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7 June 2013

Despite seeming to have less time and energy than ever, it’s surprising (looking back), how much we’ve actually managed to get done. Of course, while Coreen and Matt were here we had extra hands which helped greatly.

I agreed to take a pair of guinea fowl and several peacocks from a lady at work – Carol, our Budget Accountant. She’s a real friendly soul who always seems to be suffering some family crisis. She lives adjacent to her brother-in-law and is often looking after his birds and other creatures. It’s really too much for her, particularly given that she works long hours at the Council. So me, Luke and the WWOOFs went on a bird-catching trip to her bush block north of Hobart.

What followed was nothing short of farce. We pursued the wretched peacocks through the bush for around half an hour before finally giving up. At one point I tried to out-flank them by jumping over a fence and running across a neighbour’s lawn! Not surprisingly he came out and demanded to know what I was up to. He was keen to see the back of the peacocks – apparently they are living wild and driving people nuts with their loud honking calls and by pooping on cars and verandahs. We had more luck with the guinea fowl since they were penned, but even they were a handful.

The knowledge that we were going on this peacock and guinea fowl hunt, had prompted me to determine to net in the roof of the turkey pen. That and the fact that the turkeys were roosting high up in the wattles and constantly breaking the fishing line threaded across the top to deter the crows and currawongs. The WWOOFs braced the corner posts and added more baling twine rope across the top where the fishing line was missing. I’d optimistically thought netting the roof would be a one-day job, but of course it took nearly a week. First we had to throw lengths of net across the width and fasten the ends and then stitch all these lengths together with netting clips -and fasten the net to the top of the fences all around the edge. It had to be cut around trees and patched in places where we’d not left enough slack. Even days later we were finding holes we’d missed.

Once finished, we moved the turkeys into the old goose run alongside and put the guinea fowl and our own pair of peacocks into the newly roofed run. The peacocks love it - they have fresh grass to eat and plenty of room to forage, as well as a high roost. The only thing missing is a proper waterproof roof over their roost, such as they had in their other, much smaller pen. I hadn’t realised how much peacocks like to eat grass until I saw how short the grass was all around their pen where they had been pecking through the wire. I started picking grass for them from the currently unused weaning pen. It’s been well fertilised in the past by goat kids and piglets and is fenced such that wallabies and possums can’t get in. Hence the grass is lush and thick. The peacocks went mad for this, so it’s obviously an important part of their diet.

The guinea fowl are very skittish but are gradually getting to know us. They do come down to the gate when I bring the food now, but soon scatter to the far end when I enter. They are the most peculiarly comical little things, with prehistoric lumps on their heads and fleshy ‘wattles’ dangling beneath their chins. They have beautiful spotty feathers, which I remember from when I was a child and used to go with Mum to visit a well-to-do friend who kept many birds. The guinea fowl always interested me the most. About a week ago we heard the most extraordinary noise and couldn’t locate the source. Eventually we worked out it had to be the guinea fowl cackling. They are louder than the peacocks but - luckily - mostly make little gurgling, chirrupy noises.

I’m feeling somewhat despondent this evening. Luke and I went on a trip to Nicholls Rivulet this morning to buy a boy piglet. We came home with little Winston, the cutest 6-week old Wessex Saddleback cross. He’s got large pointy ears, a proper pointy piggy snout and is black, with a big white stripe around his middle. The intention was for one of the girls to go for bacon, ham, spare ribs etc whilst Winston grows and keeps the other company until they can produce us a fresh crop of piglets. I’m thinking 9-10 months ahead. We felt pretty pleased with ourselves as he only cost $45 and we managed to bring home a load of piggy potatoes, a bagful of bunny food and the third series of Mad Men as well.

We shut Blaize and Peppa in one of the pens (they have had the run of both until now) and put little Winston in the farrowing pen (I’d been listening to an episode of ‘Witness’ on the ipod about Winston Churchill’s state funeral and so the name came readily to mind). I knew there was an issue with the lack of chicken wire in one corner but thought he would be content with his mixed stew of pellets and cooked apples and fresh water. I’d put 2 bales of hay in his hut so he had plenty of warmth to snuggle into. However, he never seemed to settle and despite being zapped a couple of times, eventually squeezed under the electric fence and in with the big girls. Predictably Blaize chased the little bloke out and he shot into the scrub between the pen and the creek. He’s been back a couple of times and I’ve tried to coax him to come to me, without success. I just hope he gets through the night and comes back in the morning when I feed them again. He’s such a tiny little mite and I feel horribly responsible.

Elsewhere on the farm, I’ve clipped all the goats’ hooves and treated their feet once again. Coreen fitted them with posh new collars while I did the hooves. Some had shed their collars and others had become too tight. They look terribly smart now. I’ve actually made a start on a new paddock for them, by beginning to brush-cut a route through the brush and sedge alongside the drive. The aim is to link up the current paddocks with the drive. The only problem is avoiding all Bronte’s new trees. I’ve wound the fence around most, but will still have 5 to protect, plus a couple of young blackwoods about which Bronte will have a fit if the goats chomp them.


I’ve also planted groundcover plants in the unsightly clay banks outside our front door. They have been exposed ever since we had the area excavated prior to building the house. We had expected them to become grassed over and when that didn’t happen, toyed with putting geotextile over them (too expensive) or perhaps having them shaped back into the hill and covered in top soil so they could be mowed (a huge job). Fed up, I splurged on a heap of plants from Mitre 10. Bronte’s always been against plants because they could harbour snakes in summer (rats and snakes are Bronte’s nemeses), but I think he’s finally come around. I had to take a pickaxe to the bank to make the holes so it’s hard to see how the plants will ever get rooted and survive, let alone thrive. I added topsoil and sand and have been diligently watering them (since we are still getting so little rain). It seems odd that the holes were so difficult to dig, yet water running down the banks seems to erode them so quickly. To help prevent this, I toiled to re-dig the drain between the two stepped banks, with sweat running into my eyes!

Coreen and Matt did a great job removing old fences on our original land. These are falling down and becoming grown over with blackberries, bracken and wild roses. Until they are removed, it will be difficult to get the goats into some of the really rough areas. We’ve saved the metal stakes for re-use, coiled up the barbed wire and kept the posts for firewood. They also fixed one hay dispenser that the goats had jumped on so many times that the roof was bent and cracked and another that the goats had lain in until the bottom had dropped out. We’re really going to miss them. Now I have to do the animal feeding myself on Thursdays and Sundays.

Matt & Coreen

The birds are eating huge amounts at present – the turkeys particularly. The young hens are laying 3-4 eggs/ day (that’s almost one each/ day), despite it being close to the shortest day of the year. The 2-yr olds are down to one/ day. I’m trying to feed the birds daily with my cooked mush, because filling the feeders with grain gets awfully expensive.

There have been a few rabbit casualties of late – a whole litter of white kits got scour and were found dead and then I found a large brown bunny dead from the same affliction. I’m trying to ensure they don’t eat too many pellets or any of the bird food, by providing them with extra hay and lucerne chaff and feeding the hens down the far end of the pen. Of course it may just be a virus they’ve picked up from the wild ones which are always scouting around the pen. Coreen and Matt treated all the huts and bedding with louse and flea powder in case that was a factor. I’ve also wormed all the poultry in readiness for the colder months.

We’ve had some beautiful frosty mornings with pink skies and mist forming photogenic scenes in every direction. On one such morning Luke and I spotted a large, dark triangular shape on our hill alongside some of the goat huts. We realised it was a huge wedge-tail eagle. My camera just wasn’t good enough to get a decent shot of it, but I captured the blob for posterity nonetheless! It’s lovely to have these great birds around.

Pink sky over Hobart towards nightfall

8 June 2013

Poor little Winston hasn’t turned up again today. We all spent an age hunting for him – I kept expecting to find a limp little body somewhere. However, the area behind the pig runs is so wild and overgrown with blackberries, cutting grass and sedge, that he could be hiding just about anywhere. I took Rosie with me but she’s so easily distracted. She did yelp on one occasion but I couldn’t locate her. Later Bronte and Luke heard squealing but saw no sign of him. I’ve left little piles of food in strategic spots, opened the gate of his run and have set up the possum trap with pig food as bait. He must be wondering at the turn his life has taken.
Despite this sad start to the day, we ended up having a good afternoon. After feeding all the animals this morning, including cutting the goats a heap of blackwood branches that were overhanging my new fence line, I discovered that our neighbour had managed to fix the radio in my little farm Suzuki. It has taken him an age and I feel quite guilty for having asked him to help in the first place. I am quite sure I haven’t paid him enough – I gave him a mix of blackberry and apple jelly, carrot-juice soap, a large frozen turkey and some cash. I’ve also said whenever they want eggs to let us know and I’ll leave some in one of the old sheds on our new land. That’s more convenient for him than coming up to our house.

In the afternoon we went on a pre-arranged cycle ride down the Pipeline Track from Fern Tree, part-way up Mount Wellington. We went with a friend and his daughter - who’s the same age as Luke. Apparently it was meant to be just 6km but it seemed an awful lot further than that – or maybe we’re just not as fit as we used to be. We didn’t reach the end, but stopped at a little walk to a spring/ waterfall called St Crispin’s Well. The views were quite spectacular en route, although I was too busy keeping up with Luke while Bronte kept Simon and Tess company behind us, that I didn’t get to do much sightseeing. At exactly the same moment, Luke and I opened our mouths to say that our legs were getting quite tired! Coming back was all downhill and we had great fun zooming down to the car.

The track is called the Pipeline Track because it largely follows the route of the original water-pipe that took water to the people of Hobart. You can see the pipe in many places along the track and hear water running through it where it crosses gullies and creeks. No doubt there is a newer pipeline in use now. The whole area is designated as water catchment for Hobart. As a family we sullied Hobart’s water by peeing alongside St Crispin’s Well! It did us good I think to get away from the farm and do something active and fun- as opposed to active and gruelling.

I certainly needed a respite as work has been getting steadily more stressful. I may have mentioned previously that I’ve been sucked back into what’s called the Corporate Model, ie by no longer having our Director as my line manager, but instead reporting to the central admin group. It’s meant having to attend a slew of new meetings and becoming involved in e-mail debates about a range of fairly trivial issues. The time involved is not huge, but takes quite a chunk out of my 3 days/ week. This has come at the same time as the Finance Division is very busy with the preparation of budgets and the end of year financial statements. Hence, other things have come my way including the management of a fairly major phase 2 project. These latter items seem far more value-adding to me, but the time given over to the admin side of things is stretching me very thin. Needless to say it has worried me and I’ve not been sleeping well as a result.

Luke is currently obsessed with playing Boggle and Uno. We even have to play Uno in bed on weekend mornings and Boggle while eating breakfast. I’ve played endless games with him. It was quite mortifying playing with Coreen and Matt, since Coreen proved herself a champion Boggler. I’ve been used to thrashing Bronte and Luke - to the extent that I’m not allowed to do 3-letter words, Luke gets extra time and I can only give myself one point for words longer than 4-letters. I don’t believe I’ve met someone with a larger vocabulary than Coreen. One excuse I have is that she plays a smartphone Boggle-style ‘app’ pretty regularly, so I guess that practice does indeed make perfect!

Luke’s still enjoying playing soccer but it is rather a shame that his team keeps getting thrashed. It is not uncommon for the score-line to be in double figures against us! On one occasion when Huon Valley lost 10:1, Luke scored the only goal for our side, so he was ecstatic despite the dismal result. We’ve discovered a show on TV on Sunday nights called ‘Football Freestylers’ which is quite amazing. It features people doing tricks with soccer balls and playing games such as street soccer and foot volley-ball (in which you cannot use your hands). We also taped the socceroos playing Japan in the World Cup qualifiers. It was a fun game to watch and I even avoided hearing the score, so the 1:1 draw came as a surprise. I’m hoping they do well in the World Cup so that we can cement Luke’s interest in soccer (as opposed to AFL). The only drawback is that everyone at work is into AFL (including all the women) so if you have no interest in Aussie Rules you can rarely join in the conversations. Sometimes I feel like an outcast at social events!

My letter to the editor on the issue of fishing endangered Southern Bluefin Tuna got little response. It was rather swamped by people campaigning about cruelty in rodeos and the inhumanity of the live export trade. I totally agree with the message of those writers – goading bulls and tying bands around their balls to make them buck, is quite unacceptable. Of course, a number of rednecks have responded stating that if rodeos are banned then so should the keeping of pets; that killing animals is a good thing as we have to eat .. and so on. Completely missing the point that if we must eat meat or use animals for other purposes then we must take the responsibility to treat them with respect and humanity during their lifetimes.

A couple of days after my letter was published, the Bruny Island Tours boats found seals that had been shot with subsonic .22 shot on the Tasman Peninsula. At least two were found dead and several others have been badly injured. These are protected Australian fur seals. No-one disputes that seals can become nuisances around salmon farms for instance, but the shootings were thought to have been carried out by recreational tuna fishermen who blame the seals for declining numbers of tuna. This notion may have come about because seals will sometimes try to take a tuna off a line after it has been fighting its tormentor for hours. Under normal circumstances it is extremely hard for a seal to take the ultra-fast tuna. No doubt the fishermen don’t consider that it is their actions and those of commercial and recreational fishermen around the world, which have pushed these terrific creatures to the brink of extinction.

Last in the series of getting our cars fixed for one ailment or another, I took the ute in on Thursday for new glow-plugs and fuel filter. It had become steadily worse at starting, particularly on cold mornings such that I’d choose to take my work Suzuki to Huonville on weekends, as I just couldn’t rely on the ute. This time I got myself better informed by looking up starting problems with diesels on the web. Since it’s been fixed, it starts first time in all weathers, so it was money well spent.

Not so Bronte’s new grader blade, which he’s managed to bust today. Well not bust exactly, but certainly bend it quite badly. He hit a big rock which pushed the blade up and bent the main strut that holds the blade. He’ll have to get it cut and welded now. He was trying to grade the drive and deepen the drains alongside, in readiness for new gravel which we hope will arrive soon.

As I had to get the car into Huonville early, I had another rummage in the nearest second-hand shop before meeting Luke out of school. Having found a few items of clothing for Luke and some belts which would do for goat collars, I spotted a slot-car (like a scalectrix) set for $30. It was all taped up and labelled ‘complete and working’. I thought it too much a bargain to miss, although I hesitated thinking it was not a special occasion! Luke and Bronte have set it up in the spare room (ex-office) and it works a treat. You can do loop-the-loops and vertical corners and configure the track in many different ways. Even I get hooked when I’m allowed to have a go. When Bronte and Luke disappear in there, all I can here is the constant refrain of Bronte yelling: “Get OFF the track!” When Luke reaches over for crashed cars or gets overexcited he knocks the track or sits with bum, leg or jumper so close that the cars can’t get past. It makes Bronte mad!

Well, the bike ride this afternoon has about finished me off, so I’m off to bed. Or maybe it was Luke squirting the bicycle pumps at us in the car – one smelt of ripe wallaby, such that at one point we were hanging out of the car windows gagging. Bronte's put himself to bed, without so much as watching a single episode of Mad Men. We've reverted back to Mad Men having decided that Lost is a load of old baloney.

Big sky and silver birches - Huonville

Morning views driving into Hobart

View from my office

Hobart harbour from top of multi-storey carpark

Murphy montage (above). Queer one bottom left was actually taken with 'fisheye' effect! Luke had been playing around with the camera. I often find it on 'magic' setting, 'art' or some other annoying effect. The final pic is of Murphy squeezed under the wood-burner from the back. We lost him one time & finally found him here - this is his favourite spot when the stove burns down low.

Yet another misty morning in Crabtree ..