March 30, 2012

Surf Life Saving water babies

Surf Life Saving clubs and communities across Australia are mourning the loss yesterday of a 14-year-old boy who drowned while competing in the annual Championships on the Gold Coast. One of his fellow competitors saw Matthew Barclay was in trouble, signalled to a rescue jetski, dived off his board and grabbed Matthew, who was then torn from his grasp by a set of waves. The bewildering fact is that, despite thousands of life savers in the vicinity, Matthew's body was not found until the following morning. Such is the unpredictable and awesome power of the sea.

With the grief came immediate questions. It is only two years since a 19-year-old from Sydney, Saxon Bird, died in similar circumstances at the same beach in the same Championships; and it was the third death since 1996, when a 15-year-old drowned. Should Karrawa Beach be used again for this event? Should inflatable vests and protective headgear be compulsory? Are young surf life savers pushed too hard?

The Surf Life Saving movement is more than a hundred years old*. It has more than 150,000 members and more than 40,000 of them patrol Australia's beaches. Queensland alone has 35,000 kilometres of coastline and more than 700 beaches that are accessible. There are 59 Surf Life Saving clubs across the state and 84 patrolled beaches. We even have a Surf Life Savers Club serving the man-made Streets Beach Lagoon at South Bank in the middle of Brisbane. 

All surf life savers are volunteers. I was shocked shortly after I arrived in Australia when stopped by fundraisers in Bulimba's high street, to learn that their good works are wholly dependent on donations. I have supported them ever since. Who knows when my son might need them as he surfs off the Great Ocean Road in Victoria?

Surf Life Savers are a key element of the iconic Australian beach lifestyle. Their presence on a beach is mightily reassuring if you're in the water, and they personify the fit, athletic, community-minded character that many Aussies aspire to. Children can get involved by joining Junior Activities, known as Nippers, as young as five. Learning how to stay safe on the beach and in the ocean can't start soon enough. I have seen extremely focused mothers in the pool loudly praising their toddlers' first progress towards swimming, and babies in floating contraptions being 'trained' how to kick their legs. I have seen children in the pool after school every day being urged to compete with their siblings, swimming underwater or diving in. I imagine this boosts their confidence in the water to levels I can hardly imagine, being a wuss from a land where it's too cold to go into the water most of the year. Children here appear eager and quite fearless as they frolic in the waves.

As well as beach safety, lifesaving and community educational aspects of SLSA (Surf Life Saving Australia), there are surf sports. Lots of different events take place in what are known as carnivals, in which life savers compete to show off their skills. Endurance championships include ocean swimming, board paddling, surf skiing, beach running and a surfboat marathon. Other events include inflatable rescue boats (IRB) racing, ironperson races and surf and pool rescue.

It is this aspect of SLS activities that is now under scrutiny. Most parents I heard interviewed on the radio yesterday spoke of the enormous benefits their families gain from involvement in the SLS community: not one questioned whether some Little Lifesavers are perhaps too fearless. One or two dissenting voices did, however, question the wisdom of youngsters competing in 'challenging conditions'. Kurrawa is a very open beach, exposed to big waves, and has two sand bars that produce heavy wave-breaking. Impact injuries are much more likely when paddles and boards are being tossed around in big surf. 

One father spoke of the pressure put on his daughter to take part when conditions made her instinctively hesitant and fearful. Australians' drive to be successful in sport comes from deep within their psyche. As a nation, they are very good at many sports, but the downside is a tendency to overconfidence and a disappointment when they lose that can appear unsporting. 

Kids get out and active and play sport as if their lives depended upon it, whether it's fishing or footie. But swimming is perhaps the most fundamental skill required: if you're not strong in the water then you may as well walk out into the bush.  

* Bondi Surf Bathers' Life Saving Club was formed in 1907
This post was updated on 31 March 2012   


March 28, 2012

Newman's slash and burn

Today I was all set to continue writing about beautiful places in Tasmania.

But I cannot ignore the fact that the rot has already set in in the State Premier's office. Campbell Newman hasn't even been endorsed by the LNP yet – he wasn't a member of Parliament when he announced he was leader months back – and he's off, axing green energy programmes here, appointing his conservative cronies to administrative office there.

(I need to lie down: once again, I am quoting from The Australian.) So, yesterday ol' Can-do pulled the plug on a $75 million state funding pledge for the Solar Dawn solar thermal project near Chinchilla (west of Brisbane), as well as seven other carbon reduction programmes under the auspices of the Office of Climate Change, set up in 2007. Newman says these are now redundant following the carbon tax coming into law.
'We now have a federal government that is imposing a great big carbon tax on us and the rest of the country that is meant to solve all these (environmental) problems.'
Surely this simplistic, childish, tit-for-tat justification insults Queensland's voters?

Also gone are the Queensland Climate Change Fund; the Renewable Energy Fund (which supports the Geothermal Centre of Excellence); the Smart Energy Savings Program, which encourages energy efficiency; the Waste Avoidance and Resource Efficiency Fund; the Local Government Sustainable Future Fund; and the Solar Initiatives Package.

Obviously the LNP were too busy with the state election to catch the publication of State of the Climate – 2012, published by CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on 13 March. Many Australians dismiss this country's eminent scientists, especially climatologists, as much as they do the Greens when it comes to facing up to climate change. But just how long can they continue to ignore the warnings?

The paper reports that the trend to long-term warming has continued: each decade has been warmer than the preceding one since the 1950s. Australia's warming is consistent with global warming trends, even though La Niña events in 2010 and 2011 made those years the coolest since 2001 (probably the result of greater cloud cover). 2011 was the warmest year during a La Niña event on record, however. Sea-surface temperatures around Australia have increased faster than the global average. After a slight decline during the GFC in 2008-09, global fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions increased by 5.9 per cent 2009-10.

You can read the full report at
Climate/Understanding/State-of-the-Climate-2012.aspx. It is two years since the CSIRO produced its first paper on this topic. Given that I heard no one discussing climate change during Queensland's state election last weekend, and Campbell Newman has just binned all these renewable energy plans, I wonder if anyone's read either of them.

post script The following day, Campbell Newman vetoed two coal projects, protecting areas of strategic cropping land. New Hope had planned to double coal production at Acland in the Darling Downs, where one man has held out and refused to sell up to the mining company (go see the movie Bimblebox for more information). And a coal liquefaction project in the Felton Valley southwest of Toowoomba will be opposed by the new Premier. This is indeed good news, reported by The Australian and Perhaps environmentalist Dew Hutton was correct when he predicted Newman would look after the LNP's rural voters.

This post was last updated on 31 March 2012

Bat-manic days

There is a magnificent Weeping Fig just outside the apartment, on the river side. It's tall and spreading and so leafy it's almost impenetrable visually. I know it's stood here since before 1946 – and I suspect long before that, but I'm waiting for more information from Brisbane City Council.

Since we've lived here, however, we've been a tad disappointed by the relative lack of bird life in the tree. I suppose we were hoping for our own natural aviary on the doorstep. There are plenty of Noisy Miners and especially-noisy Ravens and sometimes Currawongs, Butcherbirds and Lorikeets. At dusk bats cross the river and swoop all around the north shore. Some of them land in our Fig; others move on to more highly favoured spots. They're quite large and we often hear wings beating, particularly if they fly between the Fig and the balcony.

This last month, however, has been a very different story. We got back from Tasmania to find the Fig covered with small red fruit. And suddenly there was never-ending action, day and night. There were many more bats in evidence: our Fig had become a major feeding tree. They arrived earlier than usual – some by 5 o'clock, when it was still quite light – to get stuck into the feeding frenzy. As more and more arrived, there was an increasing chance of them choosing places already bagged. The ensuing screeching and squabbling was an extraordinary noise. I was reminded of a small plastic squeaking toy my toddler son used to take everywhere with him. Squeaky Squirrel we called it. Cross bats sound just like Squeaky Squirrel did. The bats' breeding season is March and April, however, so maybe not all the noise was the result of food fights.
It was hours before the mayhem died down. And even when we thought all was quiet, there'd be a sudden flurry of violent leaf disturbance and shrieking. My friend confirmed one day when he was awake earlier than usual that the bats headed back across the river before daybreak, at about 5am. By the time I awoke there were different visitors already harvesting the new day's fruit crop – Figbirds, unsurprisingly. In Australia, you don't get a name like that without good reason.

Figbirds clamber about in tree tops, a bit like parrots my bird book opines. They also eat insects and nectar. The juveniles and females have impressive streaked 'underparts', while the males have a striking red eye surround.

Now, all the fruit has been eaten and tree life returns to normal. The fig-fruit feeding frenzy is over, for another year I guess.

But back to bats. Those in our Fig are flying foxes, either Grey-headed or Black: both reside in Brisbane. Bats live in colonies in 'camps'. There is a camp just a little way upstream from us, in Norman Creek. Both varieties hang there. If you want to learn about flying foxes in Brisbane, study at
What isn't in here isn't worth knowing, and you can easily dip in for specific bits of information.

My friend and I like bats. When we first arrived in this city, we enjoyed watching them glide across the river each evening and settle in Centenary Park in Fortitude Valley in front of the apartment block we lived in temporarily.

They get a very bad press in Australia, however. Some people just don't like bats, finding them a bit creepy and believing them to be harbingers of doom and all sorts. Very large colonies in urban areas and parks can wreak havoc, badly affecting trees and being noisy and smelly into the bargain. They are also known to carry serious disease, although the risk is often greatly exaggerated. I don't usually recommend reading The Australian, but this piece from last October on 'the pariah of Australian wildlife' is a fascinating account of the history and present-day outpourings of bat-antipathy in this nation.

March 25, 2012

Queensland state election: the morning after the night before

So, the people of Queensland have spoken. In yesterday's state election they kicked the Labor Party from here to beyond the Pointy Bit of the state's far north, where, incidentally, in the electoral district of Cook, there was only four per cent between the triumphant LNP and Labor, with Katter's Australia Party splitting the vote nicely and taking nearly 22 per cent.

In her concession speech, outgoing Premier Anna Bligh spoke of the cycles of politics; and she must indeed hope that they were at least partly responsible for the devastating rejection of Labor yesterday. The same thing happened in the UK's 2010 election. After 13 years of Labour government, the electorate was feeling the massive pinch of serious recession and blamed the incumbent despite the global roots of their hardship. 'It's time for a change' could be heard up and down the land far more often than serious political debate or a demand for justice for the rapacious bankers who'd got everybody into the mess. When people feel badly off, straight out of the window go concerns about wider issues, such as habitat loss and degradation, and planning for the future beyond the duration of an electoral term, as in dealing with the changing climate. They stick their heads in the sand while holding out their hands for relief in the form of lower utility prices or a few cents off at the bowser (petrol pump).

During talkback radio broadcasts from the streets of Brisbane this last week, I heard the same big issue come up over and over: the cost of living. I heard not a single mention of the CSG (coal seam gas) controversy. There are no drilling rigs in Brisbane, of course: although they are right on its doorstep – within 100 metres of the Logan River, which supplies water to the city. If Labor's and Katter's supporters had got together with the Queensland Greens in the electoral district of Beaudesert, where the river flows and there is much concern about CSG, there would not be a victorious LNP member of the State Parliament this morning. But that could never happen: the Greens aren't liked very much in Queensland – they threaten mining jobs, apparently – and Katter is either an oddball or a lunatic, depending where you stand on the spectrum.

Neither did I hear during this election campaign a word about climate change – from candidates or voters – or environmental protection. Labor over the last few years have introduced new laws to protect the Great Barrier Reef, wild river areas and Moreton Bay green zones. They claim that Premier-elect Campbell Newman intends to scrap this legislation. I called Mr Newman's office on Friday to ask if this were true. They took my number but never called back. The LNP receive large donations from Clive Palmer, head of Waratah Coal, so I'm not hopeful for a proactive role by Newman in the preservation of Bimblebox Nature Refuge, at risk from Palmer's China First mega mine project.

The aspect of this election result that should concern everyone more than anything, however, is the fact that Queensland has been reduced, in effect, to a one-party state. Labor is likely to end up with seven seats; the LNP will have ten times this number; the Katter Party will have two; and 'others' two (no Greens). Surely even the most jubilant of LNP supporters can't think this is a good thing? What will be the point of Parliamentary debate? The minority parties – for that is what the ALP has become – will never be able to influence the formulation of legislation. Democratic process never works as well after landslide victories.

Random Queenslanders asked for their thoughts by the ABC this morning seemed as stunned as Kerry O'Brien last night as he presented the results. Everyone had expected a big LNP win, but not on this scale. Will Queenslanders appreciate the likely consequences before three years are up?

March 23, 2012

Darn crazy Aussie rule of the week

If you happen to be reading this somewhere else in the world but you're about to come and live in Australia, or you've just arrived here, pause when it comes to buying a car. If anyone mentions a novated lease – get your unbeatable tax savings here! – turn and run like the clappers. Do not touch it. Anything but. At the top of a long list of faults is the fact that it will encourage you to drive unnecessary kilometres, use more fuel – increase your carbon footprint here! – and worry to death about having to pay back tax because you haven't reached your kilometre target. (If you are currently losing sleep over the latter, I am reliably informed you can drive from Brisbane to Adelaide and back in only six days.)

Fortunately we have just extricated ourselves from this iniquitous system – but not without paying a penalty. We have just bought a new car and freed ourselves from the tyranny of novated leasing.

If you come here to live from the UK, as a temporary resident on a 457 visa, you will be able to drive on your UK licence. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Some people say – and not even all Queensland police know the rules – that you can only drive on it for three months, but that is if you are becoming a permanent resident. (I should perhaps add that I am talking about Queensland. There is no national driving licence here: every state has its own licencing system. If you move state, you'll need a new licence.)

There is nothing to stop you getting a Queensland driving licence if you want one – as long as you reside in the state and can prove it. But it costs – $50 a year. It will, however, be useful for ID purposes. To breathe air in this country you have to be able to verify who you are. They use a points system: a passport gets you loadsa points; an Australian firearm licence gets you quite a lot; an Australian Defence Force or police photo ID card, and an Australian photo driver licence are all good; a Medicare card not bad. We always seem to have been scrabbling around a bit for points, especially when we first arrived and didn't have any utility bills with our address on.

Before we picked up the new car, and discovered that roadside recovery was included in the deal, we researched the possibilities. I started with RACQ, having been with the RAC in the UK for miles and miles, although there is no connection between the two organisations. We chose which of four cover options we wanted (level 3, of 4) and off I trotted to the RACQ office in the CBD. A nice lady started to fill in my details on her computer. I had with me my passport, several bits of paper to show that I live where I live, credit and other cards, and my UK licence.

Then she asked for my Queensland driving licence. We went through the usual rigmarole. I don't need one; my UK licence is perfectly legal, etc etc. Ah yes, that's as may be, but for the cover option I've chosen, I need a Queensland licence. I don't need it for the most basic level of cover, or the most expensive, but I need it for either of the middle two. Why? I asked.

I am long used to asking for a reason when faced with an incomprehensible rule blocking my progress in Australia. I have asked Why? in the post office and ANZ bank and mobile phone shops and at the garage and the airport and the doctor's surgery. Very rarely can people answer the question. They've never thought about it before, or so it would appear. They just know it's a rule, and that's that. 'Rules are rules', said the irritating Jetstar flight attendant when he refused the free drink I'd been promised. Some of them look a bit startled, as if they're not at all used to Why? Others look downright defensive, however politely I ask.

No one at RACQ could explain why I needed a Queensland driving licence for two levels of cover but not the others. I was baffled. And so were the two (by this time) nice ladies helping me. They tried their best to get around the problem. Could I give the membership as a gift to my friend? No, said RACQ HQ. Could I get membership on the basis of an international licence? No, said RACQ HQ. The nice ladies really tried and were very sorry they couldn't help me. In the end, HQ cobbled together some excuse about being advised to have these rules by their business management corporate planning executive (or somesuch).

Finally, the nice ladies suggested that a Queensland driving licence might not be such a bad idea, and that the Department of Transport and Main Roads was only 50 metres down the road. I have been thinking about it for some time, and was on the point of making up my mind to bite the bullet and get on with it when I walked in and saw this.
I looked at all the pretty pastel colours of the forms. And then I walked out and headed for the CityCat.

March 21, 2012


Last week was an environmentally focused week.

First, I had a long conversation with a lady campaigning to Keep the Scenic Rim Scenic. I rang her for information about the threat to farming and tourism in the Kerry and neighbouring valleys southwest of Brisbane from coal-seam gas (CSG) exploitation and the expansion of a gravel quarry. We'd seen protest signs as we searched for the Lost World Valley. She told me many things I didn't know, some of them outrageous. One thing led to another.

She told me that the farmers were coming to town on Monday. Firstly, to visit prospective LNP member of Queensland State Parliament (and State Premier, he hopes), Campbell Newman, to throw down their wide-brimmed bush hats in front of his office (he had declined to meet them) in a traditional challenge – to protect Queensland's prime farmland from all-powerful resource developers. The farmers would then attend a Food Security Forum in Brisbane Convention Centre, hosted by Alan Jones, an outspoken talkback radio broadcaster in Sydney and right-wing political activist (and Queenslander, born on the Darling Downs). Finally, they would march to current Premier Anna Bligh's office in George Street to throw down their hats once again (the Labor Party had also declined to attend the Forum).

I went along to the Convention Centre. Country singer and Australian of the Year (2008) Lee Kernaghan kicked off the proceedings, rousing the audience with a suitably foot-tapping number. Alan Jones lectern-thumped about the need to keep miners off Queensland's 4.1 per cent prime agricultural (cropping and grazing) land. He explained that 80 per cent of Queensland (and 90 per cent of the Darling Downs, 'Australia's food bowl') is subject to exploration permits.
Then he introduced four women whose families' lives have been blighted by nearby opencast mines or whose farms are being undermined by CSG exploration and exploitation. Their stories were moving and horrific. One told of 24-hour light and noise from a nearby mine: I immediately thought how she must never be able to fully appreciate the wonderful night skies out west. One described her four-year-old's constant headache, and another her older boy's serious nose bleeds. Another reported her family's battle to prevent a mining company's rail line crossing their property.
A number of things disconcerted the Forum:
• apparently CSG mining companies pay nothing for the vast amounts of water they use (and maybe contaminate) in their extraction methods;
• the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) is under no obligation to regularly monitor dust or noise levels, for example, unless specific complaints have been lodged;
• Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) submitted by mining companies are compiled by ecologists in the employ of those companies and not by independent bodies;
• farmers are not always able to conduct baseline water testing to determine whether or not underground aquifers have been contaminated because mining companies still won't release complete details of the chemicals used in the fracking* process;
• those farmers who sell their land to the mining companies have to sign confidentiality agreements.
The people who attended the Forum were united not by their support for a particular political party in next Saturday's state election: in fact, there seemed to be equal condemnation of both major parties for their CSG policies and cosy compliance with the mining sector. No, what these people shared was a feeling of frustration, helplessness and fear for their 'living local economy' in the future. 

Under new land access laws (2010) and the Mineral Resources Act of 1989, there are notification, consultation and compensation requirements of mining companies in relation to land access for resource activities. 'The Crown' (the state) owns all minerals in the land, and state governments determine the legal regimes for mineral exploitation and production. They grant leases or licences to enter on to land and take minerals. I quote from the Guide to Queensland's new land access laws issued by the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.
If a resource authority holder has met all its legal obligations it is an offence for anyone, without a reasonable excuse, to obstruct a resource authority holder, its staff or agents from:
• entering or crossing land to carry out authorised activities           • carrying out authorised activities.
We walked across the river to the Queensland Government offices. We'd been asked to take care walking on the pavements, but I think someone must have decided there were too many of us, so grumpy-looking police on motorbikes had to stop the traffic along our route. Once we were there, there was more rousing stuff from Alan Jones and more hurling down of hats. Drew Hutton**, president of the Lock the Gate Alliance, lifelong social activist and former Queensland Greens candidate, addressed the media who were still with us.
The following evening I attended the Queensland premiere of Bimblebox at the Tribal Theatre in Brisbane. The film was made by Michael O'Connell, whose previous efforts include the award-winning Mountain Top Removal, which highlights the devastating methods used by coal mining companies in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. In Bimblebox he turns his attention to the Australian mining industry. And depressing watching it makes, too.

Bimblebox is an 8,000-hectare Nature Refuge in central Queensland west of Rockhampton. A relatively small area, some would say, but nevertheless an important one. It comprises remnant desert upland that epitomises the Australian landscape – semi-arid woodland, with iconic Eucalypts and Spinifex grasses. As of the winter of 2011, it is home to a precious few endangered Black-throated Finches, as well as many and various animal and plant species. Read all about it at

The area was 'secured' in 2000: it was bought by a group of individuals concerned to prevent further rampant clearing of remnant vegetation and thus protect Queensland's biodiversity. In 2003 an agreement was signed with the state government under the National Reserve System (NRS). Bimblebox Nature Refuge received funding from the NRS and was covered by a 'perpetual conservation covenant'. 

Australia ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993 and promised a national strategy for a network of protected areas of biodiversity. The NRS followed three years later. With 70 per cent of Australia's land held under private freehold, leasehold or indigenous titles, there is an increasing trend to involve private landowners in such conservation programmes.

Also increasing is talk – both at state and Federal levels – of striking a balance between the demands of conflicting land-use projects. Between coal (the state's economic development) and conservation (Australia's contribution to the planet's biodiversity).

Can the Black-throated Finches save Bimblebox from the clutches of Waratah Coal magnate (and Australian National Treasure, somewhat unbelievably**) Clive Palmer? He has impressive plans for the Galilee Basin, in conjunction with the Metallurgical Corporation of China: to turn half of the Bimblebox area into an opencast mine and establish longwall mining beneath most of the rest of it. The China First Coal Project includes several mines, a railway and a port facility that will ship coal exports through the Great Barrier Reef. If I were Australian, I wouldn't even be happy about the project's name.

After seeing the film, I wrote to Premier Anna Bligh in support of those campaigning to preserve Bimblebox Nature Refuge. I received a reply yesterday from one of her senior policy advisors in which he lauds the Queensland's Biodiversity Offsets Policy***. What this basically means is that if Mr Palmer's Chinese deal destroys a priceless remnant ecosystem, he must provide for 'ecological equivalence' elsewhere. Would you be consoled by that if you were a co-owner of Bimblebox Nature Refuge, had put your savings into its procurement and expended huge amounts of effort clearing the area of invasive plants? Offsetting something as irreplaceable as Bimblebox is impossible. The whole idea is a fob-off.

The film also looks at the effects of coal mining in the Hunter Valley and CSG development in Queensland. It features the 10-day Kerry Valley Blockade back in January, when the farmers of the Lost World of the Scenic Rim tried to prevent Arrow Energy from putting their CSG rig in position. After an impassioned plea by one of the farmers, the group are moved on by police. They fling their hats down. And the low-loader slowly creeps forward, almost silently crushing them into the dirt.

Bimblebox makes two salient points. One is that the Australian people are fed every day, through the media, the assumption that coal and other cheap fossil-fuel-based energy is this nation's competitive economic advantage: exploiting it is what Australia does best. 

And the other is that, even though the vast coal and gas exports to China and elsewhere are used for carbon-emitting energy generation, those emissions are not added to Australia's already large carbon footprint. It's the perfect environmental crime (Guy Pearse, Global Change Institute).

Think about it... and try to catch the film. More Australians should be outraged.

fracture stimulation: the high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals into a coal or shale reservoir to create fractures along which gas flows to the well bore once the injector pumps are shut off
** yesterday Clive Palmer accused the Queensland Greens and environmental activists such as Drew Hutton and Greenpeace of being backed by the CIA. See his crazy rant at
This post was updated on 22 March 2012

March 15, 2012

Gadget of the week

I used to work in Kensington High Street in London, not far from the Tube station and one of the biggest Marks & Spencers in the country. Hundreds of thousands of people walked the wide pavement, to-ing and fro-ing from work, shopping, lunching. Wealthy foreign tourists were particularly attracted to this branch of M&S and I would often see them struggling to squeeze into taxis with many bulging bags.

Occasionally there would be more-serious-than-usual congestion if a man was trying to remove the squashed-chewing-gum stains off the pavement, painstakingly attacking each pinkish splodge with a high-pressure hose. People would tut and mumble as they slowed to negotiate their way through the crowd and around him and not get their oh-so-fashionable feet wet. I often used to walk in the road, although a series of bus stops made that risky.

It used to amaze me just how many people deposited chewing gum on the pavement.

There are no such volumes of people outside my apartment block in New Farm in Brisbane. And absolutely no gum drops. But yesterday, for the first time in seven months of living here, I observed a man pressure-cleaning the pavement. My jaw dropped. And I live in Gadget Country.

In teeming rain, the man was slowly and diligently walking his circular washer back and forth over our dirty pavement, which I have to confess I had never noticed was unclean. Of course, there was noise from a motor sitting on a trailer pulled by a ute. It wasn't hugely irritating – by hedge-cutter and jet-ski standards – but it was noisy and smelly (initially) enough to close windows and doors. Which was a shame, on an otherwise gadget-free morning.
The service was provided by a multi-purpose water services company who clean concrete paths, driveways and carparks, among many other things, and specialise in body corporate (like a residents' association) and real estate needs. This was no Brisbane Council service, you see. Note to landlord/manager: I would rather that some of the niggles in this pricey apartment be put right than the pavement beautified.
The man was still busy in the rain when I went out to meet some friends. We planned to have coffee overlooking the river and then lunch, at the Powerhouse. The coffee bar was closed – for maintenance cleaning of the outside area. And our lunch was almost ruined by our having to shout above the noise of the pressure-cleaning equipment right outside the window. Different company this time, possibly a Council contractor, and noisier equipment.

Have I missed something? Is the Queen coming back to Brisbane? Was it Clean Up Brisbane Day?

March 14, 2012

Tasmania's northwest

From Freycinet to Tasmania's northwest, we headed back up the Peninsula to the Tasman Highway and then south, passing Coombend Vineyard on the East Coast Wine Route. At The Edge restaurant in Coles Bay we'd enjoyed a very respectable Coombend The Mail Run blend of Cab Sav, Merlot and Cabernet Franc (and an equally impressive Freycinet Vineyard white – although not on the same evening). I liked the patterns of vegetation and, slightly further up the road, our last view over more vineyards, Coles Bay and The Hazards.
We turned off the Tasman on to the B34 and climbed and twisted and turned our way over a series of tiers (ranges), eventually dropping down to Campbell Town on the Midland Highway, back in golden-grain country. There were cute mini hay stacks as we drove into town, where we stopped for coffee at Red Bridge Cafe and Providore. The building dates from 1836 and has been a brewery, an army training base and a masonic lodge in its other lives. It was full of interesting artefacts and local Tassie produce. We dallied so long we were late for lunch.
When I told one Australian friend I was coming to Tasmania, she said two words, and they weren't Cradle Mountain. Josef Chromy, she insisted, I must not miss. On the Tamar Valley Wine Route, this vineyard is in Relbia between Launceston and the airport. Chromy hails originally from Czechoslovakia, which he fled in 1950. After a tasting that included sparklers, Riesling, Chardonnay, Sav Blanc, Pinot and Cab Sav, we settled down in the Cellar Door Cafe – in the estate's original homestead by a lake – for a delicious lunch. We're now big fans and have just received the case we ordered while we were there.
The Bass Highway runs from Launceston via Deloraine and Devonport to the west coast. It's quite fast, and sped us on our way to Table Cape, just beyond Wynyard. We no more than glanced down upon a series of towns and cities large by Tasmanian standards. Devonport on the Mersey River is the island's third-largest city, from which ferries connect with mainland Australia. I'm sure Bernie has nice bits but we just saw endless commercial and industrial ribbon development along the Highway – and all at a tedious 60km/hr.

One place does deserve a mention, however. Penguin, between Ulverstone and Bernie. I had to stop here. We searched for a while to find a placename sign, and in the process hit upon the town's delightful station.
Wynyard is the gateway to a beautiful coastline, Table Cape. We were here at the wrong time of year, however. Late September and early October are when this promontory's rolling fields of rich volcanic soil are a riot of colourful stripes as tulips come into flower. I would dearly love to see this, but I did my best to find alternative local colour (the pale sections of the brown stripy fields are tulip bulbs ready for next season).
The classical white masonry tower of Table Cape Lighthouse was constructed in 1888 at the edge of a sheer cliff. Its white light has a range of 33 kilometres (and the red, 26km).
Table Cape Lookout is nearby but we had our own, very special lookout. We were staying in the award-winning Winged House just down the road. This stunning building looks as if it's about to take flight off the cliffside on which it perches. I spent a lot of time staring out over the ocean or capturing it; and we went to sleep each night to the sound of waves, as we had at Binalong and Coles bays.
A few kilometres to the west of our house was Rocky Cape National Park, otherwise known as Tangdimmaa. This was an area of great significance in Aboriginal Tasmania: here the Rar.rer.loi.he.ner people lived in sea caves along the rocky shoreline. (I'm glad I'm writing their name and not trying to pronounce it.) There are numerous walking tracks criss-crossing the Park; we only had time for a short one on our last day in the northwest before heading for Cradle Mountain. We chose the Banksia Grove and Caves Circuit for its large stand of Saw (or Saw-tooth) Banksias, distinguished by their serrated leaves and splendid flower spikes. The walk starts from the boat ramp at Sisters Beach, the only place in Tasmania where this tall Banksia grows. There's a steep climb up to coastal heathland but you soon reach the Grove. The seed capsules developing among the mature flowers resembled faces.
I'm not absolutely sure why this walk was such a delightful experience: a dazzling day; Banksias being as quintessentially Australian as gum trees; insects buzzing and lots of birds darting and singing (although difficult to identify in such bright sunlight); a man monitoring invasive plant species (the only person we saw); a stunning stretch of embayed coastline beyond the Grove; and, as we looked out over the clearest calmest sea, a strange phenomenon – cloud reflections on the water almost as far as the horizon. Look carefully at the last photograph below: the horizon is much higher up than first appears.
We returned – via the not very exciting and rather uninspiringly named Wet Cave – to Sisters Beach. I liked the black and white seaweed, the clarity of the water and the jetty.
But this was only at the start of Tasmania's northwest.