Platform Heal

We bought the old Balmoral Village Railway Station building to save it from demolition back in the 70’s. The local ‘Loopline’ train line had been closed to passenger trains and all passenger services were replaced by a bus service. The line was still open to the odd freight train, or it was used as an alternate line to the main line if there was a derailment on the main line, which actually happened in 1978.

For a whole day and night we got all the Sydney to Melbourne train traffic off the main line diverted along our old loopline tracks. We got to see the Sydney to Melbourne Inter-capital Daylight Express and the Southern Aurora rumbling along past our house at 20 kms hr. on our old, little used, light gauge tracks.

We live on this old and now closed line. It was originally the main line south for about 50 years. It came through here in about 1864 and was replaced by the new main line in about 1916. The old line through here is now just a ‘loop’ off the new line.

The original line was difficult for some of the older steam engines, as the gradient was very steep. Digging cuttings through the hard rock of these steep hills was time-consuming and expensive. There is an extremely deep cutting just up the road from here. I was told that it was the deepest railway cutting in the Southern Hemisphere when it was built. This cutting allows the line up through a difficult part of the terrain to the next village that was originally called ‘Big Hill’.

Our village was, at the time, a place to keep and maintain an extra steam engine. When the Sydney train arrived here. The spare locomotive was hitched on to the train and used to pull the carriages up this steepest part of the line. Even so, it was a very slow and difficult job to get the train up the big hill.

There is an old story, and I can’t vouch for its truth, about a bush ranger stepping up onto the very slow-moving train at the front and robbing everyone on the train as he walked down through the carriages, and then hopping off again, not too far from where he got on!

There were originally 7 stations along this part of the original train line, now the ‘loop’. We live right in the centre of the loopline. As we are half way between the two ends of the loop. It was decided that a School would be built at the half way point to service all the children of the track ‘fettlers’ and engine maintenance men that were stationed here.

The school was opened in 1893 and operated full-time until the line was relocated to the new route in 1919 and the population started to decline, as the railway men and their families slowly moved away. The school then operated as a part-time school for a few more years, and then closed. It reopened during the Second World War as a part time school, sharing a teacher between here and the now named village of Hill Top, higher up the line. The school closed permanently at the end of the war. The station remained open until the line was closed to passenger traffic.

Once the line was closed to passenger traffic and the bus service instigated. It was decided to tender all the stations along the line for demolition. The first station to be offered up to tender for demolition was Hill Top station, next door. We heard on the grape-vine, that the only bidder just wanted the tin off the roof to build a chook shed, so only offered $2, won the bid, took the iron off and burnt the building down to comply with the clause that stated “remove to ground level”.

When the Balmoral Village station came up for tender next, we were keen to see it preserved and not destroyed, so we bid the ridiculous price of $250 to make sure that we would win and could preserve it. $250 was about half the cost of the wood to build a new one. We won of course. No-one in their right mind would pay that much for what amounted to a little old wooden shed.  A very old wooden shed indeed. It is thought to have been installed in 1864 or there-abouts, when the line opened. Making it the oldest building in the village. We thought it worth saving.

We measured it up and built footings to suit, then hired a crane and low-loader. We picked it up and drove it home to the school in one piece. Then lifted it into place. It was the biggest job that I have ever attempted and it all went like clockwork. It turned out to be the least troublesome thing that I have done. However, I did spend a lot of time planning, preparing and choreographing it.

Once we realised that we now owned all (both) of the public buildings in the village and there is no water works to buy. We could put a motel on Pall Mall and charge all passers-by to pay $200 dollars to pass ‘GO’!

Instead, we decided to sand blast off all the old flaky paint when we sand blasted the old School classroom. We had hired all the equipment for the weekend and had some spare time and ‘shot’ left on the Sunday evening, so we cleaned it back. I bought undercoat and we made some top coat our selves. We bought a one gallon tin of pale yellow oil based gloss top coat, then added an equal amount of turps mixed with mica and talc dust 200# that we had in the pottery for making our glazes. This gave us 2 gallons of paint. This rock dust saturated oil paint is still as good as new today. No drying out or flaking off. The stone particles guarantee that there will be no UV penetration. The little weatherboard waiting room is still in good shape. Well the paint job is anyway.

Interestingly, we noticed that after we cleaned and painted the waiting room. The train line fettlers that passed along the line each few days, saw the station building in its new location and new clothes and waved to us and we waved back. They saw that we thought that the building had some historical merit and was worth saving and restoring.

After that no more stations were offered for demolition. All the others have now been restored and painted creamy yellow! Personal activism does work sometimes.

Well that was 40 years ago, and the poor old wooden sleepers on the platform have been weathering away. I have no idea how old they are. Not 153 years I shouldn’t think. I’m sure that they are not original. Perhaps they were replaced in the 60’s when there was a derailment at the station when a goods carriage came off the line and ploughed into the end of the station destroying the Ticket Office building. Perhaps the original sleepers on the platform were replaced when the platform was repaired?

They are sill in good shape where they are under cover of the verandah, but the exposed ends are rotting away. We have our wet weather clothes line under the verandah and Janine has stopped using it because she feels that it is too unsafe.

I take a day ‘off’ and go down to the timber yard and buy new ‘treated’ sleepers. I slowly remove each of the old sleepers a few at a time, and replace them with the new ones. It all goes pretty much to plane and is finished by the end of the day. However, I still have to put up the new guttering.

Everything goes to plan, except that I drop one of the old heavy hardwood sleepers on my recently damaged and recovering finger, which splits it open again.

No good turn ever goes un punished. I’ve healed the platform, I now have to wait for my hand to re-heal.

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We Are Cooking in the Heat

This last few days of heat has really set the garden back. We are out early and late watering. I watered for an hour, early this morning, but by lunch time everything was drooping with this blast of oven temperature air.

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Because it is so baking hot, I have been out cutting bracken fronds and sticking them into the seedling beds to give some shade to the young transplanted seedlings. I transplant them in the evening when it is cool and give them overnight to settle in before the next hot day. They seem to be surviving OK so far.

I have been harvesting the summer excess. A bucket of beetroot, a bucket of cucumbers a bag chillies and another red cabbage.

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I decide to make pickles, I wash, chop and thinly slice the cabbage, then soak in a brine of 2 cups of salt to 1 litre of water. The cabbage collapses over night and in the morning it is completely submerged. I rinse it twice to get a lot of the salt out, then pack it in hot sterilised jars from the oven and cover with hot pickling vinegar, then seal down the lids.  I hear them ‘pop’, and vacuum seal themselves when they cool, as I go about dealing with the cucumbers. They have been sliced and soaked in brine too. I rinse them and pack them into hot jars, cover with more of the pickling vinegar.


While I’m at it, I stuff another large jar with whole chillies, that I have sliced open on the side to allow the pickling liquid in. My final job is to peel, then slice a big boiler full of cooked beetroot. They are a really wonderful colour. I bring them back to the boil for a minute or two in their original juice, I get 4 jars packed tight. I fish out a chilli, some cloves, pepper corns and a small piece of cinnamon bark to add to each jar. Then cover with the last of the vinegar.

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I have to go back to work tomorrow in the kiln factory. I have 7 kilns ordered, so far this year already. I’m booked out till September.  I have to get busy. My summer break is over. I started back a couple of weeks ago to get an early start on all these orders, but then I sliced my knuckle open. So that was that till now. With the scorching heat, I don’t fancy working in the tin shed that I call the factory. But needs as needs must. I think that I’ll be running the sprinkler on the roof during the hottest part of the day.

Heath Cullen House Concert

We hosted a house concert last week for Heath Cullen. A great favourite of ours. He is a lovely person and a very good musician. Every one seems pleased with the concert. We had our lounge room in the Old School Building packed to chockers with 38 people in the house. We were very pleased with the turn-up. Everyone brought a plate to share and there was, as there often is, way too much food to eat on the night and we had to ask our friends to take much of the left-overs back with them, as we have all the food that we need in our vegetable garden. We want for little.

Live music is such a pleasure. Especially with someone like Heath, who has so much talent and has so much to offer. We asked everyone to arrive by 6.30 for a 7.oopm start. Heath was here at 5 to set up and we ended up re-arranging the chairs to suit his personal choice of performance space, We had an early dinner with him and a few friends who helped us to clean out the house and set up the chairs.

We had two 45 min sets of songs with a half hour break in-between, which got a bit stretched with everyone eating , drinking and talking animatedly with each other. After the show, half of our guests stayed on the chat and the night ended going on till quite late, with Heath leaving about 11.00pm.

A thoroughly enjoyable event and night. We will be doing it again in a few months with another musician that we like. I’m keen to have Lucie Thorne here some time. Check out her web site. <>. ‘The Age’ newspaper reviewer, had this to say about Lucie.

“Thorne writes some of the most simple and beautiful songs you will hear” **** The Age.

Heath is keen to come back again next year. And we’re keen to have him here.

His three  CD’s have been on regular play all this week.


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Check out Heath’s web site;  <>

A realy nice person, a great performer, lovely music, good company, intimate space and our solid brick, old class room, has excellent acoustics. What more could you want ?

Of Passata and Porcelain

The summertime heat brings on the tomatoes, zucchini, chillis, aubergines and sweet basil. They love this hot weather, as long as they get the water that they need. This means I have to start making passata sauce. We are now harvesting more than we can eat each day. This is just the start. At the moment we have to harvest the tomatoes each day in the small numbers that are ripening. It has taken a week to build up sufficient quantity to fill the boiler. This is the first batch of passata. Soon it will build up to 2 batches a week. I will continue to make this sort of tomato sauce right through the summer and into the autumn.

Tonight I’m making a small batch to start with for our dinner, so I’m including a lot of zucchinis and aubergines as well. This will be a sort of variation on the ratatouille theme. All these vegetables grow together, they ripen together and they taste so good together.

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I bring it all to the boil and simmer it for a few minutes, just enough to soften the zucchinis and egg plant chunks, then scoop out a bowl full each for dinner. It’s summer on a plate!

After dinner, I add in all of the other chopped tomatoes and cook it down into a sauce. After it cools I put it all through the mouli sieve to remove all the seeds and skins, then reheat and seal in pre-heated jars to keep for the winter.

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The other thing that I like to do in this summer heat is to make porcelain from my collected stones. They are so hard that I need to put them through the rock crusher first thing to reduce them down to grit, then I can sieve the grit and re-process the larger pieces to get it all to pass through a 3 mm screen, then into the ball mill to be reduced to ultra fine grade.

 From this I can make glazes and/or more throwing body, as required.





Cucumber Soup and Zucchini Fritters

A real favourite of Nina’s at this time of year is cold cucumber soup. The cucumbers have responded to the heat and our regular watering and are starting to produce in excess of what we can eat fresh in salads.

Nina doesn’t have a recipe as such, it’s really just a way of thinking about using up cucumbers. It’s cooling and soothing and a little bit tangy, and you get to use up a lot of cucumbers.

You can use half a dozen small, or 3 large cucumbers. Peeled and seeded if they are older and larger, but all in as they come if they are young.

She starts with one of our red onions from the plait hanging in the kitchen, but you could also use a mild white one. You can add green spring onion tops finely chopped too if you like. Add as much as you like the taste of. (and never end a sentence with a preposition! )

A big bunch of cilantro or coriander leaves finely chopped. The first spring planting of coriander is bolting away to seed heads just now, but there is enough to pick from it and the new, young seedlings of the second planting are only just emerging.

Add a small bunch of mint leaves, finely chopped.Then add a couple of cloves of garlic, or six! depending on their relative strength and your taste expectations. I really love the stuff, so she puts in a lot. It tastes better, i.e. stronger flavour  if you smash it with the side of a knife or extrude it through a garlic press. The mashed fibres give off more flavour. I think that the fresh raw garlic really makes this soup. That and the coriander. The cucumbers are really there just to fill it out. Next, add some finely chopped chilli to taste and although I don’t use salt, if you want it, add it to the degree that you want your arteries hardened. Go for it!

Add the Juice of a lemon or preferably a lime – or two.

Put the whole lot in the blender with half a tin of coconut milk. If you don’t have a blender use a food processor, if you don’t have electricity, use a hand whisk! Add a couple of spoonfuls of plain greek yoghurt, if you don’t have greek yoghurt, add some Turkish – that’s close enough! Use what you have that seems right, taste as you go to check. Sometime we use sour cream, just to use it up if it’s open and that’s what you have in the fridge. You can use a blend of all three. Use what you have. Experiment! If you don’t have a fridge, eat it warm, but it’s not quite the same. Cold is better in this hot weather.

You can serve it with a little bit of olive oil on top and some paprika sprinkled on, or just plain.


Janine mixes up and alters the recipe each time she makes it to keep it lively and interesting, sometimes adding chopped dill, parsley or tarragon leaves. Sometimes with only yoghurt and other times with just coconut milk. It works just the same.

It’s always different and always delicious. A perfect soup for a hot summers day. Nina has made this fantastic soup to cheer me up as I’ve managed to hurt myself during the day.

Zucchini Fritters

Take 3 or 4 zucchinis, depending on size, 1 potato for a little filling and binding starch and a small white onion. Grate them all into a big bowl, add a handful of flour and 2 eggs, some pepper and whatever herbs that you prefer. Today Nina adds Thai basil, parsley and a small amount of mint. Mix it all together in the bowl, then press off any excess juice. She pan frys them in a little olive oil. We have them with cucumbers in yoghurt and a few sliced fresh tomatoes. Delicious.

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The next morning, my finger is not red or throbbing, so I have done a good job of cleaning it. I’m confident that it will heal well now. No need to go to hospital. I just can’t use that hand to grip anything for a while.

An enforced day off. Something rare for me.

The First Ratatouille of the Summer

Ratatouille is one of those recipies that has a lot of different interpretations. It’s that time of year again, when all the necessary ingredients are all ripe together at the one time in our garden. We simply use what we have that is ripe on the day.

Today that is egg plant, capsicums, chillis, zucchini and red ripe tomatoes. I brown some of our onions and garlic that we have hanging in plaits in the kitchen and out on the verandah. Add in all the chopped ingredients, along with a small jar of tomato sugo that I bottled in the autumn. A few sprigs of sweet basil are added in and the whole lot is simmered together for a few minutes, until softened and then served. It couldn’t be easier or more immediate and wholesome. Not to mention delicious!




A Decade-long Project, Finally Completed

For the past ten years or so, I have been working on a long-term project, to save every champagne, prosecco and sparkling wine, cork capsule that we opened and make Xmas decorations out of them. I decided, for better or worse, that I would make a string of capsules hung all around the front verandah of our house.

In the first few years, when it was only a few feet long. I was able to take it down after the Summer Solstice holiday was over and put it away till next year, but as it grew longer year by year. I found that it was very easy to get all tangled up with itself. It became a tiresome job to un-tangle it each year and re-hang it. As we were adding to the length by about 4 feet or 1.5 metres a year. It soon became apparent that I should leave them up permanently. So it has become a fixture ever since. No-one sees it anymore, it’s become just part of the house.

So, I was very pleased today, to finally complete the bling-string by adding this years collection of sparkling wine capsules and found that it finally reached the other end of the verandah.

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Now that I’ve completed this epic art installation. I think that i will start on there BBQ area. It could use a little bit of sparkle too!