Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Out in the open air

I am a TV addict. Early in my adult life, I realised how easily I am seduced by the thrill of the entertainment offered by television. I came to notice the emptied out, unsatisfied feeling I had after being hooked up to the machine. Going back for another program didn't shift the feeling. So I went cold turkey, and haven't had a TV in the house for 30 years. This gives me more room to do the things I’m really interested in, and living at Riddells, that means more time outside, in the open air.

One caveat: feeling dissatisfied with television does not apply to a closely contested AFL game. And a confession: when I travel and stay in hotels, I find it impossible to resist turning on the tellie for a bit. On a recent trip, it was the weather news that impressed me. Little arrows flying in from the north east, and running up against the edge of the lows bearing down on us from the west. The graphics really showed what was happening, and the commentator seemed to have a lively interest in weather, though she had to keep making light of everything (because it's all entertainment!).

Standing outside at Riddells in the middle of the day, in surprisingly hot weather the week after Easter, I thought of that colourful animation of the weather as an inside the house experience. So different to the way you read the weather standing outside your house. Nestled in the valley up beside Gap Road, the wind quickens and I look to the horizon. The clouds are thickening up, but will we get rain out of this? I'm sizing up what's happening with my own senses and my own brain, my own animation of the weather. Inside, on the tellie, it's all about entertainment - oh what fun we're having with the highs and lows in Australia. Standing outside, the situation is personal, and has more weight. It's about my house and vegetable garden, how the creek is doing, and beyond my small valley, the state of the wider countryside as this warm autumn persists.

No, this isn't the weather coming, it's a beautiful evening sky from our long autumn, 2017

Tuning into what's going on in the place you live is one of the principal pleasures of living in the country. I know everyone raves about it - "living in the country". When the Forum for Democratic Renewal asked people what they love about living in the Macedon Ranges, they said - living in the country. A bit of space around you.  A wide sky, the bush, your senses expanding into the natural world. Every couple of months living here in the open air, I realise that I'm hearing something new, or seeing something I've walked past every day. 

Driving into Melbourne on the Calder, I notice that my eyes are following that trio of birds as they dart over the freeway - my vision in its standard setting now includes the flight of birds! Amazing! Sitting in the valley, I hear the wind moving, ruffling up the trees in the garden, and down in the creek, and in the pines in my neighbour's block, and in Barrm Birrm behind me. It's a large soundscape, and I take it in now without conscious effort, without instructing myself to do this.

It's not all ice cream and lolly pops outside. The cold will come, and we'll be snuggled up by the fire, happy to be inside. But it seems to me that the inside life is in its place, and happier for that, when I pay attention to the life going on outside. The wind moving, the clouds coming in, wondering whether there's rain there - that reading of the weather, like so much of my time outside, is a deeply pleasurable human thing to be doing.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

Time to talk

When friends come from the city, what do you show them around Riddells Creek? Our friend Tom was up recently staying for a night and a day of talk, and the market was on so of course that was the big expedition Saturday morning. Tom used to live at Macedon but after a year overseas, he's now confined to an expensive terrace - rented - in North Melbourne. He used to come to the Riddells Market, so when we walked into that grassy square of awnings and began our stroll around, he said he felt like he'd come home. It wasn't only the produce that lifted his spirits, but the people - the producers selling what they themselves had made, keen to talk about their wares, in fact, happy to converse.

Now where else to you get that, in a public place? People proud of what they are doing, happy to talk, making the time to talk? I introduced Tom to Lachlan, who helps organise the market, and they sat at a table in the sunshine and had a natter while I went off for a long conversation with the chook man, who only comes occasionally to Riddells, but who I found does a run through our town on Wednesdays as he comes back from his abattoir, and would happily drop off a beast if I gave him a call. Beautiful birds, plump and sweet fleshed.

It got me thinking how the life of a town is in its conversations. Not the private conversations we have in our homes when friends come over, but the conversation in public places. At the newsagent with our feisty post mistress, or standing outside the supermarket, catching up with my neighbour from the end of Gap Road. And then there are the conversations at events like the Market, and the football, and in the classes in the Neighbourhood House, and so on. Beneath the surface layer of neat houses and shops, there's another world of connections and conviviality, and that is our common life.

Riddells Landcare has filled out its calendar for the year. Before this piece goes to press, there's a morning Saturday 6th May, organised with Greening of Riddell, where we will assess the health of Riddells creek with one of the people from the Waterwatch program, counting and identifying bugs in samples of water drawn from the edge of the creek. Great sport for kids … and a chance for idle conversation amongst the adults. 

Then 20th May, we'll be visiting the Bradley's place on Wheelwrights Road to see how the gorse slashing and replanting is going. And to have afternoon tea together.  Sunday 4th June, 10-12, 288 Gap Road, you're invited to a working bee in Barrm Birrm, dedicated to digging out pittosporum (bring your mattock), and to conversation. 

If you miss that, don't worry, there's the AGM 13th August 2-4, the Spring working bee, Sunday 17th September 10-12, and the Big Walk, Sunday 15th October, where all the way from the snowgums at the top of the Macedon range to the grassy plains beside Riddells Creek you will have an opportunity to weave in and out of conversations with a mob of like-minded persons.
To keep up with these events, $15 will give you membership of our locally owned and locally run Riddells Creek Landcare. 

Like those producers at the Farmers Market, we're proud of what we do, and we've always got time to talk.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare


I was in Melbourne town a while back, the big smoke, in Smith St Collingwood, checking out a new alimentari and updating my hipster reference points. Under the lulling influence of summertime, clothes with more colours than black were in evidence, and there seemed to be fewer beards on the street. Could it be that the tsunami of hair is finally beginning to recede?

Anyway, I'd lingered over a coffee and was strolling on when I found myself caught short. My inbuilt "Nearest Toilet" app informed me that yes, a little further down Smith St I'd find a public facility, and I hurried on (never get between a man over 50 with a look of urgency on his face, and a toilet). Thankfully, the door button blinked green - with a pneumatic hiss, I was ushered in. The blessed bowl gleamed in welcome; someone's idea of relaxing music piped up; I relaxed.

Then, what is that, that ripe, fetid aroma? I sniffed, my brow furrowed. I looked around, I looked down, and there, nestled beside the bowl, was a rather fine specimen of toilet art, dark and bulbous. Oh me, oh my, what possesses a person to so deliberately disturb public space? Some hostility born of constant rejection and discouragement, and I'll take it out on the rest of you by laying down one thing I can do pretty well, beside the bowl, not in the bowl. Up yours!

I sighed and finished up, risked the washing and the drying devices, requested exit and was delivered, free again, to the outer world of car fumes and grinding trams.  A Japanese couple was waiting, tourists in their thirties, beautifully dressed. As she headed for the door, a wave of shame swept over me. "No, no," I wanted to say. "Don't go in there!" And then "This is not typical, this is not how Australian people behave, please don't take away this memory of my country!"

Later that week I went walking in Barrm Birrm, in at the track up from my place, and what is this!! Some idiot, some lazy wanker, has gone and dumped his garden waste along the edge of the track, clippings and bamboo grasses and soil with who knows what weeds, smothering the native grasses. Not in the nearby parking spot already disturbed by human activity, but here, where the bush lives on. 

Now you tell me - what possesses a person to dump their waste on plants that have patiently grown, that have possession of the land, that belong and have a right to their existence? Is it simply convenience, that here was the easy place to offload the trailer, and to return with another trailer load? Or the tip fees, a cheap solution to municipal authority? Or is there something more, some unconscious aggression, a fear of the simple existence of the bush, that stays in place through seasons and changes only slowly, doesn't shout or demand, just lives?

On Clean-Up Australia day, a fine day here ar Riddells, Landcare members and Riddells Cubs and Scouts came with 4 Wheel drive and trailer and we removed that garden waste, and much more besides - shopping trolleys, kitchen cabinets and sofas, drink containers, lolly wrappers, cigarette packs, all the detritus of humans, thrown away into the land which tolerates us. It felt good (and I think I speak for the 32 other souls who came) to clean-up this bit of bush, to make recompense, to do our human duty, out of respect for the land and its undemanding living. 

To shift the balance back toward human decency. 

 Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare

Thursday, 9 February 2017

A Bigger Life

Three of the new lots carved out of the old Turner block on Gap Road have sold, and I expect the last will go soon. Contractors cleared the blackberry and gorse just before the "For Sale" sign went up, with the offer of "Larger Blocks, Bigger Life". A fine sentiment, but I wonder if the real estate agent's spiel mentioned respraying the blackberry and gorse when it bounces back, or using fencing that lets the kangaroos move up and down the slope, or, where the blocks run into Whittakers Lane replanting and weeding the "wetland/retarding basin"—all part of that bigger life.

Early March sees a big event in rabbit control—1000 doses of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus K5 were released at roughly the same time across Australia. It's a new variant of the calicivirus, a virus which doesn't affect any animals other than rabbits (as far as we know) and brings on a quick death. Blood clots form in major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys, and block blood vessels causing heart and respiratory failure. Calicivirus first appeared in China in 1983, where it quickly killed 14 million domesticated rabbits. It spread westwards into Europe, and researchers in Australia were testing its potential as a control agent for our rabbits when the virus escaped quarantine in 1995. It killed 10 million rabbits in 8 weeks, and many more since. But increasing resistance to this strain led to a search for an alternative strain, and so we come to K5.

In Riddells Creek, we'll be seeing the effects of the release from now on—look out for dead rabbits lying in the open. If you have pet rabbits, innoculate them now against the K5 virus. If you are civic-minded, report deaths online using the "Rabbit Biocontrol Tracker", and download the RabbitScan App and join in the count of rabbit numbers.

K5 is the next move in our troubled relationship with rabbits. Riddells Landcare is interested because rabbits set up warrens in creek banks and bushland fringing settled areas like Riddells. They cut down young native species—the Australian Government Department of the Environment says rabbits increase the threat to 304 nationally threatened plant and animal species. They'll eat anything soft and edible, like my lettuces, and at the height of summer 2015, the soft bark of my fruit trees and the exotics at Webbers Garden Centre. They dig warrens under houses and undermine the foundations. And they never stop breeding!

A virus or poisoning is never 100% effective; it's necessary to deny rabbits the habitat they prefer, beginning with their warrens, by fumigating (good) or ripping (better). In a closely settled landscape like Riddells, this requires cooperation between neighbours, because one warren or a rubbish heap left untouched will shelter rabbits that recolonise cleared areas. Here in Riddells Creek, Anne-Marie Drummond is encouraging her neighbours along Cornish Street , just west of that Turner block, to pay attention to the rabbits on their properties and start taking action. Drop her a note ( - she would love to hear from interested people. Or call Beau Kent at MRSC (5421 9507) for more on rabbit control.

For some people, rabbits seem cute and harmless, and the thought of killing rabbits makes them uneasy. But when you understand the impact of rabbits, it's all part of living that Bigger Life.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,

Getting back home

I went away for Christmas and New Year, to Perth, where I lived for 30 years. I went for the ocean and to see my children and grandchildren. I went to be in that country again.

The kids were wary at first of their distant grandfather, then warmed to me again. I have daughters myself, not sons, so it was a revelation how much pleasure can be had with a shallow depression at the ocean's edge, running Tonka trucks through each time the wave wash fills it. And the water itself was a miracle - cool but not cold, deeply refreshing. I swam, I sat with the sun on my back in the dry warm air. I woke to the doleful sound of crows and the shriek of corellas and looked at the same blue sky, each day, and never thought about a second layer of clothing. Then I had had enough. I wanted my own place. I wanted clouds and the possibility of rain. The mercury went to 40, then 42 degrees, then backed off, but the hot weather migrated across the country as I headed home. I walked out of Melbourne airport in the evening into balmy weather.

It was damp. The big rain in early January was in evidence everywhere. The lights of the taxi showed dark at the edges of the unsealed road, and walking around to the front of the house, the lawn was long and still growing. I woke to a valley of birdsong. From the first call, the wren's high-pitched piping, I lay in rapt attention as each bird started up, layer on layer of song, rising in splendid cacophony as territories were settled and identities reaffirmed.

Over the break, my partner read "Position Doubtful" by Kim Mahood, and urged me to it. Sitting on the veranda here, with the magpies calling, she had me at page 2:

"How many of us still feel the grip of place - the long span of life traced out in the growth of trees planted by someone you knew, a family history measured in memory and change, the sudden clutch of knowing it will end, life and memory both, that love and sorrow cannot be separated? To learn the names of trees and grasses, the times of their seeding  and flowering, the glimpse they offer into the grand slow cycles of nature, is to see your own life written there, and passing."

We're a migrant people, moving from place to place, mostly urban places. Not many of us have the luck of being taken up by a bit of country and losing our hearts to it. I got lucky in Perth with a patch of wandoo forest too poor for clearing, perched at the very edge where the wheatbelt begins its sweep of devastation and economic return east for 300 kilometres. Country my grandfather and his father cleared. I drove out one day to visit. The campsite with its corrugated iron roof, a table and chair, was as I had left it 15 years ago. I stood in the crackling heat and one familiar bird brightened my monochrome mood.

Now there's this valley at Riddell. I see the grass flattened where the creek spilled its banks in the big rain, and lift my head to catch the magpie's warble. I worry how to get on top of the vegetable garden, and what the really dry hot weather will bring. Another place has taken residence in my heart.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,