We are finally back at work in the pottery. Proper work.
There was still so much to finish off in and around the pottery. We have been trying to achieve the impossible.
To rebuild in a few years what it took us 40 years to build up over a lifetime of potting, collecting and restoring.
There is still a lot to do, but most of all the pressingly urgent stuff is complete and in place. The extraction hood over the electric kilns was the last really necessary thing.
I am currently working part time on a flame combustor, spark arrestor and scrubber for the top of the wood kiln chimney. That will be completed in the next few months in time for the cooler weather and the first wood kiln firing of the season.
This week I made up a batch of rough stoneware body made from crushed shale. I had to spend some time crushing and sieving the shale. I have had this stuff for some time. It had come through the fire and is full of charcoal from the fire. It wasn’t too arduous, as it was only through a coarse mesh.
After mixing the two x 125 kg batches of body, we pugged all the clay twice. Once all through the pug and then stacked on the pug table in a pyramid stack. We then cut off all the ends of the sausages and re-pug it all another time, such that each sausage that comes out of the pug is comprised of a mix of all the previous pugs of clay. This is to ensure that there is very little variability from the first to last sausage of clay.
After finishing up, the pug mills and tables are all washed and wheeled out of the way and all the floors are wet scrubbed and mopped to clean off any small amount of clay that finds it way onto the floor, which it inevitably does. The floor is scrupulously clean all through. All the clay is bagged and boxed. Everything ship shape.
This is the best pottery workshop that we have ever had. Having been burnt out 3 times over our careers. I have designed and built this 4th workshop/studio with every piece of equipment on wheels to facilitate flexibility and cleanliness.
We have been picking lots of food from the garden, then cooking and preserving all the excess. We are up to our 5th batch of tomato passata.
Oven baked pumpkin is great on its own and can be used up all week in all sorts of ways from frittata to salads.
Tomatoes, basil, capsicums, chilli and pepper corns go into the passata.
We had an over ripe banana and a few eggs, so I made us a banana soufflé for desert. It worked out really well.
All part of our attempts at self-reliance. It seems to be working out OK.
Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 or 4 months to put a small amount of petrol in the plug-in electric hybrid car. I always forget where the switch is, to open the petrol cap cover.
In our old petrol powered car, I used to go the garage and get petrol almost every week, so I knew where the lever was. It was on the floor next to the drivers seat.
Now, because this car is so different — all electric everything. I have to remember to look for the special button to do the job.
Previously, I was only putting $20 in to last 3 months, but with the recent outbreak of war in Ukraine, the petrol company has been forced into ‘Putin’ the price up.
I put $30 in this time. I’ll see how long it lasts. This is only the 3rd time I’ve been to the petrol station this year. It remains a quaint and unusual event for me.
This electric car is beautiful to drive. So silent, but with heaps of torque. All you hear is some faint tyre noise, depending on the road surface. On the newer, smooth road surfaces, it is silent.
I’m pleased to be able to drive home and plug it in to the solar panels for a re-charge. If the sun isn’t shining, we still plug it in, and charge it off our Tesla battery. In this way we can use yesterdays stored-up sunshine.
I’m very pleased to say that even during winter, with shorter days and a lot of rain so far this year, we are still over 95% self powered. We can run our house, charge our car, plus run the pottery and even fire the small electric kiln on our 6 kW of solar PV.
So far this year, we have paid just $75 for electricity from the grid, and this was our first power bill in 16 years since we installed the first 3 kW of PV panels. This bill was largely due to the fact that the feed-in tariff has been reduced to just 7 cents per kW/hr this year, while the cost of green electricity has increased. The feed-in tariff won’t be going up any time soon, if ever. So we have to cut our cloth accordingly. Up until recently, we were getting 20 cents per kW/hr for our electricity, and getting the best part of $1,000 per year in rebates.
However, because I have been doing a lot of regular firings in our electric kiln, we have therefore used a lot more electricity than we normally would. This is becauseI have been working on my Show at the Sturt Gallery. It has taken a lot of research and testing to get this new body of work completed. I haven’t made pots like this before. I haven’t decorated my work with brushwork like this before, I haven’t used most of these clay bodies before and I haven’t fired this wood kiln before. Almost everything is new and therefore un-tried. It was a lot of work to get it all together in time, involving a massive amount of glaze and body testing and test firings. Hence the large power bill. So this is why it is so rewarding to realise that we were able to cover over 95% of it with our own self-generated power.
All this testing also has another more important purpose. I need to make the specially commissioned work as my part of The Willoughby Bequest for The PowerHouse Museum. My original idea all went up in the flames, so I have had to find a new approach, and this new work is my way into that place.
The show at Sturt gallery has been well received. It’s been open for a week now and they have sold 17 out of the 23 pieces. So that is a very good result and I’m very happy with that. I’m very happy with the work and I think that it stands up well. It expresses both my angst and trauma, but also the terrible beauty and energy of intense fire.
We have passed the shortest day, but the weather is still getting colder, as it does. There always seems to be a bit of a lag from the shortest day to the depth of winter. The reverse is also true for the longest day and the hottest weather. So it is now time to do the winter pruning of all the grape vines and deciduous fruit trees.
This was always such a big job in the past with all our stone fruit trees being over 40 years old. They had grown quite massive. Now, post fire, and all new dwarf fruit trees planted in the new orchard, it will not be such a big job, as the trees are still quite small and should remain that way. No more ladder work for pruning.
The first, earliest, peach tree has suddenly broken into flower. This is a strong reminder that I need to get on with it, stop lazing around, and get all that pruning done.
All this cold weather, frosty nights and chilly mornings has inclined me to make a few curries. They are a good comfort food, warming and filling, without being too bad for you. Veggie curries are great, I have been trying to use mostly what we have growing in the garden, which at this time of year must include broccoli, cabbage and even a few Brussel sprouts. I even managed to used most of our own spices.
This Asian influenced meal had the last 9 small tomatoes from the garden, our garlic, chilli, lime leaves, curry leaves, coriander and the last two small capsicums. All from the garden. I had bought a few pieces of fresh ginger, galangal and turmeric from the green grocer because we cant grow these plants in our garden here, even in summer. We had 3 curries over the week. Each one was slightly different, from Thai to Indian. Curry seems to be more warming than other meals.
Maybe it’s all that chilli?
On Sunday I was up before dawn and drove up to the North side of Sydney, a few hours drive away. Up to Oxford Falls. A place where I used to live. I grew up and went to school there. I used to live at number 41 Oxford Falls Road. This time I went to the far opposite end of that long road to collect some old and rusted galvanised iron roofing so that I can rebuild my wood fired kiln’s wood shed and finally create a new and hopefully permanent home for the rebuilt big hydraulic wood splitter.
It was a really lovely sky at dawn with the horizon turning from grey to pink for those precious few minutes.
I had been given a tin roof off an old chicken farm shed. I was told about it a couple of years ago, when we were casting about looking for old re-cycled roofing iron to use as cladding on our new pottery shed. I wanted to use all old, grey, weathered and slightly rusty re-cycled gal sheeting on this new building to make it look more in keeping with all the other old buildings on our site. Our home is the Old School building from 1893 and we also have the old railway station built in 1881. I managed to save both of these buildings from the fire. We wanted to keep the heritage look and feel of the place and a brand new shiny corrugated iron pottery shed would stand out like dogs balls, I managed to find just enough old, weathered roofing to complete the job while I was still waiting for the roof to be taken off the Chicken shed in Oxford Falls.
That roof was finally replaced this year. Too late for me to use in the new pottery, but just in time for me to use to re-build the dedicated wood shed for all the large billets of timber that are required to be split, stacked and dried for use in the wood fired kiln. I’m quite fond of the old heritage buildings and their ‘settled-into-the-environment’ look, so it is appropriate for me to build the new wood shed out of old and slightly rusted stuff.
When I drove into Oxford Falls Road, the road I grew up on, but where I left to find my own way in life in 1972. I found some old memories flooding back. I remembered that we used to walk down the road a few miles to get to the creek at the bottom of the hill and go yabbying. A yabby is a fresh water crayfish. This time, instead of turning to go up the hill to where my parents old house was. I turned the opposite way and crossed over the ford just above the falls and went West.
I hadn’t been here since I was in my teens and used to drive the family truck down here with my grand father, to collect chicken manure from his friends egg farm. My Granddad was a very committed organic gardener, health food devotee, and a strict vegetarian. He brought my mother up that way, and she me. In fact, my grand parents lived behind our house. The two houses back to back, on different streets but with a common back yard joining them. This back yard was huge, as land sizes were very generous in those post (WW II), war days. That shared back yard was dedicated in the most part to a huge vegetable garden and a few fruit trees. And, of course two massive compost heaps.
It was a regular chore to go with granddad and shovel chicken manure from the deep litter floor of the chook sheds when there was a change over of birds and the various sheds were empty for a short while. We had to take it in turns either holding the bag open or digging the manure and wood shaving mixture into the hessian bags, then lugging them out and up onto the truck. I shared this job with my older brother for a few years until he eventually left home and I was old enough the get my drivers licence and took over the driving. Old man Rigby, who owned the farm and my granddad were great friends. They were about the same age and shared the same interest in ‘health foods’, as they were called back then. Old Mr Rigby baked his own bread. As did my grand mother and she taught my mum. She then taught me. I still make most of our bread, as well as grow my own organic vegetables. Family traditions are passed down in this way. Give me the boy till he is 7!
Well, you can image my surprise, when I turned into the driveway of the site to collect the old roofing iron to find that it all seemed strangely familiar. I recognised the old shed with the hand split stone walls. It all came flooding back. I’ve been here before. Almost everything is different now, but the old shed is the same, just more dilapidated, but I remember that Old Mr Rigby lived in there. The first room served as his kitchen and his office, it’s now the pottery studio. The remaining bigger part of the old shed was his machinery shed. It’s now got one of my wood fired kiln designs in there. Who could possibly imagine that !
I remember sitting in that room waiting while Mr Rigby and my Grand Father chatted on about compost and other organic gardening stuff. I was bored. I wanted to get going, so that I could go to the beach. I didn’t take sufficient interest in their healthy organic gardening and wholemeal bread baking chat. My Granddad was probably thinking…
We are in our own very small and insignificant flood recovery mode
Now that the rain has eased. I can get out and start to repair the leaks that have become apparent in the pottery.
The tin shed builders were pretty basic, almost sub-prime. We have had so many leaks in this building.
The builders chose to use metal sheeting screws without any rubber seals. This must have saved them $10 bucks! So all the walls leaked in the first rain months ago.
I had to go around the whole building and seal all the screws. I had a few options. Firstly I could go around and take out every screw and replace it with the correct type 17 climaseal screws.
Or, I could go around and take out every one of the 3,000 screws, add a small rubber ‘O’ ring washer, then replace the screw. In the end I took the quicker and cheaper option of going around and siliconing the head of every screw. This turned out to be quicker and cheaper. But it still took me days to go around and seal every one to water proof it.
During this prolonged rain event we’ve had a lot of rain compared to our normal. At one point we had over 300mm in 2 days. I know that this is nothing compared to what other places have had to deal with, but it is more than our annual rain fall during the drought years. It became apparent that a couple of the windows were not installed correctly, so that water was leaking in around them. The builders must have been very sloppy with the flashing.
Rather than take the shed to bits to find and seal the problem. I decided to put an awning over the problem windows to keep the rain from getting in behind them.
I had to custom cut and fold some fancy flashing to fit the corrugations and keep the water out.
I cut them by hand using old fashioned ‘curved’ tin snips. Once screwed to the wall above the window and sealed with silicon, they look pretty neat. I’m hoping that this will solve the issue?
We were busy last weekend with a bunch of friends paving the court yard area around the new, almost finished, wood fired kiln.
I still need to finish laying the last of the floor bricks in the chamber, I would have finished this small job a couple of weeks ago, but when the court yard flooded with 70mm of water sloshing around in there. It wasn’t very appealing to be kneeling done and doing the bricklaying. Then all that water was sucked up into the floor bricks like a wick and they became saturated so that any new mortar wouldn’t stick in place. Finally, they have now turned green with algae. I’m sure that they will dry out – eventually!
This severe weather event, although not life or property threatening for us, like it has been for our friends and relatives up on the North Coast. It has been a good warning and trial run for what we can expect in the future as Global Heating increases unchecked. No one in government seems to be taking this seriously, so what can we expect for the future? Well my guess is more of the same, only much worse. We’ve been warned.
So this extreme weather event has been a great warning to us as to what we can expect in the future. I have learned from it and and I’m taking actions now to limit the sort of damage that very heavy rain fall can cause. To start with we have paved the kiln area with a significant fall away from the kiln and out into the open. I have also ordered some more steel batons and some more poly carbonate roofing sheets to wall in half of the courtyard directly behind the kiln. With contour drainage to take the water to the edge of the retaining wall. Although the pottery didn’t flood, it has become obvious that we need to create a dish drain around the front of the building to carry all the excess ground water away from the front of the building, because another event will eventually be worse.
This is a start
Back at the kiln, I also need to fabricate a stainless steel firebox lid and a stainless steel chimney flame tube incorporating a spark arrester. I planned to have started this job already, and 3 weeks ago, I ordered the Stainless steel sheets and some Stainless steel wire mesh for the spark arrester. The sheeting is here, but the couriers have lost the SS mesh. The supplier won’t replace it until he knows what has happened to the first order. The courier company won’t pay out to replace it until they know what has happened to it. So I’m stuck in a catch 22 situation. I can choose to wait it out until the original order is found and delivered, or buy a second sheet of stainless steel mesh and get on with it, but it’s not cheap stuff, so I’m waiting and continuing to write emails of enquiry.
We had a great weekend with our friends laying the paving tiles. We also met two new people who volunteered and turned up all the way from Newcastle, who will surely become friends now. They were a great addition to the group. The stayed over night with us and we got to know each other over a home grown meal from the garden. I had previously made a big pot of tomato passata from the last of our tomatoes, so we had an easy meal of pasta. Dan and James are environmental campaigners and organisers, so we shared a lot in common. James took this image of Dan, Janine and me standing on the new paving.
This is all great progress and I’m really happy to see so much getting done.
Janine and I started the levelling and paving earlier in the week. As a trial run, to make sure that everything would work out the way that I planned. As we haven’t done any paving since we built the last pottery shed in 1983, I’d completely forgotten what to do and had to re-educate myself and get my skills back up to date. It’s not rocket science, but does need concentration and quite a bit of back bending work. I decided that at my delicate age, I should not do so much bending and instead get the knee pads on and work down on my knees to keep my back straighter. This worked out much better. But then getting up became a bit of an issue.
As we are in Autumn now and the weather is getting cooler and the days shorter, we have thought that we may need to light the fires in the kitchen and lounge room soon. The slow combustion heater in the lounge has started to wear through and rust out in the top fire box steel sheet. A crack started to appear at the end of last season, so I made a mental note to repair it once it cooled down, during the off-season, well that time is running out now, so it has to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I decided to attack the problem by fabricating and new roof for the firebox out of a scrap piece of 2mm thick stainless steel sheet.
Rather than try and weld it in place, which wouldn’t really work very well , as stainless and mild steel have different rates of expansion and contraction. I decided to bolt it in place with stainless steel bolts through over size holes and oversize washers. This should allow for the differences in expansion. The 2mm thick stainless roof should last as long as the 4 mm mild steel walls and whats left of the old top sheet. Time will tell. The stove is about 30 years old, so it has proved it’s worth. I’ll continue to work on it and preserve its life for as long as I can. We bought our slow combustion kitchen cooker over 40 years ago now and it was 2nd hand then. I’ve managed to keep it going all this time with home made adaptations and ingenious improvised repairs. I’m proud of that achievement and I’m hoping to extend it to 50 years if I can.
While I was at it, working on the lounge room heater. I also made a new front door frame seal. Afterwards, we went out into the paddock and spent an hour together with chainsaws cutting bushfire devastated and blackened logs. We cut them to stove lengths and stacked them in the wood shed ready for splitting. This will be about 1/4 to 1/3rd of the fire wood that we will get through the coming winter months.
Like everyone else on the East coast of Australia at the moment we are experiencing a lot of rain.
We are very lucky here to be situated up on top of a line of hills, on a ridge where the water table falls away on both sides. We at very unlikely to get flooded here. So our thoughts go out to all those who have been flooded and lost there homes and property. We’ve been there ourselves, but in a totally different way.
My partner Janine, who is from the North Coast area were the flooding is worst just now, has experienced this kind of flooding in her youth. She points out that at least after a fire everything is left sterilised. After a flood, everything is left putrid and stinking. Although the clean up takes just as long in both cases.
The rain came in horizontally and blew straight into our new kiln shed area through the open Eastern wall. i had to dig a drain to help ease the flow of water back out again.
If this is an insight into the future, then I will probably have to enclose some of this wall with polycarbonate sheeting. To let the light in, but keep the rain out.
I’m somewhat amazed that water managed to build up like this here in the kiln courtyard, as it is elevated up on 1200mm. of crushed blue metal gravel behind the big stone retaining wall. At least it does drain well over night once it actually stops raining.
Our normally dry and sometimes barren back yard is now a small stream, with a creek running through it.
Here the small top dam overflow channel is not able to cope with the deluge and the dam is over flowing across the whole dam wall.
We have only ever seen this happen a couple of times before in our 46 years here.
We had over 185 mm of rain. We’ve had this much rain before. In fact the recent bush fires were put out finally when we had this same amount of rain 2 years ago.
But last time the rain fell onto, and soaked into, a dry parched landscape. This time it has fallen onto a saturated and sodden catchment and so instantly started flowing off.
We are fine and have plenty of home grown and preserved food in the pantry, and because we have solar power and a battery, we don’t know whether the power went off or not.
These extreme events are exactly what we have been warned will eventuate with the increase global temperatures due to carbon in the atmosphere. But our politicians refuse to do anything about it and those on the right are still denying that it is even happening. A pox on both their houses!
With 1 in 50, and 1 in 100 year weather events happening every other year now, I fear for the future of our kids and grandchildren.
This week I received a box in the mail from Korea. It contained copies of my latest book translated into Korean.
I was such a poor student of English at school. I’m somewhat surprised that I have become a published author of multiple books in 3 languages!
Even my English teacher from High School was surprised, to the extent that when I met him 10 years after leaving school, at a reunion, he didn’t believe me when I told him.
I don’t blame him.
My work building our wood fired kiln continues. This last week I have finished the chamber arches with Janine’s help.
Adding their second layer of insulation bricks and welding on the steel bracing.
I also started work on the chimney with the help of my good friend Warren on the weekend.
The chimney is almost at the height that I can’t build anymore courses until I cut a hole in the roof to allow it to go through.
This will involve fabricating some specialised pieces of galvanised sheet metal ‘flashing’, custom fitted to the brick courses just above the tin roof to keep the rain out.
I hope to complete the chimney this week. More ladder work!
I have declared myself an honorary 59 year old for the past week to allow me to keep climbing ladders 🙂
We have now picked nearly all the apples and I cooked another apple and almond flan tartin for our weekend guests.
I also made the first batch of baked quinces, as the birds had decided that it was time to start eating them, dropping a lot of them onto the ground with just a few holes pecked into them.
They need to be dealt with pronto, or the damage soon spreads and they go bad quickly. I wouldn’t mind so much if they ate the whole thing, but they just peck a hole into the fruit to get to the seeds inside. If the fruit drops, they just watch it fall and start on another. At least the rabbits eat some of the fallen fruit. Quince fed rabbit sounds pretty good!
I wash the fluff off the skin, then peel and core, chop into 4 pieces for small fruit, or 8 pieces for the larger ones. I simmer them for 20 mins in a sugar syrup of 120 grams of sugar per litre of water. This syrup is less than half strength of the recipe ! Use enough water to cover the volume of fruit. Add a few cloves, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and half a small bottle of maple syrup. Once softened a little, transfer to a large baking dish and bake for 2 hours in a low oven at 160oC until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Remove the aromatics and bottle in sterile jars while hot from the oven. I think that they are ready when they start to catch just a little on the tips and have turned a beautiful reddy/orange colour.
The fragrance is spectacular and the taste is amazing. Can be eaten just like this, or can be enhanced a little with the addition of some pouring cream, plain yoghurt or ice cream.
I also managed to find just enough zucchini and squash flowers, both male and female to make up the numbers, so that I could make stuffed zucchini flowers for dinner. I wasn’t expecting to find so many suitable flowers this late in the season, so wasn’t prepared with suitable quantities of cottage or other suitable cheeses. Instead I used a tub of left over risotto from the fridge. extended with some boiled lentils and a few olives. It made up the distance.
This last week also brought a little bit of excitement into our dull, plodding, Post Modern Peasant lives. The State Government Funded green waste clean-up program commenced, for all the dead and damaged trees in people yards that were created by the 2019 Black Summer catastrophic bush fires here in the Southern Highlands.
We had a team of half a dozen blokes here for two days, lopping, topping and chopping dead trees. Some were completely removed and the stumps ground out, but most were pruned back to make safe habitat trees for wild life.
They shortened and made safe 15 trees and took down 3 or 4 smaller ones in the immediate vicinity of our back yard orchards, where we work and mow.
The purpose of the exercise is to get most of the smaller dead branches down out of the canopy so that it is safe to walk around underneath them in our garden. We had already dealt with the most pressing and difficult problem trees in our front garden 2 years ago at our own expense. I wasn’t prepared to survive the fire and then be killed by a falling branch.
It’s only taken 26 months for the State Government to implement this emergency safety solution into place. I wonder how long it takes them when they take their time 🙂
We still have 3 acres, or one and a bit hectares of dead forrest that is continually dropping dead branches. We just don’t go there, and if I have to, I wear a hard hat.
It’ll be unsafe for the next couple of decades as the dead branches slowly rot and fall. But what can you do? It’ll cost many thousands of dollars to get them all pruned safely.
I have been working on the new wood fired pottery kiln now for the past week and a half. Each morning Janine and I start with cleaning bricks and loading them onto the truck for the trip up to the new pottery shed. From there they are wheel barrowed down the alley to the newly covered court yard kiln area.We clean and stack about 150 bricks each time. As we clean the bricks, we sort them into different types and sizes.
All my fire bricks are very old and I have been using all the same bricks over and over for the past 45 years. I was lucky enough to buy several thousand fire bricks for just $100 way back in 1974. I already had a couple of small gas fired kilns and a small wood fried kiln in my parents back yard. I didn’t live there any more, but continued to use my studio in a little garage sized shed below a cliff at my mothers home. I saw an add for fire bricks for sale in the paper. People looked in the newspaper to see adds in those days before screens. I went to see the bricks in the old ‘Mcillraiths enamelled cast iron bath tub factory in Alexandria. I think that they had merged with ‘Metters’ and were closing down and moving to a new site where they would only enamel pressed metal baths. Those were the days before plastic baths.
The fellow in charge of dismantling the factory had been the manager before closure. He needed to get rid of the four large 5 metre square and 6 metres tall enamelling kilns, as they were just about the last things in the factory to be removed. I looked at them and shook my head, thinking that ere was no way I could shift that many bricks. I had only come on the off chance that there were some small number of bricks that my students at the old East Sydney Tech College (now called the National Art School) could obtain to build their own small kilns after graduation. I told the guy in charge of disposal this, and that the job was way too big for me. He had originally wanted $1 a brick in the add, but there were 20,000 or so of them. He had had no offers and was very keen to get rid of everything, as the factory needed to be empty by the end of the month, the kilns and some old machinery were the only items left in the place.
He sweetened the deal by offering to sell the lot to me for $1,000. I said No, thinking that although that was a very good price, I just couldn’t see how I could do it. Having said no way! He then offered to dismantle all the kilns and stack them on pallets for me. I continued to say NO!, more in disbelief than anything else. He said, “you drive a hard bargain Son!” OK then, I’ll organise a semi, palletise them, load them all onto the semi here with the fork lift and deliver them to your factory.”I told him that I didn’t have a factory or a fork lift, anyway I don’t need that many bricks. He countered with OK $500! He saw me shaking my head, I couldn’t believe what was happening. He must have been extremely keen to get out of his contractual predicament. I assume that he had already made his money on the sale of all the scrap iron and useful machinery? I was still shaking my head, when he said OK! $100 delivered. I said yes!
They arrived all in one go on a huge semi-trailer truck. The truck was loaded 2 pallets wide and two pallets high. Over twenty pallets of fire bricks. It took 5 friends and me all afternoon just to unload them onto the foot path. The next day my friend Len Smith came over and we hired a brick elevator/conveyor and laid it more or less horizontally up the sloping driveway so that as Len loaded the bricks onto the conveyor at the street, I was at the other end to catch them and ran around stacking them on the ground at the top of the hill. I paved my parents driveway 3 layers deep in fire brick to get them all off the side of the road. That’s how I ended up with 20,000 fire bricks and could afford to build a 3 chamber climbing kiln in the rented property out at Dural the next year.
As we wheel barrow these very familiar fire bricks that I have handled so many times to the kiln site. I sort and stack them in piles around the kiln into their different uses. House bricks for the foundations, Heavy fire bricks for the fire box and floor, light weight Insulating refractory bricks for the lining of the chambers and finally plain light diatomaceous insulating bricks that are only good for low temperatures, less than 1,000oC, these are only used as the outer skin of the chamber as insulation. After lunch I mix up a wheel barrow load of clay and sand mortar, then I spend the afternoon laying those bricks. It’s a full day.
The chickens are all over the job keen to see what is going on. They are so inquisitive! They are always pecking at the gravel floor to get grit for their crop.Then they took an interest in the pile of yellow ‘fat’ sand that I’m using for the clay and sand mortar mix.Today they suddenly started to take an interest in the mortar. They decided that it was just what they needed in their diet. They have eaten so much of it over this past week, that their pooh has turned white with all the kaolin. As have their faeces, faces and beaks. They are now truely, sticky beaks.
After 5 days work, I’m now up to the level of the throat arches that divide the fire box from the first chamber, then between the 1st from 2nd chamber. It’s slow going, but my excuse is that I’m an old guy now, about to turn 70 and can’t do all that I used to when I was younger. I didn’t need that catastrophic bush fire in my life at this time, but life is what it is and you have to take it in your stride. Resilience is all about facing up to reality and keeping on going in the face of hardship and set backs. I just turn up everyday and do what I can.
We are eating sweet corn almost every day. When the cobs are so fresh and young, I just eat them raw. They are sweet and juicy.
This time of year, we also have an excess of zucchinis. This week we made zucchini fritters with garden fresh tzatziki.
Grate two medium zucchinis and one small potato. Wring out the juice, and add one egg and a tbspn of flour. Pan fry in a little olive oil. It’s a great way to use up those pesky zucchinis that got away and are past their best for BBQing or steaming. Just as long as the seeds haven’t become too well developed. If they have, just slice them long ways and scoop out the seeds and use the outer layer of zucchini.
Top with a little grated parmesan and serve with garden fresh tzatziki. I slice the cucumber pretty finely, dice up the garlic and crush it to a paste with the side of a broad chefs knife along with a sprinkling of salt. This really liberates the full flavour of the garlic. Mix with thick Greek yogurt and its ready to serve in no time while the fritters are cooking.I love these kinds of immediate, garden-fresh meals. Simple, tasty, very healthy and quick, with very little cleaning up.
This is just about as close as it gets to self reliance, served on Janine’s hand made plates, straight from the garden and onto the plates within the hour. The only thing that we bought was the parmesan. It keeps well in the fridge for ages and serves as a finishing touch on many meals.
We have hit the ground running in this first week of the new year. I still have to build the wood fired kin so that I can get on with my work and research.
Before I can build the new wood fired kiln, I need to build a roof to keep the new kiln dry and weather proof.
We have a beautiful court yard area that only needs a skillion roof over it. I spent the first couple of days of this week making the portal brackets that I need to join all the rolled steel purlins for the roof.
I had half a sheet of 3mm gal steel, so was able to make all my own brackets from this. Cut and folded into useful custom brackets. Then pre-drilled to take the 12 mm. high tensile gal bolts. I drilled 200 holes on Tuesday with my hand held battery drill. I spent quite some time sharpening drill bits to keep them all sharp as the day wore on.
Once the 12mm. bolts are in and tightened, it prevents the various members from parting company. Then there are 8 to 10 ‘tek’ screws to be drilled in around the bolts to stop any lateral movement or swivelling around the bolts. It’s a very quick and elegant system to secure the rolled steel purlins together with great structural stability. There are 8 bolts and 24 tek screws holding each triangular corner plate together.
By fabricating all the crucial parts myself, all I need to purchase are the long, rolled steel purlins, as these are 6 or 8 metres long, and too big for me to fold myself in my workshop. Everything else is scrounged, recycled, repurposed or home made on site. We are even using some of the hundreds of metal screws that Janine picked up around the building site after the contractors erected the original shed frame.
On Wednesday, my friend Warren turned up for a 3 day stint. We dug the footings and cast the ‘H’ section posts in concrete. I had pre-cut and stacked the posts ready to go into the ground. On Thursday, the cement had set and we were able to bolt on the cross-beams and triangulate the structure with knee braces, making it free standing and structurally stable.
Friday saw us screw on the ‘top hat’ rafters, or roofing battens, and then finally screw on the galvanised iron roofing and polycarbonate sky-light sheeting. Not too bad for a couple of amateurs in 3 days. What was remarkable was that all this was done in the pouring rain. It seems that all the negatives of working on ladders, at height, when over 69 years old, with power tools, in the rain, on slippery steel. These all seem to cancel each other out and the result is all positive. A finished, metal-framed, kiln shed roof with skylights and excellent ventilation.
I wrapped the power tools in a plastic bag to keep the rain out of the electrics. Just had the drill bit sticking out of the cut-off corner of the bag. It worked really well.
This coming week, the second week of the new year, We will be picking up and carting the paving stones back from their storage stacks post-fire and re-laying them in the courtyard in preparation for the bricklaying of the wood kiln. I really need the wood fired kiln built and fired as soon as possible, as I need to get my exhibition commitments under way.
Each week brings us closer to the completion of our new workshop. Nothing is ever finished, Nothing last for ever and nothing is perfect.
We have been busy – always busy, but we have managed to organise a few impromptu get-together parties with our neighbours, the ‘creatives’ of Balmoral Village. We have all been fire-affected in some way, some more than others, but we have survived and we are looking forward. We organised these dinners to ‘catch-up’, share news and ideas, but mostly to take some time out to celebrate each others company. We cleared out the big central room in the new pottery because it has beautiful light and plenty of space. We can fit 10 at the big glazing bench, 11 or even 12 at a pinch. It’s been very enjoyable to share time and food in this way. Although just as much work preparing and then washing up and cleaning, then setting everything back in its place, as it is building the space.
This week I booked the electric car in for its third service. It been amazing driving around these past 3 years on sunshine. It’s a plug-in hybrid, so it does have a petrol engine in there as well as the battery and electric motor. We can do all our local running around entirely on sunshine, but every now and then we go a little farther afield and we come home on petrol. When the battery is fully charged and the fuel tank is full, it has a range of over 1100 kms. However since that first fill 3 years ago, we have not filled the tank since, as it took us the best part of half a year to use the fuel up. It’s not good to store petrol for so long. It can go gummy, or ‘off’. Since then we have only put $20 in the car every 3 months or so, even that is a bit long, but it seems mean to pull into the service station and only put $5 in each month. We seem to have settled into some sort of routine of going to the petrol station quarterly.
We charge the car and our Tesla battery from our solar panels on the shed roof. We produce a maximum of 5.3 kW of electricity on the best sunny days, but much less in overcast and rainy weather. However, this size of Solar PV installation is enough to charge our car, run our house and pottery, even fire the electric kiln, AND we still have some excess to sell to the grid on an average day. These days, we earn over $1000 per year, (it used to be double that) while living, driving and firing our kiln for free. We went solar in 2007. We haven’t paid an electricity bill since. The system has well and truely paid itself off over that time. Interestingly, as more and more people connect SolarPV to the grid, the price that the utility pays us for our power has progressively gone down. Years ago, we used to get 60c or 70c kWh. Over the past 4 years the price that we get has dropped from 21 cents per kW/hr, down to 19, then 17 and now 10 cents. I can see it being 7 or even 5c next year. It’s great that more and more people are going solar. If not fully, like we have, but every little bit helps get more coal power and its pollution out of the system.We didn’t go solar to make money, but it has turned out that we have. We went solar to try and minimise our reliance on the fossil fuel economy. That has certainly worked out very well. Our power bill tells the story.
We consume less than 1 kWh per day on average over the year. We have spent our life here honing our self-reliant skills to consume everything minimally. Our 0.91kWh is about 1.5% of the ‘average’ 2 person household, yet we live in a very old house, (128 years old) not a new solar passive one, and don’t ‘want’ for anything. It can be done.
The utility charges us about $1 per day to be connected to the grid. Their ‘access’ charge. This has been steadily increasing over the years, while the feed-in tariff has been gradually dropping. At the moment we pay $1 a day to be connected to earn $3 per day. I can see a time when this balance reverses. I guess that’s when we start to think about the 2nd battery and disconnect from the grid. I’ve read that this is called the death spiral of the electricity industry, but I can’t see it happening, as it takes a lot of effort and planning to live a life of minimal consumption like we do.
All this rain has the garden growing very well. I’ve been putting in a lot of effort in the veggie patch recently. It’s looking more loved now and providing us with all our green food. The warmer weather combined with the rain has the grass growing it’s head off. Janine and I spent half a day each yesterday mowing to keep it under control. We haven’t had to mow this much for years. All the greenery is very soothing on the eyes. All in all, the COVID plague aside, it’s looking like a pretty rosy year ahead.
We have just had our first Open Studio weekend. It was good. Not too busy, just right. We had an influx on Saturday morning with half a dozen cars in the first hour. We even had a queue at the wrapping table for a short time. but after that it settled down to just one car after another until lunch time and then a long spell of quiet. In the afternoon we had several more visitors spread out more or less evenly until just after 3pm when it stopped.
We were lucky that there was a big function on at Sturt Workshops in Mittagong all day Saturday, so we picked up a few car loads of visitors that called in here on the way past, coming from Sydney and going to Sturt.
We have had only 4 stoneware glaze firings in the 3rd hand gas kiln that I bought back after 26 years out in the wild. It’s now back in captivity and working well.
Sunday was quieter, but still good. We had the same lull in the middle of the day but a much quieter afternoon. It was a great start to this 4th pottery iteration after loosing the first 3 to fires, we have been a lot more cautious about what sort of garden and just how much foliage we can accept near our house and workshop. As this new 4th pottery is almost entirely made of steel, it is a lot less flammable. Steel building can still be ruined by intense fire – they bend and collapse in intense heat. So that is why we have decided to build this new studio in the middle of our block well away from any bush. I have already plumbed the building with fire fighting sprinkler lines. Although as it is so wet they year. I haven’t got around to fitting the sprinklers yet.
I decided to spend those couple of days in the pottery making work for the sale. Everything in it’s own time.
We almost sold out of Janines painted unomi beakers and inlaid lidded boxes, as well as my breakfast bowls.
So on Monday morning we were both back on the wheel making new stock for the up-coming December Open Studio weekends as we have elected to be part of the Southern Highlands ‘Pop-up’ Artists Open Studios on the first two weekends on December, – 4th and 5th, then the 11th and 12th.
This image of us by Eva Czernis-Ryl. Thank you Eva.
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