ACT News


What beauties (the dog too)

Depending on how you feel about spiders the 2013 Peacock Spiders - Jewels of the Australian Bush calendar promises either a year of arachnophobic horror (with a different hairy-legged monster every month) or a year of glimpses of the wonders of our continent's weirdly lovely fauna.

Two Canberra spider experts and enthusiasts, Stuart Harris and Jurgen Otto, have compiled a big, splendid, multi-legged peacock spiders calendar. Designed and printed here in town too, and with some of the starring spiders denizens of the ACT this is a truly Canberran achievement.

Harris and Otto produced the calendar at their own expense, but thought it worth it as a way of introducing the public to these wondrous spiders.

Loyal readers will have been following this column's quest for better Canberra calendars to send to our interstate and international aunts than the awful commercially produced ones that show a sterile, deserted Canberra devoid of people, as if Canberra is a kind of (eerily well-maintained) Chernobyl.

The peacock spiders calendar is one of several that readers, sharing our wrath at the Canberra-as-Chernobyl calendars, have pointed us to. It won't suit an arachnophobic aunt but otherwise is quite brilliant and has quite a story behind it that Stuart Harris, his brawny arms luxuriantly tattooed (almost giving him something in common with his fabulously patterned jewel spiders) told when he came to see me.

He brought with him, in transparent plastic lunchbox containers, two live jewel spiders. They, like their cousins in the calendar, are impossibly tiny. In the calendar the spiders are vastly magnified to display for us their magnificent peacockery.


Naturalist Harris, who has one species of peacock spider named after him because he found it and it turned out to be hitherto unknown to science (it is Maratus harrisi), explains that peacock spiders are unique to Australia. They are jumping spiders in which during the mating season (between September and December) the males of the various peacock spider species turn on an elaborate sexual display to try to impress females. They, the males, have brightly coloured and sometimes vividly patterned abdomens and lift them up (just the way a male peacock lifts and displays its tail) to show to the female. And at the same time they, the desperately-theatrical males, lift up a pair of legs too so that in each of the photographs in the calendar the legs, held aloft in a kind of saluting gesture, seem to almost 'frame' the picturesque abdomen. Ironically for a calendar-adorning creature, the peacock spiders, Harris relates, don't live for 12 months. Their life-spans are brief but they seem (there's still so much to learn about them) to pack a lot into that fleeting sojourn. So for example, Harris describes, the males go through a series of ''moults'' en route to achieving their peak splendour. He contrasts them with crimson rosellas that take three years of moulting to achieve their maximum razzle-dazzlery. The male peacock spiders, by contrast, bustle through about three months' of moults to reach their peak peacockery.

We wish we could tell you where to buy Peacock Spiders - Jewels Of The Australian Bush calendars but of the 500 printed all but 25 have been sold already. Harris expects to sell them at Kingston's Bus Depot Markets on Saturday, when and where, if experience is repeated, people will be fascinated to hear yarns about these little creatures (some people are too arachnophobic to come close and look). We are sharing our continent with them but most of us will never see them.

Meanwhile, back to the broad stream of this column's calendarmania.

There are, an unhappy reader pointed out to us as he posted one of the offending calendars to an old aunt in England, no people in the commercial, conspicuous-in-the-shops Canberra calendars.

To show this as a city with no people (when there are 370,000 of us) is misleading, distorting and hackle-raising. Now the plot thins (or perhaps thickens) with one canny reader's advice.

''As a past photographer, the answer to why publishers print calendars minus people is that like a lot of things in life it's driven by the bottom line.

''A photo without a human can be used over and over again for little or no extra cost. A photo with people wearing clothes, hairstyles and handbags goes out of fashion and out of date.''

Shock! Horror! This has the ring of truth.

Looking again at two of the offending calendars here beside me as I write I notice that, yes, even on the rare occasions when these Chernobylesque pictures do have a few people in them they are so very far away as to be mere specks, whose clothes, hairstyles and handbags couldn't possibly be analysed.

So let's boycott the Canberra-as-Chernobyl calendars and send our overseas aunts better, more Canberry ones. And as mentioned in a previous column, one deserving and very Canberry one is the ACT Rescue & Foster (ARF) ''Best Friends'' calendar of ex-foster dogs (now with doting owners) photographed against Canberra's heritage buildings. ''Klaus'' (aka ''Brikz'') is the calendar's Mr March, posed at historic Hotel Kurrajong. His besotted owners report what we can all already see in his lovely face, that he is ''a friendly boof-head who aims to be everyone's friend''.

Buying the calendar assists ARF's vital work with the Klauses of this world and at you'll find how, when and where to buy the calendar.