Tis the Season

To be jolly etc etc.  Also the cyclone season.  Though perhaps a bit early this year.  Cyclone Jasper came with plenty of warning and just managed to crank up to a catogory 2 as it crossed the coast at Wujal Wujal a comfortable 200 km north of Possum Valley.  So only gale force winds experienced here.  So I only had to get out with chain saws and clear the track of about 4 blockages.  A mere half day of hard labour.  One of those managed to anticipate the cyclone and collapse the day before.  OK, I thought.  All over and the cyclone remnants, a tropical low makes it’s way to the gulf maybe to evaporate or maybe to re-intensify as it gets over the power-house of warm water in the shallow gulf.  Seen it before, all done and dusted.  That’s what BOM thought too, but just to confound us, it lingered.  And lingered.  I got 5 days of heavy rain to total 753 mm, some places down the coast got 2000 mm.  Many, many cities are built on flood plains, consuming the best agricultural land and no doubt before many a crop has been wiped out by flooding but can be replanted when the floods recede.  Now houses have terrible damage and cities may be wrecked by intense weather events exacerbated by climate change.  Take to the hills people.  To less food productive areas but founded on rock and far from floods.  Then centuries later, when concrete has crumbled to gravel, it may be possible to use the flood plains for their best use as productive areas for agriculture.

So Possum Valley was spared the heaviest rain, but I have infra-structure in the creek to provide power and to pump water.  I went on a tour of inspection which just revealed that hydro and pump were invisible under torrents of brown foaming water with the occasional bit of pipe showing shuddering and shaking as it was knocked around by the flood waters.  The hydro generator was under water which is a bit of a worry as it is generally recommended that electrical devices don’t get totally immersed in pounding dirty water for a couple of days.  You can find this advice in many service manuals.  Then the rain suddenly stopped and being at the top of the catchment area, the creek went down very quickly.  So it was now time to get to work and restore power and water.

During the days the hydro was out of action, I had patched in a petrol generator so PV was not without power.  I also have some solar panels, but the cloud layer was so heavy they provided next to no power.  It was dim and dark even in the middle of the day.  So when the flood had mostly subsided and I could stand in the creek without being washed away to Innisfail, I went to the weir at the top of the turbine penstock (down pipe) and it was totally filled up with gravel.  So I shoveled it all out and knew that a lot of gravel and debris must have gone down the pipe.  Down to the bottom of the waterfall where my first job was to find the turbine and generator.  I knew where it was bolted to the rocks and concrete, but it was buried under a mass of logs, sticks, roots and vines that had been interwoven by the tumbling torrent.  I thought I might have to get a chain saw, but I managed to get them out heaving one end at a time.  This is working in the creek wrestling wet logs so I am totally sodden and muddy in a few minutes.  OK, after half an hour I have uncovered the turbine/generator, but the bottom part of the pipe is totally jammed with gravel so it wont drain out of the nozzle.  I have plugged the down pipe (penstock) at the top, but I can’t move it to disconnect until I get the water out.  On the last pipe connection is a 25 mm plug so I take that out fully aware that water will come blasting out under 20 m of head.  For the last few turns of the thread I keep my hand on top of the plug or it will be blown away into the sky never to be seen again.  Wham! there she blows, and in half a second I am blasted with muddy water.  I go from sodden to drenched.  I wait for the water in the pipe to drain, but it doesn’t and just keeps coming???  The only answer is the pipe plug I put in the top has failed.  So I have to make a new one.  To fit the 125 mm pipe I plug it with 2 plastic flower pots which are nicely tapered to make a good seal.  Being flower pots they have drain holes in the bottom so I put a stout couple of plastic bags between the two jammed together.  So with a new plug to stop the flow, I can move and disassemble the last section of pipe and the nozzle.  Back to the bottom and I can now lift out the last section of pipe and undo the last connection.  I dump out a wheelbarrow-full of rocks and debris, wash out in the creek, change the nozzle to a bigger size as I expect there to be plenty of water and more power for the next nine months or so.  I reassemble and start it up wondering if the generator will work after being underwater for a couple of days.  No worries, off she goes.  I can easily tell it is producing power even though there are no gauges down at the bottom.  If no power there is no load on the turbine and it goes twice the speed producing a thundering roar as hits the back of the casing.  Taking the power out of the water with the turbine makes it just hum and hiss is a pleasing way.  I have already put a larger dummy load on in anticipation of the higher power.  Back in the power generation business!

That took about 6 hours of hard yakka, shoveling, heaving logs, up and down the waterfall I emerge pleased but looking like “the creature from the black lagoon”.  After ancient 4th rate horror film.  Except I have a cheerful bright colour contribution.  Red legs.  The leeches have been waiting all year for this combination of very wet and a lingering target.  There was no chance of protecting myself with repellent spray, which works very well, as it would all be washed off in 30 seconds.  So I finish the job before dealing with them.  First dry hands as they are difficult to remove with wet fingers.  It took me perhaps 15 mins to remove 50-70 leeches.  These I discard into a little pot with some laundry detergent.  Leeches are an ancient order of hundreds of species and most of them don’t suck blood, but they don’t have a waterproof skin and and strong chemicals dehydrate them very quickly by osmosis.  During this time a prospective guest phoned up to request a booking.  I asked him to phone back in 10, as I had a heap of leeches to pick off.  Probably the best call dump he has ever heard and I was surprised when he called back and made a booking.

My next task was to restore the water pump, last glimpsed with the pipes heaving about in a raging torrent.  I got down there and found everything in place and thought ‘this won’t take long’.  Foolish optimism.  As expected the weir to divert some flow to the pump header tank was destroyed and vanished, but amazingly, the pipe from the weir to the header tank was still there even though a flimsy and cheap piece of plastic gutter pipe.  But with the weir gone there wasn’t enough water going down the pipe to run the pump.  I didn’t want to build a new weir as this is just the beginning of the ‘wet’, so I thought I would just back up the water a bit to cover the pipe inlet and get the flow.  30 m upstream were a couple of big rocks.  Too big to lift and carry but I can roll them down the creek and when they are submerged a good part of their weight is negated.  More grunting and heaving, more floundering about in the creek.  But it does the job of getting more water into the header tank.  Then the pump, with only 2 moving parts jams up.  Clapper valve back to the workshop for some careful filing of the valve guide.  OK, not sticking now, but stalls.  Oh! the discharge pipe ripped in two by the torrent but underwater so I can’t see it.  Fix that.  Then the header tank (old bar fridge laid on it’s back) leaking so much there is not enough water for the pump.  Find new(er) bar fridge from my white goods graveyard in old shed.  Rip out compressor, rip off door and shelves, make 75 mm hole in the bottom and good to go.  Pump still doesn’t go.  Goes for a few cycles (about the speed of a heartbeat)  but then gets a double beat and even a triple beat before stopping.  I am homing in on the problem.  It is air getting into the ‘driver pipe’.  The  75 mm steel pipe must have a hole in it which lets air into the pipe.  I crawl up and down the length of the pipe but cannot find the leak.  Water runs everywhere and splashes up from the creek and down the pipe so no chance of just looking for a wet spot.  I eventually found the leak at one of the threaded connections.  It takes an heavy duty clamp with a extra thick gasket, a strip of a stubby cooler, to seal it.

My commiserations to the people flooded down the coast where some houses were a complete wreck, and many more flooded causing many thousands of $ damage.  They are now negotiating with insurers and it may be months before order is restored.  I could fix my stuff in a few days hard labour and at no cost.

I had my eldest daughter’s family here for Xmas dinner and it was excellent with good food and relaxed fun.

Blast from the Past

I been sailing small boats since I was a kid in the UK.  Probably 10 years old.  As the ‘crew’, operating the jib, balancing the boat and at the absolute command of the ‘helm’.  Like ships of old, the helm had total control, but fortunately in modern times, flogging has fallen out of favour for any mistakes of the crew.  I was very keen and after a suitable apprenticeship, progressed to sometimes being at the blunt end of the boat and being in charge.  Controlling the rudder and the mainsail and yelling those deliciously antiquated commands like ‘ready about’ and ‘lee ho’ at the crew to spring them into action.  As a teen, I was a fierce competitor in racing and enjoyed considerable success.  There are a lot of rules for sailboat racing and you have to know them well and apply the quickly and ruthlessly.  So in the melee at the start and the ‘Big Crunch’ at the first mark and a lot of yelling such as ‘starboard!!’, ‘mast abeam!!’ and ‘WATER!!!!” claiming space to round the mark.  From afar and out of earshot sailboats racing may look elegant.  Up close, it can be fast, vicious with dirty tricks played on the unsuspecting.

Many years travelling the globe, building in Possum Valley and having a family created a large gap in my sailing experience.  When my two daughters were quite young, single figures, I bought a little dinghy, a Manly Graduate only 12 ft long but with spinnaker and trapeze and quite lively and took the girls sailing on Lake Tinaroo.  Family sailing is a great thing to do because it is a sport where age doesn’t matter all that much.  Parents and children can do it together or even compete against each other in races.  We had a good time, but my daughters advancing into their teens, expressed a desire for an upgrade, a ‘need for speed’.  They wanted a faster boat.  OK, lets try a 14 ft skiff.  I had been sailing 14 ft boats all my life so how difficult could this be?  I should have taken the hint from the guy who sold me the boat who said “don’t go out first time in 20 knot winds”.  He had me nailed as a rookie.  If you want some idea of how difficult this boat is to sail, google i14 and see video of the disasters that even the experts have.  It has an amazing 520 sq ft of sail with the spinnaker up.

14ft skiff doing it’s thing

Our first sail was in strong winds was a disaster being totally out of control.   Survival the only issue.  In all the dinghys I had sailed before, I knew how to spill the wind and keep upright, but with this monster, for technical reasons about apparent wind, I had to learn completely different reactions and apply them within half a second or it was all over and we were instant swimmers.  Also, there had to be perfect coordination between helm and crew, as the crew controlled both the jib and the mainsail when going towards the wind, and the jib and spinnaker when going downwind and the helm takes the mainsail.  All this delicate balance while both of us on the trapeze dangling just above the water.  The boat reaction time is under a second or you capsize.  The crew looks at the sails and constantly adjusts, the helm steers and looks outside the boat looking at the light reflections from the water to guess the wind coming and makes cryptic comments like “gust in five heading”.  So I have read a darker patch of water ahead indicating a gust and I think it will come at an angle closer to the boat centerline.  We try to make adjustments to the course and sails about 1 second before the gust hits to remain in full control.  Holes in the wind are harder to spot on the water and often left us ‘tea-bagging’.  That is crashing into the water at 15 knots or more and often being detached from the boat and dragged along by the trapeze wires.  I still have the tiller in my hand and the crew the main sheet or spinnikar sheet as we try to right the boat though being in the water a couple of meters away.  The helm pulls the tiller to try and fill the sails with wind and the crew pulls in the sheet to do the same.  Sometimes we are too successful.  The sails fill quickly and we are plucked from the water as the boat becomes upright and we swing and crash into the side of the boat, not always feet first.  The thrill and great coordination required was a great bonding experience for me and my daughters to get the boat screaming through the water at up to 30 knots.  Actually my phrase “through the water” is not very accurate, it is more like flying and hitting every 3rd wave.

So why am I regaling you with this so many years later?  Well, yesterday I was invited by my daughter and partner to sail with them on their recently acquired Nacra 5.  A high performance cat. You can google that too if you have any interest.  20 years since I hung up the trapeze harness, I was going to get another go.  Fortunately the Nacra is a catamaran and nowhere near as sensitive to balance as skiff.  Which is just as well as I found as a septuagenarian, I am stiff and slow.  But it was still a great blast to crank myself out on the wire and get the best view of the boat cutting through the water.  Its hulls have very fine bows that hardly make a splash at 15 or 20 knots, whereas the skiff directed sheets of water at the crew dangling on the wires.


It was great to get out on the water again, but I doubt I will do it often even when asked.  Afterwards I had aches in places I didn’t even know you could get aches, and I want my kids and grandkids to get a bit of the same bonding I got with my daughters.  But we did have 3 generations on the boat at the same time.


You probably know what the title means at a glance.  If I hear another advert telling me some product kills 99.9% of germs, I swear I will scream and curl up in the foetal position if my old bones can manage it.  I mean why???  It is a very temporary, tiny, and pointless win in a limited area for the most part.  There are about 400,000,000,000 cells in the human body.  Every one of the cells is outnumbered about 10:1 by germs such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, phages etc.  There is a whole zoo inside a happy healthy human being, who may be described as a high-rise appartment for germs.  An adult has probably about 8kg of germs.  Many of them essential to our survival, many of them going about their own business and doing no harm and a few that are troublesome.  We need bacteria in out gut to be able to digest many types of food.  In our western diet, our food range has contracted from that of our ancestors by concentrating on growing few crops such as wheat and rice, and a relatively small range of vegies in the supermarket.  A hunter-gatherer in the Amazon jungle for instance would eat a much wider range of food.  We probably have about 400-500 species of bacteria in the gut and the hunter-gatherer more like 1400.  Some people with chronic intestinal problems are currently being treated with an influx of germs from a healthy person, a pill nicely coated with a hard sugar shell to help the medicine go down, to boost germ levels.  Jokingly referred to as a “transpoosion”.  An awful pun on transfusion.  Some are treated with an influx of worms, but a pig variety which can’t reproduce in humans so there is just one generation.

The resident germs are also our first line of immune defense.  They defend their human real estate with turf wars against any intruder stealing their resources.  You are probably wondering what our immune system is doing in all this. For a long time I thought the immune system acted as “ah ha, an intruder lets kill it”.  But it is more sophisticated than that.  Like cops in a big city, it lets citizens doing no harm alone and goes after the bad guys.  Sure cuts down the work load. There are hints all around about the usefulness of germs to us.  Babies are usually born face down and contact germ rich material from the mothers anus in the great struggle to get the little bastards out.  Specialised cells also kidnap useful germs from the gut and transfer them to the vagina before birth.  As a back-up, they also take them to the mother’s milk.  Babies need germs to even be able to digest mother’s milk.  Ruminants are even more dependent on bacteria than we are to digest their food and often lick their mothers mouth to pick up the germs.

OK.  I hope I have persuaded you about how much we need germs.  So what happens if a child doesn’t get enough exposure in early years?  What if over-diligent parents Glen 20 everything in sight? Their children are more likely to develop auto-immune diseases later in life.  The “hygiene hypothesis”.  Google it.  Hay fever, forms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis and many other modern diseases on the rise are auto-immune conditions.  These conditions are almost unknown in peasant societies with animals such as goats, chooks, pigs etc in everyday contact.  You would be doing your kids a favour by having a dirty smelly dog.  A wonderful vector for germs.  A nice slurping lick over baby’s face to clean up the dribbles of mashed pumpkin.  Sooo much better than a santised wipe.  You will not be surprised to learn that I encouraged my kids and grandkids to romp naked through the rainforest and plunge into swamps.  I remember just a couple of years ago my youngest grandkid, less that 2 years old, was swamp diving totally naked and disappeared from sight.  He’ll be coming up soon I thought  ….. anytime now ….  will be soon… just before I went into panic mode he appeared crowned with mud and rotting leaves and laughing his head off.  A large ongoing study in Belgium found that auto-immune diseases are a city disease.  Kids brought up on farms, especially farms with animals are at much lower risk.  This is because in the neolithic ages with kids brought up in caves, they needed a robust immune system.  Given too little to do, the immune system can get over sensitized and loses the capacity to distinguish friend from foe and can attack the body’s own cells.

My own little rave here is about the fact that if we try to sterilize the world, kill 99.9% of germs, it will backfire in a catastrophic way.  Many microbiologists and biologists are telling us that we are immersed in the whole ecosystem and we need to protect it and preserve it for our own welfare and health.  Not just because some very pretty birds and animals are becoming extinct, but because our very lives depend on it.  There is plenty of sentiment about preserving cuddly things like koalas, and beautiful things like birds, but there is also a world wide catastrophe happening right now as insect numbers are crashing, even in places far away from the onslaught of agricultural spraying.  Even in Possum Valley, still rich in every kind of bug, I have noticed a steady decline in extravagant swarming events that stunned me when I first came here 46 years ago.  Fireflies, once a reliable dazzling display are now rare and I see but a few in the year.  Beetle swarms and moth invasions used to litter the house but now don’t happen.

So I am trying to put in a good word for the most maligned creatures on the planet.  Germs.  We need them as most fundamental to the web of life.  Some are bad for us such as covid, and we should focus on the nasty ones, not try to kill the millions of species indiscriminately.  The fundamentals of hygiene still apply, like hand washing and containing sneezing and coughs, but I do believe the old adage applies “a home should be clean enough to be healthy, but dirty enough to be happy”.

Vehicle Recovery

Amongst my many and varied duties as host of Possum Valley, I often get unanticipated disasters to deal with.  Last night it was a phone call from the guests at Maple Cottage as the light was fading, to say they had no power.  There was power at the homestead and Blackbean, so must be a transmission fault.  They helpfully told me there was a crackling sound outside the games room.  That narrowed it down to connection in the transmission lines which must have corroded in the last two months of relentless rain.  So I perched on a ladder to do a bypass with a silly little bit of wire rather than disassemble, strip, abrade, and reassemble which would take much longer than the light available would last.  Fixed in 20 mins and I was rewarded with a beer.

But the more interesting disaster happened a week before.  On a quiet and peaceful afternoon with guests in residence, but with no changeovers, I had a guest from Blackbean come to the homestead and tell me there was a lady stuck on the hill out.  I had heard vehicles come and go, but took little notice as my guests have their own agendas.  I walked up the hill but no vehicle in sight.  Not until I got to the second corner did I discover it, not on the track at all, but off in the rainforest leaning precipitously, a car jammed between two trees.  It had evidently slid backwards and sideways off the bank of the track and leaning at more than 30 degrees.  It was hard up against a tree behind, which had stopped it’s further progression into the rainforest, but also had a tree square in front no more than 300 mm away. It went in sideways and the only way out was sideways.  Then the lady driver and the guests from Blackbean came up to gaze and ponder.

I clambered round the vehicle and stared at it from every angle.  Slowly.  I have learned this from watching many people in disaster situations, farmers and earth movers, medics and mothers.  Don’t go flapping around trying to “do something”.  Stare at it like your steely look will levitate it out.  Absorbing information about every detail of the situation.  Every stick or bank of soil that might be a problem.  Other people arrived but I hardly looked or noticed.  I had a plan.  The car had to wrenched first sideways with a very short tether, by a couple of meters, which was all I could do with my 4WD before I crossed the track and met the trees.  Then re-hitch with a long tether to tow up the hill.  I also had a plan B with a hand winch I could attach to the tow bar fixture of my 4WD.  But slow and painful.  As I explained to the crowd that I was going off to assemble resources, tools and my 4WD, I belatedly noticed that the new arrivals were my daughter Josie and my grandkids Huon and Evie.  You might think I was a bit slow to recognise them, but Josie understood where my mind was ….. I think.

I got short bits of chain and long bits of tow-strap along with the desperate winch option, to get back to the scene and manoeuver across the track to attach with a very short chain.  Josie volunteered to drive the lady’s car.  I was much relieved, because it would take the combined traction from both vehicles to extricate it.  The vehicle’s owner, I later discovered from Josie who had chatted with her, was an 80 year old Korean lady with little bush knowledge.  With Josie, I could rely upon coordinated action as we communicate well.  We have sailed together in hairy-scary sailboats that require microsecond co-ordination.  We had to coordinate the power-on by hand signals and it worked well.  It was wrenched back onto the track without crashing the trees.  The rest was easy to tow it up the hill.

The lady, who had just come to take a look pressed $100 into my hand.  I declined 3 times as I was always going to get her out as that is what we do in Oz, help when we had the gear to do it, But she insisted.  I realised she was amazed that she thought she was totally alone, imperiled and helpless, but people appeared from every direction with help and resources.   I like to think that is the Australian way.

Off Grid

I have reached my dotage years without ever having paid a utility bill.  No electricity, no water and no sewerage bills in my entire life.  Because I have provided these services for myself.  There is some good news and some bad news.  Yesterday I got the bad news.  Whilst I was showing some interested guests my disgustingly chaotic cabinet of electrical equipment and the spaghetti of wires connecting them, there was a loud crack/bang and I just had time to think “that sounds expensive”, before the deafening report of a nearby lightening strike hit us.  From the crack/bang sound of electrical equipment blowing up, which I know quite well, to the house rattling clap of thunder was about 2 seconds.  This allows me to estimate, using the speed of sound in air, that the strike was 1 to 2 kms away.  There was no rain and there had not been the slightest rumble of thunder.  After the strike there was not a drop of rain or rumble of thunder.  Just a malicious, one off, outlier,  strike I could not take precautions against.  As storms approach with due warning, I listen to differentiate between cloud to cloud lightening (harmless) which is long low rumblings and ground strikes, like cannon fire, which blow up stuff and take appropriate action to unplug parts of the my local grid to protect the gear.  This time I had no warning and no chance to defend, and important equipment blew up before my eyes.  The main battery charger and the main inverter were trashed.  Of much less concern or expense was my phone/answering machine of the landline persuasion.  I have bought so many but they are the first thing to blow up.  The last one I bought at Harvey Norman, I joked to the checkout clerk that it was a great lightening detection device.  Blank stare then “that’ll be….  ”  If he had a sense of humour, he didn’t bring it to work.

I have already ordered new machines from the internet of higher capacity and lower price because the cost and time it takes to send off the damaged devices are prohibitive.  Last time I sent the inverter to the makers to fix it took ages, and costed over $1400.  The freight was $200 each way.  That just about makes it a disposable device.  In the mean time I have patched together and reconfigured the devices I do have, so that guests still have the lights on.  It doesn’t help that the creek has gone down and the hydro now on 60% full power.  Recent rains make it probable the power level will sink no lower before the wet season proper arrives.

Just a couple of weeks ago the hydro power dropped to nothing.  I had a number of ideas what might be wrong, such as a dead short caused by a forked branch dropping on the transmission lines to cause a dead short, or a blocked nozzle, but I was surprised to see the belt pulley lying on the ground as the turbine shaft had sheared.  It is a 25mm stainless steel shaft.  Close examination of the fractured ends revealed that 80% of the cross-section was ductile shear which is smooth, and 20% was brittle fracture which is a rough surface.  Diagnosis was ‘fatigue crack propagation’.  Which means that an alternating stress which concentrates the force at the end of the crack and makes it fail there.  Every time the shaft rotates, the stress reverses.

OK, this is an exercise for the reader.  “The shaft rotates at about 450 RPM.  It has been doing that for about 30 years.  To calculate the number of stress reversals, multiply the RPM by the number of minutes in 30 years.”  Simple calculation.  Also, “please estimate the amount of water in liters, that has been through the hydro in 39 years of operation at an average flow rate of 12 liters a second.”  Your calculator may not be able to handle that, so try to divide by 1000.  Then you will get the answer in tons of water as 1000 liters of water is a ton.  Answers to ‘comments’ please.

So not being on the grid and having no power bills may not be as good as it sounds, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  That I couldn’t have it any other way made for an easy decision to invest in alternative power.  It is now common, and usually based on solar power with well worked out and well tailored plug-in systems.

Other news from my fungus farm is all pretty good.  Yesterday guests saw a cassowary on the track in and the golden bower bird has been performing well.  Hopefully his performance has led to satisfaction.  Grass is green, frogs are croaking and the spring growth threatens to overwhelm my tenuous attempts at civilisation.  Tree roos seen near the cottages and of course the possums continue to entertain as the most reliable bludgers in the valley.

I leave you a picture of my track clearing team with a determined stare.

Phil & Henry

Living in a Rainforest

There are many good things about living in a rainforest, and some downsides, but first the good things.

1)  Having the green of a forest around promotes calmness and wellness leading to contentment.  Having lived here for 46 years, I add my anecdotal evidence for that hypothesis.  It is easy to be calm here.  To let things go that might wind up a city dweller already loaded with daily stress.

2)  It is naturally air-conditioned as only about 5% of sunlight reaches the forest floor and that is at midday.  Morning and evening virtually none reaches the ground.  The leaves transpire the heat away.  Reliably 2C cooler than Atherton and 6C cooler than the coast.

3)  It is interesting and complex with ever more to see and learn.  Little is known about the vast numbers of fungi that perform vital tasks but remain unseen until they break through with their fruiting bodies in an amazing display of shapes and colours.  Every startling colour but green.

4)  Kids of all ages love the rushing creeks and mighty trees.  There is mystery, as no vantage point exists where you can see more than a tiny fraction of the landscape.  There could always be something new along the track.  I felt the mystery when I first came here looking for a block of land.  I still feel it.  I can still go exploring on my own property and wonder what I will find.

5)  The birds and wildlife delight and entertain us and their endevours inform us of the important things in life.  Food, shelter, mates and belonging to a society with relationships branching out to friendship and conflict.

6)   The quietness which expands your senses to be aware of the busy insects and the squabbles of cockatoos on the next ridge.  Or the crunch of gravel from half a kilometer away that alerts me to the arrival of guests.

7)  The change of seasons and each species’ response to it.  The frogs getting amorous and croaking to attract mates, fireflies and termite swarms, birds busy building nests or bowers,  Snakes and turkeys basking in the sun after a long rainy spell where they fling themselves down on their backs with wings spread.  Like Scandinavian tourists Flocking to Spain in May after a long dark winter.

8) Surprising glimpses like cacophonous turf war between crimson rosellas and currawongs that goes on for an hour of pitched battle.  Welcome swallows spending days teaching their fledglings to fly.  A juvenile Victoria’s rifle bird entertaining birds of another species for 10 minutes as he practises his dance.  A battle to the death between a mud wasp and a large spider right on my veranda.

9)  A chance to do my own thing at my own pace and build my own home and sheds with no interference from authorities.  I did eventually tell the council about Blackbean Cottage ….. 25 years later.

10)  I don’t have droughts.  For a couple of months in 40 years I have been short of enough water to run the hydro system, but always enough for general use.


There are some negatives when living a rainforest.

1)  It rains a lot.  You probably figured that out, but that means 210 days a year which means it more often rains than not.  The total yearly rainfall a reasonable 2100 mm.  This restricts my activities as many jobs are not worth attempting in the rain or too mucky, horrible or dangerous to contemplate.

2)  The leeches are present for 80% of the year.  Only in the short dry season do they sulk underground in wet gullies.  They do no harm and are easily dealt with but cause a great amount of undue alarm for some of my guests.  My daughters and grandkids brought up here just ‘pick and flick’ with it hardly deserving their attention.

3)  The damp atmosphere causes mold, damp sheets and doors to de-laminate.  I take my hat off to mold as the oldest form of life and still surviving in the most hostile of environments.  Such as on the windows of space-lab.  A quick wipe did not help visibility as it was on the outside!  Also found growing in the sarcophagus of the Chernobyl reactor where it was using radiation 500 times what a human could survive as an energy source.

4)  Lack of sun and stars.  I can go a month without being able to see the next ridge because of mist and drizzle and yearn to see an astronomical object like the sun.

5)  Everything grows so fast here.  Sun, rain and warmth make for year round growth and I have to work at pushing it back or the buildings will be engulfed.  It’s like “Day of the Trifids”.  Turn my back for a little while and a tree has grown behind me.  I have 2 kms of track to hack with a machete.  Fortunately I have some assistance with slave labour.  My grandkids, who I equipped with their own machetes since they were 4.

6)  Cyclones.  I have been directly hit (in the eye wall), by several intense cyclones and had an awful lot of cleaning up of vegetation to do, but little costly damage as partly sheltered by the rainforest.  The local council has been heroic in cleaning up the track in with hundreds of trees across it.

7)  I have run out of cons and the rainforest is a great place to live.

How I got Here

By a very random path backpacking around the world, but always on my own track going in the direction I wanted and considering money only as an irksome tool I had to find by labouring jobs along the way.  So I headed straight to my goals of travelling, getting a property etc with side trips such as construction worker, ski lift operator, exploration field assistant and spud digger along the way.  These side trips were interesting and enlightening in their own right, and all the better for being only temporary.  I have never worried about money as I am fortunate enough to have come from a rich country and live in a rich country so I always had food, albeit rice and beans.  So I went directly towards my own goals using my own labour and avoiding the money traps of tax, loans, fees, interest, insurance, etc, etc.  The vast financial industry seems to me like a giant vacuum cleaner sucking up money from the workers to the financial elite.  I fear your chances of avoiding the money traps is decreasing with time as the elites plug the holes and achieve their goal of banishing cash.  Then every transaction will pass through their hands and your ticket clipped  by computers shaving a small percentage at every stage.


Roll on AI

I am making belated attempts to catch up with the latest technology by acquiring a smart phone.  I soon found out why it was called a smart phone, because it is smarter than me.  But more of that later.  I have just had a call on my landline copper wire phone which purported to be a survey about charities and my willingness to contribute to same.  After a while, I became exasperated with the call center operative for asking dumb questions which didn’t take into account my previous answers such as that I make monthly contribute to Care Australia.  After a spiel about other charities which had the emotional appeal of horror stories about crippled puppies, he got around to about how Care Australia contributes to the welfare of women and girls, he asked “would you consider contributing again”.  His delivery was fluent, rapid and dotted with emotional phrases such as “I’m sorry you feel that way”, with no alteration of tone or speed.  In short, I’m pretty sure I was speaking to an AI robot.  This contrasts with other cold phone calls asking for money, and one I remember is a lady calling up from a charity and I replied “I am sorry, I don’t respond to telephone soliciting”.   She got quite upset as she thought I was suggesting she was a prostitute.  I really didn’t mean that, but the exact meaning of soliciting is asking, requesting and my donation budget is all used up. Her emotional reaction was real and I’m sorry she took it that way.  The AI robot was un-phased by my short, exasperated answers and soldiered on through it’s algorithmic programs at a very steady pace.  Also when I said “you’re a bit faint, speak up”, it went back and gave exactly the same spiel again even though I didn’t say I didn’t hear it and please repeat.  Also it was no louder but a human would have moved closer to the mike and talked louder and slower.  So it didn’t pass the Turing test and I correctly identified it as a robot.  But I doubt I will be able to in the future, as the algorithms become more sophisticated with AI learning.  At the moment they may only be as convincing as a crepe-paper space suit at a town carnival, but they will evolve and quite soon include a virtual and visual mannequin tailored to appeal to your profile.  As an aging old man, a beautiful lady would be fine thank you.

I think perhaps we may all expect to receive such communications by any means that bots have access to us.  I have long been used to websites asking me to perform a test to verify I am not a robot.  Perhaps we now require a method to ensure that a fluent and persuasive caller isn’t a robot.  The next IT billionaire is probably working on it.  Perhaps asking it what I mean by “don’t come the raw prawn” will work for a little while, but maybe only weeks.  The rate of Australians being ripped off by online fraud and deception is at a record.  Unless we wise up it is only going to get worse.  Now back to my ineptitude with a mobile phone.

First of all, I didn’t want one as I value my solitude and didn’t like the idea of anyone being able to call me 24/7.  My youngest daughter Josie had been badgering me for a while to join the 21st century and I had been heroically resisting.  She then seduced me with the suggestion “you could use it like a landline and not carry it”.  Yeah, I suppose.  A contributing factor was a recent failure of my landline, and not the first by any means.  The hissing and spitting on the line often left me shouting “Can’t hear a f***ing thing, send an email”.  The techie came in less than a month (a record) and remade connections in various pits and cut several devices out of the line to finally achieve audibility.  He also said he expected the copper network to be shut down in a few years, he guessed 2025, as it is hard to maintain and loses Telstra money.   The only thing keeping it going is political pressure from country areas.  He also said “don’t tell anybody that”.   Well thanks for the heads-up, and I have told everybody.  So I figured I’d better learn a bit about mobile phones before they shut the copper system off.

So with advice of dear Josie, I bought online a refurbished Samsung Galaxy 12 or something, thinking an old discarded smart phone would be outdated and simple.  Well, I found it is not simple and it is smarter than me.  I have heard somewhere that the operation is ‘intuitive’.  I didn’t find that at all, so I downloaded Samsung’s operating manual of “basics”.  250 pages of dense jargon is “basics?”.   When does it get complicated?  So I found I needed to learn ‘gestures’ to perform functions.  So, a couple of weeks after acquiring the phone I got a call.  From my daughter Josie, one of the very few people I had actually given my number to.  I attempted the ‘gesture’ of dragging the green dot out of the circle with no success.  After a little discussion by landline with my mentor, Josie, she suggested I do the gesture quickly rather than deliberately, and I finally got to square one.  How to answer the phone.  WTF didn’t the comprehensive manual say I had to do it quickly?  My dear readers will be thinking I am such an idiot, but I beg forgiveness as I haven’t been brought up through generations of mobile devices.  I tried to log on to Samsung’s home site to activate the ‘Bixby’ function.  Unfortunately, I misspelled my email address by missing a letter so it sent confirmation and temporary passwords into the electronic abyss and I haven’t managed to cancel that so I can re-register.  I may be missing out but perhaps I don’t care.

Many of my dear readers may be unaware of how well they have been trained to accept the strictures and constraints of the digital systems.  Like puppies taught to sit up and beg.  Yes, there are treats and patting, but you have to accept the rules and discipline that goes along with it.  I think I will try to maintain a distance from the virtual world.

Meanwhile, from the real world, I send you a random Possum Valley pic.

Blackbean Cottage in the clouds

It is often a wet and muddy and every day there is something to bite me in the bum or make my back ache, but hey, this is my reality.

Festive Season Mayhem

Well, I survived the festive season …. just.  It was was a hectic time with onslaught followed by disaster, calamity and catastrophe, and yet interspersed by timely events and good fortune.

First the onslaught.  That was the arrival of my daughter Josie, husband Kairne, and children Huon and Evie.  This was all good though it upended my bachelor squalour and tranquility.  I went to great lengths (mopping the floor and a couple of other things) to scrub the place up to avoid reproving looks from my daughter but she saw right through me with “you’ve just done this haven’t you?”.  Can’t fool her for a moment.  My other grandkids, Henry and Philp, who live just down the road, 15 km, came over for quality time with their cousins and got along really well.  They devised and executed a plan to cut a track down from my house to the nearest creek.  About 150m through the rainforest.  They were armed with two machetes I had made for Henry and Philip and a tree lopper for the boys.  Evie followed behind marking the tack with coloured ribbons.  It was so good for them with excitement, adventure and accomplishment to hack their way through rainforest.  I was pressed into service to create a sign “Blue Walk”, which I routed into a board which they painted.  They were so proud of their achievements, they invited the guests from both cottages for a grand opening ceremony.  From such events are childhood memories made.

Then disaster.  At the height of summer and the Xmas rounds of feasting, my guests at Maple Cottage reported the fridge wasn’t working wee enough, though the freezer compartment was doing OK..  I was surprised because it wasn’t more than two months old.  I gently inquired if the door had been open a lot and was assured by the person I was speaking to that it hadn’t.  I resolved to buy a new one ASAP, but there were 4 holiday days in a row.  As soon as the shops opened, I got a new bigger, and I hope a better one.  But too late for some of their food.  Due to major systems failure, I offered them a free stay.  There was no point in trying to get the 2 month old fridge fixed under warranty, as it was unlikely a techie would get to look at it before the middle of January at best.  So I put it on me veranda to test.  After a few hours cooling, the fridge temp was down to 2C using my best thermometer.  Just as promised on the dial setting.  My best guess is that the Chinese manufacturers had failed to build in enough spare capacity to deal with Xmas in tropical Australia, and my guests had failed to correctly estimate the time the doors were actually open.  There were 2 families with 12 people and a bunch of teenagers who are notorious for opening the fridge door and just staring, hoping to chance on some tasty morsel.  Oh well, I now have a spare fridge.

Next was the calamity.  My next guests at Maple, on a wet and windy night had the power go off.  A large tree with many branches had fallen onto the kitchen roof and brought down the transmission wires.  Of course it was late at night in wild and windy weather, so nothing could be done until morning.  The damn tree, although standing on a steep slope had managed to fall uphill and two of it’s branches had crushed part of the roof, leaving it hung up on the roof at an angle of 60 degrees.  Probably just as well it was close to the cottage, so it didn’t get up much speed before hitting the cottage.  Otherwise if could have crushed half the cottage.  There was no point trying to restore power without first removing the tree.  It is dangerous to cut branches overhead and suicidal reaching up with a chainsaw.  The safe answer is having a cherry picker to get over the top and have the timber fall below.  I don’t have a cherry picker.  It’s Xmas and a week at least before I could hire one.  But I do have a pole saw with a 5m reach.  the manufacturers generously add the operator’s imagined height to the extension of their machine to arrive at a figure for ‘reach’.   I toiled from 7am until 2pm to get the tree off the roof onto the ground.  Then I could tackle reconnecting the transmission wires, which involved much climbing up and down of ladders and some scrub cutting of every thorny plant to ever invade Possum Valley.  Oh, and a few stinging trees just for variety.  I got the power on after about a 24 hour interruption.  Of course, due to my policy of free stay for major service failure, the guests were offered a free stay.  I was knackered.  One of the hardest days for a long time.  I ached everywhere.  I thought I would be paralyzed by stiffness the next morning, but I was surprisingly mobile.

Whilst still licking wounds, came catastrophe.  Early morning lightening woke me up in the dark to ponder if I should rush round disconnecting parts of the electrical equipment to save it blowing up.  Though I could see the lightening with my eyes closed, I decided from the sound that it was cloud to cloud lightening.  Long rolling thunder for cloud lightening, and abrupt cannon fire for ground strikes.  So I went back to sleep.  Problems in the morning with no output from the hydro.  I quickly did tests for the transmission to determine the problem was the generator was not producing any power.  I’m fucked and suspecting fatal short in the generator coil windings.  Enter stage right, a long time guest and friend who happens to be a techie for BOM and arrives that morning.  Always willing to help, Martin spends the next two days with me to track down the failure and determine the problem is a bridge rectifier .  We are mislead by trying to substitute another rectifier which is also a dud.  We finally patch in a component pillaged from defunct equipment that looks nothing like the part it replaces ….. but it works!  Always include a techie in your circle of friends.  Thank you Martin.

We have volts!

Simultaneous with this was the possum wars.  Techie friend’s wife had a problem with possums living in the roof and decided to evict them, perhaps for hygiene related problems, but being a sensitive person, couldn’t bear the thought of them evicted and homeless.  So alternative accommodation had to be built and affixed to the cottage.  This was more in my field of expertise, that is turning junk into something useful, so I proposed an old sheet of corrugated iron could be used as a durable home.  This was met with considerable skepticism until I demonstrated the details of rolling it up, putting a wooden floor inside and closing the ends with a hole for access and these log-like comfy homes mounted under the eves.  I left them with chicken wire ladders and tools to block up the possum holes to the roof after they had vacated at night.  This was the start of my guests learning experience about how strong, clever and persistent possums can be.  Perhaps I should have briefed them about how difficult it is to keep possums out from my 45 years of experience, but there is nothing like learning on the job.  3 days and nights of hammering and banging I think has excluded them from the roof space, but despite enticements of banana in the new luxury apartments which were eaten, I don’t think they have moved in.

I have recently had other invasions by persistent creatures, namely grandsons.  They are so active in disrupting my normally sedate existence.  They want to do stuff, and make stuff all the time, however, they fixed their sights on the guests in Maple Cottage.  I warned the guests of their peril that undue tolerance would lead the kids to exploit them and talk their ears off, but to no avail.  They deserted me to meet new people and were invited to lunch and afternoon games before preparing a sauna.  I am in awe of their optimism and openness to new people, young and old, and it would seem churlish and mean to curtail friendly advances.  Feedback from guests would suggest that it was not unwelcome.

Yesterday I saw a young cassowary that wandered out as I was hacking drooping trees off the track.  Only a little above knee high at the shoulder, it watched me for a minute before vanishing into the trees.  Today I was sprawled over my veranda chair with my leg over the armrest when a spangled drongo  decided my big toe was a good perch.  It folded its wings and settled down to look around until we made eye contact when it realised its dreadful mistake and flew away.