Upon Reflection

I will be 65 in less than a month.  Official retiring age.  Pensioner.  Over the hill and put out to grass.  Put one’s feet up, take it easy.  All phrases from society’s accumulated images of a brief golden sunset.  Except it is likely to be neither brief nor golden.  People are living much longer, and wealth is only ever provided by those who do useful work.  Please don’t confuse money with wealth.  Wealth is a good meal, warm clothes, a violin lesson, a massage or shelter from the rain; money is an accounting system very open to corruption.

So at 65 it is a good time to take a reckoning of what I have achieved.  I never wanted to be rich or famous, which is just as well, as I never came close to either.  I wanted a happy life full of experiences rather than full of material things.  I wanted a beautiful environment more than a palace.  I wanted a family and a few close friends rather than a host of acquaintances.  I think I have done rather well.

Of course I was heavily influenced by the culture I grew up in of the 60’s and 70’s.  The hippie era, and the songs.  By the words of Donovan “Tread so light as not to touch the grass, breathe the air so slowly as you pass”, and the more truculent words of Dylan in “Times they are a-changing”.  A time of protest songs and gentle flower-power revolution.  And what did my generation achieve of its goals?  Very little.  In fact perhaps quite the reverse, and perverse, outcomes of those lofty hippie ideals.

Having enjoyed the glow of idealism and free love (I missed out there), my generation corrupted into the the most destructive and avaricious generation the planet has ever seen.  I can’t tell you how profoundly disappointed I am.  I can’t tell you how angry I am that so many suited up to be come corporate lawyers and captains of industry in the systematic rape of the planet.  Far from the caring and sharing ethos, so many embraced the ‘greed is good’ creed.

Which brings me to the ongoing catastrophe of climate change.  I’m sure my dear readers could see that coming.  And I have been reflecting on what my generation has achieved.  Being science based I have greatly enjoyed the amazing advances in understanding the physical and natural worlds especially the advances in the instruments and theories to explore the cosmos.  Nearly all the rest is negative.  The disease of gross consumerism, the increasing gap between the rich and poor, the triumph of capitalism over community, the lack of compassion and willingness to help those in need or even desperately in need, the rise of cold corporate power and its grip on the political system, the inhuman logic of accepted economics, the world agreements and treaties enshrining trade and the free market as the dominant principle not to be compromised by such details as the planet turning to toast …….  I could go on and on.  And you probably think I that I already have.

I used to think that some whiz-bang technological fix would save the world.  It was a comforting thought, but ultimately unrealistic and too little too late.  I used to think recycling and some windmills would save the day, but it’s just nibbling at the edges.  I used to think that if the green parties got into government it would all be OK.  How foolish.  How naive.  The whole philosophy of continuous growth, the biblical idea of humans having dominion over the natural world, the structure of governments, the culture of individualism, the idea the commons is the free trash can of industry, the supremacy of free trade in the world legal system, the governments of the world either corrupted or held hostage by corporations, ….. OMG it’s worse than I though.  Massive dominant cultural assumptions and economic systems have to be swept aside even before we have a chance of addressing the problem of keeping the world habitable.

Decades have been wasted.  Pollution and carbon dioxide increase even faster than the dire predictions.  There have been some heroic attempts to stem the tide such as Norway with a large percentage of wind power and Germany and Spain with the uptake of solar and alternative energy.  And in Australia?  Almost nothing except window-dressing.  And the present government anxious to be seen as furiously active whilst doing nothing.  Do I advocate revolution?  You bet I do.  It cannot be achieved without discomfort and pain, but I sincerely hope it can be achieved without bloodshed.  The ‘do nothing’ alternative is really frightening even to the point of extinction.  Yes, it is possible we could make the planet uninhabitable for humans.  Fungus and bacteria will survive, and I have a lot of faith in cockroaches, as they have already survived hundreds of millions of years and more recently intense human persecution.

So upon reflection, I am content with my life, but afraid for the future of my children and grandchildren.  I will be gone before the dire consequences of my generation’s extravagances have to be paid for.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.


Xmas at Possum Valley

Looking surprisingly well after thousands of kilometres of travel.

Looking surprisingly well after thousands of kilometres of travel.

My daughters, 1 partner and 2 grandchildren gathered at Possum Valley for Xmas.  Alice and Henry (right in picture) with partner Blue came from Mooranbah, and Josie and Huon (left in picture) from Darwin.  Unfortunately Kairne, Josie’s husband had to work.  He supplies equipment for drill rigs in the Timor Sea, and for some reason I can’t understand, drill rigs don’t knock off for Xmas.  More fool them.  The oil was 200,000,000 years in the making, and will still be there when they get back a week later.

It was a very good season for me.  Family and friends sharing love and time, food and wine, and gossip and experiences.  Meanwhile the kids reorganised my home and I am still looking for things and finding them in the most unexpected places.

I was elected cook for the Xmas feast and I hope I discharged my duties adequately.  As usual, there were many offers of help for cooking, which I fiercely fought off to defend my dictatorship of the kitchen.  Some will understand.  It was pleasing that my wife and her partner were also able to come.  I am well aware of what the traditional fare for Xmas is, so I did a roast chook and roast lamb.  I did offer a small christmas pud with the desert, but fruit salad and cream is most welcome in the middle of summer.  Due to other commitments, the family get together was several days before the 25th Dec.  That worked out very well for all concerned as my youngest daughter was able to do it all again with husband and kid and lots of presents in Darwin.  I got invited out to a local farm and B&B (Wagtail House Luxury Accommodation) for a sumptuous, al fresco and friendly Xmas dinner.  The views and scenery are stunning, the hosts gentle and gracious, and the weather most cooperative.  A very different style from Possum Valley, but if you can, stay at this B&B.  See

http://www.wagtail-house.com/   .

A few days later, a guest and friend at Possum Valley, invited me for another gala feast at Maple Cottage along with a dozen other lively people and kids.  I drank too much wine and sang too many songs around a camp fire outside.  Perfect.  Frankly, you lot in the northern hemisphere can keep your snow and darkness, heavy foods and thick clothes.   Give me sun , water, sand and surf with something sizzling on the BBQ anytime.

Now to more serious matters.  Someone has stolen all the water I rely on.  I don’t know how they did it, but the monsoon rain I consider my right due to geographical location, has been half inched down to southern Queensland where they are under water.  Well into the ‘wet season’, and 2 months into the cyclone season, my creek is at historic lows.  Meaning my hydro system is near collapse.  Any steer in my neighbours paddocks can piss faster than the creek is running.  (I have been considering desperate measures, but I don’t think the police would believe “no I wasn’t rustling, I just want the steer’s … ” would have any traction).

So some solar panels which fell off the back of a Telstra truck have been doing the heavy lifting to provide electricity.  They were surprisingly undamaged.  I should perhaps point out that these panels were obsolete and written off by Telstra.  Replaced by the next generation.  But several people I know don’t like to see things which still have some utility go to landfill.  So they trickled down to me.  Individuals can see economy and efficiency and routinely practice it in their lives.  Companies can see economy and efficiency but often get it wrong in how and where to apply it.  Governments don’t need either economy or efficiency because they will still be there however badly they do things.


Gone Walkabout

My apologies to people trying to contact me this last week or so, but I’ve been away from Possum Valley.

I am not easily prised away from my own little enclave, my kingdom in the misty mountains, but this I had to do. A contract job it the frontier country up the ‘Top End’. It looked like being tough going and hard yakka, but I reckoned I was up for it and had the practical skills to see it through.

I am a fair carpenter and builder, decent bush mechanic, though these computer cars don’t like you tinkering with them. I’ve done some mechanical, hydrology and sewerage, electrical and electronic design and troubleshooting, worked on farms, tree felling, road surveying and maintenance, and mineral exploration in remote places where survival is your own responsibility and not guaranteed for the unwary.

And the job was …… babysitting. My daughter was required to go to Darwin uni for a few days of workshops lectures and seminars, as part of her MA in community health. Her husband had blown his total year’s leave allowance on an upcoming family trip to Europe, so I was left, well, holding the baby. A boy 11 months old who had only been separated from his mother for a 2 hour period which didn’t go too well.

I renewed my acquaintanceship formally by introducing myself and gently shaking his hand. Silly perhaps, but I believe everyone one I meet is worthy of respect. At the least, he knew I was communicating directly with him and he was the focus of my attention.

My daughter gave me a thorough briefing about sleep times and rituals, feeding and washing, diversions and outings, disaster management and emergency numbers. I got a tour of the fridge and freezer for prepared diners, and written lists of all of the above in case I forgot.

I love babies. They can quite overlook if you are old and ugly, with wrinkles and stubble and a few teeth missing. They don’t care if you smell like old carpets and are balding and gray. It’s no matter to them if you sag and are misshapen. Bony or fat, it’s all the same to them.

But they are perceptive in ways you can’t hide. From the earliest age they study faces and are sensitive to the emotions shown. I am sure they feel your body language as you hold them and in return you can feel them relax against you when you are accepted. Isn’t it beautiful that babies are not distracted by the vanities and public persona we project, but see to our hearts? I am pleased to say he saw my affection and good intentions.

In case anyone doesn’t know, Darwin is hot. Effin’ hot. Day and night all round hot, except in the wet season when it is hotter. And humid. This has some advantages when raising babies. They don’t need clothes, this saves on washing. They can live naked in the garden as long as there is shade, and there is more of interest to them in a garden than a truck load of plastic toys. You can hose them off after meal times. Believe me this is a real boon when my carefully constructed meals get promptly deconstructed, with the good bits eaten and the boring stuff used as face rub.

Me and the kid got along just fine together from 8 to 5 when his parents came home. My first grandfather responsibility, and I loved it.

My other daughter is due to deliver another grandson early June. Hey, this is great! Never thought of of being a grandfather as a career opportunity before. Doesn’t pay well, but the bonuses are amazing!

Huon getting down and dirty

I’ve been droned

A friend came to stay at the Homestead.  He is technically accomplished, computer and internet savvy, and a seeker of future trends.  He brought his latest purchase, a drone.  A year or two ago, I have railed about America’s immoral and reckless use of drones in the middle east as online comments on such publications as Huffington Post.  I had warned that the US had a monopoly on this high-tech stuff as of now, but it would soon be freely available at a corner store near you, and they were setting dangerous parameters for their use.  What I didn’t anticipate was how fast the future is rushing at us.

In a suitcase my friend had a four rotor helicopter drone capable of 25 minute flights to 300m and horizontal speed about 30 kms/hr.  It carried a steerable camera fully controllable from the console and displaying real-time video.  The steerage is a remarkable combination of GPS, inertial guidance and console joysticks.  The inertial guidance stabilises the platform in wind gusts by interactively altering to the power to each rotor. The GPS corrects for slide and will return the drone to its take-off point if telemetry is lost.  The console is your input to tell it where to go and what to look at.  If you drop the console and go for smoko, it will hover on station.

Homestead from drone

Homestead from drone


This is the Homestead, my rambling mansion with solar panels,                internet satellite and chimneys on the roof.  A curious collection of      technologies, old and new.  At its original size, you can see my male      duck between the house and the vehicle under the tree.

At 50m altitude, you can see it and hear it buzzing like an swarm of        bees.  At 150m you cannot see or hear it.  It is magnificent                        technology, but leaves me uneasy about privacy issues.  At Possum     Valley, I am used to and value my privacy.

At this time, I don’t think there are any restrictions on the use of            drones apart from already restricted airspace, eg around airports.  As usual, government and legislature are more than a decade off the pace.

The owner of this mini-marvel didn’t get it to cruise the suburbs in the hope of nude sunbathers, but intends to use it to inspect transmission towers for signs of corrosion and decay.  Instead of attempting to climb a 200m tower, send up the drone to carefully inspect and photograph any defects.  There are many legitimate uses for this brilliant device for any kind of ariel view or inspection.  Even farmers could use it to highlight areas of good and poor growth.

You need an i-phone plus about $1400 to see the world as birds do.


Confessions of a housemaid

My first confession is that I don’t seem to have any natural talent for house cleaning.  After I think I have done a wonderful job, one of my daughters will come along and say “Dad, look there”, and sure enough some corner will have a tiny accumulation of fluff and dust that has escaped my attention.  My wife has remarked, in a despairing but resigned way, that she knows I can’t help it because I have a congenital defect.  She suggests that it might be carried on the Y chromosome as it is much more prevalent in men.  This affliction means that sufferers can’t see what they don’t wish to see.  Apparently a brain defect rather than an eyesight issue.   Any inconvenient defect in a man’s work is somehow edited from the brain.  More advanced research will soon confirm what is already known to the majority of women.

I must assure guests that I have striven over the years to overcome this disability with the most diligent efforts, but have only achieved partial compensation.  As part of the management strategy to ameliorate the effects of this affliction, I dedicate my utmost efforts to the guest cottages.  This leaves more limited efforts available to the maintenance of my own home, and virtually none to the orderly upkeep of my workshop.  God wot!, I love my workshop.  A chance to let it all hang out and chaos reign.  A place to make a mega-mess and walk out without a thought.  Where the floor hasn’t been seen in decades and jumbled piles of left-over bits line the walls.  Things dangle from the ceiling that I am hard-pressed to recognise now, and shelves of off-cuts and junk are a treasure trove of odd bits for new projects.  Strangely, I can find find things amidst this rampant confusion that haven’t seen the light of day for years, but can’t find my wallet that I put down this morning.

By now dear readers, if any, you may have polarised into two camps.  Those horrified by the squalid neglect and disorder, and those strangely sympathetic to my sad condition.

I emphasize again that I devote my greatest efforts to the cottages.  I have been brought to task where my efforts have been found wanting.  Perhaps the gentlest comment was a lady who said rather kindly I think from her tone, “You’re not a corner person are you Paul”.  I had never heard the expression before, but had to admit I’m rather your ‘hit the high spots’ kind of guy.

The most thorough instructions I have received were from a ‘group’ of late middle aged people who stayed a week.  I think it was a man and his four wives attending a religious seminar and all dressed in black and white in styles from the 19th century.  I had a guest satisfaction form at the time with many questions for feedback about my performance.   At the end of their stay they sat me down and the form had been covered back and front with tiny but neat and precise writing about all my shortcomings as a housemaid.  Cleanliness was obviously next to godliness for them, and they thought it their duty to instruct me precisely how to clean around taps with an old toothbrush, and another half hour’s worth of long-forgotten tips including cobweb removal.  Actually I thought I had done pretty well with that until I realised they meant outside the cottage rather than inside.  I must make another confession here, it had never occurred to me to persecute spiders on the outside.

I continue to try and up-skill, and if you have any problem, please come and see me for a resolution and to continue my education.



A brush with the law

I should now confess to my previous form.  About 20 years ago I got a fine for illegal parking in Cairns.  About 30 years ago I got a fine for riding a motorbike without a helmet.  This is the sum total of my criminal record.  My previous experiences pale to insignificance compared to recent events.  My mother died in July and I am executor.   My mother’s affairs were very simple consisting of bank accounts.  I stopped pensions and discharged her debts in short time.  I had much difficulty liquidating a few Telstra shares valued about $400.  The labyrinthine procedures and documentary evidence required just to liberate a few shares should have given me some insight into the quagmire awaiting me.  I really think Telstra doesn’t like people selling their shares.

I was informed by the bank that I would require probate.  Hmmm, never heard of it, but would be a great name for rat poison.  Probate, it turns out is a lot worse that rat poison.  Some research on the web tells me I must apply to the supreme court for ‘grant of probate’ which requires……. well heaps of paper.  I searched through about 2000 forms to cull the ones I might need.  I innocently filled them in by just filling in the blanks like one does with government forms.  Wrong.  First you have to tailor the forms and remove sections of it when you grasp that you are testate, do not require ‘letters of administration’, have no codicils and you are the deponent rather that the plaintiff.  There is a vocabulary here I do not normally use.  Having identified the 15 or so forms I require, I advertise public notices in papers, generate bulk papers, provide masses of supporting documents and proudly submit all to the Supreme Court.

Never has my most feeble school homework come back with so much red ink.  Where was 3 different copies of form 47?, Headers and footers having non-identical addresses, numerous formatting errors, etc etc.


I have been working for days trying to get all the ducks in a row.  I am on first name terms with the Civil Clerk in Cairns Supreme Court.  I have been e-mailing bulk files back and forth as he tries to coach me to the legal sweet spot in a process of ever decreasing circles as I try to refine these forms to the required format.  It is the process which is so difficult.  I have been amazed by the quick response and helpful advice of the officers of the court.  Thank you.  It must be a pain dealing with legal illiterates such as myself.   Tomorrow I go to Atherton to get affidavits and certificates of exhibit and other sundry documents certified by a JP.  Then I will post to the Supreme Court once again.

Wish me luck.

Back Online

This is the first post for a long time, but I have an excuse!  The satellite hardware failed and being 4 years old was already obsolete and not to be repaired/replaced.  I had to apply to the NBN for all new system and hardware of dish, modem and power pack. It took 2 months of exchanging forms with NBN, me, and my selected service provider by the gloriously antique method of snail-mail.  When the paperwork was completed, the installer came quickly and was finished in 2 hours.  I had heard that Australia has a 2 speed economy.  Now I know who they are.  The bureaucracy and the workers.

I get half my business by e-mail, and to drive to town every few days, book a computer at the library, and try and squeeze all the business into an hour (can only book an hour at a time), was more than slightly inconvenient.  It may sound like I’m whinging about the NBN.  Well maybe a little bit, but the equipment and instillation was all provided free.  Being a small business without access to a reliable wireless connection, I qualified for some scheme or other.  Glad I got it done before the election.

In the middle of the internet blackout period, I went to Darwin to meet my first grandchild, a boy born 1st May and two and a half months when I was there.  I was so pleased to see mother and baby doing so well and after a few clumsy fumbles, began to recall my baby wrangling skills.  This grandfather thing is great.  You get the nice gentle moments and none of the hard stuff like the night shift.  I have been forced to admit some new realities.  My age, and that my cheeky little girl is now a strong, courageous, loving woman.

My mother died a month ago, peacefully in Carinya Nursing Home aged 85.  She had lost all mobility and could not feed herself and evidently decided to check out by declining food and drink.  A last and courageous decision.

Another daughter got engaged.  They had been together for 15 years, so not with unseemly haste.  Her guy, a taciturn country guy who lets out words like they cost a dollar apiece, proved to have a romantic streak I had not suspected.  He proposed unexpectedly, with ring and all, on top of snowy Mt Ruapehu at 2797m.

Bored him to sleep

My Hero

My hero is my youngest daughter.  She is awesome in her strength, humour and resilience.  Last week she managed to combine being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a failed induction, giving birth to a baby boy and a burst appendix.  She also managed to find time and energy to phone me and let me know what was going on.  The pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure caused by pregnancy and threatens organs) led to her being induced at 37 weeks as the safest option for mother and baby.  But it failed and the contractions faded out after a few hours.  A couple of days rest and they induced again and a healthy baby boy was born.  Two days later she was home but got stomach pains she told the doctors was worse than the labour pains.  She also had a high fever so the docs knew she had an infection.  They were thinking birth complications and uterus perhaps with incomplete placenta separation.  They did think burst appendix, but judged her pain level below normal presentation as she was not screaming at 150 decibels.  They did many tests and decided exploratory surgery was called for.  They started keyhole, but found her abdominal awash in malodourus pus, and decided to ‘open her up’ as they like to say.  From sternum to pubis.  They removed the appendix and spent considerable time flushing her stomach.  The next day she phoned me.  She was sitting in a chair in her hospital room which she told me was an exercise in maneuvering and logistics, as she had 2 drips and 4 drains plumbed into her, each with attached apparatus.  She was breastfeeding her tiny baby but it was kind of tricky avoiding all the pipes and the incision down her belly as he kicked around.

She had endured pain I cannot imagine, anxiety for her baby I have never experienced till now and according to her surgeon came within hours of death.  Yet still she thought mainly of her newborn baby and her loving husband, and even managed to spare a thought for her old dad.

A hero is someone who does something of immense courage and fortitude.  I am so honoured to have one in the family.