|Thursday April 12 2007|
OHMIGOD I'M IN AUSTRALIA!
My first stop - after landing in Sydney - is Meg Wade's Castlebar Arabians, in southeast Australia, on the border between New South Wales and Victoria. It's near the Snowy Mountains, where the Man From Snowy River came from (he was a real person), in a beautiful setting of rolling mountains along the valley of the Murray River. Unfortunately the area here, and in fact much of eastern and southern Australia is in a severe drought. It's been very bad here for 3 years; the Murray River (Australia's second longest) is low as is the dam near Meg and Wade's place. Everything is brown. There's severe water restrictions, and crop production is about 15% below normal. Everything is getting terribly expensive - namely animal feed, and with little grass to eat, some farmers are having a hard time making a living, and are culling their herds. Many of the tree-covered hills are turning brown - the eucalyptus trees are shutting down. Their roots are shallow and there's just no moisture. There is a lot of smoke in the air from controlled burns. Creates a lot of haze but pretty fabulous morning and evening light for photography.
We'll get on to endurance next, but first: the fauna, ohmigod! There are wild parrots everywhere! Fields of white cockatoos hanging out with the cattle, like egrets, picking through their hay - but they aren't egrets, they are parrots! Like we might have crows or ravens or magpies flying around cawing and squawking, here there's parrots flying around screeching very loudly. There's red ones (king parrots I think) that gather to roost in the evenings in the nut tree in the Meg's back yard; there's smaller red parrots, white ones with pink breasts, and yesterday while riding in the eucalyptus woods, we came across a whole flock of black cockatoos, which have yellow on their tails. There's the noisy magpies everywhere also, but they can't compete vocally with the screeching parrots.
Oh yea - and the kangaroo. Meg and Chris raised this one as an abandoned baby - Whinny Woo is her name. The Raven got to meet his first kangaroo! (Me too!) She came up to the fence to sniff him - smell is a big sense for them - and after a few sniffs she retreated quickly! I am sure it wasn't that she didn't like the Raven; I think she was just overwhelmed with being in the presence of such an avian celebrity. Whinny hangs around the house, mostly in the back yard, and in fact, lets herself IN the house. I was sitting at the kitchen table talking with Meg, and there's a commotion at the door like someone is coming in. Well, someTHING was coming in. Whinny was working at the door handle. Meg said "Come on Whinny, open the door." And Whinny got the door open, and came right on in. It just cracked me up. Meg gave her a few treats (she said "You don't leave biscuits or cookies sitting out or they're gone!"), then she crawl-hopped back out the door. Now, I've heard of miniature horses in the house... but kangaroos?!
On my first Australian ride, we saw loads of parrots, a big black snake (it was Jude's first snake sighting), and a wombat! At night driving along the road, we saw kangaroos! They are pests to many people, and hazards on the roads, just like deer are where I live in the summer. The second ride produced a wedge-tailed eagle!
And now, it's time to go ride again amongst the screeching parrots and wombats and 'roos Oh My!