Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells
Christmas Bells - Blandfordia nobilis

Tuesday, January 31, 2006


There has been a fever spreading through Robertson this last week - Lawn mowing fever.

So far, I have remained immune to it. But the scent of new mown Kikuyu grass and fuel fumes make a heady mix - on the moist air of Robertson.

With two warm, almost hot days, after weeks of cool moist air (when the grass was too wet to mow) there has been a frenzy of lawn mowing going on around the town. The locals recognise a window of opportunity when they see one.

"Mow the grass now, while you can, before it rains again. Mow it now, today. Quick - it looks like it might rain soon.... Mow it."

Out at "Lower Ranelagh", the resident (wild) Lyrebird was in fine voice this afternoon. A lovely thing to hear, within suburban Robertson. Blessed are those who live within range of the sound of his voice - even if he does dig up George's bulbs and other plants.
Photo: ABCTV - "Wild Australasia"

When the mist rolls in at "Lower Ranelagh", the sound of the Superb Lyrebird's call seems intensified - probably because other sounds from further afield are muffled. You are invited to go to this site for David Attenborough's "Life of Birds" to hear 1 minute 49 seconds of the recorded call of the Lyrebird. It is mostly imitating other birds, but it does include the sounds of a Chainsaw, and even of a tree as it is falling. How Aussie is that?

(1 Min 30 to 1 min 38, and 1 min 46 to 1 min 46 sec)
Scroll down the page till you see the photo of the Lyrebird, and click on the little link on the right hand side of the page. Enjoy! It is part of the Nature of Robertson.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sultry Summer Days

It was a balmy, almost sultry, summer day in Robertson today. Neither too hot, nor too windy. As a regular commentator on the fogginess of Robertson it behoves me to record this "event", to set the record straight.

After my shift at the CTC I went to Carrington Falls (part of the Budderoo National Park). There were many large, noisy animals in the pool above the Falls. Judging by the metallic carapaces from which they apparently emerge, before entering the water, these animals were probably hominids, (an introduced species). So, not wishing to disturb them, (or to be disturbed by them) I left, to seek out quieter areas.

The tiny creek which flows into the Blue Pool was alive with various water insects - some which I knew as "speedboats" when I was a kid. They have solid bodies, about 1.5 cm long, and they move quickly across the surface of the water. These insects are also called "whirly-gig Beetles".

Others were a kind of insect with large legs with which it actually walks across the surface of the water. These guys are called "water striders" (see illustration below). They are members of the Gerridae family. Apparently these are also known as "Jesus Bugs" for their ability to walk on water.

Unfortunately I know very little about pond life, but there is a very useful NSW site about "waterbugs" from which these illustrations (above and below) have been borrowed - I wish to acknowledge that, and recommend visiting the site for yourself - using the link above.

The main point I wanted to make was that the water was alive with life - and that was what I could see with the naked eye. Imagine the microscopic life-forms which are thrashing their way around in these pools, invisible to the unaided eye.

I actually went looking for any Greenhood Orchids which might be lurking
in the mossy banks of the shady creek banks, but alas, I didn't find any. Maybe it is still too early in the season for them.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Chinese New Year.

Congratulations and be Prosperous - "Kung hei fat choi". This is the Year of the Dog.

As the Chinese New Year starts, (it is a Spring festival, originally) it is appropriate to rejoice and to celebrate with family and friends, and to wish them prosperity. And so I do to you.

Tonight there was a combined pool party and Chinese New Year party at Jill's house. After a hot day, even your humble scribe enjoyed a swim. Monica gave me moral support in entering what was really the domain of the kids - the pool. But it was very pleasant once in the water. My first swim in years. Jasper made very convincing dog noises. Pleasant companionship, and good food and refreshments were enjoyed by all. Lena started her year, as she means to continue, by cleaning up the BBQ remnants. While Cassie, George, Blackie and little Max were doing doggie things like chasing balls, and yapping, Lena "worked the crowd", checking out the meat eaters. She had a very good party.

BJ had made 12 paper lanterns, which Boney had decorated. They looked great. Then BJ and Boney came out with Sage faggots which we burnt to cleanse the air, as we walked around in a procession, tinkling little bells (much to Lena's confusion, as she normally has a small bell on her collar).We even formed a little "Om" circle. I could even turn into one of those "New Agers". I wonder if there is an age limit?

A very pleasant New Year event, and lets hope it turns out well for all of us.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Citizens, but not "flag-wavers"

The citizens of the CTC, in Robertson are not a bunch of flag-wavers, by and large. And I am pleased with that.

Jingoism is the lowest form of patriotism, and patriotism is the lowest form of citizenship. Nearly everybody present last night was a "volunteer", which is, in my book, probably the highest form of citizenship.

Having got that off my chest, we had a fun time, last evening, welcoming Anni into our midst as a true blue Aussie. We all sang an adapted version of "Waltzing Matilda", which I had managed to twist into "Waltzing with Anni". Apart from the fact that we got mixed up with the tunes for the chorus and the verses, at one stage, it seemed to go over quite well. James was great on vocals, giving us a good strong lead, and carried us through to the "big Finnish".

Greg and Jenny both brought Lamingtons. (There was a tense moment there, when we thought we were going to have to announce whose were better - but that moment passed). Lynne brought Anzac Biscuits (BJ needs to learn that there is no such thing as "Anzac Cookies" - that is an oxymoron.) Melissa outdid herself, with a Pavlova, decorated by the fair hands of Paris, and a few other kiddies. A very Aussie touch, that! Most of the rest of us, just brought "refreshments" that's pretty Aussie, to.

Boney (on piano, vocals and harmonica, and... ) and James (on guitar and vocals) pretty much carried the evening, musically speaking. (However, River took over the drum kit and the mic. at one stage... ) And, Richard contributed, on his bongos.

Kate was farewelled too, as she is leaving Robertson to go to Tasmania. Best of luck Kate, and thanks for all those Cappuccinos!

I should make special mention of the fact that Rod rescued the internet server for us, just before the evening got underway, because there had been a brief blackout about 6:00p.m. Rod kindly answered a call for help, and came down to the CTC and flicked the necessary switches to power up the Internet system again. Rod makes a great contribution, by keeping the CTC's technology running (in addition to being the Chairman of the CTC Committee.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Our newest Citizen

Robertson has acquired a brand new citizen. Anni took the plunge, metaphorically, today, and joined our band of "Happy Little Vegemites". Congratulations, Anni.

Now, Anni, can you please resume Blogging? You have had too long off, playing musical word games with those talented young people in Canberra.


I have been rushing around like a headless chook, myself, so I missed posting a blog entry yesterday. sorry.

Personally I blame Boney and BJ, who took me with them to Bowral last night to hear Boney play drums (and do backing vocals - a cute "doo-whop" sound) along with Nick Rheinberger and vocalist Kerry-Ann. They were doing a "gig" at "Coffee Culture" in Bowral. Nick is the presenter of the Breakfast Show on ABC Illawarra (97.3 FM), but their web site has not yet caught up on his change of shift.

A fine night was had by all - most enjoyable.

And I even took a couple of cuttings of a very fine Jasmine plant growing in KerryAnn's garden - and put them in a pot straight away, late last night!

This morning I went to Sydney with Derek as a shuffle driver, to bring back a vehicle for him. I forget how I dislike Sydney - I was out of the car for less than 15 minues, and could not wait to escape the humidity, the smell, the noise, the crowded roads, and the low-flying aircraft. I think I can almost qualify as a hermit crab, scurrying back across the beach, looking for a shell to crawl into.

I returned to Mittagong, and after buying some lunch went and sat on top of the little hill at the lookout point on the side of Mt Alexandra. You could not see much, because it was still misty. But I happily sucked in the fresh, moist air, and breathed a sigh of relief. I was back in the Southern Highlands. This lookout is sign-posted from the main street in Mittagong, but it involves driving up a narrow bitumen track, half way up the hill. It was very quiet there, as usual. So I had no problem - there were no other vehicles. 15 minutes of peace and tranquility counterbalanced several hours of traffic, and noise.

One of these days, I shall persuade Jim to take me on a proper bushwalk around some of the famous tracks in that area, behind Mittagong.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A little moment of magic

Just before darkness fell, tonight, I noticed some movement in the shrubbery outside my window. Little birds were "working" through my planted garden, obviously searching for insects.

Often in winter one will observe what are called by birdwatchers "mixed feeding flocks" - birds of several species all together. That is what was happening today. It is supposedly "high summer" - a maximum of about 16 degrees C, with a thick wet fog all day. I can only assume that the birds had stayed put all day, hoping that the weather would lift, and then in the last half-hour, they decided thay had better "go shopping". Maybe?

Anyway, what were they? Brown Thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla); White-browed Scrubwren (Sericornis frontalis); Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis); Golden Whistler - female (Pachycephala pectoralis); Rufous Fantail (Rhipidura rufifrons).

For me, the best moment was when the Rufous Fantail arrived. It hopped across the ground (as the Scrubwrens were doing). I was looking down from above, so this gave me a perfect view of its fanned tail, with the lovely russet-coloured feathers on its back and tail. Normally this bird is a bit of a skulker, keeping to dense cover, and then bursting out to fly upwards to snatch some tiny insects (in flight). The most "colour" one usually sees is a flash of red-brown as the bird dives back into a Sassafras tree. Not tonight. There it was, with its tail fanned out fully, hopping across the tanbark, immediately below me.

A birdwatcher can only dream of moments like these, however brief they may be.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Scenic Drives # 1

My favourite bit of bushland to wander through is below East Kangaloon, along Kirkland Road, heading towards Tourist Road. Turn off Kangaloon Road at the East Kangaloon village proper. As you drive down Kirkland Road, you will drive past potato fields and dairy farms. There are a few old huge gum trees still standing in the paddocks, which are truly magnificent, although now very old. At the Moresby Hill Road intersection, you drive into the forest.

You will notice that the colours of the area are different from Robertson's greens. Although you are in wet forest, the countryside you are entering is basically typical Sydney Sandstone bushland. In spring, you will see Waratahs beside the road. That is almost a defining plant for Sydney bushland.

As you move down Kirkland Road, you come to progressively drier country, although it still is the same type of tree cover - it is just a little bit more "open". Part of this forest was burnt about 2 years ago, so that makes it appear more open too, although the shrubbery is regenerating well. The subtle difference I was mentioning, between "wet forest" and "slightly drier forest" is caused by a slight change in soil structure, as you move further away from the red basalt soils of the ridges of Kangaloon. You have moved into true sandstone-based soil. So, it is soil, not rainfall, that determines the type of vegetation you are looking at.

When you get to the end of Kirkland Rd, there is a T-junction with Tourist Road. You can turn right and circle back to Robertson, via the really wet patch of Eucalypt forest (complete with Tree Ferns) as you head back towards Mount Murray, and the Illawarra Highway, just above the top of Macquarie Pass.

My personal preference is to turn left and drive (slowly) along through the forested patches, and then the cleared patches of farmland below Kangaloon, heading toward Glenquarry. The Sydney Catchment Authority has locked up the forest on your right, to preserve the integrity of the Catchment area. However, they conveniently slash a strip alongside the road, for about 5 Kms, presumably as a fire break. I don't mind. This is where the Ground Orchids and other tiny perennial native plants thrive, as the slashing cuts back the shrubbery, allowing the little plants a chance to get the light.

I frequently stop and walk along this slashed verge, admiring the passing parade of different flowering plants, as the seasons change.

As you drive along, you will pass from dry grassed areas, under Scribbly Gums (some people refer to them as Ghost Gums, for their white trunks), through into tall wet forest, with very dense cover of other taller, Eucalypts.

The environmental changes are, again, due to the water-holding capacity of the soil, and its fertility. So the shallower, sandier soils have lower trees, and less of them. The heavier, richer soils have taller trees, and ferns, or Lomandras, with long strappy leaves.

Once again, different soil types give different plant communities. Give yourself a break, and stop and have a look, some time. Tiny plants are full of interest. Obviously, springtime will show you the most flowers, but there is usually always something in flower. At the moment, the Crinkle-leaved Lomatia (Lomatia silaifolia) is showing its creamy white trusses of flowers, which look like Grevillea flowers. And Persoonias are still flowering, as I wrote last week.

There is one wonderful patch of red-brown Kangaroo Grass, (Themeda australis) which looks totally wonderful at present. Who says grasses are boring?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sydney's water crisis - its our problem too.

Robertson is critical to Sydney's water supply.
This image of the region between Robertson and Sydney, and west to the Blue Mountains, (adapted from "Google Earth"), amounts to a photo of the main Sydney Water Catchment area - and that is what I wish to talk about, today. (Double click for a larger view).

The Blue Mountains area mostly drains into the Warragamba Dam, the main dam supplying water for Sydney. Sydney people, especially the ABC 702 radio presenters, prattle on endlessly about rain "not falling in the catchment". They mean the "Blue Mountains". But that is just part of the story.

As I mentioned yesterday, Robertson is in a very high rainfall area. From 1962 onwards the mean annual rainfall has been 1616 mm (or 63.6 inches). By contrast, Canberra (my old home town) receives about 22 inches, each year.

Caalang Creek, rises in Robertson, and flows south and west, because of the high volcanic ridges just north and east of the town, notably on Trig Station Lane (in East Kangaloon) and Mackey's Lane. These ridges act as a local "divide" to send the main creek which collects most of the precious rain which falls in Robertson out into the Wingecarribee River, and hence west, and eventually into the great Warragamba Dam


Not everybody (even amongst the local Robertson residents) seems to realise that our little Caalang Creek is the absolute starting point of the Wingecarribee River, a major tributory of the river system feeding Warragamba Dam. The Wollondilly River, drains a much larger, but drier, area, from Goulburn northwards. By contrast, the Wingecarribee River has a consistently good flow of water, starting from right here in Caalang Creek, in Robertson.

That is just part of the story. Just over the hill, past the Robertson Showgrounds, where the sign says "East Kangaloon" is the very headwaters of the Upper Nepean River. That river flows directly into the Nepean Dam, another of the dams used to supply Sydney with water. Similarly, the areas beyond the Showgrounds, in Lemons Road, and further east, at the end of Mackey's Lane also drain into the Upper Nepean River.

But wait, there's more! At the top end of Hoddle Street, behind the Old Cheese Factory, starts a little creek which becomes Barrengarry Creek, which makes Belmore Falls

so spectacular.

Similarly, rain which falls at my place, on Missingham Parade, or up along the Illawarra Highway, around Pearsons Lane, also flows into Barrengarry Creek.

All that water flows down into the Kangaroo Valley, where it is trapped in the Tallawa Dam. It is used to supply not only the locals, and the people in Nowra, but also, some water is pumped back up to the Fitzroy Falls Reservoir, and thence by way of a tunnel under Burrawang, into Wingecarribee Reservoir. From there, water is released downstream into Warragamba Dam. Sometimes water is diverted through the Glen Quarry Cut, into the Upper Nepean River, and on to the Nepean Dam, where it is also used for Sydney's water supply.

That is a very circuitous, and artificial, route for even more of the water which starts as rainfall in Robertson to end up in Sydney.

So Robertson is critical to Sydney's water supply.


Once our rainfall turns into river flows, it gets trapped for use in Sydney. However, at that point Sydney wastes much of this precious water.


The only Robertson rain which escapes being used (or wasted) in Sydney is that which falls on the south and eastern sections of Mackey's Lane. That rain water drains down into the Macquarie Rivulet, just behind the Pie Shop. and down over Macquarie Pass, and into Lake Illawarra.

Warragamba Dam is currently at about 40% full. Partly this is a result of the prolongued drought (which has not ended yet, despite recent good rains). However, with water usage, there is always the question: is the water being used well?

Readers are invited to check out the information on Sydney's water usage and storage crisis, at the following site: "I live in", from which this graph of Warragamba Dam water levels was sourced.


Sydney is using just about every drop of water which it can get hold of. And it wants more water!

There is high-level talk about creating drinking water by desalination of Sea Water, at Kurnell. That is an extremely expensive proposal. Surely Sydney could use its existing water resources more wisely? How much water is wasted in continuously flushing urinals in mens' toilets in public building all over the city? What about water saving devices in every shower in every house and hotel in Sydney? What about industry recycling its own water? What about all that water which falls in the city itself (not in the catchment) - how little of that is trapped by private water tanks? Country people do that as a matter of course!

It is time for Sydney to have a massive re-think of its entire water policy.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Where the hell is Robertson?

In answer to your question above, dear Reader, I am attaching a series of map/photos which I have adapted from the wonderful Dr Google. You might not be aware that Google Earth allows you a "spy satellite" view of your own back yard (almost). The only problem is that for rural dwellers like us, who are not yet of "strategic interest" to certain "foreign powers", the effective resolution available for us is about 200 m square. Below that, it is very fuzzy. Do remember to double click on these images for larger sized images to open up. I am endebted to Greg for putting me onto "Google Earth" as a resource base.

I made these images up, to send to a friend of mine in Canada. But it occurred to me that they might be of interest to locals and other visitors to this site, as well.

This first photo shows the village of Robertson, the Robertson Nature Reserve, a "pin" marked DJW (you can work that out) and then Cemetary Hill, which is at the end of Missingham Pde. At the Cemetary, you can clearly make out the area of forest which Hugh Waring planted about 50 years ago, which formed the rustic backdrop to the sheep-stealing scenes in "Babe". The discolouration in the bottom half of the photo is "original" from the Google Earth site. I think it shows different levels of imaging available, but I am not sure.

The Railway Station is shown (on Google Earth) as having an elevation of about 2440 feet (743 metres). Robertson is on a line of ancient volcanic activity, which accounts for both its altitude and its soil type. The predominant soil type in the local area is red basalt. The local trees are mostly non-Eucalypt forest (cool-temperate rainforest). Because of its altitude, and proximity to the ocean, it is a high rainfall area. From 1962 onwards the mean annual rainfall has been 1616 mm (or 63.6 inches).

In the second photo you can see the Illawarra Coastal region, with Lake Illawarra in the top right. South from there is the coastline around the Shell Harbour area. Move west, following the patches of bright green land (cleared farming land), and you will come to Robertson. So, on a clear day, (when we get one) the ocean may be seen from any high vantage point around Robertson (if you live on a ridge, and face east - I face west!). It is approximately 45 Km south-west of Wollongong and 99 Km south-west of Sydney.

In the third image, I have sketched in (in fine yellow lines) the edge of the coastal escarpment. This escarpment line is home to a wonderful line of sub-tropical rainforests - the original forests on lower ground were cleared by the early European settlers. Beyond that (west and north) lies the area known as the Illawarra Plateau. It is a relatively flat area of sandstone, covered in dense Eucalypt forest. There are coal deposits underneath the stratas of sandstone, which accounts for the presence of the steel mills in Wollongong.

This sandstone soil area is immensely rich, from the point of view of biodiversity. It is full of native plants and birds and animals. Many of them are endemic to the region and deserve to be protected. Long may it continue to be so!

<>The final image gives you the "big picture" - where we are in relation to the main sandstone plateaux surrounding Sydney. Again I have marked the full extent of the Illawarra Escarpment with a yellow line.You can see Sydney in the relatively low-lying basin. West of it is the Blue Mountains, rising to its highest point at Mount Victoria, west of Katoomba (famous for the huge gorges in the Jamison Valley and sandstone features like the "Three Sisters").

The dark green areas amount to undisturbed "wilderness" (much of it National Parks or reserved areas). It survived settlement by Europeans largely undisturbed, precisely because its soil was relatively infertile for the purposes of cropping and grazing animals.The development which did occur, happened because of specific resource pockets, such as coal or oil-shale deposits, (or a few areas with gold deposits). Certain fertile pockets of soil, in valley bottoms, or on isolated volcanic outcrops, also resulted in patches where the native vegetation was cleared for farming. That is what happened in Robertson and the surrounding area, from the 1850s onwards.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Five idiosyncratic habits - a challenge from Anni

Anni has challenged me to list out 5 of my idiosyncratic habits (only 5, Anni, only 5?).

This is a form of thematic topic, for which the term a "meme" has been adopted. See Anni's earlier blog, and the subsequent debate on the meaning of the term, in the "comments" section.

Anni's working definition of a "meme" was:

"A meme is someone's original idea, that then spreads via blogs, and while doing so it evolves and mutates, because people make their own interpretations, add things, omit things etc."

To me that makes it seem like a form of "Chinese Whispers".

For a more academic definition of the term "meme" look at Wikipedia's entry, which gets quite philosophical.


Anyway, for my list:

(1) When having a Cappuccino, in a cafe where they do not have real sugar (crystals, or lumps), in real containers, but use those annoying little tubular paper sachets with white sugar in them; after using the sugar, I always flatten out the first sachet, then fold it lengthways, and insert it inside the second tube. Then I add the two little torn-off ends (also folded) inside the second tube. Then I twist the single remaining "tube" into a simple knot, and place it carefully on the saucer. Every time. I swear I do it every time. Even at the CTC cafe. My little "obsessive-compulsive" twitch, one might say.

(2) Being unable to publish the original drafted entry #(2), because it was far too revealing of my deepest psychological weaknesses. Shall we settle on "cowardice", or maybe "prudence"?

(3) I always try to use precise words, and correct punctuation and grammar. I hate using shorthand, and codes like "txt msgs", "BCNU" and (especially) "LOL" which some people seem to use, in messages on mobile phones, and in internet chat rooms. Ambiguity of language leads to ever greater confusion.

Confusion leads to stress.

Stress leads to conflict.

Conflict leads to war.

Let's try and prevent the problem, at its source.

Say what you mean: Mean what you say.

(4) Growing "Tree Peonies". That is both idiosyncratic and obsessive. One has to wait up to 7 years to grow a seedling to flowering stage. One cannot grow them from cuttings, and "grafting" is a truly specialised activity, which I have not yet mastered. Why bother? Precisely because it is so slow, and difficult.

(5) Being able to look past a sea of weeds (almost without seeing them) to one interesting flower, somewhere down amongst the wilderness which passes for my garden. And growing a garden in which, every day, there is always at least one interesting plant in flower. Every day, without fail.

(6) Loving tiny little native "ground orchids", some with flowers as small as a grain of rice.

(7) Giving Margaret in the Robertson Country Bakehouse the correct money, or at least the "small change", whenever I buy a Streak and Mushroom Pie ($3:10) . I hate my pockets being full of coins.

(8) Staying up all night on the computer, playing mind games.

(9) Not knowing when to stop.

You can see where the "variation" enters into this "meme" business. Once trapped into responding to Anni's challenge, I could not help digging a big hole for myself. Then I had to rescue myself by editing out my original #(2) entry - because it was too "confessional".

I should have put down as entry # (2): Reading Anni's Blog!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

"Wedgies" circling on a gentle easterly updraft

A pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles (Aquila audax) were circling very low today, just across the road from my house. (Go to this link to the Canberra Ornithologist's Group site, for a wonderful image by Stuart Harris, of a "Wedgie" in flight.) My pair were riding a gentle easterly updraft off the ridge along Missingham Parade, and so were circling immediately above my neighbours' houses, at about 100 metres, maybe less - about three times "tree height", which is pretty "low" for a Wedgie to circle, (especially around houses). They were demonstrating masterly control in light wind conditions. Anyway, that "vision" got me thinking about exactly what the weather pattern is which has brought this steady rain to us, in the last few days.

The ever-wonderful, (but oh so difficult to navigate around) Bureau of Meterology website tells me that we have had 26 mm of rain yesterday, 7 mm the day before that, and 25 mm on the previous day (i.e., Wednesday, Tuesday and Monday). I have changed the days, because the Bureau has this quaint habit of reading - as "today's rainfall" the water in the guage at 9:00 a.m. today (The 26 mm I referred as yesterday's rain is actually recorded as Thursday, 19 Jan). In my world, "today" has only just got started at 9:00 a.m. But that is the official standard.

I suggest, if you are interested in weather details for Robertson, go to the following "links" and then save them in your "favourites" or "bookmark" them for future reference.

This hotlink will take you to the permanent webpage for last 7 days rainfall for the South Coast region (although it is called the "daily rainfall bulletin"). Scroll down to "Central Shoalhaven" district, for Robertson's readings. We also appear in "Lower Shoalhaven" too. That is a permanent link, updated daily (after 9:00 a.m., and it also gets updated several times during the day for rainfall "after 9:00 a.m.")

Back to the rainfall. While it was good, soaking, steady rain, it is not the kind which makes Robertson stand out in the record books. But, heck, it was
good rain. Maybe the best kind. Not enough to cause floods, nor much erosion. But it was falling when the soil was warm - making perfect growing conditions for plants (and Fungi) and probably everything else, too.....

The Synoptic Chart for 1000 hrs, EST 19.1.06 from the Bureau's website. The following link will take you to the "latest" synoptic chart (regularly updated).

The Northern Rivers region of NSW is copping a bucketing, with flood warnings, etc.
In "Bureau speak": "A trough over northeastern NSW is directing a deep moist east to southeast onshore airstream" (from NSW Severe Weather Warning IDN28500, issued at 1:10 p.m., 19 Jan 06).

When a "high", (which in the Southern Hemisphere, has an anti-clockwise circulation of air) is sitting off Bass Strait, as seen in the Synoptic chart above, it is able to dump moist air from the Tasman Sea back onto the northern NSW coastal region. If there is a strong pressure difference between that high and a "low" somewhere near it, that increases the force of the wind and the likelihood of storms. There is an excellent "animation" of the circulation of air in, around and between high and low pressure systems on this page of the Bureau's site. Their "glossary" of weather terminology is also very useful.

Currently, in Robertson, we are getting some of the wash of that illustrated weather pattern.

But we can also get a bucketing, if a "low", with its clockwise air movement, is sitting somewhere off the northern NSW coast, directing moist air onto us, from the south coast. This is what happens when the "tail end" of a tropical cyclone comes down from Queensland, or the Coral Sea, and stalls, as a "deep low" (or a "depression", or a "trough"), off the northern NSW coast.

In general, that is why February and March are such high rainfall periods in Robertson.

And heck, the locals will tell you
that, in Robertson, it can also rain because it feels like it!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Persoonias puzzle the "Geebungophiles"

I went down along the Tourist Road this afternoon, to check for any less familiar Ground Orchids, but didn't find any. There were just a few stragglers of the Hyacinth Orchids still flowering.

However, the Persoonias are flowering now. They have tiny yellow flowers, but they are, for some reason, some of my favourite plants.

They are an odd bunch, within the Proteaceae Family. They have small, yellow flowers which are almost tubular in shape, which then open back with 4 symmetrical curled outer segments, leaving an inner tube which also curls back in 4 segments, leaving a "prominent style" protruding up the middle of the flower.

That "style" leads to the ovary. Like many of the Proteaceae, the "style" persists as a dried point protruding from the fruit or seed capsule. In the case of Persoonias, their fruit are small oval "drupes" - a fleshy fruit with a small hard stone inside it. Each has a small "point" which is the dried remains of that "style".

These fruits have a place in Australian literature, as they were called "Geebungs" by the early settlers (presumably derived from an Aboriginal word). They were, inadvertently, the source of the name of the "Geebung Polo Club", immortalised by A.B. "Banjo" Paterson.

In the sandstone country below Kangaloon, and Glen Quarry, one finds a number of species of Persoonia. The most obvious is P. levis, which has large flat leaves and a bright green colouration. Its colour makes it stand out amongst the grey-green colours of the Eucalypt forest. The next most obvious species is P. linearis, a tall shrub with soft, narrow leaves. It often has a weeping habit. Then, along the side of Tourist Road, where the original scrub has been slashed to create a fire break, one commonly finds re-growth of an interestingly "hairy" species, P. laurina, which has rusty-brown hairs all over it. Its new growth is tinged this rusty colour. Its leaves are soft, flat and oval shaped. A more unusual species is P. lanceolata
which has elongated oval leaves. *(Edit) There is also a closely related species, with a distinct bluish tinge to them. That is in fact Persoonia glaucescens a Federally Listed Vulnerable Species. At first glance it could be mistaken for a small Eucalypt.

The next two are oddities. Persoonias are either great hybridisers, or else, the Botanists cannot really make up their minds about them. Some Persoonias have a distinctive rolled-under edge to their leaves. One such species is P. hirsuta. (Ed: See Erratum comment below - this reference should be to P. mollis DJW 28.2.06) It is said to be "variable". That is an understatement. One I saw today looked like a scaled down version of P. linearis, with narrow leaves, but with the tell-tale rolled edge to the leaf. Around Carrington Falls (10 Km south-east of Robertson) the local P. hirsuta (?)
form there, (Ed: in fact, P. mollis. DJW 28.2.06) has oval or rounded leaves, half as long and twice as wide as this plant I was looking at today. Who is to know exactly what they are? I am far from confident of my identification of either of these forms of Persoonia.

Finally, there is a common prostrate Persoonia in the Kangaloon area. It forms bright green mats of foliage often more than a metre wide. Its leaf shape is almost diamond shaped, about 5 mm long, 3 mm wide. It does not meet the general descriptions of P. oxycoccoides, but that plant is the closest fit I can find. It is also described as "variable" in leaf form.

The fruit of the Persoonias are edible, but not very nice (to my taste). They have a sticky textured gummy flesh, with a hard stone, like a cherry pip, inside them. However, Gang Gang Cockatoos absolutely love these fruit. These birds will often sit quietly in a large Persoonia shrub, and will allow you to approach them, quietly, until they decide it is time to fly away, making their characteristic harsh creaking sound.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Funny moments in the fog

This morning, (late morning) a wondrous fog rolled in. I drove out along the Illawarra Hwy, past the Pie Shop on the corner of the Jamberoo Road. On the way, I saw a car pulled over to the side. Thinking that they might have been in trouble, I slowed, and saw a hand waving out the window. Then I realised the hand was holding up a mobile phone.

Strange, I thought, just here they should get good reception (the antenna is up on the hill, just above this position).

Then I realised that the driver was using the mobile phone's camera to photograph nothing! That was what she would have been able to record through the lens.

Welcome to Robertson.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Death in the lower paddock

A family of Pied Currawongs (Strepera graculina) moved into my back yard several days ago. When I woke to the sounds of young Currawongs begging for food, I was immediately concerned for the welfare of the nest of baby Blue Wrens about which I wrote last week.

Sure enough, when I checked the nest yesterday, it had been destroyed. The opening was far larger than it had been, and the nest was empty.

The photo is by J-P Reber, from , which is a Swiss Conservation organisation which kindly permits fair usage of their images for Internet users who are writing about "Nature".

Robertson residents know that Currawongs are great eaters of fruit and berries, for muchof the year. But in breeding season, they change their diet to include far richer foods - fat insects, like "curl grubs"; lizards and baby birds. The adult Currawongs do what most human parents in a Supermarket do - get the kids what they want, to shut them up. The fledglings are totally self-centred and keep demanding more. When I saw a family of Currawongs move into my yard, I sensed that the days were numbered for the baby Blue Wrens.

Given a choice between a family of Currawongs, and a family of Blue Wrens, I know which I would prefer, but I am trying not to be too sentimental about this. After all, Blue Wrens are hunters too, it is just that we humans tend not to care too much about the things which they eat - tiny insects, mostly almost invisible to us. This is all part of the circle of life.

"So pound for pound

feather for feather,

"Blue Wren is as much a killer,

As the fearful Peregrine.

"It is just that we care little for its prey,

humble aphids, midges, and flies."


Friday, January 13, 2006

green, in a grey world

Well, today the fog varied from a 30 metre fog, to a 200 metre fog - measured in terms of visibility range. I certainly could not see beyond the bottom paddock.

Sometimes it misted, sometimes it rained lightly, sometimes it was a dry fog - the kind one can easily walk around in without one's clothes getting wet. But the ground was wet all day, as evidenced by Lena's red-brown muddy feet. Ah, the joys of having a dog, in wet weather, in Robertson.

As I write (at 10:00 p.m.), the temperature readings in Bowral and Moss Vale, the nearest weather reporting stations to me, are showing 16 degrees C, and 96% humidity.

The rainfall figures for the last 7 days, and for today since 9:00 a.m. have been:
Last Friday, 5 mm; Saturday, 3mm; Sunday, zero; Monday, 2mm; Tuesday zero; Wednesday 14mm; Thursday 2mm, and today, since 9:00a.m., 7mm.
So there has not been much rain this week, but the humidity must surely have been averaging around 90%. As I said yesterday, one can almost hear the plants growing.

It is this kind of weather which makes Robertson the kind of place that it is - green, in a grey world.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Coffee, cats and wildlife in Robbo

Well it is high summer in Robbo, now.

High fog, high(er) cloud, followed by high humidity when the fog burns off and you get clear skies for a few hours. This is what has happened today. But you can almost hear the plants growing. It is a great feeling, and it is what makes Robertson the kind of place that it is. Well, at least the colour that it is - green.

I have just returned from a brief visit with G., in the deepest, darkest, shadiest glade of "Lower Ranelagh". He has Camellias which he has pruned which are nearing 8 metres high again. And a Mulberry on which the re-growth from a pruning "attack" is nearly 2 metres long. Meanwhile, swarms of little bronze-green Beetles are redressing the balance of nature, by stripping the leaves on his Cherry trees.

While we were having a cup of G's finest coffee, a "Copper-tailed Skink", Ctenotus taeniolatus was playing on the cobble stones around the pond. (Photo by Peter Robertson © Museum Victoria.)


Meanwhile, a Wonga Pigeon (Leucosarcia melanoleuca) (Photo: Glen Threlfo) walked past his door, just a few metres away from us. (This link from the Lamington National Park has sound files, so you can listen to the Wonga Pigeon's call.) King Parrots were lining up in the trees, waiting for a feed. George is fond of complaining about the mess that the "bloody Lyrebirds" make. I just smile and say "we should all be so lucky, G.!"

G. is a cat lover, but he keeps his cats indoors, totally, which is to be greatly admired. Otherwise, these little native creatures would not be there for us to admire.

Breaking news: My Z. has just informed me that I am due to inherit a cat. Now that will be an interesting challenge. Z. will need to take advice from G. on training a cat to become an indoor cat.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Hay-fever hell (again)?

Hay-fever hell - it is Privet time (again)

If you go to Bowral or Moss Vale at present, you will see large shrubs with masses of creamy heads of flowers growing all over the place. They are the Large-leaved Privet (Ligustrum lucidum) . This plant is a rampant weed in Sydney and warmer places. Here is a link to the Weed list of the Manly Council along with the list of Noxoious Weeds, and the action required of landholders. This plant is listed as a WB4 category, which means "Any existing weed must be prevented from flowering and fruiting".
While Robertson is colder than other areas which this plant favours more, it does grow here, and it is a weed. It is closely related to the shrubbier, white flowered "Small-leaved Privet", which flowered heavily in Robertson in the first week of December.
This plant often survives in gardens because people mistake it for a Sasanqua Camellia. Its leaves are about the same size, but lack the small serrations on the edges of the leaves which Camellias generally have. It is more olive-green in colour than the Camellia, generally.
And of course, it never flowers like a Camellia. But if it is coming into flower now, with heads of masses of small, creamy flowers, then it sounds like it is the Privet. If so, please get rid of it.
As with the related plant, these plants are prolific seeders, and the birds love the seeds, and they are extremely fertile. This plant has the potential to grow to the size of a large tree, in Robertson. There was one which was removed from the school grounds, beside the School of Arts, last year, which was probably 15 metres tall, and had a trunk of nearly 1 metre diameter. A large tree, by any standards. And this is a definite weed, because of its prodigious ability to reproduce. (The foregoing link is to a New Zealand Website on noxious weeds. The "Tree Privet" as they call it, is obviously as much a problem for them as it is here. It is the same plant.)
As with the Small-leaved Privet, these plants are a real headache for allergy sufferers, (quite literally). The heavy scent plays havoc with Hay Fever sufferers, blocking their noses and making their eyes water.
If you have any of these plants growing on your property, it is reasonable to poison them right now, before they set maybe a million seeds for next year's crop of seedlings.
Use the hole-drilling method. With a cordless drill, make a series of 6 mm (1/4 inch) holes around the stem, just into the bark - you don't have to go far in. Then pour in concentrated Glyphosate. You can use a small hatchet to cut a series of slashed cuts into the bark. Either way, apparently it is important to apply the poison immediately (within seconds of the cut being made). As usual, take "contact" precautions with herbicides - gloves, and masks, and wash thoroughly after using chemicals.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A reply from Mr Greg Hunt MP

In addition to "mouthing off" on the Blog yesterday, I wrote directly to
Mr Greg Hunt MP. This is what I said:

Mr Greg Hunt MP
Member for Flinders
Parliament House Canberra ACT.

Dear Mr Hunt
I am writing to correct some omissions which you made from your Press Release of 4 January 2006. "2005 Australia's warmest year on record".

Sir, Your press release is a travesty.
Then my email text pretty much repeated what I had said in the blog, yesterday. Then I concluded:
I stand by my personal opinions expressed in that blog, and in this email. I would be interested to read any reply you may wish to make, either by email, or on paper to the address given below.

Denis Wilson, etc...

Today Mr Hunt replied, as follows:

Dear Mr Wilson,
Thank you for your comments.
I would simply note that I first wrote publicly about Global warming in 1990, that I have argued consistently in Government about the reality of climate change and referred to its reality in statemtns (sic) to parliament, in speeches as well as on radio and television following the release of this latest information.
Indeed I also wrote at length about the reality of climate change in an article that The Age had told me they would publish on the same day as the release.
Unfortunately they did not.
I am however perplexed at the distinction between hottest and warmest. Both represent the notion of the highest temperature as an absolute statement.
Greg Hunt
Thanks to Mr Hunt for the reply. (That is a genuine comment, on my part).

I would only comment that all his efforts in
arguing "consistently in Government about the reality of climate change" have apparently had little effect, as yet. Lets hope he has more success soon.

It is good to see that he replies to emails over the summer season. It seems he also does his own emails, by the looks of it. It is better than most Politicians manage (including our own local Member!)

As for him feeling "perplexed" at the distinction between hottest and warmest. If that is true, why would he have bothered to change the words in the first place? I feel that his comment is disingenuous. I have told him so, directly, tonight.

Still, I do give him points for replying.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A political outrage - "Soft-Soaping" climate change

The Bureau of Meteorology has reported that, statistically 2005 was the hottest year on record for Australia. (Click on that link to read the official report.) It was 1.09 degrees Celsius hotter than the long term average temperature.

The Bureau, being a scientific organisation, is cautious in ascribing "reasons" for these record temperatures, but it does acknowledge that:
"Australian temperatures have increased by approximately 0.9ºC since 1910, consistent with global warming trends.
Scientific studies have linked global and Australian temperature increases to the enhanced greenhouse effect."
Global Warming is real. A few extraordinarily hot days like those leading up to New Year's Day, 2006, do not make such records. It is long-term patterns which really mean something. Try this for size: "Since 1979, all but four years have been warmer than average in Australia." That means: 21 of the last 26 years have been above average in temperature.

That is a pattern - one that any responsible Government ought not ignore.
Let's see what the Environment Minister said about it.....

According to a BBC report: Environment Minister Ian Campbell said climate change was the world's "number one environmental challenge". (Good start, Minister. - DJW)

The BBC continued: "These figures add to the weight of evidence that climate change is real, and it's a problem that the world needs to work together to seek to solve," Mr Campbell told ABC News. (Blame-shifting. - DJW)

The BBC said: "But he defended the government's decision not to sign the Kyoto Protocol - saying it was inadequate because it failed to include developing countries. "We need something that includes all countries," he said.
(Pathetic, Minister. Pathetic. - DJW)

The BBC report
concluded: Australia and the US are the only two major industrialised nations to refuse to join the agreement, which calls for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2012.


My response is: What better way to get something which "includes all countries" than for us to refuse to join in? It is time for a change - of policy, NOW!


As a former Ministerial speech-writer, I wanted to read the "official statement" by the Minister. There was none! This is outrageous.


The announcement on behalf of the Government was made by Greg Hunt MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. Parliamentary Secretaries are not even Assistant Ministers. It is pathetic that such an important announcement should have been made by someone other than the responsible Minister.

Secondly, having read the detailed statement by the Bureau, and then the Press Release by Greg Hunt, MP, it is clear that the Bureau's statement has been "gutted" by Mr Hunt. He makes no mention of Global Warming (the Bureau did).

Worse: the tone of the Press Release is triumphalist:
"The 2005 Australian temperature record eclipses the old record, set in 1998, by a considerable margin." (Mr Hunt). Well done Mr Hunt. Lets hope you can claim another record, next year too, eh?

Did I say the Bureau's statement was gutted? The Bureau's headline said 2005 was the hottest year on record. Mr Hunt said: 2005 was Australia's warmest year on record. Subtle change of language, to "soften" the message.

This is a totally inappropriate way in which to report an undeniably disasterous climatic trend. This Parliamentary Secretary ought be sacked.

The foregoing political comment is my personal opinion.

Denis Wilson.

Lot 4 Missingham Parade, Robertson NSW 2577

Citizen of Australia

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Goldfinches eat Thistledown

The mist has cleared. It gave way this morning to an overcast, showery day.

There are European Goldfinches (Carduelis carduelis) eating the "Thistledown" seeds of some Scotch Thistles in my garden beds. (Photo: Bill Pound, Reading Ornithological Club, UK). I shall get the Whipper Snipper fired up, and chop down the Thistles. Not that I mind the Goldfinches. They are pretty, and more importantly, do not seem to compete with native Finches, as they seem to exclusively eat weed seeds (especially Dandelions and Thistles). And they have very different nesting habits from the native Finches.

In fact there are lots of Red-browed Finches ("Firetails")
(Neochmia temporalis) around the place, but they mostly seem to eat grass seeds.

Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans) also love the Thistles, which is good. The more things which eat their seeds and prevent the "Thistledown" seeds blowing on the wind, the better.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hmmm. Mist in its fourth day must be the most challenging weather cycle for a blogger.

Not much happens in a mist, have you noticed?

Derek rang and asked me to put the Daimler under cover, as storms with large hailstones were being forecast. We did that, but a close look at the Bureau's Weather Warnings site shows that this warning was for the Hunter River and Northern Tablelands. "Chinese Whispers" or weather warnings? Still, better to have the car safely stowed away, I guess. It is too beautiful to let it get damaged.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Baby Blue Wrens in the mist

I have a nest of baby Blue Wrens - OK, Superb Fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). To me, they will always be Blue Wrens. (Photo: David Cook, COG Photo Gallery)

Out in the paddock below my house, there are lots of dead Scotch Thistles (remember that debate about spraying Thistles?). Well the spraying was successful in knocking off the Thistles before their seeds dispersed.
Anyway, the Blue Wrens have nested in the dead thistles, or perhaps the thistles have died since the nest was built. Either way it seems a vote of confidence in "Round-up". Judy and I were watching them coming and going to the nest while we were having dinner last evening.

This morning I could not see any "activity" around the nest, and was concerned that the babies had been taken, or the nest abandoned. So I went out in the mist, and approached the nest carefully, and gave a little "squeak" while still several metres away. Sure enough, the female (known as a "Jenny Wren") flew out of the nest, so I immediately left without disturbing the chicks. The female wren is brown, with a reddish eye stripe, very different from the male above. (Click on the hot-link for her picture.)

Judy returned to Canberra at lunchtime, having achieved the hanging of some block-out curtains in my loungroom. This wall of curtains looks great, and will help control the temperature in the house, (if summer returns to Robertson this year). Thanks, Judy.

Day 3 of this fog is dragging on. Today it is a wet fog, with occasional rain periods. Yesterday the house temperature varied from 15 *C to 16*C. Just a week before, the heat had driven us away from Robertson.