Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Many Supermarkets Does a Town Need?

There was big excitement in town this week. There hasn't been such a buzz since our one and only set of traffic lights were installed many years ago.
A new shopping complex has opened incorporating a Woolworths supermarket and their liquor store plus a Country Target and ten other specialty shops. And the building has the town's first lifts and travelators!

But how many supermarkets does a town of 10,000 people need?
Ok, the population trebles for a few weeks over the summer Christmas holidays and at Easter but hardly a sustainable market for five supermarkets you would think.
But obviously better brains than mine have nutted this all out.
We already have a Coles, an Aldi and two IGAs, not to mention a few smaller IGAs in outlying villages.
Woolworths have an Australian grocery market share of about 43% followed by Coles 37%, IGA 15% and Aldi 3%.
The new Woolies store is certainly bright, sparkly and was well patronized. A quick trip through their liquor store failed to find any bargains however.

Back at Coles, our normal food source, the car park was nearly empty as was the store.
Only one check out lane plus the self checkouts were open. Normally at that time of the day it's very busy. The check out chick said they had taken 'a big hit' since the new store opened but was sure that customers would return once the novelty wore off. We remained 'loyal' to take advantage of the substantial discount Coles were offering to make purchases over a certain amount on a weekly basis over a month. This was obviously their counter to the new store.

I like IGA stores. They are not large, have a friendly staff but their prices are way and above what you can get at Coles and now, I suspect, Woolworths. Their liquor store is marvelous (the manager is a wine buff) but prices are again prohibitive. It is much cheaper to order wine from suppliers on line.
We only use them for the 'forgotten items' when passing by.
Aldi is a German company and has the reputation for 'cheap'.
And they are!
The only problem as far as I am concerned is that they don't have brands you can recognize. Sure the vast majority of their products are Australian made, probably under contract by well known producers but am not willing to take the risk on the quality. They also sell liquor, some at ridiculous prices. A $3 white wine anyone?
The other downside is there is always a huge queue at the checkouts due to low staffing levels which is part of their cost savings. And they make you bag/box your own purchases. We only use them to get a supply of German goodies at Christmas time.

So it will be interesting to see how all this pans out.
When Coles moved into town, a lot of small local businesses like butchers, bakeries and fruit shops went to the wall.
The corporate line is that a lot of new employment will be created. But there is only so much patronage to go around. Surely job gains in one area will mean losses in another.
The other sleeping giant is Costco. They have opened up stores in the east coast capital cities and are seemingly doing well. But I think they are way too big for our town.
Stay tuned for further episodes of "Supermarket Wars".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Life is Easy on the NSW South Coast

We have had two weeks of glorious weather but on Friday a cold change came through and we were buffeted by strong westerly winds for about 12 hours. No damage, no power outages and our 'hanger' (a big branch in a huge tree near the house torn off by a previous storm but caught in the branches) is still up there!
We have been walking around it for weeks, just in case,  and were sure it would come down this time but, no.
They call some gum trees (eucalyptus) in the country 'widow makers' because of their tendency to drop huge branches without warning, even on still days. Our tree is however a Radiata Pine.

Saturday dawned calm so we headed down the beach after breakfast for a sit in the sun and a read.
What a day!
No one around apart from the seagulls.
Some of us, of course, succumbed to the peace, quiet and sunshine.
It was such a good experience, we repeated the whole thing today, Sunday.
And looking at the weather forecast, Monday looks good for another go.

Behind the beach car park, a row of houses is screened by native plants. This year the Banksias have been particularly flowerful.
This wind swept bush is in full flower which is typical for Autumn.

The huge flower spikes are stunning.
To me it looks like the "Giant Candles" cultivar which is a registered nursery plant found originally growing naturally in Brisbane and is mostly likely a hybrid cross between Banksia ericifolia and B. spinulosa.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Another Date Day

The co driver had an early morning appointment in Nowra so we decided to make a day of it. The town, which is about an hour's drive to the north of us, is the main regional centre of our area and sits on the banks of the Shoalhaven River a few kilometers from where it empties into the ocean. The name means 'black cockatoo' in the local aboriginal language.
It has a population of around 100,000 so is considered by us to be the 'medium smoke' in comparison to Sydney which is 'the big smoke'. There are a number of industries operating there eg. a paper mill and a starch/ethanol plant. The naval air station HMAS Albatross is also located in the area.
There is a bit more choice for shopping and services than in our neck of the woods. So after the appointment was done we spent a bit of time at Spotlight (a fabric store) and the local library.
Then we headed  a bit further north to the little town of Berry for lunch.
Alexander Berry pioneered European settlement in this part of the Shoalhaven region in 1822. The locality was known as Broughton Creek from its beginning in 1825 as a private town and part of a large rural grant holding called Coolangatta. The name was changed to Berry in 1889, following the death of David Berry, Alexander's brother, to honour the Berry family.

Today it is mainly a tourist town full of cafes, antique shops and quirky goods stores although there is still a supermarket, bakery and a butcher to cater for the locals. It is the sort of place people come down to from Sydney for a day trip on weekends. They are currently discussing a controversial highway by pass which will make the town less hectic traffic wise.
We always have lunch at 'The Emporium' which is a deli cum cafe. The coffee is the best around and the sandwiches, salads and quiches are second to none.
I should also mention there is a quilt shop and a fabric shop in the vicinity. While the co driver was doing her thing there, I snuck down the road for a double cone at the ice creamery. Sorry Dr. M!
Then on the way home back through Nowra we stopped at the newish Fish and Meat Market on the recommendation of one of our neighbours.
Wow! A huge range of fresh fish, crustaceans and shell fish plus every cut of meat (beef, pork, lamb, chicken) known to man. This is now a 'must visit' when in that area or coming back from Sydney. We just have to remember to put an esky (cooler) in the car.
We bought some big tiger prawns and some fresh mussels which we opened on the BBQ that night and ate with a home made spicy tomato sauce.
And there are enough prawns left over for another 'go' tonight.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Toys for Boys

When I first bought our property over two decades ago I knew nothing about country life and farming.
My new neighbours were extremely helpful at getting me started, making all sorts of suggestions on how to do things and make life on the land a bit easier.
As it turned out they did have a bit of fun with me at the beginning with one even admitting, much later, sitting out on her verandah to watch me 'doing things' for a bit of entertainment.
One bit of advice was to buy a small tractor, a decent chain saw and a brushcutter as a minimum amount of equipment.
I have never got around to the former as I always felt that 10ha (25acres) was too small for a tractor, the cattle keep the grass down and in any case I could always get a contractor in to do slashing etc.
That is not to say I never, deep down, wanted one. A red Massey Ferguson has always been on my wish list. A red lawn tractor has been a substitute.

The latter two items have however proven indispensable.
Both were Husqvarnas and have been extremely reliable and have gone through a heap of work over the years.
The brushcutter survived its last service 12 months ago, just. The repairman said 'that was it' he could do no more and the next breakdown would be terminal.
So last week it spluttered its last and I was off to the Big Boys Store today for a new one.
Technology has sure gone ahead over the 20 years but prices have surprisingly not altered too much.
So I am now the proud owner of Husqvarna 535RX.
The co driver and I struggled a bit putting it together (some things never change) despite a pretty comprehensive operator's manual but it fired up first go and did a trial slash with ease.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Spectacular Visitor

The barque James Craig was built in Sunderland, England in 1874.
Originally named Clan Macleod, her maiden voyage was to Peru.
For 26 years she plied the trade routes of the world carrying general cargoes during which period she rounded Cape Horn 23 times.
In 1900 she was purchased by Mr J J Craig of Auckland and was used on trans-Tasman trade routes as a general cargo carrier.
In 1905 she was re-named James Craig and then a short six years later she was laid up because increasing competition from steam ships made sailing vessels uneconomical. She was then stripped and used as a copra hulk in New Guinea.
After the First World War there was an acute shortage of cargo ships. This gave James Craig a new lease of life after being towed from New Guinea to Sydney for re-fitting.
Her return to service was brief because in 1925 she was reduced to a coal hulk at Recherche Bay, Tasmania.

In 1932 she was abandoned and became beached after breaking her moorings in a storm. She remained beached until 1972 when volunteers from the Sydney Heritage Fleet re-floated her.
In 1973 she was towed to Hobart where temporary repairs were carried out. She was towed to Sydney in 1981 and restoration work commenced. The James Craig's restored hull was re-launched in February 1997.
And on a glorious summer day in February 2001, she hoisted all her 21 sails for the first time in nearly 80 years and is now fully operational
This week she is anchored in Jervis Bay just to the north of us and  is expected to be in the area until next Thursday, taking part in a training program with Australian Defence Force Academy cadets.
You don't get a better sight than a ship under full sail and this is one grand old lady.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

'Roos in the Top Paddock

We have a small family (mob) of three wallabies who have taken up residence in our garden. 
The baby (the joey) was in its mother's pouch when they arrived but was 'kicked out' a few weeks later, seemingly weaned a month or so after that and has grown very quickly.
At first they were quite skittish but now realize we are of little danger to them and they go about their business little perturbed by our coming and going. 
That business is predominantly eating and lying in the sun asleep.
As the weeks pass we can get closer and closer to them without them wanting to dash off.
We won't be encouraging them to become tame or be feeding them but it's nice to have them around.
As long as they don't invite their relations they can stay.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A Perfect Autumn Day

Warm (22deg), sunny and a high blue cloudless sky with just the hint of an off shore breeze.
Cool mornings and evenings now. We had our first fire last night.

The daughter sent the picture above from one of Sydney's southern beaches this morning.
The forecast looks good for the rest of the week too so shall hit the beach tomorrow.
But for now it's back to cleaning out the shed before settling down in front of the TV for this afternoon's Super Rugby match between the New Zealand Crusaders and the Queensland Reds.