Sauna Reconstruction

In the last few years the sauna firebox has been springing leaks that let out smoke and made the experience less than optimal unless one wants to be cured like bacon.  My welding repairs have been successful until the last few months when it became obvious I was losing the battle.  I realised reluctantly that the only fix would be a complete firebox transplant.  When I dismantled all the bricks, it became even more evident that it was in even worse condition than I thought.

Sorry remains of firebox

Sorry remains of firebox

  In fact it fell apart in my hands with rust that had all the strength of a weetbix, all bent and buckled and holes here and there.  Also the inner chimney of stainless steel had holes and 2 of the 3 sections were completely split along their length.  That was contributing to the smoke by lack of draw.  

Knowing that I could get sheet steel in 1.2m width, I worked out a cutting layout that would result in little wastage.   Choosing a firebox size of 600 by 500 by 400, I had dimensions that added up nicely to avoid loss and extra cutting.  I needed a sheet 1.2m by 1.7m.  The first firebox had been made from 4mm steel because I didn’t think my toy welder could anything thicker.  I was right.  It was a battle to get the parent metal to melt with only a 100 Amp welder.  But this time, just in time, I had been given a 130 amp welder by my good friend Martin, and thought I could weld maybe 6mm steel.  From 4mm to 6mm may not sound much, but it is a considerable upgrade in both longevity and challenge.  The heat dissipation in 6mm steel is considerably more.  The sheet cost $300.  It needed to be loaded with a forklift.  

Did you know that steel can be cut with a household circular saw?  I was surprised that my son-in-law didn’t, hi Blue! and that he battled through steel with an angle grinder.  An accidental hero, as it’s much quicker and more accurate with a circular saw.  But it’s still not quick with 6mm steel.  Goggles and ear protection please before starting the ‘Big Grind’.  When I said “household circular saw”, I didn’t mean any saw.  Manufacturers have worked out that the average DIY power tool is only used for 10 minutes in its entire life.  So they taylor the durability of the tool to that parameter.  So the cheapest tool in the shop, generally bought by not the sharpest tool in the shed, is going to go up in smoke during this exercise.  Even with an industrial grade saw, it is best to hand test the heat of both the motor and the saw guard and give the saw a rest every metre of cutting or so.  However the spectacular showers of sparks makes it all worthwhile!  Boys everywhere get turned on by demonstrations of raw power.

So now comes the welding.  With my new donated welder and 20kgs of donated 3.2mm rods I’m ready to go.  I have a ‘you beaut’ reactive welding helmet loaned by my son-in-law, hi again Blue, which electronically darkens when the arc flashes and makes it so much easier to scratch the arc.  I crank everything to the max and off we go.  Except the inverter at 3KW continuous and max 4.5KW drops out on overload.  Bugger!  So I disconnect the cottages and 3 fridges and everything else and try again.  I can only get through half a rod of 3.2mm.  So I backed off the current from 130A to maybe 120A and try again and it all works.  But I was having trouble getting enough heat into the puddle of molten steel to melt both plates of steel to form the weld.  I changed my action slightly to stitch a wider arc and dip into the corner more closely and managed to get decent welds.  But every time I changed rods the metal cools down and I had a bit I have to patch up.  I was running all the equipment to its max, but managed some pretty good welds in the end.  I really like welding.  I guess it’s the raw power mentioned above.  

A few days ago I had finished the firebox and got my son-in-law, hi once again Blue, to help me grunt it down to the sauna shed into place. 

Firebox complete

Firebox complete

I have redesigned the covering of the firebox to leave bricks top and bottom and leave the steel exposed between.  This hot steel is protected from painful human contact by aluminium security screens of just the right dimensions I happened to have in my shed.  It took me a while to connect my needs with the materials available, but I think I have achieved an elegant design.  The new model sauna should heat up much quicker and easily get to higher temps with a reduction in fuel use and start up times.  Dear frequent guests, better, hotter, sweatier, smoke free saunas now happening.   

With thicker steel, better welds, lower firebox body temps with much less brick insulation, I think this sauna will last out my time.  Pity really, I’m just getting good at this.  Anybody need a sauna? 

installed and finished

installed and finished

Feelin’ Good

Everything feels really good down here on the fungus farm.   You know and appreciate feeling good when you have just gone through a period of feeling bad.  The contrast heightens the pleasure.  My bit of feeling bad was maybe 5 days of having fevers and the disagreeable choice of violent coughing every 15 minutes or choking to death.  Discerning readers will have already deduced I took the former choice.  This was a 24 hour activity which left little time for healing sleep.  It is well recorded in the annals of science that the lack of the gentle calming beta brain waves, the data organising REM periods, and the cleansing delta waves leaves one feeling unrefreshed.  In fact a tottering wreck.  For a few days there I managed to get through some chores but felt like, and probably looked like, a zombie from some C grade movie.  

Now the sun is shining, birds singing (I swear they totally stopped while I was down in the dumps), and I had a good and productive day slashing grass and weeds, washing and catching up with chores.  We have all been there haven’t we?  Laid low by some virus or bacteria with only the hope of dying keeping us alive.  The triumph is to spring back with new enthusiasm.  Enthusiasm, triumphs and indeed springing becomes more challenging for us older folk, but hey, gotta keep trying.  

The weather has been rather ordinary being cool, totally overcast, and with light drizzly rain from time to time.  It happens a lot in May which at Possum Valley has the highest number of days of rain of any month.  Though by no means the highest rainfall.  Graphs and charts for Possum Valley weather are on my page “Rainfall”.  It is just as well I like rainy days as well as sunshine, living where I do.  So the weather a bit uncomfortable for my guests, but many have been rewarded with some good wildlife sightings.  In the last week, guests at both cottage had good views and pics of tree kangaroos just a few meters from both of the cottages.  Today I was servicing Blackbean Cottage and a platypus was feeding under the bridge.  Having finished the service, I stepped outside and there was a juvenile cassowary just 10m away.  Much to my surprise, (s)he didn’t run away but looked at me for some time and walked in front of me to within 5m.  I had some friends staying at the homestead, including a young lady from Canada, so I briskly walked past it hoping to bring them down for a perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a cassowary in the wild.  Much to my surprise it followed me up the hill just as they were exiting my house so my grand announcement was totally upstaged by the bird itself, before I had the chance for introductions.  They also saw saw a Victoria’s rifle bird, which is always a treat. 

I was babysitting my grandkids for 2 consecutive days this week, and for 2 days after that I was trying to reassemble my house from the wreckage.  I suppose it is my own fault.  If I shouted enough, I guess they would cease and desist with their constant and unlikely experiments into the properties and uses that my household objects can be put to.  I guess my weakness is a suspicion that they might actually be learning something from the seemingly random trail of destruction.  They are boys aged 2 & 4.  Only just as they both had birthdays in the last couple of weeks.  I forgot and they didn’t mention it because I suspect their parents didn’t tell them.  What a slack family I have reared.  

I went out on the town down in Cairns for the first time in this millenium.  

Trying to blend in

Trying to blend in

I had noticed the decor featured the class of clientele that the “Three Wolves” in Cairns was trying to attract.  I hope I posed in a suitably supercilious manner.  To serve bourbon, the barmen torched a piece of specially imported American cedar then upended the glass onto it to ‘smoke the glass’, before pouring the bourbon.  Quite theatrical and of dubious benefit.  There was music playing at a level that one had to speak up to be heard by even the person next to you.  This jacked up the volume until only bellowing in your companion’s ear could be understood unless one was adept at lipreading.  This broke up party conversations into one on one conversations.  I discovered what I had been missing for the last couple of decades in the social scene.  Not much, though it was intensely interesting as a social study.

My real excitement in going down to Cairns was finding a 2 bearing, 4 pole, 240v AC, single phase, 3.5 KVA generator.  I don’t suppose you get quite the same thrill as I do hearing those specs.  This was the machine I had tried to get 35 years ago to be told it was out of production.  It is old and battered outside, but looks much better inside.  The old man who had this machine lived in an industrial shed with basic living quarters on a mezzanine floor above.  His superb and crowded workshop was devoted to making fully working models of say a wreck recovery vessel for the delight of kids.  He and I were kindred spirits and I offered him $200 for the generator.  He didn’t even bargain and loaded me up with other stuff like 20 kg of welding rods, 30 kg of assorted bolts, springs etc.  A very generous man.

Sad and Lonely

I really thought the relationship would work. I was willing to make changes to my lifestyle and go the hard yards but for reasons I don’t know, it didn’t work out.  The initial signs were good with him willing to be stroked and handled and soon wanting to sit on my shoulders.  A favourite perch for a human raised tree roo.  I very quickly learned that Doobie, the 2 year old tree roo used his long hooked claws with just the strength required to get the traction he needed.  He dug them in strongly when climbing vertically and used them lightly when perching.  This is fine when climbing a tree but when climbing a human can result in severe lacerations on legs and back and he displayed an appalling lack of awareness of the fragility of human skin.  As I always wear shorts, I found it prudent to kneel down when he showed signs of wanting a shoulder perch.  He could leap right onto the shoulder without the mutilation required for a standing human.  

Once on the shoulder he just used his claws for balance.  So we did the washing up together with his hind legs on each shoulder and his wicked front claws lightly on my scalp.  Every now and then he would lean over to sniff the dishes and we would be quite cheek to cheek.  I hadn’t expected such intimacy and he had been the one to initiate, and me the one to nervously accommodate.  The first day at Possum Valley he was kept in my house to familiarise him with me and the new situation and smells.  Margit supplied a blanket she had deliberately slept with to give some continuity.  Smell is the least important sense to humans but overwhelmingly important to most other animals, and I was trying to make myself aware of that.  Margit also supplied a complete tree roo starter kit of fresh foliage, treats and delicacies, diet supplements, cage, bedding, poop scooper, feed trays, buckets etc and a radio collar and tracker.  The full kit.  I was given a crash course in animal tracking and an introductory course in diet and psychology.  

Now it was over to me.  As it happened, I had friends from Cairns staying at the homestead that night and they were delighted to meet my new friend.  Martin, a tech guy and specialist in telemetry, gave me the full briefing on the use and limitations of the tracking equipment well beyond the useful but non technical introduction by Margit.  He took this pic. 

new friend

new friend

Next day as planned I took Doobie out to the edge of the rainforest and released him.  He had been released every day at Margit’s place and would come ‘home’ every afternoon.  He carefully sniffed around the closest trees to the homestead giving close attention to patches of ground where I could see little interest, but as mentioned previously, there could be a whole story to tell by scent that I am blind too.  He climbed a bush but not much to his liking before slithering down and briskly hopping off down the track to the ram pump.  Here he confronted a waterfall noisily tumbling down which might have been entirely new to him.  He climbed a spindly tree a few meters away and spent the rest of the day there scanning his new domain.  

I checked up on him several times during the day and practised with the radio tracking aided by knowing where he was to get some idea of the direction from the sound of hiss and the strength of the regular ping, ping from the collar.  About 3 pm he hopped up the front steps and into the house.  I rewarded him with feed of vegetation and treats such as apple.  You beaut!  The biggest risk had been that he would do a runner the first day. 

The next day was another test for me as I was on my second job as minder of my grandsons getting on for 2 and 4 years old.  I had to introduce infants to animal and hopefully instill an attitude of mutual respect.  I had alerted my daughter that I undertaken to look after a tree roo and was this OK?  She had actually done babysitting tree roos for Margit as a teenager and had them climb over her.  She realised her kids could get scratched and blood drawn, but hey! that’s life.  It went pretty well with Doobie hopping around the house and kids observing from a distance.  Doobie has met miniature humans before and seemed quite relaxed.  The kids were more wary with Henry the eldest being brave but clutching my thigh, and Philip protected in my arms keenly interested.  Later in the day the kids got used to Doobie hopping around the house and imitated him, pretending to be tree roos.  He went out into the rainforest and I tracked him from time to time.  I found him in a tree and talked to him and he slid down to hop onto my shoulder.  

Next day I took him out to the forest but he followed me back to the house and he stayed close around the house for hours until I left him to go and restore the power to the sauna where corrosion had caused a blackout.  I haven’t seen him since and radio tracking couldn’t raise a signal just 2 hours later.  Me and Margit’s sister Karen have roamed far and wide with radio tracking without getting a signal.  I think he is gone.  I hope he fares well.

The New Lodger

In a few days time I am going to have a lodger staying for an unknown length of time at the homestead.  I have lived alone for about 16 years and rather got used to it, and come to rather like it, not having to take anyone else’s opinions into consideration and having the luxury of living in my own batchelor squalour.  I wonder how I will take to having to cater to an other’s needs.  The arrangement isn’t for financial gain, after all tree kangaroos don’t have credit cards, but to relieve a ‘situation’ for a nearby wildlife carer, Margit, who specialises in caring for tree roos.  The ‘situation’ is that this 2 year old male tree roo is flat out bent on killing a baby roo already in her care.  Margit’s reading is that the baby roo is the offspring of a tree roo that traumatised the 2yo in his infancy, but the smell reveals the parentage and cross generational feuds are settled in blood.  Anyone with a Walt Disney view of animals is advised to stop reading now.  Tree roos are capable of infanticide.  The males have a particularly hard time, having to fight for territory and being aggressively attacked for trespassing even inadvertently.  This particular roo was found alone when very young and only 800 grams.  All skin and bone (I saw a pic) and would not have lasted another night or two.  Now two years old and a healthy 5.5 kgs.  He also has mental problems with OCD and spends many hours of the day just grooming his feet as a calming strategy.   

So I met this handsome youngster today at Margit’s house, going from floor to kitchen counter, to perching on Margit’s shoulder, as we discussed the feasibility of him staying at PV.  Margit is totally satisfied with the location of PV being far from roads and rainforest as far as the eye can see, my lifestyle can accommodate the needs of a young roo, and I have a spare bedroom that can be furnished suitably.    Although he has lived for 2 years with humans roaming in the forest and coming back for the scary nights, he may do a runner on the first time I let him out.  I think I will be equipped with a radio collar to be able to find him, as long as he doesn’t stray more than about 200m or dive into a gully.  The idea is for him, like any human kid, to be able work from a safe place and eventually establish a place for himself in the wild driven by his own instincts.  The possibilities include him becoming ‘institutionalised’ and deciding it’s just too wild out there, bolting and coming to an early death due to inexperience from not being raised by parents, or finding his mojo and establishing a territory and harem.  I would like the latter on a time frame of say 6 months.

Not the roo but another taken at PV

Not the roo but another taken at PV

I have run the idea by my darling daughter Alice, as I also serve as babysitter to her two little kids.  In  case you didn’t know, tree roos have a powerful bite and long, sharp hooked claws.  I have first hand experience being severely lacerated when a tree roo ran over my foot. It wasn’t even trying to hurt me.  I will have to introduce them carefully, ensuring that they have mutual respect.  Actually Alice has more experience tree roo wrangling than I have, as during her senior school years she used to babysit Margit’s tree roos when Margit had to go away.  Alice is OK with the idea with careful introductions.  The roo didn’t seem at all wary of me and I could stroke him and he jumped on my shoulders as a way of getting to another piece of furniture.  They can’t be trained much at all, including house training, but I’m assured that the pee isn’t offensive like a possum’s and the poo is hard pellets much like a possum’s.  It is fortunate I don’t go for rugs or carpets.  

So on saturday Margit will come over to PV with roo and starter pack of food such as glycine and privit, a bag of almonds and some other nutrients.  She will stay a while giving me further briefing, helpline numbers and settling the roo in.  Then she buggers off to Germany and I find out what it’s like living with a tree roo.  

Water World, G-Rated Version

March has been a bit damp up here in FNQ.  At times the whole world seems to be water.  Water falling in torrents, pouring off the roof, pooling into puddles and lakes, sloshing around underfoot, running in rivulets, before roaring off down the creek in raging brown torrents to torment the coast.  But without the violence the film featured so prominently.  

Cairns has featured recently in the news where caravan parks have had regattas for Winnebagos and sugar cane became the new seagrass.   But my flooding woes reported in the last couple of blogs were 2 weeks earlier where I had much more rain.  I am a bit miffed that the media did not flock to Possum Valley to record my trials and tribulations, and no helicopters or drones were buzzing overhead to witness my heroic repairs lashed to a rope in a swollen waterfall wrestling 9m long pipes.  Oh well, news reporting is prejudiced and population baised.  10 years of mischief, mayhem and slaughter in the CAR (Africa), goes mostly unreported, but the poisoning of a couple of people in the UK reverberated around the world.  Unfortunately Stalin was right when he said that “one person killed is a tragedy, but a million killed is a statistic”.  Actually one of the poisoned has recovered.  Queensland weather reports have a similar weighting.  A lengthy analysis of past and future weather for the tiny SE corner and eight words for the rest.  Queensland stretches 2,500 kms north from Brisbane.  Like being in Manchester where I was brought up, and being given the forecast for Istanbul.  

I have just totted up the rain for March and it comes to 1048 mm, with a total for the year of 1815 mm.  Ample by any standards, but not as much as some.  Australia is the world’s driest continent and huge stretches of land go years gasping for a drink, so it is tempting to think that ‘saving’ the excess at one place and channelling it to another parched place is good news all round.  Not so fast.  The huge rainfalls are actually in a very thin strip down the coast.  Not as much as some might think.  To ‘harvest’ the rain requires huge storage capacity, ie dams.  Massive projects subject to rapid siltation and short life span.  Also prone to huge disruption of the ecosystems at both ends of the pipeline.

There were a couple of fine days in the month when I got busy with repairs and the local animals came out to party.  The animals get fed up with persistent rain too.  Some just sulk and do just enough to stay alive, and some take to raiding my house more frequently.  The Lewin’s Honeyeaters fly round inside looking for food scraps such as rice grains on plates waiting to be washed, or failing that they knock off the spiders.  Scrub turkeys come out of the rain and stand around miserably on the covered patio or risk stealing some food from the duck when I feed him.  He is much stronger and often grumpy, but they are much quicker. 

Duck & Turkey

Duck & Turkey

While I was working on the waterfall, a handsome Eastern Water Dragon came out to take advantage of some weak sunshine.  It is about 350 mm long and only a meter from the cascade.  They are usually found near water and often sun themselves on the jetty near the sauna.  If disturbed they can dive in the water with a splash and disappear as I think they must swim underwater and leave no ripples.  If dear guests have been mystified by a splash when approaching one of the dams, it was probably this dragon, a Boyd’s Forest Dragon (which is smaller), or perhaps even a snake bird or a little cormorant.  Occasionally the platypuses come out of the water, but I fancy they don’t dive back in but slither without a splash. 

Eastern  Water Dragon

Eastern Water Dragon

This dragon obligingly stayed put while I went to the house to get my camera and when I came up to within 1 m.







On the same day as the pics above, I took the picture of the red-bellied black snake next to its old skin shed about a month earlier.  I am pretty sure it is a permanent resident of the shed living somewhere in the shelves of junk on the west end.  I don’t go looking for it or seek to evict/kill it, as that is the surest way of inviting an attack.  Live and let live is the best policy with these docile snakes.  It is only the 14th most venomous snake in the world, and hey! you might even survive.  My grandkids frequently play in my shed, but when the eldest has seen it, he beats a hasty retreat rather than mess with it, which is just the right  thing to do.  I brought up 2 little girls to maturity here, hoping I can do the same with 2 little boys.  

Black snake in workshop

Black snake in workshop


It is about 1.2 m long and looking resplendent in its new skin and just cruising past my main workbench.  The floor, which is dirt, hasn’t been seen in a decade, is covered with a generous layer of wood shavings and no doubt much to the liking of the resident.  I am confident there are no rodents in the shed.

Picking up the Pieces

After the flooding and my adventures in childminding, I got to survey the damage to the hydro system and the ram pump.  First glance, it’s still there, and so is the lightweight roof suspended on cables spanning the creek.  This tells me it isn’t a maximum height flood, but it was the longest and the generator must have spent about 2 days underwater.  I had it chained to the frame.  Amazingly enough, a light aluminium cowl to keep drifting rain and spray off was still there, though flattened over the top of the generator.  I had considered that a sacrificial item.  I just shoved that back into place.  No water coming out of the nozzle, but that is to be expected as the bottom section of the pipe and nozzle usually jammed with debris.  So I go up to the weir at the top to put a plug in the pipe and drain the pipe so I can disconnect and remove the debris.  No need.  The pipe wasn’t there.  The top 2 lengths (18m) had been ripped away and mashed up and crushed and I could see some jammed under a fallen tree down the waterfall.  Have to be replaced, as you can’t straighten or repair.  Oh well…  Back down to the bottom to clear the debris out of the pipe.  Can’t move the pipe as the blockage is a perfect seal and it hasn’t drained so heavy with water.  I have to remove a 1 inch plug under high pressure, and I know I am going to get an instant shower like from a fire hose, but I try to have my hand over the plug as I know it could be blasted into orbit when the last thread disengages.  Bugger!  I got the instant and thorough shower I expected, but the plug was blown out of my hand.  I was lucky.  As the water drained away to a trickle, I could see the plug underwater near the pipe.  I didn’t bother moving as the water hosed over me.  I had been saturated in the first second.

OK, now to see the damage if any to the ram pump.  Didn’t seem to be any.  Whoopie! My efforts of star picketing the top section in place, suspending the middle section by cable between trees, rock bolting the lower section, and fastening the pump by a couple of pitons 300mm by 12mm hammered into rock and fixed with stainless steel cable had managed to keep it in place.  Oh!  In place yes, connected no.  Fail.  Hard to see as the creek still flooding, but the top section was not in line with the rest.  The top length of 75mm steel pipe had got ripped off at the threaded joint as it was weakened by rust.  Double bugger!  I needed new steel pipes as well.  

I could see my way to the end of repairs with some labour involved, but first I had to get replacement pipes, so onto the phone.  Steel suppliers have have 2 1/2 inch pipe (as 75mm diameter pipe is known, the maths doesn’t work), but they don’t supply it with threaded ends.  An engineering shop has to do that.  OK, I find and engineering shop that will pick up and thread a pipe.  Great.  That will happen when it happens.  Only took a couple of days.   The guy brought the 6.5m pipe out on his forklift and looked round and asked where my vehicle was.  “I’m standing next to it”.  He was looking for a truck, not a 5m duel cab with no front and back carriers.  I had bodged up some wooden sticks for the purposed and started to bolt and clamp into place.  See pic but with the 9.2m by 5 inch Al pipe on.  He made no comment about the legality of the arrangement.  I very rarely see cops out and about, but I thought I wouldn’t go through Atherton center, but sneak around by the High School.  Oh bugger! There were cop cars everywhere!  Came round a bend and there was a cop car at the junction with its lights going.  Too late to do a u-turn so I stopped just 10m in front of them at the T-junction waiting for the traffic.  Fortunately, they had better things to do, and after what seemed like a very long wait, I gingerly pulled away and down the road.  Turned out the batten relay for the Commonwealth Games was going through Atherton that morning and they were closing roads and diverting traffic.  The pipe was pretty easily installed.  Although the top section only needed one thread, I got both ends threaded and cut one off to store in the shed.  Pipe and clapper valve were stuffed with stones and the little weir for the poly pipe to the header tank had disappeared with only a couple of bent star pickets sticking up.  But they had kept the pipe in place and surprisingly, it had survived.  

Not entirely legal

Not entirely legal

Onto sourcing 5 inch aluminium agricultural sprayline pipe.  I can buy it new as a crate of 25 by 9.2m lengths, but no less.  The only way to buy a couple of lengths is second hand from farmers.  I get onto Dave at Malanda Rural supplies and he knows everybody and will get some and is onto a farm where they have heaps for sale.  But it is the avocado picking season and the farmer doesn’t even have time to point the way to his pile of pipes.  I understand.  When your annual income depends on a few weeks of the year, Gabriel sounding the last trump wouldn’t stop you using every hour of the dimmest daylight.  

But it wasn’t going to get me pipes in a hurry, so I put the hard word on Dave and he came good with a list of farmers he knew with a surplus of 5 inch pipes.  You can’t find this on the internet, in the yellow pages, in small ads, these farmers don’t advertise, you need local knowledge.  After much phoning around, I got a lead just 20 mins away.  I raced over and he was most helpful and had hundreds of lengths.  We grabbed one each and carried them back to the car.  They are impressive size but light.  Back at the duel cab he looked dubiously at it, but got the drift when I clamped and bolted the carriers back on.  I told him they were for a hydro and he said he uses a lot of diesel for pumping and deciding to go solar.  He took me to a shed where he had pallets and pallets stacked up and wrapped in plastic.  300 by 320W solar panels there.  Getting on for 100KW of power.  And a 75KW motor to replace the diesel.  And an inverter the size of a small car.  He said many farmers and industry were switching over to renewables.  This gritty horny-handed son of toil is not driven by any ideology, environmental or political, but has a clear view of the bottom line.  It is encouraging to see.  Though our dear leaders are in the thrall of the coal producers, all bought and paid for, coal consumers such as the electrical power companies are building solar farms, as are some communities and many industries are deserting coal.   I’m most encouraged because ideology will drive a few people, economics drives the rest.  

Installing the new pipe for the ram pump was straightforward, though the pipe is heavy.  The aluminium pipes for the hydro much lighter though more troublesome as I’m actually standing on a steep slope with slippy rocks in a waterfall.  Any loss of footing would result in a very rough ride.  I rig some trailing ropes in the torrent in the hope I can grab them and waterski.  Every movement has to be thought out, every support for the 9.2. pipes before linking has to be planned.  I am acutely aware that if I have an accident, there is no backup or help.  Slowly slowly.  

After some very wet days, after feeding a forest of leeches, things are back to normal, if anything at Possum Valley can be described as normal.  I cannot count how many times I climbed up and down the waterfall, but my aging body can.  In aches and pains, in scratches and blood, but it is somehow revitalising to know I can still do it.

I hope to greet new guests with a smile and confidence that has no trace of difficulty and inconvenience, to assure them of a trouble free stay.  



BOM Bomb

The Bureau of Meteorology is pretty good most of the time, but they missed out predicting the amount of rain that would fall on Possum Valley in the last few days.  By about a factor of 10.  Even after a day or two of deluge, they were still out by a factor of 10.  I think perhaps because the rain fell in a fairly narrow band mostly between Cairns and Innisfail streaming in from the ENE according to the radar images I saw.   Flooding was often outside that zone, because the river catchments were inside.  At Possum Valley I had about 700mm in 4 days.  

I had my regular babysitting gig on Thursday with my grandsons Henry (3 1/2), and Philip (1 1/2).  But by Thurs afternoon, the creek crossing was flooded to 40m wide and probably navel deep.  I say probably because it would have been folly to try and verify that in the swift flowing water.  Although my daughter Alice and partner Blue have a 4WD equipped with a snorkel, I considered it too dangerous to risk life and limb and expensive machinery when there was no life-threatening emergency.  To my dear guests, it is probably hard to reconcile your memories of the little splash through the creek where you barely got your tires wet, with a raging roaring torrent, but the wet tropics up here is a land of extremes.  The roaring sound of the creek is multiplied by the fact I have acquired an extra waterfall.  The flood has overtopped the dam wall and there is now a mass of water crashing down 3m of freefall.  I am a bit worried that it will erode the dam wall and collapse the road.  The advertising blurb for Queensland went something like “Beautiful one day, perfect the next”.  Well yes, but they missed out “except when it’s totally terrifying”.  

Anyway, I had 2 little kids on my hands.  My support logistics was a bag amply equipped with spare clothes and nappies supplied by Alice and designed to last the day.  My whole world had turned to water running and streaming everywhere including the kids favourite haunt, my workshop where serious puddles appeared inside.  For some strange reason, little kids don’t plan for the future where they have no more dry clothes left, but wantonly pursue new experiences that may include streams of water falling from an overpowered gutter for instance.  The day bag was going to be sorely tested.  

I explained to the kids that because of flooding they were going to have to stay here the night.  I totally believe in telling kids the reality, just how it is.  Henry got it immediately, but I have no idea what Philip understood.  My advice is do it anyway, as kids understand far more than they can communicate back.  And anyway, they can sense they are being treated with respect as real people.  

I get a reminder of just how high maintenance and time intensive little kids are.  It’s full on.  You can’t just tell them to bugger off and I’ll see you in a couple of hours when I’ve got lunch ready.  They want to know everything you are doing and when they want to do something, they also want your attention.  Henry says it directly with “will you please supervise me”.  Powerful words from a kid that doesn’t reach my navel.  Philip puts his arms out in the universal signal of ‘pick me up’.  I did know all this, but had rather forgotten.  

So how will bedtime go without parents?  Philip first, and I thought I had lulled him to sleep by cuddling him over my shoulder and he relaxes against me.  A beautiful feeling, but when I put him in the cot his eyes open and his steady gaze is riveting.   I murmur soft words and stroke his head and bid him goodnight with little hope of success.  But silence ensues.  You beaut!  Henry resists when I suggest bed but a little while later admits to being “a little bit tired”.  A goodnight kiss is all that is required for the blissful silence of sleeping kids.  I am feeling masterful having provided them with a gentle and secure environment.  

I wake up to the sound of the creek still roaring and the rain hammering on the roof.  But hey, I had the luxury of waking up to the very dim grey light of dawn.  The kids were still sleeping and I had the chance for a shower and a walk to survey the creek.  Still impassable.  Still bucketing rain.  Being right at the top of the dividing range, I know that the creek will go right down again after about 3 or 4 hours after the rain stops or goes to drizzle, but the deluge continues.  Henry has trashed my workshop, turned my dining table into a cubby house or fort by dragging every moveable item of soft furnishing underneath, pillaged my kitchen drawers for interesting implements that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and generally finds uses for household objects that I could never have imagined.  Philip tries to emulate his big brother but only manages to leave half the trail of destruction. By the end of the day chaos reigns.  Nothing new, just a day in the life of parents.  The creek still too high for Alice to rescue her children, so another night at Possum Valley.  Food for kids is running low and they have already ransacked my fridge for the very last bits of fruit, so in desperation have turned to eating raw carrots which they have stolen from the fridge and smuggled into the fort under the table.  Lunch is re-fried sausage pancakes.  OK, not a classic dish I know, but a revolution would occur if I didn’t put something on the table.  

In an evening telephone conversation with Alice, Henry is complaining about a lack of toys at grandfather’s place.  Alice is complaining to me that without the kids, she doesn’t know what to do with herself of an evening.  This is the longest they have been without each other.  Philip is down to the last nappy.  I am wondering if I can revive the skills I once had with cloth squares and nappy pins.  The kids are just as good the second night going to sleep and sleeping through the night.  Alice is a bit miffed that they rarely afford her the same luxury.

Overnight the rain eases and the creek goes down.  The touching reunion of parents with kids.  Big hugs and kisses.  Alice and Blue congratulate me and thank me for my fortitude in looking after their kids.  I am thinking this is one of the best things that has happened in a long time and remembering the  enlightening conversations I had with Henry.  Kids have astonishing insights, unconstrained by rational boundaries. 

Next blog picking up the pieces as I know that the floods will have trashed the hydro and pump, but have not had the chance to survey the damage.  So no power for several days, and am wondering what the damage is.

Job Satisfaction

It might be a bit presumptuous of me to talk about job satisfaction, given that I went from school to aged pension with less than a total of 5 years in paid employment, but hey, that might be give me perspective rather than being a disqualification.  Most of my thoughts are borrowed, as I cherry-pick from the 2 non-fiction books a week I have read for the last 40 years.  Hey! that comes to about 4,000 information books.  I suppose you have to be unemployed to enjoy the luxury of time to read all that stuff.

So what I have gathered about job satisfaction is:-

  1. It is the second most important factor in determining one’s happiness.  The most important being good deep personal relationships.  I leave that one to the dear reader.
  2. A very important factor is the ‘discretionary role content’.  In other words are you a ‘programmed operator’ who is instructed to provide output B in response to input A, or is your judgement required.  Are your personal talents involved in decision making?  If not you are on the production conveyor belt and unlikely to achieve satisfaction at work.
  3. Are you valued by your colleagues?  If no, then get new colleagues.  If you don’t own the business, then mass firings may not be an option, but taking your talents elsewhere always is.
  4. Do you think your work is making the world a better place for someone?  I do, and that is what sustains me through the very ordinary and humdrum chores of making beds and mopping floors and large amounts of washing.  

I have the daily requirements of meeting guests and servicing cottages, and I get a genuine buzz with serving people.  Not being subservient, and no way is it bowing and scraping, but it is providing something that people seek and need.  Even better anticipating their needs and suggesting something they might be reluctant to ask for.  The maintenance part is quite varied and I cope as it arises.  I recently rebuilt a part of the bridge near Blackbean Cottage.  All the old wood was 40 years old and well past its use by date.  Having taken it all away, I had the problem of constructing the new span.  The carpentry was elementary, the problem was where to stand while constructing it.  It was over a swamp where I would sink to my crutch in the loose decaying leaves and debris.  So I put the old boards in the swamp to stand on.  They sank about 300mm down under the ooze so I had to remember where they were.  So I spent the day nearly knee deep in gunge and only once missed a hidden board to sink right down and floundering around clutching a post to pull myself out.  At the end of the day I hosed myself off but found my lower legs still stained blue/black.  It took considerable scrubbing in the shower to remove most of the stain.  To many, this would sound like a day in purgatory, but I had built something that would last another 40 years , so for me was a good day.

A couple of days ago, I set of with nothing more ambitious in mind than shopping in Atherton.  I was stopped at a cattle grid where a steer had got its rear legs jammed in the bars.  It was right in the middle so it was stuck and I was stuck.  I phoned 2 numbers for the owner of the steer and property but got answering machines.  I phoned my son in law, Blue, who lives close and runs cattle and he reckoned that we would have to shoot it and tow it out with a chain breaking its legs, but it would be past caring at that stage.  Then he remembered he knew a relative of the owner so phoned them, who didn’t know his mobile number but thought of someone who might.  Many phone calls later he was found.  You can do that in the country.  We met at the cattle grid and found the steers legs well jammed up between the the top bars and the support bars.  It took an hour of levering the legs this way and that, 2m crowbars, ropes, boards and straps to get him out of the grid.  All of that time the steer was trembling in fright and trying to kill us.  Even when we had wrestled him out and dragged him clear, and our noble intentions were clear, he was less than appreciative with murder and mayhem still on his mind.  I thought it prudent to climb on the truck.  We did a good job.  He could easily have broken his own legs in a frantic attempt to escape. 

So I arrived in Atherton to do the shopping well plastered in mud, but in a country town nobody notices or cares.  And I was pleased and satisfied with my unexpected task for the day.  In a town or city if something goes wrong, you phone it in.  In the country you deal with it.