Sourdough Pete

Way out in the Gibson desert, not far from Lake MacKay, at the end of a long day crossing the desert at an average speed of 20kph, I came upon an old man sitting by a campfire . His back leaned against the tyre of an ancient troopy. He was cooking something that smelled good. It was kangaroo stew and damper.

He introduced himself as Pete, and invited me to join him for a meal, which I accepted cheerfully, bringing out some canned fruit and creamed rice from my stock as a dessert offering.

His stew was really good. His damper was unexpectedly extraordinary. It tasted like the best sourdough bread I’ve ever had. Damper is usually made from self raising flour or using baking powder. I complimented Pete on the bread, and he told me he used raisins to make a starter dough. It seems the yeasts naturally found on the dried fruit were perfect for making bread. The starter fermented all day in the hot car as he travelled and was ready to bake in the camp oven at the end of every day.

He showed me how it was done. He opened an old pack, pulled out a bag of raisins, mixed some with flour and water in an old Tupperware container, and put it on the bonnet of his Troopy ready for the next day. Then he put the raisins beside the container on the bonnet. We sat down to share dessert.

As we ate, there was a whir of wings and a large crow landed on the car. Without hesitation, it grabbed the bag of dried fruit and flew away with it.

Pete watched the bird fly away with the resigned acceptance of one who is used to the vagaries and tragedies of life. “Ah.” he said philosophically. “There goes my raisins for leavening”.


Tiny dinosaur head preserved in amber

Wonder of the Week
The head of Oculudentavis khaungraae

It’s exactly what those wacky scientists in Jurassic Park really wish they’d had…

Paleontologists working in Myanmar have found what appears to be a new species of dinosaur named Oculudentavis khaungraae. Among seven specimens bound in fossilized amber was a complete skull, including soft tissue. It is about 100 million years old.

Oculudentavis was about the size of one of today’s bee hummingbirds, the smallest bird. Its mouth was full of sharp teeth, and it is probably an ancestor of today’s birds.

Its small size is believed to be due in part to island dwarfism, by which diminutive individuals are selected by the isolated conditions and limited resources.

Read more.

Contributed by Brian Dunning.

How Interesting.

Sunspots and Stranded Whales: A Bizarre Correlation

A collaboration between biologists and an astronomer sought to add evidence to the idea that whale migration is affected by solar weather.

I wonder if other migrating species have similar effects?


On the weekend, I collected my boat, which I have named the OPV Jollyfish. (OPV= Outboard Powered Vessel) . The vendor, a boatbuilder, has replaced some carburettor parts, installed a fixed flat deck (necessary for my stability at sea due to my sea-legs no longer having sea-knees) and sacrificial anodes as per our agreement at purchase. He took his time – but no hurry eh?

In the meantime I had been getting a valid Queensland boat driving licence and registering the vessel. In Queensland, as in all states (but not the territory), one must have a marine licence to operate a boat that has an engine power greater than 4.5kW. That’s about 6 Hp.

And the boat must be registered, unless it is used only as a tender to a registered vessel. Which is why the Jollyfish had not hitherto already been registered. She is now. To the Queensland government she is now ANZ76Q. I thought the ANZ was quite appropriate. Some might say the Q is too. If I think about it, 76 might be the age to which I hope to continue boating.

Yesterday I put the 200mm high letters on the sides as the law requires. I did not paint her name on the bow. Instead I stencilled a picture of a jollyfish. Much cooler.

Before I can sail off into the wild blue yonder to catch flatheads and whiting and crabs, and to take photographs of dugongs and seabirds, I set myself some little practical tests. No one should put to sea even in a sheltered bay unless they are physically up to any task reasonably likely to be required.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have found a way to perform these tests before I paid my money, but I am not always as clever as I should be.

The tests involve satisfying myself that I can undertake some basic but very necessary physical actions unassisted, all alone by myself, without any help from anyone else.

  1. Lift the outboard off the boat
  2. Put it back
  3. Climb into and out of the boat while it is on the trailer.
  4. Pull the boat and trailer across a short distance of sand.
  5. Lift the boat and trailer from the ground to put it on the tow ball without the support of a jockey wheel. (I even did this with the caravan, though in that instance it involved the use of a jack, not my back).
  6. Back the boat and trailer into the narrow gap between my caravan and the next.

All the above… Tick. Yesterday.

Already done while checking her out prepurchase:

  1. Climb in and out from the shore. (Don’t laugh. I was genuinely concerned about this).
  2. Start the motor
  3. Drive the boat
  4. Launch and retrieve on a boat ramp.

The next I shall need to undertake while the boat is anchored and also tied to a tree or jetty pile on shore. That is, climb into the boat from deep water, ie where I can not touch the bottom. Naturally, without capsizing. If I cannot do that, I shall have to swim ashore, pull her in, and sell her. I believe it is important to know I can do this. There are any number of reasons I may have to enter the water from the boat, not to mention the simple matter of falling overboard.

However, any form of cheating , such as a knotted rope to climb up, or even a rope ladder, is fair provided I make it possible at any time to do. Old age cunning is ok. If necessary, I’ll have the end of a rope dangling over the bow at all times I’m in tn the boat. I may even make a rope ladder to roll up and tie with small stuff so I can undo it from the water and pull myself up. Logically, climbing over the bow would be the most stable way to get back on board.

I shall practice. I bought some rope suitable for making a ladder, and I’m learning how.

Today was to be my sea trials, the day to test myself on this. However. This morning the wind came up and my weather app says thunderstorms are coming. It is not a boating day. To be honest, I’m not all that sorry. My land-trials yesterday, though successfully completed, left me very sore.

Lettering half done, stencil applied.

The Jollyfish.

Morning Prayer

And Saint Alan did hold his stainless steel insulated coffee plunger on high, saying “For it is written: Even unless ye drink a morning libation of coffee, ye shall be without caffeine, listless and without life for the duration of the day”.

And he did pour into his I’m a ray of sunshine mug a libation of hot beverage with just one sachet of sweetener and but a single spoon of whitener of the cheaper brand sold at Woolworths.

And Lo! The colour of the mug did change and the text now read “I’m a ray of fucking sunshine”.

And it was so.

And Saint Alan did drink the coffee, and saw it was Good. And he did praise the cheap Lazzio brand from Aldi that costs a third of the brands from other supermarkets, yet delivers full-bodied flavour, saying “Bring unto me the vicissitudes of the day, for I am a caffeinated ray of fucking sunshine and, yeah verily, I say unto thee, lets do this shit”.

And he did gird his loins* and go forth.

* put on his shorts.

Lend Me Ten Pounds, and I’ll Buy You a Drink.

There is a gentleman I pass quite regularly on my cycle ride to the pool who appears to be picking herbs from the grass on the roadside. I’ve often wanted to stop and ask what he is collecting. I almost did so this morning, but it occurred to me he may be collecting cigarette butts discarded by people using the path. I am probably wrong. He is there so often, I doubt there would be that many butts for him to pick up by now. Nevertheless the thought was enough to deter me from stopping and asking. He might be embarrassed.

Whenever something like that happens I get the feeling I am losing an opportunity to hear an interesting story. Is he picking penny royal to make a decoction to induce abortion? is there some psychotropic weed growing here that no one other than he knows of? Is he a harmless nut herbalist, or a derelict with no money for fags? Is it any of my business?

Almost as if to answer the psychotropic theory, I next came upon a much younger man who appeared to have dropped a plastic carrier bag of possessions and was bending over to retrieve them. I was about to stop to help, until I heard what he was saying, or rather the language he was using, and his tone. It was a loud, angry, incoherent rant full of effing and blinding and the colourful C word. He seemed to be referring to one C in particular, up which he proposed to insert various objects. Whoever he was talking to was not visible to me.

Nor, it seems, was I visible to him. I pedalled by on my bike with its bright yellow trailer sporting a pirate flag on its mast. His rant at the invisible person beside him did not change at all as I rode through his line of gaze. I have seen those crazed, dilated-pupil red-rimmed stares before. Not weed. Ice. Move on. Quickly. Before those eyes focus.

The clear water of the pool was warm. It did not feel particularly refreshing. The only energy burnt there today would be in propulsion, not in maintaining body temperature. It was so warm I wondered if I was sweating as I swam. How can one tell?

The MP3 player gave me a particularly good choice of random music today. My 90 minutes of laps passed very quickly. A bit of Zydeco, Sinead O’Connor, Pink Floyd, and Afro-Celt Sound System. I managed to keep up a vigorous stroke rhythm most of the time except during the more languid sound of O’Connor’s Danny Boy. Not my favourite version, nor my favourite of her recordings.

An estimated 4,740 kJ burnt, I had a cold shower and shampoo. Then, after a quick visit to Aldi for salad vegetables, I headed home, pedalling into a freshening breeze from the NNE. Practicing my long neglected nautical assessment skills, I estimated the wind to be between 18 and twenty knots, and bringing rain.

I checked my apps when I got home. 20 knots, NNE. And the radar showed approaching storms. The rain and lightning began within half an hour. It hasn’t changed the heat or humidity.

It still hurts when I pedal. More when I walk. The exercise is not helping, and may even be making things worse. I can’t keep increasing my painkillers. I need a new strategy.

On a completely different note, Richard in Quebec may be interested to hear I have been told there has been a rare (for Bribie) sighting of a small flock of Oriental cuckoos down at Buckley’s Hole. If the weather and my legs permit, I may toddle off down there tomorrow to see what I can see.