Thursday, March 31, 2011

Georgian Villages Again.

Well I am finally reaching the end of the saga of posting our Tassie trip. This is my penultimate post and features one of two villages we stopped off in on our last day in Tassie.

We started the morning in Hobart in the south of the state. Our flight was from Launceston in the evening. We followed the Tasman Highway north.

Oatlands is one of the villages the highway bypasses and we hadn’t intended stopping, but as we shot by something caught my eye and I just had to turn off. More of that in a moment.

Like much of Tassie walking the main street is a bit like stepping back into the 19th century. It is also like crossing half the world and dropping into an English village.

The village is largely built of local convict-cut sandstone. Most have corrugated iron roofs that replace the original shingles.

Almost every building was worth photographing so I’ve picked a few at random to share.

Little cottages like thisGrander residencesFormer shops now residencesShops that still fulfil their original function.The colours of this one caught my eye.I loved the faded sign on the side of this one.A sweet old barnThe ANZ bank with attached manager’s residence.These timber shops are more typical of those you would see in small Oz country towns.Now to the sight that brought me into town.

Callington Mill built in 1837.Alas, the sun was badly placed for getting good shots of the front of the sails
The mill has been lovingly restored and is fully functioning.

Standing along side are the miller’s cottage And the granary.Another out building

The roofs have been restored to the original hand-split timber shingles that would have once clad most of the town's buildings. Buildings like these in Melbourne would have been built with Welsh slate shingles. But Tasmania didn’t have the wealth of the Victorian goldfields to draw on, so they opted for a cheaper local option.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Several Small Points

A few readers didn’t think grey headed flying foxes are cute.

I submit this piccie of rescued baby flying-foxes I found on Wikipedia.
I think these guys are adorable, surely I can sway those hard hearts out there? ;-)


I have finally posted Chapter Eleven of my book Veiled in Shadows over on my Veiled in Shadows blog.

For those few of you who have been reading Shadows this way I apologise it has taken me so long to get it up.

If you are interested in reading the first part of Veiled in Shadows click HERE.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

In Oz the Pigs Don’t Fly. But the Foxes Do!

Deb and I went for another stroll yesterday. Our target was again the Yarra River.
This time closer to the Melbourne CBD in a reserve called ‘Yarra Bend Park’.
The Yarra is wider and lazy here.

We followed this trail which parallels the river. As we approached the bend we looked across the river. Notice something hanging in the trees on the other side?Really big fruit perhaps?

I recognised this fruit as soon as I saw it. As you get closer you can see more clearly. Can you see what they are now?Closer still.Look at this face isn’t he just sooo cute?What we had stumbled across was a camp (Aussie slang for a colony) of flying foxes.

To be exact these guys are grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus).
Despite the name flying foxes are strictly vegetarian, they are known as ‘fruit bats’, they do eat fruit but their main diet is pollen and nectar.

They are a species of 'megabat', unlike the small insectivorous bats found in most of the world (we have a lot of tiny bats in Oz too) they don’t use sonar to find their way in the dark. Rather they rely entirely on very good eyesight.

We came upon this camp late in the afternoon, so most of them were like this guy with their little faces tucked neatly under their wing. But because it was getting lateish some early risers were beginning to stir,To stretch And scratch
Unfortunately we couldn’t wait around until they set off in the evening because we had to pick Lu up from her work.

But I will definitely be back another night to watch them set off. Watching thousands of these large animals stream overhead in the early evening is a real treat.

Now as I am a creature of habit, this weeks episode of Valentina’s story from my WIP.
This episode is very much a first draft. It needs a lot more work, a lot happens in this episode. I think it deserves more fleshing out.
So this week poor Valentina has more or less run from her meeting with Ronnie.
Still concussed from her tangle with Fred she gets one of the biggest surprises in her life.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

'Major wake up, Major.'
I forced open my eyes, my head spun despite the fact I was lying down, and I was tired so tired.

I had refused all offers of help from Ronnie and Penelope. Contact with Ronnie, with her was impossible. I struggled back toward the orphanage unaided.
Being concussed and crossing the city alone was the hardest thing I ever tried.
So hard that I hadn't made it back.

The following morning I woke in a Soviet army hospital. Lying in a bed in the stark hospital ward, I wasn't entirely sure the events of the evening before were not a dream. But I couldn't stay where I was. Fear nearing panic gripped me, I couldn't lie around waiting until somebody noticed my behaviour was odd.
Despite the protests of the nursing staff I discharged myself.

I telephoned my driver who picked me up in the jeep and drove me home.
Natasha grabbed me when she saw me, holding me tight like she would never let go. She didn't let me out of her sight for the whole day, not until I packed her off to bed that evening. I had never let her down before, I swore to myself it would never happen again.

Now, two days later unable to keep my eyes open I was dozing on a daybed in my office, 'Major you have a visitor.' My aide shaking me.
'A visitor? Natasha?'
'No, an officer’, her eyes were wide with alarm, ‘an NKVD officer.'

I rolled over to sit up. Not entirely sure I was not going to throw up or pass out I struggled over to stand by my desk. Better to greet the NKVD on my feet, to at least look like I was trying to pay respect.

Focus on something, stay in the room. A noise, that would do, heels clicking on the polished floor as my aide left. It must only have been a minute or two but I was already in danger of dozing off when the click of another pair of feet woke me. 'Tina?'

I looked apprehensively at the figure in the blue and green NKVD uniform. For a moment I stared at the haggard face under the beak of the blue and red officer's cap.
I jumped at him pulling him tight, holding him like Natasha had held me the day before. My tears soaking the shoulder of his uniform coat.
I sobbed with relief and real joy. ‘Stepan, oh Stepan, I can’t believe it. I thought you were dead. Gone like all the others.’

It was a long while before I could pull back a bit and look at his face.
He looked so strange in his crisply pressed uniform, yet still the same wry smile. Still my friend.
‘Tina, it is you. I hardly recognised you.'

For a moment I was back in the student's club before the war in Moscow. A place and time of laughter and joy. I couldn't let him get away with being so clumsy. 'Why not? I never was a beauty like Svetlana, or Raisa, but surely I am not so ugly now?'
His haggard face broke into a broad grin, the warm smile of the old Stepan. 'I deserved that, you are still the old Tina.'
But I wasn't I felt an almost unbearable tide of grief, 'I'm not the old Tina. I've been through too much to be that sweet girl any longer.'
'Oh shit.'
It was him this time. He leant his head onto my neck and pulled me against him. He held me for the longest time.

Perhaps he was trying to comfort me, but I thought it was just as much about himself, maybe we both needed to be held.
When he finally let go it was not just me with tears on my face, 'It's so amazing, I can't say how good it is to see you.'
He stared into my face drinking me in. He looked closer, a frown. 'Your eyes, you're concussed.'
‘It’s nothing.’
‘I might not be a medico any longer, but I know a concussion when I see it.’
'I'm dizzy.'
'Let me help you.'
We sunk onto the daybed together.
'Why am I here?'
'Aren't you happy to see me?'
I squeezed his shoulder. 'Of course I am.'
'Ah, this uniform.' His mouth worked but he didn't say anything more.

'The uniform, it doesn't matter, you're my friend.'
He was quiet for a moment. 'So how did you find me? Were you looking?'
'No I wasn't looking.' He groaned, 'It does no one any good to have an NKVD officer looking for them.'
'So how did you come to be here?'
He stiffened, 'A report came across my desk. An army major being found unconscious on the street is something that will be noted.'
I concentrated very hard on keeping my voice level. 'I see.'
'It’s not generally good to be noticed.'
'Is it going to be bad for me?'
He turned to meet my eyes. 'No, I don't think so. I will put in a report that you tripped and banged your head.' He looked at me expectantly, 'That is all isn't it? There’s nothing I need to help you cover up is there?'
His warm smile again, 'No? Then I am going to play the optimist. It’s good because if a report about Valentina Meshcova had not landed on my desk I would never have known you were in Berlin.'

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Autumn is here and today it began to bite. We have had a cold (by our standards) and wet couple of days.

We didn’t have much of a summer this year what with the endless, often flooding rain.

So to cheer myself up I am posting a few sunny piccies from our mini vacation of a couple of weeks ago.

This almost gothic building is the former courthouse at Yarram in Gippsland.Two more shots at Port Welshpool.
A crayfish boat:The mountains in the background of this one are Wilson’s Promontory. They form a massive peninsula that protrudes into Bass Straight. They are the most southerly point of the Oz mainland. A national park, they are very beautiful and popular as a walking/camping destination.

Speaking of flooding rains our Army was busy evacuating hundreds of people by helicopter from Wilson’s Prom today. They have had such heavy rain there that flash flooding has destroyed sections of the only road in and washed away one of the bridges.

Now to end on an up note. This ruin is at Port Albert.It is for sale
Deb was very tempted. I’m not quite so sure (I know who’d get to fix it up) :-)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pound Bend and a (Not) Drinking Lizard

More on the subject of lizards (drinking or otherwise) in a moment.

I’m not going to post any more of our Tassie trip today. Instead I’m going to yarn about a walk Deb and I did a couple of weeks ago.

A few weeks ago Deb and I had a Sunday to kill. We had a lazy lunch at a cafĂ© we frequent called ‘Wild Wombat’. Then we drove to a Melbourne suburb called Warrandyte for a walk along a stretch of the Yarra River.You wouldn’t think you were in a suburb of Melbourne - here the river meanders through a number of bush reserves.
The lower Yarra is often very brown, but this stretch is usually clear. This muddy look is from all the rain we have had this summer.

We followed these rough stairs down to the river’s edge.There at the bottom about half of the river’s flow seems to be making its way towards the cliff face.I scrambled to the corner to show you why. Meet the “Pound Bend Tunnel”.The tunnel is an artefact of the gold rush period in the 1870s. Miners diverted the river so they could get access to the river bed to search for alluvial gold.
The faint circle in the middle of the piccie is from a stray beam of sunlight filtering down from above and catching my camera lens.

Then as I turned to look back up the river… I noticed a local was checking me out. Can you see?This guy is a Golden Water Skink (Eulamprus quoyii) I think he/she is very handsome. He/she is a medium sized member of this species probably about 20cm (8in) long.
They are one of around 400 species of skink lizards native to Oz (we have about 800 lizard species in all).
Now speaking of lizards.
Last Thursday I challenged you to guess what the slang term ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ meant.
The key to the phrase is simply in the first two words ‘flat out’. So for most Aussies ‘flat out like a lizard drinking’ means ‘very busy’. Fair dinkum!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rambles, The Moon in June, (er March) and more WIP.

Last night was a full moon and the first ‘super moon’ in 18 years.

Alas I missed its rise, but I caught it a few minutes later.
I’ve never had much luck photographing the moon before, but I decided to have a go again anyway.

This is the result of my efforts. Not brilliant but my best effort so far, and given the limits of my current camera as good as I can expect.

Speaking of cameras I have actually put a new Canon 60D SLR on lay-by. Normally, a camera like that retails down this way for about AUD$2,400 (including a basic lens).
But the Aussie dollar has been recently equal or slightly better than the US$. This means they are currently retailing for $1,600. A saving I couldn’t miss.
I can’t afford to shell out $1,600 at the moment but lay-by means I can lock the good price in.
I’m going Canon by the way because I like them and my current lenses are compatible.

I’ll go from an 8 megapixel to a 18 megapixel in one jump. And a far more capable camera all round.

I can’t wait!

Today was something of an ordeal. Poor E our eldest woke us in the early hours with terrible tooth ache.
To start, it was just a matter of giving her pain killers and waiting til morning.

Come this morning it was finding a dentist who could/would do something on a Sunday. Deb and I had to take her into the city and then there was a lot of waiting around until the poor dear could be seen. Once she finally got in there was another hour wait.

Unfortunately, the tooth and surrounding area was so inflamed that they couldn’t do anything today. So she has been prescribed heavy duty pain killers, anti-inflammatories and anti-biotics. She has to go back about Wednesday.

The only silver lining was I took my computer and managed to get a little work done on my WIP.

Speaking of my WIP here is another extract. This, unlike the others isn’t quite a first draft. I have struggled with getting this scene something like the way I want it. Bear in mind it is still far from an edited final piece.

To place it in context, in Berlin by 1948 almost no rebuilding had happened. As it was to remain until 1990 Berlin was an occupied city. It was different to later though, the Berlin Wall that forms so much a part of 20th century history was still thirteen years in the future.

The NKVD was the Soviet security service/secret police. It was the forerunner to the KGB. Valentina’s fears are very real, having any more than casual contact with foreigners could literally be deadly to Russians during Stalin’s rule.

For those of you have been following Valentina here is the next episode of her adventures.
Last time she came off second best…

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
Penelope’s voice screaming as if from far away, ‘Fred enough!’
His weight came off me, I was sure he would kick me as he stood up. I needed to roll aside, had to move, but I simply couldn’t.
I was certain I was lying on the hard floor, but the room was spinning, tilting. I spiralled into blackness.

A cool hand on my cheek. Something to fix on, to hold, an anchor to slow the spinning. Penelope kneeling by my side.
Her voice urgent, frightened, ‘You’ve hurt her! Fred help me!’


Where am I? A terrible feeling of uncertainty.
I sit propped in a corner of an old couch. A long narrow room that looks like a cross between an office and a canteen. It's all old and scruffy, the furniture falling to pieces like so much of Berlin. Maybe it was the room behind the garage? But how had I got there?

Penelope, on her knees peering into my face. ‘Valentina? Can you hear me?’
Her expression one of such anxiety seemingly so concerned that I would almost have believed her lies again.
‘I can hear.’ I wanted to spit in her face, but all the fight had been driven out of me.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was you who was following, or I wouldn’t have run.’
‘You are a dirty liar.’
No response, how does a person respond to raw hatred?

I couldn’t see properly, the room blurred, swam before my eyes. I focused on my anger, something constant. ‘Everything about you is a lie. You told me you were German, pretended to be my friend.’
She held my gaze, 'I am your friend, if you just trust me for a moment.'
‘You must let me go.’
‘Go then,’ frustration in her voice, ‘you’re not a prisoner.’
I lurched to my feet, a single step and I was toppling. My balance was hopeless.

Concussed, I must be concussed.

If Penelope hadn’t caught me I would have fallen. ‘Sit down, you’re in no fit state…’
‘I have to go.’ But in spite of myself I was lowered back into the couch.
‘There’s no rush. We'll get you a doctor.’
‘No! I can’t stay, can’t talk to you. I know what you are, you are death to me.’
Spinning, falling, black.

‘What happened?’
A voice in the dark, Ronnie it was Ronnie. Joy and grief.
I lie still. Penelope answering, ‘She followed me. I didn’t handle it well.’
‘But why this?’
‘She was wild, she had a gun. I was sure for a moment she was going to shoot me.’’
‘So Fred bashed her?’
‘He was protecting me, you shouldn't be hard on him.’
‘Where is he now?’
‘I’ve sent him to find a doctor.’
‘That’s something at least.’
A warm hand on my cheek. ‘Val can you hear me?’
‘Val? Please God, Val can you hear?’
I didn’t want to open my eyes. What would I see? Love? Or the rage I saw when we met at the airport?

With an effort I came back into the room. Two faces: Penelope worried, almost frightened sick; and Ronnie, my Ronnie.

How stupid I had been. How had I not seen straight away? They were peas in a pod.
‘She's your sister.’
She gave me a warm friendly smile, as if she was still my friend. ‘You’re a duffer, too clever for your own good, but not clever enough to work it out.’
Tears from him, he stroked my wounded cheek, 'Oh Val, what have you been through?'
'I'll leave this to the two of you.' Penelope withdrew to the far end of the room. Incongruously she busied herself with the domestic task of filling a kettle and setting it on a kerosene burner .

Ronnie stayed by my side stroking my cheek then my hair.
I swallowed my own tears, I couldn't force more than a whisper, 'Why are you doing this to me?'
'I'm sorry, it wasn't meant to happen like this.'
'You must hate me so much.'
'Why would you say that?'
'The airport and these games you play. You will bring the NKVD to my door.'
'I'm not playing games. The NKVD is why I've had Pen watching you. I needed to make sure you were safe before I tried to contact you.'
'What for, why do you do this?'
He sat open mouthed, as if he was struggling to understand. ‘I love you.’
‘Then leave me alone. Let me be.’

Silence for a moment. He sighed with exasperation. 'I came back you know, to your little bombed out house in Murmansk.'
Choking on tears I forced out the words. 'I waited for you, the NKVD...'
'The NKVD came for you, I know. They picked me up when I came back. A man... he was your friend?'
'That's the one Stepan. He warned me off.'
'Stepan saved me, him and Svetlana's father... but he is dead now, he cannot help me now. When they come for me next time I cannot say “My boyfriend is an ally”. You are the enemy now.'
'I’m not your enemy.'
'That is not how it is. If you are not Russian, you are enemy.'
'Oh tosh. I love you, I lost you once, I'm not going to let you go again.'
'You have to forget me. You must stop with this foolishness. Do you want me dead?'
'Of course not, I love you.’
‘You love me.’
‘Yes damn it! I want to take you home to England. Like I said years ago, I want to marry you.'
'I want to marry you.'

I had dreamt so many times of a moment like this. With him, with Ronnie. But, I felt none of the elation I had imagined.
I was tired and sick, empty, ‘I’m not the sweet girl that you enchanted with stories of Paris and London.’
Apprehension on his face ‘What do you mean?’
‘I was a child then, a romantic child. I have seen so much blood, so much death. I am a broken thing.’
He was quiet for a moment, a muscle twitched in his cheek, ‘Perhaps we are all a bit broken…’
‘I can’t run away with you Ronnie. I spend my time running an orphanage, what would those children do without me?’
‘They would be looked after.’
Penelope piped up, ‘Natasha could come with you. No one would expect you to abandon your little darling.’
I ignored her. ‘And what about me? What would I do? I cannot just sit, just be a hausfrau. I would go mad.’
‘You should do whatever you wish.’
‘No Ronnie, it was a dream a lovely dream, but it’s impossible. I am awake now.’

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Al explains the term “drongo”

A week or two ago I popped by Christine’s Blog "What I See When I Walk Out"

I responded to a post in which she had said she had been embarrassed by agreeing and I then went on to say “You feel like such a drongo when…”

Without thinking I inserted a word that might not mean anything to people outside Oz. Christine commented back “great word, drongo. Never heard it before - is it an Oz word, I wonder?”

Now to be strictly above board I do not use a huge amount of Aussie idiom in my daily language. But sometimes words that are very common place here will catch someone from overseas as odd or simply unintelligible.

So what is a “drongo”? A bird watcher might tell you a drongo is any of a particular family of birds.

But an Aussie will tell you “Drongo” means a "silly person", "a dope" or an "an idiot".
By the way a “Galah” is not only a common Aussie parrot but also means the same thing as “Drongo”.

Aussie language is quite colourful with a lot of slang that is fairly unique. One thing that is worth noting is that sometimes words have a very different meaning in Oz to elsewhere.

Perhaps the best example is “bastard”. In most of the world bastard is an extremely derogatory term.
In Oz bastard is usually a term of endearment. I might for example (in fact I have) greet a friend by saying “it’s good to see you, you old bastard.”
Or you might say of a mutual acquaintance “he’s an old bastard” meaning “I like him.”
Non-natives beware! A lot depends on the tone of delivery, bastard can also have exactly the same meaning as overseas. I might also say of someone “he’s an old bastard” meaning I hated someone.

The difference? My intonation nothing else.

A last word about bastards, calling someone “a bit of a bastard” is always an insult.

Other words can have also very different meanings. “Root” is not only part of a tree in Oz, it also means “sexual intercourse” (basically “fuck”).

So when an American says “I’m rooting for you” I try not to chuckle. I understand what is meant but it still sounds odd to an Aussie ear. An Aussie would say “I’m barracking for…” meaning offering support for a team in the same way an American would “Root.”

Another example is “bloody” usually bloody in Oz simply means “very”. So “she was bloody sick” would literally translate as “she was very ill.” While “bloody hard” is “very difficult” and "bloody oath' means "very true".

So there you go, a bloody brief lesson in fair dinkum Strine!

Does anyone want to guess what might be meant by “Flat out like a lizard drinking”?
A clue: it isn’t rude

Aussies please don’t spoil the game.
Don’t be shonky by looking it up on the internet!

To get you in the mood a piccie from last weekend.
Port Welshpool

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In Which Al Bangs on

I’m still on about our Tasmania trip.
We packed so much into day six that we took it easy on day seven of our trip.

For the whole day we hung around Tasmania’s capital Hobart. Deb and Lu went shopping, while I wandered the streets with my camera.

Hobart is a city of 212,000 and as such has nearly half the population of the entire state.

Founded in 1803 Hobart is one of the oldest Cities in Oz. Like many of our early settlements it began as a convict settlement.

Like almost everywhere in Tassie I loved this town. And like a lot of Tassie it still has a profusion of 19th century buildings.I wandered randomly and snapped away as the fancy took me.

Hadley’s Hotel if the sign is to believed was built the year before my current abode Melbourne was founded. Personally I don’t believe the sign. The fussy exterior screams Victorian period. Maybe the business was established in ’34 and they rebuilt later?

I’m not sure what this building is but the little plaque on the end says it was in 1823 the site of the first service conducted by a Presbyterian minister in Oz. Which kind of suggests the building is older hence the simple Georgian style.

I love architectural details like at the top of this doorway. This carving is in sandstone. The mason who carved this must have been amazingly talented.
This one is probably 1870s or so, looks like ‘Second Empire’ style to me.St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral.And the associated residence.The town Hall.I’ll finish with this fountain in Franklin Square.In the middle of which stands this statue of Sir John Franklin.He was Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tassie) from 1836 to 1843.
He was recalled to England after falling foul of the public service. His ‘crime’?
Trying to introduce humanitarian reforms to the way convicts were treated.

Perhaps because of this humanitarian streak he was fondly remembered by the citizens of Hobart and they erected this statue in memory of him after his ill fated journey to find the North West Passage.
He died lost in the Canadian Arctic in 1847.