It’s The Season For Wild Passata

Another on-going job besides kiln maintenance at this time of year, is keeping up with the tomato crop as it slowly sprawls and proliferates all across the garden beds and over the lawn and down the pathways. They keep on flowering and producing loads of ever-smaller compact, flavoursome, little zingers. full of intense tomato flavour, but very small. These little beauties take a long, back-bending, time to pick. There is no easy way. I’ve tried kneeling and I’ve tried bending, but the problem is that there are so few places to put your feet, when the plants spread all over the place. I’m always aware of not crushing the fruit or the plant stems, which set down adventitious roots all along the way to feed and nourish the ever-expanding crop. It takes a long time, as there are so many of them, but it’s worth it. It doesn’t take too long to fill the first box.


I don’t get all of them, there are just too many, but I fill the basket. it’s enough. We can do this every few days at this time of year, and do. Batch after batch, we slowly fill the pantry cupboard shelves. After cleaning and washing the tomatoes, I simmer them down in the evenings when we light the stove. I make them into tomato passata, some times just straight tomatoes if I’m pressed for time, but on other evenings, when I can make the extra time. I brown our own onions in good EV olive oil and then add garlic, capsicums and basil with the tomatoes. It makes a richer flavour, but the extra fibre takes a lot longer to pass through the mouli sieve. Sometimes it’s just a batch of the prolific little yellow tomatoes, they don’t have the same level of acidity in them, so the piquancy is somewhat less, but they are still worth the effort. A more usual batch is a mix of all of the above. It just depends on what there is the most of on the day. Every batch is slightly different and makes for a natural variety throughout the coming year.


After sieving out the skins and seeds, the sauce is placed back on the stove to be reduced and concentrated a bit more, by about a third. This intensifies the flavour considerably. I try to make enough passata to last the whole year, so that we don’t have to buy any later on. This has been the case for a long time now. I haven’t needed to buy any pasta sauce for some years. This is one of the few things that we have been completely successful at achieving during our long experiment here. Self-reliance in passata!


For dinner this night, I bake some carrots, zucchini and aubergines, fresh from the garden and serve it with a helping of tuna steamed with fresh Thai basil leaves, wasabi and a squeeze of lemon. While the oven is hot I use the heat to dry some of the small tomatoes. After an evening when we have guests and make a dozen pizzas. I use the remaining heat to dry a few trays of tomatoes. Dried tomatoes are great, full of concentrated sweet acid flavour. They keep really well without any extra energy needing to be applied. We use them in stews and soups and where-ever we need that little extra hit of added flavour.

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Indulging myself in this kind of self-produced and preserved, essential larder-filling activity is one of the reasons that I came here, to a place like this, miles away from services, where there was clean air and a lot of space to live out an imagined ideal. It takes a few hours a day of extra work and then occupies our evenings after dinner at the stove, but what could be better and more rewarding? I could of course be sitting, watching some brain-dead and fake commercial television show about how the cook?


It seems to have worked out OK for us. We have managed to earn a living from various and diverse means, all more or less associated with pottery making. We have tried making and selling pots, ceramic tiles, making and selling clay to other potters, building kilns, writing books, doing weekend workshops and part-time teaching. None have proved to be sufficient in their own right, but all combined together, has provided us with a self-reliant, if unreliable income through most of the years. This combined with gardening and orcharding, as well as eliminating most tradesmen from our budget by doing all our own building and maintenance, means we have been able to continue to live out this self-reliant, utopian, creative adventure for the past 40 years together.

I beats working for a living.

Best wishes from Dr. Do-Little and his Ms Abundance

A Skutch in Time Saves Nine

Now that my show at Watters Gallery is up and the opening is over, it is time to get stuck into rebuilding my kiln for the coming year of firings, starting next week.


We are into the cooler weather now (in theory) and the summer fire bans will soon be over. The fire box is the part of the kiln that takes the most wear and tear, the greatest heat, the most ash deposit and the greatest heat shock from cold air dunting. The fire bricks in the fire box take quite a beating, so there is always maintenance after every firing, but then a big job once a year to replace dunted, chipped, broken and slagged-up firebricks. As well as chipping out lumps of built-up slag and ash glaze deposits, that if left unattended, will eventually flow like lava into important air inlet holes and seal them over, causing trouble during later firings. I get stuck into it with the skutch hammer and cold chisel.



Some years ago I didn’t get around to doing sufficient firebox maintenance, skipping a maintenance session, as we were very busy at the time. Unpacking the kiln and re-packing it ready for the next firing. But then, during that firing, towards the end, at the highest temperature, a lava-like flow of ash glaze came pouring out of one of the floor-level air-inlet holes. It pooled onto the floor into a sluggish, thick, brown, viscous, turd and piled up there, before freezing at room temperature. I kept that ceramic turd on the pottery window sill in front of my wheel for a few years. It disappeared when our pottery burnt down in 1983. It hasn’t ever happened again.


A while ago, I collected all the chipped out fire box floor ash glaze slag and crushed it up and ground it in my ball mill, into a fine powder, then made a glaze test out of it. It would have been a lovely completion of ‘joining the circle’, kind of thinking. But tragically it was so very dark and dull and brown and slightly crystalline, that I couldn’t find a use for it on my work. So, going on the theory that a skutch in time saves nine. We get stuck into the job at hand. Which is cleaning and rebuilding the worn bricks in the firebox. It’s not a very nice job, but has to be done, and needs to be done NOW!


However, Like all jobs, it expands and as we work. We realise that it would be far better and more economic of our time and efforts, to do a lot more rather than less, while we are at it. So we take down a lot of the fire box brickwork and re-design the ratio of hobs to ash-pit, to test out an old idea that I haven’t tried before. It is interesting to me that after building and firing well over a hundred of these kilns, for individuals, Potters Groups, TAFE’s and Unis, both here and overseas, there are still some variations and combinations of factors that I still haven’t tried. This idea needs to be tested. So off we go. It’s a new adventure now, and becomes more interesting because of it. It takes us two days to pull it down and brick it all back up again, then re-weld all the metal bracing, so that it is well supported during the stresses of the high temperature stoneware firing.


Ms Versatile is a very competent brick layer afters all these years of practice. We have built so many kilns together. Both here and overseas. I don’t know how many bricks we have laid together, but it must be in the many, tens of thousands. 900 to 1500 bricks per kiln, and over a hundred wood fired kilns built on-site in 40 odd years. When we first came here in the seventies. We were building our kiln when the local bull dozer driver called in to see about digging our dam for us. He walked into the pottery and saw Janine laying bricks on our kiln by herself. He stopped dead in his tracks and did a double take. Then said. “F%&k me! Now I’ve seen everything, a chick laying bricks”!

It was an usual sight in those days to see female bricklayers and he was a bit of an unreconstructed chauvinist.

We’re still at it. Nothing’s changed!



The renewed, slightly lower firebox. All finished and ready to go for another year..

fond regards from Dr. Skutch and Ms Versatile

Equinox to Equinox

Although the summer hasn’t officially ended, it is certainly drawing to a close, and now on the 21st/22nd we have the change of the season with the equinox. Funnily after all this warm weather, this day dawned all grey and cloudy with a few drops of rain, a cold chill in the air. I just assumed that it was morning mist and blithely went about my business wearing only shorts and a ‘tee’ shirt, preparing for another warm day and a visit from the local Seed Savers Group. The Seed Savers are a loose and variable group of local home gardeners and, I believe, organic growers, who save their own vegetable, fruit and flower seeds. They meet once a month somewhere of common interest to chat, enthuse, swap seeds, fruits, cuttings, seedlings and whatever else, then all sit and share what food they have brought for a casual communal lunch. It’s all very casual, relaxed and cooperative. A very enjoyable day amongst like-minded, caring people with a common interest. This month, they have come to our place.
Nina and I had cleaned up the grape vine pergola area of all the dropped red grapes and swept it out, as the remnants of the grapes were being busily worked over by the local honey bee population for the sticky sweet juice. We have an out-side eating area under there, as well as a wood fired pizza oven. The dense canopy of grape vines overhead creates a cool, soft light and shade in the area around the huge 12 seater table. It’s proven an ideal spot to sit and relax with friends. At some point, I realise that it isn’t going to get any warmer, and that smack on the dot of the equinox it is now autumn. I go inside and put on a shirt, then later, a jumper and beret.
The first of the group arrive and we sit outside and have tea and coffee, while the others arrive. The Seed Savers have been here once before about 18 months ago, so a few things have changed in our garden since then, but not a lot. Still, I take them all for a walk down the garden path, here and there, looking at things that might be of interest in the gardens and orchards. I point out the bush fire fighting sprinkler system that I have installed on the walls of our house, studio and kiln shed.
This is designed to create a wall of water mist on all the western walls and roof of all the buildings. This is to absorb and kill some of the heat energy of the ember attack that will come from this direction in the event of a serious fire. It has it’s own, dedicated, high pressure, petrol driven, fire pump to power it and uses the drinking water that is held in 70,000 litres of storage in our water tanks around the house. We live right out in the bush, on the outskirts of a small village, but it isn’t really a village as such, as we don’t have a shop or post office, a park or a central square where people can congregate. We only have a fire shed. It’s more like a small hamlet and we are 1 km out from its centre. There are no services like town-supply water here. You have to be self-reliant or leave.
I am grateful to say that our fire fighting equipment has never been properly tested in a serious emergency. We fire it up every spring to make sure that it works OK, and then we uses the pump to run a separate line that feeds a few water sprinklers on top of our roof on the very hottest days. This fine shower of water cools the house, or other buildings, down by at least 5 degrees almost instantly. It is so noticeable. Most of the water is recovered from the roof back into the water tanks through the gutters and can be re-used. Some however, is lost through evaporation, which is the exact purpose of the exercise. It is the evaporation of the water on the hot tin roof that causes refrigeration and the drop-off of radiated energy entering the roof space and into the house. It makes the house so much more comfortable on the hottest days, and is a sure way to know that the pump and all its associated systems are working perfectly and in good ‘nik’ ready for any eventuality – should it arise.
We walk around the orchards and some of the dams, then down to the ‘Pantry Field garden’. This our overflow garden space that we use for larger plantings of food that won’t fit in the vegetable garden. It is named after the farm where our friends in Wales live and farm, much as we do here. It was once the field where the local farm grew their produce to sustain themselves way back when. It was bought by Sally and John Seymour. The pioneers of self sufficiency in the UK back in the 60’s and 70’s. before any of us had even thought of it. They wrote books like  “Self Sufficiency” and “On The Fat Of The Land”.
A link to their web site is here.
and ;
We had bought their books and read them before we actually met Sally on one of her trips to Australia.
Sally still lives at ‘Pantry fields’ with her daughter and son-in-law. A terrific place of inspiration and friendship. Sally lived with us here in Australia for a time, back in the 70’s and taught us a lot. She returned and lived with Janine and helped her to look after our son while I was away studying in Japan in the mid 80’s. We visited them at Pantry Field in the 0’ies. Good times and fond memories.
We started this lower ‘Pantry field’ garden just a few years ago down at the bottom of our land where there is an open space in among the tall eucalypt trees. We tried grapes down there first of all, but there were too many dropping branches and leaf litter falling from the trees to make netting the grapes worthwhile. Without netting we didn’t get any grapes, the birds got the lot. When we used the nets, we got grapes, but not enough to justify the huge amount of work required to clean all the sticks, twigs and leafy detritus out from all the netting, before we could roll them up again.
Cabinet sauvignon under-planted with ‘Flanders’ single red poppies.
The netted vineyard, with the pottery in the background.
It was a pretty vineyard, but not productive enough to warrant all the time that we had to spend on it for the small return. Wine grapes are susceptible to powdery mildew on their leaves and need to be sprayed regularly with a toxic spray to inhibit this. I refuse to get involved with toxics. The only organic spray is ‘Bordeaux’ spray, more or less equal parts of copper carbonate and lime, but being water based, it washes off in the first rain. so it has to be re-applied regularly. I was concerned about the amount of copper that would build up in the soil, and didn’t enjoy the act of spraying by hand.
So now it has been turned over to vegetables, and remarkably the tree cover disperses any light frosts that we get, so last year we experimented with growing an over-winter potato crop. We had a lot of left over spuds that we didn’t get around to eating from the huge summer crop, and as they all started to run to shoots and wither, we decided to plant them out and just see what would happen. No loss if they didn’t grow, got burned off with the winter cold. What happened was a frost free micro-climate and another huge crop of potatoes that got us through the spring/summer. We are just starting to dig up the summer crop from the regular garden now. So I’ve decided to try another small over-winter potato crop again this year. Using all the shrivelled and sprouting remains of the last crop that need to get into the ground now.
We don’t really know what we are doing, but try all sorts of things and see what the results are, then go with the best outcome and try again. If we lived in a small Italian village or had living grand-parents here, we would be able to gather knowledge through osmosis, and carry on family traditions, but that chance is long past for us.
When I started this lower garden, I planted a few packets of English Cottage Garden Flower Mix seeds at one end, it started off slowly, but has matured now over the three year period into a very nice little garden bed. An absolute delight in the full flush of spring.
Over the summer, we grew pumpkins in this Pantry field garden, following on from the potatoes and as the pumpkins  are all harvested now and stored away. I spent a day recently, digging it over with a garden fork and getting even more 2nd-crop potatoes from the patch, before cultivating it over with the digger. I bought a tonne of mushroom compost in the ute and spread it over the area, before the cultivating. It has a small fertilising effect, but mostly it provides a lot of organic matter into the soil, that opens the texture and feeds the worms and we do then get a lot of worms coming into the soil after this. Cultivating isn’t good for the soil or the worms, but to convert hard native acid soil into soft, rich, open-textured garden soil needs a lot of compost. Once it’s been well dug-in and incorporated deep into the soil. I just use compost as a top dressing each season after that and the new worm population seems to take it down into the soil.
The pumpkin crop planted in spring
The area weeded and dug over with the garden fork and compost all spread out, ready to be dug in.
I have started planting out some new organically grown garlic varieties. I bought 2 knobs of each of 6 different types. Early White, Glamour, Rose De Var, Italian Red, Early Purple, Melbourne Market. We probably already have some or all of these varieties growing up in the veggie garden. We just collected different varieties from our friends and garden groups over the 40+ years of our gardening. I didn’t keep any records of the varieties. However, I know that we have red, pink blushed and white in both soft-stem and hard-stem varieties plus Russian jumbo garlic and an unusual type that sets mini garlic cloves up on top of its flowering stem instead of seeds. We plant them all every year, some do better than others in different years, so it’s good to have a range. In this way, no matter what type of year it is, there is always something to eat.
We know when it is time to plant garlic, because at this time of year, we find that all the cloves that we missed during the harvest last year, start to shoot about now. If the over-summer cloves think that it’s time to shoot, then it is time.
I was told when I was young that all the allium varieties should be planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest. Solstice to Solstice. I tried that for a few years, but with no real success with the garlic, onions were OK with that, but it is really too late for garlic for us. Garlic seems to do much better for us if it is planted and harvested Equinox to Equinox. As this is when they have chosen to shoot up out of the ground. i think that this is the best indication. So in they go now. Everything is prepared and the timing is perfect.
I will plant early broad beans and peas as well on either side. They are legumes and will help to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the soil with nitrogen as well.
Best wishes from the vampire free zone, that is Steve and Nina’s garden.

The Best Laid Plans

We have been away for a few days to install a kiln.
I had sent the finished kiln away on a truck 10 days earlier with instructions for its safe delivery to the site of the installation. Down the back street, up the lane, around down the ally and hey presto. Into the back entrance straight into the studio area. I made sure that all these instructions were on the delivery docket and also taped to the front of the kiln itself. All there along with our mobile and land-line phone numbers and email.
As well as instruction to call us before delivery to confirm time and place etc. 10 days should be enough.
What could possibly go wrong?
The people at the trucking company in my local town were really helpful and very professional, even careful, while unloading the kiln from my truck and placing it in the depot shed. I left with every confidence that they would ‘do the right thing’. A lot of work goes into building one of my kilns for a customer. I spend about 6 weeks working on it, from cutting, folding, bending, then tacking and welding all the steel sections that are needed to frame up a kiln.
There are some sections that are very hard to get commercially or just plain not available at some times, so I have to cut these out of flat steel plate, then fold them into the required cross-section. None of this is in any way efficient, but when you are creating custom-built objects it is just what is required, especially if you want the very best outcome and excellent quality. You just have to do it yourself.
Next there is the guillotining, breaking, bending, and drilling, bolting and fitting all the stainless steel sheeting that comprise the walls and floor of the kiln. These all have to made and measured to make sure that they will all fit and then the holes drilled in the frame before it is galvanised. This is so that the holes for the stainless steel bolts will be lined with zinc and permanently rust proofed. There is no use drilling a lot of holes through the rust proofing to set all the bolts.
IMG_8343The mild steel frame is stripped down and sent off to be hot dipped galvanised, which means that it is dipped into a bath of molten zinc. After this it is almost permanently rust proofed. While the kiln frame is away, I silver solder all the heavy gauge copper pipe gas manifold and commence building the gas burners and safety train from basic rough castings. When the frame has been galvanised. It all gets assembled and put together, so that it is ready for the brick lining to be laid inside.
A kiln is a very complex thing and almost every brick that is laid in it has to be custom shaped in some way or other, so as to get a perfect fit for the ground face door seal and all the other intricate parts, like arch bricks that make it perfect, and not just ordinary. Everything takes time, but it’s the only way, if you want excellence.
Having spent all this time on a job like this. I want it to arrive in just the same perfect condition that it left my workshop in. So on the appointed day, we sit and wait for the phone call. it doesn’t come at 8.00 am as I was hoping, or at 9 or 10, so I ring the trucking depot to see what has happened to it. They casually tell me that they were just talking about me. The truck has broken down, the cheque is in the mail and some of their best friends are Jewish! Do I detect a lie?
Do I still want the kiln delivered today? is he joking?
He can probably get it here, but not on a crane truck. He can probably hire a tail-gate lift truck to do it, but not till later in the afternoon. Will that be OK?
I’m snookered, reluctantly, I have to agree, I’ve pre-paid the delivery in advance. It has to be delivered today, everything is in place for it to happen. The plumber is coming a 3.00 pm to connect it. That clearly isn’t going to happen today as planned, but I’ve already booked some thing else for tomorrow. They have had 10 days to think about this and get ready. It’s all a bit laxadaisical and shoddy, quite unprofessional. So we sit and wait for the truck. It arrives around 3.00 pm and a very nice young driver, who is very helpful. He tells me that the depot that he picked the kiln up from is quite chaotic.
Still, the kiln is here now and undamaged. I’m so relieved! We lift it down off the truck using a pallet jack trolley on the tail gate lifter. But unfortunately, the very thoughtful people in the original trucking depot in my home town have strapped it to a pallet for safe, stable travel. Very thoughtful of them. But it is now too high to go through the door into the studio, and we have no means to lift it to get the pallet out from underneath. All these measurements were carefully made in advance and everything planned and measured twice and confirmed. We are completely stuck. I’m away from home in another city with no access to my workshop and tools with chain blocks, lifting gear, pulleys, jacks, slings and shackles, beams and levers. Here, I only have a spanner, which is all that I should have needed.
There is no option but to try and get a crane truck out here before dark, so that we can lift the kiln up, all three quarters of a tonne of it, remove the pallet and then wheel it into the studio on the pallet jack before dark. I don’t want to leave it here out side in the alley over night.
My amazing customer rings around and finds a crane truck that can come at short notice, before dark and do the job. Unfortunately, he arrives with a semi-trailer truck 20 or more metres long with crane on the prime mover and can hardly fit in the street, never mind get up the lane and down the ally.
The truck arrives and takes one look at the narrow lane and shakes his head. There is no way.  If he could unhitch his semi-trailer some where safe? He needs to park his trailer in this street somewhere, but there isn’t anywhere close by, However, there is a gap in the parked cars, a few doors back on the opposite side on a corner. Could it just fit there? He decides to park it there. There are street trees and it will block at least one drive way and we can expect a few home owners returning home at this time of the evening. My beautiful client, volunteers to wait with the semi-trailer unit until we are all done, she’ll explain to the home owner if he returns at this point, why his driveway is blocked.
He does turn up!
She is very diplomatic. She directs him up the lane, where there is some room to park. He is gracious and friendly and very obliging.
While the very helpful and patient truckie is reversing his trailer into position, he nudges a low hanging branch of a street tree on the curb-side. Tragically, it snaps off while he is parking his charge. This shouldn’t be a big problem, as the branch is low hanging, but just our luck, a lady who lives on the corner house is temporarily off her meds, and comes out see the manoeuvre. She starts to scream at the driver. She unleashes a torrent of abuse that brings more people into the street, she threatens him, she’ll sue! She’s a total nutter. He has apparently done it to abuse her and to cause her distress. Of course, he hasn’t, he’s a nice, helpful guy, but she can’t see that in her ‘off-her-meds’, deluded state. She threatens to call the cops!
And does!
Just at this point the local homeless drunk turns up, wandering down the street swigging from his bottle, and decides that he’ll give us a hand.  A hand that we don’t need, or want. He begins by swaying out into the street and directing traffic, then hearing the verbal conflict, lurches over to the corner, “I’ll sort things out for Ya” he slurs, as he starts to scream abuse back at the distressed lady, face to face, red faced and veins throbbing in his forehead, bright red nose, holding his bottle aloft and swinging it about, he issues a long abusive stream of invective and a meaningless expression of anxieties unfolds. “Ya f*&%$ing old bitch, why don’tya get off the f*&%$ing dole and get a f*&%$ing job. Yarra f*&%$ing bludga! Shut up ya f*&%$ing face and get the f*&%k outa-ere!”.
“I dunna why she’s so upset, I’m just tryin a elp”. She storms off to call the Cops.
This in-flames things even more. This is help we don’t need. I wish that he would just go away, but that isn’t very likely. He’s a complete nuisance and appears to be off-his-meds too, just like her, and they slug it out mercilessly between each other, verbally for quite some time. He calls out, “sure, go and call the Cops, see if I care!” She does and they arrive very quickly.  When the Police car turns up. They witness some of the ‘meds-free- zone’ invective and stay clear, for their own safety. Just watching at first. I’m sure that they have seen it all before, many times, and don’t want to get too involved with nutters. My sweet, calm and well mannered client goes over to explain to them what has happened. They listen, but tell her that they will issue the truckie with a move your illegally parked vehicle notice, effective immediately. This isn’t good news, but she is calm and persuasive. They listen.
As soon as the Police car appears, the drunk moves off smartly up the ally. Now to give me and the driver a helping hand. He slumps down against the fence and swigs from another bottle that he has stashed in his coat pocket. He is calling out instructions to the driver on how to reverse his big prime mover and crane.
I discreetly escort the prime-mover with crane attached, up the lane, to our site, while my sweet, patient, client does her explaining and waits near the blocked off driveway for the returning home-owners, then helps to calm down the situation with the police, carefully and quietly explaining the circumstances of the events. The truck backs up to our site, but declares that there are too many cars parked in the lane for him to be able to reverse into position.
While we are working out how to solve this next problem. The Police officer arrives up the lane. We explain carefully and quietly what our mission is. I try to explain, that it is very hard to be a truckie in a modern city. Every one wants their goods delivered, but no-one likes to be inconvenienced. We are trying to do this as legally and safely as we can given the circumstances. The driver is only doing his job, no-one wants conflict. It’s a difficult balancing act to get a difficult job done and not inconveniencing anyone in the mean time. Everyone needs to get a truck to deliver their goods at some point in their life. It’s a tricky and difficult job, but absolutely essential in the modern age. My client invites the very nice young police man into her studio to show him her work and where the kiln will go. He responds appropriately and gives the truckie a one-hour grace to complete the job. All the neighbours are now placated and safely parked. Mr. Helpful – the drunk, has disappeared on first sight of the blue uniform, thank goodness. The Officer walks back down the lane to his car.
The the crane operator now has a one hour leave of grace to do his difficult job. I feel for him, one minute, he is being abused by a nutter, then the next by a drunk. All he wants to do is to do his job, with as much care as he can muster. He is quietly spoken and very careful. I feel for him. He expresses great remorse at the broken tree branch. He tried to avoid it. It was hanging very low. If not now, then some other time a delivery truck would have caught it.
The copper leaves, taking no notice of the stream of invective coming from across the street.
We get the kiln lifted off the pallet, an hours work for just a 6” lift, taking just a few seconds. Success! The kiln is now able to be wheeled into place in just 60 seconds, and it’s all over.  9 hours later!
It’s a simple job to deliver a kiln. What could possibly go wrong?
Best wishes
from the kiln delivery man

Dig-it-all Native

I have a new show of my work coming up at Watters Gallery next week, so I thought that I’d  preview it with some text and images.

As you will already know, if you have been reading these pages, I have always been interested in living gently. All my ceramic work incorporates this philosophy, this respect for the environment. My lifestyle choices include growing my own food, generating my own solar power, collecting my own drinking water, building my own hand-made house from local materials, and growing my own fuel for my kiln. So when it comes to making my work. I choose to make it from locally available materials that I can find around me, in my immediate locality. This grounds me in my environment. It also severely limits what I can make, however, this is not a problem, it is an intriguing challenge that engages me on many levels physically, mentally and spiritually.

I dig all my native ceramic materials locally, within a 50 km radius of where I live. This has enabled me to develop my own unique quality of wood fired porcelain, proto-porcelains and blackware made from these special native stones. The Essential nature of this enterprise is about a respectful interaction with my environment, in this locality.

When I was young I wanted to believe that there were some absolutes in life. I wanted to believe that there could be a definition of such concepts as truth and beauty. I’ve come to realise that there will not be any absolutes in my life other than old age, incontinence and death, possibly taxes. I have had to come to terms with the fact that good and evil, truth and lies, beauty and ugliness are all relative and coexist in each of us, all of the time. I accept this duality and embrace the angst that comes with the rejection of false certainties.

 DSC_0002We have lost our bush land, we are loosing our native animals. The corner shop has gone. We are forced to drive in a car to a distant, edge of town, shopping mall to get to a bank and supermarket. Our neighbours houses have locked gates and shuttered windows. In short we are loosing our society. Everything has changed in my lifetime, and I don’t see it as better. I go to great lengths to avoid supporting the shopping mall. I search out the remaining family owned small businesses, the butcher, baker, fish monger and the greengrocer, to do my trade We have worked to become largely self-reliant in most of our food from our garden and orchards, but we still need to buy some protein.

 DSC_0044We are no longer a nation of makers, we are all being corralled into becoming a nation of consumers. I reject this coercion. I will not buy vinyl coated chip-board and plastic, throw-away rubbish from Ikea or the hyper-mall. This apparent convenience is ruining the world. I want real things in my life, things that are beautiful as well as useful and that will last a lifetime if needed. I enjoy engaging with the patina of age and the mundane chips and tears of a life well lived on objects that I have come to love and respect.


Being brought up in a loosely Buddhist/Quaker household, I was probably the only 7 year old in my primary school who knew the whereabouts of the Dalai Lama, not that I thought that this was in any way important at the time, but looking back now it seems a bit weird? Given this starting point, it should be no surprise that my first pot in 1959 was an interpretation of a Tibetan butter lamp. It’s amazing what kids pick up from parents conversations. Not that I knew much about Tibetan butter lamps, but it is quite interesting to me on reflection, that this is what I chose to make, sitting in the gutter of the dirt road in front of where we lived and picking out fresh wet clay from the gutter after a rain storm. I suppose that it supports Loloya’s assertion that the man is made in the child before his seventh year.

My mother kept that pot all her life and after her death, I discovered it amongst her personal treasures, tucked safely away and so it came back to me and I still have it. At that time, in this family setting, it was not the pot that was important, but the activity of its making and the effect that the pot and its creation would have on the maker and the people who used it, which was up for discussion and appreciation. Around this time it became clear to me that the best things in life were not things at all.

 DSC_0015Rachel Carson was a hot topic in 1962. I was 10 and old enough to be expected to help shovel manure into the ‘turned’ compost heap for the large extended-family vegetable plot that fed us all. In 1972 I had decided that I wanted to be a professional potter and was at Art School, starting to wonder where I would be living and how I could achieve a passive, independent existence as an artist. The Vietnam War was in full swing. I registered as a Conscientious Objector and the ‘The Club Of Rome’ released ‘Limits to Growth’.

I decided that I could only hope to achieve financial, artistic and food security if I chose to live out in the country where land was cheaper and the air and water cleaner. These events and others like them ground my cultural lens and set its focal length. So now when I think about firing my kiln, I first think how important it is to fire as cleanly as possible, as I would be the first one to be concerned, if my neighbour were to create a lot of unnecessary smoke and pollution in his day to day life. I don’t see that being involved in a creative activity gives us some sort of carte blanche or ‘get out of jail free card’ to pollute.

 DSC_0020I also think about how I can use as little wood as possible while still being able to see that my pot is obviously wood fired. I don’t buy my wood from a merchant. I grow it, cut it and split it myself. I have a finite amount of energy, everything that happens here is facilitated by human effort. However, I do use a few machines these days to help me do the heavy work as I get older. I have replaced my original old cross-cut saw with a chain saw. The block buster with a hydraulic splitter. I am not a luddite, but I am aware that everything has an environmental cost. However, as I age I need to reduce the physical strain on my body if I’m to continue to keep working and creating beautiful objects into the future.

 DSC_0034I have an image of what I want to create. I chase it. It is beautiful, but elusive. I can never achieve what is in my minds eye, but I keep prosecuting the illusion that it is possible. I like the intimacy of the bowl form. It is small, round and engaging when cupped in the hands. I love them as objects, the symbolism of sharing, the embedded meaning of the food container, nourishment and sustenance. I love the rich history of the peasant rice bowl and the Japanese tea bowl. They are omnipresent at every level of my life. I eat and drink from my bowls every day


This image that I have of a beautiful bowl worthy of contemplation has a gentle wood fired and flashed surface. A surface that I have worked at developing over the past forty five years of my creative practice, where my selected local timbers, when burnt in my hand made kiln, leave their delicate ash patterns on the surface of my locally sourced, water-ground native porcelain stone clay bodies. This subtle wood fired ash glazing of the ceramic surfaces at high temperatures develops a wide range of colours, textures and patinas that are not usually seen on porcelain.


I think a lot about my firing process and the best way to get the soft, delicate and engaging surfaces that are tactile and suited to being hand held and smoothly functional as well as endeavoring to exploit Asian aesthetic concepts of irregularity. This porcelain is not from the molds of Sèvres or Meissen. This work has a proud Southern Hemisphere heritage.


I also think about the effect that my firing will have on others, my neighbours and finally myself and my family. Will these small bowls that I am making have any genuine useful place in society? Will the viewer appreciate the philosophical meaning embedded in their making? I certainly hope so, but nothing is certain.


It has been said that the most rare and expensive commodity today is time. My methods are fully hands-on, antiquated, quaint and oh, so very slow, so my output is quite small. These objects are time solidified and made manifest. Beautiful, unique things like these take time to be brought to life, and more time to be given a useful life in daily use, so that they develop their mundane scars and patina of use. They grow and develop with time, just as they require time to be fully appreciated by use and enquiry.

The unexamined bowl, is a bowl not worth living with.

You can buy those bowls at Ikea.