from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: another Outbreak and the Dark Leopards of the Moon

June 4, 2021

View from Stoke’s Hill, Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges

Victoria is in lockdown. Again. And South Australia is being blamed for lax quarantine management. It is alleged that a Victorian man was infected as he exited his room to leave a medi-hotel in Adelaide after his required 14 day lockup.

The result of the South Australian investigation into this has not been released. The newly infected man travelled to Victoria and was very busy wandering around before he tested positive. There are now 61 cases from this current outbreak and a list of over 370 contact sites in Melbourne: bakeries, trams, gyms, supermarkets, cafes, hairdressers, cinemas, sportsclubs etc. Testing is flat out. 57,000 people were tested in a few days.

It is getting more and more political. Of course. There are points to be scored against the government. The medi-hotels are not failsafe. Seventeen outbreaks have occurred. This must be the federal government’s fault. Lobbying of the federal government continues: surely they must build and pay for custom quarantine facilities in each state. On another related issue, the government have already caved in and will organise some modest temporary financial support for Victorian workers affected by the current outbreak.

At one stage, the Victoria chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, (looking rather unkempt with a growing salt and pepper beard), went into overdrive to declare that very casual or ‘fleeting contact’ had resulted in infection and this new variant, called the Kappa variant, was an ‘an absolute beast’.

‘Because it has moved faster than any other strain we’ve dealt with, and we’re seeing transmission in settings and circumstances we’ve never seen before. … This means we’re having to re-examine exposure sites — more than 300 of them — with this more contagious strain in mind.’

This was soon refuted by calmer minds and Sutton backed away from his statement. It was a matter of test results being false positives and their state government’s need to blame something or someone else – rather than their poor QR systems and widespread non-compliance with check-in rules.

‘An infectious diseases physician at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney, Prof Greg Dore, who is running a study looking at long-haul Covid patients, said the Kappa variant was acting “the same as we’ve seen before” with other variants in Australia. “There just isn’t any strong evidence this variant is more efficiently transmitted than previous variants,” said Dore, who is also a clinical researcher with the Kirby Institute.’ (Guardian 2 June)

We now wait to see if this outbreak spreads to NSW. We are due to travel there in 3 weeks.

arriving at Skytrek Willow Springs

While all this was going on, I was once more in the Flinders Ranges, this time with a group of aged walkers.

Once more, I am taken aback by the stark aridity of the Flinders. The beauty is there but it’s a harsh land. The hills are almost bare of vegetation and on the sheep stations, onion weed appears to be the predominant plant. In many watercourses, ancient river red gums are dying and even the tough native pines (callitris) are suffering. I don’t think I saw more than 10 kangaroos or Euros. There were a few more emus than my last visit – they are browsers and probably have more food sources.

The bird life is scarce. I was keen to try and spot the rare short-tailed grasswren. This bird is a ‘mega-tick’ for any bird-watcher. These cryptic outback birds were once seen on Willow Springs where we were staying. However, the native spinifex and perennial grassy hillsides, where I hoped to find them, have suffered from the four drought years and there was little remaining cover for any bird. Except this one: a grey butcherbird.

The predatory grey butcher-bird

However, all this gloom did not stop us enjoying the Flinders. We had driven north through a dust storm.

Approaching Port Augusta in the dust storm

The late winter rains have left the topsoil of the wheatlands exposed. Overnight a short rainfall laid the dust to rest and we had clear skies once more. This was opportune as we were looking forward to the lunar eclipse of the night of 26 May. And that delivered. We enjoyed 5 hours of a moon disappearing from a brilliant starred sky. The shadow of the earth covered the moon from the right and it emerged from the lower left. I understand that this is due to the position of the sun’s shadow during this eclipse. Apparently, we were lucky in Eastern Australia as we could see the entire eclipse at night. And it was a ‘Super Flower Blood Moon’. However, I could not see the red. You had to use a lot of imagination. Maybe if the moon had been closer to the horizon, it would have turned red. Still spectacular. And while the moon was being gobbled up, over the arid hills of the Flinders Ranges we could clearly see the Southern Cross, and other constellations and listen to boobook owls calling from the dried out riverbank. In Adelaide cloud cover hid the eclipse.

Yes, these are my own photos taken with a Nikon hybrid. Hand held!

The eclipse took place just a few hours after the Moon reached perigee, the closest point to Earth on its orbit, making it a Super Flower Blood Moon.

What is a Super Moon?

This eclipse also marks the beginning of an “almost tetrad” because it kicks off a series of four big lunar eclipses in two years. Three of these eclipses are total, while one of them, on November 18-19, 2021, is a deep partial eclipse. So deep that it is almost a total eclipse.’

https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2021-may-26

You can well imagine how indigenous peoples might have viewed a lunar eclipse as an omen. Perhaps it would have been frightening. I know that the San Bushmen had many stories to explain events in the skies. So I looked this up. I am sad to say: I think we might have lost imagination with the gaining of knowledge.

‘When the Earth’s shadow falls on the Moon, a lunar eclipse occurs. The Nyae Nyae !Kung Bushmen said that this was caused by the lion, putting his paw over the Moon to darken the night so he could have better hunting.’

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/258805045_African_Star_Lore

This reminds me of the ‘Day of the Dead Moon’, the day in January 1879 when the Zulu army was instructed by King Cetshwayo not to attack the invading British forces under Lord Chelmsford during the day of the lunar eclipse. The eclipse was seen as a bad omen. Lord Chelmsford had marched his forces into the Zulu Kingdom confident that they would teach the Zulus a quick lesson. The Zulu army of over 20,000 sat silently on their shields in a ravine, waiting for a more auspicious day. However, a British outrider spotted them and the Battle of Isandlwana commenced. Lord Chelmsford’s camp was destroyed along with 1,300 British soldiers and probably 2,000 Zulu warriors. This defeat was a huge shock to the British. How could a bunch on untrained Zulus without Martini–Henry breechloading rifles or 7-pounder mountain guns defeat them?

I think some poetry about the moon should end this blog. WB Yeats saw great symbolism in the moon and he loved referring to the moon in his poetry. Mostly sad verses. I liked the following, Lines Written in Dejection.

When have I last looked on
The round green eyes and the long wavering bodies
Of the dark leopards of the moon?
All the wild witches, those most noble ladies,
For all their broom-sticks and their tears,
Their angry tears, are gone.
The holy centaurs of the hills are vanished
I have nothing but the embittered sun;
Banished heroic mother moon and vanished,
And now that I have come to fifty years
I must endure the timid sun.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: a Scorcher

November 14-16. Willow Springs, Flinders Ranges.

Sunday was forecast to be a scorcher – over 40 degrees with a hot northern wind – but since we only had a brief time in the Flinders Ranges, our group decided to make the best of it by taking off early to explore – with the backup-plan to rush home to retire indoors when our excursion became unpleasant. The locals at Willow Springs Station told us that they were hoping for a little rain. They’re always hoping for rain; their lives are circumscribed by the rainfall.

the ‘golden’ spike

So, we drove north to enter the world famous Brachina Gorge geological trail.

Through this spectacular gorge you can follow a corridor of geological time: exposed rocks from 1,500 billion years to the Cambrian (beginning 541 billion years ago). We drove through a billion years of rock deposition!

Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges

We took a short excursion within the gorge to see the ‘Golden Spike’ which marks the spot where the relatively new Ediacaran geological era is defined (635-541mya). This significant place for geologists is on the bank of a dry creek bed surrounded by river red gums. Very low key.

Along the way, we saw several emus, including a family with nine chicks.

Emu Family – Flinders Ranges

But sadly, during the whole day we saw only two kangaroos. In the past, before the current drought, kangaroos were plentiful. I searched the rocky hillsides for the endangered yellow-footed rock wallabies but saw none – previously they were plentiful at that location.

Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby – taken on a previous trip

After about 10 o’clock the hot wind gusts made us rush back to the comfort of the cars. We carried on to the western side of the Flinders Ranges to reach the famous Prairie Hotel at Parachilna – it was an oasis! We had coffee and drinks before heading east through another gorge: the Parachilna. The temperature was now over 39° and dust eddies battered our cars.

We arrived home, thankful for the cool haven of the shearers’ quarters. About four pm, the sky turned weirdly brown. I drove up to the main station to pick up the local wi-fi. I was sitting in the car when the world around me disappeared in ferocious flurries of dust and flying branches. It seemed like a tornado.

the Begining of the dust storm

Extreme wind squalls rocked the car, brought down huge branches from the eucalypts in the creek beds and torn tin sheets from one of the station’s houses.

The dust storm in the creek

I kept my car in the open, nervous to drive back to our accommodation, as I realised that driving under a gum tree was highly dangerous. The newly arrived sheep did not seem to mind these events: huddling together, they put their backs to the wind and rain and shook their fleeces.

The dust storm was followed by a short hail storm and hard rain lasting only 5 minutes – 2.5mm – hardly leaving a puddle.

The shearers’ quarters in the rain squall

The temperature dropped 15°, the wind abated and within minutes it was delightful to be outside: the trees were shining, the sheep ventured out, only the eastern horizon was black over the Bunker Hills.

But there had been further damage: a branch had taken down our local power line. We brought out the candles and torches for our last night.

So, it had been a memorable day: we experienced some of the extremes for which Australia is famous. To be a farmer here you need fortitude, patience and to ever believe that things will get better. 

Sunset after the storm – Willow Springs’ shearers’ quarters and woolshed

I arrived home on Monday to be greeted by the news that South Australia is again heading towards lockdown. A worker at one of our ‘medi-hotels’, where travellers are in quarantine, got infected – how so is a mystery at the moment. Before she was diagnosed, she had infected her family and they had all travelled around Adelaide and their kids had been to school. So, the wicked genii are out of the bottle and we are in trouble. Whether contact tracing, testing and other vigilance to stop the spread will work is the big question for us in the coming two weeks.

From Anne in Adelaide, Australia: 1,200 sheep outside my window

November 14.

Willow Springs Station

I am 530 kms north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges. My creative writing group is spending 3 nights at a working sheep station called Willow Springs. We booked the shearers’ quarters with its communal kitchens and close proximity to the woodshed.

This a different world controlled by the weather and long term decisions about stocking and de-stocking large quantities of sheep. The dramatic world of USA elections seems as remote as Mars.

the stock truck arrives – 3 stories of sheep

We arrived to see a stock-carrier vehicle discharging 1,200 8-month old merino lambs into an small paddock. The lambs had to be encouraged out of their confinement but once free they hurried to the piles of hay. Another 1,000 lambs arrived today.

persuading the sheep to disembark!
thank goodness it was not a hot day for their journey

The sounds of the ma-ing in all their varying tones has been the backdrop to our hours here. The Reynold family, owners of Willow Springs, are excited. They have suffered 4 years of drought with only 17 inches of rain over 4 years when the average is normally 12 inches a year. They are north of the Goyder line (north of this virtual line grain is not considered possible).

The fodder for sheep wilted and died and pastoralists in this region sold their stock. On our walk today we could see how huge numbers of the hardy native callitris pines and river red gums have also died. They stand as ashen sticks on the hillsides and in the creek beds.

Struggling River Red Gums

This year, Willow Springs has received 9 inches of rain and the hillsides are once more green with pasture. To the untrained eye the feed seems minimal but apparently there is enough for the lambs to survive our coming blast of a summer.

I have discovered that each sheep has a slightly different voice. Some high, some low. Why do they call so? It is strange to listen to them calling to one another and to watch them huddle together in the shade of the few river red gums. What I do see is how frightened they are of us and I can understand why – we are indeed a brutal lot.

Noises in the night

Mrs Reynolds told us that before the drought there were huge problems from dingoes (or wild dogs x dingoes) mauling their sheep. Distressing. The drought has decimated the dingoes – and the mobs of kangaroos that we used to see along the roads all over the Flinders Ranges. We have yet to see a kangaroo. The pastoralists are happy about this as the kangaroos competed with the sheep for the fodder.

Tomorrow morning, the sheep will be released into the larger paddocks of the station. It is forecast to be 40 degrees and they will need to find a cool spot in the dry but cooler river beds.

The dry creeks

At Willow Springs they are hoping for some sort of return to normalacy very soon. I hope this will also be the case in the USA.

Morning with the flock

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, South Australia: Waiting for the Second Wave – and a journey North.

The Australian. August 14.

August 14. More and more it feels as if South Australia is on the edge of the second wave of Covid-19. All states in Australia are trying to protect themselves from one another. The virus has well and truly escaped into the communities of our neighbouring state of Victoria. Each day, we anxiously watch an update from an increasingly harassed Premier Daniel Andrews as he announces the numbers of people newly infected and the numbers dead. The breakout started in late May and reached a daily maximum of well over 700 new infections.  On 3 August, Andrews announced ‘a state of disaster’. A Stage 4 lockdown applies to greater Melbourne, Stage 3 throughout the state. There is a curfew from 8 pm to 6 am in Melbourne and people are limited to essential travel. Police monitor intersections day and night.

The streets are empty. Yet it is taking time for the numbers to reflect the severe shut down – the latest news is 372 new cases. And of course, the death toll will increase before it drops. Daily we watch the NUMBERS: Victoria has 7,877 active cases; 289 have died; 1.9 million tested. The population of Melbourne is 4.936 million and Victoria 6.359 million. NSW authorities are frantically trying to control isolated outbreaks in Sydney.

Our South Australian / Victorian border is shut and it is being carefully monitored. Fewer and fewer exemptions are being allowed – only essential and specialist workers; students in year 11 and 12 whose properties are bisected by the border, will be allowed to cross. Within South Australia, our state government is reversing previous relaxations. For example, licensed cafes, gyms and places of worship will have to have a ‘Covid Marshall’ in place to enforce social distancing and hygiene practices.

From the South Australian point of view, our borders to the Northern Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and West Australia (WA) are open but not the ACT (Canberra). BUT Tasmania requires us to quarantine for 14 days and WA will not let South Australians in. Effectively, we can travel to the NT (by road or air) and Queensland (by air only). I hope I have this right! It’s complicated and can change overnight.

Victorian aged care facilities have experienced distressing outbreaks (1 in 4 homes infected) and most of the state’s deaths relate to these facilities. As a result, South Australia authorities now require all staff in our residential homes to wear personal protective equipment when within 1.5 m of patients. And most important, their staff will not be allowed to work across multiple facilities. This appears to have been a factor in the outbreaks in Victoria.

Overnight a 20-year-old died in Melbourne. I listened on the radio to a specialist in the UK who recounted his concern about the side-effects of COVID-19. He said that we are underestimating the virus’s long-term effects. He called it the ‘long’ COVID. More and more reports are being documented. It is a mistake to consider COVID-19 a disease that only threatens those of us deemed ‘aged’.

In South Australia, we have had very few cases in the last weeks. Overnight, one case was recorded: an Australian citizen returning from India. He or she was in quarantine. Each day I wonder if we will still manage to keep to these low numbers. Across the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand, they have developed a serious cluster in Auckland. (Just when they were feeling rather pleased with their achievements with 100 virus free days.) They are now struggling to find the source and we hear that it is a ‘new’ strain. Prime Minister Jacinta Arden has put in place a Level 3 shut down. She has said they must ‘go in early and go in hard’ (once more) to stop the spread.

Whereas a few weeks ago, there was a discussion about the possibility of having a travel ‘bubble’ with New Zealand, now that is a remote possibility. Our Australian tourist sector remains severely impacted.

Some good news! Travel within South Australia is picking up. Our friends are making short trips across to the Eyre and Yorke Peninsulas or down to the Southeast. We are also able to travel to the Northern Territory. From August 30, South Australians can take a trip on the famous Ghan railway up to Darwin.

Western side of the ancient Flinders Ranges

We ourselves are preparing for a trip to the Flinders Ranges. A great deal of organisation has gone into this trip and a lot of excitement is evident. Beyond normal. There will be about 20 in this group from our local field geology club. The idea is to visit some remote stations in the Flinders Ranges. Before we go, we have to complete a health statement.

I anticipate cold, dry weather. One of the stations we are visiting, 625 kms north of us, is Witchelina. They have received 11 mils of rain recently – not even half an inch. A virtual flood! It is the most they have received in the last year. The station is 4,200 square kms in size (one fifth the size of Wales) and is managed by the Nature Foundation.

https://www.environment.gov.au/land/nrs/case-studies/sa/witchelina#:~:text=At%20just%20over%204%2C200%20square,by%20the%20Nature%20Foundation%20SA%20.

We will pass through a deserted town called Farina. Farina was established in 1878 during a period of greater rainfall, when a railway expansion took place. Some colonialists had a belief that “the rain followed the plough”. Instead, what followed was seven years of drought and all the farmers and residents gave up. It is now a ghost town and a tourist attraction for the few that travel this far into the Outback. And it’s a warning for all those who are over optimistic about South Australia’s rainfall.

from SA State Library: a camel train near Farina, South Australia

https://www.southaustralianhistory.com.au/farina.htm

Farina is being partly restored as a tourist attraction. There is an ANZAC memorial in the town to the 33 men, born in Farina, who volunteered in the First World War. (Most Aussie towns have an ANZAC memorial).

I fear that we will be seeing Farina in the kind of state it was when the first residents gave up hope of their continued survival. But … we are still excited, drought or no drought, virus or no virus.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Waiting for the golden wattle

the golden wattle

Aug 1. Spring has not arrived. Of course. We are still in deep winter – whatever ‘winter’ is in South Australia, but there are tentative indications that it’s not far away. One of the natural events we watch for is the first flowering of the golden wattle, Acacia pycnantha . The golden wattle is Australia’s national floral emblem and is common around Adelaide. When the small tree flowers, it is covered in a profusion of bright golden bubbles. The valley next to us turns into a sea of gold.

Yesterday, I noticed the first wattle tree flowering.

We have not had any rain for a month which is not good news. This is the time of the year that we count every mil. There is a theory that the pattern of rainfall has moved south 200 kms in South Australia which means, over time, we will get less rain. Our next rain is predicted for 5th August. We are planning a trip north to the Flinders Ranges (500kms north of Adelaide) in three weeks’ time and the news is that the Flinders Ranges are experiencing a serious drought. It has barely rained for four years.

Friends of ours have just returned from a camel trek in the Northern Flinders. For two weeks they walked through remote country, sleeping in the open in ‘swags’ (a sort of cross between a small tent and a sleeping bag). All the food, water etc was carried by the camels. My friends said that you had to learn to be careful of not being kicked. Camels can kick forwards and backward! They said there was barely any sign of animal (or bird) life. Bones of kangaroos lay everywhere. Very depressing.

http://www.flindersandbeyondcamels.com.au/

I noted that the 14-day weather forecast predicts a day or so of rain (60% chance of 15ml) in the Flinders Ranges.  This would make all the difference.

an eastern beared dragon

Another hint of spring crossed our driveway in front of my car: an eastern beared dragon (Pogona barbata). The dragon is a kind of large lizard with an intimidating beard which it puffs out when threatened. This lizard was obviously taking advantage of the abnormally warm weather to have a quick feed. Not a good sign as sometimes the brown snakes will come out in mid-winter.

It is strange how much time we spend looking at the weather now: more so than before Covid-19. Perhaps, this is because we are spending time outside walking and enjoying the environment whatever the weather, with or without beared dragons.