I See a Red Door

As the building of the new pottery shed has progressed in fits and starts, I have been busy on several fronts, working behind the scenes doing several jobs in preparation to keep the build progressing, by making windows and doors etc. Two weeks ago it was the stormwater plumbing and at the end of the week, the Council Building Inspector came out and passed the building up to the frame stage and also passed my underground storm water plumbing.

The last two items to be completed and inspected will be the sink, grease trap and drainage/absorption trench. I asked the inspector if i could do all this work myself and he said yes. I can do it all, I don’t need a plumber to sign off on it. So next week I will attempt to dig an adsorption trench 600mm. x 600mm. x 10 metres long and bury the plastic hoops necessary to create a legal drainage system for the sink. I have done all this before over the years, firstly for the first bathroom at the front of the house in 1980, and then again for there new kitchen/laundry/bathroom extension in 1990. It’s not rocket science. Just grunt.

The last inspection will be the final inspection. This will be after the electricians have been and the shed is lined inside with insulation in the walls and with the brickwork completed on the front wall. This will take some time to get done.

This last week I was hanging doors on the front and side verandahs. This has been one of those little jobs that have been idling along in the back ground for the last couple of months. I collected these couple of old doors years ago, just because they were really beautiful objects, even though I didn’t need them at the time. They were too good to pass up.

These days when I drive past piles of other peoples junk on the foot path, waiting for council clean-up. There is nothing worth taking home and re-cycling. It is all just so much plastic and chip board pulp waiting for land fill. The only lasting thing about Ikea furniture is the allenkey!

I found one of these old doors 20 years ago, in ‘condom ally’ in Darlinghurst, not far from the National Art School. I used to go there because it allowed all day parking for free at time when there was no space in the Art School. Someone had dumped the door on the side of the ally. I don’t know which house it came from, but it must have been posh as the door is massive. 2.1 metres x 1.2 metres and 55mm. thick. All in Australian cedar, but it had had a hard life and was pretty knocked around. The top two wooden in-set panels in the 4 panel door were smashed out. I saw it and put it up on my roof rack straight away. It sat there all day without being stolen back. So I drove home with it that night.

It sat in the wood shed for years and survived the fire last year. Our friend Megan Patey came to volunteer here one day earlier in the year and asked for a suitable job. So Janine and Megan cleared out the years of built up clutter that had made it’s way into the wood shed and Megan dragged out these two doors. That was a couple of months ago, and I have been tinkering away on them ever since.

The other door was collected off the side of the road on a Council Clean-up day. I saw it and stopped. Checked it out. It was dirty and damaged with the glass panes broken and missing, but it still had one small lead light intact on the top left side. The other 4 panes were smashed. I could see that it was made of Californian red wood timber and was massively thick at 65mm thick! It’s the thickest door I’ve ever handled. It was also stored in the back of the wood shed and survived the fire. So now I know why I saved them all those years ago. I would need them for this last pottery building.

I started cleaning them both back, removing decades of built-up dirt and layers of paint. some of it possibly lead based, considering their age. I worked out side and wore a mask and gloves, just in case. The big cedar door didn’t look good after cleaning. it was too far gone. A lot of splits and cracks and weathering. I decided that the best option was to paint it. I filled all the cracks with polyester gap filler mastic and undercoated it.

The other door was quite badly weathered on the outside face, to the extent that the patina of crackled and flaked paint and slightly exposed patches of bare wood had a very subtle ‘wabi-sabi’ feeling about it. This green-yellow-mustard-grey-brown patina of multi layered flaking paint matched some of the old rusted galvanised iron that I had collected. This combination was too good to waste. I decided there and then that this was the gal iron for the verandah where this door would be hung.

I prised the wooden beading out of the frame holding the lead light in place and moved it to the centre position, then got two new plain glass panes to fit the other two spaces where the other lead lights had been smashed. It came together quite well I think.

The door knock and letter box slot are just the right combination of yellow brass, red copper oxide and green copper verdigris.
I fitted two large panels of laminated safety glass in to the middle two openings. They had been wood in the past, but rather than having wood there. I decided that the door worked better with glass in this instance.

I decided to paint the massive cedar door bright red and use it as the front door facing the street. It looks good, but strong red needs a little bit of black to contrast against it. So I fitted a very old lock that I scrounged way back in the 70’s. I could never find a place for this lock, as it was just too big for any normal door. Finally it has found its place in life. I see a red door and I want to paint the lock black!

My friend Jack Cookson, and I made a key for it.

I think that it works well with the old cast iron door knob, that came off the side door to the old pottery. I recovered this from the ashes after the fire, along with the old cast iron knocker. Just enough black to off-set and highlight the bright red. A little of the old incorporated into the new.

Here again, I decided that the door worked better for us here with glass in the two upper panels rather than wood.

Where the latch key lock should have been. There was a circular hole in the door, regrettably, much too close to the door frame to fit a standard ‘lockwood’ style lock. So I decided to deal with the hole by filling it. My very good friend Warren recently came to give us a hand for a few days of his Xmas holidays. So generous of him! We got a lot of stormwater plumbing done. Warren came bearing gifts! One of his clients had given him a bottle of French ‘Pol Roger’ Champagne for Xmas and he decided to bring it down and share it with us. It was very nice. I saved the cork. Janine realised that the initials on the cork ‘PR’ was not too dissimilar to the clay stamp that our teacher, good friend and mentor Peter Rushforth used on his work, so I incorporated the cork into the door as a little tribute to Peter and Bobby.

This new pottery now has embedded into its structure a load of references and links to our personal history, and our friends past and present. We are ever so grateful to all of you out there who have turned up to give us a hand along the way on this difficult and trying journey.

Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.

Thank you!

Catching the Rain

We spent the last week digging 150 metres of trenches. Digging all around the perimeter of the new shed and then down the hill to the big water storage tanks. These water tanks have not had any water flowing into them in 12 months, not since the previously pottery shed burnt down.

Fortunately, Our friends Stu and Robyn Have a half share in a trenching machine and we were able to borrow it for a while to do all the really heavy work, but there is still a lotto getting down on our hands and knees to d the clearing out and lifting difficult flat iron stone rocks that get in the way.

I almost got all the plastic piping installed before a big dump of rain. That put an end to our blur-glue plumbing work for a while. This week I am teaching a Master Class at the Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery in Sydney, so there will be a weeks wait before I get back to the rather aromatic, acetone based, blue-glue and white plastic plumbing pipes.

Bit by little bit, we make slow progress. we got 120 metres of pipe in the ground before the storm stopped us. I’d have preferred to get it all done before this week-long teaching hiatus interrupted the work. However, I’m very pleased to get the gig. This will be the 8th year straight that I have taught this summer school MasterClass. I’m starting to run out of special techniques that students haven’t been exposed to previously. It has become my way of easing out of Xmas/New Year holiday mode and back in to clay work, but this year it’s more of an interruption to my labouring/building work.

It strange in the extreme to realise that I have spent a whole year without making a pot. I haven’t touched clay since last years Master Class. This makes me more of a fraud than a master! However, I’m pretty confident that i will have the pottery built and fitted out by the middle of the year, or thereabouts. I’d really like to think that we could have new work for sale by the next ‘Open Studios’ Arts Trail event on the first two weekends of November.

Who knows? It’s a small ambition. But a lot of work to get there. The next step is to get the electricians in to do the first fix wiring. This has to be completed before we can insulate and line al the walls. The insulation and lining has to be completed before we can start to build shelves and benches etc. Then we have to rebuild our kilns…

First Peaches of the Summer

We are only 10 days into summer and we already have both our first tomatoes and now our first peaches. We’ve been picking zucchinis and cucumbers for weeks already. Nothing quite like the flavours, tastes and aromas of the summer garden. Although this all sounds idyllic, it’s possible because of the worlds unabated consumption of carbon based energy. With global heating racing away, unabated like it is and coupled with an embarrassing total lack of political will here in Australia. We also have to accept the changing weather patterns associated with all this heat, like catastrophic bush fires and massive storms. From someone who has lived through a catastrophic fire event. I can clearly say that I’d rather not have to experience it again and the early tomatoes are not worth it.

Back in the garden, the pumpkins that I planted on the 12th of September are now 3 months old and taking over the bottom of the garden.

From this to…
to this!
They are setting a nice crop.

Strangely, we are just harvesting our citrus crop now almost half a year out of seasonal sync. We should be picking them in the winter. Everything has been dislocated by the extreme weather and the catastrophic fire event. All the citrus got burnt, some very badly, such that we lost half of the trees facing the pottery as it burnt. The citrus grove was planted next to, and on the north side of the pottery, using the building to protect the trees from the worst of the winter’s southerly winds. Sheilded in this way and facing the north winter sun, they were in a bit of a sun trap and it suited them very well. We had good crops.

After the fire we watered them well for the first few weeks, whenever we could find the time during the clean-up. Sometimes this meant in the dark before dinner at 9.00pm. The result was that they all re-shot leaves, some only on half the tree that wasn’t so badly burnt. They went on to flower again as if it was a new year, but totally out of sync. We got the strange out of season crop and they then flowered again out of sync, such that we are now harvesting again in summer and not winter.

The entire right hand side of this tree was so badly burnt that it has remained completely dead and needs pruning off. I’m hoping that the tree will eventually put out new shoots on the right hand side and balance itself up.

Apart from the strangeness of it all. They are probably suffering from PTCD. Post Traumatic Citrus Disorder! Also, when the fruit is ready, it isn’t the usual colour. For instance, the tangelos are pale yellow like lemons instead of bright orange. While the lemonades are green like limes instead of yellow. Strange times. I assume that they will slowly revert to the normal seasonal flowering and fruiting regime over time?

All the peach trees were burnt in the stone fruit orchard, but just before the fire. I had lifted two of the smaller trees that were doing very badly in the draught, as I couldn’t keep enough water up to them. I put one of them into a big plastic tub that was hanging around and the other into a large synthetic plastic fibre plant bag that someone had given us. I placed them in the veggie garden where I could water them better, just to see if they would survive. They had recovered well and are now ready to plant out again, but because they had flowered and set fruit, we thought it better to let the fruit ripen and plant them out next winter when they will be dormant.

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing!

The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing! And so unexpected. Janine also picked the first apricot off one of the newly planted stone fruit orchard trees. Where the trees were doing well and growing strongly, I left one piece of fruit on each tree that I thought could cope with a ripening fruit and still grow well. That applied to one apricot, one almond and two apple trees. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing and tasting the new fruit varieties.

The pottery shed is slowly progressing. Today the builders are putting the roof on the pottery studio. That is really good to see. It was ready to roof yesterday, but it was windy and slightly foggy and damp, making it too slippery and too difficult to roll out the silver roofing insulation in the wind. Today is calm and overcast but not wet, so it’s all go on the roof. I can hardly wait to get inside and see how the light is in there. We now have two roofs on. the kiln room and the creative studio.

I spent a long time working out how to get the best light, at the lowest cost, but not interfering with the structural strength, allowing for enough metal strap ‘X’ bracing, covered with corrugated sheeting to provide sufficient structural wind resistance strength. I’m no engineer, but the shed company’s computer program allowed me to input different options, increasing the glass area until the ‘Computer says No!’

Edna the Chook, came in to check out the new studio too.

I then worked backwards from there, to find the biggest size of standard ‘off-the-shelf’ cheap aluminium windows that would fit the space. No use in paying double to get a custom window made that is only 100mm larger. So I back-tracked down to the best available size. We ended up with 4 windows that are 2.4m. x 1.2m. (8 feet x 4 feet) plus a sliding glass door that is 2.4m x 2.4m.

It will end up darker inside when it is lined and not so oppressively metallic and shiny.

Pottery Shed Progress

The builders have been working here for a couple of weeks now and there is some progress to show for it. Some days they arrive later and other times they leave early, then have to work on Saturday to make up the time lost. Who’d be a builder? Trying to keep everyone happy. They have more than one job on the go to keep fully employed. Today they aren’t here. They told me that they have to go back to finish off a small job that was waiting for a few extra parts.

I asked if they think that they will finish before Xmas and was told emphatically “Yes!” Anyway, time will tell. Things will happen and everything will get done eventually.

I have been working as the builders labourer here and there to help speed things up. I keep well out of their way, but let them know I’m always ready to help where needed.

I spend the beginning of each day getting things sorted for the builders, putting the various parts in place as they are needed. I don’t have to do this. I choose to do it to keep the pace of the build up. If there is something menial to do, then it’s better that I do it, so as to keep them being productive. Then throughout the day I spend my time in the temporary workshop shed restoring doors and building windows, getting them ready for the builders. Sometimes making custom ‘flashing’ from sheet steel on the guillotine and pan break. Then in the afternoon and evening I spend time sorting and cutting old sheets of iron ready for the next day.

Yesterday, I spent part of the day cutting up sheets of tin into small narrow strips to make the little facia on the verandahs. It’s fiddly and time consuming hunting through the piles of off-cuts of tin to find suitably rusty and patinated bits that all match, or are compatible aesthetically and are suitable for the use and then to order them to make a pleasing composition. They just didn’t get it at first, but now It’s working out OK. So far I’m happy with it.

Each day I hunt through the stacks of 2nd hand, corrugated iron looking for just the right ones that all go together with the same or at least compatible surface textures, colours and rusty patches that have developed on their surfaces over their previous life. The builders didn’t understand this at first. It took a few days to get them to tune in on our ‘weird’ artistic aesthetic. I love the ‘wabi-sabi’ nature of old matt grey and slightly rusty iron. The builder couldn’t understand this approach at first. He is used to making car ports and garages that are totally shiny and every line dead straight, with all the screw heads just the right colour to match the ‘colour-bond’ sheeting. I think that he found it quite confronting to be asked to use 2nd hand galvanised iron, with all its rusted patina, dents and quirky character.

To make it even harder for him, I have collected every sheet that I could scrounge, with total disregard to whether or not the different ages of sheeting, with their different variations of corrugated profiles would match. It turns out that something as simple as corrugated iron can come from different eras with different ‘standard’ profiles. So what I have learnt is that there is no ‘standard’, and that the shape changes every so often to suit the manufacturers needs, due to changes in manufacturing machinery and techniques. For instance, the oldest sheeting was rolled sideways and the newer sheeting is rolled lengthways, then there was the change from imperial measure to metric. Older sheeting is thicker and heavier, while the most recent lengths are much thinner, but made from high tensile steel.

It’s an eclectic mix of whatever I could scrounge over the past 6 months. However, with careful selection – given enough time, I have been able to go through all of the dozen piles and sort out the closest matches. I saved the best, most rustic sheets, for the side facing the house that we will see every day and also inside the pottery studio. The worst, and by this I mean the perfect, modern, coloured, ‘colour-bond’ sheeting, was set aside for the front of the building that will eventually be bricked up and covered over, using our left-over sandstock bricks from when we built the house many years ago. In this way the front of the pottery facing the street will have a similar colour and texture as the Old School building. This is an attempt to maintain the visual amenity of the street scape.

In other areas, where I have been forced to use up the mottled variations of ‘colour bond’ sheeting, green, blue, grey and cream. These will eventually be painted over. I secretly hope that I do such a bad job of this, that some of it starts to peel off and flake a bit, just to keep in relationship to some of the other flakey iron buildings on the site.

Other outer walls are just plain weathered grey gal iron look. I have to use whatever I could find. And it all has to be used, as I don’t have the luxury of having too much to choose from. It has turned out that each elevation of the complex of 5 attached sheds has its own unique ‘shed-scape’ character. It has been a little bit of an effort to explain to the builders every day, the importance to me of matching the so-called ‘shit iron’ look that I’m after. ‘Wabi-sabi’ doesn’t translate into the Australian Building code, and isn’t dealt with in the TAFE course in steel shed construction 101!

We have made progress though. The builder said to me yesterday that he thought that it has started to turn out OK. “It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would. That probably means that you are really happy with it”!

And I am!

The New Pottery Arch Window

I’ve spent the last few weeks working on an arch window for the new pottery workshop. I want to make a window that reflects the existing window in the house opposite to the new pottery. I have a plan to brick up the external west and south walls of the new pottery building, those that face the street and the house. We have a lot of leftover sand stock bricks from when we built the house. We put in a large arched window in the north face of the new kitchen. It worked well and I’m very happy with it. I built that window out of western red cedar. I taught my self to steam wood so that I could bend the sections to make the arch window. I want to reflect this architectural conceit in the new pottery. My idea is to have the 2 windows facing each other.

There is a slight problem with the original idea and that is that a cedar wood window might be quite flammable. I want to try and build this new pottery with a fire resistance rating ‘BAL40’. 50 being the highest possible rating. One way to do this is to make the window frame out of metal. I decided to give it a go using aluminium, as most of the other windows in the pottery will be black aluminium framed. One of the benefits of aluminium is that it can be obtained in extruded forms like hollow sections, ‘T’ sections and angles. It is also very light and not too expensive compared to ‘merbau’ timber. I was able to buy a series of sections that I could weld together to make a complex frame that could be both light and strong – and fire resistant!

The other important issue is that aluminium is tricky to weld, but fortunately I taught myself to weld it years ago when I was building electric potters kilns, as marine aluminium is one of the longest lasting kiln frame materials for electric kilns. So the welding problem was not a problem. The difficult part in welding a big window of this size, 4 metres by 2 metres, is that aluminium expands and contracts a lot with heat, so it can very quickly warp our of shape. I usually clamp aluminium down onto my steel welding bench to keep it straight. However, in this case, the window is bigger than my bench, more than twice as big, so I had to weld it on the floor. This meant that I couldn’t clamp it down. So I have had to weld it intermittently with long gaps to allow the window to cool dawn so that it would remain flat and straight. This is why it has taken me so long, with just two welding sessions each day.

I made a wooden former to shape the arch

In order to bend the hollow section, I needed to make some cuts in the metal so that I could bend it round in an arc. I worked out that the difference between the inner and outer circumferences of a two metre arc was about 80mm. So I made 80 equally spaced cuts into the frame with a hacksaw, these were about 1mm across. It ought to have worked, but it didn’t. It wasn’t enough, the bend was too difficult to make by hand. I decided that I needed to make another cut with a thin blade angle grinder of about 1.5 mm wide. I made this cut just about 6 mm deep. The combination of the two allowed me to bend the arc easily by hand. I then clamped it to a plywood form, so that it would stay put while it expanded and contracted during welding. I welded the cuts back together. The whole section is now just as strong as it was before it was cut.

There are rolling machines that do this sort of thing easily, but I don’t know of any here in the Highlands. Besides, I am happy to do all the work myself in my own way, finding my own solutions. Using what I know and using what i have at hand. This is self reliance.

I tacked the arc onto the square section and it started to look like a window. Once the box sections were assembled, I needed to add the ‘T’ sections on top and an angle section around the edges. These are essentially the glazing bars. The rectangular hollow section is just a supporting frame to resist the wind pressure. These ‘T’ sections needed a little bit of fine cutting and filing to get to fit nicely, but it worked out OK. Clamping everything all the time is essential to keep it all flat and straight during welding.

Its taken many hours of thinking, measuring, cutting, fitting, clamping, tacking, cooling and then welding to get to this stage.

So far I have used over 50 metres of filler rod in all the tacks and box section welds. It’s a slow business, I’m hoping that it will work. each of these little butt-end rods was once a metre long.

In this image, the structure is complete, but it’s not a window yet, however, I started to think that it just might work. There is still a way to go at this stage. I still have to fit the architrave around it and then a fixing fin, but it’s almost there.

The builders finally turned up months late. We paid our deposit on the first of July, straight after the Council passed our DA. They told us that it would take 5 weeks for the kit to be delivered, There was some sort of stuff-up and the kit eventually took 12 weeks to be delivered. That was 2 months ago on the 23rd of September.

The builders have eventually arrived.

On the positive side. All the waiting around gave us the time to work on the yard and the clean-up, the orchard and the garden.

So the beginnings of a frame have appeared. Certainly enough to fit my big arch window in the end wall.

With any luck, we might be at lock-up stage before Xmas?

Summer approaches, hot days of fruit and fenestration

It’s not quite a week since I wrote that we picked the first youngberries of the season. Now, 6 days later we are in full harvest mode. This morning we picked 4 kilos of berries, we also picked 250 grams of blue berries and half a dozen strawberries.

Up until today we have been keeping up with the harvest. Eating them as we go in morning fruit salad. Then Janine made a sorbet/icecream sort of thing with just fruit and fresh cream, whipped up by hand intermittently every hour or so through the day as she took the batch out of the freezer as it stiffened. It made a pretty delicious dessert after dinner.

We have been up since early to do the watering and picking before the heat of the day set in. We are expecting 30oC today, so will spend the middle part of the day inside and out of the sun.

I also picked half a dozen hours old zucchinis with their flowers still attached. I will stuff these with cottage cheese and olives for lunch. This is our simple seasonal cuisine.

My inside work will be trying to finish off the big 4 metre x 2 metre arched window for the gallery space in the new pottery building. I’ve been plodding away on it for a couple of weeks now. It’s slow work as TIG welding aluminium creates a lot of heat in the metal frame, and aluminium expands and contracts a lot, which can lead to warping. Usually I would clamp a smaller job down onto a heavy steel-plate bench. but this window is so large, its bigger than my welding bench. so I have to be patient and allow it to cool down and shrink back to size between welding sessions. Hence the slow progress.

So far, I’ve been lucky, and it hasn’t warped much and is still within 1mm of square. That’s pretty good for my low level of skill.

Eating Seasonally and other incidental things

We are now half way through spring, and have been harvesting broad beans for a couple of weeks now. We start with the early little beans eaten raw to savour that unique broaden flavour that we haven’t tasted for 11 months. Broad beans have a short season, but that makes them all the more special. We pick the small immature bean pods and cook them whole, then as they mature, we pick the larger pods and shell them for the beans inside. They are really delicious at every stage.

We use broad beans in many ways, but they best in my opinion just lightly fried very quickly in olive oil, so that they are just warmed through and sprinkled with dried sweet basil and some cracked pepper. I take them off the heat as soon as the outer shell starts to split open.

I served them with a few fish cakes that Janine made.

We also made a broad bean risotto with Mushrooms, garlic and chilli.

I add the broad beans late in the cooking so that they don’t over cook.

We had a visit from some old friends for lunch. People who hadn’t been here since before the fire, so I cooked a small batch of Flatolli for them. Flatolli is my lazy flat version of Italian Canolli, without the deep-fried pastry tubes, hard boiled in lard. The filling is the same however. Ricotta and/or mascarpone filled with dried fruits soaked in liqueur.

I pre-baked the little pastry sections with beans to weigh them down, then filled them with a creamy desert filling. Easy! And very yummy.

I also attempted to make a pear, ricotta and almond flan or tart. I pre-simmered the quartered pear sections in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon stick, then placed the finely sliced poached sections on the almond/ricotta filling. This turned out very well indeed.

No one complained!

I’m trying to find ways to be useful and creative while we wait for our eternally slow builders to turn up. After we finalise our plans in June, paid our deposit on the first of August, we originally thought that we would have the building up to ‘lock-up’ stage by the end of September. Three months for a tin shed didn’t seem too unrealistic. But now we learn that the builders are saying end of November, from our current experience with them, we will most likely get to lock-up by mid December or even Xmas.I certainly hope that it is done in this calendar year!It’s a challenge to stay positive. 
In the meantime Janine and I are working on the gabian wall. I hope to finish that job by the weekend. We had a small group of our ex pottery students – who have become good friends, turn up to help finish the tall metal framework in front of the house and start to fill the gabian enclosure with crushed, recycled, concrete building material.

Janine loading crushed concrete lumps from the tractor bucket in the metal mesh frame.


In a small personal sacrifice, I smashed up the last of our broken terracotta garden pots. It’s somehow comforting to get to find a positive and creative use for all these ‘dead’ terracotta planters. I couldn’t just trash them. So this down-sizeing to rubble, but up-scaleing to art is a suitable solution. Turning this disaster into something positive is a constant challenge. The final terracotta pot to go into the wall was a large cylindrical pot that was a ‘second’ grade reject from the Parliament House project in Canberra that I worked on with Cam Williams back in 1986. This pot was the very first piece made for the parliament and was fired here in Balmoral in our old kiln to test the body, slip and firing technique that we planned to use to do the rest of the job. As 250 pots were commissioned in total, we needed to rent a factory space and set up a very big kiln to get the job done on time. This first pot was the big test. It sat next to the old wood kiln chimney for the past 34 years, As it was broken into several pieces, it no longer had any real value, other than sentimental. It did however represent one year of my creative life. I thought that it was best up-cycled into the last bit of our new wall. Now, I will always know where it is. 


We still have two other examples of these big cylindrical pots in our garden, just 2nds with minor cracks that happened during the 2 year project. One is still intact, but the other was smashed by the tree loppers when they were clearing up the mess here in our yard straight after the fire. One of the workers drove into it with the bobcat loader.Janine and I re-constructed it with wire strapping just to preserve it until I have the time to do a full kintsugi repair.  It will take a lot of gold!


We also have 1 of the 5 massive, extra-large pots made for the New Parliament House Building out in our garden. There were only 4 of these 1.5 dia x 1.5 metre high monsters ordered for the project. The first one that we fired got a hair line crack, so we had to make another one. I got to keep the ‘spare’ one in the garden.

This large pot has been sitting here in the garden for the past 33 years and has grown a very lovely green, grey, black, patina. I’m so lucky that it didn’t shatter in the fire, as all the garden around it was reduced to ashes.


From black to green, from down to up, from negative to positive, from rubble to art. Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect. I’m grateful to be still alive to be able to re-build a creative and beautiful environment. 

Doing 4 jobs at once.

A few weeks ago I was stealing time from the clean-up to put new wooden shafts in a few of my burnt and roasted heavy tools. Like masons lump hammer, pick and sledge.

This week we had the chance to get the excavator here for another day. Every plant operator in the district around here is fully employed in the clean-up. Our Good friend Ross rang and said he was fully booked, BUT, had a chance to get here for a day between other jobs, to help us finish the stone wall around the proposed new pottery site. We were thrilled. Spare earth moving equipment at any time around here is rare, and then to get access to it at a reasonable price is exceptional.

I am very keen to live a self-reliant life. I pride myself on having done almost all the trades around here over time. I only employ trades when it is required by law, – like electricians for instance. But, there are some jobs that are just too big for me to handle alone with my crow bar, chain blocks, tripod, little ute crane and toy tractor. Moving 1 tonne stones is one of them. My only way to handle these big sand stone floaters that I dug out of the vegetable garden area 20 years ago, was to get out the stone masonry tools and using a lot of small ‘gads’, to split the bigger stones into smaller pieces, so that I could lift them with my little tractor.

This has worked well in the past, when I wasn’t so pressed for time, but now that I’m flat out busy with the clean-up and re-construction. I just couldn’t find the time to cut and split all these stones. Hence, I was very pleased to see my good friend Ross turn up with his small excavator, to pick up the stones as they were and move them to the last little bit of the retaining wall that needed finishing.

The ‘natural’ shaped stones look a bit rough juxtaposed with the large cut blocks, but they are 100% local off our site here. I dug them out of the ground 20 years ago, when I cleared the land for the new vegetable garden. Working together, Ross and I managed to get both sides of the retaining wall done in one day.

We managed to move and place about 20 large sandstone floaters into position and back fill the site with soil and batter the edges into ramps, that will allow easy access by our zimmer frames and/or wheel chairs into the future.

This ground work is now complete and ready for the foundations of the new pottery. We finally got our building approval certificate from the local council on the first of this month and paid the deposit on the 5 different kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds.

Kit-form, metal framed, farm sheds are not my favourite buildings. I fact they are really pretty ugly in my opinion, dull, flat and boring. But they are cheap! At my age now. I can’t consider building from scratch on my own as an owner-builder, like we did in the early 80’s when we built the last pottery. So, I have decided to buy 5 different shapes, sizes and heights of farm sheds, then bolt them all together, like ‘Lego’, or more precisely, like ‘Mechano’! Such that we will end up with an unusual building with a bit of character. The plan is to have 3 of them in a row, all the same width, but with different heights, then to add two more at right angles, to make a ‘U’ shape and create a central courtyard. The last two will be different widths and heights to the others. One lower and the other higher. This will create a more organic and interesting shape or cluster. Rather than the usual long flat factory unit look that most of these metal sheds end up looking like, dull, boring and predictable. We anticipate getting started on the building in a few weeks time, as we are now in a queue, waiting for our kits to be manufactured at the factory.

I am well underway with the orchard’s bird proof netting frame.

When it is finished, it will cover 600 Sq, Metres of orchard, sufficient area to plant 30 fruit trees. This will give each fruit tree 20 sq. metres. This is more personal space than I am entitled to in a restaurant or shopping mall under the new Covid19 restrictions!

The other thing that we have been doing this last few weeks is working on the front fence, whenever we have a spare day. This project is now almost 3/4 done. A few weeks ago, before the recent increased restrictions, we had a group of potters here to help on the weekend. We managed to finish adding all the galvanised mesh to the metal framework on the last southern end of our new ceramic, fire resistant fence. Janine and I have been putting in the odd day here and there as time allows. It’s a good job to have sitting in the back ground, as I can pick it up where I left off at any time. However, I’ll be pleased when it is complete.

I seem to have ended up working on 4 jobs at once. This allows me to be always fully busy in making or fixing something all the time, even while I wait for parts to be delivered, or other stuff to turn up. Such is my life in these complex times. At least working hard like this alone keeps me self isolating safely. I’m constantly searching for cheap or frugal solutions to complex problems. For instance, Janine and I spent an hour, smashing up old bits of terra cotta with mallets, to make orange coloured gravel to add a detail to our ceramic wall. It was a dirty, dusty job, and our wrists ached afterwards, but it was worth the effort.

Another job I have been tackling over for the last month is the cleaning, sorting and selecting all the burnt pots that we were able to salvage from the ruins of our pottery and barn.

Almost every porcelain pot shattered, not too surprisingly! I only have one piece that has survived. It now lives in the kitchen.

The pots that did survive were all rougher stoneware bodies. Not too surprising there either.

I have spent the last few days documenting, cataloguing and labelling the best of them for my exhibition at Kerrie Lowe Gallery, opening online on the 31st July. All the pots will be physically present in the Gallery, but it will be a virtual show only, with no opening, due to the Covid19 restrictions.

If you are going into Sydney to buy ceramic supplies from Kerrie, you can see the pots in person, but you must follow Kerrie’s instructions about social distancing and numbers of customers allowed in the gallery at any one time. Check opening hours before turning up.

This is a lovely triptych that survived the inferno. It has a very satiny smooth guan-like glaze enhanced with a smokey patina and sooty crackle.

Solstice to Solstice

It is half a year now since the fire on the 21st December, right on the solstice. We have been in clean-up mode ever since. All the black from around the house is now cleaned up and dead with. Be that cutting up into suitable lengths for fire wood for later, or piling up and burning in bonfires. We have almost finished the burn piles. We started with 16 big tip truck loads of stumps, twisted branches and blackened gnarly undergrowth, all too difficult to deal with in my damaged and exhausted PSD state.

The house is now clear and no longer dangerous to walk around, as we were always wary of falling dead and burnt branches. We haven’t even thought about dealing with the burnt bush further from the house. It will have to wait. I have a couple of years work ahead of me just around the house here. We just won’t go there without a hard hat.

So now it is the solstice again. The winter solstice this time and we have passed from high summer through into deepest winter. Something to look forward to is that the days will now start to get longer, although the coldest days (and nights) are yet to come. A full six months has passed, half a year, I have been working hard every day, but not much seems to have been achieved. We still don’t have a pottery. I guessed, with no real evidence or insight, only the past two bush fire events that burned our previous potteries down, that it would take at least a year to rebuild. That was based solely on past experience. but I was a lot younger then and had so much more energy. Now i’m so much older, I can’t keep up the pace I want to achieve. I’m smart enough to know when to knock off. No more working with torches or under lights. At least not very often!

These last few weeks we have insulated the new car port walls with earth wool insulation and then lined the walls with fibre cement sheeting (fibro). I installed it back to front with the textured side out and left it untouched with it’s slightly pink mottled face as the finished surface. It looks OK. I have been trying to make this brand spanking shiney new industrial shed look somehow slightly softened and more comfortable in these rustic surroundings. I think that it’s working. I’m trying to do it without spending very much money either. That’s a challenge.

The wall cavity has been stuffed with 100mm of recycled beer bottles as brown fibreglass.

Since lining the carport I have been working with my friend Colin the environmental builder. We have dismantled the burnt-out north western corner of the barn and rebuilt it with my new square peg post and another recycled one that Col had in his yard.

We removed the roof and walls and replace all the timbers with new ones that we milled from one of the old stringy bark eucalypt trees when we hired the portable saw mill a few months back. It’s a very rewarding feeling to be able to rebuild this old barn using timber grown here on-site and personally milled and adzed into shape. I really like the concept of embedding something of the old native plant garden into the new shed. it’s all good quality hard wood, so theoretically it should last a hundred years. as long as we can keep the next fires at bay.

We removed the two burnt out posts, then placed the new adzed post in position. I lifted it with the little crane that I have on my truck and raised it up to about 45 degrees, then pulled the post up into place using my chain block.

I will reinstate the 4 water sprinklers on the western walls once the building is finished next week. I only need to install the guttering and replace the polycarbonate. Then I’m done. This old barn now has it’s own 2 new water tanks and will have it’s own high pressure fire pump to run the sprinklers. I decided to reuse all the old burnt corrugated galvanised iron wall sheets. They look suitably rustic and appropriate. The new gal roof sheets look a bit too shiney just now, but as they are old fashioned galvanised zinc coated, they will age to a dull grey, non-reflective surface, just like the old sheets that are next to them.

The half dozen burnt roofing sheets will be re-used on the new pottery workshop walls where it won’t matter if they have a little damage, as they won’t need to be totally waterproof.

On Friday, we got our DA approval for our plans for the new pottery building from the Council – with 9 pages of conditions attached! It seems like a lot of fiddle and extra work, but I’m pleased that we have approval to get going with the new building. This is a big step in the right direction. And after only 6 months! I had a few discussions with the inspector who kept asking for more detail. I eventually had to redraw the plans and colour them in, with a colour code ‘key’, to show all the different materials that I intended to use.

Everyone that I have had to deal with at the council has been incredibly helpful and supportive. We are so lucky!

The trees are just starting to make new shoots since the rain, but half of the rees are dead and will need to be taken down for safety – sometime in the future.

Squaring the round peg

Over the last month I’ve been slowly working away at squaring up a big stringy back log that was burnt in the catastrophic fire that swept through here in December.

Our barn was badly burnt in that fire and we lost one corner, completely burnt out. As I stayed to defend our property from the flames. I was able to put out the flames after the fire swept through and I managed to save the barn. God knows how! The immense energy of the flames from the fire burnt everything in its path, but the roof and wall sprinklers on the barn were just enough to keep the building from bursting into flames, However embers lodged in the corner of the tin walls and set fire to the massive 300 x 300 mm. hard wood bridge timbers that I used as uprights.

It’s more or less impossible to set fire to a 300mm. square old hardwood timber post in any usual circumstance. However, if you have a once in a lifetime catastrophic fire fanned by 70 to 80 km/hr winds from the dry north, at 50 to 60oC , then anything is possible. The main fire front swept through burning almost everything in it’s path, I had taken refuse in my kiln for safety and didn’t dare emerge until after the main fire front had passed by. The yard and all the garden was ablaze. Every tree was on fire, thick smoke was everywhere. I come out of my kiln-like bunker. It took me some minutes standing under the house’s roof and wall sprinklers spray to cool off sufficiently to get my thoughts back in order. I realised that both the railway station and barn were both on fire fanned by the roaring wind.

I hosed out the station fire for the first time and ran to the barn carrying buckets of water, as the pump delivering water to the wall sprinklers on the barn had stopped working. There was no other pump or hose system over there on the opposite side of the property to use, so my immediate thought was to run there carrying buckets of tank water from the station tank. Each time I returned to the station, it was back on fire, as the insane wind had fanned the remaining embedded embers back into flames. I would put it out, then return to bucketing water to the barn. This cycle went on for an hour or two, until the station was well and truely out and although the barn was still smouldering, I had stopped the fire from spreading to the whole building. I eventually got it out, but the big corner posts, were almost completely reduced to charcoal.

So one of my on-going jobs over the past couple of months has been to set aside a large stringy bark tree trunk. I cut it to length and start to square it up to make a replacement square post for the corner of the barn. I got one face done, then I fell into the electrical cable trench and sprained my leg. That was the end of my timber milling efforts for a month or so,

I’m mostly well again now and this week I have come back to the job of squaring off the massive hardwood post. Extracting the square post from the curved, round log. I can only manage just one face each day, as It’s hard on my ageing back and shoulders.

Today I finished the last face. It’s pretty ugly, not exactly square, or smooth, but I don’t have the luxury of unlimited time to get it perfect. I have left most of the chainsaw depth cuts in the surface, as this indicates how it was made and is an honest surface for such a huge square post extracted from a curved round log.

While I was working today, adzing the final surface mostly flat. I was drawn to think of the timber cutters that worked these ridges and gullies 150 yers ago. I’m not a pimple on the arse of one of these hardy pioneers. They really knew how to work hard. My wimpy efforts are an embarrassment compared to the excellent quality of the sleepers that were snagged out of the Bargo gully behind us here in the 1850’s. All of their beautiful handiwork is gone. The last of the hand-cut sleepers have been replaced with steel sleepers now. The white ants and time took their toll. But what an achievement, these 50 kms of hand-hewn sleeper-laid train tracks that were felled, cut, adzed and broad axed into perfectly square clean shapes are just a memory. The snigging tracks that wound down into the gullies are all over grown and lost to memory now. But I remember them, Janine and I walked them in the 70’s when some of them were still visible, simply because some of the older locals still used them to get down into the creek.

My efforts don’t compare in any way, but hewing this square post into existence with just a small salute to the past has been a rewarding effort. The new corner post will hopefully tell someone in another generations time of the way in which it was made.

I have booked my friend, the local carpenter and environmentalist, Col McNeill to help me with the rebuilding. It will be a big effort for us to man-handle this massively heavy post into place, but that is next weeks job.