Friday, January 28, 2022

The revolution will be Telegrammed

 I have lots of interesting conversations with people who climb the mountain. Some climb it and appear disappointed to see me here in their moment of climbed-a-mountain-ness, and others are amazed and often slightly bewildered at my physical evidence that fire tower folk still exist.

Anyway, today I had quite a normal conversation with a family who came up the hill, the kids tousled and barefoot, Mum wearing a black shirt with pink glittery lettering that said THERMOMIX, Dad jovial and friendly. 'Nice office you have here!' He said. 'Do you come up here every day? Really?' 

These comments and questions are very common.

After my 'yes great office, pretty sweet and yes every day,' we chatted about dingoes, the history of 1080 baits and the baiting plane which was doing laps overhead at the time. He asked about good places to swim in the river and I said the Falls was nice and also the Pool, further downstream from the river that wound around the mountain.

'Oh yeah, we're living near the Pool at the moment,' he said. 'We've holed up there to see how the revolution unfolds.'

'Oh. The revolution?'

'Yep. There's a truck convoy heading to Canberra as we speak. When they get there, they'll arrest all members of parliament and charge them with crimes against humanity. It's happening in Canada too. Today. It's on. The revolution is happening.'

Things slipped completely sideways for me at that moment. I mean, we were talking about swimming holes. 'Crimes against humanity? Who will arrest the pollies?'

His daughter chimed in. About four years old, she wore a little broderie anglaise frock and her forehead bore vestiges of green and gold face paint from Australia Day. 'There's a convoy going ALL the way across the country!' She said to me, waving one arm, 'to over frow the government.'

Jesus. 'Why haven't I read about this yet?' I asked her Dad. I looked at my phone. It had just died and I'd forgotten to bring up my charger cable. Visions of Daphne du Maurier's The Birds floated into mind and swiftly immigrated to my amygdala.

'It's the lame stream media,' he told me. 'They won't publish it.'

'So where's the convoy now?'

'Norseman probably. We wanted to jump on with them ... but,' he looked down. 'We were a bit late, so we're staying here now. There's another convoy coming from the Northern Territory. They'll all meet up at Port Augusta and they'll all be in Canberra by Monday, we reckon.'

'To overthrow the government for crimes against humanity?'

'Yep. It's on.'

'Well, I'll look on with interest.'

'Don't go to the lame stream media. They won't report on it.'

'An overthrow of the government? Surely ... um facebook?'

'Nah, stalkerbook are censoring us. Telegram is the way to go.' He waved his phone at me. 'After that, the convoy will return to focus on the Premiers. They're next.'

'Mc Clown!' said Mrs THERMOMIX, while sorting out the kids for the trek down the hill.

'Okay, it was lovely meeting you and seeing what you do up here. Thanks for your work,' said Mr (Oh god what do I even call him in this post) and then the little family went down the steps on their way to watch the revolution via Telegram.

Monday, January 24, 2022



With extra rainbows for free today.

This could be my favourite drawing and outlook from the fire tower, because of the profiles of the hills. There are some low lands directly below the mountain which are pretty interesting too, full of yorgum and moodjar trees in flower. Today, as every day, if you wait for long enough in the same place, nature will throw on an event.


Sunday, January 16, 2022

North and the Norsemen


This is facing north from the firetower. 360 degrees is just to the left of that granite queen of awesomeness called Burubunnup or Mount Roe. Back to her later. Out past Smythe Hill, it's really hard to judge distances because there are few landmarks and the country flattens out. Tricky country. I've come unstuck a few times seeing a plume of dark smoke go up, only to find it's someone working a tractor sixty or eighty kilometres away. Dust, smoke, sea mist and steam are all elemental particles and behave the same way in the air. It's easy to make a mistake and these days I forgive myself for calling in cloud and gravel road 'smokes', or I give the caveat in my report as 'it may be dust, but'.

 A lot of old maps had the original Noongar place names on them. We live in a country where place names, highways, roads and histories, even the seasons of the year have been supplanted, superimposed ... where one culture colonised another. I've read that one of the reasons the colonisers kept Noongar names, before extensive mapping of certain areas, was to ensure that they could find their way back to water holes or other spots using Noongar guides. The vestiges of old maps reflect this, whereas the more recent cartographers did away with the practice. Google maps ... well ... it works when in the city but pity the city tourist relying on it.

Recently we had lots of climbers come up the mountain. They freak me out a bit because I'll hear voices after hours of being alone (no not like that) and then suddenly some people will pop up from the western edge of the granite.

 'You guys are freaks,' I'll say as they walk towards me, all swinging crampons, grins, endorphins and ropes. 'Who even does that shit?' and then 'How do you deal with the march flies?'

I give them the binoculars and tell them to look at Burubunnup. There's no road there, or trail and they know it, but I can always see them slaver at the chance to climb that beautiful granite. I look at her every day.

Finally, my tower day today was pretty quiet and so I spent it listening to Seamus Heaney reading his own translation of Beowulf. Oh. My. God. This is probably the best version I've heard. My one problem, as with most Beowulf translations, is that Grendel's mother still doesn't get nearly enough air time.


Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Freshening up the tower

Today while up the fire tower, I began drawings of landmark profiles, using former tower man Tim's work as a guide. His illustrations are now a bit dusty, mouldy and spider-spotted - it's been a five years since he drew them. But I've always loved looking up to the profiles when trying to get coordinates on a smoke. Part of what we do when spotting for fires is a compass bearing, with the tower as centre, and then an estimation of distance. Once we have these two elements, we can work out the exact location of the fire. Our map table has elevations, which helps us line up the distance of a smoke according to a nearby landmark. After that, it's all guesswork until the spotter plane goes overhead. The profiles help enormously, which is why I'm in the process of freshening them up. Here's the one from the western window of the tower that I did today.

There's a new mobile phone tower right before Beardmore Ridge that I probably should have included. Phone towers are really useful because even though they're ugly, they stand out like dog's balls (both and the same maybe) and are great for judging distance. Spotter pilots and water bombers are wary of them and lighthouses during bushfires, for obvious reasons.

The Dinosaur Egg Hill is a granite peak and really charismatic to stare at. That hill at 1-2 kilometres west of the tower looks like you could reach out and touch it in real life. It's laddered with old growth karris and sometimes I can peer into that forest with binoculars and see bird's nests in the canopy and odd, secret caves. The farm is a good one because it is one of the few paddocks I can see in the national parks. And then there's the inlet where I live, in the south west inset - a sliver of silver before the primary dunes that protect it from the sea. Thirty kilometres away ...


In between drawing, watching and listening for smoke reports from the spotter pilots, I quite often devolve into that daft mental friction of doomscrolling. I begin with checking the Emergency WA website for prescribed burns and bushfires on my phone, in case I've missed anything going on, and then somehow I end up on twitter.

The last few weeks have felt like I'm back to March 2020 anxiety levels, with more knowledge and less surety. If that sounds like an oxymoron, our little hermit state is set to open up to the rest of the world in a few weeks time. We've watched the world suffer and we've been so bloody lucky here, shut away, with lockdowns that rarely last more than a few days and that are usually triggered by a single community case. Out into the world we go, ho hum. 

I will continue drawing these profiles. Over the next week or so, you'll get north, east and south.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Sad Parrot Story in Four Parts

 Okay, so this parrot probably wasn't sad but maybe the story is. I'm not sure, we'll see how we go on semantics here.

Part One. I found a young 28 parrot standing, looking dazed, in the middle of the road and when I stopped, I put on my hazard lights because it is a busy road. I chased this baby into the forest where it hid in some sword grass to get away from me. It obviously couldn't fly, its adult feathers were only partially grown in length, so it was more a waddle than a chase. Eventually, after getting numerous paper cuts from the sword grass, I got a towel wrapped around the bird and put it in the car.

Part Two. It's a really hot day, even for a full throated summer hot day. So when I got to the IGA to do some grocery shopping, I left both car windows wide open, with the bird wrapped, muted and subdued, in the footwell of the passenger side. I was thinking, thank goodness I hadn't brought my dog along for the ride this day. Inside the store, I bought dog biscuits, wine, a cooked chook, some bird seed and a little glass water dropper. I stopped to chat with a local surfer who wants to write a book and a woman who'd been hiking the Bibulmum Track who wants to write a book. 

Back at my car, I decided I'd drop in to see Flame and show her the parrot. She knows some wildlife carers who'd take care of it. I carried the towelled parcel of parrot carefully onto her back veranda and the parcel was light but birds are light, right, and I said, 'have a look at this, Flame,' unwrapped the towel to find .... nothing!!!

Part Three. Drove home in a state of abject disappointment and a kind of stupid-stupid-me self loathing. Windows wide open, so-called flightless parrot, I mean for all my good intentions, I was wondering if this parrot just wanted a lift to the shops. 

In the morning, I made ready for a day on the fire tower, still feeling a bit sore about losing the parrot. 'But it flying away is a good thing, right?' I was telling myself as I made a sandwich.  I resolved to ask the IGA staff if they'd seen it in the fruit section. Got in the car and the first thing I saw was this parrot wombling back under the passenger seat where it had been hiding ALL NIGHT.

Part Four. Luckily I had a pillowcase in the car (don't ask), so when we arrived at the mountain car park, I pulled the parrot out from under the passenger seat, put it in the pillowcase and walked up the mountain, carrying the parrot, my water bottle, my back pack and my special stick.


My friend who normally does wildlife rescue in the area was on holidays so I rang my boss running the burn that day for advice. 'Do you have any electrolytes?' she asked me. I looked around the tower. We have to carry everything up here. Mmm. No electrolytes. But I had some honey and lots of water. 'That'll do for the moment.' she told me, 'and some flower nuts, maybe melaluca or small eucs.'

For the rest of the day I fed the baby parrot honey water with the glass dropper and began to fall completely in love. It was like a bonding I've only experienced twice before in my life, with this parrot seeing the dropper and understanding really bloody fast what it meant. I imagined having a bird for a friend and familiar, a parrot to hang out with. The 28 looked stronger and stronger throughout the day. I took it home, put it in a cardboard box, which it promptly climbed out of to inspect the room.

My dog Selkie watched this parrot walk her very own estate. She was looking at me and then looking at this parrot, who ambled happily around the carpet and under the bed, across the kitchen vinyl and into the toilet. Selkie looked back at me and I could tell the dog was asking me, 'What the actual FUCK? You mean I'm not even allowed to kill and eat this thing?'

Part Five. Yes I'm quite aware there's not a part five here.

'So what happened?' Asked my mate Rick.

'Well, the parrot died,' I said.

'Oh that's a shit story Sarah!' He said, and his girlfriend laughed. 'Did the dog knock it off?'

'No! I got up in the morning, ready for another day on the tower, thinking I'd take the parrot with me again. When I looked in the box, it was kinda stretching out its beak and looking weird ... I picked it up and it died in my arms.'

'Yeah. Well. Shit story Sarah.'


PS, thanks to Rick for keeping it real and also to my boss in Nat Cons who said that the recovery rate is really low for parrots but for a moment in time, I had a parrot who considered me their mother.

Sunday, January 2, 2022


This morning on my climb up to the firetower, a kangaroo stopped me on the stairs.

 We watched each other. Both of us were quite still, me with my karri hazel stick and backpack and tiger snake jitters, he with an interrupted mouthful of grass.

 I'd just climbed the two steel-runged ladders so I wondered how this old boy made it to this part of the mountain. It's sheer granite cliffs all around and here he is! Maybe he climbed up the eastern side. Eventually, with me having a chat with him about how I had to start work in about four minutes time, the boomer let me pass and ambled onto mossy granite to the east of the stairs. The granite incline was at least 45 but he stayed there to watch me.

It's such an odd sense to see an animal as big as me up here, but the roos are more curious than scared on the mountain, when I see them on the lower sections. Several generations have lived here without being hunted and dogs have been banned from this area for decades. Dingos are pretty much extinct in these parts too, so there are no apex predators for kangaroos to worry about.

On that note, I've been reading Charlotte McConaghy's 'Once There were Wolves', a novel about the reintroduction of wolves into Scotland.