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Defining Spring…in the High Country

 

Hard to believe but spring has arrived again; in all its magnificent and fickle ways. How do I define spring here in the hill country of Victoria, in the Southern Hemisphere? My fellow bloggers and other social media friends on the other side of the world begin to retreat into their cocoons for approaching winter months while we here are emerging from ours. Layer by layer we peel off the extra garments and tentatively risk flaunting  our summer fashions.  But the layers gained from winter comfort food, cheery bottles of red and chocolate on the couch watching TV in front of the open fire, are now exposed!

Spring and the advent of warmer days heralds thoughts of venturing outdoors and getting into shape – a better shape than what I’m currently in! It is a time for the clocks to spring forward for daylight saving which lures us outdoors for longer and hence later dinners. Spring rains much welcomed has produced a flurry of green growth, especially grass which seems to be growing in front of our very eyes this week. My husband despairs that he can’t keep up with the slashing and keeping it at bay.

Yesterday, I tackled one of our garden beds full of brilliant yellow irises competing with the long grass. Something satisfying about weeding. Friskie enjoys a romp in the garden as my companion. Our hard work over the last two years, is starting to pay off. Where another garden bed against the house was overrun with blackberries, it is now full of  plants flowering for the first time, adding a burst of colour.

Spring is a busy time for primary producers, new-born calves and lambs fill the nearby paddocks. We miss our old cows but it was the right thing not to let them suffer through a bitterly cold winter. One of our friends wants to put their bull in our paddock to rest him for a month or so. We can still take up the offer of our neighbour to run some of his steers on our place to help keep grass at bay. At the moment we seem to be home to rabbits(who seem to multiply in spring!), wombats intent on digging huge holes, with  occasional visits from several kangaroos, and red foxes around the dam where wild ducks frequent. My get-fit campaign is being thwarted by a pesky magpie dive-bombing me when I walk down our driveway. These black and white, native Australian birds, are beautiful the way they warble and their cheeky personalities make them lovable. Come spring and new chicks, they become very territorial. I could say it is just an act of revenge for not winning this year’s Australian Rules Football Grand Final against the Eagles from Western Australia.

One of the downsides of the warmer weather, is the emergence of snakes which is a worry when you have dogs and cats. My husband saw a rather large Eastern Brown and a Tiger snake within five minutes of each other while over near our wood pile last week. Another good reason to keep vegetation around the house cleared. This year the annual fire season is commencing earlier than usual in response to the extra fuel load from our recent rains. This means no burning off. Bolly, my husband, is working down in the city for a month, so won’t get a chance to do any more this year.

Spring also means the horse racing carnival is in full swing and ladies are busy searching for new head-wear, with dresses and shoes to match. The Melbourne Cup always run on the first Tuesday in November, is the reason for a public holiday in Melbourne. Mansfield’s High Country Festival over the weekend preceding the cup, is a hive of activity with a grand parade, bush-market, local produce to sip and devour, and artistic endeavours to admire. The town hosts its own cup meeting on the same day as the big Melbourne event and gives racegoers the opportunity to enjoy themselves without the big crowds of Flemington. I am rather partial to frocking up for the races and imbibing in a glass of bubbles or two!

Spring also means the start of the agricultural show circuit with our own show on November 17. It also means an extremely busy time for the secretary (meaning me!) and all the other volunteers on the committee.  So time to spring into action while enjoying this season of renewal.

 

 

 

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Snow, rain, and the road less travelled

This winter seems like a blur – the third one we have experienced in our new country home. Each day a kaleidoscope of colours mingled with smells and sounds that speak of  that time suspended between autumn and spring.  My life has fallen into that trap of busyness and too little time to do all the things I want. Sounds like my old working life – there are times when anxieties try to raise their ugly heads and I have to force them back down. I like to be busy and doing useful stuff, but there are times when I long for long periods of just being. Sometimes  I manage it. Anyone would think I am talking about the winter of my discontent!

 

From a delightful autumn we have tumbled into winter with some unexpectant heavy snowfalls on the lower hills. I was quite surprised to awake to snow falling at our place which is only 400m above sea level. As an Australian, I am always fascinated and enraptured when I see snow falling. My English-born husband doesn’t have quite the same enthusiasm!

It has been a cold and wet winter here. Unlike all of NSW and huge parts of Queensland, gripped in a crippling drought, Victoria with the exception of Gippsland, has enjoyed heavy rain falls. The beginning of the year here was dry but as the year progressed we would get a little bit more each month, until this month when we received over 35ml overnight! Now we need our gumboots if we want to walk around outside because the ground is so sodden. But it was so exciting to see our dams overflowing and even our dry gullies flowing. I love paddling through the impromptu puddles and water courses because it reminds me of my childhood.

 

 

I am still beavering away at my studies; the closer I get to the end the harder it seems at times. Being a mature age student may be a challenge but the joy of learning and incorporating your lived-experiences makes it a rewarding journey. Speaking of journeys, we did a big road trip from end of June to July, covering more than 6000 kms in three weeks. There was a purpose for this trip so we tried to make it a bit of an adventure as well. The purpose was carried out but was not without its stresses.  It was a rushed trip and despite heading north, we got rain on the Sunshine Coast and managed even in drought areas to be welcomed with muddy campgrounds. We took our camper trailer which is really just a tent on wheels! But compared to the two-man dome tent we use to crawl out of, this is luxury and we still feel like we are camping, without having to haul a large caravan behind us.

Our road trip which went through outback NSW and inland Queensland, made us realise just how bad the drought was. Miles of bare, earth paddocks without stock. In all my years of country driving, I had never seen so much road kill as I did on this trip. Starving and water-deprived kangaroos and emus, ending up as dinner at the side for the hundreds of opportunistic crows, dotted every metre or so along many parts of the road. Water is the lifeblood of this country and when you venture out into the rural heartland away from safe, comfortable urban surrounds, it hits you in the face. One farmer near Lightening Ridge said they were feeling sorry for the kangaroos which are usually considered a nuisance when they are in large numbers. Faced with hand feeding whatever stock that they may still have, the kangaroos were so hungry that they were eating the bags that the grain for sheep came in. Life is not pretty in these conditions but it serves to remind us that whatever we do we are so insignificant compared to the forces of nature.

 

Got to visit some great communities and shared a bit of our money where it was needed. Enjoyed campfires and good company. Saw some parts of the country I hadn’t seen since the early ’80s and some new places. Will do a travel blog to expand a bit more on the places we visited.

 

We had to be home before the end of July because I had study commitments and the biggest thing I had to face was removal of three wisdom teeth which had been “grumbling” (as the dental surgeon described it) for more than five years. This was hanging over me like a cloud as dark as Lucifer and a piece of coal (anyone who knows Cowboy Junkies will understand this reference!). July 26 I went under the knife for the first time in my life. I survived but ended up extremely ill for two weeks. I won’t go into details but it wasn’t pleasant to say the least.

I am finally getting back up to full-strength and trying to catch up with everything that got put on hold. The sun still comes up and goes down – sometimes I am treated to the most stunning views and I count my blessings. We have a mob of 14 kangaroos including some joeys in the pouch who seem to like the green, juicy grass on our lawn – usually they turn up early in the morning and late afternoon. Our resident wombats continued to dig holes around the place to our annoyance. The daffodils are out so despite the snow on the hills, there is a glimpse of spring to come.

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Winter cometh amid change

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Remnants of gold and red have lingered on from a delightful autumn to be embraced by the crisp, clear, first day of winter. A touch of frost is evident in the lower paddock and the dawn shadows are slowly replaced as the sun rises over the nearby hill behind our house. After throwing another log on the fire and brewing fresh coffee, I love nothing more than being snuggled up in bed with my electric blanket and furry friends, sipping on my morning cuppa as the view unfolds outside my window. Each day is different.

 

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More than 18 months have passed since the permanent tree-change. This is our life now. City life is like a distant memory and somewhere we still visit occasionally for special events, appointments and catch up with friends. Lying in bed listening to the ABC’s Melbourne Radio (it is hard to give up some habits after 30 years!), the traffic reports remind me how much I loathed the congestion on the city roads and travelling across from eastern suburbs to the west for work.  We have other obstacles to dodge now but the pace of life is slower so not rushing around everywhere.

The nights are really drawing in now, the sun is dipping behind the hills around 5pm. This week we have been treated to some sunny days and we have finally got around to cycling during the warmest part of the day to our roadside mail box 4km away. Our social cycling group that meets on Wednesdays has moved its start time from 8.30am to 9.30am during the winter months.

My husband Bolly and I have found another social group to join which I found on a local Facebook group page calling for musicians and singers to get together to encourage one another and for the sheer joy of making music in a relaxed and comfortable environment. The first gathering was in the lounge room of a young man with three singers and two guitarists unknown to each other. Almost two months later others have joined and we now have a permanent home at the local RSL club.  We are invited to bring music to the group for us to learn and practice. It is a diverse group with a range of tastes ranging from pop, rock and through to country. Numbers such as Eva Cassidy’s haunting cover of Fields of Gold, Under the Milky Way by The Church and classic country favourites by Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. The group is still evolving and bonding but we look forward to our Thursday night sessions. Music has such a positive impact on people and without the pressure of having to perform in public it provides an opportunity for us to learn. I own a blue guitar bought for my birthday from Aldi that sits on the KISS book for learning chords in my lounge room in anticipation of me finding time to learn.

My other consuming passion is photography. A local Facebook group encourages photographers to share their images and improve our skills behind the camera. Living in such a beautiful part of the world sees lots of wonderful outdoor shots including mountains, rivers and animals featured.  I was quite pleased with several awards for photos I entered in the local show last November. The administrator of the page also puts out challenges to develop our creativity. One member is a professional portrait photographer and gave up his time for free to conduct a workshop for interested members. So about three weeks ago, three of us had the opportunity to learn how to do studio-quality portraits with a professional model. The only cost was a contribution towards the hire of the model (also a trained actor) who was an amazing subject to capture. Also got some tips on editing with a professional software package.

On the study front, I have just completed a unit in Overseas Development which I enjoyed and gained several new insights into how aid is delivered in developing countries. Now I am embarking on a unit called Sustainability, Ecology & Communities which involves a major project. Slowly getting closer to the end!

There is no shortage of activities to keep us occupied. My duties as show secretary have kept me a lot busier than expected and I am still on a committee for a community house in Melbourne. But we did manage a week away using my timeshare allocation down at Victoria’s Phillip Island. The Penguin Parade is an a popular national and international tourist attraction. The little penguins nightly descent from the sea up to their burrows above the beach has made Phillip Island one of the must-see places. There is a lot of new building there to expand the site for the increased tourist numbers. But there is plenty of other things to do on the island which is linked by a bridge from San Remo on the mainland.

 

We weren’t worried about seeing the little penguins because we have done that before when we were still living in Melbourne. One area that has had a significant makeover is near The Nobbies. Gone is the tired-old bright blue kiosk covered in seagull droppings. In its place is a fairly new attraction called the Antarctica Journey which uses a mixture of cinema and photography to create a stunning visual display. There is an interactive section popular with young and old – with lots of selfies the order of the day. It is a wonderful way to experience what it would be like to be in Antarctica in an eco-friendly way. We loved it so much, we ended going again the following day with friends who hadn’t been there in 10 years. They loved it too. Of course there is a shop and a licensed café that looks over the wild seascape as it lashes against the rock formations known as The Nobbies. It was freezing cold and wet but if one is wrapped up, the walk along the boardwalk provides great views and you may even see the blow-hole in action.

 

 

Later in the week we did a boat cruise out to Seal Rocks which is not far past The Nobbies. Be warned you can feel a bit queasy from the choppy sea and if you are down wind of the seals, the smell can be overwhelming too. It was worth the trip to see so many Australian fur seals in one place. The younger pups frolic around the boat and leap out of the water and dive below in great numbers. On the rocks the adults including several large males are sunning themselves. Several 100 seals have chosen this wild part of the coast as home.

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Leaping seals, Seal Rocks.

 

Despite the rain every day, we managed to fit in some walks on the various surf beaches, a change from looking at our hills and mountains. Another worthwhile visit while on the island was to the National Vietnam Veterans Museum. A war that caused a lot of division among many Australians with many protesting our involvement in an American conflict. Sadly, when serving soldiers returned, they did not receive the welcome back that those from World War 1 and 2 did. The Vietnam War had a profound impact on the physical and mental health of many men. It has taken many years, but finally recognition for their service is happening and sites such as this museum honour their contribution.

After a wet week away we return home to dry, sunny days. But winter has arrived with icy blasts felt from the mountains this week and 21ml of rain over one day.  The town is overflowing with visitors during this long June weekend in honour of the Queen’s birthday (which is in April!) and the official start of the snow season. Not much snow to be had but plenty of fun. Bolly and I enjoyed a day up  at Mt Buller last weekend while entry was still free. Freezing cold but enough snow for tobogganing and snow ball fights.

 

We have some friends from the city staying for the weekend with their two young children so our house is full. Always lovely to have young people around and see the world through their eyes! Attempts to catch yabbies in our dam proved fruitless but a lot of fun anyway. The seasons are changing and so are we, as we adapt to our new life and routine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Easter

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What has changed in my faith journey since Easter last year? Not a lot I think to myself. After many years of involvement in my city parish and through my work, I have stepped back from the busyness of my life. I thought my purpose was all preordained and God had placed me where I was meant to be.  Number one mistake! Yes, it was where I was meant to be at that time, a time when I grew and learnt much about myself and others. But faith is not a static thing, it needs to grow or move beyond the comfortable boundaries we adopt.

The past two years have been a period of transition. Instead of trying to walk with others in their struggles, I have been granted a time to reconnect with nature and the more physical aspects of my being. Mentally, I feel much stronger and much less stressed, but there is a sense I still hold onto memories and habits that hold me back. I start the new year with a zeal to make this my best year ever. Started well, but need to reassess and renew my goals for the year ahead.

I think Easter can be a bit like that. We prepare by giving up something we value or enjoy during Lent. To help us on this journey, some of us come together for weekly Lenten studies to explore the scriptures and what it means for us as we approach this most holiest period in the Christian calendar. There is the darkness of  Good Friday, when Jesus dies on the cross in the most horrible manner followed by Easter Sunday.  When the “Resurrection Sunday”  euphoria wears off  we need to make space in our busy lives to ponder why we were the recipients of such a powerful gift that continues to give throughout the year and beyond Easter.

Rhythm of life

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Waking to a sky washed with shades of pink and grey, accompanied by the melodious dawn chorus, is deeply satisfying. This morning we were also treated to the sight of four kangaroos outside our bedroom window. Sadly, these native animals because of their large numbers are culled by local farmers trying to preserve pasture for stock and we hadn’t seen any on our place for several weeks. Earlier in the year we had seen three rather large males vying for dominance. We haven’t seen them since. You still have to exercise caution when driving on our country roads during the hours of darkness because they can suddenly appear from nowhere.

Introduced species also cause havoc such as the fox.  While they are a magnificent looking creature they are a threat to young lambs and chickens. One morning I was enjoying a bowl of cereal gazing out the window well after sunup when a fox appeared outside the kitchen door.  Another morning a wayward wombat, usually a nocturnal  animal, was running across our front lawn.

Although the 40 Celsius plus days seem to have gone, the sun is still baking hot and with little rain in the past month, everything is looking brown and withered.  There some hints of autumn colour with our poplar trees sporting orange and yellow leaves. It shouldn’t be long before the local vineyards follow suite. I had a good friend come to stay who tended my rose bushes with loving care. I am amazed how hardy old roses can be. They give me great pleasure.

 

After only 7 ml rain for the whole of February, a week ago we received more than 34 ml in less than 24 hours. It is the most wonderful sound when the runoff from the gutters splashes into our rainwater tanks. This week for the first time this year, we lit our wood fire when there was a dusting of snow on the nearby mountain. But it doesn’t take long and the weather returns to sunny days of 26 degrees Celsius  plus. This bodes well for the four-day Easter break and the start of school holidays. Many take the opportunity to enjoy the good weather and as a last gasp before winter arrives. Our country town is overflowing with many tourists and visitors. For the locals, it is a good time to retreat to their homes until we can reclaim our roads and town once again. I had to laugh last year, when I heard tourists complaining there were too many tourists!

But tomorrow both Bolly (my husband) and I will volunteer our time to help out during the Easter Saturday bush market. Our Anglican church is popular with shoppers looking to relax with a cuppa and freshly baked scones enjoyed under the old pin-oak. My husband helps with the set-up and I will be on the stall for our Friends of Venilale group which raises funds for East Timor.

Two weeks ago we hosted a Trivia Night at our church which supports remote area schools in Timor-Leste in partnership with the “Friends” group. We had run similar nights in Melbourne but were not sure how we would go here in a new place. But thanks to a lot of support and a good turn-out on the night it was a highly successful event as well as being a lot of fun.

As if the weekend was not already busy enough I also helped out at the local campdraft (an Australian competition which involves horses and cattle) which was run the same weekend. I am on the local agricultural and pastoral show society committee which supports the event which is held at the showgrounds. Dry and very dusty conditions. On the Sunday, the wind was horrendous, with a very high fire warning being issued. Fortunately, no fires in our part of the world although other parts of Victoria suffered property and stock losses due to bush fires. Although we had a good drenching last weekend, we still need follow-up rains.

We are enjoying a quiet, relaxing afternoon on this Good Friday. Church this morning was an opportunity to reflect and think about the sacrifice made for us all on the cross. Life and death entwined. For some it is a highly emotional time and a reminder of grief in our own lives. Other denominations are invited to join the Catholic parish as they walked the stations of the cross in one of our main streets. A visible reminder to those passing by on foot or car about the reason for Easter.

There seems to be a rhythm to our daily routines as we settle into our second year as permanent residents.  We now have new friends that we welcome into our home and lives, as well as our old city friends. Wednesday has become our social bike riding day. For health reasons, I had avoided cycling for over two years but decided to give it a go. Our group has a mixture of men and women, some retired and others working part-time. It has proved to be a wonderful experience with everyone getting on so well and really considerate of each other regardless of how slow we may be! It has morphed into a farm drop in session as we cycle around and enjoy hospitality at each other’s homes. Sometimes we do short rides around the township followed by morning tea at a popular local café, or along the rail-trail for longer rides of up to 28kms or ride out to Lake Eildon.

The rhythm of life is interrupted for our friends and neighbours when they lose love ones. We attended one funeral for my girlfriend’s father, buried not far from his farm in a quiet, country graveyard with extended views of the hills beyond. It was a fitting end to a life well-lived. The other funeral was the brother of our neighbour who we had never met because he was living and working overseas. We felt privileged to be able to share in hearing about the life of a man taken too soon who lived his life to the full. Again we are reminded of the fragility of life and how precious each moment is.

It has taken some months but finally, I feel this is where I am supposed to be.  I have found that rhythm and with a tweak here and there, my life is like a river meandering through this beautiful landscape, that never fails to lift my spirits.

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The permanent tree change – one year on

 

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The hill behind our property by artist Greg Footit

Still busy clearing up after last month’s storm with the help of several special friends and recovering from the festive season, so there has been little time to reflect on our transition to full-time country life. This month also marks one year since my husband retired from full-time work, although he has just spent three weeks down in the city filling in over the new year at his old job! Of course, the storm hit while he was away.

 

We enjoyed a pre-Christmas lunch at our house with our new friends who we met through the local church last year. Had our new neighbours over for a barbecue tea with their three young children before Christmas. I forgot how lively five-year old boys can be! But great kids.  Then we got to enjoy a splendid Christmas Day lunch with 16 others at another friend’s home in town. Then it was up early to travel to the city to enjoy Boxing Day celebration with my husband’s two sons. The eldest boy loves to cook and is addicted to the TV cooking channel!

This time of year also brings extreme heat waves with temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. Always seems to coincide with the Australian Tennis Open in Melbourne. When we made our permanent move this time last year, it was hot then too. The addition of a reverse cycle last March has made those exceptionally hot days bearable.  We try not to run our air-conditioner any more than we have to in interest of keeping costs now and trying to be more environmentally friendly. The year has flown and the list of jobs around the place doesn’t seem to get any shorter!  But we are not complaining – we love our new lifestyle and enjoy being surrounded by the great outdoors despite the challenges it throws at us.

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An artist’s impression of our new home by Greg Footit. Painted in spring following a wet winter.

 

Our days and nights, weeks and months, are now marked by the ever-changing seasons, the surrounding views of nature and man at work, a passing parade of wildlife and bird life in what we now call our bubble!  Connecting with the outdoors in such a personal and engaging way, makes it difficult to leave here sometimes. This doesn’t mean we have turned into hermit monks; my internet connection and other activities in town make sure of that. I have just picked up a part-time administration role with a local community organisation which looks like keeping me very busy. My studies continue with six units to complete to get my degree. I continue to discover the joys of blogging and connecting with many others from across the world.  It provides a wonderful opportunity to write and be read by a diverse range of people.

My husband Bolly and I have reconnected with old friends and made some new ones in the past year. We are so blessed to live in such a vibrant and active local community. My passion for Timor Leste continues with my involvement with the local friendship group and I hope to return again soon with Bolly. Throughout the year we have been involved with Landcare Group activities and still thinking through the best use of our small acreage.

Work on the house which is mainly cosmetic is still ongoing. The kitchen and bathrooms are earmarked as major renovation projects this year. But then there is still my dream of being a horse owner again and getting back on board after many years!

I have earmarked 2018 as my best year ever. I think 2017 was like a gap year for me but it is time to spread my wings and see what lies over the horizon.  Escape to the High Country is part of that journey and I look forward to others travelling with me into a new year.