Let’s celebrate National Op Shop Week

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op shop fashion finds

It’s National Op Shop Week in Australia, and for anyone with an interest in retail therapy, community works or reducing waste, this is a week well worth celebrating.

The week, from 28 September to 4 October, is all about raising awareness about shopping at op shops and the great things it does for our community, environment and budget.

In recent years, shopping at Op Shops—charity stores, thrift shops, call them what you will—has become the new black of shopping. No longer is it an a place where just those struggling with life’s demands went to shop. While op shops certainly still support those doing it tough, they do a whole lot more besides. Nowadays, picking up a bargain at an op shop is quite on trend, for all sorts of reasons, and even some of the celebrities we see on tele choose to dress from their op shop finds.

I have to say I’ve been a big fan of op shopping for many years and have picked up some brilliant finds over the years. Not just scouting for things to wear for dress ups, but there’s some serious high fashion to be found with a little practice and patience. One of my faves is a ivory lace jacket I snapped up for $18 and recently wore to a wedding. And just days ago I picked up a fab pair of classic black pants, as new Vera Wang, for $8. Winning!

But of course it’s not all about the great items you can find at bargain prices. These stores are doing a great service for the community and the stores fund a range of good works, like domestic violence refuges, homelessness services, migrant and refuge assistance, food vans and food vouchers, drug and alcohol counselling and disaster relief.

On top of that, the proliferation of op shops means that a hell of a lot of material otherwise destined for landfill is being recycled and reused—and that’s a hugely important thing to do in these days of wanton resource overload.

As Craig Ruecassel, creator of  ABC’s War on Waste and supporter of Op Shop Week says, “As we discovered in the War on Waste, clothes are a huge part of our waste stream. Donating clothes to op shops means they can be re-sold and that money goes to great causes.”

The retail shopping that keeps on giving!

If shopping at op shops isn’t your thing, fear not – there are other ways you can get involved.

  1. Declutter – You can take the opportunity to do a spring wardrobe or garage clean out and donate items to your local store. Be mindful though—they don’t want rubbish, and anything they have to take to landfill themselves costs them money, which could otherwise have gone to providing services. If you have electrical items or furniture, you might have to check first with local stores as different places have different rules in play about what they accept. During these days of COVID-19, some other restrictions may be in place as well.

2. Volunteer – It’s a great way of keeping busy and being useful and it’s also a good way for young people to get some brownie points and retail experience. Some stores have really elevated their visual displays so there’s some opportunities to learn some merchandising skills as well.

But if it is your thing and you need some tips on how to get the most out of your op shopping, I’ve got you covered:

10-tips-for-shopping-success-at-op-shops-thrift-stores-if-you-must/

If you want to know more or get involved, there’s a dedicated National Op Shop Week Facebook page and also a website where you’ll find shopping tips and other resources.

You can type in your postcode at dosomethingnearyou.com.au/national-op-shop-week/ to find local  op shop stores in your areas and how you can get involved.

Happy decluttering, op shopping or volunteering – the choice is yours!

Are you an Op Shop fan? What are your best finds?

My find from two weeks ago – $5 gummies, along with a whole bag of books for $6. I chose about 10 pristine interesting ones but there was heaps of room left.

Remembering Sydney 2000, the greatest Olympics Games ever

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It’s 20 years since the 2000 Olympic Games were held in Sydney. It was the year Australia put on a great big party and invited the world, even though we ended up doing most of the partying ourselves.

I was seriously excited for those games. I’m not generally a great sports fan but this wasn’t just sports: this was a world event, and in 2000 it was playing out in our own backyard. History in the making.

The opening ceremony was the big ticket item. So big you had to go in a lottery draw to win the chance to buy a ticket. I desperately wanted to go but didn’t manage a win. Instead I counted down the days until it was on and watched every second of it live and pretended I was there. I bought the CD soon after and sang along madly with John and Olivia and Nicky and Tina and Vanessa too, although I could never get anywhere near those ear-piercing screams she emitted at the end of her song fit to burst an eardrum.

It was a spectacular opening and everything we hoped it would be, from our favourite singers, extraordinary visuals, our history summarised in dance and symbols, and horses galore galloping to the rousing strains of The Man from Snowy River. Well apart from those four excruciatingly long minutes when the lighted cauldron failed to lift as it should, and left Cathy Freeman standing in front of the world expectantly, a flaming torch held aloft in her hand and a torrent of panicked expletives in her ear, waiting for something to happen. What a remarkably calm performance she put on, slowly turning around at one point as if it was orchestrated. We watched with bated breathe and white knuckles hoping something would happen and thankfully finally it did as the back up plan kicked into gear, luckily just seconds before all the gas ran out entirely and we were shamed before the entire world. We all breathed a big sigh of relief and cheered some more. How proud we were to be Australian.

This was possibly a once in a lifetime event and we were super keen to go along and be part of the event as a young family. We travelled up to Sydney to attend the modern pentathlon event. I didn’t even know what a modern pentathlon was before we went, but it was excellent value and suited our budget and seemed to have our name written on it. In case you’re wondering, it consists of five events: fencing, shooting, swimming, horse riding (show jumping) and (3 kilometre) long distance running. That meant it kept us busy for the whole day following the competitors around the different events and venues.

As it turned out the Australian guy didn’t do all that well (Robert McGregor was his name, I had to look that up) and he came 20th out of 24th, but as he bowed out of contention for a decent placing he ‘handed ‘over the crowd to his Italian competitor instead so we all started barracking madly for him instead.

I can’t remember who won. I do remember though how friendly everyone was and how much fun we had. The crowds were huge, a solid seething mass making its way down Olympic Parade at Homebush, but no one was in a hurry and no one pushed or shoved. Everyone was just happy to be there and that’s what made it so extraordinary. (It was also extraordinary that the ever-smiling volunteers didn’t disappear entirely under their massive, multi-coloured vollie-outfits.)

In fact, the mood for the day was set on the way there. With an 11 and 13 year old in tow, we were wandering along a main road heading towards the bus stop to catch the designated Olympics bus. We saw it coming and had a bit of a vain attempt at running up the hill towards the stop but gave it up as a lost cause and resumed our walking pace. As we got to the top of the hill, lo and behold, the bus driver had seen us (the kids and backpacks must have made it obvious where we were headed) and was waiting for us! How could that be? Bus drivers in Sydney don’t wait for you! So we picked up our pace and boarded the bus, and then the other passengers cheered. Welcome to Sydney 2000!

That night we ventured into the city of Sydney and joined thousands of others watching the games from huge screens in Martin Place and other venues dotted across the city. It was just one big party. On the train home, we got into conversation with other passengers about the events, everyone excited and animated. It was a city transformed – people talking to each other and interacting like never before. It was like the whole city was on happy pills.

There’s so much great stuff to recall from those games, including the great tally of wins and medals of course, from expected places and unexpected ones, and other cherished moments as well, like Eric the Eel from Equatorial Guinea struggling through his heat of the 100 metre freestyle,  barely able keep his head above water at the end but with the whole stadium going crazy and the whole of Australia urging him on. We witnessed the making of Ian Thorpe, the revelations of beach volleyball, that wild high jumper and our adopted Russian pole vaulter, and the straight-shooting Simon Fairweather of gold medal archery fame (who incidentally came around for dinner at our house some months later, the then partner of a girl my hubbie used to work with, when we discussed how the bow makes a permanent dint in archers’ noses!). And of course we celebrated Cathy Freeman’s legendary win in her green space suit in the 400 metres in a moment forever etched into our collective memories.

And to top it all off each evening, we got to spend two hours with Roy and HG on The Dream, and listen to their hilarious gymnastics commentary which traversed and sometimes confused the rest of the world and introduced new words into Australian lexicon, like battered sav and hello boys, and a fat-arsed wombat became just as famous as a mascot for the games as Matilda the ‘roo was and perhaps more beloved.

It’s very different this year, which should be an Olympic year. It must be incredibly disappointing for all those athletes who were training for this year’s event and who had their dreams snatched from them. Hopefully they’ll have another chance to make another games and reach those dreams.

Thanks for the memories, Sydney 2000 – you were bloody great. In fact, in the inimitable words of Juan Antonio Samaranch, you were the greatest games ever.

What about you? Did you go? What did you get to see?

Discovering the cool of Cooroy: a secret of the Sunshine Coast

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Usually when I visit the Sunshine Coast, it’s a bit of a whirlwind trip with not enough time and too many activities to fit into a little vacay. But this time it was more leisurely and there was time to explore a little further afield – and there were some little gems to discover. One of them was historic Cooroy.

Cooroy is a small heritage village in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, an easy 20 minute drive from Noosa. Starting life in the 1860s on the back of the tall timber stands in the region, the village grew as the railway reached town thirty years later and supported the local forestry and dairying industries. It once housed two sawmills and a butter factory, but nowadays plays host to an internationally acclaimed library and national body art festival instead. Of course, not this year folks, thanks to Rona.

A walk around town with a historic walking trail map in hand (available from the library or local tourist offices) will reveal a lot about the town’s past days. Don’t miss the railway station, the post office and the timber drying kiln, all heritage listed. If you want to delve a little deeper, drop in to nearby Pomona to visit the Noosa Shire history museum. It was founded by the Cooroora Historical Society in 1985 mainly as a means to preserve what was rapidly disappearing of the past and is open Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday from 10am to 3pm.

The forestry and industries of days of old may have disappeared but Cooroy is reinventing itself with a little bit of cool. It even has its very own app which introduces you to the business around town and all the latest events and happenings. Just type in Cooroy into your App Store on your Iphone (everyone’s got one of those, right?).

Parts of Cooroy’s history have been reimagined. The Butter Factory, operating from 1915 to 1975, now serves as a vibrant arts centre with regular exhibitions, events and workshops where you can release your inner artist. We were fortunate to luck the Maleny Cream @ the Butter Factory exhibition featuring ceramics, sculptures, paintings and drawings by a range of talented artists. If you’re in the area, you’ll have be quick to get a look as it’s only on until 8 September. The whimsical little creations made from childhood treasures were delightful. Baby boomers – keep your eyes out for the old cuisinnaire rods that appear in a couple of the pieces.

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If you’re looking for the newer cool side of town, you must drop into the local library, awarded as one of the six coolest libraries in the world. The world! Built in 2009, this innovative building cut into the ground boasts a grassed roof that doubles as an ampitheatre, complete with a little garden and its own supply of frill necked lizards out the back. Apart from books and cutting edge technology, it also features a terrific little shopfront selling the wares of local artists and groups as well as a cafe and various community spaces including workshop area which runs a series of workshops on various topics. It even has its own robot called Dewey.

There’s a plethora of cafes and places to eat in the village. In fact, the local librarian told me there’s actually a choice of 30 from whence to get your caffeine fix. The hotel is a hub of activity with a string of events and live music gigs. It’s not the original hotel; sadly the grand old timber one burnt down which seemed to be the fate of a lot of buildings around the area.

If you venture a little further out you’ll find The Shed at Cooroy, a cute cafe doubling as a vintage and retro shop where old is becoming the new chic and you may end up taking home more than you intended. Just around the corner is Hinter auctions which has just started regular auctions of old and interesting stuff.

Fairly new kid on the block is Copperhead microbrewery, a small bespoke brewery of warm timbers and cool stone which produces a number of unique brews including its ‘experimental batches’ or EBs. It doesn’t wholesale anywhere so you have to try them onsite. It’s a brewery which pays just as much attention to the food as they do to their ever changing array of beers. As a non-beer drinker, I turned instead to the gin collection and discovered a blood orange gin by Nosferatu. I might even have added a bottle of that to my own collection the very next day.

bar at Copperhead Brewery Cooroy Blood orange gin and tonic

We didn’t even get to venture to the nearby hinterland villages of Ponoma and Kenilworth, or get to visit Lake Macdonald or the nearby Noosa Botanic Gardens. Next time.

Farewell winter, you cold but pretty thing

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We’re leaving winter behind for another year. I do love living in a place like Canberra with four distinct seasons, each with their benefits, and each year I relish the gorgeous photographic scenes winter affords me in Canberra.

I have to say though that I don’t always relish the cold temps that come with it, and by the end of August I’m ready for some more warmth and long days in the sun.

Because I didn’t have a car for six weeks of the two months of winter in Canberra I had, my opportunities to go out exploring on a crisp icy morning or days when the fog lingered as much as I’d have liked, but here’s a few scenes from when I did manage an outing.

So long winter with your icy morns, bare branches and soft hues.

Now I’m ready for spring.

What about you? What’s your favourite season? Do you like winter?

A sudden trip to Queensland and a little Sunshine Beach escape

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The last couple of weeks have been a little unexpected. I’d planned to be at home in Canberra all August to see out winter with a long to-do list to hand, but suddenly the borders to Queensland were going to close (you know, that COVID thing) and all in a rush we found ourselves racing off north to beat it.

There was a reason for the mad rush: the next grandbaby is due to arrive in September and we’re the planned support carers. It meant if we didn’t go then (ie, way earlier than planned), we mightn’t get in at all for the birth and may not even be able to meet bubs for six months or more the way things are going with this wretched virus.

So off we went on a loong drive north and made it through on the last evening.

Then we were suddenly staying in someone else’s house nearly a whole month earlier than planned. A two month stay is a long one so thoughts of a little pre-baby getaway were quickly hatched.

Hello Sunshine Coast!

In particular, hello Sunshine Beach. For those unacquainted with this gem of a place, it’s a little beachside village just ten minutes from Noosa Heads and all the other Noosa-somethings. With a lovely collection of shops, restaurants, cafes and its own surf club, it’s big enough but not too big at all, and of course, it has beaches and trails through the national park for days. It’s considered low season at the moment as we’re still in winter, but let me tell you – winter in Queensland is a pretty terrific sort of thing. I thought it was particularly terrific on the day Canberra shivered through a little bit of sleet and snow and I wandered barefoot on the sand.

There’s a lot to see and do and eat and explore around this neck of the woods, especially if you’re intent on doing it at a very relaxed pace. There’ll be some posts coming soon on some of my favourite finds to assist those who may be visiting soon.

But in the meantime, here’s a little pictorial summary of some of the highlights.

We booked for a week. We stayed for two. We’re planning to come back, and we might even have been having a little peek at real estate. It’s been a pretty nice stay.

In celebration of World Photography Day

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It’s World Photography Day so that would seem an opportune time to do a visual post featuring my great love (don’t tell my husband) and obsession.

How do you choose when there are so many thousands on hand, and on just about every device you own? Aahh, the discipline of culling is a much needed thing in my life. I avoid it like the plague and resort instead to buying more storage, which of course only encourages further bad behaviour. I must reform.

It seems I have passed my obsession on to my children as well so we are all competing for who can take the most photos. I think it’s me, just quietly.

So Happy Photography Day and herewith a snapshot of my life in pics with just a tiny smattering of some of my faves.

Keep snapping. Don’t forget to cull, and backup to avoid heartache.

Your legal rights in the days of COVID-19, and does it really even matter?

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If you live in Australia, you’ve probably seen recent media coverage of various people filming themselves and/or others while trying to exert their purported ‘rights’ to do or not to do certain things in relation to managing the outbreak of COVID-19. (Actually, it probably doesn’t matter where you live in the world—no doubt there’s a small number of people everywhere doing a similar thing). No, I don’t have to wear a mask, no, I don’t have to tell you where I’ve been, blah blah blah.

It’s had me seeing red. Really pissed off and angry red. Especially when you read in the next news article about the number of people dying, or a newborn baby being diagnosed with COVID-19.

It makes me really angry that a small minority of people can be so selfish and continue to put their own ill-informed opinions and often bizarre beliefs ahead of the health and safety of the rest of the community, and sometimes seek out fame and notoriety in doing so. Or do really important things like: drive 100 kilometres across Melbourne to buy takeaway curry from a particular restaurant, or have a dance party for 150 people, or sneak into another state from a banned location hiding in a boot, or refuse to wear a mask and make a song and dance about it claiming it violates their rights and freedoms.

But the thing that really gets up my goat even more than this is people falsely claiming that the law is on their side and trying to convince others of this in a totally inaccurate and ignorant way. I’m the sort of person that wants to delve into the detail of a matter and uncover the facts—and in this case the specific legislation—that would prove them wrong.

I haven’t had a lot of luck in finding any articles which set out how the laws work in Australia and what role our ”human rights’ play in this whole mess. So, being a bit of a stickler for verifiable sources of information and in the interests of community education, I’ve put together some facts about what the law actually says in Australia about the restrictions and regulations in place at the moment to manage the pandemic here. People in other countries—you’ll have to do your own research but I’m guessing if you live in a democratic society, it’s pretty similar.

What’s the legal basis for the current rules and regulations?

Do the police and other authorities have the right to compel you to behave in certain ways in this pandemic?

Yes, indeed they do, in many wide-ranging ways. In Australia it’s a combination of Commonwealth (Australian) government legislation (laws) as well as state and territory legislation—which is largely responsible for health matters—that allows this.

The Commonwealth powers come under the Biosecurity Act 2015. On 18 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Australia, the Governor-General declared that a human biosecurity emergency exists. The declaration gives the Minister for Health (that’s Greg Hunt) expansive powers to issue directions and set requirements in order to combat the outbreak. This is the first time these powers under the Biosecurity Act have been used in Australia.

The Health Minister’s power under this act are expansive. They allow him to:

  • regulate or restrict the movement of persons, goods, or conveyances (that’s what allowing the banning of international travel and compelling quarantine at the moment)
  • require that places be evacuated
  • make directions to close premises.

There are some limits to his power and other measures can only be authorised under a human biosecurity control order, made by the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer or a biosecurity officer in relation to a person who may have a listed human disease (including COVID-19).

The act also recognises its limits on interfering with states and territories, who are largely responsible for health matters, so the two levels of government are working together in Australia.

During a public health emergency, as we’re in now, once a state or territory has declared a state of emergency, they have the legislative (legal) authority to give directions as required and apply penalties. This authority is passed onto members of the police force and other public officials.

For example, in Victoria, our worst affected state at the moment, The Public Health and Wellbeing ACT 2008 authorises Victoria’s Deputy Chief Health Officer the power to issue public health orders, and he did that here. Each state would have its own health act, which has been passed through both houses of parliament, that authorises someone to make rules in the case of emergencies. That allows necessary decisions to be made quickly in response to a fast-changing environment.

This week, big Clive Palmer is challenging that Western Australia’s decision to close their border for health reasons in the High Court claiming that it doesn’t have the constitutional authority to do so, so it will be interesting to watch what happens there and the dissection of the laws that take place. But until and unless that happens, the word is that yes indeed you do have to do what officials such as police and defence personnel are telling you – or suffer the consequences.

More info for those who love details

If you want to know more about how Australia is managing COVID-19, the Australian Government’s Health Department has information about who’s doing what.

If you want to know more about how the biosecurity legislation works in Australia in relation to COVID-19, there’s a really good explainer here.

Do businesses have the right to refuse entry?

Yep, they do. On private property, store owners have a legal obligation to keep their premises safe for staff and visitors. To do so, they’re entitled to set reasonable conditions of entry, especially if that protects the health and safety of their staff or customers. For example, you can’t wear sandals on a building worksite, you can’t wear a helmet into a bank, and you can’t wear certain clothes into clubs or restaurants.  We’re subject to all sorts of regulations in all sorts of ways, because that usually makes safer and more pleasant for all of us. Often the regulations came back to Health and Safety laws.

Declaration of Human Rights

“Karen from Bunnings” as she’s now known (with sincere apologies to all those sensible, decent community members out there who just happened to be called Karen and are being caught up in this name-calling, mud-slinging mess) claimed loudly it was her human right under the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights as a ‘living woman’ (not even sure what that means, but her words) to not have to wear a mask when she loops around Bunnings looking for nuts or bolts, or maybe rocks up just to antagonise the staff and police.

And what do you know? She’s dead set wrong. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not provide anyone with the right not to wear a mask. Surprise, surprise, it doesn’t mention clothing at all! But it does describe the right of community members to health and safety, which is what is being jeopardised by idiots like this.

But let’s look at where these ‘human rights’ come from.

The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher,  explained in an article this week that:

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, as a consequence of the atrocities of World War II. This was followed two decades later by two other major components of what is known as the International Bill of Rights—comprising the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The declaration is an aspirational document comprising 30 articles which set out a number of individual rights. These aren’t legally binding in themselves but may be in some cases be supported by other legal instruments or legislation.

Professor Croucher noted that while Australia was a founding signatory to these three legal instruments, little has been done to enact the rights and freedoms they describe into Australian law. So, even if they did mention mask-wearing or being denied entry into a shop, there’s no actual law to rely on for Bunnings Karen and they’re not enforceable in our justice system.

Importantly, the rights of one person are always balanced against the rights of another person. Professor Croucher goes on to explain that “even if there were direct laws about rights, it doesn’t mean that everything is a right; nor does it mean that rights are unqualified. And all human rights come with the corresponding responsibility to respect the rights of others.”

Have you ever heard the expression “Your right to swing your fist ends at the point my nose begins.”. You don’t just get to do whatever you want when that impacts negatively on others.

She also says that “… wearing a mask as a public health measure is a legitimate requirement when framed in that context. It is a minimal intrusion on our rights and freedoms. In fact, wearing a mask is the very thing that will protect our rights and freedoms – especially our rights to life and health, and to avoid another widespread lockdown that restricts our movements and activities even further.”

And just to be clear. I’m not including those who legitimately find mask wearing difficult or impossible for medical reasons. I’m talking about those making complete dicks of themselves by trying to whip up a media storm by their actions and trying to misinform others.

But even if it wasn’t the law …

But here’s the thing. Let’s put the legislation and human rights aside for a sec. Even if the laws didn’t exist (they do) and the Declaration of Human Rights covered the right to go maskless (it doesn’t), it shouldn’t matter. Why on earth would we insist on doing things that we know are endangering others, and possibly killing them, just because we can or think we should be able to? That’s just selfishness and narcissism at its finest.

Sure, it’s an inconvenience to wear a mask for a while in you’re out and about. It might be a bit uncomfortable and fog up your glasses, but it’s not as uncomfortable as having a tube stuck down your throat to allow you to breathe. Yes, it’s a pain not being able to visit family or friends in other places at the moment with current restrictions but it’s worse if they die and you never get to see them again.

Let the crazies of this world know it’s not just about them and their sometimes-imaginary human rights. It’s about common sense and common decency. We’re trying to prevent a European-style lock down here at the moment and we’re trying to save lives. The thing that’s causing the breakouts and the grief at the moment is largely people’s unwillingness to stay home when they should and play by the rules.

Get a grip Bunning Karens and Eve Blacks of the world, and get to know what the rules actually are.

Black Mountain Nature Reserve – celebrating 50 years of natural history

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It’s not possible to come to Canberra without noticing Black Mountain just at the edge of the city with the soaring needle of the iconic telecommunications tower that shoots above it. It’s everything ancient and modern, natural and man-made at once. An essential part of Canberra’s history and planned and natural landscape and beloved by locals and especially photographers. One could argue that Black Mountain is the heart of this city known as the Bush Capital and this month it celebrates its 50th year of being officially designated a nature reserve.

There are things to celebrate, with walks, talks and a new book thrown in for good measure.

Here’s some things you mightn’t have known about this treasured pocket of biodiversity in the heart of Canberra.

What is it?

Black Mountain Nature reserve provides a natural retreat and backdrop to the city of Canberra and forms an essential part of its planned landscape. It’s a sandstone island covered in dry sclerophyll forest that’s home to a feast of flora and fauna: over 640 species of native plants, lichens and macrofungi, 174 species of native vertebrate animals, and at least 2150 species of native insects and other invertebrates, including a number of endangered species. It’s also home to a number of species found nowhere else on earth.

Forming part of an extensive area of open forest and woodland, it also  supports a rich shrub and herb diversity including some rare and threatened plant species and houses several  threatened or regionally declining birds. It offers walking tracks , amazing views, and a thousand photo opportunities.

Sitting opposite the Australian National University (ANU), bordering the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the CSIRO, it’s hardly surprising it’s one of the most studied natural areas in Canberra, or Australia. And on 23 July, it celebrates 50 years of being a nature reserve. Happy Anniversary!

History of Black Mountain

Black Mountain has been home to Indigenous people for more than 20,000 years and to Europeans for just under two centuries. It was a key part of the Walter Burley Griffin’s plan of the city which set aside hills as open space, including Black Mountain and Mt Ainslie, both now nature reserves. Peer out over the city and lake from the top and you’ll see the plan in action.

It’s believed it was ‘named’ by Surveyor Robert Hoddle who worked in the region. In 1832 he wrote ‘Black Hill’ under his sketches of Black Mountain and O’Connor Ridge because both were burnt as part of the local Aboriginals’ land management practice, and the name stuck.

Canberrans value Griffith’s landscape plan highly so when the government decided to build a telecommunications tower bang smack on the top of Black Mountain, Canberra’s first environmental protests began in earnest, led by academics from the ANU, sited at the foot of the mountain. It was to no avail and construction went ahead in 1973 and now it’s become a much-loved part of the landscape and helps orientate visitors and locals alike as it’s visible from almost anywhere in the city.

The Australian National Botanic Gardens sits at the base of the mountain and displays the world’s greatest living collection of Australian plants, a different take to other Australian botanic gardens which displayed exotic plants.

Aboriginal heritage sites

The Canberra region is part of the traditional home of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. Black Mountain and Acton Peninsula are believed to have been meeting places and Black Mountain and the surrounding area is a highly significant Aboriginal cultural place. There are a number of Aboriginal cultural heritage values and sites in the reserve and traces of a traditional lifestyle, including stone artefacts, campsites and scarred trees are visible in the landscape.

Up until the arrival of pastoral settlers, the foothills of Black Mountain were known to be an important camping place where Aboriginal groups gathered before travelling south into the mountains. It was a place where gatherings, knowledge transference and ceremonies took place.

Natural landscape

Black Mountain is a haven for native wildlife with a rich diversity of bird and plant species and an array of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Much of the reserve is old growth dry open forest. The understorey is diverse with shrubs, grasses, orchids and other herbs. Ecosystems in this reserve include Open Forest, Woodland and Grassland

For hundreds of millions of years, Black Mountain has been a large sandstone block in a Canberra landscape that was otherwise dominated by volcanic and alluvial soils. It is therefore not surprising that Black Mountain supports many plant species isolated from similar species in other locations within the ACT.

Animals

The Nature Reserve is home to a wide array of animals including insects and reptile species. Keep your eyes peeled for the most common marsupials , Eastern Grey Kangaroo and Swamp Wallaby, and the Ringtail Possum if you’re there in the evening.

Reptiles living in the reserve include three snake species (this may or may not be appealing to visitors, depending on your viewpoint), nine skink species and seven lizard species including dragons. Not the fire-breathing kind. The most common reptiles are the Delicate Skink and Copper-tailed Skink.

A small number of endangered Pink-tailed Worm-lizards have been found here which is  unusual in a forested location as they are more commonly found on hill slopes and grassy woodlands. Nine frog species and more than 200 insect species have been recorded in the reserve, including moths and butterflies, two rare cricket and scorpion species along with a number of ant and termites species. Are you getting the picture? Lots and lots of different species! Canberra’s Amazon.

You can find more information on Canberra’s birds at the Canberra Birds website.

Canberra Nature Map provides photos and descriptions of many species listed.

Birds, butterflies and more

Black Mountain is also a haven for bird life. You might see or hear honeyeaters, dollarbirds, fantails, orioles and a host of other birds which migrate via the reserve, usually in the autumn. The range of habitats and plant diversity within the reserve’s undisturbed bushland provide havens for a range of species including threatened woodland birds. Mature trees provide nesting hollows; younger trees, shrubs and grasses provide blossoms, seeds and protection for smaller birds.

Black Mountain is a bit of a “hotspot” for butterflies and during different seasons you can see the butterflies in various growth stages on different plants. The Friends of Black Mountain often have Butterfly Walks (what a lovely concept!) led  by Dr Suzi Bond where you can discover more of their secrets and places you’re likely to spot them. Hot tip: look for clusters of flowers as butterflies love blue, yellow and red flowers.

Plants

The nature reserve includes a wide variety of plants, in fact around 600 different species of them, including some very rare species and ones which are endemic just to Black Mountain. This includes more than 60 types of orchids and ten species of eucalypt.

When you look around, there are a number of native species which dominate the vegetation. The most common trees are Brittle Gum, Scribbly Gum, Red Stringybark and Red Box. You’re also likely to see lots of herbaceous plants (240 species) and grass and grass-like plants (200 species of those).

Keep your eyes out for the myriad of orchids and daisies and pea-flowers . They are 61, 50 and 22 native species of those respectively so there’s quite a bit of flower-spotting to do. Up to 33 rare plant species are found in Black Mountain Nature Reserve, including orchids only found in this area of the ACT.

Canberra Nature Map offers photos and descriptions of many species listed.

Walks at Black Mountain

There are a multitude of walks to be taken on Black Mountain, some short and some up to two hours. The Friends of Black Mountain website has a wealth of information about the walks and the different flora and fauna you’ll encounter on them. This year is also the 20th Anniversary of the official opening of the two hour Summit Walk, a joint project between ACT Government, Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG), and Telstra.

A couple of guided walks will be taking place for the 50th anniversary (already booked out) although there are plenty of opportunities to explore the trails yourself.

A couple of words of caution though. It’s a nature reserve so remember:

  • dogs aren’t allowed (even on a lead)
  • don’t pick flowers or anything else
  • stick to the paths.

Friends of Black Mountain

If you want to be more involved in the teeming natural life of Black Mountain or learn more, you can join in regular activities with Friends of Black Mountain, a local community group of volunteers who help conserve and promote Black Mountain’s biodiversity and values now and for future generations. They organise walks and talks for the public and weeding parties (perhaps the only parties still appropriate in socially-distanced times) to keep weeds under control. You can find out more about their activities and the history of Black Mountain nature reserve on their website.

ParkCare volunteers also contribute their time to improve and protect natural and cultural values.

Book

If you’re keen to know more, a new book celebrating Black Mountain has been produced— Black Mountain: a natural history of a Canberra icon, written by two Canberra locals who know the area intimately, naturalist Ian Fraser and plant ecologist Rosemary Purdie. Richly illustrated with maps and illustration, it’s the definitive collection of scientific  knowledge about the area’s biodiversity, ecology and history. Black Mountain has a long history of scientific collecting and research making it one of the best studied and documented areas of its size in the ACT.

You can order a copy here.

 

Black Mountain is an intrinsic part of my life. I lived at the base of it (at ANU) for three years when I first came to Canberra. I’ve walked up there and followed the tracks, eaten at the revolving restaurant there when there was a restaurant, taken in the sweeping views of Canberra it provides, even studied at the timber tables up there in the sun, and taken about a million photos of it, possibly more.

I guess this weekend I should make a special visit to mark the occasion, wander some of the walking trails with the grandkids in tow and discover a little more about this place.

Blue Poles, a jewel in the National Gallery’s crown: mastery or mess?

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I popped in to the National Gallery in Canberra last week after its recent COVID-19 hiatus and spotted the famed Blue Poles painting in a new position at the end of a room by itself with a strange metal contraption at the side. Odd, I thought – wonder why they moved it there. Actually, I was also mildly annoyed that it spoilt the aesthetics of the photo I took.

It turns out the NGA was taking advantage of the shutdown period to do a little clean up and conservation work on this immensely popular painting, one of the gallery’s most iconic, which is normally always on display. And that would explain that strange moveable seat/crane I spied at the left, which allows the conservator to easily access different parts of the fairly large canvas. I hadn’t thought of that.

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Blue Poles was painted by American artist Jackson Pollock in 1952, an example of abstract expressionist style. Originally it was called Number 11: not an evocative title but that’s the point – the idea was not to use a label. Once it’s called Blue Poles, everyone looks for the poles and may miss much of the rest of it. It’s painted in bold primary colours in a restricted palette in the ‘drip and pour’ method: pour the paint on and see what shapes emerge as opposed to mops and buckets which he also used. At the time, many derided the method with the name ‘drool school’. Perhaps some still do.

A few days later, I happened upon a live Facebook interview with several NGA staff members (an indication perhaps I spend too much time lurking on social media) which was fascinating. During the discussion which included David Wise, the head painting conservator at the gallery, I discovered a number of interesting things about the painting. I’d previously known that some of its texture came from glass and aluminium, but I didn’t realise it also contains screws, staples and cardboard (I’m going to have to try to spot them at another time), and even some fingerprints. I did ask the question if they were Pollock’s fingerprints, but apparently we need to call in the FBI or CSI or some other acronym to verify that.

I also learnt that the paint is incredibly layered, and that it actually uses household enamel paint rather than conventional artists’ paint. I guess that might have been cheaper for the artist but probably makes conserving a 70 year old painting a bit more challenging.

I remember clearly as a kid when the National Gallery purchased the painting back in 1973 (that’s actually 9 years before the gallery was officially opened in 1982 by the Queen, where incidentally one of my friends was there to meet her). The painting cost $1.3 Australian (or US$2 million, which is a pretty confusing conversion given I’ve always known US dollars to have greater value than ours). The cost meant the director of the gallery at the time, James Mollison, couldn’t authorise its purchase as it was over $1 million, so it was approved by the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, a lover of the arts and a man not to be taken lightly. He wanted to make the price tag public, which of course sparked quite a media storm and divided the nation. I recall the conversations, even around my own dining table, and the news reports: what a ridiculous waste of money, it’s just rubbish, sometimes isn’t it amazing, and of course, I could have bloody done that myself.

The arguments about valuing modern art must have stuck with me as I recall several years later at the end of Year 12 having a very long and earnest conversation into the wee hours of the night about the merits of modern art versus traditional and whether a blank white canvas deserves a place on a gallery wall. The conversation continued passionately until 4 or 5am, perhaps fuelled with Star Wine, our drink of choice at the time. (I apologise for that: I’ve moved on.) It was a conversation I had with a bunch of school mates on our ‘schoolies’ week on the Gold Coast back in the very late 70s when a rather large bunch of Novacastrians headed north en masse for the warmth of Burleigh Heads and the lights and discos of the Gold Coast. While we like to think we were quite instrumental in founding the whole schoolies movement (though nowadays that’s not an accolade), in retrospect and in comparison to now, our activities were very above board, and as this story relates, quite cultural as well.

But I digress.

Back to Blue Poles.

There’s no doubt a large number of people would look at this painting or other expressionist works of arts and be confused or even scathing, but I really like it. But even for those who don’t love or even like the painting, no one can argue it was a bad financial investment. It’s impossible to provide an exact value for a painting like this but it was insured for $350 million when it travelled to New York for an exhibition in 2016. That’s really quite a good rate on investment on the $1.3 million purchase price look. Not as good value though as the original $32,000 paid for the painting in 1957 by Ben Heller, a friend of Pollocks, who bought it just after the artist died.

And for those Ben Affleck fans among you who’ve watched The Accountant movie, you may have recognised Christian’s favourite possession in his van as a Jackson Pollock original painting. That is to say, in the story it’s counted as the original, clearly they would have been a copy, probably a print, because you know, budget. The  real deal, Free Form painted in 1946 and reputed to be the artist’s first ‘drip’ painting would be worth tens of millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions and just a bit beyond their film budget. I did read in an online review that ‘that painting has been altered for the movie, by placing an eye looking askance from the middle, which isn’t in the original’ but to be honest, I can’t actually see the eye the writer is referring to. Can you? I’ve provided some photos below so you can do a little compare the pair.

Hands up if you recognised the artist as soon as you saw the painting? Not a bad parting gift to receive from a work colleague!

If you want to learn more about this painting or visit Blue Poles in person at the National Gallery, now’s the great time to do so. Every Wednesday from 1.30 to 2.30pm, David Wise the head painting conservator is onsite next to the painting to answer questions. You have to book a place (it’s free) because we’re still being wary of spaces and accountability in the age of COVID-19.

Go to the gallery’s page here to book a space https://bluepoles.nga.gov.au/conservation/live-conservation/

or if you’re not close by, check out what’s available online.

#mybluepoles

On tour with the locals in Bendigo

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