There has, of course, been the odd wobble in the planned routine but essentially this book is now steadily moving forward. My wonderful mentor has just sent back the second lot of comments, with gratifyingly few criticisms. She did say there was only some minor editing to do but otherwise it’s looking good. Phew.
I remain focussed despite it being summer, with all that entails when there are vegies that need to be harvested and processed, and opportunities to attend various arts-related festivals which are all crammed into Tasmania’s relatively short season of more reliable weather conducive to holding outdoor events. Then, needless to say and because this is Tasmania, there is the constant and grinding need to respond to other controversial projects that will negatively impact our environment, or threaten public health, wildlife, forests, clean air and waterways, and every other natural resource deemed essential for a healthy life and wellbeing.
Now of course there’s the whole issue of climate change that’s finally hitting home. Even if still being virtually ignored or sidestepped by governments – as it was in the early stages of the pulp mill campaign when the warnings from scientists were still polite murmurings, rather than the louder and more urgent pleadings of today.
The country has experienced the full catastrophe over the past year – and I use the word ‘catastrophe’ advisedly. There have been bushfires and floods with all the destruction and devastation that has fallen on people, homes, crops, businesses, and our increasingly fragile environment, yet still too many in the political and corporate class refuse to listen.
Such is the life of an activist in the midst of such insanity.
I’ve come across some strange finds over the years when dog walking each morning. There are the typical, if depressing, bottles, cans, cigarette butts, food wrappers etc, and for which I’ve ensured there’s always a bag in my pocket so these offensive items can be removed, and dumped into the relevant disposal bin at home. But sitting in the middle of the road one day last week was a bright green juvenile green and gold frog. Bizarre.
Given the absence of any obvious suitable water habitat close by, how this frog came to be there will forever remain a mystery. His (or her) life was destined to be extremely short though if he remained on the road, so I picked him up and carried him home. Froggy didn’t even try to resist so maybe he was already regretting the adventure that had led him to this spot.
Green and golds are not uncommon in our area, despite being now extremely rare in most parts of the state. To the point where they are now a listed species. Until the campaign to stop failed timber company Gunns Ltd building its pulp mill, most people in the area were unaware the green and golds that happily hopped around their properties and basked in the sunshine, were in fact a threatened species. Such is the depressing lack of knowledge about our vulnerable wildlife among so many Tasmanians, or concern and care by successive governments.
Several years ago I’d researched green and golds for an article so I knew about their vulnerable status, and we’d got excited one summer a couple of years ago when we counted up to 12 of these frogs living in an old bathtub we keep topped up with water for birds and various visiting wildlife to drink from. By last summer though they had dispersed, as they do, not to be seen again until their growling mating calls are heard in spring. Disappointingly though there was no sign of frog life in our bathtub last summer, and there’d been none this year either thus far.
So young GG was on his own when I popped him into his new and rather murky watery home, unsure if he would stay, or even if he was actually healthy. At least I thought he was on his own.
He kept very much to himself, and if we did happen to spot him basking on the edge he quickly dived in before we got too close. We noticed his colour was darkening though. Perhaps that was something to do with the water . . . ? Then a few days ago we noticed there were two green and golds sunning themselves on the edge. One was significantly larger. Had it been there all winter unbeknownst to us? Or was it a recent arrival?
So now there are two, and while the juvenile is still rather timid, the older one is quite laid back and sits on the side quite unconcerned when we walk past. Hopefully their tenancy will last the summer, but after that who knows? Where these frogs go during the cooler autumn and winter months still remains something of a mystery so far as I’m aware. We’re just enjoying having them visit.
Scattering the ashes of a friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly around 15 months ago wasn’t the preferred way to start a new year, but that’s how Stuart’s wife and a few of his friends chose to do it on the day that would have been his birthday – 2nd January.
Blame COVID for the long delay. Julie wasn’t able to travel from her teaching post at Indonesia’s international school due to travel restrictions in both countries, so she had to wait until she retired at the end of last year before she could pack up and return to Tasmania. She and Stuart had lived overseas for well over a decade and while he’d come back and was doing up the house they still had here, Julie wasn’t quite ready to finish working. Then COVID hit.
Stuart and Julie were neighbours at our previous property, and among the few that came along to the Happy Hour I decided to organise before the second Christmas we’d lived in the area. I pinched the idea from my mother, who started her pre-Christmas Happy Hours after my father died. Over the years these occasions had grown from a few neighbours along the street coming along for drinks and nibbles, into a regular fixture on the calendar that also included family and other friends.
I borrowed the idea because I didn’t like not knowing our neighbours in our semi-rural suburb, and my working life at the time didn’t leave time for socialising. Over the years our pre-Christmas Happy Hours also became something of a fixture and it was definitely a great way to get to know one’s neighbours!
Being of a similar age to us Stuart and Julie became good friends as well as neighbours, and another friend Marilyn and I kicked off our European trip staying with them in Portugal. An extended holiday courtesy of long service leave from our respective jobs, and what a memorable trip it was.
So it was great to reconnect with Stuart again when he came back to Tasmania and follow the progress on his house renovations, as well as hear all about his intrepid travels around the world. He was also a lover of vintage cars, which he regarded more as an investment and only to be driven on high days and holidays – and definitely not when it was raining!
Between adventure travelling around the globe, representing Australia in tai chi championships, renovating his house, landscaping his garden, and developing his talent as an artist, painting Tasmania’s wilderness, Stuart packed more into his life than most of us do. His final journey, at his request, was down the Tamar, in sight of the Batman Bridge. Vale Stuart. We will miss him.
There were serious doubts summer was not going to arrive in Tasmania this year, but with a few days left before we wave December goodbye there are signs of optimism. Warmth and sunshine also spells optimism for ripening boysenberries, raspberries – and tomatoes – all of which looked to be in serious jeopardy a few short weeks ago. For all it being a first world problem, no berries for Christmas would have been horrible to contemplate, and while the tomatoes will be later than usual there are encouraging signs they will be ready earlier than we first thought.
So for the next few weeks it looks like 5.30am starts to walk Della dog before a quick breakfast and then out to pick the berries in order to beat the worst of the heat. Just as well we’ve almost eaten our way to the bottom of the freezer. The winter months have seen it steadily emptied, and defrosted, so it’s ready and waiting to receive this year’s bounty in my usual collection of recycled and assorted containers. There should be plenty of berries to share with friends too – even if I reckon the birds are not playing at all fair and stealing more than their share of the uncovered boysenberries. The wretched blackbirds aren’t at all fazed by the foil-wrapped used loo rolls strung up on the vines and swinging in the breeze that I fondly hoped might deter them. I may as well not have bothered. Sigh.
For all it’s supposed to be a time of rest and relaxation summer is always busy if you grow vegies, or have fruit trees that need harvesting. All this produce needs to be picked and processed, and some of it preserved for the winter months, so while I love the warmer weather and the extra hours of daylight, I cannot agree that summer is necessarily a time when the living is easy! Come winter though there is nothing more satisfying than knowing there’s a well-stocked freezer to rely on when preparing the week’s menu.
Have we reached a tipping point I wonder, in a realisation and an awareness – as well as hopefully a collective horror – about the staggering number of wildlife being exterminated on our roads? It’s not like the issue of roadkill is new. Some of us have been urging drivers to slow down on Tasmania’s roads for years, especially between the hours of dusk and dawn when our mostly nocturnal wildlife is active. There have been multiple letters to editors over the years, from both locals and tourists, appalled at the number of roadkilled bodies lining the roadsides. There have been multiple pleas from wildlife champion Greg Irons from Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, begging people to please show caution, and to slow down, especially when driving at night or early in the morning.
It seems that people are finally waking up and finding their voices. Certainly I hope so. Suddenly there seems to be an explosion of community groups forming around the state determined to halt the carnage. Primarily in their own locality, but also more widely. Facebook pages have been established. Tamar Valley Wildlife Roadkill Initiative and Friends of Summerleas Wildlife are just two of them. Posts are being shared. The ‘likes’ are increasing. While the graphic photos being posted can be confronting, (they’re meant to be) they are also having some success in mobilising people to be more aware. And to encourage them how to be involved.
Letters to editors are good, and Council road signs reminding drivers to ‘slow down for wildlife’ are also good, but a relatively new and effective strategy being promoted by a southern Tasmanian group is posters. They have a range of different ones to choose from and they’re popping up on fences and gates across the island. Thanks to a committed team of volunteers and wildlife carers these posters are being ferried around the state. They all have a photograph of a pademelon, a wallaby, a wombat, a masked owl, a Tasmanian devil etc and a simple message that asks drivers to slow down because everyone deserves to arrive home safe and sound at night. And the cost is modest at only $16 each. Order from Friends of Summerleas Wildlife
It’s a fantastic initiative and already there are three along our road. It’s certainly not the only strategy to help protect our vulnerable wildlife, and I cannot say in truth that it’s proved 100 per cent effective yet in my area, but it’s a start and will hopefully prompt more people to be alert to our furred and feathered friends when they’re driving along regional and rural roads, because as the posters remind us: we all deserve to arrive home safely.
Together with the entire population of Launceston I was amazed to wake up to a serious covering of snow blanketing our back garden last week. It was short-lived, lasting just 24 hours in most places, but it certainly provided some respite from the relentless and cheerless COVID-19 news that looks set to dominate the media for the foreseeable future.
Della dog was certainly nonplussed at seeing snow for the first time, and was very hesitant about negotiating it on our early morning walk.
Whether it’s print, TV, radio or digital, the media is filled with little else but stories that are in some way associated with the virus. The issue is of course dominating our lives. How can it not when so many people around the world are restricted now in how they are able to live. Here in Tassie there’s no doubt we’re existing in a bit of a bubble, protected from the worst health fears, mask-free – at least for now – and able to move about quite freely. Albeit slightly more physically distant than we were a few short months ago, and with considerably cleaner hands.
So for now our island state is in a safe state of isolation. Before COVID-19, this was considered a disadvantage, economically speaking. Perhaps more than any state or territory Tassie was regarded as a drain on the country’s coffers, the prodigal that always needed a hand up and a handout. It’s a view that has probably been revised, and not just because we appear to be virus-free, but also because our economy is chugging along better than it is in the mainland states. Certainly there are many people who’ve lost their jobs here as well, and/or are relying on JobKeeper and JobSeeker, but on balance our state economy is doing OK. Tasmanians do seem to have answered the call to support local businesses, and have enthusiastically embraced the idea of ‘holidaying at home’ grabbing the opportunity to visit our iconic tourist spots that are currently free of overseas and interstate visitors. My hope is that for some this will also spark an awakening to just how precious these places are, and a greater appreciation and understanding about why they must be protected from inappropriate commercial developments.
The unexpected snow played its part in Tasmania’s unique point of difference. It might have been a 24-hour wonder, and while not quite the clichéd once-in-a-hundred-year event – as it was ninety-nine years, almost to the day – the snow certainly helped to showcase Tasmania’s magical aspects, and perhaps gave more locals a clue about why the island is regarded by so many people as special. There are now calls to use this pandemic as an opportunity to reshape Tasmania’s future economic prosperity. It’s to be hoped those calls are heeded.
Green and gold frogs that is, and who continue to call the sunken bath tub beside the little garden potting shed, home.
Actually our whole back garden seems to be something of a frog nursery, and although the green and golds rule, we’ve also spotted tiny tree frogs amongst the raspberries and grape vine, and for a few days at least one banjo frog was bunking down with his green and gold cousins.
Unless there are way more frogs on the property than are living in the bath tub though, some of the green and golds are getting adventurous and ranging further afield. On more than one occasion I’ve surprised them while picking strawberries or raspberries, while in the last couple of days we’ve noticed one who clearly prefers his own company. He or she has taken up residence in a regularly-watered plant pot by the back door.
Given the record-breaking temperatures that have characterised January this year, and with more hot weather forecast, frogs must be having a hard time keeping cool. The long dry spell means several smaller dams are also probably drying up, so reliable waterholes like our bath tub must represent premium real estate for frogs. They aren’t stupid. They know the garden areas that are watered regularly, and which plants are the best ones to seek shelter so it’s no surprise the bath tub has become a cool and welcome sanctuary. And now we know it has so many amphibian residents we naturally make sure it’s topped up every day.
With so much of Tasmania currently on fire, and so many of our wildlife displaced and suffering as a result, it’s lovely to think our garden is an oasis for at least one species, and a few individuals who’ve chosen to stick around longer than we remember them ever doing before. While some still dive into the tub when we walk past, others have become increasingly unconcerned by our presence and just continue to bask contentedly in the sunshine.
Now we have two (at least) green and gold frogs in the sunken bath tub. Although both are a similar size neither is the bright green of a mature frog, so we’re assuming they’ve still a bit of growing up to do. One of them especially was quite timid to begin with when it saw us approaching, hopping off the rim into the safety of the water, but they both now seem to have realised we pose no threat, and are content to sit and bask while watching us, the chooks, the garden, and Della the dog until the heat becomes too much for them.
A bit of research has also shown the bath tub could well be a nursery to more green and golds than just these two since it’s a species that takes longer than some to develop from tadpole to frog. Green and golds can stick around the bottom of ponds, dams – or our bath tub – for around 12 months while they slowly mature, so we could well have a few more lurking at the bottom and not quite ready to face the world.
Time will tell, but hoping these two will decide to stick around while they grow into the bright green of a fully mature frog, and maybe pass the time of day on a pumpkin or two, like these two in the photograph.
We’ve always had frogs on the property, both where we are now, and at our previous place a few kilometres away. Initially though we didn’t realise the large green frogs that we regularly spotted basking in the spring and summer sunshine were becoming increasingly rare. The first inkling these frogs weren’t commonly seen was when our vet – who had something of a thing about reptiles and amphibians – showed great excitement when we casually mentioned this bizarre (to us) sunbathing habit during the course of our then-dog’s annual health check.
Paul’s eyes lit up and he immediately asked if he could come down and frog hunt on our property one weekend. Naturally we agreed, rather intrigued that he thought we were home to a creature clearly rather special.
While we learned from Paul that green and gold frogs (Litoris raniformis) were quite rare, it was several years later, and during the pulp mill campaign, that I learned the species was listed nationally as ‘vulnerable’ due to rapidly declining numbers. The cause was a likely combination of habitat loss, and the fatal chytrid fungus disease that has decimated frog populations globally. It seems our East Tamar community is home to a reasonably large and healthy population of green and golds – a status that proved of significant environmental importance in stopping the pulp mill. As one of several listed wildlife species whose habitat would be destroyed or disturbed by the pulp mill, pressure to up the ante to ensure the frogs’ protection provided another environmental complication for Gunns Limited during the long years of the fight to stop it.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot more about green and golds, one of three frog species found in this area. Their growling call can be heard throughout spring and summer and although like all frogs they need to be near water, it was exciting to learn we had a long-term resident last year who decided to make its home in an old bath tub filled with rain water that is adjacent to the small potting shed.
We’d inherited this trough when we bought the house, and as it’s partially covered with a wide-spaced wire mesh then possibly several generations of green and golds have called it home over the years. Last year’s tenant hopped off at some point during autumn, but a week or so back we noticed a new one has moved in.
Hopefully he – or she – will decided to hang around for a while.
We’d not been at this property long before John began to plant out some of the native bushes and trees he’d already got started from cuttings and seeds before we left the old one. His interest in Australian natives really began when he sought advice from our horticulturist friend and colleague (another John) about establishing a windbreak to protect our hothouses from the strong winds that regularly blow up from the river at certain times of the year. There was a reason for choosing to name our former flower-growing business Seabreeze Flowers!
Twenty-odd years later the windbreak was all grown up and had expanded considerably, and it also included many more species of eucalypt, acacia, and grevilleas, correas and baeckias, etc. from all parts of Australia than it did to begin with. A few exceptions were those from the Northern Territory or far North Queensland, given their chances of survival were slim in Tasmania’s colder climate. Species from these regions were experiments, because they either looked good, had stunning foliage or flowers, or the challenge of getting them to grow just appealed, but it was interesting to realise how many species that hailed from much warmer parts, did actually grow remarkably well if sufficient care was taken to understand the soil and weather conditions they preferred that would assist their survival.
It didn’t take us long to notice that all these trees and bushes attracted many more of the smaller bird varieties to the property, songbirds, honeyeaters, and even a few, like the flame, and scarlet robins, that are now considered vulnerable or threatened species. It also didn’t take us long to notice the absence of these birds at our new place, which is surrounded by farmland rather than bushland, and where our feathered visitors tend to be magpies, butcher birds, green parrots, rosellas, and pink and grey galahs. Even sparrows are a rare sight here.
Soon though this will change. We hope. The acre of paddock that once was home to a couple of Jersey cows – the last in the herd that the property’s retired farmer owners brought with them when they moved here – is slowly but surely being taken over by native trees. Most have been grown and nurtured from seeds and cuttings collected from their parents at the old property, and tended like small children by John, until considered mature enough to make it on their own.
This nurturing means regular (if not necessarily frequent) watering in the summer, and covering them on frosty winter nights. So as we head into serious winter territory John is paying close attention to the weather. If the temperature drops and the skies are clear as the afternoon winds down to 4pm-ish he does the rounds of the still-vulnerable trees, wrapping them with hessian to protect them from the frost. And the appetites of rabbits.
In Tassie the serious frosts don’t tend to occur until after the shortest day, so this routine looks set to continue for a couple of months before he can relax. And who knows, by the time spring rolls around again some of these native trees may have grown large enough for a few of our smaller birds to finally consider them suitable habitat to make a home.