Picking up the Pieces

Not entirely legal

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

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

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

Not entirely legal

Not entirely legal

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

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

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

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

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



BOM Bomb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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