Port Kembla is the industrial heart of Wollongong. Home to a massive steelworks which dominates the horizon from many vantage points, it is often considered grubby, polluted and frankly, a place to avoid. The main street has a reputation for being a cruising zone for those seeking the services of prostitutes.
Cloud factories are continuously pumping out steam and presumably other chemicals, and there is an eternal flame burning off gases which lights up the night sky.
Sounds delightful heh! But if you look a little further, you can find a beautiful beach, a heritage park and a quirky commercial district.
BHPBiliton (and its predecessors) have had a presence in the Illawarra since the late 1920s. While its operations have scaled-down over the last few decades, there is still a large and rambling complex of sheds, smokestacks and railways that take up an area from Cringilla, Coniston and Warrawong.
Port Kembla Beach and Ocean Pool
At the end of Cowper Street, you’ll find a long sandy beach and a spectacular ocean pool. Unlike other sea pools in the Wollongong area, the one at Port Kembla is not fed by the tide, but it is filled with seawater. It stands a little above the beach and is surrounded by gorgeous rich yellow walls which give it a very Mediterranean feel. The kid’s pools are well shaded, and there are plenty of places to lie about in the sun on the grassy hill.
The adjoining beach is a long curve that stretches nearly 7 km and ends at Windang on the mouth of Lake Illawarra. The section near the pool is patrolled during the season. The Surf Life Saving Association of NSW rates it as a hazardous beach so it would be best to stick to swimming between the flags.
The main retail strip is along Wentworth Street. It boasts 3 pubs (one of them closed) a night club (The Vault) and a few cafes and the quirky Wentworth Emporium. At 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon, most of the shops were closed. Through the glass, the cafes looked pretty hip and funky. Joanne, who opens the Emporium on Fridays and Saturdays, said that business is pretty slow. Her primary source of income being her adjacent upholstery shop. The Emporium is a mix of homewares, bric-a-brac, and potted succulents.
Adding to the ghost-town-like feel, most of the shops are actually empty and for lease. The interiors of some are showing signs of refurbishment while others are filled with chaotic trash.
On the bright side, the area is rebranding itself as an artist’s colony. The Red Point Artists’ Association is a cluster of businesses which includes a gallery, cafe and several studios from which local artists run workshops and sell their wares.
Another theme is also developing with bridal and bridal accessory businesses filling up the empty shops.
As part of a deliberate rejuvenation program, the annual Wonderwalls Street Art Festival was held in Port Kembla in February 2019. The festival is responsible for brightening up many boring walls in the main part of Wollongong. There are now several very large murals brightening things up in the streets and laneways of Port Kembla.
Street art – Port Kembla
Heritage Park at Breakwater Battery
There is a small museum near the eastern breakwater wall of the deep water harbour. Originally an observation station built in WWII, it is now home to the Maritime Services Board and the NSW Water Police. The outdoor area has several battery points and some intriguing white pyramids that were moved there from Berkeley Beach. The pyramids were tank barriers and placed on the beach to prevent Japanese tanks from landing on our shores in the 1940’s. Now they serve as fascinating photographic subjects!
I get the feeling that Port Kembla is a sleeping giant and waiting for a boom. It would be a great time to get in and buy some property on the cheap and wait for gentrification to happen.
Somewhere between me being 45 and nearly 60, Wollongong’s nightlife has been through a metamorphosis. At one time, Wollongong had a reputation for being violent. Rolling brawls spilled out of places like the Glasshouse onto the streets and kept people like me at home. We didn’t feel comfortable sharing noisy venues with barely-clad chicky babes and young men whose sole goal was to get “maggoted”. My friends and I stayed at home and had civilised dinner parties, sometimes venturing out to the popular Little Prince* only to be disappointed because we couldn’t find a seat.
(*I’ll review the Littel Prince in another post)
More recently and I’m reticent to use the word “suddenly” because I’m sure it has not been sudden, there has been a torrent of small bars setting up shop. These places have style, the music is quieter, the seats more comfortable and the lighting more subdued.
It’s not so much a case of Wollongong changing from an ugly caterpillar into a butterfly, because some those rowdier places are still open for business. Rather, new classier blood has moved into the neighbourhood offering more choice to a broader range of patrons. In fact, we’re spoiled for choice at the moment!
My friends and I are not looking for somewhere to “hook up” or meet a date. We want a place where we can feel comfortable alone or with a group of friends for a chat. We enjoy good food and are fussy in our choice of drinks. We want background music that stays in the background and excellent amenities in terms of toilets, glassware and seating.
So which small bars are a good match for Old Chooks?
In the interests of research, I decided to hit the streets and review the boutique and small bar scene, systematically and scientifically. Armed with an online survey, I enlisted the help of some dedicated Old Chooks (Diane and Karen) to critically evaluate what was on offer.
So far, we have checked out six small bars over two nights in Febraury and March 2019. We will bravely venture out again to check out more bars in the coming months. Tough work but someone has to do it!
I must say we approached our task with enthusiasm, and frankly, I think we got a little overexcited. It was funny how having a purpose changed the dynamics of a night out, transforming it from a simple social get-together to a serious mission. It also meant we were more observant than we would have been otherwise. The methodology is simple. We each pick a bar, then work out the most efficient walking route between them. Once at the bar, we carefully check the food and drinks menu and the toilets. These are the deal breakers in our view! We try to engage the bar staff in conversation without giving our game away. We order a drink each and some food to share and then after an hour or so move onto the next bar.
Three bars, three drinks, three snacks.
In that hour, we are busy on our phones filling in the survey and discussing the lighting, the ambience, the crowd and the facilities. The survey is comprehensive, and each question is given a score. The scores are then added up to provide an overall rating. There are a few inherent biases in the method. The first bar on the list is reviewed early in the night, and it may not have yet reached its peak ambience. Another factor is that the third bar is considered after 2 drinks. Hopefully, we are not such cheap drunks that our focus is too frayed!
121 Keira Street, Wollongong
Juniper was our first review, and we started there at about 7:30 PM. There were plenty of available tables. The crowd was made up of three male/female couples and a group of eight 30-40-year-old females. Four men walked in, looked around and walked out. Perhaps it was a bit girly for their taste? The concrete walls were sponged with pastel tones, and there was no other decoration. The wooden tables were garnished with small candles and a bit of greenery in a recycled jar. The concrete floor and walls created a noisy vibe, and the music was too loud for easy conversation. There was a definite need for some soft surfaces to act as noise dampeners. The bar itself had a charming backlit display which was very interesting.
Juniper, as the name suggests, is a gin bar. There was an extensive selection of gin but little else besides. The printed menu was very informative and gave good descriptions of the gin varietals. They offered gin-based cocktails as well as straight nips and various tonic mixers. The drinks ranged in price from $11 – $19. The food menu was minimal (a choice a three) and there was no vegetarian option. We chose the drinks plate: a platter of cheese and meats with very crunchy toasted bread ~ $25. The two wait staff were friendly.
BEST: Excellent subdued lighting. The bar was nicely lit and looked very pretty.
WORST: Noise levels and food choices.
88 Kembla Street, Wollongong (behind the Creamies gelato shop)
I felt like a secret agent entering the Black Cockatoo with its hidden entry off an ice cream parlour. I wish you needed to give a secret handshake! Once inside the dark interior was reminiscent of an American bar. Booths lined the walls with a few standing tables as well as seats at the bar. It’s a small venue with a capacity for around 30. A large painted mural of a cockatoo and a few band posters were the only decorations. Still, it had a nice ambience tending to retro. Two 20-something men were serving. They were very casually dressed in long shorts and t-shirts. The food menu was again minimal and this time consisted of packet chips, sausage rolls and cheese and spinach pies. Don’t come here looking for a meal! The drinks menu was small and limited to canned beers, a few imported draft beers and a small selection of wine. Drink prices were reasonable, ranging from $6 up to $15.
When we arrived at 8:30, we were the only ones there for a few minutes, and the boys were happy to chat while not being obtrusive. With a very late licence, this would be the place for a late night meet-up, not an Old Chooks night out. There was one toilet which had no hand towels although it was tidy in other respects. The music was great, probably meant to be retro but it was all our era!
BEST: The secret agent feel and the music.
WORST: Food. Although, to be honest, if you were here late at night, a sausage roll might be perfect!
Births and Deaths.
2/74 Kembla St, Wollongong
Births and Deaths has had a fair bit of cash thrown at it. The black walls frame the $6000 -worth of Italian tiles that back the bar. There is one long re-manufactured stone table in the middle of the room which would comfortably seat 30 and cafe style seating around outside of the room as well as a few stools at the bar. The bar was half full, with an interesting mix of people. B&D offered table service, a nice touch. We chatted at length to one of the owners, Jared. He explained his philosophy which focused on sustainability. He said they reused as much as possible. The straws were metal, the coasters, washable fabric. The kitchen ran on the concept of minimising waste with the beetroot and pumpkin scraps leftover from the tasting plates used to make syrup for drinks. According to Jared of Births and Deaths, my friends and I are part of the targeted demographic boutique bars in Wollongong are looking for. Cashed up and older. Young folk, you see “pre-drink” and are stingy about buying food. Old Chooks like us, on the other hand, go out early, buy more expensive drinks and order lots of food. He is also part owner of the Howling Wolf and works in partnership with Cavaeu (a hatted restaurant nearby). He was very accommodating and chatty and talked to us about his plans and the issues of getting a licence and permission to operate.
B&D is also a gin bar but has a broader selection of wine and beers than Juniper. The food was unique, and while not vegetarian, was mostly plant-based. We tried a pumpkin plate which included morsels of pumpkin cooked a few different ways as well as some cheese and tomato toasties.
BEST: The food and the staff.
WORST: The toilet while not unisex, was not very private and it was easy to “disturb” the privacy of other patrons.
69 Crown St, Wollongong
The Night Parrot was our first stop on the second research night. The technical hitches we had with the online survey (Diane’s phone going flat and Karen using the wrong form) had been solved, so we were ready to go! A fourth researcher, Tanya, joined us. There were five other groups of people and seating was not a problem. The other patrons were well dressed and included a few couples. The decor was dark and classy with one wall lined with highly varnished wood panels. The remaining walls and ceiling were painted black and gave the place a cave-like feel. The Night Parrot is a wine bar and features a walk-in wine cabinet which takes up one of the on-street windows. The busy kitchen was visible from the bar and added significantly to the atmosphere with steam wafting up from the stoves. There was seating at the bar as well as open tables and three padded “booths” which seated three comfortably with the fourth at the other side of the table. There was table service, and it took a little longer than expected to give our orders. I had decided to do Feb-Fast and was not drinking alcohol, and while the others were quickly served their wine, I had to ask a second time for my soda water. The volume of the music created a pleasant, unobtrusive feel and allowed for easy conversation. The lighting was on the dark side. This along with the dark walls, gave it a cozy atmosphere. The bar area was brightly lit. The one toilet cubicle was unisex. It was large and spacious with plenty of extra rolls of paper, gentle soap and a blower dryer. The decor was eclectic with a large suspended branch acting as a chandelier.
A small selection of food was on offer. I had the dumplings which were tasty and good value at four pieces for $14. The wine selection was a mix of local and imported wines and over a wide price range. Both Diane and Tanya ($22) were pleased with their grenaches, one local ($14) one imported ($22).
BEST: The decor and the wine selection;
WORST: We thought that with the way the seating was arranged, it would be tough to feel comfortable as a solo visitor.
68 Crown St, Wollongong
Moominn is a quirky, warm, cozy place. It reminded me of someone’s Grandma’s lounge room. There is a mixture of seating from a few lounge chairs around a fireplace to kitchen tables with old lino chairs. Some seating at the bar is also available. There are all sorts of bits and pieces hanging from the ceiling. Baskets, flowers, light fittings, bottles, umbrellas etc. The walls are entirely covered with mismatched pictures which scream out OP SHOP find. A large blackboard shows the specials as well as a few witty quotes. They had flavoursome zero alcohol beer, and I would have had another if we were staying longer.
The others all had the same red wine and seemed satisfied with their choice. The drinks were served in very simple, practical glasses. The barkeeper was friendly and offered advice on what beer they had when I asked for no alcohol. The food was OK. I found it a bit oily although the others enjoyed the mix of deep fried mushrooms, cauliflower and cheese bites. A second plate with bread and meatballs was very garlicky. The two dishes were $50 in total. They were small servings, and this seemed expensive to me. The single well-lit toilet is out back through the kitchen. Quaint sayings are painted on the walls, and the jumbled, over-decorated theme continues here.
The music, while pleasant, was too loud. There was a good crowd of around 20 in attendance, We originally sat at the bar and swooped on a table when it was vacated. The partons were a very mixed group with a good spattering of older people. It would be easy to visit Mooninn as a solo traveller with the lounge chairs near the fire being cozy and private.
BEST: Quirky fun feel
WORST: Noise levels
2/88 Kembla St, Wollongong
The Throsby is one of the more established small bars in Wollongong and has been open for several years. I had been there before. The waitress seemed to be annoyed when we walked in, and her face showed it. It looked like we had crashed a private party. It was only 10:10 PM. The first thing she said was the kitchen has closed. Most of the tables were empty, and there were two other groups. A group of four young men at the table nearest the door and a group of six young people at the bar.
The decor is muted and sophisticated. You could describe it as Scandi with blond timber and fine lines. A petite arrangement of flowers/leaves was on each table. The light fittings were chic woven timber. Their glassware was elegant, and I had a tasty pink grapefruit-soda water mix. The music was bland but at a reasonable volume. The one toilet was a bit messy and smelly. It might have been OK at the beginning of the night but needed a clean at this time.
Karen and Tanya both commented that the wine was a bit acidic. We could not comment on the food as we did not see a menu. Although the vibe was quite pleasant, we did not interact with the wait staff at all beyond ordering our drinks. We did not score the Throsby well, and we perhaps were over critical because of our less than enthusiastic greeting.
BEST: decor and glassware:
WORST: Reception on arrival. If you’re not open for business, close the door!
And the winner (so far) is…
The graph below shows our overall scores for the six bars visited to date. Births and Deaths has come out as a clear winner for many reasons. Jared was a star. Friendly, knowledgeable and willing to spend time chatting with us telling us about his philosophy. This made all the difference.
I read an article about how the rise of the global tourist is killing Europe. It described how locals are being isolated and alienated in their own cities as bus loads of tourists arrive with their selfie sticks and cameras. Fresh off the cruise boat they don’t spend much, but they strip the place of its ambiance like a horde of locusts.
Am I a travel locust?
It was a slap in the face that I could not ignore.
It made me sad to think I could be part of a global problem, after all I have Do Iceland on my bucket list! Am I going to make it harder for the inhabitants? Will they get kicked out of their homes so I can rent a place on AirBnB? Will I be welcome? I have always felt that my tourist dollars were welcome. But at what cost? Sure I add to the local economy, but if it means the locals are unable to enjoy the amenity of their own home to the extent described by this article; I don’t want to be a part of that!
It got me thinking about my “travel values” and my “value as a traveller”. I generally travel solo although I have joined in on small group tours run by the likes of Intrepid and Peregrine. My impact must be lower than a cruise boat which docks with 2500 passengers for a few hours. It must; mustn’t it? I try not to exploit the locals by acting like the rich tourist who barters over the equivalent of 50 cents. That makes me an ethical traveller? Doesn’t it?
It’s time to examine my travel values. Here is an interview with my right shoulder guy (Reggie) and my left shoulder guy (Louie)
Why do you want to travel Louie? To experience new things and to learn about the world. To increase my knowledge of and therefore acceptance for, people different to myself. To decrease the boundaries between myself and “the other”.
Is that the only reason: Ok so there is a little bit of one-up-manship in there too. Also a bit of vanity publishing as evidenced by this blog. Listen Reggie we want to be famous! This is our fledgling side hustle here!
We don’t have to fly somewhere on a jet and add to carbon emissions to experience something new? That’s true. Perhaps we don’t. But we have our reputation as a budding photographer to consider here Reggie.
Ahh yes maybe? But Australia is an amazing place! Can’t you take fabulous photos here too? Yes we could but to travel for two weeks around Australia would cost us as much as four weeks in Asia and….
See there you go you are a hypocrite! It’s all about money! NO! It’s not! I want to be a mindful, thoughtful, considerate, intelligent traveller….
Yeah sure sure you do!
But I actually do.
What ARE my travel values?
To do no harm
To meet and talk to the people who live in a place as people not as photo opportunities.
To pay a fair price, not the lowest price.
To take time in one place. Quality not quantity of adventures.
To be active. Walk more, fly/drive less.
To add value by taking less than I give.
To get to know places well.
To make friends.
To be a good ambassador for my own culture/country.
My travel slate is clear for 2019 at this point in time. With a serious drought affecting all of my own home state, I think I might make it a year to travel local and see more of this Wide Brown Land. My dollar will do more good here than abroad.
Move over Max and Priscilla – the Old Chook is coming to town! To Broken Hill that is, one of the richest mining areas in Australia.
Broken Hill 2014
Broken Hill, Australia
As of a few days ago, I have accepted a one year secondment to work in Broken Hill commencing in January 2019.
Broken Hill is in far west NSW and was the location for Mad Max 2 (aka Road Warrior), and Priscilla – Queen of the Desert. It creates the desolate moody background for lots of other movies like Mission Impossible 2. Even though I have only been there for one short visit, I have a soft spot for Broken Hill. It was the original Old Chook’s first destination (see this post )
Being 1,100 km northwest of my current home, the landscape is very different and almost alien. The sandy beach of my home town will be replaced by sandy desert. Summer temperatures hover at 40oC and above for days on end. The winter is mild and it’s always dry.
It’s still a few months away but I am already getting excited. I don’t know anyone who lives there, I don’t know where I will live (yet) and I am leaving behind family and friends. My friends are calling me brave, but to my mind this is a “safe” adventure. It has limits. It’s only a year, my old job will be waiting for me when I get back and I won’t be any worse off financially. I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you’ve always got”
I am looking forward to
stargazing with a totally dark night sky and doing some astrophotography.
Watching the sun rise and set on a horizon that is so vast you can see the curvature of the earth.
Getting to know the locals and
Stretching my own comfortable life.
Over the next few months I will be getting ready to go. There will be lots of planning. No doubt there will be spreadsheets! Plenty of spreadsheets.
I will chronicle my progress here and share this Old Chook’s adventures in the outback! I hope you’ll enjoy the virtual journey.
The images here are from a road trip I took to Broken Hill in 2013.
This excerpt comes from a newsreel made back in 1953
The “Park Run” is a free event that happens in lots of different places world-wide on Saturday mornings. It’s a 5km timed run/walk organised by volunteers. There are three park runs near where I live in Wollongong, but strangely there wasn’t one in New York.
This weekend I am in Old Bar on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Australia for a 40th School Reunion. That in itself is a scary concept which I will write more about later for my regular Friday post.
In the meantime here is a little CHOOKUMENTARY about the Park Run in Taree. Today I ran the course in just over 27 minutes. The course is relatively flat and follows along a footpath on the foreshore of the Manning River.
Check out Park Run’s Website for more information. This link is for their Australian chapter but there are others in other countries. Park Run Australia
I can see the twinkling lights on the land. A cluster of brightness surrounded by black. The wake being cast aside is fluorescent; although on closer inspection it could just be the lights from the ship reflecting off the white water. A delicate, cold breeze ruffles my hair as I lean over the balcony and breath in the salted air.
Perhaps the lights are Gosford? My smart phone, which still has a good signal, says we are somewhere north of Manly. We have been sailing for just on two hours and we are going nowhere. Well, nowhere in particular. This cruise; a 3-night comedy cruise; sails out the Sydney Heads on Friday afternoon around 3pm and turns left to head up the coast and then does a u-ey around Coffs Harbour and creeps home in time for work on a Monday morning.
They call it a Sea Break; I call it a rest. This is the sort of cruise I like. Some luxury. Some hedonism. Too much food. Too much drinking. Grand fun and it’s only three nights. Not long enough to get bored on board and no so long that all your New Year’s resolutions are thrown out the porthole. Long enough to let your hair down but not long enough to let yourself down. You can even still go to the gym if you want!
The 3 or 4-day cruise to nowhere is a relatively new option in the cruise offerings. With port fees being too expensive for ships to stay in dock, they go out for short trips in between their longer voyages.
This is my fourth short cruise in three years. I have learnt not to bring my ‘big’ camera. There are no real photo opportunities that the phone can’t handle. Nothing beyond friends doing silly things, playing trivia; corny stage shows and maybe the occasional dolphin. I have learnt to pack a series of nice frocks, so you can get dressed-up for dinner and forget the diet for a little while.
Cruising has come back in vogue and it’s a huge business. According to Statistica the global cruise industry was worth $US39.6 billion in 2015. This was a $US15 billion increase from the previous 5 years. Why is cruising so popular? I think it boils down to a few basic elements
1. You don’t have to plan much. Book your cruise and away you go. No itinerary to work out. No deciding where you are going to eat other than choosing from the options on the ship. You don’t need to worry about connecting flights, hiring a car, booking hotels etc etc.
It’s good value for money. Cruising is an all-inclusive ticket. I am no millionaire so the cruises I have been on have been very reasonably priced. The ticket includes food, entertainment and accommodation. If you are canny, you can avoid paying for anything else, provided you drink water, coffee and tea and stick to the included food options. On P&O and Royal Caribbean the included food options are very acceptable. The alcoholic beverages are about the same as in a suburban pub. If you are planning on partying hard you can buy drinks packages at various levels. There is enough free entertainment to keep you amused but you’ll have to opt out of the spa treatments.
You can do as much or as little as you like. Go to the gym, attend all the trivia sessions, origami, dance lessons, play board games on deck, swim, sun bake, sleep, drink and eat. It’s up to you. You don’t even have to get off for the shore tours when you get to port if you don’t want to. You can spend your whole time in the spa, get botox, attend lectures on nutrition. On themed cruises you can try your hand at stand-up comedy, go to cooking lessons, or photography lessons among many other activities.
A cooking class during a shore trip in Eden
You can find a cruise to suit your budget. On the Cruiseaway website the cheapest cruise leaving Sydney is $190 but you needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice for the 4-day comedy cruise to New Zealand. On the other end of the spectrum, you can spend a cool $40,000 on a 62 night round the world cruise.
Cruises are great for families. You can book your little nippers in to the kids’ clubs and be free to spend the day as you wish. You’ll know they’ll be entertained and they can’t get up to too much mischief.
Cruising is not for everyone. If you are a serious adventurer, I would say that you’d find them a TAD boring. Some liken cruises to a floating RSL’s on a Friday night with the roast meat buffet and jelly cups. Lots of kitschy glitz, rusty tinsel, feather boas and bingo. Cruise companies have tried to appeal to the adventure market with on-board rock climbing walls, zip lines and water slides. At the end of the day though, you are stuck in the one place, for a few days at least.
For those who suffer sea sickness the thought of getting on a big white ship is terrifying. With all those decks towering above the water you might also worry about the risk of tipping over in big waves. Modern technology has it covered – to some extent. Stabilizers, which act like big under water wings, reduce the side to side rocking of the ship. They can reduce movement by up to 90%. The forward and back rocking can be reduced by sailing parallel to the waves. There is less movement in the core of the ship so you will do better in an inside cabin on a lower deck. Another benefit of inside cabins is that they are a cheaper. On the downside, they don’t get any natural light. This is great for sleeping in, but it will mess with your body clock. The view can get monotonous especially after several “at sea” days.
I would recommend cruising with a group of friends. Around 6 – 10 would be ideal. Decide from the start that you won’t get precious if you want to do different things and not spend every minute of the day with each other and only go for a few days. Be prepared to relax and party. Pack your dancing shoes and your slippers!
 RSL clubs or Returned Services League Clubs are usually large, brightly lit clubs with cheap drinks, cheap food and lots of poker machines. The entertainment is often provided by 1970’s has-beens or rip offs of has-beens. Some are very nice, but they can be bland.
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.
Pademelon with joey
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.
Eastern Yellow Robin
Lewins Honey eater(?)
Eastern Yellow Robin
Brown pigeon – last in the interesting name category
Juvenille Eastern Rosella
Superb Blue wren
Eastern Yellow Robin
Female Eastern Yellow Robin
Crested pigeon AKA pointy headed pigeon!
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.
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.
As I dragged my bag from the airport carousel my Mum said “I will warn you now the cicadas are really bad this year”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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!
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!
So what’s the deal with the Old Chooks I hear you ask? Well you know, I ain’t no spring chicken anymore and as someone on the other side of fifty, I thought old chook was a fitting moniker. But the old chooks didn’t start with this blog. No; they have a rich and varied past.
I found them in an op shop (thrift store) in Wollongong. They were originally wine bottle stoppers with corks attached to their bottoms. I fell in love, paid the $2 asking price and brought them home. I did some surgery to remove the corks and Ruby and Esmeralda went into the camera bag.
They were considerably smaller than the garden gnomes you see some people take on holidays and it was my intention to take them on my travels and have them do fun and interesting things. I didn’t matter that they weren’t really chickens; they were close enough.
Their first big outing, “Old Chook’s World Tour Part 1” was to the Australian outback in 2013. They flew with me to Adelaide from Sydney and then came on a road trip through parts of the River Land of Victoria and then up to Broken Hill. Nearly 2000 km all up. They had a great time. Cracking jokes on Facebook and generally amusing my friends. (Maybe they only amused me but I was having fun!)
Unfortunately they languished in the bottom of the camera bag for a while. They came everywhere but they had developed stage fright. When I got a larger camera, there was no room for them and they got put aside.
Ruby and Esmeralda did not make any more appearances until 2016 when they went on a cruise to Kangaroo Island. Once again, they joined in on the fun, had a few too many cocktails and on their first shore tour in Eden, ended up going overboard, literally. (I left the zip of my bag undone….)
I was genuinely upset and searched for a new photo mascot. First, I found Penny, the grey seal in Mornington Peninsula. She had plenty of personality but failed her audition because her supine stance meant she couldn’t pose very elegantly.
Later that same year, I found Spark and Button in Bright, Victoria (think about it!) They have made limited (i.e no) appearances other than their debut performance on Facebook
Chooks, however, have been the inspiration for my souvenir purchases. A few times I have had to deviate from the theme and get other avian species like ducks, canaries, kiwis and once, a polar bear (Yes…. I know, I know but at least it was an animal!) It has also given my family and friends a rich source for gift giving ideas and I have an impressive collection of garden chickens.
Chooks also are a favourite subject to photograph.
From now on, I am going to make a serious effort to take Spark and Button with me on my next journey but if any fishermen down near Eden finds Ruby and Esmeralda; let me know; there is a reward!