Quiet Encounters of a Feathered Kind

Waterbirds in all their diversity have added a wonderful dimension to our seachange lifestyle.

Right now we are busily counting nine ducklings paddling alongside mother duck across the waterway towards our jetty.

The babies are being tossed about somewhat in the wake of inclement weather and we breathe a sigh of relief as they all follow mother duck scrambling up the embankment.


I ponder on how we all seem to cohabit peacefully as they waddle across the neighbour’s lawn even though The Marina at Hindmarsh Island, where we live temporarily,  has encroached mercilessly into their natural habitat.  The Marina  is lined with big, new McMansions, but these seemingly flimsy feathered creatures of myriad kinds flit and fly around the constructed islands and glide amongst the natural marshes and reeds along the banks.

It is a very special privilege to be able to experience nature so intimately and I have taken to keeping watch and counting how many varieties share our environment.

Am I really a birdwatcher? It is a pastime I never dreamt I would enjoy so much when I retired. Our camera is always at hand to capture exotic images of them.

Such as the unique ibis which have been feeding on the cut grass on hectares of vacant land earmarked for future growth in retirement village housing.  They were close to the verge and quite beautiful to watch, dramatic black and white feathered water birds, their long black curved beaks incessantly pecking at the ground.

It is impossible to go shopping without noticing all the birds – countless galahs sitting on the telephone wires, a dozen black cockatoos settled on an old gum near the Hindmarsh Bridge and a few pelicans gliding along the Goolwa channel.

For the first few weeks after we arrived here, each morning we would check if the white heron, who frequented the swampy island across from our jetty was still in attendance.  She would stand serenely for hours until one day when she was bothered by a fellow heron, who came flying in to woo her affections. And we do miss her since she flew south with him.

A solitary pelican soon took her watch, gliding past in a majestic manner.

Any number of birds fly overhead and the constant cry of seagulls adds to the roar of the Southern Ocean close by. But nothing causes as much joy as a pelican flying high above us with its awesome wingspan outstretched.   

However, our first bird encounter was anything but peaceful. A mating pair of plovers were dangerously aggressive as we took our first stroll down our road. Land on one side of the road is still vacant, subdivided with “for sale’’ signs.

The plovers rose up from the grasses on the land and repeatedly swooped on us and squawked in a menacing manner. And they weren’t having fun, flying far too close to our scalps at full speed to leave us in any doubt of their intent.

Visions of Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds sprung to mind as we fended them off and it wasn’t until we succumbed to their demands and hot-tailed for home on the far side of the road that they flew away.

We worked out that plovers nest on the ground and, of course, in September, they had set up house on that large strip of empty land, oblivious that it is the last Spring they will do so.

Their behaviour springs to mind now as I sit on the terrace and watch one plover plunge from a height diving into the water to pluck up some poor fish silly enough to swim too near the surface.

Despite our altercation with plovers, we have become avid birdwatchers and are beginning to photograph waterbirds in their habitat.

Who knows? Santa may bring binoculars.

Our quiet encounters with the birds so brighten our days and we will miss their presence when we eventually move back to town.

The Three D’s of our Dream Home – Decisions on Design, Detail.

 The time of dreaming about our custom-designed retirement home is over.

Today we signed off on the pre-construction phase of our new home and behind us are a thousand small decisions about detail.  This is as much fun as choosing tiling in a retail showroom to the mundane business of selecting finishes on skirting boards, the style of cornices or the colour of fascias.

We have acted as artists at a palette choosing finishes and colours and textures under the direction of our instructor, Stellar Homes’ client co-ordinator, Michelle. On paper, we are delighted with our selections and look forward to a stylish home finished in practical neutrals with the odd splash of colour and interesting finishes.

Ours is not the normal project home because it is tailor-made by building designer, David Frazer who chose the basic colours and products of our home – roof, brickwork, window frames and doors and so on. He incorporated our existing spa-bath and two leadlight feature doors from the old demolished house into plans. We chose our own leadlight front door later and we provided all our own appliances instead of having them included in the builder’s price.

This created extra work for Michelle at Stellar Homes’ selection centre and we spent about eight hours answering her myriad questions. It was exhausting, but like the artist when he has put the last brush stroke to masterpiece, we, too, were pleased and convinced that our retirement home will be a wonderful place in which to live out our lives.  

For the novice it is inconceivable at the beginning of the building process that the client (us) has to make so many decisions to turn the plan into working drawings which sub-contractors can use to build a co-ordinated, tasteful product.

Houses are products and anyone who doubts the use of this word should visit a Display Village soon to see all the magnificently presented “products’’ on display.

Nothing can be left to chance, not even the waste outlet for the spa bath. So, here we are, husband Olivier and I, signing page upon page of working drawings, and most important, signing off on the modest list of extras to obtain our fixed price contract.

The most important thing you can take to the building drawing board is the ability to listen – and to be prepared to adapt or drop tightly-held wants  for reasons of affordability, safety, sometimes  aesthetics and functionality. 

Affordability at a certain age is paramount and over the past few months we have stuck to the bottom-line budget. It forced us to replace wants with needs.  We needed to decide whether to have a timber kitchen or a timber floor in the main living areas of the house because the budget didn’t stretch to both. Both were big budget items which would have a dramatic impact on the style of the home. So we chose a silk finish Laminex kitchen and a solid timber Brushbox floor laid on batons.

Boomers who build don’t have time on their sides as first home buyers do when signing up in their 20s or 30s to pay off debt, so determining the budget is paramount. What size home do you need, can you afford? Then keeping to that budget is vital, especially if one has to dip into superannuation funds.  

It begs the first question to ask is “Can I afford this new house and still have enough funds to live well within its walls?”  Building is not the most cost-effective way to house oneself in old age, but rebuilding in one’s 60s for safety and future disability, can avoid the need to move to more suitable housing in old age.

Without a firm resolve to keep to builders’ selections included in the basic price of building the home – at least in most areas – one could well end with a mortgage at the age of 70.

PS: We did weaken with heated towel rails, mixer taps and shower nozzles on vertical bars, while upgraded door furniture was also on our extras list.

A Thumb Down on Sex

Anything British novelist Martin Amis writes is bound to be brilliant expression. And his comment on a new collection of British poet Philip Larkin’s letters is not only an excellent read in this weekend’s Australia Review, it reveals much about Larkin’s cryptic sex life in a rivetting manner.

In Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica, edited by Anthony Thwaite and published by Faber, Larkin wraps up his disillusionment with intercourse in just  one quote:

“I think…someone might do a little research on some of the inherent qualities of sex – its cruelty, its bullyingness, for instance.  It seems  to me that bending someone else to your will is the very stuff of sex, by force or neglect if you are male, by spitefulness or nagging or scenes if you are female.  And what’s more, both sides would sooner have it that way than not at all.  I wouldn’t.  And I suspect that means not that I can enjoy sex in my own quiet way but that I can’t enjoy it at all.  It’s like rugby football: either you like kicking and being kicked, or your soul cringes away from the whole affair.  There’s no way of quietly enjoying rugby football.”

Philip Larkin: Letters to Monica will be released in Australia in January through Allen & Unwin.

Hearing loss

An interesting  Lifestyle and Hearing Health Survey arrived on my desk this week from Dr Ross Walker, one of Australia’s leading preventative health specialist and because my father Frank, is deaf, I filled it in and read the small print, too.

Since a road accident in 1997, I have suffered constant tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in both ears, so already my hearing is somewhat impaired.

Dr Walker says I am among one in six Australian adults (more than 3.5 million people) who have some form of hearing loss – and the figure rises to one in three over 60 years.

He says poor hearing impacts negatively on people’s quality of life creating feelings of extreme frustration, anger and increasing isolation from family and friends. The acid test here is if you need to ask people to repeat themselves as you didn’t quite catch every word or if you have difficulty understanding conversations in crowded restaurants, it may be time to check out your hearing.

What frustrates him is  that “large numbers  of people with hearing loss either don’t recognise their problem, or are in denial’’.

His message, via the survey is that medical research has proven that early diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss really helps people resume a normal life.

He suggests everyone over 60 years should have their hearing checked every couple of years. Anyone with the added problem of diabetes should check their hearing every 12 months.

The good news is that hearing aids are now virtually invisible and I remember receiving a neat stylish hearing aid in a slick container when I worked at The Advertiser.

Interestingly the survey which links our lifestyle and interests questions drives home firstly how enjoyment of life through leisure, hobbies and holidays  are dependent on hearing.

Wearing a sophisticated invisible hearing aid to enhance our quality of life seems a sensible step towards ageing well.

AudioClinic has also produced The Australian Guide to Hearing Services and offers a no-obligation FREE Hearing Test by calling 1800 057 220 (valued at $70).

A rose by the name of David Ruston

David Ruston with one of his period arrangements

It was a rare treat to join the acclaimed rose identity David Ruston on a tour of his world-renowned rose garden and his early 20th century home at Renmark, in South Australia’s Riverland.

David was the centre of attention at Renmark’s 16th Rose Festival this year because a sculpture was unveiled in the town in his honour and the extended David Ruston Visitor Centre was also a hive of activity.

The garden, ablaze with blooms of every colour and variety, is a testament to David who began extending his father’s rose plantings of 500 bushes when he was still a teenager. By 1968 there were 3000 bushes and he began a commercial cut flower business. Today there are more than 40,000 bushes of 3000 varieties covering 11 hectares.

We join many rose enthusiasts who follow David like children behind the Pied Piper, around the largest private collection of roses in the southern hemisphere.  He leads us past the display rose plantings released each year of the 21st century which edge the visitor centre, instructs us as he goes past  many pretty pink, red and yellow hybrids and magnificent blooming climbers.

We walk another few hundred metres past many ornaments and sculptures into his own personal cottage garden. Here 50-year-old roses form a flowering hedge for irises,  peonies,  poppies,  and carpet roses, each one neatly named.

However, the greatest treat was to open his home and to lead us into each room beautifully decorated with floral arrangements – glorious masterpieces which reflect his uniquely brilliant talent to create works of floral art reflecting the old Flemish, Dutch and French painters. His displays set in unique containers reflect the floral paintings by the old masters  which hang on all the walls of his home.

The delightful experience mirrors David’s impressive career as a floral artist who has created arrangements for a variety of celebrations and occasions throughout the world. Locally, he handled  the opening of Carrick Hill, and Chateau Barrosa in the Barossa Valley for Queen Elizabeth II, St Peter’s Cathedral and Ayers House. He has also presented floral displays for the Sandringham Flower Show attended by the late Queen Mother and Hex Castle in Belgium.

However, his grandest display on Australian soil was perhaps in the Great Hall

Sydney University for the Rose Convention in 1988.

David is a spritely 80 years old and still works each day in his personal garden although the rose garden itself has now passed to his niece, Anne Ruston and her husband Richard Fewster.

He is a former president of the World Heritage Rose Society and he received an Order of Australia Media for Services to Horticulture.