Ferocious Koalas

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 2nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Ali Raynor, my host while I was at Toogoolawah in Queensland, told me that she thought that it was a pretty rare thing for a tourist to get a chance to see and photograph koalas in their natural habitat. I reckon that she must know what she’s talking about, since she conducts regular trips to the bush for koala spotting.

At first I couldn’t see them at all unless I followed her pointing arm. From the distance we were initially seeing them they looked like black dots in the gum trees. In all we saw about a dozen of them. The place to where she took me is not widely known. In fact, I heard Ali tell one inquirer as to where we were going to see them that, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” That seems a bit drastic to me, but the idea is, I guess, not to have a gozillion people tramping through the area scaring the ferocious little beasts.

I do, of course, use the word ferocious in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The very idea of a ferocious koala brings to mind the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  However, later on you’ll see a shot which gives you an idea of the size of their claws. I would not want an angry koala, high as a kite on eucalyptus oil, to land on my face.

The thing koalas do best is to look extremely laid back, comatose, in fact. Here is a nearly comatose koala:

This is the most common pose which I observed. They do notice you walking around. I guess “drowsily observant” would be a good way to describe their natural state. No matter what position they were in, they seem to favour slowly snuggling up to the trunk of the tree to try to blend in. I suppose that they believe they are hiding. It doesn’t work, but it is cute. Cute is a word which keeps popping into your mind like a pesky mosquito buzzing around your ear at three in the morning.

You will quickly bore of sleeping koala images, so I’ll break this up by showing you this sad excuse for a kangaroo picture:

When I took the shot, the kangaroo was so small, even at the full 26X zoom of my Olympus SP-590UZ camera, that I thought that I’d missed it. It wasn’t until I got the image up in Adobe Bridge that I noticed that the kangaroo was still there.

Okay, back to the koalas for a while. This was my only shot of a koala on the move:

Truth is, they simply don’t move around that much. This one was climbing a branch at what I’m sure was a breakneck speed for a koala in a vain attempt to run from us.

As a serious amateur photographer, I can’t say that I’m proud of these shots, though I did put a fair amount of effort into making them as good as I could. I was up against a couple of serious problems. First, the light was absolutely ghastly. There is hardly any worse light than a bright grey sky. It washes the colour from everything and makes any sense of depth go as flat as a pancake. If you are shooting upwards, it’s even worse. I took about a hundred exposures, half of which were unusable.

The other problem is the miserable performance of the early super-zoom lenses. My Olmpus was one of the first of the super-zoom consumer grade camera. I don’t buy professional equipment, because I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a high-quality camera and lens. Some things are simply out of my income range. So, I make do with the best I can afford. If I do buy another super-zoom camera, I’ll insist on doing some shooting with it first so that I can check the lens perfomance. It took supreme efforts to get these in shape to put here for your enjoyment. Even with all that, if you click to enlarge them, you will see the effects of stretching the camera beyond its reasonable limits.

Uh, did I mention claws? Imagine these tearing into your flesh. Don’t let that sleepy look fool you:

It’s only a ploy to lure you within range. This is the rare carnivorous variety of koala.

I noticed many trees with power line insulators banged into them. Ali said that is has only been about five years since the practice was abandoned by the utilities company in this area. It seems terribly rustic:

Once in a while you can spot a koala which seems to be uncommonly alert:

I fact, this one looks a bit peevish. Perhaps it found our presence an affront. Maybe it was just curious.

Of all of the poses, I liked the “Nyaa, nyaa, you can’t see me!” the best:

They will try to edge around the tree to become less visible. It’s comical to watch a koala when two people begin to walk around the tree in opposite directions. It will slowly turn its head from side to side while trying to decide which way to go. Then it gives up and hugs the tree harder. It’s too bad they are so fat. If they were flatter against the tree they would be hard to spot, since the camouflage in their fur is quite effective.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the Old Town Hall in Gympie:

It’s about as curious a conglomeration of architectural features as I have ever seen, though the overall effect is not unpleasing. I’d be willing to bet that it was designed by a committee.

Keep in mind that I know absolutely nothing about architecture, except that I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. For me, that’s enough. How wonderful it would be to live in that house.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Jump

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 1st, 2011 by MadDog
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I really should get in the spirit of things and think of a cool April Fool’s joke to play on my unsuspecting readers, but I’m not nearly so clever. So, I’ll just play it straight. A couple of days ago, I wrote about my rides in the wonderful Cessna Caravan at the drop zone of the Ramblers Skydiving near Toogoolawah in Queensland, Australia. Today, I’ll tell about my tandem jump.

First, I’ll show you a picture of my hosts, Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor. They visited Madang in 2010 and stayed at my house. I was very happy that they returned the hospitality in spades:

As may be obvious, Dave has just landed after a jump. He doesn’t drag a parachute around after him all of the time.

Before I get into the jump, let me show you the wind indicator:

When I first saw this I thought that it was a very poor wind indicator and not positioned right anyway. The vane is too small. It wouldn’t be very sensitive. I supposed that the rock was to keep it from blowing away. By the way, that’s Ali and Val behind it.

Then, upon reading the sign, I realised that the whole thing is a joke:

If you read the text, you might get a giggle.

The fellow in white was my Tandem Master, Moci. That’s pronounced as “Motsy”. It’s a Hungarian name. Moci was a paratrooper in the Hungarian Army before coming to Australia. He’s a very nice fellow and made the experience comfortable and enjoyable:

Here he has me strapped into my part of the tandem rig.

Moci has his own business at the Drop Zone. He is a Master Rigger. He is responsible for the maintenance of all of the parachuting equipment:

This is a shot of his rigging loft.

It may appear as if we are praying fervently here, which is not a bad idea, but we are only discussing the finer points of hurling ourselves out of the door of a speeding airplane:

The praying came later.

Here I am with Moci, making my way to the Caravan:

It is very uncomfortable to walk with that harness on. It exerts unwanted pressure in awkward places. You walk very much like a duck.

Here I am strapped firmly to Moci and exhibiting gobs of confidence:

This second tandem jump was much better than the first. I had more time to work up to it and I knew the people with whom I was jumping. I felt no anxiety at all. In fact, I was fairly panting to get out in the slipstream and have a look down.

Once at the door, one has little time to think the situation over. You are going and that’s that. As it was, I looked forward to the fall. We jumped from 14,000 feet:

Sadly, I have no images of us hurtling through the air with my hair on fire. If you like, you can check out my first tandem jump to see the “Bart Simpson hair”. The free fall segment was terrific. It seemed to last longer this time. It was very cold up high, but you could feel the air warming during the fall. That is a weird sensation. I wasn’t prepared for the canopy opening, so it caught me by surprise. I probably didn’t hear Moci warn me, as I was screaming like a banshee. It just makes you want to holler!

I don’t know if I will ever get another chance to do this, but I’m grateful that this item on my Bucket List is now well covered.

Now I will show you something which I will bet that most of you have never seen:

I seriously wanted to get some Kangaroo shots while at the Drop Zone. I saw many, but could not get close enough for a picture, even with the 26X zoom on my Olympus camera. So, I did the next best thing. I took a picture of Kangaroo dung. I hope it amuses you.

I can’t leave the area without paying homage in pixels to Beautiful Downtown Toogoolawah:

What you are seeing is about half of it. If I had turned around and faced the other direction, I could show you the other half.

Sometimes civilisation comes in small packages.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Rides

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 30th, 2011 by MadDog
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You may note that I have once again been absent from Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  for a week. This is not my fault. It is the fault of the Great Australian Outback, where a web connection is a rare thing. I was, of course, nowhere near the real outback, which is way out west from Toogoolawah, where the Skydiving Ramblers Drop Zone is located. I was the well-treated guest of Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor, two friends I met in Madang when they visited there. Dave carried the Ramblers torch and founded Ramblers Parachute Centre in 1974.

I really had expected to hang loose at the drop zone for a few days as an observer and general all-round pest. I ended up doing a tandem jump and getting two rides in the drop plane in the bargain. This was an unexpected pleasure.

Here is a shot which I took of the drop zone from the wonderful Caravan:Which I will get to in a moment.

First, I want to show you one of the wonderful sunsets which one can expect here when the weather is fair:Colourful, eh?

This is the amazing Cessna Caravan. It is not only beautiful, but it is an absolute pleasure to ride in:I have never been up front in a plane with a “glass cockpit”. There were only a handful of conventional instruments visible. There were two large management displays such as this one (one for the pilot, one for the co-pilot) with a huge GPS navigation display between them. Flying this plane is pretty much a push-button operation:I was flabbergasted to hear how much this plane cost.

One of the more interesting aspects of my two flights (this one with pilot Carl, in the image) was that I had to strap on a parachute:Some of you will know that I’m an old pilot, mostly helicopters. Everybody knows that helicopter pilots don’t wear parachutes. How would you use it, exactly? However, I’ve done a fair amount of fixed-wing flying, also. It amused me that this is the first time I have ever worn a parachute. It amused me further that the Caravan is possibly the safest aircraft I have ever had the pleasure to fly in, discounting commercial airliners, of course (how safe are   they?).

Here is Roger, my first pilot. I include his image only so that I can mention that I was suddenly caught up by the idea that I’d never flown with anyone names Roger and I could not get my mind off of the novelty of saying, “Roger, Roger.” every time he spoke to me. I think it got a bit annoying after a while, so I stopped doing it:

Roger’s a forgiving bloke.

There were many other amusements at the drop zone. The bird life and kangaroos were great fun. These lorikeets were always about, making more noise than one would think possible:I found myself strangely incapable of getting a single kangaroo picture. I simply could not get close enough for a shot. However, I did get some great koala shots, which I will show as soon as I can get them off my Olympus camera. I forgot my cable and the card adapter, so I have no way to transfer the images to my computer.

Here is a self-shot image of me sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the Caravan:I’ beginning to look like Gabby Hayes. It’s time to trim the beard.

I’ll finish with another Toogoolawah sunset:This one shows a crepuscular ray just to the left of centre. Well, we’ve all seen them before, even if we didn’t know what to call them. Only the hopelessly geeky know those kinds of things (did I say that?). Anyway we see these rays all the time. This one struck me as a little out of the ordinary because it is shining like a big orange searchlight on the bottom of a cloud above the horizon. If you click it to enlarge the image you’ll see it better. You’ll also see five birds which happened along just as I was taking the shot.

I’ll be back tomorrow with shots of my tandem jump. Geronimo!

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