Thursday, November 29, 2012

And now for the pictures

Please forgive me for this post if it bores the pants off you, but I'm pretty proud of myself for taking on a building project like this and actually having some success. Sure I did a small solar conversion on the camper trailer last year and I've put up alot of shelves, but I've also had some pretty spectacular disasters too (who can forget the water tank stand debacles?) so I'm not that confident in my ability to do things around the house without a bloke. But then I thought, what part of the Y chromosome identifies for ability to build a retaining wall and make cement render? After all, what's Google for, except to replace the often uninformed, but well meaning, advice of said bloke! I don't have any friends who have built an Earthship here in Geraldton, so tyre experience isn't exactly heavy on the ground, and I also am yet to meet anyone who believes it is possible to make cement render by hand. Seriously guys (and I mean you men) it aint that hard to mix up in a wheelbarrow if you just make small batches at a time.

So I thought I'd show you some photos with a bit of a running commentary. We'll start with a before shot:
What my backyard looked like before I started, yep I had to remove alot of vegetation even before I started!
After digging out the sandhill a bit, the next step was laying down the tyres and then filling them with the sand I had just dug out. Great upper body and core muscle workout.
After two days I have a very small wall
Then add seating

A local I disturbed in the process
A tip I learnt (thanks youtube!) is to put cardboard in the bottom of the tyres to stop the sand falling out where they interlock with the ones below them.
A spot for the water feature and some steps as well
Another view of the steps

Boy this is hard work, I need a rest!
After the basic layout, the lot gets covered in chicken wire, secured on with tech screws. and the gaps filled with wine bottles and cans donated by friends, neighbours and, um, a little dumpster diving..
Filling the gaps with more garbage - yes I did drink all that wine, but the cans are all donated!
The next step is rendering. This was the step I felt least confident about because there's like some chemistry involved and everyone made me think the whole mixing process was going to be horrific. But let me tell you, after filling that many tyres with sand and packing them down, mixing a bit of render in a wheelbarrow is child's play.
First layer of render
The difficulty was in getting the structure to look  half decent, which meant doing a number of layers of render. And once I got some decent gloves, my hands thanked me as well.
before I sorted out the safety gear
The next layer looked something like this
Beginning to take shape
Further refinements
I added a little lip above the seating area, using a bit of wire, and an old sheet filled up with sand then rendered over. Amazing what you can do with scraps of old stuff!
A lip added so I can stop the soil flowing over onto the seating.
My gosh, almost looks professional, if a bit folksy
And finally it looks something like this
There's still the other side of the wall to do, but I've run out of tin cans for the time being and need to wait for the neighbours to consume and donate, so I'm going to leave rendering that side for now. I've been very lucky with the weather, which has stayed mid to low 20s all week, but next week it will begin to hit the mid 30s so I'm hoping to have this cured before then. Then I'll paint it and seal it.

So there you have it. By the way, the black tubing is for piping water from the future pond up to the top of the waterfall. I smartly thought of that and made sure I put in the plumbing beforehand.

For a few more pictures, you can check out this photo album

Sunday, November 18, 2012

11 years of neglect

I've had this house for 11 years and aside from removing an old shed and putting in a chook pen I've left the backyard alone. Mainly because it's a huge overgrown sandhill and tackling this space was going to be the hardest thing I'd do in the garden. So I concentrated on everything else. But now that I've pretty well sorted the front and both sides there's no excuse left for ignoring it. Particularly when I've got time on my hands.

The land my house is on was part of a parcel of land which was leased out to individuals to build houses on. People paid a peppercorn rent and built some rather interesting homes, mainly because most of the original leaseholders were either low income earners or building a holiday home. Many houses were relocated railway workers cottages, others were owner builds from reclaimed building materials, others were properly designed and built by a registered builder. It has created an enclave with a rather different feel from your bog standard modern subdivision, and has become highly desirable in real estate terms. No doubt as time progresses we will see more of the houses removed and modern monstrosities erected in their place, but so far all the recent renovations have been done well and have merely added character to our little patch at old Drummonds.

Because the land wasn't formally subdivided there were no services put onto the blocks and certainly no levelling and retaining of the sanddune on which the blocks are built. Initially there was no scheme water (it arrived in 1984), with original leaseholders relying on rainwater and trucking water when that ran out. Gradually services got provided and when the freehold subdivision went through in 2008 we got underground power and infill sewerage, meaning the power poles got removed and my view improved exponentially!

The road in front climbs to the top of the sandhill then follows along the crest of it, with houses on both sides. Between the houses on the top of the dune and me halfway down it is a very steep slope made of sand. Luckily it is predominantly vegetated and doesn't flow down onto my levelled building pad when we get torrential rainfall. But it is slowly encroaching.

When I bought the house, there was a tin shed next to the water tank on a concrete slab. The back wall of the shed was bowed inwards by sand. Since I got rid of the shed that sand has not stayed put, but fallen down onto the concrete slab and will continue to encroach whilst it remains unretained. It's not a big deal because it's an area I rarely use, only venturing round the back to put washing on the line or gather ripe mulberries. But it's a pretty awesome potential site for an entertaining area.

Over the last few weeks I have become a regular at the tyre place, loading up the car with old tyres and preventing them from ending in landfill. Though I guess my use for them is landfill too!! Each tyre is stacked and filled with sand, and slowly a wall, steps and seating is emerging. Plus a channel for a waterfall into a pond, and a site for a brick pizza oven.

Once the basic structure is in place, the tyres are covered with chicken wire, the gaps filled with old wine bottles and aluminium cans, and the whole lot cement rendered. It's incredibly low tech, but the tyres filled with sand interlock to make a superbly engineered wall that will have no trouble retaining the sand behind it. And aside from the render and chicken wire, the building materials are all free!

This is my summer project. So far the basic structure is in place, the wire cladding and gap filling has begun, and next week I'll start rendering.

Am sure getting a good workout doing this!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

First Tuesday in November

It's an incredibly important day tomorrow. It's so important that the whole country stops. If only for 3 minutes, but for many it's a day off to go to the races. Yes, tomorrow is Melbourne Cup Day, the richest horse race in the world.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the Pacific Ocean an inconsequential country is having an election tomorrow. This country tends to consider itself really important, uses bullying tactics on alot of other countries around the world, doesn't really give a shit about anyone's interests but it's own, and it's people are one of the most parochial the world over. They say less than 15% own a passport, and the only place they've ever travelled outside their borders is to some small tropical islands to their south (apparently they don't need a passport for that) where they stay in air conditioned condos and don't really have much to do with the locals.

Now the trouble with this country is that it is such a media tart! Anything that happens over there and we hear all about it. I don't mean natural disasters and the like, but detailed following of an election campaign between two rich guys to be the "Leader of the Free World"!

The trouble with being an outsider, in particular one from a British ex colony, is I just don't get America. It seems to run on the idea that everyone works hard for a living and that if you don't, well tough titties. That the market will sort that out. That government isn't to be trusted, it shouldn't tell you what you can and can't do, and it certainly shouldn't interfere in the money making that can be made by the private sector, and in particular shouldn't interfere with health care. This I have a huge problem with. In America, if you have a well paid job then you usually have health insurance, but many casual and lower paid jobs you're on your own. If you don't have a job, there's no guarantee that the government will help you, and the fact is that if you're poor, you have more health problems than a rich person. It really does appal me that people die in America from diseases because they can't afford treatment. I mean I know that happens in poor developing countries....

Now the problem with business running health care, is that costs get blown out. The US pays more than any other country in the world for medicine for instance, whereas a regulated system like Australia pays the least. Every Australian has access to free health care in hospitals, regardless of income, and the government restricts the costs also. But there's still a private sector, where the costs are approx 2.5 times the public sector, yet the quality of care is not appreciably different. In fact private health cover in Australia only gives you a private room and a better meal, and a shorter waiting time for your elective operation. That's all you get for all those out of pocket extra costs. The best specialists and researchers will work in both systems, with the majority of their work in the well funded, university affiliated teaching hospitals. Of course everyone complains that they need more money, but there's no evidence that our health statistics in Australia are worsening as a result of poor health care. And if you're sick, you don't die because you can't afford the treatment.

In America, as I said, the market runs health care. The insurance companies decide who and how much, not the patient, not the referring doctor. And if you're not insured but aren't bottomed out derelict, bad luck. I have no idea about the quality of care within the public sector, I'm assuming it is quite good, but it is only available for some, not all.

The current presidential incumbent tried to introduce universal healthcare which as a concept is a total no brainer. However, it does appear to me that some people didn't actually agree that a rich country like America should give people that. I personally think that's reprehensible, and anyone who thinks that should maybe be drowned or something! Sorry!

On the other hand, I can certainly understand opposition to the cost of it. Remember, this is a country that seems to have a major aversion to paying any other tax besides sales tax, and yet somehow wants to have services like a big mother of an international war machine defence force, well maintained roads for their gas guzzlers, subsidised fuel too, shall I go on? I would imagine that trying to retrofit a universal healthcare system onto an inefficient, money guzzling private health care sector would be a nightmare, and yes it would appear that it would cost a squillion!! And who's gonna pay for that? Certainly not American tax payers who don't believe in "big government", whatever the fuck that is!

I only have to look in my own backyard to concede that the three levels of government we have in Australia are in some areas excessive, with needless duplication, dog fights over funding, huge wastes on consultants, government committees etc etc. Not to mention the fact that with our over regulation we have become a nanny state, where individuals expect the government to come up with the solutions to all our problems. For instance, in Australia the mining companies seem to think it's the government's job to train workers to work on its mines! Why the fuck can't they spend some money training them themselves, especially given the huge profits they're making. On the other hand, I love the American attitude to problem solving, the entrepreneurial, can do attitude where business and the private sector comes up with its own solutions, not always for the greater good though...

Back to healthcare. I'm no economist, but if the US government was able to control the health sector, then they could also control the price. This would make it cheaper for everyone in the long run, once the government had reconciled between the past and the future. But with big business, OK read big fat pharma corporations, standing to lose out big time, there is no way that a country like the US will get universal healthcare. Of course a financial meltdown and people out of jobs isn't going to encourage punters to pay more taxes to fund something either. But, this outsider believes that while you let the top end of town decide who lives and dies, while you don't have the balls to put your hand in your pocket and say "hey! this matters, this is important, maybe just sometimes we ought to trust government to get this right and pay a bit more". But you won't, because Americans have a mindset that I just don't get.

Ah the land of the free. The world's greatest democracy. Bullshit!! With less than 65% of eligible voters likely to vote (estimates are that 90 million people won't vote), you've got to wonder how democratic it is when 40% of people are so disenfranchised that they don't engage in the political process. That's alot of people that could make a big difference either way.

I live in one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory. Yes, the democratic process isn't voluntary, it's expected. Remember we're a nanny state right? I'm a huge supporter of this particular standpoint though, because it means that everyone of eligible voting age is going to turn up on election day and vote. If they don't they get a fine of $20, which some people who choose to not get involved can pay to absolve themselves of their democratic responsibilities. The rest of us turn up and vote. Rich, poor, young, old, whatever.

What this means is that although certain sections of Australian society are also disenfranchised, they have voting power. It means politicians have to take the poor, the indigenous, the marginalised into consideration if they want to gain or stay in office. Sure there is potential for corruption, but I'd argue that our political system is less corrupt than the US system when it comes to fundraising and kickbacks. And in the US, if you're in a community that doesn't vote, you think the politicians are going to even bother campaigning in your area? No point right?

I'd also argue that compulsory voting probably forces people to follow politics a bit more, and I'm yet to meet more than a handful of people who vehemently oppose "being forced to vote". There's always going to be donkey voters, those who invalidate their vote by scrawling abuse over the voting paper, and those who refuse to turn up, but I doubt they would account for more than 10% of all voters. Everyone else has their democratic say, feels proud that they've said it, and can spend the next four years complaining bitterly on Alan Jones' talkback radio show that they "didn't vote for that bitch!" Now that's democracy!

So tomorrow, the powerful and the educated and informed of America will vote. As will the rednecks, the hardliners, the extremists, and all those politically aware. The rest, particularly those who haven't succeeded in the great American dream, who've maybe been hit hard by the financial crisis and don't believe their vote will make a difference, will stay at home. Won't exercise their democratic right, won't tell Obama what they think of his presidency, won't have a say about who runs the place for the next four years. It's sad, and it ain't democracy.

Back in Australia, nanny state, free healthcare, compulsory voting, financial stability, strong currency, great weather, we're gonna put on the fancy dress and hat, guzzle some champagne, and have our yearly bet on the horses.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Scratched! or how I beat the behemoth and lived to tell the tale

I'll let you into a secret: one of the great joys of not working is having time to do everything else. I mean that sounds really obvious doesn't it, but most people just don't get it. When you're working right, you have this big list of things you have to get done. Mostly those home and garden maintenance chores that you don't actually mind doing, but by the end of a work week you're just too plain fagged to really get in the hours needed to get them done. So you start on the weekend, don't manage to finish, and then the job stays half done for months on end as chore after chore seems to top it on the priority list. You're frustrated at it sitting there half done, staring at you, taunting you, making you feel guilty. Not to mention all the sarcastic remarks you may be getting from significant others. And no matter that the honest truth is you just don't have time hey?

Taking time off isn't the total answer, because when you have been working hard you need a holiday, you need to relax, recover from the stress of working and not feel pressured to get all those jobs done. Sure some people spend their holidays doing just that, and if heavy duty home landscaping is your way of relaxing from the stress of your work life, good on you. Just I prefer going skiing!!

Now that I'm back home, with a few months still left before I head back to work, I've drawn up a list of chores that need doing and I now have the time and energy to actually get them done. But it's not like I get up in the morning and put in a solid 10 hour day. God no!! It's much more organic than that!

I recently had a chat with my neighbour George, who is well and truly retired but leads a very active life revolving around a great garden, vege patch and home made wines and fortifieds. He and Pat reckon they've got enough Mulberry wine to get them through the rest of their lives, and they don't mind a wee dram first thing in the morning before the daily chores. No they aren't lushes, but a couple of old hippies ahead of their time, and I'm quite a fan of their ginger wine, mmm!! Anyway, George agrees that the way to be productive is to potter along, do a little of one chore, move on to another, maybe relax for a while with a beverage, read a book, spend some time on the internet (more Pat's realm than George's), then another chore and so on. And because you don't have just the weekend to finish the job, you start to see real progress. Yep, brick by brick that darn pyramid gets built!!

My current garden list has 16 items on it, and I've just hit the halfway mark. One of the really big ones was item number three, something I always considered a perhaps insurmountable challenge and it had, frankly, become kind of personal. Yep, that darn bougainvillea!

I'd had enough of the regular pruning. I was sick of the nasty scratches from the mother of all thorns. I realised that a paying tenant wouldn't keep it under control. It had to go. And just in case you have no idea how big a job this might be, pop over to this post from last year when I had my last attempt. When I'd given up in frustration after watching it all grow back again. After my neighbours had also risked life and limb helping me pull a huge amount of it down for council collection. Yep, a big job indeed. BTW, the photo above is from before last year's effort, I didn't let it get that bad again!

This time around I have time on my hands, and every Tuesday there's a bin to fill so week after week I have been cutting away at that bougainvillea and sending it to the tip. I may have sustained secateur blisters but it's all for the better good. I've had the joy of chainsawing some massive limbs (no, not mine!!) and have only the final stump to remove after drenching it with herbicide. Sometimes you've just gotta use poison folks!

And at last I can say with a great feeling of triumph and elation that the bougainvillea is no more!!

No more will I sustain inch deep puncture wounds to my fingers.

No longer will my arms be scratched and bleeding.

I won't have to repair the wheelbarrow inner tube again, or pick out numerous thorns from my thongs (they're rubber footwear you non Australians!)

And shadecloth over the pergola is so much easier!!

Now to move on to building that tyre wall....