Light sabre

Ever been sunburned? Gone to bed with that awful, sweaty, stinging feeling of hot regret? Had little blisters form then pop? We pretty much all have haven’t we. Stupid bastards that we are! “Stupid” because that ol’ friend of ours, our nearest star, our planet’s parent and orbital centre, The Sun, puts out a lot of energy. Just how much; well obviously enough to broil your shoulders at some point!

As this picture clearly shows, you can work out the energy received at any given point using this simple formula:

\overline{Q}^{\mathrm{day}}, the theoretical daily-average insolation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth’s orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.”

Got that? Clearly though this formula doesn’t account for the various ways that the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters the energy as it travels from the outer edge of the atmosphere to ground level. That varies depending on cloud cover and other suspended moisture, suspended particulates, vegetation and so on. So lets just sum it all up and say that the sun puts out a lot of energy and on a hot, clear day you could fry an egg very, very quickly using just the sun’s heat.

Which brings us to this little conundrum; what do you do with an old satellite (internet) dish that has been superseded with a newer, faster model?

IMG_0623Do you;

  1. Give it to the dish-installer man to take away and dispose of?
  2. Turn it into a very large birdbath?
  3. Leave it forever behind the garage until the Missus yells “Clean that shitpile up!”
  4. Use it to make mischief (in a fun, harmless way of course)?

Guess which numbered box the money is in….you betcha….Number 4!

There are quite a few YouTube videos of people making reflector dishes out of old sat’ dishes. Many of them use the little, square mirrors, like off a disco mirror ball. All I can say is that they must be richer than me, or at least more willing to throw money at a simple, fun project. At the cheapest price I could find those mirror squares for sale the total cost for enough of them would have been $400-$500. No way José!!

Reflective Mylar film is another matter – a roll of that comes in about $40-$50. The overall reflective properties probably aren’t quite as good as a set of glass mirrors (Mylar film comes in at about 92-97% reflectivity, not too different than mirrors as the actual reflective material in a mirror is basically the same stuff; however the Mylar film is impossible to adhere to the dish without some imperfections resulting, such as ripples, bubbles and some areas of glue overspray) and of course the film won’t be weatherproof so the dish will have to be stored indoors. However these cons just pale into insignificance against the cost savings.

The film was cut into (roughly) triangular shapes to allow us to better shape it into the dish. To glue the film to the dish we used a spray adhesive, masking off each previously glued section to prevent (OK…minimise) overspray.

Here is the completed dish, mounted on the post, leg spars and roof brackets that were intended to actually put the original dish on a roof, and are here slightly modified to provide a stable, free-standing base.

IMG_0635It all looks very innocent. Looks can however be deceiving…

More mayhem….errrr….I mean “Scientific Experiments of an Educational Nature” videos to come. The video above was our first “experiment” which was performed at around 2:30pm mid September. Can’t wait for mid-Summer at between 11am and 1pm (solar time).

Warning – try this at home.

The Coffee Table Book (Addendum)

Vermont is a bloody nice place. Nice people. Nice coffee. Nice environment. The ONLY state in the USA which has a state capital (Montpelier) which does not have a McDonalds outlet in town. I mean…how good is THAT! I particularly recommend the Rivendell Book shop there as being a very cool little bookshop selling a mix of new and second hand titles, which also features highly knowledgeable staff who can find a second hand copy of Finnegans Wake in an instant, without resorting to looking on the computer to see if they have it in stock and if so where in the shop it might be. The shop also has a very happy looking turtle in a large tank in the rear children’s book room. You don’t get that buying books through

Vermont was also the birthplace of Edward John Phelps.

Edward was a man of excellent whiskers, crinkly laugh lines around his eyes, and a habit of quoting other, similarly whiskered men, for example a certain William Connor Magee.

Now ol’ Billy Magee actually lived during the early years of photography, albeit he died well before every man and his monkey was busy snapping selfies every second of the day. Despite Billy and photography sharing their timelines all we have as a visual reminder of little Billy is this:

I think we can all agree that either Billy was, ahem…not everyone’s idea of a “Babaliscious Stud”. Or perhaps that this is not exactly the best drawing in the world. Still…now I know who inspired this character:

Despite appearances ol’ Billy Magee was no fool, and he is famous for saying “The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything”; exactly the words that Edward would quote some years later.

And so it is that via a circuitous route we come to the postmortem of the coffee table construction, for it certainly was not without the making of mistakes.

To be fair, the only “formal” learning I have received concerning woodwork came in the form of a woodworking class I took in Year 9 or year 10 in High School, and I can’t say I was “Top of the class”. Still…life I think can make one more practical as time goes by, and so those long ago learned basics are perhaps today augmented by a little more common sense and a set of basic tools with which practice has made me familiar, plus some feeling of security that comes from the knowledge that any mistakes made are mine alone and won’t be counting toward a dreaded school report at end of term.

Things I would do differently next time:

  • Keep a wider separation between random bits of cloth and electric planers.
  • Even when knowing which way I wanted the legs glued, slap myself a few times before drilling and gluing them together.
  • Work out some way of rigging up a planing jig (without having to buy one) so that I could have finished the timbers for the top slab to D.A.R. state ie. planed to squared dimensions. The individual strips within the edge-dowelled slab don’t quite come together in some places as the sides were planed to eye-sight not in a jig. Overall this looks OK as the finished piece has a deliberately “organic” shape anyway, but having the timbers D.A.R. would have been nice.
  • Cutting to length braces that match the distances between the leg cuts on the bottom shelf, allowing the legs and shelf to be (dry) clamped to the exact dimensions, using the braces to keep the correct distances between the leg pairs before drilling the dowel holes in the tops of the legs and then in the top slab. Despite the best care somehow the legs ended up moving out a little during this step, thus the cut-outs in the bottom shelf each have about a 1.5mm gap instead of each leg being tight into its cut-out.

That said, I am happy with the outcome. It is nice to put something down on that table and know that it is a product of my own effort, and not something that has been spat out at volume from some distant, anonymous factory. It is also nice to know that this piece of furniture has not required the felling of some new forest in order to make it, as it is (mostly) a product of re-using old timbers. Finally, it is good to take some old piece of timber and turn it into something useful.

Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose has become something new.


The Coffee Table Book (Part 5)

Time to dust off the tools and replace those buggered legs.

IMG_0598 copyHere are the two, glued and finish-sanded sets of legs. Sadly there were no more “nice old bolt holes” to be had, but each leg features a couple of nail holes, from which the nails have been pulled (well….”mostly pulled” as a few snapped off despite the best of care).

IMG_0485Next step is to trim a slab of White Cedar that was gifted to me a number of years back, and which will form the bottom shelf of the table – as well as doubling as lower bracing between the leg-sets.

After cutting the cedar slab has then been sanded with 80, 120, 240 and 280 grade paper. There was quite a bit of saw blade chatter marking on the board, especially near the larger of the two circles in the grain (where a branch would have originally grown). To completely eliminate these would have required taking about 2mm off which was impractical for a number of reasons. Hence the worst of the chatter has been sanded out before moving on to the finishing sanding. The end result is smooth, if a little ripply.

Here are all the pieces waiting for final assembly – pretty much the last time this is going to look like a pile of parts.

IMG_0598Here is the dry assemble – prior to drilling out the dowel holes in the top slab and the bottom shelf. Basically everything is just sitting, balanced on top of everything else at the moment.

And all clamped up for the final gluing…

After about an hour or so on went the first coat of linseed oil; everywhere except where the clamps and the glue were, because by this stage I just couldn’t wait to see what the grain was going to come up like…

Time to put it all away and let the final glue cure overnight!

<-Go to Part 4 …. Go to Part 6->


The Coffee Table Book (Part 4)

I admit it…I’ve been sulking for a little while. I’d thrown my safety goggles out of the pram. Downed tools. Generally turned my back on the Coffee Table project. You see….someone had been twisting my leg!

A while back I did a “finish sand” over all the surfaces of the first set of legs, dowelled them up, and braced and glued them. Here they are;

One of the legs had a lovely, feature “bolt hole” for which this length of timber had been selected. All that remained to be done with this leg set was to give it a final finish-sand, especially to remove excess glue around the joints. All good!

Except….I’d put the legs on the wrong way! As you may see in the “middle” picture the leg timbers are rectangular, not square. In this leg-set I dowelled the crossbeam into the short side of the legs, not the wide side. This error is more than simply one with aesthetic implications, as it makes the overall leg set too wide for the table top.


No way to redeem this now – it just goes into the newly created “Collection of very nice H-shaped timber pieces that may one day be useful” pile. I’m rather hoping to not add too much more to that collection!

Oh well….after a little sulk it’s time to cut two more legs and start again!

<-Go to Part 3a …. Go to Part 5->

The Coffee Table Book (Part 3a) – A thumbs up for customer service

If you recall dear readers, at the end of Part 3 there was an unfortunate crossing of the beams, or rather the drum of the power planer and a piece of cloth. We’re digressing here for a moment to tell a story that follows the classic narrative arc:

  • stasis
  • trigger
  • quest
  • surprise
  • critical choice
  • climax
  • reversal
  • resolution

Once upon a time I started making a  table out of reclaimed timbers. This project involves the trimming of gnarly old, hardwood deck timbers with saw and power plane. The power plane is a hugely important character in this tale, without whom we would altogether be at a loss. His name is RYOBI, and he is a fetching shade of bright green, and is about fifteen months old. One day RYOBI accidentally swallowed some cloth, which wrapped itself around the drum before his operator could stop him spinning.

IMG_0462His operator (after unplugging RYOBI) unscrewed his side plate and tried to flip off RYOBI’s toothed drive belt so that the blade drum could be turned in a reverse direction so as to free the cloth. Sadly, the belt broke during this exercise. “No problem…drive belts on such power planers are user replaceable items,” thought RYOBI’s operator, “I’ll just get a new belt.”

And so to the store where RYOBI was originally purchased; the local Bunnings Hardware. Here the friendly Tool Section man, Luke, advised that belts could only be ordered via the Special Orders Desk in the store. “Bah-Humbug to that” thought RYOBI’s operator, and he promptly went home to order one online instead.

Here our story takes a dark and frustrating turn, as it turns out that the sole merchant for RYOBI products, including spare parts is in fact Bunnings. In fact the “Spare parts” page of the RYOBI Australia website is simply a store locator to allow you to find the nearest Bunnings outlet. Rather than head out the door again, RYOBI’s operator let his fingers do the walking and with a quick phone call later an order was placed for a new drive belt. All seemed OK in the world, and RYOBI would soon be happily spinning again and helping with the job of making the coffee table.

Hope was crushed however when a couple of days later a young lady by the name of Ali’ rang from the local Bunnings to advise that the RYOBI company had discontinued the supply of the needed drive belt. “But how can that be!?!?!” RYOBI’s operator exclaimed “They are still advertising that model planer on the website as being a current model, and you’re still selling the planers in the store!” Ali’, being only the messenger of the bad news in this saga was not held to blame however, and she offered our heroes redemption in form of a warranty claim “If you’ve had the planer for twelve months or less, and have the sales receipt just come into the store and we’ll replace it for you.”

Alas, RYOBI was already fifteen months old, and the sales receipt had not been kept. Drat! Double Drat!! And furthermore…Botheration!! However a few days later, after much seething about the Wasteful, Throw-Away Society in which we live and the expense of having to buy a new planer in order to replace a perfectly good one RYOBI’s operator noticed that RYOBI’s original box documented that he came with a TWO YEAR warranty. Still no sales receipt, however usually such a store as Bunnings will do a product swap or similar on supply of the credit/debit card used for purchase.

RYOBI’s operator tucked him all up neatly and snugly in his box, along with all his accessories and headed off therefore to the local Bunnings outlet. Now this Bunnings is not actually the same Bunnings where our hero was purchased, as that outlet has subsequently been closed and the store reopened to larger premises just a throw of a hammer distance away. Presenting himself, RYOBI nestled in his box, his tale of woe and his card at the service counter RYOBI’s operator was told “We can’t actually look up card purchase history from that other (now closed) store as in our IT systems that is officially a different store than this one and we don’t have access to that store’s records. Nevertheless, go and see Luke in Tools and we’ll sort it out somehow.”

Off to see Luke, to again tell the story, point out the illogic of the fact that Bunnings is still selling the same model of planer that the manufacturer is no longer stocking parts for even though its only fifteen months old and advise that the lovely lady over at the Service Counter has promised a happy ending. “But we can look up the purchase.” says Luke “We can’t in-store but our central IT department can do a search if you can tell me roughly when you made the purchase. I’ll need your card details and a rough idea when you made the purchase, and if you give me your mobile number and wait a while I’ll see what we can do.”

RYOBI and his operator thus went on an extended browse around the BBQ section, the plant nursery, a toilet stop (Note to Bunnings – you need more than one hand drier in the men’s toilet) and then back to the tool section to ogle the selection of Dremel fittings…until….some 45 minutes later….bbrrrnngg bbrrrngg goes the mobile with Luke on the line to say “Come and find me again and we’ll sort you out.”

It transpires that the IT department was still doing whatever Central Bunnings IT Departments do to try and locate a purchase in their records, but that Luke had decided to Do the Right Thing and process it all as a product warranty swap, and worry about the paperwork later. Sad, not-really-broken-but-needs-a-new-drive-belt RYOBI was thus left with the lovely lady at the service counter and replaced with a brand, spanking new replacement model.

Our Beautiful Assistant Shwoing off the NEW planer.Our story ends mostly happily then. The RYOBI company remains in the bad books for discontinuing a simple, user-replaceable part for a model of power tool that is still current and still being sold, and during the warranty period! Bunnings however demonstrated good customer service and sorted out the problem.

I now have a brand new planer, with a two year warranty starting now, and a new sales receipt that I will file away for a rainy day. However I am still annoyed that what is basically a perfectly good tool chock full of metal and plastic and the embedded energy and other resources used to manufacture it is no doubt destined for landfill. Totally and avoidably wasteful! Grrr!

<-Go to Part 3 …. Go to Part 4->

The Coffee Table Book (Part 3)

The top of the coffee table is now up to the next stage of the fun – shaping and sanding. The now dried slab of boards needs to be flattened on both sides, be trimmed to provide the overall shape, have the edges rounded and shaped and be sanded in preparation for finishing.

Sometimes it is best to embrace one’s weaknesses and turn them into a strength. These words of wisdom are my way of saying that I recognise that I am almost certainly never going to achieve a perfectly squared piece of furniture; after all we’re not making one of these:








Therefore I’m embracing my lack of exactness to create something more organic in nature. I also think this is more sympathetic to the nature of the materials I’m working with – reclaimed and reused timber.

The plan then (ok – there isn’t really a plan I’m working from other than a picture in my head I’m working towards and adapting and improvising along the way) is to round off the corners of the glued slab. Most importantly these round corners will be hand drawn and deliberately be uneven left to right and end to end. Before shaping the ends the slab has been rough planed both sides to a more even width.

IMG_0444After marking the cut the trimming is being done using a jig saw. Even with a fresh rip-cut blade the timbers really challenge the rip saw – not only is the slab right on the maximum thickness the saw can handle, the multi-decade seasoned ironbark is incredibly hard. I am really having to push the saw through the cut:


Coffee Table – Ripsaw

IMG_0451Next stage is to further plane both sides of the slab, and also shape the edges using the plane. Then on to the sanding. The rough sand is with P80 grade – again the well seasoned ironbark is playing havoc with the tools. Overall the rough sand ripped through about twelve sheets of P80, which each sheet losing 50% of the effectiveness as a sanding material after the first 60 seconds of sanding.

The left hand side of the slab in this photo has been rough sanded, erasing the worse of the planer marks.

IMG_0457All that planing, cutting and orbital sanding was making my hands buzz….time for a coffee break. It seemed only the right thing to do to bring out the makings to the nascent table…

IMG_0461Lovely chocolate chip biscuit home baked yesterday by the Ladies of the House, and a quick few pages of The Bookshop that Floated Away which I bought as a birthday present for The Larger Loinfruit, and am now reading myself.

There is however no rest for the wicked and its back to the grind…or rather the planing and sanding. Seeing as the top of the table had been fully sanded by this point I took the precaution of padding the saw horses with some cloth so that the exercise of further planing and then sanding the underside, once the slab was flipped over, did not leave gouges and paint marks from the much used saw horse on the newly finished “top” surface. This was basically an excellent idea, but I wasn’t intending on this happening:

IMG_0462Note to self….be a little bit more careful when planing near bits of cloth.

The good news is that I now also know much more about how to take apart a RYOBI power planer than I did before. The bad news is that getting the cloth out required decoupling the tangled planer drum from the drive wheel by removing the drive belt (so that the drum could be turned in reverse) and that when I did so the drum band was damaged. This subsequently led to the discovery that the ONLY way to order RYOBI spare parts is via the Bunnings Special Orders Desk. Sigh….

Before packing up for the day I rubbed a small section of the sanded table with a wet cloth, and you can start to see the finish that will come up once the table is rubbed with linseed oil once completed. Not bad for a shitty old, nail ridden piece of old decking…


<-Go to Part 2 …. Go to Part 3a->


The Coffee Table Book (Part 2)

Time to glue all those timbers together into a slab to make the table top. Think “very large edge glued bread board” and you’re on the right track. Most excitingly this part of the project involves the purchase of a new tool; specifically a dowelling jig.

Firstly all the timbers have been sorted so that adjacent boards have a roughly matching thickness, with the thinner ones at the outside edges. They’ve also all been trimmed to about the same length – approximately 1350mm. The length has been chosen to complement a White Cedar board that will later be used as the bottom shelf for the table, which is itself 1100mm in length.

Each board is secured to the next with four dowel joints, plus PVA glued all along the edges. Sash clamps are courtesy of The Convener, who has an impressive selection to choose from in his awesome and impressive slabbed timber workshed (including some pipe clamps that are 5 metres long!).

Each newly glued board is left clamped for about 45 minutes before the clamps are released and the next added on. All the boards have been predrilled ready for the dowels so that the clamps are not left off to long during this process. By the end of the day all seven boards have been glued and clamped tightly, and the slab then tucked away to cure for a few days.

The boards aren’t all even, but that’s OK as the next step involves a load more planing and shaping.

<-Go to Part 1 …. Go to Part 3->

The Coffee Table Book (Part 1)

Down the side of the storage area for the trailer is a pile of shitty, old, nail spiked lengths of hardwood timber; the remnants of an old deck that was pulled down a while back. This pile represents the timbers that had a solid feel to them when they were removed, indicating that beneath their rotten exteriors a heartwood of strength beats still.

Before and afterThat there is a classic before and after photo, without the aid of coy staging or Photoshopping. The timbers the old piece is sitting on are ten or so lengths that have already been trimmed and planed.

About a year or so ago one of the lengths had already been through this process and proven its worthiness as a member of my “long solid bits of naily, seemingly rotten timber that might someday be useful for something” collection having been transformed into a rather awesome ceremonial staff-like object for a friend’s 50th birthday (“rather awesome” even if I do say so myself!).

The rest of the pile however just sat there with a dejected sort of expression that clearly meant “Hurry up and turn me into something you lazy, procrastinating bastard”. I could tell it all just was desperate to channel its inner coffee table – I dunno…sometimes you can just tell these things even if you can’t normally speak fluent Entish.

And so has begun the quite possibly long process of building a coffee table. Knowing as I do your intense curiosity as to the status of the project, here are some exciting action photos:

Time for a coffee…if only I had somewhere to put it…

(The next part of the Story)



Burning man

Sometimes you just have to channel your inner Firestarter .

Fire season approaches and after a few years of rainy years the fuel load has built up everywhere. This year the ENSO cycle is swinging us towards a baking and rainless summer, and we’re therefore expecting a hot, dry, dangerous season of bush fires. Time to clear some wind fall and maintain what the NSW RFS terms the Asset Protection Zone (APZ).

Last year there were a few burn piles I had built but then ran out of time to light up before we hit the summer fire-permit season. As well as getting through those I have also a few more new piles to build – all up we’re probably looking at about 7 burn piles before the summer officially starts.

Burn pile

Burn pile

“Never start a fire you can’t put out” are wise words – so there is a bit of prep’ do before the matches come out. As the first pile is down the North East slope at the outer edge of the APZ this means setting up Davey as close to the pile as possible whilst still having a water feed handy, then running a hose down to the pile which is built about 50m from that pump location. Davey is being fed by the new header tank which has been filled as well, giving 10,000l of drenching ability should things go not-to-plan.

IMG_0152  Once the pump is ready the next step is to do a final clear around the pile with the fire rake, gear up in jeans, boots, wool jumper, leather hat, fire goggles, fire gloves and a protective wrap covering the face/neck/ears. That sounds very over he top until you’ve stood next to a burn pile at full fury – it’ll singe skin within seconds at distances less than 2 metres. The neighbours already having been warned to not panic at smoke columns it’s time to go. A little splash of diesel, flame introduced by way of gas powered, metre long fire wand….and….

And make a wish and blow it out...

And make a wish and blow it out…

Houston...we have ignition

Houston…we have ignition

 “I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter.
You’re the firestarter, twisted firestarter.
I’m a firestarter, terrific firestarter”

Stairway to heaven (or at least the garage)

At the South Western corner of the house there is a bank rising about a metre and a half or so, sloped outward at 45 degrees. Its a natural shortcut when heading to the garage, though perhaps not when carrying things as the ground can be slippery when damp. A few metres to the right there are some rough stone steps, constructed I guess when the house was built some 30 years ago. The shortcut was so much used it had clearly proved worthy of being formalised and honoured with some steps of its own.

Steps need to be solid, and solid means big rocks, and big rocks means “bloody hell…that’s heavy <insert sound here of the sound of the kurfuffle valve rupturing>”. The bottom step forms the base for all the others and of course needs to be biggest, heaviest, kurfuffle-valve-blowingest stone of all. Here it is weighting* to be placed in position.
So you can appreciate it better here is another view. To get this stone to this point required dragging it with a chain on a steel drag sheet, using the Scooby Doo. Even it called for a plate of fresh Scooby Snacks afterwards.

Another view of what will be the bottom step - she's a monster

Another view of what will be the bottom step – she’s a monster

Getting the first stone into place basically involved two careful stages: firstly dig out a stone shaped hole; and secondly roll the stone off the slope and hope the best it landed roughly in the right place. Fortunately it did, and after just a little bit of juggling we were ready for the next.


This photo is a bit blurry. I think my kurfuffle valve was still erupting at this point.




IMG_0139And we’re done. Phew. Just a bit of tidying up to do and we’re ready to take the next step. **

* Can you see what I’ve done there? Can you? Or did you think I made an accidental spelling error?

** Can you see what I’ve done there? Golly I’m funny.


Time for a new tank

At the top of the hill are three old steel tanks. Not the sort you drive around in looking for people to kill, the sort that stores water. In other words, tanks for life not tanks for death.

Two of them are nothing but broken down old relics from which we have started to harvest the left over sections of still-useful-for-something curved corrugated iron. For instance a cross-sectioned slice of the tank that has the smaller loin-fruit’s bike leaning against it will soon be a 400mm deep aqua-garden, once lined with pond liner and otherwise set up. IMG_0011

The tank in the middle ground his until recently continued to serve as a header tank for the irrigation. It has certainly earned its keep, being lined with a tank-bladder it was still watertight even after 20+ years. However tanks are a bit like some old people; their bladders eventually fail and begin to leak in unfortunate ways and just as you wouldn’t want an embarrassing stain on your trousers whilst queueing in the market, nor do you want to lose 5000 litres of valuable water.

To be frank the old tank stank and it was time for a brand new spankin’ tank thanks.

We won't be seeing that view of the tank again

We won’t be seeing that view of the tank again

Waiting to be installed

Waiting to be installed

The replacement tank is 10,000 litres capacity and is constructed of food grade plastic. Though we are of the opinion that in general the phrase “food grade plastic” is akin to “military intelligence” the reality is that this baby is going to be used for irrigation only, and steel tanks are plastic lined anyway. The other alternative; concrete tanks are too cost prohibitive for this application.

Needless to say a 10,000l tank when full weighs a few tens of kilos over ten tonne. When installed 40 metres or so up the hill from where you’re having a Pimms and Lemonade on a hot day you want that baby to be unlikely to suddenly tip and roll down at you. You also don’t want all that weight sitting on a sharp rock, or you’ll soon have a second leaking tank!

The “pad” for the new tank has been bordered, levelled and packed with fine grit road mix to create a reliable surface that will further harden and bed down as time, pressure and moisture settle it.

Tank pad

Tank pad

Once the pad is prepared the next step is to recruit some helpers in the form of She-Who-Puts-Up-With-Being-Recruited-Into-All-Sorts-Of-Crazy-Schemes-Of-Mine and the local neighbour. Helpers are necessary for two reasons; firstly because large tanks are heavy and cumbersome even when empty and they like to roll down hills, and secondly because you need someone to look at the prepared pad and say “That’s not big enough!” so that when you ignore them, drop the tank into place and demonstrate that indeed it is perfectly sized you can gloat at their ignorance and scoff at their doubt.

Ready to be filled

Ready to be filled

Once filled from the dam (using the trusty Davey pump) this tank holds enough for about 6-8 weeks worth of irrigating the vegies. The water is delivered to the vegie garden taps at approximately 52psi (358kpa) static pressure of head (approximately 40 metres of drop). For reference standard domestic supply is about 58-72psi so whilst this is close to the the low end of the scale we’re pretty close to a standard tap pressure.

Trailer trash

I don’t watch TV these days, as I can’t keep pace with the intellectual scripts and subtle plots of shows like Big Brother, I’m a celebrity, get me out of here, and that fallen angel The Shire. However when I was a wee lad that flashing screen caught and held my attention – perhaps far too much. On Saturday mornings I would sit in my PJs, bowl of cereal to hand, and get ready for the weekend with a couple of hours of Hey, Hey It’s Saturday. That Daryl Somers. That crazy ostrich. And who could forget John Blackman’s high brow quips. Of all the various gags and long running thematic segments one that has mysteriously always stuck with me was a newspaper article submitted to the segment Media Watch. The article described how some small town’s elected officials were busy cutting the ribbon at the opening of some new local attraction, probably a Big Prawn, or a new swimming pool. The local paper’s sub editor, who was clearly having a slow day and was probably also hoping he could slip in a bit of spice without the editor noticing had titled the article with the headline “Councillors celebrate huge erection”. I nearly blew out a huge mouthful of half chewed Corn Flakes all over the TV screen at that one I can tell you. Odd isn’t it, my recollections from that time of my life don’t seem at all to include much advanced algebra, but somewhere in my cortex some strange mix of brain chemicals and cellular structures retains that small piece of humour. There’s a lesson there I think for you three unit maths teachers struggling with the perennial question of how to get your year ten students to retain formulas – use double entendres when explaining the method of calculating the area under a complex hyperbolic waveform.

And so, as we prepare to bid a fond farewell to the year 2012 I too am celebrating with a huge erection of my own – a new totem pole. When we bought ridgesong many years ago the seller thoughtfully left behind some potentially useful objects; one of which was a rusted out old box trailer. Someone more enterprising than me might have dived in and got it back on the road; I mean all it needed was two new wheels, a new draw bar, a new floor, gate and sides, new lights and wiring loom and it with a smick of paint it’d be just like a new bought one. Well I must have been a bit lazy though and so it just sat there forlornly exchanging atomic bonds between the steel and the atmosphere and slowly flaking itself into the surrounding soil. The problem was that it is rather difficult to take a box trailer to the metal recyclers, as it doesn’t easily fit into a box trailer.

The solution my friends, as it is often the case, was a POWER TOOL. One of my favourites is the angle grinder, so called because you can slice off parts of your body with the fast spinning cutting edge at almost any angle. There’s really nothing a good angle grinder can’t cut is there? Steel, tiles, skin, muscle, bone. Even better, it makes sparks. What more could a bloke ask for? Thus armed and loaded with plenty of cutting disks I eventually got around to slicing, dicing and julienning that old box trailer until all I had left where a selection of potentially useful bits of metal and a smaller pile of stuff for the landfill. Amongst the useful bits were a set of leaf springs, and a 1.8m long section of solid steel with a 40mm x 10mm cross section. Just waiting for the day they would become….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…this. Whatever it is. Beauty and meaning are in the eye of the beholder. So far it has been interpreted as being a representation of happy people spinning around with their arms held in the air; as a broom; a flower; and what someone’s bed hair looks like. In the background you can see Birdman casting his beady gaze over at this new, upstart neighbour and trying to decide whether the ‘hood is going downhill.

The more observant of you might say “OK, I can see the leaf springs but what about the long length of solid steel? Where does that fit in?”. Well done you! It’s not there. But is in the shed leaning up with its new friends the shovel, the pick and the adze. By cutting a sharp edge at one end (angle grinder….so useful!) it has promoted itself from behind the garage amongst the useful metal pile to the tool pile, having become a heavy tamping bar. Which in this case was needed to help dig a hole deep enough for the six metre or so pole that forms the backbone of the spinning dancer, or the flower, or the broom. I can’t decide. Here; interpret away…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose became something new. Out with the old year and into the next. Happy New Year.


When I was about nine or ten my family moved from Melbourne to Sydney, My father drove the family up, having entrusted our goods and chattles to the movers whilst we took along with us a few suitcases, the family cat, and towing behind us his small fibreglass yacht. The cat was none too pleased at the idea of spending two days or so cooped up in the car, and to the amusement of myself and my parents expressed his disdain by pissing on my brother late on the first day. Due to the fear of the cat taking a suicidal leap to freedom through an open window we were forced to drive with them all open no more than a couple of centimetres If I recall correctly my father’s car did not have AC fitted, and so we were unable to air the smell as much as we would have liked and so our amusement soon turned into disgust as the smell of the cat’s urine slowly became rather thick in the car. I also remember that this trip was one of the first times I witnessed my parents deliberately lie, in telling the motel manager during checkin that “No, we don’t have any pets with us” all the while shooting us “Not a word” looks. The cat made it all the way to the new house, and after one or two stoushes with the existing feline residents over territorial disputes eventually settled in to his new digs. Prince was a fine pet, and proved to be a most adaptable feline in as far as he moved two more times with me, from that home in Engadine, to my rented house in Bundeena and then to a terrace house I’d bought in Enmore. At the ripe old age of seventeen he shuffled off his mortal coil and was buried under the jacaranda in the back yard of that Enmore terrace, where he eventually contributed to the following year’s purple flower bloom and the seed pods of the jacaranda tree. Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose became something new.

My father’s yacht was of a simple, open design. A single sailed craft of a type called a Tasman Tiger, about 5 metres in length, and almost identical in design to the more commonly known Laser model which are still sailed today all around the world.

A small rudder clipped on to the back, operated with a wooden handle. The keel was a simple fibreglass centreboard that was pushed through a slot in the hull – the entire boat being a sealed, air-pocketed design the buoyancy of which allowed for such a ‘hole in the floor’ design. When I was about 21 or so, and living in that rented house in Bundeena my parents moved themselves to live in Thailand and so the boat was dumped with me to sell or to use, not having been disposed of by them prior to their move. It only ever got one use under my stewardship, and around the time I eventually moved to Enmore it was stolen from in front of the Bundeena property, leaving me with only the rudder and the centreboard in my possession as they had been stored separately.

For some reason or another those two items have remained in my possession to this day, with the vague idea that they were “somehow useful objects’. I confess to a mild degree of hoarding syndrome, squirrelling away lengths of metal and odd objects that I think might someday be usefully re-purposed. In my defence, I keep my collecting under reasonable control and the objects I’ve stored have indeed proven their usefulness on many occasions. For a long time however the possible use of those sole remaining items from that long gone yellow yacht proved elusive. Propped up out of the way near the winter woodpile they would catch my eye every time I retrieved the wheel barrow or a fireplace worth of logs to stimulate my mind anew with the pondering of how I might use them. I eventually settled on the idea that they somehow reminded me of wings, initially those of a man-made craft. I contemplated using them in a sculpture of a Reaper drone for the local annual art show, as part of a statement on the drone assassination program initiated by the 43rd US president, and continued and expanded by the 44th. Somehow though, that particular idea never got off the ground, and the “wings” remained just lengths of old fibreglass gathering dust at the back of the shed.

Ideas though never tend to entirely dissipate, even if the execution of them has hit an impasse. The idea of wings turned out to be a seed of creativity just looking for the right tree, which came in the form of a long, solid pole in my small collection of “long solid poles that might someday be useful for something” (see, it’s not just bits of random fibreglass that I have in my little collection of things). As tends to be the way of these things one day it all just came together in my mind. After near on twenty three years of carting around two lumps of old yacht, in two days of noise, woodchips and shavings involving chainsaw, planer, drill, hammer, angle grinder and spanner, and helped along with a slice off an old motorised hoe casing (beak), three glass telegraph line insulators from the Australian outback (crest), and an old farm fence post (eyes) those two wings found flight.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Thus life’s circle turns and what was ageing and passed it’s first purpose became something new.

A hundred flickering candles

It is there in many forms
Colourful, gay, radiant
Some drab and muted
Some luminous and elegant.

When the wind blows
It swings and dances
Sometimes frantic
Sometimes slow.

Its soft light is man’s wonder
Skillfully honed and mastered
To illuminate lovers
And guide the path
Of a lonely dreamer.

The Lantern is there once more
Lovingly giving warmth
Beaconing far and beyond
Like a whisper from a tomb
Praying for a lost soul to come home.

-Sheri C Uy

On the first weekend in November the small, nearby town of Wollombi holds its annual Country Fair. Stallholders spruik their wares – wines, beeswax candles, plants, local foods, clothing, and recycled goods. Others take the opportunity to educate locals on issues critical to their livelihoods, such as proposed zoning classification changes affecting farmland, property development proposals, and threats to the water table from coal seam gas extraction. The two small sandstone churches of Wollombi open their doors to the believers and condemned heathens alike so that all may enjoy the craftsmanship of the old buildings, multicoloured sunlight streaming in through the lead-light and stained glass windows, casting a warm glow across the buttock polished timbers of the solid benches arranged in devotional rows before the pew. A rhythmic thunk hammers out as burly men swing chromed axe heads in a race to cut through thick logs at the woodchop. In the pasture beyond the Wollombi Tavern cows chew cud and devote not a single spark of bovine thought at all the human twitterings taking place around them. Amongst the trees in the tavern’s rear field a few tents and caravans stand, home for the weekend to some of the stallholders, entertainers and booze-bus aware patrons. In the evening a band will play on the stage behind the pub, beer will flow and more than the usual number of bottles of Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice will be sold to the beer fuddled visitors.

At dusk, children gather in the parking area next the tennis courts holding a myriad of paper and bamboo lanterns, stars, obelisks, pyramids, and similar simple geometric shapes. Their parents hover and herd them, sharing gossip amongst themselves in small groups as they await the signal to strike matches and flick the wheels of lighters in order to ignite the lantern’s candles. Four children hold a handle each of the fabulously constructed lantern model of the Wollombi Primary School, complete with chimneys and water tanks. As the evening sky darkens the darkened shapes of the lanterns are en masse transformed into a gentle, golden glowing parade held aloft on hooked bamboo rods.We snake along from our ignition point around the grassed yard of Saint Micheal’s Church, and eventually gather, a hundred flickering candles held above our heads as we approach the funeral pyre of our creativity – a bonfire lit in the grounds of the tavern where our paper and bamboo vanities may be consumed in a growing roar of flame. The RFS brigade members watch over the children approaching the fire to hoist their lanterns into it, and we all give a silent thanks for the weather gracing us with dry skies and an absence of a total fire ban for the evening.

In a world of Wii’s, iPods, wall-sized 3D hi-def LCD TVs, and hyper-connected social exchange a small community gathers together in a candle lit moment of simple, quiet enjoyment. Paper, glue, bamboo, wax, wire and flame binding together for a moment the various trajectories of classmates, neighbours, friends and strangers, Athletes, celebrities, fame seekers and heroes carry the Olympic torch, but in one small town a hundred ordinary children keep a light shining on the importance of friendship and community.


Trend setting

Days of blazing sun have left me with the peculiar raccoonish look that comes from wearing sunglasses all the time. It is one that ought to be very familiar to any snow skiers and boaty types.

It has become necessary to adopt a new approach so as to avoid further selective tanning.


The catwalks of New York, Paris and London – take note.

Beach art and the hassles of working with seagulls

Seagulls are a bit of a bitch to work with. They demand to be paid in fresh fried hot chips (not too much salt). They always bring a boatload of relatives along to every project, who then having nothing better to do circle and squark and generally cause mayhem – demanding chips for doing nothing other than turning up uninvited.

This bird was at least accredited by the Seagull Performer’s Guild in still life posing. However it clearly failed the lesson on the subject on “You may not like the resulting artwork, but always remain polite, appreciative, and grateful for the opportunity to work with a talented artiste.”

This seagull, with whom we will NEVER work again, objected to the suggestion that seagull brains are made of the spongy roots of a soft coral.

The beach is the installation space.
Art darling.
Appreciate it you heathen bird.