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: a Black Swan in the Botanic Gardens

August 5. Today, we walked in the Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens in the hills to the east of Adelaide. It was one of our coldest days with the daytime temperature hovering around 3°. But the sun was out and that was enough to make it pleasure.

an early flower

The Mount Lofty Botanic Garden, established in 1857, is a 97 ha area covering native forest as well as sections of European trees and flowers such as rhododendrons, azaleas and daffodils. We were a few weeks early for the spring flowering. It is interesting how the English immigrants wanted to replicate their beautiful home gardens in this new continent. In the nearby suburb of Stirling, if you bought built a new house you were required to plant deciduous European trees such as maple, ash and oak in order to create an autumn show. Adelaide gardens are filled with roses and huge camelia bushes.

the blackbuttt forest

The English also brought their birds because they thought the local birds did not sing well enough or that birds they were familiar with would solve an agriculture problem. Blackbirds, song thrushes, skylarks and goldfinches were introduced. Most of the species died out or are now only found in limited areas. They were not able to adapt to the hardness of the Australian climate. Blackbirds have survived in urban Adelaide gardens: one sings in our valley.

The most catastrophic decision was the introduction of the common starling to Australia in the mid-1800s. The idea was that it would feed on local insect pests. Instead, starlings have attacked fruit crops and have caused significant problems for livestock and poultry farmers. In western South Australia people are employed to shoot starlings to try and stop them migrating to Western Australia. If you spot a starling in West Australia you are required to report it and authorities will destroy the bird as soon as possible.

Since we are birdwatchers, we spent some time in the botanic gardens looking for birds. It is noticeable that most of the bird species were found in the native forest on the fringes of the rhododendron-filled valleys. I noticed that the huge blackbutt eucalypts had old burn marks on their trunks. In 1983, the devastating Ash Wednesday fire destroyed more than half of the botanic garden. Eucalypts grow back, English shrubs do not.

social distancing – Australian style

We had the garden almost to ourselves, although there were many warnings about the necessity of social distancing. It was not an issue. We got lost and could not find another soul to ask for directions.

On one of the smaller lakes a single black swan was half asleep amongst the lily pads. And I thought: Yes, that is appropriate. After all, we are living through a ‘Black Swan’ event: a rare event, with a severe and widespread impact, unexpected, but obvious in hindsight. The Black Swan event reveals our frailty.

South African School kids protesting during Apartheid

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Our Escape to the cinema to see – Escape from Pretoria.

Mail & Guardian, South African newspaper during apartheid years

July 12. Last night we went to the cinema. It felt like a special treat; I cannot recall the last time. And it was an occasion, more than we had realised. Newly introduced rules in our state allow a larger audience. Our tickets had to be bought online, with specific seats allocated such that there were empty seats either side of us. Sanitizer bottles had been placed at the entrance. The Palace Nova cinemas made an event of last night: they premiered two locally produced films and invited our Premier, Steven Marshall, and our Adelaide Mayor. We listened to speeches, an interview with one of the actors and a videoed message from Francis Annan, the director.

The film was Escape from Pretoria, filmed in our historic Adelaide Gaol, in local streets (converted to ‘Cape Town’) and briefly in the countryside of South Australia. It is based on real events that took place in 1978-9 in apartheid South Africa. The star actor is the bespectacled Daniel Radcliffe of Harry Potter fame. Daniel portrayed Tim Jenkins and most of the film takes place in the gaol.

Tim is the cousin of a good friend of mine and we met him during the filming of Escape from Pretoria and he showed us a copy of the wooden keys that he made in the prison workshop and, with two other prisoners, used to escape the high security prison in Pretoria. It is a fascinating story; unfortunately, Tim’s eponymous book is unavailable but the film is out there.

You can watch Tim Jenkins talking about his work for the ANC in this YouTube program: The Vula Connection. One of the speakers is Ronnie Kasrils, whom South Africans will recognise. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29vrvKsKXPI

Back to the film. The events portrayed took place 42 years ago when it seemed apartheid would be impossible to dislodge. After meeting with the ANC in London, Tim and his friend, Stephen Lee, set about making small contraptions, called parcel bombs, (they never hurt anyone) that distributed leaflets in various Cape Town and Johannesburg streets. The leaflets promoted the ideas of the then-banned ANC. The two men continued this activism for two years before their arrest. They were found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 12 and 8 years respectively.

Although you know from the title that they suceeded in escaping, the film is an impressive display of determination and ingenuity. To make the wooden keys from observation of the keyholes and the guard’s keyrings, from trial and error while under surveillance, is beyond impressive. Eventually, over 18 months, they made keys for every gate, storage cupboard and locker they could find. There were 10 doors between them and freedom and they had to negotiate past the night-time guard.

I found it interesting to see how they portrayed Tim Jenkin’s cell. Totally bare at first, but as time went on it became a personalised space: drawings, books, family photos.

There were two little jarring aspects to the movie. Firstly, the South African accent is hard to copy unless you are a Trevor Noah, and some attempts were curiously odd. Secondly, Pretoria is famous for its jacaranda trees, so is Adelaide. There was a lack of sense of place in the film, but maybe that is only seen by an ex-South African.

It was a treat to see a movie on the big screen. A treat to forget about Covid-19 threatening the world outside. Escape from Pretoria is a thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking film about a time when we lived in South Africa: about a society dominated by a racist regime, about fortitude in the face of oppression. How easy it is for a society to travel down that same racist path and how few are brave enough to stand up against it. That we should never forget.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Roy’s routine and a Magpie chorus

Roy in Kensington Gardens Reserve

June 15. Routines help us. We don’t have to agonise over the pros and cons of each action, each day. Its set. Our cairn terrier, Roy, understands the routine right from 6.45am when he knows it’s time for my husband to get up and feed the flock of wild red-browed finches – and make me tea. It’s barely light at 7am as we approach the winter solstice – only 6 days away.

After breakfast, Roy knows its time for THE FIRST WALK. This is often a short walk to our gate – half a km away. Since Roy is now 11 and a half (around 77 in dog years) this walk is taken slowly to check on the smells on the way. We have both feral cats and foxes that roam our property and he has a fierce antipathy to these animals. Roy’s’ eyesight is going – due to cataracts, but for dogs, it’s the nose that counts. A dog is a nose with a couple of eyes. And Roy has a superb sense of smell. He knows the cats are in our valley without sight of them.

flowering time for the eucalypts

After the walk, there is a period of rest for Roy while we can attend to other matters. Some time around 3.30pm he raises his head and will let us know its time for THE SECOND WALK. This is usually the best and longest walk. Since I realise he is older and a creature of routine and habit, I most often take him to Kensington Gardens Reserve where dogs can go off-leash: there are three ovals, lots of other dogs and even a river to swim in. Even in the park there is a regular path that I follow – slowly. The route is about 40 minutes at Roy’s pace. Along the way he lifts his leg countless times to let others know of his passage. When we are on the second oval, I usually meet a family of Australia Magpies.

the greeting chorus

These friendly black-and white birds come to share Roy’s treats. The Australian Magpie has a very interesting social life and a beautiful song. Their Latin name Cracticus tibicen (flautist) is a reminder of their singing ability. They are extremely territorial and will recognise human faces – I know they know me, as before I even call these birds, they arrive. Their wonderful range of singing is actually a bonding mechanism in the family. Their offspring stay with the group and help raise the next year’s siblings. The magpie is the iconic resident of Australia’s ovals but their numbers are declining and people wonder if this is due to pesticides, feral cats, habit destruction – or just too many people.

Roy and I head back to the car at an even slower rate – if that is possible. He knows where the car is and a certain stubbornness is his method of prolonging the enjoyment of the outdoors. Roy has a Scottish winter coat so does not feel the cold.

And then we go home to another of Roy’s day’s highlights: the prospect of dinner before the 6pm news. Unlike us, Roy does not have to deal with the sadness of most of the news. That is our routine during these times.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Winter tennis and a daytime koala

Kensington Gardens Tennis Club in Adelaide

June 11. Our winter tennis competition started today, almost two months late. Its a more casual affair than our summer grass-court competition and is played in my local park about 3 kms from our home. We play 3 sets, first to 9. Surrounding the courts is a veritable forest of old eucalypts – most of them being the enormous and long-living River Red gums or Eucalyptus camaldulensis. A winter-rain river runs through the park and a new wetland is being planned in order to slow the river and clean its waters before they reach the Gulf of St Vincent.

Everyone was excited to start our tennis once more. Maybe even more so on a glorious sunny day with the temperature at 16o C. I stripped down to a tee-shirt. There is a greater sense that we are getting back to normal. What remains to be done is to open the state borders. West and South Australia, the NT and Queensland are reluctant as a few new virus cases are popping up in the most populous states of Victoria and NSW (7 overnight). Some of the cases are people in quarantine, newly arrived from overseas. Once our state borders are open, New Zealand’s government is considering a travel ‘bubble’ with Australia. Australians love travel and the snow fields around Queenstown in South Island, New Zealand are popular. They have real mountains there.

On the way to tennis I encountered a koala on the move. They seldom walk in the daytime. These are their hours of relaxation in a fork of a tree. This one was loping up the driveway in that strangely uncomfortable gait they have. The back legs look almost malformed and they have a grey patch of fur on their behinds. But once the animal reached a tree trunk it leapt up in bounds and I realised why HE was on the move. A female koala was perched on the next tree. The males smell the tree trunks to check on local ladies and this chap was hot on her trail. At night, we often hear the males proclaiming their territories. The sound is similar to a donkey braying. Not pretty.

We can start making plans once more: for lunches at local restaurants; for trips with my husband’s geology club to the Flinders Ranges in August; for our walking group to plan excursions and for more bridge sessions. What we are not planning is to apply for the 2,000 tickets for this weekend’s footy clash, or ‘Showdown’ of our two AFL clubs: the Crows and the Port Adelaide Footy Club. Even if we wanted to go, the tickets are in extremely short supply. Only 2,200 socially-distancing people will attend at the Adelaide Oval which seats 53,000+. But the show is starting….

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: a night out – well … sort of

Ambrosini: ready with our dinner!

April 17. It’s Friday night. I had to look at my watch to see the date: I knew it was mid-April and could tell is was Friday because the news said it was meant to rain Thursday – it didn’t and that was yesterday. So, being Friday we decided to have dinner at our favourite rather upmarket Italian restaurant: Ambrosini’s in eastern Adelaide.

Paul Ambrosini has done the amazing feat of producing a take-away menu, updated weekly. I ordered at 3pm and collected at 7: delicious Milanese risotto (fungii, white wine and saffron) for me and Anatra arrosto (roast duck with an orange glaze) for my husband. Desert? of course … a tiramisu to share (traditional Italian dessert of coffee with Strega liqueur, mascarpone cream and zabaglione). Our car smelt delcious all the way home.

I had laid the table carefully, clearing the books, miserable newspapers and debris normally found there: a candle placed in the middle, folded cloth napkins, pre-heated plates and classical music completed the home-coming.

We looked out over the sparkling lights of Adelaide and felt rather lucky in the scale of things. (I forgot to mention the smooth Australian shiraz that added a glow to the meal). But for this nasty little virus, we might have been sailing the tropical seas of Flores, Indonesia, this very night … but the alternative was not too bad.

Tomorrow is another day.