Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Of Birds, Bikers and Bats

My garden is becoming more and more of a haven for birds, despite the watchful stalking eye of Basil the Wannabe Big Bad Bird-Gobbler. (Cat Palace erection date: 8-9 April - stay tuned!)

With the perfect amount of spare time at my disposal these days, I recently indulged my inner hippie and made this bird feeder from found/recycled materials. The birds loved it, but anything heavier than a tiny firebrow finch (see Leon Peachey’s great pic below!) kept knocking the top plate over/off, so back to the drawing board I went, scrounged some chook wire from the vegie cage, and a few other bits and bobs, including cat-netting and garden rocks – and I made a scrotumish-looking thingy that has stabilised it beautifully! You can see it in the photo at the top of this post.
Tiny firebrow finches (photo courtesy of Leon Peachey)
The birds were a real treat for the big bad bikers who attended Disorgural 1.0 - the successor to the immensely fabulous Unaugurals that were hosted by BT Humble and Cass for 10 years. A very tiny crowd travelled the vast distances to the remote East Gippsland coast (everyone of them, apart from Tim, in a car!) – and found the wildlife and scenery well worth the trip. (Also the fabulous hosting by moi, ha ha ha.) Despite the size of the non-crowd, we had plenty of laughs and made nearly enough noise to annoy the neighbours! Thanks heaps for coming, folks, and celebrating the Mallacoota lifestyle with me.
Disorg 'campfire' - a far cry from BT Humble's famous conflagrations!
The other very exciting critter to be spending some time in Mallacoota at the moment - apart from birds and bikers - is the flying fox, or fruit bat. This critter, as a carrier of the Hendra virus and the Lyssa virus, gets a bit of a bad rap – but is actually an important part of the ecosystem, helping to keep native forests alive by transporting bazillions of seeds each night. What makes them dangerous is not their batness per se, but our encroachment and destruction of their habitats, so that they gather in places that are often inconvenient to humans - botanical gardens, city parks etc...

The 129,000 strong colony that spends summer in Mallacoota is nestled in the trees of a gully in Karbeethong. Every night these amazing flying mammals flap over my house to head to their feeding ground, then fly home to the gully afterwards. A sensible observer, I treat them with respect and caution. I give them distance, stay in the car when close to the colony, wash my hands after being in the garden etc etc etc. No drama. By day or by night, they’re magnificent – and apparently they’ll stay in Mallacoota for a few weeks yet, before heading to their next stopping-place.
Fruit bats by day - Karbeethong colony. (photo courtesy Geoff Hansford)
 Last night, my mate Kat, her daughter Tash & I went to see them exiting their daytime sleeping place just before nightfall. Oh. My. God. What a sight! The air was THICK with them – one of the most incredible sights I’ve ever seen – and they’re quite BIG! Here's a pic (apologies for the low light, but you can at least get a vague idea of the sheer numbers. This weekend I'll head over again in better light and try for better pics.)
 We also went to Betka Beach late in the afternoon, just to walk around and enjoy the rocks. The light was beautiful – look!

And look at the quirky things people do with the beach rocks - down at the far end of Betka it's almost a 'rock sculpture garden'!

So anyway, with my head chock-full of beautiful images of the natural world, I felt inspired to pen a few lines about the fruit bats, just to try and keep my English teacher skills up to scratch. Here, then, is 

Doggerel for the Fruit Bats: a sonnet

Oh flying fox, oh mega bat, oh Fruity,
Like prehistoric parcels in the trees
You swing and chatter, flap and search for booty
And have a reputation for disease.
Some love you, many hate and fear your power
And those there are who'd see you all destroyed
Despite all this, each magic twilight hour
Deserves to be respectfully enjoyed.
For, like the spider, you have special talents
You transplant seeds and pollen where they're needed
On Mother Earth you help maintain a balance
By making sure our vegetation's seeded.
But best of all, magnificent in flight
You pour in waves above my house each night.

Till next time, this is Batty Betty signing off. Peace, all! (OMG, I really AM turning into a hippie! Are my 1970's roots showing???)
Moon over Mallacoota - the inlet after dark. Why would I live anywhere else?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

My Brillo(TM) Career

In this latest recreation of myself I am, as you know, a cleaner of holiday accommodation. Ironically, when I applied for a job as a cleaner in Sydney about 35 years ago, armed only with  my HSC, I was turned away with a “Sorry, but you’re overqualified.” Nowadays, with university quals and careers as a high school teacher and a public servant under my belt, I am somehow no longer overqualified, and have been let into a secret that I’m now going to let you into as well – cleaning is a great job!

Far from feeling menial or insignificant in my ‘humble’ new career, I proudly shoulder my broom and strike out to meet whatever stains and challenges the day holds – with a song, a laugh and a car full of cleaning products.

It’s a job of contrasts. One minute my gaze is firmly fixed down a loo at unspeakable things, and the next, I’m enjoying some of the most spectacular water views in Mallacoota. This “chicken soup for the eyeballs” is a powerful remedy for the vilest visuals in the bathrooms and on the balconies around town. The greasiest stalactites sprouting from the underside of BBQ grills cannot dampen my enthusiasm, when all I need to do is raise my eyes from the gruesomeness and feast upon a silver-sequinned expanse of clear blue water; on squadrons of pelicans wheeling overhead, and on many-pointed stars of sunlight bouncing off boats bobbling or chugging about on the inlet. Pure magic.

Perhaps cleaning’s not for everybody. There are certain universals in holiday accommodation that can be a bit confronting at first:
  • Toenails – I don’t know why, but every holiday flat has them, clipped or ripped. Yuk.
  • The pubic hairs of strangers. Yuk again.
  • Toothpaste spatter on the mirrors. Ditto.
Notice I haven’t mentioned poo or spew – that’s because they are fairly rare! Most people have enough pride to leave their accommodation in pretty good shape.

So – how does cleaning compare with teaching? Here are some things I’ve realised.

Instant results
(Very) delayed gratification – it’s usually weeks, often months or even YEARS till you realise you’ve done an amazing job!
No homework
More homework than schoolwork *sigh*
An institutionalised life dictated by bells
Brain is free to indulge in flights of fancy
Brain explodes - frequently

I saved the best thing about this job till last – it’s right here in Mallacoota! I may be cleaning up the toenails and left-behind pubes of holidaymakers, but at the end of the day, those poor suckers have had to go back to their stressful lives elsewhere, while I’m already Hone Sweet Home! Wheeeeeee!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Dateline Mallacoota.

Oh so busy!!! Here are the headlines from my life over the past few weeks – and some photos.

Reformed Writers’ Group meets at Lucy’s Noodles! 
(I love the ambiguity of this “Reformed” label!) Had a fab time – met some great people and felt totally energised! Had to come home afterwards and sit outside in the dark with Basil, stargazing over a glass of red. Outcome – I have a writing buddy – we’re going to take ourselves out somewhere regularly and just sit and write, then talk about what we’ve done – now THAT is a way to get productive!

Night-Moves with the Fruit Bat Colony. 
Local cat, Basil and Crazy Cat-Lady Betty watch waves of fruit bats just on nightfall every day. There must be thousands upon thousands of them – an awesome spectacle.

‘There are so many of them,’ says Basil. ‘It must be chaos at Bat Central every night as they all fire up their wings and jostle for take-off rights’

According to local, Peter Kurz, fruit bats can poop in-flight. It is therefore advisable, while watching the waves of fruit bats overhead, to keep your mouth closed, no matter how awed and overwhelmed you are.

Betty Cleans Up - Job Prospects Sparkling! 
In what must be this century’s greatest irony, Betty cleans for 3 different ‘bosses’ now, and is hopeful of adding a fourth to the list.

‘I’ve always hated housework’, said Betty, 53, ‘but there’s something so very satisfying about a clean toilet.’

Betty can often be heard singing as she cleans – looking for an echo in those motel bathrooms, perhaps, or just singing for the sheer joy of it all?

Basil Growth Spurt Fails to Diminish his Cuteness. (Photo article)

Yes, I would like to go for a walk, but I'm in charge. I have the lead. Follow me.
This way please...
Ssshhhhh! He doesn't know I'm here.
I can see the top of your head from up here!
Watching the sun creeping across the farmland behind, and hoping for a horsey visitor.
Lounge-lizard Basil - it's been a big day. I can barely keep my eyes open.... oops, too late!
Wonder-Drug Increases Artistic Output. 
Amazingly, a short but intense burst of Prednisolone took away the crippling aches and pains that had stopped local woman, Betty, in her tracks. Once again able to wield a broom/chisel/shovel, Betty gets out of bed with ease and performs tasks with the painlessness that she used to take for granted over a decade ago.

A recent project was the revamping of the vegie cage. The chook-wire has been peeled back and the roof dismantled. The vegies have been liberated, a new raised vegie bed and herb bed have been constructed over a floor of weed-matting, and the cubic metre of garden soil has been shifted by Betty’s own fair hand. Silverbeet, broccoli, cabbage and potato will be on the menu this winter – so far.

The first log-sculpture has also been completed now that Betty can hold tools again. More will follow. Watch this space.

The next project is in bits on the shed floor. It’s a bunch of big sticks that were just on the side of the road, and when finished, will be a beautiful cat-tree for Basil to climb in his Cat Palace. There may also be enough sticks left over to create a bird-feeder stand (and if not, there are still plenty of sticks by the side of the road!

The Return of Biker Betty and the Rogue Nose-Hair
 Betty actually took the Harley out of the shed, where the poor thing had been languishing, as Harleys are wont to do.  On a fabulously sunny day, the intrepid pair beetled along the twisty road from Mallacoota to the highway, then fanged it up to Merimbula, with a stop at Eden on the way home. Big smiles all round, except for the times that the rogue nose-hair wiffled about inside Betty's helmet, driving her mental on the road (note to self: exterminate, annihilate, defoliate!) Basil's alarm when leather-clad, big-booted Betty stomped through the back door, helmet in hand may have been attributable to the shock of her ghastly helmet-hair, which has been as neglected as Piglet of late..
Proof that Piglet came out of the shed! Enjoying the view at Eden, NSW
Life is fabulous! Bleep bleep, over and out from beautiful Mallacoota.