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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

The move from Byron Shire to Brisbane was a horrendous affair.

I had lived in the shire for forty years, twenty years in the same apartment. The only way I could get out of there was to have the movers pack for me. Unfortunately, these local movers did not unpack at the other end, and so I arrived with a two-bedroom house’s worth full of furniture and twenty-three tea chests.

What I did not arrive with was my fifteen-year-old cat Tim.

Tim

I had lost my loyal, doglike companion of fifteen year just six weeks before to chronic kidney disease. He died in my arms. At home, at the hands of a vet he knew and trusted. Although his end was very peaceful, I did not take it well. But reflecting on it later, when I was saner, I realised this was a mercy for him. He would have hated to see his home torn down around him and be transported to a strange place where his comings and goings would be seriously curtailed. Although the apartment I landed in had a courtyard, it was a postage stamp compared to the area in South Golden Beach that he’d had to roam in. Still, his loss hit me hard and, although I went on with plans for the move, I was dispirited.

Prone to anxiety, depression and wild despair,

I took to looking at pictures of Abyssinian cats online. (A number of vets had told me over the years that Tim was part-Abyssinian.) This was the only thing that could bring me to tears, and I feared the bleak, grim, tearless place into which I was sinking.

One day, as I was sniffling my way through the Brisbane Abyssinian breeders, I came across a website with a sign that read:

HELP SAVE KIRSTEN’S CATS!

An Abyssinian breeder named Kirsten had died just before Christmas 2017 (it’s now April 2018 in my tale of woe), and although the other breeders had swooped in to take her cats temporarily, they needed to rehome them.

Help Save Kirsten’s Cats! I began to look through the photos of the cats still needing rehoming. Most were the usual silver Abyssinians, but two were a strange golden tan, the colour Tim’s belly fur had been. Apparently, these two had been a breeding couple; now they had been desexed. My heart went out to them, stuck in their nine-foot-square breeding cage. People were prepared to take one cat, but no one wanted two. And these two were very devoted. They’d been separated accidentally in the chaos of the move after Kirsten’s death and the male had become frantic with loneliness. They couldn’t be separated.

I agreed to take the cats when I arrived in Brisbane in May, and sent Marie, who was holding them, some money for their keep in the meantime.

I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for when I took those cats.

I’d never owned rescue purebreds before. The Siamese cats I’d had in the distant past I’d had since they were twelve weeks old, and they’d run free like ordinary moggies. When I finally arrived in the New Farm apartment and checked out the courtyard, I realised at once that it wasn’t suitable for two cats who’d always been caged, and didn’t know about dogs, cats, cars, etc. The fence would need to be increased by a height of three-quarters of a metre and netting put over the whole lot if these cats were to be kept safe.

By now, it was June, and the nights were reaching two degrees Celsius where the cats were, and the seven-year-old male had a bad cough. So I took the cats before the fence was increased in height and the netting was up — at least, they’d be warm at night, and the male would have a chance to shake off his chest infection.

I brought the cats home on 24th June. Because of various delays, the courtyard wasn’t finished until 11 September. The cats and I spent the winter locked in the apartment, which had three doors and four windows to the outside, any one of which could lead to their doom if they escaped. It was a difficult time. The little four-year-old female cat was like Houdini and seemed determined to see the rest of the world — like that barefoot girl from Arkansas who’s sure she’d be a star if she could just catch that bus to LA.

Slowly I unpacked the twenty-three tea chests and tried to get my health back, which had taken a battering from the move; having moved many times in the first forty years of my life, I’d overestimated my ability to bounce back. I returned to walking, and found a nice over-50s yoga class in town. I was afraid of Brunswick Street, the busiest street in New Farm, an inner city suburb (when the wind blows the right way, you can hear the Brisbane city hall clock strike the hour), so I always walked away from it. The walk I took was uninteresting; there were few trees and the houses lacked charm. Many times, as I slogged doggedly along, I bemoaned the fact that I no longer lived near the water.

One day in November, I felt well enough to brave Brunswick Street (I hadn’t seen a traffic light in forty years), cross over and walk in the opposite direction. This is what I found:

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was three hundred metres from the river! Okay, this wasn’t the ocean, (I’d been three hundred metres from that in NSW), but it was water. And a walkway ran along the river from what I later discovered were the Howard Smith Wharves to the centre of the city less than 1.8 kilometres away.

I took stock of the situation. The courtyard was finished.

The netting above isn’t showing up well, but it’s there.

The cats were safe. I had my 98,000 word Brisbane novel to finish.

Well, well. Maybe I’d survive after all.

From this:

to this:

 

When I was a kid, I lived in Toowong, a suburb of Brisbane that bordered the base of Mt Coot-tha. At that time, the mountain was covered in trees and undergrowth, but I was determined to find a track through the bush to the top. (There was a narrow road to the top, to a small kiosk that sold Devonshire Teas and ice cream, but who wants a road when they’re an explorer?) Every so often, I’d come across a track that seemed as if it just might lead there. I’d follow it, always hoping that this would be the one, that secret one known only to me, that would lead me to the top of the mountain.

I spent many weekends doing this. The tracks were interesting; you never quite knew what you might find — a broken weir, a hermit who lived in a cut-down, corrugated-iron water tank near a creek (we ignored one another) — but always, eventually, the tracks I chose petered out. Already only one-person wide, they’d inevitably close in further until eventually I’d find myself standing in dense bush with no way forward, and very easily lost if I didn’t backtrack quickly to my original path while I could still find it.

Forty years ago, I moved to the northern rivers of New South Wales in search of cheap rent. (Stick with me, this is going somewhere.) A single parent with two children, I found an isolated farmhouse with no car, no phone and no power. Later, I moved into the township of Mullumbimby, only just recovering, thanks to the hippy movement, from the recession caused by the collapse of the area’s primary industries. When the children grew up and left for the city to find work, I moved to the beach, to a very isolated spot in the far north of the shire, where the rough roads had no footpaths or guttering, few streetlights, and where, if you walked one mile along the beach, you’d find yourself at the southern end of the Tweed Shire.

Years passed, and slowly the shire got discovered. Byron Bay had always had a reputation as a holiday town, and Brunswick Heads had its school holiday seasons, but for many years the rest of the shire remained undisturbed. The locals in the north had a few more tourists to contend with, but life went on pretty much as before. Later, though, things began to change: the amenities in Brunswick Heads began to disappear. First, the butcher went. Then the town lost the National Australia Bank. This year it lost its only newsagency. All these places depended upon for decades by the locals were replaced by restaurants and/or high-end clothing shops. When this happens you know the end is nigh. Sure enough, people with money began to move into the shire, people who could afford to pay high prices for the old houses in the towns and at the beach.

After a while, friends began to take advantage of these prices. They sold their houses and moved to places more isolated. Others left the shire for different reasons — aging parents who needed their attention, partners who’d scored jobs down south … Bit by bit, over a period of about ten years, my circle of friends dwindled. It happened so gradually I didn’t notice at first. One day, I woke up to discover I was down to two friends.

Sitting in my back yard one day over a cup of coffee with Tim, the cat (below), a sudden realisation came to me: I now had more friends back in Brisbane than I had in Byron Shire.

When the opportunity came to return to the city of my childhood, I was torn. I loved the shire, but it was changing. I could remember when the Gold Coast was just a series of hamlets scattered along a narrow, two-lane highway with scrub in-between. People bought land there cheaply and threw up fibro weekenders. Now it was a concrete jungle of high rises. If I stayed, would I watch the same thing happen in Byron shire? Sure, the local council had a 2-storey-high building code, but that could be overruled at any time by the state government, who’d already shown its hand by overruling the council on the fate of a caravan park in Brunswick Heads.

There was also the problem of transport. About five buses a day passed through my suburb. To get to the Writers’ Centre in Byron Bay took two buses, a commute of around seventy minutes, one way. To reach a specialist in Lismore or Tweed Heads required two buses and a taxi — a travelling time of about an hour and a half. One way. I was older now, and not well heeled. On foot, it was difficult to meet new people.

The track was petering out.

What to do? I discussed it with the cat, and he advised me to move north, back to the city in which I’d been raised.

More later.

 

This is the latest on Jack, whom my friend Sandy could not take with her when she had to move to Woollongong because of ill health.

Jack’s finally going to his new home! I got an email this morning from the big hearted Bailey at the Cat Refuge in Billinudgel this morning. It read:

Hi Dani,

Jack went to his new home yesterday where a 9 year old terrier was waiting for him as he had recently lost his cat.
The new owners had been waiting for builders to finish doing renovations on their house before they picked him up, it took longer than they intended, but all is done now, and I saw Jack off yesterday afternoon. The new owner promised to send photos of Jack and his new dog, so as soon as I get some, I’ll forward them on to you.
I’ve attached some photos of Jack yesterday before he left, and one in cage ready to go.
Have a lovely evening,
Kind regards,
Bailey 
Such a relief. Now all we have to worry about is whether he and the terrier will get on.

When I first came to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, brush turnkeys were not protected. Consequently, a sighting of them was a rare thing. Sometimes as we were driving along we’d see one making its way stealthily through the bush. The kids would be excited. “Look, a brush turkey!” Now, with the advent of their protection, all that has changed. Today they stride confidently around the suburbs, chortling to themselves and ripping up domestic gardens. Nothing is safe. They will even hop up into pot plants and rip them up, too — just for the hell of it.

Brush-Turkey-001

Brush turkey

After losing my little vegie patch twice this year to brush turkeys, I went online to see if there was anything, anything, that might deter them. The web was full of the cries of irate gardeners, and not just from areas close to nature reserves and bush. Apparently the birds are striding around city suburbs as well. Fences don’t work; in spite of their heavy, ungainly appearance, the birds can get over fences ten, eleven feet high — ours like to fly up onto the carport port roof and walk about up there, their claws making nerve wracking sounds on the corrugated iron roofing.

Some people tried scarecrows, with differing results. The people across the road from me tried teddies.

Yard 15X8.5@72

Mostly, though, the consensus on the web was that nothing could be done. I liked my little herb and vegie patch; it provided a nice change from sweating over the content editing of my Brisbane novel. I liked to go out there when the going got tough and pull a few weeds, or just admire the silverbeet plants. Eventually I hit upon the idea of covering the patch with pieces of old aluminium fencing, which a neighbour kindly gave me. The turkeys still prowl about, but at least the parsley is looking healthy, poking up through the gaps in the fence, but something (not turkeys) is eating the silverbeet. And the marigolds.

Consensus on the web is that the only way of dealing with brush turkeys is the catch-and-remove method. You catch them and take them many miles away to the bush or a nature reserve, whichever comes first. As I don’t drive, this option is not available to me. Natural predators? They don’t seem to have any. The cat is no use; the birds are too big, you’d need a cougar to bring them down. As I watch them pacing around the garden in the late afternoon, my heart is full of trepidation. These birds breed every year. If we think it’s bad now, what’s it going to be like next year? And the year after that.

Does anyone out there know of a kind person who could give a good home to Jack, a four-year-old, neutered, part-eastern cat who’s currently residing in the Cat Protection Home in Billnudgel.

Jack

(If you think he’s looking a bit wild-eyed in the photo, it’s because he’s never been in a cage before.)

Jack’s tale is a sorry one. He was living a gung ho life quite happily with a girlfriend of mine for about two years. Then, alas, she fell ill and had to move to Woollongong to be closer to her only surviving son. Her son and wife already had two dogs. They were kind enough to take my friend’s dog, whom she’d had for over ten years. But not the cat.

Which is why Jack now resides in the Billinudgel Cat Protection home.

I would love to have taken him myself, but I am the possessor of a feline thug named Tim, who, though fifteen-years-old and neutered, will attack anything that comes inside our fence line — dogs any size, other cats, etc.

A few years back, I tried to give a home to a beautiful blue-eyed cat someone had dumped, but Tim would not accept him.

I really felt for that cat, and kept him going for over three years. By the time he’d found me, he was wild; we could not touch him, let alone take him to a refuge. I fed him outside, and managed to keep the two cats separated – he knew to vacate the yard when the thug was released for the day. Eventually Old Blue Eyes was injured by a car and had to be put down at the vet’s. So I can’t take Jack, much as I’d like to.

I wonder: is there anyone out there who could? He’s been in the home for three weeks now, and my heart really goes out to him. Please ring the big hearted Bailey, who does such good work for these animals, on 0497 442 623 if you think you can.

Here’s hoping.

 

Here in South Golden Beach, just a few miles from the Tweed-Byron border, we’re having an easy time of it. There’s water in the streets, and people are boating up and down the lower end of my street, the end closest to the canal, but up on the higher end, we’re warm and dry. The water hasn’t even risen up the driveway and the biggest problem we have to face is that the rubbish trucks didn’t come this morning and we’ve had to retrieve our bins unemptied.

But many of the other parts of northern New South Wales have not been so lucky. The levee banks Lismore was relying on to keep its CBD safe from the floods have broken and they have feet of water in the main streets.

Murwillumbah’s CBD is also flooded, and thousands of people on the south side of Mur’bah have had to be evacuated.

Anyone who’s lived in the area knows this is nothing new, but the amount of water that fell in the catchment area this time was, depending upon what radio station you’re listening to, between 500 and 750mm, all in a matter of 24-36 hours.

So we’ve been lucky this time. The worst flood I’ve seen here in twenty years was the 30 June 2005  flood when the water came to within 15cm of the floor boards. For us here in South Golden Beach, this particular flood is nothing like that.

In truth, the biggest danger we’ll ever face here is from the ocean and our depleted dune system. Our dunes are so low now that the next time a cyclone storm surge coincides with a high tide, we’ll have seawater in the streets. It won’t be dangerous, not like a tsunami, but it will be unnerving for the new chums and for anyone who lives in a house that’s built low to the ground.

Fortunately, there aren’t many of those. The hippie settlers who built here in the ’70s and ’80s understood about flooding.

SGB Cottage. jpg

Their little timber cottages, spurned by richer folk for not being built of brick on a concrete slab were all built at least a metre off the ground.

We’re lucky.

 

three-snakes

I had another snake in my little 2-storey apartment the other day. It’s the weirdest thing. For twenty years I’ve lived here and never had a problem with snakes — except for the night the python came looking to make a meal out of my old cat, who was sleeping near the back door. https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/quoth-the-raven-nevermore/

To have two in six weeks is strange. See: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2017/01/11/snake/ This one I found at 4 o’clock in the afternoon at the bottom of the internal staircase. I’d locked the cat in with me from 2 -4 to prevent him hunting and bringing them in while I was having my cuppa-tea-and-a-lie-down. I can only conclude that I must have inadvertently locked the snake in with us when I came back from the beach and shut the doors at two.

A sobering thought.

Whether it was the same snake, come looking for more skinks (they live under my stove), I’m not sure. It certainly looked the same. Same size, six feet, same colour, black. Fortunately, he eventually slid out just the way the other one did, sailing out through the front door, which I’d opened wide for him. But I had a few bad moments before that: I’d lost sight of him when I went to look for a bucket to catch him in. That’s the hard bit. You come back, the snake’s disappeared and you don’t know where it is. All I could do was sit on the sofa in my living room and wait, like the woman in Henry Lawson’s short story, “The Drover’s Wife”.

Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

In that story, which appears in his collection, While the Billy Boils https://www.amazon.com/While-Billy-Boils-Henry-Lawson/dp/141919383X the woman, seeing a large snake go into the slab hut she and the four children live in (her husband is away six to eighteen months at a time, droving), sets down a saucer of milk and waits through the night for the snake to appear so she can kill it.

Compared to the drover’s wife, I had it easy. But I’m faced with a quandary now. I’ll have to start keeping the front door closed when I’m out and keeping the cat flap closed, even when I’m home. The old cat has been coming and going through the front door for fourteen years. It worries me that he might be chased by one of the many loose dogs in South Golden Beach, run for the safety of his door and find it shut. But I don’t like the idea of six-foot black snakes sailing around the place whenever they feel like it, and I hate the idea of encountering one at night. I seem to have no option. The snake repellers on the internet have opponents and proponents. I’ll probably try one. In the meantime, I hope to retrain the cat to use the back door only, but I don’t like my chances.

(For reasons I can’t explain, this post is showing up strangely, even though it’s written as usual in 12 pt TNR in the original document and nothing untoward is showing in the WordPress menu. Another internet mystery. These little things are sent to try us.)