The Mulberry Tree

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    Not only had they all showered but by the time the regular staff turned up for work in the morning one set of the French ten-light doors had been loaded onto Dirk’s truck, taken back to the camp-site and placed in the shed. Rob had found that there were also narrow glazed panels that flanked each set of doors and he’d put a finger to his lips and given Sally a wink before motioning her to help him slide two of them onto the truck on top of the doors, then topped it off by including the architraves that had framed the set.
    After Dirk and Sally returned to the camp and placed everything in the shed there wasn’t much room for anything else, prompting Sally to suggest that it might be a good idea to erect the second of the sheds that Dirk had brought with him. He agreed however added that it would have to wait until after the stumps for the cottage had been put in, and doing that would probably take the rest of the day plus most of the next.
    Following a quick breakfast Dirk drove the truck into Brocklesbury, picked up Frank and his post-hole digger, plus a twenty litre drum of creosote, then together they proceeded to the mill to collect the stumps he’d ordered before returning to the camp-site to begin work. Back at the camp the stumps were unloaded and set up where their in-ground ends could be painted with the tar-like creosote, and Sally volunteered to undertake that unenviable task.
    With the footprint of the cabin measuring close to nine feet by twenty seven, Dirk’s plan had a total of twenty one stumps spaced at four foot six inch intervals in three rows four feet six inches apart, and although it may have been overkill he said, Dirk was determined that the cabin’s foundations would be as solid as a rock. The deck where the entry doors were to be located was to be six inches lower than the floor of the cottage, however under the main floor there would be a crawl space at least two foot high at its lowest point, and Dirk felt this would be ample room for him to be able to get under to install insulation batts if they were needed. Stump holes for the front deck and the back porch would also need to be dug, but they’d be done later.
    Before lunch the men laid out string lines to set out the positions for the stump holes then Frank used a spray-can of paint and marked on the ground precisely where they were to be dug out. Once the positions were marked the strings were removed to allow the two men to manouvre the post-hole digger around the site without getting their legs tangled, and straight after lunch they began the job of digging out the holes. As the ground sloped slightly down from the south-west end to the north-east end of the building site they used Frank’s home-made water level to ensure that the depth of each hole was such that the tops of the stumps would be level and match the plan that Dirk had drawn.
    Sally had never seen one of the man-portable post-hole diggers being used and watching with interest as it was put into operation marvelled at how easy and fast it was to dig a hole with one. Fortunately, and rather surprisingly to Dirk, the soil in which they were digging was of a higher clay content and was more compact than where he’d put in the posts for the vegetable garden, and as there was no need to add water the job progressed fairly quickly. So quickly in fact that Frank was of the opinion that they could probably dig the holes for the front deck and back porch that day, despite that Dirk had not yet purchased stumps to go in them.
    Although she wore gloves and an old shirt, and took care not to get any on her skin, Sally couldn’t avoid the smell of the creosote that she was applying to the stumps, and by the end of the day had developed a headache and was feeling a bit off colour. As soon as Dirk became aware of her condition he called a halt to the work, and as he and Frank had done as much as they’d planned to do for the day anyway, told her to go and lie down while he drove Frank back to the village. When he returned it was with a hot take-away meal, supposedly for two but more than enough for three, which he’d bought at the village’s Ying Wah Chinese restaurant and transported back in the esky.
    Fortunately by the time he came home Sally was feeling much better, probably because rather than lie down in the confines of the tent she had used the hammock under the trees where she could breathe fresh air. She’d also put a couple of L.P’s on the record player, lit the Coleman lantern and after hearing the truck coming down the spur had poured the glass of Rosé that was waiting on the table for him.
    “It looks like you’re making a cemetery for a tribe of gypsies,” Sally said as they ate, indicating with her chin to where twenty one stump holes had been dug. “Did you know that gypsies are traditionally buried upright, in a standing position?”
    “Are they really? Why’s that, do you know?”
    “No idea. My auntie told me it was in a book she was reading.”
    “That’s interesting. Well, we should have the rest of the holes dug and all the headstones in place by tomorrow arvo. Frank said that the Kwik-set concrete we put in each hole today will be firm enough to support them so I think most of the time will be spent tamping them in place.”
    “The last part sounds OK, but I’m not too happy about the stumps being referred to as headstones; I might end up dreaming about gypsies’ ghosts lurking under the floor every night,” Sally laughed.
    “By the way,” said Dirk. “Frank’s truck will be back on the road on Wednesday and he said he could handle most jobs by himself as they’re usually small ones, but he reckons being able to go for bigger jobs means he’d make more money and, his words, not mine: “A fit young offsider who’s not afraid of hard yakka would be worth paying.” It’d involve some travel to outlying areas at times, but he’ll cover me for petrol money when we need to use my truck, which would probably be often as my truck is bigger and can carry more stuff. Plus he said it’d be cash in hand, so I wouldn’t be paying any tax on it.”
    “That’d be good. Mind you, we wouldn’t really need a lot of cash if we could become as self-sufficient as we’d like to be. Speaking of which, I’ve been giving some thought to that, and I think we should go ahead and get some chickens. Do you think digging the post holes for the chook run could be included in the deal you have with him now?”
    “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. I don’t know how effective the auger would be in the sandy soil over there though, but I’ll put it to him in the morning. Ahh… Do you want the last of that sweet-and-sour pork?”
    “No thanks love. It’s really good, but I’m full up to pussy’s bow. You can have it, and you might as well finish off the fried rice too.”
    Dirk laughed as he hadn’t heard the expression “full up to pussy’s bow” since he was a kid in primary school, but happily went about emptying all the take-away containers which Sally said she would wash out and keep.

    * * *
    By Tuesday afternoon the rest of the holes for the stumps had been dug and concrete mix poured into the base of each, and by Thursday evening all the stumps had been soundly set in place, with an ant cap fixed on the top of each. The poles for the chook run had also been installed, along with their stays, though they still had to install the wire mesh that would keep the intended birds contained, and of course they’d have to build a coop for them.
    He’d temporarily placed the bearers on the stumps and laid out the floor joists, though none had been secured as he needed to get some straps and other fixings first and these he purchased early on Friday morning, collecting at the same time the rolls of four foot wire mesh that would be needed for the chicken run. He chose to use the same heavy gauge wire that had been used for the veggie garden for the bottom half of the fence, but a lighter gauge for the top half and the cover as it was meant to deter hawks, crows and kookaburras rather than rabbits and foxes. He also purchased a three foot wide roll of the heavy mesh which would be laid flat on the ground around the outside perimeter of the run and be clipped to the bottom of the fence to help prevent those critters digging under it.
    Although not as much as he feared it might have, the items Dirk had purchased cost a bit, and he thought that at the rate he was going he might soon have to find regular paid employment in order to finish the build. He hadn’t actually mentioned anything about it, however Sally was aware that his purchases of material weren’t something she could just ignore, especially as they were now a couple, and decided that she would contribute to the finance of the build on an equal basis… Beginning from last Monday when he had purchased the stumps and creosote, plus all the other material he’d bought since then.
    It’s sometimes said that if you want a professional job done, get a keen amateur to do it, as they usually go by the book and don’t take the short cuts that tradesmen often do in order to save time and money. This was certainly the case with Dirk, who in Sally’s opinion spent almost as much time reading Allan Staines’ book “The Australian Owner Builders Manual” as he did doing the actual work, and the excellent job he’d done so far reflected the care and attention to detail he’d taken.
    Not that Sally hadn’t also spent a bit of time reading the same book, and rather than limit her contribution to the work in hand by simply giving advice, and making large plates of sandwiches and many pots of tea, she had willingly pitched in to help him whenever and wherever she could.
    They hadn’t asked him to but Rob suddenly turned up just before noon that day and had lent a pair of strong hands to the effort of getting the bearers and joists positioned and secured, and he suggested that it’d be good if floor-boards could be salvaged from the Anderson house, rather than buy particle board flooring as Dirk was planning to do.
    When he heard that Dirk and Sally would be going to the hotel at Brocklesbury after the day’s work was done he asked if it would be OK for him to tag along… Along with Reb, of course. They were surprised to hear that despite having seen it he’d never been inside the hotel there and told him that he and Reb would be most welcome to join them for a night out, though he’d have to hurry back to town and bring his lady back in time for them to have dinner together.
    Calling by Frank’s house on their way to the Bull & Bush they invited him to also join them for dinner and a few drinks if he had nothing else planned, and as that turned out to be the case he told them that he’d meet them there in half an hour, after he’d showered and changed.
    It was lucky that Dirk had called around, he said later, as he had a job lined up and would require some help. It wasn’t a large job however the customer wanted it done quickly and had accepted the high quote, based on two men doing the work, that Frank had given him.
    When they fronted the bar of the hotel, after first booking in and putting their laundry into one of the washing machines, it was no surprise for them to find the Fire Captain and two of his mates sitting at their usual position at the end of the bar. At a welcoming wave from Bob they quickly joined the trio, one member of which gave up his seat so that Sally could sit beside her self-proclaimed Uncle. The same courtesy didn’t extend to Dirk who now sat separated by one seat from Sally but at least close to the double-lidded stainless-steel bowl of cheese and crackers put on the bar for favoured regulars, and he happily helped himself to a good handful of each.
    Some ten minutes after Bob began telling them about how flamin’ hard his week had been Frank turned up and had a bit of a grumble too, though by their second beer that was all put aside as Dirk and Sally told them about the work they’d done on their cottage. None of the locals had met the bloke who Dirk said had helped them with the work that day; however this was remedied when Rob arrived, Reb in tow, and they were all introduced.
    With the group now numbering eight, six of whom would be ordering from the bar’s meal servery above which a chalkboard displayed the day’s menu, they opted to move to one of the long tables in the beer garden, cheekily asking the barmaid if she could replenish the cheese and crackers before taking the bowl with them.
    During conversation with her in the beer garden, Sally was fascinated to hear that Reb had enrolled in evening classes at the local TAFE College and was learning how to do lead-lighting. She had already completed two simple projects and was now in the process of undertaking a more complex one of a shade for a Tiffany table lamp, which she would be happy to show Sal when it was finished.
    “I remembered you saying last week that you’d be interested in doing some pottery,” Reb said. “They have courses for that too, so I grabbed a pamphlet and an application form for you,” she added as she pulled both from her shoulder bag and handed them over. “It’s only a short course really; one night a week over three months. If you decide to do one, Rob said he could drive you over after he finishes work, then you could do the lesson, stay with us overnight and come back with him the next morning, and as we have a spare bedroom he thinks it’s a good idea.”
    Sally read the pamphlet and found that the course was held on Tuesday nights, the same night that Reb did her lead-lighting classes, took two and a half to three hours each lesson, and although materials weren’t included, it wasn’t expensive. Deciding on the spot to enrol for the next available course she filled out the application form and handed it back to Reb along with the required deposit, and asked her if she wouldn’t mind dropping both off at the TAFE for her.
    It was as she was passing the papers to Reb that Bron remembered that she and Dirk were supposed to have attended to another application form and she leaned over towards him and tapped him on the shoulder.
    “Dirk, with all the work we’ve been doing I completely forgot about booking in for our diving medicals! We’ll have to make sure we don’t forget to do that next Monday.”
    “Hell! I forgot about it too. We’ll have to try and get a booking later in the week though, because I’ll be helping Frank out for a couple of days from Monday. How about we see if we can book them for Thursday? That’ll leave a day up my sleeve in case the job with Frank takes a bit longer than he thinks.”
    “Yeah, that should be alright, although another problem is that you’ll be training with the Bush Fire Brigade on Saturday mornings, so we’ll have to talk to Dai and see if we can work out some kind of schedule.”
    Sitting alongside, Reb couldn’t help but overhear some of the exchange and as Sally sat back asked her what it was all about. After Sally told her that she and Dirk were going to do a PADI Open Water Diver course with Dave Morgan, an instructor who had recently taken up residence and had a farm close to Fish Hook Bay, she herself got rather excited about the idea.
    “Do you think Rob and I would be able to join? We’ve both done quite a bit of snorkelling, and have thought about going to Queensland and diving on the Great Barrier Reef.”
    “Well, I don’t know how many are booked on the course Dirk and I will be doing, but I can ask Dave tomorrow morning. He only has six students on each course and it’d be fantastic if the four of us could do it together.”
    “Do what together?” asked Rob, who had suddenly surfaced after a deep discussion with Frank regarding some of the least appreciated policies that the present government and opposition parties were promoting prior to a looming state election. Their conclusion was that nothing either party did would have much effect on the way of life that the village people led, but overall the country wouldn’t be any less screwed than it was now, and he turned his attention to Reb.
    “A Scuba diving course,” she told him. “Dirk and Sally are starting one in two weeks and I thought it’d be good for us to do one too. Sal’s going to ask the instructor tomorrow if we can join the same class.”
    “Yeah? Hmm, yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I’m up for it, provided it’s on weekends.”
    Frank and Bob decided to call it a night and they left the two couples to calls of “good night,” and in Dirk’s case “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, eight a.m. sharp,” from Bob.
    They talked together for a while longer before Dirk and Sally decided to retreat to their room for the night as it had been a long week and Dirk had to be up early.
    “Actually, Reb and I will be camping down at the beach tonight, and tomorrow we’d like to have a look around the place, so maybe we could meet here again, say around lunch time?”
    “That’d be good. If you’re going to be camping out, why not drive down to the beach at Fish Hook Bay? The road down there was apparently closed for a long time but it’s been cleared recently, and it’s a lovely spot. As far as tomorrow goes, Dirk’s going to be training with the Bush Fire Brigade in the morning and I don’t have any plans, so can I go with you? If you don’t mind of course.”
    “Good idea. OK. We can come back and have breakfast here, go for a drive, then come back for a look around the village and have lunch.”
    “The brigade usually has a barbeque when they’ve finished training and I know Dirk will want to be with the other volunteers, so how about we join them? I’m sure we’d be welcome, especially if we bring our own meat and donate a few dollars to their unit. First thing in the morning I’ll ask uncle Bob if that’d be OK. Anyway, it’s goodnight for now, and we’ll see you in the morning.”
    The Cock & Bull gained two more regular patrons later that night when after Dirk and Sally left Rob had a look around the hotel and discovered the existence of its fishing club, sought out a couple of its members and asked if he could join.
    “That shouldn’t be a problem,” he was told by one member, “provided that you can find someone to propose you and another to second the proposal. You’ll also need to fill out an application form and provide two references regarding your fishing ability and experience; a criminal history report from the state police; a copy of your latest bank statement, and a letter from a priest or rabbi confirming your good character.”
    “You forgot to mention the certified copies of his Driver’s Licence and Birth Certificate or Citizenship Papers, and the two passport sized photos, one of which has to be notarised on the back by a J.P.,” said the other.
    “Oh yeah, so I did. Anyway, failing that, and also to avoid having to shave off that unsightly fuzz that you probably think looks like a beard, you could instead simply shout the prospective proposer and seconder a schooner of Toohey’s Old each, and be accepted immediately.”
    The two members weren’t too surprised when a fully bearded and laughing Rob went to the bar to fulfil the requirements of the second option, but they were when after being introduced to his attractive partner she offered them a second glass each as she also wanted to join the club.
    “Well, with you being a lady it might normally be deemed appropriate for you to buy us a middy instead,” she was told. “However our club is a great believer in equality, so it’ll have to be another schooner.”
    The men had been joking of course, but within minutes both were nursing a fresh glass, with another to come when they’d finished, and later told their fishing mates that the two newcomers were “good sports who‘ll fit in well, even if they do live on the wrong side of the freeway.”
    “How many members are there in your club at the moment?” Rob asked.
    “Well, when everyone’s here we could probably fill the place.”
    “What, the whole bar?”
    “Well, maybe not the whole bar, but now that you and your mate have joined we’d be able to fill all the chairs ’round this table at least.”
    “I guess Reb and I’ve joined a pretty exclusive club then.”
    “You have indeed. Actually, we’re thinking of having a membership drive after the wharf is repaired, though the joining fee will go from a schooner of Toohey’s Old to a large bottle of Bundaberg Rum in order to discourage the riff-raff.”
    “What sort of people would you consider riff-raff?”
    “Well, to start with, those who don’t drink Bundaberg Rum.”
    They stayed and talked to the two club members until the time honoured call of “Time gentlemen, please” was made by the barmaids then headed for a night sleeping under the stars at Fish Hook Bay. They arrived there to find that a group of young people had also taken advantage of the cleared access road to the beach and were camped around a large circular fireplace that they’d built from rocks. Rob noted that the group had been well prepared for the camp-out as they had brought along a good supply of firewood rather than rely on finding enough dry driftwood or fallen branches from the trees that backed the beach. Fortunately the group wasn’t a rowdy one and the singing that drifted from the direction of their campfire seemed to be mostly songs from the fifties, sixties and seventies. They sang to the accompaniment of two guitars and a set of bongo drums, but before too long everyone on the beach had drifted off to sleep and the only sounds to be heard after that were those of small waves lapping the sand at the water’s edge.
    * * *


    Following an early breakfast at the hotel where the four met up again in the morning they proceeded to the Fire Brigade building to ask if it would be OK for them to join the barbeque when Dirk had finished his training. Rob surprised everyone when at the same time he suddenly decided that if it was OK by the Captain he’d like to stay with Dirk and join the training session, hopefully learn something new and perhaps also become a member. The Captain, who thanks to Sally arrival in the village was now referred to by his mates as Uncle Bob, was delighted with the prospect of having not one but two new volunteers join his crew, and would be only too happy to have the girls join them for lunch.
    Rob tossed the keys of his ute to Reb, telling her that she and Sally could go and do whatever they liked while he and Dirk were training, and after lunch they could have a look around the village. She caught the keys as they sailed across the bonnet and with a grin told him that they’d find some way to fill in the time, although that might involve a drive into town and the spending of a bit of cash.
    “No problem,” Rob replied. “Provided you remember it’s your cash you’ll be spending, and that you’ll also have to refill the petrol tank before you get back.”
    “Of course. Don’t I always?”
    “Well, most times you do. Though I seem to remember a couple of times after you used the ute when I was glad we were carrying a couple of full Jerry cans.”
    “Hey! That was a long time ago, and if I recall correctly it hasn’t been only me who’s been caught with a near empty tank. In fact, if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have those Jerry cans anyway.”
    Knowing she was right, and before she could get really stuck into him, Rob looked skywards and cried “Scotty, beam me up!” before beating a hasty retreat towards the group of volunteers now assembling beside one of the fire trucks.
    “Round one to me, I reckon,” Reb said with a smirk as she and Sally got into the ute, and followed that with “Damn! Round two to Rob,” as she looked at the petrol gauge to find that the tank was down to just under a quarter full, and would need quite a few of her dollars to fill it. “Enough for a trip into the town and back, but not too much further, the way this thing guzzles fuel. Oh well, I’m sure I’ll find some crafty way to fix his little red wagon before too long.”
    “You’re making it sound like you’re often at odds with each other,” Sally laughed, “Though I can’t really believe that of course.”
    “Actually, we’ve never had a real disagreement since we met; though I probably tested his patience a bit at first ’cause my head was pretty messed up back then. Strangely enough, I think that helping me helped him too, in a way: He’d only recently gone through a pretty nasty divorce and though he’s never said much about it, I know he was quite bitter about the whole thing. He finding me in the state I was in might have been the distraction he needed to help take his mind off … things. We’ve pretty much leaned on each other over the last few years I guess, but meeting you and Dirk has been good for both of us.”
    “Well, we’re both glad we met you guys too. Look, if you ever need to talk about anything that you can’t talk to Rob about, with him being a man I mean, you can come and talk to me.”
    “Thanks Sal, I really appreciate that. I’m glad that Rob and Dirk get on so well together. Surprised me a bit really, especially considering what happened between him and his last best mate.”
    “Had a bit of a falling out, did they?”
    “You could say that: He caught his mate and his wife in the cot together when he came home early from a trip he’d had to make to Melbourne to attend a conference. He and his wife had been married for less than a year, and the discovery that she was actually a bit of a whore really threw him. More than a bit, if the truth was known. Still, her loss is my gain as far as I’m concerned, and I’ll make sure that he never has to worry about the same thing happening again. Anyway, enough of that: What are we going to do now?”
    “First off I need to get in touch with Dave Morgan to see if you guys can join the same scuba course that Dirk and I’ll be on, and then I want to go to the haberdashery here and get some more wool for my knitting. After that I’ve got no plan at all in mind so it’ll be up to you to decide what we do.”
    There was no answer when Sally went across the street and dialled Bron and Dave’s number from one of the two public ’phone booths outside the post office, and as the haberdashery wouldn’t be open for another forty minutes Reb decided to show her the animal shelter where she occasionally helped out.
    The shelter turned out to be the council pound as well, and when they arrived Sally thought that from the number of caged dogs she could see it looked like it must have been home to half the strays in the county. Some of the most recent arrivals were in a sad state of neglect and it was explained that just that morning they had been collected from a property that was supposedly a breeding facility, but not one that would ever have been approved by the RSPCA. That organisation had been called by a potential customer who had been appalled by the conditions of the kennels, and after an inspection of the property the owner had been issued orders to rectify the situation. A subsequent inspection had found that no attempt at all had been made to fix anything, resulting in the raid that had rescued the dogs, and had the owner facing charges of animal neglect and cruelty.
    Unfortunately it appeared that some of the dogs were in such bad condition that they would have to be put down, and while that was a little distressing to Reb she was a fairly pragmatic girl and had to admit it was probably the most humane thing to do. Telling Sally that if she ever got the chance to have a dog it would come from a shelter, she suggested that if she and Dirk ever wanted one they could do the same, though as they didn’t have fencing that would prevent a dog from roaming, that wasn’t likely. Not at present maybe, Sally had replied, but in the future she was sure they’d be able to get one, and possibly a cat too if it could be prevented from killing native fauna such as possums and bandicoots, and birds other than Indian Mynars which were an introduced pest..
    The two girls spent about three hours helping gently bathe a number of dogs that appeared to be capable of being returned to the healthy condition that a well cared for dog should be in, and then drove back to the village where Reb pulled in to Jeff Mullin’s garage and filled the ute’s petrol tank.
    There were still fifteen minutes before most of the shops shut so Sally was not only able to buy her wool but also show Reb some of the beautiful hand-made garments that had been put on display by the village’s ladies’ sewing club. The amazing artistry of several quilts hanging on one wall seemed to take Reb’s breath away, and she was awestruck to learn that the most beautiful one had actually been entirely hand stitched.
    The two ladies running the shop got quite carried away when explaining to Reb how quilting was actually an art in itself, and that some quilts made were often valued much in the way that fine paintings were. In fact, they added, the one that she had been admiring so much was on sale for $1,500, and its maker intended to send it down to a dealer in Sydney who would add twelve percent to the asking price as his commission… and would still have no trouble selling it.
    “I think maybe I enrolled in the wrong class at TAFE, Sally. I can’t imagine ever getting that much for a leadlight window or a Tiffany lamp,” Reb joked.
    “Don’t sell yourself short dear,” said the lady who had been telling her about the expensive quilt. “Lead-lighting is no less an art than quilting, and if you have a good eye for putting together designs and colours, and go about marketing the right way, you could probably make some reasonable money out of it. Actually you’d probably make more money by custom making and restoring lead-lights: You’d be surprised at the time and effort required, let alone the expense of tools and materials required to make quilts as good as this one.”
    “As you could with many other well-made hand-crafted goods,” put in the second lady. “Of course quilts that you’ve put a lot of time and effort into making are wonderful gifts for giving to people that you really care about, plus you’d be helping keep alive another skill that’s slowly being lost in these times of mass production.”
    Glancing at her watch Sally realised that the time was already a quarter past closing, and with apologies to the two ladies for having kept them back told Reb that they had better get moving as the men at the brigade would probably be having their barbeque now. As they were leaving it was suggested to Reb that there was no reason she couldn’t do both lead-lighting and quilting, and if she ever decided to do the latter they would be happy to provide her with any help, and materials, that she might need.
    The barbeque turned out to be little more than sausages held in thick slices of buttered bread, topped with a generous helping of fried onion and lathered in either tomato or barbeque sauce, and though not a salad of any description was in sight the men were happy enough to have a few cans of beer to accompany the meat. At one time the delicatessen across the road had tried to persuade the men to take a few containers of potato, pasta or tossed salad, however they’d all agreed that if they wanted a healthy meal they might as well go home and eat. Of course they weren’t averse to devouring a few of the supposedly “excess” pastries and cakes Julius Tan’s wife Mai delivered from the family’s bakery. And just quietly, not a few of those found their way to the wives whose husbands may have felt a bit guilty about having so much fun with their fellow fire-fighters, rather than doing those little jobs that needed to be done around a house.
    Dirk and Rob had found that their introductory lesson, which was mostly about how fires started and how they could keep on burning until someone put them out, was very informative, and by the end of the day Rob had decided that he would in fact join the unit. That decision had nothing to do with the few cans of beer he’d downed at the barbeque, he insisted, though Reb had fun accusing him of agreeing to just about everything once he’d drunk more than a can and a half.
    With the barbeque over, the four friends strolled the length of the street, finding that whereas the shops in town, apart from Woolworths and Big W, closed at midday on Saturdays, those in the village stayed open until two p.m. This gave people who worked in town time to get back to the village and do a little shopping on their way home, and was something that everybody showed their appreciation of by doing just that. In fact according to the shopkeepers they did more business in those two extra hours than they did during the whole morning, thus it was worth them keeping their doors open a bit longer. No wonder that the ladies at the haberdashery hadn’t been disconcerted by she and Reb keeping them open, said Sally.
    Another ’phone call was made to Bron’s house and this time she was at home, though she wouldn’t be for much longer as she would be beginning a shift at the Cock & Bull quite soon. When Sally asked her if there might be room on Dave’s next scuba course for two more students she laughed and admitting that Sally and Dirk were currently the only two who had applied, because Dave hadn’t promoted it yet, said they’d be most welcome. She could bring a couple of application forms down to the hotel when she came, or if they were in a hurry they could come to the farm and get them.
    The men decided that waiting at the hotel where they could throw a few darts and possibly have a beer wouldn’t be a problem, however when they arrived it was to find that the darts club had taken full control of the board and a competition was in progress.
    “Not to worry,” said Rob, who had spotted the two fishing-club members that he and Reb had been speaking with the night before. “I’m sure we can find something to keep us occupied until your friend arrives.”
    The two members were in the company of three other men who Rob and Dirk recognised as being members of the Bush Fire Brigade, and who also turned out to be members of the fishing club and the darts club, and the four newcomers were quickly made welcome at the table where the members were sat.
    Bron turned up with Dave about thirty minutes later and after they were both introduced to Rob and Reb she handed over two application forms for the scuba course before heading for the bar where she would be working. Dave remained with the group, making it necessary to occupy another table as the one they were using was already quite crowded, and gave Rob and Reb an outline of what the course they wanted to do would entail.
    As Saturday mornings were to be set aside for training with the Bush Fire Brigade, Dave told them that their course could be conducted on the Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday over two weekends, plus Saturday afternoon of the third weekend if it was found necessary. He had another couple in mind that he knew wanted to do a course, but he wouldn’t know if they were available until Tuesday, and of course it would depend on everyone having successfully completed their medical checks.
    With Bron working behind the bar Dave had decided to have a meal at the hotel, and when the fishing club members left a short time later asked the four if they were also dining in. They hadn’t really given any thought to dinner however deciding that it wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially as it was a bit late to do drive home and start cooking something, they accepted Dave’s invitation to join him.
    Over a dinner of Coq au Vin, accompanied by a bottle of Chardonnay and followed by Crème Broulee, which they had in the dining room rather than order from the servery in the bar, the topic of conversation revolved mostly around what Dave and Bron were doing with their farm, and what Dirk and Sally were up to with their cottage build. Rob and Reb weren’t left out of course, and Dave was very interested to hear about how Rob was going to demonstrate how Sally’s father’s earth oven could be used as a smoker. Because Dave and Bron had yet to visit their campsite Sally asked him if he’d be interested in coming along when Rob showed them the technique, and if so he should bring Bron with him.
    “That’d be fantastic, Sal. I’ve heard that earth ovens are really good and I’ve often thought of building one myself, though I didn’t know that they could also be used as smokers. Is yours very big?”
    “Quite big: You could probably cook three medium pizzas in it at the same time. I once read that with a single firing you can use one to bake bread, follow that with a roast dinner, then a baked desert, and use the residual heat to dry herbs.”
    “The only problem will be that you’ll have to provide your own freshly caught local fish,” Rob put in. “Fortunately the reef close to the camp-site abounds in quite a variety of those… provided of course that you can catch them.” he added with a laugh.
    “That sounds a lot like a challenge, Rob. OK then: Fishing followed by a lesson in using a smoker. So, when are you planning on doing that?”
    “How about the Sunday after the Saturday we finish the dive course?”
    “Sounds good. I know I’ve got nothing special planned for that day so I’ll mark it on my calendar as soon as I get home.”
    After dinner it was decided that the day had been long enough without making it longer by joining the karaoke singers in the public lounge, so the two couples decided to head for home. Reb would drive the ute as Rob had had a few drinks more than she’d had, however Sally was unable to do the same for Dirk as due to its size she was under the impression that a different class of licence was needed to drive his truck.
    She could probably ask Dirk to teach her but she knew that being taught by a family member or close friend wasn’t always a good idea, and to her mind Dirk was both. That being the case she decided that it’d probably be a good idea to use the services of a driving school, but not say anything to Dirk about it until she actually had the appropriate licence in her hand.
    Meanwhile, while driving back to town in their ute Rob and Reb had agreed that living in Brocklesbury would be much nicer than living where they were now, with Rob going so far as to say that it might be a good idea to check with the local real estate agents to find out if there were any affordable rental properties available in the area.
    * * *


    Following a relaxing Sunday when they did nothing much more than go swimming and potter around the camp site, Dirk spent all of Monday plus Tuesday morning helping Frank with another fencing job while Sally kept herself busy by alternately working in the garden and knitting, along with a very successful attempt at baking a Mexican mud-cake following Reb’s recipe. Dirk thought that the idea of baking a mud-cake in a mud oven was hilarious but his laughter was cut short when Sally told him if he felt that way there was no way he was going to get a slice…. Not even a tiny one.
    On the Tuesday afternoon they drove into town and, along with Rob and Reb, undertook their Diving Medicals, all passing with no problems at all, and did a little shopping. Reb told Sally that when she’d put in the application for the Pottery Course Sally wanted to do at TAFE she’d been told that although the current course had already started only one lesson had been missed and her friend would be able to catch that up quite easily if she joined now. The result was that Dirk and Sally, fortunately having put together BOBs which of course held toiletries and changes of clothing and were now kept in the truck, were invited to stay overnight at Rob and Reb’s so that Sally could attend the course that evening.
    It was obvious when the girls returned to the apartment that Sally was very enthusiastic about the Pottery course she’d just commenced, and having seen some of the work displayed by previous course students told Dirk that when all the crockery they had was broken there wouldn’t be any need to buy replacements: She herself would be able to make all the cups and saucers, bowls and plates they might need, not to mention items such as casserole dishes, fruit bowls, wine goblets, cheese plates and any number of other items.
    Dirk didn’t think that their earth oven would be able to handle the firing of such a large number of objects, even if it could be used as a kiln, and they might have to build a much bigger one. “About the size of a Volkswagen,” Rob had suggested to the amusement of all.
    Over the late meal of pasta that the men had prepared while the girls were at TAFE the topics of conversation included the subject of BOBs and other items of equipment that, following Dai’s lead, Dirk and Sally now carried permanently in the truck. Rob and Reb had always kept their camping gear in their ute but now they too resolved to make up complete BOBs for themselves and also install a First-Aid Kit, Fire Extinguisher and a CB Radio.

    * * *

    When Dirk and Sally returned to their camp early next morning they opted to erect the second of the garden sheds that Dirk had brought with him, positioning it not close alongside the first shed but in line with and twenty feet to one side of it. The space between was to be roofed with some of the corrugated iron that they’d salvaged from the hayshed and it would be used by Dirk as his workshop. Because the two garden sheds were on raised floors, the lower ground level between them would mean that he’d have a bit more headroom to work under. A framework to support the roof would need to be erected of course, however he didn’t consider that to be too much of a problem and in fact it might be good practice for when he started work on the roof of the cottage. He hoped that eventually he’d also be able to put down a floor of pavers.
    At first Sally thought that perhaps it might be better to concentrate on building the cottage first, however Dirk explained that having a shed to work from would actually mean he’d be able to get a lot more done in a shorter time, especially if the weather became unfavourable. She agreed that in that case putting up a workshop first probably was a good idea, but told him that he had to keep an area free for her to put in a potter’s wheel as she intended to make pottery to sell at the local markets…. Alongside the items he’d be making from all the fence palings he’d gotten from Frank. Because until now he hadn’t been informed of that decision Dirk had been unaware that they’d be operating a market stall, but did agree that it sounded like a good idea. As Reb also wanted to get in on the act by making and selling Tiffany lamps, and displaying some samples of glass artwork in the hope that she might get orders for custom made leadlight windows and doors, Sally had told her that when the time came she could share the stall with them.

    * * *
    Very early in the morning but a couple of days later than originally planned Dirk’s truck was backed up close to one of the dunes farthest from the beach and he’d been shovelling sand onto the rear of the truck for nearly an hour. The sand would be laid down as a base for the above ground pool, and judging that he now had enough thankfully tossed the long-handled shovel he’d been using onto the top of the load and covered it with a tarp before driving back to the site. He and Sally had already prepared the area where the pool was to go, having removed all the grass, sticks and large stones and roughly levelled it, but Dirk thought that a good layer of sand underneath would be kinder on the pool liner and would make it easier to work on the installation.
    After the breakfast that Sally had waiting for him they both worked at shovelling the truck’s load onto the ground and levelling it out, and just after midday they’d managed to erect the pool’s wall, have its liner installed and capping placed around the top edge to both secure the liner and add some rigidity to the structure. Dirk then fitted an outlet pipe and a shut-off valve to the hole in the side of the pool where the return from its filter had once been located, though being about two thirds of the way up its side required the addition of a length of pipe inside to reach down to the bottom, or at least to within a few inches of it. He did it this way in order to avoid putting an outlet hole close to the base where any leak would be a real problem to fix, especially if the pool was full of water. Where the skimmer box had once been fitted he’d cut a piece of metal to blank off the rectangular opening and then added a fitting for an overflow pipe, not that he thought it would ever be needed in this case, but it was better to be safe than sorry.
    For the time being the pool’s cover would be left off as he wanted to build a slightly domed frame, probably from poly ag-pipe, to support it so that water would run off it if it rained. He’d do that fairly quickly because if he delayed too long the pool might collect a lot of debris from the trees close to where it was sited, and cleaning it out would be a pain in the butt. They were in no hurry to fill the pool because the water from the spring was all that they needed at present, however once their cottage was built it would quickly be put into service.
    Located on the bank some twenty five feet above where the cottage was being built there would be enough fall to obtain a reasonable amount of pressure to its gravity-fed plumbing system. He’d abandoned his original plan to use poly pipe for his plumbing after seeing how Dave and Bron were using an automatic pump for theirs, and decided to install copper pipes that would handle the higher pressure if he was able to do the same at a later date. He wasn’t a licensed plumber however be after having successfully if not legally installed the plumbing for an extra bathroom at his parent’s house in the city, he felt himself to be quite capable of undertaking that task when the time came.
    Obtaining copper piping for the cabin was not going to be a problem either, nor now was the acquisition of floorboards, lining boards and a good amount of timber for studs, joists, rafters, purlins and, not that they needed it, more corrugated iron roofing. Well, apart from several bull-nosed pieces from the front veranda that would be used over their back porch.
    Rob had tracked down the Andersons; owners of the partially burned farmhouse on the outskirts of Brocklesbury, and who had been persuaded by the visit of a council ranger to offer the building free to anyone who was willing to dismantle and remove it. The council ranger, Terrence (“call me Terry”) Chappell was in fact a close friend of Rob’s, and his visit to the Andersons’ had been in a strictly unofficial capacity. “Though it’s possible I might have forgotten to tell them that,” he told Dirk and Sally with a laugh when he was introduced to them at the Cock & Bull later.
    No pressure had been applied on the owners: The uniformed ranger had merely gone to advise them that their old farmhouse had been subjected to vandalism and in its current state was likely to attract more, with the possibility that it might even be completely destroyed. The owners told him they would like to have the building demolished but at present were not in a position to pay to have that done and were thus quite amendable to his suggestion that perhaps they could have it removed at no cost to themselves by offering it to someone who needed building material. “At least, what’s left of it,” he’d added, slyly implying that the building was now in a far worse condition than it really was.
    Of course anyone taking advantage of the offer would have to ensure that all of the material was removed and not just take the good bits. In fact, the ranger had told them, the complete removal of the house might even make the land, which so far they’d been unable to sell, more attractive to any potential purchasers who wouldn’t be saddled with the problem of having to demolish the house themselves.
    The Andersons, feeling that that was probably the best way to deal with the problem said they would be quite happy to accept his offer to find someone who would be willing to do just that, and Terry lost no time after leaving their house to call Rob and tell him about the arrangement. When he’d finished work for the day at the recycling centre Rob drove to the campsite to give Dirk and Sally the good news and was asked if he could invite his friend to meet them at the hotel and join them for drinks and dinner after work on Friday evening.
    That had been on the Wednesday afternoon, and Rob had arrived with the good news at the campsite shortly after Dirk and Sally had finished putting up the roof between the two sheds. It wasn’t bad timing as he was able to help them lift the heavy work-bench off the back of the truck and put it in the new workshop, though it would’ve been so much better, Dirk told him, if he’d arrived a lot earlier and helped put the roof up, because it’d been a mongrel of a job! Especially as he had to suspend long bush poles between the sheds to support it, and only had an eight foot step-ladder with which he could work on the high parts. He did admit that the structure was pretty rough, and Rob made them laugh when he said that he hoped the roof of the cottage would be built in a more traditional, and stronger, way.

    * * *
    Over the next two days a very pleased couple had spent most of their time at the partly burnt building checking out and removing some of the material they could use. In the back yard stood an old Hill’s rotary clothes hoist that Sally wanted, however the bolts holding it all together were pretty much rusted in place. Dirk, being a great believer in the powers of Penetrene and always carrying a can of it in his tool box, spread a generous ammount of the oil onto the bolts knowing that it would work its way through the threads and make the nuts a bit easier to remove on their next visit.
    They stopped for a bite to eat and went to Jay-Jay’s for a hamburger, then went to the hardware store where Dirk purchased a long extension ladder that he could have used yesterday. When they left the demolition site it was, along with other useable material, with the large farm gate that had hung open and unused at the entrance to the property. It would be installed at the top of the access way down to the clearing, and although the wire mesh of the gate looked a bit rusty it would add to the appearance of their newly-built-with-old-material cottage having stood there for a very long time.
    As it was now Friday Dirk and Sally would be going to the hotel, as would Rob and Reb, where they were to meet Rob’s friend and thank him personally for his help in securing them much if not most of the building material they needed. The address of the Andersons could be obtained and Dirk and Sally would visit and thank them also, but only after the old house had been completely removed…. just in case the owners changed their minds about the free offer and decided to ask for some sort of payment.
    When they’d finished for the day their laundry and a change of clothes more suited to a night out on the town than what their BOBs contained, plus of course Paddington Bear, who Sally had had to say sorry to for leaving him at home by himself overnight when she went to TAFE, was put in the truck and they headed for Brocklesbury. After parking at the hotel they wandered down to the Post Office to check their P.O. Box where Dirk found the Truck’s rego and insurance renewals that his parents had forwarded to him, and Sally her monthly bank and credit card statements forwarded by her auntie. Though of substantial amounts the bills were expected and would be paid on Monday after the bank in town was open, plus they’d also draw a bit of cash from their accounts to cover day-to-day expenses.
    Then it was back to the hotel to put their laundry into the washing machine, take a shower and change, then head for the beer garden where they were to meet Rob, Reb and Terry, their council ranger friend. That trio arrived a few minutes before the arranged time and after introductions all sat at one of the garden’s tables, close to the barbeque upon which Terry was invited by Dirk to throw the largest steak he could find in the adjacent refrigerated display case. Terry, both surprised and pleased by the generous offer told Dirk that the arrangement he’d made with the Andersons was really nothing, but was happy to select a large piece of sirloin to go with his choice from the salad bar. Sally also provided him with a seemingly never emptying schooner of beer, telling Dirk that Terry had saved them a small fortune in building material costs.
    Although not a regular, at least not yet, Terry was familiar with the hotel and its beer garden, having accompanied the mayor a couple of weeks previously when he’d come to Brocklesbury to personally sort out difficult problem that one of the residents was having with council. As it turned out, Terry himself was able to resolve the problem in a very diplomatic manner, and to the complete satisfaction of both the resident and mayor. As the mayor also wanted to have a word with Dave Morgan regarding council’s decisions on the facilities being installed at the beach at Fish Hook Bay he had to stop by the Cock & Bull where Dave was working at the time. Of course that stop had also given him and Terry the opportunity to try out the new barbeque that had been installed in the beer garden.
    The ranger had learned two important things during that visit: First was that the mayor had developed a strong bond with the village and was fully supportive of its residents’ efforts to have more done by the council for its infrastructure. Second was that Dave Morgan, who was well regarded by the residents, the mayor and the council, was a driving force that was able to get things done without ruffling anyone’s feathers.
    Terry was astute enough to understand that backing the mayor, and Dave Morgan, would actually be in his own best interests and had decided that the best way to do that was to get himself assigned to the village as its regular ranger. Being a naturally friendly and helpful person anyway, he would not employ the heavy-handed tactics that previous rangers had used when dealing with the locals but rather work with them to resolve any issues with the council that might crop up. When he suggested as much to the mayor it was considered to be a very good idea, especially in light of the way he’d handled the problem council had with the local resident and shortly thereafter he found himself employed almost exclusively in the village and its environs where before long he became a well liked, trusted and respected member of the community.
    * * *


    Now with access to just about all the building material they needed, in tandem with demolition of the Anderson house construction of their small cottage began to progress in earnest, though it wasn’t by any means going to be a very fast build. One of the problems they faced with the demolition of the old house was that its hardwood timbers had become even harder over the years and had resisted being cut with a handsaw. Dirk hired a small portable generator for a few weeks to power his circular saw, and while this made the cutting a bit easier the wood was so hard that by the time he was finished he’d completely worn out two blades and the third looked like it would need replacing before too long. He also wore out two spade bits drilling holes through studs and noggins to cater for the plumbing, though he’d be able to re-sharpen those if he could get access to a grinder.
    A last minute decision to add a seven foot wide by three foot deep “bump-out” to the back wall of the living area had meant digging three more stump holes and positioning bearers and joists to support it; however the half day extra that that had taken would be well worth the effort. At least according to Sally, who’d gotten the idea from a Country Living magazine which showed a settee installed in a nook. According to Dirk though, it would also mean another day to frame and clad it, however while it seemed that most of her good ideas involved him having to do a lot more work there was no way he was going to say so.
    Sally had decided that when they eventually got a washing machine it should be set up on the back porch rather than inside, explaining that she would only be using it when the weather was good and that it would leave a bit more space for storage inside the cottage, plus if they enclosed the porch with lattice-work it would be protected anyway. Dirk went along with the idea saying that it would only need a little additional plumbing which would be fairly easy to do.
    A lot of time had been spent carefully measuring timbers and cutting them to the exact sizes Dirk had on his plans, and stacking them in order according to the framing each would be needed for. In the long run doing that had saved him time and effort as rather than use a hammer when it came to putting the frames together he used a compressor and an air driven nail-gun that he also rented. In fact he was so impressed with the nail-gun that had enabled him to have the framing nailed up so quickly that another item was added to his small wish-list of tools he’d really need for future use. Or so he claimed to Sally, who without his knowledge added it to a list that she was compiling in her journal.
    With the occasional help of Rob, and sometimes Frank, they managed to have all the walls framed, and with the assistance one Sunday of a crew of volunteers from the RFS who put the roof up, a floor laid and the sliding door between the kitchen and bathroom installed, all within five weeks. And this was achieved despite taking out six days when Dirk assisted Frank with a couple of fencing jobs, plus Brigade Training, a Scuba course being completed, and a day off for fishing and learning from Rob how to use their earth oven as a smoker.
    Reb hadn’t been around much as she had temporarily taken on extra shifts at the supermarket where she worked as a check-out chick, and though it would only be for five weekends to cover for two girls who had taken annual leave the penalty rates made them worth volunteering for.
    It had rained lightly several times during the build though each time seemed to be either before sunup or after sundown and fortunately wasn’t enough to hinder activities much anyway. They were a bit concerned, however, after hearing a weather report advising that the long dry spell being experienced by the area would soon be coming to an end, with predictions that a series of cold fronts moving in from the south would bring torrential downpours over an extended period of time. Of course this had added a sense of urgency to the project so Dirk was working flat-out from six a.m. to seven p.m. and often later every day, determined to get the cottage to lock-up stage before the heavy rains hit.
    One of their first tasks on hearing the weather report had been to gather as much dry firewood for the earth oven as they could and cover it with a tarp, and fill eight of his five gallon pails with fine old mulch gathered from under the trees, to be used for the compost toilet.
    Having discarded Sally’s idea of using the casement windows in the loft as they were a bit tall and he believed they’d spoil the lines of the cottage, he had instead purchased commercially made hopper windows which would be installed in sets of three on each side and the eastern wall. The hoppers were a better size according to Dirk, and would allow a flow of air across the loft when both sides were open, which would be good in summer, and a rising sun to flood the loft with light when the sun rose in the mornings, plus they’d also shed water downwards if they happened to be left open when it rained. Conveniently, two of the windows on the south-west end of the loft would open directly above the roof of the back porch and could be used as an emergency exit, though Dirk admitted that it had just happened that way and hadn’t been a deliberate part of his design.
    She could see now how the king-sized bed had been used to form part of the loft’s floor, with one side-rail attached to a wall and the other supported by posts and a beam offset two feet from the opposite wall. The legs of the bed had been cut off flush with the side rails, and the lining boards of the kitchen ceiling would be secured to the underside, leaving a gap between those and the slats supporting the mattress. This would allow air to circulate and help prevent condensation and mould, which can happen when a mattress is laid for any length of time on a solid floor.
    She was thrilled by the way Dirk had designed the loft so they’d both have full headroom, along one side of the bed at least, and that neither of them would have to stoop when “going a-loft” as Dave had joked when he and Bron came over to lend a hand for a day. An extra twelve inches of headroom had been gained by dropping the ceiling above the benchtop on the side of the kitchen opposite the north facing bay window so that there was a two foot wide walkway above. Dirk called it “The Trench”, and putting it in meant that apart from not needing to stoop when upstairs there’d also be no high kitchen cupboards downstairs for Sally to have to reach up to.
    At the moment access to the loft was achieved by using a step ladder, however Dirk had been doing some research and having come across what were termed Jefferson stairs, had decided to construct and install a set of them in the cottage. Although intrigued by the alternate tread design Sally was somewhat dubious at first, however after Dirk built a rough set for her to try out she found that they were just as easy to use as normal stairs and, a side benefit being that they took up a lot less space, agreed to Dirk putting in “a much nicer looking set than your rough demonstration model.”
    Now that the roof was on and the windows already in place it only needed the wall sarking and exterior weather boards to be nailed on, and the laundry and ten-light French doors installed, to make it habitable even if not all that comfortable, but at least it would be better able to withstand the elements than their tent would.
    There had been some discussion regarding the use of the weatherboards they’d salvaged from the Anderson house or using the timber slabs obtained from the machinery shed, mainly because Sally had seen a beautiful sketch that Dirk had done showing the latter and had been enchanted by the look of the cottage. However it was finally decided to go with the weatherboards as they were already on site and it would be faster and easier to put them up, though he’d have to go into town and pick up more sarking as what they’d been able to buy in Brocklesbury had been used for the roof.
    When Dirk returned from the trip into town it was with, in addition to the rolls of sarking, a load of insulation batts which they stacked in the loft and under the cottage. Much earlier Dave had dropped off a small wheeled scaffold borrowed from one of his tradie mates and after Dirk and Sally had assembled and positioned it, by using the heavy duty stapler he’d just purchased putting up the sarking shouldn’t prove to be all that difficult. Unfortunately when they did begin putting it up they realised that if the door through to the kitchen was closed the only natural light in the bathroom would be from the glass in the back door, so it was back to the drawing board, then a quick trip to the recycling centre to find a window that could be placed in the western wall. In hindsight, which of course is always twenty-twenty vision, it was obvious that a window would have been needed and Dirk kicked himself all the way there and back for not having included one in his design in the first place.
    Finding a good double hung window that was slightly narrower than wanted but otherwise suitable he decided to construct a box with slightly angled sides and a sloping top that would hold it out from the wall a bit, something like a small bay.
    “That’ll look good,” said Sally, “but how about extending it out just a little bit more and building the hand basin into the sill. Then the space where you originally planned to put it could then be used for a larger closet.”
    It was a brilliant idea, Dirk told her, and although the alterations required to fit the window and sink in place put them a full day behind the planned schedule they were both so pleased with the result that that didn’t matter at all.
    Another feature that Sally adored was the bay window installed in the kitchen: The angle of the side windows hadn’t needed to be changed and the bay protruded a foot proud of the outside wall of the cottage, making the kitchen look much larger than it actually was. Rather than use the broad sill that came with it Dirk had constructed below the window a deep trough that would hold potted plants, with the tops of the pots just a little lower than where the sill would have been. Later he planned to put a liner in the trough, with an overflow pipe two inches above its base and leading down to the ground, so that plants could be conveniently watered from the kitchen tap without fear of overwatering them. When a tap was installed that is… Along with a kitchen sink, and a bench to hold that.
    As using the side panels of the ten-light doors would have taken up too much of the wall they’d been put aside and the casement windows used in their previously intended position at the end of the living area, however though there’d still be plenty of light coming into the cottage Sally suddenly had another idea:
    “Ahh… Sweetheart, would it matter very much if our schedule was delayed by another day?” she asked as they were sitting on the floor of the living area having a cup of tea after he’d finished installing the bathroom window.
    “Not really. What do you have in mind to do… or more likely, for me to do?”
    “Well, I was just looking at the bay window in the kitchen and thinking how much bigger it seemed to make the room, and now I’m wondering if you could do the same with the windows in this room as you did with the one in the bathroom.”
    Dirk placed his cup on the floor then got up and walked over to the windows where he stood for a minute giving the idea some thought.
    “Hmm… It wouldn’t be difficult to do,” he finally said. “A bit fiddly perhaps, but I can see what you mean about making the room look bigger and I reckon I could have it done before lunchtime tomorrow. Do you really want me to just box them like the one in the bathroom, or would you rather have a bay window like the one in the kitchen?”
    “No, that’d take much longer and anyway I think a bay here would detract from the one in the kitchen so boxing them would be fine.”
    “OK, I’ll get to work on it right now.”
    “There’s no great hurry.”
    “There isn’t?”
    “No: You can finish your cup of tea first.”
    With his cup of tea finished he began the job of removing the windows and, as he thought it would, the rebuild took the rest of the afternoon plus a couple hours of the following morning. However by the end of that day the windows were in and they’d managed to put up all the sarking, with Sally remarking that it was just as well they were building a very small cottage rather than a full-sized house.
    Very early next morning, while keeping an eye on the weather, Sally helped Dirk begin nailing the weatherboards to the frame, and because they were mostly short lengths that he’d measured very carefully before cutting, and his having hired the nail-gun again, they went up quickly and easily. They’d also had to buy and put up new guttering as what they’d found at the old house was too rusted to be of much use, although with no tank to collect rainwater the best they could do was direct the outlet from the downspouts well away from the building.
    To make sure they were weatherproof a lot of care was taken with hanging the ten-light doors around mid afternoon the following day, after the weatherboarding had been completed but before the trim to the corners of the building and the barge boards at the ends of the roof had been nailed on. By arrangement, Rob turned up soon after he’d finished work for the day to help with that job, and by tools-down time that evening the cottage was finally at the lock-up stage of construction… Meaning there was only a month of internal fitting-out, painting and decorating still to be done.
    “Plus we still have to build the deck and the back porch,” Sally reminded Dirk.
    “Do you want those done before we finish the inside, or after?” he asked.
    “Before, I think. It’d take what? Three days, maybe four to put up both? It’d probably be a good idea to get at least one of them up before the rains hit anyway. The cottage as it is now will provide better shelter than the tent but having either deck would provide a sheltered entrance.
    “You’re right. OK, I’ll go over to Frank’s early tomorrow morning and see if I can borrow the post-hole digger. He might have a job on and not be able to help, which means you’ll get some experience helping handling one.”
    “I’m OK with that. Can you go over to the mill on the same trip and get the stumps?”
    “I won’t need to if I can get the supporting timbers we need from the Anderson’s house, though we might need to fork out some cash for the front deck. The boards from their front verandah and the support posts for its roof would be OK for our back porch though.”
    “Great. I was thinking that while you’re gone tomorrow I could move all our stuff into the cottage and take the tent down. What do you think?”
    “I think it’s a good idea. We should also move the awning to cover the earth oven and move the picnic stove into the cottage too, though without having an extractor fan yet I don’t know how good that would be. Speaking of kitchens, I’ve been so busy working on the build that I didn’t realise how hungry I am until now. What’s for dinner?”
    “Lucky for you I keep an eye on the food situation isn’t it?” Sally laughed. “I got a chicken fricassee going in the Dutch oven on the rocket stove when you and Rob were putting finishing touches on the woodwork. It’s probably been cooking a little bit longer than it should, but I think it’ll be OK. There’s also rice to go with it, and if you get the Coleman set up I’ll get the table ready for a dinner under the stars. Well, under the awning anyway.”
    With the lighted Coleman hanging on its usual hook Dirk carried the Dutch oven to the table while Sally brought the pot of rice, and after helping themselves to a plateful each sat down to enjoy what might thought to have been an only very slightly overcooked meal had it not been for a couple of glasses of white wine that disguised the fact and made it even more enjoyable.

    * * *

    Because all efforts had been directed towards getting the cottage built quickly no progress had been made on the vegetable garden, although they had managed to get the chicken run meshed in. Actually it was one of the volunteers from the RFS who was mainly responsible for organising that as he had a passion for poultry, (so much so that he’d been given the nick-name Chooks by his mates,) and was always keen to help anyone else who wanted to keep them. Later, while the rest of the crew were concerned with quickly getting the sarking and iron onto the roof of the cottage he’d busied himself with the construction of a coop, complete with nesting boxes, using quite a number of the fence palings that Dirk had gotten from Frank.
    At day’s end the coop had yet to be roofed but Chooks said that he could come back the next day to finish the job, and if Sally was interested he could also sell her a few Australorps as he had some that would very soon be coming into lay. Sally, saying she’d have to think about it, raced off to get her purse and returned a few minutes later to pay for half a dozen chickens, a large waterer, and a twenty kilo bag each of scratch mix and pellets, all of which he’d bring with him next day.
    When Chooks turned up the next morning with Sally’s purchases as promised, and the bewildered chickens were set free in the overly large run, Dirk gave him a hand to put sheets of corrugated iron onto the roof of the coop and nail them down. The roof extended out over the nesting boxes so that eggs could be collected without a person getting wet if it was raining, and there was space beneath the nesting boxes where the feed barrels were to be kept. Being quite impressed by the design of the finished structure Dirk asked if they were in much demand.
    “Not really,” Chooks told him. “At least not around here ‘cause most people are capable of building their own. Why, are you thinking of getting into the market?” he asked with a grin.
    “Well, I intend using that big stack of palings to make things like planter boxes, garden seats, ornamental wishing wells and stuff to sell at markets, and perhaps I could make chicken coops too, though they’d be a bit on the large side for carrying around easily, and I wouldn’t want to be cutting into your business anyway.”
    “You wouldn’t be, Dirk, because I really don’t have the time to make them. Maybe you could build a small portable one, or take photos of this one to show at the markets or put up on public notice boards, and take orders for them. In fact, if anyone asks me to build a coop for their chickens I’ll be only too happy to refer them to you.”
    “That sounds like a good idea, Chooks. Perhaps you could also show the photos to your chicken-loving clients. I’d be happy to build coops for them, and the price, when I worked it out, would include a commission on any orders you placed.”
    “Nah, no need for that: I’ll be happy enough if you continue to buy your feed from me. Speaking of which, I threw in two cleaned plastic pickle barrels to store your grain and pellets. I get them for free so if you ever need more, let me know. Unfortunately they’re not rat-proof and I’ve had the tops of several of my barrels chewed through by the bastards, so I recommend putting down some large concrete pavers for them to sit on and enclosing the space with small heavy gauge mesh.”
    Sally came down to where the men were talking and asked Chooks if he had any coloured leg-bands she could buy: She wanted to name the chickens but as they all looked the same she couldn’t tell them apart, and figured that bands would be an easy way to identify each one. Although Dirk laughed at the idea of naming the birds, Chooks was quick to support Sally, telling him that not only did he give names to his favourite birds; lots of other people did too. “Just be aware though,” he added, “Once you give a chicken a name, it’s off the menu.”
    “Unless you give it a name like Drumstick, Fried, Fricassee or Roast,” laughed Dirk, although with Chooks standing there Sally thought it’d best to pretend she didn’t find that at all amusing and kept her laugh hidden behind a straight face. Chooks took the joke in good stead though because, unbeknownst to them, he himself owned a sheep that he’d named Lamb Chop with the intention of sending it off to freezer camp in the near future.

    * * *


    When Dirk arrived at Frank’s house it turned out that he did have some work on, though as he wasn’t going to be using it loaned Dirk the post-hole digger while at the same time telling him that weather permitting, if he was available next week his assistance with another job would be appreciated.
    “No problem, Frank,” Dirk told him, then went on to explain that he and Sally had more-or-less moved into the cottage and could now ease off a bit and take their time fitting it out.
    “You’ve both done an amazing job so far, Dirk. I noted when I went there the last time that even with the roof up there’s no sign of the cottage unless you stand on the embankment directly above it, though your work-shed, veggie garden and chicken run would be clearly seen by anyone nosing around the spur.”
    “Yeah, Sally and I already discussed that and we’ve decided to plant a thick row of hedging shrubs all the way along the top of the embankment to act as both a shield and a sun-trap, plus we’re thinking of hanging a gate on those posts that mark the spur’s entrance. We wouldn’t lock it of course, but there’d be a sign on it that reads Rear Entrance to… whatever the name of the property opposite the cottage is… when we find out what that is.
    “Bob Watson would probably be able to tell you because it’s sure to be on the big map they have at the Fire Station.”
    “I never thought of that. Next time I do training I’ll get Sally to ask him because if it’s not on the map he’ll make it his business to find out.”
    And they both laughed at that as it was no secret that Uncle Bob had a real soft spot for his adopted niece.
    When Dirk returned to the cottage much later than planned it was with stumps he’d had to obtain from the mill, having found that those at the Anderson’s house weren’t suitable; however he and Sally wasted no time in quickly digging the holes for them, and by dinnertime they were all in place, though yet to be plumbed and firmly tamped down. Sally had actually enjoyed helping Dirk with the post-hole digger however when it came to using the heavy fencing bar to ram the soil down around the posts next day she was far less enthusiastic, and not surprisingly left that job for him to do. That took all morning, and Dirk’s muscles got a real work-out repeatedly lifting the length of steel before allowing gravity to assist his downward thrust as he pounded the soil around each post. Of course he had already gotten a lot of practice in the technique thanks to working with Frank, and that was probably also why he didn’t wind up with badly blistered palms.
    The back porch was completed first as they were able to use the veranda floor-boards Dirk had retrieved, along with the original support posts that now held up the bull-nosed roofing iron that he’d brought over on the same truckload, however it had taken a lot longer than anticipated and they were now running almost two days behind their latest self-imposed schedule. Not that they were too worried about that, especially when they looked at the result of their efforts and knew that once again they had good reason to be proud of the work they’d done.
    It was well that the porch was finished and covered because very late that night, or perhaps it was very early next morning, the heavens opened up and the predicted rain commenced in earnest, and the back door was the only way to enter and exit the cottage without letting rainwater in. There didn’t appear to be a great deal of wind that might have been expected to accompany the rain, though the cottage was pretty well protected by the high embankment behind it, and after a couple of hours listening to the hammering on the roof and checking everywhere for any signs of leaks, and finding none, they began to relax and even enjoy the event.
    Of course the rain didn’t stop them from working on the interior and Dirk began installing the plumbing, cutting the pipes to their correct lengths and bending them where needed, using the tools he’d purchased when he did the plumbing at his parent’s house three years before and hadn’t touched since. There were fewer pre-soldered pipe fittings in his box of assorted bits and pieces that he needed to finish the job and as that meant having to make a trip to the hardware store he went on to install the electrical wiring instead.
    The annoying part of that job was that in order to put wiring for the lights in the loft they had to remove many of the insulation batts that had been stacked there and transfer them to the back porch, though as Sally pointed out they would had to have been brought down anyway. The wiring itself was very easy to do though terminal ends were left hanging as they had yet to buy the light fittings, and Sally decided that as they had to go to the hardware store they should on the same trip go to a shop in town that specialised in lighting and get what they needed.
    With plumbing and electrical work on hold and wearing long-sleeved shirts, gloves, safety goggles and dust masks they began installing the insulation, cutting to size and tightly cramming the batts between the studs and, with extra support given by pallet strapping stapled across them, the rafters, but leaving spaces where pipes and electrical fittings would be placed.
    After three days of solid rain Dirk began to worry that the road in and out may have become an impassable quagmire despite Sally, who’d taken the opportunity of brief breaks in the downpour to check on and feed the chickens, assuring him that their sandy soil appeared to be soaking up the rain about as fast as it fell. For her part, she was more concerned about running out of food if they couldn’t get to a supermarket, and her saying so prompted a discussion about being prepared for such events.
    It suddenly occurred to Dirk that building a fire bunker, which was something he’d learned about during one of the fire brigade’s training lectures, combined with a large storage pantry such as Dave and Bron had, would be a smart move.
    “Perhaps we could dig back into the embankment behind the cottage and build a bunker there,” he suggested when he voiced his thoughts. “It might be a bit of a squeeze to get a backhoe into the space, but using one of those would make it a fairly easy job.”
    “Gosh, that’s a really good idea! Mind you, we’d have to hire someone to do the digging. And what would we need in the way of materials to build it with?”
    “Well, I remember Dave telling me about a friend he’d hired to dig out the pad for his water tanks so maybe we could hire that bloke to do it. And as for materials, I think stone would be a good option for the walls as we can source rocks from all over the place, and that would leave only the roof for which we’d need concrete.”
    “It’d need a fire-proof door of course, plus ventilation and lighting.”
    “All minor considerations,” said Dirk waving a hand dismissively. “I’ll work it all out, though it’ll have to be a long-term project because I’ve already got a ton of jobs that I need to do.”
    “Yes. And because they’re all important jobs I don’t want you to be distracted.”
    “Oh c’mon now: You know I don’t easily get distract…. Hey look at that: The sun’s come out!”
    Sally was sitting close enough to give him a quick cuff over the ear and yell “Clown!” as she burst out laughing at the way he’d contradicted himself.
    “Hmm… I don’t think this bit of sunshine will last very long,” she said. “ Do you want to check the road by driving to the village? I’d like to do a bit of shopping, and it is a Friday and we still have our standing reservation for the Cock & Bull.”
    “Plus I can return Frank’s digger at the same time. Good idea.”
    Before leaving, an inspection around the cottage, chicken run and veggie garden found that apart from being wet underfoot nothing appeared to have been badly affected by the heavy rain so far. Because it was now a fixed structure the width of the cottage was no longer constricted by road rules and he’d extended the roof out so that it now had twenty inch eaves and these, along with the originally designed overhangs at the ends of the upper and lower roofs, had helped to protect the windows from direct rain. The downspouting too had directed the rainwater away as intended, and though Dirk was disappointed that this time they’d been unable to use the water the plan was to eventually have a collection tank beside the cottage and use a pump to transfer the water to their reservoir. Although he’d been a little concerned that water may have penetrated the soil around the exposed stumps for the front deck, thus making them less stable, his solid tamping appeared to have prevented that.
    The sandy soil of the clearing, as Sally had said, seemed to have absorbed the deluge, and when they finally drove up to and along the spur the truck stayed firmly on track. Once on the fire trail it tended to slide a bit on the muddy surface though, and the road to the village now had quite a few large water-filled pot-holes that made for a bumpy ride, but to their relief the road was passable, at least for the time being.
    They returned the digger to Frank, who was going to take advantage of the bad weather that prevented him from doing the big fencing job and employing Dirk by driving down to Sydney to see some mates. After doing the shopping, for which Sally had made a long list of the supplies she thought they’d need to survive forty days and forty nights, and picking up the plumbing fittings that Dirk needed, they drove down to Fish Hook Bay to check out the beach. As suspected, despite being as flat as a pancake the waters of the bay were quite turbid due to stormwater run-off, and they were both thankful that they’d already completed their Scuba diving course.
    On the way back to the village Sally looked down at Dave and Bron’s house as they were passing and seeing both their vehicles parked outside told Dirk to turn in. She jumped out and opened the gate and waited for him to drive through then after closing it behind him ran down the driveway ahead of the truck instead of climbing back into the cab. Dave, who had been tinkering with an old piece of machinery in his workshop, heard them coming and wiping his oily hands almost clean on a rag stepped out to greet them.
    “Hullo and welcome,” he said with a broad smile as he shook hands with Dirk and gave Sally a peck on the cheek. “Glad to see you guys out and about: We were wondering how you’d fared with that heavy rain and had planned to come and see you this afternoon. Everything OK at the cottage?”
    “All good, Dai,” answered Sally. “We found no leaks at all, though we might’ve had a different problem if we’d gotten stuck there for any length of time. We have an idea and thought you might be able to give us some advice, and as we’ve just been down to have a look at the beach and were passing by thought maybe we could ask you now, if that’s OK.”
    “Sure. Why not come in and have a cuppa? Bron will be happy and relieved to see you both.”
    They all trooped into the house, changing to house slippers as they entered, and were met in the kitchen by Bron who, sporting on her forehead a patch of flour that matched another on the back of her right wrist, gave them a big grin as she was taking the second of two freshly baked cakes from the oven.
    “Well, well, speak of the devils,” she laughed. “I’m so happy you’re here: Apart from seeing you’re OK, it saves me from having to drive over to your place with one of these cakes,” then asked “Tea or coffee?” as she began filling the kettle.
    “Tea for me, please” replied Dirk, with Sally adding “And me too, thanks.”
    While Bron was setting out cups and saucers Dave slipped out to quickly wash his oily hands properly before returning to sit at the table where he asked them what sort of advice were they seeking. When over cups of tea they explained what they were thinking of doing, and the reason for it, both Dave and Bron were eager not only to give them advice but also offer them all the help they could give.
    “What you’re thinking of doing is actually something that I’m familiar with, or reasonably so,” said Dave. “It’s what is known in some circles as ‘prepping’, and it also happens to be something that both Bron and I are really keen on promoting.”
    He paused a moment as Bron placed a large plate of slices of cake on the table, telling them that it wasn’t one of the cakes she’d just baked as they were still a bit warm, but one she’d made the day before yesterday.
    “First time I’ve made this and it’s a bit of an experiment, so give me your honest opinion of it because if it’s not all that good I won’t make it again… unless it’s to discourage Dai from eating too much cake.”
    The cake, they assured her after trying a slice, was excellent, although they couldn’t quite work out what type of cake it was.
    “It’s pumpkin,” she told them, and when an amazed Sally asked for the recipe added “the cakes I baked today use a different vegetable and are also experimental, but I’m not giving you the recipe until after you’ve taken one home and tried it.”
    “Getting back to your plans,” said Dave as he interrupted the interruption to the conversation about prepping, “It might be a good idea to ask Darren, the contractor who did the excavation work here, to have a look at where you want to dig and see what he thinks. He also did the clearing of the road to the beach and the extension of the carpark. He really knows what he’s doing and I’d have to say he’s worth every cent of what he charges, not that that’s over the top anyway.”
    “Sounds like a good idea: Do you have his number handy?” Dirk asked.
    “I’ll give you one of his cards: I took several from him to hand around because I was pretty impressed with his work.”
    “His wife is the local hairdresser, by the way, and she does a top-notch job too: Both ladies’ and men’s,” put in Bron. “You have to make appointments though because most of the locals go to her and she’s always busy.”
    “Getting back to prepping,” Dave continued, inserting “which is what the subject at hand is supposed to be about” with a meaningful look at Bron who simply smiled innocently in response, “as you’re getting into self sufficiency maybe your fire bunker could also be used as a root cellar.”
    “Already thought of that, Dai. In fact that would really be its primary purpose. Uncle Bob told us that they have had the odd scrub fire out our way but it’s a rare event so having the root cellar serve as a bunker is the way we’ll go.”
    “And if you are ever forced to hole up in there at least you’ll have plenty to eat,” laughed Bron.
    “Don’t think we’ll have to worry about bush-fires for a while,” said Sally as another heavy downpour began drumming on the roof of the farmhouse.
    “Gosh, that reminds me: Dirk, Uncle Bob said to tell you that brigade training is off tomorrow, and that he also ‘phoned Rob to let him know. Funnily enough, it seems training’s always put off whenever it rains heavily enough to prevent the boys from having a barbeque afterwards, though you’ll find a lot of them finding shelter at the Cock & Bull.”
    “Well how about that? A day off and it’ll be too wet to do anything with it.”
    “Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Dave. “Bron and I are both on late shifts this weekend so why not come over to the rifle range with us in the morning and try your hand at shooting? The club’s having an open day and we can lend you a couple of our rifles to use, though you’ll have to sit through a short lecture first and then shoot under the supervision of the Range Officer.”
    Both Sally and Dirk broke into delighted grins as they eagerly accepted the offer then, after making arrangements for meeting up in the morning, left the farm and headed for the hotel where they picked up the keys to their room, put their laundry in the washer and had a long hot shower. Having already finished reading them they took the books they’d exchanged the last time they’d visited and ambled down to the café where four more books were chosen to read while waiting for the sunshine to return, which hopefully would be before the five days predicted by the latest forecast. They also decided to have lunch there, and some time was then spent chatting to Julius and Mai Tan, and their daughter Julia who, when they left, Sally described as being both very intelligent and beautiful.
    After collecting their room keys at the hotel they found Uncle Bob and some of his mates gathered cosily around the large open fireplace of the lounge where the dancing flames of burning logs were radiating warmth into the room.
    “Hi Uncle Bob. Just the man we wanted to see,” said Sally as she planted a now expected kiss on his cheek.”
    “Hullo Sally, Dirk. Good to see you. Hope you don’t want anything that requires me moving from this comfortable warm seat,” laughed Bob in reply.
    “No. Well, we do want some information though we’re in no great hurry for it. We were wondering if you know the name of the family who owns all that acreage between Brocklesbury and our cottage.”
    “Why? Thinking of buying it, are you?” Bob asked with a big laugh. “I don’t know off-hand, but if memory serves me right I think it’s written on the area map we have at the fire-house. The map’s pretty old though, and a lot of the writing’s barely readable. Do you want to see it?”
    “What, now? And have you move away from your comfortable warm seat? No, there’s no hurry,” put in Dirk, who then quietly explained to him how he wanted to put up the sign that he’d spoken to Frank about.
    “I just want to put a sign-post pointing down the spur and saying Rear Entrance to Whatever Farm, with Private Property in brackets under that. Of course we know the property it’s referring to is on the opposite side of our clearing, but only people knowing the area would be aware of that and most passers-by would simply assume the sign refers to the spur as well. Well, hopefully they would, anyway.”
    “You’re a cunning bugger, Dirk. It’s not a bad idea though; especially as the people knowing the area that well are few and far between. In fact I think even the local council’s not all that sure of the boundaries. I know you guys are staying here overnight so you can have a look at the map tomorrow ‘cause I’ll be at the fire-house most of the day.”
    “What, no day off for you?”
    “Yes and no: I’m slowly restoring a Lister hit-and-miss engine that’s over eighty years old. Up until thirty years ago it was used to run a generator that supplied power to a dairy before the farm went on to the national grid, and it hadn’t been used since. The building housing it got burned down several years ago and I found it when we attended the fire. The owners didn’t need it so they gave it to me and I’ve been using the brigade’s workshop for the restoration. A couple of the guys there are into the same sort of thing and it’s become a bit of a club I suppose.”
    “Sounds interesting,” said Sally. “We’re going to the range with Dai and Bron early tomorrow morning so we’ll probably come around midday to have a look at that map, and your engine too, if that’s OK.”
    “No problem. There’ll be a few of us there so you’ll be able to see a couple of old machines that the other guys are trying to get up and running for a display over at Woodburn Village next month.”
    Their conversation was interrupted by the unexpected appearance of Rob and Reb who approached the fireplace in the hope of quickly drying the clothes that had borne the brunt of a heavy shower that suddenly fell as they left their ute to make a run for the dry cover of the hotel.
    “Hey guys! Didn’t expect to see you here tonight,” said Dirk. “What’ve you been up to?”
    “House hunting,” replied Reb a bit morosely as she and Rob rearranged chairs so that they could sit a little closer to the fire. “And with no luck, I might add.”
    “Oh? I wasn’t aware you were going to move from your apartment so soon.”
    “Yeah, well, we weren’t planning to,” said Rob. “At least not just yet: We were hoping to find a place somewhere around here before giving notice, but one of the estate agents stuffed everything up for us.”
    “How so?”
    “We’d gone to two agents and one of them asked us to fill out an application form before they’d even consider showing us what they had on their books. We filled out the form but explained that at the moment we were only looking for what might be available, and we’d prefer it if nothing was mentioned to our present landlady until we found a place. I think the first thing the agency did was contact our landlady and ask for a reference because when we got home this afternoon the old biddy was furious and told us that we had to move out straight away. I was able to point out that under the terms of our lease she had to give us at least one month’s notice and she told us that she’d have her agent do that come Monday.”
    “I think I destroyed any hope of her changing her mind over the weekend too,” Reb put in. “I completely lost it and told her in no uncertain terms that she was a miserable old cow at the best of times, and we’d be only too happy to find a new apartment. One that had a reasonable landlord who’d allow us to use our Weber.”
    “How’d she handle that?” a laughing Sally asked her.
    “She had a shot at us for living together without being married, which is none of her damned business but something that’s probably been on her tiny mind from the time I began hanging up double bed-sheets instead of singles when I did the laundry. It’s a bit inconvenient at the moment but truth is we’d be happier living somewhere else anyway.”
    “We did find a couple of places on the far side of town but they were both in really grotty areas and the neighbours appeared to be rather unsavoury characters,” said Rob, “And the only house available in Brocklesbury at the moment is way above what we can afford to pay.”
    Archie, a red-haired volunteer of the fire-brigade, chipped in after overhearing the conversation and said that if they were really desperate his family had a small caravan parked at the back of their house and they’d be welcome to borrow it for as long as they needed because it was never used.
    “It has a large annexe but doesn’t have a shower or toilet, so you’d have to find a caravan park where you could put it,” he said. “I know there’s a good one down near the end of Nine Mile Beach, though from what I hear its weekly rates are a bit steep. The van’s unregistered at the moment, and I have to warn you that it’d need a good airing out and maybe a lick of paint to make it decently liveable.”
    None saw Sally cock her head, raise her eyebrows and look at Dirk when the offer of the caravan was made, or see him grin in understanding and nod with agreement to the silent question directed towards him. Excusing themselves for a moment the two went into a huddle and quickly decided that one of the small clearings close to their own would be an ideal place for a caravan to be parked… if it could be towed there, though that was a something that could be looked at later.
    “Nothing to do with caravans, but are you two having dinner here?” Sally asked Reb when she and Dirk turned their attention back to the group conversation.
    “Yeah. In fact we were thinking of booking in for the night rather than drive back to town in this rain.”
    “That’s good: Dirk and I have an idea we’d like to run past you, though it might be best to go and find out if there’s a room available for tonight first.”
    “I’ll go and do that now,” said Rob, standing and heading for the door leading to the accommodation wing. “Want me to book a table in the dining room too?”
    “Good idea: It’s a lot quieter there than eating here.”
    When Rob returned ten minutes later it was to find that the brigade volunteers, including Uncle Bob, had finished their drinks and were taking advantage of a lull in the rain to head for their vehicles in the carpark, though before Archie left Reb thanked him for the offer of the van, asked him for his ‘phone number and told him they’d keep it in mind.
    “OK, so what’s the idea you want to run past us?” asked Rob when later they all sat down to a three-course dinner of roast beef and vegetables, preceded by cream of cauliflower soup and followed by a desert of steamed pudding with custard.
    “Before we go into that,” replied Dirk as he poured a red house wine into each of their glasses, “Can you both give us an honest opinion of Sal’s and my attempt to live off the grid and become self-sufficient? That is, do you think what we’re doing is practical, or perhaps that we’re a bit crazy?”
    “Actually, Rob and I already discussed that between us some time ago,” began Reb in reply, “and we decided that what you’re doing is a bit crazy but fantastic at the same time. It’s a bit like that old TV series “The Good Life”, but for real.”
    “Well, you probably are more than just a bit crazy,” Rob said with a grin, “but we’re right behind you, which is why we’ve been helping you as much as we have. Sounds like you have another project in mind that’ll require more of our help, so out with it.”
    “Not really a project. At least, not yet. You guys haven’t seen them, but along the path that leads from our cottage to the beach there are three more clearings that Sally’s dad put in for family friends to camp on. They’re much smaller than ours but each is still large enough to site a small cottage like the one we’re building,” said Dirk, adding “Or perhaps a borrowed caravan” in a way that left no doubt that he was referring to the offer made by Archie earlier that evening.
    “No toilets or showers there, of course,” added Sally, “But putting up a small shed for a composting toilet and a solar shower would be easy enough to do.”
    “Very easy. The van could be jacked up a bit and a deck built alongside, with the shed sort of like an en-suite at one end. And if the van has an annexe it could be placed over the deck too.”
    “Wish we’d had that sort of comfort when we were building our cottage, Dirk.”
    With the emphasis Sally had placed on the word “our” when referring to their cottage the inference was pretty clear and both Rob and Reb looked a little stunned by the proposition, but while Rob finally came out with “Are you suggesting that we become neighbours!?” Reb looked as though she was about to start laughing.
    “Good God! Would that be such a bad thing?” laughed Dirk at the expressions on their faces. “The clearings are close, but not so close that we’d be living in each other’s pockets, and it doesn’t have to be permanent. Plus there’d be no caravan park fees to worry about and that’d save you quite a few dollars. Of course, it’s only an idea, but it’d be worth having a look at the site, don’t you think?”
    “Rob, I know we’ve been doing OK but it’ll still be a few years before we’ve saved enough for a decent deposit on a place of our own, so I think we should at least have a look at the site and give the idea some serious thought.”
    “I’m already thinking of other advantages, love: Close to Brocklesbury, close to work and most importantly of course, close to the beach for fishing. Downside for you is that instead of me driving from town to work, you’ll have to drive to town.”
    “Be well worth it to be free of that old bitch who owns the apartment we rent.”
    “Now that’s not nice, Reb, even if I do happen to agree. Speaking of driving: Dirk, what’s access to the clearings like? We’ve only ever driven as far as the teardrop at the end of the spur and I didn’t see any signs of a track going further.”
    “My dad and uncle cut a track so that friends could drive to them without having to go through our clearing,” put in Sally, “and while it’s overgrown now it should be quite OK to use once it’s been cleared.”
    “That reminds me Sal: Remember how we were thinking of having Dave’s contractor friend Darren dig out a hole in the embankment for our root cellar? He has a bob-cat as well as an excavator so if the track is in poor condition maybe we could get it levelled with that at the same time.”
    “Good thinking. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though: Perhaps we should all go and have a good look at the clearings and the access to see if it’s doable first, then Rob and Reb can have a long think about it and decide if they want in.”
    “Honestly, if you’d asked us a couple of months ago I’d probably have said we’d be nuts to try doing same thing, but after seeing what you guys have done so far I reckon I’d be willing to give it a go. What do you think, Reb?”
    “You know I’ll be with you whatever you decide to do, but I agree that it’d be worth having a shot at. We could at least live in the caravan for a couple of months and if that went well go to the next stage of building our own cottage. Dirk, right now Rob and I know absolutely nothing about what we’ll need to do so I hope you understand that we’re going to rely heavily on you and Sal to show us the way.”
    “Don’t worry sister: We’ll lead you to the path of true freedom and happiness,” laughed Sally who finished by raising her arms high, shaking her hands and crying “She has seen the light! Hallelujah!”
    “We have plans for tomorrow, so how about you guys come over to the cottage on Sunday morning? The forecast is for occasional showers but having a look at the site in less than ideal conditions would actually be a good thing.”
    “I can see the wisdom in that, Dirk. OK, Well be over in time for morning tea.”
    “We’ve done quite a bit of work on the cottage but you’d better wear something warm as it hasn’t been fully lined yet,” suggested Sally. “That’s a job we’ll be finishing after Dirk’s completed installing the light fittings and the plumbing for the kitchen and bathroom.”
    “Well, at least the work you’re doing now is all under cover so I guess it hasn’t been too difficult to keep to the tight schedule I bet you’ve set for yourself.”
    “Rob, he’s spent hours madly drawing up highly detailed plans of jobs that need to be done in a specific order,” Sally said with only a slight roll of her eyes.
    “Yeah, though there’s method in my madness. After the electrics, plumbing and insulation we’ll work on the bathroom so that we don’t have to use the outside loo and shower. Next will be the kitchen, for the same reason, then the loft, and finally the lounge area. By the time it’s all finished, which by my reckoning should take about three weeks, the weather should have improved and the ground dried out enough so we can go ahead with putting up the front deck.”
    “There’s no power supply out there so what electrical wiring are you doing?”
    “It’ll mostly be for 12 volt lighting, Reb, though there’ll be a couple of inverter supplied 240 volt outlets in the kitchen plus one each on the back s porch and front deck. Power will come from large truck batteries which we can charge by hooking them up to the truck’s electrical system. Later I want to get a generator for running my power tools and a washing machine, and the batteries could be charged from that too.”
    “Dirk, you said something earlier about digging a hole in the embankment for a root cellar. What was that all about?”
    With the vast knowledge gained from studying his three books on gardening, plus two more on self-sufficiency, Dirk was able to explain what a root cellar was and why he felt they should have one, and from there the conversation drifted to gardening, poultry keeping and other homesteading pursuits.
    “Do you think there’d be enough space at the clearing for us to have a small vegetable garden?” Reb asked.
    “A small one maybe, but why go to the trouble and expense of putting in a veggie garden when you could simply help us in ours and we share the produce? Same goes for poultry: Rather than build a coop and run of your own you could just get a few brown chickens and pop them into our chook run, which is much larger than we presently need anyway.”
    “Why should I get brown chickens?”
    “Because then we’d know who owns which, because all our chooks are black.”
    As Dirk and Rob burst out laughing a surprised Reb squealed “You’ve got chickens already!? How many have you got? Do you get many eggs from them?”
    “We’ve got six Australorps but they’re still about three weeks from beginning to lay. We’ll probably only get a few eggs each week to start with, but when they get to full production we’ve been told that six a week from each bird during summer is average. Apparently they need twelve to fourteen hours of sunshine to lay so we can expect far fewer in the winter that’ll soon be here. Bit too late this year but that shouldn’t be a problem for us in the future because one of Dirks books on self-sufficiency describes how eggs can be kept fresh for twelve months and longer… and without refrigeration.”
    “For twelve months?! Without refrigeration!? Get outta here!”
    At this point Rob volunteered that his grandmother used to preserve eggs and at one time had broken a freshly laid egg into a bowl beside another into which she broke one that she’d preserved nine months before. He hadn’t been able to see or smell any difference in the two, or taste after they’d been poached and served up on toasted slices of the wholegrain bread she baked.
    “The eggs were fine,” he said, “but I didn’t go much on her wholegrain bread.”
    “My mother baked bread in our earth oven whenever we came camping,” said Sally, “She never did it at home because going to the supermarket was easier, but I do remember that the bread she made here was really good. Reb, why don’t we try our hand at baking a few loaves one Saturday when the boys are at fire training?”
    “Hey, that’d be fun! I suppose there’ll be some how-to-do-it instructions in one of Dirk’s books?”
    “Yes. I saw something about it in one of the books though I don’t recall seeing any recipes. I’ll need to get some loaf pans too because we don’t have any of that type of cookware. Hmm… I bet I’d find some of those at the Brocklesbury Trading Post: Dirk and I had a look in there once and it seemed like it had just about everything a homesteader would ever need. If they do have loaf pans they might also have a recipe book that has something about bread-making in it. If we get back from the range before they close tomorrow I’ll go and check it out.”
    “You mean you’re going shooting?” asked Reb with a look that was hard to interpret as it could have been one of amazement, shock, horror, or all three.
    “Well… yeah. We’ve never been before and Dave and Bron invited us to go with them. They’re members of the local rifle club and apparently there’s an open day where people who are interested or curious about the sport can go for a look-see. Ahh… You don’t like guns?”
    Reb’s answer of “Well they are rather dangerous, aren’t they?” sounded more like a statement that needed confirmation than a question and though he wasn’t a shooter, for some reason it put Dirk on the defensive.
    “Not at all: It’s the type of people who hold them that can be dangerous,” he put in hurriedly. “Admittedly there are criminals and occasionally people who aren’t quite right in the head that have used firearms, and we know there’ve also been a few genuine accidents that have caused serious and sometimes fatal injuries, but by and large the vast majority of guns are in the hands of responsible persons, which is more than can be said for automobiles for example.”
    When Reb still looked a little sceptical Sally took the baton: “It’s true, Reb. In fact official records show that illegal use of firearms has actually been decreasing for some years now, despite the misinformation always spouted by the anti-gun lobby. A lack of education is probably the biggest hurdle the shooting fraternity has to face, and one that to my mind they themselves should be more active in redressing. As for us: Dave said that under the club’s rules we, together with a few others interested in the sport, have to sit through a short lecture on firearms safety before shooting, and when we actually get to fire a rifle we’ll be closely supervised by the club’s Range Officer.”
    “And probably by Dave and Bron too as they both offered us the use of their rifles for the event,” added Dirk.
    “Dave and Brown have rifles? Gosh, I’d never have thought so.”
    “According to Bron most of their friends do too. You’d probably be amazed by the number of people you know around town who are licensed shooters.”
    “An open day you said? I really wouldn’t mind having a look myself. Can a person just turn up or do you have to book?” Rob asked, making Reb’s eyes widen in surprise. Or perhaps, as before, amazement, shock, horror or all three.
    “I’m not sure Rob. Dave asked us yesterday morning and didn’t say anything about having to book in, but he could have done that for us after we left. You could ask him or Bron now though because they’re both working tonight.”
    “Excuse me guys. I’ll be right back,” said Rob as he got up and after quickly heading for the public bar returned a few minutes later with a smile on his face.
    “All fixed,” he said, and before Reb could make any objection added “We’ll be there, and Reb will bring an open mind, won’t you love?” the last three words being directed meaningfully at his partner who otherwise might have bailed out.
    Knowing he was now skating on thin ice Rob thought it might be a good idea to change the subject and began by asking Sally if she had any ideas for painting and decorating the inside of their cottage, and while nobody was fooled by his clumsy attempt to prevent an argument between himself and Reb it was successful enough to do just that. In fact so successful that by the time they all headed for their rooms at the end of the night Reb appeared to have fully embraced the idea of moving temporarily into a caravan, building a cottage and becoming a homesteader… and also to have accepted the fact that she’d be going to the open day at the range.

    * * *


    When the two couples met up for breakfast in the hotel’s dining room in the morning they decided that they should all go to the range together in Dirk’s truck then come back and visit uncle Bob at the fire station, and have look at the old engines he and his mates were working on. They’d work out what to do about lunch when the majority felt hungry Dirk had said, however the girls claimed that might be too soon as both men were always hungry. The two men would ride in the front and the girls in the back seat of the truck, and when they climbed into the cab Reb smiled at the sight of Paddington Bear sat on a small booster seat that Sally had made for him, and the little girl in her decided that never having had one she also wanted a Teddy Bear of her own.
    Their time at the range turned out to be quite a lot of fun for the two girls who, after listening and actually paying attention to the firearms safety lecture, seemed to treat the practical firing session that followed somewhat like the shooting gallery at a fun fair and Reb, using Dave’s •22, turned out to have a surprisingly good aim. He’d persuaded her to “give it a shot”, a pun that made Bron’s eyes roll, by showing her the “little bullets” that didn’t look as lethal as the •308’s that he was using, though they all had a good laugh at the look on her face when she was informed later that a •22 was the favoured calibre of many hit-men and assassins.
    Their partners took the event a lot more seriously though, and after telling Dave that they’d like to purchase more ammunition than the ten rounds they’d had to buy from the club for the shoot, settled down to very carefully and deliberately put another four magazines each through both his and Bron’s •223’s.
    While Dave was quite content to empty two magazines Bon was more than happy to blaze away with her 30-30 without seeming to care too much about the cost of the lead she was sending down range, neither of them knowing that in the following years the price of ammunition would sky-rocket to the point where such extravagant use would be very limited. Not that ammo was cheap now, and Dave was careful to pick up all their used casings, plus a few more that other shooters either weren’t bothering to save or were giving to him directly, for reloading.
    When the four friends left the range, after thanking Dave and Bron profusely for the invitation to attend plus the loan of their rifles, and drove back to Brocklesbury Reb was tightly clutching the paper targets she’d been shooting at and which had been handed to her by the Range Officer after her shoot. She was pretty proud of the high score she’d achieved and if her happy chatter was anything to go by she seemed to have altered her stance on guns… And Rob was now no longer in danger of being punished for getting her to do something that was against her normally placid nature, which, Rob jokingly told Dirk later, was probably a good thing as she now knew how to use a rifle!
    Dirk parked the truck close to the Fire Brigade building however before going inside they decided to have something to eat at the café across the road. Julius Tran was behind the cash register as they walked in and smiled ruefully at them, explaining that as brigade training had been cancelled he’d been left in charge of the shop while his wife went to support their daughter’s netball team in town. He was pretty proud though, as Julia was now the team’s captain and although he wasn’t really interested in the game felt he should also be there to support her.
    Rather than sit out the back under the wisteria vine and risk getting wet if hit by a sudden shower the stayed inside where for the first time Rob and Reb saw and were impressed by the collection of books that were available for sale or exchange. As both were avid readers and they had quite collection of paperback novels that would have to be disposed of if they moved into a caravan, they decided that donating them to Julius’ library would be the best way to divest themselves of the books and asked him if he’d be willing to take them.
    Depending on their condition, he’d told them, he’d be quite happy to buy them outright or give them credit towards meals or bread and cakes produced by the café or bakery, and if they brought the books in for him to look at they could probably work out a reasonable deal. They were quite surprised by the offer and told Julius that they’d bring the books the next time they came over to the village, which hopefully would be very soon as they were thinking of becoming residents.
    With lunch out of the way they headed to the Brocklesbury Trading Post to see if loaf pans were available, and to let Rob and Reb have a look around. It turned out that not only did the store sell loaf pans, four of which Sally purchased along with a recipe book devoted to the craft of baking breads of every type imaginable, but also the various flours and yeasts called for in the book’s recipes. They were there for about twenty minutes longer than the five it took to buy the bread pans and book as there were so many things that they wanted to look at in the packed aisles, and they might have stayed longer if the store wasn’t about to close.
    Crossing the road back to the fire station they entered the building and followed the sound of voices and metal hammering on metal to the rear of the building where Uncle Bob and his mates were working on their various projects. Bob was in the process of polishing his hit-and-miss engine and after taking time out to try and explain the intricacies of its operation finally decided that “it’d be much easier to just start the bloody thing and show you how it works” and swung a large crank handle a few times to set it in motion.
    It was pretty impressive the four visitors assured Bob as they watched its single piston thrusting back and forth, spinning the heavy flywheel around, and while the speed of its revolutions didn’t appear to be as constant as they thought it would be
    his explanation of the reason for that was better understood when they could see what was happening as he pointed things out.
    Once the engine was shut down the other men present were keen to show off their own particular machines and it was another half hour before Sally was able to ask Bob about the map that he’d told them the brigade had. Leaving the two men to talk with the enthusiast about their machines Bob led the two girls to what was essentially an Operations Room that had a large central table and against one wall a bench that had several telephones and radio transceivers spaced along its length. The map that was the primary reason for their visit was spread out on the table and, obviously not soon enough as it was stained here and there with the ring marks of the tea or coffee cups that had been placed on it, was protected by a clear sheet of Perspex. It was topographic map covering the brigade’s area of responsibility and over several years it had been updated by people who had penned in extra details, at different times if the colours of ink were indication.
    “It’s a bit hard to read in some places because of all the stains,” said Sally as she searched the area around Brocklesbury trying to find the tract of land where their cottage was located.
    “Yeah,” agreed Uncle Bob. “We’ve got a couple of new maps but we haven’t had time to copy all the details over from the old one. Well, I guess we have had the time, but it requires a really neat hand and nobody seems to want to do it.”
    “I’d be happy to do it,” volunteered Reb. “I’ve got a neat hand and I do a little calligraphy so I could do it on a Saturday morning when Rob’s doing fire training.
    Here, I’ll show you.” Picking up a pen and pad from beside one of the telephones
    she wrote out the alphabet, both upper and lower case, in a beautiful copperplate script that convinced Bob that she was up to the task, and asked him if the next Saturday would be convenient.
    “Do you think you could do a half a dozen of them? They wouldn’t all need to be done at once, but there’s one of these at each of the police stations here and in town, one at the town’s brigade headquarters and two at council. Mind you, I reckon ours is more up-to-date than any of the others but they should really all be the same.
    “That shouldn’t think that’d be a problem, unless the other maps have details that aren’t shown on this one. Can you get them all together so I can check?”
    “That’ll be easy. I think I could have them all here by next Saturday.”
    While Bob and Reb were talking Sally had found the property she was looking for, as well as its boundaries, the southern side of which ran along the top of the gully’s ridge opposite the cottage, thus confirming that they were squatting on Crown Land. The name written on the map beneath a line of numbers signifying who-knew-what was “M. Springer”, presumably the name of its owner or title holder, so Springer’s Farm was what would be painted on the sign at the entrance to the spur leading to the teardrop.
    A short time later the girls dragged their partners away from the historical machinery and after thanking Bob and his friends they drove back to the Cock & Bull where Rob and Reb had left their ute. In Dirk’s case it was actually with a piece of history as he was borrowing a WWII era fire-fighting stirrup pump with which he could test the joints of his plumbing.
    Too early for dinner but too late to make an inspection of the clearings, which was planned for tomorrow anyway, they decided to drive into town, take in a movie and have a late meal, after which Dirk and Sally would crash at Rob and Reb’s place for the night. That plan came a bit unstuck when they found there was nothing that appealed to any of them at the cinema so dinnertime found them at the Thai restaurant having an early meal instead. When they arrived at their friends’ apartment later Dirk took two of the novels he and Sally had swapped in the village plus his two books on self-sufficiency and the rest of the night was spent quietly reading and, with coffee, sampling the cake that Bron had given Sally when she’d left the farm the day before. The cake had a very lemony taste however while they weren’t able to identify the vegetable Bron had used all agreed that it was very more-ish and that Sally should get the recipe from Bron as quickly as possible, especially as before they all turned in for the night the entire cake had been eaten.

    * * *
    Next morning the track leading to the small clearings was found to be no more overgrown than that of the large one was before the cottage had been erected, with Dirk, Rob and Reb wading through the long wet grass in gum-boots to see if it was also driveable. Sally had decided that with three people doing the job there was no need for her to get her trousers soaked through too and elected to stay at the cabin and prepare something for lunch.
    Having made their way to each of the clearings and finding them all to be large and flat enough Dirk suggested the centre clearing should be used to accommodate a caravan and, if they went ahead with it, their cottage could be built in the clearing between that and Dirk and Sally’s place. At present it was far too wet to attack the growth though a day or two without rain would probably be sufficient for Rob to begin the job, using the brush-cutter and mower that Dirk would lend him.
    “It’ll most likely take you all of a day to get that done,” surmised Dirk.
    “Not if I can avoid it. A good mate of mine has an old tractor with a PTO and three-point-linkage and as he sometimes earns a few bob slashing grass I’d be more than happy to pay him to do it.”
    “Can you trust him to do it on the quiet? The fewer people who know about this the better.”
    “Absolutely. I think he has a post-hole digger attachment too, and using that to put our stumps in would be even easier and faster than using a petrol-powered one like you did.”
    “It sure would, and you saying that made me think of something: My truck has a PTO attached to its gear box. Apparently at one time it was fitted with a tip tray and the PTO was used for the oil pump for its hydraulic ram. When the tip tray was removed and replaced with the fixed tray the PTO and its control lever was left in place. Hmm… It’d be useful if I could attach a three-point linkage and post-hole digger to the truck. I’m sure Frank’d be happy about that, and it might even get me more work.”
    As they were talking the rain started again and they made a bee-line for the cottage where, managing to arrive before they were soaked through, they kicked off their gum-boots and hung their raincoats beside the back door before going inside to find that Sally had a meal ready for them.
    Reb hadn’t seen the cottage since work on the framing had started and was all “oohs” and “ahhs” when she walked in and saw what had been accomplished so far. Despite that no lining boards had been installed the cladding and insulation had made a big difference, but it was the bay and boxed in windows and the nook that seemed to impress her the most. Sally had arranged cushions along the floor and back of the nook to show how it could be used to hold a sofa-bed with storage drawers built under it, or perhaps a pull-out double bed for visitors.
    When Rob suggested that “It’d be easy enough to build a sofa with storage drawers that pull out to support the backrest cushions like a mattress,” paper and pencils were produced and several ideas were discussed before a final design was decided upon, with Reb saying that two would have to be made because she and Rob would also need one for their cabin.
    Although it took quite a few ups and downs of the Jefferson stairs to convince her that they weren’t difficult let alone dangerous to use she already had her mind set on a Japanese kaidan dansu style of combined steps and storage which, Sally said with a laugh, would be at least one difference in their cottages.
    Looking around the unfinished cottage Reb said that she was able to see how it would look when the work was complete and hoped that she and Rob could build one as good, to which Sally replied that it would be as good because she and Dirk would help them every step of the way. Dirk’s advice was that as soon as they moved into the caravan Rob should start gathering material from the recycling centre and the Anderson’s farm house… If there was any left of that by the time he and Sal had finished… and get cracking on the build.
    “I’ve kept all my sketches, plans and measurements so if you copy our design it’ll make the job easier. To make the two appear a bit different you could turn the plan over so that the east end becomes the west end, but personally I like the idea of early morning sunlight waking me up when it comes through the loft windows. Painting and decorating could also make the two look completely different and I’m sure Reb would be a whiz at that.”
    Reb smiled at the compliment. “If it takes a bit of work to get the clearing and track into shape I’m up for it because I’ve already decided that we will be moving into the van, and Rob won’t have to con me into it… Like he did with the range.”
    A few more ideas were tossed around, not so much about building cottages but about other projects such as building a larger workshop where the Dirk could use his fence palings to make things and perhaps Sally could do her pottery.
    Not to be left out Reb insisted that her lead-lighting should also be catered for, thus leaving Rob to try and think of something he could do in order to claim a corner of the work-shop. If he couldn’t, Sally told him, he shouldn’t worry too much as they could always build a triangular one.
    Not long after lunch Rob and Reb headed back to town while Dirk got straight to work and by evening the plumbing, including that needed for the washing machine and laundry tubs on the back porch, and complete with insulative foam sleeving, had been installed, at least to the point where it would be connected to the external water supply. Initially the system would be gravity fed from the reservoir but as they hoped to put in an automatic pump in the future Dirk used the fire-pump to pressurise the pipes to ensure there would be no leaks, and finding none bragged jokingly about his prowess as an all-round handyman.
    * * *


    Although confident that his electrical wiring was up to code he decided that it might be a good idea to have it checked by a qualified electrician before putting up the last few lining boards that would conceal it.
    Friday morning had begun with a few brief showers but by midday the sun was out in full force and with no rain forecast for the next few days they were looking forward to spending a bit of time outdoors, even if Saturday morning would be spent by Dirk at fire-training. Together they checked the vegetable garden beds, which hadn’t washed away as Dirk had feared they might have and were showing vigorous growth, and the chickens, who had managed to thoroughly saturate the straw in their nesting boxes by going in and out of the rain. Replacing the straw was quickly and easily done, with Dirk remarking that the old stuff was ideal to put in one of his compost bins, three of which now stood side by side in the chook run.
    When passing their spring-fed pond he noticed that the water coming from the pipe above it was a bit more forceful than usual and acting on a hunch he made a quick foray down to the bottom of the hollow and found that what was usually a slightly boggy depression was now a large dam. A dozen or so wood-ducks were enjoying themselves, chasing each other and splashing about in water that he knew would eventually drain away, and he wondered if there might be some way to prevent that happening.
    Then, remembering that their reservoir had not yet had its cover placed over it he went up to see how much water was in it and found to his surprise that it was half full, and that very fortunately the only debris in it consisted of a couple of handfuls of green leaves that had sunk to the bottom. These would be easy to remove with the leaf scoop he’d gotten with the pool but to be on the safe side and prevent any more contamination he and Sally decided that as quickly as possible they’d make up and install the slightly domed frame he’d designed then cover it.
    That evening when they booked into the Cock & Bull it was to find that Rob and Reb had decided to follow their example and reserve a room for several Friday nights while they sorted things out with the caravan. They’d managed to contact Archie earlier that afternoon and after inspecting the van and finding it to be as he’d described: In need of a good airing and a splash of paint to make it liveable, had accepted his offer to lend it to them. Although the wheels, tyres, brakes and electrical connections seemed to be in good condition and the van was ready to be towed to its new home-site as soon as that was ready, it was out of registration so the move would be done on the quiet. The deal was that Rob and Reb would undertake the repainting and foot the cost of any repairs that might be required, plus organise its towing.
    “We figured your truck would be ideal for that job, though we weren’t sure if you knew how to tow a trailer with it,” Rob said to Dirk with a grin.
    “I have to admit I haven’t done much towing but it shouldn’t be a problem. Hmm… I think to be on the safe side I’ll just lend you the truck and you can do it yourself. How does that sound?”
    “Considering I’ve had plenty of experience driving trucks and towing trailers I think it sounds like an excellent idea, though I’d better wait until my mate Richie’s slashed the site first. The van’s been jacked up and it’s sitting on besser blocks at the moment, and as Archie said we could take those too they could be carried on the truck when we do the move.”
    “Sounds like it’ll take the best part of a day. Sally and I’ll help of course, but when do you reckon you’ll be able to do it?
    “Depends mostly on the weather but we sure want to be able to move in before we’re chucked out of the apartment.”
    “So I gather the landlady hasn’t had a change of heart?”
    “No, though the agents managed to persuade her to give us six week’s notice so they could find somebody else to move in, otherwise she might find herself losing a bit of income. It wouldn’t matter if she changed her mind anyway: Reb’s really excited about moving into the van and has already begun downsizing by chucking out everything she thinks she’ll never need.”
    “What about your furniture?”
    “We don’t have lot, but I’ll store it at the recycling centre. If somebody wants to buy some of it we’ll probably sell it to them. Would it be OK if we borrow your truck to move our stuff?”
    “No problem. In fact, I’ll help you.”
    Reb’s excitement about moving into the van had percolated through to Sally and while the men had been talking the two girls had put their heads together and were discussing ways in which they could give it a good make-over.
    “Despite what Archie says I think it’s a bit of a mess at the moment, especially the floor as they were using it to store engine parts or something. It’s not falling to pieces though he said one of the roof hatches leaks a bit and you can see that the ceiling panels either side of it have been water damaged. It’s under a carport at the moment but we’ll have to fix the hatch before the move. With Rob and I having full-time jobs, building a cottage like yours will take us a lot longer than you guys and we’ll be living in it for some time so I want it to be reasonably comfortable. A bit of work should see it fixed up OK though and the only real concern I have is keeping warm through the winter: It gets damned cold here and caravans aren’t all that well insulated.”
    “Yeah, I suppose they aren’t, seeing as they’re usually built more for summer holidays. A lot of people do live in them full-time though, so it might be worth talking to some of the permanent residents in the local caravan parks and find out how they handle the cold.”
    “Maybe. Thing is, permanent sites have power supplied so ninety five percent of the residents would probably simply flick a switch and turn on their heaters… and their electric blankets.”
    “Not to mention their kettles, coffee percolators and toasters in the mornings.”
    “Toasters! I never thought of that, and I have toast almost every morning.”
    “We sometimes do too but Dirk has a little toaster thingy that sits on the picnic stove and it works well, so maybe you could get one of those. I assume the van has a fridge?”
    “Yes, though it’s only a small one. Not much bigger than the little fridge in our rooms here. Archie said it’s a three-way, meaning it can run on mains power, twelve volts or gas. His dad built a battery box that sits on the A-frame and holds four car batteries but they’re apparently on their last legs. Rob said he’ll replace them with bigger batteries to use for lighting but we’ll run the fridge on gas.”
    “Well, you’ll be a lot better off than we are then: We’re stuck with using our eskies at the moment and we have to keep buying ice, but we’ll probably get a gas fridge when the cottage is finished.”
    The men came in on the conversation at that point and Rob suggested that it might be possible to pick up a reasonably priced second-hand gas fridge from the caravan repairs place over at the industrial park on the other side of town as he’d seen several wrecked vans there being cannibalised for parts. It was a good idea so along with buying conduit with which to build the frame for their reservoir, it went onto the list of things that Dirk had to do next Monday.
    Most of the conversation when they all went to dinner seemed to involve vans, cottages or self-sufficiency and despite it being pointed out to Rob and Reb that their fishing might have to be cut back while they were working on it, the evening ended on a really positive note.

    * * *

    Following training and the barbeque at the fire-house on Saturday morning Dirk and Rob spent the afternoon working on Archie’s family’s van which they’d had to jack up in order to remove the besser blocks that were supporting it. When the van was lowered onto its wheels a problem immediately became clear: Not so much because the tires on the left side were flat, as they could simply be pumped up, but because the leaf springs on that side had collapsed and would need replacing. Archie hadn’t been aware of the problem and was most apologetic however after it was decided that replacing the springs wouldn’t be too difficult the van was jacked up a besser block higher than it had been previously and after making sure it was safe Dirk and Rob worked at removing them. A trip into town would have to be made as replacement springs of the correct size weren’t available locally, however as the Caravan Spares and Repairs in town was closed on Saturday afternoons Dirk would get them on the following Monday.
    While the men were busy with the van Reb had enlisted Sally’s help to work on the topographic map held at the fire station, and while Uncle Bob had managed to get all copies of the maps held elsewhere Reb thought it might be best to do just one and have him check it for any errors before producing the extras he wanted. She’d brought her calligraphy pens and bottles of ink of various hues and the map to be worked on was laid out on the centre table, with the original and the other copies being laid out on the long bench against the wall behind.
    They decided that the best way to copy the details from the old map to the new was to do it grid by grid, finding as they did so that while there were a lot there weren’t quite as many additions to be done as they feared might be, and most of those were pretty close to the town or each of the few surrounding villages. Even so, it was still going to be quite a job and they decided that Reb would do the lettering and Sally would use a rule and a French curve to draw boundaries and roads or tracks that weren’t shown on the new maps they’d been handed. It took four hours of intense concentration; examining each individual map, combining details to be transferred and cross checking, then finally careful penmanship before the first map was complete and they were able to call uncle Bob away from the Lister Hit & Miss engine to which he was making final adjustments.
    When he walked into the control room Reb handed him a couple of blank sheets of paper on a clipboard and asked him if he could check the map and write down any mistakes he found that might need to be corrected before it was duplicated, because she sure didn’t want to have to correct six copies later.
    After they’d left and were headed to the Cock & Bull where they were to meet the men Bob spent some time going between maps to see if there were mistakes and was surprised to find that there actually was one. He was about to write it up on the clipboard but when he double checked to confirm its position he stopped and began to chuckle, then a moment later began to roar with laughter.
    “You crafty devils,” he said to the empty room when he realised that unless it was corrected the mistake meant that M. Stringer would now appear to be in possession of a hundred acres or so that he didn’t have before, and that Dirk’s and Sally’s cottage was located on private land rather than Crown Land, meaning the local council would leave it to its owners to decide what to do about any squatters.
    The owners of the property would of course know where the true boundary was and if they knew the cottage stood on Crown Land wouldn’t bother doing anything about them either, so unless the land was rezoned or put up for sale, both of which were highly unlikely events, Dirk and Sally were pretty much safe staying where they were. Wiping tears of laughter from his eyes he finally decided that he hadn’t really found any mistakes at all, and even in the unlikely event that one was to be discovered later, it was after all just a mistake… wasn’t it?
    “So how did it go?” the men were asked when they turned up at the hotel not long after the girls had arrived.
    “Well, not as good as I hoped, but not too bad,” said Rob. “I have to get some new springs for the suspension on one side but Dirk’s going to pick some up on Monday for me and I can install them after work on Monday. Tomorrow we’re going to remove and fix the leaking roof hatch and replace the two water-damaged ceiling panels. Archie and his dad said they’d help though I think Dirk and I can do it by ourselves. What do you girls want to do?”
    “Well, since you won’t need us,” said Sally, “we’re going to try our hand at baking bread in the earth oven.”
    “I know we collected quite bit of wood before the rain hit,” put in Dirk, “though I don’t know if there’ll be enough to keep the oven going long and hot enough to bake bread.”
    “I already thought of that: If we go back to the cottage now you guys can unload the dry firewood Reb and I bought from the hardware store this morning while you were at training. Don’t worry Rob: We put down lots of hessian bags to protect the back of the ute. Rob, if you and Reb take off now Dirk and I’ll be right behind you… after we pick up the take-away food I ordered earlier.”
    By the time the truck arrived Rob and Reb had not only begun unloading the wood from the ute and stacking it close to the earth oven but they’d also dragged from where they’d been stored a couple of sheets of roofing iron to cover it. Dirk took over from Reb and the men soon had all the wood stacked and covered before going to the cottage where Sally had everything laid out for a Chinese banquet.
    During the meal the girls explained how they had slightly altered the map at the RFS building and after the men had finished laughing it was decided that from now on they would all refer to the land they were on as Springers Farm, and encourage those friends who knew what they were doing to do the same. This, Sally said, would no doubt include Dave Morgan’s tradie mates in town who had offered their services but probably only half the population of Brocklesbury.
    After dinner it was decided that rather than drive back into town and then return next day Rob and Reb should stay overnight, so with the loft now being clear of the insulation batts that had been stacked there Dirk and Sally moved their air mattress and bedding upstairs so that Rob and Reb could spread their big double swag out on the living room floor.

    * * *


    Sunday turned out to be quite a busy day: Dirk and Rob removed, repaired and replaced the van’s roof hatch, though not before having to cut out some dry rot they’d found and build a new housing for it, and replaced the two water damaged ceiling panels with thin sheets of plywood. They also tore out the badly damaged linoleum floor covering with the intention of replacing it with cork tiles, which while not exactly cheap would provide better insulation. Despite that cork tiles were quite flexible and could probably handle the move without being damaged that job would be done after the van was installed at its new home and its interior had been repainted, mostly by Reb as she, unlike Rob who had to admit to being a bit rough with a brush, wouldn’t get drops of paint all over the floor.
    Rob checked the gas bottle mounted on the A frame and found that it was not only empty but that its test date was long expired, which meant that it would have to be replaced, so it was taken off the van and put on the truck so that he could drop it off at the recycling centre next day.
    Having given it some thought he’d also decided to replace the springs on both sides of the van as the condition of those still in place was uncertain, so an hour was spent removing them, along with the equalisers, shackles and bolts. It was well that they did so as it turned out that, as with the first set they’d taken out, the shackles were badly worn and the bushes practically nonexistent. According to Archie’s dad replacement kits were available and while he didn’t have any idea how much they’d cost he thought they shouldn’t be too much, so another item was added to Rob’s list of items he had to pick up.
    Stepping out of the truck when they returned in the late afternoon the men were greeted by such a tantalising aroma of freshly baked bread that it was obvious that the girls’ efforts at using the earth oven were highly successful, and this was borne out by the array of loaves, plaits and baguettes they’d laid out when they heard Dirk’s truck coming down the track.
    They’d also used the Dutch oven to prepare a lamb, vegetable and barley soup, simply because they wanted a dish they could all dunk chunks of the home-made bread into, and it was clear from their first bite that both the earth and Dutch ovens were going to see a lot of use throughout the coming winter.
    “You obviously got the temperature right but how you did that is beyond me,” said Dirk as he began to hoe into his second bowl of soup.
    “Well, you could put it down to experience I suppose, but since I don’t have any of that when it comes to earth ovens I used a temperature gauge I bought from the Trading Post. Alice told me how it could be mounted in the oven door so I used your cordless drill and one of your hole-saws to do that. Made a pretty good job of it too, even if I do say so myself.”
    “Oh you do, do you? That wooden door has a sheet-metal backing so what sort of condition is my-hole saw in now?”
    “It’s good: I put the door wood-side down and drilled through the metal then the wood with a drill the same size as the threaded end of the probe close to the gauge, then flipped it over and used that hole as a pilot for the hole-saw. Drilled that down carefully until I heard it touching the metal and when I pulled it out the plug of wood came with it. Then I just pushed the gauge into the hole in the wood with the probe going through the hole in the metal, put a washer and nut on the back and tightened it, and that was it. Job done. Simple.”
    “You’d better pray she doesn’t buy her own tools, Dirk,” laughed Rob. “Or you might find she doesn’t need you around anymore.”
    “Oh, I’d always need him around even if I owned a shed full of tools, Rob: We’re partners no less than you and Reb are.”
    “Yeah, I know that Sal. You know, I’ve gotten rather jealous of Dirk’s tools: I don’t own many myself and while I’ve got access to those at the recycling centre few of them are of good quality, and all the power tools are corded. Not a cordless drill or driver on site, probably because Council’s afraid someone might pinch them… Which some probably would do if given half the chance.”
    “Every man should own at least one cordless drill,” said Dirk. “In fact, I reckon every man should own a good tool kit, and know how to use the tools in it. And if you really plan to get into self-sufficiency you’re going to need one too.”
    “Apart from the cordless drill you say every man should have, what sort of tools should we get?” asked Reb.
    “I think it depends a bit on what you’re most interested in doing: Would it be mostly woodwork, or tinkering with engines for example. Whatever you do, start with a good solid lockable tool-box. As for the tools, it’d be probably best to have a look at the tools I’ve got and slowly build up your own set of the same things. You don’t have to buy the most expensive tools but my advice is to make sure you get good quality tools and look after them. And don’t ever brag about what you’ve got because that’s an invitation to thieves.”
    “We won’t even be telling people where we live, let alone what we’ve got mate: Reb and I had a talk about it and we decided that if we could drop of the grid and become self sufficient like you guys want to do, we’d be better off.”
    “You’ve been reading those books I lent you, haven’t you?”
    “We both have,” said Reb. “And after today’s effort with the earth oven and helping Sal with the garden I’m really convinced we can.”
    “If we all worked together it’d be easier too,” added Sally.
    “Yeah, I agree. In fact it’s really the only way to go: Combine our resources and skills to build things, like a big greenhouse for example, and work on the veggie garden, look after the chickens, and in the future do canning and preserving.”
    “Yeah, well, step by step: Reb and I have to build our cottage first and that in itself will take some time. And speaking of time: It’s getting late so we should take off now and we can catch up again tomorrow. At least I will because I need to go over to Archie’s and fit the springs on the van, if Dirk can get them.”
    “Don’t worry: If they have them in stock, I’ll get them,” promised Dirk.
    As Reb walked out to the ute ahead of him Rob turned and out of her hearing said quietly “Don’t say anything, but it’s Reb’s birthday next Saturday and I’m taking her to an Italian restaurant as a surprise, and you guys are invited.”
    “Ooh, nice,” said Sally. “Have you got her a present yet?”
    “Ahh, not yet. Truth is I haven’t a clue as to what she might want. Whenever I ask her she says she has everything she needs in me, which makes it damned hard.”
    “Well, winter’s coming up so you could give her some warm clothing because I know she’s a bit worried about being cold out here. Leave it to me, Rob. I think I know what would thrill her to bits. I’ll have a look in town tomorrow when we drive over to the van repairs place. I can bring it to the restaurant for you if you like, so she won’t see what’s coming.”
    “Thanks Sal, I really appreciate that. Let me know how much it costs and I’ll pay you back then.” replied a relieved looking Rob as he headed off.

    * * *

    Their visit to Cavan Spares and Repairs in the industrial estate on the other side of town in the morning was rewarded by the acquisition of a mix of second-hand and new lights that they thought would be suitable for what they wanted. There would be a single oyster ceiling light in the bathroom area and two in the living room, with four down-lights each in the kitchen and the loft, plus an exterior light for the back porch and two for the front deck. There was a really nice ceiling fan that could have been installed in the living room however it was prohibitively expensive for what it was so they decided to find something cheaper a bit later.
    Unfortunately there were no suitable ‘fridges available however Sally was able to find in a catalogue one that she considered to be perfect, and while Dirk was busy looking for the springs and replacement parts for the van’s suspension she quietly ordered one and paid for it with her credit card. Her plan was to ask Rob if he could pick it up and take it to their cottage in his ute when Dirk wasn’t around, knowing that once it was installed he wouldn’t have an opportunity to object to her spending so much, as the fridge was in fact quite expensive.
    Dirk already had all the switches and power points he wanted to install thanks to his kerb-side collections, and after stopping at an auto wreckers on the way back to town he came out with a 12-volt auxiliary radiator fan which he would try and swap out for the 240-volt one in the extractor fan he’d brought with him and mount it in the bathroom ceiling.
    Their next stop was in the town’s retail centre where Sally was able to find the birthday present that she believed Reb would be really happy to receive. As that was to be a present from Rob they purchased as a gift from themselves a ski parka and pants that she could wear around the van if it got as cold as she said it could. Keeping that in mind they decided that it’d be a good idea to get the same for themselves and walked out a bit later leaving behind a sales clerk who wondered why they weren’t at all interested in snow skis, poles and boots.
    The last stop was the hardware store where sufficient sheets of compressed fibre cement to line the bathroom were loaded onto the truck, along with backing strips, sealants, fixings, spacers, a tile-cutter and a few more odds and ends that would be required, and it was at that point that Dirk realised that it’d take a lot more time to do the job than he originally thought it would. He had just walked out when he suddenly remembered the conduit he needed to build the cover for their reservoir so it was a quick about-turn and ten minutes after loading that they were on their way back to Springer’s Farm.
    “What say we take our time to do just the bathroom this week and the kitchen next week?” Dirk suggested on the drive back. “Considering all the fiddly bits that need to be done in both I don’t think we’d be able to do them faster anyway. At least not if we want the cottage to be as comfortable and look as good as what we’d like it too.”
    “I agree Love. I already figured that things might take quite a bit longer when we agreed to help Rob and Reb with the van anyway, and I’m OK with that. By the way, and speaking of kitchens, do you mind if I set out the floor plan, seeing that I’ll probably be the one using it most.”
    “I thought we already had it planned but if you need to make changes it’s OK by me. Unless you need the plumbing, lighting and power outlets changed because that’d be a real pain in the butt.”
    “No. The original floor plan is good but I just want to make a couple of small changes to some bench measurements. For example, I’m thinking that the benchtop where the gas cook-top will go could be a couple of inches lower than standard to make it easier for me to check pots and pans or use a wok.”
    “Fair enough. We don’t have a wok, do we?”
    “No we don’t, but I want one. Don’t worry about me getting more stuff than we’ll have storage space for because I’m taking the minimalist approach and only buying what we really need.”
    Finally back home Dirk began unloading the materials for the bathroom and stacking them on the back porch while Sally carried the clothing, the boxes of lights and the present she’d bought for Reb on Rob’s behalf into the cottage before heating up what little was left of yesterday’s soup for a late lunch.
    It hadn’t rained for three days now and around two p.m. they were interrupted by the sudden appearance of Rob’s friend Richie who’d parked his Toyota Stout and a tractor-carrying trailer at the teardrop and found his way down the zig-zag path to the cottage. He’d come to do the slashing that Rob needed doing and wanted to know exactly where he should begin and how far he should go, so Dirk went up to the teardrop to show him where the track and clearings were to be cleared and stayed long enough to see just how effective the slasher was at doing the work. Not only did it turn out to be very effective it was also fast, especially when compared to Dirk’s brush-cutter and mower efforts, and less than two hours later Richie returned to tell them the job was finished.
    Keen to see for herself, Sally went with Dirk to check out what had been done and both were more than pleased to find that not only had the two clearings and the track leading to them been cleared but Richie had also done a quick pass over the third clearing “to make it easier if you want to extend a bit more in the future.”
    Rob turned up in his ute as they were talking to Richie, telling them that he’d had to work back a bit and didn’t think he had enough time to fit the caravan’s springs today, so he’d have to do it tomorrow.
    “Still plenty of time Mate,” said Dirk. “I’ve got the springs, new shackles and bushes in the truck and I reckon if we go over to Archie’s now we could do the job in less than an hour. By the way, the shackles and bushes are new but the springs came off an almost new van that’d been written off in an accident. Apparently its owner didn’t have much experience in towing and forgot about the length of the van when he pulled onto the main highway from the intersection at Albert Street. Got hit by a pantech truck and rolled on its side.”
    “Blimey,” said Richie. “Hope he was at the end of a holiday rather than the beginning. I bet his insurance company wouldn’t have been too happy.”
    “Actually it was the pantech driver’s fault because he misjudged the timing of the lights controlling that intersection. Thought he’d catch it going green and was so busy watching for that he didn’t realise the car coming out was towing a van. Anyway, he got charged for neg driving and it was his insurance that had to pay.”
    “Fair enough I guess. Anyway, I’ll be off now, but when you’re ready give me a call and I’ll come back and dig your stump-holes.”
    With Ritchie gone the two men headed off to Archie’s and two hours later the besser blocks supporting the van had been removed and stacked on the back of Dirk’s truck, and with its suspension fixed the van had been lowered to sit on its wheels, the tyres of which had been properly inflated. Also placed onto the truck were the large pavers that went under the blocks and the lengths of lattice that had skirted the van and prevented Archie’s dog from hiding under it, as it was inclined to do when it knew it had done something wrong and was now in trouble, which by all accounts was more often than not.
    Archie’s dad had come out of the house when the lattice was being placed on the truck and suggested that as there was still a good hour of daylight left and the van was ready to move maybe they could take it with them now, especially as he knew that that local constable would be sitting down to dinner about this time and wouldn’t see them towing the unregistered trailer.
    “Sounds like a good idea,” Dirk agreed and turning to Rob added “We could park it on the track at the entrance to the clearing tonight and position it tomorrow afternoon after we’ve put the pavers in place. What do you think?”
    “I wasn’t expecting to move it before Wednesday but doing it now would put me a day ahead of my schedule so yeah, let’s do it.”
    The van was hitched up and the safety chain and electrics connected before Rob eased the truck out of Archie’s back yard and with Dirk keeping a watch rearward drove carefully back to Springer’s Farm, arriving twenty minutes later having suffered no mishaps. They decided that they might as well take the van down to the clearing where it was to be set up and position it, despite their not yet having put the support pavers for the besser blocks down as that job would be easy enough to do later.
    Having heard the sound of the truck returning Sally had come to the clearing to watch as Rob deftly manoeuvred the van into place, and after it was unhitched from the truck joined him as he had a quick look around inside and tested the interior and exterior lights for the third or fourth time, noting as he did so that the power seemed to be getting low. Looking at the interior it was obvious to Sally that it would certainly need quite a bit of work done to it before anybody moved in, but of course she’d be only too happy to help Reb with the painting and decorating. Opening the door of the small three-way fridge under the kitchen bench she knew the first job that needed doing was to give it a good clean, and that was something that should be done as soon as possible; like tomorrow.
    Leaving the fridge door open when they left the van Sally joined the men in the truck for the short drive down to the cottage and after saying good night to Rob when he drove back to town in his ute went inside to find Dirk cutting a thick slice of the last loaf of bread from yesterday’s earth-oven baking.
    “Hungry, are you?” she asked him with a grin.
    “Just a bit: Probably couldn’t eat much more than half a horse,” he replied as he took butter from the esky and spread some on the slice of bread he was holding.
    “Sorry: You’ll have to settle for sausages and three because I haven’t been able to catch a horse lately.”

    * * *


    Love your stuff, keep them coming.


    Thanks for the latest update, Shin. Sorry to hear that you’ve been sick again (although I had suspected as much, with your long absence.) Hopefully you’ll be on the mend soon. As for the MRSA (that stuff is particularly nasty) have you tried using colloidal silver on it? It’s supposed to be one of the few things that IS effective on it.


    Hi IceFire,
    Thank you very much for the tip on colloidal silver. I seem to recall reading some time ago that it was in common use up until modern antibiotics came on the scene. Apparently CS dressings were commonly used in WWI to dress wounds.
    Our local pharmacist, one who is not beholden to the pharmaceutical companies, is also a qualified naturopath so I’m going to have talk to him about it.


    It’s good to sea you back and writing. Looking forward to hearing more from you my friend.

    Best wishes,
    Tom (the Sorcerer)


    Thanks Tom.

    I started another story a while back and wrote about two pages before getting writer’s block, but in the last week I’ve been able to add enough to make it worth posting. I’ve titled it The Runaway and you’ll find a number of familiar characters in it as it’s intended to be a part of the Captain Dave story. The story isn’t complete yet, (None of my stories are), but hopefully I’ll manage to bring them all together at some stage.




    * * *

    A cloudy morning greeted them and rain had been forecast for the afternoon so it was decided that rather than begin work on their bathroom straight away they’d first help Rob and Bron out by putting the pavers and besser blocks under the van, and cleaning its fridge. Following a quick breakfast the tools and cleaning gear needed were taken to the van and a few hours later it was sitting solidly and perfectly level on the blocks with its lattice woodwork installed around the bottom, while inside there was now a thoroughly cleaned fridge, the door of which Sally left open so that it could air out.
    An hour after they returned to the cottage the forecast rain began to fall, though it wasn’t nearly as heavy as it had been a few days previously, and work began on the bathroom. It was just as well they’d decided to take their time doing it as after lining and sealing the walls a box to hold the composting toilet and a mulch bucket needed to be constructed, plus the shower base had to be installed, and both tasks turned out to be slightly more involved than he’d thought. Dirk was able to replace the 240-volt motor of the exhaust fan with the 12-volt radiator fan he’d gotten from the wreckers and that had been installed in the ceiling, with a duct leading to an outlet in the gable end of the roof above. By the end of the working week the bathroom had been lined and sealed, the towel cupboard had been installed, and before painting it only needed the shower recess to be tiled, for which task Sally was going to enlist the help of Reb.
    “You’ve seen some of the beautiful things she’s done with her lead-lighting,” she explained to Dirk. “And I think she’d be great at doing the type of mosaic I’d like to have in the shower recess.”
    “A mosaic? What sort of mosaic do you have in mind?”
    “I was thinking of one that’d make it feel like you were standing in a waterfall in a rain forest.”
    “Hey, that sounds neat! The white base would seem a bit out of place though.”
    “Yeah, I thought so too, but I spoke to a bloke at the hardware store and he said it could be painted with an acrylic and be sealed. Maybe if it was painted to look like stones in a riverbed it’d look good.”
    “Or you could tile over it, though you’d have to rough up the surface a bit so the adhesive would take to it.”
    “Either way. I’ve also been thinking about the cork floor tiles Rob wants to put in the caravan: Do you think they’d look good in our kitchen too?”
    “I think so. And they’d be nice underfoot: Warm in winter, cool in summer, and they deaden sound too. In fact, we could probably do the living area too and save us having to sand and varnish the floorboards like we were thinking of doing.”
    “Works for me, though I think flooring will be the last thing on the agenda. What are we going to do now?”
    “We’re going to relax and do nothing until it’s time to go to the Cock & Bull. After all, we’ve been working flat-out for the whole week so we deserve a break, don’t you think?”
    “I do. How about we go to the pub now?”
    “Can’t go just yet: Rob said he’s bringing Reb over to see the van in its new home after she finishes work, which will be about an hour from now, and we’ll all go together. He also wants to put in the new gas cylinder he bought, and hook up the range and fridge to see if they work properly, though according to Archie there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. We’ll be using my truck tomorrow to pick up some more besser blocks and timber he ordered for their deck so we’ll all go to the hotel together, unless you and Reb have plans and will need to use the ute.”
    “No, nothing planned. While we’re waiting how about we go down and see how much water there is in the dam you showed me? With any luck it’ll still be full.”
    The dam was full, or as full as it could be given that its lower side had had a small channel cut through it by fast flowing water, and they were pleased to see that the wood-ducks were still happily swimming and playing around in it.
    “It’d be really nice if it was always full, wouldn’t it?” said Sally. “Do you think there’d be some way to stop it draining out, like putting down some sort of liner?”
    “I’ve been thinking about that. We’d probably have to wait until it dried out a bit before trying to line it, but there are other ways: We could spread some Bentonite clay over the surface and hope that does the job when it sinks to the bottom, or we could gley it.”
    “What do you mean ‘gley’ it?”
    “Basically it means having to drain the pond, line it with animal manure and organic matter, then trample it into the mud. After the pond is refilled anaerobic decomposition turns that into gley which stops the water permeating into the soil. It’s an old Russian method from what I’ve read, and by all accounts it seems to be pretty successful. If I was going to do that I’d probably build a wide wall across the gully a bit further down and make it a larger and deeper dam.”
    “Hmm… I think I see another project on the horizon,” Sally said as they walked back up to the cottage.
    “Well, I’ve already thought of putting mulched swales along the opposite side of the gully and planting rows of fodder and fruit bearing trees on them. Excess water from the swales could be directed to the dam when it’s raining heavily, or water could be pumped back up to them during dry conditions.”
    “Pretty ambitious plan. We might have to consider buying a tractor.”
    “Be nice to have one I suppose, but it might be cheaper in the long run to hire Richie to do it, or Dave’s friend Darren if it needed an excavator. That’s looking well into the future though because at the moment we’ve already got plenty to do.”
    “True, but once Rob’s and Reb’s cottage has been built we might have two extra pairs of hands to help.”
    “I think we’ll have one pair at least: Rob said that after reading those books I lent them Reb told him she’d be quite happy to chuck her job in and live a life of self-sufficiency. He said he’d be OK with that because without having to pay rent they could live on his wage quite easily.”
    “Especially if the veggie garden produces decent crops.”
    “I’m sure it will: Have you seen the way a lot of the seedlings I planted are coming up? I think some of them are almost ready to harvest.”
    “You think so? I’ve already started. Reb had a look too and was very impressed, and once she and Rob get established they’ll help with the planting and whatever else needs doing. By the way, there’ll be more birds in the run soon because she managed to find some New Hampshire chickens and I think she’s going to get them this weekend.”
    “She’s really flinging herself into it, isn’t she?”
    “Actually, I think they both are. And speak of the devils; their ute is just coming down the drive now.”
    As soon as the ute pulled up alongside Dirk’s truck Reb leapt out and called “Hi Sal, Dirk. Can you give us a hand please?” as she pulled the cover off the back to reveal two bags of feed and three pet carriers each containing two chickens.
    A grinning Rob got out and called a greeting to them as he took a bag of feed under each arm and headed towards the chook run, with Reb trotting alongside with one of the carriers. Dirk and Sally each took a carrier and a few minutes later the six new residents of the chicken run were facing off with the established birds, each group, as is normal, being a bit wary of the other. Rob added the feed to the barrels that were there and stacked the pet carriers alongside them, saying that he’d found them at the recycling centre and thought they might come in useful if he was to become a farmer of sorts.
    Reb was keen to see the van in its new position so they all headed towards it, with Rob carrying the new gas cylinder he’d purchased. Due to the bad weather Rob hadn’t been back since he and Dirk had reversed it onto the clearing so he was as surprised as Reb to find that the van had already been jacked up onto the besser blocks, levelled and had the lattice put around its base. Dirk had left his spirit level in the van and a quick check found that the blocks hadn’t settled into the ground and the van was sitting on an even keel, or would have been if it had been a boat, said Rob with a laugh. It took him only a couple of minutes to connect the new gas cylinder and operate the igniter for the fridge then check that it, the cook-top and the small oven were working. It would take time for the fridge to get cold of course, but at least he could see that the small flame that made it operate was burning, and also not failing to see that the fridge had been thoroughly cleaned thanked Sally for having done that for them.
    He went back to the cottage then drove his ute up to the van in order to swap out the four old car batteries on the A frame for the four new large and heavy truck batteries that he’d purchased and made sure were fully charged. When he bought the batteries the staff at Repco had also sold him a battery indicator which he was going to install inside the van next to the main power supply switch, and a smoke alarm which would be mounted on the ceiling. Dirk helped him with the removal, replacement and connection of the batteries, and it was clear that they’d been fully charged when the lights were switched on and glowed far brighter than before.
    A five litre tin of primer/sealer/undercoat and a number of brushes was taken from the ute and placed in the van ready for Reb to begin painting, and it was obvious that had they not been going to the Cock & Bull tonight she would have started doing that right then. Her plan after applying two coats of the primer was to paint the interior in the same colours that she wanted to use in their cottage; just to be sure they were what she and Rob would be happy with in the long term.
    “Since we’re both into fishing and are close to the beach I’ve been thinking of decorating it in a nautical theme,” said Reb. “As for colours, a flat white for the ceiling and a pale teal or turquoise with white trim for the walls and cupboards would look really nice. I had a look at cork tiles at the flooring place in town and found some that are like a golden sand colour that would be perfect so I’ll have to measure up the floor so I can order the right number of boxes.”
    “Cool. We’ve decided that a cork floor would be good in our cottage too so I’ll have to have a look myself,” replied Sally as together she and Reb walked back along the beach path to the cottage leaving the men to finish up what they were doing. “You’re lucky that the van is white and has blue trim so it won’t be a mismatch of colours like it is now.”
    “Yeah. Archie told us that when his family first looked at the van they thought the colour scheme inside was a bit off but it was going really cheap so they bought it with the intention of repainting it. It was used quite a lot until his mother had a spinal stroke and after that it was just parked up and eventually used for storage, and the painting never got done.”
    “Dirk thinks it should be covered like it was at Archie’s place, and he reckons we’ve salvaged more than enough roofing iron to do that.”
    “I know: The boys have been working on plans to cover the van and the deck before our cottage is built to the point where we can move in, just like you and Dirk did, then maybe use some of that iron for our back porch.”
    Sally laughed. “If Dirk has anything to do with it you’ll find he’s most likely drawn up a step-by-step schedule of everything that needs to be done, and in the proper order, though I found that if I want to make any changes to his plans it isn’t too hard to sweet-talk him into doing whatever I want him to do.”
    “Same with Rob, though I always try to make sure he thinks that any changes I want to make are his idea.”
    By the time the girls arrived at the cottage, having stopped for several minutes at the chicken run so that Reb could check that her birds were settling in alright, the men had arrived too, so it was only a matter of putting bags of laundry on the back tray and Paddington in the cab before heading into Brocklesbury.
    After checking in at the hotel and having a shower a move was made towards the bar where as expected they found Uncle Bob and a couple of his cronies enjoying a beer. Archie was there too and asked how things were going with the van. He’d felt a bit embarrassed by the fact that the springs had had to be replaced and after discussing it with his father the family had decided that when Rob and Reb had finished with the van they would put it on the market and reimburse them as soon as it was sold.
    “Not necessary, Archie: We’ll have saved a lot by way of not having had to hire it, or pay rent for the apartment in town, so we think we’ve already got the best part of the deal. By the way, we chucked the old car batteries out and replaced them with truck batteries with more amp hours, though we intend using those for our cabin when that’s finished, and as the empty gas cylinder was way out of date we replaced that too.”
    While the men were talking about the van Sally and Reb asked Uncle Bob if the map they’d worked on for him was OK, and if it was did he want them to do the remaining maps.
    “You won’t need to,” he replied. “I took your copy to the council on Monday and gave it to the General Manager to check. He gave it a quick look over and when he saw that it had far more details on it than the one council had had before he was happy enough to send it to a printing outfit that does large scale copying. The old maps you two worked from are rolled up in my office, and copies of the new one have already been sent out to all those who need them.”
    “Oh good: We were worried you might have found some mistakes that needed correcting.”
    “No, though if I’d thought of it sooner I might’ve suggested you re-label the fire-trail that leads to the beach Fisherman’s Reef Road or something like that.”
    “Why would you have wanted us to do that?”
    “Because that would’ve made it easier to con the council into maintaining it. We have to make sure that fire-trails are clear but roads are its responsibility.”
    “Well aren’t you a sneaky one?” Sally stated more than asked. “Any chance I can have the old map that you used here? It’d make a nice decoration in our shed.”
    “Of course you can, though I’m not sure that it’s as accurate as the maps the council now uses,” Uncle Bob said, and from the smile on his face and a wink of an eye the girls realised that he had found, and, more importantly, had ignored the small ‘mistake’ they’d made.
    Uncle Bob wasn’t at all put out when the men had begged off training for the next day and told them that if they needed any help he’d bring the crew over when their barbeque was finished.
    “Thanks Uncle Bob, but that won’t be necessary: The job isn’t all that big and that much help would throw Dirk’s carefully planned schedule out,” laughed Sally, making Dirk pull a face at her before grinning and agreeing.
    Following the usual Friday routine of dinner in the dining room, a couple of hours of dancing and listening to the band in the lounge and an early night, the next morning found the men picking up the material that Rob had ordered for the deck to be built alongside the caravan. The girls had asked to be dropped off at the shop where Reb had found the cork tiles she wanted to use in the van as Sally wanted to have a look to see if there were any that would suit the décore of the cottage. She found that the tiles Reb had chosen for the van would be exactly right for what she wanted too, and the sales clerk, pleased to hear that enough tiles to floor a whole cottage would be needed offered them a substantial discount.
    “It probably wouldn’t have been so substantial had he known how big, or rather how small the cottage is,” Sally said when they teamed up with their partners at the hardware store.
    “Oh, I don’t know: The more I think about it the more I’m inclined to put the same tiles in our cottage too, so it’d still be a decent order.” said Reb as she passed a couple of sample tiles and a catalogue to Rob. “What do you think Love?”
    “They do look good in this catalogue. Would you want the same colouring as what we’re putting in the van?”
    “Not sure yet: I’ll make up my mind when I’ve had a look at Dirk and Sally’s tiles after they’ve put them in.”
    “Rob, one thing you’ll have to remember is that you’ll have to take off your work-boots whenever you go inside otherwise you’ll ruin the surface. Same goes for you Dirk.”
    “Hmm… Rob, do you think checker-plate steel flooring would look good?”
    “Yeah, but steel might be a bit heavy Dirk. Aluminium should be OK though.”
    “How would you guys like to live in the work-shed,” asked Reb ever so sweetly before snarling “Because that’s where you will be living if you keep that up.”
    “And doing your own cooking,” added Sally.
    “Cork not only looks good, but it’s a good insulator according to this catalogue,” said Dirk backpedalling furiously.
    “Which neither steel nor aluminium is, so cork is obviously the best choice, and we really don’t mind having to take our boots off before going inside, do we Dirk?” Rob quickly added.
    Opting for fish and chips for lunch in order to save time, they made a brief stop at a takeaway shop before heading to Springer’s Farm, arriving just as the men were finishing off the last of the chips. The truck was quickly divested of its load then while the bases were being prepared for the besser blocks that would support the deck’s bearers Sally and Reb got stuck into preparing and undercoating the woodwork of the van’s interior. So well did they all work that just before four-thirty Dirk and Rob were able to step up from the completed deck into the van and admire the job that the girls had done with the paintwork. They were impressed to find that there was no sign of the brush marks they had expected to see around fittings and were told that before painting all the drawer and cupboard door handles had been removed, as had the mounting for the van’s fire extinguisher and the metal trim around the ceiling lights.
    It was good timing because Rob, who hadn’t told Reb that he’d invited Dirk and Sally, wanted to go home and shower before going to the restaurant, however Reb suggested that as Dirk and Sally would probably like to have a shower too it would be just as easy to use the facilities at the recycling centre. Rob hadn’t stopped to think about that and was quick to agree so a dash was made to pick up their toiletries bags and a change of clothes before following Rob’s ute.
    Before leaving the centre after they’d all showered Reb noted that Sally was wearing a dress and that Dirk was also more dressed up than she’d seen before, and they told her they’d decided to go to The Brumby steakhouse to see if it was as good as Dave had told them it was. It would also explain why they’d be driving into town rather than heading back to their cottage.
    Concealed in a cardboard box on the back seat of the truck were the birthday cards and presents that would be given to an oblivious Reb, and arriving at the Milano ahead of Rob and Reb they were taken out and taken inside to be placed under the chairs that Dirk and Sally would occupy at the booked table. Although Rob had paid Sally for the gift she’d purchased on his behalf, and had also given her a shopping voucher to go with the hand-made card he’d painstakingly written, she hadn’t divulged exactly what the present was, but said that while it would be a surprise for them both he had to promise to act as if it was all his own idea. Unless Reb didn’t like it of course, in which case he could blame her, though she believed the odds of that were so remote they could be disregarded.


    Looks like Dave and Bron have more converts. Before we know it the whole village will be open preppers, not closet prepper types.

    Keep up the great work man and take care of yourself, if not for you, for your wife and children. After having another heart attack I am speaking from experience.


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