I want to share some of my life in this blog, because that is so intrinsically a part of my work, and what is expressed in my fibre art. The two are the same.
I live on my long narrow 7 acres, ‘Sunflower HIll’, between vast farms of thousands of acres, in Far South West Victoria, Australia.
The Green Triangle…a place of rainfall, forest and productive soil in a dry dry country.
I’ve been here two and a half years so far, and plan to fall into a hole by a favorite tree when I eventually die, and pull the earth back over me.
I am Never. Moving. Again.
I am a single parent, a woman living alone out here with my 3 homeschooled kids. I am working on as much sustainable self sufficiency as possible, and use a lot of Permaculture and Regnerative Agriculture principles…and my own intuition. And just Stuff I Like.
My favourite permy principle is this; find the solution in the problem. And my geese. And cats. They solve a lot of problems too. Also create some.
A month ago a 7,500acre fire was marching its nasty way across the horizon towards my place, a line of thick plumes of heavy grey smoke from eating up the gum trees in the forest that surrounds me. I had time, so put out a call for help to move my animals…I have a lot of animals.
Sheep, 11. A very old horse. 5 guinea fowl. 6 ducks. At least 30 chickens. A funny lookin’ dog. 2 cats (beautiful rodent and snake repellers that they are).
And 21 geese (beautiful mowers and snake repellers and pooers and loud LOUD gwompers that they are).
The geese were a bit of a challenge. An amazing friend brought her teenage son to help pen, trim wing feathers and load the 21 geese (as well as helping me move the chooks, guinea fowl and ducks) into the trailer cage, while the columns of grey stuff chewed their way through the forest.
Geese are big. Really big, and really strong. They have really big claws, and wing pinions that whack you in the face pretty hard. One of mine is a biter. Ask me (and my friend, and our bruised arms) how I know.
We battled our way through the catching, clipping, carrying and pushing into the trailer of about three quarters of these big, nervously pooing, reluctant evacuees. Then my friend looked up and simply said,
‘Oh no’ never bodes well and in this case it heralded three quarters of my goose flock marching indignantly back into the paddock we had just relocated them from.
So back to the drawing board with the goose in trailer incarceration scheme.
Geese are like this; belligerent, determined, and very funny. We got there in the end, and eventually the fire was stopped about 5km short of my place.
5km is about a 15 minute run for an out of control fire fed by eucalypts and with a decent northerly behind it.
I am also a fibre artist, a teacher and a writer. The fires affected me profoundly, and this piece emerged weeks afterwards. Green life emerges through fire. As it does in Australia, one way or another.
I love sharing my skills in fibre art, particularly ecoprinting and using the raw wool from my sheep for felting. There’s something viscerally satisfying in finding things that nature has grown, and scultpting them to marry with the drape and feel of cloth. It creates something both different and the same.
Also I love my sheep, they are my friends, and have unique personalities. Each also has a uniquely coloured and textured fleece, so I get the lightest finest white and coloured (shades of black, grey and brown) merinos from Molly, Moon, Elsa, Velvet and Luna, shades of grey Corriedales from Mumma, Star and Henrietta (though Henrietta sadly died while evacuated), and textures in between from Butty, Puzzle, Rain and Beatrice.
I genuinely enjoy teaching these things too, a kind of guidance that is most satisfying at the end of the process when the bundles are opened and the joyful discoveries made. It never ceases to give me pleasure in people’s surprised joy.
There’s no other house visible from mine. My nearest neighbor is 2km away…there are two or three neighbors at that distance in different directions, but otherwise my neighbors are sheep and cows, the bush, koalas, roos, emus, snakes… a lot of tiger snakes.
World’s fourth most venomous snake and crikey did they like my place! They have been RIGHT at home here. Happy and certain that they should never move either.
Me, here alone with small children….less keen on them as housemates. Or on the back porch, in the feed shed, or in poultry cages with us.
Every place will have its own unique challenges, here it has been those bloody snakes (I have dealt with 16 around and under my house, on the porch, in the shed, in poultry cages, in the bus…), broken equipment, mice and rats, leaking roof and waterlogging, fires and resultant evacuations in summer, rubbish cleanup, firewood and building jobs.
Learning a bunch of skills I never really wanted to. Plumbing and chainsawing are right up there with skills I never wanted to learn.
Still don’t really.
Collecting, cutting and splitting enough wood to keep the kids and I warm through winter is incredibly difficult.
My place was extremely cheap because it was treated like a tip by the previous owner, which left me to remove the most upsetting amount of hard rubbish.
Machinery, car parts, a whole trashed ute, broken stereos, gym gear and all manner of broken equipment for a multiplicity of purposes, alchohol containers and dispensing stuff (it is startling what is available to the really dedicated alcoholic). A bus.
I kept the bus.
And the antique sewing machine.
Repurposed old baths and other bits.
But the 2000 Sydney Olympics Keepsake Barbie had to go.
Then the rapidfire breakdowns of the various essential bits of equipment.
In 2 years I have had to replace the bore and house pumps, the water heater, parts of the roof, the wood heater, a water tank, add another water tank, put gravel all around the house because of insane sucking boot stealing mud, and redo the fencing on all 5 paddocks.
I did that with sheep mesh.
Which the geese jiggle and wriggle through, no problems at all, on their various visits to the neighbors’ properties.
So now I am redoing with chicken mesh.
But…the solution is usually there, hiding in the problem. All of those problems have something to teach you, if you pick yourself up and take a moment to listen to them before tackling the thing from another angle.
The Duck Orchard, which is the most satisfying happily flowing productive space that now offers apple trees, an embarrassing amount of zucchinis, duck eggs and the seething mass of plant life that should produce tomatoes, various squashes and pumpkins, corn and other fabulous foods over the next few months with very little work, came of just such a problem…no eggs over winter.
It is unspeakably hard, but I finally feel like I am finally making progress…I have a vision and can see that the stress and painfully hard work is starting to pay off.
I have gone hard in the first few years to set myself up with a system that should be relatively easy to maintain, and where all the elements work together. And I have some TREES growing! And FLOWERS!!!
Trees and flowers are worth the effort.
My 4 year old concentrating on carefully picking strawberries is worth the effort.
Kids bringing in handfuls of squidgy boysenberries or waving aloft yet another giant zucchini (zucchini chocolate cake, roast zucchini, stuffed zucchini, you name it…) is worth it.
They laid the crazy paving in this vegie garden, with tiles that would have gone to the tip.
Stay tuned, because there are so many stories, and they are bursting out of me.