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Tuesday 26 February 2013

The most notable thing about the last few weeks has been the extraordinarily dry and hot weather we’ve experienced. Some reports suggest it has been hottest, driest summer in Hobart for 100 years. Almost every day has been hot and sunny, with many days approaching or exceeding 30°C. More unusually, there has been little or no cloud cover. Even on what might be considered quite mild days in Europe, it can feel scorching here in the full sun. We’ve had two brief bursts of rain, around 15mm each time – but with a month between them. Our land is still dry and straw-coloured. The bones of the earth are showing through in the valley and grazed fields are desertified. Everywhere looks shabby and tired. Finding green food for the bunnies is trying. I’ve been stopping by the side of the road pulling milk thistles for them whilst the WWOOFs have been foraging down by the creek and around the pig pens to find green grass. Remarkably while we swelter, other parts of Australia have been deluged by flooding rain.

We’ve been awfully lucky on the fire front. The big Molesworth fire to the north-east of us proved difficult to control, acting in an unpredictable manner. During the fire’s worse period, the wind was persistently blowing it on a parallel course to us. By the time the wind turned to blow from the north-east, the fire was well under control. They threw everything at the fire, both because it threatened to approach Hobart and also because it was proving difficult to contain. We’ve heard helicopters almost continually over the past weeks – only easing over the last couple of days. Excavators appeared at our end of Jeffreys Track and - via a conversation with the manager of the Wellington Park Management Trust- we’ve learned that a huge amount of work has been undertaken on the fire-trails, including Jeffreys and the East-West Track. We’re keen to get up there and see the changes now. Apparently 5m of bush has been cleared on either side and the track itself has been upgraded to some degree. It must look an awful mess at the moment.

In order to relieve the heat, we’ve been on a few trips down the creek, tramping through the water fully clothed and jumping into the waterhole below the waterfall. I still can’t quite bring myself to jump off the high level. The water is so cold it literally sucks the breath from you, leaving you gasping with the shock of it. Once you get used to it though it feels wonderfully refreshing. Poor Luke, having no flesh on his bones, shivers uncontrollably when he gets out. On the last trip, Bronte spotted a little crayfish. Neither he nor Luke would pick it up, so I scoffed at them and picked it up myself only to get a real nip on my finger from its sharp little pincers. I couldn’t imagine how a 3” creature could be so strong! It was great to finally see a crayfish (yabbie) in the wild.

Things have been busy on the farm despite the heat. Now we have 130 acres of land to tend, most of our spare time is spent weeding. The WWOOFs and us have made many forays down the road to cut docks and chop thistles and fireweed in a race against time before they seed. We managed to deal with the bulk of the weeds, but a great deal of fireweed remains along the creek. Now that it is all seeding, we’ve given up for this year. The goats consumed many bags of docks boding well for their weed-clearing abilities when we can erect goat-proof fencing around all these new areas. A neighbouring farming family have been asking about agistment, so we’ve relented and written an agreement that we hope they’ll approve and sign. They’ve already got some cows on there looking bemused at suddenly having food in their paddock. There’s no doubt that the extra money would help plus it would be good to get the paddocks cleared of some of the long grass.

Our house from top of new land
Previous photo taken from top corner of this hill on our new land



A few weeks back me and the WWOOFs had a major bird-catching, moving and culling day. We caught all except the big gobbler (Clive) and the handful of layer hens. The peacocks were moved back into their covered pen – smaller than the turkey run but at least they have it all to themselves. They didn’t get on well with the turkeys and were often fighting. All the young turkeys and hens were moved out of the covered run, sexed as accurately as was possible at the time and separated into girl and boy pens. The older turkeys were culled – we’ve since eaten the breast meat which was yummy and the pigs got the carcasses.

Rather than culling the old breeding geese, we moved the four females down to the small dam, where they seem blissfully happy. They’ve since migrated to the large dam and seem not to need or want the bowls of wheat we’ve taken down to them periodically. The old gander (Arthur) has been penned with three young geese that we hope are females! It is so difficult to tell the difference – it’s a most undignified experience for both me and the geese. The geese have been most vocal since the move, so I hope I’ve not included another male in the group. The remaining four young males were killed for the freezer. Again, I just skinned them as it is so quick and easy compared with plucking them. In a couple of months we shall have to do the same with the roosters and the young male turkeys. At some stage we need to source a new rooster for the hens – we definitely need to introduce some new blood. I’d like a nice big black Australorp like we had once before.

Clive and his harem are constantly haranguing the males on the other side of the fence. So much so that I asked the WWOOFs to put up weed mat along the fence such that they can’t see each other. Generally, it is out of sight out of mind where the birds are concerned.

We might have a few new cheepers soon. I found 5 eggs a while back in the turkey run, with no idea how long they’d been sitting there nor whether they’d already been set. They were also filthy dirty. I wiped them gently and put them in the incubator without too much hope. Candling them after a fortnight was inconclusive. But I’m pleased to say that tonight I notice two of them have pipped and there was a tiny cheep from one. I’m due to pick up a new heat lamp bulb tomorrow, so that’s what’s called Just-in-Time delivery.

We had a spate of attacks on the feeder in the turkey run, so we reinstated the possum trap. Each night for a fortnight the apple would disappear but we’d have an empty trap. Some nights the trap had been triggered, others not. We’d already put a lid on the top with rocks to prevent any creature just reaching through the mesh and taking the apple. Now I cut a lump of hardboard to extend the plate such that anything entering the trap couldn’t fail to trigger it. We kept harassing Bronte to set up our tiny infrared camera so we could spot what was going on. (The last time Bronte set up the camera with a wallaby as bait, the only image he captured was him approaching the camera in the morning to turn it off – this despite the wallaby having been dragged some metres away.) Finally we got lucky and caught a grizzled wily old male possum. That was the breaching of the dam, because we subsequently caught a possum on each of the next four nights! The first one must have been keeping the others away.

We lost our nice Austrian and Taiwanese WWOOFs some weeks ago. Helen the Austrian stayed a few days longer and we were most glad of her services to look after Luke on her last day here. I discovered the Friday before the week Luke was due back at school that the Monday was a so-called ‘pupil-free’ day and there was no childcare available. Neither Bronte nor I could take the day off at such short notice, particularly as Bronte was beginning a stint covering for the Stormwater and Waterways Manager. We asked Helen to stay that extra day and paid her for the responsibility. That evening Luke and I drove her to her new hosts over near Cygnet. Poor Helen burst into tears when we left her and then Luke cried all the way home and cried himself to sleep in bed. I think he was half worried about Helen and half anxious about going back to school (new year, new teacher) the following day. It’s funny how these WWOOFs all seem pretty self-sufficient and independent and then when there’s an incident such as this, you remember that they are actually pretty young and a long way from home and family. I’m pleased to say that we’ve since had a brief e-mail to say that she’s fine and has settled in well.

We then had two American sisters join us for nearly a month. We were somewhat wary prior to their arrival after our last experience of American WWOOFs. But they completely belied our expectations, turning out to be two of the nicest people you could meet. They were friendly, cheerful, unfailingly helpful and polite and willing workers. They were also both very good-looking, intelligent girls with extraordinary blue eyes! They have totally restored our faith in the American people, especially after they told us of the great charity works undertaken by their parents. All we can say is that they are a real credit to their family and they brought a sparkle to the household whilst here.

Now, we have two Swedes – whom I first made the mistake of assuming were a couple! First night I had to hastily make up a mattress on the floor in the WWOOF room. They both seem very personable and friendly with great English. They will be perpetually in my good books by offering to cook on the nights I work. It always seemed such a chore to come home after a tiring day at work and then have to turn around and cook a meal for 5 people. The last two nights we’ve been waited on hand and foot – wow! I hope the weather isn’t going to turn really bad for them. It’s actually been a little colder today and it’s begun to drizzle, with more rain forecast for tomorrow.

The American WWOOFs showed their inner mettle by assisting at the killing and butchering of our remaining four wether goats. The whole thing was quite unstressful for the goats, but the opposite for me. I get rather anxious before killing bigger animals such as goats and pigs, as I can’t bear the thought of making a mess of it. However, it was all quite successful. I did two a couple of weeks ago and started rather late in the day. It took much longer than I planned to do the skinning, gutting and butchery. I’d sold the goats as halves (ie cut lengthwise) but had underestimated the difficulty of cutting a goat along the spine! I did those first two with the circular saw! It worked pretty well cutting most of the way through, and I used the little tomahawk to finish the job. The only problem was that the circular saw has quite a wide kerf so it removed a couple of mms of meat and bone which mostly ended up as a sort of meat mush inside the guard of the saw! Good job Bronte didn’t see that before I cleaned it all up.

Having just finished the goats I flew off in a hurry to get Luke from the bus stop. I was perhaps a minute later than usual. I waited for the bus – waited and waited, until I got really quite worried and drove up the road to ask some builders whether they’d seen the school bus. They said it had been and gone just before I got there. At this point I really started to get in a state. My first thought was that maybe a neighbour had picked him up and that I’d somehow missed them as I drove down. So I shot back home making phone calls en route to school and neighbours. I spoke to Luke’s teacher who said he couldn’t recall him getting on the bus! Childcare said he hadn’t gone there by mistake. A neighbour (they of the cows) said he’d definitely been on the bus. I tore back down to the bus-stop thinking perhaps he’d gone down to the creek to play or wandered off somewhere. Then back home again for more phone calls. School finally informed me that the bus driver had taken him back to the depot! I was furious. As I started down the road, I realised I had little or no diesel and daren’t risk going to fetch Luke and breaking down. So I had to race back home again and leap into the work Suzuki. I’m afraid I rather let rip at the poor lady bus driver and had to go cap in hand to apologise the following morning.

That evening, Luke and I continued our rounds goat-delivering – somewhat later than planned. The first lady gave me a sweet mug of tea and I started to recover. Could have done with a few drops of brandy however!

The second set of goats were despatched and delivered without significant trauma thank goodness. There was one funny moment when we’d hung the just-killed goats up under the tractor shed and – as I drove the ute away – there was a scream from Erica, one of the Americans. It turned out that the rope holding one of the pulleys had broken and a dead goat had practically fallen on her! She was quite shocked, thinking the goat had come alive! Amanda and I found it highly amusing. We’ve since had reports from some of our meat customers praising the quality of the meat, which is most satisfying.

We’re down to just 13 does now, which is a nice manageable number. They still seem capable of eating a vast amount of food. We’ll have a break from breeding this year – both to give the girls a rest and to give me a break from all the stress and work that accompanies kidding.

Other farm activities have included spraying around some of the electric fences. Despite the dry weather, grass and weeds were coming through sufficiently vigorously for something to be done. I staggered around what seemed like miles of fenceline with the heavy knapsack sprayer on a horribly hot day in full sun. Felt like I had heat-stroke afterwards.

I’ve finally finished my connecting goat fence between the house and the nearest corner of the pens. The solar energiser has been disconnected and now all the goat paddocks are running off a mains energiser. I’m not hugely satisfied with it however, since the fences only seem to be operating at 5,000V, whereas the goats really need 7,500 or more. I spotted an 80km second hand one on eBay, but managed to miss the end date to my disgust. I am purchasing a small unit from the north of Tasmania off Gumtree, since it comes with a 300 x 900mm solar panel, which on its own would normally set you back several hundred dollars. I thought we could use that on parts of the new land, where we can’t get to with mains power.

Luke is enjoying school now he’s been back for a while. He’s got two very nice teachers who share the days between them. The chap has the most extraordinarily hairy neck! I keep trying not to stare on the few occasions I’ve met him. I’m still not convinced whether Luke’s actually learning anything! He’s been doing awfully well at Little Athletics and is now the proud under-8’s record holder for both high jump and turbo-jav (a sort of chunkier, shorter javelin that can’t kill anyone). The high jump record was 103cm. One week Luke jumped 104cm and the following week he jumped 110cm – pretty impressive. He looks like a great gangly spider leaping over the bar. He’s been very diligently practising the turbo-jav at home after Bronte made him a wooden one the same weight as the ones they use for the proper events. He started off quite badly, but after watching a few YouTube videos of javelin throws he picked up the technique very quickly. The record was around 19.6m and Luke threw it – into the wind – 20.5m.

This Saturday will be the last of the 3-week long end-of-season championships, which will be followed by a presentation day a couple of weeks later. Luke came perilously close to missing all of the championship events, after throwing a stone which hit one of the other kids on the side of the head. I don’t know the full story and suspect it was blown up out of proportion, but nonetheless we were mad at him. He’d been in trouble before for stone-throwing and generally being stupid at Little Athletics events and we’d repeatedly told him not to do it. We didn’t know anything about the incident until Luke 'fessed up to Bronte on the way home and said he’d been told off by the kid’s mum and also the president of the club. The result was that Luke had to follow the president around at the next meet and help him, as a punishment. It rather subdued the rest of the under 8’s too (they are all as bad as one another).

I’ve mentioned before how we’ve had Luke coming in night after night to our room complaining of nightmares, of being scared or not being able to sleep. Whoever heard of an 8-yr old unable to sleep? We began to get on top of things with a star chart whereby he would get a prize if he managed a certain number of nights in a row without disturbing us. But then that stopped working and we had a re-think. Now when Bronte and I go to bed, Murphy goes on guard duty in Luke’s room. Luke and I have bought him a nice little house (actually a litter house but nice and cheap), a gourmet feeding area, litter tray and extra bag of food. That really has made a difference. I think we’ve only had one visitation since Murphy’s been in there. Murphy seems to be taking it in his stride and actually I think he will be thankful once winter sets in as we keep Luke’s room heated overnight owing to his asthma. It only took one night for Murphy to learn he had another food bowl and litter tray – he often goes downstairs now to partake of both! Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for him to puke the food up on Luke’s floor afterwards.

We’ve really not been out and about very much and feel a little guilty for not taking the Americans to any nice tourist spots. Frankly we’ve had too much to do here and we’ve welcomed a rest when our jobs are done. We did take Luke to a birthday party – that of the unlikely named ‘Neptune’ who is somewhat manic company. All those little herberts together looked set to be riotous, so Bronte and I left Luke in the capable hands of the Kingston Gym (where the party was held) and snuck off for a quiet meal together. Unfortunately Bronte chose MacDonalds rather than a little cafĂ© with a pleasant ambience, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was a beautiful day so we dropped the Americans off at Kingston Beach before the party and spent a bit of time there with them afterwards.

We also went along to the Wooden Boat Festival and frankly I wouldn't bother going again. You've really got to be a boat nut to get much out of it. And if you are a boat nut you would love it because there was nought but boats as far as the eye could see! Bronte was happy looking at all the Thames Barge lookalikes and while I might admire the craftsmanship I just couldn't get excited. I'd hoped there would be plenty of other entertainments for me and Luke. There was a fair, but that meant another car ride and parking and we were already tired and fretful!

The best bit of the Wooden Boat Festival for me was a great little band playing in the open air.
A blue-painted guy came and stared at them rather disconcertingly

Many liners have visited Hobart lately - this one was there for the
Wooden Boat Festival

A 'pirate' ship - mine and Luke's favourite boat
One of the slinky Sea Shepherd boats was there for the Wooden Boat Festival

I’ve been pretty busy at work and it has started to feel rather stressful. I’ve had to organise a big meeting and workshop and was keen to do the best I could, despite my general aversion to workshop facilitation. Had rather a disappointment today when all my hard work was ignored, as managers changed things around. This came on top of an increasing workload and one of my archive areas (about which I’d felt so pleased after a major tidying session) being reported as a health and safety ‘near miss’ incident. So not a good week all in all. Shall try to put it all behind me and just continue to do the best I can.

In the evenings I’ve been undergoing peg bag therapy. Mine fell to bits a few weeks back and I’ve cobbled a new one together with some soft blanket material I found. I’d rather thought it would be a one-night project, but instead I’ve got hooked on embroidering it. While I’m tinkering we have to hang out the clothes with the pegs in an old plastic honey pot. Still haven’t finished beautifying the scarf I was crocheting but have lost enthusiasm for it. Have also had to get a whole new load of school jumpers for Luke and sew on the school badges. Mind you, you can’t go wrong at just $8/ jumper from Target (my new favourite shop) .I now have the idea of making him some trousers and shorts, since he’s bound to have outgrown all his trousers and his too-short shorts make him look like a skinny orphan.

I’ve been trying to hunt down leotards or ‘bodysuits’ that I can wear under blouses and can’t come untucked. Have had no success – the XL (size 12/14!) ones I ordered off the internet were around 2” too short, much to my disgust. Have now bought several very long tank tops in the Harris Scarfe sale ($9 each) and intend sewing them to my knickers! Not sure how well this will work, but since I safety-pinned my ‘hold up’ tights to the bottom of my knickers for work recently, I’m willing to try! Have picked up a few more blouses from one of the Huonville op shops. Amazing what you can get for next to nothing.

Had to chortle on my way home from work yesterday. You’ve probably seen those little white stick family figures that people put on the back of their cars. The sticker I saw was similar but featured a jacked-up 4WD in silhouette with a little stick family in front. The slogan was ‘RUN STICK B*ST**DS’. It appealed to my warped sense of humour.

Above and below: photos taken during hay-making early Jan.
We've only just worked out how to extract them from Bronte's
smartphone - it's too smart for us!

Bruce being sheared to help him cope with the hot weather

Bald kid after Christmas with his Auntie Bid's present of Transformer pyjamas

Above and below: Luke's creations