On Ilkla Moor you get sunstroke

This weekend was our On Ilkla Moor event on the property.

Unfortunately, it coincided with an unseasonably early heatwave. Friday was 40 degrees with winds up to 80km, Saturday wasn’t so bad (32 degrees) and Sunday was again hot and windy (35 degrees, 93km). With all the recent hot weather, the property has changed quickly from green to golden. (One lot of oats is ready for harvest, and the other is due shortly.)

We were expecting not to be able to do outdoors cooking, so we scaled back the event and posted this on the SCA email lists. So only about 20 people came.

As it turned out, Saturday was calm and bearable. Allison phoned the local Fire Brigade, who were willing for us to have a campfire, with sensible precautions. (Legally we were allowed to do this, as Saturday wasn’t a total fire ban day, but we didn’t want to piss off the neighbours.)

A longer write-up of the event will soon be at the Okewaite website. In short, the food was great, and we learned a lot about campfire cooking. We wound up early on the Sunday because it was getting really hot again.

For wwoofers we had Nellie (Canada) and Andre (Germany), who were absolutely fantastic. So we took them out to dinner at Collector Pub on Sunday night. There may be some new wwoofers this week.

Much of the food came from Cockatrice Farm, including Cornelius the peacock, who had been attacking people. We also did four ducks. Ming-ming the rooster has been sitting outside our bedroom window and crowing at 5am — he was absolutely intended for the chop too, but he figured out what was happening and hid under the house. Allison says he is going shortly regardless.

We did get a pilot composting toilet up and going — mostly by Allison and a fellow called Jochen who is with the SCA in Canberra (ex Perth). This worked pretty well, but we might improve the design a little.

We might run the same sort of event in October next year — guaranteed green.

Wwoofers nowhere to be seen

We’ve been stood up.

Last Monday, Lucinda and her friend, from England, were going to be joining us as wwoofers. They told us twice they were coming, then nothing more heard. Allison drove in to the train station just in case.

On Friday, I headed down to the train to pick up Christiane from Germany. No Christiane, and she hasn’t answered her emails since then.

This Monday, we were due to get Anton, Jonas and Christoffer, from Sweden. At least they emailed us on Saturday to say that they are staying an extra week in Sydney. We need the help this week, so I’m a bit crook on them too, as we have turned other wwoofers away since giving them the spot.

And last night Allison went in to pick up Jeremy from France. Obviously we were a bit suspicious by that point, as we hadn’t heard from Jeremy since Friday, but we wouldn’t want to leave someone stranded.

Lots of wwoof hosts get this situation, and we’ve been pretty lucky until now. I read about one wwoof host who drove three hours to pick someone up, to find they hadn’t come. At least we’re only 10 minutes away, and usually have something else to do in town.

It’s not hard to text us to say that you’ve changed your mind. At least we can then offer the spot to another wwoofer.

I gather there’s a bit more fruit-picking work around this year. No doubt it becomes available at short notice, then I suppose backpackers don’t want to close off their other options too early, in case the picking doesn’t work out. Charitably, perhaps some of the wwoofers intended to get in touch, but now find themselves out of town, without mobile reception or internet.

Juggling rooms for wwoofers is surprisingly complicated. We like to have 3-4 wwoofers at any time, with a mix of countries and sexes.

Luckily, Nellie from Canada is staying a few days longer than planned. Hopefully we’ll get another wwoofer or two this week.


This coming weekend is our “On Ilkla Moor” medieval event on the property. Ilkla Moor is a silly song in a Yorkshire dialect. If you go courting on Ilkla Moor without a hat, you’ll catch a cold and die, and then we’ll bury you, the worms will eat you, the ducks will eat the worms, then we’ll eat the ducks, then we’ll have etten thee.

So various of our numerous ducks will be donating themselves for this venture, also some roosters that have been waking us up early, and Cornelius the peacock who has become very aggressive. So here’s a big hint: don’t misbehave at Cockatrice Farm, or you know what might happen.

Pat catches a mighty fish

I was planning to make savoury pancakes for tea, a good dish for lots of people and popular with the wwoofers.    We got home to discover that wwoofer Pat had caught a 4.5kg golden perch in our big dam.  He only had a light kid’s fishing rod from Aldi, so the beast took a while to land.

Pat baked the fish, with Nicky’s vegetable stuffing, and between four of us we managed to eat less than half in a sitting.  The next night, I cooked up the remainder in thai fishcakes.  There were some left over for lunch the next day, so pretty good utilisation of the resource.

Addition: We came up with a heraldic banner for Pat, showing his golden perch and two smaller redfin he also caught.


And they’re off

On Tuesday we had a Melbourne Cup day.

We got dressed up, and had canapés and champagne, and watched the race on TV at home. Wwoofer John won the sweep.

<trying to track down a photo!>

This has been a great crew of wwoofers, and they are all leaving early this week, off to fruit picking. We shouted them to dinner at “The Astor” in Goulburn last night, for a fine meal.

It was also an opportunity to welcome Nellie back. Nellie was a wwoofer from Canada, who stayed with us nearly a year ago. She has been having a grand adventure, including working in outback pubs in a Western Australian mining town. She’s staying with us again for a couple of weeks until she flies out. It has been great catching up again.

We have wwoofers come and go, and soon we’ll reach fifty. Lately, they have been joining up on Facebook, and some are now communicating with earlier wwoofers they didn’t actually meet. So there’s an ongoing wwoofer culture at Cockatrice Farm, separate from Allison and me.

The exemplar for this is Edgar’s Orange Pants. Edgar was a German wwoofer of Russian extraction. We took him to a second-hand clothes place, and he bought some fluorescent orange tracksuit pants to work in. I think they cost him $3. The colour doesn’t matter to a serrated tussock, and actually I think Edgar was delighted with their luminosity.

When Edgar left, he donated his pants to future wwoofers. I think Alice was the next to wear them, and since then they have been in regular use. They have never been quite the same since Silvan used them for grinding metal in. Matt S used them under his armour for fighting in. And still they are used every week.

Other wwoofers have added to the clothing pool, so now there’s a range of gear that wwoofers can use. 

I notice that the last crew made little flags of their countries and stuck them up on the wall – wonder if that will take off?

PS – we just had a couple of English girls as “no shows”, so there is space for wwoofers currently.

It’s 1949 again

We get many requests from wwoofers to stay — as many as 20 a week, more usually about 5 a week.  Obviously we can take very few of those.

The vast majority of these requests say that they want to come to us so that they can experience “the real Australia”.  I guess they must be given a sample letter when they join the wwoof organisation.

Of course, we are far from “the real Australia”.  We’re a couple of hippie medievalists who work in information technology, we never ever watch Home and Away or much of any TV really, and we have no clue about what’s happening in the footie this week.

Luckily for our wwoofers, our neighbour Shayne invites our wwoofers over whenever he is shearing, so they often get a good look at rural Australian life.  Shayne has a broad Aussie accent, completely unintelligible to most wwoofers at first.  We have a lot of really lovely neighbours, and together they do show off a real Australia that is quite wonderful.

At present, we have five wwoofers: Anna and Matt from Germany (our 3rd Matt from Germany this year…), John and Bella from Korea, and Ina from Switzerland.  They are a great bunch and get on really well together. 

We joke that Goulburn is stuck in the 1970s, and Parkesbourne (our nearby village) in the 1940s. On Saturday, we took the wwoofers to the annual old-time dance in Parkesbourne. Shayne and his wife Kerry are amongst the main organisers.

Last year we dragged Pat and Nicky along, and Nicky joined some of the dances.  This year, all five wwoofers got enthusiastically into the dancing, and it was a wonderful night for everybody.  The music was mostly war-time favourites. The supper afterwards was everything you would expect, in the 1940s.

I doubt there are many places that still have old-time dancing, let alone pack the hall.  It’s nice that these traditions continue — another little piece of “real Australia” before the internet age.

In 2009, the wwoofers all have mobile phones and get calls from overseas all the time.  They can talk overseas by Skype for free, and increasingly they bring their own laptops and internet dongles with them. 

The western world is now rather homogenous, and wonderful in its own way.  But it’s a very different place from the Australia that Allison and I grew up in.

I suppose that our local community really might be one of the best places to see “the real Australia” while it still exists.


Last week I wrote about our search for a ride-on mower. We ended up with a PoulanPRO with a 38” cut and 18hp (why aren’t we in metric for these things?). These are made in the US, and seem to be a division of Husqvarna.

It has a lovely padded seat and headlights (!!), and the hydrostatic drive that makes reversing easy. It does a great job. It cost $3000.

Next I’m going to try to get a collection bag, so we can keep the clippings for making compost with.