Man the Battlements!

My daughter H is building a gingerbread house with a difference. For starters, the biscuit mixture is sans spice, much to the horror perhaps of traditionalists. It turns out, my family simply prefers gingerbread without the ginger. But that is where the simplicity ends. This is much more than a house. It is a castle! She has built it on a Lego base, with turrets, arched windows and even a drawbridge.

H baked the walls yesterday, carefully measuring them to fit the base using a template made from a cocoa pops box. One of the walls was damaged overnight. Not sure how … boys and pets plead innocence. But clearly some form of enemy was abroad, because this morning, a side wall lay in three pieces. H wasn’t fazed. “It’s an authentic ruined castle,” she said, and calmly mortared it back together with icing.



And now it’s done! A work of art, I’m sure you’ll all agree. Lego archers, swordsmen and knights on horseback, defend their castle from a fearsome fire-breathing dragon perched on a biscuit battlement. Brilliant H. Absolutely brilliant. And a merry Christmas to all!

The (Un) Common Fringe Lily

Common Fringe Lilies (thysonatus tuberosus) are flowering now at the edges of Pilyara’s shady messmate gullies. Their botanical name tuberosus comes from their edible root. These lilies should be given a new everyday name though, as there is nothing common about them. They are wildflowers of exquisite charm.


Fringe Lilies grow on low stalks, that bear a few slender, basal leaves. The flowers appear at the end of short branchlets. Each purple petal is edged with a delicate, feathery fringe, highlighting the bloom with a halo effect. In between each petal is a sepal of deeper mauve, like a narrow satin ribbon. Their perfection is ephemeral – each flower lasts just one day. So lovely, yet so fleeting. The plant itself flowers for several weeks though, so there is plenty of time to catch the beauty of a new bloom. 



This watercolour painting of a Fringe Lily is part of the Ducie Collection of First Fleet Art. The artist’s name is George Raper. He was a naval officer and talented illustrator. Unfortunately he was only twenty eight years old when he died. (1769-1797) The image is courtesy of The National Library of Australia. It proves this lovely little lily was one of the very first native flowers to attract international acclaim. How fortunate am I to be able to see them flowering in the wild, just metres from my house!

BlazeAid Heroes Betrayed

Out of the ashes of Black Saturday 2009 came an urgent need for fences to be rebuilt. Kilmore East farmers, Kevin and Rhonda Butler, were among those whose fences were burnt. Needing to quickly secure their 1,500 sheep, they sought assistance from family, friends and local volunteers to help rebuild their fences. Within a week, the fences were completed – a task that would have taken them months to do on their own. Grateful for the assistance they received, Rhonda and Kevin decided to try to help a few others with their fencing.

Thus, BlazeAid was born.  Thanks to them, thousands of long- and short-term BlazeAid volunteers have come to help rebuild fences for the victims of bushfires and floods. My son M spent a month in Charlton earlier this year, doing just that. By lending a hand in true Aussie style, BlazeAid volunteers not only built fences, but helped to restore the spirits of those who’d suffered through a series of Australia’s worst natural disasters. The leadership, courage and self-sacrifice Kevin and Rhonda showed in setting up and coordinating Blaze Aid has earned them a Rotary International Award and Victorian Local Hero Award.

Now Rhonda and Kevin need our help. BlazeAid has been put on hold, and Kevin has resigned from his position as President. This is because he and his neighbours are facing the loss of their own homes and farms. Not to fire or flood, but to a heartless Liberal State Government. It has broken its 2010 election promise to build the bypass of Kilmore township from the north. It has chosen an eastern bypass instead, with a 75% chance of  bulldozing Kevin’s family home of 35 years, as well as the woolshed where BlazeAid began after the Black Saturday fires. His neighbours are under a 100% threat. Kevin wrote in a December 5th press release “… it is tantamount to a death sentence … since the announcement several weeks ago, my health continues to deteriorate. Being in survival mode, I am having difficulty with eating and sleeping.”

Kevin goes on to say ” … the VicRoads compensation package is entirely unsatisfactory and my unbroken family links here go back to 1872. Unfortunately, I cannot run my business and devote myself to the huge undertaking of coordinating BlazeAid, as well as spending hours each day trying to save my home as I try to lobby and negotiate with VicRoads and the State Government.

I have also requested to my editor at the Weekly Times, Natalie Ward, to place on hold for 12 months my monthly column “On the Farm” which I receive considerable remuneration for.

I remain passionate about the work of BlazeAid. After Black Saturday in 2009 and 2011’s Cyclone Yasi (Tully) and Big Australian floods (Bridgewater, Charlton, Tenterfield, Murgon, Stanthorpe, Toowoomba, Warwick, the Gascoyne region), seven thousand Australian and overseas BlazeAid volunteers worked with nine hundred home owners to rebuild their fencing and get back on track with their homes and farms. BlazeAid volunteers contributed a massive 35,000 working days and millions of dollars worth of fencing assistance.

Sadly, it is inevitable that Australia will have another natural disaster and a community rebuilding effort will be needed … Meanwhile, my intention is to have the time and energy to fight – alongside my neighbours – the taking of our homes and farms. I regret that – until the threat to my family and neighbours of losing our homes and properties is removed, and I can again concentrate on what I love doing – I must forego my position with BlazeAid.

I deeply apologise to the people of Victoria and the rest of Australia for this untenable position”

No Kevin. It is us who should apologise to you. I for one, will be emailing Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu on your behalf. I hope many others follow suit. My deepest thanks to you and Rhonda on behalf of all Australians.


Varuna – The Writers’ House

Varuna  – The Writers’ House, is a wonderful asset to Australian authors. Established in 1991, Varuna is a unique environment in the Blue Mountains, designed especially for writers. The house itself was a gift to Australian literature in memory of the novelist Eleanor Dark. Eleanor, who died in 1985, published ten novels, including ‘The Timeless Land.” This was a best-seller in Australia and the United States, and was made into a popular television series.

Eleanor Dark was one of the first Australian novelists to defy the ‘cultural cringe.’ Her writings were sometimes experimental, often controversial and always unashamedly Australian. Considering her works were published between 1932 and 1959, this was remarkably innovative and brave. Eleanor was an advocate for social justice, education, women’s rights and Aboriginal reconciliation – a voice far ahead of her time. Manning Clark said of Eleanor Dark that ‘… she made a major contribution to the intellectual and spiritual life of all Australians. She helped us understand who we are. She taught us that we could stand alone.’

Varuna is now recognised, nationally and internationally, as a special place for new, emerging and established writers of all genres. It offers a community of support. It enables writers to develop their work, to find their voice. Varuna works closely with publishers such as Penguin and Harper Collins, and it supports promising work through its pathways to publication programs.

I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy two stints at Varuna – completing a professional development residency with the inimitable Peter Bishop, and as a writer in residence during a regional writers week. At Varuna there is no television or radio. All mobile phones are switched off between the hours of nine and six. During this quiet time writers work privately, except for individual consultations with their mentors and/or editors. Writers are provided with nothing more than a room, work space, dictionary and thesaurus. Catered dinners are accompanied by readings, lively discussions and bottles of wine. Writers have been known to produce up to 50,000 words during a ten day residency. That’s what an environment totally dedicated to writing can do for you. It is quite simply heaven.