Heavy cross to bear

Smoke, thicker than the very air itself, obscures the usual blue summer skies. The colours are washed out by the smoke and things take on a yellow and brown hue. Every breath is an exertion, and the extreme summer heat does nothing to make it any easier. Plants wilt under the intensity of the sun, and I’m left wondering if I’ll run out of water before the summer is done. And more importantly, I wonder when it may rain again.

A sort of low level sense of alertness hovers just below my awareness. I feel vaguely uneasy whilst other people I encounter are outright edgy. Or they cover up their concerns with an exaggerated jocularity. And I’m sure that it is not only me that looks for reassurance in the weather forecasts. However, I’m not reassured by what I glean from the forecasts. And despite it all, the sun beats down on your skin, baking it.

We have no air-conditioning inside the house – by choice, and so the readings from the thermometer take on a whole new level of importance. Has the cool change arrived? Or is it still hot outside, but perhaps the difference in temperature is no longer that great and we just are in need of fresh air? Some nights when the wind is blowing in from the centre of this hot and dry continent, the cool change doesn’t arrive. You go to bed hot and you wake up hot.

Adaption to the heat means early mornings. Work until midday. Lunch. And then a short nap to recover from the physical exertions. The there is the inevitable wait for the cool change. And summer still has several months to run before it releases its grip over the land.

Smoke in the air from distant bushfires has reduced visibility

On Saturday morning, on a whim, the editor and I visited the Mount Macedon Memorial Cross. The monument is a huge cross originally constructed in 1935 by a local wealthy landowner as a dedication to the deceased during World War I. The construction took place during The Great Depression and it would have provided much employment at a time when such things were needful. The cross is located on the very western end of the mountain range at a very high elevation, so it can be seen for miles around.

As the years went on, the cross was hit by lightning more than a number of times and also survived a few bushfires. But by the mid 1990’s enough was enough, and another wealthy family stumped the cash to have the cross replaced with more durable materials. And here it is today:

The author approaching the Mount Macedon Memorial Cross

The cross may have survived the few bushfires that swept over it since it was constructed, but the surrounding forests still show the scars from the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires.

Snow gums recover slowly on the exposed plateau

The memorial cross is placed on the most westerly end of the plateau, and the forests on the more exposed northern side are dominated by Snow Gums. In the above photo I’m guessing that the two larger trees in the centre of the image germinated following the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires. They’re very slow growing plants. The brutal winter weather and hot exposed summer weather they deal with, means that few other Eucalyptus species would grow there. In the above photo there are two fire blackened tree stumps and those trees possibly died in the 1983 bushfires, and looking at the size of them, I expect that the original trees may have been several hundred years old.

A bit further along the walking path away from the memorial cross, you stumble upon the Major Mitchell lookout. It is an impressive view looking across to the Tretham plateau.

Major Mitchell lookout looking towards the Trentham plateau

The lookout affords an extraordinary view from the plateau of this mountain range and was named after Major Thomas Mitchell. He was a Scottish bloke who in 1827 was appointed as Assistant Surveyor General of New South Wales. He must have been good at his job because the following year he became the Surveyor General. He was one of those blokes that possibly enjoyed spending time out of the office, because he travelled all over this corner of the continent back in the day when that would have been a very challenging proposition. He named this mountain range Macedon, and a nearby and lesser mountain range after Alexander, and the history buffs can discuss why that may have been.

Unsurprisingly, the vegetation from the lookout is even more sparse at the lookout due to the exposed conditions. I can assure readers that over winter, the lookout can be a reasonable facsimile of alpine conditions, and I note that the Eucalyptus species Alpine Ash grows just over on the more sheltered southern side of the plateau. Those plants grow like telephone poles, as I’m certain many of them have become.

The mountain range is quite long end to end, and it sticks up like a sore thumb out of elevated plains. As far as I understand the geology it is comprised of one very large and very old extinct volcano and a number of lesser volcanoes (hopefully also all extinct). The farm sits in about the middle of the mountain range and on the sheltered southern side on a saddle leading down from one of those extinct volcanoes.

The farm is of course in the less fashionable end of the mountain range. However, the other day when I was struggling with some task in the awful summer heat, I looked up from where I was standing near to the very highest terrace garden, and blow me down, because there was the memorial cross staring right back at me.

The memorial cross as seen from the very highest terrace garden (zoomed in a bit)

The summer weather has been a bit of a worry. I hope the farm survives the summer unscathed because there are all manner of interesting creatures living here. The other night I spotted a Southern Brown Tree Frog clinging to the outside wall of the house. It appears to have just consumed a winged insect.

A Southern Brown Tree Frog clings to the side of the house

Nighttime can bring out all manner of unusual critters. A few nights ago, the editor spotted a scorpion casually strolling across the path.

A scorpion meanders across the walking path

A huge diversity of birds enjoy life on the farm, and of late a small family of the very rare Black and Yellow Cockatoos have been hanging around – they’re not quiet about things either. It isn’t always work for the birds, sometimes I observe them playing, and one of their favourite show-rides is the whirly bird ventilator on the worm farm sewage system.

A Kookaburra enjoys being spun around on the whirly bird ventiator

Despite the heat we did a fair bit of work in the mornings. The new yellow powered wheelbarrow was used to bring rocks back up the hill. The large rocks are being used to construct a small terraced succulent garden. It is still a work in progress, but we’ve made a fair bit of progress on the job.

Large rocks are being used to construct a terraced succulent garden

After a lot of firewood work, the primary (and larger) firewood shed is now almost full. Summer is the time for splitting, cutting and storing seasoned firewood. There is little point in trying to store damp firewood – even if it seasoned – and nothing dries firewood out like the summer sun.

The primary firewood shed is almost full

The staircase leading up to the highest terrace has now been completed.

The staircase leading to the highest terrace has no been completed

Earlier in the week, we visited the nearby town of Sunbury to marvel at the displays of Christmas lights. One street in particular puts on an amazing show, and here is a sample of the displays:

A Christmas kangaroo
A family of deer frolick whilst two kangaroos may collide at speed
People turn out en masse to see the displays

The local displays in the mountain range are far less ostentatious but possibly more grand, and one notable example involves stringing huge globes in one of the largest Western Red Cedars in the Southern hemisphere. As the tree and lights are located in the more fashionable end of the mountain range (just like the memorial cross), you can see the lights from miles away.

Lights are strung up in an enormous Western Red Cedar. The local pub looks tiny in comparison.

Now ordinarily, at this point in the blog I’d wheel out some flower photos from around the garden. There are plenty of flowers, and even some new ones. But I thought to myself, stuff it, this is the final blog entry for the decade, so what the heck let’s go crazy and I’ll chuck in some random photos from the past ten years. Here goes (in chronological order of course):

December 2009:

The house frame had begun to be constructed. Note the site shed to the rear of the house frame

Earlier that year the earthworks had been done. Once the earthworks were complete, I was able to construct the footings (all 115 of them) and begin making the house frame. As you can see, it is a small house. One thing I would do differently now is demolish the small site shed and move the house further back. And maybe get a large rock blown-up. Yeah! I wanted to do it. The earthworks guy wanted to do it. But the editor suggested it was a bad idea, and cooler heads won the day. Still, it would have been fun. Note: The editor has since changed her mind about the rock!

December 2010:

The initial chicken enclosure and hen house

Chickens came into my life on a 40’C / 104’F summer’s day. I’d mentioned to a local lady who raised chickens that I’d be interested in purchasing a batch from her. I didn’t think much more about the discussion, until I received a phone call telling me to come and get them. We didn’t have a chicken house or enclosure ready and so had to put one together in a short space of time. It wasn’t good, but the chickens lived happy lives in there, that is until the parrots learned to break into the enclosure and consume the chicken feed. Unfortunately the parrots didn’t know how to break out of the enclosure once in there. That was when the parrots got a thorough introduction to the fluffy collective and the real problems began. And we haven’t even discussed the rats!

December 2011:

A squashed water tank led to re-purposing as raised garden beds

I accidentally squashed an expensive round steel water tank. No matter what I did to repair the water tank, it always leaked water. In a fit of inspiration we cut the water tank up and used it to make 3 round raised vegetable beds. They worked so well that we have over a dozen of them now.

December 2012:

A cantina shed came into being

In the 2009 photo, there was a site shed. That shed was slowly dismantled, all the materials recovered, and it eventually became the cantina shed. I reckon it looks better. The two olive trees in front of the shed were purchased as ex-hire trees, and today they are monsters and produce an extraordinary amount of olives.

December 2013:

A large rock wall was constructed below the swale

Our love affair with rocks and rock walls runs deep. Some loves know no boundaries…

December 2014:

Need more sheds

By this stage we could no longer deny the truth. We needed more sheds. This one was constructed using entirely scrap materials, and it is very sturdy compared to the sort of flimsy sheds that people construct nowadays. Even the window is double glazed, and someone was chucking the window out and only wanted a few bucks for it. Crazy stuff. It is covered with stainless steel mesh to protect it from bushfires.

December 2015:

The summer was hot and dry too and the trees in the sunny orchard look so small
The chickens scored a new shed that year too. And it required additional modifications to keep out the rats

The fruit trees in the sunny orchard were still very young that year, and they still are today. The chickens scored a brand new shed that year due to inherent parrot and rat problems with their slapped together housing. The rats still managed to break into the new shed, but with many modifications, I seem to have beaten them for now. The mice are a different story.

December 2016:

A firewood shed but with no rock gabions… Note the berry bed above, which was doubled in size at a later date.
The original tomato enclosure

A firewood shed became necessary – especially after using damp firewood burned out the steel in the old wood heater (an astoundingly expensive error). And we were discovering that we needed more growing space. A dedicated tomato enclosure was constructed just above the swale that can be seen in the 2013 photo. This enclosure was doubled in size in the following year.

December 2017:

Steel rock gabions were put to good use
Access paths were constructed – and still are being constructed

The clay behind the firewood shed had to be retained, and so we came up with the idea of using steel rock gabion cages and filling them with small rocks. And they just work. Also access was becoming more of an issue, especially over winter so we began constructing access paths – and still are at that task even today.

December 2018:

More rock gabion cages were constructed
The strawberry enclosure was covered over with steel in order to keep everything out

More rock gabion cages were constructed during the year. And the strawberry enclosure was doubled in size (this may be a pattern), and we placed steel wire mesh over the roof. Everything loves eating strawberries, and if we hadn’t gone to such an extreme, there would be little point growing the tasty berries. And it has paid off this year with a bumper crop.

Hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and thanks for reading!

The temperature outside now at about 9.00am is 30’C (86’F). So far this year there has been 716.0mm (28.2 inches) which is the same as last weeks total of 716.0mm (28.2 inches). A somewhat dry year.