A personal diary about life in a country town, Bungendore NSW Australia

Another Country Diary gumboots
Another Country Diary

After about a month of these diary entries, they go to the archive.
28 January '06
Here's a small poem, or maybe a country fable.

It's been very hot, and with being a bit broke and all, we'd pretty much used what was in the freezer so it was time to knife the ice.*

It disappeared in an hour on the garden.

For the last few weeks, at dusk there's a soft otherworldly sound coming from the cypress tree outside my workroom window. It's like a musical breathing. A flock of starlings have decided this is home for the night.

Now, one roosting starling doesn't drop too much bird shit, but forty do. The hydrangeas under the tree have taken on polka dots. Lots of polka dots.

We've had summer storms, sweeping in, grumbling, cracking overhead and scaring the dogs. And last night, 35mm of rain. Flooding rain. Shut the windows and even the doors, gusty rain.

But that means you can't open all the windows and doors to let the house cool down, so you go to bed, naked, under just a sheet, listening to far off rumbling, which sometimes wakes you. When it turns cooler you fall asleep in the early morning.

And wake up to find it all the polka dots washed away .

*See Jude Aquilina's website. She has named a book of her poems Knifing the Ice

26 January '06
I don't want to brag (much) but it's almost the time when we stop buying veggies. I'm collecting a handful of small tomatoes a day (the big ones are still weeks away), there are lettuces and rocket for salad. In the bag are also four small beetroot, with tender green leaves that I'm going to add in a salad (while that's a standard English item, I've never eaten beetroot leaves.)

There's also some zucchini flowers (male) and some small zucchini with flowers attached. I've eaten these flowers stuffed with ricotta etc. in restaurants, and at home I've cooked them dipped in egg and lightly floured and shallow fried but I'm also happy to just toss them into the steamer. Jan doesn't like the furry texture but I do.

In the next few days there will be the first of the baby squash. They're so pretty when they're small.

It's very satisfying, when the weeding and watering are done to sit down and eat what you've grown. Bragging isn't part of the pleasure at all.

24 January '06

There's a beetle invasion all around the town. The conditions have been just right for Black headed Pasture Cockchafer's (Acrossidius tasmaniae). They're small brown/black beetles about er... there's one on my keyboard now...it's ...about the width of a keyboard key long. A finger nail length. It's died on top of the Sleep key. True. (Hey, I didn't know my keyboard had a sleep key! I thought that was for laptops.)

The infestation made the pages of our local papers, the Braidwoood Times and the Bungendore Mirror had mentions of them.

Braidwood Times said ...

"They are a native insect and sporadic pest of improved pastures on the southern tablelands, slopes and south coast. The beetles feed mainly on dung of introduced animals, rather than pasture.

The beetles emerge from the ground from January to mid March, at dusk, a couple of days after rains. If the weather is warm and humid, with frequent thunderstorms, they start hatching, swarm and fly away to infest new areas, laying new eggs. Bob Templeton from the Rural Lands Protection Board said that the bugs were last around in Braidwood in great numbers two years ago when the conditions were similar."

While they're flying away to infest new areas, they are using our place as a way station. Gaps in screens, the chimney, bathroom vents are all points of entry. Jan hates them, she's been sweeping up dozens as they come inside, even using the vacuum cleaner. They seem to die overnight. There's a good side, and that's the spiders around here are getting fatter.

23 January '06
The straw bear story (scroll down) reminded me of this swamp creature (they called it a 'yeti' when I took the photo) holding a garden lamp. It was a landmark, 'turnoff second street after the yeti', when we stayed near Huskisson on the coast near Jervis Bay in February '04. It was 'alive' - growing moss.
22 January '06
Way back when, er maybe 1970 when I'd just started trying to make money as a photographer after leaving Photography school, I photographed a number of LP covers and did PR shots for Crest Records, the small company that we (RMIT students John Burdan, Graeme Munro and I) were renting our upstairs studio and darkroom from in Tooronga, in Melbourne.

One of their artists was Shirley Jacobs a folk singer who seemed to at first have slipped completely off the Google radar. Then I started to find bits. But not much.

There was a copy of Shirley's RCA Camden self titled album for sale on eBay with a tantalising cut down scan of the cover. I didn't save the seller's name but I saved the picture.

The first track on side 1 is called The Sad Eyed Teddy Bear. The liner notes (by Shirley) say "A song about a typical Australian boy as he grows from childhood to manhood. The Teddy Bear in the song -the symbolic toy - is left sad and lonely amidst the dust and cobwebs when Johnny marches away to war... never to return".

Yep, a bit corny, and my photograph at the top of this, doesn't make it better. Remember however that it was anti-Vietnam, very anti-war time for us youths (and conscripts.)
Now I don't think I photographed the cover of Shirley sitting in the grass, I did (and still have) some photos in black and white of Shirley in front of those rocks but I can't remember shooting colour images. I'm sure I did take, when I was doing the bear image, a photograph at a nearby war memorial with those two boys (they're in the ones in background in the window colour picture.)

I can remember thinking we were being anti-establishment and "I hope this isn't considered disrespectful" and I think that's why the standard digger statue with a gun was cut out of the picture. (It was years after that Anzac Day became 'ok' even if you were anti-war. At the time it seemed very daring to have the kids there.)

"SHIRLEY JACOBS - Bush Girl (and Other Ballads and Folksongs of Australia) (Australia/Crest '69) M-/EX Very rare Aussie folk femme with a decidedly UK trad folk feel". eBay

Again, I have black and white of Shirley with this shirt on, taken in the fern gardens of Melbourne's Botanic Gardens. That I have no colour images is probably because I would shoot 2 & 1/4" transparencies and give them the whole roll to get processed. The black and white I'd do myself. The 'bear in the window' shot I had a duplicate negative made, and I have that still.

There are mentions on the web of Ade Monsbourgh and how he worked a lot with Shirley. "Ade is acknowledged as musical director and he performs on trumpet, melodica and recorders. He plays lyrical melodies and counter-melodies to Shirley Jacob's voice and guitar. Amongst supporting musicians is Frank Traynor on piano. Ade's natural melodic inventiveness is again apparent, this time in the folk idiom."

At the same time as I did Shirley's press shots, I'd photographed Ade and Frank Traynor performing, I'll scan those some day and put them online.

There's a reference in the Papers of Harry Hastings Pearce - MS 2765
in the National Library, of correspondence with Shirley (probably on her and his interest in Lawson and historical Australian ballads).
There's a Shirley Jacobs discography which puts her last album down as Songs of Love and Freedom in 1975.

The Whitlam Dismissal website has a short bit of Shirley singing the Labor way and there's a Real Media file on a strange 'Welcome to Australia' website which I've stored here 588k of her singing The Fight at the Eureka Stockade, with I reckon, Ade Monsbourgh on recorder or melodica.  

Now, I knew some of her friends at the time, and when she moved to Sydney I asked after her. There were conflicting stories, mostly of a heavy personal relationship. I'd like to know the truth - she's part of our folk history now, somebody should tell the story.

The last web entry I found is from an astrologer who quotes a Shirley Jacobs as saying the reading had helped her a lot. I hope it's 'the' Shirley Jacobs and that she's happy.

19 January '06
The first cherry tomatoes, picked in the rain and oh so much sweeter and flavoursome than the store bought ones.
When we stop picking tomatoes we stop eating 'fresh' tomatoes except for the packets of cherry or grape tomatoes
18 January '06
It was raining when I got to Goulburn and they'd already had 120mm in the previous 24 hours. So the low lying paddocks on the edge of town (with these hawthorn trees that I've photographed in frost and fog) were awash with water.

One thing I've always liked (ever since I was a country kid) is the way that after heavy rain, streams appear magically in paddocks. Usually they're grassed hollows, depressions that you barely notice in the dry. I can remember walking bare foot along them, there were no sharp rocks just smooth grass bent flat and clear rainwater hurrying somewhere (the Murray River was a backbone to my childhood, both banks where my life took place. The river was always deep and dark however, never clear like those streams. When the rains stops, those streams are gone in a few days.

17 January '06
This spider (variety? Anyone know?) has been active in the corner outside the toilet window. So some nights you can watch it in the light on the outside wall. It attacks and wraps all kinds of insects and to give you some scale, the bottom photograph it has caught a Christmas beetle.

15 January 06
I made up and fitted some removable door screens and it's been great at night, the house gets quite cold with air down the central hall. We put a folding fire screen across the gap to stop the dogs running out but not before Fudge saw a dog walking past and barreled out straight through the fly screen, bending the frame and pulling the wire out of the frame.
I tried to cut and cook the last of the artichokes hearts but I reckon I was two weeks late. Even though they were small, they'd matured and were tough. It would have been fine if we'd just boiled them and eaten the flesh off the leaves (dipping them in melted butter of course) but I was determined not to let them go to waste.  I cut out the hairy choke and added a bit of vinegar to the water while I trimmed them so they wouldn't brown but of the half dozen or so, there were two that had some real flesh on the base. Next year.
14 January 06
This long-legged grasshopper is different to the regular ones that are invading the area. Flightless but with very long antennae (that's the fine lines at 11.30 position) and back legs that don't seem to be used or bent at the knees.
12 January 06
The family cat Pebbles now has no ear to match no nose. She's a sun lover, pale skinned and of course has skin cancer. We had her nose removed and thought she'd probably die of old age before the cancer on her ear became a problem. She hasn't and we decided to get the cancer removed and stop her dropping bloody bits everywhere as she scratched her ear. She's 15 years old and still very active and friendly. She plays 'kitten' games, running up trees, hiding and pouncing on the dogs as they come past and is eating well. So a few hundred dollars of the Bungendore vets time later, she's looking like an alien and with beautifully stitched folds of skin covering the bloody bits. The hair had to be trimmed but will grow back and she'll look less weird I'm sure. She was quiet for a few days but doesn't seem distressed at all. Pebbles is a favourite of both the older girls who let her sleep on their beds when they visit and I'm not around.
10 January '06
I'm sure I've been through the town of Marulan before - but when? The bypass has been there forever it seems. I stop at the food and service stations on the highway often, but on a trip back from Sydney, after finishing meetings early, I turned off. It's a lovely little town with some signs of an a more active earlier life and recent food store/cafe failures (this general store sign looks like it was artfully painted). The vintage car was real and pulled up as I did.

I'll keep this failed service station, (Mini-mart! Video, Gas, Bait, Sub-newsagent etc.) in mind for a movie location. Click for a larger image. Just a bit sad.
7 January '06
Friends from Sydney - Doug and Susan, came down to visit relatives and we all went to Grazing at Gundaroo for lunch. When we did the story on Grazing in the magazine Mark Mooney hadn't finished his vegetable garden. It's been producing well for a month or so and as you can see here, they've barely had time to maintain it. It's amazing how just half an hour away from Bungendore, how much hotter it gets (it's a more open area as well). I'm still waiting for things to grow that they've first-cropped out and replanted.
Monday 9 January '06

Let me tell you about Bears and Plough Monday.

The Monday after Twelfth Night (January 6th, Epiphany, is the last of the 12 days of Christmas) is known as Plough Monday. There are many customs associated with Plough Monday but most have died out. One of them involved the local farm workers (pulling a plough) visiting all the houses in the village and demanding money. If no money was forthcoming, or too little, then the plough was put to use creating a furrow through the front garden.

"The twelve days of Christmas would have been a most welcome break for the workers on the land, which in Tudor times would have been the majority of the people. All work, except for looking after the animals, would stop, restarting again on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night".

Now, that wasn't what I started to research. I was looking for a Twelfth night cake story for the Regional Food blog (which you might find interesting and it will be updated more regularly than I can this. It pays the rent.) But in the process I discovered something that is very Another Country Diary. Straw Bears.

At left, that's a man leading a straw bear. Another piece of rural folk history that shows how poor we are, in our country traditions.

The full history is on an English website strawbear.org. It's a tradition that died and was revived quite recently, a technique which we may have to apply ourselves if we want to enrich our country lives. Let me give you a quick outline. 

In the town of Whittlesea, in England, from when no one quite knows, it was the custom on the Tuesday following Plough Monday (the 1st Monday after Twelfth Night) to dress one of the confraternity of the plough in straw and call him a 'Straw Bear'. A newspaper of 1882 reports that "... he was then taken around the town to entertain by his frantic and clumsy gestures the good folk who had on the previous day (Twelfth Night) subscribed to the 'rustics', a spread of beer, tobacco and beef".  (That was the practice of giving gifts to the poor and farm workers on the last day of Christmas. Often that included leftover festive food, ham etc.)

"The bear was described as having great lengths of tightly twisted straw bands prepared and wound up the arms, legs and body of the man or boy who was unfortunate enough to have been chosen. Two sticks fastened to his shoulders met a point over his head and the straw wound round upon them to form a cone above the "Bear's" head. The face was quite covered and he could hardly see. A tail was provided and a strong chain fastened around the armpits. He was made to dance in front of houses and gifts of money or of beer and food for later consumption was expected. It seems that he was considered important, as straw was carefully selected each year, from the best available, the harvesters saying, "That'll do for the Bear".

The tradition fell into decline at the end of the 19th century, the last sighting being in 1909 as it appears that an over-zealous police inspector had forbidden 'Straw Bears' as a form of cadging ('begging but with menace' is my translation). In 1989 they restored the custom. 

Creatures made of harvest straw appear in various cultures, there's a German bear in Waldrn.

Did you know there is a Guild of Straw Craftsmen in Britain?. There's a links page that has USA weavers.

5 January '06
I figure I'm spending at least half an hour a day just managing the garden fruit trees. If I didn't feel so bad about waste, I'd let the birds have them but once covered in a net, it's my responsibility. The apricots have been great this year but have ripened on the bottoms and are green on top. I'm picking them every few days and leave them for a few days on the window ledge turning and culling the rotting ones. I've dried a heap and made some spiced apricot jam. I'm happy to slice of the bad or scabby bits for morning muesli even if the rest of the family think it's too hard or unattractive.

The usual bugs are there but this green one caught my eye against the orange fruit. Not great camouflage but maybe they don't taste very good.

4  January '06
The squawking of baby birds calling to be fed and the sharp clacks and calls of young birds scrapping is all around. There seems to be lots of feathers on the ground this year. This delicate one was in the hazelnut tree.

I picked a couple up and stuck them in a crack on the front gate post, then I did some more. Shamanism?
1  January '06
New Year's Day and there's smoke in the air. It felt a bit like the Canberra bushfire day I wrote about here. We kept stepping outside to smell the air. We later opened the house up when there was a short thunderstorm. There was much noise and grumbling and only a few big drops but it reduced the tension in the air.

We'll have to invest in some screens to cover the doors so that we can let the cool evening air through our central hallway. I just hate the metal security doors that are available. What happened to the old-fashioned wooden ones that squeak? We've got mostly wooden window screen frames for the sash windows which look in keeping. I've made a set of aluminum frames with fiberglass screens that we bring out for summer for the kitchen and bathroom wind-out windows. When the air turns cool, the blowflies and mosquitoes disappear and so we put the screens away. It means that for most of the year the windows allow a clear view. Ah Bungendore!

I'm enjoying have Jan home on holidays even if she is anxious about the upheaval at her office. (Working from home means there are days when all I meet are the people in the post office.) The dogs get longer walks when she's home, usually later in the day when it's cool. If they're lucky I get to drag them to the postbox and back, which I do most days. Jan's much more a dog person and they take advantage of it, growling and wagging about mid afternoon. Walk? Later. Now it's too hot!

Fred Harden    
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Bungendore Country Diary by Fred Harden