What on earth…..??

Recently, I came across this item in a display yard in a museum. I was intrigued and amused to find out what it was. It is missing some wheels, but is otherwise intact.
Here is the challenge…
Do you know what this is?

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A mysterious item… do you know, or would you like to guess what it is?

And secondly, do you know where precisely it was used?
Here is a clue.

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The “Big Hole” at Kimberley, South Africa

For those who do not know about famous South African places, this is the ‘Big Hole’ at Kimberley. This hole was dug by hand by prospectors looking for diamonds!

Posted in South Africa, Travel | Tagged , | 20 Comments

The Owl House

SignThere is a tiny village near Cradock, South Africa which goes by the delightful name of Nieu-Bethesda. Looking on the map, it looks no different to many other sleepy villages that one may come across and which are rarely enticing to passing travellers.

But a family member told me of Nieu-Bethesda and suggested that I go and visit the location. You see, it has a special house which is unlike any other, maybe even right across the world. The owner of the house is no longer there – but her legacy is certainly alive and fascinates many visitors every day – me now being counted as one of these!

The Owl House

The Owl House

From the road, the house looks no different to any other. But once in the yard and then in the house itself, two things stand out about this place: the use of glass inside of the house and the concrete statues outside in the yard – the latter will be the topic of a later post.

So what is so different inside? Simply that almost every surface of the home is brilliantly painted in bright colours, and has then been painstakingly covered in glass!

Glass fragments evenly applied to the doorframe

Glass fragments evenly applied to the door, doorframe and wall

Tiny fragments, patiently ground to just a few millimetres in diameter have been used to colour walls, doors, door frames, windows and most remarkably, the ceilings.

A framed Mona Lisa print - note the glass on the wall behind the image

A framed Mona Lisa print – note the glass on the wall behind the image

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

Suns on a window. Each sun is made from glass fragments in different shades of green and brown.

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

The kitchen ceiling is decorated with a large image of the sun

Her pantry was not filled with jars of preserves, but rows of bottled glass fragments, sorted into colours and fragment sizes.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

A pantry full of glass fragments.

Helen Martins

Helen Martins

The artist – a lady who lived alone in the house from 1952 until her death in 1976 seemed to me to be very eccentric and also a remarkably troubled person. Reading about her, I felt that she had been a very lonely and sad person.

Judging from the artifacts in the house, she liked the Mona Lisa, and had about 4 copies of this painting in the house. She also found inspiration from sea shells, although I am not sure where she got these from. Other interesting things in the house included a collection of lanterns and many prints and photos of a variety of people. Some of her sculptures (in the garden) were visibly inspired by these images.

So where do the owls come in? Well, she loved owls and made many, many sculptures of them – most of which are in the garden. But here are two that were left in the house. The row of owls at the top of this post were arranged on a window sill in the kitchen. The window was deep red in colour – a very dramatic contrast.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

Owls in one of the bedrooms. These feature a lot in the garden too.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

The top of the owl statures in the bedroom. Outside, some of these had water in the top.

If you are interested in reading more about this intriguing house and Helen’s story, (and this is highly recommended!) here is some more information. I will post images of her fascinating sculptures in an upcoming post.

Posted in Odds & ends, South Africa, Travel | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Have you ever…. seen a Social Weaver nest?

Travelling in the north west of South Africa, in the beautiful Kalahari desert, you may be surprised to come across what looks like a bale of hay suspended on a power pole! Further investigation will reveal a constant stream of feathered creatures entering and leaving the construction from below.

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Large grass structures on convenient power poles!

These are the nests of the Social Weaver Bird. Colonies of many pairs of birds gather together and each pair has its own particular nest within the structure.

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Before humans kindly provided all those hundreds of power poles, the birds relied on Quiver Trees to provide a perch on which to set up their safe haven. The only thing they are not safe from at this height above the ground (in a tree) is snakes – but I am not sure if the snakes are still a problem if the colony is on a power pole.

The magnificent Quiver Tree in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa

The magnificent Quiver Tree in the Kalahari Desert of South Africa – this is where the birds build their nests when there are no power poles!

Posted in Africa, Have you ever..., South Africa, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Have you ever…. seen fields full of sunshine?

Last year, I was lucky enough to be cycling through fields of brilliant yellow. I was in France, it was summer and the sunflowers were just dazzling.

I love the colour yellow – it is associated with sunlight, summer and (for me anyway) a feeling of happiness and contentment. I was therefore in for a wonderful treat last weekend, when we travelled through the cropping areas of central NSW and passed dozens of fields of canola crops in full bloom. Stopping to try and capture these wonderful scenes, I was treated to the perfume of billions of flowers, all trying to outcompete their neighbouring blossoms for the attentions of their pollinators.

Canola crops in full bloom in central NSW

Canola crops in full bloom in central NSW

Add to this, the balmy temperatures of the encroaching spring, and you have a most memorable journey!

A lone Eucalyptus tree is surrounded by hectares of canola.

A lone Eucalyptus tree is surrounded by hectares of canola.

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The Silvereyes have arrived

Bees in their hundreds feeding off the 3m long flower spike

Bees in their hundreds feeding on the thousands of small white flowers on the spectacular floral spike.

Recently, I was rather excited to find that one of my Grass Trees or Xanthorrhoea‘s had developed a flower spike.

The reason for the excitement was that I had waited some 14 years for this to happen, having nurtured these slow growing plants from seed.

A Silvereye perched on the flower spike

A Silvereye perched on the flower spike

Now that the flowers are opening on this spectacular 3m (about 3 yards) long flower spike, the pollinators have arrived in their droves!

The bees are working overtime to get as much nectar as they can, whilst the Silvereyes are also working their way up, down and around, flapping the bees out of their way, getting their own sugar fix!

I have counted 6 of these small birds on the flower spike at once, but mostly they are there in twos and threes. It is a very busy part of the garden at the moment.

It is a long way off yet, but I hope that eventually I will get some seeds from this spike and I can start growing more of these beautiful plants.

Two Silvereyes working their way through the nectar laden flowers

Two Silvereyes working their way through the nectar laden flowers

I have had considerable pleasure in watching these birds and managed to get some photos to share. For those of you who specifically enjoy birds, I hope you will especially like these images.

Posted in Australia, Favourite things, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Have you ever…. eaten a BIG egg?

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5 average sized eggs and one huge one!

3point3ozThis post is not about lovely big chocolate eggs which a friendly rabbit leaves around the Easter season. Nor is it about the eggs of the mighty ostrich which are huge – weighing in at about 20 times that of a domestic chicken egg.


94g Regular readers will know that I have two red chickens (or chooks as they are colloquially known in Australia). These wonderful birds regularly produce an egg each day, most of which are about 60g in size.
Recently though, we were surprised to find an enormous egg instead of the regular sized ones (and no, it was not a visiting bird, the chook yard is fully enclosed :-)). It weighed 94g or 3.3 ounces! I was certain it would be a “double yolker”, but no, just a single big yolk was found inside.

Have you ever had chickens and had them produce occasional huge eggs?

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Goanna up a gum tree!

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Trying to be invisible – the Goanna has flattened itself on the tree trunk, trying to blend with the bark.

When one thinks of Australian fauna, the animals that come immediately to mind are Koalas, Kangaroos and Wallabies. For those who prefer critters with feathers, there are also many beautiful birds to enjoy. However, an animal which is not generally readily identified with Australia is the Goanna.

Goannas are actually large lizards (getting up to about 1.5m in length), and although they look quite formidable, are shy and do not enjoy generally enjoy human attention.

I have been lucky to see quite a few, usually they are spotted when crossing a road, before scurrying up the nearest tree and away out of perceived harm.

Today we were driving out of a local national park and came across this specimen, also known as Lace Monitor. True to form, it was not overly impressed by being photographed, but we enjoyed watching it for a while, before leaving it in peace.

Large sharp claws make climbing trees a breeze.

Large sharp claws make climbing trees a breeze. Taken with a good zoom lens!

Can you spot the Goanna? This one is called a Lace Monitor.

Can you spot the Goanna? This particular one which we saw today is called a Lace Monitor.

Did you know that we had Goannas in Australia? Have you ever seen one or any other big lizard like it?

Posted in Australia, Have you ever..., Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments