T’is the season …

Well of course it is, the mince pies are back in the shops. No carols yet, though.

In Darwin, Australia’s most northerly state capital, the inhabitants from the dawn of time identified six seasons. Presently it’s Gurrung, the hot dry period, time to hunt file snakes and long-necked turtles. When the white fellah showed up he simplified matters to just two seasons, wet and dry.

Melbourne, the most southerly capital of mainland Australia, has four seasons … most days.

In my little patch of Victoria it’s spring. The last week or so of winter was very summery. I do occasionally see a long-necked turtle but I’d starve to death if I had to rely on hunting them. I tend to notice the passage of the seasons by the birds. I heard the first Rufous Songlark on October 29. The following day they were everywhere singing and displaying for all they were worth.

Rufous Songlark

Horsefield’s Bronze-Cuckoos were hot on their heels.

Horsfield’s Bronze-Cuckoo

No sight or sound yet of the Sacred Kingfishers.

They were all greeted by an icy blast. Since the calendar ticked over the weather seems determined to return to winter.

Despite the cool weather the first Brown Snake of the year turned up in the dog yard this morning.

My neck of the woods is nice and green. Winter rain was about average and the crops locally are looking good. That’s not true for inland Australia even as close as north-west Victoria it’s been very dry. This has brought a few nomads into the state. It was my chance to add Pied Honeyeater and Crimson Chat to my Vic List. To find them I headed to Goschen and I found them both within an hour or so.

Crimson Chat has to be the most gorgeous bird in the Australian Field Guides but they are rarely as attractive in real life as they are on the page but some of the males on this occasion were at their finest …

The Yellow Robin that showed up recently in the driveway is still around. I hold out little hope for it finding a mate however.

Home Sweet Home …

Home looked beautiful. In the winter the surrounding country turns so green that it would give Ireland a run for its money. OK I exaggerate a little and on close inspection the foot high grass surrounding the house was Cape Weed. And it was cold.

First job was to cut some wood and get the fire going then it was onto the mower for a first run round.

The creek was flowing and debris in some lower branches showed that it had almost overflowed its banks while we were away. One of the deeper pools had a couple of platypus swimming around. In summer you only get to see them at sunset and sunrise. In cold cloudy weather they can be seen during the day as well. In either case the light is never good. I’ll get a respectable photo one day.

My first visit to this property was about 30 years ago when it belonged to my in-laws. The creek is one boundary. Beyond that there is a nature reserve. On an early visit I saw an Eastern Yellow Robin in the reserve. That wasn’t entirely unexpected so I thought little of it.

Despite regular visits I didn’t see another one until this past summer when I encountered a pair on a number of occasions. One even had the audacity to venture briefly to my side of the creek and onto the birdlist for the property.

Thirty years ago the driveway was an avenue of flourishing wattle trees. The millennial drought and old age, wattles only last about thirty years, saw them die off. My father-in-law was talking about planting olives in their place. That spurred me to volunteer to plant some native trees instead (which may have been his underlying intention). I left the skeletons of the dead trees as perches and as an insect supply for the birds and planted Red Ironbarks in between. These are indigenous to the area and have deeply indented barks that are much liked by Brown Treecreepers. The Treecreepers were common enough in the reserve but rarely bothered crossing the creek. As the trees have grown so the Treecreepers have moved in.

And so, too, has an Eastern Yellow Robin. For the past few days he or she has been watching me at work in the driveway. I hope that the habitat is good enough that they stay and hope that they find a friend to join them. I wonder if this is the offspring of the pair I saw in the summer.

Eastern Yellow Robin

Watching me at work in the driveway?  Well yes, there are these bloody wattle trees that keep falling over and need to be cut up! There are still a few more to go.


Chaff cutter to the stars …

I was complaining about the weather yesterday and today is no better. But last night the sky cleared and gave us a look at the stars. I put on my warmest clothes and sallied forth. Clear skies have been a rarity just recently. This was a good opportunity to complete a project that was conceived months ago.

The machine is a chaff cutter. It was built by Buncle of North Melbourne and after a busy life preparing horse feed is now retired.

John Buncle was a Scot who arrived in Melbourne in 1852 aged about 30. This was at the height of the gold rush. He was a skilled draftsman and engineer and had no trouble finding employment. After about a year as foreman at Langlands foundry he started his own business and became famous in the field of agricultural machinery.

He died in 1889 by which time he’d made a sufficient mark in Melbourne society to warrant an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Even More Rain …

A bout of rain last week brought 17mm to the farm and made my neighbours happy. Yesterday it rained a lot more. We emptied 35mm out of the rain gauge. The neighbours are now ecstatic.

The creek at the bottom of the garden has been a series of pools. It is now the handsome river in the photo above. The ford hasn’t had water flowing over it for more than a year.

The ground is turning green as we watch. It’s beautiful.

Carman’s Tunnel …

The visitor to Victoria’s goldfields has a number of opportunities to get underground. The most authentic has to be Carman’s Tunnel. There is no tourist hype, there’s not even any electricity which could be why there is no EFTPOS. The $7.50 for adults and $2.50 for children will need to handed over as real money. Excellent value.

The mine is located at the end of Perkins Reef Road in Maldon. It’s just opposite the North British Mine site, the famous quartz kilns and the ruins of Oswald’s Workshops.

Currently tours run on Saturdays, Sundays, Public Holidays and School Holidays (closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and Good Friday) at 1:30pm, 2:30pm, and 3:30pm. Each tour takes 30 – 40 minutes. You can check for changes <HERE>.

Maldon was a very gold rich area and the concept of tunneling through extremely hard rock until you hit a reef was sufficiently attractive to induce investors to part with their money. The Great International Quartz Mining Company was formed in 1882 and drilled 600 metres of tunnel over a period of two years and two months. Reports of the yield vary from nothing to next to nothing and the project was abandoned.

Initially the mining proceeded by one man swinging a sledge hammer at a drill held by a second man. They changed places from time to time. Each was given two candles per day to last their 10 hour shift. If they broke a candle they could get a replacement with the cost deducted from their wages. Be careful with the candle.

At the end of the week the holes would be filled with powder and the rock would be blasted. Be very careful with the candle.

Progress was about a metre a week. Across the road at the North British Mine Robert Dent Oswald was pioneering and manufacturing compressed air drills. Progress picked up considerably once these were adopted. If the miners welcomed the new regime their enthusiasm would soon be extinguished by the silicosis that cut short their lives.

A couple of Oswald’s Compressed Air Drills remain in the mine …

While the Great International Quartz Mining Company was throwing money into a hole in the ground The North British, just a stone’s throw away, was hauling money out. It was one of the last of Maldon’s mines to close, by 1926 it had yielded more than 242,000 ounces of gold.

Carman’s Tunnel is well worth a visit. The temperature inside is very mild no matter what the day is doing outside. The floor is pretty level. Where else can you get a tour by candlelight?

The North British Mine site is also fascinating. Kilns were used to roast the quartz making it easier to crush before it went into the cyanide pits for gold extraction. The kilns and pits are well preserved and there is sufficient interpretive signage to make sense of the rest of the ruins. Entry is free. Learn more <HERE>.

Quartz kilns – North British Mine
Cyanide pits – North British Mine

Autumn Break …

Back in the US students and their parents are contemplating the Spring Break and whatever shenanigans go with it. Around where I live the farmers are hoping for a decent autumn break, a far more prosaic event when precipitation catches up with evaporation and a winter crop can go in.

The last significant rain was in January. The other mainstay around here is sheep. The paddocks are fairly bare. Feed is being delivered by truck or tractor.

We may get a little rain tonight. Beyond that the outlook is dry for a while. Nonetheless preparations are under way. Fertiliser piles that appeared in the last few weeks are now slowly disappearing. Not everyone calls in the airforce – some spread it the old-fashioned way …