Thoughts of family make cyclone personal


Like many other New Zealanders I have family in Australia and this time last year I was visiting my brother, sister-in-law and three nieces in Townsville.

A cyclone kit came up in conversation but I thought no more about it until the news that Cyclone Yasi was heading for the city.

It is impossible for anyone who hasn’t experienced it to comprehend the ferocity of a category 4 cyclone but thoughts of family have made this one personal and I am waiting anxiously for news they are all safe.


Things I learned


*Walking 3 kilomteres up Castle Hill in Townsville when it’s 28 degrees with 90% humidity is harder than walking about 1/3 that distance up Mount Iron in Wanaka when it’s 20 degrees with 0 humidity.

* Australia has insects which bite, even when you’re moving.

* The bites itch.

* Drinking lots of water and sweating lots without compensating for what you’re losing can lead to cramp.

* Walking down hill with cramp in one thigh isn’t a lot of fun.

* Getting cramp in the other thigh makes it worse.

* There’s a great sense of satisfaction when you’ve done it.

* Doing it the second day without the cramp feels even better.

* Doing it the third day is better still, in spite of the blisters.

Guess what we saw at school today!


“Aunty Ele, Aunty Ele, guess what we saw at school today!” said Ms 9.

“What did you see at school today?” I replied.

“A possum having babies,” Ms 5 said.

“Was this a real, live possum,” I asked.

“Yes, it was in the roof of the play shed and the babies were mostly pink with just a little bit of fur,” MS 9 said.

Biology lessons at school in Townsville in 2010 are very different from the ones I had in Oamaru in the 1960s.

Bother still wasn’t strong enough


It was about 9.30pm when I landed in Townsville and I’d been up since 3am local time.

The theft of my laptop at Christchurch earlier in the day hadn’t helped my mood and I was very keen to get to where I was staying, have a shower and go to sleep.

I’d booked a rental car on-line but even so the paperwork took a while and it was about 10pm by the time I got to the car park.

The remote didn’t work and it was too dark to see well enough to figure out if there was a trick to it so I used the key. It unlocked the door but when I opened it the alarm started. I shut the door and the alarm stopped but I still couldn’t get the remote to work.

I used the key and again the alarm went off but it stopped when I put the key in the ignition.

I checked the hand brake was on and the gear stick in neutral and turned the key. The dashboard lit up but the engine didn’t start. I checked the hand brake and gear stick and tried again. It still didn’t start.

I returned to the terminal for help but the rental car kiosk had closed. I went back to the car and rang the 24 hour rescue number. The woman who answered said it would take 45 minutes for someone to come & I’d have to wait at the main entrance to the terminal. I asked if I could speak to the mechanic, in case it was something simple I was or wasn’t doing, but she said no.

I told her in that case it would be better to get a taxi and worry about the car in the morning.

I got my case out of the boot, locked the car and walked to the taxi rank. But my flight had been the last one for the night and all the taxis had gone.

I returned to the car, rang the rescue number again and was told again I’d have to wait at the main entrance and that would take about 45 minutes. Had I not been a big girl I might have cried at this point. Instead I took a deep breath and explained I’d been up for more than 19 hours, I was very tired and I wasn’t very comfortable about standing round in the dark by myself for that long, couldn’t the mechanic come to the car?

She said no, it was better to wait at the door. I said, I didn’t think it was and asked again if I could talk to the mechanic. She said no, but given it was dark and the airport was closed she’d tell him to come to the car.

While waiting for him I read the instruction manual and came across a page entitled car immobilised. That seemed to be the correct diagnosis for my predicament but the only prescription was to call a mechanic.

He eventually turned up and listened to my explanation of the problem. He said the car might be immobilised, but there was one simple thing to try first. He slid into the driver’s seat, put his foot on the clutch, turned the key and the car started.

I was tempted to say something more than a little stronger than bother. Instead I asked, how could I have been so stupid?

He just laughed, said I wasn’t the first one who’d had this problem and explained that with modern cars it’s not enough to have them in neutral, they’re designed not to start unless there’s a foot on the clutch in case they’re in gear.

Putting my hand up for idiot of the day again – but could I plead tiredness as an excuse?

Fire kills in the south, floods kill in the north


Today’s high temperatures, accompanied by strong winds, have set the fire danger on much of the east coast to extreme.

But in Australia it’s not just a risk, bush fires are raging across Victoria.

A friend whose house burned down years ago said the greatest loss was of photos and treasures, not necessarily valuable in a monetary way but because of personal associations.

However, those are only things and can’t be compared with loss of life and 76 people are now confirmed dead as a result of the Victorian fires.

Kevin Rudd said hell and its fury  had been unleashed on the state.

At the same time, in a tragic irony, Queensland is under flood.

More than 60 per cent of Queensland is under water – 1 million square kilometers, or twice the area of Spain. Ingham has been hardest hit, with 2,900 homes damaged or flooded in a weekend storm and hundreds of people evacuated.

The main cities on northern Queensland’s coast, Townsville and Cairns, were flooded in January storms and are still receiving daily rain. The main highways to Townsville were cut off by water this week and some northern towns have been isolated for weeks.

The devastation is not restricted to property, three people are missing, including a five year old who it is feared was taken by a crocodile.

Employment and unemployment up in December 1/4


Employment growth last year was concentrated in service industries, notably education, transport, storage and communications while fewer people were employed in agriculture, construction and manufacturing, government statistician Geoff Bascand says.

I’m surprised by the decrease in agriculture because the December quarter is a busy one on farms and the number of new dairy conversions last year would have created more jobs in that sector than were lost from sheep and beef farms which were converted. This is confirmed by the grapevine which is full of stories about the difficulty of finding staff.

Primary industries in Australia have also been struggling to recruit employees and a prawn fisherman we spoke to when we were there a couple of weeks ago said the announcement of 350 redundancies  at BHP’s Townsville refinery wasn’t all bad news because it might make it easier for farmers and fishermen who hadn’t been able to compete with mining when looking for workers.

The household labour survey showed the number of people unemployed in New Zealand reached 105,000 in the three months to December last year, the highest level since September 2002.

Unemployment rose by .4%, or 10,000 people, to 4.6% in the December quarter.

The number of people employed increased by 21,000 which was a .9% increase and the labour force participation rate increased by .6 percentage points to 69.3% .

On a related matter, Lindsay Mitchell compares unemployment benefits and superannuation in New Zealand and Australia.

Blackout blues


There’s no convenient time for a power cut and it’s small consolation for the individuals and businesses inconvenienced by the loss of supply  in Auckland today that it happened while it was still light.

The power went off in Northern Queensland  from Ayr to Cooktown just after we arrived in Townsville 12 days ago. It was early evening which wouldn’t be quite so bad here as it was there where the sun goes down about 7pm.

I had to drive to a hen party and had a local navigating who helped me at intersections. My brother got safely to the stag party by luck alone because he drove through the city oblivious to the fact that the traffic lights were out.

No-one will be impressed by the explanation for today’s power cut – one transformer down for routine maintenance and a problem with a second which put two much pressure on the third.

But that’s probably not as bad as the cause of the problem in Queensland – bird droppings  from nesting eagles.

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