Sunday, July 31, 2011

There are fairies at the bottom of my harbour.

Yes. Sydney Harbour has fairies, well not at the bottom exactly but on the shore.

The delightful Fairy penguin, a tiny but obviously hardy creature lives in a small colony almost in the middle of Sydney, capital of New South Wales Australia! These enchanting critters who normally live farther south have braved the perils of suburbia to live cheek by jowl with humans. Unfortunately they are at the mercy of domestic pets, boats and pollution but seem to survive in this busy port.
These little fairies have sometimes to be rescued and treated at the nearby Taronga zoo when mishaps occur and it is a newsworthy occasion when they are released back into the 'wild'. Volunteers guard the penguins at night to protect them from predation by dogs, cats and foxes. On one Island off Victoria Maremma sheep dogs have been used successfully to keep foxes away from the colony
They almost serve a 'canary in the mine' role and indicate the health of the harbour and it's surrounds, something which is at last getting the attention it deserves after 200 odd years of treating it like a drain for the city's pollution.

Anyone wanting to see the Fairy penguins en mass would be advised to go to Phillip Island off Victoria where tourists can watch the nightly march to the sea. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Feeling prickly?

You know those mornings when you wake up, your eyes are stuck together, your throat is scratchy and you are in no mood to suffer fools? Don't you wish you could just curl up in a ball and keep the world away. This little guy has the solution though it has taken a few million years of evolution to get there.

The Echidna or spiny anteater (it's favourite food is termites) has a very nice strategy for avoiding confrontations. It digs a little hole and settles in leaving only it's spines protruding. If a predator should flip it over it merely curls into an impenetrable ball.
Like it's cousin the platypus it is a very curious creature indeed. It is a Monotreme, a mammal that lays eggs which are then deposited in a pouch. the young are suckled from a gland on the abdomen as the echidna has no nipples.They occur in Australia and New Guinea and are hunted for food but are protected fauna in Australia. While superficially resembling hedgehogs they are not related, the young are called Puggles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I 'heart'ichokes!

A little discussion on the Etegami Fun Club Facebook page  HERE about artichokes and the strange western custom of eating what are essentially thistles inspired this etegami.

While I love artichokes, it is not a disinterested kind of relationship and after admiring it's shapely beauty and drawing it the model died a noble death, soused in far too much butter to be good for it.
Proof indeed that butter is bad for you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rainy days and etegami.

The Prof is away ( comment). pursuing his new found rather plebeian hobby (don't worry, he never reads this blog) of lawn bowls at a three day clinic.  What to do with all of the free time I have when I am no longer picking up socks and wet towels and switching off lights and computers in empty rooms?  Why make, etegami of course!
In keeping with the damp atmosphere, I have drawn an improbable little creature who lives in water, digs a burrow, lays eggs and suckles it's young; the platypus.
So strange is the (sometimes called "duckbilled") platypus (from the greek words 'platus pous' meaning flat foot) that scientists in the old world reacted with disbelief when shown a stuffed specimen. It has fur, a tail like a small beaver, webbed feet, a rubbery bill used for finding worms and small crustaceans under water and interestingly a poisoned spur on the hind foot. This spur is capable of inflicting a nasty wound on an adult. It is rare to see a platypus in the wild as they are very secretive and rather scarce so if you get injured, well, don't go messing with a platypus is all I can say.

On another subject entirely, the Prof and I have decided that the way to good health is to drink healthy smoothies made of fruit and vegetables and to this end we have purchased a Vitamix blender.
This monster is the size and price of a small European nation (given the Greek situation). Optimism never dims however and despite advanced years and a lifetime of scepticism, we think this may be the fountain of youth. The machine came with TWO DVDs. THREE BOOKS and the recommendation of thousands of fanatical vegetarians, vegans and crystal gazers on the internet.....I can't wait to try it!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Grubs on!

Insects have been a food source for man forever and here in Australia we have the Big Daddy of yummy insects, the Witchetty grub.
Witchetty grubs are the large larvae of several types of moth found here in arid regions. The indigenous people prized them and still do in remote areas, for their high protein and delicious almond like flavour, though this may be an acquired taste! I can honestly say I have eaten one as a child and the only thing I remember was that it definitely did not taste like chicken!
So following on from a series of animals and birds that are likely to give you a nasty nip, I have made this card to put the bite back on the wildlife.

P.S. You may wonder why I ate a grub...long story but my grandfather was a bit of an eccentric for those days and believed that we could learn a lot from the aboriginal people about how to survive if we were lost in the bush, consequently I have eaten snake and kangaroo and many different types of greens picked from the bush (none of which compared in my youthful eyes to a nice home cooked meal but I bravely tried them to please my grandfather). Of course nowadays "Bush Tucker" as wild foods are called, are served in the best restaurants and are awfully trendy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ban the bunny.

You may not know that in Australia the rabbit is a declared noxious pest. For much of the last century rabbits have been in plague proportions in many country areas. Lacking a natural predator, they multiplied like, well, rabbits. During the Great Depression in the 1930's many people survived on rabbit meat which was cheap and easy to obtain. City streets reverberated to the cries of "Rabbito" and housewives ran out with their sixpences to buy. The irony here is that rabbits were introduced to give the ordinary man the opportunity to hunt them and eat the meat, a luxury enjoyed only by the landed gentry in England.  In fact many original settlers in Australia were convicts transported for the crime of poaching.
 It was only with the introduction of a disease called myxomatosis that any kind of control was possible, as rabbits became immune to this virus, another one called the Callici virus was introduced and we wait to see if this is the answer to the rabbit problem.

(photo; National Archives of Australia)

This is an image taken during the worst time, the rabbits having totally denuded the land.
It is quite odd then that bunnies feature so much in our Easter celebrations. A number of determined people would really like to use an indigenous animal in place of the rabbit and they have nominated the Bilby. The Bilby is  shy nocturnal creature  with a pouch in which it carries it's young, obviously designed for carrying Easter eggs as well! Interestingly the pouch faces backwards so that it does not fill up with dirt when the animal digs for food.
All of this information is to introduce this etegami, one of my series on Australian animals.

Don't you just love those big ears?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bad press.

One of the most dangerous animals in the bush or even the city is the fruit bat or flying fox. Don't get me wrong, he won't come after you with guns blazing, though he can scratch and bite. The danger is less obvious. Flying foxes have been in the news these last few days because  they are carriers of a deadly virus which attacks and kills horses who then pass it on to humans. Veterinarians who have attended the sick animals have died and through no fault of their own, the foxes get the blame.
Mind you, they don't enjoy a good reputation, mainly for their habit of denuding orchards, taking up residence in urban areas in large smelly, noisy communities and generally pooping where they feel like it.
Much to our dismay we have learned that FF pooh can strip  paint off a car overnight and leave a nasty tacky residue wherever it falls.
All of that said, I do enjoy the sight of them wheeling into the park across the road for their nighttime feast of fig fruits and we are occasionally able to rescue some fruit from their nightly raids on our grapevine and fruit trees. They make an awful racket in our grape trellis as they squabble over the fruit, rather like the mating shenanigans of cats, very loud. The bats sleep hanging upside down so that is why this etegami looks a little strange.

I couldn't resist posting this photo of these orphan baby flying foxes which I found on the internet. Sorry I could not find who took the photo, maybe someone will enlighten me so I can credit it?

And, as a total non sequiter.. a photo of the dinner I made last night, kind of Chinese, Japanese fusion mixed with a good deal of ineptitude (it tasted fine though).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The last laugh.

Following on from that other dangerous bird the emu, I give you the Laughing Jackass or Kookaburra. This bird is a first class hunter and his favourite foods are bugs, lizards and wait for it...snakes (we will come to those later)!
It is a sight to gladden the heart of the average herp-ophobe (is there such a word?) to see one of these guys dispatching a snake with a deft flick of that murderous looking beak. Apart from their diet they are known for their raucous laughing call which can go on for quite a long time mostly at sunset or sun-up. They famously live in families with many uncles and aunts helping to raise the voracious young so their dawn and dusk chorus can be the combined voices of several individuals. I love the sound of their laughter, it always makes you smile no matter how down in the dumps you are. Lucky for us, a family of Kookaburras  have made the park across the road from us their headquarters this winter.

The Kookaburra is actually a type of kingfisher and sports the characteristic flash of iridescent peacock blue feathers on the wing.

A favourite nursey rhyme and 'round' sung by  Australian children is "Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, mighty king of the bush is he, laugh kookaburra, laugh kookaburra, etc," (copyright held in the US by Larrikin music) was the subject of a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement by the band Men at Work in their 1981 song "Down Under". The song was the theme song for our (successful) bid for the America's  Cup yacht race. Larrikin was subsequently awarded damages as the judge deemed that the flute riff in the song was plagiarized perhaps unwittingly, we like to think , by the composer Colin Hay.
So, the kookaburra did get the last laugh!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Curiouser and curiouser....

The Australian Emu, that great flightless bird, has the reputation of being very curious. My Grandma would say that to attract an emu you should lie on the ground nearby and wave a dishtowel, then they would be sure to come over to see what it  is.
I never did test this hypothesis but a small mob of emus lived on her farm and often came to the fence of the house yard just to check out what was going on.
Emus are the scourge of picknickers in wildlife parks and will steal food from your hand (or mouth!). They are particularly partial to barbequed meat.

Like the big kangaroos, emus have very sharp claws and they can do a lot of damage when cornered.
The quote is from the poem called 'The Emu Hunt' by  A.B. 'Banjo' Patterson one of the early Australian poets who romanticised the bush, creating a nation of people who refuse to accept that we are one of the most urbanised countries in the developed world and the 'outback' is not our spiritual home.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Etegami Aussie animals.

I thought I would attempt a series of etegami depicting the true nature of Australian animals. It is easy to be beguiled  by the appearance of strange looking creatures, imagining them to be cute cuddly Disneyesque critters but beware of the bush!
The Big Red kangaroo or Old Man kangaroo as the males are called can stand over 6 feet tall and deliver a blow with his hind legs that can disembowel you. Another trick they have is to lure a pursuing dog or  dingo into a waterhole and drown it by using their stubby arms to hold them under.
There are some mild mannered kangaroos and wallabies who will tolerate human interaction but usually on reaching maturity they are very unpredictable and many a pet 'joey' has been released back into the bush when it turns nasty.
So here he is the biggest, meanest bloke of all 'Big Red'.