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.

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