Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Bridges are burned

Well, our tickets to Australia are booked, we think. The kids are on the aeroplane, I just hope that we are also. The super gentleman I spoke to on the phone, said we shouldn't panic for 3 days. Three days, I battle to wait for 3 hours!!

The house is still waiting for an inspector to check that it exists, before it is totally, definitely sold. But with the tickets sorted, we will be leaving South Africa on 30 December whatever happens to the house.

So we arrive in Hobart on 1 January, what a way to start a New Year, I just cannot wait!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

First call to the Island...

I suppose it was inevitable -after several e-mails etc, that we'd end up having to make a 'phone call to someone on Flinders -- Barbs got a heads up from Gerard Walker of Flinders Island Cabin Park (we'd sent a feeler e-mail about long term and caravans) and he put us in touch with a friend of his who is leaving and wanted a longer term rental -- A bit more than we wanted to pay, but it did offer a firm foothold. Only the friend didn't have e-mail... so we ended calling this morning. It didn't quite work out (he wants years, we want months) but the bloke was pleasant, decent and friendly and helpful about it. And there was something of a frisson to knowing B was talking to someone across several large chunks of ocean. It kind of brought home to me how much things have changed - once a letter would have had to wait for two boats to get there, and taken months.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gimme a vegemite sandwich

Well in my morning look at getting an Australian education I read of Vegemite iSnack 2.0... another little surprise waiting for me. :-) I'm a foodie, so I as bit taken aback by an editorial in the Age calling for more regulation to control obesity. Moderation in all things - including how much you eat of them and the regulations you slap on 'em in my opinion. I was pleased to see the commentors didn't think much of his idea though.
Mind you the article about the old duck wandering into the ?the foreign minister's house and giving him a good bollocking about something was just charming. Unbelievable from here, where besides razor wire and a six foot fence the minister for belly-button lint would have at least 5 body-guards (so they can feel important) who would have shot her dead. The unlocked door was so cool.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Austrobludgeon rain making ritual (or possibly something more arcane)

Now B and I have been working on learning as much as we can about our new country -- because someone who doesn't try and fit in to the culture and norms of the place deserves to be as miserable as they're going to be. In a lot of ways it's not too hard: there are a lot of parallels between the places and cultures, and we share some of the source material. We speak the same language (mostly) and have a similar sense of humour. We play the same sports... well, mostly. Now Barbs is a cricket fan and so the TV was on the sports channel. I'm a mediocre spectator as I like doing rather than watching, and I like the more solitary outdoor/danger-sports myself but in order to get on with people (in this area for instance it's rugby union and cricket) actually knowing a little about the sport and players is social lubricant. So when I switched on the TV to watch the news with my breakfast (boring, middle-aged habit of mine, but B's usually not up then, and if she is, eats on the run. I've been up for a few hours and like to switch off mail etc mode, and move onto book mode.) there was Australian commentator talking so instead of switching over to news I watched... and after 25 minutes I concluded I had either stumbled on the Austrobludgeon rain making ritual -- there was quite a lot of crashing into each other and bleeding and it was chucking down with rain, or something more arcane still - 'Australian rules'. The ball was a miniture rugby ball, the field was a cricket pitch, they played basketball with no hoops and the poles had made babies... and after 25 minutes I had figured they were trying to kick the ball between some of the posts. I wasn't sure which direction they were playing in or what else they were doing. Oh, and they had IIRC behinds, which were not at all what I thought they might be any more than 'silly mid-on' is what any non-cricket innoculated person would think it was. Still... I thought 'better learn if you want to fit in' so I looked it up on Wikipedia... Which clarified a few things, but I suspect this going to be a steep learning curve. Why are there so many poles?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Driving the dishwashing liquid

I took a bottle of dishwashing liquid for a drive to the dairy this morning. I'm not usually quite this insane. It's the sort of thing that usually only happens at the end of the book, which sadly I'm not at right now. It was supposed to be a milk bucket... Still, in my defense I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. Duchess, the tortoiseshell cat, was AWOL. Now, she is quite prone to being 'the cat who walks by herself, and all places are alike to her' (except of course when she wants meee-owlk, or a warm human to sleep on.) But I guess I'm being a little oversensitive about them at the moment. She wasn't there at supper, a no-show at bedtime (so we did a search of the usual in-house haunts), and then switched the light on every time a cat came in. And between four of them, well three, they do a lot of coming and going and pouncing on dangerous items like the food bowl. Normally, I keep the torch at the bedside, but it seems that it went for a hike with my sons and is now ornamenting Grahamstown from where I will not expect it to return. A student life is very dangerous for torches. At 11 I decided that there was no point in failing to sleep and went and searched her usual haunts in the garden, in the dark. Fun. Duchess is not known for coming when she's called unless she happens to want to. And tortoiseshell cats aren't just gray in the dark. They're invisible. Anyway, nursing my bruises, I crawled back into bed, to wake up every time a cat or dog stirred. I gave up eventually at four and went to find the siren coffee... And La Duchesse fast asleep on the dining room table en route. Oh well, that's cats. She gave me an appreciative yawn, tolerated a cuddle, and enjoyed some meee-owlk. So maybe my brain is a little more out to lunch than usual. I got to thinking about possible accommodation on the island while we built our new home. Possibly not the wisest time to evolve these sort of ideas, but that's how it works. Tenuous train of logic -- if getting there is so expensive, and transporting a caravan is right out cost wise, maybe a boat would do. So the wee hours of this morning saw me looking for secondhand boats. A little later, when ordinary people without missing cats were awake I called my brother.
"So, Carl, um, I just had another crazy thought, if I can't get a caravan to stay in while we build, what about a boat? A yacht, they're cheaper than motorboats."
Long silence. "They're boat shaped holes in the water you pour money into. And you'd have to get a skipper's ticket just to get there."
"Well, there is one for sale on the island. I could get my skipper's ticket later. "
"That's a possibility I suppose. Still, you'd have to look at the cost of mooring. How big is this boat?"
"27 feet."
"That's bloody tiny, Dave. It probably could go on a trailer."
"Er, yes. The ad did say there was a trailer. Is that bad? I really don't know anything about yachts."
Long silence. "If it was 40 foot, and you loved sailing, and it was really cheap it might make sense. But you don't and it doesn't."
"But the boys do. And I thought seeing as it was on a trailer, I could just tow it to the property. It could be a caravan now, and a boat later. No mooring fees and I wouldn’t get seasick"
It all made perfect sense to me at the time. Nearly as much sense as the idea of attaching the 5 hp outboard to a container, taking 20 L of fuel and sailing to Tassie did. Admittedly, that theory was evolved at the end of a roast leg of pork with laced with dried mango, and possibly a few glasses too many.
Oh by the way, the dishwashing liquid said it enjoyed the trip.
Just some of the many cliffs on Mount StrZelecki (with extra Zeee for Clare ;-))

In the lee of Trousers Point

Just a substantial cliff on Mount StrZelecki (with extra Zee for Clare). One of many.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

What...per square metre? (gulp)

Barbs got the ferry charges out to the island... WOW. Ok, Self sufficiency just went on overdrive. We're going to have to do a radical rethink!
$83.67 per square metre...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I’ve found the leaving process hard and depressing. Look, we wouldn’t be going if I didn’t have high hopes for both the people and the place. But, well, it’s a bit like watching a dream die here. It is sad too. So we went off to the Wild Coast for a long weekend of fishing and diving spiny lobster with my brother (who has been my regular dive-partner for 20 odd years) and some friends to try and shake it off.

In typical fashion, the weather was glorious... For ducks and those who love twisty pot-holed roads in the mist and mizzle. (Wild Coast roads: you can tell how deep the potholes are by how much of the donkey’s ears are visible.) By local standards the roads are in good nick and only moderately cavernous. Of course the livestock are not fenced and they and most of local ‘taxis’ (minibus driven by a maniac, or elderly bald-tyred truck held together with rust and baling wire as well as the sheer weight of occupants) should be. We’d gone to a new place rather than one of our regular haunts --Mgazana. (31degrees 41'45.95" S 29 degrees 25'11.71" E). It’s beautiful (the wild coast is) -- and pretty fuberised biologically. (A situation created by the non-existent policing of the conservation laws, with the locals taking -- to sell -- with no regard for limits to size or numbers. Once it must have been very wonderful. I'd hang, draw and quarter the buyers and settle for hanging the first three sellers ;-)). As a result the diving proved moderately lousy, although the selection of sea-urchins was impressive. I just love finding the long sharp spines in the crevices I’m feeling up for spiny lobster. Yes, the lobster are spiny too... but the spines are shorter and don’t break off after penetrating your fingers. Anyway pain while pulling your dinner out of a crack is vastly different from pain when not pulling your dinner out of a crack.

Still, the views are really cool with wind-etched trees and sea-carved coast (camera batteries died :-( - more lesson for Flinders. Some pictures will be forthcoming from Chantelle) the company was good, the mud-crab curry (had me doing headstands in a cold shower the next day) was great, and the expression on my brother’s face when the throttle-lever on the outboard detached itself in his hand and we hurtled with crazy uncontrolled 5HP speed toward the mangroves, priceless. And every place needs a few stilty legged mangroves in an attractive shade of blue. Really. Adds to the charm.

B and I were determined to hone our ‘survive-on-Flinders’ skills so very bravely she put sardine (My B does not love sardine. It pongs) on her hooks and cast out at passing rocks. She got a couple of small Caranteen much to our pride. We will not starve, methinks. She’s gone from first grade to first-year uni at this in very short order. She’ll soon be better at it than me. Okay, that’s not hard. Than most people.

I swam the estuary with a throw-net (I’d never used one, and I am determined to learn. Have caught leaves on the lawn, practising.) On the incoming tide --I’m an idiot, but not enough of an idiot to do this on an outgoing tide!. With very low water it was a doddle 30 metre swim. I felt a bit spare with a wetsuit and fins for the job. Two hours later -- with 8 mullet (Some people throw perfect circles. I throw a lot of perfect bananas) I set off back, getting as close to the mouth as possible before getting into the water -- with an 80 metre swim and the tide racing in about as fast as a man can run I really didn’t think the wetsuit or fins were overkill. I thought I was in for a tour of the mangroves several klicks upstream.

Anyway, in more rain, after some fine art work (a new temporary number plate for the boat trailer contrived from the inside of an oreo packet with some charcoal and then mud-shielded with a plastic packet) we slithered our way muddily back.

The dogs are glad to see me. Even the cats were. Or maybe it is the lingering odour of sardine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Flying Logic

We are going to live in Australia. I couldn't find a ship going there, cheaply, so we have to fly. Do you know that it is cheaper to buy a return ticket, than a single going only one way?? As in R6000 for going both ways and R8000 just to go one way? On the same day going over, on the same aeroplane!! I will never understand the world and its logic.

So we will possibly buy return tickets, and may even use them one day.

School terms etc.

Balancing acts... our boys need to be back at Uni early Feb (Pads is third year next year, and as they're not eligible for HECS it is a lot cheaper for them to finish undergrad in SA (they're in residence - 10 hours drive or 5 hours (if you're lucky) flight away.) Rhodes is an exceptional old-fashioned Uni and they're doing (cough) rather well. They have Visas too, and we hope they'll love Oz and move there. They are not staying here, postgrad. But to be vain, Australia is going to have put out its best, as they're very desirable migrants :-), even if I try to be dispassionate about it. Hey _I_'d like them close. But I think, given Pads results and field that quite a few places will want him and be bidding for him too. And James is heading in to Geology and Physics - geophysics as a goal. They're in demand.) The school holidays in SA tend be near the beginning of December, and go back at mid Jan. Blissful in may assumptions that all Southern Hemisphere places were alike... we assumed getting to Tas 31 December (cheap flights) would see holidays slowing down and by the time we'd sorted our lives (licences, getting a vehicle, maybe a caravan) holidays would be over and people would be broke and glad to sell off the caravan they never want to see again (until next year) and peak season rates would be heading out, and we could see a little of Tas with the boys before heading to island on the now empty ferry (as all the traffic would be going the other way). Oh boy, best laid plans... The schools go back in Feb. After our boys are both house-com and need to be back by the time the Tas schools do.

So: another fiendish plan in tatters.

Monday, September 14, 2009

tis done

Ye bank has Okayed our house-buyer's loan. So tis done.

Some more on whys and wherefores

I got it again today. "Only you would go and settle on an obscure little island."
The subtext read. "You do these crazy things for effect."
Sigh. Yes, B and I have ended up doing some bizzaro stuff. Living in weird houses built by Murphy. Writing Science Fiction. But oddly enough, it mostly makes some kind sense at the time. There are reasons, sometimes even quite good ones. Of course some of them make as much sense as an emu on acid, but the one reason that there really never has been is 'for effect, because its weird'. LOL. The honest truth is I don't care enough about what the world in general thinks of me to ever make that a valid reason (specific people, a different matter entirely). I became a Shark Fishery Researcher not because it was gung-ho, or glamourous or exciting... It was exciting at times, but the truth is I'd been promised a dream research job... and B and I having resigned our jobs so I could take it... it fell through after keeping us hanging for three months. I had gone to a bunch of employment agencies etc... and got nothing. So when I called a friend at UCT to hear if he knew of anything, and he told me the current Shark Fishery researcher had resigned -- I hastily applied. I'd have taken ANY job right then. People kept telling me "you're over-qualified", which has to be one of the stupider reasons I have ever had to deal with. And so I spent three years in small boats messing with things that bite. And so on...

So now why an island in Bass Strait? The truth is - as far as I'm concerned - its disadvantages play to our advantage, and make this possible. For a start, the island is actually quite large - bigger than the Seychelles, or Bermuda, nearly the same size as Grande Comore or Maritius, or three times the size of Barbados. So no, not one palm tree, and some white sand. It's one of a group of 52 islands (the biggest), and has for Australia a fairly substantial mountain, 2480 feet high (and it basically starts at sea level). The climate is cool temperate (it claims to have more sun than the Gold Coast. We shall see.). There is seldom frost, and the average January (midsummer) Temperature: 13 to 22 °C (60 to 71 °F), and average July(midwinter) Temperature: 6 to 13 °C (43 to 56 °F). It rains enough, but it is not sodden. In other words, it's a fairly pleasant spot to be, weatherwise, if like me you really don't like extreme heat or endlessly bitter cold.

So what ARE the disadvantages? Why is going there so unusual? Well, quite simply, it is relatively inaccessible. It's an 8 hour ferry ride, or an expensive small plane flight. And Australia is a huge country with a lot of land and a lot of opportunities. Flinders has a great climate, and is big compared to Barbados... but it's tiny compared to Western Australia. And there is a little farming and a little fishing, and a little tourism in summer ('cause that's the long holiday). Compared to the rest of Australia, unemployment is high. And the population has bobbed around and might be dropping... at around 8-900 people. Barbados by comparison at 1/3 the size has 280 000 people.

For most people - love the idea as much as they might - there is no way they can go and live there. It's not a viable life-choice for a decent working bloke, and for most of the idle rich it's too far from the theaters and restuarants, and for retirees - a bit far from a hospital for comfort, maybe. For us... it may be the only viable kind of choice. Because a mid-list writer like myself earns an erratic living, not a fortune, and Banks (understandably) do not consider us good mortgage risks. So we have to either rent cheaply or find something really, really cheap. And that is inevitably somewhere where people don't want to or can't go and live. Now there are some cheap alternatives in the 'don't want to' bracket. Hot and dry, cold and wet, isolated, or screwed up beyond recognition. But you'd go a long way to find a 'can't' place as pleasant as Flinders Island. And because I can work anywhere... the main reason for 'can't' falls away. I don't take anyone's job and I'm hoping that just that little extra trickle going into the local businesses is a good thing, and B and I are good at fit-in and chip-in. We've fought fires with the local farmers, been involved in various committes and organisations. No, no desire to take over or be the queen bee. Just fit to the place and do our bit. I like rural communities, and I like knowing my neighbours. No, they're not all rednecks.

The other reason of course is a writer's life of feast and famine. I might get two-three cheques a year, and sometimes ( here is the reality of publishing) they can be very very late. Averaged over a year, it's liveable. Paying monthly bills... it can be uncomfortable (especially here with the wild exchange rate fluctuations - you thought you had so much, and by the time it arrives it's somehow, always against you ;-).) So you do your very best not to have monthly bills. Some are unavoidable, but you learn to be careful... and in my case, be as self-sufficient as possible. This is not an option in a rented flat (which also has monthly rent). It's got limits in suburbia. Even here with 5 hectares - about 12 acres, there are limits. Nothing grows here in winter. But the climate is gentler where I am going, and more importantly, I'll be back at the sea, and one that has relatively low fishing and diving pressure. I was born into a commercial fisherman's family -- my dad had two jobs -- as mister mate on the old Bess every Sunday (and sometimes other days - but that was when mostly they went fishing. Not exactly for fun... he'd bring home a sugar-pocket of fish every weekend) I was scaling, gutting, gilling back before I could properly reach the sink -- I still remeber my dad had a wooden soft-drink crate for me to stand on (said W. Daly on the side - wooden crates!). I started diving from about 8... so, unlike most folk I really do have the background to live largely off the sea. We did so for 3 years when I was doing M.Sc. It'll be different and I'll have a lot to learn. But I do have some experience that most people don't.

See, all logical and quite sensible really.

Oh and did I mention that Island has some of the best rock-climbing in Australia?
Maybe not so sensible ;-).
But logical.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I truly suck at the waiting game (which means the last profession on earth I should undertake is 'author'. B and I are going nuts waiting for the final word on the house being sold here in SA. It just makes forward planning almost impossible. Both of us are planners by nature. Sigh. wait and see does not work for me.

Anyway - for a writer (not a farmer) what is lowest hassle alternative Bush, forest, or rough grassland (I think the last myself - less fire worry, but more wind.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

Shocking hurdle past

The electricians came and checked our wiring (a requirement for selling) We passed the test no hassles. It's interesting as wiring in the back country (and plumbing and building and you name it) are things you do yourself. Sometimes that can be a very bad thing... but more often it's over-engineered. Gradually regulation is creeping out into the country (the wiring check for eg) and I must admit I find it rather sad. Okay the selling process does mean leaving it caveat emptor is a risk the buyer may have adopted a death-trap unwittingly, so fair enough. But I actually baulk a little at nannying people. It's hard and expensive enough to live in the back-blocks without adding a layer of beaurocracy that is cheap and probably necessary in cities. If you want to be stupid - well the cost of that was always removing you from the gene-pool. So now we really want to save idiots from themselves so can they breed more like themselves?

One of the horror-stories that 'we don't want you to emigrate' tell about Australia (along with the other perennial fave "The people are so unfreindly. No one ever invites you in to their house. Well, maybe it's them because so far in our little blunder around Tas we got fed tea and lunch and got several more invitations we couldn't take up. Haven't exactly found a shortage of friends yet either) is that the petty rules are smothering, and that the neighbours shop you. Now, we'll just to learn to live with it. But please, someone out there tell me an element of common sense comes into this? I can see it if you live Sydney or Adelaide or even a reasonable sized town. But I've fixed plumbing on fishfarms. If my loo breaks or pipe pops... I'm not expected to wait 16 hours to fly someone in and pay an arm and a leg for the flight to fix it am I? Please tell me this is another one of those 'the people are so unfriendly' stories and that some pragmantism rules. I know there are red lines, but surely there are practical ones?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

straw bales

Looking at property prices and the fact that this author's earnings are erratic and not overwhelming (therefore, gee, banks don't like to lend us money - I can't - for once, say I blame them) and rentals are just not something the Island seems to do, I have a suspicion that we'll be buying a piece of bush and living in a caravan or shed for a fair while, while we get some kind of house built. While I am absolutely certain this will be moderately uncomfortable and cold, at least we don't have to do this with toddlers, as various friends have done. Also, looking at other various friends, I've learned - it might be slightly more expensive per square foot, but we're going to do this modular-fashion. Room by room if need be! I'm not living for years under a tarp because -- as is inevitable the grandiose plan is too darn expensive to finish. Of course I'd like to build a well-insulated (and preferably off grid) house that is ecologically sensible (not green to the fruitbat extreme ;-) but just made with local materials where possible and making sensible use of sun, wind and good insulation. And skylights! I must admit to curiousity about straw bales for building. Or any other bright, non-damp, warm and comfortable ideas...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

it's the sheep-caviar

Important discussion today with Chantelle ( an artist friend who, along with husband and many dogs and cats (yes they do read!) also let themselves read John Seymour's Self-Sufficiency. They farm rabbits... and despite the ease and fecundity have persauded me I never want rabbits as I have no desire to man stalag-luft's escapist detetection units. And their chooks - and I am interested in chickens - I have kept them before - have gone egg-cannibal) on how old sheep-shit has to be before it is no longer sticky.

These are very important questions for someone who has looked at a big sheep paddock as a possible home.

Monday, September 7, 2009

One of the great things about Flinders... One's relatives can't drop in unexpectedly and eat all the fruit (yes I am sure the wallabies and birds will do the same. We just had the monkeys outside, that was all, and I had nothing much else to say.)


Bleah. One of the places we considered remotely possible on Flinders is up for auction... on the 31st of October. Not likely to happen :-( bleah.

I should never look at places on the net. Depressed now.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Are you trying to imply my bed isn't going with me?

Oh I get it. You mean that you can't put it the container, because it is going with me to this 'quarantine' place. Well, I do understand that. I need a king-sized bed. There really isn't room for my minions otherwise. If it wasn't for them I could maybe cope with a queen-size.

What do you mean 'no minions'?

Going to pot

Francis just brought home to me that I normally cook in great big cast iron pots. I've spent 20 years feeding flocks of locusts... well my kids, who also devour everything green (and red, and all the other shades of edible), and that I am likely - at best to be kitchen-stuff-less for 3 months or more.
So I have designed this new, elegant hand-luggage travelware for the migrant and other fashionable labelistas. The ultra-lightweight Falkirk luggable comes in at (as you can see if you have better eyes that I have) a delicate 12kg on the old shark scale, with a comforting five litre capacity, in which you can put all the other essentials of international travel, like clean socks :-).
On another amusing note: one of the movers called to inform me in tones of dulcet horror that the ferry to Flinders only sails once a week, and, um that has to time its voyages for the high tides. Chuckle. I didn't have the heart to tell her the truckie would probably have to spend 8 hours talking to the fellow passengers... sheep :-).

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"Take me, Take me!"

Ok so you're emigrating, going to live in a place you once spent three days in. It's an eight hour ferry ride to mainland, or a very expensive plane trip. And, let's be realistic, you're going to be broke a lot of the time (I am a writer. This is reality :-)). You have to choose 1)What you take at all. 2)What you take in your suitcase, because the container might take a long time getting there.

You have NO idea where you will live. You have no idea when you'll have a home, or what that home will be. You may spend 6 months like a gypsey.

I need something to write on. But that's about all I've established onto my list.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Mathom house

We're (read Barbs, me kicking and screaming and resisting) going through cupboards. Our move needs to be limited (and we're only really doing it because it's cheaper than starting again... and well, there are things that carry a lot of sentiment and determination.)
Of course there are things which we know we can't take (untreated wood, spices, herbs, garden tools, 20 years of fly tying feathers) and others we hope are Okay, and things we don't know how to be without...

But my word.

The Mathom house.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Save the dragons (and move the beasties)

With the help of Walt Boyes and Francis Turner (whose tuckerised incarnation may die in more books than Joe Buckley ;-)) Save the Dragons -- my fundraising book sale for the dogs and cats is now underway.

Today we had the guys come to check the house for borer and white ants. All good...

I suppose because we're twitchy the cats and dogs are too. That makes it harder still.