Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nitbusters... dealing with insect horror

Today (Friday), Barham Primary School in conjunction with Barham Community Health are conducting a full scale attack using the Nitbusters Program on those annoying little suckers that are the bane of many children and their parent’s lives: head lice.
I well remember my first ever encounter with these pesky little critters. It was a glorious sunny spring Sunday in September 2005. The boys and I were up in Sydney on the edge of the Hawkesbury River and about to tuck into a delicious alfresco lunch of steak and salad. We were in holiday mode and meeting up with the rest of our extended family the next day. I’d poured myself a glass of South Australian Chardonnay and we were all looking forward to a relaxing afternoon.
Just as I started to cut into my porterhouse steak Sam said, “Mummy, my head’s itchy.”
I hardly glanced up as I replied, “Did a mozzie bite you Sammy?”
Suddenly Sam leapt from his chair, knocking it over and jumped towards me with both of his hands on his head and yelling, “NO. IT’S REALLY ITCHY!”
I shrank back in horror; his beautiful shiny blonde hair appeared to be a seething mass of …something? The awful reality dawned on me as I realised the “something” was head lice; lots of head lice. (Ok, it probably wasn’t a seething mass and there probably weren’t that many but it seemed like it at the time. I’m sure there are other parents who can relate to these feelings.)
Trying to stem the rising wave of panic and out of control melodrama that was threatening to engulf me, I bundled the boys into our trusty Nissan and headed speedily to the nearest open chemist shop, which happened to be at Berowra sixteen kilometres away. As I wound around the twistie-turnie Pacific Highway to Berowra I wondered if we were all infested? My head was now feeling decidedly itchy in a psychosomatic way. I felt mortified; I was a single parent and now my children had head lice. In my mind I was clearly on that slippery slope to chain smoking, wearing moccasins and gambling my sole parent pension away on poker machines.
Being a weekend afternoon the shops were all closing, I pulled up as close to the chemist as I legally could. With a quick glance around to make sure I wasn’t outside a casino, I left the boys in their car seats and sprinted into the shop. I suspect I may have looked ever so slightly deranged as I frantically searched the shelves for something along the lines of DDT.
Luckily a lovely pharmacy lady who looked as though she may have been somebody’s grandmother approached me and asked if she could be of any assistance. She then proceeded to arm me with the necessary shampoo, conditioner and nit comb and sent me on my way with a reassuring “It’s really not that bad dear, they’re only insects.”
Well they may be only insects but I was up till nearly midnight shampooing everyone, including myself and inspecting about three trillion individual hairs for nits. I then proceeded washing every item of clothing and linen we had been in contact with and sprayed the inside of the trusty Nissan with Mortein before collapsing into bed exhausted.
In the years since that rather memorable spring day, one or two of the boys have had the occasional bout of itchy insect head but thankfully I became a lot calmer in dealing with them. In subsequent times I merely lathered on cheap conditioner, combed the hair and followed up with thorough hair inspections for the following two weeks. Problem solved.
With a bit of luck and dedication the Barham Primary School and parent’s concerted efforts may well eradicate these wee vermin forever with the Nitbusters Program.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cattle trucking adventure

Do you have moments in your life when an opportunity crops up that seems like a brilliant idea at the time? I do. Frequently. I think it’s what helps to make life so interesting.
Towards the end of October last year I was presented with an opportunity to purchase a small herd of registered Angus stud cattle. Under normal circumstances I would have reminded myself that I was currently a remedial massage therapist and column writer living in the picturesque town of Barham on the banks of the Mighty Murray. I would have paused to reflect that I didn’t actually own a cattle station and Rosedale, my eight and a half acre miniature farm at Hay was not quite big enough to support this miniature cattle stud. I may have even looked at a map and figured out that where the cattle were (Glenisla in Victoria’s Western District), was not all that accessible to Barham or Hay.
Well, I like to think I would of… however I was recently home from a lovely trip to visit Reg and Judy and their equally lovely cattle near Wagga Wagga. Their cattle looked superb; fat and shiny Angus cows with well-grown Blonde d’Aquitaine cross calves at foot, all standing around in the sunshine munching foot high grass. I started imagining what it would be like to own a cattle station.
There’s nothing like a bit of enthusiastic visualisation to start manifesting opportunities… cue small herd of registered Angus stud cattle. I bought them sight unseen without the slightest hesitation. I hate shopping with a passion, but this type of retail therapy (when I’m envisaging a small scale global empire) really does appeal.
They were on good feed at Glenisla and there was no immediate need to move them so I pushed the job of “find a place to run my cattle” to the bottom end of my list of priorities. Life then took a few unexpected twists and turns as it often does but by the middle of February I decided it was high time I did something with my cattle. Luckily for me Farmer Bill and Granny’s property up towards Hay was experiencing the best season since 1989 and so long as I freighted them up and covered all costs involved with the cattle, I could keep them there while they had surplus feed.
My next step was to work out how I was going to get them from A to B (or G to H as it happened). I soon discovered there weren’t any big livestock carriers heading towards Hay from Glenisla anytime soon. Having driven five and eight tonne tray trucks in my former life as a rural contractor I was more than happy to see if I could hire a truck and drive down and pick up the cattle myself. I planned to take Farmer Bill along for the ride and we would have a father/daughter cattle trucking adventure.
Alas, my powers of manifestation faltered and I couldn’t find a truck to hire. My plan for a small-scale global empire was turning into a logistical nightmare. As my enthusiasm started to ebb away, I sadly began contemplating cutting my losses, selling the still unseen cattle and putting the whole experience down to a life lesson on why it might pay to think things through thoroughly instead of my preferred modus operandi of making decisions based on a whim.
Then along came Lee Sutherland and his ten tonne Fuso with bright red stock crate (and electric windows – most impressive). My optimism returned and early last Tuesday morning with Lee at the wheel we headed south to Glenisla and my cattle. It was a relief to discover that the cattle I had purchased sight unseen last year did actually exist and were in fact magnificent animals with sleek coats, good conformation and beautifully quiet to handle.
It was a long day travelling but as we unloaded them onto Red Hill Station in the late afternoon sunlight and walked them over to water, I felt a sense of quiet satisfaction and achievement.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Murray Darling Basin Plan

Due to heavy rain over wide areas of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria in recent weeks, the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin are experiencing flooding at levels not seen for decades. At Barham the Murray River is running full and looking magnificent for residents and visitors alike. It’s comforting to know the township of Barham has never once been flooded despite a number of big floods down the Murray over the last one hundred and fifty odd years.
Australia has been a land of unpredictable climatic extremes for thousands of years and unsurprisingly our climate today remains predictably unpredictable.
This simple fact appears forgotten by the doomsayers involved with the shutting down of the sustainable logging of the red gum forests around Barham and other districts and the engineers of the government’s Murray Darling Basin Plan. They have spoken out with authority to the Australian public and in particular to people in the irrigation areas and the river communities, outlining their predictions for the weather patterns and overall health of the Murray Darling System and it’s river red gum forests. These academics were convinced that the Murray was dying, the forests were dying and the storage dams along the Murray Darling river systems would never ever fill again… at least that’s what they were indicating up until these latest flooding rains. Where are they now and more importantly have their views changed? Or will they remain like the mythical Hanrahan and his unconquerable Irish pessimism in John O’Brien’s 1921 poem?
Said Hanrahan
by John O'Brien
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan in accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began one frosty Sunday morn.
The congregation stood about coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought as it had done for years.
"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke; "Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke has seasons been so bad."
"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil, with which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel and chewed a piece of bark.
And so around the chorus ran, "It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
"The crops are done; ye'll have your work to save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke they're singin' out for rain.
"They're singin' out for rain," he said, "And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head, and gazed around the sky.
"There won't be grass, in any case, enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place as I came down to Mass."
"If rain don't come this month," said Dan, and cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If rain don't come this week."
A heavy silence seemed to steal on all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed a piece of bark.
"We want an inch of rain, we do, "O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two, to put the danger past.
"If we don't get three inches, man, or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
In God's good time down came the rain; and all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane it drummed a homely tune.
And through the night it pattered still, and lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill kept talking to themselves.
It pelted, pelted all day long, a-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song way out to Back-o'-Bourke.
And every creek a banker ran, and dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "If this rain doesn't stop."
And stop it did, in God's good time; and spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime of green and pink and gold.
And days went by on dancing feet, with harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat nid-nodding o'er the fence.
And, oh, the smiles on every face, as happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place went riding down to Mass.
While round the church in clothes genteel discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed his piece of bark.
"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man, there will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan, "Before the year is out."
No one is disputing the need for water efficiency and the most productive use of our natural resources. I feel it would be beneficial if policy makers in our capital cities reminded themselves that no one is more concerned or more active when it comes to caring for the rural environment than our country’s primary producers. Their livelihoods and all the supporting industries are dependant upon long-term sustainable primary production. Progressive farmers are continually looking for and implementing improvements to their farming practises. Today’s farmers produce more food and more fibre for less water than ever before and are constantly striving to improve the land that they live on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

My 27-day juice fast ending with the World's Longest Lunch

Last Friday 2nd March I attended the Regional World’s Longest Lunch in the buzzing metropolis of downtown Koondrook and I must say it was a brilliant way to end my 27-day juice fast… not to mention appealing to my Libran star sign style of going from one extreme to the other.
Many people have inquired after my juice fasting experience, so here’s a little update: My initial plan was to conduct a 10-day juice fast but by day ten I was feeling so good I decided to extend it till the end of February (just my luck to plan this on a leap year). Despite numerous well-meaning people expressing their concerns that I wasn’t eating meals and “Where was I getting my protein from?” As far as I’ve experienced, a short-term juice fast (two months or less), is nothing but beneficial to your health. My weight dropped from 69kg back to it’s long term average of 64-65kg; my energy levels increased, I didn’t suffer from my traditional energy slump in the afternoons and I felt noticeably more clear headed; I didn’t feel hungry; I slept well at night but by far the best effect for me was a very noticeable improvement in my legs.
For more than fifteen years I have had a condition called “Primary Lymphoedema” which sounds quite ominous but basically means the lymph nodes in my legs don’t work all that well and so the lymph pools from my knees down and by the end of the day my legs can be quite swollen and ache at night when I’m lying down. Having regular massage therapy and exercise in the form of walking, swimming and bike riding all help to minimise the effects of lymphoedema but according to the doctors I’ve consulted over the years “nothing can cure it.” Thanks to my juice fasting experiment my legs are the best they’ve been in fifteen years with minimal swelling by the end of the day and they no longer ache. All in all I have found the juice fast a most worthwhile experience.
Meanwhile back to Koondrook and the Regional World’s Longest Lunch…
The day was mild and overcast and due to the torrential rain earlier in the week, our local foodies had to initiate Plan B… moving the lunch venue from the Goble’s Walnut Grove to the verandah of the historic Mates Royal Hotel in Koondrook.
The enthusiastic and hard working Red Gum Food Group and their many volunteers on the day must be congratulated on conducting a magnificent gastronomic event showcasing some of our regions finest epicurean products.
Tragically the menu didn’t include chocolate, however it did include almost every other food group (Restdown and Morrisons wines, Mildura Brewery beer, Riverside CafĂ© Amanti coffee, Pacdon Park black pudding, River Red Gum Beef, yellow belly, yabbies, Barham Avocados, Belmont Biodynamic rice and rhubarb, Bundarra Berkshires pork, Olsen Park Dorper lamb, Aldens Olives olive oil, Barrow Olives, Golden Rivers Walnuts, Kurrnung Citrus Old Fashioned Lemon Cordial and Border Packers Orange Juice).
At the conclusion of four hours of drinking, feasting and enjoying the entertaining and excellent company of fellow diners, it was all aboard the Lake’s courtesy bus stopping all stations. Expertly piloted by Greg, our bus meandered home from Matesy’s via Murray Parade to pick up little Meg McDonald, on to the manicured lawns of Barham Caravan and Tourist Park to drop off Meg’s Granny Anne and friends, next winding it’s way along Teddy’s Lane to deliver yours truly at Willow Bend before making numerous more stops around town with Shirley of Murray Haven fame adamant that she would be last to alight.
So ended a very enjoyable day that I hope becomes an annual fixture for our district. Well done Red Gum Food Group.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rescuing the Barham/Koondrook Bridge

Pleasure was mixed with relief when I read the article on page 4 of last week’s paper stating the Barham/Koondrook Bridge was being refurbished to extend it’s life indefinitely.
The two-span de Burgh truss bridge with a lift span to allow the paddle steamers through was built in 1904. With the chief engineer being non other than Sir John Monash who went on to become one of Australia’s most illustrious military commanders in World War I; serving with distinction in both Gallipoli and France.
The Barham/Koondrook Bridge is possibly a rather large headache for the Roads and Traffic Authority (whose job it is to maintain it). Just last year the RTA was all for demolishing it. To quote from their July 2011 report on timber truss road bridges they said: “Barham Bridge does not bear any unique or outstanding design characteristics that cannot be viewed in other de Burgh truss bridges, meaning its removal and replacement would not result in a loss of the representativeness of the RTA’s timber truss bridge collection.”
…Well, that’s their opinion, mine is somewhat different. Although I have only been a Barham resident for a mere three years and therefore at least two generations away from being granted “local” status, I have grown to love the old lift-span bridge. The thought last year that our rattley old single lane timber bridge may be demolished to make room for some new fangled modern cement structure was filling me with dread. The very thought that this iconic state crossing may have become a memory only to be seen in photographs seemed a travesty.
A couple of years ago my friend Ilka and I were discussing the various things we liked about Barham. We talked about the people and the great community it is; that we enjoy the clean country air while Melbourne remains an easy and very accessible three-hour drive to the south. We discussed the large array of high standard sporting facilities and clubs available to the community; the magnificent golf club, the lawn tennis clubs, the bowling clubs, the very proactive Koondrook Barham Football Netball Club to name but a few. We talked about the beautifully maintained parks such as Riverside in Barham and the Apex Park in Koondrook and how nice it was to be able to walk around the picturesque Barham Lake Complex.
We both agreed one of the things we liked the most was the bridge over the Murray River joining the two towns. Although the single lane could sometimes be frustrating and that technically drivers on the Victorian side had to give way to drivers coming from New South Wales, most people were happy just to take it in turns to cross the bridge. That people exercised common sense and good manners with no honking of horns, shaking of fists, loud offensive language or “road rage” that may sometimes be witnessed in city traffic.
In today’s “throw away” society so often when something is in need of repair our initial and sometimes only thought is to chuck it out and buy (or in the bridge’s case, build) a new one. Sadly it is also often easier, cheaper and more practical to buy or build a new whatever than to repair the old one. In the case of the Barham/Koondrook Bridge I am wholeheartedly glad it is being repaired.