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.