Tai Chi at Eastwood on a Saturday Morning

Pigeons swirl about as music guides scores of people through gentle movements, conjuring ancient rhythms in smooth concerted actions. A mix of ages and nationalities united perhaps by the need to connect with something deeper, yet not alone. The rustle of jackets, bright glimpses of velvet satin.

It is hard not to be entranced by the motion, the coordination, the gentle sway of limbs. A sense of calm, reconnection; something personal performed in a public space. Ritualised movement in dappled winter sunshine with white cockatoos crying overhead.

Fans are used in some of the movements, the sharp flick of a wrist unfurling brightly coloured designs. Various leaders move amongst the large group to demonstrate actions or provide individual support to some of the participants.

The sense of tranquility is tangible, and people passing by on the way to somewhere else often pause to take in the scene, to stop for a brief moment to take in the atmosphere. Some people take photos, and others take short videos. It is enough to be here and to enjoy the moment, to marvel at the measured sense of calm rhythm and to witness something that has been a tradition for generations upon generations of people.

In a world in which the rate of change seems to be increasing exponentially, it is something else to simply enjoy a slower pace for a moment or two, even if it is vicariously.

[Photo: Tai Chi at Eastwood Mall]

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Green

Green is my favourite colour. It is the colour of the leaves on the trees in my garden, the hue of the grass at different times of the year. It is the colour of new growth: fresh shoots signifying a change of season, the promise of the scents of spring.

It isn’t always new life. Sometimes it is the colour of fallen leaves, gum leaves with their seemingly infinite variety of shapes, some with bumps and modules along the veins of the leaves. They still carry their scent, a tang of evaporating bush oils.

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Satin bowerbird at Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens

There is the mottled green set in a pattern of scalloped feathers on the undercarriage of a satin bowerbird, either on females or the younger male birds up to the age of seven years, give or take, when their feathers take on the dark plume of blue-black satin.

Pine tree frond

Pine tree frond

Pine trees, tall and straight, are easily characterised by the green needles. Look closer on the trunk to see brown whorls and curling bark in contrast against the green foliage.

Old shop tile at Portland

Tile on old butcher shop at Portland

Polished green tiles in a country town reflect the passing cars and pedestrians. They have raised textures, a bulls head and a rams head. The building once housed a butcher shop, the tiles marked the trade.

Brush Farm at Eastwood, softened by greenery

Brush Farm at Eastwood, softened by greenery

Green is the ivy that curves with thickly cloying tendrils around the fenceposts before skirting along parts of the fence line. It sneaks into available space, softening the hard edges and drawing the eye. For that is what the colour green does.

What’s your favourite colour?

[Photo: green outlook at Lake Pillans, Lithgow]

On Ignoring the Shoulds

Recently I’ve felt heartened by reading a couple of blog posts about the pleasure and benefits of ignoring, even temporarily, the endless list of ‘shoulds’ in a day. These occur often without much conscious thought, or so it seems. We are conditioned to move from one task to the next, and there is usually something that requires attention or input. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: having a focus helps to create a sense of purpose, and there is something quite satisfying when a task is completed and can be moved off the real or mental to do list, even if it is only a temporary reprieve before it needs to be done again.

But there is something quite freeing in making the conscious decision to stop. Stop from moving from one task to the next. Accept that there is probably a better way to spend your time and yet still choose not to do it. Just sit and stare out at the garden, lose yourself for a while in a book or TV show, potter about and do small tasks that don’t necessarily appear on a list of things to be done but feel good to do anyway.

Like most people, I can usually think of plenty of things that could or should be done if a spare moment happens to materialise. But lately I’ve been choosing not to do it. Well, not right now anyway. There is a kind of satisfaction in recognising that whilst I could be doing whatever it is right now, I’m choosing not to. Instead, I’m going to sit in my favourite chair with a book that isn’t on my reading list and read a bit. Or stare out at the trees. Or watch clouds change shape. All of those shoulds can wait.

When was the last time you ignored the should-dos in your day?

This post was encouraged by I Really by Real Life of an MSW and A Day of Rest by Ann Coleman, whose blog posts arrived just when I needed them!

A Good Day Out

There is something that truly delights me about seeing birds when I’m out and about. This is easier at times than others, but I seem to spend a bit of time looking at the canopies of trees, patiently waiting to spot birds which are flying about and twittering above. I have learned to stand very still and to watch for branches being pulled about by birds on the hunt for nectar or insects.

There is a special kind of delight that I feel when I spot a bird that I’m not familiar with. As I am still relatively new at this bird spotting game, this happens fairly often. It can be frustrating to hear but not see a bird (and my ear for bird calls is very much a work in progress), or to see one flit by but not know what kind of bird it is. When I can, I will take a photo but again this can be an exercise in frustration as there are many blurred shots of wings, beaks and bird bums which really don’t help in identifying the complete bird.

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Wattle blooms to brighten a winter day

But then there are days when it comes together. I took a drive down to the Evans Lookout recently at Blackheath. I have been here before on sunset, and it was such an amazing moment when the sheer scale of the Grose valley was revealed that it took my breath away. Although it was an overcast day, I thought I’d take a look in daylight and revisit the view.

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Grose Valley views from Evans Lookout at Blackheath

The view was spectacular, with the shifting clouds creating vistas speckled with light and dark shadows. Throughout the valley, I could hear the ting of bellbirds way down below. Back at the car park, I was getting ready to get in my car when a small bird caught my eye. It was bouncing about, moving across the dirt path and bitumen with agile bounds. I followed it a little way and managed a photo or two before a car came in and it seemed to vanish. I started to drive out and saw a clutch of three birds, so I pulled over and grabbed my camera.

These birds were a delight to watch, dancing about with jaunty flicks of their tails. The lookout is a popular spot and they were not at all phased by me or my car. It was a treat to watch them bounce around, searching for insects.

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A rockwarbler in-between hops at Evans Lookout

The next part of the challenge is to then identify the bird. One of my most used reference books is Birds of the Blue Mountains, but I had to flick through a field guide to identify the little birds as rockwarblers. These sweet birds are the only bird endemic to New South Wales, and they are usually found in areas where there is sandstone.

Just around the bend, I had to pull over again as a bird was on the road. Another bird that I wasn’t familiar with. I walked back and spotted it in a tree and took the photo below. It was a grey shrike-thrush, known for its beautiful calls.

Grey shrike-thrush

A grey shrike-thrush spotted near Evans Lookout

Spotting and identifying these birds bring a joy and satisfaction that is hard to convey. And it definitely makes it a good day out!

[Photo: rockwarbler hunting through leaves at the lookout]

Portland: The Town That Built Sydney

The industrial history of Portland is intrinsically linked with cement. It was the site of the first cement works in Australia which opened in 1902 and operated until 1991. Cement from Portland was shipped around Australia, and it played an integral role in the construction of Sydney in particular throughout the twentieth century.

The first European in the area was a surveyor called James Blackman who surveyed roads in 1820 through this part of Wiradjuri country. A lime kiln was built on 61 hectares of land selected by Thomas Murray in 1863, and in 1883 the railway arrived. The village of Portland was gazetted in 1894 and the name Portland is attributed to the limestone-rich Isle of Portland or for the Portland cement making process, depending on the source.

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The Glen Museum, located in a recently restored building which had been an early hospital at the Portland Cement Works

In 1902 the Portland Cement Works opened in the village. The Commonwealth Portland Cement Company Ltd had been registered in 1900 by Dr August Wilhelm Karl Scheidel on behalf of the New Zealand Mines Trust. Dr Scheidel designed the cement works and supervised their construction. He was regarded as a pioneer in industrial relations: he insured his employees against accidents, introduced eight hour work days at the site, and provided an ambulance service and accident ward which was shared with the town. Support was also provided for the construction of a hospital, built in 1913.

Recruitment of overseas labour in the early years was necessary due to difficulty in securing local labour, and it gave the village a cosmopolitan air. By 1912 the works were producing about 40% of Australia’s Portland Cement. Maximum levels of production were reached in 1928.

The works were nearly self-sufficient including water, coal, electricity and railway resources. The cement factory was a significant employer, and some families provided generations of workers. During the Great Depression there were massive layoffs and up to 80% of the workforce lost their jobs.

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Rear view of some of the remaining buildings of the Portland Cement Works

The old works site is classified as a historic landscape of approximately six hectares. It was the site of one of Australia’s most successful lime quarrying and cement manufacture enterprises, generating a product that was integral to the construction of many important structures in the state. It provided raw material from its own quarries “and a place for the long-term, large-scale production of world quality cement, using a succession of both local and imported machinery and labour.” (Source: NSW Office of Environment & Heritage)

Throughout New South Wales, Portland is significant in that it is one of the rare long-term single industry one-company towns. This relationship can be seen in the layout of the town and its civic amenities, including workers cottages, concrete roads and swimming pools. The scale of the operations, including powerhouse, boiler stack and various workshops provide significant links with industrial heritage.

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These cement silos were recently painted by Guido Van Helen and have become a popular tourist spot in Portland

The Portland Cement Works site is being progressively cleared for redevelopment under The Foundations Portland NSW. The proposal includes ecotourism, shopping centre, activity areas and artist precincts. It will be interesting to watch the site continue to evolve into the next phase of its development. Recently this has included the painting of murals on old cement silos by Guido Van Helten.

It is encouraging to see signs of life in an old industrial town – what does the future hold once the industry has moved on, technological changes take place and the workforce moves?

[Photo: part of the administration block in the Portland Cement Works precinct]

Kandos Railway Station

The railway station was the nerve centre of a country town, both exit and entrance, export and import, off to adventure or homeward bound. People came to collect parcels or despatch goods, meet friends and relations or say goodbye, go on holiday or leave for school, enjoy the hubbub or look at the train. For trains, like brass bands, with their power and rhythm, touch a warm collective memory.

Colleen O’Sullivan, Discover Magazine, Nov 2017

I came across the above description of a country railway station in a small article in a local tourist magazine for the Blue Mountains and Central West of NSW. Like many small stations, Kandos has not been in use for passenger services for a long time, but there has been a spate of activity in the last year or so.

The station was opened as Candos Station in 1914; it was renamed Kandos the following year. Candos is believed to have been made using the initials of the first six directors of NSW Cement, Lime and Coal Company, which owned land near the railway line. There were a couple of other towns with similar names in New South Wales and South Australia, and so a name change was arranged.

Initially, the station was operated without a station master. In 1918, three swagmen took possession of the station on a Saturday morning, threatening anyone who approached the station until they were arrested by police from nearby Rylstone. The following year a station master was appointed.

There was a sense of pride taken in the presentation of stations, with staff establishing and maintaining gardens to brighten the platforms. In 1925 the station was specially commended by the area commissioner for tidiness and cleanliness. By 1927, the line was upgraded and Kandos was the fourth highest-earning station in the state, after Newcastle, Lithgow and Darling Harbour.

More recently, the Kandos Museum has taken over the lease on the old railway station and is in the process of relocating its collection. Late last year funding was granted to reopen the railway line between Kandos and Rylstone to establish the Kandos-Rylstone Rail Heritage Precinct. This will see the line repaired and upgraded and will provide opportunities for tourists and heritage lovers to visit the area and enjoy the history along with heritage train rides. In the future, this may connect up with the Lithgow State Mine railway.

Whilst the days of the railway station as the hub for small towns has largely passed, it is great to see community efforts for rejuvenation and repurposing of the old stations come to fruition.

[Photo: Capertee Railway Station, on the Gwabegar railway line towards Kandos and Mudgee]

Challenging the Boundaries between Art and Nature

There is something wonderful about having a sculpture exhibition in the area, and recently I went along to explore Sculpture at Scenic World at Katoomba. From mid-April to mid-May, 38 sculptures were on display along the winding boardwalk through the Jurassic forest. The location provides an amazing backdrop to some incredible sculptures, and the exhibition prides itself on having a 0% ecological footprint. There is much collaboration between the selected artists and Scenic World to manage the creation and installation of the works.

Access to the boardwalk is via the scenic railway, which was originally used for coal and shale exports. I had forgotten how steep the incline is (52 degrees – claimed to be the steepest passenger railway in the world) and it is a short but invigorating ride down into the valley. The layout of the exhibition along the boardwalk invites reflection and it was a delight to meander along and take in the wide variety of art installations.

One of the first pieces, Blind by Andrew Townsend and Suzie Bleach, is part of series using the figure of a horse to explore themes of the human condition. Forest Emoji by Aldo Bilotta explores the evolution of language. A number of the pieces resonate with the immensity of time and space. A recurring theme is sustainability and waste: several sculptures feature repurposed materials.

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One of the black cockatoos created by Barbara Hamilton as Casuarina Dreaming II

An example of this is Casuarina Dreaming II by Barbara Hamilton which features discarded umbrellas and recycled bottles fashioned into black cockatoos. Hamilton wanted to raise awareness of these endemic birds, who are relatively quiet when compared to the rowdy sulphur-crested cockatoos. The habitat for the glossy black cockatoos is under threat. I am fortunate to see them flying through the upper mountain skies with their distinctive, creaky calls.

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Close-up of some of the beautiful glass balloons featured in Up! by Kayo Yokoyama

One of the works which delighted me was Up! by Kayo Yokoyama. This was inspired by a desire to transform a temporary object into a semi-permanent one to capture a moment. And there is something joyous about balloons, associated with celebrations and happy times. For Yokoyama, sagging or deflated balloons remind her of sadness. There is a universality to the memories and emotions linked by balloons, and I loved this piece.

Humour is evident in some of the blurbs which accompany the sculptures. For example, the description of Mega Pixel Power Plant by Tom de Munk-Kerkmeer advises that the creation is a close relative of Instaneous Gratificaticus and that perhaps it originated from the Silicon Valley area. The fruit resembles the sweet and rather addictive Licorice Allsorts.

Environmental awareness and climate change are recurring themes. Overconsumption is displayed clearly in Freya Jobbins’ #OTT. The link between memory and sculpture is touched on through several of the works, including memories of lost forests in a ghost tree exhibit. There is a stunning nod to both nature and a community’s ability to recover and regenerate following bushfire in Anastasis by Caitlin Hughes.

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Choking Hazard by Rochelle Quantock: bright toy bricks bringing an element of playfulness to the serious issues of sustainability

A wide range of materials are used, including wood, plastic, light bulbs, ceramics, umbrellas, bumper bars, crocheted and woven plastic bags, stone, steel, bottle caps, glass, porcelain, sticks, souvenir koala bears and salvaged hard rubbish. Some of the sculptures used sounds or mirrors to offer different sensory viewpoints.

Sculpture at Scenic World is an amazing annual event, with several of the works staying in my mind for quite some time afterwards.

When was the last time sculpture snagged your imagination?

[Photo: a glimpse of the stuffed toy roof in #OTT by Freya Jobbins]

Portland: Signs of Yesteryear

The above is dotted on signposts leading towards the town of Portland in central west NSW, and it is a case of accurate advertising. Portland, between Lithgow and Bathurst, has a population of 2,400 and a drive around its streets will result in many old-fashioned advertising signs being spotted along shopfronts, alleys and walkways throughout the town.

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Sunlight Soap is still around. The reward would have been a small fortune back in the day!

The signs advertise nostalgic brands. There are some products that are still around, and it is interesting to note that while some changes have inevitably taken place in the advertising world, some branding is still the same.

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Jaffas and Minties are still around too, even if ownership of the brands has changed.

Portland has an unusual history as it is one of a handful of company towns in Australia. Whilst people had been living in the area before the establishment of the cement works, it was the construction of the cement plant that resulted in the town’s development. There had been lime and quarry works in the area and in nearby towns prior to the commencement of the Commonwealth Portland Works, but the scale of the operation and its ongoing success was to dominate the identity and livelihood of the town for nearly a century.

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Uncle Tobys is still around. Interesting claim at the bottom!

In 1991 the cement works closed and the town began the slow adjustment to a life beyond the cement industry.

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A beautiful reproduction of a seed and bulb manual

A decade later, trade signwriter Ron Bidwell was joined by fellow signwriters known as ‘The Letterheads’. Together they recreated vintage signs from 1895 to 1945 and in doing so added significantly to the town’s aesthetic and tourist appeal.

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Some more wonderful signwriting work and in the bottom right hand corner, the artists have left their mark.

The signs are positioned throughout the town and encourage exploration on foot and an appreciation of the heritage shopfronts.

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One of the beautiful old shopfronts in Williwa Street, Portland

The signs featured here are a small sample of the many colourful reproductions of ‘signs of yesterday’. You can see more of them here.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

Kindness can be expressed in a number of ways, and it can be particularly powerful when it is unexpected. Whilst you may not always be able to rely on the kindness of strangers, it can really make a difference when you experience such a moment.

I have never been bothered by heights. I like the vantage points offered from lookouts and tall towers offering panoramic views. But then I had a moment when I felt suddenly and inexplicably overwhelmed by vertigo.

I had wandered off to explore the Woodford Academy. This was my first visit and it happened to be on an open day when there was a guided tour featuring several artistic installations. Whilst this was interesting, I had wanted to get an idea of the history of the place, and so I left the gathering group and took myself up a rather steep flight of stairs to the first floor to view the old bedrooms. There was a sign on the staircase, which was effectively carved into a corner of the building, advising that the stairs were very steep. I trotted up, only noting as I turned for the second flight that there was no bannister or handrail on the upper section.

I had a good look around the first floor, enjoying the view looking over the garden and onto the highway. It was nice to daydream and imagine some of the scenes that would have passed by, from the days of the gold rush and the arrival of the railways, to men travelling to Sydney as part of the Cooee March.

I could hear the guided tour downstairs and took the opportunity to look closer at the furniture and displays providing insights into earlier times. The crowd moved on and I decided it was time to go. But when I approached the staircase I felt a wave of dizziness at the thought of winding my way down the steps, especially the top section without a handrail. I turned around and went back into one of the bedrooms, unsure as to what to do next. I could hardly call out for help, as the guided tour had moved on. And wasn’t it my fault anyway for not heeding the sign? I moved between the rooms, feeling a bit trapped. Then I heard footsteps on the stairs.

An older couple appeared and looked through the rooms. They said hello and continued talking between themselves about a similar staircase that they had come across, and how tricky it was to navigate. I said nothing, thinking that perhaps I could just follow them down the stairs.

As they were getting ready to go, I mentioned that I was feeling anxious about getting back to the ground floor and without any fuss, the husband offered to guide me. His wife led the way, then he took the stairs down to the corner adjacent to the handrail and reached his hand out to me. It was a simple gesture which eased my panic. He made sure I arrived safely on the ground floor before nodding at my thanks and heading off.

When was the last time you experienced the kindness of a stranger? Or perhaps you were the kind stranger?

[Photo: The Company of Trees by Ro Murray and Mandy Burgess spotted at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Katoomba]

Lithgow Blast Furnace

Nestled at the base of the Blue Mountains with rich veins of coal, Lithgow has been an industrial town for many decades. It also played a part in the development of the nascent Australian steel industry and one of the defining images of Lithgow is of the ruins of the Blast Furnace Park, located on the Coal Stage Hill.

Blast Furnace Park

The remains of the Ferranti generator house (left) and Davy engine house (right) are now accessible with walkways throughout and around the ruins and signage providing additional information.

This wasn’t the first blast furnace erected in Lithgow. Iron smelting had commenced in Lithgow in late 1875 at the Esk Bank Ironworks, and the following year a blast furnace was providing over 100 tonnes of pig iron per week. The operation wasn’t financially viable at the time as iron was being imported cheaply as ballast for ships, although the venture continued on for a while as a cooperative.

The operation was taken over by William Sandford in 1886, and Sandford ended up buying the estate and expanding the ironworks. In 1900 he built the first steelmaking plant in Australia, and in 1907 he opened the Blast Furnace site. Sandford had been awarded a contract to supply the NSW Government’s iron and steel requirements. The new blast furnace was built to meet capacity, but Sandford was experiencing financial difficulties and the bank foreclosed on the loan. Operations passed to G & C Hoskins Pty Ltd, and Charles Hoskins oversaw the continued development and modernisation of the site.

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Some of the ruins on the Blast Furnace site

From 1908 until 1932, Lithgow produced thousands of tonnes of steel, including steel for the trans-Australian railway. The Blast Furnace was a major employer and producer, and it relied upon local resources including limestone from Ben Bullen and coke from Carcoar. Local coal production and established railway networks were also contributing factors to the success of the enterprise.

But the future lay elsewhere. In 1915, BHP had opened up a new steelworks in Newcastle and in 1921 Hoskins negotiated the purchase of a large industrial site at Port Kembla. By 1926, construction had commenced on a 300,000 tonne per year site there. From 1928 onwards, all usable buildings and machinery were moved from Lithgow to Port Kembla. The Hoskins Iron and Steel Works closed in 1932. Various factors contributed to the closure including increased railway freight charges, supply issues with good quality ore and the Great Depression.

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Looking through the Davy Engine House ruins with ‘Bosh iron skull’ in the background

The importance of the site was recognised by the town and it has been largely preserved in the decades since it fell silent. In recent months there has been considerable work completed to improve the access and information around the site. It has long been a popular photographic backdrop, and is particularly striking at sunrise and sunset.

This clip provides a tour of the site using a mixture of photos and video footage.

Lithgow lead the way in producing steel, laying the foundations for the steel industry in Newcastle and Port Kembla. While the finishing touches are still being put in place following the site redevelopment, it is great to see the effort put into acknowledging an integral part of Australia’s industrial heritage.

[Photo: signage at the Blast Furnace Park, Lithgow]