April 30, 2008

How to get a frog in your trousers

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:07 pm by Chris

It’s not every day that you find a frog in your trousers. Indeed, some
might say that they’ve never had one at all. It was something of a
surprise to me, let me tell you. Would you like to know how I found a
frog in my trousers? Are you sitting comfortably? Actually, I don’t
care how you’re sitting, read my blog in whatever position you
want. I’ll begin however you are.

ANZAC weekend, tempting as it may be, isn’t a particularly good time
to go on a camping trip, especially not when it coincides with the end
of the school holidays. Thus went our reasoning, so we
didn’t. Instead, the urge to leave the benighted, expensive, noisy
city was channelled into a daytrip to Wiseman’s Ferry, of which I have
written
before
(there’s a few pics of the last trip on my flickr page,
by the way). I am pleased to report that
Deschamps Delights continue to stock a fine range of pickles, and
serve an excellent Devonshire tea. But clearly, I
digress. Which I reserve the right to do, and if you don’t like it you
can go find a more linear blogger. Where was I? Oh yes, convict
stoneworks.

You may, if you’re feeling exceptionally masochistic, walk from Sydney
to Newcastle by way of the Great North Walk. This follows, in places,
the original overland route from Sydney to Newcastle, from before the
time when the inevitable march of progress and the invention of both
tarmac and the Otto cycle engine bought the people the F3 freeway. In
the vicinity of Wiseman’s Ferry it finds the luxury of not one but two
convict-era (no, not Howard, the original settlers) tracks to
follow. The day-tripper is thus able to avail themselves of the
unusual luxury of a loop track, which starts about half a kilometre
left of the ferry, goes up the hill to Finches Line, and comes back
down about two kilometres down the road after considerable
meanderings.

The first, uphill stretch of this track is a startling example of the
19th-century road-builders craft, and for once I am not being
facetious, sarcastic, or even slightly silly. Admittedly, they were
using convict labour, which was pretty cheap, but you have to hand it
to those chappies: when they decided to build a road they Built A
Road. There were no temporary measures. This particular bit of civil
engineering skirts the side of a rock face one step removed from being
a sheer cliff. Fitted stone blocks cut from said cliff face brace the
outer side up to the width of a proper horse-and-cart track (they
would have been pretty tired horses by the time they got to the top,
mind you). Fancy diving-underground drains run under the road from the
cliff side and drain out of buttresses on the outside, and thence down
lined channels away from the foundations. Switchbacks are done in a
proper curve of the wall, with natural watercourses run under the road
and carried clear of the foundations on a lipped drain. All of this
was built from stone quarried on the spot, faced up square and
dry-fitted. We’re talking serious stuff here, as testified to by the
fact that it’s still standing and usable 180 years later. Even more
startling, they got the bulk of it done in about six months. Those
convicts obviously didn’t get much time off, the poor bastards.

Unfortunately for their industry, that inland track never really took
off as a way to get from Sydney to Newcastle. Presumably that’s why
the original road is still there, rather than being buried under
disintegrating tarmac. This is all to the good if you want to go for a
walk in the bush with a nice view over the Hawkesbury. There
was a lyrebird in the bush, giving his all. If you’re not familiar
with the talents of a male lyrebird when he’s after a mate, I’d
recommend a trip to YouTube; they’re probably the most extraordinary
mimics in the animal kingdom. This particular one was doing a fine
line in native bird calls: kookaburras, whip birds, currawongs, a
smattering of galah, you name it, he was spinning the disk.

The next diversion of a zoological nature was a big ant-hill. Going
bush-walking with biologists tends to be full of zoological and
botanical diversions, by the way. Australian ant-hills are kind of
interesting most of the time. They’re not particularly tall, but the
ants cover them in different coloured stones depending on what the
weather’s doing: white on sunny days, dark-coloured on cloudy
days. The attraction of this particular nest was that it was sending
its winged reproductive offspring off to reproduce or die
trying. Attempting to get some decent close-up photos of this
event, I rather offended the ants. Australian ants, even in
repose, tend to be a confronting if you’re accustomed to the insects
of more temperate climes. These particular specimens were the wrong
side of a centimetre long, with jaws to rather more than match. I
submit that most people would be somewhat discomfited to have such
beasties swarming up their legs en masse. Eventually, dear
reader, I was able to persuade most of them to go elsewhere. I’ll
leave my capering, leg-shaking and jeans-flicking up to your
imagination, I think. Unfortunately they rather had their revenge on
me for wasting ant time. They sprayed me with
general-purpose attack-this-guy pheromone as they went about their
work, and every other line of ants we passed made a beeline for my
legs. I hadn’t realised just how many ants were along the side of that
hill, until that point. Most of them big.

Eventually, order was restored. We continued our loop, along a section
that hadn’t been subject to the tender ministrations of a British
colonial-era roading engineer. The only Australian in our little party
almost stepped on a legless reptile (the exact provenance of which is
still open to debate: I thought it had external ears, which would make
it a legless lizard, but it also had a very short tail, which is more
of a snakey characteristic). Orchids were spotted. Apples were
eaten. Views were admired. More steps than were cared to be counted
were executed in a downwards direction following natural stratigraphic
features underlying the the topography of the region, SIR! Ahem. The
rather unfortunate ending to this loop track is along the side of a
thoroughly 21st-century stretch of road, complete with 21st-century
dickheads unfamiliar with the function of the pedal to the left of the
accelerator.

Pausing at the ferry ramp to take in the scenery, I noticed yet
another example of the local insect life attached to the hem of my
trousers. The ant pheromones were obviously still hard at work. This
particular one was some sort of wasp, so I chose to flick it off with
circumspection. As I was accomplishing this task, I felt something
cold and wet against my calf. Anyone who’s spent any time in the
Australian bush will be thinking “leech” about now. That was certainly
my thought, that’s why I was shaking my leg with some vigour, and no
doubt why the frog fell out and hopped away in such a hurry. I still
have no idea how it got there.

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2 Comments »

  1. Sphenodon said,

    Hee hee, I can’t think of frogs anymore without seeing those ‘Wild Frogs’ from the discussion group!

  2. Chris said,

    Well, I’m glad that one wasn’t too wild.


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