The Landscape Gardener

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  • #48257

    Bidadisndat
    Participant

    THE LANDSCAPE GARDENER

    Mathew O’Rourke, known simply as “Matt” to his many friends and acquaintances, some of whom even knew his surname, had two loves that dominated his life. First and foremost was his wife Dianne and family of two young boys and a four month old baby girl. Second was his job where as a fully qualified and experienced arborist, horticulturist and landscape designer he was employed as a Leading Hand in charge of one of three six-man teams working at a large landscaping company.

    Matt had met Dianne in the first month of his third year at high school, and the two had remained inseparable ever since. After finishing high school Matt had gone to a TAFE College to earn his arborist, horticulture and landscape designer credentials whilst Dianne had opted to obtain a diploma in fashion design and dressmaking. During this time they both worked casual part-time jobs in their chosen fields in order to gain practical experience, cover expenses, and hopefully save a little for their future. Matt managed to earn all of his certifications whilst working part-time for the landscaping company that subsequently employed him on a full-time basis after he graduated, and Dianne had not only got her diploma but also learned all the ins and outs of operating and maintaining sewing machines and overlockers whilst working for a clothing manufacturer.

    They were married soon after he graduated from the TAFE College and their first child, Terrence, was born a scant nine months later. Or was it eight? Anyway, it was close enough after their wedding to set tongues wagging amongst several gossips in the area where they lived. Not that either of them cared: They loved each other, and knew they would do so for the rest of their lives. Their second son, Liam, arrived sixteen months later, and was followed in another sixteen months by a daughter, Susan.

    Their Italian landlady, Maria, who treated Dianne like a daughter and the children as her own grandchildren laughingly suggested that a fourth child would probably come after another sixteen months, and Dianne laughed with her, saying that she wouldn’t mind that at all provided that they could afford another one. Matt’s job paid reasonably well, although he often worried about the security of it, but Dianne was a stay-at-home mum who worked part time as a seamstress for the same uniform clothing company that employed Maria.

    Matt and Dianne rented the downstairs apartment of the duplex that Maria, a widow, owned and lived in. The largest bedroom of Maria’s upstairs apartment had been given over to two commercial sewing machines and an overlocker where the two ladies worked together, turning the pre-cut materials supplied by the company into uniform skirts, slacks, dresses and blouses. It was piece-work and although the income wasn’t fantastic it was a lot better than nothing, plus it allowed Dianne to take care of the children at home. And as she did not have the expense of paying for childcare Dianne believed that overall she was probably much better off than those working mothers who spent the bulk of their pay on daycare for their children.

    During the past three and a half years she and Maria had spent so much time chatting together that she had actually learned enough Italian to be able to hold a decent conversation in that language with Maria’s extended family and many friends who always seemed to be stopping by. And having spent a lot of time in the company of them both, and with the younger children of Maria’s friends her eldest boy, Terry, was also able to communicate reasonably well, even if only in simple terms befitting his age. Dianne wanted all her children to pick up the language this way as she felt it would give them an edge in the future, especially if they chose to take Italian as an elective in high school, although that was a long way off yet.

    She had long ago decided that whenever she and Matt needed a babysitter for the kids, it would be an Italian girl who would be instructed to speak only in her native language when with them. Maria had thought this to be an excellent idea and, in addition to ‘volunteering’ her own granddaughter, had actually gone to the extent of vetting several of those of her friends in order to find the best girls for the position if it was ever required. To Dianne’s ever practical mind learning a language this way probably equated to saving several hundred dollars over tuition fees and smiled to herself at the thought of the Australian Tax Office trying to add that to her earnings.

    Matt had endeared himself to Maria by transforming her previously mediocre front garden into a dazzling display of colour throughout each season, and half of the back yard into a fairly extensive vegetable garden. He had also installed a chicken house and run along the back fence and being practically free range, and supplied with copious amounts of kitchen scraps, the eggs produced by the eight hens therein more than covered the cost of the small amount of scratch mix that was purchased for them. He then did the same for Maria’s son and daughter-in-law, Angelo and Sophia, who owned and lived in another duplex two doors down the street, and with whom he had become very good friends.

    With a little bit of help and no end of advice from “Maria’s Mob”, as Matt and Dianne refered to Maria’s many relatives and friends who always appeared to be popping in for a chat, he had built a large barbeque under a covered pergola that jutted out from the rear of the double garage at the side of the duplex, and it had become the focal point for all the barbeques and parties held since its construction. Angelo had obtained an old but very good H.M.V. stereo record player at a garage sale some years before and had it set it up in the garage, with four weatherproof extension speakers fitted under the pergola. He and Matt had built up quite a collection of L.P. records covering a wide selection of music styles, from classical to jazz, rock ’n roll to country and western, and much more, and it saw extensive use. So did a very large drinks fridge with double glass doors, donated by one of Angelo’s mates who had purchased it very cheaply from a take-away shop that had gone out of business.

    Maria’s extended family and many friends had decorated the pergola with Italian and Australian flags, strings of coloured lights and a large number of empty Chianti bottles in their woven straw holders that now hung from the pergola’s rafters. And of course in the fridge, along with a variety of beers, soft drinks and wine casks, there was still a number of Chianti bottles yet to be emptied. Nobody dared argue with Maria when she insisted that two shelves in the fridge were to be kept clear of drinks so that food could be placed in there when they were having barbecues and parties. And although Angelo initially tried to insist that one shelf would be more than enough, he quickly changed his mind when she put in a large selection of cheeses and dips to go with the salamis, cabanossi and jars of sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives and suchlike that they all enjoyed.

    Needless to say both Matt and Dianne, who everybody treated as if they were members of the family, loved the many parties that were held there, and at the last party Matt found to his surprise that he had actually picked up enough of the language to be able to engage in simple conversation when they spoke in Italian. Naturally there was lots of laughter and good natured ribbing when he made the inevitable mistakes in pronunciation or grammar, however there certainly wasn’t any lack of assistance when any correction was needed, and he was encouraged to use the language as much as possible when in their company. Maria made it very clear to the men what would befall them if she caught them teaching him any words or phrases that in her opinion were coarse or vulgar, or worse, and of course the men respected this….. simply by making sure she wasn’t around when they did so.

    The land beyond the back fence of the property was rough bushland infested with large patches of lantana and other invasive weeds, and was separated from the fenceline by a sixty-five foot wide easement intended to be both a firebreak and an access road for council trucks. The local council was responsible for its maintenance however it had never had to bother with keeping the easement clear as most of the adjacent residents, having access through gates in their back fences, treated it as a virtual extension of their own backyards, grassed it with a hardy lawn turf, and kept it mowed. A well-worn path where people walked their dogs and children rode their bicycles meandered down the centre for the full length of the easement, and although the locals had for some time been asking council to have it paved, it seemed that this was considered to be of low priority and so far nothing had been done.

    Matt and Angelo had, directly across from the back of the properties where they lived, cleared another thirty feet or so into the bushland beyond and built up a low berm which they mulched thickly with woodchips and leaf litter. This was then planting out with a dense hedge of native plants including acacias, banksias, callistemons, grevilleas, hakeas, lilly-pillys, melaleucas and more. Whilst the hedge looked beautiful now that the plants were well established, its real purpose was to shield from public view a further forty foot extension into the bush where at first he, Dianne and Maria, and then Angelo and his family had each planted out several raised vegetable garden beds. The dense planting of the hedge, which was on the Southern side of the North facing garden, also acted as a sun-trap and wind-break, creating a micro-climate that both extended the main growing season and expanded the range of fruit and vegetables that could be grown. The vegetable garden itself was laid out in the form of two overlapping mandalas, a series of interconnected circular beds that provide the most amount of growing area for the least amount of path, and was based on that found in Linda Woodrow’s book ‘The Permaculture Home Garden’.

    Although they had had no problems with bandicoots, pilfering possums, initially attracted by the grevilleas planted along the easement, were an entirely different matter, and both Matt and Angelo eventually had to go to the extent and expense of putting up an eight-foot high loose-topped wire mesh fence around the perimeter of their mandalas to protect them. He hadn’t bothered to ask for the council’s permission to do all this, as he knew it would have refused to allow it, and thankfully none of the neighbours had complained. In fact, after several of them had had a look at the mandalas they had asked him for advice on how to do the same for themselves, formed a gardening club and then asked him if he would like to take on the role as Head Gardener… in a voluntary capacity of course.

    Both he and Dianne were delighted with the concept and they both readily offered their services to the new club, along with the free use of the geodesic fox-proof chook dome that he had constructed for his own mandalas. He also provided, separate from those he kept in his own run, eight chickens to populate the dome, and it was the responsibility of the person using the dome at the time to ensure that the chickens were well cared for. Actually the chickens virtually took care of themselves and it was really only necessary to provide them with fresh clean drinking water, plus a bit of grain to encourage them to scratch up and distribute the compost they were making from the kitchen scraps and lawn clippings that were thrown into the dome.

    Of course, as “The Keeper of the Dome” when it was in his or her possession was entitled to keep the eggs that the chickens laid, that was not considered to be an onerous chore. Having tasted the difference between store-bought eggs and those provided by their own chickens, several people followed Matt’s lead and installed small chook houses and runs in their own back yards, with the agreed-to rule that nobody would keep a rooster, the early morning crowing of which would disturb the tranquillity of their quiet neighbourhood.

    In the three years since the club was formed it had grown considerably, and there were now five more mandalas plus another four under construction behind the berm that now extended along the full length of the easement. Many more trees and shrubs had been added to the berm and it now also featured many colourful flowering gums, Illawarra flame trees, jacarandas, silky oaks and native ground-covers. Construction of each new mandala was made fairly easy by the fact that when somebody wanted to put one in, the members of the garden club pitched in to assist, and one couldn’t help but notice that this also had the effect of drawing all those involved into a closer and friendlier group of neighbours. When Matt joked with several of them that their suburban neighbourhood seemed to be turning into a full-on farming community they not only agreed with him but also claimed that they were quite proud of the fact.

    In order to conserve water Matt had encouraged the members to install drip irrigation and use thick layers of mulch on their gardens. Rather than run hoses across the easement from each property when wanting to water their gardens, he suggested that they each put in an underground irrigation pipe, terminating in a standpipe and tap, with a shutoff valve at the house end in case a pipe was damaged. Matt organised a group purchase for the polly irrigation pipe and fittings that were needed and, working together, the members had everybody’s lines and taps installed over one weekend. Where they could, quite a few members took advantage of the government’s rebate system and installed rainwater tanks on their properties, and ran their irrigation systems as well as their laundries and toilets from them.

    A further innovation came about after Matt had been approached by a couple of club members who had requested his help in assembling two more chook domes, as they felt that they did not have the expertise needed to do it themselves. It was when he was engaged in this project that he came up with the idea of covering a dome frame not with chicken mesh, but with translucent bubble wrap, thus making of it a small portable hothouse. After some experimenting he found that whilst bubble wrap was very effective in the cooler months it would probably be a bit too hot when the weather warmed up, however by using various light reducing percentages and colours of shadecloth they still worked well, plus had the advantage of allowing a good airflow around the plants inside.

    He went ahead and put together one of these domes and when it was complete displayed it at the next get-together that the club now held each month, with the result that he was asked if he would be able to produce them for sale to members. However Matt suggested that in keeping with the ethos of the club it would be much better if those members who wanted such domes work on them as a group project, and he would provide a list of materials required, detailed instructions and advice where needed.

    The produce from Matt, Dianne and Maria’s veggie garden and mandalas actually slashed their food bill considerably, and more often than not produced a modest surplus that Maria used for trade with her family and friends. Maria didn’t like taking cash for the produce, however everybody seemed to know what she needed at any one time, be it olive oil, tea, coffee, flour, sugar or whatever, and her little trading system worked well. When other members of the club also noted and spread the word about the big savings they were making by growing their own veggies it had the effect of inspiring and encouraging new members to join, and by the end of the fourth year sixteen of the twenty three properties backing on to the reserve had become part of the system.

    The duplex between Maria’s and Angelo’s was an investment property owned by a couple who rented it out, and as the tenants of both units had no interest in becoming part of the garden club Matt and Angelo decided that they would use the bushland behind it and install another double mandala there. Maintaining their combined mandalas would probably have been a full time job for one person however between their two families, plus Maria, they fielded five keen gardeners, and whether working alone or together in twos or threes the time that each spent in the gardens was quite easy and pleasurable, not to mention also quite profitable.

    Once each year, when there was an abundant supply of tomatoes from the gardens of friends as well as their own, there was a weekend set aside for bottling fresh whole and diced tomatoes as well as tomato sauces, pastes and pasatas. A large amount of sun-dried tomatoes was also put into jars, preserved in virgin olive oil and often flavoured with garlic, basil or chilli. This event was always accompanied by a massive party that required all who attended to bring a plate of food to share, and at least one bottle of wine, plus anyone who had one, a mandolin, guitar, banjo or violin – even if its owner couldn’t really play it all that well. Or in the case of a piano accordion, joked Matt, only if its owner could play it well.

    Eventually the council did get to learn of what amounted to guerrilla gardening on public land however after meeting with the members and inspecting the system, and finding that there were no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fungicides used, or any type of contaminated runoff that might enter the water catchment area of the dam beyond that supplied water to the area, it was eventually given approval to remain in place. The local newspaper wrote up a glowing article on the garden and when interviewed by one of its reporters a quick thinking Matt very cunningly attributed the scheme to “those forward thinking councillors who had backed it”. Not that they’d done any such thing of course, however they did not deny having done so and happily accepted the unearned praise that they subsequently received.

    Following his suggestion in the newspaper article that the garden could possibly be used as a model for more community gardens in the local area, and perhaps for areas elsewhere to learn and copy from, it was felt by many councillors that here was an excellent public relations opportunity not to be missed. After much discussion the project was eventually given the status of an “Approved Local Community Garden”, and council rangers were assigned to make random security patrols of the area. Although the club was asked to become a formal incorporated identity and maintain a register of members they were all relieved to find that while it was possible, and felt by some to be inevitable in the future, at this point in time no fees for the use of the land were to be imposed by council.

    #64447

    Bidadisndat
    Participant

    At the landscape and gardening company that employed him Matt was head of one of three teams of six men each, working mostly on jobs for large businesses, although there were also a growing number of McMansion clients who wanted their outlying rural area acreages landscaped. On some properties, particularly when the clients were elderly, they also installed boxed-in raised-bed flower and vegetable gardens and Matt was happier working on those than he was on the upkeep of the three 18-hole golf courses for which the company held contracts.
    He was considered by many to be overqualified for the position in which he was employed, but he loved the work that he was doing and never complained about the somewhat lower pay that went with it. His work was well regarded, and it was widely felt that he would progress from Leading Hand to Supervisor when Ron Pearce, the current holder of that position, retired. Actually, Matt was very good friends with Ron and knew for a fact that, despite having passed the age where he could easily do so, Ron had no intention of retiring for quite some time. Of more concern to Matt was the word going around that Douglas McFarlane, the owner and manager of the company, was planning to replace the supervisor with his son Frederick, supposedly currently learning the trade, and that there would be a number of changes made to the makeup of the three working teams now employed there.
    Nobody who knew the son, nicknamed Froggy, had any doubts that there would be changes made if that happened as he was observed to be lazy, inept, rude, arrogant, and not entirely honest. At school the son had been known first as Freddie, then Freddo Frog, after the small chocolates of that name, and finally as Froggy. Many thought the name was fitting because he was often very vocal, was puffed up with his own self importance, and was considered to be a somewhat slippery person, though there were also some who believed that “Toady” would have been more appropriate.
    For now, however, all appeared to be going well. Christmas was only four weeks away and there were many clients who wanted their gardens finished before the company closed for the festive season, so the three teams were kept busy, usually starting much earlier and finishing much later than their usual long working days. By the time the Christmas-New Year Break rolled around Matt had built up quite a bit of overtime, and as Dianne had also put in extra hours in order to fill customer orders, their joint bank account looked quite a lot healthier than they’d expected. Just for a moment he thought that maybe they could splurge a bit on their holiday, and then grinned inwardly when he thought about Dianne’s reaction to that idea: She was far too practical to allow money to be spent unnecessarily, and besides, apart from saving for a substantial deposit on a home of their own, they both felt it was best to have a bit put aside for unexpected emergencies.
    Matt drove a 1975 Toyota Crown Royale Saloon, purchased at a very reasonable price from a neighbour whose eyesight had deteriorated to the point where he was unable to drive the car safely, even when wearing glasses. Actually the car was not really a “Royale”, however in the seemingly never-ending process of completely rebuilding it he was slowly adding most of the bells and whistles he thought it needed to alter it from a basic model to one of somewhat more regal splendour. He had added the “Royale” badge obtained from a vehicle that he’d found at the wrecking yard where he sourced most of the parts he needed.
    Although Dianne openly admitted to her friends that it really was a lovely car and that she was quite proud of Matt’s efforts, to his face she merely said that at least tinkering with the Toy-o-car kept him off the streets. It was meant as a joke of course, though to Matt it seemed a strange thing to say considering that it was after all a car, and he wondered where else would one drive the car other than on the streets.
    Matt and Dianne didn’t feel that they could afford the luxury of taking the type of holiday that many well-heeled people did, but as they both enjoyed camping they decided to do the usual thing and just drive up the coast and find an inexpensive camping ground where they could pitch their tent and just enjoy the two week break together as a family. Matt had gotten the Crown into what he hoped was good running order and had added a tow bar for the 7’ x 4’ galvanized box trailer in which they’d carry all their camping and fishing gear.
    He’d bought the trailer second-hand from a fellow student when he was at the TAFE college, and had customised it for extended trips by having holders for two twenty-litre jerry cans of extra fuel and two for water welded to the outer sides of the cargo compartment, and a large lockable toolbox welded to the A frame in front of it. Two spare wheels, conveniently the same size as used by the Crown, were mounted on a vertical spindle in front of the toolbox, and although the balance of the trailer when empty was altered so that it was a bit front heavy it wasn’t enough to noticeably affect the handling of the car towing it. The addition of a jockey wheel made it easier to push around by hand if required, and adjustable stands at the rear kept it stable if he wanted to set up his sleeping bag in it. He was well practiced at loading the trailer for trips like the one they’d planned and although he could have it done in less than ten minutes in an emergency he was now on holiday and there wasn’t any reason to rush. He was going to take a leisurely thirty minutes to have all the gardening equipment that was now in it unloaded and all their camping gear carefully checked, packed and ready to go.
    At present, however, the Crown was being used by Matt to ferry three of his crew and the supervisor from the company’s yard to the local pub where they would have their end-of-year bash. As he didn’t drink much anyway, on this occasion he had volunteered to drive the guys home when the party was over, and had stuck to drinking non alcoholic Claytons and dry ginger ale. It was lucky that he did: The men were pretty well pickled by the time he drove them to their homes later that night, and had he not been driving he probably would have been too. The supervisor was the last to be dropped off and he took advantage of being out of earshot of the others to have a quiet word to Matt.
    “Matt, I haven’t told you this, ‘cause it isn’t official yet, and I’ve been told to keep my mouth shut about it, but you’re one of the best workers I’ve got, and I’ve always been able to rely on you, so I’m letting you know now what’s coming in the New Year.”
    He appeared to be a darned sight more sober now than when they had left the pub, and the tone of his voice made Matt a bit apprehensive.
    “McFarlane told me today that Froggy would be taking up the position of Assistant Supervisor, and would be working with me to learn the ropes. The bastard knows that I’m well aware of what my position in the company’s future will be once Froggy’s trained up, but he thinks I really need this job and will stay on. Well guess what? The day that that prick son of his starts work there, I’m out! Gone! Vamoosed! They won’t see me for dust. Now, I hate to tell you this, but that little sod has already told me that he’ll be making some changes to the work crews, and he’s got a couple of mates that he’ll be employing to head two of the teams. Gotta tell ya Matt, he doesn’t like you at all, and I don’t think your job is going to be all that secure. In fact, I‘m bloody sure it won’t be.”
    “What are you going to do if you leave, Ron?” asked Matt, his spirits falling rapidly.
    “Don’t worry about me, Matt. I can chuck this job in anytime with no worries at all. There’s plenty of this type of work out there if you know where to look for it. Come to think of it, I might just start looking over the holidays. Hell, I could even start up my own business and go into competition against them. Could you imagine the looks on their faces if I did that? Well, better go in and face the Mrs, I guess. Give my regards to Dianne. Have a really good holiday mate, and take care of yourself.”
    After the traditional Merry Christmas and Happy New Year exchanges by both men he got out of the car and lurched through the front gate of his house, turning to give a wave as Matt drove away.
    He was in a very sombre mood when he related the conversation to Dianne after arriving home however she was quick to hide her dismay, mostly at finding him so down in the mouth, and reassured him that everything would turn out alright, even if worse came to worse and he lost his job there.
    “Mattie, you’ve always been a good worker, and people hold you in much higher regard than you realise. You’d be able to find another job in the same field soon enough if it came to that, so don’t fret about it. In the meantime, you smell of cigarette smoke and booze, even if you didn’t smoke or drink, so go have a hot shower and relax. Did you have anything to eat tonight? I can fix you up something if you like. No, I’ll fix you up something anyway, so go and have a shower.”
    “Thanks sweetheart, you always seem to be able to bring me out of the doldrums. I’m a lucky man,” he said as he put his arms around her, kissed her on the forehead, and then dropped a hand down to give her a light pinch on the backside.
    “Yes, you are. Shower! Now! Go!” she laughed, and as Matt made his way to the bathroom she began preparing two of the large, thick, toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches that he liked so much, plus a large mug of hot cocoa. Feeling a hundred per cent better after the hot shower and late night meal he made for the bedroom, stopping briefly to look in on his sleeping boys in their room, and shortly afterwards was in bed sound asleep. Soon after nursing the baby and also checking on the two boys Dianne was snuggled up beside him and within minutes she too was sleeping, a small smile on her lips as she dreamed of the camping trip that they would begin in the morning.
    Matt woke very early only to find that Dianne was already up and about, having risen to the demands of a hungry baby, and was busy preparing a hearty breakfast.
    “No need to rush,” she said. “We’re on holidays now. We’ll be spending quite a bit of time on the road so I want us all to have a good breakfast before we leave. I’m going to pack the picnic hamper and the smaller esky with some snacks and the makings for lunch. We’ll be able to stop and take a break whenever we feel like it, rather than look for the next town in which to waste money on junk food. I’m filling both the thermos flasks too.”
    “Good idea,” he replied. “I’ll start loading the trailer.”
    “OK. Don’t forget your fishing gear,” she said, grinning and thinking that it would probably be the first thing he packed, then squealed when he grabbed a tea-towel and flicked it at her backside with a laughing “As if!” Actually, it was the last thing he placed in the trailer after all of the camping gear had been loaded. After all, they might stop for lunch by a river, and he didn’t want to have to dig down to the bottom of the trailer to find his rod and tackle!
    The camping gear he loaded included the tent, together with its poles, ropes and tent pegs in its own bag, with a second bag holding a large ground sheet, a tent-like shower/toilet enclosure and three solar shower bags. A 3-burner gas stove and its stand, a gas lantern and a 9kg cylinder plus the folding picnic table and seats went in next, followed by two large plastic totes holding their sleeping bags, some extra bedding, two queen size air mattresses, an air pump for inflating them, and another tote holding their tropical one-piece wet-suits, fins, masks and snorkels. He placed their weight-belts, his pneumatic speargun, its air pump and several extra spears in the lockable tool box.
    A fourth tote held a good quantity of both canned and non perishable foodstuff in airtight containers, and of course he hadn’t forgotten the large esky that Dianne had filled with more cold food plus the ice packs that she had previously put in the freezer. Maria had given him a large box, saying “You don’t open until Christmas day, OK?” and he had packed this without saying anything about it to Dianne. A Porta-Potti chemical toilet, two folding chairs, and the baby’s bassinet completed the load which was then covered by a tarp, held securely in place by a cargo net stretched across it.
    He had arranged the loading of the trailer so that it was now actually perfectly balanced for towing, with only a small downward pressure on the tow-bar of the car. “Jeez, may have to get a bigger trailer soon – maybe with a couple of loading ramps for ride-on mowers so I can write it off on tax,” he thought to himself. Each of their back-packs, along with some extra clothing was packed into the boot of the Crown, with just enough space left for the picnic hamper and the small esky. Dianne also put several pillows and blankets on the floor behind the front seats, along with some of Matt’s books on Self Sufficiency that he enjoyed reading, a couple of craft books for herself and some toys for the boys. On these camping trips she invariable made friends with people who had similar interests to herself and Matt, so she included an album full of photos of their house and gardens, the chook run, her dress designs, and Matt working on the Crown. She then checked that the flashlight with extra batteries and the first-aid kit were in the glove compartment, and that both the Gregory’s Road Atlas and latest Caravan & Camping Guide were on the parcel shelf below, along with a box of tissues, a dispenser of moisturised towels, two empty rubbish bags and the digital camera that Matt had given her for her birthday
    Matt had hoped that they’d be on the road by seven a.m. however it was closer to eight when, with the boys in toddler seats on either side of the baby capsule all fastened in the back they drove away from the house. Maria had come down to see them off and had given Dianne a big hug and a large cake tin that contained one of the rich homemade fruit cakes for which she was renowned, plus a pile of tarts and biscuits “for the bambinos”, and had waved until the car was out of sight. Matt navigated his way out of the city and joined the freeway heading north, hoping to travel a good distance yet still find a suitable overnight campsite well before dark.
    The freeway didn’t really offer anything in the way of rest stops where they could camp, and in fact there were many stops where camping was expressly forbidden, so they decided to travel along the old highway. They stopped for a break after two hour’s driving so that they could have a cup of coffee, Dianne could feed the baby, and Matt and the boys could stretch their legs a bit. Then it was back on the road again until about one p.m. when they stopped for lunch at a park in one of the nicer towns that they had passed through. The park featured a kiddie’s playground where the boys managed to dissipate the energy pent up by sitting in the car for so long, and a small lake where they all had fun feeding the geese and ducks that swam there. Dianne laughed and agreed when Matt said that it’d probably be best if he didn’t get out his fishing gear and try his luck at that spot.
    After departing the town they resumed their journey north, however about half an hour later the car seemed to begin running a little rough and he noticed that the temperature gauge had suddenly climbed into the red zone. Even as he pulled over to the side of the road a cloud of steam billowed out from under the hood and the engine came to a stop. Whilst Dianne waited in the car Matt got out and attempted to raise the hood, however it was too hot to handle and it took nearly ten minutes to cool down enough to lift. He found that the problem appeared to be a burst bottom radiator hose, and the radiator was now bone dry. Although he had enough water to refill it he didn’t carry any spare hoses, so the problem couldn’t be fixed quickly here and now, and they would have to contact the NRMA.
    “Going to have to flag somebody down and see if we can get some help,” he said.
    “Well,” said Dianne. “We’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere, so I expect there’ll be a car or two passing by soon enough.”
    “I sure hope so. We don’t want to be stuck here come nightfall.” he replied, though it was over an hour before they saw a truck coming along the road from the town. The truck pulled in behind them, its driver having spotted the blinking hazard lights that Matt had turned on and the hood of the car raised.
    “Having a spot of trouble, mate?” the truck’s driver asked.
    “Unfortunately, yes,” replied Matt. “Had a hose burst and the radiator’s now bone dry. It happened suddenly and I’m afraid the engine may have seized. I’ll have to contact the NRMA as we’re going to need a tow,” he added as the driver climbed out of his truck. “I don’t suppose there’d be an emergency phone nearby?”
    “No. Not on this road I’m afraid. We can help organise a tow for you, though being a Saturday afternoon it could take a while.”
    The truck driver’s passenger also got out of the truck and approached Dianne.
    “Looks like you’ve got a handful there,” she said, nodding towards the kids. “They’re all OK are they?”
    “Oh yes. Terry here got a bit of a fright when he saw all the steam coming out from under the hood, but he’s fine now. His little brother seems to be unaware that there’s anything wrong, and the baby’s sleeping through it all.”
    They were interrupted by the men coming to them from the front of the car.
    “Sorry Dee, but we’re going to need to be towed back to town,” said Matt. “The gentleman here has offered to help us organise one, though it might take a while.”
    “Dave,” said the truck’s driver, extending his hand with a smile. “Dave Morgan, though my friends call me Dai, and this beautiful woman here is my wife Bron, short for Bronwyn.”
    After introductions all round, including the names of the children of both families, Dave suggested that it would be best if Bron drove Dee, the babies and the two younger boys on to the village where they could organise a tow truck, whilst Dave, Matt and the two older boys waited with the car. Matt protested that they didn’t want to put Dave and Bron to any trouble but they persuaded him that it was really the best course of action considering that their car was currently undriveable.
    “The two youngest boys can sit in the back seat with Megan in the middle,” suggested Bron. “Dee will have to hold Susie’s capsule on her lap but it’s only a short drive and I’ll be taking it slow. Is that OK with you, Dee?”
    “That’ll be fine, Bron. Won’t be the first time I’ve had to carry it like that.”
    “Where are you getting us towed to?” asked Matt.
    “To Brocklesbury. It’s a small village about fifteen minutes drive further on, and the mechanic who has the garage there is not only much better than any at the garages in town, he doesn’t try to rip people off,” replied Dave. “It’ll be easy enough to get the car towed, but the trailer could be a bit of a problem. The tow truck won’t be able to take it and the car at the same time so I think the best thing to do would be to hitch the trailer up to our truck and the girls can take it with them.”
    It took a bit of heaving and hauling, but they finally got the trailer hitched up to the truck, then whilst Matt, Dave and the boys sat in the Crown and chatted, Bron drove to the village garage where she found the mechanic just about to close up.
    “Hullo Bron, what brings you here?” he asked, approaching the window of the truck.
    “Hullo Jeff. There’s a Toyota Crown broken down just the other side of the freeway crossover and Dai’s there with its driver. A radiator hose burst and the engine appears to have seized so we were wondering if you’d be able to tow it over here to be looked at.”
    “Sure, I can do that. You caught me just in time. I’ll finish locking up here and be over there in about twenty minutes or so.”
    “Thanks Jeff. Tell Dai that we’ll be at the house and if he calls when he gets here I’ll come down and pick him up. Thanks.”
    “OK Bron. Will do. I’ll see you later.”
    Bron put the truck in gear and they headed for the farm.
    “Is there a motel around here that we could stay tonight?” asked Dianne.
    “Well, there is a motel, but I don’t know how they are for vacancies at the moment. But don’t worry about a thing, Dee: We’ll soon have you all fixed up, one way or another,” said Bron, and they continued chatting as she drove on. “OK, this is home,” she said some ten minutes later, turning into the driveway of a large property and proceeding down to the farmhouse where she parked. They got out of the truck and after releasing Megan’s capsule in the back from its strap-in holder the two women carried both capsules into the house, Liam walking beside Dianne with one little hand tightly gripping her dress. As they approached the back verandah the little hand suddenly tugged at her dress and with the other Liam was pointing towards the door where a large furry cat had just pushed its way through the pet hatch built into it.
    “That’s our pussy-cat,” Bron told him with a smile. “His name is Ginger. You can pat him if you want to, but be very gentle, OK?”
    “Make yourself at home Dee,” Born said once they were inside, “while I put the kettle on for a cuppa. Gosh, look at the time. I think it’ll be getting kind of late by the time the boys get here so I’m going to start throwing something together for dinner. How about pasta with a seafood sauce, and a salad?”
    Dianne was about to protest but Bron forestalled her:
    “When they get back we can do something about accommodation, but dinner comes first. Especially as the boys will probably be quite hungry. No arguments, OK?
    “OK. What can I do to help?” Dianne asked, smiling brightly.
    “Nothing really. Just sit there where you can relax and have your cuppa, and keep an eye on the kids while we chat.”
    It didn’t take Bron long to prepare a simple seafood sauce to go with the large pot of fettuccine that she was also putting on, and the salad likewise took little time to toss together. She also cross-sliced four long bread sticks, spread them with a quickly made herbed garlic butter and wrapped them in foil, ready to place in the oven when the men came in. By the time they did arrive Bron had not only learned from Dianne all about the camping holiday that their family was taking, or trying to take at this point, but had already developed a strong liking for her. But then again, most people did, as she was a very personable young lady.
    It was around six p.m. when they were interrupted by the sound of a truck pulling up and went outside to find that the men had returned and were unhooking the Crown from the back of the crew-cab tow truck so that it could be rolled backwards to the doors of Dave’s garage-workshop. The three men also unhooked Matt’s trailer from Dave’s truck and rolled it under one of the carports attached to each side of the garage. The two young boys didn’t want to go into the house until they’d seen the car unhitched from the tow-truck, however once it was positioned in front of the garage they both raced inside to where Dave’s son had promised Terry that they could play with the ‘Tomy’ train set that his grandparents had given him and his brother last Christmas.
    “No space for the car at Jeff’s workshop at present,” Dave explained to the two girls as they all headed for the house. “Matt and I’ll take a look at it here in the morning and decide what needs doing. Hopefully it’s only the radiator hoses that need replacing but we might as well give the engine a good going over while we’re at it.”
    “OK. Hope you guys are hungry: We’ve got dinner almost ready. Jeff, would you like to join us? I was hoping you would, so I made more than enough for all of us.”
    “Thanks Bron, that’s good of you. Just let me use the bathroom to wash up first as my hands are pretty grimy.”
    “So’s your face Jeff. Take a look in the mirror,” laughed Bron. “You’ll find a face washer and towel in the cupboard beside the shower. Just drop them both in the laundry tub when you’ve finished.”
    Going into the bathroom Jeff grinned when he looked in the mirror and found that he had big grease streaks both across his forehead and alongside one side of his nose, and it took several minutes of scrubbing with a face cloth and soapy water to remove them. Whilst he was so engaged Bron had put the breadsticks into the oven and they were well warmed by the time he was finished and everyone was ready to sit at the dinner table. As it had been decided that whatever work Matt’s car needed done to get it running properly would have to be left until morning, accommodation for the family would need to be arranged for tonight at least, and Dave excused himself saying he was going to organise something for them.
    Bron and Dee began setting out crockery, cutlery and the food, leaving Matt to join the two boys for a couple of minutes as they played with the train set. The two younger boys and the babies had been fed and had fallen asleep not long before, so the two older boys were set up at a small table to themselves, though they were more interested in playing with the train than eating. The fettuccine, seafood sauce and garlic bread had just been placed on the table when Dave returned bearing two Chianti bottles. As he set them down on the table Dianne gave a small gasp of surprise and a small tear suddenly rolled down her cheek. Matt smiled as he reached across to take and give her hand a small squeeze of understanding.
    “Did I just do something wrong?” Dave asked in puzzlement.
    “Not at all Dai,” Matt replied, and during the meal went on to tell them about their landlady, friends and neighbours back home, and about the parties that were held beneath the pergola at the duplex they rented.
    “Sorry about that,” said Dianne. “I have to admit I was actually feeling a lot more worried than I showed after the car broke down, but with all you’ve been doing to help and then seeing the Chianti bottles… Well, it’s just made me crying happy. Not easy to explain really I guess, just that I can get a bit emotional at times.”
    “I understand what you mean, Dee,” said Jeff. “I can get a bit that way myself at times. You know, I personally think that for reasons beyond our understanding these things are somehow guided from above, and hopefully this is a sign that everything in the future is going to work out well for you all.”
    The conversation around the table was light-hearted and with three men being mechanically minded revolved mostly around cars, specifically Toyota Crowns, with Dave jokingly saying that it was lucky that Matt was driving one because if he’d been driving a Ford or a Holden he would probably have driven straight past him. Of course everyone felt certain that Dave would have stopped for anyone he thought might need help, but it got a good laugh. When mention was made of Matt and Dianne’s holiday plans and the subject of accommodation for the night came up Dave was able to deliver some really good news and with a broad smile announced that he had managed to arrange accommodation for them at “The Oasis”, which was fortunately very close by. Bron was grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cat at Dave’s announcement and added that it really was so close they would be able to carry Susie and Liam there without waking them up.
    “We’ll have to carry Terry too,” said Matt, looking across the room to where the two boys had been playing with the train set. “Both the boys have nodded off.” And sure enough the two lads were fast asleep, stretched out in the centre of a large circle of train track, along with two stations and a railway crossing, a bridge and a tunnel that they had laid out on the lounge floor.
    “I think it’s about time I headed off,” said Jeff. “It must be way past my bed time.”
    “Jeff, before you go: How much do I owe you for the tow?” asked Matt.
    “Don’t worry about it Matt,” Jeff answered. “The dinner Bron put on, Dave’s home brewed beer and the good time I’ve had with you all tonight more than covers it.”
    “What time is it anyway?” asked Bron, looking at the kitchen clock. “It’s only quarter to eleven. Jeff, that’s not late for you on a Saturday night!”
    “Oh, is that all it is? Well, looks like it’s going to be late by the time I do get home,” he laughed as Dave quickly reached over and carefully decanted another swing-top bottle of home-brew into his glass.
    It was actually well after midnight by the time he did leave as Bron had asked him to stay and keep an eye on her sleeping children while she helped Matt and Dianne on their way to The Oasis. As the group took to the path she walked in the centre, holding a bright Coleman lantern in one hand and a large heavily laden basket in the other.
    “This is a short cut,” Dave said in explanation of the direction they were all walking as he lead the way, carrying one of the boys. “You and I’ll make another trip Matt, and bring your bags over next. Will you need anything else from the car?”
    “Thanks Dave. We have back-packs, which are a lot easier than hauling suitcases, and I think they’ll be all we need for tonight. On second thoughts, I’d better grab my overalls out of the trailer too.”
    “Do you always use back-packs? That’s very practical in my book,” said Dave.
    “Yes we do, though we actually call them BOB’s, short for Bug-Out Bags,” said Dianne. “They’re always packed ready to go in case we have some type of emergency, like a house fire for example, and have to evacuate in a hurry. We also keep all of our camping gear in bags and totes that can be quickly loaded onto the trailer if need be.”
    Dave didn’t say anything more about BOB’s, or Dianne’s easy use of the term, but he was pleased with the knowledge that this family seemed to be well prepared.
    Matt and Dianne were dumbfounded when they arrived at The Oasis: The last thing they were expecting was what appeared when Dave flicked a switch in the cabana and a swimming pool surrounded by a garden of palms, hibiscus, frangipani, bougainvillea and bamboo was illuminated with subtle lighting. Not quite so subtle was the blinking red, green and blue neon “Open” sign which had been obtained from the old Oasis Wine Bar and was now mounted over a bar in the cabana, itself lit with dimmer controlled white lights and many strings of coloured Christmas lights, but the whole effect was like that of having arrived at some tropical beachside resort.
    Adjacent to the cabana and overlooking both pool and garden was a twenty two foot Glendale caravan, positioned under a gabled roof that extended out to cover a wide deck which had been built alongside the van at floor level. A handrail around the deck turned it into something more like a verandah and with clear roll-down café awnings that could block out wind and rain it virtually doubled the living space of the van. The short space between the deck and the ground was filled with wooden latticework and in front of this was a three foot wide wood-chip mulched garden bed that gave the van the appearance of having been set permanently in place.
    Bron went up the two steps positioned at the front centre of the deck and unlocked the van, turned on the interior and exterior lights then went inside to arrange the lower of the bunk beds before Matt and then Dave eased the sleeping boys into it, side by side, whilst the capsule in which Susie was sleeping was temporarily placed on the double bed at the other end. From the basket she had carried Bron produced a loaf of home-made bread, milk, butter, bacon, eggs and tomatoes which she put into the fridge, then opened the pantry to show them that tea, coffee, cocoa, sugar, rolled oats for making porridge, and a jar each of peanut butter, vegemite, honey and home-made marmalade was already stocked there.
    Dave showed them where all the light switches and power sockets were and where the main valve for the van’s twin gas cylinders was located, explaining then that for safety the valve was only opened when the stove was in use. After showing them the bathroom facilities in the cabana he, Bron and Matt returned to the house where the men retrieved Susie’s bassinet, the back packs, Matt’s overalls and Mag-lite torch, and took them down to the van.
    “Well, tomorrow’s Sunday and you’re on holidays, so you can all sleep in a bit. Come up to the house around mid morning and we’ll have a look at your car then. Now I’m off home to bed.” And with a final “good night” he walked back up the path to the house.
    “It’s been an interesting day, hasn’t it?” he said as he walked inside.
    “Yes, and I’ve enjoyed it,” Bron answered. “They’re a lovely couple. For their sake I hope their car can be fixed quickly and without too much expense, but I really wouldn’t mind if they stayed here while it’s being worked on. If it’s OK by you, I think I’ll put that to them in the morning.”
    “That’s fine by me. I spoke to Jeff and he said he’s got quite a lot of work backed up at the garage and wouldn’t be able to get to the car for a while anyway, so I guess Matt and I’ll get to work on it together. Lucky I’ve got the manuals and all the tools we need.”
    “You’ve probably got more tools in the garage than Jeff’s got at his workshop,” she laughed. “And with all the experience you gained by rebuilding my Corolla and your Crown the job should be a lot easier.”
    “Yes, and I’ve probably got enough parts to completely build another Corolla and two more Crowns. But right now, I’m heading for a shower, then bed.”
    “I’ll be right behind you,’ she said, giving him a quick kiss.
    “I can’t quite believe all this,” said Dianne as they lay on the caravan’s double bed after having transferred Susie from the capsule to her bassinet. “What are the chances of breaking down and being helped by people like Dai and Bron? I mean, it seems to be that our families are so much in tune with each other, what with Dai being into Toyota Crowns like you are, and Bron into crafts as much as I am. Not to mention the meal with the pasta and bottles of Chianti. I somehow have a feeling that we’re about to experience a change in our future, though I can’t explain why.”
    Matt reached over and drew her closer to him. “You know, I have the same feeling, and I think it’s going to be a change for the better. But whatever the future holds I know it’ll work out well because we’ll always face it as a close family.”
    “Nothing surer than that,” she said, softly planting a loving kiss on his lips.

    #64448

    Bidadisndat
    Participant

    They finally drifted off into a deep and restful sleep, waking only a little later than they usually did but opting to lie in for another fifteen minutes. When they finally got out of bed Dianne headed for the shower whilst Matt set about preparing breakfast, which was something that he usually did on Sunday mornings anyway.
    “I’ll have a shower a bit later on,” he said over breakfast after Dianne had returned. “I’ll most likely be working on the car shortly, and I’m bound to get really dirty.”
    “That’s more than likely: Better put on your overalls before going up to the house. By the way, I put a tube of Barrier Cream in your tool-box after you got covered in grease the last time you worked on the car so rub some of that over your hands before you start. It’ll make it easier to wash any dirt and grease off when you’re finished.”
    “You’re amazing. You think of everything, don’t you?” he said and gave her a quick kiss before he stepped out of the van and, admiring the landscaped gardens on either side, crunched his way along the gravel path leading up to the house. “It’s not just The Oasis,” he thought to himself as he walked. “The whole farm is a holiday resort!”
    When Matt arrived there he was very surprised to find that his Crown was no longer parked in front of the garage, and walked over to find that it had been rolled inside, jacked up, and was now sitting solidly on four wheel stands. The hood had been completely removed; as had the radiator, hoses and the water pump, and the last bit of engine oil was slowly draining from the sump into a pan on the floor beneath the engine. As Dave was not there he went over to the house and knocked on the back door.
    “Come right in Matt,” called Bron, who had seen him come up onto the verandah. “Dai, Matt’s here!”
    Dave walked into the kitchen smiling.
    “Good morning Matt. You guys sleep OK last night?” he asked.
    “Yes, really well thanks. Thanks for the breakfast goodies too. I forgot about it last night, but we have an esky in the car boot, a larger one in the trailer, and a big plastic tote full of food.”
    “Well, you’d better take them down to the van, mate: I’m afraid you won’t be going anywhere for a few days yet,” Dave said. “I got an early start on your car and found that the problem was with the water pump, initially that is. It was leaking water badly, and when the water level in the radiator dropped, what was left in the system boiled and raised the pressure, and that’s why the hose burst. Not that that was in good condition to begin with. I left both top and bottom hoses and the pump on the workbench for you to have a look at. The only spare water pump that I had was pretty old and wasn’t really in any better condition anyway so I chucked that away too. I called the Repco shop in town and they don’t have any pumps for 3M motors in stock, so they’re going to order one in tomorrow morning, though it won’t arrive until Wednesday at the earliest, or maybe next Monday if the holidays delay delivery. I also ordered one for my car and a few other spare parts for both Bron’s and my cars while I was at it.”
    Matt slid into a chair opposite Dave at the table. “What about the engine itself. Do you think it’s seized?” he asked.
    “Nah. The 3M is a good engine, designed by Mercedes I believe, and can take a lot of punishment. I took the spark plugs out and sprayed some STP into each cylinder, and it turned OK when I put a shifter on the flywheel. When I hit the starter the motor turned over without any problem so I think it’ll be good. Oil in it was a bit burnt though, so I’m draining that out now. I reckon that once we replace the water pump, put the radiator and new top and bottom hoses back in, and replace the engine oil and coolant it should be good to go. We’ll do a compression test on the cylinders after we’ve got it all together, just to make sure everything’s OK.”
    “Whew, that’s a relief: I was afraid the engine would need to be pulled out.”
    “I was a bit worried about that too,” Dave said. “That’s why I pulled the hood off. So much easier to work on with that out of the way, but it’ll only take us a few minutes to put it back on after we’ve got the motor running again. Raising the car onto stands as I did and using the floor creeper also makes it much easier to work under if we have to.”
    “Wouldn’t we have had to tow the car down to Jeff’s garage to remove the engine?”
    “Nah. Apart from the trolley jack I’ve got an engine crane with a leveller, an engine cradle, and quite a few other bits and pieces that I use to work on my own Crown. In fact we could strip the motor down and rebuild it completely right here if we had too. It’s surprisingly easy to do really, if you have all the right manuals, equipment and parts.”
    “Wow. Did you buy all that equipment just so you could work on your car?”
    “No,” Dave laughed. “I bought most of it at a garage sale long before I owned the Crown. Got it all for a good price and it’s more than paid for itself since.”
    Bron took a seat at the end of the table. “Dai did up the engine of my little Corolla soon after we met,” she said. “Practically rebuilt the whole car really. He can be quite useful to have around at times.”
    “What do you mean ‘at times’? This place would collapse without me to run it,” he said, trying but failing to appear offended.
    “Bighead,” she retorted with a grin, then turning towards the back called “Come on in Dee, we’re just about to have a cuppa,” as Dianne tapped on the door.
    “Good morning Bron, Dai,” Dee said as she came in, gently placed the baby capsule on the floor beside the chair that she sat down in, and then took the baby out to hold her.
    “Tea or coffee anybody?” Bron asked, and they all opted for the coffee.
    “Dee, Dai has just told me that it’s going to take a few days to get the car fixed, and we’re going to be stuck here until it is.”
    “Mattie! What do you mean ‘Stuck here?’ Do you know how that came out? You made it sound like that was a bad thing,” Dianne cried.
    “What? Never! Did it really sound like that? That’s really not what I meant to say, honestly.”
    They all laughed at Matt’s sudden discomfort.
    “It’s OK Matt, we know what you meant,” laughed Bron. “Guys, you’re all welcome to stay at The Oasis for as long as you need. Be a good holiday for you really.
    “But we can’t just impose on you like this,” said Dianne. “I mean, surely there’s some camping place nearby where we could go…”
    She got no further as Bron interrupted her. “Rubbish! You’re our guests, and that’s that.”
    “Guests? Hmm. I don’t know about that, Bron,” Dave put in. “I was actually thinking of keeping them here as slave labour for a week or two. Lord knows there’s a lot of work that needs doing around this place.”
    “What do you need doing?” asked Matt. “I’d be happy to help out where I can.”
    “Well, I do have an idea: How about you and I work on a few jobs around the farm in the mornings, whilst the girls can do crafty type things together and look after the kids. It would only take two or three hours with both of us at it. In the afternoons we can all go fishing, or swimming, or exploring the area. I think the kids would have a good time too. If you’re not against people using guns we could also go out to the rifle range and introduce you to another fun sport, though that would be completely up to you of course
    Both Matt and Dianne now supported smiles as wide as their faces would allow.
    “Honestly? Oh, that would be fantastic. Mattie absolutely loves fishing and we both enjoy swimming. We even have our snorkeling gear and Mattie’s spear gun and fishing gear with us. Mattie once told me he’d fired a rifle a few times when he was in the school cadets, but I’ve never fired one and I’d really like to try it too. Oh lord, I can’t believe all this is happening to us!”
    Matt laughed at her excited and rapid chatter. “Dee, if you don’t stop bouncing your boobs around like that, the baby will be chewing cheese instead of drinking milk,” he admonished. “Calm down girl!”
    After they had all stopped laughing Bron suggested that Dave take them for a look around the farm and she would finish up a couple of small jobs and prepare the quiches and salad she had planned for lunch.
    “I’ll put the quiches into the oven in about forty minutes so that’ll give you a good hour and a half to have a look around the farm, OK? Dee, you can take Terry with you if you want, but Liam and Suzie will be alright here with me.”
    “Terrific. OK guys, let’s go,” said Dave, calling for his eldest boy to come too.
    “I’d like to go change into a pair of shorts first, if that’s OK’” said Matt. “These overalls are a bit hot.”
    “No problem,” Dave said as they went out. “It’s only a slight detour from the path we’d take anyway. Of course, if you start to feel too hot we could always stop for a beer.”
    “With quiche, I think I’d go for a crisp white wine, but either way I’m going to make sure I feel pretty hot by the time we get back.”
    Dave just gave him a grin in reply and told him that when he made a joke like that he should watch Bron’s eyes; although he didn’t elaborate beyond saying “You’ll see what I mean if and when that happens.”
    As they would be going down to the van Dianne asked Matt to get the eskies out of the Crown’s boot and the trailer so they could take them down and put the contents into the van’s fridge. While she carried the smaller of the eskies Dave and Matt carried the larger one between them, but when they arrived at the van they found that its fridge was far too small to hold the contents of both so Dave told them they could also use the fridge behind the bar in the cabana and turned it on.
    They were then shown the carport on the other side of the van, and a small weather-proof shed at its end in which was stored a cushioned cane lounge suite, side tables and a coffee table, all of which required only a few minutes to move to the van’s deck. A planter box at each end and several large potted plants arranged around the deck gave it that really comfortable lived-in look that one might have seen featured in a House and Garden or Country Living magazine, and Dianne was thankful that she had thought to bring the camera that was now hanging from her neck. She thought it was a very good idea when Matt suggested that rather than take any photos right now she should wait until they had set out the table with plates of food and glasses of wine and perhaps a few magazines or books on the coffee table, and quickly agreed, though she would take the camera with her as they toured the farm.
    After Matt had changed into his shorts, and Dianne had done likewise, Dave took them to look first at the green-house, vegetable garden and orchard, the poultry run with its coops and enclosures for the quail and chickens, then to the shed where rabbits were being bred and raised. When he pointed out the pond that he’d installed for the ducks and geese they were amazed by its size, and very impressed by the fact that it had a small island at its centre where the birds would be safe from foxes. Although the island was a good idea, he said, the downside was that he had to row his little dinghy over to it every second day or so to collect the eggs because that was the only place where the birds would lay them.
    When Matt suggested that the island would be a good place to escape to if one wanted to be alone for a while Dave pointed out the two weeping willows that spread their drooping branches over several large dog kennels that had been put into service as nesting boxes. It was no coincidence, he said with a grin, that the trees had been planted just the right distance apart to enable him to sling a hammock between them when they had grown large and strong enough to support his weight.
    Although the guests were familiar with chooks and vegetable gardens they hadn’t had much to do with ducks and geese before, other than to feed them crusts of bread at the park, and the quail and rabbits were a bit of a novelty for them too. Dave explained that both the ducks and quail were good egg layers, with the quail actually being quite prolific in that regard, and there was quite a market for the eggs of both birds, particularly in the local Asian market.
    “In fact,” said Dave, “you might be surprised to learn that duck eggs are the most eaten eggs in the world. There’s also a strong demand from restaurants and delicatessens for the ducks and quail themselves, and although we aren’t into that market yet we do raise them for our own table. We raise the rabbits for the table too because we found that they won’t lay eggs no matter how much good quality chocolate we feed them.”
    It took Dianne a moment to get the joke however Matt caught on immediately and had a good laugh. The fact that the rabbits were raised for the table didn’t upset them as much as it might have the children, who would probably look at them more as pets, and Dianne remarked that the pelts would make a lovely warm fur coat. Dave described the rabbits as being New Zealand Whites, which are basically a meat rabbit though he did sell some pelts to a guy who prepared them for furriers, and she should ask Bron to show her the coat that she’d had made for herself, and a real ‘bunny rug’ that had been made for the baby.
    Dave pointed up the slope where the driveway came down to the house and said, “If you look up there, to the right of those water tanks, you’ll see a number of white boxes. They’re some of our bee hives. We’ve got six of them here plus another twelve spread out on other local properties, and they give us all the honey we need and then some. It’s a great trade item and I’ve been thinking of getting more hives. ”
    They had a quick look at the machinery shed where the tractor and its implements were kept and inspected the dairy which, though not in use at present, was being kept in good order as it would be needed for the dual purpose Irish Dexter cattle that Dave said he would be buying in the near future. Coming out from the dairy they were accosted by a small herd of eight attention-seeking Boer goats that Dave said had only recently been acquired, and were the beginnings of a breeding program for yet another new business venture.
    “Surprisingly to most people, goat is the most eaten red meat in the world, and Australia is the world’s largest exporter, mainly sending it to the Middle and Far East, the Caribbean, and of all places, South Africa,” he said. “There are more than two million feral goats in this country and where in the past farmers were only too happy to get rid of the pests, they are now worth about $25 a head, and farmers are often more likely to round up and sell rather than cull them. Registered breeding goats like these we have here are worth considerably more though.”
    “I thought that Boer goats originally came from South Africa,” said Matt. “How come we export them to there?”
    “You’re right, Matt. Boer goats do come from South Africa. When people decided that it was a livestock that would do well here, quite a number of pedigreed Boers, plus semen and embryos were imported. They were crossbred with the local goats and their progeny was also cross bred. The result has been a hardier goat even better than the original imported stock. I understand that he same has been done with milking and mohair goats too. We export to South Africa mostly because Foot and Mouth disease over there wiped out a lot of their herds. Says a lot for Australia’s AQUIS efforts to ensure that no esoteric diseases are brought into this country.
    “Now, I know this might sound unreal, but we do the same with camels! Umpteen years ago, camel trains reigned supreme in transporting goods around the outback, but as railways and roads developed they were no longer needed and the animals were just turned loose into the scrub. They flourished, and over the years developed into a far hardier beast. The only wild camel herds in the world now are in Australia, and some people have taken to farming them for export, both live and as frozen meat. Of course the Greenies claim that they are destroying the outback, and as they are non-native should be culled completely. They’re wrong, and in my book it’s the Greenies who should be culled, not the camels.”
    As they walked into the house they could hear Bron talking on the telephone in the lounge room. “Hang on Mum, Dai’s just walked in. I’ll put him on,” she said, beckoning him towards the ‘phone.
    “It’s Mum. She wants to know if it’s alright for her and Dad to come today instead of next Tuesday. I already told her it’s fine by us.”
    Dave smiled and nodding in agreement, took the ‘phone from her hand and began talking into it as Bron returned to the kitchen.
    “It’s Dai’s mother,” she said. “She and his father are coming. They’re a really lovely couple and you’re going to like them a lot. They’ll be staying here for the Christmas – New Year Break, and before you say anything, Dee, no, you won’t be in the way! When we added the extensions for this house we included an extra double bedroom with an ensuite and a small lounge room with them in mind.”
    “They don’t live close by then?” Dianne asked.
    “No. They have a large property about six hours drive up the inland highway, close to the state border. I wish my parents and Nan could come too, but they live in New Zealand and can’t make it over here this year. My Nan is getting on in years and it’s a long trip for her, so I’m hoping that we can go over there and visit them early next year.”
    They were silent for a bit until Dave came back and sat at the dining table.
    “Dad said that they’d be leaving straight after they’d had lunch and will take their time driving down,” he said, adding for Mat and Diane’s benefit: “Which means he’ll only be doing ninety five kilometres an hour instead of his usual hundred and ten. They should get here sometime between six-thirty and seven.”
    “Lovely,” said Bron. “I’m going to put on a roast beef with vegetables, plus the Yorkshire puddings that they both enjoy. With lashings of gravy. In the meantime, the quiche and salad is ready, so we’ll all have lunch, kids included.”
    Over lunch Dave explained to them that his ultimate aim for the farm was not only to make the family as self-sufficient as possible but also to run it at a profit, even if it was only a small one. Matt was instantly taken with the idea as becoming self-sufficient was something that he had long aspired to himself, and when Bron mentioned that she also did a lot of bottling and preserving of the fruit and vegetables they produced, Dianne also took to the idea.
    “Though you couldn’t become completely self-sufficient really, could you?” she put in. “You still need to buy clothing and footwear, fuel, and parts for machinery, and all the stuff you can’t make yourself, don’t you?”
    “Like toilet paper, tissues and toothpaste,” laughed Bron. “That’s why it’s good to have your operation run at a profit: If you can trade your produce for the things you can’t make yourself, or sell for the cash to buy those things, you can still consider yourself to be self-sufficient. I think that the purists who disagree with that would in reality find life somewhat less than comfortable, if not downright miserable if they tried it.”
    “Well that makes perfect sense to me,” Matt said. “Thinking of it that way, I guess that what Dee and I are doing back home would go quite a way towards us being qualified in that regard, though we could probably do a lot more. Hmm. In fact, after listening to you and Bron I’m convinced we really should do a lot more. Are there many others doing that around here?”
    “Not nearly enough as far as I’m concerned, Matt. Not just around here, but all over the country. There are many people who just don’t have all the knowledge required to fend for themselves, though they’d probably do well if they were taught how, but the vast majority are either too lazy or are simply content to go along with the flock. We refer to them as ‘sheeple’ who are easily managed by the gruberment that they expect and even rely on to help them in any crisis, big or small.”
    “Watch out Matt,” exclaimed Bron: “I think you’ve just got him up on his favourite hobby horse.”
    Dave stopped with a grin. “Yeah, she’s right: I can get a bit carried away when that topic comes up. It’s something I picked up from my friends in the States. OK, I’ll cool it for now. Have we gone though that bottle of wine already, Bron?”
    “Yes, Dai, and that’s enough for now.”
    “What are you thinking of Hon?” Dianne asked Matt after he hadn’t said anything for some minutes.
    “Oh, I just had a couple of ideas come into my mind while we’ve all been talking. Actually, I think that they’re thoughts that I’ve had buried in my mind for some time and Dai and Bron have just brought them to the surface. Dai, do you have a pen and some paper I could use? I need to jot down a few things so that I don’t forget them.
    Dave fetched a pen and a small spiral notebook and gave them to Matt, who began scribbling furiously for a couple of minutes.
    “Dee, do you remember when you said last night that you had a good feeling that we’re about to experience a change in our future? Well, thanks to Dai and Bron I’ve just thought of a few things that I, or rather we, could do to make that happen. In fact, I suddenly feel a lot more confident about the future than I’ve felt in a very long time. Oh man, I suddenly really feel good!”
    His broad smile was very infectious and in a matter of seconds they were all smiling.
    “Care to let us in on your plans?” asked Dave.
    “Well,” Matt replied. “There are quite a few things I have to sort out in my mind yet, but when I think I’ve got it all together I’ll run it past everybody for some feedback.”
    “Right-o then: It’s only early afternoon, so what do you want to do with the rest of the day?” asked Bron.
    “We could go down to Hook’s Eye and throw a line in,” Dave replied. “Don’t suppose you’d fancy a couple of hours fishing would you Matt?”
    “Does a duck quack?” Matt asked rhetorically, leaping from his chair. “I’ll just grab my gear from the trailer,” he added as he bolted out through the door.
    “Does he always get that excited about fishing?” Bron asked as Matt raced out.
    “You’d have got the same reaction if you’d suggested digging up somebody’s front lawn to put in a vegetable garden,” Dianne laughed. “He can get quite passionate about that too.”
    “Do you girls want to come with us?” asked Dave, hoping that they wouldn’t.
    “Not me. I’m going to start getting things ready for tonight’s dinner, but maybe Dee would like to go.”
    “Not this time thanks Dave. I think I’ll spend some time with the kids, and peek over Bron’s shoulder while she’s making the Yorkshire puddings. Want to see how it’s done.”
    “You mean you’ve never made them?” asked Bron in surprise.
    “Never. I can cook OK, I guess, but my culinary skills aren’t exactly up to the standards of a Master Chef.”
    “I find that hard to believe Dee: You seem to be a very practical sort of person.”
    “In some respects, yes, I am. I’m a good seamstress and dressmaker for example, and really enjoy embroidery and knitting. I can wield a hammer, replace a tap washer, or a blown electric fuse, and I also seem to have a green thumb, although that’s probably due to Mattie’s influence. But my cooking is more along the lines of soups, stews or ‘meat and three’ rather than anything fancy, unless bread and butter pudding with brandied raisins and sultanas can be considered fancy,” she laughed.
    “Don’t believe that, Bron,” put in Matt who had returned and overheard the remark. “She’s really a very good cook.
    After Dave and Matt had gone the rest of the girls’ afternoon was taken up by chit-chat, playing with the kids, and getting the roast dinner ready, during which time Dianne learned how to make the batter for Yorkshire puddings. Bron also made up a large jug of gravy into which she blended three heaped tablespoons of creamed horseradish.
    “I made this up as an experiment some time ago, and it was such a hit that I’ve continued to make it for roast beef ever since. Not quite finished yet, but here, try it.”
    Using a teaspoon Dianne tasted the mixture. “Mmm, good, very good,” she said. “I think once Matt tries this he’ll be badgering me to make it all the time.”
    “You think so? Well, now that you’ve learned how easy it is to make Yorkshire puddings too, you’ll be able to spoil him occasionally. And Dee, make sure that it really is only occasionally: He’ll appreciate it a whole lot more then.”
    “Understood,” laughed Dianne, “Though with the way meat prices are it wouldn’t be all that frequent anyway.
    “Not just meat, Dee. I’ve been watching the prices of everything rise at a pace that’s way beyond the rate of inflation that’s reported in the news. OK, so the prices of white goods appear to rise somewhat more slowly, and many electronic devices even seem to get cheaper, probably because they’re mostly made overseas using cheap labour, but how often do you buy that stuff? It’s the cost of day to day consumables that people need where it really hurts, particularly for people on low incomes.”
    “Tell me about it. Honestly Bron, I often think that our vegetable garden and chickens are the only things that enable us to put any money at all aside for the future. That, and the help of our patron saint, Vincent de Paul.”
    Bron laughed at that and said “The same here Dee, believe me, it’s the same here.”
    Whilst the girls were engaged in conversation Dave and Matt had headed for Hook’s Eye, taking an ice filled esky for the large haul of fish that they were certain they’d catch, and of course also keep cold the half dozen bottles of home brew that Dave had slipped into it. It wasn’t long before they had their baited hooks in the water, but it took quite some time before they began getting nibbles, then bites, and finally catches. Although Matt wasn’t aware of it, during the course of general conversation throughout the afternoon Dave had extracted from him quite a lot of information about his family, work and interests upon which he based a very favourable impression.
    By the end of their fishing day they had caught a reasonable though not a spectacular number of bream, snapper and flathead, but more importantly had begun the development of a friendship that was to grow stronger with each passing year. Not that they were aware of that at this point, of course. Around five thirty they packed up their rods and tackle, loaded the esky with their catch and two remaining bottles of home brew onto the back of the truck, and headed back to the farm to clean up before Dave’s grandparents arrived.
    They’d only just succeeded in doing that when an older model burgundy coloured Bentley with cream upholstery pulled into the drive with a toot of its horn, and drove down to the house. The occupants barely had time to alight when Bron hurtled out of the house and ran towards them yelling “Hi Mum, Hi Dad!” before embracing each of them in turn with a big hug and a kiss on both of their cheeks. “Oh, it’s so good to see you both again. Come on in. Don’t worry about your bags: I’ll get the porter to bring them in… Dai!”
    Dave sauntered out from the house bringing a big smile and also embraced them.
    “You’re both looking well,” he said. “How was the trip?”
    “Very good, thank you,” his mother replied. “The Bentley is as comfortable as they come, and Dad says it’s a real pleasure to drive. We’re so glad we bought it.”
    “You’re just trying to upstage our Toyota Crown,” laughed Dave as they all walked to the house.
    “Well now, who is it we have here then?” Gareth asked in a heavily Welsh accented voice as he entered the kitchen to find Matt and Dianne rising from the table where they’d been seated.
    “Mum, Dad, meet Matt and Dianne: A couple of stranded travelers we found on the side of the road yesterday,” said Dave. “Matt, Dianne, this is my father, Gareth, and my mother, Gwen.”
    They shook hands and then with introductions out of the way they all sat around the kitchen table, where Bron related the story of how she and Dai had met Matt, Dianne and their children, and how they would be accommodated at the Oasis while their car was being worked on.
    “Actually, Dee, I’m rather hoping that you’ll all stay on here awhile after your car is repaired,” said Bron. “There are plenty of things to see and do around the area, and you and I could exchange lessons in sewing and cooking. It’d be really good for the kids too.”
    “And Matt and I could swap information on gardening and farming….. And fishing,” Dave added with a wink at Matt. “What do you say guys, sound like a plan?” he asked.
    Matt and Dee seemed to be stuck for words for a moment, and Dee looked as if she might cry those tears of happiness again.
    “Oh golly-gosh! Yes!” she cried.
    “Well I sure hope that you’ll all take advantage of the experience and wisdom that Mum and I have accumulated over the past umpteen years and include us in the deal,” said Gareth.
    “Oh Dad, that’s a given, you know that!” Bron laughed “OK, now that’s all been decided then, it’s about time for dinner. Dee and I’ll fix up the kids first though.”
    “Are you sure you don’t need me to help, Dear?” Gwen asked.
    “No thanks Mum. I’m sharing a couple of recipes with Dee and the two of us will be able to handle everything.”
    After feeding the babies and setting up the small table for the four young lads, the two girls returned to the kitchen.
    “OK Dee, we’ll give the roast another ten minutes and while it’s still cooking we put a little oil into each of the cups in these muffin pans and put them in the oven until the oil is smoking hot.”
    Dee put the oil into the cups as directed, slid the pans into the oven and then waited for several minutes before opening the door and removing them again. A smoky haze rose from the pans and she quickly poured batter into the cups so that each was about one third full before once again returning the pans to the oven and turning up the heat a bit. Whilst the oven door was open Bron removed the beef, took it from the roasting pan, put it onto a cutting board to set and covered it with a double wrap of Al-foil to keep it hot. Most of the vegetables were roasted in a large pan of their own because there were too many to cook together with the meat, and these were also removed and placed into two large stoneware casserole dishes with lids. Expecting that there would just be the usual potatoes, pumpkin, carrots and parsnips, Dianne was surprised to see that Bron had not only included sweet potatoes, which she herself had often done, but also whole baby beets and full bulbs of garlic, which she had never seen done before. She was about to comment on the extra vegetables but before she had the chance to ask about them, Bron got in first: “And now for the gravy.”
    “But you’ve already made that!”
    “Yes, but remember I said it wasn’t finished yet? Well, this is the finishing part. Mum believes that the only way to make good gravy is to use the drippings from the pan that the meat was cooked in.” Bron poured out nearly all of the oil and fat from the roasting pan into a container and put it aside.
    “I know this is cheating a bit, but what Mum doesn’t know won’t hurt me,” she continued, as she poured her pre-made gravy mix into the roasting pan. “Here, take this,” she said, handing Dee a wooden spatula. “Just stir the gravy around the pan and mix in all the brown bits on the bottom as you usually would. That will darken it as well as heat it through. You can also add the water from that saucepan I cooked the Brussels sprouts in. When it’s all combined just pour it into these two gravy boats and we’re good to go.”
    “What about the Yorkshire puddings?”
    “Take a look through the oven door.”
    “Oh wow!” exclaimed Dianne when she did so. “Look how they’ve risen!”
    Bron also took a look. “Yep. They’re done. I’ll pull them out.” As she was doing this, she called out “OK everybody, Dinner’s ready!”
    Dave had been in the laundry showing Matt his home-brew equipment and as the two walked into the kitchen Bron asked him if he would slice the roast and place it on the meat platter now, rather than have everybody waiting while he carved it at the table. Dave thought that was a more practical and easier way of doing it, and had the job done in a couple of minutes. After they were all sat round the table there was a bit of shuffling of plates and serving dishes up and down the table and after a few minutes everyone had their plates filled to capacity in front of them. Gwen asked Gareth to say grace and they all bowed their heads as he gave thanks ‘for the grand repast that we are about to devour’. Gwen pursed her lips slightly, cast her eyes towards the ceiling and shook her head slightly at his choice of words. Matt grinned, but it was not due to Gareth’s words so much as he’d seen the way Bron had rolled her eyes, and he remembered Dave telling him to watch for that. Dave had placed a couple of bottles of Yellowglen Brut de Brut on the table and filled a glass for all.
    “I just thought I’d propose a short toast: Here’s to new friendships. May they grow, enjoy the best of times, and endure the worst.”
    “To new friendships,” they all chorused in agreement, and then got stuck into the food. During the course of the meal conversation revolved around a number of topics however it was the apparent lack of transparency in government, the current state of the economy and concern for the future of the country that predominated. Despite the fact that all present were rather pessimistic in regard to those particular topics the dinner progressed not with any of them developing melancholy feelings but rather with them coming up with ideas that could be used to counteract any ill effects that a collapsing economy might have on their way of living.
    They were all agreed that being prepared and self sufficiency were the key-points in not only surviving but thriving, and that it would be prudent to begin preparing now, rather than when it might be too late to do anything. This really hit home to Matt and Dianne as they owned no property of their own upon which they could establish a homestead, however Matt was now thoroughly convinced that the ideas that he had had when talking to Dave and Bron earlier in the day were not only workable, but it was also vital that they be implemented as soon as they returned home. He had no idea then that Dave, Bron, and a number of their close friends were actually already well on their way down that path.
    When it was finished everyone made it very clear that they had thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, but it was Matt who was most vocal in his praise:
    “That was wonderful. I love roast beef, but I have to admit that this was the first time I’ve ever had Yorkshire puddings. I didn’t know they were so good. Are they difficult to make?”
    “Ask Dee,” said Bron. “She made them.”
    “Never! Did you really, Dee?
    Dee laughed and admitted that though she had, Bron had guided her every step of the way, as she had with the gravy.
    “Oh yeah, that gravy was something else again. Did you learn how to make that too?”
    “Yes, but it’s Bron’s secret recipe and it’s been cursed to fail if made too often, so don’t push it when we get home.”
    “Oh. OK. On special occasions only is it? Fair enough. One thing I’m really curious about: The Brussels sprouts. Normally I can’t stand the things, but I thought it’d be impolite not to eat some of them at least. But they were great – like none I’ve ever tasted before. Why’s that?”
    “Well,” put in Dave. “The main reason is the way those you’d buy in a supermarket are grown. To grow Brussels properly you need to have quite a few days of early morning frosts. Apparently that helps the starches turn to sugars, or so I’ve been told. I don’t think the mega farms would bother with that, though some might. Anyway, that’s the way I grow ours: Plant at the right time, harvest at the right time and freeze them quickly, though Bron also cans some.”
    “Wouldn’t just freezing them have the same effect as frosts though?” Matt asked.
    “No, the sugars have to develop before the sprouts are harvested. And in fact that’s the problem with most vegetables that you buy today: They’re harvested before they’ve matured enough to develop all the glyconutrients that fully matured vegetables have.”
    “What are glyconutrients?” Matt asked.
    “They’re the subject of another long boring lecture at a later time.” Gareth chuckled. “Please Dai, not now.”
    “There’s another reason that the sprouts tasted so good Matt,” Bron put in. “I always add a tablespoon or three of Stone’s Green Ginger Wine to the water when I cook them.”
    With the meal finished and the table cleared away the men offered to do the washing up, however Gwen insisted that she’d rather the dishes were washed properly and thus they were dismissed to the lounge to enjoy a port. Dave pulled a small booklet from one of the bookcases that flanked the fireplace.
    “Here, Matt. You can keep this as I have several copies. It’s “Miracle Sugars”, written by Rita Elkins, M.H. It’ll save me having to give you a long boring lecture on glyconutrients,” he said, grinning at his father. Matt wandered over to the bookcase that Dave had taken the booklet from and studied its contents.
    “I always thought I had quite a good collection of reference books, Dai, but mine are nearly all about plants and gardening. Yours cover a much wider range of topics.”
    “I served in the merchant marine for quite some time Matt, and reading helped to while away the hours when we were at sea. I did read quite a few novels but for me it made more sense to read books from which I could learn things that would be beneficial in the future, because I sure didn’t plan to spend my whole life at sea. Can’t say I didn’t enjoy the life though. And just between you and me, it saved me a fortune in shipping costs for things I wanted to bring back from overseas.”
    ”So what sort of cargo did you carry on the ship?” Matt asked.
    “Do you mean cargo carried for the company, or what did I bring back for myself?” Dave laughed. “Basically the ship was a tramp steamer and we’d carry mixed cargo all over the place. Africa, India, down the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, New Guinea, up to Macao, Hong Kong, Japan, and throughout the Pacific Islands. We went wherever the cargoes were to be had, but through a few valuable contacts we managed to arrange most of our trips in the last two years up and down the West Coast of the United States. I actually spent quite a bit of time ashore over there and made a number of good friends who I still keep in contact with. It was because of them that I decided to purchase and bring back various items that for the most part were difficult and or expensive to buy locally, and expensive to ship if purchased overseas. For example, I bought two grain mills, two large pressure canners, the Kitchen Aid mixer that Bron uses, a kit for making bio-diesel, a bunch of reloading equipment for the ammo for my rifles, and even a wind powered generator, complete with deep cycle batteries and all the associated switchgear. In fact, the power for this house comes from that very unit.”
    “Do you mean that you’re completely off grid?” Matt asked in amazement.
    “We certainly are. And when the technology improves I’d like to add solar power panels too. There’s word going around that the government will subsidise them too, and if that turns out to be the case I don’t mind having to wait a bit.”
    “I noticed that you cook with gas. Does that save you much?”
    “It does, but more importantly it lessens the amount of power our generator needs to supply, and makes us that much more independent. Besides, during the winter we mainly use the AGA combustion stove that’s alongside the gas range.”
    “Dai talked us into taking full advantage of the government’s subsidy for a solar hot water system,” put in Gareth. “And I have to say that installing that system was one of the best things we ever did.”
    “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, Dad: How’s the system with the Rinnai backup working out?”
    “It’s been amazing Dai, although the only time that the backup has come on was when we had friends over for a weekend after it had been raining for four days and the collectors hadn’t received any sunlight to speak of. And it doesn’t use much gas either.”
    “What’s a Rinnai backup?” asked Matt.
    Gareth explained: “Our hot water system consists of an array of evacuated tubes connected to a hot water storage tank, but instead of the tank having an electric or a gas booster for when the sun doesn’t shine, the water from the tank passes through a Rinnai Infinity on-demand heater. If the water flowing through it is hot, nothing happens and you’re just using hot water provided by the solar array. But if the temperature of the water suddenly drops below a preset level, indicating that the storage tank is out of hot water, the Rinnai comes on and heats the water as it passes through, and when the flow of water stops the unit turns off. The evacuated tube system is much more effective than the flat plate type of collector and the backup unit isn’t normally needed, although it’s very cost effective when it is.
    From his shirt pocket Matt pulled out the small notebook that Dave had given him and spent a couple of minutes jotting down this new information.
    “I think you’re going to need a bigger notebook, Matt.”
    “I think you’re right about that, Dai,” he agreed.
    Having finished the dishes the girls came into the lounge bearing the percolator filled with hot coffee and two large trays, one with cups, saucers, spoons, cream and sugar, and the other with cake plates, forks and a huge cheesecake.
    “Don’t suppose anybody’s going to say no to a slice of brandied cheesecake are they?” asked Gwen with a big smile. Of course nobody did, and she served up six large slices which, despite their size, still left half the cheesecake on the serving plate.
    “That,” exclaimed Dianne after they had all finished eating, “would have to be the best cheesecake I’ve ever had, bar none. I hope the recipe isn’t a family secret.”
    “Not at all,” laughed Gwen. “It’s from The Australian Women’s Weekly cookbook ‘100 Fabulous Cheesecakes’ that Bron has a copy of. I’ve made it so many times that I know the ingredients by heart. Of course, I had to double the quantities to make a cake this size, but as it’s a refrigerated cheesecake that’s easy to do.”
    “Ask Matt to copy the recipe into his little notebook,” Gareth chortled.
    “Don’t laugh,” said Dee as they all did just that. “Matt, turn that notebook over and I’ll start from the back. There are a few recipes that I need to write down. Which reminds me, Bron, can you tell me what went into that seafood sauce that you made last night? You said it was simple, and it really was very good.”
    “Yes Dee, very simple, and a great recipe to use when friends drop in unexpectedly.”
    “And strangers too, it would seem,” put in Matt.
    “There aren’t any strangers around here,” said Dave. “Only new friends we’ve yet to meet.”
    Matt passed the notebook to Dianne and she began writing down the recipe as Bron talked.
    “First off, you need to make up a pint of white sauce, or more depending on how many people you’re going to feed. For the white sauce I always use butter, never margarine, and use a heaped teaspoon of dry mustard and the same of chicken stock powder, or a chicken stock cube, for each pint of sauce I’m making, and mix them with a little milk into a smooth thin paste before adding it to the sauce, plus salt and pepper to taste. That’s my basic white sauce for most things that call for it though for this dish I use two tablespoons of fish sauce instead of the chicken stock powder. Next, I flake a 425 gram can of tuna into the sauce, and then add a drained 170 gram can each of prawns in brine and crabmeat. If you’ve got fresh seafood so much the better, but this is a standby dish more than a gourmet meal. I prefer fettuccini rather than spaghetti, but you can use other forms of pasta. It’s very simple.”
    “So do you always keep a couple of cans of tuna, prawns and crabmeat on hand for these occasions?” Dianne asked.
    “Oh, you haven’t seen inside the pantry yet, have you? Go and have a look. There’s a light switch just inside the door. Check out the cool cupboard while you’re there too. Open the door and put your hand in and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”
    Dianne went off to have a look and quickly came rushing back. “Can I show Matt?” she asked excitedly and not really waiting for an answer beckoned to him to follow her. They returned five or six minutes later, both looking a bit awestruck.
    “Bron, you’ve got a supermarket in there!” she exclaimed. The others all laughed.
    “I guess it does look a bit like that doesn’t it? There’s a lot of stuff there that we’ve canned ourselves, but we also tend to buy in bulk, by the case if we can. It’s a lot cheaper that way and we’ve actually saved several hundred dollars by doing so. We’re quite a way out of town, and if we had a bushfire or a flood that cut us off we’d be OK for some time. It’s one less family for rescue crews to worry about. Actually several families, as we’ve put up enough to be able to take care of our near neighbours. Not that we’ve told them that though: Advertising the fact that we have a good supply of food stored could make us the target of people who won’t do anything to help themselves but will expect the gruberment to take care of them in any crisis.”
    “That’s awesome. I should think that food would keep very well in there,” said Matt.
    “Yes,” said Dave. “The panty’s very well insulated and the cool cupboard is a design I copied from one of the permaculture books that I have on the bookshelf. I can’t remember exactly which one but I’m pretty sure it was one written by David Holmgren.”
    “Don’t start looking for it now Mattie: It’s getting late so I think it’s time we took off and put the kids to bed,” Dianne said. “We can wake Terry up and he won’t mind walking down to the van, especially if we let him be our guide and hold the lantern.”
    There were “goodnights” all round, and Matt and his family headed towards the van, Terry proudly leading the way and holding the lantern as high as he could. After they had gone Gwen told Dave and Bron that she thought Matt and Dianne were indeed a lovely couple, and that their two young boys appeared to be respectful and polite little lads even if they were very young, and Gareth agreed with him.
    “Yes,” he said, “It’s obvious that their parents didn’t read the book on bringing up children that that misguided idiot Dr. Spock published back in the fifties.”
    “Now dear, don’t get started: There’s nothing we can do about that now, is there?”
    “Just saying, is all,” Gareth said.
    “Good Lord, Gareth, “Just saying, is all?” Where did you pick up that Americanism?”
    Dave quickly turned his head away and grinned hugely, knowing that his father had picked it up from him, along with a few other expressions that his mother might not really approve of.
    “Anyway, I think all in all it’s been quite a long day for everyone and I for one am off to bed.”
    Everybody agreed with her so they all retired, and before too long all but the frogs, a family of brush-tailed possums, two owls, and the cat hunting mice in the barn were sound asleep.

    * * *

    #64449

    Bidadisndat
    Participant

    The next morning both Matt and Dianne were up early, had had breakfast, fed the kids and were ready for whatever tasks around the house and farm needed doing. Not that there was all that much to do anyway. The ladies first occupied themselves with a very small amount of cleaning, as Bron’s house was spotless to begin with, deciding what to prepare for both lunch and dinner, and making a schedule covering the next two weeks during which time they would make various holiday type excursions that everyone would enjoy. These outings were to be interspersed with exchanges of how-to’s and tricks of the trade when using a sewing machine or an overlocker, and cooking, particularly in the area of canning and preserving about which, apart from making tomato sauces and pasatas Dianne knew very little. Between the three of them they would also be able to spend a lot of time with the children.
    Gareth had decided to occupied himself with a couple of projects using the woodworking bench and tools in Dave’s workshop, but declined to reveal exactly what it was he would be working on. That left Dave and Matt to first tend to the animals and then spend a couple of easy hours in the vegetable garden. Matt, if not being a farmer at least being a professional in his own field, cast an appreciative eye over Dave’s work and said that he thought that the garden beds had been well laid out, but wondered how Dave went about watering them.
    “I’ve installed a system of drippers under the mulch,” he replied when asked about it. “They’re supplied from that big tank up on the hill I pointed out yesterday, and operate off a timer. It gets really hot and dry here through the summer as you may have noticed, and using the drippers saves quite a bit of water.”
    “Good idea, Dave. We use drippers too, back home. You’re lucky that you don’t have any eucalypts growing close by, or trees like liquid ambers.”
    “Well, I didn’t want any trees around that would shade the beds, but why those particular trees?”
    “Eucalypts are somewhat allelopathic and tend to discourage if not wipe out trees and plants that aren’t of the same type as themselves. And as I found out when I planted my garden in the bush, you’d find that their root systems, along with liquid ambers and others like them, would soon invade your beds and hog a lot of the water you’re trying to give your veggies. That’s not to say that you have to remove all the trees around a veggie patch though. In fact, a bit of shade can be quite beneficial to some plants,”
    “Oh? I thought that veggies really needed to be in as much sun as possible.”
    “Yes and no: A lot depends on your geographical location. Most of the gardening books you pick up contain a lot of information based on weather and soil conditions in the northern hemisphere. For example, the sunlight we receive here is up to five times stronger than you’d get in England, so we really don’t need the amount of exposure that is necessary there. Much of the soil here in Australia often doesn’t contain the mass of humus and biota found in those of, say, Europe. If you want to grow really healthy veggies in abundance you often need to add large amounts of organic material and fertiliser, preferably in the form of rich compost, which will add both. Actually, that should be done everywhere, but more so in most parts of Australia where decades of bad land practice such as burning off the bush have destroyed the soil.”
    “Got that covered,” said Dave, pointing to the three very large compost bays he had constructed at one end of the garden patch. “We compost all of the animal manure we get, both from here and a couple of neighbouring properties, and we use those old carpet covered bathtubs alongside the compost bins for growing worms. Those two big covered mounds over there are leaf-mulch piles, and the two beyond those are woodchips.”
    “Good Lord Dai, you’ve got tons of the stuff! Was this place a forest before it became a farm? What are you going to do with at all?”
    “Well, it’s only half mine: Half belongs to my mate Charlie who runs a tree-felling business and has contracts with the local council and the power company. For the most part we’re just stockpiling it for now, though we do sell some. We’ve noticed that the demand for it is increasing and think that it’ll probably be worth a bit before too long.”
    “Be worth quite a bit right now, back in the city. All you need now are plants and you’ll be able to open a nursery.”
    “Like I haven’t got enough on my plate as it is. Charlie has two young sons that he’s trying to persuade to take that on though, and as you’ll get to meet them soon hopefully you might be able to give them a bit of advice on how to go about it.”
    “Well, I’m more into the landscaping side of things than running a nursery but I’d be happy to help them if I can.”
    They spent some time in the potting shed attached to the greenhouse, setting up new trays with propagating mix and seeding them, then transplanting into the vegetable beds a number of seedlings that were ready for the move. After hearing from Matt about how he had set up his own garden, and in particular the mandalas, Dave asked if it might be OK for him and Bron to come and have a look the next time they came to the city.
    “No problem at all Dai. You and the whole family will be welcome anytime,” Matt replied enthusiastically, adding with a mischievous grin, “Give me a call when you’re coming though: It can be a bit awkward when people drop in on you unexpectedly, can’t it?”
    Dave of course understood the humour of the remark and replied in the same vein: “Yes, can be a bloody nuisance sometimes. Especially when you know they’re not in any hurry to leave and will likely eat you out of house and home while they’re there.”
    The banter continued not only after they had finished the few tasks that Dave had planned for the morning but also throughout most of the time they spent together over the next twelve days. To the bewilderment of the girls they both seemed to be able to find something humorous about almost everything and could often be heard laughing together.
    Of course they also took delight in timing some of their remarks in order to see Bron’s eyes roll “like they were driven by a pair of eccentric gear wheels” as Dave said later.
    “Could be worse,” said Matt after he and Dave had returned to the house and were seated at the table in the family room. “At least they’re in sync. Imagine if they were out of sync….. and going in opposite directions.”
    Their laughter at the imagined sight was very suddenly cut short however because unfortunately for the pair Bron had heard the remarks and given them both a cuff over the ear, that action giving all the girls a good laugh.
    “Serves you both right!” chided Dianne.
    They both hung their heads and tried to look contrite but then the vision came back into their minds and when they both began to snigger again Bron quickly stopped them cold:
    “I’ll box the ears of both of you good and proper if you keep that up,” she warned, and the two men wisely decided to retreat to the workshop and ask Gareth if he needed any help with whatever it was he was doing.
    “While you’re out there, you can both try and decide what you’re going to do when you grow up!” Bron called at their backs as they went out, leaving the girls in stitches.
    * * *

    #65073

    Siskiyoumom
    Participant

    Thank you so very much!

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