Chapter 1

Christmas had passed. Weena was back at the hospital and I was at home, trying to solve the conflicting demands of home, the CSIRO, the University of Western Australia, and the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia. The last was really worried about phylloxera infestation. A survey had (apparently) claimed that 95% of the Margaret River vineyards were "vulnerable." I decided that I'd call my brother before responding to their plea.

Then there were Charlie and Maddy, who wanted to visit towards the end of January, and Weena's father, who would be retiring from the nickel mine in the spring.

I sighed. Ever since that fatal flight to Laverton, everything had become ever more complicated. Of course, I wouldn't surrender those complications. Least of all Weena, her job, and her father. Or the couple and their holdings in the Petermann. Sigh. Life was complex.

4:30. I pushed the appropriate buttons. "Hi, Sandra. No, nothing's wrong. Are you okay? And the kids? Good. I need to talk to David. Is he around? Great. Take care ... Hi, David. Yes, we're fine. I need some of your knowledge. The Wine Industry Association of Western Australia wants me to consult. Yes. There's some report about phylloxera that's got their knickers in a twist. No, I've not seen it, but it apparently claims that 95% of Margaret River's vulnerable ... Really? That bad? Oh. High end plonk, huh? Charge them? I don't know if I'm allowed to. What did you pay the bloke you told me about last October? $5000 plus expenses! For one talk? Sounds more like a politician. I guess I'd best read up on the nasty creatures. No! you nitwit, the insects, not the politicians! Right. Be good. Kiss the tribe for Unk."

Phylloxera is a pest of commercial grapevines worldwide, originally native to eastern North America. These tiny, pale yellow sap-sucking insects, related to aphids, feed on the roots of grapevines. In Vitis vinifera, the resulting deformations ("nodosities" and "tuberosities") and secondary fungal infections can girdle roots, gradually cutting off the flow of nutrients and water to the vine. Nymphs also form protective galls on the undersides of grapevine leaves and overwinter under the bark or on the vine roots...

The phone rang. "Hollister. Hey, Maddy! How are you guys? We were just talking about you. What are your plans? Ours? I don't know. Weena just tells me where to go and how to dress and I do it. I know when I'm well off. No, she's not here yet. Should be soon, unless the hospital's overrun or there's a traffic snarl. Why don't I have her call you? Right. Is Charlie there? Oh. Well, tell him hello when he gets back from playing with those bulls! Yeah. I'm laughing with you. Weena'll call later. Bye."

I contemplated getting myself a beer but thought better of it. I wondered whether I had a reference on Sternorrhyncha at home. Wheeler was in the office. But Homoptera, which is what the suborder of the Hemiptera which contains the aphids, whiteflies, and scale insects, used to be called, is a big one. There might not be anything on phylloxera there. Maybe he should just browse the Web.

He heard Weena's brakes in the driveway and a few moments later, she was inside.

"Hi. I've got to get out of this uniform!"

"Need help?"

"Now there's an idea."

They were upstairs and undressed in a hurry. Weena looked in the mirror.

"Do you think I'm getting fat?"


"Am I getting fat?"

"'Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night'."

"I still love it when you quote Shakespeare!"

I told Weena that Maddy had called and that she should call back. I also suggested that we drive out to the beach for dinner, rather than cooking. She was more than amenable, and I went to the computer to see whether I could find anything interesting where phylloxera was concerned. (It turned out that there was a bloke at CSIRO near Adelaide who'd written about them. I'd get hold of his stuff tomorrow.)

I could hear Weena chatting with Maddy. I thought about whether she's want to go west or south. Probably south to Fremantle. We could have seafood at the Atrium in the Esplanade.

"They want to come on the fourth, look at Perth over the weekend and go to the Consulate on the Monday. Then it'll be open, depending on what the Consul says."


"I'll take the Monday off and tell the hospital I won't be available for the weekend."

"No problem. Do we have any idea when your dad might be here?"

"I think he's eligible for retirement in March. So I'd guess it'll be April."

"Sounds reasonable. Scarborough or Fremantle?"

"Ooh. Fremantle. I hate places where they charge a fortune for parking."

We had a lovely dinner and a bottle of "Zeepaard."

[Frans Thijsz' ship was 't Gulden Zeepaardt (The Golden Seahorse) it was his 1626-28 voyage that defined most of the southern coast of Australia. Thijsz also discovered the islands of the Nuyts Archipelago where Swift placed Lilliput and Blefuscu a century later.]

I phoned Canberra in the morning, prior to leaving for the uni. I got Janice and after the usual chit-chat, asked about earning consulting fees. "Just don't neglect us or the University." "Really?" "Yep. But don't overdo it for a year or two." I laughed and told her about the Wine Industry. "Make sure you get cash and a coupla cases of their good stuff!" "Right. Thanks. And say hello to the boss."

I got into my "official" Rover and drove to the uni. There were plenty of spaces, as classes wouldn't resume for over four more weeks. But there were lots of things to do: sorting the message slips directly into the trash went quickly, trying to work out what do do with my specimens was a much bigger problem: the boxes were deeper than the shelving. I started shelving the rest of the books. Another problem – what order? I decided to stick with old Linnaeus. Botany took up only part of a shelf. Then I got bogged down. I had so little on protista on the one end and on chordata on the other, that my brave attempt was bound to fail. So I just unpacked boxes onto a second set of shelves. Maybe someday a band of idle elves would put them into neat order. Or even a student assistant.

There was a notion! I went downstairs to ask how to go about acquiring staff. It sounded both easy and complex. But it was clear: I needed a description of the job and whether it was part-time, full-time or whatever. And I needed "requirements." I went back upstairs and looked for my copy of Grimaldi and Engel, Evolution of the Insects. I knew it had a brown cover, but I couldn't spot it. Most likely still in a box or at home. Or had I looked at home? I sat there for a while and decided to see whether there was someone around to lunch with. The third floor was hopeless. Not even a light in any office. So I went downstairs.

I followed some noises and found several students playing shove ha'penny on a lab table, laughing every time the plastic coin hit the floor. "'Day, prof." "Morning. Are you the only folks about?"

"Looks like it. There's only the four of us on this floor and the ladies in the office are holding the hordes at bay downstairs."

"And I was the only one on three until a few minutes ago." I had an idea. "What are you studying?"

"Well, Shirl is botany and Roz is in zoology, but she wants to be a vet. Harry's fisheries management an' I'm arthropods."

"Really. What are you interested in?"

"Not really sure. I was really into shrimp and isopods and crabs when I was little. We lived on the shore about two hours southeast of here, Golden Bay. I got a copy of Dakin's Australian Seashores for my tenth. It's all beat up now. But I loved it."

Roz and Harry had drifted off. I looked at Shirl. "Are you bored?"

"No. I understand," she said. "But my book was Clyne's Australian Wildflowers. We live on the Margaret River. Actually, our families are like the Montagues and the Capulets." They both blushed.

"Sounds interesting. Can I take you both for lunch? I need to pump your brains. And you can tell me the sad tale of Mike and Shirl. Not very metrical."

They laughed and nodded and we went off to my Rover.

Shirl sat next to me, Mike climbed in back. "It's a simple story," Shirl said. "Mike's dad works for Will Nairn at Peel Estate and mine is with the Horgans at Leeuwin Estate. So, it's a rivalry between the limestone of Baldivis and the river valley. And though I'm in botany, it's not viticulture."

"Doesn't sound very fatal."

"No. Not really. Anyway, make a left at the next turning. Right. And now look for a spot to park." It was a fairly large place set in the midst of a not-too-full lot. It was built like a country station house with a wide veranda.

We went in and got ourselves seated. "Well," I said, "Now I've got two things to ask about." We all ordered and then I went on. "I was going to ask about hiring someone. I've got CSIRO funds, but I don't know how to go about it." Shirl's mouth was open so I held up my hand. "Wait. The other thing is that the Wine Industry Association of Western Australia wants me to talk to them about phylloxera. And I now think that either or both of you could tell me about them."

"Well," began Mike, "The assistant shouldn't be a problem. Will whoever it is get paid by the CSIRO or will the CSIRO pay the uni and let the uni steal nearly half?"


"The uni will skim overhead. They always do."

"I guess I'm an innocent. Hold on." I used my mobile to call Janice. "Hi. Me again. If I hire an assistant can you pay them or does it go through the uni? I do it? I see. I set up an account, you put funds into it, I disburse them. What about taxes? Okay. So someone in the ACT tells me. Sounds doable. Thanks." I looked at Mike and Shirl. "You heard it."

"Yeah. Well, you should hire Des."


"Oh. You may not have met him. He just took his degree. He wants to go on, but can't afford it. He was into aphids – aren't phylloxera aphids?"


"Okay. Anyway, Des is looking for work. I could tell him to come see you."

"Great." I pulled out a card and wrote my home number on the back. "Tell him to phone me." Our food arrived and we shifted our attentions.

Shirl said: "My dad's been really excited about phylloxera. Maybe that's not the right word. More like fearful or concerned."

"I can understand. My brother's a vintner in Queensland."

"Any road. If you can help, the Industry Association is the place to start," added Shirl.

Well, I knew what I had to do; and I needed to put things in order. Charlie and Maddy would get here around the second of February. So I had about three weeks. The uni didn't start till after Labour Day – and that was the beginning of March. Charlie and Maddy'd be gone by then. And most likely Weena's dad wouldn't be here before the end of March. Maybe the end of April.

I paid and drove back to the uni, reminding Charlie to have Des call me. There were several pink slips in my pigeonhole. One said the Mr. Watkins from the CSIRO had called. It was a local number, but I didn't recognize it.

Back upstairs, I called the number. A voice barked "Watkins" at me.

"Mr. Watkins, this is Gordy Hollister. I think you called me."

"Damn right! I want to know what the hell you think you're doing!"

"I beg your pardon?" I was really puzzled.

"I want to know who the hell you are to come invading Western Australia!"

"Look, this is silly. Who are you? What am I supposed to be invading?"

"Are you an idiot? I've told you. You're invading my territory!"

"Who are you? The governor?"

"Don't play games with me!"

"Look. I don't know what you're getting at. I don't know who you are. And this isn't getting us anywhere. Goodbye." And I hung up.

I pulled out my cell and called Janice yet again. "Hi. I'm sorry about all these calls. I just spoke to a chap named Watkins who was going on at me about invading his territory. He said he was CSIRO."

"Oh. Oh. I didn't realize. Nobody told me. What do they do? Oh. Well, I'll try to straighten him out. You mean that? Oh. What's his number? Okay. Thanks."

Well, I'd learned something. Watkins was a well-known blowhard. He worked in Wembley, a bit north and west of campus. The site did water and environmental biogeochemistry and landscape science and such. A Dr. Toze was the principal research scientist and Janice thought I might call him as a formality. Not right now. I was actually irritated by Watkins, who must have had imperialist leanings. Oh, well.

I went home.

For the rest of this story, you need to Log In or Register

Story tagged with:
True /