from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Sewerage with your salmon, sir?

September 21.

Nineteen years ago, I read the June 21st article in the Economist, headed with this challenging and half-amusing title: ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ I have never forgotten it. Some articles fall on fertile ground! I had, mistakenly, thought that farmed salmon was a good food choice. After reading this article (about salmon ‘farms’ in Scotland), I learnt a lot about farmed salmon. I also learnt it was cruel.

‘Salmon are kept at higher densities than battery hens. Packed in cages of up to 70m in diameter, holding up to 500,000 fish, they are fattened on a diet of the rendered remains of small fish. Anti-bacterial chemicals are used to ward off sea lice and other parasites. Colouring agents are included in their pellet food because, deprived of its natural diet of krill and shrimp, the flesh of a farmed salmon looks an uninviting shade of grey. Roche sells a colouring agent, called Salmofan, which allows salmon farmers to choose the exact shade of pink they like for their fish.’

That was just the beginning of my education about farmed salmon. The excreta from the fish falls to the bottom of the fiords where, in certain weather conditions, it is stirred up into the pens and eaten by the fish. The pollution affects the wild fish and resultant levels of parasites (lice) are unacceptable (and the lice jump onto the wild salmon). The same story is found in Canada and north-western USA.

Since writing for this Covid-19 diary, I have noticed that any of my posts that feature food and cooking gets more ‘likes’. Food is popular! I believe this reflects our current anxiety about what we are eating. Are we keeping healthy? Are we looking after our immune systems? When the virus invades us, will we have the physical resources to survive it? Especially if you ‘suffer’ from the co-morbidly of age, your health is a matter of extra concern.

Eating less meat, more fish, more vegetables, is discussed. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise is also promoted. We are trying.

Can you add to this a concern about how our food is produced? How is it farmed? Are our meat chickens raised in cages? Do we need to drink cow’s milk? Do we need to eat veal? Should we include more vegetarian meals in our at-home cooking?

Along this line of thought, I decided I would check on the latest news about salmon farming in Scotland. Surely, in the 19 years since ‘Sewerage with your salmon, sir?’ the situation would have improved in the fiords of Scotland.

No! They have not!

Production of salmon has increased since 2001 from 127,000 tonnes to 189,000 tonnes in 2017.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-48266480

This article explains that wild salmon numbers are at their lowest levels since records began – experts talk about a ‘crisis’. Lice numbers on wild fish are at epidemic levels. Effectively, the fish gets eaten alive …. Severe injuries are found on the farmed salmon and apparently the inspectors have trouble recording this!

Marine ecologist Dr Sally Campbell says: “I think most people who choose salmon off their supermarket shelves have no idea of the waste that’s going into our marine environment as a result of that. And they would be appalled.”

Every year about 9.5 million fish die in the salmon farms, about 20% of the total.

Disease, parasites and even chemicals designed to treat them can all prove fatal.’

If you have read this far, I should apologise in bringing you this bad news when you already have enough going on.

Why worry about fish, you might ask. Do not worry – just check out the guides and buy accordingly.

https://www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search

Meanwhile, I should think twice about eating our local Tasmanian farmed salmon (which has been a favourite). It’s easy to get advice on what ‘sustainable-stock’ fish I should eat. Keep away from the top predators: marlin, sailfish, tuna, farmed salmon. Keep away from fish that are caught with a huge bycatch.

I am pleased to say that the crabs and southern calamari that I used to catch on our Yorke Peninsula are deemed sustainable. In Australia they have generous bag-limits for crabs and calamari.

Now summer is approaching, I shall have to go fishing again.

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: Farina – travelling to an Outback ghost town

September 13.

Farina township, established in 1876, is now 7 hours due north of Adelaide, 630 kms on good roads. You can leave home at 8am, stop for tea in Port Wakefield, a lamb pie in Port Augusta, coffee and a Quandong pie in Hawker and arrive into the ghost town around 4pm. Without speeding.

But pause. Farina was once a month’s ride away or two months if you were on a wagon. Farina, for me, stands as an example of the struggles endured by Australia’s early settlers. You cannot but admire their tenacity at the same time you acknowledge their ignorance of this country.

It would have been a harsh lesson in an unforgiving land.

On our recently trip to Witchelina Nature Reserve, 30 kms west of Farina, we travelled this route north, taking in the landscape as it changed, as the green became brown, as the trees shrunk and disappeared, as the towns became smaller, as the wedge-tailed eagles (Australia’s vultures) became more numerous lifting from the roadside off dead kangaroos. Heartbreak land. Hard to love, hard to survive.

Kanyaka Station – half way to Farina – was established in 1851. Early on, there were 41,000 sheep on the property. In 1867, 20,000 sheep died in the drought.

We did not want to be depressed. This was our keenly anticipated holiday after 6 months of being home-bound thinking of little more than family and the issues of the daily news: how many new cases of Covid-19? How were our children doing in the USA? In Australia? In South Africa?

We were escaping to look at the landscape and geologyof the Adelaide Superbasin. We would have experts: geology professors and practitioners, biologists and bird watchers in our group. We would be beyond the reaches of WiFi. No TV, no shops. We were looking forward to evening discussions, communal meals and shearers’ quarters for 8 nights.

Farina landscape

Farina lasted for many years after the dreams of wheat and barley farming faded with the rain decreasing to the normal levels of 6.5 inches a year. The town, at its maximum had 600 people: Aboriginal people, Afghan cameleers and European immigrants. Once there was water at Farina but it did not last. The town only struggled on after the 1890s due to the railway line – closed in 1980.

The empty rooms of Farina

Over the years, it has become a ruin and a tourist attraction for Outback travellers in their A-Vans and sleek Ultimate Caravans. A café is being established there with an underground bakery. Winter is the time for the Outback when the days are warm and sunny and nights cold. In summer the temperatures can reach 50 degrees.

There is something that draws us in awe to these golden stone ruins, stark in the gibber plains. No roofs remain. The walls impress all who stand before them: the massive rectangular rocks that form the lintels last the longest, holding up the doorways and chimney places. You have to admire the workmanship that went into the stonework. There is confidence in these buildings as well as a warning for the hubris of those who ignore nature.

Arriving at Witchelina Nature Reserve

Our group passed through Farina in our 4-WDs, complete with spare tyres, Air-Con, Satellite phones, 2-way radios, GPs, cameras the size of a pack of cards, binoculars and bottles of spring water. If those early settlers could have seen us what would they think?

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: staying fit without Aged Care

September 11. It’s been six months since our Australian society got into panic mode over Covid-19. At first, there was the rush to secure our food supplies. Rumours abounded. A little later, we worried about exercise. As organised sport, gyms and council programs were halted we Zoomed into gym sessions or went out and walked the parks and streets.

Over time in South Australia, we have been lucky enough to relax –  a lot. We can now play tennis, go to restaurants, cinemas, play bridge and have guests at home. We can travel within South Australia, the Northern Territory and fly to Queensland.

I have resumed attending weekly yoga lessons at our local council hub. As an older person, health has become something I worry about a little bit more than before. It’s not just issues around COVID-19, but a sense that we need to look after ourselves – after all we have co-morbidities. To this end, I decided to go extend my program by going to the Pilates class also offered at my council hub. Pilates teachers talk non-stop about the ‘core’: the weakening ‘core’ as we age! No doubt, my body is in decline. Yoga is not enough.

So, I attended my first Pilates class and I enjoyed it very much and hoped to continue. However, I was told I needed approval from My Aged Care; this Pilates class was subsidised by our Federal Government for older people to enjoy. All the other attendees looked of a similar age and fitness to myself. I felt I would fit in.

My Aged Care was introduced in July 2013 by our Federal Government. The idea is to make it easier for older people to be assessed and supported with various services. I think the plan is to keep people in their homes, as fit as possible and as long as possible, so that they do not burden the old age homes or the medical system.

I already had an Aged Care number which is readily given to people older than 65.

I mistakenly thought this would be a simple process: I would phone up and explain that I would like to attend the Pilates class (citing the need for ‘core’ strengthening!). Obviously, it would make me fitter and stronger and more able to stay in my own home for years to come, thus being less of a liability on the government. Logical.

Not so fast. The kind woman at Aged Care informed me that I would need an ‘assessment’ before they would approve me for this one hour, once a week, Pilates class.

I hoped that this could be done with a few simple questions conducted over the phone. No. An appointment was made for me for an assessment in my own home.

‘Did I have a dog?

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Please could the dog be locked up before the assessment’.

‘Sure,’ I said.

I was now in the system and I did not pull out  – also I was a little curious.

So last week, Trisha, from Aged Care, came to our house. She asked me to open the door (she did not want to touch the handle) and she made sure that we were socially distanced. I offered her tea or coffee. She said she was not allowed to have tea, coffee or even a glass of water. I told her that my almost toothless one-eyed Roy dog (desperate to greet her) was locked away. She said that the interview would take approximately one hour. I was bemused.

Trisha took out her laptop and said she had to go through the whole assessment. The questions were thorough – here are just a few of them: Did I have a social life? Friends? What did I do with my time? What kids did we have and where were they? Did we talk to them? Could I shower myself? Did I have handrails in the shower? She counted all our steps in the house. Could she see our bathroom? (That surprised me). Could I drive and shop on my own? Could I cook? What pain symptoms did I have? Did I have my own teeth? What medication did I take? Did I use pill boxes? etc ….

Forty-five minutes, later Trisha told me, apologising profusely, that she could not give me a ‘package’ because if she gave me a package someone else would not be able to have one.

‘You are fit,’ she said. ‘I’m sorry – you are not isolated.’

I lamely said I did not want a package. I just wanted to attend Pilates and was happy to pay the federal government extra part of the cost ($10). Uh-huh! No way was this possible.

Trisha left after telling me that I should be pleased that I was ‘on the system’ because if anything happened to me, they had all the data about my life!!! They sure did!

The kind of services My Aged Care offer to elderly people is impressive. I had had no idea of the range and scale of the support offered. I must say that we are lucky to live in a society that has put in place such services. But I am somewhat horrified by the bureaucracy that it involves. And its inflexibility.

Recently, I read the Economist magazine’s special feature on dementia where they reported on this looming world-wide crisis. I wonder for how long Australia can afford to support their ageing population in the Aged Care way. In 2107, 15% of our population was 65 and over. (9% in 1977). Growing steadily. People are living longer as well. Our Federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, says our ageing population is ‘an economic time bomb’.

Never fear. I can go to my Next Generation club – further away – for Pilates classes but it’s not so friendly and filled with lithe young mothers in Nike and Lululemon lycra gear. So be it. I am quite pleased that I was rejected for an Aged Care package. Obviously, I am too fit, too busy. For the moment.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: more on our escape north – walking on orchids

September 7.

Blue-beard native orchid

After we climbed out of Alligator Gorge on our trip north, last week, we walked through the eucalyptus forest to a lookout. One of our members is a botanist and she identified the spring flowers along the path. And then she pointed out tiny orchids. Many South Australian orchid species have never been scientifically described.

I have always loved orchids. In Zanzibar my mother collected them – we drove through Jozani Forest looking for epiphytic orchids that trailed from the tropical trees. In Durban, South Africa, orchids grew profusely in our gardens. They were large spectacular species and did not need cosseting. Each year the blooms multiplied. Adelaide, Australia has a perfect climate for cymbidiums as long as you can protect them from summer heatwaves. Give them enough shade, a winter cold spell and throw in a few handfuls of slow-release orchid fertiliser and they will present you with a profusion of spring flowers.

Star-rock spider-orchid

There are plenty of native ground orchids in South Australia. They appear in late winter to early spring but you need to walk slowly and have a keen eye, for they are tiny and easily overlooked. Once you stop and look, there they are.

Hairy-stem snail orchids

Our path through the forest in Mt Remarkable NP was lined with orchids. The two of us got down on hands and knees to see them properly! As we did so, another family came past and my friend chastised their young son as he was stepping on the orchids. It is easily done. These orchids do not advertise themselves.

I love their names: star-rock spider orchid, mosquito orchid, blue-beard orchid, hairy-stem snail-orchid. Someone, went to a great deal of trouble naming them. We were on our knees in appreciation.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: Walking on the Cryogenian, thinking of an Urmetazoan

River red gum in Alligator Gorge

6 September. The second day of our travels north was spent in the Mt Remarkable National Park, near the town of Wilmington, 320kms north of Adelaide. On reflection, this felt like being on the edge of the known world. The countryside north of Wilmington suffers from a severe shortage of rain and is dotted with half-deserted towns and collapsing stone buildings built over a century ago.

My husband and I elected to visit Alligator Gorge within the park. The origin of the name is in dispute. Rest assured, there are no alligators, nor crocodiles in this gorge. You might find a large goanna which looks intimidating but will not rise from the murky depths to grab your leg and refuse to let go. A long time ago, a large goanna raided my Queensland campsite. I learnt that they have an efficient sense of smell, a liking for cheese and powerful jaws.

salt water crocodile in the Daintree River, Queensland. Far away.

This National park was relatively green and we saw may euros, or common wallaroos, on our drive to the gorge. Euros are marsupials – they are smaller than the larger common Western Grey kangaroos and have noticeably darker paws and tails. They did not seem afraid of us, enjoying the grass in open areas, a teenage joey doing circuits round its mum. Visitors to Australia struggle with the many names of our marsupials and tend to call all hopping creatures of this shape, ‘kangaroos’. But we have potoroos, quokkas, bilbies, bandicoots, euros and wallabies to name a few survivors.

a Euro ‘jill’ (female) checking the joey in her pouch

Over time, rivers have cut into the 700 myo quartzite of Mt Remarkable leaving a steep gorge. We made it down the 272 steps, counting all the way. At the end, a small river was running and we did not feel inclined to wade through the slippery Narrows. Instead, we marvelled at the rocks beneath us, where the ripples marks of ancient seas were frozen in time. This is a geologist’s paradise: a moment to ponder the question of the origin of animals.

Ripple Rocks on the descent into Alligator Gorge, Mt Remarkable

These were rocks of the Precambrian (older than 541 million years before present): a period which covers almost 90 percent of Earth’s history. The Precambrian is split into three time spans and the Alligator Gorge rocks belonged to the more recent of those eras: the Proterozoic (good news – this is when oxygen first entered the earth’s atmosphere).

Keep on splitting as geologists do: the Proterozoic is again divided into three periods. The most recent is the Neoproterozoic era from 1,000 to 541 million years ago. We are getting there. More splits: the Neoproterozoic is split into three as well – the middle period of this is the Cryogenian period (cold birth) and the rocks on which we walked on the 24th August, 2020 were formed during the Cryogenian – between 720-635 million years ago.

I am sorry I cannot be more specific on the date.

the rocky Narrows of Alligator Gorge

I can only say we walked on the shore of an estuary or beach formed into rock when nothing lived on the land – since it was a frozen waste without much oxygen. Some call this the time of ‘Snowball Earth’, others, ‘Slushball Earth’. A matter of the degree of freezing.

The big question for scientists is when did animals originate? They evolved before the Ediacaran Period (635-542 million years ago). It is currently agreed that animals originated during the Cryogenian period, either in the depths of the frozen ocean around hydrothermal vents OR close to the ocean surface around a slightly warmer equator. So, we were walking on the rocks formed during the time the first animals appeared.

Another point of interest. The Adelaide Geosyncline or the Adelaide Superbasin (includes the Flinders Ranges, Mt Lofty Ranges and Kangaroo Island) consists of sedimentary rocks (some volcanic) that were deposited during the time of the breakup of the super-continent Rodinia (motherland). Thus, where we were standing in Alligator Gorge was on the eastern shore of Rodinia, an ancient land where the first animals stirred in the superocean of Mirovia.

https://earthlyuniverse.com/cryogenian-glaciations-birth-animals/

What I like most of all was learning this new word, a very important word. Urmetazoan. The urmetazoan, is our common mysterious ancestor living in the Cryogenian Period. What did it look like? – probably like a sponge.

All this science and questions of millions of years, puts our current world’s woes into a little perspective. Such issues were later discussed by our Field Geology Club of SA members, but not resolved, over dinner at the local Wilmington pub.

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. 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.

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: A down-under political story of our time…

July 15. Let me tell you a story. It’s a story of our time: of quarantine, of pride coming before a fall, of stupidity and of obfuscation. It’s a story also of political intrigue. This is all alleged, of course. Hopefully, in time, all will be revealed (but not if some politicians can stop it). Here it is.

All overseas passengers have to go into quarantine for 14 days upon entry into Australia. This is done at the port of their arrival and they are allocated accommodation in certain designated hotels.

Recently, Australia started accepting more international travellers. They were arriving into Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. In most cases, there has not been a problem. In most states, the police have been involved in making sure that the rules are observed by patrolling the hotels. In Victoria, the government initially requested assistance from the police but within a few hours changed their minds and cancelled the request.

Instead, it is alledged, a Victorian minister decided to give contracts, without tender, to 3 security firms using private contractors. It is alleged that the minister in charge had some sort of ‘relationship’ or knowledge of the industry. Very soon it became apparent that the security guards were not doing their jobs. They were not trained. Some said they had had 3 minutes training. Taxpayers were often charged for ‘ghost’ shifts.

A review of the security guard industry revealed: ‘lowly paid (workers), regularly lacked English-language skills, and are often so poorly trained they do not perform the basic functions of their job’.

https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/security-industry-review-exposes-little-training-sham-contracting-20200704-p5590f.html

What we do know is that within a very short time a cluster of COVID-19 cases popped up related to those supposedly quarantine individuals. The guards got infected and took the virus home to their multi-generational households.

Journalists started investigating and found out that the security guards were ineffective. An understatement. It is alleged that they let the passengers go shopping, go out for meals (using Ubers) and go into one another’s rooms. Most salacious of all there is the allegation that some of the guards had intimate relations with those quarantined. I am not sure where lack of training overlaps with lack of common sense. Anyway, by the time action was taken, it was too late. The cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Community infection was rife. From having almost no active cases, Victoria jumped to 70 and then almost 300 per day.

Then on July 13, the Age newspaper released the information from leaked emails showing that the government was aware of the problem within 24 hours of the launch of the quarantine program: ‘Top bureaucrats warned senior health officials at the beginning of the Andrews government’s botched hotel quarantine scheme that security guards were ill-equipped for the work and demanded police be called in to take control. Needless to say, nothing was done.

Oh, another thing. The Victorian State government used the numbers of these private contractors (1,300) to bolster their ‘Working for Victoria’ program of getting people (in theory unemployed) back into jobs …EXCEPT these contactors already had jobs – “The office of the responsible minister, Martin Pakula, confirmed on Wednesday that any worker employed in a government-funded job as a result of the pandemic could be classified as being placed under the Working for Victoria scheme.”

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/working-for-victoria-quarantine-hotel-guards-pumped-up-job-scheme-numbers-20200708-p55aa3.html

Now, Victoria has gone into crisis mode: total lockdown in many suburbs around Melbourne. In particular, some high-rises have positive cases. Tonight’s news is that there are 108 cases in 32 residential care homes. The defence force has been called in to help.

Not long ago, Daniel Andrews, Premier of Victoria, had made a fly-away comment that he wondered why Victorians would want to visit South Australia when they could stay in Victoria. Well, Victorians began to leave as fast as they could: to escape Victoria before the borders were closed. Yesterday, four young stowaways were discovered on a Victorian freight train trying to escape into South Australia.

On July 2nd, Daniel Andrews announced a judicial inquiry into this mess up, which he called a “public health bushfire”. (We are very aware of the dangers of bushfires this year…). Those who are sceptical will say this is a perfect way to refuse to discuss the failures until the report is tabled in September – maybe it will be forgotten by then – perhaps overwhelmed by further acts of stupidity. Meanwhile, no one will take responsibility, except the Premier, who is looking very rattled.

What we all know is that this virus does not observe closed borders and it’s extremely virulent. Now it is making its way into New South Wales. So far, we in South Australia, have not had any new cases, but watch this space.

Last comment: Daniel Andrews is the bright-spark Premier who has decided to sign a Belt and Road agreement with China against all advice from the Federal Government and against all common sense!

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/andrew-flags-fresh-bri-deal-vows-to-stay-the-course-on-china-ties-20200609-p550y2.html