Cold winter

As I expected, not much is happening on building construction over the colder/darker months.  We had trouble finding an engineer so we can get the Construction Certificate.  We have a way ahead now, you just have to add enough zeroes to the end of the bill.

Here’s an update on Ginger, our part-dingo dog.

Ginger was passed onto us from a friend, when our (now deceased) Labrador Cara proved unable to protect the house paddock from foxes.  Ginger used to do regular perimeter patrols, and kept everything under control.  She didn’t miss much, and could move stealthily when she wanted.

My favourite Ginger story is on my son Owen’s twelfth birthday, when had some friends to camp over in one of our big medieval tents.  They had a campfire, and sizzled up some sausages.  Strangely, the pile of cooked sausages never seemed to get any bigger, and at the end of the night, Ginger was utterly stuffed and snoring loudly at the edge of the fire.  The boys had to make do with chips and lollies, poor fellows.

Anyway, Ginger is now old and grey and deaf, and was sleeping most of the day.  We’ve heard that her litter-mates are now in the habit of suddenly dropping dead, so we’re expecting to lose her soon.

That’s a big part of why we got Buster, to provide some fox protection.  Ginger will play with Buster, to a point.  She yelps at him when he gets a bit rough, but keeps going.  I think it’s given her a new lease of life, though Allison reckons she still gets a lot of snoozing over a day.

Our other dog, Bella, is a little bitser-dog, and she doesn’t enjoy playing with Buster.  She insists that she’s an indoor dog most of the time, and as she’s an old lady too she is getting away with it.

Buster has been doing well, except for one notorious day when I found him in the peacock pen, with several dead peacocks and others missing (never to return).  I shouted very loudly in his face, and he has been very well behaved since.  The trick was in keeping out of Allison’s view until her rage receded.  She spared him because he’s absolutely focused on me, and she thinks that’s good for both dog and me.

The whole state is in drought, and we are very low on grass.  We are getting some exceptionally cold mornings: last Saturday was minus 9 degrees Celsius, which I think is a record for our time on the farm.  The pipes froze; last winter they froze at -5 deg, but our usual plumbers fixed the flawed installation of a new hot water system by lagging the pipes.  This year they avoided freezing at -8 deg, but the extra degree down was just too much and fair enough too.

Bouncing Busters

In the comic Calvin, the “hero” arrives home from school and is inevitably met with a tiger whirlwind.

I feel a bit like that going to work.  In a freshly-ironed shirt, I step outside and Buster spies me from a great distance.

He comes in fast and low like a muddy exocet missile.  He crashes affectionately into me, and I’m immediately filthy.

For the most part, I’ve trained him out of jumping up on me – my knee comes out very quickly now.  In Buster’s world, the proper place for a puppy is on his master’s lap, and the fact that he’s nearly as big as me is just a minor logistical issue.

Ally and I consecutively had the current vomiting virus last weekend, and we’ve been sore and sorry since then.  Yesterday I decided an after-lunch nap was in order, and went to the guest house which has my very old but comfy leather armchairs.  Buster was whimpering loudly outside, so I decided he could come in and lie down on the floor near me.

That lasted less than a minute, then I had a hefty Huntaway spreadeagled on top of me, licking my face.  I settled him, and still had a snooze, with my mate happily snoring away on top of me too.

He would still like to be a herder, and had another go with our young Clydesdale Gareth.  Gareth didn’t like this interloper barking at him, so turned around and gave Buster both barrels.  At least one connected, and sent Buster away howling at high speed.  In case there ever was any doubt, Buster can leap over any of our fences, and we found him sooking down the laneway.

Our old horse Chad, who is the calmest beast you’ll ever come across, has been allowed into the house paddock because there’s little feed in the big paddock and Chad has no teeth.  Buster now keeps well away from Chad and hides between the houses.

Otherwise, Buster has stayed at home and been well behaved.  He does have a habit of finding odd things from anywhere on the property and gathering them like a dragon’s hoard on the grass in front of our house.  Mostly it is rubbish that will be thrown out when I can bend over comfortably again.

I expect he’ll grow out of his puppy behaviour in time, which will mostly be a sad thing.  It does lift your spirits to be smashed by a wet dirty gleeful puppy in the mornings.


It has been confirmed that Stone Dog Meadery (see a couple of posts ago) was the most popular stand at the Canberra Beer Festival.  It didn’t seem all that busy to me, but perhaps we’re just better at it now.  Allison says it’s because she did some excellent signs which explained the story, which meant we didn’t have to do that for every new customer.  Congratulations Steve and Lavender!

Naughty Buster

Buster the dog is a bit puzzled by all this rock production activity.  What a waste of time, when we could be … taking him for a walk!

He tries to help though.  He’s not clear on why we stack rocks on pallets, but he’s happy to leap up on top and give us encouragement.

He’s not sure why we dig out buckets of aggregate from the mound in the driveway.  Yesterday he was next to me as I dug, earnestly scratching away with his paws and his teeth, to do his bit.

Surely there’s some rounding up he could do for us?

Last week he decided to proactively round up a goose (a flying sheep?), to show us his skills.  Unfortunately the goose ran to the dam and swam circles.  Buster swam behind barking, and must have been close to exhaustion when I got to him.  I dragged him out of the dam, hauled his face up in front of mine, and loudly growled that he wasn’t to do that again.  And he hasn’t.

I didn’t even use bad language, or maximum volume.  That’s for DEFCON 10, which I hope we’ll never get to.

Ginger the Half-dingo is still playing with him, though as a grand dame it’s a bit half-hearted.

Bella the Bitser regards all that as a bit beneath her, and Buster is a brash and obnoxious youngster.  Bella’s health seems to be deteriorating; she had a skin cancer removed a few months ago, and we are wondering if it’s spreading.  Bella still comes up for a pat when it’s quiet.

Allison expects we’ll lose both the old dogs in the next year, so she’s on the lookout for another dog, as more company for Buster.  Something with short legs, so it can’t get over our fences and have two dogs looking for trouble.

The horses and two original alpacas are still doing fine, though there’s very little grass around.  Need some rain soon!

Barking beasts various

Daylight saving has ended, which means that it will often be dark and cold when I get home.  So our rock production will now be mostly on weekends.  We have the process running very smoothly now.  We’ve just received a couple more corner moulds which will reduce repetition of shapes.

We missed out on rocks one weekend recently when we helped out Allison’s brother Steve (Stone Dog Meadery) at the Canberra Beer and Cider Festival.  They were again one of the most popular stalls.  They had a couple of new session meads flavoured with myrtle eucalyptus, which were sensational.

Buster the dog is still being good, mostly…  He did have a fight over a bone with Bella, which left her with a sore shoulder for a week – and she is a big sook when injured.  He still loves me to bits.  I have to pat him for 10 minutes whenever I get home from work, or he won’t let me do anything else.


Usually we spend Easter at the Rowany Medieval Festival, effectively the national medievalist event.  For complicated reasons, the event this year is three weeks later, and we aren’t going.

Instead, Okewaite had a small medieval event at Cockatrice Farm on Easter Friday.  Okewaite is our name for the Goulburn and Southern Highlands branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).

The event was the “Barking Beast Tavern”, celebrating Okewaite’s mascot heraldic beast, the camelopard.  Medieval travellers had heard of a beast from Aethiopia, with a very long neck and spots, which ate acacia trees.  It looked like (and maybe even was) a hybrid of a camel and a leopard.  Something very similar was bounding about the forests of (Arthurian) England, a barking beast for which knights quested (a pun as “questen” meant both barking and questing at the time).

As none of the artists had seen a giraffe in person, the illustrations were highly variable.  In Okewaite, our native camelopards are white with (perfectly round) purple spots.  We actually have a two-man camelopard suit, which was intending to make an appearance, but despite ransacking the farm twice we couldn’t find it.  It’s probably with the two-man horse suit – which of course we have too.

Anyway here’s some photos from the event (thanks John and Laura):

The food included rustic mince-and-currant pies, roast chicken with Allison’s special sage rub, rabbit in verjuice, soups, etc.  Ally brewed some cider and ginger beer, and Steve brought along some good things too.

Buster was a delight during the event.  A friend brought her own dog, much of an age and size as Buster, and the two played furiously all day except for when they collapsed in sleep like toddlers.  All the dogs had a lovely time and no doubt plenty of tidbits.


Our old Labrador died last winter, and Ginger the Half-Dingo is now completely deaf and sleeps much of the day.  That left Bella the Bitsa, who isn’t really interested in chasing foxes, who now come brazenly into the house yard.  The peacocks have dark suspicions that Bella is herself a fox.

So we decided to get another dog.  I found one at the pound, a New Zealand Huntaway breed.  They look like a cross between a Doberman and a Border Collie, and they are bred to move large mobs of sheep on snowy mountainous regions – just like Cockatrice Farm isn’t.

Buster was on “death row” – his time at the pound had expired, and he needed a home urgently to avoid being put down.  A rescue group advertised this at my work, and he looked like he would make a fox think twice.

So I went to meet him.  He was a friendly if boisterous dog.  While driving home, a voice in my head said “His name is Buster”.  Then another voice said, “That’s a stupid name for a dog, he should be called something like Thucydides or Montgomery.”

The voices were unable to reach consensus, so I left it to Allison.  She met him the next day and checked doggie compatibility: Ginger and Bella both liked him.  Allison agrees that, in all possible universes, this dog’s name has to be Buster.

Buster was already stir-crazy from some weeks at the pound.  Then he had to go to the vet to have his nuts removed, and I picked him up after that.  It was a 90 minute drive back to the farm from there, with Buster tied up in the back seat.  He worked out that at full stretch he could force his head under my armpit, so I drove most of the way like that, with this huge whimpering puppy desperate for reassurance.

We got home, and Buster settled down quickly.  So far he seems really well behaved.  As his rescuer, I am to be eternally adored, and licked at every possible opportunity.

The next day, we took Buster for a walk in the paddock on a long rope.  This proved a bad idea, as Buster is strong and fast, and whenever he reached the end of the rope I would be yanked a good metre.  So we soon let him off the rope, and he did everything he was told and came when called.  The next day the geese were in the paddock, and he ignored them.  The horses were a bit of a shock to him but he’s adapted.  He’s had a good formal introduction to the cat, but I sense that one’s not quite over yet.

This morning, as I was leaving for work, a fox was sitting outside the house yard taunting the dogs.  So I opened the gate and told Buster to get him. Buster was across the field like lightning, and the fox got the shock of his life.  I think Buster actually caught him, but didn’t know what to do then.  Lots of pats and cuddles after that one!  (Foxy has been back, but much further away.)

I’ll report on Buster’s further progress.  I expect him to do something really naughty soon, to test the boundaries and see if we really love him.


Rocks again

It turned out that Golden Dragon just wanted a big drink first, then everything added slowly while it is running.  We’re getting along much better now.

Cleaning Golden Dragon each day is pretty quick with the hose.  Lots of water ends up over me too, which is not such a bad thing on these long warm autumn evenings.

Daylight saving ends on 1 April, after which I fear our daily rock production may have to move to weekends only.  Getting soaked at night in winter will have much less appeal.

That will give me back some weekday evenings to sort out the remaining engineering details.  We can put the new entry road in anytime.

The aim is to get the concrete slab down in August, and to get to lockup by Christmas.  (That’s not a sentimental thing, it’s when I have two weeks’ holiday to stick up all the stones we’ve made.)

If all goes well, and “Grand Designs” tells me it always does, we should be living there by June 2019.  No, not taking bets!


  • Golden dragon, ready for loading.
  • Red dragon, now retired, in front of our second 3 tonne pile of aggregate
  • Rocks piled up on pallets; house site in the background.


Yet more rocks

Suddenly, it’s March.  Until very recently, we’ve still been using Mog’s ancient mixer, which I’m calling Red Dragon.  Red Dragon is a classic and proven design, and used within its intended spec is very reliable.

Our standard mix is about 50% too much for the mixer.  We could make a smaller mix, but then we’d have more work to do and have to measure two-thirds-bags of cement, which would be horrible.

We got around this by putting the mixer in a sling, so it can take extra mixture.  That doesn’t mix efficiently, and the dry materials clump at the back and have to be scraped off.  So we mix two-thirds first then add in the extra aggregate and water.  While in a sling, the mixer is unstable, and knocking off a big lump of unmixed material can cause it to spin around and empty.  At that point, I leap in to try to steady it, and gears and levers fly everywhere and into me, and the whole mixer falls over.

In other words, Red Dragon bites.  Treated carefully, it works OK.  When I’m tired, which almost never happens after I’ve been working all day in Canberra, mistakes happen.

So we bought Golden Dragon, a shiny but disturbingly flimsy Chinese mixer which is three times the size and half the price of the conventional equivalent.  I was hoping to write that this had solved all our problems, but the mixer arrived without a rubber gasket to join the two halves of the mixing bowl – so it has just been in our way.


We got used to Red Dragon, and with great care and the right incantations it was working reliably.

After some weeks, the company sent us a replacement gasket for the new mixer – which had clearly been recycled from a returned unit – not a good sign.  So we finished assembling Golden Dragon and hoped for the best.

Our early impressions are that the unit is seriously underpowered.  It just gives up and stops.  We get a bit further if we set the mixing bowl at a high angle to start with, but not completely upright which makes the whole thing dangerously unstable.  Once it’s going, and with quite a liquid mix, we can drop the bowl to a lower angle which improves the mixing.

We can do a whole day’s mix in one go, which is great.  With Red Dragon, we decanted into buckets and filled the moulds from there.  With Golden Dragon, we have to dump the whole lot into a wheelbarrow, and fill the moulds using a scoop, which is physically easier.

At this stage, we have a problem with cement clumping at the back of the bowl, which we have to scrape off during the mix.  This requires bad language.

We had the same problem with Red Dragon, and got around it by fine-tuning the mix sequence.  So we’ll keep experimenting and see if we can get the new mixer behaving better.

Red Dragon has been sent back to its cave, though I sense that we’ll bring it back before the end.

Regular rocks

We’ve been making rocks for a week now, and finding a rhythm.

I work in Canberra all day, then drive home.  Allison gets a kiss and a quick conversation, then I drop my dacks at the front door and put on my ever-more-fragrant concreting gear.  Ally has her own work gear but she’s more modest.

We move the rocks from two days ago onto pallets, then Allison removes yesterday’s rocks from the moulds, cleans the moulds and paints them with face dye while I get the first concrete mix on.

We pour the mix into rectangular buckets – anything more than a third full is too heavy to manoeuvre – and then Ally pours them into the moulds while I get the second mix going.

After the second mix, I clean the mixer and we pack up.  Currently it takes more than an hour, but that will come down as we become more efficient.

We then have to remember to go out in an hour or two to put some grooves in the back of the stones; that will help them attach to the wall later.  It’s a quick and easy process with a gardening tool.  Sometimes we remember just before bed, and it’s more like scratching grooves in.

The new (giant) mixer may allow us to do just one concrete mix a day, without the constant monitoring of the mixer, which will save more time.

We received some colour recipes from the US, but they use quaint imperial units like ounces and cubic cubits or something.  They refer to colours of oxides that are different from ours.  Australian cement bags are 44.1 pounds in the old measures.  I set up a conversion spreadsheet for all the ingredients, and was very pleased when it turned out that two bags of Aussie cement gives us enough coloured concrete to exactly fill our moulds.

Our first couple of runs gave us rocks that were a bit washed out, with the cement colour predominant.  We doubled the “sandstone” oxides and improved our application methods for the “marigold” face dye.  That’s now our main mix, using some “light terracotta” oxides to give a bit of naturalish variation.

Getting our rocks off

We’re going to build a new house, out of giant polystyrene lego blocks.  It will have an early-1500s medieval manor vibe.

Several people at my work have built houses in this way.  Most people just render the polystyrene, and some put stone veneer on it.  That’s what we’ll do, as it helps with the medieval look.

You can buy the stone veneer commercially.  As a cost-saving measure, we’ve decided to make our own.

We’ve imported some rubber moulds from the US and we have started casting our own stones from concrete.  We’re still at the stage of experimenting with colours.  We have 14 standard moulds; each makes 3-4 rocks about an inch thick.  We need to do this every day for a long time.

Some of the moulds produce stones to go around corners – they take a little more effort, and the results are good.  We have 4 of the corner moulds; in theory we only need 2 for the right proportion, but got extras so that we shouldn’t notice duplicates.

The concrete gets a base colour, and then we paint them with some “face dye” (cement + colouring oxides).  That gives it a more natural variation, and we’re still experimenting with application techniques.

Our friend Mog has lent us a concrete mixer, to help us work out what size mixer we need.  His is not really big enough, so we’ve ordered a bigger one on-line (cheap, so we hope it lasts).  Each mix uses a bag of cement, two big buckets of aggregate, colouring oxides, and various additives.  The good news is that two mixes fill all our moulds quite neatly.

The moulds are quite heavy, and there’s much lugging of packets of cement and buckets of concrete.  We’re getting a regular workout, and for about the cost of gym memberships we’ll get the rock for our house.

Hello? Does this thing still work?

2018 was a year of culminations.

Our big event was getting married, a country-style wedding in our local cathedral.  A few weeks later we went for a holiday to Fiji.  It all went very well, and many thanks to our friends for their help to put that together.

For the last couple of years, Allison has been working as a services co-ordinator for the elderly and disabled.  The business has transitioned from government to private, with more work and less money, so Allison was content to leave when her contract expired at the end of 2017.  She’s taking a break then will be looking for a new role.

Steve (Allison’s brother) and his wife Lavender have been living in our cottage for the past three years, and running a growing meadery.  They recently bought a property near Braidwood and moved there over Christmas.  Their pigs moved last weekend, which involved us running around the paddock for hours lugging heavy folding tables to guide them, excellent exercise I have to say.  The meadery is still at Cockatrice Farm until they get Council approval to move it, and a big shed built.

Between Christmas and New Year, Allison and I took advantage of the empty cottage to paint it throughout.  We’re setting it up as comfy guest accommodation.  Possibly some more wwoofers down the track.

In late 2016 we got a new granddaughter, courtesy of Jess and Phil and some over-indulgence in Steve’s excellent mead.  Elyssa’s now just starting to walk, and adores her brothers Deacon and Alex.

My son Owen is now 18, and after a couple of false starts has commenced an electrical apprenticeship.  It is working out very well and currently he is working long hours at Parliament House where they have major security renovations.

Just before Christmas, Council gave us development approval to build a new house on the farm.  More on that in due course.

Best wishes to all,