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Saturday 13 April 2013

I’m sitting here in our cosy lounge with a glowing fire and fresh air blowing in through open windows. The curtains are billowing and the air from outside smells damp and clean. As usual once Bronte made a decision to plant some trees, it immediately started to rain. He persevered for two hours returning damp but triumphant having planted 4 new ones. It takes so long because each one has to be fully protected with plastic sleeving – and new compost dug into the hole. When in the throes of curry preparation I noticed my duvet cover was hanging on the wet grass, so I suppose that will need to be re-washed tomorrow.

I could be sitting in our “awesome” new office. We’ve finally taken the plunge and moved the computer, desk and filing cabinet into what used to be the TV room (hah – that didn’t last very long) and are in the process of turning the ‘old’ office into a spare bedroom. We’ve talked about it for a while – once we got the WiFi modem it became possible to access internet anywhere in the house - but the move was finally prompted by having said ‘yes’ to 3 WWOOFers and needing the extra sleeping space. Luke's christened it "awesome".

Moving the desk and computer was the easy bit. I had then to sort all the books in the old bookcase (all the shelves were piled high), Bronte’s folders, books elsewhere around the house and the contents of the filing cabinet. We bought a couple of rather industrial looking black metal bookcases from Mitre 10 having drawn a blank at the furniture shops. We needed adjustable shelves to fit lever arch files and different-size books. Despite being cheap they look rather smart. The only thing that remains to be done is shortening the curtains, which now hang onto the desk.

While the room had been out of action it had gradually turned into Luke’s playroom and junkroom. So before anything could be moved we (I) had to have a major clear-out of Luke’s stuff. Luke and I emptied the toy-cupboard in the neighbouring dining room and despite Luke’s protestations I chucked most of the contents away. What didn’t fit in there, was taken down to Luke’s room. On Friday, Cynthy (our new WWOOFer) and I cleared out Luke’s room – filing 4 huge secondhand-shop bags – and chucking another bagful in the rubbish. Amazingly, we got all his books off the floor and onto shelving, all the boxes of jigsaws in the cupboard out of site and even ended up with spare shelf space. While at it, we scrubbed, hoovered and changed his sheets. It looked great when we’d finished.

As usual we’ve had a pretty busy time over the last few weeks. On the farm, I’ve been reducing stock for the winter. We had a major bird-catching session over the short Easter break – the four roosters, the errant goose that had returned from the dam and the three gobblers, all got the chop. I was up until 1am that night finishing all the plucking, drawing and clearing up. I thought I’d made a good job of cleaning, but in the morning I found drifts of tiny fluffy feathers on the kitchen floor. We caught most birds without incident but the feral goose took a bit of capturing – it had somehow learnt to fly while at the dam. Eventually it went to ground in the sedge and I nearly stepped on it before grabbing it. I’d thought they’d be happy down there but they obviously want to be with Arthur. Another one returned recently and suffered the same fate.

One of my little turkeys in the garage suddenly died the other day. I found it prone and thought it had already expired. It was terribly weak and having tried so many times to revive birds in similar situations, I just put it out of its misery, poor thing. The other two seem to be thriving. I’ve noticed there’s a late-developer gobbler I missed, that is now causing trouble in the turkey run, so he’ll have to be next for the freezer. We’ll still have far too many turkeys for our needs, so I may try to sell a few. Cynthy, our 29-year old WWOOF from Hong Kong was blown away by the turkeys – they put on quite a display for her – all puffed out and with their tails fanned.

We were beginning to be overrun with rabbits so one evening Luke and I took the Suzuki down the road and weeded most of Crabtree in search of milk thistles and dandelions to act as bunny-bait. I spread these in the pen as it was beginning to turn dark and sat poised with the rifle. As the unsuspecting bunnies came out to feed, I picked them off until we had seven for the freezer.

Foraging for bunny food

The bunnies now have company. I moved the young hens in with them and we went on an early family outing a couple of Sunday’s ago and bought two huge, fluffy new roosters – one shiny black and one bluey-grey. They’ve settled down well with their respective charges and I’m looking forward to getting some fluffy babies in Spring. However, I shall have to protect them from the white goshawk that seems to be living nearby. We’ve seen him a few times now, including on the ground under the pear tree - quite close to the house. It’s fantastic to see him – it’s such a unique sight to see a pure white bird of prey, particularly one so rare.

All the other animals are doing well and seem to be enjoying the cooler, damper weather. Unfortunately, the weather means the grass is growing and it won’t be long before we have to start mowing once again. Bronte has become obsessed with ride-on mowers and we have to visit mower shops whenever we go. He spends hours on the computer looking up specifications. We’ve already planned to get the drive renovated and he’s off to see his Dad in Adelaide in a fortnight’s time, so I’m not sure where we are going to get the money from. Also it looks as though Bronte’s teeth and new glasses are going to cost us a fortune. It’s just as well I’m working now. I’m trying to convince Bront to get a cheap flight to Thailand or Kuala Lumpur to get his teeth and eyes sorted for a fifth of the Australian price.

I’m saving my pennies to pay for the materials for a good quality fence to enclose a few acres around the house. When we have no WWOOFers I have to shut poor Bruce in one of the hen pens (with the hens) so that he and Rosie aren’t tempted to go exploring. When bored, they are inclined to lead each other astray. I hate leaving him there. A fence would allow the dogs some freedom and we could also free-range most of the birds. The birds would help control weeds and grubs and we could perhaps get a couple of sheep to keep the rest of the grass down! I tried putting both dogs in the big weaning pen recently vacated by the roosters and gobblers, but somehow Rosie managed to get out – despite the fence being 1.5m high.

It’s been hard to fit in fencing repair work on our new land and I’m afraid that’s rather fallen by the wayside. The wretched cows just seem to walk through the fences regardless of our work. Last time I went fencing, I got bitten on the knee by an inch ant, which was a somewhat painful and itchy. Instead of fencing, the WWOOFs (Afke and Sarah, for the short time they were with us) continued with bunny-proofing the trees in the bunny pen. It’s still not finished and I need to sort a couple that they’ve made too low, but it’s altogether better than it was.

Fencing at top of our new land

Anti-bunny tree protectors

Bronte had me moving rocks last weekend. I’ve been suffering from a painful back since bird-catching day, so levering huge rocks into the bucket of the tractor probably wasn’t the best therapy. However, I did get my first tractor lesson which was rather fun. It drives more like a car than I was expecting and I think I could manage to use it now if, for instance, I needed to shovel muck out of the goat paddocks.

One of our little native pepper trees has finally yielded fruit. We have a male and female planted in the shade of the house and they’ve thrived. Luke picked all the little pepperberries and we have them laid out on a tray drying in the house. I’ve used them already to flavour stocks and they have a pleasantly mild spicy taste.

We’ve had quite a few excitements and outings recently. Recently, I’d gone down to the bathroom to get ready for bed and Bronte was upstairs watching TV, when the house – literally – shook. It was quite bizarre, quite clearly a small earth tremor. Our house is probably uniquely suited to picking up such tremors being compliant and built on slim metal piles. It felt a little like when the washing machine is on a spin cycle but at a lower frequency. Puzzled I went upstairs to see if Bronte was OK, wondering if perhaps he’d fallen or something – likewise he was about to come and see if I was OK. The only explanation was a tremor, although it couldn’t have been picked up by any monitoring stations – there was no mention online or in the newspapers.

A couple of weekends back we went to the last Little Athletics meet of the season. There was a handicap race and presentations. Luke won his first heat but was roundly beaten in the semis. He did pick up a few awards and certificates – for winning the end of season championships in his age group and for the records he achieved over the season. He missed out on the sportmanships awards …

Bronte after coming second last in the adults' race!
Guy in yellow nearly won. He's the little lad - Toby's - Dad.

He’s now started soccer again, and had his first game this morning at Taroona High School. What a splendid setting for a soccer match. It was directly alongside the shore of the Derwent Estuary. We had a walk around the seaward side of the pitch, where there were massive rocks topped by handsome black and white shags. We walked on a raised spit which is apparently an enormous aboriginal midden – one of the largest and best-preserved in Tasmania. A midden is a pile of discarded sea-shells from aboriginal meals, also containing bones and artefacts, that has built up over tens of thousands of years. The team lost 3-1, a better performance than the first game which they lost 19-0! We missed that one as it was Easter week and we totally forgot to go along to training.

Beach next to soccer match

After soccer we had tea and scones in the pleasant little tea-shop attached to the Taroona Shot Tower. It was built in the 1800s for making lead shot. Molten lead was dropped from the top in droplets and by the time it reached the bottom it had cooled and was shaped like tiny balls. Luke and Cynthy went to the top while Bronte and I ate cake. We then visited the Margate Train. I could have spent a fortune in the antique shop – there was a terrific blackwood double bed and small dressing table which would have done nicely for the ‘old’ office. Finally, we finished up at the Tip Shop and came home with a few ‘treasures’ – a jigsaw puzzle, some old carpet for the baby turkeys to walk on when newly hatched (they need to be able to grip with their little claws so newspaper for instance is no good and hay is too lumpy), and some aluminium pipe lengths which will make great earth stakes for electric fences. Luke and Bronte also got some old Dandy and Beano comics. The whole lot cost $8.

Inside of shot tower

Margate Train

Bronte had a few days off over Easter, and Luke and I both had a 6 day weekend, which was rather nice. The ‘Easter bunny’ put on a fabulous Easter egg hunt both indoors and outdoors for Luke. He thought it had all finished but when he put on his boots he found an egg with a clue in one. We had to tramp all over the plot finding eggs that Bronte had hidden earlier that morning while Luke was having his computer hour. Needless to say we have all been eating too much chocolate since and I have put most of the weight back on that I lost before going to the UK last August. I feel as though I eat next to nothing (compared to what I used to consume) but still seem to put on weight. One’s metabolism must slow to snail speed at my age.

Rosie trying to eat the Easter eggs

We had a day in Hobart over Easter weekend. Bronte suggested breakfast in a cafĂ©, which was really brunch by the time we got there. We then went to see The Croods at the movies – with no high expectations – and really enjoyed it. It was clever, funny and visually engaging. Bronte and I enjoyed it easily as much as Luke. Apparently John Cleese was one of the authors. We then visited the revamped Museum and Art Gallery down by the waterfront. Definitely the displays and spaces were much improved, but I would like to have seen more uniquely Tasmanian displays – more on the flora and fauna, the industries, the geology. Even the crystal and gem room seemed to have disappeared. Also, I’d thought with Simon Grove (a friend who is only recently ex-Forestry Tasmania) now working for them, there would be fabulous shells in evidence. He has an amazing collection.

New ferry to get to MONA - Mona Roma 1

Luke at The Museum and Art Gallery

After something of a rat plague, Bronte’s gone even more rodent-paranoid than usual. One night they chibbled half of his little chestnut trees in the garage. Incensed, he ransacked the garage – giving it the same level of sorting-out that I administered to the office and Luke’s bedroom. Anything that might conceivably house a rat or provide bedding for a rat’s nest was thrown out. I tracked down a nest of babies in the base of the big chest freezer. It was close against the motor and presumably nice and warm. There we found the leaves and stalks of the poor chestnut trees. What industrious little creatures they must be. Luke wanted to keep the babies – all seven of them. I had the horrid job of putting down the poor blind little things. Since then we’ve assiduously set the rat traps each day. I’ve caught a couple in the traps and Rosie and I caught one by the tail. None of the traps have been triggered over the past few days so I think our efforts have succeeded in driving them out.

We loaded the ute with all the things from the garage that were to be chucked out and headed off to the Margate Tip Shop. We also took all the old electronic equipment from the house, including the defunct computer, old DVD player, portable TV, scanner etc. We were in a hurry to get to the tip before closing time at 4pm. I stopped at the Grove Shop to get diesel and somehow ended up putting unleaded petrol in it. That effectively curtailed our outing. Luckily I’d only put $15 in. Bronte wouldn’t let me just fill it up with diesel and hope that the dilution effect would be sufficient to stop any damage. Instead we had to drain the tank where we sat on the forecourt and re-fill the entire tank with diesel. We used the crate I have round the back for piggy scraps and loaded it onto the ute. Bronte made me drive home at snail speed to stop splashing that might be ignited by hot bits of exhaust system. Of course I haven’t heard the last of it since.

Another 'impossible' puzzle finished - Cynthy became puzzle-made when here