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Our last day in Darwin was a quiet, relaxed one.  James had the day off and we spent it lazing in the cool of the air-conditioned unit, experimenting with the Gellan Gum and preparing for a seafood feast to beat all feasts that night!

Now this Gellan Gum is something else – you heat the liquid that you want to set, add the Gellan and cook for ten minutes to activate it and then take it off the heat and pour it into a tray or mould to set.  It sets at room temperature and sets quickly – like in minutes! 

James’ first attempt was to juice a pineapple and set that – and we all know how difficult it is to set pineapple juice.  It did not set hard, but still firmish and held when put on a spoon.  It was also a little grainy in texture – and it was then that James found out that you needed to cook the Gellan!  The next attempt was to make some chocolate sauce and when he was finished he gleefully carried a 1 cm x 4 cm strip hanging between his fingers across the room to me.  Much, much better – no grain, no altered taste and definitely set!  No fear, it melts in your mouth.  Very interesting – I can already think of a number of applications and am planning a few surprises for Christmas!  James generously (it is $100 a kg) packs me 200g into a takeaway container to bring home.  Now, how do I handle this?  I pack it in to our suitcase and fully suspect that we will be asked all sorts of questions when we go to collect our bags at Brisbane Airport on the way home!

We make a trip out to Cullen Bay to get some sunset photos while James finishes dinner preparations.  It was superb – bugs, scampi, prawns and octopus with lots of lemon grass, ginger, garlic and eschallots.  A caprese salad and banana and mango salsa!   James’ mate Nick comes over and joins us and we eat on the patio.  Or maybe I should say that we feasted like kings until we were less-than-elegantly stuffed!

Dessert followed – Italian gelati and sorbets from Trampoline – a kiosk set amidst the restaurants on the concourse below us – yu-um.

Monday dawns with the announcement of the official end of  ‘the dry’ and the start of the build-up to ‘the wet’. I have woken with a headache and put it down to the noticeable change in the air pressure.  It is going to be a busy morning with packing, linen washing and car washing.  We use James’ phone GPS capability to get us to a car wash and join the queues of people trying to clean the red dust and bugs from vehicles.  Takes a bit of elbow grease.  Before we know it, we are needing to make fast tracks to return the car to the airport prior to our flight back east.

We make it on time, only to discover that our 1:35 pm flight (which incidently I though departed at 1:00 pm) has been delayed and is now expected to depart at 2:05 pm.  Nothing much to do, but sit it out.  At least the airport terminal is air-conditioned!  There are hundreds of people here and the booking agent tells us the flight is full.  Time passes slowly, but before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye to James.  It was so wonderful seeing him in his home environment – he loves Darwin and has no intention of ever leaving.  Me, its too hot and humid for me – even in the dry.  Visits will need to be restricted to July and early August I fear!!  In this photo, James’ apartment is at the edge of the peninsula to the right of the photo.

And so back across the big open land we travel.  There is more cloud today and so our views are npt as clear.  Once we clear the clouds, there is an amazing level of smoke haze that is visible as a distinct line below us as we travel the clear skies above it.  We move from the greener channel country with all its snaking rivers and tributaties into the drier western Queensland where there is the occasional convergence of watercourse and human-courses – all very vivid from high above.

And as we move east, the day deepens all too quickly into the inkiness of night.  No longer do we have late sunsets.

Thankfully Anne collects us at the Airport.  We have landed late and it is 6:30 pm by the time we have collected our luggage (without incident incidently – what about that white powder?) and get t the pick up zone – us and the thousands of other commuters.  Ugh – now I remember why I hate the city!!

Brendan has cooked hand made ravioli for dinner tonight – we are really being spoiled and this is followed by an amazing raspberry and Pernod gelato that Anne has made – Oh. My. God.,  it is amazing!  We sit up chatting and it is 11 pm when Anne and I crawl off to bed, happily snuggling deep under the doona.  Michael sits up and tries to calm down Brendan and Beth’s amazingingly energetic second (cat) son George.  Anne has both sons back at home with her at the moment.  Brendan and Beth are extending their Queenslander in Ipswich and at the moment it is without water or power while it is raised.  Michael has returned home while he finished the last six months of University (Journalism).  It is good company, what with Mick off in England again visiting his family.  I love visiting them – they the gloves of comfortable old friends – you feel snug and safe in their care and company.

All too soon, morning is nigh and I drop the uni students off and Anne to the bus stop en-route to a meeting with the Fundraising Manager at the Wesley Hospital.  That done, Michael and I head for the wholesalers for our quarterly stock up of all things providorial that we can’t get in provincial Maryborough.  Cheeses and coffees, meats and pastas, biscuits and fruits.  We had planned to continue on to Ikea, but when we realise that we have spent much more than we anticipated AND the car is full, opt instead to come straight home.

This is when the WHAT THE? moment hits.  WHO TURNED OFF SPRING?  While I am enjoying the lower temperatures and humidity, the cold strong winds and the plunging thermometer are not called for.  In the space of a week we have gone from 37 degrees to 17 degrees.  Not fair.  Not fair at all!

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“We are Queenslanders,” she said. “We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border. “We’re the ones that they knock down, and we get up again.”

Love her or hate her politically, no-one can have anything other than sincere admiration for our Premier, Anna Bligh.  The quote above comes straight from her mouth only moments before she finally succumbed to tears on national TV today. 

It has been amazing to watch her hold her composure, to remain calm in the face of overwhelming adversity, to speak with compassion and sincerity to ‘her’ people – the residents of Queensland, and do it every two hours over the last three days.  Sure, there were times that she looked tired and haggard, but all the time, she has kept us fully informed.  This all kicked in after the horrific storms and deadly consequences around Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane.
And talking of presenters, Wendy leading the broadcast on Channel Nine has done a similarly incredible job providing a level of decorum that must have been hard to maintain as she sat there providing the link to all the reporters so efficiently between 10 am and 5 pm each day – well done, and also to the ABC radio host visiting from Victoria who has relieved her local counterparts for a while – job well done the lot of you!

And now to Maryborough  . . .

Since I last posted, the mighty Mary River had held steady – even subsided a little before again rising to a peak just under 8 m last night (Wed 12 Jan) around 9 pm.  This was the expected water – the water that had been pouring from the heavens on the upper catchment at the back of the Sunshine Coast.  It hits Gympie first, and so we usually have a few days notice.  The Lamington Bridge never surfaced between the two lots of water and as we watched the water buckling over it today, it is very uneven – could just be debris, but could also be very serious damage!  We won’t know until the water subsides and the bridge is inspected.

We have friends who are stuck between two flooded creeks on the Granville side of the Mary River who have not been able to get into town since last Friday – they are all starting to feel the strain of the loss of social contact – as Robyn put it, “there is a very big difference between chosing to stay at home and being forced to!”  Added to this are the great difficulties that they are having in getting food supplies.  And there was a truly frightening moment for them yesterday when Ergon cut the power as the rising river caused concern for the high voltage feeder lines.  For these people living in rural settings, no power = food spoilage, but more devastatingly, no water as they all pump water.  The panic was short-lived and the power back on within a couple of hours – phew.

The news today is good – Council hopes that they will be able to open the Granville Bridge that connects them and the City proper tomorrow!  All I can do is to phone occasionally and feed through information that I can get from people at the Emergency Management Team.  I hope it helps somewhat – they are preparing for a food drop tomorrow, but most of our friends will be able to get across the bridge then.

In fact, we have been one of a number of Wide Bay cities that have been isolated – cut off from supplies both north and south by flooding that has closed the Bruce Highway – the State’s main road.  Supplies have been drying up of things like milk – Burton’s Dairy is still milking and producing, but they are just a small dairy and unable to produce sufficient to provide even the whole city of Maryborough – but at least they can supply places like nursing homes etc.  And while the local bakers are all working overtime, their supplies of ingredients such as flour were at depletion.  Then, joy of joys, a couple of trucks were able to get through this morning with much-needed supplies – so all is good.

Following on from the storms of Tuesday night in the south-east of the State, we have really had nothing to complain about.  There are a few houses inundated here, but for the vast majority of people here, it is really little more than an inconvenience.  Nothing like the horror of Toowoomba, Ipswich, the Lockyer Valley and Brisbane where 12,000 homes are under water – and for most of them that mean UNDER water – to the roof line, and at least 15 people have lost their lives with many more still missing.  There are no words to say – everything is inane at this point, all we can do is to sit glued to the news broadcasts, aching for the loss and suffering.

But the Premier is right – we are resilient.
We will recover – no matter how long.
We will grow together through this tragedy.

Thank goodness for the foresight of planners following the last flood of this magnitude in 1974 – the Wivenhoe Dam in the upper catchment of the Brisbane River (now at 189% capacity after a few short months ago when it was down to 16% capacity) has mitigated the effects of the flood on the much more developed ‘River City’. 

I believe that these events are a natural occurrence and that all we will be ever able to do is best plan to minimise the risks, take the warning advices when they come and look after ourselves and our mates – a truly Australian way of doing things.

So my friends, cry with us, but also be prepared to rejoice at all the little joys that we discover – friends found safe, the kangaroo about to drown plucked by someone “who couldn’t let the coat of  arms drown” and if you are in a position to do so, donate to the Premier’s Flood Appeal.  You can donate from the Qld Goverment main web page – http://www.qld.gov.au/.

Oh, and pray to whatever God you believe in that the cyclone currently developing to the east of us just peters out before it gets here!  The rain has stopped for the moment – please no more for a little while!

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