Following the Warada Track, Field of Mars Wildlife Refuge

It is a testament to the community spirit that this area exists at all, tucked alongside creeks in urban Sydney. The Field of Mars was part of a large land grant given to soldiers in 1792 by Governor Arthur Philip, originally taking in the entire area north of the Parramatta River from Dundas to the Lane Cove River. Over the decades the surrounding area had been carved up and allocated, and part of the reserve had been used as a tip. Moves to redevelop the remaining pockets of bush were challenged by local groups, and since 1975 the site has been available for the public to enjoy as well as being a sanctuary for animals, birds and other wildlife.

There is an Environmental Education Centre in the reserve, and it is a popular destination for school groups offering excursions along several tracks. The Visitor Centre, open each weekend, is supported by volunteers from the Ryde Hunters Hill Flora and Fauna Preservation Society who provide friendly assistance and knowledge in regards to the various tracks available. Walking tracks can also be downloaded from the Ryde Council website.


Along the track

Upon arrival, I was greeted by a brush turkey. It paid little attention to me although when I was leaving another one appeared and seemed keen to follow me home. These birds are famed for the huge leaf-litter mounds which are maintained by male birds for up to nine months each year. They are up to five metres in diameter and one and a half metres high. The mounds are constantly turned over, waiting for a female turkey to come along, test the temperature and lay a clutch of eggs.

Australian Brush-turkey

Australian Brush-turkey (young/immature)

The Warada track is named for the Aboriginal heritage of the area, and the track’s proximity to the only known waratah plants in the reserve. They would be a spectacular sight in springtime – the one below was spotted in the upper Blue Mountains last October.


Waratah (telopea speciosissima) spotted in upper Blue Mountains, Oct 2017

The track climbs upwards with sandstone ledges acting as steps in some parts. There are Sydney red gums throughout the walk, their roots holding tight onto the sandstone until the stone eventually crumbles. Some of the trees are marked with sap; this indicates that the tree is being attacked by insects, but it defends itself by exuding gum, called kino.

Sydney red gum

Sydney red gum with kino – gum – exuding as it defends itself against insects

Banksias and scribbly gums appear along the path, along with hakeas and boronias. There were several large termite nests along the way, perched high up in the trees. The path turns, winding away along a ridge before snaking down towards Strangers Creek. According to field notes, the creek was named as there were homeless people living in the area until the 1950s, with local residents and farmers warning children not to venture near this creek alone.


Termite nest remnants

The bush was alive with various birds including magpies, white cockatoos and rufous fantails. On the path leading back towards the Visitor Centre, alongside a stretch of mangroves, a pair of white ibis birds were foraging about. A short distance away, a kookaburra rested on a branch, watching the ground for any treats.

It was a delight to spend some time in this reserve and it will be worth revisiting during different times of the year to see various wildflowers and shrubs in bloom.

Have you taken a different track lately?

[Photo: Field of Mars Reserve, East Ryde]


Flash Fiction: 100 Words – Superpower

No-one suspects an older woman. Especially one who has reached an invisible status. She had felt a creeping despair when she realised that people – men in particular – would rarely acknowledge her existence. No longer worthy of an assessing glance, there was an anger at first which mellowed as she realised that there may be some benefits. As a child the superpower she most admired was invisibility, and now she had it. She tested this new power with small acts of theft and deception. Being able to fade into the background was a blessing. Her wildest dreams were now within reach.

[Photo: near Parliament House in Wellington, New Zealand]

A Community Collected

One of the current exhibits at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre is Blue Mountains Portraits. It features a range of artworks representing people from the local community, from well-known local personalities to the quiet achievers.

Many of the works are by local artists, which further adds to the authenticity of the collection.

One of the joys of the exhibition is getting to know the backstory behind the portraits, learning more about some of the people who live in the mountains and who bring their skills and personalities to the region. The story behind the portrait selection is also provided, often revealing a deeper connection between the artist and their subject. There is a selection of the portraits recently featured in the Blue Mountains Gazette here.

There are people who contribute to the vibrant art and music scene in the mountains, collaborators who get behind festivals and events that appeal to locals and tourists alike. There are people who work tirelessly in community organisations, making a huge difference to many people in a myriad of ways. These include firefighters and environmentalists, teachers and advocates. There is a father and son business partnership, along with some of the colourful characters who bring something unique to life in the mountain villages.

The range of artistic representation is also impressive across the forty-plus artworks. There are photographic and traditional painted portraits as well as people represented in mosaics, drawing and collages. From familiar faces to the unknown, the range of styles encourages a celebration of the local community.

The exhibition is on until 18 March 2018.

[Photo: glimpse of sculpture on the viewing platform of the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre]

A Little Ray of Sunshine

Sunflowers make me happy. I don’t know why, they just do. I’d managed to forget this until I was momentarily stunned by a mass planting of sunflowers outside a block of units on a recent drive through Lithgow. They were so bright in the dull afternoon that I parked the car and trotted over for a look. I was close enough to take a photo when a man emerged from the depths of the flowers – he was the gardener.

I complimented him on the beautiful flowers and he said he was very pleased with them. We chatted for a while and he told me that it was the first time he’d planted sunflowers, and that he’d grown them from seed.


Sunflowers both open and preparing to unfurl

The weather in Lithgow can vary from cold snaps to warm spells, or as the gardener said ‘take more turns than a week’ and that this created some anxious moments when shifts in the weather may have had an adverse impact on the plants. But on the day that I passed by they were looking spectacular, a mixture of fully bloomed sunflowers and others that were a little slower to reveal their splendour.


One of the dwarf sunflowers poking through the skirts of the stalks of the sunflower garden

Neighbours had shown interest in the plants and there had been various requests for the seeds once the blooms were spent. As I left, the gardener was talking to another person drawn like a bee towards the bright flowers about how he was keeping an eye out for the white cockatoos who would no doubt be interested in the seeds as well.

When was the last time you were delighted by something unexpected?

[Photo: sunflowers in bloom]

A Walk Around Lake Pillans, Lithgow

Named for the first Labor mayor of Lithgow, Lake Pillans is located near the Blast Furnace park area in Lithgow. I recently came across it quite by chance whilst looking for something else. It was my intention to take some photos of the blast furnace site, as it had been a year or so since I had been out around the area. But there are extensive works underway and there is limited access to the ruins.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I took the turn to Lake Pillans and followed the track around to a parking area. This urban wetland was constructed in the 1990s with a number of functions in mind. It provides a place for recreational and educational activities, along with beauty and solitude. It also cleans and filters water as part of the larger ecosystem of the area. And it provides a place for wildlife, including frogs, birds, reptiles and fish.


Wetlands views with Blast Furnace park in the background

The lake is also a great example of repurposing an old industrial site. It was created in 1911 by the construction of a weir across Vale Creek to provide cooling water for the Hoskins blast furnace. From its early days, it was used for recreation and was a popular swimming and boating venue. The site fell into disrepair when the steelworks relocated to Port Kembla around 1928 and it became an industrial dumping site.

In recent years, a mixture of local and state government funding has contributed towards the establishment of pathways that link the wetlands and the Blast Furnace park.


One of the walkways around Lake Pillans

This link provides another viewpoint as it touches on the experience of one of the engineers involved in the creation of the wetlands project in the 1990s.

A quick aerial tour of the lake can be seen here, and there is a great photo of the lake in its earlier years in a blog post by Pauline Conolly featuring some Lithgow characters here.


Looking towards one of the lakes with a sculpture in front

Walking around the lake is an absolute delight, from the wetlands and reeds to the water thrumming with tadpoles. Pathways circle the lake and nearby wetlands, and one path winds up towards the Blast Furnace park. There are a couple of metal sculptures along the way, including one which I think looks like an elephant. There is a boardwalk over part of the wetlands and there was a rustle of reeds before I realised that the birds darting about were purple swamp hens. There were also ducks and brown thornbills, magpies and peewees, to name just a few of the birds around the lake.


Purple swamp hen at Lake Pillans

I’m very pleased to have found Lake Pillans and will return many times I’m sure to enjoy the walk around a pocket of nature circled by the history and modern realities of an industrial town.

Have you stumbled across a hidden treasure recently?

[Photo: wetland views]

Where to begin with a novel edit?

This is a question that has been on my mind a lot lately. Over a year ago I finished the first draft of a novel. It was an exciting moment, and I can still recall how I typed the final sentence with a sense of bewilderment. I’d done it. I’d written a novel. But even in that moment I knew it was just the beginning.

Like many guides recommend, I let the work sit for a bit. A couple of months later I read it through on a warm spring day. There were some typos and clunky bits and repetition but overall I was rather chuffed with my efforts. It could be improved without a doubt, but I felt that it held together well.

I’m not sure what happened next. Other projects and life got in the way. And the thought of making a start (where and how??) with wrangling over 95,000 words was overwhelming, let alone any consideration of what I would do with it once it was edited. How many first novels live in drawers or backed up in a cloud?

But one of my writing friends kept asking me about The Novel. Where was it up to? How was the rework going? Finally the message got through. It’s time to rework the novel.

Have you ever googled novel editing? There is a vast amount of information and resources, tips and techniques out there to guide the novel novelist. But I soon realised that, similar to the writing process itself, there is no single way to complete the novel edit. Established authors vouch that there are variations to most of the novels that they have edited. Some authors have editorial teams behind them but when starting out it is just you and the page. The temptation is strong to spend considerable time researching various approaches but after a brief foray this began to feel like procrastination.

I have to keep it relatively simple. I have referred back to a post by Australian author Allison Tait that I kept in readiness for such a moment. And I also found a frank clip on editing by Jenna Moreci that aligned with my goal of a simple yet thorough approach.

The reality is that there are no shortcuts. I will need to keep moving through the stages of editing until the novel is in the best shape it can be. And rather than being overwhelmed, it is best to keep it in manageable steps.

How do you approach big creative tasks?

[Photo: mist in the Hartley Valley]

The Evans Expedition

As you travel along the Great Western Highway from Bathurst towards Orange, there is a signpost for Evans Plains. Depending on the time of year and recent rainfall, the outlook is often a vista of rolling green hills. That a man called Evans had travelled through this way is clear, but as many parts of Australia are named for people with loose associations with the area, it was only when I came across a statue commemorating George Evans at Bathurst that I realised that he was one of the early colonial explorers.


Evans Memorial at Bathurst, commemorating his discovery of the Bathurst Plains

Recently there was an unveiling of an interpretative sign on the Hampton Road near Rydal in the hills beyond Lithgow. The sign has been created to compliment a memorial to George Evans and his exploratory party who crossed the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range near Mount Cheetham, south of Rydal. The expedition was at the request of Governor Macquarie in 1813, and followed the track through the mountains left by the Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson crossing. This journey paved the way for the opening up of the western districts with Evans and his party travelling past the future town of Bathurst and out towards the village of Molong. The journey took 55 days and covered nearly 500 km. The party eventually turned back as supplies were running out.

Evans kept a journal, and he became increasingly effusive about the countryside which he was travelling through, identifying the potential of the grassed lands to satisfy sheep and cattle. With the colony in need of expansion, this was welcome news.

I cannot speak too much of the country. The increase of stock for some 100 years cannot overrun it, the grass is so good and intermixed with a variety of herbs.

The memorial near Hampton is close to the location of Evan’s camp on the night that the mountains were crossed on 30 November 1813. The sign is located beside an obelisk now located on Antonio Reserve, Hampton Road. The obelisk was erected in 1963 by the Lithgow Historical Society, and it commemorates Evans and his party. The interpretative sign was the work of the Lithgow branch of the National Trust, Lithgow City Council and Bill Hoolihan, a Hampton resident, along with three years of fundraising efforts.

The unveiling of the sign was attended by a large number of people from the local area and further afield, keen to keep the story of Evan’s journey alive. This included a welcome to country by a member of the Wiradjuri nation, and a short introduction by Lithgow Mayor, Stephen Lesslie, who said that without understanding our past, we struggle to find our future.


Interpretative sign near Hampton

The common perception is that the Blue Mountains were crossed by Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson, and whilst they did blaze a trail – largely by following the well-worn paths across the mountains travelled by Aboriginals – it is Evans and his small team of travellers and convicts who really deserve this recognition.

An overview of this exploratory journey and Evan’s life was provided by Paul Brunton OAM, Emeritus Curator of the State Library. From Evans’ upbringing in Warwick as the son of an estate manager to his various roles in the colonies of New South Wales and Tasmania, Evans lived an eventful life. Brunton provided an overview, noting that despite his considerable achievements, there is relatively little remaining in the way of personal papers to provide insight into the man himself. Evans seemed to be conscious of his lack of a classical education, and this also had an impact on his career opportunities. When his journals were sent to London to share the expedition’s discoveries, feedback on Evans’ educational shortcomings – such as ‘Riverlett’ which is still honoured today – overshadowed his achievements.

Despite his successful expedition out across the western plains, and the payment of a reward and land grant in Tasmania, Evans’ career was somewhat inconsistent. He continued on as Assistant Surveyor-General for a spell, and was sent to Hobart to help with rectifying issues with questionable land surveying practices there. Macquarie called him back and forth to help with further expeditions through New South Wales, and he accompanied John Oxley on various explorations.

Evans lived a long life, marrying again after the death of his first wife and having at least a dozen children. What personal records there are show him to be a brave, thoughtful man who treated the men including convicts who accompanied him with compassion. He displayed empathy towards the indigenous people and the changes that would follow for them with colonisation. He expressed admiration for the country he was helping to explore and chart. His occupations are listed as art teacher, bookseller, explorer, farmer, landscape artist, public servant, shop owner, stationer, surveyor and surveyor-general. Quite a resume!

It is apt that Evans’ role in charting the plains beyond the Blue Mountains is being recorded and expanded upon for more people to appreciate.

[Photo: Paul Brunton at the sign dedication to George W Evans]

Excuse Me While I Procrastinate

It’s funny how sometimes the right thing comes along at the right time. I was looking at a video on cloud-watching, which sounds like an ideal way to procrastinate instead of doing something useful, but as I was making some notes the next video in line started to play. It was a TED talk about procrastination.

Tim Urban provides a humorous overview of how procrastination works. He tells a familiar story of having a major thesis due, and how logically the work involved would be staggered in a reasonable and achievable manner up until the due date. This was fine in theory until distractions and instantly gratifying behaviour got in the way.

Urban reveals how procrastination has the potential to impact all of our lives. There is an ongoing internal battle for many people between the rational decision-maker, the instant gratification monkey with lots of easy and fun ideas, and the panic monster. The panic monster comes into play when there is a deadline and the likelihood of a consequence for not completing an agreed task, such as public humiliation.

And here is the thing. Deadlines contain procrastination. They don’t necessarily block it, but they limit the extent of procrastination, which in some forms of creativity or tasks, can be endless if there is no timeframe around it.

I know that deadlines motivate me. So, after having a laugh at the talk, I gave it a bit of thought. Somehow I always deliver on deadlines that matter, so I thought that I would set some writing deadlines of my own. I had a think about the projects that I’ve been working on, bits and pieces that just seem to mosey along when I don’t have a specific timeframe to work on. And I set myself some deadlines.

Not the vague, just in my head kind of deadline. Deadlines written on the whiteboard in my study, ready to remind me when I’m having a dawdling kind of day when my mind would prefer to veer between clearing out emails or sorting something – anything – into some sort of order. Isn’t it time that cupboard in the kitchen that drives me nuts is sorted? No. Instead I look at the wall, look at what I had planned to work through for the week or month, and get on with it.

Do you suffer from procrastinationitis? And if so, how do you trick yourself to get things done?


[Photo: yarn bomb message spotted at Lane Cove]

Glen Davis Shale Oil Works

Recently I had the opportunity to take an old train from Lithgow to Capertee. Capertee is a small village on the road from Lithgow to Mudgee, past Wallerawang and Portland. It is home to the widest canyon in the world: the Grand Canyon is a little deeper.

About 35 kilometres from Capertee is the remnants of the Glen Davis Shale Oil Works. The road to Glen Davis passes through part of the Gardens of Stone National Park, and it is hard not to be distracted by the stunning vistas as you head down towards the base of the canyon, passing by patches of forest and farms.

At the base of the valley are the remnants of the village of Glen Davis. There are still people living in the village, and some of the accommodation built during the mine set-up and operation remains. The industrial ruins are striking. The group I was travelling with was given a tour which provided some insights into the relatively short-lived life of this endeavour.


Retort remains in the valley

A number of factors led to the development of the mine. These included a 1934 report seeking work to reduce the number of unemployed miners in the region due to the Great Depression, and shale oil requirements for national defence. The project was funded by national and state governments, along with the National Oil Proprietary Ltd, a company created by G F Davis of Davis Gelatine. Construction began in 1938 and it was producing shale oil by January 1940. The company was later taken over by the government under the National Security Act. The mine was in operation from 1940 to 1952. The extracted petrol was sent to Newnes for storage and processing via a pipeline. The pipeline had to be guarded as some locals tried to tap in and extract fuel along the way.

The project was plagued by constant problems: water supply, flooding, housing, labour, electricity issues and a shortage of mined shale. Living conditions were particularly poor with inadequate housing and endemic diseases prior to the construction of barracks, staff cottages and permanent housing. The town swelled to 1,600 with a school, general stores, hall, post office, bank, butcher and chemist as well as a cinema.


Mine ruins in Glen Davis

By the early 1950s, the mine was unsustainable as the cost of the extracted and processed fuel was significantly more expensive than the fuel imported from overseas. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald summed up the situation: “The simple truth is that it was costing too much money to produce an insignificant quantity of petrol, and there were no reasonable prospects upon which to base the hope that the economics of the project would improve.” At its peak operation, it was producing two-fifths of its capacity.

There were attempts to keep the mine open, influenced by the expected job losses and the roll on effect this would have on people indirectly providing services to the town and mine. This included a miners strike, with a group of 52 miners remaining underground for nearly a month, supported by family and friends. Eventually, the union confirmed that the strike was a lost cause, and they conceded defeat. A group of women had raised funds and lobbied to keep the mine open as well, without success. When the men returned above ground, there was a crowd of about 200 people waiting, including wives and children. “Many of the women, who for three weeks, had operated a soup kitchen at the pithead without showing any signs of breaking down, cried as they welcomed their menfolk.” There is a photo of some of the miners emerging in an article titled ”Stay-downers” Come Up.


Looking up into the retort remains

Who was to blame for the unproductive mine? Management blamed the workers and the workers blamed poor management. There had been attempts to modernise some of the processes with improved machinery, but that would result in job losses. Some of the mining methodologies had been passed down generationally from miner to miner, and there was a fear that the proposed changes would have an adverse impact. For example, small twigs were placed in certain spots and were monitored in case of mine subsistence and movement. The introduction of machinery in some instances would obviate some of these methods.

What remains in Glen Davis are remnants of the infrastructure that could not be sold off or hauled away. The largest seam of high-grade oil shale in the world is still there too. There is the Glen Davis Boutique Hotel which offers group accommodation, along with Glen Davis Works which incorporates four of the remaining cottages. There is a ruins tour available each Saturday at 2 pm. It is close to the Wollemi National Park and there is a campsite in the town.

For a great two-minute video postcard, check out this link. There is also an interesting overview post here.

The village of Glen Davis isn’t quite a ghost town but it is a remarkable place to visit.

[Photo: view of the valley from Glen Davis]

Learnings from a 30 Day Writing Bootcamp

Making time to write has been on my mind lately. I recently completed a 30-day writing bootcamp where motivational writing goals arrived each morning in my inbox. I found this to be effective on a number of levels, not least of all because I am quite literal and will usually respond to written instructions!

Below are some learnings after completing 30 days of writing ‘bootcamp style’.

  • Mix up the writing times to keep it interesting.
  • Any reluctance I had around the relevance of writing 10,000 words in 30 days (which was the bootcamp goal) when I’m not currently working on a novel were unfounded. By day 3 I’d notched up over 3,000 words on short stories that had been stagnating for months.
  • It became a fun challenge to see where I could fit in pockets of writing time, regardless of how small.
  • It has been a while since I felt this motivated to write.
  • I enjoyed the challenge of writing to different word counts at various times of the day. I thought I knew when I ‘could’ write, and it was really good to challenge this perception and find out just how effective writing in smaller timeframes could be.
  • It was also surprising to realise just how much I could write in a short period of time. All of those times when I was telling myself that I only had ten minutes and that it wouldn’t be worth making a start was just a fib. I can get stuff done in mere minutes.
  • I found myself more likely to be thinking and planning what I was going to write at the next opportunity, knowing that if I have something in mind before I start the words really do fly.
  • The goal was to add 10,000 words to an existing manuscript. My word count for the month was 16,616 which exceeded my expectations.
  • By challenging my perceptions about what and when I could write, it has opened up feelings of dynamic possibility regarding how I can regularly write in a variety of timeframes and locations.

The challenge then becomes where to from here? I thought about maintaining momentum by scheduling the prompts in my calendar on a five-week cycle, with a few days scattered in for editing as I found that I was generating lots of words but needed time to trim some of it up to be useful or to continue on in a coherent manner with larger projects.

But what I’ve done instead is created a document with the 30 days worth of prompts, plus a handful of editing and planning days, and popped them in a jar. I want to retain the sense of spontaneity that I so enjoyed during the bootcamp. Because better than before I started the bootcamp, I know what my writing self is like.

How do you maintain momentum in your writing life?

[Photo: bowl of writing goals]