from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: just me and the sea.

Many Australians would describe the Yorke Peninsula (YP) of South Australia as a barren place, especially if you arrive from our rainforested coast of Queensland or from the northern beaches of NSW.

just another sunset

And I would have to agree. If you drive down the YP at the end of summer, when the wheat and barley fields lie fallow, covered in dry stubble, the grey flocks of sheep huddling together in the open or immobile under a few remaining trees, it is not enticing. Most of the remaining native vegetation seems to have survived along the roadsides and in the Innes National Park at the foot of the peninsula. The YP is often called the ‘Ill-shaped’ leg – rather like Italy, the YP is in the shape of a bumpy foot.

The Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

The YP has predominately limestone, alkaline soils with calcareous loams and calcrete. The early settlers said that the land ‘grew rocks’ because as fast as they cleared paddocks by hand, more white lumps appeared. There are only shallow hills and the wind is notorious – a great place for wind farms. 150 years ago, the smoke from the burning of the mallee eucalyptus and allocasurina forest blanketed Adelaide for months on end. And after that came the dust: the topsoil blowing away before farmers learnt not to plough the stubble after harvest.  

But farmers have learnt how to manage the land, finding it was perfect for barley, wheat and canola.  

So much for the history of the YP. There are a few places where you can catch a glimpse of what it once was. It’s strange how humans only start to realise what they have lost when it almost too late: the wombats are virtually gone; the echidna is rare and emus and kangaroos are seldom seen unless you are in a National Park.

But the coastline of the YP is relatively undisturbed. The beaches are long, with deep white sand and aquamarine seas: hardly a soul in sight. Go there for the sea, the beaches, if nothing else.

I have lived next to the sea, more or less, since moving to Zanzibar at the age of 8. Zanzibar, Durban, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. All different seas. It is one of life’s perfect pleasures. Sixteen months ago, not long before Covid-19 blighted our world, we sold our beachside holiday home on the YP, and for all of 2020 I have missed being there. I knew the phases of the moon: the tides, the way the winds dropped at low tide and when to hurry inside during the 40-degree spells. I paddled my bright yellow Hobbie kayak over the shallow reefs and seagrass, fishing for squid and blue-swimmer crabs. Sometimes pods of dolphins followed me.

This last week we travelled down the YP to a friend’s remote property located on the peninsula’s wild southern instep. Much of her 400 acres is dune scrubland, too sandy to farm, and so it has been left alone. Her property flanks about 3-4 kms of beach on the Gulf of St Vincent. This is a beach where it is rare to see another soul.

On the beach you always discover something – each day, something different: perhaps the desiccated skeleton of a leafy sea-dragon, or a perfect abalone shell. Bleached lumps of sea grass face the sea. They will be taken by the winter storms. In one cove I came across four endangered hooded dotterels, running back and forth as they foraged on the edge of the waves. I found a great green twist of rope that had come ashore, probably from a commercial fishing vessel. I always take a bag to the beach to gather rubbish left on the line of the high tide. But this day, all I gathered was a milk carton and one plastic bottle. A few years ago, we came across a beached mountain of fishing rope, over four metres long and two metres high. Perhaps it had been discarded by a deep-sea trawler. The council came and managed to remove it.

There is some good news on the YP in terms of conservation. Our state government is constructing a feral-proof fence across the narrowest section of the YP. They hope to remove foxes, cats and other ferals from the lands west of the fence to allow native fauna some protection.

At least 27 Australian mammal species are believed to have disappeared from the peninsula due to feral predators and the clearing of vegetation. While kangaroos and emus can still be seen around the area, many native species will never return without assistance.’

https://www.wwf.org.au/news/news/2019/predator-control-fence-brings-hope-for-australia-s-most-threatened-species#gs.vgh1oa

My friend’s house had no electricity, only gas for the stove and small solar panels for pumps. So, no TV and the mobile phones died. It’s very relaxing without news. You get used to it: we played bridge, cleared scrub from around the house, completed a difficult jigsaw, read books, birdwatched, walked the beach and shared long dinners and bottles of rather good Australian shiraz. What more could you ask for?

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: across the Straits to Kangaroo Island.

21 October.

Ferry to Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of South Australia, is perhaps one of the safest places to be during a pandemic. The population of under 5000 is spread across the 4,200 square kms of countryside and villages and only a small ferry connects the mainland. They had a case of COVID-19 in April that infected two other people but that’s that. Now with all the careful behaviour there have been no cases for a long time.

While here, we have barely listened to the National news. What has come through is the welcome news from Victoria State where the daily numbers of infections have declined to well below 10. What is less welcome is their reports of the political cover up of who decided to appoint the ill-fated security detail for quarantined travellers. The Royal Commission has closed their public hearings and is yet to report.

We have come here for seven days to stay in a cottage on the idyllic Island Beach.

Roy dog at dawn

I have been getting up at dawn to take Roy, our Cairn Terrier, for a beach walk to allow the rest of the household to sleep in. It is only a pleasure.

Dawn on Island Beach

At the moment I share the four kilometre beach with no other human. However, I do enjoy the space with many pairs of pied oystercatchers. Pied oystercatchers are well dressed birds: a coat of black and white, a long crimson beak and scarlet legs. These birds are breeding at the moment and are fiercely protective of their particular stretch of beach. I watched two of them defending their territory with aggressive body arching and loud whistles of protest. The interlopers flew off. Further along a pair already have a couple of long-legged youngsters who rush into the seagrass as people approach.

Pied Oystercatchers

As birdwatchers, we are enjoying the extensive unspoilt bush land on the island. As a bonus this week we have the annual Backyard Birdcount going on, organised by Birdlife Australia. You record the bird species and the numbers you see in time slots of 20 minutes. The app registers your location. So far, with four days to go, 2 million birds have been sighted and 63,000 checklists have been uploaded.

No longer is Kangaroo Island home to the dwarf emu: wiped out by humans and declared extinct by 1837 not long after the first permanent colonists (whalers and immigrants) settled on the isand. Evolution continues. Bird species are evolving into subspecies here and one day there will be endemic bird species on Kangaroo Island again.

From John in Brighton: What a Load of Rubbish!

Rubbish on a remote Indonesian island

12 June. It was instilled into me at a young age that you don’t leave litter. I don’t recall so many public bins back in the 60’s and the message was clear – pack up your rubbish, take it home and bin it. On the face of it not difficult to understand or to execute so why has litter been a thorn in our side for as long as I can remember?.
Yesterday evening in a local park was an overflowing bin and litter strewn all around – a small vignette of a much bigger problem. One hot weekend last summer 23 tons of rubbish were collected off the Brighton and Hove beaches and the Council planned for a further 300 new bins over a stretch of about eight miles along the sea front. This included recycling so blue for plastic bottles and cans, maroon for glass and black for ordinary rubbish. Again I’d ask, what could be simpler? But there’s a sense of deja vu with the recent burst of hot weather and the beach near the pier had an ugly coating of nappies, wipes, takeaway items, cans and drinks bottles aplenty. Enough in fact for volunteers to fill twenty five bags of 5 Litre volume over about a three mile stretch. 
And it’s not just the beaches but also the parks. Preston Park, Brighton’s largest, might take park attendant Bill at least a couple of hours to clear after a hot day he tells us on the local radio. And last spring 500 bags of rubbish were collected from two of the main roads in Sussex the A27 and A23 – some may have blown in but the majority probably expelled from drivers’ windows. Yet go up on the nearby Downs and litter is practically non-existent as witnessed by a ten mile cycle this week and spotting one item. Perhaps this simply reflects a far lower number of people but I suspect also a different mentality. And maybe if you see no rubbish it induces you to follow suit, positive reinforcement even if there is no tangible reward..
I try to understand why people leave so much rubbish. Is it simply laziness or lack of facilities? Often bins are overflowing but isn’t the appropriate response to find another even if that means taking it home? Is it a perception that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to sort – “that’s what they’re paid for”, except that they aren’t and a lot of the clearing rests with volunteers? A lack of any civic pride – maybe it’s the band of London day-trippers who are solely responsible but I doubt it. Or just a lack of self-discipline, perhaps exacerbated by the restrictions of lockdown and the new-found freedoms nurturing a low-level anomie? But last summer’s findings predate Covid and imply a more chronic problem. Or maybe it’s quite simply the absence of any consequence – identifying culprits is practically impossible. Politicians repeatedly praise the adherence of the general public to the lockdown so the principles of self-discipline are well understood but regardless of rules and directives from on high arguably the biggest incentive there is avoiding a potentially life-threatening disease. No one dies from leaving a bit of litter………but fauna might. The plastic pollution of the oceans and its consequences have been highlighted in the last couple of years. Recently there have been reports of micro-plastics in rivers and affecting the bird life, not all of it from litter but it may contribute. And better still for the miscreant is the difficulty of policing litter louts – last year Brighton introduced a team of “litter cops” and the threat of a £300 fine but how can they effectively patrol a large area 24/7 although the threat might be a subliminal deterrent to some? After a leave of absence the enforcement officers re-emerged last week so I’m hoping for a cleaner city as the summer progresses but won’t hold my breath and I still question why such a measure is needed.
Education and Public Information Films have been tried – going back to the 60’s Roy Hudd did one. Then there was that catchy slogan “Find a Bin To Put It In” so I fear this may be as difficult to unravel as the Gordian knot and will remain an issue in another fifty years time. But it’s not all bad. Back to the 60’s and the footpaths were littered with faeces (usually canine)  but no longer.  An eighty quid fine surely helps to focus the attention but again I suspect the mindset and understanding the rationale is the most important thing. Again it begs the question as to how people generally comply with this but not so well with garbage disposal.