Are you set to get into spring and all that it entails – making your garden ready for the next few months of warming conditions? In some gardens on the south coast, plants (as well as animals and birds!) have already begun their explosion of flowers, perfume, and accelerated growth.
What to do?
Well, hopefully you’ve survived the challenge of a very dry winter. Some of the crops I planted were very slow to grow, but since the last good drop of rain a few weeks ago, my garden has started to pump again. I have broccoli, parsley, three types of lettuce and mizuna really taking off, keeping me in greens.
A little slow to start at first, the peas have finally come in and the broadbeans are also flowering and fruiting fast.
But I’m contemplating what to do to get my beds ready for even more food.
I’ve got some horses that have moved in next door and my chickens are making an excellent pile of poo for me too. So it’s out in the paddock with a couple of big buckets and a shovel for the horse manure then I am raking up the chicken debris under the roost to help my garden along.
Usually, I would put both manures through my composting system – which I did throughout winter – but I am also going to put it straight onto the beds and lightly dig them in. This will give the micro-life in the beds a real boost, plus I am going to add some potash and dolomite and to top it off a healthy dose of mulch.
Choose your mulches wisely, if you are buying from a produce store make sure you enquire where the bales have come from. Organically grown or chemical free is the best to get – or slash your own if you can – as long as seed heads have not appeared, most grasses are good for mulching. I am lashing out and have bought a couple of organic sugar cane bales.
But rice straw, lucerne (horse food grade), wheat and oat straw work well too. Lucerne has more goodies in it because it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I steer away from pea straw as I have heard that it is sprayed with herbicide to make it easier for baling. It’s good to always check.
I’m making up seed trays out of old styrofoam vege boxes (free at the back of most supermarkets – goes straight to landfill otherwise).
My soil mix for planting seeds is two parts old sawdust, one part old manure, one part compost.
I’ve already got tomatoes going and springing into life! I placed a couple of old glass louvres on top to make a simple greenhouse – keeping the moisture and warmth in. As the weather warms overnight I will take the glass off.
Next to go in the boxes with be all my summer lovers – zucchini, cucumber, more lettuce, and maybe some extra different heritage tomatoes. I plant beans, corn, carrot and beetroot straight into the soil.
This year I am also experimenting with more subtropical plants – two types of sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and choko.
I did plant some yacon one year, but it doesn’t agree with my belly! (A bit like Jerusalem artichoke). I’ve also planted more tamarillo and passionfruit as my older plants are on their way out now after 4 years of growth – both plants usually only last 5 years.
So get out there and get started!
Fruit trees have already started flowering, the soil is receptive for more planting after the good rain we’ve had so it’s an ideal time to get into it!
Fire fighters from South East NSW are about to step into the heat of the Canadian wildfire season, with British Columbia ravaged by more than 3,300 fires since early July.
As the third wave of NSW fire fighters prepares to leave tomorrow (Wednesday) the situation on the ground in Kamloops, about four hours bus drive east of Vancouver is deteriorating.
The latest overview talks of active fire growing significantly, very high fire dangers to continue, communities under very thick smoke, and worsening fuel and fire measures over the next week
Bega’s Garry Cooper will see it first hand.
Garry spends his working week overseeing fire mitigation and hazard management for Far South Coast Rural Fire Service, covering the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley.
However, he will finish this particular working week with his boots on the ground in Canada as part of a 100 strong deployment made up of personnel from the NSW RFS, NSW Forestry Corporation, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and ACT RFS.
“Up to 1.2 million hectares has been alight and they have called on other countries for assistance,” Garry says.
Two earlier contingents from NSW are already on the ground, including Tracey Anderson and Simon May from Malua Bay RFS, and David Philp from Brogo.
Garry will arrive in the earlier hours of Thursday morning Bega time with Patrick Waddell from Bermagui Brigade, Jason Snell from Dalmeny – Kianga, and Ben Winter from Berridale.
This third six-week deployment marks a shift in the Australian contribution so far, with ‘arduous personnel’ requested by Canadian authorities.
“Key incident management staff have been helping out in planning, operations, and logistics but now they [Canadians] need fire fighters on the ground, Remote Area Firefighters like Patrick, Jason and Ben to support ongoing operations,” Garry explains.
Temperatures have been around or above 40 degrees Celsius right through summer, according to Garry, and over night humidity in the low twenties.
While hot, smokey, dirty conditions are nothing new to the Aussies on the ground, they will be working with and in a different landscape and environment.
“It’s extremely steep terrain, very close to the Rocky Mountains,” Garry says.
“And I am guessing a lot of their forests are pine and red woods – all that conifer type timber, very different to what we are used to fighting.”
Local RFS boss, Superintendent John Cullen says he supports Garry and local volunteers being called up to serve overseas.
“Garry is respected throughout the state and that’s why he’s been picked,” he explains.
John says he is happy to see the effort and commitment of local volunteers like Tracey Anderson, Simon May, David Philp, Patrick Waddell, and Jason Snell being recognised with these higher duties.
“We are very proud of them, going over and representing this area,” he says.
“The experience they will gain out of this will be healthy for our organisation nationally and locally,” John believes.
And there’s a debt to repay, part of the fraternity of fire fighting John says.
“In a time of need, everyone steps up.”
“We’ve had firefighters from this area of Canada over here working with NSW RFS during serious fires,” John says.
Garry has been an RFS volunteer since he was 17 years old, following a family tradition. From there it built into a career with Far South Coast RFS based at Bega Fire Control.
He says this opportunity to help on the other side of the world is overwhelming.
“The Service puts out an Expression of Interest every year to all members of staff and volunteers to go on an Overseas Deployment Register,” Garry explains.
“That register is there in case a request comes through for supporting fire fighting operations in other countries.”
By the time Garry and his comrades return to the Far South Coast the region will be in the early days of its bush fire season.
“The introduction of very large air water tankers here in the last couple of years is something that is day-to-day business for the Canadians and the Americans, so there is scope for us to learn more.”
“The more we do this and communicate with other countries, the more versatile we become for our communities at home,” Garry says.
I wake before 6am to the sounds of the Sisters and the congregation singing during early morning prayers. The beauty of their voices and harmonies is mesmerising, an absolute joy to experience…
The day dawns overcast, hot & sticky. The temperature hovers around 34 degrees during the day dipping to just 24 overnight. So I have no complaint about the cold shower on offer, it provides much-needed relief.
Breakfast is just after seven (corn flakes, egg, bread rolls, sliced cheese, jam and those delicious sweet little local bananas) and as we gather with the Sisters and the young acolytes something special is brewing.
One of the Sisters has a guitar and they launch into a joyful song. It is the birthday of one of the young trainees and she is moved to tears by the singing, a gift of flowers and a small present. The realisation that this young woman has grown up in poverty, that this little birthday celebration is one that she has probably never experienced before, is very moving. As she stands we all file by to greet and hug her, the tears are rolling down my cheeks.
Tonight Dave has arranged for us to meet up with Ego Lemos, permaculturist, singer, songwriter of renown in Timor Leste. If you’ve seen the 2009 film Balibo you’ve heard his haunting song of the same name, or perhaps you were in the audience in the Candelo Town Hall in 2012 when Ego performed there.
This morning though, Balibo itself beckons.
There are four of us in the Toyota for the journey – Jose, Dave, Augus, and me.
The 130 kilometres is about a four-hour drive from Dili mostly along the coast towards the border with Indonesian West Timor.
We take to the chaotic early morning Dili traffic fueling up at one of the local service stations. Diesel is around 79 cents a litre. That I think equates to about $1 Aus. There’s a steady stream of motor scooters lined up at the petrol bowsers, out on the roads it often seems there are more motor scooters than people in Dili.
What is so striking here in Dili and across Timor is the youth. Everywhere you see the vibrancy of young people, children, young families. Imagine a country where 42% of the population is under 15 years, 62% under 25, more than 90% under 55! You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?
You ask, why so young? Where are the older people?
Well there’s the life expectancy of 65 years for men, 69 for women. Then there’s the Indonesian occupation from 1975-1999, during which time the lives of up to a quarter or more of the population were lost.
Timor Leste is one humongous lump of rock, and there is no shortage of the stuff. Rocks are used in just about every construction, for house footings, roadside drainage, and retaining walls, even the pots that Jose makes.
On this the northern coast of the island the steep hills rise rapidly to the mountainous interior. Those steep hillsides are much denuded and eroded, the soils seemingly very poor. No doubt firewood collection for cooking has decimated much of that vegetation. Along the roadsides are bundles of crisscrosses dried sticks of firewood waiting for collection and sale in Dili or other towns.
We pass several salt farms along the coast, small household farms that produce salt using traditional methods. A series of ponds allows the seawater to evaporate, the salt brine is collected and dried using firewood and boilers. The salt is then bagged and sold by the roadside.
We stop at a roadside stall at Tibar for water, then Loes for coffee. Rich black coffee from one of the roadside kiosks.
Next stop is Balibo.
Just out of Loes, Jose stops to pick up one of the students he has been encouraging, so now we are five.
It’s early afternoon when we arrive at Balibo, just ten kilometres from the border with Indonesian West Timor, we pull up on the road leading up to the Fort.
I have mixed emotions as we walk up the driveway towards the entrance. The Fort is some four hundred years old, and it is the site the Balibo Five were filming from when the Indonesian forces landed in Balibo.
The Fort and surrounds have been transformed into a restaurant and tourist destination with accommodation.
We order lunch – pumpkin soup at five dollars U.S a bowl for Dave and myself, Nasi Goreng for Jose, Augus and Nicolaij at ten U.S dollars per serve. Jose is not impressed. And with good reason. These are not prices the average Timorese can afford. Wages here typically three to five dollars a day. Certainly there are higher wages for government and corporate workers but that is not the norm.
Jose sees the Fort as part of Timor Leste’s history, a place for all Timorese and not a place exclusively for tourists and wealthy locals.
From the Fort, we wander down the hill to Balibo House and Museum where we meet Michele Rankin.
I’m humbled by the commitment of people like Michele and those from the Balibo House Trust. They are truly inspiring people. Michele has her two daughters visiting from Brisbane during the school holidays.
Balibo House was the last refuge of the five Australian-based journalists, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham, Tony Stewart, Malcolm Rennie and Brian Peters who were murdered by Indonesian troops in 1975. Fellow newsman Roger East was murdered seven weeks later as he investigated the deaths of his five colleagues.
Balibo House Trust was established by the Victorian Government in October 2002, it has since been handed back to to the people of the Balibo district for use as a community learning centre.
As we prepare to leave Balibo there is one site I don’t have the stomach to visit.
Amongst the Timorese it is known as the ‘Kissing House’.
Heather from the Balibo House Trust explains to us that it was the place where the bodies of the Balibo Five were dragged to and burnt after they were shot.
Heather says she has heard two explanations about the origins of the name ‘Kissing House’ – both equally brutal and point to the depraved actions of the Indonesian forces over many years.
The souls who have been murdered here still move in this space and perhaps guide the good work that now takes place in their memory.
Promoting early childhood education through the Balibo Five Kindergarten.
Developing skills through the Balibo Community Learning Centre.
Creating employment and income through tourism at the historic Balibo Fort and Balibo Fort Hotel.
Fostering awareness of the relationships between Australia, Timor-Leste, and Indonesia.
Maintaining a permanent memorial to the five journalists murdered at Balibo in 1975 and to the Balibo people murdered during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
From Balibo back to the border town of Batugade is about a 40-minute drive and we decide to take a closer look at the border crossing into Indonesian controlled West Timor.
The border crossing at Batugade is busy with trucks, buses, SUV’s, motorbikes and even the TNI – Indonesian Special Forces, who are taking advantage of the shops selling drinks and food on the Timor side.
After a short break at the border, it’s time for the long drive back to Dili for our much-anticipated meeting with Ego Lemos.
Apart from a few sections, the roads back to Dili are pretty good.
The late afternoon is hot and despite this being the dry season, storm clouds have been building. As we near Liquica the storm breaks, a fierce torrential downpour makes the winding sections of road more treacherous.
Back in Dili, Dave and I have time for a quick change of clothes and another application of DEET. The Mosquitos here carry malaria and dengue fever, so the daily ritual of the DEET spray is an essential precaution.
For us, long shirts, pants, and footwear, particularly in the evening guarantees the nasties have little-exposed flesh to attack. But they’re sneaky little buggers. Back home in Bega, I’m used to a tiger moth buzzing sound as a warning, but not here, these critters attack in silence. Thankfully the spray seems to work.
It is now after 7.30pm but it’s a fairly short drive to Ego’s home in the Comoro district of Dili, where we have been invited to share a meal with his family.
What an evening it is – food, wine, conversation, and song. The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!
The evening meal of traditional dishes is delicious. A soup of local corn and meat, rice, steamed greens and spicy dried small fish as an entree. And don’t forget the chili!
With food, wine, and song, the conversation turns to the possibility of pulling together a Timorese choir to come to the Bega Valley and beyond in 2020.
Bringing a choir from Timor Leste to Australia is not new for Ego Lemos.
2012 saw the debut of Koro Loriko, a Timor-Leste choir formed by Ego Lemos and Victorian based arts advocate group – The Boite.
Ego also tells us about a school permaculture camp he’s leading in Maubisse towards the end of next year.
It is to be five days of workshops for around two thousand local students. The conversation suggests that perhaps there could be a choir workshop as well, with the choir that’s formed coming together with community singers from Melbourne and the Bega Valley for a tour of Australia. Perhaps in 2020!
Dave and Ego also get talking about Ego’s appearance at the Cobargo Folk Festival next year.
Ego Lemos is an inspirational singer, song writer, and performer, perhaps best described as the Paul Kelly of Timor Leste. He talks of plans to spend two months in Australia around the time of the 2018 Cobargo Folk Festival – exciting plans indeed.
It’s getting late, Jose takes a call from the Sisters at Fatuhada who are wondering when he will return us to the convent!
Time though for a few more songs with Egos’ 72-year-old mum on the harmonica, and some conversation about permaculture.
A dedicated permaculturist, Ego founded the country’s first permaculture centre, Permatil.
He also founded a highly successful sustainable agriculture network, HASATIL, both of which still flourish today.
At the beginning of this year, Permatil signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to take over the schools garden program.
Inspired by Australian’s Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, permaculture is now part of the school curriculum and a compulsory subject in all schools nationwide! A remarkable achievement and another bond to Australia.
With plans for next year and the formation of a choir still bubbling, it’s time to head for home.
For now, it’s back to Fatuhada, my head swimming with Timorese songs and the friendships formed with these wonderful people.
Words and photos by Tim Holt
Catch up on Postcard 1 and Postcard 2, thanks to About Regional Members – Kelly Murray, Shane O’Leary, Olwen Morris, and Oh’Allmhurain Films for supporting local story telling.
Leanne Atkinson sat on Snowy River Shire Council between 1999 and 2003 and has stood as a Labor candidate for the NSW Parliament in the seat of Bega a number of times since, she says it can feel like a ‘leap of faith’ when you first put your name forward for election.
“You really aren’t sure what you are doing at the beginning,” Ms Atkinson told About Regional.
“You need to get the message out about yourself and what differentiates you from other people.”
Ms Atkinson says she went into her first campaign with issues she felt connected to and could speak on.
“I was a young mum, and was very aware of the constraints there were for families in the area and what services were available for them,” she says.
“That was how I went into that first campaign, looking at services for families, for young people, ” she says.
Ms Atkinson says she never considered standing for council until a couple of people suggested it to her.
“I said I can’t see myself doing this, there are all those people sitting around that table, all that procedure, I couldn’t do that.
“The funny thing is that once you are elected you realise that you absolutely can be at that table,” Ms Atkinson says.
Ms Atkinson believes the role goes beyond the popular catchphrase of ‘roads, rubbish, and rates’.
“There are a lot of demands on Council, and the role a Councilor is to have a strategic view, to set the tone, and to set the direction,” she says.
“It’s really important to engage effectively with the community.”
The merger process, taking three council areas into one has left smaller communities concerned that they will be over looked by the big new entity shaped by the Baird – Berejiklian Government.
Leanne Atkinson believes it’s incumbent on the eleven new councilors to think beyond their own home town.
“Don’t focus just on the big towns, there are little communities where those people matter and are just as important as the people in the bigger towns,” she says.
“You have to be aware that you are there for the whole community.”
But there is some strategic advice from this Labor stalwart for smaller centres keen to see one of their own elected.
“I have a view that the amalgamations shouldn’t have been forced, but the fact is it’s amalgamated,” Ms Atkinson says.
“The community needs people who are going to move the shire forward in it’s new form.
“Maybe some smaller communities should get together and ask, who is the one person who could represent us well?” she says.
Find a candidate and get the community behind them seems to be the advice.
“I lived in Berridale for a while, and if it was me in a community like that, I’d be pulling people together and saying, okay we want representation on this council, who can we advocate for and increase our chances of getting someone elected,” Ms Atkinson suggests.
Reflecting on her council time, Ms Atkinson says it was one of the best experiences of her life, she is keen to see a diverse range of candidates stand for election on September 9.
“There were lots of little things that I would look at and think, we can do better than that.”
“If you are willing to work you’d be surprised at how much you can achieve,” Ms Atkinson says.
News this week that Aboriginal people reached Australia at least 65,000 years ago won’t come as a surprise to those who saw Mallacoota based writer Bruce Pascoe speak in Moruya last April.
Research out of new excavations of a rock shelter at the base of the Arnhem Land escarpment in the Northern Territory has pushed back estimates of human arrival on the Australian continent.
The shelter, known as Madjebeben has been described as the earliest evidence of humans in Australia.
Chris Clarkson from the University of Queensland told ABC Science that the new date would have a big impact on our understanding of when humans left Africa and moved through South- East Asia.
One of the artifacts unearthed is the world’s oldest known ground-edge axe head, one made by grinding rather than flaking. The full story has been published in the journal Nature.
Bruce Pascoe spoke of such evidence to a captivated audience during his lecture at Southeast Harvest at Moruya Showground in April 2017.
Bruce is a man of Bunarong and Yuin heritage, and the author of the acclaimed book, “Dark Emu“. Based on the diaries of early European settlers, in the book Bruce makes the case that Australia’s original inhabitants designed and constructed sophisticated irrigation systems and cultivated vast areas of land.
He dispels the idea that Aboriginal people were simple hunters and gatherers before European settlement and points to evidence of a civilisation that can legitimately be described as pioneers of agriculture, architecture, and engineering.
‘Head garbos’ across the region have welcomed the supermarket ban on light weight plastic bags but are looking to new opportunities and challenges in their ever present ‘war on waste’.
Woolworths and Coles were tripping over themselves in announcing the news last week, both committing to a phase out of single use bags over the next 12 months.
Shoppers will be asked to bring their own bags or be charged 15 cents for a heavier weight, reusable plastic bag.
“This will significantly change the number of bags going to any landfill or transfer station,” says Mandy Thurling, Rescouse and Waste Manager for Snowy Monaro Regional Council.
In the Eurobodalla, Amanda Jones, Council’s Manager of Waste Services says, “This is great news, keeping problem waste from entering the environment.”
While also welcoming the action, Toby Browne, Waste Services Manager for Bega Valley Shire Council has signaled a need for further change, “It’s a move in the right direction but definitely more needs to be done to reduce packaging and other soft plastic waste.”
Environmental groups have been campaigning for a plastic bag ban for decades, and while some states and towns have imposed restrictions, the ABC TV series “War on Waste” seemed to inject new momentum into the national discussion.
Clean Up Australia estimates six billion plastic bags are handed out every year, with just 4% recycled.
Let loose in the environment they choke, smother, and tangle wildlife.
The supermarket ban doesn’t go far enough according to Clean Up Australia, who continue to lobby the Premiers of New South Walse, Victoria, and Western Australia for an out right ban.
“Hopefully more commercial premises will come on board and ban the bag,” Ms Thurling from Snowy Monaro says.
Given their ‘last for forever nature’ all three South East councils will have to continue to manage plastic bags and soft plastics into the future.
Apart from taking up tip space, the Eurobodalla’s Amanda Jones says, “Plastic bags at landfill sites get caught by the wind and need to be managed by catching them in litter fences and manual litter picking.”
Toby Brown is frustrated by plastic bag contamination of other waste streams at his Bega Valley facilities.
“When they contaminate recycling and organic waste streams, they must be manually removed,” he says.
With that Amanda Jones jumps in.
“Please don’t put your recycling in plastic bags!” she says.
“The bags don’t always fall open to allow recyclables to be sorted.”
The recent introduction of REDcyle bins at Coles supermarkets in Bega, Eden, Batemans Bay, Ulladulla, and Cooma is part of the equation Mandy Thurling is hoping locals might take up.
REDcycle bins not only take plastic bags but the soft plastic wrapping and packaging many products come smothered in.
REDcycle askes you to do the scrunch test, “If it’s soft plastic and can be crunched into a ball, it can be placed into a REDcycle drop off bin,” their website says.
The material collected is transformed into a range of products including street furniture, decking, and bollards by Replas.
“Council is always looking at the next step in reducing waste to landfill, this could be by reducing all soft plastics and finding alternate recycling avenues for this material,” Ms Thurling from Snowy Monaro says.
In the Eurobodalla, where Council runs their own recycling facility the ‘war on waste’ is reaching new heights.
Crushed waste glass is starting to be used instead of quarried sand in road construction projects.
The sand substitute has just been tested in Murray Street, Moruya where 63 tonnes of the local product was used to install new drainage culverts and reconstruct the road.
“The crushed glass has proven to be a viable product to replace sand in concrete mixes,” Council’s Works Manager, Tony Swallow says.
“It does need to be treated differently to bedding sand but our crews are happy with the performance,” he says.
Around 30 tonnes of sand like substance is produced each week at the Materials Recycling Facility in Moruya; glass represents 40% of the 5,200 tonnes of recyclables collected in the Eurobodalla each year.
“The savings to our environment and Council’s materials budget are significant,” Mr Swallow says.
Polystyrene is the other win in the Eurobodalla’s waste war.
Known for making a mighty mess, up until now polystyrene had taken up valuable landfill space at Surf Beach and Brou.
With a $30,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Authority, Council has installed a thermal compaction machine at its Surf Beach facility.
“The process reduces the volume and turns polystyrene into a hard white substance,” Mr Swallow explains.
“Our contractor is shipping it to China where the material is made into items like picture frames.
“What has made this such a success is that we have supplied local businesses that have a lot of polystyrene packaging with metal frames and wool bales to easily collect the material,” Mr Swallow says.
Council estimates the move will save them $100,000 worth of landfill space each year, with other savings spinning off to local electronic businesses and supermarkets in reduced waste disposal fees.
Bega Valley Shire is looking to do more with waste and is currently developing a waste strategy.
“Our key areas are likely to be addressing food waste recycling and improving local economic opportunity in recycling and resource recovery,” Mr Browne says.
“It’s great to see business making meaningful change in response to community concern. Change creates opportunities.”
The Air North flight from Darwin to Dili can take 76 passengers and it’s a full house. Two Australian school groups and their teachers, all bubbling with excitement for the adventure that lies ahead.
One group is bearing gifts of ukuleles, fourteen in all. I imagine a Timorese ukulele orchestra in the making.
We land in Dili a little after 7am, having flown over the south coast and Natabora but overcast skies have shrouded our view until we descend below the clouds.
The passage through check in and customs is slow but neither the grey skies or the form filling-in can dull the anticipation.
The morning in this city of 265,000 people is warm and sticky but not as warm as the welcome Dave and I receive from Jose Da Costa, his partner Lucy and two beautiful daughters, two and six years old, and Augus – he is to be our traveling companion for the week ahead. The eldest girl, Moira steps forward and presents us with personalised Timor Leste Tais.
It is a beautiful and touching little ceremony for both of us and Jose is unable to shield us from the warmth, respect, and love he displays. Dave and Jose go back to 2008 when Jose was employed by the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste, their friendship is warm and they fall into easy conversation about family and life in the five years since Dave was last here.
Our transport is Jose’s Toyota Land Cruiser wagon. Dave made all these arrangements with Jose several months ago. Over the next eight days, we will spend many hours over some fairly challenging roads, the white Toyota proving a worthy beast.
From the airport, we drive thru Dili to Jose’s home in the Comoro Suco overlooking Tasitolu. It is my first glimpse of Dili, and I am absorbed by the sights, sounds, and smells.
The traffic is chaotic; motor scooters are the main transport – there’s a dad with a small child on his lap, mum holding a bub to her breast as they weave thru the morning traffic of buses, cars, SUV’s, 4WD’s, numerous state vehicles known as ‘Kareta Estadio’, trucks, water tankers, and the ubiquitous yellow Dili taxi.
The atmosphere is humid and thick, the acrid smell of wood smoke from roadside stalls and homes is all pervasive.
The grandeur of embassies, government buildings, and modern shopping malls is mixed with Portuguese architecture, humble abodes, roadside stalls and markets made of rusting tin.
Dili, as is the case in much of the country, is a city in transformation. Construction everywhere. Businesses, many of which are Chinese, selling everything from hardware to electronics and all that plastic crap that is endemic around the world.
The roadside litter takes me by surprise, plastic water bottles, and bags everywhere. Not just by the road but around shops and market stalls, along the beachfront, in drains and waterways.
As I am to discover Dili has little or no reticulated drinking water, or sewerage system for that matter. Grey water runs in roadside drains. Shops and market stalls sell water all over the island. From city to village – plastic water bottles are endemic.
On the way to Jose’s home, we stop at a bakery for fresh bread rolls. Tasitolu is about 8 kms from the centre of Dili.
Tasitolu is the site of three saline lakes. It is described as a protected area – a designated Wetland of National Significance for its ecological, historic and cultural significance. (See video above)
However, this is the dry season on the north side of the island. And Dili is dry. Very, very dry.
We cross a vast dry flat mud, salt pan beside a shallow lake, the edges littered with plastic and garbage.
There are homes built around the edges, I wonder what happens in the wet season. The homes are of concrete block construction. On a raised footing of stone and cement and mostly tin roofs. The disparity of wealth is starkly obvious.
Jose and his family live on the rising land overlooking Tasitolu. The home is still under construction with an upper level yet to be completed.
His is a household of at least 16 people – his family plus perhaps ten or more young men and women he is supporting with accommodation, food, and fees while they study. They come from his home village of Oecusse, a Timorese enclave in Indonesian West Timor and elsewhere.
One of his enterprises is making stone and cement pots which provide income and work for his extended family.
Our first meal in Dili – breakfast including bread roll, egg, sliced cheese, and coffee.
The coffee is from roasted Timorese beans. The ground coffee is simply put in a jug, pot, or thermos with hot water and sugar. Much sugar! Cloyingly sweet to my taste. But the coffee is good. I make a mental note to avoid the sugar wherever possible.
The hospitality in these few short hours has been almost overwhelming. It is to become the enduring and endearing feature of our stay here.
Our home during our time in Dili is Fatuhada, the Carmelite Convent near the centre of the city.
We arrive to a welcome from several of the sisters and another breakfast. Tea, bread rolls, sliced cheese, and jam, with bottled water. My plan for losing a kilo or two while here is looking doubtful. Lunch and dinner with the sisters that day is further confirmation.
It is now after 10 am Dili time and both Dave and myself are in need of rest. It’s been more than 24 hours since either of us have had real sleep, there’s some time for a nap and wash before lunch with the sisters at 12.30.
Lunch is more substantial than breakfast, rice, steamed greens, salad, noodles with chicken, bananas, and apples. The bananas are small, from the palms within the convent’s garden – sweet and delicious, fresh and still on the bunch. They are a feature of most meals at Fatuhada.
There are about 19 sisters and acolytes gathered for lunch. They are warm and friendly, and I feel very welcomed. Several have been to the Bega Valley as guests of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste and they are excited to see us and talk face to face of the wonderful contribution the advocates have made and the enduring friendship formed with the Bega Valley.
Jose and Augus return at 2 and we head off a trip to along the coast of Dili Harbour. First to Cape Fatucama at the eastern end of the Harbour, where in 1988 Indonesia’s former president Suharto built a statue of Christ. But because it was built by the dictator it was not popular with the Timorese. The Cristo Rei (Christ the King), was a failed attempt by Indonesia to dissuade East Timor from demanding independence.
On the western point of the harbour there stands a giant statue of the late Pontiff, Pope John Paul ll.
When dozens of East Timorese students defied Indonesian security forces and rioted in front of Pope John Paul II in October 1989, Indonesia’s brutal rule was highlighted to the world for the first time in years.
There is some confusion in articles I have read from that time.
One refers to the statue as being a six-metre high bronze statue, another describes it as a ten-metre concrete construction. Either way, it is massively impressive.
There is also some contradiction around the 1989 riot during the mass held by Pope John Paul II, as to whether rioters were angry at the Pope for calling for an end to the violence and reconciliation with Indonesia or whether they were inspired by the Pope’s message. Whatever the true motivation for the riot, the Pope’s visit focused world attention on the Indonesians and East Timor and is seen by many Timorese as galvanising a determination for independence.
Our afternoon is spent in Comoro with Lorenzo and his family, friends of Jose and Augus. Timorese coffee, strong and black, conversation shared about family, life in Dili, study, work and survival.
I’m learning that everyone has a mobile phone, they are as common as the plastic water bottles. The fixed line and telecommunications network was destroyed by the Indonesians in 1999. Though somewhat reinstated since, mainly in Dili, mobiles have taken over. By 2015 94% of the population could access mobile and internet services. And they do. Coverage seems to be 4G with at least three providers, Timor Telecom, Telstra, and Vietnamese provider Viettel.
Timor Leste’s young population is perhaps also driving the mobile take-up. This is a country of 1.2 million people, where 50% of the population is under 25 and 40% under 15.
Over coffee, we talk of Chinese business and investment in roads and power. It is a contentious issue for many Timorese.
We take our leave with a warm farewell, bundle into the Toyota for the drive back to Fatuhada for the evening meal with the sisters – rice, chicken, spicy steamed greens, spinach, a side dish of deliciously hot salty chili, a cup of tea and of course bottled water.
What a day it has been. Nearly forty hours with just snatches of shut-eye on the three flights that brought us here, and a nap this morning before lunch. Sleep beckons with visions of generosity, joyous smiles, and the contradiction of poverty and wealth, but above all those faces that break into gorgeous smiles.
Batemans Bay’s seaside location is guiding a vision for the town’s future, with the Business and Tourism Chamber inspiring a plan that includes floating pontoons in the CBD and a pier off Hanging Rock for cruise ships to pull up alongside.
Spruiking on Facebook, the Member for Bega and NSW Transport Minister, Andrew Constance said, “We’ve got a $1.3 billion fund, the message to the community is get out, push your councils, push your mayors, push us, look for great projects.”
“One central piece of infrastructure required at Batemans Bay is floating pontoons to enable recreational boats, personal watercraft, and seaplanes to access our town centre and seaside boardwalk,” Mr Maclachlan says.
Floating pontoons seem more feasible at this stage compared to a fixed pier at Hanging Rock. Current pontoon planning still accommodates cruise ships in that it might cater for cruise ship tenders as opposed to ‘a mothership’ that perhaps needs a purpose built fixed structure to tie up to.
Access for all seems to be a driver in the Chamber’s pontoon push, inspired by what is being achieved by ‘The Bay Push’ an the inclusive playground at Batehaven.
“The proposal is to install a wheelchair hoist on the proposed pontoon and at the existing Hanging Rock boat ramp,” Mr Maclachlan says.
Primarily though stimulating the local economy and tourism industry is at the heart of the Chamber’s plan.
“Without floating pontoons, there is little practical recreational boating access to the CBD,” the Chamber chief says.
“There is no mooring point at which the boating public can get a coffee, groceries, or bait and fishing tackle.
“There are few public wharfs available to boat owners and what is there is of such a height that it is largely unusable by recreational craft,” Mr Maclachan explains.
“The seaplane operators are now licensed to land on the water adjacent to the CBD, yet do not have pontoon access,” Mr Maclachan says.
“The seaplanes feature in Eurobodalla and Tourism Australia’s national and international marketing for the region.”
According to the Chamber, the plan has been received positively by the NSW Government. About Regional sought comment from local member, Andrew Constance, and Maritime Minister Melinda Pavey.
“The proposal has been internally submitted within Roads and Maritime Services for funding,” Mr Maclachlan says.
Eurobodalla Mayor, Cr Liz Innes says Council is supporting the idea.
“When you look at these projects that deliver tourism infrastructure into our shire, the potential is fantastic, Cr Innes says.
“But we need to be realistic about the environmental constraints.”
The Mayor points to wave action within the bay that perhaps impedes pontoons, and that Council is seeking expert advice.
“Council is really keen to look at these kind of projects that the Chamber is bringing forward, we really commend them for thinking outside the box and having the courage to step up, but we do need to have a look at those environmental concerns,” the Mayor says.
“There is a little bit more involved in the engineering to make sure that they [the pontoons] are stable and that long term the maintenance doesn’t become a huge burden and an issue for ratepayers.
“But in this day and age, the engineering solutions are just incredible, we’ve just gotta make sure we get it right,” Cr Innes says.
The Mayor is clear that Council has no capacity for funding such a project and that environmental considerations need to be explored further, but she is keen to see the idea succeed if feasible.
“It’s important that we take the time to ensure what we do now doesn’t create issues in the future,” Cr Innes says.
“We have a really good working relationship with our local member [Andrew Constance] and he is very keen to see benefits from the State flow down to this region in particular.”
Chamber chief, David Maclachlan accepts those concerns but is confident a solution already exists.
“You see it in Sydney Harbour and up on the Hawkesbury,” Mr Maclachlan told About Regional.
“Our largest industry is tourism, we need to keep growing and always look to do better and provide more – everyone benefits.
“Private and public tourism infrastructure has been identified by various studies as a solution to local employment issues and increasing visitor spend,” he says.
The Chamber’s pitch is just part of the Batemans Bay buzz at the moment, which not only includes a new $300 million crossing of the Clyde River but plans for the old Batemans Bay Bowling Club site, MacKay Park/Batemans Bay Pool precinct, the Bay Link Road project to the Princess Highway, and Council’s CBD streetscape makeover.
“There is massive momentum Ian, an indoor aquatic centre and an arts and cultural centre are extremely exciting possibilities,” Cr Innes says.
“Both Andrew Constance and myself have made very strong commitments that that is something we want to see delivered.
“All this will have flow on affects for the whole Shire because it is a gateway site,” Cr Innes says.
The new bridge is locked in, the Batemans Bay community waits to see what the NSW Government’s $1.3 billion booty might deliver next.
The new owner of the River Cottage Australia property at Central Tilba on the New South Wales Far South Coast is a 36-year-old single builder from Sydney looking for a place to put roots down and call home.
Tristan Diethelm says he is comfortable with the price he paid for the famous TV set but wouldn’t reveal the final figure.
“Considering it was River Cottage, I am sure I paid a bit more, but opportunities like this are rare,” Tristan says.
Reportedly listed for $895,000 in late April, Tristen told About Regional that the 9-hectare property was a dream come true.
Host Paul West has also moved on, his young family settling into Newcastle in recent months.
“We’re keen to get back to the South Coast in the next couple of years, especially as Otto gets ready to start school,” Paul says.
“I was so busy with the show, I needed to reconnect with family and take some time out and keep a low profile.”
The new owner of the property says he is keen to carry on the principles Paul put in place.
“I want to tap into local food and the community, that’s part of what attracted me in the first place,” Tristan says.
Currently living in and renovating a terrace house in Paddington, Tristan has plans for the Punkalla Tilba Road property.
River Cottage will be open for holiday rentals in time for spring 2017.
“It will be a place where family, friends and I can escape to, but I will be listing it for holiday rentals on Airbnb soon,” Tristen says.
All the animals that starred in the show alongside Paul were sold off late last year, the veggie beds remain and have continued to produce under their own steam, indeed a carrot from the River Cottage garden has become somewhat of a trophy for locals.
“I’ve pretty much bought the place as is,” Tristan says.
“Most of the furniture and what people saw on TV comes with the property, so it will feel like a River Cottage experience to fans of the show who want to stay.”
Being handy on the tools, the new owner also sees great potential in some of the property’s other buildings.
“The bedrooms in the house need a little bit of work, and the old dairy and silos could perhaps be turned into further accommodation,” Tristan says.
The vendor in the sale wasn’t Paul West, the property was owned by British TV production house Keo Films.
David Galloway, Executive Producer and Director of Programmes at Keo says, “After several seasons making the show and watching Paul grow the property it was a hard decision to sell.”
“Unfortunately without a TV commission, it was a business decision in the end.”
Up until tonight (July 3) the show was only available on pay TV and DVD, but SBS will screen all 64 episodes weeknights at 6pm, opening the show and the South East of New South Walse to a whole new audience.
“Who knows where that may lead to in terms of future programming,” the Keo TV boss says.
“For Keo, River Cottage Australia was a hugely successful venture, with four seasons airing on Foxtel’s Lifestyle Channel.
“It also gave the company a production base in Australia from which other highly successful Keo formats – like Struggle Street’ (SBS) and ‘War on Waste’ (ABC) have been produced,” Mr Galloway says.
As the new owner of the property, Tristan Diethelm chuckles as he confesses to only watching the first series of River Cottage Australia.
“But I’ve been looking for a property outside of Sydney for a while, there’s a buzz about the South Coast at the moment and I’ve been scanning the area for about a year,” he says.
“I am keen to nurture the property and would love to be working in the area down the track.
“There’s the beach nearby, a rural lifestyle, and a beautiful little town, it ticks so many boxes.”
While he lives in Sydney Tristan says he doesn’t feel like he has a hometown.
“My Dad is a yachtsman and we spent a lot of time sailing the world when I was young, so I am looking for a place to put down some roots,” Tristan says.
“And if Keo wants to film another series one day, I’d open up the property again for River Cottage.”
*Photos supplied by Julie Rutherford Real Estate, with photography by Kit Goldsworthy from Tathra (internal and some external photos) and Josh McHugh from Bermagui (drone aerial shots).