Monday, March 31, 2008

Day One: Perth to Kalgoorlie. Part 1

We are in Kalgoorlie as I write this, and the photos cover include a few shots of West Australian towns on a Sunday. Which means largely comatose main streets...

One thing you have to realise is that the loveliest buildings in most towns are the pubs, although the most impressive may be the local government buildings.

The first three photos were taken in the town of Cunderdin. The tall chimney belonged to the original pumphouse, one of many built to speed the water along the pipeline that carried – and still carries – water from dams close to the coast to the parched outback, and ultimately to the goldfields town of Kalgoorlie.

The photo of the hotel in Cunderdin is really something only Australians will appreciate. Suffice it to say that a certain cartoonist has a lot to answer for… Can there be an Australian anywhere who doesn’t recognise this pub?

The second 2 photos were taken in Kellerberrin – the post office (dating from 1912) and the building next door to it which has the words “Est’d 1812” on the fa├žade. As Western Australia was not settled by the British until 1826, that’s a bit odd.

The next 2 photos were taken where we stopped for a picnic lunch, outside the town of Merredin, beside the Great Eastern Highway that barrels across the state heading for South Australia - often paralleled by the railway line and the pipeline carrying the water.

The next photo shows the beautiful pub in the town of Southern Cross.

The final photos were all taken in the old goldmining town of Coolgardie – where the streets were made large enough to turn the camel trains around. I was amused by the building that was built to be the Warden’s Court at the end of the 19th century, and is still in service. For just about everything, if the sign outside is to be believed…

And here’s a surreal element to the day’s drive. One of the driest parts of the world, and we saw enough boats to clutter up a busy harbour. Dunno what was going on, but dozens of vehicles were toting canoes and other craft by the number, all hundreds of miles from the nearest water.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bibra Lake and Birding

Had a lovely evening last night with family - drank far too much wine, laughed a great deal, talked and listened and basked in that feeling you get only with special people. Something I miss too often, living in another country.

Margaret and I went birdwatching this morning at Bibra Lake.

A sad sight. People over the years have sunk bores to obtain water for their gardens without any thought for the state of Perth's wetlands. Some of the urban wetlands remain dry even during the winter rains. There can be no sorrier sight than what we saw today - a long-necked tortoise trudging its way through the mud of the lake to, I would think, certain death (see pix No.3)

Enjoy those silly green lawns, unused, and think of the price that was paid for them.

Some of the Banksias - one of my favourite flowers - were out in bloom.

The birding was good - everything from Splendid Wrens to raptors.

And these plants in the last pix have always to be been a symbol of Australia and home. We used to call them Black Boys (they tend to have a black "trunk") and never gave a thought to any racial slur. Now political correctness tells us we were in fact denigrating a whole people.

That was news to me, actually. All it ever was, as far as we were concerned, was the name of a plant, as neutral as white-ants, the White-faced Heron and the white cliffs of Dover.

Ok, so here are some Xanthorrhoea, or grass trees.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Missing books

Some things puzzle me. And this is one of them.

Why would a bookseller, who is giving away Book 1 of a trilogy in a promo with another author's work, not then stock Book 2 and Book 3 of the same trilogy?

Heart of the Mirage has been free with the latest Feist since it was released at Dymocks Australia, and yet not a single bookshop I have been in has had both Shadow of Tyr and Song of the Shiver Barrens on the shelves.

I get the feeling that this promo might be falling flat on its face - even that Shadow of Tyr has been temporarily out of print. If this is the case - why did the publisher not plan ahead?

Publishing is a weird business, it really is.

I must say I love the way the Dymocks in Fremantle has reorganised itself with a coffee shop and all. Great place. Now, if only they had more of my books on the shelves...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where we are going...

This post is really for readers who have never been to Oz.
Most important thing to realise: Australia is a BIG place.
And Western Australia - where I am from - is the biggest state.
I am now staying with my sister, Margaret, in Fremantle, which is the port of Perth, the capital.
And we are going to travel to Kalgoorlie on the first leg of the journey, which is some 595 kms or 370 miles.

The full distance to our destination, the Eyre Bird Observatory is over 1200 kms one way - over 746 miles.

Map Image

Above map pinched from here

Find Esperance on both maps to orient yourself, and then trace on the bottom map our intended journey to Eyre, just to the SW of the Cocklebiddy Motel where I once stayed - back in 1973.
After Kalgoorlie we will stay at Norseman, then Cocklebiddy, then Eyre (2 nights), then Esperance, the Recherche Archipelago, and then back home. (Clicking on the bottom map will enlarge it).

Will I be doing any blogging? Well yes - when I find an internet cafe!

Will I be doing any writing? Maybe. We'll see.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quiet day

Had a great dinner last night at a West Perth restaurant, hosted by HarperCollins...

Stimulating conversation with Theresa and Ian from HC, Bevan MacGuiness (author of the Triumvirate trilogy) and his wife, Jonathan Strahan (Hugo shortlisted editor) and wife Marianne, and Stefan from Borders. I love people who have their kind of sense of humour. Whacky.

Other than that, taking things quietly and trying to catch up on emails. Irritatingly, I am unable to use my normal email programme to send, which makes things twice as difficult and three times as slow. So if I owe you an email, I am getting there...

We leave on Sunday for Eyre Bird Observatory.
Overseas readers, please note that although this place is in the same state, and it it going to take us 3 days to get there. Western Australia is a VERY big place. It would swallow Texas whole, along with all of all of Japan and the UK, and still have room for New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

All good things come to an end

Swancon is over for another year.
It was just as much fun as I expected. I enjoyed the panels I was on - some were better than others. I enjoyed even more the panels I listened to. Robert Shearman and Ken MacLeod were great guests - knowledgeable, funny, friendly and extraordinarily approachable. Rob may have been a last minute replacement, but he did a great job.

My Oz Guest of Honour speech was a mish-mash of stuff - mostly about how my life has impacted my work, I guess. So lots of pretty rainforest pix...and others showing me writing in some unusual places.

The writing workshop I gave was fun from my PoV, and I just hope that some of those who attended will get some benefit from some of what I said.

Getting together with old friends was a highlight of course - Karen Miller and I had some interesting conversations in the middle of the night. Fabulous to see Trudi and Paul again; Satima and Helen Venn (first time I've seen the latter since we were in uni together, and that's more years than I want to admit to.) Seeing people I know from other conventions in the past like some of the Swancon committee - Ju, Dave, Anna and Art, and Davina. Talking to other writers and editors: Cat Sparks, Jonathan Strahan, Joel Shepherd, Simon Haynes, Dave Luckett, Sean Williams, Ian Nichols, Bevan MacGuiness, Marianne de Pierres. Meeting Sue and Steve, the Duff guests, from Kentucky - who never did get all their luggage! Sara and Geneva, Danny, Dianne de Bellis - ah, I could go on and on. All in all, far too many interesting, intelligent, witty people to be able to mention them all.

It is hard to explain just how much I appreciate the opportunity to meet like-minded people. To talk about sff, and not feel that the audience is half-expecting you to apologise for having such a (weird) interest. I feel as if I have just had a dose of inspiration, and now I have to make it last until the next con I go to.

So my deep gratitude to the committee for inviting me as the Australian Guest and so enabling me to participate in the experience. I am honoured to have been part of Swancon 2008 - thank you. Thank you to everyone who came to my panels/workshop/speech prepared to listen to me rabbiting on...

Just: thank you.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

More photos from Swancon

The Hugos shortlist has been announced - great news for West Australians! No less than 3 up for these prestigious international sff awards: Jonathan Strahan, ShaunTan and Greg Egan. Right now I am bursting with pride to be from W.A.

Yesterday there was a HarperCollins launch for new books from Sean Williams and Karen Miller (writing as K.E.Mills). There was also another panel for me, some book signing, and the masquerade...

  • Theresa and me and one scary character...
  • Me.
  • Sean Williams and Karen Miller.
  • Karen Miller and Sean Williams sign books

At the book launch: Karen Miller

At the book launch: Karen Miller, Theresa Anns, Stephanie Smith, Jonathan Strahan, Sean Williams.

Karen Miller talks to HC rep Theresa and Associate Publisher Voyager HarperCollins, Stephanie Smith.

Karen Miller with HarperCollins rep Theresa Anns - the best rep we authors could have!

Bevan MacGuiness, Voyager author.

Book signing from Rob Shearman.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

More from Swancon

At dinner: Karen Miller, Trudi Canavan, Joel Shepherd, Paul Ewins, Stephanie Smith
Having too much fun to blog much…! It has been terrific to see old friends, and make new ones. Lovely to catch up with fellow authors/editors like Karen Miller, Trudi Canavan, Dave Luckett, Bevan MacGuiness, Ian Nicols, Cat Sparks, Jonathan Strahan, Joel Shepherd, Sean Williams and others...

On a panel: Ju Landeesse, Satima Flavell, Juliet Marillier and self.

Great to see my Voyager editor, Stephanie Smith and the HarperCollins rep here in Perth, Theresa Anns.

At breakfast (?): Theresa Anns, Bevan MacGuiness and Karen Miller

Then there’s old friends like Satima Flavell and even someone I haven’t see since we were at University together back in the 1960s, Helen Venn. Wow. That’s going back a bit…

I was on a panel today with the very talented writer Juliet Marillier. And after that I gave a workshop for some 20 people. Workshop is a bit of a misnomer. More that I just talked about writing and answered questions…wasn’t half long enough! I just keep my fingers crossed that there may have been something of help there to someone. I remember only too clearly the ache to be published and how I wished I could have talked to someone who had got there.

At a panel: Voyager authors Karen Miller and Bevan MacGuiness, with Lee Battersby (left).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Here at Swancon

Photo: Rob Shearman talking to Elaine, Karen Miller.

Arrived safely in sunny Perth - over 30 celsius - and the city looks bright and clean-cut against that brilliant sky, just as it usually does. I get that feeling that I am home.

Karen Miller and I have done one helluva lot of talking ever since, even thought she is deep in the page proofs of book three (Hammer of God) of her latest trilogy, Godspeaker. Great to see her again.

She blew me away with something she did. I still can't believe it. She's dedicated her book 2 (The Riven Kingdom) to me (it's already out in the shops. If you haven't bought it, do so. Now. And read the dedication. What a great lady...)

Photo: Ken MacLeod and wife Carol

Last night was the pre-con dinner - a chance to meet the international guests: Ken MacLeod (author of such great sf books as "Newton's Wake") and Rob Shearman (writer for media - including a particularly brilliant Dr Who episode) , catch up with old books, talk films and TV shows and. Well, just talk... What a great evening.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Flying with the birds

Years ago, the government decided to build a new airport to replace the one closer to Kuala Lumpur, which was hopelessly small as far as runway capacity was concerned - early planners having not a clue about the way the world was going (they didn't read sf, did they?).

Anyway, they chose Sepang for the replacement airport, which is where present day KLIA is situated. They had to destroy a peat swamp to build it. One of the things that we bird people warned them about was that there were all these migrants arriving from Sumatra - tens, hundreds or even thousands per day for several months from January to April. And going back again October to December. All those birds we saw last weekend at Ilham Resort and counted from the lighthouse? Many of them overfly Sepang, which is just a few kms from where they made landfall on our coast.

What, we asked, are the odds that sooner or later one or two are going to meet a plane flying the opposite way? The last time I came into KLIA, I flew directly over the Ilham. I looked staring down on the lighthouse, which is where many birds catch their first thermals...

As a consequence of our advice, the government asked the Dept of Wildlife to do a 2 year study on the migratory patterns - which they did, back in the 90s. None of those findings have ever been published that I know about. It's all top secret. I wonder why?

Anyway, today, at 9.40 a.m., I take off from KLIA directly into the pathway of the first birds arriving from Sumatra. Wish me luck.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Almost disaster

You'd think that I have enough trouble being Noramlyed by the winds of fate whenever I travel, without encouraging disaster on myself.
Yet that's exactly what I did today.

I was saved by a young lady called Nor'Ain, and a young man called Putra, who both work for the Bintang Warta supermarket down here where I live.

Today - after visiting the moneychanger to change some notes into Australian dollars, I did a spot of shopping - and left my purse behind at the counter. Containing not only the money and credit and bank cards, but also my passport. And I am leaving early Tuesday morning.

That was almost the end of my trip - but Nor'Ain found the purse and sent it down to the head of security, Putra (which means prince btw), who immediately telephoned my handphone after extracting my business card from the purse. He reached me before I even made it home.

Lovely honest people who restore one's faith in the world, refusing a reward too.

Thank you to you both.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Wings on the Wind

Yes they came.
In fact we saw our first birds while still driving from our home in the Klang Valley to Port Dickson.
And they came in over the Ilham Resort in a steady stream until we left...
No matter how many times I see this, it never fails to move me. Never.
And to think they have another 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) and possibly several months to go before they arrive back to the place where they were born. Those who make it...
Some of them won't.
Some will fall to people with guns.
Some will drown after falling into the sea with exhaustion.
Some will die as a result of starvation or storms - starvation because we humans think its good to have loads of kids and develop the world into a place where there is no room for wildlife.
Migration moves me. Every time.

Why don't you have a look tomorrow?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Someone came to supper last night

Yesterday a nanka fruit was ripe on our tree in the yard, so it was plucked. Because I am not overfond of the rather strong smell of the fruit, I left it out on the verandah - and this was the result.

I suspect the culprit was our ceiling-dwelling civet.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

What to do next Saturday or Sunday

Red for southward journey, yellow for northward, one satellite-tracked individual

Stand at the front of the lighthouse fence on the cliff.
If you look down, you can see turtles surfacing over the coral reef.
If you look outwards you are gazing at Sumatra - with a good pair of binoculars on a clear day, you can actually see it. In between you and the island, is the sea - the Straits of Malacca.

And there, if you look carefully, you might see the first bird of the day arrive.
He comes in low, flapping. He's tired - he's not actually built for flapping, but at sea he can't get a thermal to lift him up. He gets closer and closer - then you see another behind him, and another, and another and another - long lines of them, several lines. All heading towards you. Panting. Then the first one hits the warm air close to the land. He starts to circle. He stops flapping. He tilts his head, and you see his eye looking at you - and disregarding what he sees. You are not important, not in this instant of time.

He rises over your head, effortlessly now. And is gone.
And you are left breathless with the beauty of it, with the timelessness, the danger, the instinctive drive of the greatest journey on earth: migration.

A couple of days back, March 11th, the count team at Tanjung Tuan (Port Dickson) recorded 4101 raptors, mainly Oriental Honey-Buzzards, on their way back from Indonesia.

Photos from past years raptor watch at Ilham Resort, PD.
Organised by the Malaysian Nature Society