The Day My Dad Made Friends With a Cassowary.

Cassowaries are one of the most dangerous birds in the in world. They are known for violent attacks on humans. They cause serious injuries and have killed people in both Australia and New Guinea.

One summer day my auntie wanted to go to the Zoo.

This was a small zoo in the in the mountains mainly known for rescuing alligators. I like alligators. Also you don’t really get to say to no to my auntie. If my auntie wanted us to go the zoo with her…. well we’re going to the zoo.

We got some peanuts for the petting zoo which is mainly full of domestic animals.

And Dad tried to see if maybe some of the other animals might like a peanut.

He stopped to give the tortoises a neck massage.

And the tortoise was so happy about the neck scratches it rested his head in my father’s hand for a long while.

The last exhibit on the way out is Emu corral. Emu’s are sweet natured birds that love to run and are a little bit like massive depry chickens.

But when we got to the the corral, one of these birds was not like the others.

Maybe it’s nothing deep or profound. Maybe it’s nothing important at all.

Maybe it’s little tiny moments you remember.

And these moments are the ones that carry you though the dark.

Dear Dad,

there’s so much I want to tell you. I put it here because there’s no where else for these word to go.

I got my first covid vaccine. I know you’d be filled with relief to hear that. I’m sad you didn’t live to see us all get vaccinated. I wish we could see each other and hug each other again with out worrying.

I wish we could see each other and hug each other at all.

The vaccination site I went to was really dystopian. It was run by the national guard at six flags.

The white tents, the uniformed officers, and the abandoned amusement park felt like the beginning of a horror film. Combined this with the fact that I didn’t even leave the car, I just stuck my arm out the window and got jabbed with a needle, handed a white card, and then we drove away. It felt more like I was getting vaccinated for the zombie apocalypse than COVID.

I’ve been grief buying orchids. I buy all the ones that remind me of you. Which is actually quite a lot.

this phaph reminds me of one you had when we were young
And this oncidium; you had one like this too

Others I buy just because I don’t know what to do with myself.

this one isn’t doing well and i wish i could ask what to do.

You had a vanda the hung in the window.

I wish I wish I had told you how much I loved that vanda.

But you and my brother always talked about orchid care on a level I couldn’t keep up with.

I’ve been searching everywhere for that vanda. And I’ve identified it ‘chulee blue’

But I can’t find one that’s exactly the same. So i just keep buying vandas.

This is my house. Those are my fish. Those are my cattleyas. Aren’t they?

Some times I miss you so much I think I will never stop crying.

Other times I feel your presence in my life so much it’s suffocating.

I realised too late i grew up to be like you.

I’ve been watching our fishing show with your fake joints all wrapped up in a pillow case. This is as close as we’ll get to watching re-runs together again.

The reason i stopped fishing wasn’t because of the paper i read. It was because you couldn’t make it to the lake anymore. It wasn’t fun without you.

I took the fly rod with me. Now i have now choice but to go alone.

The more time that passes, the more it sinks in.

You really are gone.

Memories from the Future

One of the hardest parts of losing someone isn’t losing their physical presence. It’s losing them in the past and in the future as well. It’s losing all the one days and the maybes and the tomorrows and the we shoulds.

We will never go to the Arctic to see the narwhals.

Now in my one days, I will go to see the narwhals with out him.

we’ll never go to that canyon to look for copper.

Now in my we should, I go alone.

It’s losing them from every memory you made together. It feels like a ghost is living in the spaces he used to be. Everything I did with my dad, I did alone now.

They said ‘may his memory be a blessing’

But it feels more like a decompiling computer, and everything is happening all at once.

I think the blessings are there, somewhere in the white noise. Right now, it all hurts so much.

The Orchids

The first memories I have as child are green. We had trees in our house. Big trees.

But it didn’t bother me. As long as I was with my dad, I was happy.

he’s talking to the plants…. he talked to plants a lot

But kids don’t stay kids. Kids grow up. Kids want to be like the other kids.

You dragged me outside to show me this?

Everything changes.

For good

And bad

Endings happen.

But so do beginnings

What you lose isn’t always gone forever.

Even though it can never be the same, sometimes, things we lose can come back

And they still bring happiness, like they used to.

But somethings can never come back.

Recovery from grief is not straight forward.

I thought recovery would be a slow line trending in a generally downward direction. Sure, there would be times when it worse or when it was better but my feelings, my sorrow, would become slower, and more manageable with time. That’s what they told tell me.

It gets easier with time.

They lied

Projected Pain Level

But that’s not how is goes at all. Grief is being vivisected again and again. Grief is finding pain you never knew existed and watching it all on rewind. Grief is screaming for your father for hours into empty space, wondering why he’s not answering.

Because he would never do this you. Where ever you are, where ever you were, he would always find you.

every realisation just hurts more and more. It makes the cut just that much deeper. Every step you take without him is another knife in your back that he had always carried for you.

But now that pain is yours to carry for now on.

Daddy where are you?

The Pee Frogs

On January 11th, 2021 at 10:29 pm, the world ended. My daddy, the best man in the whole world, died.

I’d like to show you the last picture I ever took of him. But I can’t really show it to anyone right now.

I don’t know how to describe the feeling of knowing these are the last words words you’ll ever say to someone you love. The pressure is so intense.

I’d already told him how much I loved him,

I told him how much I much he meant to me,

I told him over and over again.  

But the other things, the smaller things, there were so many unsaid words and untold stories crowding my brain, trying get out and they all jumbled together and I couldn’t think of anything to say. Everything got stuck.

Except the story of the pee frogs.

My last words to my father were about needing to pee.

In the far north of Queensland, way past where all the tourists go, lives a toilet block on the edge of a river.

There is also a boat ramp.

But the story wasn’t about the boat ramp, the story was about the toilets. But it’s an important detail- the boat ramp exists.

This toilet block weirded me out in a lot of ways. The prison grey walls. The oddly gendered toilet stalls for such a remote location.

But since it was the only toilet for an hours drive, of course it got used often by us. But it was complicated toilet.

During the day it was like a sauna, with the sun beating down on it in the 43 degree heat. It almost wasn’t worth it to use the last toilet we would see for hours, as we launched our boat out into the evening. I mean I could find a nice bush on the side of the river where I was at risk of being eaten by crocodiles, but hey, it was much cooler than sitting in the prison toilet block for 5 mins while i did my business.

Let’s complicate things a bit more.

I have IBS.

At night it seemed the toilet wouldn’t be so bad. There was no sun to heat it up to boiling temperatures. I mean it was totally dark and didn’t have any lights but I had a head torch so it would be just fine.

After a long evening full of pulling nets and wrestling sharks and and what not, my stinky fish covered ass was looking forward to using a toilet where I didn’t have to constantly keep and eye out for crocodiles. Or bring a friend with me to keep and eye out for crocodiles while I tried to have a wee.

So we got the boat moored alongside the wharf and I made a run for the dodgy toilet block.

But the rest of it felt like an automated action. You lift the lid and you settle your butt down for a wee. Except the last image my brain captured it could not make sense of right away.

I jumped back up. My eyes did not see what they think they saw.

But surely they did. There were over a half dozen frogs using the only toilet in 50 miles as their own personal swimming pool.

I grabbed my wad of toilet paper and begrudging peed next to the creepy toilet block.

Fish Behaviour- The Betta

Several weeks ago, my betta Gandalf started biting his own caudal fin. While this is known to happen in male betta fish, is difficult to distinguish fact s about tail biting from from the personal interpretation of betta owners. While animal personality is it’s own distinguished field of research, anthropomorphisation heavily influences how we look at the behaviour of our pets. For example, my bettas all have nicknames based on how I interpret their behaviours. Sassy-pants- my half moon betta named Jellybean- who shows hyper aggressive behaviours. I’ve seen him attacking coloured gravel at the bottom of his aquarium. He has even had a go at the green light on the power strip next to his aquarium and I now have to keep it covered with tape. I’ve watched him flaring his fins and showing increasingly more elaborate displays until I finally track down the source of his irritation- a reflective sticker on a piece of equipment or a yellow patch on a dying leaf on one of his plants. I would swear that fish just loves his own reflection- but that would be me anthropomorphising his personality traits. A betta can be more aggressive than the average betta, but ‘sassy’ isn’t a real personality trait you can ascribe to the behaviour of a fish.

white and blue half moon betta in aquarium
Jeallybead

Then we my second beta, I nicknamed him fish buddy. His dragon scale betta called June Bug. I feel a lot of empathy for him, because he and I both suffer from chronic illness. He had a bad case of hexamita when I took him home and for the first month I was never sure if he was going to pull though. It took weeks of Furan and metronidazole brine shrimp to get him to a point where he was healthy. He’s the most docile of my bettas, almost the polar opposite Jellybean. Rather than attacking, he spend every day building bubble nests. I’ve never seeen another betta that spent all day everyday building bubble nests. Sometime I feel sad for him and think I should introduce him to a female because he’d be a very diligent father. But his immune system is weak which makes him a poor candidate for breeding. On top of that I have no interest in raising 400 baby betta fish.

blue and pink betta with hexamita (small holes in the head)
June Bug with Hexamita

And then we get to Gandalf- he’s my little man and easily the smartest of my fish. He draws connections between actions quickly and knows if he’s getting worms or pellets. He goes the exact place in the aquarium where I have a tendency to drop each one. Under the small hole for his pellets. On top of his leaf toy for blood worms.

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For the most part he’s been a happy and healthy fish. That is, until three weeks ago when fin rot set in. His water quality was perfect and he was eating well so I was very unsure as to why he had suddenly gotten sick. I took him into the local fish shop to help with diagnosis. Luckily his tail recovered on his own and I wrote it all off as being induced malfunctioning heater- it would have led to large temperature fluctuations in his tank. I brought him home from the fish shop after a few days and he seemed healthy. He worked on a bubble nest and ate normally. Three days later, his fin looked like this.

Rather than have the ulcerating and decaying appearance that fin rot has, this is definitely mechanical damage. The sharp angles and jagged edges give it away, along with the lack of discolouration along the edge of the fin. I packed up everything in his tank and went back to fish shop but seem unlike any of my betta safe equipment could have caused his injuries. I have to admit, I was both surprised and horrified when I saw him double over on himself and try to chomp down on his own tail.

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In all honesty, I don’t know how to make him stop biting his fin. I’ve spent hours doing research and unfortunately it seems no knows how to stop tail biting in bettas. There are two major schools of thought on the subject- one is they mistake their long fins for another male and attack it as they would attack a strange male invading their territory. This idea is probably accurate to large degree. Tail biting is most commonly seen in carded males housed in breeding facilities (carding involves keeping multiple male bettas in the same aquarium with sold barrier between them so they can’t see each other). Its likely there is some invisible signal such as pheromones in the water the allows them to sense other males nearby.  But but Gandalf lives alone in his tank and he can’t see his brothers. Any equipment shared between them is rinsed in chlorinated water between uses yet he still began attacking his own tail. Situations like have lead other people suggest there is a genetic component to tail biting and that this gene has been accidentally been bred into the domestic betta fish population. A betta with a damaged tail cannot be sold by a breeder nor put on display. Therefore they use tail biters for breeding stock. Unfortunately what ever the cause is, there is little information on how to stop it.

This is where it gets really difficult- when reading though the blogs of betta breeders and online forums most of the reported incidents of tail biting are really cases of fin rot. Some breeder even thing tail biting is myth. Had I not seen it myself it would seem like a very strange thing for a betta fish to do. And most suggestions put forward on how to stop tail biting are also suggestions that reduce chances of your betta getting fin rot which casts more disbelief at this unusual behaviour. These include carefully monitoring temperature and water conditions; doing more frequently water changes (Gandalf’s water is perfect); ensuring your betta has adequate filtrations (he has that too); making sure your betta has a large enough tank (I swapped out his three gallon for a five gallon just incase); as well as using live plants instead of fake plants as these can damage fin membranes (he’s always had live plants). Then some more generic suggestions for ensuring your fish has good mental health have been put forward. These include giving your fish places to hide; ensuring his tank is well (and appropriately) decorated; and giving you fish toys to interact with. Well, Mr Gandalf you have all of these things and you are still biting your tail.

I know is impossible to eliminated all potential stressors though I am trying. For example I can’t entirely block the view of his reflection in aquarium glass without blocking his view of the rest of my room . He loves watching what’s going on outside and blocking his view would most likely be even more stressful than an occasion glimpse of his own reflection. And if I try to get rid of all bright colours that he might mistake for another male then he wouldn’t have brightly coloured, interesting toys to interact with.

But the most baffling part of this experience for me is with all the bettas, and all the breeders, in all the different parts of the world why has no one written about out how to stop tail biting? This leads me to suspect the solution is something most people wouldn’t think to do. So I decided to reach out to an animal behaviourist. She suggested I train my fish to do simple tricks. This isn’t as bizarre as you might think it is. Aquariums will frequently train their sharks and ray to do behaviours, like feed at certain time in a particular location or to stay still so they can receive veterinary care. Gandalf is about as clever as aquarium fish can get; it’s possibly his intelligence contributed to this self destructive behaviour to begin with. My hope is that attracting his attention elsewhere and engage him mentally will reduce the amount of tail biting incidents . So far I’ve taught him to follow a stick and he seems to really enjoy it. The next step is to get some positive re-enforcement training going by giving him food rewards for certain behaviours. I hope make a difference. While I may love Gandalf no matter what he looks like, open sores make him more susceptible to infection and that could get very dangerous for him in the long term

 

Picnic Point, Maroochydore- 1940

fisher men standing next to large sawfish on beach. Wooden canoe with fishing nets in the background

Postcard Series

fisher men standing next to large sawfish on beach. Wooden canoe with fishing nets in the background

This image was used in a postcard series showing historic fishing catches in Queensland. Many of these images are also found in the Queensland State Library archives (online), though I do not know if the postcards preceded the archival of the images.  In addition to sawfish and other elasmobranch species, Queensland Grouper feature heavily in the postcard series.

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Postcards can be purchased on ebay.