Month: January 2017

Feeding the birds

We inherited a magpie family when we moved here as the former owner of the house had fed them for years, along with pink and grey galahs, green parrots and noisy minors. There were none of the smaller birds we used to see at our previous property, despite being only a few kms away. There’s less bush and more sheep and cattle-grazing paddocks surrounding us now, which has perhaps got something to do with it, but sparrows, goldfinches, fairy wrens or robins rarely visit, although we’re hoping this may change when all the native bushes and trees John has planted grow up. This micro-forest is an eclectic mix grown from seeds or cuttings collected from their parents at our previous place, and that will, fingers crossed, eventually attract some of the smaller native birds to both feed, nest and take up residence.
I’m ambivalent about feeding the magpies though. For John they are ‘part of the family’ and the weekly shopping list is incomplete if magpie mince isn’t included. Our black and white family flies in every morning in anticipation of their morsel of mince – and it’s true they do sing very melodiously for their breakfast. And tea, since they repeat the exercise in the afternoon when they expect more. Some aren’t averse to trying it on at other odd times of the day, not that it ever does any of them any good.
Feeding the birds was common practice in both our families – we always threw bread crusts and bacon rind onto the back lawn for the birds at home in northern England. Especially during the winter when the weather made fossicking for food tough for our feathered friends. It’s a practice my mother continued to the last, but it was apparent over 40-odd years of visits home how the number and variety of birds slowly changed. Instead of the sparrows, blackbirds, tits and robins that I remembered watching squabble good naturedly over the scraps on the lawn, latterly it was the UK’s large and thuggish magpies, and fat strutting pigeons who swooped in first, and took the lot before the by-now rarely seen smaller songbirds could get a look-in.
There are many magpie colonies where we live now, and there seems to be no shortage of pink and grey galahs either. John has stopped putting out bird seed (thank goodness) because he had to acknowledge it was the galahs who were aggressively taking over the feeder, stopping the more polite, yet surely equally hungry parrots, from taking a turn.
In winter time when food is scarce then feeding native birds is perhaps OK, but I’m not so sure it’s such a good idea to allow them to expect food twice a day, however prettily they ask for it.


There were always going to be books, films and documentaries made about the campaign to stop the pulp mill. I wasn’t alone in saying this, and in fact so far as documentaries were concerned I was aware there was at least one of these already underway because I was interviewed for it back in 2013. I’ve no idea where this doco’s at, or if it’s been canned. Note to self: need to check.

The campaign to stop the pulp mill had dominated the lives of Tasmanians for over a decade, and like the Franklin Dam campaign before it, Gunns’ pulp mill had become a controversial and divisive issue both nationally and internationally. So while comments were frequently made, both to me and by me, about the books that would eventually be written about this time in Tasmania’s history, it never seriously crossed my mind that I might write one of them.

That notion didn’t really take hold until several people, who were aware of my long involvement in the campaign, independently suggested I do so. I’d already written several pulp mill-related articles, and been invited to write a couple more for inclusion in forthcoming books: Breaking the Boundaries; and, The Fabric of Launceston.
When Gunns folded in 2012, and it was possible to relax a bit with the pulp mill looking less and less likely to ever get up, writing the story of my part in the campaign began to take shape. And in the early part of 2014 I started to seriously visualise the content and context of what I would like this book to be, and how I’d go about writing it – given the first cab off the rank, (The Rise and fall of Gunns Ltd by Quentin Beresford) – had just been published, was selling well and was receiving literary accolades.

The focus of my book would be different.

Lazy days of summer?

Summer. The word conjures up vision of blue skies, beaches, holidays and a relaxation from everyday routines. And every year I buy into that vision too, until the warm weather finally arrives, the garden wakes up, (especially the weeds) and the vegies, the berry vines, and fruit trees start to produce their bounty.

Naturally, the first few handfuls of strawberries are a joy, as is the first taste of everything we have growing here, but as the trickle becomes a flood the time devoted to picking – and preserving – eats further into already crowded days. It’s almost a relief when the flood gradually slows to a trickle once more, and then stops altogether for another year.

Not that I’m complaining. We’re fortunate indeed to have inherited a well established orchard of apple, pear, and hazelnut trees, as well as a large strawberry patch, and a good number of raspberry canes. Disappointingly, and despite looking indecently healthy, these canes produced almost nothing last year, and as a result of the exceptionally wet winter, promptly then turned up their toes, so we shall have to start again with what are to me the best of all fruits.

Currently though I’m knee-deep in boysenberries, which unlike their raspberry cousins, enjoyed all the winter rain and are now prolific. And all from just two cuttings taken from the vine at our previous house. But in the next few days, as they begin to slow down, the thornless blackberries will be ready, along with the tomatoes, so time spent harvesting and preserving is far from over, and probably won’t be for several weeks. What’s that saying about no rest for the wicked?!

So as I juggle the picking and preserving with researching and writing, I’ll look ahead to winter, and some time when I can enjoy snuggling up on the sofa with a good book or two, knowing there’s a freezer full of homegrown produce to see us through the cold days, until spring, and then summer with the inevitable fruit-picking, starts all over again.