Travel Mascots Part 4

The return of Iain

Several weeks ago, I reported that I had very carelessly lost Iain, my wee travel companion. I surmised that I had perhaps left him on the rooftop of my car while I packed my things or that I had simply left him on the rocks at Salen Jetty.


The last known sighting of Iain


While devastated by his loss, I found another travel companion, Iain mac Iain. His black watch kilt and shawl at odds with the Royal Stewart tartan of his “father”. But hey, you have to make do with what you have, and I had a very generous donation of black watch tweed from my Airbnb host in Lewis.

Iain mac Iain was a valiant replacement. Forever seeking out his father, befriending other seemingly lost or abandoned travel mascots, he made it home safely to Australia after spending the better part of a month in Scotland. He had some grand adventures and has appeared in many unknown facebook posts as he was included in other people’s family snaps.

I sought the help of the good people of Salen Jetty. I messaged the shop as soon as I realised he was missing. We stayed in contact and finally the day after I flew back into Australia an Iain- sighting was made on Facebook! True to his armoury loving-self he was found sitting on top of a canon! My Salen Jetty shop contacts were quick to claim on my behalf.


Now, three weeks after that first sighting he is here with me in Wollongong, Australia having a grand reunion with his dad! After an awkward handshake and a few minutes of small talk, it was man hugs all round!


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come here, Son!

Thanks to the power of the interwebs and the friendliness of a small community, we have been reunited! If you are ever in Salen Jetty, please drop in on these good folks, tell them you read the story of Iain and thank them on my behalf!

Thank you also to my friends who have joined in on Iain and Iain’s journeys, we’ve had some fun!


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)

A black metal scultpure of a man in a baseball hat with is arms crossed
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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Wollongong Snapshot 3: The Active ‘Gong – a few free, fun outdoor activities when you visit Wollongong.

There’s plenty to see and do in my home town. People come here for holidays! You can easily fill up a weekend with active fun and fab food with very little effort. This post is about some free things you can do to keep active while spending time in Wollongong. I am not going to say much about accommodation or cafes etc. I will keep that for a separate post. This is certainly not an exhaustive guide but gives you a bit of an idea of things to do.

  1. Like swimming but not sand? Head down to the Continental Pools just on the other side of the breakwater from Belmore Basin.

    There are two 50 m pools side by side. They are filled with the sea water but not tidal and the bright blue pool shell makes them look like a regular chlorine pool. Entry is free! This blog post gives some more information about the pool. . The Wollongong Council website also has information about opening times.

  2. Like swimming and don’t mind the sand? Wollongong has more sandy beaches than you can poke a boogie board at! From Stanwell Park in the north to “Farm” down at Killalea State Park there are all sorts of beaches.
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    Woonona Beach

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    Bulli Beach Sea Pool

    If you are in the CBD, you can easily walk to City Beach or North Beach. The Bathing Pavilion at North Beach has been renovated and has good change rooms and showers and there are some cafes there too.

    You can walk along the Blue Mile and around the lighthouses to get from one beach to the other. City Beach and North Beach are patrolled (by life guards) in season and you should swim between the flags. Belmore Basin is a small sandy beach on Wollongong Harbour. This is a great place for little kids and swimmers who don’t like waves. If you are a surfer have a look at this site for a few suggestions.

  3. Bushwalking. There are some very fine bushwalks in the Illawarra area.
  • Sublime Point Walk. If you are a bit of an extreme exercise enthusiast, you might like to try the Sublime Point Walk. It’s short (less than a kilometre one way) but it’s straight up (more or less) the escarpment. Lots of people try to beat their own personal best and get it done one way in less than 30 minutes. That’s easy if you come down the track but not so much if you start at Austinmer and go up. The National Parks website tells you how to get there and where to park. You can take the train and get off at Austinmer. This is also uphill and will take about 20 – 25 minutes. Take water and snacks. There is a café at the top but it is not open 24/7. Apart from trying to beat the speed record lots of people aim to get to the top by sunrise, so many start the walk in the near dark. Please note: the local residents will get VERY narky if you park in their driveway so play nice if you drive. You should be fit to do this walk – it’s a hard slog and will be tough on your knees. You need to be comfortable climbing ladders and there are lots of stairs. But the view!! The view is amazing!


  1. The Park Run: The Park Run is a global volunteer-organised running club. There are three places you can do the Park Run in the Illawarra if you are a registered member. One in Sandon Pont, another that starts from Fairy Meadow Surf Club and then down south in Shellharbour. These 5 km timed runs are all in great locations and attract lots of locals and travellers. . Links to the Sandon Point and Shellharbour runs are on this page. The runs are held on Saturday mornings.


  1. Bike riding: Fancy a long ride along the beach? There is a bike/walk path that goes from the just south of the city up to Thirroul in the North – around 10 km all up. You will wind your way past several beaches, Bellambi Lagoon and some urban areas. You can also ride around Lake Illawarra (about 31 km)
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The Seacliff Bridge

In the future it will be possible to walk/ride from Stanwell Park in the north right down to Lake Illawarra. Some sections are completed but it is not yet possible unless you ride on the road. You can walk/ride across the iconic Seacliff Bridge which features in lots of car ads. The bridge is on Lawrence Hargrave Drive.

6.  Wollongong Botanic Gardens. For those who prefer a more gentle walk the WBG are a real treat. Both Native and exotic plants are on display with picnic areas and secret trails. They also host a Sunset Cinema in summer (which is not free). You could also duck across the road and have a wander through the University of Wollongong’s grounds.

Need a rest?

The following ideas, while not active may also be of interest to round out your weekend!

  1. Feeling Spiritual? Australia is a secular country but there are several large temples and churches in the Illawarra area that are interesting to visit.
  • Nan Tien Temple. The Nan Tien Temple is a huge Buddhist Temple and conference centre. It has beautiful gardens and you can wander around and look at the interesting buildings, gong the peace bell and sit in on the free lectures about Buddhism. There is a very good vegan café. This page has information on how to get there and what to wear
  • Sri Venkateswara Temple. This Hindu temple is in the northern most suburb of Wollongong; Helensburgh. While accessible by public transport and a 4 km walk, a car would make it much easier! It is closed between 12 – 4pm on week days. Once again you can buy vegetarian food here. Find more information here

  1. Museums and Art Galleries:
  • Wollongong Art Gallery: There is a small regional art gallery in Wollongong’s city centre. It has a permanent collection as well as several exhibitions each year. It would be a great way to spend an hour or so on a very hot or wet day!
  • Illawarra Museum: This cute little museum which is run by the Illawarra Historical Society is right on the beach and in the old court building. It’s free to enter but they can use a donation if you would like to contribute. See their website for more




[1] This is for the full track – there are several paces to start so you can cut it down to 6 km one way if you wish.

Hunting deer.

One of my work colleagues, Zac, is a hunter. In July 2017, I interviewed Zac to write a story I wanted to enter into a non-fiction writing competition. I wrote 3000 words and added in some photos of him butchering one of his kills. Not as gruesome as it sounds. It was just the hind leg that had been hanging up for a while in a big fridge. No blood. No guts.

The thesis of my story was that while most people are OK with fishing, not as many people are OK with hunting and hunters. I explored the fear of guns, the access to guns by non-hunters for crime or self-harm, animal welfare and our complicated relationship with killing animals for food. I contrasted factory-style meat production with the concept of ethical hunting.

Zac told me that he gets very polarised responses when he tells people about his hobby. He has been threatened when seeking permission from property owners to enter their land to hunt. On the other hand, some landowners are very keen to get rid of the Rusa deer that graze on their land.

Rusa Deer have become a big problem in the Illawarra region, as well as elsewhere in Australia. They are causing havoc in the Royal National Park, north of Wollongong and have been linked to several fatal car accidents along the Southern Freeway when they wander onto the verge.

There is some dispute between hunters, environmentalists and the local council about whether their numbers are increasing or whether they have just been pushed into a smaller range due to the residential development of the hinterland areas. Either way, their presence has become more obvious.

Deer are only part of the problem of introduced species in Australia. The coming of Europeans brought with them foxes, deer, rabbits, horses, water buffalo, mice, rats, cats, dogs, pigs, camels, goats, cane toads, carp, weeds of all sorts, honey bees, wasps etc etc etc.

These introduced species have had a disastrous impact on Australian ecosystems, already fragile due to the relatively harsh climate in parts and the long-isolated nature of our island home. Our little herbivorous animals were no match for the superior hunting skills of cats and foxes. Plants are trampled and watercourses sullied. In the absence of predators for the ferals, native species extinction has been an inevitable consequence.

There have been attempts to control these pest species, rabbits in particular, through diseases such as Myxomatosis and Calicivirus with limited success. Baiting is another less than perfect control method. Biological controls and sterilisation programs are costly and unlikely to work for all species.

Killing pest animals and using them as food would seem a good solution to the problem especially for the likes of deer, goats, rabbits and pigs as they are already items on the menu. This option, however, is not likely to occur any time soon.

Many people link hunting to rabid gun owners shooting anything that moves. We think hunting is cruel and that the animal will suffer. From the conversation I had with Zac, I don’t think this is always the case. He described that ethical hunters will only take a shot if they are certain they will have a good clean kill. That is if they can be sure they will hit the major artery in the neck which will lead to a quick death.

Zac spends as much time behind the camera as the rifle and he posts videos to his own YouTube channel. As with most things, there are some hunters who break the rules and act like idiots and give all hunters a bad name.

Australians, in general, are confused about hunting. This confusion rests I think, in our sanitised vision of meat production. Very few of us have been to an abattoir and witnessed sheep or cattle being killed and prepared for sale. We are happy to buy our meat in plastic trays but not happy with those who have the desire to harvest their own. If we eat meat We must be prepared to admit that an animal has died. Surely, killing an animal who has lived its life in freedom in the wild is better than killing one trapped in a shed? Where are the ethics in that? Our objection should then not be against hunters but against the industrialisation of meat production which turns animals into widgets.

On the other hand, would there be a market for these animals? In New South Wales it is illegal for hunters to sell the animals they kill for human consumption. They can give it away or consume it themselves but not sell it. I can understand some of the reasoning behind this in terms of public health and safety. Hunters may be able to kill the beasts but are they able to butcher, store and distribute meat safely and without risk of microbial contamination? Perhaps not, but a regulated and managed program of “harvesting” of wild caught game using licensed and trained hunters who deliver their carcasses to a central processing plant could work. It sounds a bit like commercial fishing, doesn’t it? No-one owns the fish. They are “wild”. They just get caught and brought to the fish markets. As consumers, we are even prepared to pay extra for ‘wild-caught’ fish.

The catch for feral mammals, however, is that if the industry became successful it would be self-limiting over time because beasts would be killed at a greater rate than they could breed. This would be the ultimate goal, to eradicate them from our fragile bushland and limit further native species extinction.

I am not sure where I stand. I don’t think I could kill a deer, but I have eaten venison and I do eat other meat. I have gone fishing then killed and eaten my catches. I am not sure what the difference is. Perhaps I am just fish-ist.

Wonderwalls Festival – Wollongong Snapshot 2

I live in the regional city of Wollongong which is around 90 km south of Sydney. These days, not much divides the sprawling southern suburbs of Sydney and the northern suburbs of Wollongong. Once home to Aunty Jack[1] a 1970’s TV comedy, the cultural landscape is now much more diverse[2].

A recent addition has been the Wonder Walls Festival which is held in the last weekend of November. Our council invites[3] local and international artists to brighten up the walls around the city’s CBD.

After three consecutive years you can really notice the difference and the vibrant atmosphere this project is bringing to town.

Some of the works are very small scale and others are truly majestic. I hope it’s a tradition that is set to stay.



[2] See my other recent post



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.

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.

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!)


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.”

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…


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.


“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.


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?


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.



Big Surf Decisions – a photo essay

P1120258It’s hard to believe I took this series of photos five years ago today. They popped up as memories on Facebook. I was using my first semi-serious camera, a Panasonic Lumix FZ250[1]  I was  at the beginning of my photographic journey, venturing out at every opportunity to learn how to use the various dials and buttons.

To set the scene. This is Bellambi Beach, a suburb of Wollongong. It’s winter. It’s cold and stormy and the surf was HUGE. There was only one other surfer brave enough to tackle the waves. Taken from the protected southern end of the beach , these shots  don’t show how big they were. The wind was blowing the white caps back into the sea.


This young fellow stood there with his board under his arm for about ten minutes. Watching, and waiting for a break so he could jump in from the sea-pool. He turned around, defeated many times only to turn back for another try.


I could hear his internal dialog.

You CAN do this!
‘No! Too dangerous’

‘Don’t be a wimp!’

I was desperately trying to send him telepathic messages of ‘NO!’

‘Don’t do it! This is not the time to prove how bloke-y you are’

Thankfully, his sensible shoulder-angel won and he left with wet feet but a whole undamaged body.




[1] Serious for me! It has manual mode!