The sky is blue, the grass is the greenest and lushest it has ever been, the garden filled with great spires of red and purple sage and a million Eastern spinebills dipping their beaks into the blossom. The apple trees are drifting golden leaves onto the ground, the persimmons ripe, the limes plump, the chestnuts cascading to the ground..
… and I want to be out in it, instead of inside writing this. So please excuse the shortness of this newsletter. Autumn is the magic time here, soft and sweet and generous before winter freezes the wombat droppings, and I want to be out in it.
No shrieks at the back door from Mothball for yet another month. But, on the other hand, there have been wombat shrieks and a new aggressive wombat leaving fat droppings around the house each night. Still haven’t given up hope that when the winter begins to bite she’ll be peering angrily at me from the door mat as though to say, ‘I’m cold and hungry and it’s all your fault.’
Meanwhile this year’s baby wombats are all fat and round and brown to black, and scampering through the greenery.
Whiskers for Wildlife Day
The Wombat Foundation Launches Hairy-nosed Day
Australians will be urged to Wear Whiskers for Wildlife on Hairy-nosed Day: Friday 11th May.
Hairy-nosed Day will be launched by The Wombat Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of the critically endangered Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat.
Hairy-Nosed Day is about turning the spotlight onto lesser known Australian endangered species.
‘Many people are unaware that there are 13 times more Giant Pandas in the world than there are Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats in Australia,’ said The Wombat Foundation Director, Jacqui Mills.
I’m going to be celebrating Hairy-nosed Day with school students at Brisbane’s Bunyaville Environmental Education Centre from 9.45 – 11.00am, followed by morning tea. I still have to get my whiskers ready – might just draw them on with lipstick but I’d rather like to experiment with plaited wool ones held on with elastic.
Australians are asked to hold their own Hairy-nosed Day events and to send photos of themselves with Hairy Noses to The Wombat Foundation and, if you can, make a donation to help research into one of the worlds most endangered – and fascinating – species. Send photos to The Foundation: email@example.com or check out the web site and new educational resource link at www.wombatfoundation.com.au.
Recent Awards and Shortlistings
Nanberry: Black Brother White and Flood (with Bruce Whatley) have both been shortlisted for the 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards. Flood is in the picture book section and Nanberry in the Younger Readers. Both Nanberry and Flood are Notables, too. Flood has also just been awarded an International White Raven Award. Bruce’s The Littlest Refugee was also short-listed for the CBC awards.
Christmas Wombat (with the glorious Bruce of course) has been short-listed in the Australian Book Industry Awards.
A Day to Remember, created with Mark Wilson, is in the shops now. It tells the history of Anzac Day decade by decade, which in a way is the history of Australia too.
The next novel will be Pennies for Hitler, the companion volume, rather than the sequel, to Hitler’s Daughter. It’s a good book, I think, and the first review has been extraordinary, the sort an author dreams of. But you never know how good a book is for months- or years- after you’ve written it. I’m just getting the ‘renewals from the overseas publishers of Hitler’s Daughter, who bought the translation rights ten years ago. If the book remains in print in so many countries I suspect that means it worked too.
Dingo, the story of a bony boy, a rubbish dog and Australia’s first dingo from whom possibly all other dingos are descended will come out on August 1.
Christmas Wombat seemed to vanish from the shops the week after it hit the bestseller list, which I hope means that they have all sold. I’m not sure how soon it’ll be reprinted, but I’m sure it’ll be well in time for next Christmas.
The last novel to hit the book shelves was Nanberry: Black Brother White – the story of four extraordinary people in the early NSW colony: Surgeon White, who hated Australia, loved a convict girl, a loyal father not just to his white son but to the black one he adopted; Rachel, who escaped the gallows to become the richest, most loved woman in NSW; Andrew, their son, who became a hero of the Battle of Waterloo, finally coming back to Australia; and Nanberry, orphaned by the smallpox, who would stride between the white world and the black, as a sailor in the Merchant Navy and a Cadigal warrior and leader of his people.
It’s as accurate as I can make it, two hundred years after it all happened. But it did. They were heroes, incredible and they need to be remembered.
Other books: A Waltz for Matilda (perhaps my favourite book) came out about eighteen months ago, as did A Year in the Valley, a book (for adults) about life here with the wombats and the trees and garden and friends. Queen Victoria’s Underpants is the (almost) true story of how Her Majesty’s underpants led to freedom for women.
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.
Schedule for the Year to Come
This is what the calendar has so far, but there are already another half dozen trips pencilled in, as well as many other commitments. There are always last minute things I have to do too. It’s unlikely I can add in more school, library or community talks in 2012, unless they are near to somewhere I’ll be already. I’m also the ACT Library Ambassador for the 2012 Year of Reading.
May 7, 8, 9, 10: Talks in Brisbane. Contact Helen Bain at Speaker’s Ink for bookings. Helen Bain firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday May 11: Brisbane, 9.30 National Hairy-nosed Day and launch of the new Hairy-nosed Wombat educational web site, at Bunyaville Environmental Education Centre, Queensland. I’ll talk for forty minutes to an hour about endangered species; why helping one species can help others; what ‘help’ can mean, from fundraising to science to politics; and all about wombats.
The talk will be suitable for students aged eight years and upwards, including high school students. All Queensland students are asked to become Hairy-nosed Heroes in three simple steps:
- Put on a Hairy Nose and take a photo.
- Write a Wish for Wildlife.
- Send the photo and wish to The Wombat Foundation (using the email address: email@example.com).
Photos and wildlife wishes will be placed on The Wombat Foundation’s website to commemorate the first Hairy-Nosed Day. The Wombat Foundation is the not-for-profit organisation dedicated to saving the Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat, Queensland’s most endangered mammal. The Foundation’s website is: www.wombatfoundation.com.au.
May 18: ABIA Awards, Sydney
June 4: Talk and video chats with regional schools from Taronga Zoo, Sydney. Contact the Zoo for more details.
June 5: Talks at the Australian Jewish Museum, Sydney.
June 13: Adelaide Writer’s Festival, S.A.
June 14: Talks at Adelaide – all spots filled now.
Monday 9 July: Keynote lecture at the Australian Literacy Educators Association Conference, Sydney.
July 21-25: Curtis Coast Literary Carnivale, Gladstone, Queensland.
August 12: In Perth/Fremantle for the West Australian Association of Teacher Assistants Conference and possibly doing a few other talks once I’ve gone that far.
August 20-23 (Book Week): Talks in Brisbane. Contact Helen Bain at Speaker’s Ink for bookings.
August 25-28: Melbourne Literary Festival, including two family days on the 25-26th.
31 August-2 September talks at Bairnsdale, Victoria including a Friday afternoon session for kids and evening talks. Schedule not finalised yet.
September 3, 4, 5: Three days’ talks in Melbourne. For details or bookings contact Simon O'Carrigan at Booked Out firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 2-4: History Teacher’s Association of WA Conference, Perth – keynote speaker and workshop.
October 24: Children’s Day, ACT and a talk for foster parents at Marymead Children’s Centre, Canberra.
October 25-27: Fremantle, WA for the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre’s Celebrate Reading Conference.
November 17 and 18: Four Open Garden workshops here. Bookings and details are from the Open Garden Scheme though, not us.
November: A couple of days in Lithgow, NSW – details still being worked out. Contact the Lithgow Library if you or your school would like to be part of the visit.
February 20, 2013: Literary Luncheon at Narooma, NSW and probably school visits either side of that day on the South Coast.
The May Garden
This is about as good as it gets, the earth still growing but summer’s threats behind us. This is a time to dream: the fruit trees you’ll plant this winter, the vegie patch for next spring, the paving or the plastic hot house over poly-pipe supports.
I’m dreaming of a small glass-house attached to my study – using second-hand windows maybe to keep out the wallabies as well as to get Christmas tomatoes. Maybe – just maybe – I’ll plant some cider apples this winter and a lot more sugar maples, and asparagus crowns or ‘springlings’ if I can find a bulk supplier.
But mostly I’m just mooching, enjoying it all. There’s nothing to plant now that can’t wait a month or three. It’s time to enjoy the last rose of summer and the autumn leaves before they fade.
Harvest: Rose hips for winter teas and syrup … every rose bush will produce some hips and, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides or fungicides, you can use them in cooking or save the seeds to plant in spring. Roses too can be grown from seed! The seedlings probably won’t be like their parents though – each one will be an adventure!
What to plant
. Frost-free climates
Plants to eat: Just about anything can be grown now! Put in lots of mixed salad leaves, apple cucumbers, basil, butter beans, huge New guinea beans, coloured capsicum, Chinese cabbage, chillies, chokos, sweet potatoes, long oval eggplant, melons, okra, rosellas, pumpkin, shallots, sweet corn and tomatoes. Try above-ground beds for parsley – the roots may rot in hot damp soil.
Plants for beauty: Alyssum, calendula, cleome, coleus, gerbera, petunias, phlox, salvia, torenia and zinnia,
Cold to Temperate:
Don't be tempted by blue sky and warm breezes. If you live in a very frosty area stick to onion seedlings and broad beans and lots of seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. In temperate areas: Seeds of radish, onions, winter lettuce, silver beet, spinach, broad beans, peas, snow peas, winter lettuce, spring onions, parsnips, and fast-maturing Asian veg like tatsoi, pak choi and mitsuba. Seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, leeks, lettuce, leeks, onions and spinach.
Plants for beauty: seeds of alyssum, calendula, lunaria. Seedlings of Californian poppy, evening primrose, gazanias, primulas, pansies, polyanthus, Iceland poppies, viola. In cold areas the annual flower planting time is nearly over. Put in native shrubs now, before the ground gets cold. Plant camellias before they start to flower. Keep putting in daffodil bulbs for spring – though these late-planted ones will bloom later. Plant tulip bulbs now. (In warm areas, first keep them in the refrigerator for a month to encourage them to flower.)
In warm areas, evergreen fruit trees can be planted now – they won’t be burnt by harsh summer sun. In cool and temperate areas, deciduous fruit trees can be planted from now until the beginning of spring.
What to harvest
Potatoes, year-rounders like celery, beetroot and silver beet; strip corn stalks for ‘baby corn’; and root vegetables are good now – much sweeter after the first frost. You should have a glut of chokoes. Dig up sweet potatoes now in cool areas; in frost-free areas, dig them when you want them.
Early mandarins, limes, pomegranates, late apples, late Valencias or early Navel oranges, tangellos, citrons, cumquats, tamarillos, early kiwi fruit, late passionfruit (high up on the vine), late raspberries, late strawberries (if grown on a high garden away from early frost), olives, persimmons (if the birds haven’t finished them), feijoa, bananas, avocados, banana passionfruit, elderberries, medlars, olives, melons and guavas.
Late roses, dahlias in warm areas, late summer annuals, chrysanthemum and proteas.
Keep your grass trimmed fairly high – it will survive frost better. Keep mowing it right into the cold weather to stop lawn weeds from setting seed.
This is a month of prevention. Prune off dead twigs and mummies, band apple trees with grease, corrugated cardboard or old wool to help control codling moth and oriental peach moth, and clean up old ladders and fruit boxes where moths may shelter. Let hens scavenge round the orchard to pick up old fruit or insects on the ground.
Check that there are no stink bugs on your citrus – spray with glue spray so the birds can find them or just slow them down with soapy water.
* Clean out greenhouses now, and leave them open to the sun for a time. Take shelves out to air and wash them in disinfectant or vinegar if there’s a chance they’re harbouring fungus or disease spores.
* Make use of a slow garden and the warm weather to revamp the chook house for next spring’s chickens; build a mobile hen run to keep down the grass; build more compost heaps; and make potpourri with the last of the rose petals and scented leaves before they are frosted.
* Don’t rake up the autumn leaves. They attract frost and keep the soil cold so that trees and shrubs will shoot later in spring – and so avoid being nipped off by late spring frosts.
A Few Recipes
Chicken and Barley Soup with Yoghurt
This on the other hand, is a good family soup, the sort to make a great vat of and heat up bowlsful through the week.
Sauté 1 onion in butter till transparent
1 litre chicken stock (if you can simmer a chicken carcase in packaged stock for an hour or so you get the taste of bones and a bit of flesh, all the better)
1 tablespoon pearl barley
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Simmer till the barley is soft. Add more water as needed. Then add:
1 large carton natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons chopped mint
Heat gently so the soup doesn't curdle. Serve hot.
A Good Tea for Colds and Sniffles
Cold Tea Ingredients:
1 teaspoon elderflowers (but make this even if you don't have the elderflowers)
1 teaspoon dried rose hips (optional)
half a teaspoon chamomile flowers (ditto)
half a teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
juice of one lemon
1 - 3 cups of boiling water
Honey if necessary, but the rosehips should give enough sweetness. (I like to add a few leaves of peppermint and a yarrow flower too.)
Pour on boiling water. Steep for three minutes, strain. Sip the tea throughout the day. A thermos of this besides your bed will stop you getting in and out of the warmth more than you absolutely must.
Baked Spiced Pumpkin or Sweet Potato
4 sweet potatoes or 4 hunks of pumpkin, peeled and cut into chunks
2 red onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp flour
½ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp mixed spice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tbsps olive oil
2 – 3 tbsps brown sugar
Preheat oven to 200º C.
Toss the veg with the flour, spices, salt and pepper to coat each piece. Scatter garlic and onion on the oven dish. Top with sweet potato chunks. Pour over the olive oil and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Bake for 2 hours or till soft, with a crust on top.
Avocado on Toast
Butter fresh toast well; top with mashed avocado; grind on lots of black pepper. Pop under the griller again till the topping is warm.
You have to be liberal with the butter for this dish.
This is best with fresh autumn walnuts- less bitter and more mellow than the ones you buy in packets that may be months- or years- old.
5 cloves of garlic
1 cup walnuts
a handful of basil
1 cup olive oil
1 cup Parmesan or pecorino cheese, grated
Mix all ingredients in a blender or mortar, gradually adding the olive oil. Serve on pasta or over boiled potatoes or on crackers or fresh hot bread. Keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 48 hours.
Walnut pesto can be frozen in a sealed container for up to six months, till walnuts and basil are in season again.