“Music should strike fire from the heart of man…” – Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Checking the damage

Part 3

In the morning we heard over the AM radio that the roads to our property were still closed to all non-emergency traffic.  We were due to check out of the motel in the morning, and we were glad to leave.  As I mentioned previously, the staff were nice and friendly, yet the rooms appeared that they had not been decorated since the 1970s.  While we were packing to check out we made the decision that if the house was still in danger that evening  we would make a booking at Wrest Point again.  At least the rooms were nicer and they had a pool for the kids.  This decision did a lot to improve our moral which had really taken a hit since we checked into the Lindisfarne Motor Inn.  Both Kitty and I, at different times, had felt defeated and felt the need to give up.  When this happened to me, Kitty helped to cheer me up and brought me out of my funk.  I did the same for Kitty when she felt depressed, pointing out things such as should the house go we are insured, that the kids and dogs are safe, and that at least we are together.  As we departed the motel we heard on the radio that there would be a meeting at our town before lunch, for all local residents, to learn of the details of the fire and other issues around it.  We drove up the mountain to attend the meeting.  As I had learnt the majority of the details the day before I stayed outside and entertained the children while Kitty sat in on the meeting.  When the meeting was over, Kitty came out and told me that they were opening the road to residents, so we could go home. This was welcome news… I had been worried about my livestock and I wanted to check the property.

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We drove home and were shocked to see the large areas of burnt bush.  Smoke was still think in the air and we were stopped several times, by Police as well as having to wait while fire fighters worked ahead.  It was such a relief to pull into the driveway and see our home.  I immediately grabbed some water containers and rush to my rabbit cages.  In one cage I could see that two had died, and in another I could see that one had died.  I removed them from the cages and examined the bodies.  There were no injuries of burn marks so I assume that they died either from lack of water or the heat.  I fed and watered the chickens, rabbits, geese and ducks, before doing a quick check of the property.  I was relieved to find that apart from the strong smell of smoke in the house, everything was as we left it.  While I was checking to property I was constantly reminded of the danger by the presence of water bombing helicopters.  I counted four helicopters collecting water from a property over the road (and up the mountain a little), and another that seemed to be scouting out the terrain.

 

At one point in the afternoon I heard a fire truck driving on the road below my house and broadcasting on what sounded like a loudspeaker.  I couldn’t make out the message apart from the words “fire” and “evacuate”.  This caused me to become very nervous.  I rushed down to the road to look for the truck, but it had already driven down the road.  While standing on the main road I noticed my neighbour was near his fence.  We approached each other and had a chat about the fire.  He told me that the truck actually communicating with someone else and they were pulling the fire fighters from another area of the bush to go fight another fire front.  While we chatted, 18 fire fighting 4x4s drove past on their way to the new front which was further to the south.  My neighbour had stayed at his property and he told me about the prevention of the fire spreading to my land by the fire fighters, about a helicopter crash landing on a nearby paddock, as well as inviting my family and I to a BBQ in a few weeks (to which I accepted the invitation).

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That night we all went to bed early, looking forward to sleeping in our own beds again.  We learned a lot about our level of preparedness and some changes which we would have to make to be better prepared in the future.  We also learned that our home meant a lot more to us than we thought.  We had moved into this house around 5 years ago and we had done little to improve the inside.  We decided that we wanted to do some work to the house to make it more like the home in which we want to live.

“…there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion” – Dalai Lama

Fire on the mountain
Choppers flying while we load the car

 

Part 2

We woke early the next morning and, while listening to the radio over breakfast, we heard that the fire was getting worse and the area was still evacuated.  During the night both Kitty and I felt terrible that we had to leave the dogs behind.  We were also not sure where we would be staying that night.  As I mentioned, Hobart was pretty much booked out due to a festival in town.  We checked out of the caravan park and drove to Kitty’s mother’s house in Sandy Bay, just outside Hobart.  We went there for several reasons:

  • We wanted to check in with her as she was worried about our safety.
  • She had internet access (which Kitty and I did not have) so we could book accommodation and find a dog kennel to take the dogs.
  • We had brought too many things from the house.  I wanted to unload them to save carrying them everywhere and risking them to loss or theft.  We also needed room in the boot of the van to carry the dogs to the kennel.
  • I wanted to leave my little car at her house.  Both to save on fuel and to ensure Kitty and I could travel together.

The kids relaxed and watched some cartoons while Kitty and I got to work.  I booked some accommodation out at Port Arthur (having a large family can be a hassle for booking rooms) and Kitty found a kennel out at Brighton that would take the dogs, although we needed to drop them off shorty.  After lunch we started the drive home to get the dogs.  I wanted to grab a couple of additional items while at home as well as check my livestock.

The drive up the mountain was very intense.  It was difficult to see very far due to the large amount of smoke in the air.  We passed many areas of blackened bush as could see the fire crews working hard.  We also passed two police officers checking IDs to ensure only residents gained access (as well as attempting to warn us from going up to our home).  We drove slowly up the roads to ensure we could stop should we need to due to the limited visibility.  When we were 50 metres from our driveway we had to stop as 4 fire vehicles were blocking the road.  I had to get out and check with them.  They advised me that the fire was very close, yet the way ahead was safe enough.  While talking to them I noticed the whole area on the other side of the road to my home was blackened and smoking.  It looked like they had worked hard to stop the fire from crossing the road.  I learnt later that the night before, the fire had charged towards my home.  The fire trucks made a line up the road and stood their ground.  They sprayed the bush constantly and prevented the fire from jumping the road to my property.  The reason for this was apparently due to the fact that if my property went, there would be little chance to stop it before it hit Hobart city.

Loading the car

I drove past them and came to our house.  The dogs were overjoyed to see us and we were relieved to see them.  As I unlocked the house and started to gather the items I wished to take, as well as send a message to my friends/family that we were safe,  I could hear helicopters starting to fly over the house.  I looked outside and I could see the choppers collecting water from a neighbouring property and dropping them on or next to my property.  This was very scary and caused me to rush back into the house and complete my work.  As I started to load the car I noticed that ash was starting come down like snow, which was freaking me out.  I was thinking that if ash was falling, embers could easily do the same.  I loaded the children and the dogs into the car, telling everyone we had to go.  I then noticed smoke coming out of the forest on my property.  This was enough for me.  We drove off and counted ourselves lucky.  It was one of the scariest things I have ever encountered… with the roar of the choppers and seeing them drop water so close to my house, with the smoke and ash, it was very intense and I am sure I will remember it for the rest of my life.

We arrived at Brighton Park Dog kennel an hour later and it looked like a pleasant place, with large pens and water for the dogs.  While we did not want to leave the dogs at a kennel, it was safer for them than being at home.  Once they were checked in we were surprised when the manager advised us that we were not being charged for the kennelling as we were evacuated for the fire.  That was such a nice gesture and we thanked the manager for their kindness.

It was now time for us to take the 2 hour drive to Port Arthur.  As we were driving we received a call from the Department of Housing who asked us if we were checking in for emergency accommodation.  We had heard in the news reports that people who had been evacuated should check in at the Derwent Entertainment Centre for accommodation, yet we did not want to go there.  Both Kitty and I had visions of the Superdome during Hurricane Katrina in the states and we did not want a part of that.  We advised the caller that we were heading to Port Arthur for the night, yet when the caller told us that she had already secured us accommodation at Wrest Point Casino.  We immediately turned around and, over the phone, cancelled our booking at Port Arthur.  Wrest point was much closer to home, nicer, and it would not cost us anything.  We could afford to pay the $25 cancellation fee with the Port Arthur place.

Wrest Point was a lot nicer than the caravan park.  We had an adjoining room, with Kitty and the girls in one, and the boys and I in the other.   We enjoyed the best burger I have ever had from a local shop called “Burger got soul” and ½ an hour after dinner we went to the indoor pool at the hotel and the children relaxed in the water before bed.

View from Wrest Point room, looking towards the fires.

Listening to the radio in the morning we heard that the roads to my property we now closed to all traffic.  We had to check out of Wrest Point and our next accommodation was a place called “Lindisfarne Motor Inn”.  We drove over the river to discover that the motel looked like it was built in the 1950s.  The staff were friendly, which was nice, yet the room smelt of old cigarettes and was cramped.  The bathroom was tiny and there was no kitchen.  We decided to spend as little time there as we had to, and to spend the afternoon at the Aquatic centre.  I needed to go home first and try to get to the property.  I was worried about my livestock as they had not been watered for more than a day.  I encountered a police road block on the way to my home and I was told that I would not be able to get to my house due to the road closures.  I went to the local fire station and chatted with the people there.  The fire fighters were very friendly and helpful.  One of them showed me a map of the fire effected area and told me of the fire which they stopped from coming onto my property.  I was told stories of the dangers they faced and different experiences related to trees falling and missing them by inches.  I thanked them all for the work they were doing and travelled back to Kitty in the motel.  We took the children to the Aquatic Centre and I joined them in the pool.  As we had forgotten to pack swimmers in our bug out bags we all swam in shorts (our girls swam wearing their older brother’s shorts and no shirt).  The kids really relaxed at the pool, enjoying themselves and forgetting the problems of the bushfire.  While I was looking after the kids in the paddling pools, Kitty watched from the side.  While watching Kitty started chatting with one of the mothers whose son was playing with Riley.  As we were leaving the centre we were surprised when the woman that Kitty had been talking to came over and gave us an envelope containing two family visit to the Aquatic Centre that she had bought for us.  The woman had tears in her eyes as she handed the gift to Kitty.  Such a kind gesture and we never knew anything about her.  On the way home we bought some chips and ate them by the river before going back to the motel and to then to sleep.

“Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice.” – Robert Frost

DSCN0077 Part 1.

Wow, what an eventful week!  Last Wednesday Kitty called me at work to let me know that she could see a large column of smoke coming from far to the north west of our property.  While on the phone I checked the Fire Tasmania website and it advised of a bush fire burning out of control 3kms to the North West of my house.  I told Kitty I would leave work around 3:30pm so that we could check our preparations and be on watch.  At 3:27pm I received a message from the local primary school advising that, due to road closures, the school bus was not in operation and the children needed to be picked up by parents.  I called home and left a message for Kitty to let her know and then left work.  A short 30 minute bus ride later I arrived at my car and began the drive up to my home, expecting to see some smoke in the distance and nothing serious.

Cresting the first mountain I could see a large, billowing, plume of smoke coming from close to where my property was located on the other side of the valley.  I became concerned and quite nervous at this point.  While I continued down into the valley I divided my attention between driving safely, mentally going over my preparations for this situation, and looking towards the burning area (trying to deduce the location of the fire in relation to my home).  Just before I reached the road to my house I was stopped at a Police road block.  The constable advised me that the road was closed due to fire.  While I felt that I needed to get to my house to assist Kitty in any evacuation plans, I felt that arguing with the constable would be wasted time and as I knew of an alternate route there was no need to simply drive around him.  I turned the car around and drove along an alternate route that would deposit me further along the road to my house.  All the while I was starting to worry about my family and I was becoming very nervous.  Within a few minutes I arrived at my home and I immediately noticed that Kitty was not home.  The house was locked, yet it appeared that she had left in a hurry.  Near the front door, Kitty had stacked our Bug out Bags (these are bags which we had prepared previously that contained clothing, shoes, medicine, food, as well as hard drives full of photos and important documents).  I noticed that one of our UHF handsets was taken from the docking station, I grabbed another and began attempting to contact Kitty.  There was no answer from our channel so I assumed that either Kitty was on her way to our fall back location, or that she had forgotten to turn on her radio.  I then had to make a decision… as Michael Geoffrey Jones famously asked, “Should I stay or should I go”?  I decided to go to our regrouping location (a location which we had previously decided was where we would go should be we separated) and to that end I started packing my car with the bug out bags, all the while continuing to monitor the direction of the smoke and attempting to contact Kitty on the radio.

As I approached locked the front door and started to walk to the car I saw Kitty driving down the driveway.  Kitty told me that she had been at the school and was waiting for me to see her car and pull in on the way home.  I had been too focused on driving and the fire to notice the car so I had apparently driven past it.  When I asked Kitty about the radio she mentioned she had grabbed it as part of our preps, yet in the excitement she had forgotten to turn it on.  We called a local friend who knew details from high up in the Fire Service.  They advised that while it looked bad, there was no immediate threat to my property.  Later that evening I packed the bug out bags and other essentials into the cars and settled in for the night.

Things were looking worse on the next morning.  The Fire Tasmania website had escalated the threat warning to “Watch and Act”, which signifies that there is a significant danger.  During the morning we were once again in discussion with our local contact who told me that they were evacuating.  Outside the smoke was getting thicker and we could regularly hear firetrucks driving up and down our nearest road every few minutes.  The feeling that we needed to get out of there was growing stronger by the minute.  Kitty was walking around and seemed to be packing random items in the extra bags we had (she told me later that she was nervous and was packing by intuition).  Finally, we decided late in the morning it was time to go.  The car was already packed and there was no room for the dogs.  I felt that this would not be a problem as I hoped the danger would be over in a few hours and we could return home.  Kitty and I loaded the kids and ourselves in the cars, turned on our UHF radios and rolled out.  I had the radios as I expected there to be roadblocks, smoke, or we could be separated.  With the radios ewe were sure to be in contact.  The drive down to the city was mostly uneventful, apart from some young guy road raging on me (which I didn’t emulate, causing him to become even more angry).  It was strange driving through the city with so much on our minds, and everyone else was going about their daily business without any thought for our problems.  We took the children to a large park in Sandy Bay and discussed our next move.  While there we met another resident of our town who had evacuated.  She told us that she new the fire fighters and they had told her that this fire would take days to get under control.  With this new info we decided that we needed to arrange accommodation for the night.  After lunch we went to Kitty’s mother’s house and used her internet to look up hotels.  I had great difficulty in locating accommodation because nearly all hotels were booked due to a festival in Hobart that weekend.  The only place I could find for that night, for our large family, was a caravan park out at Rosny.  I booked the room and we headed there to check in.

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The caravan park wasn’t that bad.  The rooms were not crowded and the place was clean.  There was a children’s park and mini golf area so we had something to keep the kids out of trouble.  After dinner we had trouble getting the kids to go to sleep as they were sleeping in bunk beds and were too excited.  Eventually everyone settled down for the night and Kitty and I were hopeful that the event would be over quickly so that we could return home.

Monsanto vs. American Farmers

I noticed an story on Russia Today, featuring a news article on Monsanto suing farmers.  It states that Monsanto have won more than $23 million from hundreds of farmers who have been sued for patient infringements due to growing Monsanto genetically modified seeds without paying Monsanto.  I will let the article speak for itself.

http://rt.com/usa/news/monsanto-seeds-trial-bowman-123/

Looking into this I found three other articles which address this, with two discussing Monsanto suing small farmers and allegations of Monsanto illegally trespassing on private property to investigate patient infringements from organic farms (which was apparently due to accidental cross-pollination from neighboring Monsanto farms).  The third link is from Monsanto providing their side of the story.

http://www.rodale.com/research-feed/organic-vs-monsanto-organic-farmers-lose-right-protect-crops

http://www.cropchoice.com/leadstry4901.html?recid=470

http://www.monsanto.com/newsviews/Pages/troy-roush.aspx

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tsu

With the start of 2013 come new ideas and directions.  Every day, while at the office in which I work, people ask me questions on my farm or animals.  Several times a day I am asked about growing food, solutions to people’s garden problems or on raising animals.  After answering a question on rabbits recently, a friend made a joke that I should write a blog.  I realised that there is so much interest in my lifestyle that a blog could be fun and might be of interest to many people.  This has led to the creation of my blog.

I live with my partner, Kitty, and our four children on 20 acres in the south of Tasmania, Australia.  The origin of our change in lifestyle could be traced to five years ago, when we lived on the mainland of Australia and were suffering through the middle of a 5 year long drought.  Rain was scarce and my garden was suffering from lack of water.  A few years prior to this I had purchased John Seymour’s The New Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency and was thoroughly inspired to get back to basics.  This book explains John Seymour’s views on Self Sufficiency and gives a brief introduction to a huge range of topics as a gateway intending to be an beginners guide to the subject.  Reading this book really opened my eyes to the possibilities of producing my own food and wanting to get back in touch with my farming roots.  I wanted, despite the enormity of the task, to emulate John Seymour.  I have since realised that this was foolish and that I should follow my own path, yet I continue to be inspired by John Seymour’s work and the efforts of many others in this field.

After much deliberation and research we moved to Tasmania 4 years ago, looking for a remote location that had sufficient rainfall and a more temperate climate.  We were very fortunate to find our dream house on 20 acres in a rural area close to Hobart (the capital of Tasmania).  The house was built by a small family who sold the house as they wanted to move back to the city.  Very little had been done to improve the land, with only a few trees planted, and a large fire break around the house.  This seemed perfect for my family and would allow us to move in and, from the beginning, to work towards a self sufficient lifestyle (or as close as we could get to that goal).

Since that time we have worked hard to reach our target.  I work weekdays in the city, which is a major hindrance to working on the property, and because of this we have had to convert our original plans so that little input is needed to continue with our dream.

I hope that this blog may provide people with some inspiration as well as knowledge on how to, or not to, achieve your goal.

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