The Mulberry Tree

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    What do you do when you’re trying to work out what the characters in the stories you’re writing are going to do next?
    In my case It was to sit down to put a few words together but I think I was a bit overloaded with medication and my mind must have started to wander because next thing I know I’ve started another story!
    Now, should I just make it a completely stand alone story, or could I write it so that the two main characters cross paths with the characters in my other writings?
    Have a read of this and tell me what you think.



    The Mulberry Tree

    Dirk pulled his old ton-and-a-half Dodge crew-cab work truck over to the side of the road about fifty metres after he’d passed the hitch-hiker and sat looking in the rear-view mirror, waiting to see if the hiker was alone or had companions waiting to jump out if he’d stopped straight away. The hiker was definitely alone and didn’t wait to see if he’d reverse back but picked up a large back-pack and began walking slowly towards the truck. Dirk couldn’t see the hiker’s face due to a large floppy hat that was protecting its wearer from the hot late morning sun, and when the hat finally made it to the window he discovered that its wearer was a young woman. She had an attractive face with a smattering of freckles across her cheeks and nose, a slight gap between her two first upper front teeth, and a wisp of hair escaped from under her hat. The light, slightly baggy long sleeved shirt and cargo pants she wore were ideally suited for hiking in the heat and appeared to be comfortable. Having looked intently first at him and then under the cover on the back of the truck she must have decided that this was her lift because she hoisted her pack over the tail-gate into the back then opened the front passenger door and got in.

    “Where are you headed?” Dirk asked.

    “North,” the girl replied, removing her hat to reveal an attractive face with a smattering of freckles across her forehead, upper cheeks and nose, and allowing a mass of ginger curls to cascade down around her shoulders. “And you?” she added as she half turned and passed her hat over the back of the front bench seat and placed it in the rear.

    “Same. Any particular place you have in mind?”

    “Nope. I’ll know it when I find it.”

    “Fair enough. Bit the same as me I guess. Anyway, name’s Dirk.”

    “Sally. I saw all the tools in the back. Are you a gardener?”

    “Not yet. Got a lot of what I need to get started though. When I find a place that is.”

    “You looking to buy some land then?”

    “Not really. I’m actually thinking of going bush.”

    “You going to be a hippie or a hermit?”

    “A bit of both I guess,” Dirk said with a laugh. “Problem is finding a place where I can live peacefully without being disturbed.”

    “I know a few places like that, though mostly they’re on Crown Land. You got a tent?”

    “Yeah. Got enough camping stuff in the back to make myself quite comfortable. Are any of the places you know of far from here?”

    “About three hours or so drive from here there’s a really good place though you have to drive a couple of clicks off the highway to get to it. My dad found it years ago and used to take the family camping there. There are no camping facilities or toilets, but it has a small year-round spring and it’s only ten minutes walk to the beach.”

    “Do many people camp there?”

    “None. That’s why dad would take us there: Nobody ever came near the place. That was a long time ago, but I don’t think it’d be much different now. At least I hope not. Anyway, I could point it out to you if you want. You got a map?”

    “There’s a road atlas in the glove box.”

    Sally took the road atlas out and after finding the page showing the area and approximately where they were now quickly worked out roughly how far it would be to where Dirk would have to leave the highway to get to the campsite. After a quick look at where she was pointing to on the map he was surprised to see that, on the map at least, it didn’t seem to be all that far from a decent sized town. It would take him at least three hours to get there, he told her, and possibly a bit longer as he needed to stop and get fuel for the truck and something to eat for himself. Sally settled herself back in the seat and after asking Dirk if he didn’t mind a short time later fell asleep.

    He drove through a number of small villages, not bothering to stop for fuel as the prices there were way above what would be found in larger towns, although even then the prices there were much higher than would be found in the cities. When he drove into the town before the turn-off to the camping site Sally woke up and as he pulled into a petrol station told him she needed to use the restroom. He had just finished filling the tank when she returned and after moving the truck to one of the parking bays went inside the building to pay for the fuel then use a restroom himself. He also took the opportunity to purchase a couple of cups of coffee, with cream and sugar sachets, and four packs of sandwiches from the display cabinet, all of which he took out to the truck. Sally was standing beside it but climbed back into the passenger seat when he arrived and he passed the cardboard tray holding the coffee and sandwiches to her as he got into the driver’s seat then drove out of the petrol station back onto the main road.

    About five minutes later, still in the town, he pulled into a parking bay beside a park where they both alighted and found a picnic table and bench seats where they could sit, eat the sandwiches and have their coffees.

    “You didn’t have to do this, but thanks. I really appreciate it,” said Sally.

    “You’re welcome. How far from the campsite do you think are we now?”

    “Not far, though the highway we came in on was just one lane each way when we came here as kids and it’s now a freeway. I just hope the road to the place is still accessible.”

    “One way to find out,” said Dirk cramming sandwich wrappers into one of the empty coffee cups as he rose from the bench and headed for a litter bin close by. “If we can’t find the place it’s still early enough to find another.”

    “I suppose so, but I’d really like to camp at the old place. Our family used to have really good times there,” she replied getting up and walking alongside him drained her own coffee cup and threw it into the bin.

    “If we’re going to be camping at the same place it might be a good idea to get something we can share for dinner tonight. Maybe a barbeque? I’ve got a picnic stove with a hot plate that we could cook a bit of meat on, and a large esky that holds quite a lot.”

    “Sounds like a good idea. There’s a supermarket just down the road so how about we go there now?”

    Their shopping resulted in a couple of good sized steaks and all the makings for a decent salad, a large can of sliced peaches and a container of thickened cream for desert, sausages and eggs for breakfast, and Dirk also bought a small cask of Traminer Reisling and a bag of ice for the esky. With purchases in hand they retuned to the truck and were soon on their way again.

    “That road atlas I’ve got is pretty old and doesn’t show minor roads so we’re probably going to have to keep a sharp lookout for your road, especially since you’re sitting in the passenger seat. I’ll keep the speed down though. Just tell me if you see any landmarks that you remember.”

    “I remember there was a sign that said TIP pointing to a road that my dad said was exactly six miles before the turn-off, so if the sign is still there we should be able to find it OK.”

    Some four miles north of the town they found a sign that pointed not to a TIP but to a Waste Management and Recycling Centre. According to Dirk it was the same thing but the sign was just a little more in keeping with the attitude towards waste that people were supposed to adopt nowadays. Which, he added, was a very good thing as he’d found that people didn’t look down their noses at him quite so often as they used to when he collected and used recyclable items that they deemed to be rubbish.

    “Definitely more hippie than hermit,” said Sally with a laugh. “I have to agree with you though. I’ve often thought I could furnish a house completely with the some of the good stuff that people throw out on those yearly kerbside collection days.”

    Furnish a house? Hell, with all the stuff I’ve seen thrown out I could build a house. And I don’t mean just a shack either. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures, windows, doors, timber, roofing iron, tiles; you name it. In fact, I picked up quite a few items when the last kerbside collection was on, and they’re on the back of the truck now. I reckon a man could build a really comfortable place to live in without it costing too much at all provided he had the time and the tools, both of which I happen to have.”

    “Not to mention transport that you can use to carry lots of stuff.”

    “Oh yeh, that too. Mind you, the running costs plus keeping this beast registered and insured can be a bit of a pain at times. Still, I’m better off with it than without.”

    He set the trip meter to zero as they passed the sign and kept a close watch on the distance travelled as he drove, having calculated that six miles would be about nine and a half kilometres. They’d travelled about two of those when Dirk saw that a road, probably the old highway ran parallel to the freeway and on a hunch crossed over to it when shortly after he found a service area where road building materials were stockpiled. It was well that he did because Sally recognised the road she was looking for, and as the freeway at that point had been built up much higher than it had been before there was no way the road could have been accessed at that point. No doubt if they continued on the road they were on it would re-join the freeway further along however Dirk tuned onto the rough road that was supposed to lead to the campsite. The land was flat and covered with low scrub, probably all the way to the sea he thought however after bumping along for a mile or so he was directed onto a smaller track that about a half mile later began to dip down into a small depression in the landscape. He was surprised to see that as they descended the scrub around them began blending into trees that became taller the further they went down. By the time they reached the bottom of the slope they were surrounded by a small woodland, mostly of eucalypts but a fair smattering of other native trees as well. However, from the road leading to the beach it appeared that the land was simply flat and covered with scrub, and only by driving along the track would anyone find the woodland that was there.

    “This is it!” cried Sally, excitedly pointing ahead to where a small clear space could be seen on the left side of the road. “You can park the truck there and the campsite is just a bit down a path through that row of trees there,” she added as she pointed in the direction.

    With the truck parked and locked they made their way along the path that passed through the trees she had pointed out, then zig-zagged steeply down an embankment to where they found themselves standing in a grassy clearing. The clearing was perhaps half an acre in size and was surrounded by trees on the southern and western sides but was fairly open on the other two. It was mostly knee deep in dry grasses and they were both a bit wary about the possible presence of snakes, particularly Eastern Brown snakes which don’t need to be provoked much before striking, however after carefully making their way around the area they decided that there probably weren’t any there.

    “It’s quite a bit more overgrown than I thought it’d be and we’d have to flatten a bit of grass if we wanted to pitch our tents here, but it sure is a nice place don’t you think?”

    “It sure is. And you said the beach is not too far away?”

    “About ten minutes walk. There’s a path over to the right there, though it’ll probably be a bit overgrown too, if this grass is anything to go by.”

    “What about the spring you said was here?”

    “It’s just over to the left. Come and have a look.”

    Dirk followed her to the back of the clearing where a steady flow of water was issuing from a one and a half inch diameter piece of copper pipe that had been driven into a hole in the face of a rock ledge. The pipe protruded about twelve inches from the rock some three feet above a small pond about four feet in diameter and perhaps two feet deep, and the overflow ran a distance of twenty feet or so over rocks before disappearing into the ground again. Sally told him that her father and an uncle had put the pipe in and built the pond, and beside it they had also built a fireplace from bush rocks. The fireplace wasn’t immediately visible as though it would normally stick out like a sore thumb it had been bandaged by a tangle of creeping vines that helped it blend in with the steep earth bank behind it.

    “Won’t take too long to clear enough of this away to make a tent site. C’mon, help me get some stuff from the truck and we’ll do that now.”

    They walked back up to the truck where Dirk pulled back the cover over his load and selected the tools they’d need for the job.

    “You’re not exactly a greenie, are you?” Sally stated with a laugh as Dirk unloaded a brush cutter and mixed up a container of two-stroke fuel for it.

    Beginning where the track met the clearing Dirk used the brush cutter to cut a swathe of grass through to where the spring was located then began clearing a semi-circle around it, slowly edging out to the fireplace and a bit beyond. He’d asked Sally to see if she could clear the vines away from the fireplace whilst he was using the brush-cutter but after finding that they were a lot thicker than expected she asked him if he had a pair of pruners or secateurs she could use. Going back to the truck he returned not only with the tools she wanted but to her great amusement he was also pushing a lawn mower.

    While Sally set too with the pruners he set the mower on its highest level and beginning where he’d started with the brush cutter began covering the same area. For his first pass he removed the catcher and replaced it with a mulching plug, then lowered the mower’s deck to do a second pass. Deciding against using the catcher at all he made a final pass with the deck set as low as the terrain would allow him to push the mower without digging into the earth and by the time he’d finished the cleared area looked, according to him, like the greens of a lawns bowling club, though perhaps not quite as big, or quite as flat, or quite as.. as.. ahh …as green. Yes: Definitely not as green.

    In the meantime Sally had been able to clear away the vines covering the fireplace, finding when she did so the hot-plate that her father had wrapped in several layers of plastic sheeting and placed vertically behind the bars that would support it.

    “My dad was pretty proud of this fireplace,” she said. “He could build a fire in it that made no smoke at all. Actually, you couldn’t see much in the way of flames either. It didn’t use much wood but it sure gave out a lot of heat.”

    Taking a good look at the structure Dirk worked out that it was a type of rocket stove and that it also had an oven. He’d read about them before however he’d never seen one for real and he was eager to try this one out just to see if they were as good as they were cracked up to be. That of course would mean collecting a bit of firewood but erecting their tents would come first.

    Using the rakes they cleared most of the cut grass away from the spaces where they would pitch their tents, Dirk telling Sally that leaving the grass clippings might make for a softer place to sleep but it could also make their tents overly hot as the grass cuttings began to break down. As they walked back to the truck with the tools Dirk diverged from the track and walking around the far side of the trees shielding the campsite from the road found that it might be possible to clear a path wide enough for him to drive the truck down to their tents.

    “You could, but you’d have to shift some big rocks and tree trunks that my dad placed across the top end to discourage people from doing that.”

    “From the look of the place I don’t think anyone comes here anyway: No pizza boxes, no empty beer bottles or soft drink cans, no litter at all. The road that the track comes off looks like it’s used a bit so maybe people just drive straight past on their way to the beach.”

    “That wouldn’t surprise me: The beach is good for fishing but it’s not known as a good swimming or surfing spot so not many people go there. Not that we didn’t play with our boogie boards down there a lot though.”

    An hour later they had their tents erected and along with their back-packs had brought some of Dirks more comfortable camping accessories down from the truck. These included a couple of solar shower bags that they filled at the pond, two camp chairs and a small folding table, plus a Coleman lantern. A short amble through the trees after they’d set up camp produced enough dry wood ranging from twigs through to fallen branches that could be easily broken up for use in the fireplace. Dirk got the rocket stove going in the correct way, thanks to the advice of Sally who had often helped her father do that, and was pleased with the way it worked.

    Rather than open up the plastic wrapped hot-plate that Sally’s father had left there he used the hot-plate from his picnic stove which though much smaller was still large enough to cook their steaks on. While he took care of the cooking Sally put together a tossed salad.

    He opened the cask of Traminer Riesling and poured them each a glass to have while preparing the meal, and another with their meal, then they settled back in the camp chairs to enjoy a glass or two more while chatting and enjoying a lovely sunset. Before it got too dark Dirk went up to the truck, locked it and set the alarm before returning to pump up the Coleman lantern, fill the preheater bowl with spirits and light up the new mantle that he’d fitted. The ensuing light was extremely bright and he hung the lantern from the branch of a close-by tree where it would not only provide sufficient illumination but also attract many annoying insects away from them. It worked OK for moths but not so well with mosquitoes so Dirk lit up a Mozzie Coil and placed it on the table between their chairs. They talked well into the night but both began yawning around the same time so Dirk extinguished the lantern and the mozzie coil and they made their way to their tents and turned in.

    * * * * *

    The sun had yet to part with the horizon when Dirk and Sally emerged from their tents and yet the day was already warm enough for them to decide on an early morning swim. The path leading from the campsite to the beach was overgrown, as Sally had thought it would be, but not so much that it was difficult to follow and they were able to negotiate their way to the sand and surf in about fifteen minutes. There wasn’t any real surf to speak of, at least not of a type that would attract board riders however it was ideal for a swim and they both kicked off their sandals and ran full pelt down the sand and plunged into the water. Although they both swam a good distance up and down the beach a bit of time was also spent horsing around with each taking turns at trying to dunk the other. Despite the fact that he was about six inches taller and more than a tad stronger Dirk found that Sally was quick enough to evade most of his attempts to grab her and several times she proved that she was capable of giving him a quick dunking.

    A finger of rocks, perhaps three hundred metres from where they were swimming jutted out into the sea and Sally told Dirk that when the tide was low it exposed a reef that ran out for quite some distance, and that it was where her father used to do a lot of his fishing. Even as he looked at the rocks two men bearing long fishing rods and carrying creels trudged from the line of bush further down the beach and headed towards the reef, both returning a wave that Dirk and Sally gave them. Having reached the rocks the men spent a short time getting their rigs ready then made their way out to the far end where they began casting lures into the shallow surf. Dirk was surprised to see that within a few minutes the first catch of the day was hooked and reeled in and wanting to know what type of fish were biting he headed towards the reef with Sally on his heels. They both walked carefully out to where the two men were standing and not only did they find out that the fish now being landed by both were whiting but they were given a few tips on what type of gear would be needed to catch them themselves.

    They spent about fifteen minutes watching as fish after fish was hauled in before making their way back to the sand, having another quick dip then hiking back to the campsite for a late breakfast. The water in the solar shower bags that they had filled the evening before and laid out on the rocks beside the pool wasn’t really hot but it was warm enough for them to rinse the salt off their bodies without shivering. Not bothered by Dirk’s presence Sally slipped out of her swimmers then after using the shower walked stark naked to her tent where she dried herself off and put on clean dry clothes. Dirk didn’t stare at her however he couldn’t help but see that she had a very attractive figure. Attractive to him anyway as her figure might have been described by some as being slightly ‘chunky’, but then again he’d never gone much on slim girls that he thought of as being skinny. Giving a quick shake of his head he decided that if she wasn’t embarrassed by being naked in front of him there was no reason for him to feel so either and he followed suit.

    They had a good breakfast after which Dirk decided to explore the area immediately around the camp. Sally acted somewhat as a guide, showing him where several paths led off into the scrub below the site though she couldn’t tell him much about the land other than that it was either Crown Land or was perhaps controlled by the local council. Either way she doubted that any state or federal government departments bothered to check the land although she knew that the Rural Fire Service sometimes came along the track and she had actually talked to the captain of the local bush fire brigade a number of times. The land below the clearing sloped gently down to the north and was covered with stunted bushes that seemed to be struggling to survive in the sandy nutrient defficient soil that was to be found in many places up and down the coast. The land had long ago been deemed no good for farming, at least in the accepted sense, however for a hippie-hermit-homesteader it had a lot going for it; the first and foremost being isolation.

    Back at the camp Dirk paced out the length and breadth of the clearing then took a sketchbook and pencil from his back-pack and began sketching out a rough plan showing the entry path, where the vehicle access was, the spring and pond, the stove and the path to the beach. As he was doing this Sally had got the fire going and put his camping billy on to boil for a cup of tea, then made up some sandwiches from the salad vegetables still in the esky and a can of tuna that she had in her back-pack. When she brought the mugs of tea and the sandwiches to the small table she had a look at Dirk’s drawing of the site and how he had pencilled in a few of his ideas.

    “Are you really thinking of doing all that?” she asked.

    “Maybe. I wouldn’t mind camping here for a few days before deciding for sure, but this place seems ideal for what I want to do. I’ll need to get a few supplies first of course so I’ll drive back to that town shortly and get them. Do you want to camp here for a while too, or do you want me to drive you into town to get your next lift to wherever you’re going?”

    “I wouldn’t mind staying here for a bit if that doesn’t muck up your plans, but I’d have to go into town with you and do some shopping too. If we’re both going to be here for a few days I guess we could shop for food together again and it’d work out cheaper that way.”

    “Good idea. When we get back here I want to move those rocks and tree trunks your dad placed at the top of the track so I can bring the truck down. Do you think our stuff will be safe enough if we leave it here?”

    “I think so. We were down at the beach for well over an hour and we won’t be much longer than that driving into town and back so the chances are pretty slim that somebody will come by here while we’re gone.”

    “Fair enough. OK, let’s go.”

    During he drive into town Dirk told Sally about how until recently he had been a computer programmer but one day realised that despite the high salary it just didn’t provide the lifestyle that he wanted. Over the past couple of years when he hadn’t been programming he’d spent a lot of time learning about permaculture, gardening, and homesteading, and although he didn’t have much practical experience yet he was confident that he could make a go of becoming reasonably self-sufficient. He’d sold his late model sedan and purchased the old Dodge drop-side table-top they were in now, moved all his stuff to his parent’s house, then loaded up with his camping gear and “pioneering tools” as he called the equipment on the back, left the bright city lights and headed south. Three weeks later he hadn’t seen any places that impressed him enough to stay so he turned the truck around and was headed north when he met her.

    Sally’s story wasn’t a whole lot different, apart from the fact that she didn’t have transport. She’d had a number of jobs after leaving high school but they were all casual positions and didn’t offer any security. She’d read two books by Peter Pinney – Dust on my Shoes and The Lawless and the Lotus ]and thought her own life was mundane in comparison so she decided to just get a back-pack and take off. And as it was bitterly cold and raining at the time she made her decision she thought it best to go north. She had found that hitchhiking could be good but only if the hiker was careful: She’d had several offers other than providing a lift by a couple of men, and in one case had to fight one off after he tried to pin her against the seat and slide his hand up her shorts. He received a nasty bite on his arm and a deep scratch to his face when Sally hit him with a hand wearing two rings. She showed Dirk the rings, which had been given to her by a motor-bike riding friend concerned for her safety, and when he saw that they’d been designed more as a weapon than a piece of jewellery told her that he certainly wasn’t going to pick a fight with her.

    It was closer to two hours rather than one when they returned to the campsite, shopping completed, and found that it was just as they’d left it. On the way in they passed a ute and two SUV’s sporting fishing rod holders, all going in the opposite direction and as none appeared to have stopped it was likely that other drivers using the road would also go straight past the track without knowing it was there, or not bothering to go down it if they did.

    After parking the truck Dirk walked back to where access down to the site was blocked off and after having a look at the rocks and tree trunks decided that it wouldn’t be too difficult to move them. This was done using a couple of long ropes and the truck to haul them out of the way and it wasn’t long before he had the truck parked down in the clearing. As there was still a reasonable amount of daylight left he unloaded the brush-cutter and slashed the grass around the rest of the clearing but left long grass at the top of the track so that it wouldn’t look as if someone was using it.

    They had an early evening meal of cold chicken and salad, finished off the large can of sliced peaches and the cream left over from the previous night and had a couple of glasses of wine from the cask. Dirk refilled the Coleman lantern, set it up then got out his sketchbook and he and Sally sat side by side at the table so that he could show her some of the ideas he had thought of for the site.

    First off he pointed out on the plan he’d drawn where he would like to build a small cabin. He had positioned it so that it would have a good view to the north and east but close enough to the tree covered slope behind that it wouldn’t be seen by people driving past. Flipping back several pages he then showed her a rough plan of the small cabin he had in mind and after looking at it for a several minutes she offered him a couple of suggestions as to how, to her mind at least, it could be made better.

    Taking the pencil from him, and without asking, she sketched another plan incorporating her suggestions, and whilst Dirk had to agree that they were good ideas the size of the cabin seemed to have increased a bit.

    Returning to the site plan he then showed her where a water tank should be positioned, where effluent would go and where he would put his vegetable garden beds, a small tool-shed, a greenhouse and a chicken coop and run. He also wanted to put in a lot of different fruit and nut trees but these he would space out around the perimeter rather than have an orchard.

    “Our family did that: They planted a few fruit trees around the place hoping that nobody would pinch them before they became too big to move. That was years ago though and the trees are probably dead or gone now.”

    Once again she took the pencil from his hand and this time lightly drew a rectangle adjacent to the cabin.

    “What’s that?”

    “That’s my cabin. Since I added a laundry to your design I won’t need one so my cabin can be a bit smaller.” And she looked as if she was being serious about it.

    “What?! Hey, I’m not intending to start a commune here you know. And what would you do here anyway?”

    “Grow vegetables and herbs. Look after chickens. Maybe I could do the hippy thing too and make pottery or jewellery so I could earn a bit of money at markets. And before you start objecting I’d like to point out that it was my family that built the pond, camp oven and barbeque here and it was me who showed you this place, so if you want to stay here you will have to ask me if it’s OK to do so.”

    “Sally, are you really serious?”

    “About staying here or about you having to ask my permission? On both counts I don’t see why I shouldn’t be. Anyway, we’ve both only just arrived and we don’t know the area so how about we simply camp here for a week or three, check everything out carefully and then decide if it’s worth staying.”

    “Yeah, that sounds reasonable. I’d still like to put in a veggie garden though, even if it’s only a small one. Just to make sure things other than gum trees and scrub will grow here.”

    “What about watering it? The ground here is very sandy and it absorbs water quickly. Even after a heavy rain it dries out fast.”

    “For now I’ll simply run a hose from the pond down to the garden and build raised beds using plenty of compost and apply a thick layer of mulch. That will go a long way to retaining moisture.”

    “Uhh, OK. I don’t know too much about those things so you’ll have to teach me. Got any other ideas?”

    “Yes. If we’re going to be staying here for a couple of weeks I think we should move our tents a bit further back, probably under the trees where they won’t be exposed to direct sunlight all day. Just have to check the trees first to make sure they don’t have branches that look like they’ll suddenly drop onto the tents. I can also rig up a large tarp as a sun and rain shelter and we could put the table and chairs under it. And as for working on the veggie beds, that would be best done in the early morning and late afternoon when the sun isn’t so hot.”

    “Alright. Let’s move our tents now and then maybe you could mark out where you want the veggie beds to go.”

    “Move the tents now, yes, but instead of marking out the veggie beds we could rig the tarp up under the trees too.”

    An hour later their tents were repositioned and the tarp had been slung tautly between two trees and two poles that were suitably guyed. The front of the tarp was slightly higher than the back, the mid-point of which was held down by a length of rope and a rock so that if it rained water would flow to that point where it could then be directed to a barrel. It wasn’t likely to rain within the next few days but if it did Dirk had a blue plastic barrel on the back of the truck which he could quickly put in position. They moved the table and chairs under the tarp but rather than mark out the veggie beds they decided to just sit in their new lounge/dining room and have another glass of wine.

    “You know, being a hippie isn’t a bad thing, is it? I think I could really get to like this lifestyle.” said Sally as she drained the last of the wine cask into their two glasses. “Mind you, we might have to see if we can establish a vineyard: This cask is empty already!”

    “Really? I jush carn ’magine how that happened,” slurred Dirk as he stood, grabbed his wineglass and pretended to stagger around as if he was drunk. “Fortunately for the residents of this camp I bought another cask when we were in town, so we won’t have to make an urgent dash to the bottle shop just yet,” he added in a more sober voice as he sat down again.

    “You had me fooled there for a minute,” said Sally. “You know, I was beginning to think you were pretty smart, but I can see now that you’re just as silly as every other man I’ve met. Hmm. Then again, you did buy another cask so maybe you’re not a completely lost cause.”

    In what was to become a bit of a pattern for the following week they headed for their tents somewhere around 9 p.m., usually quite tired because they both worked and played hard, though tonight it may have been the wine.

    * * * * *

    When Sally stuck her head out of her tent and looked around in the early morning light she saw that Dirk was already at work on the garden site, tapping wooden stakes into the ground to mark out the vegetable beds. She hastily put on her shorts, a T-shirt, socks and her walking boots and grabbing her sun hat walked down to join him. He had marked out four beds, each measuring five feet by ten feet and separated by paths about three feet wide, and was about to begin raking grass clippings onto them. The clippings were quite fine, having been slashed then mown three times, and it was quite job trying to rake them up so Dirk decided to revert to the appropriate use of technology and getting the mower off the truck attached the grass catcher and used it as a vacuum cleaner. It took a while but with Dirk adding catcherloads of clippings and Sally spreading them out with a rake each bed was finally covered with some six inches of finely cut grass. The grass that hadn’t been collected yet would go towards building a compost heap

    “It’s not the way I’d do it if I had access to good soil,” he told Sally. “But this soil’s so sandy it’s going to need every bit of composted vegetable matter we can give it. It might be a bit of hard work turning over this sand to get the beds started, but at least after the initial dig they shouldn’t ever need digging again.”

    “Don’t you have to dig them over every year?”

    “No. At least not in no-dig gardens, which is what these are going to be. I’m going to have to find a load of manure to incoporate into the beds, and a few bales of straw to use as mulch.”

    He drove a garden fork into the sandy soil at one corner of the bed and tried to lift a small amount out if the ground however it didn’t have sufficient clay content or moisture to hold together and it mostly ran through the tines of the fork. “Not good. Too dry. Add water,” he thought as he went to the truck and retrieved two 30 metre hoses, both of which had previously been mounted on fire-hose reels. He rolled out the first hose, beginning at the pond and heading towards the garden until reaching its end where he attached the second hose and continued, thankfully finding that the hose was long enough to reach the furthermost bed easily. Next he attached a weeper hose to the end and flaked it out on top of the bed that he had tried digging into then walked back up to the pond where he fed the top end of the hose into the copper pipe from which the water was flowing. He was surprised to find that the flow of water was strong enough to expel the hose from the pipe and he finally had to get some cord and tie it so that it would stay put. Back down at the garden beds he had to wait several minutes before being rewarded with the sight of water trickling from the pores of the soaker hose and seeping down through the grass clippings into the sand below, but he was happy. He’d give it an hour before checking and in the meantime maybe he could have some breakfast?

    When he approached the table and asked Sally grinned and told him to sit down: She had already made up two bowls of Weet-Bix with lots of banana and apple slices piled on top, and had two glasses of pineapple/mango juice poured.

    “What’s the powder you heaped on your Weet-Bix?” Dirk asked.

    “It’s a mix of LSA, which is Linseed, Sunflower seed and Almond meal, and Psyllium Husks, plus a good sprinkling of Chia seeds. You’re going to have to learn all about this stuff if you really want to be a hippy you know; it’s not just about growing marijuana. By the way, would it be OK to make another garden bed just for growing herbs?”

    “Sure. How about we build an herb spiral?”

    “What’s an herb spiral? I’ve never heard the term.”

    “There’s a chapter about them in one of the gardening books I’ve got in the truck so rather than me explain I’ll get the book out and you can read up on what they’re good for and how to build one. Another thing I think we need to do is put up a shower stall. I’ve got another small tarp we can use for that.”

    “Well, if we end up staying here we’d really need to build a bathroom and laundry, like I showed you on my sketch. If we did that part first it could be added to bit by bit until your cabin was complete. Going to need a lot of materials though.”

    “When we’ve finished breakfast we’ll go over to the truck and I’ll show you what stuff I’ve collected with that sort of thing in mind. I think you’ll be surprised at what I’ve got.”

    Shortly afterwards Sally was standing on the back of the truck’s now completely uncovered tray and Dirk was pointing out the items he had loaded before leaving home. The gardening tools, including a wheelbarrow had been unloaded and temporarily placed under a tree, and all his camping gear was moved to his tent so that there would be room to carry straw bales and bags of manure for the garden.

    “Right. Beginning at the front of the tray there’s my tool box. Mostly hand tools such as saws, chisels, brace and bits, hammers, screwdrivers and such, though I do have a few power tools in there too. This green roll of metal sheeting is actually the wall of a small above-ground swimming pool which I thought would make a good temporary water tank. The liner for it is rolled up in the centre. The two blue barrels there are also meant for water and I think we could use one of them here. There’s a big coil of 25mm irrigation pipe and another of 12mm which I was thinking of using to make a simple solar hot water heater. And these are the salvaged kerbside collection items I told you about: The sheets of metal on the right side are the cladding and roof of a 3 x 3 metre garden shed. There’s a double bowl stainless steel kitchen sink with drainers each side; one big stainless steel laundry tub, and in that box there are all the taps needed, plus a shower head. The smaller box beside it is full of light switches and power outlets. Oh, nearly forgot: There’s also a tempered glass shower door sandwiched between the panels for the garden shed. There are also a few more tarps for covering stuff. All those plastic planting pots and the box of hose fittings up with the gardening stuff also came from kerbside.”

    “Cool. I can see what you meant about being able to build a house from recycled material. If they’re empty, how about we unload the two blue barrels now? You said you wanted to use one of them here anyway, and it would give you a some extra space to carry more straw and manure.”

    “Good idea. As soon as I’ve got the drums off we can take drive and see if we can find a farm where we can get what we need. I have packets of seeds but it might be better if we can find a nursery where we can get seedlings to start off with.”

    He unloaded the blue drums from the truck but before leaving he also checked the garden bed where he’d laid out the weeper hose. The hose had been running for just over an hour and although the soil held together a bit better now that it was moist it still needed more water so he left it as it was.

    Sally had cleaned up the breakfast dishes and put everything away in Dirk’s tent so it wasn’t long before they were headed towards the town and the farms around it. The nursery was found first as apart from wanting seedlings Dirk hoped the staff there might be able to tell him where he could get cheap mulching straw. That is, they might if they weren’t actually selling the straw themselves. Having purchased quite a range and amount of seedlings plus half a dozen bags of good quality potting mix the staff, not selling mulching straw were happy to recommend a couple of places where he could get it. He was in luck here too: One of the farms they went to had lucerne hay that had been spoiled by rain and as it was going really cheap Dirk purchased ten bales. And as if that wasn’t good enough a young lady who was there to buy good quality lucerne for her horses told them that she had bags and bags of manure for sale, and if they’d like to follow her home they were welcome to buy as much as they wanted.

    Unfortunately with the load the truck already had on it there was only room for twenty or so bags, but that would be enough to get two beds dug over. Telling the young lady that he would probably be back in a day or so he paid her for the bags then headed into town where he purchased another esky, filled it with ice at the service station and topped up the truck’s fuel tank. In the meantime Sally had gone to the supermarket to do a little bit of shopping and when Dirk pulled into the supermarket’s car-park she was standing by several plastic bags full of groceries waiting for him.

    “Just thought I’d get enough food to last four or five days rather than have to waste fuel coming into town every second day. I also got two more casks of wine though they’re both different from those you bought.”

    “No wonder you wanted me to pick you up here instead of carrying your “little bit of shopping” to the service station,” he said as they put the groceries on the floor of the cab behind the front seats. “OK, you ready to go back now?”

    After she’d grinned and nodded yes he put the truck in gear and they headed back to camp. When they got to the sign that pointed to the Waste Management and Recycling Centre Dirk stopped and looked down the road leading to the facility.

    “I should’ve thought of this before,” he said as he turned onto the road. “There might be a lot of good material here that we could use for building a cabin. No harm in checking it out anyway.”

    “It was worth the detour wasn’t it?” said Sally as the drove out about half an hour later. “I saw several good things that we’d be able to use if we decide to stay here.”

    “Yes. Not quite as cheap as free, but cheap enough. I had a look at a big bathtub that was in immaculate condition, but it was cast iron and very heavy. And did you see all the windows and doors they had stacked up? Some of them had lead-light glazing and the prices they had on them were ridiculously low compared to what you’d find in a recycling centre close to the city. That said, I’ve been warned that you have to be very careful when buying second hand windows and glazed doors: They sometimes take a lot more work to refurbish and install than new ones.”

    “There were lots of wall and floor tiles too,” put in Sally. “Perhaps not enough to do a complete floor or wall in any one colour, but you could make some really nice random patterns using similar or contrasting tiles.”

    “I’ve seen in magazines where people have done that,” he replied. “Some people really have a flair for that sort of thing don’t they? Most of the furniture there was pretty rough bit I did notice that there were several sets of kitchen cupboards and bench-tops that weren’t in too bad condition. Most of the damage I saw on those was probably due to them being ripped out of kitchens that were being remodelled. Be easy enough to repair any damage to them though.”

    When they arrived back at camp Dirk went straight to the garden bed on which the soaker hose had been laid and once again drove the garden fork into the soil. It was now a tad on the wet side but he knew that the moisture would drain away quickly so wasn’t worried about it. He moved the soaker hose to a second bed then went back to unload the truck, first taking the new esky to the tarp shelter then unloading the bags of potting mix, manure and bales of lucerne whilst Sally took care of the groceries. She also carried the trays of seedlings up to the trees close by the shelter and seeing that they had wilted a bit from being in the heat of the truck’s cabin where they’d been placed on the back seat, filled Dirk’s two watering cans and gave them a good shower.

    He was wondering what he should do next but when Sally suggested that it would be a good idea to go for a swim all thoughts of work were put aside and he quickly put on his swimmers and grabbed his beach towel. She was also ready to hit the water and fifteen minutes later they were swimming up and down the beach and frolicking in the waves. They noticed that this time there were three men and a woman fishing from the reef and after seeing them drag in a couple of fish Dirk suggested that perhaps they too should get a couple of rods and try their luck. Sally agreed, saying that they could become hunter-gatherers and it would be another cheap way to put food on the table.

    “And speaking of putting food on the table,” she said, “maybe it’s time we were getting back to put dinner on. I don’t want to have to cook in the dark.”

    “The Coleman provides more than enough light for cooking by but yeah, I agree it’s time to go back. I need to rinse off in fresh water. Be careful when you use the solar shower as the bags will be a lot hotter today than they were yesterday, possibly even too hot.”

    That turned out to be the case: The water in the shower bags was far too hot to use directly but Dirk solved that problem by half filling the two watering cans with hot water and topping them up with cold water from the spring. He then invited Sally to stand under the rose as he lifted one of the cans and tipped it so that she received a good shower. He hadn’t forgotten that she’d stripped off when showering the day before but he was surprised when she did the same with him standing behind her holding the watering can. He repeated the exercise with the second can, refilled both cans from the second shower bag and then it was her turn to give him a shower, although as he was six inches taller than she was he had to go down on his knees so he could rinse the salt out of his hair first.

    Dried and dressed they both set about getting dinner ready, Dirk as the hunter getting the fire going and tending to some lamb chops and Sally as the gatherer putting together a Greek salad. When adding the fetta she suddenly laughed, wondering where a gatherer would find fetta and other cheeses such as Brie and Camembert, or cheeses of any type really. Later, after they had eaten and were relaxing with a glass of wine she mentioned the thought to Dirk and although he laughed she noticed that a brief frown crossed his brow as he thought about it.

    “Goats,” he finally said.


    “Yeah, goats. If you had goats, or a house cow, you could make some of those cheeses. Not to mention having fresh milk, cream and butter.”

    “Whoever heard of a hippie keeping goats?”

    “Maybe hippies don’t, but a lot of homesteaders do, and I’m a hermit- hippie-homesteader remember. Except I’m not alone, don’t grow or smoke pot and don’t have a home to stead, whatever ‘steading’ is.
    But apart from that I’m all of the above.”

    “You know, I think it might be a good idea for me to let you stay here: You’re quite amusing, even if in a strange way.”

    Dirk took so long to think of a suitable retort that his mind wandered to a completely different subject before he said anything, and even when he did Sally was so engrossed with the chapter on herb spirals in the gardening book that he’d passed to her earlier that she almost didn’t hear.

    “Sorry, I missed that,” she confessed. “Got caught up in herb spirals. You were saying?”

    “I’m going over to the spring to take the hose out. Don’t want the garden flooded come morning. After I’ve done that I think I’ll turn in so’s I can get an early start in the morning.”

    “Take your time; I’ve still got a couple of pages to read.”

    “If I go straight to bed you can keep reading. When you finish just turn this knob here to put the light out,” he said, pointing to the knob he was talking about. “Use your torch when you go to your tent because you’ll be night-blind for a minute or so after you douse the lantern.”

    And that’s precisely what she did.

    * * * * *

    Dirk had been working hard at it for over an hour before Sally woke up and crawled out of her tent and during that hour he had managed to turn over and mix together the sandy soil and grass clippings of one of the garden beds. He had also emptied the bags of horse manure, spreading them out over a large patch of mowed grass clippings that they hadn’t as yet raked up and he was going to use the mower to shred the nuggets when they had dried out a bit. He’d also placed the two blue barrels close to the spring and they now supported the twin bowled kitchen sink under which he had placed an empty five gallon pail to catch drain water.

    “It’s only temporary,” he told Sally when she came over to have a look at what he’d done. “I’ll have to build a frame to support the sink at a more convenient height. Besides, I want to use the barrels for water.”

    “That’s good. Pity you didn’t salvage a toilet when you were doing your collecting. I don’t mind roughing it, but having to go into the scrub whenever I need to use the loo is a nuisance.”

    “You’re right. OK, how about after I’ve turned over the next garden bed we start working on building a composting toilet?”

    “We could, I guess, but I think it’d be better to camp here for a few more days before we start putting up any permanent structures. And if we do decide to stay here we could build the laundry and bathroom part of your cabin first then bit by bit add the kitchen then the living area.”

    “You’re not just a pretty face are you?” smiled Dirk. “That’s another good idea you’ve chalked up. What about building your cabin?”

    “We could build that after the kitchen of your cabin has been completed. Then, if there’s any material left over after my cabin has been built we could finish your cabin.”

    “Hmm. You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? Alright, big decision time: Are we going to have breakfast now, or do you want to work up an appetite by helping me dig in the garden before it gets too hot?”

    “Let’s do the digging first. After we’ve had breakfast we could explore the bush around the camp. I need to collect a lot of rocks to build my herb spiral so don’t be surprised if you see me taking off with your wheelbarrow.”

    “There’s still a bit of mowing to do here, and I think I should also clear the track leading to the beach. You can call me if you find any big rocks that are too heavy for you to lift.”

    Rummaging through his box of hose fittings he found the three way connector that he was looking for, added a second weeper hose using the fitting, moved the setup to the third and fourth beds then walked back up to the spring and attached the supply hose as he’d done the previous day. When he was sure the water was flowing they both set to work turning the grass clippings into the sand, with Dirk digging several rows ahead with Sally following behind with another garden fork and mixing them together. It took quite a while and Dirk had to laugh at the look on Sally’s face when he told her that after the manure was added later it would also have to be dug in. When the digging was done they washed up using the kitchen sink unit then cleaned it before having breakfast.

    “Dirk, I’ve been thinking: Would it be OK to set your picnic stove up so that we don’t have to light a fire when all we want is a cup of tea or coffee?”

    “Sure, no problem. In fact, I can do that right now if you want. It’ll only take a minute or two.”

    He set up the stove where she wanted it, attached the gas cylinder then whilst Sally filled and put the kettle on he took the cooking utensils from his camping gear and placed them on the shelf of the fold-away stand that the stove sat on.

    “There you are: Stove, sink, ice-box, table… We have a kitchen already by the look of it.”

    “Great. Now, Weet-Bix again, or do you want a cooked breakfast now that we have a kitchen?”

    “I think I’ll go with the Weet-Bix. How are we off for bananas?”

    “We still have five or six. I’m going to leave this pen and notepad on the table so if you think of anything you need next time we go into town just write it down.”

    Dirk looked at the notepad as they were having breakfast and saw that she had already begun her list, having written Fishing Rod at the top and beneath that canned tuna and tinned fruit – peaches, pears, pineapple, although what difference there was between something being canned or being tinned he had no idea.

    With breakfast out of the way Dirk prepared the brush-cutter for another attack on the long grass that remained on the clearing and the path down to the beach while Sally headed off along one of the tracks looking for the rocks she needed for her herb spiral. The brush-cutter was proving to be a bit obstinate in starting and while he was trying to find out what was wrong with it he heard Sally call out to him from the far side of the clearing. He called back though she mustn’t have heard him as she called him again, but this time her voice seemed to have a sense of urgency about it and thinking that she may have had a fall, or perhaps even found a snake he dropped the brush-cutter and ran across the clearing towards where he had last seen her. As he reached the edge of the clearing he looked down the slope to see Salley sitting on the grass about fifty feet away, her knees drawn up with her forearms crossed on top of them and her head bowed and resting on her arms. And she was crying. Hard.

    He ran down, skidded to a stop and dropped to the ground beside her, not sure what to do as she didn’t appear to be injured in any way that he could see. To his query of “What’s wrong Sally?” she didn’t raise her head but without moving her arms pointed weakly with one hand towards the tree close to where they were sat and sobbed “It’s not fair!” He wanted to go and have a look at the tree she had pointed to but at the same time he didn’t want to leave her side as it was obvious that she was highly upset about something. He put a hand out to touch her shoulder and was very surprised when she suddenly turned towards him, put her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shirt, crying even harder than before. He felt that there was no point in him saying anything at the moment so he simply sat there, letting her cling to him as over the next twenty minutes she cried herself out.

    “Oh Dirk, I’m so sorry,” she finally managed to say through her sniffles.

    “No, it’s all OK. Can you tell me what’s upset you or is it something you don’t want to talk about?”

    “I’ll be alright in a minute. Can you come with me? I want to show you something.” she said, letting go of him, getting to her feet and walking towards the tree she had pointed at.

    When they reached the tree it wasn’t until he had stooped to follow her under its pendulous outer branches that touched the ground all around it that he realised that they were now in the shelter of an enormous mulberry. Under the tree he saw that a small plastic table and two chairs, just the right size for young children had been set up, and under the table was a plastic box which, when Sally opened it half an hour before, had revealed a Paddington Bear. When he turned to Sally she had begun crying again, but this time there were just quiet tears sliding down her cheeks as she took the bear out of the box and held it close.

    “It was my little sister’s favourite toy. She was devastated when she found she’d left it here the last time we came. Dad told her that Paddington would be quite safe in his box and we would get him next time we came here, but then there was the accident and of course we never came back.”

    Dirk, sensing that she was reliving a tragic time in her life waited for her to continue in her own time rather than ask questions. It turned out that both her parents had been killed instantly when a drunk driver ran a red light and slammed into their car at high speed, and although her little sister had survived the crash she had been severely injured and died a short time later in hospital. Sally’s uncle and auntie had taken her and her brother in and given them both all the love and care that they could, and Sally would always be grateful for that, however when they began talking about sending her to university when she finished senior high school she told them that she would be leaving. Of course they were quite upset about that, telling her that there was sufficient money left to her in her parents Will for her to get the best education possible. However she just couldn’t see herself as a uni student and told them gently but firmly that it wasn’t going to happen. Her brother had decided to attend uni, but it was going to be with the army, and despite the love shown to her by her uncle and auntie she felt utterly alone and miserable when he left.

    The mulberry tree had been one of several fruit trees that their father had bought to plant around the clearing and it had been her sister that had chosen the spot, dug the hole, placed the seedling tree in it and watered it in. From that moment on it was her tree and each time they came to the camp she would always make a beeline for the tree first to check that it was OK. It grew well and after four years it was just big enough for a little girl to climb upon, swing on and have picnics with Paddington under.

    “I can’t bear the thought of Paddington being alone down here any more so I’m going to take and keep him with me always,” she said.

    As Dirk put his arm around her and began walking her back up to the campsite he had the feeling that all he wanted to do from now on was make sure that she would never feel alone again.

    “I’m sure your sister is thrilled to see that her Paddington is once again in loving hands,” he said. “Especially yours. You do know that she’s looking down from above, don’t you?”

    “Yes Dirk, I believe that,” she replied. “And so are my parents. You know, that’s probably the best thing that anyone has said to me in a long time.”

    She held Paddington up to the sky and called loudly “It’s OK sissy, I’ll take really good care of Paddington for you, I promise I will.”

    When she brought Paddington down and they continued walking up the slope Sally was now smiling, though for some reason Dirk now felt in danger of shedding a tear himself.

    “Are you alright now?” he asked. “I can leave the brush cutting until later if you want me to keep you company for a while.”

    “No, that’s OK. I’ve kept everything bottled up inside me for years and I think I just needed a good cry. I’m really glad you brought me here though, otherwise I might never have come back and found Paddington. You go ahead with the brush-cutting and I’ll go and get my rocks.”

    By lunch time Dirk had cleared the track to the beach and finished cutting down the grass, which he had left to dry out before running the mower over it to collect the clippings. The section where he’d spread out the horse manure the day before was dry enough though and he spent some time shredding the nuggets with the mower and emptying the catcher’s contents evenly over the two beds that they had turned over. He decided it would be probably be better to turn in the manure early that evening rather than now when it was reaching the hottest part of the day, and went to look for Sally. Finding her on one of the tracks, trying to push the wheelbarrow which had a substantial load of rocks in its tub, he took over and several minutes later had dumped the load beside the position where she wanted to build her garden.

    “Time for a break, Sal. What’s first: Lunch, or a swim?“

    “A swim. I probably wouldn’t feel like walking to the beach with a full stomach. So, swim, lunch, a nice nap and then we can continue with our projects.“

    “Seems like a good plan. I know you bought enough groceries to last a few days so we don’t have to drive into town too often but tomorrow I want to go and get another load of that lucerne hay and more manure, so how about we have a look at fishing rods while we’re out and about?“

    “Good idea. And I can get the tinned fruit I want. C’mon: Race you to the beach,” she said as she took off, running down the track that he’d cleared earlier.

    He managed to catch up with her just as she reached the stretch of sand separating the bush from the sea but he was surprised to find that it wasn’t quite as easy as he’d imagined because, as he found out Sally could run like the wind. Barely stopping to kick off the sandals they’d put on they hit the waves and spent almost an hour swimming up and down the beach before Dirk noticed a long line of blue-bottles being blown towards the shore and they got out of the water quickly. As they walked back to the camp Sally suggested that they get a few large containers of white vinegar as it was able to neutralise the stinging cells of a blue-bottle if they got stung by one. Her family always took a jug of it whenever they came to the beach as it was notorious for blue-bottles and that may have been one of the reasons that the beach wasn’t used much for swimming.

    The rest of the day went as planned: They had a lunch of sandwiches then lay down in the shade for a nap, snoozing for a couple of hours before getting on with their self-assigned tasks. Dirk managed to finish turning the manure into the vegetable beds and as Sally was probably only half- way towards getting all the rocks she needed he spent some time pushing the wheelbarrow for her.

    The shower routine was performed at the end of their working day and finally came a dinner of snags and three, not surprisingly washed down with a glass of wine, and Dirk smiled when he saw that close to the table Paddington had been sat on on tripod seat that Sally had made from sticks, twine and a pile of long grass cuttings. That bear, he thought, would most likely be spoiled rotten if he was a child and he had a vague feeling of jealousy when later Sally picked the bear up and took him to her tent when she went to bed. He turned off the Coleman and sat in the light of the half moon that had appeared from over the horizon about two hours before, thinking about the next project on his to-do list until a couple of annoying mozzies forced him to retreat to his tent.

    * * * * *


    The seedlings in their punnets under the trees had been watered and Dirk had laid out a large number of eight inch plastic pots, one for each seedling, and had half filled them with the potting mix he’d purchased. He then began carefully transferring each seedling from its punnet to the larger pot, topping it up with more potting mix as he did each one, and by the time he’d done that there were some sixty plants that now needed to be gently watered. When he’d finished he was surprised to find that it had taken nearly three hours to do the job, however by working in the dappled shade of the trees it had been quite a pleasant task.
    When Sally came over to have a look and asked him why he hadn’t just planted the seedlings straight into the garden beds he explained that the manure he’d dug into the beds and watered would still be a bit hot and could damage them, and only after they’d established a good root system in the pots would he transplant them.
    It was going to be an additional expense however after seeing several burrows in the surrounding bush he decided that he’d need to put a fence around the garden to keep the rabbits out. He measured out its length and breadth, finding that he’d need about fifty metres or so of wire mesh. Plus star pickets, fencing wire and whatever else would be needed, which if he followed the advice of a keen salesman would probably include a post-hole digger with a tractor attached he thought with a grin to himself.
    Sally had continued collecting rocks and now had a sizeable pile from which to chose the best shapes for fitting close together when she began building her herb spiral, although that wasn’t going to be started until she’d finished re-reading the chapter in Dirk’s gardening book. There were several plans she had in mind but the one that appealed to her most was to set up the spiral close to the pond to take advantage of the running spring water and make a feature garden of it. Dirk was impressed with the idea and as they sat and had breakfast he put pen to paper and sketched out a rough plan of what he thought she wanted to do, making a couple of suggestions as he did so.
    After breakfast, and with Sally’s help he unloaded the material for the two garden sheds from the truck, placing it close to where he planned to erect one of them, then all the other items apart from those in his tool box, which was bolted to the tray, were taken off and placed under the trees. Knowing that Paddington Bear hadn’t been disturbed for many years they reasoned that it’d be safe to leave their camp unattended, for short periods at least, so they piled into the truck and headed off to get more hay and manure, the fencing materials and whatever it was that Sally wanted to get. They also took the small esky as they needed to get more ice.
    Once in town Dirk dropped Sally off to do her shopping and drove to the farm where he bought more spoiled hay, and then to the property where he picked up another twenty bags of manure before returning. After he’d helped carry the groceries to the truck they went to a sports store to look at fishing gear and came out with a long beach rod and reel, and all the line, lures and sinkers needed for the tons of local fish that they were sure to catch. At least that was what the salesman had said as he handed them a pamphlet showing the minimum sizes and bag limits when fishing in New South Wales. Dirk said that maybe he’d try his luck on the weekend… if he could remember when that was as he seemed to have lost track of what day it was now.
    A stop at the hardware store resulted in a fifty metre roll of four foot high heavy gauge chicken wire, two dozen six foot star stakes, ten treated timber fence posts and a large coil of fencing wire being loaded onto the back of the truck. A gripple iron with two bags of gripples and a box of staples to suit the wire were put in the back of the cab. As they were about to leave the hardware store he suddenly remembered that he’d need to dig some pretty deep holes for the treated timber corner and gate posts so went back inside and came out with an Armstrong post-hole digger. They also stopped off at the nursery where Dirk bought another ten bags of potting mix, a bag each of Blood & Bone, Gypsum and Dolomite, a large bag of seed potatoes, and a container each of Sea-Sol and Molasses.
    Following a detour to the recycling centre on the way back Sally was now the happy owner of a set of bamboo wind chimes, and although she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to discard such a beautiful instrument she was happy to know that it would soon be hanging on a tree close to their shelter. Dirk came out waving a jaffle iron and when Sally said she’d never even heard of such a device let alone used one he was quick to tell her that she would be in for a treat when he showed her how it was used. However the main purpose of the detour was so that Dirk could have another look at the bathtubs, and although he would love to have had the cast iron bath he’d seen earlier he bought and had the staff help him load two large and deep fibreglass baths onto the back of the truck.
    It wasn’t until after midday that they returned and while Sally put the groceries away and began preparing lunch Dirk reversed the truck down to the garden and unloaded the material stacked on the back. With the truck parked back up under the trees he went over to the shelter where Sally had a late lunch of sandwiches waiting under a fly-proof cover that she’d bought, sat down and pulled the notepad and pen towards himself.
    “Sal, there are so many things that need to be done but each one seems to need doing first, so I think we’ll have to nut out a prioritised list. What do you think are the most important things to be done around here first?”
    “Well, considering that it looks like we’re going to stay here for a while I think we should finish the veggie garden and perhaps my herb spiral, though that’s not overly important. What we really need to do is build the laundry, bathroom and kitchen. What other jobs do you have in mind?” she said as she poured two cups of tea and took the cover off the sandwiches.
    “As you say, finish the veggie garden first, and I also want to clear a level space on top of the bank behind us and set up the above ground pool. I already have everything I need to do that so it can be done fairly quickly, though I might have to rope you in to help a bit. Then we can begin looking for the stuff we need to get started on the building. We should try and get as much on it done as possible before the weather turns nasty.”
    “Absolutely. OK, so how long do you think it’ll take to get the veggie garden finished?”
    “Working at an easy pace; a few days, and that includes putting up the pool. After lunch I’m going to spread out the bags of manure to dry out a bit then start forking over the next two beds. I decided to add another two beds and they’ll go on the far side of the beds we have now. They’ll be used for growing potatoes under straw, or in our case under lucerne hay. That’s why I got the extra bales and bags of manure. When all the beds are done I’ll put the fence up around them.”
    “You mean you’re going to dig more beds just for potatoes?”
    “No, I won’t be digging them: I’ll mow the grass as low as possible, break up the surface using the fork, throw on a bit of the Blood & Bone, Gypsum and Dolomite then lay out lots of newspaper on top and wet it. The seed potatoes are spaced out on the paper and then covered with the lucerne, the manure-grass mix and whatever good dirt I can find. We add as much compost as we can make through the growing period and by the time the spuds are ready to be dug up the soil will have improved dramatically. Then I’ll plant a cover crop of nitrogen fixers like tic beans, rye grass, Algerian oats and clovers on the bed and when it gets about knee high it’ll be slashed and dug in to help improve it even more. By the time the next planting season comes around the soil will be ideal for putting in corn, beans and squash.”
    “It’s hard to believe a computer programmer knows so much about gardening.”
    “Actually, I’m an expert: I’ve read three whole books on the subject, and I once grew a cumquat in a pot on the balcony of my city apartment.”
    “Did you really? How impressive! By the way, speaking of growing things: Are you trying to grow a beard or are you just too lazy to shave? Mind you, I think a beard would suit you really well.”
    “You really think so? I wouldn’t mind growing one again. I used to have one a long time ago but for some reason I shaved it off.”
    “For some reason? Ha! I bet you met a girl who didn’t like beards.”
    Dirk looked at her in surprise and wondered how she could have possibly known that, but the look on his face showed that he’d been caught out and Sally grinned triumphantly.
    “Did she look like me or, unbelievably, was she even more beautiful?”
    Dirk laughed. “Well, I have to admit that there was a girl, and she was very attractive, at least to look at. But it turned out she was pretty ugly on the inside, if you know what I mean: Extremely self-centred, selfish, possessive and very hot tempered. Even her best friends admitted that she could be a complete bitch at times. Anyway, I found all that out pretty quickly and the relationship, if ever there was one, only lasted about three months.”
    “Poor Dirk. Were you hurt badly?”
    “Terribly. Absolutely devastated. In fact I was just on my way to join the French Foreign Legion when we met. You know, you probably saved me from having to spend twenty years or so in the desert trying very hard to forget what’s-her-name.”
    “Lucky you didn’t lose your appetite and starve to death,” said Sally, grinning as she picked up the empty plate upon which the large pile of sandwiches had been sitting only a short time before. Before Dirk sat down and began helping himself to them that is.
    “You’ll probably only have just enough time to spread those bags of manure about before swim o’clock, so leave turning the last two beds over until tomorrow morning. I’ll help you get the garden finished then get on with my herb spiral.”
    Dirk went off to spread the manure, deciding that where the new beds would go would be a good place to start. He spread ten bags along the length and breadth of the new area and the remainder was spread over the grass that had been slashed with the brush-cutter but not mulched. He also positioned the two bath-tubs, supporting them on rocks to keep them stable then directed the hose from the pond to them both, restricting the flow so that by the time he and Sally got back from their swim the baths should be about half full.
    It was later in the afternoon than when they usually hit the beach and already the shadows of the dunes were beginning to creep across the sand towards the water. Pausing at the water’s edge they checked the surface for blue-bottles and having seen none they waded out to swimming depth then dived under the first incoming wave. They swam a few of their normal laps but as it was late and they were getting a bit tired they didn’t engage in their usual frolicking but walked back to the pleasant routine of preparing and having dinner, and just for a change a glass of Rosé instead of their usual white wine.
    Before sitting down to eat Dirk wandered over to the bathtubs and found that they were just over half full and he let the hoses run until he’d mixed a half cup each of Sea-Sol and Molasses into the water of each bath. That done he took the hoses out, broke open two of the bales of Lucerne and separated them into biscuits which he placed in the baths to soak.
    “See this?” Sally asked, holding up the book that she had been writing in when he returned to the shelter. “It’s my personal journal. Touch it, and you’ll find yourself joining the Foreign Legion after all, understand?”
    “Ahh, OK. I understand. What’s for dinner?”
    It was salad again of course, but this time with tuna, and tuna being fish they went back to having white wine, not that it really mattered Dirk had said, as a Rosé was just as acceptable provided it was cold.

    * * *


    Next day the first job had been to break up the soaked biscuits of lucerne and scatter them over the first two veggie beds. The thick mulch would keep the sun from drying the beds out quickly, the Sea-Sol would add lots of essential nutrients and trace elements to the soil and the molasses would stimulate bacterial growth in both mulch and soil, which hopefully would encourage lots of earth worms to move in.
    The mulching hadn’t taken much time to do and now the second two beds were being turned over to combine the sandy soil and grass clippings, after which they would break for breakfast. They’d found that by working in the early mornings and in the evenings they actually got more done than if they’d worked the same hours throughout the day, and agreed that the routine would be good to follow even after completion of the gardens and their cabins.
    Following their breakfast break Dirk rigged up a couple of hammocks under the trees for their afternoon siestas then took the mower over to the area he’d marked out for the potato bed and began to shred the manure that he’d spread out on it. He emptied the catcher onto the third and fourth beds as he did so and what manure and grass was not picked up was simply left where it was, along with another good sprinkling of the Blood & Bone, Dolomite and Gypsum to help enrich the soil underneath.
    After a few jabs with a garden fork into the soil showed that digging the bed would be more trouble than it was worth, especially considering how he was going to use it, he had Sally help him lay out the newspapers thickly over the surface and then laid out the weeper hoses to ensure the paper would be soaked through. When the paper was thoroughly wet they next spaced the seed potatoes out, cutting quite a few into halves sporting eyes from which shoots were beginning to show. Dirk left the cut potatoes in the sun for a while to harden off the cut surface a bit before placing them on the wet paper as he was afraid they might otherwise begin to rot.
    With the potatoes laid out the next batch of hay was retrieved from the bath-tubs and strewn on top, with another two bales of hay being opened and given a soak. By the time the bed was finished six full bales had been used to obtain the thickness that Dirk wanted and both his and Sally’s forearms were sticky from handling the malted sea-sol-water-logged hay.
    The mower was again brought into action and Dirk began shredding the last of the manure that had been spread out and adding it to the mulch on the potato bed. He would like to have added a bit of good soil to the bed too but as there was none to be had anywhere around their camp he decided to get one or two cubic metres of loam from the nursery the next time they went to town. He would also need to fill the two jerry cans he used to carry fuel for the mower and brush-cutter he realised as he picked up one that was half full, knowing that the other was already empty.
    Around midday they stopped work, washed off their sticky hands and arms and set about making lunch; again a plate piled high with a variety of sandwiches. With Dirk leading the attack on the plate it was soon devoid of all but a few crumbs and he then complained he was so full that he’d be barely able to make it to the hammock he’d rigged up that morning!
    Following their afternoon siesta, swim and shower Dirk laid out the star stakes and treated timber corner posts around the veggie garden, with posts for gates at the centre of each side. One gate would give access to the garden and the other would give access from there to the chicken run he was thinking of adding to the far side, though that plan was still up in the air at this point: Chickens would only be considered if they found they could get away with staying there undisturbed by the powers that be.
    As he was doing this Sally got the rocket stove going and following the instructions Dirk had given her had prepared buttered slices of bread and the fillings for the jaffles he was going to teach her how to make. When he returned, not having done much other than lay out the fence posts, she watched as he prepared the first two. He laid the first two slices of bread on the bottom of the iron, buttered side down, spooned in some baked beans and cracked an egg on each then placed the second slice of bread on top, buttered side up. Closing the iron on the bread he trimmed the corners and put it into the firebox of the stove then waited for several minutes, turning it every so often to make sure the contents were cooked evenly. When he took the iron out and opened it Sally was thrilled with the perfectly cooked jaffles and told Dirk she wanted to make the next two. Her efforts were successful despite that the jaffles she made were, shall we say, somewhat darker than Dirks, but she was really happy with the result.
    “Ahh… Just the way I like my poached eggs: Crisp!” said Dirk as he took a bite into the first of the two jaffles she had made.
    “Really? That’s good, because mine are perfect too,” Sally said as she laughed and bit into the first of the two he had prepared. “Do you want a Rosé or a white to go with that?”
    “A Rosé would be good, thanks.”
    As they relaxed after the meal a thought crossed Dirk’s mind: “The fire-trial that the spur comes off: Do you know where it leads to?”
    “It curves to the right a bit just after passing here then goes through to the beach. That’s probably where those fishermen we talked to at the reef parked their cars. My dad and Uncle Jim were working for the Main Roads Department years and years ago when the first highway was put through this area. They’d sometimes camp for a couple of weeks around each worksite rather than travel back and forward to the city and often went hunting for rabbits when they weren’t working. Uncle Jim found this spot after following the fire trail during one of their hunts and they sort of “borrowed” the machinery they operated to cut the spur and level the clearing. He and dad always said that this clearing and the spur were probably more level and smoother than any of the roads they’d worked on, and whenever we camped here they’d spend a couple of hours working on keeping it that way. I remember my mother even put in a small flower garden each side of the pond.”
    She sat and gazed into space as memories of the days she’d spent camping here with her family came back not to haunt her but to comfort her. It was if they were all together again and she covered her mouth and gripped her nose in a vain effort to stifle a sob.
    Dirk was at her side in an instant and as he put an arm across her shoulders she leaned towards him and laid her head against his chest.
    “Dirk, I really hope nobody throws us off this place,” she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. “My family is here. I can feel it. And I feel like it’s where I belong.”
    “Yes Sal, it is. It is your place, and in fact all things considered, I’m the one who’s a visitor here. Look, I don’t think anybody’s going to be interested in this land for quite a few years to come so we’ll probably be OK. And as I now acknowledge you as queen of this little kingdom I’ve decided to alter my grand design by making a switch: The big cabin will be yours, and I’ll take the shack down the back.”
    She gave a laugh and pulled herself upright. “But then you’d be most likely be regularly knocking on my door and asking if you can use the laundry to wash your clothes, or worse, asking me if I could wash them for you. Anyway, that’s a way off yet so we can talk about it later.”
    She stood up to go to her tent but before leaving ruffled his hair then stooped down and gave him a kiss on the cheek saying, “But thanks for the offer.”
    After she had gone Dirk poured himself another glass of wine and sat enjoying the noises of the night and, after putting out the lantern, the view of the starlit heavens while he thought about nothing and everything until his glass was empty.

    * * *
    There were two problems that Dirk found when he began work on the fence around the vegetable garden early in the morning. Firstly, when trying to dig a hole for the first of the corner posts he found that the soil was so sandy that the sides kept collapsing back into the hole. Hoping that the problem might be solved by wetting the soil he filled his two watering cans and poured them both into the hole that he’d started. With luck the soil would hold together long enough for him to dig down the three feet he wanted for the posts, though he would have to add more water and let it soak in as he dug deeper. The second problem was that the mash hammer he was using to drive the star posts into the ground wasn’t a good choice as it was difficult to wield and took too long, and perhaps a post driver would be faster and easier…. As the salesman had suggested when he’d purchased the posts.
    Leaving the star posts he concentrated his efforts on the first of the corner posts and after quite a bit of alternate digging and watering the hole finally got it into the ground. He didn’t bother tamping it in though as the salesman had said something about using gripples to pull the fence wire tight could pull posts out of true and he should put stays on all posts that had to take any strain, especially if the soil was as sandy as Dirk had said it was.
    He took a break for breakfast and was surprised to find that instead of the usual Weet-Bix with banana Sally gave him a large plate of sausages, eggs and tomatoes, with toast, no less! He told her about needing to get a post driver and some extra poles with which to make post stays however when she pointed out that it was now Sunday and the hardware store would probably be closed he decided to go ahead and just dig the main post holes.
    It had taken him a full hour to get the first post in position and after using his long tape measure to mark the position of all the holes, ensuring that the garden would be a perfect rectangle, he had Sally pour water onto each spot he’d marked while he went to work on the next hole. He established a pattern of digging a hole about a foot deep, filling it with water then moving to the next hole until he had completed a full circuit. By the time he returned to the hole he’d started with the water had soaked down and he was able to repeat the process until all the holes had been dug to the correct depth, though it took all morning to do it.
    Sally in the meantime had left the watering of the holes to Dirk and begun clearing the ground either side of the spring, and in doing so had uncovered the border of rocks around where her mother’s little flower garden had been. Now working furiously she cleared out all the old growth and by the time Dirk had completed his task she had finished hers, and as they were both rather grubby from their efforts it was time to hit the beach and clean off the dirt before rinsing off under the shower.
    “When are you going to try out your new fishing rod?” Sally asked as they walked down to the beach.
    “When I’ve finished fencing the veggie patch. I’ll have to go and get the extra things I need first thing in the morning but by Tuesday afternoon it should all be done. At least the fencing part. I’m going to get a couple of cubic metres of good loam if I can, and spread it straight from the truck onto the potato plot before I put the wire up. Actually I think I should get a bit more and we can use some for your herb garden.”
    “That’d be good. I’m actually thinking that maybe I could combine the herb garden with mum’s flower garden somehow. What do you think?”
    “It’s actually a good idea. You can read up a bit on companion planting in one of my books where you’ll find a table showing what grows best with which. I’m going to plant edible flowers in the veggie garden too, not so much for colour as for deterring pests.”
    They kicked their sandals off where the track met the sand and ran down to the water, checked for bluebottles then plunged in and began swimming. Stopping to look around and get his bearings Dirk suddenly felt his heart racing as he saw two dorsal fins break the surface a short distance out to sea, and without wanting to panic her swam to Sally and suggested that they swim to shore, citing a sudden cramp as the reason. Once on the sand he looked back out over the water and was relieved to find that the fins he’d seen were not those of sharks, as he had feared, but of two dolphins of a pod that was swimming close to the shoreline.
    When he pointed the fins out to Sally her heart thumped wildly for a moment until he told her they were dolphin fins and she excitedly ran back into the water hoping they would come closer. Unfortunately they didn’t but she was still quite thrilled with the sighting. Her good mood continued as when about to leave the water and return to the camp she leapt on Dirk’s back and told him he would have to carry her up to where they’d left their sandals. Halfway up the beach he suddenly cried “Cramp!” dropped to the sand and twisted his body so that she came off his back. Before she could recover he rolled her over a couple of times so that she was covered in sand and in response she pulled him down so that he too was covered, and they had to run back into the sea to wash it off, laughing all way.
    “Next time I go to a place that sells camping gear I’ll see if I can get a couple of bars of sea-soap,” he said to Sally as once back at the camp they performed their now traditional rain dances under the watering cans.
    “Sea soap? I’ve never heard of it.”
    “Ever tried to use ordinary soap in saltwater? It’s useless. Normal soap is sodium based and doesn’t dissolve easily in salt water, but sea-soap is potassium based and does. Ideal in situations where you need to save fresh water, such as here, or on boats.”
    “You’re a mine of information, aren’t you?”
    “Yeah. Though most of it’s useless. Interesting perhaps, but useless just the same.”
    “Well, at least everything you’ve done or told me so far has been good so I’m not complaining. Can you get the fire going for me please? I’ve got a pack of chicken thighs in the esky and I’m going to do apricot chicken for tonight’s dinner. And I can cook rice to go with it if you’d like a change from salads.”
    “That sounds really good. Are you going to use the oven?”
    “No. Your heavy cast-iron frypan will be OK. When the fire’s going can you come back and chop up the carrots, celery and onions for me? It makes me cry when I do onions but I noticed that it doesn’t seem to bother you.”
    They took their camp chairs over to the fireplace and sat talking and drinking glasses of cold water from the spring, with Sally keeping an eye on the pieces of chicken browning in the fry-pan. When the chicken was nearly browned to her satisfaction she added the chopped vegetables, frying them until they were also browned, then half a large can of apricot halves in natural juice and a packet of French Onion soup mix, finally leaving it all to slowly simmer until the chicken was cooked through.
    “Do you need me to get the lid for the pan?” Dirk asked.
    “No. There’s a lot of liquid in there at the moment but if I leave the pan uncovered it’ll help reduce the liquid to a sauce, which I think is a much better way than using cornflour to thicken it. I have to keep a close watch on the rice though; I don’t want it sticking to the bottom of the saucepan and burning.”
    Thirty minutes later they’d returned their chairs to the shelter and sat at the table enjoying the meal. And wonder of wonders, they were still drinking spring water! That changed when they decided to have desert and agreed that a nice white would go well with the small can of pineapple rings and the left-over apricots that Sally was now serving with cream.
    “We’ll have to get more ice for the esky tomorrow. I don’t suppose your mine of useless information includes anything about how to build a non-electric ’fridge does it?”
    Dirk laughed. “No, but as we’re staying here maybe we should get one of those fridges that uses gas or kerosene. Which reminds me: I have to get fuel for the Coleman. I’ll have a think about it but we might be stuck with using the esky, at least until we can get a kitchen built.”
    Not bothering to light the lantern they sat and talked until the sun had dropped below the horizon then as darkness began to descend on the camp made their way to their tents, looking forwards to a good night’s sleep.

    * * *


    Having left their camp after an early breakfast Dirk and Sally were waiting to drive in and load the truck with the first items on their list of materials when at eight a.m. the gates of the hardware store’s compound were swung open. They spread out a large tarp on the tray and draped it over the sides and tail-gate of the truck and two cubic metres of garden loam were dropped onto it by a tractor with a three-in-one bucket. The tarp was folded back over the top to prevent the loam being blown off when they were driving and the twelve poles that were going to be used as stays for the fence corner and gate posts were laid on top of it. He also got a dozen heavy stakes for the poles to bear against at the ground end. Sally came out of the building pushing a new wheelbarrow into which she’d placed the twenty litre container of kerosene and the post driver that Dirk had purchased.
    “We already have a wheelbarrow,” said Dirk when she came to the truck.
    “No: You have a wheelbarrow, and it’s big and too heavy for me to push when it’s full so I got a smaller one for myself. Is the kero OK in the cab or do you want it up on the back?”
    “I’ll put it on the back,” he said as he hoisted the drum out of the barrow and placed it on the tray along with the post driver. Sally’s garden barrow was in fact quite a lot lighter than his big builder’s barrow and he had no difficulty in lifting and placing it on the back where it was secured with a length of rope.
    Following a conversation with one of the staff members who handled fencing products Dirk’s final purchase was a medium sized chainsaw plus a chain file and guide, and a five litre container of bar oil. He would use the saw to cut notches in the posts for the stays and although it was a relatively small job he figured that the saw would be convenient to have if he needed to cut firewood.
    “It’s lucky the camp is fairly remote,” said Sally as they drove to the shopping centre. “Otherwise with your brush-cutter, mower and now the chainsaw the noise might attract a bit of attention.”
    “I guess so, but once we have everything done it’ll go back to being peaceful and quiet. You know, the camp does appear to be pretty remote, but we haven’t been far away from it since we arrived, except to drive into town. I think it might be a good idea to drive around the area and see what the neighbourhood is like.”
    “Good idea. And I’ve got another: How about we pack a picnic lunch and go exploring. We’ve been working for a week, not that it’s been hard work of course, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a day off. Maybe you could even try out your new fishing rod.”
    “Now that’s an even better idea. I’m really keen to get the fence up though, and that could take a whole day. How about we go the day after?”
    “Yeah, OK then. I heard the guy back at the hardware store suggest setting the posts in concrete. You don’t want to do that?”
    “If it was land that I owned I might, but if we were ever told to clear off I’d want to take everything with us, and pulling out posts set in concrete would sure take some time and effort. Not that I think that will happen any time soon. At least, I sure hope not.”
    “Me too. OK. Here’s the shopping centre. Do you need anything that’s not on my list? Lobster, pate, caviar, more wine?”
    “Good Lord, Sal. You mean you don’t have those staples permanently written on your list?”
    She grinned as she got out of the truck and went to do the shopping while Dirk headed off to the servo to top up the truck’s fuel tank and fill the smaller esky with ice, the larger one also having been brought along to fill with the cold goods that Sally wanted to buy. When she met him in the carpark later her groceries were placed in the truck and they decided to do some window shopping and have an early lunch at one of the town’s cafés before returning to camp.
    Dirk found a shop that sold camping gear and although they didn’t have any in stock he was told that sea-soap could be ordered in for him if he was willing to pay up front because there wasn’t much call for it, and they didn’t want to be stuck with stuff they couldn’t sell quickly. He paid them for the soap and said that he’d come back next Monday and pick it up, if it had arrived by then, otherwise he’d call in the following week.
    They ordered quiche and a salad for lunch and though it was nothing to write home about it at least it was a change from eating at camp. While they enjoyed being able to have a meal without having to bother about cleaning up afterwards Sally thought that the prices they charged were a bit steep until Dirk pointed out that considering the overheads involved they were really quite reasonable, and that had they been in the city the meal would have been even more expensive.
    Once again back at the camp Dirk helped Sally unload the groceries, the can of kerosene and her wheelbarrow before changing into his working duds of old shirt, shorts and boots, and drove the truck over to the veggie patch where he unloaded the poles and stakes. Reversing the truck up to the potato bed he began shovelling loam onto the mulch, swinging the shovel so that each throw was spread wide and trickled through the hay rather than sit on top of it. He moved the truck two more times before he had taken all the loam off the back then remembered he was supposed to leave some for Sally’s garden. Not a big problem though, because her garden wasn’t yet ready and he could get more soil later.
    With the loam in place he could now turn his efforts to putting up the fence, the first part being the marking and cutting of notches into the posts to accept the stays, which also had to be cut to fit the notches. He was thankful that the staff member at the hardware store had sketched out on a piece of paper just how the posts and stays had to be cut and having marked out the first post decided to install it to make sure his markings were correct.
    The chainsaw, already fuelled and with chain-bar oil added, made light work of the cutting and a short time later the first post, which was already in position, was fully braced and Dirk spent some time solidly tamping in the soil around its base with a fencing bar. The top part of the stays fitted nicely into their notches, mostly because of the care he had taken in following the directions given him, and after he had hammered the large wooden stakes into the ground at their base ends the corner post seemed to be quite solid. Well pleased with his efforts he continued on to the next corner post, which half an hour later was also solidly fixed in place, and he might have continued to the next had not Sally come down to have a look at his work and tell him that it was time for a swim. She was so impressed with his efforts thus far, and also that he had worn the safety hat, face-shield and ear-muffs when using the chainsaw that she told him that as he was such a good boy he could have a glass of wine at dinner time.
    “Sounds good. What’s for dinner?”
    “Isn’t a glass of wine enough?” she said and when he pouted added “Actually, while you were playing farmer I made a lasagne. When we get back from our swim we’ll see how well the rocket stove’s oven works. Of course if it doesn’t we’ll only be having salad.”
    “And wine. Don’t forget the wine.”
    “Ahh… OK,” she said, and putting on a complaining voice whined “Oh Dirk, I told you we should’ve bought a proper gas range and oven.”
    Dirk laughed, called her an idiot and then got chased down to the beach.
    Following their swim they found that the oven really did work and the lasagne came out done to perfection. Well, almost, Sally said as she slid it back into the oven for another five minutes, and put the foil wrapped sticks of garlic bread in at the same time.
    “Dirk, do you think we could build a bench close to the rocket stove and put a sink in it? Then when the cabin’s finished we’ll have both an indoor and an outdoor kitchen.”
    “Sure. It’s a good idea and wouldn’t be difficult to do. We could build it out of rocks so that it matches the fireplace.”
    He grabbed his pencil and sketch pad and while she was getting the lasagne out of the oven did a quick drawing of what he thought she wanted and showed it to her when she sat down.
    “Yes, something like that. I know you want to keep your double sink for the cabin so perhaps we could get a bench and sink unit from the recycling centre and simply cover the back and sides with rocks.”
    “Even better. Of course, it’s going to need quite a few rocks whichever way we do it, so I guess you and your new wheelbarrow will be pretty busy for a while. I’ll help you of course, but I really want to finish the garden fence first.”
    “That’s OK. Another thing: Your sheds. Do you want me to help put one of those up?”
    “Yes please. I could do it by myself but it’d be far easier and faster if we do it together. If we began erecting it first thing one morning we could have it up before lunch-time. Let’s do it on Thursday ’coz I’ll be spending most of tomorrow on the fence and we’re going exploring on Wednesday.”
    “No, let’s put it up on Wednesday and go exploring Thursday. That way we can lock up stuff that somebody might want to pinch if they came through here while we’re gone.”
    “Well, I don’t think that’s likely, but either way. Why don’t we decide on Wednesday morning?”
    “OK. Another glass of wine?”
    “Oh, if you insist,” he answered, immediately holding his glass out.

    * * *

    Before breakfast two more corner posts and two of the gate posts had been installed and Dirk was itching to get the last two posts in so that he could start putting up the wire.
    “I remembered this morning that the days will begin to get shorter and colder as winter approaches,” he said to Sally as she was getting out the makings for breakfast. “We’re going to have to put in a bit of hard work if we want some solid shelter when the temperatures start to fall.”
    “I thought of that too. Actually the winters here aren’t too bad but all the same, we’d better start sourcing materials for the cabin ASAP. Have you had any more ideas about how or what we’re going to build it with?”
    “Several, though the one I’m most keen on is mud-brick.”
    “Mud-brick?! Are you serious?”
    “Most definitely. I’ve always dreamed of building a mud-brick house. I’ve got a couple of books about mud-brick building that you can have a look at and I think, or at least I hope that you’ll be impressed enough to agree. Anyway, for now I’m going to get on with that fence: I want to get it finished by the end of the day.”
    He cleaned up his breakfast dishes and got his two books on mud-brick building out of the truck and gave them to Sally then sauntered over to the garden to get on with the job. An hour later the last two posts were in place and he began to lay out the wire, which would have proved to be a mongrel of a job had he not had a spinner on which to place the coil. Considering that he was going to have three strands to support the mesh plus two more beneath it he decided that the small hire charge for the spinner was well worth the money.
    The posts stood five feet high on three sides, and eight on the side where the chicken pen would go, and as the mesh was four feet wide, his plan was to hang it two or three inches off the ground and put three or four tight strands of wire under it. This would hopefully keep the rabbits out but still enable him to use a whipper-snipper along the fence without the line getting caught up and damaging the mesh. The wire strands were laid out and threaded through holes in the star posts, and by lunch-time, though admittedly a rather late lunch-time, they’d all been installed and pulled tight with the gripple iron.
    Over lunch Sally told him that she’d had a look at one of the books on mud-brick building and though she had been very impressed thought that it would take a long time to make enough bricks to build a cabin with. Not to mention that they had no soil suitable for making the bricks anyway, as far as she could tell. Dirk wasn’t at all perturbed by that, saying that perhaps he might be able to source the material and even make the bricks elsewhere and bring them back. Otherwise he thought maybe he could build a post and beam structure, if he could find the timber that is. The biggest problem as he saw it was going to be the roof: Where to get enough corrugated iron to build that?
    He opted out of the afternoon siesta, preferring to get the fence mesh up and Sally gave him a hand. The mesh was laid out and cut to length, then lifted and secured to a gate post with the heavy duty staples. With Sally’s help the first run of mesh was lifted and loosely clipped to the top and bottom wires and was then pulled taut. Getting tension on the mesh might have been a difficult job however Dirk used a four foot length of wood into which he drove nails so that the heads were left protruding enough to engage the mesh, then attached the wood to the cable of the truck’s winch. Engaging the winch he slowly pulled the mesh taut then secured it to the first corner post, after which he and Sally clipped the bottom and centre of the mesh to the wires.
    When they’d finished the resultant fence looked extremely well made and they were both very proud of the job done, with Dirk being most relieved that due to the stays the corner posts hadn’t been pulled out of true. The other sections of fence were completed in the same manner and all that remained to do was construct the gates at each side, or even easier, find a pair of ready-made gates at the recycling centre.
    They may have skipped the afternoon siesta but there was still time for a quick swim before dinner so they headed for the beach, unfortunately finding when they got there that the seas had built up a bit and waves were now dumping their weight, along with a lot of seaweed onto the sand. They walked down to the reef and out onto it, going as far as they could until thoughts of a rising tide trapping them made them return quickly to the beach. The smooth rocks were quite slippery in places, particularly where they were covered with algae and Sally held Dirk’s hand for balance as they covered the distance. She didn’t need any assistance walking back up to the dunes and along the track back to camp but they found themselves still holding hands anyway. Neither of them said anything but somehow it just seemed to be the natural thing to do.
    “When we go to the recycling centre to look for the gates we need, I think we should also have a look at the kitchen benches,” said Sally. “And if we can find them, a solid table and a couple of chairs: The fun of sitting on camp chairs to eat has palled a bit.”
    “I agree. How about we put up the shed then go to the recycling centre. We can decide in the morning if we want to do that or go exploring. By the way, when we were down at the beach I had another idea: Next time we go down there we’ll take the wheelbarrows and collect some seaweed. I can use it as mulch on the potato bed.”
    “But it’ll be too salty, won’t it?”
    “No. Most people would think so, but seaweed doesn’t actually have any salt in it at all. Some on it, yes, but not in it. Wash it off with some fresh water and it’s good to go. The important thing is not to dig it into the soil: That’s asking for trouble because it would use all the available nitrogen in the soil as it decomposes. If you just leave it on top as mulch it will break down of its own accord and add lots of valuable nutrients to the soil. Cheaper than buying Sea-Sol, though did I mention that collecting seaweed is illegal on most beaches? Not to worry, I don’t think the amount we’d be taking would be noticed.”
    After a dinner of lamb leg chops and a salad they sat and read; Sally the second book about mud-brick building and Dirk a fishing magazine that he’d picked up when they were in town, however the omission of their afternoon siesta soon showed up as a series of wide yawns from both of them and before long they abandoned the books and headed for their tents.

    * * *


    Not being able to make up their minds it had been the toss of a coin that had them erecting one of Dirk’s garden sheds rather than exploring the countryside further afield, and by breakfast time they had the concrete block supports for the base frame laid out and levelled, the bearers placed on top and the floor joists nailed in position.
    After breakfast Dirk placed the floorboards on the joists, nailed them down then secured six inch wide lengths of damp-course around the perimeter, allowing half the width to overhang each side. When the walls were erected the damp-course would be folded upwards inside the shed and downwards on the outside so that rainwater wouldn’t seep inside.
    The floor completed, the wall panels were then tek-screwed together, the back wall having a fixed widow and the front wall two sliding doors that could be secured by a padlock, and with the help of two wooden props the walls were raised and screwed together at each corner. The ridge beam of the gable roof went up next and the roof panels, two of which were of translucent Alsynite, were then slid up into position and secured by Sally using Dirk’s cordless drill and a box of weather-proof tek screws. He’d cut a circular hole in one of the roof panels close to the ridge and over the hole Sally secured the whirly bird vent which would help keep the temperature in the metal shed down. She had never done anything like that before and though she was only doing so now because Dirk had said that the roof was more likely to support her weight than his she was enjoying the challenge.
    The floor of the shed was about a foot above ground level but rather than a step Dirk had built a ramp which would make it easy to push the mower and wheel-barrows inside if they had to, though for the most part the barrows would be simply placed upside down under the trees as they took up too much room. To the left of the double doors he installed a row of Dexion shelving, the metal for which had also been scavenged though he’d had to buy plywood for the shelves. The shed was completed by lunch-time and Sally was very impressed by the result of their efforts, not to mention her own satisfaction in having used a cordless drill for the first time, and decided that perhaps building a mud-brick house actually would be within Dirk’s capabilities… If she was there to help him of course.
    Following the emptying of a large plate of what-else-but-sandwiches, which Sally had come to realise were Dirk’s favourite fast food, they drove to the recycling centre and began hunting for the items they wanted. First found was an eight foot long kitchen bench which, despite having a small amount of damage to one side and no sink, would suit the purpose for which it was intended, especially as Sally was able to find a stainless steel sink that Dirk could install in it. They also found an old but very solid table that had seen better years, and there were so many chairs available that it took Sally some time to decide on those she wanted. They weren’t able to find gates for the garden though they did find several eight foot lengths of pool fencing, one of which Dirk bought to cut in half to make the gates himself.
    He got into a deep discussion with Robert, a staff member who he was now on first-name terms with, and heard that there was a rumour that the recycling centre, sans staff, was going to be privatised and relocated to a new waste management facility being mooted for the other side of town.
    “It might only be a rumour,” he told Dirk. “But if it does happen most of these goods here will be either slashed in price or simply given to anyone who wants them. Anything not gotten rid of would then simply be pushed into the current landfill site because it wouldn’t be cost effective to move it. I’ll keep you up to date with what’s happening, but if there’s anything you want from here just let me know and I’ll put it aside for you.”
    “Thanks Rob. There are quite a few bits and pieces we’ll want to get over the coming weeks and I’d hate having to travel too far to get them. I’ve also had my eye on that cast-iron bath for a while but it’s more a problem of weight than price.”
    “Really? I could load it onto your truck with our forklift if you want. If you don’t live way out the back of Woop-Woop I could also go with you and give you hand unloading it, though that’d cost you a beer.”
    “Thanks Rob. I could probably afford that, provided you don’t drink some kind of fancy imported stuff. Anyway, I’ll let you know the next time we’re here. Right now we have to head off, so we’ll catch you later.”
    Not wanting to reveal anything to him about precisely where he and Sally were living and what they were up to Dirk quickly shook hands with Rob, got into the truck and headed back to camp where the table and chairs plus the kitchen bench and sink were unloaded, along with the panel of pool fencing. All in all, he said, it had been a very successful day and though they’d earned themselves a swim before anything else was done it’d be a good idea to take their wheelbarrows down to the beach when they went.
    Unfortunately the effort of pushing wheelbarrows filled with seaweed over the sand wasn’t quite as easy as Dirk had thought it would be and after returning to the camp after their swim he decided it would be better to take his truck down to the beach. As now was as good a time as any he put the two barrows on the back of the truck, told Sally to jump in and when she was seated drove back to the road leading to the Recycling Centre and the beach. It was the first time that Sally had been to the part of the beach they drove to now but there were plenty of places close to the sand where he could park and they made quite a number of trips with the barrows, moving up and down above the high tide level where piles of seaweed were drying in the sun. The dried weed was much lighter than the wet stuff of course and before long they had a large amount piled up on the tray and had driven back to the camp where it was unloaded and spread over the potato beds.
    Later that evening the two campers, who in reality were now squatters, sat on their new chairs at their new table and admired their new veggie garden and the shed as they planned their next project. Though there were several to choose from Dirk felt that clearing a space and putting up the above-ground pool for water storage should be done first, as he knew that the long run of good weather they’d experienced so far couldn’t last forever. And if he they were going to do that he might as well set up the solar hot-water system and shower he had in mind. Despite his assurances that it would be OK Sally was a bit dubious about using a plastic barrel for hot water and suggested that perhaps they could get an old hot-water service tank from the recycle centre. Dirk had to agree that that was probably a much better idea, but in the meantime he could go ahead with putting up the pool, which he now called “The Reservoir” as nobody would be swimming in it.
    Another project would be facing the back and sides of the kitchen bench unit with rocks and as that should also be done while the weather was good they decided to do both at the same time: Dirk would clear and level the site for the reservoir and hot water tank while Sally would continue collecting more rocks for her herb garden and the kitchen bench. But not tomorrow: Tomorrow they’d be going to explore the surrounding area, and with that in mind they opted for an early night.
    * * *
    “Take one every four hours,” said the doctor at the Emergency Department of the local hospital after examining Sally’s swollen eyelid and giving her a small container of antihistamine tablets. “The swelling should be gone before the end of the day, but if it hasn’t, come back in.”
    Dirk had driven Sally to the hospital after she had woken very early that morning to find that during the night an insect or bug of some type had bitten or stung her, and her eyelid had swollen so much that she was unable to see anything with her left eye.
    “Lucky the E.D. wasn’t busy,” said Dirk as he began driving back to the camp. “I thought we’d have to wait for a couple of hours to see a doctor. Puts a bit of a dampener on the day though, doesn’t it?”
    “A little, though it would’ve been much worse if I’d been bitten by a snake. At least it isn’t painful, and there’s nothing wrong with my right eye so I still want to go sight-seeing.”
    “Really? OK. Want to go back and have breakfast, and maybe make up some sandwiches before we go?”
    “I’m not really hungry at the moment. How about we just start our tour now and have brunch somewhere a bit later. Unless you’re feeling hungry of course.”
    “No, I’m OK for now. You know, the road that the track to the camp comes off looks like it’s used a bit so I was thinking of following it to see where it goes.”
    “Fair enough,” she said as she rummaged through the truck’s glove-box looking for and finding a pen to go with the notepaper she’d found in the back of the road atlas. “I’ll make up a rough mud map as we go, just in case we find some place that we might want to come back to.”
    Passing the spot where they would normally turn off onto the track to the camp site Dirk continued down the unsealed road, noting that a few miles further along the rusted wire of an old fence could be seen running along the side closest to the coast. He was wondering if it was part of the fence they’d found when exploring the slope opposite the campsite, and if the scrub beyond was actually farmland rather than Crown land when Sally suddenly asked rather excitedly “Can you see what I see?” He looked ahead to where she was now pointing and saw the remains of a structure that had obviously been given over to the elements of nature a long time ago.
    “You mean that old collapsed building? It looks like it might’ve been a small hay or machinery shed in the distant past.”
    “Really? I think it looks more like a source of roofing iron for a cabin. Or for a chicken coop if it’s not good enough for that.”
    “Now that’s really smart thinking,” said Dirk as he pulled over to the side of the road opposite the fallen timbers and iron. “Let’s go and have a closer look.”
    “You go. I didn’t put on this nice dress just to tear it up going through barbed wire fences. Remember we’re only touring today, but if you find anything we can use I’ll help you get it later, when I’m wearing something more suited to dirty work.”
    “Yeah, OK. It’s a very nice dress, by the way.”
    After making his way along a short access road to the remains of the shed he guessed that its collapse had probably been caused by a storm taking out the bush pole supports and the wall of curved timber slabs at the far end, allowing the roof to fall to the ground. Pacing out its length and breadth he estimated that the shed was about fifteen metres long and nine wide, and had stood between five and six metres high. He also found that rather than being heavily rusted, the corrugated steel sheets had actually been painted red however while time and the elements had weathered them on their exposed sides most were in reasonably good condition. Some of the sheets were a bit bent and twisted where the roof had hit the ground when it came down however it didn’t take him long to calculate that there would be more than enough good panels to roof the planned cabin and build a chicken coop. Most of the damaged panels could be straightened out enough to use by hammering them back into shape over a short length of three inch diameter pipe, and at least would be good for building the coop. And the timber slabs used for the walls of the shed could also be used for the walls of coop, or a cabin if it came to that. Whatever they decided to do with it, he told Sally when he returned to the truck with the good news and continued their drive, they’d be back to scavenge as much of the useful material as they possibly could.
    The road they were on ended at a Tee intersection and feeling that the unsigned but sealed road ahead led back to the freeway if he turned left he swung to the right and accelerated along the smoother surface. Within minutes a small town came into view and as they approached it a sign beside the road informed them that it was named Brocklesbury, and that it had a population of twelve hundred. They were to learn later that there was actually less than half that number as a bushfire eight years previously had all but destroyed the town and many people had left, but the sign had never been changed. A small lake upon which ducks and geese were happily paddling about drew their attention and on its far side there appeared to be a park overlooked by a row of shops. Dirk drove into the town and parked in the shade of one of a dozen or so large jacaranda trees growing opposite the row.
    “Do you think there might be a place where we can get a bite to eat?”
    “Bound to be. It’s a nice little place isn’t it? I had no idea it was here, and I don’t think my parents knew of it either. Well, I suppose they might have, but if they did I can’t remember them ever bringing me here.”
    Sally took his arm as they crossed the road to the shops and then held his hand as they walked up and then down the length of the street, finally entering a small café from where an enticing aroma of prepared food emanated. Inside they found that the café was connected by internal doors to a bakery on one side and a delicatessen on the other, and at the rear was a courtyard covered by a pergola over which grew a beautiful blue wisteria vine. After ordering a light meal from the menu displayed on the front counter they sat at one of several sets of wrought-iron tables and chairs set up under the pergola and simply relaxed.
    They were both impressed by the way the café had also been set up as a book exchange to cater for readers, having many shelves full of a great range of both paperbacks and hard cover books, and it wasn’t long before they’d each found a novel to read. Their meals were finished long before the novels they were reading so Dirk purchased both before they left, assuring the lady behind the counter that they’d be back to exchange them when they next came to town.
    The lady behind the counter, Mai Tran, smiled and told Dirk that they were welcome, however if they were going to be regulars they should know that the residents always referred to Brocklesbury as “The Village” rather than “The Town”, which was forty minutes drive away. And being a staunch supporter of the village she added that if her children didn’t have to attend high school, cadets and sporting events there she’d be happy if it was a hundred and forty minutes away as almost everything they wanted or needed could be had right here in the village.
    During their conversation it turned out that Mai had a fear that, being not really too far from the town, property developers might try to move in and destroy the peaceful village lifestyle that the residents currently enjoyed. The last thing they needed here, she said, was to have a hundred shoulder to shoulder McMansions built on tiny blocks that left no space for a decent garden or for children to play in. It was now happening all over the country but more often in areas that had little to offer once the land had been cleared of those same elements that had initially attracted the money hungry developers.
    Before leaving, Sally checked out the delicatessen, and being pleasantly surprised to find a range of items that many a city deli would be hard put to equal told Dirk that it would become a regular stop once they’d settled into their cabins. Then, lured by the tantalising smell of freshly baked bread drifting from the bakery on the other side of the café she went inside and bought a half dozen wholemeal bread rolls and a couple of pastries to take back to the camp.
    “Wow, that café lady sure has it in for developers, doesn’t she?” Dirk laughed as they left and headed for the truck.
    “And with good reason,” replied Sally. “Makes me even happier that our neck of the woods doesn’t seem to attract any attention.”
    “Yeah, but I’ve been thinking about that: That old hay-shed we were looking at obviously wasn’t built on Crown land so I think we should try and find out the status of the land where our camp is. It might turn out to be private property. Not that it matters much I guess as either way we’d be considered to be occupying the place illegally.”
    “Well aren’t you a little ray of sunshine? We’d better keep our heads down and just hope that nobody notices our flagrant disregard of the law, otherwise we’ll find ourselves back in society working at jobs we don’t particularly like, and having to live in places where we have to pay rent. Uggh! Anyway, let’s put that out of our mind for now. Where should we go from here?”
    “Let’s go and check out the bay that the lady at the café told us about.”
    “Mai. The lady at the café said her name is Mai.”
    “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
    “And my name’s Sally, in case you’ve forgotten that too.”
    “Not likely to forget that in a hurry,” he said, and as he turned his head to look at her noticed that the swelling of her eyelid had subsided to the point that it was barely noticeable.
    When he told her that she flipped down the sun visor on her side of the cab and finding no mirror there swung the rear view mirror to where she could have a quick look, leaving Dirk to readjust it so that he could once again see through the back window properly. Laughing at the look on his face as he did so, and satisfied that all was well with her eye she said that she would stop using the tablets and keep those remaining in case she got bitten or stung again.
    From the eastern end of the village to the beach the road on which they were travelling was being completely resurfaced, rather than just being patched, and driving slowly and carefully past the workmen who waved them through soon found themselves at a small carpark at its end. Leaving the locked truck and their footwear behind, their feet were soon covered with golden sand as they trudged around the water’s edge, wishing they’d brought their swimmers.
    “This would be a great place for snorkelling wouldn’t it?” said Sally.
    “That’s strange: I was just thinking the same thing. Not that I have any snorkelling gear, but if we came here regularly it’d be worth getting a set each.”
    “The place where you bought your fishing rod sold that type of stuff, so the next time we’re in town we could buy a couple of sets. And a couple of decent beach towels too. Gosh that water looks so inviting: We really should have brought our swimmers.”
    “How about we get a large tote for swimming and snorkelling gear and keep it in the truck?”
    “Along with another esky for food and drinks. Good idea.”
    Not being able to swim at present they made their way back to the truck and drove back to the village where a sign hanging outside the local hotel caught Dirk’s eye, and he turned into its car-park saying they might as well check the place out while they were there. Sally felt that it would be a bit impolite to just walk through and look around, and as she also wanted to use the toilet perhaps staying for a beer wouldn’t be a bad idea.
    It turned out to be a pleasant interlude as, with only few patrons about, the barmaid was able to chat with them and provide a lot of information about the village and the surrounding district, although she wasn’t too sure about the status of the land that Dirk and Sally were camping on. She could find out though, she said, as the hotel’s owners were pretty well up on such matters, having lived in the village for some time. Or maybe Bob Watson, the captain of the Rural Fire Service would know, and as he just happened to be at the other end of the bar with a couple of mates she would ask him when they ordered their next round.
    The captain when asked not only knew but actually came down to the end of the bar where they were seated and told them that the land they were asking about, “from here to about half way to the tip”, was privately owned. It had been acquired for investment purposes in the dim past though the current owners apparently weren’t interested in either farming or developing it, preferring to hold it in trust for their descendants. From the end of that property to quite a few miles beyond the tip was Crown land, though the council controlled a tract between the freeway and the beach and was responsible for maintaining the road between the two. When told that they were camping “somewhere along the beach” he advised them that the council rangers took a dim view of people pitching tents anywhere other than in one of their controlled campsites or caravan parks, but if they wanted he could show them a spot where they would be out of the way and not be harassed by the powers that be.
    A long time ago he’d met a family who’d carved out a small camping site in a gully a couple of kilometres this side of the tip and they’d been regular visitors for some time, though he hadn’t seen them for some years now and supposed that maybe they’d given up camping when their kids grew up. Sally sat with her hands held together in prayer fashion, both index fingers pressed against her lips and her thumbs under her chin as she stared at him with eyes that seemed to be on the verge of tears for what she felt was an amazing coincidence.
    “Uncle Bob?” she said, moving her fingers away from her lips.
    The captain looked a bit startled by the address. “Yeah, that’s what the kids’ parents told them to call me, back in the days when kids were taught to have some respected their elders.” Then recognition slowly dawned in his eyes as he looked at her. She’d grown older of course, but her features hadn’t changed much if at all over the intervening years. “Good lord! Hmm… Let me think now… You’re “Silly Sally” if my memory serves me right.”
    “Yes, that’s me! Oh this is unbelievable!”
    To anyone listening, including the bar-maid, it must have seemed to be a home-coming of sorts as with a tear or two Sally told “Uncle Bob” about what had happened to her family and how she came to be camping at the very place he had offered to show them. Naturally Sally introduced him to Dirk whose hand was immediately swallowed by Bob’s massive paw and given a good shake, along with a “Pleased-ta-meetcha” greeting, and both he and Sally were ushered to the end corner of the bar where Bob’s two mates were drinking. There was another round of introductions for the two newcomers, this time including the barmaid, and despite Dirk explaining that he was driving and already had a beer they were both shouted another.
    When told about the accident they all expressed sympathy for Sally regarding the loss of her parents and sister and assured her that she would always be welcome whenever she came to the village, with Bob saying that if she ever needed help to just call the brigade, which telephone number also happened to be his own private number. Of course that wouldn’t be easy to do without there being a ’phone box close to the campsite, although it had been a genuine offer and she thanked him for it.
    Bob amused the group with his description of how he had met Sally’s father and uncle when they were laying a culvert prior to grading a track from the fire trail to their campsite, and had been persuaded by the two men, plus half a dozen long- necks of beer, to turn a blind eye to what they were up to. He had visited their campsite every school holidays after that and had often gone fishing with them, though he admitted that he was a lousy fisherman but at least there was always a cold beer to relieve his frustration at not being able to catch anything. One of his mates got a laugh when he said that Bob must have been very frustrated if the size of his beer-gut was anything to go by, but that was countered by Bob replying that keeping his fire crews in order and properly trained was even more frustrating than not being able to catch any fish, so it was really their fault.
    Despite being told it wasn’t necessary Dirk forked out for another round of drinks when their glasses were almost empty, though this time he and Sally settled for lemon squash rather than beer as they would soon be back on the road. It was late in the afternoon when after promising to return soon they finally left the village and followed the sealed road all the way into town, not because they needed anything there but more in order to explore the surrounding countryside as originally intended.
    Their stop at the village had by itself been worth making the trip, especially as the people they’d met there had been so welcoming, and as Dirk had already worked out that it’d actually be easier to drive to there rather than the town if they needed anything they’d probably be going back there fairly regularly.
    “That barmaid’s very attractive, isn’t she?” said Sally as they drove off.
    “Bron. The attractive barmaid said her name is Bron.”
    “Oh yeah, so she did. Short for Bronwyn I should think.”
    “And my name’s Dirk, in case you’ve forgotten that too,” he said with a smirk.
    Sally burst out laughing at the way he’d used the same words as she had when they’d left the café earlier in the day and gave him a hard punch on the arm “for being such a smart-arse”.
    “She made some good suggestions too, didn’t she?” he replied, gripping the wheel with one hand while with the other rubbing the spot where Sally’s almost bruising punch had landed. “Putting a CB radio in the truck would be a wise move considering we don’t have any way of calling for help if we need it. I’ll call in at Repco and see what they have in that line.”
    “Lucky it’s Thursday and the shops are open late. About the snorkelling gear: Do you think it might be better to talk to Bron’s partner before buying anything? After I told her we’d been down to the beach and thought it would be a good spot for snorkelling she told me he’s a Diving Instructor, and they have some gear we could try out before we spend money on something that might not be suitable. He’ll be instructing some students at the beach this weekend she said, and if we wanted to go on the Sunday we’d be welcome to borrow some gear then, though we’d have to be there before eight a.m.”
    “Yeah, I heard that bit. OK, let’s do that then. Should we make up some sandwiches to take, or have a counter lunch at the pub?”
    “Let’s have lunch at the pub. Apparently that’s where the divers go after their classes are finished and we might be able to tag along too, without being intrusive of course.”
    “Good; that’s got Sunday planned. Early tomorrow morning I’m going back to that hay-shed and start sorting out the good material from the bad… Whoa up! There’s the Repco shop, and it’s still open.”
    Dirk reverse parked the truck into one of the marked bays at the outlet and half an hour later they were headed towards the main shopping centre having ordered a good 5-Watt CB transceiver with all the accessories and arranged for its fitting, which could be done next day. That meant the sorting out of material at the hay-shed would have to be done later in the day because he wouldn’t have use of the truck in the morning, and as he’d have to bring it into town again they could do their shopping then rather than now. Apart from getting some meat for tonight’s dinner Sally told him, and if she was going to buy meat she might as well get the other items she wanted. They finally returned to the camp with everything they were going to buy anyway, including a couple of big beach towels and a large tote for their snorkelling gear, so Dirk would have to take the novel he’d bought in Brocklesbury and sit in the park reading for an hour or so while the CB radio was being fitted.
    The days may have begun to get shorter as Dirk had said however there was still plenty of daylight left when they arrived back at the camp and they were able to have their dinner prepared in time to sit and watch a beautiful sunset as they ate.
    “You know, I don’t miss having a TV,” said Sally as the sun slipped below the horizon just after Dirk lit the Coleman lantern, “but what do you think about getting a radio/cassette or record player? It’d be nice to have some easy-listening background music occasionally.”
    “I think we could do that very easily. I don’t know if you noticed, but the Recycle Centre has quite a few old radios and stereos that people have gotten rid of, and there were several radio-cassette systems that came from cars. We could run one of those off a 12-Volt car battery. Recharge it from the truck’s alternator when it starts to go flat.”
    “Now that’s something a real hippie would do. Next you’ll be growing your hair long, and wearing a colourful bandana around your head just like Willy Nelson.”
    “Yeah, and sitting here smoking pot and playing a pair of bongo drums. Not likely, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see you wearing tie-dyed cotton pants and shirts, strings of beads, feather in a headband and all that hippie stuff.”
    Have you been looking through my pack?” Sally asked suddenly and loudly, glaring at him in what appeared to be a really angry way.
    “What?! Good Lord no! I wouldn’t do that, honestly I wouldn’t. But don’t tell me you really have that kind of stuff in your pack… Surely not?”
    “No, I don’t. I was only joking, but the look on your face… ”
    The sentence went unfinished as at first she and then, when he knew that he’d been had – again, Dirk began laughing. Before she realised what was happening he suddenly scooped her up in his arms and carried her over to the pond where he threatened to dump her in the icy cold water.
    “No! No! Please Dirk! Please don’t. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she cried out, still laughing but desperately gripping her hands together behind his neck to try and prevent herself from being dropped.
    Returning to his chair with her still cradled in his arms Dirk turned and sat down, holding her on his lap, and she adjusted her arms and stayed where she was, snuggled comfortably against him while Paddington Bear sat on his tripod seat and pretended he really didn’t care. Or at least that was what she imagined would have been the case had he been able to care.
    Unfortunately the wooden chair on which they were seated didn’t prove to be all that comfortable for two people and after five minutes Sally rose and after giving Dirk a kiss on the forehead and thanking him for not dumping her in the pond set about brewing a fresh pot of coffee to go with the two small Apricot Danish pastries she’d bought at the village bakery. With Sally’s back turned Dirk looked at Paddy and cocking his head and raising his eyebrows silently mouthed “What?” before breaking into a huge grin.
    All in all it had been a good day and they were hopeful that the days to follow would be just as good, although as Dirk said, that would really depend on them being able to remain undisturbed by those narrow-minded people who believed that society should conform to their tunnel-visioned view of how people should live their lives.

    * * *


    Given the choice of staying at the camp and reading a book or going into town with Dirk, and doing a little shopping while the CB transceiver and its antenna was being fitted to the truck, Sally chose to go into town. The unit had taken a little over an hour to install and Sally returned to the Repco store with her purchases just as Dirk was reversing the truck out of the workshop, and after putting her shopping bags into the cab they drove to the recycling centre.
    The number of record players and car radio-cassette players that were for sale there may have been state-of-the-art at one time but the sure didn’t look like it now, however they did manage to find a unit with twin speakers that would suit their purpose. It wasn’t a 12-Volt unit but though it required a 240-Volt supply the 300-Watt inverter that Dirk used when charging the batteries for his cordless drill using the truck’s cigarette lighter socket would provide the voltage needed. They also found two extra speakers and Dirk was going to hang one at each corner of their shelter, though at the moment there was only enough wiring to position two of them about six feet either side of the player, and he would have to buy more wire later.
    When he admitted to Sally that he’d forgotten to buy a battery for the system when they were in town she laughed and told him not to worry: They’d been without music for nearly two weeks and a few more days of quiet wasn’t anything to lose sleep over. On the other hand, she added, as they were going to begin salvaging material from the old hay-shed after lunch maybe they could drive the extra couple of miles into Brocklesbury and buy a battery and some wire for the speakers there.
    “That’s a good idea. Do you want go there before or after we tackle the hay-shed?”
    “Before might be best: We’ll probably look a bit grubby after handling the iron. Hmm… I wonder if we might be able to have a hot shower at the hotel. You know, it’d be almost worth booking a room for the night just to be able do that.”
    “Now that’s not just a good idea Sal: It’s brilliant! We could have dinner there too. It’s a Friday night so they might have some entertainment, and it’d be a good chance to meet a few of the locals. Let’s do it!”
    “OK. That means we do the hay-shed first. I’m about to make lunch but first I’ll give you the things I need and you can put them and your stuff in the truck.”
    “With any luck they might have washing machines that guests can use,” said Dirk as he returned after putting their things in the truck, “so I’m going to take my laundry bag.”
    “Gosh, I didn’t think of that! I’ll take mine too,” said Sally as she dashed to her tent and returned with a large mesh bag that was half full.
    “There’s no rush: If we’re going to stay at the hotel tonight we can get the things we need from the hardware store in the morning. We’ve just got to hope they have a room available.”
    As a change from sandwiches, though only a slight change, Sally used the wholemeal rolls that they’d bought the day before, and she’d been so generous with the filling that Dirk had some difficulty taking a bite from the one she handed him. Finishing their rolls and the large mugs of tea that went with them they headed for the hay-shed armed with a number of implements of de-construction, as Dirk called them and not too long after had the truck parked out of sight behind the partially collapsed building.
    “No point in advertising our presence,” Dirk said. “We’ll start with the best panels we can find and I’m sure there’ll be more than enough of those to build a roof. Any more than that we can consider a bonus. The sheets I looked at appeared to be about twelve feet by three and I roughly calculated that we’ll need two dozen for the main roof, allowing for slope, eaves and overlaps, another five for the porch roof, plus maybe ten for a roof over the deck.”
    “There looks to be quite a few more than we need though, doesn’t there? We might have to make several trips.
    “Definitely. I figure on taking, say, fifteen sheets each time, so that’d be at least three trips. Right-o, let’s get to it.”
    Before beginning the work Dirk had a look under the highest part where the roof was still supported by the end still standing and saw that the metal, on the underside at least, didn’t show any signs of being rusted. At the other end where the roof had fallen to ground level it was hopefully in the same condition and it was there that they used a wrecking bar and claw hammer to begin pulling out the galvanised nails that held the corrugated sheets to the purlins. The wrecking bar worked best and Dirk decided that purchasing a second one, perhaps a little longer, would make the job a lot easier. As it was they were able to remove fifteen sheets, which turned out to be fifteen rather than twelve feet long, and load them onto the truck in only a little over two hours, giving them plenty of time to return to camp and unload them before driving in to Brocklesbury.
    When they got back into the truck to drive to the hotel Dirk grinned when he saw that Paddington Bear had been sat on the back seat, safely wedged between the bags holding their changes of clothes and laundry.
    “Leaving Paddy in camp when we go out for the day is one thing,” said Sally, “but I’m not going to leave him here by himself overnight, even if you do think I’m being silly.”
    Dirk didn’t think she was being silly at all: In fact he thought it to be rather endearing and as they drove away told her that he could understood completely how she felt.
    They were very fortunate in finding when they arrived at the hotel that there was a room available and that laundry facilities were also to be had, though they were coin operated machines that had been adapted to use tokens purchased from the office. Dirk asked for a room with twin beds and was told that each of the suites had a queen sized double bed and a king single, and after signing in was given the key, along with a carton of milk for tea or coffee. Having purchased tokens for the washing machines and dryers their first task was to get their laundry started, after which they headed for their room and the first very long hot shower that they’d had in over a fortnight.
    Sally thought that it should be Dirk who had the double bed as she was a lot smaller than he was and didn’t really need a bed that she could get lost in. He didn’t argue with her – she had red hair after all – but he also didn’t accept the money she offered towards payment of the room either.
    When she went to the bathroom to have her shower he slipped down to the truck and returned with Paddington and a carton containing the two hand-held 5-Watt radio transceivers he’d purchased when the truck’s unit was being installed. He was reading the operators’ booklet when she came out with one of the hotel’s big bath towels wrapped around herself and told him it was his turn. After he’d gone into the bathroom she quickly finished towelling herself dry, dressed, then began using the hair drier that she took out of her bag. By the time Dirk came out, fully dressed apart from shoes, she was ready for a night out on the town – or on the village at least – and he noted that she was wearing earrings and had applied a small amount of makeup. Not that she needed any, he thought as they headed for the dining room.
    They walked into the room to find that there were only a few guests present at the moment and were shown to a table close to one of the big picture windows that overlooked the hotel’s beer garden. Several people were playing darts there and Dirk thought that it was a good sign as back in the city he often played the game with some of his co-workers, and being able to play here would enable him to get to know the regulars.
    Taking their time and beginning with an entree of cous-cous stuffed tomatoes with yoghurt and mint sauce they followed it with a main course of apple and cranberry stuffed roast pork, then a desert of apple and black cherry cobbler with double cream, all of which they enjoyed along with the bottle of Semillon Dirk had ordered. When they had finished the waitress asked Dirk if he was paying then or did he want the bill added to the room charges. He opted to pay for the meal there, and added a generous tip not only because he was in an expansive mood but also because the meal and service had been top notch.
    Leaving the dining room they wandered through the beer garden where under recently installed lights two teams of darts players were now locked in competition, honing their skills for a tournament that was to be held the next month. After watching for a short time and talking to a member of the darts club they discovered that there was also a fishing club based at the hotel. The two clubs had only recently been formed however each already had a small but very active membership, with several patrons of the hotel belonging to both.
    From the beer garden they progressed to the lounge where they found that a karaoke system had been set up and a fair few people were by and large entertaining each other. They managed to find a couple of chairs at a table towards the rear of the room and while Sally guarded his seat Dirk went to order their drinks. When he stepped up to the bar to place their order he was greeted with a familiar face.
    “Hullo Dirk. Back again I see. Is Sally with you?”
    “Hullo Bron. Yeah, she is. We’re staying over at the hotel tonight. We had no idea this place was so active. Seems like half the population of the village must be here.”
    “Yeah, it’s a popular place for the locals. We do get a few outsiders in here from time to time, mostly during summer, but most of us living here would prefer it to remain the peaceful village it is now.”
    “I can understand that. Sally and I don’t live in the village, but I hope we’re not going to be considered outsiders because here is closer than the town and we’ll be coming here fairly regularly I should think.”
    “Oh don’t get me wrong: Visitors are always welcome of course, but if you live this side of the freeway and do come here often you’ll probably be thought of as locals anyway. Besides, Sally’s Bob Watson’s niece and that would count a lot in your favour.”
    “But Bob’s not her real uncle: That’s only what her father told her to call him.”
    “You, Sally and I know that, but try telling that to Bob: He was tickled pink to see her again, and as far as anyone around here’s concerned she is his niece, even if only because he’s already told everybody she is.”
    Dirk laughed and collecting their drinks returned to the table where Sally was waiting and relayed to her what Bron had told him. She looked across to the bar and when she saw Bron look their way stood and gave her a wave which was returned by a smile and another wave.
    Neither of them got up to sing though they enjoyed listening to those who took to the karaoke’s microphones and along with everybody else applauded the good singers and jokingly booed the bad ones. A little later in the night the karaoke was replaced by a live band and many patrons, including Dirk and Sally, hit the dance floor. Dirk couldn’t help but see that many of the young men looked at Sally with more than just a passing glance, and he knew that had he not been with her she would have been inundated with requests to dance. There were actually quite a few young, and even several not-so-young ladies who gave his rugged good looks the once or twice over too, however he seemed to be completely unaware of it. Sally noticed however, and though perhaps not intentionally her body language left no doubt in their minds that Dirk was with her and he was off limits to them. The last dance was a slow number and when Dirk held her close she let go of his hand and then with both their arms around each other she laid her head against his shoulder and together they simply swayed in a small circle around the centre of the dance floor.
    When the music stopped they went over to the bar and had a few words with Bron, asking where should they meet her on Sunday morning as Dirk had forgotten to ask her when she’d offered to lend them some snorkelling gear to try out.
    “Will you be staying at the hotel tomorrow night too?” Bron asked.
    “No. We hadn’t planned too but in any case all the rooms are booked out. We were lucky to get a room for tonight apparently. It’s not a problem though because we’re early risers anyway, and it only takes about fifteen minutes to get here from our camp-site. Well, time for us to be off. We’ll see you early Sunday morning. Goodnight.”
    “Goodnight guys, and sleep tight,” Bron said as she began loading the washing machine behind the bar with trays of empty beer glasses.
    Before returning to their room they went to the laundry and retrieved the clothes that they’d left in the tumble dryer. When they returned to their room the first thing that Sally saw when entering was that Paddy was seated against the pillow at the head of the king single bed.
    “Leaving him in the truck for the night wouldn’t have been any better than leaving him at the camp, so I persuaded him to stay here,” said Dirk.
    Without replying, mainly because she was suddenly more than a little choked up by Dirk’s thoughtful demonstration of his caring about her, she went over to the bed and eased the bear under the bedspread so that only its head could be seen.
    “Well, that bed’s obviously been taken,” she said as she turned back towards Dirk. “I suppose you and I will have to share the big bed after all, won’t we?”
    “Gosh Sally, I didn’t mean …”
    “Oh hush now, Dirk. Who are we kidding? Look, maybe we didn’t intend to form a relationship, but unless you’re totally blind, and I know you’re not, surely you can see that we seem to have drifted into one. I realised tonight that I want us to stay together and I think you do too, and that’s not just the Brandy Alexanders I had tonight talking.”
    “If I remember correctly,” he answered as he gathered her to him, “you had two Grasshoppers first,” and they shared a short tender kiss. At least, the first kiss was short: Those that followed were increasingly longer and much more passionate.

    * * *


    When Dirk awoke early in the morning he quietly eased out of the bed and without disturbing the still sleeping Sally went to the bathroom before returning and getting dressed in his now clean work clothes. He sat on the single bed and after inserting the supplied batteries into the two hand-held radios placed one behind Paddington then went outside, closing the door with a small bang in the hope it would wake Sally up. Going to the truck he got in and turned on the CB unit and pressing the transmit button on the microphone said “Sally. Sally. It’s Paddy. Where’s Dirk gone?”
    The sound of the door closing had woken Sally and she looked around slightly confused by the voice she’d heard and finding that Dirk wasn’t there, and that Paddy was now sitting up instead of lying under the bed cover where she’d left him. When Dirk repeated the call she went over to the bear and moving it aside began laughing when she saw the hand-held radio. Picking it up she pressed the transmit button and said, as if talking to Paddy, “Dirk? Oh, you mean that tall skinny guy with the lichen growing on his face? I think he ran out on us. Forget about him Paddy, we’ll be quite OK without him.”
    She was still giggling when the tall skinny guy came through the door, laughing and telling her to get dressed quickly as they needed to go and get breakfast before heading off. Over breakfast Dirk told her that Bron had suggested he get hand-held radios when he bought the unit for the truck, and that he should also get spare batteries for each. If they had rechargeable batteries it would be a good idea to also get a charger that plugged into the truck’s cigarette lighter socket, if it had one. The truck did have one of course, and he bought an accessory that turned one power outlet into two so that both sets of batteries could be charged at the same time. He should tune all three units to the same channel for their own communications, she said, but told him to go to channel six if they needed to contact her or her partner Dave.
    Breakfast out of the way and their bags placed back in the truck Dirk went to the office to pay for the accommodation and return the room key, after which they drove down to the shopping centre. Sally had decided to get a few things from the delicatessen so Dirk dropped her off there before going on to the hardware store where he purchased a new wrecking bar and the wiring they wanted, plus a pair of leather work gloves that would fit Sally much better than those he had lent her. He then drove to the service station for a new heavy duty battery for the truck, having decided to use the truck’s older battery for the radio-record player, and fill up the petrol tank, which had gotten down to just over half full. Sally had seen him drive into the service station and walked there carefully carrying a large cardboard carton tied with twine in one hand while the other clutched a shopping bag that bulged with whatever it was that she had purchased. After placing the goods in the truck, along with the old battery that had been replaced, they headed away from the town towards the hay-shed and a couple of hours work.
    With the experience gained the day before and two wrecking bars in use the removal of more panels from the shed went a lot faster, and when they stopped for a break two hours later another fifteen sheets were ready for transport. Sally went to have a look beneath that part of the collapsed roof that was high enough to walk under and at the rear found a stack of timber covered by a number of unused sheets of steel. She called excitedly to Dirk to come and have a look at what she’d found and when he arrived they counted twelve sheets in almost pristine condition, apart from the one on top that had weathered slightly due to exposure to the elements.
    “What do you think? Should we take them?”
    “Hmm. Yeah. I know what you’re thinking, but I reckon we should: According to Bob, the farmer who put this shed up is long gone, and if anybody passing by noticed that it was slowly disappearing and came to investigate you can imagine how long these would be left lying here. In fact, we should take these and the wood under them now and come back for the other sheets later.”
    It didn’t take too long to have the twelve unused sheets loaded onto the truck and Dirk was amazed to see that the stack of lumber left exposed by their removal consisted of about a dozen ten-foot lengths of four by eight inch and perhaps twice that number of two by sixes. And because they’d been properly stacked and kept out of the hot sun they hadn’t bowed, warped or twisted enough not to be useable. The individual lengths weren’t overly heavy however it would be a bit of a job for him and Sally to lift them all onto the truck so they decided to take them after they’d finished removing the steel they wanted.
    Fifteen minutes later they were back at the camp-site unloading and stacking the sheets together with those they’d brought back the day before. Sally insisted that any and all material they acquired should be placed neatly out of sight under the trees as she didn’t want the camp to look like an extension of the recycling centre… Or a hippy commune she added. She had seen two of those, she said, and in both instances they looked like rubbish dumps.
    There were still the fifteen sheets of steel that they’d removed from the shed that had to be collected and as having had a substantial breakfast that morning they decided to go straight back and pick them up rather than stop work now for lunch.
    With their scrounging done for the day the pots of plants under the trees were watered and the vegetable garden beds were checked. Dirk found that while the soil was moist under the mulch it could probably use some more water so he set the weeper hoses up and leaving them to give the beds another deep soaking went about putting together what he described as their custom-built sound system. It didn’t take him long to rig up the speakers, the radio/record player and the battery/inverter, and by the time Sally had set out the food she’d purchased at the delicatessen the sounds of Bert Kaempfert’s album Swingin’ Safari were drifting clearly from the four speakers. Dirk may have forgotten to buy a battery the day before, but at least he’d remembered to get a few records! Together he and Sally had looked through boxes and boxes of old and not-so-old 33’s at the recycling centre and found that their tastes in music were pretty much the same, and finding that there were enough vinyls to keep them entertained for hours at a time bought a dozen, at fifty cents each.
    “I think it might be an idea to revise the plans for the cabin, don’t you?” Sally said as they sat eating one of the two quiches she had bought. “Since you didn’t light out of here like a scalded cat after last night, and we’re still together collecting building materials I assume I wasn’t a one-night stand, so if we’re going to be a couple we only need to build a cabin with one bedroom instead of two.”
    “You certainly know how to cut to the chase, don’t you?” Dirk laughed. “No Sal, you’re definitely not a one night stand. And as for the cabin, I’ve already given that some thought. I’ve got a few more plans in my sketch book that I think would be good, though I know you’ll probably want to change most of my well thought out ideas. Hang on a minute and I’ll go and get it.”
    “OK. By the way,” Sally said as he went to his tent. “I don’t think I ever told you my surname, did I?”
    Dirk shook his head. “No, you didn’t,” he answered, stopping to look at her expectantly.
    She looked at him with a gleam in her eye. “Believe it or not, though it’s on my driving licence if you want to check, it’s Forthright.”
    “Seriously? Good God, if that doesn’t take the cake. It sure suits you though,” he said, laughing as he went to retrieve the sketchbook.
    “ So what’s yours?” Sally asked when he returned.
    “My surname? Fischer. With a ‘c’ between the ‘s’ and the ‘h’. The name is the German form of Fisher though my grandparents came from Holland originally. They were living in Java but fled to Australia with their two children; my father and my auntie that is, just before Japanese troops landed on the island. They only just made it by all accounts. Anyway, my dad married an Aussie girl and now here I am.”
    “Wow. Interesting. Meanwhile, back at the cabin… ”
    Dirk grinned and opened the sketchbook, however as he began looking for the plan he had in mind he suddenly remembered something that they needed.
    “Hang on a bit. What time is it?” he said looking at his watch. “Nearly three thirty. Hmm. C’mon Sally, leave that for the moment. We have to get to town before the shops close. We’ll be just in time if we go now.”
    “What for?”
    “Don’t ask questions. You’ll see soon enough.”
    Quickly finishing their quiche and cleaning everything off the table they sprinted to the truck and once aboard Dirk drove to town at a speed that would have been frowned upon by the cops, had they’d been around. Luckily they weren’t, and twenty five minutes later the truck was parked at the shopping centre and the couple were entering Big W, with Sally still mystified as to what he was on about.
    Dirk steered her towards the section where camping gear was displayed and quickly found what he was looking for: A queen-sized air mattress and a double action pump to inflate it with. Next stop were the aisles where he asked Sally to pick out bed linen, blankets and pillows. She very sensibly decided to get a mattress protector as well, though more for the added comfort and warmth than anything else, plus two sets of good quality cotton fitted sheets and pillow cases, two pillows and a large doona.
    She then went into shopping mode and dragged him to the kitchenware section where she placed a box containing a four-person dinner-ware set into the loaded shopping trolley that Dirk was pushing, and followed it with a canteen of cutlery. Sending Dirk back to the truck with the goods, and telling him to go and buy a bag of ice for the esky she moved on to Woolworths and did some grocery shopping which included a couple of very large steaks.
    “We’ll really have to get on with building the cabin now,” Sally said as they headed back home, which was how they thought of the camp-site now. “We can’t just leave everything under the tarp and hope the weather stays good for the next few months while we do other things like fishing, snorkelling and playing darts. Though speaking of fishing, you still haven’t tried out your new rod yet.”
    “Well, we’re committed to going snorkelling tomorrow, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a game of darts in at the hotel afterwards, but the fishing I can put off till sometime during next weekend. We can begin work on the cabin on Monday though we’ll need more material. The timber we’re getting from the hay-shed will be good for bearers and joists though we’ll still need to get timber for the flooring and framing.”
    With the truck parked in its usual position close to the shelter their new possessions were unloaded and while Dirk pumped up the air mattress Sally put a record on the player and began preparing thickly sliced potatoes and mushrooms to go with the steaks. It would be Dirk’s job to get the fire going and cook the steaks because, according to Sally, whereas it was up to women to prepare picnics, barbeques were the responsibility of men, and that also included cleaning up afterwards.
    Dirk soon had the fire going and while waiting for the hot-plate to heat up pulled the hose supplying water to the garden beds out of the pipe feeding the pond. When he put the steaks, potatoes and mushrooms on the hot-plate Sally came over, placed three foil-wrapped cobs of corn into the coals of the fire and handed him a cold can of beer to hold in the hand not wielding the tongs. She’d once been told that it was necessary for a man to be correctly balanced when cooking outdoors, and that the absence of a can of beer in the free hand could be very upsetting.
    He had barely opened the can when they heard the sound of a vehicle coming along the track and stopping, then following a door being slammed shut a loud shout of “Coo-ee” from above the campsite.
    “It’s Uncle Bob!” cried Sally, recognising the old but familiar call and hurtled up the zig-zag path to where Bob had parked under the trees. By the time she had escorted him back down the path Dirk had had the sense to have retrieved another can of beer from the esky and as Bob approached handed it to him with a broad smile, saying “Just in time for dinner.”
    “Nah, she’s right mate. Doan wanna putcherz out. I wuz just passin’ by and thort I’d drop in and make sure everythin’s OK. Wotcherz got goin’ here anyway? Looks like yerz’ve got a nice garden started.”
    Bob was nothing if not a diamond in the rough and his broad Aussie speech left no doubt that he was a man of the country, and Sally knew that whatever they were up to, as Bob had put it, he wasn’t going to advertise the fact that they were squatting on the land. After looking around the camp, talking with them for some time, and finally being persuaded to have a piece of steak to go with the beer Dirk had given him, he finally drove away, taking with him the promise that Dirk would be volunteering to become a member of the local bush-fire brigade.
    Gaining another member wasn’t something that Bob had expected, but he was so pleased with the offer that he told them that as a member of the brigade Dirk’s truck would be provided with a windshield sticker that authorised his use of the fire trail. He went even further, telling them that he would have the trail properly sign-posted, with access limited to authorised vehicles only, not that that would make any difference to the fishermen who used the trail of course, and the brigade would make sure that both it and the spur were maintained in good condition.
    After dinner and with Bob gone they spent some time discussing some of the plans Dirk had drawn in his sketch-book, and finally decided that his original design, which was based on that of a caravan he’d admired, with Sally’s addition of stairs and laundry wouldn’t need to be changed too much. There would be a bathroom, laundry and kitchen at one end, with a loft sleeping area above, and a lounge/dining area at the other. A deck attached to the northern side of the lounge/dining area would overlook the clearing and the slope of land opposite, and would be an ideal place to relax with a glass of beer or wine and watch the sunset after a hard day’s work..
    Dirk envisaged lots of fruit and nut trees planted along mulched swales on the slope opposite the clearing, and Sally thought that on the western end of the gully they could put up several rows of grape-vine trellises that would catch the sun on both sides as it passed overhead. Of course that would be sometime in the future as they’d have to build their cabin first… And a workshop… And a chicken coop… And a greenhouse… And lord knows whatever else they needed, however if they were able to stay here they were certain that in due course it would all be done.
    Later, Sally enjoyed herself making up the queen-sized air-mattress bed in Dirk’s much-bigger-than-her-tent which next day would be taken down and put in the shed until, Dirk joked, she decided to run out on him. When they went to bed that night Paddy had to accept that Sally now had new sleeping arrangements in place, but he was comfortable enough in his box which she’d lined with soft material, and Dirk seemed to be just the right type of man who would take care of her properly, so it was all good.

    * * *


    “This must be the place,” said Sally as at a quarter to eight they drove up to the gate of the property Bron had described on Friday night. “It’s in a nice position, isn’t it? Close but not too close to the village and the beach only a stone’s throw away.”
    The gate had been left open to allow Dave’s dive school students to drive straight down to the farmhouse and Dirk followed the road down to where a sign indicated a roped off area where they should park. It appeared that they were the first to arrive as there were no other vehicles present, and this was confirmed when Bron, having heard the truck coming down the driveway came out of the house to greet them.
    “Hi guys. You must be really keen, getting here this early,” she said, smiling as they got out of the truck and walked across to the front porch.
    “Are we too early then?” Sally replied. “I thought you said we should be here before eight.”
    “Oh, I did. All the students are told that, but they usually don’t begin arriving until around twenty past. If we wanted to actually start the classes at eight we’d tell them to be here at seven thirty. But this is good because you can meet Dave and then we can get you kitted out with some gear. Come on in. We don’t wear shoes inside the house so you can leave yours on the porch and wear these,” she said, handing them each a pair of house slippers.
    “Gosh, this place is beautiful, Bron,” said Sally as they walked into the house. “Did you decorate it yourself?”
    “Yes, but we’re still working on it. I choose the paint colours and the furnishings and Dave does most of the painting and the pushing of furniture around to where I think it should go. He hates it if I change my mind too often about the position of the heavier pieces though.”
    She led them through to the family room and a few moments later they were joined by Dave who had just finished loading the students’ totes full of scuba equipment plus tanks and weight-belts onto the back of his truck.
    After introductions Dave explained over a cup of coffee that as they had had no previous snorkelling experience, Bron would give them some basic instruction while he was teaching his scuba diving students at the beach. They would, he said with a laugh, be able to enjoy the sport more if they were taught some simple techniques beforehand, rather than flounder around working out how not to drown. All of the students’ equipment was packed and ready to go leaving only left Dirk and Sally to be outfitted, and as that would take only a few minutes to do he led them out to the back veranda where two empty totes had been set.
    “I’m hoping you really enjoy snorkelling today and hopefully might want to try scuba diving later, so apart from the masks, fins and snorkels we’re providing you with wet-suits so that you’ll be able to spend a lot of time in the water. Let’s see now: Sally, I think you’d be a size twelve in our wet-suits, and Dirk, you’ll probably be a five slim. You can try them on before we go, just to be sure,” he said, handing them two suits that he took from the racks where they’d been hanging.
    Another vehicle was heard coming down the driveway and as Dave went around to the front of the house to greet whoever was arriving Bron handed them a mask each and instructed the pair on how to test them for fit and comfort. When Dirk put the mask given to him on his face and breathed in through his nose as instructed Bron tugged at it to make sure that it sealed properly. It wouldn’t budge until he breathed out a little and he had to laugh when Bron said that she could have got it off his face but would probably have then had to put his eyeballs back in after they’d been sucked out of their sockets. The mask handed to Sally also fitted perfectly and next they were each handed a snorkel and shown how to position it on the mask strap.
    “The snorkel goes on the left side so that it doesn’t get in the way of a regulator. Good to get used to that now in case you decide to take up scuba diving later. As with the mask, it has to be comfortable so just put the mouthpiece in and hold it lightly with your teeth and lips. Don’t bite too hard on the lugs of the mouthpiece as they’re made of silicon and can be bitten through quite easily. Now, when you’re swimming along on the surface your head should be tilted so that you can see where you’re going as well as what’s under you. That means the snorkel has to be set at a bit of an angle on the strap so it’ll be almost vertical or pointing backwards a little when you’re swimming. You’ll understand what I mean when we get into the water. Now, from those tubs over there find a pair of boots that fit you comfortably and we can then get the fins. Oh, you should also grab a pair of yellow gloves from the tub at the end.”
    All the students had arrived now and while Dave was inside running them through the plan for their dives that day Bron was explaining to Dirk and Sally how to kick their legs and gain the most thrust for the least effort. The so-called bicycle kick was the best however it wasn’t as easy to explain in words as it was to see how it was done, she said, but when they went down to the beach she would demonstrate the technique and they could simply copy the way she did it.
    “You aren’t going to dive with the class then?” asked Sally.
    “No. At least not on the first dive. I might go out with them on the second dive but at the moment Dave has restricted me to short, shallow water dives only. That’s not too bad because if it was up to the doctors at the Diving Medical Centre I wouldn’t be diving at all for the present,” she said, sticking her stomach out and rubbing both hands across it in a circular motion while giving Sally a wink.
    “You mean you’re pregnant?” exclaimed Sally.
    “Just a bit,” joked Bron, knowing that there was no such thing as a woman being “a bit” pregnant: Either she was or she wasn’t. “About two months, and my wet-suit still fits OK. When I can’t squeeze into it I’ll stop diving for a while, but by then the water will be getting a bit cool anyway, so the timing’s good.”
    Having already put their cozzies on before leaving home the two would-be snorkelers worked their way into the wet-suit long-johns and then the hooded vests provided, finding that they fitted quite comfortably.
    “We don’t need the jackets?” asked Dirk.
    “No. The water isn’t all that cold, but even if it was a lot warmer it’s still a good idea to wear a hooded vest. Most of the heat lost by a diver wearing a wet-suit is from the head, particularly the occiput. That’s the slightly raised bump you can feel if you put your hand on the back of your head,” Bron told them as she demonstrated on her own head where they should feel for the bump on theirs.
    When they pressed a hand firmly on the spot shown they were surprised by the amount of warmth they felt that would quickly leach out of their bodies when submerged, and were quite happy to take advantage of Dave’s offer to lend them the wet-suits for the day’s diving.
    They were both handed a weight belt with the amount of lead on each being heavy enough to hold them at eye level when in a vertical position in water too deep to stand, and a normal breath of air in their lungs. They were also told how to release the belt by a tug with the right hand on the quick-release buckle.
    As the road to the beach hadn’t been fully restored yet and parking was quite limited they placed their small esky on the back of Dave’s truck and went with him and Bron down to the boat ramp from where the divers would begin their first dive. They stood by and watched as Dave’s students assembled and donned their equipment before entering the water and swimming on the surface out to the dive flag that had been positioned where their descents were to be made.
    After the last head was seen to disappear beneath the surface Bron led them down the boat ramp and wearing their weight-belts they waded out to waist depth before putting on their masks.
    At this point Bron told them that if they wanted to take their mask off for any reason while in the water it had to be pulled down to hang around the neck and not be pushed up onto the forehead. There were two reasons for this, Bron explained: First was that they wouldn’t lose the mask if hit by a wave, and secondly, but more importantly, throwing the mask upwards was often the first thing a panicked diver did when reaching the surface. Dave felt that a mask on the forehead was in effect a distress signal, and if one of his students wasn’t in trouble when they did that, they sure would be when he swam to their assistance. And he would swim out to assist if he saw a mask where it shouldn’t be, Bron warned.
    “I guess I don’t need to tell you that you have to take the snorkel out of your mouth when you’re floating on your back,” she laughed when demonstrating how easy it was to put on fins when doing just that.
    The next hour was spent not only enjoying diving down to have a look at the marine life hiding among the rocks and seaweed beneath the surface, but also in learning and practicing the simple skills that Bron was able to show them. This included ditching and trying to recover their weight-belts, and though Bron had to bring the belts back to the surface for them a couple of times before they mastered the skill, it did demonstrate that without the belts the wet-suits would keep them afloat if they got into difficulties.
    As Bron had told them, the so-called bicycle kick when swimming underwater took a bit of practice to master however once they’d got the hang of it, it proved to be very effective and became quite natural to use.
    They took a break when Dave returned to the beach with his students and sat listening to the debriefing he conducted while they all enjoyed a hot cup of coffee poured from several thermos flasks that he’d filled earlier. Dirk and Sally had also been catered for; however as they felt that they were not actually part of the class Bron almost had to force them to accept a couple of the sandwiches she had made for everyone.
    After the break another hour was spent exploring both sides of the bay, and at one point being able to look down through its clear water at the scuba divers below. The divers, who had completed the last of their skills apart from a compass swim back to the boat ramp, were now poking around the rocks and crevasses, and both Dirk and Sally felt a little bit envious of them not having to surface for air every couple of minutes.
    It was some time later at the hotel, after all the equipment had been washed and hung up to dry, that the students were debriefed and handed their graduation certificates which Dave had laminated in clear matt plastic sleeves. They also received their temporary licence cards, which could be used until their official PADI ‘C’ cards were issued, and a membership card for the newly formed Fish Hook Bay Dive Club, of which they were the proud inaugural members. A further surprise came when each was handed what looked a bit like an American Express traveller’s cheque but turned out to be a voucher for a twenty five dollar discount off their next dive course. The recipient could also hand it to any friend wanting to do an Open Water course and Dave had learned from his instructor friend in Sydney that it was a great way to build up the business without spending a fortune on advertising.
    During the long lunch that followed they were properly introduced to the now ex-students, who turned out to be four of Dave’s tradie friends and two of their wives. It would have been three plus three however the wife of one of the tradies was even more advanced in pregnancy than Bron was, so the only unmarried friend in their group had taken her place.
    They were also very surprised to find that Bron herself had only very recently completed her Open Water Diver Course; however such was her enthusiasm and the manner in which she had imparted her own skills to them that by the end of the day they had resolved to undertake a scuba course themselves. Dave was of course quite happy to hear that, and they didn’t see the wink and smile he gave Bron after they asked him for a couple of application forms. Dirk laughed when after being handed the forms he saw that Bron had already written their first names on them and filled out the bottom section that indicated the size of wet-suit, boots, and fins they’d need.
    They’d been having lunch in the beer garden and it wasn’t long after the newly-installed dart board was seen that the divers, including Dirk and Sally, had formed two teams and were competing against each other. Sally, who had never in her life thrown a dart before, joined in the game and soon demonstrated that she had a good eye and a deadly aim.
    This of course prompted Dave to suggest that perhaps she and Dirk might like try their hand at shooting a rifle one day, and if so they’d be welcome to join him and Bron for a day at the firing range. Shooting was something that hadn’t crossed their minds up until then, though it suddenly seemed to be an invitation too good to refuse and they both quickly agreed.
    Without mentioning that Bob Watson had quietly and confidentially told him about the vegetable garden and the cabin that the two were planning to build in the bush, Dave also invited them to visit him and Bron and have a look at the way they were setting up their farm in order to become as self-sufficient as possible. To Dirk this seemed to be even more appealing than the offer to go shooting at the moment, given that it was precisely what he and Sally were planning to do, and he decided that it’d probably be a good idea to invite him and Bron to have a look at their place.
    He was about to make the offer however Sally beat him to it when after having gone to the bar with Bron they returned to the table with two trays, each holding glasses of beer for those divers that hadn’t gone home yet, and began discussing secret women’s business. Not that anything they said could be regarded as being secret as the girls talked quite openly about everything anyway, but it was generally accepted that men would have little to contribute when it came to whatever it was they were discussing. The men couldn’t be completely ignored all the time of course: After all, somebody had to pay for the food and drinks so some allowances had to be made, didn’t they? And of course the men coughed up the cash, each considering that such payments were merely an investment in their own continued well-being.
    When the last of the students indicated they were leaving Dirk and Sally also said they should be getting along too, however following a quick whisper to Dave, Bron asked them if they’d like to stay on for dinner at the farmhouse and perhaps spend the night there. There was a spare room that had recently been furnished and decorated and they were welcome to stay, Bron said, and Dave thought it’d also be a good chance for them to look over the farm. Besides, next morning Dave wanted to finish erecting the new green-house that had been delivered in kit form, and as he needed a hand they would be just the people to help… If they had nothing else on, of course. In return perhaps he could help Dirk with some of the construction of the cabin that he’d revealed he was planning to put up?
    “A win-win situation if ever there was one,” Dirk said as he and Sally agreed. “But rather than have to cook, how about we all have dinner here? The food’s really good and it’ll be on us, especially as you guys were kind enough to invite us to go snorkelling and provided all the gear.”
    There was no argument with that idea either so they ordered another round of drinks and although they all aimed a few more darts at the board while waiting for the dining room to open they spent most of the time chatting about what each was planning for their homesteads. Conversation continued much in the same vein throughout dinner and also back at the farmhouse, where Bron showed them the canning equipment and the home-made dehydrator that Dave had put together. Dave, after showing off his home-brew set-up suggested that as they were interested in becoming self-sufficient it would probably be a good idea if they did much the same, and handed Dirk a copy of the plans he used to build the dehydrator.
    It wasn’t all that late when the effects of time spent snorkelling, plus lunch, dinner and the several drinks they’d had caught up with them all, and they were practically half asleep when shown the bedroom in which they’d be sleeping. They were amused by the fact that the bed mattress was an inflatable one very similar to the one Dirk had purchased for their own place, though after finding it also had a foam topping guessed it might even be a little more comfortable. The only down-side, Sally told Dirk, was that the invitation had caught her off-guard and she hadn’t brought Paddy along. He didn’t laugh at her but instead said that Paddy would be OK for tonight in his own bed, and suggested that in future if they were going anywhere there might be a possibility that they’d be gone overnight, Paddy would be placed in the truck. Sally put her arms around him and gave him tight hug, thankful that the tall handsome guy who’d given her a lift in his truck turned out to be just the caring type of man that she needed in her life.

    * * *


    It was well that help was available to erect Dave’s new green-house in the morning, not so much because the pieces were heavy but because they were just plain awkward to hold up while being bolted together as shown in the instructions. Dave had to admit that with Bron having gone to work at the bakery in town, without their help it would probably have taken him all week to put it up, but with an early start and three of them working on it the structure was ready to begin receiving its first pot-plants just around lunch time. Dirk and Sally were both impressed with the kit and Dave was happy to pass on the brochures and price list that the makers had sent him, along with the advice that they could save on transport costs if they picked the kit up from the railhead rather than have it delivered to their door.
    “Well, for starters, we don’t have a door yet, let alone an address to which anything can be delivered to,” laughed Dirk.
    “Hmm. Yeah, that could be problem I guess,” Dave replied. “But not just for delivering goods: What about mail? And an address for registration of your truck?”
    “I was thinking of simply getting a post-box for mail, though I hadn’t thought about the registration or insurance for the truck, mostly because the renewal papers are always sent to my parent’s house in the city.”
    “Probably a good idea to leave it that way for the time being, at least regarding the truck. I know there are post-boxes available in Brocklesbury at the moment but you’ll still need a residential address to apply for one. You can use our address on the application form if you like, and that way you could drop into the post office on your way back home and organise one. You can always change the address later. Now, what about lunch?”
    “Bron told me I could make up some sandwiches if we wanted them,” said Sally. “She showed me where all the makings are and it’d only take me a few minutes.”
    “Sounds good to me. What about you, Dirk? Do you mind having sandwiches?”
    “I dunno… I suppose I could be persuaded to nibble one or two.”
    “More likely scoff a dozen,” laughed Sally as she headed for the kitchen to start making them.
    “Can I take that to mean Lord John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich is your patron Saint too?” a grinning Dave asked the likewise grinning Dirk.
    “Most definitely, Dai. It was either him, Ronald McDonald or Colonel Sanders, but I reckon I made the right choice.”
    “God, Bron’s going to crack up when I tell her that one!” Dave said as he burst into laughter. “Sandwiches are my favourite fast-food too. You want a beer to go with them?”
    “No thanks mate. I’ll be happy with a mug of tea. I noticed when we were putting up the green-house that you’ve marked out a pretty large area for your veggie garden. Are you going to use those steel poles and rolls of chain-link mesh over there to fence it in?”
    “That’s the plan. It’s actually the fence from a tennis court that was being removed from a building site. Should have been put up a few weeks ago but my fencing bloke’s truck is off the road with mechanical problems so the job’s been delayed a bit. I could get somebody else to help put it up but I know Frank needs the work and I’m not in too much of a rush to get it done.”
    Sally called to them from the back veranda and they went up to find that she’d prepared a very large plate of sandwiches and had a full pot of tea brewed for them. She’d also taken the sensible step of making up a small plate just for herself knowing that she’d probably miss out once the boys got stuck into the large plate.
    After the plates and mugs had been cleaned up and put away after lunch Dave followed Dirk’s truck in his as they drove to the village where Dirk was able to rent a post-box before he and Sally, after thanking Dave profusely, continued on back home. As he watched them leave an idea suddenly came to Dave: Dirk had an operational truck and at present Frank the fencer didn’t. He decided to give Frank a call and ask him if he could use an offsider to help him until his truck was back on the road, and if he did, maybe Dirk could come to his rescue. He felt pretty sure that Dirk would be agreeable, and there was no harm in asking anyway.
    “Remember I suggested we carry a tote for our snorkelling gear when we got some?” said Dirk as they drove away from the farm. “I think we’re going to need two totes now, don’t you?”
    “For scuba equipment? Yes, I was thinking the same thing. You know, I haven’t had such a good time in a long time, and we sure learned a lot, didn’t we? I’m impressed with the plans they have for their farm too. Best of all is I think we’re making some good friends around here. I can’t even imagine ever living in a city now.”
    “I know exactly how you feel. Look, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but I also think we have to be prepared to move if somebody discovers our little bit of paradise and kicks up a stink about us living there. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen anytime soon, but I’m thinking it might be wise to find a good block of land somewhere around here, put a deposit on it and lease it out. That means I’ll probably have to find a job for a while because the banks aren’t going to lend money to someone who’s unemployed. At least we’d have a bit of security. What do you think?”
    “Much as I hate to admit it, you’re right. At the moment I feel like we’re living in Paradise, but I’d hate for it to work out to be a Fool’s Paradise. Still, I’m pretty confident that we can get away with living here for a good while yet. We’d best get the cabin built before we go looking for jobs though; otherwise it’ll take us years to do. That said, I’m not really in the mood for dragging more sheets of metal and lengths of timber around today. Can we do some gardening instead?”
    “Sure we can. Do you mind if we go to the recycling centre before going home? I want to give Rob a list of some of the things I think we could use from there.”
    “Such as?”
    “Well, a couple of doors for a start. I was thinking of windows too, but all too often old windows are more trouble than they’re worth. Which reminds me, we might have to put up the second shed for more storage: We don’t want to get some really nice things only to have them destroyed by bad weather. I also worked out the floor area of the bathroom-laundry and it’s not all that much, so we should be able to find enough tiles of the same colour to cover it.”
    They bounced a few more ideas around until they reached the centre and began looking around for the things Dirk wanted. Rob was on hand and after taking and reading the list Dirk had written on the back of a rough plan of the cabin helped them look through the section where building materials were stacked.
    “OK you two,” said Dirk when he’d stopped to go through the list Dirk had given him. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you’re not looking for firewood for your camp-fire. My bet is that the plan on the back of this list is for a shack you’re going to put up somewhere in the bush. Fair enough. In fact, I’ve often dreamed about doing the same thing myself; nice and close to the beach so I can go fishing whenever I want, which is more often than not. Anyway, you needn’t worry about me telling anyone because I’m not the type who’s inclined to divulge secrets, especially when I’m involved.”
    “Why would you be involved?” asked Sally. “After all, it’s we who’d be building the shack, as you call it.”
    “Ah, yes. But I’m supplying you with some of the materials you’ll need. And there’ll probably be a time when you could use an extra hand to help with the build, in which case I’d be most offended if you didn’t ask for my assistance.”
    “Well that’s really good to know Rob,” said Dirk. “As it happens we do need some help to load and unload a stack of timber that we’ve sourced from a derelict building. We’d do it ourselves but we wouldn’t want to risk offending you.”
    Sally grinned. “Do you have a girlfriend Rob? I hope so, because if Dirk does need your help you could bring her along so that I’ll have someone to help me watch you guys doing all the heavy work.”
    Both men laughed and Rob admitted that he did have a girlfriend, and as she was just as keen on fishing as he was she would probably be very happy to come along… Provided she could go fishing with Rob after the work was done. Sally latched on to that idea very quickly and suggested that maybe he could teach Dirk how to fish, given that he had recently purchased a rod but as yet didn’t have a clue as to which end he had to hold, let alone how to use it. Of course that prompted more laughter and it was quickly decided that Rob and his girlfriend Rebecca would come by the camp next Sunday morning when he could help with the timber, after which they’d all go fishing and then have a barbeque, and perhaps a beer or two.
    They found a good solid door that Dirk thought would be good for a back door, another that would go between the laundry/bathroom and the kitchen, plus two that had four glass panes in the top half and could probably have been used for entry doors, however both of them had panes that were broken and although replacing the glass would be a relatively easy task Dirk decided to leave them.
    When Rob asked if they wanted any windows Dirk told him that unless they were in really good condition he would rather buy the few that were needed: From what he had heard, old windows were often more trouble than they were worth to restore. While admitting that that was often the case Rob told him that there were some there that were in really good condition and were probably worth having a look at. In fact, he added after checking the list and looking at Dirk’s plan of the cabin, there was a set of three good casement windows that would probably suit the kitchen.
    “There’s also another set here that I think you might be interested in, though it would depend on what you’ve got planned of course,” he said. “They came from a mansion that’s being pulled down to make way for a retirement home. Come and have a look and see what you think of them anyway.”
    Leading them back into the building where all the best doors, windows, architraves, skirting-boards and other timbers were stored he lifted an old blanket that was protecting some windows under it. Sally gasped slightly when she saw what Rob explained were two large and two smaller sections of a beautifully handcrafted lead-light bay window complete with supporting woodwork.
    “It’s six foot wide if the side windows are set at 45° but maybe it could be made slightly wider or narrower if the angles are changed. I’d take it myself but I don’t have a place where I could use it.”
    “They’re beautiful! How much?” Sally asked.
    Rob grinned. “Let’s see now. Six second-hand windows at… Hmm… Oh, that’s right: The prices are written on the sign over there.”
    “But they’re just the normal prices for your windows. Surely the bay would cost a lot more, wouldn’t it?” Sally asked.
    “It might, if anybody recognised it as such, though as far as the staff here is concerned they’re all just old windows. Tell you what: If you want them, I’ll throw in all the supporting woodwork, and help you load and unload them.”
    “I think they’d look really good in the kitchen, Dirk. What do you think?”
    “Yeah, I have to admit they really are nice. OK, if they’re what you want, we can take them, and maybe use the casement windows somewhere else.”
    “OK Rob, you heard the man: We’ll take them. Mind you, I think your offer to help us unload them is just a sneaky way to find out where our camp-site is.”
    “Well, I need to know where to go when Reb and I come to teach you how to use a fishing rod next Sunday, so I’m not really being sneaky, am I?”
    “That’s true. But you won’t need to help us unload these, thanks all the same: Dirk’s really a lot stronger than he looks.”
    After carefully loading the windows onto the truck and giving Rob directions to their camp-site they drove carefully back and with equal care unloaded the items and placed them in the shed, standing them against the wall opposite the Dexion shelving. It was unfortunate but not unexpected that they hadn’t been able to find the floor tiles they wanted for the laundry, said Sally, but as far as she was concerned the bay window they’d scored more than made up for that, and she’d be happy to buy the needed tiles in town.
    “Yeah, I have to admit that the bay was a real bargain,” Dirk said. “And it won’t take much alteration of the plans to fit it in.”
    “If we adjust the angles a bit it would easily fit, and though it’d stick out a lot more than the window in your plan, the wide sill would be an ideal place to grow herbs in pots: Plenty of sunlight, protected from wind and easy to water.”
    “Fantastic! I can see how that would work. Now, speaking of potted plants, I’m going to check on those we’ve already got growing. While I’m doing that you’d better go and let Paddy know we’re back.”
    Sally launched herself at him and after giving him a passionate kiss ran to the tent and retrieving the bear sat him on his tripod chair to watch as she first put a record on the player and then began preparing something to eat. “Life couldn’t get much better than this,” she thought, humming the tune now being played as she watched her man tending the plants.
    Dirk found to his pleasure that all the plants were thriving and as he began watering them looked back to where Sally was humming along with the music from the record player as she worked and thought, “Life couldn’t get much better than this.”
    He grinned to himself when he realised that it actually could get a little better when he returned to the shelter and found that Sally had poured them both a glass of wine and put out a platter of Jatz crackers topped with cheese, cabanossi and salami. She’d also set out small bowls containing sun-dried tomatoes, stuffed olives, artichoke hearts, char-grilled aubergine, courgettes and capsicums, plus marinated champignons.
    To top it off there was a glorious red sunset which indicated there’d be another fine day tomorrow, and as they sat listening to music and watching the sun go down Sally summed up the atmosphere and made him chuckle by saying “I wonder what the peasants are doing tonight.”

    * * *


    The shepherds’ and sailors’ weather forecast rhyme of “A red sky in the morning heralds a warning, a red sky at night is a shepherd’s/sailor’s delight” proved to be correct when they woke to yet another clear day, and they wasted no time in getting breakfast out of the way before commencing work. Before the physical stuff began they sat down and made up a rough schedule for the tasks that needed to be undertaken in order to get the project started. Much of this day would be spent organising the material needed but Dirk calculated that if all went according to plan they should have the foundations, floor and wall framing of the first section completed by the end of next week.
    He’d given quite a bit of thought to foundations and finally decided that the old way of using wooden stumps treated with creosote and sinking them into the ground would be the easiest and least expensive way to go. Of course he’d have to source timber for the stumps, but maybe that also could be obtained from the recycle centre so he’d be making another trip back there very soon. Because digging the holes for the stumps would be both labour intensive and time consuming, as he’d found out when putting up the fence around the garden, he made the decision to look at renting a petrol-powered post-hole digger for a day.
    Sally thought that as the good weather was forecast to last for some time yet, and they had plenty of time, maybe he should first dig a test hole where the cabin was going to be sited: If it didn’t take too long they might be able to dig all of the holes by hand and save the expense of renting a machine. Not surprisingly Dirk had a good laugh when soon after she had helped him dig the test hole they were heading for the hardware store to rent one anyway.
    Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how one looked at it, their schedule was thrown out the window as when driving to the hardware store in Brocklesbury they met Dave coming the other way. Dave had spoken to Frank the fencer and was about to go looking for their camp-site in the hope that Dirk would be able to help Frank out for a few days. After the situation was explained to them both Dirk and Sally agreed that putting off their construction work for a while wouldn’t be a big problem if it was going to help a villager so Dave turned his truck around and they followed him to Frank’s house where introductions were made.
    Frank was pleased to have Dirk help out, mostly because he didn’t want to let down people who’d contracted him to put up the fences they needed, and they came to an arrangement whereby he would pay Dirk an hourly rate plus extra for the running of the truck. It became well worth Dirk’s time when after Frank had been let in on what he and Sally were planning to do regarding their cabin he suggested that the timber for the foundation stumps could be obtained directly from the mill under his name. It would work out much cheaper than buying timber at the hardware store, and he not only also offered to lend Dirk his own post-hole digger but would help him with putting the stumps in place. In return Dirk told him that rather than Frank paying him any cash they could just swap labour, and although Frank agreed to that he did insist on paying for the use of the truck.
    In the yard behind Frank’s house was an enormous stack of old hardwood fence palings waiting for the summer fire bans to be lifted before they were put to the torch, and when asked he told Dirk that if he wanted them he was welcome to take the lot. Dirk said that he could probably use nearly all of them, and what couldn’t be used for the projects he had in mind would feed their rocket stove. Sally couldn’t understand why Dirk wanted them however after he’d explained briefly how they could be used she was happy enough to help him load a hundred or so onto the back of truck. There were too many to be taken in one trip but Frank said he’d help throw a stack onto the back of Dirk’s truck each day after the fencing work was done as it would save him the trouble of burning them himself.
    Frank wanted to get started on the work he had lined up as soon as possible so with their original plans suspended for the time being Dirk told him that the truck would be at his house next morning as early as was needed. He was a bit taken aback when Frank said that he usually started at five-thirty a.m. but breathed a sigh of relief when told with a laugh that turning up at seven would be fine.
    The arrangement with Frank having set their plans back for the time being and Dave having already left they decided to grab a hamburger, a bag of chips and a milkshake at Jay-Jays take-away shop then go back to the hay-shed and recover more of whatever they could lay their hands on.
    “These chips are more like wedges, aren’t they?” said Sally as after they’d parked behind the hay-shed she opened the large bag to find that it contained not only the chunkiest chips she’d ever seen but also a small container each of sour cream and sweet chilli sauce. “Much better than the fries they serve at a Macca’s.”
    “Yeah. And the ‘burgers are huge too. And did you notice they put a really big scoop of ice-cream in the milk shakes? Not like the tiny walnut-sized scoops that you’d get in most places.”
    “Lucky we didn’t stay there and play that juke-box: We probably wouldn’t feel like doing anything for the rest of the afternoon if we had.”
    “What makes you think I’d feel like doing anything now anyway?” Dirk asked as he finished his ’burger and hoed into the last of the chips before getting out of the cab.
    They proceeded to where the timber was stacked in the shed and began hauling out one of the heavier pieces intending to stack several on the truck, however the weight was a bit much for Sally to handle and when she accidently dropped her end of the piece they were trying to lift Dirk got his thumb jammed between it and the next piece. He gritted his teeth and didn’t use any language that he might have used had Sally not been present, but said that it would probably be best to wait until Rob could help him with the task. Having decided to leave without the timber they nevertheless took another dozen sheets of steel that they’d removed from the roof earlier.
    Just as they were about to leave Sally noticed an old satchel wedged behind one of the shed’s supporting timbers and after retrieving it handed it to Dirk, saying that she wasn’t going to open it as there might be spiders inside. She was right: When Dirk undid the straps and opened the flap the first thing that came out was a large red-back, the sight of which made him drop the satchel in a hurry. After finding a small stick with which he crushed the deadly arachnid he up-ended the bag and emptied its contents onto the ground, finding that they were simply insect chewed plans of the shed.
    A roughly drawn addition to the original plans indicated that the unused metal had been intended to enclose a section at one side of the shed and the pieces of lumber used to support a floor. As they were the correct size to be used for bearers and joists they still would be, Dirk told Sally, though they’d still need to get a lot more timber for the flooring, and framing for the walls, ceiling and roof.
    “Oh, I hadn’t thought about the floors and walls. Or the ceiling and roof either if it comes to that. Do you think we’d be able to get the wood for that at the mill, rather than have to pay through the nose for it at the hardware store?”
    “I don’t see why not. I’ll ask Frank when we get the timber for the stumps. I’ve been thinking: It’d be great to be able to build all of the cabin in one go, but that’d mean having to buy quite a bit of material because it’d take forever and a day to scrounge what we need from free sources.”
    “Well, I do have to agree, but let’s go over the plan and work out exactly what we’ll need. Gosh, look at your thumb; it’s quite swollen now, and I bet it’s painful. Let’s go home where you can soak it in hot water for a while and we’ll take it easy for the rest of the day. You’ll need that hand tomorrow when you’re working with Frank.”
    Later, sitting at the table with his left forearm and wrist supported so that he could immerse his injured thumb in a bowl of hot water he used his right hand to sketch out a plan of how he would use the timber they’d be able to recover from the old hay/machinery shed.
    “Here, take a look at this,” he said as with Sally sitting beside him he showed her a sketch he’d quickly done of a revised plan of the cabin. “I added a few inches to the laundry/bathroom area and rearranged it so we can put in the back door I bought for my original design. That way we won’t have to traipse through the cabin each time we want to carry the washing out to the line, or go to the loo from outside. I think the door should open outwards so it doesn’t take up floor space.”
    So good was his sketch that Sally was able to clearly envisage the building as it would look when completed, or at least the part that Dirk had drawn would look, and being impressed with the design told him so.
    “Outward opening is fine though it means not having a screen door on the outside to stop insects. We could screen the whole porch though, and that’s not a bad idea really. The laundry and bathroom being together is good: That way if we come into the house grubby after a hard day’s work we can simply drop our dirty clothes into the laundry basket and go straight into the shower. And the idea of the towel cupboard in the bathroom having sliding basket drawers to hold underwear, shorts and T-shirts is brilliant too.”
    “Glad you like it. I thought the drawers could be set back a little so that hooks on the inside of the cupboard door could hold a couple of bath robes. By the way, I don’t think the composting toilet shown here should be used until we have a proper door between the bathroom and kitchen.”
    “Very wise,” she said before beginning to giggle.
    “What are you giggling at now?”
    “Just something that Bron told me: When she and Dave first moved into their farmhouse the toilet wasn’t working, and Dave had suggested putting lemon trees in planter pots on the back veranda to use as…. Dirk, No! Don’t even think about it!” she laughed when she saw him cock his head, purse his lips and begin raising his eyebrows. “Now, tell me more about how you intend using those old fence palings that we’re taking off Frank’s hands.”
    “OK. I thought about it a long time ago really, after seeing how a bloke was using old palings to make garden furniture that he sold at markets. He made things like dog kennels, planter boxes, garden seats, wishing wells and lots of other stuff, all of which fetched a good price. One of the things he made that really impressed me was a set of cupboards that looked good enough to use in a modern country style kitchen. The palings he used were all of native hardwoods and after sanding and painting or staining looked fantastic. Not only that, they were all well seasoned by years of exposure to the weather and he reckoned that the cabinets he made would probably last for fifty years or more. He also told me about some of the techniques he used and I reckon I could do the same thing with the palings that Frank’s giving us.”
    “Seems to me like we’re going to have to build the big workshop fairly quickly. Then you can make all the furniture we need for the cabin too, though I imagine that’d take a while to do, especially if you’re only using hand tools.”
    “I’ve been thinking about that: I’ve got quite a few power tools so it might be worthwhile getting a portable generator. It’d make building the cabin a lot easier and we could also use it to run other things, such as a washing machine.”
    “They’re rather expensive, aren’t they?”
    “What, washing machines?”
    “You idiot.”
    Dirk laughed. “No, generators aren’t necessarily expensive: I guess it comes down to how much power is needed and how often it’d need to be used, though in my case I certainly wouldn’t be looking at an El Cheapo that’d pack up only after running for a couple of hours. I’ve heard that a lot of those small Chinese-made generators used for camping are like that. I’d want something like a Honda or a Yamaha big enough to run a couple of things at the same time.
    “You should talk to Dave: Bron told me that they used a generator until they got their wind turbine and battery bank up and running.”
    “Really? And they have a wind turbine too? I didn’t know that.”
    “Of course not: While you and the other guys were busy discussing he-man things at the hotel we girls were talking about more practical stuff.”
    “Generators are he-man things.”
    “Maybe so, but at the time drinking beer and throwing darts would have been more important than talking about generators which, by the way, are apparently called “Jennies” by those that use them.”
    Knowing that arguing the he-man bit with her would be a lost cause he resorted to simply changing the subject in his usual way.
    “What’s for dinner?”
    Sally grinned triumphantly and told him that after he’d got the fire going they’d be having jaffles. She’d prepare them, but as it only needed one hand to hold the iron it was he who’d be cooking them. Thankfully, the pain in his thumb wasn’t bad enough to prevent him holding a glass of Rosé in his left hand as he wielded the iron with his right, so that was fine by him.
    Before going to bed that night Sally said that she’d decided that as she wouldn’t be needed for the fencing job next day she’d stay at the camp and after lying in bed for a bit, thinking of Dirk working hard, get up and go to work on her herb garden. She’d changed her plan from building an herb spiral to simply planting out the embankment with a mix of herbs and flowers; though Dirk reckoned that going by the diagram she’d drawn it wouldn’t be all that simple. When asked why she’d changed her mind about the design she showed him a large book on herbs that Bron had lent her and pointed out photos of gardens that incorporated similar ideas. He had to admit that the gardens certainly looked attractive but also warned her that it would entail quite a lot of time and hard work before her own garden began to look as good. Time wouldn’t be a problem, she said, as she had plenty of that, and as for any hard work required, well, she knew a bloke who would immediately drop whatever he was doing in order to help her… “Wouldn’t he?” she added pointedly, and Dirk could only grin and nod his head in agreement.

    * * *


    At six a.m. Dirk very quietly got out of bed so as not to wake his still sleeping partner and shortly after leaving a note reminding Sally that she could contact him on her hand-held CB headed for Brocklesbury, hoping that the bakery would be open so that he could grab something to have for breakfast. He found when he arrived in the village that although the bakery was open his breakfast would be either freshly baked bread or freshly baked bread so he waited around until Jay-Jay’s take-away opened and he was able to order a couple of bacon and egg rolls and a cup of coffee.
    After meeting up with Frank at seven their first task, after stopping at Jay-Jay’s to collect his breakfast, was to drive to the mill and pick up the fence posts for the job they’d be doing that day. While there he was able to negotiate the purchase of two dozen stump posts which, thanks to Frank he was able to purchase at a much lower rate than what he would have had to pay elsewhere. He decided to pick them up at a time when Frank wouldn’t need him for any jobs he had on because, as he said to Frank later, time is money, and a surplus of one often meant a deficiency of the other, which being self-employed was a sentiment that Frank understood only too well.
    During conversation as they drove it turned out that Frank was a member of the village’s Bush Fire Brigade, and the fact that he’d heard that Dirk had volunteered to join despite having only recently arrived had gone a long way to upping Frank’s opinion of him. Dirk was unaware of this however, though in a small community such as Brocklesbury’s the word would be quickly spread that he was a good man to have around.
    The rest of the week went very quickly for Dirk who was able to learn a thing or two about secure fencing as he helped Frank install posts and tension wires in order to contain livestock. He was surprised to learn that the wire wasn’t pulled and secured as taught as might be expected, but had to have a certain amount of “give” so that when an animal leant against it the load would be spread along its length and the wire wouldn’t break. Of more importance as far as Dirk was concerned at present however was that he got in quite a bit of practice using the post-hole digger and setting posts, as the same technique would be used to set the stumps for the cabin.
    When he told Frank about the fence he’d constructed around his vegetable garden he was told that he’d probably done the correct thing by hauling his own fence tight as it wasn’t meant to contain stock, though Frank would have a look at it later to make sure.
    By mid Friday afternoon the fencing job they were doing had been completed, another large stack of the fence palings in Frank’s yard had been transferred to the camp-site and Frank had inspected the fence around Dirk and Sally’s vegetable garden. Finding that it was as good as any he himself could have put up, and being impressed with the mesh strainer that Dirk had devised, Frank offered to employ him whenever he had a job on that he couldn’t handle by himself.
    With Dirk away from camp Sally had spent much of the first day clearing the embankment above and below the zig-zag path where she planned to start her herb garden and had found to her surprise that in the jungle of covering weeds a number of flowers had self seeded. When she thought about it she remembered sometimes seeing both her parents, but particularly her mother, working first to establish and then later to maintain the beds of flowers that hopefully would survive the times between visits during school holidays.
    The thought of being able to continue her mother’s passion for gardening helped inspire her and by the end of the day all but a few obstinate bushes had been cleared away from both above and below the path, and she knew that with Dirk’s help even they would also be removed soon. She knew that she would have to begin planting as soon as possible as without plants to hold the soil together heavy rain might cause the embankment to erode, although there were quite a few large rocks there that should prevent that happening. Either that or the rocks themselves might tumble down into the campsite, and that would be a real problem.
    When Dirk returned in the late afternoon he was surprised by the amount of work she’d accomplished, and he quickly took a mattock to the few bushes that needed to be removed to finish the job. After checking the slope he assured Sally that the rocks weren’t in any danger of being dislodged as they were very large and bedded quite firmly into the soil. It would still be a good idea to get the planting done quickly however, even if only because the slope now looked so bare, and to that end they would drive to the nursery in town on Saturday and get the plants she wanted.
    The next day, without transport but needing to do some shopping she made a spur-of-the-moment decision to walk to Brocklesbury, figuring that if she left just after lunch she would make it well before the shops were closed and be able to come back with Dirk in the truck. Leaving a note for him to meet her at the hotel in case he came back early and found the camp deserted she emptied her back-pack, placed two bottles of water from the spring in it and dressed in her baggy shirt and trousers, and sun hat, headed for the village. She’d only just gotten to the top of the zig-zag path when she remembered the CB hand-held and had to retrace her steps back to the tent where she attached the small radio to her belt before resuming her journey.
    Although it took her a little over two hours to cover the distance she was pleased to find that despite not having done any hiking for some time the walk hadn’t been as tiring as she thought it might be. Just the same, she thought that it might be a good idea to buy a bicycle as it would then probably take her only about a third of the time to do the trip, then grinned to herself at the idea of trying to persuade Dirk to get a bike too. She knew that wasn’t going to happen, not because he’d be too lazy to ride it but because if he wanted to go somewhere it would be quickly rather than at the much slower speed of a pushbike.
    With her shopping complete she was having a look at some magazines in the newsagents when she found several dedicated to embroidery, crotchet and knitting, and remembering that her Aunty did a lot of knitting and regularly turned out the most beautiful sweaters, cardigans and scarves purchased one and took it over to the park to have a read. Half an hour later found her at the haberdashery where the two ladies who ran the shop were happily chatting to her about the many benefits, not to mention the pleasure of being able to crotchet and knit garments for one’s self, family and friends. The result was that she emerged from the shop with a large bag containing a dozen balls of wool, an assortment of needles, another book from which she could learn the basics, and a promise that the ladies would be happy to give her some lessons in the crafts of knitting and crotchet. They also advised her that when she wanted to tackle something that required a lot of wool it was best to buy it in one purchase, ensuring that the each ball of the colour chosen was from the same batch as sometimes there was a slight variation in the shade between batches.
    After thanking them for their assistance she made her way to the hotel, intending to read the book of basics while waiting for Dirk to arrive. Hoping that he was able to hear her she turned on the CB hand-held and made her first real call on it, having already practiced the correct procedures with Dirk back at the camp. She was rewarded on her second attempt by his replying that he was receiving her “five by five,” though she still wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, and relayed to him the information that she was waiting for him in the beer garden of the hotel. After he’d acknowledged the transmission and told her that both he and Frank would be there in about half an hour she slipped into the bar, finding that Bron wasn’t on duty, and ordered a lemon squash with which she went back to the garden and began to read.
    Half an hour later she returned to the bar and ordered another squash plus two schooners of beer for the men, who she presumed would be a bit thirsty after spending the day working in the sun, and was also given a bowl of Jatz crackers and cubed cheese. She learned later that “cheese and bikkies” were always put out on that part of the bar where the regulars sat, and as they weren’t usually given out to be taken to the beer garden it seemed that Frank was a favoured regular. Her timing couldn’t have been better as the two men walked in just as she was setting the tray of drinks and nibbles down on the table beside which she’d been sitting.
    Thanks to the knowledgeable barmaid who knew the regular patrons quite well, Frank was pleased to find that the schooner she gave him when he sat down after greeting her was his favoured drop of liquid amber. He apparently wasn’t inclined to drink much during his working week and after downing his schooner said before declining the offer of a ride and walking home that it would be his turn to shout when they finished work on the Friday.
    Dirk was amazed that Sally had walked all the way to the village and agreed that her having a pushbike would probably be a good thing if she was that keen, but as she had guessed he wasn’t at all keen on the idea of him getting one as well. He did suggest that maybe a motorbike would be good but Sally was rather opposed to that idea when she imagined what it would be like if her man had an accident somewhere and help wasn’t at hand. He didn’t protest as he remembered her not unreasonable fear of an accident again taking the life of someone she cared deeply about, and knew that she cared about him as much as he cared about her.
    Draining his glass and grabbing the last two Jatz and cubes of cheese he picked up her back-pack filled with groceries and carried it out to the truck, with Sally following him with her bag of wool and knitting needles, then while telling her about the work he’d done that day they drove back home.
    The day’s physical work hadn’t been all that hard, he said, though it had been a long day and it was probably the heat that had drained a lot of his energy. He wasn’t too tired to finish the large plate of what Sally called a “white stew” of chicken and vegetables on a bed of rice that she set before him at dinner time though, however he decided against having his usual glass of white wine with the meal and soon after eating hit the hay.

    * * *
    After an early night the following morning found Sally travelling with her back-pack into the village with Dirk, her plan being to catch the morning bus into town where she wanted to check out the public library for more books on herbs. When Dirk dropped her off at the park from where the bus commenced its run she found that a sizeable number of high school students were also waiting, and resigned herself to having to stand for the forty to fifty minutes it took to travel the distance to town. Student concession pass holders are actually required to stand when there isn’t enough seating for full fare paying passengers, however when one of the students offered her a seat she had the impression that it would have been offered regardless of the rule. The students seemed to have worked out a system whereby none of them had to stand for the entire trip as she noticed that there was quite a bit of changing around during the journey so she also took a turn at standing.
    The bus driver grinned and gave her a wink when he saw that she’d taken a turn at standing and broke one of the bus company’s primary rules by engaging her in conversation as she stood close to his seat, and after telling her that the students from the village were a good bunch of kids gave her directions as to where the library was located. He also reminded her that the bus would be returning try o the village in an hour’s time, and that there would be another run made in the afternoon, with the bus beginning its return to the village at five thirty. There was talk, he added, that the bus company that operated from town would soon be performing the same service but at slightly different times in order to compliment rather than compete with the village’s bus service. That, he said, was just as well because if the town company tried to take over the run completely the villagers would probably take to driving their cars instead of taking the bus, just to prove a point. That point being that the villagers felt that they really didn’t need any outsiders to organise their lives, thank you very much.
    Thanking the driver and alighting from the bus when it reached town she found her way to the library only to find that it didn’t open until ten a.m., which gave her time to have croissants and coffee in lieu of the breakfast she’d skipped earlier that morning. She also made a ’phone call to her auntie and told her, without being too specific, where she was and what she’d been doing lately, and also that from now on she would be living near the small village of Brocklesbury. She gave her the post office box number where mail could be sent, adding that the place where she was living didn’t have the ’phone connected, and not mentioning that it probably never would be. Nor did she say anything about Dirk, knowing that her aunty would probably have a pink fit if she discovered that her niece was now living in a de-facto relationship with a man who’d she’d only very recently met.
    Finishing the call with the promise that she would be returning to visit her and Uncle Geoff soon she purchased a pack of sandwiches for lunch, put them in her pack-pack and walked back to the library which was now open. She was disappointed when looking through the shelves to find that books on herbs were as abundant as hens’ teeth, and although the few that were available weren’t worth borrowing she did obtain a library card for future use.
    From the library she walked to Big W but not finding precisely what she wanted there walked two blocks further to a shop that sold bicycles and their accessories, and though the prices were much higher found just what she was looking for: A good, solid bike featuring a carrier at the rear, a basket at the front and more gears than she would probably ever need, although the bicycle pump that she’d had on her childhood bike was no longer supplied as standard. Neither was the small tool pouch that was normally found hanging under the back of the seat, and these items she purchased separately, along with a bike lock, a dynamo that fitted onto the front forks, head and tail lights, plus a spare tube and a puncture repair kit. The salesman installed the dynamo, wiring and lights for her and after checking that everything worked as it should and securing her back-pack to the rear carrier she mounted the bike and began pedalling her way to the village.
    Taking the sealed road that led from the north of town directly to the village rather than going via the dirt road that passed the track to the camp took a little longer than she thought it would, however she enjoyed the ride and arrived long before the last bus would have. It was only after she’d dismounted at the park and propped the bike on its stand that she realised that pedalling for such a distance had exercised her leg muscles to the point that they were now quite sore, and was glad that she’d be able to load the bike onto the truck for the trip home.
    Dirk and Frank turned up a bit earlier than anticipated, having spent the day just putting in posts and deciding to leave the stringing of the barbed wire until the next day. Sally was all smiles when she showed off her new mode of transport and even kept smiling when Dirk said she’d have to pedal fast to keep up with his truck when he drove home, telling him that he’d better have dinner ready for her when she got back. For some reason he was suddenly keen to load the bike onto the back of the truck, and she admitted that she would be happy to ride in the cab as her muscles needed time to recover from the effort of pedalling all the way from town.
    Before leaving the village Dirk went over to the shops and made a few purchases then with the bike loaded onto the back of the truck he drove them both home. She was pleasantly surprised after arriving when Dirk told her to sit back, put her feet up and read Bron’s book on herbs while he cooked up a meal of pork chops with peas, carrots, corn and mashed potatoes, all of which he’d purchased before leaving the village. As if that wasn’t enough he’d also done caramelized onions and gravy to go with it, and then washed the dishes and cleaned up afterwards. Maybe, she thought to herself, she should ride her bike long distances on a regular basis!
    * * *


    Good addition to the story, Shin. Good to “see” you back! How have you been?


    Hi IceFire.
    Good to see that APN is still active and that you’re still here.
    Sorry I’ve been inactive for so long but I haven’t been as well as I could be for some time now. I had a relapse of the Leukemia and am back on chemotherapy, but I’ve even had to suspend that for a while as I have just had two rounds of TURPs. (Admitted to the ED in great pain and had to wear a catheter for a couple of weeks while waiting to get into a hospital. Got so bad that I had to go private but as my surgeon was going on holidays I got transferred to the public system anyway. I got released from hospital last Wednesday but by Thursday night I was back and had to undergo surgery again, this time classed as emergency. The surgeon who worked on me did a great job but decided to keep me here for a few days to make sure all is OK. At present I have MRSA which means I also have a room to myself. Best part, apart from me getting better now, is that it’s all on the public health system so we don’t have to worry about finance.
    Chi has been coming in to check on me before and after her shifts at another hospital, (she’s an RN in the oncology ward), and has worn herself ragged, and I think I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world to have her as my wife. I’m in hospital at present but hope to be discharged tomorrow. Then follows two or three weeks of doing nothing while I heal enough to go back to work.(Fortunately the Air Force is giving me full support.)
    I’ve been able to write a few more pages of this story though, and am now in the process of uploading them.
    I’m looking forward to getting out of here and back to feeding the chickens, ducks and geese, and of course working on the veggie garden, though Chi said I should wait for a couple of months before doing any digging. My sergeant said he could organise a work party of guys from my section to help if I wanted it but they’re already overworked as it is, so I’ll just take it easy until I can do everything myself.
    Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough here so I’ll get back to uploading more of The Mulberry Tree.
    Cheers, IceFire, and take care of yourself.


    Despite that she wouldn’t be going into the village Sally had risen at the same time as Dirk and made breakfast before he left, with orders to book them into the hotel for that night if it was possible as she wanted to have another long hot shower. After he’d gone she went back to bed again, intending to get a bit more sleep, however it wasn’t really in her nature to lie around when there were things to do and half an hour later she was up again, working on getting the embankment ready to receive the plants they would buy next day.
    The more she read of Bron’s book the more ideas she had about what to plant, and by lunchtime the list of plants she required was a long one. It no longer contained just the herbs commonly used in the culinary field but now included a large range of medicinals and soil improvers, along with some very colourful plants such as calendula, cordyline, fox-glove, gladioli, heliotrope, nasturtiums, a variety of geraniums and many others. Some of the sages produced colourful flowers too, and then there were chillies and peppers that could be planted in the mix. Some of the plants she read about weren’t so much colourful as they were beneficial in some way but many were also just simply beautiful to look at because of their foliage and thus would also be included.
    Her credit card was going to take a bit of a pounding, she thought with a smile, and suddenly remembering that a payment would be due soon was glad that she’d given her auntie the postal address so that the monthly account could be forwarded to her. It would be a simple matter to transfer money from her savings account to pay for the purchases she was making and then decided that she should actually transfer her account to the local branch for easier access.
    By lunchtime she felt as if she’d done enough grubbing in the soil for one day so she put away the hand tools, removed her gardening gloves and after washing off brewed a pot of tea and made up a salad roll for lunch. She then sat down and carefully following the instructions in the book of basics began teaching herself how to use the knitting needles and wool she had purchased in the village. It took her a little time to get the hang of just casting on the first row of stitches, and even longer to do the next, however after some practice she found that it wasn’t overly difficult, apart from keeping an even tension on the yarn so that the stitches weren’t either too tight or too loose. By the time Dirk arrived home she had, despite twice having had to pull it all apart and start again, completed a satisfying third of the scarf she was attempting to make as her first project, and even if it did look a bit uneven here and there she was quite proud of her effort.
    Dirk was quite proud of her too, saying that he hoped she would continue her new craft at least until they had a couple of sweaters each to keep them warm through winter.
    “A couple of sweaters each? I don’t know if I could learn to knit fast enough to do that: At the rate I’m going I’d be lucky to finish even one for myself by then. Did you know that knitting was first done by men? And that many men still do it as a hobby? In fact, they often take out major prizes in competitions and craft shows.”
    “Really? Hmm… Are you trying to suggest that I take up knitting too?”
    “Not really. In fact somehow I just can’t imagine you doing something like that.”
    “Suppose I could try though: Get some steel wool and knit myself a Volkswagen perhaps.”
    “Trust you to come up with something stupid like that.”
    “Not a good idea, huh?”
    “Of course not. You know what steel wool’s like: Being so close to the beach the salt air would rust the front part of your car away before you got half way to the back. Anyway, apart from obviously being mentally affected by too much sun, how was your day?”
    “Pretty good really. We got the job finished a lot earlier than Frank thought we would and he was pretty pleased about that. Said that if I was available he’d probably be able to use my help again occasionally, even after his own truck is back on the road, which should be by Wednesday. At the moment he hasn’t got anything else lined up until the middle of next week though, and even then it’ll only be to do some repair work and install a couple of gates. I have to pick him up Monday morning and then go to the mill and get the stumps I ordered. He suggested I get a few bags of Kwik-Set concrete mix to put under the base of each stump before they’re put in, and I can get those from the village hardware store tomorrow morning before we go to the nursery. Oh, almost forgot: I managed to book us into the hotel for tonight.”
    “Terrific. Do you think it might be a good idea to make a regular booking for each Friday night over the next few weeks?”
    “Or even until we’ve finished building the cabin. That’s not a bad idea at all. In fact, it’s an excellent idea: Long hot showers, dinner without having to cook, do our laundry, play darts. OK, we should head off soon but I want to water the plants and check the garden beds before we go.”
    “I’ve already watered the plants. They’re doing well too,” she said as he began walking down to the soon-to-be veggie garden.
    He’d only been gone a few minutes when Sally heard him excitedly calling for her to come and have a look, and after she’d hurried down found him down on his knees beside a pile of mulch that he’d pulled back to expose the soil beneath. She knelt down beside him and saw that the reason for his excitement was that the moist soil he’d taken from a small hole he’d dug with his bare hands was laced with a number of very active earth-worms that had taken up residence.
    “This is great!” he exclaimed as he dug another small hole a bit further away and exposed some more worms. “I was hoping to find a few worms but I’m amazed that there are these many in such a small area, though they might’ve been attracted by the horse manure we bought. In any case I’m going to be transferring those potted plants here tomorrow afternoon.”
    Smiling at his enthusiasm Sally returned to the tent and shortly after had their packs, with laundry and the clothes they’d be wearing after showering, loaded into the truck ready to go. Paddy was once again seated in the back and as Dirk climbed aboard after putting the large esky on the back of the truck he was amused to see that the bear was now wrapped in the half finished scarf that Sally said she was taking to show the ladies at the haberdashery in the morning.
    “So why are you so excited about all those worms?” Sally asked as they drove towards the village.
    “Well, there are a number of reasons: They’re really good for the garden. First, they’re surface feeders: They come up and feed on decayed vegetable and animal matter. They don’t actually digest the stuff the way we do, but actually consume bacteria that’s on whatever it is they’re grinding. What passes through their bodies, the castings, is left behind to enrich the soil and feed the plants. As they burrow back down into the soil they create tunnels that are lined with beneficial bacteria and allow water to penetrate easily. Compost eventually breaks down by bacterial action but plants are more easily able to utilise the minerals produced by the worms than try to break down compost themselves. Letting worms happily do what they do best saves us the job of digging the soil over every season.”
    “I’ve seen worm farms for sale at hardware stores, and the nursery has them too. They’re supposedly good for getting rid of kitchen scraps. Maybe you could put some of the worms in one of those and breed more.”
    “Not really. At least, not the worms that we saw in the soil here. Here they’re native earth worms, and they normally don’t survive very long in compost bins, though I don’t know why not. The types used in those worm farms are different varieties: Usually Red Worms, Tiger Worms, or Indian Blues, and they don’t normally survive long in the soil. A case of each to his own, I guess.”
    “Some of those in the garden looked really big. Are they any good for using as bait? If they are we could probably use some on Sunday when we go fishing with Rob and Rebecca.”
    “I’ve heard that sometimes they aren’t all that good for fishing. For some reason fish seem to dislike them, though there are some that would be good, if we had them here. African and Canadian Night Crawlers are supposed to be really good, but breeding them can be a problem because they tend to wander off at night when no-one’s watching. Would you believe that there’s a worm found in Gippsland, Victoria – Megascolides australis – that grows to three metres? It’s so big that it can actually be heard crawling.”
    “Honestly? Wow! You’d probably only need one of those in each bed if that was the case, but Yuck! I wouldn’t be gardening there if you did.”
    “I probably wouldn’t be either. Maybe we could use some old bathtubs as compost bins though, and produce castings and worm oil for sale.”
    “Worm oil?”
    Dirk laughed. “That’s what polite people in the business call what anyone else would call worm pee. Do you think maybe we should change the subject before we get turned off having dinner tonight?”
    Now Sally laughed, and began to talk about the various herbs she was planning to establish on the embankment, provided of course that she was able to get them. Although Dirk knew some of the herbs she spoke of fairly well, and was vaguely familiar with others having read a little about them in his many gardening books, it seemed that Sally had really gotten into studying the subject and had already amassed a lot of information about them. She’d brought Bron’s book with her and although it had to be returned she hoped that she might be able to borrow it until she had her garden planted out. She would also ask the local newsagent to order in a copy of the same book if it was at all possible, but if not then she’d ask her Auntie in Sydney to buy it and send it to her.
    Arriving at the hotel they first booked in then took their dirty clothing to the laundry and put it into a couple of washing machines before having a shower, which this time they did together, then heading for the bar to see if Bron was there. She wasn’t on duty, but only because she’d just finished her shift for the day, and they found her sitting at the bar with Frank, Bob and a couple of their friends, waiting for Dave to come back from town.
    “Speak of the devil,” Frank said to Dirk as they approached. “I was just telling everyone about the fencing job we just finished. You’ve got a good, hard working man there Sally.”
    “Hush now Frank or you’ll make his big head swell even more,” she laughed, then leaning over said “Hi Uncle Bob” as she gave him a quick peck on the cheek, causing him to blush slightly but at the same time puff up with pleasure at her use of the word “Uncle” in front of his mates.
    In the hour that followed they listened to the men talk about what had been going on, in and around the village over the past week or so, including a few humourous events concerning locals that had occurred, though for the present they said nothing about what they themselves were doing. That is until Bob assured them that where they were living and what they were doing wouldn’t go any further than the select group of tight-lipped friends they were drinking with now. Plus of course Jeff Mullins who owned the service station, as he was one of the group, and Darren, the friend who had an excavation business, and his wife Beth, who was the local hair dresser. Of course the hotel owners Tony and Trev would soon know anyway as they always knew what was happening in the village and when Bob said that the members of the brigade could also be trusted Sally laughed and asked if it might be easier to list those who wouldn’t be in on their secret.
    Dave turned up and after greeting everybody was ordered a beer as he dragged another barstool to the end of the bar where they were all sitting.
    “How did it go?” Bron asked him quietly, referring to yet another project that Dave was involved with.
    “Pretty good. I’ll tell you all about it when we get home.”
    When asked, Bron assured Sally that it was OK for her to borrow the book on herbs for long enough to establish her garden, despite the fact that it was actually one of Dave’s books and not hers, and asked if it would be alright for her and Dave to have a look at the garden when it was finished.
    After Dirk mentioned that he was putting in a vegetable garden Frank was quick to tell the group about the fence that Dirk had put up around it, describing it as one he himself would have been proud of, and for some reason Dave suddenly found himself very keen to visit the campsite. He had confided to Bron soon after meeting the couple that they appeared to be somewhat like themselves in that they weren’t afraid to take a risk by occupying land they didn’t have any legal right to and were determined to be as independent as possible. Just the type of people that are needed for a MAG, he had said at the time, and from what he had heard tonight he was now sure of it and decided that it would be a good idea to put out some feelers and gauge their reaction to the idea.
    Dirk was told that training with the Bush Fire Brigade was held every Saturday morning from eight a.m. until midday and that his training would begin as soon as he was able, though it needn’t be tomorrow as that was probably a bit short notice. Dirk admitted that he and Sally actually did have a lot of work planned for the next day but assured Bob that he would be there the following Saturday as well as all those that followed.
    “You don’t have to turn up every Saturday,” Bob told him. “Though we do expect our members to make a regular appearance. Mind you, we all have such a good time that there’s never a shortage of volunteers, and I suspect several members would rather be at training than have to stay at home with nagging wives. And you never heard me say that,” he added as laughter following the statement.
    It was very shortly after that the group split up, with Frank, Bob and his mates heading for home and leaving the two couples to decide how the rest of the evening would be spent. Any thoughts that Dirk and Sally had of having a quiet meal together in the hotel’s dining room were quickly put aside when Dave asked them if they’d like to join him and Bron for dinner in town as they were going there to meet up with their tradie friends.
    “It’ll be a good night and we’d love to have you join us,” Bron added.
    “You’ve already met a few of them when you came snorkelling with us and I’m sure you’ll like the rest of the bunch,” Dave added. “Just be aware that despite being good tradesmen, good fishermen and good shooters they’re not all that good when it comes to karaoke, which is what’s on tonight.”
    “I’d be the last one to knock them for that, Dai: I’m a bloody awful singer myself. That’s why I learned to play the sax and the liquorice stick: Can’t play either of those and sing at the same time.”
    “What’s a liquorice stick?” asked Bron, to which Dave answered that the term was originally used in America back in the thirties to describe a clarinet, then asked Dirk if he was a jazz fan.
    During the drive to town in Dave’s truck the two men sat in the front and talked first about jazz and then other genres of music that they both enjoyed while the girls sat in the back and talked about knitting, crotchet and other crafts that interested them both. Dave also broached the subject of self sufficiency and after some discussion, during which the girls got involved, he put forward the idea of a mutual aid group and was pleased to find that both Dirk and Sally were very receptive to the idea.
    The night turned out to be every bit as good as Bron had told them it would be, despite that the meals that they’d ordered then collected from the servery when their number was called weren’t exactly “Haute Cuisine.” They found that the tradies and wives who they hadn’t met before were just as friendly as those they had, and Dirk made sure that he had all their ’phone numbers just in case they needed some professional advice when he and Sally were building their cabin.
    During the trip back to the village Dirk told them that he would be running a Scuba Course in three weeks time and if they wanted to join and had their medicals completed they were a couple of spaces available, not mentioning that if they did they’d actually be the first to enrol in the class. He had been to the local doctor to discuss the possibility of him doing Diving Medicals and found out that he actually had a spirometer for doing lung function tests, and was considering attending a course with the DMC in Sydney. It was good news for Dirk and Sally who had thought they might have to travel to Sydney to do their medicals, and the decided that they would make appointments on the following Monday.
    By the time Dave dropped them off at the Cock & Bull the full day had taken its toll on both of them and the lure of a warm, comfortable bed being irresistible they said goodnight and quickly headed for their room. Unfortunately they’d forgotten about their laundry before going into town and now had to make a detour in order to move their washed clothes to the dryer, though there was no way that they’d wait up until that machine stopped and they’d take their dried clothes out early in the morning.
    Dirk also took his two cordless drill batteries and their recharger to the room and set them up so that they’d be fully charged come morning. He could have used the 300-Watt inverter that was currently being used to run their record player back at the camp but figured that using a power outlet at the hotel was much easier.

    * * *


    After breakfast, and retrieving their laundry from the tumble dryer, Dirk headed for the hardware store to buy the bags of Kwik-set concrete needed for bedding the stumps while Sally went to the haberdashery, taking with her the short length of scarf that she had knitted. When she showed the piece to the ladies there they were quick to praise her work, telling her that she’d done very well, especially as she’d had no previous experience, and added that all she really needed to do now was practice. There was a lot more to it than just casting on, knitting, purling and binding off of course, she was told, and if she could come back when she had time and they’d be very happy to show her some of the more advanced stitches and techniques. Happy with that invitation Sally did some grocery shopping before walking down to the hardware store, arriving in time to see the last few bags of Kwik-Set loaded onto the truck, and climbed into the cab for the drive to the garden centre in town.
    An hour and a half was spent there as they sought out the plants each was looking for, with Dirk being quite amused when Sally’s unsuccessful search for Calendula resulted in her learning that its more common name was Marigold, and that several trays of them had been staring her in the face all along.
    “Lucky for you they don’t have teeth,” he said. “Being that close they could’ve bitten you.”
    She laughed but suddenly remembering the ride they’d taken in Dave’s truck replied that that would have been a problem for sure as there was no first-aid kit in the truck.
    “Did you see the set-up Dai has in his truck? Apart from the CB radio I mean. Big first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, fire blanket and a BOB. Bron told me that they always carried those things, and her own car was set up the same way too. Apparently all their friends followed Dave’s lead and have fitted their vehicles out much the same way.”
    “Good thinking. I reckon we should do the same. Where do you want the extinguisher mounted on your bike?”
    “I’m beginning to think that Idiot is your middle name,” she laughed.
    Dirk had one of the staff load ten jumbo sized bags of potting mix directly from a pallet that was raised by the nursery’s fork-lift truck to the level of the truck’s tray, however Sally decided that it wasn’t going to be enough and had him load ten more. Dirk was pleased she’d remembered his telling her about using potting mix when transplanting the vegetable seedlings that they had growing in pots under the trees, but jokingly asked her if she was planning to cover the whole campsite with the mix. After poking her tongue out at him she then proceeded to load her seedlings onto the back seat of the cab alongside the groceries, and on the floor behind the front seats, while Dirk secured eight very large planter pots against the bulkhead on the back.
    After a brief stop at the garage where they filled they esky with ice they returned to the camp and unloaded everything, with the bags of Kwik-Set being placed under a few sheets of iron to keep them dry, despite it being highly unlikely that it would rain before they were used on the following Monday.
    Sandwiches and a large mug of tea for lunch was followed by a pleasant afternoon of planting out their seedlings, both working together at first on the vegetable garden and then on the embankment. Sally, often referring to Bron’s, or rather Dave’s book on herbs had set her plants out so that when fully grown they wouldn’t crowd out their neighbours. By the late afternoon they’d managed to have everything in place apart from the eight large pots which contained a variety of dwarf citrus trees. There was one each of Lisbon and Meyer lemons, a Seedless Valencia, Washington Navel and Seville oranges, a Honey Murcott mandarin, a Tahitian lime and a Ruby Red grapefruit. Dirk said that he’d also wanted to buy a Marsh grapefruit, an Imperial Mandarin and a couple of cumquats, but as they hadn’t been available he’d placed orders for them. The seedling trees he bought were well advanced but would be kept in pots until permanent in-ground positions for them had been decided upon, so for the time being they were simply arranged around the shelter. Sally was keen on the idea of having lots of fruit trees, just like her father had wanted, but at the moment she was concentrated more on her own garden project.
    “I know it’s not much to look at right now, but I think that in a few months when everything’s growing properly it’ll look really good,” said Sally as she surveyed the embankment.
    “I think so too. Hopefully it’ll be the same with the veggie garden. By the way, I noticed a number of small trees growing down the slope a bit and somehow they looked familiar. I’m not sure what they are but I’m going down to have a look. Want to come?”
    “OK. Which path are they on?”
    “Not sure. There are a few paths we haven’t followed yet and hopefully they’ll be growing alongside one of those and not in the middle of the scrub.”
    After he’d pointed down the slope to where the trees were located they looked for and found a path that might lead directly to them, and after following it came across what turned out to be two small but beautiful fig trees. They hadn’t grown very tall but instead had spread quite widely, and both were fully loaded with juvenile fruit.
    “Oh, Wow! These are two of the trees my dad planted. There were also several other types though, and with any luck some of those might have survived too. Let’s have a good look around.”
    During a twenty minute search along that path no more fig trees were found however they did find two feijoas and three guavas, plus half a dozen stunted olive trees which in their bushland setting could easily be mistaken for some type of native plant. As the figs seemed to be growing well Dirk suggested that they be left where they were, but after the fruit had ripened and been collected they should take cuttings and grow a few more trees closer to the cabin. As for the feijoa, guavas and olives, he wasn’t sure if cuttings could be taken from them but while there might be no harm in trying it would probably be better to read up on the method beforehand.
    Later that evening, after emptying three big bowls of chilli con carne, only one of which Sally had, Dirk went through the several gardening books he had and in The Complete Book of Fruit written by Leslie Johns and Violet Stevenson found the information on propagating that he wanted. After reading the relevant pages, plus a few more that side-tracked him for a while, he passed the book to Sally to read. When she’d finished they made a list of all the items they’d need in order to successfully propagate not only the fig trees but also the feijoa, guavas, olives and even the mulberry tree. Their list included, in addition to sphagnum moss, peat moss, vermiculite and coarse river sand, a packet of hormone rooting powder, with Sally suggesting that maybe they could also get a few old windows from the recycling centre and build a small cold frame in which to place the cuttings.
    “We could do that, though I’d be more interested in putting up a greenhouse like the one we helped Dai with.”
    “Me too, but that’s probably going to have to wait for a while. And when we do put one up it’ll have to be built with recycled materials because, apart from being cheaper, anything new here would look out of place, don’t you think?”
    “Yeah, it would. You know, I think that by the time we finish putting up the cabin with the materials we’re using it’ll probably look as if it’s been here for decades. On the outside at least: On the inside I reckon it won’t look too much different to a modern house, apart from the wonderful craftsmanship that will be evident in my work of course.”
    “You certainly have tickets on yourself, don’t you?” Sally laughed, though she was pretty sure that whatever job he tackled would be done extremely well and the cabin’s interior would look really nice.

    * * *
    Early in the morning the sound of a vehicle coming along the track and stopping above the campsite was followed by a loud honk of its horn as Rob heralded his and Rebecca’s arrival, and shortly after the couple made their appearance at the bottom of the zigzag path.
    “Had no problems finding the place I see,” said Dirk as coming from the shelter he advanced with a hand outstretched to Rob in greeting.
    “Nah. Just followed the fire trail like you told me to,” he replied as they shook hands. “I’ve driven down it a few times before, though I didn’t know the spur was there and probably would’ve driven straight past if Reb hadn’t pointed it out.”
    Sally joined them just as Rob was about to introduce Rebecca and after having done so they all sat together at the table under the shelter, each nursing a mug of coffee as they planned the day. First on the agenda was to retrieve the timber from the hay-shed, plus perhaps a few more sheets of steel, although they could be handled by Dirk and Sally without extra help and weren’t considered a priority. Rob’s opinion was that as he was there they should take advantage of his help and bring back as much as they could anyway, provided it left plenty of time for fishing of course. It was finally decided that they should all go on the first trip to the shed and then decide just how much could be recovered before stopping for lunch, after which the whole afternoon could be spent fishing.
    After Rob moved his ute down to the clearing they all piled into Dirk’s truck and drove to the hay-shed, where Rob was surprised to find that their source of building materials was the same shed that he’d driven past many times, and had at one time even thought of having a close look to see what was in there.
    “I thought you were talking about the old Anderson house that was abandoned after the bushfire went through here years ago,” he said.
    “No. In fact I’ve never seen or even heard of the place. Do you think it’d be worth having a look at?”
    “It wouldn’t hurt, though it’s a few miles from here. It got burned a bit but though the local brigade was able to save most of it the owners decided that rather than fix it up they’d get a completely new house built closer to town.”
    As neither of the girls had seen the place he was talking about it was decided to go there first, and after climbing back into the truck and following Rob’s directions Dirk drove towards Brocklesbury but at the Tee intersection turned left towards the town. Less than half a mile later he swung left again, this time into a driveway that obviously hadn’t been used in a very long time, and drove to the old weatherboard house that could be seen at its far end.
    From the front the building looked to be in reasonable condition however at the rear the damage was quite obvious, with the back veranda completely destroyed and two rooms having been badly damaged though fortunately the fire had been prevented from spreading any further. They also found after carefully entering the house that it had been vandalised, however although several windows had been smashed and some of the light fittings had been torn out of the ceilings, that part of the building not touched by fire or water wasn’t too bad, all things considered.
    When Dirk turned to Sally and gave her a big grin she grinned back at him and nodded her head up and down rapidly: Despite the fire damage there was enough good timber here to not only complete their cabin but together with the material from the hay-shed more than enough to also build an enclosed shed for Dirk to use as a workshop. The big difference here, as opposed to the hay-shed, was that the owners hadn’t left for parts unknown and would have to be asked for permission to remove anything.
    That would have to wait for another day though: After all, the fishing planned for this afternoon couldn’t be delayed just because of this find, and a short time later found them back at the hay-shed loading timber. With the first load dropped off at the camp Dirk and Rob returned to get a second load while Sally and Reb stayed behind to make up sandwiches for lunch and get to know each other a little better. Rebecca didn’t say much at first and Sally soon discovered that she was in fact quite a shy type of girl, although she opened up a bit after being shown the herb and vegetable gardens and hearing that a chicken run and coop was going to be added.
    Apparently she’d faced difficult times as a child, being variously ignored or abused by her parents according to how much they’d been drinking or what they’d been smoking at the time, and her self esteem was at rock bottom. Not surprisingly her schoolwork suffered and this led to her being bullied so much at school that she dropped out, ran away from home and was living on the streets until being rescued by Rob. Thankfully she’d managed to avoid falling victim to drug dealers and pimps, though she knew that had she remained on the streets that fate would probably have been inevitable.
    There was no way that she would ever be going home as on the night before leaving she’d pinched her father’s wallet when he’d come home drunk and after taking out the cash had dropped it on the street outside their front gate. When a neighbour found it next morning and returned it to the address on the driver’s licence found inside her father thought he’d simply dropped it, and roundly cursed the unknown thief who’d obviously picked it up and removed the cash before throwing it away again. As the wallet contained his fortnightly pay plus five hundred dollars he’d won at the TAB on the horses it was no trifling amount, however Reb felt no remorse over her actions as by her reckoning it would never be enough to cover the abuse she’d long suffered at his hands.
    Rob, suspecting that she’d had a worse time of it than she admitted had never attempted to pry any further but instead had simply taken care of her, providing her with a comfortable bed in her own room and three square meals a day. In return she kept house and prepared meals for them both, got a job as a check-out chick at the local supermarket and began to study for her HSC through the local TAFE College in the hope that one she might be able to get a better job. She wasn’t too sure of what she really wanted to do in the future though she loved animals and wondered if it would be possible for her to become a veterinarian.
    For more than a year she and Rob shared the two-bedroom flat that he rented before she realised that she had grown to love him and moved into his bedroom as his partner. It hadn’t been as simple as just changing rooms and on the first night she had broken down in tears, admitting to Rob that she wasn’t a virgin, having been raped by her father not long after her seventeenth birthday. When she tried to tell her mother about the assault she was loudly abused and accused of making the whole thing up, and was told never to repeat “the terrible lies” she had just told. As bad as the rape had been it was her mother’s reaction that had made the betrayal of trust complete and it was that rather the bullying she’d suffered as school that caused her to run off.
    It had been a little over two years ago since she’d made the admission but with the help of his patient understanding and love her self esteem and life had improved immensely, and while at times she still had some self doubts her rock solid hero Rob was always there to support her.
    Sally showed her the knitting that she’d begun, the player and stack of records she and Dirk had purchased from the recycling centre, took her down to have a look at the vegetable garden and then down to the mulberry tree where she told her the story of Paddington Bear. It was an emotional telling and both girls were almost in tears by the time Sally had finished, however they both instinctively felt that each had found a good friend in the other, and this was borne out over the many years that were to follow their first meeting.
    After the men returned and wolfed down the stack of sandwiches that had been waiting for them, and with Rob’s ute being a two-door model seating only three they all piled into Dirk’s truck and headed for the beach with two eskies and their fishing rods and tackle on the back.
    Despite that fishing was a very serious undertaking, according to Rob anyway, Dirk and Sally thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and, although being wet through with spray from several large waves that crashed onto the rocks where they were standing each managed to catch enough fish to get themselves hooked on the sport. It was, Dirk admitted, more than just sport as it was also an excellent way to put food on the table, and if they’d had a freezer he and Sally would probably fill it with fish. Reb laughed at that and said that if they did have a freezer it should only be half filled with fish as being homesteaders they’d need to leave enough room for a few chickens, and possibly some rabbits too.
    “Or maybe you could build a smoker,” suggested Rob. “Not just for fish, but you could also use it for chicken, pork, beef and sausages.”
    “We’ve already got one!” Sally suddenly exclaimed very excitedly. “Dirk, my dad and Uncle sometimes used the earth oven to smoke some of the fish they caught! I’m not sure how they went about it, but I’m sure we could learn how to use it.”
    “You guys have an earth oven? Far out, man. We’ve got a Weber that I can use as a smoker but I’ve always wanted a big earth oven so we could make our own pizzas and bake bread. Problem is we aren’t able to build one where we’re renting. Hell, the old biddy who owns the place won’t even let me use the Weber in the back yard.”
    “Gosh, that’s the pits. Well I guess you and Reb could come and use ours, especially if you have too many fish and need to offload a few,” Sally suggested. “In fact, maybe you could even show us how to smoke with it.”
    “You’re on, Sal. I’d be glad to. Mind you, the wood around here isn’t what you’d want to be using but you can get packets of different woods for smoking at the camping shop in town.”
    Having caught enough fish for one day they returned to the camp-site where Rob immediately went to check out the earth oven, and finding that it was even better than what he’d thought it might be said that it would be no problem for him to use it as a smoker. However today it was going to be used for their barbeque and it wasn’t long before the two men, a stubbie of beer in hand, had a bed of coals glowing under the hot-plate.
    While Rob explained the intracies of using a smoker and how this earth oven could be used as one the girls, each with a glass of wine at hand, were putting together and laying out salads, plus a large mud-cake that Reb had baked and brought along. She called it a Mexican mud-cake as she’d used kaluah instead of the whisky that would have been used in a Mississippi mud-cake, and had almost doubled the amount. She’d omitted the instant coffee granules and had to adjust the other dry ingredients a little to compensate for the extra liquid however the resultant cake was one of perfection according to Sally, who had been unable to resist “just a tiny slice” when offered a taste.
    “I’ve also made an Aussie version using Bundaberg Rum, and I call that one a Murrumbidgee mud-cake as I think that river would be somewhat like the Mississippi. Well, I don’t know that for sure of course, but at least the name sounds good, don’t you think?”
    “Yes, it does. Dirk would love to try that one as I know he doesn’t mind a drop of Bundy now and then. I might need a bit of practice using the earth oven before trying it myself though as it doesn’t have a temperature gauge. Hmm… I wonder if Dirk could put one into it somehow.”
    Sally loved barbeques, she told Reb, because whenever they had one Dirk always did the cooking and the cleaning up afterwards. Reb replied that it was the same with her and Rob, though unfortunately that was only when they went to places that had a barbeque or where they could use their Weber.
    Later, after they’d all eaten well but found enough room for a decent slice of mud-cake to go with the bottle of port that Rob had brought, Dirk showed the two visitors the sketch-book in which he had drawn the plan for the cabin they were going to build. When Rob looked at the plan of the small cabin that Dirk wanted to build and said that it looked more like a small house than a cabin, Sally decided it was a cottage, and that she’d think of a suitable name for it bye and bye.
    After studying the plan closely and listening to Dirk explain how the now-a-cottage was to be built Rob suggested that the two doors that would open onto the deck from the main living area should be ten-light French doors.
    “Why ten-light French doors?” Dirk asked.
    “Well, they’d look really nice and would let a lot of light in, but mainly because a couple of sets in good nick were just delivered to the recycling centre and were now waiting for a nice little cottage to house them,” he replied, adding that a set would be going for a ridiculously low price if Sally and Dirk were interested.
    “Sold to the lady with the curly red hair!” Sally called, reaching across the table to take the sketch book and pencil the doors into the plan.
    “They’d make up nearly half the length of the wall and would certainly let a lot of light in, but I think they’d let a lot of heat out during winter nights,” said Reb when she looked at Sally’s adjustment to the plan. “It’d probably lessen the loss if you drew heavy curtains across them when the sun went down though.”
    “Hmm… You’re right, Reb,” said Dirk. “Maybe I could build plantation shutters for the outside too. They’d help prevent more of the heat loss when closed, plus they’d make the place a bit more secure whenever we’re away.”
    “They’d look really good too love,” Sally said. “You know, with so much light coming in, those casement windows I thought could be placed at the far end the living area could be used in the loft instead. If they’re not too tall that is, because there doesn’t appear to be a lot of headroom up there.”
    “I’ve been thinking about that: My original design was meant to be built as a caravan and because the height was restricted by regulations for towed vehicles the headroom in the loft would have been only just enough to let me sit up in bed. As a fixed structure I could increase the headroom enough to install those windows, but I wouldn’t want to go too high as I think it’d ruin the building’s appearance, so we still might have to stoop a bit upstairs.”
    “You more than me ‘cause I’m only five foot three… almost,” laughed Sally.
    “How much headroom is there in the living area?” Rob asked as he looked at the plan again.
    “Well, the ceiling slopes up from seven foot six at the walls to nine foot at the centre of the ceiling, though it’s only six foot six over the kitchen because the loft is above that part. That’s high enough for me and Sally because neither of us are all that tall, but people over six foot might find it a bit low.”
    They all laughed when Sally told them it was no problem for her because when she lived with her uncle and aunty the day-to-day crockery items and glassware they used was always placed on the lower shelves of the overhead cupboards in their kitchen, as neither she nor her aunty could reach the higher shelves easily.
    “The deep cupboard over the ‘fridge was the most inconvenient,” she said, “So aunty put all the things she never used up there. I remember once when one of her cousins was coming for a visit, and knowing that she always brought a bunch of flowers with her, auntie had to climb up and dig out a horrible vase that the cousin had given her. When the cousin arrived she was thrilled to find the vase sitting on the dining room table and as expected had quickly filled it with the flowers she’d brought. After the cousin had gone aunty kindly left the flowers in the vase until they died, and then emptied the ugly thing and quickly put it back out of sight.”
    Conversation, mostly ideas and suggestions for the cottage and its surrounds, continued until a little more than half the mud cake was gone and the two men had emptied the bottle of port between them when it was decided to call it a night.
    “Umm… We have our swag in the back of our ute and planned to stay down at the beach, but I don’t want to drive after drinking all that port so would you guys mind if we just parked here overnight?” Rob asked.
    “No problem with that, though unfortunately there’s no shower facilities here.”
    “No worries: There are showers at the recycling centre and Reb and I’ll have finished using them long before the regular staff turns up. Hey, why not get up early and come with us? You could also have a look at those French doors at the same time.”
    “Yeah. We’ll be in that, won’t we Sal? So Rob, can I presume you have keys to the place?”
    “Well of course I do. After all, I am the manager,” he replied, laughing at the sudden look of surprise on both Sally and Dirk’s faces.

    * * *

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