Observations

Wagga Wagga dawn Wagga Wagga dawn

This foggy, frosty early-morning scene belies tragedy hidden in clear view.

March 5 2012, will be remembered as the night almost 9000 residents of Wagga Wagga were forced from their homes by the worst flood since 1853 — nearly 160 years ago.

Fortunately the city’s levee held and two months later its citizens’ lives have basically returned to normal.

However, the surrounding districts have hundreds of kilometres of fences swaddled in dead grasses and branches as a result of the recent floods. The slowly rotting debris has to be removed to save the fences from rusting and a small corps of volunteers is working to help the local farmers.

It is a daunting task. A strong team of four on a good day might manage to knock the debris off less than a kilometre of fencing.

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When country folk celebrate they do it with infectious enthusiasm, and the annual Xmas pageant at Oatlands was no different.

But, when I first saw the fire engine, above, go past with its flotilla of go-karts following in a cloud of fumes I felt sorry for the young tykes driving them.

Initially what I thought was the fire engine’s exhaust turned out to be their own foul fumes from their noisy stressed little engines which sounded like a few lawnmowers from my past (when I had a hated lawn to mow).

It appeared that any vehicle in town and the neighbouring farms that moved — trucks, utes, cars, motorbikes, quad bikes, police cars and fire engines — had been dressed up for the occasion.

While everybody appeared to be enjoying the festivities there were some notable exceptions, including these two working dogs who were obviously very embarrassed to be marching with glittery reindeer horns.

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Finding an overnight campsite in any city can be a bit of a problem, but I’m lucky that I have a fairly regular spot in Hobart right outside a friend’s house.

Naturally I operate in stealth mode … curtains drawn and no lights after sunset.

Normally a fairly quiet spot, it becomes a bit hectic nearer Xmas and this is what greeted me this morning. The butcher and the delivery man were having a loud joke-filled conversation which woke me.

Of course, the jokes might have had something to do with the angle of the delivery truck too.

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Revisited a favourite pub yesterday in Hobart — The Crescent — and had a lively session with some old friends (and don’t they look like everyone’s grumpy grandpa?).

They were in a nostalgic mood, tuning in to YouTube for some jazz classics — on an iPad which Dave, the pub owner, had commandeered so that he could watch while he served.

The pub also has a lot of books under the counter, some of which can be seen above. They’re not for lending, they’re a superb tool for settling pub arguments, and like all good pubs a lot of lively discussion takes place.

The library does wonders to settle bombast and prejudice. Somehow using the iPad to Google the facts would seem out of place in The Crescent.

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A high pressure system provided two days of welcome relief from constant wind and drizzle and also brought Lake Dulverton’s trout to the surface for some fine catches.

Here’s the end of one epic battle with a light line and rod. The three-pound brown trout created an impressive whirlpool as attempts were made to net it.

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The whopper brook trout caught yesterday morning was given a honourable farewell last night in Terrance’s smoker.

Just 20 minutes of smoking and a half hour of resting and served simply with Turkish bread (the only fresh loaf we managed to get in downtown Oatlands), a splash of lime juice and a cheeky young red wine. Delicious.

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Arrived yesterday at a favourite campsite on the shore of Lake Dulverton to find the level has gone up to the highest it has been in 40 years.

Could not fish because of the heavy south-easterly winds, but knew a high pressure system was on its way overnight.

And I got an early view, at about 5.30am, because my mate Terrance was tapping at my window. A few pleasantries were exchanged but he was insistent.

I looked out to a mirror-calm lake and then my view was blocked by Terrance holding up the 5lb brook trout he had just brought ashore.

Plans were immediately made to smoke a fillet for dinner.

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Many of the buildings along Oatlands’ High Street are lovely Georgian sandstone edifices, especially the old municipal and courthouse buildings.

Unfortunately, some time in the 1960s ‘Progress’ arrived in this small Tasmanian town which in those days still embraced the Midlands Highway.

One of the victims of the jackboot of progress was the local Post Office which had a makeover along its High Street frontage, luckily leaving most of the existing sandstone extant.

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For decades I have made a living as a publisher, journalist, author, photographer, web designer and blogger.

At the heart of all these ventures for the last quarter of a century were my Macintosh computers — starting with the Mac Plus in 1986 with its 8Mhz processor, 800Kb floppy drive and tiny mono screen.

Over the years many iconic Macs came and went through my small enterprises and all played a major role. They made the ventures viable and profitable, and were always a joy to use.

Today, they are still essential tools as I travel full-time across Australia. They include the MacBook Air, a stunning lightweight powerhouse, the iPad 2 (a wonderful machine for web browsing, reading, email, and a multitude of other tasks made possible by magical apps), and my iPhone 3GS — a miniature computer with more power than the computers that sent man to the moon.

The genius who made them possible was Steve Jobs, the enigmatic CEO of Apple who sadly died this week at the young age of 56.

The wonderful products he inspired were more than technical marvels of the computer age — they were magical for their users, powerful creative tools … agents of change.

In Steve’s own words:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

And a prescient quote from his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life.

It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.


The logo silhouette of Steve Jobs was created by Jonathan Mak, 19, a Hong Kong student.

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From a distance, the wake coming across Numurkah’s Broken Creek looked like a snake at first, but its course was too direct. A platypus perhaps, but again too determined, and the platypi I had observed before always left a meandering trail.

Grabbing a camera I trailed the creature as it cruised ahead along the bank of the sluggish creek.

I froze as it changed direction and headed my way. No platypus had short spiky ears like this. It spooked and dived and as its brown body disappeared I saw its white-tipped tail.

It was Hydromys chrysogaster — the Australian water rat, once trapped for its fur, but now a protected species and making a comeback.

Its body length, not including tail, can be up to 40cm, and our mate shown above was pretty close.

The species have partially-webbed hind-feet, water-repellent fur, and abundant whiskers.

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Digging through my photographic files to find comparison shots of Lake Dulverton before the 2011 winter rains I found these two that show the heavy waterweed growth that is now totally submerged.

They also revealed two potential new sports for the Olympic Games — the 100m dash on water, and syncronised ducking, below.

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Just weeks ago I posted this promise to myself: … I’m heading north before June.

Well June has come and gone, and I’m still stuck in Tasmania, and as Robbie Burns said:

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

The image above showed the early-morning scene as I peered out of my window this morning.

It had a perverse bonus later in the day when I captured the wintry calm of the Derwent River as it flowed through New Norfolk.

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Life can throw a few hardballs every now and again, but today’s sunset at Sorell was a good omen.

Remember the biopsy that was delayed that I mentioned at the end of this entry?

Well, luckily for me my doctor wasn’t prepared to wait for me to get on the public list again and insisted I go see Tasmania’s leading urologist as soon as possible.

I did, and had the tests done later in the week. Days later I was called in. “Bad news,” says the urologist, “of the 18 biopsies we did, 14 tested positive for cancer.”

The next step was CT and nuclear bone scans. And judging by the names the manufacturers give their weird looking machines they at least have a sense of humour.

Back for results with my new best friend (half our sessions are taken up with discussions about our iPad 2′s). “Good news,” he says, “the cancer has not spread to the bones and is confined to the prostate which give us another option — brachytherapy.”

Compared to the original options — total removal or intense chemotherapy, but with attendant side-effects including incontinence, impotence and variations on the theme — this choice was a natural for me.

Brachytherapy, which basically consists of the insertion of precisely-measured radioactive ‘seeds’ directly into the prostate, while not having the same odds of success of the previously mentioned options, does come with apparently fewer side-effects.

As usual, everything comes with a cost. In this case the ‘seeds’ which have to be ordered from the United States cost more than $7000.00. Word is that my medical benefit fund might be able to cover most of it, despite their paltry contributions to the earlier operations.

UPDATE: Well, the op has come and gone, and I finally have enough energy to write this.

What you see to the right is an ultrasound showing the placement of the 72 radioactive ‘seeds’ directly into the prostate.

A booklet I was given has the warning that for two months I’m not allowed to bounce children or pregnant women on my lap, and I’m also not allowed any caffeine for the same time.

I managed to keep the children and pregnant women off my lap, but succumbed to coffee before the allotted delay.

A month after the procedure my Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is more than halved — a very good result according to my specialist.

However, one of the unfortunate side-effects is lethargy and fatigue. It comes and goes, but is unpredictable. In bed by eight and up by nine o’clock with attendant restlessness appears to be the norm at the moment.

Judging by the stories of friends and acquaintances though, I’m happy enough to be tired. Many of them who’ve had the alternatives, chemotherapy or total prostate removal, have had much worse side-effects.

Since I got the bad news I’ve been a boring old fart with friends and acquaintances, insisting they go and get checked, and already two of them have had negative results. One, a friend of 30 years, is being operated on next week.

However, I’ve not succeeded with another friend, a 72-year-old Chinese accountant, who insists that he is mentally controlling his PSA levels. And blow me down, his last checkup was lower.

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Roaring Beach on the Tasman Peninsula deserves its vocal reputation on days like this when strong southerly gales combine with southwesterly swells to send wave after wave crashing to shore.

It produces a tumultuous white carpet, beautiful to watch, yet awe-inspiring at the same time.

And the roar is constant, magnified by the cove’s unique acoustics.

Roaring Beach changes mood endlessly as the video below (recorded on my iPad 2 the day before I took the photograph above) demonstrates.

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There I was, sitting quietly on a park bench nursing my still sore knee, when I noticed two young girls in bright orange jackets striding along the road above my campsite.

Cars and a caravan arrived and the occupants all joined the two teenagers — Teagan and Olivia — for the last 100 metres.

Apparently it was Day 7 of a 300km walk from Devonport to Hobart to raise money to help Make-A-Wish Australia

All money raised (about $7000 already) will go to the foundation whose mission is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to “enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy”.

Despite their long day’s walk the girls were cheerful enough to set up a photo opportunity for their team, and I managed to hobble forward to get my own shot of them mounted on a topiary horse on the shores of Lake Dulverton.

Follow their adventure here.

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As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted …

I’d been cruising across Tasmania for summer in big loops based around Hobart as I sorted out a number of medical appointments — annual checkup, dentist, optician, brain surgeon (just kidding … I think).

Was booked in for a precautionary biopsy in late February, attended the pre-op sessions, and then took off for a few days of well-earned relaxation.

Met up with an old friend at Sorell, shared a fine meal and good wine while twilight lingered.

Next morning, in the midst of my daily housecleaning chores (one-minute sweep, one-minute vacuum) the phone rang.

It was the surgical bookings office at the Royal Hobart Hospital. “We’ve had a double cancellation. Can you get to hospital tomorrow for pre-op procedures and be available for a full knee replacement in five days time?”

Could I ever!

For years I’ve been in constant pain with my right knee in increasing decline, and was unable to get on the elective surgery waiting list. About two years ago I was ambulanced to hospital with a knee twice its normal size, and in such pain that even morphine had no effect.

I was rushed into theatre and emerged to wake up from the anaesthesia with a drip in my arm and a drain emerging from my heavily bandaged knee.

A few hours later a very cheery orthopaedic surgeon came round to check his handiwork and asked how long I’d been on the waiting list. “You’ve just got bone on bone and no cartilage.”

When I explained that I was still trying to get on the list, he looked a bit shocked but replied: “You’re on it now.” and kept his word.

Coincidentally, he was also the surgeon on duty who did the full knee replacement nearly seven weeks ago. Thanks Mr Harvey.

The x-rays above show the before and after results, and the x-ray on the right with what looks like a row of fish bones, is actually revealing the the 29 stainless steel staples that held the scar together.

Since the operation I’ve managed to walk a fair bit with only the occasional limp, drive the bus several hundred kilometres and go cycling with comparative ease.

And the biopsy? I’m now on another waiting list. UPDATED.

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Tasmania has a curious autumnal attitude.

While it is a beautiful time of the year, with steady weather patterns which ensure lovely windless days with clear blue skies, along come Forestry Tasmania with their non-essential burnoffs.

This ‘sunset’ is typical. A lovely day at New Norfolk suddenly goes dark with low-lying clouds of thick smoke which filter the mid-afternoon sun and create a Sisyphean illusion.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

At times I felt like I was living that nursery rhyme.

Take Madam Plush’s makeover, for example. It started with ripping out the existing carpet in the back lounge, a weary, stained excuse for a floor covering.

As I lifted the first corner I noticed a big damp patch and had no clue as to its origin.

[Read on …]

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I recently found this oasis of retro charm while passing through Oatlands.

All was spotless, and everything had its place. I missed a chance to talk to the owners, but I would not be surprised if they lived in one of these houses I spotted the next day in South Hobart.

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When friends and family asked me why I was heading off to live, work and travel fulltime on the road, I referred them to this quote by G.K. Chesterton:

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

It still resonates — two years later.

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Don’t worry what people think, they don’t do it very often.
(unknown)

My yearning to hit the road again was severely hampered for nearly a decade with a mysterious ailment which would flare up intermittently and cause bizarre swelling of various joints and the need for several ambulance trips, extended stays in hospital and time flying by as morphine dripped into my veins, and drains leaked crap from the currently afflicted joint.

Blood specialists, orthopaedic surgeons, and other medicos were baffled, and all the many x-rays revealed were old battle scars from a life more hectic and active in my younger days.

Not a pretty vision and my rabbit pal, shown above, sort of sums up the Dorian Gray aspect of it all.

The rabbit was given to me by a maiden aunt the day I was born [a long time ago]. It was skilfully made out of war-issue stockings and stuffed with pure wool straight off the sheep’s back.

Apparently, according to family, the rabbit and I were inseparable for about seven years — literally — and I guess that’s where a lot of the wear and tear came from. About 10 years ago my mother found him again and mailed him over from Africa. He’s sat on a shelf in my office ever since.

Today I like to think I don’t look as battered as my rabbit pal on the exterior, even though some days I feel just like he looks. Be interesting to see how we cope with life on the road.

The last attack was just on two years ago [after getting them about 2-3 times a year, so that's a big breakthrough] and I am now ready to get on with my next adventure.

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