Friday, April 28, 2006


“I have worms.” I announced, a little too loudly, at the supermarket checkout.

All activity ceased as people, within earshot, turned their attention upon me.

“Compost worms!” I elaborated, with emphasis.

Interest waned.

My announcement had been in response to a query about how I would recycle the outer leaves of the very large lettuce I was about to purchase.

My friend had assumed that, because I lived on a farm, I kept chooks.

Alas, my chook-keeping days are over. I adore chooks but I refuse to go through yet another heartbreaking attempt to keep them in an area filled with feral foxes.

The last time they massacred my latest batch of girls I swore to God, through angry tears and choking sobs, that I would not offer up any more sacrifices to those murdering mongrels.

I miss my girls dearly but I have found that my composting worms are an excellent alternative to chooks when it comes to recycling kitchen scraps.

Worms not only gobble up kitchen scraps but they will consume newspaper, cardboard pizza boxes, the contents of my vacuum cleaner and anything that once was alive – including toenail clippings.

They don’t require the expense of a chook-pen with the style of fencing only found in maximum security prisons. Also, they don’t need expensive laying pellets or the disruptive and often injurious presence of a cranky rooster.

Once you set up your worm farm, your worms will quietly get on with producing fertiliser and reproducing themselves. They will multiply their population within the limits of the food you provide. What you get in return is odour free worm poo which is very good fertilizer.

I love my worms.

Ok, I’ll admit, worms don’t produce eggs but I simply refuse to clean up after another frenzied fox attack on my beloved chooks.

By the way, is there anyone reading this who has contacts within the English gentry? If so, would you please tell them to bring their hounds, horns, horses and haughtiness to our farm ASAP.

I can assure them that there will be no anti-foxhunting placards or protests here. They are welcome to slaughter all the offspring from the foxes their ancestors inflicted upon this country. In fact, I would be happy to pay money to see them gallop amongst the gum trees, dodging wallabies and wombats and leaping over deadly snakes.

Indeed, I can envisage PBL and FoxSports fighting over the rights to telecast their foxhunting exploits in the Australian bush. But, bear in mind media conglomerates, it was my idea and I demand royalties.

I digress!

Now I have worms instead of chooks I have to buy eggs. I will be off now as I have to feed some egg cartons to my worms.

Michelle ©

Thursday, April 20, 2006


My mother was terrified of spiders. I wasn’t told of this fear until I was much older as she did not want to pass on her phobia.
She must have been very successful at masking her anxiety as, over the years, I had become merely wary of spiders. It seems that, only in hindsight, do we have the opportunity to comprehend just how heroic our parents have been.

Over time, I developed the policy that as long as spiders carried out their role at a reasonable distance from me I was prepared to live and let live.
When I had children, I became acutely aware that I had to remain calm in times of crisis in order to develop their sense of security. Living in the Australian bush can offer many incidences of crisis. Snakes, wasps, bees, mice, unbelievably large rats, feral cats, feral pigs, feral foxex and the like are always arriving in and around our home and they have to be dealt with swiftly and confidently. So spiders, even red backs, were the least of my worries.
I became determined to maintain my “live and let live” spider policy with an additional pledge to avoid poisons. If they became a problem inside the house, I would deal with them on a one-to-one basis using the vacuum cleaner, a fly swat or simply capture them and relocate them.

Oddly enough my pacific approach was a phenomenal success in the garage. Apparently, the Daddy Long-Leg Spiders (Pholcus phalangioides) and Black House Spiders (Badumna insignis) control the more dangerous and highly venomous Red-back Spider (Latrodectus hasseltii) population and, although they were prevalent, we rarely find them now.

However, the outside of the house seemed to be permanently festooned with spider webs. The Golden orb-weaver Spiders (Nephila edulis) seem to thrive in our yard. Visitors from the city are often alarmed at the size of some of the older specimens dangling about the house and I have often been left with feelings of shame. Spider webs are apparently a measure of poor housekeeping.

I did feel vindicated the day my daughter arrived home from school with a junior reading book for her homework. It was titled “Spiders” and the text encouraged the reader to view spiders as friends and asked that they be allowed to carry out their job of cleaning up the insects in our homes.

But I must admit that there have been times when conditions can be too good for spiders and it can become too much even for me. One such time saw nearly every part of the house, fence and yard trees connected by the strong invisible silk. After being trapped a number of times, I decided that I didn’t need quite so many “friends”.

I am happy to report though that the solution to my spider problem came to me in a surprising form.
One afternoon I was hanging out the washing when a bird landed on the railing around the back stairs. I turned to look at it, careful not to make any sudden moves as it was only a metre or so away from me. It wasn’t the Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen) I had expected to see but it was black and white and, not only was it unafraid of me, it appeared to be smiling at me. We watched each other for a while until I decided that I couldn’t keep still any longer so I returned to hanging out the washing. The bird remained upon the railing watching me and, shortly after, began to swoop about the windows.
It wasn’t until my husband told me that it was a Butcherbird (Cracticus nigrogularis) that I realised it had come to solve my excess spider problem. I was relieved to find that Nature had found a way to solve my spider problems and I didn’t need to resort to poisons.

Although my children have never shown any disproportionate fear of spiders, there were times when I had wondered if the fear of spiders was innate and that the children just might develop a phobia despite my modelling.
The answer came one day when I found my four year old daughter resting on her bed, her eyes transfixed on an enormous spider residing outside her window. Had she been watching its every move and was she beginning to fear that the window pane was not enough of a buffer zone?

I calmly asked her what she was doing, expecting to hear an anxious complaint about her neighbour. Her attention turned to me and her little face lit up with delight as she told me that she had been watching the spider weaving its web and, with great earnest, she tried to retrace the pattern of its movements with the index finger of her right hand.

The legacy of my "live and let live" approach to spiders continued as she grew older because, after one episode of cleaning her room, she become annoyed with me when she had found that I had vacuumed up a Daddy Long-Leg Spider from the corner of her bedroom ceiling which she had considered it to be her pet.

Looking back, I feel such pride in knowing that I have been able to continue a tradition of peaceful coexistence with these creatures thanks to my mother’s heroism.
Michelle ©

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I recently acquired three foster goldfish, although to be precise, only one of them is entirely gold and the others have a motley complexion.
Now, prior to becoming a foster parent, the only thing I knew about keeping fish involved a plastic bag and a freezer.
However, not one to be defeated by a lack of knowledge, I took the opportunity to learn about fishkeeping and to study the intricacies of a day in the life of a fish. The exercise has left me deeply distressed.

At some time in the history of the human race a myth arose that watching fish swimming in a glass enclosure was relaxing. No doubt this scam has been maintained enthusiastically by people who make a living from selling fishkeeping equipment. I feel it is my duty to expose this myth for the sick practical joke that it is.

It only takes a few minutes observing these wee creatures to realise that, far from leaving you relaxed, you soon find yourself searching the telephone book for the number of your local animal liberation group and a qualified therapist.

You see, once you make eye contact with fish it becomes apparent that they never blink and the reason they do not blink is that they have no eyelids to speak of. After this fact sinks in, you begin to reason that if they cannot close their eyes then they cannot sleep, ergo, they must stay awake their entire life!

Just as you come to terms with the torment of sleeplessness you begin to notice something even more disturbing. Fish are never still. They are allowed no such luxury as a little floating about on their backs on the surface of the water or a nice lie down on the ornamental rocks at the base of the tank.
Indeed, if they were discovered actually “being still” it could lead to an early entry into fish heaven by being flushed down the toilet. “Still fish” are considered to be dead fish.

And, if you can bear to continue your observation, it becomes unnervingly apparent that for fish to refrain from “being still”, some part of their little bodies must maintain the constant movement. As you survey their anatomy you notice that the fine feathery-like fins below the body are forever a flap and the flimsy little tail keeps a vigil, awaiting the call to propel the body forward at a moments notice. You watch. You worry. You yell, “Keep Moving”. You become transfixed. You become exhausted.

Other issues worry me. Imagine having to exist in an environment that is also your drinking water, your toilet, your kitchen table and your bath. Or worse, actually having to share such an environment with strangers. And what about the privacy issue? No amount of miniature sunken ships or toy deep-sea divers could compensate for the lack of a room of one’s own where you can escape the prying eyes and fellow inmates.

Now I know that I will be accused of being anthropomorphic, but, when the little dears frantically swim towards me, eyes bulging and mouths gulping as if to mime an urgent message to me, I become anxious. No dry lecture about short attention spans and appropriate metabolisms can stop me from empathising with their plight. It is no consolation to me that they are designed to endure such a claustrophobic existence.

My foster fish are soon to be returned to the bosom of their family of origin. I will miss them but I remain traumatised.

Fish watching relaxing? What a scam!

For those of you who wish to sit in front of a glass enclosure and watch something moving slowly to and fro, I have a safe substitution. If you wish to dull your senses I suggest that your watch test cricket on TV (re-run old tapes if necessary). A warning though, to avoid the irritation from the voice overs, engage the mute button when ex-cricketers (particularly those with the initials of “Tony Greig”) are commentating.

Michelle ©

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


There is a lot of discussion about eating disorders and who has one and who is suspected of having one. It is a malicious pastime and I am no better than the next reader of gossip magazines. My latest victim is my cat - more on his condition later.

I will not attempt to define anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa at this point. But I will discuss “restrained eating” which is another eating disorder where deception rules.

It is fairly easy to detect a devotee of restrained eating. It will be the cadaverous person at your lunch table who sighs heavily at the prospect of eating lunch and then ostentatiously unpacks a thin slice of melon, a tub of some off-white product that has been curdled by enzymes and a couple of those bread-substitute biscuit things.

Yes, these people DO eat. They will even eat in front of you. And they will talk a lot about food. But they will only eat enough kilojoules to stave off starvation.

Now, as I constantly tell my children, the body is just like a motor vehicle. If you don’t put fuel in it, it won’t go. If you put the wrong type of fuel in it, it will breakdown. And if you only put a tiny bit of fuel in it, then don’t expect it to take you very far.

I witnessed one devotee - an older, frail and rather genteel lady - at a wedding breakfast recently. She gasped at the size of the meal being distributed and advised the bewildered young waiter that she and her equally frail, elderly mother would require only half portions of the meal. Her downtrodden mother made one weak bid to get a full portion but without success.

I felt for mother as she watched the free world devour their generous portions of three different roast meats and generous servings of baked vegies and gravy. But, like all of us in the first world, I didn’t let my outrage at seeing third world deprivation interfere with my appetite.

So what has this to do with my cat? Well, he is an Oriental with one of those lean muscular bodies that never fattens and he has an intimidating manner. Until recently he was constantly hungry, meowing incessantly and weaving in and out of my legs whenever I entered the kitchen. I am sure that if he could speak English, he would have reared up on his hind legs and poked me menacingly with his pussy paws demanding: “I want food, preferably raw kangaroo meat, and I want it NOW!”

I was worried and confused. I felt inadequate in my role as primary caregiver. I would put food in his dish and he would gulp it down and then look me in the eye and ask for more.

It was a terrifying flashback to those ‘new-born baby’ days. They don’t come with a user’s manual either.

I began to wonder if I was the problem. Primary caregivers do that. Was I like that genteel lady? Was I bullying my cat into living the life of a restrained eater?

I decided to carry out an experiment. First, I gave him a dose of worming paste to eliminate a plausible alternative cause. Then after a day or two I piled food, in Mt. Everest proportions, into his dish, shoved his bossy little nose into it and locked him up in solitary confinement.

It is here that my experiment begins to lose validity. There is also a possibility that I may have violated a couple of ethical principles regarding research with animal subjects.

I decided that there were two likely outcomes. He would either stop eating or he would explode. If he exploded then he was suffering from some bio-eco-psycho-socio-somethingo-logical eating disorder. If he stopped eating and walked away leaving food in the dish then my primary care-giving role was, indeed at fault. HE STOPPED EATING!! I am currently taking a long hard look at my own eating patterns.

Michelle ©