The shadows have turned purple and the sky that high deep autumn blue. A cloud of red-browed finches has descended on the grass seed, bobbing and pecking among the fallen leaves. The bell peppers are red, the pomegranates fat, the chillies fire-engine coloured and avocadoes are swelling and the first Tahitian limes are almost ripe.
It’s hard to look at it and think, ‘In a year, or two or three, all this may be gone.’
As I write this two geologists arrive today for yet another independent assessment of the threat of the gold mine and processing project proposed upstream. The developer claims there’ll be no effect at all; the independent experts say that much more testing needs to be done to begin to have an idea of the effect but that, given similar mining experiences, it looks bad. Some of those experts will put their names to reports. Others can’t, because of repercussions to their careers in the industry, though they will help with information and assessments.
Sometimes I want to run away. Is anyone, anywhere, really taking notice of the many reports produced? But there is no choice, really. This valley has given me everything I love, from my family to my books. The wombat from Diary of a Wombat still attacks the front door.
I have walked and watched and loved this land for most of my life. Robyn, of Wisbeys peach orchards, downstream from us, has invested her life, too, in growing the peaches this valley is famous for. Things that glitter are fool’s gold. Peaches and wombats are real.
Mine News and New Online Petition and New Submissions
Could you spare a few second to go to this link and sign the petition? And to pass it on to others to sign too?
Submissions Urgently Needed
We now have till May 16 to put in submissions about Cortona's response to the threats to the many Federally listed endangered species downstream of the Dargues Reef mine.
The submissions will go to the mining company who will summarise them for the federal department of Environment. Yes, I know sending submissions to the developer to summarise may not seem the best approach, but that is how it goes.
Submissions should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cortona's assessment of the possible threats endangered species by the mine and gold and lead processing includes such suggestions as:
.enticing sea eagles inland to new habitat with their tailings dams ( with the lead and chemical residues ?)
. quolls don't need ground water (do they wait with their mouths open till it rains?),
. that the gum trees of grassy woodlands don't need groundwater (perhaps the big long taproots are just to keep them anchored in the ground)
. that the newly fresh water from Cortona's planned tailings dams will somehow encourage endangered Macquarie perch to find their way up three waterfalls and inhabit tiny spring creek, under the mine site.
. the submission doesn't even mention species like the Araluen Zieria and New Holland mouse documented downstream of the site, but does mention species that don't occur in the area.
Perhaps what should be said is that:
Cortona’s assessment does not include any on site assessments except for the Araluen gum; the information is often inaccurate, incomplete, and includes strange and unsubstantiated assertions.
Cortona's claim that there will be no effect on wildlife because there will be no effect on surface or ground water. Cortona have failed to substantiate this, using inaccurate or incomplete data for a model which cannot be relied apon.
Even one 'mistake' with polluted water or tailings dam overflow may mean the extinction of species below the site, especially the endangered fish and frogs that Cortona did not even to survey.
We call upon the minister to:
. return the EPBC assessment document to Cortona with a request that they substantiate both their water modelling and their wildlife assessments, with on site and real time data collection and analysis
. to insist that any future development plans move the proposed tailings dam 1.5 km over the ridge to the relatively flat area that will not impact any endangered species
. to take all water for processing from the Jembaicumbene catchment, not the already stressed Araluen catchment on which so many endangered species, as well as the productive orchards of the valley and many households, depend.
Mothball is either growing old, or more polite. Most nights now there is a small tap on the front door which means she’s ready to be fed. She even waits ten minutes or so for us to get it before banging the screen door open and shut, upending the garden chairs, scratching holes in the lawn or yelling out that peculiar angry wombat cry ‘Grahhhh!’.
Not that she eats what we give her. She takes maybe two mouthfuls and wanders off to eat grass – and if Bryan feeds her instead of me she’s likely to bash the door later till I come out to her bowl, and say ‘Hello, wombat. Your dinner has been served.’ Mothball’s evening begins with humans offering food. Ankle-high green grass isn’t going to change it.
2012 National Literacy Ambassador
I have just been made this year’s National Literacy Ambassador, which means that things are gearing up for the National Literacy website and activities nation-wide in National Literacy Week, 29 August to 4 September.
A Waltz for Matilda, Oracle and Queen Victoria’s Underpants (created with Bruce Whatley) have all been made Notable books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.
A Waltz for Matilda
This is, perhaps, the best book I have written. It wasn’t quite the book I thought I was going to write, either. Other voices kept intruding, more whispers from the past. Finally the book was twice as long as I had expected, more saga than story.
With the help of Aboriginal elder Auntie Love, the ladies of the Women’s Temperance and Suffrage League and many others, Matilda confronts the unrelenting harshness of life on the land and the long-standing hostility of local squatter, Mr. Drinkwater. She also discovers that enduring friendship can be the strongest kind of love.
Set against a backdrop of bushfire, flood, war and jubilation, this is the story of one girl’s journey towards independence. It is also the story of others who had no vote and very little but their dreams. Drawing on the well-known poem by A.B. Paterson and from events rooted in actual history, this saga tells the story of how Australia became a nation. It is also a love story – about a girl, and about the land.
Queen Victoria’s Underpants
Queen Victoria’s Underpants should be back in the bookshops – the first printing sold out faster than anyone thought it would.
The revised Chook Book is in the shops too now – twice as big as the original edition and much changed and updated. It’s all you ever wanted to know (and probably a bit more) about how to keep chooks in your backyard or at school.
The last in the Animal Stars series is The Horse That Bit a Bushranger – the true-as-I-can-make-it account of a few of my ancestors and the bushranger Ben Hall. The story of a young convict who rode a giant brumby stallion no one else could tame; who won a race, a farm and a wife… and of what happened next.
Oracle is out, too. It’s the most exciting of all of my books so far; set in ancient Greece at the court of Mycenae, where Nikko and his sister Thetis are acclaimed as the greatest acrobats in Greece, so valued by the High King that they are even sent on embassies to other kingdoms. But Thetis has both a curse and a gift – if she speaks at all, she must tell the truth. And when the walls of Mycenae fall in an earthquake Nikko and the wild horse dancer, Euridice, must follow Thetis as she finds her true place – as the first of the oracles of Delphi.
Other new-ish books
A Year in the Valley
This is a reissue of Seasons of Content, with a new introduction, as well as a new ‘What Happened Next’ section about our lives in the Valley since I wrote the book – more than twenty years ago now. I wrote it mostly for my own pleasure then and only hauled it into publishing shape on an impulse many years later and sent it to HarperCollins. It is about the Valley – the wombats, our lives and the dances of the lyrebirds. It is also very much about food: the growing of it, the cooking, the sharing with friends, human and otherwise.
The Tomorrow Book
Illustrated by Sue de Gennaro… a look at the paradise we could create, maybe just tomorrow.
This is a special book. It’s closer to my heart than anything I’ve written before and Sue’s work is inspired: funny, whimsical and extraordinarily beautiful. It’s what happens when the King and Queen retire and go off in their campervan, leaving the kids in charge and they find the solution to each of the world’s major problems in their library and create… tomorrow.
Every one of the solutions really does exist – and the possible tomorrows are very, very good indeed.
P.S. Sue created the extraordinary artwork in collage, using materials she found in her kitchen, from tea bags to labels. It is too magic to even have words to describe it.
Dance of the Deadly Dinosaurs
The sequel to Lessons for a Werewolf Warrior continues the crazy adventures of Boo, werewolf and hero-in-the-making!
The Night They Stormed Eureka
A fresh look at the history we thought we knew, and winner of the 2011 NSW Premier’s History Award for Younger Readers
Are the history books wrong? Could the rebels have succeeded? Could we too have declared independence from Britain, like the USA?
This is the story of Sam, a modern teenager, thrust into the world of the Ballarat goldfields, with the Puddlehams, who run the best cook shop on the diggings and dream of a hotel with velvet seats, ten thousand miners who dream of gold and rebellion, and Professor Shamus O’Blivion, who tries not to dream at all. But there is a happy ending for Sam, who discovers that when you stand together, you really can change the world – and your own life, too.
Schedule for the Next Few Months
A few things have had to be cancelled in May as I’ve been ill (totally recovered now), but everything listed here should still go ahead, lightning strikes, aeroplane pilot strikes, flu epidemics and other disasters permitting.
I’m sorry I can’t accept every invitation – there are often two or three invitations to talk somewhere each day and, much as I’d love to, there is no way I can do them all, or even most of them. Basically, I can only do one trip away from home a month, and that includes trips to Canberra, so I mostly only speak to groups of more than 200 and when it will take no more than six hours travel each way (except Western Australia). I’ve also stopped doing breakfast and after-dinner talks (pre-dinner talks are still fine).
But as I have friends and family in Brisbane and Perth I always love an excuse to travel there... or anywhere that might involve a stopover in Perth, too.
New South Wales bookings are done by Lateral Learning (email@example.com); Queensland bookings by Helen Bain at Speaker’s Inc (firstname.lastname@example.org) Victoria by Booked Out, (email@example.com); SA bookings by Carol Caroll (firstname.lastname@example.org); WA bookings by the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre; and for other bookings contact me at email@example.com
May 18 and 19, 2011: Talks at Queensland schools. Contact Helen Bain, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 28: Talks at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
July 20 and 21, 2011: Cairns Writer’s Festival.
July 18 and 19, 2011: Talks at Brisbane schools. Contact Helen Bain, email@example.com
August 23, 24, 25: talks in Melbourne. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for bookings or details.
National Literacy week, 29 August to 4 September: talks and activities Australia wide for National Literacy Week as the 2012 National Literacy Ambassador.
September 8: Annual Dymphna Clarke Lecture at the National Library, Canberra, ‘Once a Jolly Swagperson’.
September 26, 27, 28: Talks in northern Tasmania.
October 24-31, 2011: Talks and workshops Fremantle, Perth and Albany, WA. Contact the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre for details and bookings. Most of the time is already committed, but a couple of evenings and some weekend time is still free.
November: 12 and 13: Open Garden workshops at our place. Contact The Open Garden Scheme at email@example.com for bookings.
November 19. Picture Book workshop at the Sydney Writer’s Centre. Contact the Writer’s Centre for details (20 places only).
November 30: Eureka Day Dinner and Talk at the Irish Club, Canberra.
May: Talks in Brisbane. Contact Helen Bain for bookings.
July 22-25: Curtis Coast Literary Carnivale 2012 Gladstone, Q’land.
August 22, 23 (Book Week): Talks in Brisbane. Contact Helen Bain.
The April Garden
April is the harvest month, or it is here in the valley. The frantic peach and apricot harvests are done, and the early pears. Now it’s time for the quieter harvests of late apples, pear, medlars, persimmons, pomegranates, Valencia oranges, lemons, early limes, olives, late figs, quinces, Granny Smith and other ‘medium late’ apples, passionfruit, tamarillos, late grapes, chestnuts, walnuts, persimmons, grapefruit, guava, feijoa, strawberry guava, carob, chestnut, fig, Brazilian cherry, guava, Jakfruit, early calamondins, lillypillies, olive, kerriberry, late strawberries, raspberries, bananas, avocados, Irish strawberry-tree fruit, melons, pistachios and pecans.
If the soil is still warm enough to sit on, put in winter lettuce, winter radish, Chinese mustard, kale, corn salad, mitsuba, mizuma, Japanese turnips and swedes in temperate areas. Dig up kumaras, occa, cassava, taro, yacon or Jerusalem artichokes. Potatoes should be ready too.
Now is the time to dig up ginger roots of all kinds: native ginger roots; tumeric roots; galangal root, as well as orris root, arrowroot and horseradish. Stir fry the first mature chilacayotes with garlic, ginger and soy sauce.
Think about green manuring unused ground to prepare it for spring to clear weeds, fix nitrogen and add humus: plant lucerne, broad beans, peas or field peas. And if you are bothered by nematodes and other soil-borne diseases add mustard seeds to your green manure mix to help clear up the soil.
Ripening green tomatoes
If your bush is too big to dig up and pot, pull it up by the roots and leave it in the shed. The tomatoes on it will keep ripening as their stems keep feeding them for some time.
Alternatively, just spread the tomatoes on newspaper in a warm room. They’ll gradually ripen over the next three months. Inspect them every few days and toss out bad ones. When they are ripe, they won’t be as sweet as the ones you picked at the height of summer, but will still have more flavour than shop-bought tomatoes.
A year of lettuce
During summer I plant a punnet of lettuce – about twelve plants – every week if we have enough water, which we usually don’t. Any we don’t eat get thrown around the garden as mulch: nothing is wasted in the self-sufficient garden. I like the small, sweet mignonette that can be grown all year round. But there are literally dozens of other varieties to choose from: one of the advantages of growing your own is the chance to gourmandise. There are now punnets available that contain several sorts of lettuce, all maturing at different times: excellent for people who only need a couple at weekends.
I plant masses of lettuce in autumn, enough to see us through the winter. Although mignonette and other winter lettuce are frost resistant, they don’t grow much in cold weather. As soon as the ground warms up I put in more: small sweet mignonettes are ready to eat about eight weeks after planting, but individual leaves can be pulled off after one month.
Consider growing the following varieties:
• Mignonette (red or green) all year round.
• Red or green cos lettuce: pull a leaf as you need them – they’re great if you only want a few lettuce leaves at a time.
• Oak leaf lettuce (red or green) for a frilly extravaganza.
• If you like old-fashioned, crisp-headed lettuces, there are many varieties like the common summer Iceberg, heat-resistant Narromar, or winter’s green velvet.
If like us you don’t have much water (or any) in summer, plant red-stemmed Italian chicory in spring instead of lettuce. It’s hardy, perennial if you snip off the flower stalks, and doesn’t turn bitter. If it dies back in the heat it will return with rain.
A year of onions
We mostly eat spring onions. But onion planting is simple. Even though different varieties have different optimum times for planting, if you follow the general rules you’ll get a good crop.
Basically, cold weather means large bulbs, and warm weather means green tops. So, plant spring onions in spring (or at any other time of the year when the soil is warm enough for them to germinate), and other onions from autumn through winter. An exception are the flat white onions that don’t keep well. Plant these in early autumn so they’ll have a good amount of leaf growth before winter. This will give you crisp, fresh, sweet onions in spring and throughout summer. The other main crop onions will mature from mid-summer through to autumn. I’ve found that sweet, red salad onions can be planted at any time, though late winter gives the biggest bulbs.
Be adventurous with your onions. Fresh onions don’t taste at all like shop-bought ones. Home-grown onions have flavour as well as acidity.
Plant lots of varieties. They all vary wonderfully in taste as well as in their keeping ability. A wide range of onions will give you fresh ones to harvest most of the year, as well as a good number for storage. Only a few of the many varieties available are given here.
A Few Recipes
Almond Sponge cake
I am not a cake eater, even though I love cooking them for others. Except for sponge cake. This one is sublime.
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup almond meal
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup lemon juice
You will also need a cake tin, greased and dusted with flour so the cake won’t stick, or line it with baking paper.
Whisk egg whites till firm and fluffy. Gently add yolks and vanilla – very gently, don’t beat them in. Now fold in the flour and almonds and lemon juice.
Bake at 160º C for about 30 minutes, but check after 20 minutes as a larger tin will mean a shallower cake that cooks faster. If brown on top take out. Cool then remove from tin.
Cover with whipped cream and raspberries or strawberries, or spread with jam and the cream. Eat within the next hour so or the cream may ooze off the cake, though any slightly soggy leftovers will still be irresistible the next day.
185g caster sugar
3 large eggs separated
Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons or limes
3 tsp gelatine
300 ml cream
Whisk sugar and yolks in large bowl until pale and thick. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. Combine 100 ml boiling water and gelatine, whisk until dissolved and let cool somewhat, then add to egg mixture. Beat cream to soft peaks and fold in; beat whites to stiff peaks and fold in. Pour into dishes/large dish, cover and chill for 6 hours or overnight.
Mushroom and Barley Soup
4 red onions
half a cup of barley
6 cloves garlic
1 pk miso paste, enough to make 6 cups of liquid
6 giant mushrooms
3 tb olive oil
Optional: 4 slices very good bread, parmesan cheese
Chop onions and garlic and cook slowly in olive oil till they have almost melted and are almost gold; this makes them sweet and caramelises them. Add barley and miso stock; simmer about 20 minutes till the barley is soft. Add more stock if necessary. Now slice, dice and add the mushrooms and cook till they are soft, about 5 minutes.
Toast the bread under the griller on one side; scatter on parmesan cheese and grill the other side till the cheese melts. Place in bowls then pour the soup onto them. Eat at once.
Soup can be stored in the fridge for 3-4 days in a sealed container.