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Friday 18 January 2013

There have been a few echidnas around in this dry weather & this
one totally perplexed Rosie and Bruce
I’m sitting in the ute outside Hastings Caves enjoying a wonderful few minutes of quiet, calm and rest. It’s still school holidays for Luke, so I’ve brought him and the two new WWOOFs down here for a bit of a treat. We picked up Luke’s little mate from Southport en route. He’s in Luke’s class at Huonville Primary but travels an hour each way from Southport because he didn’t get on well at Dover school (much closer to Southport). He’s a real sweetie and seems to think a lot of Luke – although Luke rather takes his friendship for granted.

Outside Hastings Caves

In thermal pool at Hastings Caves
Holidays are over for me and Bronte however. I went back to work Monday last week and Bronte went back last Thursday. He was obliged to take the Mon, Tues & Wed off to look after Luke as childcare didn’t start until this week. Work is still going well for me and thanks to the lady who has been transferring the role to me, I’m feeling fairly confident about most of it. Plus I’ve got to the age where I just don’t worry so much about making mistakes.
We had a great, if busy break. We spent much of it chopping fireweed and thistles on the land we’re buying alongside us. Neighbours have begun to wonder what we are doing on the land, although we’ve continued to keep quiet about it. It’s taking a tediously long time to complete. The solicitors took a long Christmas break and the bank also sat on our paperwork for 2 weeks before actioning anything. Only then did they think to ask for the certificate of title, which I posted ‘Express Platinum’ at vast expense, only for the bank to lose it on receipt. That's still the situation. We feel rather embarrassed (and very frustrated ourselves) as we said to the vendors that we were ready to complete quickly – we just hadn’t taken into account the length of time it would take 3rd parties to do their thing.
Christmas was fun. On Christmas Eve Bronte and I drew metaphorical straws to see who would take Luke for a bicycle ride and who would mow around the house. I got to go cycling which was infinitely preferable to mowing, apart from the stress of watching Luke and ensuring he didn’t veer in front of traffic or fall into a pothole. Despite my caution, he did steer off the road into a ditch on one occasion, but was luckily unhurt.
All the way down Crabtree Road to the local shop, he kept trying to scratch his head under his helmet. At the shop I made him take his helmet off and examined him – only to find he had nits! Not much we could do about it at that stage, it being 5pm. I said I would have to shave his head but he didn’t want to be bald for Santa Claus or for Christmas Day. So in the interim I spread tea-tree and citronella oil in his hair which effectively deterred the active nits. On Boxing Day morning we had a hair-cutting session on the deck – first Luke, then Bronte. I didn’t cut Bronte’s quite so drastically short. Luke looked like a chemo kid or a refugee from Belsen being so skinny and bony and bald.  A few days’ later Bruce got similar treatment, although not with the same clippers!

Very bald Luke!
On Christmas Day I cooked a big dinner of half a piglet stuffed with a young turkey. We’d planned to have goat but I was so tired a couple of days before Christmas, that I baulked at butchering a goat. The turkey was too young to die really, but one of my regular meat customers had pleaded for turkey. As they were still so small I planned to do 3 of them for her – but I’d only just started the third when she arrived to take them away. She seemed happy enough with her two overgrown ‘quail’ and we had the third. It was very tasty if somewhat minute. I sold 2 geese just before Christmas – I’m wondering how the chap got on plucking them. We’ve got 5 young goat wethers that we need to sell or butcher. I put an ad in last Sat’s paper and got one call but so far no sales. So I think I’ll have more luck selling them as meat. If I take them to the abbatoir however, I’ll hardly make anything – as there’s maybe only 10-12kg of meat on each, despite them being well grown. So I might gird my loins soon and try and do the smallest one for us and see how it goes.

We’ve also discovered a great new source of meat. The goose and bunny pen was becoming overrun with rabbits, so I stalked around the outside of the pen on one occasion and got 3 of the biggest young rabbits – and a 4th since then. I had a quick look on the internet and found a great UK blog about living off the land, which included detailed information on how to prepare rabbit. Skinning and gutting them turned out to be the easiest thing out. The skin comes off pretty much like pulling off a sock and gutting is quick and straightforward too. I soaked two in brine one night, then boiled them up in a simple stock the next morning. In the afternoon I picked off all the meat and made a lovely thick rabbit stew. I remember the things that put me off rabbit when I was young were all the bones, the fact that sometimes they’d be old and gamey, plus sometimes you’d crunch on lead shot. As mine were all head shots we didn’t have that issue. Everyone loved the stew so they might be forming a staple part of our diet in the future.
Not all has been rosy on the rabbit front however. The dogs have killed around 3 over the last couple of weeks. I mentioned that they (the bunnies, not the dogs) were chewing through the fish net and squeezing through the holes in the chicken wire. Out in the open they were easy prey for the dogs, which just couldn’t resist. There should be no more escapees now – I bought some aviary wire (much more than I needed in fact) – and the girls cut it in half lengthwise and stapled and fastened it with netting clips all the way around the bottom of the pen.
We had put Bertie, our lovely Rex buck, who had eczema or similar, back in the pen after we’d treated him and his fur had grown back. Then we heard a terrible squeal and it turned out that he was getting beaten up by one of the big white rabbits I’d bought as breeder does. I was immediately suspicious. Cindy & Lewis, who were still WWOOFing at the time, caught the white one and on inspection it turned out that ‘Bronwyn’ bunny was not a doe after all, but a buck. ‘Bronwyn the Bertie-Bunny-Beater’, I called it. So we caught Bertie again and put him in with the turkeys where he'd be safe and put ‘Bronwyn’ back to breed with Alice, the other white bunny. Bertie seemed pretty happy but foolishly ventured out one day and fell foul of the dogs. He was still alive when we rescued him but it was too late – the damage was done. Poor Bertie became pig food.
The peacock that was in the sick bay in the garage also died. I’m sure she’d been attacked by something as there were marks on her head. Despite me lancing her swollen wounds and treating her regularly with betadine, she continued to decline. Without something like a crop syringe I couldn’t get her to feed. She just showed no interest in all the little titbits I prepared for her. In the end, she was looking so miserable that I decided to put her down. Once again, the pigs benefited.
No luck getting peachicks this year. For one thing I think the male is too young, and secondly the crows and possums have been getting by my defences and nicking the eggs. Luke and I found loads of broken shells up in 2 of the goat paddocks where we were on fireweed patrol, plus we discovered holes that had been chewed through the bottom of the wire around their pen in a couple of places. I patched those up and I’ve made nest boxes for them (which a crow would be unlikely to go into), but I'm not sure it’s made a difference. I put a possum trap in there and we caught 4 possums almost on successive nights. The male peacock has now taken to getting out at nights – not sure where or why and he’s always desperate to get back in in the morning.
Returning, belatedly, to Christmas Day: Cindy and Lewis, who had left us for pastures new by then, came back for dinner and two pairs of neighbours came around in the afternoon. It had been planned that one pair would join us for dinner but we had a classic mix-up. We have Christmas dinner at lunchtime, or at least early afternoon, whereas they had thought ‘dinner’ would be in the evening. So we ended up with a huge load of meat, trifle and mince-pies which we had to plough through over the following few days. We all received some really nice prezzies. Luke and I bought Bronte a smartphone (which promptly stopped working and took nearly 2 weeks to get replaced), plus an audio book. They bought me perfume, a new camera (ours broke a few days before Christmas) and a great new leather knapsack-style handbag. Luke had loads of stuff including a 3D puzzle, a huge lego kit and several books (which he read at the rate of one per day).
For New Year, we decided to do something a bit different. Normally we go down to the Sandy Bay foreshore to spend an hour or two with one of Luke’s playmates of old who has her birthday 31 December. This time I booked us a little trip on a harbour boat, from which we could watch the fireworks close-up. It was really rather fun (if a little cold – Luke borrowed my coat leaving me exposed). The atmosphere on the waterfront was lively, with The Taste in full swing, a large cruise liner docked alongside, people visiting the harbour bars, buskers and various events on the parliament lawns. We even sat up and watched the Sydney fireworks on TV, although it all seemed rather unreal on the small screen, filmed from some distance. Overhead shots of rockets exploding looked more like giant lollipops. I’m sure it would have been spectacular to have been there in person.

It was Bronte’s birthday on 2 January. I was a bit embarrassed as most of the stuff I’d ordered off the internet: audio books, science books and a Tassie devil golf club-head cover, had not arrived. Also, we had a doctor’s appointment for Luke early that morning – to assess his asthma and his nervous fidgeting and night wakening. In the end the golf club cover arrived so we had something to give him, Luke made him a nice card and the two of them went off to the Glen Huon golf course in the afternoon. A little gruelling for Luke, but a chance for Bronte to try out the snazzy new driver that he’d bought online.
Last weekend we treated ourselves to a trip to the ‘Monster Trucks’ event at a small raceway near New Norfolk. It was a slightly bizarre but good fun occasion. We got to the track in plenty of time, but they decided to start half an hour later ‘to give people still on the road time to get there’! We ended up frozen, as the weather had changed and there was a terrifically cold wind. The monster trucks (4 thereof) were certainly quite spectacular and did lots of crunching over old cars and sometimes jumping fairly high. It was obvious however, that the owners were taking it easy – they didn’t want to damage a $4300K vehicle for the sake of entertaining us. But there were still some ‘wow’ moments. One – my favourite – broke down almost immediately. The highlight of the night was a jet van which roared around the track setting light to its jet plume. Once it got dark that was particularly appealing. We also had the Hilux precision driving team, which was pretty impressive. The whole thing went on far too long, but was still good entertainment. At the end there was a great fireworks display – pretty much the equivalent of the family fireworks in Hobart at New Year’s Eve.

Back on the farm, apart from weeding, the main activities have been starting to put in a new section of goat electric fence and getting our hay in – finally. The hay man waited until our grass looked quite parched before finally arriving – although the final bales looked better than we expected. This was the first year that Bronte was fully involved in hay-carting. It was a great help to have someone strong helping heave the bales onto the ute (although he muttered regularly about itchy arms). We had 425 bales and got them in over 2 days. I like to get it done on one day, but with just me and Bronte lifting them it was really quite tiring – and dusty and windy. Our new WWOOFer – Helen, a feisty 18-yr old from Austria – managed admirably to drive the ute around the paddocks for us, having never driven before in her life! It was a sterling performance. Afterwards I undressed on our bedroom deck and just left all my hairy clothes there for the following day. I confess I threw my t-shirt and socks out when all the hay was safely in as I just couldn’t face picking all the bits of grass out of them. It’s bad enough picking out all the pesky buzzies from socks and other clothing after every outing nowadays. I wear gumboots most of the time just to try and protect myself from attack.

The goat fence has become necessary owing to the solar-powered energiser suddenly deteriorating. I suspect there is nothing wrong with the panel, so I intend to put that on the battery powering the pigs’ little energiser. We’ve still got a smaller solar-powered one, but that is only suitable for small pens. I’ve decided to use an old mains-powered one from a farm-sale but that means running a low-resistance earth and live line from the house to the nearest point of the goat paddocks. I already had some underground cable from a garage sale so I’m going underground where it is too inconvenient to have live wires above ground. It’s partially complete but already the wallabies managed to tangle the wires up such that I could barely part them. Finding time to finish anything these days is a real struggle. I’m just too tired in the evenings after work to do anything much – and I don’t get finished with the cooking and dishes and packing up until 8.30 or later.
The most notable feature of the last month or so has been the unprecedented dry and hot weather. We’ve barely had 5mm of rain in the last four weeks. Also we’ve had many days in the high 20s (deg C) and one very hot day of 39degC (Hobart experienced a record 41.8 on the same day). Tasmania has had many bushfires – some of which have raged uncontrolled for weeks now. Luckily none ever threatened us directly, although one in the Midlands looked worrying for a time. We took the precaution of filling 44 gallon drums on the decks plus a couple of small paddling pools (which Luke and I jumped in after filling them with freezing creek water). For a few days we were totally shrouded in smoke. That and howling winds kept us tossing and turning at nights. The temperature has since cooled considerably and it is already feeling autumnal mornings and evenings. We’ve still had no rain to speak of however. The ground is dry and hard, the grass crispy, but we are still better off even than properties on the other side of the valley – let alone those around Hobart and the east coast. The only advantage of the dry weather is that we haven't had to mow for weeks!

Smoke haze over our land during the worst of the fires
(above and below)


Tens of thousands of acres of bush have been razed to the ground and many people have been left homeless particularly on the Tasman Peninsula, where residents and tourists alike were stranded as the highway was cut. That fire – sometimes termed the Forcett fire – still burns as does that up in the Midlands at Lake Repulse and another, even larger one over on the west coast in the world heritage area. The latter is apparently acting more as a fuel reduction burn, not affecting the canopy in any major way.
We currently have two WWOOFers, Helen, mentioned earlier and Bee a girl in her twenties from Taiwan. Helen is small and energetic, speaks English very well as she attended an International School for a time, laughs easily and gets on well with Luke. Bee, an artist busker, is gradually coming out of her shell but clearly struggles with the language. Her vocabulary appears to be reasonably good but she has trouble understanding what I say – I’m tending to rely on Helen for translation – and I often misunderstand what she says. Prior to these two, we had Natasha for a few days, a young American girl, who had to leave early owing to family problems back in the states. I liked Natasha, but she was quiet and rarely asked questions, which could make her an uneasy companion at times. I couldn’t fault her willingness to work however, despite her arriving on a 39degC day! Owing to having Little Athletics the following day, we went around the afternoon she arrived and fed and watered all the animals so we didn’t have to do them in the morning. That day I had been in Huonville all morning, shopping and visiting the doctors. After the animals I helped Bronte with the fire precautions and frankly by the time I got to sit down I think I was somewhat under the weather from heat exhaustion.



We’ve occasionally cooled ourselves down on the hottest days by going on creek runs – this entails walking down the creek fully clothed and jumping into the waterhole under the waterfall. It certainly has the desired effect as the water is icy!
Me and Luke part-way through a hideously difficult 2000-piece puzzle

Jigsaw completed - of course once I got to within about 100 pieces of the end
everyone suddenly wanted to get involved, so I didn't even get the satisfaction of putting the last few bits in!