September 22nd, 2006
As I start to reconnect with my life back in Perth, I realize that this is going to be an important part of my editing processes. Over dinner with some close friends, talk about my time in Kellerberrin comes pouring out and almost simultaneously starts to arrange itself in clumps.
September 1st, 2006
After a long overdue sleep, I spent the day trying to unpack and sort out all of the various components of my research. It was a bit overwhelming. I am still unsure about what the main thread will be to bring all these pieces together, but Patrick suggested that the final work may be better presented as a series of chapters, and I am beginning to think this would be a good idea.
It was difficult to leave Kellerberrin and I have a sneaking suspicion that my connection to this place is only just beginning. I met some wonderful people who will become good friends in the future and the complex landscape out there is something that will require closer and longer scrutiny.
Having a cup of coffee in the backyard towards the middle of the day, I observed the Singing Honeyeaters (Meliphaga virescens) sipping nectar from the Grevillea olivacea. This plant is a threatened species in the wild and this bird was the same species I took out of the mist net in the wild just over a week ago.
September 1st, 2006
It was a rush to get all my bits and pieces packed up and to make sure I left the place tidy and clean for the next resident. For a while I was concerned that everything wouldn’t fit into the tiny bubble car, but I eventually had it all packed. Gavin had dropped off the large green tarpaulin he had promised me the night before, so I went next door to measure it and to my delight, it almost exactly fitted the large end wall of the Gallery. I had been flirting with several ideas for the exhibition and most of these revolved around large panoramic landscapes of the area, so I saw potential in this discarded cover for a pile of oats as a possible ground for such an image.
It was a sunny day and I couldn’t resist the temptation to take a slight detour to have a look at the Charles Gardner Reserve West of Tammin, a reserve that I hadn’t been able to find previously. It looked like a gem of a reserve and I had to resign myself to putting a closer inspection on hold for a later time.
The beauty and preciousness of such reserves was put into immediate perspective when I got back onto the Goldfields Road, which runs between Tammin and York. A grader and road crew were carving into the precious roadside vegetation in what looked like an exercise to widen the road. They were probably taking two or three metres off each side of the road thereby leaving a negligible thread of only a metre or so of vegetation that had been there for thousands of years. The absurd thing was that I had travelled this road six or seven times over the last eight weeks and only ever seen one or two cars in the eighty-kilometre stretch that was being destroyed.
After such an intensive immersion talking to people who were trying to save and sustain what is left on the land, to see actual clearing happening with my own eyes was very disturbing and a cruel jolt back to reality.
I just got home to Perth in time to return the Video camera and equipment, unpack, then quickly rush across town to see an old friend and student who now lives in France. She was leaving the next day and wanted to buy one of my works to take back with her. She selected a watercolour I had done of Hibbertia grossulariifolia, which was accompanied by various fragments of texts, one of which said: A woman sawed in half.
September 1st, 2006
I was up early and out on the Yelbeni Road for a change, eventually arriving at the new survey site after a number of stops along the way to photograph roadside vegetation I hadn’t encountered before. The new site was on the corner of Cemetery and Ryan roads and had a very different feeling to the other sites I had visited. It was quite dry with gravel and laterite and one corner of the remnant had been converted into a dump for old fertiliser drums, which formed a mound like a display of confectionery. A dead sheep had been thrown on top, so a slightly acrid smell of chemicals and putrid flesh wafted by occasionally. Ironically, the site was extremely animated with birdsong and very quickly the team were busy extracting birds from the nets. I was wandering around amongst the acacias, mallees and Callitris roei very slowly, videotaping daylight footage for a change, but also stopping and recording the sound of the various birds that inhabited this remnant.
What looked like an old charcoal pit was now being slowly reclaimed by the surrounding scrub.
Just as I was shooting the chalky whiteness of a eucalyptus trunk, I heard some cheering and yells of joy coming from one of the nets. Someone yelled out something to do with the Holy Grail, so I rushed back to find that they had netted ten White Browed Babblers and that one of them was banded, meaning that it was possibly over eleven years old, when the last survey was done in the area. In such a threatened environment, a capture like this meant so much to these dedicated conservationists.
I returned to the craft barn in the afternoon to begin packing up and in the process pinned some large format negatives of aerial photographs Kit had lent me up in the window to photograph. The section I was interested in was of Durokoppin and the remnant corridor that connects it to Kodj Kodjin and where we were working a few days earlier.
At twilight I returned to Burges Spring Reserve on the Yelbeni Road where Saba had got lost a week ago. I thought there would be plenty of good things to photograph, but after photographing a shy echidna and shooting some footage of the failing light and silhouetted trees, I also got lost. Leaving half my equipment on the top of the rock, I tried to find my way back to the car by torchlight but couldn’t really tell where I was going. After back tracking a bit and mild panic beginning to make me sweat, the torch finally illuminated a small glint of metal through the bushes and I found the car. I plugged in a light so that I could pick up the rest of the equipment and find my way back successfully and when I finally drove out I was very relieved indeed. I reckon I had discovered Western Australia’s version of Hanging Rock in Victoria!
I rushed home and had a quick shower before going out to the ‘Prev’ and a farewell meal with the bird survey team. They were busy transferring all the data of the day onto their digital database and were able to tell me that the previously banded Babbler was caught not far from the site it was captured today and that it should be about twelve years old. It really was a good point for me to leave on, knowing that such a creature could sustain a living in the environment over such a long period of time.
August 31st, 2006
The new bird-banding site was a corner of Durokoppin Reserve abutting Kit’s property and when I arrived early in the morning, the rain had activated a new palette of colours and range of scents from the mallee woodland. A Western Yellow Robin was netted and I photographed two more species of phebalium, which added sprays of creamy white to the understorey.
I came back to Kellerberrin to meet Patrick, who had come out from Perth for the day. We listened to some of the interviews I had done with Nick and Denis earlier in the day and spoke about how we were going to tackle the next phase of the project.
Unfortunately, an appointment I had made to interview some children on a walk over Mooranoppin Rock was cancelled and I had to resign myself to excluding this particular voice from my project. In fact, I was now constantly throwing out ideas I was hoping to address as my time in Kellerberrin was coming to what felt like a very premature end.
Patrick and I went out to a bird-banding site near east Yorkrakine Nature Reserve and found a site where ants were in great profusion everywhere. I interviewed Alex, another scientist who had come over from Canberra about the work he was doing with bird surveys in revegetation in Holbrook in NSW and whether he could see any parallels with this survey. Patrick showed me a salmon gum ‘graveyard’, where salinity had claimed a remnant only recently, the farmer ironically digging a deep drain through the skeletal forest as a way of trying to save his crop from succumbing to the rising salt.
In the evening I went back to visit Geoff and Rose, who I had interviewed early on and Geoff took me out to take twilight and night footage around his property. Over a meal of lambs fry and bacon, these generous people shared further stories about their property and I photographed a painting leaning up against Van Gogh’s Sunflowers that their daughter had done of one of their dams. Their son had also done a very impressive drawing of another dam with a windmill and tractor nearby.
August 31st, 2006
Whilst looking at the stars and the grain of night with Kit and Eileen last night, we agreed that it was difficult to see any sign of another potentially precipitous front which was forecast to arrive in the area overnight. A shooting star fell out of the sky and I immediately declared it to be a portent of rain. When I woke up this morning, a violent wind had indeed sprung up and short, sharp showers raced through Kellerberrin. I doubted that the bird survey team would have set up nets, so I stayed indoors writing and processing footage and images.
In the middle of the day I went out to explore a remnant on private land which I had not yet seen and the wind added a distinctly different atmosphere to my observations. The wind roaring through the treetops was a real cacophony and was more or less constant on my walk except for a strangely protected patch of woodland protected by a lateritic ridge nearby. It was in this cone of silence that a pallid cuckoo (Cuculus pallidus) alighted on a nearby log and politely pivoted, allowing me to videotape it from all angles.
The cruciform Clown Orchid (Callitris roei) and dusty blood red Grevillea huegelii, with it’s low constellation of flowers dotting the dry leaf litter added other exotic touches to this quiet refuge inside the wind.
After doing some Chinese study in the afternoon, I went out to Kellerberrin hill in the late afternoon to shoot some more footage of the grain of night. The wind was still fierce, vibrating the wires of the communications tower, adding an eerie accompaniment to the soughing of the allocasuarinas.
When the light had disappeared, I stayed on the south side of the hill overlooking the lights of Kellerberrin and did some time exposure photographs of a lone Hakea recurva, the yellow torchlight infusing the leaves and flowers with an antique light, not too dissimilar to that of the great Sung dynasty painter Ma Yuan.
August 31st, 2006
The bird survey team were working in the remnant corridor that connected Durokoppin and Kodj Kodjin reserves. It really felt like an architectural corridor in this instance, the gimlets, mallees and melaleuca scrub giving all passage through here a low and secure canopy. I set my video camera up in front of a section of mist net, hoping to capture the moment a bird flew into it, but after an hour of interval recording, the net framed within the viewfinder hadn’t been disturbed. A new bird was caught, the very tiny striated pardalote (Pardalotus striatus) and another Red-capped Robin, whose intensely pure coloration offered a contrast to the green-bronze of the gimlet trunks. Subtle colours also revealed themselves in the stains of the calico bags used to hold the birds before they are measured and banded. These stains are in effect a reflection of the forest we were working in, showing what types of food the bird had recently digested.
I spent the afternoon writing, and then went back out on the Trayning road again in the evening to another site alongside one of Kit’s paddocks. I was able to interview Susie Murphy-White who had coordinated some of the revegetation work five or six years ago and was particularly interested in her description of how the farmers approached the hand planting, as opposed to using the tree planting machine.
There was a flurry of activity towards twilight, which meant the survey team had to don headlights and finish banding and measuring the birds into the night. The writing of data into notebooks recalled the images I had taken of Lance writing in his journal by torchlight a few weeks earlier.
I took some photos of Kit and Eileen in amongst their crop and on the way home, took some more images of the Acacia Merrickiae and the foxes on the fence, which now numbered over fifty. There had been a heated debate in the ‘Pipeline’ magazine about the merits of this sort of display, and I had written in supporting the manner it had been done, comparing the display to a museum archive, with a number of specimens neatly displayed in a row, allowing the eye to appreciate variations in the one species.
August 22nd, 2006
This morning as I drove North along the Trayning road, the landscape was infused with a strange, hazy mist, which I eventually realized was the water evaporating from yesterday’s showers.
A barbecue had been organized in Durokoppin Reserve as another chance for people to get together from the night before. I was able to have a good talk to some of the people who were instrumental in the development of the Catchment Group and this added considerably to my growing archive of recordings.
After lunch there was time for more exploration of the reserve and it seemed as if the native plants had just decided to get on with it, rain or no rain. I photographed a fantastic Dryandra and an equally impressive Isopogon. Walking back to the car, I noticed something sticking up out of the ground in the roadside vegetation and on closer examination; it was an old silver spoon. I saw another half embedded nearby and before long, I had excavated twelve spoons and a beautiful old butter knife from the ground. It was a strange find and I wondered why they were there – was it the leftovers from a roadside soup kitchen or perhaps even a stashed heist from one of the nearby homesteads?
I went back into Durokoppin at twilight to take footage of the old mallee fowl nest experimenting with different degrees of illumination. As the light faded, the batteries went flat and I got incredibly tired and I realized I was standing in the middle of a depleted environment. I packed things up and just to complete this suite of images, I stopped underneath the wandoo thicket on Trayning road to videotape the spindly form of the endangered Acacia Merrickiae.
August 22nd, 2006
Traveled out on the Yelbeni Road today, stopping again at previously unexplored patches of remnant bush or promising looking roadside vegetation. I continued to see new plants I hadn’t yet seen in flower and the more I occupied myself in this activity, the larger the remnant patches grew. By the end of the day, the broad acre crops in between had been reduced in size to mere cottage gardens.
I explored Burges Spring Reserve and found a granite outcrop that hosted many vanilla (Thelymitra antennifera) and donkey (Diuris sp.) orchids amongst the borya, lichens and mosses that create green splotches on the otherwise grey rock. A tiny little Laughing Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum gracile) hid underneath a rock sheoak and I eventually focused the camera onto an even finer natural form; that of one of the bright green mosses growing on the surface of the rock.
In mid afternoon the sky darkened and rain spilt over the horizon, enveloping the landscape in a short, but lashing shower.
Despite the shower, when I arrived for a function at the ‘Prev’ to recognize those who had contributed to the longevity and impact of the Bird Banding survey and subsequent environmental awareness in the catchment, everyone was handed a short prayer for rain to read before the festivities began.
August 22nd, 2006
I returned to the site at Huondanning Road and Alex taught me how to remove a bird from the nets (which, I found out are called ‘Mist nets’). The bird I extracted was a singing honeyeater (Meliphaga virescens) and after holding it for a while, I could feel its heart beating and the warmth of its blood. Patrick sent me an email from Queensland, contrasting the Daintree Forest that he had been walking through with the remnant bush around Kellerberrin. He talked about the ‘living’ and the ‘dead’, and wondered if we could even begin to compare the remnant bush and roadside corridors around Kellerberrin to the experience of walking through a museum. Museum was certainly a word I had often called upon in my discussions with farmers, whether it was in relation to the bush or the detritus of agricultural practice over the years. I asked Denis whether he could liken his work to that of a museum curator and he replied with a rather puzzled look, but then offered an image of the roadside remnant as a skeletal structure. All I needed was a glass case to complete the picture.
I spent time at the site photographing ants and the spectacular (yellow!) bloom of Grevillea excelsior. The crummy camera I was using did quite a good job of the close up shots. It was a verdant patch of remnant, with many plants in flower and the bird banding team captured a lot of nectar feeding birds.
I traveled North down some different dirt roads, stopping frequently to photograph something new in flower. At the Doodlakine Road I turned south and went to interview Rod, sitting on the tailgate of a ute inside a tin shed. He related many incidents and observations from his rich life, but I felt quite inadequate to pursue these in more detail. I explained that I wasn’t an oral historian, and encouraged him, like I had with so many others, to tell their story on tape before crucial knowledge is lost forever.