Monthly Archives: June 2012

Magnetic Island #2

Magnetic Island

23/06/12

Weather: sunshine

Temp: 25 C

I arrived at Bungalow Bay Koala Village and wondered why I hadn’t chosen this hostel. It had a very relaxed vibe, yet the organisation and trustworthiness of a YHA hostel. A-frame cabins dotten in around the trees and a chilled out decked bar/reception/pool area.  It’s a little more pricey than Base but it’ll be on my list should I return there. This hostel also has its own wildlife (mini) sanctuary and although I don’t like paying for these things, I feel I got my money’s worth.

A small group of us (7) were lead around the little enclosures by an English ranger who clearly loved her job. She spoke confidently and answered questions gladly about all the animals she introduced to us. I came away feeling I had just had a really interesting biology lesson about Australian wildlife and also had some of my fears about snakes and other venomous creatures greatly reduced.

First was Barbie, a 6 year old Freshwater crocodile. I discovered that some crocs can live up to 180 years and can grow to over 5 metres long! Barbie had her mouth taped shut, which considering she has multiple layers of teeth, I was quite pleased about. They are instinctive animals, with no social skills and live territorially. They don’t get energy from food; they only need it to grow. With no sun, they are very lethargic and not really interested in eating. Maybe you know this, but I found it interesting. They only mate to reproduce and don’t form relationships with other crocodiles or need to have a social group (loners!) and can go for a long time without eating. They are also ambush hunters, which means, a crocodile will not see you and run after you on a river bank or beach. It is the crocs you can’t see that are the most dangerous, as they will leap some 3 metres out of the water to surprise the mammal they have chosen for dinner.

After Barbie was Shadow, a Lorikeet. This was a big, slightly grumpy bird, more interested in men than women, and proved this by puffing out his feathers each time he was sitting on a man’s arm. Not known for their intelligence, unlike Cockatoos; who can be quite cheeky and therefore unpredictable, Lorikeets are a safe bird to have as a pet. I was fascinated at the way Shadow took a seed from the ranger’s mouth: using his curiously shaped tongue to seize the seed and then his large, frightening beak to break the shell and eat the centre. It wasn’t a show; All of us who held him did the same trick, and seeing that huge hooked beak some towards my face made me a little apprehensive but shadow, delicately took the seed from me with his tongue and ate it.

Next; Captain, the cockatoo. Quite a cheeky bird, who speaks and pecks and performs little tricks, and did not like being put in his cage for the night. The birds are locked up night for their own safety, so night animals can’t harm them and so no one can steal them!

 

The huge wombat was next, called Harry. He was asleep in his log, but we managed to have a peek in as he was waking up from his all day nap. Their closes cousin is the koala, as they have the most similar traits; sleeping aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalll day.

The koalas were just delightful and it was the closest I had ever been to a Koala, so yes, I did pay an extra $14 dollars to hold one and have a photo with Noah, the 2 year old koala. This is the cheapest place to do it in Australia and apparently it’s Queensland law to pay for a photo with a koala. I hope my $14 dollars got the best quality eucalyptus leaves for little Noah. Christina showed us her little baby, very recently born and still in the pouch. Koalas carry their young for a total of 18 months, which I believe is one of the longest periods of time to “mother” their young. This is still not as long as the Spanish, who carry their young until about the age of 30…

Our second to last visit was the lizards and skinks. I held a skink called Sheila, who was one of the ugliest things Mother Nature has produced! They have a tail that looks like a head, appearing double-headed, as their only form of defence. Poor things.

Finally… the snakes. Yes, I held one. Yes I wanted to vomit. No it wasn’t poisonous, nor did it try to bite me, but it was an uncomfortable moment. I still fail to understand why anyone would chose to have this as a pet. Snakes have no feelings and cannot feel comfort and love for a mammal. The only they curl around you ( if they don’t want to squeeze the life out of you) is to get your warmth which is why their favourite place is your neck. Yuk. But at least I can say I have done it.

I was assured that if I am bitten by a venomous snake in the bush (one of my constant fears as the lethal Brown Snake is prominent in this area), I am unlikely to die as long as I can get to a hospital within 4 hours. I have worked out that this is possible, even if an ambulance makes the journey out to the station, I can also “buy” myself two hours by correctly immobilising the area. People in India and Africa die of snake bites fairly regularly because they simply don’t have the medical facilities to deal with it: Australia does. So, stamp your feet whenever you are bush walking and the snakes should slither away. Ok. Noted.

Almost forgot the parakeet feeding! These beautiful birds were just fascinating to watch and feed. Some soggy bread in my hands and a dozen birds swooped down onto me, scratching my arms with their tiny claws and pooing on my head, but making me laugh and smile incredibly. I took nearly a hundred photos of them, in my obsession and awe of them, and a video too, which I hope captures the noise and madness of the moment!

 

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Magnetic Island #1

Magnetic Island

22nd-24th June 2012

Weather: Rain, cloud, sunshine, drizzle, cloud

Temp: 20-25 C

I arrived on a dripping wet Magnetic Island, after a very soggy day in Townsville. I slid off the ferry and onto the bus, paid my $1.70 and plastered a smile on my face determined not to let the weather have a negative effect on my holiday.

I checked into Base Backpackers, the only backpackers directly on the beach in Australia. (This is their claim, so forgive me if I am wrong). I last stayed here on my trip up the east coast in 2004 and being 20, I doubt pissed-up backpackers and excessive noise bothered me in the way it does now, but I chose to ignore those sentiments for the next 36 hours and join in. Everyone in the bar was indeed, drunk. It had been raining all day, and in compensation for this, the bar manager had thoughtfully been putting on drinks specials and extended happy hours since 10am. My free glass of bubbly went down rather well, as did the next few, leading me to continue buying more and so quickly catch up with my new travel friends and join in on the puddle dancing madness of backpacker drinking.

The next day, I was rudely awoken at 7am to loud music blasting out from the bar. I thought my watch must have stopped and that it was later (my $5 watch has been playing that game of stopping recently, causing me to have a few near misses this trip!). Nope, it really was 7am and after plying us all with drinks all night long, the bar staff were up and about and letting everyone know about it. I consoled myself with an egg and bacon role (hangover) and sat watching the sea, in the sunshine wondering how to spend this rare blast of sun, knowing that the rain would soon be back.

Unable to make clear decisions after so many litres of alcohol I thought it was a good idea to go for a hike. I have fallen victim to this before, you may remember a lot of my walks in Slovakia were due to a guilt-ridden hangover that I thought would be eradicated with exercise.

I took the bus, which was fun in itself for $7. It meandered through the villages of Magnetic Island, providing time to gape at people’s front gardens, swimming pools and neighbouring coves to dream of a possible life here on the Island that Captain Cook’s compass got confused about.

I got off the bus and decided to take the Fort walk. Apparently you can see wild koalas, wallabies and snakes. I didn’t meet any of those locals, but I did enjoy the very rewarding views once reaching the sweaty summit. The remains of the forts and battle type things were there and most were possible to explore or climb around. This, I wasn’t too keen on, as I was very aware of what might have been lurking inside. On the Ascent I must have oozed out at least a bottle of bubbles, so on the descent I felt somewhat dizzier and more sober.

At the bottom, I sat I the sun waiting for the bus to take me to the Koala Sanctuary.

townsville

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So, my first impressions of Townsville, apparently a capital city, were that it was full of overweight men and crap restaurants. After that, all I could think about was rain and a bit more rain and some more crap restaurants.

It wasn’t all bad. I had a wonderful night’s sleep in a double room in a squeaky clean hostel, which I would recommend. After a 6 hour journey in the ute from the farm to civilisation, I was looking forward to my week of well deserved adventure. When the rain came in and the clouds dropped making nothing off the coast visible, you can perhaps imagine my disappointment…

I went to the Reef HQ aquarium. It’s recommended in the Lonely Planet and with the help of my student discount and my glasses I had a good look around. I went to the Turtle Hospital and learnt that one of the biggest threats to turtles is that they swallow plastic bags thinking they are jelly fish. Their insides get clogged up, they can’t poo, so they fill up with gas and float to the surface. Poor things.

I also took to time to read all the info and check out all of the images of all of the things in the ocean here that will kill me, or would like to. Very useful information.

After that I had a soggy walk along the esplanade. A 2.2km stretch of beach with information stations about skin cancer and deadly jellyfish. Really all very positive messages. I also tried in vain to find restaurants that the Lonely Planet recommended me, figuring the least I could do in such crap weather was enjoy a decent lunch. That was all in vain though as at least 3 of them had long gone ( my edition was only printed about 8 months ago) and the one i chose was crap.

I can’t say I would rush back to Townsville, and really would urge people to just jump straight on the ferry, heading over to Magnetic Island ( post to come) if the weather is good or up the coast if it’s not!

The “sunshine coast”

What do you do in Townsville when it’s pouring with rain?

You wander around in it. You buy an umbrella ( the cheapest you can find) that breaks and needs to be replaced twice and you walk around feelinf miserable and wondering why these things only happen when you are on a much needed holiday…

Ok, there’s more to it. I did what I do best: made the most of it.

I’m on holiday. Starting in Townsville, then over to Magnetic island, up to Cairns, down to Mackay and over to Clermont.

watch this space…!

bush diaries – life in the bush

Life in the bush – 3 weeks in…

I have been here for almost three weeks, and already it feels like an eternity. Not in a bad way, it’s just that despite some fairly surprising elements to life here in the bush, it was relatively easy to slot in.

I now know to flush to loo before I use it, as the frogs tend to tuck themselves under the rim of the toilet, and slip out when it’s flushed. That saves me fishing them out when I’ve done what I needed to do…

I also now shake my hand towel before drying my hands or face after a lizard dropped out of its folds onto the floor the other day.

My washing machine seems to need to be asked to work about 4 times before it reluctantly shunts into gear and has a go at washing my clothes. It does a fairly good job and I have got over the fact that my clothes can never be worn more than once without washing because a dog has jumped up to say hello, I’ve done the burning or gone for a muddy walk. The burning is done everyday. All food scraps go to the chooks (who since I arrived have doubled their daily egg contribution to 10 and upwards every day!) and everything other than glass and metal is burnt. This bothered me at first, but then I wondered who was going to travel out here to collect rubbish or recycling.

My afternoon walks don’t seem to be accompanied by my two legged bushes anymore, but a group of my four-legged friends instead. The Chocolate Labradors are not working dogs, so always around the in the afternoon, and the pregnant Collie is on maternity leave from mustering duties (more about her later) so they have accompanied my on my afternoon stroll and we’ve become a good team. Maggie, Missy, Milo and Kelly came along with me once they smelled the sandwich in my bag.

Kelly, the pregnant Collie was due to be shot last week for being a lazy dog. Did you gasp? Yes, me too. But farm life is ruthless and animals cost money, so if they’re not pulling their weight, or perhaps in her case, pulling too much, they are done away with. We looked at her and M said “Oh, look at Kelly, that’s a puppy tummy! I’ll tell D not to shoot her.” I hadn’t realised she was due for extermination and helped plead her case. She seems to have taken a shine to me, and likewise I have to her. She visits me at least once a day for cuddles, maybe she notes my own motherhood desires…

My regular meetings with ‘roos are always fun. The other day on a solo walk I met a kangaroo and instead of bouncing away from me he bounced closer. We sat and looked at each other for what seemed like ages. He bounced to the left and right a few times, but didn’t seem scared. We just relaxed in each other’s presence. I kicked myself for not taking my camera but enjoyed taking a good look at this absolutely marvellous creature that I’d waited 7 months to meet and now see daily.

Bush life is not bad. Not bad at all. If fresh air, wildlife and isolation are what you want or need, I can’t think of a better place to be right now.

bush diaries – off to town!

Saturday 9th June

Weather: Sunny

22C

Off to town!

I used to consider myself a country person, and as I grew up in a rural village where you were unable to do much with hopping in the car, that was a fair statement. However, being a country person in England is quite different from being a country person here!

Aside from the obvious about flora and fauna, the sheer distance involved is something I knew about but didn’t really understand. After a day in “town”, I am truly exhausted. The almost two hour trek into the town of Clermont is a bumpy one to say the least. Most of the trip is a single lane dirt road that crosses creeks, rivers and numerous cattle grids. Some of the former are deep puddles, fjords or bridges and most cattle grids are raised due to heavy rains washing the surrounding road away. Then of course there are grooves and dips made my heavy cattle trucks and four-wheel drives. All this makes for a very tiring drive indeed.

The town itself is nothing to write home about, which makes my blog a little bit ironic. There is a smattering of shops with overpriced goods and so little people around, even on a Saturday; it felt like a ghost town.

My first stop was the pharmacy, figuring I would find most of toiletry needs there, but to my dismay they stock plenty of things that nobody wanted. They have a good collection of hair dye and toothpaste, but no face cream and about 2 deodorants to choose from.

After that: the Newsagent’s. This was the most well stocked newsagent I have been to since arriving in Australia. The vast number of magazines was astounding and I learnt that the people of Clermont REALLY like quilting. They have 17 different magazines, and on querying this later; I discovered they have a quilting club which is taken very seriously.

One of the two clothes shops shocked me. The ridiculous prices they were asking for their poor quality clothing was, well, shocking. I don’t know WHO buys these clothes as most of the “residents” of Clermont live a long way out of it, on cattle stations with nowhere to wear such “finery” or they are miners, who live here on short term posts whilst working in the mines.

The supermarket was the next stop. There are two of these, both IGA stores, which my Australian readers will note isn’t the cheapest supermarket in the world. They only have fresh deliveries, or even deliveries, twice a week which meant that the shelves were fairly barren. This was also thanks to the Queen’s Birthday on Monday being a holiday, so people IN HORROR of the supermarket being closed on Monday were shopping for an eternity.

I must remember to take some photos of the busy high street, bustling supermarket and bubbling energy that buzzes around the town of Clermont. I am of course being ironic, as those adjectives are not what I would use to describe Clermont. Not what I would use at all. And, funnily enough, I am told that Clermont is NOT a remote town. It is fairly well connected in comparison to other outback areas.

 

 

 

bush diaries – and then came the rain…

Bush Diaries: and then came the rain…

So, the fun thing about this far is that if it rains, you can’t leave it.

Living 135km away from a town, on a dirt track makes it a little difficult to find escapism, although living here could be considered the perfect escape. I can hear nothing other than a braying cow or the squawk of one of my two students.

So today I woke up at 6.30 as usual. The plan was to go to Clermont for a football match. Little boy plays every Saturday in “neighbouring” towns and it seems a good way to get off the far for a bit, but this weekend, not possible. It has rained and rained and rained. Ordinarily ( and yes, because I am British) I wouldn’t mind, but when you have very limited weatherproof clothing because you naively believed it to a sunny and bright, and just going to the toilet means you have to wade through a puddle and when everything on the farm turns orange you tend to get a little pissed off!!!

So Saturday was a school day and tomorrow will be too, as we can do absolutely NOTHING outside when the heavens are as open as they have been today.

bush diaries – killers and carcasses

Bush Diaries: killers and carcasses

Friday 1st June

Weather: drizzle

temp. 18

Today we killed a cow. I didn’t kill it, of course, but now I am considered part of farm life I am told what is going on and invited to be part of it should I desire.

A cow was going to be shot in the paddock today and skinned and cut up for family consumption. Did I want to watch? No thank you. The little girl (E) did, as this is something that happens about once every 4 months or so, so she had the afternoon off classes to watch the event. Lovely.

I went into the house at about 4pm and found a trail of blood going from the front door through to the kitchen. I looked at the floor, looked at the dad (D), then looked at the trail again.                                                                 

“Trouble is,” he says: “ this house isn’t designed very well, so the beast has to be carried through it all to get in there”. By beast, he means the cow that was killed today. “No one has been injured, don’t worry” he adds, realising why I was puzzled about the trail of blood. “Spose I’d better mop that up,” he adds as an afterthought.

We go for a quick walk before dinner, just up the track to give the 9 DOGS a run! During our little jaunt I learn and am tested on all the dogs names. In case you are interested: Milo, Missy, Maggie, Middy, Henin, Shake, Kelly, Kaneesha and Yana. Milo is bounding along with a large item that looks like a piece of severed rope in his mouth. What is it? The cow’s throat. Enough said!

Later, in the kitchen again for dinner, I spy a few pieces of meat that the mop missed, still sitting on the kitchen floor. “Take a look in the cold room Grace” says the mum (K) “Nah, don’t out her off her dinner” says dad (D). Well, I don’t want to see it, but should have a look in case I forget and go to put something away in there after dinner.

I open the cold room door and am greeted with a scene that would fit well in a horror movie. In my face are four piece of carcass hanging from meat hooks. The floor is covered in newspaper decorated with pools of blood. And then I am told it has to hang there until Monday when it’ll get butchered. Won’t be helping myself to anything cold til Monday then.

 

bush diaries: day one

Bush Diary

Day 1

Emerald Airport: smaller than Bournemouth used to be. It had one check-in gate, one departure gate, one luggage belt and weirdly about 6 flights a day to and from Brisbane.

The “short drive” to Trelawney was over 3 hours and half of it was along a dirt track. We passed a few wallabies, kangaroo rats, echidnas and a great deal of cattle. “You don’t get car sick do you?” I was asked. “No,” I replied relieved, as this would be a horrendous journey if that were the case: 1 3/4 hrs drive mostly along a dirt track to the nearest town. I then got a nose bleed, which I tried to make out was no big deal, but wondered if I had burst a blood vessels on the rough terrain.

I arrived at the farm and was shown to my “room”. A shipping container. I thought she was joking when she told me on the way, but she wasn’t. I live in a metal box that has one window. It also has a kitchenette, fridge-freezer, table and chairs, tv and very uncomfortable bed. My “bathroom” is another outbuilding and I have camped in places that have more inviting washing facilities.

The toilet, I was warned, could be shared with a few frogs, as they seemed to like it, and sure enough the following day I peed on one! I will now always check the toilet bowl, because scooping a very pissed off frog out of the bog after I had flushed was not a fun way to start the day!

Day one on the farm and in the classroom I am assured was not a normal one. At about 9am a chopper arrived carrying passengers who had come to have detailed talks about the building of a railway that will cut through the farm land to assist the mining communities around here.

After “school”, I was taken for a bush walk by the two children. We did about a two hour round trip across the land, sadly camera-less rain was descending on departure. My two bare-footed “bushies” tramped along without a care in the world for Brown snakes or cow shit and found it funny when I repeatedly asked them if it was SAFE to step off the path. The first kangaroo I saw made me squeal with joy and the following regular appearances of wallabies where just as fun to spot. Camera will be taken next time without doubt.

Important facts learnt so far:

  • I am 135km west, along a dirt track from the nearest town, which has an occupancy of about 800 people
  • If it rains, we simply cannot go there, as the track is too dangerous
  • There is such a creature as a Wallaroo: a cross between and roo and wallaby
  • There are about 7000 cattle here, of about 4 breeds
  • This is a cattle station, not a farm!
  • There are 9 dogs, 3 cats and about 20 horses in residence
  • It’s not very hot. At all.
  • Brown Snakes and Red Back Spiders live here. Possibly the most deadly of both animal
  • Nearest coast is about 600km
  • Osicones are the knobs on top of a giraffes head

Dinner tonight was a prime cut of home-grown beef, which I know I would have paid a fortune for in Melbourne. This is going to be a fulfilling time in more ways than one!