Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tasmanian White Hawk

Plover's eggs

The Tasmanian White Hawk is a magnificent bird and yesterday afternoon I watched a bird of like description circling my house. The white is a species of raptor and is a rare and endangered species.

"There are only 150 pairs of them in the state. They are the only pure white hawk in the world and shooting them carries a fine in excess of $15,000," reported Linda Smith in The Mercury (2 Feb 2009)
She told of a hawk found near Hobart with shotgun pellets in its chest. It has been taken to a vet and hopefully survived.

What amazed me about my sighting was that until yesterday morning I had never heard of a White Hawk but as part of my research into Tasmania’s history, I had been reading The History of Tasmania written by John West in 1852.
In the section in Zoology West writes:

The beautiful white hawk (Astur Novae Hollandiae, Cuv.) erroneously called an albino by Mr Gould, once very abundant is now becoming rare, having been nearly extirpated by the sake of its skin by the zeal of bird collectors.

Later in the day, when I was in the garden in Grindelwald, I heard the frantic cries of a plover (masked lapwing) overhead. Looking up I saw a very large grey/white bird gracefully circling the area with a (comparatively small) plover flapping around it, screeching. Plovers (also fully protected by law) are medium-sized conspicuous birds with loud, penetrating calls.

Only a couple of weeks ago the plover fledged 3 chicks from a clutch of 4 eggs in my garden and whenever I walked outdoor the pair of plovers would swoop down and scream at me.
It was obvious the hawk was circling in search of a meal and the pair of plovers knew it.

With a broad wingspan, greyish white underneath, the bird glided unperturbed. Its movements were like that of a condor.

I watched until it drifted away and felt privileged to have seen such a rare specimen, I wondered however if this was a true white hawk because of its rareity or if it was one of the sea-eagles which nest on the Tamar Valley not many miles from where I live.

Pics: plovers eggs in the garden and hatched chick
Note: I am told that plovers eggs are not white but dark and speckled. I can assure you however that these are the eggs which the plover sat on and the fledgling chics are definitely plovers.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Matthew Brady - Tasmanian bushranger

Now 75% through my research in the life of Bushranger, Matthew Brady, I am finding the study intriguing. I am also discovering that there is far more to the early days of Tasmania than just convicts and settlers, and that the legacy of the events which took place in the early 1800s are still with us today.

If you are interested in the life and times of the 'gentleman' bushranger, the members of Brady's gang, the penal settlements and more you can find it at my Matthew Brady Squidoo site.

Having obtained permission to reproduce images of Brady and his gang-members from the artwok of convict artist, Thomas Bock from Dixson Library, NSW, it's possible to see how very young and fresh-faced some of these 'notorious' convicts were. The crimes many had committed were equivalent to the 'receiving a stolen chocolate Freddo Frog incident' which was reported last week on the news in Australia.

The penalties these young convicts received - transportation to the colonies for seven years - and the treatment they received were incomprehensible.

Last week also, I watched the APOLOGY from the Prime Minister to the FORGOTTON CHILDREN - the infants taken from England or from their parents and placed in 'homes' in Australia where many were subjected to brutal treatment and abuse.

Perhaps we should apologise to the young juvenile deliquents of the early 1800s who, as a consequence of the inhuman treatment they received at the hand of the authroities, escaped to the bush to fend for themselves. As bushrangers they robbed to feed and cloth themselves and many of them, like Brady and his gang, ended up on the gallows.

Pic: Matthew Brady from 'James McCabe, Matthew Brady, Patrick Bryant', ca. 1823 - 1843. by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. (Ref: DL PX 5/ f.8 ) Pic: Gregory, Brown and MacKenny - ca. 1823 - 1843. by Thomas Bock in his 'Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers'. Courtesy of Dixson Library, State Library of NSW.

Bothwell's sundial - one of 12 in Tasmania

The sundial at Bothwell is one of only twelve authentic, functional and accurate sundials in Tasmania according to an expert in the field, John Hall.

It was erected as a war memorial in the historic village of Bothwell in Tasmania.

Other Tasmanian sundials include those at Battery Point, the Botanic Gardens, UTAS, the White House at Westbury, Clarendon House and the Launceston Masonic Centre. I must check them out on my travels.

Devonport has an intersting water sundial.

Pics: Two faces of the dial - Oct 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009


New Zealand author, Loren Teague’s forthcoming novel, The Italian Affair is already advertised at THE BOOK DEPOSITORY which offers a discount price and free postage worldwide. This represents a significant saving to overseas buyers.

As I thoroughly enjoyed reading Loren’s previous novels, True Deception and Ultimate Betrayal, I look forward to reading this story which is due for release in February 2010. This thilller novel is Loren’s third book with Hale

The story sounds intriguing:
Gina Rosselini, the granddaughter of a wealthy fishing magnate, lives a charmed life until her twin sister, Maria, is shot on her wedding day, and Gina is marked as the gunnman's next target. The Rosselini family hire Rick Caruso, an ex-cop and private investigator, to act as a bodyguard for Gina...but Gina has other plans. A strong, independent woman, Gina has no intention of letting Rick protect her. Then, an attempt on her life changes everything. As the danger escalates, Gina must face her worst fears. Meanwhile, the killer watches her from the shadows, waiting for his moment to strike...
The Italian Affair is currently advertised at 25% discount for pre-publication orders.

Post Script:
Sadly only a few weeks after posting this announcement, Loren lost her battle with cancer and died at her home in Nelson, New Zealand.
Rest in Peace, Loren.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Do poppies bloom in Flanders fields in November?

As a girl growing up in England I remember Armistice Day being called Poppy Day.

In Australia we call it Remembrance Day but the poppy is still the iconic symbol of remembrance.

Last night I spoke to my 99 year old Mum on the phone and she told me that her brother had died in the trenches on Armistice Day - I believe he was 18 years old and had just gone to war.
My mother's memory of the time is that her mother's hair turned white virtually overnight when she received the news of her son's death.

When I was driving south last week I took a picture of some poppies growing wild in a field (in November) - but I now live in Tasmania in the southern hemisphere.

Surely there are no poppies in the fields of Flanders in Europe in November?
Pic: A poppy in my garden in Western Australia (2006)

POST SCRIPT: (Inserted Nov. 2010)

Since writing this post, I discovered that my mother's memories were not quite correct but that her brother was 21 when he was killed in action and the date of his death was 19th November, 1915. Sadly, my mother passed away a few months ago so this year Remembrance Day will be all the more poignant.

Pic: Grave of my Uncle, T. W. Ettershank, who died in the Great War.
My sincere thanks to my friend from Belgium who visited the New Irish Farm War Cemetery and placed the poppy memorial (6 Nov 2010).

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Huon Valley Schools' writing camp - 2009

A mixed bag of participants enjoyed three days writing in the south coast wilderness forest on the banks of the Esperance River.

Writers' camp in Tasmania's Wilderness

The south west wilderness of Tasmania is a great place to hold a 3-day writing event. The venue was a campsite near Dover (90 km south of Hobart) on the banks of the Esperance River.

I was asked to participate as Writer in Residence for a group of 31 school students who came from various schools in the Huon Valley.
The children had to compete for a place on the camp by presenting a piece of work in which they considered the word ‘RESILIENCE.’

During the camp we looked at various aspects of writing from how to structure a story, to poetry – blank verse to bush poems and haiku - to writing about animals and finally, to the publishing and editing processes.

Also presenting workshops were Damien Bester, journalist from The Mercury in Hobart and artist, Barfield who showed the children how to draw cartoons.

An evening bonfire on the banks of the Esperance River gave local historian and writer, Paddy Prosser the opportunity to provide a dramatic presentation of the French connection in southern Tasmania. Dressing a dozen of the kids in French costumes and handing round a 10 year old hard tack biscuit were just two of the highlights.

The only lowlights were the mosquitos and the leeches which were attracted to one of the boys legs when he went hiking through the bush.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

FLOATING GOLD by Margaret Muir

Here it is - the jacket cover for FLOATING GOLD, my latest novel due for release by Hale Books, London, in May 2010.

The artwork is certainly bright and colourful and hopefully will be eyecatching on the library shelf.

This is my fourth book cover (out of 5) by artist, Michael Thomas.

The Blurb which will appear inside the jacket flap reads as follows:

1802 - The fragile peace with France has brought massive debt and unemployment to England and frustration to its naval officers.

After an enforced absence, Captain Oliver Quintrell is eager to return to the sea, but the commission he is granted leaves him cynical and disappointed. In command of a mere frigate, he heads south unaware of the unimaginable dangers which lie ahead.

The seething Southern Ocean, enemy ships, a discontented crew and the secrets held by a living breathing volcanic island pose more of a threat than a full broadside from a man-of-war.

FLOATING GOLD is a nautical fiction adventure which follows the tradition of the CS Forester and Patrick O’Brian novels.

Margaret Muir (Tasmania)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Van Diemen's Land - Review - VDL movie a mere appetizer

For me Jonathon auf der Heide's film, Van Diemen’s Land did not go far enough.
The title is somewhat misleading, as cinamagraphiically, the movie did not portray Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) of the 1820s. It only provided a cameo picture of Tasmania’s awesome West Coast wilderness forest which surrounds Macquarie Harbour.

Having known the movie was to be about Alexander Pearce, the cannibal, I was disappointed that the story's plot was no more than Pearce’s first escape attempt along with seven other convicts.
(When he was captured, he admitted his crimes but his story seems too far fetched and he was not believed. The second time Pearce escaped he was found in possession of a human limb and was hung.)
After a few days in the forest, the eight men run out of food, and through frustration and anger begin to feed off each other.
Like the lore of the sea, this seems almost logical under the circumstances.

Apart from the opening scene where the barefoot prisoners patiently await the order to swim to the waiting whaleboat, there is little indication of their festering desperation to escape from the hell-hole that was Sarah Island.

It was disillusioning for me to see convicts who were made to toil twelve hours in deplorable conditions and fed on incredibly meagre rations, looking fit and healthy, with perfect teeth and one at least with a neatly trimmed beard – and tall at that.
In dress and stature, producer Oscar Redding, who played Pearce, presented as the most convincing character.

The wilderness scenery of the Gordon and King Rivers area creates a chillingly haunting atmosphere, though to traverse those areas is even more difficult than depicted in the film. Unfortunatley, some of the scenes filmed in Victoria depict countryside which is foreign to the Macquarie watershed.

Having recently visited the area to learn about VDL’s history and to see first hand the site of the convict settlement (see earlier blog posts), and to cruise the waterways of the King and Gordon Rivers, I wanted more.

The convict history of Van Diemen’s Land, in particular the settlement in Macquarie Harbour, is incredibly rich and disturbing. The movie Van Diemen’s Land is a mere tempting appetizer.