Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pale, interesting and in peril

No trip to this region would be complete without a visit to some pale, interesting locals in their sublime home.  Drive about 20 minutes south of here (nobody talks kilometres here; journeys are all measured in time), park a few minutes off the main road, walk down this path,

around the corner,

a wee bit further, to here. This is Lake Clifton in the Ramsar protected Yalgorup Lakes System.

I love it here. Not only is it peaceful (no swimming, no fishing, no boating and especially no jet skis) but when I'm here I feel like I've travelled back millions of years in time.

Those pale, interesting, creatures you see in the water are Thrombolites which are sometimes described as 'living rocks'.  They are built by micro-organisms and are one of the earliest known life forms on earth. Lake Clifton is one of the few places in the world where you can see living Thrombolites.  Over millions of years these creatures have seen many other species evolve then disappear, while their species stayed the same. ("Evolution: overrated!" I hear them say). A by-product of their life-cycle is oxygen; it was through their efforts over millions of years that earth's atmosphere became suitable for many other species to evolve -  including ours.

One of the reasons that I love this place is that it always makes me think.

When I come here after days spent immersed in the administrivia and drudgery of modern life, I think about how attractive a life spent lying about being pale and interesting and doing one thing would be (OK, for a day).

After looking at the local built environment - much of which I find tacky, poorly designed and aesthetically displeasing - I come here and think about subtlety, limited palettes, restraint and natural beauty.

But most often when I come here I think about how Thrombolites and so many other creatures are in peril because of the actions of my species.  I think about how carelessly we have mismanaged the inheritance they took millions of years to create. "Sustainability" may be an overused word but it has never been more in my thoughts than since moving here. Of all the many places I've lived in my life, this is the one where the differences between the sustainability "cares" and "care-nots" is most glaringly, and sometimes depressingly, obvious.

A sector of this community is obviously hugely aware of sustainability issues. I have never lived anywhere where it has been so easy to get information, advice and even financial assistance to support a more sustainable way of life. With very little effort I can find excellent information about how to create a water-wise garden, install a greywater system, renovate an existing house to improve its energy-efficiency or build a new sustainable home. After years of saying "I wish there was a magazine about building homes that are both sustainable and dishy" I come here and easily find two.

But another sector of this community lives big and fast and loud and dirty.  They build massive energy-inefficient new homes, get about in enormously overpowered vehicles, call for those in power to "pipe water from the Ord" rather than make better use of available water or live lives revolving around consumerism, materialism and the unquenchable quest for growth. In these circles my stance on issues of sustainability is derided, foreign, perplexing, annoying or just deeply unfashionable. 

Well I'm certainly not scared of being unfashionable but I am scared of irreparably stuffing up the planet for future generations.  I wonder, had they ever got around to evolving powers of communication, what the Thrombolites would say.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Spot the difference







Sunday.  Repeat several times over.  Yes, life here at this time of the year is lived against a huge blue background.

Then one day this,
and this,

and this,

and we'll all look at each other in surprise and say "clouds!".

If we are lucky it will end up like this,

and we'll all look at each other in astonishment and say "rain!" but it doesn't happen very often.  The next day, blue skies again. 

I'm not complaining but after the second driest winter on record here we sometimes feel a bit naughty to be loving the weather so much.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Making stuff in Mandurah

Usually I make stuff.  Since we've been here I haven't made much apart from dinner and clean laundry piles, even though I have the best sewing room I've had for a decade and no lack of time.  A couple of vital ingredients are still missing from the mix but I'm working on getting them sorted.  In the meantime I've just realised have made something here that I rather like. 

I like growing food and dearly miss having a vegetable garden.  I also can't stand putting green waste in the rubbish, but there is no organic waste collection here and no compost bin at this house.  The back garden at our rental house consists of a bit of skanky old lawn and a few grim conifers growing in pure sand.  Much as I'd love to dig it up and plant something useful, my lease agreement forbids me and I am far too much of a goody-two-shoes to contravene it.  (My lease agreement also says that I have to water the huckery garden to keep it green and if I don't then I won't get my bond back.  Hmmm.  In parched Western Australia, where our precious water is obtained at huge financial and environmental cost, this strikes me as completely bonkers, so I'll conveniently lose my goody-two-shoes over that clause.)

So anyway I mail-ordered a Bokashi bin then spent the equivalent of a fortnight's worth of bagged salad at a garden centre and built a tiny, portable garden.  This surprisingly productive patch is small enough to be watered with the clean warm-up water we capture in buckets and jugs placed in showers and sinks. It has already produced enough food to have paid itself off several times over.

So what next on the making front?  Well first I'm going to make that coffee, a chapter of my book and that piece of ginger crunch (made by my daughter for her Dad's birthday) disappear, then I'm going to make a posh dinner.  And given that I've just received the most beautiful and inspiring care parcel in the post from two amazingly talented makers, I think I finally feel a bit more adventurous making coming on.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Urban Orchard

Right in the middle of Perth is a recently revamped public space.   This space is as urban as it gets, with Perth Central railway station on one side, major roads below, tall buildings nearby and flanked on one side by the Art Gallery of Western Australia. 

I'm sure we can all think of grim and unwelcoming public spaces in various cities we've lived in, but hats off to the people who designed and built this space as for me it is not only beautiful but it really works well. It is the urban orchard.

It has planter boxes made from rubble-filled gabions, sculpture, sunny spots and shady spots, masses of edible plants,
and on the times that someone isn't scaring everyone away by taking photos, lots of people enjoying the space.

Now wouldn't it be great if someone could make something similar happen in Hamilton's sad "Garden Place"?

Monday, October 18, 2010

A weekend with optimists

Just before we left NZ, I bumped into someone who, when I told him that we were moving to Australia and where exactly we were moving to, he, for the first time that I'd ever seen, was speechless. When he regained his composure he said  "I am so, SO jealous!" and strongly encouraged me to give my children opportunities to participate in his favourite sport here.

Well we got lots of advice when we left NZ and arrived here, but the second I clapped eyes on Mandurah I knew that I would be nuts not to take the advice of that particular sailor boy.  So for the past few weeks we have been living on beans to save up, then each day this weekend we dragged the children out at sparrows fart, drove them down past the beachpleecestation above to the place below. 

There they spent the weekend learning to sail.  The boats they sailed are called optimists, which I just love as I love a well-named thing.

By Sunday evening our children were the ones who were pretty much speechless, but with tiredness. However they were definitely smiling and when I asked how it was and whether they would like to go sailing again, they managed to blurt out "Great!" and "Yes please!". 

Given that their Dad is now so, SO jealous and wants sailing lessons too, we are on beans again this week.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A wee bit more advice

One more bit of advice.  If you are planning on moving here and you plan to flog off your mid century furniture and home wares in order to keep your shifting costs down to many, many thousands of dollars instead of many, many, many thousands of dollars on the assumption that you will replace it when you get here using the local alternative to Trademe and visits to a variety of dishy second hand shops, then stop now! 

You are wrong.  I can see the future and this is what is going to happen.

You will become the uncool hunter.  You will spend the first few months of your life in WA seeking dishy secondhand furniture shops (actually any secondhand furniture shops) but not finding. You will shop, shop, shop, shop for a ridiculous amount of time, but your home will still be unintentionally minimalist as you can't bear to hand over cash for furniture so ugly it will give your children nightmares.  

When you do finally find a secondhand furniture shop it will be selling this

aagh! or this

aaagh!  You will run around groaning "what-the-heck!" You will go to bed and dreaming about Hans Wegner and Verner Panton and Arne Jacobsen after being told by local dealers that on the rare occasion they unearth anything tasty here, they send it to Sydney or Melbourne to sell as so few people here get it or want it.  Noooo! You will give in and visit some of the thousands of big box new furniture shops but find it all so ghastly yet expensive that you leave screaming.

You will read InsideOut and UK Elle Decoration and Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy and Bloesem and wail "My taste is such a cliché everywhere else on the the planet!  How can it be so unusual here?"

Finally after several months of obsessive hunting you will either cobble something together, or decide to do without,  or order online from another state, or take Valium and go to Ikea and decide to just ignore all those horrid visible screwheads.  Well, that is how it went for me anyway.  So here, finally, after many months of darned hard work is our new cobbled together dining arrangement.

Phew!  Particularly pleased with that original 1970s Casala number which was covered in slime and bird poo (it is actually an outdoor chair) but thanks to Jif plus elbow grease it came up a treat. 

Next on the list is lounge furniture.  After a well-deserved lie down and 500 more "what the hecks!", I'm going to order this

in orange, from here.  And then I'm going to get on with my life.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mucking around in boats

If you are a boating fan then Mandurah will be right up your alley as there are so many beautiful places here to explore: the ocean, the estuaries (over twice the size of Sydney Harbour), several rivers, lakes and masses of canals.  There are two large marina complexes, jetties and wharves everywhere and boats of all shapes, sizes and styles, including some available for hire. 

Once a year Mandurah hosts a boat show.  It is billed as the "third largest boat show in Australia", is very popular and was held last weekend.  As pictured above, the main waterways through the city were like watery super-highways during the event.

We didn't go to the boat show but it did inspire me to finally do the first of three local boat hire options I've had on my To Do list ever since we arrived here; we went kayaking.

Kayaks 4 U is a boat hire company on the Western foreshore in Mandurah.  They have all sorts of paddle boats for hire which one of my sisters will be able to name and competently operate, but not me. I have to admit to being an enormous chicken when it comes to being out of my depth in a boat I'm expected to propel, but I know that living here I just need to get over myself - so I took a deep breath and hired three boats.

I'm so pleased I did as we had a fabulous time. We chose the perfect day as it was calm and sunny and the temperature got up to 30 degrees. 

The hire company people are lovely and helpful and make it so easy, even for nervous absolute beginners like me.  I think maybe I'm a cured chicken as I can't wait to go back and do it again.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The coolest thing

Hello, my name is Deidre and I am a rocky shore addict.  I've been this way ever since finding an octopus in a rock pool as a child.

On Sunday my family set off on their bikes to the local beach to explore the local reef.  I haven't yet replaced the bicycle I sold in NZ before moving here so stayed at home with a giant L on my forehead to do laundry and make a curry for tea.  And what do you know?  They see an octopus and a cuttlefish in the rock pools.  Naturally I was insanely jealous. 

It is school holidays here and also unseasonably toasty, so the very next day I packed us up with swimsuits, hats and sunscreen and set off to explore various watery spots.

First we went to the same reef the children had been to the day before, but alas it was too windy and the tide was too far in.  Next we set off to an estuary-front spot that I'd spotted on the map but hadn't been to before.   I liked it but apparently it was also too windy.  Then we went further down the estuary to Dawesville to our favourite octopus-spotting spot, but sadly it was also too windy for any sightings. So we went across to the coast and stopped at Falcon Bay for an icecream and a walk on the reef there.  We saw lots of anemones and not much else so I had a mock paddy and jumped up and down and said "I want to see an octopus!"

To which my son replied, "Um.  Mum.  Like that huge one by your foot?" 

And there it was.

For ages we watched as it fished around in the rock pool.  Then as the tide came in and washed waterfalls of water from its pool to the next, it gracefully upgraded to the next pool and the next.

We watched for ages as the octopus made its way across the reef with the incoming tide.  The whole experience was extremely cool. 

But the very, very coolest thing of the day is that we did all this with the company of another 12 year old girl.

Yes, my daughter who so dearly misses her lovely NZ friends and classmates, has a new friend.

As they swam in their clothes and laughed and squealed like giant girls, I thought about how if you are lonely in paradise, well, you are not actually in paradise at all.