Archive for the ‘Landscape’ category

Climate Change, New Hope

June 21, 2014

In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone Magazine there is a long and profoundly fascinating article by Al Gore on the climate situation entitled The Turning Point, New Hope for the Climate. It is a polemic which is full of both hope and despair, with the former, well it would be wrong to say triumphing, but at least winning out over the latter.

He starts by describing the incredible advances in renewable technology, in particular solar, and what that means, how it is manifesting in different parts of the world, going on to list some of the forces ranged against its deployment. For the centre part of the piece he inevitably outlines the damage that is being done and will be done by changing weather patterns, but towards the end he takes time to point out the failure of ‘democratic capitalism’ to address the problem, before finally coming back to a call to action, bolstered by hope. As he says in the last paragraph, quoting Martin Luther King, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long but it tilts towards justice.’

This piece ties in well with another by the inimitable Bill McKibben in the New York Review of Books on the book Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreau’s Woods by Richard B Primack. Site_throeau_cabin_locIt seems that Henry David Thoreau was not only the author of one ‘of the greatest books any American has ever produced’, he was also a formidable naturalist, spending a minimum of four hours a day walking in and around Concord, taking notes. Those painstaking observations of the timing of such natural events as the budding of flowers in spring are being used to measure the behaviour of the same plants 160 years later. The results are, generally, not good. As McKibben points out, the Sierra Club has recently ended its 120 year prohibition against engaging in illegal protest, explaining that the ongoing climate emergency required more intense engagement than they’d had so far.

What these articles seem to me to suggest, and it might be that I’m just an optimist, is that, at least in other countries, some sort of tipping point has been reached in the so-called debate about Climate Change; that the effects we have already seen are dramatic enough to at last begin to exercise the minds of politicians. That Australia, with a government which is no more than the political wing of the Murdoch Press and the fossil-fuel industry, is going the other way, is a matter of deep shame and concern.



June 24, 2013

Over the last year this blog has slipped into somnolence, pushed aside by family (two grandchildren, a daughter’s wedding), other sorts of writing (a new novel in first draft), politics and conservation (two big tree plants and much lobbying), outspoken (Bill Gammage in July) and now … building.

In an attempt to rationalise this house we’re adding an extension and replacing the deck. If I’m not too tired at night I will try to make this build, its design, its philosophical and physical implications, the subject of the blog. As well as the occasional photo.

Before we begin

Before we begin

coming apart

coming apart







The author at work

The author at work








rammed earth

rammed earth

rain on the new deck

rain on the new deck

A couple of links

June 6, 2012

Simon Schubert folds paper

you can see more of his work here

Simon Beck walks in the snow

you can see more of his work here

Spangled drongos

December 31, 2011

Writing today is interrupted by a family of spangled drongos in the bunya pine next to the studio. The parents have raised three young in a nest about a hundred metres away but this is the first time I’ve seen the babies out and about. They perch on the horizontal branches waiting to be fed.

Every time one of the parents comes in sight all three shake their wings and call out in their infectious chatter, ‘Pick me, pick me.’ The tireless red-eyed adults with their wonderful swooping fish-tails (the babies have yet to develop either of these) regurgitate whatever insect they’ve caught into the waiting mouths.

These birds are the most delightful of our summer residents. They appear around the beginning of October, having made the extraordinary journey from Papua New Guinea, and stay until late March when they return north. Their call is unique, a sort of stone rattling laugh, occasionally tinged with a melodious metallic quality reminiscent of something Telstra might produce deep in a copper wire. Today, however, the mother is producing a single repetitive high note that I’ve never attributed to her before, telling her children to sit still and behave and that the man on the studio veranda with the camera is okay, even if he is a man.

The bunya trees, by the way, are carrying more fruit than I’ve ever seen. One of them has forty or fifty of the large nut clusters in its top branches. Rarely has there been a season as rich as this, the trees have a vibrancy that delights the eye, the birds, insects, plants all sing of the fecundity and generosity of life from the first glimmer of dawn till dusk.

Spring is on the way

August 15, 2011

This fellow wasn’t so happy with his reflection. He stayed there for about ten minutes, pecking at the mirror, crouching up and down, raising his wing to show the flash of yellow beneath just to make sure.

Regent's Bower Bird outside the back door, taken through glass

This one, gender unidentified, slept in the makaranka for 36 hours before moving

Clearly the weather’s warming up.

The Curious Business of Talking to Government

March 23, 2011

I attended a very bizarre meeting on the Coast yesterday with several members of Council.

The topic was Caloundra South (yes, again, I know). For those of you who are not aware of what that is let me give the 25 word rundown: the Sunshine Coast is getting a new city of 50 000 people, on vacant land south of Caloundra. Council was doing the town planning for the development but late last year State Government said they weren’t doing it fast enough and took it over through the Urban Land Development Authority (ULDA), an outfit with even less accountability than Council.

The meeting was an informal gathering of five people from Council, three Councillors and two Officers, and about fifty representatives of community groups. It had been called by Council to draw everyone’s attention to the narrow window we have been offered to even vaguely influence the development, now it’s gone to the UDLA.

Certainly there is evidence of unseemly haste. Despite the recent floods casting doubts about the whole site – and the proposed report on that not being released until next year – this whole thing is supposed to be put to bed by October, brought forward from an original plan to have it begin in 2017.

The problems are too many to mention, but the one major difficulty is that the development is both low-lying and adjacent to Pumicestone Passage. Those of you familiar with the district will know that the Passage runs between the mainland and Bribie Island from Caloundra in the north to Deception Bay in the south. That it is a fragile marine ecosystem already under significant stress. Building a city of that size in such a place is a disaster in the making.

So what was bizarre? Sounds pretty normal for this part of the world doesn’t it?

Well, the people from Council were there to help us, or at least to work with us, to draw up submissions to the ULDA (in the narrow time band available) to make sure State is apprised of the things we want for the development – like sustainability principles applied to water/sewerage/electricity, provision of the long promised public transport plan, good buffer zones, affordable housing etc.. The normal sort of stuff loony people want from government. The argument being that although State doesn’t really have much interest in this area (all the seats in this district are held by the opposition) it is an election year, and Pumicestone Passage has traction with Brisbane voters. Now that Council has no control over the development they figure that, working together with community groups, they can perhaps oblige the ULDA to still adopt the aforementioned principles of sustainability.

Which is all fine and dandy except that Council, when it was in charge of the process, didn’t spend an awful lot of time listening to those of us assembled in the room, in fact ignored the vast majority of the submissions they received, many of which questioned the viability of the whole project, not so much even within the parameters that were being analysed as within the whole region. That is to say, many of the submissions were asking if it was a good idea to build another satellite city on the coast. If, indeed, this region could absorb that number of people, or, if it could, if a sprawling city of free-standing houses was the best way to go about it; if, perhaps, medium density wasn’t a better idea, or, if making the provision of a railway as a starting point was not an essential prerequisite. Amongst other things.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very probable that many of those questions appeared very naïve to a Council that had had the whole idea pressed upon them by State government in the first place. A State that was frankly unwilling to provide adequate infrastructure; but that doesn’t mean they were not valid questions and still shouldn’t be asked. The extraordinary thing from my point of view yesterday was the weird process whereby a group of people who’ve already had their painstaking work ignored by one level of government should now band with that same level of government to get their work ignored by another one.

The thing is, we’ll do it. We have no choice. We’re a sad bunch, whittling away at the edifices of our institutions, trying to make them more human, trying to get them to recognise we live in an environment that includes the occasional other species. Right this minute we have a limited opportunity to perhaps influence the shape of the largest single development many of us will see in our lives. We’ll take it. But let’s not pretend it isn’t odd.

Missing the Point, Listening to What the Stones Have to Say

March 17, 2011

Ross and I spent four days walking on the Great Ocean Walk last week, starting from just south of Apollo Bay and making our way past Cape Otway Lighthouse to Johanna Beach.

The walk has been billed as one of the world’s great walks so we were keen to see it, and, indeed, it does pass through beautiful country; there’s a particularly pleasant stretch along the water near Shelley Beach on the first day, then another, the next morning, which traverses some big eucalypt country on fire trails and old forestry roads. The day we did that section there was sunshine after rain and big gusts of wind making the trees throw their tops around in joy.

The problem with the walk was what we found at the end of that stretch: namely, people. The walk comes out, after 10 or so kilometres, at Blanket Bay, which, you quickly discover, people can, and do, drive to. The walk-in camp is adjacent to a drive-in camp, the beach is crowded with people, family groups, tourists, school parties out practicing snorkelling. There’s litter and no privacy.

The next 5kms takes you over the bluff and round to the stunning Parker Inlet, but that’s not where the camp is, the camp, which is only a drive-in camp, and thus has no water for walkers, is back up on the top of the bluff again.

Not wanting to stay there we set off around the headland across the rocks, past Point Franklin, a route not recommended on the map but particularly delightful, providing us with a bit of isolation, a little sense of being alone with the world. The coast there is characterised by low cliffs and a wide stretch of exposed rocks, little sandy bays, great masses of thick ribboned kelp rising and falling with the swell. Wind and water have carved the rock into networks of lattice, exposing ancient grain, releasing subtle colours.

Ross and I were carrying more than 20kgs each, which isn’t much in the scheme of things but is a lot to have on your back nevertheless – tent, sleeping bag, mat, cooking gear, food, etc., and the reason we’re prepared to lug that sort of weight around is that it means we can get to places you can’t otherwise reach. That’s the only reason I’m prepared to do it. Time and again the GOW disappointed by dropping us, at the exact location we were supposed to camp, right where hundreds of others had just driven to. Busloads of them. As if the people who had designed the trail had simply missed the point, had failed to understand the very rationale for walking with a backpack.

It’s a beautiful trail, through wonderful country, along some excellent coastline, but if you want my advice, if you want to walk it don’t carry your gear. Stay in one of the lodges. Or get your camping gear dropped off for you each day by car. Do a separate section each day with only a day-pack and your lunch. Don’t, whatever you do, expect to be alone. Don’t, like we foolishly did, expect to have a wilderness experience.

One of the great questions about going off for a walk like that is what book to take. By definition it has to be slim, and therefore somewhat intense. Good intention doesn’t work as a guide. I’ve taken classics, Andre Gide, Dostoievski, even George Louis Borges, and found no desire to read them in wild places. This time, after almost an hour of indecision, I had a moment of wonderful inspiration and packed Annie Dillard’s Teaching a Stone to Talk.

I’ve read a lot of Dillard and this book was my introduction to her, but I hadn’t looked at it for fifteen or twenty years. The perfect choice for the journey; lucid, sharp, funny, meaningful, observant; calling, always, the reader  to attention. My good friend Ross was kind enough to let me read aloud to him (something that so rarely happens now) and so, with by the light of my little head torch we heard Living Like Weasels and Total Eclipse. In the privacy of my tent I read the title piece, about a man who kept a pebble on a shelf, protected by a square of untanned leather, only removing it for the rituals he performed several times a day: teaching it to talk.

Dillard has fun with the notion, telling us the jokes people tell about him, before bringing us back to earth, reminding us that once upon a time everything spoke to us. But now ‘we have doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry, and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has vanished from among the lifeless things of earth, and living things say very little to very few.’

It’s only a short essay, five pages, but it runs across cosmology, Martin Buber, lichen and the Galapagos islands. It speaks of silence. The sort of thing you want to carry in a heavy bag down amongst trees that sweep the sky with joy and waves that let rise and fall the heavy kelp.

Looking towards the lighthouse from Point Franklin


Ross and I

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