Curlews on Vulture Street by Darryl Jones

GAIA READING CHALLENGE

Darryl Jones is a Professor of Ecology at Griffith University in Brisbane. He has been researching the ways that people and wildlife interact in an urban environment for thirty odd years focusing on why some bird species are extremely successful in an urban landscape, whilst others less so. He describes his book as ” a memoir of an urban ecologist”  beginning his story by revisiting his childhood in rural New South Wales.

I found this an interesting read on two levels. Firstly, his investigation findings about magpies, lorikeets, ibis and crows – all familiar to urban Brisbane where I reside – are fascinating. Don’t get me started on the sex lives of brush (scrub) turkeys!

Secondly, its not that long ago when the house was full of teenage angst caused by not knowing where life was headed after High School. It was a repeat cycle from 40 years previous when it was entrenched that the Higher School Certificate was the “be all, end all”. This memoir is a reminder that life generally falls into place.

It was not that long ago that feeding birds in the back garden was considered a big No No. Neighbours reported local residents to Council for doing so. Since then, the public has been advised by ecologists the right and wrong way to interact with local wildlife, such as planting native trees and providing the correct foodstuff. It has been estimated that one in four houses in Brisbane has a bird feeder of sorts in the back yard. Research has shown that people genuinely like interaction with the wildlife in their neighbourhood but also see it as a form of atonement ie making up for humanity’s destruction of the natural environment. ( Interesting concept to think about?)

Guilty as charged…….

Incidentally, the title “Curlews on Vulture Street” relates to an incident where the good Professor was pulled up by a police person for holding up traffic in inner city Brisbane whilst awaiting for a Stone Curlew with chicks to cross busy Vulture Street. 

Well worth the read although I’ll never look at a scrub turkey in quite the same way.



Tippy and Jellybean by Sophie Cunningham


In June 2020 I posted about a children’s book that was released only a few months after the bushfires that devastated the east coast of Australia earlier that year. I clearly remember watching the news on the television with my eldest daughter early on the morning of New Years Day seeing the communities of the far south coast of NSW and just across the Victorian border escaping the ravaging fires and congregating to the closest beaches.

Here’s a copy of my post:

“Firstly, a new children’s book: Tippy and Jellybean by Sophie Cunningham.

Based on the true story of Tippy the koala, and her baby, Jellybean, which was one of the tales that broke hearts all around Australia during our devastating bushfires last summer.

Tippy was found by rescuers in the Snowy River National Park just after the fires raged through the area with a burnt back and paws. She was crouched over her joey, Jellybean, who was unscathed.

Sadly, many of our koalas were lost when they made the mistake of scrambling for the top tree branches when fires went through, offering them absolutely no protection whatsoever.

Tippy and Jellybean have since recovered and have been released back to an area with eucalyptus trees.

Proceeds from this book will raise money for the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund.

Meet the real Tippy and Jellybean


I was lucky enough to come across a copy of this book at a recent Warehouse Sale and my immediate reaction was that two year old Harry would love this story, with its beautiful illustrations by Anil Tortop of a selection of cute and cuddly Australian animals.

Guess what? Harry is missing out. I can’t part with it; it’s such a heart rending story and a reminder of all the good that came out of that disaster, as is so often the case.

Tippy and Jellybean were rescued along with many other creatures that survived the fires and were taken to Rescue Shelters where veterinarians and volunteers saw to their medical needs, primarily attention to burns and dehydration.

Volunteers supplied fresh Eucalypt leaves from neighbouring properties for Koala feed and Tippy and Jellybean regained their strength in the Sanctuary until well enough to fend for themselves in the wild.

I love this illustration as it is such a reminder of those days as well as all the good that there is in people. (Sometimes it seems so easy to forget, doesn’t it ?) Fruit and vegetables being left out for wombats, possums and kangaroos, and all the handcrafted nests knitted for wildlife and birds. I remember shopping for a special wool for a girlfriend who attended a Workshop on creating nests for critters. She was busy knitting for weeks as were so many others.

Lastly, a reminder that despite the bushfires, nature returns to provide both food and a home for the animals.

Sorry, Harry.


Yes, I know I said I was done for the Gaia Challenge but I just couldn’t resist.

2022 Gaia Reading Challenge Summation

I’ve just finished reading my last entry for the 2022 Gaia Reading Challenge, which Gum Trees And Galaxies devised in “an attempt to encourage connection with the natural world……..The Gaia challenge has been about connecting and caring.”

This was my first year participating in the Gaia and although I did not successfully complete the Book Bingo I am pleased that the Challenge encouraged me to read ten books from a genre I would not normally select. That to me is success.

As I stated last year I’m a big believer in trying to effect small environmental changes within my own community. Some of the things I have achieved during 2022 include sharing vegetable seedlings with the neighbourhood via the Little Community Library, putting drinking water out for wildlife, planting two native trees on the verge, planting two native trees in the koala corridor to replace two non natives, propagating herbs and vegetables, and sharing seedlings with friends and family.

I’ve also seen red with the number of citrus fruit left to rot in neighbourhood gardens so after some experimentation can now whip up marmalade which sees glass jars recycled and zesty fruity deliciousness shared amongst friends. My garage looks like a small processing factory! The citrus skins are not wasted as I am marinating them in vinegar to create a non toxic house cleaner (not to be used on varnished surfaces).

Best of all when we were travelling around Tasmania a few months back we caught up with a lovely lass for a vino in a harbour side hotel who brought along a Gaia book recommendation. Conversation in a pub about the environment – who knew it was even possible! ( Book ordered from Library, Janet. Thank you❤️).

So I’ve just read The Root Of All Disease by Elmer G Heinrich which is about mineral depletion and how it affects the nutritional value of our food intake. Tests  show that over a fifty year period the minerals in our vegetables have reduced dramatically, which is bad news for our health as minerals are vital for a multitude of bio chemical processes, including enzymatic and chemical processes which occur in the human body at all times.

 

If you thought the supermarket tomato you ate today tasted different from the ones eaten straight from the garden in your childhood you would be correct:  these days it takes more than ten tomatoes to get the same mineral content out of one tomato fifty years ago. There was a lot of science in this one which means I didn’t get as much out of it that I could have, though the gist was scary enough.

This is put down to continuous cropping and erosion as well the addition of chemicals and fertilisers. I was disappointed that the book did not provide a list in layman’s terms how to rectify the damage -other than consuming mineral supplements – but you know what? Once again, the topic has created conversation around the dinner table. That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?

I have two guest bedrooms undergoing major redecorating with visitors due in a fortnight so that’s all for me in this Challenge. See you in 2023 and Thank You, GT&G.

The Roots Of Heaven : The Book & The Movie

My latest read for the Gaia Reading Challenge was The Roots of Heaven by Romain Gary, considered ” the first identifiably ecological novel in the literature of France, and perhaps the world.”- David Bellos

I had watched the movie of the same name earlier in the year featuring Errol Flynn, of course playing the town drunk. Sadly, I doubt any acting skills were required and released only twelve months before his death should be enough to paint the picture. Poor ol’ Errol.

It’s not a good movie, prone to preaching, being over wordy, and all the big name actors try to outshine each other which grates: Trevor Howard, Eddie Albert, Orson Wells, and Juliette Greco’s bosoms. However, the storyline about a wildlife enthusiast who attempts to protect African elephants from being hunted for their ivory was interesting enough to encourage my pursuit for more information which surely says something positive for the movie. (As does the cinematography featuring jumbos in all their magnificence in  French Equatorial Africa.)

The book, written between 1953-54, received the Prix Goncourt for fiction ( “for the best and most imaginative prose work of the year”) and was translated into English in 1957. It too is wordy though beautifully written, and a great deal of effort goes into explaining the motivations of each of the characters’ stance on the killing of elephants. 

In begins with Morel, played by Trevor Howard in the movie, seeking signatures on a petition to cease the hunting. In all, he obtains only two names. Even the local Priest refuses to sign as he has enough misery in solving the issues of the Africans with their leprosy, poverty, illness and starvation. Morel bellows, “this is nothing to do with politics – it’s a matter of humanity“. All the misfits come together – the nightclub hostess (Greco), the American outcast dishonourably discharged from the Army ( Flynn), the journalist (Albert) – after much navel-gazing in an attempt to thwart an attack on a large herd. 

Of course, the novel isn’t that simple with a cast of characters with different viewpoints; the “environmentalist” capturing elephants as zoo specimens, the commandant in charge of the territory with political aspirations, the Jesuit priest, the politician using the demise of the elephants to promote the view that Africa’s natural resources are being “stolen”  promoting Africa’s stance that it should become an independent country. 

There’s a law which allows you to kill as many elephants as you like when they are trampling down your fields and threatening your crops. It’s a wonderful excuse for the good shots among us. All you have to prove is that an elephant has crossed your plantation and has trampled a field of squash, and there you are, free to decimate a herd, to indulge in reprisals, with the government’s blessing.”

Honestly, it all becomes too complex especially when you realise the elephants become a symbol for human life. 

John Huston, the Director of the movie, said he was “completely responsible… for the badness of The Roots of Heaven. I really wanted to make that one and Daryl Zanuck got me everything and everybody I wanted. But I had the screenplay done by someone who had never done one before, and it was bad. By then the cast, crew and me were in Africa; it was too late to turn back, we would have spent a fortune for nothing, so we went ahead and did the best we could.”

Producer, Zanuck (and sheet warmer for Greco) said “This picture is really great for us – intellectually great. Whether it’s commercially great, whether people will grab on to it, we must wait and see. If they grab on to a man in love with a bridge, then why shouldn’t they grab on to a man in love with an elephant?” 

Answer : Because there comes a point when a line is drawn between being lectured and being entertained.

30,000 Elephants killed in a year. Horrendous!

Platypus Matters : The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals by Jack Ashby

Jack Ashby is the Assistant Director of the Museum of Zoology at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary research fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. His first book was Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects and Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Lives of Australian Mammals was published in 2022.

Let me start by saying that Jack Ashby is a marsupial loving eccentric and I just love him. His favourite marsupial is the platypus, followed by the echidna and then the wombat. He puts his special regard for these three creatures down to the fact that they “waddle”.

Ashby may well be a science nerd but he sounds like great fun around a barbie. In this book he makes the case that Australia’s wildlife is not a collection of oddities or creatures that can kill you as is so often presented in the media. He argues “why it matters that we think about how these animals are portrayed – how we talk about them, how we represent them on TV and in museums, and how we value them” . He states that “our unique wildlife is disappearing at a rate unparalleled by any other large region on Earth, and its conservation is surely tied to how these animals are understood.”

What could have very easily become another catalogue of interest only to other scientists or zoology students is fast paced, humorous and fascinating. Ashby’s respect for the platypus shines through with not only a discussion about their physiology, but also their history in relation to Indigenous Dreamtime, early colonial poetry, and an array of information which I have stored in my Trivia Bank.

For instance, newborn platypus ( or platypups) require mothers milk though platypus do not have nipples. They have milk patches. Who knew! The male is venomous, and war hero Keith Payne VC testifies that the pain from an affliction is worse than a gun shot wound.

And did you know that in 1943 Winston Churchill asked Prime Minister John Curtain for six live specimens as moral boosters and to promote the relationship between England and Australia during the middle of World War 2 ? (A Japanese submarine ruined those plans…..)

Facts about the other mammals are also intriguing : how echidnas have intimate relations, wombats pouches face backwards and why their poop is cubed, and taxidermy does not simply involve retaining an animals skin and stuffing it with tissue paper.

Many of these creatures aren’t well known around the world and even the qualified staff at international Natural History Museums are quite clueless. Did you know that Echidna’s back feet are backwards for digging purposes though taxidermied specimens do not reflect this, and the half a dozen Tasmanian Tigers around the world all have erections.

Great read. Jack, I’m in love…….Now feeling pumped for the next Trivia comp at the local bowlo.

Old Man Platypus

by AB Paterson

Far from the trouble and toil of town,
Where the reed beds sweep and shiver,
Look at a fragment of velvet brown –
Old Man Platypus drifting down,
Drifting along the river.

And he plays and dives in the river bends
In a style that is most elusive;
With few relations and fewer friends,
For Old Man Platypus descends
From a family most exclusive.

He shares his burrow beneath the bank
With his wife and his son and daughter
At the roots of the reeds and the grasses rank;
And the bubbles show where our hero sank
To its entrance under water.

Safe in their burrow below the falls
They live in a world of wonder,
Where no one visits and no one calls,
They sleep like little brown billiard balls
With their beaks tucked neatly under.

And he talks in a deep unfriendly growl
As he goes on his journey lonely;
For he’s no relation to fish nor fowl,
Nor to bird nor beast, nor to horned owl;
In fact, he’s the one and only!

Note :

Platypus are secretive creatures that travel alone. I have been fortunate to have spotted several in their natural habitat; once in the Royal National Park in Sydney and at a bush property on North Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. I also live 1 km walking distance down a bush track to what was once a Platypus Reserve. I keep walking down that way in case I luck out and spot another……

The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen : Book Review

This novel is an unexpected entry in the Gaia Reading Challenge and is most definitely on the quirky side. You see, the narrator is a female Galah by the name of Lucky who translates from “screech to English” the events in a remote coastal village on the north coast of Western Australia in the 1960’s, just prior to the moon landing.

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for Galahs. I had my first as a pet when I was 10, Andrew, followed by Sam, playmate Lah Lah , and then Lenny who replaced Sam when he died. Lenny was a hormonal teenager so I had to rehome the latter two birds when I downsized. Neighbours were unimpressed with the noise : Lenny was like a recalcitrant teenager and squawked whenever anything that moved came into sight.

Sam and Lah Lah. I had a pink dressing gown at the time so I’m sure Sam saw me as a large Galah.

The fictional town of Port Badminton is on the open mouth of the real Shark Bay which Charles Darwin noted on his first visit to Australia as having “excessively beautiful parrots“.

Lucky introduces herself before she begins to tell the story of Port Badminton’s role in the 1969 moon landing :

I’m in my cage on the Kelly’s back verandah. I sit here, unheard, underestimated, biscuit crumbs on my beak. But fate is a curious thing. For just as Evan Johnson’s story is about to end (and perhaps with a giant leap), my story prepares to take flight…”

Lucky shares her journey, “nestling with her siblings in our hole in our  gum tree “ on the riverbank,  feeling “a human hand reach in, making exploratory movements” , to finding herself in a cage on a back verandah of one of the locals.

Her position on the verandah provides a view of the happenings within Port Badminton as well as all the characters ; the prawn fishermen, the dingo shooter, the town drunk, the aboriginals, as well as all the newer families to town who are  connected to the Dish, instrumental in keeping communication lines open to the astronauts.

Lucky focuses on the arrival of Evan Johnson, radio technician, and wife Linda who is keen to start a new life away from the Big Smoke. Of course, although Evan is distracted by his work, Linda is like a fish out of water and doesn’t cope.

The small town of Port Badminton becomes every small town, and the dynamics of its inhabitants are both familiar and the perfect combination of nostalgia and brutality. We feel the excitement for the scientists achieving their goals, and pity for the women who are simply making do.

The author includes authentic trivia from the 1960’s including pre dinner snacks of curly celery, feathered carrots, and radish flowers, cereal boxes containing collectable toys, home made Grappa at barbeques,  Brownies raising funds ( Bob-A-Job), and  washing the sheets in a copper each week. Who remembers those? *

The Galah is an intelligent animal, despite its reputation as a clown and a lightweight. A captive Galah needs constant activity if it is not to decline into depression. Tearing up books, page by page, is a mental, physical, and spiritual workout for me; as good as any gym, yogaclass or university”. Lucky’s most recent book is Donald Horne’s “The Lucky Country”.

Then there are the wonderful descriptions of the environment and landscape. ” Tropical Cyclone Steve, a male cyclone with a beer belly and long, grey, windswept hair, thongs flapping at his feet, formed out of the ether somewhere in the Pacific” and “she watches the water suck back, back and then hears the flute-like sound, a roar, as the water comes crashing in again, sending a giant white fountain into the air. It drops and chases itself back down its lair in streaming white foam rivulets. The gurgling, sucking noises are thrilling.”

This read is a gem. It is not as simple as it seems with layers of storytelling including the frailty of relationships, expectations, and our interconnectedness with the environment as well as with animals. The descriptions of both the natural environment and the wildlife that live within it are totally authentic. Loved it!

*We used the copper for cooking freshly caught sand crabs and prawns. Must have been worth a few bob as it was the only item stolen from the family home after my father passed.

Washing Copper.

* NOTE :

Galah is also a derrogatory term that means a “loud-mouthed idiot.” Named specifically for the galah, a native Australian bird that makes a distinctive (and quite funny-sounding) call.

“Oh, Scottyya bloody galah! What are you ON ABOUT?!”

from the Urban Dictionary.

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants

During a recent wander around the local environmental centre, Indigiscapes, with the Tuesday walking group I came across this book in the Gift Shop. (So now you also know I’m a sucker for Gift Shops, especially ones that carry jams and condiments made from local products. And children’s books. Children’s Books make me weak at the knees.)

Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants written by Catherine Clowes is exactly as the name suggests: an Australian Native for each letter of the alphabet. Clowes is a botanist and a teacher with a love of sharing knowledge which she does so well in this book which would have been an absolute Godsend to homeschooling mums and dads during periods of Lockdown.

Why?

Each double page is dedicated to a designated native. Those pages contain a concise description without getting over technical and losing the kiddies’ interest and illustrations by Rachel Gyan which are clear and easily identifiable. But the thing I really found both fun and inspirational is that each plant description includes a task to encourage our Little People to immerse themselves and engage in Nature.

For example, under L for the Lilly Pilly is a description, an illustration, and a task. In this case the task is to pick a berry from the Lilly Pilly and to plant it in potting mix and to nurture it with water and sunshine. Will it grow? I don’t know but I’m sure as hell going to experiment once the local Lilly Pillys start fruiting.

At the back of the book is a map of Australia which highlights where each of the 26 selected natives are found. So much information so simply presented.

I purchased several copies because I know several young mums who will find this book a huge help during the next school holidays.

The Water Book – Review

Alok Jha is science and technology correspondent at The Economist and the author of The Water Book.

The blurb on the back cover made it sound fascinating. ” Water seems ordinary – it pours from our taps and falls from the sky. But you would be surprised at what a profoundly strange substance it is. It defies the normal rules of chemistry, it has shaped the Earth, its life and our civilisation. Without it, none of us would exist.” And ” The Water Book will change the way you look at this ordinary substance. Afterwards, you will hold a glass of water up to the light and see within it the strangest chemical, something that connects you to everything and everyone else in the universe.”

The Water Book begins with a quote from chemist Felix Franks, ” Of all known liquids water is probably the most studied and least understood.”

Page by page I started keeping notes. On his way to Antartica, the author tells us ” in those frozen lakes and rivers, the ice does more than decorate the surface; it insulates the water underneath keeping it a few degrees above freezing point – and crucially liquid – even in the harshest of winters”.

After pondering this information one night – because doesn’t that nullify what we’ve been told about the effects of climate change in respect to choral bleaching? – and having read that water comes from outer space I abandoned this book at Page 50. Not the author’s fault : Science was just never my forte and I need my 8 hours sleep.

The L.O.M.L has a brain that functions that way having worked in the field of hospital equipment. He kindly offered to review The Water Book on my behalf and said he loved it.

I know: ain’t love grand………..

The Water Book, by Alok Jha. ( Review by LOML)

The story of a voyage on Academik Shokalskiy, a 70 metre long  ice-strengthened Russian Polar vessel, on a trip to Antarctica, following in the footsteps of Douglas Mawson, a British-Australian explorer and Geologist, who went there in 1912 and 1929.  Alok was part of a private science expedition, and he tells us what happened from the time they left New Zealand on their journey south, to being stuck in ice for a fortnight, to their rescue in January 2014. 
 He treats us to descriptions of daily happenings aboard ship, then diverts to scientific observations on everything about water, really! From its occurence in the universe from molecular to galaxy size. The people who made discoveries about water, and any of its alternate states. From snowflakes to icebergs, to underground oceans, consisting of ..not only water, but other chemicals, ie, liquid ammonia, close to absolute zero in temperature terms, in our local universe. He explores the relationship between life as we know it, and water in depth..so to speak.
The subjects he discusses never ceases to amaze, and the book as a whole is at once educational and a throughly good read.

The Adventures of Euca – Gaia Reading Challenge

It’s nearing Easter so I am preparing parcels to post to the Little People in my life.

“No chocolate, Mo. No sugar for this Little One”. This from a lass whose paternal grandfather fed her so many chocolate eggs for her 2nd Easter that she was as sick as a dog. Whilst I was quietly fuming – and cleaning – said child’s grandfather instilled his lifelong mantra : ” You’ve not had a good time till you’ve been sick”.

Thank goodness the maternal grandfather had a different outlook on life. A child of the Depression he did not believe in waste, so he lived by “everything in moderation”. Except fish. Fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner but that’s another story.

So that is why my Little People will be gifted something other than chocolate this Easter. Well, maybe a little Darrell Lea chocolate bilby but their main present will be a lovely little book called The Adventures of Euca : A Baby Leaf’s Big World.

Debut author Jennifer Howard is a nature lover who is “passionate about the environment, and about educating future generations on sustainability and the magic of the world we all live in.”

We meet Euca, a baby gum leaf, who lives on the very top of the tree, ” closest to the big golden sun whose lovely warm rays will help me to grow big and strong”.

Eucla takes us through his job role as a leaf to “help freshen the air for the whole wide world” as well as some of the native fauna who use the leaf coverage as home. He is close to his Grandpa Crinkle, an old wrinkled leaf further down the tree branches, and the life lesson is that at some stage the old leaf ” with a strong gust of wind” will fall to the ground and a new leaf will be born.

The illustrations by M K Perring are colourful and easily discernible to young eyes and this story is a gentle introduction to nature and the environment for our Little People.

I purchased my copies through Shawline Publishing Group. Always happy to support the independent author ( who have been known to become my all time favourites.)

Black Summer : Book Review

Australia’s 2019 – 2020 Black Summer bush fires burnt an estimated 18 million hectares. Thirty three people died, 5,900 buildings were destroyed, including 3,000 homes. At least one billion animals lost their lives and some endangered species have been driven to the brink of extinction.”

This is the premise of Black Summer, a collection of short stories written by ABC journalists about the things they witnessed on the ground in almost all the fire sites and communities across the nation. It covers “the stories of loss, courage and community” and was compiled as an acknowledgement of the devastation and destruction of that period as well as the strength and resilience of the people. A portion of proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.

Black Summer is an entry into the Gaia Reading Challenge promoted by Sharon at Galaxies and Gum Trees in that it covers both Nature and the Environment. The book does not pretend to offer any solutions, merely sharing what those in the affected areas experienced ; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

” There are horrific stories of cars with aluminium features melted into a puddle. Many tell of the horrifying roar of the fires. Louise Brown lost her home, but not her Cobargo bookshop which survived the fire that ripped through the town’s main street. She announced the reopening of the shop with a sign in the window :” Post-apocalyptic fiction now moved to current affairs”. Pretty much sums up the situation and the Aussie spirit, I’d say.

In all of the stories Nature played a massive part in the devastation. Fighting the fires in Stanthorpe, QLD, on the border of NSW, was hampered by the 7 year long drought which saw the town’s dam virtually empty and the Council having to truck drinking water in for the locals. Changing winds also saw flare ups across many sites across the country and it was gentle yet continual rainfall which finally helped put the fires out some three months after the devastation started.

Have we learnt any lessons from these out-of-control bush fires?

I could respond though my reply would be considered way too political for general consumption. Next time you are driving past stop by and I’ll share my thoughts over a bottle of chardy and a cheese platter.