All God’s creatures

I’m sure none of my (few, remaining) esteemed readers will be particularly surprised that it is so long since I last wrote. In fact, it’s been uncommonly fast when compared to my last couple of efforts. While I’d like to say that the delay is because I have been super busy and having a fantastic time, the reality is that life has been plodding along pretty slowly for the most part.

Still, it’s been an eventful few months in its way. Getting used to our new house has been both wonderful and… not so wonderful. Take our first night in the place, for example.

We were fortunate, given that most of our belongings were on the other side of the country, that the house was sold to us furnished. While there was a fair bit that was destined for the rubbish dump, it did at least mean we had a bed in which to sleep. Therefore, two days after settlement, there we were on our big adventure, moving into a beautiful new home.

A new house always feels strange at first and this one was so different to any in which I’ve previously lived, that it was very strange indeed. It looked strange, especially with the unfamiliar furniture. It sounded strange and even smelled strange. (Substitute “musty” for “strange” and you’ll begin to get an idea.) One thing for sure, though — we were very happy to be there, in our OWN HOME.

At some point, around about the time we were thinking of retiring to our strange, new, second-hand bed, I turned on the light at the top of the stairs. (Another strange thing about a new house was learning the locations of the light switches and, furthermore, remembering them for future use.) I was about to head down to the kitchen when something, yes, strange, glimpsed from the corner of my eye caused me to stop and look twice.

“Darling,” I called, casually. “We have a snake.”

Dohn emerged from the bedroom, resplendent in his shining knight’s armour (ok, so, not really) and together we surveyed the strange, thin, curvy, writhing black creature on the floorboards near the (unhinged) doors to the boiler room.

The snake surveyed us back, flicked his strangely snake-like forked tongue at us a few times, decided he didn’t want to be friends, and retreated into the boiler room through a gap in the doors. Fascinated, we watched him disappear from sight, smoothly and silently.

Dohn peered through the glass in the doors but by the time I was game enough to peek too, there was no sign of him. There were, however, a great many shed snake skins left behind at which we could marvel to our heart’s content.

In due course (which wasn’t very long really as there was very little choice) I made an executive decision. I decreed that, for tonight at least, we would peacefully coexist with our house guest. He didn’t seem to want to be around us any more than we wanted to be around him, and if he kept out of our way then all would surely be good.

The following morning, Dohn opened his emails and found a friendly missive from the previous owners of the house. It was full of the most helpful advice. One of the pearls of wisdom on offer involved the torches they had kindly left for us on the bedside tables. “Do not,” they advised, “open those double doors off the upstairs passageway. An Eastern Small-Eyed Snake dwells within. We used the torches beside the bed if we needed to go to the bathroom in the night.”

Thanks for letting us know before we bought the house! But I’m afraid the reason for the bedside torches had already become painfully obvious.

(There have, as you can imagine, been other occasions but you will be pleased to know that on at least one we were able to courteously escort our undesirable guest through the front door. “I’m sorry, but you’ve outstayed your welcome,” Dohn firmly but respectfully explained. We then barricaded the door with all the downstairs furniture. But that’s another story.)

And so we settled into our strange, new, shared accommodation.

Don’t go outside when it’s wet (which is all the time)

Snakes are by no means the only creatures to cause concern in the rainforest. I had my first encounter with a leech on the day we took possession of the house. We’d met with the previous owners for a kind of handover, and they showed us where our weir (which is our water supply) was located, near the top of our 1km long driveway. We talked for about fifteen minutes there in the rainforest before they headed off on the long, long road trip to their home in Victoria. Dohn and I headed into Millaa Millaa to see our real estate agent, Pat, and pick up the full set of house keys. (Yay!)

I was chatting away with Dohn and Pat when I became aware of a sensation of wetness on my right calf. I looked down to discover that the inside of my trouser leg had soaked through with blood. To say I was alarmed would be a considerable understatement. Trying to disguise my urgency (after all, I was clearly haemorrhaging or miscarrying or something equally traumatic and life-threatening), I asked Pat if I could avail myself of the Ladies room. Closer inspection revealed a small round sore on the inside of my knee, and a lot of blood. Which kept flowing. And flowing. Knowing that leeches, when they bite, release an anticoagulant in their saliva, it was now that I started to think “Aha! Leech…”

I’m unsure exactly how successful I was in my attempt to avoid drawing attention to what would have looked, to the casual observer, as if my heavily pregnant waters had broken in a vicious and bloody gush. (Of course, I am not pregnant, and it was hardly gushing — but never let the truth get in the way of a good story.) My trousers were undeniably stained with the fresh blood running down the inside of my leg.

Back in the car, I informed Dohn of my findings and when we got out again at the Post Office just around the corner, I duly tipped the fat, bloody little slug I found on the floor mat onto the hot concrete. Call it cruelty to one of God’s living creatures if you will. I harboured a secret desire for it to die, die, DIE! When we emerged from the Post Office a few minutes later, however, it was nowhere to be seen so it may actually have lived to tell the tale. There are, after all, two sides to every story.

We continued on our way and an hour or so after that, I stopped bleeding.

Later, after I had recounted an abridged version of this story to Chris, a visiting geologist at the mine, he merely remarked, “And it’s not even the Wet, yet.”

Sigh.

If you want to get really freaked out, do a Google Images search on leeches. Otherwise, just take my word for it that they are some of the least fun things about living in this part of the world — nevertheless they are not so much of an inconvenience as to stop it from being very, very worth it.

Speaking of which, I suppose this is a good opportunity to mention all the wondrous things we see every day, along the driveway and from the balcony. Along with the natural beauty there is amazing wildlife — cassowaries, birds, frogs, tree kangaroos, pademelons, bandicoots, quolls. As I type, a pademelon (the rainforest’s only wallaby) stares up at me from below the balcony. It’s a true wonderland, and the sights and sounds are nothing short of magical.

What? You don’t believe me? Why on earth not? ;-)

18. April 2013 by Vicki
Categories: Life, Vapour | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 comments

A new home in the rainforest

It has finally happened. We have found our new home and will be moving in next week.

Whew.

And woo!

It was SUCH a hairy wait for finance. Despite having finance pre-approval, when it came time to finalise the loan there was an amazing drama when the bank (one of the Big 4… grrr) came back to us and said it had come to their attention that Dohn is a director of the company and was therefore self-employed, and had mis-represented his loan application.

This, of course, is the most utter BS ever.

Dohn was absolutely furious at both the bank’s idiocy and the slur on his integrity, but it turned out there was nothing to be done. The bank had declined and refused to look at it again. So it then became a race to find another bank to finance us in the limited time we had left before the property contract became unconditional. We made it, and settlement is 21st November, 2012.

That is next Wednesday! Yay!

Let me tell you about the property. (After all, it is my favourite subject at the moment.) It is 68 acres of pristine rainforest between Ravenshoe and Millaa Millaa, on the beautiful Beatrice River. The third of three waterfalls that make up Beatrice Falls is on our property, and there is a delightful waterhole for swimming, too.

Waterhole

The swimming pool. The other side of the river is Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.

The previous owner is an ecology professor from Victoria who came up for 3 months every year to study a particular type of bower bird, but from all we’ve heard, the list of wildlife the property boasts appears to be boundless. There are turtles and platypus and tree kangaroos and cassowaries amongst many other rainforest creatures.

The property is sandwiched between Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and Tully Gorge National Park, and is classified as “Essential Habitat for the Southern Cassowary”. We were thrilled to see at least two different cassowaries when we took my parents to view the property a couple of weeks ago when they were visiting from Perth. Such magic to be within a few metres of such a magnificent bird! One just sat there and watched while we took photos, then followed us warily at a distance as we moved on, and the other was running down the driveway ahead of the car — so funny and amazing. According to some sources there are as few as 900 cassowaries left in Australia, though no one really knows. What we do know is that at least two are on our property.

House from North East

Our rainforest house.

The house has just two bedrooms but all the rooms are spacious, except the kitchen. The kitchen is enough to make any lover of food and cooking weep — and not for joy. Not that I’ve wept over it. Yet. The house is solid as a rock (the building inspector asked if it was built by a German!) but the whole thing is unfinished (bar one of the bathrooms) and needs a heckuva lot of work. Still, we are confident it will be lovely in time as it’s quite unusual in many ways.

Unusual walls and ceilings in the large master bedroom

The master bedroom is huge and just a little bit different to the average bedroom.

Plus, I’ve always wanted a house with a balcony and with this house I will finally achieve my dream.

Rainforest view

View across the rainforest from the balcony. Just ignore the palm tree and other rubbish in the foreground — that will go.

Aside from renovation challenges, there will be lifestyle ones too. We’ve never lived in rainforest before and haven’t yet experienced a Wet season in the tropics. We’ve been warned about vast amounts of precipitation, and the impossibility of keeping the damp out of the house. We’re told our clothes and furniture will go mouldy. Yay.

The house is fully solar powered, so we will also need to adjust to power limitations. It’s already been quite a Learning Experience to even begin to come to grips with that. There is no possibility of running an air conditioner, and the solar man tells us that while appliances such as toasters or hair dryers are no problem, it’s the constantly-running ones such as relatively low-powered fans that actually drain the batteries. I’m a person who doesn’t cope with heat too well, so I am just hoping it’s not as bad as I fear… but if so, there’s always the waterhole for some temporary relief.

Though we’ve also been warned about leeches…

The water supply to the house is from one of the three creeks on the property (aside from the river) and is gravity-fed. I’m expecting living with that to be “interesting” too.

It is all so exciting!

The most wonderful thing about all this, however, is that now life in Far North Queensland will really and truly begin. I will have my own home again, live a good hour closer to civilisation, and finally be in a position to create an enriching new life for myself.

16. November 2012 by Vicki
Categories: Life | Tags: , , , , , | 8 comments

The Rock

On Saturday, my beloved Dohn asked me to marry him.

I said yes.

The Rock

The Rock.

The ring had been a while in the making. I am a ditherer. I am not good at making decisions. (When it comes to work I am, but when it comes to my life? Fuggedit.) First I had to choose a jeweller and settled on the remarkable David Taylor Master Jeweller in Cairns. Then David did some searching according to the criteria we’d decided on, and I had to select a diamond. (I has me standards, I does!) The diamond took two or three weeks for me to decide on, and then had to be imported so that added another week. There was much excitement when David told us it had arrived and was stunning. In the meantime, he had made a silver draft of the ring design I wanted, with a cubic zirconia. This is his fail-safe way of making sure the customer is going to be super-happy with the end result, and he will make as many adjustments as it takes. We drove down to Cairns to approve the diamond (as if I’d know if it wasn’t what it was professed to be! But the GIA certificate was also there) and try on the draft.

The diamond (which David referred to as a “stone” and we called “the rock”) was so white. Which it should be, with its D colour, but it really was very bright and sparkly. The silver draft was ok but I wanted a few adjustments, and later graphics of variations were to fly thick and fast between us. David was wonderful. Believe me, that man has the patience of a saint. He never let me feel for a moment that I was causing hassles or wasting his time with my dithering and chopping and changing. Such a professional.

A total of three drafts later, I was finally happy with the design and David, who may perhaps have been more relieved than any of us, made up the engagement ring and we picked it up on Saturday, 13th October, 2012.

It is exactly what I envisaged. The man is a genius.

Most importantly, though, Dohn and I could now tell people. We have been so happy together and we are looking forward to building a future in this “strange new land” in which we find ourselves. We are not sure when the wedding will be (both of us want to be married but the thought of a wedding fills our hearts with dread) but we do know we intend to spend the rest of our lives together.

18. October 2012 by Vicki
Categories: Life | Tags: , , , , | 2 comments

Enter: Far North Queensland

As I mentioned in Taking Cochlear Implants to the Depths, the man who was (and still is, for that matter) my dive instructor eventually took on an even more important role in my life and we remain as happy together as two pigs in mud.

An interstate move

Early this year, Dohn was invited to take up a position as Managing Director of a small mining company in Far North Queensland (FNQ). It was not on my agenda to move interstate and I had never even been to Queensland, but I could see how important it was to him, and agreed he should take the job and I would go too. After living in Perth all my life — with home, family and friends firmly established in that city — this was a big thing for me. Dohn didn’t care where he went, and indeed had recently returned from two years managing an engineering company in Saudi Arabia, but I had never lived anywhere other than Perth.

Atherton Tablelands

In February, the company flew us to Sydney so they could go over things with Dohn, then we were taken up to Mount Garnet in Queensland, where the mining company is based. Far North Queensland is another world! I felt like I was on a tropical holiday (well, I suppose I was) and I was taken aback by the beauty of it all. I had zero expectations, because I knew nothing about the area, and from the moment I saw the coastline as the plane came in to land at Cairns Airport, it was a case of “Wow. Wow. Wow.”

The road exiting the airport is edged with mangroves and swamp, and bears warnings about crocodile-infested waters — not something I’d seen before. Then the twisty drive up the range onto the Atherton Tablelands was stunning, with the rainforest rising directly upwards from each side of the narrow road and joining in a vivid green canopy overhead. Once past the town of Atherton, the scenery was truly spectacular. The countryside is steeply contoured and so, so green, and fringed with forest-covered volcanic (extinct of course) mountain ranges. Houses are, as often as not, typical Queenslanders; verandahed dwellings on poles and clad with weatherboard, perched high on ridges or down in valleys in choice spots beside any of the innumerable watercourses. The southern Tablelands are referred to as “Australia’s Tropical Dairyland” and we discovered that the hills are covered in the greenest pasture and dotted with cows. For a lover of the country, as I am, it was and is idyllic.

View over the Atherton Tablelands from McHugh Lookout, Millaa Millaa.

Mount Garnet

Mount Garnet, however, is a somewhat different kettle of fish. On the western edge of the Tablelands, it is part of the Savannah Way, and from Ravenshoe (45km before you get to Mount Garnet) westwards the landscape changes to grassy open eucalypt country: “Savannah woodlands”. It is beautiful in its own way but very different to most of the Tablelands.

To get to the mine, once in Mount Garnet turn right at the pub and follow the (very bad) unsealed roads 15km or so through the hilly open forest cattle stations, past many herds of cattle, the odd brumby or two, and several pretty dams, until you reach a group of unimposing dongas by the side of the road. Three hours after leaving Cairns, you have finally arrived! Drive in and follow the signs directing you to back up to the bunds, get out and receive a quick induction of the mine site, then allow yourself to be shown around.

The mine is in a lovely, if remote, setting beside a dam with eucalyptus trees, mostly lemon-scented gums, rising up the far side. The accommodation units have a great outlook over the “lake”. When I saw this, and that there was a vacant donga with an ensuite right at the end of the row, metres from the dam edge, I had a brilliant idea! Why don’t we live at the mine at first, instead of rushing around while on this visit, trying to find somewhere to live for when we moved permanently?

The COO of the parent company, who had brought us there, thought it could be helpful temporarily but gave me three weeks maximum before I couldn’t stand it anymore. In my naive optimism, I thought that was amusing. But I acknowledged even at the time that my biggest problem was likely to be the shared kitchen. I do love to cook.

So it was all settled and a month later Dohn and I were firmly ensconced at a tin mine in Mount Garnet and my life had irrevocably changed.

Making a new life

There is good and bad about the move, and one of the good things is that the location of the mine is undeniably beautiful and serene.

A beautiful winter morning. Photo taken from the doorstep of our room.

However, sharing a kitchen is worse than I could have dreamed (don’t get me started!) and together with my lack of control over the way the things important to me are handled and the remoteness, it’s next to impossible for me to make a fulfilling life for myself as things are. We are looking for a property to buy and when that eventuates, things should look up in many ways. Also, I miss my family horribly. It has been quite an emotional few months for me.

On the plus side, we can dedicate weekends to getting out and exploring. There are some amazing places out here and we are steadily taking them all in. I still ask myself, for example: how did I never know that Cobbold Gorge existed?

Silently making our way by barge down the length of Cobbold Gorge — a magical place.

I’ve also learned a lot about mining and met some extremely interesting people. I have enjoyed many wonderful experiences directly related to Dohn’s job. Just today, I was taken into the tunnels of old tin workings originally built in 1880 — worked by hand, of course. What these men did with brute strength, pick and shovel, has my utmost admiration.

1880s tin workings.

This is an amazing part of the country and I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience it.

18. September 2012 by Vicki
Categories: Life | Tags: , , , , , | 2 comments

Taking cochlear implants to the depths

I know, I know, I’ve done it again. It’s two years, almost to the day, since I last wrote. Argh. I started this post a year ago… wow, what a lot has happened since then, but for now I’ll just get this post out of the way. :-)

General CI update

First of all, my cochlear implants have been going pretty well. I had a software upgrade early last year which, in general, made sounds clearer, and also improved my music experience. Yay! I shouldn’t have waited so long before going back to the audiologist. I do have issues with pain on some of the electrodes which tends to mean that, with each visit, these electrodes have the volume turned further down, which is psychologically unpleasant but isn’t noticeably detrimental to my hearing experience.

Scuba diving!

Me waving underwater

Me, the scuba diver

Ears aside, in my mind one of the really positive things that happened last year is that I learned to scuba dive. I did my Open Water Diver (OWD) course in May, 2011. Diving is something that has held an attraction for me since at least high school, however there has always been something else more important to spend my money on. Finally, however, at the ripe old age of cough, cough, I bit the bullet.

I started the process by dropping in at Perth Diving Academy in Balcatta, about a 3-minute drive from my place. I spent quite some time talking to the folks there, and they could not have been more helpful. I was so impressed with the service that I wasn’t even interested in looking at other dive shops.

The Dive Medical

As a pre-requisite to the OWD course, everyone must undertake a dive medical, to be carried out according to Australian standards. Even with cochlear implants, I didn’t expect this to be an issue. I’d contacted the Med-El representative in Australia, who told me that my particular implants have been tested to 50 metres depth, which is deeper than I anticipate I’ll ever want to go. So I turned up for my dive medical feeling quietly confident.

The first thing the nurse wanted to do was put me in a hearing booth for a hearing test. I laughed wryly. “Good luck with that,” I said. When all was explained to her, she said, “Oh. I haven’t come across this before. I’d better talk to the doctor.” She disappeared for a bit then said the doctor wanted to see me before she went any further, so I had to wait a while longer for the doctor to become free.

The doctor eventually told me that he hasn’t come across a wannabe diver with cochlear implants in his 30 years of doing dive medicals. It seems I was his guinea pig, but I was happy to be one in this instance. He’d contacted an audiologist who sometimes worked there about it, and was awaiting her call back. Lo and behold, it was my beloved Roberta, who had been with me since my CI(Cochlear Implant) assessment, through switch-on and beyond. She’d left the Lions Hearing Clinic to go into private practice a year earlier. She called within minutes and I got to talk to her (evil woman — she may have guessed how much the phone would stress me! ;-) ) and it was all very wonderful.

However, she didn’t throw any light on the doctor’s dilemma. He was happy that the implants themselves were safe to 50 metres but, thinking aloud, wondered if the wiring that ran from the implant (which is embedded in the skull) to the cochlea might somehow compromise the integrity of the structure of the inner ear. He said that even though my hearing couldn’t be damaged any further, the vestibular (balance) system was in that area and his concern was that it could be affected in some way. I did appreciate him thinking it through and considering every conceivable negative consequence, but it was a bit hairy for a while there, wondering if I was going to pass the medical.

Still, after putting me through all the usual testing (all good!) the doctor decided that he had no real reason not to give me the go-ahead, so I left feeling happy and warm and fuzzy, dive medical certificate in hand.

Stresssssssss

After a couple of course cancellations due to lack of numbers at the Balcatta dive shop (it was, after all, late autumn and getting chilly) I decided I’d travel the extra 20 minutes to Hillarys where a course was going ahead, just to get to do it.

So I dutifully turned up at the Hillarys dive shop on the designated date, and the course commenced. The first morning was in the classroom, going over the pre-course material. That was fine. I’d done my homework! But in the afternoon we did pool work and, oh my, that was stressful.

Although everyone is in the same boat underwater, and no one can talk to each other there, it was a little different for me. If I had any kind of issue, I could come to the surface and tell the instructor, Dohn, but I could not, of course, hear his advice on how to deal with it. At the best of times, I get stressed when I can’t hear and know (or worry) I’m missing something important. Here was I, engaging in a potentially life-endangering activity and being taught how to do it safely, yet not being able to hear… well, to say that “I didn’t find it easy” would be a gross understatement.

Day 2 was somewhat better, because Dohn brought a slate into the pool so he could write things down for me and was really understanding and encouraging, assuring me he’d get me up to speed and wouldn’t let me drown. And he is a man of his word!

That’s not north!

Probably the most humorous aspect of the dive course related to the navigation exercises. Before going into the ocean, we first took our compasses out to the carpark and were shown how to use them. I was a bit confused by mine. I knew where North was, but my compass seemed to be telling me something else. I showed Dohn who seemed a bit puzzled, but acknowledged there was something wrong so gave me his own compass to use. When this compass, too, failed to indicate the correct direction of North, I realised that the magnets of my cochlear implants were interfering with it. Ha! What we did learn, though, was that there would be no adverse effect underwater so it was evidently related to my speech processors rather than the implants themselves. That was a relief!

The princess

Having cochlear implants has not proved a barrier to diving itself, but I certainly have a different experience of it compared with hearing folks, especially on boats with other people around. Sure, no one can talk underwater, but hearing people can still hear bubbles, and fish. (Yes, they apparently make a noise.) Hearing people can hear if boats go overhead, or an emergency whistle, or their buddy, if experiencing some kind of difficulty, tapping his or her tank trying to get their attention. At the surface, if someone from the boat calls out to me, I have no idea what they’re saying. When I get onto the boat, I’m asked for depth and remaining cylinder pressure but at least I know what to expect there. But the divemaster and everyone concerned needs to know in advance that I won’t hear if spoken to.

Then, of course, I’m on the boat with wet hair and still can’t hear. So I’ve taken to bringing a hair dryer with me so my speech processors can go back in. I have my normal, powerful one for boats that will accommodate it, and also a portable, rechargeable one for smaller boats and beach dives. I have had some strange looks, I can tell you! A hairdryer on a dive boat! I wouldn’t be surprised it was previously unheard of, but even if other folks think I’m a princess, then so be it. I don’t want to be hours without my “ears”.

A magical new world

a majestic bull ray sweeps past

A stingray at Rottnest Island near Perth, Western Australia

Diving literally opens up a whole, magical new world. The underwater landscape is surreal, and the inhabitants are too. I love this world and feel far more protective of marine life than I was before. As a result, not just over-fishing and ocean dredging the world over causes me concern, but eating seafood at all creates something of a quandary. I like to swim with those creatures, not eat them! I find the concept quite confronting.

As with most things, the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. The more I dive, the more respect I have for those who are Instructors and Dive Masters, because they are true masters of their crafts and I have such a long way to go! As a new diver, it has been fantastic to have an experienced dive buddy in Dohn, who was my instructor and then great friend, and now my beloved partner.

I’ve also been collecting specialties at a great rate. So far I have — in addition to OWD and Advanced — Nitrox, Night, Deep, Wreck and EFR/Rescue Diver. Now I just need to finish Dive Theory to attain Master Scuba Diver (MSD) level. I’m on my way! :-)

14. September 2012 by Vicki
Categories: Cochlear Implants, Diving | 2 comments

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