-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Monday, August 30, 2004

More discussion on the cottage

When I went to Amherst the first time and saw where Mum and Dad were proposing to build the cottage I said no. It was on the peak of the hill and so would have been in full view. Instead I said they could build the cottage down the other side of the hill, so that it couldn't be seen from the main house (and is further away).

Here's a few of the email exchanges discussing the shape of cottage:

Email to Mum - 25th Aug

Our first edition of Mother Earth news arrived today, and amidst all
the semi-hippy stuff there were some really good articles, even Dave
was impressed.

A great how-to guide on making a natural swimming pool/pond which we
were wanting to do anyway but hadn't got round to finding details.

And an article about yurts. They look quite interesting, not like
camping tents, they can be quite flash. e.g., check out the two
storey one here. http://www.abc.net.au/canberra/stories/s876255.htm

A yurt might be a quick way of getting some housing to live in up
there while we were doing work, and double as spare cottage later? It
would have to be carefully positioned so as not to look odd, but the
one in the abc article above I could see blending in. I'm not totally
sold yet but it is an option to consider

Here are some suppliers of yurts, all in the US but give you an idea of pictures

And it seems like maybe they are good for bushfire protection too?
Found this on a post: "Our 15ft yurt in the Brindabella Valley, NSW,
Australia. It has been up since 1981 and withstood the ravages of the
recent bushfires here in a way that was quite bizarre. Two huge
bushfires that destroyed 300 homes in the capital city Canberra, both
swept over the yurt from different directions a week apart. Despite
there being full petrol containers under the yurt and the fact that it
had been painted with old motor oil, the shape of the structure seemed
to somehow move the fire front over and around the building so that it
didn't burn. No one can work out why it didn't go up as everything
around it was badly burned, but that's my theory anyway".

And here is a link to the only Australian supplier of yurts in kit form
If you look in their photos section you see they are the ones who did
that cool double storey yurt. I can see that working really well on
our block nestled into the slope. It is kind of like a hobbit house
in feel but taller and narrower, don't you think?

Mum's reply - 25 Aug

Yurts are fine - but what about a hobbit hole? Half buried in the land,
just the front showing and even that made with the stone on the site?
Also bushfire "safe" - well safer than a normal house. Stable in
temperature, ie well insulated. You can grow things on the roof because
that is just land.. If a yurt was to be a permnanent thing, built
conventionally, it would not be as easy as a normal house because of all
the angles to be cut. A "proper" yurt is round though the couple I
looked at were something like a duodecahedron or similar.

Although, the yurts do have a sort of feel of a hobbit house.

I was looking at the prices - I am inclined to think, without actually
running to the timber yard, that it is expensive for effectively just
the wodd cut to size. Of course, you are also paying for their
knowledge and working out of the lengths to cut, and the angles - I note
they seem to be 22 sided figures. I also note the windows are cheap
aluminium ones. Add into the equation that Dad has certain things lying
about that he would give you - second hand stuff he could scrounge and
you would never know, and so on. I think you could get a more
conventional room or two built for less than that if Dad did it.

Note that the $5000 odd was just for the frame, inside and outside
lining, roof and maybe insulation - you had to supply all else yourself.

The sort of place Dad was talking about building when you came back in
June would fit in well to the landscape. That was not a hobbit house,
which was something Dad said he would like to build one day - perhaps
in his own back yard. Not that I think his land slopes enough to make
it easy.

My reply - 30th Aug

Yes, you're right, the prices of the yurt kits are a little more than
I'd first thought. But it's an idea to add to the mix. I like the
octagonal shape. I don't much like the canvas traditional ones even
though I know they are the proper yurts.

Dad can still build a house as he was talking about it before at
Amherst, but just not in the position on the top of the hill. e.g.,
Why not on the other side of the hill so it was nestled in the slope,
with a view to the right over to Snake dam, and to the left down the
valley? I think you'd get similar views, albeit not quite as
panoramic, and it would be mostly out of sight of the other house,
except maybe for the roof etc. I don't want it out of sight because
I'm worried about what it would look like, it is more because I don't
want to spoil the effect of the main house being secluded. Also, we
now have plans for the slope up to the top in terms of garden, with a
natural swimming pool/pond at the base.

Mum's reply - 30th Aug

Fair enough - it would be good round the other side of the hill. We
were trying to make it out of sight of the hosue itself you know - it
would be much lower than your house so you sould not see it, though the
roof of your place would have been seeable from the little place. But,
it would certainly have been visible from the drive and the road and the
far side of the hill will not be.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Dad has fixed the dam

Update, Dad has now fixed the dam

Email from Mum - 20th August 2004

Dad came back last night - he was too late Thurs night to hire that night so he had to go back to Ballarat in the morning for the back hoe or whatever it was he hired. They taught him how to use it and the guy teaching him did all the dams in the region, so told him how to fix it - how Dad was going to do it was not the right way. And he got it done. Said at one stage he sort of forgot how to drive the thing and pushed the wrong lever and it sort of went up - he did an action like a rearing horse - and as he was balanced on the top of the dam at the time, it could have been nasty. So he said he told himself he had better concentrate! The man said it should have a trench dug too (I think for the overflow), but no time for that, so he said put stonesand rocks on top., which Dad will do next trip - which will probably be when you folk are there. So that is something to be added - make like a rampart on top of the dam.

He said last night he will put the old firestove in my garage as he has taken the pot bellied stove up to Amherst for you and it will do the heating - and we can cook over the open fire which has a big BBQ hot plate over it. Fair enough I suppose. In all this we are talking open air, with eventually a roof like a carport and a side fenced in to break the wind. It might even get the two adjacent sides half fenced in to make an alcove. It would be horrible to be there and have no windbreak even if there was a roof! All of this will be removed of course when you get other things done - it will not be needed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

preparations for our visit continue

Mum has booked the motel for us to stay in when we're up at Amherst, yay! It's booked from 14th through to 19th October. And Dad has been busy apparently looking for places to hire a dingo tractor/ post hole digger thingy for digging the holes for the trees. He's also apparently heading up again soon to start working on the "surprise" whatever that may be and to repair the dam. I can't wait to be there and to see it again, plus this'll be the first time Dave sees it.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Toilet, frosts and Talbot market

Mum and Dad went up to Amherst this weekend. Here's Mum's account of the day. My favourite bit is where she extols the virtues of the composting toilet Dad made... I can see she loves it just as much as he does! The bad news is about the frosts of course, but who knows maybe we'll be lucky

Email from Mum - 15th Aug 2004

We went up yesterday and Dad dropped me at the Talbot market whilst he went and undid the car from trailer, unloaded car a bit at block and came back for me. I shopped for the usual leeks (missed out last time, big ones all sold) and unwaxed apples and this time a bunch = three of nice beetroots. Carrots and parsnips and even leeks used to be sold by bunches - this is the first time for ages I have seen it. Two flagons of grape juice - one black and one white - $7.50 each or two for $14. You can return the flagons. I looked for fruit trees but not many this time and I did not get any. Nothing much suitable, I thought.

Back to Amherst, and found the tanks installed (the second one was installed a week or so back by Dad and now is one third filled) and joined up, and the dunny building on a lean on the slope. I asked why not move it up to the old tank pad that he did not use - at least it was level. He agreed, had never thought of it himself! So it is a bit further away from house than he had it, but only by about 5yds. He had it about level with the tank you saw. The other tanks are downhill from that one, and actually look quite pleasing. So does the dunny.

That dunny has been built on the John Seymour principles, so that is one good thing to come out of that book you gave him. And the actual dunny has a story to tell. On the way up there, with it on the trailer, Dad said he had not had time to finish it at home so would finish it up there - by putting the roof on, and went on extolling the virtues of the thing. Then he said he hoped he had time to attach the door too - which cracked me up - I said so this fantastic dunny is really just three sides? - laughing like mad - he ended up laughing too, had never thought of it like that. But it is a very nice dunny, a shelf at back like in my loo - nice bench seat with a lid, and you have a hidden lid underneath to make the barrel used as the actual recepticle sealed from the inside of the loo so it does not smell. The sides of it were built out of two of those old fashioned doors - the wide sort - made of slats like floorboards and then nailed onto a frame of three horizontals and two diagonals making a sort of double z, sitting on top of each other. He put the shelf on the two middle cross pieces. And sadly, they are not at the same height, so the shelf has a delightful slope. It is obvious but does not mean it cannot be used and I think it is in keeping with the outdoor dunny. But Dad says he will fix it as it "lets the side down". The door he selected is also delightful - a six panelled door, the bottom two panels solid and the tope four flywire. I aksed why not solid, and he said ventilation and the view. The view I said fine, and no-one to see in, so OK, but imagine the ventilation at night when it is minus 10 like the local nurseryman said it gets to, windy and wet blowing straight in, and you have to get undressed to use it. Dad stared, said he had never bothered with that, but would look for some perspex to put in at least the next two panels up. Anyway he had to just rest the roof on and weight it down with four bluestone pitchers and then just nail the door on - it was dark by now. Faint glow in the sky to the south (over forest at back) showed where Ballarat was, and a much more spread out one down the long view along the vallyy we presume had to be Melbourne. Just light off the clouds we think but lovely. We had been going to go into Maryborough for a pub meal but it was well after 7pm when we left, so too late. We had not had the roast I wanted at Talbot as they only do Sunday lunch and nothing at night unless you are a guest at motel - and Dad said no time at lunchtime. Anyway they were almost totally booked out. So we got some takeaway in Ballarat again.....

Re the dunny, it needs a sort of veranda / pergola out the front which it will get, and a bit more overhang at the sides to protect it more. And as you are not meant to wee in this composting toilet, I suggest a lemon tree with a screen on a couple of sides next to it for the urinal. Women can squat if they will, no problem for men. Lemon trees thrive on urine. I think it will be lovely! and there is a very nice little window in the back wall above the shelf. It too is delightful. I will put a candlestick in there and cut some newspaper up for you to make it authentic. I suppose you will get nice soft loo paper too but try to hide it! And you need to put about half a can of sawdust on top when you finish. there is a pipe sticking up outside that goes up above the roof to take the smells away and you are supposed to plant things there to hide it. Maybe a passionfruit or choko if you want something useful, or jasmine or something if you want ornamental and perfumed.

The nurseryman who operates the nursey and old - hardly a museum - at the station in Talbot said olives would go well and I almost bought you 10 olive trees for $40 - small ones in about 5 inch pots. But will let you get them if you want them in October. He said the lemon gums you have will almost certainly not survive the fierce frosts - he has lost a lot finding that out. Says far worse than Ballarat where he used to operate from and thought there would be no difference - and the first year, lost so much stuff. He now experients with one of anything he is doubtful of, in his own experimental garden bed. I think he lives in the train carriage he has parked in the old carpark area - looked very nice! - well kept carriage of the Asutralian National Line - ie one from something like the Indian Pacific. Once of the trains with compartments opening off a corridor with loo and now kitchen at the end. Frosts down to minus 12 he says. If you can keep them warm for the first year or two, maybe the mature trees will stand it better he said but said he would be willing to bet $50 they will not make it.

so that is the down side of the weekend. However...

I did a little bit to help, getting the soil from where Dad had levelled the tank pads and putting it under and around the pipes connecting the tanks. It was above the gound so it 1. needed support and 2. needed protection from and for the sheep - so they did not deliberately break it, or accidentally trip over it and break their ankles. I ended up using hands to shove the last bits in and some of it got right under my thumbnail down deep. It is still quite sore - I have it now bandaged up with honey on it, and it does feel better.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

the trees have landed (at Mum's place)

Mum collected the trees from Prue. Then Mum and Dad along with Dave's parents potted them all up in a marathon potting session the next day.

Mum's email - 7th August 2004

All lemon gums now potted on. 80 as predicted. They look nice and

5 persimons, two chestnuts (different varieties Spanish chestnut "Flemings Special"... and Chestnut, "Flemings Prolific".) and two Moorpark
apricots I think is about it. They are all now in 12 inch pots. All
looking good. We have masses of potting mix left over. And blood and
bone and Osmocote of various types.

Prue is looking out for quinces and apples and some other nuts right

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

adding more tanks at Amherst

Dad had already installed one tank at Amherst, but after we talked about the need to have lots of water for irrigation he decided to add some more.

Email from Dad - 2nd August 2004

I took the opportunity while free at work last night to surf the net briefly about the water tanks issue. I found several sites for you to visit and will include all sites websites at the end of this letter.

I looked at the big picture, as well as my availabilities shortterm and made some decisions. I must update you first on the fact I uncovered while surfing the net last night: namely that I was misled, or misremembered the size of the tank I installed. I remember I asked the shop person when I bought the first tank how big it was in gallons, and he told me 2000. This was wrong, as I discovered the 4500litre tanks equate to only 1000 gal. So at present you have only 1000 gal at Amherst. I looked at the 2000 gal tank and at least 2-3 men would be needed to move such a tank. Also delivery is free to some areas for tanks 9000 l and over, so site preparations and permanent positions must first be established. All the tanks can be buried to as least 1/2 their height, but that is another matter. Without good digging equipment, such an approach is not possible.

I decided we needed to get catchment started immediately, and using the 1000 gal tanks was the most practical, as I can manage them by myself. The cost of the tanks where I buy them is cheaper than any of the sites I looked-at last night, and for that I am pleased. Also, the connecting pipe and fittings are ready to hand for designing the plumbing. The cost of the 1000 gal tank is $765 and the 2000 gal is $1250. The difference between the 1530 and 1250 is $280, and this figure would easily be eatten up by costs of earthmoving equipment, and the need for more men and equipment to arrange the larger tank's installation. Moving it to it's proper future site would entail the same costs and bother, though getting help later would be easier of course. But getting water into tanks for the October deadline means one thing: haste. So I bought two 1000 gal tanks, and will go tonight to Amherst to deliver the first, and go on Friday to deliver the second and setup the two on site. I must return tonight for a commitment in the morning, but will have more time later this week. I hope you are okay with the decision I have made. Love Dad
The supplier of the tanks where I bought these is ARI Plastank www.ariplastank.com.au
The site to visit for underground tanks is resapps@yahoo.com
I compared with the Bushman tanks for the tanks I have bought, and the site of access for me is local so I favored this outlet.

My reply - 2nd August 2004

Thank you *so* much for doing this. I'm very happy with the decision you made. The small 1000 gallon tanks are really convenient, they will serve our purposes in the short term and also be very useful for the longer term. As you suggested, in the long term we will probably do best to have a huge tank installed semi-buried near the top of the hill and then pump water from the smaller collecting tanks up to it as
they get full. Don't forget, you must let me pay you for your time / hassle in doing
this, just buy things on my card to cover it.

Email from Dad - 3rd August 2004

I think you may consider the advantage of having two 2000 gal tanks delivered as delivery is free, I think. You could have Dennis excavate a flat area where one of the ponds or lawns is to be put on the downhill side of the house. These tanks can be moved later when you wish, but would give a place for overflow from the three uphill tanks and would still be place to develop the other areas of garden in the future. I believe with proper approach the 3000 gal you have now will see your trees through the summer without any trouble. Once they have wintered once, and when there is no drought, they will be untouchable except by roos and sheep, which you will be protecting against. The way it was raining last night you will have no trouble filling these two additional tanks.

If you opt for not getting anymore tanks for now well and good, as I was only putting out the idea for consideration. Any tanks bigger than 2000 gal should not be placed until the eventual placement can be done once and for all time.
I'm off today to take the other tank and install. I will take you up on the offer of some financial assistance because I spent all my money for the fortnight getting the dvd player and television so no money for food except bankcard. But I will allow just 1 1/2 days for payment of time if you don't mind as I feel bad about you needing to pay for all the little bit and pieces of my time. I am always happy to help when I can fit-in time. I don't get-on too well when exhausted because I am getting older and don't bounce back so quickly. I have caught a small cold and am hoping it doesn't get bigger.

I took Bonz for a walk at dusk and had another close look at the dam wall.
The damage is old, and the entire wall is breached. The dam will fill to
only 1/2 capacity, or perhaps a little more. Equipment will need to be used
as the breach must have the portion of wall above removed, and consolidation
of materials done from the base of the breach upwards. Tell me if we need
to get this fixed urgently, or use equipment there for soil preparation
later. I could contact Dennis and get him to look at it to give you an idea
of costs befrore proceeding. If we wait to October and hire a backhoe for
everything that may be better. The water level is a long way from the site
of the breach, and you aren't needing the water from the dam much right

I got "hellooooed" by the neighbor, and took 15 min to talk to Charlie,
Tex's wife. They have lost a lot of geese and chicken and turkeys, and 20
lambs to foxes already.They are also going to build on the 20 acres adjoining you at the front. They gave that paddock to their daughter Donna. So you will have another
young neighbor. That's all the news for now. Love Dad

My reply - 3rd August 2004

Hi Dad, thanks again for arranging the tanks. I think you should
allow at least 2 days payment though because given you're making 2
trips, that's 10 hours + of time already. For now I think we will
stick with just the tanks we have as, as you say, that should give us
enough water to feed the trees. When we come back and Dave sees it,
we will work out what to do next. Thanks again and hope you had a
good time up there even though it was brief.

I agree there's no rush in repairing the dam but Dave suggested it
would be good to get a quote from Dennis, just so that we know the
extent of repairs needed and can plan for it.