Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beautiful Balga

There is one striking plant around these plants that I never tire of looking at and was keen to plant in our garden.  The distinctive Xanthorrhoea preissii or Australian Grass Trees are called Balga in the local indigenous Nyungar language (sometimes also spelt Noongar,  Nyoongar, Nyoongah, Nyungah, or Noonga) and are common in bushland here as well as in gardens and public plantings. 

The one above is in a front garden in Dawesville, the ones flowering below are in bushland near Dunsborough,

and here are some spotted alonside the Bibbulmun Track near Dwellingup.

I've seen Balga trees set alight as part of Nyungar "Welcome to Country" ceremonies and I know of gardeners who either trim or set their tall Balga trees alight every few years to keep the accumulation of thatch down. They can survive all but the fiercest of bushfires like this trouper near the town of Harvey.

We know a local artist who collects the resin from the trunks of burnt trees, crushes it then mixes it with solvent to create an amber lacquer (complete with impurities) which she then pours and paints onto canvases.

Balga trees are very slow-growing and very long-lived (up to 600 years) so when land is cleared for housing developments they are often salvaged and sold.  The success rate for transplanted trees is apparently quite low unless a huge chunk of soil is taken with them, which of course makes the whole process very expensive.  Even the ones that do eventually thrive can go through a startling Ugly Duckling phase while settling in.

I had already decided that much as I wanted one of these trees in our garden, I couldn't be bothered with the expense and hassle of a transplanted one.  Then I was given some Balga seeds.  I sowed them recently and now I no longer need to covet the beautiful Balga in other people's gardens as I am the proud owner of 36 trees of my own.  

After reading one of our plant books I did some calculations.  I discovered that a) when I am 85 I'll have to make a decision about trimming, burning or just leaving the build-up of thatch, and b) when I am 135 those trees and I will be about the same height.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Albany: more than just "cold".

As I am sure you have gathered by now, one of my favourite things to do is explore new places.  But lately lining up opportunities to go exploring for more than a day-trip has been impossible; four people's various work, school and other commitments meant we didn't even have a clear weekend for months.  Finally these last school holidays we all managed to get away together for five days.

We made our first visit to Albany which is a city of approx 33,000 people down on the south coast of WA.  Whenever I asked people about Albany the first thing they would do was correct my pronunciation of the city's name (I was saying All-bany and the only way I could make the local pronunciation stick in my brain was to think of Albi the racist dragon).  The second thing they would say was "Oh it is cold there.  Pack your warm clothes."

Well, I have lived in Christchurch, Wellington and London and I'm not scared of cold weather.  But I began to get an inkling that there was far more to Albany than just cold temperatures as friends here are forever "popping down to Albany for a few days".  We needed to see for ourselves so we booked four nights in an inner city apartment, packed our (mothballed) warm clothes, and got on the road.

Not much to say about the trip there.  Takes about 5 hours by the most direct route which is deadly-dull.  But the second we clapped eyes on Albany I could see the attraction.  It reminded me of a cross between Lyttelton, Wellington and Dunedin, which are all places I love.  The mix of hills, history and harbour were wonderfully familiar and welcoming. It made me realise just how alien the architecture, landscape and general style of Mandurah still feels to me.

We couldn't wait to get out exploring so quickly unpacked, put on walking shoes and raincoats and walked out the door.  I was so busy enjoying the place that I didn't bother taking many photos, but imagine dozens of secondhand shops (and I am severely deprived of these living in Mandurah), a wonderfully walkable downtown area framed by craggy peaks on either size, packed with dishy designer boutiques and surrounded by quaint historic homes with front verandahs almost on the footpath.  We jammed a huge amount into our visit and even decided to save our planned excursions to neighbouring towns for another time so we could spend more time in Albany.

Albany's newish (Dec 2010) entertainment centre is pretty stunning.  My partner spent time there meeting the management then we all went to a show there one evening.  It is statement architecture and quite controversial but we loved it.  It is right on the waterfornt and is part of an extensive planned waterfront redevelopment. It is a tricky building to photograph as you can see from my best effort below.  For better photos of the centre head here.

Markets.  Ahhhhhh.  On the Saturday we walked 3 minutes down the road to the weekly Albany Farmers Market which was celebrating its 10th birthday. What a fantastic market.  Within minutes by purse was empty and our shopping bags were full so we walked three minutes back through the rain to our apartment for a feast.  My favourite purchase were the yabby pies.  Yum! 

Then on the Sunday we walked along the waterfront to the Albany Boatshed market. Some of the same stall-holders were there - and some of us found the yabby pies irresistible again - and some different ones.  With live music, wine tastings, artisan craft stalls and cooking demonstrations, this market has quite a different atmosphere from the farmers market - just don't ask my to choose a favourite.  If I lived in Albany I'd be a regular at both markets.  Purchase of the day were masses of luscious, affordable feijoas which we scoffed in record time. (If feijoas ever turn up in the shops in Mandurah they cost $2 each and are small, woody disappointments).

Other highlights included exploring various historic sites including the convict gaol,

which included an extensive and very entertaining collection of miniature scenes,

and other random curiosities including a boat made out of matchsticks.

We took a tour of a replica of The Brig Amity and found Batman's berth - no not the Batman, just a marine batman or manservant.

And yes, although I often bang on about how recreational shopping is for people who need a bit more happening in their lives, I shopped.  How could I resist when the original Ricarda boutique is there?  (Amongst other labels they stock Camper, Trippen, Kartell, Margiela, Comme de Garcons, Junya Watanabe, Marc Jacobs, Lee Mathews and Zambesi.  Sigh. We certainly don't have any of that carry-on in dear old Mandurah!) I took the newly fashion-aware teenager with me.  She has lovely taste in clothes.  My purse got hammered again.

We went to Whale World (but whales will get their own post at some stage), on nature walks,

and to beautiful beaches.

I would and will do it all again as Albany is far more than just cold.  Albany is cool.