Category Archives: Life and things

Why does everybody have to go to university?

Since I went to school education has changed. I suppose it should in over half a century, but while some things are better, a lot (in my opinion) are not. I think the arbiters of education, the public servants in their ivory towers, have become so busy negotiating the murky waters of political correctness they’ve lost sight of the goal posts. Why do we send kids to school?

I reckon we send kids to school to learn how to read, write (type), and add up. That is, the fundamental skills. I was going to add ‘skills without which you won’t get far in this day and age’. But that’s rubbish, isn’t it? How often do you see kids (in particular) turning to a calculator to perform simple addition like 2 cups of coffee @ $3.50 each? THE most important thing you can do for kids in a classroom is get them to WANT to learn. Then (with the necessary skills) they’ll teach themselves. It sound a lot like the Montessori system. You teach kids about social studies, geography, maths, accounting systems, marketing etc etc by showing them what happens at a supermarket. Applied learning. Sure, I understand that greater discipline is required for those who want to go on to university. Scientists need more than basic maths skills, for example.

But not everybody needs to go to university.

All those years ago, I struggled with a choice: give up the ‘professional’ stream of study at high school, and join the other girls and boys intending to leave school at fifteen and learn a trade or earn a wage. I came from a working-class family. There wasn’t much money to spare, so I discussed my options with my mum.

To add some context, at that time high school students were placed according to academic ability as established in a public exam at the end of year seven before going on to high school. I was up there in 1A, signifying the smartest kids in first year. It went on from there to 1B, 1C and so on to something like 1M. (I’m a baby boomer.) At the end of first year, we were asked at the tender age of around fourteen, to decide where our school years would take us from then on. Back then, quite a few girls in 1A opted for the ‘commercial’ stream, where they would learn shorthand and typing. Boys in that stream would concentrate on ‘male’ skills like woodwork and metalwork, as well as basic maths and language skills.

My mum always had higher aspirations for me. She listened to my concerns over money and told me to take the professional stream.

The next hurdle in education was what was called the Junior Certificate, a public exam taken at the end of third year high school (year ten). At that point students with no aspirations for academic places could leave school and enter a brave new world. I obviously didn’t leave shool, and, with the help of scholarships to help fund my studies in years eleven and twelve and then to study at university, I graduated with a BA(Hons).

Which brings me to the point of this essay. I know life has changed since the sixties. I know there is less work for unskilled young people – or very skilled young people. But why is forcing them to attend twelve years of school going to help? In its wisdom the education system has watered down the public examination system by including continuous assessment components, and added Naplan, where little kids are tested at absurdly young ages. It seems they’re all being trained to fit the lowest common denominator. You don’t have A, B and C classes anymore. The brightest kids are put in with the dumbest, so nobody’s feelings are hurt. Teachers are expected to cope with vast variations in both ability, and expectations. Johnny wants to learn how to use a lathe, not muck about with history lessons. Mary doesn’t need Johnny’s disruptions – she’s there to learn.

Much is said about the quality of teachers. To which I say, if you haven’t been there, don’t presume to judge. I’m not saying corporal punishment is a great thing, but these days teachers have no means of controlling young thugs like Johnny, who doesn’t want to be there and is immune from any form of discipline. Teachers are asked to cover a multitude of subjects, and carry out education in matters which belong in the home, not the classroom. I’ve always thought that education should be about teaching people the basics, like reading, maths, and (these days) typing. Sketch in some geography and basic history – enough to get them interested – and then encourage them to use that wonderful device, the internet, to learn what they want. Perhaps THE most important lesson people these days need to learn is that there are fake media sites, Wikipedia is not the whole story, and that to understand something properly, it’s necessary to consult more than one point of view. I think we could call it ‘how to research’.

Back in the olden days we did research in libraries, where we needed at least a basic knowledge of the Dewey decimal system and how to use index cards. It’s so much easier now – but I’d suggest that there is still a need to follow the denser path and read the books.

But I digress. What has happened to the TAFE colleges? The Institutes of Technology? They used to be where people went to learn a trade, to delve into the nuts and bolts of technology, or carpentry, or commercial cooking. That’s where the kids from the commercial stream at high school went, to learn a trade as they did their apprenticeship. There are no TAFE colleges anymore, or Institutes of Technology. There are only universities. Because that way, even if you’re learning a trade, you get to go to university. Whoop-ti-do. It seems to me that the result of this move is that a drover’s dog can get a degree in something at an erstwhile TAFE. Maybe that makes the recipient feel good, but it devalues the degree I earned at UWA, because the assumption is those qualifications are equivalent.

I don’t believe they are.

Despite all being labeled as universities, they are fundamentally different in their approach.  Once again, I turn to my own experience. I have (as mentioned) a BA(Hons) from UWA (the University of Western Australia). I also have a Graduate Diploma in Education from what was then Claremont Teachers’ College, became a campus of Edith Cowan University, and is now a part of UWA. And I also have a Graduate Diploma in Business and Administration (with distinction) from what was then the WA Institute of Technology, and is now Curtin University. This was all back before 1990, I admit. I’ll add I’ve compared my experience with friends who had a similar mix of studies at various institutions.

We all agreed that the standards required at UWA were far higher than that expected at WAIT, and at Claremont Teachers’ College. The fact is they taught different skills. UWA taught you how to think, and do research, and pretty well left you to it. If you didn’t go to lectures, nobody cared. The results would advertise your lack of effort. WAIT aimed its courses at practical skills, like how to program a computer or carry out radiography. Lecturers there provided hands-on, practical courses with the associated ‘how to’ in documentation and the like. Ie. You will plan and present your work LIKE THIS. Claremont taught students how to teach primary kids (under 12), with an emphasis on practical work.

And here, I think, we come to the nub of all of this. Listen up, Government. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A PLUMBER, CARPENTER, RADIOGRAPHER, PROGRAMMER or CHEF. They do not need to be glorified with a degree. Horses for courses.

UPDATE: There are TAFE colleges, and they teach trades as they always did. However, in my defence, I based this article on my own experience in Perth. And it would seem there has been a re-think. Here’s a quote from the WA TAFE website.

“A recent change that occurred to the TAFE system in Western Australia saw a merger occur between the former Central Institute of Technology and the West Coast Institute of Training. The new organisation is the North Metropolitan TAFE, which combines the facilities and resources of both institutes to provide students with a better quality TAFE education. This formed part of a major change to the TAFE system in WA, in which all institutes were joined to form five new TAFE schools. in addition to the North Metropolitan TAFE, these include South Metropolitan TAFE, Central Regional TAFE, South Regional TAFE and North Regional TAFE.”

So you see, we’re changing names. Just as we renamed the Personnel Department to Human Resources. Same role, same staff. But now it’s two words.

And this week I have a new lens to play with.

A baby lorikeet. Note the detail

A couple of pink and grey galahs practising ballet on the TV aerial

A Western dilemma

This is my blog, so I can talk about whatever I want. And today I’m going to spill some thoughts that trouble me. And here the emphasis is ME. I expect some of you (especially those who communicate regularly with Himself) will have another point of view. As is your right. So here we go. This blog is about Jews, Muslims, Islam, and ‘racial’ hatred. For I hasten to add that neither the Jews, nor the Muslims, are a race, .

I cringe at the notion of pointing fingers at people and saying, “You’re a <insert religion of choice> therefore I hate you.” I hate extremists of any ‘faith’ who will kill and maim in the name of god. This includes Crusaders, Inquisitors, Conquistadors, Sinn Fein – and, of course, the followers of Mohamed who surged across Africa and the Middle East in record time in the sixth century.  Most people are not extremists. But even so I do not want to open the flood gates to Muslim immigration. Immigrants who are prepared to integrate with Western culture are fine. But people who come here and cannot and will not integrate because their basic beliefs are different should go somewhere else where they will fit in.

The Koran was written in the sixth century – the world was a different place. Rules that made sense then no longer make sense now, but Muslim clerics persist in peddling this antiquated belief system. We don’t need Sharia law here. We don’t need women having to wear clothing so they don’t provoke men. (It doesn’t work, anyway.) National hijab day? Give me a break. I don’t care what anyone says, it is a form of dress dictated by the mullahs. Look at pictures of young people before the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, or in the streets of Afghanistan before the Taliban. If women want to wear head scarves, that’s up to them. But the fact is the hijab (let alone the burqa) has become something that singles out Muslim women in our society. They’d be better off without it. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald expresses that view from a more compelling source than me. Note her comments about little girls wearing head scarves.

You might be wondering why I mentioned Jews at the beginning of this. Ah, that’s the other side of the argument, the point at which I am faced with a quandary. The Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, because their religion was different, or they were an easy target, or they were rich. European Jews in 1920-30 Germany didn’t pose a threat to anybody. They contributed to society, paid their taxes, ran businesses. Lived. They were part of the community. But that all changed when the Nazis pointed fingers at them, and blamed them for everything that was wrong with the German world. Ordinary people either joined in, or turned a blind eye. The end result is well-known, although I fear it is starting to recede into distant memory, something that happened so long ago it doesn’t count in our modern world. Take heed, people. The Holocaust was genocide, a deliberate attempt to wipe anyone labeled JEW off the face of this earth. Sure, other people – homosexuals, the intellectually disabled, gypsies and others – died in  front of the firing squads, or in the gas chambers. But the vast majority of those six million people were Jewish. And for those who say it never happened, here’s the proof, pictures taken by the Allies as they liberated the death camps.

Think it can’t happen again? May I remind you of Rwanda. And of Kosovo. And of what’s happening right now in Sudan. And the slaughter of Christians in Syria by Daesh. In the name of Allah.

We must protect our nation from extremists. I watched the horror of the Lindt Cafe siege unfold.  I saw a kid shoot down an accountant in Sydney because he worked for the police. I recoiled at events in Nice, Brussels, Paris, Berlin. Some of the perpetrators were imported, but most were home grown. Home grown happens because the immigrants don’t integrate, don’t feel part of the society in which they find themselves. I can’t help but feel we’d be better off spending our money to help them stay at home, to rebuild their homelands and create a place like Lebanon used to be, when Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East.

Where do I stand with immigration to Australia? I’m an immigrant myself, tagging along with my parents not long after WW2. My parents got nothing from the Government, not even the ten pound Pom thing (on account of not being Poms). My family was dropped off at Northam and basically told to get on with it. No instant welfare, no handouts. I’m not saying it was ideal – but then, the country had just finished a punishing war and needed to rebuild. We integrated. Nearly twenty years later, my husband’s experience in 1974 when he arrived from UK was no different.

And there is the dilemma. On the one hand we have desperate people wanting a better life, on the other, people taking advantage of what we offer without contributing anything in return, in fact wanting to change the way we live. Yes, I’d prefer to allow Christians into Australia – because I think they would be more likely to integrate.  No, we should not let in everybody, because if we do, we will sow the seed for the destruction of the very thing they want to come for – our prosperity and our peace.

Bear in mind, too, our society has changed over the decades. Back in 1955 jobs were plentiful. Now, not so much, especially for unskilled people. Which is a good reason not to bring more unskilled people here. And we should certainly vet anyone who does want to live here, and extend the amount of time before people can claim Australian citizenship. Those who flout our laws should pay the price, as happened recently with a father arranging an underage ‘marriage’ for his 12-y-old daughter.

The very best thing the world could do for places like Syria is first, to end the fighting, and then offer the people help to stay at home and rebuild, just as what happened in Japan and Germany (and the rest of Europe) after WW2.  Accepting thousands of refugees won’t change things, anyway. I urge you to watch this 6 minute presentation that illustrates why it’s better to help the people where they come from.

Yes, folks, fundamental Islam frightens me. Any ‘religion’ which subjugates women and treats them as inferior frightens me. What is especially terrifying is that the barbaric custom of female genital mutilation is rising in the West – and this torture is carried out BY WOMEN on their female children. Seems to me the West is becoming a fast-dwindling outpost of sanity.Unlike the Jews, Islam is more than a religion; it’s a set of social mores than do not sit well with our democratic principles. I don’t want that in my country. Equally, I don’t want people being burnt at the stake because they espouse a different faith. For me it is a moral dilemma with no easy answers. We cannot change Islam. Only Muslims can do that. And they don’t seem to be in a hurry to consider the possibility.

If I were in the least bit religious, I’d be praying that we stand fast. Since I’m not, I’ll just have to hope our ‘leaders’ take note. One more thing – this is long, and was probably the reason I’ve written this post. History doesn’t repeat precisely – but it has trends. Things are trending right now.

And on that happy note, it’s picture time.

The Rhine at sunset

Eagle with snake in its talons

A Brahmani kite carries off dinner – a sea snake

Picture of a Noisy Miner Bird bathing

Noisy Miner Bird bathing in the swimming pool

The abbey at Melk

The trials of technology

It has been an interesting week as far as household goods go. We prefer to cook with gas, on account of it being easier to control than electricity. These days we have to contend with idiot regulations that stipulate one cannot own a cooker with gas burners, grill, and oven. One must choose either a gas grill OR a gas oven to go with a gas cook top.  So we elected to have a gas oven.

We don’t have household gas mains in our part of town, so we use bottled gas. And it appears some bottled gas is not as equal as other bottled gas. Before Christmas, being in somewhat of a hurry, and having 5 9kg bottles to refill, we bought ‘swap and go’ gas instead of waiting an hour or more to get them refilled. For those who don’t know, swap and go allows you to swap your empty gas bottle for a filled one for just the price of the gas. It’s also a good way of getting rid of your “soon to be” ten year old bottles that then need re-certifying.

When the oven started to play up, we called the gas fitters. We were informed that swap and go gas is not of the highest quality – although it’s fine for barbecues. Apparently our law makers, (yet to find out if it was State or Federal, suspect Federal), a few years ago passed a law that stated that bottled gas only needed to contain 51% gas or phrased another way, must contain at least 51% gas. We don’t know what the other (possibly) 49% is made up of but oil of some description is certainly part of it. Anyway the gas fitter explained that this “other” component of the gas cylinder’s content, (let’s call it gunk) will clog up your regulator and in particular the jets in the oven which although still working will reduce the pressure and result in less heat.

There you go. Lesson learnt, but only after the lasagne came out of the oven at the same temperature it went in. Thank goodness we have an outside oven/bbq. Needless to say, a late dinner ensued.

So we resurrected an idea we’d had for a time. Why not try an air fryer? We did some homework and decided upon a not very expensive model with good reviews.  You know the old saying, you get what you pay for? It’s not always true – you can often get a better deal by shopping around – but there are times when, yeah, it might have been wiser to shell out a little more. Anyway there were a heap of these things, all the same model, with prices from $110 to $299, so we took the $110 one and paid for delivery. Many others offer “free shipping”.

It wasn’t so much the unit’s performance. When it comes down to it, they all do the same thing – super heat air and circulate it quickly around the food to cook it with a minimum of oils or fats. But there are differences in the design of the oven. The one we bought looks a bit like a UFO, with a stainless steel removable tub. It said it came ‘with accessories’ but didn’t nominate which ones, so we ended up with less ‘accessories’ than the slightly more expensive units, some of which also had a non-stick tub. The one we bought was the same as the unit in this link – but we didn’t get the four items on the left (oil spray bottle, two flat plates, and the sort-of rotisserie thingy).

Hey ho. I had decided that we would try cooking a chook using a rotisserie provided with the oven. The (very meagre) instructions said that a whole chicken (and chopped roast potatoes, pumpkin, and carrot) would take 15 minutes at 250 degrees. After working out how to turn the bloody thing on (not explained in the Chinese Engrish) we gave it a whirl. Pun intended. We didn’t think the chicken would be cooked in 15 minutes and we weren’t disappointed. Apart from that, the prongs to keep the chicken on the rotisserie were a bit dinky. The chook slid down the pole to one end of the device and stopped turning – fortunately the cycle finished before we ended up with burnt on one side. The vegies weren’t cooked, either. We took the chook off the rotisserie and placed it in the tub with the veg and gave it another 20 at 220. Then we turned the chook over and gave it a final 15. By this time the green veg (on the stove top inside) was over cooked. But the chicken was lovely and moist.

Even after all that time the chicken could have used a little more cooking – it was still a bit pink at the joints. But that’s trial and error, isn’t it? And the oven was very easy to clean.

Apart from that, I have been watching the train-wreck that is America with growing trepidation. And I know it’s not just me. The highly respected New Yorker has an extinguished flame of liberty on its cover and Der Spiegel caused uproar with that highly evocative cover of somebody vaguely resembling Trump holding up the cut-off head of Liberty. There has been a rash of videos from many European countries urging Mister Trump to – sure, have America first – but what about us for second? I’m proud to say the Dutch started it. Many countries have joined in, but I think the best is Germany’s entry. (You’ll find the others listed on the Youtube page.) I don’t recall ever seeing a country’s leader lampooned quite so severely in his own country, and outside.

Meanwhile in Washington Trump has surrounded himself with a cabal of billionaires who know bugger all about the portfolios they have been given. The legislature’s descent into right wing Christian fundamentalist ideology is breathtaking.

On the other side of the world in Moscow several people who were suspected of being complicit in the West finding out about Russian hacking in the US election, have allegedly ‘disappeared’, and it seems one of Putin’s rivals has succumbed to mysterious poisoning. What’s the bet Putin will take over Eastern Ukraine any minute now?

And on that happy note, a few photos that have been artified by Photoshop.

Ancient hills in the Pilbara. Photo taken from the car (so a bit blurring and not great) but rendered acceptable by a PS filter. Paint daub.

Changing of the guard at Windsor Castle. This one was filtered as a poster, accentuating all those lines.

Autumn on the Rhine. I evened out the light in the water bottom left, and took out the power lines. The paint daub filter really brought out the Autumn colours

Geikie gorge. This was a good photo – but the dry brush effect is rather nice.


It’s all a matter of perception

Everlasting daisies in King’s Park

A few days ago a friend shared a set of pictures from Gardening Australia on Facebook. They are stunning photographs of flowers taken by Craig Burrows. It’s a shame they didn’t tell us what the common name was for each photo because with the “ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence” process, they are transported to the extraordinary. In fact, I was very much reminded of the world-building in the movie Avatar. Just for fun I took the above photo and changed the photo’s temperature right down to purple. This is what it looked like.

Not quite ultra-violet

Which got me thinking. We see the worlds around us very much from our own point of view, and we miss so much. Bees see the world in ultraviolet. I wonder if their view is like those pictures? Our sense of hearing is vastly inferior to that of dogs and other predators. I love Terry Pratchett’s description of sense of smell as experienced by the Watch’s werewolf, Angua. For her, smell tells a great deal about the maker of the smell. It comes in layers, and it has a history, so dogs can sense how long ago bitch X was here.

Then there’s hearing. Once again, dogs and cats can hear things we don’t. Elephants can communicate in wave lengths so low we can’t hear them, while dolphins use much wider frequencies that overlap our sense of hearing only to a limited extent. Here’s a brief article on that subject. Dolphins in fact use sound to ‘see’.

And all this is on our own small blue dot. We can’t begin to know what’s out there in the vastness of space. What will a;ien species be able to do? How will they use their senses? And you know, that was the disappointing part of Avatar for me. Pandora was inhabited by wondrous, diverse (if recognizable versions of Earth) creatures. But the dominant species was a new version of pick your location of indigenous tribe. I suppose that was necessary in a romance movie for humans.

For this week I thought I’d share some lorikeet pictures. They brighten our lives, amuse, and annoy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jostling over the apple juice. Note that one hanging upside down. I think they think that’s how the apple juice gets there. Also the two in the middle about to have an animated discussion.

This bird inserted himself between the two arguing – because there was a tiny gap

Things get a bit raucous

And sometimes they look like they’re dancing on the air

A brave new world for America

As it happens, this post coincides pretty much with the inauguration of the the incoming President of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

Brave new world indeed. I have quite a few (online) American friends and most of the people I’m close to await the coming months and years with trepidation. That’s honestly amazing. I’ve never seen this happen before. George W wasn’t popular, but he didn’t meet with the bitterness Trump has engendered. Sure, it has a bit to do with fake news, social media, back-stabbing campaigns on both sides. But from where I’m standing, it’s not about the president – it’s about the Republican party, which has blocked and dodged and prevented for the last eight years. It’s not for me to judge Trump –  from what I know of him, he is not a person I would like. But then, leaders don’t have to be liked. They have to be respected. And many of my friends don’t respect him. For me, what is really frightening is that the conservative, god-fearing, anti-science, pro-gun, paternalistic stance of so many American leaders will come to the fore. Too bad if you’re not a white, heterosexual, male.

But… the people have spoken according to the US political system, which is in as much need of an overhaul as our own. I shall watch with interest, and thank my lucky stars that I live in Australia.

For myself, my latest science fiction romance novel will be hitting the internet in a week or so. Keep an eye out if such things interest you.

And here are a few photos to admire.

Early morning on my beach

Eucalyptus bark

Cloud across the hills in South Australia

Moonrise over water

The garden at Greendale #15

Sunset over the Wombat forest

This is my last garden post. It has been fascinating for me, going back through what we did at Greendale. I’m so glad I had enough ‘before’ photos to see the difference. I thought this would be a good place to answer some questions.

Where is this place?

Look in the top left corner. You’ll see Greendale nestled next to the dark mass of the forest

Do you have a map of the property so we can see what went where?

This is a Google earth image, marking the main areas talked about in the blogs

Wasn’t it high maintenance?

No, it wasn’t. The original intention in many of our projects was to reduce maintenance. No more having to brush-cut steep slopes, no more manoeuvring between groups of trees. Sure, we had to edge, but that was part of mowing.

Although we had to do some weeding, especially in new gardens, I used Peter Cundall’s philosophy that if there’s a plant there, a weed can’t grow. It worked. I used perennials and shrubs, and never lifted bulbs (unless I wanted to divide them). Apart from the on-going labour of love of filling holes and replacing failed experiments, the main tasks were pruning and mulching, and that was once a year. And part of the enjoyment of the garden was wandering around in it, maybe pulling a weed here, dead-heading a rose there, trimming a branch somewhere else. That sort of maintenance is invisible.

Did you do all the work yourselves?

Not absolutely everything, no. We brought in a contractor to lay the cobbles for us, and to build the formal pond at the front of the house, and the circular planter in the terrace. Peter constructed the fence at the drive side of the terrace, and the little fence at the fernery, but we hired a contractor to build the long fence that stretched around the back of the terrace around to the end of the back border near the kitchen door. I painted all the external woodwork at least twice. Peter’s oldest daughter helped me with mulching the forest, and she did the western border by herself. I was eternally grateful. Everything else was done by us. It was our home, and our hobby.

Wasn’t water a problem?

Yes, it was. I tried to use plants suited to their location, so the Med garden and the Terrace and rockery all had natives or drought tolerant species. We also set up watering systems – underground soaker hoses in the Med garden, overhead sprinklers in the shade house and fernery. We put in a recycling septic system so we could reuse the water on the garden. And we tried drilling for bore water. Other people in Greendale had been successful in finding reliable underground water. But it wasn’t to be. The contractor went down four hundred feet to find even a bit of dampness, and beyond that depth it would have cost a fortune in pumps. We didn’t water often, but as the drought tightened its grip, we had to consider the thousands of dollars’ worth of plants. It was worth buying a few truckloads of water, or carting water from Greendale’s communal spring. But we only watered the gardens close to the house. Everything else was left to fend for itself. From 2003 onward I recorded all our rainfall every day. The graph below comes from those figures.

Annual rainfall by month 2003-6

Wasn’t it hard to leave?

I’ve heard this expressed in a dozen different ways, and I understand the sentiment. The thing is, life changes. We moved there with a mission of sorts – finish the place, inside and out (because while the garden was being built, things were happening inside, too). Then around 2005 we were hit with enervating health problems that required multiple visits for tests to hospitals in Ballarat and Melbourne, and appointments with Melbourne specialists. Eventually, one doctor told us to go and sit on a beach somewhere and veg out. So we went on a week’s holiday in Queensland. We got home on a cold, dark Victorian night. Next morning, wrapped in woollies, I took my cup of tea out on the deck under a grey sky and gazed at the forest, remembering the glint of sunlight on water and warm sand between my toes. It took me back to my younger days at the beach in Perth. A few moments later, Peter joined me. “You know, Gret,” he said, “I think we should retire somewhere warmer.”

And that was the beginning of the end.

Greendale was too big, too steep and too remote for an ageing couple with health problems. We put the house on the market in Spring, hoping the garden would sell it. Mind you, the house had plenty to offer – 4 large bedrooms with built in robes, 2 bathrooms, separate study, formal lounge, formal dining, meals area, family room. But even so, Spring went, Summer arrived and passed. And we didn’t even get a visit. The place took over a year to sell. By this time we’d cleared all the junk, had the garage sale, thrown away the hundreds of accumulated plastic plant pots, and sold a few things we wished we hadn’t.

It was a great experience, something I’ll cherish. I really enjoyed putting these posts together, reliving the work we did, and basking in our achievement. But time doesn’t stand still.

We closed the door behind us without regrets, and moved on to a new life.

The garden at Greendale #14

Bruce with some of his ladies

If you choose to live on the edge of a national forest on a hectare of land, you’ll be visited by wildlife. There was a resident mob of kangaroos in the valley which went from property to property keeping the grass down and fertilising. We saw them often, at any time of day or evening. And sometimes we didn’t see them at all.

I took one memorable picture quite early in our tenure. I knew the roos were close to the house, so I fetched my camera and walked around the corner to where the front patio would be. The alpha buck and his ladies were right there in front of me. He stood up with a surprised look on his face but he didn’t react, although a couple (not all) of the ladies bolted. I backed off quietly and took a few pictures, then left them to it. The alpha male (we called him Bruce) was enormous. He stood well over six feet, with an upper body Arnie would have envied. I have never seen a bigger buck.

This was taken just outside the kitchen

The nice thing about the roos was that, although wild, they were comfortable with people, and behaved completely naturally. Mums would let their joeys out for a run around and I saw one mum refuse to let a joey that panicked at the sight of me, back into the pouch. I wasn’t a threat.

The young bucks would practice fighting, and check on the girls to see if they could have a quickie while the boss buck was away. They would lounge on the grass, relax in the shade, and generally be kangaroos.

This is a large buck, on his own and working up to being a challenger to the alpha

The Wombat State Forest was home to wombats (I saw one crossing the road once) but we didn’t see them much. We had possums, both brushtail and ringtail, and we saw the occasional koala. We heard them more often, the big males growling from the forest above our house. Here’s what they sound like.

But apart from the roos, the most abundant critters were birds. Sulphur-crested cockatoos in their thousands called the Wombat Forest home. We would see them in the early morning, warming up their wings in raucous groups, planning their day. In the evening, they would perch up in the highest trees to catch the last of the sun before they went off for a last noisy fly-around before they settled down in the trees to roost. They’re lovely birds living to a ripe old age of 50+ years in the wild, but they are big, loud, and destructive. They are the bush’s native tip pruners, and they love soft wood like western red cedar window frames. They didn’t mind a bite of treated pine, either, so we didn’t encourage them too much.

A squadron (just one) of cockatoos doing a warm-up run

Gang gangs. The male has the distinctive red head

Gang-gangs visited in the Summer, obvious by their distinctive call which sounds like a creaking gate. And, of course, pink and grey galahs. They loved lining up on the power lines on the road and performing acrobatics. We also had heaps of crimson rosellas. They loved the purple wisteria, but weren’t so much interested in the white one. They also loved the catkins on the silver birches.

The rosellas loved the purple wisteria

This young rosella is enjoying catkins on the silver birches in the rain. They go red as they age

Of course we had magpies. They very quickly learned we were friends. They nested in the three gums near the dam, and popped in for snacks at a feeder table we set up just outside the kitchen. Kookaburras visited, too. When we replaced the washing line with a rotary hoist, they liked to sit on the central high point. A few birds quite liked sitting on the hoist’s arms and going for a ride in the breeze.

The little birds, in particular, loved our garden because we had so many dense bushes. Superb blue wrens nested in a number of places, including the shade house. A blackbird set up in there, too.

This white-browed wren built a mud nest in the fernery. Here, she’s caught a moth

Here’s a better view of her

This male superb blue wren is perched on a rhododendron flower. He had a nest in the bushes in the front border

A pair of baby kookaburras on the deck rail

These are Australian wood ducks, probably parents with nearly grown kids. The females are mottled.

Wood ducks nest in tree hollows (up in a tree). Their kids have to jump down, and from there mum and dad take them for their first swim.

The year the dam had water

We had frogs, too. In particular the pond at the base of the waterfall in the terrace garden became a frog pond. Every year we’d see the eggs and later the tadpoles around the rushes.

Tiny frog on a waterlily

You’re going to ask, aren’t you? About the spiders and the snakes. And the simple answer is ‘of course’. This is the Australian bush. On a number of occasions, I caught large huntsmen spiders in the house and escorted them outside. (That was my job – Pete just told me where they were.) Pete killed two snakes with the brushcutter when he was hacking back the long grass when we first moved in. I don’t condone killing animals for no reason. Snakes are normally pretty keen on minding their own business. One ventured onto our front veranda and we encouraged him out to the grass with brooms – just guiding, not attacking – where he hightailed it out of there. In the years we lived at Greendale I saw a snake four times, and never in an aggressive pose. Don’t do anything stupid like stand on them, or try to attack them, and you’re usually pretty safe. Given a chance, they’ll get out of your way.

So that’s about it. Join me for FAQ’s in the next post – the final one.



The garden at Greendale #13

This post is simply about the pretties. Gardens are never finished. I never could resist finding a place for another lily, or a pretty perennial.  I had a lot of roses, but I never grew a rose that was not fragrant. So these are some of the plants I’ve grown. Please enjoy, and come back for the penultimate post tomorrow, where I showcase some of our wildlife.

Just Joey

Tulip Menton




Japanese windflowers


Californian poppy

Red rose (don’t remember the name)


Pandorea species

Clematis with bee

Iceberg rose

Oriental lily


Golden rose

Pink rosabunda carpet rose









The garden at Greendale #12

The kitchen pond

I’ve covered all the main projects in the previous posts, but we did a few more things, too. One of the bushes outside the kitchen window turned up its toes, so we pulled the stump out and replaced it with a water feature for the back patio. Pete built up the sleepers so we had some height, then we bought a fibre glass cascade.

Doing the planting

The new pond in context. With my backside outside the shade house

I planted annuals at the front of the bed to give some colour. Also low growing herbs like thyme to spread and cover the area. That’s a native fuchsia at the top

An evening view

The Fernery

Another very early job was to redo the fernery. Peter had built a little bit of garden into the long, narrow house to allow in light and break the space up a little. The area had one brick wall and two walls made up of windows. A pergola covered with green corrugated plastic provided cover. Here, tree ferns had been planted. But tree ferns were far too large for a comparatively small space, so my first job was to clear the area out. The tree ferns went to a good home with friends. Then I planted smaller varieties, and hung hanging baskets. This was another area very popular with birds.

Fernery devoid of tree ferns

Taken from inside. This was the meals area, next to the kitchen

Fuchsias, ferns, umbrella trees, hanging baskets. This was one of the few bits of fencing Peter built himself.

The bio-pond

One of the big problems for owners of ornamental pools is keeping the water clean and clear. Yes, you can buy a filter, but they tend to fail pretty quickly. So Peter decided to build his own biological filter for the front patio formal pond. In principle, it works like a swamp does. Water feeds into a bed of coarse sand, slows down, and loses its sediment. Then it feeds out, clean and clear, into the main lake (or in this case, pond). Water plants like rushes grow in the sediment-rich ‘swamp’ part, using up the nutrients.

It worked well – but the downside was the water level in the pond was much lower. If he’d planned such a project from the first, he could have incorporated it into the design.

Water was pumped into this section, from where it leached into the planted part on the right

From there, the water rose until it was high enough to pour out of the pipe

Next time I’ll share some photos of flowers.

The garden at Greendale #11

The Western border

I mentioned we had only one fence line – along the western boundary. The people next door had horses. The view in that direction was pretty uninspiring, as you can see from the photo. At least here the grass is green, a rare event at the time. Further to the left a line of mature trees on both sides of the fence gave both of us some privacy. But it wasn’t pretty to look at, especially when the drought set in.

We created a border along the fence and edged and planted it. Peter’s daughter (bless her heart) moved the mulch along its length.

Misty  early Autumn view. You can just see the wall of next door’s dam on the left. The more distant trees are ‘borrowed’ from next door and the forest behind.

A late Spring view in 2002, looking up the bank.

I made the established area near the house into a haven for wildlife, putting in a birdbath, bird feeders, pots, and tough, dry-shade species like clivia.

Camellias, grasses, spider flowers, clivia, syzygium

And, of course, we had to have fruit trees. After it cascaded down the hillside beside that Western border the land created its own terrace, becoming almost flat for several meters, before falling over a final, very steep slope. It seemed a good place to establish fruit trees. First, we covered the area with horse manure and old straw donated by the neighbours, then waited until it rotted down. Then we planted bare-rooted fruit trees.

That little shed thing at the end is a chook house Peter built in his previous tenure. We never had chickens – we were away from home too much.

The fruit trees are on their way

We had a cherry tree, 2 plums, a peach, 2 pears, a nectarine, an almond, a walnut, and Jonathon and Granny Smith apples. Unfortunately, because of the prolonged drought they didn’t bear a lot of fruit in our time. But the first year the cherry produced fruit, I found it before the birds. Very nice indeed.

And just to give you a real idea of just how steep this block is, here’s photo of the house taken from the bottom corner.

Have I told you about the kitchen pond and the fernery? That’s next time.

The fruit trees are to the right of the tree on the right. That’s the deck in the top middle.