Monday, May 28, 2007


Australia has many species of venomous critters, both on land and in the sea.
These include 38 land snakes and 23 sea snakes, 22 spiders, 4 ants, the honey bee, 3 wasps, 2 beetles, 6 scorpions, 2 caterpillars, centipedes, millipedes, mosquitoes, sandflies, thrips and other insects.
The platypus and echidna also have a venomous defence system.
Coastal waters are frequented by 2 blue-ringed octopuses, 7 jellyfish, cone shells, 2 stonefish, 21 other fishes including the flathead, the Port Jackson shark, 11 rays, starfish including the crown of thorns, corals, anemones, urchins, stinging sponges, marine worms, leeches, frogs and toads.
Australia is home to the ten most lethal snakes in the world. Of the world's top 25 venomous snakes, Australia has 21. After considering venom toxicity, average yield, and aggressiveness, the North American diamond-backed rattlesnake is ranked number 25 in the world, with the Indian cobra and African black mamba 12th and 13th respectively!
And we haven’t even mentioned the animals and fish that want to eat you eg. crocodiles and sharks
Much is made of this on nature programs seen overseas and I have often been asked how we manage to live in such a dangerous environment.
I don’t think Australia is any more dangerous than a lot of other places around the globe. It is all a matter of what you are used too. At least we don’t have any land animals that want to do you harm like bears. And rabies is a disease that has been kept out of the country by very strict quarantine laws.
We have a range of ‘nasties’ that live around the farm that we can come across on a regular basis depending on the season.
The red bellied black snake is the most predominant snake in this area. The upper surface of this snake is glossy black while the belly is light pink to brilliant red.

We see them from late August to March. They eat mainly frogs so you mostly see them around the dams, creeks and wetlands. They will also eat lizards, mammals, birds and occasionally fish.
During mating season they are on the move and that’s when you can see them around the house. These reptiles are a protected species so we generally leave them alone. They are quite timid unless cornered and make every attempt to get away when disturbed. However any found around the house are ‘dispatched’. A sharpened hoe is kept in a strategic place for this purpose. Most snakebites occur when people are trying to kill one so you need to be careful.
It grows to 1.5 to 2m and its bite is very dangerous and requires immediate medical attention.
Funnel-web spiders are some of the world’s most deadly spiders and are found in coastal and mountain regions of eastern and southern Australia. They are large black spiders with a shiny head/thorax. The body may range from 1.5 cm to more than 5 cm long depending on the species. Funnel-web spiders live in burrows in sheltered positions in the ground, in stumps, tree trunks or ferns above the ground. Their burrows are lined with a sock of opaque white silk and several strong strands of silk radiating from the entrance. Funnel-web spider venom is highly toxic, and all species are considered potentially dangerous.

Female funnel-web spiders are long-lived, possibly up to 20 years, but are rarely seen except during tree felling, excavation or landscaping work. They spend their entire lives inside the burrow, only venturing out momentarily to snatch passing prey, which consists of insects and small vertebrates such as lizards and frogs.
Males wander at night, especially during or after rain, and may enter houses. In the northern suburbs of Sydney it was always advisable to check in the bed before climbing in.
Bites by males of two large species, the Sydney funnel-web and northern tree funnel-web, have resulted in death. I have seen a few over the years working in the vineyard and maybe an occasional one in the vege garden. We should wear gloves but we don’t. But we always shake out our boots, if we have left them outside overnight, before putting them on.
The Redback Spider is very common in the area. The females are black with an obvious orange to red longitudinal stripe on the upper abdomen and an "hourglass" shaped red/orange spot on the underside of the abdomen. They have a body about the size of a large pea and slender legs.
The male is only about 3-4 mm long and its red markings are often less distinct. The body is light brown with white markings on the upper side of the abdomen, and a pale hourglass marking on the underside.
The notorious Black Widow Spider of the United States is a close relative of the Redback Spider, and only differs in appearance by the absence of a red dorsal stripe.

Webs consist of a tangled, funnel-like upper retreat area from which vertical, sticky catching threads run to ground attachments. The spider favours proximity to human habitation, with webs being built in dry, sheltered sites, such as among rocks, in logs, shrubs, junk-piles, sheds, or toilets. Redback bites occur frequently, particularly over the summer months but are less common in winter.
Only the female bite is dangerous. They can cause serious illness and have caused deaths. However, since Redback Spiders rarely leave their webs, humans are not likely to be bitten unless a body part such as a hand is put directly into the web, and because of their small jaws many bites are ineffective.
The main rule is never to stick your hand into or under anything outside unless you have checked first.
We have two types of ticks, the bush tick and the paralysis tick. Both are a nuisance if they attached themselves to you leaving a large itchy red lump and have the potential to pass on Lyme disease. The Australian paralysis tick is widely distributed in south eastern coastal temperate regions and secretes a neurotoxin in its saliva that causes a progressive, and occasionally fatal, paralysis.

Sometimes a severe hypersensitivity reaction can occur.
This tick is particularly severe on dogs and cats causing hundreds of deaths every year and this keeps the vets in our area particularly busy administering antivenom and supplying preventative collars, tablets and pour ons. My neighbour nearly lost a very expensive foal from a paralysis tick last year.
There are many theories on how to remove a tick safely without it injecting more toxin into you. Personally I just pull them out but prevention is better than cure and a spray on insecticide is the best protectant.
Leeches are found in damp cool areas. They live in the grass and on the leaves of bushes and shrubs and are always waiting for a host to come along to attach to. Finding a thick blood engorged slug on your person (and they get in the most awkward places!) is always not pleasant. Removal is easy by just pulling them off. This is considered dangerous because they disgorge bacteria laden liquids from their stomachs which can cause infection.

Other methods include sprinkling them with salt, applying tea tree oil or menthol or a lighted match. The latter always seems more dangerous to me. The wound can bleed for quite a long time due to the anticoagulants they have injected and the lump left can be itchy for weeks and become infected.
We usually apply a spray on insecticide before working in the bush to combat them.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Murray Grey Cattle

Our small herd of cattle are Murray Greys.
The Murray Grey breed was developed in the upper Murray River region of Australia in the early part of the 20th century. The first grey cattle resulted from the mating of an Angus bull and a roan Shorthorn cow with 13 calves of the same colour being born at the Sutherland family's Thologolong property and kept originally as curiosities. In fact this chance breeding was a bit of an embarrassment appearing in a herd of black Angus cattle.
It was found that two or three crosses of the greys produced a very high percentage of grey cattle, combining features of the Beef Shorthorn and Angus breeds. They were kept separate from the other herd and a distinct breed was gradually established. Commercial cattlemen became interested in the breed’s rapid growth and high carcase yield, and several developed grey herds.

In recent years, the development and popularity of the breed has increased. A breed society was formed in 1962 and now over 1000 studs are to be found throughout Australia.
The Murray Grey is found in most good rainfall areas in Australia, particularly in Victoria and southern New South Wales.
They are natural polls and range in colour from silver to dark grey, with dark skin pigmentation, which makes them less susceptible to skin or eye problems in severe climates. They have proved adaptable to most climatic conditions.

Murray Greys are ‘easy care’ cattle. The breed is medium in size, early to mid-maturing and is recognised for its good temperament. Cows calve easily and milk well to rear quick-growing calves. Possibly the breed is best known for its high-yielding carcases with excellent eye muscle and optimum fat cover.
Furthermore, the Murray Grey is an excellent cross with Bos Indicus, British or European breeds. The breed’s attributes of easy calving, docility, marbling, fertility and carcase quality are all evident in the crossbred progeny.
The permanent herd on this property consists of six breeders. They usually produce 4-5 calves every 18 months or so. At least one of those is a bull so we have the basis for the next generation. Bulls and heifers are generally sold within that 18 month period although a good heifer will be kept and a poorly performing cow sold in her place.
This is by no means a profitable business. The cost of Rural Land Protection Board fees, winter feed and veterinary supplies is just covered by the sale price.
But they are nice to have around and are great lawn mowers!

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley lies about 160km north of Sydney.
It is the oldest wine growing area of Australia with the first vines being planted there by James Busby in 1826.
Today there are over 140 wineries and cellar doors in the area.
The climate is designated as warm maritime which means the growing season is warm to very hot, moderately sunny and moderately to extremely humid. The fruit produced is usually of high natural sugar levels which translates into full flavored wines. The area is most famous for Semillon and Shiraz but grows most other varietals except some that specifically need a cool climate eg. Riesling.
My wine drinking experience started with Hunter wines back in the 1960's so it's always a pleasure to go back and visit some of the old haunts as well as explore new establishments.

We left our overnight accommodation in Umina early so we would have plenty of time to go via the Old Northern Road route rather than the freeway. This scenic trip follows parts of the old 240km long convict road built originally between 1826 and 1836 to link Sydney and the expanding colonial outposts in the Hunter Valley. Unfortunatedly the whole of the Sydney basin was covered in thick fog which slowed us down considerably and shut out the view completely. But we still managed to see some evidence of the hand hewn cuttings and sandstone block retaining walls that the convict labour had built.
After a late breakfast in Wollombi we headed for Draytons. The Drayton family have been growing wine in the Hunter since the 1850's and produce traditional Semillon and Shiraz. It is still family owned and it's always a pleasure to stop here, sample the latest vintage, have a chat and maybe get to taste a few wines not generally made available for public tasting. The 10 year old Shiraz that fell into the latter category was too good to pass up.
Next it was onto Margan Vineyard. They have about 120ha of vines in both the upper and lower Hunter. Most of their vineyards have been purchased from well known valley entities eg. Elliots and Lindemans, so they have access to old well established vines producing high quality fruit. I have been a fan of their Semillon and Verdelho for many years and the new vintages did not disappoint. Being a cellar door member I also had access to their new range of white lable wines. The 2005 Semillon was outstanding and hard to resist taking a dozen out to the car.
Our Umina host works in the liquor industry and had arranged through contacts for the three of us to visit the Wyndham Estate for lunch and a private tasting of their wines.
Wyndham is part of the Orlando Wyndham Group, makers of the famous Jacobs Creek wine range and owned by a French company Pernod Ricard. They also have substantial interest in major New Zealand vineyards eg. Montana.

The Dalwood Estate was established in 1828 on the banks of the Hunter River by George Wyndham. It was here that the first commercial planting of Shiraz in Australia took place in 1830.
From a handful of these original cuttings, the Estate now boasts total annual international sales of over 12 million bottles with its wine available in 40 countries.
On the 100th anniversary of George’s death in 1970 the Estate was renamed in his honour.
The current cellar door/winery is a grand old building built in 1904 in a lovely setting.
We were met by Scott, the PR man, and went for a walk through the vine blocks to the banks of the river which, sadly with the current drought, was just a series of waterholes. He was a wealth of knowledge, a great talker and a graduate of Australia’s number one wine school, Roseworthy. But I think the graduate from the number two wine school, Charles Sturt University, managed to hold his own. Not that is was a competition of course.

We were soon in the tasting room and settled down to enjoy some of the wines available not only for the general public but also for export. We were interested to concentrate on Semillon and Shiraz but we were persuaded to try their top Chardonnay, a Rose’ and some Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc blends.
Outstanding were the Show Reserve Semillons of 1997 and 2000, the Show Reserve Hunter Valley Shiraz 1999 and the 2003 Black Cluster Shiraz.
HV Semillon is usually picked early with lower than normal sugar which produces a wine with an alcohol content of around 10-11% and a higher than normal content of malic acid. They are generally not allowed to go through malolactic fermentation and are not subjected to oak barrel storage. This gives the young wine a herbaceous flavour with just a hint of apples and good acid balance. But as the wine ages (up to 20 years plus), it develops a toasty/honey character that is still offset by good acidity. This is unique for Semillon in the world and is what is known as "the Hunter style".
HV Shiraz is usually medium bodied with a spicy berry and plum flavour. With age the wines develop a rustic, earthy, even leathery character with a soft mouth feel. YUMMO!
So armed with some of these great wines we headed into lunch for a wonderful meal of prawn wontons, salmon, venison and fillet steak followed by a great baked lemon tart.
It was after 4pm when we finished lunch so any thought of visiting more wineries was out of the question.
K was our DD (breathalyser tests proved this to be a sensible plan) and we headed off down the freeway with an additional few bottles of the good stuff presented to us by Scott on departure.
What a great day!!!!!!!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Mighty Mouse

When the weather starts to cool off in autumn a few members of our wild life population like to take up residence in the warmth of the home, the shed and stables. To combat this I have a large range of poison baits of varying chemical composition (to reduce the chance of the build up of resistance) in various forms eg. granules, pastes, wax blocks and throwable packets for those hard to get to places.
There was distinct evidence a few weeks ago that a mouse had made its home in the kitchen so we spread the bait around.
He touched nothing!
Then we set up mouse traps with peanut butter.
Now here I have to say that the only Australian manufacturer of mouse traps, wooden ones, was put out of business by cheap imported plastic ones made in China some years ago.
Talk about the plastic ones being useless. Our mouse just ate the peanut butter off them without springing them. You just can't get the trigger sensitive enough. They must have bigger mice in China.

Then we got very expensive super duper rotary traps that were said to be irresistible.
The rodent was not interested.
Becoming increasingly frustrated by mighty mouse two scientific minds got together and we crushed up an ambien tablet and mixed it with peanut butter. interest.
Finally I cut open one of the throwable packets and exposed the contents and guess what?
He was into it like no tomorrow. Why all of a sudden I will never know.
And I noticed some of the ambien cocktail had also been taken.
Now he is either gone to God or is fast asleep somewhere.
Will keep you up to date with our progress in this matter.

UPDATE 18/05/07: ding dong, the mouse is dead.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


It was an early morning departure as we headed across country, by-passing Canberra, and onto the Hume Highway at Yass for our trip to Melbourne for a photographic convention. With a few stops on the way to eat/drink/refuel and change drivers it took us around 10 hours. The Hume is four lanes nearly all the way now, has a 110km/hr speed limit and with virtually no traffic was a dream run. The new Albury/Wodonga by-pass has just been opened and this saves at least 30 minutes.
We arrived in town at peak hour and had to deal with not only heavy traffic but trams and the eccentric Melbournean "hook turn" where, to make a right hand turn, you pull over to the left and wait for those lights to turn green. There is a method in the madness. The trams behind you don't get held up.

Our hotel was near the convention centre and the Crown Casino which has forty restaurants, cafes and snack bars.
The first night we ate at Neil Perry's Rockpool Bar and Grill. Neil has the Rockpool, a famous Asian restaurant, in Sydney but I have never been there due to its prohibitive pricing. So it was nice to experience the Perry touch with a more reasonable bill.
The place was hard to fault. The room itself was beautifully set out, the service seamless and the food wonderful. We had sushi and grilled prawns as starter, roasted grass fed dry aged rib eye beef on the bone as a main and I endulged in a caramelised apple tart with vanilla bean ice cream to finish. This was all washed down with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley and a Chianti to die for.
Sorry Dr. Brett! Will start that diet next week.

Next morning we walked into the CBD and had a coffee and sambo breakfast. Then we explored some shops at the "Paris End" of Collins Street and some of the old Victorian shopping arcades that have been beautifully restored. After that we hopped a tram to the National Gallery of Victoria and spent some time viewing the many treasures in there.

Lunch was a lottery but we chose well, a Japanese Restuarant in Federation Square.
Then it was back to the casino for some gambling. As usual there were no winnings.
Later that night we went back to the Jasmine Thai Restaurant for dinner.
This had to be the worst Thai meal I have ever been served. Completely inedible!
Their web site states: With expert preparation, perfect cooking and serving of the finest quality Thai Cuisine; you can expect superior freshness, exciting taste and a dining experience that will guarantee you will bring your friends back with you next time!
Grounds for suing for false advertising I think.
Next morning, K went of to the photographic convention and I went looking for some wine making equipment at my favourite store. Talk about toys for wine boys! Ended up with two additional tanks that just fitted in the back of the car and had the potential to rattle for the entire 1000km trip home.
I was born in Melbourne and spent the first 10 years of my life there so it was interesting to revisit some of my old childhood haunts. On the way to have dinner with relatives, we passed my old house. It still looked exactly the same although the neighborhood streets seem a lot narrower and distances a lot shorter than from a kid's perspective.
Next morning we headed up into the Dandenong Ranges. This line of 600m high hills is an hour's drive out of Melbourne and is a combination of touristy villages, National Park and rural residences. There is a great view from the top overlooking the city and surrounding districts. When I was 6, my parents went to Europe (it was a 6 week ship voyage each way in those days)and I was at a boarding school in this area for around 9 months. I found the old one teacher school I went to which brought back memories of walking to class in the snow and not being able to eat lumpy porridge.
Part of the area has been maintained as mountain ash forest.

These gum trees (eucalypts) are the largest flowering plants in the world and can grow to 100m (330ft) high. It's a wonderful area with deep gullies full of giant tree ferns and tumbling waterfalls. It is home to the lyrebird and other Australian forest wildlife.

Back in the city we headed to Lygon Street, Carlton which is the Italian part of town. Here is an amazing choice of restaurants, coffee bars and shops. We picked a cafe at random and had a great meal al fresco while watching the passing parade.

That night we went to K's first Australian rules football game at the Telstra Dome. The Sydney Swans were playing the North Melbourne Kangaroos. The Swans were originally South Melbourne but got transferred to Sydney in the 1980's after the club fell on hard times.

I have been a Swan's supporter all my life so it was great to see them play again. Unfortunately they let the Kangaroos get too far ahead and despite a stirring fightback in the last quarter, they failed to overhaul them.
But I think K is hooked on the game and there may be a few trips to Sydney in store to see the Swannies play again. And we do get live telecasts of their games via satellite.
Next morning it was back on the Hume heading north. We took a small detour to Brown Brothers winery at Milawa for lunch at their great restaurant and took time out for a tasting of their experimental wines which consist of small plantings of less well known grapes from Spain, Italy and Portugal among others.

We especially liked their Tempranillo and Barbera as well as Viognier.
Needless to say the rattling tanks were joined by rattling bottles for the rest of the trip home.