Friday, July 13, 2018


It has been very dry in our region for months.
Our creek has not run for a very long time. I have never seen it completely dry in the 30 years we have had the place.
Our dams are also low.
Pasture growth has been minimal over the warmer months and we are already hand feeding our cattle.
With lucerne (alfalfa) at $25 a bale this is an expensive exercise.
So now it's official, the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has revealed that the Shoalhaven is experiencing an ‘intense drought’, the most serious category.

In fact when the DPI released it’s June seasonal update this week, it showed that 99 per cent of New South Wales is experiencing drought, while 15 per cent is in the intense category.
An ‘intense drought’ is declared when ground cover is very low, soil moisture stores are exhausted and rainfall has been minimal over the past 6-12 months.
The official national climate outlook for July to September was issued by the Bureau of Meteorology on 28th June, with the chance of increased drier and warmer than average conditions predicted.
Not a good situation.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Sad Trip

My oldest friend of 62 years had been fighting cancer for two years but word came the evening I got back from Port Macquarie that the battle was lost.
I flew up to Brisbane a day later to say good bye.
We had a good three hours together and he was with it enough to talk about our primary and secondary school days as well as some of our surfing exploits, ‘near misses’ in the stupid period of our late teen and young adult years, mutual dating fiascos and family life after settling down.
And even though I had left Brisbane for Sydney when 21, we still had maintained contact and visited one another.
He cracked a few jokes and was able to deliver few of his well known zingers.
His wife of around 45 years whom I had also known since primary school was with us as was a mutual school friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. Two of his three boys with their families dropped by.
We even managed a glass of wine to toast long term friendships.
Obviously not a happy time but it was a fitting and satisfying farewell and it was obvious he appreciated the efforts that friends were making to come see him.
I flew home with a heavy heart and he was gone the day after.
Lesson: Live each day to the fullest. You never know when life may be cut short.
Vale Bruce.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A Trip to Port Macquarie / Part 2

Day three started with another coffee in town before we headed 'down memory lane', also known as the Pacific Highway Freeway, an hour north to Crescent Head which is a famous long board point break.
One of the longest and most classic right hand point breaks in Australia the area was made a National Surfing Reserve in 2008.

We had visited there few times before in our younger surfing days but as usual the lack of surf was evident. We think we jinx the place. Despite this, it is a lovely to walk along the point up onto the headland. The water was so clear and blue and inviting despite the winter temperatures. A number of kids were spear fishing around the rocks on the southern side of the headland.

We had a beer in the tavern and a meat pie from the local bakery for old times sake. I have to say that this time we left the former in 'better condition' than we had in past visits.
On the way home we took the back road which is quite a rough gravel track through some very marginal cattle country.

But suddenly you are surrounded by tea tree plantations. This one was the 300ha (750 acre) Maria River Plantation and is part of huge plantings which stretch north almost to the Queensland border.
Total production of tea tree oil ranges between 70 and 100 tones a year.
Tea tree oil is distilled from one of the many species of the Australian native paper barks, Melaleuca alternifolia.
The final surprise of the trip was crossing the Hastings River by ferry back into Port Macquarie.
That night we had BBQ lamb with duck fat roasted potatoes and two bottles of excellent wine.
Next morning it was time to leave. The three days had gone all too fast.

The return trip was a mirror of the first except from Sydney to Moruya we flew to Merimbula way to the south to drop off passengers first, before heading back. This adds an hour to the trip. Strange scheduling but guess REX have the economics worked out.
Both landings were pretty 'exciting' as the weather had turned bad.
But all the pax must have been locals and used to it as there was not a peep as we bounced and swayed our way down to the runway before what seemed a controlled crash landing.
Stirls is off to the USA soon to visit his daughter and twin grand children. We should see him down this way in September. I am saving up all the two man farm jobs.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Trip to Port Macquarie / Part 1

My old friend, Stirls, moved from the central coast (just north of Sydney) further north to Port Macquarie. This restricts our visits somewhat.
It's about a 700km drive from our place including the slow trek right across metropolitan Sydney which means probably 10 hours on the road and a night's stopover each way.
I looked at airfares from our small regional airport and found some relatively cheap ones with a connection in Sydney. I say 'relatively', as the cost was about half of a return ticket from Sydney to New York. Regional airlines with route monopolies charge like wounded bulls.
But it was much better than driving.
It's a pretty short trip for us to Moruya's tiny airport for the hour's flight with REX in a small Saab 340 turbo prop to Sydney. There are only three departures a day.
In Sydney it was a change of terminals, with an almost four hour wait (long lunch!), for another hour 's QANTAS Dash 8-400 flight to Port (as it is known by the locals). This was a pretty bouncy trip with no drinks served because of the turbulence.
Total trip time with the layover was 6 hours.
Port Macquarie was founded in 1821 as a penal settlement, replacing Newcastle to its south as the destination for convicts who had committed secondary crimes in New South Wales. It served that purpose until 1830.
Today with a population around 45000 the town boasts about its year round great climate, its 17 unspoilt beaches, a lush hinterland, a diverse variety of attractions including the Koala Hospital, a zoo, river cruises and the Hastings River wine region. Like our area it has become a popular sea change destination for retiring baby boomers. Housing is less than half the price of that in Sydney so you can sell your $2million shack there, buy/build a very comfortable home and live well off the difference.

The wine region combines high summer humidity and high rainfall, as well as being uncompromisingly warm. It can be affected by the tail end of tropical cyclones (hurricanes) moving down the coast from Queensland and by its proximity to the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. A very difficult area to grow good quality grapes.....just like ours.
Its six wineries covering around 200ha produce mainly Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and Chambourcin.
Our first day started with a coffee in blazing sunshine at the local marina before a walk along the town beach and the Hastings River breakwater where painting of the rock wall had obviously been encouraged.

Then it was a short road trip south along the coast to Laurieton and up North Brother mountain in the Dooragan National Park to the look out which has some spectacular views both north and south.
Lunch was at the Sandbar Cafe in North Haven. The selection of Malaysian food made choice difficult but I settled on beef rendang with roti, saffron rice and sambal beans which was delicious.
That evening we went to the Duck on Clarence for a few great craft beers before heading across the road for a good Thai dinner and a bottle of Clare Valley Riesling.
Then it was a late evening watching the Australian soccer team try to at least hold the French to a draw (after the latter had been awarded a very dubious penalty) in the World Cup.
Alas they lost 2-1 but were not disgraced.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Milton Quilt Show 2018

This weekend is the Queen's Birthday long weekend.
Nothing much royal related happens and the holiday is regarded as a good excuse for many to get away for a few days.
The south coast of NSW is a popular destination for those from Sydney and Canberra although I did notice that our local motel had vacancies which is unusual.
The biggest attraction for many years has been the Shoalhaven Coast wine region's winter festival.
Unfortunately this event has become the victim of its own popularity.
Last year an estimated 10,000 people turned up to the various wineries along the coast over the three days.
The (state) government stepped in (as they tend to do with most things these days) and wanted to enforce stringent traffic control and licensing regulations for the 2018 festival which the organizing committee couldn't comply with in the required time frame.
So the festival was cancelled.
From what we hear this did not stop the visitors coming however and most wineries enjoyed a brisk trade.
Not a lot was happening locally apart from the biennial Milton Quilt Show.
The co driver was heavily involved in this helping with the organization and working there over the two days. She also had a number of quilts on show.
The Saturday was really busy but not so much the Sunday.
Despite this, preliminary indications are that the show was a success.
Pics of the individual quilts will be available on the co driver's blog.
The local hospital auxiliary benefits from the proceeds of the show.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Wild Fermentation

The other night we opened a bottle of wild fermented New Zealand Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region.
It wasn't expensive and tasted excellent and quite different from most other Pinots in the same price bracket.
It had the depth of flavour and earthiness that is expected from more expensive wines of that variety.
Why would wild fermentation contribute to that difference?
Fermentation of wine is the conversion of sugar in grape juice by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
C6H12O6 → 2 C2H5OH + 2 CO2
Normally the yeast added to grape juice is a culture of a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain.
Different S. cerevisiae yeast strains have differing physiological and fermentation properties which can have a direct impact on the flavour and complexity the finished wine.
Winemakers purchase one of the many strains of this yeast, rehydrate it and add it to the must.
They can be fairly certain that fermentation will proceed in a predictable way and produce a satisfactory result.
But there is another method ie. wild fermentation.
Wild or indigenous yeasts are the naturally existing yeasts in the air, on vegetation and on inert surfaces. Therefore they are found in the vineyard, in the winery and on winery equipment. 
So when grapes are picked and crushed and let sit, eventually they will ferment as the indigenous yeasts on the grapes and those hanging around the winery colonize and begin to consume the natural sugar in the must turning it into wine.
For this reason many winemakers add sulphur dioxide at this early stage of production to 'kill off" the wild yeasts or add a higher selected Saccharomyces yeast inoculum so they predominate in the fermentation process.
There are thousands of different types of wild yeast.
Many do not make good wine so they are broken down into two sub categories: wine yeasts and spoilage yeasts.
The most common wild yeasts found in the vineyard are from the genera Kloeckera, Candida and Pichia with Kloeckera apiculture being the most dominant species.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae is actually quite rarely found in the vineyard or on the surface of freshly harvested wine grapes unless the winery frequently returns winery waste eg. pomace, to the vineyard.
A close up look at Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts

How do you know what yeast is there and whether it is good or bad?
Without a laboratory, there is no way of knowing what yeast is in the must.
So what are the dangers of wild yeast fermentation?
Many wild yeasts have a low resistance to alcohol (< 4%) so fermentation can become 'stuck'  ie. stops before all the sugar is consumed, producing flabby wines and unwanted residual sugar problems.
Many are slow to colonize meaning fermentation is delayed and the grape juice is left open to oxidation and infection by spoilage organisms.
Fermentation by-products can produce off aromas and esters which can taint the finished wine.
Then why do many wine makers proceed with wild fermentation?
Pretty much for some of same reasons considered as risks.
Delayed onset of fermentation allows longer contact with the grape skins developing better colour, depth of character and more body.
By-products can impart add complexity eg. as in our wine, earthiness.
By the time wild yeasts have reached their critical alcohol survival levels, they have already done their thing and any Saccharomyces present may have reached a level where they can take over and finish the fermentation. If not, monitoring of fermentation progress (by specific gravity based tests) allows the winemaker to inoculate the wine with the desired Saccharomyces strain at the right stage.
Wineries in the old world have been using this method for centuries with great success.
The new world is just catching on.
Is this something I might try?
All I can say is it's worth thinking about.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Autumn Grapevine Colour

During spring and summer the leaves are the engine room of the vine as it is where most of the food necessary for growth is manufactured. This process takes place in the numerous leaf cells containing chlorophyll.
It is chlorophyll which gives the leaves their green colour. This chemical absorbs energy from sunlight which it uses to transform carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates like sugars and starch.

Along with this green pigment are also yellow to orange pigments, carotenes and xanthophyll, which, for most of the year, are masked by the greater amounts of green.
In autumn, due to changes in the length of daylight and in temperature, the leaves cease the food-making process. The chlorophyll then breaks down, the green colour disappears and the yellow to orange colours become visible.
At the same time other chemical changes can occur forming additional colours through the development of red anthocyanin pigments.
Some mixtures give rise to the reddish and purplish colours while others express orange.
In other words all the different colours are due to the mixing of varying amounts of chlorophyll residue and other pigments in the leaf during the season.

At this time other changes are also taking place. At the point where the stem of the leaf is attached to the vine, a special layer of cells develops and gradually severs the tissues that support the leaf. The vine seals the cut, so that when the leaf is finally blown off by the wind or falls from its own weight it leaves behind a leaf scar.
This is called abscission. This is a fascinating and complex process. More information here.

With one or two exceptions, no Australian native plants change colour or lose their leaves in autumn so it is left to exotic plants to give us some colour other than green.
Grapevines are one of these.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Australian Currency

Way back in the 1960s Australia made the decision to change over from the imperial measurement system to metric (SI units)
This was done over a number of years from 1970 to 1988.
It was also decided we should first convert our currency from pounds, shillings and pence (£.s.d) to decimal.
The old system was a bit of a nightmare.
2 half pennies = 1 penny 
12 pennies = 1 shilling
20 shillings = 1 pound 
You imagine the time we wasted as school kids doing calculations based on this. 
There was some controversy when our obsessively royalist PM of the time, Robert Menzies, wanted to call the new unit of currency a Royal.
But sanity and the dollar prevailed.
The big day was 14th February 1966 and we were bombarded by various TV ads for many months before. That jingle never leaves your head!
But in the end all it meant was:
1¢ = 1d
$1 = 10 shillings.
$2 = £1
Both currencies were used in tandem for quite a while.
I was reminded of all this when I read the obituary of renowned gold and silversmith Stuart Devlin who was the designer of the original coins.
Below is a picture of the obverse side of them. The Queen's head is always on the other, even to this day.
They are (L to R) Australian coat of arms, feather tail glider, platypus, frilled neck lizard, lyre bird and echidna.
The 1¢ and 2¢ are no longer in circulation. The lowest denomination is now 5¢ and even this may be withdrawn in the not too distant future.
Paper currency started with the dollar and two dollar note progressing through 5,10, 20, 50 and 100.
The first two have been subsequently replaced by coins.
Stuart also designed the $1 coin which was released in 1984.
The $2 coin followed in1988.

Modern polymer banknotes were first developed by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and The University of Melbourne. They were first issued as currency in Australia during 1988. 
In 1996 Australia switched completely to polymer banknotes.
Many other countries have also gone completely polymer including Canada and New Zealand. The latest countries to introduce polymer banknotes into general circulation include the United Kingdom and Chile.
They are more durable than paper and have the ability to incorporate many security features.
Unfortunately even this hasn't stopped the forgers, just made it more difficult.
Our $50 note is a prime target.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Trip to Melbourne \ Phillip Island, Wilson's Promontory and Home

Our destination for the day was Yanakie in the Gippsland region just outside Wilson's Promontory National Park so we had plenty of time for a small detour.
Leaving Melbourne on the M1 freeway we headed for Phillip Island. The island is about 100 km2 (40 sq mi) in area and is connected to the mainland by a short bridge. It is a very popular holiday destination for Melbourne residents and tourist destination for those wanting to experience the Penguin Parade where the little penguins species come ashore in groups at dusk.
The beaches on the southern ocean side are surfing meccas and were designated Victoria’s first National Surfing Reserve
There is also a motor cycle Grand Prix and car racing circuit.
Cowes is the main town but being Victorian school holidays we avoided this area and, after excellent coffee at Smith's Beach with the surfing crowd, we ended up at the far end of the island at The Nobbies and Seal Rocks. This was surprisingly uncrowded so we enjoyed sitting in the warm sunshine looking out over the ocean. About 1.5 km offshore on a rocky outcrop is the largest colony of fur seals in Australia, up to 16,000.

Back on the mainland, and after lunch at Wonthaggi (ex coal mining town now site of a large wind farm), we stocked up on a couple of days supplies at Leongatha to tide us over for a two night stay at the very comfortable self catering Buln Buln cabins.

Next morning we drove into the Wilsons Promontory National Park which was first reserved in 1898.

It covers 505km2 including offshore islands and is renowned for great views, wild beaches, cool fern gullies, spectacular rock formations and abundant wildlife.
It is home to more than 700 native plant species, 30 kinds of mammal (kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas, seals & bats) and approximately 180 species of birds.

First stop was Squeaky Beach so named for the quartz sand that squeaks when walked on. All our beaches at home squeak when you walk on them too so that is not such a big deal. But it's the rock formations and the wildness of the place that is so impressive.

Next stop was the Lilly Pilly Gully walk.This 6km round trip on a well formed track provides a glimpse into the Prom’s forested interior, traversing heathland, eucalypt forest ending up at boardwalk loop through warm temperate rain forest.

It was here we came across a small bronze plaque commemorating the life of an obviously young boy.
Later investigation established that Paddy Hildebrand was with his family on this walk back in 1987, ran ahead around a bend and was never seen again. Hundreds of people searched for 5 days and found nothing. One of Australia's missing persons mysteries. The whole story is here.

Then it was onto Tidal River the park's only settlement. This is where the holidays makers are and it was crowded. I used to come here as a child camping with my parents for holidays and then it was a remote destination. Not any more.
And this is about as far south on the Australian mainland you can go by road. It is a 3 day return walk to the tip of the Prom and the lighthouse from here.
 Heading back towards Yanakie we came across a pizza shack in a tiny settlement which was pretty new judging by the furniture and had a nice late lunch with many other hungry travellers.

Then it was chill out time on the veranda of the cabin looking over the rolling hills and gearing ourselves up for the long trip home.
Next day was an 8 hour drive to the fishing port of Eden with stops in Sale (coffee), Bairnsdale (quilt shop) and Orbost (lunch and quilt shop).  Much of the coastal highway, Route 1, is two lane, hilly and winding with just a few overtaking lanes. Big Double B trucks, petrol tankers and timber jinkers can hold you up doing 40km/hr up hills and 120km/hr down with no chance to get past. It makes for a slow trip. Little wonder there are so many accidents due to the frustration factor.
There are a lot of roadworks going on however and things will improve over the next years. This is the second major road between Sydney and Melbourne so it definitely needs upgrading.
An early dinner at the local pub and on the road at 7:30am next morning for the 3 hour trip home with a couple of stops for breakfast and a coffee.
It was a great trip but it was good to be back.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Melbourne is........

Federation Square
St.Pauls Cathedral
Flinders Street Station
Tree Lined Downtown Streets
Shrine of Remembrance
The Yarra River


Street and Laneway Art

Victorian Era Arcades

Gardens and Fountains

Unique Buildings

and trams

Wednesday, April 18, 2018