A Country For The Big Boys

A reprint of a rant I sent to Grass Roots Feedback, which a reader told me I should air more widely. Thanks, Val! 🙂 Here goes.

We GR people already know how it is – but sometimes, when you hear of yet another incidence of new and idiotic regulations, doesn’t something just snap in you? I’ll tell you what did it for me recently: Hearing that people were no longer allowed to use “second-hand” glass containers to bottle items like honey or home-made jam or pickles for sale. And of course, you can’t make jam and pickles for sale without a registered, commercial, stainless steel kitchen these days. Oh, except for charity, of course – showing that it’s little to do with health regulations, whatever they claim.

We’re living in a tide of rubbish, and in an era of unprecedented waste, and some people are actually sitting here making regulations against the re-use of the most sterilisable, reusable material on the planet – glass. When I was a child in the 1970s, the local brewery in Europe delivered beer and juice in glass bottles, by the crate; your empties went back in the crate, which was picked up by the brewery at the next delivery. Bottles were washed and re-used. It’s how things ought to be, but rarely are, and now they’re making regulations against it.

In laboratories all over the world, of course, scientists are using glassware over and over again as storage containers and vessels for chemical reactions, biological cultures etc, and will, rightly, not be tossing out their containers after a single use. They will use their glassware for decades, until it accidentally cracks or drops on the floor. The cleanliness of laboratory glassware is just as crucial as that of food containers, but nobody is going to use the smokescreen of “health regulations” with them. Meanwhile, of course, the local fast food multinational down the road is legally making people unhealthy from their stainless steel, registered, commercial kitchen, while passing all the required “standards.”

I think this shows you how useful our health regulations, and indeed some of the other legislated “standards,” are. They’re very useful for protecting the interests of the big boys. Glass manufacturers will increase their profit margins. Small, artisanal food producers will have another useless expense to add to their production costs, and be even less competitive against mass marketed, less socially and environmentally friendly, and usually less nutritious products.

So why don’t we have decent legislated standards about reducing, re-using and recycling packaging? About adopting renewable energy sources and ditching fossil fuels? About recycling the nutrients from human toilet waste back into Australia’s degrading topsoil, where manure properly belongs, instead of burying it in landfill and leaking it into the water cycle? About constructing passive solar, truly energy-efficient buildings, instead of having a “star standard” which just measures how good an esky a house is for retaining artificial heating and cooling, allowing industry to continue selling air conditioners and heaters to the public? Have the legislators run out of ink, trying to regulate small producers out of existence while deregulating banks, multinationals, and the salaries of politicians and executives?

These people don’t even know how to spell concepts like ethics, social justice, environmental stewardship, and community interests – and they make them harder for all of us. Where’s the legislation to invite homeless people off the streets to places of shelter, support, and, for those who need it, rehabilitation? Where’s the legislation that says a house is primarily to be seen as a home for human beings, not a thing for investors to make money from? Where’s the legislation that says grandma actually isn’t statistically likely to poison you by selling you some of her nice home-made jam from her tidy, clean, non-commercial home kitchen?

I come from Europe, and grew up in countries with an artisanal food culture. We could legally buy food directly from farmers – and they could legally sell it to us. Like many other children, I used to go down to the local dairy farm with a milk pail and some loose change to get fresh, natural milk straight from the cow – no pasteurising or homogenising or packaging or transporting required. Can I do this in Australia? No, I cannot, and that’s despite the fact that Australia’s dairy herd is actually healthier from a communicable diseases perspective than Europe’s. There are three dairy farms within cooee of where I live, but if I want to buy their milk, I have to buy it after it’s been transported 400km up to Perth, pasteurised, homogenised and packaged, and transported 400km back again – from the supermarkets.

In Europe, we used to legally buy smoked hams and sausages straight from home-killing pig farmers, at prices that were fair to both sides. In Australia, if I want that, I have to go to a farmer’s market and pay twice as much as that, because the small producer has to pay steep market stall fees, on top of all the whiz-bang unnecessary facilities they’ve been made to have by the regulators, and their inspection fees, permits, etc etc. In Italy, we could buy meat, milk, cheese etc legally from farmers who processed in their own, non-commercial kitchens to sell to the neighbourhood, buyer beware, relationship of trust with local producers etc. Here – no such luck, it’s all verboten. There are “health standards” to adhere to, after all. Which is kind of ironic when you look at our increasingly malnourished, underexercised Australian population.

If you’re wondering what sorts of useless facilities small producers are being pressured to have, how about the shower block for day employees a local farmer’s market dairy had to cough up for, even though they don’t actually have employees, they’re run entirely by the family and WWOOFers. The capital cost of this, and other idiocies, has to get passed on to the consumer, of course, and I actually couldn’t afford to stock up on their products even on a professional salary – $80 per kilogram is simply too steep for cheese. So, I couldn’t support this local producer.

Recently, I heard that local authorities attempted to make a small commercial dairy down the road finance and build disabled facilities on their farm. This is an entirely family-run farm, no employees – but they were supposed to meet “standards”, and build facilities nobody was actually going to use. They got around it for now, but I’m surprised more commercial dairy farmers around the country aren’t packing it in, with this new raft of expenses they’re supposed to just magically absorb in their often non-existent profit margins. Talking to that family, in order to stay operational at all, for many years they’ve had to have one family member working off-farm fulltime to bring in money for domestic expenses, which aren’t covered by the returns from their fulltime dairy operation.

If you’re not furious already, how about the farmstay up the road from us who decided they would go “legal”? They had nice facilities and thought they were OK. Well – they had to spend in excess of $20,000 extra to meet “standards”: A $1,000 UV sterilisation unit for their already triple filtered rainwater, disabled facilities, fencing of farm dams to reduce the risk of children drowning, a handwashing sink in their kitchen. This made the local newspaper, and the local council was preening itself on having let this small business off the hook on several thousand dollars annually they could have legally charged them for “increased costs of road maintenance” due to their operations. (Are they charging that to the motels in town?)

Currently, our local authorities are cracking down on AirBnB – everyone has to meet commercial “standards,” apparently. They’re fining people, closing people down – apparently the free market economy isn’t so free when it comes to small operators competing with overpriced motels and hotels belonging to the social circles of the people who are legislating us. And apparently, ordinary people aren’t supposed to be able to have nice, reasonably priced, environmentally friendly, family-orientated farmstay and B&B experiences with real people in a real home – everybody has to pay through the nose, to satisfy our “standard makers” – who are making very self-serving standards, if you ask me.

Where will it all end? No more swap meets? No more bartering? No more sweat equity? No more doing favours for others? A tax on smiling? What else can possibly be regulated out of existence? I’d be losing my mind by now if it wasn’t for the commonsense that still survives at the grassroots level in this country, and if I didn’t know that ordinary people have for millennia had to find ways to hold on to things that were important to them, in the face of overlords who tried to wrest them away. Safe journey to you all, peace, and a happy, healthy, productive 2019.

Groundhog Day In Pearl Bay

I am a big fan of the SeaChange series that ran at the turn of the millennium, and have watched it many times, revisiting it like a favourite snuggly piece of knitwear when in need of comfort in life’s rough and stressful stretches in the twenty years hence. It always made me laugh, it always warmed my heart, and it was so quintessentially Australian. Nothing else I’ve watched has poked fun at our little Aussie idiosyncrasies in quite the same way, or had a heroine quite as simultaneously dysfunctional and endearing as Laura Gibson.

So it was with huge excitement that I heard a sequel was being made. Tuesday morning, by chance, I caught Sigrid Thornton and Kerry Armstrong in an interview with the Today show and heard the first episode of the new series was screening that night. Ecstatic messages were immediately sent to my husband at work, and similar messages came back. Hooray!

Alas, sadly, the first episode of the new series fell drastically short of expectations at our house. We feel that the new series looks both pale and like an imitation, instead of like a worthy sequel to its brilliant predecessor.

The first deep dismay came with finding Laura Gibson had apparently become a crude parody of her old self, retaining nothing she had learnt in her three years at Pearl Bay. Instead of building on her erstwhile character growth in the twenty subsequent years, she appears to have regressed nearer to infancy, and now there is nothing remotely likeable or endearing about her anymore, at least in the first episode.

On a side note, my husband and I both had cognitive dissonance over the lack of smile lines and character in the face of a woman who is now 60. Sigrid Thornton is without question very beautiful, always has been. Still, there was something unsettling and unreal about the lack of facial expressions and stretched-tightness around the eyes and cheeks as we were watching Laura emoting her way around the town. It seemed as if she had been replaced by an animated shop dummy from Dr Who’s classic Spearhead From Space – some sort of inorganic copy of the real person. It makes for a rather unfavourable comparison to Pearl Bay’s beloved Meredith of yore, who was deeply beautiful without looking like she’d stepped off a cosmetic surgery table – because while beautiful young people are a work of nature, beautiful old people are a work of art resonant with life experience and gentle wisdom.

It is sad to think that thus are the pressures on women to preserve their youthful appearances, and sadder still to think what that says to the next generation of young women watching, about what beauty is and about how they should be. It seems to me that everyone could benefit from (re-)reading The Velveteen Rabbit.

Speaking of Pearl Bay, apparently all its remaining inhabitants have been successfully hypnotised and then translocated into an alternative universe they still believe to be Pearl Bay, even though it isn’t. Unfortunately, viewers don’t have the benefit of this alien hypnosis, nor does the suggestion that climate change resulted in not just completely different vegetation, but a completely different geological history, and a completely different town layout, help us to suspend our growing disbelief.

Not just Laura, but each of the old characters returning from the original SeaChange series – Kevin, Bob, Heather – are stuck in the same tragic time warp where they appear to have completely stagnated in their human development since 2002, and become hollow caricatures of themselves. Granted, they were cartoony in the original series, but a cartoon of a cartoon is like a photocopy of a photocopy – not very lucid, and not very original.

And it’s not remotely believable. Max some no-goodnik and Laura abandoning Miranda and Rupert when pregnant with her new child are inconsistent with the character growth of these people in the original series. The basic premise of the 1999 and 2019 pilot episodes is exactly the same – neurotic workaholic in the aftermath of an imploding dysfunctional love life arrives in Pearl Bay to become the local magistrate. This isn’t SeaChange, it’s Groundhog Day.

What is completely lacking from the pale imitation that is the start of the new series is warmth, wisdom and a sense of real humanity. In the absence of these, comedy becomes farce. I wasn’t laughing watching any of this, and I wasn’t caring one bit about any of them – it has descended to the cringe-inducing level of Are You Being Served. Neither the pedestrian scriptwriting nor the overblown acting were helping any. Nothing sparkled – not even the music. I really hope it improves, but given the foundational flaws of the first new episode, I sadly doubt it’s going to rise to even half the heights of the original series. Perhaps, like The Matrix, they should have left it well alone. I hope I am proven wrong.

Tasmania By Campervan, Spring 2009

We’re looking forward to finally making another trip to Tasmania next year, for the first time in ten years… having meanwhile bought a farm, built a shed and outbuildings and farmhouse with our own hands, planted thousands of trees, looked after animals, planted an orchard and permaculture garden, etc etc. In celebration of that, here is a version with extras of an article on a past trip that was originally published by Grass Roots 247 in June/July 2018.

Tasmania is a real jewel of a place for anyone who enjoys nature. It is the least deforested state of Australia and one of the few places on Earth that still has vast areas of real wilderness. There is mountain range after mountain range, all of them spectacular in different ways, and the coastline is gorgeous all the way around. It is a bushwalker’s paradise. If you could live for a thousand years and walk every day, you could still be walking new tracks in Tasmania that had you oohing and aahing and happy to be alive.

Hobart and Launceston are cities on a human scale, sitting in sublime landscapes in which they seem only to be an afterthought. The architecture and parks are pretty, many people have lovely gardens, and there are a plethora of bookshops and places of interest to enjoy. You can breathe fresh air even in the city centres, and there are always natural landmarks to steer by, so it’s hard to get lost driving. The concrete monstrosities that infest so much of mainland Australia haven’t made many inroads into these cities, in part because of comparative economic poverty, which has kept the place rich in other and more important ways.

Tasmanian farming operates on a completely different scale to mainland farming. The fields are smaller and there is more diversity in the landscape. Volcanic soils in the north are rich and chocolatey and grow amazing potatoes. Things can change drastically just around the corner, at any corner. You see old livestock breeds all over the place that are hard to find on the “North Island”, as Tasmanians like to call the rest of Australia. There are lots of curves in the roads and lots of uphills and downhills. Little churches jump out at you, Gothic graveyards invite a visit for reflection. Place names make you laugh: Penguin, Nook, Nowhere Else, Promised Land, Snug, Flowerpot, Electrona, Paradise, Bagdad, Tomahawk, Lower Crackpot.

Brett and I had our first holiday in Tasmania in 2007, and after that we couldn’t stop going back. Early on in our marriage we were farmless and very free to travel. If we had two weeks off and a little money for plane tickets, we said, “Let’s go to Tasmania again.” On our first trip to the Apple Isle we hired a tiny yellow car whose gearbox went “clunk” every time we shifted into third gear, stayed in little chalets and walked over 200km of magnificent tracks in two weeks. In 2009 we went in our own car for an extended working holiday and packed a tent into the back for camping trips. Once we just spent a fortnight going around in a campervan. This was great fun, and we’d do it again in a flash.

If you live all the way over in Western Australia, like we do, it’s not economical to drive your own car across the Nullarbor to visit Tasmania just for a short holiday. There are reasonably-priced plane tickets to Tassie now, booking specials or stand-by seats on a no-frills airline. If you can schedule it, fly on the 13th of the month, it’s heavily discounted due to people’s superstitions.

If you have to fly in, you will need transport. A bicycle tour could be just the thing, perhaps with camping equipment in panniers. If you specifically want a walking holiday, motorised transport is helpful, and a campervan is your transport and accommodation in one. So for our Easter holidays in 2009, we hired a little campervan. It was small enough to manoeuvre easily and handle well on the road, yet we slept and ate in it comfortably. The back of the van contained a sink, pantry, small fridge, microwave and gas rings, and a comfortable double bed with a storage loft above where we kept our suitcases, toiletry bags, towels, jackets and backpacks. Living in a small basic space is a good exercise: It hones your organisation and creativity, and helps you focus on the things that really matter.

It was great to have everything with us on the road and to never have to unpack and repack every time we changed bases, and so handy to be able to stop and make a coffee anytime, get changed anywhere, and have a bed with you in case you get deadly tired in the middle of the day and need a power nap – as does happen when you have a walking holiday. Once we drove up Mt Wellington after an overnight snowfall there, took in the views, and made a snowman. When we got hungry we cooked a hot lunch right there on the mountain, before going outdoors again for a long hike in the white wonderland. The next morning, we were walking on a sunny beach in our T-shirts. That’s Tassie for you.

Tasmania has amazing produce, with which you can stock your campervan fridge to become your own roving restaurant. This is a fun and economical way to eat wonderfully well while sampling the local wares. We often had local mueslis with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast. Favourites on the lunch and dinner menus were steak sandwiches with caramelised onions, mushrooms and capsicum, and loads of fresh salad vegetables; eggs scrambled with mushrooms, tomatoes and handfuls of parsley on local sourdough bread; avocados and lemon on rye bread; pasta with mushroom, olive, feta and tomatoes; microwave jacket potatoes with mozzarella, parmesan and rocket; substantial salads; and our post-big-walk “resurrection soup” made with chicken stock, soup pasta, parsley, and slices of cheddar cheese added at the end until it just blends. These kinds of meals are straightforward to prepare when in a campervan – you can leave your baking and complicated cooking for when you get home.

Snacks are easy: We were buying marvellous apples, cherries, berries, peaches, etc, all over the place including roadside stalls. The Hill Street Grocer in West Hobart, our favourite shop in the world, sells exquisite fruit and vegetables, cheeses, memorable nut mixes, and a wonderful taramasalata which is great for dipping crunchy fresh celery in. We raided the Sandy Bay German Bakery repeatedly for their great bread, pretzels, nut horns, beestings, and other delicious morsels. We often ate wholemeal toast slathered with butter and gorgeous leatherwood honey. So you can see it is very easy in Tasmania to stay fuelled up for walking four to six hours a day on its fabled nature trails. The food and the walking go hand-in-hand, and allow you to come away from your holiday toned and glowing, with serious improvements in fitness and endurance, and unforgettable memories of adventures in scintillating landscapes.

When travelling by campervan, we would overnight in trail head car parks so we could head out on a day hike straight after breakfast. Good toilet etiquette is paramount in the bush: Take a trowel and bury absolutely everything under the litter layer away from footpaths so it can compost away invisibly. It is amazing how many people seem to be unaware of this courtesy to nature and other walkers; don’t be one of them. Don’t wash your hands in the campervan’s kitchen sink afterwards either, as we’ve seen people do. You can use a simple water bottle turned into a tap by your spouse, or hand sanitiser if you prefer. When you need to do laundry or have a hot shower you can stay in a caravan park. We tended to do strenuous day hikes every second day, and drive to a caravan park after. Next day we would sightsee and do shorter walks and then stay in the bush somewhere.

Our favourite overnighter was in a layby off a tiny country road in northern Tasmania. There was a field of cattle next door and tall forest everywhere else. We had driven in at sunset, very slowly because there was so much wildlife crossing at that time – the sheer amounts reliably stagger mainlanders. After dinner and lights-out we lay snuggled up in the dark listening to a cacophony of sounds from insects, frogs, birds, bats and various marsupials, and looked out of the van windows at a crystalline Milky Way, far away from big-city light pollution. To us, those are the true riches of life!

…as you can probably imagine, we are a little nostalgic about time flying and adventures past. It will be lovely to get back out to that island next year to make new wonderful memories…

Magazine Articles – August 2019

It’s magazine time again. In newsagencies this month I have an article in The Owner Builder No.214 on Successful Downshifting.

It’s about how we found ourselves in our 40s, suddenly waking up every morning on a gorgeous little farm in the country (complete with 50 hectares out the back of extraordinary Gondwana which we will guard until the day we die), living off one part-time salary, a little bit of freelancing and the produce of our own land. After two decades each on the treadmill, we now have ample time for each other and the important things in life – and yet would have been considered unlikely to arrive at this destination by conventional financial analysts, since neither of us ever made above-average salaries, won the lottery, robbed a bank, or inherited money. How did we do it?

Well, we always were quite frugal, which helped greatly – but the key thing for us was getting lucky finding the right (completely bare!) smallholding, and getting this for less than the cost of the little duplex unit we sold in Perth, whose mortgage we had paid off by our late 30s. And then, we got brave and designed and owner-built an off-grid, passive solar strawbale eco-farmhouse for less than $250,000, with a whole row of wizz-bang environmental features, like our own small solar-electric power station with backup batteries, rooftop Sydney tube solar water heating, 110,000 L rainwater tank, two commercial waterless compost toilets that turn human waste into inoffensive organic fertiliser for fruit trees, low-e cedar-framed French doors and windows that perform better than double-glazed aluminium, superinsulated walls and ceilings, and appropriate thermal mass, glazing and eaves to make the house essentially self-heating and self-cooling, fully budgeted for in that price.

Donkey and the Caravan - Redmond Western Australia
Straw Bales Stacked under Roof - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
View from the North West - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Day Three on the Monster Wall – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia

That took us five years to finish and increased the numbers of our grey hairs significantly, but was the best thing we ever did for ourselves other than marry each other.

Now we never ever have to pay electricity or water bills, never ever have a power failure, live in a thermally comfortable house year-round without air-conditioning or fossil fuel based heating – we run a small wood heater several nights a week in mid-winter, mostly for boosting solar-heated water on cloudy days. We grow increasing amounts of our own food, sell honey and organically raised beef cattle, and spend a total of $150 a year on utilities (six small camping bottles of gas annually for cooking).

You can read the full story in the current issue of The Owner Builder, which is also available in electronic form, if you don’t happen to live near an Australian newsagency.

A selection of photos of life in the country appear below.

Brett & Sue on Toolbrunup Summit – Stirling Ranges, Western Australia
Tenth wedding anniversary climb scaling Mt Toolbrunup, the same peak on which Brett proposed to Sue back in late 2007.
Sue atop Mt Hassell – Stirling Ranges, Western Australia
…so that’s the middle spire of the mountain in the background here we were sitting on in the last shot! We can see Toolbrunup from our farm on a clear day.
Sue and Sunsmart - Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia
This is Sunsmart, a recycled harness horse Sue saddle trained back in 2009; now happily living on our farm with us, with some friends…
Sunsmart with Chasseur and Julian – the horse with the blaze in the middle – on the day Julian joined their herd. All these are retired harness racing horses – and all three spent their racing careers as solitary stallions cooped up in sand yards – no grazing, no socialisation. Well, that’s different now. Julian was 17 before he ever walked across a green field or hobnobbed with other horses – and he’s loving his new life…
The Three Stooges? – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths…
…and this is what it looks like when your equines show up for volunteer lawn mowing duties in your garden. Needless to say, this is a limited event, and you have to watch the donkeys like a hawk so they don’t eat your daisies and your avocado trees… the horse is eating tagasaste (tree lucerne), which we grow in hedges as livestock fodder and which grows back profusely when grazed or pruned.
There’s also mayhem indoors…

Indoors didn’t always look like this. Building days:

Brett on the North Wall - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Sue Notching A Straw Bale #1 - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Brett on Window Lintel - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Brett Sealing Gaps - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Plastering the Niches in Main Bedroom - Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Beginning plastering back in 2012 – ROFL. We’d been told we would not be able to do it, just the pair of us. Well, we did. It took us years of weekends to plaster three coats inside and out, but we did it! The finish coat was finally on the outside of the house in 2016.

Building / farm photo albums here: http://www.redmoonsanctuary.com.au/

The Ride That Wasn’t, Electric Fence Blues, Broken Glass And The Deluge That’s Coming

We have a huge cold front coming in, just sitting off the West Coast, and are scrambling to get ready for the gale-force winds, torrential downpours, cold and hail forecast to go on for the better part of four days. The gales arrived this morning, the deluge is coming overnight. Brett and I finished some outdoors chores and then hauled in fallen dry banksia and eucalyptus branches to saw up into firewood. We got four large bags, all sizes from kindling to logs, sitting in the carport for what’s coming, and also stuck a wheelbarrow load extra into the well-stocked woodshed. (It’s just a chance to grab dry wood that’s still out there, before the winter wet really sets in – very belatedly, I might add – we’ve had less than 150mm so far this year, which is about a third of normal precipitation to the end of May…)

Brett had an extra work shift this afternoon, on his usual day off, because a colleague was on holiday. We had a lovely lunch of T-bone steaks, mashed potato and pumpkin from the garden, and carrots with our own kale. Stewed peaches and cream for afters – our own peaches. I’m liking this F&V self-sufficiency quest.

My afternoon plans were: To fix up the section of fencing around our solar bore pump the cattle had broken, and then to take Sunsmart for a ride in the shelter of our bushland before the wet sets in. This was his exercise day – I aim to ride at least every second day – and it looked like it would be difficult until the middle of next week to go out on a trail.

The reason the fencing was broken is because we needed the little unit that normally runs that little fence as backup when a fence fault developed in our main fence over summer. And I could-not-find-the-fault!!! So I had to run the fence in two sections, in sort of limp mode, until I did. The cheapest battery-operated energiser units in local retail outlet are $170 😮 and I wasn’t keen to spend that sort of money to get another unit, while we were borrowing the backup unit for the main fence.

I found the fault this week. It wasn’t in the fence itself, it was in the way it was wired to earth – initially it had been set up correctly, but for some reason, the splice line that connected both earth wires to earth had disappeared. I’d not paid attention to this, because I was looking for a hard fault, and because how does a splice line disappear? Anyway, because both earth lines are insulated, and connected to a proper earth point, this meant the earth clip was attached to an unearthed earth wire. And this upset the fence energiser. so that the fence tester read as if we had a huge hard fault somewhere.

Huge sigh of relief, after five months of looking – and I was able to collect the backup unit, for re-installing at the solar bore. The cattle had broken through that fence several times, and turned off the bore several times. I was sweating that they would begin to eat electronics, and things would get expensive. So it was with a spring in my step that I pushed my wheelbarrow filled with fencing gear, solar panel, car battery and energiser unit towards the solar bore which is about 800m from the house, while playing soccer with Jess the Kelpie, for whom just walking is never enough. 🙂

I spent around 40 minutes taking out wonky star pickets, repositioning them, replacing half-eaten polybraid (cattle think that stuff is lollies when it’s not electric), and tightening everything up. I placed the car battery and solar panel in a good spot inside the enclosure, got the fence energiser unit, connected it up, and started dreaming of riding the horse. The lights were showing as they should on the energiser panel. I tested the polybraid – nothing. I tested the clips against each other – no spark. I checked both sides of the clip connections before opening up the unit – which was hard to do, because I had no flat edge on me, so had to improvise with fence pliers.

These Gallagher units aren’t sealed properly, and ants get in and make havoc unless you coat the units in residual insecticide every three months, and sometimes they still get in anyway. Death unto electronic equipment-invading ants! We’ve had both the main and the backup repaired for ant damage several times already since 2010, at never under $100 per repair – despite increasingly assiduous spraying with ever-more-horrible surface sprays. And ants had gotten into the unit again recently, I’d evicted them, and thought the unit was still working because all the appropriate lights were flashing. Only it wasn’t. The speedo was going, but the car was stationary, so to speak.

And I find this out when I’ve already spent nearly an hour reconstructing a fence that’s going to get mauled within a week unless I have a working unit to energise it. I spend time trying to fix the unit out in the field, and I see my ride slipping away… a while later, I find the problem and realise I can’t fix it myself. My mood as I was packing the defective unit and fencing tools back onto the wheelbarrow was very black indeed.

At home, I phoned the local supplier of agricultural equipment to see if he had a micro-unit in stock. He didn’t; his cheapest energiser was $170. I’d seen tiny units good enough to run the 10m of fence around the bore for $40 on the Internet, so thence I repaired, hunting direct, more affordable solutions. I bought a reasonable, properly sealed unit online for under $80 which they assured me would get here Wednesday the latest – and three 500m reels of turbo braid, at under $60 each with free postage, which is about half what the agricultural suppliers charge. So good news, while I’ve had to spend money, I’ve also found an outlet that saves us money in the process.

And it wasn’t dark yet, so I pulled on my riding tights, and told the dog we could at least ride the short loop before feeding the horses. Cue excited dog. On the way out, I noticed the fire in our wood heater had burnt down, so I fetched some logs from the carport and stocked the heater. I turned and walked away – then heard a thump and a crack. I turned to face the heater and discovered that the glass front was in smithereens.

And now I was panicking and calling the shop where we bought the heater. I just managed to get them before closing time. With four days of horrible weather coming up, I really didn’t want to have our sole source of backup water heating out of commission, nor have to forego a cosy fire when the rain is pouring down outside. Yvonne at the other end of the line was cheerful and chirpy. They would replace the glass for us tomorrow: Take off the door and bring it in, we’ll see you right for the upcoming deluge! I could have kissed her. I’ve never had broken glass on a heater before and had no idea how long that was going to take to fix up…

But I could also kiss my ride goodbye, because you can’t leave a heater full of red-hot logs with a shattered glass front unattended unless you’re interested in a house fire, and we really aren’t…

The horse ride that wasn’t, and a trying afternoon. Have to say though, after more steak and vegetables, and more peaches and cream, and a good rant here, I feel much better. (There were other things to eat, of course, but I enjoyed lunch so much I wanted an exact replica!)

Tomorrow I’ll see if I can’t don rain gear to plant some peas out, and perhaps dig a ditch that needs digging. And I’ll be looking out for an opportunity to sneak in a ride if the weather gets half bearable. For now, I’m headed for an appalling episode of classic Dr Who with Colin Baker. I know it’s appalling because we’ve started it, and Brett told me it was going to be appalling. But, I’m watching because I’m a completist and we’re watching the whole classic series from start to end. To save my sanity, I shall be pitting cherries for a Blackforest Trifle.

This is straight from my online journal, which is in a horse themed community. We have smallholders / rural residents / the odd urbanite from all over the world journalling, comparing notes and offering support when the chips are down – it’s a fabulous little community, and I enjoy open-journalling there. Themes on my journal go way beyond horses and livestock. If any blog reader doesn’t find sufficient material here, you could always try my journal, which has nearly 2000 posts now. Bwahahahaha. I also have a stack of paper journals from age 14 onwards, but community journalling is more fun. It’s a conversation, not a monologue. Also, HF has the coolest emojis, and in its original form, this piece has lots of them.

The link to where this post originally appeared is: https://www.horseforum.com/member-journals/trotters-arabians-donkeys-other-people-479466/page49/#post1970728191

If you go there, you will notice that discussion topics are very diverse! 🙂

Falling Off, For Nerds

To Isaac Newton, with love. 😉

Just a little aside about falling off horses.

Using Newtonian physics, we can break down the fall into a horizontal component and a vertical component.

Horizontally, the rider continues in the direction taken at parting from the horse. In the absence of atmospheric friction and gravity, the rider would continue at the same speed and in the same direction indefinitely, or until another force was applied.

Of course, real-life riders have to contend with both atmospheric friction, and gravity. So, in the horizontal component of the fall, the rider is actually decelerating because of atmospheric friction. How much depends on headwinds, tailwinds and atmospheric pressure, which in turn is affected by altitude. It also depends on the surface area of the leading edge of the rider, and the surface characteristics of the rider’s attire – lycra is bad for slowing down, fluffy microfibre much better.

In the vertical component of the fall, the rider is accelerating towards the ground at 9.8m per second per second, less the braking effected by atmospheric friction, as already discussed above. Use might be made of a parachute to increase the braking effect of atmospheric friction, especially if there was an upwards component in the motion of the rider after parting from the horse, like this:

This is because parachutes take time to inflate, which is more generously afforded by increased distance from the ground at t=0.

Alternative options using increased surface area for more efficient friction braking include this, which also introduces an additional sideways gliding component:

We are attempting to decrease the force of the fall, which depends on the height from which we fall (Shetlands are safer than Clydesdales), the velocity acquired by the rider before parting from the horse (slipping right off the other side when attempting to mount bareback is comparatively safe, especially with a pony), the efficiency or otherwise of atmospheric friction in slowing us down (artificially increasing surface area and wearing high-friction clothing help, as does trying to fall in the direction of a headwind), the mass of the rider (F=ma, so children indeed feel it less), the elasticity of the rider as an object (children are better for this too; it helps if you can bounce, as this redirects some of the force stored temporarily as elastic potential energy into kinetic energy), the landing terrain characteristics (elastic? rigid? crumply? … a deep bed of autumn leaves is ideal, as is a deep layer of soft fluffy snow – I can thoroughly recommend the latter from personal experience), etc.

One more important concept from classical mechanics that can help us here is that we can spread out the impact force over a longer time interval, and absorb shock in other materials, if we want to have a better experience. This is why we have crumple zones in cars, or crash helmets lined with crushable materials – to absorb the shock. We’ve already seen a bit of this when discussing landing terrain characteristics; now we can apply it to rider surface characteristics. In harness and TB racing, people now wear body armour vests to help protect them in falls:

This one looks more heavy-duty:

This one is inflatable:

This one is traditional, but doesn’t have good crumple zones, as it was really designed for another purpose:

And this is a Cyberman:

Just thought I’d throw that one in! 😉

Magazine Articles – June 2019

In newsagencies this month I have articles in Grass Roots No.253 (Podcast Pandemonium) and in The Owner Builder No.213 (Low Waste Building Site).

Podcast Pandemonium is an article aimed at the less technology-savvy part of the DIY / self-sufficiency community, not all of whom have grown up with IT, and not all of whom understand the constructive possibilities modern technology offers. In this piece, I am looking at the iPod (or equivalent) as a productivity, educational and connecting tool for outdoors work.

iPod Gardening – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Sue plugging appropriate technology for the nourishment of the brain via music and podcasts

In Low Waste Building Site I show people how to apply reduce – reuse – recycle to house construction, so that the traditional skip bin for building rubbish becomes obsolete, and instead, excess building materials are largely avoided, and those that can’t be avoided are either turned into creative, quirky outbuildings, outdoors furniture, artworks etc, or recycled. Examples are given from the management of our own strawbale farmhouse owner-build, and photographs of quirky constructions and artworks included.

The photos below are related to this article, and also serve to introduce blog visitors to our owner build, environmental philosophy and farm.

Day Three on the Monster Wall – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
The day we completed the exterior finish plaster…
Finished Rustic Hall Stand – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Rustic hall stand made from weathered packing pine and jarrah board offcuts
Setting a Rustic Picture Frame – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Setting a rustic picture frame from jarrah board offcuts
Rustic Picture Frame – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Completed rustic picture frame
Homemade Rustic Magazine Holder – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Rustic magazine holder for the smallest room of the house, made from offcuts
Brett with Handmade Present – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Storage box from spare pine panelling and shelving offcuts
Reclaiming the Vegetable Mandala – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Compost bins made from building material offcuts
Tomatoes and Rhubarb – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Raised garden bed from offcuts
Mixed Mandala Bed – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Trellises from spare furring channels
Donkey Housewarming Party – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia
Large animal shelter clad entirely in roofing cover sheets that don’t make the grade, but come with roofing sheets for their protection
New Woodshed II – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Quirky woodshed entirely made from building wastes
Woodshed Filling – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Quirky woodshed – roof made from roller door cover
Outdoor Furnishings Made From Salvaged Materials  – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
Outdoor seating bench from solar pump crate and jarrah offcuts; storage cabinet from various leftovers
Start of Handprint Wall – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia
The traditional handprints of the owner builders in the finish plaster
Nice Camping Spot – Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond, Western Australia
Nice camping spot. RIP Romeo 1984 – 2019, a friend for 31 years after being on the dog food truck at age 3. Lucky boy.

A comprehensive list of past magazine articles appears in the Publications section of this blog. More about our house and farm at redmoonsanctuary.com.au

Red Hot Sunday, January 2014

(In Praise of Farm Dogs Everywhere)

The day was red hot, and you could tell it would be a scorcher at dawn. The sun stung like a bluebottle at 8am, and the birds were silent. Horses and donkeys queued up at the paddock gate for fly veils and release onto the common, which is surrounded by bush and dotted with big shady paperbarks, under which green things still grow.

Summer Scene - Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia

En route I’d cut my big gelding’s feet, overdue and summer hard, while the shed was still casting a morning shadow on the tie rail. The horn was like hardwood, and even the dog was hugging any cool concrete going rather than snacking on the offcuts.

After that we’d climbed into a lukewarm bathtub and splashed lazily, my darling man and I. We could feel the radiation burning through the blind covering the east-facing window in the bath recess, and the sun must have gotten to our brains because he started impersonating Napoleon, and I a telephone (“Brrrrrr-ing! Brrrrrr-ing!” like the priceless clip from Sesame Street called “The Martians Discover a Telephone”).

The dog did not come running, it’s had a good half year to get used to our theatrics, but when I cooed “Walkies?” she tilted her face to the side with ears as up as they can go – one ear a large triangular arrangement strongly suggestive of a desert fox, and the other with its tip bent over in the fashion of an ancestral Border Collie, from which she also got her colouring, while every other aspect is pure Kelpie. Excited bounds and relentless eye contact followed until she’d shepherded us out of the house in our summer shorts and T-shirts, and we collided with a wall of hot air.

Jess Portrait III – Albany, Western Australia

By then it was too late to turn back – you just can’t do that to a dog that is blissfully anticipating a full-tilt run and her first swim in the 48h since her flea treatment. So we vowed to keep it short, and tacked towards the shady forest track, rather than the shadeless main track. An easterly wind blew like a giant hair-drier on maximum, but still offered enough evaporative cooling for me to rip my long-sleeved sunshirt off. By the time I ducked under the fence at the spot where the kangaroos tore out the bottom wires, to cross to our neighbours’ clean-water bush dam, sweat was beading off every square inch of my skin, and had the water been crystal clear, I would have jumped right in after the dog.

Kelpie Dip – Luke Pen Walk, Western Australia

Instead, Jess and I had an abbreviated retrieving session. All dogs like sticks, but her favourite thing to pull out of the water is a nice big gnarly root knot at least the size of a pineapple, with a grab-handle of stem on it. The bigger the splash it makes, the more fanatically she accelerates on her way to it.

Water Sports – Luke Pen Walk, Western Australia

I grew up with farm dogs, but Jess takes the cake, much as I loved my previous canine friends. She runs like a tornado, the fastest dog I’ve ever seen, all lean, lithe, muscular, tucked-up running machine, a black blur streaking through the landscape. She keeps well ahead of any horse on any ride, and is the only dog I’ve had who outruns me on my roadbike. Once we borrowed the neighbour’s four-wheeler and raced her up the gravel track on it. She was keeping to the pasture, crossing fence lines, jumping ditches, and keeping up effortlessly when our speedo hit 55km/h. Then we had to stop at the property boundary, while she gave us a grin and a tail-flick racing by, and started to chase rabbits without missing a beat.

Her swimming is similar. When I first saw her traverse a farm dam, not even retrieving, just swimming for the joy of it, I was gobsmacked by the keel wave in her wake, spreading out like a cone behind her. A dinghy, sure, but a 22kg Kelpie? Throwing something retrievable into the dam turns her into a hydrofoil as her chest begins to lift out of the water from the burst of acceleration that hurtles her towards her goal. A sharp click signals contact, then follow regular satisfied snorts as she paddles open-mouthed back to the shore with her prize. It’s deposited at my feet, she looks up with eyes flashing. Again?

For less money than a Buddhist course on mindfulness meditation, you can pick up a dog like her from a farm dog rescue centre as we did, and give it a good life, and you will have a resident expert on living in the present and enjoying the world, and a personal trainer and loyal friend all rolled into one. It’s priceless.

Jess at Track Crossing – Torndirrup Peninsula, Albany, Western Australia

On this red hot day we quickly headed home, and the dog wasn’t arguing. There were pumpkins to re-water and a hundred or so establishing native seedlings and baby lavenders around the house to give a little top-up from the watering can for the anticipated extreme midday heat.

After lunch, the outside thermometer hit 45 degrees Celsius. Inside was, blissfully, 19 degrees cooler, even in our not-quite-finished, as yet curtainless, passive solar strawbale house. A ceiling fan is all it takes to keep us comfortable on days like this. The dog lies flat on the coloured concrete floor, and balks at the outside heat when I check the thermometer. When the floor gets too hard, she curls up in her armchair like a possum, nose sticking out between four paws all bundled together in an impossible origami shape.

Miss Origami Dog - Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia

Aah, the bliss of a weekend of leisure after ten days of work commitments and interior plastering – time for good food made in our kitchen, and reading the books we got for Christmas, relaxing and recharging our batteries. And what a totally different life to the one we lived until a few years ago, when we were both in suburbias of varying descriptions, through tertiary study and then fulltime professional jobs. Our tree change doesn’t mean we are working any less in an overall sense – building this house and establishing the property continue to be a huge task, and we are both in part-time external work – but things are different now, just right for this stage of our lives. It’s really the archetypal midlife back-to-nature, off-the-treadmill sea change / tree change move celebrated by a number of adorable Australian and English television dramas of the past twenty years.

Sue Plastering Office Corner – Strawbale House Build in Redmond Western Australia

I love life in the bush, and I hope this story made you smile. And maybe think about adopting a dog.

Herding Dog and Cattle V -  Red Moon Sanctuary, Redmond Western Australia

The Garden Of Edam

Photo courtesy of Renaud d’Avout d’Auerstaedt, Wikimedia Commons

In the beginning, there was the void. And God said, let there be cheese, and there was cheese. God saw that the cheese was good, and made more cheese. And behold there was Gouda, Wensleydale, Gruyère, Cheddar, Camembert, Mozzarella, Havarti, Parmesan, Feta, those little BabyBel things, and all manner of cheese.

And God created man and woman to eat the cheese, and he created a garden for them to dwell in, and he called it the Garden of Edam.

And God made a Gorgonzola tree in the garden, amidst all the other cheeses. And he said unto the man and the woman, You may eat of all the cheese in the Garden of Edam, but you shall not eat of the Gorgonzola.

But the man had a snake, and it was a naughty snake, and it spake unto him and said, Come on, eat the Gorgonzola already! And the man did, since he always does as his snake bids him. And his breath stank of Gorgonzola, and the woman was displeased.

But not as displeased as God, who came walking into the Garden of Edam for a visit, sniffed the man, and grew wrathful. And God said unto the man, You reek of Gorgonzola! You have done wrong and will be cast out and you can make your own bloody cheese!

And God cast out the man and the woman and destroyed the Garden of Edam with so much heat that it became a giant fondue, which God hauled off to Valhalla, where Thor was very happy about this gift, filled the molten cheese into kegs, and said Skål to all the Viking Warriors. The End.



This is a collaboration from the language and story games we play at our house. Brett and I do ‘alternating sentences’ impromptu storytelling for entertainment, and that’s how this little number came about. Once we have a theme, we quickly tell the story, egging each other on to become more and more outrageous if possible. I thought I’d share this one for a laugh. 🙂

Christmas Chemistry

It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, the Pudding is flat
Flatter than the mat on which the cat sat
With a consistency of Blu-Tack to the power of three
Methinks that someone forgot to add the NaHCO3
Never mind, it’s time again for the carols to sing
The reindeer bells are ringing, let them ring
Rudolf’s nose is red, and resplendently so
Too much UV, he forgot to put on his ZnO

You’ve stuffed yourself silly with Christmas fare
Roast turkey, potatoes, cranberries, pickled hare
A selection of cheeses, Christmas cookies galore
Quadruple chocolate mousse; and you kept having more
Now a complicated gut impaction has you at death’s door
You need a funnel, an assistant, and hydrated MgSO4
If your case is so desperate that even this will not do
Try liquid hydrocarbon of general formula CNH2N+2
Said liquid also applied with a funnel, of course –
That should work for you; it works in a horse

This ancient remedy having been effective for you
You feel obliged to go and party until half past two
Now post-party muscle cramps are giving you hell
You’re electrolyte depleted, so administer KCl
And try drinking some H20 for a change
Your friends, of course, may be finding this strange

Next morning, or perhaps should that be noon
You’ll invariably feel you’ve awoken too soon
So black coffee, number of teaspoons of this seven
And you might also need a little C12H22O11
Some people like to have this intravenously
But the conventional method will do for me

There are also Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Of course, should you be feeling as if jewel bugs
Are crawling nonstop beneath your fingernails
And your very last neurons are going off the rails
All perfectly legal, as doubtless you knew before
Found on your supermarket shelf as C9H8O4

There’s a saying about learning from the past
Else history will be the one laughing last
Alas, it is time to bring this tale to an end
And so I will be wishing you, my friend:

Merry Christmas

PS: Formula C2H5OH was absent from this poem, I admit
Because the author could find nothing to rhyme with it.
However, it represents significant progress (and more)
As this author’s poems have rarely rhymed before.

This poem was written as a warning for my Year 12 students in 1999.
Lifestyle advice is always free. 🙂

Glossary For Rusty Chemists

NaHCO3 = sodium bicarbonate (raising agent)

ZnO = zinc oxide, physical sun barrier found in zinc cream

MgSO4 = magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts)

CNH2N+2 == general liquid hydrocarbon formula, standing in for liquid paraffin whose exact formula doesn’t rhyme

KCl = potassium chloride, one of a number of major mammalian electrolytes

H20 = please! If you don’t know this one, where have you been?

C12H22O11 = sucrose (table sugar)

C9H8O4 = aspirin

C2H5OH = ethanol (drinking alcohol)