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,


A haggis in reserve


Recently I read over the blog entries from our early years.  Many magical things, as we did everything for the first time.


We’re a little older and a bit more cynical, but more than our fair share of magic still happens.  So back to the blog, with occasional entries from now on.  The entries may be a bit shorter.  I used to wait for Ally to check them first, so that I didn’t say anything too dreadful, but it’s more likely to happen if you get the raw unadulterated blog and I apologise afterwards.

Last week, the neighbour’s son appeared at the door with a barrel full of sheep’s innards.  And we had indeed asked for them, just not been very precise as to when.


A few weeks ago, Allison had granted Owen’s wish for a haggis.  That was a bit of a horrifying ordeal, though the results were surprisingly edible.  And somewhere along the way, I’d mentioned to the neighbour that we’d like to do it again for our medieval group.



This time we were a bit more organised about it.  The “pluck” (heart, lungs and liver) were efficiently cooked up and minced by Allison.



The part she hates is cleaning out the sheep’s stomach.  I don’t have much of a sense of smell, so it was OK to do, just time-consuming.  You have to wash out all the partly-digested grass, then scrape off the brown inner coating — some came off easily, and for other bits I had to add boiling water.



Then there’s lots of connective tissue to clean away.  I’m not sure how much is strictly necessary, but I took some care.


The stomach lining has now been frozen too, and we’ll assemble and boil haggis #2 at a later time.  Coming to a Pot Luck near you!




The farrier was here this week.  Things have been soggy here, and two horses (Paulie and Chad) have some rot in their feet.  They need to have their hooves painted every couple of days.



My favourite horse Gawaine has been off with our jouster friend, Sarah.  The plan was for him to learn jousting, but lots of wet weather and some unscheduled life events have meant that he hasn’t yet done much.



We still have the miniature horse Jasmine, but the food here is too rich so she spends most of her time at Jan’s farm.  Despite getting almost nothing from her paddock there, she’s still on the edge of foundering so she’ll just have to be locked up.
Another week has gone by without actually posting. Oh well.
Soon after we moved to Yarra, I joined the local Landcare group.  Lots of really wonderful locals, many of whom are 70+ and capable of a producing a rather excellent cake or slice.  Not that any of that motivated my attendance, of course.
We’ve had lots of wonderful times, but we’ve just had the AGM and several of them have been unwell or no longer willing to take an office.  In fact there were no nominations except me (Treasurer again).
We’ll put out the call for more volunteers, but I doubt we’ll get any.  In any case the Government is no longer going to subsidise the insurance costs, and we’re a pretty small group so we won’t be viable soon in any case.
I expect we’ll stagger on till our Christmas party (always mid November; they’re early birds) and wind up after that.  We’ll transmogrify into a monthly social gathering.

Some weeks ago the Sydney medieval club somehow bought a three-storey terrace’s worth of leather very cheaply, and we ended up with an X-trail packed to the gunwales with hides of coloured leather, for $100 and the petrol cost.  Plus we got some shelving for the shed too.  We’ve sold maybe a quarter of it (still an awful lot of leather) cheaply to our local medievalists.

Anyway, last weekend we ran a leather crafting workshop.  We had four leather-working experts, and about 25 medievalists learning how to pattern and make all manner of things.  A most enjoyable day at the Goulburn Club.
That night, we had a bonfire and pot luck dinner at our farm.  Truth to tell, mostly we spent the time around the wood fire in the wwoof house, but it was most convivial company including a few new faces and some recent friends from Sydney.  Not all the dishes were super medieval, which was fine in the circumstances.  On the night my favourite was the bread-and-butter pudding, but I have to say that the next day I had some of the sticky date pudding with (now cold) caramel toffee sauce and it was pretty amazing.
Next week I hope to tell you that I’ve been getting to the gym more often!