Morris dancing 101


They say Morris dancing is good for aerobic fitness. Plus, you get to drink cider and belt people with sticks. I was musing about this while getting down on one knee in the kitchen looking for a salad bowl and, having found it, then thinking about having to get up again. I’ve increasingly noticed a difficulty/disinclination to rise from sitting/ kneeling/squatting to the upright position. The physiotherapist and the yoga teacher tell me this is a deterioration in ‘core strength’ as one’s body ages.

The last six-week yoga session was eventful for the number of movements which (a) caused me pain or (b) were not possible at all. There are many ways those in the 65+ category can keep our bodies in shape and work on maintaining the core strength that makes everyday movements as easy as they were in our youth. (It should be pointed out to musicians that playing the piano, harp, fiddle, mandolin or guitar for two hours straight is not exercise).

No, I’m talking about yoga, Pilates, tai chi, aerobics or aqua aerobics, jogging, swimming, surfing or the more conventional group fitness activities like dancing, sparring, gym sessions and bike riding. There’s a local group known as the “Lycra Lizards” who put on helmets and bike riding gear then pedal to points far away and back again. A while ago, I met one of the Lycra Lizards aged 60+ who was hobbling up the main street. He told me they (the Lizards) had just ridden to Brisbane (93.9 kms) and a few rode back again. Others put their bikes and their smarting bodies on the train to Landsborough where mobiles came out and texts were sent to partners/friends to pick them up at the station.

NB: Holding a kindle upright is not exercise

In my book, riding a bicycle from Maleny to Brisbane and then back again (including the notorious 14.9 kms uphill climb from Landsborough) qualifies as extreme exercise. My fitness yardstick is to walk from the creek at the bottom of our property 250m uphill to the mailbox without huffing. Unhappily, I’m flat out making it to the lemon tree half-way up.

My GP is more than happy with my cholesterol levels, blood pressure and general fitness. But as any personal trainer will tell you, there is a lot of difference between walking to town and back and doing something which challenges your level of aerobic fitness (like rowing, kayaking, jogging, hefting weights, skipping, sparring or hauling both wheelie bins uphill to the kerb). If you are curious about your aerobic fitness, see how long it takes your pulse to return to normal after aerobic exercise. The YMCA yardstick for men over 65 is 59-81 seconds (good), 130-156 seconds (very poor). Do this at your own risk.

And now he talks about Morris!

This brings me to the Morris tradition, a relentless form of dancing that involves every muscle in the body. When my Morris dancer friend Eric turned 70 I asked him how much longer he could keep on dancing and he said he’d still be doing it when he’s 100. So of course I wrote a song along those lines, sitting hunched over my guitar for as long as it took to develop RSI symptoms.

For those who came late to Friday on My Mind, this is episode 103, the first of which, on May 2nd 2014, explained the ancient rituals of Morris dancing. This year, finally, I made it to the summit of Mt Coot-tha at dawn on the 1st of May to help the Morris men and women of Brisbane and surrounds dance up the sun. You might remember this:

“Songwriter John Thompson (Cloudstreet) penned a song a few years ago which starts: “Dance up the sun on a fine May morning, dance up to sun to call in the spring…” and traces the English tradition that spawned this annual event. Morris dancing is so old it figures in Shakespeare’s writings and it was ancient then. The May Day legend has it that if Morris men (and women), do not dance up the sun, the sun will nevermore rise.

Those with even a passing interest in folk music and folk festivals will have seen and heard Morris dancers as they walk around festival sites with bells attached to their legs. Dancers either use garlands of flowers or hankies for the gentle dances, or they clash sticks and bump bellies, symbolising the battle between the seasons. Morris dancers usually wear hats with flowers, and “tatter coats” and many paint their faces, but there are as many variations in dress and dance style as there are Morris teams. The tradition flourishes in the UK, but there are also about 150 Morris teams in the US and it lives on in colonial outposts like Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Morris dancers are the traditional butt of jokes among the folkies who prefer to sit around tables in pubs playing tunes. You know the ones – the A part and the B part repeated until whoever is running the tunes session changes to another tune of the same ilk. This is a curious irony, as Morris dancers are accompanied by three or four musicians thumping out folk tunes using instruments like accordions, whistles, drums and hurdy-gurdys. The tunes are typically in 2/4, 6/8 or 4/4 time or a slow march tempo so the dancers have time to execute dramatic stick clashes, accompanied by visceral screaming and occasional bodily injuries.

Those who have no time for Morris men would remember this, from Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder: “Morris dancing is the most fatuous, tenth-rate entertainment ever devised by man. Forty effeminate blacksmiths waving bits of cloth they’ve just wiped their noses on. How it’s still going on in this day and age I’ll never know.”

Well to hell with Blackadder – some of my best friends are Morris dancers. A bunch of them came to my 60th birthday party and dragged me up for the Upton on Severn Stick Dance. I’m OK now.

That Australia’s Morris sides get up early on the first of May is a credit to them, as this is typically a misty mid-autumn day Down Under. What they are actually celebrating is an ancient Northern Hemisphere Spring festival – the darling buds of May and all that. May Day celebrations pre-date Christianity. The Romans celebrated the festival of Flora (the goddess of flower) and in Celtic countries this dates back to the Beltane festival.

These pagan traditions were stamped out when Europe was Christianised, but the maypole dance survives in many countries as a reminder of what Sigmund Freud interpreted as a phallic fertility ritual. Dancers assemble around a tall pole, each holding a coloured ribbon as they dance in a circle. The multi-coloured ribbons form a rainbow around the pole and when the dancers turn and go back the other way, the ribbons unravel.

Just don’t tell your kids about Freud – silly old man.”

 

 

Overdue letter to Ma

MumDad25th 01

Hey Ma, I’ve been meaning to write this letter for such a long time – like, 50 years or more. Excuse the casual introduction but that’s the way people address their elders in the 21st century. You’d be amazed at the technology today. We email, skype (video phone calls) and tweet (too hard to explain), using hand-held telephones which can take photos, home movies and, oh, make phone calls. You can be constantly in touch with family and friend on social media, firing off messages and photos through the ether.

You’d marvel (and I suspect not totally approve) of my putting your photo on the Internet where millions of people can check you out, if they have a mind. Life now is so different for teenagers. In your courting days, Dad had to ask permission of your father to take you out and have you back at the front gate by 10pm. You communicated with hand-written notes and secret glances across the high street or at the dance hall. Today, girls as young as 12 and 13 are allowed to have boyfriends and ‘sleep overs’ with their girlfriends and who knows what goes on when their hand-held computers are passed around.

You may already know this if there’s some kind of Wikipedia (online encyclopaedia) in Heaven. You believed in the Hereafter, which was probably a good thing, given that you had only 48 years on the planet, including 11 years in your adopted homeland, New Zealand. Women with breast cancer in the 1960s were often diagnosed late and treatment was limited to a mastectomy and radiation therapy. Then your doctor signed you up for new, experimental drug treatment.

“It may not help me, but if it helps some other puir soul in the future that’ll be a fine thing,” you said, faith grounded in the Scottish Methodist church.

It is true that the risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s was one in 20, and is now one in eight. However, this is mainly due to more people living longer – into the age bracket where they are more likely to get breast cancer. In the 1960s, the life expectancy of a female was 73. Since then, life expectancy has improved to 84 and a great many women live into their 90s and beyond, mainly due to the vast improvement in diagnostic techniques for cancer and all manner of illnesses, great advances in heart surgery, vaccines and treatment for the sort of chronic ailments that put people in a pine box in the 1960s.

The ability to detect cancer early has greatly improved. These days, most women in the target age range have routine two-yearly breast scans (mammograms) which can find otherwise undetectable tiny tumours. And treatment with less invasive surgery, more effective drugs (chemotherapy) and/or radiation can then ensue.

As a result, of early detection and improved treatment, the survival rate has greatly improved since you were afflicted. The five-year survival in 1965-1969 was just 64%, according to the Cancer Journal for Clinicians. So if you’d been diagnosed late, your chances were slim. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says the five-year survival rate now is 89.4%.

Ma, at 67, I have a suspicion of blokes my age who talk too much about their mothers, living or dead. But I have sort of kept you alive in a sense, writing a couple of songs based on your observations and impressions and my memories of the new country. Lucky I kept a few of your old letters and notes of the six-week journey on the Rangitiki in 1955.

When children are left motherless, nothing fills the void and a step-mother, if there is one, is just a (hopefully nice) woman who loves your father. In the 1960s, teenage boys were not encouraged to grieve – we didn’t know how. We became blokes, drinking beer and listening to rock music, getting obsessed with the All Blacks and (trying) to chase girls. As life went on, it should have been obvious that crude sublimation was never going to help a sensitive lad who lost his mother at 17. That major life trauma shaped chapters of my 20s and 30s and got buried beneath the rest of the baggage until it came time to unpack and let go.

Yes, I should have persevered with the piano, as you insisted, because as you said, it could have earned me a living of sorts. Instead, I managed to harness this other gift for words. I came to music later in life − a self-taught musical dunce by the Conservatorium standards. Nevertheless, I’m told the words and music fit together fairly well.

And you missed my weddings, Mum. I married young, spent 12 or 15 years working, travelling, being a drunk, and getting sober. I met a great woman, well, actually I met two. The first one when we were both much younger. If you’d been around you might have persuaded us that 18 and 21 was a bit young. We sort of outgrew each other, but we both got re-married and went on with our lives. Now, this other great woman, she’s been in my life for 34 years. You’d be pleased with my choice, although she’d tell you the choice was all hers! (Who chased who? Ed.)

And then there’s this great extended family, in Australia where we live and back home in Aotearoa. In your last year there were just the seven of us and three wee bairns. Today in Australia, New Zealand and Canada the whanau, as the Maoris call it, number 42, all loyal, loving people, including your 6ft 5in grandson.

We keep in touch with your sister’s daughter in Scotland and another cousin in England. I went to visit your surviving sister in England a few years ago – she’s in her mid-90s and still living in her own flat.

When I saw this tiny white haired-woman come to the door it gave me a pang. When we lose mothers young, we forget what they looked like, but to me, she looked as if you might have done had you been alive today.

I gave her one of our CDs (the modern version of an LP), one of four albums, most of them songs I wrote. Your sister said: “You got that from Winnie, you know. She could play anything on the piano, your Mum. She didn’t need the music – if she knew it, she could play it.”

Well that does sound familiar. I have fond memories of listening to you practice the organ at the wee wooden Methodist church. I’d call in after school and try out the latest Beatles song, picking out the melody with one hand.

I knew there was a reason I loved all those great Hammond organ songs of 1967 – Whiter Shade of Pale, I’m a Man, Light My Fire. It was hardly Trust and Obey, but the music helped me through a difficult year.

So this is me, belatedly toasting my absent mother, and the countless other mothers whose leaving left their children bewildered and lost.

Yours aye,

Bob Jnr

 

 

Eulogies and celebrities

Guest writer, music trivia buff Lyn Nuttall (aka Franky’s Dad), ponders the outpourings of grief when celebrities die.

Amy Winehouse
(Photo by Fionn Kidney https://flic.kr/p/54TiAC flickr creative commons).

Back in January, when Bob and I discussed how lavishly some musicians are eulogised, it was David Bowie’s death that was in the news. Then Prince died a couple of weeks ago and my Facebook timeline filled up with posts from shocked friends. Still trying to digest this, said one, I just… I just can’t believe it said another.

There were Prince videos, and mentions of purple rain, Paisley Park and raspberry berets. A few days later, a friend said he had been listening solidly to Prince’s music for the past few days. Even literary magazine The Paris Review posted twice about Prince to Facebook. When my digital copy of “The New Yorker” appeared during the week, its cover was given over to a simple depiction of… purple rain. At the weekend, somebody at our monthly book club meeting repeated the (unfounded) gossip about Prince having had AIDS.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Prince was soaring to the top of the album charts as mourning fans rush to remember the artist’s legacy through his music. This sounded like clumsy reporting. A fan doesn’t wait for the artist to die, they go ahead and access the music whenever it’s available, and in any case there didn’t seem to be a need for anyone to rush. A dignified saunter, perhaps.

As Bob said in his post following Bowie’s death, “some will grieve, others are just sad,” and on that occasion I was in the sad group, but I couldn’t say I was grieving. I remembered individual songs with affection, but the bottom didn’t fall out of my world.

In the case of Prince, I was on the footpath, watching the wild and colourful funeral procession of a stranger passing by. Many had urged Prince’s music on me over the years, and I had often followed their advice and listened, but I never became a fan. My response wasn’t callous, this was the death of a man of 57, too young in any walk of life, but I wasn’t shocked and I can’t say I was grieving.

The extent of the reaction took me by surprise, but as an outsider I’m not qualified to belittle it. No doubt there were outside observers who didn’t get it when we mourned the deaths of Buddy Holly and John Lennon, two examples when I was an insider and did get it.

Jack Shafer at Politico, wrote about the “mega-obituary” and suggested that Prince died when his prime fanbase, “Prince-loving Boomers and Gen-Xers”, are in a position to call the “editorial shots”. In The Guardian, Ian Jack commented tetchily on the voluminous David Bowie tributes, including 24 pages in The Guardian. He went to that paper’s archives and discovered its muted reporting of the deaths of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, a contrast that seems to support Shafer’s point.

Regardless of generational bias, I’ve never understood the impulse to go out and buy – or stay in and download – the works of an artist who has just died. If anything, my impulse has been to give their works a rest for a while. Later, I get back to them with the old enthusiasm.

No doubt, there are a lot of people who discover the artist through the publicity around their death; they like what they hear, and go ahead and buy some of it.

It is remarkable how people can genuinely grieve for a celebrity they’ve never met (Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston or B.B King). We are routinely saddened, even depressed, about the deaths of unknown people we’ve never met, victims of violence or epidemics. But the grief some people show for celebrities goes beyond that natural empathy for another human. When Steve Irwin died, the circumstances were shocking, and it was a wrench to see such a positive, larger-than-life figure suddenly taken. A teaching colleague and her students made tributes which she delivered to Australia Zoo. They clearly felt that they knew Steve as if he had been present, in person, in their lives. I read an online comment from a woman who said her three-year-old already missed Steve, a sentiment you often see: they miss the celebrity.

I can think of times when I’ve missed a celebrity. I still miss Jon Stewart (still alive, I hasten to add) hosting “The Daily Show”, because I used to enjoy watching him every day, and now I can’t do that. When Phil Hartman died in violent circumstances it was shocking, and I missed him when he was no longer in the next season of “Newsradio”, but his absence was in the nature of a cast change, not in the sense that I was used to having him around the place and then he was gone. I was a little sad and reflective when Groucho Marx died, but I couldn’t really say I missed him. I didn’t come down to breakfast and think, “Gee I miss seeing old Groucho there every morning, cracking his egg open and making wise-ass comments over the morning newspaper.”

There is a persistent illusion that we “know” an artist through their work. Of course we know that important aspect of them, but we don’t know them as we know people we see every day. I’m not convinced that we can confidently claim to know a person through their works, in spite of attempts by some scholars of Shakespeare or J.S. Bach to extrapolate biographical details from the works. This is partly because a work of art has a life of its own that is beyond the control of its creator, especially after it’s published and every member of the audience puts their own construction on it.

Note the surprise when a well-loved celebrity disgraces themselves. Bill Cosby? Surely not! We know him so well, it’s not possible. Rolf Harris? Nooo, not Rolf! Please! tweeted the twitterers. We forget that we know only their published work, a little gossip and second-hand reportage, and a carefully crafted public persona that may tell us nothing about them out of the public gaze. Forgetting that, it’s a small step to grieving for them as if we’ve lost a family member or close friend.

I wondered why the cause of Prince’s death was so important to the fans. Then I thought of an example of my own. I’m a fan of British singer-songwriter Nick Drake who died in 1974 aged 26 without achieving much recognition. By the 1990s, when I discovered his albums, musicians were citing him as an influence, his songs were being heard in films, and he was being championed by MOJO magazine.

Even long after the events, I read everything I could, and hung out for the bio-doco “A Skin Too Few”, made by his sister Gabrielle who disagreed with the coroner’s suicide finding. I was interested in a theory that his depression was down to the grey English winters, a known syndrome. I was fascinated by a video snippet of a young man walking away from the camera at a music festival, in what might or might not be the only existing footage of Nick Drake.

See how they weave a spell on us, when we connect with their work?

All in all, though, a minimalist approach would suit me. Report the news succinctly and without gushing, write a well-researched obituary, and leave the rest to the reader. My ideals are those concise obits in the British press that manage to cover the life and achievements of an artist in one page. As a bonus, they usually get the details right and don’t demand any mass emotional response.

 

 

Housing bubbles here and abroad

(New housing in Pokeno, 57 kms south of Auckland city. Risky motorway photo taken by Bob, who will go to any length for FOMM readers!)

Kiwis and Aussies aged 45 and over share one obsessive thought at this moment in time: how will our kids ever be able to afford their own home? Unless the housing bubble bursts, they probably never will be able to, even when the Boomers die off and leave their kids a residual estate.

The housing market both here and in Aotearoa has got away from humble wage earners. On my all-too quick visit to the old country, Auckland’s steaming hot housing market was all anyone could talk about. After a January dip in median prices (a reaction to new tax laws introduced in late 2015), the March figures revealed a $100k hike in the median price to $820,000.

Stories abound of people who bought a cottage in a then-dowdy Auckland suburb for $100k or less in the 1980s and sold last week for $1 million. The New Zealand Herald’s front page on April 13 proclaimed “Here we go again” to head a story about Auckland’s median house price. The story continued on page 3 where Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the $70k increase in the median price in just one month was almost one and a half times the median income in Auckland.

Not surprisingly, investors accounted for 44% of the 3000+ sales used to determine this alarming figure. This is similar to the Australian trend, where for the past two years just over 50% of housing loans have been made to investors.

Buyers with cash and/or equity are surging into the Auckland housing market and many pundits feel it is inevitable that it will join Sydney in having a $1 million median house price.

Everyone I spoke to told me that Auckland/New Zealand has the highest income to mortgage ratio in the world. The crusty old journo in me demanded that this be verified. The International Monetary Fund, which keeps track of housing costs vs income, indeed placed New Zealand 1st, ahead of Germany, Estonia and Austria. In sixth place came the UK and in 9th place Australia.

The ratio compares housing valuations to average income, the higher rankings showing that house prices have risen much faster than income. (Conversely, if you can score a job in Spain, where unemployment is still running at 22%, you can buy a cheap apartment and go running with the bulls in Pamplona).

If you were wondering how this is relevant, Spain’s economy went pear-shaped after their real estate market tanked in 2008. Caveat emptor!

The problem when housing markets get hot is the price rises are not matched by the prospective buyers’ incomes. In 2015, the median house price in Auckland increased $83,000, against a median income of $46,800. The data for this NZ Herald story, headed “Does your house earn more than you do?” was sourced from NZ Work and Income and the New Zealand Real Estate Institute.

In Sydney’s over-heated market, house prices are up to 12 times median income, according to a Sydney Morning Herald report in November. In mid-2015, the median Sydney house price was a headline $1,004,767, against a median household income of $85,067.

Meanwhile in Aotearoa, those determined to get their toe on the first rung of the housing ladder are fleeing south, as far as Huntly (a former mining town 97.2 km from the big smoke on State Highway 1), and north to Wellsford 77.3kms away. The plan is to buy, commute, save and over time upgrade closer to Auckland.

Pokeno, once a small Waikato hamlet just outside Auckland city limits, is now a forest of houses, if not nestling, then sprawling over the once green rolling hills. New housing is evident on both sides of the four-lane motorway which now extends to Hamilton and beyond. I had a trawl through real estate.com and was unable to find much new in Pokeno under $600k. So the early birds have already got their worms and now it is just another suburb of Auckland, a 57 km commute to the city.

Others have absconded to small towns like Te Aroha, Wairoa and Dannevirke, where a decent house and block of land (known as a ‘sixtion’) can be had for less than $150k.

New Zealand has few barriers in the way of investors – until recently there was no capital gains tax (as such) and no inheritance tax. Prime Minister John Keys introduced new measures in last year’s Budget, one of which was a tax payable if the (investment) property was sold within two years of purchase. Keys refused to call this a capital gains tax, saying New Zealand already had one, but the government has to prove “intent” to make a profit.

New Zealand also tightened its foreign investment rules and now requires all foreign buyers to declare a tax identification number from their home country. Kiwis don’t call it negative gearing, but as in Australia, expenses relating to investment housing (depreciation, interest, maintenance etc) can be offset against rental income.

Those who support a continuation of negative gearing in Australia claim that if it was abolished the property market would collapse. The Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ) said 79% of its members and landlord clients believed that investors would abandon the strategy if Labor’s negative gearing changes were brought in. (Labor proposes to restrict negative gearing to new homes and ‘grandfather’ or exempt existing investment houses.)

REIQ Chairman Rob Honeycombe said the findings confirmed that changes to negative gearing would be disastrous for the Queensland property market.

“That will have a crippling effect on house values and on the rental market, where the private rental market plays such a critical role in keeping rents affordable,” he said.Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, no doubt sensing the pre-election atmosphere, has declared he will make no changes to negative gearing in next week’s Budget. The estimated 1.5 million people who invest in residential property would be sure to vote for the politician with the least disagreeable tax policy.

Meanwhile, the 25-44 age group, once the heart of the first home buyer cohort, is struggling to save for a deposit, faced by high rents and stiff competition for affordable housing. Assuming they could find a house in Sydney or Auckland for $700,000, it still means they have to save $140,000 for a deposit (about 14 years at $200 a week).

Their plight creates a dilemma for well-intentioned property investors, those who have simply decided that bricks and mortar is the best form of investment. Sure, they get the tax breaks, but they also have to take the investment risk in the first place and then the secondary risk that they might get the tenants from hell. The third risk may be a Pamplona-type charge for the exits if Labor gets up and changes the rules.

Part of the solution lies with the 814,000 Australians (2011 estimate), who have paid off their mortgages. Whatever their circumstances, they are the only people who, either by gifting money or using their equity for a loan, can help their adult children buy a house. Waiting for the bubble to burst is another option. Or you could move to Spain…there are apartments in Pamplona priced from 39,000 euros (about $A58,000). Buena suerte con eso

 (Thanks to Laurel (She Who Also Sometimes Writes) for being a splendid substitute when I was abroad )

 

 

Look in your own backyard

Blue Tongue lizardBy Guest Columnist Laurel Wilson

A couple of dozen people in green shirts were strolling through Mary Cairncross Reserve one morning last week – volunteers at the Maleny Visitor Information Centre. We were taking the opportunity to have a look around before the major renovation project starts. (The Rainforest walk will still be open, but the Information and Education Centre will be housed in a portable ‘donga’ for some months. A temporary café will be open soon, hopefully.) The Reserve is one of the major natural tourist attractions in the area, along with the view, over the road from the Reserve, of the ancient volcanic plugs, named by Captain Cook as the Glasshouse Mountains.

The Reserve is a 55 hectare patch of ‘original’ rainforest, of the type which covered the Southern end of the Blackall Range (as the local area is known) before Europeans cleared the land for timber and later, dairying. Fortunately, three sisters from the Thynne family who owned a farm in the area realised the value of retaining at least some of the land in as close to its original state as possible. In the 1940s, the land was willed to the local Council, on condition it remain as a natural area for recreation and education. So far, so good, with the Council even recently obtaining another area contiguous with the Reserve.

The Blackall Range is normally delightfully green year-round, and there are plenty of ‘Greenies’, including those who volunteer at the Mary Cairncross reserve, members and staff of local land care group Barung, members of Land for Wildlife, and for those with smaller blocks, Gardens for Wildlife, as well as what seems to be most of the townsfolk who strive to conserve the remaining remnants of bush as well as planting their own blocks and helping to plant and maintain native shrubs and trees on public land.

To take one example, there are dozens of pink cardboard triangles, each sheltering a native plant of some type, evident on the edges of the newly-opened nine-hole golf course which was developed on land known locally as ‘The Precinct’. Whether a golf course can be considered a ‘green’ initiative is the subject of some controversy in the area, but at least there is plenty of new native plant growth on the edges, along with some natives retained on the course itself.

With the amount of residential development evident in this area since we moved here some 14 years ago, it has become increasingly important to retain as much old growth as possible as well as plant new natives, not just for the aesthetics, but also to provide shelter for the many species of wildlife native to the area. The long-range plan is to develop extensive contiguous corridors of native bush.

Maleny local and passionate conservationist Susie Duncan is heavily involved in local group ‘Hinterland Bush Links’. The organisation, supported by Barung Landcare and funded by the Sunshine Coast Council and private donors, aims to connect pockets of remnant forest in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, extending from Caboolture to Gympie. This involves planting and maintaining native flora as well as weed control in established areas. Ultimately, these wildlife corridors could and should extend along the Great Eastern Ranges from Victoria to North Queensland – what has been called a ‘bird super highway’ for migratory species.

Bob and I have planted the banks of the little creek at the end of our block with native shrubs and grasses and neighbours on both sides have also contributed to these plantings, so for as far as we can see, this little waterway, which begins as a spring a few hundred meters to the west of our place, has a clothing of mainly native vegetation on both sides.

Even to a casual observer, the amount and variety of wildlife in this area is quite impressive. Mary Cairncross Reserve, for instance, is home to dozens of Pademelons- a small wallaby – which thrives in the shelter of the rainforest. I have often seen them at the Reserve, including the other day as we ‘Info Centre Vollies’ were strolling around. There is a great variety of animal and bird-life in the Reserve, as well as on the Range in general, including in our own backyard.

Even before joining ‘Gardens for Wildlife’, I was keen to plant natives on our block, with a view to providing food and shelter for wildlife. So far, we’ve managed to remove noxious weeds (eg three large Camphor Laurels, Lantana, Cobblers’ pegs, Plasmodium, Morning Glory – a constant ‘battle’) and develop a patch of rainforest trees at the end of the block. Last year, a biologist friend was very excited to recognise burrows of the endangered Euastacus urospinosus on our creek bank. This rare crustacean is found only on the Range, so we have resisted the temptation to go yabbying.

We’ve spotted Red-bellied black snakes quite frequently, also Green tree snakes, as well as what we think is a resident Carpet Python, though it might be its son or daughter or grandchild by now. They have a habit of finding their way into the ceiling space – the advantage of this to us is that there are no rats or possums up there. It gets a bit too hot in the ceiling space for the Python by August or September, so he (she?) decamps, via the verandah. At least, that’s where we’ve spotted them as they head to their summer residence. There’s often snake-skin evidence too, so perhaps we’ve had a family of them living up there? The pest control fellow, who was looking for termite evidence, not hunting snakes, brought about ½ dozen large skins down with him last time he was crawling around in the ceiling space. (Update – we now have a stereo pythons – one curled up under the front veranda eaves, and the other under the back veranda eaves. Both with very bulging bellies- probably a couple of rats have met their end.)

Haven’t seen any scary Brown Snakes around, though, thankfully. I like to believe what may be a bush myth that if you have Red-Bellied Black snakes, you won’t have Browns, as the former eat the young of the latter.

As for four-legged critters, we see (and hear) the Common Brushtail possums and have been visited by their bigger cousin the beautiful Mountain Brushtail. Bandicoots occasionally make an appearance, or leave their calling- card ‘potholes’ in the lawn. We think there may have been wild dogs on the creek when we first moved here, as our wuss of a German Shepherd was afraid to go down into the backyard at night. There are still wild dogs in the district, as the Council occasionally carries out a baiting program (wish there was a less cruel way to deal with them – the dogs, that is, not the Council). The Lace Monitor, bane of our neighbour whose chook eggs it eats, is occasionally seen, as well as Blue Tongue Lizards and Water Dragons.

Birds of several varieties can be seen from our back verandah, including the occasional Pheasant Coucal and sometimes at night, a Tawny Frogmouth. We also see Koels, Drongos, Kookaburras, Magpies, Butcher Birds, Brush Turkeys (who fortunately build their mounds on the bush block next door), Noisy Miners (well-named), Whipbirds, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Pale-headed Rosellas (fewer than there used to be) Rainbow Lorikeets, Wattle birds, Willy Wagtails, as well as smaller birds such as Thornbills, Finches and Scrub Wrens, though to see these I might have to stroll down to the end of the block to our small patch of rainforest. Butterflies are often seen flitting around as well – Orchard Swallowtails and Blue Triangles are two I’m familiar with. And once, even the rare Richmond Birdwing Butterfly. We’ve planted the host vine Aristolochia praevenosa to encourage these beautiful and endangered butterflies.

So, here’s a challenge for you – what’s in your backyard.

Here’s a selection of our block’s residents and/or visitors:

Little WattlebirdLeft – Wattlebird; Female KoelFemale Koel

 

Below –Rainbow Lorikeet, Kookaburra, Lace Monitor, Blue Tongue Lizard (above) Carpet Python (with bulging belly), Tawny Frogmouth

Rainbow LorikeetKookaburraLace MonitorCarpet snake with full bellyTawny Frogmouth

Independent journalism, commentary, satire and droll humour, posted here on Fridays.