Firstly, let’s talk about spring and the hillsides filled with flowers.
On Tuesday, I was in hospital for a routine check-up – a colonoscopy.
At 7am, I waited for admission in the new Calvary Hospital in central Adelaide. The TV in the waiting room broadcast video of the last USA flight out of Kabul as the Taliban celebrated. Heavily armed Taliban fighters looking like American special forces prepared to advance into the Hamad Karzai military base. Many Afghani families with Australian connections/visas/families are left behind. Families are split. Two flights carrying 237 Afghani refugees have arrived in Adelaide. Our news broadcasts showed them taking buses to their hotels for the required 2-week isolation: they carried so little, a bag or two. It is hard to imagine the shock of leaving their homeland and arriving here.
No one in the waiting room was paying any attention.
The contrast between my ability to attend this organised, super-efficient hospital for a routine check-up and the scenes on the TV is shocking. Maybe that is why no-one in the waiting room wanted to look up and be reminded of the misery of Afghanistan … pretend it’s not happening.
To come back to my day in the hospital. A colonoscopy is not a pleasant procedure. The previous day I spent drinking copious amounts of unpleasant liquids which result in frequent trips to the toilet. I drank litres of approved fluids as well to maintain hydration.
We are lucky to be able to schedule such optional appointments. This only can be done as we have no Covid-19 cases in South Australia, although several infected drivers have visited us in the few days and the contact tracers are busy. Meanwhile, we are surrounded by states in total shutdown with escalating cases: NSW, (10th week so far and 1,279 cases today) Victoria (5 weeks and 174 cases), and ACT (2 weeks and 12 cases). Our local news provides us with regular reports. We hear the numbers:
I cannot imagine how the hospitals are coping.
For my minor procedure, I was in awe of the care and consideration I received. Each step of the way, I received outstanding attention. How lucky we are.
I spoke to the nurse about why I was particular in having this procedure. My brother, Mike, died in 2011, aged 65, of bowel cancer, after a year of chemotherapy. In spite of serious symptoms, he had delayed having a colonoscopy and shortly thereafter ended up with a perforated bowel.
The nurse, an Indian Australian, said that her mother (aged 61) had recently died in India of unknown causes – not Covid-19 and she was unable to visit.
So, appreciate the years that you have had and any family close by. They are life’s gifts.
The specialist, Mark, came to tell me the good news. No cancer – only a couple of polyps that he removed. He said bowel cancer took 8-10 years to develop. It is a hidden and mostly symptom-free disease: a disease of old age and Western diet.
It was good to walk out of hospital. Life goes on and once more, anything seems possible.
Many Australians would describe the Yorke Peninsula (YP) of South Australia as a barren place, especially if you arrive from our rainforested coast of Queensland or from the northern beaches of NSW.
And I would have to agree. If you drive down the YP at the end of summer, when the wheat and barley fields lie fallow, covered in dry stubble, the grey flocks of sheep huddling together in the open or immobile under a few remaining trees, it is not enticing. Most of the remaining native vegetation seems to have survived along the roadsides and in the Innes National Park at the foot of the peninsula. The YP is often called the ‘Ill-shaped’ leg – rather like Italy, the YP is in the shape of a bumpy foot.
The YP has predominately limestone, alkaline soils with calcareous loams and calcrete. The early settlers said that the land ‘grew rocks’ because as fast as they cleared paddocks by hand, more white lumps appeared. There are only shallow hills and the wind is notorious – a great place for wind farms. 150 years ago, the smoke from the burning of the mallee eucalyptus and allocasurina forest blanketed Adelaide for months on end. And after that came the dust: the topsoil blowing away before farmers learnt not to plough the stubble after harvest.
But farmers have learnt how to manage the land, finding it was perfect for barley, wheat and canola.
So much for the history of the YP. There are a few places where you can catch a glimpse of what it once was. It’s strange how humans only start to realise what they have lost when it almost too late: the wombats are virtually gone; the echidna is rare and emus and kangaroos are seldom seen unless you are in a National Park.
But the coastline of the YP is relatively undisturbed. The beaches are long, with deep white sand and aquamarine seas: hardly a soul in sight. Go there for the sea, the beaches, if nothing else.
I have lived next to the sea, more or less, since moving to Zanzibar at the age of 8. Zanzibar, Durban, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. All different seas. It is one of life’s perfect pleasures. Sixteen months ago, not long before Covid-19 blighted our world, we sold our beachside holiday home on the YP, and for all of 2020 I have missed being there. I knew the phases of the moon: the tides, the way the winds dropped at low tide and when to hurry inside during the 40-degree spells. I paddled my bright yellow Hobbie kayak over the shallow reefs and seagrass, fishing for squid and blue-swimmer crabs. Sometimes pods of dolphins followed me.
This last week we travelled down the YP to a friend’s remote property located on the peninsula’s wild southern instep. Much of her 400 acres is dune scrubland, too sandy to farm, and so it has been left alone. Her property flanks about 3-4 kms of beach on the Gulf of St Vincent. This is a beach where it is rare to see another soul.
On the beach you always discover something – each day, something different: perhaps the desiccated skeleton of a leafy sea-dragon, or a perfect abalone shell. Bleached lumps of sea grass face the sea. They will be taken by the winter storms. In one cove I came across four endangered hooded dotterels, running back and forth as they foraged on the edge of the waves. I found a great green twist of rope that had come ashore, probably from a commercial fishing vessel. I always take a bag to the beach to gather rubbish left on the line of the high tide. But this day, all I gathered was a milk carton and one plastic bottle. A few years ago, we came across a beached mountain of fishing rope, over four metres long and two metres high. Perhaps it had been discarded by a deep-sea trawler. The council came and managed to remove it.
There is some good news on the YP in terms of conservation. Our state government is constructing a feral-proof fence across the narrowest section of the YP. They hope to remove foxes, cats and other ferals from the lands west of the fence to allow native fauna some protection.
‘At least 27 Australian mammal species are believed to have disappeared from the peninsula due to feral predators and the clearing of vegetation. While kangaroos and emus can still be seen around the area, many native species will never return without assistance.’
My friend’s house had no electricity, only gas for the stove and small solar panels for pumps. So, no TV and the mobile phones died. It’s very relaxing without news. You get used to it: we played bridge, cleared scrub from around the house, completed a difficult jigsaw, read books, birdwatched, walked the beach and shared long dinners and bottles of rather good Australian shiraz. What more could you ask for?
First, I have to record my joy at the events of 20 January, 2021. What a relief!
When it’s not always raining there’ll be days like this When there’s no one complaining there’ll be days like this When everything falls into place like the flick of a switch Well my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need to worry there’ll be days like this When no one’s in a hurry there’ll be days like this When you don’t get betrayed by that old Judas kiss Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this
When you don’t need an answer, there’ll be days like this When you don’t meet a chancer there’ll be days like this When all the parts of the puzzle start to look like they fit it Then I must remember there’ll be days like this …
Surely, Van Morrison had in mind one of those rare times when (unexpectedly) everything comes right. When you can live fully in the moment, be somewhere special with those you love, and suddenly realise that what you are feeling is contentment and it might even be the edge of happiness.
I have to say that when Biden and Harris were sworn in and there were no untoward incidents, I felt we (those who felt Trump was a disaster for the USA and for the World) could not ask for more. It was a rocky ride from election night, with the uncertainty of the following days, waiting through the 62 election law suits Trump raised (61 failed and he raised US$200 million to fight them). The courts held firm, the electoral system held firm and finally Mike Pence did not roll over in the face of the attacking mob, enraged by Trump.
So, for a little while, we can bask in the sense that we might be heading to a more stable, sensible, kind USA, led by a team of people prepared to roll back Trump’s xenophobic enactments.
On the other hand, here at home in South Australia, today is one of those summer days when the temperatures rises over 40°, we draw the curtains against the glare and the hot windows, we huddle inside and hope the power is not cut.
It is hard to describe just how strange it is when the temperature is 35° at 8.30 am with a strong gusty wind and the humidity level is around 14%. These are dangerous numbers. We were up early watering and switching on the sprinklers. We put out basins of water for the birds, the koalas and the bees. I noticed our resident koala climbing down out of a tree. They know what kind of day it is going to be. In the mid-afternoon when the temperature was 40 degrees C (104F), I looked for and found him – or found his grey furry back as he is buried deep in a pile of succulents at the base of the tree – seeking some sort of shelter.
We have not had rain for weeks and the countryside is brown and tinder dry. The eucalyptus trees around our house are dropping their leaves and our gutters gather their wind-blown drifts.
We are all recommended to have an emergency ‘Bushfire Survival Plan’ for days such as this. ‘Be Bushfire Ready!’
The first decision is whether to go or to stay and that decision must be made long before any fire front is close. Most deaths during catastrophic fire events are due to people leaving their properties too late. Some of our friends, who live in the Adelaide Hills surrounded by forest, pack their dogs, cats and other precious items in the car and spend the day in town with relatives. They realise there is no way that they can defend their houses which are surrounded by towering eucalyptus.
Our plan is to STAY and defend, in the event of a bushfire. We are on the fringe of the city fringe facing north. The dangerous fires come from the north with a hot wind out of the centre of Australia. We are sort of prepared. But most dangerous is an ember attack and that can come from any direction.
On the top of our house there are water sprinklers. The plan is that the water will fill the gutters (we have to block the down-pipes with sand-filled socks) and prevent flying embers getting sucked into the roof. But the sprinklers are powered by an electric motor and in the event of a fire in this area the power would most likely be turned off.
We also have a petrol fire pump, which I would struggle to start! In the house, we keep a bucket in the laundry filled with the gear that you would need in the event of firefighting: leather gloves, cotton long-sleeved shirts, blankets, etc. (No artificial materials that melt on your skin).
Finally, we have a ‘bolt hole’ under the house with a fireproof door and backed by the water tank – where we store our wine!
We all have smart phone apps (Alert-SA) that warn us of any fire within a circle of say, 10 km. You can see from the image where the current fires are in South Australia. At the moment, there are 12 fires listed and only three of these are ‘contained’. Every time I look, there is another fire listed. One larger fire, Cherry Brook, is on the edge of getting into a precious national park called Scott Creek. They also list how many ‘units’ (think fire-trucks and aircraft) are attending the fire and what type of fire it is. (grass, forest, vehicle, building …)
This time last year Australia, was ravaged by fire like never before. Since then, with La Niña we have had rains in most of the country and the drought is over but for a few isolated patches. Even so, summer means fire season for us in South Australia – the driest state in the driest continent in the world. ‘On a continual quest for water’.
UPDATE ON THE 2021 AUSTRALIAN OPEN.
Today it has been reported that 10 of the 72 people associated with the Aussie Open (players, coaches and supporters), all who are in quarantine, are infected with Covid-19 and 3 of them have the new UK Covid-19 variant strain. The player, Paula Badosa, who complained about quarantine rules, has now tested positive. She is now apologising profusely. Three of the 15 flights chartered by Aussie Open Admin for the players had infected people on board.
Victoria State has had 18 days without community transmission, they certainly don’t want any infection to escape due to the 2021 Aussie Open being held in Melbourne.
In the days to come, more news will surely evolve from this tennis story!
At first, in March 2020, all Australians took careful note of the dos and don’ts, the rules and regulations – as a nation. There was a unity between the states.
And then there wasn’t.
On April 3rd last year, Premier Mark McGowan closed the West Australian border to the eastern states for the first time in Australian history. And suddenly, Premiers found their higher calling. Each one could now command their state like a mini-nation and this would only increase their popularity. Just too tempting.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was not slow to realise this. Her Labor government faced an election in October. In August 2020, with the LNP, the Opposition party, gathering strength and with Victoria still in lockdown, the Queensland premier closed the border. Labor won the election with an increased majority. They are calling it the ‘border wars’.
Each state premier is mirroring Palaszczuk’s statement: ‘And today is the day that we say we are putting Queenslanders first.’
The thing is the borders of the mainland states are not sharply defined, particularly between Victoria, NSW and Queensland and to a lesser extent, South Australia. The border towns are now beset with problems of access to services: to schools and hospitals. Farms extend across borders.
At no stage have the number of infected people reached the percentages of Europe or the USA but we all realise that the virus is so infectious that it does not take much relaxation in the rules for it to become uncontrollable.
So now we have 7 sets of rules and specific use of language from the 7 states and territories to be considered. And more specifically: your own state’s rules, which change regularly with the ebb and flow of outbreaks, and the rules for states where you plan to travel or where your family are.
It’s plain confusing.
South Australia: as of January 12, all travellers coming to South Australia are required to complete a Cross Border Travel Registration. Our authorities have declared areas to be ‘High’ and ‘Low Community Transmission Zones’. Rules apply to each of these if you desire to enter South Australia. There are special rules for border areas – a ‘Cross Border Community Travel Zone’. Applications are required.
Rules are changed so often and are so confusing that often the police and border officials get it wrong. And this is quite apart from mask-wearing rules.
Other government COVID-19 website travel information
Victoria has just come up with a brilliant new idea: coloured zones! They have green, orange and red zones. Like a traffic light. Which means everyone entering Victoria must apply for a permit – even from WA or South Australia. We have had no community spread cases since mid-November last year.
‘These are the rules as per the Victorian government. If you have been in:
a green zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and enter Victoria. Once in Victoria you should watch for symptoms and get tested should you feel unwell.
an orange zone, you will be able to apply for a permit and will have to take a coronavirus (COVID-19) test within 3 days of your arrival in Victoria and isolate until you receive a negative test result.
a red zone, you will only be able to apply for a permit as a permitted worker, or to transit through Victoria to another state or territory. You may also apply for an exemption. Exemptions are only granted in special cases. If you try to enter Victoria by road without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be turned away. If you attempt to enter via an airport or seaport without a valid permit, exemption or exception you will be fined $4957. Victorians will be required to quarantine at home, and others will be sent back.
a NSW-Victorian cross-border community. If you are a resident, you will be able to enter Victoria without a permit, but you must carry photo ID and proof of your address. ’
The Australian newspaper makes the comment today: ‘The extreme approaches of Victoria and WA are out of all proportion with Australia’s COVID-19 caseload. The nation had four new cases of community transmission on Monday, all of them in NSW. Nobody is in intensive care. The maze of confusing, costly, job-destroying over-regulation by some states is now intolerable…. But … the commonwealth (government) lacks the constitutional power to force states to open borders or abandon their ludicrous red tape.’
We were hoping to holiday on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria at the end of February. It’s not looking very promising. Point one: can we get through the border? Point two. When we are there, will South Australian stop us coming back home or make us go into quarantine?
To travel or not to travel, the decision awaits us.
November 22. Well that was a mistake. Our severe lockdown lasted a mere three days. It was announced on Wednesday and by Friday there was a major backtrack.
This weekend the newspapers are full of analysis, recriminations and quite a lot of finger-pointing. What went wrong?
On Monday, our creative writing group had returned from the Flinders Ranges to hear about the ominous virus ooutbreak in our northern suburbs called the ‘Parafield’ cluster. It all seem to be under control until Wednesday when with little notice we were put into severe lockdown.
We were told that this was definitely a more virulent strain of the virus. The only hope for our state was to shutdown at short notice. There was a sense of panic in the community: hour long queues developed outside supermarkets. There was a flurry of emails cancelling appointments, weddings, funerals, travel plans; closing clubs, restaurants etc … think ALL activity outside your home. Borders were closed and incoming flights diverted.
Only one person from each household was to be allowed out once a day to shop. Dogs were not allowed to be exercised.However, people were quite innovative. I noticed walkers with backpacks on the way to shops, sometimes with a large dog in tow which they tied up outside. (For the first time I wore a mask to the supermarket. I found it mildly unpleasant.)
Then on Friday the news came out that the lockdown was unnecessary. There had been a mistake. What went wrong? I suppose we are all in a learning curve and the state government and medical authorities are as well.
Authorities believed that the virus was being transferred into the community on pizza boxes! It seems silly to say this now. But do you remember all that discussion months ago about how the virus could survive on different surfaces?
Contact tracers had interviewed an infected man who said that he had bought a pizza and from a pizza take-away business where another infected person was working. That’s how he had caught the infection. Our authorities jumped to the conclusion that this young man had been infected by merely handling a takeaway pizza. If this was true, then all the people who had collected pizzas during this period needed to be quarantined. Authorities went into overdrive contacting everyone who had been to that pizza parlour. Over 4,000 people were put into quarantine. (I wonder if they all bought pizzas – if so that was one very popular pizza restaurant!)
However, after checking they found out that this individual had lied. He was in fact working shifts at the pizza parlour and had been infected by a colleague working there. Apparently, this makes all the difference. No infected pizza boxes. No hundreds of customers potentially infected.
Our premier Steven Marshall reacted quickly. On Friday he announced the error and declared that on Saturday night the severe lockdown would end. People were allowed out to exercise and take their dogs out walking once more. We are still under restrictions but bearable. We ourselves are going out to lunch at friends shortly – 10 people are allowed to gather. We will be only 8. Outings next week are back on the calendar.
Now people are looking for someone to blame. Why did the authorities not double check when the concept of pizza box transmission seemed a little unlikely?
Why did the young teenager lie? Was he in fact paid cash over-the-counter? That’s avoiding tax. Was he a temporary resident? Perhaps a student struggling? Whatever the story, the poor youngster is in trouble. Apparently, he is being interviewed by the police but it appears there is no real sanction for lie telling. Even the current US president gets away with it daily – on a mighty scale. Why shouldn’t the teenager occasionally protect himself? And perhaps he was frightened and did not realise the enormity of his lie.
Either way, our state has had a shock, emotionally and financially, but we are on the better side of the event: no rampant community transmission.
And most critical, we have no Donald Trump look-alike spinning nonsense to undermine our democracy.
Just when we were rather pleased with ourselves in South Australia, we are brought up short.
From midnight tonight, South Australia will be locked down: the most severe lockdown we have had since the beginning of this pandemic. Basically, you cannot leave your house except to buy food or for emergencies – a long list of instructions has been published of what you can and cannot do.
The news spread fast and the response by the public was instantaneous. It was as if there would be a lockdown on the supermarkets as well. The parking lots were full within minutes. There were queues to get into the supermarkets and every trolley that came out was heavily laden. Once more, the toilet rolls were targeted; the meat shelves were emptied and there was not a loaf of bread left in sight. Madness.
We are not even allowed to order takeaways during this time. I felt sorry for all those restaurants and fast-food outlets that had perishable stocks. They had no warning.
If you are travelling within South Australia, you had 12 hours to make a choice. Either you decided to stay where you were for the next six days or you had to rush home before midnight tonight. I have some friends who had just arrived in the Flinders Ranges, over 500 km north of us. They have spent one night there of the three planned. If they had not heard from anyone of these events, they will have a challenge trying to get home in time. Large parts of the Flinders Ranges are out of telephone range.
There are not many cases in our state, but apparently this particular strain of the virus is spreading very rapidly and has a short incubation period of 24 hours, with many people showing minimal symptoms. The virus escaped from one of the quarantine hotels in the centre of Adelaide. The source was a returning traveller from the UK. A cleaner working in the hotel apparently got infected from a surface. But that idea is disputed. She managed to infect her mother: a woman of 80 years old. And that older woman ended up in hospital and was diagnosed. Meanwhile, her large family, over the few days, had visited many places, sending children to school and university etc. We now have the long list of places online, (including certain buses), which are considered potential sources of infection.
Testing centres have been overwhelmed and people are waiting 5 to 6 hours to be tested. The centres are now going to be open 24 hours. 5,000 people are in self-isolation / quarantine including 100 police.
Our State is trying what they call a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown to get on top of the spread. This will be followed by an 8 day less stringent lockdown. We just have to hope it works so all our plans for Christmas and being with family interstate are not scuppered. Our Chief Public Health Officer, Professor Nicola Spurrier, is very popular and we have faith in her decisions.
This is not a major catastrophe for us in South Australia. Or neighbouring state of Victoria endured a 4-month lockdown. If this is what it takes to contain this outbreak, we have to go with it.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Kangaroo Island, off the south coast of South Australia, is perhaps one of the safest places to be during a pandemic. The population of under 5000 is spread across the 4,200 square kms of countryside and villages and only a small ferry connects the mainland. They had a case of COVID-19 in April that infected two other people but that’s that. Now with all the careful behaviour there have been no cases for a long time.
While here, we have barely listened to the National news. What has come through is the welcome news from Victoria State where the daily numbers of infections have declined to well below 10. What is less welcome is their reports of the political cover up of who decided to appoint the ill-fated security detail for quarantined travellers. The Royal Commission has closed their public hearings and is yet to report.
We have come here for seven days to stay in a cottage on the idyllic Island Beach.
I have been getting up at dawn to take Roy, our Cairn Terrier, for a beach walk to allow the rest of the household to sleep in. It is only a pleasure.
At the moment I share the four kilometre beach with no other human. However, I do enjoy the space with many pairs of pied oystercatchers. Pied oystercatchers are well dressed birds: a coat of black and white, a long crimson beak and scarlet legs. These birds are breeding at the moment and are fiercely protective of their particular stretch of beach. I watched two of them defending their territory with aggressive body arching and loud whistles of protest. The interlopers flew off. Further along a pair already have a couple of long-legged youngsters who rush into the seagrass as people approach.
As birdwatchers, we are enjoying the extensive unspoilt bush land on the island. As a bonus this week we have the annual Backyard Birdcount going on, organised by Birdlife Australia. You record the bird species and the numbers you see in time slots of 20 minutes. The app registers your location. So far, with four days to go, 2 million birds have been sighted and 63,000 checklists have been uploaded.
No longer is Kangaroo Island home to the dwarf emu: wiped out by humans and declared extinct by 1837 not long after the first permanent colonists (whalers and immigrants) settled on the isand. Evolution continues. Bird species are evolving into subspecies here and one day there will be endemic bird species on Kangaroo Island again.
October 4. Last Christmas, our Capetown son and daughter-in-law gave us a present of two tickets to attend a cooking course at Scoffed Cooking School in Adelaide. Scoffed offer a range of themed evening and day-time cooking options for children and adults, for beginner and more advanced cooks.
We planned to select a course in the New Year, but before we could, COVID-19 shut down the cooking school along with everything else. Fast forward 7 months and the business has reopened. We now had two credits to attend a cooking session of our choice. The numbers they allow into the school’s classes have been reduced and Covid-safe rules are strictly applied. (This is although there is only one active case in South Australia … a young man arriving from overseas and already in quarantine. Deaths? Four people died overnight and 479,000 tests in total have been undertaken.)
Previously, I had chosen a course on how to cook fish, but this was not available. So, instead last night I attended a course on Spanish cooking, more particularly how to cook paella and pintxos (typically, a small snack eaten in bars in Spain and Portugal … like tapas).
When the 13 of us gathered – socially distanced in the professional kitchen – we were first informed about the ‘Covid’ rules for the evening. I have never washed my hands so often! Then there was a demonstration in ‘how to chop with a sharp knife’ … how not to slice the end of your fingers off while slicing the parsley.
I have to admit, in all honesty, that I’m not a good cook. I have learnt and adapted over the years and there are moments when I am quite pleased with my cooking. However, in my family there are very good cooks. My sister-in-law, Meri, is a phenomenal cook, a natural, and my daughter, Shannon, in Seattle is another – although she uses almost every utensil in the kitchen in the process. But the result is worth the wash-up.
Anyway, last night, under instruction, I had a lot of fun cooking up a series of Spanish-themed entrees and a delicious seafood paella. My co-cook of the evening was a younger woman who had had to ditch her Spanish travel plans for 2020. She continues language instruction on Zoom and had decided that acquainting herself with Spanish cooking was the next best thing to do!
(The crux of the evening was to show us how to form a crust in our paellas– the essential mark of a good paella.)
Between each course, we adjourned to their small cafe carrying our food to enjoy there with an accompanying half glass of wine. So, with the cooking demonstrations and the frequent hand-washing, the whole process took over three hours. We ended the evening by deep frying churros for our dessert – the churros (delicious deep-fried pastry) were dipped in chocolate or / and dulce de leche.
I realise that these are the kinds of evenings we have missed with the shutdown. Everyone at Scoffed Cooking School was so light-hearted, so relaxed, so prepared to have a fun evening. Even though in South Australia we have not been in a ‘hard’ or lengthy lockdown like other countries, I felt as if I had been let out of school. There are still fun things to do and life to be lived!
And of course, there is now time to buy a special paella pan so I can practice at home and burn the pan with equanimity.
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.
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.
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.