Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Finished Shed

Yes, we finally did it. Weekend before last we were able to complete the shed! With help from DW and DM the gutters went up, the roof went on, and and all the final bits and pieces were completed. I can't say it was fun, a day on a glaring and hot roof isn't the most pleasant way to spend time. It's strange, but now, at the end of it all I'm left feeling a bit empty and unsure of where to go next.

That is not helped by some recent bad news. We heard from the accountant who tells us that thanks to some new rules we wont be sharing our partnership income the same way this year, which hands DW a refund, but lands me with a very hefty tax bill, due by March (on top of covering the two BAS statements that come in quick succession early in the new year)

Sadly that was not the end of our woes as the faithful truck sprang a big leak in the radiator on Sunday. Unfortunately I was stuck on the highway with nowhere to pull off for half a kilometre or more, so by the time I rolled to a standstill the cabin was filled with smoke and the temperature guage was maxed out. There was a small bit of luck, having a great friend who just happens to be a diesel fitter, and is well equipped for such adventures. He was able to pull me out of the awkward spot and over the course of the day we got it towed back to his place and then proceeded to pull the head off and see what damage had been done. The initial investigations proved inconclusive, no obvious evidence of damage to the head, so he's getting a second opinion over the next couple of days.

Needless to say it's been a trying week. Last week and the one before I was asking the Universe for a sign, for some direction about where to head with our lives. It's usually pretty good to us, though as with all such things the signs are never clear, but usually enough to go on with. Not sure how to interpret this turn of events at all.

Admittedly some clarity has come out of it. DW is not happy here, or with the new place. It's only marginally moister than the current location, and a fraction of a touch cooler, which isn't enough in the grand scheme of things, factoring in climate change. One of the biggest issues is we're still faced with at least a year of work before we can think of moving onto the block. And that means at least a year before we can think of doing anything much out there, especially to do with larger animals.

So we've discussed our options. One of those options is a move to a better climate with more reliable rain, and a move onto a place that already has a house upon it. That way we can move and start, in one go, just like that, rather than selling one place, moving, building, moving, then starting. Given we're currently supporting two mortgages that would if combined buy us a reasonable place somewhere else, what's not to like about the plan?

Perhaps all this grief over the new block was the Universe trying to give us a sign, and now we're getting a bit of punishment for not listening in the first place? lol! Then again, maybe it's totally the opposite? Aaargh! I'm afraid to ask for more signs so perhaps we will have to soldier on in a state of uncertainty (not that there is ever real certainty).

So, where to now? Christmas holiday plans are pretty well ruined. There'll be no transporting of stuff to the block thanks to the death of the truck (unless by some miracle we can fix it this coming weekend) though there is still plenty of opportunity for cleaning up around the place before the festive season. Beyond that, it's a matter of making a decision and acting upon it. During our conversations the following list of desirable traits in a new property has come up:
  • Only 1 to 1.5 hours from the coast.
  • Plentiful rainfall through the year - median of 800mm plus.
  • General temperature range up to 35 or so.
  • Water, preferably on a river or large perennial creek. Even better if we can float in the tinny all the way to the coast and have the kids row us back after a day of fishing :-)
  • House and sheds.
  • 25+ acres (we figure higher rainfall means better carrying capacity, so we can do more with a smaller amount of land.)
  • Reasonable soil.

Not a lot to wish for, is it now? lol! While we're at it we better wish for people to buy our current properties, otherwise all these plans are coming to a grinding halt before they've even started moving...

All the best for the summer solstice celebrations and/or Christmas!

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Well folks, it's been a while... and we've certainly had some "exciting" times since the last post.

The weekend after the last post we were at it again out at the new block. I arrived early but only had a couple of odd jobs to do collecting materials together and getting things organised. Once the crew arrived we got started, and despite a couple of scary moments due to lack of adequately robust bracing we got all the portal frames up and a good number of tophats on to hold it all in place. Thanks to the poor quality screws supplied in the kit we'd run out by late afternoon, having thrown about half of them away.

It was late afternoon when we packed up and headed for home, with Brother M following me back on the scenic drive via Canowindra to enjoy an evening of wine and conversation, and home made pizza, at the basecamp (FSF is basecamp if we consider the goal is ascending Australia's rather flat topography by 300m to the new place...)

The following day was one of rest and recovery, and a fair bit of pottering in the back yard. I also nipped into town to pick up some materials to make potato cages, and to try and protect the nursery stock from the ravages of the guinea pigs. I've resisted potato cages in the past for various reasons, but figured I may as well give them a go and see if we can up production on that front.

The intervening week of work was not very exciting (easy to predict given I can't recall mentioning work here too often) but at least it passed swiftly into the next weekend. I went out alone to the block on the Sunday only to find that disaster had struck.

Once again inadequate bracing and not having all the purlins installed had brought us to the brink of destruction. The Saturday night had seen ferocious winds, which continued through the Sunday, and the shed frame was on quite a lean thanks to one of the support ropes snapping. Thankfully it only took about an hour to straighten everything up and re-anchor it all, then I got started putting the last of the purlins in and sorting out some of the mistakes I'd made along the way. In the intervening week I'd splurged on a tek screw gun (so much for simple living!), and bought a big box of real tekscrews. Failure rate is less than 1:10 now, which makes the job a whole lot easier.

By Sunday afternoon, and not too late at that, the shed frame was completed, and anchored a bit more firmly than before. Let's hope it's still standing this Saturday when it's time to start putting some cladding on it. Getting close to completion now!

Once the shed is complete we can clear this place out and really get moving!!

The heat has been taking it's toll in the garden, and DW thinks that mice are also getting into things. Not sure how we're going to deal with that one, the indoor cat is not going to be allowed out for that job. We had trapped the guinea pigs too, but they managed to escape again, so we're back to square one. Ducklings and chooklings are all powering along, it won't be long before we've got to organise accommodation for them all. Speaking of which, we'd better do the same out at the new block before too long. I seriously doubt anyone is going to let us rent and bring along twenty-odd chooks and 9 ducks...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Attempt Number 2

The weekend before last was our first attempt at erecting the shed frame, and let me tell you, it was something of a disaster. I arrived out on site nice and early and got started preparing things. It was the first time I'd loaded the generator onto the truck to take out there, so there was a fair bit of screwing things together to be done before everyone started to arrive at 10am.

Things went well for the first hour, then trouble struck in the form of a generator that ran erratically, allowing at most one screw to be placed before it went off into a flurry of stuttering that prevented anything but hair pulling.

A quick call to Dad who was on his way through Bathurst and I'd arranged for him to purchase one of the cheap and nasty generators from the local big-box hardware stores. The hire company was shut over the weekend, and other loan options were hours away, so the only option was to purchase if we were to salvage anything from the event.

Everyone had arrived by the appointed time, and we got the new generator out and set up, then commenced installing the first frame. All appeared to be going reasonably well (with the exception of a number of missed steps thanks to the panic induced by the loss of the generator, something I was to discover later) but for a few organisational issues. Once that frame was up we started screwing the braces to the second frame and the drill stopped working. Thinking that we'd be smart and put one of the cordless drills on to charge whilst we figured out what to do about the dead drill and we came to realise that the second, new, generator had also failed.

Unbelievable! We tried a few things to get either of them back up and running correctly and ended up sorely disappointed. In the end we unbolted the frame we'd already erected and packed everything up then went for a drive around the place to show Dad, who was experiencing his inaugural visit.

The old generator was in the workshop the next week, the new one is sitting back in it's box waiting to be returned. On Friday I got the call that the generator was ready to be picked up, so I made arrangements to collect it Saturday morning. They gave me the sad news that it was making some strange noises and might not have long to live. My fingers are firmly crossed that it makes it through the next couple of weeks to get the shed finished.

Sunday was spent out at the block again, finishing all of the preparation work that had been neglected in the panic the previous weekend. This time around everything is pretty much ready to go, so it should be a matter of erecting the frames and stitching them together with the tophats. Sounds easy enough on virtual paper, but the experiences of the last attempt have shown me that things don't always go according to plan. I'll let you all know sometime next week how things went!!

Back on the home front, we've now got 11 new oak trees sprouted, and just over a dozen tallow trees. I was able to collect a lot more seed a couple of weeks ago, so as soon as the toilet roll collection is large enough I'll put in another big batch of those.

The baby chickens are growing at an alarming rate, and eating to match, and yesterday we hatched eight out of twelve duck eggs that we've had in the incubator. Some were reluctant to leave their eggs so DW helped them along a bit, but they don't seem any worse for it.

We've planted out the first batch of tomato, zucchini, melons and pumpkins from the glasshouse, though some of the tomatoes are a bit worse for wear (ie dead) as the couple of days after planting got rather warm. I'd tried planting the tommies into half toilet rolls this year, thinking to save on potting mix, but it seems they needed to be potted on anyway so I've exchanged the extra potting mix for stunted plants that keel over when the sun comes from behind a cloud. All is not lost of course, but we'll be a bit behind for tomatoes this year.

We've also got an unusual problem in the strawberry patch. It seems the feral guinea pigs, currently living under the stack of timber in the carport have discovered the patch, and make daily excursions there to feast on the bounty. Time to trap the little fellows and return them to confinement I reckon.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

We Know Not What We Ask For...

I have often been labelled as pessimistic, though I often like to think of it as making sensible choices as to what to be optimistic about. A recent post through the peak oil mailing list I subscribe to was both troubling and illuminating at the same time.

The article "Obama Turns to the Financial Elite for Campaign Cash" starts out describing the exorbitant amounts spent in U.S. political campaigns, and points out that some of this has come from the very Wall St. institutions that the taxpayers over there were so busy bailing out just recently. It's all stuff you've no doubt read and been outraged at before, but here's an example to give the gist of it:
“The investment community feels very put-upon,” he told the Times. “They feel there is no reason why they shouldn’t earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don’t want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown.”

The “investment community” feels “put-upon?” This, as Wall Street prepares to dole out $26 billion in year-end bonuses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The near-record figure represents a 40 percent increase over 2008. At Goldman Sachs, the bonus pool has doubled.
Wow! Yet the masses just trundle along hoping to get ahead. Sure they must get outraged, rant at the nightly news, or drink or shop themselves into a stupor, but short of outright revolution there's little they can do when the political system is tailored to circumvent any hope of achieving real change.

Whilst the article goes on to further highlight the various outrages perpetrated by the current administration in collusion with the financial elite, it is the final paragraph that is the most troubling:
A solution to the social crisis is impossible outside of a frontal assault on the power of the American financial aristocracy and the social inequality that pervades every facet of life. The vast wealth monopolized by Wall Street must be confiscated so that it can be utilized to create jobs, fund health care and education and raise living standards. These tasks can be achieved only in struggle against the Obama administration and by workers mobilizing themselves independently in the fight for a socialist alternative.
I'm not sure about the U.S. but here in Australia our political parties no longer fall on either side of a Left/Right divide. In their efforts to secure the majority of the vote both sides have come closer and closer to a "null space" between the two ideological extremes. They seemingly stand for nothing beyond feathering their own nests and doing the minimum possible to secure a comfortable chance of re-election.

Unfortunately the called for solutions on either side of the divide (more socialistic capitalism, more capitalistic socialism?) miss one critical point. We are facing a future where there will be no more prosperity for any but the ultra-rich. It doesn't matter how much money is re-distributed from the wealthy to the poor if that money is worthless because society's resource base is stretched beyond bearing.

So the poor wish to rise up and join those with a standard of living that will soon be impossible to maintain. All the effort and energy put toward revolution will be wasted when everyone arrives at the finish line and discovers there are no more prizes to be handed out.

Sure, if there was a revolution tomorrow we have a few more good years of productive capacity such that a couple of billion flat screen TV's could be produced and handed out in a socialist undertaking to improve general living standards, but once it's gone, it's gone. I guess if it's not wasted on flat screen TV's for today's poor it will only be wasted on newer models of flat screen TV's for today's rich and middle classes.

The trouble is that no-one really wants to recognise that the revolution should be in the opposite direction, away from riches and toward frugality. The only way to save ourselves from future poverty is to consciously devolve to a comfortable poverty, starting today.

Productive jobs in a consumer society are a relic of a dying age. If people want to secure their future then they should be creating productive jobs for themselves in an neo-agrarian society, not clamouring for revolution to redistribute money so the delusion of modern wealth can live on, more thinly spread, for another decade or so.

Where we need the revolution is in reclaiming rights to land, water, clean air and self-determination and self-care.

We can live without great wealth if we have enough space and water to grow our own food. We can live without great wealth if we are allowed to utilise the resources that fall upon or exist within the space we inhabit. We can live without great wealth if we aren't held up to maintain the standards of the wealthy when we erect our homes, or to abide by the myriad rules created by people with nothing better to do, and no more noble way to earn a crust than making other's lives miserable through endless regulations.

We don't need to be saved from ourselves, for that saving is set to be doing a whole lot of killing where it now mandates solutions that are just not suitable for the future we face. Try erecting a one room shanty made of native stone on your block of land and see how far you get before the local council is there with the sheriff to see you off! Yet a one room dwelling with outside toilet would have to be one of the most sustainable and suitable homes there is. When there are five or ten families doing the same on a block of land, there you have a potentially sustainable future with a low ecological cost. You wont see that solution at the top of most people's list!

The greatest dilemma of those not of the rich classes is securing our right to live in a comfortable poverty in the face of all the wealth, or in spite of all the "wealth" (the term is used loosely!).

At the moment we don't have a chance. In order to achieve the simple goal of living off the land we need to struggle to make enough to support all the parasitic classes that feed off potential landowners, then we need to struggle with the powers that be just for the right to dwell upon and work that land. Options to circumvent the various strictures are closed up as swiftly as they are found, so governing bodies attempt to ensure each family remains isolated, unable to pool resources with others, unable to draw upon their own resources.

We don't need a revolution to bring us more jobs and more opportunities in a dying system. We don't need more chances to ensure our excursion into overshoot territory is as damaging as possible.

What we need is a revolution to allow us to live in our place on earth in a comfortable poverty of our own making, and to allow us the opportunity to make the most of that as we each see fit. We need a revolution to protect all of that from those who would own every acre of the world and every man, woman and child upon it, yet would not step foot outside their tall towers, much less grub in the dirt to make a real living alongside us.

More than anything we need a revolution in our understanding of our place upon the Earth, a revolution in our relationships with one another, and with ourselves, such that we would demand these things in the first place, such that we would demand less rather than more.

This is the crucial revolution, and sadly the one that we are least likely to see.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Rain, Rain Don't Go Away, Just Change Your Day!

There was a spell of nice warm weather there for about a week, and even our trip to Sydney took place in perfect conditions, but I was left wondering at the irony of life when Sunday morning dawned miserable and wet. Whilst we do need as much rain as we can get scheduling it during the week would be a bit more considerate.

After spending about an hour trying to decide whether to venture out in the rain and get the shed started, or to stay in and potter about under cover, getting a start on the shed won out and I loaded up in the wet to go over to the block. It was dry, though still cloudy and threatening rain, from about half way there, so I allowed myself a little hope that it would remain so for long enough to get the portal frames bolted together.

Four finished frames

About twenty minutes after arriving, having sorted out the materials and just teetering on the cusp of getting started the rain began, and didn't let up until half an hour before I reached the end of the work. Of course it remained sunny for the rest of the afternoon and didn't start raining again until the evening. Funny that!

Whilst it was wet I still managed to get the frames bolted together, now they're all resting waiting for next weekend. I've got a small crew together to help out with putting them up, so as long as the weather is nice we should have the worst part of the job over by this time next week. I don't enjoy trying to get things square, level, parallel and in tune with the environment, it takes a lot of fiddling and back and forth measuring and adjusting. I certainly appreciate the need for it, but I can't bring myself to find any joy in it, it's a frustrating job of push-me-pull-me, inching slightly closer to perfection until a slip shifts the whole lot out of place and demands we begin all over again. I should stop now or I'll talk myself out of the project LOL!

Back on the home front the Chinese Tallow seeds I put in a while back have all started to sprout, eleven of them are pushing up above the soil. I had to collect the boys from school last week, so grabbed another pocket full of them. I'd despaired of finding any after searching the Orange cemetary for the trees that had been there many years ago, but failing to find them, and was most pleased to find that there were three trees right outside the kid's school gate. Talk about having your eyes painted on...

Chinese Tallow trees, future bio-diesel plantation

We've also got a lot of cuttings in the glasshouse that are coming along well enough, and as long as this latest spell of wet weather doesn't bring the frosts back we should be able to start planting out the tomatoes and other frost sensitive vegetables which are growing nicely in the warmth. Outside in the greenhouse areas we've got 9 lovely new oaks coming up (we're going to have one big oak grove out there!) and all the other stuff is growing nicely, even after being trashed by the chooks on Saturday. We'll need to pot a lot of stuff on for the season as there is no point trying to plant it out now with the heat of summer to come (if indeed it does...) so we've got a bit of work to do there. It will save us a bit of time in the end as the worst of the pot-bound plants are needing water every day now.

The new oaks and a couple of pots of weeds saved from last year...

The duck eggs in the incubator should hatch in two short weeks, and as you can see below the silky chooks we hatched out are growing swiftly (though not 'big-ly')

Four of the new chooks.

Monday, 19 October 2009


It's official, sort of! The first ever permanent construction (or part thereof) has been completed out at the new block. It was a tight race to the finish, with just enough material available to finish off the last hole for the footings, and it's all done.

We could commence construction of the shed next weekend, as that will have allowed the required 7 days of curing, but we're off to Sydney for a day to visit family, so apart from bolting a few of the portal frames together it might be a matter of spending time tidying up the site and getting the "floor" levelled. I don't fancy getting half way through putting the frame up and having to leave it for a week, it would only take one decent storm to lose the lot... Patience will prevail and I'll get as much prepared as possible for the following weekend, and I'll even draft in some helpers to get the critical elements up as swiftly as possible. Better make sure the generator works as well, sometime between now and then.

Seems like we're coming out of the winter weather at last, the recent rainy spell didn't result in the severe frosts that earlier ones brought trailing along, so it might be time to plant out the tender vegetables soon. Certainly hope so!

We've hatched out 8 new chicks in the incubator, then a few more for another friend, and we've now got some of the Indian Runners on the go which are progressing well. We're going to have to look into finding a new male from somewhere if we hope to breed any more of them up to avoid inbreeding problems, especially as we have no idea whether the current ones are closely related or not.

The DW has put on a test batch of lilac wine, whilst we wait in eager anticipation for the elderflower harvest to begin. Shouldn't be long now! We're going with champagne yeast following some good advice, we'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Anyhow, I'm off to enjoy some of the Daylight Savings inspired after-work sunshine. I'll try and get some pictures for next time, all this text must be hard on the eyes!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Post PE Insurance

Getting a liferaft up and running is a big job. It takes a lot of time, energy and resources, it involves a massive commitment and great changes. It's something that's obviously not for everyone, for a start there are many out there who don't really believe that this great edifice we've created, civilisation, will do anything but continue on it's merry way, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The belief in the magic of science, so often discussed in the pages of the Archdruid Report, soothes people's anxiety and allows them to continue on in the day to day drudgery of modern life.

One only needs to take a look over at Factor e Farm to see how hard it can be to get lifestyle changing enterprises off the ground. They solicit funding for their work in designing replicable technology that will hopefully assist people on the downslope of the resource consumption curve, and they have a job getting enough to do the work.

When it comes to less world-changing enterprises it's even more difficult. Most liferafts aren't intended for general consumption, the public perception is that you're looking after yourself and your family, and that you are operating from a defensive position against all of the consumers "out there".

As I've stated before, my vision is for a different kind of liferaft, one that is actually the seed for a future community.

Obviously if you are floating in the sea on a plank of wood after a maritime disaster you cannot fit all of the passengers onto your one piece of wood, but within reason a person would help as many as possible to survive. Sure, tough decisions would need to be made, but it's also obvious that selfishness inevitably leads to self destruction.

So it occurred to me this morning that perhaps there is a way forward for "liferafters" who share a similar train of thought, and who are resource constrained and feeling pressed for time. Liferafters are preparing for the worst, and the various shades between that and the best. They are unique in society in that they have the strength of conviction and belief in their understanding of the world situation sufficient to actually make changes to the way they live. The majority of people do not fall into this small demographic slice of pie.

No doubt we all have friends, family and acquaintances who, whilst concerned, do not share the same level of conviction, or the same feeling of impending doom. They are basically betting that things will continue on the way they are, at least for their lifetime.

Then there are those who are more serious, but are weighed down by the fact that in order to survive today they must exist within current society, must hold down jobs and work for a living. Not all of us are fortunate enough to be in a position where we can hold down a job and work on out liferaft from a suitable location (I try to thank my lucky stars as often as possible!)

So what's a citysider, who seriously believes that we are headed downhill, to do?

Enter Post PE (Peak Everything) Insurance.

Now, without a doubt, most of us are generous enough that when the chips are down we will take in any friends and family that straggle in from the cold. The only problem with this approach is that the resources on the liferaft would then be strained in proportion to the number expecting succour, and so everyone's chances of survival are reduced. What if there was a way that our city dwelling friends and family could contribute to the day-to-day development of their future salvation?

As we all know, insurance is a means to bet on the prospect of future disaster. What greater disaster do we face than the decline of civilisation?

If our city brethren were to enter into an agreement with a country liferafter whereby they contribute a small amount on a monthly basis as insurance against future problems, they would be covering themselves against disaster. This contribution would facilitate the advancement and preparation of the raft at an increased pace and level. I'm dubious about the potential for people to be able to sell off their city homes in times of crisis and buy into intentional communities at the last minute. Once the crisis hits such courses of action will be mostly unavailable. This offers a backup plan for those hoping to one day escape the rat race for their own piece of paradise.

Obviously there are a range of technical issues. For a start, what are they guaranteed to get on policy payout day? How is the trigger of the policy defined? How much should be charged, and what happens if they have a change of heart? What happens if they make it onto their own raft? What happens if they cannot make it to their chosen destination? What if you decide to pack up and leave the ranch prior to collapse?

The idea is in it's formative stages, but some of the following ideas may be headed in the right direction.

What do they get?

The most basic answer would be survival. Food, water and shelter. Any good liferaft will have systems in place for this, so the insuree would be guaranteed a share of these resources upon arrival. Shelter may be the most problematic, but a simple solution would be for the raft manager to keep a collection of tents, one for each family subscribed. Some form of communal housing might be more appropriate if the subscribers are generating a sufficient inflow of resources. In a crunch many peoples of the world pack more than three or four individuals into a single room, much less a three or four bedroom house...

Once the policy holders start to trickle in the labour force on the raft is increased, so work on more substantial accommodation can begin. Of course pre-prepared dwellings would be the ideal, but most councils currently frown upon starting new villages on farmland unless the landowner is willing to jump through hoops ad nauseum and sign away their soul and that of their children 7 generations hence. Once any form of disruptive collapse begins, sufficient to trigger the policy, then it would also be anticipated (perhaps too optimistically) that governing power's grip on our lives would be relaxed a little through simple inability to police such matters in more remote regions.

How is the policy triggered?

Given that there are already portions of society who have lost their homes thanks to the current economic downturn, it's quite conceivable that the week after next someone from your group of policy holders could face hardship to the extent that they need a place to stay. I would say that in the end it will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, and will depend on the stage of development of the property, the current regulatory environment, and personal willingness. I'm guessing that if you're the kind of liferafter who is willing to consider such a plan in the first place then you would be thankful for a few extra hands working around the place anyway, if some early dispossessed turn up on the doorstep.

Once there is any major disruption to food, water or similar resources, then we're going to see the majority of policy holders turn up ready for work.

What to Charge and a Change Of Heart?

Latter first, the simple answer would be to treat it the same as any normal insurance. If you opt out, you get nothing back. Insurance is a bet on the future, not a normal investment. This would need to be made clear from the start. In this way it provides certainty of title to the liferafter who may otherwise be concerned over partners opting out early in the piece to take a Caribbean cruise for instance, but does not rule out future arrangements in that regard as times get tougher.

The goal would be to set premiums at a level that the person paying them feels the same as they would about normal insurance. Charging enough that the person would be better paying off a mortgage on their own block of land will not really be conducive to success in achieving your policy signing targets.

On the other hand you obviously don't want to charge so little that you cannot achieve anything useful with the incoming funds. $5 a month will get a lot of subscribers, but it's not going to go anywhere toward setting up infrastructure to support that mass of people if they all turn up in a year's time.

There is a very good chance that your policy holders will be friends and family, so the idea would be to set the rates at mutually agreed and acceptable levels. After all, you are entering into an agreement designed to benefit both parties. They should understand the need for the investment, that the better you fare in preparing the place, they better chance they will have if things turn out badly. This must be balanced by the depth of their belief in what is approaching. If they don't see the value, they're not going to pay a cent, but then I doubt you'll be discussing this with them in the first place.

You could also offer other benefits to go along with the policy subscription. Perhaps an annual camping trip or farmstay, or a permanent camping spot for whenever they feel like getting away. Depending on how close they are you could even share the products of the farm, half a lamb now and then, box of veges fortnightly, you get the idea. Insurance with a CSA box drop as a sideline, better than a homeloan with a holiday thrown in!

It would also be good to consider having working bees with all policy holders so they can get to know one another (if they don't already) and so they can provide a bit of extra labour towards some of those larger projects, or the ones you normally wouldn't bother with if not for the festive atmosphere a working bee generates. It would be important to make sure they feel included in the development of the liferaft, and get plenty of chances to check on their future.

You would need to be clear about how much input they could expect to have before policy payout. If it's going to be a dictatorship, let them know from the start. In most cases I'm pretty certain they'd be willing to accept that you're running the show, at least until everyone makes use of the policy, when different arrangements would most certainly need to be made. And I'm equally certain that if they had a particular fondness for Cornish Aromatic apples you're not going to object to them planning ahead and planting a couple of trees in the corner of the orchard.

What happens if they make it onto their own raft?

This is another that can be answered by saying "it's insurance, not an investment", but once again that would be simplistic given we are talking about people we have some care for. This one does have a relatively simple answer though, so long as they make it onto a liferaft within reasonable geographical proximity.

Part of maintaining a seed style liferaft is building up a stock of organic materials that can be used as a seed to set up other people. There's nothing to say those people have to be right next door, so the obvious solution would be to guarantee a good stock of starter plants and livestock to anyone that has invested and ends up going out on their own.

In addition to that, one would hope that over the course of their insurance policy they've made a number of visits to your liferaft to pick up valuable practical skills they wouldn't have a chance to learn otherwise. In this way the policy can also be considered an educational subscription that has prepared them for their own adventure, all for a low subscription price with a free set of (hand forged) steak knives!

What if they can't make it?

We have no idea how things will turn out, and as always there are no guarantees. Perhaps it would be useful to formulate a plan to collect policy holders in the event of massive societal disruption. A number of plans might need to be put in place for various scenarios. A city locked down by the government to prevent unrest during times of food rationing is a different kettle of fish to one shut down by fuel shortages. The key here is communication, staying in touch with one another, knowing plans and sticking to them as best as possible. Further to that, knowing that if a person needs to deviate from the plans, that deviation will be along a predictable path so that there is a chance of meeting up is important. Arrange message hiding places, set CB frequencies in advance etc. In a nutshell, be prepared, but be prepared to be adaptive.

Most important of all, make sure they know you're going to help them out. I cannot imagine anything worse than sitting in the midst of a city gone mad, after investing hard earned money in salvation, thinking you'd been left adrift.

What if you decide to pack up and leave, before crunch time?

This one is a bit more difficult. We don't usually appreciate it when the insurance company holding our policy collapses and goes out of business, leaving us in the lurch. This will come down to an agreement between the parties involved, but I'd imagine some sort of reimbursement from the proceeds of the sale of the liferaft, if alternative arrangements cannot be made. After all, the property will have been improved in some measure by their inputs (combined with your own hard work, of course), so perhaps arrive at a mutually agreed termination figure to cover this eventuality. Remember, one day you might be knocking on their door for help...

If they put in $100 a month, then by the end of 5 years they will have contributed the princely sum of $6000. If you have 10 families subscribing, that's $60,000. As long as you haven't wasted that money you might realise at least 30% of it in asset-type improvement in value, or mortgages paid down, so could consequently offer that back. Remember, it's not about making a profit, it's about improving everyone's prospects.

In Conclusion, In Collusion

I'm sure there are many more issues to explore with this idea, but in it's initial form it offers a number of advantages to the socially isolated liferafter who has remote accomplices who are not ready to bail out on modern society. It's not quite an intentional community, and it's nothing like doing nothing at all. It's a way for those who really are concerned to make some concrete efforts to help save themselves. As mentioned before, you'd probably take them in anyway, but perhaps they will see some value in entering into such an agreement. For those that don't bother and rely on turning up when things turn sour, well, ultimately, you get to decide who does which job... be creative in your choices...

Conditions "out there" are getting more troubled. We might not have ten or fifteen years to get a place up and running, so added streams of resources would accelerate development and improve survivability for all involved. It's a win-win situation for those who are seriously concerned.

You're not going to take this idea to all of your friends and family, but if you're anything like us, you know a few firm believers who are just not in a position to make the move, so they may leap at the chance to make some concrete arrangements without having to give up everything they've got and head out bush.

I'd also advise only discussing it and entering into agreements with those who possess that inner certainty about our destination. None of us need legal battles or family fractures on the eve of societal decline, things that might arise by taking on people who don't truly appreciate the full spectrum of issues and potential futures. At the very least make sure they're willing to write off the loss...

Comments? Further issues? Extra ideas? All welcomed!!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Annual Roundup 2009

Yet another birthday has arrived, though being blessed as I am by having it in early Spring, it doesn't seem like a cold Winter wind creeping under the door and making my joints ache, it's more like a fresh beginning. Something about birthdays, they always get me to thinking about where I've been and where I'm headed to, so this post is something of a self-indulgent ramble through the past and a smattering of thoughts on the future.

Sadly, Winter has passed me by once again and seen no progress on the fire based hobbies of charcoal production and blacksmithing. With fire season once again soon to be declared such plans need to be put off until Autumn rolls around again. I say no progress, but that is not entirely true, because there has been some sideline style progress given that I've collected some beverage cooling units, similar to condensers, that will work wonderfully for cooling the pyrolysis oil that I'll get from charcoal making, so with the exception of the connecting pieces I've got all the elements ready to go. Perhaps further progress can be made over the hotter months by way of assembling a unit ready for testing once the time arrives...

We've now owned the new block for almost two years, and believe me that time has flown by. We have the 5 year deadline on the house footings, which at first I thought was years away, but now I think will sneak up on us alarmingly swiftly. Given that three quarters of a year has crept by just trying to get the shed up (and I've little doubt the rest of the year will join it before it's done) we'd best get our act together!

Peak everything, which featured so predominately and urgently on the horizon not a year ago has faded from the public mind to a degree, at least in some circles, though in others there is renewed and ever increasing vigour as we see Transition Towns popping up all over the place, Councils creating peak oil plans et al. Our own plans are tied to our new block of land, and so have stagnated in the same degree. The urgency is still there, but I'm calm about the future now. No matter what comes our way we're equipped and skilled to handle it. Even if we had to walk away from both properties we would still survive somewhere.

I no longer try and convince or cajole people into believing that a great disruption is headed our way, that we are destroying our Earth, gutting it for short term pleasure. I've even managed to largely avoid arguing with the nuclear pundits who cannot see the grim realities of their chosen mode of salvation. If they succeed in destroying the Earth then we wont be around to worry about it anyway.

I've moved beyond ambiguous acceptance, uncertain belief, and into the realm of certainty. No, I'm not certain our current society will collapse in my lifetime, but I am certain that our current way of life is just plain wrong. I can see where I need to be, though I am still caught in the struggle to get there, and I've little doubt that the journey will last me my entire life. We need to adopt The Simpler Way, to do away with the devices of distraction and trinkets of turpitude, and to re-align our lives with Nature.

It is a difficult struggle, both personally and at the family level. I'm plagued with questions as to how our children will cope. If change in the state of society does not arrive in our lifetime then they may resent the lifestyle that we have chosen to strive to live, unless we are careful and cunning in the way we present that lifestyle to them. Then I wonder why I wonder, as they already have a keen awareness of many environmental issues, though they have yet to draw the threads together into the tapestry depicting humanity's horrific devastation of it's home that I see before me whenever I have the unpleasant opportunity to see the daily news. Perhaps they can be readily coaxed to make the changes that I struggle to enact? I only came to an environmental awareness as I reached my teens, so maybe with suitable nurture they will be driving the wagon whilst I struggle to climb aboard?

One way or another, the Simpler Way will be our only remaining life-giving choice. It won't be take it or leave it, it will be take it or leave... People don't much care for predictions à la chicken little, but I really don't think we've got more than 5 years before the next wave of economic decline, and I seriously doubt we're going to see any vast improvement in the condition of the biosphere in that time, extreme behaviour from Mother N. will be more and more the norm.

This doesn't dwell in the back of my mind, it is more like a filter through which everything I see must now pass. The carefree, junk laden, overly endowed days of our lives might be coming to an end in the near future, to be replaced by an age of hardship and toil and struggle for survival, so all the easy moments need to be cherished. Cherishing similarly needs to make way for work, lots of hard work to get things prepared. There are of course no guarantees, everything that is prepared can be taken away in an instant, but the act of preparing in and of itself educates the mind and body, prepares them for future problems and the labour required to enact the needed remedies.

Spring has bloomed, the leaves are clothing most of the trees, and there is hope for a bountiful and prosperous season ahead, but this year it will be about making hay whilst the sun shines, feathering the nest (building it might be a good first step ;-) ) and battening down the hatches, for there are more storms on the horizon.

Monday, 21 September 2009

On Even Ground

It has finally begun, after all these long months we now have a level shed site, and therefore an official start on the shed construction.

Early Saturday morning I was finishing up packing a load to take out there when DW informed me that she'd just taken a call from our neighbour to let us know he'd be doing the work that very day once I made it out there. I rushed through the rest of the packing (without forgetting anything this time, last time I forgot the thermos, it was still sitting on the bench when morning coffee time arrived...) and made it over there in good time. After unpacking the load of stuff he arrived and we set about deciding on the best approach. Shortly after that the bulldozer roared to life and he was off and ripping.

After ripping, the first loads of dirt are pushed around.

Thankfully there were only a couple of patches of stone in the spot we'd selected. In other areas there are great reefs of stone sticking out of the earth, and finding one of those would have brought the project to a standstill. There were a number of adjustments made through the day, but before sunset it was done.

All done! The water level featured in an earlier post came in very handy.

I'll need to let the earth settle for a couple of weeks, so weekend after this next one I should be able to begin laying the shed out and digging the holes for the footings. Once they're dug it's time to grab the cement mixer, get a load of concrete mix and start filling the holes. When they've cured the rest of the project should go up quickly.

I'd been keeping myself occupied during the day working on the southern fence for the new orchard, and managed to get the netting up before dark. I'm going to save doing the barbed wire on all of the runs until last, seeing as it's the most exciting part of fencing.... not! Only one side to go on that project and we've got a fenced off orchard out there. Combine that with a tank on the shed and we can start planting this autumn (if not a couple beforehand).

The new orchard's southern fence.

On the home front there was great excitement in the house this morning at the sound of cheeping chicks. We'd tried incubating our own eggs a month ago, but nothing came of it, seems we have yet another dud rooster. We got a few eggs of some mixed bantam breed and put those in, and this morning we have six new chicks!!

The vegetable garden is powering along, as are the seedlings in the glasshouse, and there's only a few trees that haven't flowered yet. Sadly most of the almonds on the older tree are gone already. The parrots have a habit of nibbling all the flowers off and dropping them on the ground. If only they had the forethought to hold off nibbling early then they could come back later and get the fully grown almonds. Seems it's not only humans who don't have the sense to think about the future :-P

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Madness Continues

It's been a very busy couple of weeks around the place! Between work and play-work there hasn't been a lot of time for much else, but over the weekend I managed to take a few pictures so that you can see what we've been up to, as well as reading the usual verbiage...

The toilet roll seedlings

We did make it out camping, and a great weekend it was. Started out a little windy, but shortly after erecting a screen of tarps to reduce the worst of it it all died down. The night was incredibly cold, and we woke to a thick frost and a case of the shivers which took a while by the fire to subside (I'm sure it wasn't totally due to the wine consumed the night before, the frost must have been partly to blame!) In addition to a long and leisurely walk to the creek we did a bit of digging in the crystal mines and found a few nice specimens, though nothing truly remarkable.

Before leaving we also marked out the new spot for the shed so that the neighbour will be able to pop over whenever he has the time and inclination and level the site for us. The location isn't quite as good as the last with regard to preserving the views, but it shouldn't do too much harm. At the very least it will divide it up into "garden rooms" with framed views lol!

Chooks on patrol

This Saturday just gone I took off out there again, though it was a slow start and I didn't make it out there until 11am. A good part of the early morning was spent welding two pipes into one longer one that was going to be the final stay for the eastern fence of the orchard. I'll admit now that I need a lot of catchup practice on the welding...

The stay went in swiftly upon arrival, so I dove into putting that fence up, being the longest and most daunting. It's only 50m long, but still daunting, so I hate to think what some of the longer ones at 200 - 300 m long will be like, though I might be able to take a few days for them. I had planned to tie salvaged chicken mesh over the top of the hingejoint to stop the goats from getting themselves stuck but pulling the mesh out of the dump turned out to be a whole lot more complicated than I'd anticipated. I ended up wiring the remaining portion of a roll of foot netting over the bigger holes where they usually run into trouble, and finished up the rest with more hingejoint offset enough so the holes are now too small to fit a goat head. I've now only got the 18m and the 30m sides to go. I'm thinking I may need to fork out the money for a roll of netting, though I'm going to try pulling the mesh out of the dump with a winch first.

The eastern fence

I also had a chance to speak to the neighbour, and he thinks he'll be up to do the shed site shortly. Fingers crossed it might be ready for next weekend, then we can begin the joy of digging the holes for the footings! Can't wait!

Spent Sunday getting back into cleaning the farmlet up. As long-time sufferers of this blog may know we were hoping to go on the local market in Spring, which is now here... Still a bit behind that schedule.

Started the day out fixing the front fence up so that it looked more neat, and contemplated the fence that needed to be cut to get the sewer through, and gave up thoughts of trying to repair it after the adventures with the other one (short lengths don't strain well... even after many years of trying) I think we'll get some lengths of pig mesh or sheep yard mesh and make a solid fence that way.

Following fencing we went to the local Show for a while. The kids had a ride on a pony, a few zooms down the jumping-castle cross slippery dip, a browse through the exhibits for the competitions, and a look at the four-odd specimens of poultry entered this year, and the various goats, sheep and cattle. After that it was a jump on a different castle, a dagwood dog each, and then a sit-down in the shade while they judged the junior show princesses and jackaroos, and then held a fashion parade. A choc-top each, which required a fair bit of cleaning up afterward, and we judged the show experience complete for another year, so set off back home.

Orchard in bloom.

A delightful (27 degree) afternoon was spent compiling a load of rubbish for the tip, which was carted off, and then trying to hide the greater amount of stuff that I brought back with me. I'm now the proud owner of a good stack of short pieces of corrugated & colourbond roofing, and a weighty pile of star picket pieces in various lengths. The roofing will be ideal for chook sheds and similar projects, and the old star pickets will be great to cut down for stakes for building garden edging. A most profitable excursion! Rather than unload all that lot I started adding to it all of the remaining outdoor goods that can safely live outside over at the new place, which further helped to clean the place up.

We've decided that as soon as we have the shed built we're going to market, we're not going to worry about the millions of jobs that we could complete in order to try and get a better price. we'd end up staying here forever! If we're going into a rental next then we need a place to store everything, so the shed is a priority, but once that's done, no more excuses!! So maybe there is only 3 or 4 weeks to go? Maybe...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Spring Madness

It's been a while since the last post, busy and exciting times in the lead-up to spring. Last I checked in we'd done some initial work on the new orchard. This has moved along a little bit further, we've got the stays in on two of the posts (major achievement, I know, but we did do some other stuff as well). I'll need to weld a couple more up for the other three posts, then it will be time for some wire.

We spent a great family day out at the block weekend before last, cooked some sausages over the fire and took a leisurely walk down to the creek and then back via the big hill, with a stop-over at the old dump where we scrounged up some interesting bits and pieces.

The seeds for spring also went in that weekend, a variety of things planted up in toilet roll tubes. Only the basil and cucumbers have emerged so far, fingers are crossed for the rest as some of the seed is getting on a bit, highlighting the need to rotate seed more often. The problem faced there is that some types of seed have so much in a pack one could never get through it all before it declines in viability. Might be worth establishing a seed trade network for the spring flush, where half packets of varieties are sent off about the place. A much better approach than planting a tray of four year old seed and losing two weeks waiting for it to fail to germinate.

Last weekend started out rainy and miserable, with patches of sunshine, so after a quick trip out to the block to pick up some firewood we took a trip into town to do some shopping. I'd been working on two old lawnmowers for the last few weeks, trying to get them running reliably, but in the face of wifely displeasure at the ever lengthening lawn and the lack of suitable parts it was decided that a new mower would be the safest course of action. I've had a lot of lawnmowers over the years, but thinking back on it this is only the second one we have ever bought, and the first ever push-mower. The first purchased was the trusty old ride-on we got when we moved out here. Fifteen odd years of patching up and holding together with wishes various old pieces of junk has come to an end and we are now the proud owners of a new mower.

Sunday started out with assembling the new mower and taking it for a quick test run (the lawn was still wet from the rain overnight, and we all know mowing wet grass is bad news). This was followed up with some remedial work demolishing the old septic tank and filling it in, along with the addition of a few bags of lime. Yes, you guessed it, yet another milestone. The Flood Street Farmlet is officially connected to the Cudal Sewer!! No more swampy side paddock in the depths of winter when DW has put one load of washing too many through. No more glorious unsavory smells to chew upon during balmy summer evenings.

Once I was sure I'd survived filling in the tank (the sides of it were foot thick concrete made in the old style, without reo, but virtually indestructible to the tools of a mere mortal. The small sledgehammer is a ruin, swinging the large one almost killed me) it was time to clear out the old tin shed, and repair the door. By mid afternoon I had the truck loaded up with more 'materials' to go out to the block, another pile destined for the tip, and the shed had been updated with a hinged door in place of the sliding one that refused to slide. It's now the home for the bikes so that there is enough room for shiny new mower in the big shed. Amazing what a fellow can achieve when the safety of his new mower is at stake.

The letters to officially surrender our shed DA were sent today. That should eliminate all the fancy roadwork requirements, bringing us back to square one, an intersection and stock grids on the laneway. I'm not sure how we'll tackle those, but we'll find a way. The shed will go up under the exempt development code in a different location. I was lucky enough to talk to a member of the Department of Planning last week, and a member of the Department of Lands just before that, and neither could see any validity in Council's claim that we did not have legal access to the block. Given that, we're willing to try our luck and if Council decides to get stroppy about it we can meet them in court over it. As always, if we knew then what we know now, well...

This weekend, if all goes well, is camping time. It's DS1's birthday and Father's Day and calls for a weekend of celebration. Fingers are firmly crossed for some nice weather so we're allowed to go! Hopefully we can spend Father's Day doing some of the things I love, like preparing shed sites and installing fences!! If we do make it out then it's guaranteed we'll enjoy a quiet evening around the bonfire with a glass of red or three, the perfect cure for the hassals of modern bureaucracy.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Miniature Monolith & Rabbit Stew

The weekend began with a trip out to the block to do some more work on the fence for the orchard area. I had thought there were only two posts available from the cattle yard demolition I'd done some time back, but upon arriving out there and surveying the materials stockpile I discovered the third necessary element for the fence. Fantastic news as I now had enough to get straight on with the job, no money needed!

I completed the first two posts before lunch, one next to the concrete post to hang the gate off, and the other further down the hill to form the south-eastern corner of the interim fence. Later on we will have another gate there to let us into what will be the lower front paddock, but at this stage we can just drive around it, so there is no need to expend the extra resources to put in the extra gate.

House Yard Plan. Orchard to the right, with three vege yards for rotating, chooks digging in between. Combined glasshouse/chookhouse planned as well. The gateway in the pictures below is just above the three rectangular yards, on the left.

The new fenceline will enclose the existing route of the "road" from the front gate, so we're shifting that so it runs along the new fenceline. One problem this created was that it ran straight over the top of an outcrop of rather large stones. After some lunch I thought I'd take a break from digging post holes and got stuck into digging out these obstructions, optimistically expecting that it would only take a short while to clear the taller ones out of the way.

Course of the new roadway looking roughly south from the front gate, the white tape is the fenceline and you can see the gateway-to-be down the end.

Sadly it wasn't to be so easy, and three hours later I'd evicted a sizable boulder from the roadway's course. According to some rough calculations it's about 300kg, which is rather heavy. Once I had it out of it's hole I shifted it back up the hill a bit and decided, rather foolishly, to stand it upright as a feature stone in what will one day be the front yard.

The monolith and attendants

Needless to say, once this was done I had serious second thoughts about setting to digging the third post hole needed to finish up the orchard fence outline. Bravery, or more foolhardiness, overcame me and I began digging, to find that the ground in the spot that had been chosen (on a map drawn about 70km away in the comfort of home) was soft and easy to dig, and right on top of the remains of an older fence post. Where the other posts had taken about an hour each, this one was planted within half an hour. The gods were certainly looking after me!

I took a quick wander around to see if I could bag a bunny for some stew before heading home, and got lucky again. We'd discussed it that morning and wanted to show the lads how a rabbit is skinned and prepared for the pot, so the unlucky bunny was loaded into the truck for the journey home.

Sunday had been selected as a day to be spent at home on the farmlet, catching up on some of the myriad jobs neglected in the drive to get some things done at the new place. A bit of maintenance fixing the laundry flyscreen door to ensure it latches properly, replacing washers in the bathroom (including an educational exercise for the lads and lots of willing assistance) and then it was out into the yard to skin the rabbit which had been hanging overnight. Eldest turned a bit green and headed off to engage in other pursuits, but mid-twin kept up the questions and was most interested to see what went on inside a rabbit.

Once that was done it was time to tackle the machinery crisis we are facing. Our push mower threw a vital component some time ago, taking with it some other vital components, and was considered well and truly dead. We'd borrowed and picked up a couple of other non-functional mowers that I was sure could be restored to working order. I concentrated on yellow Victa, a stylish, fairly recent (10 years or so?!), model that had all it's parts. After cleaning carbies, spark plugs and flushing fuel tanks the problem was isolated to a blocked muffler. Much banging and soaking and blowing later I was able to get it started and running. I promptly re-assembled all the protective and dress cowlings, and then attempted to start it again, without success. Aaaaaarghh! I'd had enough for the day, so it was relegated to the to-do list, once again.

We sampled the rabbit stew, and it was promptly consigned to the category of dog food. The flavours were interesting enough, but after chewing on the same small piece for a good five minutes and not having any impact upon it it was decided that actually consuming it might turn the kids off rabbit stew for life. Next time we'll have to let the creature rest for a few days perhaps? Might have to do a bit of research into preparing rabbits for the pot, something I should have done it prior to starting out! Needless to say, the bolognaise we had in it's place was very nice...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Rough Outlines

If you've ever spent time at the drawing board you'll realise that you start with the rough outlines, and then progress to add in the details. It doesn't matter how many times you're starting over, the process is still roughly the same. We've heard from our certifier, and he's still waiting on a response over the issue of legal access from a planning friend of his, but otherwise the news is good. We can surrender the development consent and get rid of the new conditions, and they can't modify the house consent conditions to add on the things they have put onto the shed.

As long as we can proceed with building the shed under exempt development we can take this course of action. Once again it's back to the intersection and stock grids, but that's better than the alternative. We've gone to the Ombudsman as well, following on from the suggestion from Andrew and Heather of Tenderbreak Permaculture Farm. We haven't heard back from them yet, I imagine the wheels of power turn at about the same pace no matter where up the ladder they are situated, and I don't hold out a lot of hope, but it's a good feeling all the same, to know that we've told someone in power about the kind of professionalism that comes out of our Council.

This weekend just gone I actually got to spend two whole days out at the block. It was beautiful. Satuday was spent felling a rather large dead tree that was situated smack bang in the middle of the future orchard, and because the rest of the family was there as well we all went for a walk down to the creek, then up the rocky hill and back towards home base.

On the way back there was a little experience that just goes to prove that you're never too old to lack common sense. We found an old wheel laying in the grass up the top of the hill, the tyre still in serviceable condition, so it occurred to me that it would be wonderfully amusing to show the kids how it rolled down the hill. Once everyone was suitably gathered and attentive the wheel was set free. It rolled off with enthusiasm, and about 50m into it's journey I took the time to consider where it was headed, with some prompting from the DW. Straight toward the boundary fence with the neighbour, a creaky old thing of wooden posts and rusting wire.

Needless to say, I watched in horror (and I must admit a great measure of excitement) as the wheel gained speed on it's journey toward the inevitable collision. It struck and lifted two of the large wooden posts out of the ground as the netting bowed inward, before propelling the wheel back. We watched from the top of the hill as it curved off down toward the creek, completing it's journey in a slow spiral in the flat above the empty dam. Quite a momentous journey, and the kids absolutely loved it, funniest thing they'd seen all week!

The big strainer, and remains of the big tree

They all departed about 3pm, leaving me to finish up a bit of wood cutting, and to put in the big concrete strainer post that was going to help form up the orchard fence. That was a mighty traumatic job, luckily the neighbour came by and lent me a hand getting it up and into the hole. After that it was getting dark, so off home.

The next day started with a trip to the FIL's to pick up some old apple bins, as I'd packed the four remaining oak trees in the truck and intended to finish planting them out. With 6 bins loaded up I headed back out to the block, and started the day with some tree planting. The afternoon was then spent chopping up more of the newly felled tree, and after struggling to drag the wire rope back up the hill to pack it away I was well and truly done for the day.

The Oak Grove, with 5 oaks in bins

Back on the farmlet, our neighbours had acquired a couple of ducks that they then discovered were a bit large to be pets for their grandson, so we were called up and asked whether we wanted them. The DW was very enthusiastic and the appropriate arrangements were made. Yesterday we became the proud owners of a breeding pair of Indian Runner ducks!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Back to the Drawing Board

We seem be to going around in circles at the Farmlet at the moment, which I imagine must be a bit frustrating for you who take the time to read this. Unfortunately that's the sorry tale that is to be told, so unless I choose to say nothing at all, it's what you get ;-)

As a bit of a test I called up the Council yesterday to challenge them about the need for 50m of RG2 roadway connected to the intersection. Council's policies (I should point out that they are new policies only accepted by Council back in May) state that the old RG1 standard of single lane gravel road is now non-existent, except for right-of-way situations serving only an average of 16 vehicle movements per day. The result of the conversation was as useful as I'd expected. I was told that for each allotment the average was 8 movements per day, how people would use 8 vehicle movements per day I don't know, some people obviously drive way to much! Even if we dropped the kids off and picked them up from school that's only 4 movements per day, and living in the country if you drive out to drop the kids off then you keep on going if you need to. As there were two allotments up our lane (and it seems we have to pay for both of them) this equates to 16 movements in total, and the RG1 standard was only applicable for less than 16.

I tossed and turned last night rather than sleeping, and then realised just after midnight that the Council offers a 2 movement discount to encourage development. Silly me for missing that in our conversation.

First thing this morning I called up a business that does road building to get a ballpark figure on how much the roadworks were going to cost. At the end of it we arrived at about fifteen thousand dollars to do the upgrade (yes, $15,000) all of which should have been levied on the guy doing the subdivision. Strangely, all of which was levied on the guy doing the subdivision, and was passed on to us in the purchase price. Hence our extreme reluctance to spend more money on it. But I'm getting the distinct impression that Council aren't overly concerned about spending our money for us.

I called the Council guy back again after finding out this sum, but was directed to voicemail. I'm figuring that the calling number display alerts them to the fact that it's me so they avoid taking the call now. I left a message outlining the reason for the call, particularly to discuss the fact that he hadn't taken into account our supposed discount, and indicating that I would like a call back to discuss the issue.

After much discussion with DW we came up with a last resort plan. I don't expect the response from Council to be positive. It hasn't been to date, and even the most positive things have carried with them heavy burdens in the way of additional conditions, typically to make up for all the stuff they forgot in previous versions. There's a special brand of ineptitude being cultivated up there.

So our cunning plan is to ditch the shed development consent and to build the shed under the new NSW exempt development rules. The certifier was pretty certain that Council's idea of legal access to the block was flawed and that the current state of the access shouldn't hinder building under those rules.

This eliminates all of the conditions that have been applied to the shed, including the road upgrade. We then fall back to the conditions on the original house consent which included the stock grids and the BAR/BAL intersection. I'm guesstimating that more than half of the cost of the works would be tied up in the 50m of roadway, so for roughly $7,000 we should be able to upgrade the intersection. Another $6,000 for putting in the stock grids, and we arrive at a total of $14,000 of work.

Sure, that looks pretty close to the other number, give or take a thousand.

Did I neglect to mention that in addition to the road upgrade we also needed to fence off the road reserve? I've estimated that at $5,000 odd dollars for materials, so the total for upgrading the road and fencing would be (conservatively) around $20,000. This way it stops at $14,000.

An additional benefit would be the scrapping of the new condition that was applied to the house consent (which is a dubiously legal condition at best, so I've been informed), which required that we do the roadworks before pouring the footings on the house. Under this new plan (which is a lot like the old one) we can do most of the house before having to worry about roadworks.

So I keyed a letter off to our certifier to request clarification on all of our understandings and intuitions, and now await a reply from both people. Whilst I wait I'm left to ponder the situation. Perhaps there is something we haven't achieved that we should have, and so we are being sent in circles until that achievement is made? The universe, by way of a friend, was kind enough to supply us with building materials, tools and other goodies on the weekend, so it's still looking after us, there's little doubt about that. There must be other processes in motion, things happening behind the scenes that need to catch up and arrive at a particular point for us to move onward.

So, depending on the answer to my email and phone calls, we might not be proceeding with locating the shed in the spot that we've picked out and done work to clear up. Not such a bad thing perhaps, though I've now got to go back to the drawing board and pick another spot (more than 15m from any boundaries IIRC). Tricky on our hilly country, but as you might have guessed, I don't mind a challenge, though I'd prefer it if it wasn't the same challenge over and over and over again...

Monday, 20 July 2009

Two New Trees

I began the weekend without any real idea of what I was going to get up to. The family is all away on holidays, so I had to take into account that I needed to be around to feed the animals at the FSF, so spending the whole weekend camping at the new block was out of the question. In the end I decided I'd nip out to the block on Saturday and plant a couple of trees and chop some firewood.

Planting trees out there is quite an involved job. Not so simple as digging a hole and bunging the tree in, that's for sure. That's part of it, but once that bits done then it's a matter of preparing an apple bin by removing part of the base so that it can fit neatly over the tree. Then a couple of posts are hammered in around it, and then mesh is strung around the posts. Finally a row of rocks or timber is laid against the two sides of the bin that aren't enclosed all the way to the ground.

The Stone Pine

What all this effort? Well, goats and hares of course. Both would make a quick meal out of the young trees, and at this stage of the game there is no point fencing off large swathes of land for tree planting as we'd never be able to keep up with the maintenance. So for now we're going to stick with a few strategic trees in apple-bin safety systems.

These are the first trees we've planted out there since just after we got the block, when we planted the commemorative oak. The two new trees are placed in strategic positions. Another oak has gone in, this time in the spot that is going to become the oak grove, just down the hill from the house. The other was a stone pine (Pinus pinea) and it went in the spot where we're going to have a grove of, well, stone pines...

They're not much use on their own as poor isolated trees, but they are intended to be symbolic more than practical at this stage. In future, whenever I look at, or wander past those spots I'll be thinking to myself "there's the stone pine grove" and so on. It helps cement the idea and the vision in place in my mind, and that helps make the reality so much easier to create.

The only features that actually exist on this plan are the boundary fences,
and even they're not necessarily in the right place...

Had tea in town on Saturday night with the parent's in-law, and arranged to pick up the next day a load of bent and rusty old star posts that were on offer. When I arrived to do this the stack turned out to be a lot bigger than expected, and there was a concrete strainer thrown in with it, which would have been a bit big to be unloading at home and then reloading to take out another weekend, so Sunday was spent with another drive out to the new block to unload the bounty.

All-in-all a great weekend, though perhaps not as productive as possible given most of it was spent driving around. Seems to be the common theme over the last few months, more time driving than working. Still, with the number of posts gifted to me I should be able to put a fence around the orchard out there, and then some, which gets us that one step closer, and that's always a good thing!

In other news we've got our construction certificate for the shed now, so we can begin whenever we please. Problem being that I've got to go to Sydney this Friday, to return on Saturday arvo, and then will be spending Sunday with the family for the first time in almost two weeks. Maybe I can convince them we need to be catching up over some nice hard digging out on site :-)

Bolt Gets It Right

Andrew Bolt, columnist for the Herald Sun [blog], and frequent talking head on various TV shows, has got one right.

I was "lucky" enough to catch him on one of the TV news-faux-mercials this morning.

Generally he has little idea about the problems facing our world and society, arguing against human-induced climate change for instance, and overall having very little understanding about how the underlying problems of resource depletion have created the troubles we see all around us. Ask him what a war on terror is about and he's sure to think it has something to do with bombings by radicalized groups, failing to make the connection that it's more about subduing the terror that arises in the hearts of all patriotic westerners when they think of going without their privleges, all of which are thanks to oil.

Well folks, this morning he got it right. He uttered words so profound I was momentarily flabbergasted.

He subtley pointed out that last night's win on MasterChef was more a demographic decision than a true judgment of the skill of the participants. Perhaps he has finally found his niche, a spot in the heady world of international affairs where his incisive insights can be put to truly beneficial use.


Monday, 13 July 2009

The Party & The Cleanup

The big birthday party was a bit of a success. I spent the Friday afternoon and evening cooking up some treats and preparing the meat, so on the day we started with profiteroles, then had lunch of fennel pork belly and roast vegetables, following that with a birthday cake (fudge chocolate with vienna filling and icing and a bit of blackberry jam) and a piece of lemon meringue pie (sadly the lemon bit was runny, but it was still edible). We all enjoyed the time together, the weather was nice enough, not the sunny days of the week before, it was overcast and a bit chilly, but still nice all the same. All in all a top event!

After the main festivities were completed we sat around the campfire into the early evening, roasting marshmallows with the kids until their bedtime, then it was quiet time with the brother, listening to some old hits on the local radio station, sampling some red wine, singing to the better tunes. Campfire time was cut short when "I can't stand the rain" began to play, and, inevitably, it began to rain.

Sunday dawned cloudy, and after a suitable period of morning recuperation I packed up copious amounts of hot water for coffee and set off to the new land, hoping to get through most of the preparatory work needed in getting the shed site ready to go.

Shed site before. It is going to sit across the picture, and the bins further
back will impinge upon it's footprint. The fence to be removed runs from the
second post on the right across the picture to the left.

Started out with measuring up the location for the shed according to the submitted plans. I'd made a couple of last minute on-paper changes to the location to accommodate some other tentative future plans, so I needed to know where the shed was really going to go. Once this was sorted out it was on to removing the small fence that formed the back boundary of the shed yard. As the first picture shows, there's also a lot of materials stored in the region of the shed site. Once the fence was down all of these needed to be moved, which was the largest part of the job. There must have been a couple of ton of steel in there at least.

Shed site after. The fence is gone and all the resources are moved into a neat stash
out of the way. You can just make out, if your eyes are sharp, some white posts,
far left cutting across the shadow, in front of the right-most bin, and then a
couple more cunningly hidden on the mid-right.

Amazingly I made it through it all, and had time to chop a small load of wood before dark. Then it was off for home again. The next major action on the shed project should be getting the earthworks done, which will most likely involve a bit of (internal) road building as well.

Below is a picture, for no particular reason at all, of the wonderful old sawmill we were gifted with. It's going to need a bit of work before it runs again though... Nice old piece of machinery all the same.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Step 2(a) - CC & Fencing

We've got the ball rolling to get a construction certificate so we can put up the shed. It should be finalised by the end of the week if all goes well. We wont be able to get any real work started until the weekend after the next one, as we are celebrating a family birthday which will consume a large proportion of the weekend. And well it should, celebrations are very important things!

The weekend just gone started out rainy and cold, so Saturday, apart from visiting the poultry show in Orange, was spent in the shed tinkering on a project (sorry, cannot reveal this one as it is the present for the aforementioned celebration).

Sunday dawned cold but dry (except for the ground which was a slushy mess, which is proper for winter, finally). I set out for the block with the intention of installing the patch of boundary fence needed so I can open up the end of the shed yard so the bulldozer driver can push dirt to the correct spots, and collecting a little firewood.

The fencing was a challenge, 100 odd metres of fence, constructed in a new style. I'm used to fencing to exclude sheep and dogs, not goats which present a problem as they get their heads stuck in the fence due to their horns, so they need a particular sized netting to minimise this problem. Unfortunately I also took on board some other suggestions, and my experience and skill was not up to the new process.

The new fence is on the left. The shed site is behind the tree in the distance.

It went up in the end, but it's a bit floppy in the belly because I couldn't get a tight enough strain on it. As I was running out of time I had to tie it up and leave it as it was. It wont be experiencing stock pressure from within for a while, and only cattle and sheep on the far side so it will do it's thing, but it's not my finest fence. With luck I will get a chance to do some remedial work to it down the track, but I'd say after I've finished the shed!

I still need to remove the scrap of fence that is in the way, and then shift some of the stockpile so that the shed site is clear and there is enough room to push dirt around. Then comes the real challenge of the job, that of getting the site level. There is about a 40cm drop from front to back of the shed footprint. What's worse is that the area in front of the shed is probably 40cm - 60cm higher out to 4m from the opening. We can't have drainage issues, nobody wants water flowing through their work and storage space, so we're going to need to creatively shift dirt around to avoid this issue. That's the challenge for the next free weekend...