Eloise and the Giant Cave

October 14th, 2011

As we toddle through our early years, life seems to throw up challenges, “little Everests”, to keep us on our toes. Watching my granddaughter Eloise over the last few years I have been reminded of this.

I lived near Milson Park on Careening Cove in North Sydney. In those days there used to be some play equipment in the park. I particularly remember two metal ladders. Although fixed to the ground, these ladders had enough flexibility to swing slightly as you attempted the climb. To a little boy they seemed to disappear into the clouds. Next to each ladder was a metal pole. The challenge was to climb to the top of the ladder, manoeuvre yourself across to the pole and then slide down with a beaming smile. For some time, this became my “little Everest”, challenging me every time I played in the park.

By way of a bit of trivia, these particular playground ladders appeared in the 1960s ABC television adaptation of George Johnston’s novel My Brother Jack. From our backroom window, we could see the filming of the park scene. It was at night and they had rigged up a system of overhead pipes to simulate a rainy evening. For the best part of our fine evening, we watched Jack, played by the late Ed Devereaux, get wet as he repeatedly courted his drenched girlfriend on a damp park seat adjacent to the ladders.

My granddaughters Eloise and Caitlin live in Victoria so their visits are very special. When Eloise was around three years old I took her for a bush walk down behind our property in the Blue Mountains. There I showed her a large cave. I climbed my way to the back of it, before returning to sit with her at the front of the cave. We gazed into the valley and listened to the birds and the creek. Very soon we were on our way back home at Eloise’s rather anxious request.

Easter 2010 again saw us both sitting at the cave front. Eloise had asked me to take her back but there was no desire on her part to venture into the cave. She was very comfortable sitting and chatting at the front of it. She was more than happy with herself when we returned to the house and told everyone about her adventure. During a short stay last month Eloise asked me to take her again to the cave. This time she scampered up to the back of the cave a number of times, told stories there and asked me to video her climb to the back.

That night we all sat and watched a very proud Eloise do her stuff. She had just conquered one of her “little Everests”.

The Resilient Hoya

June 6th, 2011

After the Boxing Day bushfires of 2001 visited our Blue Mountains property, the extent of the damage done to the flora was clearly evident. You felt like you had landed on the moon.

Many plants, taken for granted over the years, were now valued either because of their complete obliteration or their irreparable damage. One such plant was our hoya. Given to us by my mother-in-law, this potted, tropical, evergreen plant mostly took care of itself. It hung from a branch with its vines dangling from the pot. These vines were covered with green and yellow leaves. They easily caught any breeze, swaying the hoya back and forth as if it danced to a choice melody that only it could hear.

Now our hoya was gone… scorched by the intensity of the bushfire’s heat. Like most of the neighbouring pots that displayed our orchids each year, the pot where our hoya had nested now seemed empty except for its dirt. Some of the pots had even partly melted.

During the cleanup the hoya pot was put aside and occasionally watered, without any real expectation of regrowth. But that is exactly what occurred and the hoya began growing back to its original self. Its resurrection was an encouraging sign of things to come.


When the hoya’s leafy vines started to wander from the pot, the plant was repotted and hung from another tree. Over the intervening years since the bushfires this tree never fully recovered. Earlier this year it toppled to the ground, crushing the hoya. I repotted the plant and this time brought it closer to the house, hanging it on a maple branch. Again the hoya quickly bounced back to a healthy state. As if to advertise the fact, it blossomed for the first time in its life. The beautiful, semi-spherical flower it produced comprised a cluster of small, delicate, star-shaped flowers, splashed in pink with a dab of darker pink at their centres.

hoya flower

Working on the regeneration of our bushland garden, despite the time and effort expended, has been very satisfying and rewarding. The resilience shown by plants like our hoya, our orchids and the many native plants that cover our property definitely raises one’s spirit.

The Recycled Bird Bath

June 3rd, 2011

There is a healthy tradition of improvisation in Australia. Have a dig around an old farm house or barn. The unique objects you are bound to discover bear testament to the ingenuity of this practice born of necessity. Improvisation depends heavily on the imagination to see the possibility of recycling materials to meet other needs. It also requires the ability to accomplish the transformation.

My father was an inventor and whenever it was possible, he resourcefully recycled materials. A lot of the wood he used for his projects came from timber packing cases put out for the garbage collection in the narrow laneway called De Mestre Place. This laneway was opposite Wynyard in Sydney. It was there in Hardy’s Chambers that my father had his office and workrooms.

In the school holidays my brother and I used to love going into town and visiting him. His workplace was like a bowerbird’s nest, crammed with all sorts of interesting bits and pieces. My father did not like throwing things away. He seemed to hold secretly to the belief that he was bound sooner or later to find a use for these odds and ends. Thus, toothpaste lids were transformed into excellent draw handles with the turn of a screw. His workbench  stool was an upended Oldsmobile axle, to which he had attached a foam rubber seat.

I kept this axle, continuing its use as a stool until it became too uncomfortable. But I could not throw it away. And thankfully I didn’t for it has recently been given a new lease of life in my garden. Standing erect on a cement paver, while balancing a pot base, it serves as a purposeful bird bath. I reckon my Dad would be very pleased with this outcome too.