Wednesday, July 25, 2012

William Ricketts Sanctuary

Situated about halfway between Olinda and Kalorama (on Mount Dandenong) is the William Ricketts Sanctuary. Stephen and I have driven by it many times, but never actually visited until last week.

William Ricketts was an incredibly talented sculptor who settled on Mount Dandenong in 1934. He felt a strong connection with and love for Australian aboriginal people, and expressed that love in his art. Over fifty years he worked to transform his property into an amazing sculpture park, with works placed alongside paths that wind through the trees and shrubbery. The property was bought by the state in the 1960's and made a public park (although Ricketts continued to live there until his death in 1993).

On the say we went it was partly cloudy and fairly cool (not much about 10 C). It seemed to us to be the perfect kind of day to go - the cool, damp air added to the feeling of spirituality. I'm sure that the sanctuary is lovely on a sunny day, but winter does seem to be the perfect season to go. I think it would be even lovelier to visit in the rain!

Paths paved with bitumen and flat rocks wind through the trees, bordered with moss-covered rocks. The park employees keep the leaves and tree litter swept up (Stephen observed that they'd have to be sweeping it every day to keep it so tidy). I was a little wary of the stoney sections of path, but found that although the rocks looked slippery, they weren't (again, I expect that's due to the careful attention of the park attendants).

The sculptures look as if they've grown straight up out of the rocks. Looking at them, I thought they were stone, and was very surprised to learn that they are actually made of clay that has been molded and fit into the rocks.

There are quite a few animals included, possums, dingos, wallabies - but most of the figures are human, and most male. Some are children, some adults of varying ages. All have beautiful, placid faces and remarkably life-like eyes; you really expect them to speak.

Well, yes, of course they DO speak. They speak straight into your soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meet "Jacky Winter"

I was getting lunch and looked out the window to see a bird sitting on the deck rail - a species I'd not seen before. The little guy didn't hang around long, but flew down to the trees below the house. Stephen was able to get a snap of him, however:

He's a "Jacky Winter" (Microeca fascinans). This is the first one I've seen. He was small - only about five inches from beak to tail - and quick. There was at least two of them darting around the shrubs and smaller trees. I heard the bird chirping, but not enough to be able to describe the song yet. Hopefully they'll be hanging around a bit and I'll be able to become more familiar with them.

Stephen tells me this makes the 30th bird species we've observed here at our house (he keeps a list), and that there are about 130 species known to live in our forest. So... Ok.. only 100 to go, eh? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Parrot Puberty

Earlier this month, Miss Laka celebrated her 6th "hatch day". We don't do cake and candles for this event, but we do see that a birthday card is produced, often (as was the case this year) something that Stephen puts together using his computer. Here she is (above) about to commence the joyful shredding of this year's offering.

At this age, we can expect to see periodic hormonal behaviour. It's not unlike having a human child at about the age of eleven or so. And, sure enough, we got a little sample of it the evening of Laka's birthday.

Stephen and I were sorting and folding the wash in our bedroom. I'd tossed the clean laundry onto the bed and we were going through it, sorting and folding. Laka was with us "helping" (which means she was stomping all over the bed, investigating this piece or that, grabbing the socks we reached for and so on). It was all fine, good fun, at least for a while.

Then Laka's attention turned to one of my tee-shirts, which I'd neatly folded and set down on the bed. She grabbed at it and tugged it, then started pulling it around, forming a swirl of cloth. Her demeanor then changed and I knew we were in trouble. She flattened her back, put her head down and cocked her wings slightly to the side, out from her body. The feathers around her face flipped outward, making her head look larger. Then her tail went up slightly and she started raking her beak along the bedspread in a fairly aggressive manner. She stood on the tee-shirt and struck out at us if our hands came within a foot or so.

What was she doing? That tee-shirt had become "a nest", her nest, and she was warning us to keep well back. She'd claimed that part of the bed as her territory and was prepared to defend it to the death.


She was clearly having a hormone surge, poor thing, and although Stephen and I couldn't help but chuckle a little at her, the truth is that she wasn't playing. From her point of view, it was deadly serious.

A hormonal macaw defending her nest is nothing to mess with. Although normally very gentle and loving, she was a fairly dangerous animal for the moment. For her it was no game. Her beak is very powerful, capable of crushing a brazil nut with ease. Anyone foolish enough to come within striking distance might end up with a nasty injury.

She momentarily stepped of the shirt and I made a very quick grab to pull it away. I hoped that, deprived of it, she'd settle a little, but that didn't happen. She moved back to the spot where she'd scrunched it into a swirl of fabric, and started scraping her beak on my quilt. If I didn't move fast now, she'd surely rip into the quilt. I triple-folded a bath towel and draped it over my arm, then moved in toward her, extending my arm and commanding her to step up. She struck with all her might at my arm and chomped into to towel as hard as she could. The terrycloth protected me, and I persisted, pushing my arm under her belly until she had to step up or fall over. She stepped on the towel grudgingly, lowered her wings and tail, and the feathers around her head dropped back to normal position. There was still fire in her eyes, though, and although I could get her to step onto my other (bare) arm without a fight, I knew she was still pretty worked up.

It all ended without anybody getting hurt. And I learned a valuable lesson. Although I've known for some time that "nesting behaviour" was probably going to commence soon, I hadn't anticipated the speed with which a macaw will get "nesty/nasty". Or maybe she'd been giving us signals we didn't recognize until she went for that tee-shirt. In any event, it's clear that puberty has arrived; we can expect more of these incidents in future.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Yes, We Do Have "July 4th" in Australia

...but no, we don't celebrate.

Independence Day, aka "The Fourth Of July", is an American holiday. I've been surprised, really, at the number of people I know who have asked me if Australia celebrates it, too. These are intelligent people, most are college educated and several have traveled outside the US. I'm not sure what to make of it. (and pssst... Australia doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, either...). 

By contrast, we've just celebrated something else.

Here in Australia, we recently celebrated the Queen's birthday. Queen Elizabeth II is, as many of my US friends will be surprised to learn, queen of Australia as well as England. The Queen's birthday is celebrated as a public holiday in June (except for in Queensland and Western Australia, who celebrate it in October... but let's not get too confused here...). Of course, the current queen's actual birthday is in April (but again, just keep your eye on the ball, OK?).

Before my US cousins start sniggering at this - keep in mind that Independence Day (which is traditionally July 4th) is in recent times celebrated on other days. Is YOUR hometown doing the fireworks and parade bit on the 4th? Probably not. You probably did it over the weekend, and had Monday as your day off. What's wrong with that?  Nothing!

Now, as some (if not most) of you know, I am now both American and Australian (dual citizenship), so I guess I'm entitled to enjoy both. However... it DOES feel a little weird for someone who's ancestors fought a bloody revolution against the British to cozy up completely to the queen, so I generally have ignored the Queen's Birthday. And because there are no reminders in Australia about America's Independence Day, I have been known to be a little absent minded about that holiday.

But not this year. This year I paid attention to QEII - and made a point of reading the new biography about her - "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith (and I highly recommend it, by the way). It was my own little way of celebrating her birthday.

And I'm aware of that today is July 4th. There'll be no fireworks, hotdogs, or apple pie, but I will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to myself and lift a glass in honour of the land of the free and the home of the brave. (Of course, technically it's July 3rd in the US - but it's July 4th where I am... but don't let it throw you, OK?)

Happy Birthday, America!