The swimming hole, which is not a bunyip hole. Never swim with a bunyip.
When I first came here, almost half a century ago, we walked past the bunyip pool. It was always cold by the bunyip pool, no matter how hot the air was elsewhere. The pool was deep and small, by an enormous boulder … and walking back home at night I did feel just a small amount of terror every time I passed the pool.
Which is just what the bunyip would have wanted.
And then, two months ago, we had a flood, scouring out some pools, washing away part of our road and the foundation for an electricity pole and changing the course of the creek yet again.
And now the bunyip pool is gone, the creek twisting around the boulder and leaving the pool dry.
It’s a low pool – lower than the creek – and, maybe, one day, the creek will change its way yet again, and the pool will return.
But what will happen to the bunyip?
There are pools aplenty in the creek, but they are cheery ones: the swimming hole where thousands of years of kids have laughed and splashed; the cascades where women sit and talk about life and kids and meaning; the Dragon Pool, where rainforest dragons plunge into the water on hot days and sit for half an hour or so down on the clear base, cooling down. And not a single one is suitable for a bunyip.
If any reader has the right kind of pool … a cold and shaded gloomy one, with a little terror potential, could you send a note? Address it to The Bunyip of Neverbreak Hills, and, if possible, enclose a photo of the pool, address and some directions.
And maybe soon after you might hear a mournful cry, and feel a tiny shiver as you pass. And the bunyip will have a home again – and will be yours.
I blame it on seeing The Sound Of Music six times when I was young. ‘Climb Every Mountain’ is all very well, but when you have fallen down them a dozen times, not to mention building a house, steps and walls out of granite rocks, there comes a day when your knees stop performing their proper function and become not very ornamental items in the middle of your legs.
In other words, my knees are worn out and what I thought were major injuries to okay knees in the last year have been minor injuries to not-much-left knee at all. So a. I am on crutches; b. yes, it hurts; and c. I will have mobility problems for most of this year, though hopefully there will come a time soon when those are post-operative ones, soon to be followed by knees that can climb mountains again.
But this time I’ll be more careful not to fall down them.
PS And I don’t regret a single second of wearing them out. Those knees have seen a lot of fun.
A few long, soft, green wombat droppings; a very few huffs in the night; and one very, very mangy wombat further down the valley, but I couldn’t catch him to have him treated. Luckily none of the wombats here have shown symptoms of mange for many years.
But the grass is green and long and delicious for a wombat. Ours are chomping for an hour or two, then going back to bed. They’ll remember us again in winter and come sniffing around for carrots – unless they are fat enough to see them through the cold.
Books out now
Miss Lily's Lovely Ladies
Age range: 14+
A tale of love, espionage and passionate heroism. Inspired by true stories, this is the take on how the ‘lovely ladies’ won a war, the first in a new series that shows the changing concepts of what it means to be a woman – and a fulfilled one – beginning in 1913. The reviews have been wonderful, and the comments too ‘literally unputdownable’ ‘you HAVE to read this.’
I very much hope you do, and I am two thirds through the next one…..
Millie Loves Ants
Age range: Everyone
With the glorious Sue deGennaro, we dreamed this up three years ago while watching her daughters explore the valley.
If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
Age range: 12+
The sixth book in the Matilda series, written for young adults 12 and upwards.
This is Australia from 1972-1975, with the Whitlam government sweeping away twenty-three years of Coalition tradition as seen through the eyes of a country town. It was a time of intense idealism throughout the nation – even if many of those ideals differed deeply.
In Gibbers Creek, Jed must choose between her old love, Nicholas, who is the new Labor Party MP, and Sam from the Half Way to Eternity commune; Scarlett dreams of becoming a doctor, despite her wheelchair; Ra Zachariah waits for the end of the world and the coming of a new one – and is prepared to be ruthless to make sure it arrives.
And Matilda Thompson will see her father’s political dream from the 1890s made real; she will see mistakes, conspiracies, anguish and elation; and finally be proud that, even as the nation is torn apart in the Dismissal, no blood stained the wattle.
The Secret of the Black Bushranger
Age range: 8+
The third in the Secret History series. Barney has finally been given his farm, making him the youngest landowner in the colony. But is the escaped convict he helped a laughing villain or a freed slave who cannot endure chains again? Who was John ‘Black’ Caesar? The result of years of research into this previously unknown corner of our history, this book combines adventure with insight into the early years of our first colony.
Grandma Wombat (with Bruce Whatley)
Age range: Everyone!
Our grand-kids are always perfect. Even if you are a wombat. Especially if you are a wombat … and your grandson is as stroppy as you are.
Also look for:
Wombat Goes to School … perfect for kids about to start school or who need some extra enthusiasm for the years to come.
The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman
Could the world’s most famous author stop writing when he retired? Part love story, part historical detective work, this is the story of the young Shakespeare told by the old one, and the book where I discovered evidence that possibly, even probably, Shakespeare faked his own death. Read the book to find out why.
Books coming soon
Goodbye Mr Hitler
The sequel to both Hitler’s Daughter and Pennies for Hitler and the hardest book I have ever written and, possibly, the best. And to the thousands who have written asking questions about both the earlier books: this book will answer them and I hope give far more.
This is the fourth in the Shakespeare series. It is about ‘the Scottish play’, with absolutely no witchcraft and enough love to balance the evil and a woman’s voice to lessen the misogyny. And, if you think you know the play, you may not expect this ending, which has everything Shakespeare put in it – and more
This doesn’t include many other non-public events – it’s just meant as a guide to where I may be if there is anything else possible while I’m nearby. For bookings, check the terms on the website and/or contact Booked Out.
23–24 May: SPELD QLD fundraiser and talks to young people.
26–28 May: Townsville Literary Festival.
June: Release of Goodbye, Mr Hitler.
June onwards: a break for pre-surgery and post -urgery. Hopefully there will be more events after the Brisbane Writer’s Festival, which is the first I’ll be able to fly to, but I’m not accepting anything else definitely till after surgery
3 June: Keynote at Australian Childcare Alliance Conference, Gold Coast, QLD
4 June: Book Links Brisbane, talk at the State Library, topic, 'The Forgotten Women of History: Heroism and Scandals.'
8–9 June: Adelaide SEATA.
July: Release of Third Witch
17 July: Bryan goes see Diary of a Wombat at the Canberra Theatre
August: Release of Wombat Wins paperback
September: If Blood Should Stain the Wattle paperback released
October: Koala Bare released
25 October: Children’s Day in Canberra
December: A Land of Love and Flame released (Matilda Book 7)
The May Garden
May is the perfect planting time. Plants GROW in autumn! It’s neither too hot nor too cold, and a little watering goes a long way …. Plant! Buy mum a pot of chrysanthemums, rather than a bunch of flowers, so she can plant it in the garden to remind her of you.
Better still, buy her half a dozen! Fill hanging baskets with winter-blooming pansies.. Mow leaves to shred them for mulch.. Take cuttings of hydrangeas, pelargoniums, hibiscus and lavender ... Give indoor plants a few days holiday outside in dappled shade under a tree ... Admire your ornamental grapevine – or plant one!
What to plant:
Frost free and temperate flowers:
Ageratum, alyssum, aquilegia, bellis perennis, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, delphinium, honesty, forget-me-not, lupin, mignonette, pansy, primula, pansy, statice, strawflower (Helichrysum/Xerochrysum), stock, sweet pea, verbena, viola and wallflower.
Artichoke suckers, broad beans, broccoli/Brussel sprouts/cabbage/cauliflower seedlings, cress, winter lettuce seedlings, spring onions, onions, peas, radish, shallots, English spinach seedlings and potatoes in frost-free areas.Trees and shrubs: Lots! Try fruit trees and other evergreen trees and climbers. Cold Areas (plants and seedlings only)
Saponaria, carnation, gypsophila, pansies, primulas, polyanthus, violas, wallflowers
Veg and fruit: Broad beans, rhubarb and asparagus crowns, strawberry plants, cress and onion seeds, shallot bulbs, English spinach, turnip and broccoli seedlings.
Gardens for Kids
When I was a kid we had to walk about a kilometre home after school, with an ice block if we were lucky or at least a lick of someone else's. There were three ways we could go, the short way to see the horses, the long way with all the traffic – or the rose garden way. The rose way was irresistible. So were the roses. They poked their prickly legs out of deep beds of decayed manure (their owner knew about the horse paddock too). The roses bloomed nearly all the year – at least that's what it seemed like then. We could smell the roses by the time we were half way down the hill (rose scents float upward on hot days – stand upwind and uphill one day and sniff).
We never yelled on that stretch of footpath, so the rose owner wouldn't hear us and know we were coming ... though of course in hindsight he must have known that we came past at the same time every afternoon. There were roses under the eaves, rose in pots on the patio, roses in neat circular beds in the lawn. There were also roses spilling over the front fence and these were the ones we loved.
Every afternoon as we drew closer we’d check carefully to make sure he wasn’t around. And then we'd creep closer and closer ... and sniff – great, deep breaths of incredible perfume. Sometimes we'd stroke the petals too: pink and yellow 'Peace' petals, rich pink, tea-scented 'Monsieur Tillier' or deep red 'Papa Meilland', cool and incredibly velvety on summer afternoons.
Then he'd yell at us. It happened every afternoon, we'd sniff the roses and he'd shriek at us, parting the lace curtains and roaring through the window to, 'Get out of it, you brats, or I’ll call the cops.’ And every afternoon we ran, till finally – as he hoped – we were more frightened of his yells than we were attracted by his roses and we never walked that way again.
For years whenever I thought of roses I thought of a mean gardener who yelled at us. I hated roses, never thought I’d grow one in the garden that I might have when I grew up. (In those days I thought it would be filled with dogs rather than flowers.)
Then I met another rose grower, one who'd never bought a rose bush in her life. There were roses up the back, sprawling over the fence, roses out the front with long prickly legs – but all of them had come from cuttings, offered in damp newspaper by friends, 'borrowed' when she visited or coaxed from gardeners in public parks with whom she'd struck up a conversation. Most of my roses now grow from hers – bits of pruning stuck in the ground in the sandy damp soil under the apple trees, hoiked out after a year or two and planted where the wallabies hopefully won't notice them till they've got a toe hold. And now whenever I look at my roses I remember her ... not him.
More things kids can get from gardening
I used to spend hours feeding the banksia men when I was small. Of course they were real – they sipped up the water didn't they? Maybe the reason I never quite took to the Snugglepot and Cuddlepie stories was that I could never see banksia men as bad. Banksia men were my friends. If you want to feed banksia men get a cup of water and a spoon and dry banksias. Spoon the water through their lips – and, like all living things, the water will eventually come out the other end.
We used to play tunes on gum leaves too. You fold a green and supple leaf in half and sort of hum and sort of blow, a bit like playing a kazoo. If you can feel your lips tingle you're on the right track. I haven't done it for years and I never really did get the knack – but some people become virtuosi of the gum leaf with a huge and varied repertoire played with rare skill and expression.
Watch sunflowers follow the sun (except they often don't, especially new cultivars with lots of heads) and lawn daisies sulk and close up when the sun goes behind a cloud and a hydrangea change to pink when you lime it and beans always go round a post the same way (or do they?).
Try tying a bit of string round a zucchini as it grows to make a ridiculous shape.
Or paste brown paper over a green apple in the shape of a kid's name then, when it's ripe, peel away the paper and their name will be indelibly on the apple.Know
Gardening is something that can't be learnt only from books. You have to get your fingers dirty to learn how to garden, see what a mealie bug looks like when it's sucking at a lemon twig, watch how the tops of carrots change as they ripen. Books can lead you to new experiences in gardening and give you information and new perspectives but they can't give you the real thing.
Most of the passionate gardeners I know learnt gardening from their grandparents. Gardening, like red hair, can skip a generation. And often kids whose parents are avid gardeners see gardens as their parents' domain, not their own or as just hard work, weeding the gerberas or watering the lawn on Sunday afternoons.
The simplest lessons can be the ones that stay with you: I remember my grandfather showing me how to take a cutting (snap it off, stick in the ground and keep it moist and shaded) or my grandmother Jannie showing me how wind and sunlight browned a camellia.
Children need to learn to work. It is perhaps the hardest thing of all to teach – the satisfaction of working hard and achieving a result. This is something kids can learn in gardens. Someone once said that the greatest joy was the ability to work long hours at something you really love. A garden is a good place to start.
Dangerous plants for kids
Poisonous plants There is a heck of a lot of poisonous plants in most gardens, but luckily most kids won't go munching on your ferns, ivy, oleander or daffodil bulbs. But young kids do tend to take a chomp out of bright flowers, while older ones go for bright berries.
Usually a warning or two is all that's needed but many kids nowadays don't have much experience of gardens and so no one may have warned them before. Keep an eye on very young kids so you can hoik that daffodil flower out of their mouth, and do warn older kids that some plants are dangerous.
A few especially attractive poisonous plants to watch out for:Any bulb – leaves, bulbs, seeds and flowers.
Berries and seeds of arum lilies, melia trees, ivy, black nightshade, potato vine, cotoneaster, lantana, buddleia, wallflowers, broom, daphne, delphinium, Brunsfelsia (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) ... in fact ANY seed and most berries are probably poisonous, or at least considered toxic, unless they're being grown for food! White sap on poinsettia, acrid sap of agapanthus, arum lilies. Clematis and dieffenbachia. Bright flowers of datura, phacelia and any part of foxgloves, yellow jasmine or wisteria ... and a lot of others too ...
How to make a scarecrow
Making scarecrows is fun- even if they don’t scare birds!
an old pillowcase
old jeans or trousers
old gloves – gardening or plastic gloves are fine
stuffing – this can be dried grass clippings or bought hay or old plastic bags, or even crumpled newspaper – but a newspaper scarecrow will go soggy when it rains.
You'll also need:
Stuff the jeans, shirt, shoes, gloves and pillowslip.
Tie the string around the end of the pillowslip – that will be the head and the end bit will be the neck. Arrange all the stuffed bits to make a body.
Now start sewing!
Now drape the hair over the head and sew it on at the top, use the textas or crayons to mark out eyes, lips, nose, plus a beard or moustache, freckles or anything else you think your scarecrow's face needs.
Put its hat on. Now place the stake wherever you want your scarecrow to stand, though you can sit it comfortably in a garden chair instead, or even tie it to the verandah post. The stake needs to be firmly buried about 60 cm deep. Now heave the scarecrow up, tie firmly – and wait for the birds to land on it!
A few Autumn recipes
Murderess' Apple Cake
The Ultimate Choc-chip Biscuit
White Chocolate Oaties
Hairy Nosed Biscuits