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

In praise of small towns

By Laurel Wilson

I may have said (some dozens of times) how much I enjoy living in the lovely little Sunshine Coast hinterland town of Maleny. We moved here nearly 14 years ago, having had enough of the noise and hassle of the big city. In looking for an alternative to the often indifferent and isolating city suburbs, I told Bob that I wanted to live somewhere that, if I fell over in the street, people would not just ignore me and/or walk over the top of my prone figure. (Photo Qld Health Dept)

Fortunately, neither of us has actually fallen over in the street (though we’ve had our share of accidents – see below). However, we did recently witness an unfortunate who tripped over one of the bollards which are strategically placed to prevent cars from mounting the footpath when parking in the peculiar ‘back in’ manner that prevails in Maleny. The unfortunate trip-ee had barely hit the bitumen before at least three people rushed to her aid and helped her up, having ascertained that nothing more serious than a few bruises and hurt pride had occurred.

In general, we’re both country bumpkins and prefer the P&Q of small town life. Not that it’s ever boring – if so inclined, it’s possible to go out nearly every night of the week and on weekends there is often an ‘approach-approach’ conflict trying to decide which attractive option will win out.

Take this coming weekend for instance. The local Film Society is showing not one, but two films at the Maleny Community Centre on Saturday 16th April – a matinee with the film ‘Tanna’ – ‘a classic tale of forbidden love’, set on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. Then at 6pm, you can get a light meal, catered by one of the several local restaurants, followed by the film ‘Looking for Grace’.

If music is more your thing, you would regret news of the demise of the iconic ‘UpFront Club’. However, it is understood that the café will soon re-open under a new name and new management, but with an indication that music will play an important role. Meanwhile, local music promoter Paul ‘Richo’ Richardson is bringing country music stars Kevin Bennett, Lyn Bowtell and Felicity Urquhart to the local RSL hall on Saturday night.  There’s also a Ukulele festival on all weekend at nearby Kenilworth.

Market-goers are well catered for also. The Blackall Range growers’ market at Witta, a few kms out of town, is on the third Saturday of every month, while the RSL is also the venue for the weekly Sunday morning market.

Visitors and locals alike make good use of the Maleny Volunteer Information Centre (to use its full title) to find out about local events and ‘things to do’ in general. The ‘Info Centre’ operates out of a ground floor shop at the Maleny Community Centre, which is in the main street. I volunteer there a couple of times a month and it’s always enjoyable to let visitors know about the many attractions and activities in the area.

For a small town, facilities are quite impressive. We are lucky to still have a local hospital – the Maleny Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital. (It would be a foolish bean-counter who tried to close this hospital, on the grounds of ‘efficiency’. Malenyites are sometimes divided over what is good for the town, but this would be one battle that would surely unite the place).

The hospital offers 24 hour a day accident and emergency services, along with medical, palliative care, pharmacy, and a rehabilitation unit. And it still has a kitchen, making meals for the patients as well as for Meals on Wheels.

Bob and I can both vouch for the fine level of care and attention we received there – Bob after his argument several years ago with a small but upset Red-bellied black snake and some years later with an even smaller, but much nastier critter – a paralysis tick, to which he had an allergic reaction. Just prior to Christmas a couple of years ago, I misjudged my footing, fell down some steps and rammed my head into a door frame. All three incidents occasioned visits to our local A&E, where we were treated very promptly and professionally.

I have a small role to play in our local Meals on Wheels organisation, so am occasionally at the back door on the way to the kitchen. There’s a blackboard and chalk outside the door and various wits are known to add droll comments, sometimes about issues of the day (e.g. ‘go the Blues’) sometimes just something to bring a smile. On one day the question at the top of the board was “What makes you happy?” The board was nearly full with several responses, so I reckon that says something pretty positive about the staff at the hospital – a random sample:

“Going on a long walk”; “Being married for 40 years and still in love”; “Music” (I wonder who wrote that?); “Beating the boys at cards”.

A picturesque area, lots of local walking tracks, mild climate, a house close to town, good neighbours, several friends in the local area, a wide variety of activities and within an easy drive to the beach, or even Brisbane, when we are so-inclined. That’s why we love living in this small town. (The nasty little biting ticks and the loud, love-struck Channel-Billed Cuckoo, with his persistent one-note call, are just there to remind us that nowhere’s perfect…)








In praise of old folkies

Morris dancers at MMF
Morris dancers performing at the Maleny Music Festival: photo by Steve Swayne

By Laurel Wilson

Vale Tommy the Narc. We lost one of the good old folkies the other week and his wake was on last Saturday, attended by several dozen folkies who remembered him fondly from the 1970’s. The wake encompassed many of the elements dear to the hearts of folkies – fond tales involving the departed, an ample supply of cider, beer etc., laughter, music, camping overnight.
I recall meeting him in days gone past at The Red Brick hotel – named for obvious reasons, but no longer in existence. I was intrigued at the time as to how he was awarded that seemingly insulting moniker and was assured that it was all in good fun and he accepted it graciously, distinguishing him as it did from any of the other ‘Tommies’ who were around at the time. For those curious to know, he was christened thus after having innocently seated himself next to a notorious police informant at the pub folk night. At least, that’s one version. As is common with the oral tradition, there may well be other explanations floating around.
Tommy was but one of the numerous folkies, past and present, that I have enjoyed meeting over the past 40 or so years.

So who are these ‘folkies’ I have been hanging around with? The first definition that comes up when you Google ‘folkie’ is “a singer, player or fan of folk music”, which only sends you down the rabbit hole of trying to define ‘folk music’. One rather narrow definition is that “folk music is music which originates in and is handed down by oral tradition amongst common people”. That repository of all knowledge known as Wikipedia is more inclusive, saying, “Folk music includes both traditional music and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th century folk revival. The term originated in the 19th century but is often applied to music that is older than that. Some types of folk music are also called world music.” I’d add dance to that mix, as there are groups interested in Australian bush dances, English Morris dancing, Scottish and Irish dancing, to name a few.
As an indication of the wide range of music which can be covered under the umbrella of ‘folk music’, consider the programme for last weekend’s Maleny Music Weekend – eg Zumpa (trio of accordion, double bass and saxophone mainly playing popular Italian tunes); Shanasheel Arabic Music Ensemble; Sweet Chilli (local all women choir) The Barleyshakes (fast-paced Irish trad); Hayden Hack Infusion (self-described funk, Afro psychelic aesthetic); bluegrass trio The Company, even The Goodwills…
Our friends from the trio cloudstreet describe their music as “new Australian folk music”, demonstrating their enjoyment of what is traditional about the kind of music they play, along with their emphasis on presenting it with a unique Aussie flavour.
Folk music is “a broad Church”, which also happens to be Malcolm Turnbull’s description of the Liberal party, but in my opinion at least, you won’t find too many who belong to that “church” at a folkie session. (Oh, there was one once, but he now acknowledges the error of his ways and has converted to the ‘leftie’ side of things political).

It might seem a stretch to suggest that performers and lovers of such a wide range of music and dance have much in common, but to my mind, there is definitely a common theme, and that is musicians and singers performing mainly for the love of it to audiences who come along specifically to hear music (rather than to have it as background as they chat, eat and drink). Sure, performers were paid by the Festival, but it seems most accept that festivals of this type try to keep gate prices at reasonable levels and in turn, don’t expect commercial payment rates. For many, the opportunity to play to appreciative, listening audiences, rather than noisy pub crowds, is a treat which makes up for the lower financial rewards.
So the ‘folkie’ performers play more for the love of it than with the aim of making the sort of money that can be made by ‘pop stars’. As well as performing themselves, when not playing they often form part of that appreciative audience and/or ‘jump up’ with other performers to help them with their presentations. And they are often involved in helping to organise music events like last weekend’s Maleny music festival. So here’s a big thank-you to all the organisers/performers/volunteers from last weekend, and of course to those who came along to enjoy the music.
As for coming to festivals, folk club nights, house concerts and the like, there may be a preponderance of grey heads and bearded older men, but the younger generation is also represented. Like The Mae Trio – daughters of well-known folkies from my generation. And then there was the young chap who celebrated his 21st birthday recently by playing at a fund-raising concert for the on-line magazine that keeps everyone up to date with local events.

If all this sounds intriguing, try coming along to the next main event on the local folkie calendar – The Neurum Creek Music Festival being held at Neurum Creek bush retreat. I’m told the camping spots are sold out, but there’s still room to come along for the day. (Saturday 12th or Sunday 13th).