Another Country Diary

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4 May '02
A complete weekend at home together. A novelty, even if it means that there are so many tasks that have been waiting. Chopping the last of the winter wood, building a frost protection frame for the lemon tree,  replacing the front garden tap, sweeping leaves, mowing know the stuff. Good satisfying achievements as each one is ticked off. Two perfect autumn days, with crisp air, warm sun and a slight breeze. It makes it very easy to be outside.

Brown GoshawkBecause Jan and I are working around the garden all day, you see things that you'd normally miss with a casual walk. A brown goshawk took off from the ground near the pond and settled in one of the gum trees. I ran for my camera and then played a game of 'I can see you', 'No you can't' as it moved from branch to branch trying to avoid eye contact. There was an big old currawong higher in the tree that was watching both of us. I think it had been bullying the goshawk or at least keeping it away from the other currawongs. When the hawk called, it was the 'kek kek kek kek' alarm call, straight out of the bird book. From its size and since it stayed around the pond for the rest of the day (they're swamp birds usually but always found near water) and I didn't see a mate, I presume it was a young adult. They don't stay in a territory like the breeding pairs do. 

The name apparently derives from Old English 'goose hawk' and they were used to hunt water birds. It's still sometimes called a chicken hawk and our yard with the water, lizards, frogs, finches and wrens and the neighbours chooks must have been ideal for it. You can't see it in this photo but it has long strong yellow legs and claws.

Queensland blue pumpkin and flowerThe frost that we didn't notice, has started to blacken the leaves on the Queensland Blue pumpkins. At the same time there are fresh flowers. I picked a small one and I'll leave the other two big ones for a week or two. The immature fruit has started to discolour and rot already, it's a pity, as there were about six the size of a butternut.

Walnuts in their husksIn what was once the chook yard, the walnut tree gave up a double handful of nuts, all of them split from the soft pithy case but hanging on. They're very small and I don't know if that's a lack of water or whether it's because this is the first year's crop. We now have enough to get the standard recipe 'a cup full of walnuts' if we had the recipe. Jan remembers her mum cooking lamb brains and walnuts, crumbed and deep fried and of liking them. I can't imagine our daughters ever trying brains no matter how disguised. I can't say that I'm keen to prepare them anyway. My mum used to make them into a fitter with batter. I'd take the leftovers cold for school lunch. How food goes out of favour in just a generation.

Walnuts are one of those 'Doctrine of Signatures' fruit that because they looked like small brains when unshelled, were thought to be good for mental alertness and cure headaches. The Greeks even named it Kara, or 'head'. The shell was the skull, the kernel the brain.

5 May '02
Grapes and pomegranatesIt's also end of season for the pomegranates, quinces and grapes. I thought that the grapes were all gone, even with the netting draped over them but I found a couple of bunches of the white ones. I've no idea of the variety but they're intense wine flavoured with a pip. We had a bowl of Waltham Cross from the fruit shop on the table and while not as sweet, the flavour was much more intense the the big Walthams. I wish I knew the varieties of these things we have around us, the people who sold it said they'd give us a plan but never did. If I ever leave I'll make sure I pass on what we know.

The pomegranates were changing colour on the outside when I looked a week ago, in the last few days they've split open dramatically. They looked great on the bush but they're still 'tart' and I don't think they'll be eaten unless I cook something with them. I remember eating wild ones in Greece when I visited Jim and Katia Wilson and walked in the hills above their home in Larissa. They were brilliant red, scented and full of juice, so sensuous and 'middle eastern'. There were ants on them that I photographed on Super 8 movie, in close-up, with late afternoon light catching the semi-transparent seeds and glowing.

QuincesAnd while there are still a few quinces I've left ripening, I picked a dozen or so that are now spreading their scent around the kitchen. The bird nets worked well to protect them, and the possums couldn't reach them easily. A few fall off and roll into the long grass around the pond, and they get chewed, but these are unmarked.

I'll try and make some quince paste between trips to Sydney this week. Jan has had to promise a quince tart to her office for morning tea, after being asked what her signature dish was. These are mine. They can have the next lot.


7 May '02
Stag in paddock, early morningI was running a bit late as I headed off to Sydney this morning but I stopped quickly for this photo. I was driving into the sun and just outside Bungendore, rounding a corner in the mist, a stag walked across ahead of me. It disappeared into the pine trees beside the road and I had to wait until it got through the fence before I could see it to photograph it. I had time to take a few images and a short grab of video before it ambled off. It was wary but obviously not frightened and seemed happy amongst the cows. The surprise as I rounded the bend and the 'what country is this?' other world feeling I had, I've tried to capture in this composite image. I like them being around as you can tell! My only worry is that some gun crazy locals will kill them, hardly great sport given how tame they are.
8 May '02
White-faced heronA white-faced heron is back, fishing out the goldfish from our pond. I've chased it off a few times, and I've left the gate open so that the dogs can run down there. We've been a bit apprehensive about letting them poke around when we're not in the garden because of a threat of a snake. Lorraine (one of the back neighbours) had her cat die from snakebite a month ago. 

We've never seen a snake in the yard but I'm sure the potential is there (water, mice, frogs). We get all the neighbours cats in our back yard chasing mice and lizards. Most of the area is clear of undergrowth and I'm sure we would have seen one if they were around. Cats around Bungendore aren't kept in at night and I'd seen her big gray cat around the streets so it could have been bitten anywhere.

The goldfish are vulnerable at the moment because with the colder weather, they sunbake near the surface. The water is also really clear and you can see down to the weeds on the bottom. Easy targets if you are a heron. They're nice looking birds, but we need the goldfish to keep the pond free of things like mosquito larvae. I've never seen a mosquito wriggler in the water edges, but we get bitten at dusk all through summer if we're outside so they must breed in long grass or gutters. 

As soon as winter frosts hit, the mosquito and bush fly population drops dramatically. I take off all the flyscreens and store them in the shed, and we take down the clear plastic flystrips at the back door. That makes it easier to drop the silvered pleated blinds we use, to keep the heat in at night. All things that let you know the season is changing.

Fred Harden
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