Another Country Diary

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10 February '02

Lost dog sign, Bungendore roadOne of the ongoing entertainments of driving around the valley are the road signs and grafitti that accompany them. During election times there are the usual posters nailed to trees, and an occasional brave advertising campaign for carpet cleaning or back-hoe hire. Most get ripped down, or blow down but some are so important that they're tolerated by everyone. Like this one.

The other kind that remain until either the council removes them or the graffitist needs a fresh slate and cleans them themselves, are those on the backs of the road signs. They're almost never defaced from the front, at least not very creatively. There was a Canturf advertising sign that had 'Lawn and order' changed to 'Law and disorder' a concept that didn't incite any local anarchy. It suggested something more adolescent.  I must confess that when the usually clever Canturf signs lapsed into jokes about Viagra and getting it up, that I was tempted to add a sticker that said "No stupid dick jokes". They came down before I got the chance. 

Here's some examples of the current batch of political commentary. 
Click for a bigger image

Click for a bigger image

Usually they're just rough pub politics but once in a while they reach into poetry, either intentional or not. I've pondered over the haiku WAR WHY COST END, and haven't reached a conclusion yet. SAY NO TO MEANNESS CRUELTY PARANOIA however seems more like a personal plea than anything political. Spelling mistakes are sometimes weeks later corrected, but SACK PHILLIP BUDDOCK appears on two signs making me wonder if it's just a slip of the spray can or an intentional misspelling. (Buttock=arse? Hmmm) The line breaks and balance of JOHN COWARD'S WAY. SHOOT THEM OVER THERE, DROWN THEM OVER HERE suggests some graphic sophistication and a similar type style suggests one author. These messages appear on signs from Queanbeyan to Braidwood so it's someone who travels the Kings highway regularly. I'd like to think it was a disgruntled public servant,  driving one of the Commonwealth cars that are always parked outside the supermarket just before 7.30 closing time. They are inside collecting their cigarettes, bread and milk and a new spray can. But shouldn't public servants be able to spell?.

When you think about it, the life of a road sign has never been easy. They've been targets of country terrorism for as long as I can remember. Why we've never apprehended the people who put bullet holes through them in those midnight raids, is a burning question for the CIA and ASIO. It adds a certain edge to driving home late dodging kangaroos, to think that the next bend might also mean dodging bullets. The size suggests also that these are not .22 bullet holes. 

The ones that are literally sitting targets, (sitting literal targets?) are in places where a car, or spot lighting guys in the back of a ute could stop. (I'm being sexist here and assuming these are not female terrorists gaining target practice. Please correct me if I'm wrong.) But the ones that have obviously been hit from a moving vehicle make me a touch anxious. The more remote the sign, the more it suffers and there's been one I've watched over the years at the Bungendore tip that has really had it tough. 

Of course I condemn the vandalism, the waste of (my) and public money, the danger to traffic but I'm hiding a slight smile.

11 February '02
Rain drops on the rushes around the pondClearing showers. Just enough water to stop me mowing lawns (with the new and expensive mower) but it adds sparkle to everything in the afternoon light. The pond level is up a bit because of the rain, but the reeds and rushes around it seem to have sucked up most of it and grown alarmingly. There will need to be some slashing done before it engulfs every space around. It draws attention to how 'unnatural' our attempts to create natural spaces have to be, when they're in such a small area. Grow wild now - but not too much.

Our 'pond', dug by the previous owners, is about 10 m.(32 ft.) long by 4 m. wide by about 2 m. deep. There are no dam walls, just a depression, with a slightly raised edge on one side to stop flooding the neighbors yards if it overflows (it has happened!). The two women who owned the house before us were trying to do a permaculture garden (we still find things like strawberries amongst the rose bushes) and they were also concerned about the declining frog population. Sharon and Marlin were both employed in high public service environment jobs so knew what they were doing. After one version of the pond that went stagnant, they dug a deeper one which maintains itself nicely. We just have to top it up with water from the well as it evaporates or soaks into the deep topsoil. It was apparently clay lined but along with the goldfish and perch, they also had some West Australian marrons (big purplish yabbies) that dug into the clay bottom. The water would drain away dramatically having to be topped up each week. We allowed some local kids to go yabbying and the level now stays stable much longer, especially once it drops past what I assume is the more porous topsoil layer.

When we arrived we seemed to do everything wrong in the garden, and it's taken years to learn its rhythms and get it looking as good as it was when it was entrusted to us. Each year when it starts to warm up, I hack the reeds back and it looks naked. By the end of spring it's surrounded in tall green again. I found a tiny soft, woven, suspended pocket nest, attached to some of the dried reeds one year, and I left it hoping to see what bird built it. We've seen finches, silver-eyes, honeyeaters, wrens and wagtails chasing insects or dipping into the pond in flight and at least a couple of times a year we have to chase off a heron or cormorants. They hang around and fish out the goldfish for days, flying to the trees when we shout and throw things. There's some netting on the bottom that the fish can retreat to, but I never cut the overhanging reeds down completely, to leave them hiding places.

Some years ago I was talking about the pond to a local who asked us how the black snake was doing. They explained that to keep a balanced frog population, Sharon and Marlin said it was also necessary to have a predator, and a black snake was introduced. They chose a black snake because they are usually less aggressive then tigers or copperheads, and their bite punctures are shallower. We never saw one in our first year and haven't since, so I think the story was apocryphal poking fun at 'experts' who do silly things or just teasing me. We've had the story repeated to us a few times so it's now probably local folklore.

The pond would obviously be attractive to the healthy population of local tiger snakes, but we're surrounded by yards where concrete is also very popular which probably acts as a barrier. We've been careful and keep the grass down, but have never seen one in the yard. We have had some blue tongue lizards at times and I remember a piece of  country wisdom that said if you have a blue tongue lizard you won't have snakes around.  
12 February '02
Nectarines from the tree and homemade muesliToday it was goodbye to peaches on the muesli, hello to nectarines. It's no revelation, but eating what's ripe/fresh/ in season does two things. It means that there is less waste and it means that you really appreciate the produce while it's there, knowing that it will soon be gone. Having such a range of supermarket fruit and vegetables year round seems like a sensible modern convenience. However it wasn't the new mantra of the food writers to eat seasonal that's made us realise that this year round convenience is a culinary trap. It was simply having food from our own garden.

Until you bite that first fresh tomato you don't realise how degraded the flavour has been in what you've been buying all year. Greenhouse, vine ripened - blah! Like everything where there are continual small losses, one day you wake up to find that Venice has sunk, that you're overweight, and there's no taste left in your food.
13 February '02
Evening Primroses in the morning. Click for larger imageAnother trip past the evening primroses (see 8th Feb.) on the way to a Sydney meeting and I realised that I didn't have a good 'botanical' picture, just documentary stuff. So even though I didn't want to be late, I stopped in one of the patches of early sunshine and took some more. That's them in all their back-lit glory.

Click for a bigger image. 

Heading home late, I came through Lake Bathurst at around 8.30pm and slowed to the regulation 60kmh (you have to brake, the town's only about 1/2 km long). There was light still in the sky and the little church on the high side of the road was lit up with warm light. As I passed, a car leaving after evening service swung its headlights across the tombstones that fill the front yard. The combination was too much, dark blue evening sky, black pine trees silhouetted, the cross light on the tombstones and the warm light of the church with people at the door. That's a country photograph it screamed.

Of course by the time I'd stopped, waited for the camera to warm up, backed and switched off the car so it didn't vibrate, set time exposure and tried to get some steady shots out the drivers window, the tombstone cross light had driven off and was eating dinner with her family at home. There's a vague representation of what I saw, handheld blurred, but I stored the mental image away in my head in the 'future movie location' file. (Or maybe I'll ring the minister and ask if I can set a shot up next week... maybe.)

14 February '02
I'm writing this on the 15th, I've spent the last few hours re-sizing and putting online the photos I took last night, for our friends. Elizabeth organised a group of locals to go to the Beetle Nutt  St. Valentine's Day Wine tasting dinner. It was a big social occasion for Jan and I, usually we're busy and involved in our own or kid's lives and haven't been seen strutting it out in the town much.

With such a great group of interesting people however, last night was very pleasant and may have broken the mould. Being able to walk to and from dinner is also civilized, even when you do have to cross the highway to get home. (John Shortis said it was ok as you could fall down in the middle of the main road after 11.00 in Bungendore and never worry about being run over.)

The wines were good, two whites from MiLiMAni Estate (the first of the evening, a 1999 Sauvignon Blanc stood out for me), and two reds from Gidgee Estate (the 1999 Shiraz had the line 'local Canberra wine' blacked out of the label, so there's a story there but I much preferred it to the Ensemble blend.) and the Beetle Nutt tried extra hard to bring a touch of the exotic to the menu for evening as well.  

The restaurant was full and with the small kitchen, (and small staff) they spent most of the night running just to keep up, but no-one minded a few gaps in the service. Yabbie tails, crocodile and kangaroo aren't on the regular menu at the Beetle Nutt, and there were jokes about whether they were Lake George or Turallo Creek crocodiles, and who was in the room that hit the kangaroo. I made up two composite images of a selection from the night. They are linked to bigger original images if you want to see them.

Meeting at the restaurant  The meal and wine tasting.

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Fred Harden
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