Friday, November 20, 2009

Things that go "oink" in the night

No, it's not Edie, it's those pesky wild pigs that have invaded outback Australia.

I was up in Kowanyama last month working on a new project we're developing in collaboration with the Ranger Office there. It is an attempt to determine just how badly the pigs, cattle and horses are mucking up the waterholes at this time of year, when they are the only remaining water sources in a very dry land.

To do this, we've set up a dozen cameras, some on time lapse, others on motion detect. These cameras take pictures of all the animal activity around the waterholes, including pelicans, corellas, brolgas and more. Note some of the temperatures recorded in the photos and you'll get a sense of the conditions we work in up there.

We then make measurements to see if the places that get visited most are the ones that are in the worst shape. This will help the community to decide if they should continue to invest money and time into placing fences around some these of sites to keep the animals out.

The waterholes are places of great cultural significance for the community and they also serve as seasonal sources of food (for example, one of the sites is called "Crayfish Hole" for obvious reasons). Before the introduction of pigs, cattle and horses, it is believed that the waterholes had clear, drinkable water and were covered with lilies. Now many of them are turned into glorified mud puddles. The community's vision is to see things returned to the way they used to be, so our job is to find out what is natural and what is caused by large foreign mammals. It's nice to know that our research is actually having an impact on the on-ground management of these special places. Too often we scientists bury ourselves in our self-directed research that may result in a journal article or two but has no real relevance to the community at-large.

So not long after I got back from that trip up north I was able to get in touch with an old friend - the pride of Sudbury Mr. Russell Vance. Turns out Russ and his fiance TL have moved to Brisbane. The great southern migration continues! There's plenty of room for more of you! Either way, it was great to see him again and catch up on our movements over the past five years. To sum up, he is youthful and stress-free as ever, and I have less hair and a child that wakes up at 5:00 am every morning. And let's not forget a loving wife of course.

Oh and before I go, here's a good story for you. I haven't written about Australia's slim water pickings in this space in awhile, and that's partly because of the good rains (at least in southeast Queensland) in the last year that have taken the pressure off the government to secure more water for a growing population. This has led to a bizarro scenario in which the following happened: 1) My boss wrote a report that was commissioned by the federal government; the report determined that a proposed dam on the Mary River (about 3 hours north of Brisbane) that was planned by the State government would have unacceptable consequences for some threatened native species of fish and amphibians, including the Australian lungfish. This was after the state government had already spent millions of dollars buying up land and paying consultants to plan the dam. 2) Based largely on the report, the Federal government used its sweeping powers to squash the dam proposal, which will presumably lead to higher water and power rates for us in the future. But here's the kicker - 3) The federal environment minister that made the decision? None other than former Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett! You've gotta love Australia.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Edie takes a spin

Not too much to say. Enjoy the video!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cold November Rain

Howdy Doo everyone.

Pardon the month-long hiatus, (insert whatever excuse will make you happy here). Given that blogging has been a good way to keep our friends that we don’t get to talk with very often up to date with our lives, and a number of you keep reminding us of that (thank you so much), and on the whole we’re writing about living in a place that’s pretty foreign to most of you, we’ll try better to keep up.

Tim is back from a week spent in Northern Queensland. Overall, I think he had fun, but he’ll have to tell more about it when he gets his butt in gear and actually writes a post. From my perspective, his being away is getting easier to manage. For one thing, he’s rarely gone for more than a week at a time anymore (no more 3-4 week stints) and secondly, Edie is a whole lot more entertaining to hang out with 24 hours a day. She’s also way more social so we can go out with other kids and she’s pretty happy to play with them rather than hang off of my hand or hip. There are three of us (‘us’ being new (relatively speaking) moms) living on our street, our kids are all under the age of 2 and we can now rotate shifts of watching 2 or 3 kids so that one or two of us moms can take a break while husbands are at work/away/whatever. That’s a big help when Tim is gone. So, while Tim is away the missing Tim factor is still quite high, but it’s more because I just really like him and his company rather than because I’m going to scratch my eyes out in frustration due to too much mom overtime.

Well, it’s coming on summer here in Australia, and despite the fact that we’ve been here for almost 2 years, it still feels weird to think that we’re in November right now. It’s just not right. Thankfully we’ve only had a few scorchers so far, but they’re getting more and more frequent. Soon we’ll have to start implementing the 30 degree factor again; when the day’s temperature is predicted to climb over 30 degrees, Tim goes to work between 5 and 6 am so that he can get home mid-afternoon and we can get out to the coast to cool off. A nice attribute of the summer coming on however, is the abundance of rain that comes with it. Our 5000L raintank which we use only for laundry and watering plants was empty as of a month ago (ummmm, we do a whole lot of laundry around here). It’s already half-way full once again. The best part about all of the rain is that the majority has been falling at night, with Mr. Sun out nice and smiley during the day. The best of all worlds!

And speaking of watering plants, I’m sure the question that is burning in all of your minds is this- how is that lasagna garden coming along? And I am so happy to report that it is thriving! We planted basil, cilantro, oregano, dill, and lemongrass seedlings and took in a refugee garlic plant from a plant-propagation lab at the university. Unfortunately the cilantro couldn’t handle the heat, it croaked, but the rest took very well and they are now quite happy at home in our garden. I did have an incident with something attacking my dill plant overnight while Tim was away. Every morning Edie and I would go out to take a look and all of the branches would be broken off. I’m not sure why it stopped happening, but it has, and the plant seems to be recovering well. So I’m finally getting my green thumb back, all it took was planting stuff in a pile of poo and rotten food (honestly, if this experiment hadn’t worked I would have really started to question what I’ve learned (learnt, in Aussie-spell) in my mazillion years of schooling). So, Miss Edie and I put on our gardening shoes (my flip-flops, her pink rubber boots) every morning and late afternoon to go and give the garden a drink. Edie likes to carry the empty buckets back and hook them over the faucet. She is SOOOOO cute. She also likes to pull of Basil leaves, which is not as cute.

Oh yes. I almost forgot. Given that we were in Canada last Christmas, we’re rather wondering what to expect this year, it being our first yuletide season spent in Oz. We’ll keep you updated as the season progresses but the weird thing that we’ve already noticed is that if you go into a shopping mall right now, you’d never know if you were in Australia or North America. It’s the exact same! Did someone say Christmas decorations? Yep, the same. Santa’s workshop? Check-check; the same. Crowds of nitwits? Heck ya. The same. Outside, of course, you’re sweating buckets, but as soon as you enter a mall it’s like you’ve walked into this alternate universe this is attached to no specific hunk of ground or climate. Oddly enough, it seems that Christmas in Australia draws the same imagery as it does in North America, and lots of it is associated with snow and evergreens. Is this weird to anyone else? I’m certain that given too much time in malls here at Christmas time (something I hope we don’t actually experience), we’d forget where we were. It’s a weird, creepy and altogether unsettling feeling. Bah humbug.

To counteract our grizzlies over malls at Christmas, sadness about not being home and general malaise in dealing with commercialization of this holiday (Linus said it so well), we’ve decided to decorate a potted plant for our tree this year with homemade decorations that Edie has promised to help us out with. We’re looking forward to building some new family traditions into our new family this year. We’ll keep you all posted on those...We've also been invited to spend the actual holiday with friends about 4 hours north of us, we've accepted and are excited to spend Christmas with people we really like.

I’m going to keep this post shortish and catch you up on some pictures. Enjoy! I hope that you’re all doing well. And congratulations to Jen and hubby on the arrival of your new boy Marko! Welcome to the other side. You’ll never look at a screaming infant the same way.



PS. We don't have any way of showing how many times each book on our reading list is read by us. I would just like to point out that these days Miss Edie is requesting Bud The Spud at least 4 times a day, in our best Stompin' Tom voice to be sure.