Saturday, May 30, 2009

Did you know? - Tasmania has the cleanest air on the planet

It's true - Tasmanian air is the cleanest on the planet.
This is probably because the west coast of the island is in the belt of the Roaring Forties - the winds which circle the southern hemisphere and blow over thousands of kilometers of sea touching only the tip of South America.
On the north west corner of Tasmania is the Base-line Air Pollution Station.
Here air samples are collected and monitored and it is from these samples that the rest of the world compares the quality of its air.
Pic: Low Head Lighthouse, Northern Tassie.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Autumn sunset

Fire in the sky

May - Flower of the month

Can anyone tell me what this is?
It's blooming now - May in Tasmania (late autumn).
It grows on a long (10ft) stem which is hollow in the middle a bit like a thick bamboo.

May - Fruit of the month - Pomegranite

I couldn't resists buying a pomegranite.
I haven't tasted one since I was a girl.
I enjoyed the flavour but not the seeds.
But then I don't crunch passionfruit seeds either.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Newfoundland dogs in fact and fiction

He is not trained to be noble and loyal - it is just part of his nature.
And few dog breeds can equal the Newfoundland for courage.
From the sinking of the Titanic to rescuing Napoleon, to heroism and death in the face of modern warfare; to the classic stories of Peter Pan and Jane Eyre.
For over two centuries the Newfoundland's heroic deeds have been immortalised in both fact and fiction.
Having studied the breed to include the dogs in my latest book, I found some of the stories fascinating.
I've listed them below or you can link to:
Newfoundland dogs

Pic: 'The Face in the Window' - the soft doleful eyes of Ishmael (courtesy of Karen Mercury

NANA and LUATH - the fact and fiction of a pair of Newfoundland dogs

Few animals, save for BLACK BEAUTY and LASSIE, have appeared more often on the silver screen.
NANA was the character in Peter Pan who was cast as the nanny to the Darling Children. The dog's name has been known to generations of adults and children around the world.
It was not difficult for JM Barrie, author of The Boy Castaways and the stageplay, Peter Pan, to imagine a dolice and kindly large black and white dog caring for his charges.
His own dog, LUATH, was a Landseer. Barrie wrote about his writing: "I must have sat at table with that great dog waiting for me to stop, not complaining, for he knew it was thus we made our living, but giving me a look when he found he was to be in the play, with his sex changed.".
In most stage versions of the play, the part of NANA was performed by an actor dressed in a large fluffy dog suit but the role was based on LUATH, the writer's pet.
For over 100 years, the Newfoundland nanny, NANA and the boy who never grew up, Peter Pan, have given pleasure to countless children (and adults) around the world.
On one occasion JM Barrie commented that: "At one matinee we even let him, for a moment take the place of the actor who played NANA, and I don't know that any members of the audience ever noticed the change, though he (the dog) introduced some 'business' that was new to them and old to you and me. Heigh Ho!"

Pic: Poster: Michael Darling riding on Nana's back (corrected) -

BOATSWAIN - Epitaph to a Newfoundland dog

Two hundred years ago the poet, Lord Byron, erected a tombstone in the grounds of his home, Newstead Abbey, in memory of his Newfoundland;
The opening lines of the inscription reads:


BOATSWAIN was a black and white dog with some hunsky-like features, which born in Newfoundland in 1803 and brought to England to become the poet's favourite companion.
It is said that Lord Byron would take a boat out on his lake and once in deep water, would tip the boat and throw himself into the water.
Whenever this occurred, BOATSWAIN would seize his master by the collar and drag him to shore.
Lord Byron was rather eccentric man kept a menagerie of animals including a bear, but his other Newfoundland, THUNDER was less bold when facing the large beast.
BOATSWAIN bravery led him into a fight with a mongrel infected with rabies. The bite was fatal and BOATSWAIN succumbed to the dreadful disease.
But BOATSWAIN's line was to continue and it is recorded that when Lord Byron died his remains were returned from Greece and on the voyage his body was accompanied by a black and white Newfoundland - a direct descendant of the bard's faourite pet.

Pic: the famous dedication engraved on a tombstone in 1808.

Bella and Byron - a pair of Newfoundland dogs

THE CONDOR'S FEATHER is a dramatic adventure in which a pair of Newfoundland dogs accompany their mistress as she ventures across the Pampas of Patagonia.
The dogs are names after Lord Byron and his wife.

THE CONDOR'S FEATHER is due July 2009.
To order at a BIG discount price and with FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY go to:
UK buyers can order postage free from

Book cover artist : Michael Thomas
Read more about THE CONDOR'S FEATHER below.

The Newfoundland dog's webbed feet make him the stongest canine in the water

A Newfoundalnd dog having recued a child.
By Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873)
Landseer's name became synonymous with the black and white or mixed colour Newfoundlands.

Newfoundland dog - hero of SS Ethie shipwreck

On a stormy night in December 1919 the SS Ethie foundered on rocks.
The local paper reported:
"A line was fired from the ship, but got caught up amongst the boulders, so the people of Martin Point sent out one of their dogs, a very sagacious animal , to bring it ashore."
It is said that the well trianed water dog dashed into the water and swam for the line. Grabbing it in his teeth he struggled back to shore thereby saving the lives of over 90 passenger and crew on board.

Pic: A shipwreck on the Strait of Magellan (MM)

HAIRYMAN, Ann Harvey and the wreck of the Dispatch

HAIRY MAN is perhaps an unimaginative name for a noble dog but this Newfoundland and his 17 year old mistress, Ann Harvey were responsible for saving the lives of 163 Irish immigrants from the wreck of the Brig Dispatch in 1828. When fishing with her fathernear the Isle aux Morts, Newfoundland, Ann noticed flotsom on the water and realized a ship had been wrecked nearby.
They immediatley set off with their Newfoundland dog, HAIRYMAN and soon found a group of survivors huddled together on a tiny island later known as Wreck Rock. Already some unlucky passengers from the SS Dispatch had drowned or died from exhaustion.
Unable to get close enough to the island because of the heavy seas, they threw a billet of wood to which the survivors attached a rope.
George then instructed the Newfoundland to swim out to retrieve it. By this means all the passengers were taken off the rocky outcrop.
Some survivors died on the rock and ten more expired on land after their dramatic rescue.
The crashing waves swept babies from their mother's arms. But over a three-day period more than 180 people were saved by Ann, George and their brave Newfoundland.

Pic: Courtesy of Newflands, NZ []
Photo: Unicorn Images NZ

Sergeant GANDER - gallant Newfoundland hero

The heartwrenching story of a Newfoundland's courage is that of SGT. GANDER, the mascot of the Royal Rifles of Cananda.
Originally the pet of one of the soldiers the Newfoundland regularly visited the barracks to such an extent that they requested he become their mascot.
When they were posted to Hong Kong Island, GANDER accompanied them and during the fighting there were several instances where the Newfoundland's bravery was recorded.
Sadly his final act was his last.
When a grenade was hurled at the battalion, GANDER retrieved it and carried away in his mouth.
In doing so the granade exploded killing him instantly.
In 2000 fourty-nine years after this event, this courageous Newfoundland was honoured with the Dickin Medal awarded by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals
Pic: Sgt. Gander

Newfoundland dog - GANDER - receives Medal of Gallantry

For saving the lives of Canadian Infantrymen during the Battle of Lye Mun on Hong Kong Island in December 1941. On three documented occasions "Gander" the Newfoundland mascot of the Royal Rifles of Canada engaged the enemy as his regiment joined the Winnipeg Grenadiers, members of Battalion Headquarters "C" Force and other Commonwealth troops in their courageous defence of the Island. Twice "Gander's" attacks halted the enemy's advance and protected groups of wounded soldiers. In a final act of bravery the war dog was killed in action gathering a grenade. Without "Gander's" intervention many more lives would have been lost in the assault.

RIGEL and the TITANIC - fact or fiction?

Several movies have been made over the years recounting the sinking of the Titanic on 21 April 1912. Few of the movies depited the dogs which were included on the ship's manifest. There were several of various breeds and all but two perished.
Christine Jamesson, a Titanic researcher, published the allegedly factual story, 'The Legend of Rigel' about a Newfoundland - the pet of the First Mate.
On the fateful night when the 'unsinkable' ship sailing on its maiden voyage hit an iceberg more than 1500 souls perished.
Had it not been for the response of the SS Carpathia even those who had managed to find a seat in a lifeboat would have also died of exposure to the cold.
Too weak to cry out a warning and with no light signal their predicament, one of the lifeboats was almost run down by the rescue ship.
But in the water beside the boat was RIGEL, the Newfoundland, who for 3 hours had been swimming around in the icy water presumably looking for his master.
As the Carpathia steamed towards them the dog's bark was heard by the captain attracting the crew to the plight of the survivors.
All on board the lifeboat were saved and RIGEL, wet but still warm was pulled from the water.
Once safely on board the ship, one of the seamen took RIGEL to his cabin and became the Newfoundland's new master.
Whether this story is fact or fiction is yet to be established.
In fact, the body of one woman was found in the water. She was clinging to a large dog, probably a Newfoundland, but both had succumbed to the elements.

Pic: Courtesy of Newflands, NZ []
Photo by Unicorn Images NZ

Ishmael - Newfoundland dog

Ishmael is the much loved pet of Karen Mercuty - author of historical fiction stories set in the exotic wild of Africa (

PILOT - the Newfoundland dog in JANE EYRE

Newfoundlands dogs have had cameo roles in several other famous books, Charlotte Bronte introduced a Newfoundland as the companion of Mr Rochester in her classic novel 'Jane Eyre'.
The dog's name was PILOT. In the story it is decribed as: a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees - a lion like creature with long hair and a huge head.'
Bursting from the bushes Jane was at first alarmed by the dog's sudden appearance.
Later in the story she realised how faithful and docile PILOT was.

Napoleon saved by a Newfoundland

It has been written that when Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from the Isle of Elba he fell overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.
Had it not been for the Newfoundland dog which rescued him he may have drowned.
If you know anything more about this story, please let me know.

Pic: Ishmael's home is California with author Karen Mercury.
Visit her website at

Coming soon - The Condor's Feather by Margaret Muir

When a group of mismatched English aristocrats embark on a voyage to South America, they do not realise what is in store for them.
Beset by Pampas winds, Indians, inhospitable terrain, mountain lions and escaped convicts, they must battle to survive their treck across the Pampas of Patagonia.
Travelling with them are two Newfoundland dogs - Bella and Byron.
Share their joy and pain and find out what happens at the tail end of the world.

THE CONDOR'S FEATHER is due July 2009.
To order at a BIG discount price and with FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY go to:
UK buyers can order postage free from the publisher

For more about the story behind the writing of the book go to 'The Condor Feather' Squidoo page on the link below

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

For the Term of his Natural Life – by Marcus Clarke (1846-1881)

One hundred and fifty years ago, Marcus Clarke sailed around Cape Pillar on the SE coast of Tasmania.
Last month I witnessed the same inhospitable scenery from the deck of a replica sailing ship.
Here is Clarke’s description:

The south-east coast of Van Diemen’s Land from the solitary Mewstone to the basaltic cliffs of Tasman’s Head, from Tasman’s Head to Cape Pillar, and from Cape Pillar to the rugged grandeur of Pirates’ Bay, resembles a biscuit at which rats have been nibbling…
Viewed upon the map, the fantastic fragments of island and promontory … are like the curious forms assumed by melted lead spilt into water. If the suppositions were not too extravagant, one might imagine that when the Australian continent was fused, a careless giant upset the crucible and spilt Van Diemen’s Land in the ocean.

Clarke’s novel, For the Term of his Natural Life was first published in serial form in 1870 under the title His Natural Life.
Today it is recognised as a masterpiece.
Though written as a fiction story, the book provides a detailed historical insight into the inhuman penal system at work in Van Diemen’s Land in the first half of the 19th century.

This chilling page-turner tells of Rufus Dawes, a man sentenced to transportation for life for a crime he did not commit and destined to spend the rest of his life in various prisons in Van Diemen’s Land including Port Arthur and the infamous settlement at Macquarie Harbour on the wild west coast.
Fate plays a big part in Dawes unfortunate life, from his wrongful arrest and sentence; to the sinking of the ship transporting him; to the companions he sails with; and even to his birthright.

For the Term of his Natural Life is a compelling story with a spectrum of assorted and questionable characters neatly interwoven into its pages.

It has been said that the convicts transported to the penal colony were, ‘more sinn’d against then sinning’, and for many of them, death by their own hand or that of a brother was preferable to a life of pain and suffering.

For the Term of his Natural Life is a classic historical novel, a primary piece of literary history and an indictment of the infamous British Penal Code which sent hundreds of thousands of men, women and children to suffer unbearable hardship at the hands of their evil overseers.

Quote: Chapter 13 – The topography of Van Diemen’s Land – Marcus Clarke
Pic: Cape Pillar from the deck of The Lady Nelson (read about my own voyaging on a 1789 replica ship below)
Pic: After the ravages of time and bushfires, the old penal settlement at Port Arthur is now a traquil place