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Smoko – quick cubby

So I haven’t written anything for ages because I don’t think that much has happened that is worth reporting*. We’ve planted a few trees, strung a fence or two, built a bridge over a seasonal (but when she goes she goes) creek, and steps down the hill.

Work has progressed on the shed up the back, but I’m in need of some extra muscle to help with the next stage and have found myself happy for the break from it. I’ll update once the roof is finished.

But recently we decided to build the little fella a cubby house down the hill a bit. Our house isn’t very big, and given that his cardboard box kitchen seemed to have taken up permanent residence in the middle of the floor, it was time for an extension.

Take one tree, a couple of 4x4s, two pallets we found by the side of the road, half a leaky tank and a handful of screws and voila! I’m a bit proud, hence the blog, and the little man loves it, thank god.  The underside will eventually be levelled off and walled/windowed to make another room.

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IMGP8031 (Large)Bit of a gap in the picture taking here…imagine lots of sweating, swearing, running to recharge the drill every 5 minutes cos I left the spare battery elsewhere, and a fair bit of scrubbing paint out of someone’s hair.

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*And also because that last blog was a wee bit embarrassing, thanks love, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever come back here… And also because I’m lazy when it comes to writing blogs.


Smoko – shed building

Okay, so quickly while I’m having a cuppa, an update on the block:

At every given opportunity for the last couple of months, I have been stretching my mental faculties, skill levels and muscles building a new shed.

Long story short, it began as a simple 10m2 design, with a 10m2 veranda but quickly escalated into an earth-covered 80-100m2 design, incorporating a reciprocal roof. Well, at least on paper it has. I have many moments of doubts about my ability to carry it off, particularly as I pretty much do it all on my own and there are some seriously heavy pieces of timber involved (and lots of them), but nevertheless I have been slowly plodding forward, and now have all bar 3 of my poles cut and several rafters.

I’d consider myself reasonably proficient with a lot of tools, but am definitely an amateur when it comes to carpentry, and so I have spent a lot of time researching online and talking on the phone to a builder mate asking him to picture it in his head and answer my complicated questions. I even had some advice from a fella in Dorset. There is a lot of stuff about reciprocal structures around. This bloke ( is by far my main inspiration as his ragamuffin approach to his “hobbit” house construction remind me of me (i.e. I know I should debark my poles and beams before installing them, but I look at them all [we’re talking a total of some 200m+ of structural wood here, all taken from the bush around the site – within 20m of it in fact], and I look at how many other jobs I’ve got to get done, and I think (excuse my french, Gran) ‘fuck it, I like the rustic look…!’).

Anyway, for all the information that is out there, I find myself needing more, and being unable to find it I am working it out for myself. I have some factors influencing my design:

  • I have a budget of almost zero. With the exception of some fasteners (threaded rod, washers and bolts and a bucket of batten screws), and almost certainly the waterproofing (probably plastic sheeting), I need to spend no money on this, because we have none.
  • The site is beneath a fork in a very seasonal creek, so that it has a banked wall on 3 sides of it (east, south and west) with a creek on the other side. I plan to use this on the east and west to determine my roof width, so that it will drain into the creeks. I’m still pondering drainage for the south side.
  • No budget means no excavator to level the site, just a mattock, so I am building on fairly wildly fluctuating floor levels. This is a total nightmare when it comes to getting pole heights right for the roof.
  • No budget means no concrete, so poles are going straight in the ground.
  • There is only myself to do the build, though now and again T can help move a particularly big piece of timber.

There are probably others that will come to mind, but one more big factor is this: I started building before I started planning properly, or rather I was planning something else when I first started building, so for a good solar passive design I have my north wall at 3.1m high whereas my south wall is only 2.3m. Here’s an example of a question that goes round my head: If my roof peak is at 3.6m high, and 1.2m from my 3.1m high wall (that’s a 22.5 degree pitch), and the pole I’m trying to work out the height of is 4.3m from the peak, but on ground that, as far as I can tell not owning a laser level, is about 840mm higher than the ground the 3.1m wall is on, how high should the bloody pole be?! And I’ve got 22 poles in this building, and every single one of them needs the above question answered, all with different variables of course.

Here is my most excellent blueprint:


Those who zoom in may get confused until they understand my clever system of combining both metric and imperial measurements (in order to draw a bigger scale plan that still fit on my graph paper), and graphs with a right-to-left axis. Okay, so it wasn’t very clever (the pole-length question above actually has another element in it – if my plan shows the pole in question is 3.2 inches away from the reference point, how many mm is that so I can check the meter length on my right-to-left axis height-working-out-thingamajig – almost certainly then misreading, say, 3.5 for 2.5).

Here is a picture of my tool kit. Everything will be built with what is in the wheelbarrow, with heavy emphasis on chainsaw, hammer and chisel.


And here is the site as it was a few days ago. There’s a fair few more poles in, hole points marked and cut timber lying up there presently, and the pieces lying across the roof space are a relic of the skillion roof I originally planned and no longer there.


I’ll try to give updates, and plan to do a how-I-did-it step-by-step guide for other penniless crazy bastards out there.

There’s lots more I should have said – how I’ll do the floor for one (dunno, maybe floating, maybe with a reciprocal frame also, maybe compressed dirt…cheap ideas anyone?), but typing blogs isn’t getting timbers prepared and mind boggling mathematics worked out, so I’m back into it.

If you have any questions…comment on the blog and ask them! It might motivate me to write a bit more often.


Recent inspirations and a touch of whooping cough

So it’s been a while since my last post. Luckily J’s on the blog band wagon and can fill in on weeks when I have no time or just no inspiration. No inspiration? How can that be when there is so much to be inspired about.

Things that are inspiring me at the moment:

  • The afternoon antics of kurrawongs – every evening we can watch them from the verandah as they fly through the trees down by the creek with their amazing call. One has taken to sitting on one of the garden posts – surveying the world. Not sure why I love them so much. It’s something about the perspective that they create as they fly through the trees…
  • This guy. Image
  • Projects and fruit trees – when we first moved here the enormity of what we had in front of us, i.e. clearing land, building a house, making enough soil to grow enough vegies, was stifling. It prevented me from attacking projects because it all seemed so hard. Luckily J stepped up and got to work. Not saying I’ve done nothing around the place – just that I was slow to really get stuck in. Now that I can see the progress we have made I am enlivened by the realisation that we are only limited by ourselves (and by money) and that so much is possible. Especially inspiring is that we have planted our very first fruit tree! We have a budget for one fruit tree per fortnight – so slowly, slowly we will create a food forest.  After much deliberation (and a little arguing) we chose a bowen mango as our very first tree (I wanted a pecan tree because they have a very special place in my heart). Avocados were also up there. Hopefully the mango will survive! They don’t do well in frost. We are hoping that we can create an appropriate micro-climate for it. Fingers crossed. We also have two grape vines ready for planting out to grow on our new (still in progress) grape arbor. I’ll try and document the building process to post in a future blog post but here is a sneak peek for now:


  • A recipe for rye crackers that I found on the back of a packet of Bob’s Red Mill rye flour. I’ve made it twice now and am excited about how easy it is to make crackers. They are something that I had never made before and always like to have some in the cupboard (we don’t mind a cheese platter around here). I am excited to cross something else of the shopping list, and with it go any nasties in the crackers (including palm oil and preservatives) and the packaging. So far I have made them in two different ways – once with caraway seeds and yesterday with rosemary. I made star shaped ones for Lil I. I don’t have a photo. We ate them all.
  • Did I mention this guy?
Making play dough

  • Milky Mondays – I have sourced a raw milk supplier just down the road from us. Every Monday I head to the milking shed and fill up my bottles whilst the cows are being milked. It literally is coming straight from the cow into our bottles. The milk is still warm and sooo creamy! We then let it sit for 24 hours in the fridge then spoon off the cream and voila milk and cream for the week. Because of regulations the farmers are not allowed to sell the milk to us – to make it worth their while I’ve been making them gluten free bread as a trade. It works out well for everyone!
  • The garden. I love my garden. We are still not harvesting much from the beds but everything seems to be coming along well enough. Herbs, silverbeet and cherry tomatoes are a daily harvest at the moment. We had a bit of a lull in salad greens over the last month but we will be back in business in the next week. We ate our very first home grown onions the other day and have been getting a trickle of broad beans too.
    Pretty broad bean flowers, silverbeet in the foreground, garlic in the background

    Taste bombs
    Cherry toms or as Lil I calls them – taste bombs
  • The potential of my Phd. I’m still in the excited about my topic period. I am heading up to Weipa, North Queensland, to meet traditional owners and to scope my research ideas on the 20th November. I’ll be gone for a week. It will be my second time away overnight from Lil’ I since he was born. The first was last week when I stayed in Brisbane for one night (and drank a little too much – thanks sari and lefty’s old time music hall). It will be hard for everyone but especially J. Lil’ I is just a little too attached to me despite the amount of time that the boys spend by themselves when I’m studying. Its night times that are the problem really. I guess I’m also inspired by the thought that I might be able to do me things more easily once the boys sort out their patterns. Like stay in Brisbane to catch up on study, or go to seminars, or whatever it may be.

Things that haven’t been so inspiring for us lately:

  • We are all currently in quarantine. It’s not quite as dramatic as that but we are trying to keep ourselves isolated for a few days because we have whooping cough! Not sure where Lil I picked it up from but he has been coughing for over two weeks now. He hasn’t been too badly affected – there was only one day in which we even thought to take him to a doctor and that was when he got tested. He didn’t develop the ‘whoop’ so we didn’t suspect anything. The ironic thing is that that the only vaccination that Lil I has had is for whooping cough (more for tetanus really but it includes whooping cough and polio). So I’m guessing that that is why it hasn’t hit him so hard. The rally annoying thing is that my dad and step mum were coming to visit and now they have had to postpone their trip.


  • Sore backs. Poor J’s back is still sore. It is definitely on the mend but he is still trying to take it easy. He feels antsy as he wants to do so much and can’t. Luckily we’ve had a wwoofer for the last few weeks and so we have still managed to get lots done.


  • Dry, windy weather. Is it part of human nature to whinge about the weather? It wasn’t so long ago that it was so wet that everything was going mouldy and we were going a little insane. Oh for some of that rain now! We’ve had a few showers and promises of summer storms to come but the tanks are getting low and the creek could do with a nice flush out and an end to our fire season would be nice.  The creek is still running though and the tanks aren’t at disaster level yet. If they get really, really, low then we will plug into the spring water and top up our tanks. We are so blessed with water on this property so can’t really complain. My sister lives 50km away and they have had to buy water twice already this year. Things don’t look too promising for a wet summer though – the BOM is predicting drier than average conditions for the next 3 months at least. We might have to start constructing self watering garden beds like these wicking beds over on Milkwood permaculture blog.


living in the rainy forest

So it’s supposed to be our dry season here but we’ve just come out of a few solid days of rain. I’m talking over 200ml in 3 days.

When you don’t have much roof space things get a little damp in weather like that and if you have very little lawn and very clayey soils things get a little muddy. If you live on solar (so no washing machine on cloudy days and absolutely no dryer, ever,) things stay damp and muddy.



Multiply this by 3 kids under 9 (we’ve had J’s brother visiting) in a very small house and you’ll know why i was soooo happy to see the sun (briefly) this afternoon.

But it was nice to see the creek pumping in full force and to get a good idea of how surface water behaves on our block.



It was also awesome to have J’s bro (and family) here. They brought many cuttings, much enthusiasm and about 2000 worms! The worms are currently living in an old polystyrene box until we get our hands on one of these retro kits and convert an old olive tub into a worm habitat.

You can see the worms in the white box in this photo as well as some of the olive tubs which we converted into compost tumblers (using only hand tools). The plantings in the front are comfrey and arrowroot. Oh, and check out the wattle and daub (minus the daub) fence J built for free with some privet (a weed) we took out.