Monday, 31 March 2014

Smashing celebrations?!

We've had a big day here, celebrating Vaughan's birthday.

Birthday aside, it was a normal Monday.  After a celebratory pikelet breakfast and some speedy gift-giving, we packed our birthday boy off to school - and then set about finalising the party preparations.

Everything clicked into place smoothly and we were ready when our guests arrived - hooray!

The children all enjoyed some organised games - pass the parcel, musical chairs and a ladybird/bug variation of pin the tail on the donkey.

The borrowed jumping castle was a hit and so was the piñata (hah)!

Monsieur B Bug suffered some dents and tears but held up much better than anticipated, even under repeated (and energetic) assault.

He eventually cracked along his base-line and gave up his booty reluctantly, after some surgical intervention (as we were concerned further whacking might damage his innards). On inspection, some of his fillings didn't survive as well as we might have hoped but that didn't detract too much from the fun of smashing him!

Most importantly, at bedtime our new-nine-year-old declared the day "excellent" - and of course that's how a birthday should be!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Party preparations ...

I'd packed a "Happy Birthday" banner in preparation for Vaughan's birthday but hadn't intended anything more than our usual family celebrations (which are always special).

At some stage Vaughan decided a party was necessary - and now the whole school is coming!

Given Vaughan's last and only party (his 5th) was a big event, we felt some concerted effort was necessary - so Erin and I have been busy crafting this past week or more.

Erin decided upon a beetle piñata and a loose bug/critter theme has grown from there, using materials on hand - and some items generously lent for the cause. Nick set up tables, gazebos and some other bits today - and things are looking good for tomorrow afternoon, though I still need to hang the "Happy Birthday" banner (and decorate the cake)!

Monsieur B Bug was completed this afternoon. We've all contributed in some way to his making, though Erin has done most of the work. He is now stuffed full of goodies (which was an achievement given limited resources) and hopefully he'll hang together long enough for the kids to smash him to pieces tomorrow!

Vaughan's View: Tiny praying mantis!

Dad and I were trying to find opal this morning. We hosed the ground.

I was looking at the rocks and found this small praying mantis.

He's only as big as my pinky fingernail. And that's not very big!

Another arachnid!

We've been in party preparation mode today. One mission involved moving our camping mats.

Nick and Vaughan found this guy sitting beside the stack. It seems he is a silverback - and we know he is a male cos of the silver hair. Pretty nifty, eh?!

Nick has just pointed out the stacked mats would represent a series of holes (or funnels) and the spider may have been looking at accommodating himself and a heap of rellies in new apartments?!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Lotsa legs ...

There are so many different bugs and critters here - huge numbers of many different varieties. 

It is really amazing to see them all!

I don't have a spider book but probably should get one to add to my reference library

The striped-leg fellow on the left (sitting on the lid of the washing machine) is a similar shape to the huntsman spiders we see at home - though this guy/girl is prettier, I think.

I spotted the yellow-ish spider while walking around the Bluff today.  He/she actually looked silver in the daylight, moving quickly and often posing in a head-down position.  He/she obviously wasn't overly keen to be photographed!

We saw the third spider last night while out spotlighting.  I think it was last year that we did a night geocache in a Central Coast forest.  As we walked along by torchlight, it looked as if someone had scattered tiny blue sapphires along in front of us.  On closer inspection, the blue jewels were spider eye-shine!  Last night our big torch caught tiny orange-yellow eye-shine, which led us to a different kind of spider.  As we watched he/she caught a small moth!

More base walking ...

Nick and I enjoyed our walk around the base of the Bluff a couple of weeks ago

We had seen some small caves that day and intended to take Vaughan with us for a closer look.

Vaughan wasn't keen for a bushwalk today, so we took Erin instead.

Nick had been speaking to our neighbour who advised there were larger caves further around. We decided to look for them.

The rocky outcrops were beautiful and we enjoyed traipsing along - in spite of the many mozzie hitch-hikers, who assailed our legs!

We found a large overhang, which was obviously often used by the resident wild goats.  A gecko had left-behind his outgrown skin and we brought that home to show Vaughan.

There may be other caves, so we'll scout around further - another day!

Bloomin' mail!

Nick and I drove up to the shop, thinking the mailman would have come today now that the water has receded. Nope.

Next mail delivery is Wednesday. Not to worry!  We might get even more stuff then!

We chatted about the beautiful cactus flowers and I made a point of taking some photos because seemingly they only bloom once (and I'd already missed my opportunity for a large clump near the shop entrance).  I'm still working on identification.  At this stage the best I can do is "Echinopsis hybrid", like these - although there is varying information regarding frequency and duration of blooms. 

Friday, 28 March 2014

Friday finale!

When we arrived back from our spotlight walk, we quickly checked for the velvet gecko. 

Nick caught him/her for our Friday night finale!  The past few nights we've only seen one of these larger geckos but it's difficult to say whether it is always the same one!

Spotlight walk!

It's Friday night, so we had a quick spotlight walk after our story. It wasn't planned. Vaughan and I went out to try and identify a new noise. There were so many grasshoppers, locusts and katydids surrounding the house.  Amazing!

We roused Erin and Nick to join us, then all walked out to the frog waterhole, stopping for various critters along the way. We carefully stepped over a centipede and followed the eye-shine of a very nifty spider. There were tiny, incredibly loud frogs in the newly-filled waterhole - and a few more grasshoppers, though it seemed most had taken up residence inside or outside Louie's shack!

Flying emus!

I had an afternoon nap today and was drifting back into wakefulness when Erin became excited about emus walking down Matrix Drive.

It wasn't the first time they'd promenading in front of the house but I'd been caught napping on that occasion also!

I did a bit of a sneak out to our gate and snapped a couple of shots before the first bird spotted me. He started sprinted straight away, followed by his mate. It was quite neat to hear them running on the tar!

They soon slowed to their usual stroll.

Tee for two?!

Prior to being tempted by lizards and water crossings, our plan for the morning had been to speck for opal along Blackgate Road. (It's particularly good to look for opal in bright sunshine, after rain).

Blackgate Road now runs through the grounds of Yowah Golf Club.  (The road course was changed, so it could be gazetted).  We stopped for a quick look.  The Clubhouse had declined since our last visit.  Seemingly there are currently only two members and there has been some talk of closing the club - and reclaiming the course for opal mining!

The course adjoins the mining area, which Blackgate Road originally ran through.

I liked the ingenuity of what I assume was the original toilet building - a converted water tank! There was no closing door, just a view out to the scrub!

Water crossings ...

There had been small amounts of water across the road at various points - too shallow for pics!

The few crossings near Alroy were deeper and Nick took the opportunity to clean Elmer's underside and wheel arches - and I took photos!

This larger crossing is over Yowah Creek and is one that is monitored by a floodwatch camera

The water depth was around 35cm - 15cm deeper than the previous crossing. 

Nick commented that he could feel the drag of the water as he was driving.

All puff ...

There were several lizards out on the road, enjoying the morning sunshine.

The first one was far too quick for me but this guy remained very still and was easily caught.  He/she had obviously been walking through red mud, as it's feet were orange!

Bearded dragons often puff out their tummies, making a large pancake shape - to bluff predators into thinking they are a lot larger. 

Sometimes these lizards inflate their beards also.  This one remained fairly calm though, quickly relaxing back to it's normal size.

Water, water everywhere!

After dropping Vaughan to school, Nick and I went up to check for mail.

We were out of luck. Today's mail run had been cancelled due to the heavy overnight rain. 

The usual Friday excursion from Yowah to Eulo School had also been called off - but the principal's car is only a "pretend 4WD", so she is understandably cautious about making the trip during or after rain.  (There are four larger water crossings on the road between Yowah and Eulo.  It doesn't take a lot of rain for the creeks to rise, making the road impassable).

The two largest crossings have floodwatch cameras to monitor their water levels.  Nick and I were interested to see the rain's effect, so drove out of town to see how much the water had risen.

These photos were taken a short distance from Yowah.  Although the water was flowing very quickly, it hadn't covered the road. 

Froggy reprieve ...

The frog waterhole has been steadily evaporating. We keep tabs on it when we drive past, on the way to and from school.

The photo at right was taken a week ago and the water level had reduced further since - till last night's rain!

There were various patches of water along the track this morning. Even better, the frog waterhole was full! I expect Vaughan will conduct further research over the weekend and report back on resident frog numbers!

Hopefully our next grocery order arrives tomorrow - cos it includes laundry detergent!

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Reminiscing ...

As a child, my family would visit Yowah annually.  We lived here permanently from June to December 1977, before spending Christmas and the long school holiday period with my Granny in Sydney.  We returned to Yowah in February 1978, staying through until the end of May when we set off for more caravan touring of Australia.  (You can see our rig here).

Things were a lot different in those days.  The small community did not have electricity.  We had an ancient diesel generator that would be run to power the washing machine.  It was used sparingly.  My mother would bucket water from the bore-drain (in front of our house) to fill the twin-tub.  My father filled 20-litre water containers at the bore-head and they stayed on a bench under cover of a verandah.  We used that water for drinking, cooking, cleaning teeth and so on. 

When we first arrived, the only shower was an outside one.  A large bucket was filled with water and raised.  Water would be released by pulling a cord and we were instructed not to waste water as it was heavy work to lift the bucket.  During the time we lived in the shack, my father made an extension to the tin building and created a simple bathroom.  He made a trip to Sydney for groceries and brought back a bath as well as some lino (which was laid directly over the red dirt, as was all the carpet in the shack which had been laid by the previous owners).

Our fridges ran on kerosene and my mother cooked on a fuel stove.  There was no television, so we would read and play games of an evening - by the light of the kerosene lamp.  We used candles too and would make nightly walks out to the pit toilet by torchlight.

Bread would come on the mail-truck but was already day-old on arrival, so my mother learned to make bread by hand.  There were limited groceries available and every so often we would travel to Cunnamulla to buy more.  The roads were dirt back then - wide and so red with lots of bull-dust. 

Our meat came on-the-hoof from the station-owner.  In the early days of our residency a sheep delivery was made.  Upon being asked where it should be put, my mother suggested the kitchen table.  The long-time Yowah resident looked a bit taken aback and explained quickly that it would be better tied up outside! 

On another occasion my parents and a number of others stood around the back of a ute, with a copy of the The Commonsense Cookery Book, trying to butcher a beast by referring to a small diagram showing the various meat cuts!

Even back then, the small population reduced over the hotter months and the station owner deemed it non-viable during those times to supply meat to the dwindling community.  Instead, he gave permission for the men to hunt wild pigs.  We ate so much pork in the lead-up to December that when we arrived at Granny's in Sydney we couldn't share her excitement for the Christmas pork she had specially organised for our dinner!

Stormy skies ...

Nick and I drove up onto the Bluff this evening, to better see an incoming storm. It was interesting watching the rain in the distance and the changing formations of the black clouds. 

There were lightning flashes too - but no photographic evidence of those!

We spent about an hour wandering about and drove along a road around the base also.

It was only when we headed back for home that the rain started - and then it continued solidly until around midnight!

The noise of the rain on the roof was so loud that we needed to borrow Erin's powered speaker to increase the volume of our evening story!  Even then we all stayed seated at the table (around the DVD player), rather than spreading out as we usually do.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A few words from Nick: Real mining ...

Another blog entry from me.

This morning a miner asked me to go with him and look at the open cut mine he was working that day. I agreed and he picked me up at 0930. When we arrived he went through the way the mine had been worked and what he was going to do in the future. He then started up the excavator and advised I should move up the hill, unless I wanted to try driving the machine. I suggested the car was a bit close and I didn’t want to walk back to town.

He started moving the sand stone and then exposed a layer of large “nuts”.

We climbed into the mine and he explained these nuts have a layer of colour, like an onion's skin, amongst the other layers.

The nuts needed to be broken across the layers to find out if they were any good. Each nut was sized from an orange to about a large watermelon. All were solid ironstone and very hard. To my surprise about half way through the nuts exposed I cracked one and the sunlight was reflected back in a dazzling display of green and red. This was only a thin layer but very impressive.

We worked the excavator and broke many more nuts, before finishing up about 1300.

Fantastic day with a fantastic fellow. He even gave me some souvenir rocks, the very brightly coloured one among them. Rebecca was very impressed.

Mail-order meat ...

At home we buy our meat from a wholesale butcher and do much of the cutting/packing ourselves. 

During one stage of his varied career, Nick worked at a meatworks, so is in charge of selecting the best cuts - and is usually given the slicing/dicing missions as well.  I pack meal-size portions into plastic bags and sometimes freeze steak and home-made marinade together.  We save a lot of money this way.

On our previous trips to Yowah, I created menu plans and we purchased meat from the wholesale butcher, paying a little extra to have it cryovaced (for longer keeping).  There was no way we could bring ten week's worth of meat and/or groceries with us this trip and given how rushed we were in the lead-up to departure, we actually brought very little away with us.  It's an interesting experience to live as the locals do.

We arrived at Yowah a bit over four weeks ago.  On the way in we stopped at the Cunnamulla butcher and bought a few items, carefully chosen as there wasn't a huge amount of fridge-room available.  I made a phone order nearly two weeks later, which arrived as part of my "Handy shopping".  (I should note that the butcher did spell both my names correctly)!

In between times, we've bought meat from the caravan park shop who buy pre-packed/cryovaced selections from Angliss Meats in Toowoomba (more than 800km away).  It was interesting to see that FoodWorks at Thargomindah also stock Angliss Meats.  (There is no butcher in Thargomindah).

I ordered more meat from Cunnamulla yesterday afternoon.  It arrived by mail this morning, in two small foam boxes that were taped together. 

I wasn't exactly sure what I'd ordered, beyond asking for an $80 pack.  By way of explanation, Warrego Butchery does not have a website or FaceBook page.  The pack contents are displayed on the counter wall but there are no copies available.  Each time I've rung, the connection has been quite crackly so yesterday I gave my order quickly and decided the surprise package would be good for us!

What did we get for $80?  4 large thin-cut pork chops, 6 thinly-cut lamb loin chops, 12-13 sausages, 500g of mince, about 1.5kg of rump steak and probably a similar quantity of chicken breast fillet. 

We are heading into Cunnamulla next week, so plan to call into the butcher for some in-person shopping.  We'll try to remember to copy down the meat pack options for future reference!

Monday, 24 March 2014

Water-container frog!

We were listening to our usual story this evening when Nick started laughing.

The story was fairly serious at that point and we all wondered what was so funny.  Nick turned our 10-litre water container around.  It took a few seconds to realise there was a frog inside!

By way of explanation, we've been using rain-water for drinking. Rather than go out to the tank each time we need water we've been refilling the water container, which then sits on the kitchen bench. The system has worked wonderfully, without any incidents - till now!

Erin and Vaughan found a frog in the tank-tap one day but it hasn't been seen since.  We can't be sure but assume this is the same individual, now removed from the container and relocated outside to the other side of the house (away from the water tank)!

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Withdrawn from sale ...

When we travelled the Blackgate Road in January 2011, this shack was for sale for $1,500. We weren't sure if that was a bargain!

The other weekend, we went past again. The sign was gone and the shack was looking rougher.

We've since learned that the former owner had died.

On the way back from Thargomindah we stopped for a quick look around. 

I'd hoped to take some more photos but was a bit subdued by the rubbish that had been left to rot away.

The wild goats obviously now used the shack as a resting area, which probably explains the somewhat funky smell surrounding the area. 

I wondered about the lady who had lived here - what her life had been like and whether her shack had once been a loved home.

Binde-golly, it's lunch-time!

We stopped for lunch a bit earlier than usual - cos there was a picnic shelter at Lake Bindegolly, the only one that we would pass along the way.

A hundred or so flies joined us soon after we arrived. It's amazing how they do that. And very, very annoying!

There were wild budgies in the nearby large trees and it was pleasant to listen to them as we sat, shooing flies!  As usual, Vaughan sat for only a short while before he was off, hunting more grasshoppers.

Love not war?!

We'd spoken to Ide about the bowers of Satin and Spotted Bowerbirds. She told us of a bower built on the fence-line of a house we would pass on the way out of town, so we made a point of stopping.

We were so glad we did!   This fellow had a similar colour scheme to the guy at the fossicking area but obviously had a better quality of loot because of living in town. He had many more nails and screws - and quite a lot of toy soldiers, at least 20 or 30!  We spotted three teaspoons too and wondered how he managed to carry them!

There was much discussion in the car just after leaving as we speculated about his toy soldier collection - and how he might have transported the spoons!

Laid-back leaving ...

We'd gone to bed a lot earlier than usual, to avoid the many mozzies!  Once Nick had zipped the mesh doors and sprayed insect repellent, we all stayed inside. 

I still needed to do my back stretches but wasn't prepared to do them outside with all the biters.  Although I was tempted to skip a night, I was very diligent and utilised the small patch of floor space between the beds and central tent pole.  One more gold star for the tally!

We showered in the morning, after a bit of a sleep-in - ate an unhurried breakfast (with real milk!) and took our time packing up.  Vaughan is catching a tiny frog from beneath the trees and we needed to relocate a gecko from the tent also.  Even with our laid-back departure, we were still heading out the gate a little after 10:00am, which is the usual check-out time for most parks.

On the way out, we called into the office and had a lovely, long chat with Ide - one of the park managers.  We spoke of our various wildlife finds and in talking learned of another Spotted Bowerbird bower in the front yard of one of the town's houses.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

After-dinner entertainment ...

We travelled out to Thargomindah in Elmer Fudd, leaving our trailer behind (to conserve fuel).

Due to our much reduced packing, we brought only one tent, one fridge, beds/bedding, a few basic clothes and toiletries. 

We chose not to bring our chairs, nor the cooking stove and associated gear - so were very appreciative of the screened camp kitchen for food preparation and (mostly) bug-free dining. The FoodWorks had cabbage, so I'd planned to serve coleslaw with our BBQed meat. Given our reduced kit, I had to improvise when making/serving our coleslaw. Fortunately we had packed several bug-boxes for Vaughan, so washed one very thoroughly and used that!  (It was one from an op-shop and probably intended as a salad container anyway)!

The camp kitchen was also equipped with a television but we left it turned off, in keeping with our TV-free holiday.

Vaughan was happy catching geckos while we cleared away dinner.

He first brought back a small one and then later returned with a much larger and stronger catch, which was writhing in his hand while biting hard.  Nick took hold of the "death-rolling" gecko and then placed it on a table to calm down.  We later all held it gently, marvelling at it's strength and velvety soft skin. 

This fellow was the same as those on Louie's shack.  We've been calling them Marbled Velvet Geckos but are now a little unsure.  The skin pattern more closely resembles a different velvet gecko but their distribution area does not include Yowah or Thargomindah. 

The New Bore(s)?!

Thargomindah's water supply is provided by a sealed bore, just out of town. The "new" bore was started in 1999, to replace the original one which had been in use since 1893.

I particularly wanted to see the Hydro Power Plant but we'd lucked out - again!  As well as the usual summer-time maintenance, the old bore is to be permanently capped (which involves blasting and a then a large volume of cement).  There is still hope for another Thargomindah visit before May and hopefully we'll get to see the famous Hydro Power Plant then! Third time/visit lucky?!

Ice-cream stop ...

Thargomindah petrol was a couple of cents cheaper than Yowah's, so we'd topped up Elmer's tanks before driving down to Pelican Point.

We returned to Fergie's Roadhouse after our swim, for an ice-cream fix. We bought a few postcards while we were there but weren't tempted by any other souvenirs. (Hah, I've just checked the archives - it seems we stopped for ice-creams and postcards on our last visit also)!

In the swim ...

One end of the 25-metre pool is under cover - fantastic for those of the lily-white complexion!

We all had at least one go on the slide and Vaughan had many.  He stayed in a lot longer than the rest of us but after a couple of hours was ready to head off in search of ice-cream!


We'd decided to go swimming after lunch, at the 25m town pool. We were a bit early (or the lifeguard was a bit late) so we drove down to Pelican Point, to look at the Bulloo River.

It was a very pretty spot even though the pelicans weren't around.

I really liked the tree with it's massive root system exposed and Vaughan was happy floating sticks down the causeway.

There was a shaded picnic table and a wood-fired BBQ.  I expect it would be a popular spot at times, though we were the only people about today.

One of the other caravan park guests had put in some yabby nets earlier, hoping to catch lunch.  Seemingly only one yabby ventured to be caught, so he/she was returned to the river!

Frog friend!

There were many pop-up sprinklers in the grassed area. Vaughan made good use of them, becoming quite saturated as lunch was cleared away and Nick completed setting up the tent.

A small tree-frog hopped out to enjoy the sprinkler shower too!

Editor's note: Vaughan interrupted his hat-throwing to admire the little frog and spent some time watching it.

Fly-free food!

I hadn't realised there were two caravan parks in Thargomindah but we all really liked the one we chose.

On arrival we were warmly welcomed and chatted about all our wildlife finds en route.

It is a quieter time of year and we had a great choice of sites.  We chose a powered one because they were shady and closer to the amenities.  The camp kitchen was only a short walk away, so Erin and I started lunch while Nick set up our tent.

As Erin BBQed, we soon realised that the Thargomindah fly population was far greater than Yowah's!

Although it was pleasant looking down to the river, we ate sitting inside the screened camp kitchen. A few flies still made it in but they weren't too bothersome.

Saturday shopping ...

Just before crossing the Bulloo River, we slowed for some cattle being herded along the roadside.

There were people on quad bikes directing them forward. We'd seen many cows along the road previously but this was the first time there had been anybody with them.

We drove slowly along the main street as we decided on a plan of action.

First stop was the post office, which also offered a few local souvenirs and hand-made craft items, including fly veils - which were advertised on a blackboard in front of the building. 

It later became obvious why fly veils were displayed so prominently! I bought two postcard, more stamps (as Yowah's supply was getting low) and a couple of pens.

Our next stop was FoodWorks, where the modest range seemed luxurious in comparison to what we'd become used to in recent weeks.  Among other things, we splurged and bought two litres of fresh milk!

Vaughan and Erin sat outside the shop, keeping Keegan company and working on Vaughan's new cross-stitch kit!