Oh, well spotted deer!

Living on our 25 acres we are often surprised by special animal visitors. We often see kangaroos but deer are much rarer. Our property is surrounded by cleared farming land and lots of cattle. Up in the hills and towards the mountains Samba deer are common and considered a feral nuisance. This little fellow was prancing outside our kitchen door on our lawn late afternoon on Boxing Day. Because it was a bit nervous, I was trying to take photos through my dirty windows so the quality may not be up to my usual standard. However, my husband and I were thrilled to have such a pretty visitor. I did wonder if Santa Claus had left one of his team behind on Christmas Day. It finally with little leaps and bounds disappeared to where we don’t know.

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Summer days herald the New Year in the High Country!

Spring rains have produced long green grasses now dried golden by the hot baking sun.

Several of my good intentions never materialised including a blog post to herald the start of summer on December 1. This was due to the busyness of my life before Christmas. I can’t blame it on Yuletide preparations. I come from a small family with members scattered across Australia, and Christmas tends to be low-key. My husband has a married brother with two adult children living near London, in England. We spent Christmas with them in 2015, followed by New Year’s Eve in Vienna, in Austria. It was such a special time because we don’t get to see each other very often being so far away. But thankfully the internet and cheap overseas call rates helps us stay in touch.

Some members back home avoid Christmas all together which is fine by us. Bolly (my husband) and I were once again invited to join friends in town for Christmas lunch with their extended family. This year there was 12 of us compared to 16 last year. I got out of cooking again! The only problem with this is I don’t have any left overs for our traditional Boxing Day picnic outing. Never mind, we made do with pizza and beer at Wrong Side Brewing at Jamieson on a hot summer’s day.

The end of the year was extremely busy with our local agricultural show on the 17th November involving lots of work beforehand and after. Took me the secretary, two weeks to recover! The hard work of all the committee obviously paid off, not only were we blessed with a beautiful late spring day, but our gate takings were the best ever in several years and everyone commented on a great atmosphere enjoyed by young and old alike. Of course, behind the scenes we can see areas that need to be streamlined before next year which will be our 130th show. Our next event is the annual campdraft in March. This has evolved from mustering cattle into one of the fastest growing equestrian sports in Australia.

I was also trying to keep on top of my studies. In lieu of doing a community development placement I was allowed to do a project on my involvement with the Friends of Venilale group and my return trip to East Timor in September. This country has a special place in my heart and I now have several Timorese friends on Facebook. The local Friends’ group continues to meet monthly. Fundraising efforts in 2018 included a stall four times per year at the annual bush market, the ridgeline walk across several local farms, special guest talks, a trivia night, a book launch and a film afternoon. Despite being time poor, I managed to produce a 1500 word essay and an audio-visual presentation. In early December I started a new study period doing an elective unit “Drugs in Society” which is proving most interesting. End of February, I will commence my final core unit for my sustainability major. This will leave me with two more electives to complete and hopefully my double degree before the end of the year!

November was also a time to commemorate the contribution of our service men and women 100 years later at our local Remembrance Day Service on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour. This was preceded by a procession of those who were returned servicemen and women, and those who proudly marched wearing medals passed down through their families. My husband wore his grandfather’s World War One service medals for the first time. It is a real community event with young people involved in the service.

As 2018 drew to a close, temperatures began to climb into the high 30s and even 40 degrees Celsius on a couple of days. The nearby hills have lost their green tinge by becoming brown in the hot sun. Our paddocks look wave-like as the long, dried golden grass moves in the breeze. Our fire warning ratings have hovered between high (blue) and very high (orange) this week. The weather has been unsettled over the Christmas and New Year period with some heavy rainfalls followed by high humidity. During the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, we were surrounded by constant storms with lightening and thunder. Rambo my cat tough by name not nature, hid under the bed all afternoon. We received a phone call from a neighbour to alert us to a nearby grass fire at the end of our road. I checked out the emergency services’ website, to find there was another incident of a small fire two roads away. But both were under control. Early evening we learn that another neighbour has a tree on fire on his property which was also dealt with quickly. All three were caused by lightening strikes! We need to revisit our fire plan and be sure that we are prepared in an emergency.

We enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home with just the two of us. I made a special dinner including wine trifle for dessert. We had an early night so we could get up early to drive to Melbourne and celebrate New Year’s Day with my Sri Lankan friend and her family. It is a annual lunch with loads of traditional Sri Lankan food, drinks and even dancing to work it off! We love catching up with my friend who was a former employee of mine. Bolly and I limit our alcohol consumption so we can make the three-hour trip back home. As much as we love visiting our friends and family in the city, we are always keen to get back to our country haven.

As normality returns to our lives, it is time to prepare for the coming year and setting goals so our time doesn’t get squandered. Just before Christmas we invested in solar panels for our north facing roof of our house. It will take about four years to start to recoup our money but at least we are doing our bit for the environment. I follow the tracker for our energy provider and notice less usage when the solar panels are operating during the day. Other jobs include finishing painting the outside doors and windows. We have two new homes being built nearby so we are going to do a huge tree planting along our fence line. Today sees a change of neighbours directly behind us, who no doubt will want to make their mark on a new property acquisition. Life is full of changes and sometimes we just have to embrace them! While Christmas is behind us, or until the Christmas tree and decorations come down, I thought I would include the video below as a reminder of striving for peace and harmony throughout the world in 2019. May we all find joy and personal satisfaction in the coming months.

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.

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.