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I am absolutely delighted to see that I haven’t lost all my readers, despite the lack of new material.  Whatever creative cells I possess seem to have suffered a setback of late.  I blame it on stuff.   One of the films I saw at the Full Frame documentary film festival in Durham was called “Summer Pasture.”  It is about a family of nomads living on the Tibetan Plateau.  Not much happens in the film, but it is quite clear that there is change on the way, that the nomadic way of life in the plateau is under serious threat for the first time.

The caterpillar fungus and tourism have a lot to do with it.  People are getting richer, they are getting more and more stuff. While I watched the film, I remember thinking that (for a nomad) Locho and Yama had a lot of furniture and other articles packed into their yurt.  Moving all of it twice a year was a big job that they had to handle entirely by themselves.  No burly guys to load it all on yaks and break things and make ten copies of the bill of lading.

Thanks to the Australian practice of offering a sabbatical after three years (for six months), we found ourselves making a move to Durham, North Carolina in January of this year for the spring semester.  We rented a fully-furnished home, but still managed to accumulate an amazing amount of stuff during the short time we were there.  I know because I had to move it to another house before we left for Nova Scotia.  We’ll be going back to Durham in the fall (on an upaid leave), but we’ll be in a smaller house.

Despite the fact that I was able to leave almost everything we had accumulated, the old Volvo was loaded when I drove across the Canadian border.  But none of that compares to the mountain of boxes that have been occupying my time since we arrived back here.  This particular stockpile dates back to before we moved down under. We put everything we did not think we would need in Australia into storage, things like 110 appliances.

Last summer we had it shipped up here.  There are boxes and boxes and boxes.  There seems to be no end to it.  I would like to free myself from the tentacles of stuff, shave my head and take up a begging bowl,but according to the news I’m getting from my old friend, How Man Wong, the monks in Tibet are getting Land Rovers.

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Most of my readers should know by now that the Australian government has lost its head, putting a “sheila” in the hot seat for the very first time.  The daughter of working-class parents, Welsh-born and Adelaide-raised, Julia Gillard was a student unionist who worked as a lawyer and chief of staff to the Victorian opposition leader John Brumby before winning a the safe Labor seat in Melbourne’s outer west in 1998.

I’m not a political junkie, so I may be the most unreliable narrator you can have on the political situation down under, but I was not a big fan of Kevin Rudd and I’m pleased with this surprising development. Julia Gillard is the first female prime minister of Australia.  She has reversed the sinking fortunes of the Labor party in the polls by jettisoning a controversial windfall profit tax on mining and shoring up support for core Labor policies.

I hope she will be able to bring back the tax in another form and start dealing with climate change and the ravages of mining on the environment.  She comes across as a highly intelligent, competent individual.  Rudd was too, but he was arrogant and prickly.  He could boss but he couldn’t lead.  He didn’t work well with people.  Not good for a politician.

Stay tuned.  Despite the burdens of dealing with all our stuff, I’m not done writing yet.  And I’ve got a lot more pics to post.  Just wait until I get the stuff sorted.


Every once in awhile, our local newspaper ( not known for outlandish or salacious stories) comes up with a headline that could be straight out of a supermarket tabloid.  This morning’s paper had one of those.  The mysterious “spy” apparatus that contributed to the successful rescue of Tim Holding, Water Minister for the State of Victoria, was not revealed, but it did catch one’s attention.

It has to do with some thermal imaging technology being developed for the Australian Federal Police to track fugitives. No one at any level of government would actually fess up to providing it for the search, but authorities insisted that Tim was treated no differently than any other lost citizen.  Right.  I’m sure they would have sent out a spy plane for me, too.  And I could have been there.  I’m just as foolish as the minister, maybe more so.  And nowhere near as fit.

The story began a couple of days ago, when the thirty-seven year old cabinet minister decided to go hiking.  It is still winter, here, remember, and the mountain he chose to climb is notorious for bad weather.  At 1922 meters (6306 feet) Feathertop is only  the second highest peak in Victoria, but when the weather is clear,  the views are stunning and  it is a magnet for hikers in summer and winter.

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Faithful readers who followed my misadventures in the Victorian Alps last year may be wondering why I have not followed up with another snow camping expedition.  The answer can be summed up in one word– Feathertop.  My companions had decided (without consulting me) that they were going to carry nearly thirty kilos (66 pounds) of skis, boots, tents, food and gear up a steep mountain in order to camp out, melt snow for water, and hope the weather gods would give them one good, clear day.  It did, but the snow was too treacherous to summit.

Their tents were just outside Federation Hut, Tim Holding’s last abode before he disappeared.  Here are a few excerpts from Alan’s report on the trip I missed– “5 hour up, the last 2 km very hard through probably not that much steeper… needed frequent stops to get breath.  On the last day [we were there] one fit guy climbed it in 3 hr with a full pack plus two 4 ltr wine casks…. wind buffeting us as we climbed feathertop, so retreated and skied part way towards MUMC hut but stopped before getting onto NW spur ridge as intermittent whiteout, and would be steep decline on windy ridge…

“Howling gale last night but hut, tents mostly protected.  All but 7 cm snow blown off leaving icy surface in most places… When we arrive to climb feathertop we find boilerplate ice, too difficult for skis or plastic boots.  The man [they had seen earlier at the hut with his fifteen year-old son] is further up with bloodied face, frozen with fear, standing at the bush that saved his fall but afraid to move.  We kick in steps… and get him down to the saddle….”

Tim Holding set out from his car to tackle Feathertop on Saturday afternoon.  At 6:30 that evening, he sent a text message to his partner that he was at the hut, 200 meters from the summit.  Sunday morning he headed for the peak, telling other walkers that he would turn back if the weather conditions were bad.  He didn’t have snowshoes, crampons, an ice ax or an emergency beacon.  And he was alone.

“In those conditions I made good progress, made it on to the summit and in fact the summit’s not marked and I walked over the top and started walking down the other side,” he said. “When I realised I’d gone too far I turned and walked back over the summit and as I came down the other side to return to the Federation Hut I slipped on some ice and fell.

“I fell a long way, a long, long way. It wasn’t a controlled descent and I fell until I reached a small ledge, slipping and sliding on the ice and there were unbelievably three other walkers.”

The group checked to see if he was alright and asked if he wanted to join them but as they were headed towards the summit and dressed in snow shoes, he decided it would be too dangerous for him to attempt to walk along the slippery ice.  So, he headed down to lower ground, thinking he would walk in the snow and follow a creek down the mountain, find the Owens River which would lead him to the Alpine Road and safety.  That was his second major mistake.

The following day there were around eighty members of the police and volunteers out looking for him, including helicopters and the mystery plane.  He was found by a helicopter over 2.5 kms (1.5 miles) away yesterday morning.  He was cold, out of food, and a bit disoriented, but otherwise fine.  And he still had water.  He was a very lucky man.  In a TV interview, he said that he thought he was going to die.

Alan’s take on the high profile misadventure goes like this– “We turned back 3 times at the lower end of this very rise. [where Tim Holding slipped and fell] Once for extreme wind and twice because each time we judged it too slippery without crampons, especially for coming down when you can’t kick your toes in to make a grip. We obviously made the right choice.”

My fellow cyclist and avid back country skier did his very best to make the adventure up on Feathertop sound appealing, but unless he promises me my very own helicopter,  I think I’ll pass.  Life is short enough, and there’s plenty of wine down here in the plains.  And water comes right out of the tap without having to be melted.  Stay tuned.  Life is always interesting down under.


It is hard to reconcile the beautiful weather in Melbourne with the economic hurricane devastating the world economy.  The skies here are pigeon-egg blue dotted with puffy, cotton ball clouds.  The temperature is perfect.  The flies and fires haven’t hit yet.  If it were possible to ignore the media, (which seems to have more than its share of bad news at the moment), it would be an excellent time to be in absolute bliss.

I headed up into gold country a couple of weeks ago to help a cycling friend celebrate his 60th birthday.  He lives on a farm in the country now and there were two lambs, just a few days old, gamboling in the paddock.  The sun was out and it cast a spell of enchantment.  Everyone seemed to be in a good mood.

The birds go berserk at this time of year.  The squawkers get up at first light, but they also make sure you know when the sun is going down.  Magpies dive-bomb cyclists under the mistaken impression that their nests are under attack. Lorikeets and parrots fly in colorful formations, but the bell birds are my favorites.  Riding through trees full of bell birds is like being delivered into a temple in Bangkok.  The tones are resonant and beautiful and stay with you long after the birds have gone.

The Arts Festival and the racing season have just started.  I mentioned in a previous post that this city is simply inundated with events.  I managed to catch two films in the Italian Film Festival but I missed at least two other festivals and the State Fair.  I stumbled across the furniture exhibition of the city’s Fringe Festival (perhaps its least interesting feature), One look at the catalog of offerings put me into a catatonic state.  I was simply overwhelmed.

We did make it out of the house to see some dance/theater last night and we have tickets for an evening with Philip Glass doing the poetry of Leonard Cohen.  We have to give our favorite Montreal poet a hearing. It is a city that has given us many good memories and Cohen is its most unlikely songbird.

I just got a lovely email from a friend there who is soaking up some balmy fall weather, thanks to a warm surge from down south.  He’s a Scot, a golfer naturally enough. Some foxes have been frequenting the golf course of late and a few have become quite tame. Not a good thing for the long-term health of the animals, but it allowed him to get a fine photograph.

by David Robertson

by David Robertson

It is difficult to ignore the local news, though.  It lands on the doorstep every morning and itches like a patch of poison ivy.

The bitter debate on Victoria’s controversial abortion bill continued this week.  The tragic fate of a lovely, 21 year-old Australian girl who disappeared in Dubrovnik on September 18 was just revealed.  Another Qantas flight turned into roller coaster ride when it plunged 1000 feet over Western Australia and had to make an emergency landing.  A quarter of the planet’s mammals are under threat of extinction; Australian mammals are the most at risk in the developed world.  The Australian dollar got hammered.

If you want to come see the wildlife or the race horses, now would be a good time. It’s Spring and the weather is perfect.

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