A Bad Day

We lost most of our buildings, except our house on Saturday. The fire was too big, too hot, too fast. I had intended to get all the fire fighting sprinklers going on full , then leave when the fire approached. I had the dedicated petrol powered, fire fighting pumps already running on low to conserve both fuel and water. This may go on for several more days.

Suddenly, when all hell broke loose, I needed to get around to each pump, turn it up to full, and turn on the extra sprinklers on the walls facing the fire front.

By the time that I got around all 4 buildings, it took a few minutes, the driveway and the road was on fire. I couldn’t get out. I abandoned the truck, got our and ran with my bag, to the temporary makeshift shelter that I had constructed the day before, just in case of such an emergency.

I climbed in as the fire raged past burning all in its path. I could see the flames through the cracks in the joints. Thé air was orange red and filled with smoke. It was difficult to breath normally, very hot and acrid Smokey air. My breathing is still affected, I’m still coughing up stuff.

I’m very lucky to be alive. I lost my pottery and kiln business, but saved my life.

What more could I ask for Xmas.

Ground Zero Today

The fire storm hit at 1.00 pm today, taking almost everything in its path. Everything caught on fire at once. It was horrific. Nightmares are made of this. There was no warning! Just total explosion of everything in the garden all at once. I have now witnessed total catastrophic ember attack.

It burnt down our pottery building, our kiln factory, and our woodshed. the house survived. It came so fast that in a few minutes that it took me to start the pumps and turn on all the sprinklers . The road was on fire and the driveway was alight. I had already grabbed my bag and started the truck, but realised that I needed another plan.

Luckily, yesterday, in a calm moment, It crossed my mind that I needed a plan B. So I built a makeshift Raku kiln from ceramic fibre parts that I had around. Big enough to lay down in, and behind a stone wall for radiation protection.

I grabbed my bag from the Ute and ran down to my ‘hide’. I crawled inside with my bag full of hard drives and laptop + back up disks. I had prepared it with a bucket of water, drinking water, a fire blanket and an extinguisher. I was able to watch the firestorm pass over me. All the tree canopies were in flame as the fire ‘crowned’ over me.

A terrifying golden radiation glow illuminated everything. I must admit to being too scarred to look back to see if the house was on fire. Quite literally, everything else was. The pottery burnt down as I watched, then that set fire to the kiln shed.

During the 20 minutes that I was hidden in the makeshift ‘kiln’, I drank my water bottle dry. More from shock and distress than thirst, as I wasn’t at all hot. Heat can’t get out of kilns, so it can’t get in either. I was safe.

When the pottery was well Alight. I decided that discretion was the better part for me to play, as the pottery was straight in line with my kiln-like ‘hide’. I crawled out of my ‘kiln’, and made a run for the house, which was luckily still safe. I realised that the railway station was on fire in the roof. I used one of the spare hoses to put it out.

I had set up 4 different Petrol powered high pressure fire fighting pumps. Two failed, because the inlet suction hose was made of poly pipe, and it melted. A hard lesson there. the best laid plans!

Still. I survived , due to my fore-thought with the small coffin kiln. I’m here to tell the tale.! I have no internet, no power, all the power poles burnt. I have my house.

Pity about the Power House job, that will be history now,

I count my blessing’s and my improvised kiln building skills.

I regret that i don’t know what has happened n the rest of the village. Time will tell. It cant be a pretty sight, I’m sure!

sent from my ipad

A Lucky Day

Yesterday the fire came up the gully behind the house with the wind driving it from the north east. It was blown away from us yesterday, and today it is being blown back towards us.

The sun rose a scary orange and the air is thick with smoke. A big plume of smoke announced the fires return with the hot wind and lower humidity.

My neighbours were not able to return home after work from the previous day, so I rang them and offered to feed and water their dogs. The asked me to bring the dogs to Mittagong for them, but if I leave I won’t be able to return here, as the village is in lock-down.

We made an agreement to meet in neutral territory at the road block. Stop and park and walk to the neutral zone and hand over the dogs. It was like a James Bond movie. The spy who came in from the heat. The hardest part was trying to get two German-sheprds into my ute cab. The dogs don’t take orders from me. It was quite an effort, but we got there and managed the hand over. The cops were nice, but strict.

I made another arrangement later in the day with Janine to meet her at the border. She had purchased another roll of al-foil for me to complete the garlic bread like wrap-up of the front of the house. I took a photo for ‘Christo’. I now have all doors and windows facing North and West, plus the weatherboards facing west.

Its a very eerie feeling.

Luckily for us, there was an early and concerted effort by both air and ground crews to keep the damage to a minimum. No houses lost that I know of at the moment. But the total stands at 20 houses lost, two firemen dead and 5 in hospital badly injured.

We had both of the large ‘Elvis’ water bombing helicopters working over us all day. They lumber over with their jet engines screaming louder than the heavy percussive pulse and thud of the rotors. They fly very low and quite fast. I can hear them way before they appear from behind the trees, a sweep over.

I wasn’t aware that there were two of the large ‘Elvis’ style helicopters. They flew so low that I could read the numbers on their fuselage. We had Nos. 730 and 520 here yesterday.

We also had three large choppers with water buckets on long lines. They seemed to make less motor noise, but more percussive rotor ‘thud’. Its amazing how I could feel it in my chest when they approached, but this disappeared when they wore over head. Then there was more motor noise.

I had the roof sprinklers on from 12.30 when the ember started to fall, till 5.30 when it had more or less stopped. I learnt something. My fire pumps can run for 5 hours on low throttle, running the roof sprinklers on one tank of fuel.

Wetting the roof like this kills the energy of the embers as they pass through the spray, but the water also keeps the gutters filled with water, as it is collected and returns back to the tank through the gutting system.

I used 1/4 of my water tank storage and 1/4 of my petrol reserves. I can hold out for 3 more days at this rate.

We are surrounded by fire now on three sides, West North and East. Todays wind will be 40 km/hr. from the West. Very bad. I plan to set the pumps and roof and wall sprinklers going and evacuate to the fire shed, ‘safe area’ in the village as soon as the big black plume appears.

Embers to the left of me, embers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle you fuel.

The Fire Arrives

Today the fire arrived in our village. Fortunately for me it was just to the north of us with a strong westerly, that turned southwesterly. This blew the blaze away from our house.

Tragically, it appears that 3 houses were lost today in that blaze. Two fire fighters were badly burnt and had to be airlifted to hospital for emergency care.

We have been well prepared for this day for the past couple of weeks. The last thing that we waited to do was to wrap the house in al-foil. Just the wooden weatherboard front room, as it is most vulnerable.

‘Elvis’ the large orange water bombing helicopter that we share with Canada was here and flew over to check us out, just as the fire truck came to tell us to evacuate. I told tham that I was staying to fight. but Janine wisely decided to leave for safety.

The fire really blew up into a massive plume just after that. It was a bit scary I must admit. but I have 4 different fighting high pressure pumps set up with sprinklers on all the roofs and northern walls on all the sheds and the house. I gave them a run to test them out again, but turned them off to save water, as there was no ember attack, because the wind was blowing it all past us and away.

So now the fire front is to the West, North and East of us. Tomorrows wind is forecast to come from the North East. That is going to be bad for us. The next two days will be make or break for us. It will all depend on the strength of the wind and the temperature. I expect that it will be at its worst from mid day onwards for the following 4 hours.

If it looks to be catastrophic, I’ll start all the pumps and just leave.

Life is a Tale

Yesterday the village was accosted by the full force of the NSW Rural Fire Service Heavy industrial might. The service has been using the lull in the winds to do a lot of hazard reduction burning along the back road here to reduce the risk of crowning fires when the wind returns. Given that it was also a weekend, there were multiple units from all around the area, even one from Bundeena in the Royal Nation Park a few hours drive away.
With so many appliances on hand, a large area of bush between Balmoral village and Buxton was chosen for burning.

All went well until around 1.00 pm when the humidity dropped, the temperature rose and the wind picked up. Suddenly it was all a little bit out of hand and a huge plume of black smoke warned us that something was up. As this operation was to the north of the village, away from us, we were completely unaware of the situation. I was on the pottery roof, still trying to figure out a way to fireproof the old building by sealing all the little gaps here and there with improved galvanised metal flashing, especially to The North Face – The Hard Way. In full sun, at mid day on a hot tin roof.

The pottery roof is complex. A mansard configuration with several intersecting planes involving under cuts and deep reveals. All framed in timber and needing to be covered.
The first thing that I noticed was the fall of a lot of black ash and burnt leaves arriving on the tin roof around me. Then my neighbour rang my mobile to say his house was under ember attack. He is half a kilometre to the north and closer to the fire ground. It was another 15 minutes before the black plume became obvious to us. But then it was the noise of the helicopters. At first we couldn’t see them. Then one became two, and two became three. There was quite a percussive thrum  in the air from the rotors, the smoke in the air, and the smell. It’s all a bit nauseating. Principally because we have lost two potteries to fire in our 45 years together. I hate the smell of wood smoke in the morning. But here we are again, in Coppola’s movie. Only this time it’s Eucalypts Now – reduction. The helicopters, the smoke, the noise. I’m feeling anxious – and bored! It’s weird, I want all this to be over. But I know that it’s not going to go away any time soon.
The road in and out is closed in both directions, North and South. We are well prepared, so we are stayingto fight. It’s like we are at war. And in a way we are. We are at war with nature, but it’s more than that. All this is man made, and made by man to be so much worse, 4 1/2 decades on from our first encounters with wild fire. Now it’s not just bad luck or ‘the drought’, as proclaimed by the coal hugging, happy clapper. And yes! Now is the time to talk about it! If not now, then when! We don’t need your prayers. We need leadership.  We are at war with ourselves. Society is fractured down the middle. This is actually a subtle form of civil war. The Pro-coal carbon lobby and their profits at any cost, vs, the environment. Black jobs vs Green jobs. This is an extension of the culture wars. Playing loose and fast with the truth and the environment. And all the people who loose their homes are just so much collateral damage to the big institutional share holders.

 
If the heat, the noise and the smoke, and the embers and the ash weren’t enough. 


Then the bombers arrived! Not with napalm, but red retardant, lumbering overhead in slow motion with the deafening, screaming noise from their jet engines thrust. Flaps down, flying so low that I can read the 911 phone number on the tail. Slowly, well as slowly as a jet can fly, and still stay in the air, circling the village. Two of them, huge DC 10 jet liners, water bombing the fire front. stopping the flames from encroaching on the buildings up the ridge, on the north western side of the of the road. They circle and dance in perfect choreography with a couple of other small fixed wing prop aircraft and the smaller helicopters. Someone is coordinating all of this aerial ballet, but I have no idea where from. Possibly from one of the helicopters? I have no idea. I’m certainly glad that they are though. I watch impotently. I have no part to play in this frightening, noisey, hectic scene from a real life war movie. 

Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of noise and fury, signifying nothing.
The afternoon passes, the planes depart, the noise subsides, we wander next door to take up their invitation for a swim in the pool. We open a bottle of wine and share it together. I can only hear just the one small solitary chopper still working on into the dusk a long way off. The wind has changed and has blown the smoke away. it’s quiet. My mind begins to wander.Life is surreal. Suddenly it is as if nothing has ever happened. We water the veggies and pick some tomatoes for dinner. They are getting ripe earlier and earlier each year.Global Crisis – What global crisis!

Self-reliance in dry times

As the drought deepens and the climate crisis escalates unchecked, with our politicians heads firmly buried deep in the sand. Crisis, What crisis? We muddle on in our independent, self-reliant, way. With the dam water very low. Actually, extremely low. We are saving what water we have in it for use in the coming weeks with the imminent arrival of the massive bush fire that is ravaging a lot of Eastern New South Wales.

The fire closest to us has burned over 112,000 hectares, or half a million acres, in the last two weeks. It is now just 17 km for our Village. When the next hot, dry, North Westerly wind blows in it will bring it here. Currently, the wind is in our favour and mostly blowing from the west. Inevitably to will swing around at some point. Then our time will come to deal with it Nothing can put out a fire of this scale – only good heavy prolonged rain. That is unlikely in the next month or two. So we just sit and wait.

We have tested all the roof and wall mounted sprinkler systems on the house, pottery, barn and kiln shed. I have even set up temporary, ground mounted, sprinklers on hoses in front of the wood shed and Railway Station building. We have done everything that we can, so now we wait.

The sun is orange because there is so much smoke and fall out from the sky of charred leaves and fine ash, it slowly blankets every thing. The car is covered in fine dust. All the roofs are dusty. Today I had to wash the solar panels 3 times, with mop and squeegee and 3 changes of water in the bucket, in order to get the water to run almost clear. The output from the system jumped up almost 500 watts straight away as I was washing the panels. Not just because they were cleaner, but the washing would have cooled them and made them more efficient.

We have scaled back our summer vegetable garden to just about half its usual size to reduce our water usage and we are only watering the younger and most dependant fruit tress that are one and two years old. All the older trees with deeper and more established root systems are having to fend for themselves. Several garden plants and a couple of older native trees have just keeled over and snuffed it. The times they are a changing. We will emerge from this very dry period with a different garden. When the rains come, it will probably flood. We have been told to expect more extremes in the weather. We will find out which plants can cope with draught and flood.

We have been doleing out our drinking water from the water tanks to keep the blue berries and young berries alive and producing, as well as the early peaches. That will be the sum total of our fruit for this summer. It’s all we can manage to support. Other trees that are not being watered, like the quince trees, have shed all their small partially formed fruit in an effort to save them selves. Ditto, the apples and pears. All four of our fig trees appear to have died, dropped all their leaves, turned brown and lost any sign of green tips at the dried out buds. I spoke to our neighbour at the shopping centre yesterday, and she told me that her parents are buying two truck loads of water each week to keep their garden alive. That’s hundreds of dollars worth of water being trucked in. We have never had to buy water in the past 43 years of our life here. We are frugal and we have planned well in advance. I guess that we will have to learn to live without figs. A small price to ask. But I can’t help but think, which trees are next?

In the mean time we have peaches, youngberries and blue berries to pick and preserve. This last basket full of the early peaches smell divine, fresh off the tree and so warm and fragrant. They are such a treasure, we eat most of them raw for breakfast and deserts, but we also vacuum seal some of them for later.

Todays job was to pick the berries. Both Young and blue. This will be the last pick of young berries, the canes started producing on the 24th of November. A whole month earlier than when they were first planted in 1977. We remove the netting and let the chooks in to clean up. The birds will get all the other higher odds and ends. We roll up the net and dismantle the hoop frames. Stored away till this time next year.

This last pick is about 700 g, making a rather small harvest this year, but exceptional, given the difficult conditions. We harvested about 5 to 6 kilos altogether. We have youngberry ice-cream in the freezer and 5 jars of vacuum sealed fruit in the pantry. It’s a pleasing reward for our efforts.

Janine whips berry puree into our local, pure, Picton dairy cream to make ice-cream. Nothing could be more natural and flavoursome. This has to be the most delicious way to get plaque build up in your arteries. At least there are no colours, preservatives, chemicals or artificial substances in there. Not too much sugar either.

The blue berries haven’t looked back since we potted them and moved them into the netted vegetable garden as a border. This keeps the birds off and makes sure that they get a bit of water every time we water the veggies. They reward us with their fruit. 3 kgs so far this summer and the season has only just begun. The will continue fruiting for a couple of months, into February, as we have chosen early, medium and late varieties.

Blue berries ripen over time, with only just a few ripe blue ones every so often spread out over all the little bunches. They are quite time consuming to pick. But which fruit isn’t? We have to pluck each individual berry from its neighbour in the tight little clusters. Today we manage 700g in half an hour with both of us at it. I have no idea how they produce these things commercially for just a few dollars per punnet. Slave labour?

Its a beautiful and rewarding thing to share this wholesome activity together. We are managing to eat them all fresh for breakfast and desserts so far, but there comes a time when the novelty wears off and we start to freeze some for later. Janine has experimented and learnt to make a beautiful blueberry sauce with a little brandy and cream. We force our selves to eat it 🙂

Banana fritters with berry ice-cream as a second course for breakfast after the berry fruit salad. Someones got to do it!

Transhumance of water

The transhumance is usually applied to the seasonal movement of livestock in Europe following good the pasture from lowland to highland in the spring for example. Janine and I have been in Europe on two occasions and witnessed a small part of this seasonal, ancient, ritual passage of people and animals. It was a beautiful experience, to witness this event, watching the farmer, his family and their dogs walking the herd of cows down the mountain pass, back to the safety of the lowland farm and its barn with its stocks of hay and silage to sustain the animals through the cold winter.

For Janine and I here on our few acres, we ‘husband’ the passage of water back up hill from the lower dams, up to the higher ‘house’ dam for safe storage over the coming hot dry summer. Back when the weather was more reliable, the winter rains would flow into the upper dam and it would overflow down into the next dam, and then from there, when the 2nd dam filled, it would over flow down into the next dam, etc. etc. We have created what is known as a ‘keyline’ system of dames, so that nothing is wasted. That was of course when it used to rain.

These days it doesn’t rain enough to fill all the dams, but they do have a small amount in each of the 2 lower dams. The big top dam, ‘Max Like’, is totally dry. but it is worth harvesting the water from the two lower dams and collecting it all in one place to minimise evaporation. The surface area is essentially the same, but the water storage is 3 times deeper.

So today I started the water-transhumance for this year. The water is supposed to flow down in the winter and be pumped back in the summer. I don’t have much to work with, but in this way I can get the best out of what I have.

I pumped the bottom dam down to a level that gave me most of the water, but left a little bit for the locals.

My next job is to move the pump up to the 2nd dam and start shifting it up to the top dam. By the end of the day we should have moved most of the water. There is a big rock in the top dam, when we can see the rock, it means that we are almost out of water. By the time I’ve pumped all this water up to the top dam, the rock will disappear.

Mission accomplished. The home dam is filled sufficiently to cover the rock. That means that we now have over 600mm. deep storage, all in one spot, which minimises the evaporation in there coming hotter weather.

While the water was pumping up by itself. I only need to check it every 15 mins to make sure that all is going well. In the mean time I finish filling in the syphon guttering trench and I make new guttering for the western side of the barn. I was quoted $110 per meter for a professional guttering job. I manage to do it in 3 hours for $147! I just saved myself over $1,000! This is how we can manage to live here on such a small income. Independence through frugal self reliance.

I have spent this long week doing repair and maintenance jobs, from replacing the tin roof on the pottery, renewing the syphon gutter and digging trenches through hard packed dirt, making gutters and down spouts, now shifting water.

Every step I’ve taken this week was involved in water in some way. You never miss your water till your well runs dry!

I’m hoping that I won’t miss any water and that my tanks won’t run dry.

Rainwater catchment

As the weather has slowly dried out over the four and a bit decades that we have lived here, the dams that we dug when we arrived here in 1976, and worked so well for 20 years, are now all dried out. We haven’t had significant rain fall to saturate the ground and flow down the gutters and channels into those dams. So we find ourselves towards the end of spring now with virtually no water in the dams. This is the 3rd year with no significant flows into the dams and the 2nd decade where the dams don’t fill to overflowing. i can’t remember a time when they were all full.

It is quite shocking to me to have to start the year with just 500mm. of water in our main dam. That will only last a couple of hours in a fire situation – if it came today! But there won’t be this much water left in there in a month or twos time, at the height of summer – if any! Evaporation will see an end to that little bit of water that is left.

Our biggest dam, built specially to irrigate the vineyard, we called Max Lake! It is now bone dry since last week, the final little puddles evaporated away in the heat and the wind. No water flowed into it for at least 3 years. It was once a glorious swimming hole in years past. Particularly when our son was young, we had a lot of fun swimming in there over summer. 2 metres deep of serious fun filled water. Now home to just a few dried out reeds.

We used to rely on the dams for our irrigation water and fire fighting reserves. But no more. We have to think differently now. This is now the new normal. We have managed to get through the past few summers using our tank water storage. We have put a lot of effort into installing water tanks on every roof on our land. This has worked very well up until now, But this year we are not quite through spring and we have almost emptied one of our two large water tanks, mostly through watering the garden and orchards. With the global crisis deepening, I can see a time when we will run out of water before the end of summer in coming years.

The most pressing question on my mind right now is what will we use to fight bush fires in late summer and autumn. I guess that we will have to buy water and have it trucked in. Not a happy thought. In particular because when disaster strikes, every one will be wanting water delivered and only the regular customers will be getting service. I know how it works. We have never bought water for 40 years. We don’t even know who sells it these days. So we shouldn’t be relying on that to save us. In a funny quirk of fate, those of us in this village who are poorly prepared and always buy water, will get it, as they must, because they are the most needy. We, on the other hand, have spent our lives trying to be prepared as best that we can be, and are almost totally self-reliant, We will be the the ones to be left to fend for ourselves – as we always have.

Water storage is very finite and with every roof already having a water tank connected to it. Our options are limited. We have purchased a new, smaller sized, water tank every year now for the past 4 years. Installing those tanks on all the smaller tin roofs on the little sheds, and even the little railway station building has two. Just so that there isn’t any water allowed to be wasted. Once caught and held, then we can use it later at our discretion.

Having thought through the possibilities. We decided to up-grade to a much larger water tank on the barn. The barn has a huge roof, but only a relatively small 1,000 gallon/4,500 litre water tank that we put on there almost 20 years ago when we built the barn, to satisfy the local council building inspectors. We don’t use it for the garden at all. It is there with it’s own independent pump to supply the roof and wall sprinklers that I fitted to the building specifically for fire fighting. As it’s only been used twice in its life. It remains constantly full. However, when it rains and the tank overflows, I have the overflow connected into the plumbing system that delivers the water from all 3 big sheds into the 120,000 litre concrete water tank at the bottom of our block. This is the tank that is now almost empty. I can connect the new proposed tank in parallel with the old one. That way, I only need to do a bit of plumbing.

I realise that I can add a 7,500 gallon/35,000 litre water tank on the other side of the building. This is a significant exercise, cutting a 4.5 metre diameter level base through the top soil and placing 2 cubic metres of fine basalt dust, then spreading it and compacting it to make a solid base for the tank to sit on. I’ve been at this job since Friday last week. The base is done now, so I have turned my attention to the roof plumbing. I need to put in a syphon gutter system to take the water to the other side of the shed.

I wonder why it is that I seem to end up doing these jobs in such hot weather. Answer. every day is hot these days. Summer starts 3 months earlier and goes on for another 3 months longer. We are having 9 months of summer these past few years.

The old saying goes, When is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is, 20 years ago! That is also the answer to when I should have put in this larger tank, but I was already fully committed 20 years ago to installing the water tanks that we already do have now. So now is the best time for this new tank! When it rains again, as it most certainly will. We will fill this tank with rain water and be better off in the future. This is just forward planning!

So, today I’m digging this trench into rock hard dirt that is as tough as concrete. I end up having to use a crow bar and a pick to penetrate the soil. I give up pretty quickly and go and get the tractor to try ripping a groove into the hard packed, baked soil. I end up bending parts of the the tractor and need to go to the toy shop, formally known as the kiln factory, to put the bent and broken parts under the hydraulic press and bend them back into shape. If nothing else, I get to spend a few minutes out of the full sun, in the shade, in the shed, making good the repairs. I love the toy shop! I can fix almost anything in there – one way or another.

By the end of the day, I’m pretty rats, but the hole is dug and the pipes are laid and blue-glued together. The new lengths of guttering should be delivered tomorrow?! I should have it all back together by the day after. It can rain by the end of the week and I’ll be OK with that.

As for the new water tank, well, I haven’t even ordered that as yet. First things first. Watch this space !

At the end of this days tough work, I go to the garden and find that I can pick the first of this years crop of tomatoes. 3 red tomatoes, It’s the 26th of November. I can’t remember an earlier date for the first red tomato of the season. We can usually get a few before Xmas, but this is a whole month earlier than Xmas. If global warming is a communist plot to disrupt Western economies, as Donald Trump claimed, then, thank you to the Chinese Communist Party for these unseasonably early red tomatoes here in Australia. I wonder how they do it?

Maybe every dark cloud has a silver lining? I’d be happy just to see some clouds! Dark or otherwise.

Willoughby Bequest at the Powerhouse Museum

Janine and I were invited to the Powerhouse Museum last week for a special announcement event. There was free wine and a meal, so of course we went along.  🙂
The Powerhouse Museum recently received a substantial bequest, It was announced that 3 glass artists and 3 ceramic artists have been awarded the inaugural Willoughby bequest award.These artists were chosen by the Powerhouse Museum curators to be included in the museums collection because they are or have been making a contribution to Australian artistic culture through their research and creative work. I am very lucky to be one of the 3 ceramic artists chosen. Among all the Australian potters,  I can’t yet reconcile that I am one of the 3 lucky ones chosen.  It was quite a shock to me I must say. I can only guess that it is because of my 20 years of consistent research and exhibitions enquiring into the nature of native sericite porcelain around the world?  I have known about the award for a couple of weeks, but was unable to say anything about it until now, as there was a media embargo until the presentation awards ceremony last night. I’m humbled, surprised and elated to be chosen. The other 2 ceramic artists chosen are; Renee So, a ceramic artist born in Hong Kong, raised in Australia, and now working in London. Nicolette Johnson is a ceramic artist born in London and raised in Texas, but living in Australia now for 5 years.The 3rd ceramic artIst is me. Wow!
How could this happen to me? I don’t know! I don’t have a social media presence on facebook, twitter of watsap. I don’t go to openings  and don’t do any networking. So I still don’t know how they found out about me and my research. It’s a mystery to me.The other two ceramic artists are young, talented, hip and sassy women, making terrific cutting edge work, who are winning awards and being represented internationally. On the other hand, I probably represent the old fashioned approach to making pots. Fossicking, digging, processing, then ageing the mica based stones that make my work from. It’s not really done that much – if at all, anymore. I grow most of my green food in my garden and orchards. I also grow most of the wood fuel that I use to fire my wood fired kiln and the kitchen stove and home wood heater. I try and do every step in every part of these processes myself, and do it sustainably.

The selection of such varied and different artists certainly illustrates a depth of research and breadth of scope in the curator, Eva Czernis-Ryl’s decision making process. I’m very grateful and pleased to be honoured. I really hope that I can make something that lives up to this onerous responsibility of receiving my small part in this amazing bequest award. It’s such an honour!I did notice that there are 3 men and 3 women, 3 glass and 3 ceramic artists, with Adelaide, Brisbane, Wollongong, Mittagong, Canberra and London represented, spreading the selection around. Because this is called the Barry Willoughby ‘Inaugural’ Bequest Award, it hints at the possibility that there may be other awards at some time in the future…However, I got the impression that it will not be a regular event.
Best wishes
Steve

New Sericite Clay Samples

I was recently in China doing some research. I have written a little bit about that, intermittently, in the last month or so. While I was there, I arranged to get my hands on some new and different sericite samples. These have now just arrived here last week and I have done my first tests with them.

I now have 4 different Chinese sericites to compare.

Although it isn’t immediately obvious from the image above. If you look closely, there are 4 different colours of rock samples from top to bottom, white, cream, grey and pale buff. They all look more or less white, but they each have various tints or shades of colour to their whiteness. They all do have one big thing in common. They all throw badly, the palest ones being the least plastic and most difficult. They feel a lot like my local Mittagong porcelain stone, only better behaved.

I felt like I’d gone all the way around the world and come home again when I threw these tests. They felt so familiar.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the results fired. I had a bit of trouble with the usual shrinkage and drying cracking problems, but I did get some of them through successfully. But I lost quite a few. Still, nothing that I’m not used to, and I’m getting good at recycling the turnings and failures.

I almost filled the tray on my old wooden kick wheel with turnings after trimming just 12 small bowls. I must be removing at least half of the weight of the original material to get them thin enough to look and feel like porcelain. I aim for 2mm at the rim and 3 mm lower down, graduating 5mm at the foot. This tapered wall thickness allows the best translucency at the rim and higher up the pot, while retaining sufficient strength to hold the pot up against gravity while it sits at 1300oC in the kin to develop enough glass in the body to be come translucent.

If I’ve done it right, the whole finished, fired, ceramic mass, has the correct quantity of primary and secondary mullite crystals to glue it all together, while becoming glassy enough to allow plenty of light to pass through.

Too glassy and/or too thin and it slumps. Too thick or not fired high enough and it stands up straight, but isn’t very translucent. It’s a bit of a fine line to tread.

not too bad.

As I sit and grind away at this damp, ground-up rock dust with my tungsten carbide tools, I realise that I’m truely happy doing just this. There is a gusty wind outside, but I’m in here sitting in the sun and I don’t want for anything more at this moment. This is fun. I can’t wait to get them into the kiln.

It has all the promise of something special about to happen.

I love that.