Anticipating Stanthorpe

Every year or so we visit our daughter who lives in granite country, in the small village of Liston close to the NSW / Queensland border, about 20 km from the larger town of Stanthorpe. Usually we only see her briefly: our role is to look after her menagerie while she travels, usually to Warsaw. This year it will be two alpacas, Rosie and Bruce, both neutered; one cat, Leopard, who is destined to become Cattywumpus; two dogs, both rescue dogs, one, Emmaline Pankhurst, a staid toothless part-mastiff, one (Nicholson Barker) a couch-destroying puppy; and an unspecified number of chooks.

Animal care is never simple. One year a totally unexpected baby alpaca and a lot of incestuous orgling. A cat who had to be contained at night, no easy task when his ambition was to scoot between your legs when you made a midnight visit to the outdoor loo. Chooks who are threatened by a resident goshawk. One dog confined to the yard unless muzzled because of long-ago bad behaviour. The other, the puppy: my daughter’s paean of praise for his virtue interrupted by her cry of “No Nicholson. Stop eating Em’s collar.”

This is the first time in many years we’ve done a summer stint. The last time we were in granite country for summer, our stay was interrupted by bushfires back home, which had Joe on a bus in record time. That time, luckily, we weren’t animal sitting: I am not good with animals.

Summer in Stanthorpe is hot. There’ll be no relief by whizzing down to the beach, although there is a river not far away, winding through and sliding over granite boulders, before it transforms into a plunging waterfall. That’s if the water hasn’t dried up. (And it has.)

Liston is close to many national parks: Bald Rock, Basket Swamp, Girraween, Sundown. Two of those need a 4WD, and although I love walking in Girraween and Bald Rock, summer isn’t an inviting time to be doing it.

There are also surrounding towns: Tenterfield, which I explored last time I visited; Warwick where I’ve never really prowled except, deserted, early one New Year’s Day: Texas which we usually just drive through at the beginning or end of a long journey. I’ve expanded my list of nearby towns to include Wallangarra and Killarney, using a site called AussieTowns, compiled by an enthusiastic retired travel writer whose project is to document all Australian towns.

I always visit exhibitions at Stanthorpe Art Gallery, and I’ve just discovered their listing of Stanthorpe street art. I’ve enjoyed scones, coffee and a cat on the table at a lavender farm; looking at the soldier-settler history of the area at the museum; lunching near the statue of the brass monkey with his balls frozen off; watching the law dogs perform.

I’ve visited so often, I’m wondering what I’ll find to do that’s new. There are plenty of vineyards, but I’m not enough of a wine buff to enjoy a vineyard crawl. I could hire a bike: I haven’t ridden for years, although it was a routine part of my childhood. Last time was in Luxor, and I nearly mowed down a group of men who didn’t scatter as I approached. Now I’m more scared of breaking myself than other people.

So how will I spend my days, probably twenty eight of them, while Joe works on extracting a biography from his brother’s papers and completing a story about Barry the Frying Pan for the twins?

I have a few projects, some of them tired recycles from past years. I want to refine and advance my photography, so I’ll be packing the tripod, along with about a hundred articles ranging from photographing food to dealing with depth of field. I’ve begun making reminder cards inspired by Photzy and my desire not to spend money on theirs.

I’ve resurrected my hardly used watercolours, hangover from a brief enthusiasm four or five years ago. My interest was re-piqued by Cathy’s mention of art journaling: I found a site that offers ideas my neophyte brush might just be able to deal with. I’m eager enough to have pulled out brushes, a palette, a sponge, a tray of paints and an old watercolour book with my previous puny attempts fossilised.

Writing? For a long time I’ve been intending to write en plein air. Now might be the time to get serious as I beat off flies, mosquitoes and heat. I’ve begun a collection of conversations with strangers, so maybe I’ll seek out encounters. And then there’s ekphrasis, and all the ideas on writing still life, gathered from Shimmering in a transformed light.

The Granite Belt Wine Country Facebook page has offered me an image to set my aspirations to. I’ve never dared the climb to Balancing Rock, or attempted to stand on my hands. But maybe I can dare some startling images of more mundane subjects.

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