Saturday, January 22, 2011

"...Zulus to the south west. Thousands of them."

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Rorke's Drift which was fought over the 22nd and 23rd of January 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. This battle, the defence of the mission station at Rorke's Drift, came immediately after the British defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana where about 20,000 Zulu warriors attacked a portion of the British main column, killing around 1,300 troops.

After the Battle of Isandlwana a force of about 4000 Zulus attacked the tiny garrison at Rorke's Drift. Defending the mission station against this force were just over 150 British and Colonial troops. This small force successfully repelled the Zulu attacks which began on the afternoon of the 22nd and carried on into the early hours of the following morning. 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded to the defenders, along with a number of other decorations and honours.

A film entitled Zulu, based on the Battle of Rorke's drift, was released in 1964. It starred Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins, James Booth, and in his first starring role, a young Michael Caine. I first saw this film on television around the 100th anniversary of the battle in late January 1979. I was at the impressionable age of 11 and this film had a huge impact on me.

I've seen this film many times before but made a special point to watch it again today on the 132nd anniversary of the historical battle. I love the bravery and heroism this film depicts, on both the British and Zulu sides. I love the stirring music score by John Barry. I love the performance of the actors, especially Michael Caine and James Booth. Zulu is a film that still captivates me even to this day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Some geocaching fun

We've actually had some nice weather arrive after weeks and weeks of rain. The girls are both on school break and have been going stir crazy at home so I decided to take advantage of the break in the weather and take them out geocaching on Sunday morning.

Our first stop was the Giwadha cache located along the Giwadha Track in Chermside Hills Reserve.

This was a nice walk along a track that passed through fairly thick vegetation consisting of heath, grasses and shrubs. Particularly impressive were the number of grass trees with their long flowering spikes.

These grass trees were important to the Aboriginal people who lived here in the past. The long spikes make perfect fishing spears and, when soaked in water, the nectar from the flowers make a sweet tasting drink.

I was using the GPS from my phone along with a free geocaching app. This usually gets me to within 3m (10') of the location of a hidden cache. We searched for about five minutes before finding it hidden beneath leaves at the base of a burnt out stump.

Our next stop was the Arlington Triangle - Arlington Park cache. This was located in Arlington Park at Arana Hills. This is a nice little park with some playground equipment that the girls had fun playing on. The cache in this instance was a microcache with a magnet for attaching on to metal structures. The clue on the website helped and Maddie found it in the place I suggested she look.

The last cache of the morning, Bridge over Cabbage, was found a short walk away in William Scott Park, just where the path crosses Cabbage Tree Creek.

I was a bit concerned about our chances of finding this cache. The bridge had been completely inundated in the recent rains and there was still vegetation debris covering it in places. We knew it was a microcache we were looking for so I suspected another magnetic one. After a bit of searching Maddie found the container still securely in place.

We were very pleased that we went out to search for three caches and had a 100% success rate. It was also nice getting out of the house into the outdoors and in some fine weather for a change.

Where's Wally? (or Waldo?)

Can you spot Wally? Or if you're in the USA or Canada, Waldo?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Follow the directions...

From 24-7 Flood Info Centre. Photo taken by Brent Clayton of West End in Brisbane.

This poignant photo was taken this morning on Melbourne Street in the suburb of South Brisbane, looking towards the city, not far from such important buildings like the Gallery of Modern Art, the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Art Gallery and the Queensland Museum.

On the left you can see The Fox Hotel, an establishment I've had the pleasure of drinking at in the past. It now gives new context to the slang term for a pub being a 'watering hole'.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Water, water everywhere...

For an up-to-date online coverage of the Queensland floods check this site.

The flood waters have reached Brisbane, with the river breaking its banks and peaking at 4.46 metres early this morning which is thankfully about 1 metre less than the 1974 flood peak of 5.45 metres. Nevertheless, due to population and building growth in Brisbane over the last three decades, the loss of lives, homes, businesses and infrastructure will unfortunately exceed the 1974 flood disaster.

Check out this dramatic footage of a yacht loose on Brisbane river this afternoon. Two men are trying to save the yacht and are thrown into the water as it sinks.

Luckily both men were rescued shortly after.

15 people are confirmed dead in south-east Queensland since 10 January, 61 people are still missing from the Toowoomba/Lockyer Valley area, and police hold grave fears for 12 of those missing people.

It's not just Brisbane, Australia's 3rd largest city, that is suffering. The whole state of Queensland has been affected by flooding since the beginning of December 2010. The floods have forced the evacuation of thousands of people from towns and cities. At least 70 towns and over 200,000 people have been affected. Three-quarters of the state of Queensland has been declared a disaster zone — an area larger than Texas and California combined.

Our local supermarket this afternoon - no fruit or vegetables left.

Water has flooded into the streets of over 30 Brisbane suburbs and it's been reported that around 30,000 properties have been affected by water damage. The central business district (CBD) of Brisbane has been virtually shut down since Wednesday 12 January with all power cut as a precautionary measure. My office, and thousands of other offices in the CBD are shut due to this disaster. It's unlikely the CBD will be safe for businesses to reopen until at least Monday next week. I've worked in Brisbane's central business district for 25 years and have never seen anything on this scale.

The bridge over our local creek on Brisbane's north side. There is a submerged footpath to the right of the handrails.

I've been on leave from work since 24 December 2010 to look after our kids while they're on break before school resumes later this month. I'm not due back at work until 31 January and I've been glued to the continuous television coverage of this natural disaster. I was 7 years old when the floods hit Brisbane in 1974 and I still remember the constant rain at that time and seeing the awful images on television.

It's not only the human population that has been affected. There has also been a loss to animal life and destruction of the natural habitat of many creatures. Some are more lucky than others. Check out the video below that I took of a kookaburra who took shelter on our deck during some of the rainy weather on Tuesday.

In the big scheme of world events this is only a minor natural disaster compared to, for example, the devastation and loss of life in the 2010 Haiti earthquake (est. 316,000 dead) or the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami (230,210 dead). To put it into further perspective, parts of Brazil are currently suffering flooding and mudslides and sadly it has been reported that the death toll there is over 400 and rising. We can count ourselves here in Brisbane to be relatively lucky. However, this local flood is affecting my community, my state and my country and is therefore naturally a more personal experience for me. Let's hope the tragic loss of life won't climb too much higher.

At least there is still a sense of humour around. Check out this photo tweeted by @mackiemarsellos showing the iconic Wally Lewis statue outside the flooded Suncorp Stadium.

Floods come and go and Brisbane will recover but I'm sure we'll be talking about the 2011 flood for many years to come.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rain, rain, go away!

The state of Queensland in Australia has had a lot of rain over the past month or so. Here in south-east Queensland it's turned into a natural disaster. Yesterday the inland city of Toowoomba (about 127 km / 79 miles from where I live) was hit suddenly and hard by a flash flood. Toowoomba sits on the crest of the Great Dividing Range and is around 700 metres (2300 feet) above sea level which makes this freak of nature even more bizarre. The flash flood has been described as being like an 'inland tsunami'. Sadly, several people were caught in the waters and drowned.

Check out this YouTube clip of amazing footage of cars being washed away in the heart of Toowoomba yesterday. I can't believe the guy at 1:13 who got his car out of the car park. Very lucky indeed.

Tragically there has been more loss of life in areas down from the range in Lockyer Valley. Since yesterday there have been a total of 9 confirmed deaths and 66 people are still unaccounted for in these floods. The death toll is expected to rise as emergency services enter the worst affected areas and conduct searches.

Check out this video of the Toowoomba CBD. Check out the man desperately clinging to a tree at 1:23 as a white van is swept into the tree almost dislodging him.

Thankfully the man holding on to the tree was rescued a short time later.

This body of water all flows down to the Brisbane River and then into Moreton Bay. It's bearing down on us as I type and is going to swell the Brisbane river which runs through the middle of the city. With this water, combined with ongoing rain, releases into the river from our main over-capacity dam and a king tide due tomorrow, it is predicted that Brisbane and surrounding suburbs are in for some massive flooding. It's even been suggested that levels could reach as high as the 1974 flood. Evacuations are now occurring in low-lying areas of Brisbane.

It's very sad watching this dramatic disaster unfolding on the news with people and homes affected from all over the state. 6500 properties in Brisbane alone are threatened with flooding over the coming days. Thankfully my home is not in any danger of flooding.

And to think we were in drought conditions just over a year and a half ago. Brisbane was under the toughest water restrictions of any Australian capital city at that time and our combined dam total was around 16%. They are now sitting at 160% capacity.

Check out for the latest on this natural disaster. The flooding also has made front page news at CNN and the BBC. A government flood relief appeal site has been set up for financial donations.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Finished Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

I just had to record that today was the day I achieved the Platinum Trophy for the PS3 game Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

The Platinum Trophy was awarded when all other 47 trophies in the game had been earned. The final 47th trophy first had to be unlocked by completing the game on the 'Hard' level of difficulty. Once done it allowed you to play the game again on a level of difficulty called 'Crushing'. Yep, 'Crushing', as it sounds, was extremely challenging.

The Platinum Trophy

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was released over 3 years ago in November 2007. It's an action-adventure game that combines platforming and third-person shooter elements. The game charts the journey of protagonist Nathan Drake, supposed descendant of the explorer Sir Francis Drake, as he seeks the lost treasure of El Dorado, with the help of friend Victor "Sully" Sullivan and journalist Elena Fisher.

A screenshot from the game

This was an incredible game to experience, it had a fun story and addictive play from start to finish. It played like a big-budget Hollywood movie and the graphics and voice-acting were superb. I was also very impressed with the realistic water effects. The good news is that there is a sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves which was released in 2009 and is touted to be an even better game than its predecessor. I'll have to pick this one up soon.

And if that's not enough, they've just announced a third installment entitled Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception which is due for release in November 2011.

This is now my 2nd Platinum Trophy, the first being for Red Dead Redemption.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Gaming with Grandma - 121

We had decided to postpone Grandma's regular Saturday morning visit because this Saturday morning was New Years Day. So instead of Saturday morning Grandma came over today on Sunday.

Our first game of the morning was Der Schwarze Pirat. We originally had intended to play with 4 (almost 5) year old Georgia but on the first turn she had difficulty with the blower and then got upset and started acting up. A quick intervention from my wife first distracted and then removed Georgia from play so that left Grandma, 9.5 year old Maddie and me.

This was a really exciting game as the majority of gold built up on just a few of the islands. At one point in the game the red island had 9 gold on it. The winds certainly favoured me as we all raced for this particular island. I was the first to enter the harbour and claim these 9 gold for myself. That would have to be the most gold in a single haul that I've yet seen. Final scores were me 24 gold, Grandma 12 gold and Maddie 0 gold.

Maddie mustn't have been too impressed with her result in this game because she then dropped out leaving Grandma and I to play. Grandma suggested we play our old favourite Battle Line so I pulled it out of the game cabinet and set it up.

I always enjoy this game and Grandma is challenging to play. This time I had some good card draws combined with some early placement decisions that paid off. I ended up winning with a breakthrough of three adjacent flags in the centre of the line.