from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: A late-enjoyed Christmas present or Learning to Cook

October 4. Last Christmas, our Capetown son and daughter-in-law gave us a present of two tickets to attend a cooking course at Scoffed Cooking School in Adelaide. Scoffed offer a range of themed evening and day-time cooking options for children and adults, for beginner and more advanced cooks.

We planned to select a course in the New Year, but before we could, COVID-19 shut down the cooking school along with everything else. Fast forward 7 months and the business has reopened. We now had two credits to attend a cooking session of our choice. The numbers they allow into the school’s classes have been reduced and Covid-safe rules are strictly applied. (This is although there is only one active case in South Australia … a young man arriving from overseas and already in quarantine. Deaths? Four people died overnight and 479,000 tests in total have been undertaken.)

New Zealand green-lipped mussels ready to finish in the oven – one of the largest mussel species reaching 240mm in length!

Previously, I had chosen a course on how to cook fish, but this was not available. So, instead last night I attended a course on Spanish cooking, more particularly how to cook paella and pintxos (typically, a small snack eaten in bars in Spain and Portugal … like tapas).

When the 13 of us gathered – socially distanced in the professional kitchen – we were first informed about the ‘Covid’ rules for the evening. I have never washed my hands so often! Then there was a demonstration in ‘how to chop with a sharp knife’ … how not to slice the end of your fingers off while slicing the parsley.

Seafood Paella

I have to admit, in all honesty, that I’m not a good cook. I have learnt and adapted over the years and there are moments when I am quite pleased with my cooking. However, in my family there are very good cooks. My sister-in-law, Meri, is a phenomenal cook, a natural, and my daughter, Shannon, in Seattle is another – although she uses almost every utensil in the kitchen in the process. But the result is worth the wash-up.

the three student paella-cooks

Anyway, last night, under instruction, I had a lot of fun cooking up a series of Spanish-themed entrees and a delicious seafood paella. My co-cook of the evening was a younger woman who had had to ditch her Spanish travel plans for 2020. She continues language instruction on Zoom and had decided that acquainting herself with Spanish cooking was the next best thing to do!

(The crux of the evening was to show us how to form a crust in our paellas– the essential mark of a good paella.)

in style …

Between each course, we adjourned to their small cafe carrying our food to enjoy there with an accompanying half glass of wine. So, with the cooking demonstrations and the frequent hand-washing, the whole process took over three hours. We ended the evening by deep frying churros for our dessert – the churros (delicious deep-fried pastry) were dipped in chocolate or / and dulce de leche.

I realise that these are the kinds of evenings we have missed with the shutdown. Everyone at Scoffed Cooking School was so light-hearted, so relaxed, so prepared to have a fun evening. Even though in South Australia we have not been in a ‘hard’ or lengthy lockdown like other countries, I felt as if I had been let out of school. There are still fun things to do and life to be lived!

And of course, there is now time to buy a special paella pan so I can practice at home and burn the pan with equanimity.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Sorry, but I don’t know either!

September 27.

Johannes Leak cartoon. The Australian 26-27 September, 2020

In late May and early June, our neighbouring state of Victoria was hit by a second wave of community infections of Covid-19. The numbers exploded rapidly, reaching over 700 a day as the authorities failed to track, trace and test to halt the spread. People started asking questions. How did this happen; where is the virus coming from? Soon it was fairly obvious: the hotel quarantine system for returning travellers had failed.

Cases continued to spread. On August 2, a state of ‘disaster’ with Stage 4 restrictions on Melbourne and Stage 3 on the rest of the state, was declared.

All other states closed their borders to Victoria. By then the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, had fielded questions about how his government had failed in their management of the quarantine process. He said he would appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the outbreak but since he was so busy handling the crisis, he would not comment further. So, the state and the country had to wait until September to listen to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

final witness – Daniel Andrews

September 26-27. After 25 days of hearings, 62 witnesses and 200,000 pages of documents, a 3 million dollar inquiry has not had the main question answered: who was responsible for appointing private security firms to manage the hotel quarantine of overseas travellers instead of the (more reliable and experienced) Federal police who had been offered by the Federal Government (these police had been appointed in other states)? The private firms had been hopeless in their job. They had subcontracted to untrained and underpaid workers. Lurid tales of security staff relaxing on the job, smoking breaks, shopping outings and co-habiting with the travellers, emerged.

“Some guards are saying they had no training,” Shah said. “Some were saying they had three minutes’ training.” (Kazim Shah, a United Workers Union organiser).

The quarantine system had failed with lethal results. Where was the culprit? Where was the failure?

Quotes attributable to the Premier Daniel Andrews on the occasion of appointing a Royal Commission. July 2, 2020, “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened.”

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/judicial-inquiry-hotel-quarantine-program

“The inquiry will begin promptly and will examine a range of matters including:  decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; communication between government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; contractual arrangements; information, guidance, training and equipment provided to staff in hotels; policies, protocols and procedures.”

This weekend our newspapers tell the story. And what a debacle it is: no one is owning up. No one made the wrong decision – it just appears to have happened, willy nilly!! Be amazed! An immaculate conception-decision had emerged with no record, no minutes, no one there! Premier Daniel Andrews was the last to give evidence and yesterday he was full of ‘don’t knows’.

Everyone was waiting for Premier Andrews to appear. He was the last government minister, the final witness, before the commission. He held up the bible, swore to tell the truth – but it turns out – he did not know how or who made the decision to hire private security firms.

He said, ‘I want to say to you, Madam Chair, I await your final report, the conclusion of your work, so we can understand better what has occurred, So, I as leader of government can take appropriate action to ensure these sorts of errors never occur again.’ The Australian September 26-27.

A Monty Python moment – but remember, this is not a joke, 762 people died in the outbreak, 18,000 were infected. Only one minister has resigned – the health minister, Jenny Mikakos. Andrews blamed her, saying she was accountable. Mikakos has sworn before the commission that she did not even KNOW that private guards were being used.

Andrews is not resigning – he says he has work to do!

I will be amazed if processes change in the corridors of political power. Do Royal Commission findings and recommendations result in changes?

If my little Adelaide writing group meetings keeps minutes, why are the major decisions of the Victorian State government not likewise recorded? Nine ministers, PM Secretaries, Commissioners and Health Officers had no clue how this disastrous decision was made. Collective amnesia!

I don’t know, either! The mystery decision!

The editorial puts it succinctly, ‘Be it collective gross incompetence or a cover-up …Victorians have been treated with contempt by the government they voted in and pay …’

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Sewerage with your salmon, sir?

September 21.

Nineteen years ago, I read the June 21st article in the Economist, headed with this challenging and half-amusing title: ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ I have never forgotten it. Some articles fall on fertile ground! I had, mistakenly, thought that farmed salmon was a good food choice. After reading this article (about salmon ‘farms’ in Scotland), I learnt a lot about farmed salmon. I also learnt it was cruel.

‘Salmon are kept at higher densities than battery hens. Packed in cages of up to 70m in diameter, holding up to 500,000 fish, they are fattened on a diet of the rendered remains of small fish. Anti-bacterial chemicals are used to ward off sea lice and other parasites. Colouring agents are included in their pellet food because, deprived of its natural diet of krill and shrimp, the flesh of a farmed salmon looks an uninviting shade of grey. Roche sells a colouring agent, called Salmofan, which allows salmon farmers to choose the exact shade of pink they like for their fish.’

That was just the beginning of my education about farmed salmon. The excreta from the fish falls to the bottom of the fiords where, in certain weather conditions, it is stirred up into the pens and eaten by the fish. The pollution affects the wild fish and resultant levels of parasites (lice) are unacceptable (and the lice jump onto the wild salmon). The same story is found in Canada and north-western USA.

Since writing for this Covid-19 diary, I have noticed that any of my posts that feature food and cooking gets more ‘likes’. Food is popular! I believe this reflects our current anxiety about what we are eating. Are we keeping healthy? Are we looking after our immune systems? When the virus invades us, will we have the physical resources to survive it? Especially if you ‘suffer’ from the co-morbidly of age, your health is a matter of extra concern.

Eating less meat, more fish, more vegetables, is discussed. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise is also promoted. We are trying.

Can you add to this a concern about how our food is produced? How is it farmed? Are our meat chickens raised in cages? Do we need to drink cow’s milk? Do we need to eat veal? Should we include more vegetarian meals in our at-home cooking?

Along this line of thought, I decided I would check on the latest news about salmon farming in Scotland. Surely, in the 19 years since ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ the situation would have improved in the fiords of Scotland.

No! They have not!

Production of salmon has increased since 2001 from 127,000 tonnes to 189,000 tonnes in 2017.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-48266480

This article explains that wild salmon numbers are at their lowest levels since records began – experts talk about a ‘crisis’. Lice numbers on wild fish are at epidemic levels. Effectively, the fish gets eaten alive …. Severe injuries are found on the farmed salmon and apparently the inspectors have trouble recording this!

Marine ecologist Dr Sally Campbell says: “I think most people who choose salmon off their supermarket shelves have no idea of the waste that’s going into our marine environment as a result of that. And they would be appalled.”

Every year about 9.5 million fish die in the salmon farms, about 20% of the total.

Disease, parasites and even chemicals designed to treat them can all prove fatal.’

If you have read this far, I should apologise in bringing you this bad news when you already have enough going on.

Why worry about fish, you might ask. Do not worry – just check out the guides and buy accordingly.

https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search

Meanwhile, I should think twice about eating our local Tasmanian farmed salmon (which has been a favourite). It’s easy to get advice on what ‘sustainable-stock’ fish I should eat. Keep away from the top predators: marlin, sailfish, tuna, farmed salmon. Keep away from fish that are caught with a huge bycatch.

I am pleased to say that the crabs and southern calamari that I used to catch on our Yorke Peninsula are deemed sustainable. In Australia they have generous bag-limits for crabs and calamari.

Now summer is approaching, I shall have to go fishing again.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Rain!

Weather front approaching

September 20. September in Adelaide is the last month of the year in which we hope to receive a reasonable amount of rain. Our mean rainfall for the first month of spring is 2 inches or 50 ml. Bear in mind that our annual rainfall is 525ml. (21 inches). Some say South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world. It sure feels like that at the moment.

This year, our winter rainfall was only 60 % of the average. You can see this in the hardness of the soil when you dig. Summer lies ahead with those challenging weeks of furiously high temperatures and no rain.

Witchelina creek – long long without water.

I returned from our recent trip up north acutely aware of the devastation that the drought has had on the countryside. So I started watching the 28-day forecast of possible rain that is produced by Elders Weather – hoping for rain for the stations we had returned from. They get their rain from monsoonal troughs arriving from the north. And in the last few days, one arrived.

Witchelina, Farina and the Marree area received close to 100ml of rain (4 inches). The Flinders Ranges recieved a little less. Flood warnings were broadcast with images of swollen creeks. A godsend. Our ABC news was full of the wonder of this record downpour, as farmers rejoiced.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-19/record-rain-has-sa-outback-stations-rejoicing/12681156

So we waited in Adelaide, hoping for the meagre 20 mm (1 inch) that was forecast for last Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The clouds were dark but no rain fell … a few showers passed south over Kangaroo Island. I started watering the garden again.

Today’s Bureau of Meterology radar.

Today, Sunday, the skies were full of sound and fury and once more in anticipation I examined the local radar – a narrow band of orange, red and black approached us from the west. We got some rain! Only 5ml over half an hour, but so very welcome.

Later, I walked out in the dark to set our two feral cat traps (yes, we are trapping feral cats with help from our council) and the bush seemed to be singing.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Farina – travelling to an Outback ghost town

September 13.

Farina township, established in 1876, is now 7 hours due north of Adelaide, 630 kms on good roads. You can leave home at 8am, stop for tea in Port Wakefield, a lamb pie in Port Augusta, coffee and a Quandong pie in Hawker and arrive into the ghost town around 4pm. Without speeding.

But pause. Farina was once a month’s ride away or two months if you were on a wagon. Farina, for me, stands as an example of the struggles endured by Australia’s early settlers. You cannot but admire their tenacity at the same time you acknowledge their ignorance of this country.

It would have been a harsh lesson in an unforgiving land.

On our recently trip to Witchelina Nature Reserve, 30 kms west of Farina, we travelled this route north, taking in the landscape as it changed, as the green became brown, as the trees shrunk and disappeared, as the towns became smaller, as the wedge-tailed eagles (Australia’s vultures) became more numerous lifting from the roadside off dead kangaroos. Heartbreak land. Hard to love, hard to survive.

Kanyaka Station – half way to Farina – was established in 1851. Early on, there were 41,000 sheep on the property. In 1867, 20,000 sheep died in the drought.

We did not want to be depressed. This was our keenly anticipated holiday after 6 months of being home-bound thinking of little more than family and the issues of the daily news: how many new cases of Covid-19? How were our children doing in the USA? In Australia? In South Africa?

We were escaping to look at the landscape and geologyof the Adelaide Superbasin. We would have experts: geology professors and practitioners, biologists and bird watchers in our group. We would be beyond the reaches of WiFi. No TV, no shops. We were looking forward to evening discussions, communal meals and shearers’ quarters for 8 nights.

Farina landscape

Farina lasted for many years after the dreams of wheat and barley farming faded with the rain decreasing to the normal levels of 6.5 inches a year. The town, at its maximum had 600 people: Aboriginal people, Afghan cameleers and European immigrants. Once there was water at Farina but it did not last. The town only struggled on after the 1890s due to the railway line – closed in 1980.

The empty rooms of Farina

Over the years, it has become a ruin and a tourist attraction for Outback travellers in their A-Vans and sleek Ultimate Caravans. A café is being established there with an underground bakery. Winter is the time for the Outback when the days are warm and sunny and nights cold. In summer the temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

There is something that draws us in awe to these golden stone ruins, stark in the gibber plains. No roofs remain. The walls impress all who stand before them: the massive rectangular rocks that form the lintels last the longest, holding up the doorways and chimney places. You have to admire the workmanship that went into the stonework. There is confidence in these buildings as well as a warning for the hubris of those who ignore nature.

Arriving at Witchelina Nature Reserve

Our group passed through Farina in our 4-WDs, complete with spare tyres, Air-Con, Satellite phones, 2-way radios, GPs, cameras the size of a pack of cards, binoculars and bottles of spring water. If those early settlers could have seen us what would they think?

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: staying fit without Aged Care

September 11. It’s been six months since our Australian society got into panic mode over Covid-19. At first, there was the rush to secure our food supplies. Rumours abounded. A little later, we worried about exercise. As organised sport, gyms and council programs were halted we Zoomed into gym sessions or went out and walked the parks and streets.

Over time in South Australia, we have been lucky enough to relax –  a lot. We can now play tennis, go to restaurants, cinemas, play bridge and have guests at home. We can travel within South Australia, the Northern Territory and fly to Queensland.

I have resumed attending weekly yoga lessons at our local council hub. As an older person, health has become something I worry about a little bit more than before. It’s not just issues around COVID-19, but a sense that we need to look after ourselves – after all we have co-morbidities. To this end, I decided to go extend my program by going to the Pilates class also offered at my council hub. Pilates teachers talk non-stop about the ‘core’: the weakening ‘core’ as we age! No doubt, my body is in decline. Yoga is not enough.

So, I attended my first Pilates class and I enjoyed it very much and hoped to continue. However, I was told I needed approval from My Aged Care; this Pilates class was subsidised by our Federal Government for older people to enjoy. All the other attendees looked of a similar age and fitness to myself. I felt I would fit in.

My Aged Care was introduced in July 2013 by our Federal Government. The idea is to make it easier for older people to be assessed and supported with various services. I think the plan is to keep people in their homes, as fit as possible and as long as possible, so that they do not burden the old age homes or the medical system.

I already had an Aged Care number which is readily given to people older than 65.

I mistakenly thought this would be a simple process: I would phone up and explain that I would like to attend the Pilates class (citing the need for ‘core’ strengthening!). Obviously, it would make me fitter and stronger and more able to stay in my own home for years to come, thus being less of a liability on the government. Logical.

Not so fast. The kind woman at Aged Care informed me that I would need an ‘assessment’ before they would approve me for this one hour, once a week, Pilates class.

I hoped that this could be done with a few simple questions conducted over the phone. No. An appointment was made for me for an assessment in my own home.

‘Did I have a dog?

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Please could the dog be locked up before the assessment’.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I was now in the system and I did not pull out  – also I was a little curious.

So last week, Trisha, from Aged Care, came to our house. She asked me to open the door (she did not want to touch the handle) and she made sure that we were socially distanced. I offered her tea or coffee. She said she was not allowed to have tea, coffee or even a glass of water. I told her that my almost toothless one-eyed Roy dog (desperate to greet her) was locked away. She said that the interview would take approximately one hour. I was bemused.

Trisha took out her laptop and said she had to go through the whole assessment. The questions were thorough – here are just a few of them: Did I have a social life? Friends? What did I do with my time? What kids did we have and where were they? Did we talk to them? Could I shower myself? Did I have handrails in the shower? She counted all our steps in the house. Could she see our bathroom? (That surprised me). Could I drive and shop on my own? Could I cook? What pain symptoms did I have? Did I have my own teeth? What medication did I take? Did I use pill boxes? etc ….

Forty-five minutes, later Trisha told me, apologising profusely, that she could not give me a ‘package’ because if she gave me a package someone else would not be able to have one.

‘You are fit,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry – you are not isolated.’

I lamely said I did not want a package. I just wanted to attend Pilates and was happy to pay the federal government extra part of the cost ($10). Uh-huh! No way was this possible.

Trisha left after telling me that I should be pleased that I was ‘on the system’ because if anything happened to me, they had all the data about my life!!! They sure did!

The kind of services My Aged Care offer to elderly people is impressive. I had had no idea of the range and scale of the support offered. I must say that we are lucky to live in a society that has put in place such services. But I am somewhat horrified by the bureaucracy that it involves. And its inflexibility.

Recently, I read the Economist magazine’s special feature on dementia where they reported on this looming world-wide crisis. I wonder for how long Australia can afford to support their ageing population in the Aged Care way. In 2107, 15% of our population was 65 and over. (9% in 1977). Growing steadily. People are living longer as well. Our Federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, says our ageing population is ‘an economic time bomb’.

Never fear. I can go to my Next Generation club – further away – for Pilates classes but it’s not so friendly and filled with lithe young mothers in Nike and Lululemon lycra gear. So be it. I am quite pleased that I was rejected for an Aged Care package. Obviously, I am too fit, too busy. For the moment.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: more on our escape north – walking on orchids

September 7.

Blue-beard native orchid

After we climbed out of Alligator Gorge on our trip north, last week, we walked through the eucalyptus forest to a lookout. One of our members is a botanist and she identified the spring flowers along the path. And then she pointed out tiny orchids. Many South Australian orchid species have never been scientifically described.

I have always loved orchids. In Zanzibar my mother collected them – we drove through Jozani Forest looking for epiphytic orchids that trailed from the tropical trees. In Durban, South Africa, orchids grew profusely in our gardens. They were large spectacular species and did not need cosseting. Each year the blooms multiplied. Adelaide, Australia has a perfect climate for cymbidiums as long as you can protect them from summer heatwaves. Give them enough shade, a winter cold spell and throw in a few handfuls of slow-release orchid fertiliser and they will present you with a profusion of spring flowers.

Star-rock spider-orchid

There are plenty of native ground orchids in South Australia. They appear in late winter to early spring but you need to walk slowly and have a keen eye, for they are tiny and easily overlooked. Once you stop and look, there they are.

Hairy-stem snail orchids

Our path through the forest in Mt Remarkable NP was lined with orchids. The two of us got down on hands and knees to see them properly! As we did so, another family came past and my friend chastised their young son as he was stepping on the orchids. It is easily done. These orchids do not advertise themselves.

I love their names: star-rock spider orchid, mosquito orchid, blue-beard orchid, hairy-stem snail-orchid. Someone, went to a great deal of trouble naming them. We were on our knees in appreciation.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Walking on the Cryogenian, thinking of an Urmetazoan

River red gum in Alligator Gorge

6 September. The second day of our travels north was spent in the Mt Remarkable National Park, near the town of Wilmington, 320kms north of Adelaide. On reflection, this felt like being on the edge of the known world. The countryside north of Wilmington suffers from a severe shortage of rain and is dotted with half-deserted towns and collapsing stone buildings built over a century ago.

My husband and I elected to visit Alligator Gorge within the park. The origin of the name is in dispute. Rest assured, there are no alligators, nor crocodiles in this gorge. You might find a large goanna which looks intimidating but will not rise from the murky depths to grab your leg and refuse to let go. A long time ago, a large goanna raided my Queensland campsite. I learnt that they have an efficient sense of smell, a liking for cheese and powerful jaws.

salt water crocodile in the Daintree River, Queensland. Far away.

This National park was relatively green and we saw may euros, or common wallaroos, on our drive to the gorge. Euros are marsupials – they are smaller than the larger common Western Grey kangaroos and have noticeably darker paws and tails. They did not seem afraid of us, enjoying the grass in open areas, a teenage joey doing circuits round its mum. Visitors to Australia struggle with the many names of our marsupials and tend to call all hopping creatures of this shape, ‘kangaroos’. But we have potoroos, quokkas, bilbies, bandicoots, euros and wallabies to name a few survivors.

a Euro ‘jill’ (female) checking the joey in her pouch

Over time, rivers have cut into the 700 myo quartzite of Mt Remarkable leaving a steep gorge. We made it down the 272 steps, counting all the way. At the end, a small river was running and we did not feel inclined to wade through the slippery Narrows. Instead, we marvelled at the rocks beneath us, where the ripples marks of ancient seas were frozen in time. This is a geologist’s paradise: a moment to ponder the question of the origin of animals.

Ripple Rocks on the descent into Alligator Gorge, Mt Remarkable

These were rocks of the Precambrian (older than 541 million years before present): a period which covers almost 90 percent of Earth’s history. The Precambrian is split into three time spans and the Alligator Gorge rocks belonged to the more recent of those eras: the Proterozoic (good news – this is when oxygen first entered the earth’s atmosphere).

Keep on splitting as geologists do: the Proterozoic is again divided into three periods. The most recent is the Neoproterozoic era from 1,000 to 541 million years ago. We are getting there. More splits: the Neoproterozoic is split into three as well – the middle period of this is the Cryogenian period (cold birth) and the rocks on which we walked on the 24th August, 2020 were formed during the Cryogenian – between 720-635 million years ago.

I am sorry I cannot be more specific on the date.

the rocky Narrows of Alligator Gorge

I can only say we walked on the shore of an estuary or beach formed into rock when nothing lived on the land – since it was a frozen waste without much oxygen. Some call this the time of ‘Snowball Earth’, others, ‘Slushball Earth’. A matter of the degree of freezing.

The big question for scientists is when did animals originate? They evolved before the Ediacaran Period (635-542 million years ago). It is currently agreed that animals originated during the Cryogenian period, either in the depths of the frozen ocean around hydrothermal vents OR close to the ocean surface around a slightly warmer equator. So, we were walking on the rocks formed during the time the first animals appeared.

Another point of interest. The Adelaide Geosyncline or the Adelaide Superbasin (includes the Flinders Ranges, Mt Lofty Ranges and Kangaroo Island) consists of sedimentary rocks (some volcanic) that were deposited during the time of the breakup of the super-continent Rodinia (motherland). Thus, where we were standing in Alligator Gorge was on the eastern shore of Rodinia, an ancient land where the first animals stirred in the superocean of Mirovia.

https://earthlyuniverse.com/cryogenian-glaciations-birth-animals/

What I like most of all was learning this new word, a very important word. Urmetazoan. The urmetazoan, is our common mysterious ancestor living in the Cryogenian Period. What did it look like? – probably like a sponge.

All this science and questions of millions of years, puts our current world’s woes into a little perspective. Such issues were later discussed by our Field Geology Club of SA members, but not resolved, over dinner at the local Wilmington pub.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: the rise of the strange.

4 September.

our art installation

The recent Economist magazine has an article about the weird conspiracy and outlandish theories arising during this period of covid19. Stories merge, grow and adapt to current fears. Such oddities have been around for a long time. (Did you know that aliens built the pyramids?)

I cannot understand how people are caught up with such mad ideas to the extent they will go out on the streets, risking contagion, to promote these ideas. To my amazement I have family and friends on FB that have indicated their following of such mad theories.

https://www.economist.com/1843/2018/08/14/following-qanon-into-the-age-of-post-post-truth

But humans are a strange (and brutal) species.

We have our local strange happenings as well. No conspiracy, no madness, just determination and lots of money. And a little bit about art.

Three hundred metres down our road, on the sloping Hills Face Zone, there is a magnificent garden, a garden of over 2 ha with a permanent gardener. We call it the ‘secret’ garden. The owner has allowed locals to wander in his beautiful garden. We marvel at the tendered lawns, the meandering paths, the huge trees, the olive grove, the water features, the views over Adelaide. Often, we have wondered why the owner has not built a house on the level area obviously prepared for one.

This last week, activity started in a strange way. Three or four containers were delivered to the site. Cranes arrived to position them on the slope. What was this all about? Next the containers were painted black. Was the owner going to store material on the site? Another crane arrived and placed a final container upright on the other containers. Was this a mistake? Had they dropped the container in the wrong position? The rumour then arrived that the elderly wealthy businessman was finally going to build a house. That made sense as many people are using this time of Cocid-19 to upgrade their properties. Wrong.

The puzzle was solved yesterday. Another crane arrived and placed three red crosses on top of the upright container. This expensive exercise appeared to be all about creating an art installation. I assume that the owner is a Christian and is making a statement … no harm done, no angry shouting in the streets.

art and belief in our neighbourhood

The art installation, which is what I will call it, can be seen from a great distance. I’m not sure what the council rules are about erecting such a construction. The council official has been seen taking photographs.

Meanwhile, I hope we can still wander in the garden. While doing so, we might reflect on the strangeness of humans.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: towards the Centre.

Wheels from a bygone era

Travelling north from Adelaide you are heading towards the Outback … often called the Red Centre of Australia. It gets dryer and dryer the further you go. Yesterday, we travelled 300 km north to the region of Mount Remarkable. Our group of 20 belong to a field geology club. The main interest is geology but they also look at the flora and fauna.

It’s the first time this year that we have been able to travel. so, there is an added excitement to this nine day journey of ours. Because of COVID-19 there were extra steps in organising this trip. We all submitted statements about our recent movements and possible exposure to infected people. If we had cold or cough symptoms during the last week before departure, we were asked to have a COVID-19 test.

For those who are interested in geology, we are travelling along the Adelaide Geosyncline. This is a geologist paradise: a unique area with some of the oldest animal fossils ever found – the Ediacara fauna – as well as many other interesting exposures.

A thinning and stretching of the earth’s crust 800 million years ago caused troughs to form. Since then complex geological activity deposited material into the trough. Ice ages, rising and falling of seas, buckling of the land masses, life flowering and dying, all have all left their mark on this landscape.

Bungaree Shearing Shed

We drove through fields of half-height wheat, yellow fields of canola and pastures filled with sheep and their tiny lambs to arrive at Bungaree station for morning tea. Bungaree has been in the family for six generations. It was established in 1841 by the two Hawker brothers, shortly after the first colonists arrived in South Australia. The station was originally 267 mi.² in size. Since then it has been divided and subdivided. The original Homestead and 22 stone buildings remain. The station became famous for the breeding of Merinos. Once upon a time, they farmed 100,000 sheep and had 50 full-time shearers. It was a veritable village on the edge of the settlement of South Australia.

The Bungaree Homestead

One of the family showed us around their historic shearing shed which is still used for their current flock of 7000 sheep. Tourists are returning to Bungaree to stay in their historic accommodation and their refurbished shearers’ quarters. The station is also a popular venue for weddings. At the top of the hill is a quaint stone family church and within it it is a family memorial to a recipient of the VC- Major Lanoe George Hawker who was awarded the VC in the Great War before dying in action in 1916.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/major-lanoe-hawker-vc

Amongst the olive trees

(In the centre of every little town we have passed there is a memorial for those who fell in the First World War.)

For a long time it has been said that Australia “rode on a sheep’s back“. Farming in South Australia seems to me to be a balancing act. The choice of land and the choice of what you farmed made you a fortune or broke you. This is a harsh country and the struggles of the first colonists is written on the land. Driving north, you see abandoned, crumbling stone cottages along the road.

Wirrabara’s silo art

We carried on north to the tiny town of Wirrabara to see the newly painted wheat silos. Across Australian disused silos are being creatively decorated.

We are now staying in cabins in the Beautiful Valley Caravan Park in the shadow of Mt Remarkable.

Throughout the park there are old eucalypts with deep holes. For ten years, the owners have encouraged brush-tailed possums to inhabit these gum trees. Every evening at dusk, the possums are fed slices of carrot. A tap on the tree trunk and the possums wake up to carrot time. Many have joeys. As I walked back to our cabin after dinner at the local pub, every tree had a little large-eyed grey possum lump, waiting for treats.

Happy possums!