I’ve said numerous times how amazed I am that macropods (general term for kangaroos, wallaroos and wallabys) have noticeable character traits depending on the species and then on top of that, each one has a unique personality which is theirs alone. We as macropod carers know this, but sometimes we are not as attentive to it as we should be.
When kangaroo joeys are very young they are terrified of leaving their pouches. Helping to build their confidence and encouraging them to emerge from their pouch is one of the things you do as a carer. As joey develops and gets more and more confidence she ranges further away from her foster mum, but instinctively limits herself to within her calling range.
It this small aspect I’m going to talk about here, in the big scheme of things it is pretty inconsequential, but to a carer it could be critical. Joeys young enough to be on four bottles of milk a day can look extremely confident, run like the wind and act in a proper kangaroo manner, but can die in days if they had to fend for themselves, because they are too young to do so.
I live on 30 acres and although Agile Wallabies are not a species I care for, I have many wild ones on my property. As you would expect, I notice their behaviour as a matter of course. I watch as mother Agile, calmly nibbling the grass, keeps a watchful eye out as her Joey tears up and down past her, testing her speed and technique with sheer joy of life. I also notice that when the mother has problems due to unwanted attentions from amorous mates, she stashes her joey in a dense and sheltered area of bush whilst she leaves for extended periods trying to shake her suitors off . Whilst this is going on Joey keeps her head down and doesn’t move from that spot until Mum comes back. This is the important bit… Joey stays stashed away and hidden, instinctively.
I’ve known about this for a while, because when my orphans are first being introduced to the staging pen[i] they just stand by the gate until I go down for their next feed. The gate is significant because it is the last place they saw me and it is where I left them. This they can do for days, because effectively they are acting like ‘stashed’ joeys. When I go down with their bottles of milk they hear my footsteps and voice, before they see me and at that point they start moving around and calling out to me. They are normally Eastern Greys and Wallaroos.
I can almost hear you thinking, “So?”
Rarely do I get the privilege of caring for reds, but not so long ago I was caring for a red kangaroo orphan, she was very young and not anywhere near the age to be introduced to the staging pen. I was trying to get her used to being left alone for short periods out of pouch, in the small nursery pen next to the house. I was keeping a close eye on her whilst I was introducing her to this new routine and so observed she was acting ‘stashed’ behind a piece of shrubbery next to the gate. The difference between her though and every other macropod I’d had in previous years, was that when I returned she remained hidden and silent. My biggest mistake here, is that I didn’t notice that detail………. You have no idea how much I regret that now.
About an hour or two before it gets dark it is a daily routine of mine to collect all my pouched and emerging[ii] orphan joeys, take them outside for a mob ‘get together’ (this is before they are old enough to go into the staging pen). I sit on the grass with the tinys and the bigger kids get to run laps around either Mum (me) or the outside of the house depending on their age. It’s a time to be watchful and especially careful, you can take joeys outside with you anytime during full daylight and they won’t move more than a few metres away from you, but at dusk it’s a totally different story. They are in their element in that half light, their confidence improving a hundred fold, and it’s the easiest time to lose them.
I lost my little red joey. Hindsight, what a wonderful thing! Being a red she was more developed than her grey pouch mates of the same age. One evening she ranged further away and acted more independently from her mob, she was young, full of life and could run like the wind, the bush was exhilarating and of course she was in her natural element. Despite searching over 30 acres of bush for the next 36 hours and routine searches during the following two weeks, calling her and calling her, she was never found. She wasn’t old enough to survive on her own, and so I lost one of my babies and it was totally my fault. I honestly believe that I would have passed her a number of times in my searches and she would have remained hidden, because she was acting ‘stashed’ and it was instinct.
At the time I was heart broken over the loss of this special little personality and I beat myself up unmercifully over losing a precious animal in my care. However, it wasn’t until Constantine came into care that it dawned on me that I’d lost Whisper because of this particular ‘stashed’ behaviour. Constantine, another little red, also didn’t respond when I approached the nursery pen, hiding behind the same shrub, and just as silently.
I noticed immediately.
What did I do differently? I ‘trained’ him to react to a special call (similar to one he made) and by staying out of sight until he did respond and only then would he get his bottle.
Now I know about this trait I’ll always be aware of it, but my goodness I so hate learning the hard way.
[i] Staging Pen - Large pen set a reasonable distance away from house, where out of pouch Joeys live whilst they are being prepared ready for their release.
[ii] Emerging – Stage where joey starts leaving the pouch.
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I am sorry but I really don’t have anything to talk to you about kangaroos this month, so we are going to have to change the subject again! To FISH.
Since Albert got a marine aquarium for his birthday we have embarked on a bit of an adventure learning the basics of this new hobby. We were advised by our local fish supplier (as in pets) to start the tank off with a pet rock. Rocky came with three minuscule shrimp things and a bit of algae and did absolutely nothing on the entertainment front and even the shrimp things disappeared without a trace after a week. A whole month went by of being entertained by Reckless Rocky and having to stop visitors vainly looking at all angles to spot elusive fish, this was despite us explaining our directive in ‘conditioning’ the tank with Rocky. After that challenge we were extremely relived to go back to the shop to purchase our first fish.
Huey, Dewey and Louie (Albert named them after the robots in ‘Silent Running’) arrived and immediately gave us and our visitors something of interest to peer at. The blue threesome, we were advised, where the cheapest fish in the shop and so termed as ‘dispensable’ if we made any mistakes. A couple of weeks on and with a feeling of accomplishment, over not killing them, we upped the anti and purchased an expensive fish. He was described as a ‘mature’ Clown Fish and I immediately named him Chester the Jester.
Apparently, his description of ‘mature’ describes that he is old and cranky and will not tolerate any other Clown fish (sounds familiar?). Anyway a couple of days after Chester’s arrival and watching his funny bobbing around, rather than the expected swimming, we felt sorry for him not having a coral to wriggle into, so off we went back to the shop. Of course by now the shop assistants know us by name and I’ve got an idea that it won’t be too long before they will be offering us coffee on our visits, since we spend so much time there in total awe of the wonderful fish and coral to be had.
So, now have the following additional tenants in the aquarium and these are; Fingers McPhee, S’Not A Lot, Wee Willie and Brains who are all soft corals. Oh yes, and Busta Gut the sand snail.
Interestingly we have learnt that Clown Fish don’t automatically rub against corals and anemones, apparently you have to train them. Albert keeps looking at the tank and asking me “So how do you train a fish then?” Not sure why he’s asking me, I don’t even eat them (he does) so he must have more idea surely. I know food rewards work with dogs, but kangaroos don’t give a damn.
Busta Gut is also causing concern and despite a frantic call to the fish shop yesterday, asking for urgent advice, they inform me that a coral cannot be scared of a snail. WELL I JUST DON’T AGREE ACTUALLY! After Busta’s first attempt at climbing on to Fingers, Fingers went into a complete flop and since then, he reacts dramatically when Busta Gut goes anywhere near him. He pulls all his fingers in and impersonates a green ball.
What is really disconcerting is that Busta terrorises Fingers intentionally because he knows the effect he has. He doesn’t do this with any of the other corals. Last night he even climbed up a rock to get at Fingers. The man at the shop just keeps telling me it’s impossible and says I’m not allowed to keep moving Fingers around the tank (apparently corals don't like being moved)
I’ve just pictured a court scene of a murder trial in my head, the Judge is an octopus (yes, they even had one of those in the shop and boy was it UGLY) the prosecution is a tiger shrimp and saying “So………., Mr Shop Owner can you explain to the jury how despite being informed that Mr McPhee was under threat by the accused ...............you did nothing?'
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On June 17th my darling husband Albert reached a major milestone in his life by reaching the age of FIFTY (Woah, that actually looks a lot worse in print!) To celebrate such a momentous occasion his parents travelled all the way from Scotland to stay with us in the popular and thriving tourist centre of Alligator Creek, North Queensland.
Even though they are in their mid-70’s they managed to exhaust our main tourist spots in less than a week and so for the remaining three weeks the highlight of their stay was visiting either Woolworths or Bunning’s. I can perhaps brag that our hill top home with its stunning scenery of Bowling Green National Park and the imposing Mt Elliot could be considered as a rather selective, if miniscule, tourist spot, but apart from the comings and goings of kangaroos in care, there isn’t a lot to keep visitors occupied for any length of time
My in-laws are from a small town just outside Edinburgh and like all Scottish people they speak funny (no………… not like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, I do mean a real Scottish accent).
I’m from England (yes a POM but working on being a Australian it’s only my inability to say G’day that is holding me back) and so during the past 13 years of being married to Albert, it has been a battle for me to understand them. However, every doggy has his day and I managed to get back at them during their visit here. How, you may well ask. Well, my wonderful dentist is in the process of fixing my wibbly smile and during the in-laws first week here, I was fitted with ‘appliances' (I’m guessing my dentist didn’t tell me what the real name of these contraptions were just in case I ran screaming to the hills) Anyway, after my jaws were suitably wired, they were forever saying pardon when I spoke or just guessed what I was lisping about. I found that during this time I could get away with a multitude of sins without anyone being aware of what I was doing. Such as swearing, telling people off, swearing, pronouncing words incorrectly and swearing. Yes, I swore a LOT. These appliances are seriously uncomfortable, it kind of feels like you’ve forgotten to take a couple of forks out of your mouth after eating. OMG EATING!!!!!!! Of course we had visitors so the pantry and fridge were stuffed full of edible goodies. Barbara my mother-in-law is a first rate cook and took over the kitchen during her stay which is inevitable, as she knows she is in the presence of one of the world’s worst domestic science failures.
OH the ANGUISH…………… forget about all the obvious stuff I can’t eat, such as everything except for soup, BUT forgoing the ‘nibbles’ whilst drinking beer and playing snooker (yes, guess what Albert got for his birthday) is absolutely tortuous. I’ve never looked at salted peanuts with such loving intensity. Oh and whilst we are on the subject of loving intensity, Albert isn’t game for a good snog anymore.
I just can’t think why not. "Givsh ush a kish darlink"
Anyway, enough of this nonsense....for this month anyway. I'm sure I'll be back with kangaroo news soon....especially since I've got new babies arriving in the next couple of weeks. Watch this space!
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Last weekend I released two of my five kangaroos, Matisse and Morgan, though sadly I was unable to release the others. This was because my third red Leonardo, although the same age as the others, wasn’t ready to go with them. Poor young Leo is an unusually antisocial being (a bit like myself really) but he shouldn’t be, because unlike me, he is a mob animal and needs to have the necessary skills to survive successfully as part of a group of the same species. Leo’s problem was that, after being orphaned, he was reared by a member of the public who had no training on how to rehabilitate wildlife. He was raised, however well intentionally, to be a member/pet of a human family and so he thinks he is human and even after four months in my care housed with the others of his own kind he still doesn’t act like a kangaroo. His rehabilitative journey is slow and his two eastern grey pen mates are obligingly laid back enough to forgo their release temporarily in order to assist in his re-education, but it is a long difficult haul for him and it never had to be that way.
When I talk to the general public about wildlife care (this is as opposed to trained wildlife rehabilitators) I often get the same story from them. They tell me how they had a ‘pet’ kangaroo when they were young, or their Mum tried to raise kangaroos but they always seemed to die after a short while, or that they raised the animal but then it got too big and aggressive when jumping around their house and on the settee whilst they were trying to watch TV. The ones that die fairly quickly tend to be the joeys that are not fed properly, either by giving them cow’s milk, which means they die in agony with their insides bleeding or when given ‘expensive’ milk formula they starve to death between random or sparse feeding times.
Even nowadays these unfortunate (from my perspective anyway) joeys once found, are kept far too long as a novelty or children’s play thing. If they are lucky they are handed to us once they’ve started to defecate over the lounge suite or worse get really sick and need a vet’s care.
Anyone who wants to be wildlife carer can be and it isn’t difficult to learn how to do the right thing by the animal. Training is straightforward, inexpensive (even the government permit is free in Queensland) and there is great support from local groups. All someone needs is the passion, time and a healthy dose of common sense.
Macropods are probably the biggest challenge with regard to time and expense, since they can be in care for up to 12 months, need the biggest pens and shelters, drink the most milk formula and need to be kept with others of the same species. I spend around $1000 per year on milk formula alone. My smaller joeys are usually on 5 to 4 feeds a day and the bigger penned ones 3 to 2, gradually being weened about a month before release to half a bottle every other day. Carers in Townsville are lucky as there are a small number of seriously wonderful vets who help us when our animals get sick or come in with injuries. These individuals don’t charge us for their time, just the base price for any medications that are required. They don’t have to help out in this way, they do this out of the goodness of their hearts. In return we appreciate everything they do for us and of course in turn we take all our domestic pets to them as a matter of loyalty.
Other wildlife needing care from snakes to fruit bats is less challenging, but the experience of caring for them once you are trained and have a permit is just as gratifying and gives you that stupendous feeling of achievement once they are ready to make their own way out there in the wild.
Anyone interested in finding out more about caring should visit their local wildlife care group and state government websites regarding this topic.
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I spent ages writing a blog for this month that personally inspired me and in my head I was hoping to wow you all with the content. It was about the power of human energy transmitting emotions and its effect on people and animals. I thought it was absolutely great and read it out to Albert, but as I read my carefully composed sentences of awe inspiring ideas and theories his eyelids drooped and the bugger started yawning.
So! Rather than give you my invaluable insight of human thought energy transference I’ll just talk to you about cooking instead. I’m (cough cough) years old, not the youngest pixie in the forest these days and have had enough time to practice my culinary skills to know I’m stink at the job. I get confused these days over adjectives since I watched the XFactor and So You Think You Can Dance where ‘You killed it’ and ‘That was truly sick man’ were good comments, but I actually stink at cooking using old farts vernacular.
Looking back over the years I have countless cooking events ranging from throwing tennis socks in a chip fryer by accident to sprinkling gravy granules on the top of a vegetarian gratin instead of breadcrumbs. My dog Chablis used to walk out of the house if I ever got the toaster out of the cupboard, because she couldn’t stand the smoke alarm going off. Just a couple of years ago I was enthused enough to attempt a chicken stew as a surprise for Albert when he got home. This was a surprise because I happen to be a veggie (please I am normal, I just don’t like eating my friends). I knew you had to slow cook a stew so I left it on the cooker top and went off up to my office (at the end of the garden) to do some work. Luckily someone phoned me eight hours later asking me for some information that I’d left in the house. Well, the house hadn’t actually burnt down but the $100 saucepan was pretty much welded to the top of the cooker hob. Stupidly, it was so hot (yes, white hot) I felt I couldn’t put it on the grass without starting a bush fire so I dumped it on one of our outdoor seating cushions. For goodness sake! They don’t make cushions out of cotton and horse hair any more? So after one severely distorted pan base, a melted cushion and a house that smelled of smoke for over a week, Albert said he didn’t want to try my chicken stew! WHAT?
Last Thursday I had to go to the dentist and because I’m dental phobic they gave me a relaxing drug. Minus two wisdom teeth later (now don’t try to be funny with that one please) as a thank you to Albert for staying with me through the whole procedure I decided to surprise him with an evening meal of Edam pasta. I used a packet of Edam, special dried mushrooms and fresh asparagus cost $13. First I sautéed the mushrooms, garlic and butter in wine from a $30 bottle of wine I’d opened just for the purpose. Then I made a delicate rue of flour and butter, slowly stirring in the milk and Edam cheese. Leaving the pan for a while, I went off to make some changes to my website. On my return I found that the ingredients had separated giving the dish a look of boiled cottage cheese. After using the blender at high speed I managed to bring it back to a smooth consistency added the asparagus and mushrooms and left it again for a short drug induced nap. On waking I found that I had burnt the bottom of the delicate white sauce and needed to decant the remainder into another pan. After adding some grated parmesan and fresh herbs I knowledgeably decided it was unfit to eat, but because I had spent so much money on the ingredients put it aside to think of a way to save said dish and we had cheese and biscuits for dinner that night.
We were painting the kitchen on Saturday morning and after a few accusations flew around regarding the effects of changing the dogs diet from Eukanuba to Hills Science Diet we tracked down the smelly offender sitting in the corner of the worktop. Yes, northern Queensland + food left out + cheese and milk, not a pretty sight that turquoise and white fur.
Not sure if I was still drug affected by then but I felt it was just too gross to put in the bin so I decided to flush it down the toilet where is smelt it belonged.
Now the shower, hand basin, laundry and kitchen sinks are all out of action and Albert says I’m going to have to pay for the plumber to fix the mess out of my personal pocket money.
I’M SO NOT GOING TO COOK HIM A SURPRISE MEAL EVER AGAIN!
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The other night I was watching the TV series “The Force” and found myself horrified to hear myself repeating something I vowed I would never say when I was a kid. Something about “…. never happened when I was young…” Oh my goodness, I suddenly got old! When did that happen?
I think I’ve been living under a rock, when did the police start dealing with 72 year old grannies subsidising their pension with money earned from selling drugs for goodness sake? AND when did it become the norm for very young people to be so rude when speaking to police officers after being caught doing something wrong? I wouldn’t have dared to say ‘boo!’ to our village bobby when I was school age. He knew everyone by name in our village and my first and only big brush with him and the law happened when I was eight years old.
Officer Green caught me riding my brand new shiny blue metallic Raleigh bike on the ROAD!!!!!!!
He stopped me in his little Austin Mini panda van. How fast did they go for goodness sake? (fast enough to catch a kid on a bike obviously) How did they ever catch a criminal in those days? Or was it that they only used them in small villages and the police didn't need fast cars to catch us since they knew where we lived? Anyway,I could have died a million deaths I was so humiliated about being in such a situation.
The whole village must have thought the sun had come out judging by the heat radiating from my bright red face especially as he’d just stopped me outside the Hovis shop. “Good morning young Samantha” said Officer Green to the top of my head, because I had suddenly found the rubber peddles of my bike the most profoundly interesting thing in the universe rather than look him in the eye. Why? Because I was guilty and I knew I was guilty of a serious crime.
“So, Samantha have you passed your cycling proficiency test, THEN?” He really did rock back and to on the balls of his feet whilst reaching in his top pocket. I found the courage to lift my eyes as far as the bright silver West Mercia police force crested button, located in the middle of his dark blue uniform jacket and mumbled a very small “No I haven’t Officer Green, I am very sorry” Out of his top pocket he took out his note book, and I was convinced I was going to jail. Then, the lecture began and after what seemed an eternity, I was given a page torn from his notebook with the time and place of the cycling proficiency course. I was then ordered to get off my bike and walk along the pavement pushing it all the way home and on NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, was I allowed to ride it on the foot-way either or I would seriously be breaking the law and he would need to issue me with a fine.
Like all the kids in our village I knew that if I did something seriously naughty that Officer Green would have given me a sharp clip round the ear and I suppose that made us all very respectful of the law in those days and like me it probably stayed with most of us throughout our adult lives.
I often sit and watch the Agile Wallaby mums with their joeys around our property. You can see the joey will often bounce around and up to Mum and try giving her a swift kick or a bit of a box. Mum tries to carry on chewing her clump of grass and joey comes around again for another try. She gives him a gentle sideways push away “Stop bothering me Son, I’ve found some very tasty shoots to eat.” He continues to do his rounds of play fighting and she is so patient with him...well that is up to a certain point of course.
It isn't when he’s done it too many times and it’s irritating. If you watch carefully, it’s when he gets far too rough, at that point she gives him a hefty swipe sideways and knocks him off balance. Her demeanour doesn't change at all, she does it calmly and firmly without even stopping chewing. He stops then and I’m sure he’s embarrassed because he either starts nibbling grass intently or scratches the back of his ear with his hind leg. What he doesn't do is carry on with his play fighting. It’s all about calm, reasonable corrections with these animals and it gives me some clues on how to handle my growing joeys as they push their boundaries with me.
By the way, if you’re reading this Officer Green, thank you for not giving me a clip around the ear. I admit it, I knew I wasn't allowed to ride my bike on the road without the certificate. I was just too lazy to turn up to the cycling proficiency lessons held at my school on a Saturday morning. However, you will be glad to know I've never done anything as bad as that since. Mainly, because I just couldn't bear the thought of going through the guilt and humiliation I experienced that day, ever again.
For the last five weeks every minute of my spare time has been channelled towards producing an audio visual presentation about caring for wildlife. Its aim is to encourage new carers to take up this worthwhile cause and maybe help raise a few funds for our local wildlife care group. I have also produced it in the hope of gaining a distinction for the work.
As to be expected I concentrated most of my efforts on kangaroos, no surprise there, but you will be glad to know that I’ve made a token reference to other species too.
After a lot of blood, sweat and tears I finally got to sit down yesterday to watch my final cut. I have to be candid in saying that I was a bit disappointed with my efforts. Sadly, I didn’t think I would achieve my goal of obtaining a distinction. Mainly because I didn’t feel the quality of the images and video were up to scratch. I could imagine the critique “Well she needed to compose that image better”, “That background is poor”, “Ugh! Lighting dearie LIGHTING “, “All these shots appear to be in ones face, give it some room for goodness sake”
Oh and the video, well don’t let us talk about the video footage.
My 15 minute presentation ended with a flourish of music and the screen went black (no I didn’t put in ‘The End’) and I sat there thinking how I could have made it better. Do you remember that blog I did on how to photograph pets the Aussie Critter way? Yeah, right! What do I know? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
That may give you a tiny insight of the task in hand when photographing or videoing kangaroos. There I am getting down as low as possible trying to capture those wonderfully expressive, bottomless eyes and what’s going on in the background? Well if you don’t know I’ll tell you. When joeys are very young they cannot bear to be away from their Mum and desperately want to get back in their pouch. So, there are usually a couple of babies trying to get into any pockets I may have, then I’ll have one seriously attempting and sometime succeeding in somersaulting into my cleavage and of course there will be one baby stuffing his head up the back of my shirt pretending the world just isn’t there. All this involves a lot of determined scrabbling with long nails against sensitive hairless human skin.
After extracting all the furry little bodies from their various hidey holes, I plonk them on the floor in front of my ideal backdrop and ask them nicely to look interested in the grass and ‘oh, look at the funny little ant’ backing away carefully talking to them all the time.
The only thing that works is plonking them on the ground, sprinting away at top speed so they don’t realise you’ve moved and we are talking the speed of light here, spinning and clicking. Got it?
Dump, run, spin AND CLICK.
Forget the backdrop, there’s always Photoshop.
Later on when they get all their confidence and leap about the place jumping in the air with joyful glee (this is when you don’t have a camera) they get this new affliction called curiosity. “What on earth is that big black shiny thing stuck to Mum’s face?” Lens cap off and they stop everything they are doing to come over, someone licks the lens, another grabs fistfuls of my hair wondering what the new type of grass tastes like, and any not doing those activities decide a little earnest grooming might be necessary on any bits of bare skin Mum has showing
When that panel of judges view my work later this month, I don’t think they should be assessing the piece on its merits. I think they should be judging it on the degree of difficulty involved in its production and politely overlooking the places where I’ve fallen short of the desired artistically perfect imagery. Ah well, I might also win the lottery on Tuesday too!
Upon reflection though, all of those prospective new carers watching the piece aren’t going to be assessing the artistic aspect at all. They are going to sit back, enjoy the music and are just going to LOVE watching those adorable, well behaved and extremely photogenic joey babies.
MY JOB IS DONE!
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Despite all I said last month about giving my blog readers informative reading or at least some handy tips or useful advice I’m sitting here at a complete loss this month.
No, I don’t actually think I have any more than what I shared with you last time, so I’ll just do my usual mad Auntie waffling.
One of my Christmas presents from Albert had been an introductory helicopter training lesson. So he decided to take the day off work especially to take me (probably for entertainment value no doubt) As soon as I woke up that morning I felt peculiarly sick. What if got really windy, what if I crashed what if I threw up all over the bubble glass or worse needed to go for an emergency visit the loo?
The first part of the lesson involved me sitting down in a classroom listening to instruction from a very nice man, who was earnestly trying to make me believe I would remember all the functions of three main levers situated in the cock pit. Whilst sitting there I was pretending to be calm, but inside my head there were alarm bells and sirens going off at minute intervals and my stomach was doing a good impression of a blender despite the fact I’d had no breakfast.
In no time at all we were walking through the hangar and out towards… now I have to pause here…‘the helicopter’, WELL REALLY it was seriously impersonating a dinky toy and yes of course I was expecting a Chinook.
So, we are in this bubble of (plastic?) with a door on one side and an OPEN space on the other. I am reassured that they only put the passenger door in for me, but I'm told that I would be asking them to take it off if this was my third lesson. No air-conditioning and you are sitting in a sun magnifying glass, sorry got that wrong, no door is the air-conditioning. I'm briefed on all the controls and dials and then asked if I have any questions. Yes sure, I'm 5’ 2” how do I slide the seat forward to reach the pedals? Bearing in mind the pedals keep the thing straight on the vertical axis (see I was listening) So what’s with that piece of dental floss handing from the centre of the screen anyway? Why haven’t they put a dial in to tell you you’re flying listing over to the left?
Anyway, the instructor just looks at me, then gazes down at my feet, back again at my face, takes a breath and says “The seat doesn't move can you sit forward and reach the pedal?” Actually, no I can’t!
Off he goes back into the hanger to find something to wedge behind me. Of course Albert thinks this is hilarious and we heatedly discuss whether he might like to go up instead since his legs are longer.
Finally we were up in the air and it was truly out of this world, like sitting right inside and above a stunning holiday location with nothing around you but pure beauty. I just don’t have the words to describe how amazing the scenery was or the experience. I blithely write up the side panel here “ I'm a person who feels I live in paradise…” It went way beyond that up there and rather than taking my breath away it was almost like being winded with the shock of such splendour and definitely a situation where you could justifiably use the word AWESOME.
Can I recommend a helicopter lesson for people who've never been in one?
Too right I can, it just HAS to be on your bucket list, and it also needs to happen in a wonderful location.
Forget the fear, I did.
I've recently read some articles about writing blogs and find that I’ve got it all wrong. According the experts, I’m not supposed to be waffling on about my life like some self-absorbed eccentric (but lovable) Auntie, I’m supposed to be imparting something of value to you all. So, for the last week I’ve been frantically trying to think what I know and you don’t that is useful to you. Unsurprisingly, I’ve come up with very, very little, which is a bit of a bombshell because I thought I had a fair catalogue of knowledge under my belt. I can hear you say. “So mad Auntie Sammy what have you come up with?” If you are saying THAT!... I will really have to tell you to bugger off and stop calling me Sammy to start with!
Here it is… People have sent me a number of photographs they would like me to work my magic on and make into a painting. Unfortunately, a lot of the photographs I’ve been sent I just can’t use. This has given me the idea to perhaps go over a few things that would not only make photographs more pleasing to the eye, but make them better for me to paint so as to achieve more of an impact. So here goes…
(Please Note the following models I've used to illustrate various points are obviously NOT pets but wildlife in rehabilitative care, however the principles of photography are the same)
I acknowledge that your regular dog, horse, cat is not going to pose perfectly for you and that as soon as you get the camera out they will do an assortment of things including stopping what cutesy adorable thing they were doing, will walk off in the opposite direct or come over and stick their wet nose inquisitively on your camera lens.
First rule…BE PATIENT and I mean EXTREMELY patient, don’t put the camera away when they are not doing what you want, just take a few shots anyway this gets them used to what you are doing. Then put the camera down, but not pack it away so that it is always hand and ready to be picked up without running around looking for it. This not only makes the exercise difficult in the first place but also excites the animal wondering what you are doing so that it isn't amenable to posing like the pet model of the year.
Second rule…Those few shots...GET DOWN AND CLOSE, don’t stand up and look down on them. When you look at your much loved pet what appeals to you are usually their eyes. The human in you, needs to see and connect to those eyes and to do that you need to be close to the same level for impact. If you ever ask me to do a painting for you I need lots of close up support shots of eyes, eyelashes, eyebrow expressions (these are just record shots) it gives me a feeling of the heart of the animal and an indication of what you see in your beloved pet.
Many images I get in are out of focus (I can't use these) and I usually put this down to the way people hold their camera, or poor light. Holding the camera at arm’s length is a definite NO NO, please don’t do that. (Auntie says NO!) Not only does this make it difficult for you to frame the shot nicely, but your arm extended wobbles no matter how light your camera is.
The best head shots of animals have the head at an angle, with some or a good part of the second eye showing, you need both eyes in the shot, BUT not full straight on.
You need good lighting, don’t take photographs inside the house if you can help it. Natural light brings out the highlights and undertones of the coat and eyes.
For me the background doesn’t matter because it is one thing that is relatively easy to change, but for you and your photographs make sure there aren’t embarrassing things in the background like crates of beer, underwear hanging out to dry or a child picking its nose.
OK folks I can hear you snoring from here so I’ll wind this up.
Finally I’ll include something a little personal to show how little a background matters for my paintings and also how you can go wrong by changing too much of what is real.
It was Albert’s and my 13th wedding anniversary on December 18th and one of my regrets has always been that I didn’t have a wonderful (put on the wall worthy) photograph of the occasion. We were married in Scotland at the same 13th century palace Mary Queen of Scots was born and Bonnie Prince Charles stayed… it was so romantic, but the temperature was a long way below freezing. I wanted a painting to show ALL of that.
I was well into the painting, had put in the background that showed where we were married, but with much nicer surrounds and had pretty much finished when Albert started interfering. “My hair looks bouffant, can you give it a trim and make it look modern. Oh and I really HATE my glasses can you take them off”
Always happy to oblige a ‘client’ I did as was asked.
I sat back at the end of working on this one and seriously wondered who the bloke was, standing next to me, because he certainly wasn’t the person I married.
Needless to say I am now in the middle of re-working this piece and making sure
I put the right person in the painting (she sighs…...)
Wishing you all a safe and happy snapping New Year!
When I venture out from my hill into civilisation, something I don’t do very often. I’m generally shocked by the amount of noise people living in the suburbs have to tolerate. Traffic noise, dogs barking, lawnmowers, couples arguing and the list goes on. I sit in my friends gardens and wonder how they managed to put up with all this interference from other people with their various noise generators and thank my lucky stars that I reside in such peaceful surroundings……………………….. Until recently that is. Now I have to review my smug attitude towards what I often boast is a ‘perfect and peaceful idyll’
The cicadas are out in force, leaving hundreds of neatly bored holes in the concrete hard earth and discarded shells litter the bases of all the Eucalypts.
Albert and I were sitting on the deck drinking a well-earned (as always) ice cold beer, when the noise suddenly stopped. (Do you think they have some kind of Cicada conductor?) Then, utter silence, no wind, no bird noise, no leaf noise…nothing. Keep in mind we live on a 28 acre bush block and don’t actually need to worry about being overheard, but I leaned over and whispered “Wow! I didn’t realise it was so noisy until they all stopped” We must have quietly chatted for about ten minutes about how stunningly beautiful the place was and how lucky we were to be here, when a slow clicking noise began over on our left side, a bit like popping corn.
Then the most almighty noise hit our ears first from the left and then was joined by the right in full stereophonic sound. (Yes definitely must have a conductor) We just sat and stared at each other in amazement. The Cicadas yes, but sounding completely different from the day shift.
By the way, have you ever sat by a tree full of Cicadas and tried to have a conversation without being able to hear any of your ‘s’s’ or should I write that ‘esses’ Well, it’s extremely difficult…and a little bit funny actually. Try it sometime.
So, what has been happening with the babies lately? We had a bit of a drama on Saturday night when Albert was left in charge of ‘play time’ whilst I went out. Despite being directed to make sure all four babies were in before dark, he managed to lose the two greys. After receiving a panic phone call I returned home and we searched roughly 10 acres of land near the house up until midnight with no joy having to abandon the effort until morning light. At 4 am and after a night of graphically visualising the pack of dingos that frequent the bottom of our land attacking my precious Monet and Mozart, I got up to continue the search. It wasn't until 6.30 am that I found them at the furthest possible point they could be from the house and still within our boundary. Standing with their arms around each other, sucking the other’s ear and positioned right in the middle of the cleared fire-break A perfect ‘swoop and take away’ snack for any passing Wedge Tailed Eagle. Let’s not discuss all the dingo scat clearly evident in the area.
Anyway, the babies are all back in their pouches and despite being a little bit deaf, all of us on our hill in Alligator Creek are content, and especially looking forward to the first rains and GREEN grass.
Samantha "I'm a person who feels I live in paradise and truly love Australia after immigrating here in 2003. I work as a foreign exchange trader, live with my true soul mate, husband Albert. I have a passion for Aussie wildlife and became a registered wildlife carer in 2005 and can say I feel truly privileged to be able to raise and rehabilitate orphan wallaby/kangaroo joeys. I love these creatures with my heart and soul. My dream is to be able to help struggling volunteer wildlife carers, financially, so that they can do what they do best without worrying how to pay the next vet bill"
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