Possum Wrangling

Having lived in Possum Valley for 42 years now and I  can say, without undue modesty, that I am expert in the art of possum wrangling.  It is an arcane skill which, alas, has little commercial value in the wider world’s job market.  Indeed, it is a skill few of you will have occasion to use.  Perhaps some future guest will recall my words of wisdom when dealing with a kitchen invasion.  Please bare with me, oops Freudian slip, please bear with me, as every man likes to boast of his achievements.  However slight.  

First thing to realise is that possums are not basically carnivorous in that they don’t hunt other animals.  They certainly will eat meat raw of preferably cooked and possibly will kill and devour wounded or dead animals.  As will many animals when the opportunity arises.  A few days ago I heard a thud as a bird flew into a window.  Probably a pigeon I thought as they are heavy birds which fly fast.  It was perhaps 30 seconds as I followed the sound and saw the grease smear on the window and a stunned brown pigeon on the ground with its wings spread.  I recognise that as a defensive posture.  10 seconds later a currawong landed a meter away and the pigeon turned to face it.  To no avail as the currawong leapt upon it and grabbed it by the neck with a claw and dispatched it very quickly by smashing the pigeon’s head in with its powerful beak.  After plucking some feathers for a while it tried to fly off with it but only got 10m.  

Meanwhile back at the possums, the best wrangling equipment is welding gloves.  They are thick leather gloves that come up to the elbow so the claws and teeth of the possum can’t hurt you much.  Can also be used for welding and doing stupid things with hot fires.  Grab the possum round the neck and by the tail and you can do what you like with them, though you wont be friends for life.  For more advanced students, simply pick them up by the tail with your hand.  You will have to hold them at arms length or they will rip your shirt off and very likely large chunks of flesh as well.  A few will hang in a docile fashion but 95% will twist up and shred your hands and forearms within a few seconds.  You can avoid being flayed by vigourously shaking your arm from side to side as you walk out of the house to the disposal area.  I did say it was the advanced students course.  

For beginners perhaps the most effective method is to shoo them out.  For this to work smoothly, without excitement, accidental injury or massive loss of crockery, you have to plan a safe and easy exit route for the possum.  Preferably the way they came in as they are not too bright and can’t see very well in bright light.  I suspect the clearest trail is by scent back along the the urine they deposited on the way in to declare their ownership of your kitchen.  This is easily spotted as a dark yellow sticky zigzag trail that never dries and stinks forever.  Approach slowly at 90 degrees to the escape path as what you have to do is keep the possum calm, but increase the proximity threat.  If you get to within 1m and it shows no signs of moving, perhaps a reappraisal is required.  You have one truculent possum.  A strategic withdrawal may be advised to go and watch the tele or make a cut of tea. 

never mess with a mom

In this picture a couple of days ago, the latter alternative was not available.  You will notice the poised posture and the impressive array of sharp claws.  I did.  So I went for another half hour of essential television viewing whereupon I found that the possum(s) had exhausted my resources and left.  I prefer to call it the diplomatic solution rather than abject capitulation, but hey! it worked.  This hardworking mom also had a distinct bulge in the belly which suggested another one in the pouch.  This is a coppery brushtail possum, the most common and boldest possum at possum valley.  The coppery brushtail is a subspecies of the grey brushtail, but only found in the rainforest.  Flannery suggests that its genetic relationship to the grey needs to be clarified, but I have found that the possum itself is in no doubt of its status.

In the last few days the dire forebodings I suggested in my previous post “Heat Wave”, seems to have been fulfilled.  Temperature records tumble sometimes only lasting a day.  Meanwhile, a two year exhaustive report by hundreds of scientists from many US government agencies in the US predicting dire consequences of global warming has been dismissed by Trump with “I don’t believe it”.  Ever prepared to back his ‘intuition’ against a few hundred scientists with a lifetime of study, he will go down in history as a villain to rival or excel Hitler or Genghis Khan.  I suppose Atilla the Hun should get a mention and perhaps Vlad the Impaler.  Though Vlad could at least claim he was successful in turning back home the Turkish forces in disgust.  Rather like Australia’s refugee offshore processing policy really.


Turtle Time

I was servicing Maple Cottage recently when I saw someone had dropped a hat outside on the grass 10m in front of the kitchen window.  I really don’t need any more hats.  Closer inspection showed it to be a turtle apparently trying to dig a hole, but it froze and regarded me suspiciously as I had a look.  I have lived at Possum Valley for 42 years now and this is the first time I have ever seen a turtle. 

Unknown Turtle

I knew they should be here in the rainforest creeks and have seen pics from guests to confirm their presence (thanks Martin & Marco), but have never laid eyes on one till now.  I would like to tell you the species, but there are many and I’m no expert.  I did a bit of web searching and discovered that freshwater turtles go nest-building in November and also there is a web site TurtleSat to report sightings which I duly did and uploaded the pic here to aid identification.  So I may yet learn what species it is.  You can see some damage to the top of it’s shell.  That would have taken considerable force.  I also learned on TurtleSat that many species are under threat from habitat loss and foxes.  The foxes can find and completely consume all the eggs in the nest.  I have seen dingos, but never a fox at Possum Valley.  

I was also on the web recently to find spare parts for my gas stove at the homestead as the larger front burners were well …… burnt out.  Totally crumbling away so the lazy yellow flame burnt inefficiently and curled round the saucepan to burn the handle.  First thing I found was that I needed model numbers and serial numbers long and complicated enough to describe the position of every subatomic particle in the known universe, let alone a gas stove.  ‘Simpson Super-Nova’ wasn’t going to get me anywhere near my target.  There were any number of hits, but they all had only the small back burners in stock.  Of course the back burners are much cooler and less used, so why didn’t they keep the burners people would actually need?  Then I came across a site that helpfully added “model out of production”.  Ah! that explains it, I was chasing remnant spares already exhausted, so I had only two chances and one of those was ‘Buckley’s’.  I wasn’t impressed with the exorbitant prices asked for these scraps of metal anyway. 

new stove burners

So out to the workshop and my teetering mountains of junk to find a thick metal tube outside diameter 59mm to fit the stove aperture, that abruptly increased to about 70mm for the burner.  I turned over half a ton of assorted junk before finding a 2 inch BSP nipple.  For those of you not initiated into the arcane language of plumbers, a nipple is a pipe joiner with 2 male threads.  Writing this, I contemplate why plumbing has such gender specific jargon, and just how does two male threads make a nipple?  Or how I can, and have, gone into a hardware store asking for a ‘ball cock’.  “How big?”  Oh, 3/4 inch will be enough for me.  I think I would get an entirely different product in an adult shop.  So I chopped up the nipple with a hacksaw, and cut slots with a thin cut-off blade in an angle grinder, and Bob’s your uncle, I had 2 new burners.  Bodging, and world affairs generally, would be much enhanced if everyone had an uncle called Bob.  In the picture upper left is the nipple alongside the discarded bits (I had several nipples). Middle, the new burners, and bottom the crumbling remains  of the 20 year old burners.  It took me no money and less time than I spent searching the web to produce the required items.  Two obtained from 1 nipple.  They burn with neat blue efficient flames.  I will also have a little glow of satisfaction each time I light them up.  Which I will do right now to cook some fish and vegies , perhaps with a cheese/curry sauce.  See you later.

Possum Valley Heat Wave

Today is the hottest at Possum Valley in the 42 years I have been here.  The temps in the last three days have been:- 32C the second hottest day ever, 33C equalling the hottest recorded over a decade ago, and today 34C for a new record.  That is outrageous, especially as it is still October and technically still spring, not that season names or periods imported from Europe have much relevance here in tropical Australia.  It doesn’t bode well for the coming summer.  Nor does the BOM outlook bode well, with an El Nino developing and less than average rainfall going into Jan at least.  The ground is so dry and crunchy underfoot as many of the trees look limp and stressed out and have shed a lot of leaves.  

bring back the leeches

I have responded to the searing temperatures by not doing much, which works for me.  Unfortunately I didn’t have much warning and didn’t get enough books from the library for some serious lazing about.  To compound the problem, I have also completed the 880 Times cryptic crosswords from the books I ordered a few years ago.  In desperation I have looked back through them to fill in some clues I couldn’t get the first time around.  Two weeks ago I put in an order over the internet for another 800, and saw estimated delivery time 3-4 days.  I had a good chuckle at that.  Perhaps, maybe, if you live in a capital city which company websites and even government websites assume you do.  If you live in a rural town you can double that and if you live at Possum Valley you can read it as 3-4 weeks.  It might be a week between me checking my mailbox which is a modified beer-brewing barrel stuck on a fence post 4 km away at a windy road junction.  I only get a delivery service once a week, so if me and the dear lady who delivers are out of sync, that’s two weeks blown right there.  And I’m not even out bush! 

I just had a flashback to the early 1970’s when I caught a goods train from Port Augusta to Alice Springs in a carriage straight from an old western tacked on to the end of long long goods train where the engine was a distant rumour over the horizon.  It slammed to a stop in the middle of nowhere.  The slamming was the distant engine coming to a stop, but there was enough slack in the chain connections for it to take a minute before the message got to the back.  You could hear it coming as each carriage crashed into the stationary train with increasing force.  Enough warning to brace yourself except when deep asleep and I got thrown out of bed a few times. On this occasion we stopped we stopped in a bare desert that went forever without tree or bush or blade of withered grass.  The only feature was a post with a barrel on top, right by the tracks.  The guard stepped out of the last carriage with a handful of letters and a dozen eggs.  I have no idea how the engine driver over the horizon managed to pull up the train so the guard could just step out and put them in the barrel.  The trip took 3 nights and 4 days with BYO food and drink, or die.  The connection in my mind was the barrel on a post and erratic deliveries.

It is not quite true that I have done nothing in the last few days.  On the first day of the heat wave I woke to a temp of 10C.  At 6.30 am I actually needed a jumper so decided to use a time with no guests and very moderate temperature to do a bit of hard yakka and make the world hideous with noise.  So I made a selection of a couple from my extensive range of chain saws and went off to chop and haul some logs from fallen trees in the rainforest.  It was a good move to get going early as the temp soon pushed on to 32C.  Such a temperature range is rather unusual.  The wood is for the sauna, but it requires chopping, humping, stacking, splitting with an axe, re-stacking and drying for six or more months before it is good to go.  

I have on several occasions taken my grandsons, 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 along when I do this macho power stuff with the chainsaw.  Also their father on the farm does the same for firewood for the house fire.  It is not surprising that they both have adopted toy chainsaws when they stay with me for the day.  Henry uses a bit of junk I think might be an insulator for an electric fence, but does have some resemblance to a miniature chainsaw, and Philip nominates a back scrubbing brush from the bathroom but insists I detach the brush from the long handle before it is fit for use.  They then go off into nearby bushes to go to work with very realistic buzzing sounds.  The good news is that they respect work and are doing their best to emulate their elders.  The bad news is that unless I can educate them in the appropriate use of chainsaws, I may have created eco-monsters.

Memories, memories

It is often said that memories fade with age, but I have very vivid memories of some places and the places have faded within my lifetime rather than my memory.  I find that very sad.  I am forcefully  reminded of this by recent news that this summer the forecast predicts that there is a 60% chance the Great Barrier Reef will see coral bleaching and this time further south will be more in danger.  Given that it takes 10 years for the reef to recover from a bleaching event and that three of the last four years have been hot enough to cause it, I see little hope the reef will ever see a sufficient recovery period again.  In less statistical language, it’s stuffed.  Notwithstanding the conservative IPCC report gives the reef a sporting chance if climate change can be limited to 1.5C.  I first dived the reef about 45 years ago and it blew my mind with life, colour and beauty.  I almost forgot to breathe, which is not recommended in the snorkeling handbook.  Subsequent dives have been diminished experiences.   I don’t think I will go to the reef again, despite it’s tempting proximity.  I fear that the youthful memory of my amazement and joy will be overwritten by the grey ghost of the present.  

For the same reason I declined an invitation by my darling daughter Alice to accompany her on a trek to Annapurna in Nepal.  I had done the same trek decades before and feared the ravages of time.  And so it was, with thousands of people on the track where I remembered a dozen, and a hotel where I remembered a pristine snow ridge at base camp among the spectacular mountains.  On a previous trip with my daughter to the rift valley lakes of east Africa, I marveled at the sight of hundreds of thousands of flamingos at one of the lakes, to be brought to earth by Nancy, a very well traveled lady from new York, who remarked there was only a quarter of the birds since the last time she was here.  From a lady who had been to every country in the world not actively at war, and Antarctica twice, I had to believe her.

Reaching further back, I thought to get a warm nostalgic glow from looking at internet pics of the village where I grew up during the amazing and difficult years from 9 to 17.  I found the imposing stone house easily enough, but in the field behind where I had built mud dams on a tiny creek only to have them washed away as the water built up, where I had often shot an air-rifle at the crows in the trees and abruptly given it up in shock and horror when eventually I killed one, where I had ripped out a fingernail after colliding with a rock while sledging (for Queensland readers this is sliding down a snow slope, not tormenting cricket players).  Gone, all gone.  Now there is a subdivision and suburbia.  Sometimes it is best not to look back.  

So is this just the nostalgia of an old man, or a real degradation of the environment during my lifetime?  I fear it is the latter.  Part due simply to increased human population, and a lot more to the accumulating and accelerating effects of pollution.  When I was born there was 2.5 billion people on the planet and now it is 7.5 billion, a threefold increase. 

world population chart

That alone makes it a different place.  I was aware of pollution in my early years in Manchester when if it started to rain everyone one would rush outside to grab the washing off the line.  Not because it would get wet, but because it would be covered in black greasy spots as the drops combed soot from the air.  The Mersey river nearby had a lurid hue with a noisome stench and the slightest cascade produced thick rafts of dirty yellow foam from the industrial detergents dumped untreated into the water.  But in those days it was supposed that pollution was a local problem and nobody imagined that people could pollute the WHOLE WORLD!  Indeed some of those local problems have been mitigated and the air in Manchester and London is better now than when I was a child.  But now the awful truth is dawning (to Amazonian tribes-people, Mongolian goat-herders, but not Australian politicians) that indeed we are polluting the whole planet.  

So I have positioned myself as best I can, in a tropical rainforest in a stable country with tools and self-generated power, practical skills and abilities, reliable water and far from the madding crowd.  But no place will be unaffected, no place is an island (don’t even think about pacific island paradises), no place a citadel and I have one fatal flaw in my planning ….. I can’t grow food.  I have tried with great labour but little knowledge, and failed miserably.  Herculean labours over many years has produced a few bonsai carrots.  Any other produce has withered with the galloping rots or been carried off prematurely by the local thieves.  Among, but not limited to, the local thieves are 207,450 species of insects, 586 mammals, 763 species of birds and a few bats.  OK, I may have exaggerated a bit, but that it what it seems like.   

I am so lucky to have been born in a prosperous country, been given an education, lived in prosperous times and not been marched off to war.  I have lived most of my time in optimism for the future in awe of the technological advances that have enriched our lives and hoping for a tantalizing glimpse of TOE, the ‘Theory Of Everything’ that explains life, the universe and all that shit.  TOE keeps receding over the horizon, rather like fusion power.  That’s OK.  I think I would have been rather disappointed anyway if the chase ended.  What is not OK is that I bequeath a world to my children and grandchildren that is not as beautiful and is more degraded than the one I inherited.  It’s not all my fault I hasten to add.  I had a lot of help from my cohort of boomers (large consumers not large kangaroos).  

So you see I have completed the inevitable cycle from the boundless optimism of youth, to the miserable pessimism of old age.  You can find this cycle represented in even the most ancient writings by the most brilliant minds, but they were all wrong.  Only I am right!  How do I know?  Because I have broadband and I am guessing that Aristotle didn’t.  So I have much more available data, and more data makes for better judgement doesn’t it?  More is better isn’t it? ?   ?     ?       ?              ?                      ?                                       ?

A Ramble

Nothing of great significance has been happening at Possum Valley, so if you are looking for drama, change channel.  Certainly nothing much in the way of rain.  Hot and dry for the last 4 months and I’ve just looked at BOM forecasts and that is likely to continue into January.  The creek is down to a trickle, so the hydro power now less than half full power and soon to go into emergency mode where I can’t keep the generated volts up to 240V and it slides down to 180V where I decide I can’t punish the equipment any more and have it survive, and shut the system down.  But honoured guests will not notice the difference as that is the generating side, on the delivery side all will be normal as I rely on the solar panels and patch in a standby generator as required.  I will glide about like the proverbial duck, all serene on the surface, paddling furiously under the water (or lack of).  

I shouldn’t complain as I had my average annual rainfall already in the first half of the year.  But I will complain anyway, as it may be with climate change this sort of nonsense becomes an annual event.  The tropics is predicted to retain its rainfall according to the models, but in more extreme events and perhaps wetter wets and drier drys is part of that.  Yes Martin, I know this is also a El Nino year, but allow me to postulate ripples on trends.  But hey! it’s great for getting the washing dry.  Can’t remember the last time I used the dryer.

Had some guests from Europe recently and they were well pleased with the show the wildlife put on.  Some Belgians came wanting to see satin bower birds and bowers, but I couldn’t find any so I said will golden bower birds do? 

By Andrew Zemek

The bower was close, the bird turned up to do house decorating and the Belgians were blissed out.  They didn’t imagine they would see this rare bird.  One of them took this picture.  A couple of biologists from Switzerland were here for 5 days and invested their time to see tree roos, platypus, golden bower birds, snakes and much more.  Their daughter got to feed and stroke possums.  I’ve been to Switzerland.  It’s mostly rocks covered with ice, but with a couple of big lakes and limited lowland crammed with people and farms of 5 hectares and so neat and manicured like you wouldn’t believe.  They said biology conservation in Switzerland was looking at plots of half a hectare containing some interesting snails.  

Update!  The creek has gone down and the hydro now in emergency mode with the entire creek going through a 22 mm nozzle that I can’t get my thumb through.  

My source of entertainment in recent weeks has been politics, with the ever popular farce of the Trump Show, the long running soapie called “Brexit” and our very own tragedy drama series by the name of “Canberra”.   I like to think our homegrown comedy was the best since Clueseau, Inspector Gadget and the ‘Carry On’ films for its hilarious and idiotic bungling.  Our politicians, having given up any pretense of running the country, resort to outlandish plots to win a few votes.  Scomo’s feeble ploy of floating the idea of moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem, was so inept and transparent that even the Jews in Wentworth were hooting with derision and insulted that he thought them stupid enough to take the bait of mirage pork barreling.  And so, our erstwhile PM fades into the sunset as slain PMs do, leaving only the evil ghost of the mad monk to haunt the corridors of parliament house chortling and grinning over his latest victim and scheming anew to wreak havoc on anyone who dares to mention climate change.

 The only thing the Swiss biologists didn’t find that they wanted to see was a leaf-tailed lizard (gecko?).  Ulrich, my new Swiss friend, is a herpetologist which means someone who studies creatures with scales.  That name annoys frog experts no end, as they are also included as herpetologists but frogs don’t have scales. 

leaf-tailed lizard

The leaf-tailed lizard is a beautiful animal with amazing camouflage on a lichen covered trunk.  I have an excellent picture from of one in the wild (thanks Mandy), but it’s like a ‘where’s Wally’ puzzle, it took me ages to find it, so I post a pic I took in my workshop where this one was behind the door and shows up much better on the plain boards.  Ulrich, if you ever happen to look at my blog, this is what you missed.


Spring Has Sprung

……….the flowers is riz,

I wonder where the birdies iz?

They say the birds are on the wing,

But that’s absurd, the wing is on the bird.

This piece of doggerel from my father was my first introduction to poetry.  Then came “Jabberwocky”, some language torturing and invention from Edward Lear.  My interest in poetry has never climbed to a more refined level as I find a lot of it deliberately mysterious and pretentious.  This is my coded way of saying I don’t understand it.  I found much more poetry and meaning in the songs of my era such as Paul Simon’s “It’s no matter if you’re born to play the king or pawn, for the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow.”  

Still I digress, as old people will, and at Possum Valley spring has sprung with a vengeance.  In fact it seems to be to have been called off and we are launched straight into summer with day temps of 26C.  In August, the last month of winter, it didn’t take me long to total up the rainfall, 2 mm in a night shower that had burned off by 9 am.  At my daughter’s farm just 15 kms away, the rain chart was untroubled.  This is after a dry couple of months.  It seems the drought is creeping north.  Of course I am still surrounded by green, not the scorched bare brown dirt stretching to the horizon.  But it’s a worry.  A couple of days ago I had to fit a smaller nozzle to the hydro system, as the power and voltage crashes when it begins to suck air.  I looked at the 28 day rainfall forecast for Sept and there were only 3 scattered days where the probability reached ‘low’, and for the rest it was ‘nil’.  

Another worry is that we now have a government that doesn’t even seem to be bothering with the fig leaf of “oh, we would like to reduce carbon emissions but it’s all too hard/expensive”.  Nope, they are now going the full monty with “coal is good for you, choke on this son”.   Also totally irreconcilable with the Liberal claim to be money managers, as solar is now much cheaper than coal.  The only explanation I can can up with is that they are incredibly stupid, can’t count or make sense of economics, or are bought and paid for by coal interests.  I think it is likely that the entire front bench doesn’t add up to the IQ of Julie Bishop who they dumped, but I still don’t think this drags them down to the levels of stupidity required to be unable to grasp we have a problem with our power generation and the Earth has a problem maintaining climate equilibrium because of giga tons of CO2 put into the atmosphere from burning coal.  That they have little science understanding is plausible considering they are mostly lawyers, but they have heaps of staff capable of breaking it down to the level of a Trivago ad “how much would you like to pay”, and come up with the answer solar.  So that leaves me with the conclusion that the Liberal party members, and their campaign funds are dancing to the tune BIG COAL plays.  Mining of all minerals only employs 20,000 people in Queensland and getting ever more automated with driver-less trucks etc but ever holding out the promise, “but think of the jobs”.  Mining companies also have a great track record of not paying taxes and royalties because they don’t make a profit in Australia.  They have an office in Bermuda perhaps that charges astronomical ‘administration charges’ but doesn’t have a single lump of coal, and the annual profit in Oz comes to $47 for the year.  And by now we all know the “trickle down effect” is less convincing than a crepe-paper space suit at a town carnival.

So the Liberals are skating on thin ice, getting rapidly thinner with climate chance, standing like Canute denying the tide with fig leaf removed, and even Abbot had his budgie smugglers.  A huge number of Australians are doing the same sums as the power companies, and deciding to go solar, what future do the Libs have, these dinosaurs of politics?  Oh yeah, what happened to the dinosaurs?  Climate change wasn’t it?  The dinosuars had been pottering along nicely for a couple of hundred million years until the inconvenient truth caught up with them in the form of a big rock that screwed up the climate.  They didn’t cause their own demise and didn’t have the capability to understand it.  We don’t have those excuses.  To think we can see the future, yet blithely walk into catastrophe, is tragic.  I have lived in that so narrow time of good fortune where living standards increased so dramatically, yet I can see so many threats to my children and grandchildren some of them potentially catastrophic, that I feel responsible and sad.  Like any generation before, we like to think we leave a legacy to benefit our offspring.  Is the legacy of my generation a blight, a pox, a withering of the environment, an extinction event?  As my years dwindle and my grandkid’s increase, it becomes increasing urgent to me to preserve, conserve, nurture and curate the natural wonders of the world.  I have been doing my best for the last 42 years with my tiny but important little enclave, Possum Valley.  

Which brings me to the most imbecilic proposal ever to be offered for consideration, Adani digging up the Galilee basin.  It is wrong economically, environmentally, logistically, socially, and cannot possibly ever return a single dollar to any duped investor or any royalty to the people of Queensland who own the resource.  They are talking about a 60 year life-time, but it would be doomed to become a stranded asset as the world abandons coal, a whole caravan of white elephants and an ongoing environmental catastrophe.  It could also irreparably damage or destroy the artesian basin in an area much bigger than the mine site itself.  So, so stupid.  I can understand the Adani brothers just being ruthless, exploitive, mega greedy, bloated plutocrats, but I can’t forgive nor forget our state and federal governments for being such supine lap-dogs.  I’d better stop about now, I think my blood pressure is getting up there a bit.  Breathe in …. breathe out…  

It points to a lot of things that are wrong with our governments, our antiquated laws and mostly to our broken democracy which is so far from being representative anymore.  To lighten up a bit, I think I’ll drop in a fuzzy pic from 1976 of Blackbean Cottage being built.

Blackbean Cottage all sticks and tin 1976

Blackbean Cottage all sticks and tin 1976

Ram Works

When I first came to Possum Valley 40 years ago, there was no road in and no even a walking track.  I hacked a way through the rainforest, set up tiny tent and a few sheets of tin on wobbly poles for a kitchen and started building a house, now Blackbean Cottage.  After about 5 months all the framing was up and tin on the roof, but no cladding on the walls and no boards on the floor except for the loft.  I decided to move out of the tent up to the loft for a bit more elbow room.  Just as well I did as 2 days later a cyclone hit with massive amounts of rain.  Over 2000 mm fell in 5 days.  I was gobsmacked.  I never knew there could be that much rain in the whole world.  I had no warning, being quite out of touch with the rest of the world, but in 1976 there wasn’t much warning to anyone in North Queensland.  There was no radar in the whole of the north of Australia and of course no satellite images.  The only way the met office knew about cyclones was from very scattered isobar readings and radio reports from ships unfortunate enough to be somewhere near.  And the location of the eye or the intensity was guesswork little better than tea-leaf reading.  Astute readers will have already guessed I survived my first cyclone.

Cladding, windows and doors (all second hand) were soon added and the interior fixtures, with of course the first being the kitchen sink, also second hand.  Work progressed, but I soon got tired of having to go down to the creek in rain or shine for a bucket full of water.  It was only 20 m to good water, but it quickly got to be a tiresome chore.  To this day there are young girls in Africa and Asia trekking up to 5 kms to water of dubious quality to stagger back with as much as they can carry.  Pause for thought.

So for Possum Valley to enter the 19th century, running water was required.  Now dear readers, I finally get round to introducing that marvel of engineering, the powerless pump … the ram pump.  And this was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing, when researching how to get water from the creek up to my kitchen sink.  I want one of those! and found one in Atherton secondhand store. 

Ram Pump

Ram Pump

A brilliant juxtaposition of poverty and opportunity!  A friend had a small metal water tank with rust holes and I lined it with chicken wire and concrete plastered on with the back of a spade.  40 years later and long past its use, I have had to tip it over to drain it because it is still watertight and a potential mosquito breeding site.  I set up the ram pump and the tank connected by plastic pipe and had running water.  My dear readers, brought up in an affluent society will have a hard time grasping what a momentous occasion this was.  I was like Homer Simpson gasping in wonder and turning the tap.  Water on, water off, water on….   

The water system has undergone many updates since then but always reliant on a ram pump, now upgraded to the mighty Billabong No 6.  It has performed magnificently for 30 years, but in the last few weeks had a catastrophic failure of the clapper valve flange.  Few readers will have suffered such an affliction to your clapper valve, but I can assure you it is very serious, causing a rupture of the gasket, an embarrassing leakage and total failure to ram it up to the top tank.  It was bought second-hand and may have had a life of 30 years or more before I acquired it so some deterioration after 60 years of use may be expected I suppose.  Inspection of the flange showed visible corrosion and radial erosion gullies caused by extremely high pressure water blasting out and the accumulated damage was now too much for the gasket rubber to seal.  I would have to machine the damage out then get both metal surfaces flat to less than a tenth of a millimeter to be sure of a seal.  Getting two surfaces 200 mm by 120 mm flat and mating is not as easy as it sounds and requires a reference flat surface.  The most accurate I guessed would be on my wood planing machine which has ground steel tables each side of the planer drum, but it is not at all portable.  The next best was the ground table on my pillar drill, but I didn’t altogether trust that fairly cheap machine.  For the brass flange of the clapper valve I took out the visible ruts and ridges with a belt sander, checking it from time to time by rubbing on the pillar drill table with a thin smear of ink from a rubber stamp pad.  No ink on the flange and you have a dip, where you can see ink you have a lump.  Then I finished off by clamping fine sandpaper on the planer table and hand rubbing the brass clapper valve on top of it.  

The flange on the pump body was going to be more of a challenge being a cast steel lump I could barely lift.  The depth of the erosion would require aggressive machining to take off at least 1 mm.  It would require my angle grinder, but one little slip would gouge out a couple of mils making it worse than when I started, so a jig was required to prevent me from buggering it up.  I would use the grinding disc carefully aligned to be flat and parallel on 2 axes. 

Jig for machining ram pump

Jig for machining ram pump

See the pic and the add-ons to the grinder so it could only glide in a flat plane.  I was enormously pleased with myself for having contrived this clever solution.  What I didn’t know was that though grinding discs destroy even the hardest steels at a great rate in a most satisfying shower of sparks when presented edge on, when presented flat on they give a feeble display of sparks then cease to function.  A network of reinforcing fibers soon emerges to facilitate the disc gliding effortlessly across the steel with to no effect.  Fortunately, I had a fair stock of discs and by changing frequently I managed to use the thin layer of abrasive particles on each of them.  So I managed to grind out the 60 years of corrosion and use, erosion and blast lines.  Now to hone it flat.  I couldn’t use the method of rubbing it on the planner table, as both devices rather massive, so I used a combination of the ink smear method using the newly machined brass flange and the straight edge of a steel ruler and feeler gauges.  My new tool was an old wood plane with a flat ground shoe to which I clamped abrasive paper.  By constantly altering my rubbing direction I wore down the high spots.  

Then the pump was assembled and soon back in operation.  Of course it will all have to be done again in another 60 years and I’m looking forward to it.

Little Angels

Last week I had the pleasure of a visit from my youngest daughter Josie and her two grandkids from Darwin.  They are Huon 5 and Evie 3.  What a pleasure to see them again.  I regularly babysit my other grandkids, Henry 4 and Philip 2, as they live just down the road and see every development and every little skill or word that they have newly acquired.  As Darwin is inconveniently far away, I only get snapshot views of the other grandkids, which is interesting as they have grown so much.  Josie sends me regular pics by email so I follow their physical growth, but their intellectual growth has bounded ahead each time we meet.  Huon has become more considerate and aware of other people’s feelings, and more in control of his own passionate emotions.  Evie has become quite articulate and understanding , though a tad clever and manipulative at getting her own way.  When you have a big brother twice your size, I suppose that is the way to go.  It is good for the cousins to meet, because all grandparents are immigrants, so it is not a big clan.

nude pancake session

nude pancake session

  For a day they got together at Possum Valley, and another day at grandma’s place down at Mission Beach.  After a shy and coy start, they got along well.  Philip felt a little left out as he is the youngest and Evie sometimes because she is the only girl, but fun was had by all.  It being so hot in Darwin and gets to 33C most days in winter, Josie had thought the kids might freeze and arranged extra clothes to be on hand.  Well sometimes in the chilly mornings of 10C, the kids did freeze and the extra layers of clothes were required.  But when kids are having fun, they become remarkably cold resistant.  They splashed naked in the creek and as you see here, don’t seem to be suffering too much despite a distinct lack of insulation.

In other news from the fungus farm, Possum Valley in the first half of the year to June 30th has received slightly over the mean average annual rainfall already at a generous 2065mm.  I casually announced this data having been invited to share a glass of vino at Blackbean with guests.  In the long silence that ensued, I suspected I had made a faux pas.  A gentleman of the older generation informed me that he had a property in the Hunter Valley in NSW and he had received 40mm in the same period which had burned off in record temperatures.  He had a few stock left hand fed and couldn’t remember the colour green until he came up north.  I have in recent posts lamented the damage floods has done to me, but is nothing to the slow creeping agony of a drought.  I can patch up the damage in a few days or a week, with some limited expense, but a drought grinds on for months or years with no limit in sight for the damage or cost.  No relief from the worry and pressure.  

Animals and children have a lot in common.  Both are after immediate gratification, and neither have any sense of order or planning for the future.  This picture is the result of kids and animals combining to produce the sort of random chaos both consider normal. 

observation from life

observation from life

Most of the debris comes from a shelf above, which the possums tramp along barging the items to the ground below.  The teapot in the gumboot is pure human genius and totally logical to a child.  This is what I have to deal with on a daily basis, but any mother would back me up with “me too”.  Oops, sorry, that meme is taken.  In case you are wondering what the other things in the pic are, well there is a can of “start ya bastard” to fire up up reluctant engines and also useful for stunning ticks before removal as it contains 25% ether, and an assortment of caps and silly little umbrellas too small to keep off the weather mostly left by Japanese visitors who seem to expect polite little showers rather than tropical downpours.   

From the scattered and fragmented nature of this post, you will gather that nothing momentous has occurred.  Which is good.  Big news is mostly of the disastrous sort, which I can do without.  So I will try to ignore the insane land clearing rates in NSW up 800% in the last 3 years, and up to 1m Ha proposed in QLD, so I can enjoy the beautiful weather and peaceful times.  Nearly all of Australia except the tropics will be devastated by the ravages of climate change according to the models, drying out an already parched landscape.  Clear the trees and the land heats up so the clouds don’t form, the rains become scarce, and the land withers.  The tears of ten thousand farmers will not be enough to save a single hectare of land.  I am shedding a tear as I write this as I think of the trees.  When you next go out to the wild places find a big old tree and ask ‘how do you survive old man, what is your secret’.   European ideas can no longer be applied to the drier regions of Australia, if they ever could.