Monday, 25 March 2013

A year after it began, it begins again.

And so it begins.  We are going to another WWoOF placement tonight.  This one is will go until the weekend after Easter, when we will start another one a little closer to where we want to look for a place of our own.

So what are we trying to find out?
1.  Is the average annual rainfall here in Huonville of 755mm (30 inches) enough for pasture and vegetable production?
2.  What water retention methods need to be practiced to make it work?
3.  Is the graph below a true picture of normal temperature variations?

4.  Are these temps warm enough to grow the varieties of fruit and vegetables that we want to grow?
5.  What are council rates like (though at first glance for the type of property we are looking at I think we will be hit up for $1500 - $2000 per annum)?

These are just a few of our questions.  We will fill you in on our answers.  Plus of course we want to learn as much as we can about farming techniques, the Huon Valley community and the potential to develop commercially-successful regenerative agriculture in the area.

As an aside we also popped into Matthew Evans' (of the Gourmet Farmer TV show) shop in Hobart.  We have also reached out to him in relation to volunteering at his operation, he has expanded his interests dramatically and sounds like he could use some help.  It seems according to his blog he has had some WWoOF- type help in the past and we could certainly use his knowledge.  Especially as he has run into problems with regulation surrounding small scale food production such as labelling rules, nutrition panels and the like.

He is appearing at the Writer's Festival in Hobart this Saturday, and if we weren't planning to be working we would pop in to hit him up for some info.  C'est la vie, some other time perhaps.

One other little bit of exciting news, we answered an ad in a local cafe for a property for sale not far from here and we are going to check it out on Thursday.  There seems to be quite a bit available around here but we didn't want to start dealing with real estate agents just yet.  As our internet access promises to be sporadic for the next couple weeks it may be hard to keep people posted on what we find out, but we will try.

Wish us luck!  Palya!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Tremendous Tassie

When last we left our unlikely heroes, they were torn between going to work on a farm and travelling around the Apple Isle some more.  How did they get out of this sticky situation?  To find out stay tuned for this week’s thrilling episode of “Into the Good Life”!

What do you think happened, of course we kept travelling!  We wanted to see what Tasmania had on offer that we hadn’t got around to seeing yet.  Just for the sake of research of course, so we could tell future visitors our honest opinion on planned Tassie itineraries and make useful suggestions.
Cor on the South Cape

So in pretty short order we went to southernmost point of Tasmania at Cockles Creek and walked an overnight to South Cape Bay.  We were rewarded with an echidna snuffling by the trail, some brilliant geological formations and some amazing views south towards Antarctica.  Though again I disturbed TWO tiger snakes, screamed like a girl, hitched up my skirts and legged it, leaving poor Cor trailing in my wake.  Really have to do something about that reaction, it’s getting embarrassing….. but it DID hiss at me!
Our echidna!!

We popped by the Hastings Caves down there as well, very interesting caves, saw a cave cricket, glow worms, a type of cave spider and by the trail outside, two lyrebirds and a platypus paddling away in the creek, bold as brass.  Awesome ornithoryncus anatinus scenes.
Just a tiny bit of the awesome geology on the South Cape coast
We then opened up the throttle on Chuck the truck, heading up to Strahan on the west coast (rainy!) via St Claire Lake (on the south end of the overland track – crowded!), then up to Wynyard and Stanley in the north, and across to Arthur River in the west.

We went for a cruise on the Arthur River up in the Tarkine wilderness.  You may have heard about this as being a bit of a contentious area in relation to planned mining of iron ore in this area.  Some of the people in Arthur River were odd to say the least.  I had a difference of opinion with one of the tour people on the boat.  Credit to him, he was doing a job trying to keep the mystery of the Tarkine wilderness alive by saying that Tasmanian tigers could still be in this pristine wild area, citing unconfirmed sightings in the 70’s.  My thought is that it is this very thinking that allows people to shuffle off responsibility for the man-made extinction of the tigers, right when the Tasmanian devil faces a not-too-dissimilar fate.  Even if there were some tigers left, the same guy then argued AGAINST World Heritage listing for the area.  He suggested that World Heritage status for the Tarkine would stop the locals up at Arthur Creek from “going where they want and doing what they want” and that is why the majority were against it.  To hear one of these locals talking about driving along in a boat shooting cormorants for fun gives you an idea of what he means.  They don’t tell anyone when they find Aboriginal sites, as any outside interest may interfere with (their ideas of) personal freedom.

We then got to experience the opposite personality type in Geoff of Kings Run Wilderness Tours.  Geoff’s family used to run cattle along the coastal heathland near the Tarkine, but when he found it tough going he was a willing audience for a biologist friend who told him he had something special in his section of coastline, and more importantly, there were people who were willing to pay to experience it.  Geoff picks you up in his ute, driving you to a deserted beach shack with a slightly incongruous 3 metre wide double glazed window in the side.  After walking about the beach for a bit Geoff takes us for a walk around the area, showing us the middens left by the original Manegin Aboriginal people, their tool-making areas, places where they hunted seals and their hut depressions.  His property has just been accepted for World Heritage status, and this has allowed him to stop 4wd access to the beach where these sites are, earning him the vitriol of locals who would like to 4wd and ride four-wheelers all over the place.  You can see old tracks nearly running right over 900 year old fur seal hunting pits.  Despite this you can see his pride in being able to share this special place with people.
Kings Run on the West Coast

Around dusk we adjourn to the fishing shack, Geoff breaks out the wine and nibblies and turns on the baby monitor.  You see, just outside that incongruous window, is some roadkill staked to the ground with a light on it and a baby monitor hidden in the grass nearby.  After an hour Geoff hears a noise, and after getting ourselves settled in our seats (with wine in hand of course), turns out the lights in the hut and opens the curtains.  There he is, a beat-up looking Tasmanian devil proceeding to go to town on the possum carcass out there.  We sit and watch this guy munch away, gradually getting fatter and fatter.  He looked like he had already eaten, and was just topping up, but it was great.   We watch this guy for about an hour, before he scarpers and shortly thereafter another male turns up, a bit bigger but with more white on his body.  After an hour of furious demolition the devil manages to get the carcass off the stake and scarpers with it, running straight into another devil out in the dark and proceeding to have a bit of a set to.  That was our cue to go, so we jumped in the back of the truck and spotlighted some animals on the way to the gate.  It really couldn’t have been a better conclusion to the evening, or to one of the best experiences we have had in Tasmania.
Oh you devil!
After Arthur River we trucked across the country, and spent a couple of nights around Launceston, catching up with some people my sister Elisa introduced us to, Kate and Amy.  These two have been travelling and working around Tasmania for a few months and had some great stories to tell, and some great advice too.  Check out their blog at
The world's largest motorboat at the Cherry Shed

We now find ourselves in the Bay of Fires in the north east.  We are going to do some walking and camp overnight out there tomorrow, with a view to making our way back down to Hobart and start WWoOFing next week (if someone will have us).

I promise to be more regular with this blogging thing, the only problem has been that despite supposedly having Australia’s fastest internet with the National Broadband Network, no bloody place we stay is actually connected to it!  Plus the fact that this travel shit keeps you pretty busy.

Palya peeps!
On a clear day you can see Antartica (no, not really)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

I could live like this. Wait a minute, I am!


What. An. Inspiration.  Joel Salatin’s course was an intriguing mix of motivational speaking and useful facts, all designed to make you want to jump out of your chair and start farming not tomorrow, or even later today, but in the next 10 minutes.  Joel gave us the benefit of over 40 years of experimentation and observation over the course of 3 days, and it was brilliant.

I know people tend to see what they want, but in Joel I saw the true son of an accountant.  He can give you the cost of every chicken, half of beef, leg of pork or egg leaving his farm.  He puts a price on his time and can quote you exactly how much time he puts into every part of his farm, and knows where the “leaks” are.  He can tell you what store-bought lumber costs, and how much he saves by cutting his own.  It was an impressive thing to watch.

But more than that, he gave us the belief that we can be profitable as a farming venture.  You see, we didn’t really believe, it.  Not deep down.  Instead I have been carrying around lots of baggage from my history, all those years talking to farmers whose kids don’t want to farm, who say there is no money in it.  The most I was hoping for was to not have to do too much “off farm work” to keep us afloat.  But Joel convinced us that with a scientific business approach and by embracing niche polyculture (instead of industrial monoculture) we could not only be profitable, but with hard work we could earn white-collar salaries.  It is not often you hear that from a farmer!

The other interesting thing about Joel’s approach is that it is management intensive.  He is a meticulous observer and recorder of information, but he is doing stuff like moving all his chickens and cows once a day.  Most farmers would have cardiac arrest at the thought of an intensive approach like that, but in his course he showed how it works.

The other key thing we learned is that we may need to be located a little closer to town than we first imagined.  To utilise the benefits of a direct-marketing approach like Joel’s we should be within half an hour of a town with at least 25,000 people.  There aren’t many of these in Tassie!  This puts the mockers on my dreams of a remote paradise, but we will search for somewhere that walks the line between solitude and saleability.

So what we learned in that 3 days was immense.  I can’t even begin to sum it up, but our greatest gain was certainly motivation and inspiration.

The beautiful Kiama, south of Sydney, where the course was held.

Since the course we spent some time with my sister and my niece, who seems to get cuter by the day, before hitting Melbourne for the ferry over to Tasmania.  Fortunately for me, the ride was as smooth as a veal cutlet.
We have now spent the last couple weeks travelling about Tasmania.  We have been hanging with Todd, a fellow diver we met in Chu’uk (Truk Lagoon) and another friend.  We were doing some touristy stuff before beginning the WWOOFing and farm hunt in earnest.

See?  She just keeps getting cuter (but appears to be dumbfounded here!)
We visited the Museum of Old And New Art (MONA) and it was, well, I guess the word is interesting?  There was some stuff I liked, some stuff I hated, and I certainly in parts I felt like my entry fee was supporting the lifestyles of some seriously twisted individuals.  The Lark Distillery in Hobart was more my style, with some excellent single malts being produced there, and a useful source for anyone in Tassie looking for the more obscure Scottish drams unavailable elsewhere.

We also hiked the Organ Pipes trail on Mt Wellington, and checked out the great views over Hobart.  I recommend it to anyone visiting the city.
Todd checking out the organ pipes on Mt Wellington
Following this we visited Port Arthur, home of the notorious convict settlement and the tragic 1996 massacre.  It was a great day and a really fascinating insight into an aspect of Australian history that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about.  The conditions that the prisoners’ and the soldiers faced were incredibly tough, and the sentences for those sent here even tougher.  We spent a day here but it could have been two and we still wouldn’t have scratched the surface of the experience.
The old church at the atmospheric Port Arthur
After our history lesson we went in search of more nature and so we hiked to Cape Raoul south of Port Arthur.  It was a fantastic walk that we took nice and slow over the course of 6 hours.  There were myriad beautiful outlooks over cliffs and the southern ocean.  At the end of the cape there were amazing dolorite columns jutting out above the sea, with a colony of elephant seals at the bottom.  These columns were similar to the “organ pipes” up on Mount Wellington, but on a much grander scale with the waves coming up from the Antarctic to crash into them.  On the walk back we saw a couple of black tiger snakes on the trail, getting some sun late on a cool day.  It was pretty freaky for me as someone who hates the snakes but useful practice in managing my phobia.  We also saw a pademelon (think wallaby-possum hybrid cuteness), which was kind enough to hang out for Todd for a couple of photos.
Cape Raoul, with Todd atop the dororite columns.
After relocating ourselves up to the Freycinet peninsular on the east coast of Tasmania, we went to check out some of the little/fairy/blue penguins coming ashore and breeding.  They were really cool little guys, and it is amazing to think of each of them bombing around the southern ocean on their own, coming ashore occasionally.  They have had a stonking breeding season with the warmer water experienced this year, with some pairs having two clutches of chicks over the course of the summer.  Fluffy scenes.

We spent a day paddling sea kayaks around Coles Bay, finding a secluded little section of beach to pull up the kayaks, have lunch and play a little Frisbee.  Life really doesn’t get much better than a glassy day, a kayak, your own beach, a little lunch and then (after getting back) a scallop pie and a Cooper’s Pale Ale in the sun.  True heaven.

I think Cor said it best:  “I could live like this.  Wait a minute - I am!”
Paddling paradise!
The siren call of the Freycinet peninsula and Wineglass Bay led to an interesting decision to do a couple of nights hiking and camping out in the wilderness.  I say interesting because the most that Todd had ever travelled from a car to camp was 200 yards, but he didn’t mention this to us and we proceeded to undertake an ambitious 6-hour hike into Cook’s Bay on the peninsula, carrying 3 days’ worth of food.  By the time we got there he was most relieved to be off his feet and into the ice-cool waters of the bay.
Cook's Bay
That night commenced the first instalment of “the Possum Wars”.  Unfortunately some idiots have been feeding the wildlife down in Freycinet on account of these critters being so cute.  The downside of this is apparent at 2 am when one discovers a possum sitting on your backpack inside the tent vestibule, having eaten its way through the lid and one of the shoulder straps in its search for food.

The Possum Wars culminated at Wineglass Bay on the second night with Todd standing under a tree at 3 am futilely throwing sticks at a possum in the upper branches.  In his words: “That possum took my sunglasses!”  I had to tell him that I had in fact moved his sunglasses earlier in the night in my own instalment of the Possum Wars revolving around the location of our rubbish bag.  Cue much hysterical laughter by all except old man Emmons who still wanted to shake his fist at the treed possum.

Possum wars notwithstanding, we did have some close encounters with Bennett’s wallabies, and the views that greeted us every morning from our tents were sensational.  All agreed it was a very special place.
Good morning!
Hanging with the locals.

So now after many kilometres, 5 dozen fresh oysters, 3 kg of mussels, 1 kg of scallops, countless scallop pies (really!), tonnes of cheese, a bottle of gin and lots of beers, the Salamanca markets, 4 separate hikes, some sea kayaking, and just a little Star Wars geek talk (does anyone else know what an IG-88 droid looks like?  Todd does) we have waved goodbye to our travel companions and are making our way forward on our own.  We may continue to do the touristy Tasmania, or we may jump into the WWOOFing.  Either way we will keep you all posted!

And beware giant car-wrecking kangaroos!