On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier. We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent. Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some. 3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.
Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with.
I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.
I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.
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.
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.
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.
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 is 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…
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
We have been continuing to work on our ceramic wall along the front of our property. We have 120 metres of frontage to the street. It’s my intention to replace the old fence with something that is more fire proof for when the next fire comes, sometime in the next decade? The original fence was the old style post and lintel, but being timber and being 127 years old, there were only 3 substancial morticed posts left in the ground when we arrived here in 1976. We know from these relics that it was a 3 rail fence. The very last post burnt in this last fire and smouldered all the way down into the ground leaving a perfectly round hole where it once stood. This new fence is designed to be as fire resistant as possible, hence the steel posts welded in pairs to seperate the front hot face from the back cooler side, to stop the metal bending over in the heat. I have also filled each post with sand and rammed it solid to give the post a solid thermal mass, so that it wont heat up to deformation temperature in the short time that a fire front passes. I looked at all the ruined fences around here, post fire, and timber completely disapears, it’s also very expensive. Cliplok metal fence systems just buckle and collapse and arn’t cheap. Full masonary walls are OK, but are the most expensive in both labour and material. There is also the drawback that a masonary wall needs an engineered footing of reinfored concrete and steel, all more expense. I have been trying to think of very cheap/cost effective solutions to all our rebuilding problems/opportunities, solutions that we can live with aesthetically and also aford. As well as this, everything has to be as fire resistant as is possible. I decided on my poor man’s imitation gabian wall idea, as it met all my requirements of cost and fire resistance. I also need everything that we do to be as beautiful, or at least as interesting as possible. To this end, I decided to fill the gabian sections with re-cycled building agregate in a moving wave pattern, as this is the cheapest ceramic fill available and this makes up about 50% of the wall. We also used 30% of black ballast rock for contrast, as this is also relatively cheap at $70 per tonne. The black wave runs as a countrepoint to the grey concrete wave. We crushed up some old terra cotta to make a colour change and a bit of detail. This is about 5% of the wall and is free, but took some time as we smashed it all up by hand with hammers, as all my rock crushers were burnt in the fire. The terra cotta is placed in ‘lenses’ in some parts of the wall, to hint at a sedimentary reference in the landscape here at the edge of the Sydney sandstone basin. To finish off the wall, we bought a small amout of round, water-worn pebbles to fill up the last 10 to 15% of the wall volume, to cap off the wall. These pebbles are the most expensive part of the wall at $90 a tonne, but we limited our use of these to just a few tonnes to minimise the cost. These pale pebbles accomodate the sweeping wave of energy in the wall pattern and bring it back to equilibrium and tranquility. The dark energy sweeps and undulates through the stoney medium, it represents my dark times, it’s always there, but rarely breaks the surface, the steady, even, bright whiteness nearly alway prevails over the dakness.
We have now completed all the 1200mm high wall sections, about 90 metres, at a cost of $1200 for the fill, this was possible because the steel yard where I have bought all my steel for the past 40 years, donated $2000 of credit into our account to help us in our re-building. We now have 90 metres of interesting and fire resistant fence. The real cost is in the labour that we, and a lot of friends, have put in to make it happen. One very good thing about building such a fence as this is that we can turn up and do a bit when ever we have a day ‘off’, and time to spare. The last 30 metre section of the wall will be built 1800mm high in front of the house to give us extra protection from the ground fire in the next fire event. We have also planted a lilli-pilli hedge all the way along the wall to give somewhere for the little birds to live. Lillipillis are reasonably fire tollerant. They don’t add to the spread of flme. They have small leathery leaves that tend to just shrivel instead of burning. We hope that they will act as an ember filter in the next fire event, as well as acting as a safe bird habitat in the mean time.
Other than that, we have been continuing to burn off the piles of burn trees, twisted branches and clayey root balls that are left over from the 16 truck loads of fire debris that we dumped on our spare block next door. This is where we used to stack all our fire wood, well away from the house. We very good strategy as it turned out, as all 50 tonnes of wood that we had stock piled ready for the kiln and house use in the coming years was all destroyed in the fire. Not one stick of wood was left on our land after the fire had pased through. As we cleaned up after the fire, we cut any straight sections of tree trunks into kiln sized lengths and stacked them. All the twisted, forked and nasty bits have been burnt in 10 tonne piles over the winter. Each pile left a few ugly root balls that didn’t burn, so the last time we had the excavator here, we had Ross collect all these remnant bits together and make a new, last pile. We needed to get this burnt before the spring and the new fire restrictions period begin. We lit it last week and it burnt for 3 days. We now have only two ugly clay and stone packed root balls that didn’t burn. I may be able to knock them about with the tractor to shake off some of the soil and rocks to get them seperated, so that they can be burnt at some later date. It has been a mamoth task to get all these piles burnt and cleared away over the winter, while also getting the orchard built and planted before bud burst. We have run to a tight schedule.
Everything is starting to come together now. We have a delivery date from the steel rolling company for delivery of our steel shed frames on the 19th of September, so just 3 weeks left for us to finish all the fences and garden. before the building work commences. I have worn through 4 pairs of heavy leather gloves, two pairs of light gardening gloves, ruined one straw hat and worn though 3 pairs of jeans, patched the knees and worn through those patches and re-patched them from thigh to knee, ready for the next onslaught of hard work. I hate to throw out anything that still has life left in it. I like to get at least 5 years of hard wear out of a pair of jeans before thay are relagated to kiln factory rags. I am very grateful to be able to live this life of frugal creativity.Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When we started this huge enterprise of the clean-up. We didn’t wait for the NSW Government to organise something for us. We got stuck in ourselves on day one. We had a lot of help and support from our friends. That really helped me get over the initial shock and depression. It’s still there and I’m still working on it, my next appointment with the shrink is on the 4th. She tells me that my anxiety and lack of sleep is probably related to PTSD. Part of the on-going clean up is dealing with the 16 tip truck loads of burnt bush and stumps. We had 16 big piles dumped on the southern side of the house site. We have been burning one pile a week since the beginning of winter, when the fire bans were lifted. We have cleared all the dead trees from around the house area, and a little further afield to where we store our fire wood. It’s important to prune and clear all these dead trees where we work, as they are constantly dropping bits of dead branches, not just in windy weather, but particularly on still days when we are out there working. They can crash down without warning. I don’t want to be hit by any falling limbs while I’m working. We cut up the logs into usable lengths that we will use to fire the kiln for the next few years.
All the smaller, twisted, dead and burnt detritus from the fire had to be burnt in discrete piles to be safe. We have been working on it intermittently for months now. Last week, we burnt the last pile. It consisted of mostly small stumps that hadn’t burnt fully in previous burn piles. These root balls don’t burn well because of all the soil and clay embedded in with the roots. The free burning wood all burns away leaving these lumps dispersed around the pile. Once isolated from the glowing embers, they go out and just sit there.
I spent last week pushing them around with the little tractor, collecting them all together. Janine and I would then spend the best part of the day setting into them with mattock and pick, to loosen the soil and rocks from around the roots. We can’t do this all day, it’s too heavy, so we do a bit at a time and them go back to raking up or chainsawing other wood. Then after a rest, we go back to the pick and mattock. Once the root balls are reduced in size and the weight is brought below 200 kgs, I can pick them up with the tractor bucket and drop them. This loosens more soil and so on. Once they are substantially relieved of their soil, I can place them on the smouldering ember pile and start off another day of burning stumps. The last fire went for 5 days in this way. working on collecting all the remnant root balls and removing soil, then piling them up for the next days burn. It’s mind numbingly dull work, but somehow pleasing to see the site finally get cleared up and the stumps gone.
After that effort there were still a number of very large logs and stumps that were beyond me and the efforts that I could muster using my toy tractor/mower. So when Ross came last week with his excavator, we got him to pile all the remaining extra large bits into a big pile and this should be our last big burn. We really need to get this done before the return of the fire bans at the beginning of spring in just a few weeks. I don’t want to have look at this depressing mess for another year. I’m hoping that we will get a bit of rain in spring, and with the warmth we might see a bit of greenery come back. All we have that is green is a few patches of moss or fungus that I have never seen before, presumably enriched by all the ash and nutrient from the fires.
The drosera is also coming back very well. I’m told that they can live for up to 50 years. They are a carnivorous plant that traps tiny insects on the sticky hairs on their surface.
It’s started raining, so will be working inside today. I have to put stickers with my initials, number and price on each of the pots for my virtual show at Kerrie Lowe Gallery starting next week.
Blue icy crackle glaze with post firing carbon inclusion and sooty patina.