Wednesday, December 24, 2008

OK some Aussie christmas stuff

I was listening in the car over the last week, to Bucko and Champs Aussie Christmas. Man how I love those CDs. In particular there are a couple of songs that all Australians should know. I can't put the song on the blog, but I hope Bucko and Champs won't mind if I quote some lyrics here just for my own indulgence and to encourage other Aussies to seek them out. You can find these CDS at online stores or in shopping centres. Most of the tunes are funny and lighthearted but there's some Aussie traditional carols like Carol of the Birds and North Wind. My favourites though were penned by Colin Buchanan, and Colin Buchanan and Greg Champion. And need I say it the tunes are as beautiful as the lyrics. Seek these songs out. They should become classics.

Who could fail to be touched by this song, that has seen the obligatory christmas bush, sometimes the only shrub in the yards of cottages across Sydney through the years.

O Christmas Bush

She remembers how the Christmas Bush
She planted from a cutting took
In that sunny little corner of the yard
It was touch and go for a year or two
But with love and care the bush pulled through
And every December her blossoms come to life...

O Christmas Bush
O Christmas Bush
Your beauty lights the summer
And ushers in this special time of year
O Christmas Bush
O Christmas Bush
Every little flower
is there to tell us
Christmas time is here

That little bush became a tree
And they became a family
The children played beneath her in the shade
The years slipped by, they grew to learn
That children grow and seasons turn
They cut a little blossom
And wait for Christmas morn....


Cicadas and a hot north breeze
New buds on the christmas trees
Pink and orange set to burst
Across a sunburnt land...


And the following one, which has a particularly uplifting chorus

Merry Christmas Everywhere

Merry Christmas in the Gulf
At Weipa and Karumba
Seasons Greetings Nhulunbuy
And to everyone down under

Merry Christmas in the centre
Out in Namatjira country
Seasons Greetings Yuendemu
May the desert wind blow gently

Every blessing for the year
May the ones you love be near
Merry Christmas everywhere

Merry Christmas in the Mountains
Peace to Thredbo and Khancoban
Across the high and lofty plains
Joy to all who see the snow gums


Merry Christmas everywhere
May the peace of God be with you
Children of the Southern Cross
May the Christmas spirit guide you

Chorus: repeat

and for some fun here's a bucko and champs chrissy medley

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Spirit Place - Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park

Finished with the Riverboat Postman by 1pm. The weather is a bit iffy (ie rainy), but we decide to head on over to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and see when we get there if it's OK for going for a walk and a swim. It's considerably further east from where we are here at Brooklyn and we need to head back down the Pacific Highway to Mona Vale Road and thence take the turn at McCarrs Creek Rd.

I must be getting old. Maybe it's all part of empty nest syndrome or something, but travelling down past Turramurra and down Mona Vale road turns the amplifier up on my emotions of this morning. Mona Vale road is a very large road, 6 lanes, however it is a very lovey road too, and of course the major route for travelling from my childhood home to my Aunty's place at Turramurra.
All of the upper north shore is just beautiful. The locals love trees, the streets are green and shady and the fact that they get way more rain than the rest of Sydney doesn't hurt at all.
We take a comfort stop at the new facilities at Resolute picnic area and change into our swimming togs (cozzies). I am absolutely thrilled to see that the picnic area has a wonderful stand of Sydney Red Gums (Angophera Costata) which I can photograph to show you. I am hoping very much to do justice to this magnificent tree which has added so much to my enjoyment of our bushland wanderings over the last week or so.

On one of the trunks you can make out the patches of grey. Notice the beautiful curly branches which lead up to a glorious canopy of limey green new growth.
I spend an age photographing the bark of the trees in the picnic area. I am highly delighted to find heaps of magnificent bark specimens on mature trees that are suited to my purpose. There is even a red gum who is just starting to shed, it's bark breaking up and starting to curl in just the way I've been hoping to find ...

The bark sheds and forms a beautiful confetti of rich colour around the base of the tree. Everywhere in the bush about now each tree is putting on a spectacular bark shedding show. The colours of around this tree are simply glorious. A symphony of rich browns.

Another delightful feature of Angophera Costata is that it's roots don't choose to stay underground, rather they emerge in places to be surrounded with a beautiful carpet of leaf litter providing a lovely companion to a lichen encrusted rock close by.

But wait! There's more! Sydney red gum also has that feature we all loved as a kid, when it bleeds it's sap dries to a glossy red which sparkles in the sun like jewels and stains the trunk beautifully...
This picnic ground doesn't just have magnifient red gums though. There's also the grey gum (Eucalyptus punctata). At this time of year the bark is a textured grey, but in the cooler months it also sheds it's bark exposing bright orange bark, which especially after rain is like a beacon in the bushland. It is especially noticeable in the bushland reserves around Kentlyn near Campbelltown. One of my top three native trees. The Sydney Red Gum is number 1 of course.

The other in the trio, is also in shedding mode. This one I find when we get back to the parking area for the Steel and Flint track. Scribbly gum (Eucalyptus haemostoma).
Surely all Australians love scribbly gum, being promoted as it is in Snugglepot and Cuddlepie - children's books by May Gibbs and Australian classics. The scribbly gum often is multi-trunked like this one. They like a sandy soil, so I've had to plant another scribbly gum rather than haemostoma in my own garden.

The bark delights of the picnic ground are not yet exhausted however, there is also what I think is a bloodwood, it's tesselated bark stained almost black with sap flows on either side of its trunk.

And this other fellow I'm sure of the species.. these ones seem particularly attractive to green lichen and the whole trunk often gives a green effect.

The bark is a key diagnostic feature for identifying Australian trees one from the other - ark and gum nuts - leaves are less helpful as so many have similar leaves.

We head back to the Flint and Steel Track we park and make our way down the slope. The sound of cicadas dominates. It is the sound of summer. In a short time we come to snatches of views across Broken Bay to a sandy shore.
The path is mostly pretty rough which is the way I prefer my bush tracks but in places proper stairs have been constructed which help to navigate the steeper sections. The whole walk is basically a climb down the hill to the beach (for swimming) or the point (for fishing). Change in elevation is over 200 metres I understand.

Alongside the stairs is a beautiful stand of spear trees.
There are a number of obstacles in the form of fallen trees along the path at the moment. Some are easier to navigate than others. This one gives us pause for thought. At first I think perhaps under might be best, but no, too close to the ground so unless I plan to slither along on the dirt like a about going round.. hmm.. slope too steep and vegetated..Hubby is taller than me of course and he finds it a fairly simple endeavour to just put his foot on the trunk and hop over...with no other option I finally manage to climb over it OK after handing over everthing I was carrying.
We come to a sign letting us know we've got 700m to go and follow the directions to the beach. Pretty soon we emerge onto the edge of a gully with cabbage palms, moist and shady and a delight to walk through.

We emerge to an area with a cluster of trunked black boys. These are popular for home gardens but they never look better than in their native environment.
We continue to get snatches of superb views across the water and can hear the surf breaking on the beach before emerging just above the beach with views across to Lion Island and out to the Pacific Ocean across Broken Bay.
Kangaroo grass is all around. This is my very most favourite native grass and has extremely ornamental seed heads making a lovely frame for this shot of the water views.

We have passed a couple of groups of people coming down and are delighted to find that we have the beach to ourselves. It was stroke of genius to come a couple of days before christmas when people are busy with their preparations for the celebrations.
The crabs are still hanging on on this beach and we have to take care to avoid disturbing anyone's home.
I chase hubby away the dune grass, it can't take being walked on, and we deposit our belongings. Hubby heads straight for the water, but I'm in camera mode and want to get some shots of a magnificent red gum that is growing straight out of the rocks of the headland. While I'm there I have a look over at the rock pools, where I admire the neptune's necklace. This seaweed is great to play with for kids (when you can find stuff that's already dislodged from the rocks of course!) Squeezed in just the right way each segment can be shot at your siblings or friends. It's marvellous fun.
As I pick my way around on the rocks trying hard not to step on anyone I think of the carpet of periwinkles and turbans and other shells that were so thick on the rocks at Long Reef and Narrabeen when I was a kid that you couldn't walk on the rocks. No problem for modern man of course. Just put something on your feet and go ahead and trample the poor creatures. I don't know whether it was the foot traffic or the pollution, or probably both, but the rocks are comparatively bare in these places now so it is nice to see at least a smattering of shells here.
I was reading in Nevil Shute's Beyond the Black Stump that in Oregon USA they have (or had) what they call "primitive areas" where the protagonists were not allowed to hunt with guns or take motorised vehicles. Only horses and bow and arrow. I guess our wilderness areas are the equivalent - in our case it's only walk in walk out and definitely no hunting... I think to myself that perhaps we should have places where you are only allowed to go in bare feet.. that would give people pause for thought before rampaging around off the track or over the rock platform across the white worms and periwinkles...

I join hubby for a swim. Heading out past the breakers it is still shallow enough to stand. The swell just enough to provide entertainment. We discuss my shoe free zone idea for a while. As we frolic in the water a small school of fish start leaping out of the water in front of us as they are chased no doubt by a bigger fish. A few shark jokes later and we swim a lap of the beach and wander together over to the rocks.

It just doesn't get better than the weathered sandstone around Sydney and the formations and colours here are superlative. Exactly what I've been looking for. I take a heap of photos, most of which have turned out wonderfully.

Hubby draws my attention to a lace monitor that is wandering about the rocks. He's making his way away but does not seem overly fussed.

We can hear occassional thunder from the clouds building. Typical of a warm Sydney summer day by the coast (when we're not in severe drought of course).
We begin to head back to the sand and snap some more photos of this magnificent red gum which seems to be growing out of sheer rock. This is Sydney's tree and this is the time of year to really appreciate her. Isn't she a beauty with her party dress on!!

Its coming on for 4:30 and there is some shade on the sand. We think it might be nice to spread our towels in the shade and relax for a while. We mosey on over but everywhere has someone's home so we decide we'll just go sit on the rocks for a bit.
As we sit enjoying the serenity the peace is violently and comprehensively destroyed by a jet ski travelling along with a large pleasure boat. I think bad thoughts directed at this person and comment to hubby that I'm sure this individual is having fun, but why does his fun have to be so intrusive on everyone else?.. Hubby replies "yeah, I was just thinking they should bring back guns.." This peace shattering device can still be heard at an intrusive level when it must be several kms away.. grrr... it is quite a contrast to the older working boat that follows a little while later and which we can barely hear at all. We appreciate our good fortune that for the time we've been here the noisier vessels have not been around as we did hear several when walking down that were loud enough to annoy us even there.
As we sit over on the rocks the raven that was on the beach when we arrived flies back down. He's clearly glad to see the back of us.

We toy with the idea of another swim, but we're relatively dry and I don't think my skin is keen for any more sun and it's starting to spit with rain a little. It's not real comfy walking up the hill dripping wet either, so we decide that we'll head off but swear to come back again soon.
Hubby tears off up the path ahead not keen to watch me stop every 5 feet for photographs. I head off in bare feet as was the custom all through my childhood. I find the path a lot easier to negotiate that way and there is a beautiful soft layer of she-oak leaf fall most of the way providing a lovely surface to walk on. Before he gets too far ahead, hubby requests I photograph a great rock that is sitting by the path.

Alone to commune with the environment I enjoy the song of a grey shrike thrush and the maniacal cackle of a grey butcher bird as I climb the steep steps along the way. The scenery strikes you quite differently heading in the opposite direction. It's a lovely walk very natural without the track being overly intrusive in many sections.

At one point in need of a break I notice a lovely clump of grass that is wavering in the breeze.
Steel and Flint Beach is a beach you have to work for. It's not an easy walk in either direction. Thank goodness for that. May it stay a (relatively) isolated place of beauty..
We decide to give West Head a miss today. It has spectacular views out across Pittwater and Barrenjoey to the Pacific Ocean and is certainly worth a look if you haven't seen it and have the time.
As we drive in the direction of the park entrance we pull over as I want to try to photograph what I believe to be Angophera Floribunda which I have been seeing this week everywhere in abundant bloom.

Stopping we notice that here and there all around among the other wildflowers are christmas bells in flower. How delightful! They are only small but a very pretty wildflower and I guess they hold a special place being another of the flowers associated with the christmas period.

Nearby one of the local grevilleas is also blooming.
With so many wildflowers around we decide to walk the Willunga walk. This is a short walk of only 1.5 kms return. We are quickly rewarded with flowering hakea sericea - a very tough spiky plant that gets horny fruits.

There's another that looks a lot like a dainty drumsticks, and a very fine little purple grevillea, very subtle like many native flowers it would be easy to miss. There are bushes of tiny yellow pea shaped flowers, and lots of tiny white starry flowers on low plants near the ground. There is even a tiny tiny little purple pea flower that couldn't be more than 2 mm across. Very dainty indeed.

We also come across a spear tree with a spear under construction.

Though the walk is level for quite a while it begins to climb and there are glimpses over the water to the north. Eventually you emerge however, to a natural lookout over the bushland as far as the eye can see south towards Sydney and to the south east across Pittwater crowded with moored boats and Newport to the Ocean. It is breathtaking. Here I catch up with hubby who is sitting on a rock (there is no fencing here) soaking it up. By now it's about 6 oclock so with that and the cloud the light could be better for point and shoot photography...

The trees round about have new growth - ie new gum tips in the local language. The new growth glows red. One tree is really putting in an effort with both gum tips and blossom.

It's starting again to rain a little and we reluctantly get up to go. The path down is easy of course and I am struck by the intense russet velvet of new growth on a bansia serrata. The banksia serrata are preparing to flower everywhere we've been lately but I haven't been able to get in position to be able to photograph them. At any rate this new growth is very striking, the red will pale and disappear as the leaves grow.

This day on the Hawkesbury and particularly in Ku-ring-gai chase national park has been somewhat of an epiphany. All the things I have been looking for to decorate the new house, I realise are from this place. This place of my earliest childhood. My spirit place. Suddenly I know where I want my ashes scattered with a certainty that is somehow a deep sense of peace. My father wants to be scattered over Pittwater or Broken Bay, his will gives instructions and allots money for us to hire a boat for a period and spend time in this place in his memory. This is his spirit place too and I finally understand in a way I never have before.

The Riverboat Postman

We have chosen to take the Riverboat Postman today. We toyed with taking the train to avoid peak hour traffic, but having listened to the radio traffic reports it's sounding like lots of other people have also taken these few days before christmas off work and the train fare and travel time is just not competitive, so it's car to Brooklyn for us today.

As expected it's a quick and free flowing trip. M7 and the start of the F3 before exiting at the Berowra Waters exit and taking the Old Pacific Highway to Brooklyn. The Old Pacific Hwy is a lovely road to drive. Quite curvy through the beautiful bushland, and so long as we're not on it too long we always enjoy it.

We arrive at Brooklyn half an hour or so early. We pass through the village which has some interesting looking shops that might be worth exploring. Parking not a problem today. We decide to amuse ourselves by exploring the point. As we walk along the side of the road I am transported by the heavenly fragrance of blooming wattle and breathe deeply. With it's blossom newly open it is shining golden ecstacy.

There's a number of eateries in the Marina complex. Looks quite nice, especially the eggs benedict on english muffin, but 2 days before christmas we're trying to be good on the eating front while we can. Further to the east there is a quite nice Federation Walk, which finishes at a display of interesting historical information about the use and development of this place. There is also a nice little kids playground and some baths. It's a lot nicer than it looks from the train as you pass by!

We drag our heels here reading the panels but tear ourselves away and front up at the little shed for Hawkesbury River Ferries make our payment and board the Hawkesbury Explorer.

The Hawkesbury Explorer is a fairly spacious but modest vessel. The antithesis of tourist slick. Manned by real people there's no pretensions here. Inside downstairs is a large space with modest kiosk counter at the front and a number of booths each with a table fitted out around the windows. The seats are comfortable and padded, but they are a bit shabby. The marine carpet on the floor is a bit stained in places. It's hitting deep chords for me as the smell of the boat (which is not unpleasant) transports me back decades to my grandparents motor cruiser. Emotions I can't quite express are bubbling up as we settle in and relax. Best I can say is that it feels like coming home after a lifetime away.

It's quite sunny as we board and most of the other passengers have made a B line to the upper deck where there are chairs laid out, but no shade. My skin just can't take that for 4 hrs and indeed if it stays sunny it would be too hot up there so we make a selection among the booths and open the window. Some minutes figuring out how they work and bob's your uncle we settle in and pretty soon we're underway on our exploration of the beautiful Hawkesbury River and the little settlements along the way, most of which have no road access.

The weather forecast is for showers thismorning but top temps of between 27 and 32 C. Our brief flash of hot sun as we boarded has given way to a generally overcast sky damping the colours of the estuary and it turns out damping the light for the photographs, but we do our best with our modest point and shoot. It doesn't do the area justice of course, but perhaps that's just as well. You need to discover the Hawkesbury for yourself.

As we get underway our captain informs us that we are about an hour upstream from the area where the river meets the sea. Our first stop is Little Wobby to the freight wharf for the Sport and Rec camp. We are met by a camp vehicle and a passenger Quite a few boxes are unloaded with the mail and we're off once more heading to Dangar Island - the most picturesque of the village wharves along the way. Our captain gives us the run down on Dangar Island as we approach.

The boat ties up and is greeted by a young local woman in overalls. The lass from the boat hands over the mail box and hops off for a christmas best wishes and a kiss and a spot of friendly chat. The box goes in a blue wheelbarrow and heads back to the shed and we're off and heading for Kangaroo Point and the bridges upstream.

Kangaroo Point is one of only a couple of stops on the mail run that also has road access. It's nestled right by the most eastern of the bridges. I head upstairs to be in a good position for photographing the bridges as we pass. The first is the railway bridge which is by far the nicer of them. Quite characterful.

Before long we are passing under the newer bridges that carry the F3 Freeway across the estuary. The F3 is part of National Road 1 which runs... certainly the whole way up the east coast of the continent at any rate, and at this point forms part of a very very heavily utilised commuter route between the Central Coast and Sydney as well as a major route for freight trucks.

We are given ample commentary on the history of the highway and the bridges. All very interesting and I find it particularly interesting to think about what the situation was like in my grandparents day. When my father was born there were no bridges here, as indeed there was no bridge across Sydney harbour either.

Our next stop with road access is Peat Island. This is a government run facility with residential accommodation for people with mental impairment. Our commentary provides some history and I try again to think of the nickname we used to have for peat island. Which as kids we always noted on our way to Lake Macquarie to visit our grandparents when they relocated. Terribly insensitive and politically incorrect, but gosh I wish I could remember what we called it. As the mind deteriorates memories from younger years remain or become more accessible... maybe I should ask Dad if he remembers it! LOL

As we head upstream the red gums are prominent in the bushland cloaking the hillsides having recently shed their bark which over the year turns a steel grey in colour.
After a while I rise again to take some shots from the doorway and notice that you can actually head out on to the bow and this we promptly do. I my bare feet the smooth unvarnished and weather worn boards are very sensual.

Next stop Milson Island, another government run Sport and Recreation camp for school kids. I haven't been to Little Wobby or Milson Island Camps, but in year 5 we went to Broken Bay Sport and Rec Camp which is closer to the ocean and Pittwater. It was truly awesome. I will refrain from posting a piccy of the wharf at Milson Island. It is very attractive, but I don't want to leave you with no surprises to discover for yourself.

Further upstream I am fascinated listening to the commentary as we are told to look over to the left. This is a locality known as Cascade Gully. There on the shore lies what little remains of the first HMS Parramatta. We get some interesting detail about what happened to the other remains of the ship and it's construction and war time service. Very interesting.

Bar Point is our next stop. I find this interesting also as the real estate agent back at the marina had a number of local properties for sale ranging in price from $300,000 to up around $700,000. No road access. This is the largest of the river settlements the postman sometimes has several stops along Bar Point, but today just the one.

Up in this quiet area of the river there are a few houseboats anchored or motoring around, and the odd cute little fishing trawler working. Just small one man operations and quite characterful.

As we turn a (large) bend in the river we note information about several small settlements not on today's mail run and the location of the passage up to Berowra Waters. Up in this area the river is lined with mangroves in large stretches and it is all very beautiful. We depart civilisation for the 25 minutes or so it takes to reach Marlow our final upstream stop before turning around. As we travel and I jot down my notes I think I see large jellyfish passing under the boat out of the corner of my eye. After a couple I comment to hubby who confirms that I am not imagining it. As a kids we often saw large schools of jellyfish and true to form this same species is around. They are huge with large cauliflower-like protuberances hanging from them. Further along we see a milk bottle floating in position on the water, cap down, not far away we see a tinny with a small group who are progressively checking their crab pots.

Slightly narrower and protected the water is like glass. Here we find a boat with a learner water skiier trying and trying again without success to get up on the skis.

Finally we approach Marlow and wave to a sizeable group on a pontoon as we make our way to the wharf. On this occassion the postman is greeted by a local dog. It's a working dog breed, but evidently not well enough trained to actually take delivery of the mail. Skippy (the bush kangaroo) could show this dog a thing or two!
By the way, behind the wharf, that red flowering bush is what is known here as "christmas bush" no doubt because it colours up at the right time. At christmas those who don't grow this lovely native plant themselves and who are not content just to admire it in the bush can buy it at florists to decorate their homes at christmas... one of my favourite christmas songs is about christmas bush....but I digress...
I am interested to be informed that this far up the next settlement is Spencer which helps me place the locality in perspective. We turn and start the (faster) trip downstream. This time we find a boat towing a couple of kids on boogie boards or air beds or something. We used to do that behind Dad's speed boat when we were kids. It is great fun no matter what the speed, doesn't have to be very fast, though these kids today are going very quick.

Next stop is Milson Passage, which we passed earlier nearby Milson Island. There's a few birds around here. Chestnut Teal and pelicans.

It's low tide now and on the mud flats edging part of Milson Island a small speed boat is pulled up. Four kids are floundering around on the mud, sinking deep and then crawling along dragging a small bucket. They must be yabbinging for bait. I look for a yabby pump and think I see one but can't be sure.. wish I'd remembered to bring the binoculars!! Ah yabbying. That's awesome fun too and often a feature of our days on my grandparents boat. The yabbies would sit in a big dish of sea water. The entertainment of small children a happy by product.. yabbies are unsurpassed bait for bream, which we would have no trouble catching with Dad's magic fishing rod.

We make another stop at Peat Island. This time to collect mail for post. As we pass again under Mooney Mooney bridge the breeze picks up and we can suddenly smell the salt in the air again.

We make a second stop at Dangar Island. This time there's noone on the wharf. Our ship's mate disembarks and walks up the shed and returns with a man and a cute little boy of about 5 yrs who is carrying the post box down to the boat. Our captain comes down from the wheelhouse and spends some time talking lovingly to the little boy and telling him he's always welcome he just needs to get the OK from his daddy....

We pull away once more. We are passed by a bloke standing in a tinny* travelling pretty fast. I am impressed at his balance standing at that speed as he steers directly with the tiller on the outboard motor. He's decked out in stubbies and a jackie howe. You don't see that as often as you once did ......pulls so many cultural strings in me... he's moving too fast to get a photo.....

(*translation - tinny - small aluminium boat; stubbies - a particular type of very short men's pants; jackie howe - blue singlet . It's named after Jackie Howe the greatest Australian sheep shearer. see )

As we near the bridge we catch up with the cute little one man trawler. The boat chugging along the fisherman apparently cleaning his catch as they travel.

We arrive back at Brooklyn at about 1pm. We ate our picnic of chicken and tzatziki sandwiches on board, but we could have got a fish and chips deal for $10. Anyway we head off. It's a bit rainy. As we have the car we are leaning to going for a walk in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. The weather is a bit iffy, but we decide to head on over there and see when we get there. It's considerably further east from where we are and we need to head back down the Pacific Highway to Mona Vale Road and thence take the turn at McCarrs Creek Rd.

No doubt this has been a long post so Part 2 of this glorious day I will post separately.