Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Close Encounters of the Bird Kind: Bird Whisperer part II

Not long ago I wrote about the swallow that found its way into the office at work. Today I had another close encounter after I heard a solid thump on the office window.

Outside on the ground was a very docile little bird that looked slightly like a small silvereye without the white rimmed eye. It willingly stepped onto my hand and I was able to move it to a safer position on the low branch of a tree.

I was so caught up in the moment that I missed the chance of noting the details that would help me make a positive identification. It was one of those times when a camera would have been helpful. Maybe I’m the only one here at work without a camera now that almost every mobile phone comes equipped with one.

Relying on memory I turned to the birds in backyards website and came up with a tentative identification. http://birdsinbackyards.net/species/Eopsaltria-australis

However, for confirmation I went back outside hoping to see the bird still sitting on the branch where I’d left it. It was there, but before I could have a good look, it flew away.
While disappointed that I couldn’t confirm what it was, I was pleased to see it had recovered from its accident, even if it didn’t recognise its rescuer and didn’t fly to my shoulder to express its thanks.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Ill-Advised Practice of Naming Your Livestock – or even your car.

I don’t have any livestock. The deeds of my house prohibit the keeping of livestock on my property. But I can imagine that naming an animal that is ultimately destined for the table would make it much harder emotionally to see that destiny fulfilled.

I have no livestock but I do have a car – one that is being traded in today on another vehicle that is supposed to use 25% less fuel. And while our old car isn’t a living thing – it did get named soon after purchase, and maybe that isn’t helping to face up to the fact that our relationship will be ended today after more than 7 years of faithful service.

What should be a time of excited anticipation – leading to the arrival of the new car, is in fact seriously tinged with sadness. I’ll be sorry to see “Mulder” go.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Global Rock Challenge

My niece's school recently participated in a school's dance competition. Their performance inspired by Jessica Watson's solo round the world sailing journey is on this video:

Then please vote here:


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Art, UFOs, Truth?

Today I came across an online art magazine http://painters-table.com/.

I haven’t had the chance to have a good look at it yet but I did read Budd Hopkins’ obituary http://painters-table.com/blog/budd-hopkins-obituary-1932-2011 and a 2010 interview with Hopkins linked in the obituary.

He was a major UFO abduction investigator and author. I’d forgotten he was also an artist.

I can credit Hopkins for waking me up to the truth about UFOs and alien abductions. His book “Witness” was about a UFO abduction witnessed by a high ranking United Nations official. I found the whole story was beyond ridiculous.

It was clear to me that Hopkins was so caught up with the story that he had lost any sense of objectivity. For me that book was the final confirmation that so many UFO claims are media creations, or at least media driven. The majority of what we “know” about them is filtered through the subjective, often highly biased reporting of UFO “investigators”. The reported “truth” is usually far different to the objective truth of what actually happened. Somewhere between an actual experience and the end product of the published report there is a great deal of embellishment.

That embellishment may not be added to intentionally deceive; it could be that the reporter is driven more by the need to believe than by a desire for truth

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bushrangers: Heros or thugs?

The likes of Ned Kelly and Ben Hall have captured the Australian imagination and become the focus of our folklore and mythology. They are often portrayed as victims of authoritarian oppression and champions of the downtrodden.

But what would we think if we could look ahead, maybe a century and a half into the future, and see today’s car thieves, home invaders, armed robbers and murderers being celebrated as national heroes?

Channel Seven is currently running the Wild Boys series which has been described as a “boys own” adventure. It portrays a police force headed by a ruthless leader who is not averse to breaking the law himself to make sure his idea of order is upheld. The heroes are a group of lovable larrikins whose only failing is their regular practice of holding travellers at gunpoint to relieve them of their valuables.

The series plays up the romanticised picture of the bushranger as loveable rogue that has made heroes of some of the most ruthless criminals in our history. Even the term “bushranger creates a more romantic image than words that more accurately describe their lives and criminal pursuits.

How would you picture a group of men who break into your home and hold you hostage for hours, making threats of violence, demanding to be fed and then taking as many of your possessions as they can carry? Would you find it excusable if they came from a disadvantaged family or had been given a raw deal by the authorities? I’m sure not!

Recently I have read two new books dealing with the subject of Bushrangers. My brief reviews can be found here:



Friday, September 30, 2011

Just call me the bird whisperer!

A bit of excitement in the office this morning, a swallow made its way through a series of doors and entered the office. It flew around for several minutes, avoiding all attempts to guide it back the way it came. Eventually I was able to corner it near a window and use my jacket as a net. I took it outside and released it.

My office is attached to a large workshop building. Swallows nest and roost up near the roof. The workshop is closed up each evening and the creaking of the large roller doors alerts the swallows that its time to return. The closing of the doors is always accompanied by a squadron of returning birds, swooping between the bottom of the door and the floor. Likewise, each morning when the doors are opened, the birds will leave their roosting site and swoop out for the day.

All is not lost if the doors close before they get through. There is a gap at the corner of the door where it doesn’t quite meet the floor. Any late birds land on the ground, scurry through and fly off again.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Broken News

They’ve recently discovered that Ned Kelly had a skeleton but he kept it buried at Pentridge prison in Melbourne instead of in his closet.
DNA tests proved this – but I don’t think they’ve been able to prove he had a skull of his own. Someone else’s may have been substituted.


Ned could have turned to art instead of crime but there were no government art grants at the time so he couldn’t exchange a $20,000 grant for uncirculated notes to be displayed under Perspex and given a price tag of up to $25,000.


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

More paintings

Here are two more of my paintings. Gloria has now joined me in this new creative outlet. Two of her paintings follow mine. The blue one at the end is a work in progress.


And Gloria's:

Friday, July 01, 2011

Painting the Bible

I’ve taken up a new artistic pursuit: PAINTING.

I was encouraged to do this by a friend who has been painting for years. He paints Bible text on canvas with acrylic paint.

He also introduced me to a NZ artist Colin McCahon who painted many art works based on bible texts. One of his most significant works being Victory Over Death 2, a gift to the National Gallery Australia from the New Zealand Government.

I saw the painting almost by accident on a recent trip to the NGA and it was the most powerful artwork I’ve seen. Since that first viewing I’ve made a second visit to the gallery solely to see that one painting.

My own work is still in the practice stage, with many frustrations and disappointments. I’m trying to come to terms with both paint and canvas and at times I struggle. It should be easy to write text with paint – but its not. Here are some of my paintings so far – remember it is early days yet. Hopefully with practice I’ll improve.

Broken Body Shed Blood

In the Beginning

Way Truth Life.

Word of God

See here for details and images relating to Victory Over Death 2.



Friday, June 24, 2011

Too Technically Minded For the Common Good

I work with some very technically-savvy men. Personally I have less mechanical aptitude than the neighbours cat (who was recently able to extricate a mouse from a trap without leaving any scattered mouse parts).

So why is it that I seem to be the only one to successfully replace the paper towels in the men’s room?

It’s not that others won’t do it – they make an attempt, but their technical knowhow seems to get in the way. They make it much more complicated than it needs to be and they find ways of threading the paper through imaginative obstacle courses. This tightens the movement of the paper, and when the hands are wet – as they usually are when there’s a need for towel – the paper breaks off in small soggy pieces.

They don’t seem to understand the concept of following the path of least resistance: the most straight forward path that allows the paper to unroll smoothly and freely.

So there’s an advantage to my technical ignorance. I can do what makes sense rather than try to find new ways of challenging the laws of physics

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


I received an email today claiming that the current e coli outbreak in Europe is the result of a purposely manufactured, resistant strain of e coli. An attached article stated:

“virtually no one is talking about how e coli could have magically become resistant to eight different classes of antibiotic drugs and then suddenly appeared in the food supply.”

And asks the question:

“So how, exactly, does a bacterial strain come into existence that’s resistant to over a dozen antibiotics in eight different drug classes?”

Well that the first statement is not exactly the truth and the question can be easily answered.

I read an article on the weekend about the rise in bacteria in food caused by the "recycling" of human waste as fertilizer (supposedly treated to be made safe). It also pointed out the presence of antibiotics in the human waste which has passed through the digestive tracts of countless thousands of people. Therefore we have e coli being exposed to a great variety of antibiotics and gaining resistance over time.

The waste is used for food crops; the resistant e coli infects the food and thereafter the eaters.

No conspiracy needed just stupidity, carelessness and greed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Defense of Food

Here is a brief excerpt from an excellent book I’ve been reading:

People eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets. Scientists can argue all they want about the biological mechanisms behind this phenomenon, but whichever it is, the solution to the problem would appear to remain very much the same: Stop eating a Western diet.

In truth the chief value of any and all theories of nutrition, apart from satisfying our curiosity about how things work, is not to the eater so much as it is to the food industry and the medical community. The food industry needs theories so it can better redesign specific processed foods; a new theory means a new line of products, allowing the industry to go on tweaking the western diet instead of making any more radical changes to its business model. For industry it’s obviously preferable to have a scientific rationale for further processing foods – whether by lowering the fat or carbs or by boosting omega-3s or fortifying them with antioxidants and probiotics – than to entertain seriously the proposition that processed foods of any kind are a big part of the problem.

(In Defense of Food, an eater’s manifesto, by Michael Pollan.)

For more information see:


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Break in Beechworth

I may have done things differently if I’d visited Beechworth several years ago. Would I have chosen THAT town for my tree-change instead of the town I now call home?

Gloria and I recently stayed in Beechworth for a few days, living in a cottage that was over 150 years old. We both loved the town. It had historical character, with many of its old buildings in the main street retained. And it had natural beauty, set alongside stunning bushland with waterfalls and exposed rock visible from parts of the town.

Our first day started with some disappointment. We set out to explore and found most of the town was closed – the majority of businesses didn’t open until 10.00am. And one of the cafes we had hoped to try was on the market, and not currently trading. The weather was also unpredictable. It rained, the sun came out, and it rained again, making us change our plans to try a couple of guided walks run by the tourist information office.

It took us a few hours to get our bearings but the more we saw of the town, the more we started to enjoy the place. Highlights of our short holiday include visits to the Beechworth Honey Experience and The Potters Beechworth .

We made a few visits to each. The honey shop not only sold Beechworth Honey products, it had a very interesting video tour about their business, bee keeping, honey and the importance of bees. The series of short videos was very well presented and has made me want to find out more about the role bees play in maintaining the security of food supplies.

My interest in Beechworth Pottery started weeks ago when I bought two “One Tree Hill Pottery” vases from an antique shop. I wanted to find out more about the makers and an internet search introduced me to The Potters Beechworth which is run by the makers of One Tree Hill pottery. We spent a lot of time in their shop admiring their work and added some pieces to our small collection.

Another highlight of the town was its Farmer’s market. We were driving out of town on the way home when Gloria remembered we’d earlier seen the market being advertised. We turned around and drove back to the church where the market was being held. It left our local market for dead.

There was a good number and variety of stalls selling fruit and veggies, organic meat, preserves, olive oil, wines, art work and plants and attracted a lot of shoppers, contrasting significantly with our local farmers market which now has few stalls and few shoppers.

The atmosphere of the Beechworth market was enhanced by its location in the church grounds (ours is held in a public car park) and the ringing of the church bells definitely added to the experience.

Our holiday was not limited to time in Beechworth. We spent one day driving to neighbouring towns. My main plan was to visit Glenrowan, site of Ned Kelly’s failed stand against the authorities, but we managed to also fit in the antique shops of Chiltern, Rutherglen, and Benalla.

Glenrowan was a disappointment being mostly tourist shops exploiting the story of Ned Kelly. Two of them had their own museums dedicated to Kelly, but after seeing what was on offer I wasn’t prepared to pay the few dollars admission. Maybe it would have been worth the price, but I’ll never know.

We had been to the town about 20 years ago and had fond memories of being welcomed by a bearded man shouting “Howdy peoples!” while he handed out pikelets with cream and jam to arrivals parking in front of his café. That generosity led to us entering to have pumpkin soup and damper for lunch. Of course, after all this time the man was no longer there.

A couple of doors down the road is an animatronics show about Ned Kelly’s shootout with the police. Said to have cost millions to create, this is perhaps the most worthwhile attraction the town has on offer. It is a partly interactive experience using the same kind of technology of several Disneyland rides. We tried it during our earlier visit to the town and Gloria found it quite frightening, so we didn’t go in this time.

For me the highlight of Glenrowan was finally seeing the actual site where Kelly and his gang met their end. The location of Ann Jones’ Glenrowan Inn, where the gang were cornered by police, is now an empty block. It is signposted and has some naive sculptures of the Kelly gang beside it, but not much more to see: not even signs of a recent archaeological dig featured on an ABC TV documentary hosted by Tony Robinson of Time Team fame.

Around the area of the siege site are sign-posts and more naïve sculptures, giving details of various incidents associated with the Kelly shootout: including the police position and where Kelly was captured. Without these I would have found the visit to the town a waste of time.

It’s not a place I’m planning to visit again, having already seen the best of what the town has to offer (the animatronics show and the siege site). For someone who has never been to the town, a short detour from the Hume Freeway may be worth it for those experiences, but for myself, I’ve now seen enough.

There is still a lot of Beechworth and the surrounding area that we haven’t seen. We didn’t get to take the guided walks to find out about places of historical significance associated with the gold rush and the Kelly story. Those are things we’d like to try next time.

Until we have the opportunity to return, I’m sure we’ll continue to wonder whether Beechworth would have been a better choice when we moved from Sydney. But I suppose the differences between a short term holiday and a lifetime home are significant. At least we have discovered a very pleasant town suitable for an occasional escape from reality whenever we can take a break away from home.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Going Solar. Some not so sunny concerns!

The solar panel people came around to give a quote and apart from the required financial outlay I’m not really any wiser about the whole thing.

I have a basic idea of the system. The panels on the roof will generate electricity which will be directed into the public supply grid and we will receive credit for the amount of energy generated. We are then charged for whatever power we use ourselves. If we use more than we generate we pay. If we generate more than we use we are paid.

Beyond that we are at the mercy of the panel supplier/installer. It seems most panels have a 25 year guarantee. But should there be problems in 10 or 20 years time – who do we contact? What if the supplier is no longer in business? How many businesses like this are still around after 20-25 years? While the guarantee gives the impression of security, they are dependant upon there being someone still around to honour it.

The current system also works under certain legal conditions established by the Government. Those conditions last until 2017. What comes after that? Will the whole thing be overturned, nullifying the benefit of having the panels? Maybe that’s not too important – supposedly the panels will pay for themselves within three or four years and anything after that will be a bonus.

At the moment I feel a bit pressured. There is a deadline to face. The generous rebates will be reduced in July. The installation will be more expensive after that date. Clearly I should have considered doing this earlier, when I’d have more time to weigh up the pros and cons of different suppliers.

Solar Panels by Vera Kratochvil

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going Solar - hopefully!

We’re having our place assessed for solar panels today. Hopefully we’ll get a reasonable quote and be able to make the most of the Government rebates.

It’s taken too long for us to get around to considering the panels. This was mostly through ignorance. While the rebates have been available for some time (and have now unfortunately been reduced) for some reason I hadn’t even thought of getting them installed until recently.

When I first heard of people lobbying the Government for solar panel rebates, I thought they were referring to solar water heaters and not the generation of electricity so I didn’t see the need to take further interest.

Unfortunately my technical ignorance makes me susceptible to being exploited if the installers are lacking integrity, so I’m feeling uneasy about the whole thing. The recent situation with roofing insulation showed there are too many inexperienced and/or unscrupulous people around willing to take advantage of both homeowners and Government generosity.

Solar Panel by Petr Kratochvil

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I Would Love to Keep Chooks, But…

One of the approaches to gardening that I find most appealing is permaculture. It seems to make total sense. Why work against the natural processes when you can be more productive working with them? At least in theory! I’ve never tried it so don’t know whether it would work for me. If there are any shortcomings with permaculture I would be the one to find them.

I’ve done a little reading on the topic to see whether I could use permaculture principles for my own garden, but have found that it seems more applicable to larger properties.
Yes I know how some people have transformed their ¼ acre blocks into permaculture paradises (see here http://www.happyearth.com.au/ ) but they didn’t have MY block to work with.

Unfortunately there are a couple of vital aspects of a permaculture property that I would find troublesome. One is installing some kind of a pond (Gloria even objects to having water in the bird bath, fearing its mosquito breeding potential). And the other is keeping chooks.

I would love to keep chooks but… and there are several reasons I hesitate…

1) Where would I put them?

2) I’d have to build a suitable enclosure and my DIY skills have never successfully stretched that far

3) The responsibility of keeping something alive! Its one thing to kill a lettuce through careless neglect, but an animal is something else.

4) Their potential to attract pests and vermin, which in turn have the potential to attract snakes.

5) We regularly go away for the weekend to visit family – how long can they (the chooks not the family) be left unattended while we are away?

6) We are not allowed to keep livestock on our block (a legal aspect of the property contract that we weren’t aware of until before purchasing the house) – which may or may not extend to poultry.

7) How would they cope with the frosts and -6 degree temperatures that we regularly get over winter? (And frosts can extend from mid autumn to late spring).

8) How would the neighbouring dogs react (we’re surrounded by them).

I’m sure a couple of chickens could provide many benefits, eggs, manure, pest control… but would those benefits outweigh the problems?

photo: Hen by Darren Hanlon

Time to Rethink

I think I saw the DVD Food Inc at the right time, when I was reconsidering what to do with my backyard. The film has reinvigorated my desire to turn it into something much more productive.

It is now almost 5 years since I started the garden and my approach has always been uncoordinated. I hoped something worthwhile would evolve as I tried a bit of this and a bit of that. My hopes haven't been very fruitful.

When we moved from out flat in Sydney I had three things in mind for our first garden. I wanted natives (especially Grevilleas), I wanted Roses, and I wanted to grow my own veggies.

I now have a promising native garden growing in the front of the house as well as a variety of Grevilleas near the fence at the back. Some of them weren’t placed very wisely and have grown much larger than I made allowance for, but at least they provide thick cover for birds and attract a variety of honey eaters.

Roses have been more of a struggle. They don’t cope too well with the weather extremes. We get a wonderful show of flowers for a week or so in spring and then they get knocked about by the heat, the rain or the wind. They have been a disappointment but I don’t want to give up on them.

The vegetable garden has given mixed results. At times we don’t seem to have enough room to grow what we want – and at other times we struggle to make use of the space we’ve got. We’ve also had a lot of failures; some things just don’t want to perform well.

Along with all of this I’ve tried to add a few flowering plants. While a few pockets of this ornamental part of the garden have been pleasing, we have far too many areas that haven’t worked.

I mentioned in an earlier post that the latest veggie season hadn’t been the best. At least the failures have given me the chance to clear up the veggie beds and start over again.

At the moment I have a bed of zucchinis, squash and pumpkins that are coming to their end. It will be ready for re-use in a few weeks.

The other three main beds were empty up to last weekend. One I have planted with garlic, taking up most of the room I had intended for onions. Another I plan to use for broccoli, which are the only brassicas that I’ve successfully grown.

The third has become a dumping ground for grass cuttings, leafy weeds and other organic material, along with an application of manure and blood and bone. I have now thickly sown broad beans on the top of it all and have covered the beans with some cheap potting mix. This third bed has become a no-dig project. When the beans have grown sufficiently I’ll either cut them down and mix them in, or I’ll flatten them and pile biscuits of straw on top.

Meanwhile I will be looking at the rest of the garden and thinking of how to reorganise it, to give more room for other edibles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Food Inc.

On the weekend I watched the DVD Food Inc. This film looks at the way a few multi-nationals are increasing their control over food. It is essential viewing for anyone who has concern about the things they eat.

GM foods, cattle feedlots, the exploitation of farmers – are some of the topics examined. One of the more disturbing aspects is how these huge companies are able to use the legal system to strengthen their control – much of the time because they have the financial means to keep law suits going until their opposition is unable to defend themselves against charges.

One of the more shocking revelations is that it has been made more or less illegal for a farmer to save his own seed for future crops because most crops have been infected with patented, genetically modified material.

If a company pollutes a waterway that affects users down stream who is held accountable? Are the downstream users blamed? Are they made to pay the legal consequences of the acts of a company unable to prevent polluting agents from entering the waterways?

But if a multinational can’t prevent the spread of pollen from its genetically modified crops – if it can’t prevent the entry of its genetic material into neighbouring crops – guess who is made responsible? Clue: it is not the multi-national. The farmer pays the penalty, being unable to use any tainted seed because it contains patented genetic material that he didn’t want, didn’t ask for and would not have willingly introduced to his crop.

This is certainly one of those must-see films for anyone concerned about their food, where it comes from and who controls what food is available.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Surely next season HAS to be better!

We’ve just had the worst vegetable season since our move to the country almost five years ago. It’s the first time we haven’t needed to give away a surplus of zucchinis. We’ve barely had enough to keep ourselves going, even with the addition of three plants of button squash filling the shortfall.

Our butternut pumpkins have also been very disappointing. We’ll be lucky to get 10 pumpkins this year. In previous years we’ve always exceeded 50.

Tomatoes have never been much of a success at our place, so even the poor crop we got was a slight improvement, but it ought to have been much better. Gloria pulled up the last couple of plants yesterday.
And our corn was possibly left too late before being picked – it was very dry despite having more than ample water with the record summer rains.

Our main successes have been onions (even though they were down on previous years), garlic, beans (lazy housewife and purple king are still pickable) and several cucumbers (the most we’ve grown so far).

I now have three empty veggie beds. One has been enriched with homemade compost and several bags of cow manure. On another I’ve been throwing prunings and grass clippings. I’ll top that with straw when I get around to buying a bale or two and hopefully will make it into a decent no-dig garden. The future of the third bed is still to be decided.
The only bed still in use has the last of the zucchini, squash and pumpkins. With frosts not too far away the productivity of that bed is also close to an end. So soon I’ll have a totally blank canvas to start all over again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Bella Hardy, Songs Lost and Stolen

I received a Bella Hardy newsletter this morning about the release of a new album. Her first two CDs are among my favourites and I’ve been hoping this new one would be coming out soon.

The release date is in mid April and I’ve pre-ordered my copy. The first two were originally available through her personal website but I’ve had to order this one through Amazon. It seems like she is no longer handling her own album sales, which is hopefully a sign of increasing success.

I’ll miss the more personal approach of buying directly from her – such as being able to have the CD autographed, but the important thing is the opportunity for her music to become more accessible.

When I first heard about the new album my initial response was concern.
The title of the CD “Songs Lost and Stolen” made me think that the songs for her album had literally been “lost and stolen”. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a musician’s work had been lost to a thief.

For more information visit:


A single from the album has been released (her first) and can be heard here:


see my previous article:


Friday, January 07, 2011

Online GST Campaign.

There is a bit of a protest going on in Australia, with some major retailers demanding online goods purchased from overseas be subjected to GST like locally sourced goods.

But where do most of the retailers source the stock that they sell to the public?

From overseas!

DO THEY expect to pay GST on their imported goods too?

Recently I bought books from an AUSTRALIAN based online book shop. The books they delivered came from overseas and were GST exempt. One book I wanted to order would cost me $55 plus deliver of $6.00.

I have since ordered the SAME book directly from an overseas supplier for $23.00 and free delivery.

Charge me 10% GST for all I care - it would only add $2.30 to the cost instead of $38.00 more from the local supplier!

(The local supplier is part of one of the major book chains found in most Australian shopping centres.)