it work

planting our letterbox

my favourite

all in a row

julians favourite

the microwave

interesting use of star pickets

the old one

digging the hole

tamping her down

 

with the neighbours
closeup

it work

Letterboxes in country Australia are quirky things.

They are constructed from all manner of things – and most often homemade.  Old milking cans, perched on their side – and often with the bottoms almost completely rusted out – are a long held favourite.  A more modern take on this is the old gas bottle – one would think they would be a bit sturdier than the milking can – alas, they too seem prone to rust. Even more peculiar is the recent popularity of old microwaves.  I must say, this does not do it for me at all.  I don’t like microwaves at the best of times.  But I guess it’s probably reasonably waterproof – something most country letter boxes are not.

Then there is a never ending parade of handmade skill, ingenuity or imagination – my favourite round here is that white peaked-roof little house number at the top with the sweetly painted door – very traditional and so big – there’d be no parcel too big for the postman to leave in that one!  I could practically sit in it and wait :-)  Julian likes the next one down – a combination of little Swiss Chalet with a heap of mechanical cogs and wheels attached for extra bling.  He plans to make one similar to this.

As for that very old oven, precariously woven onto a quartet of star pickets, well, it sure is quirky, but I’m surprised the postman dares to open it!

I looked up rural letterboxes on google – just to see what they looked like in other parts of the world – and found that there are letterboxes especially made for rugged conditions.  Huh!  Well, I can tell you now, no one around here bothers with that kind of fancy-jiggery.  They go through the scrap pile and make do!

Another feature of country Australia letterboxes is that they usually hold more than your letters!  Frogs, toads and spiders (both harmless and deadly) are common fare.  We had a frog and toad sharing our letterbox all summer – which made me smile every time I peered in – it was like our own little Arnold Lobel tableau come to life – I would not have been surprised to see Frog tidying our mail, and even more delighted if Toad had baked me a cake :-)

Snakes are also common – ugh!  We have plenty of snakes round here – and not your sweet little harmless ones – but red belly black snakes (shy but very poisonous) and browns (quite aggressive and deadly).  Yep, in Australia we don’t like to do things by halves.  Folklore says that if you have red belly blacks, you won’t have browns because the blacks eat the browns’ babies.  I won’t be counting on that. Imagine how big the snake could be that could fit in that huge white letter box!  I’m shuddering just thinking about it!  Sometimes I think it would be wise to check the mail with gloves and a stick.

But the quaintest thing about country letterboxes is that they are not often outside your house/farm.  Instead, they are all perched on the side of the road at the beginning of your road – with road being a euphemism for winding, pot-holed dirt track that may well go for miles, getting more track like and more prone to flooding the further it goes.  I love it :-)  It’s like the pinboard you find in a university department when you hop out of the lift – you know, the kind that has a photo of everybody who works there with their name underneath.  You peer at them – usually an eclectic assortment of easy smiles, sullen stares, and grim frowns – as you’re wondering which tutorial to sign up for, wondering which ones are nice, which ones are funny, which ones are reliable, and which ones will make you wish you never came to university.

The letterboxes are just like this!  They are the street’s version of the photo pinboard with their individual peculiarities inviting you to ponder who lives where and what they are like!  I bet the person who built the Swiss Chalet with mechanical cogs and wheels has a wonderful attention for detail and keeps all his Owner Builder magazines chronologically with a cross reference for different building methods.  And the person who perched the old oven on its stilts loves a laugh and hunting through the darkest and dingiest farm sheds, and probably watches Howl’s Moving Castle once a month.  As for my favourite – well that’s clearly a farm that has been lovingly handed down through the family and great grandad built that letterbox for great grandmother as a consolation present when she gave birth to their fifth son!

As such, Mum decided that our inherited letterbox – the dull little rusted thing with the name Neal – did not say anything useful about us!  So, with the expectation that building a beautiful letterbox will be long way down Julian’s list of things to do, she found a perfectly serviceable little letterbox at the dumpshop (why throw money away on new when the dumpshop almost always has what we need!), sanded it back, gave it a coat of rustkill and proofing, then painted it a divine glossy red – as a tribute to dear old Grandad’s decades of service to Australia Post and because red is always fabulous.  Mum did such a lovely job!

And I, of course, added my own bit of letterbox bling.  A “boot” for the front – with flowers growing out of it – our name, and across the top I painted the number as big as possible – don’t want the postman getting mixed up – and more flowers.  Mum was delighted!  Julian just smiled and shook his head – and maybe moved “build letterbox” further up the list ;-)

So the other Saturday morning, as we sat on the porch contemplating the day’s list or gardening and animal chores, we bumped “plant letterbox” up to the top.  We chucked all the tools we’d need into the back of the car and drove on up to our road’s letterboxes – where we met up with some neighbours and had a good old chinwag and planned a street party! Julian yanked out the old disaster – it was so precarious it was a miracle it had not toppled over – and dug the hole much deeper.  He planted a lovely sturdy fence post (also bought at the dumpshop – yes!) nice and deep and filled around it with fine little pebbles, bashed them down with the crowbar, then packed in more dirt on top.  Next he screwed on our cheerful little letterbox – then realised I had painted it “back to front”. That was a moment.  Well of course I did because it’s not really back to front!  I want to be able to pull up in the car right beside that letter box, flip back the lid and peer in.  Perfect!  He thinks I’m mad – but loveable.

Yep, our little letterbox might not score high on the country Australia quirky letterbox scale but it definitely says “The Boots live here!”, don’t you think :-)  And now we are that bit more firmly planted here in our beautiful valley.  Sigh!

down to the edge

on the way home we stopped

off with the sneakers

crystal water

down to the edge

surveying his kingdom

pearls

grass

ancient shipwreck

lichen

lily

more grass

through the gap

so blue

shattered plates

rich gold

and orange

balmy

lunch

Our to do list is so long.  There’s decades worth of work on it.  Sometimes Julian feels a bit frustrated by not having the time (he still works full time from home) or a bottomless pit of money to simply throw at all the essential bits.  Need thousands of metres of fencing? Poof!  Here it is!  Need a lovely big dam?  Poof!  Here it is!  Need the perfect timber framed barn with hay loft and milking stands? Poof!  Here it is.  And how ’bout we just click our fingers to make that beautiful boundary of deciduous trees appear.  Then we’ll click our heels and there’ll be both an orchard of fruit trees, and one of oaks and hazelnuts.  Ah … it’s the stuff fairy tales are made of, huh :-)

So Friday evenings are usually spent pondering the list of what we should tackle over the weekend.  And come sunup on Saturday it’s game on.  Everything has to be done on a strict budget so we are always scouring the dump shops for supplies and coming up with new ways of building things.  We’ve almost finished our Duck and Geese Mansion – built at the bottom of the garden out of hardwood pallets a lovely local nursery gave us.  Now all it needs is the door – which Julian is building out of old hardwood fence palings we found at the dumpshop.  It’s definitely our cheapest build yet – and looks fab!  Julian’s been tempting the ducks and geese into it this week – Hansel and Gretel style – trails of scratchmix down the garden to the pallet built ramp, onto the pallet built landing and into the pallet built house.  They are totally up with it :-)

This Saturday we needed a fresh trailer load of supplies so headed north to Narooma.  On the way we stopped in our local village – Cobargo – for travelling supplies. They have little street stalls on a Saturday morning – our favourite’s the Cobargo Baking Buddies!  Their stall is stacked high with wonderful cakes and slices and biscuits and buns and chutneys and jams – reminds me so much of the stall my Nanny used to run for the local church at the saleyards in her small town.  We picked up a date and walnut roll, cinnamon scrolls and a jar of mustard pickles.  Yum!  This weekend there was even a banjo and piano player busking – I could have cheerfully plonked down on the footpath and listened for the rest of the morning!

Then it was onto the hardware store – an absolute rabbit warren of a place that’s tucked away down near the beach and cemetery.  It has everything we can think of – sleepers, besser blocks, marine ply, garden hose fittings, bathroom fittings, paint, nails … all our favourite stuff – and really helpful nice staff.  We filled the trailer – even bought a new set of basin taps and mixer for our bathroom – ours is precariously held together with globs of silicon (the previous owner’s answer to everything) and if we turn on the tap too hard, the mixer flies off and we get a torrent of water to the face – yay!  We headed back to the highway and Julian asked me what the next stop was.

And I said …. “The beach.”  Yup.  It was a glorious day – ridiculously warm for the 3rd week in May, with a rich blue sky and lashings of sun – the perfect day for the beach.  That to do list will always be there.  In fact, it will only grow.  And we will always be able to think up a myriad of ways to toil away the hours on our little farm.  But we live in such a gorgeous corner of the world  – gosh, we moved here just because it is so beautiful and we wanted to call this coastline, these valleys home.  Thus, it is practically our duty to soak it up as often as we can ;-)

So, heading home, we turned off at Mystery Bay.  Oh it was exquisite.  We strolled from one end to the other.  Sloshing through the almost balmy, crystal clear water, our trousers rolled up to our knees, quiet and dreamy.  We watched the sea birds, mused about just which rocky nook would be the loveliest for swimming, and looked carefully along the tidemark to see what treasures the ocean was washing up today.  I ooohed and ahhhed over the rich lichens – Julian admired the dramatic rock formations – some look like ancient rusted shipwrecks, others like shards of roof slate a tip truck let slide out onto the sand – and declared he had to read up on his geology.

It was bliss.  Utter bliss.  And so absolutely essential to making the most of Wombat Hill Farm – yes?!?

Finally we were back to where we started.  So, trousers wet, legs bare and sticky with salt, and feet caked with sand, we turned back to the highway.  Shortly after, we turned off again to Tilba Tilba – we needed a serious stock up on Erica’s fabulous South Coast cheese and milk – our favourites are the 3 Year Vintage and the Vintage Blue.  But we still had that laden trailer so we had to park up the top of Tilba in the caravan section and then trot on down to the cheese factory – our trousers still wet, our legs still bare, our feet still sandy – we felt like such locals :-)

By the time we were home, you know, there weren’t too many hours left to work.  Julian cut some grass.  I planted some veggie seedlings (to replace the ones the rats ate – and now the rabbits are eating these ones – ARGH!) and a row of echinacea in a bed that’s turning into a bit of a medieval herbal selection – so far I have elder, echinacea, calendula and verbena – the chickens are very fond of this lot so I’ve had to fence it off – using little panels of mesh we found … at the dump shop of course!

So not much was ticked off the to do list at all.  But that’s okay.  Because when we are old and grey and wobbly of memory, I don’t want to only be able to list all the chores we completed, year in year out. I want to be able to laugh with happiness and tell stories about all the lovely adventures we took, all the times we stopped on the way home, and all the hours we spent just soaking it up.

That’s what will make living here at Wombat Hill truly special.

bounders

a goat walk

off we go

past the trees

abel on the fallen tree

fence up the hill

our little forest

through the long grass

towards the mountains

view north

view to northeast

looking east

following the leader

up the tree

bark

with mouths full

bounders

wombat den

sap running

checking out the bonfire

at the gate post

 

Oh our goats are such cheeky boys! They’re in escape mode again :-0 But I do think I understood what’s going on behind those limpid eyes.  You see, their field behind the shed had become boring – they’ve been moving about it in their electric fence over the last 6 weeks or so.  They’ve eaten all their favourite bits.  Played king of the castle on all the rocks.  Explored every nook and cranny.  They’re over it.  Abel tells us this by jumping over the electric fence and standing in the corner of the house garden bleating and munching roses, whilst Basil and Clyde scream their frustration that Abel has gone and they are still in purgatory.

Yesterday, Noah and I spent ages in the hot sun (hot sun!? in may!?) carting the electric fence way down the other end of the property.  We set up a field where the goats had fallen trees to climb, bracken and blackberry to munch, long grass, shade to lounge in, and new rocks to stand on.  Alas, we forgot to take into account that whilst our goats are cheeky boys, they are also terrible sooks.  They couldn’t stand being that far away from us and within an hour of being in their new field, they were back eating the roses and standing on the Jeep’s bonnet (Julian LOVES it when they stand on the Jeep bonnet!)

Much to their disappointment, this led to a long afternoon sulking in their sleeping quarters.  The goat life is a hard one.

This morning – Julian had errands to run and I just didn’t have the heart to say to Noah, “We need to go and undo all of yesterday’s work and redo it somewhere else, on the off chance that will please our neurotic goats.” So the goats were once more left languishing in their sleeping quarters.  Now this is not dreadful – they have plenty of room, water, food, shade, cosy straw beds under shelter, and their play gym.  But you know, they’re goats.  It pissed them off.  Specially every time the chickens strutted past clucking “Don’t mind us – we’re just off to explore the neighbours fields!”

So, once Julian was home, we set off for a goat walk.  It is such a good way to spend a couple of hours – never fails to energise, inspire and relax – and Julian and I enjoy it as well!  We set off in one direction, clambering down through the fields of long grass to our small forest.  There’s always lots to explore down there.  Julian and I talk non stop about which trees need to come out (the fallen and spindly ones) and what we’ll use them for, delight in how many wombat dens there are, shake our heads in dismay over how many rabbit warrens there are, check out the kangaroo beds (the nooks of flattened grass), and just which gully will make the perfect lake that we can build a little jetty one, fill with trout that we can fish from a little row boat and of course, water the livestock.

Then we meander further north to check out the new fencing.  We are agisting part of our land to the lovely neighbours who farm Italian water buffaloes – they are dairy buffalo and we are so looking forward to their milk!  Julian is determined to make blissful mozzarella.  This awesome fencing also means we can safely keep a small flock of sheep and cows on our side – black suffolks and Irish dexters here we come!

All the way, the goats play and climb and munch.  We go slowly so as to let them enjoy every moment – and oh they do.

At last, it’s time to head south, back up the big hill towards our cottage.  The goats bellies are round and fat with weeds, grass and small trees.  They frolic along, long fronds of greenery hanging out of their mouths, in the best of spirits.  As are ours.  Our hearts are full of excitement and love for this beautiful land that we are custodians of.  Our minds are full of plans for what the next 40 years will bring.  Our imaginations are full of so much whimsy and adventure.

Once home, the goats amble good naturedly back into their sleeping quarters where we fill their bowl with goat nuts.  We promise them that tomorrow we will move their electric fence back to the field behind the shed, but further down – where the grass is lush, the bracken is tender, there are plenty of trees to ruminate under, and so many new rocks to play king of the castle on!  They bump their thanks against our legs and let us rub our cheeks into their soft cosy winter coats.

And we promise each other that we will take this lovely goat walk more often.

under the white cedar

knitting and coffee

cedar

dump chairs

wool

galloping chickens

unknitting

fluffy butts

goaty antics

floss and pincushion

noahs doll

pattern and scissors

embroidery

book

chickens

inspiration

Most mornings round here start with a bang – the ducks burst out of their house with indignant quacks and flap, waddle and dart off across the garden.  The geese lurk about the apple trees, honking impatiently, waiting for me to fill the feeder, then set to sweeping it all up into their greedy beaks before the ducks even get a look in (Note to self:  buy another feeder for the geese!).  I fill their water trough, then tip out the muddy sludge left in the bottom of their wading pool and refill it with fresh sparkling rainwater whilst they gather about, waiting for that glorious moment when they leap in and make it all muddy again in seconds.

Then it’s over to the chickens who are standing patiently against the door of their house, bumping into each other with little mutters and clucks.  They flutter much more gracefully down their stairs and head straight for the hedge of grevilleas and bottle brush where they have scratched out individually shaped scoops for dust bathing and snoozing.  I top up their seed, give them a good dose of apple cider vinegar and garlic in their water, then vainly check the nest for eggs.  Not yet.

The goats – they just yell.  “Come and get us! Come and get us! Come and get us!  Where’s the goat nuts! We said GOAT NUTS! And WHEN ARE WE going over to the weedy kingdom? ”  There’s little point making them wait, so I fill the bucket with nuts, open the gate, and we bump and bustle over to the weedy field – them stopping along the way for some lillypilly, then some box hedge, then a few gum leaves, check out the woodpile, stand up on the trailer’s edge and peer in, check that yes, the grass is indeed greener on the other side, then finally into their electric fence which they are completely compliant with these days, thank you very much.

Then it’s back in to the guinea fowl who bustle about their A-frame waiting for their seed and water and wondering whether today will be the day they get to roam like those lucky ducks. (No, sorry dear guineas.  Not today, I need to finish the new duck – goose pavillion first, then you can have the ducks’ old house and their electric fence – we call this “Ernie and Bert Farming”)  I make sure the crazy Hamburgs are around – yep! – open the gate and let them back into their yard, and check for eggs – nope.

Finally I check in with the guinea pigs – move them onto fresh grass and roll some treats down their ramp – they’re currently loving raw pumpkin halves, sweet corn husks and small slices of watermelon from the local farm gate stalls.

As I fill their water I hear Julian making coffee.  Mmmmm … And then it’s time to sit down together on the porch.  Me with my museli and knitting.  Him with his morning news and ponderings on what we should plant next, would pigs stay in the electric fence, how much he really wants cows, and where do I want the next hole dug for yet another tree I’ve bought home from the lovely nursery in Cobargo.

We have grown and shaped this lovely routine over the last few months and it never fails to fill me with gratitude and delight that we are here.

But now, we have another spot to sit and soak up the magic – under the white cedar.  We have the old cast iron table I bought from the Sacred Heart Op Shop last year in Melbourne – unfortunately one leg had snapped off halfway down – so Julian trimmed off the other 3 and now it’s the perfect garden height.  And last week I found two chairs at the Merimbula dump – a fabulous source of thrifty treasures – they are in perfect nick – I’ve not seen anything like them before – kind of like a canvas deck chair, kind of like a simple squatter’s chair, kind of like a rocking chair.  And wonderfully comfortable.  I’ve bought some garden furniture oil and will give them a sand and polish to help keep them lovely for longer.

The goats play and munch and ruminate behind us.  The chickens cavort and scamper after bugs in front of us.  And after Julian heads back inside to work, Noah comes out, and we get to move on to the second round of coffee and breakfast and more crafting.

Ah yes, the morning might start early and busy … but then it slows down in the nicest way, easing us all into whatever it is the day holds next for us.