Eurobodalla beaches: Tomakin


Anyone watching that day would have seen this.

A large woman, probably in her seventies made a beeline, as old women do, for the toilets. She paused briefly to take in the mosaic murals. You could almost see her thinking “Art on public conveniences. I can’t quite figure this out. When did this habit begin? Beats graffiti, anyway.”

She returned to the car, pulled out a bag and proceeded to picnic at the steel bench-and-table-in-one, where the petals of the tea-tree drifted down. A sandwich, tea from a thermos, and strawberries sliced in half. She obviously knows that someone’s been inserting needles in supermarket strawberries

Lunch finished. There she goes: she idled back to the car, grabbed hat and camera, and paused at the panel which gave a history of the name Tomakin, and marked sites of historical interest. Obviously a consumer of information. But then people of her generation often are.

She paused again, probably wondering which way to go. She chose a sandy track winding through the bush. The onlooker knows the beach well and thinks “She won’t get far that way. The landcare group’s been busy with regen, and they’ve fenced off the dunes to make sure it takes. I reckon she’ll have a quick look at the river, across to the mangroves, and then she’ll take the stairs down to the beach.”

Sure enough she soon appeared on the sand, heading south. She was a bit of a nuisance actually. A woman was obviously trying to train her puppy, but this lumbering figure was tempting and he kept running back to leap up at her. The owner began to jog to remove this temptation.

The woman walked on in a way that seemed to be choreographed by her camera, pirouetting around to photograph the beach both ways, swooping low to the sand (a leaf? a shell?), pausing to look out to sea and at the low rocky island.

She reached the river mouth and suddenly evinced uncertainty. It was easy to see why. She was wondering whether she could return to her car along the river.

This uncertainty remained for the next half hour. She was still hesitant as she rounded the bend and looked across the red buoy to the settlement, but she was apparently reassured by the firmness and width of the sandy stretch. However the camera hung unused around her neck.

Aha. She made a wrong decision there. No use heading into the bush. No real tracks there, and no easy way back across the dunes to the beach. You could tell she was thinking “Snakes. Ticks. Twisted ankle” as she gingerly picked her way back to the sand. Then you could almost see the wheels of her mind turning as she looked down. “Paw prints. The woman and her dog came this way. And they haven’t come back.” And on she went.

The strip of sand became narrower. Now she had to move the branches back, clamber over tree roots onto higher ground, bum it back down again. She should be over her worry now – she can surely see the boat ramp near the car park from there. Besides there’s a sandy track soon that’ll bring her up to to the top of the dunes, but she can’t know that.”

She spotted it and laboured her way up, using hands the way old people do. Once, nimble legs would’ve been enough.

She dropped back onto the beach, eyes drawn to the low tongue of rock between Tomakin Beach and Tomakin Cove. She seemed to be paying inordinate attention to Melville Headland: surely she couldn’t know anything about its geological significance. She doesn’t look the type.

She headed for the rocks and pottered around there briefly, showing no particular interest – not an amateur geologist then.

Just an old woman getting a beach fix on a beautiful sunny spring day.

Farewell blogging

This is just to let everyone know you won’t find me in the blogosphere any more. I’ve got the 7-year itch, and I’m testing out life without an audience. The vast spaces of outback Australia and intense time with family made me rethink the huge number of hours I spend blogging.

Wishing you all well as you pay homage to decay and stretch your photographic capacities; indulge a passion for gardens, your own and those of other people; move to Portugal and eat cake; find quirky objects and write splendid poetry; walk the Camino; document the allotment and a past in Africa; reflect intimately in photos and words; and have many wonderful adventures in travel and life.

I’ll miss all this. But I’m eager to see the shape my life will take without all the richness you’ve brought to it. Thank you for being so important to me.

Hotchpotch 18


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Nicolson Barker, rescue dog, with my daughter after his first attendance at obedience school

My son in his workplace in the rivers around Cairns: only one crocodile that I heard about

Bruce, our resident python, all new-skinned, on my deck!

Photos lurking on a card I obviously haven’t used since 2013

Son and son-in-law meet coincidentally at Gate 39 at Brisbane Airport

Around the streets


Coffee by the water

Beach miscellany

Odds and ends

Monuments of nature


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Another weekend. Another segment of the Dreaming Track*. Another surprise.

Last time I walked this bit of the track from Gray Rocks to Mullimburra, it was some years ago through bee-buzzing tea-trees with my friend Rosemary. Today the beginning of the track is drab, although buds promise future glory. It’s paved with casuarina needles and lumpy with casuarina roots, astonishingly thick given the spindliness of the casuarinas themselves.

Everything is light and shadow, anathema to the camera. So I tackle a few closeups that turn out far better than I expected: a bit of old man’s beard in the fork of a dead casuarina branch, and the tiny brush-like female flower of the casuarina.

We walk beside a creek-bed, dry except for a large grey puddle.

Then J spots a eucalypt through the bush up the hill and sets off in pursuit. I dawdle on, remember he’s forgotten his phone (and the drama I caused when I stopped walking and lay down on a sand hill a few weeks ago), and turn back to join him, watching my feet as I stumble through lomandra, fallen branches and hunks of rock. I spot his blue jumper and find him sitting on a log, contemplating a grove of huge Eucalyptus tereticornis (forest red gum), at least two hundred years old at best guess. They twist their ancient branches, shed their bark and gleam grey and apricot in the midday light. We eat lunch cogitating how we could describe their beauty (and their characteristics) in a few sure lines, Picasso-in-words.

The trees by the track are more modest in size and age and they dance a corroboree of delight.

The walk ends with a water view, down to Cathedral Rock.

That is Saturday’s walk. On Sunday we return to the grove of forest red gums, ostensibly to find J’s specs which he’s lost somewhere, but more likely just to enjoy these monuments of nature again. We continue on, this time through casuarina forest: trunks, male flower, roots and needles all providing visual pleasures.

A tiny bell-like flower on a spiky bush catches my eye, and a hakea already budding

We pass an old dam and other traces of farming days, and then we’re at the ocean and a lagoon backing up beyond the sandbar, with traces of the sea evident amongst the rocks and sea grass.

A hardy casuarina has rooted itself in the rock, reclining comfortably and thriving, within cooee of the sea.

Behind the sandhills on a sidetrack on the way back to the car our final forest redgum for the weekend – and for a while. Next weekend will be full-on preparation for the arrival of Warsaw: nailing down errant boards on the deck; washing every bit of bedding I possess; spraying the yard with pyrethrum for ticks; restringing the clothesline. With Potato Point beach walks interspersed. And an omelette for any collaborators!

* Dreaming tracks or Song Lines link places visited by Aboriginal people: the Bingi Dreaming track links campsites, ceremonial and trade sites, fresh water and plentiful coastal food sources. We’re following in the footsteps of the Brinja-Yuin people as we walk the track section by section (it’s 13.5 kilometres one way), returning day after day to enter it at a different point, to cover new territory and to revisit a few favourites: trees, and a pathway or two.

Postcards from the past: Madaba, Mt Nebo, Um er-Rasas


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January 19, 2001

Today I travel to Madaba along the Jordan Valley and then into the hills, in silence, on the silent back seat of the dig bus. I become aware of car wrecks, two new ones over an edge which has no guard rail.

We run into trouble with the tourist police when we reach Madaba: we’re not a designated tourist bus, and we go up a one way street the wrong way. Finally we straggle in light rain to the early Byzantine church of St George, which hosts a mosaic map, dating from the 6th century AD, the colour still stunning. It’s a map of the Middle East, including the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the Holy Land.

I escape from the group and somehow manage to find the archaeological park, the remnants of an old building displaying mosaics, some of them in place as paving, some hung on the wall. One is the victim of iconoclasts: cloven hooves and a tail remain and the rest of the animal has been overlaid with a tree. I finally track down the source of my growing attraction to mosaic: the restfulness of a limited palette, the same attraction as that of traditional Aboriginal art perhaps.

I join local people going about their business, walking the streets past stalls selling schwarma, falafels, plastic buckets and vegetables.

Soon it’s time to return to the bus to visit Mt Nebo, where I stand where Moses stood. There below me is the Dead Sea, blue but edged with the whiteness of salt. The landscape is bare except for groves of olive trees. Inside the partially excavated church are more mosaics, and a very large vicious-looking scorpion – no wonder people don’t warm to my star sign.

We travel on to Um er-Rasas through a desolate landscape. We come, in a bleak wind, to a strange tower, maybe a rare trace of ascetic monks who retreated to the top of a pillar. The ruins include an almost intact cistern, collapsed arches and partial excavations. Further on are scattered black ruins, perhaps of a Roman military outpost. Inside a vast tin shed we find a mosaic showing buildings and fruit trees contained by a wonderful border. Again iconoclasts have been at work, darning out the offensive human forms between the fruit trees.

The bus journey back is long, through rain and into dark. The hill where I saw crashed vehicles in the morning has me invoking my protective angel.

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Marian Webb

Our local libraries host regular mini-exhibitions of the work of local artists, eight pieces displayed on easels made by the men at the local Men’s Shed. Part of the deal is that the artists give a floor talk.

I don’t go out after dark often: our roads are patrolled by emus, kangaroos, cows, deer, and occasionally a man in dark clothes walking the white line on the wrong side of the road. I have no desire to hit any of them. But a quick look at Marian Webb’s work tempted me to brave the obstacles.

I wasn’t disappointed. She was an ebullient woman, hugely enthusiastic about her work which she creates using many techniques: batik, felting, hand-stitching, stamping, spinning, weaving. She creates dyes from the leaves of the swamp mahogany in her backyard, and from bark, onion skins, avocado seed and skin, and anything else that catches her fancy. Sometimes she and a friend make notes as they dye, so they can reproduce the colour, but she also enjoys the sheer serendipity of just letting it happen. She makes baskets and paper with native grasses: small rounds of handmade paper were bound into a miniature book. She collects driftwood and feathers for what could be called totem sticks; she shapes pottery. Once from the prunings of a tree she made a Madonna bustier. Her real pleasure is the third dimension.

Her house is called “Cobwebs” (“Cobwebbs”?) and her kitchen table is always overflowing with projects and materials, pushed aside if you pop in for a cup of tea. When she was weaving at a campsite near Darwin, a group of Aboriginal women came to see what she was doing and they spent the day swapping knowhow and materials – pandanus and wool.

She has thirty notebooks of ideas, but her inspiration usually begins with “What if I …?” She’s not eager to keep what she makes: the process is what matters, and it’s her form of meditation. A photographer was so taken with her work that he documents it with stunning images on archival paper, and insists she summon him before she frames anything new.

I drove home (safely) through darkness illuminated by an apricot lightning show out to sea.




Plethora of postcards

Each year the Spiral Gallery, an artists’ cooperative in Bega, has an exhibition open to anyone as long as their artwork is no bigger than a postcard. It attracts children, young people, artists with a disability, timid artists testing their wings, and established artists who have already had solo exhibitions. The artworks include ceramics, felting, stitching, collage, intricately folded booklets, as well as more traditional paper and paint. I spend a pleasant half hour prowling the exhibition and trying to capture its variety.

Phoebe Marley “Carried away”: Gabrielle Power “Wild life”: Diana Winter “Funnel web”: Veronica O’Leary “Australian icon 1”: Roz Bannon “Blinman”: Keith Coleman “Puffer fish”: Karyn Thompson “Scribbly gum trunk #1”: Jeffery Young “Mare and foal in Bega”: Vivienne Bowe-Wood “Wagonga mangroves”




Balnhdhurr: a lasting impression

Bega Regional Gallery is hosting an amazing exhibition of prints made in the print-space dedicated to preserving Yolngu culture in Yirrkala, a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land. It’s one of the most thoroughly curated exhibitions I’ve ever seen. The website provides background on the studio and its history: a video is hosted by three young printmakers who tell stories, show country and speak in language; and audio commentary on six prints gives an analysis in whitefella mode, and meaning from the culture of the artists. The prospectus gives yet more information. Then there’s a phone app with biographies of the 50 artists, including their clan and moiety; and more about the artworks, including an artist’s statement and the cultural story.

For once I did my homework, and went to see the prints with some knowledge behind me. The meticulous commentary continued on information panels in the gallery, backgrounding technique (Japanese woodblock; collograph; lithograph; etching; linocut; photographic linocut; reduction linocut) and different projects including ones involving the Seven Sisters; and the Midawarr suite.


Artists at work in the print room

It was hard to choose from multitudes of images. My groupings are arbitrary, by technique or palette, and although cropping seemed a crime, I did it so I could showcase more prints.

“Wakun” (sea mullet): etching / “Bathi Malany” (dilly bags): screenprint / Seven sisters: lithograph

Nyapanyapa Yunupinu “Bayini” (mythical non-Aboriginal woman): etching / Nyapanyapa Yunupinu “Bukmak Mulmu” (all grass): etching / Gulumbu Yunupingu dec “Gan’yu” (star): etching / Nyapanyapa Yunupinu “Seven sisters”: lithograph

Barrupu Yunupingu dec “Djirikitj” (quail): Japanese woodblock / Ruby Djikarra Alderton “Yathiny” (jelly-like marine organism): photographic etching

A collection of self-portraits, created using digital photography, photocopying and chine-collé linocut printing, particularly caught my eye. They showed so much of the self-perception of the artists, so vibrant and positive, especially considering that they were done in workshops for that thing called “disengaged youth”. The size of the group grew from week to week, and 35 young artists produced “exceptional pieces” using a process not seen at Yirrkala before.

The printed string images paid tribute to a cultural practice documented by anthropologists who collected 192 string figures in the 1940s, the largest collection in the world of figures from one community at one time. They are a sophisticated form of what I called in my childhood cats cradles: you can watch contemporary Aboriginal women making them here.

Mulkun Wirrpanda “Biyay” (goanna): soft-ground etching

Some of the artists, such as Nyapanyapa Yunupinu, in this screenprint, “Hunting Dhawu” (hunting story) took on bright, almost psychedelic colours, a far cry from the traditional ochres.

All the prints from Yirrkala have story attached to them. This one, “Dhanbul wu Yolngu Marryun” (morning star), is a screenprint by Dundiwuy#2 Munungurr, who tells the story

Dhanbul ceremony is a very big thing in Yolngu culture. A lot of Yolngu come from all tribes to take part in bunggul (ceremonial dancing). When a person dies the family … starts to think of ways to make a Morning Star ceremony to make them feel the dead person is still living with them … Once it has been talked over with the eldest of the tribe, the djunggaya (custodian), the mother, father and the grandmother, they start to get it moving. The woman go out to get the armband vine string, … the funeral pole, the clay and the ochre rocks, and make dilly bags for the ceremony. The men go out and get the birds such as cockatoo, brolgas, heron birds and wild ducks for feathers. They all sit for about 6 or 12 months to make everything they need … The ceremony celebrates the arrival of a spirit at Burralku, the Island of the Dead.

At Burralku, the spirit people do the same kind of work as the living – like weaving dilly bags, collecting special ngatha (food) like bukawal, ganguri (yams), Barangaroo (bush potato) ; and fruits like gallura, munbi and dawu (figs). When they gather the food they sit together under the big banyan tree to share their ngatha … After they have eaten, they celebrate with singing and dancing. They have a big ceremony when they see a new spirit being welcomed to their land.

This print is an image of how Yolngu perform their bunggul for this bright Morning Star.

The story was taken directly from the app.

Participating artists

Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Marrnyula Mununggurr, Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Gaymala Yunupingu, Naminapu Maymuru-White, Manunu Wunungmurra, Dundiwuy Wunungmurra, Barrupu Yunupingu, Nongirrnga Marawili, Djambawa Marawili, Gulumbu Yunupingu, Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Gawirrin Gumana, Mulkun Wirrpanda, Gundimulk Wanambi, Djerrkngu Marika, Nyangungu Marawili, Dhundhdhunga Mununggur, Munuy’ngu Marika, Burrthi Marika, Milika Marika, Djakala Wurramarrba, Muluyulk#2 Marika, Bulmirri Yunupingu, Gunybi Ganambarr, Banduk Marika, Ruby Djikarra Alderton, Naminuapu#2 Maymuru, Laklak#2 Ganambarr, Boliny Wanambi, Nawurapu Wunungmurra, Yalmakany Marawili, Mikey Gurruwiwi, Ishmael Marika, Djuwakan#2 DJ Marika, Dhalmula Burarrwanga, Gandhurrminy Yunupingu, Barrata Marika, Gurmarrwuy Yunupingu, Malaluba Gumana, Djalinda Yunupingu, Wukun Wanambi, Garawan Wanambi and Djirrirra Wunungmurra.

Weekend strolls


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Dreaming tracks or Song Lines link places visited by Aboriginal people: the Bingi Dreaming track links campsites, ceremonial and trade sites, fresh water and plentiful coastal food sources. We’re following in the footsteps of the Brinja-Yuin people as we walk the track section by section (it’s 13.5 kilometres one way), returning day after day to enter it at a different point, to cover new territory and to revisit a few favourites: trees, and a pathway or two.

Dreaming Track from Bingi Bingi towards Tuross

Saturday’s stroll begins at Bingi Bingi Point, along a track sloping gently upwards through casuarinas to a bare headland.

I’ve never tackled this stretch before because I thought it would involve beach walking, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find coarse grass underfoot, and a vast view south to Mother Gulaga, who reclines under a blue sky and a warm sun.

We do have to descend to the beach briefly, but a gleaming jut of rocks makes me forget the horrors of deep sand, and I’m more than happy to drag my feet in a triangle to the rocks and then back up across sand to a wooden staircase decorated with lichen.

There the track heads off under a green arch, crosses a flat grassy area where J walks side by side with a magpie, and then enters the familiar banksia forest with its knobbly trunks.

The goal is last week’s tree with the beautiful buds, a eucalyptus as yet unidentified. While J scrutinises it, I spot a half-eaten banksia flower and a couple of tiny mushrooms, and make a study of bladey grass, so different in shade and sun.

J appears with a handful of branchlets from the mystery tree, containing all that’s necessary for ID. We already have photos of the bark.

Back home, he pulls out the plant key and spends two frustrating hours meeting dead ends. Nuts too big. Location wrong. The one tree it looks like in another book doesn’t feature in the key. So the mystery tree is a mystery still.

Dreaming Track: Bingi Bingi to Grey Rocks

On Sunday, after a breakfast of bream and rye toast, we amble along the section of the track that skirts Kelly’s Lake.

It passes through an an Indigenous pharmacy, grocery and hardware store, beautifully signposted with illustrations by various Aboriginal women, who are also sources for knowledge about the uses of native plants.

And there are many. If you suffer from rheumatism or arthritis, or have a swelling, you can harvest a bunch of native nettles (Urtica incisa) and beat the affected area. If you fancy chewing something or want to make yourself, say, a digging stick, the she-oak (Casuarina glauca) will provide green seeds or timber.

If you need a shot of vitamin C, chew the red berries of the saltbush (Rhagodia candolleana), available in summer only. If you’re after something more substantial, seek out the tubers of the silkpod vine (Parsonsia straminea).

If you have a sweet tooth the banksia flower (Banksia integrifolia) has rich nectar you can steep in water for a satisfying drink.

If you want to weave a mat, make string, cook something on hot coals or make damper, mat rush (Lomandra longifolia) is what you need.

if you can’t find Lomandra, saw-edge grass (Ghania sp) will serve much the same purposes.

If you’re bitten by a snake, looking for a fruit snack or need a handle for your axe, native cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis) will provide.

If you want to munch on a plump pink or purple fruit (the ones in the photo have yet to ripen) head for groves of lilli pillis (Syzygium smithii) in the remnant rainforest, and stop to admire their spectacular bark.

The track crosses the mouth of the lakeand via a wide sandbar, and takes us past an island of black rock plonked at the tideline, to the shapely piles of rock at Gray Rocks, lichened by orange, and spotted with black xenoliths.

We eat lunch – sweet and sour rice and a beer – in a restaurant at the edge of the land, looking out over rolling blue to the horizon, and along the coast towards Mullimburra, our seat folds of grey granite.

We return to the car along a track through dense green, down wooden stairs covered in sand and pigface and along the beach, now hard enough for comfortable walking.

Postcards from the past: Umm Qais




January 2001

Umm Qais was the second Friday excursion from the dig at Pella. Our route was along the Jordan Valley, armed with our passports because we were so close to Israel, but a seller of cos lettuce directed us up a very steep windy road, past a dam and olive trees instead.

Umm Qais, fortress and frontier town in ancient times, is now an extensive suite of ruins, with a view to the Gollan Heights and down through haze to the Sea of Galilee. We entered the ruins through an Ottoman village of black and white stone. The columns in the ruins included basalt, not the creamy pink of Jerash. I went through an arch which was in fact the vomitorium of a basalt-seated theatre which was being reconstructed. The top rows were a jumble of stone.

The cardo paving was quite intact, with clearly defined wheel ruts, and grass growing through the paving. It was edged with marble supporting columns. The arcade of shops with squared lintels was very similar to the souq in Damascus, although more regal in stone.

A large stone door, opening on two round stone hinges led into an underground mausoleum, with burial niches still containing sarcophagi.

We ate lunch – mezze, chicken and chips, and a can of beer – on a terrace with a spectacular view, the sound of goatbells the musical accompaniment, and then drove back along the Jordan Valley, past flimsy guard posts, and very close to the traffic travelling Israeli roads.

For a much more detailed look at Ajloun, Jerash and Umm Qais, read Cathy’s account of her adventures, and revel in her wonderful photos.

Sunday bushwalk


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When you visit a lovely place, repeat the visit the next day, especially if there are ID puzzles still to be solved, and if your name starts with J. If your name starts with M you’re more than happy to tag along, letting him do all the scrutinising while you amble and photograph.

Beginning with the pink bark of a southern mahogany (Eucalyptus botryoides), aka bastard mahogany. The tree is heavy with buds.

The bladey grass catches the sun turning from nondescript green and grey to a dazzle of orange and red. Rounded green bushes cover the hillside where a herd of kangaroos graze.

A flock of yellow-tailed black cockatoos erupts from the trees and flies overhead in a loose formation, one trailing a bit of twig from its beak. As we emerge from the knobbly banksias, J holds up a silencing hand. There is the sound of crunching and ripping. The flock has settled and they are feasting.

We dally on the sandy flat where wattle buds and flowers, wild grapes, gumnuts and lillipilli berries proliferate; a correa buds and flowers; and the berries of the geebung blush beside its yellow flowers. A creamy eucalyptus flower remains nameless for now: the threat of a dreaded plant key hangs over us.

We walk up the dune (the Eemian shore, traces of the last interglacial about 120000 years ago?) to the tall trees, unnamed, where we walked on Saturday and settle on a log for today’s picnic. A couple emerge from the bush near us and step over a collapsed fence. They pause to tell us they have just seen a very handsome echidna crossing the path.

The trees towering above us wear a sock of tightly-fissured bark, and high up on the light grey branches where the sock doesn’t reach, we notice the scribbles that intrigued us yesterday. Back home the eucalyptus books come out, and J finally nails the identity. It’s a blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis). The books don’t mention scribbles, but a couple of reputable websites do.