Sunday, May 31, 2009

Time to rug up

It's the first day of winter here on the Sunshine Coast, and we're all pulling out our woolies and putting extra doonas on the beds.

Well, maybe not quite, but we have been wearing long sleeve shirts in the evenings and mornings. Many of the surfers are wearing wet suits (although Charlotte and I were still in our rashies when we went out on Saturday.) And I did change my plans for supper: instead of the Thai lamb salad I was considering, there's now a pot of minestrone simmering on the stove.

According to an article in the Sunshine Coast Daily, it's supposed to be a slightly milder than average winter -- lows around 9 degrees, highs of 22-23. That, the paper says, "means it may be cold enough to break out the beanies and Ugg boots" but not the heavy winter coats. Or, in my case, it means I may have to pull on long pants and socks.

It's funny that Australians call June 1 the first day of winter. There really isn't an equivalent marking of the season in Canada. May 24 is the beginning of summer, and Labour Day is the beginning of fall, but winter and spring begin much more vaguely.

Sure, the solstice on Dec 21 is usually noted as the official start of winter (most often in mid-November when we've got two metres of snow on the ground and some smart alec points out that it's only another month until winter begins.) But the real, psychological start of winter is pretty nebulous. It's not even the first snowfall, really, because the snow that falls in October or even early November is usually just an autumn snowfall. Winter begins sometime between deer season and Christmas, when the snow looks like it's going to stay.

For this upcoming winter down here, though, I'm not too worried about the temperatures. As long as we get a bit of sunshine, I'll be happy. Besides, I'm looking forward to a change of seasonal produce: fresh oranges have started to appear in the shops, and apparently strawberries will soon be coming along. Mid-winter strawberry picking? Now that's not too hard to take.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Money for old rope?

Yes, I had to give it a try: I've "monetized my content." In other words, I've got Google ads running on the blog.

It's actually Ana's idea, since she asked if she could put ads on her blog. I said I'd look into it, and got intrigued enough to give it a go myself.

The premise is too good to be true. All I need to do is let Google place ads on my blog, and hope my readers click on them. I'm not allowed to encourage people to click on them, since that would violate the terms of the program. I'm also not allowed to click on them myself, or do a whole bunch of other stuff. In exchange, Google will supposedly send me a cheque (or a check, since they're an American company) whenever my account reaches $100. Which, I suspect, will be every ten or twenty years or so. But still, it sounds like money for old rope, as my mum would say.

Of course, what I'm really giving up is a bit of control over what's on the blog and how it looks. I think I'll have to let it run for a while and see how much that bothers me. Or you. Let me know -- do we even see ads any more, or have we learned to filter them out completely?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cold weather vacation plans

Winter is arriving on the Sunshine Coast, which so far has meant overnight lows of 12 to 15 degrees and highs in the low 20s. As we seem to be getting used to Queensland living, we're finding it chilly. Apparently it can get down to single digits in July and August, which may mean we have to put on long pants and socks. Shocking!

Fortunately there's a two week winter holiday in July, so we've been considering a trip to the north end of Queensland, where it's hot enough to swim and snorkel year-round. But then we got a very generous offer: someone's mum is coming to visit Queensland during the winter holidays, and has offered to let us stay in her apartment in Hobart.

Now Tasmania is supposed to be quite gorgeous, and it's a part of Australia many tourists don't see because it's somewhat out of the way, so it's a very tempting offer. The downside is that Tassie has real winter -- snow in the mountains, black ice on the roads. Even Hobart, which is a more temperate, coastal city, typically has high temps in the mid-teens at that time of year. Brrrr!

As Sharon and I weighed our options, we decided to see what the kids thought. So I put it to them at supper the other night: go north and snorkel, or go south and sight-see. All three leapt at the chance to experience cold weather again! As Charlotte said, you can take the girl out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of the girl.

We're still looking for cheap flights, but if we can find a deal we may be getting a taste of the cold much sooner than we had expected.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Storm front

Not long after we arrived on the Sunshine Coast, there were states of emergency at the north and south ends of the country. This week, we got our turn. A low pressure system created a massive storm that hit the coast on Tuesday night.
It rained hard all through the night, and continued into the morning. The region to the south of us was the hardest hit, with roads washed out or closed due to flooding. Motorists were stranded on their cars when they tried to drive through deep water. Even the Bruce Highway, which is the main north-south road to Brisbane, was closed in both directions (which is a bit like getting enough snow to close Highway 400).
By mid-morning Wednesday the rain was still falling heavily to the south, but it was tapering off around here. Then I got a call from Sharon: they're evacuating the schools. Go get Ana, she said, then come and pick up the rest of the family!
Apparently this is not something they usually do, but the police had advised school officials that a second big storm was expected later that day. If it hit the area, the flooded creeks and fields would soon overflow and people would be cut off. Better to have the kids at their homes, police reckoned. So thousands of parents drove to the schools to pick up their children and take them home... where they watched the sun shine brightly for the first time in days. It was a gorgeous, hot afternoon, which we spent in the park in Coolum.
Not everyone was so lucky, though. The storm hammered the southern part of the Sunshine Coast as well as Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Some places got 200 mm of rain in a few hours. Others received a third of their usual annual rainfall in 24 hours. It certainly put an end to any lingering worries about drought in the region -- in 48 hours, the water reservoirs received an entire year's water supply, pushing them above 70 per cent capacity for the first time in many years.
The news websites have some pretty dramatic pictures and video of the storm wreckage, and the region has been declared a disaster zone. Around here, though, the most dramatic effect is to be seen on the beach. The surf is the biggest we've seen so far, with three metre waves just pounding on the shore. The surf reports are saying conditions today are amazing, but only for expert surfers. Everyone else, they say, could end up in a bit of bother if they try to ride these waves.
Even so, some people can't resist a good wave. Not long after I took the picture above, at Sunrise Beach, I saw a man going for a swim. And yesterday afternoon Sharon and Isaiah saw two body boarders in the waves at Coolum. It was high tide, and the waves were so big that the beach was completely buried in foam. Sharon said she kept waiting for the boarders to get smashed against the retaining wall, but they seem to have survived it.
I suspect Charlotte's surfing lesson will be cancelled today. Even if it isn't, I think we'll tell her it is.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gay your life must be (ha ha ha)

Remember the old camp song about the kookaburra who sits in the old gum tree-ee? Remember the second verse: "counting all the monkeys he can see-ee. Stop kookaburra, stop kookaburra, that's not a monkey that's me." (Got that tune well and truly drilled into your head now? Good luck getting rid of it.)

It seems that the monkey-bird reference in the song is no accident. The first time I heard kookaburras, I thought "I didn't know they had monkeys in Australia."

They don't, of course, but the sound of the "laughing jackass" has been used in dozens of jungle movies, and even on rides at Disneyland -- apparently early sound engineers thought they sounded more monkey-like than real monkeys. If you think you've never heard one, have a listen here. If you have ever watched an old Tarzan movie, chances are pretty good you'll recognize the call.

For all their laughing, kookaburras are pretty serious-looking birds. Picture a kingfisher on steroids and you're on the right track. Now imagine one swooping down and seizing the meat out of your sandwich while it's en route to your mouth -- that happened to Sharon a few weeks ago while we were on Great Keppel Island. It makes you jump, for sure. Apparently people have been injured when the birds have come too close to their mouths while performing that little food-snatching trick.

The more I hear kookaburras, though, the more I like them. Particularly when there are two or three of them together, their laughter really is infectious. Rather mad, like a loon's "laughter", but not as mournful. And that inspired me to create The Kookaburra Punch Line Game. It goes like this: whenever you hear a kookaburra laughing, you say the punch line to a joke. "So the grasshopper says 'you have a drink named Steve?'" or "Wrecked him? Damn near killed him." If your timing is good, it sounds like you're the funniest guy in the jungle.

OK, I admit -- the game annoys the heck out of Sharon. But I still think it's pretty funny.

Now I need someone to see if it works in Canada. Camping season is beginning there, and nothing says camping like listening to a loon call on the lake. I need someone to try the game there -- toss out a punch line and see if the loon enjoys it.

Let me know.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Some days you're the dragon slayer...

...and some days you're just one of the dragon's scales.

The ad looked very promising: one of the local papers was looking for a part-time sub-editor. They needed someone who could work part of the time from home, and who could help them bring their print publication online. It seemed like too good of a fit to be true, so I quickly fired off a resume and began follow-up phone calls and emails. When I emailed two weeks ago I was told that the position had been filled.

I was, I must admit, a bit surprised not even to get an interview. I mean, with more than 15 years in community papers and other publications, I have reasonably good credentials for a job like that. Last week I figured out why my resume ended up in the circular file.

There's an old adage that every freelancer has drummed into them: don't pitch a story to a magazine unless you've read the magazine first. It's good advice. You need to know your audience, to understand what your clients are trying to achieve. I know I've gritted my teeth at the time-wasters who pitch me queries for stories that have absolutely nothing to do with the paper or magazine I'm editing. Well, it seems that I fell into that same trap. I hadn't been able to find a copy of the paper I was applying to, but I figured it would be like many community papers. Last week I got a copy of the paper.

At first glance it looked like I had expected, a typical small weekly: 20 page tab, rather poorly designed but no worse than some members of the OCNA. Then I started reading the stories. The front page had just one story: part two of a story on "the great global economic meltdown swindle." The sub-head explained that the global economic crisis is "a swindle, organised and engineered by the international banksters (sic) in order to bring about their plans for a one-world government." Oh my.

Things calmed down a bit inside, with a story on activities at the Noosa Aquatic Centre, some updates on local planning issues, calls to attend various community meetings -- all the usual stuff that fills the pages in small papers the world over. Perhaps the front page was some sort of elaborate inside joke, I thought. Or maybe the printer had been having a go at the publisher. Or maybe the editor had gone insane and laid out the page just prior to quitting in a rage. (It has happened).

Then I got to page 9, with a full page article on the economy of North Dakota, and how the state has managed to remain solvent by doing all its business through its own bank. That's followed by two full pages on how flouridation is evil, and another long column on the way international bankers have created the current financial crisis to bring about world domination (somehow the fast food industry and the pharmaceutical industry are involved too, but I couldn't quite follow it). Scattered in between all of this are articles on a jewelry store celebrating its 20th anniversary, a new sponsor for the King of the Mountain race, and a rally team confirming they'll send two cars to compete in this year's race.

"Who puts this odd publication together?" I wondered. "Who are these people?" On the masthead, where one normally finds a list of the editors, publisher, lead designers, salespeople and so on, I found the name of the "honourary editor," the name of the former editor who has moved on to other things, and a rambling editorial about the paper's goal to bring its readers "news that the major media won't print and don't want you to know about, but which we feel you are ENTITLED to know about" (emphasis theirs). Suddenly I understood why I didn't get an interview. I've spent a good chunk of my career working for "the major media", and almost all of it working for pretty mainstream organizations. In the odd world of this little newspaper, that makes me the enemy. In their eyes I'm not a solution: I'm part of the problem. Hiring me would be like letting an Imperial storm trooper join the Jedi academy.

The job search goes on. But it's not without its lighter moments.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rainbow Beach

When you spend a year in one place, you start to make mental lists of the things you would do or have if you lived there permanently. If I lived on the Sunshine Coast, I would have a four-wheel drive.

It's not that you need one to get around. But owning a 4x4 allows you to camp in places others can't.

Last weekend we went to one of those places, Inskip Point near the town of Rainbow Beach. Inskip is a state park about two hours drive from here, very close to Fraser Island which is one of the big tourist attractions in the region. When you register to camp at Inskip you have to indicate the usual details -- how many people, how many nights, etc. -- as well as whether you're driving a car or a four wheel drive. That's because only two of the park's four campgrounds are accessible by two wheel drive, and even those are a bit dodgy in parts. The whole place is sand, and those with a four wheel drive can plow through it to camp right on the edge of the beach. More than that, they can drive down the beach at low tide, roaring along as far as Noosa if they wish and enjoying the sand cliffs that give Rainbow Beach its name.

Even with just a two-wheel-drive car, though, Rainbow Beach is a pretty special place. The town itself is rather laid back and funky, a mix of backpacker hotels and a couple of newish resorts, a few surf shops and souvenir stands, and of course a long beach. The real attraction, though, is the cliffs south of town, miles of them that gleam in the sun. The sand is an astonishing range of colours -- reds, golds, yellows, browns, whites, and the views are breathtaking.

Almost by accident we came upon the Carlo Sand Blow, a massive dune that stretches far inland from the ocean. It's so big that Captain Cook commented on it in his log when he sailed up the coast in 1770, naming it for a member of his crew. (I told you Cook named everything in Australia!) It's like walking across a sandy saddle a couple of hundred metres wide, and is the sort of place where you just get mesmerized by the views.

We were also mesmerized by the sight of a film crew at work. About 30 people with three trucks full of equipment, they had apparently been there for four days. A crew member told us they were then heading down to the Gold Coast for another day of filming. At the end of all this, they would have a 15 second beer commercial for Japanese television.

Apart from seeing the star leap down the sand cliffs, the biggest thrill of the weekend was an early morning trip to another village, Tin Can Bay. There's very little there -- a marina and a few shops -- but it's a popular destination thanks to a small family of dolphins. They come in to the marina every morning and swim in to shallow water to be fed. Apparently their grandfather showed up at the marina in the 1950s, injured and unable to hunt. The fishermen took pity on him and fed him until he recovered. He has since taught his family to come in for food too. It's all very low key -- volunteers give a little talk on the dolphins, you pay $2 for a fish, and stand in thigh-deep water to feed them. Great fun, and we didn't even need a four wheel drive to do it!