Wollongong Snapshot: Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Being a tourist in your own town has its advantages. It’s quick, inexpensive and you don’t need much planning.  I took myself off to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a glorious spring day in search of colourful flowers and interesting textures. I was not disappointed!

A large kookaburra sitting on a rock
Plenty of bird life to be found in the gardens

It seems like ages since I have been out for the express purpose of taking photos.  The  Gardens are one of my favourite places for a close-to-home photo safari.

The Gardens are across the road from the University of Wollongong, but it’s best to park in Murphy’s Avenue, Gwynneville.  (click here for a map of the area) Because it is right near the Uni, parking can be a bit tricky during Semester time. There is a small designated parking area in the gardens itself. (Enter on Murphy’s Road)

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Sculptures adorn the lawns

The Gardens are free and a fabulous place for a picnic. There are limited BBQ Facilities near the entrance. An “all-abilities” children’s’ playground with a big sandpit, climbing web and maze will keep kids occupied for ages. The design ensures that is accessible for everyone including those with limited mobility.

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Well organised picnickers nab the best spots!

In summer, you can take along your family,  bean bags, cushions and a picnic dinner and catch a movie on a big outdoor screen as the sun sets and the birds twitter in the trees.   Not all movies are suitable for kids but many are, so best to check the program here Sunset Cinema first.

The highlights for me are the Dryland Gardens (good all year)  and the rose garden (you need to pick the season). In spring, of course, you will find the garden in full bloom. Since most trees in Australia are evergreen and our Autumn’s are not very cold, there is not much leaf colour  as you would find in colder climes.

If you wanted to make a full day of it take a packed lunch,  include a walk around the Uni which has pleasant grounds and have a peek at Glennifer Brae, the stately home of the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, both within an easy stroll from the Garden itself..

There are  guided tours run by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and there are various gardening workshops advertised on the website.

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These photos were taken on September 30th and while its  officially been spring for a whole month the weather was only just starting to warm up.

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I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.

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These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.

I hope you enjoy them!

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Give me a home among the gumtrees….

Australians know about travelling. We don’t hesitate to drive 100km to get to a friend’s house. It’s just what you do. We get on a plane and fly all day just to go on holidays.

“You came all this way?” people will ask you. We can’t get out of the country unless we do! It’s 4 hours from Sydney to Perth. It’s a 22 hour flight to Israel (plus layovers or waits at the airport).

Compared to Australia, Israel is a very small place. The total length from north to south is 424 kilometres.  My mum’s place is 635 km away and we still live in the same state. At its widest, Israel is 114 km – that’s only 2 km more than from my place in Wollongong to Penrith; one of Sydney’s western suburbs. At its narrowest point its only 15km across – I ran that far a few months ago in a fun run!

The total area of Israel is 20,770 km2 compared to 7,692,000 km2. More than 370 Israels would fit inside Australia. It’s nearly three times smaller than Tasmania.

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It may be small but compared to Australia, it’s crowded. The average population density is 385 people per km2 compared to 3.1 people per km2 in Australia. [2]

On one of my visits, I hired a car and drove with my daughter and her family from Tel Aviv up to Katzrin in the Golan Heights via Tsfat. It’s the very top of Israel; a little bit further and you’d need a passport!

Katzrin (Qatsrin) is 177 km north of Tel Aviv. When you look it up on Google Maps it’s surrounded by a whole bunch of dotted lines that chart the evolution of the border disputes between Israel and Syria. It is very close to both the Syrian and Lebanese borders. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about going there. My phone was definitely nervous with its frequent declaration of changing billing zones: “Welcome to Syria call costs are” … and then a few metres further “Welcome to Lebanon!” “Welcome to Israel…

After you have been in Israel for a while you get used to seeing soldiers. One of the first things I noticed about the soldiers in Katzrin, was how old they were.    They were real soldiers, not conscripts with training guns. They had real guns, they were not just doing their three years national service. The other thing I noticed was a large number of people who looked like they were from the Pacific Islands. They were little out of place, but it didn’t take long to figure out that they were the ones who were driving around in the UN jeeps. The Peace Keeping Observers.

I had a niggling feeling of discomfort. What was I doing less than 15 km from the Syrian border while there was a fair bit of activity going on?

I was sight-seeing and hiking that’s what! We had come “all” this way to take a walk through the Giliboon Nature Reserve, a popular walking destination for locals, just a few kilometres out of the town of Kaztrin.

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We began the trek by walking past mine fields; (ummm… ok… we’ll just stay on this side of the fence shall we) and then carried on to bombed out concrete bunkers that remained after the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. The bullet holes and graffiti competing for my attention with imported gum trees making the whole scene slightly surreal by reminding me of home.

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The grey sky threatened rain and the smell of eucalyptus hung in the cold air. The track spread out to reveal an ancient Talmudic Village –The Dvora Village. The age of the village is disputed, but some estimates put it at 5000 years and although the basalt stones lay around in unorganized piles after many earthquakes, there was enough order to get the sense of a once thriving settlement. A grind stone here, a drying oven there.  Cattle wander about, picking their way carefully through the rocks, timid and curious at the same time.

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The colours were great. A low, dark, foreboding sky with bright yellow lichen clinging to the stones.  We stopped and balanced on the rocks to eat a snack and I remarked that if we were in Australia, all this would be fenced off; either to protect the site or to protect the tourists. Here, the only hint of regulation was a single chain across a doorway and a rusty sign that said something along the lines of “Don’t climb the wall, it will probably fall and you’ll get hurt.”

The loop track is only 4 km but as we slowly slushed our way through mud, our shoes became weighed down by several kilograms of sticky black clay. We made fun of our pancaked boots[1] as they grew to gigantic proportions. We passed waterfalls, land crabs and native cyclamens growing in the crevices.

The metal ladders and carved footholds added a level of difficulty to the walk, especially with a baby in a backpack. The most intriguing sight took my scientific mind a while to work out. At first, I thought I was staring at a strange geological formation until I realised it was a rock covered in thousands of pieces of chewing gum!

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by gum!

In summer, the pools at the base of the Dvora Falls are popular swimming holes. We didn’t swim on this dreary January day but I marvelled at how peaceful it was despite the remnants of past wars all around us.

It was quiet.

Strangely quiet and it registered that there were no birds calling. No raucous cockatoos, no twittering blue wrens. I guess the birds had flown south and I made one more mental note of how different my daughter’s adopted home was to my own.

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[1] but forgot to take photos!

[2] just as a point of interest Israel is the 35th most populated country on a list of 233 and Australia 227th. The most populated is Monaco at 25,718 people per km2!! But that’s getting a bit close too a Pinterest vortex!

Critters in Bellingen, NSW.

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Goanna

My mum lives on a 2.8 hectare (7 acre) rural-residential property near Bellingen on the Mid-north coast of NSW, Australia. Perched on a hill, her home for last 31 years, is surrounded by beef and dairy farms and lots of hobby farmers growing “herbs” of various kinds. Mum’s property is not much use as a farm as it is essentially just a big hill but it makes a damn fine place to visit for lazy holidays and to live a relatively peaceful life in the country.

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It is certainly not a “pristine” environment as the area has been farmed for well over a hundred years after being cleared of cedar back in the 1840’s. Despite this, I am always amazed at the amount of wildlife that turns up in her “backyard”. Mum has allowed the bush to grow back over the years and the critters love it. These photos show some of the wildlife you can see from her verandahs.

Not seen here are the eagles and hawks which soar overhead, black cockatoos signaling the coming of rain and kookaburras sharing their jokes with the warbling magpies.

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Regent Bowerbird

Frogs live in the toilet, lurking under the rim of the bowl. Snakes hibernate in the roof space. Spiders take over the smoke detector rousing the whole house with false alarms. And cicadas send us deaf in the summer time.

Summer in Australia – The Cicada’s Symphony.

As I dragged my bag from the airport carousel my Mum said “I will warn you now the cicadas are really bad this year”

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Despite Mum’s warning I was not prepared for the deafening, throbbing assault to my senses. Mum told me she had taken ill with vertigo for a few days as her eardrums rattled and reverberated due to the dreadful din. You could feel the rising crescendo as your whole brain is engulfed by solid sound.

 

Starting at 4:30 AM and eventually quietening down around 10:30 PM there is little rest from the cacophony. As a grand finale, frogs chime in just after dark adding a melodic bass note to the whining irritating insects.

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Spiders lurking in the shell
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Ants and other smaller insects feed on the remnants of the cicadas shells

Cicada shells festoon almost every vertical surface with trees and fence posts laden down with the grotesque dried-out  exuvia that support their own tiny ecosystem of smaller bugs.

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Rather than grumble, I decided to make the most of their presence and photograph these abundant subjects. So here is a photo essay about cicadas in Gordonville, NSW in the days leading up to Christmas.

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The Cherrynose was the most abundant species visible

Where did they all come from?

The life cycle of cicadas is still not fully understood. Females lay eggs in slits in  tree bark they make with a scythe-like appendage on their abdomen called an ovipositor.  The eggs hatch  after 2 – 7 months and the little nymph hatchling falls to the ground before burrowing in for a long wait.  The nymphs grow underground for an unknown period depending on the species. Same say four years, others seven and in the North America there is a species which apparently remains underground for 17 years. However long it is, some years are better cicada years than others.

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Razor Grinder – The rough slits in the bark may be where females have been laying eggs.

My hypothesis would be that cicada bumper years would be coincident with previous hot, wet summers. Given they have to burrow in the ground, wet soil would make it easier for the nymphs and more would survive to subsequently emerge and drive us batty. (I haven’t found anything to back up my hypothesis!)

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A Double Drummer

The nymphs feed by tapping into the fleshy roots of trees with their straw-like mouthpieces and suck the fluids from xylem and phloem tubes. During their time underground they moult several times. Returning to the surface in a distant summer, cicadas climb up any convenient vertical structure before splitting their shells to emerge as adults. Their soft wings need to air dry and stiffen before they can fly making them vulnerable to their predators, mainly birds, bats and reptiles like goannas.

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I only saw one of these Green Grocers – looking a bit worse for wear and fending off marauding ants.

The males are the chirpers and produce the  noise by vibrating thin membranes over hollow slits on either side of their abdomen. The volume is amplified by air filled cavities. Females remain silent. One wonders how one male can be distinguished from the thousands of others with so much noise all around. How can they tell a Tom from a Dick or Harry?

 

 

To us humans,  the 86dB 15-16 kHz love song is simply noise, unwanted and enervating on a hot summer day. Double drummers have been recorded at 120 dB!

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This graph showing a peak at 76dB with the highest reading at 91 dB

There’s an estimated 700-1000 species of cicadas in Australia, these photos show four that were in the trees around Mum’s place in Gordonville, inland from Coffs Harbour, NSW in the week before Christmas.

Want to know more about cicadas? Have a look here – http://www.cicadamania.com/cicadas/category/locations/australia/  these people are cicada crazy!

 

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Razor Grinders

Personal Summer

Earlier this year I was sitting in a writing class in Sydney. It was winter, the room was not over-heated but comfortable, say 19 – 20oC. I was trying to listen to the presenter but the woman next to me was a festival of distraction. She had a very slight build and was well rugged up. I watched as she repeatedly followed a sequence of moves

  • Fingerless gloves off
  • Socks off
  • Jumper off
  • Long sleeve T-shirt off
  • Pull out remaining T-shirt at neckline and fan vigorously with a paper fan for 2 minutes
  • Sit quietly for 10 minutes then
  • Long sleeve T-shirt on
  • Jumper on
  • Socks on
  • Fingerless gloves on
  • Wait and repeat!

All friggen day! Jeez! She was driving me crazy!

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Invisible woman: Taken in New York in 2009

I looked on with a condescending smile which masked the burning desire to shout, “Would you just stop fidgeting!”

My impatient self was smacked down when I belatedly realised the poor woman was obviously suffering from frequent and acute temperature fluctuations – she was ‘going through the change.’

As an Old Chook, I am in peak menopause territory. I have been fortunate to sail through these potentially rough waters; smoothly, with very few issues. I can only remember having one full-blown “hot flush” and that was in Officeworks about 4 years ago. I had just picked up some photos, opened the packet to have a peek and the smell of the ink wafted up and made me gag. Simultaneously, I felt like I was about to explode as the rising tide of heat travelled from my belly up to my head. I was sweating, I felt faint. I thought I had been poisoned by the ink. I drove home in a panic and laid down. It dawned on me about 2 hours later that this was, perhaps, a hot flush and the ink smell trigger just a co-incidence. Who knows, I am just pleased I have never had a repeat. Sure, I have had some sweaty nights but nothing major. I had a strategy for smooth sailing, to stay on the Pill for as long a possible. My GP was sceptical and finally talked me into giving it a break. “It’s no fountain of youth,” she said. So I quit. I didn’t fall apart.

After some quick research on the interwebs, it appears that I am one of the lucky 20% of women who do not experience menopausal symptoms. Namely, vasomotor changes that lead to hot flushes, night sweats and a general inability to regulate temperature and vaginal dryness. Then there are the mood swings, depression and anxiety which some women experience.  After menopause, the rate of somatic (cell) ageing increases. Women will become less healthy after menopause compared to before menopause.  Not to mention the fact that we live in a culture where older women tend to become invisible. Something to look forward to heh, younger sisters?

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Taken in Ottawa – the original work by Daphne Odjig.

The age of onset of menopause is on average 45 – 55. Back in the days of Ugg the Cave Woman, you didn’t usually make it this far. You had likely already died during childbirth or had been eaten by a sabre tooth before the big 4-0.  Early humans, therefore, probably never experienced menopause because they died of acute causes before its onset. For those women who did survive, it is posited that menopause inferred some evolutionary advantage, not to themselves per se, but through the grandmother effect[1]. By having females who were no longer reproductively active themselves but able to assist younger women in childbirth and lactation, an advantage was conferred to the whole group. Childbearing uses a lot of energy; post-menopausal women could use their energy for the benefit of the group rather than making babies. Even so, Grandma probably didn’t make it past 60.

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Hungry lions and tigers: Taken in 2009 in New York

Did Grandma Ugg have her own personal summer happening? Maybe – maybe not. Studies have shown that menopausal symptoms are greatly reduced in women who are very physically active[2]. Grandma Ugg was very active. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle was not a sedentary one, so perhaps these older Palaeolithic women were not too bothered by menopause.

Our genome evolved a long, long time ago. In modern times, cultural evolution moves at a pace that outstrips any possible changes to our genome.  Our genes can’t keep up with changes in our culture and lifestyle and therefore the age of onset of menopause has not changed significantly. Average life expectancy, has, however, increased dramatically – at least in the developed world. The average life expectancy for women in Australia is 82. This means we now live for 30 years beyond menopause. It’s unlikely that our genes know how to deal with this.

The symptoms of menopause are very real and for some women, debilitating. Our attitudes to menopause play a big role in how we manage and cope with it and our attitude towards “women’s problems” have a lot to do with Big Pharma.

Is menopause a disease?

In the developed world, we[3] have medicalised women’s biology to the extent that menopause is seen as a deficiency DISEASE that needs to be treated with hormone replacement therapy rather than something that just happens naturally, as is the case in other cultures, such as in India.  (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15981376)

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I have always thought Indian sculptors were much better at breasts than those from Italy and Greece

So, what point am I trying to make here? I think there is a lot more to say about this topic so I plan to do some more research over the next few months and re-post. So for the time being, I will leave it here:  Our genetic makeup has not prepared us for living this long beyond menopause. To reduce the symptoms of menopause you should maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. But most of all you should keep in mind that menopause is a natural event that is not a disease,  it may bring health issues but you’re not abnormal.

As to the photos,  I didn’t really know what to post, what photos depict menopause?  These are just some random ones I liked from my collection. So I will have to work on that too. Perhaps it’s good inspiration for some portraits of post-menopausal women being fantabulous?

[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433273/

[2] another good reason for being a Tough Grandmudder!

[3] definitely using the royal ‘we’ here! The ‘we’ of course means the THEY who control everything. The ones with the money, power and penises.

Tears for the Liquid Amber.

I live in a duplex which is tucked away behind a big old house. You can’t see my place from the road and when I give directions to people I usually say

“There is a really big tree at the top of my battle-ax driveway. It’s huge, it’s the big one at the bottom of the hill you can’t miss it… park near there.”

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Liquidambar styraciflua – the American Sweetgum.

I am close to the city centre, in an older part of town. Acre blocks that once accommodated grand homes have been divided and conquered by three storey unit blocks, villas and town houses that characterise urban living. Stands of established trees line the roads. Gum trees, jacarandas, Illawarra flame trees and a few liquid ambers jostle for their place in the sun and suck up the scarce water in this dry Spring.

My “landmark” tree is in the garden of a house that was built in the late 1870’s. It is not a native Australian species so it’s likely to be the same age as the house; around 150 years old. Three people could barely make their arms stretch around its girth and it towers above the telegraph poles by at least another half-pole height.

Last week a hand-written note appeared in my letter box…

Letter

Yes, with much regret… but it is required.

The tree crowds the house and low sweeping branches shroud it in darkness all year. The curious roots are lifting the house off its piers and they clog the drains, shattering and choking the pipes of the surrounding properties in their search for water. My duplex neighbour built a ramp so we could get out of our shared driveway because the pavement had lifted a full 20cm requiring heavy footed acceleration to get out onto the road and catapulted us dangerously into the path of unwary pedestrians.  Every autumn, it drops bazillions of russet and yellow tree-stars and spiky green seed pods.

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“Bloody tree” I would shout silently as hours of my precious weekend were filled sweeping its dropped clothes. I’d curse it and its deciduous-ity every time my green waste bin was too full for another load.

I know it must go. I know it will only continue to cause damage to the house in front. I understand all that but I still feel like an accomplice in a murder.  I stare up into the dense green canopy that only six weeks ago was nothing but bare sticks and marvel at the speed at which the green buds have developed into soft bright leaves, miraculously photosynthesising away without so much as a whir. The endothermic sink to all the exothermic reactions which go on around it. The beautiful, majestic giant has been faithfully pumping oxygen into our air for one and a half centuries. It has survived droughts, flooding rain, industrial pollution and developers.

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If you have a spirit dear Tree, I hope you understand that you have grown too big for this small place. You are a danger. You should have been planted in a wild open forest somewhere in Europe. You are not from here but were carried over the seas. You found a home and thrived, perhaps planted by an English wife trying to make Wollongong more like a fairy meadow with a showy display of autumn colours. I doubt it ever got cold enough here to allow you to become spectacularly red and show your true colours. (Like these ones from Bright in Victoria)

Your bare wintery limbs burst forth with buds and marked our Australian seasons in a way not matched by the eucalypts. They don’t change, their leaves hanging limp and dull olive, all year-round, the seasons marked by the roar of cicadas and not by the fall of leaves in June or the greening of fresh buds in late September.

I wonder how many children tried to climb you as you grew? How many picnickers did you shade before your big block was subdivided into smaller and smaller plots? Are there any pets buried beneath your wide spread boughs?

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Will you feel the chain saw as it removes your limbs one by one? Will you feel the mulcher ripping you into nothing but sawdust?

I hope not. I am truly sorry if you do and I hope I do not hear you scream in pain in my dreams. I feel for you.

Thank you tree.

Thank you for greening my neighbourhood.

Thank you for making oxygen every day.

Thank you for being a home to countless birds, bugs and grubs.

Thank you for being beautiful.

Goodbye sweet tree.