Friday, December 12, 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Vale Puck

Puck's last frisbeeOne of Munson’s comrades from Sydney Park was diagnosed with kidney failure this week. Will brought him up to Sydney for the afternoon to say goodbye to everyone. The last time we saw them was four months ago on Sharkey’s Beach, and there was no suggestion of a problem.

I’ve thrown frisbees for Puck hundreds of times over the last seven or eight years, and will never forget his stubborn reluctance to drop the frisbee once he’d retrieved it, despite his insistence that I be available to throw it again.

For several years he wore a harness, and I worked out that if I lifted him about a metre off the ground, his grip on the frisbee would loosen enough to extract it from his grip.

He was a good mate to both Bondi and Munson and I’ll miss him.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Storm Boy

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Munson has been aching for a swim after being spoiled with multiple daily dips in lake, ocean and watering hole during our recent road trip.

A storm has been building on the western edge of the city so I figured that Silver Beach on Botany Bay would give me a good vantage point while indulging Munson. That indulgence allowed me the opportunity to catch a lightning stroke behind him as he lolled unperturbed on one of the ramps, more interested in the pelicans paddling around the shores. 


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It was all pretty quiet where we were, the action was all at least ten kilometres away – but look at those fabulous clouds!
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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chiengora vs alpaca

I had a quick errand up into the Blue Mountains this morning to buy a used mandola. My lovely old mandolin is a little bit small for my hands, and I thought that a bigger instrument might be easier to learn on.

We stopped briefly in Leura to pick up some salted licorice at the sweet store. for Gustav. Munson was more taken by the stuffed alpaca across the road.


Friday, October 31, 2014

Roadtrip 10: Full circle

The Husky next doorOur overnight stay in Forster was at a small pet-welcoming motel which had a shaded area outside the door where Munson could dry off after a swim. His companion was a demure reddish husky staying next door.  After their initial nose-kissing meeting all she wanted to do was watch Munson from a distance.

Today was our last day on the road. There was no rush, but I didn’t want to hit Friday peak hour traffic in Sydney. Rather than head back to the highway I plotted a lazy scenic route along The Lakes Way via Smiths Lake and Myall Lake. However as it turned out the route was mostly bland suburban sprawl with even the narrow spit between Wallis Lake and the ocean not affording more than an occasional glimpse of water.

Some eleven years ago when I had returned to Sydney after my time in Seattle, I’d thought about settling somewhere up the coast where Bondi and his brother Dougal might have quick access to beaches or lakes. A friend suggested Smiths Lake might be a cosmopolitan oasis. I drove us through there in search of coffee, and in particular for a boatshed cafe I’d seen advertised. Once we’d track that down the results were mixed: the location was very pretty but the coffee was undrinkable.
Smiths Lake
From there we travelled on to Newcastle, an hour or so spent there to give Gustav an idea of what it was like and then onto the freeway and home by mid-afternoon. I’m not sure why we didn’t take any photos after Smith Lake: I guess we were just running tired and focused on getting back home.
map - Forster to Sydney via Newcastle 327km
So there we are at the end of my first long road-trip in Australia in over a decade, and Gustav and Munson’s first exposure to a small part of Australia’s great outdoors. It was fun for me to recapture some childhood memories, but honestly I would be hard-pressed to repeat such an exercise without a specific purpose. Australia is too big and sparsely populated to generate the sort of interest you get in even a short spin on European roads. I’m sure it would be the same driving around middle-America or regional Canada. As I pointed out at the beginning of the trip, this state alone  is larger than France. Our home in the Gers, set in Western Europe’s most sparsely populated region is positively buzzing compared to most of NSW. It’s really hard to make regional tourism work here – especially away from the coast – when the distances are so great, and the differences so small. It is also much harder to travel with a dog here – apart from the accommodation issues; the risks from snakes, ticks and bullrouts; the absence of public transport options – many of Australia’s great natural sights are inside National Parks, and as such closed off to dogs. 

I suspect most of our future travel further afield in Australia will be sans Munson, for all the reasons above. I’m lucky enough to have seen a good deal of this country: every state and regional areas in all but Western Australia. It’s also important that if travelling with a dog, that it is satisfying for them as well. My years travelling in Europe with each of Bondi and Munson were shaped around making it fulfilling for all.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

ROADTRIP 9: Pelicans and Painted Koalas – on to Forster

South West RocksSouth West Rocks (3)After a brief coffee-stop at Nambucca Heads, our first major stop was off the highway at the curiously-named South West Rocks, a township at the mouth of the Macleay River on Trial Bay with Shark Island sitting across the estuary.  Despite the fearsome combination of rocks, sharks and trials in the names, the setting is rather beautiful, with long stretches of white sandy beaches.. The town itself was dry and treeless, its lack of beauty capped by an unglamorous caravan park taking the plum position on a headland park.
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The southern side of the headland provided a place for Munson to swim with some other dogs. A cluster of rocks formed a loose semicircle that broke the surf so that dog and humans could paddle around in some depth.

1-map - Urunga to Forster 229kmI have vague memories of visiting the historic Trial Bay Gaol as a child but little detail remains.  The gaol was built to house prisoners so a breakwater could be built to house shipping traffic between Sydney and Brisbane, this being approximately the half-way point.

This area didn’t re-enter my consciousness until about fifteen years later, when I was in a light plane returning to Sydney from a trip up the coast. Somewhere around South West Rocks, a  storm rose and the little six-seater Piper Cherokee was thrown around between dark clouds and lightning strikes. For more than a few minutes, I thought this stretch of coast might be my last view of anything. My friend Margie – once a rural flight hostess - was sitting next to the pilot, knitting away through all of the turbulence. My thoughts were a combination of “she’s relaxed so it must be all right” and “I hope she doesn’t put a knitting needle through the pilot’s head!” 

The storm chased us on to Sydney and we staggered out of the plane at Bankstown Airport. I commended Margie on her composure, at which she raised her knitting, distorted with erratic holes and said “I was bloody terrified”.
We lunched in Port Macquarie and wandered around the shore of the Hastings River, where Munson sniffed out a large colony of painted koala statues. Once a penal colony, Port Macquarie is now better known as a popular retirement destination, making it a quite expensive place to live.
Painted Koalas of Port Macquarie (5) Painted Koalas of Port Macquarie (1)Painted Koalas of Port Macquarie (2)Painted Koalas of Port Macquarie (4)  Painted Koalas of Port Macquarie (3)
Port Macquarie pelicans  Port Macquarie - Munson
There wasn’t much further to go before reaching Forster (pronounced Foster) which is at the top end of the NSW Central Coast. It’s an accessible beach location for Sydney weekend getaways with many large coastal lakes for non-surfing water sports.

Munson had already swum today and Gustav was quite jealous of this, so we spent an idle hour on one of the long ocean beaches … Munson perhaps less idle than us.
1-DSCF0813 2-DSCF0824Gustav and Mike in surfMunson strikes a poseHappy Gustav  5-DSCF0829
Our dinner options were rather limited, but we were a short walk away from the pelicans and sunset across Wallis Lake, not a bad scene for our last night away.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ROADTRIP 8: Afternoon at Hungry Head

When I was nine years old, I nearly drowned in a rip at Hungry Head beach. Suddenly swept out far beyond the clutch of families swimming by the shore, the sandy floor no longer within reach of my toes. A surf lifesaver spotted me and brought me back to safety, a little panicked but no worse for the experience.

If my family had stayed in Urunga I would have joined the Nippers and Mermaids, the junior surf lifesaving program and progressed from there. My father, grandfather and great-grandmother all had bronze medallion life-saving medals and there can’t be many fourth-generation holders of such.

The beach experience was not to continue – we left Urunga a few months later - and while I completed all the requirements for the bronze medallion at high school in the Temora town  swimming pool, half the class – the half without teachers’ own children in it – were not formally examined as so never had the opportunity to get the medal.

This afternoon was my first return to this beach since I was that nine year old. There were maybe two or three other people around while we waded through the lagoon behind the beach or kicked along the shore.
Afterward we had a little wander around the few streets of Urunga’s small collection of shops. The bank my father had opened was gone, as was the tiny fibro house we lived in for our ten month stay. The library where I discovered the Moomin books had moved up the street, so the only other building with significance to me that still stood was the primary school. It was largely as I remembered it, but the tall trees along the bottom end of the school where I used to exit from were all gone. During spring magpies would nest in these trees, and fiercely defend their young by attacking anyone walking through that school gate. Many of us would crawl commando-style for the last twenty yards with our hard school cases over our heads.

I really enjoyed my brief time at that school. It was small enough for teachers to have split classes of adjacent years in one room, so you picked up a bit from the older kids. It was the last place where we used real ink in desktop ink wells to write our lessons.  The best memory I have of the magpie-guarded gate was my father waiting for me at the end of my first school year there. I had come equal top of the class, and he had a big present for me, a deluxe Readers Digest volume The World Around Us which I kept I think until I left Seattle thirty years later.

Leaving Urunga was perhaps more poignant than any other leaving I had as a child. It was the third school I’d left in three years, and it underlined a lack of permanence in my life. As soon as you started making good friends, off we’d go. I didn’t make strong friendships again until I was at university. Undoubtedly these experiences made it easy for me to go off travelling for such long periods in my recent life.
Our dinner plan was to go to a restaurant/cafe down by the bridge seen here, but it turned out to be closed, for the night or permanently I couldn’t tell. We didn’t feel like driving to Bellingen again so settled for a pub dinner, unfortunately rather lacklustre.

ROADTRIP 8: Morning in the Promised Land

2-2014-10-29 ROADTRIP 8 UrungaWe began our leisurely Urunga day with a short drive back to a beach suburb of Coffs Harbour for coffee and breakfast. We wandered down to the beach (Park Beach South), which turned out to be dog-friendly, so Munson had what was to be the first of many swims today.

My plan for the morning was to do a country drive through an area just north of Bellingen. The 30km Promised Land loop advertised a number of water holes for swimming, and we’d be able to squeeze it all in before lunch. There’s a good tourist brochure listing these drives (downloadable here), from which the map below is available.
1-Promised Land Loop road map
The first interesting point along the way (for me at least) is the small Glennifer Church which inspired the book Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey, later filmed with Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett. The literary version is made entirely from glass and there is no direct comparison that can be made with the wooden chapel here.
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Immediately after that we crossed a bridge over the Never Never River and pulled into a parking area by this wonderful swimming hole.Gustav of the Never-Never
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Munson had a great time cruising through the shaded waters and foraging around the banks.
2-DSCF0684 (2)3-DSCF0671 (2)As beautiful as this sheltered pool was, as cool and as its waters were, there was still  a surprise lurking below…
We thought this small fish ~20cm long blending among the rocks and leaf litter near one of the deepest points might have been a catfish.  Gustav spotted it first, even at a depth of nearly two metres, the view to the bottom was crystal clear. It never moved while we inspected it from a distance, intent on preserving its resemblance to the detritus amongst the tree roots lining the waterhole.

A friend later identified it as a bullrout aka “the freshwater stonefish”!! I can’t believe that after decades of avoiding spiders, snakes, crocodiles, sharks, jellyfish, octopuses and a myriad other hostile Australian fauna, that I nearly fell victim this charmer.

The bullrouts venomous spines cause such excruciating pain that grown men have been known to bang their heads against concrete to deal with it. Apparently morphine is ineffective in treating bullrout venom, with either lignocaine or hot water being more useful. Well known to aboriginal populations, the bullrout frequents freshwater streams from mid NSW up to the top of Queensland.

Fortunately I generally wear sandals or kayaking boots in these circumstances, but I still get a chill thinking about how easy it would have been to connect with one of those spines.
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We spent about another house finishing the circuit of the Promised Land. There were several more swimming holes but we felt we’d had enough from the first Never Never River crossing. If I’d known about bullrouts then I would have been quite reluctant to enter deep fresh water again in this area.