Open Studio Weekends

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.

Pottery Sale – Open Studio Weekend

Dear Friends, We will be opening our pottery on the weekend of 13th and 14th of November. We are informed that on the 1st of November, the state will be opening up to allow people from the Greater Sydney Region to travel to the regions like ours in the Southern Highlands. We have joined the Open Studio Weekend organised by the Australian Ceramics Assn. and accordingly, we will be open from 10 am to 4.00 pm on both Saturday 13th Nov. and Sunday 14th Nov.
We are looking forward to seeing our friends again after such a long time in lock down.

We must remind you all that we will be observing strict Government COVID safe protocols.

Please don’t come unless you are double immunised, and have a vaccine certificate to show us. 

We will need to see your vaccination certificate before you can come in and there will be a strict 4 Sq. M. rule applied. That’s 7 people max. in the gallery. Although I can’t imagine that we will get more than 7 people all day, never mind all at one time 🙂
We will have all the doors and windows open for good ventilation and to keep the CO2 levels down to around 450 ppm. As this is considered good practice to minimise the chances of infection.
We won’t have a lot of work fired and for sale by that time, as we have only now just had our first stoneware reduction glaze firing full of glaze tests. I have been very busy working on the 3 local igneous rocks that I could collect within 5 km of our home here, or near the supermarket and Post Office on our once a week shopping excursion. That has limited my choices, but it’s a challenge to make the best I can out of what I have available in my immediate vicinity.


Its shaping up to look like we can make a tenmoku and tea dust glazes from the Hill Top basalt found in the next village. A green celadon from some washed felspathic gutter sand, A pale blue celadon, a yellow matt glaze, Blue/yellow mottled glaze, also made from the local ‘Living Waters’ Basalt intrusion, and a pink matt glaze made from the sericite porcelain body. As well as something resembling a pink/orange shino style of glaze made from the Balmoral dirty felspathic igneous stone. Nothing special, but a workable mix to get us started.
As long as you are double vaxed, We’d love to see you here at some stage, once we are all allowed to travel inter-regionally. Even if there is only a small selection of our our work on the shelves, we welcome you to call in and see the new shed. I’ll be pleased to give you a tour of the Workshop, Pottery studio and Gallery, as well as the raw material processing facilities that we are in the midst of developing – for those so inclined.

We will probably also be open from then on, each weekend, through until Xmas, but please ring beforehand, just to make sure that we are in and open, and not out doing shopping.

Rock Glaze

I have started to get out and collect some rocks, but because of the COVID19 lock-down, I can’t go driving all around my shire doing a full geology excursion.I’m suppose to stay within 5 kms of home. I can go to the shops or Post Office for essentials, but we don’t have a shop or a post office here in our little hamlet.  So we have to go the 5km to the next village where there is a small shop and Post Office. Luckily for me, I have walked all this country around here over the past 45 years. So I know where to go within 5 kms to get some glaze stones. There is a small volcanic plug just a couple of kms away, but it is completely kaolinised and has lost most of its alkali, so doesn’t melt very well – in fact not at all. Also, the high levels of iron and magnesia that are left limit what can be made from it. It’s really just a brown soil and is only good as an iron pigment.It would be nice if there were some acid rocks nearby, but there aren’t. So I’m stuck with what is here. There are just 3 volcanic plugs within the 5 k limit around here. All basalts.


I called in at Werner’s house, just a couple of kms further along, on the way to the shops. Keeping my distance of several metres, I reminded him that I had called in there 20 years ago and he let me collect some of the basalt rocks that out crop from a small volcanic plug in his back yard. Werner is a very nice guy. He has retired since I was there last. We went for a well distanced walk around to his back yard. We are both double vaxed, so felt safe to do so.



Mid last century, this was a working quarry, it’s abandoned and quite over grown now, but there are lots of little, hand-sized, small stones that I can pick up from the garden bed near the top of the quarry wall. I can fit about 15 kgs in my back pack and thank Werner and prepare to walk back out. I tell him that I’ll be back for some more stones in another 20 years! He laughs, he will be 100 by then.



I put the stones through my rock crushers. First, I put the fist sized pieces through the jaw crusher to reduce the stones down to blue metal sized pieces.


Then they go through the disc disintegrator mill to reduce the gravel to grit.


I have installed a flexible dust extractor system that sucks the dust from the machine out through a fan installed in a sheet of plywood that fits in the roller door space. It is quick to install and remove afterwards. This was the quickest and cheapest DIY solution to the OH&S dust problem involved in crushing rocks, as i had the sheet of plywood left over from the ceiling of the throwing room.


I sieve out all the over-sized bits, and put the rest into the ball mill. This reduces the grit down to dust that I can use to make a glaze.I know from my previous research that I can make a tea-dust and a tenmoku glaze from this dark rock. Basalt isn’t very easy to work with, as it doesn’t contain sufficient silica or flux to melt properly. It also has far too much Magnesia and iron to make anything other than dark glazes like tea-dust and tenmoku. Even then, it needs extra limestone and silica to get any usable, stable, glossy result at all. But the thing is, it can be done with a little bit of chemical jiggery-pokery using just what is available around here. In fact. It can be done with what is in my back yard!
My initial test tile showed me that I can make a honey brown glaze, a black tenmoku, a green magnesia matt, a tea-dust green/black glaze and an opalescent dark blue/green glaze.



Meanwhile, Janine is at work making larger bowls on the ’Slatyer’ kick wheel.


While the ball mill runs, I spend a bit of time making some new fibre cement pot boards. I use our own sawn and milled pine slats to reinforce and support the fibre cement sheet boards. Some of the advantages of the FC pot boards is that they are cheap, very flat, quite absorbent and light weight.




I made a couple of stillages on castors to hold the pot boards in a compact and movable form. The first set I made from leftover parts of the brickies’ scaffolding. I don’t like to see waste, so i kept the parts after i dismantled the scaffolding. The other set I made from steel, half of which was left over from the shelves and benches that I made for the Gallery and lab rooms. These shelving racks can hold 28 pot boards if they ever get filled. More than enough for us.


Now that we finally have a continuous, flat, level floor, we can wheel our work between the throwing room, kiln room and glazing rooms as needed. So easy and convenient now. What a luxury!

White Room

Janine and I have been painting all the multicoloured different hued sheets of re-cycled corrugated iron sheeting that we used internally as lining for our shed. I spent 3 or 4 months collecting old roofing iron off a lot of buildings from Sydney to the Highlands. I spread the word among my friends and students. I would come and collect what ever was on offer.

Sometimes, I’d get a call in the morning saying you need to be here between 3 and 4 this afternoon, you can have the roof and we’ll help you load it, but if you aren’t here, it will all go to the tip. We can’t store it here on the building site. And I did, some of it wasn’t much good, but I could select was was useful to me and take the rest to the recyclers.

We ended up with a dozen or so different styles of old corrugated roofing in every imaginable colour, from straight silver-metal zincalume, through red, green, blue, brown, yellow and grey.

I chose to use the sheets in the necessary lengths required in each position. This resulted in a mix of rather unattractive colours that didn’t sit well together. We decided that we would have to paint it all one colour to get some aesthetic cohesion. Even if the profile of the different sheets, manufactured in different decades, by different companies, didn’t fully match, resulting in some rather big gaps in the overlaps. Well, beggars can’t be choosers!

We gave the room a first coat of very cheap ‘Aldi’ flat white acrylic to bring all the sheets to the same base colour. Then to save money, we bought one 4 litre tin of cheap commercial ‘pink’ tinted flat plastic and made our own blend of 3 parts, Aldi cheap white acrylic that just happened to be on special in the week that we needed it, and one part of the tinted pink paint. We ended up with a very pale pink that looked like a warm white. You can only tell that it is a pale pink, by comparing it to a otherwise supposedly ‘White’ test sheet.

Two coats of our cheapskate, ‘poverty pink’ and the room looks good and completely consistent in colour. We have gone through 16 litres of paint to get all 4 of the quite tall 4 to 5 metre high walls coated. Good value at $120.

Looking out of the big arched window that I made for the ‘gallery’ room. I can see the Balmoral Railway Station out in the garden. We bought the old Railway Station by tender, back in the 1970’s when the Railways Dept. had closed the line to passenger traffic, and kept it open as a solely goods line. They decided that they wanted the un-used timber stations removed from the line and the site cleared.

We thought that this was a shame, as the timber railway stations form part of the fabric of village history. The Station at Hill Top, the next village along the line, was the first to be sold off. It went for $2! the people who bought it only wanted the tin off the roof to build a chook shed. So they took the iron off the roof and burnt it down. That cleared the site, and fulfilled the contract! The what a shameful event.

We decided that this wouldn’t happen to our village station. When ours came up for demolition, we tendered to demolish it, but instead we picked it up in a couple of huge wire slings, lifted it onto a low loader and re-located it to our own back yard. That fulfilled the contract to clear the site. But most importantly, it preserved this valuable part of our village history for some time to come. The station building dates to about 1880 and although it is only small, we decided that it was too important to be destroyed.

Incredibly, it almost burnt down a few times during the catastrophic bush fire that raged through Balmoral Village on the 21st Dec. 2019. Embers lodged in the roof facia board and it caught fire. I was lucky to manage to see this early on and managed to hose it out before it spread to the whole of the roof. I was simultaneously fighting the fire that had caught hold of my barn at the same time and had t keep returning to the water tank on the station building to refill my buckets, because the pump on the barn had failed after half an hour. I saw the station roof burst into flames again, and again hosed it out. With the wind howling and the air temperature very high, and the constant shower of ember shrapnel flying through the air, my hair even caught an ember and caught fire at one stage. It’s impossible to forget the small of burning hair!

Even though I hosed the fire out very well and soaked the area around the fascia of the station roof. It soon dried out in the hot gale and burst back into flames. I had to return and put it out several times.

So I saved the Station – for a 2nd time.

Looking out at the station through the tall arched window from this newly painted white room. I am suddenly reminded of the lines of a song from my teen years, “In the white room, with no curtains, by the station” There was something else about tired starlings. but the important part is that we have a white room with no curtains, by the station.

That’s The Cream (on the cake for me)

Bonded

We have spent the last week working with our heritage bricklayers. The job progresses slowly and steadily. I spent the first half of the week working on the southern high arch window end wall.

Mid week I had to build a scaffold to allow the brickies to get higher.

On Thursday I got some help from our son Geordie and my good friend Colin the builder who came over for a couple of hour to help me erect the wooden arch former so as to facilitate support the arch bricks over the arch. I built the frame, but couldn’t hold it up safely while I secured it in place without help.

The brick work proceeded up the wall pretty quickly, so Colin and I spent Friday afternoon building the scaffolding up to the second level and securing it to make it very stable, then creating a safe ty rail around the top to make it safe for the brickies while they work up there next week.

While we worked on the end wall, the brickies worked under the verandah to keep the job moving along.

I secure the brick veneer wall to the corrugated ironed steel rail wall by using what are called ‘brick ties’. These are specially designed steel brackets that are screwed to the steel wall and are embedded into the cement mortar.

These are sold in boxes of 150 units. I am placing these ties on every 2nd brick, on every 3rd course of brick work. We are about half way through the job and we have used almost 4 boxes so far. I can see us using about 1,000 of these in total. Tragically for me, these things are made to secure the brickwork to a timber frame, so the hole in the tie to allow the nail or screw through is made too small for the big roofing screws that I’m using. So I have to spend half an hour a day drilling out the holes from 4 mm. to 6.5 mm.

To prevent any bricks being dropped onto the glass panes, I have screwed plywood panels onto the arch formwork supports and then covered the plywood with black builders plastic to keep it from getting wet in the rain that is forecast this coming week.

It’s all very tedious and takes so much time, but is so very necessary, as replacing a broken pane would take a longer time and cost more.

In chatting to Bill, one of the bricklayers, it turns out that he was taught by a master bricklayer, Dave Smith, who came from Leeds in Yorkshire. I tell him that my father was born in Leeds. Bill likes this bit of news and spends our next few ‘smoko’ breaks telling me all about his good ‘mate’ Dave. He even rings Dave up to tell him about the job, about our ‘Sussex bond’ variations, and about our Yorkshire/Leeds connection.

It also turns out that Bills brother Gordon, our other brickie, knows a lot of our friends here in the Highlands, as Gordon lived here for a decade in the 80’s. We discuss our connections and it turns out that we must have met 35 years ago, or if not, at least been at the same ‘open house’ music concerts.

It’s a small world. We are bonded by more than just bricks and mortar. We have the Sussex bond, the Leeds bond and the Open House music bond.

Mulberry tart. vol 5

The mulberries are still holding up against the marauding birds. I guess that this is because there are so few of them that have survived the catastrophic bush fires. We have 2 bower birds and friarbird in the tree fairly constantly, The crop has been very good because of the rains, so There is still some to go around.

I made my 5th attempt at the mulberry tart. I’m getting better at it and faster now with practice.

I’ve abandoned the lattice top, but added ‘lemonade’ lemon juice and zest to the recipe.

I’ve settled into a reliable recipe of

500g de-stemmed mulberries

140g sugar

40g plain flour

A shake of cinnamon powder and a dash of vanilla essence.

Juice and pulp of half a large lemon or all of a small one, plus grated zest, also juice of one small ‘lemonade’ lemon and zest of the skin.

Mix all these together in a mixing bowl. Blind bake the crust, add filling, and bake for 25 mins at 180oC. It seems to be fairly reliable. And delicious!

Serve on a beautiful hand made, ash glazed, wood fired platter.

First Week of Spring

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


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



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


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

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


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

New Orchard

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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


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

This will keep me busy for the next few evenings.


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

And So We Graft from Dawn Till Dusk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.