Photographs by Vanessa Gillen

Photographs by Vanessa Gillen
The evening view from our house

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Outside the kitchen window.....

It never ceases to amaze me - the wildlife that wanders around our garden. at any given time. This morning I have seen sunbirds, a spangled drongo, a female wallaby with joey in her pouch, a pair of orange-footed scrub fowls, a group of figbirds and ofcourse the usual brush turkeys. This is the first time I have ever seen the scrub fowls here - I am sure they are all through the forests but not something you see everyday. I suspect it is the lovely mango's as the wallaby had a great time up there eating them.

The place is alive with sound of dropping mango's and the smell of their rotting flesh, the sweet smell of the yellow Cassia flowers and the red colours of the Poinciana. I will miss this place.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cooktown Races

One of my enduring memories of our first few days in Cooktown was the Cooktown Race Day in 2009. Five days after we arrived we attended and knew no-one other than the Mayor. Sean, having been up here for the month in April assured me no-one in Cooktown ever got dressed up so I just went in jeans and a top. Wrong!
As one of the few days that locals can go all out, the women were dressed to the nines and the Fashions on the Field a coveted prize. However we also discovered that Cooktown was a far cry from Sydney or Melbourne racing both in style and tattoo coverage.  We were intrigued by one 'lady' who had her Rottweiller dog with its name tattooed on her shoulder blade! We even  snuck in a photo of such for posterity.

Last year in 2010 Cooktown didn't get its Race Day so this was the first race day since our first. It was a glorious sunny day and the races were great fun -5 races and a couple of bookies so we had a flutter or two. This time we knew just about everyone so it was a nice feeling as a local to wander around and catch up with people.

There were a bevy of beauties everywhere -people had gone to lots of trouble to dress up and the Fashions in the Field was a huge event with about 25 locals vying for the prize. The shame was that the the little girls had got all dressed up too and at the last minute we were told there was no prize for the kids.

However the best part of the whole day was my innocent discovery of the Rottweiller tattoo! I was at the fence trackside and started chatting to some 'ladies' I know through my work in Cooktown - having a laugh etc when suddenly one of them turned around to do something and there was that tat! I didnt say a thing but for me, as our days are counting down from our time in Cooktown, it was a nice full circle completion in true Cooktown style.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Woman vs Wild

Ok - just had one of those more unpleasant experiences in the wild. Well...not sure if I would call it the wild seeing it was about 300 metres from our house but it certainly feels like its a million miles from nowhere.
We recently discovered, just below our eerie where we live at the top of Cooktown, the old water reservoir that used to supply all the water to the town. Its now a pretty 'dam' with a large metal tower in one corner with old taps and pipes where they would have controlled the water release.  Its now not frequented and you aren't really supposed to swim there but this late in the dry season, it is a pretty dam surrounded by soft grasses and sits at the bottom of Mt Cook. Quite idyllic.
We went there last week and the kids had a swim and it was glorious. After much persistence and with the current closure of the Cooktown pool, I agreed to take the kids there for a swim yesterday afternoon.
They raced into the water and I decided to take a stroll around the dam and check for any birdlife. As I say the reservoir is so close to our house and I often se birds flying towards it or hear unusual bird calls at night.

Well the next minute there is this swooping noise and I am being attacked head on by two Lapwing Plovers (locally known as Milganduur). They flew at me from different directions aiming straight for my head/face and only deflected a few inches from me! I started waving my camera at them and shouting and this seemed to urge them on. 

With visions of Alfred Hitchcock I started to run for it flailing my arms around as they continued their vociferous attack. The kids thought it was hilarious but I can tell you I was not amused in the slightest! After 10 mins in safety with the two birds watching us intently from equi-distant points across the dam, I called for home and we headed off. You have to admire their tenacity I guess. Paradise lost for me.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Smoke on the water....

Smoke over Mt Saunders

The smell of smoke is cloying tonight. There is no wind and the smoke is all pervading. Fires have been burning for days on lovely Mt Saunders and tonight the horizon is blood red with the fire.  It seems to die away and then starts again in another area. Unsure whether it was purpose lit or not, it has burnt out miles of pristine land with lovely old trees, acres of tree palms and goodness knows what animals, orchids and birds. I am still unconvinced by the need to burn off and whether this really some traditional necessity or was the fire lit by some ciggies thrown out a window or an old beer bottle. AS the fire is burning through traditional but 'vacant' land there seems to be no need to put it out or contain it. I cant imagine anyone out there keeping an eye on it...sadly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Winter in Cape York

This is the most amazing time of year. The wet has well and truly gone, the humidity with it and the light is stunning. We are very happy enjoying our new house and space and of course the view which is at its best in the mornings, with drifting clouds over the mountains beyond.
The kids gave me a fabulous pair of binoculars for Mothers Day and this morning I was able to watch a silken parachute as it floated west across the river below. Not sure who it belonged to and I hope it wasnt from someone dropping into the Endeavour to become some croc's breakfast!
Sorghum heads on the rd to Laura
I have been flat out again this year with both my 'day job' working with the Kuku Nyungkal Rangers as well as a new project - the Laura Dance Festival.  This is a great gig - doing all the marketing and publicity for the Festival - a dream event that happens every two years. Anyway more on that once it happens next week

In the meantime the days are glorious, the nights are cool and hit has been nice not sweating at all for the first time in months.  There are an abundance of Blue winged kookaburras on every power pole at the moment - just amazing to see them everywhere with their bright blue flash on their wings.  The kids are busy, with Toby recently competing in the Cape York Cross Country championships  he did quite well , coming 11th out of 47, seeing he had got up at 5am and driven all the way from Cooktown to Cairns (well..he didnt drive). Toby heads off an Environmental camp next week and then it is the school holidays and we head north to explore the top of Cape York.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Cooktown Orchid - in bloom and beautiful

The orchid seems to have a particular hold on people and none more so than the Cooktown Orchid which is a rare and beautiful sight.  

Chosen as Queensland’s floral emblem in 1959 by popular vote, the Cooktown Orchid (Dendrobium phalaenopsis) was seen to be unique, decorative, distinctive and easily cultivated.

 Found in northern Queensland, from Johnston River to Iron Range, these days it is rarely seen other than by orchid growers and enthusiasts.  The Cooktown Orchid blooms only in the months of April and May each year- a delicate and elegant flower about 3 to 6 cm wide and are normally deep to pale lilac/pink in colour. These plants can grow up to 80 cm in height and can have from 3 to 20 flowering canes.
Although it is found in tropical districts with very high summer rainfall, it is not a rainforest species but grows in exposed situations, usually attached to tree trunks such as paperbark melaleucas in savannah woodland or in vine thickets. Habitat alteration and indiscriminate harvesting by some commercial plant collectors have made this species rare or extinct in some places within its range, especially in the southern part.
Here in Cooktown these days it is hard to find although many people have them hidden in their gardens or high in the gum trees. The Botanic Gardens had placed some in a viewing area which were stolen and have now had to build a caged orchid house so that people can at least see them but not take. Sad that its come to this.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival

This year I am not working so much on the Cooktown Discovery Festival which took over my life for some 6 mths for the first part of last year.  This time I am being paid to do marketing and promotion of the famous Laura Dance Festival which is a great thing to work on.....despite the fact I have never been to it!
The culturally rich landscape of Laura in Far North Queensland is the setting for one of Australia's most well-established and vibrant cultural festivals. Generally acknowledged as the celebration and showcase of the culture of the Aboriginal Communities of Cape York Peninsula, the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival (LADF) is a unique event.
Only held every two years, the festival celebrates the traditional song, dance and culture of the Aboriginal people of Cape York Peninsula. The performance and practice of Aboriginal Dance & Culture at the Festival is an important element in the continuance of the unique culture of the region. The Festival allows the audience to experience the story telling and history of Aboriginal culture through dance, language and art primarily to ensure the integrity of the Festival’s vision. If you feel the urge come along and enjoy the fun....sit under a gum tree beside a river and watch the Aboriginal people from all over the cape come to together and dance!