Monday, December 21, 2015

2016 - relax, write haiku

moi - early summer, near Dalpura ridge
 Recent haiku: - 

water smash-up
rocks are responsible
tawny pool down below

Edenderry Falls, Govett's creek

soft warm red fruit
flies in my face as I pick
MY plums, you birds

In the midst of the Christmas pandemonium - I am running some 'quiet time' courses in 2016. 


Fridays 10 - 12 noon Springwood, starting Feb.
 Registration is on Monday 18th January @ Penrith U3A headquarters, and Wednesday 20th January @ Springwood Sports Club. Details not up on their website yet. Free for U3A members. 


Beginning Thursday April 7 2016, a 5-week course of writing and walking combined. See 

for a full description, and details of times, cost and venues ( Sydney parks!)

And if it is all getting too much right now, you can always put in your "To Do" list:

walk silently, by myself

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kanangra - the view from the top

Moi on the plateau

the sky speaking
through a muffler of clouds
something about rain

I’ve just come back from another ‘book’ trip  -

to Kanangra with Dave Noble. Our timing was good - just before the thunderstorms took hold of the Sydney region. 

a photo stop
the flies gather round Dave
for a possible bite

 Here are some of his (extraordinary) and my (ordinary) photographs.

the coal seam cave
 So many things to see! Caves! orchids! flowers! waterfalls! water pooling in rock hollows! native bees! stone! distant valleys and mountains! 

striated rock orchid - Dockrillia striolata

the falcon shifts his stance

soars away

Peregrine falcon

And to hear - many different birds! lyrebird, bowerbird, whipbird, white-throated treecreeper, currawong, flies, always the flies. 

Stypandra glauca

All the flutterbies were out. There was a beautiful green-striped one - green for "Go!". This one, on the pea flowers,  was less fluttery.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cox's river

who is more frightened
the brown snake
or me

Ten years ago I walked down Cox’s river with ecologist Clive Heywood Barker and I wrote about it for my book “Into the Blue”. Last week I did the walk again as a leader for  the Conservation Society Saturday walkers. It was a hot day and I planned to get to the junction with Little river. The walk touched on the nineteenth-century history of contact between the original Gundungurra inhabitants and the new settlers. We stopped at the O'Reillys’ shack at Cullenbenbong. What is left is the kitchen, which was built separately in case there was a fire. This was a common practise for settlers.

Bernard O’Reilly’s reminiscence of his childhood in “Cullenbenbong”  included memories of the Lynches, indigenous people who had to surf the massive changes brought about by white settlement. Next we drove to the traditional campground on the Cox's river, where their family (Lynches) bought a selection in the 1880’s. Our walk started here. 

After crossing the river, we walked downstream. We came across quite a few other walkers, and a father and son fishing. The Dad was frustrated by the number of European carp swarming the river (Warwick had seen them at the crossing). No trout, he said. 

By contrast there were quite a few snakes. They've come out of torpor and are a bit sluggish, so we were on the lookout for non-sticks that might resent being trodden on. 

We didn't quite make it to Little river junction. It was a hot day, so ambling along, first in the shade of Casuarina cunninghamiana (river oak) trees, and then along the granite banks, was perfectly fine. On the way back Harold and I took a swim in a large pool - deliciously cool, and in places there was sand underfoot for a massage. 

Thanks to Bob and Harold for some of the photos. 

Monday, August 10, 2015


Acacia brownei

It is sprinter! That is, a season half-way between winter and spring. Most of the wattle is flowering magnificently, and especially at the margins of roads and tracks. The heart lifts away from …all of that difficult stuff, in the yellow of it all.  Here’s a haiku from my book, which I hope makes sense, out of context. It quotes the Paul Kelly song about Vincent Lingiari, who led the walk-off at Wave Hill station in 1966, to protest working conditions for aboriginal people.

Acacia terminalis

From little things
big things grow
bright wattle flowers

Acacia ulicifolia, Prickly Moses, is already browning. But the Hardenbergia violacea, Happy wanderer, is the opposite of wattle. It is close to the ground, rambling over everything, and if you didn’t stop and look, you might not fully appreciate its beauty. Is that like the little niggling voice in the heart that urges you to do the right thing?

holding spring
in violet fists,

Happy wanderer

I was so glad I listened to it yesterday. And that I wandered happily on Saturday, and saw the vine rambling at the old Cox’s road, near Hartley.

Convict stonework on Cox's road

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Winter magic

It snowed yesterday in the mountains. It was super cold, and the highway was closed, so I decided to go by train to see my dentist. It was packed - families, tourists, lots of little kids. The highway had been closed at Lawson but by the time the train rolled through in the early afternoon, there was no more snow. The next station is Bullaburra and then Wentworth Falls, and then...

everyone on the train
the first sight of snow

I got off the train at Leura, where the railway cutting had saved the snow from melting. People were milling about, cameras running hot.

clouds stacked
like massive fridges
in the western sky

After seeing my dentist I walked to Katoomba, down through the industrial area where the snow, slush and ice lingered.

This paddock was covered in snow years ago when I first came to see the Blue Mountains in my old bomb VW. This is where my car stopped and would not start again. It's taken me a long time to remember where this took place, because quite a number of businesses now dot the landscape. Back then, I was alone in a valley of scintillating white coldness. I don't know how I rescued myself from this scenario - somehow.

It’s a steep hike up to town, I heated up in all my layers of clothing.

an Indian
photographs the snow -
throws a snowball

I went to the Co-op, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had buying groceries – truly winter magic!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Shack - a sketch for "Into the Blue: walks in Gundungurra country"

Kowmung river

In the middle of winter 2011 Tara and I visited The Shack, a property on Scotts Main Range in the southern Blue Mountains, owned by the Catholic Bushwalkers. Maureen and Bob Anderson were my hosts. This is a rough sketch of that trip for my forthcoming book.

The property has an interesting history. In 1875 aboriginal man John Jingery bought it on conditional purchase - this term is the same as ‘selection’, the conditions of purchase being that he had to show that he was living on it and had made 'improvements'. There was a time limit of three years to show fences, house, clearing. 

It was a bit wild when Maureen and Bob took us for a walk. All of this country  is bisected by what used to be the Cox's river, but is now Lake Burragorang ( Sydney's main dam and water supply). 

the lake full
like a satisfied diner - 
black ruffle of wind

On the ridge where you can see the lake in the distance, ( covering what used to be the Burragorang valley) there are axe-grinding grooves in the loose stones.

Lake Burragorang -photo DW Noble

traces on the road
of an ancient river - 
round smooth stones

At a junction there are a very few remains of what used to be Robert O'Reilly's selection. Much later on, he leased his land out to Bert Reiner.  

Bert's ancient fence
wire slackened and curling out
cannot hold the wind

We walked on. John Jingery lost hold of his stony ridgetop in 1877. 

Maureen and Bob took us to Kowmung lookout, where the river, undammed and untamed, is far below. 

And then they took us to a cave where people may have sheltered in times long past. 

It was quite a long walk out to the Mt. Cookem lookout. On the way, we saw glossy black cockatoos  - as they took flight, they looked like stained glass windows with their red streaks of feather. At the end of the road, you can look out to the northeast, and see Black Dog ridge. 

It was the best route out of the Burragorang valley to the Megalong valley.

from Cookem - Black Dog ridge 2nd from left or 3rd from right

We had walked quite a long way, and turned back towards home and warmth and shelter. My daughter strode out in front. Winter - it is lyrebird breeding season, when the male sings his heart out. 

if I could
I would be your lover
lyrebird on the left

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Autumn in New Zealand

northern rata flower - a relative of pohtakawa

I went across ‘the ditch’  for a visit to my homeland - just came back last week. Here is a rough sketch, in haiku, of my time with family and friends. From Auckland, where I’m from, we went up north to a place on the coast below the Bay of Islands.

the sound of waves
slapping the land
lipping the sand

my brother snoring
in the room next door
tuned to the sea

One of the best things about this part of the world is the pohutakawa trees. 

They love the coast, have masses of red flowers in summer, and are great to climb in. We had a large old tree in our garden when I was a child. My sister tells me that I used to climb into it with my dolls and read to them from the Bible.

I went down to Kawhia, south of Auckland. It being autumn, we thought we might go mushroom-picking in the paddocks behind the sandhills.

no mushrooms today
the sheep watch curiously
in the fading light

Mt. Pirongia beyond Kawhia harbour
While New South Wales was being slugged by torrential rains and hailstones, the weather in this west coast village was fine most of the time (unusually so). We decided to go for a walk on Mt. Pirongia, which rises a little inland of the harbour at Kawhia and is a volcanic mountain, like Mt. Taranaki down near New Plymouth ( called Mt. Egmont when I was young). You can see Pirongia from a long way off.  Our friend L. remembered seeing it from the army base at Ngaruawahia where he lived as a child.

There were some really wild blue fungi growing beside the track - and others less gaudy - white ones. The blue ones are hallucinogenic - don't try this at home, kids!
the epiphytic northern rata - vines climb the host

But the tawa forest we walked through, on a very good track, was rather quiet. We heard bellbirds - the odd tui - and a whirr of wings.

kereru sits through
the peak of our interest -
what a snowy breast!

Possums, stoats, rats and humans have had a huge impact on the native birdlife of New Zealand.  There is a major conservation effort in removing or excluding these pests. We think possums are cute - not so in New Zealand. They are also responsible for the ‘silent forest’ as it is called. The Acclimatisation Societies in the nineteenth century, which thought it would be cute to have bunny rabbits and other foreigners hopping about in Australasia, did a lot of damage to biodiversity. This forest has been peppered with bait traps, and we were thrilled to see the northern rata flowering. Normally the flowers are just what the possum had in mind for its meal. We were there just at the right time to see it - autumn.

As we climbed the last bit to Wharauroa lookout, another pest manifested.

goats hurtle down
the rocky hillside
goat smell follows

The rock hillside they descended was almost vertical - no problemo! They were so fast.

At Wharauroa lookout, Raglan in the northwest behind us
For the first time ever, I attended the Anzac ceremony at Kawhia to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by many, in times of war. I marched for my grandfather, Percy Levy, who went to World War One. It was very moving, without making any statement about the rightness or wrongness of war, any war. In this tiny town, there was a huge turnout, people had gathered from all around. 

A pipe band from Te Awamutu played and gave dignity and emotion to proceedings.   

something so lovely
from something so ugly -
wreaths on Anzac Day

We marched to a cenotaph outside the library, where I was standing next to a man, and a friend came up to greet him. They rubbed noses: so intimate, to hear their breaths mingling like that. What is this form of greeting called? I don’t know. But I always come away from New Zealand / Aotearoa having learned a new Maori word or concept. This time, I learned “tangata whenua” which means, “people of the land”.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bees, bees! garden haiku from 2014

scarlet runner bean

I once had this idea that I would, instead of writing haiku, create a form called ’kikuyu’. Instead of a compact expression of a moment in time, the kikuyu would, like the weed, ramble on and on, climbing away from its subject to poke a runner under a carpet  then poke itself out on the other side, where there is a nice little herb garden full of nutrients which are just right for the plant from Kenya to shout its happiness at being transplanted to a country in the Southern hemisphere where the native running plants tend to be small, tough, adapted to extremities, conservative therefore in their adaptive strategies….. you get the idea of the ‘’kikuyu’.

Beans, tomatoes, gourd, zucchini, cucumber all rely on the pollination of their flowers by bees

Last year I made my pesto ( basil, garlic, oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts) in autumn.

she hitched a lift inside
feeble bee
on the basil bush

I suppose a kikuyu of this poem would run something like:

she hitched a lift inside
feeble bee
who could not buzz off from the basil bush with its delectable white and mauve flowers, could not lift a wing, surely this isn’t the end of service to the queen?

Awful. Truly awful. I don't think the kikuyu has a very bright future.

This year we've made some pesto already, and it has been given away, taken away and eaten. I often brush against the basil bush and wonder sometimes if I’ll get stung. But I regard the bees with great affection. The workers! ("united, will never be defeated…”) They’re defeated by heat however. Last November, on the 43.5*C day,  most of the bees died. Only one or two survived and came back to work the basil bush. On such hot days, they die of thirst unless there is a source of water near their hive. To digress away from last year's garden haiku,  I wrote this, a long while ago:

my tears have dried - 
bees take tiny drinks
from the sand

It was a hot day, near a creek, and there was moisture enough for a bee, in between the grains of sand. There’s often a bee or three drowned in swimming pools, floating around. I was so glad to see their numbers gradually increasing over summer. 

Birds play an important part in a productive garden, mainly in feeding on pests. 

a quick little bird
with yellow eye make-up
becalms my labours

All too soon last year, winter was gone. The head of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, Tim Entwisle maintains that in Australia there is a season after that called ‘sprinter’. This is the beginning of the growth period.

two bees
crowd into one peach blossom –
one bee too many

The next season, he says, is spring and that is followed by ‘sprummer’. I'm not sure which season the borage started to flower. It’s  a useful plant for its roots, and the blue flowers, which you can add to a salad. Last December I sat rohatsu (a meditation retreat) with my zen mates at Sydney Zen Centre, and we walked down to the community garden in Annandale, silently, together.

the zebra-striped bee
buzzes the borage flowers
her motor revving

I made a change to this haiku – originally it read:

the white-arsed bee
buzzes the borage….

I just don’t like that ”a” word. Call me old-fashioned. So I took it out.

another kind of flower

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tasmania in summer

North West coast looking towards Stanley

Big fat burgundy cherries, gorgeous apricots, a rain-spattered windscreen, creeks tumbling like boisterous puppies, black swans, dim green light of a rainforest, walking along the sand in the rain with friends, the nip in the air, recently felled forest. I was in Tasmania in January and  these were some of my impressions. I took some walks, first in the North West. One wet day Julie and Roger and I attempted to find the fossils at Wynyard’s Fossil bluff, but failed because

a) it was high tide
b) it was not well signposted.

Come on Wynyard! Get your tourist act together!  On the way back the walk along the Inglis river was lovely, even in the rain.

It’s a well-maintained track with little sidetracks  to view the river - the grey herons lifting away - the tide shifting. At the bridge the river track can go in two different directions, further up into the ( wet) bush or back along the river, through the park to town, where there was wharf and beach and shelter and cafĂ© society with our friends.

The Inglis river towards town on a nice day

A few days later I was up in the hinterland, at Waratah where the Tarkine wilderness begins. Yes, wilderness - that is a very contested word nowadays in Tassie. The economic heart of Waratah, and of the west coast, is mining. A rich lode of tin was discovered in Waratah in 1871 by James ‘Philosopher’ Smith, and after some very hard years it became a booming town. There are two main features: Mt. Bischoff nearby, which looks gnawed, because that is where the tin was, and the lovely waterfall right in the middle of it.  This was put to use in the refining of the ore. I had heard that the first hydro-electric plant in Australia was established here, and that furthermore it used Tesla coils. Waratah’s  “... ore dressing plant was the first industrial plant in Australia to be lit by hydro-electricity. This was installed in 1883 and reported in the Examiner of June 18 and 23 that year.” (1)

Jim offered to take me on a walk to the plant down in the gorge.  After some scrabbling around, he found the track. It had been built for the donkeys which lugged the pieces of the hydro down to the stream. First we crossed a race - a ditch which carried water for some industrial purpose. Then we went down a gentle gradient on a disused but well-formed track.

leatherwood blooms

 This was not old growth forest, the surrounding hillsides having been comprehensively stripped by the mining operation, but there was leatherwood in bloom. Memories of the honey...

We found that the regrowth operation is also applying itself to the plant.  A tree had fallen on the back of the building, exposing even more of the machinery to the weather. This heritage of industry and human ingenuity is important, and worth preserving. Jim explained to me in rough terms how it all worked.

In the picture below, you can see that the equipment came from Zurich - imagine that journey in the 1880’s! The Tesla coil which is the wheel to the left, contains magnets and copper, the reaction between these two when they’re spinning produces electricity.

These coils would have been installed later as Tesla (a genius from Croatia)  did not complete their invention till 1891. The river, which you can hear in the video, gave food for thought. There was a slip on the other bank.  Isn’t that what happens when the ground, such as the mountain looming above us, is gnawed at for its riches? It is destabilised. Jim told me that the locals are still discovering tunnels from the mine face which the miners made, and most of them led to the pub. Later I wondered about the effect downstream of the years of tailings washed into it. The Waratah river is in the Arthur river catchment. How do you balance the need for these minerals,  the need for employment with the need to leave some places just as they are, in their wild state, where wild things can live?

And the next day we  went down a track where human intervention has been minimal. It is not far along the road to Corinna, and leads to Philosopher Falls ( named after aforementioned prospector J. Smith). Here is old growth forest in dim green light and..

“Beautiful wood!”
but it’s a bird call
stops me in my tracks

This track goes down to a stream and then follows a race which was built for the Magnet mine. The precious ore at Magnet was silver. Trees at every stage of life, myrtle  leaves carpeted the track. The stream threw itself off the cliff with gay abandon, leatherwood blossoms dangling out into the void.  On the way back we pondered wilderness. In this area,  compass needles are disoriented by the amount of magnetic material in the ground, but somehow one’s own internal compass is righted, points true north, by being in a forest like this, just walking and looking.

green, yes -
the fallen tree mostly moss
ferns and fungi


Life is full of mistakes. I drove down to Hobart and nearly ran out of petrol. Over and over again we make the same mistakes. Lucky for me, Tasmanians are friendly kind people.


A cheerful woman dispenses out-of-hours petrol
heavy rain falls beyond the forecourt roof
You’re very lucky, she says
and over and over I agree
I’m so lucky

As the bowser meter clicks over
my desperate Plan B’s fade:
phone calls, hitchhiking, seeking help
at the pub, a cold night
squashed up in the back seat -

Lucky when there’s rain on the windscreen again
a dappled steeple beyond,
a picturesque unknown town
with two pubs full of handy men
with cans of petrol in the back of their utes -

Lucky to find the exit, or should I say
re-entry to a darkening Bass highway
where huge haulage trucks
will dump swimming pools of water
onto my little rental car
in drive-by splashings
and I’ll feel lucky.

I drove on bearing  gifts of rasberries, cherries, apricots for my host, Rachel. Was it the following day I drove around the Huon valley area? There were great gobs of foam running down the creeks that led to the Huon river. Swans didn’t mind the rain at Cygnet. Stone fruit growers received a hammering from the heaviest rainfall in three years. Every time I had to get out I would manouevre into my raincoat, open the door and meet the full-throttle wind. Rivers, creeks, the D’Entrecasteaux channel, the mouth of the Derwent river - water everywhere.

he looks asleep
black wet nose to tail
the roadside pademelon


You can see Mt. Wellington from Rachel’s backyard. Julie, Roger and I decided to walk on it, the following day. Lucky! the rain had eased into a cool overcast day. We didn’t have a particular ambition but chose to walk to Fern Gully and then up the Pinnacle track until we were sick of walking.
There might be more rain,  warned a biking local, an older woman,  up the top there.
Off we went to the gully, following the rushing creek which was spilling brown foam like a good head on a beer. Jim calls the ferns “man ferns”,  in NSW we call them “tree ferns”, and in NZ we call them “ponga”. Their trunks were as thick as jetty piles, twisted and dense. I recalled a fellow Kiwi once recounting how kids would say of another, He’s got legs like ponga trunks.

The vegetation changed, shortened as we went up. We could gradually piece together the jigsaw puzzle of places seen at ground level - the d’Entrecasteaux channel, Bruny Island, where the Derwent meets the sea, the Tasman bridge, the quay where a titanic ocean liner had been berthed a day or two ago. Hobart town, houses in wallets of bush everywhere you looked.  We imagined the tourists spilling out of that cruise ship, their wallets opening again and again,  what an economic boost! A far distant curve of land like a melon skin, rind of sand and the sea appearing dammed - the further Tasman peninsula.

Then we saw a feral cat. She was small and black, crouched high up the track waiting for her second kitten. The first skipped and picked its way up the track then disappeared. We stopped, dismayed ( and wishing we had guns).

Going on, I recognised myrtle,

leatherwood ( blossoms carpeted the track) , but what is that shrub with the bright pink berries? I’ve also seen it in the North West. Then we glimpsed a quick pair of flitting birds, one with a breast as red as a fiery sunset - flame robins. Upwards -and  the track now became a creek, yesterday’s rain tumbling down the rocks of the track. We picked our way carefully through the torrent. 
photo Roger Whittaker

Further up, and a huge boulder the size of a garden shed had rolled down from the high slopes,  across the track and down a bit. It was held from further descent by a thin wire. We sat here for morning tea, I was looking around for another bird.

the invisible bird
tantalises with it song;
no feral cat meal

We were enjoying ourselves, the clean Roaring Forties air, the views, so much so that we kept on going. So were a number of other walkers. Then a trail runner, heaving for breath, passed us - Why? asked Julie. But just beyond the fern gully had been a memorial for a young man who had died in 1901 on the ‘Race up Mt. Wellington’. Up we went, and it seemed we’d make the pinnacle. I managed to recognise dog rose - Bauera genus. And then, where rocks took over from plants, the alpine level, a few hardy Brachycomes with their purple daisies. 
photo RW

But we couldn’t figure out where an amazing scent was coming from. It was an incense of honey, spice and rhubarb,  I thought, thick and dreamy. But the diversity of plants simplified as we climbed closer to the peak, and it became obvious.

tough shrubs blossoming
at the rocky peak -
 a frenzy of bees

That last stretch had been quite steep. Sweat and effort took us out of the shelter of the slope.

like a razor
shaving Mt. Wellington’s peak
cold wind

they hunch in the wind
conquerors of  the mountain -
droves of drivers

We didn’t last long at the top either. We turned around after a quick look and headed back down the track for lunch. The beauty of the walk back down was to have that glorious view, a maze of islands, landforms and sea right before us. When we got into the shrub level again, we found a dismal little spray of feathers, indicating a killing. A cat had had a meal of rosella. 

Oh, the pain near the end - sore feet, sore kees, sore legs - I’ve just got to make it to the car. And we did.

That night I went to a literary event which was crackling with culture. A huge crowd, about two hundred people, turned up to Fuller’s bookshop in Hobart to launch “Transportation: Islands and Cities”, a crowd-funded collation of short stories edited by Rachel Edwards. I drank cherry, strawberry and pear cider, and listened to selections by several of the writers. I heartily recommend this book. Here is their website:

Mistakes. Once again I forgot to take my pocket knife out of my handbag before I boarded the plane. Lucky for me, I had time to rush back to the check-in counter and send it into the bowels of the plane in my handbag. It was a vile take-off and climb, because of the strong winds assaulting Hobart. 
 A guy on the plane said to me, We can do much more than we think we can.
“Yes.” Waratah is a place where schoolchildren walked around in gumboots in winter because of the  deep snow, in its heyday.  Long-time resident Spence said to me, “It only snowed twice here this winter”. The day before the flight I had climbed up 800 metres and then down again. I didn’t think I could do that. So maybe we can even slow the pace of climate change.

(1) p.18 “Waratah - pioneer of the west  Margery Godfrey  2nd. ed. 2007

thanks RW