Urban Nature Study – Part 1

Earlier this year I volunteered to take part in an Urban Nature Study for an Honours student at the University of Wollongong. The study involved two Zoom interviews and three urban walks. On these walks I was required to take notice and record my interactions with urban nature. This included what I could hear, see, smell, and feel. To help me remember what I observed I made notes on the voice recorder app.

During the walks I was encouraged to take photos of the things I saw. It was pretty much the perfect sort of study for me! To top it off it we were still under some COVID restrictions so it was not as if I was doing anything else.

The student has submitted her work and I have permission to publish my contributions. I am not sure what her ‘findings’ were. Here is the first of my 3 walks. I have changed some of the street names.

Urban Nature Diary Day 1 – 13th June 2020

Saturday Beach Walk

My walk today was one of the two routes I take frequently. I call this route my “beach walk”.  The other is my “neighbourhood walk”. I sometimes run these routes rather than walk.  Today, I ran part of the way and walked part of the way as I was stopping to take photos. All up it took me about 1 hour 20 minutes.

This route takes me along Crown Street, past the hospital and railway station into the CBD, I then walk down to Smith Street and head to the beach from here. I walk past Levendi’s (a cafe), along the harbour, past the lighthouses and then past WIN Stadium. When I have the time (as on weekends) I extend the route and walk along the beach to the end of the golf course cut back up Swan Street under the railway bridge, up Gladstone Street, X Ave, Y Street, and then finally back onto Z Street and home. This is a little over 8 km. If I’m in a hurry, I cut back up to the WEC (Wollongong Entertainment Centre) and head back home through the Mall. If I’m running, I can do it in 50 minutes.

And we’re off…

This morning I left home at around 7:30 AM. There was a partial cloud cover. It was fine and crisp. It had been raining overnight so there were puddles and wet leaves on the ground

My phone said it was 12.7oC and dead calm.  I had dressed in long tights and a long sleeve lycra hoodie, joggers and socks. I normally listen to music or podcasts while I walk. Today it was a podcast.

The ground was wet, and the leaves made it slippery, so I picked my way out my driveway. The large liquid amber at the corner of my driveway drops so many leaves and I have slipped there before so I am always cautious.

The creepy tree

Just before you get to the hospital there is a huge Morton Bay Fig in a tiny park. There is very little room left in the park for anything but the tree. (Image 1) I really like this tree and have wondered how old it is and what it must have been like before it was hemmed in by the road and houses. It would make a good climbing tree as the branches hang down low to the ground. However, it would be near impossible to climb as the limbs are very broad and smooth. The buttress roots spread out for at least 5 metres in all directions.  I call it the “creepy tree” because it does not matter what time of day it is, the massive tree is always casting a shadow on the park. It smells dank and composty.

Image 1 – The Creepy Tree

Noisy traffic in the shopping precinct

The noise of the traffic makes it hard for me to hear any birds, but I did notice some dead or close to dead earthworms who had boldly ventured onto the pavement when it was raining and had now become trapped on the drying pavement. A bit of styrofoam captures my attention and I get annoyed and feel that the hi-fi store (likely source of the foam), should be held to account for the amount of foam that blows out of their bins and ends up as pollution on the street near their shop.

This part of the route is in my opinion, nothing but “urban”. It is paved and built up. There are few gardens as most of the premises are commercial. In the CBD itself, the council is attempting to green things up. (Images 2 – 4) 

It’s sad to see that their bright little street flower boxes are the target of vandals (Image 5)  If there are council workers watering the plants or replanting what has been ripped out, I’ll thank them for their work so hopefully they don’t get too downhearted that not everyone appreciates the little bit of colour the boxes provide. I notice the raindrops sticking to the leaves of plants. (Image 6)

Wollongong Harbour

Once I get to the harbour, I join the many others who are enjoying a walk or a run on this nice morning. The clouds are making a dramatic backdrop to the little lighthouse and Belmore Basin. Some pelicans are preening, and people are out in kayaks paddling on the smooth water. (Image 7)

Image 7 – Belmore Basin

There is a reasonable swell and some surfers are clustered at the end of City Beach. The water must be colder now as most are wearing wet suits.  (images 8 and 9)

It’s warming up and I am regretting that I didn’t wear a T-shirt and jacket rather than the hoodie which I can’t take off. 

Image 10 – Dead Calm

On the Beach

It’s dead calm.  (Image10) the air is clear and fresh, but I lament that it is not as clear as it was a few weeks ago when we were deep in COVID lockdown and the sky had a fresh luminous blue with no pollution hanging about in a brown haze.

Image 11

Once I get to WIN stadium and the footy field/golf course junction I head down to the beach. I take a lot of energy from the ocean and enjoy seeing it every day. For me, it’s peaceful and rugged and energising all at the same time. It’s mid tide so there is some compacted sand to make the walk easier. I have to dodge a few incoming waves to prevent getting my shoes wet but this adds to the fun. The sand shows evidence of last night’s rain with the little pock marks dimpling the sand. (image 11)

There are a few shells. (image 12) Last time I was on the beach there were lots of rocks and pebbles at the wave line and I notice that this time there are very few rocks. I wonder if they were carried away by last week’s big surf or if I was at a different part of the beach. Up ahead I see the little pebble “garden” I was looking for and figure that they do probably get moved as a result of the tide. (image 14.)

Image 13 – Roof tile?

Not a rock

I take especial interest in an unusual green “rock” (Image 13). I pick it up and turn it over in my hands. I decide that it’s not a rock after all and probably a piece of roof tile that has been washed down a creek. I’m on the lookout for sea-glass[1] as I collect interesting bits of that.

This is an off-leash beach but there are few dogs. A couple of gulls fly past skimming close to the sand. The air smells salty but since there is no wind to whip the sea spray into my face, I don’t taste it.

As I re-join the road and the buildings, I can hear some rainbow lorikeets squawking and fluttering in a large flowering gum near the dog training park on Swan St. There are some magpies or crows cawing as they fly overhead. I pass a garden which has some nice succulents spilling over the fence and I break off a small piece to bring home and plant in my own garden.

The home stretch

I am about two kilometres from home and I am now very much regretting the choice of outfit! The sun is rising higher and I am getting hotter! It’s a balance between going faster to get home quicker and overheating! On Gladstone Ave there are a few private gardens with some lovely old roses, but today most only have a few straggly petals left. There is also a house with a reasonable size quince tree. They don’t pick the quince and they fall on the ground every year. Each year I say to myself, “next year I am going to knock on their door and ask if I can have them before they go rotten!”

The large date palms on X street, always make me think of the cover of Hotel California (an album by the Eagles).

(I included that detail because the person doing the interview was very young and possibly not a 1970’s music fan!)

I cut across the little park on the corner of X Street and my joggers get wet from the grass.  The Bird of Paradise flowers catch my eye and a few spiders’ webs in the neighbour’s garden are glistening with rain.

I am home and it’s time for a cup of tea!


[1] Glass that gets washed up onto the beach and has been made smooth and translucent by the action of the sand and waves.


A Win-Win!

I’m a bit of a research study enthusiast and this study combined a few things I like to do, walk, take photos and write! In addition to that I was helping someone out so it contributed to my happiness! Doing good for others boosts your mood! As I said I have not seen the student’s finished work or even really understand the purpose of her study. However, having to stop and think about how I interacted and experienced nature in my urban setting was interesting and made me feel a real sense of connectedness.

Apart from this study I am also participating in a two long term health studies. One called the 45 and up study which has a long questionnaire every 5 years; and another 3 year study on dementia and lifestyle which has frequent questionnaires which alternate between eating and exercising habits. Once each year there is a comprehensive set of cognitive and memory tests.

I have also just done a five week stint being a “patient” for a trainee medical professional to assist them with their tele-health skills.

Being a writing frugalist, I wasn’t going to “waste” an extended piece of my own writing without including it here! It was a win-win! She got some observations for her research: I got a blog post! (Maybe 2 more if I publish the others!)

Year of Zero – End of Year Review

We have made it to the end of this mad, bad, sad year and here I am with the Year of Zero – End of Year Review. At least in Australia, things have returned more or less to “normal” with no community cases for COVID for X days. The US and Europe are in mid-winter and things are getting worse. (I wrote this piece in mid-December and since then Greater Sydney which now includes Wollongong, has been hit by another bout of COVID19 with partial lockdowns and borders re-closing. My return to normal prediction was a little early!)

End Of Year Review

Over the last three months, (October – December) I feel like I have taken my foot off the spending brake and not stuck to my plan well. I did reach my savings goal but I think I could have done better. I have made a few purchases in preparation for my Great Southern Road Trip and although I am putting those on next year’s balance sheet, it has led to a change in mindset. I have been less frugal and more ‘spendy’. I have succumbed to some unnecessary purchases and while for the most part, they were second-hand op shop finds they were still not essential. AND of course there was Christmas! Although I don’t need to buy many gifts there was some outlay.

On top of that, in late November I discovered that I have to do a very expensive plumbing job on my home as the roots from a large tree have cracked and blocked my stormwater pipes. The build-up of water is flooding my neighbours’ yards. It’s going to cost several thousand to fix. Thankfully, I can split the bill with the other strata owners and most will come from the Strata funds. However, I think it will be more than we have set aside. 

My ultimate financial goal is to pay down my mortgage debt so I can retire by 2023. As a result, next year and the year after will need to be Close to Zero Years as well.

My self-report for the Year of Zero – End of Year Review follows.

1. No overseas travel

A stunning success! All year I have not stepped off the continent of Australia! 

Score: 10/10

2. No extended travel within Australia

I did go to Broken Hill in late September which I included in the last quarter review. I also went to my Mum’s for Christmas. Only cost being the train fare so all good on this front too. 

Score: 10/10

3. No New Stuff

My goal is to buy no new items and only replace things that have broken or worn out. 

Allowed items

  • My phone screen needed to be replaced. This was expensive – but the repair was ¼ the cost of a new phone so worth doing.
  • The zip on my wallet broke so I had to replace that – 2nd hand. 

    Items not on the list

  • A book “Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans
  • I got my 2021 wall calendars printed but have sold enough to cover the cost so this does not really count. 
  • Gifts for family members including (too much) Lego for my Grandson. 
  • I spent a fair bit buying some unnecessary clothes from Op Shops this quarter. I justified it by clearing out some other stuff from my wardrobe but I really could have done without it. At least it was not new!
  • Not “stuff” but I did pay for a subscription to Future Crunch and The Guardian.

Score: 4/10

4. Reduction in expenditure on groceries

This category is back on track. I have been making good savings on food and usually have some leftover cash at the end of each fortnight. I have been squirreling this away to use as a food kitty for the upcoming festive season. I also have been stocking up the freezer so will be able to have a few “free weeks”. For those of you who might say why don’t you cook less? Well, it’s a bit hard to make a single serve of spag bol!! I think next year I could investigate cutting back the allocated budget a bit more.

Score: 10/10

5. Side Hustle Happening

I actually made some progress here. As I said above I have sold enough of my calendars to break even and cover the cost and I sold some of my beeswax wraps. I’m not ready to list myself on the stock exchange yet but at least I made a bit of cash! (BTW there are still some calendars left if you’d like to buy one!)

Score 8/10

Buy one!

6. Only sign up for free courses

I didn’t do any courses free or otherwise this quarter.  I have been snowed under with the day job! 

Score: 10/10

7. Sell some of my stuff

No, no action here

    Score: 0/10

8. Concentrate on free activities. 

I think I have done OK in this category. I went on a few adventures with my grandson which required only train fare and food. We got free tickets to the Australian Museum when it reopened. I did a long walk (31 km) with some friends in place of the Seven Bridges Walk, this was “free” although we did make a donation to the Cancer Council. I went out for dinner once with a friend and although I went to trivia several times, my expenditure was very low as I ate before I went and I stuck to one non-alcoholic beer. 

Score: 7/10

9. Zero-waste-eco-warrior

I am still using more plastic-wrapped foods than I‘d like as I am having trouble finding suitable replacements. I made a one-off investment bought some salad vegies and herbs. I think I could grow those in summer at least. Apart from this, this goal is going well. It’s become ingrained, rather than special now. 

Score: 7/10

10. Year of Zero Booze

The day before this post is published will be the 365th day of my Zero Alcohol challenge. I made it right through!  It is no longer a challenge and it will be a big decision as to whether I start drinking again. 

Score 10/10

and the final score is…..

This quarter, my frugal-o-meter score is 76%. The highest so far, so despite feeling like I let the side down buying clothes I didn’t need, I have ended up OK!  

Here end-eth the Year of Zero 2020. I’ll let you know at the end of 2021 if I have stuck to my savings target despite not having a declared Year of Zero. I intend to remain frugal but will be doing some extended travel! Stay tuned for the Great Southern Road Trip!

Furious Fiction 18 – December 2020

Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction

December Furious Fiction? Already? Or from another point of view: “is it only December? When will this year be over? The year has simultaneously sped past and dragged on. Here is another installment in Frankie’s story.

I had a story arc roughed out but as I was writing this story my “pantser” mind took over and created a plot twist. Pantser being a term used by writers to describe those who write the story “by the seat of their pants” compared to plotters, who plot things out carefully.

I wanted to finish it this month so the end of Frankie’s journey coincided with the end of the year.

Sigh…

This Month’s Prompts

This month the prompts for Furious Fiction were.

  1. The first sentence could only be three words
  2. You need to include the words rose, palm and match (or variants of like matched)
  3. You need to include a gift of some kind.

The Furious Fiction short story competition is serious fun and I recommend it to anyone who likes creative writing. Only 500 words with a prize of $A500. I’ve given up on writing for the prize, now I am just trying to write my story. I’m getting closer to the end!

This story runs on directly from last month so you might want to read that first.

The Stats

This month I submitted the story at 9:00 PM on Sunday. I spent about an hour on Friday afternoon, then 2 hours on Saturday morning and a rough polish on Sunday before submitting as I was out all weekend. 491 words

Thomas Ball takes a leak

“Who are they?”

“Dorchester and Williams,” Frankie said casually as he put down his beer. 

O’Mallory nearly fell off his chair. “DORCHESTER and WILLIAMS? His voice rising in a whispering shout.

“Yes-sir-ree! Prime Minister Dorchester here in the rose lamé number and his Deputy Williams in the nice peacock blue chiffon,” Frankie said pointing to the photo.

“Shhh…!” O’Mallory looked around the bar while simultaneously trying to melt into the plastic palm tree propped against the wall.

“Classic ‘80s D&G. Really, it was a  bit over the top for the occasion! It took me a bloody long time source those outfits and they wasted them on some small-time Party Conference. Bloody poseurs those two! No fucking class! ” 

“Do you think they’ll still have them? Tucked away in their wardrobes?”

“Maybe, it’s a bit risky and there *was* the *Second Purge Amnesty*. It would have been safer to toss them then onto the big public fires and make a song and dance of their righteousness. It doesn’t matter, there are plenty more photos where that one came from. Either way, those bastards are gonna pay for those years I’ve lost, ” said Frankie stabbing the image with his finger, “Fucking hypocrites!”  

O’Mallory’s face contorted with guilt as his part in Frankie’s incarceration flickered through his mind. Frankie took another deep, calm sip to drain the glass and as if reading O’Mallory’s mind he said, 

“You were only doing your job, Guv’ner. But not these bastards! They came up with the whole crummy scheme!”

“That’s very gracious of you Frankie, I am sure not everyone I’ve sentenced would match your generosity. How much do we owe you for the evidence?” 

“Nada! Think of it as a gift. Just do what you need to do to get these pompous gits out of the House.”

O’Mallory looked at his watch and put the photo back in his pocket. “I have to go, I’m meeting with the others. Listen to Question Time tomorrow. It should get interesting. 

The men shook hands, “ Thanks Frankie, the Nation will thank you tomorrow.” 

That whole exchange, the entire process of getting the evidence to topple a corrupt government had taken less than 10 minutes.  It was then that O’Mallory realised that Tom Ball the journalist, and Frankie’s minder, hadn’t come back from the toilet.  He’d been gone the whole transaction. Odd? 

As he stepped from the un-palatial Mumbai Sapphire to the grubby street, the bright white lights of a garden of video cameras dazzled O’Mallory’s eyes,

“Justice O’Mallory,” the reporter barked as he thrust the microphone forward, “is it true that startling new photos *supposedly* compromising the position of our National Leader are in fact, photoshopped deep fakes?” 

O’Mallory pushed through the pack of reporters. “No comment,” he shouted.  

O’Mallory’s mind whirled. How did they even know about the photos? Was Ball a leak rather than just taking a leak?  Had he played them for suckers?


Final episode next month! (maybe!)