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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Show & Tell.2: blossoms, ashes, mistletoe and a guitar

We pass the airport and head along the flat tableland. It's never been an exciting vista, but easy on the eye. Again, I see burgeoning growth; the sap rising in the leafless silver birches, newish yellow branches amongst the older white ones.

   Further on, the skeletons of eucalypts which didn't make it through the dieback of forty years ago are now stark and white against the grey-green of the winter pasture. Some in their death are spectacular in size and shape. Amongst them are others still struggling with that mysterious phenomenon – large dead branches amongst others barely alive, with little patches of miserable leaves on them that look like they are carelessly attached in untidy bunches; a bit like the large tree in the picture above.

   Everyone who's lived here a good while has a theory about the dieback disaster. 'It's the Christmas beetles, says one. 'Root nodules.' 'Over-fertilisation.' 'It happened in the 1890s, so it's just a cyclical thing.'

   I have my views, but here's not the place for them.

   Ah, Chilcott's Swamp. I'd love a house address like that. I start noticing the roadside hoardings.

   'Some of these are ... amazingly bad. I could put funny captions to them. I wish we had more time to stop and take pictures.'

   'Just as well we aren't stopping, my doctor.' She calls me that from the university days. 'We've allowed 75 minutes to get there, and if I start taking photos for you, we'd need two hours.'

   It's true. We would. And my enthusiasm for it would be gone on the way back, as well as the perfect now-quality of the light.

   Funny that. If we were in Melbourne, staying with Lena or Alice, it would probably take nearly 75 minutes from the time we got into the car to sit down in the always-overcrowded reception area of Peter Mac, the cancer hospital in the centre of the city. Going to Tamworth, we'll park (no charge!) virtually at the front door of the clinic where the MRI is done.

   'Bendemeer coming up.'

   I state the bleedin' obvious. It's a township off the highway.

   'We've never explored its full scenic offerings, have we?'


Mistletoe bird
   Further along, I notice trees that are so heavily studded with mistletoe that they are dying. The little tangerine-breasted mistletoe bird eats the fruit pod of the mistletoe. It flies to another part of the tree, or to another tree. The seeds pass through the bird and it deposits a nice gooey mess containing the seed in a tree fork – anywhere it will stick, actually.

   Soon there's another mistletoe digging its roots into the gumtree and sucking the sap from the eucalypt. The rusty-green tresses of mistletoe make it look like the tree is weeping.

The mistletoe will murder its host
   So it should. This is a parasite, and too many on one tree will kill it. This isn't the sort of mistletoe you kiss under.

   'Tree cancer' I say.

   'You always say that.'

   'I know. I can't help it. That's not so far from what it is – in its effect anyway.'

   We talk about things that are none of your business, or we sit in a comfortable silence, cocooned in our own meditations, until we come to the top of the Moonbi hills. There are some beautifully scenic snaps that could be taken, as the valley floor way below is framed left and right by great granite boulders that guard the highway.

   There's a mountain in the distance. It's not quite Mt Fuji, as it's too worn down for that, but directly above it is a long, almost vertical puffy cloud.

   'That earthquake we had a few weeks ago must have done more than we thought.'

   'Very funny.'

   'Lava,' says Tracey. It's a private joke, though I'll tell it to you if you're interested. We laugh.

   Still, I do wish we had a snapshot of that mountain with its fake-volcanic top spewing cloud-smoke.

   We drop down the range. It's no wonder there are exits with beds of gravel for trucks with failed brakes. Having to use one of those with twenty tonnes or more of crusher dust on board behind you would be terrifying.

   Our brakes don't fail, and we're soon off the Tablelands altogether.

   'What a name – Moonbi,' says Tracey.

   'I like it. To me, it sounds romantic.'

   In all honesty, I can't say that about the town itself. It's not quite Bogdanovitch's township in The Last Picture Show, but it's getting there. I think that's why Tracey doesn't like the name.

   We enter the last twenty kilometres or so on the outskirts of Tamworth. The hoardings lack invention and the buildings are strictly utilitarian.

   We don't pass the Golden Guitar, but we pour scorn on it.

   'What a disappointment it is.' (Here I translate into respectable language what Tracey actually said.) 'They could have made something spectacular, with glitz and shiny gold sparkling in the sunshine, and what do they do?'

   'The Beige Guitar in flat paint.'

   'Or Baby-shit Yellow Guitar,' I add helpfully.

   Get your act together and brighten it up, Country Music Festival Committee. G O L D E N. Get it? It's not that hard. It's not a Stradivarius.

   We're here at the clinic. For all my crowing about parking at the door, we have to cross the road and walk a full fifteen metres to enter the reception area. We're early, which is unusual – not that we've ever been late. Our timing's usually been almost to the point of punctiliousness.

   They're running a fraction early too, and before long I'm called in.



  1. Well, I do accept it's a fond hope - but based on this, I sincerely hope you write forever.


    1. You're very kind. Funny thing is, I have a score of topics there to write about, and the list is still growing, so I hope to knock off a few more anyway.

  2. A beautiful post. I always love that section of the drive, especially to Armidale. No doubt this is partly the expectation of arrival. I wait with bated breath to see if an Armidilian says something nice about Tamworth!
    I was very moved by your last post. Did not comment but it had my mind bubbling with memories old and recent and including many homespun philosophies. Anne Powles

    1. Oh, it is de rigeur for each town to do that. OK, "city" if you like, but there are more people on one street in Dhaka's old city area than in Armidale!

      It's a bit like Gladstone and Rockhampton. Or NZ and Oz. A peculiar rivalry. We loved it when we beat Rocky at sport, just as the Kiwis do when they beat us.

      Thanks for your words of encouragement. They mean a lot.

      By the way, anyone wanting to read an interesting blog by Anne should go to

      and have a look around.

  3. From 1960, until 1964, Tamworth was my home. This route, the trees, the granite outcrops, you describe is my teenage bones of memory. The die-back of trees was then as is now - 50 years is a long cycle! Is there still no hope for these trees?
    My dear Dad used to always recite this Banjo Paterson poem from memory and in full every time we drove over the Moonbi Ranges: (Thank you for prompting these memories, Denis).

    "Little bush maiden, wondering-eyed,
    Playing alone in the creek-bed dry,
    In the small green flat on every side
    Walled in by the Moonbi ranges high;
    Tell me the tale of your lonely life
    'Mid the great grey forests that know no change.
    "I never have left my home," she said,
    "I have never been over the Moonbi Range."....cont

    1. Thanks, Ros for both the comment and the poem. The other 3 verses of the Banjo Patterson poem can be viewed at

      One thing is obvious about dieback. The more isolated the tree, the less chance it has of survival. There's more safety in numbers, it seems. Whatever happens to cause it, numbers spread the load.


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