What mystified me was the lack of insect life. Not an ant on the leaves, not a boatman on the water, not a fish jumping, not a nibble on my hook. I’d borrowed a rod from my brother – surely one left over from one of his sons as I don’t think Richard was any kind of fisherman. I was up at 05h30 and sitting on his little plank jetty on Cabbage Tree Creek, the only place I could get near the water as the banks were choked with what I was told were tea-tree bushes.
Then a hard, rhythmic splashing was heard getting closer and the weirdest brown duck-like bird paddled into view. It seemed to have a piece of seaweed in its beak and thrashing the water with its tail. I was totally gob-smacked as it thrashed its way along and out of view again. It turned out to be a male musk duck (Biziura lobata) which has a large, leathery, pendulous lobe of skin which it can inflate that dangles below its bill. It was actually doing its mating thing by fanning its long stiff tail feathers out, either cocked up and over the bird’s back or spread out over the water, at the same time kicking the water to produce the loud splash. Bizarre.
To balance the ugliest bird I ever saw in my life, the gum tree forest on Richard’s farm also sported the prettiest and the noisiest. It wasn’t the only cocky seen there but the crimson rosellas take the prize for beauty, in my view. But what does take some getting used to is the incessant calling of bellbirds (or Bell Miners) which can drill a hole in your head. Apparently it is part of their strategy to rid their colony’s territory of all other birds. However, I did see the famous kookaburras, ravens, an Eastern Spinebill and the odd fairy wren.
Just prior to the first weekend on his farm near Marlo, Gippsland, Victoria, Oz, I went to Lakes Entrance on my own to take Mum out for the day in Richard’s Ford Stationwagon. It was the first time I had ever driven an automatic, but only once tried to push the nonexistent clutch. It had a petrol/LPG gas set-up – it was weird topping up with both at the filling station. Petrol was A$1-10 per litre and gas was half that. After lunch, I took Mum to Lake Tyers where we sat in the car overlooking the beach and the ocean of the Bass Straight. I’d hoped for a boat trip on the lake, but the weather was too cool and blustery for Mum.
I got back to the farm to meet the first of the arrivals of the weekend’s retreat Richard and Kate hold several times a year for a number of their fellow Catholics. They were an Italian Australian couple, very excitedly showing photos taken in Richard’s little chapel at the previous retreat. There were white streaks over the congregants heads which they pronounced was ectoplasm! Holy moly, more weird.
Friday 1st October 2004 saw the rest of the retreat folk arrive, including a priest whom Richard and I fetched in Orbost off the bus from Canberra. Luckily, when we got back, my dear friend and ex-brother-in-law Nico Jaspers arrived from his home in Orange NSW. After breakfast the next day with the retreaters, Nic took me via Lakes where we visited my Mum – she recognised him right off, so nothing wrong with her marbles – to Berwick, just outside Melbourne, where his own mother lived with his brother Frans Jaspers and his family. Nobody at home, but Nic’s guess was that we’d find them playing the pokies. Spot on! We bought beer, wine and biltong – from a South African butcher – and had a very festive reunion.
Next day, Nic headed home to Orange while Frans took me to Armadale to collect Richard’s daughter Jennifer’s Toyota Corolla where it was being looked after by a friend of his. Jen had already settled in London by this time. From there I braved the Melbourne traffic and safely got back to 6 Schutt Road, Newport, to spend a few days with my nephew, Mark and his wife, Katrina.
The next day’s adventure was going to Melbourne Central by train – it took this bushman nearly an hour to figure out how to get a ticket out of the machine!– to buy an adaptor plug for my cell phone as the Oz plugs are different to those in both South Africa and Botswana. The day after, I took the train again to Parliament Station, walked along Nicholson Street and spent the day at the Museum.
It has huge gardens, but the Exhibition Hall was closed after holding a large art display. Two floors, however, were open to the public with a variety of exhibits. The more memorable ones included Australian insects and their role in our lives. The human body and development of medicine with computerized virtual reality as teaching aids for medical students. Melbourne slums in the 1880s. Weirdest was the adventures of a turd on its journey from the toilet through the sewer system all the way to the sewerage works near Werribee. The legendary racehorse, Phar-Lap. A walk through a gum forest with real trees, animals, fish and frogs. I was kicked out at closing time while mentally panning gold in 1850. I love museums!