Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica, expedition, Ross Sea

Antarctic Peninsula vs Ross Sea

The difference between the two expeditions goes much deeper than the price. Whenever people say they have been to Antarctica, my first question is: “Which part did you visit?” I gauge my opinion on whether they are true Antarctphiles by their response.

Having waited a lifetime to visit the 7th continent, I was determined that, when my time came, I would dig deep and experience as much of Antarctica as I could. That meant going to higher latitudes, and definitely inside the Antarctic Circle (66° 33′ 39″).

I achieved this on my 2013 Ross Sea Expedition, of which I have already written (see other blogs on this site). During that 32-day expedition I experienced so many wonderful things: stepping inside Scott’s Terra Nova and Discovery huts; Shackleton’s Nimrod hut; taking a helicopter into the Taylor Dry Valley; anchoring for 5 days in McMurdo Sound, spellbound by the magnificence of the Ferrar Glacier sweeping around the Transantarctic Mountains.

After I returned (a different person) I felt the ‘Antarctic tug’ that so many feel. I needed to return. Having blown most of my budget on the big trip, I looked around for any opportunity to return. As usual, I found that Oceanwide Expeditions offered the best options, and I chose Basecamp Plancius for my return.


This trip was 12 days, and only went to the Peninsula, but I figured I had seen the best, so this trip would be a ‘top-up’ experience.


And it was fantastic, there is no denying it. I got to go snowshoeing, kayaked around beautiful icebergs, even slept on the ice; although it was not the experience I had anticipated – no tent, but survival-mode camping in a bivvy bag. It was six days of non-stop action squeezed in between three days down and back across the Drake Passage.


Most of the fellow expeditioners were younger, which was to be expected, given the nature of the activities. I couldn’t keep up, but even so, I was proud of my body’s capabilities thanks to months of preparation.


I sat back, feeling a wise old Antarctican, watching the joy and amazement as people saw their first iceberg, their first penguin, whale, seal, their first ice-capped mountain from which tumbled blue glaciers. But I felt like screaming out: “This is nothing! You should see the real Antarctica”.

It was then I realised that what I have said all along is true: the Antarctic Peninsula is an adventure playground. A spectacular one, but just a playground. It is no substitute for feeling horizontal ice sting your cheeks in a 35 knot wind at minus 14 Celcius (the Peninsula temperature rarely dropped below zero), or jumping into a Zodiac in a two-metre swell with the hull of your ship, your guide, the rubber boat, all white with frost and the spray from the waves snap freezing as the winds whips it into the air.

I’m now back from my short adventure, and treasure the friendships made and the challenges I faced – and, of course, the photos of stunning scenery – but it was all over so quickly.


So, guess what? I’m heading back to the Ross Sea in February on my favourite ship, MV Ortelius. I have decided I just can’t live without it.

To see more of my photos, visit

And if you, too, can’t live without a true Antarctic experience, there are still a few berths left: Oceanwide Expeditions Ross Sea 2017  Mention gift code “DALE10GIFT” for extra 10% discount.

Antarctica, Discovery, Dry Valley, expedition, Ferrar Glacier, Hut Point, McMurdo Sound, Robert Falcon Scott, Ross Sea, seal

Scott discovers the Dry Valleys of McMurdo Sound

Scott Discovers the Dry Valleys


I remember well my feeling when I stepped from the helicopter into the Taylor Dry Valley. The immensity, the lack of ice, the absolute quiet … as I spent the next few hours wandering, looking for fossils, I decided this was one of my favourite places on earth.

Wind the clock forward three years, and I am currently re-reading RF Scott’s own account of his Discovery expedition to the Ross Sea (1901-4). Having been in the hut at Hut Point, and anchored off the Ferrar Glacier myself, this time round it is much easier to picture the place Scott so eloquently describes.

Last night, I came to the passage where Scott describes finding the Dry Valleys. What a joy! Particularly poignant is his coming across a seal skeleton, just as I had. Below is an extract from his story:

Quite suddenly these moraines ceased, and we stepped out on to a long stretch of undulating sand traversed by numerous small streams, which here and there opened out into small, shallow lakes quite free from ice.

I was so fascinated by all these strange new sights that I strode forward without thought of hunger until Evans asked if it was any use carrying our lunch further; we all decided that it wasn’t, and so sat down on a small hillock of sand with a merry little stream gurgling over the pebbles at our feet … We commanded an extensive view both up and down the valley, and yet, except about the rugged mountain summits, there was not a vestige of ice or snow to be seen; and as we ran the comparatively warm sand through our fingers and quenched our thirst at the stream, it seemed almost impossible that we could be within a hundred miles of the terrible conditions we had experienced on the summit …


From our elevated position we could now get an excellent view of this extraordinary valley, and a wilder or in some respects more beautiful scene it would have been difficult to imagine. Below lay the sandy stretches and confused boulder heaps of the valley floor, with here and there the gleaming white surface of a frozen lake and elsewhere the silver threads of the running water; far above us towered the weather-worn, snow-splashed mountain peaks, between which in places fell in graceful curves the folds of some hanging glacier…


I cannot but think that this valley is a very wonderful place. We have seen to-day all the indications of colossal ice action and considerable water action, and yet neither of these agents is now at work. It is worthy of record, too, that we have seen no living thing, not even a moss or a lichen; all that we did find, far inland amongst the moraine heaps, was the skeleton of a Weddell seal, and how that came there is beyond guessing. It is certainly a valley of the dead; even the great glacier which once pushed through it has withered away.

[pp625/6/7 “The Voyage of the ‘Discovery’.”]



Hussey’s Banjo: brain food

Hussey’s Banjo: brain food

The Endurance had been trapped in pack ice for 10 months when Sir Ernest Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship on 27 October 1915. He allowed each member of the Imperial TransAntarctic Expedition to bring 2lbs of personal gear with them as they set up camp on the floe—all except meteorologist, Leonard Hussey.


Leonard Hussey

While Shackleton’s orders were to leave behind everything that was not vital to survival, he knew the effect that music would have on their morale, and instructed Hussey to also save his 12lb Windsor zither-banjo.

Hussey's banjo

The party of 27 men set up camp on the ice that had crushed their ship, and gradually drifted north over the next six months. During that time, music from the banjo accompanied many singalongs. The expeditioners kept journals during their ordeal, and many refer to the impact Hussey and his banjo had on their mental state.

Thomas Hans Orde-Lees wrote: “Hussey the indefatigable with his banjo really does, as Sir Ernest said, supply brain food … During the afternoon three adelie penguins approached the ship across the floe while Hussey was discoursing sweet music on the banjo. The solemn-looking little birds appeared to appreciate It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, but they fled in horror when Hussey treated them to a little of the music that comes from Scotland”.

In April 1916, with the ice melting, they launched the lifeboats and headed for Elephant Island where Hussey, the banjo and 21 other men remained. Meanwhile Shackleton, along with five men, took to the seas again in a modified lifeboat, the James Caird, in the hope of reaching South Georgia 800 miles away, and civilisation.

Left alone, camped beneath two upturned lifeboats that they called the Snuggery, the men ate whatever they could capture and, each Saturday night, held a concert. Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer, noted in his journal: “The voices, accompanied by Hussey’s indispensable banjo, sounded strangely out of place amidst the profound silence of the hummocks, yet it is gratifying to hear that ring of hearty laughter that betokens contentment and harmony, the attributes of excellent leadership, and good eating”.

McNeish’s comments reflect the good humour of the expedition’s: “Hussey is at present tormenting [us] with his six known tunes on his banjo”.

Shackleton reached South Georgia and returned, four months after leaving his men on Elephant Island, to rescue them—and the banjo.

In 1959, Hussey donated the banjo, bearing the signatures of all of the expedition team, to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. It forms a key exhibit in the story of the Shackleton Expedition. However, with the instrument valued at over £150,000, two people who claimed it was part of their inheritance took the museum to court. Fortunately, the dispute ended in favour of the museum and it remains in the public domain.

head signed 2

The instrument is officially described by the museum as: “Wood, skin and metal zither banjo, inlaid with mother of pearl which belonged to Dr L.D.A. Hussey, the meteorologist on ‘Endurance’… The banjo has been signed by all the expedition members and comes complete with a leather carrying case. Artist/maker Windsor, A.O. [Arthur Octavius] Place made Birmingham, Warwickshire, England”.

Until December 1940, when the factory was destroyed in an enemy air raid, the Windsor factory produced thousands of high-quality banjos. In 2013, as the centenary of Shackleton’s expedition approached, the Great British Banjo Company raised money to produce a limited edition of the Shackleton Centenary Edition banjo and continues to handcraft a range of banjos.

Around 20 years ago my partner, Doug Eaton (luthier), came across an identical instrument to the Hussey zither-banjo in a second-hand shop in Brisbane. He took it home, restored it, and sold it to a very satisfied customer.

Doug’s comments on the Hussey banjo are: “The instrument pictured probably came off the assembly line around 1900-1910. Consequently, the slotted headstock was equipped with guitar machine heads and only five pegs were required to string up the instrument. The fifth string, which today would have its own tuning peg, incorporated a clever solution where the string was threaded through a brass tube buried under the fretboard and fastened to one of the six pegs at the headstock. The string ran over a tiny button at the 5th fret as with modern styles.

The cast metal rim takes a calfskin head and is suspended on brackets inside a laminated wooden pot. Overall, it is a handsome, playable, and good-sounding instrument”.



In Polar Travel, choice of clothing can mean life or death


Temperature minus 14.3 deg C; wind speed 20.7 knots;

perceived temperature minus 26.3 deg C

With temperatures like this, it is vital to be prepared. In fact, it is life threatening if you aren’t. My first impulse, when planning my journey during the heat of mid-summer Brisbane, was to dig out all my warm clothing and just add what was needed. I went through the snow gear of my son and daughter-in-law, Glenn and Emma, but found that skiing in the alps requires different clothing from walking on ice.

I walked into the Paddy Pallin store in Brisbane and a young man asked if he could help. I said I was preparing for a trip to Antarctica, (although I still couldn’t believe it was actually happening). He was heading to the Himalayas, which meant he knew exactly what I would need. It was critical to try the whole kit on before settling on sizes. The more layers, the larger the next garment needs to be. Just imagine climbing into all I was taking in a small dressing room in 30-degree heat!

By the time I left the store, my wallet was considerably lighter, but I trusted his judgement. Wisely, as it turned out. All those warmies I already owned and had planned to take? Only the beanie and the Polartec® jacket proved worthwhile. Forget about bulky warm coats. The secret to success is layering. Many layers. And, so important, never have cotton next to your skin. If you sweat, the moisture turns to ice. Imagine finding a slab of ice inside your shirt. It did happen.

So, this is what I took with me:

Antarctic gear

Upper body

  • First and second layers – two thermal tops, one close fitting with extended cuffs that include thumb holes. (They ensure there is no gap between gloves and bottom of sleeve), the second one looser. They wick moisture away from the body.
  • Third layer – polyester skivvy (absolutely not cotton).
  • Fourth layer – polar fleece sleeveless vest.
  • Fifth layer – polar fleece jacket.
  • Sixth layer – goose-down jacket (every girl should own one of these)⎯although I found it very delicate, and the outer material tore very easily.
  • Seventh layer – waterproof and windproof shell that goes over everything. I chose Hydronaught instead of any other alternative as I liked the feel of it and the fact that it is 100% waterproof, totally windproof, it actually breathes and wicks moisture to the outside, and is extremely durable. It did not fail me. Even when I was being slapped by sea spray that snap froze as it left the wave. My coat turned white, but I remained completely dry and warm. It also withstood very rough treatment sitting on sharp rocks surrounded by inquisitive penguins. If it is possible to love a piece of clothing, then I am guilty.


  • Undergarments – two sets of thermal leggings. Again, one close fitting, one a bit looser. I made sure they were very stretchy and would not inhibit movement.
  • Third layer – heavy corduroy pants, obviously large enough to fit over two sets of thermals, but also loose enough around the knees to allow for flexibility.
  • Fourth layer – waterproof pants. It is worth spending the extra to buy ones that are lined, have a zipper that reaches from ankle to knee, with a clip to fasten, and an elastic cord to tighten around the ankle. Particularly when wading through elephant seal wallows. The more expensive ones also come with zippered pocket slits to enable you to reach your trouser pockets if needed.

Head – You can’t compromise here.

  • Balaclava – a good-fitting Polartec® balaclava (I chose Windstopper) with a gauze section beneath the nostrils to allow you to breathe. When not used as a head cover, you can pull it back from your head and use as a neck warmer.
  • Beanie – a Polartec® beanie over the balaclava.
  • Sunglasses – for all those hours watching ice and shining water.


  • It depends on what footwear is provided. Most voyages supply sturdy, industrial-strength rubber boots that reach the knee and have thick soles. They look warm, but they need help.
  • First layer – fine merino sock liners.
  • Second layer – thin woollen sock

rubber bootsGloves

I took three different gloves with me,as well as liners, and they each had their use.

  • Liners – most importantly, a pair of merino glove liners to either wear when it’s not that cold, or to add warmth beneath your real gloves. They are also handy for operating the camera if it is not too cold.
  • Woollen gloves if there is no water or ice. Also handy around the ship
  • Wool-lined rubber gloves for on the Zodiac. These are actually Australian Antarctic Division issue, and were given to me by an Antarctic scientist friend.
  • Padded ski gloves, borrowed from my daughter-in-law, Emma. I found these the warmest when the day was the coldest and there were no moisture issues. Some of my fellow expeditioners had mittens that flapped open to reveal fingerless gloves for operating cameras. Next time, I would probably choose these.

In choosing the waterproof layers, there were certain features that made life much easier. Thinking and moving take on different dimensions when you are being hit by a blizzard. My coat had a large pocket on the outside of the left-hand side with an easy-to-operate zip with long toggle. Being right-handed, this was a plus. It was capacious enough to contain my digital camera and camcorder, although it needed to be zipped up all the time, as I found to my cost. On two occasions I dropped both cameras, being in a rush to film, then bending over without zipping the pocket closed.

The coat zipped right up to my nose, which was good at keeping out the wind and snow, but made it more difficult to breathe and fogged my glasses. I had to pull it down to take a breath, then zip it up to get warm again. The coat also had a velcro tab at the back of the neck, enabling easy adjustment of the front peak over my forehead. It had two deep pockets below the waist, but if I carried anything in these, it inhibited leg movement. I had chosen a long coat down to my knees which was terrific when sitting on penguin poo-covered rocks, but I had to leave the zip open at the bottom, again, for ease of leg movement.

I remained completely warm and dry with the above combination, although my hands were a little chilled at times. The only time I experienced moisture inside was when I wore a cotton skivvy. All other clothing wicked the moisture out.

And on top of everything went the life jacket. I could barely move once it was strapped on. However, we were not allowed to go off the ship without it, and a complete waterproof shell from head to toe. Pride took second place.


Read all about my 2013 Antarctic expedition in my ebook:

Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey

on Kindle (Amazon)

on iBooks

Join me on Oceanwide Expedition’s next trip to the Ross Sea in Jan/Feb 2017


Inside Scott’s hut

An excerpt from my iBook, “Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey”

Chapter 7 – Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Hut at Cape Evans, Ross Sea

February 4, Monday (Day 19)

“We passed Franklin Island at 04:00, but I looked out my porthole and decided it looked like all the other islands we had seen, so stayed in bed ⎯ until 05:45 when Greg announced that there was a large pod of orcas ahead of the boat so, up to the bridge. They were circling, obviously feeding. We stayed well away so as not to disturb them. We sailed past beautiful Beaufort Island with an enormous berg half circling it. We often see greenish patches on the surface which are krill.”

Sailing down the coast to Cape Evans, there is no difficulty picking out Scott’s Terra Nova (1910-13) hut. After 100 years, it still stands proud, right on the waterline. The temperature has dropped to -12oC with 35-knot winds, giving an effective temperature of -25oC.

It is snowing and the seas are rough. I dress in all my layers: 2 thermal tops and bottoms; a skivvy; polar-fleece jacket; goose-down jacket; corduroy pants; 3 pairs of socks; Hydronought overcoat; rainpants; balaclava and beanie; 2 pairs of gloves; rubber boots. The worst part is having to wear a life jacket on top of everything. It feels very restrictive. No glasses though, as they only fog immediately I pull my balaclava over my nose. Amazingly, my eyes adapt okay and I can see well enough, but if I ever return, I must bring snow goggles.

As with each trip ashore, we line up on deck to plunge our boots in a tub of disinfectant and brush them on a platform made of coarse bristles. We repeat this procedure each time we leave or return to the ship.

I stand on the platform at the bottom of the gangplank poised, ready to jump when our guide says to, with the Zodiac pitching in a two-metre swell. The deck, gangplank, hull of Ortelius, Zodiac and drivers are all white with ice, as are my daypack and outer layers as soon as the spray hits. I grab the arm of our guide in a sailor’s grip (wrist to wrist) and jump when he says “jump”, trusting that the side of the Zodiac will line up with the step as I leap into the gap. I think: gees, anyone who knows me wouldn’t believe this!

I slip on the icy deck of the Zodiac and have a job finding my feet again to sit on the rubber side, but we all help each other. It is a very rough ride and I grip the rope behind me as firmly as I can, all the while being slapped in the face by spray that snap freezes the instant it leaves the wave’s surface.

Cape Evans is made up of decomposed basalt with patches of snow and ice, which make for easy walking. I become a little panicky when I can’t breathe, or see where I am stepping (no glasses plus aforementioned clothing obscuring vision). I pull the balaclava down to take a breath and my nose instantly freezes.

I make my way straight to the hut while others walk to the memorial cross on the hill. I scrub my soles clean (again) and remove my salty coat in the little entrance, to enter another world.

I am surprised at the size of the hut. A central wall of crates, most bearing the stamp “Coleman’s Flour – B.A.E. Shore Party”, stacked almost to the ceiling, divides the interior. The workers’ quarters are at the front—kitchen on right-hand side, bare timber table in the centre, and stretchers along the left-hand side. The officers’ quarters are towards the rear, dominated by the large table around which Scott and his men gathered for mid-winter and special events.

A framed time-marked mirror hangs on the wall. It seems so out of place in a hut of explorers. Cups hang on hooks. Boxes, cans, bottles of stores fill every spare nook. At least the workers had the stove in their part of the hut—a fluted cast iron affair with a huge flue running the whole length of the roof to give as much warmth as possible before belching black blubber smoke into the icy outside.

At the rear of the hut, separated from the rest, are Scott’s, Evans’ and Wilson’s private quarters. A penguin, stuffed a century ago by Wilson, lies on a table in his room. I am amazed at how fresh it still looks.

Scott’s bed, shelves and desk are exactly the same as I have seen in photos. His hot water bottle and socks hang on a nail on the wall next to his bed. He has just stepped out…

Then … and now …



What I would give to be here on my own. What I would give to be able to stay awhile. The place and surrounds is filled with an awe-filled beauty.

The whole hut is dark, despite the windows. It must have been quite bleak, even in summer. Two sledges stored in the rafters bear the marks of wear on the runners.

I shed a tear as I sign the visitors’ book. Not too many other people in the world have done this.

Before exiting the hut, I turn into the leanto that was built to house Scott’s horses. A large stack of seal blubber at the entrance, a metre high and two metres long, still smells after 100 years. How it must have permeated the rooms as it burnt on the stove. That, and the smell of 25 unwashed men. A galvanised iron washtub hangs near a box of penguin eggs.

All is quiet except for the howling katabatic wind swooping down from Mount Erebus and the crunch of my boots on the ubiquitous black basalt. I walk along the seven stalls seeing remnants of activity: a hand-made wheelbarrow made from crates; a pot-belly stove in the corner that wouldn’t have afforded much warmth during the winters; the skeleton of a husky, still wearing its collar, chained to the end wall.

Around the back of the hut are the toilets. Apparently the class distinction even extended here, with officers’ bums needing different seats from the workers’. Behind each one is a trap door for emptying them. I am betting the officers and gentlemen didn’t empty their own.

I leave the hut and look up towards the cross on the hill. There is no-one left up there, and the snow is blowing horizontally, straight in my face. I look out to sea and can hardly make out Ortelius in the distance through the blizzard. Not quite a whiteout, but it gives me an idea of what it must be like. I decide not to make the climb. To me, the men’s spirit remains in the hut and, in all honesty, I am pretty well all out of emotion. Besides, as it turns out, my feelings for this beautifully constructed building are stronger than the feelings for the men who had lived in her. My passion for pioneer huts is almost as strong as my passion for Antarctica.

As I wait for the Zodiac to take us back to Ortelius, I notice that everyone is more sombre than usual. To enter this hut is akin to bumping into Scott and his men themselves.

But the past is past. Scott and his crew are here, the continent has been here for so long and, human beings willing, will continue long after I am gone. Many have come here as modern explorers and expeditioners. It is a wondrous place, an awe-ful place, and I am among the fortunate who have experienced it.

We huddle in the lee of a shed, and I am amazed at how much warmer it feels out of the wind. I am warm as toast the whole time, except for a few moments when I remove an outer glove to work the camera. Bad move. It takes a long time to warm my hand again.

The return trip is just as exhilarating as the outward trip. The Zodiac pitches, threatening to wrench the rope out of our guide’s hand as he pulls up close to the gangplank. I scramble onto the icy step. My “thank you” to the hands that help me sounds much lighter than I feel.

Back on board, Johnny greets us each with a small nip of Johnny Walker. What the heck! Gee, it is nice! After all, it is a momentous occasion visiting Scott’s hut.

If you would like to read more of my Ross Sea Antarctic adventures, check out “Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey” on iBooks. It contains lots of tales, over 300 beautiful images and 14 video clips and interactive maps.

Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey




Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey

For those of you who are remotely interested in Antarctica, or my adventures there, here is my latest book: Why Antarctica? a Ross Sea odyssey. It is available from iBooks, which means you need to have an iPad or Mac (or know someone who does).

Price is $14.99 AUD. Within its 89 pages are tales, over 300 beautiful photos,14 video clips and interactive maps.

I hope you enjoy it. It will take around 10 minutes to download, so put the kettle on and watch the Youtube video of the book trailer while you wait.

And, excitingly, Oceanwide Expeditions are promoting this book. So, if you know anyone who wants to take part in the next Ross Sea expedition in early 2017, please use this link to enquire:

Oceanwide Expeditions Ross Sea 2017

I confess I will benefit if you do.



A Tale of Two Coffee Grinders


It’s not that I’m a coffee snob, it’s just that I appreciate—and love—a good-tasting cup of coffee. Which leads me to the saga of finding the right grinder for the job.

Many years ago, in the days when I bought pre-ground coffee, I admired the antique coffee grinder that hung on my partner’s kitchen wall. It never occurred to me to actually put some beans in it and see if it worked. I just assumed it didn’t.

Years passed. We built a little cottage in the bush. The grinder came too and continued to hang on the kitchen wall.

Wishing to reproduce a decent espresso in my own home, I purchased an espresso machine. Success. Then I wondered if freshly ground beans would improve things even more and began researching grinders. You know—not electric, even grind …

Doug said: ‘I reckon I could get that old grinder going again. It used to be good in its day’. Now why didn’t I think of that!

Success, again. With its fine-tuned adjustment, I was able to produce exactly what was needed.

Wind the clock forward 10 years, and Doug’s cousin, Judy, was visiting. (They had actually been friends for many years before discovering they are related—but that’s another story.) She saw our grinder and said: ‘Dad used to own one of those! It was blue. I wonder where it got to’. They began reminiscing and discovered that both their parents had purchased their grinders at the same time, in Holland, in 1953.

Wind the clock forward another 10 years. Doug and I were walking through an Aladin’s cave of a second-hand shop in Yackandandah, Victoria (a very long way from home) where, screwed to the wall, was a blue coffee grinder, just like ours. I rang Judy. Did she want it? Yes!

Now, I know this is a long shot, but just supposing only two of these grinders ever made their way from Holland to Australia, and just supposing Judy’s dad sold it to someone in the second-hand trade. Wouldn’t it be a neat ending to the story, if it had come home?

Coffee grinder


The Rose

Today, I plucked a posy of small but perfectly formed roses and placed it in the centre of my dining table, just as my aunty and grandmother had done for decades. What makes this posy special is that it comes from the same plant that supplied their posies.

Cecile Brunner bud Cecile Brunner posy

Back in the 1920s, my grandmother, Mary O’Leary (yes, the same Mary O’Leary who features in my novel, Union Jack) admired a rambling rose grown by her neighbour and asked for a cutting. The Cécile Brünner grew, along with Mary’s children, and her house filled with the wonderful perfume of the roses.

Mary’s husband died—tragically and far too young; her eldest child left home, rarely contacting his mother; her two daughters married during World War II. My mother moved out when her husband returned at the end of the war, but my aunty and her husband remained in the family home.

During the 1950s, Mary sold the family home and my aunty and uncle purchased a new one, taking Mary and a cutting of the rose bush with them. Aunty Madge continued the tradition of cutting the tiny dark-pink buds which open to a full-blown pale-pink rose within a day. Whenever I walked in her front door, I smelt the familiar perfume.

Years passed. My sister, Beverley, and her husband were visiting Aunty Madge when David, admiring the perfect flower, suggested they should take a cutting—in case aunty’s bush died.

More years passed, and my own daughter set the date for her wedding. Beverley and I gave her a kitchen wedding shower, and Liane opened the useful gifts we all brought—we laughed at how boring most of them really were. Beverley disappeared from the room, then reappeared nursing a pot with a small rose plant. She had struck another from our grandmother’s Cécile Brünner.

All this time, I had loved the rose, but had never owned one myself. Twenty years after my daughter’s wedding, I took cuttings from her plant, and now have three healthy bushes of my own that reward me with posies for my dining table. My son, Glenn, and his family have just moved into their first home. This year’s prunings are in potting mix…

This story has one final twist. The neighbour who supplied the first cutting to Mary was the aunty of my children’s father.


When to use, or avoid, an apostrophe

I recently had to explain the correct use of the apostrophe to some people, and thought it might be of interest to others.

Herewith my interpretation of when to use, and when not to use, an apostrophe. Hope it is of help.


The baker went to town. (This is a simple statement about a person who is a baker by trade going to town.)

The baker’s dog went to town. (This is telling us that a dog, belonging to the baker, went to town. i.e. the apostrophe describes ‘possession’. The dog is owned by the baker.)

The Bakers went to town. (This is another simple statement about a family called Baker who went to town. The ’s’ indicastes it is plural, no possession, therefore, no apostrophe.)

The Bakers’ dog went to down. (This is telling us that a dog, which belonged to a group of people of the Baker family (plural, hence the ’s’), went to town. again, apostrophe describes possession.)

The Bakers and their dog went to town. (Another simple statement. The family called Baker went to town with their dog. No possession, just two separate things going to town.)

The baker’s gone to town. (This is telling us that a bloke who is a baker has gone to town. It is a contraction of ‘baker has’, so needs an apostrophe to indicate a missing vowel.) 


Golden rule is that an apostrophe is used:

when referring to something owned by someone. 

If it is singular, the apostrophe comes before the ’s’ (baker’s); if it is plural, the apostrophe comes after the ’s’ (Bakers’).

exception is if the singular (say John Jones) ends in an ’s’, in which case it comes after the ’s’; e.g. John Jones’ dog

When two words are joined together, and some letters (usually vowels) are missing; eg it’s for it has.


Brumby Running – from Yenohan’s Legacy


Brumby Running

As Autumn approached, Roger called the families of Boboyan together for a brumby run. Within a few weeks they would begin mustering cattle for the long trip back north for the Winter and on to Sydney for market, and they needed to ensure there were sufficient horses for the job. A few spares to take to the horse sales wouldn’t go astray, either.

The brumby runs were a community affair. These horses belonged to the mountains, so the people of the mountains shared in their capture and ownership.

Early on the morning of the run, Nola heard the dogs bark the arrival of her neighbours in the house paddock. This was the first time they had visited Grassy Creek since her arrival.

Little clouds puffed from the mouths of each rider and horse to hang in the misty air as Nola crunched across the grass to greet them. They weren’t all men either. Nan Davies was as good a horseman as her husband, John.

At first Nola took this flat chested woman — dressed in moleskin trousers and shirt, with short brown hair tucked beneath a broad-brimmed hat — for a man sitting astride her mount, and was surprised when a female voice greeted her.

‘Hello Mrs Thompson. I’m Nan Davies. Your nearest neighbour from over the Pass.’

She pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.

‘I’ve been meaning to come and say hello for some time now.’

Nan leaned down from the saddle and offered her hand to Nola who accepted the firm handshake.

‘Please, call me Nola.’

Then Nan beckoned to a boy and a girl who were waiting nearby.

‘These are the kids, Rebecca and Steven. Would you mind if they stay here while we go out after the brumbies? They won’t be any trouble. Just put them to work if they get under your feet.’

Nan suspected Nola would have taken part in the brumby chase had she not been so large with her unborn child. Nola, for her part, had no doubt she would become friends with this no-nonsense woman. They were of an age, although Nan’s angular face had seen much more of the sun than had Nola’s.

Rebecca approached the two women. She was a soft child, caught between puberty and womanhood, who bore the attitude of being more comfortable around the home than on a horse. Steven was ten and knobbly kneed, and not quite old enough to take part in the run. He hung back, resentment pulling his face into a scowl. Stan Robinson had brought three of his sons along and Jack Swift stood beside his only son, Michael.

Nola watched the party head off towards Mount Clear, fanning out across the valley searching for the tracks of brumbies, wishing she could have taken part.


Yenohan was sitting by the fire with her mother, Mooroo, when the men rode across the creek. The tall slim man with the big black beard, who she knew to be the white girl’s father, waved to them. Yenohan lifted her hand to wave back, but her mother caught her wrist and forced it back down by her side.

‘No girl! Look away. You must not wave to those men. They grab girls like you and take them away from us. Make them sick or give them babies with pale skin. Sometimes, they never come back. You’ve got to be very careful, especially when we don’t have our own men to scare them off.’

Yenohan had noticed her mother and aunties were particularly nervous when their own men were away hunting the jar bon moth or mustering the white men’s cattle.

But her people had grown to depend on the tea and sugar and baccy the white men exchanged for help with mustering the white-faced cattle. And, once a year, the boss man killed a big cow and left it out for them to eat. Mooroo said this was a small price to pay for using land her tribe had wandered since the beginning of time.

Yenohan stayed close by Mooroo’s side.


Joe led his father and uncles to the site where he had last seen the horses at the foot of the mountain. They found them gathered in their day camp beyond the frost hollow, and the riders approached slowly, not wanting them to run just yet. The stallion eyed the approaching horsemen with suspicion and nipped his mares into a canter. The wild horses followed their well-worn path to safe ground higher up the mountain. The riders followed at a distance.

Halfway up the mountain, at the entrance to a narrow gorge, Stan and John were waiting, hidden within low scrub. During the past week they had constructed two sapling wings that funnelled into the gorge. Each wing followed a spur for a mile and was well screened by bush. They knew the horses would come this way: their track ran right through the gorge. That morning, the men had blocked off its far end.

As the brumbies approached the concealed wings, Roger cracked his stock-whip. At full split — mares and foals up front, the black stallion at the rear — the horses thundered straight up the side of the mountain into the jaws of the trap set for them. The riders tailed the horses, growing closer with each stride. The stallion overtook his harem heading for the top of the mountain but Alec, on the left wing, cracked his whip and the horses veered to the right. Following instinct, the wild animals headed for the protection of a densely forested ravine.

The trees whizzed past in a blur as Joe gave Whisper his head. The wild horses charged through the thickest bush attempting to shake their pursuers, but Whisper skilfully found his way between the trunks. The Boboyan riders kept pace with the horses, steering them by the crack of their whips. Nan rode on the right wing, keeping level with Alec on the left, the horses between.

The horses broke through the bush, nostrils flared, breath rasping to be greeted by Stan and John who, upon hearing the approaching thunder of their hooves, sprang from their hideout. The wild horses, spooked by the sudden appearance of men, were left with no choice but to run between the two granite pillars.

As the last tail flew past, Nan dismounted and pulled hard on a rope. A sack, weighted by a thick branch sewn in the bottom, dropped to block the entrance. The horses circled inside the enclosure, trapped, looking for escape. Their eyes flashed fear and fury.

Alec took control. Selecting some of the quieter pack horses, he led them into the enclosure with the thirteen bush horses. The stallion eventually calmed, sending a message to the rest of the mob that began to relax as they sensed that their leader had lost his fear. But night was closing in. The riders rubbed down their saddle horses and hobbled them nearby, then fed their dogs and built a fire on the leeward side of the corral. They cooked a simple meal. Rolled in their swags, they talked until the adrenaline finally slowed in their veins, then one by one, fell asleep with their heads on their saddles.

The sun rose to find Roger and Alec quietly walking among the brumbies, beginning the long task of getting them used to humans. They blindfolded the stallion and mares for the trip back, knowing that if the horses couldn’t see where they were, they wouldn’t try to escape. They secured halters to all bar one: a chestnut mare they could not pacify.

‘Let her go,’ called Alec as he swung the gate open. ‘There’s always one rogue. We’ll catch up with her next time.’

The rest of the camp ate breakfast and packed their saddle bags ready for the ride back down to the valley floor. Roger handed the reins of the two golden foals to Joe to lead out. Once they were far away from Mount Clear, they removed the blindfolds from the older horses. Now lost, they didn’t try to escape.

When they returned to Grassy Creek, Alec put the twelve brumbies into the horse yard with the packhorses, then waited outside the yard for the wild horses to settle. Hours passed before Alec made his next move. He’d made his mark. He entered the yard talking constantly in a smooth, barely audible voice and approached the black stallion from the side. He gently laid a hand on its thick mane, talking, talking, constantly talking, never taking his hand off the horse, then worked his way to the ears, fondling, stroking the nose, the forelock.

He brought his whole body in contact with the horse and began to crawl over him, playing with the thick tufts of hair around the horse’s fetlock. The stallion bent his head and grazed. Alec took the cue and crouched beneath, stroking the animal’s belly. Nola gasped as she saw this.

‘Is he some sort of fool?’


Roger motioned to Nola, and everyone else, not to make a move or a sound. He had seen his brother work his magic many times. Wild animals trusted this man who was devoid of social graces.

Supper was a very happy affair around the Thompson’s kitchen table that evening. They had secured twelve good horses which they would share evenly between the families. Not a bad day’s work.

After dinner, Roger wandered outside to smoke his pipe. He saw Joe leaning on the top rail of the enclosure gazing at the stallion.

‘He’s too frisky for you, lad,’ he said as he approached the yard, packing a fresh load of tobacco into the clay bowl with his thumb.

‘I could tame him.’

‘I don’t think so Joe. Besides, he’ll fetch a pretty price at the sales.’

Joe had learnt well from Alec. He slipped beneath the rail and approached the horse, following the same procedure he had seen earlier that day. Roger watched his son’s confidence. Before long, Joe was stroking the animal’s neck. It lifted its head and turned towards Joe, snorting as if nodding acceptance.

Dan was to return to Melvale to help Harry through the coming Winter. This did not please Joe who mooched around on Whisper as the days shortened. Forced to leave his school friends behind when the family left Queanbeyan, he had transferred his affection to Dan. He shadowed his uncle, learning about horses, cattle and life.