We Haven’t Turned Around

Standing outside upon the concreted drive way, you could see that the heavy duty gates were locked. Tightly. Where were all the mowers, tractors and other stuff? Cheery machine branding signs clung bravely to the concrete tilt slab sided walls. An A-frame board on the other side of the locked gates announced that the business was temporarily closed. The sign sure had seen some weather. Guess we have to make other arrangements now. Disconsolately, Sandra and I headed home.

The local farm machine repair dude has been dead for a while now. I’m not sure what is going on with the business, but to the casual observer, it kind of looks like its followed a similar path. The dude and I were more than acquaintances, maybe slightly less than friends, and he always looked after us. He knew the area, our needs, and also what Sandra and I did for a living. He was more than happy to talk farm and business stuff, until the proverbial cows came home.

We spoke the day before he died. He’d only just sold me a crusty old roto-tiller he’d obtained as a trade-in and fixed up. Chris, you’re gonna love this machine, he enthused. The red paint had faded to a dodgy looking shade of pink. The gearbox casing has some rust. The engine is a Chinese clone Honda 200cc four stroke. But far out, he was right, what an amazing machine it is. I think of him every time the engines pull cord is used to fire the beast up.

The business continued after he died, and we’d head down there and order parts and purchase consumables. That’s why we were standing outside the now locked gates the other day – we wanted to purchase some consumables. Of late we’d been using the business less and less.

After the funeral, inevitably things changed and I knew deep down that I’d have to take on board all of the machinery repairs and servicing. Not being one to shirk responsibility, we constructed a service pit, and since then I’ve done all the servicing and repairs of the farm machines we use here. Nobody is going to care more about the machines you use, than yourself.

In my spare time I watch videos of people diagnosing and fixing problems with small engine farm machines. Take my word for it, the videos are quite engrossing and entertaining. And they’ve been enormously useful.

Unfortunately, we have one very complicated machine. It’s the bigger and gruntier of the low centre of gravity mowers. That beast is great for working on steep land, because the machine is safe in an environment that would destabilise most other ride on mowers. Years ago I knew someone who’d been involved in a quad-bike accident. Not good, and best avoided. It’s been remarked upon elsewhere that second hand advice is a cheap form of learning. However, I’d been hoping beyond hope, that despite everything, the repair business would continue with different faces, just so as to service the beast of a machine. It is a truth that sometimes hopes can be dashed.

Being the crafty and resourceful person I am, a phone call to the Australian distributor of the complicated Japanese made machine proved my worse fears: The distributor refused to sell parts to the public. The nearest place that would service the machine and supply retail parts was located an hours drive west of here. The thought of lugging a 400kg / 840 pound mower on the trailer, for over an hour through winding country roads, just to get the thing serviced, then pick it up again, leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Best to do the work here, but how to get any machine specific parts became the next problem.

I roughly knew where the business an hours drive away was located. My friends of the big shed fame live not far from there. But really, there’d be no other reason for me to take any machines to that business. So I gave them a call to find out how things worked with them. After finding out where I was located the bloke laughed and said he’d picked up all of the work from this area for that particular brand of machine. Fortunately he was open to the idea of supplying parts from emailed photos, and could then post them out here – for a fee. Oh well, it’s a workable solution.

The thing is, since 2008 I’d worked hard at building and maintaining all of the business and social networks we needed in this area. I knew the business owners, they knew us, and we all had a respectful relationship. Now, those relationships are fast disappearing. Even the local hairdresser that Sandra and I use, is apparently closing up. It reminds me of the year 2008, all over again.

That was the year I’d finally had enough, and we moved up to this remote mountainous area. For three years leading up to 2008, most of my friend group had spread to the far corners of Melbourne, predominantly for crass economic reasons – house and rental prices had risen so much over the prior decade, that they all moved to distant areas where they could afford to live. By 2008, I didn’t see them much any more. They lost themselves in the world of online gaming. My expectations were higher, so we headed bush and left them all behind.

In the sixteen years since then, to my utter disbelief, property prices have only continued to climb. It’s nuts! I don’t know how much the lease costs on the hairdressers bricks and mortar building would be, but I can imagine it wouldn’t come cheap. And as the rental property cost burden increases, a business would need to pump through a lot more customers to cover the higher costs. A person can’t do everything, and so that requires having more staff in order to service so many extra customers. The costs just pile up. It takes a lot of haircuts to pay for all those costs, and that’s before making a profit. And it doesn’t take too long for the entire proposition to become a very risky venture for whomever signs that inescapable lease. If you get it wrong, they can possibly take your house. It’s a total mess of a situation.

It can’t all be coincidence that so much of our local social and business network is imploding and changing over the past year. My gut feeling suggests to me that it’s like the build up to 2008, all over again.

The view of sun rise from the house

The say the skies are bigger in Australia, and maybe it’s true. The nights this week have been cold and clear, and the above image was taken at sun rise on Sunday morning. Old timers may have described the air as: bracing (whatever that means!) We even had our first light frost. The grass was frozen, but thawed out later in the day as the sun rose higher in the big blue sky.

I’d call that a light frost. Dame Plum is hesitant to cross the frozen grass

At night the dogs sleep warm snuggled up on the white leather couch. Long term readers will recall that the couch was purchased second hand during the health subject which dare not be named. It was pretty cheap due to a stain, but had once been quite expensive. In those crazy days, Sandra had an eerie premonition whenever the state was going to be locked down. And on just such a day a couple of years ago, we headed into the big smoke to pick up the couch earlier than previously planned because, you know, bad vibes and stuff. Sure enough, at 5pm the state was locked down, for four months. But the dogs had a new and rather aromatic (in a cheap cleaning fluid kind of way) comfy leather couch to sleep upon. That’s my memory association with the couch. That and the former boss dog Dame Scritchy sleeping on Ollie’s head. Ollie was dirty for the attention.

The fluffy collective enjoy their sleeping arrangements

Early in the week we arranged for a new delivery of the crushed rock with lime which is used on the many paths here. It’s good stuff, and makes for an excellent all weather surface. Plus any nearby fruit trees get a decent feed of Calcium from the material. A layer of the crushed rock and lime was placed over the surface of the low gradient ramp. That finished the project. Done!

A layer of crushed rock with lime completed the low gradient path project. Done!

The project was now complete, but there was that inexplicable soil mound near to one of the ramps. A few minutes work with the roto-tiller, and the soil on the mound was loosened up.

A mound of soil on the right hand side of the photograph was removed

Spare soil is a useful material, and it was relocated not too far away where it was used to fill in some depressions in the orchard. Having a steep, but smooth soil surface makes maintaining the farm quicker and easier.

The brown volcanic soil shows where some depressions were filled over

Observant readers will notice that the soil just above Dame Plum’s head is a slightly different colour to the browner looking soil next to it. We cover over bare patches of soil with material from the chickens run. The area repairs quickly. As a soil food, with all that chicken poop in it, the material is potent stuff

A couple of hours of rock scrounging in the forest provided enough rocks to almost finish an upper rock wall for the newly developed garden bed near to there.

We use a lot of rocks here

The low gradient path project took fourteen months to complete, and a whole lotta rocks. I reckon the results are worth it!

The entrance to the low gradient path a week out from the start of winter

For something different, we did a days work down at the forest edge continuing to clean up the loggers mess. After a century of logging, there’s a bit of mess to clean up. A small boulder had been blocking access to the area, so it was split into seven large rocks – always handy to have.

A boulder was split and two tree stumps reduced in size

In that area there were three enormous old tree stumps. In the above photo, you can see one of them in the left hand side of the image. How anyone can fell a tree with a cut which is almost at my eye level is beyond my comprehension. Seems like an inordinately dangerous activity, but that’s what we found there. The discs I cut from the stumps will be turned into firewood. Some eucalyptus trees can resprout from tree stumps, but after all these years and decades, there was no sign of life, and those stumps were dead-as.

That was the area where I suspect the dogs had been consuming mushrooms, which was the reason we wanted to clean the area up. It’s still mushroom season here, and after recent bouts of canine weirdness, the dogs activities are now closely supervised.

A whole lot of mushrooms grow here

We’ve been enjoying roast beetroot. The tubers are a bit weedy here, and honestly it had been a few years since we’d even sown beetroot seeds in the location they were harvested from. Roasted, they taste great!

Beetroot, even yummier roasted!

Onto the flowers:

We grow a lot of Salvia species
Silver Banksia grow in the surrounding forest
The light frost has left the Roses unharmed
Not bad for a week out from the official start to winter

The temperature outside now at about 10am is 8’C (46’F). So far for last year there has been 377.0mm (14.8 inches) which is up from last weeks total of 366.0mm (14.4 inches)