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Sunday 8 January 2012

We have a full house here at present, with Bronte’s two nephews – Sean and Michael, 16 and 14 yrs old respectively – and two WWOOFERS. One – Tracy – arrived a few days ago, hails from Hong Kong and will be with us until the end of January, the other – Katrijna – comes from Belgium and unfortunately will be only with us for just over a week. We’d intended to have only one WWOOFER but in the general confusion running up to Christmas I double-booked. Sean and Michael are staying for three weeks in total so it’s going to be fun cooking, cleaning and washing for 7! However, it is great having so much happening and so much life in the house – and Luke is thrilled to have so many new chums.

Yesterday was Little Athletics day so Katrijna had a whirlwind introduction to the animals as we tore around in order to get to see at least one event. No records today, but just before Christmas Luke broke the vortex under-7 Huon Valley record – one which had stood for many years. I never thought he would achieve the vortex record, but he produced an enormous throw of over 27m. The vortex is an oval ball with fins at the back – a sort of early introduction to the javelin. The week before Christmas the Little Athletics committee put on a great party for all the kids with Santa arriving in a fire truck with bags of sweets, an assault course with sliding mat and pool and tug of war and races for the adults. We all got soaked with water bombs as a start to the event and I managed to injure my hand by wrapping the tug of war rope around it (what an idiot!). It swelled up grossly but luckily seems not to have done any lasting damage.

Luke running the 100m at Little Athletics

I’ve had ongoing problems with my hands. The end knuckles of most fingers and some of the other finger knuckles have been painful and swollen. Everyone seemed sure it was osteo-arthritis – even the x-ray operator looked at my hands and said “have you got arthritis anywhere else in your body?” It didn’t bode well. However, when the results came back it seemed there was no sign of any arthritis, just some weird bone growth on one of the joints where I had an old injury. Apparently the pain and swelling is just from wear and tear! Perhaps I’d better ease up!

After Little Athletics yesterday we stocked up on pies, pizza and other unhealthy foods before driving into The Weld and walking down to Reubens Falls. After a long, dusty and bumpy drive over forestry tracks (in 2 cars) we arrived at the start of the walk to see a sign saying ‘Walk Closed’. Having got that far, we were not to be deterred and did the walk anyhow. There is a slightly precipitous bit at the end but it didn’t seem to be any worse than when we’ve been before. Reubens Falls is in a quite spectacular setting – a gorge shrouded with hanging strands of moss and huge tree trunks resting against the rocky walls. It is like something out of the Lost World. The flow was rather less than we’d seen before but we still had good fun clambering over rocks and timber, looking for fossils (there are usually several to be found there), skimming rocks and searching for fish. We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the car. Thank goodness I’d put a curry on in the slow cooker first thing in the morning.

Sean 'danger boy' at Reubens Falls

Luke, Katrijna and Tracy at Reubens Falls

Looking for fish

In the few days they have been here the boys have already helped Bronte tee into the pipe that comes from our weir at the top of our land and fix up a tap on a standpipe adjacent to the goat paddocks. Now I can access water easily rather than running a hose all the way up from the creek tap near to the house. They’ve also dug out the drain that runs across the bottom of the ‘veggie patch’ entrance, put in a pipe and covered it with gravel. During the winter it turned into a swamp through it which it was difficult to drive the Suzuki when getting hay from the shipping container.

The girls have helped me net-over the turkey run and wean the remaining young goats. Netting the turkey run was not as simple as it sounds. Given that there are several large wattle trees inside it and it is a big and unusually shaped run, it was just not possible to simply cover it in bird netting. Plus, I really wanted to be able to walk easily under it without having to duck. The answer was to string up a ‘ridge-line’ made from baling twine tied together which ran from high points at opposite corners and connected to the trees as far up as I could reach standing on a stepladder. This was then criss-crossed with fishing line from one side to the other – we used up over 1km of fishing line! Lastly, we ran home-made ropes all around the sides above head level to pull up the line where it came down to the top of the fence. It looks like a work of art! The sort of thing the Tate Gallery would pay a fortune for – maybe I should contact David Walsh at Mona!

We were then able to release the lone and forlorn peacock which had been in the goat float since before Christmas. I’d had to remove him from the main peacock run as he was being bashed up by the big male and threatened to put off the two sitting peahens. So far he appears not to have escaped from the turkey run and no crows have got in to steal eggs (not that there are any eggs!). The peacock is for sale on gumtree but it seems few people want a single male – although I did manage to sell his younger brother in December. The two peahens are both sitting on eggs although Narnie’s were due a week ago by my calculations so am not holding my breath. More success on the chicken front however, as a broody hen who’d hidden herself in the bracken in Henry’s pen hatched out 10 cute babies this morning.

Happy chickens (25 in total), moved from small peacock run into large newly-netted turkey run

We’ve got chickens everywhere now including in the now vacated goose pen. Before Christmas I made a ‘goose trap’ into which I drove the geese before catching them. It was rather a struggle as I had to crawl into it on hands and knees through the mud and poo while the geese squawked and flapped in general panic, then grab them one by one and stuff them into sacks for transport to the garage. I didn’t realise geese were so strong – I have bruises from wings and beaks and sharp webbed feet. The worse was still to come as I had to try and sex the young ones from this breeding season. It was all a bit unpleasant (for the geese and me) but we ended up with three ‘boys’ and seven ‘girls’, two of which I sold to a fellow blogger from Cygnet who also took some pork and poor William the turkey gobbler (plucked, gutted and halved). A couple of the geese expressed their displeasure with projectile poo!

Trapped geese

The ganders are now in the turkey pen and the girl geese in the main chicken run – the aim is for them to eat all the long grass. Prior to the move I was picking a sackful of dandelions for them each day. Interestingly, when I was poking about in the big chicken run recently, I finally set eyes on Beryl Bunny whom I released in there some weeks back. I was pleased to know she’s still OK and not lost or escaped. I’m expecting to see babies now!
We have been singularly unsuccessful with the turkeys for the past two years and are now back to just two hens. One hen died before Christmas – I think due to old age, as she was one of our originals from four years ago - and I finally put down the one who appeared to have some sort of hernia at her rear end. It was obvious she would never be any good for breeding or egg-laying and I was fed up with constantly cleaning her up and applying various creams and medications without success. One of the remaining turkey hens continued to be broody despite being relegated to the new turkey anti-brooder cage, but she finally relented recently – still no sign of any eggs however.
Weaning the young goats should have been a straightforward process. We’d already fitted them with new collars, trimmed their hooves and treated their feet. So we had only to catch them and put them in the goat float, drench them and transfer them to the weaning pen later in the day. However, it all turned out to be somewhat frenetic as inbetween times I had to collect the new WWOOFER who’d been dumped in a neighbouring village by the bus driver, get back and then get to the doctor’s re my hands. So when I parked the Suzuki and float outside the weaning pen I must have forgotten to leave it in gear. While Tracy and I were checking the pen to ensure the electric fence was all operational, I heard a sound and turned around to see the Suzuki rolling away with the goats. I ran out in panic but was unable to catch it before it had ploughed through the corner of a pig pen (thankfully unoccupied). It took the combined efforts of all of us to unravel the wire from the axle and remove a steel stake preventing me from reversing out – which I eventually did. I was somewhat stressed by the whole event and now have another fence to mend! Of course, Luke thought it was a great joke. 

Christmas was quiet and pleasant with just the three of us. Santa brought Luke a new bike with which he was greatly chuffed. It was funny really, as he wasn’t overly enamoured with the few bits in his stocking and sack at the end of his bed, but put on a brave face. Then he had a few nice things under the tree from us and relatives, but he was a bit put-out that I’d bought Bronte a secondhand Wii off e-bay. Then I suggested he get himself some clean socks from the airer in the TV room – Bronte and I quickly followed him with the camera and we heard “oh my god” from the door as he saw the bike covered in tinsel. I’m not sure how long the Santa myth will last as he noticed Santa had used the same wrapping paper that we’d used on other presents and also (what a cheek!) used tinsel off the tree to wrap around the bike. No flies on Luke. The bike seems so much larger than his old one which he’d hugely outgrown. A couple of days later Bronte and Luke went on a bike expedition down to the Grove Shop. I got a plaintive call about an hour and half later from just down the road to come and pick them up. They’d done well – got nearly all the way home, just before the really steep hills started.

Bronte demonstrating the Wii on Christmas morning

Luke in Christmas hat unwrapping prezzies

Shocked Luke!

Cycling boys on first outing with Luke's new bike

The Wii has been a huge success – but not with Bronte! Luke just loves it and there have been more rows over that than anything else. However, it’s proved its worth with the boys and WOOFERs who all take turns and run competitions on it in the late afternoon. It came with plenty of games – proper games rather than shoot ‘em ups – and it is quite tiring to use, so it’s not as bad as slumping in front of a computer game. I bought only gadgets for Bronte this year – he got an ipod for his birthday early this month. Tracy has set it all up for him and got the space and science shows onto it that I’ve been saving for him, but he’s not actually tried to listen to them yet! We went to the transport museum on his birthday. This is a real little gem, with loads of old trams, steam and diesel engines and even old tractors and rollers, with lots of information on early transport in Tasmania. We had a great time there but it was such a shame only one other person was there. It’s staffed by volunteers (one of whom turned out to be our old vet from Huonville) and terribly poorly advertised. We didn’t know about it all for the first 4 years we were here and there are no signs until you are finally at the gate.

Me in tram - head cut off by Luke!

Xmas dinner was as planned. I sacrificed the non-motherly goose from the year before, stuffed it with a small rooster, which was itself stuffed with homemade sausagemeat filled with garlic and all sorts of good stuff. It was all most yummy. This time we got a good lot of goose fat with which I roasted the potatoes. Afterwards I picked all the meat off the two birds, ran it through the new super-dooper electric mincer and then made sausages and burgers with it. We ate the burgers which were very tasty but an odd smooth texture rather like pate! I guess it’s because I was using cooked meat which broke down very finely. The sausages were relegated to the freezer – I’ll inflict them on the boys and WWOOFERS in the next week or two.
The new mincer proved its worth before Christmas. I deboned the whole front section of our last pig and ran through 8kg of mince and another few kgs of sausagemeat (with extra fat) in no time at all. If I’d had to do it by hand, it would have taken hours – and worn my arm out! The people who sold us the mincer also threw in a book of sausage recipes which was exceptionally kind of them given the unbelievably cheap price. With the sausage filler attachment we can shoot sausages out dead quick too. Hopefully with a bit of practice we’ll be producing tasty sausages instead of the slightly odd ones I’ve achieved so far. Other recent homemade produce has been of mixed success. The ham and bacon are really good, but the soap is a bit dubious. It works like soap but smells a little peculiar and the ones in which the honey isn’t properly amalgamated, turn the water brown (Luke says the water looks like wee).
We had a few social occasions before and around Christmas, mostly centred around Bronte’s work. We had a fun BBQ at the Waterworks, where Luke found a partner in crime to play with and to which Santa made a visit with named presents. Luke was quite over-awed! We were also asked to a BBQ over in South Arm, the other side of Hobart, which was similar fun. Luke again found friends to play with and we all played cricket and footie on their big lawn. Just after Christmas we had a surprise visit from an old chap – Ewan Thorpe – who used to live on our land up until he was 14 years old. He spent a couple of hours with Bronte reminiscing about the old times and showing photographs of homesteads long gone.
We had a major disappointment between Christmas and New Year from which we’ve not quite recovered. Just before Christmas we saw ‘for sale’ signs go up on the land adjoining us to the south and west belonging to one of our neighbours (who doesn’t talk to us presumably owing to our environmental convictions). We were very excited as we’d always wanted to extend our land across to the two roads that run alongside us as it seemed to make so much sense and would perhaps open up options for subdivision at a later stage. We put in an offer on that bit of land only, in the hope of a boundary adjustment, but were turned down. We then discussed it at length and went out right on a limb and decided to put an offer on the whole lot (60 or so acres on the market for a total of $379K). I went to see the bank and got the go-ahead and we spent two hours with the real estate man talking through the options before biting the bullet and signing a formal offer. Later that day the man rang us back to say his colleague had sold the land the day before and not bothered to tell him! We were absolutely gutted. It had been a major decision for us, we were really nervous but also terribly excited about the possibilities. I don’t think we could have moved any quicker but it went to a cash buyer within such a short time. We’ve since learnt on the rumour mill that it’s gone to an overseas buyer – possibly an investor – who we hope won’t just sit on it and allow it to go to rack and ruin.

Another 1000 piece puzzle completed over Christmas