Southern Tasmania Bushfires – more lessons learned

I like to think my family and I are pretty well prepared. We try to produce as much of our own food as possible, we have supplies, we have skills that are useful.  Yet all this can be rendered useless without useful and current information.  I hadn’t been paying much attention to the news lately, mostly due to the rubbish they keep broadcasting and my feeling that it was a waste of my time to watch.  It was when I was contacted by a friend who advised me that there was a significant risk of bushfire in my region that I realised there was an issue.

 

Of course, there were clues; there was the smell of smoke in the air… it had be lingering for many days due to fires further into the interior of Tasmania.  We had been checking the Fire Tas website every day or so, just so we were abreast of any issues.  When I received the news of the fire danger, we leapt onto the Fire Tas site, to verify the location of the fire and the areas which were currently under threat.  It appeared that the fire was moving across towards the east, endangering a town called Geeveston.  The winds seemed to be pushing the wind to the river, which could potentially block the highway.

The highway north was our main route to civilisation, so with a high chance it would be unusable, we made plans that we would escape to the south if a getaway was required.  There is very little to the south of my home… some camping grounds, some lovely scenery, and then a long stretch of water till you reach Antarctica.  With this we had to make some amendments to our plans.

We have had our bug out bags prepared for some time.  If we needed to go immediately, we could have left, yet as there was no immediate need to evacuate we had plenty of time to organise.  We all threw a few extra clothes into each bag, as it seemed that our bug out plan would most likely entail camping until we could return home.  As we would be camping, I also included tents, sleeping bags, some cases of water, food and other items (such as a gas stove and cooking equipment) that would allow us to rough it till things improved.

 
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-01-28/judbury-residents-door-knocked-over-fire-danger/10754640

Then came all the things the kids decided which they couldn’t live without… we obviously have home and contents insurance, yet my kids needed to put their Playstations and Xboxes, etc. into bags… they were worried about loosing save game files.   Kitty and I agreed with this inclusion, as life would be easier if they had their devices.

With all the items we needed packed away we needed to secure them.  We decided that we should pack the majority of our bags in to our small car, in which Kitty and our daughter would ride.  Our cat would be in the little car too.  Our two sons and I would be in our large van, which would hold a few extra bags and our dogs.

With all the packing taken care of it was now a waiting game.  Kitty and I are used to this… we have been through a few bushfires so we are content to wait.  Our children on the other hand were restless.  The kids had enough information to be worried, yet insufficient experience to know how to deal with the situation.  To rectify this, Kitty and I had to show them evidence from the Tas Fire website that we were safe, that we didn’t have to evacuate yet.  This was possibly they hardest part, dealing with children who wanted to leave.

Why Prepare?

So, we know what ‘prepping’ is, but what are we ‘prepping’ for?

Keep an Open Mind.

There is no shortage of tv shows, YouTube channels and books which promote the notion of preparing for a particular event.

Once again, I don’t have to go further than American reality tv show ‘Doomsday Preppers’ for a great example.

Propaganda from the media

At the beginning of every own segment, individuals featured on the program explain the particular event they are preparing for and why they think it poses the greatest threat. You will see people preparing for an EMP which will wipe out all technology; or an invasion by a hostile power; or a pandemic infecting the majority of the population; or a global financial crisis. The examples are near endless and to my mind, unbalanced. In my own experience, most preppers do not prepare for a single, or specific, event.

Now, who can say if these people are fed content by producers or if they are free to express their true opinions, but I think we must bear in mind always, that programs like ‘Doomsday Preppers’ are first and foremost created to entertain. It is true you may pick up some interesting and useful ideas of what to do or what not to do from other preppers, but we must remember that these programs are created to entertain, not educate. It is important to ask yourself, what motivates the individuals featured on the program? Why share their preparations with the world?

Let me give you an example of what I mean. On a recent episode of ‘America Unplugged’, I watched a profile of a couple in California who shared their fear and surety that it was only a matter of time before their state would be hit by a tsunami. Instead of leaving the state, or living at a ‘safe’ altitude, they chose to ride out the impending tsunami in an underground, unventilated bunker.

Hmm, an unusual decision but it’s not my role to dump on other people’s fears or life choices, so I kept watching, interested to hear their grand plan. It soon became apparent that this couple were in the business of selling underground bunkers and I heard the sound of a penny drop, or was it a CaChing!…

As for myself, I took their view on prepping with a healthy grain of salt. My advice to all those thinking of prepping or even well into your preps: keep your own mind open at all times.

 

Disaster Probability Vs Impact

The problem with preparing for a particular event is, of course, that it may never happen.

A person who has spent decades preparing specifically for an EMP which will wipe out technology, will eventually begin to wane, become disillusioned, embarrassed, or think they have wasted their time, money and resources. They may even abandon prepping and go back to their old ways.

So, let’s take a quick look at a sample of common disaster scenarios and consider their probability against their impact.

Drought

Epidemic

Road cut off, can’t get out for a week

Natural disaster or flood

Power Outage

Terrorism

Climate change

Unemployment

 

The Great Depression. Of course massive job loss could never occur again…

I am sure that you would agree that many of these items have occurred in our lifetimes.  We have all heard of these events occurring, or have experienced some of them first hand.  These are events which we should have in mind when we are developing our preparations.

Then there are the events which could occur, and if they did happen they would definitely have a severe impact, yet the chance of their happening is very remote

 

Nuclear War

Global Pandemic

Asteroid impact

War

Coronal Mass Ejection or a massive Electro-Magnetic Pulse

The events listed above could occur… yet I am sure you can agree that the chance of one of these events occurring is very remote.  For example, it is very uncommon for a high fatality Global Pandemic to strike.  The last one, according to the World Health Organisation, was in the late 1960s (called the Hong Kong Flu) where it killed up to a million people.  Of course, most people know of the Spanish Flu from 1918, which is reported to have killed between 20 to 100 million people.

All these events can occur, yet planning for the events with the least chance of occurrence is not intelligent.

 

Enriched Living

I believe we should live for today, but plan for tomorrow. Keep the mental and practical aspects of your planning balanced and be realistic. Planning for the more likely events will lead to being better prepared for the less likely ones.  The steps we can make towards preparing for the likely events can enrich our lives and allow us to live a more balanced life.

Don’t forget to live your life. If you do it right, your lifestyle can be enriched by the activities of preparing. For example: gardening; fishing; breeding animals; basic construction; or even just reading.

What is self-sufficiency

SELF-SUFFICIENCY

It’s a popular term these days, but what does it really mean?

The term itself is new, but the concept is old as the hills, literally. Humans were self-sufficient long before pre-history. Their lives depended on it, but how did they do it? They didn’t have coffee-table books full of glossy pictures, YouTube videos, lifestyle tv shows or ex-Navy Seals to show them the way.

They did it just as we should: together. They watched, talked and listened. To the successes and failures of their neighbours, their Elders and Ancestors and the patterns and surprises within the natural world.

Of course, self-sufficiency had a different name back then: survival. In order to survive, families had to plan, to prepare and co-operate with each other. This they did, and because they did, we are here today.

Primitive Village

Is it just me, or is there a sense of resurgence to the simple living of our Ancestors? Increasing numbers of us are coming to realize we cannot rely on ‘the Government’ to provide for us or look after us. We see that in times of sudden change: such as natural disaster, or economic downturn, the assistance we can expect to receive from a Government is limited. I believe we must look to ourselves, and each other, to sustain healthy and resilient communities.

So, what can we do to better look after ourselves and our loved ones? It’s easier than you might think but… it depends on your expectations. If your aim is to live a good life where your basic needs are met and anything else is honey, you’re in luck and… you’re in the right place to learn how.

I strive toward a realistic self-sufficient lifestyle but, I am a realist. I am not trying to go ‘off-grid’. I have children to feed and educate and I enjoy living in a community. In fact, I believe it’s almost impossible to be fully self-sufficient, producing all your own food, water, electricity, medicine and every other thing you need (soap, clothes, etc). I’m not saying it’s impossible to do, but such a level of self-sufficiency would be difficult to achieve and even harder to maintain in the modern day.

Here is the good news: you don’t need to be fully self-sufficient.

You need not do as I did and move your family from drought affected mainland to lush green Tasmania. You need not live in the country. Whether you live on a small parcel of land or an inner- city apartment, I will help you learn basic skills, and introduce you to lots of interesting ideas and people.

Feel free to pick’n’mix, take from me what makes most sense to you, or what skills or ideas you are able to adapt to within your own lifestyle.

So, if you’re ready to ditch the hype and get some dirt under your nails, read on and join me, and my special guests, on our path to no-fuss self-sufficiency.

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

Yes, I used the word in the title of my site: Prepper.

Prepper. Why do we hate that word? It is a regular word. Derived from Preparation or Prepared, surely it is a good thing, a good word. Another title which has been maligned is Survival, or Survivalist.

So why do these words have such a bad rap? Perhaps it raises images of a crazed gun toting loner protecting his horde of barrelled grain or some dude hunkered down in an underground bunker waiting for the bomb to fall? It implies extremism. Those who shun mainstream society and seem to almost want something bad to happen to affirm their choices.

Part of the reason Preppers get a bad rep

In recent years there have been many examples of this stereotype of a ‘Prepper’ and ‘Survivalist’ in mainstream media. They are strangely amusing, almost mesmerizing, like a potentially dangerous circus act. The crazy ‘Prepper’: entertaining to watch from a distance, but you wouldn’t want to live next door to one.

I remember my Mother, back in the 1970’s, carefully checking and stocking the pantry shelves. As an adult and parent myself now, I look back and see that she was a ‘Prepper’. With four children and one income, she always ensured the pantry was well stocked. If we used a can of baked beans, she would replace it with 2 cans of baked beans. We never ran out, and if we had a lean week with lots of big bills, there was always enough to feed the family. She was a ‘Prepper’ before it was considered good or bad to be a ‘Prepper”.

And we weren’t alone, lots of families did the same thing. Putting a little money away every week to cover the bills, or Christmas, that’s prepping too. Thinking ahead, planning, preparing.

We should none of us be ashamed or embarrassed for our interest in, or efforts toward being prepared. No matter where you live, your financial status or family situation, being prepared makes sense.

I believe that prepping and self-sufficiency are two sides of the one coin, so closely linked that to be self-sufficient means that you are prepared… and to be prepared means that you are (at least partly) self-sufficient.

So, I ask you to reject the stereotype of the crazy ‘Prepper’ and at every opportunity remind yourself and others, that in truth, prepping is self-responsibility, self-care and most of all, smart.

Eating Snow

Our rabbit snow hasn’t been going all that well.  He was part of a litter of bunnies which I tried to sell, yet no one was interested in an albino rabbit.  So he was destined for the dinner table.  Yet, when it came time for me to dispatch him, I didn’t feel like going through with it… this cycle of intending to kill him, yet not doing it, lasted for several months.  Then I found out that my children had named him Snow… so I didn’t fell like I could go through with eating him.

It was time to say goodbye to Snow. This was taken just as I was about to remove him from his hutch. You can see the discolouration on his back.

He wasn’t a pet, he was just an animal that we kept.  I offered him to several people, yet no one ever accepted him.  We kept him for well over a year… maybe close to two years

While I have been feeding him the other day I noticed a discolouration on his back… a pinkish colour which wasn’t home on his white fur.  On examination I was saddened to see that he was suffering from Mange… possibly the same mange that had killed one of our Guinea Pig and infected the other.  I knew I could possibly find a treatment for this, yet it would cost money.  I did some mental calculations, and some looking at how I felt about this, and I decided that it wasn’t a good choice to cure him… that it would be better if I put him down and ate him.

Can you eat an animal with mange?  Mange is apparently transferable to humans, yet the meat from an animal infected with Mange is not dangerous in itself.  I need to be sure to check for any other issues, as the Mange may cause secondary infections.

You can see my great scope .22 rifle. Oh, and my Pokemon Go hat.

I believe that as long as I don’t expose myself to the actual infected area on the skin, I wouldn’t be in danger.  That said, while I was pretty sure I would be safe, I still decided that I would be the only one to eat the rabbit… to ensure my kids were not at risk.

Now, please remember that Snow is not a pet.  Snow is a rabbit who I always intended to eat (after I couldn’t sell him) and I just never had the heart to do the deed.  Snow had a lot longer life, and in that way, he was pretty well off.  Apart from the mange he was always healthy and happy.  So, while I wasn’t enthusiastic about it, I felt that it was time to eat Snow

I decided that I would take him to a remote location and shoot him.  I chose this option as I felt it would be quick and he wouldn’t suffer.  My son and I took him to the forest near my home, which was where he was put down.

After he was dead I brought him home to skin him, clean him, and prepare the carcass for cooking.  I won’t go into the details of this process… it was fairly routine.  When I cooked the rabbit, I cooked him in a Butter chicken sauce… so I guess it was Butter Rabbit.  It tasted amazing and lasted several meals.

It worked out to be over 600grams of rabbit meat. Not too bad.

We now have three rabbits, one male (Snow’s father), and two females (one of whom is pregnant).  I intend to destroy the hutches which I own (which are currently empty) as I suspect they may have mange infections.  I will then build some new hutches for the rabbits.

So far, no issues from eating the rabbit which had mange… although I do have a compulsion to eat lots of carrots….

A water filter for my Get home Bag

My get home kit is now (as far as I am aware) complete.  I just received a Sawyer Mini water filter from an online retailer and it arrived today.  I so excited to get this item I have had on my wish list for nearly two years… yet every time I planned to buy it we would have something come up and I couldn’t justify the expenditure.  When Father’s day came last month, Kitty forgot to buy me a present.  We don’t normally go big on Father’s/Mother’s day, yet she decided to surprise me with this item.  Kitty found the item in our eBay cart, as I place it there every time I decide to buy it (yet, as I said, I never do).

 

I wanted the orange version, despite their offering many different colours.  Why did I choose orange?  I figured that when I drop it, I want to be able to find it easily.  Imagine buying the camouflaged version and never finding it if you dropped it in the wilderness!  Not my idea of a great time.

One of the great things about the Sawyer water filter is the huge volume it can purify.  The label states that it can purify 100,000 gallons of water… which is over 378k litres of water!  More than I could consume.  I have read that the flow rate is pretty slow, yet I am willing to forgive that for the great size, cost and life span.

It also offers protection against bacteria and protozoa, removing 99.99% of all these little undesirables.  This is much more protection than I think I would need, and if I combined it with some water purification tablets (which I also carry) I think it would remove any chance of getting a nasty bug.  I also carry a few powdered drinks that can be added to the water to improve the flavour.

I will be giving the filter a proper work out when the weather clears up, as I am planning several hiking trips with my kids.  Hopefully this will be a great Spring/summer.

Bunnies in my garden

My garden beds have overgrown with weeds and old growth. I took some advice from some friends and I placed my rabbits in there, with extra wire around them to stop my dog from getting too curious.

I was pretty surprised with the quick work they did, making great progress with clearing the garden as well as fertilising the beds.

I found this to be a great way to clear them… they will clear out the weeds, fertilise the ground, and also get some more nutrients in their diet. It is like people say… work smarter, not harder.

Tanning my first wallaby hide.

Why am I curing the Wallaby hide?  While I don’t have any definite plans for it… I would love a pair of moccasins, they look so comfortable.  My main plan is just practicing the methods of curing hides and trying to get a level of skill which will mean that it isn’t just luck when I succeed in the curing process.

I have tried curing hides previously, and while I have yet to perfect my method, I have had some success.  That said, lately every hide I tan has been failing.  Basically, I have succeeded in making rawhide.  Obviously, that is a great skill, yet it isn’t getting me closer to those moccasins.  I talked to some friends of mine, who have much more experience in tanning hides and they recommended I purchase some actual tanning solution.  I decided that while I would prefer to so my curing with all natural products, perhaps I should learn to do it with any product that works.

The hide after it’s salt covering. Orlaith is really enjoying the smell.

They recommended that I generously salt the hide, covering the skin side.  The hide should be then rolled up and placed in a safe place for a couple of days.  The hide will leak fluids as the salt works on the skin, so don’t put it anywhere you want to keep clean.

I modified this a little and I kept the hide stretched out on a frame while it was salted, allowing it around 5 days to absorb the salt.  Every day I would check the hide and add more salt to any areas that were bare.  After the salting process I allowed the hide to dry a little till I could arrange to stop off at the gun store to buy some tanning solution.

Orlaith is at it again, she likes to help. I am attempting to scrape the hide bare of flesh and fat.

Before I could soak the hide in the tanning solution I needed to scrape the excess flesh from the hide.  This process is apparently called “fleshing the hide”.  I did not have a special tanning knife, so I used items I had available…. My hatchet and a garden weeding tool.  These did an adequate job of cleaning off the flesh and excess fat.

After this step (and I don’t want to make it seem this step was easy… it took ages and my arms were pretty tired) I placed the hide into the to a plastic bucket with the tanning solution and it was time to play the waiting game.  Each day I would check to ensure the hide was fully submerged, and after a week I was satisfied the hide was done.  I verified this by, using a very sharp knife, I sliced at the side of the hide and ensured that the tanning dye had permeated the hide thoroughly.

I am so lucky my dog loves to help. This is the bucket of tanning solution after a week. I am about to rinse it clean.

I then stretched out the hide to allow it to dry, and apparently this was a bit of a mistake, as the hide still needs to be a little moist for the addition of Leather Lube to cause the hide to become soft and supple.  I still added the Leather Lube and I believe the hide is softer, yet it isn’t perfect.

This hide is now dry and ready for my project… now to collect a few more…

I have a lot to learn about tanning hides successfully.  This is something I will have to do with practice, so I guess I will have to get out there and hunt some more.  I also have a long way to go before I can make my moccasins… This one is only the start, I may need another three before I might be able to have another go at making them.  Those wallabies better look out!

Making do with what I have.

For those of you who are more visually orientated, I have put together a video of some of my work on building the chicken fence.  I managed to put the fence together with just some of the items I already had around my house, with a minimum of spending.

I hope that it might show what can be achieved with minimum materials.  I managed to complete this important job by making do and improvising.  Don’t let a lack of material prevent you from achieving your goals.

Our dog likes our chickens a little too much

While I was at work the other day, I received an urgent email from Kitty.  Our dog, Orlaith, was harassing our chickens.  Kitty told me that Orlaith was chasing them around our yard and cornering them by the fence.  I had never seen Orlaith hurt the animals, so I replied to Kitty, telling her not to worry about it.

The chickens waiting to be fed. You can see the fence next to them has seen better days

The next day I received a call from Kitty… apparently Orlaith was once again attacking chickens, yet this time she had killed one.  Kitty told me that she had tried to get the chicken from Orlaith, yet our dog was treating the chicken as a toy.  Orlaith was running around and trying to get Kitty to chase her.  It may have died at some point of this game.  Orlaith is well behaved when I am there, yet she isn’t very disciplined for other people (which is something we are working on).  In addition, Kitty told me that Orlaith had injured another chicken, which Kitty had caught and placed in a secure location till I returned from work.

I was unable to leave work early, so I returned home late (after the sun had set) and I found the chicken which Orlaith had paraded around the yard by the back door, along with almost a dozen broken eggs.  Orlaith loves eating raw eggs, so I guess she found a hidden cache of eggs.  When I checked the injured chicken I found it had died during the day.  After an investigation of the chickens I found that they were two of the three “miracle” chicks that were raised by a foster mother.  This is possibly the saddest part, as the third chick was male… I wouldn’t have minded too much if he was one of the chickens, as I intended to eat him.  With the two girls killed, it is a bit of a blow for our egg production.  When I checked the dead chickens I found no major injuries on them.  I suspect either they died of shock, or they were suffocated.

The aftermath of Orlaith’s “game”. Two very friendly chickens have died

I have to deal with this, I can’t have my dog killing our chickens.  I can see three possible solutions.

  • Get rid of Orliath
  • Get rid of the chickens
  • Stop Orliath getting to the chickens.

I don’t want to lose my dog.  I might consider losing my chickens, yet I don’t want to do that right now.  The only option is to stop Orlaith from hurting the chickens.

I know that one of the traditional methods to stop a dog from doing this is to tie one of the dead chickens to them…allow them to walk around for a few days with the reminder of the deed they had done.  I don’t think that is a very good solution.  Some people recommend an electric collar, yet I don’t want to go with that option at the moment.

 

Orlaith is in the chicken area. The fence can’t contain anything!

I think the only real solution is to build a fence or something to stop Orlaith from having access to the chickens.  I had built a small fence in the past, yet that neither stopped the chickens, nor prevented Orlaith from accessing the area.  I think I am going to have to think larger

Taking some time to get my rifle ready

After my successful Wallaby hunt I have realised the value a rifle with a scope.  Hunting with iron sights is fine, especially for someone with a great deal of experience.  For someone like myself, with limited experience, the advantage of using a scope will mean the difference between getting myself a wallaby, or coming home empty handed.

I own a scope which I bought for installation on my .308 rifle, yet I never found the time to sight it in before I moved from my last home in Collinsvale.  Now that I have little land, I don’t have the room to complete this, and therefore I can’t use the it reliably.  An unsighted scope is worse than no scope at all.  My friend with whom I have been wallaby hunting was kind enough to offer to assist me in zeroing the scope on his property.  After I placed the scope on my .22 rifle, I travelled to my friend’s house where we could complete the task.

I could have gone through the time-consuming process of trying to shoot at the target, and try to guess how close you are to the bullseye.  I was fortunate to have access to a sighting device, called a Collimator, which saved me a lot of ammo by allowing me to zero the crosshairs in a little closer to the centre of the target.

Not the Collimator which I used, yet a similar model to show you what I am talking about

The process of sighting in the rifle involves taking a shot at the centre of a target sheet and checking where the shot actually landed.  You then adjust your rifle’s cross hairs so that it is moved in the direction you wish to actually hit.  Fire again at the centre of the target and check… this process can go on for a while, yet with the Collimator it took much less time.

 

A similar target to the one I used… although obviously my shots were much better.

After we sighted in the scope my friend challenged me to shoot one of my empty .22 cases off a post.  I was extremely doubtful I could accomplish this, yet I thought it would be fun to try.  The case was placed on a post, and I set up around 50 metres away.  I carefully took aim and when I was ready, I squeezed the trigger.  The moment I saw the round hit the case, seeing it fly off into the air, filled me with a great sense of accomplishment.  I doubted that I could achieve the shot, yet knowing that my rifle is now capable of such precision shooting fills me with confidence that when I do go hunting I will be able to hit my target exactly.  It would have been great to find that case, yet that proved to more difficult than making that shot.

I think it will now be a tradition with me to do this whenever I sight in a scope… to shoot an empty case to prove that my rifle is accurate.