First Week of Spring

It’s the first week of spring. We have just harvested our last tomatoes off the last self seeded plant that germinated after the fire. We are also about to plant our first tomatoes seedlings to get an early start on the spring growing season. We have never had tomatoes this late in the year before. It’s quite unbelievable. I would never have expected it. But here we are still eating fresh tomatoes while planting out next years crop. We really are in the throws of a racing-ahead global warming event, with very few frosts over winter and those that we did have were really quite mild, just minus one or two degrees. Where will this all end?


We are entering what the old-times used to call the hungry gap. This is when most of the winter vegetables are finishing up, but the new spring/summer crops haven’t started producing yet. We have celery, lettuce, tomatoes, raddish and asparagus from the garden for our lunch today, so we are still managing OK.
The weather is suitably balmy for early spring just now. Last week and the week before were quite hot, up into the high 20’s. I joked to Janine that we had gone straight from winter to summer, with only 2 weeks of spring! But the weather has evened out a little now. In fact today is somewhat cooler with a little rain. It’s rather nice. I’m in no hurry for the dry heat of summer to set in and burn off all the fresh green spring growth.I have lashed out and bought 10 packets of flower seeds when they were on special at Aldi recently for just $1.20 per packet. I’m hoping that this summer might be a little bit wetter than the last 4 years of drought. I will plant the seeds anyway and hope for better times.
I have started on the last 30 metre section of our front fence. This last bit will be 1.8 metres high to give extra fire protection to the house in the next fire event. At the moment it looks pretty awful  just a row of steel posts, something like a detention centre. All it needs is some rolls of razor wire on top. I’m hoping that it will settle down visually when we get the stones in the mesh so that it flows on from the existing lower fence line on either side.



Where I dug out the old almond trees in the vegetable garden, I have spread some compost and dug it all in ready to plant this years spring/summer crops this weekend. I have made 15 new garden beds. About 1500mm x 900mm each in size. I have planted just 2 zucchini plants in each bed, so as to allow them some room to spread out as they mature, I have done this with the cucumbers and pumpkins as well. With the tomatoes, capsicums and egg plants have allowed 4 plants per bed, as they don’t spread as much.


As the shadows lengthen and the sun starts to set, I finally get the last of the seedlings planted. It’s been a long day in the garden. 24 metres of new garden beds. It’s a fitting replacement for the dozen almond trees that had outgrown their available space in this part of the veggie patch.

Planting anything with the expectation of it growing and thriving is an act of optimism. Planting a new summer vegetable garden is such an act. I live in hope that I will be able to water these tiny plants and watch them thrive and mature. I will weed them and mulch them with home made compost. Water them and finally pick them or their fruits to sustain us. By the time the rewards of harvest come around, I’ll be digging up the other veggie rows to plant the winter garden, such is the cycle of the seasons and life itself. I am so grateful to be able to live this grounded, positive, creative, harmonic life.


The lawn is green with a new spring flush of growth outside the kitchen window with its view into the new orchard and the dense cove of green clover. It’s nice, and very rewarding. Quite relaxing to look at. Of course, what we are really looking at here is a massive amount of hard physical work. So the rewards are all that much sweeter.

Creative, interesting and cheap

We have been continuing to work on our ceramic wall along the front of our property. We have 120 metres of frontage to the street. It’s my intention to replace the old fence with something that is more fire proof for when the next fire comes, sometime in the next decade? The original fence was the old style post and lintel, but being timber and being 127 years old, there were only 3 substancial morticed posts left in the ground when we arrived here in 1976. We know from these relics that it was a 3 rail fence. The very last post burnt in this last fire and smouldered all the way down into the ground leaving a perfectly round hole where it once stood.
This new fence is designed to be as fire resistant as possible, hence the steel posts welded in pairs to seperate the front hot face from the back cooler side, to stop the metal bending over in the heat. I have also filled each post with sand and rammed it solid to give the post a solid thermal mass, so that it wont heat up to deformation temperature in the short time that a fire front passes. I looked at all the ruined fences around here, post fire, and timber completely disapears, it’s also very expensive. Cliplok metal fence systems just buckle and collapse and arn’t cheap. Full masonary walls are OK, but are the most expensive in both labour and material. There is also the drawback that a masonary wall needs an engineered footing of reinfored concrete and steel, all more expense.
I have been trying to think of very cheap/cost effective solutions to all our rebuilding problems/opportunities, solutions that we can live with aesthetically and also aford. As well as this, everything has to be as fire resistant as is possible. I decided on my poor man’s imitation gabian wall idea, as it met all my requirements of cost and fire resistance. I also need everything that we do to be as beautiful, or at least as interesting as possible. To this end, I decided to fill the gabian sections with re-cycled building agregate in a moving wave pattern, as this is the cheapest ceramic fill available and this makes up about 50% of the wall. We also used 30% of black ballast rock for contrast, as this is also relatively cheap at $70 per tonne. The black wave runs as a countrepoint to the grey concrete wave. We crushed up some old terra cotta to make a colour change and a bit of detail. This is about 5% of the wall and is free, but took some time as we smashed it all up by hand with hammers, as all my rock crushers were burnt in the fire. The terra cotta is placed in ‘lenses’ in some parts of the wall, to hint at a sedimentary reference in the landscape here at the edge of the Sydney sandstone basin. To finish off the wall, we bought a small amout of round, water-worn pebbles to fill up the last 10 to 15% of the wall volume, to cap off the wall. These pebbles are the most expensive part of the wall at $90 a tonne, but we limited our use of these to just a few tonnes to minimise the cost. These pale pebbles accomodate the sweeping wave of energy in the wall pattern and bring it back to equilibrium and tranquility. The dark energy sweeps and undulates through the stoney medium, it represents my dark times, it’s always there, but rarely breaks the surface, the steady, even, bright whiteness nearly alway prevails over the dakness.


We have now completed all the 1200mm high wall sections, about 90 metres, at a cost of $1200 for the fill, this was possible because the steel yard where I have bought all my steel for the past 40 years, donated $2000 of credit into our account to help us in our re-building.  We now have 90 metres of interesting and fire resistant fence. The real cost is in the labour that we, and a lot of friends, have put in to make it happen. One very good thing about building such a fence as this is that we can turn up and do a bit when ever we have a day ‘off’, and time to spare. The last 30 metre section of the wall will be built 1800mm high in front of the house to give us extra protection from the ground fire in the next fire event. 
We have also planted a lilli-pilli hedge all the way along the wall to give somewhere for the little birds to live. Lillipillis are reasonably fire tollerant. They don’t add to the spread of flme. They have small leathery leaves that tend to just shrivel instead of burning. We hope that they will act as an ember filter in the next fire event, as well as acting as a safe bird habitat in the mean time.


Other than that, we have been continuing to burn off the piles of burn trees, twisted branches and clayey root balls that are left over from the 16 truck loads of fire debris that we dumped  on our spare block next door. This is where we used to stack all our fire wood, well away from the house. We very good strategy as it turned out, as all 50 tonnes of wood that we had stock piled ready for the kiln and house use in the coming years was all destroyed in the fire. Not one stick of wood was left on our land after the fire had pased through. As we cleaned up after the fire, we cut any straight sections of tree trunks into kiln sized lengths and stacked them. All the twisted, forked and nasty bits have been burnt in 10 tonne piles over the winter. Each pile left a few ugly root balls that didn’t burn, so the last time we had the excavator here, we had Ross collect all these remnant bits together and make a new, last pile. We needed to get this burnt before the spring and the new fire restrictions period begin. We lit it last week and it burnt for 3 days. We now have only two ugly clay and stone packed root balls that didn’t burn. I may be able to knock them about with the tractor to shake off some of the soil and rocks to get them seperated, so that they can be burnt at some later date. It has been a mamoth task to get all these piles burnt and cleared away over the winter, while also getting the orchard built and planted before bud burst. We have run to a tight schedule.


Everything is starting to come together now. We have a delivery date from the steel rolling company for delivery of our steel shed frames on the 19th of September, so just 3 weeks left for us to finish all the fences and garden. before the building work commences. I have worn through 4 pairs of heavy leather gloves, two pairs of light gardening gloves, ruined one straw hat and worn though 3 pairs of jeans, patched the knees and worn through those patches and re-patched them from thigh to knee, ready for the next onslaught of hard work. I hate to throw out anything that still has life left in it. I like to get at least 5 years of hard wear out of a pair of jeans before thay are relagated to kiln factory rags. I am very grateful to be able to live this life of frugal creativity.Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

New Orchard

We have put in a couple of very long weeks lately. The result being that the new orchard netting frame and cover is now complete and the trees are now planted. Three of the 30 trees had already bud-burst and started to flower by the time we got to plant them. But they are now safely planted and watered in. It’s a very good feeling to see them under cover and starting to grow.

A pile of rotted chicken manure dumped on the original orchard site a few months before planting, then allowed to weather and rot down, back in 1976


44 years ago this month, I was out there digging holes, wheel barrowing compost and planting bare rooted whip sticks. I had put in some very long hours back then too. Getting a dam built, installing a pump, laying 100 metres of poly pipe across the block and fencing off the orchard paddock before I could think of planting my fruit trees.

I did all of this work on weekends, as I was working 4 days and 2 nights, doing 3 different part time jobs teaching Ceramics in Sydney. 2 1/2 days at East Sydney Tech, two days at Alexander Mackie College (COFA) and one night at St George TAFE.  It left me quite tired on the weekends, as I had to catch the 6 am bus to get into Sydney and didn’t get home till 11pm at night after the 2 night classes.

Digging in manure and compost into each fruit tree hole in 1976. Every hole dug by hand back then, just as we did yesterday. 


Not much has changed over the 44 years. Except my back!  The little grafted sticks are so small that you cannot make them out.
I had to work hard to keep up the 23% mortgage interest payments that was common at that time. I was determined to get the orchard planted before the winter was over that first year. Not too different from the situation I find myself in now, while I wait for the metal kit frames to turn up for the new pottery building. As it has turned out it’s veggie garden first, then orchard, and finally pottery shed, in that order each time we have a catastrophe and start to make a recovery. Garden beds are quick to plant out, orchards take longer and must be planted in the winter. Finally, pottery buildings need a lot more money, time, planning and Council Approval before they can be built. 
It fits the same pattern. Everything has to done in a particular sequence for it to work out smoothly. For instance, I had to get the front fence built, as the orchard is up against it, then a metal frame had to be built to hold up the bird proof netting. I was very lucky to be able to buy a truck load of 100mm. dia. irrigation pipes and was also extreemely lucky to be gifted a lot of galvanised wire mesh fencing and also a couple of very large pieces of nylon bird proof orchard netting, along with a lot of other usefull materials from a couple from up north who had de-commissioned their back yard orchard. Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way with this by actually turning up and lending a hand, or by donating money into our ‘Go-fund-me’ account. We wouldn’t be here now in this much better place, if it wasn’t for you!


The sequence of jobs that brought us here now involved ordering the new frut trees way back in February and March from 3 different suppliers. Then digging out the old burnt out orchard trees. A very emotionally difficult decision at the time, as we had raised those trees from tiny bare rooted whip sticks, watered, mulched, pruned, tended and nurished those plants for 2/3 of my life. The soil from the old orchard site was trucked across the drive into the former front garden area to improve the soil for the new trees. I found one spare evening to seed the area with both red and white clover, plus poppy and other cottage garden seeds, then plough the soil and wait for rain, which did eventually come while there was still some warth in the soil. The clover has been improving the soil structure and adding nitrogen while we have been waiting.

Now all the required steps along the way are complete, so we can pull it all together and finally step back and admire our handiwork. We had our son Geordie and our friend Warren here over the weekend for the big final effort to drag the huge 30 metre x 20 metre spinnaker of netting up and over the frames, then tie it all down to the wire mesh, A huge job. We used over 3000 metal ring clips and all ended up with blisters on our hands.

I laid out string lines to set the planting distance between each tree.

This time, the orchard trees are being planted into better prepared soil.


24 trees were planted in one mamoth effort on Monday. They are all in neat orderly rows and well mulched and watered. They are so small that you can hardly notice them, except for the mulch and the plastic tags that show where they are.


I managed to shread 3 pairs of jeans over the past two weeks. I tore the bum out of one pair and tore through and around last months repairs and patches on the other two.

This will keep me busy for the next few evenings.


My last job on this new orchard cover, is to weld up a couple of metal framed gates to keep everything secure from all the critters that like to eat fruit trees, kangaroos, wallabys, rabbits, wombats, cockatoos, etc.

Ladders are Dangerous

Someone recently told us that we shouldn’t be climbing up ladders after we turned 60!!!!!That was 8 years ago. I re-roofed the old pottery and re-guttered the barn, both shortly before they burnt in December.The barn is now re-roofed and re-guttered. I’ve spent a lot of time up ladders since then, cleaning gutters and doing all the various maintenance jobs.I own a lot of ladders. Different lengths and formats for different jobs, ranging from one to six metres long. I’m up and down all day.
Good thing that I was only just told that I should have stopped all this almost a decade ago.

Recently I have been building a metal frame to hold up the 2nd hand and recycled, plastic, bird-proof netting, that was donated to us for the new orchard cover.
This involved burying 100mm dia. metal posts in the ground to 600 mm deep and then installing cross-members between them, also 100mm. dia. I bought a truck load of 40 second hand metal pipes, 5.5m long that were recovered from the HMAS Melbourne before it was scrapped. They had been used as irrigation pipes before I got them.
I only needed to cut off the thick reinforcing rings off the end of each pipe to get the joints to fit on the pipes.

 Warren suggested that we should get orchard framing made into an olympic demonstration sport!
I could see that these old pipes would work OK for my purposes, as they came with an assortment of 90 degree elbows and some ‘Tee’ section joints.The last part was to lift up 8m long galvanised steel beams, 100mm x 50mm. These were quite heavy and unwieldy. Because I’m cautious. I went out of my way to buy yet another ladder, this time a 3mm tall step ladder, so that I wouldn’t have to stand on the last top step of my biggest 2.4m. step ladder, to get those heavy beams up on top of the 3.5m. high pipework frame.

I thought that I was doing quite well for an old guy. This higher ladder gave me a much better and safer working position while I screwed all the beams down to the frame securely.Of course I didn’t attempt do this on my own. I had my best friend Warren here to help me.We got all the beams up in one day! I’m very leased with my new tall ladder. So much safer than standing on the top step of the shorter one.

Yesterday, while moving a little short step ladder in my workshop. I bumped a gas bottle and knocked a steel beam off a tall shelf.It came down on my head, splitting it open with lots of bright red sauce. I saw stars, but remained conscious on the floor. I managed to get myself to the house and Janine drove me to Emergency where I got 10 stitches in my head.Ladders are so dangerous! Especially those little short plastic ones.

And So We Graft from Dawn Till Dusk

Dawn breaks clear and rosey pink, a few scuds drift over and the days graft begins cold and clear. We sweat and toil till dusk and the day rewards us with a fiery sunset reminding us of our overworked muscles.

Such is our current ‘new’ life. One remarkable thing that happened today was that we saw a plane fly over.

It was a bit of a surprise, as we used to see and hear them many times a day in our previous life. There were so many that we didn’t bother to look. In fact we didn’t really notice them at all. They were omnipresent. Now they are a novelty.

6 months ago we had them thundering slowly overhead at low altitude, flaps down and roaring, just above a stall speed to deliver their pink fire retardant all around us. But that was then and this is now, so this solitary plane was a notable surprise.

A lovely event this week was the appearance of a clutch of baby wood ducks grazing in the Chekov orchard. For decades, we had wood ducks breeding here in the cherry orchard and on the dams. At that time we had a big eucalyptus tree with a hollow branch hanging over one of the the dams. A perfect breeding site that was used every season by many generations of wood ducks. Tragically, that tree blew over in a huge storm 10 years ago. Since then, the wood ducks haven’t bred here. They are apparently quite choosy about where they nest. Since the catastrophic fire. All the old trees with dead, hollow branches considered suitable by wood ducks as a nesting site have been burnt. Their choices are very limited now. The fire removed all the forest around here. There is no under growth or shrubby nesting sites for small birds, and no hollow branches considered suitable by wood ducks to breed in. So they are not so choosy any more. This pair seem to have lowered their expectations and managed to raise this batch of babies somewhere closer to the ground.

They usually hatch about a dozen little ones, but they loose almost one baby duck per day to predators in the early days. These ducklings seem to be about 3 weeks old and are now too big to be taken by curawongs, but hawks, powerful owls or a fox could still take them. So they are still very cautious.

At the moment, we have seven survivors grazing each morning. They are particularly shy of people, even after over 40 generations of breeding here on this little farm holding. You’d think that they would have got used to us by now, as we always keep our distance and never chase them. Once their kids have fledged and gone their own way, the parents will be a lot more tolerant of us walking around in their orchards, amongst their cherry trees and on their dam banks, or walking on their grass.

It’s nice to see them back. I can only suppose that, because of the total loss of grass and suitable sites due to the fire, our grassy orchards and partially full dams are now the best option for them to breed in again. We keep out of their way and give them plenty of space to graze peacefully, as we want them to return permanently. These pictures were taken through our bedroom window, as we can’t get close enough to them to photograph them outside.

When I get a bit of time and energy, I should look into what kind of nesting box wood ducks prefer, then get a couple set up in trees somewhere near the dams. Then hope they like it.

Life goes on. But in the mean time, I have a pottery to build and a new orchard to plant, and so we graft from dawn till dusk.

And the good news is;

We have spent this Easter long weekend digging trenches and laying plastic ‘polypipe’ all around the perimeter of the property. We used to have a complete circumnavigation of the block, but it was largely destroyed in the recent fires. I laid about 1000 metres of polypipe in the 70’s, but having chosen to live here on a very low income, I buried all the pipe by hand using a mattock. I dug and buried about 6 metres every summer morning before breakfast over a few years.

My big mistake was that because the ground was very dry and hard, I only managed to bury the pipe just below the surface, possibly just 100 mm. deep. Over the years with mowing and soil disturbance, erosion, etc. some of the pipe was just visible in places. It wasn’t such a big deal for the first 40 years, it only turned out to be a mistake when the catastrophic fire roared through here.

When the fire came, it was so hot, that it melted the pipe where it was exposed, or even if it was close to the surface. After the fire we found 2 complete melt outs, and 15 leaks in the system. We spent a couple of days with our friends Warren and Trudie helping us, to locate and patch all the holes. Each day driving back into town to buy more joiners, junctions and piping. We were haemorrhaging a thousand dollars a day for the first few days. We knew where the holes were, because whenever I started up the pump, we could see a fountain appear out of the ground. So I would switch off the pump and dig out the wet soggy site, then cut out the damaged section of pipe and install a couple of joiners and a new length of pipe. It worked as a stop gap measure, it got us through a tough spot in the dangerous, hot, dry, summer. But now it has become the time to do the job properly.

I decided to re-route the new pipeline right around the extreme edges of the land, whereas previously, it had cut around the edges about 20 metres in from our boundary. Now I want to move the pottery up onto the orchard site and move the stone fruit orchard up to the front of our land close to the street. I don’t want to have to move the polypipe again. I need it to be out of the way, but accessible. This time I have dug the trench 300 to 400 mm deep. Not deep enough to have to worry about cutting through the electricity conduits where they criss-cross the block, 600mm. down, but deep enough not to melt in the next fire that will come through here in the coming decade.

Eventually, I got back to the old pipework and joined the old 44 year old imperial agricultural pipe into the new blueline metric piping. There have been 4 different ‘standard’ joints for this poly piping system and 3 different standards in pipe sizes and wall thicknesses over the years. My under-ground water system has elements of all 7 different parts. It’s a hotch-potch. Whenever I dig up a part of the system to add on a spur line, I have to try to match the parts and pipe sizes.

I used to have stock of all these different parts to get me out of trouble in 1inch, 25mm., 2 inch, and 50mm. sizes in both male and female formats. These days I have to drive down to Mittagong to buy each new part for the circumstances at hand. I usually buy one extra spare part to start to replace my parts in stock.

We will be safe for the next 4 years, as it takes 4 years for the leaf litter in the forest to build up to a level that will sustain a bad fire, somewhere from 5 to 10 years on, there will be another very dry, prolonged period, but global warming increases the likelihood that it could be worse than this last time. When the fire comes again we need to be better prepared. This is how we are thinking & planning, and how we are responding to this disaster. I need to make our property defendable in the next very bad fire.

While I was concentrating on digging and laying the 130 metres of new 50mm. dia piping, Dave the concreter turned up to start work on the concrete slab for the new metal framed car port. I thought that would give him a hand, but I soon realised that the best assistance I could give him was to keep out of his way. He has done this all his life and is very quick and efficient. One day to dig out the site and frame it up, the lay the steel rio mesh, and another day to cast the concrete and polish the surface. Straight after Easter, the builder turned up to start erecting the metal frame.

It’s all going so quickly now. We have finished excavating all the beautiful rich dark top soil from the orchard and spreading it on the new top site. We spent a day raking out the roots and stones from the top soil and loading the truck to take them to the burn pile.

I want to get this new orchard site ready for the arrival of the new dwarf fruit trees by June/July. The site has to be completed by then because these new fruit trees are going to be bare-rooted, and will need to be planted pretty quickly. They are already ordered and paid for. I won’t have time to be doing all this prep when they arrive. These little jobs have to be scheduled in all along the way as the opportunity arrises. I couldn’t bare to build the new pottery on top of all that hard earned, self created, beautiful rich top soil. I had to remove it and use it productively.

So now the site is prepared, we still have to lay in the irrigation. One of my new poly pipe spur lines terminates just inside where the orchard fence will be. I am still trying to figure out the cheapest way to build a fence and frame to support the bird netting. This is a work in progress. The next immediate job is to build a stone retaining wall to hold back the lovely deep bed of soil. Actually I need to build 2 stone retaining walls over the next few weeks to prepare for other stages of the new pottery build. The old orchard site that will house the new pottery will need to be levelled, what’s called ‘cut and fill’ and that soil will need to be retained. Whenever I can get around to that.

And the good news is…. Our Hyundai Ioniq electric plug-in hybrid car has returned the performance figures for the first quarter and we have raised our average fuel consumption from 500 km. to the litre of fuel up to 505 kms to the litre. It’s an amazing statistic that I find hard to comprehend, but I have only been to the service station one this year so far, and the fuel tank is still over 3/4 full. Very pleasing!

Lastly, we have been trying to find ways of using up our huge excess of capsicums. First they were roasted by the fire and lost their leaves, then recovered by the heavy rains that followed. Now we are having to deal with this huge harvest. Fortunately, capsicums are a favourite of ours, but everyone has a limit. We use them in every soup, salad, stew, and stock. I have roasted them and pickled them, this week I stuffed them and baked them. Last night I cut them into chunks and used them on kebabs with zucchini slices and some fresh tuna off the fish truck.

Janine made a baked pudding using 2 jars of our preserved berries from the summer.

As the weather has turned cooler now, this warming and very satisfying desert is very welcome and delicious .

I have made some sourdough bread. I rescued the sourdough starter from Geordie. Now that his restaurant has been forced to close. I thought that I might keep the sourdough ferment alive here for the duration.


A tough decision

It’s now 3 1/2 months since the fire cleaned us out. We have been working hard to clean everything up and bring our life back to some semblance of normality. Well, the sort of ‘normality’ that we chose as normal for us.

I keep thinking, well hoping is probably a more apt term, that I have finished with chainsawing blackened logs. But they are every where and I still find myself at it after all this time. I haven’t even started t think about clearing up the rear section of our land, down the slope behind where the pottery used to be. There is a lot of blackened sticks down there that will have to be tackled one day. For the time being, I’m concentrating on just the front half of our land. The part that will face the next fire in 5 or more years time after the forest grows back.

With global warming increasing at an increasing rate, and world leaders with their heads in the sand, its going to come around again in the next decade. A long dry spell with increasing temperatures, The east coast will burn again. I need to work now to set us up to be better prepared for the next episode. I thought that I was well prepared before, but you learn from experience, and I had never experienced anything like that before. I had no idea what a catastrophic fire event could be. I’m a bit wiser now. No-one should have to go through that.

So with this idea firmly fixed in my mind, we are back into it, cutting and stacking the last of the stumps, fallen branches and pruned dead limbs from the front garden. Of course it’s not a front garden any more. It’s now just a front yard of bare scorched earth. We will keep it as a meadow of wild flowers into the future. something that we can mow down when required to keep a clear space to the west, where the next fire will most likely come from.

Janine loads the smaller logs with the help of the chook formally known as ‘Ginger’.

These logs are so heavy that I can’t lift them onto the truck, so I use the tractor to do the lifting, but even then, the tractor has a load limit of just under 200 kgs. and one load was so heavy that I could only get it just 100mm. up off the ground. I learnt to limit the load to just one lump at a time.

So now it has become the time to make that really big decision. it’s one of the toughest decisions that I have had to make. We have decided to take out the stone fruit orchard and move the pottery up the slope a bit onto that site, farther away from the bush at the back of our land and closer to the centre. We will re-plant a new orchard in the front area, on the other side of the entrance driveway. This new ‘orchard’ location will be easier, and therefore cheaper, to build on.

We rented a weathboard pottery studio up in Dural to the north of Sydney when we first started out in the early 70’s. It burnt down in the bush fires of 1976. We moved to Balmoral and built a pottery out of galvanised iron, hoping that it would be more fire proof. It burnt down in 1983. The next pottery was build of mud bricks, I hoped that it would be more fire proof. but it still had a timber ceiling and roof framing. Now it has burnt, I’m slowly getting the message. This time I will build in steel. I’m a slow learner!

The first pottery we built here in 1976 was on 3 levels to accomodate the slope of the land. We build it over several years, one room at a time as we could afford it. When it burnt down in 1983, the next pottery was rebuilt on the same sloping site on the same 3 differing levels. We had no money, or any prospects of earning very much of it, so we worked with the lie of the land to save money.

As this will hopefully be my last pottery building. I need it to accomodate me in my zimmer frame and wheel chair in the future. This pottery needs to be all on one level. This also probably means building it on a concrete slab. I have strictly avoided using concrete in the first 3 potteries because of the huge carbon debt that cement incurs, but I need to be both practical and economical. a slab is looking like the smartest option. So I’m selling out my green credentials and going with concrete for the first time in my life, thinking of our old age.

So the orchard is gone. We planted all those trees as bare rooted whip sticks in 1976. That’s 44 years of nurturing, pruning, fertilising, watering and mowing. It’s all gone now!


We have engaged our friend Ross, to dig up all the top soil that we lovingly created over the past 4 decades. The top 200mm of soil has become a rich dark brown humus rich soil. Far too good to bury under a concrete slab. The original native soil here was an orange/yellow sandy loam when we started. I was delighted and surprised to see how deep the top soil had become over time. So good in fact that we couldn’t bear to waste it. I decided to ask Ross to dig it up and transport it to the front garden to fertilise and enrich the new orchard site.

We piled up all the best dark soil into a heap, not unlike a mini Mt. Everest in the garden. The chook formally known as ‘Ginger’ decided to climb the mountain of soil looking for bugs and worms. This top soil is extremely rich and alive with life.

I noticed that she attacked the problem from the North Face, the hard way, without ropes or carabinas. She will now be known as the chook called ‘Hillary’!

We will plant another orchard on the new front site, where we will plant all new trees that are mostly grown on dwarf grafted rootstocks. This will make the orchard easier to manage in the future as we grow older and less vigorous ourselves. The opposite of the fruit trees. We will grow the new orchard under a full netting cover, just like the vegetable garden has been now for 15 years. What we have learnt from the veggie garden experiment, is the kind and size of netting to keep out the fruit eating birds and rabbits, but let in the smaller insect eaters.

Once all the top soil has been moved to the new site, I will to start extending the poly pipe watering system all around the new orchard site to allow for access to plenty of irrigation water in the future.

So many jobs and so little time. I hardly notice that the rest of the world is in lock-down, we are happy being busy here on our own little piece of land and our self created world. We have been living ‘self-isolation’ voluntarily for decades.

In the afternoon I set fire to one of the many piles of dead trees and branches that we have stacked up, and in the evening after dinner, I roast, sweat, peel and pickle the huge crop of bell capsicums that the recent rains have brought on.


Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever finished and nothing lasts! I’m grateful to be still here doing this. I have to try and creative a positive outcome from the unmittigated disaster that this is. I take up the challenge that has presented itself to me. I could never have pulled down the old pottery to ‘improve’ it for my old age. I couldn’t have ever concieved of digging out our beautiful old orchard that we had worked on for so long. This is an oportunity to re-define ourselves here on this piece of land that we love. We have been offered this once in a lifetime opportunity to make our homestead age sensitive and apropriate to our coming frailties. Gone are the steps and in with the ramps.

We will be better prepared for both natures next holocaust and our old age.

Punishing our old bodies

We have spent the last weekend extending the front fence to the south of the house along the road frontage, replacing the old wooden post and rail fence that was originally there a hundred and thirty years ago. We know that there was a post and rail fence, because the massive corner post on the northern boundary, with its 3 mortices in it, was still standing there in 1976 when we came here. I would have kept it there, as i saw it as a bit of heritage, but when the land next door was bought by the new neighbours, they dug it out one day without telling us and replaced it with piece of rusty steel pipe that was obtained from the local coal mine.

We spent the first day of the weekend digging the 17 post holes down to 600mm depth. I borrowed a ‘kanga’ machine with a post hole auger the make the job easier, but it still took all day, as we kept hitting big rocks and huge tree roots, so many of the holes had to be done by hand with a crow bar and fencing shovel.

Something quite amazing happened in the 2nd last hole. This is 100 metres from the site of the old wooden corner post. I lined up the position of the fence using a long builders tape and a string line. I really just relied on lining it up visually with the string line, however, I was pretty confident that it was more or less in the correct place. If anything, I was tending to err on the side of caution. maybe 100mm in from the border line?

When I tried the bore the 2nd last hole, I hit what appeared to be a tree root, but it was quite vertical. I had to dig it out by hand with the bar and shovel. When I got down to the 600 mm level that I needed, I found that the ‘root’ was a slightly loose, so I managed to pull it up and out. it was only then that I realised that I had found one of the original wooden posts, dating back 127 years. It had rotted off at ground level and down 300 mm below ground level, but was preserved intact between 600mm and 800mm deep in the airless conditions deep down.

What are the odds of keeping the fence line perfectly straight with the old non-existent fence, working down 100 metres from the original corner post. BUT, then to dig a fence post hole directly on top of the original one! I was amazed, staggered actually.

You can see in this image that although the forest around us is still burnt black, some of the trunks off the older eucalypts are starting to re-shoot from epicormic buds on the main trunk of the trees.

Janine mixed the cement and dry sand mix for me to ram into the fence post holes, so as to set the post straight. I did all the ramming and levelling. We even made our own hand made rubble from crushed building waste from the burnt out old pottery building.

After ramming in and concreting the 17 fence posts on the 2nd day with the ramming bar, my hands, wrists, elbows and shoulders were quite strained and sore. I needed to have 2 days off to recover! I’m not used to such heavy and punishing work like this on my body at this older age.

During the week, we lifted, scraped and cleaned 1000 old recycled roofing slates that we had stored along the fence line of the old stone fruit orchard. We are intending to build the new pottery on the stone fruit orchard site, so everything has t one shifted and cleaned up. we moved the slates to a new storage place under the verandah of the old Railway Station. We always intended to use these old roof slates as floor tiles in the old pottery, but as we didn’t have any concrete floors, just pavers set in sand, it was not possible to use them at that time. They will find a place in the new pottery.

That was two days of bending and and scraping, different from post hole ramming, but it still feels like work, just not as brutal on the joints.

Our next job this week was to dig up all the stone retaining wall along the old pottery site and stack the stones off sit, ready for re-use as a new stone retaining wall for the new pottery, once the site is cleared. We will need to raise the level at the back of the site about 500 to 600 mm high to get a reasonable level.

We need to find sufficient stones to build a wall 600 mm high and 25 metres long. We will be scrounging every stone on the block to get there.

Our last job today was to level out the 5 tonnes of rock dust that we had delivered to make a base for our new water tank. It needs to be 4.5 metres in diameter, solid, well compacted and reasonably level. We have had a couple of goes at it, over the week, in between bouts of rain, which was very good at settling it down and compacting it. This afternoon we got it just about right. One more shower of rain will do it good.

Self-reliance in this time of C19 isolation

With the recent rain and the last of the summer heat, the vegetable garden has grown like crazy. We came back from WOMAD and the Writers Week to find the garden was totally overgrown.

I had a couple of attempts to tame it with the strimmer, then Janine could get in with the mower. We spent a day pulling out weeds and clearing space for the new plantings. I should have been a lot busier in the garden a lot earlier, but have been distracted with fencing and other jobs around the place. Everything needs doing no! I still haven’t finished chopping up the last of the pine trees in the back of the house. My tractor broke down and needs some work, so it’s gone off to the tractor whisperer to be made good again. So until I get it back, I can’t move those last few huge logs.

I have finally got around to planting out the winter crops of brassicas, quite late, but better late than never. I’m also planting out the garlic, also a bit late, but OK.

we are practicing social distancing !

We have recently harvested our rather poor crop of red grapes, What with the drought, then the fire, now the very hungry wild life, and in particular, the bower birds, we were lucky to get any crop. Janine has been maintaining a wildlife feeding station down at the back of our land where there are a few possums and we don’t know what else eating the fruit and veg that we put out for them. She has created a an ‘apple’ tree out of a burnt out native tree and its charred branches.

She places the slices of apple there each afternoon and they are all gone in the morning. There isn’t much else to eat in the burnt out forest, but there are now some green shoot appearing from the trunks and root lignotubers of the blackened trees.

We made a small batch of summer wine from our tiny harvest. Best enjoyed straight from the keg as it ferments after a few days. A delightful combination of sweet grape juice, spritz bubbles and a little alcohol.

We may be burnt out. We may be unemployed. We may be in self imposed C19 isolation, but we are eating well as mostly vegetarian and gifted with an amazing group of tremendous friends that have given us so much support and assistance, up until lock-down.

We wouldn’t be be here now in this lucky position without you!

Thank you. You have been so wonderfull to us and helped us through this testing time.

Drought, fire, rain, flood, Greenery

The summer started with extremely dry weather, then the fire. closely followed by loads of rain, slight flooding and now cool autumn weather with a flush of green growth. This is our life. lurching from crisis to crisis, extreme to extreme, drought to flood, fire to rain, barron soil to flush greenery.

I have spent two days mowing to keep the new growth of grass down. I spent a day in the vegetable garden with the whipper-snipper shredding weeds and grass, clearing the fallow beds ready for the autumn planting. and clearing all the paths.

I should have got these winter veggies in a month or two back, but have been otherwise distracted by my close encounter with death and then the never-ending cleanup. I’m just starting to sleep through the whole night again. I have had two good nights now.

I put this down to our holiday escape to Adelaide for Writers week and WOMAD. We had booked and paid for this annual sojourn 6 months ago. If it hadn’t been prepaid, we wouldn’t have gone. There is just so much still to do here, just to get back to tors. Luckily we had paid for it all in advance, so we had to go. I’m very glad that we did. I really needed a break. My neck was so stiff with tension. However, after our time away, where we couldn’t do anything except engage with ideas and concepts, as well as walking several kilometres per day into the city and back. It did us a lot of good and I’ve come back relaxed and able to sleep better. I can now turn my head freely again.

So our time away was good for us, but the garden went to ruin, over-run with weeds after the rain and the last of the warm weather. Under all the over growth there is still a lot of food still to be picked. I hacked and slashed my way through the paths, then returned with the strimmer. Usually, not too much stops this machine, but this level of weed growth really slowed it down. I had to work very slowly, otherwise the cord just slowed down and didn’t work. The same applied to the ride-on mower. I had to drive very slowly to allow the mower to cope with the high level of wet grass. Consequently, the mowing took far longer than usual.

We mowed and whipper-shipped until we ran out of petrol and I ran out of plastic strimmer cord. I used to keep stock of all these consumables, strimmer cord in a big roll, spare chain saw chains and sharpening files, two-stroke mix, ear muffs, chain saw tool kit. They are all melted and burnt. I still don’t know all the things that we have lost. Not until I go to the shed to get something that I always have, but realise that I don’t have a shed anymore. All those small items and tools all gone. Still, all the mowing is now done for at least a week. Time to re-stock all the consumables. I have a long list for tomorrows expedition to the hardware shop.

The garden is starting to take shape – a little. It’ll look a lot better by the end of the week, when I have finished weeding all the beds and planting out new seedlings.

Once I could see what was still in there, I picked a load of vegetables and herbs for a mirepoix. A parsnip. some celery, a few carrots, the herbs, thyme parsley sage and bay leaves, plus a little salt and pepper corns to flavour it up. I bought a beef femur and a pigs trotter, which I boiled in an excess of water without roasting this time, as I usually roast the bones first to caramelised then a little, but this time, to save time, they went straight unto the pot. Another boiler had the herbs and veggies.

Last night we had the wood stove on for the first time this year, because of the sudden drop in temperature with the rain, so I was able to let them both boil down nicely over the evening and into the night. Today I separated the marrow from the cooled bones and drained the mirepoix, discarding the green matter. Then both liquors went back into the big boiler together with a bottle of good red wine and some tomato paste. Here I deviated from the normal script. We have run out of tomatoes, so I indulged myself in the use of a packet of bought concentrated tomato paste. Australian of course!

So this is our new life post fire. All the old standards have fallen. I didn’t roast the bones! I have bought tomato paste from a shop! where will this all end?

I finished reducing the stock down from the initial 9 litres to less than 1 litre. I must say that it is really delicious, savoury, sour, salty, and ever so slightly sweet – just a hint, and very viscous and creamy in the mouth.

You can’t buy stuff like this. its real food! This will be stored in the freezer and just a sliver of this frozen gel with be like a stock cube added to any wintery dish. Beautiful, and so rewarding.