Risen

Hot cross buns, pancakes for blinis, our fences (maybe, eventually). The small farmer feeding single blades of grass to Hugo. The continuing summer – this heat in April!

The trees are coming back too.

Happy Easter.

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Bushfire moon

Bushfires have always featured in my nightmares. I was in Grade 1, in a primary school in Berwick, when a massive dust-storm swept through Melbourne. The sky turned dark and orange and, like an eclipse, there was a strange ominous energy in the air. A week later it was Ash Wednesday.

I don’t particularly remember watching much of the news at the time, but I do remember the questions and the horror that something like this could happen. Our school had the CFA visit not long afterwards and talk to us about what had happened and all of our hands went up in the air at question time. ‘How come brick houses burned down?’, ‘What happened to the animals?’, ‘What did it sound like?’.

Of course when we moved here, we thought about fires. Everyone we know who lives in this area or similar talks about it, has a plan, is quick to share tips (did you know you should turn off electric fences on Total Fire Ban days? Plug your gutters with tennis balls? Have pure wool blankets on hand to cover your windows?)

The evacuation

I idly had the radio on in the background as I worked from home on Friday 1st March. I was subsconciously on guard. I mean, we always are on hot, blustery, changeable days, just weeks after the ten year anniversary of Black Saturday – another piece of indelible nightmare fodder. A fire in Gembrook mentioned on the ABC propelled me outside to check what I could see, and the strong smell of smoke spooked me. I came back inside, and closed off a couple of the things I was working on. Gembrook is a while away and the wind was in our favour, so I sat tight, but then the radio piped up again with a ‘Watch and Act’ covering Cornucopia (a bend in the road between us and the forest) and Tynong North. It’s a surreal thing to hear your suburb mentioned in a ‘we interrupt this broadcast’ context. Then the Vic Emergency App started pinging on my phone, which spurred me into some sort of action.

I changed the small farmer out of his school clothes and then I put on long pants and boots. Still trying to stay calm and move slowly and deliberately, I pulled out cat cages, put halters on horses and leads on the dogs and texted my mother in law to do the same and get her small animals together.

My phone then started to ring. As for all modern phone users, receiving actual calls on my social media machine is unnerving, and started to make it feel less surreal and more urgent. Another malady of modern life (or perhaps that’s just being a girl) is that fear of overreacting or making a big deal out of something, so the fact that others were worried made it easier to keep moving forward with our plan to evacuate, which had solidified into action within about ten minutes of the initial radio advice.

The poor Borrowed Farmer was on the other side of the country, about to get on a plane to come back home, and his was the call I was most eager to take as he talked us through the plan (note – strapping an unwilling 5yo into a car while on the phone planning what to pack was not a particularly well-executed part of the plan). He also had the Jeep parked securely at the airport, so the poor Outback had to be called into service for every kilogram of its towing capacity. But the dearly departed WRX had been traded in on this car for a reason and it moved into its role as backup tow vehicle with ease (definitely assisted by the awesome reversing camera).

I was never as thankful to have easy-to-load horses as I was in this moment. Bell hasn’t been anywhere for months and it was her dinner time, but she poked her nose happily into the halter instead of her feed bin and walked up the ramp without hesitation, despite the wind and the sirens starting to make their presence felt. Hugo was slightly more reluctant, having never been on the float with another horse, but a well timed slap on the bottom, and his constant FOMO, was enough to convince him to join Bell.

We had a slight near disaster when one of the small dogs managed to lock the Barina while the engine was running, and we stood staring dumbly at them for a little while, willing one of them to grow opposable thumbs to lift the lock back up. Some mild contortions through the slightly cracked driver’s window saw us back on track without having to break back into the house for the spare keys. Note for next time – leave the dogs behind (kidding!).

It took us roughly 45 minutes from the first warning to pack up a child, mother in law, four dogs, three cats, two horses, two baskets of photo albums, a computer and the camera, and no clothes or anything useful for the next few days. We had to make the reluctant decision to leave the alpacas and birds (chooks and budgie) behind, so we set them up with as much water as we could give them, and left them free to move around within their paddocks and pens, and hoped for the best. This was not a lightly made decision but for speed and the towing vehicles we had, it was the only one we could make.

We were rolling out the driveway when the next warning came from the ABC – the scary one saying ‘it is too late to leave’. We both put our feet down a bit harder (sorry ponies!) and I said to Raf on the ABC ‘Dude, we’re already leaving!!’ and kept going. It was smoky and windy but visibility was good and we couldn’t see any flames. I stopped to talk to the neighbour, who had her float ramp down and was making her own preparations to leave, and made sure she was under control. She reassured us that she was ok, and had help and was confident that the CFA were all over it – in fact she said they had told her we were ok for a little while. (She rang ten minutes later to say she’d been told to leave, so we were all in good company).

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I was expecting lots of traffic on our main road, but there was none. I realised in our haste that I hadn’t plugged in the trailer lights, and pulled over to try to rectify this, but was trying too hard to rush and couldn’t get the plug sorted, and Bell started to stomp, so we kept going. The highway was absolutely horrible to try and get out into, especially with such a load on, and travelling in convoy. It was normal Friday night outbound traffic, multiplied by other trailers and floats and evacuees, but I tried to breathe and wait for a good gap, hating the thought of causing an accident in our haste to escape.

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The view back towards Mt Cannibal from Nar Nar Goon as we left.

A quick note on our decision making process and fire plan. The ‘Watch and Act’ warning was always going to be a fairly strong impetus for us to evacuate. We live on a dead end, tree lined dirt road, with about 12 or so houses, all set back from the street. The fire was pushing south west, and on its trajectory would have cut off our escape route onto the main road. We have only just started to get the property back to ground zero in terms of maintenance and clearing up, and while it is mowed and the houses are reasonably clear of the trees, we have no active fire defense options for our little collection of weatherboard houses. If we lose power, which is likely, we lose water, and there are plenty of things we would rather do than defend ourselves against a bushfire with buckets. Really, no decision to be made.

We are lucky – we had plenty of options for places to take horses but my parents drew the short straw of the Friday night phonecall saying ‘Guess what? We’ve evacuated and we’re coming to stay! Yes! ALL OF US!’. To their credit, paddocks, laundries, garages and bedrooms were ready for our arrival within half an hour.

The waiting game

The Borrowed Farmer had a nervous flight across from Perth, but Virgin Australia (in the absence of wifi on the plane) were in regular radio contact with Melbourne and updated him frequently throughout the flight about the fire’s progress. He came straight to our safe house and so began a nervous wait together.

The animals coped amazingly well with their changed circumstances. The three cats, despite having never lived together before, sulked silently in the laundry without acknowledging each other, which was better than the all in brawl we expected. There was a brief attempt at the cat-on-a-lead thing, which ended in a slipped collar and a cat down a rabbit burrow, but thankfully the cat in question gave that up as a bad idea and crawled sheepishly back out. We juggled the four dogs, plus the resident dog between gardens and paddocks and inside, trying to avoid any food bowl wars. The two horses were very happy to be somewhere new and in together, so they were probably the least trouble of all, except that we had moved all the water troughs to Glen Mist so had to make do with a variety of buckets and bins to keep them hydrated.

The next few days were a blur of community meetings, fire updates, obsessive refreshes of the Vic Emergency app and absolutely no sleep. Oh and an ill advised television interview, when the news crew at the meeting zeroed in on the woman who yelled at the council CEO (not me) and the one whose voice cracked asking about the animals left behind (#cryingalpacachick).

The Sunday was a bad day, spent sitting on the sunshiney lawn, listening to livestreams of updates, buying toiletries that had been forgotten in the rush to leave, and then returning from the supermarket to see that a new spot fire had sprung up. It was less than a kilometre to the north west of our property, with the wind blowing steadily south east. The community meeting that day was the most crowded and emotional of them all. People were scared and worried and the not knowing was bubbling away in everyone. To the credit of all the authorities there that day, everyone spent time after the meeting speaking to individual residents, poring over maps with them and giving the best information they had. When we held out the app showing the small spotfire, we were reassured that it because it was small, it was an obvious target for them to hit, as its potential to turn nasty with the wind change was a concern for them – which had the side benefit for us of hopefully protecting our little patch.

This was the guilty dance we made in our heads, as we wished for wind changes and firefighting protection for our side of the road, knowing that this meant that someone else was in the firing line. But we did walk out of that meeting feeling somewhat lighter than we had walking in, and taking advice from the experts certainly beat opening comment threads in social media groups, or looking at frightening Instagram photos from those who had stayed behind.

The next day, the little fire on the app had not moved, which gave us hope that because no one had bothered to update it, it was not much of a threat any more. Having the app mapping explained to us at the meetings had given us an insight into how to read it – far from being a live monitoring of the firefront, it really could only give an estimate, based on the information being relayed from the firefighters (when they were, you know, not fighting the fire), or from the special aerial spotters (who, you know, could only fly when safety and visibility dictated, which with an active and angry fire like this one, was not a consistent possibility).

The return

After the community meeting on the Monday, we felt confident enough in where the fire was to attempt the road blocks and see if we could get in. The police on the main highway gave us the very short answer, but a text from a neighbour who was about half a kilometre ahead encouraged us to try the back way through Maryknoll. A quick ID check for everyone, and a wristband, and we were driving through the almost deserted roads of our hometown. The next roadblock proved more challenging, and rightly so as it was the one that technically gave us access to the active fire zone. Obviously we were keen to not be collected by a big red truck at high speed, but as the road block was a mere few hundred metres from our road (and the active fire was now at the other side of the burned area), we were able to talk our way past, with many promises of only staying briefly and only going to our road.

What a strange feeling of relief and anxiety it was to drive up our driveway and see everything intact. The feeling that we weren’t technically supposed to be there, combined with the shifting light between the smoke and the clouds made it a nervous and rushed visit. I found it harder to think clearly and focus on what we needed to pick up this time than I had when we were evacuating.

The alpacas, to their credit, were really excited to see us. They still had enough water for a few days, which was our main concern, and we topped them up, and the chooks clucked grumpily at us but were fine. To our amazement, despite not having had power for a couple of days, the fish in the tank was also ok (just) so we packed that in the car as well and managed to not lose all the water in the move.

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The power was out, there was ash on the driveway, every change of wind pushed the smoke in front of the sun, and helicopters were still busily ferrying huge water buckets back and forth, flying so low over us we could almost touch the spray, so we snapped a quick ‘YAY’ selfie, checked the neighbour’s horses for water as well, and kept moving. Quick thank you wave to the patient policeman at the road block and we were back to our refuge and feeling slightly disbelieving that our very vulnerable little place had made it.

It was only the whim of the wind and the skill of the firefighters (and plenty of prayers from our loving community) that got Glen Mist through and the news of 29 properties lost was sickening. We knew every notch in the fire map on the app represented a truck in there protecting a house, in very scary circumstances, and we knew the defeat they must have felt to lose any of them. But with this fire being one of the more significant ones since Black Saturday, you can’t deny that some of the lessons learned had helped everyone. To have no fatalities is an absolute credit to the community and emergency workers working as a team, heeding warnings and being prepared.

The fire came as close as the next road along Tynong North Rd, and the state forest remains closed as backburning continues to send smoky columns into the air. As we drive home along the highway, the mountains look like they are just picking up the warm evening light, until you realise the colour is from the burned trees.

I have text messages and emails and Insta messages and comments from locals we know, faces we recognise, even people we’ve never met, but who share our suburb. We shook hands and hugged neighbours and swapped information at every meeting (we probably spoke to our closest neighbours more often over the six days than we did over the past two years). Everyone is waving from the steering wheel as they pass on the road, and homemade signs thanking the CFA have shown up everywhere. This was the side effect that will leave the impression long after the smoke has finally cleared, and the ash has washed from the driveway in the rain (yes rain!). We have a community that is small but mighty (with a helluva local rag). And we’ve been touched at the concern shown for our mulch maligned fence posts – it’s ok everyone, they’re safe! #wevetalkedaboutfencestoomuch

A journey of a thousand jobs

As we pass the two year mark of borrowing this particular farm, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at the jobs done, instead of the ones ahead of us. (One list is smaller than the other, admittedly, but let’s put that aside for the moment, shall we? Although, if I count the mowing and the vacuuming…perhaps not.)

We have become smarter about using the time we spend away to still move forward. While on our most recent and much needed lazy Queensland holiday (what a deliciously lovely place to be lazy), we had the circular driveway around our house and the bungalow resurfaced. This had the immediate effect of making it look like people other than 4WDers lived here, and really finished off the previous retaining wall and carpark work done earlier in the year (six truckloads of Tynong Quarry gravel will do that).

The garden beds thus framed properly, the roses decided to revive after their lengthy stay in the wheelbarrow and we have quite the rainbow of flowers at the front/back/side door. (As I’ve said previously – our house is around the wrong way and everyone comes in through the laundry door).

In addition, the outlook as we turn through the new driveway has been improved immensely with 300 metres of post and rail fencing around three neat pony paddocks. We put up these fences in the full gamut of Melbourne springtime weather – in the torrential downpour on Cup Day, we didn’t need to add water to the concrete. In the weeks before we went to Queensland, as we worked in the early spring heatwave we did need to add icypoles to the freezer.

With some perfect rows of bare timber just waiting for Hugo to chew, we had to patiently wait for the rails to cure before we could paint them (and at the same time hopefully make them unpalatable to troublesome ponies). Again, we relied on the goodness of friends willing to pick up a roller, while ostensibly celebrating my birthday. With the added incentive of 12 hour smoked pork and chicken wings, a few drinks and some tunes blaring across the paddock, we managed to paint all million kilometres of railing in one day – a huge achievement given it would have taken Dave and I about six weekends of lying on the grass and painting the underside of rails one and a half feet off the ground.

Add to this some judicious use of some recycled doors in the carport, and Dave spending the weekend with our stockpile of weatherboards, and we might have some form of usable carport.

In animal news, we’ve nursed a sick budgie back to health, after finding a thriving mouse nest in the aviary. After a quiet week in a warm, dark noodle box, the reunion between the two of them was actually quite touching.

The alpacas have had their annual dayspa treatment and have returned looking suitably ridiculous. Case in point…

If these things are not achievements, I don’t know what is (and that’s not even mentioning the rangehood and dishwasher installation, the huge pile of cleared tea trees, the removal of the snakey woodpile – more on that later, gates put across the driveway for the white house so the alpacas can graze in and on the garden, and the massive job of clearing the fallen gumtree in the alpaca yard…phew!)

Breaking news in the middle of this post was Rosie’s Adventures with Venomous Visitors.

We came home to find Rosie being all waggy and focused on a ‘thing’ in the grass. As we ventured closer to see what it was (‘please be a lizard, please be a lizard’) we were suitably horrified to realise it was a snake… a very still but very large snake. In the house yard, just metres from our back door. Rosie was all ‘Look, look, hey guys, have you seen what I’ve got, huh huh?’ and we were ‘GET AWAY FROM IT!’. I grabbed her and took both her and Wally inside to inspect them for bite marks (really not that easy at the best of times let alone on the world’s fluffiest dogs), while Dave circled warily around the snake trying to detect a sign of life. He threw something at it, and it flinched, but didn’t retreat, so it was clearly not in good shape although we couldn’t see what was wrong or if it was just unwell (and weren’t that keen on getting close enough for an intimate examination!)

Luckily, I’d taken notice of a post on a community Facebook group, where a snake catcher had shared his details, which I’d saved into my phone in the hope of never having to use it. But thankfully I had, so I scrolled through to ‘SNAKE GUY’ in my phone and gave him a call. He was around in about 10 minutes, the snake still hadn’t moved, and he picked her up easily with his hooked pole – the poor thing had very little fight in her, and was sporting a couple of serious Rosie-inflicted bites. He identified her easily as a tiger snake, and a fairly mature one, and cheerfully said ‘There’d be 50-60 on this property, you’d just usually never see them’! (*cue nightmares forever*)

He took her back to his place, where he attempted to save her (note that snakes are protected as native wildlife, so while many people prefer the shovel dispatch method, that is not the right thing to do, and further upsets our already fragile ecosystem). Her injuries were too severe however, and he had to euthanise her.

Meanwhile we were madly Googling snakebite symptoms in dogs and wondering why Rosie wasn’t showing any of them. How could she not have been bitten? She is fast but she’s also very reckless (see her dashing in front of the quadbike at 60kms/hr for some heart starting footage) and considering she thinks thunder is something to be attacked, her logic is sometimes wanting. But it seems she escaped unscathed.

For the record, snakebite is usually fairly fast acting on dogs and causes paralysis, vomiting, and bleeding. Rosie showed none of this, but if she’d even blinked strangely, we’d have hauled her off to emergency. As it was, we had a fairly sleepless night, what with the dog checking and the ‘what ifs’ of a venomous snake on our back doorstep, where our 5 year old little farmer plays. Rosie looked askance at us each time we woke her up, and in our confusion and gratitude we paid the snake guy twice but all is right in the world again now. Rosie protected her territory and family, and our newfound habit of stomping everywhere along the yard boundaries probably does very little to determine the further snakes but makes us feel a bit better.

Whispering to horses

Twelve months ago we had everything in place for Sunny’s big moment on a difficult day. The harness was cleaned, the lorry was on the trailer and Sunny was shampooed down to her luxuriant feathers.

Everyone has their own language for their animals. Not many would repeat it or admit to it in public, but we each have our own patter. It might be high pitched and silly, low and soothing, matter of fact and confessional, or wordless and quiet. Sunny was a good listener. Harness horses work by voice and she listened – her trainer’s switch in language, the senior farmer’s carrot calls, and our rallying call for dinner.

The night before Sunny died, she was waiting by the fence alongside the driveway as I came home in the dark. I wound down the window and we had a chat. She seemed to be in a talkative mood, so I climbed out of the car to give her a chin scratch and an ear rub. She’s a reserved thing and not inclined to nuzzle, but she tolerated a quick neck hug – hers was a particularly huggable neck (all that luxuriant mane!). I thought to myself what a lovely thing she is – of all the horses we have, I don’t think we’ve ever had to correct her or tell her off for anything (Hugo! Stop eating! Bell, stop making awful faces at Sunny!) – except for that one time we put her on the float without tying her up, then put up the tailgate, only for her to perform some kind of Clydesdale gymnastics and stick her head out over the back gate as if to say ‘I prefer to travel this way ‘. And that was less a telling off, but rather ‘How the hell did you do that?!’

It was therefore impossible to believe that she was dead in the paddock the next morning, almost exactly where I had left her. No signs of distress or struggle, just stretched out for all the world like she was sleeping.

She gave us almost 12 months, a little leftover love story as a payoff for our loss. She was the anchor to our little herd and the centrepiece of the farm, and she just reminded us of the senior farmer who was so proud of her. We weren’t ready at all for her to go but she left on her own terms, without troubling us with distressing decisions or drawing out a long painful goodbye. She knew we’d had our fill of those things. She was a good girl like that – she talked back as often as we wanted to listen. Rest softly and well Sunset Boulevard.

Sunny’s cherry blossom tree that will greet us at the gate

The couple who fence together…

A Hobby Farm Haiku

We have a vision
Of Gourmet River Cottage
But first…we must fence

The learnings are constant when it’s your first property. The administration of rates and mortgages, of post offices and bin collections, of utilities and access. But there are also the discoveries you make about yourself.

Who knew for example that you could end up having a least favourite piece of machinery? I mean sure, I harbour little affection for my washing machine and vacuum, even my hand mower, but at least they generally do what they say on the box. Press a button, pull a cord, empty a barrel and they require little skill to use them (care, absolutely – thus why there is only one person in the house apparently qualified to use these things…but I digress). In fact the worst appliance I have used previously in my little suburban unit was the line trimmer, which often let go of its line halfway through an energetic lawn edging session.

And then I met the post-hole digger. This thing is basically an unergonomic giant dirt drill. It cannot be operated by one person, because it is top heavy and it spins, and requires two people to hold it in place while it determinedly wrestles for freedom. In addition to this, it also has a very hot exhaust pipe that sits basically at face level of the unlucky assistant who is not on the controls. (Guess who?). It is loud and smelly, unwieldy and mildly frightening and I don’t know how I managed to melt one of my ear muffs while using it, but I am treating it as a threat.

I have to brace myself against it as I’m not quite strong enough to hold it in place with just my arms, so first my ribs are bruised, then my hip bone, then my thigh as we push it into the ground. Unfortunately it’s only bucked me off once, giving me blessed respite with a wrenched wrist, but that’s better now, so there were no excuses for the twenty post holes we dug on the weekend. Apparently the melted ear muff was not eligible as a lost time injury.

So I guess I have to take my own rider’s advice and get back on that ugly peg legged horse. Admittedly all of this is so that the actual horses I ride – who never buck me off – have somewhere to live. Fair enough, it’s a reasonable price to pay.

Do they look grateful?

One of the nice things (it’s not all bad) about spending decent hours outside in the paddocks is watching the abundance of birdlife we are fortunate to host. I’m fancying myself as quite the twitcher as I mentally identify each bird that flits across our path. Wrens, parrots, herons, ibis, wattle birds, kookaburras, cockatoos and the occasional bird of prey. Great excitement ensued after an afternoon of twitching wire when I spotted a big grey bird with a hooked beak high up in one of the trees. I took a series of truly terrible photos of it in an attempt to record its features to later identify it. When we were at Healesville Sanctuary on the weekend for a family function, I saw my opportunity. I waited patiently to speak to a ranger after the bird show, queuing up behind the scores of small children with their own neverending rambling questions. As I went to describe my find, with my grainy phone photo in hand, the ranger didn’t even glance at it as he said ‘Grey bird of prey? Sort of white chest? Yes, black shouldered kite – very common!’

He looked more impressive in real life.

Learner fencer. Learner twitcher. At least my haiku game is strong. Right?

Don’t fence me in (or out)

Last weekend on the way to the small farmer’s swimming lesson, I saw a telltale lump on the road. ‘Please let it be dumped carpet, please let it be dumped carpet’. It’s surprising how often that mantra works, but that day it didn’t. Worse, I caught the eye of an injured kangaroo as I drove past. She was in the middle of the road, she was terribly injured and she was struggling to drag herself off the road. I contemplated driving on. I was late, and I did not want to deal with this sad unpleasantness. It was freezing cold, and I had a kid in the car. But all of those thoughts were also very good reasons for stopping. I pulled over, put my hazards on and jumped out of the car – not sure why but I figured calling for help from outside the car would be easier. I have saved local wildlife rescue numbers in my phone after the kookaburra we picked up on the same road (#ripkooka) and as I was dialling the first one in my list, a kind gentleman pulled over as well, and rushed back to see if I was ok. After explaining that I hadn’t hit it, he also went into organising mode (hooray for CFA volunteers), and called the police at the suggestion of the wildlife rescuer that I had called, who was sick in bed. It should be noted that volunteer rescuers (most of the ones who answer the mobile numbers listed on signs on the side of the road) are not able to euthanase animals, but the police can. As it happened, after some bouncing around between local police stations, we found a nearby patrol who promised to attend within half an hour, and another wildlife rescuer who also said they would come out to check for young in the pouch. The lovely CFA volunteer who stayed with me to direct traffic around the poor creature suggested I take the small farmer away before the police arrived, and I gratefully took his suggestion, even though our swimming lesson was long gone. He texted me shortly after to let me know the deed was done, and that the volunteer hadn’t found any joeys. Sad outcome, but I think the community teamwork outweighed the original hit and run driver’s selfishness.

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Be a decent human and stop if you hit an animal. It’s not nice, and accidents do happen but the least you can do is check it’s not going to suffer a slow death, or be hit again by someone else.

It does seem to be the season of animals not being where they should be. Despite the cats only having access to the outside world via their converted greenhouse cat run, the number of small corpses that litter my floor has me treading very carefully whenever I arrive home. It doesn’t help that our tiles are exactly the colour of dead mice (a brave design decision on the part of the original occupants), to the point that I see dead mice everywhere, even where they are not there (or else the cats are playing elaborate pranks on me and moving them as soon as they see me head for the dustpan). The mice I don’t mind, but the delightful flame-browed finches that end up being played with to death are a little upsetting. Granted, if birds and mice are foolhardy enough to squeeze through the wire into the lions’ cage, it really can’t be helped, but I am still trying to find a good way to deter the very tiny birds from trying (you know, apart from the actual feline deterrent that I kind of thought would be instinctive). The CD string has worked a little, the plastic owl has intrigued the cats but not scared the other birds, so I still have to tread carefully and watch exactly what the cats are playing with to make sure it’s not an unwilling participant.

I can haz plastic owl? (with thanks to the internet circa 2007 for that reference)

Hugo has also finally achieved his goal of breaking into the pony-topia of the creek paddock, which is full of lush grass and delightful mud baths. Our temporary house yard fence is barely up to the task of containing the dogs (more on that later) so it wasn’t much for Hugo to create a Looney-Toonsesque pony-shaped hole in the mesh and happily come and go as he pleases. Wally too, who is Hugo’s canine equivalent (blonde, fluffy and obsessed with filling his belly) has been living large on the outside, and meeting us at the front door when he decidedly supposed to be in the yard. After blocking countless Sheltie sized holes, and after trying for weeks to get him to show us where he was getting through, he finally became exasperated with our stupidity and shimmied through the gap between the gate and the fence post in front of me, as if to say ‘Oh for goodness sake – it’s HERE!’. Enter one pool noodle tied to the gate, and his adventures are curbed. Hugo meanwhile enjoys a free rein (haha) between house yard and creek paddock while we hurriedly construct his new pony paddock/prison in the next paddock. We are looking forward to electrifying that fence to a fairly high voltage.

Yeah. Also not your paddock Hugo.

Wally pretending he doesn’t know how to get through the gate.

The other fencing drama was certainly not the animals’ fault, but the alpacas (who haven’t yet featured in this blog!) were surprised by a very large gum tree landing in their yard. The alpacas are fairly sensitive creatures who don’t appreciate change very much, so they were definitely put out by this intrusion, and the days of chainsawing to get the tree off their fence was also not to their liking. However, Nigel, Sterling and Spocky, as the trio are named, are now settled back in their yard and have an extra large log to frolic around until we finally move the remainder of the tree (another weekend perhaps… we’re a bit weary now… please enjoy some photos instead!)

Introducing Nigel, Spocky and Sterling!

We’re right for firewood, thanks for the offer.

Deer! Also on the whatever side of the fence they damn well please.

Here’s to all creatures staying on the correct sides of the fences and roads – it’s dangerous out there (and in here!).

All Australian boys need a shed

Annual leave. Ah, what wonderful words they are, what blissful imagery they conjure. It’s July in Victoria, so perhaps a tropical escape, or maybe even a cosy log cabin in the snow?

Or, how about ferrying around sheets of corrugated iron in gale force winds, and cleaning out 30 years’ worth of pigeon poo? I’ll tell you one thing… we’re definitely not thinking about our day jobs too much, so in my books that’s still annual leave done right.

The original Borrowed Farm is under siege. It’s a warzone of scorched earth and monstrous machinery. It’s hard to believe it was ever a sleepy farm, where you could sit on the farmhouse verandah in your PJs and drink coffee (doing that now would constitute a workplace safety issue). And of course, it will again be a peaceful and ordered community with parklands and creeks and a much advertised sensory garden. But for now. It’s kind of sad.

The deadline has arrived for the actual bones of the farm to be bulldozed or buried to make way for the roads and construction. All of the markers of its agricultural life and its orientation points – sheds, stockyards, fences, troughs, silos, trees, windmills and laneways are all going to be razed for the neatly planned landscape of a new estate. The huge green sheds that we used as a directional aid for everyone from pizza delivery drivers to visiting family had already been moved once as progress took over an earlier farm, and now they are moving to Glen Mist Farm. Obviously this is a huge (lifechanging!) gift for us and it also makes us happy that we’re able to bring a piece of Wilandra with us, not to mention we’re ‘respecting the bird’ by reducing, reusing and recycling some great materials that still have a lot of life left in them.  (Definitely more life left in them than our existing shed… er… lean to)

First things first is to remove years of inherited flotsam and jetsam. Bird poo, dusty hay, unidentifiable machinery bits, and of course various unfortunate vermin found trapped in walls and under blocks of wood. Oh and one very alive and very large rat. We have hired help for the technical deconstruction, because as builders and handymen, we make great office workers. These guys got stuck in drilling, grinding and meticulously labelling and stacking the skin of the sheds, while devoted family members (#thanksmumanddad) stripped out the internal walls of the (squee!) stable and tack room. (even better, they brought snacks). The weather was not our friend on day 1 of the exercise, with cyclonic winds and sideways rain, so it was lucky that the roof remained over our heads for that.

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Day 1 – still smiling #onthetools

We are now three days into the exercise proper, and one half of the shed is down, with its twin to follow over the next few days, once the power is definitely disconnected (#goodtobesure). It has all been ferried to Glen Mist and piled neatly while we start the council approval process. (For this I refer you to the graffiti that adorns our current hayshed, left by some spraycan philosopher – ‘Through struggle comes strength’ – would that this were true).

Meanwhile, the maelstrom of new estate construction circles around us. The machinery and activity is manic, with excavators capering backwards and forwards, ripping the pasture up to expose the bare earth, trucks ferrying dirt to and from god knows where but at great pace, and beeping trucks and utes with orange lights rush about with urgent purpose. There is no doubt method in the madness. But it is madness.