Page 125: Mildura after the festival.
  the 2010 mildura country festival comes to an end  
     
   
  Amber Joy Poulton and Warren Mahony, a little tired after a hectic week but soldiering on.  
     
  We have been so lucky with the weather which has stayed fine and mostly warm for our first Mildura Festival. Yesterday this pleasant little town was the warmest in the state with sunshine and a temperature in the low twenties. How long ago those freezing, wet days of winter now seem. However, the Mount Hotham snowfield is still reporting 65cm (over two feet) of snow which is still in good condition for skiing.  
     
   
  Donella, her baby due in exactly one month, soars like an eagle.  
     
  old enough to know better  
 

Last night we were sitting outside the 'van, sampling a drop of pre-dinner red, when I noticed a flickering orange glow in the car mirror. Investigating, I found our neighbour had a merry little fire burning on the floor of his caravan. Wanting to deter mosquitoes he had tried to light one of those candles that are sold in small metal buckets full of wax. The wick was too short to catch so he set fire to a tissue and threw it into the bucket. The burning tissue melted some wax and began to soak it up. As the flames grew higher, more wax melted and so on.

At this point our neighbour decided that the mosquitoes had got the message and things were starting to get out of hand. To douse the flames he stood over his 'candle' and threw cold water into its bucket. Whooomph! The flames licked the ceiling before dying down. Our neighbour is, I would guess, well into his seventies and certainly old enough to know better.

But wait, there's more. Not far from us in the park are two caravans owned by two couples that travel together. These couples each had a Cobb Oven. Quote from the blurb: A stainless steel, charcoal fired oven that grills, roasts, barbecues, bakes, fries and smokes. It also provides heat, so that on the coldest of days you can stay warm and snug. They sound great, don't they?

Having finished cooking, the two couples sat around their glowing coals until the evening became too cold. They then moved into their respective caravans, taking their ovens with them. One couple opened up plenty of ventilation in their caravan but the other couple didn't.

About midnight the couple in the well-ventilated 'van heard knocking on their door. It was their friend and he was in great distress. He had been watching television and began to feel very ill. His wife was asleep so he had decided to waken her. When he was unable to rouse her he went for help. Four days later they are both still in hospital and very lucky to be alive.

 
     
  The Spur Winged Plover Story  
 

Perhaps you remember the plover and her eggs pictured on the previous page? Well, two to three weeks later three of the eggs hatched. As the nest was on the ground in the middle of the caravan park, quite naturally interest in the little family increased and when the birds left the nest with one egg unhatched, different stories went the rounds blaming various parties for frightening the birds away.

I believe that the parent birds decided to move of their own accord as soon as three chicks were running around because the nest was vulnerable - surrounded by caravans and near a roadway. Obviously Mrs Plover hadn't been told that the park was about to fill up for the Festival when she chose her spot. About two days after the first chick hatched the family set off for the bush beyond the caravan park. Wanting a photo of the chicks, Jodie (our neighbour) and I followed them later in the day. The parents were very obliging in guiding us to their location. Whichever way the mother was running, the chicks were in the opposite direction. The plovers informed us when we were getting warm by the volume of the fuss they made. When we were really warm they took to the air and swooped on us, screeching frantically.

Jodie spotted a little fluffy bundle in the grass, either dead or playing dead . . .

 
     
   
  The plover chick, its beak pointing to the lower right of the picture. Dead or pretending to be dead?  
     
 

The chick was lying very still and was so well camouflaged that I decided against looking for the others for fear of standing on one. Heeding the parent birds' distress we moved away as soon as I had taken the photograph. Watching from a distance we saw a solitary chick run towards one of the parents. Was it the one in the picture or was that one really dead? The last we saw of the little family was the chick following one parent to safety while the other parent created a huge fuss in a different direction. Was it just trying to lure us away or were the other chicks near it? I don't know. We left them alone and went back to the caravan. I do know for sure that one egg was abandoned and one chick was very much alive when last seen. As for the fate of the other two . . .

 
     
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The following day, about 100 metres from the nest site, we saw the two parent plovers with three - yes, three - little chicks. They all looked healthy and full of energy. The fourth egg still lay abandoned and cold in the nest so I broke the shell and found the inside still liquid; the egg was infertile. A great outcome for the plover family.

 
     
  A trip on the 'Paddle steamer Melbourne'.  
 

My friend of twenty eight years, Greg Wetzler, and his wife, Bev, came all the way from Sydney to spend time with us in Mildura. All being devotees of the grape, a good time was had by all. Naturally.

 
     
   
  A typical scene when the four of us get together.
Photo taken by Greg's Canon 500D precariously balanced on the handrail.
 
     
  On the first full day we decided to take a Murray River cruise aboard the Paddle Steamer Melbourne. Waiting to greet us at the wharf was a family of black swans.  
     
   
  Two parent black swans and two almost fully grown offspring on the brown water of the Murray.
I seem to remember the black swans of Western Australia being larger and blacker than these.
 
     
   
  Melbourne, steamed up and ready to go, .  
     
  Naturally, the first place Greg and I visited was the engine room. The wives disappeared up some stairs.  
     
   
  Left: The gleaming engine looked in pristine condition.                                           Right: Bev and Greg.                             
     
  Almost as soon as we set off down the river we came to Lock 11. The upstream gates were open to receive us. We tied up in the lock as the gates closed behind us. Eventually a large underwater valve was opened and water in the lock flooded out to the river ahead. As the level in the lock fell, so did the Melbourne. When the level in the lock was the same as in the river ahead, the hydraulically operated gates opened slowly until Melbourne was able to pass through and continue the cruise.  
     
   
  On arrival the exit gates were closed to us and the water level beyond over a metre lower.  
     
   
  When the water had drained from the lock to the river below and the levels were equal, the gates opened.
Check the green weed on the concrete on the left. Compare it to the same concrete in the picture above.
 
     
 

On the cruise we saw a large bird circling which different 'experts' identified as a hawk, a wedge-tailed eagle and a whistling kite. To us it looked very much like the black kites we'd seen in large numbers in the Northern Territory. It most certainly was not a wedge-tailed eagle. The bird book later confirmed it was a black kite. We also saw egrets of some kind.

 
     
   
  Not the best photographs - a Black Kite and an Egret.  
     
 

There were some Welcome Swallows nesting on the Melbourne and during the cruise they'd dart out over the water, presumably take an insect and then swoop back out of sight. All attempts to photograph them were in vain. They were small, fast and constantly changing course. I usually couldn't find them in the view finder and when I occasionally did, they had disappeared by the time the camera's auto focus got to work. Later, when looking through all my failed pictures, I found a swallow in the bottom corner of one image. The bird was blurred and indistinct . . . but it was the best I could do and sufficient to identify the type.

 
     
   
      Left: A Kookaburra we later saw near Lock 10.                                Right: My best effort at capturing a Welcome Swallow.