Flat out …

I heard a standup comedian on the radio the other day. His shtick was essentially based on the notion that men are always flat out busy whilst women just get things done. I doubt his career is going to rocket along, as comedy it was quite unfunny and if it was a snivelling attempt to curry favour with women he’s forgotten that in the new snivellisation it’s at least a micro-aggression to suggest a gender difference.

But let me tell you, I have been flat out busy.

It was the vintage. Time to pick the grapes. The family gathers, the sun shines, the pretty girls ply the workers with their choice of chocolates or fruit, old uncle Joe plays his accordion, a glass of a previous vintage waits at the end of every row. Perfect bunches of fruit bursting with the elixir of life itself drop almost effortlessly into baskets that fill quickly without ever seeming to get heavier. Ah, the romance.

photo GHD

The reality may be a little different. The infinite number of people who will help you drink the wine haven’t turned up for work. You start the day early in the prolonged cold, wet, intimate embrace of dew laden foliage. You cradle a bunch in one hand cut the stalk (occasionally a finger) with secateurs wielded by the other hand, drop the fruit in your bucket and search for the next bunch. Your back is bent for most bunches, you’re on your knees for the low ones.

By 10 am it’s drying out and warming up. That’s when the European wasps arrive. Those bunches that you cradle may now be armed and dangerous. You carry your full buckets to the end of the row where band aids and empty buckets await, samples of previous vintages are nowhere in sight.

photo GHD

At the end of the day the fruit goes through the crusher-destemmer and into the vat. It’s funny how your windscreen wipers only pack up in the rain and your crusher-destemmer only refuses to work when you harvest. The day was extended by the time it took to take it apart, find that the drive chain was rusty, get that cleaned up, freed up and reassembled.

Then the grapes go in the hopper, most of the stems are ejected to one side, the grapes and their juice go through into the vat. A days picking goes through in a couple of minutes.


photo GHD

It was a productive year. It’s the second year that we’ve netted the ripening crop to keep the birds from eating it all. I was dubious but the lovely Gayle insisted and she has been proven right. She gets things done.

We have some white grapes too but my attempts at white wine have been disappointing so we just leave them for the birds. With the nets we can leave the grapes longer to develop a bit more sugar. By the time that they were ready to pick a vine without a net on was a vine without a grape on.

Yeast is added and fermentation begins. The liquid, now called must, ferments on the skins for a week. This will be red wine in due course and that’s how it gets its colour. The berries float on top and need to be pushed into the liquid four or five times a day, a process known as punching the cap.

Then it’s time to transfer the liquid to a variable capacity stainless steel vat and press the skins to get the last few litres.

photo GHD

Nature now takes its course. Time for a few days break at the seaside.

Autumn …

In this neck of the woods the leaves stay green, and for the moment the grass stays brown. Not for us the fall colors that give the American and English photographers fresh inspiration.

Walking in the bushland reserve just across the creek yesterday I saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of Dusky Woodswallows, many of them juveniles with their streaky heads. The reserve supports a couple of pairs that breed there most summers. The large numbers are the result of the previously dispersed population forming flocks and making their way north.

The Reedwarblers, Bushlarks and Sacred Kingfishers seem to have quietly departed already. Time to start looking for Swift Parrots and Flame Robins.

Dusky Woodswallow (juvenile)

The Swamp Wallabies will be sticking around. At the moment they’re eating my grapes. I’m just about ready to pick what ever the birds and wallabies have left for me. Before the one above took off she gave me a moment of her time. Just long enough to grab this portrait of her and her joey against the early morning light.

Wallabia bicolor

Buloke …

I’ve known this tree for about 30 years. It hasn’t changed a bit, half dead when I first saw it, half dead today.

Allocasuarina luehmannii has a broad distribution in the drier parts of southern and eastern Australia often on sandy soils. In Victoria the most fertile part of its range has largely been cleared for wheat growing. So there are far fewer than there used to be.

It is a hard wood. In fact, according to the not always reliable Wikipedia, it has the hardest wood in the world. Black Cockatoos are fond of it, they eat the seeds.

This particular tree sits nicely against the sky. I have photographed it often. This time at sunset.

Christmas Decorations …

Diamond Firetails are occasional visitors to the neighbourhood. They feed on the ground usually on the margins of open woodland. A small flock will turn up, stick around for a while then move on. In winter flocks may coalesce and transform a familiar place. Next time you visit you may not find any.

I found this group on the outskirts of Maryborough where irrigated farmland abuts some Box/Ironbark Woodland. There were some youngsters among the adults.

Stagonopleura guttata

Boobook …

Anticipating a hot day I got out early for my bird walk and had a fairly productive morning. After a swim I took refuge from the heat.

In the hottest part of the afternoon a visitor delivered the news that there was an owl near the front gate much to the annoyance of the small birds of the neighbourhood.

I hastened forth camera in hand, followed the protests of some White-plumed Honeyeaters and there he was …

Southern Boobook

I say he because it is quite a small individual. The females are larger. It puts up with the harassment of small birds with remarkable stoicism perhaps secure in the knowledge that it can take its revenge after dark. As well as small birds they also take mice and flying insects.

There are a number of subspecies (although what that number is varies from authority to authority). The chest marking of this character are typical of the race Ninox novaeseelandiae boobook.

Honey flow …

It started a week or so ago with a few isolated trees, now most of the River Reddies in the neighbourhood are in flower. The smell is just like honey.

Eucalyptus camaldulensis

The River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) is Australia’s most widespread eucalypt found mainly along watercourses in otherwise fairly dry country. Flowering occurs mainly in December and January but it’s not every year that we get a big flowering event like this one.

There are always a few hives in the local woodland reserve but the beekeepers have been quick to recognise the potential and were busy installing reinforcements this morning …

There haven’t been a lot of lorikeets or honeyeaters about lately but I expect that to change in coming days.