The Look

More than a look
A letter from the pottery and the late autumn garden

I heard a couple of young designers talking about sustainability and recycling, as if they had invented it.

Aparently, it’s the new hot topic in design. It’s so interesting to listen to young people talk about things that they know very little about.
I must have sounded like such a twat when I was young  –  and probably still do for that matter.
These people were talking about sustainable design as a ‘feature’ of design. It wasn’t the effect of consumerism, or its consequences, that was of interest to them.  It was the look of things. It was all about design and The Look!
Real sustainability didn’t seem to be the core issue.
Being a baby boomer, I grew up through the sixties and seventies and was very involved in the ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of sustainability. The grass roots approach.
When I met ‘The Lovely’ at Art School and we set up house together in a flat in Bondi, I promised her, not a lovely home or plain comfortable house, not even a shed. I knew that I would never be able to buy a house earning the sort of money that potter could earn, so I was only looking for vacant land. I initially promised her a life in a tent!
Fortunately she said OK! Count me in! She didn’t mind a bit of hard work.
I thought that I would find some little piece of bushland and pitch a tent while I built a mud brick shed, a pottery, a kiln and then, at a later date, a house.
This was what a lot of people did here in Australia in the past. Especially the returned solders in the post war period. My own father bought a vacant bush block and cleared it with a mattock, and hand cut a track to get trucks to the site. Then we all lived in a caravan for a year while he built the first two rooms. After that, we all lived in that cramped building, while he built the next few rooms. The house was only just finished a few years before my older brother left home.
Everything was paid for, bit by bit, as you went along. There was no credit, or ‘LendLease’ in those days. No plastic card credit.
I was interested in living what I thought would be a less-complicated life. I was wrong. All lives are complicated. However, in my youthful enthusiasm. I considered that living directly on the land and eating from the that land as much as possible by way of gardens and orchards, then making pots to sell that were made out of the land, should all be doable. Well, as I said, I was naive and full of youthful hubris. For someone interested in DIY sustainability, the obvious choice was to build with earth, dug free from the land and turned into capital by sheer effort and will power. Creating capital out of virtually nothing is a pretty neat trick. So all but one of our buildings are made from mud bricks. Of course, keeping chickens and ducks and eating the vegetables that we grew ourselves in an organic garden were all part of that daydream.
Well, it all came true. It wasn’t a dream. It was made real by dogged hard work of two dedicated people who teamed up and concentrated in a single-minded effort to make it reality. Of course it didn’t all happen as planned. There were detours and setbacks. Lots of little hiccups along the way. But we made it happen. Janine turned out to be one hell of a tough girl. I’m so glad that she accepted my offer. And as it turned out, we didn’t need the tent.
A kiln was built and pots were made and sold, but we always had a big vegetable garden and one of the first things we did, was to plant fruit trees for the future. Once we were a little more secure. I made pots and glazes from the raw materials that occurred in the landscape around us. It took time to research and uncover all the potential of the local geology, but bit by bit, I found one material after another that I could use to replace a previously bought ingredient in my recipes. These days we buy very little, but I do still buy some ingredients that are very hard to find, or make from what we have here to work with, like bentonite and alumina powder. Recently, I have even bought some plastic kaolin to add to my mixtures to make them a lot more potter friendly on the wheel.
Unlike young designers in the inner city, we are not interested in ‘The Look’ of things so much as the reality in total, their cost, both in money terms but in particular the cost to the environment, their carbon debt and their running costs. That is why we have chosen not to own a big car, an air conditioner, a microwave, a large plasma screen and other energy hungry appliances. So we don’t have The Look, we have chosen not to buy into it. We have a busy sustainable life which takes a lot of time and personal effort  to maintain. We just don’t have enough time or energy to have a real job to pay for ‘The Look’. We’ve ended up with the blisters, the gritty, real, sustainability part, but without ‘The Look’.
One very good outcome of all this DIY, is that we don’t have a mortgage and we can afford to live this small life.


In the garden, the cauliflowers are in full flower just now, so we are finding ways to use them up. One of our long time favourites is to cut it into bit sized chunks and eat it raw dipped in aioli made from our own garlic, lemons, local organic eggs and locally produced olive oil. Thats an entrée that is worth waiting all year for. It’s just terrific, great flavours and textures. Almost a meal in itself.
1 egg
1 lemon
1 cup of olive oil
5 or 6 or 10 cloves of garlic, depending on size.
Chop up the garlic and add the egg, whip it up into a thick yellow frenzy with half of the oil and the lemon juice, lastly add the remaining oil and mix it into the emulsion, add pepper to taste and a little salt if you like. I don’t.
If your eggs are small, use less oil, or add a second egg.
At the end of the summer, we ended up with a silver beet ‘tree’ that grew on the edge of the garden path. It grew as tall as me and finally had to be held up with a tall wooden stake. It finally ripened its seeds and the wind blew them all over the garden. We now have loads of the green stemmed silver beet growing everywhere. I’ve been mowing it to keep it down to a manageable amount. The Lovely transplanted a dozen or so seedlings into a bed, where they will be safe from my whipper snipper and garden chipper hoe.
They grow so fast at this time of year, so we have to find ways eat it with out getting too bored. The usual way is to just scorch it in a fry pan and sweat it down to a small warm mass. I believe that it’s called ‘whilted’ spinach. What is nice about it is that it doesn’t involve any oil or even water, just some heat. We serve it with a little lemon juice or alternatively with a dash of white wine vinegar. It seems to go quite well with most things that we eat.
Because these plants are so prolific just now we are constantly trying new ways to use it up. Not unlike the situation with zucchinis in the summer time.
It makes a lovely fresh side dish that is really quick to make and no washing up. just rinse the pan and it’s back up on the hook. A more substantial dinner at this time of year that is warm, satisfying and low fat is spinach and ricotta pie.
Wilt the spinach, as above. You can make ricotta very easily from milk that is past it’s use-by date by heating it gently and adding some lemon juice to it. It will separate into curds and whey, drain off the whey and add the curds to the spinach and place into the pie crust, cap it off and add a little grated cheese and /or brush with the whey or milk to get a nice brown top.
Janine was given a really simple recipe for pastry from Marta Armarda, a ceramic artist from Spain, who was in residence at Sturt workshops in Mittagong.
Marta’s recipe for pastry is quick and easy – and foolproof!
1 tbspn oil
2 tbspn water
2 tbspnwhite wine
Add enough flour to make the correct consistency, which is about 1 cup, but this will vary with the choice of flour.
This amount makes enough for a spinach pie. 30 to 45 mins in the oven at 160 to 180. Until it browns and looks right The wood fired kitchen stove doesn’t have a reliable temperature measurement , and it depends whether the fire has been going all day, or whether it has only  been lit for a few hours.
We have completed 2 of our 5 wood firing, weekend workshops and had work shown in the Manly Regional Gallery and at Ivy Hill Gallery down the south coast to coincide with the International Wood firing Conference. I couldn’t afford the time to go for the whole thing, but managed to get down there for a couple of days. So now it’s back into the workshop to start throwing more work. I have shows coming up in Singapore and Taiwan in the next few months, so I need to get productive.
The Lovely, catches my visage in the mirror, so that it shows my bald spot.
It’s not a good look.
Its not ‘The Look’ either.
It’s just a look and that’s how I am.
Best wishes from the thinning potter, and I don’t mean waistline, and his happy snapper


I’m a clarevoiant, and what do you do?

Something fishy about the clairvoyant

I am at the fish market and see that filleted salmon frames are only $4. They appear to have a lot of meat still on them, so I decide to give it a try. It’s a big fish, or at least it was. It’s still a long frame.

Even though we grow most of our own food. Protein is the most expensive part of any meal for us. Good quality meat or fish costs upwards of $30 per kilo. Of course there are cheaper alternatives, but I refuse to eat sausages. I’m trying to limit my fat, preservatives and salt intake and stay reasonably healthy, so I want to buy lean meat. Anyway, I only buy red meat once a month and I want to be able to feel good about what I’m eating when I do eat it.


Last month it was lamb shanks, cheap, flavoursome and when cooked slowly in red wine and reduced stock, the meat just falls off the bone and is quite delicious. I also buy chicken once a month as well. Some times its the whole bird. ‘The Lovely,’ skins it and boils it and from this she makes a great stock and the meat is separated and used for a number of meals. I’m not religious, so I also buy pork occasionally. Sometimes it’s the belly flap, boiled in our own home made cider and later, roasted to get that great crackling. This is a once a year treat. At other times I buy minced lean pork and we make gyoza from, pork, garlic and vegetable dumplings, in the Japanese style. Sometimes pan fried in our own homemade stock or otherwise steamed.
For the most part though, we prefer fish as our major source of protein and we eat it 2 or 3 times a week, two days I fast and the other days we eat vegetarian directly from the vegetable garden, with or without tofu. I’m not a vegetarian, certainly not a vegan. I’m an omnivore, but within limits. For 35 years we kept ducks and chickens. They are such good company and a lot of fun to watch and interact with. We ate them on a regular basis. That is why we kept them. I feel that the only way in which I can justify eating meat is if I kill it myself. Only then do you realise the significance of what you are doing and fully appreciate the meal. I never found it easy. I always had to steal myself for the act. It’s all about living in reality. Taking responsibility for your actions. Being independant and self reliant.
I don’t wish harm on any other living thing in general. But I’m not a Buddhist either. I think that if I take responsibility for the meat that I eat then, I’ve earned the meal.
One of the cheapest fish at the market here is the local coastal Leather Jacket, usually at or around $5 to $9 per kilo. It’s a lovely fish, firm and tasty meat, but it can’t be filleted. It must be cooked whole, so people seem to avoid it. I love it. I have no trouble in steaming it or pan fry/steaming it. I really like it, but you can’t eat it all the time. The small local blackfish are also good value too. Always economical, as the fillets are too small for most peoples taste. I also like to buy sardines or garfish when they are in season and appear in the market. However they only appear intermittently.
So tonight it’s going to be ’empty’ salmon bone fish cakes. I simmer the frame for a while, leave it to cool and then separate the meat from the bones. The bones are then returned to the ‘soup’ and boiled again to make a stock. I plan to make fishcakes with our own potatoes and with a hint of wasabe fresh from the garden.


Now wasabe is an interesting vegetable/herb/condiment plant. It is supposed to only grow in the high clear environment of the Japanese mountains, washed by regular misty rain and growing in among the rocks and stones of fast flowing mountain streams, never allowed to dry out, always moist and well irrigated with crystal clear mountain water, growing in the shaded environment of the deep rocky ravines.
Here in Australia, there is a small producer in Tasmania, down south in the clear mountain environment where all the stringent conditions of cool dampness prevail. We once saw a small tray of fresh wasabe roots for sale in the green grocers. They had had a power failure and all the fridges and coolers were broken down over the weekend, so everything was on sale or being thrown out. We grabbed the tray of wasabe. Our initial thinking was the grate it up to make our own wasabe paste, and we did do this with part of it, but I thought, why don’t we give it a try in the garden, it’s already sprouting from it’s warm weekend spent wrapped in plastic on the tray.
We planted it out in our hot dry exposed summer garden, but we did give it some shade cover, by cutting bracken ferns and sticking them all around to create some dappled shade. We also gave it a disproportionate share of the cloudy dam water from the hose when we were watering. Now three years on we have a small tough little patch of wasabe permanently in the veggie patch. It couldn’t be farther from its home or desired environment, but it lives on, even if it isn’t thriving.


I get to make 10 good sized fish cakes from my efforts. We eat half for dinner leaving some for tomorrow. Served with garden vegetables, they go down a treat. Two main meals and two litres of stock for a risotto another day. All very good value for $4.
We have been to a couple of music festivals recently. The highlight of the National Folk Festival music for me was Heath Cullen from the South Coast. He is really interesting and very talented. I really like the feel of his music, his style and presence. He’s like the love child of Nick Cave and Paul Kelly – if that were possible? With the breathiness, but sans the basso profondo, of Tom Waits. That sounds like a very strange description, but I think that it is kind of right. I bought both of his CD’s from him. This is wonderfully emotive music. It speaks to me. My favourite track is silver wings. Although at first listen, it appeared deceptively simple. However, on subsequent playing, I found it deeply moving once I got to listen to it more closely. It’s immediate musicality and catchy melodic line is eventually surpassed by the touching, slightly dark idly of the lyric. It has gothic references. “The black corn fields”, “The old grain silo by the railway track” and “magpies perched on power lines”, but ultimately there is some optimism. “I’m gunna to rise up”.
It’s as if it is a hymn to loss.
I like it heaps!


Try googling him;
I can’t wait to hear some more from him, as he has a new album on the way.
At Womad we saw and heard a lot of world music. The act that I liked the most at WOMAD was the Balanescu Quartet, really interesting and engaging. I enjoyed them immensely. I went to see them twice and was really interested and surprised to hear that each performance was different, playing completely separate pieces. I bought both of their CD’s that they had available.
I was thinking that I hadn’t heard of this quartet before, however, on inspection of some of my other CD’s when I got home. I thought that there was something a little familiar about their music, I realise that they are playing on the Michael Nyman CD that I have.
Try googling them;
This is what I downloaded from the WOMAD website;
Romanian virtuoso violinist and composer Alexander Balanescu boldly leads his string quartet across musical frontiers into uncharted territory. Pushing the limits over 25 years has resulted in the world-renowned Quartet collaborating with artists as diverse as Michael Nyman, Ornette Coleman, David Byrne, the Pet Shop Boys, Kate Bush and Kraftwerk.
and wikipedia tells me that;

The Balanescu Quartet is an avant-garde string quartet founded in 1987 by Alexander Balanescu that achieved fame through the release of several complex cover versions of songs by German experimental electronic music band ‘Kraftwerk’ on their album ‘Possessed’.

The quartet are mainly notable for their very distinctive style of music, which encompasses odd time rhythms, sound dissonances and complex arrangements. They have performed multiple works with a variety of other artists, including Philip GlassDavid ByrneGavin BryarsMichael NymanRabih Abou-KhalilKevin VolansHector ZazouUn Drame Musical InstantanéSpiritualizedYellow Magic Orchestra and the Pet Shop Boys.

These CD’s are on high rotation in the kitchen, pottery workshop and/or the car. I’m really enjoying them.
On another occasion, while we were listening to a concert a person came and sat down next to us and we got to talking. He told us that he was a clairvoyant. He travels to all the country fairs with a soothsaying tent. The clairvoyant asked me what I did for a living and I couldn’t help myself from saying, that if you are a clairvoyant, you should already know that, surely?
That didn’t go down too well!
I’m so cruel!
What is it that I actually do again?
love from the uncertain sceptic and his lovely and talented assistant

Mark my words, the days of digital are numbered!

I spent a day and a bit fixing my crashed hard drive. Luckily I had a back-up drive. In fact I have two. Double redundancy. This has happened to me once before when I wasn’t so well prepared and at that time I did loose a bit of past data, because I hadn’t manually backed up for a few weeks.
I managed to rebuild my hard drive this time, using digital chewing gum and analogue string. It’s all a bit bodgey, so I have ordered a new drive and will swap it over when it comes.
The very next day the laser printer died. I’m not too surprised, it is 15 years old and gets through 4 toners a year with all the printing of the books. I rang up a laser repair bloke and he just laughed at me and hung up. At the next one I left a message and he never did ring back. The next call was more informative, he politely explained to me that at a $100 call-out fee and a minimum $45 service repair quote fee I could get 3 new printers including a new toner and drum in each, so why was I bothering?
I’m a bit appalled at first, but I guess that it is 15 years old, and that’s a long time in digital evolution. I’m lucky that the man down at the toner refill shop in our town still carries the stuff I need to put in them.
Still, I don’t like to throw out anything that isn’t fully worn out. I have another go at the old printer, blowing it out with compressed air and washing the paper lifting roller fingers with metho to make it sticky again, but to no avail. Although the paper handling parts are shot, I work out that I can pull out  the paper tray and manually feed one sheet at a time into the mechanism and it will print it, before it goes into jam up mode with the second sheet.  If I pull out the toner unit and the paper tray and then re-insert them, it clears the blockage signal. It will then take another sheet. I battle on from page 69 through to page 119 to finish one copy of Australian Wood Firing. Every ten to fifteen sheets or so, it starts to print out garbled garbage all over the page instead of text. I have to shut down the soft ware and re-boot, switch of the printer and re-start it. It does work, but I just can’t bear it.
I admit defeat. I’ve wasted 3 hours. It’s an ancient Brother printer, I google to find the model closest to this one that is currently available, and lo!  There is one available for sale in Mittagong, so close. I call in and buy it the next time I’m down the street. $79 which is 50 dollars cheaper than buying the toner and drum separately. The machine is therefore free and they are paying me the equivalent of $50 to take it out of the shop. If I was not the person that I am, I could consider just buying a brand new printer each month instead of buying toner refills. It would be cheaper. What a stupid world we have created for ourselves! So mindlessly wasteful.
Anyway, I just can’t bring myself to think like that.  I can’t do it. All that embedded energy, all that perfectly good stuff going to land fill.
I really hate built-in obsolescence.
Does trouble really come in three’s?
Well, No. Not digitally, surely it would be one’s and zero’s. So three’s would have to be 010101 in some sort of binary digital speak similar to this. In actual fact it is 0011, but that doesn’t look very funny, unless you are a mathematician. Most of us aren’t. And mathematicians aren’t know for their humour.
So Yes, trouble does come in 010101’s
I get it home to find that the new printer doesn’t have driver software that goes back 14 years to the age of our old computer. The system software is so old that it isn’t supported anymore.
I’ll have to update the operating system on the old desk top computer. It can be done apparently, you just down-load it from the cloud. Yeah sure. This computer is so old that it doesn’t even have a modem in it!
It’ll just take more time. Until then I will run everything off my laptop. We had already decided that we would not replace the desk top computer, once we got used to owning a laptop that does everything that the old desktop did, only better, faster and more conveniently. The old desk top computer doesn’t know it yet, but its digital days are numbered.
As the orders for my books keep coming in and I’m the person most amazed by this. I need to have a reliable working system to get them printed. I have been toying with stripping all the text to ASCI format and converting it to html for conversion to Apple iPad book format or Amazon Kindle format. In this way I can sell them digitally through the cloud. I can’t imagine that it is too much work to get that done, but then I still have the problem of the hundreds of images that are embedded in the text at the moment. They can’t be included in the Kindle format, so I will have to set up a data base and make the images available for down load to registered customers. It’s all starting to sound like a lot of work now, and not the kind of work that I enjoy.  I certainly can’t afford to pay to have it done professionally, so that is why I’m still printing and binding books one day a month on the kitchen table.
I don’t like the idea of cutting down trees and shipping them here as paper, then me shipping that paper back across the globe to my customers in the US, Canada, UK and Europe. I do choose recycled paper to print on, but I’m noticing that it is getting quite hard to find these days. Instead, they are selling ‘certified green’ paper. It smells of bullshit to me. I was never really confident that 100% recycled paper really was, but what can you do? I choose the best from a bad bunch of options.
My sincere thanks to Len Smith, who is always a trove of good advice and amazing information about computers. I couldn’t do it without you Len!

I’m sure that you’ve heard enough about our grubby financial dealings, private teaching classes and our digital detours. 

The other thing that happens in our kitchen is the cooking of all the green food from our garden.

We have been making some nice meals from our garden, dealing with our excesses, using up some of our many capsicums at this time of year, I have been roasting them and pickling them. They are delicious.

Even better after a day or so of ageing in the jar.


Roasting green caps over the burner flame on the stove top and after roasting the caps are placed in a plastic bag to sweat for twenty minutes


After sweating, the charred coating is scraped off and they are sliced into strips, placed in a bowl and covered in oil and vinegar dressing. I served them at the wood firing workshop and they disappeared very quickly.
It’s time to make more stock for general use. I enjoy taking stock and making stock. It’s very cheap to make and adds loads of flavour to all sorts of meals through the week.


Browning onions and garlic in olive oil and then using what is at hand in the garden to make the mirepoix.

roasting cheap stock bones from the butcher $3.50 worth

Once roasted the bones and veggies are all boiled down together. The bones and veggies are then removed and the liquor reduced and a bottle of good local red wine from Sally’s Corner Wines in Sutton Forest is added and reduced further.

Once reduced down to 1 litre, the gel is placed into 2 containers, one frozen for later and one in the fridge for this week.

It’s a fabulous thing to do that is so rewarding and it cost next to nothing and doesn’t have any preservatives or any salt.
It helps us survive and eat well on a limited budget, but most of all it is all made here in the kitchen using as much of our own produce as possible and cooked using the heat from the wood that we grew ourselves, in our own forest and burnt in the kitchen wood fired stove.
This stove was bought almost 40 years ago, 2nd hand, and is still going strong, heating our hot water , heating the house and cooking our dinner.
As winter and the cooler weather approaches, we have an excess of lemons. I
Shave off the very thin layer of zest from 25 lemons. It takes about an hour to do it well without disturbing the white pith. I want the zest to make limoncello, a lemon flavoured liquor. All the zest is added to a bottle of Vodka and left to soak for a month. After draining and filtering, it is mixed with sugar/water syrup and is delicious.
We now have 25 skinned lemons to deal with and I don’t want to waste them
I decide to use half of them for juice to make a lot of lemon juice ice cubes for the freezer. 3 trays should do it. The remaining half of the juice is made into a lemon drink cordial.
Sweet and sharp, it is really thirst quenching and I did it all with my own digits.
Digitally yours,
I am Number 4, you are Number 2
or should that be 0100 and 0010?



Teaching from Home

A letter from the garden, pottery and kitchen.


It’s late April and passing into May, we are very busy as usual. Every month is busy of course. But autumn is a time of the extended Indian summer for the last of the tomatoes, capsicums, egg plants and zucchinis. There is still a lot to pick until the cold nights bring it all to an end. In years gone by, we would be starting to have frost by now, but with global warming, they don’t come as soon as they used to and are not as severe. This warmer climate means that we will be experiencing a lot more bugs in the garden, as the frosts won’t burn them off like they used to.


Autumn is well and truly here. We are now starting to eat the peas that we planted a month or two ago. We’re also starting to eat the earliest broccoli, along with carrots and spinach, all coming along nicely. We have harvested the last of the beans, to dry for the winter soups.

IMG_3603 IMG_3565


The lovely and I  have been making compost for the garden, for the winter mulch. Shredding up all the old corn stalks and other past-their-best veggies and weeds. It all goes int the compost ring with a little manure, the mixture of dried leaves, shredded stalks and soft wet weeds seems to get fermenting pretty rapidly and drops to half its volume in a few weeks. I know that we ought to break up the pile, mix it all up and re-instate it all back into the wire bin to get it fully rotted really fast. But this is real life and we just don’t have the time. It all seems to rot down well enough without the extra effort.









We’ve also been collecting the pine mushrooms, the saffron-milk-caps, from under the pine trees, for our risotto . They appear with the warm weather after the rain. We have also been harvesting feijoas for our breakfast fruit. They are full-on ripe at  this time of year. And starting to fall from the tree.  As we have far too many at this time of year to eat them all fresh every day. The Lovely has started to use them to make a very nice, moist feijoa fruit cake.


This is very moist and tangy. Lovely with morning coffee. It’s a great way to use up lots of feijoas when they are in season.

Here is The Lovely’s recipe.

Feijoa, date (or pear, or prunes) and ginger loaf


▪   1 cup feijoas, peeled and diced

▪   150g dates, though since Janine is not a fan of dates, I used chopped dried pears the first time, prunes the second time and a mix of the two the third time.

▪   100g crystallised ginger, chopped

▪   250mls boiling water

▪   150g brown sugar

▪   50g butter

▪   1 egg, beaten

▪   1 teaspoon vanilla extract

▪   270g flour

▪   1 tablespoon ginger

▪   1 tablespoon baking powder

▪   1 tsp baking soda

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C for baking and grease a loaf tin.

2. Place the feijoa, dates, ginger, water, butter and sugar into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

3. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking powder and soda and add to the fruit mixture once cooled along with the egg and vanilla. Do not over mix (this mixture is quite thick).

4. Spoon the mixture into the greased tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean



Basically it’s a variation on the old boiled fruit cake recipe and It’s really nice.


We have decided to take on some private teaching of weekend workshops lately, as a way to bolster our ever decreasing income. We have been having groups of 10 pottery students come here to pack and fire the wood kiln. Both workshops  that we have proposed so far have been immediately, fully booked out, so we will offer a few more in the coming months. The students come on Saturday morning, pitch their tents, then we start to pack the kiln, this goes on all afternoon, until it’s full and then we start the firing in the evening. We fire straight through the night in shifts and finish on the Sunday afternoon/evening. The firing varies between 16 and 20 hours. Everyone seems to enjoy it and the pots come out pretty well, with nice wood flashing and some delicate ash deposit. It seems that everyone is happy, and so therefore so are we.

We have 2 more booked for the autumn/winter, with the possibility of a third to come.

Teaching from home will be our alternate income source since the casual/part-time teaching we had at the art schools has dried up with their sudden closure by the conservative government.


The first few days of the week are taken up with the cutting, splitting and stacking of the wood for the kiln. I have to fill the end wall of the shed with cut and split seasoned wood. It sounds easy to say quickly, but all this work begins a year or two earlier, when we collect the trees and start to season them, so that they will be dry and ready in time for the firing when it comes a year or two hence. Everything has to be thought through, to keep a flow of milled and blunged clay, rock glaze powders and wood fuel continuously in the pipeline so that there won’t be any shortfall.

We have recently been given 8 truck loads of pine trees from the clearing of a house block in a nearby village. I don’t know how much wood this is, possibly 6 to 8 tonnes per load x 8 loads = about 50 tonnes? It will dry out when seasoned to half of this weight. Whatever it is, it will be enough wood to fire the kiln for another 3 years or so. Pine isn’t my favourite timber, but it’s OK and it is much better for us to burn it productively in the kiln and save other fuel, than to see it burnt off in a huge pile. Pine trees are considered weeds in this shire and are recommended for removal to be replaced with native species.






The next thing that you know, our back yard becomes a camping ground with tents of all descriptions and camper vans all around. What a lovely bunch of potters. We have a great time and the firing goes well, the results are great and we make a lot of new friends. There is too much food, as everyone seems to have brought enough for everyone else as well. There is lots of laughter and good will all around. It’s a great vibe!

IMG_3570 IMG_3574

IMG_3680 IMG_3681


Janine will be offering some low temperature firing workshops in the coming weeks as well. Taking small groups through the whole process of packing and firing a small wood kiln to low temperatures in one day.

Teaching a few workshops from home might be the way that we subsidise our income for the coming few years? There are so few opportunities for modern students to fill in all the enormous gaps that are left in the new ‘free-enterprise’ model of ceramic education. Workshops like these might be one of the ways that professional expertise can be transferred from us to the new generation of potters.

When ceramic training was handled by Technical and Further Education. There was full syllabus including the technical subjects of Glaze technology and kiln firing. The new privately run par-time classes that have replaced them are only a few hours of practical instruction with no structured instruction that follows a full syllabus. The result is an incomplete experience. This probably suits most of the clientele, but for those wanting more…… We will be back to the 50’s and 60’s, where, if you wanted to learn something more fully and completely, you had to go to an artist and work with and for them, most likely as a volunteer. I got my early start with Des Howard at the Argyle art Centre and Nicholas Lidstone at the Berrima Pottery as a volunteer. Later, I worked for Mike Pridmore as a paid labourer. Good times! However, I soon realised that if I wanted to learn all the technology that I realised that I was going to need to be an independent and self-reliant potter, then I would need to go to Art School and later to do an apprenticeship.

This journey worked for me. I was lucky. I think that it is a lot harder now to access all that I was able to get involved in. For a start, life is tougher and far more mercenary. Rents are higher and the cost of living seems to be greater.


packing the students glazed pots into the kiln.       The fired pots ready to unpack



So we are starting to teach from home. I don’t think that all this is quite as mercenary as it might seem at first glance. Sure we are interested in earning some money, but we are also providing a service that is not all that easy to access in any other place. Certainly not in a place as interesting, sustainable and carbon aware as this with access to our organic gardens and orchards as a backdrop.


In the gap between the two workshops, the Lillipillis berries are getting ripe in the garden, the birds are very keen on them and we have to be quick to get some of them as well.

We keep a keen eye on them every day as they ripen, and as soon as the birds become active, then we have to get the ladder out and get up there and start to pick, otherwise, there will be none left in a day or two. The tree is 6 or 7 metres high, so I can’t reach them all. I collect all that I can reach from the ladder and leave all the rest at the top for the birds.

We manage to get them picked between episodes of wood gathering, sorting, cutting, splitting and stacking for the next firing.

IMG_3589 IMG_3590


The Lovely makes a few jars of Lillipilli jelly for later on in the season, but we start to eat one of them straight away, it’s just so nice, and all from our garden.This is the result of our two partial days work, picking, washing, boiling, straining, adding sugar and reboiling, then dripping the strained jelly. What wonderful colour and flavour, and from an Australian native fruit as well.

We are so lucky!


Our red-meat meal for this month, was lamb shanks. Browned in olive oil, onions and garlic, then simmered gently in one whole bottle of local red wine – merlot, and two large  table-spoons full of marrow bone jelly stock. (see earlier email) Simmered down to 1/3rd its volume over an hour or so makes the most delicious and intense sauce and served with garden vegetables.




It’s hard to believe that anything this simple and effortless could be this delicious.


With love from Mammon, the pantry-raider and garden mercenary