News from the Fungus Farm

We are in the middle of the wet season now, but nothing dramatic like cyclones to laugh at.  The rain has come in moderate amounts and with about 770 mm YTD, it isn’t a failed wet either.  The only thing I can complain about is lightening sneaking up on me without decent warning.  In the last week there has been distant thunder gently rolling about the hills just adding a bit of constant background noise, and distant and silent lightening throughout the night at less than a second between flashes.  But a few days ago I was in the kitchen there was a loud crack I knew was the answering machine blowing up.  I was in the same place about a month before when when the previous machine was blown up so immediately knew what it was.  I had the leisure to count the seconds until the clap of thunder arrives.  About 3-4 seconds, so it was just over a kilometre away to the west where the lightening had struck.  It wasn’t even raining.

Dear regular guests, I will no longer have an answering machine on my phone, so the best way to contact me is by email.  A phone which only lasts a month is ridiculous, and they are so complex to set up, I can’t be bothered.  I still have a phone and you can try your luck with me being near it to answer in person, but no more incredibly fragile and complex answering machines thank you.  I remember when I bought it last month, I remarked to the brisk and efficient young guy at Harvey Normans checkout that they make very good lightening detectors.  He politely ignored my remark.  So the phone I have is irreplaceable.  It is so old it has capability for pulse dialing.  Anyone remember when you stuck your finger in a hole and turned a dial until your finger hit a stop and it clicked back?  And that was for each number.  The phone is the size and feel of a brick.  I think it was cream coloured, but has now turned mostly yellow.  It doesn’t require power, can withstand lightening and was connected to the phone line when the super-duper modern one was blown off the wall.  I estimate I have had it for 35 years.

Another casualty of the rogue lightening strike I discovered an hour later when I went to connect to the internet.  I couldn’t.  The connection box, aka modem, had no lights and no heat.  It is the hottest electronic device I have ever had and is alarmingly hot even when doing nothing, which is most of the time.  It doesn’t even have a power switch and is intended to permanently connect to the satellite.  It belongs to the NBN and I can’t buy a new one, but the good news is that the NBN replace it for free.  When they can get a techie to come out here and replace it.  I spent an hour and a quarter with my ear clamped to my brick phone, as it doesn’t have speaker, as I waited in a phone queue to talk to a techie to report the fault.  I wished I had had the foresight to gather a book and a cut lunch to while away the time before I was connected to a human.  Only 4 days offline before the techie arrived.  The same guy who had replaced it just 2 years ago.  This modern electronic shit really doesn’t like lightening.

I recently had a guest’s dog killed by a red-bellied black snake.  They are really common here but very docile and I have stood on them half a dozen times without one attempting to bite.  That is pretty tolerant.  But the dog ran up and bit the snake, the snake bit the dog and within a minute it lost the use of its back legs.  Note to guests:- they are pretty easy going, but don’t bite them.

A couple of weeks back a tree fell over the track near Blackbean Cottage.  It had many branches and was festooned with creepers which made it hard work clearing it up.  I got about 4 tons of firewood for the sauna even without taking the trunk which would have been too hard to split.  I like my new battery chainsaw doing most of the cutting of the smaller branches.  It is light and easy to use and as powerful as the smaller petrol chainsaws.  I opted for a mid-range battery which gives 40 mins of actual cutting time, which translates to nearly a couple of hours of work as there is much heaving of branches and chopping of creepers to be done.  By that time I am about ready for a break myself.

Me and grandkids Xmas 2020

I had a great Xmas with my daughter Josie and family staying a week having driven over from Darwin.  My other daughter Alice lives just 15 km away and came over so my 4 grandkids could have time together.  Aged 4,5,6 and 7, they had a lot in common and could play together well.  As reported in my last blog, I had made machetes for Henry and Philip who live down the road.  Huon, the eldest at 7 really, really wanted one too.  Despite some misgivings from his mother, I got the nod and made him one too.  The three boys spent hours thrashing away at the undergrowth.  I had offered to make one for Evie, 5, but she declined.  It’s a boy thing I guess, as I remember as a boy taking a stick to some weeds and imagining I was an explorer in some trackless jungle.  And that was in the middle of Manchester!  Things have come full circle I guess and my grandkids are really in the jungle with real machetes.

It has just struck me with astonishment that I have actually been living my childhood dreams!  I have actually written a blog about making my own machete and how much better it is than a store bought one and how I treasure it.  Sure is an upgrade from a stick!  I had thought my life as random and unlikely events that brought me here, but perhaps my child mind was steering me without my special wonder or knowledge.  If I don’t know, I suppose the question will have to be thrown on the trash heap of philosophy where many good ideas go to die.

Happy Days

It being the school holidays, I have the pleasure of the company of two grandsons for a couple of days a week.  Recently, they persuaded to make them a machete each.  It may seem a little reckless to arm a 6 year old and a 4 year old with a machete, but I judge them to be more responsible than most and they can take instruction.  Also they live on a farm with machinery and tools from a D7 bulldozer to tweezers, and I have a shed stuffed with tools most of which are potentially dangerous, including an array of 6 chainsaws.  If that wasn’t enough, they have a heap of uncles who each have a farm.  Their father takes safety seriously, and often has them with him, so lays down the law about what they have to do.  So do I.  Parents and trusted carers should take risks with their kids I believe, after the kids have been well briefed about what the risks are.  The alternative is ‘cotton-wool’ them and keep them from activities they dearly wish to try as they see the adults doing these things.  If you take that approach, you also miss the opportunity to instill a culture and mindset of safety.  They will get hurt and that will powerfully reinforce the lectures, so parents can just hope they are not badly hurt.

Anyway, I found some steel of a suitable gauge and hacked out suitably sized blades with a cutting disc.  A broken handle from some ancient tool became new handles, properly bolted, glued and bound with tape.  They asked for the tape and were quite specific it should be red to be easy to find when put down in the rainforest.  It is from clues like this that I realise they remember things I said from long ago.  Alas I didn’t have red so they had to settle for white.  Then we had a discussion about cleaning the blade of rust and sharpening.  Both wanted clean and sharp.  I used an orbital sander to clean and a bench grinder to sharpen.  I limited the sharpening.  For my own superb homemade machete, I continued with refining the angle with a belt sander, then lovingly stroked it with an oil-stone until the edge was razor quality.

Henry & Philip with machetes

They immediately went out and attacked the local vegetation with much gusto.  I had to remind them that one of the rules was that they had to keep apart by at least a few meters, but apart from that they certainly got into the swing of things.  They took their weapons home with them and you might be surprised to know that they were not promptly confiscated.  A few days later they were back in my care with their machetes.  My daughter Alice told me these were the best things they had ever had and they virtually slept with them.

The first thing they wanted to do was go and widen the road by cutting back the vegetation on both sides.   So all of use, armed with machetes, went up the road and started the long, laborious task of hacking back the ever-pressing growth along the track.  Have you ever had a problem keeping little kids on task?  Or getting a break from their constant chatter?  We were there about an hour and a half with constant work and very little said.  Just a couple of reminders for them to stay further apart.  I had equipped us all with water bottles, because any hard yakka in Oz requires a frequent drink.  And I was the one to call off the session, claiming my wrist was aching (true).  Henry didn’t want to leave until I promised another session later.  For them to be so engaged in an activity it must have a great deal of value to them.  I have some idea what the value was, but I leave you to ponder.  Hint:- emotional rewards are the arbiter of value.  We did another hour of track widening in the afternoon.

Yes, I fed them, they played in the creek, splashed water all round my patio, trashed my house and then we went back to the hard yakka of hacking track for another hour.  These kids know what hard work is, and that it can feel good and be satisfying.  I think the next time they are here on Thurs, I will up-grade the sharpening which will increase the effectiveness of their tool and the satisfaction they gain, making the point they have shown responsibility and control.  Kids really respond to praise and reward where it is justly earned.

I had a good day, the grandkids had a good day, we all learned a lot, the sun shined and what more could we hope for.


I Don’t Like it … It’s Too Quiet …

The title is an old western (film) cliche from when that genre existed.  A few seconds later the unfortunate actor would be hit by an arrow between the shoulder blades and sink to the ground.  I had that “too quiet” feeling about a month ago when I realised that I had not had a phone call for about a week.  I had not tried to make a call either, but that is not unusual as looking at my monthly bill I only make about 4 or 5 calls a month and those are mostly in response to calls fielded by my answering machine.  This probably does not reflect your own phone usage.  I am of course talking about a landline and I do not have, or have ever had, a mobile phone.

Call me a dinosaur, a technophobe or whatever you like, but I simply don’t want a mobile.  They are brilliant devices that give access to amazing amounts of information and will become a right-of-passage event when little kids have them implanted in their brains, but I don’t want one.  I graduated with hons in engineering, follow Scientific American and astronomy sites and have built this website, so I don’t tremble in fear of technical stuff and complexity, I just don’t want a mobile.

I definitely didn’t have a phone way back when

I came to Possum Valley 43 years ago after travelling the world for 5 years with a backpack on the hippie trail.  I met thousands of people from hundreds of cultures, so I claim not to be antisocial or introvert, but I don’t want a mobile.  Gads, anyone could call me anytime!  I don’t want that.  I came from crowded England to remote north Queensland to buy a vacant rainforest property to have space and quietness for myself, with the very modest aims of creating a comfortable living space in a rich and natural environment far away from the hustle and bustle.  I wanted to be a semi-hermit only occasionally and reluctantly crawling to civilization to get things I couldn’t grow or make.  Then I got married and had kids.  If you want to wreck your idealised lifestyle, that is the quickest way to do it.  Don’t get me wrong, no regrets, it is the best thing I ever did, but it did require certain mental adjustments.  Or a total reboot.  Then after 5 years of blissful isolation, my wife got pregnant and thought it would be a good idea to have a phone.   A pretty radical idea, but I couldn’t deny the safety considerations.  So I applied to have a phone put on.   Hang in there, I am gradually creeping round to the topic.

Back in to good old days, there was a standard connection fee of about $170.  For this fee a city dweller would get a techie to connect a few wires with a little electrical screwdriver.  I got a whole crew for a week with a D7 bulldozer, a ditchwitch and other heavy equipment to lay and bury 2 kms of wire over hill and dale and through a farm dam.  I also leveraged that out to bury 200m of water pipe in their nicely cut trenches.  I certainly got my money’s worth, but there was a sleeper problem in the phone line insulation.  A certain sealing gunk used at that time proved to be deficient and water could seep into joints and corrode connections.  A multi billion dollar problem for Telstra and a slightly smaller problem for me.  In the wet season the connection pits fill up with water and the line has failed a couple of times before.  It has taken up to 6 weeks to fix.

This time I think a week went by before I noticed nobody had called and I picked up the phone to find no dial tone.  Then I went online to report the fault to Telstra but wherever I went on the massive site I was told to call this number or text this number.  I only had email.  My phone line was down but I could only report this by phone.  Catch 22.  I am 5km from my nearest neighbours who I don’t even know and would probably be an hour or two on hold anyway, so to borrow a phone would be a bit presumptuous.  I finally found a little chink in the armour of the impregnable Telstra fortress as the only place to send an email was to ‘complaints’.  So I complained.  Days later I got a reply saying the account for that number was cancelled in 2015.  WTF?  I have been using the line for 37 years up until a few weeks ago when it failed to function.  They asked for more info and I sent them heaps but to no avail.  After 2 fruitless week I contacted my ISP Skymesh to ask them if perhaps they had stopped paying the Telstra bills, because for simplicity I had bundled the billing for the phone line rental and calls with them.  Then I got some sense.  They provide my internet connection from a satellite 32,000kms up in space and have nothing to do with copper wire buried underground, but I had to report the problem through them so they could “raise a fault” with Telstra.  How silly of me.  I had been thinking of techies with boots and shovels to fix a line fault when I should have contacted a satellite company, via satellite, to fix it.

This morning I picked up the phone in passing and there was a dial tone.  I now have a working phone.   I didn’t miss it much, and don’t think I missed much business, but I can now chat to my daughters again.  I know the days for copper wire are numbered and it is relic technology, but I’m going to hang on to it for as long as possible.  So I quite enjoyed my recent guaranteed days of uninterrupted self-indulgence, but also pleased to have the service back.  There are also safety issues if I manage to cut a leg with one of my 6 chainsaws for instance.  Would be comforting to know I could call an ambulance.

Under the Pump

A few days ago I started the ram pump and went away expecting it to to fill up the depleted tanks over a couple of days.  By the time I realised that it had stopped working, the top tank which supplies Maple Cottage was perilously low just a couple of rungs above the outlet.  Guests arriving and I am sure they expected water when turning a tap.  I was pretty sure the problem was in the drive pipe where I had been bodging the last threaded connection before the pump.  I had used pipe clamps and epoxy resin, rubber gaskets and twisted wire and even cling wrap and bits of string and they had all worked over the last couple of years.  But now I realised that my bodging resources had reached their limit as corrosion took its deadly course and an engineering solution was required.  I had been putting this off because of the heavy labour required.

The actual repair was to cut 150mm out of the 75mm diameter steel pipe containing the rusted and threaded connection and weld the bare pipe ends together.  Doing the cutting, shaping the ends and  welding would only take a couple of hours and I really like welding.  It is such fun to see the molten pool fill the gap and build the joint, and such satisfaction to get a strong and useful solution.  To keep the arc, to build the weld and to hear the constant sound like sizzling bacon, feels like recreation to me.  The heavy labour was just getting the job to the workshop and assembling the pipes later and took 2 days hard yakka.

To disconnect the pipes of 6.5m length I needed to use my 2, 1 meter long pipe wrenches working in opposition.  Unfortunately, the workplace was on the waterfall where there are three levels of traction.  Dry rock traction is very good, wet rock is treacherous especially with wet rotting leaves, and rock that is permanently wet smoothed by the water and debris over the ages is coated with slime mold and the traction is like ice.  Close to zero.  Cannot even stand still on the 30% slope, let alone move or work.  Of course the pipe went right down the permanently wet bit and the threaded joiner was 1/3 the way down.  To get there I had to belay myself to the pipe further up.  Fortunately I remember my rock-climbing days a did a nice tight bowline knot round my waist.  A bowline because it is a secure knot that doesn’t slip or tighten up and cut me in half.  And I did slip over several times even steadied by the rope, but I didn’t go bouncing down the rocks to the pool below.  I was encouraged by a first ever bone density scan just a couple of weeks ago kindly provided by the government now I am a septuagenarian.  I have strong bones which is handy with rock collisions.  With a big heave of my big pipe wrench I got the thread moving a few degrees, so I knew that it hadn’t frozen rusted.  When assembling I had coated the thread with Stockholm tar, usually put on horses hooves to keep them in good condition, but also used by plumbers to stop corrosion even years later.

The next problem was that the pipe was bent for the last 1.5m to fit the profile of the waterfall and still meet the pump on the horizontal.  So I had to elevate the pipe so the end was about 1m high so I could turn it.  I constructed a wooden tripod connected by bolts so I could alter all the lengths and angles with multiple holes drilled in for legs of different lengths because it had to sit in the pool where I couldn’t even see where the legs grounded.  So now I could turn the pipe and get it disconnected.  The pipe weights about 80 kg I think and I had to haul it up the waterfall with a piece of rope, and then the 100m to the workshop 5 m at a time with much gasping in between.  I knocked off for the day.  During the day I had serviced a cottage for the next guests.  These special emergencies I have to fit in the middle of my normal workload.


Next morning was the good bit of cutting, grinding and welding and only assembly required.  Only…. I wish.  I grunted the pipe back to the waterfall 5 m at a time.  Just screw it in.  Except that the free end had to be 1 m in the air to rotate, that the alignment of the pipes had to be exact to prevent cross-threading which would be disastrous, and the 80 kg pipe had to be thrust firmly up the hill to engage the threads, when it’s natural inclination would be to slide down the hill.  A strong assistant shoving the pipe up from the bottom whilst allowing rotation of the bent end while I rotated the pipe with wrenches would have been ideal.  I was lacking the strong assistant as I usually do.  I set up the tripod again at the bottom end and elevated the pipe threaded junction the just the right height using the log round in the picture and other shims to get perfect alignment by sighting along the pipe.  Then I rigged a rope from above and below the junction and tightened it using a truckie’s knot, which give a 3 to 1 increase in tension like a pulley system, to stretch the rope like a strong spring so it wouldn’t slacken off as the threads engaged.  All the while belayed on the waterfall skating rink.  Carefully, carefully I turned the pipe getting about 3 turns before the rope had spiraled round the pipes fortuitously tightening the rope and it’s pulling power, but now threatening to snap.  I was feeling for resistance from crossed threads as well as one can with 1 m wrenches.   All good, so I released the tortured rope and could now pull the pipe up with the thread.  The rest was easy except that I lost one of my nuts in the pool.  No, not a painful accident, just careless handling of the flange bolts.  Then refill the system with water and see if it works.  It did.  Better and quieter than it has worked for years.

I give you this labourious and perhaps tedious account to be able to brag about the numerous practical skills I have acquired in my decades of independent living.  Beginners guide to building pyramids.  You have got to start, you have got to believe you can do it, and you need the stamina to finish.

PV Trivia

I feel a bit like Tom Bombadil from Lord of the Rings.  Storms, disruptions, crises, plagues and depressions have swept by leaving me quite untroubled in my little enclave.  Nothing disrupted Tom’s daily joy in the beauty and bounty of nature and little intrudes to inconvenience me in a traumatic year.  I have no financial worries being free of debt, I can’t be fired, the B&B is busier than ever as people can’t go overseas or even interstate and are seeking private individual accommodation rather than crowded venues.  So as usual, I’m about the luckiest person on the planet.  Luck does take a little planning and an appreciation of what you have rather than what you lack.  Bad luck often comes from bad choices that leave people vulnerable.  Then there is genuine bad luck that no encouragement can fix.  The Guinness Book of Records cites a man who has been struck by lightening 7 times.  Somebody should have told him to lie flat on the ground.

So in the tail end of winter Possum Valley is basking in 26C temps and cloudless skies.  Being a big country, the south of Oz has blizzard warnings from Tasmainia to the Blue Mountains.  Very welcome winter warmth at Possum Valley and entirely predictable as global warming tightens its grip.  California has record temps and out of control bushfires in record temps.  Nothing new here folks, move along.

Last week I was entrusted with an echidna by my friend Margit, a wildlife rescue worker, to release into the rainforest as my place is far from roads.  Most wildlife and especially echidnas do not negotiate roads very well.  When threatened or surprised they hunker down in a defensive posture presenting spines to the world.  On roads, this doesn’t work very well for them.  So I took this rather unsocial (Margit’s description) echidna in it’s happy home (plumbing pipe) and deployed it in old forest with lots of dead wood and all important termites.  I gently laid it next to a dead log as night came on, lovingly sprinkled it with leaves for camouflage, and waited for it to emerge into its new home.  And waited, and waited.  It backed up to the end of the pipe presenting its spiny posterior, but did not emerge to explore its new home while I was watching.  Next morning it was gone and has not retreated to its former home.  Not seen since.  One can view this as a successful wild release, or an abandonment of a helpless creature.  Not surprisingly, I choose to view it as the former and a completely successful enterprise.  I hope it adds it’s bit to the local gene pool.

I have refurbished the meditation hut which had a crumbling floor due to it’s location in a most humid and hostile environment.  It was an overdue repair, but I hope honoured guests will forgive me waiting until the weather was favourable.  Union rules forbid working in the rain despite management desire that work continues.  Fortunately sense prevails and I have a lie-in.  So nice to lie in bed as the rain drips or cascades off the roof.

A Smaller World

It has long been an accepted saying that the world is getting smaller.  And so it has seemed, as the speed of transport has increased so much and the ease of getting visas has been relaxed with the rise of international tourism and the promise of foreign currency flowing in.  I traveled the world with ease in the 1970’s, with the occasional exception like Myanmar (then Burma), which had to be flown over and  seemed such a drag and expense to an impoverished backpacker.  I carried a British passport which imperiously demanded countries to let the bearer  “Pass without let or hindrance”.  And so I did through about 60 countries.  Even places like Afghanistan where visas and customs for a busload of people seemed to require 8 hours and 3 pages of my solid passport but didn’t make anything difficult.

Now it seems the world has expanded again with the collapse of international transport.  Just a few hours ago I was talking to guests whose friends were supposed to accompany them, but were locked down in Melbourne, and whose son was stranded in Poland.  Suddenly, that seems a very long way away.   For most of us in Australia our personal worlds are smaller being unable to travel interstate right down to not being able to leave the dwelling except for stated purposes.  I can’t even imagine being banged up in an apartment block with 3 little kids.  Indeed, I am fortunate to be amongst the least affected.  Even ‘staying in’ on my own property lets me get outside and do what I usually do.  My B&B business has been little affected also, or perhaps made even more in demand by C-19.

Nobody in authority it seems has any long term plan about what to do about the pandemic except local patchwork lockdowns and test and trace, and pray for an effective vaccine.  I have already blogged why that might not be easy, or might not happen at all.  So are we stuck with rolling lockdowns and some businesses opening and closing like a toilet door at a folk festival?  Seems like it.  With little international or even interstate travel to selected ‘safe’ destinations and then running the risk of the door home slamming shut behind you like England and Spain.  People’s patience is already quite thin, which might be a large factor why the second surge is harder to control than the first wave, despite procedures, equipment, distancing habits, testing etc being already in place.  The economic system is also creaking and groaning under the stress of disparity of incomes, massive unemployment, unpayable debts, etc.

So we seem to be stuck in a forky stick, between a rock and a hard place.  Lockdown with mass unemployment and struggling to put food on the table, or ‘stuff it’ and business as usual and accept the deaths and illness on the way to ‘herd immunity’.  The chief of WHO said today we may never find an effective vaccine, a depressing but realistic assessment I came to months ago.  30 years since AIDS and still no vaccine despite much money and effort.  It does seem worth the effort to do what we can with basic pandemic precautions to limit the spread, such as hand washing, sanitising spray in public places, social distancing and especially masks.  These thing are relatively easy to do.  Shutting down whole industries might be too much.  If we have to admit that we can’t control the beast and we can’t all be in prison, then a middle way has to be found.  Reduced economic activity leaving us all poorer than we were before, but perhaps there is an upside to that.  A concentration on what is really important to us and a simplification of our lives and our consumption.  And an acceptance that C-19 sweeps through the population be delayed as much as it can be, to allow the health system and society generally to cope.  Then there is hope at the other end of the carnage, when the fit, young, able and resistant are left, and the sick and elderly are culled.  Nobody yet has used the word ‘culled’, but that is what it might come to.  Not deliberate killing, but the realisation that old people like me shouldn’t command the resources of humanity to keep ourselves alive at the expense of a decent life for the younger generations.

I find a grim ironical satisfaction that the transfer of wealth and opportunity from the young to the old that has occurred in the last 30 years may be at last reversed as the virus clears the dead wood so new growth can spring green and fresh.  It may be a purging of society that we need.  I am still trying to think my way through this serious and complex problem and would welcome any thoughts you may have.

C-19 BGO’s Finally Admitted

For those of you who blank out with acronym overload as I do quite often, a BGO is a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.  Today the director-general of WHO (World Health Organisation) admitted we hadn’t seen the worst of C-19 yet.  There is worse to come.  Wow! he must be good at graphs climbing skywards to notice that in most places cases are still increasing.  What was obvious to me in Jan when the contagion rate was approximately determined as over 3, but the incubation period was long, and even worst there were asymptomatic carriers, there is no “after the covid virus”.   I wrote in a blog in Jan I think, that C-19 was going to be a permanent scourge of mankind.  I have read so many articles talking about “after the virus”, or getting “back to normal” that I feel like shouting there is no “back”, there is no “normal” and there is no end to the virus.

The game changer could be an effective vaccine.  After all there are over 100 teams all over the world working on a vaccine, surely they will have one going before the year is out?  There have been breakthroughs announced already and Trump has assured us it will be in a corner store near you soon.  Actually, it isn’t that easy.  There is a slight problem with the word “effective”.  What Trump and all of us want is a ‘silver bullet’ vaccine to make all 7.5 billion of us humans are immune to the disease so that it recedes to only infecting pangolins or short-tailed asiatic bats (I made that up).  There will be flaws in the vaccine, the virus can easily mutate like flu, and how do you inoculate the entire world?  Don’t put too much hope in an ‘effective’ vaccine.

The re-occurrence of the disease in Australia, China, South Korea etc, shows us how it is like playing ‘whack-a-mole’ where it is laboriously eradicated only to emerge again as clusters leading to widespread community contagion.  The disease is progressing at different rates across all the countries on the globe.  There doesn’t seem to be any cases reported for Greenland, but I guess they are just waiting their turn.  There isn’t going to be any safe way of opening up international travel for this year, next year, and perhaps more years after that.  So for tourist operators there will be no foreign travelers for years.  I expect that will mean doom for some.  Others will have to adapt to domestic traffic only.  Yesterday Qantas laying off more staff was in recognition of this, and there will be no ‘back to normal’, just a steady exploration of what the new normal actually is.  It might mean getting a C-19 test 24 hrs before departure on a flight to get a negative certificate.  It might mean an anti-body test to get an ‘immune’ certificate, but nobody yet knows how long that lasts as immunity tends to wane with time.

It may be that Australia’s quite successful quashing of the initial outbreak might lead to vulnerability down the track as less people have been exposed and a lower rate of ‘herd immunity’ has been gained.  Perhaps Trump and Bolsonaro are right in allowing it to sweep through the country to hasten acquiring some immunity.  If they were right, it was for all the wrong reasons.  Whatever happens, the chance of eradicating the virus is long past and now the problem is managing the least worst options.  Deaths versus economic factors, jobs versus poverty, wealth versus humanity.  It requires equations with non-equatable variables.  Plenty of scope for political opportunism.

For all you out there I hope you are coping with what has been going down during lockdown and job losses.  Not too much different here as if you are the only worker, you don’t fire yourself.  And if you work in 156 acres, you are not cramped or confined.  As we creep out of the bunkers, I hope it is towards a brave new world of caring for neighbours and a low carbon world.

A Spot of Bother

The hydro system is pretty well self-governing, and I don’t get down to the turbine/generator bit very often.  I have a couple of indicator light bulbs to let me know what the power is and and where it is going that I can check at a glance as I walk by.  So all has been good for a couple of months without attention so I decide it is about time for a bit of grease to the bearings.  I get down there and all is humming nicely when I notice that there is a wobble on the shaft at one end.  Oh bugger!  I shut off the water supply and find one bearing has failed so the shaft started turning in the bearing and has worn away several mm of the shaft diameter and a few mm of the bearing inner ring.

knackered shaft end

The shaft was flapping around with 5mm of clearance instead of a very tight fit.  It doesn’t reduce the power output, and doesn’t show up at all on the indicator lights at the control center.

Which leads me to a historical note about the invention of the turbine type I am using called a ‘Pelton Wheel’.  In about the early 20th century, an engineer called Mr Pelton was employed by a mining company operating in remote parts to provide electrical power for a mine.  He had a similar problem to mine but where the bearing failure was catastrophic, completely severed one end of the shaft so that the turbine with buckets like deep bowls was skewed at a considerable angle to the incoming jet of water.  His reaction was probably the same as mine.  Oh bugger, lots of work here!  But he noticed that to his consternation, it was actually producing more power.  Totally stuffed, yet working better.  WTF?  A mechanic would have fixed it to how it had been before, but an engineer like Pelton had to know why.  He realised that preserving the momentum of the water jet and smoothly guiding it round 180 degrees, doubled the amount of energy extracted from the water jet.  The Pelton wheel is the most efficient engine known at over 90%.

That was for nerds, the rest of you can tune in again.  So on Saturday I have to shut down the hydro.  Murphy’s Law strikes again as it is 2 days before I can get parts.  The shaft has to be rebuilt with the ground down end built up with welding beads of stainless steel, then turned down to exact size on a quality lathe so there is an interference fit of a few thousandths of a millimetre.  I can’t bodge that bit.  So early Monday morning I take the shaft to Atherton for a re-build.  At this point I have to admit to a blunder.  The bearings I took off were covered with grease and muck, so I got an old and clean one out of the drawer to take to town to buy new ones at the bearing shop.  They looked at the numbers and gave me the exact same bearings.  I went to the engineering company and told them to re-build the weld for this brand new bearing which I gave them, which they did excellently and in the same day.  I got home and presented the bearings to the shaft, and it fitted like a brick in a shirt sleeve.  What has gone wrong here??  After staring at the offending pieces of steel for a long time, it occurs to me to check sizes with my vernier gauge.  The new machined end is exactly 1 inch.  The other end is 25mm.  A difference of 0.4mm.  I had forgotten that 30 years ago I’d widened the turbine case to increase efficiency and installed a new longer metric shaft.  I had grabbed an ancient bearing from the drawer of the old imperial size from the previous shaft.

parts machined and ready for assembly

In the end all works well, except for the ugly fact I have one metric bearing and one imperial bearing on the same shaft.  This is many orders of magnitude different from a similar balls-up of imperial and metric units that saw a 4 billion US dollar Mars lander crash because it actually though it was going to land 3km below the surface.  It took an army of engineers and a host of committees to make that blunder.  I did it all by myself.  I was $65 out of pocket.  Not even that really, as I have now got spare new bearings for each end.

Once I had the machined shaft and suitable custom bearings for each end, it only took me 3 hours to reassemble and put back on-line.  But 5 days in all because it happened on a Saturday and there were only 3 metric self-aligning bearings in FNQ, so I had to wait on transport.  In the mean time the system was kept going quite OK by the solar panels despite the fact there was a lot more cloud than sun.  I did have a problem pulling the pulley wheel off the shaft with my gear pullers.  In fact total failure.  I had to carry the whole shaft assembly up the hill (several breathers on the way), to set up a circular anvil (the massive body of the old generator) to smash the shaft out of the pulley with a sledge hammer.  A bit of good old-fashioned heavy engineering.  It might surprise some people that I actually like doing this sort of shit.  Especially at the end when I have won and defeated those obstinate chunks of metal.