from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Dusty and Dry and a Yellow-tailed Black cockatoo

January 8, 2021

Struggling eucalyptus tree-seedling

It’s been hot and dry and rain-less for weeks. Not ultra-hot – which is defined as a series of days over 40C but oscillating around 30 degrees C. The soil is hard and even if you dig a foot down, there is no moisture. We are watering daily: sprinklers and drippers in a series of timings around the house. When I go out, I fill six 2litre old milk bottles with water and take them in my car to water the smaller trees along our driveway.

Note the liklihood of rain: On Tuesday, 5% chance of less than 1 mm … so it goes.

We fill our bird baths twice a day for the bees that gather around the edges and for the birds that congregate early and late. No koalas have yet come down to drink in the daytime this summer.

La Niña is indeed bringing cooler weather and rain, but not to us in South Australia. It is raining almost everywhere else. The map of Australia is no longer filled with emergency red coloured areas of desperation. Drought remains only in isolated unlucky spots.

The presence of La Niña increases the chance of widespread flooding. Of the 18 La Niña events since 1900 (including multi-year events ) 12 have resulted in floodsfor some parts of Australia, with the east coast experiencing twice as many severe floods during La Niña years than El Niño years. Typically, some areas of northern Australia will experience flooding during La Niña because of the increase in tropical cyclone numbers. The relationship between La Niña strength and rainfall is closely linked.’

http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/updates/articles/a020.shtml

Sadly, this rainfall is not reaching us, but at least we have not had the fiercest of summers, nor a winter without rain. However, we are all very conscious of water availability and usage. Metered water is not cheap in Adelaide.

Yellow-tailed black cockatoo (male has the pink around the eye)

All evening, a single yellow-tailed black cockatoo has been flying around our house and the valley calling and wailing. It sounds desperate. These cockatoos (Calyptorhynchus funereus) are monogamous and mate for life. For sure this cockatoo had lost its mate. We often see flocks of them in summer. They are most elegant flyers with a taste for the nuts inside the cones of radiata pines. In the past, fishermen used to shoot these magnificent birds to get the grubs from their gizzards – grubs that the birds had extracted from eucalypts. Our bird cried mournfully. I hope the mate has not met some misadventure.

A Painting of the Outback

Yesterday, I went to the cinema to see a film called ‘The Dry’ based on the eponymous book by Jane Harper. It is a murder mystery set during drought times in a small town in the desolate wheatlands of NW Victoria –  the Mallee Wimmera. For anyone who has no concept of how drought affects Australian farming communities, watch this film and you will get an idea of this country of extreme weather.

There is no problem with going to the cinema at the moment. We all checked in at the cinema entrance with our phones against the QR code reader, we sanitised our hands and we were allocated seats according to some social distancing formula.  No one was wearing a mask.

This all might change. This long weekend, greater Brisbane is in total lockdown. 2 million people. It’s all because one worker, a cleaner in a medi-hotel, contracted the new UK strain of the virus from a quarantined UK traveller. During the time before the cleaner become ill and was tested, she wandered around and they say up to 800 people might have been in contact. So, everyone is holding thumbs.

How can we seal our borders to this virulent mutated virus (501 and 117)? We are told sad stories of Australian families desperate to return home. Yet already we are in catchup with the virus escaping in NSW from an international traveller and the same happened in South Australia 2 months ago.

Today PM, Scott Morrison announced measures that they hope will reduce the odds of this happening. Masks on international and domestic flights are now mandatory (that does not seem to be much help for an 8-12 hr flight). Flight numbers will be reduced; testing pre- and post-flight are required. Pre-boarding rapid tests will be required for UK travellers to Australia. Surely this will make it harder for the virus to find its way in.
Once more, I am not hopeful!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: La Niña and the Rose Garden

The Veale Rose Garden, Adelaide, Australia

October 17. Two months ago, I wrote about the drought affecting us in South Australia. Since them we have received good spring rains: 130 mm. That is over the average: not a flood, not a glorious amount of rain but enough to make us delighted.

It’s all about La Niña, (the girl), weather event (as opposed to El Niño , the boy) centred in the ocean between Australia and the Americas. I don’t understand it, but it has something to do with the sea surface temperatures being below the norm and, in the way of the world, this affects Australia, Asia, Africa and the Americas. In Africa and Australia, it will be cooler and wetter; countries in Asia will receive heavy rains. The same goes for North America where snow falls will increase. South America, however, gets drought conditions along the coast of Chile and the Peru.

La Niña will last for about five months. She is welcome – bear in mind that our last summer was abnormally hot and dry and bushfires raged across our country for weeks.

So, in Adelaide this spring, our gardens are looking green and lush. The hillsides have not yet browned off. We all fear the advent of the ferociously hot spells in summer and delight in these mild mid 20 temperatures.

some of the 50 varieties of roses in the Veale Gardens

This week, for the first time in the 29 years I have lived in Adelaide, I visited the Veale Rose Gardens in the South Parkland of our city, to see the first bloom of roses. The gardens are named after a William Veale, Adelaide Town Clerk for 18 years. Our city centre is surrounded by a 500-meter-wide band of parkland: easy to get to and easy to park.

Indeed, the roses were magnificent. I am not knowledgeable at all about roses, but my companion showed me the intricacies of the blooms. It is a pity how few roses have any scent nowadays. All bending and smelling was to no avail! It appears that crafting exotic beauty is now more important.

This might be the City of Adelaide Rose – it was there somewhere and it was pink!

Some blooms were deep maroon, some pale lilac, some had darker pink stripes, some were old-fashioned climbing tea roses: rows and rows of roses – 50 varieties in all – and not a rose beetle in sight.

I cannot see roses blooming without remembering how my mother’s rose garden in Durban, South Africa, was attacked by black and yellow beetles the size of your thumb. They ate out the centre of the rosebuds. My mother employed my compliant daughter to extract them from the blooms, to gather the angry insects into a glass bottle. She was paid her for her industry.

With the benefit of Wikipedia, I have a identified those little nasties as the ‘garden fruit chafer’ in the family of scarabs. But in the Veale Gardens in Adelaide there was not a scarab beetle in sight. Every bloom was perfect. Enjoy the beauty of our Adelaide spring!

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. Back to basics: home cooking and hints of spring.

August 18. Let’s talk about home cooking. What have you been cooking and how has your meal preparation changed during these COVID-19 months?

In early March, when we first heard about ‘lockdowns’, there were certain common world-wide reactions. Our supermarket shelves emptied in a couple of days. Packets of pasta, flour, sugar, tins of tomatoes, beans, tinned ham, became restricted purchases before they were out of stock. Within hours, supermarkets limited on-line orders.

Companies that supplied complete meals were inundated with new subscriptions. HelloFresh, Dinnerly and Marley Spoon, are the popular meal-kit delivery companies in Australia. A day or so later, they closed their books; they could take no new customers. After a few weeks, these companies increased capacity. However, the meals supplied are usually only for 3-5 main meals a week.

All this meant we are doing a lot more cooking at home. And this has continued for five months. I have noticed that I have not been enthusiastic in preparing any challenging recipes. Just the opposite. It’s been a case of reverting to the tried and tested, an emphasis on feelgood meals. I do think, that we have been eating more than normal. Mealtimes are now an occasion! Until recently, we were on the 5 -2 diet made popular by Michael Mosley. But during COVID-19 we have lacked commitment to hold to any diet – especially one that involves eating almost nothing all day for two days a week.

More than ever we have had to plan our meals. After all, we are no longer going to the shops at will. The Australian government has established a website which is headed ‘Healthy eating during Covid-19’. This site includes lots of obvious advice: what to eat; what to avoid; how to wash your vegetables; where to go grocery shopping; making sure you have a list of items and asking for assistance if you need it. They have a meal planner which you can download to facilitate your weekly outing or on-line purchase. I liked the section on motivation and support where it states “it can be hard to stay motivated to eat well in difficult times”.

Next to the meal plan it is a physical activity plan. They have thought of almost everything, even encouraging you to involve the whole family in your food preparation. After all, it is quite an entertaining daily event! It can be a time to forget the news flooding in on your computer and TV.

At the very bottom of this government website there is a section on mental health. I do wonder how many people would have read that far and actually see the mental health advice.

https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert/ongoing-support-during-coronavirus-covid-19/healthy-eating-during-coronavirus-covid-19-restrictions

The kind of meals that have been most popular in our household hark back to earlier times in our lives – comfort food. I have an old Thermomix machine and a recipe book of their South African recipes. One of them is the rusk recipe. I have merged this with an online one which is more exciting, containing nuts, seeds, sultanas and all sorts of healthy things. Rusk have an origin in South Africa’s Cape Colony, the word coming from the Afrikaans, ‘beskuit’. They were happily dunked in your black coffee at start of day.

Rusks are super easy to make. The warm rich smell of the rusks in the oven, and they cook for eight hours or more, fills the house. I can linger in bed with a cup of tea, a rusk, a book and a warm dog curled at the bottom of the bed.

Another childhood recipe that I have returned to is bobotie. Bobotie is an old Malay dish. Probably brought to the South African Cape Colony by the slaves during the Dutch occupancy (beginning in 1652). Some of the slaves were political exiles from the Dutch East Indies colonies. Some captives came from East Africa – even from Zanzibar.

The recipe has many variations, basically involving a curried mince mixed with bread soaked in milk, a chopped apple. It is topped with eggs beaten with milk before being baked. Serve with yellow rice and home-made chutney.

Bobotie.

Spring is around the corner. The prunus is already dropping flowers and now the peach blossoms and spring daisies are out. My long-suffering cymbidium orchids are in full flower. Rain remains in short supply this year. For example, we are promised 5-10mls and received about 3, promised 15 and get 7. And so it goes. We had hoped for a wet August.

old wine press with spring flowering in Penfold Reserve

I have forgotten what real rain sounds like: rain that thunders on the roof, overflows the gutters and makes our Roy dog hide under the bed. Once upon a time, I used to jog in the rain in the streets of Durban, South Africa. That was warm semi-tropical rain and such a delight. In Zanzibar, we would swim with the monsoonal rain pounding the waves flat. Only memories.

It is time to dunk another rusk in my afternoon tea.