The climate changes

Little things, sometimes performed unconsciously, indicate a time of change. There is the walk for morning coffee, in which you now seek the sunny section of pavement rather than its shady, covered counterpart. At home you have to reach in the darkest depths of your wardrobe for – god forbid – a sweater; only to discover that they are musty and holey and jaded and faded but at least protect against a cooling evening. Scattered on a nearby chair are the vagaries of climate suitable attire in late March: shorts from two days back (27 degrees), and a hoodie from the night before (2 degrees). Tracksuit pants come back into fashion, at least inside the privacy of your own home. Outside, the basil flourishes, at its most bountiful before frost decimation. And, excitedly, thoughts turn to how it can be used with red meats and red wines, frequently together.

Shorts and salads were still the preferred modus operandi for most of March, and suitable for a reasonably easy-going walk on the Settler’s Track down in the remote southern tip of the ACT. A scattering of huts and pastoral remnants speak of a far challenging time, and one can only recoil in fright at the thought of icy winter winds seeping through the gaps in the wooden planks that made for walls. The comforts of a piddling new town called Canberra lay distant, across brown plains upon which a permafrost lingers, gnarly tangles of stunted gums and dense mounds of wattle lining the mud-racked excuse for a road. Today, we had a bit of a sunny picnic and returned to Canberra in air-conditioned comfort in an hour, with only a little part of the road slightly bumpy.

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The climatic downshift has produced more amenable conditions for burning some of this land, doing so in a controlled and measured manner. The intention of this – previously practiced by the original inhabitants of this continent to great success – is to reduce the fuel load for more intensive and damaging fires in the summer months. Thus it is an act of destruction that protects and regenerates, with any luck clearing out tangles of invasive weeds to open the way for more friendly natives.

The controlled burns were noticeable this year in their seeming proximity to Canberra. Partly this an illusion, a foreshortening of distance created by the lines of ranges to the west and the hidden deciduous streets of Canberra in between. It is heightened by the smell of smoke in the air but at no point was the largest ugly concrete building in Woden facing any threat, even as plumes of smoke spiralled in the hills behind like some kind of Jurassic Rotorua. Alas, while the ugly tower survives the smoke, the light, the angle of the sun upon its equinox, the time and day and place and year produce some memorable, cherished Redhillian sunsets.

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With the fiery skies appearing earlier each eve, and the increasing need for arm and leg coverings, panic can start to grip the citizens of the national capital. There is alarm that it may get down to fifteen degrees, a temperature in Australia requiring scarves and beanies and carbon intensive wood fires. Concern too that the Australian right to enter the ocean and brag about its perfection to the rest of the world is on the wane. Easter escapes may (though things seem to be changing) herald the last chance to wade in the water of the South Coast. So I thought about going down there over Easter too.

In the end, I changed my mind, and went a few days earlier because the weather was perfect, ideal for a spur of the moment day trip that is only possible with self-employment. Old favourites of Mollymook and Depot Beach, with some fish and chips in between. Shorts and sandals and, yes, gentle wading in the ocean. Something surely to brag about.

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My pre-emptive conniving worked wonders because, in the main, the long Easter weekend was one of those in which Canberra (and the region) did its best to imitate Britain. Two days of cool greyness without a break, then two days of heavy downpours, possibly followed by a debate between seven charm-filled politicians arguing about HIV-laden Europhiles stealing our tax money jobs and murdering badgers with Clarkson or something. Ideal conditions for some reading and lounging and DVD watching and baking and napping. In this context, in this climate, it seemed right that the clocks changed, and – at least from the perspective of time-fixing – winter commenced.

easter05The first morning on winter time turned out to be delightful. For a few hours the clouds went away, and the sun delivered enough radiance for a comfortable period of shorts-wearing. The morning light and air contributed to a Red Hill glow, projecting upon the grass and gum trees and ranging hills in the distance. Rather than signalling a decline, the change of clocks appeared to induce a spurt of wild industriousness. Cockatoos plentiful, screeching from tree to tree; pairs of rosellas flitting amongst branches; galahs flaming; and of course the kangaroos, forever grazing and looking all rather nonplussed about it.

Giving Red Hill the hill a run for its money was Red Hill the suburb. easter06From what seemed to be shaping up to be a relatively mundane autumn – with lots of early browns and leaf losses noticeable – a week which turned from warmth and sunniness to a condition of damp mildness appeared to have fashioned a more elaborate state of affairs. And amongst this fading technicolour the birds lingered too. Foraging and flirting and feasting, the fruitful trees bedecked with gang-gangs.

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easter09This Easter Sunday suburban sunshine was relatively short-lived. What followed, I guess you could say, were April showers. Thus a planned escapade into escarpment wilderness on Easter Monday became sedated somewhat and, instead, transformed into reasonably gentle ambles within nearby Tidbinbilla. Like suburbia, the wildlife was out in force here too. A few koalas and wallabies sheltered amongst the Peppermint Gums. Swans and pelicans and magpie geese and the duck-billed platypus and platypus-billed duck confirmed that it was nice weather for ducks. Weather that was – well – cold. Cloaked in long trousers, T-shirt, hoodie and raincoat it must have been fifteen degrees or something. And as the sun surprisingly filtered through the rising mist of cloud lifting from the mountains, there was joy in rushing out from the shade of trees and bursting towards its friendly warmth once again.

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Strategic blue sky comeback

spr01Sometime around May I usually ramble on about the beautiful autumn days, with their deep blue skies and cooling nights, blazing leaves and subtle sunsets. It is tremendous and I am convinced that it is the best season in the national capital. But then, after a hiatus for different seasons in different hemispheres, spring appears and it is hard to argue against it. For what spring has that autumn lacks is the encroachment of warmth, the re-emergence of life, the dawning of hope sailing on an upward curve. Encapsulating this, the daffodils that were just sprouts when I went overseas are transformed, nature performing its perennial magic trick from seed to understated wonder.

spr02Coming back to Australia, to Canberra, at such an opportune time provides an extension of the holiday feeling, coupled with some comforts of homecoming and familiarity. It helped that I overcame jetlag very quickly and had little work for a week or so. Blue skies and comfortable warmth – tempered by a few cold nights to guard against complacency – offered better conditions than, say, Switzerland. And everywhere, things coming to life, waking up, bursting into extravagance. Settings made the more amiable with a good coffee in hand.

Nowhere is nature’s spring display more evident than at the Australian National Botanic Gardens. Well, maybe Floriade, with its millions of tulips and thousands of daffodils, is a contender. But the botanic gardens – as contrived a creation as they are – feel much more natural, an exhibition of Australia’s wacky fauna in an authentic bush setting.

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spr04Here, plants were flowering everywhere, colours and fragrance and the buzz of industrious insects pervading the air. One microscopic bug managed to somehow find itself somewhere within my camera lenses, occasionally crawling into the frame. It was whilst sat down in a quiet spot trying to rectify this situation that the king parrots decided to join me, and to show that it’s not just the flowers that have a monopoly on springtime colour.

spr05Should sleepy and sedate little Canberra become a touch crammed with life, the vast wilderness is of course just around the corner. This, like better quality coffee, is one of those very obvious differences that become so sharply contrasted following a trip to Europe. It doesn’t take long to be climbing on a dirt road into the bush, helping to test drive some friend’s new car, pleased that a four wheel drive is actually being used properly and not just for picking up the kids from school. Up on the Mount Franklin Road, very little other than the wild fills the views, and other roads and tracks tempt for another time.

spr07Indeed, I felt the urge myself to get in my own car and make a road trip, since it has been quite a while. In the other direction, the south coast awaits and what better way to see in my birthday than to drink and eat by the water? I decided, fairly last minute, to head down towards Merimbula, stop overnight and, well, drink and eat by the water. It was a route I had not done for some time and, after the very barren plains of the Monaro, the reward of the South East Forests and Bega Valley is welcome. More welcome, perhaps, is the Nimmitabel bakery chicken salad roll on the beach at Tathra, where the south coast is just doing its usual thing of being stunning under a blue sky.

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The rest of the day encompassed some old favourites, favourites that were last visited on the very early stages of some much bigger trip I embarked on in 2013. Back then, after camping next to Ray Mears in Bournda National Park, Merimbula was grey and cool and – later in the day – rain would pummel Ben Boyd National Park to the extent that the roads became slush. Today, well, it was good for shorts and the bellbirds were much happier down on the delightful Pambula River, at the northern edge of the national park.

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spr10Dinner was fish and chips, obviously. Not as gargantuan as the last time I had fish and chips and not as English – in this case, unfortunately. However, should one pine for English food for too long, there is always a chance to savour the saviour that is a flat white. A flat white the following morning after a gentle walk along Merimbula’s main beach and into its inlet. A flat white served from a beach hut by charmingly hipster-leaning youngsters…the type that usually make the best coffee. A spot in the sun with a flat white overlooking the paddle boarders and swimmers and boat people cutting a course through the opaque sapphire water. A drink to stimulate taste buds and senses for brunch elsewhere beside the water. Happy birthday to me, and welcome back.

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Escapes

If I, unlike the Treasurer, have my calculations correct, this time last year I was finally departing the brilliant bays of Esperance and cruising onto the wonderfully tucked away Fitzgerald River National Park, on the south coast of Western Australia. In the time between now and my last blog post this year I would have been craning my neck for koalas on Kangaroo Island, eating the best kebab in Glenelg, camping on the Murray, watching huge full moons rise over the dunes of Mungo National Park, bumping along a rutted sandy road to Broken Hill, navigating a sodden Alligator Gorge, walking miles of ancient sea bed in the Flinders Ranges, coffin-dodging in Coffin Bay, using foul language in Fowler’s Bay and doing nothing much at all along the Nullarbor; apart from crossing it.

2014 is quieter and, depending on your point of view, more productive. It was bound to be. The escapes are a little less adventurous and thus I come to the once more excusable void of blog-worthy happenings. Escapes are twenty minute walks for a coffee and hour long end of day circuits of suburban foothills and Redhillian summits. They are welcome escapes from working at home and doing my homework. They are, for the most part, absolutely irresistible, given the quite immaculate daytime weather, the saturated streets and, well, the fact that they are breaks from work. My self-discipline is constantly tested!

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may02Along the same lines I have found myself quick to spot something that is desperately needed from the supermarket and this too has offered the chance to take a break and do one of my other favourite things: look at, buy, cook and eat food.  The weather has been amenable here as well, the bonus from cooler nights coming from one pot wonders, roast dinners and, when I can’t be bothered so much, bangers and mash and onion gravy. Ultimate comfort and gratuitously sleazy food shots.

may03As snugly as all this sounds there comes a point when the same old same old gets a little bit too same old. And this triggers a very impromptu escape, one a little longer than an autumnal stroll and not leading to something with gravy at the end. Instead, a drive on the open road and fish and chips by the sea. And, most miraculously of all, a beautiful 24 degrees in which to throw off your trousers and praise the lord!

may06Fortunately for just about everyone I brought some shorts to change into for an amble along Tabourie Beach, the obligatory exercise out of the way before gorging on deep fried batter at Burrill Lake. Driving through Ulladulla I decided to pick Mollymook as my laying down and trying to recover from overeating site. But it was just so nice that I didn’t just lie down and groan, all the while clutching at my swollen paunch; the sweeping sand cried out for many footsteps, some of which veered into the sea.

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The sea was, quite miraculously, the warmest I think I have ever known it to be down on the south coast. It may have something to do with currents or Great Barrier Reef dredging or climate change, whatever that is. It was warmer than Esperance, warmer than Fitzgerald River this time last year. And while those spots are something special, they are a trifle inconvenient at 3,200 kilometres distant. Google Maps tells me Esperance would take 34 hours to reach, and that’s without traffic (and, I assume, sleep)! This took a little over two. It is not as great a length, but provides almost as great a feeling. Indeed, it is another great escape (…now cue the music).

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Horsing around

As the Chinese year of the horse arrives it has brought with it a combination of solidly earnest work, galloping around, and figuring out which stable to call home. January holidays lingered and lingered and lingered much like the hot air that became trapped over Canberra; there was only a gradual easing of chilled out pottering about barbecue infested feb03pavlova stoked swimming pool days. To be honest, after several days of not doing that much at all, things were crying out for a cool change – a change of scenery, and a re-acquaintance with the Kings Highway to the coast.

It was but a day trip, but the cloudy coastal skies parted just briefly at Depot Beach and the temperature was just about pleasantly perfect for that shoreline walk around to the sands of Pebbly Beach and back. They are no WA sands, but for being just a couple of hours away, they are a reminder of the good fortune of a capital location.

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In the capital, February arrived and as predictably as floods in a flood plain people returned back to work and wanted some things doing. This is good, for the downward trend in my current account was keen for some reversal. It was a trend heightened by the cost of moving house, of finding a little flat to rent and paying a deposit and needing to populate it with some furnishings and trinkets and things to eat off, and using up petrol for trips to the shopping mall to buy these things, along with the odd frozen yogurt with lots of cookie dough bits. But I am now mostly there, with just a few further acquisitions to make it feel like home.

feb04While it is pool-less and a hefty stroll to decent coffee, the blessing of this place is that it isn’t very far from where I have lived for all of my Canberra life. Nestled amongst the oaks and gums of the suburb of Red Hill, it is a place anticipating awesome autumn wondrousness, a spot from which to navigate a higgle-piggle of crescents and spill out into the foot of the hill itself. The hill that has been there for me for quite some time and continues to offer a concentrated release of nature.

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And of course, the best thing to do when moving house is to coincide furniture-moving and setting up in 38 degrees with a few work meetings and presentations. Being busy is something I need to re-learn, and while I feel comfortable with the way things are heading, the alarming proposition of ironing a shirt (with the new iron from Kmart) for the first time in eight months can be a little much to bear.

So I’m still really just settling in, in many ways. Over the past week I have only spent one night in my flat – in between a work trip to Sydney and another, longer visit to that South Coast. It was a coast that offered little in the way of sun, but the temperature was ambient and the company was fine and there was plenty of opportunity to indulge in food and marginally walk it off on the sands of Malua Bay. And if these lazy days all became a bit too much, you could always pop into Batemans Bay to potter around Kmart again and grab a coffee.

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Of course, as is tradition, the sun returned the day of leaving the coast. Luckily I was able to linger just slightly, and return once more to Broulee in the morning. feb07The first place I ended up when coming down this way in September 2006, a place name plucked out of the air and a glance at the map. A spot in which you are always thanking your good fortune to be in. And wondering, um, should I have rented somewhere here instead?

Yet, not for the first time in my life, I ended up back in Canberra and returned to my new home and did some washing and started writing these words with a cup of tea and twirl and put on the radio and felt quite content. I think I will be quite happy here.

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