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18 August 2013

I have been a bit lax at updating the blog, as the time I might normally use to sort & upload pictures and write posts, has been spent instead crocheting or trying to find a good ute that I can afford to buy. Having spent most evenings over the last few months mending or altering clothes, I rebelled and turned to crochet again for therapy! After a few more granny squares I got bored and downloaded a load of new (and complicated) patterns for squares off an American website. The only drawback is that the names of stitches are different to those in the UK or Australia. For instance a ‘double’ crochet is a ‘single’ crochet in the US and so on. I’ve been faced with abbreviations such as TRC, FPTR, BPTR etc and have had to figure out what is meant. Also, I’ve learnt a whole new (irritatingly hard) stitch called the ‘bullion’ stitch. Needless to say there has been much sighing and unravelling. I’ve been trying to watch the first two series of ‘Game of Thrones’ at the same time, which has made the crocheting more than usually difficult.

We first heard about Game of Thrones when we had two American sisters WWOOFing with us. They spent a lot of time reading, particularly an enormous trilogy by George RR Martin. In fact they finished the books when with us and left them for our collection. Apparently the Game of Thrones (we keep calling it Crown of Thorns for some reason ..) series is based on the books. I was not keen to begin with as I understood it to be based in a fantasy world. It is, but it’s very realistic and feels like it is set in Mediaeval times rather than on a sci-fi set. Our favourite character is a dwarf, generally referred to as ‘The Imp’. He has a great voice, is cynical and laid-back, but has the most common-sense of anyone in the show. I also suspect he has a heart under all those glib witticisms. He gets all the best lines. Oddly, all the characters appear to be British, many with regional accents, despite it being apparently an HBO production. Unfortunately, it seems we shall have a wait for the 3rd series now, which is just showing in the US.

The ute-hunting has not gone altogether well. I have very precise requirements: flat tray with drop-sides, dual-cab, 4WD, diesel, not too old, not too many kilometres on the clock. And of course I have a limited budget. I reckon I could sell the ute and Swift for $9K each and then I could maybe run to another $2-3K at a pinch. The only one I found that really fitted the bill (and my budget) was way up North, an Isuzu DMax. I got quite excited about it, only to discover that someone had put down a deposit and were coming back that afternoon with the remaining finance. I’ve found a few others but they have all been too much money. I tried bidding on one at auction (by fax) but failed there too. That would have been great   it had bullbar, towbar and winch! Quite what I’d do with a winch I’m not sure – but I’m daresay I could have found some uses. Disappointingly, dealers are prepared to offer only very low trade-in prices on my current ute and the Swift. Which means I have to sell them privately – and since I can’t be without a car, will have to get a loan to pay for a new ute before selling them – all my money being tied up in the land we bought after Christmas. In order to get a price on the ute, I actually cleaned it last Friday. I had to use a saucepan scratcher! Even then it is still stained. I need the Aussie equivalent of T-Cut. I’ve also finally had the windscreen replaced which was cracked by a stone around 3 years ago – since then the cracks had spread in all directions.

The weather here has been unrelentingly rainy – to the point where the ground is sodden and there is standing water in every hollow. It has made life difficult on the farm, particularly getting up to the goats and feeding out their hay. The only good thing about the rain is that I don’t have to fill up the animals’ water troughs.

The pigs’ pens were both getting horribly muddy. I took them a load more bedding last weekend – 2 bales to each hut – but I could barely walk across the pen. Each time I put a foot down I sunk in several inches & had to fight to haul my boot from the suction of the mud. I decided the pigs must be moved into the old bucks’ pen, which hasn’t actually been used by goats since the pigs were last in there, close to a year ago. So I shut them in the corner pen & made an electrified alleyway between the other pen and the new one. Then I added more bedding to the main hut, fixed up the fence in various places and re-fitted the feeder. Eventually I opened up the pens and put food in the new one. Fat Blaize plodded straight through and after eating, got quite frisky in the long grass. For some hours Peppa paced at the edge of the alley, grunting and squealing miserably – too frightened to venture further. Finally her greed got the better of her. Almost the first thing they did was turn one of the heavy old goat huts (water tank and pallet base) onto its end. Luke and me had to go and wire it to the ground. I’ve also driven metal stakes behind another goat hut, because they had rubbed against it so hard last time, they’d pushed it back a couple of feet.


High time we got a boar in for the pigs – I’ll do some searching on Gumtree. It is so much easier feeding the pigs now. I can open one side of my super-dooper feeder without going into their pen – and the food stays dry and inaccessible to currawongs and cravens. I only ever put dry food in the concrete feeder in the old pens because it was so difficult to clean out if it got mud in it.

The net that me and the WWOOFers so painstakingly installed over the peacock and guinea-fowl run has survived wonderfully – up until now. Last week a massive flock of currawongs descended on us – we counted 72 in total. Not only are they eating my bird food, but I think they have been trying to get into the netted pen. Today, I noticed that the net has been ripped in perhaps 10 places – some of the rips quite large .it’s happened over the last few days. When Bronte was at home one day last week he found Pasha peacock out – desperately trying to get back in. Luckily he walked back in calmly when the door was opened. If you’ve never seen a currawong they have large, strong pointed beaks and huge curved claws like a cat’s but several times larger. I think they have been landing on the net, getting caught and ripping it when struggling free.

Currawong city

The goats are doing remarkably well during all this awful weather. They have the run of 4 paddocks at present and plenty of huts to choose from. I’ve been mega-vigilant re their feet and any other potential illnesses. I’m clipping their hooves every 4 weeks – sometimes with Luke roaring around in the yard trying to catch them for me, but more often just me on my own. Last time, Super-White – a big, strong bruiser – ran straight at me in an attempt to elude capture and crashed straight into me. I managed to catch her but only after she’d pushed me back at least a yard. Crazy Twiggy turned a somersault when I caught her & nearly broke my wrist. Anyhow it was satisfying to get them all sorted. With just 13, I can complete the whole job – including treating their feet with zinc sulphate – in less than 2 hours. Luke and I made a very temporary foot bath for them, well a mud bath really, into which we poured 20kg of zinc sulphate, to combat any foot diseases. Remarkably it seems to have worked.

Goat fence maintenance could be a full-time job these days. I’m sure the electric is rarely working at full voltage. Together with the rain, we’ve had high winds, which bring down trees and branches. Luke and I walked most of the fence last weekend, and found a small tree which had fallen and totally flattened the fence. We managed to move the tree and fix up the fence and continued plodding up the hill. By the time we were close to the top it was tipping with rain and we didn’t have the heart to complete the patrol. I suspect there are problems with the fence on the really steep side of the hill, deep in the bush alongside our neighbours. Luckily the goats are too well-trained – and too well-fed - to test the fences. Luke and I go into the big pen once a week armed with bow-saws and cut down loads of wattle and blackwood branches for them to feast from. In summer, when they have the pick of the grass and access to willow, the goats will turn their noses up at such fodder. Now, they can’t get enough.

Recently, I was asked to feed a neighbour’s hens while they travelled to New Zealand. Luke often accompanied me. On each occasion, we’d check for eggs & find a possum in the nest box! It was pretty brave and generally held its ground, despite us peering at it from only a foot away. It would turn its head towards us by degrees, poised for flight, its eyes huge and hostile. We let it be and decided the neighbours could turf it out if they wanted. On the first day we spotted the possum, we also stopped to investigate a plover on the side of the road. As we passed it was standing hunched, its wings out as if shielding something. It turned out that the dopy thing had laid 4 beautiful speckled eggs just 6 inches from the edge of the road! Needless to say, it – and the eggs – had gone in a couple of days’ time. On one rainy day, I found a valve on a pipe alongside the neighbour’s hen house leaking. Unable to fix it, I came back with cable ties & bound the valve (which kept shooting out) onto the pipe and tied the end of the pipe over to stop it leaking from the open end.


I carried out my threat to reduce the bird numbers recently. I managed to capture all 8 hens – and a rooster that flew out of the pen and led me a merry dance until Rosie and I ran him down. The 4 older hens were culled – they had almost stopped laying during the cold weather and I realised I was feeding them for little return. I cut out the breast meat for us and cooked up the carcasses for the dogs & pigs. The 4 younger hens are now separated – 2 to each rooster. I didn’t want to kill the lovely fluffy blue-grey rooster that was with the older hens. He’s still young & I’m keen to see what his offspring are like. On the same day I caught 2 of the turkeys – the white male (which I thought was a female for a time) and a light brown hen. Now all of the remaining turkeys are the same dark bronze. Unfortunately the brown one had started laying and none of the others are on-stream yet. Both turkeys are now in the freezer – Whitey must have weighed 6kg.

New turkey hut

On the non-farm front we have also been very busy. At the end of July we headed over to Melbourne and Adelaide. Unfortunately I managed to catch some ghastly cold beforehand and had to take the day off work before we left and go to the docs for antibiotics. I think working hard in the cold and rain the weekend before had led to me getting a generalised infection of chest and sinuses. Anyhow I survived and we made it to the Melbourne Victory vs Liverpool soccer match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). There were 93,446 people there! It was a pretty amazing atmosphere. To my surprise practically the whole stadium was filled with Liverpool fans. Apart from one small stalwart enclave of blue-clad Victory supporters, the stadium was a sea of red.


We all sang ‘You’ll never walk alone’ which was quite a moving experience (although Bronte was a bit dismissive about it!). The match was no classic, but entertaining enough. Steven Gerrard (my favourite) got a massive cheer every time he took a corner or free kick and eventually the crowd’s chants of ‘Suarez’ were answered when they changed nearly the entire line-up during the second half. Melbourne put up a great show, despite virtually their entire team being under 21. They could have scored a couple of times. In the end Liverpool won 2:0. We had parked 2-3 kilometres away from the ground – we booked in advance on  
http://www.parkatmyhouse – and were able to jump on trams going to and from the game. Amazingly, we’ve since found out that Melbourne Victory are going to play Sydney Wanderers in Kingston – of all places – on 29 September. I’ve booked tickets for us – only $40 in comparison to the $455 I paid for the Liverpool match.

We stayed at Bronte’s sister’s house that night in Melbourne & had a pleasant chat with her and her husband both prior to leaving for the match on the Wednesday and on the Thursday morning. We managed (just) to negotiate ourselves around Melbourne with Google maps’ directions and Cheryl’s GPS tracker. After leaving on the Thursday we drove around the outskirts of Melbourne visiting Warrandyte on the Yarra and a pleasant park where Luke was able to let off steam. Then onwards to Adelaide to visit Bronte’s Dad in Victor Harbor, where we also met up with one of Bronte’s brother’s, Lyndon. The next day we drove down to the waterfront and visited Granite Island via a causeway which links the island to the mainland. It’s a pleasant walk or you can take a horse-drawn tram. I was all for the tram but it didn’t start operating until later in the morning. On the island we visited a small shelter for fairy penguins which had been injured and could not be returned to the sea. They are such tiny little mites and manage to swallow what seem to be massive sardines by comparison. Apparently their numbers have dwindled hugely and the cause is not obvious.


On other days we visited one of the Murray barrages, the town of Goolwa and the Murray mouth. The Murray basin comprises the biggest freshwater river network in Australia and spans 3 states. In previous years, there has been great debate re the drought situation and the amount of water taken from the river by agriculturists who (absurdly) grow rice and cotton in the driest continent on earth. This debate has quietened now that the rains have come and the Murray is finally flowing again. The various enormous barrages across the complicated delta, hold back the flow and release the water slowly into the sea, both controlling the level of the riverways and also preventing the saline tides from backing up the rivers. It was a bitterly cold day when we walked out on the barrages and I still felt awful. However, Luke and I chirped up considerably when we discovered seals slouched on wooden pilings at the centre and playing happily in the icy water alongside. We climbed over a ‘no-entry’ sign for a closer look and got some photos.





We could see many pelicans on the further side of the barrage but there was no access to that area. I was disappointed not to see pelicans in Goolwa – I recalled a pier covered in them from our previous visit some years ago. Bronte’s Dad thinks they may have migrated to Lake Eyre, now that it actually has water in it. The occasional documentary has featured the enormous quantity and diversity of waterfowl that are feasting on the lake (how do they know it now has water in it?? And where do the fish etc come from??). I really regret the lack of wildlife documentaries in Australia. In the UK you can barely switch on the TV or radio without encountering a nature programme, often about common creatures in the country. Each year, thousands of migrating birds are fitted with trackers, and radio programmes (which I download onto my ipod) follow these birds to their winter haunts. I have seen nothing of this sort in Australia, so we know so little about the most common of native animals – eg the welcome swallow, which arrive here around 7 September each year. But where do they over-winter? I can’t help but feel that more of this type of programme would help Australians better value their native fauna, even the ‘boring’ ones.

Finally on the Saturday I felt well enough to spend time with Luke and Bronte rock-hopping on nearby beaches, looking for dolphins and whales (we were not lucky enough to see the latter) and poking around in rock pools. Bronte’s Dad seemed fairly well for his age, although he admitted that it was only in recent months that he felt he’d ‘come good’. He’d had a fairly major operation 2-3 years ago and it’s taken that amount of time for him to fully recover. We worry that he lives a reclusive, possibly lonely life in Victor. But he seems reluctant to discuss any different options. His late wife’s daughter and son live locally and he is part of a church congregation – which he only visits during the warmer months. It would be no good him coming to live in Tasmania – he’d freeze even during summer. He keeps the curtains closed all the time and switches on the TV first thing in the morning. I guess the latter is for company. I tried letting in light, but as soon as I was out, all the curtains and blinds were closed again.


Luke and I came home on the Sunday. Bronte drove us to the airport and stayed in Adelaide to spend more time with his brother. We had a long tiring day, not getting home until 6pm in the evening. There were still red-shirted Liverpool supporters on the Hobart leg – sporting their newest merchandise from the match. We’d had a couple of house-sitters come in and they seemed to have looked after the place reasonably well. It was nice to know that the dogs and Murphy had some company. On Monday Luke went back to school and I had a blissfully peaceful day pottering around, catching up with the animals and tidying the house.

On the Friday of that week, Bronte went in for a planned operation. I took him to the hospital and then had to pick him up again in the late afternoon because they apparently had no beds for him to stay overnight. They re-booked him for 7.15am on Monday which was a right pain. I either had to drive him in with Luke and then come back to drop Luke at the bus before going back to Hobart (which I really didn’t want to do), or trying to find someone who could take Luke in for me. In the end we left home at 6.30am and dropped Luke off with a neighbour who does one of the bus routes – so Luke went on the entire bus ride before getting to school. It was awfully long day for him as I had to pick him up from childcare in the evening & can’t get away as early as Bronte. However, Luke was pretty chuffed as he was allowed to watch some of the move Godzilla on the TV at the neighbour’s! It doesn’t seem to have given him nightmares.

Bronte’s operation was successful and he’s recovered quite quickly. I had to take carer’s leave on the Tuesday afternoon and bring him home but he was fine on his own thereafter. In fact they only booked him a week off work, so he was back the following Tuesday. He still can’t do anything too strenuous and it’s recommended that he take it pretty easy for around 6 weeks. When I had to wake up without the benefit of my usual mug of tea on the Tuesday, I ended up setting 3 alarms, including the mobile phone. One didn’t wake me, the mobile phone was half an hour late because it was on Adelaide time and finally the old-fashioned clock woke me only a quarter of an hour late.

Life has been fairly uneventful otherwise – apart from a mad 4-wheel driver trying to take me and Bronte off the road on our return from the hospital. He was bombing down our hill and had to almost throw himself into the ditch to avoid us – ours is a very narrow, steep and windy gravel road. The poor little Suzuki was caked in black mud on one side and it took some time for my adrenalin levels to settle again.

Bridge opening on Hobart waterfront

2000-piece jigsaw