REVIEW: TURTLE REEF BY JENNIFER SCOULLAR

I’m reposting this review of Turtle Reef from Write Note Reviews. This is everything a review should be – balanced, honest and thoughtful. It shows an excellent knowledge of the book, is generally positive, but not afraid to point out challenges along the reading way. In my opinion, Monique Mulligan is one of the top book reviewers in Australia. Why not have a roam around her fascinating website while you’re there? And don’t forget entries, for Jenn J McLeod’s three-book giveaway close 31 May. Leave a comment on my blog for your chance to win!

Monty Roberts In Australia

Monty Roberts 1This weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a two-day horsemanship seminar at beautiful Boneo Park Equestrian Centre. It was conducted by the legendary Monty Roberts, aka The Man Who Listens To Horses. He’s a proponent of natural horsemanship, and I’ve been a fan of his forever. Of course natural horsemanship has also been around forever, at least for as long as humans and horses have been partners, about six thousand years. It’s a way of interacting with horses using minimum force, and designed not to stress or upset them. Unfortunately, it’s not the only way.

Monty roberts 3So eighty-year old Monty Roberts didn’t invent natural horsemanship, but he has been a decades-long proponent. He developed his particular method by watching wild mustangs interact with each other. He recognised a body language among the horses that was used to communicate and set boundaries. He found he could predictably read their fear, anger, irritation, relaxation and affection. Using this silent language allowed training in a more effective and humane manner, encouraging true partnership between horses and humans. Monty calls this language Equus. He inspired both the book and film The Horse Whisperer, and holds doctorates in human and animal behavioural psychology. By personal request of Queen Elizabeth, he trained the palace horses and has since spread his non-violent training techniques all over the world.

Monty roberts 2Monty Roberts is also an author. His first book, The Man Who Listens to Horses spent fifty-eight weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list. It was translated into fifteen languages and sold more than five million copies worldwide, His other books include the best-selling Shy Boy: The Horse That Came in from the Wild, Horse Sense for People, From My Hands to Yours, The Horses in My Life and Ask Monty. Oh, and did I mention that he and his wife of fifty-eight years have also fostered forty-seven children 🙂

 

 

2015-04-26 10.11.25I was curious to see the man in action, and was not disappointed. Monty performed his signature ‘join up’ liberty technique, a round yard trust exercise, with over a dozen very different horses that he’d never met before. It was astonishing how predictably each animal reacted: cocking an ear towards him, narrowing the circle, licking its lips and finally bowing its 2015-04-26 11.33.19head. At this point the horse sought out Monty and reliably followed him – joining the herd. This was the precursor to some pretty amazing things. Youngsters calmly saddled and ridden for the first time, within the space of half an hour (four of them!) Dangerously spooky horses willingly following Monty over ground tarpaulins and past scary objects without lead ropes. Notoriously difficult loaders nonchalantly entering floats. This was truly impressive. One horse had taken four people and five hours to load it the previous day. Monty had it trotting, yes trotting, into the float of its own accord within fifteen minutes. More importantly, its young owner then replicated this success.

Me and Monty RobertsAnd Monty Roberts, at eighty years old, did all of his own horse-handling. I’d expected him to delegate much of the teaching. He was most generous with his time, answering questions and giving me some wonderful advice on a training issue I’m having with one of my mares. I’m convinced! He seems to be on an urgent mission to make the world a better place for both humans and horses. That is a wonderful thing!

Monty roberts 5‘For centuries, humans have said to horses, ‘You do what I tell you or I’ll hurt you.’ Humans still say that to each other — still threaten, force and intimidate. I’m convinced that my discoveries with horses have value in the workplace, in the educational and penal systems, and in the raising of children. At heart, I’m saying that no one else has the right to say ‘you must’ to an animal — or to another human.’ Monty Roberts

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Our New Dog

Rex 1

Rex at 6 weeks

Rex 003Rex 005We have a new dog, a white German Shepherd puppy named Rex (after the famous Inspector Rex). I’ve had shepherds before, even bred them for a few years, but never a white one. The colour is considered a flaw in the show fraternity and, in the past, white pups have been routinely drowned. A great shame, as this colour has a long and proud history in the evolution of the breed. A white herding dog named Greif was the grandfather of Horand von Grafrath, the dog acknowledged as the foundation of all contemporary German Shepherd bloodlines.

White shepherds are not albinos, and have no particular health concerns, so when a pup became available locally, we decided to welcome him to our family. White dogs are said to have a softer, mellower, more sensitive personality than their traditionally coloured cousins. This is born out with Rex – he’s a very chilled out boy!

He’s nine weeks old now, and his ears are starting to stand erect, just as they should. I couldn’t be happier Rex 006with him and heartily recommend the breed. So if you’re looking for a family dog that –

  • Is strong, athletic, and natural-looking
  • Has a quieter personality than a black and tan German Shepherd
  • Thrives on challenging activities and exercise
  • Rex 009Is exceptionally intelligent, loyal, and versatile — when well-socialised and well-trained, can learn and do almost anything
  • Makes a sensible watchdog and is not inappropriately hostile

– then a White German Shepherd may be right for you.

This last photo is what I hope Rex will look like when he’s all grown up! 🙂

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Celebrating Women In Conservation

Women in conservation breakfast

Bush Heritage Australia and Trust for Nature are pleased to invite supporters to the fourth annual Celebrating Women In Conservation fundraising breakfast 2015.

Held in Melbourne in the week of International Women’s Day, this fourth annual breakfast is an opportunity to discover new perspectives, as well as celebrating the role that women play in conservation. I’m hoping to be there. It’s for a very good cause!

The MC is science journalist and bestselling author Tanya Ha.

Molly Harriss Olsen

Molly Harriss Olsen

Guest speaker Molly Harriss Olson will share her transformative ideas about decision making in conservation. Named as one of the 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence, Molly has convened, chaired and been a member of numerous sustainability initiatives over more than three decades, including The World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders of Tomorrow Sustainability Index Initiative. Molly worked in the White House as the Founding Executive Director of the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, appointed by President Clinton.

Molly is the Founder and Convenor of the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development and co-founder of EcoFutures and Earthmark. She serves on the Green Building Council of Australia and the AMP Sustainable Investments Alpha Advisory boards, and is CEO of Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand.

2015 CELEBRATING WOMEN IN CONSERVATION BREAKFAST

DATE: Thursday, 5 March 2015
TIME: 7.00am for a 7.15am start
VENUE: RACV City Club, 501 Bourke Street, Melbourne
COST: $75 per person; $700 for a table of 10

Book here. Please direct all enquiries to Amelia Easdale at Trust for Nature on (03) 8631 5809 or at ameliae@tfn.org.au.

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The Butch Tales 2: The Boy King.

Well, Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still madly editing Turtle Reef to meet a January 7th deadline. Author and writing mentor Sydney Smith is guest-blogging for me over this period – about her cats! Here is the second instalment …

The Butch TalesThe Butch Tales 2: The Boy King

I left the shared house where I met Daka and the two of us moved into a flat in Brunswick. It had gardens for her to play in, with lots of places she could hide and spy on other felines. I left the lounge room window ajar to let her climb in and out as she pleased. She was an old cat and arthritic. I placed a chair outside the window, to help her get inside.

Two years later, Daka sickened. It hurt her to eat and she left messes outside the door of my upstairs neighbour. I took her to the vet, a man with wildly romantic looks and a sharp tone of voice. Though he was irritable with humans, he was firm and gentle with Daka. He told me she had to be put to sleep. He let me stay with her while he shaved her forepaw and injected the drug. All the strength melted from her body.

I cried over her. Then I went home, and the moment I lay down on my bed to grieve properly, a cat flea, one of Daka’s little tenants, jumped onto my arm and bit me. I cried even more. Inside that flea a little bit of Daka lived on, and that somehow was more heart-wrenching than her death.

It took me two years to get over Daka. It was lonely to live in my flat with no animal. But every time I thought about adopting someone new, that grief for Daka welled up again. But grief will go, if you let it, and after two years in mourning I was ready. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted a cat. Maybe I’d get a dog. Or a budgie. Whatever it was I’d call it Butch. In particular, Butch the Budgie tickled my sense of humour. But I wasn’t set on getting a bird. I would see what caught my fancy.

One day I was walking along Rathdowne Street in Carlton, one of the routes I took on my expeditions into the big world after a morning spent at my computer. A vet clinic there kept a big cage of kittens. I had often stopped outside the window to watch them climb the stairs inside their cage and tumble through the trapdoor. On this day, I went inside.

I wanted a female, but they’d all been taken. I was ready for an animal, and wouldn’t be put off by a little matter of butch 2gender. The vet nurse opened the cage. A black kitten with a bushy tail as big as he was stepped out and allowed himself to be carried, a boy king riding his human palanquin to the counter. From there he jumped to the floor and explored the reception area with such a singular air of eccentric personality that I fell for him.

His ragdoll mother had bequeathed to him the distinctive white markings on his black face, his white shirt front, the dab of white at the end of his black tail and his king-sized paws. I took him home. He meowed all the way.

Daka was my first pet, and she had come to me as an adult, set in her ways. I consulted my cat-owning neighbour. What should I do with a kitten? How should I train him? Where should he sleep? Daka had slept with me but I thought I ought to train Butch differently. ‘Shut him in the kitchen at night,’ she said. ‘He’ll learn to sleep by himself.’ I made up a bed for him with an old jumper in a cardboard box, and added a toy cat so that he wouldn’t feel lonely.

Butch had lived all his short life with his brothers and sisters. He had never been alone. A synthetic toy cat didn’t count as company. Moreover, he had a strong sense of what was due to him as a boy king. The moment I shut the kitchen door, he set up an imperious meowing. I hardened my heart for about ten seconds, and then gave in. From then on, it was Butch who trained me. He knew exactly what he wanted and would stop at nothing to get it.

In those days I was working part-time at the writers’ centre. Every morning when I went to work, Butch sprinted around the flat, screaming at the top of his lungs. After two such mornings, I couldn’t take it anymore. I packed his lunch and some kitty litter, put him into his carry case, and took him to work on the tram.

As Butch grew bigger he wanted to go outside. I opened the front door for him. I’d sit there reading a manuscript I was assessing while he ventured out into the big world of the garden. Every few steps he’d look back at me and meow. ‘It’s OK, Butch. I’m right here.’ Soon I stopped sitting at the open door and he would come and go as he pleased. Once I heard him plaintively calling. I went outside and found him in a tree. I thought he was stuck and climbed up to get him. He meowed his protests, and as soon as I put him on the ground, he quickly scaled the trunk and sat on a branch, singing.

Butch the catWhen Butch was confident in the garden, he wanted to go further afield. In the evening, soon after dark had closed over Brunswick, I took him for walks around the block. Was this normal? I knew of only one wandering cat, a Russian Blue who went for walks on the end of a leash. Butch seemed to think it was perfectly natural, and by this time, I knew better than to argue.

Other cats were out there, adult cats, big cats with territories. They hissed at him, but maybe because he was a kitten, they didn’t hurt him. One night we met a woman taking her seven cats for a walk to the local school playground, where they could run around. The beefy grey tom built like a rugby forward, who was really in charge of the expedition, strolled across the road to greet us with his round, smiling face. He looked benignly on Butch before sauntering back to his team.

One evening Butch demanded his walk twenty minutes before a show I wanted to see came on TV. I asked him to wait, but he insisted. The boy king had never heard of delayed gratification. I kept an eye on the time, thinking we could do the walk quickly and I could get back for my show. Butch had other ideas. He lingered in every interesting nook and cranny. He especially loved a rose garden up the street. At five minutes before my show started, I left him there and raced home. An hour later, riven by guilt and worry for his safety, I returned to the rose garden. ‘Butch?’ An answering meow. He had waited for me all that time, hiding under a bushy fuchsia.

Coming soon – The Butch Tales 3: Mouse-hunter.

A of N CoverSydney Smith is a writing mentor, teacher and author of short stories, essays, and The Lost Woman, a memoir of survival. She will soon be releasing The Architecture of Narrative, a book about how to plot and structure fiction. She offers writing tips at www.threekookaburras.com. If you have a question on any aspect of writing, feel free to visit her website.

 

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The Butch Tales 1: Daka

A of N CoverWell, it’s almost Christmas. Instead of relaxing into a new year, I’m madly editing Turtle Reef to meet a January 7th deadline. Author and renowned writing mentor Sydney Smith will be guest-blogging for me over this period. I gave her an open-ended charter: book reviews, publishing information, publicity for her upcoming writing craft book, The Architecture of Narrative – all great topics. ‘Or you could write about your cats.‘ Now we have six stable cats here on the farm, most of them acquired quite by accident. They are great characters, so I understand Sydney’s love for these creatures. Without further ado, may I present to you the first in a series of city cat stories – a little tale about loyalty, and how it needs to be earned.

 

The Butch Tales  1: Daka

The Butch TalesEvery time I think about writing the Butch Tales I think first of Daka, Butch’s predecessor.

Daka came to me late in her life, when she was twelve. We met when I was sharing a house in Brunswick with Nell. I had been house-sharing for years and was used to having a pet around the place. In these situations, there was never any question of whose responsibility the animals were. They were fed and walked and petted in the usual way, and I never gave it a thought.

But soon after I moved in with Nell I realised something was wrong. Nell had two pets, black, feline Daka and a white bitser called Gina, named after La Lollabigida. Daka is one of the nonsense words Indian musicians and dancers use to count out beats. Her full name was Daka Dimi, which is the four-beat mantra.

Nell used to let Gina into her bedroom first thing in the morning for some private communion and kept Daka, meowing angrily, out in the passage. Nell said, ‘Daka has to learn to be loyal.’ Every afternoon when Nell cycled out to her second shift at work, Daka crouched at the front door, waiting for her to come home. She waited for something that would never come, for though Nell never hit her animals, she didn’t pat or praise them either. She didn’t understand animals and their needs.

Daka was a shrewish cat who scratched anyone who tried to pat her. She’d take a swipe at people as they walked past. She’d squat in an armchair, a cranky look on her face, like a little devil waiting for some unwary mortal to stray too close. People were nervous around her. All animals need love, and her uncouth manners kept her starved of it.

The problem for me came to a head over food. Nell fed her pets once a day, sometimes at five o’clock, or nine, or midnight. She thought a cat could live on rice and vegetables cooked with a bit of mince. But cats are carnivores, and Daka used to go hungry. It caused me a lot of distress to see her starve.  I kept telling myself she was Nell’s cat, that it was none of my business how she treated her pets.

Then late one afternoon Nell packed her bag for an overnight stay with her partner and cycled over to Kew. She didn’t make provision for her animals. She didn’t feed them before she left. I waited for her to call and ask me to feed them. I didn’t know the number at her partner’s house. I waited and waited, watching Daka and Gina grow frantic with hunger. Every time I went into the kitchen to get a glass of water or to make dinner, they crowded around my legs. Finally, I fed them.

Once I started, I kept on doing it, every day on the dot of five o’clock. If Nell was home, I’d ask her permission. It felt weird. They were her pets, not mine; I had no rights over them. Yet she didn’t object. I’d trot up to the milk bar to buy some cans of food and fill the pet bowls at home. As Daka ate, I stroked her to help her associate human touch with something good.

I never felt comfortable about feeding Nell’s pets, but I felt worse not feeding them. Nell complained more than ever about Daka’s “disloyalty” while accepting with imperial serenity that feeding her pets was now my duty.

Before long, Daka took up residence in my bedroom. A curtain hung over the doorway, and whenever people came into the house, she’d poke her head from behind the curtain and meow. Nell would look at her, aggrieved, as if Daka had struck her a painful blow.

Daka never became a cat whom people could pick up or pat, but since she spent most of her time in my room, people could walk about without fear of her claws. After a few months, Nell went to live in Kew with her partner. She took Gina and left Daka with me.

Two weeks later, Nell returned to pick up some things. We sat on the glory chest in the kitchen to have a cup of tea and chat about her new situation. In strolled Daka. She froze at the sight of Nell, one paw in the air. After a little think, she walked over to Nell’s side of the glory chest, jumped up, trampled across Nell’s legs, and sat down beside me, her flank touching me, her Byzantine head turned away from her former owner.

Nell, looking more baffled than ever, said, ‘I don’t understand why she’s disloyal.’

Coming soon, The Butch Tales 2: The Boy King.

It is my great pleasure to announce the book giveaway winners – Karen McDermott and Laura Boon. I shall email you both privately for your postal address. Many thanks to those who commented and a very merry Christmas to all!

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Give Us Our Great Forest National Park!

Great Forest National Park 2There was an election here in Victoria on the weekend. It led to a change of government. Labor’s Daniel Andrews has succeeded Dennis Napthine as our Premier and I congratulate him on his win. A major issue was the creation of a Great Forest National Park, something very close to my heart. International luminaries like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall have campaigned hard on this. Their intervention comes as a survey found 89 per cent of Victorians support the creation of a new national park in the beautiful Yarra Ranges and Central Highlands, stretching from Kinglake to Mt Baw Baw, and north to Lake Eildon.

Leadbeater's PossumI urge our new Premier to embrace this vision for a multi-tiered parks system for bush users and bush lovers alike. It would host bike riding, bushwalking, fishing, bird watching, four-wheel driving, motor biking, camping, horse riding and much more. The tallest flowering trees in the world grow in this region. In their high canopies dwell Powerful Owls, Sugar Gliders and the tiny Leadbeater’s (or Fairy) Possum. Leadbeater’s possums are Victoria’s critically endangered faunal emblems, and they only live in these mountain ash forests of the Central Highlands. Here is a chance to provide Victorians and their children’s children with a unique natural resource, that will also bring lots of tourist dollars to the state. (You can sign the Wilderness Society’s petition here.) Come on Mr Premier – please give us this! 🙂

Great Forest National Park

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Our New Horse – Lofty

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting around with my friend Bronwyn, looking at horses for sale on-line. She was looking for a quiet horse for her sixteen year old daughter. We started looking at sites dedicated to giving sale-yard horses a second chance – ones that were heading for slaughter. There are many wonderful people who volunteer to publicise these last-chance horses. And with the drought hitting hard in NSW and Queensland there are far, far too many of them.

Lofty's On-Line Photo

Lofty’s On-Line Photo

Well, my friend decided to take a chance on one of these horses – a little chestnut mare called Trixie. Then my son Matt came in, sat down with us and started scrolling through the horses. Lofty, a big standardbred gelding with a noble head caught his eye. The picture is on the right. In the end Matt decided to spend all his savings on buying Lofty and transporting  him here from the Echuca Sale Yards.

Lofty Safe At Home

Lofty Safe At Home

This was a risky enterprise. Buying horses the old-fashioned way is tricky enough. Buying sight-unseen from the briefest of descriptions is slightly insane. Nevertheless Bronwyn and Matt went ahead, knowing that these horses were in dire straits. We spent a nervous few days waiting. Horror stories about buying horses on-line emerged from the woodwork. The lady who bought a stockhorse, and it turned out to be a just-off-the-track thoroughbred that almost killed her husband. The girl who bought a yearling filly and found an unhandled two year old colt dumped in her paddock instead. Weeks later she still hadn’t caught it! I’m sure you’ve all heard many more.

Lofty's first day 058Well, the horses arrived on Sunday, shell-shocked and a little the worse for wear. A few cuts and scrapes. BUT they are beautiful! Trixie has a new home with a doting teenage girl to love her. Lofty is settling in, and is well on his way to becoming Matt’s pride and joy. A total gentleman with perfect manners, and at 16.2 hh he’s big enough to carry Matt and all his camping gear. I had a cry yesterday, thinking about where these lovely horses might have ended up. Trixie had been totally neglected, however Lofty’s feet were trim and his mane and tail tidy. Somebody once loved this beautiful horse, but he still ended up on a truck heading for oblivion. I wish I could reassure Lofty’s previous owner that he’s safe. I’m VERY proud of my son for doing such a great thing. And a huge thank you to the wonderful people who volunteer their time to give these horses a second chance!

Trixie

Trixie

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The Environmental Film Festival

Environmental Film Festival 1Melbourne is right in the middle of its Environmental Film Festival. Running from 4-12 September, the festival offers wonderful films, thought-provoking debate and fun-filled special events. Now in its 5th year, EFFM showcases a dynamic range of the best environmental films from Australia and around the world, and draws large crowds from all over Victoria. In a very short time, it has stitched its way into the colourful tapestry of Melbourne’s cultural life.

Environmental film festival 2It is not too late to get involved if you live locally. Tomorrow, be charmed by charismatic food activist Carlo Petrini in Slow Food Story. Join the conversation about our food systems with expert panelists and local food appreciators, and feast on tastings of mouthwatering slow food. This event will warm your heart and make your mouth water. Tickets for this special EFFM event are Adults $28 // Concession $23 (plus booking fee). Event catering will be provided by TrailerMade – Artisan and slow food van. Details and tickets.

All the films are well worth a look, but I think one of the most interesting will be ‘The Weather War’, a compelling look at mankind’s attempts to control the weather and harness it for our own purposes. Tuesday 9th at 8.30 pm. Kino Cinema in Collins Place. Purchase tickets here.

Environmental film festival 3Celebrate the close of EFFM 2014 with the screening of Planet RE:think, a panel discussion including festival patron Bob Brown, festival award announcements, and a closing night party to kick up your heels and revel in another stellar year for environmental film.Ticket for this special EFFM event are limited. Adults $35 // Concession $28 (plus booking fee). Details and tickets.

I hope the festival finishes with a bang, and I hope to go myself next year. Unfortunately I’ll have to give this year a miss as I’m closing in on the end of my current novel. Nothing will drag me away until I wrestle this manuscript to a conclusion!

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