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Friday 21 December 0212

Saturday 8 December 2012


Buttercups and greenery on our plot

Once again there seems to a million things to report and I’m not sure where to start!

On the farm front, we’ve been steadily losing baby turkeys – they are so feeble compared to young hens! This is despite the best care we can lavish upon them: eggs/ milk powder et al added to their chick crumbles to increase their protein allowance, ample quantities of chopped grass and dandelions, fresh hay and warmth. I’ve moved them outside now as despite only being 6 weeks old they had outgrown the 2 apple-bin brooders in the garage and the weather has turned much milder. They are in the old covered peacock run to protect them from eagle/ hawk predation. All 10 hens that hatched are still alive and fighting fit, whereas we are down to 14 turkeys. The geese are very hardy and have brought their goslings through wet weather and foul (no pun intended), such that the first lot look fully grown. I have orders for 2 turkeys and 2 geese for Christmas, although I doubt there will be much of a mouthful on the turkeys!

The rabbits are running amok, doing what they do best - breeding. I counted 8 young ones in the pen the other day. They had been running through the chicken wire and also digging their way out on occasions. We’ve put a stop to that by unfurling another enormous fish farm net and cutting a huge long strip from around the circumference and affixing it around the bottom of the fence. ‘Unfurling’ is easy to say, but in fact it was almost a whole day operation. To begin with we had to clear the scrap iron and other debris that was on and around it and then tow it to open ground with the Suzuki. Even the poor little Suzuki baulked on a couple of occasions. Once we started going downhill I half-worried that the net would overtake us and carry the Suzuki with it. Once in the middle of a paddock we used a combination of brute and Suzuki force to finally spread it out – it was enormous! We cut it with highly sharpened kitchen knives.

I keep saying ‘we’ – I mean me and our two Taiwanese WWOOFs (Cindy and Lewis), who arrived a couple of days after the American couple left. Nice though the latter were, I sighed with relief when they left. Who could guess that the American culture (at least as demonstrated via them) was so different to us, whereas we’ve had very few issues with people from Europe and Asia. For a couple that were apparently so broke, they had very expensive tastes, regularly making too much food and throwing stuff away, drinking cream instead of milk, butter instead of spread, fancy boutique beers instead of bog-standard Tassie stuff, Madam Savory Chai Tea instead of Twinings. Plus I really think now that they were just not into the WWOOFing thing at all. They didn’t want to learn and didn’t want to interact with us beyond eating and working. I think they just needed cheap accommodation whilst they sought work and applied for visas to enable them to stay longer.

Luckily the Taiwanese couple are the complete opposite! They are softly spoken, polite, helpful, keen to learn, listen to what they are asked to do and spend family time with us. They watch DVDs, do jigsaws and play board-games with us, build lego and play cars with Luke – and are currently outside testing a home-made water rocket! They are very good with Luke and we shall miss them when they go. They are due to leave us sometime in the second half of December, we don’t know when exactly as they’ve been told by an agent that he can get them a paying job cherry-packing and they must go to an induction in Campania on Tuesday. That will be a bit of a culture shock for them poor things. Here they can have breaks when they want and finish early if they’ve been working hard or the weather is wet or too hot.


With the WWOOFs, I’ve moved the goats into paddock no. 3 where the grass was quite long. They’ve pretty well eaten all the browse however, so the WWOOFs are cutting them willow, blackwood and some other nameless bush that they seem to like, on a regular basis. The last lot of hay I bought has turned out to be superfluous – they’ve not touched it since they’ve been moved. The next step will be to turn them into my big new one in which the blackberries and thistles have been growing back strongly. With a reduced herd and the 4 paddocks (plus the old bucks’ one that the pigs have been in), I feel like we have achieved a better balance. Two young wethers went to a chap last month who is going to fatten them up for Christmas. We shall probably have goat for Christmas too. The WWOOFs might still be here and we have invited our neighbours (for whom I used to work). It should be good fun – particularly for Luke who gets a bit bored when it’s just us!

Also on the farm front I have mostly been kept busy mowing and weeding. Again, these innocuous sounding words do not do justice to the difficulty of the actual job! Mowing around here is a mammoth task – apart from the fact that there is an awful lot to mow, it is mostly steep, rough banks along which I have to wrestle the mower. We try to keep a good sized area around the house mowed and tidy as well as a strip either side of the drive. That’s some job – the drive is 400m long! Some bits might be suitable for a ride-on but the hand mower would still be needed for most of it owing to the steepness, roughness and inaccessibility of much of what has to be mowed. We’re trying to do a particularly good job this year since it has already turned unseasonably hot and dry and there have been a number of bush fires in the vicinity. Luckily it is still pretty green everywhere, so we are not talking ferocious unstoppable canopy fires, but slow-burn undergrowth fires, that will actually do a good job in reducing the fuel load under the trees for the real bushfire time in the early New Year.

Weeding has also turned into a terrific task too. I am tackling some sort of fireweed hybrid. It was barely present when we first arrived but now runs rampant, particularly in wet areas and where it can grow in the shelter and shade of other plants, such as sedge and bracken. I’ve pretty well cleared 90% of the block now by starting at the topmost place we’ve seen it and working my way down and across. I’ve spent much of my time in large rock and blackberry-strewn seasonal creek gullies, no doubt snake-ridden too. No weed has been left unchopped – even when it appeared inaccessible! I’m now right at the bottom south-west corner of our plot, where it is very rough, steep and scrubby. Here the fireweed (or whatever it is called) is rife and it’s taking days to make headway. I’ve given up on the hoe and am pulling it up by hand, sometimes crawling through the bush to get under fallen trees and spiky bushes.

Example of the terrain I'm trying to weed

Rampant fireweed

My task is not going to get any easier in the future. For one thing I start a new job on Monday, and for the other, we have now exchanged contracts on a further 65 acres of land alongside us! Yikes. I am pleased to say that I got the 3-day/ week Projects and Executive Officer job that I applied for at the Hobart City Council, reporting to the Director of the Finance Division. I’m partly really excited because I feel I’ll be able to do a good job and I’m looking forward to having some money coming in! But I’m also feeling a bit nervous about how I shall fit everything in around it, what we’ll do about the dogs when we don’t have WWOOFs and what mornings and evenings will be like on work days – trying to get Luke organised and out of the house on time as well as poshing myself up for a day’s office work, and then cooking a meal, packing Bronte up etc on my return. Just have to see how it pans out. I’m particularly pleased that they have accepted my request that I finish work at 4.30pm with a half hour’s lunchbreak, that will give me or Bronte a better chance of picking up the bear at a decent time from after school care and make life a bit easier all round.

In order to commute these 3 days a week we’ve invested in a little Suzuki Swift. It’s a 2006 model, with only 60,000kms on the clock and in excellent condition. It’s a bluey-steel-grey and has a huge number of safety features and a 5-star ancap rating (it’s the S model with all the extra airbags). The only downside is that there seems to be a load of similar cars on the road, but that’s just a snob thing! It’s got a really revvy engine and scoots around like a motorised skateboard. So we are now a 3-Suzuki family! How bizarre. Maybe I should write to Suzuki and offer to do a promotion for them.

The land alongside us came up completely out of the blue. Back at the beginning of the year we were sunk in the blues after missing out on it when our neighbours sold up. However, we kept enquiring about it and rang the estate agent a couple of times after it was sold to say that we were still interested in buying the 10 acres that wraps around our bottom corner so as to align our block with roads on those 2 sides. One evening I received a phone call from the lady who had purchased it. We were pleased to find that the couple appear to be very amicable and to share many of our environmental values. She had rung just to introduce herself and apologise for not having been to see us  - which was very thoughtful. They are now based on the mainland. During that conversation I mentioned that we had put in an offer on the land ourselves only to find out that it had sold the day before - and we also discussed the issue of weed control.

Following that conversation we swapped contact details by e-mail and then suddenly out of the blue – again – the chap telephoned to ask if we were still interested in buying it! We were pretty stunned and it sent us into a flurry, but we were very keen to take up the opportunity. The result is that we have agreed a price and exchanged contracts a few days ago. Barring disaster we should settle in a few weeks.

Some of the land we are buying
Saturday 14 December 2012

I didn’t manage to finish our news in the last post. Bronte had a brush with royalty recently, having come almost face to face with Prince Charles in Salamanca during part of his recent flying visit to Tassie. Despite Australia’s republican pretensions, there is still quite a lot of affection for the royal family, so it was nice to see the visit well attended.

We’ve been out and about a few times. The Huon Show was fun as usual. I entered some of my crochet items and Luke entered the 8-and-under flower arranging class. He was awarded ‘best exhibit’, and several firsts and seconds! He was thrilled. In addition, he won a Smurf board-game which we’ve all been enjoying. I did rather less well, getting one first and 4 second places. However, I am determined to up my game! I raided the second-hand shops recently and bought a load of jumpers – both factory and hand-made. I’ve finally unpicked them all and am embarking on some new projects. I’ve started with a simple scarf using a lacy stitch and a blobby yarn that probably wouldn’t be suitable for other projects. I also plan shawls, socks, hats and waistcoats. I’ve noticed recently that little lacy waistcoats appear to be back in fashion. The long term plan is to build up a load of stock and then put it all on

I took the WWOOFs to a farm clearing sale in Ranelagh. They were amazed, having never seen anything like it before! We came back with a good haul of stakes for Bronte’s trees – never mind that I paid nearly as much as from a sawmill!

We all went to a barbecue for Bronte’s work and the following night Bronte took Luke to the Hobart Aquatic Centre where they put on a party for kids including a floating assault course, large waterslides and an outdoor barbecue. Luke had a great time – and considering he was apparently suffering from a mysterious illness only the day before and had a day off school, he coped with the activity and late nights extremely well. I found it somewhat tougher having weeded and mowed during all the spare moments inbetween. I suspect Luke was actually suffering from some form of heat exhaustion as the day prior to his illness had been awfully hot and he’d spent the day tearing around as usual.

Cheeky kookaburra at Bronte's work's BBQ
We celebrated my new job and our imminent (touch wood) ownership of the neighbouring land, in a very modest way, by taking the WWOOFs and ourselves for a Chinese meal in Huonville last Saturday. The food was all completely unfamiliar to the WWOOFs surprisingly! I suppose it has all been Australianised.

We’ve been on a few local adventures, tramping down our creek to the waterfall on one occasion and exploring the land alongside us. Crabtree Rivulet runs through part of it making it very scenic and attractive to wander through. Luke said we had to buy it because it was ‘awesome’.

Me and Luke had two attempts to have a bonfire up in one of the goat paddocks, where a large quantity of sticks had built up from browse cut for them on various occasions. The first time, we built a fire and started trying to light it, only to realise that it was directly on top of the polyethylene pipe that comes right down across our land from the weir at the top of our land to our neighbour below us! In a panic we managed to roll it away from the pipe, but it nearly finished us off. At one point I ended up rolling on top of it with fire beneath and diesel soaking into my t-shirt! It then poured with rain and we took shelter in the hay dispensers! I wished I’d had a camera as I looked across at Luke lying flat in the hay in his shelter. We gave up the fire on that occasion and when we next tried, the weather had changed completely and it was hot, dry and windy. We built a huge fire, chucked on diesel and lit it. It was like a roaring inferno! This time, we’d deliberately built it on all the old hay and dung left by the goats. The heat was so intense, it burnt through the hay to a reasonable depth, despite it being so wet underneath that it squelched when walked upon. What is left will make fabulous fertiliser – all that goat poo and potash!

Murphy is well and spends much of his time in the warm weather we are currently experiencing, crouching alongside the goose and bunny pen watching ‘cat-TV’. He has become an outdoor cat for a change. The weather has been unseasonably hot over the last couple of weeks, not just hot but with clear skies making it uncomfortable working outside. When the sun is so fierce it is a relief to come back indoors.


In the last week we’ve released the goats into the big new paddock where they have blackberries, thistles and blackwood to munch upon, as well as fresh grass. I’ve continued with my weeding and feel that I can see light at the end of the tunnel at last (except for the 65 acres we’re in the process of purchasing!). Also, of course, I had my first week at work! It went very well despite there being so much to learn, so many people to meet and buildings like warrens to find my way around. I really feel it is something I can get my teeth into. When I rung Mum on Wednesday evening (having first put myself to bed at 7.30pm I was so tired), she said that Bridget had noted that there was no smoke or fireworks reported over Hobart. Don shouted and asked if I’d got the Council organised yet – Mum said ‘not yet, but she’s working on it’. I think my family have all got the wrong idea about me!

We went on our work Christmas outings on Wednesday. I had my first management meeting early in the day, followed by a tour on a double decker bus around Hobart, followed by lunch at a pub in Salamanca. I was even given a box of choccies from Secret Santa. It was only a pity that I was too tired from the first two days to fully appreciate it. The only real fly in the ointment is that it is currently costing $22/day to park! I shall call the parking man next week and see if there is some other option.

Luke’s still going great guns at both Little Athletics and Milo Cricket. Bronte is not quite as chuffed since he hates being an official, especially when it involves organising the under-8 boys! We went to the Domain in Hobart last Saturday for which we had to leave at 7.45am. Luke finally finished his events at 1pm. He never does so well at these multi-team events, perhaps he gets somewhat overawed (or it might be that he spends so much time pratting around that he doesn’t concentrate when it comes to his turn). He missed last week’s Milo cricket Christmas party last Sunday owing to the Domain event. However, today he and Bronte went to the second day of the Australia vs Sri Lanka first test at Bellerive stadium on the eastern shore. Lots of little Milo cricketers attended and flooded onto the pitch at lunchtime to entertain the crowd by trying to hit soft cricket balls into the crowd. Luke had a great time despite the rain which also washed out Little Athletics this morning. We were jolly glad of the rain, which has so far kept coming at just the right time and in just the right amounts to keep us green and fire-free.

Luke winning the 100m

Milo cricketers at Australia vs Sri Lanka test match, Hobart
I went to Luke’s Xmas assembly on Thursday – luckily it was postponed from the Tuesday. The grade 1s and 2s did a strange Aussie Christmas song called ‘Santa Koala’. I know I’m a bit of an old fuddy-duddy but I do wish they’d stick to something a bit more traditional. Even Luke wasn’t impressed saying why would we need a Santa Koala when the real one can do all the world – and besides a koala wouldn’t be able to do it anyway! Out of the mouths of babes ..


Friday 21 December 2012


The 'Sedgefield' putting course!

Bronte on recent works' golfing trip

Bronte's golf practice net - in the 'veggie patch'

I’ve got Luke home today – his first day of the holiday. He’s already coughing. He nearly aways gets some illness when on holidays or whenever some special event is coming up. He’s got Little Athletics tomorrow followed by the Christmas Party (which always involves a lot of water). Hope he copes alright and doesn’t come down with anything awful just in time for Christmas. Our WWOOFers leave us tomorrow, apparently to stay with a friend in Hobart. They will come back for Christmas Day and then start their cherry-packing job soon thereafter. Life is going to be somewhat harder when they have gone. I shall have to see to the animals as well as trying to keep up with mowing, weeding, house and Luke stuff. And I’ve barely even begun to paint the outside of the house, which is the next major job to be done.

We’ve had a most productive day so far. Luke and I have trimmed Bruce (much to his disgust), in order to get all the matted buzzies off and to try and make him cooler and less buzzie susceptible. His combination of thick soft fur and short legs is the worst for buzzies. Rosie barely gets any on her forays. This morning the entire laundry floor and Rosie’s bed (Bruce must have pinched it in the night) were covered in buzzies that Bruce had picked off himself in the night. Buzzies, if you have not guessed, are small burrs that grow at ankle level (just the right height for sticking to socks and shoe laces). They are particularly prevalent where the wallabies graze the grass really hard.

We’ve also relit a stump fire that we first lit yesterday. There is an old wattle stump just past our second tractor crossing - right in the way when you go down the bottom of the plot in a vehicle. It’s hollow, so we drilled a couple of holes right through to the centre near the base to let in air, then put in sticks and diesel and lit it. Bronte and Luke took a bucket last night and put it out with dam water. Despite burning for several hours it doesn’t seem to have had much effect. It is of course, bush-fire season, so we have been careful to keep the area around the stump cleared and to ensure any fuel added is right in the hollow. We’ll go back later and put it out again. Getting rid of it this way could be a long (but fun) process.

Before that I clipped all the goats’ hooves – and have 2 large blisters on my fingers for my pains. The WWOOFs and Luke caught the goats and treated their hooves (these day I always treat them with a dilute zinc sulphate solution just in case foot-rot bacteria is present), whilst I did the hooves. Not so long ago that was an all-day or several day job – now with the reduced herd size it took very little time. We were back in the house at 11.30 for an early lunch. We plan to walk the electric fence this pm. It’s not been working for an age but I can’t figure out why (and luckily the goats don’t notice).

We’ve had 2 animals in the sick bay in the garage for a while. Poor Bertie the bunny came in with mange (or similar) with raw scabs and itchy places and very little fur. We treated him with zinc cream for a few days and then with olive oil to remoisturise the skin and kill any little bugs that might be living on him. Very rapidly he’s healed up and his fur is all growing back. He went back outside yesterday. All our efforts to put net up around the bunny pen has been a waste of time – the rotten little creatures are chewing their way through it! Each day the WWOOFs have to mend the latest holes. Rosie caught a young bunny outside the pen the other day and luckily it was still alive when the WWOOFs retrieved it and returned it to the pen. The only answer will probably be aviary wire.

The other casualty is one of our female peacocks – probably Little Pea whom we bred here. She’s had a swelling around one eye which has caused her eye to be affected and half-shut. She’s also quite thin. I reckon either a possum or another bird has scratched her. Possums are still getting in there and wrecking the self-feeder on a regular basis and I have seen the turkey and peacock girls scrapping from time to time – although it has never seemed serious. I opened up the swelling with a scalpel and rinsed it out with betadine and put anti-bacterial eye drops in her eye. She’s looking much better but I’m still concerned she’s not eating. Unfortunately there is little I can do to force her to eat.

The weeding is still not entirely complete but I’m almost there. I went down to finish it yesterday and got distracted en-route by all the small weeds which have shot up over the last two weeks while I’ve been concentrating on the most infected areas. It may be a lost cause. Next we need to go en-masse to attack the enormous scotch thistles which are sprouting all over the land we are purchasing. The WWOOFs walked the public road between the paddocks and got all the ones on the verges, but now we need to hit the rest before they seed. On the land front, things have been delayed by slowness on the part of our solicitors and now the Christmas break. No hope of completing before the New Year now.

Bronte and Luke have got the Christmas tree and random decorations (mostly lights) up in the house and it all looks very festive, although I still can’t feel Christmassy in summer. Got a full agenda up until Christmas Day. After Little Athletics tomorrow, I have to prepare 2 turkeys for a regular buyer, then on Sunday someone is coming to take 2 geese – and I have to slaughter a goat for Christmas Day. I decided today which one would go and saved myself the effort of doing his hooves! Monday will be present-wrapping and trifle and mince-pie making day. Our neighbours are making deserts for Christmas Day dinner but since I don’t know what they are making I want to make sure there’ll be some of our favourites!


Some jigsaws we've done with the WWOOFs

Luke with a small part of his paper plane collection!

Wild hogs