The Flying Cane Toad

On my daily dog walks over the past year, I have been noticing a pair of Common (also known as Indian) Mynas, strutting about a field. I shoo them away or toss sticks at them. They now fly off when they see me coming. I have never liked these noisy, assertive, sly birds, but consoled myself with the notion that the raucous Australian parrots and magpies would sort them out in quick time.

Just the other day, I counted how many birds were in a different flock of these Mynas. They roost in a neighbour’s tree and sit on another neighbour’s roof ridge.

I was staggered to count twenty-two birds! Their numbers had grown over a period of about a year, from a pair I’d seen fly by on occasion. I shoo them away too, but now they don’t fly very far.

Then it struck me that I hadn’t seen any pale headed Rosellas or King parrots in my garden recently and the Lewin’s Honeyeaters were not as active. Even the Noisy Friar and the Lorikiets were fewer and quieter.

So I did some research.

Mynas have been listed among 100 of the world’s worst invasive species by the World Conservation Union. In Australia, Common Mynas are considered to threaten native biodiversity due to their territorial behaviours and nest cavity competition. 

They are now widespread throughout eastern Australia.

Despite their identification as a threat, no particular legislative responsibility for myna control/management exists in states where mynas are already established, such as QLD, NSW and VIC. Conversely, import and keeping of common mynas is prohibited and they are ‘declared’ in states/territories where common mynas have not established yet, such as NT, SA, TAS and WA. 

Indian Mynas are very aggressive and intelligent, and known to evict native birds (including parrots, kookaburras and peewees) from their nests, dumping out their eggs and chasing them from their roosting areas. Other native species such as sugar gliders which depend on tree hollows for survival are also threatened.

The Indian myna can lay six eggs at a time, and they can breed three times in a breeding season, so that’s the potential for over 13000 birds in 5 years per female bird. Whereas the native rosella will lay four or five eggs and they’ll only raise two or three chicks a year.

A scan of the Biodiversity Act of 2014 shows that Mynas are declared a pest but fobs off responsibility to local government.

My local government’s Subordinate Local Law No. 3 lists 3 categories of grass and a shrub as pests – that’s all!

Clearly we cannot expect our government to do everything for us. But it needs to consider and initiate actions which address such problems.

Surely it would be easy to mobilise local environmental care committees who could be a ground force who could identify problems and take action under supervision of course. It seems to work for tree planting and Koala care – why not spread the mantle of care wider?

*Feature Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

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Bushveld Recalled

Grass is bent by dew.

Cold…

Chink chink on the path;

shrouded impala, mystical fever tree;

Coffee ground sand.

Bushveld is brown …

Khaki perhaps?

Not all the time

Tim said.

See the mauve yellow lanterns

and silver web chains in sekwane;

the guinea’s blue head

with its touch of red.

Crimson glimpse of gwalagwala

and flowers of mvovovo;

scarlet slashes of msintsi;

the blue of flycatcher eye

and flash of lilac breast majesty.

The brown sand,

pierced by pointed prints,

turns to dust in the sun.

The bushveld sings too,

Tim said.

The midday mourning of the emerald-spot dove;

the ki…trrr of the kingfisher,

a bark snort warning of sentinel impala;

Hadeda KA-AKAH!

Impempe and sharp rising whistles of herd boys;

the sizzling, piercing shree of Christmas beetles.

Do you remember, do you remember?

The partridge calls as soft evening falls…

Silent stars blink from above.

Keeping My Hands Clean

( a short story)

Mods and Rockers specialised in Fifties and Sixties interior design furnishings. Modernist, plastic crap, smooth curve chairs with black ferrules on shiny spindly aluminium chair legs.

Baby boomers no doubt flocked in on Saturdays to pounce on green glass citrus juicers and exclaim rapturously over pointy nose tin openers with folded corkscrews while they sat giggling on pouffes.

The shop was a possible destination for the stolen diamonds I was tracking on behalf of a client; so I had been watching the place since early afternoon, hoping for a sign of the blonde woman who had stolen them.

At first, I had not paid much attention when the little man left the shop after locking up, just past 5 o’clock. Then he scuttled anxiously to the nearby bus stop, glancing around as if he expected pursuit. His puffy blue anorak and wilting pork pie hat didn’t quite suit him. He was short and chubby, not an athlete; a quintessential clerk.

My interest was drawn because he was not self-absorbed and inwardly projected like a routine commuter. Popping up from behind his newspaper shield to check the surrounds like a meerkat, peering through his pebble-lensed spectacles, he made me wonder why he was so apparently nervous.

When the bus came, I knew I must follow him. He did not notice me.

When he got off, I followed him surreptitiously to his flat.  As he opened the door I ran up and pushed him in, quickly closing the door behind me. He fell down and lay cowering on the floor like a stunned rabbit.

I said “Tell me everything”. This is what he told me:

His name was Hubert Philpott and he was the bookkeeper for Mods and Rockers, which was, he suspected, a money laundering operation for a local gangster, known as ‘The Tiger’. Up until today he had kept his nose to the books and never asked questions. Then that changed.

During the morning, the salesgirl Maria Fuentes reminded him he would need to shut up shop in the evening as she had the afternoon off for a doctor’s appointment. Just before lunch, a young woman appeared in the store and thrust a small package at him saying: “Make sure Bruno gets this – keep it safe until you see him” and left in a rush.

Bruno was the Tiger’s manager, a surly brute. He was away and would only return late on Friday.

Consumed by curiosity, he had opened the package and seen a fortune in sparklers. He knew then that he was in grave danger, so he hastily locked it in the safe.

As he said that he looked even more nervous, so I growled: “What aren’t you telling me?”

He started blubbering and jabbering. Eventually, he scrabbled in his pocket and produced five of the largest gems. He swore he had not taken more. I believed him; not many people lied to me.


After a little prompting he told me about the security system and safe combination. He clearly perceived that playing dumb the next day was his best bet.

Leaving him, I made a call to a friend and we arranged to meet at the Savoy where, he told me, I would find the skilled operator I needed.

******************************

Strawberry jam is not as good with Camembert as raspberry but it will do,” said Larry, helping himself to another cracker. His canary yellow waistcoat and silk cravat underlined the exhibitionist bon-vivant persona he hid behind.

In fact Larry was a thief, an athletic cat burglar who scavenged through the richer suburbs of European cities. He had never been caught, but his flagrant lifestyle unsupported by any visible means of income had caught the eye of a friend of mine in Special Branch. They have been known to appreciate risk takers with unorthodox skills. Larry was on their tab, but they owed me a favour. I needed to get the diamonds back, but could not risk doing it myself.

I had sat down at his table at the Savoy, unannounced. His finely tuned eyebrow showed he had me ‘sussed’ but he greeted me politely enough. He must have surmised that I too had him ‘sussed’.

I let him get to the point. “What can I do for you and you for me?”

“Missing sparklers,” I said. “Mine”.

“Not me – I haven’t seen much of that for some time,” he said.

“They are in a tiger’s cage and I want you to fetch them for me.”

A shadow flickered in his eyes and he shook his head. I pointed at the man leaning on the piano near the window. My friend from Special Branch

Larry looked at him then at me. Then we began to negotiate. He settled for five hundred quid.

He knew who the Tiger was and had a wise respect for him. I told him I had the alarm code and safe combination, so he wouldn’t need to ‘break’ to enter. He was to get the brown package out of the safe in the shop tonight; he was wise enough to know not to sample the product. Anything else was gravy for him. He was to leave the safe open, to deflect suspicion from Philpott.

**********************

We exchanged packages at breakfast. All the diamonds were there. I caught a plane from Gatwick to Dublin. Over a glass of champagne, I looked at my hands and smiled – they were remarkably clean.

I’d thought I might have to get them dirty.

Doing one’s duty


Lulu saw it first and when she showed interest I saw that it was a big bloody knife and pulled her away. It had probably been tossed from a passing car. It was a heavy duty butcher’s knife, with dried blood on the blade. Butchers look after their tools, so this one had probably been deliberately discarded. The blood suggested violence, so it should be reported to the police.

I dialled the emergency number, asked for police and said it was not an emergency and was transferred to another number, which rang for a while.

As it rang, I saw a black car with tinted windows approaching along the near side of the road perhaps looking for something on the side of the road. The police answered and I briefly explained. They said not to touch it and
to stay at the scene; someone would collect it immediately. The black car passed slowly and the passengers must have seen something as it turned and came back up the other side of the road, then turned again, stopping opposite me.

A large tattooed man got out. He was wearing a cap sideways on his head, a black vest and dark glasses; he looked agitated.

He asked what I was doing and I told him I was telling the police about the big knife on the ground. He said he would take it to the police and I said they were coming to fetch it. He was called from the car and had a quick conversation, then turned to me and jabbed forked fingers in my direction and then gestured at his face. I just looked at him. He then leapt into the car which sped away with wheels spinning and engine snarling. The rear number plate was obscured by mud; all I read was a P and a 3.

His gesture was clearly a threat to me to keep his identity a secret. It made me nervous, but also angry. I might be nearly seventy but I am not going to shrink from my civic duty.

The police were very interested in the identity of the people and the car. There had been a stabbing at the local hotel and it looked like the victim was going to die. They took me home to drop Lulu and then to the station where a detailed statement was taken. I was then showed pictures of people and tattoos, none of whom I recognised, but identified the car type from pictures. I would be called in to view film from security cameras later.

Sure enough a few days later I went in and viewed footage from the hotel cameras and was able to identify what looked like the car, which had a registration of PBY 243. The victim of the stabbing had died – the case was now a murder investigation.

A month later, I received a call to say there had been an arrest and asked to attend an identification parade at the Capalaba Police Station. There was a viewing room with a one way mirror. A number of men were paraded in batches of five, wearing vests in order to display tattoos, which all except two men had. I identified the big man who had spoken to me by his size, a distinctive rose tattoo on his shoulder and a black and white ear stud.

I was told that he was believed to have been involved in the stabbing and that he would also be charged for his attempted intimidation of me. He was known as Lani Diamond and was a known member of the Black Blokes criminal gang.

Months later a policeman knocked on the door and served a Court Subpoena on me to attend a murder trial at the Brisbane High Court. Lani Diamond had been jointly charged with two other men.


On the appointed day I reported to the Court and was directed to a waiting room. On my way there I saw the big man Lani Diamond coming in the main court entrance; he was quite smartly dressed. He was with four other men and when he saw me, he looked around. He then made the same two finger jabbing gesture at me and his own face. I stood my ground with my hands on my hips and stared back at him.

They moved off towards the Courtrooms and I, now a bit shaky, found my way to the waiting room. A barrister in a gown and bands approached me a few minutes later and reported that that my evidence may not be required as the murder charges against Lani had been dropped. The intimidation charge would be referred to a District Court. My report of the second attempt at intimidation pleased him as he said that there were cameras which would have recorded this and that the man would be re-arrested after the charges were withdrawn. He bustled off to arrange this.

An hour later a detective identified himself to me and we went off to an office where we viewed video footage of the court intimidation incident. He told me Lani had been re-arrested as he left the Court after his murder charge had been withdrawn. I gave a statement and was eventually released having been warned to be on my guard as the man would probably be bailed.

I can’t say that I was not somewhat apprehensive: gang revenge attacks were the stuff of movies and novels, but life must go on and we can’t submit to bullies.

The other two men charged with murder were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms.

Nothing further happened about my case for months.

One Tuesday afternoon I received a call from a Police Superintendent who asked me to come the next day to the Police Headquarters in Brisbane in relation to Lani Diamond.

I was directed to a meeting room at the police offices. No-one else was there, but tea and biscuits were laid out.

The door opened behind me and I glanced over my shoulder, as someone said Aha!

It was Lani Diamond….

Such a strange surge of feeling, suddenly finding oneself trapped alone, face to face with a snake in the citadel of law and order!!

He stared at me and then grinned, which set my heart racing – this was it, I needed to face him down – he was a very big, mean looking man with that wolfish grin …

We stared at each other, each awaiting the other’s move. Just then a uniformed policeman entered and seeing what was happening grinned and said: Easy boys! There’s no problem, we’re all friends here…

Lani smiling came over and said Gidday and shook my hand.

I decided to sit down as my knees had got a bit shaky.

The superintendent explained: Lani was an undercover policeman who had penetrated the Black Blokes gang but had needed to prove himself as a gang member, so had threatened me and been arrested and charged. I had to be genuine witness so was not advised about him.

Based on his evidence, the gang was broken up with multiple charges being laid and drugs, guns and money recovered. It was a one of the biggest Police busts for years, still hush-hush, but they wanted to thank me for my little part which had secured the job.

Lani just did his duty, so I suppose, did I.

I feel good about it … now my heart has stopped thumping.

DIRTY ENERGY

World carbon emissions will reach 37 billion tonnes in 2018, a record high.

Coal, oil and gas fired electricity generation are dirty energy: they overload us with carbon which is killing the world. We seem unable to stop it

At last, there is some turning away and focus on renewable sources which don’t permanently damage our world. 

I saw an exhilarating TED presentation on Costa Rica’s progress towards the elimination of dirty energy sources. 

That little Central American country generates over 98% of its electricity from renewable sources. It plans to be carbon neutral by 2021 just over 2 years away!

We MUST talk this talk. Our children must be taught it at school – they must bring it home and persuade their families to bring about change.

There is still some fracking about. It needs to stop: 
Go solar, stop coal power stations, use the wind. 

Ex Africa aliquid semper novus: there is a new industrial revolution growing from the grass roots. They can’t wait passively for the electricity infrastructure grid to reach them. The power stations and lines  needed will take at least 9 years at a capital investment of $ billions. Can’t see African governments spending that sort of money on their peasants.

So this is what’s happening: the peasants are doing it themselves! Simple cheap ($150) off-grid solar kits are being supplied – enough to power electric light and charge a cellphone. They pay back over 2 years.

There are bigger models which can power fridges,water pumps,  tv’s; all the modern utilities of the First World.

Every household a proud producer as well as consumer of energy,” 

Instead of spending $27 billion  on kerosene, candles and batteries they can empower themselves. Government support becomes unnecessary, communities will flourish and look after themselves.

And it is all CLEAN ENERGY.

If peasants in Africa can do it, so can we!

It is inspiring to see these amazing wonders from the Third World!

Vriend verlang *

by Lidi de Waal

ek wil graag ń bietjie op jou stoep vertoewe
my kaal voete op jou koffietafel sit
saam met jou kuier tot die dag min raak
sien hoe jou groot ou akker mooier raak
in die laatmiddagson
ek wil tot binne in die skemer praat en praat
of net sit en luister
sonder om te hoef probeer minder dom
of meer slim wees
sommer net daar sit en myself wees
saam met jou wat net jouself is
ek wil so graag weer ń bietjie
op jou stoep kom sit
Lidi de Waal is a South African artist and poet. You can follow her on Facebook. She writes simple, everyday spoken Afrikaans that cracks the nut.
Her artwork is distinctive and interesting.
*This poem was untitled – I gave it my own title

We are history makers

I must confess to being addicted to Downton Abbey, which my wife and I have binge-watched over the last few weeks.

I revel in the furnishings and costumes and displays of the times. The fashions and the cars have been wonderful. The treatment of the themes and developments of the day and the changing technology, culture and traditions has been well done.

In perspective, the series covers approximately the period from my father’s birth year in 1910 to just before the Great Depression. To think that at the start, there were no telephones and motor vehicles were new-fangled.

How lucky students of history have this rich live display of the times to better understand the context and concepts of values and societal change … and how close we are to history as it happens.

Yikes!! That is a sobering thought! So much has happened since my Dad was born … 

In his lifetime:

  • the horse largely disappeared
  • there were two world wars, his father served in one and he in the other.
  • the atom was split
  • a man stood on the moon
  • telecommunication enslaved the world
  • the degradation of the world was accelerated by oil.
  • the balance of power moved eastwards

I think what we are left with is that change is constant and it is better to anticipate it and embrace it, rather than resent and deny it.

Martin Luther King was wrong: we are the makers of history; we are not its product. Its time we accepted this.