Have Dog Will Travel – Part II

2010 April 113

For the ten years prior to 2010, Queensland had experienced a severe drought. In the last 7 days of 2009, heavy rain began and this continued on and off until the second half of March 2010. In between whiles Cyclone Olga struck the far north of the state and its effects were also felt, to some extent, in the south. In late February a massive low came in from South Australia and dumped huge amounts of rain on an already sodden Queensland. With the land completey saturated, there was simply nowhere for a water to go, and severe flooding occurred throughout much of the state. In fact, this was the most widespread heavy rainfall event ever recorded in Australia. At one time 1.9% of the total area of the country was under water.

Once the floods had subsided, we decided to explore the areas that had been affected, not so much out of a ghoulish wish to ogle, but mainly because we’d heard reports that the normally dry interior would be a picture to see, with green grass where none usually grew and plenty of wild flowers. It sounded like a sight worth seeing.

Our first stopover, Warwick, is on the Condamine River, which had come down in flood and cut off the town for a time. It was founded in 1849 on land that belonged to the Leslie brothers, the first Europeans to buy and farm land in the area. It’s an area that boasts beautiful pasture land and is famous for its horse and cattle studs.

There are plenty of places of interest in the town and in the outlying areas. Some that come to mind are the Pringle Cottage, the Warwick Regional Art Gallery, Leslie Dam, and the Main Range National Park.

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One of the big advantages of having a dog is that it ensures forced walks for the owner. I’m not sure if everyone would agree, but we see it as a plus. And the fact that we were travelling didn’t change that routine. Before we packed up and left the campground at the Darling Downs Hotel outside Warwick, we took a walk along Sandy Creek Road and admired the various farm houses and crops we saw along the way.

As I’ve mentioned before, dogs were not Gemma’s favourite form of life, and, as luck would have it, we encountered a three-legged hound enthusiastically hopping along the road. Whether the poor thing had lost its brains along with its limb I’m not sure, but it didn’t seem to pick up on the fact that Gemma’s snapping and snarling was not a friendly overture. Maybe it just didn’t care. It followed us for ages and we let out a sigh of relief when we finally reached our caravan and the tripod dog decided to befriend the more suitable amiable horse instead.

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Once we’d hitched up the van we continued with our adventure. Our route took us via Goondiwindi, a town we’d last visited ten years before. On that trip we’d arrived in the town just as the sun was setting, a brilliant blaze of fiery gold lighting up the west. As luck would have it, the town was full of cotton gritters (people who used to weed the cotton plants by hand) and it was almost impossible to find accommodation. All the campgrounds, caravan parks, hotels and motels were full. Eventually we managed to get a cabin in a caravan park – at an exorbitant price. No doubt the park manager was cashing in on the scarcity of accommodation and no self-respecting cotton gritter was going to pay his high prices.

The cabin was fine, but the campground was full to the brim with people, caravans and tents in every conceivable place. Sometime during a night of heavy drinking, a fight broke out and loud voices and yelling continued for over an hour. We were a bit concerned our vehicle would be damaged, as the fight appeared to be close to where it was parked, but in time the noise subsided and the campground fell into a deep and snoring slumber.

Needless to say, at first light we left.

We had no intention of staying in Goondiwindi this time around, not because of our previous experience – we knew that was likely a one-off, unlikely to be repeated – but because it was still early in the day and we wanted to get to St George.

Goodiwindi is situated on the MacIntyre River and it had also been affected by the floods. It’s an interesting town and well worth a visit. The area was explored by Allan Cunningham in 1827 (the Cunningham Highway is named after him) and was eventually settled by sheep and cattle farmers in the 1830s. The name Goondiwindi comes from the Aboriginal word gonnawinna, which means ‘resting place of the birds’. It has a historic pub, the Victoria Hotel; and a cotton gin, (not surprising in a region famous for its cotton) amongst other attractions. If you’re going to spend some time in the area you could visit the Southwood National Park or the 25-ha Botanic Gardens of the Western Woodlands.

The countryside is flat and trees line the road, so it’s not really easy to see what agricultural activities take place. In spite of that we did see plenty of fields of bright white ripe cotton, swarms of heavy machinery working away, and stacks of blue-tarp covered baled cotton.

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After our short stopover and a coffee in Goondiwindi, we headed off towards St George.

2010 April 066

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Have Dog Will Travel – Part I

A few years ago we lit on the bright idea of buying a caravan so that we could tour around Australia when we retired. We rejected the idea of staying in motels as we had a German shepherd called Gemma at the time and most motels wouldn’t allow us to have pets. With that in mind,we decided we were past the tent stage of our lives, a camper trailer would take too long to erect when overnighting, and a motor-home had the disadvantage of having to carry our ‘shell’ with us wherever we went. So that left a caravan; and a caravan had the added advantage that we could leave Gemma in it at times while we did our shopping or visited national parks etc.

For some reason that’s now obscure, we decided on a pop-top rather than a solid top. I think that was because we felt it would be easier to store and tow, but it proved to be a mistake. There are no real advantages when storing or towing and if we had a dollar for every time we’ve bashed our noggins on the mechanism to raise and lower the roof we would be very rich. Plus if you want to fit an air-conditioner the roof has to be strengthened, not to mention that we think you might well get more storage space in a solid top.

Anyhow, after looking at numerous vans we bought a single-axle second-hand Jayco Heritage.  The salesman who sold it to us did warn us with a cheesy grin that Jaycos can be dodgy. The company had over 50% of the market share at that time, so, as he explained with yet another teeth-whitened grin, ‘you’re bound to get some Monday and Friday vehicles’.

Ours is one of those.

We didn’t know that at the time, though, so we set off into the wild west of the Queensland outback in order to test out our newly acquired home and to see whether Gemma would cope with the gypsy lifestyle. As you can tell, Gemma’s participation in this proposed adventure was key to its success. We were, after all, planning to explore Australia in this thing when we one day retired.

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Complete with a book of free and cheap campgrounds, we set off into the hinterland.

Now I should explain that Gemma was no ordinary dog. She was, to put it nicely – difficult. While she loved people, she felt other dogs had no right to be on the same planet as her, and that made walks, and potentially travelling with her, a bit tricky. We had to be constantly on the alert in case a canine strayed into her orbit. We’d tried taking her to various dog trainers and even a dog whisperer, but all, alas, had given up on her. In hindsight, we should have had a clue as to what we were in for when she flunked puppy class.

We stopped for morning tea in Beaudesert and to check that all was okay with the van, and then continued on towards Warwick.

That first night we camped at the Darling Downs Hotel, more commonly known as the Sandy Creek Pub, situated about 10kms west of Warwick along the Cunningham Highway, and then 3kms along Sandy Creek Road.

We were the only ones there – which suited us fine with our tetchy hound – and we had our pick of good spots. We chose to set up under the shade of a tall gum, the hotel and its yard at our backs, and with a view out over a field with a friendly horse in it and a go-kart track that was obviously only used over weekends.

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There was little traffic on Sandy Creek Road, which maybe isn’t so good for the pub, but was great for us. The pub offers showers for a fee and some meals: lunches on Sunday and dinner on Friday and Saturday. As we were there during the week, we decided to try out our van’s cooking facilities rather than opt for a cold snack. This was our first introduction to the eccentricities of our gas stove. As my husband is wont to oft repeat: Can you believe you have to use a barbecue lighter to light the stove? It has no ignition of its own unless its connected to power.

Once we had it going we cooked ourselves a simple dinner of lamb chops, but this proved to be another mistake. The fat splattered everything around it and the hot air rising from the cooking chops set off the smoke alarm! That cleaned up and quelled, we sat outside in the cool of the autumn evening, drinks in hand, and devoured the view along with our food. Gemma lay contentedly beside us and gnawed on the odd chop bone tossed her way.

As the light faded and the stars twinkled into life we could hear the distant sound of a light aircraft doing touch and goes at the airport, and the occasional muffled roar of a heavy truck passing by on the Cunningham Highway.

Eventually we went inside and lay awake in the dark listening to the soft strains of the 60’s music beamed to us from a radio station in Brisbane. We fell asleep charmed by the magic of our surroundings, and pleased with the way the first day of our adventure had gone.

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Some days are golden; some days are s**t

Ruby and StirlingYears ago I dreamt of owning a robotic vacuum cleaner that would just go about its work day to day, leaving me free to pursue other more leisurely endeavours. I did worry about it picking up the odd bit left lying around, like recalcitrant budgies, kids’ toys, scraps of food etc, but was sure the inventor-to-be of this miraculous machine would have all eventualities covered.

Well, my dream has become a reality – such a machine does actually exist now – and my husband, good man that he is, and knowing how much I’ve always wanted one, kindly bought one for me. It’s silver and black, and comes with its name conveniently written across its back: Stirling. How nice, I thought, the inventor loves him so much he wanted us to know what to call him – no anonymous robot for us.

Stirling has been working faithfully for a number of moons now. On appointed days, he rises early and begins his sweep of the house.

Some time after we acquired Stirling, a cavoodle named Ruby joined our household. She and Stirling have hit it off famously – until this morning.

I heard Stirling begin his work and turned over in bed, thinking how nice it would be to get up to a sparkling clean house.

Unbeknown to us, Ruby had had an accident.

We dozed on, blissfully and smugly unaware as Stirling went about his business.

Imagine my surprise then when I finally rose and a horrendous smell assailed my senses. I went to investigate and found Stirling whirring round and round, happy as the proverbial pig in s**t!

He’d spread it everywhere, all over the hard floors (thankfully not on the carpets) and looked as unconcerned as Ruby did sheepish.

After many hours, when we’d finished cleaning and disinfecting Stirling and the house, we decided to treat ourselves to a calming and relaxing walk and cycle down at South Kingscliff.

When we arrived at the beach, Ruby took off as usual, cavorting and frolicking between the sand and the waves.

Ah, happy days! What a joy it is to be alive and out in the warm autumn sunshine.

I gazed down the beach and there, in the distance but growing bigger with each monstrous stride, was a magnificent black thoroughbred galloping up the shoreline.

Knowing Ruby had never seen a horse and was likely to a) yap at it b) chase it, I nabbed her and held on tight while the thoroughbred, rider bent low over its neck, thundered past in a spray of sea sand and salt water.

How wonderful! I thought again. How privileged we are.

When the horse was safely past, I released Ruby, who immediately set off to investigate the huge divots the beast had left in the sand. I kept a wary eye on her in case the horse and rider should return.

But somehow my mind must have wandered – perhaps back to the delights Stirling and Ruby had left for us earlier – because all of a sudden the horse was back and Ruby was yap-yapping at its fetlocks.

Ruby and horse

The rider, good-naturedly, steered his steed into the water, and a wave swamped Ruby and gently rolled her back up the beach.

But that didn’t deter her.

She took off down the beach, following the horse, yipping and yapping to all and sundry about the Great Intruder on Our Beach.

Eventually, when she was a mere speck in the distance, she turned and realised she’d lost us.

Now, as you may have guessed, while Ruby is pretty, she’s also a bit short on brains. So she took off up into the dunes, hoping she would find us – we think.

Then suddenly she was back on the beach, then back in the dunes, then back on the beach, then back in the dunes … Arghhh! Stop, dog!

We finally caught her and, ruffled and certainly not calm, abandoned the walk. A cycle would be much better.

We unloaded the bikes and put Ruby into her crate on the carrier.

Ruby and box

Then we set off, the wind flowing over our helmets and the sun (politically incorrectly) bronzing our skin.

Luckily we had only gone about four kilometres when Ron’s bike developed a puncture. Oh, blow! Literally. After much stopping and pumping of air into tyre, we finally got back to the car, grumpy, hot and tired. So much for a calm, relaxing day.

And what’s the plan now, you ask? Well, Stirling will be starting work later, once we know all landmines are out of the way. And Ron is fitting a dog-door for Ruby.

 

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What Hat Do You Wear?

Yesterday my husband wore a green hat. That was, I thought, because he had been unable to find his usual blue hat.

Today he came to me and said, ‘Have you seen my hat?’

I, quite reasonably I thought, asked, ‘Which one: the blue one or the green one?’

He looked at me as though I was the daft one and said, ‘I don’t know what colour it is!’

I stood a moment, mouth agape, trying to process this information. It had never occurred to me that a person wouldn’t recognise something that belonged to them according to colour, but obviously I’m wrong.

‘Er … the green one is in the car. I haven’t seen the blue one you usually wear.’

He looked a bit crestfallen but said, ‘Thanks,’ and went outside to mow the lawn.

I was left still considering how he identified which hat was which and why he preferred the blue one to the green one. I couldn’t be colour, so what was it? The fit, the size of the brim? But if he didn’t know the colour of the hat with the desired fit, how did he differentiate?

When he came back inside, I asked him.

Again, he looked at me as though the answer should be obvious, even to an imbecile like me.

‘I know it when I see it,’ he said.

Now my question is: how do you recognise items you own? Is it the colour, the shape, some identifying mark? Or do all your hats have to be named and numbered: favourite hat 1, gardening hat 2, golfing hat 3, walking hat 4, etc, etc.

I’d love to know.

 

 

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Snakes Alive!

bron snake

Every morning we walk down the hill, along the road and then round the park. Why? you say. Because the doctor told us to. She said it was healthy, a good thing to do. But she didn’t bargain on the two little brown snakes that have recently taken up residence under the Hinterland Recreation Park sign. One morning a few days ago my husband nearly stepped on one, then a day ago I did the same. (Okay, so we’re slow learners, but we really didn’t think they would be in the same place every day.) I contacted Council and asked if they could relocate the slithery reptiles and probably they will, but today, early this morning, they were still there, sunning themselves on the dry brown grass that camouflages their colour, and flicking their black tongues at us.

We gave them a wide berth.

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Wild Goose Chase

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A couple of months ago, I was playing golf and returned to the clubhouse to have morning tea and a general chin wag with the other ladies when Paul, the obliging young guy who runs the comp for us, asked if anyone knew how to cook a duck’s egg. We all looked a bit non-plussed as he held up a very white large egg.

‘Someone found it on the course and gave it to me to eat,’ he said to fill the silence, ‘but I don’t know how to cook it.’

‘You have to use it for baking,’ said one lady, rubbing her chin and looking dubious. ‘They need to be cooked at a high heat.’

A puzzled look entered Paul’s eyes.

‘Duck eggs can contain salmonella,’ I ventured, ‘but they’re fine as long as you cook them properly – and this one is clean, so it’s unlikely to have salmonella.’

I should have kept my mouth shut, of course, because after that startling bit of information there was no way anyone was going to eat the darn egg.

Paul disappeared behind the golf club counter and returned in no time with the duck egg carefully wrapped it in a white paper napkin. ‘You take it,’ he said. ‘You know how to cook it.’

Mentally kicking myself for opening my mouth, I took the egg from him and carried it to my car, where I placed it on the seat beside me.

Once home, I showed it to my husband and he, along with me, knew there was no way we could eat this poor egg. But what to do with it?

I scratched my head. ‘What if we take it down to the produce store on the corner of the road? He has chickens and ducks and all kinds of wild birds. He might have an incubator.’

My husband’s eyes lit up. ‘Good idea. Let’s take it there now.’

We walked the 500 metres to the store, the egg carefully ensconced in a carrier bag.

The owners of the store were in a room at the back. They watched as we approached and listened while we explained what we had in mind.

The owner shook his head. ‘It’s unlikely to be fertile; it would be a waste of time.’

‘It’s wild egg; from a wild bird.’

The owner smiled and stretched out his hand. ‘In that case I’ll give it a try. I have an incubator here.’ He held the egg between finger and thumb, turning it gently while holding it up to the light. ‘It’s too big to be a wild duck’s egg though.’

‘Could it be from a magpie goose? It was found on Carrara Gardens Golf Course, and there are sometimes magpie geese there.’

He nodded. ‘A goose egg fits; perhaps that’s what it is. I’ll date it. Come back in six weeks and see if it’s hatched.’

We didn’t wait the six weeks. Instead we returned after three to see if the egg did indeed appear to be fertile.

The shop owner smiled at us. ‘It appears to be. All’s going well. We should know by the middle of September.’

We left and I can’t say we forgot about the egg, but life gets in the way, as we all know. Things happened and so we had no time to call round at the store to find out what had become of our ‘baby’.

Until today.

Both shop owners were there. I picked up a bag of wild bird seed and took it to the counter. I must admit that my pulse had quickened because I expected to hear bad news. ‘Hi.’ I smiled at the owner. ‘We just wondered if that goose egg we dropped off had hatched at all?’

Her face glowed and she grinned. ‘Yes! Would you like to see?’

We followed her through to the back of the shop and out into a grassy courtyard where wild birds and all kinds of domestic fowl were housed. She pointed to a cage on a drum. We peered in and were amazed when we caught sight of the chick. It was about the size of a small bantam – and it was only a month old. It’s wing feathers are just beginning to poke through, but most of its body is still covered in fluff. And it has the thickest, sturdiest legs I’ve ever seen on such a young bird. The beak is long and flat, the feet webbed. So what is it?

A goose? A duck?

Who knows?

But watch this space because as it grows I’m sure all will be revealed.

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