bobtail flu

Sticky eyes, mucous throat, lethargy and lack of appetite, gasping for breath…sound familiar?Well thankfully neither mum nor I have flu but the poor old Bobtail lizard, lazing at the bottom of the steps in  Mum’s garden and seemingly dozing in the sun, does.      Warning bells start to ding when Astro sticks his snout near Bobby’s face and there is not a hiss or flash of blue tongue warning. Even tempting with a strawberry brings but a mere tongue flicker.                                                                                                                                 A day later and he’s moved up two steps and continues to look very unhappy.                An hour later tucked up in a towel he is being admitted to Kanyana,a Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in the Hills.

Established in the late 1960s by June and Lloyd Butcher on Darling Scarp land east of Perth in Western Australia, the property was named for the perennial springs in the area. While working as a Child Health nurse, June started to take in sick and injured wildlife eventually building a small hospital and aviaries. Since those early days with admissions in the tens of animals, Kanyana has now relocated to a former Girl Guide site on a 16 hectare property with a purpose built hospital, isolation building, aviaries and education centre.Now approximately 2000 birds and animals per year are admitted, representing over 150 species.

 And so it is on this damp and blustery Monday morning that ‘Bobby Wilson’, patient number 18156 joins the list of Kanyana’s increasing population of bobtails with the flu. It is an upper respiratory tract infection believed to be viral, though relatively little is still known about the cause and while recovery outcome is reasonable when caught early (fingers crossed) the mortality rate of newborns to sick mothers is high.There is an increasing concern for the future of the bobtail population which is not only being dealt a blow by the flu but with increasing  numbers being killed on the roads, by dog and cat attacks and the hazards of life in the bush and long grass and the perils of whipper snippers and lawnmowers.

 Lindy will look after Bobby W. A volunteer at Kanyana for four years, Lindy is one of a team of 120 carers (all volunteers) without whom the centre would surely not survive. She is now a bobtail expert and when asked why bobtails, she says with a smile “The don’t bite as badly as parrots!”

The flu is highly contagious so BobbyW will be in the isolation area which is currently full with individual vivarium containing bobtails at various stages of recovery. Treatment will take several weeks if not months and during that time will include medication, nebulisers (and what a very clever set up there is to administer this, no masks or standing in a steamy shower for these guys) and hand feeding if necessary. When recovered, the aim will be to release BobbyW back into Mum’s garden where hopefully a long and fluless life awaits. Bobtails mate for life and in a garden which has been wild animal friendly for decades now (inquisitive grandchildren included!) s/he may well have a mate waiting to emerge from hibernation and start the spring ritual.

I’ve asked if I may pop in and pay BobbyW a ‘bedside’ visit every so often (and be a pest and ask lots of questios!) so watch this space.

eclipse hunter 1999

There’s something very pleasurable about digging around in dusty bookshelves. Apart from the dust and odd little collections of forgotten treasures, there is occasionally a real find amongst the old notebooks and journals.                                                                   Klaus Mahler was such a find. We only spent a few hours together on a February day in 1999 but over the years I have thought of him when things astronomical have been happening in the heavens.

Klaus was 66 when we met and would now be 80. As a child in Germany, he asked his teacher what happened when the moon passed between the sun and earth. She couldn’t tell him and he decided to find out (no google back then!), promising himself that at some point in his life he would travel to a place on the earth where he could see the results…and that is what he had been doing for 30 years.                                                      Possessions packed in leather saddle bags,  two pieces of ‘special’ green glass wrapped in soft leather, money stashed between the leaves of a book on stamps and a folder of papers and notes, all were carried on a ladies style red and silver bicycle with three gears.  In those 30 years he had ridden through and to 100 countries, around the world eleven times and in his sixties preferred to travel in ‘safe’ countries, “but where is really safe?” he said. That “you cannot ride a bicycle in Russia” was very frustrating and he used public transport when bicycle riding was not permitted or physically impossible. However the bike travelled with him regardless until the next time he could ride it.

We met in a park near my previous home in the Bickley Valley in the Hills east of Perth. More an escarpment really which involves a drive, or ride, from the Perth coastal plains up steep winding roads (there is no other option!). Now on weekends the lycra clad, multi geared bike riders toil up these roads at snail’s pace and it still is amazing to think that Klaus and all his gear made that journey.                                                                              On our daily dog walk, Wallis ( a belligerent StaffyxBassett with Queen Anne legs) and Lily ( a cute but somewhat dim King Charles Cavalier) decided that the beatle haired, tanned, whippet slim individual wandering out of the bush was their new best friend. I headed over to drag them away and he asked me how far away the Mundaring Youth Hostel was.

And so the story unfolded as to why he was camping in the hills.

Bickley is home to Perth’s Observatory and while travelling in New Zealand, Klaus had heard that the prime observation spot for that particular total solar eclipse was at Greenough, a TINY hamlet on the west coast.                                                                     To get a bit techie now, a total solar eclipse can only be seen in certain parts of the world which lie in the ‘path of totality’, the path along which the moon’s shadow passes across the earth and is never wider than 274km. This often covers great tracts of ocean but in this instance the ‘p.o.t’ started just south of Madagascar and first landfall was at Greenhough.                                                                                                                       Klaus had booked the last seat on the bus (along with 40 fellow eclipse watchers) leaving from the Observatory. He had packed bike and possessions, hopped on a plane in New Zealand, camped in the bush outside Perth’s Airport and been woken by the water sprinklers before heading up the hill. Three nights of camping were enough and he was off to Mundaring Youth Hostel to re-organise for the big event.                                         Yet more winding roads lay ahead so Klaus, the dogs and I wandered home for breakfast and loaded up his gear. My dog walking gear is scruffy at the best of times and he was looking a tad worse for wear too. We were eyeballed with some suspicion trailing through the supermarket, and much to his delight a KFC!, stocking up on watermelon, bread, milk and a chicken. “I will dine like a king tonight” he said, insisting I take a huge slice of watermelon home for the boys.

 Klaus’ story is more than just that of an eclipse hunter. He had worked for a radio station in Hamburg and rented a small room in a friend’s house. When not writing about, reading about or hunting eclipses, he had two other passions.                                                          Stamps and his girlfriend.                                                                                                      He had written and published (at that time in its second edition) a 500 page book about East German stamps which he planned  to update as the stamp values would have to be converted to Euros.                                                                                                                   His girlfriend was ‘his true love’ and they had re-met a few years previously, after being separated as young children at the school where they first met some fifty years ago. “She doesn’t like to travel” he said but they kept in touch and she always knew the exact time he would be looking at an eclipse wherever he was in the world. “She looks to the sky at that time in her time zone and knows we are doing the same thing at the same moment,” he said.

 The eclipse was a huge success. He left a note on my door written on the back of a sheet torn from the stamp book he carried with him saying ‘It was the best one I have ever seen in my lifetime’.

When we parted company at the Youth Hostel, Klaus stood at the gate waving a blue handkerchief up and down in farewell until I could no longer see him in the car mirror. We did however cross paths again a few days later at the airport where I was seeing my folks off to Europe. Klaus was there with possessions in hand and bike all crated up for a return trip to New Zealand and then who knows where in his search for the next eclipse.

Callsigns and six degrees of seperation

Ok, imagine this. On yet another scorching Perth day we head off to the ‘hot weather park’ (lots of shade and a tap with a dog drinking bucket always full) and there in the middle of the big grassy area is a ute, a couple of big blokes and a HUGE antenna being erected in the sand.  My thought initially was remote controlled planes but a handshake later discover that this was the preliminaries for a weekend of Amateur (Ham) radio wizardry celebrating the life of John Moyle, a pioneer in electronics and sound recording and editor of Wireless Weekly. A hero too, as during his service in the RAAF in WW2 he kept radio and radar equipment operating under extreme circumstances, cobbling equipment together with whatever was available.

 The aim of the competition is to encourage and provide familiarisation with portable operations. In other words set up radio communications wherever, whenever in whatever situation and power that radio with generators, batteries or say solar power to provide communications in times of dire needs and circumstance. Dramatic though that may sound, think Cyclone Tracy and the fact that when the cyclone hit in 1974 all communications went down and an amateur radio enthusiast hitched up his radio to his car battery and let the world know what had happened. Think Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when amateur radio was used to co-ordinate disaster relief activities, the Dec 2004 tsunami and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and in Australia, 1939 Black Friday bushfires and the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009.

 Saturday afternoon and there is a lot of talking into radios with callsigns and what seems like endless repetitions of the same. Every call responded to is logged, manually or on computer, and at the end of the weekend they will tally up the contacts and be ranked in the Australia wide competition. There also seems to be a lot of standing around and cogitating, laying out lines of cable and using a fishing rod and line to raise them into high trees  and a sort of crop circle of orange wire, the earth mat. Mind you it is very warm and while the two mobile homes have aircons  I’m guessing they aren’t cranked up during the day. The main tent where the action is swarms with gear…screens, amps, big orange boxes full of kit, batteries, rolls of wires, large hammer (if it stops working give it a thump??) and a very splendidly iced chocolate mud cake. Sticky, yummy and probably not good on fingers about to fiddle finely with knobs on controls. As the sun heats up, the icing melts and there are a lot of big mouthfuls and sticky finger wipes on shorts and jeans.

 Wireless Radio in Australia celebrated 100 years last year and in WA the 100 year birthday happens next year. The lads here in the park today were part of the group that reconnected with space last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbit over Perth which became known as the ‘city of lights’ when the population switched on lights in homes and offices and from space the astronaut saw a twinkling glow amidst the black. Two of the fellows initially involved came to the celebrations, now in their 70s and 80s and contact was made with the current space station and school children had the chance to talk via radio with the current space station commander. 

As I write this, watching telly and cranking up the kettle with a click of a switch the ‘HARGs’ (Hills Amateur Radio Group) are self contained in a park with generators, solar and batteries powering the mobile homes, radios  and beer fridges! As I write this, a cyclone is pummelling the Pilbara coast and Amateur radio enthusiasts are probably telling the blokes in the park what is going on in their front yard as it happens and which we will hear about tomorrow.

 Until today I hadn’t thought of this for years but when I worked in Namibia in the 70s, when out in the bush in often very isolated exploration camps, we used radio to connect to the office and to have contact with, in my case, husband, Paul. He was even more often in some very isolated parts of the country! The radio was connected to a truck battery, which also powered the caravan and camp and every day we logged on and called in. Tracking through a central point, call sign 33, we were connected and as everyone and their auntie on the same network could hear conversations they were somewhat limited and coy and when business was concerned, very vague or coded. So simple, reliable and after ten minutes or so the rest of the day flowed without interruption. The only beeps and chirrups to be heard came from the trees and not a pocketed mobile.

 On a side note, I’ve discovered that John Moyle’s wife Alice was one of Australia’s great ethnomusicologists travelling in remote Australia recording Aboriginal songs and music and learning the stories. In particular she worked with the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt. Talk about six degrees of separation.  From a chance meeting of the HARGs in a park through John Moyle to Alice Moyle and Groote Eylandt and Elayne,(soon to be daughter-in-law, who with my son Andrew lives on Groote Eylandt) who works with the Anindilyakwa  Land Council. It is a small world.