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: towards the Centre.

Wheels from a bygone era

Travelling north from Adelaide you are heading towards the Outback … often called the Red Centre of Australia. It gets dryer and dryer the further you go. Yesterday, we travelled 300 km north to the region of Mount Remarkable. Our group of 20 belong to a field geology club. The main interest is geology but they also look at the flora and fauna.

It’s the first time this year that we have been able to travel. so, there is an added excitement to this nine day journey of ours. Because of COVID-19 there were extra steps in organising this trip. We all submitted statements about our recent movements and possible exposure to infected people. If we had cold or cough symptoms during the last week before departure, we were asked to have a COVID-19 test.

For those who are interested in geology, we are travelling along the Adelaide Geosyncline. This is a geologist paradise: a unique area with some of the oldest animal fossils ever found – the Ediacara fauna – as well as many other interesting exposures.

A thinning and stretching of the earth’s crust 800 million years ago caused troughs to form. Since then complex geological activity deposited material into the trough. Ice ages, rising and falling of seas, buckling of the land masses, life flowering and dying, all have all left their mark on this landscape.

Bungaree Shearing Shed

We drove through fields of half-height wheat, yellow fields of canola and pastures filled with sheep and their tiny lambs to arrive at Bungaree station for morning tea. Bungaree has been in the family for six generations. It was established in 1841 by the two Hawker brothers, shortly after the first colonists arrived in South Australia. The station was originally 267 mi.² in size. Since then it has been divided and subdivided. The original Homestead and 22 stone buildings remain. The station became famous for the breeding of Merinos. Once upon a time, they farmed 100,000 sheep and had 50 full-time shearers. It was a veritable village on the edge of the settlement of South Australia.

The Bungaree Homestead

One of the family showed us around their historic shearing shed which is still used for their current flock of 7000 sheep. Tourists are returning to Bungaree to stay in their historic accommodation and their refurbished shearers’ quarters. The station is also a popular venue for weddings. At the top of the hill is a quaint stone family church and within it it is a family memorial to a recipient of the VC- Major Lanoe George Hawker who was awarded the VC in the Great War before dying in action in 1916.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/major-lanoe-hawker-vc

Amongst the olive trees

(In the centre of every little town we have passed there is a memorial for those who fell in the First World War.)

For a long time it has been said that Australia “rode on a sheep’s back“. Farming in South Australia seems to me to be a balancing act. The choice of land and the choice of what you farmed made you a fortune or broke you. This is a harsh country and the struggles of the first colonists is written on the land. Driving north, you see abandoned, crumbling stone cottages along the road.

Wirrabara’s silo art

We carried on north to the tiny town of Wirrabara to see the newly painted wheat silos. Across Australian disused silos are being creatively decorated.

We are now staying in cabins in the Beautiful Valley Caravan Park in the shadow of Mt Remarkable.

Throughout the park there are old eucalypts with deep holes. For ten years, the owners have encouraged brush-tailed possums to inhabit these gum trees. Every evening at dusk, the possums are fed slices of carrot. A tap on the tree trunk and the possums wake up to carrot time. Many have joeys. As I walked back to our cabin after dinner at the local pub, every tree had a little large-eyed grey possum lump, waiting for treats.

Happy possums!

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: who told whom, what, when?

May 28. OR – Please, read your emails.

South Australians have been rather pleased with their daily Covid-19 report. ZERO new cases today. In the last month we have had 2 cases. However, the last case on 26 May has caused a minor media storm.

Apparently, a woman arrived from the UK into Melbourne and went into quarantine – as all arrivals have to. However, after 7 days she was allowed to fly to South Australia. The story was that she was given exemption for ‘compelling family reasons’ and made an emergency dash to be at the bedside of her dying parent. When she arrived into Adelaide she was tested and found to be positive for Covid-19. Now all the woman’s contacts on the plane etc have to isolate.

At first our Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, said she had not been told the details of the woman’s arrival by the Victorian authorities (blaming them). A short time later Spurrier had to apologise saying that they had received the email but had not read it!

‘We really need to review our processes.’ She said that it was ‘easy to overlook an email’ and that such failures were not only a problem in our state but were a ‘national issue’.

‘I’m running a response to a pandemic. I don’t have time to feel embarrassed,’ Spurrier added. I liked that neat comment but after all, this failure might result in deaths.

This comes against the background that there is a developing irritation between states in Australia as to who has kept their borders closed and why. Victoria State has the most new cases (10 overnight) and no one wants to bring in more community spread – little as it is.

It appears that a failure to read emails and check on critical procedures is a common failing at the moment and causing considerable harm. The cruise ship, the Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney Harbour on 19 March. Somehow checks between the ship, NSW health and harbour authorities failed to make certain that the ship was free of infection. 2,700 passengers disembarked without being checked and they spread the virus around: 22 died, 100’s were infected. There is now a criminal investigation into the matter.

This story of failure continues. In West Australia (WA) a live-export ship, the Al Kuwait, from the UAE was allowed to dock at Fremantle with the intention of taking on board 56,000 live sheep destined for the Middle East. This is a terrible trade and has resulted in sheep dying in large numbers due to heat stress and conditions in these floating hell holes. Furthermore, the humane treatment of the sheep on arrival in the Middle East is not easy to manage (understatement).

Now they have found that 6 crew members are infected with Covid-19 on the Al Kuwait. The WA Premier went into attack mode, arguing with the Federal Minister of Agriculture as to who was told what, when.

The issue gets more complicated, as these livestock carriers are not legally allowed to leave Australia after May 31. This is because the ship would arrive in the Middle East during the summer and previous cases have resulted in distressing images of sheep dying from heat stress being shown in Australia. And it takes really ghastly images for any change in this business to take place.

So – money talks – our Federal minister of Agriculture, David Littleproud, (lovely name that!) has said that an exemption might be granted by the ‘independent’ regulator so that the ship can sail with a June departure date. Littleproud also said the shipment – all that meat – is worth 12 million AUD. So, for money, the sheep with suffer the heat. Meat is important after all.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-27/live-sheep-caught-up-in-coronavirus-outbreak/12290198

In these 3 cases it was a failure of processes, standards and checks that are in place and meant to be protecting us.

These are the failures we know about. I fear that they will not be the last.