Author Archives: Greta

A typical Australian summer

Sun, surf, and sand, yeah? Barbies at the beach, or next to the backyard swimming pool. That’s the ideal. But it’s Fake News, folks.

In the real world, record-breaking rain (really record breaking, not that pretend stuff) has drenched Far North Queenslan. The drought has ended but now cattle are dying in their thousands because of the floods, which are visible from space. And that’s without taking into the thousands upon thousands of native animals and domestic pets affected by the water. The only critters not complaining are the crocs. They say ‘if it’s flooded, forget it’ – flood water up there contains anything from nasty bacteria to a four-meter salty (salt water crocodile), maybe a few snakes and spiders, and of course, good old blind mullets (sewage).

The rain has finally stopped. Townsville, which seldom gets good rain, is sodden. But its community spirit is fantastic and they have the good fortune to be home to Australia’s third battalion, so there are plenty of willing helpers with heavy duty equipment.

Townsville flood photos: the aftermath of North Queensland’s weather event

Meanwhile, much of the green and fertile island of Tasmania has been on fire for weeks. Welcome rain has fallen to help the exhausted fire fighters. But just because the fires are out, that’s not the end of it.

Rains bring relief to bushfire-weary Tasmanian towns and fire crews

Somwhere in the middle Sydney’s western suburbs were lashed by a severe storm just a day or two ago. Roofs were ripped off, trees felled, power lines destroyed. And, of course, flash flooding.

Sydney lashed by severe thunderstorms, power outages, flooding

And what’s happening back home, here in Hervey Bay?

That brown stuff is grass and dirt

Summer is our wet season. We don’t get the tropical monsoon but we can get very heavy rain in December, January and February. We recorded 78.5mm in December, about half our ten-year average. The highest we’ve had in December was 593.5 (not far off 24″). In January, where we’d normally get 100-200mm, we recorded precisely 1mm. In February we’ve been watching the radar maps, hoping that massive low over Townsville would drift further south but it never happened. Little groups of clouds like a loose mob of sheep have drifted up from the South East, bringing bits of moisture to coastal towns. So far, we’ve had 21mm, which is little more than a tease.

Little groups of clouds

We’re struggling to keep the larger plants alive, even the drought-tolerant species like acalypha. The grass is only green in the rare places which benefit from run-off where we’ve watered an adjacent bit of garden.

Needless to say, the birds here are doing it tough. As I mentioned last week, we have fifity and more lorikeets, along with miner birds and blue-faced honey eaters, turning up for breakfast and dinner juice. Magpies, magpie larks, and butcher birds enjoy bacon rind. Just about everybody likes a bit of bread.

Us? Well, we’re just hoping for rain.

YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE

Pete and I have been mucking about with the telly. You know, one of those big ones with a computer chip so that it’s really just a huge computer pretending to be a telly. Over the years we’ve collected DVD players to go with it – and its predecessors. First the DVD player to replace the one that replaced the video player, then the bluray/3D player and then a little dinky player which plays everything, regardless of region, which I needed for a few Discworld movies and the Poirot Collection. Of course, there’s also a fairly out of date sound system, with cables and things. For some reason known only to it, the amplifier has decided it doesn’t want to play with the other bits anymore. It’s about twenty years old and it doesn’t even have an HDMI connection, so it’s getting a bit geriatric. So we’ve been Mucking About. We may end up having to buy a new amplifier for the system, but that’s another story.

THE POINT of all this is while in the process of Mucking About, we found some shows we had recorded on one of the DVD player’s hard disk drive. Pete started playing one of them and called me in to ask questions about it. So I sat on the coffee table, facing the Big TV on its cabinet, pulled away from the wall so it stood at an angle so we could get behind to play with the multitude of cables – and became engrossed.

It was Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather. I have the DVD now, but back then, we copied the movie from the ABC. The Hogfather is Discworld’s equivalent of Father Christmas.

The first thing that grabbed my attention was a scene where the wizards at Unseen University were consulting the university’s thinking engine (computer) named Hex. Since it is on Discworld the machine doesn’t have high falutin’ electric bits like microchips and such. It works with ant farms, hamsters in wheels and things like that. For the first time I noticed that Hex has a large yellow sticker on the side of the device labelled “anthill inside”.

I laughed like a loon. (Think about it – it’s a cerebral joke.)

And from there I just kept watching to the end of the movie, about twenty minutes worth. Bear with me. There’s a point to all this. If you’re bored and don’t want to know about the book/movie, skip the next two paragraphs to the label SKIP HERE.

I love Pratchett. I love the way he delves deep into folklore and examines it to understand, if you will, the human condition. And this story, Hogfather, is very much about exactly that. What does fantasy mean? Why do we need fantasy? Why are stories like the Tooth Fairy and Father Christmas important? On the Discworld, Pratchett’s fantasy universe that feels a lot like Earth, the Hogfather bears an uncanny resmblance to Father Christmas and Hogwatch could easily be mistaken for Christmas.

In Hogfather, somebody is trying to destroy the concept of stories because they’re not scientific and they’re not based on fact. When the Hogfather disappears, Death, the seven foot skeleton with a black robe, a scythe, and a sword, takes over the Hogwatch run on his behalf, while Death’s granddaughter goes off to find who’s doing this and stop them.

I wrote a review of the movie for those who might be interested.

SKIP HERE

Toward the end of the book we have this profound discussion between Death and granddaughter Susan, who has ‘saved the day’ in a primordial forest where the pagan antecedents of Hogwatch, a sacrifice to the return of the sun, was played out.  Death always speaks in capital letters. With a deep voice. Sepulchral, perhaps.

I WILL GIVE YOU A LIFT BACK, said Death, after a while.

‘Thank you. Now . . . tell me . . .’

WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?

‘Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?’

NO.

‘Oh, come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

She turned on him. ‘It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need silliness!’

THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.

‘Really? Then what would have happened, pray?’

A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.

They walked in silence for a moment. ‘Ah,’ said Susan dully. ‘Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.’

I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.

‘All right,’ said Susan. ‘I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need . . . fantasies to make life bearable.’

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

‘Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—’

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

‘So we can believe the big ones?’

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

‘They’re not the same at all!’

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY, AND YET— Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME . . . SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

‘Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point—’

MY POINT EXACTLY.

She tried to assemble her thoughts.

THERE IS A PLACE WHERE TWO GALAXIES HAVE BEEN COLLIDING FOR A MILLION YEARS, Said Death, apropos of nothing. DON’T TRY TO TELL ME THAT’S RIGHT.

‘Yes, but people don’t think about that,’ said Susan. Somewhere there was a bed . . .

CORRECT. STARS EXPLODE, WORLDS COLLIDE, THERE’S HARDLY ANYWHERE IN THE UNIVERSE WHERE HUMANS CAN LIVE WITHOUT BEING FROZEN OR FRIED, AND YET YOU BELIEVE THAT A . . . A BED IS A NORMAL THING. IT IS THE MOST AMAZING TALENT.

‘Talent?’

OH, YES. A VERY SPECIAL KIND OF STUPIDITY. YOU THINK THE WHOLE UNIVERSE IS INSIDE YOUR HEADS.

‘You make us sound mad,’ said Susan. A nice warm bed . . .

YOU NEED TO BELIEVE IN THINGS THAT AREN’T TRUE. HOW ELSE CAN THEY BECOME? said Death, helping her up on to Binky*.

Pratchett, Terry. Hogfather: (Discworld Novel 20) (Discworld series) (pp. 379-381). Transworld. Kindle Edition.

*Binky is the name of Death’s white horse.

And I’ll leave you with the thought that ‘science’ is not enough. Even if you’re an atheist.

 

Let’s all celebrate Australia Day together

It’s Australia Day here in Oz, the day back in 1788 that marked the official founding of the penal colony in New South Wales. It’s a Saturday, as it happens, but after a few years of celebrating the day itself (ie not having a public holiday if the 26th January was a weekend) we’re back to having a long weekend. Monday 28th January will be a public holiday.

Over the last couple of decades Australia Day has become contentious. Some of the ‘indigenous’ people say it’s a time of sadness, marking for them ‘invasion day’ when ‘their’ lands were overrun by white folk from the other side of the world. There are very few pure blood aboriginal people in Australia now. Many people who claim aboriginal descent have only a small fraction of aboriginal DNA. The activists seem to forget the other part of their culture. Young aboriginal leader and Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price has an aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. She doesn’t support changing Australia Day to a ‘better’ day (whatever that may be). As she says in this article, Australia Day does not celebrate the undeniable brutal treatment of the indigenous people after settlement. It celebrates what this nation has become.

Australia Day has always been one of the more popular dates on which to become a citizen of this country. Some of Australia’s city councils, which carry out citizenship ceremonies, have decided not to perform the ceremony on Australia Day in response to politically correct sensibilities.

You can’t change history. What happened in the past, happened. Only idiots deny that aboriginal people were murdered by white settlers (although there was some tit for tat). Yes, many aboriginal people are still disadvantaged, living on the outskirts of our society. The Australian Government is trying to address that disadvantage.

“In 2015‑16, total direct government expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was estimated to be $33.4 billion, a real increase from $27.0 billion in 2008‑09.” [1] That’s for about 800,000 people who identify as indigenous out of a population of about twenty-five million.

But anyone who lives in remote parts of Australia is disadvantaged, regardles of race, religion, or creed. Food, housing materials, consumer goods are all more expensive, employment, education and healthcare are harder to come by.

If Australia were not the country it is today that expenditure would not be possible. Trying to change the date of Australia day is, to my mind, ludicrous. One Australian Prime Minister has apologised to the indigenous people for what was done to them by earlier generations. It’s a bit like asking the French to apologise for the Battle of Hastings, or the Romans, or the Angles, Saxons, and Danes, for setting up settlements in Britain. Etc. It makes not a scad’s worth of difference. They’re just words. These days, we’re all Australians – whether indigenous or immigrant. Or a mix of both. The best we can do is make the country an even greater place to live – for everybody.

In related news, it seems the grave of Captain Matthew Finders, who circumnavigated and mapped the Australian continent, has been found under Euston Station in London. And since I think it’s important that we remember the aboriginal parts of our history, too, read this article about Bungaree, who accompanied Flinders on his epic voyage.

The Big Dry that has replaced our wet season so far this year is biting hard. The farmers are doing it tough and so is the local wildlife. I often post photos of my noisy, colourful little mates. Here’s a littl video I took so you can see and hear the full display.

 

A long, dry summer

Somebody sent up an alarm call

Here in Hervey Bay we’re begging for rain. It’ll probably have as much impact as praying but at least we can feel we’re doing something. The grass is brown and crackles underfoot, except for the bits that manage to get some water from somewhere. We never water the grass. We recycle the water from our septic system onto the garden, so the bromeliads and the natives are hanging on but one of our two mango trees has a drift of dead leaves under it. The other one benefits from next door’s septic. Each evening we water parts of the garden that look particularly desperate but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like good, soaking rain. Even 10mm makes a huge difference. This is supposed to be our wet season but over the last few years January has been dry. Let’s hope the coming weeks include some wet stuff from the sky.

The line-up at the pool fence

The dry weather doesn’t just affect the plants. Our bird bath is popular and I have to refill it every day. I usually only put out apple juice for the birds in the evening but I’ve had some of the braver parrots coming to the door asking for AJ in the morning and I’ve had to provide second sittings several times. They’re not reliant on being fed. When natural food is plentiful we don’t see that many and sometimes we’ve been completely abandoned. But never for too long.

Strange fruit

The butcher birds and the miner birds are always here hoping for a hand-out and we’re visited less regularly by kookaburras and magpies. We also hear, but not necessarily see, the pale-headed rosellas.

Our resident possum who lives in a tree log on the opposite side of the pool raised a baby, which has moved into a bird house attached to a palm tree. The hole was too small for it so it did some renovation, breaking the marine ply to make the hole larger. I think the house will soon be too small. But that’s nature.

This week we’re being changed over to Australia’s broad band network. That happens on Wednesday. We’re all ready. Let’s hope our ISP is, too.

Apart from all that, I’m working slowly on a new book. It’s SF, next in my Morgan’s Misfits series. I’ll never make a fortune from writing but it keeps my brain active.

If you’re into praying, or voodoo, or witchcraft – whatever. Could we order some rain, please?

Thanks in advance.

 

Gosh! We’re in for a heat wave!!

Today on one of the TV morning programs the young woman reading the news announced that after a brief respite, the continent would be returning to heat wave conditions. Adelaide would soar to 39 tomorrow and 41 later in the week. This was after a ‘scorching’ Christmas and New Year, with everyone urged to stay indoors in the hottest part of the day, drink lots of water, and look after the old and the very young.

What a load of bollocks.

Adelaide has a Mediterranean climate. That is, dry, hot summers and cool, wet winters. Temperatures of 39 and 41 are par for the course. Every. single. year. We call it Summer.

There were warnings of a heat wave up the Australian East Coast over the holiday period, with Brisbane expecting temps in the mid-thirties. Ooooh. Shock-horror. We’d be surprised if the summer temperatures in Brisbane weren’t in the mid-thirties.

I lived in Perth, which also has a Mediterranean climate, between 1955 and 1996. The day our migrant ship arrived in Fremantle in 1955 the temperature was 100°F – it was 14th April, well into Autumn. During Summer Perth routinely has a week and more with temperatures over 40C every day. As I recall, February was the hottest month when cyclones building up North would push hot, humid air down to the city. Heavy cloud formed a blanket preventing the heat from escaping. We’d pray for rain which rarely came, while the temperature stayed over 40. We didn’t have air conditioning at home and neither did schools. That was how it was. You shrugged and went about your business.

Basically, I believe the ‘news’ broadcasters are sensationalising normal events. I also have to wonder why these announcements of heat waves are always accompanied by images of people sun bathing at the beach? Sun bathing in temperatures of 35+ is NEVER a good idea and never was, yet the footage is never accompanied by suggestions that keeping covered up and in the shade might be wiser.

The other day I received an email via a friend of a friend of a friend about REAL heat waves. The content was pretty much what you’ll read on this The Higgins Storm Chasing Facebook page with a few bits highlighted and some changes to fonts to make it more dramatic. (I went looking for verification, you see.) This is a partial quote.

“The earliest temperature records we have show that Australia was a land of shocking heatwaves and droughts, except for when it was bitterly cold or raging in flood. In other words, nothing has changed, except possibly things might not be quite so hot now!

Silliggy (Lance Pidgeon) has been researching records from early explorers and from newspapers. What he’s uncovered is fascinating!   It’s as if history is being erased! For all that we hear about recent record-breaking climate extremes, records that are equally extreme, and sometimes even more so, are ignored.

In January 1896 a savage blast “like a furnace” stretched across Australia from east to west and lasted for weeks. The death toll reached 437 people in the eastern states. Newspaper reports showed that in Bourke the heat approached 120°F (48.9°C) on three days.

Links to documentary evidence (1)(2)(3) [Note – these links go to newspaper reports in the Australian Government’s public archives, Trove.] The maximum was at or above 102 degrees F (38.9°C) for 24 days straight!

Use the several links below to read the news reports at the time for yourself.

  1. By Tuesday Jan 14, people were reported falling dead in the streets.
  2. Unable to sleep, people in Brewarrina walked the streets at night for hours, thermometers recorded 109F at midnight.
  3. Overnight, the temperature did not fall below 103°F.
  4. On Jan 18 in Wilcannia, five deaths were recorded in one day, the hospitals were overcrowded and reports said that “more deaths are hourly expected”.
  5. By January 24, in Bourke, many businesses had shut down (almost everything bar the hotels).
  6. Panic stricken Australians were fleeing to the hills in climate refugee trains.

As reported at the time, the government felt the situation was so serious that to save lives and ease the suffering of its citizens they added cheaper train services.

What I found most interesting about this was the skill, dedication and length of meteorological data taken in the 1800’s. When our climate is “the most important moral challenge” why is it there is so little interest in our longest and oldest data? Who knew that one of the most meticulous and detailed temperature records in the world from the 1800’s comes from Adelaide, largely thanks to Sir Charles Todd. The West Terrace site in Adelaide was one of the best in the world at the time, and provides accurate historic temperatures from Australia’s first permanent weather bureau at Adelaide in 1856? Rainfall records even appear to go as far back as 1839.

Lance Pidgeon went delving into the National Archives and was surprised at what he found.

The Great Australian Heatwave of January 2013 didn’t push the mercury above 50C at any weather station in Australia, yet it’s been 50C (122F) and hotter in many inland towns across Australia over the past century.”

You can read more about Lance Pidgeon and the Adelaide meteorological station, at forgotten -historic hot temperatures recorded with detail and care in adelaide.

All of this brought to mind the recent claims that the Australian Bureau of Meteorology is fiddling with historical climate records. They’ve homogenised figures and glitches in their equipment have filtered out some of the lowest temperatures. Jo Nova is a climate change sceptic but it’s worth reading what she has to say about historical climate data. BOM scandal: “smart cards” filter out coldest temperatures. Full audit needed ASAP! By the way, it was Lance Pidgeon who noticed the Goulburn anomaly as the recorded minimum temperature changed from -10.4 to 10, then disappeared. [4]

I have to wonder, I really do, about when a normal summer became a shock-horror heat wave.

And just as a reminder – I don’t deny the world’s climate is changing. I just don’t believe we Humans did it, or that we can stop it. ‘Believe’ is the wrong word, since the reasons for climate change are supposed to be based on science. As far as I’m concerned the climate models are dodgy and based on insufficient and sometimes spurious data. There is sufficient scientifc evidence to suggest that climate change is dictated by large, slow factors, such as the sun’s cycles, the movement of tectonic plates and subsequent shift in ocean curents. We have to learn to adapt.

 

 

 

Norfolk’s wildlife

Norfolk Island used to be covered in Norfolk Island pines packed close together – the same terrain you’ll find around Mt Pitt and Mt Bates in the national park. When the white man came, all that changed. The trees were cut down to make room for cultivation and exotic animals were introduced – horses, sheep, cattle, goats, rabbits, dogs, rats, mice, pigs. And a few avian interlopers like chickens,  sparrows, and blackbirds. Later, crimson rosellas came across from Australia and set up their own population. And then there was corn, bananas, mangoes, paw paws, peaches, grapes, a failed attempt at wheat, and even cold season fruit like apples. I’m sure that’s not an exhaustive list.

A gannet chick under a pine right next to the bloody bridge

The gannet chick up close. Or maybe that’s mum.

For a long time there was no restriction on what you could bring to Norfolk. That’s all changed now and you have to get past the clever little beagles at the airport who can sniff food a city block away. But a lot of damage has been done. On an island with no native mammals, birds could nest on the ground. It’s still possible but rather a lot more dangerous. I’m sure gannets have nested under this Norfolk Island pine right next to the bloody bridge for probably longer than human settlers. We could see a chick in the nest when we visited last year and there was a chick there this year, too. Or maybe it’s an adult bird sitting on eggs.

A crimson rosealla, introduced from Oz. They’ve changed a little from the Australian birds.

When the thick rainforest began to be cleared nesting sites for the local birds became in short supply. The feral rosellas compete with the endemic green parrot for nesting hollows and until recently the local birds were facing extinction. Fortunately, the national park people stepped in and carried out a breeding program, providing nesting boxes. Today the parrot population is in a far less parlous condition. Although I didn’t get a photo, I saw one cross the road in front of us as we drove down Mt Pitt. Read the whole story here.

The native owl, the morepork, is effectively extinct. A very closely related species is alive and well in the forests – but only because two male owls from a closely-related New Zealand species were brought to the island in the hope that the sole surviving female would mate with one of them. She did. But the birds are very inbred and are consequently under threat. Read more about it here.

A tern chick waits to be fed

Adult tern

Not sure if this one is incubating

The sea birds can roost on the islets around the shores where they are protected. The tern, however, has an interesting way of raising chicks. They lay eggs on a branch of a pine tree, using the same location every year. If the egg falls, they’ll lay another one. The chick hatches and spends its days clinging to the perch while the parent birds feed it until it can fly. Some will inevitably fall prey to a raptor but that’s life.

I mentioned that once you have your own car you can go off to find interesting things. One of them was a waterfall. A Waterfall! On Norfolk Island. But then when you think about it, there are creeks and when there’s  a lot of rain the water has to go into the sea somehow. So when we saw the sign on the map for Cockpit waterfall we had to take a look. There was water in the creek but not enough to activate the waterfall, a ledge of rock in a steep-sided valley overlooking the sea.

It would be quite spectacular when the creek was running.

That’s it for another year. I doubt we’ll go again but if you haven’t been I’m sure you’ll agree the island is worth a visit. Do take the tours, though. Old ruins are so much more interesting if you know what they are. Here are a few websites you might want to look at.

Norfolk Island Travel Centre Covers accommodation, tours and the like

Ten things you might not know about Norfolk Island This one is particularly interesting

Discover Norfolk Island This site covers the island’s history as well as other aspects

 

 

The cemetery – stories of the past

The bushes on the left bank have swallowed some of the grave stones

Last year Peter and I had gone on a conducted tour of Kingston’s convict ruins with a descendant of the Christian family. I’d strongly suggest that anybody going to Norfolk for the first time attends the tours. The guides are mines of information, telling stories of convicts and jailers, painting a vivid picture of the past. I wrote about that visit here. The old jail was a horrible place and some of the jailers were sadistic brutes.

There’s not much to see in the rectangle that forms the main walls of the prison. The stone was taken away to use elsewhere, some of fairly recently. I’ve seen a black and white photo from the 1920’s where some of the cell walls were still intact. It was no doubt used to rebuild the lovely Georgian mansions along Quality Row. At least one of the homes, fully restored, is open for visitors. There’s also a museum for HMS Sirius, flag ship of the First Fleet which sailed into Port Jackson in 1788. She took the first settlers to Norfolk Island and sunk just off the coast of Kingston in Slaughter Bay.

We headed for the old cemetery. We’d been there before but it deserved more time. Again, it’s worth going with a guide and some of what I say now I heard last year.

The cemetery is still used. Wandering around the more modern parts you’ll see the same surnames repeated: Christian, Bailey, Adams, Buffet, Quinlan – all the descendants of the Pitcairn Islanders who arrived in the 1850’s. There’s no undertaker on Norfolk. If someone dies (as happened when we were there) an announcement is made on the local radio and the Norfolk and Australian flags are flown at half mast. Some of the locals dig the grave for the price of a couple of cartons of beer. Everyone is invited to the service via the radio.The grounds are well-tended and maybe because it was Christmas, many of the graves had flowers, mostly artificial, long-lasting colour.

Pass between four large gate pillars though, and you walk back into time. This was where the dead from the first settlement and the second settlement were buried.

There aren’t many gravestones from the first settlement which ended in 1815, but we found a few. Although there were convicts in that settlement, Norfolk was not at that time a penal colony. That came later – and convicts were given little recognition. A simple wooden cross marked their place and they have been destroyed by the wind and the salt spray. The ground we walked over has been x-rayed. It’s packed with bodies. I expect there are records of who was bried but the markers are gone. Many of the gravestones are illegible for the same reason. Gravestones and in some cases mausoleums were erected for the officers and men of the guard units and their wives and children. Some convicts have gravestones – those executed for mutiny or similar, and also the female convicts.

Walking over the grass I was reminded of the rediscovered cemetery on Rottnest Island where aboriginal prisoners were buried without recognition. It seems any kind of convict got the same treatment. Reading the gravestones it is obvious that life was harsh. Many men were Irish, and many died young. Many children died. Quite a few men drowned while crossing bars, or fishing. There’s no record of the many convicts who drowned as they crossed the channel from Kingston to Nepean Island to cut stone blocks for the buildings.

Come with me and visit some of these past lives, footnotes in the journals of history. Some tell a story, some are simply names but all were people who lived.

This grave is hidden under sculpted bushes that were supposed to be along the edge of the cemetery but have engulfed several graves.

All the grass you can see covers bodies. It’s full.

Not everybody died young

 

 

Something interesting around every corner

A section of dirt road (most of it is bitumen). The sea is just over to the right, at the bottom of a 70m cliff. (See next photo)

The nicest thing about doing your own thing on Norfolk Island is you can take your time and stop anywhere you want. It’s hard to imagine but no, we hadn’t seen the whole island on our visit last year. This time we stopped off at every picnic spot along the cliffs to admire the wonderful scenery. We could wonder what was up that road and go and find out. Sometimes it was a disappointment – but not very often.

Cows have right of way on Norfolk.

The open road speed limit on the island is 50kph (about 30mph) and that’s eminently sensible. Most of the road surfaces are joined-together-filled-in-pot-holes, a rattle and a bump guaranteed for every metre travelled. The narrow roads twist and turn around the hills and valleys and when you go around that blind bend you might encounter another vehicle, or maybe a cow ambling across the road to the greener grass.

The picnic spots are all at the top of towering cliffs. Gannets and terns wheel in the air, sometimes far below where we stood, while the Pacific ocean crashed itself against the volcanic rocks in a flurry of white foam.

This was taken from the Captain Cook memorial noting his ‘discovery’ of the island in 1774. The small islets you can see are protected, safe habitat for sea birds. You can see the guano on the nearer one.

We drove down to Cascade Bay where the whaling station used to be. It’s all gone now, leaving flat spaces where the buildings used to stand. The only reminder of those darker days is the boilers where the whale oil was produced from the blubber.

The stratas of rock and lava produced by the volcanoes that made Norfolk is obvious at Cascade, where the hillside was cut away to form a flat area for parking.

The sea is much calmer (today) than at Kingston and I seem to remember the locals saying they would have liked to build a better harbour here. But, just as in outback Australia, the Powers That Be (PTB) in the large capital cities don’t listen to the locals. They foist the same rules and regulations on the people in these remote places that work in Brisbane or Sydney. For example, after NSW took over, the locals were no longer allowed to sell unpasteurised milk. They’d managed to survive for several hundred years on the raw stuff – but no. It’s the law. About fifteen hundred people live on Norfolk. The cost of a plant to pasteurise milk was out of the question, so milk is imported from New Zealand and all the cows on the roads and the farm paddocks are beef cattle. The PTB wasted millions on the pier iat Cascade, making no difference to the arduous business of landing supplies on the island.

The cost of living here is high – but when you see what has to happen to bring cargo ashore, it’s no wonder. There are no ports on the island. Cargo ships drop anchor off either the Cascade pier or the Kingston pier (depending on the weather) in deep water. The locals tow lighters out to the waiting ship. Cargo is lowered into the lighters and transported back to shore, where another crane is used to unload the boats. If the cargo is large (such as a bus or car) two lighters in parallel carry a platform out to the freighter and the vehicle is lowered onto that. Insurance costs are high but the possibility of loss or damage is high as well.

This is a picture of the lighters they use – although this one might be a little way past its use-by date.

The Kingston pier on a realively calm day

The Cascade pier on the same day. It all depends on the wind direction

Without the protection of the reef the waves crash against the shore just past the Kingston pier

Although there are a lot of solar panels on roofs, the main, reliable power is created with a diesel generator. Diesel is pumped from a ship anchored off shore via a pipe at Ball Bay. Power is expensive, so there’s no air conditioning. Anywhere. (Except cars – that’s different). The locals use the old fashioned methods – ceiling fans and open windows. But temperature isn’t an issue here. It’s mid-twenties pretty much all year round, with nights in the teens. The ocean flattens out temperature variations. It’s a sub-tropical climate, rather like Hervey Bay, but with much better soil.

That’ll do for this post. Next time I’ll talk about the penal colony.

The secret life of trees

When visitors arrive on Norfolk Island they’re picked up by a tour bus and taken for a half-day orientation tour, with the guide pointing out the main attractions. After a quick trip through the main township at Burnt Pine, featuring one roundabout and absolutely no traffic lights, we stop briefly at the lookout above Kingston, where the guide points out the wonderful Georgian buildings of Government House and Quality Row (that’s the name of the street). Over there across the golf course is Emily Bay, down there is the cemetery, that’s the old gaol and associated buildings. He drives around the foreshore from the pier, past the old gaol and out to the point where the lone pine stands sentinel. It’s an old tree. It appeared in drawings made for Captain Cook when he ‘discovered’ the island in 1774. We’re taken for a brief look into St Barnabas’s Chapel, the only remaining building from the Melanesian Mission. We admire the 360° view from Mt Pitt and we’re taken to “Orn Da Cliff” where Pine Tree tours holds its weekly island fish-fry with associated sunset scenes. We make a brief stop at Cascade Bay, where the old whaling station used to be. And all the time we’re seeing the beautiful green hills and valleys of Norfolk, where cows amble across the road or lie on the banks chewing their cud as the bus trundles by. For a quick overview of Norfolk, I’d recommend this account. It’s very well written with nice pictures :).

We took the tour. It’s always interesting to listen to different guides. This one wasn’t a local. He’d lived on Norfolk for forty years or so, but he was a Sydney boy who married a lady from the island. He knew his stuff, but on our previous visit we’d been driven around by guys born and bred here, proud sixth or seventh generation descendants of the Pitcairn mutineers with names like Christian or Quintal or Buffet, or the descendants of convicts. Those guys told us stories of growing up here. One told us as a teenager he climbed the kentia palm trees to pick nuts. On one such occasion the young fellow reached the top of the tree and came face to face with a rat, which also wanted kentia nuts. Well, when you’re up there in the canopy of a palm tree down is the only way to go. And that’s what the rat did – scrambling over the human on the way. Not long after that they put guards around the tree trunks to stop the rats from going up.

Any eggs from these ladies are definitely free range

Our Sydney tour guide had a different view of the feral chooks (domestic chickens), too. Like the cattle, chooks are everywhere on Norfolk – and they can fly. They’re being culled and he said we shouldn’t feel sorry for them. The eggs were stale and the chooks inedible and the cull was absolutely necessary. Hmmm. Last year we were told the cull was happening without consulting the locals. Our driver, who was not impressed, pointed out the chooks ate insects and did no harm, and when we visited locals in the progressive dinner, we saw feral chooks in people’s yards, and yes, the people collected the eggs. I’ll bet we ate a few, too. Chicken is a major item on Norfolk menus. The other thing the chooks do is scratch through the cow droppings looking for tasty treats, all the while spreading all that lovely goodness so the grass can use it.

All the mammals on Norfolk are feral, by the way. Including the people. The more polite expression is ‘introduced’. Like New Zealand, Norfolk’s natives are birds and plants. Sugar cane, bananas, arrowroot, kumara, stone fruit, corn, tomatoes – all are introduced. So was the Moreton Bay fig tree.

During the orientation tour the bus is driven down New Farm Road between the one hundred acre reserve and a magnificent row of Moreton Bay figs. The buses don’t stop there so it was our first ‘go to’ attraction when we ventured forth on our own.

There’s something a little bit spooky as you head up the road under the trees. I couldn’t help but think of Tolkien’s old forest, where Pippin and Merry are swallowed up by Old Man Willow, or the ents in Fangorn. I know this won’t mean much to you unless you’re a Lord of the Rings die-hard like me. But old and spooky are easy enough to understand. These trees are two hundred or more years old, probably planted by the first white settlers on the island some time between 1788 and 1815.

Pete’s head is just visible behind the root. He’s standing

And they look it. The roots writhe across the ground. Human fences are no obstacle. Buttress roots supporting the trunks tower up to over a tall man’s head. They’re studded with algae and ferns hide in corners. It’s easy to imagine these grand old gentlefolk talking to each other in the slow speech of trees. To them animal life must be a blur of movement. Or maybe not. Perhaps they’re well aware of us.

The fence has not impeded the tree in the least

Certainly they’re not ‘nice’.

They tolerate no competition. Look closely and you’ll find trees surrounded by roots. A brave Norfolk Island pine that took root next to the figs is slowly being strangled, joining others which have already met that fate.

This is one of the creepiest sights you’ll see here. The great tree has reached out to take a grip on an intruder. It doesn’t stand a chance.

From under the trees you catch glimpses of the sun-drenched cultivated valley. It’s a whole different world out there. I wondered why the trees had been planted. They’re not much good for timber and you can’t eat the fruit. That’s a question to which I expect I’ll never get an answer.

Follow the twisting road down toward the coast and you’ll cross the Bloody Bridge. It’s another place where the tours don’t stop – at least not for long enough to get off the bus for pictures. Our current guide did tell us an abbreviated version of the story of the name. It seems the convicts working on the building didn’t like their overseer at all, so they killed him. The more interesting version is that to hide evidence of the deed, the men popped the body into the bridge and kept working. The overseer had disappeared and they didn’t know what happened. The next day the replacement overseer noticed bloody weeping from the mortar between the stones.

The bloody bridge

There’s plenty of room to hide a body. Maybe one of those dark patches is blood???

 

A speck in the South Pacific

That’s tiny Phillip Island at the front and Norfolk Island behind it

We had a fascinating, memorable Christmas on Norfolk Island in 2017 and enjoyed it so much we went again in 2018. While we’d been with a group in 2017, in 2018 we did our own thing, visiting places we hadn’t reached the previous year, or re-visiting places where we would have liked a bit more time. We stayed in the same hotel but this time we had a penthouse with views of the island’s highest peak, Mt Pitt – and lots of lovely windows we could open to let in the breeze. There’s no air conditioning on the island. We were provided with a hire car to get around, together with a paper map. There’s no GPS covering the island roads. It’s all very last century but on an island that’s 8 km by 5 km, it’s really not that difficult.

We stayed in the main township, Burnt Pine. The convict remians are in Kingston at the bottom of the island on this map.

Getting there was a tiny bit thrilling. This time we stayed two nights at our friends’ house on Mt Tamborine south of Brisbane, where we witnessed the first of a number of storms that smashed the Gold Coast – but not up where we were. We drove to the airport, hoping we’d get an undercover parking spot this time. More storms were forecast, with hail the size of golf balls. Last year, though we’d paid online for undercover parking, we’d had to park outside in the elements, leaving the car to the mercy of the weather gods for over a week. This time, we were lucky, snaring a park on the top floor under the roof.

Although Norfolk Island is an Australian territory which has been managed from Australia for the past two years, we left from the international terminal. At least we don’t have to fill out departure cards anymore. After all, all the information you had to write down was already on your ticket. The flight to Norfolk left from one of the furthest extremities of Brisbane airport. It’s nowhere near the biggest in the world but it’s still a long walk to the gate without those moving travelators. And then there’s the several hours of waiting…

Proof of ID is required before you leave Australia. The Powers That Be prefer a passport but you can use a driver’s licence or other form of photo ID along with a proof of identity form that you can get from Australia Post. Once in the air we also had to fill in a landing form. (Just a moment while I roll my eyes.) Travelling to Norfolk is like flying from the mainland to Tasmania, for goodness sake. And this landing form is identical to the one you fill out when coming back from REAL overseas (eg Europe) into Australia. The cabin crew have to explain that yes, the form asks for your home address, but what it really wants is where you’ll be staying on Norfolk. Etc. We talked to a local in a shop, who told us that if she goes over to Oz, coming home she puts her name and address and nothing else. The immigration people know she’s a local.

We got off the ground on time for the two-hour flight to Norfolk. Pete had the window seat and his trusty tablet to take photos. Norfolk Island is a speck in the ocean and that’s so clear from the air (see above). Pete took pictures as we approached, coming down with historic Kingston clearly visible.

The wheels had hit the deck and the brakes were on, pushing us back into our seats. Then suddenly the brakes were off, the engines powered up and we lifted off again. When training pilots it’s called a touch and go – but I suspected this wasn’t a training run. After several minutes the captain came on to explain the aircraft had been hit by a cross-wind and he’d decided prudence was wisest. As a result, we got a fly-around of the island. Peter wasn’t the only one taking pictures before the plane finally landed.

The whole island. The high bit is Mt Pitt, surrounded by national park.

That’s Kingston below. The reef protects Emily Bay and Slaughter Bay, with the jetty where goods are landed just across from the large rectangle that is the remains of the prison. Evidence of Polynesian visitors in the mid-fifteenth century is in the grove of Norfolk Island pines around Emily Bay. The trees would not have been there then.

I’m not going to talk about Norfolk’s extraordinary history in this series of posts, though I’m sure it’ll get a mention in passing. You can read all about that in last year’s trip here. You’ll find posts about the brutal penal colony and how the descendants of Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers involved in the mutiny on the Bounty came to move from Pitcairn Island to Norfolk Island. But this time we travelled at our own gentle pace, interspersed with an hour or two of test match cricket (which we won’t talk about).

If you’re interested in more information this is a useful website.