Modest Expectations – At 70 degrees north, no Pines beyond

The first Royal Commission commenced in August 1902 and ended two months later in October 1902.  The Royal Commission was established to inquire into and report upon the arrangements made for the transport of troops returning from service in South Africa on the S.S. “Drayton Grange”.

Drayton Grange

The Drayton Grange, a 6600-tonner, was a troopship chartered to return Australian soldiers from the Boer War in South Africa. With more than 2000 aboard, the ship was overcrowded and unsanitary, with inadequate medical facilities.

By the time the ship docked in Melbourne on August 7, 1902 at the end of a month-long voyage, five were dead and another 12 died subsequently.

From the ship docking in Melbourne to enactment of the Act, to appointment of Chair, to handing down the results of the Royal Commission took two months.

There were no specific recommendations. But this paragraph apportions a level of blame, “We find that the responsibility for what, under the circumstances of the troops and the nature of the voyage, was undue crowding of the vessel, for the insufficiency of hospital accommodation, and for the defects in the deck sheathing, rests with the Imperial Embarkation authorities in South Africa; for the non-landing of the sick with the authorities in West Australia; and for the failure to improve, and the unnecessary aggravation of, the undesirable conditions in the vessel, on the Officer Commanding Troops and the Medical Officer in Charge.”

Royal Commissions take a considerable time. Perhaps Mr Justice Toose, who undertook an investigation into veteran affairs in the 70s, set the exemplar for the timeless Commission. He asked for several extensions, and there was often a tone in ridicule about this Inquiry which extended for five years for 800 pages and 300 recommendations.

Toose’s exercise has been dwarfed by $600m spent on the Disability Royal Commission; the Government’s response is not to implement the 222 recommendations in its 6845 pages, but to set up a Taskforce of bureaucrats to respond, thus delaying any implementation by at least 18 months.

Why the length? To justify the Royal Commission, which remains divided in its recommendations and service. Think about the time and cost for a split decision.

Given it was headed by a former Federal judge, Ron Sackville, once described as a law reformer, his Commission’s major recommendations just tread the familiar line of a new Act, a Disability Commission, and a complaints mechanism. Big deal; could have taken a good dinner to come up with these recommendations.

Recently, at the Australian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), the Attorney-General, Minister Dreyfus, made a lukewarm comment ending in a crafted ambiguous conclusion, where “clarity” would not be the word I would use.

None of this is to say that royal commissions should necessarily be a government’s ‘go to’ option when a difficult issue arises. Most areas of public policy are best dealt with by the ordinary work of policy development by Ministers and their Departments, and even when an inquiry is merited, a royal commission might not be the most appropriate kind. Very often, matters concerning the operation of government will be best dealt with by an ordinary administrative inquiry.

Nonetheless, it is certainly clear why royal commissions have occupied such a significant role in our system of government over such a long period.”

Dreyfus had recounted, prior to this excerpt, that Royal Commissions had advantages. These were independence, information gathering, and to hear vox populi. All are relative. How independent can it be when the government selects the commissioners; information gathering can be subjective, as can listening to the people, although this takes a bleak view of government. But why not? This current government, increasingly prone to secrecy, does not make me more supportive of royal commissions, expensive exercises in marching on the spot.

The major problem with Royal Commissions is that they raise expectations.  The government looks for the recommendations with which it broadly agrees, and often these are the most trite.

To me, a useful Royal Commission should make recommendations, which are not “feel-good” waffle, but should isolate the changes which could be made, theoretically from the next day.  Key recommendations must be coherent and limited in number. It helps if one happens to be reductionist in approach. It provides that clarity which Dreyfus advocates.


Brunel, along with numerous young models, was a frequent passenger on Epstein’s private jet, according to flight manifests. The agency owner also allegedly received $1 million from Epstein in 2005, when he founded MC2 with his partner, Jeffrey Fuller; although Fuller and Brunel denied any such payment from the billionaire pervert in 2007, when rumours started swirling, Sarnoff got confirmation from a former bookkeeper at the agency. Whether the money was a secret investment in MC2, or a payment for Brunel’s services as a procurer, is unknown. Brunel also visited Epstein in jail.”

Now there is one industry that needs to be examined – the fashion industry. Not only does it create a great amount of detritus, but the question is how many occupational health and safety rules does it violate?

For instance, a modelling career for women starts between 14 and 16 years and is over by the mid 20s. It is an industry which cultivates the “stick insect” look and emphasise that ugliness by forcing the models in very high heels to traverse the catwalk in that uncomfortable stalk, which seems to be de rigeur.

For example, in one instance more than half the models in a US survey found were told they wouldn’t be able to find any more jobs if they didn’t lose weight. So, not only are models being pressured to lose weight, but they’re being told that their livelihood depended on it. As the writer said, “this immense pressure to lose weight in order to protect your ability to make a living is unacceptable. It’s incredibly damaging to models’ mental health and their overall safety and wellbeing.”

Health professionals are always concerned with anorexia and bulimia as well as body dysmorphia in young females. Once you step into the malnutrition zone, then there are consequences, not the least of which is osteoporosis. The overlay of mental health in these women, especially when they are discarded for a younger wave of aspirants, undoubtedly leaves a legacy.

The 2017 movie “Straight/Curve: Redefining Body Image” was made by an Irish born US film maker Jenny McQuaile. It reveals how beautiful pictures in magazines or TV shows in the fashion industry have actually affected the current generation of women and young girls.

In a comment on the film: it linked the exposure of images of underweight air-brushed female bodies to unhealthy eating habits and decreased self-esteem, so poor body image can lead to even more serious consequences. Overweight status, self-perception found that girls who were unhappy with their appearance were at a significantly higher risk for suicide. The evidence is overwhelming.

Against this, there is the further depressing statistic that Australia is  the second largest per capita consumer of textiles in the world, after the USA. Indeed, the average Australian consumes 27 kg of new clothing a year.

Revenue from the Australian apparel market is expected to reach $20 billion before growing by slightly more than two per cent per year until 2027. The industry contributes 1.5 per cent to the Australian GDP, generates $7.2 billion in exports each year, and employs more than 489,000 people – 77 per cent of whom are women. There lies the kernel for the case for government not interfering in the catwalk disease. It creates income.

The other resistance would come from the “social X-rays” that form the catwalk audience. It beats me how one could not be repulsed by seeing these emaciated nymphets in the flesh, unadorned by the photographer’s illusionary tricks to emulate images of unattainable perfection; instead, they look as if they have been released from a concentration camp decked out in grease paint.

The racing industry relies on dieting in jockeys trying to keep weight down to 54kg, above which life for most jockeys’ rides is limited unless they are in the top echelon or are a jumping jockey, and in this later instance their races are confined to Victoria and South Australia.

You just must see such jockeys in their forties with their sunken cheekbones and hollow eye sockets – excessively thin and also liable to osteoporosis. Unless you are dwarf, this prospect awaits. Some of the jockeys on the tiny side have an extraordinary physique with disproportionate limbs, but it is a more dangerous occupation – falling off a horse at full gallop in the middle of a race is more so than marching down a catwalk.

A study in Victoria in which jockeys completed an anonymous questionnaire, resulted in 75 per cent reporting routinely skipping meals and 81 per cent restricted food intake in the 24 hours prior to racing. Sauna-induced sweating was used by 29 per cent of respondents and diuretics by 22 per cent to aid in weight loss prior to racing. Smoking is less prevalent and induced vomiting and the use of laxatives are more in the realm of the fashion industry – not to mention use of the peacock feather.

At least, the racing industry has made token recognition of the problem with raising the minimum weights in most races. There are well-placed photographs of the champion jockeys with judicious use of healthy diets and strenuous exercise. But then, have they metaphorically been air-brushed?

Hence the need to evaluate whether Society is aiding and abetting an unhealthy lifestyle, which nevertheless suits a cohort of influential people. Moreover of course, there is the view that an individual has the freedom to do what they wish; but does a fourteen year old have that unfettered right to condemn herself into a life of starvation and slavery? I think not.

In a Brown Study

Millennials come in for scorn from the dealers I meet. Millennials don’t want things; they want “experiences,” according to opinion surveys. Many dealers are befuddled by this attitude as well as by millennials’ texting and tweeting. Antiques are not easily translated to the digital realm. They’re not part of the point-and-click universe. They’re not Instagrammable. Look at us on this brown couch! And look at this thumbtack Windsor chair from 1825 in faded yellow paint. It has such a rich “patina,” the touch of history. Nope. That’s just a worn-out old chair. – New England magazine

I remembered one of my contemporaries was besotted with brown furniture. He lived in one of those large Victorian mansions with high ceilings, poor lighting and faded wallpaper. The fittings, the staircase all brown – and moreover the furniture was brown – different shades of brown, but nevertheless very brown. If it was not mahogany, it was French polished or varnished, all to a high-quality brown.

Mahogany is exotic – Cuban or Honduran was always part of the description. There is an Australia hardwood eucalypt, which is called among other names, Australian mahogany.  Another major contributor to this brown diaspora was the native cedar, logged from Queensland forests. I have a red cedar desk which my great-uncle owned and used daily in his work as a well-known early Melbourne architect. There was a what-not which he purchased, always mentioned to me as Chippendale. It was not.

Thus, I had inherited from both my maternal and paternal lines a considerable amount of brown furniture, to which I added further items when we moved into our terrace house in Balmain in 1987. Then it was not cheap, and in fact the bookcase was very expensive, being beautifully made with inlaid decoration.

In one of our storerooms sits a round walnut table, used for many years for dining. Walnut is brown enough to be unwanted, as this is.

But that was another era. Now brown furniture is shunned. The current open space house with few interior walls encourages a light and airy existence with clean cut steel and corian kitchens. Then there are glitzy bathrooms where the standalone brilliantly white bathtub made of fibreglass and stainless steel reinforced with polyester resin, stands in the a room bordered by wash basin, shower recess and toilet. Here, use of brown tiles would be somewhat confusing.

And after all, who has a brown car in their double garage after you walk through the laundry where, if you are hunting for brown artifacts from a lost Brown Age, it is there you may find such relics. But probably not.  Even the cleaning equipment is variegated in colour- and “whitegoods” are just that, unless the essential utilities are now with facades of blue-grey steel -be it a washing machine or refrigerator.

Now left on the footpath, sideboards, chiffoniers, tables, cupboards line the roadside. The markets have crashed; the word “antique” is increasingly anathema. “Vintage” is now substituted for “antique” in those fairs where period pieces were once sold.

I have looked at this brown study from a home-owner’s perspective, but then there is the various young generation’s perspective bought up on IKEA, where furniture is not decorative. It is purely utilitarian.

I remember when I was in a University College I took a Victorian vintage nursing chair into my study, because I thought it would provide a convenient place to rest to read a book or to just “crash”. I left it there when I left College. Initially, I regretted leaving it there. But time has confirmed the correctness of the decision. It would have been very expensive to store.

Maybe the nursing chair has remained in the College, souvenired, or more likely it has ended up as firewood, very much the fate of so much of this brown detritus from another Age. Years on, it may have survived awaiting to be recovered, a sombre counterpoint to the hedonistic modernism, a symbol of a world browning in the change in climate.

There is one solution that my wife has used. We had a very well- constructed mahogany chest of drawers, very chestnut. My grandparents had brought it back from Britain in 1919. Thus, it had lasted a long time. My wife decided she needed some storage and rather than throw out the solid brown chest and buy a new one she asked the painter to give it a distressed blue finish. He did an excellent job, and it now complements the back room, where an equally distressed painted bookcase faces it – but the aforementioned brown cedar desk still occupies one corner of the room, as a quiet reminder.

In Search of the Native Beech

Great Western Tiers

Nestling hard against Tasmania’s Western Tiers, at the end of a gravel road winding through the tall eucalypts, is Habitat, a native plant nursery. We drove there after disembarking from the car ferry at Devonport. It is at the back of Deloraine on the other side of the Meander Valley. The Valley itself which was massively flooded at the same time last year was now brilliant green, its pastures covered by the dots of sheep. The ewes had been lambing prolifically. This tableau was Acadian, there being barely a cloud in the sky.

Our destination was near Liffey, but not on the road to the Liffey Falls. We were instructed to turn left and follow the bush road. Habitat appeared to blend with the bush, but this is where for 21 years they have harvested seeds and grown the plants from this seed.

They had closed their retail outlet earlier this year, now “growing to order” and have sufficient orders not to take any more until the end of 2024. Then the owner said she would be taking a “sabbatical” with her husband in 2025, and then they would be taking orders again from 2026.

Even though there is temperate rain forest at the bottom of their property, they had been ordered to evacuate their property because of nearby bush fires twice in the 21 years. They are in a high risk area with one narrow exit road lined by tall mountain ash and an understory of dense bush.

We were there to pick up five native deciduous beeches which we had ordered in March (and which I wrote up in an earlier blog). These had been left over from the previous year’s orders.

She said that the two most difficult plants to cultivate are the Tasmanian waratah and the native beech, which incidentally is the only native deciduous tree. In Strahan, there are numerous Tasmanian waratah bushes, all now in flower. So much for difficulty – once they like their surroundings.

But what of the beech?

She gave us tips about where to plant the slow growing beeches, in damp half shade, well-drained soil, and a protective wire cage around each to keep the wallabies away.

So here goes!

Rich with pollution – So much for Reducing Emissions

Need I editorialise …

Executives at Suffolk Construction have used the Boston-based company’s private jet nearly 250 times since last year to fly from Hanscom Field to destinations such as Aruba and Aspen, Barcelona and Rome, Martha’s Vineyard and Napa Valley, according to a new report.

Gulfstream Aerospace 550

Suffolk’s 19-passenger Gulfstream Aerospace GV-SP 550 flew every two or so days, its Rolls-Royce Pearl engines pumping out an estimated 2,329 tons of carbon emissions, the report said, which catalogued the climate pollution from flights to and from New England’s largest non-commercial airport.  First appeared in the Boston Globe.

Mouse Whisper

There was recently an interview conducted by Michael Rowland, the personable ABC breakfast presenter. He was talking to the Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, who happened to be in Winton in the far west of Queensland. There is a certain irony of the symbolism – especially when the discussion turned to the Qantas decay.

Winton was the place where Qantas was founded in 1920, which meant it is the second oldest airline in the world. KLM, the Netherlands airline, was founded the year before.

Winton was also the site for the last commercial plane crash, when, as reported on 22 September 1966, an Ansett Vickers Viscount 832 aircraft on a scheduled flight from Mt Isa to Longreach caught on fire and crashed approximately 16 km from Winton, Queensland. It struck the ground at the edge of a clay pan and was immediately engulfed in flames, killing 20 passengers and four crew members.

Modest Expectation – Dear Green Places

This past week, the world has witnessed Earth based scientist intervention through The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) spacecraft colliding with the asteroid Dimorphos, with the intent to change the asteroid’s orbit. The objective was achieved, in so far as it hit the target.

The 572kg DART spacecraft collided with the estimated 5bn kg asteroid Dimorphos at 22, 530 km/hr about 11million kms from Earth. The spacecraft hit about 17m from the asteroid’s centre. It will take about two months to find out whether the Dimorphos orbit has been altered as a result of this collision.

Yet at the same time the World has been powerless to counter the growth of hurricanes and just watches, as we did last week, the destruction caused to a number of American cities in Florida in particular.

Then there are earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, all of which we can predict, but unlike eclipses, which we can predict to the minute, natural disasters have a wide variance.

The recently retired climate adviser to President Biden has been reported as saying:

So we’ve worked for the past year with experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and our own Office of Science and Technology Policy to put together the Climate Mapping For Resilience and Adaptation web portal. You can go down to the census tract and look forward. That’s particularly salient, by the way, at a time when under the bipartisan infrastructure law, we’re going to be investing over a trillion dollars in new infrastructure. Let’s make sure that communities know what the risks are and so the infrastructure can be designed in a way that will withstand what we’re seeing in Florida right now.

He uses the word resilience because climate change must be met with continuity of government policy. You can collect all the information but for instance if you are unable to snuff out a nascent hurricane or move its direction so it blows itself out without affecting life or property, then how will we cope with climate change, where more and more the extreme today is the norm of tomorrow.

Meanwhile, there are suggestions to counter hurricanes (typhoons or cyclones) – (a) a set of giant tubes sucking the warm surface water down, or (b) a set of giant wind turbines to guard the shore and in so doing disrupting the hurricane with their vanes. The problem is the number required. One estimate is 78,000 in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure the good burghers of the Florida condominiums would enjoy the view of a turbine forest. But you never know. They could be painted different colours to looking like candy. Yet indicative of the required density, as there are only 15,000 wind turbines in the most populated North Sea, it may resemble a clutter of so many “windmills in your mind” enough to blow the Floridian auricles.

The Lowana Cottage

Nearly 20 years ago, we purchased a beautiful custom-built pole house in Strahan. Strahan had grown as a fishing port located on Macquarie Harbour, a deceptively large stretch of water, with a narrow entrance with dangerous tidal currents called Hell’s Gate. The harbour water is the colour of tea, because of the tannin eluted from button grass which covers the peat bogs. Generally it rains most days of the year on the West Coast, so tannin being washed into the harbour over eons has permanently coloured the water.

However, this is the story about a small, corrugated iron cottage. It was situated on Lowana Road at its eponymous whistle stop location which is, in the local Aboriginal language, the word for “girl”.

Across the road was the King River, with its sulphur stained stony and sandy shores to a river still contaminated by the tailings from the Mount Lyell mines.

Once a railway ran past the cottage taking ore from Queenstown where the mining operations were transported to Strahan where it was shipped out. On its journey back to Queenstown, the train was back-loaded with coal and coke, stores and equipment and food, as well as providing passenger services for mine employees who elected to commute, while living in the seaside “resort” of Strahan.

The Abt Railway had been constructed to transport the ore across the Rinadeena Saddle, a very challenging climb and therefore on a 3’6” gauge this was a distinct German-patented rack and pinion railway named after the Swiss engineer, Carl Abt, who had added his name because he had improved the original rack and pinion mechanism. The engines had been built and shipped out from Glasgow.

Thus, with its compact green steam engine it would toot as it passed the cottage on its way up to the wharf at Regatta Point where the King River entered the Harbour. At Lowana, there was a crossing with a sign saying to beware of the train. Here there is also a gap in the bush through which the King River could be seen. Over the course of the past 20 years rehabilitation of the shore vegetation has begun, and the reeds and sedge have begun to grow, masking the sulphuric pollution. Yet it is estimated that the River will take hundreds of years to be cleansed.

The cottage would have witnessed the Abt engine hauling the copper ore filled trucks to the port. Meanwhile over the course of the mine operations 100 million tons of copper tailings flowed down the King River

It was a neat cottage. It has stood on its own. People rented it, and a large pink rhododendron grows in the front garden, partially obscuring the front of the cottage. There are camellias round the back of the house. There are clumps of a lily of the valley. Arum lilies intrude along the drive. This exotic patch is framed by man ferns, and the papery melaleuca. Behind the forest thickens with blackwood and unfortunately blackberries have infested the native vegetation.

After 1963, the railway was no more. Transport of ore by rail was rendered uneconomical and the rail was torn up and a road constructed. Thus, when we passed the cottage we would follow a narrow unmade road around the river’s edge until it reached Teepookana, where a steel truss bridge spanned the King River. The red-coloured bridge over the river had fallen into decay by the time we first ventured to Strahan. We were advised not to take any vehicle onto the Bridge, but the view of the river was spectacular there, but there was no way right across unless you wanted to swing on a girder. However, you could still climb on the Teepookana plateau, which we did one day, seeking the Huon pine which was supposed to be growing there. The problem was we climbed up the sandy track through scrub, mostly heath and melaleuca. Eventually, with not a Huon pine in sight, we gave up and went back to the car.

We had gone the wrong way. We should have gone down from the plateau to the river, not up to the ridge. Later we found the clump of pines with their tell-tale bare branches poking up from the distinctive foliage. Much of this pine had been cut down in the century before. The Huon pine still grows in the forest, but in much reduced circumstances. This pine only grows on the West Coast and while the wood is beautiful, the trees themselves are like the dowager duchess, all fronds and gnarled with bare branches betraying old age.

Then after nearly 40 years, the proposal came to reconstruct the railway as a tourist attraction. The road was closed beyond Lowana, and the whole railway was rebuilt from Queenstown to Strahan along the original route. It took four years to rebuild and was re-opened in 2002. Remembering riding on one of the earliest trips, open to the winter cold and rain before the installation of window panes in the carriages, it was quite an experience going back and forth.

The railway has been plagued by maintenance gremlins – need to replace sleepers, the maintenance of the rolling stock, a landslide. Today, the railway is split in two travel sectors. It is now called the Wilderness Railway. The steam train runs from Queenstown only as far as a station called Dubbil Barril; the diesel motor runs from Strahan to Dubbil Barril. But who knows when the line will open again for through travel. Meanwhile, each train turns around.

People still live along the line, but the road now ends at Lowana, where the railway line, having replaced the road, vanishes into the rain forest. Further back on the road, there is a house alongside the railway line – and close by where pastures which extend to the edge of hilly tropical forest, where the blackwood take over.  Once there was a small herd of belted Galloway cattle with their distinctive magpie colour. Over the years, the animal husbandry has diversified, the Galloways have gone and the acreage, now with its collection of animals, advertises farm stays.

However, the cottage now lies empty. The last inhabitant, a nurse who brought the cottage back to life, has long gone and no one has lived there since. The front door is off its hinges; and all the window panes have been broken. Now, the bush is slowly encroaching on the once carefully-tended garden of the once equally well-cared for cottage, but it is Spring and the rhododendron and camellias are in full flower. But for how long. Will they remain defiant against the encroaching forest?

The Old Man and The Key

From the time I read The Old Man and the Sea I have always been a fan of Ernest Hemingway. Over the years, I have tracked Hemingway in a sort of a way. Maybe we both liked the same places. I know that in the suburb of Oak Park in Illinois, where he was born in 1899, I tripped on the broken pavement and left my facial imprint on the grass verge. Parenthetically, Oak Park has the highest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, some of which were either recently constructed or were built at the time of Hemingway’s birth. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture has always been another of our interests as in general has been the Chicago School, which also spawned Walter Burley Griffin (but not his creative spouse and avatar, Marion Mahony).

However, over the past few years my attention had been diverted from my episodic Hemingway Trail.

My memory of Hemingway was rekindled by a recent article in NYT. Key West was one of the places where Hemingway lived for a time. In fact, the house still retained the Hemingway association through the persistence of his six toed cats. I remember they were everywhere when we visited Key West some years ago.

Following the Hemingway Trail can also involve a Bar crawl, and the particular Hemingway watering spot in Key West was Sloppy Joes, owned by Betty and Telly Otto Bruce, and known to his friends as Toby. Toby Bruce was part of Hemingway’s inner circle, not only as his right-hand man, also sometime chauffeur and as a competent mechanic. One would expect that Hemingway, the bar fly, would not leave his mark without a signature drink – in this case it was a daiquiri concocted by Toby.

Sloppy Joes Bar

However, the gist of the NYT article was that in 1939, after his second marriage crumbled, Hemingway left his belongings in the storeroom of Sloppy Joe’s. He never returned to collect them. As the NYT reported: after Hemingway’s death, his fourth wife, Mary Hemingway, went through the material, packed up what she wanted, and gave the rest to the Bruces.

This trove then spent decades uncatalogued in cardboard boxes and ammunition storage containers, surviving both hurricanes and floods.

Eventually, Betty and Toby’s son, Benjamin “Dink” Bruce and a local historian, Brewster Chamberlin, began creating an inventory of the haul in consultation with the Hemingway scholar Sandra Spanier, who rejoices in the title of The Pennsylvania State University, University Park General Editor, The Hemingway Letters Project.

It was here, amid bullfighting tickets, cheques, newspaper clippings and letters from his lawyer, family members and friends like the writer John Dos Passos and artists Joan Miró and Waldo Peirce, (whose portrait of Hemingway appeared on a 1937 cover of Time) that they discovered a stained brown notebook. Inside was Hemingway’s first known short story, about a fictional trip to Ireland, written when he was 10 years old.

I was tempted to say – so what? What is it about Hemingway that fascinates. This was a man who wrestled with his demons before eventually shooting himself with a double barrelled shotgun. Hardly the death of the Hero, with brain and bone fragments splattered across the room. Left unrecognisable in death at 61 years.

I stood at the bollard at the end of Key West gazing out over the Caribbean, facing a fiery vermillion sunset. So, confronting its belligerent beauty thinking that Cuba was just across the horizon where The Old Man fished. I hoped then to see Cuba one day. This I did a decade later, but I never saw The Old Man.

End of the line


My favourite flower is the State emblem of NSW, the waratah (Telopea speciosissima). The waratahs, with the distinctive florets is only available in limited amounts as a cut stem in October. Generally red, white waratahs sometimes appear on the market. Each stem is not cheap, but with appropriate handling they might last two weeks in a vase. Sadly, every time we have tried to grow them in the garden, we have been unsuccessful

In Tasmania, we had noted at various times along the Murchison Highway  or on the Belvoir road west of the Cradle Mountain turnoff, clumps of the Tasmanian waratahs, (Telopea truncata). They are more of a bush with less florets than their NSW cousins. Normally, we do not come to Tasmania in early Spring, but three years ago we decided to plant some Tasmanian waratahs at Strahan – they died, probably not enough water and not enough TLC given the plants were little more than seedlings.

We then bought a number of more mature plants, which were hybrids. They were much more robust and are thriving. However, when you drive around Strahan at this time of the year, the Tasmanian waratahs are no longer shrubs, they are more trees smothered as they are in Tasmanian waratahs.

They are a wonderful sight and it took years before we recognised the addresses where the telopea are located because, when they stop flowering, they become just background lush green foliage. And I must admit until relatively recently I had never thought of waratahs being part of the Strahan streetscape. There had been none on our property, but there now are. It changes the perspective.

You wonder whether there is another industry for this town. After all, Tasmania is famous for its flowers – lavender, tulips, and not forgetting the delicate mauve of the opium poppy flower. Why not a market in Waratahs of the telopea truncata persuasion?

Mouse Whisper

Have you ever thought of this? 

Newspapers are dispensing with cartoons and very few have cartoon mice depicted as heroes unlike films.  In fact, newspapers have never been partial to mice cartoons.

In contrast, in films mice are almost always portrayed in a positive light, as opposed to cats that are very often antagonistic and villainous. As I was reminded, we have Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pixie and Dixie, Jerry from Tom and Jerry, Speedy Gonzales (and Slowpoke Rodriguez), Mighty Mouse, Danger Mouse, and the Great Mouse Detective to name only a few of the characters.

The Great Mouse Detective