Friday, July 30, 2010

Whales in the Dawesville cut

The Dawesville Channel (also known as the Dawesville Cut or just The Cut) is an enormous man-made channel between the Peel and Harvey estuaries and the Indian Ocean.  It is just a few minutes drive from where we were staying when we first arrived here and a few minutes more from where we are living now.  The channel was created to solve long-standing problems with toxic micro algae growing in the estuaries.  (Background information about this issue and the solutions can be found on Wikipedia here.  To see an ABC report from earlier this year about the ongoing effectiveness of the channel and problems with the health of the estuaries go here.)

This week Southern Right whales were in the channel accompanied by several local dolphins.  Reports vary on how many whales were there with some reports saying three whales and others four.  Apparently this isn't such a rare occurrence but how special is getting such an amazing view of whales from land! 

Wildlife officers have been keeping a close eye on the whales because while the channel is deep enough for them, the estuary itself is very shallow.  News reports say that the whales are not in trouble or distress and swim in the channel to scratch their bellies. Reports and photo galleries can be found here and here.

This afternoon after school we are screwing up the "To do" list and going down to have a look just in case they are still around.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lifelong learning

I'm a big fan of lifelong learning.  Today I have learned quite a few things. 

I've spent the day alone at our new house unpacking and trying to make our stuff fit.  (Notice the invisible dining table?  I'm still in denial about the shopping situation here.) 

I've learned that unpacking is very dull work and that I'm very easily distracted. 

I've unpacked a radio, tuned it to ABC Radio National and learned that in some ways NZ and Australia are very much alike; the morning programmes were very interesting and the afternoon programmes had me running for the CD collection.

I've waited for news that our Christchurch house sale went through, which it did.  I've learned that although I loved living in that house and thought I'd never want to sell it, all those $$$ in the bank make it feel OK.  Farewell my precious.

I've learned that unpacking alone in a house devoid of food and coffee is a bad idea.  It took me until 1.55pm to learn that, then I learned that a) it takes 8 minutes to dawdle to the local supermarket, b) even though it is mid-winter I should have worn a hat and c) I'm definitely not in Christchurch any more.

I've learned that going shopping in a starving, coffee-deprived state can lead to very bad decisions.  I've learned that no matter how hungry I am I shouldn't buy rubbish instant food just because it reminds  me of my brother,

because a) it will be inedible, then b) I'll have to dawdle to the supermarket all over again.  Then I'll learn that I'm absolutely, definitely not in Christchurch any more.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Flowers I love: Hakea laurina

Before we moved here I was warned that Australian indigenous plants are stunning and that Western Australian plants are the most amazing of all.  I am slowly collecting a reference library of books and pamphlets about them and am starting to identify a few.  By the time you come to visit me I'll have added a Sisters Wildflowers Tour to the itinerary for anyone who is interested. (Large snag with the Mandurah version of my Sisters Shopping Tour though the Perth version is coming along nicely.)

My latest botanical infatuation is with Hakea laurina, The Pincushion hakea.  Its natural distibution is along the south coast of Western Australia and it is in flower now in gardens around here. The flower my partner brought home from a walk the other day is over 6cms across and has darker pink petals (?) than the specimen above. Now there is a pink thing I like.

Obviously my rubbish photo just above does not do this plant justice so thank you to Mr Ian W. Fieggen for the gorgeous top image from here.  

Friday, July 16, 2010

A great day in Realestateland

Great news today from the real estate agent.  Finally success on the new home front.  We move to our new rental home next week.  There it is above.

Ok, just kidding.  Here it is.

Yeah, that's a porky too.  Here we go.

OK.  Fib.

Sorry.  Pork pie.  This time.

Yup, another porky.


Pork pie.



Oh my aching enormous nose.

Eeeek!  Porky.

Make it stop!


Oh, that one doesn't look too bad. 

(See what I did?  I learnt that softening-up strategy from NZ's current government...)

Yes, that house above really is where we'll be moving to next week and staying for at least the next six months.  A normal house on a normal street in a normal suburb with a normal garden and normal decor and four bedrooms and two living rooms and plenty of space for houseguests and with a normal shopping centre in easy walking distance. (Just a slight snag with my plan for furnishing all those rooms.  I'm still stuck on the depression stage of the grieving process over that particular situation. When I reach the acceptance stage I'll fill you in.)

But the best bit about our new home is the view from the letterbox.

That glorious view is of my children's new school.  I can't wait until I can stand at my front door in my jimbojams and say "Go to school!".  Then I'll go get ready for the day, try to resist volunteering for the local version of the PTA for at least a couple of weeks while I head out to hunt myself an O-job, some favourite haunts, some friends and some new hobbies.  Given the state of my shabby-shite photos I think I'll start with reading my camera manual.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Finally a house we love

Finally we have found a house the whole family loves.  No, that isn't it above.  That is the cute wee "holiday home" I am currently "holidaying" in with my partner and the "Home Unschooled" children while I hunt down our longer term accommodation.

This hunt has been unexpectedly time-consuming and, if I'm honest, also quite depressing.  I thought I had the situation sorted and was already mentally arranging the furniture in our Brady Bunch-style rental home and looking forward to depositing the children at the local school. Then the home's owners announced that their renovations won't be finished for another couple of months. Noooooooo! So I've started the whole soul-destroying process all over again.

In my home quest I've seen plenty of outrageously expensive "luxury" homes full of numerous features that I neither need or want.  These houses usually have unopenable windows and require so much energy to keep them cool in summer and warm in winter that their power bills would bankrupt us.  Sometimes they actually look OK but more often they have multiple pink bathrooms and at least one other pink room. They have lawns and gardens which are watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water, as most of Mandurah is built on pure sand.

I've also seen plenty of brand new suburban homes described as "What more could you want!" that are really just budget homes for people who aspire to live in one of the luxury homes.  These homes get no sun in winter, too much sun in summer and require so much energy to keep them comfortable that if these are the homes of the future then we had better hurry up and find a few spare planets. They are built so close together that if you wanted to borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbour you could reach in from your own kitchen and help yourself.  They all have a "home theatre room" which is actually just a gloomy room housing a row of unbelievably ugly big black chairs (and which of course doesn't impress this family as we want people to go out to the real theatre). These homes also have lawns and gardens watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water.
(No, that isn't another one of them pictured above. That cutie is from a dishy blog called Perth's Best Architecture which I sometimes read to torture myself. I have photographed some horrifically-fascinating local homes but I'm convinced that as soon as I publish the photos my children will befriend the children who live there and I'll then live in fear that their mothers will discover what I've said about their homes...)

Lastly I've seen numerous 1970s houses that are described as "Fantastic location - walk to everything!"  That is true, and these homes would have been the height of cool when they were built.  Sadly though for the past forty years the inhabitants have systematically painted or tiled every interior surface pink.  Every single window has been given the "Why have windows? window treatment" which is a 5 step combo of floral curtains, lace curtains, vertical blinds, prison-like security screens and outdoor fabric awnings (most often seen collapsed flush against the house) designed to block out every scrap of daylight.  Retro-fitted to every northern, eastern, western (and sometimes also southern) side of these houses are huge carport-like structures.  The resulting interior resembles what Barbara Cartland would have come up with if she'd taken up decorating caves.  And yes, these homes also have lawns and gardens - quite large in many cases - watered regularly by timed systems using large amounts of water.

I've convinced myself I can cope with any of this crazy carry-on for a few months in a rental home.  But given that a) we are also looking around with a view to buying a house here further down the track, and b) I couldn't (soberly) live long-term in any of these homes, and c) I am a person who needs a lot of information before I make a big decision, I headed to the library. There I borrowed "Warm house, cool house: inspirational designs for low energy housing", "Making your home sustainable: a guide to retrofitting" and various books on contemporary Australian architecture and design. Nice.

And then we finally found a house that the whole family loved from the second we walked in the door.  This wonderfully-designed, five-year-old house stays between 18 and 28 degrees inside all year round without any powered heating or cooling system even though the outside temperatures here range from 2 to 40 degrees. This home is spacious, light, modern and comfortable and packed with clever features.  A knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide explained the home's features to us; it heats its own hot water, makes its own electricity, is warmed by winter sun, cooled by summer breezes, collects its own water and has a beautiful garden that requires very little maintenance or watering. Sadly for us this home isn't for sale but we can go and visit it and learn from it as many times as we like.  Yes that is it pictured above: it is The Sustainable Mandurah Home.

So as I start again in the hunt for our short-term rental home, we are also researching and formulating longer term plans: Option A is to buy our own piece of sand and build a sustainable home; Option B is to refit an existing home.  I'm currently most interested in option B as I'd love to buy a 1970s gem in a great location, peel away the carports and the Nana decor and re-cool it as well as sustainably refit it.  I'll spend my days singing "Here's the story, Of a lovely lady..." as I plant local native plants (yes, I am a soooo predictable), slap bucket loads of paint on the interior walls and dance around a "window treatments" bonfire.  While I do this a succession of trades-blokes will retro-fit solar louvres (perfectly angled to let in low winter sun yet block higher summer sun),

insulation, solar-powered devices, water-saving devices and breeze-catching windows.

Now there is a housing option I can get excited about...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Everyday creatures

I'm sure the locals can easily spot us new-in-town folk.  We are the ones going "Oh look, pelicans!" and "Oh look, blowies!" (the incredibly common puffer or blow-fish) as we walk through town.

There are two zoos near here and next week I plan to take the children to one of them.  I'm sure it will be interesting and enjoyable, but for me nothing beats seeing wildlife just getting on with their lives in and around town while we are on our everyday outings.

One day last week we saw Ibis, Galahs, Peewees, Honey-eaters, Wagtails, Twenty-eights (Ring-necked parrots) and lots more birds we don't know the names of so just call "budgies" before we even left the house in the morning.  We set off to do various chores.  On our way we saw a bizarre sea slug, dozens of donut-shaped jellyfish, dozens of blowies, huge schools of fish diving out of the water with a Snakebird (Darter) in hot pursuit, a flock of crazy-haired Crested Terns having a spot of argy-bargy, an iridescent Blue Wren, White-faced Herons, a flock of Car-alarm birds, a Squawks-like-it-is-getting-murdered bird, a Drives-me-mental-as-sounds-identical-to-my-new-cellphone bird (OK, those aren't their real names) and lots and lots of budgies.

Next we went to view yet another rental home; Outside on the verge we saw six kangaroos sleeping under shady trees.  The house turned out to be the the first one I've seen that I could actually imagine living in (sober), so to celebrate, the children and I set off to revisit some creatures we'd seen a few days earlier.

WARNING: Stop reading now if you also love seeing creatures in the wild and get jealous easily.  See a few days earlier we went to the south Mandurah suburb of Dawesville and walked along a boardwalk across the estuary shallows.  There, just 1 metre below our feet, going about its business in about half a metre of water, was an octopus.  This was no seafood pizza type tiddler.  This octopus was a proper big aquarium-style number. We watched in awe as it arranged and rearranged itself in its rocky home.  There was no wind so the crystal clear water was smooth as glass and we had a perfect view.  Finally we left it and carried on the walk only to spot another large octopus.  When we finally made our way back to where the first octopus had been we were a bit disappointed to find it no longer there.  But a quick scan around and we saw it about three metres away in an area that was obviously its dining room as scattered all around were dozens of dismembered crabs.  The octopus gracefully shot back to its rocky home and squeezed back inside.  Amazing.

When we went back a few days later we didn't spot it again because the tide was further in and the wind was whipping up the water.  Never mind.  On the way home we stopped at various beautiful lookout points and consoled ourselves by seeing stilts, stints, swans and shelducks, a Great Egret, a dozen pelicans synchronised swimming, a tree weighed down with several hundred cockatoos (guffawing like they'd just been told the funniest joke ever), another flock of Getting-murdered birds, lots and lots and lots of budgies and.... a pod of dolphins.  And yes of course we excitedly shrieked "Oh look, dolphins!" to the amusement of the locals.

Can't wait until spring when the snakes wake up.