Prehistoric Australia

21 04 2012

at the entrance to the Naracoorte Caves National Park - perhaps fossils from the iron age????

Naracoorte is a small town in the south-east of the state of South Australia. It is about four hours drive from Adelaide, so more of an overnight stay than a day-trip, if being attempted with children.

Naracoorte was one of my favourite holiday places as a child – and more specifically, the Naracoorte Caves. These massive caves are naturally formed from the actions of water on limestone, and as well as featuring spectacular stalagmites (from the ground up), stalactites (from the ceiling down) helicotites (sideways!), columns and curtains (as they sound), they also feature fossils from prehistoric animals.

While there are no massive dinosaurs here, there are a large number of smaller fossils ranging from lizards and small rodents up to megafauna – giant prehistoric kangaroos and wombats, and my favourite, thylacaleo carnifex – the marsupial lion. The caves are still under excavation by archeologists so who knows what other animals will be found in the tonnes and tonnes of material yet to be sifted through.

The underground caves have guided tours while a few caves which have larger openings to the surface are self-guide. One of the caves is now home to a large colony of bats.

The rate of petrification in these caves is much (much) slower than the caves we visited in France, where the rate of water flow and the calcium load in the water was such that they could use it to petrify objects for the tourist trade. Here the stalactites, stalagmites etc grow at a miniscule rate.

another "iron age" fossil!

a banksia outside the caves

fairytale castles.....stalactites reflected in a perfectly still pond underground

these stagmites look like a nativity scene

stalactites formed along a crack in the ceiling

stalactites formed along a crack in the cave ceiling

a "curtain" stalactite feature

sink hole to the surface (looking upwards). These sorts of holes were how the animals fell into the caves and then were unable to get out again. Underneath these holes would be large piles of silt and rubble, unless a flood event had washed the rubble further into the cave.

Thylacaleo carnifex (marsupial lion)

Thylacaleo Carnifex (marsupial lion)

archeological dig

"Stanley" - megafauna kangaroo

thylacaleo carnifex - "Leo"

the archeological dig

Wet Cave

thylacaleo carnifex battling a giant snake


megafauna kangaroo (model)

columns in White Cave - look like architectural columns

Flinders University archeology digs in White Cave - each stripe in the soil indicates a different period of time

leaving White Cave

Want more pictures of Australian sites? Try….
Adelaide Botanic Gardens
In the red hot centre
Old Melbourne Jail and the Melbourne Aquarium

Fontainebleau – Versailles without the queues

16 02 2012

ornate gates to Fontainebleau

We loved Fontainebleau even more than Versailles for one major reason (the title may have given it away): no queues.

Fontainebleau was the official hunting lodge of the French Royal Family. Apparently it was originally a log cabin in the swamplands. Those days are long gone however, and in scale and in decor it now rivals Versailles, with many wings built around courtyards, long galleries and elaborate interior decoration. The French royals had no fear of adding patterns to patterns, gilding anything that didn’t move and painting scenes in any spare piece of flat wall or ceiling. Even the bedrooms are a riot of colour, detail and gilding – quite how one slept in there is difficult to imagine.

The forest of Fontainebleau remains, albeit considerably smaller than previous centuries, and apparently is home to many endangered species. I have to say in the time we were in France we saw very few wild animals – one rabbit, one baby deer and a couple of pheasants is about it. Coming from Australia where our wildlife unfortunately wander out onto the road, and where walking through a national park would undoubtedly bring you into contact with native animals, even if only snakes and lizards, this was really noticeable. Anyway, I digress.

The château is, as with most of these monumental buildings, the work of many generations. The original structure was built in the 16th century by Francis I. It is located about 55km from the centre of Paris and is easily accessible, although parking can be a problem.

We didn’t have time to explore the gardens here, but the château itself is magnificent. The electronic talking guide is worth the effort, so that you understand the history of the amazing pieces on display – Napoleon’s baby carriage, uniforms and field kits, for instance. The stories behind each piece are out of the history books.

We really enjoyed being able to see everything, not being rushed through, and have the peace and quiet to contemplate the surroundings and atmosphere of the château. And not having to queue to get in. However, it isn’t Versailles – Versailles does have that particular place in French history.

Hope you like lots of photos! (And there are more links to some other postings about our trip to France at the bottom of the page)

carved ceiling detail in the entrance

Guess who? Yes, Napoleon's coat and hat.

some of Napoleon's possessions

Napoleon's field kit

gorgeous funriture that I want in my home.....

view of the front of the Chateau from the first floor

elaborate gilded ceiling

view across the rear lower terrace from the ground floor

view across gardens and lakes from the ground floor

stone fireplace

pannelled walls and stools for courtiers

carved ceilings

carved ceilings

elaborate stone carving on the wall. The central piece represents the salamander, the emblem of the royal family, said to be able to survive fire.

domed ceiling

elaborate ceiling

view of one of the courtyards from an upper floor

elaborate ceiling

interior balcony for the royal family in the Chapel

view over the gardens at the back of the Chateau

another of the internal courtyards

elaborate painted ceiling

elaborate gilded ceilings

elaborate carved and gilded ceiling

the famous library at Fontainebleau

another view of the library showing more of the ceiling

stools for the courtiers and supplicants

throne room


the chapel

the chapel

in the chapel

in the chapel

gate down the road from Chateau Fontainebleau - appears to be a private residence

Want more photos of France? Here are a few more….
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
The troglodytes of Maison Fort de Reignac

10 reasons the rabbit thinks he is a dog

22 09 2011

The rabbit doesn’t seem to have a good understanding of himself or his relationship with other members of the household. If he were human, we might diagnose him as having dissociative identity disorder……He seems to think he is a dog, and in some ways he is a better dog than the dogs. With apologies to the dogs, but really, they should lift their game.

1. he eats dog food – and he is first at the bowl. The dogs stand back and watch him. Not sure what the vet will think about this diet.

2. he is house trained. It was remarkably easy. The only problem is he does like to scratch and dig in the litter tray.

3. he comes when he is called. He also answers to a variety of nicknames. (dogs are not reliable for this)

4. he attacks the dogs – he is the alpha of the pack. This may be a pre-emptive strike, but he seems to ignore the dogs’ attempts to scare him.

5. he thinks it is OK to hop onto your lap. Even when you are eating at the dinner table. (This is not tolerated in the dogs – or from the rabbit.)

6. He hops on the bed. Again – this is not tolerated, but it doesn’t stop him. It’s a bit of a shock when you are lying down and a rabbit suddenly lands on your stomach.

7. he thinks it is his right to be picked up, held and patted. All the time.

8. he has been microchipped. First time the vet had microchipped a rabbit! He had his nails trimmed at the same time. Just like the dogs.

9. he understands “no”. Again, the dogs are not reliable on this one.

10. he thinks he should have the run of the house. Despite being held captive in the tiled area of the house, every time a door is opened he makes a run at it. He is fast, but not has fast as me. No! rabbit.

If you liked this post, you might like more adventures of the rabbit, Anthropomorphising or New Boss in Town.

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Old dogs

5 09 2011


Our Papillon Bella is an old lady.

She came from the pound, and came into the house because the dog we had at the time (most definitely MY dog), a kelpie called Tricka, only liked dogs that were significantly smaller than her. Tricka was completely trustworthy with children and small furry things, but a dog her size or bigger required attacking. Hence, when we decided to get my stepsons a dog, a Papillon fitted the bill.

Bella, being small and frail, found her niche under the bedclothes at the foot of the bed. During my high-risk pregnancy she took up residence on my lap, then as my belly expanded and there was no lap left, pressed up next to me.

Fast forward many years. Tricka died after a series of strokes. She is still the best dog I ever knew.

Now Bella is the grand old dame of the house. The new dog, a shitzu named Aragorn (yes, named after the Lord of the Rings character) came into the house as a puppy and although he is now bigger and stronger, he bows to the grumpy old lady whose territory he has invaded.

We now have another invader – Thumper the rabbit. Thumper is unfortunately not as respectful as Aragorn and has been know to charge Bella. He gets time-out for his indiscretions.

Bella doesn’t have many teeth left. She totters around the house, wanders slowly in the sunshine in the grass outside, and gives the occasional toothless snap at Aragorn if he gets a little frisky.

She probably doesn’t have much time left, and my boys, who have never know a pet die, don’t know what they are in for.

She has been a lovely member of the family. It will be a different house without her.

New boss in town

20 08 2011

the boss helps himself to greens

We have a new boss in our house.

He is quite small, white and deceptively fluffy. He is also very demanding.

We inherited an 8 month old white rabbit from friends whose daughter had tired of it. It has rapidly become a popular addition to the household.

With popularity however has come power, and the rabbit has become an expert in wielding it. While I suspect he was named “Thumper” in honour of the Bambi movie, it is quite appropriate in a thug sort of way.

Thumper lives in a hutch inside the house. When we are home he is allowed to roam the tiled area of the house. (He is house-trained but we aren’t taking any chances.) This has the added advantage of keeping him away from electrical cords, to which he is quite partial.

what is that rabbit doing on the carpet? And what is he eating?

We also have two dogs in the house. Now dogs and rabbits are not natural friends. We were in fact quite nervous about how the rabbit and dogs would get along. We shouldn’t have worried.

The rabbit treats the dogs with utter disdain. He ignores them when they try and get him to move. He eats their dry food – often pushing them out the way to get at the bowl first. The dogs stand back with what looks suspiciously like respect.

But it is not just the dogs that the rabbit bosses around. First person up in the morning is treated to great thumping on the bottom of the hutch as he demands to be let out. On occasion these thumpings have occurred in the middle of the night when he decided he wanted some more green food. Who knew that rabbits were nocturnal eaters?

So the rabbits life seems to be that he does what he wants when he wants. He helps himself to whatever food he thinks he might like. In fact he eats so much, and then he collapses and has to sleep it off. Tough life.

Meanwhile, his human slaves have to clean his hutch very regularly, do regular runs to the green-grocers to dive through their bins and bring home the outer leaves cut from cabbages and cauliflowers.

the dog closely monitors that activities of the rabbit, aka the boss

Our reward however – he is as affectionate as a rabbit can be (unlike dogs, rabbits don’t really wag their tails or look like they are smiling. We assume his passivity indicates that he is happy being held.)

And he certainly is a personality, even if it is just us anthropomorphising!

when the animals rule…

14 07 2011

So a fish has now been photographed using a tool to bash open a shellfish. We humans are in trouble.

Personally, I have been waiting for the day that the animals took over. I swear our dog is so clever and domineering, if he had opposable thumbs he would be ruling the house by now. He can unmake beds and turn them into dog-nests. He can open doors. He is particularly good at hitting unwary visitors in the back of the knees to make them buckle (consider yourself warned).

However the honour of ruling our house currently sits with the rabbit. The rabbit is a new addition to the menagerie. He lives indoors in a hutch and gets given the run of our tiled area twice a day. Yes, he is house trained. More-so than the children are anyway.

Now you would think in a house of two dogs and a rabbit, the pecking order would be pretty well established. In the wild, dogs hunt and eat rabbits. Apparently no-one has let our animals know this. The rabbit chases the dogs away from the dog food, and proceeds to eat it. (I need to talk to the vet about whether rabbits should be carnivores – it certainly wasn’t on the list of instructions we were given.) The rabbit rounds the dogs up. All in all, the rabbit treats the dogs with the disdain that they deserve. Call themselves dogs? Gotta be joking.

To be fair however, the rabbit also has the humans trained. When he wants attention – food, a run, etc, he thumps on his hutch floor. Repeatedly. No matter what time of day or night. It is very hard to sleep through a rabbit thumping every ten seconds after about ten minutes.

However, I digress. If animals are smart enough to open doors and use tools – what next? This was supposed to be one of the major defining characteristics between higher order apes (such as us) and other animals. Who’s to say they can’t communicate.

I don’t want you to be paranoid or anything….but maybe they are plotting a take-over. They couldn’t make any more of a mess than we have.