Saturday, 28 May 2011

I've been wandoan miles & taroom

I've been wandering early and late too. Ain't gonna stop soon either.
The Darling Downs is a farming region on the western slopes of the Great Dividing Range in southern Queensland.

A section of the western downs lies over coal deposits of the Surat Basin. The large mature sedimentary Surat Basin formed in the interior of the Australian continent with deposition occurring from the Early Jurassic to the earliest Cretaceous (ca 100-180mya) and reaching its peak in the Aptian period. It occupies 300,000 km2 (about the size of the Philippines) of central southern Queensland and central northern New South Wales.
The exploitation of coal seam gas (CSG) in the Surat Basin (and the adjoining Bowen Basin on its north) is a fast expanding industry these times. CSG extraction is the main game for up to eight pipelines projects. The project I’m involved in includes a 540km buried pipeline network from inland Surat to Gladstone on the pacific coast.

The present landscape of the downs is dominated by rolling hills, pastures and broad-acre farms.

These farms are planted to different vegetables, fruits cereals and other crops including cotton, wheat, etc. There are long stretches and networks of roads, bushy ridges, winding creeks, irrigation systems and forests.

There are farms with beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep and lamb stock.

My second stint in the gasfields this year commenced a couple of weeks ago. Again we flew into Chinchilla by charter flight from Brisbane. After picking up a hire car we drove to camp in the mid-afternoon where we almost hit a kangaroo. Camp was booked out so we had to travel miles and miles to – Miles.

Miles outback motel was our base for a week while working in a few sites in the west of Wandoan.
At day’s end while my colleagues enjoy a pint of beer or drop of ale, I would retire to a sip of my new favourite drink. I gave up on white red black green or other labels. My new drink of choice is - blue label.

Each night after dinner and during paperwork, I would easily gulp down two or three mugs of this. I’ll need bushels of supplies.

Wandoan, 65km from Miles, is the ideal base for our worksites but all accommodation there have been booked for the next few months. So daily we zoomed up to beyond the hills of the great dividing range.

Our worksites are in the gasfields west of Wandoan. These areas are on rolling hills and backwoods in the boondocks to the north of the great dividing range, situated in the parishes of Juandah, Golden, Rochedale, carraba, hinchley; and in the Counties of Fortescue and Aberdeen.

Sited on the Leichhardt highway between Miles and Taroom, Wandoan was first surveyed in 1902. Wandoan became a rail terminus but by the 1930s more land, up to 60 kms outside town, was opened for closer-settlement.

We worked around the localities of Grosmont, Wandoan, Bundi, Clifford, Woleebee.

We also drove through Guluguba, Gurulmundi, Waikola, Eurombah and parts of the towns of Roma in Maranoa and Taroom in Banana. Some of our worksites are Accrux, Charlie, Polaris, Cam, Phillip, Kathleen and Thackery.

I examined some historical documents for a bit of context. The bigger central towns were opened for settlement soon after the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt first came through in 1844. Documents dating back to the 1850s describe the region variously: brigalow and other scrub very dense in places thick undergrowth with patches of vines foxbush sandalwood scattered pear impenetrable box grassed wilga timber vine scrub tanglefoot brigalow and belar scrub bauhinia box yarran turkeybush clumpy brigalow cypress myrtle bottle softwood brigalow and wilga currant bush, ironbark large areas pulled ringbarked brigalow regrowth forests cultivation.

The country here was originally brigalow eucalypt woodland and grassland but are now mostly crop farms and cattle grazing lands and state forests. The uncultivated land is still eucalypt woodland open acacia and casuarina forests with rainforest and evergreen vine thickets and gurulmindi heath-myrtle and myall woodlands and bluegrass. The undulating landscape is crisscrossed by dusty country roads alluvial floodplains and numerous creeks (at least 10 have names) that make many towns and homesteads inaccessible during rainy seasons.

The cleared paddocks contain grasslands and wattle. Patches of remnant vegetation still hold out. Brigalow forests are considered under threat. Some 800 plant species and 400 animal species have been identified around here.

Bottle trees are a feature in these parts.

A bottle tree dwarfs cars in the skyline in the background.
Travelling around these parts we see local fauna: wild pigs, wild dogs, red foxes, various roadkill, rabbits, turtles, frogs etc. I also found this little beauty - a brigalow scaly foot under a log. This reptile mimics a snake perhaps for defense, and is mistaken for a snake. It is in fact a legless lizard.

Cruising home one afternoon we came upon a turtle with a neck as long as its shell crossing the road. I had to swerve as it stopped and ducked its head in its shell.
On the same trip, we passed a lizard slowly moving along the edge of road. I would have thought it was hitch-hiking.
Another time I saw a a 5-ft brown or black reptile. "It was smooth as glass, slithering through the grass. I saw it dissappear near a lake - Ah, ' think I'll call it a snake."

Various birdlife finch pigeon goshawk emus ducks red and grey galahs white cockatoos and brolgas green parrots brush turkeys jack sparrows wedge-tail eagles.
Many small birds end up as road kill when they tempt fate flying off at the last moment when cars approach.

A red and grey galah roadkill.
More than 10 Migratory bird species: eagles, needletail, bee-eater, egrets, snipes, swift and geese, stop over in these parts.

Keeping an eagle eye on things.
After a week of working out of Miles, we were informed that our booking had ran out and had to move base. This business of ‘no room at the inn’ has been a bane to travellers since Joseph and Mary’s times. We rang around and eventually reached Taroom where we found room - ta, or thanks as they say colloquially down under (and in Britain). We moved base miles and miles from Miles (about 75 miles) to camp with cattle in Taroom.

I’ll clarify that – we checked in at the cattle camp motel in Taroom.
Our new base is almost equidistant to our worksites from our previous base in Miles. But now the Roma-Taroom road is our main route.
The countryside north of Taroom abounds in natural attractions, but I prefer the ‘interesting’ to the ‘attractive’. The large Coolibah tree on which Leichhardt carved his initials in 1844 still stands in the main street.

The Dawson River has many fishing spots, but I checked out the Taroom riverwalk instead. Taroom’s unique ‘Steel Wings’ windmill is one of only two known working examples in the world.

Once I deployed to the greener more picturesque hills around Woleebee creek.

This place, a remnant rainforest area, is as good as it gets around here. The dusty twisting and turning Country roads remind of home.

One time I went bushwalking around some Brigalow tree stands. Along the ground were some fossil material - shards of petrified wood which I thought were broken terracotta vases. I also kicked at what looked like a piece of timber, but instead stubbed my toe on what was a fine specimen of timber fossil. There is a great display of more than 5000 geological specimens of petrified Australian forests in Miles adjudged to be the best in the world. I did not see this attraction in Miles but I did explore ‘Dogwood Crossing’ and sighted the many turn-of-the-century buildings in the Historical Village.

Deep in the bush we found a couple of ooline trees, remnants of an ancient rainforest. One, a giant 25-metre high Ooline, had a big 2-3 metre eagle’s nest in it. My ecologist companion estimates the nest as approximately 20 yrs old and perhaps repaired every year by its resident. It's a privilege to sight a rare gigantic Ooline - a proud survivor from ancient times, when this area was a lush green rainforest.

A smaller bird has a nest on the same Ooline tree.
Often we meet herds of cattle on the tracks. One time we had a mob of kangaroos and a herd of cows race alongside our car for a couple of hundred meters. I would not have believed that had I not seen it.

Along the highway too are beasts of another kind. Once on a lonesome stretch of dusty Goldens road we meet this beast.

Another time on the Leichhardt heading south to Wandoan, we had to get off the road for a big tray being transported to the mines.

In these two weeks in the gasfields we traversed many a long and lonesome dusty road. From the Leichhardt highway, to the Roma-Taroom road, to the Crossroads Road near north Jackson, and every rough back country road and creek crossing in between.

Riverwalk in Taroom.

froggy went a-posting.
I befriended a green frog, but it hopped off. It did not like the sunshine one bit.

On the homebound journey at stint’s end, good drenching rains greet us as we approach Condamine just after leaving Miles. Thankfully the creeks were not swollen.

ps we'll hear from dubya next blog.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

May music save your mortal soul

Them good old boys were drinkin’ with Marty n Rye...
My. Does time fly? And we're past the ides of May.
Am on the road again, with the working man blues. For some time now, I wanted to quote Dubya, but I'll save that. I'll quote Mark Twain instead (this blog's quotation of the day):

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.
Heeding this I put on my travelling shoes, and while travelling, I'll listen to some music.

A spare selection this merry month of May. Just some flowers are blooming.

Ray Charles. The essential collection. 3CD Set - CD1 HALLELUJAH! THE FIRST SOUL MUSIC CD2 - THE GENIUS CD3 - MESS AROUND

Katie Melua. Piece by Piece.

Jack Johnson. Sleep through the static.

Mojo March 2011 has a free CD and a feature on Johnny Cash.

Up In the Air (Music from the Motion Picture) is the soundtrack to the 2009 comedy drama movie. The music featured in the film include songs by various artists such as a jaunty take on "This Land is Your Land" by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, "Be Yourself" by Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash who contribute "Taken At All".

Based on a book by Peter Maas exopsing corruption in the NYPD. The film resulted in the Knapp Commission which was established following the film, and whose recommendations changed the NYPD forever. Serpico is hailed as a classic. Al Pacino's performance in the movie is amongst his best. A must see. Again.

The Road
An adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy book of the same name. The film portrayed  barren post-apocalyptic landscapes, and some violence - of course.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

'Why we are poor', and other books for the bush

Why we are poor is a collection of essays by F. Sionil Jose on the economic plight of the great majority of Filipinos.

But first the rest:

I may be going bush again. Books for going bush.
Books going bush.
Kazuo Ishiguro. Never let me go
A blogger reviewer liked the book so much she said she can now finally watch the movie. I’ll have to go and borrow it again so I can finally read it.
The Narrows by Michael Connelly, again features "Harry" Bosch who joins forces with agent Walling (first name’s not Stone, she’s a female).

Wildfire is Nelson DeMille's fourth novel about former detective John Corey, now working as a contractor for a fictional FBI Task Force. The book follows Corey and his wife (an FBI agent) as they attempt to stop a group of madmen from nuking American cities.

Cormac McCarthy Blood Meridian
About a runaway teenager "the kid", and his experiences with a group of scalp hunters who massacred Indians and others in the Mexico borderlands. The book is highly acclaimed and is widely recognized as McCarthy's best. It doesn’t lack in violence – a seeming necessary ingredient in McCarthy’s books, for which he has been widely criticised.

No Country for Old Men also by Cormac McCarthy.
This follows the events from where an ordinary man who goes out hunting instead chances on a fortune at the desert scene of a drug deal gone wrong, and the ensuing drama and violence (of course). With books that were made into films, I usually favour the book version. I must say I enjoyed the film adaptation better of No Country for Old Men.

Mortal Causes is a 1994 novel by Ian Rankin.
It is the sixth of the Inspector Rebus novels. The plot links Scottish nationalist groups and paramilitaries.

Dead Souls also by Ian Rankin is the tenth of the Inspector Rebus novels. Rankin incorporated his novella Death is not the End in this novel.


Siddhartha Mukherjee. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.
Winner of this year’s Pulitzer prize in the general non-fiction category.

Shing-Tung Yau. The shape of inner space. The various reviews are mostly positive:

explores many beautiful areas of modern geometry and physics; the book is very down to earth and has a style which not only explains how different ideas have unfolded in the past couple of decades, but how beautifully natural they all fit with one another; gives the layman a remarkable glimpse into the mysterious inner world of one of the most beautiful and important parts of mathematics; The collaboration between a mathematician and a science writer has worked wonders in this book; The book is an entertaining read; A very well-written book, and one that scientifically minded laymen will find easy to follow.

Why We Are Poor (Termites In The Sala, Heroes In The Attic)
by F. Sionil José

This book was first published in 2005, but I only first laid my hands on it last month.
Jose’s essays tackle matters of Filipino national development, the Filipino character and other issues. He readily admits that "most of the essays can really be divided into those that are critical of Filipinos, and quite a few that are commendatory. It is for this reason that I have used a title about termites and heroes to define that differentiation."

I like his analogy. I think it’s right on. He savages the termite who
hoists the mediocre and the inane on pedestals. In this, media are largely to blame, especially the talk show hosts on television and some editors of the entertainment and features sections. They pander to the crassest tastes.
Jose's other pet termites are
...the non-entities, the phoney nationalists, the crass poseurs who preen on our TV screens, and who are anoninted with honors, we show them off like the heirlooms that adorn our living rooms, not realizing they are actually the termites that will eventually bring our house down.
On heroes, Jose bemoans
 Indeed, we have willfully relegated our sterling heroes in the attic where they are conveniently forgotten--the role models that could easily redeem us.
Jose suggests some of the reasons of 'why we are poor': education, modernization, ravaging of our non-renewable natural resources, overpopulation not helped by the Catholic Church’s conformity with doctrinal purity, the vestiges or moral malaise of colonialism, indolence (echo of Rizal more than 100yrs ago), materialism, 'Yabang' – inward looking nationalism, agrarian reform, faulty moral compass or loss of ethical moorings.

Many reactions to Jose’s essays do not take kindly to the reasons he mentioned as to why we are poor. Some take it personally and are quite scathing in their responses. Jose merely pointed out that the emperor had no clothes.
Who would deny that they are lazy or corrupt, if not the lazy or corrupt?

To quote Jose Rizal "We should not be content to simply deny it. We must “examine the question calmly with all the impartiality of which a man is capable who is convinced that there is no redemption unless based solidly on virtue."

The solutions to our socio-economic plight in the Philippines have been debated ad nauseam. There's no need to stoke the fire. Some suggestions have been canvassed by Kishore Mahbubani in The New Asian Hemisphere.

Back to F Sionil Jose
Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western colonialism, the first to establish a republic...
If there’s one thing I am not enamored with in the book, it is this dwelling on past glories. To use a sporting analogy: you’re only as good as your last game.

Martin Polichay
Filipino to a fault.