Pintrest towns.

Coastal Maine is why they invented Pinterest. So the inhabitants could show off their impossibly gorgeous weatherboard homes with the cute (non-Christmas) wreaths on the doors and the American flags fluttering in the breeze. I have not stopped to take many photos because if I did, I would be here until Christmas (Christmas 2020 that is!!) Despite that I will always carry the images in my heart. The contrast shutters against the (usually) pastel boards with the occasional white on dark blue or black boards to spice things up.

On my journey from New York to Kittery and onwards to Bar Harbor, Google maps directed me to take the interstate highways, which while fast, did not give any interesting vistas so I chose the ‘avoid motorways and tollways’ options when asking for directions. A T-mobile SIM card gave me good GPS coverage all the way. A three hour sprint at 110 kph became a five hour stroll through towns that can only be described as quaint. White church steeples, 1880-style brick and tile shop fronts with the occasional verdigris copper detail.

Rugged, craggy beaches with moraine rocks are in stark contrast to the squeaky smooth sandy beaches of home. Layer on layer of whole shells rather than smashed, tiny pieces of mollusc homes confirm the more peaceful waves which wash up on the blackened gritty sand.

White gulls outweigh their Australian counterparts by at least 2 kilos and share the beach with ducks, geese and turns.

The humans are bundled up in coats and scarfs not bikinis and boardies and it’s hard to imagine that it could ever warm up enough to warrant the beach-wear in the now closed shop windows.

“Closed for the Season” rang out from nearly every establishment. I guess with snow still lying in dirty patches on the ground and while spring may have officially arrived on the calendar, there are still at least a few weeks till its warm enough to abandon the winter woolies.

Portsmouth, one of the oldest towns in the US is so far, the star. Ogunquit and Old Orchard Beach may perhaps be splendid holiday destinations in summer but they don’t show their best side in winter. At least not for someone who has golden sandy beaches in walking distance to home. Nonetheless, coastal landscapes and fishing towns will always lift my spirit, perhaps they will do the same for you,

Wollongong – Part 1. The first snapshot of many.

P1510989-1I love my home town – Wollongong. Pronounced Wool-on-gong NOT Wal-on-gong even though it’s got two L’s and one O. But don’t get me started on how to pronounce names down here. Some of our suburbs’ names are easy to say and very descriptive:

Fairy Meadow, Figtree, Fernhill, and Coalcliff

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Woonona Beach

Others, are a bit tricky and prove you are an outsider if you can’t pronounce them properly:

Woonona – Woo-noo-nah

Towradgi – Toe-rod-gee

Unanderra – You-nan-derra

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Anyways, the ‘Gong is about 90 kilometres south of Sydney. It’s on the coast with a narrow strip of land before you get to a cliff face called “The Escarpment”. By European or American standards, it’s a hill really, but for us, that 500-odd metres is a mighty barrier. A barrier to Sydney. A barrier to the Westies and a barrier that keeps us a parochial region.

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Street Art from the Annual Wonderwalls Project

There is a lot to love about it. You should come visit!

Here are a few examples. A little while ago, I went to the Innovation Campus of the University of Wollongong to listen to an Australian Academy of Science talk about nanoparticles, bioactive polymers and the 3D printing of body parts. There were about 150 people there, eating some nice canapes and drinking some fine Australian wine.

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The Little Lighthouse

The following night, I went to the program launch of the Wollongong Writers’ Festival which is held in November. A different audience, but we still sipped on some fine Australian wine and ate some very nice canapes. All this, within walking distance of my home. (As a small observation, the scientist’s wine outranked the writers but the writers had better food!)

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My point is, though, that I can do these amazing things without going very far. Without having to battle traffic. Wollongong is large enough to attract interesting events but small enough to feel like a country town. We have a world class university and our natural resources make it a great place for industry and tourism. I can have it all here. I work nine kilometres from where I live and if I want to spend a day in the “Big Smoke” of Sydney, I can – it’s only 90 minutes on the train.

In future posts, which will appear on an ad hoc basis, I will show you around my little city but for now here are a few photos of local scenes to whet your appetite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.