Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane

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Red alert

As the first storms of summer strip the final straggling blooms from the jacarandas, as if on cue, and just in time for Christmas, Brisbane bursts out in brilliant red, a stunning combination of poincianas and flame trees.


The late and much loved gardening guru Colin Campbell said that, if asked to name a single tree that’s helped shape the character of Brisbane, it would be the poinciana, Delonix regia. Apparently in years gone, it was traditionally planted as a street tree by the wise founders of Brisbane and now enhances the streets of many of our older suburbs.

The poinciana is native to Madagascar.  In Brisbane the appearance of the poinciana’s bright red blooms heralds the start of the hot summer months and the storm season.


Heralding the start of the storm season…

The Illawarra Flame Tree, Brachychiton acerifolius, is native to subtropical regions on the east coast of Australia and is renowned for its vibrant show of crimson flowers. It makes a brilliant floral contribution to the Christmas table.


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Paradise not lost

It’s heartening when fellow creatures such as our feathered friends have a win against the relentless march of “development”. 

That’s what’s happened at the Port of Brisbane where no less than five State Government politicians have stepped in to save “Swan Lake” which is home to some 150 species of water birds, including black swans and migratory birds. 


The birds and their aquatic home were about to fall victim to the expansion plans of the newly privatised Port of Brisbane Authority.  In a perfect Joni Mitchell “pave paradise put up a parking lot” scenario their lake was to be paved over to create additional parking for the Port’s ambitious car importation plan.


But in an acknowledgment that politicians know an effective and potentially vote-costing grass-roots campaign when they see one, the birds can continue to nest in peace after the intervention. This reprieve is thanks to the efforts of a savvy coalition of local avian lovers and environmental groups, including Birds Queensland and the Bulimba Creek Catchment Committee, who recognised they could make good use of the powerful parallel with the popular Joni Mitchell song.   

 “Swan Lake” was built as a man-made retention basin collecting stormwater from the surrounding industrial area to improve its quality before it enters into Moreton Bay. Birds on the lookout for the perfect  nesting place made themselves at home and at recent counts up to 1000 birds could be spotted in one day including 150 black swans, pied stilts, terns pelicans, teals, Pacific black ducks, egrets, coots and swamp hens.

Migratory birds also find safe haven there.  Australia is a signatory to the international Ramsar Convention to protect wetlands for migratory birds and Moreton Bay is one of our 49 nominated sites. The local wetlands have ties with the Yatsu-Higata Tidelands of Japan as part of the East-Asian Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network. Large numbers of international migratory shorebirds visit to feed between September and May.



Next to the lake, set amid lawns and trees running down to the waters edge, is a visitor’s centre which used to offer a spectacular view of birdlife and facilities for theatres, displays, public education and dining. Sadly, although only 10 years old and in good condition, it is earmarked for demolition. Apparently the centre was built as a community benefit to compensate for the loss of valuable wetland habitat when the port was originally extended some years ago.


It would be wonderful if this could be saved too.

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Music to my ears

When it comes to music I’ve always been an enthusiastic listener rather than a performer.

My fledgling education floundered when the dread engendered by a ruler-wielding, black-robed nun, rosary beads jangling ominously as she approached along polished convent corridors, extinguished any childhood flame of musical ambition.

Did I ever regret that capitulation? No – until recently when a friend asked if I would like to be part of a community choir performing at a school annual concert. But how would I follow the score when I could no longer tell my crotchets from my quavers or C from D or G?

IMG_0955I decided to put my faith in the choirmaster. After all, hadn’t the inspirational Jonathon Welsh coaxed Opera House performances from a group of Melbourne’s homeless? Besides, the good thing about a choir is there is safety in numbers.  Even our choirmaster – a saint of infinite patience and humor to rival Welsh – said so.

He assured us that a capacity to read music wasn’t essential: as long as we could see whether the notes were going up and down we’d get by.

He added that, what he enjoyed most in community choirs was the process – coaxing a performance from a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs. He wasn’t overly concerned about the final performance.

As it was, our big night was greeted with great acclaim, even if from a forgiving audience heavily stacked with family and friends. With gusto our group Hailed Isis, Sang in the Rain, Didn’t Know How to Love Him, told of Our Favourite Things, paid tribute to Ennio Morricone’s River and showed we still knew how to Rock It on a Saturday Night.  

In a recent interview on Richard Fidler’s Conversations former Seekers superstar Judith Durham spoke of how learning to sight read music when she was young changed her life. She described sitting down at the family piano with a new piece of music in pre-television days as an adventure “like opening the first page of a book and not knowing what the story was going to tell you.”

Now that I’ve experienced the adventure of being part of a choir I’m encouraged to do it again. And beforehand I’ll learn how to read the music.