Melaleuca lanceolata Common name – Moonah

Photo Author

Anything that is four times older than me, and still standing, is entitled to lean on the ground, instead of standing all the time. A sure sign of resilience is the ability to rest on an elbow and still stand. We see examples of this in this ancient plant, the Moonah. . The prevailing wind will sculpt and prune it so it is taller on one side than the other. When the wind is too strong the bough will resist until it bend to and meets the ground. There it will rest and send forth new growth.


In my home town we have a few remands of ancient scrub that were old trees long before William Buckley lived amongst the Wadawurrung people. (William Buckley was an escaped convict who was rescued and improbably lived with local tribal for 32 years before he resumed his former life and was pardoned.) The tribes people he lived with had great respect for this tree they called it Plenty. It gave plenty back to the tribe in nectar and medicinal properties. Botanists have named it Melaleuca lanceolata. (Lanceolata reads as if it is a “lotta” plant actually the word refers to its lace like leaves). Its long abundant flowering season from October to February is rich in pollen and a food source for bees.

The tree in the photo stands on the Esplanade at the Eastern end of Gilbert St. It should probably be recorded as a tree of significance – however this is unlikely; first as it is one of the last wild trees left on that part of the Bluff, and secondly it would bring attention to it in the summer when the town is overrun with all manner of individuals. Some, likely as not, uninterested in plants. The trees are not endangered, so I suppose that is another reason it stands unnoticed and alone.

The Moonah tree is known throughout the country as a strong plant, well capable of withstanding salty wind and rain. Indeed in many parts of the country it is planted as a tree good at fighting salt degradation – as we observed in many over-farmed mallee sites. It helps to lower the water table and in doing so draws salt deeper into the subsoil.

Of all the wonderful plants I love I have chosen to write about the Moonah because it is not showy. It is not really splendid despite its delicate tiny flowers. After living 300+ years it is often just a stubby black tree with twisted branches, prickly tough leaves, and flowers almost too small to be noticed. Yet this tree is tough. Farmers find its wood makes everlasting fence posts. It makes a wonderful wind break. (Not even the wind will get through it’s tight canopy). As a result it is a popular tree for birds to roost in. Possums love to sleep through the day hidden among the mess of its branches.

Commonly we find it growing in masses of thick undergrowth where it seldom gets much taller than four metres. Along the Anglesea estuary it adds stability to the shallow, poor soil. Under the canopy – at the proper time of year the undergrowth hides the most spectacular native orchids: the Fairy Orchid grows underneath the moonah others grow nearby, the twisted Sun Orchid, the Sharp greenhood , the Wax Lip Orchid.One hundred kilometres away the tree survives in the undergrowth of the Manna Gum – a favourite of the Koala.

Photo Author

In Torquay we are lucky to have at least one streetscape where the trees (photo included) where trees stand 10 metres tall. This stand (also a remnant) is inland, about 100 metres from the surf beach. Here, the tree are protected from the the inshore wind and they reach up to 10 metres into the clear sky. Because they have been protected they are tall and have grown without the handicap of neighbouring plants holding them back.

Like all plants of the Melaleuca family the flowers grow from a filament that when spent remains on the flower stem as a little hard nut like growth. As the plant grows “nuts” from previous flowering’s remain.


Photo https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Gderrin Wikipedia

The Plenty Tree

The twisted Moonah tree
turns is back to the wind
hunkers down low,
resting on heavy limb
in the dusty dune.
Perhaps the Wadawurrung
sheltered beneath this bough
the day
a possum skin
became a ceremonial cape.
Even so it grows.
Annually flowering
millions of petals
so bees
use this generous pollen store
as food we
harvest.

Photo Author

Ekphrastic Review. Ralph Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending


The Lark Ascending

In the style of George Meredith prompted by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Williams’ piece is one of classical music’s most popular tunes.


Drawing on past experience,

With curious indifference,

wind-surfers twist at Eagle Rock.

Two air-gliders soaring – Peacocks!

At Aireys, warm air rises, beach wide

as on Grampians mount, birds preside.

Oven-crisp wind lifts, whirls, skirls

The still, open area swirls

detached – silence broken – undone.

Lest the noisy cockatoo’s pun,

recall a complete parakeet,

Ariel acrobatics replete,

Plunging, over red clover, roll clear

Country air of blissful freedom.

Calling on past material

I recall how our ethereal,

birds screech loudly, as not to sing

like they do for a British king.

Little brown wings stretch over the earth,

all George Meredith’s verse wordless mirth.

Alauda arvenis – “The Lark

Ascending”, neat words promoted

120 lines of poetry devoted

blending- never condescending.


Shrill,irreflective, unrestrain’d

Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d

Without a break, without a fall,

Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,

Perennial, quavering up the chord

Liike myriad dews of sunny sward (1)


Meredith’s bird singing – Dylan

Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams

In five note pentatonic scale,

Wrote a radiant telltale,

Of music fit for English kings –

opening chords – violin strings.


(1) excerpt from The Lark Ascends, George Meredith.


Forget my poem. Please find Vaughan Williams tune “The Lark Ascending” and relax for 15 or 16 minutes with one of the most beautiful tunes.

A Few Good Men

Overgrown vegetables Author ‘s photo

This is spring. Unlike the last twenty Springs this year we have had average rain. Accustomed as we are to below average rainfall it has been a dismal one. The vegetable patch still has its uneaten winter crop in a state of overgrown profusion. Each remaining plant has gone to seed. In the last generation if we had left over plants they were ripped out early and replanted with spring varieties that leapt out of the warm ground. My only trouble with them was with how thirsty they were.

Now we are told a phenomenon called La Nino has cooled the Pacific waters heading our way from Peru and we are going to have a Spring and Summer of average rain. The thing is we have become accustomed to parching unseasonal weather caused by an opposite system called El Niño.

El Niño is mean. It was responsible for the horrid events most of the country experienced last year. Fire, floods and famine followed. Thousands of acres of land were burnt in months no one could ever remember it being so dry, or so wet. Now we have this soft system – La Nino – and all it can do is rain like it would any other year and frankly I am over it.

How dare the weather be cool. How will the climate change deniers accept the globe is warming from the affects of mankind induced climate change when it rains every day? And it is too unpleasant outside to plant spring vegetable so close to the summer months. Frankly it is ridiculous.

The funny thing is this is an ordinary year. Ordinary as far as the weather goes. It is far from ordinary by any other measure. We are in the grip of a pandemic. Millions of people have lost their livelihoods. The global movement of people from country to country has paused. The world’s economy has collapsed. Governments are grappling to contain a deadly virus. One that for the most part is uncomfortable but unpredictably lethal for far too many. As I write the effects seem worse all over the world.

The crystal ball needed to halt the virus is as elusive as is the vaccine needed to stop it despite the presidential announcements from: The White House, The Kremlin, and Brazil. It could be said the world is in some sort of hiatus. Nothing ordinary is ordinary anymore. The optimistic are holding on to a belief things will spring back to where they were. Others, too many, have lost belief in life and are now living in the hell of despair.

In these times we need not be either optimistic nor pessimistic. Life is too unpredictable to require from us more, or less, than pragmatism. In this way we must face whatever comes our way as ordinary. Some are calling we accept this as the “new” ordinary. There is nothing wrong with accepting ordinariness is what is happening.

It is ordinary not to act stupidly and take precautions. We accept when in a car is a sensible thing to wear a seat belt to avoid injury. Just as we accept protected casual sex is a sensible precaution against disease. The ordinary thing to do is to ensure you do not spread the virus to those you love and wear a face mask when you are outside your family circle.

We might rail against this advice, but science advised us, to act otherwise is reckless. Many things previous generations did was reckless. And it cost lives. Builders of great architecture sometimes rode with the building steel from the ground to great heights without any protection. The loss of life led to rules about safety and safety equipment. It is illegal to act otherwise because when people cut corners they put the lives of innocent people at risk – to say nothing about themselves.

I am happy to admit to being ordinary. I write without any fulsome plan as some authors I admire use. For the most part I have written essays of a certain length. In them I have expressed my innermost prejudices – perhaps even without awareness. Lately I have written more poetry (I call it poetry even though it doesn’t measure up against classical poetry. It ((sort of)) resembles the style of modern poets.)

Writing like this requires me to use words economically. A haiku of seventeen syllables might be easy to some, on the other hand I have difficulty. Just as I have difficulty painting pictures with words in my longer work.

Facing difficulties is an everyday human test. Most of the time we have learned from previous experience yesterday’s test no longer bothers us. We don’t even think what we need to do, we just do it because it is the easiest way to get by. Sometimes the test, is a bit like this Spring weather, it is uncomfortable to become wet, or get blown about in the wind. Past experience has taught us to wear a jacket and just get the job done.

If my writing today reads as if I am preaching, my tenor is wrong. If you were here to talk with me about what I have written you could set me right. Fortunately your grandmother is quick with her slant to balance everything I say.

As a last word I observe the more opinions one hears on a topic the more likely you are to get to the truth. In other words don’t jump to conclusions based on only one side of an argument. Be like one character in the 1982 film, “A Few Good Men” says, “You can’t handle the truth”, and listen for it.


Before you leave today please tell me what you think.

Kaleidoscope

Patterns of light. Manipulated internet images.

Kaleidoscope

What did you children do

days before streaming television programs ran?

The lad remembered,

Halting, before emphatically answering,

“I tinkered in the shed”.

Aphonic in exasperation the teacher

coerced a longer answer.

Boy bought to mind grandma’s psychedelic curio

found on a kitchen shelf

known to make uncommonly beautiful patterns

of light caught in crystals.

Fractuals recede to infinity – every twist.


An earlier work The Shepherd’s Song is read and explained here

https://matthewtoffolo.com/2020/10/08/interview-with-poet-bruce-waddell-the-shepherds-song/

King River

Author supplied

King River

We relax in the evening light

on his fluid banks

The William Hovell dam

tames him until

like the young girl in the park

he defiantly tumbles over the spillway

where he reaches his valley

too weak to fight rocks he once tore from the hills.

Today he playfully polishes

marble-round those too heavy to move

into mobile hides

for trout to mock the stealthy angler.

He tugs at the reeds

and questions why Hovell

disliked the name the Pangerang people used,

Poodumbia, or that of her twin sister -Torryong.

The King and the Ovens rivers coldly

steal the story -and gender – other voices should tell.

Once the home of the bandicoot, koala, and platypus

Sangiovese grows on old tobacco fields.

Marsh grasses sway on a zephyr

beside her freely flowing stream.

Our water mirrors smoky coloured clouds overhead

for fish to hide in dark spiralling eddies.

Slow birds circle tall tree tops,

scan nighttime roosts,

and puzzle aloud the same query.

Why the name changes buddy?


This poem was selected for publication by Red Room Poetry to appear in The Disappearing. https://redroomcompany.org/poems/?project=disappearing

Three thousand Sunday roasts

Author supplied – Meat carving dish

Three thousand Sunday Roasts

A new metal texture
Offensive to
Augustus Rodin’s eyes
Forced him to
Prematurely age
Balzac - the sculpture
In a urine treatment
His assistants gave.


Not all metal
Is so willfully altered.
Greyfriars Bobby
Has stood in Edinburgh since 1873
The pride of dog lovers.
Aged in place
Tourists rubbed his bronze nose raw.
As a sign of our times a surgical mask
Preserves his nostrils
Intentionally.


No such care was needed
On our gifted stainless steel
Carving dish.
It’s shot surface
Is etched this way
By fifty thousand
Knife strokes,
Out worn
Over convivial
Sunday roasts.


Vulnerability
In general use
Other surfaces show.
Circling my rotund waist
A leather crocodile belt
Shines brighter
Each year I use it
Like the arms of my lounge chair.
Together their patina
Was earned
Embracing me.

Barracouta is a fishy narrative

Crayfish pots Apollo Bay ref https://alkinalodge.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/visionsofvictoria1223940-302-Copy.jpg

I was born in a coastal city yet fish was not a big part of our diet. The number of times we children ate fish was limited. The fish we ate at home was fillets of smoked cod. When mum prepared it she cooked it in a white sauce with some onion. Another common name for this sauce is Mornay Sauce. To the French it is know as Béchamel sauce. Not that the milky substance Mum cooked was anything like a rich Béchamel common to French cooking.

In her case I imagine it’s role was to act as a filler. For, as history tells us, it’s original common name was Glue sauce. Served as it was the sauce disguised the salty fish we were dished. Cooked this way the smoked fillets were boneless and tender. When it came to fish our preference was to eat fillets because served that way bones were eliminated. On a rare, very rare occasion, we ate fish from a Fish and Chip shop.

Fish and chips were the most popular takeaway meals one could buy in the 1950’s. Nearly every town, or hamlet, had a local Fish and Chip shop. The fish was nearly always fried Flake served with a handful of potato chips (three pence worth of chips.) When the family ate this way we possibly had sixpence worth. (Potatoes were most commonly cheap. It was only in times when farmers failed to grow a decent crop the shopkeeper more carefully budgeted the chip amount).

When cooked, the Chipper, would pour the fried food on a single piece of white butcher’s paper and wrap the lot in a bundle of used newspaper. (The newspaper was used as an insulator to keep the meal hot until it was consumed). As soon as we got outside we would tear a hole in one end of the paper and pull the chips from the gaping hole and eat the meal using our fingers aa eating utensils. (When old enough to have money of my own I would sometimes sell a bundle of old newspapers to the shops for a few pennies).

It is surprising in 2020 to note how little we valued the riches of the sea years ago. For instance, as kids walking around the rocks of Lady Bay we had no appreciation the migrant families that picked wild mussels and oysters from the rocks later enjoyed a free gourmet meal. Worse, by the time we appreciated what they had feasted upon it was a banned activity. (Only once have I enjoyed the pleasure of harvesting wild oysters from the sea. This was at an Army Reserves camp in Tasmania around 1970).

In Victoria the Fisheries Department stocked local streams and lakes with trout. In season, and with some childhood luck, we ate Rainbow salmon trout sometimes and lots of wild eels. The eels were easily caught but most difficult to manage when landed. Their writhing slippery skin allowed for a dangerous moment or two before they were bagged. For the boy fisher, who tried to kill and extract the fish hook in the half light of dusk on the grassy edge of a local creek the battle was dangerous. The eel would wrap its body around an arm or leg, and with a hook protruding from its mouth it was also capable of a nasty bite. The fish caught this way was eaten as a trophy but otherwise unappreciated because each had unfamiliar bones that required caution when eating them.

Unusually at our Education Department run hostel, “Hawthorne”, at our final meal before graduation in 1961, we were served what the Army would call a Mess Formal Dinner. The meal started with soup, followed by a course of Crayfish (Australian Rock Lobster.) Our main dish was fillet steak. I have no recollection of what came next. The point is back in 1961 Crayfish was plentiful. It wasn’t cheap but it was plentiful and considered enough of a delicacy to form part of of our final college meal. (Within a few short years crayfish disappeared from Australian tables. The fishing fleets along the southern coast disappeared with them.) (To buy Australian Rock Lobster , in 2020, one competes with the rest of the world and pays what is asked)).

It was not until I became a regular Friday night diner at the Nicholson dinner table, did I regularly eat bony fish. Marie’s choice was Barracouta. This was served as fried steaks with mashed potatoes. The Barracouta (now renamed Australian Snoek) is a tasty fish. Unlike the delicate bones of trout the fish has darning needle thick long bones. Hundreds of them. (It too has almost disappeared from fish mongers. Either it was over fished, or with global warming has moved to colder climes).

All along the south western coast of Victoria it was possible to find a fleet of the wooden Couta boats. Many of these places had no natural harbour, or poor berthing places, (Lorne, Port Campbell, Peterborough, for protection the boats were hauled out of the water at shift’s end and rested high and dry on the pier.)

Nick Polgeest, talks about life in Apollo Bay here,

(1989). Interview with Nick Polgeest regarding the history of the Australian Industry. trove.com.au]

Over the years I have had my taste palette trained to enjoy the fruit of the sea. An example is octopus. As a school boy a text we read was A Pattern of Islands by A. Grimble. This book tells in great detail how the indigenous people of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands (Kiribati) caught and ate the fish. Grimble an Englishman was appalled how people could eat it. After a couple of trips to Greece I now ask how could they not?

Today many local people attempt to catch fish as their forefathers did and they fail. They fail to catch their local fish because they have been over fished, or the condition of the water has changed and the fish have moved away.

It is a curse of international fishing that schools have been over fished. (Sometime the fishing lines are hundreds of kilometres long. The goal of these fishers might be one variety, yet all varieties of fish are caught. The unwanted fish are released as by-catch corpses thus wasting every other species.)

The ecological problems are many. The oceans are full of indigestible plastics. Fish farms feed confined fish fish meal that requires antibiotics to kill harmful pathogens. Species have been lost and fish is considered the property of every body at the expense anyone living in water indigenous to them. My final word is if we are to continue to enjoy fish as a food we must only take what we can eat – today.

Friends of the gardener

Photo Iowa State University Extension

The garden stake snapped off at the ground the instant the lawn mower grabbed hold of a loose thread of twine hanging from it. The stake had not long been in the ground yet the break was clean across the grain of the hardwood at its base. There it lay motionless beside the silent lawn mower as I contemplated my lack of caution in the moments before. 

I had seen the dangling thread and reasoned I was close, but not near enough for it to be caught in the spinning blades. I reasoned as I had on other careless moments. The silence following the noisy break became a loud reminder I was wrong.

Despite the rude break and the instantaneous yank from Mother Earth a worm clung to the rotten timber, and so did a few grains of damp soil. The square sides of the light timber post were flat upon the freshly cut grass waiting for my next move. The worm writhed it’s body toward the shady side resting on the ground.

The bacteria responsible for most of the damage to the wood remained unseen – by design. That is the role of microbes and fungi. They grow unseen in damp soil and silently fulfil their roles as decomposers. They have other important roles In the garden including as soil improvers. 

Fungi is slower to rot and invade wood but careful inspection showed the giveaway signs of fungi mycelium, or the white tread like structures of the invading yeast. These microbes had begun their role as soil improvers long before I tore the timber out of the ground.

From my over enthusiastic movement I had created a couple of jobs. My first job was to unwind the twine from around the blades of the lawn mower. I did this with some difficulty yet I was able to remove the treads of rope without resorting to cutting it away. My next job was to replace the broken stake with another to contain the raspberries to their patch. That done I continued to mow the lawn more carefully than I started giving myself time to marvel at the power of these secret friends of the gardener.

Who are your heroes

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/dd/19/d1/dd19d105490151e241c8fac84362e782.jpg

Who are your heroes?

Do Jason and his argonauts fill the bill?

Is it the man, or was it the woman

who swam, or kicked a ball across the channel?

The President presumes it is him.

How could we forget so notable a personage?

Rosalind (DNA) Franklin or Einstein E=MC2

either responsible person tallies – due to their evident discoveries

Perhaps the duo who sing in La Boheme

excite you and become your star performers of all time

Perchance your model is a great sage?

Many find, the godlike religious leader becomes such a one.

Builder, artist, rule-maker, and adjudicator

leave legacies we marvel about – something we have done for centuries.

Sing out their names in praise

for most of them exposed something desirable to our kind.

Many who live in pages thus are likely bound to disappoint

we who place them on pedestals, and later discover their ordinary proclivities.

The world is large and – our heroes many –

in delicious irony, remember you are the subject of your biography.



Background

“As members of the human species, we all have at least three separate lives to live. Each of us lives a life in the public arena, however small that world might be, and a private life in our home, with our family and intimate friends. Then there is our secret life – a hidden life, a spiritual life in our world of imagination, of desires and dreams, of spirits, angels and ghosts. This is a world many of us hesitate to explore – a life we are reluctant to share with anybody, even our closest friend and partner. It is a life of shadows.”

Chris Geraghty writing in the essay “Father Greg Walsh paid a heavy price.” Published online in Pearls and Irritations 9 September 2020

Dr Chris Geraghty is a former priest of the archdiocese of Sydney, a retired judge of the District Court of NSW, and the author of a recent publication, Virgins and Jezebels – the Origins of Christian Misogyny.


There go I.

Rain carries promise

It is wet in our dry land. Author supplied photo

Obediently
We stay indoors
Outside rain polishes
McAdam - black marble

A virus
Keeps us apart
Yet these eternal days
Will pass

The night
Struggles off in grey slothfulness
Mourning our horror
Of living in lockdown

Too lazy to rise
The wind slumbers on
Meanwhile upstairs
Rainfall drums upon the ceiling

The cow turns her back
To this weather
No reason to slow her industry
Today

Opportunely
We have hope
Born in apprehension
Rain advises

Lost work
Uncertain futures
Our grim prospect
Until

A vaccine
To curb the blight
Infecting the world
Progresses

The shower
Reminds us
Even as lights blaze in daylight
Abundance follows

Our flight instinct is to give into fear

From our intellect is the enabler that gives us the courage of hope. Opportunity is the companion of hope and it is up to us to employ both. The challenge is to fight on gallantly. Be brave! Always be brave.

O