on angle

The Duck & Goose :: my painted farm

the fluffy helper

so much mesh

working on the fox proofing

under the ramp

tempting them in


close up

flora and reuben

the feeder

the rotten rosella




close up rosella

all sone

at the end of the ramp

on angle

in we go

I love building animal houses with Julian.  It’s such fun puzzling out all the questions that must be answered each time we build a new house.  What shape and size do we need for this particular species? How big does the door need to be?  What kind of access do we need to the interior?  How are we going to clean it?  What kind of floor does it need?  How much ventilation?  Does it need to be fox proof – what a silly question – everything needs to be fox proofed!!!  What are we going to build it out of?  And how much will THIS cost!?!?!

We built our original six Indian Runner Ducks a sweet little A-frame.  However, we came home from collecting the Guinea Keets with a beautiful breeding pair of Appleyard Ducks (hello Flora and Reuben!) and come the Bega Young Poultry Auction, we found ourselves with two more dear little chocolate Runners (hello Alfred and Gretel!) and three gorgeous geese (hello Guiseppe, Madonna and Francesca!).  That little A-frame was just too little.  The ducks no longer liked going in at night and there was no room for a nest for their prodigious egg laying.  Flora took to hiding her eggs around the garden (she lays huge eggs almost every day) and the Runners were simply dropping theirs near the duck pond!  As for the geese – phht! – no hope.

A new house was needed – one with ample room for now and plenty of room for little ducklings come spring.  But the building supply pile was looking skimpy as were the building funds.  Hmmm.  Serendipitously, Mum found the solution!  Being an avid gardener, she often hangs out at her local garden centre and knows the owner well – he was lamenting that he had a huge pile of hardwood pallets that were taking up way too much room so Mum asked if we could have a few and he was more than happy for Julian to visit with the trailer!  Woot!

Pallet building has surely become an “in-thing” – look on Pinterest and you’ll find heaps of furniture built out of the humble pallet.  However, these misguided carpenters appear to mostly rip apart the pallets – a lot of effort for some pretty crappy timber.  We wanted to use ours whole – fast and sturdy.  So – two pallets for the floor, two for each long side, one for the back and two for a ramp – all screwed together.  A big hinged door made out of hardwood fence palings we sourced from the dumpshop.  Corrugated from the dumpshop for the roof – mounted on a bit of our building timber left over from the chicken house.  And the whole thing was mounted on besser block footings that Julian spent hours carefully digging into the ground and levelling.  This means the straw litter will filter through to the ground and all we’ll have to do is keep adding fresh straw to the top!  Works a treat in the chook house.

However, pallets are NOT fox proof.  The author of my favourite chicken book – The Small Scale Poultry Flock – says he keeps the skulls of the few predators that have breached his defences – so that he can push them through gaps in his building to see if they fit!  I reckon foxes probably have pretty flattish skulls so I’m into filling in every nook and cranny.  Julian thinks I should get myself a dead fox, let it decay and then test that bloody skull just to make sure!  He’s quite sure foxes are no where near as flat as that.  I don’t know.  There’s a reason so many stories and nursery rhymes have been written about foxes and their fondness for stealing poultry.

Anyways, the pallets lack of fox proofing meant I had to completely mesh the inside of the duck house with poultry mesh.  It didn’t take as long as I thought – but it was rather cramped and arm-exhausting work, stapling all that mesh on.  There sure won’t be any foxes dining at my duck house tonight :-)

But the BEST bit about building animal houses is that I get to decorate them when done :-)  As I’m sure you can guess dear folk, I loooooooove that bit.  And on Tuesday, after having a complete hissy fit and floods of tears over the rats eating my arrowroot, echinacea and elder, rather than spending the morning ranting at Julian and Noah about the unfairness of nature, or stewing on the porch, or sulking in my bedroom, I gathered up my paints and headed down to the duck house.  There was that beautiful big fencing paling door just wanting for a spot of prettiness.

I never really know the details of what I shall paint before I start.  I’m a bit like that.  I knew there would be a tree – with blossoms and apples and leaves all at once :-) I call it the Hayao Miyazaki art style (Japanese filmmaker – always has all his favourite flowering plants in flower at once no matter what the time of year ;-).  I knew there would be ducks.  Runners?  Appleyards? Whatever was right at the moment.

And I have to say, I am utterly thrilled to pieces with this work.  For the tree’s trunk and branches, I took my inspiration from the cherry tree that shades the duck house.  Then added my details – I’m especially pleased with the leaves – I managed to achieve a build up of colour that from a distance looks appliqued!  Grass underneath – with fallen blossoms and fruit.  Then Reuben and Flora – the runners always run about as one flock so I couldn’t just pick a couple out.  Whereas Reuben and Flora – well, they’re like an old married couple :-)  So identifiable and so much character.  Perfect for painting.  The other side of the tree needed something but there wasn’t enough room for more ducks so I thought about what the ducks love – their feeder!  Even though they spend most of their day foraging around the garden, they do love to greedily guzzle up a slurp of scratch mix as soon as they burst out of their house each morning.  And finally, one of those pesky Rosellas.  They ate all our cherries and apricots last spring.  And now they love to hang out on the roof of the duck house and in the bare branches of the cherry tree, waiting to swoop down and have a little nibble of the scratch mix.  Buggers.  They’re exquisitely beautiful – but they are buggers.

I also feel, with this piece, that I’m really growing a style I love and that feels doable.  I want to paint much much much more.  Julian loves it so much, he went straight to the workshop and put together a big “sign” made out of marine grade ply with a rustic paling frame (he even mitred the corners) for me to paint “The Duck & Goose” on – we’ll hang it on the front of the house like an old fashioned English pub sign :-)  You see, we were hopeful our three geese would move in too – but they are so bolshie and just won’t.  Means the electric fence has to stay up – and means they are not as safe as I’d like, but what can you do.  Geese that refuse to go inside and Hamburg chickens that sleep in the gum tree!

We’ll have to come up with a different style house for the geese – I’m thinking an on the ground kind of lean-to that has a fox-proof floor and a very very easy to navigate door – they’re a bit dim those geese.  Oh well – whatever, it is, there’ll be more gorgeous opportunities to keep working on my painted farm.

golden autumn days

daisys in sun

rose and grevillea




coming along



flora and ruben



half done

scones for lunch

Each morning this week, we have awoken to heavy dews and windows opaque with condensation.  When we first venture out onto the porch, the air is crisp and cool, but this autumn sun  … the higher it rises, the more golden and warm it becomes.  By the time the chores are done, we have shed our jumpers and reached for our hats.  The calendar may declare it to be autumn but by golly, it seems the whole continent is holding tight to the warmth of summer and just does not want to let go.

The maples that frame our porch still have ALL their leaves with only a few turning red.  Yes, the daisies are abloom but the roses are still putting out fat luscious buds.  There may be quinces at the farmgates, but the bulbs and African Flame Trees have decided it’s time to flower!  And today, that sun was so strong, the veggies that haven’t been eaten by rats (yay to the worst rats our corner of the valley has seen in years!) were wilting.

Sigh … there’s not much we can do to hustle along proper autumn weather and so we make the most of these glorious golden days and keep our fingers crossed.

Today, Julian set off early for the airport – he has workshops to run in Sydney – and I set up my paints in the veggie garden to keep decorating the guinea pig house.  Today – the Moominvalley Horse.  According to Noah – who’s read all the novels and big hard covered volumes of cartoons – this wonderfully silly horse has no name.  It’s just the horse.  But it has a fabulous mane, tail and flowers scattered across it’s body.  And almost always, a slightly manic and disdainful look.  I love it!

I adore Tove Jansson’s art.  So much imagination and whimsy.  I wish I could grow her weird and wonderful trees and flowers.  I wish there were Moomins and their friends in our forest, complete with gushing streams and little bridges. Her stories and art are full of such a heartwarming eccentricity and so many of her characters seem beset by anxiety!  Makes me feel right at home :-)

Next up will be the Mymble’s Daughter lying amongst the flowers with her book – that will go across the front (and one of the images that I would love to have tattooed on my arm – should I ever get a tattoo).  And on the last side – well it just has to be Noah’s favourite – Snufkin.  With his pipe standing on a wee bridge almost hidden by trees.

However, today there were visitors to prepare for and so the minute the last strokes of navy were added to the horse’s ears, Noah and I quickly set to work.  The porch was tidied, swept and washed.  Fresh straw was laid in the chicken house and nest – and two of this morning’s eggs returned so the littlest visitor could collect them (unnecessary – turned out those chickens are taking their newly acquired egg laying duties very seriously and had laid a couple more!).  The banana lounges were set up under the white cedar for the grown ups and the dear little cane chair that was mine when I was small was pulled out of storage, dusted off and given pride of place.  Bathrooms were cleaned.  Scones were baked (the recipe I’ve used for the last 15 years – Nigella’s Lily’s Scones from “How to Be a Domestic Goddess”).  And all just in time.

We gave our visitors a tour of our wee farm – fed the rabbit and guinea pigs, laughed at the ducks and geese, picked carrots, collected the eggs, chatted with the goats who are always happy to talk, and spent a lot of time keeping track of Fu.  “The Fluffy one” was the littlest one’s hottest favourite.  Then we had our picnic under the tree.

By the time they left, Noah and I were so tired all we wanted to do was flop on the sofa – but there were parcels waiting for us at the Post Office – Rhonda Hetzel’s new book “The Simple Home”, Tone Finnanger’s new book “Tilda’s Toy Box” (it is utterly divine and I want to make everything), a new honey pot for the kitchen, and a tshirt for Noah.  Mail order is definitely one of the perks of living in the country :-)

We are so far from the shops that there’s no regular dropping in as we pass.  Instead, even though we shop locally for as much as we can, every couple of months we pop in small orders to some of our favourite online stores – books (I like Booktopia – Australian owned and operated, excellent delivery times), eco homewares (I adore Spiral Garden (they have Taproot at a great price with Australian shipping and a lovely homewares section), Greenharvest (their egg brush is my favourite kitchen tool), Eden Seeds (I will happily just read the catalogue in bed everynight), and Bee Eco Wraps (just amazing!  transformed our food storage) Noah’s into tshirts, Julian has a passion for vintage tools, and I confess, special bits of fabric and wool find there way here too (Little Woollie Makes is my favourite for wool – she has everything I love, and I’m addicted to Clair’s Fabrics – really nicely curated collection).  Then –  as we don’t have a mailman that comes to our gate, our parcels are left at the local postoffice in the nearby village and when we drop in for milk, the lovely owners always know whether something is waiting for us.  We love it! It’s just so quaint and old fashioned compared to living on a tram line in a huge city.  I’m so glad we’re here.

So a lovely day was perfectly ended with cups of tea and reading.  Noah cooked supper.  The animals were tucked into bed.  The cool night has drawn in.

Maybe tomorrow it will feel like autumn.  Whether or not, there will be loveliness for sure.

painting the farm


little guineas


blue flowers

strange flowers

good company

with rabbit

hunny bunny


on angle



I’ve fallen into that habit where I think “I won’t invite people over until I’ve finished this and this and this and this and this …”  Both in person and here at block-a-day!

However, given my other habit of having a million things on the go at once, that can make for very sporadic posting … and telling Julian that we cannot invite that nice couple over until I’ve painted the dining room walls orange.

That’s changing.  Those lovely people can come anytime regardless of what colour the walls are and I’m just going to share what I’m up to here – not wait for the “ta-da! It’s all done!” moment.

I might have said this before? Well I’m going to do much better this time ;-)

So lately – I’m decorating the animal shelters and it’s such blissful fun!  I’ve started with the smallest – the guinea pig hutch which moves round and round the vegetable garden whilst the little pigs greedily tear up all the grass.

First up I whitewashed everything with an all purpose prep coat.  Well I started it, but when I had to dash off to an appointment, Noah cheerfully finished it off so as it would be all ready for painting when I got home.  He’s a darling – always happy to indulge any of my creative impulses.

We decided on a Moomin theme for the guinea pigs – these wonderful books and comics by Tove Jansson being one of Noah’s and my absolute favourite books and illustrations.  And whilst he wasn’t keen on any actual painting – he’s much more into water colours, copic markers and digital art making – he was happy to bring his drawing and Hunny Bunny the Rabbit down to the veggie garden to spend a truly lovely afternoon with me.

I started with Tove’s cover for Finn Family Moomintroll as my starting inspiration … and then just made it up as I went along.  One of the most delightful things about making it up is that I can have whatever loopy flowers and trees I want.  Good stuff!  And my beloved sun – I always want to add that no matter what my medium – embroidery, mosaic, paint, fabric – that combination of red, rosy pink, orange, and egg yolk yellow is my all time favourite.

But Moominpapa and those Hattifattners – they are just pure Tove.  Well, except that I had to add a bit of blue to Moominpapa so he’d show up – and a bit of green to those crazy Hattifattners.

We all love it!  Eventually, I will add pictures to the ends and front of the hutch, then trim the whole lot with red gloss and a protective coat of varnish for the artwork.

Until then – it makes us all smile every time we look down into the veggie garden, and I swear I’ve even noticed the ducks standing at the fence, looking in with curious appreciation!

book, book, book

I’ve been living and breathing this book for the last few days.  Well, the story’s been written for a while now, but following a rather major disaster (anyone here enjoy the ups and downs of group work?! Not I, said the fly!) I’ve had to churn out over 30 drawings since Saturday.  And beg an extension from a lecturer.  And start laying out the book again from scratch.

Nevertheless, it has been strangely – stressfully – enormously – fun!  It’s inspired me to seek out some lessons in pastel drawing and think about transforming some of those stories that have been hiding in the corners of my imagination for ever into print and paper.  Truly, it’s a lovely creative process, this mixing together of story and picture.

We’ll see :-)  For now, I thought you might like to take a gander at my attempt at a storybook with farm safety for children as it’s theme.  It’s for a Child and Family Health class I’m taking.  Themes compiled from the most pertinent safety issues for children on farms in Australia.  Influenced by the stories of those dear country girls I taught and looked after at boarding school.

~ occupying Abby’s crafting table ~

~ introducing Sally and Olivia ~

~ Abby the master scanner,
patiently turning my pictures into lovely, neat jpegs ~

~ poor light, excruciatingly stiff neck, time for bed ~

~ a new day, lots of white ~
( matchbox, covered and needlefelted
– marvellous idea for christmas stockings!)

~ all flat surfaces are filling up ~

~ day 3 – home from classes, extension granted
colour, Lily, colour! ~

~ more flat surfaces and still the daughter’s scanning ~

~ almost done ~

~ I don’t think I shall ever find work as a wild pig portraitist ~

~ the cover ~
Julian and Abby hate extraordinaire – yeah, they’re right
they want “a cautionary tale” ??

Here I sit, my aching neck firmly swathed in one of Julian’s long knitted scarves.  I’ve taken more panadol for this bloody neck in the last two days than I’ve taken all year!  And I was thinking, with Friday’s last shift at the hospital finished, that I’d be able to take a nice long breath.  Settle back into our usual routine.  Potter about.  Ha!

But I do rather like my page numbering – minus the blue lines – they’re just there from the grab.