Monday, October 09, 2017

ARTfest '17

When I moved down here permanently in 1991(has it really been THAT long?), there was little arts' activity.
There was the occasional live show at the Milton theater and small artists, pottery, photography and literary groups.
Live entertainment was provided mainly by the local clubs (RSL, bowls, golf) who tapped into the regional transient entertainers circuit, usually past their prime comedians and singers or tribute artists.
But as baby boomers retired and moved from Sydney and Canberra for their 'sea change', interest in the arts scene increased.
The current Artfest had its genesis in 1999 with the Tabula Rasa Contemporary Arts Festival staged during the winter months with the aim of showcasing local artists of all genres.

It has gone through a number rebirths since and the Escape ARTfest is now a two-week celebration of all things artistic in the Milton-Ulladulla district running from late September to early October.
In 2010, Rick Stein of TV chef fame (he has a very expensive fish and chip restaurant in town) and his wife came on board as the official patrons of the ARTfest. Their support has substantially increased its profile both regionally and state wide.
2017 features close to 100 individual events with over 40 art exhibitions, concerts, performances, authors' luncheons, workshops, films, digital installations and pop up community events. A children's orientated program is also a feature.
We decided to do a pottery workshop.
It was an all day affair where we hand built 'totems' under the watchful and helpful eye of two instructors.








video
We had a lot of fun doing it. Our 'masterpieces' need to dry for a few weeks and then will be bisque fired. When this is done we will be called back to glaze them before a final firing.
Watch this space for pics of the final product (assuming they don't explode or fall to pieces in the kiln.)
WATCH THIS SPACE!
The pottery group running the workshop offers six week beginners' classes during the year so I guess this may have been in part a recruiting exercise. Whether we will continue on with this activity is still being cussed and discussed given we didn't last too long at art classes..
On another day we drove out to a lovely property behind Milton where, as part of ARTfest, an exhibition of the owners' wood fired ceramic sculptures and pieces as well as bonsai and textiles had been organized. 
We missed the opening of the wood-fired train kiln but the results looked great. 
I liked the somewhat free form and 'primitive' style pottery.
There was also a huge permaculture garden full of vegetables and numerous fruit trees, not to mention a large stand of bunya pines.
The house must have been well over a hundred years old and built in that late 1800s colonial style, many of which still remain standing in our area.







Then it was to the Milkhaus for lunch.
Situated in the old Cheese Factory at Woodstock, this establishment is a wholefoods cafe that "aims to deliver fresh, honest, simple fare, free of toxins, preservatives and anything artificial."
















The menu can be unusual (and sometimes a bit challenging) and changes on a regular basis eg. crispy spiced cauliflower tacos with cabbage slaw, avocado salsa, shallots, coriander and chilli with tahini yoghurt. 
The place was jumping and all the (communal) tables were filled up. Plenty of kids too as it was still school holiday time. There is no kids' menu so I wondered how some would cope with the 'strange' food. A family at a table near us with five pre teen girls didn't seem to be having any problem.
A totally enjoyable day and a great way to end our small participation in ARTfest '17.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Sulphur Dioxide in Wine / A Revisit

I have discussed the use of sulphites in wine in 2009 and 2015.
There is an increasing tendency in Australia to reduce the usage of SO2 (Preservative 220) as much as possible due to concerns about allergic reactions to the chemical by consumers.
The Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) is the Australian grape and wine industry’s research organization which supports the grape and wine industry through  research, practical solutions and knowledge transfer.
They have recently 'revisited' sulphur dioxide use because their "problem-solving" service has recently seen a number of wine samples submitted with issues apparently related to insufficient use of the preservative.
These samples have presented with a range of ‘symptoms', including sensory deterioration, premature oxidation, microbial spoilage and high concentrations of volatile acidity (VA).
All have been traced back to reveal insufficient SO2 at bottling as a major contributing factor.
So to recap, sulphur dioxide is an extremely effective antioxidant and antimicrobial agent when added in very small amounts to wine. The maximum allowable in Australia for a dry wines is 250mg/L although I doubt this level is ever reached.
It is introduced into wine a number of times during processing generally in the form of potassium metabisulphite (KMS) which produces approximately half its weight as SO2.
In the wine, two forms of SO2 then exist ie.bound and free. It is the free that 'does the work'. Within the free it is the molecular sulphur that is the 'active agent'.
The amount of SO2 in the free form and its effectiveness ie. molecular sulphur content, depends on the pH of the wine. The higher the pH, the less SO2 will be in the useful free form AND the less effective this free SO2 will be.
Free SO2 levels recommended by Rankine


So with all this well documented and established knowledge why are some winemakers running into trouble?
There are many considerations to take into account when assessing the correct SO2 levels. These include if a wine is intended for short, medium or long term storage, wine clarity and dissolved oxygen pickup at various stages of wine production particularly at bottling. The latter two increase the bound and reduce the free levels of SO2.
With this trend towards the lowest possible additions, it seems multiple small additions of SO2 rather than one equivalent large addition could result in the concentration of free SO2 never reaching a level which produces the desired antioxidant or antimicrobial effect.
Larger less frequent SO2 additions, yielding greater concentrations of free SO2, are therefore considered much more effective in achieving the desired antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.
The AWRI reports: It is apparent that many wines submitted for problem solving investigation are those to which several small SO2 additions have been made, and many of these wines have a comparatively high ratio of bound to free SO2, i.e. the free SO2 concentration being 25% or less of the concentration of total SO2. In most cases this phenomenon is apparently due to products of oxidation and microbiological activity resulting from the low free SO2 concentrations, acting to bind a large proportion of the SO2 that is present.
video

Measuring free SO2 on a commercial scale requires expensive equipment or a complicated laboratory set up.
There are test kits for the small wine maker but I have found these to be expensive, inaccurate and unreliable.
Some time ago I came across a test system based on the Rankine method in the USA for $100 and brought one home with me. It can be a bit fiddly but I found this to be one of the better wine making investments I have made.
The electric pump required a step down transformer (which we have for our other USA appliances) to cope with our 240V. The test chemicals were easily acquired locally eg. from ANPROS
Performed with care and measuring accuracy, testing using this set up will definitely indicate when free SO2 is present in the wine and, with a simple calculation, the approximate amount.
Now whether this amount is accurate is any one's guess as I have no way of comparing it to a result from an established testing method.
But I have to say so far I have come across none of the low sulphur problems stated above with the white that has been bottled or the reds which are still in the tank.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vintage 2018 Begins

Spring is well and truly here and the early variety grapes, Tempranillo, Semillon and Pinot Noir have sprung into life.
Thankfully there must be some substantial sub soil moisture as we have had virtually no rain for months.
It has been the warmest driest winter on record.
It is already a record breaking warm spring with temperatures in the high 30s in some places.
This is a real concern as early spring is particularly windy. Combined with the high temperatures and the dry this is perfect bush fire weather.
There are 90 fires burning in the state already. The few that are around us are thankfully under control.
We are under a total fire ban here but keep an eye on the Fires Around Us app just in case.
Lightning strikes, carelessness and, sadly, arson can change the situation at any time.
We have been transferring water from our spare tanks to our home tank and are thinking about putting ourselves on restriction now as there is no rain forecast longer term.
There is a long waiting list to get a water delivery and, in any case, we don't particularly want to use chlorinated town water.
Despite the warm winter we had an inordinate number of frosts which have killed off the pasture much earlier than normal. There has been no spring regrowth due to the lack of rain so we are still feeding the cattle. Hay prices have gone through the roof due to the dry.
All in all not a good situation.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Feral Animals in Australia / Part 3

Continuing on with our list of feral animals:
-Water Buffalo
Between 1825 and 1843, about 80 water buffalo were brought to Melville Island and the Cobourg Peninsula (now in the Northern Territory) as a meat supply.
When these settlements were abandoned in the mid 1900s, the buffalo soon colonized the swamps and freshwater springs of this part of  the 'Top End'.
Despite harvesting them for meat, hides and as hunters’ trophies, feral buffalo spread across the northern floodplains. There are two types; the river type from western Asia, with curled horns, and the swamp type from eastern Asia, with swept back horns.
Prior to extensive culling in the 1980s, the population was estimated at around 350 000. Numbers dropped dramatically as a result of the campaign but have since recovered to an estimated 150 000 animals across northern Australia in 2008.

The feral buffalo grossly altered the character of the northern floodplains.
With its wallows, trails, dung, trampling and disturbance, it caused soil erosion, channelling of flood waters, increased intrusion of salt water into freshwater habitats and destruction of wetland vegetation.
They can carry important diseases of cattle, particularly tuberculosis and brucellosis.
A number of small scale industries involving the buffaloes remaining have developed eg.meat for human consumption (local and international), pet meat, hides, horns, animals for live export and game for hunters.
Some Aboriginal communities depend on the buffalo as a food source and have negotiated
permission to maintain a domesticated herd.
Farming of re-domesticated herds is also increasing.
-Wild Goats
Goats came to Australia with the first fleet in 1788.
During the 19th century, sailors released goats onto islands and some areas of the mainland for
emergency food. Cashmere goats were brought into South Australia in 1837. In the 1860s, angora and cashmere goats were imported from Asia to start a goat fibre industry. Some herds were set free when the industry collapsed in the 1920s. More recently, goats have been used to keep plantation forests and inland pastoral land free of weeds.

The current feral goat population in Australia represents a mixture of all these origins.
There are at least 2.6 million feral goats but numbers fluctuate enormously with drought, management programs and high fertility so it is very difficult to accurately assess numbers.
They are considered a significant agricultural and environmental pest.
They have been estimated to cause losses to livestock farming of $25 million per year.
The goats also negatively affect conservation values and biological diversity by damaging the vegetation and competing with native animals.
Control of feral goats is a complex issue. While they are a major environmental and agricultural
pest, they also have some commercial value and are used as a game species by recreational hunters.
We don't have wild goats around here. Well, not the four legged variety anyway.
-Wild Pigs
The first recorded release of pigs in Australia was made by Captain James Cook at Adventure Bay, Bruny Island (just off what is now Tasmania) in 1777. This was part of his policy of introducing animals and plants to newly discovered countries (Thanks, Jim!). 
However today's problems with feral pigs really started when domestic pigs (Sus scrofa) were first introduced into Australia by the First Fleet in May 1788. Then 49 pigs were brought to Sydney as a food source and were subsequently allowed to roam.
By the 1880s they had run wild in New South Wales.
They now have declared pest status country wide.

Agriculturally they reduce crop yields by consuming or trampling plants. Fences and water sources can be damaged. Dams and waterholes are fouled through wallowing and defecation. They also compete with livestock for pasture and damage pasture by up-rooting vegetation.
Environmentally they disturb natural habitats by rooting up soils, grasslands and forest litter and consuming a range of native plants. They also eat a range of live native animals including earthworms, beetles, centipedes, amphipods, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, turtles and their eggs and small ground-nesting birds and their eggs.
Feral pigs can be hosts or vectors of a number of endemic parasites and diseases, some of which can affect other animals or people eg. leptospirosis.
Control methods include aerial and ground shooting as well as trapping and strategic poisoning.
-Deer
Deer were introduced into Australia from Europe in the 19th century as game animals.
There are now six species in various parts of the country: fallow, red, chital, hog, rusa and sambar.
They are a major emerging pest problem, causing damage both to the natural environment and agricultural businesses. Populations are expanding and deer are invading new areas.
They destroy native vegetation by trampling plants, grazing, and ring-barking young trees, fouling waterholes, causing soil erosion, spreading weeds and potentially transmitting diseases.
The most common control measure is shooting by recreational hunters and sometimes by professional marksmen.
Another control approach is prevention of the escape of farmed deer so that they do not create new wild populations or bolster existing wild populations.

We do not have a problem with them around here but they are in plague proportions in the Royal National Park on Sydney's southern outskirts. It's a bit strange for us to see road signs warning about deer rather than kangaroos.
-Wild Horses (Brumbies)
The first horses, around seven of them, arrived in Australia with the first British colonists, in January 1788.
They became essential to the development of the nation’s pastoral, farming, mining and timber-getting industries and for decades were the main means for moving goods, supplies, mail and passengers between towns and around cities.
Today, horses have been replaced by technology but thousands of Australians continue to share deep connections with their animals, from outback stockmen, to racing, pony clubs and weekend riders.
In the meantime many horses have gone wild. In the more environmentally sensitive places like the Alpine regions eg. the so called 'high country' of Victoria and New South Wales much of which is national park, they are causing damage.

Authorities are calling for their removal wanting the elimination of 90 per cent of the estimated 6000 wild horses over 20 years in the Kosciusko National Park alone.
Aerial and land culling were suggested as the preferred options.
This is very controversial.
The brumby is ingrained in our culture. Many think they should be valued for the historical links to early settlers and popular legends such as The Man From Snowy River and military roles such as the Light Horse Brigade.
Others think it is more important to stop the degradation of the wetlands in the Australian Alps and protect critically endangered species such as the corroboree frog, alpine water skink, and the broad-toothed rat.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Winter Vineyard and Farm Work

We are nearly ready for vintage 2018 to begin.
It's been a busy few weeks.
The first job was pruning and burning off the cuttings. The latter was combined with our usual winter fallen timber clean up burn offs around the property so we saved a bit of time there.
The Pinot Noir block needed no additional work.
video
Raising the netting in the Tempranillo/Semillon block had to be finished and luckily Stirls was on hand to help with that as well as reset a couple of strainer posts ie. straightening and stay replacement.
The Cabernet Sauvignon block is now 20 odd years old and the infrastructure is showing its age a little.
One strainer post was completely broken off at ground level and the stump had to be dug out and the strainer replaced. Other strainers had moved loosening wires. These had to be straightened, stays replaced and wires tensioned.
Thankfully the weather has been good apart from a few days of strong westerly winds. It has been an unseasonably warm and dry winter so it was pretty comfortable doing all the hard labour.
The only major job left is net mending which is not too urgent.
We expect bud burst in the early varieties to begin in a few weeks. As the years pass, this gets earlier and earlier. I think the difference now to when I first planted is about three to four weeks. Climate change?
video
The burn offs went without a hitch. These are quite big fires and you have to monitor the weather forecasts closely. With it being so dry you don't want the wind to get up half way through a burn and set the neighbourhood on fire. Hazard reduction burns that get away can cause a lot of problems.
Our spray 'attack' on the dreaded tussock weed on the south side of the creeks continues. This is the second year. We can see progress is being made but it is a laborious process.

In winter these weeds take some time to yellow off and die due to the cooler weather so after a while it's difficult to know where you have been in a densely infested area. So the process is slow.
Hopefully it can be finished this year and a 'mop up' operation on any regrowth done in autumn next year.
Results of a similar program on the north side of the creek have been extremely rewarding. 

Monday, August 07, 2017

Betty Cuthbert (1938-2017) MBE AM

When you get to my age, people whom you "grew up with" start to die. Whether it be actors, musicians, politicians or sports people, some have had an impact on your life and their passing  generates emotions, some stronger than others.
Today Betty Cuthbert, Olympic champion runner and Australia's 'Golden Girl', died after a long battle with MS.
This saddened me more than most.

















As a young kid I watched her run at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games on a grainy, flickery black and white TV behind the window of an electrical goods store. Not many families could afford one of those recently introduced gizmos or even tickets to the games.
She won three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4 x100m relay.
This inspired me to run and sprinting became my sport of choice through my primary and high school days.
Didn't do too badly at it either.

Betty was injured for the 1960 Rome Olympics but won gold in the 400m in 1964 Tokyo games.
News of her MS filtered out in 1974 and she dedicated much of her life towards raising awareness about the condition. Most of my generation followed her progress when dribs and drabs appeared in the press.
She was back in the limelight again at the opening of the 2000 Sydney Olympics as one of the final torch bearers. She was accommpanied around the stadium in a wheelchair by another athletics great, Raelene Boyle, to a huge reception.
Now she is gone.

Four Olympic gold medals, sixteen world records and the only Australian to be inducted into the IAAF Hall of Fame.
Vale Betty.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Feral Animals in Australia / Part 2

Following on from my May '17 post which seemed popular, here are some more introduced species that have caused or are causing problems.
-Camels
During the 19th century camels were imported into Australia from India and Afghanistan and used for transport and construction during the colonization of the central and western parts of of the country.
After railways and motorized transport started replacing them in the early 20th century, many were released into the wild resulting in a fast-growing feral population.
By 2008, it was estimated that Central Australia's feral camel population had grown to about one million. They are known to cause serious degradation of local environmental and cultural sites particularly during dry conditions.
A management program was funded in 2009 and upon completion in 2013, the feral population was estimated to have been reduced to around 300,000.
Aerial and ground culling plus mustering for farm use were the techniques used.





















A camel 'industry' does exist with meat being exported to various countries for human consumption. It is also used for pet food.
A number of camel dairies have also been established.
Live camels are occasionally exported to the Middle East where disease-free wild camels are prized as a delicacy.
Live camels are also exported as breeding stock for Arab camel racing stables and for use in tourist venues in places such as the USA.
-Black and Brown Rats, Mice
The black and brown rat and house mouse were accidentally introduced to Australia with European settlement.
As all around the world they are a problem not likely to be rid of.
Mice plagues are common in some rural areas. Australia's worst mouse plague was in 1993. It caused an estimated $96 million worth of damage.
Poisoning and trapping are the main controls.
Bush Rat
Australia also has around fifty native rats and mice.
These are presumed to have arrived within the last 4 million years from Asia.
They are difficult to differentiate from the 'foreigners'.
We deal with the native bush rats and field mice here but never in plague proportions.  
-Carp
The exact date of the carp's initial introduction to Australia is unclear. Some records claim the species was introduced to waters near Sydney as early as the 1850s. Others claim the first introduction was to Victoria in the 1870s.
They are a pest because of their destructive bottom-feeding habits which stir up sediments and muddy the water. This causes serious damage to the native fish populations in the lakes and rivers that they infest by out-competing other fish for food and space. 
Carp are also thought to lower water quality, which can kill off sensitive organisms like native freshwater mussels.
Although they are commercially fished as well as processed into fertilizer, the government is intent on eradicating them.
They have announced a $15 million project that would see a strain of the herpes virus, which was discovered in Israel, released into the Murray-Darling river system by the end of 2018.
The virus only affects European carp and is expected to kill 95 per cent of that species of fish in the river system over the next 30 years. 
-Fire Ants
These little pests are one of the latest unwanted imports. They are native to South American floodplains of the Paraguay River in Brazil, Paraguay and Northern Argentina.
They would have been unknowingly imported into Brisbane around 20 years ago possibly in a shipping container from the United States. They were first detected in the Brisbane area in February 2001.
Fire ants are a serious pest that threaten our lifestyle, the environment and agriculture.   
There have been six separate incidents of fire ant infestation, five recorded in Queensland and one in Port Botany NSW, the most recent at Brisbane Airport in 2015. Many of the colonies have been successfully eradicated but it is an ongoing battle to prevent their spread.
Bio-security Queensland is using a low-toxic bait treatment applied by broadcasting it over an area using about 4grams per square metre.
Worker ants take bait granules back to the nest, where they are passed among other ants and fed to the queen. These baits do not kill the ants but sterilize the queen and stop the larvae from developing. The worker ants are not replaced and the colony dies out.
We have to keep an eye out for native venomous ants eg. bull ants and jumping jacks when out and about so we don't want another one added to the list.
Continued here

Monday, July 24, 2017

Some Sydney Tourist Icons

When travelling in the USA and found to be Australian, we often hear "Oh Australia! We have always wanted to go there".
From my time on an Australian travel forum it was pretty obvious that many Americans had no idea how big the country was and how much time of their precious holiday (it seemed two weeks was the standard duration) would be used up getting to the various iconic tourist attractions.
Many had impossible itineraries that would have them mainly seeing airports and the inside of aircraft. And equating driving times achieved on their expansive interstate highway system to the majority of our lessor quality roads was also a mistake.
The most popular route for tourists on a short time schedule to get an idea of Australian city life, the outback and some natural beauty is the so called  'City-Rock-Reef' trail ie. Sydney-Uluru (Ayers Rock)-Great Barrier Reef.

A reasonable time frame for this is 4+1 days Sydney (including one on arrival to recover from jet lag), 3 days Uluru, 5 days Cairns or Port Douglas.
At least half a day each is lost getting from place to place as well as back to Sydney for the flight home.
As far as Sydney is concerned here are some of the places, in no particular order, most tourists want to visit.
-Sydney Opera House
Probably (along with the bridge), the best known feature of Sydney's landscape. Described variously from a ship setting sail to turtles having group sex, Jørn Utzon's building is an architectural classic. You can walk around it to take in its intricate design with the city skyline as a back drop, take interior tours or simply go to a concert or play or just enjoy a drink in the forecourt and watch the harbour traffic come and go.






-The Sydney Harbour Bridge
Opened in 1932 to join the north of the city with the south, I have some connection to the bridge. My father worked for the company which produced the six million rivets that were used in its construction. The stone used in the pylons was quarried at Moruya not far from where we currently live.
Apart from driving or training over it, you can walk it, climb over the top of the arch or if your wallet doesn't extend that far or acrophobia is a problem, then you can visit the south east pylon which has a small bridge museum and great views from the top






-Bondi Beach
Famous all around the world even pre the 'Bondi Rescue' TV series.
Why? I don't really know.
Probably because its a city beach easily accessible to the populous. But there are many along the city's coast just as nice and a lot less crowded. The area surrounding it is full of restaurants and bars and it can be a bit 'iffy' late in the evening.
There is a lovely coastal walk all the way to Coogee Beach starting at the southern end and walk to South Head from the northern end.
They are the only reasons I would go there.
-Sydney Ferries
These are part of the public transport system around Sydney but also a 'must do' for tourists despite a number of commercial harbour cruise companies who offer narrated coffee or lunch/dinner trips.
The most popular is the Manly ferry across to the jumping off point for northern suburbs and their beaches. You get to see most of the eastern harbour on that trip and Manly Beach rivals Bondi.
But for those interested in a road less tourist travelled, they go west under the bridge, some all the way up the Parramatta River to that historic city.






- The Blue Mountains
About 2 hours west of Sydney by car or train, lies this spectacular sandstone range. For many years after settlement this was a major barrier to the western expansion of the colony and was only 'conquered' in 1813. 
The Blue Mountains are so named because, from Sydney, they look blue. They are covered in vast forests of eucalypts which in the hot sun discharge a fine mist of eucalyptus oil from their leaves. The mist refracts light, which makes the haze look blue at a distance.
Part of the attraction is that you are mostly on top of the ridges looking down rather than in valleys looking up.
The area around Katoomba, the main centre, is usually crowded with tourists but they tend to gather at Echo Point (the Three Sisters) and Scenic World.
If you venture further afield eg. Kanangra Walls or take walks to the canyon floors in other parts of the national park, you get to appreciate the beauty of this area. But be warned! It is easy to get lost and never found in the labyrinth. It happens on a regular basis for those who go unprepared.
It is usually much cooler than Sydney up there and it can even snow in winter at times.
However during the hotter summer months bush fires are a constant threat and there have been some disastrous ones over the years.














-Taronga Park Zoo
If you are into Zoos (I am not), this isn't too bad a one. There is a mix of exotic and native animals housed in reasonable conditions. The setting is spectacular looking back across the harbour to the city and the ferry ride getting there is great.



-The Heads
The 2km wide entrance to Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson) has two vantage points, South and North Heads. The former is the most popular and the easier to get to via road or ferry. The infamous Gap, the city's 'favourite' suicide spot is also there.
A twenty-minute foreshore walk on the South Head Heritage Trail offers views of Middle Head, Manly, North Head and the Pacific Ocean. Starting at Camp Cove Beach, an 1870s cobblestone path leads first to Lady Bay (also known as Lady Jane) Beach, one of three in Sydney where nude bathing is lawful. It then loops around the headland, passing Hornby Lighthouse, its light keepers' cottages, and several gun emplacements from the end of the 19th century.
North Head is accessed from Manly. It has great views back to the city and some wonderful walks through native coastal vegetation. There is evidence of the past strategic importance of the area with remnants of gun emplacements and tunnels driven through the sandstone. It is also the site of the (supposedly haunted) Quarantine Station that operated from 1828 to 1982. It is now a hotel, conference and wedding venue.
Educational, history, ghost and paranormal tours are on offer.
-Royal Botanic Garden
An easy stroll from the centre of town or the Opera House these gardens were originally the site of the first farm by European settlers on the Australian continent in 1788. Although that farm failed, the land has been in constant cultivation since that time, as ways were found to make the relatively infertile soils more productive. The Botanic Garden was founded in 1816 and is the oldest scientific institution in Australia.
Many different horticultural environments have been developed and a mixture of native and exotic flora is on display.
And it is free!













-Sydney Tower
The highest structure (not officially a building) in the city which has great 360 degree views.
But it costs to get up there and there is a revolving restaurant with equally high prices and mediocre food and proves the old saying 'never eat anywhere that revolves, floats or has views.'
Probably could be considered a bit of a tourist trap.





















-The QVB
The Queen Victoria Building was constructed between 1893 and 1898.
Designed originally as a marketplace, it was used for a variety of other purposes, underwent remodelling and suffered decay (and threat of demolition) until its restoration and return to its original use in the late twentieth century.
Even if you are not into shopping, the architectural splendor of this building is well worth the time.





-The Rocks
This is an urban locality, tourist precinct and historic area of Sydney's city centre situated on the western side of Sydney Cove and under the Bridge approaches.
It became established shortly after the colony's formation in 1788. From the earliest history of the settlement, the area had a reputation as a slum and the arriving convicts' side of town, often frequented by visiting sailors and prostitutes.
During the late nineteenth century, the area was dominated by a gangs and maintained this rough reputation until approximately the 1870s.
By the early 20th century, many of the area's historic buildings were in serious decay and the state government resumed areas around The Rocks with the intention of demolishing them and rebuilding them. More than 3,800 houses, buildings and wharves were inspected and hundreds demolished, but the continuation of these plans were brought to a halt due to the outbreak of the First World War. During the 1920s, several hundred buildings were demolished during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In 1968, the state government gave control of The Rocks to the Sydney Cove Redevelopment Authority, with the intention of demolishing all the original buildings and re-developing the sites into high-density residential dwellings.
But this move was thwarted by resident and Union action (green bans).
So instead of demolishing The Rocks, renovations transformed the area into the commercial and tourist precinct we see today.
Yes, it is touristy with some really tacky shops and rip off restaurants but there are still pockets of charm with beautifully restored buildings (both residential and commercial), old pubs and places to get away from the hoards if you know where to go. And the weekend markets there sell mostly high quality goods and souvenirs.








Thursday, July 13, 2017

USA 2017 / Sioux Falls Sculpture Walk

As is usual there was some beautiful work in this year's collection









































More details here.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

USA 2017 / South Dakota and Back Home

Our final week saw us doing the last rounds with family and friends with meals and get togethers.
I even read two Australian kids' books, Possum Magic and Wombat Stew, we had given over the years to a group of siblings' grand kids.
They wanted to hear them in a genuine accent (or was it really the adults who wanted that?).
By the looks on some faces they may have found it all a bit strange: "Is that word really pronounced like that?"
There was a well catered Harry Potter themed birthday party by sister Kay for the niece.
Am I the only one in the world that knows zilch about Harry Potter?
What is it with the brick walls and owls?

















We stayed a few days with the Gs. The ladies talked (and talked) and sewed. In between meals, Em and I watched numerous old westerns on the 'hokey' (K's description, not ours) Westerns Channel. We don't have that one here on cable much to my regret.
On another night, we were invited to a birthday club get together at the local barn museum.
This was very interesting with so much to see.
But eating a lovely picnic style supper took priority over history so maybe a return visit is in order.
video

Back at Lake Hendricks we gathered for the traditional greed game and a family lunch. The game had been postponed from Christmas due to the bad weather then so we got to participate.
I won't go into the rules but it was fun and I scored some good loot.
Missing those black socks, Jim?
Talking of weather, we experienced some pretty heavy storm activity while in SD. The last night was particularly nasty. Storm cells with 75 mph winds, hail and torrential rain were spawning tornadoes. When the local TV channel suspends programming to concentrate solely on the weather, you know it is serious. Thankfully we were spared any problems.
Prairie Sunset After a Storm / Pic: Crystal Peterson




















I had one last try at fishing and brought in one mini sized bullhead. Lake fishing is obviously not my forte.
I am thinking about petitioning the MN and SD governments to rename Lake Hendricks as Lake Disappointment.
All too soon it was time to leave.
The flights home had only one hiccup. An already tight connection in Denver was made even tighter by a late departure from Sioux Falls but luckily our departure gate to LAX was almost opposite that of our arrival so we made it. Murphy's Law states it should have been 50 gates away.
The transpacific flight was in a 50% empty aircraft and I got three seats to stretch out on and slept for 7 of the 14 hours.
Arrival was on time and immigration formalities quick.
Thankfully, despite the very short connect time in Denver, our baggage made it too. We would not have wanted to misplace 4 x 23kg of predominantly quilting fabric. And a few rust items of course (don't ask!)
Then it was in the car for the 3 to 4 hour drive home which we took very easy with 2 coffee stops on the way.














Everything at home was in order. Our house watcher, Annabelle, and cow watchers, Bob and Jude, had done a great job.
However our bank had advised us by SMS while we were in flight that one of our linked CCs had been compromised late in our trip and both were cancelled. Luckily this did not affect us financially or during our trip and they have both been replaced.
Lesson? Always advise your bank of OS travel and take more than one credit card, both of which we always do.
Jet lag has been minimal and we are gradually slipping back into our normal daily lives.
It was, as usual, great seeing everyone and we appreciated their generous hospitality and fun company.
We hope to do it all again in 2019.

Friday, July 07, 2017

USA 2017 / Iowa Part 2

Next morning, it was another quilt shop visit in Ames and yet another east of the small town of Ellsworth.
These quilt shop businesses in the middle of nowhere amaze me.
They seem to be everywhere and thriving.
video
Then onto Clear Lake for another quilt shop and, more importantly, to where 'the music died' on 3rd February, 1959.
First stop was the Surf Ballroom where Buddy Holly, the Big Boppa and Ritchie Valens played their last gig.
This is really a place for the boomer generation.
















Anyone who is anyone has played here over the decades and they continue to come.
There is lots of memorabilia to see and the room itself is wonderful with its huge dance floor, stage and tiered booths.





There is a memorial to the three performers plus the pilot outside the building. A number of oldies were on the same pilgrimage. I took a multitude of photos of a gaggle of old ducks with their phones. 
They were obviously enjoying the experience.
One day I would really like to return for a show.





















Then it was off to the crash site itself. Situated a little out of town in the middle of bean and corn fields, it was a no go zone for a very long time.
But apparently a new owner of the farmland agreed to allow a small right of way into the site, about 800m from a dusty road, and the construction of a small memorial. As long as visitors 'behave' themselves, it seems access will continue to be available.




















We came across the entrance way with its iconic glasses, parked and walked in. It is just a small memorial where people have left flowers, flags and other bits and pieces. One for the pilot has been added separately. We flipped a coin, as has become the tradition and paid our respects. A couple of other people were doing the same.





















Then it was back to Sioux Falls where we were having what has become our traditional SD date night at Foley's Fish, Chop and Steakhouse.
Since we were last there, the restaurant had changed hands and become Morrie's Steakhouse.
We shouldn't have worried.

It was just as good or maybe even better than before and the wine list has expanded greatly.
It is now an eclectic world wide selection.
Australia's top wine, Penfold's Grange, was there at $US650/bottle for the 2004 vintage (GULP!).
The non restaurant retail price here for this great vintage is $US560 (I have seen a $US1500 restaurant price!), so maybe not so bad at Morrie's after all.
The Grange was obviously put aside but decision crises still reigned.
After a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley with my starter (deep fried walleye pieces), I eventually settled on a 2014 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon which turned out to be a great choice and went well with out meat selection.
The dessert was a huge piece of a rum infused carrot cake. You had to be over 21 to order it. Have never seen a potential carding required in a restaurant for a dessert item before.
We both had our fill and there was still heaps left so we took the rest home to mom.
This is one of the better restaurants we have eaten at....anywhere.
Our final week in SD was already looming and we still had lots to do!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

USA 2017 / Iowa Part 1

I made the trip down to Canton the day before our Iowa trip so I could visit the Calico Skies Winery which looked good on paper. It was more than a hobby vineyard/winery which seems to be predominant in SD.
I picked the niece up at the retreat and drove the few miles into Iowa to the winery. It was a very nice set up. The production equipment was very modern and the vineyards nicely set out. They grow mainly American French hybrids as well as bring in grapes from other vineyards. Their wine list covers a selection of sweet and dry whites and reds with a few sweet 'fizzies' thrown in. They also market a number of fruit wines.
It was their 6th Anniversary celebration so there was a big crowd there enjoying music and the festivities.

They were far too busy for an individual tasting so we enjoyed a glass each of their Chambourcin and Marquette which is an inter-specific hybrid red wine grape variety. It was developed at the University of Minnesota and is a cross between two other hybrids, MN 1094 and Ravat 262.
The former is the 'signature wine' of our local area and it always tastes pretty ordinary to us. This one was completely different and enjoyable. The latter is said to have some a Pinot Noir in its DNA and was also pretty good.
I was amazed at the number of people, mainly men, who were drinking beer in the tasting room.
The niece thought that was pretty normal for this part of the world.
I would like to return there some day.
The quilt retreat was in a building that was previously a bank. Three huge safes are still a feature of the sewing a room.













I hung out there with the ladies for the evening and then we headed for Cedar Rapids early the next morning, again along state and county highways. Our first stop was Le Mars for coffee and a snack and to pay homage at the 'Temple of the Bunny'.
The city is home to the Blue Bunny ice cream factory and claims to be the Ice Cream Capital of the World. They produce more than 150 million gallons of ice cream a year and have a tasting parlour in town. A one scoop turned out to be a mega cup but I managed to devour mine and what was left of the co drivers.













Further on, we stopped at a small town (can't tell you the name, they tend to all look the same) for a very yummy Mexican lunch.
After seven hours driving, we arrived at our destination, met up with our friends from Chicago, had drinks and dinner and then hit the sack.
Next morning we drove the 45 minutes to the Amana Colony.
The Amana Colony is seven villages on 11,000 ha which were built and settled by German Pietists, who were persecuted in their homeland by the German state government and the Lutheran Church. Calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration (Die Gemeinde der wahren Inspiration), they first settled in New York near Buffalo in what is now the town of West Seneca. However, seeking more isolated surroundings, they moved to Iowa in 1856.
They lived a communal life there until 1932.

Now the colonies are a tourist center relying on their "Germanness' as the attraction. This can be a bit of a stretch at times. From a previous visit there, we realized the only German thing about the restaurant food were the names on the menus. Whirlpool's Amana appliance factory is there and would have to be a big employer also.
At the main centre, Amana, the ladies were interested in a quilt shop so Roger and I just wandered, ending up in a furniture and wood working shop which was a fascinating place as well as the home of sticker shock.






Meeting up again, the four of us explored the main street with its many touristy shops. I particularly liked the Christmas shop but couldn't imagine working there and listening to carols 8 hours a day.














Then we drove to South Amana where, according to the co driver, was the quilt shop find of the entire 5 week USA visit, Fern Hill Gifts and Quilts. The CC got some damage done to it there.

After lunch we said out goodbyes to the Chicagoans who were heading for Texas for a few weeks and we made our way, again on the back roads via Norway (of baseball fame) and Nevada (scene of a fruitless quilt shop search) to Ames and our hotel.
There we had a really nice dinner at the Texas Roadhouse. Good cold beer, tender steak done  to perfection and exceptional service. The latter spawned a discussion on tipping.
We don't tip in Australia. Minimum wage for permanent employees here is the equivalent of around $US14/hr with benefits (superannuation (401K) payments, sick leave, up to 4 weeks vacation leave, long service leave, maternity or paternity leave, bereavement leave and penalty rates for weekend and holiday work). For casual employees the benefits are replaced by a minimum 25% basic wage supplement.

Our server told us she was earning $US4.35/hr plus tips. Australians who complain about tipping in the USA should really be made aware of the minimal wages some people, particularly in the hospitality and service industries, are earning there.
It was an early night in preparation for the next day's adventures.