palm Cove – a Friday. The BOM wasn’t expecting the storm to hit the coast until Tuesday, and gales were not forecast until Sunday afternoon. If we left early on Saturday morning, we should be able to clear the danger area and make it home by Sunday night. On our way home we had intended to stay for a couple of days with a friend living high on the hill above Airlie Beach, roughly halfway to Hervey Bay from here. We’d have to cut the visit short, but he would understand. It seemed like a plan.

Ominous sky on Saturday

It rained heavily at Palm Cove on Friday night, but the next morning was dry, if ominous. The further we went, the clearer the sky became, at least as far as Townsville. From there on small patches of cloud appeared, all heading north like a flock of sheep being herded by an invisible sheep dog riding the wind.

Airlie Beach from our friend’s balcony

Airlie Beach in a good time

Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, a cluster of island holiday destinations dotted around the Coral Sea with the Great Barrier Reef at their doorstep. The anchorage is usually full of boats, but not this time. Maybe a dozen moorings were occupied when we arrived at our friend’s place. The next morning there were about six – probably owned by people down south. The evening was warm and relatively calm enough to eat outside but as the hours passed, the wind picked up. When we went to bed we left the window open to get some breeze – at least for a little while. Maybe because of the way the building was constructed, the breeze growled like an animal looking for a way in, probing any crevice with fingers of air. With each gust the growl became a howl and every now and then, with a shriek of triumph, the wind burst through, sending the drapes flapping like a torn spinnaker. We were forced to close the window and turn on the fan, but even so, the wind entity prowled around the building, testing its defences, its howl underscored by the steady rhythm of the ceiling fan.

It wasn’t the best nights’ sleep either of us had experienced. We hit the road early, anxious to avoid any chance of striking floodwater. We had expected the highway would be busy with other people heading south, especially caravans, but the road was surprisingly quiet. We saw quite a few emergency crews heading north, mobilised by the State Government for the expected damage. We also heard that people in low lying areas in Debbie’s path had been ordered to evacuate – including homes in the lower parts of Airlie Beach.

We stopped twice at shopping centres, busy with people stocking up on canned food, water, and supplies like batteries. It was all very business-like, but then, cyclones are part of life in North Queensland, and while they are destructive, they also have an important role to play in the ebbs and flows of the environment up there. Floods feed the wetlands and the aquifers that get the farmers through the dry times, and the rain cools down the sea temperatures on the Great Barrier Reef. I wondered how farm animals would fare in the storm, and a farmer interviewed on the radio said he’d moved his poddy calves in close to the homestead, but that the cows seemed to know how to cope. I’m certain the birds and animals do, too. During our day out on Friday we noticed the birds were scarce. On the other hand, farmers growing cane, bananas, or vegetables would be keeping their fingers crossed. A cat 4 cyclone packs winds up to 279kph, and a cat 5 is (of course) even worse.

We turned into our driveway at home just in time to watch the sunset on Sunday. We’re safe and comfortable. Our very best wishes to everyone in Debbie’s path. Stay safe. Like they say on the radio, cyclones rarely kill people. Downed power lines and floodwaters certainly do.

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the blog tour #giftcard #prize

The Stuff of Legend is going on tour. Join in for a chance to win an Amazon gift card

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

Amazon readers say:

Another thoroughly enjoyable book from a gifted author. I would like to see more from this universe with its Admirals.

Greta is back with another race through space with an enigmatic admiral and the independent woman who will grab his attention and his heart. At first we can hiss at the hero as he stumbles through his usual seduction routine only to find Professor Olivia not nearly as impressed as he’d hoped. It will take a dash through space in a search for Olivia’s missing parents, delving into the distant past, dealing with a megalomaniac, and facing their own insecurities for them to find each other.
Great world building with the possibility of more stories in this part of Greta’s universe. I can’t wait.

Buy the book: Amazon  Google iBooks  Nook Kobo  Print

 

Who was Jack the Ripper?

Not so long ago I was browsing through Facebook (as you do) and came across a post about famous crime author, Patricia Cornwell’s, new book about Jack the Ripper. I’ve long had an interest in the case, probably like most people who read crime fiction. It’s intriguing how this serial killer who committed his crimes starting in 1888, still holds the public imagination. I hasten to add I’ve not researched it, and I didn’t know the details of the murders – just that they occurred in London’s East End, the victims were all prostitutes, their bodies were mutilated, and the killer was never caught. I also knew that many people had raised theories about Jack’s identity. I remember a two-part mini-series in the eighties (I think) dramatising the events, and nominating Sir William Gull, the Queen’s physician, as the murderer. Then there was the story the police were covering up for the Queen’s grandson, the Duke of Clarence.

And so it goes. I was certainly interested in Patricia Cornwell’s take on events. She’s well known for her series of books starring medical examiner Kay Scarpetta. She apparently isn’t the first to point the finger at Walter Sickert, who is a famous Victorian painter (who knew?). She released a book in 2002 entitled Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper – Case Closed. She might have thought the case was closed, but, as she says in the article, her hypothesis was ripped to pieces. She learned from at least some of the critics, realised she’d left holes in her argument, and had another go. Her reasoning is explained in Chasing the Ripper, which I downloaded from Amazon for free. It’s short, and well worth your time. Her new book Ripper: The Secret Life of Walter Sickert is available in print, but not yet as an ebook. I’ll read it when it is.

Discussing the Cornwell article, one of my FB friends asked if I’d read They all Love Jack: Busting the Ripper. I hadn’t, but I have now. Bruce Robinson has gone to extraordinary lengths to re-examine primary evidence – what’s left of it – and built a compelling case. He has a very poor opinion of Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, most especially of the ‘ruling’ class clustered around the widowed queen and her son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. He makes particular reference to the influence of Freemasonry across all important roles in Government. The Prince of Wales was the Grand Master of the order. Reading the book, I enjoyed the insights into Victorian society, especially because of Robinson’s delivery. This is no dry history book, despite the facts it brims with facts and black and white photos. Robinson builds a case that the Metropolitan police, under the guidance of Sir Charles Warren ( who broke up protesters in Trafalgar square with cavalry), didn’t catch Jack because he was a fellow Freemason, a gentleman whose arrest would have rocked the core of London’s elite. He maintains that all the Ripper’s murders were based on Freemason rituals.

Reading about the Freemasons was fascinating, not least because, as I read about their hierarchies and rituals, my mind was drawn to the secret society in Terry Pratchett’s wonderful book, Guards, Guards! It was clearly written as a send-up of the Freemasons. Ahem. I digress.

If you’re at all interested in true crime and corruption, or even simply Victorian history, this is a great read. It’s a fat book, and not cheap as ebooks go, but I’m happy to have foregone the cost of a cheapish bottle of wine. I have no doubt I’ll read it again. Robinson builds a meticulous case which is hard to refute. In proper academic style, he provides footnotes and references for all quotes, and in cases such as the Ripper’s mocking letters, the documents are reproduced as images.

I’ll admit in the early chapters as the author delves into the history of Warren and of Kitchener, I wondered what all this had to do with Jack the Ripper. A lot, as it happens. It’s backstory, detailing the setting in which Jack played his monstrous game. We’re not talking about gaslight and shadows, more the society, the people, the expectations. A tiny fraction of wealthy aristocrats governed, and owned, just about everything, and nobody else mattered. Especially not middle-aged whores in the East End of London.

And by the way, the author doesn’t stop at the usual five whores murdered in London. Robinson believes Jack continued murdering. After I’d read about the killing of a child in Bradford, for which an innocent man was  very nearly hanged, I needed a break. The author’s contempt and loathing of a corrupt system which orchestrated this train of events is understandable. Jack should have been caught before he left London. And the system contrived a case against an innocent milkman because they would not admit that Jack was back, Fortunately, the accused had a decent lawyer to help him, and the case petered out, as had the London investigations into the Ripper murders, into official bafflement.

Be warned, the writer’s style is acerbic. He doesn’t miss anybody, least of all the many, many people he thinks have deliberately obfuscated what happened at the time of the murders, and the many people over the years who have clearly not examined the known facts to reveal obvious deceit. He also frequently uses big words like feasance and egregious, as well as the occasional, well-placed ‘fuck’.

Here’s a random quote

“As an addendum to the above, in reference to MacDonald’s law-breaking haste, we read in The News From Whitechapel that ‘Later writers have tended to view his actions with suspicion, but this shows a misunderstanding of Victorian inquests, which typically ran for only one or two sessions.’ [reference provided]

A critic of less generosity than myself might dismiss this as bollocks. Wynne Baxter [the coroner] held a total of fourteen sessions for his three victims – four for Nichols, five for Chapman and five for Stride. On that form MacDonald might have pushed his enquiries somewhat beyond the recollections of a drowsy woman with a kitten on her tit. A nobbled coroner and a mute press are hardly the handmaidens of justice. The Ripper made a mockery of a court, silenced Fleet Street, and brought about the dismissal of the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police.

Not bad going for a serial murderer.”

For me, this book is a resounding five stars. Of course, after 130 years, there is no certainty, and there never will be. Of course there are questions I would ask the author. And while I think he has constructed a case which seems to me has elements for which I can see no other reasonable explanation, I’ll still read Cornwell’s book. She, too, believes Jack didn’t stop murdering after Mary Kelly was slaughtered.  I’d like to do a comparison. And after I’ve done that, I’ll share my opinion.

It’s the least I can do.