I spotted 2 furry little animals on the block the other day. I did some research and looks like we have Quenda - a sub-species of the Southern Brown Bandicoot. I had wondered about the narrow tunnels under the dense bush and bracken. Quenda dig for bulbs and invertebrates and sleep in shallow nests under the skirts of Black Boys(1). I feel vindicated in my efforts to retain as many blackboys as we could.
'A single Quenda can dig up to 45 pits a day which is equal to about 4 tonnes a year of soil turned over. This digging has several benefits including dispersal of mycorrhizal fungi that is important for tree health, increased water infiltration and nutrient capture leading to improved soil quality and improved seeding recruitment. The turnover of leaf litter also helps to reduce fuel loads making bushfires less severe.'
I think we need to keep these little critters on the property but turns out they need about 6 hectares of territory! I'm hoping the reserve across from our bottom firebreak added to our 5 acres and other remnant bush will be enough for them to thrive.
(1) Yes I still use this term for 'grass trees'. My Noongar friends also call them black boys and if it's OK with them, then it's OK with me.
Photo credit: I Photoshopped Jesse Steele's photo from the article 'Backyard Bandicoots at Mandurah' https://www.stivesretirementliving.com.au/backyard-bandicoots/
My life has been a series of repetitive cycles. I've had several aborted attempts at creating a sanctuary for myself, a haven, a peaceful place to live: smallest practical house, biggest possible garden. Why have a big house you just have to keep clean? Especially when you could be outside in the dirt with all the wildlife.
Many years ago - decades actually - I was introduced to Permaculture. It was the heady days of the 'Orange People' (of which I was one) before the America's Cup turned Freo into yuppy-ville. Freo was a hippy Mecca and artists could still afford to rent rundown studios in the cappuccino strip. They were strange, confusing and liberating times. Some of my friends were vegan and had taken to growing potatoes in straw. The seminal book One Straw Revolution was compulsory reading (and yes, I did read it!)
Today - with my partner of 17 years on board - I am venturing back into Permaculture/alternative lifestyle territory on 5 acres of scrubby coastal bush. It's been a difficult 2 year haul just to get to this point: putting our house in country town 'suburbia' on the market; waiting, waiting and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning for house viewings; watching the latest royal commission unfold as banks tightened up their loan practices making the housing market slide into negative territory, stressing about whether we would lose the 5 acres we could actually afford before we sold our place and then, when it did, finding somewhere affordable and flexible to live while we built.
Although it's been difficult I am keenly aware that I am extremely privileged to be the co-owner of 5 acres. If I never end up with a dwelling on it I have some peace of mind knowing that I have somewhere to go - even if it's just to sleep there in a swag on the ground.
I feel a huge sense of responsibility to look after this piece of land, which is why the clearing has been a bloody nightmare!! I have been in tears several times as one small gum tree after another succumbed to the bobcat. Not to mention lizards and frogs scrambling for their lives. The last 3 days have been another kind of hell. We had an open 1 metre deep, 75 metre long trench to get the electricity down to the shed pad (we will be going solar but this will be an 'integrated' setup until batteries become affordable). The last few mornings I have been down there early to rescue the small creatures who had fallen in overnight - mainly small lizards and tiny, tiny frogs that looked like grasshoppers in the bottom of the trench. Yesterday I found small kangaroo tracks in the bottom of the trench. It was a relief to see the poor thing had got itself out and to finally get the trench filled in.
I keep wandering over the block, looking forlornly at the savagery wreaked by the bobcat and lately a front end loader. All I can do is say 'sorry' to the plants and animals - over and over again like a mantra - and promise to make things better, to repair the sanctuary for the 'roos who use the land to fashion cool cubbies for themselves and chomp on grass trees in the summer. It's going to be a lot of work - my body is 30 years older and sore - but I am so up for it. I'll just have to take it slow......
It's been 2 months since Hamish died and I'm still struggling. I have never missed a human being as much as I miss my darling little pooch. I have really missed people when they have left my life but it has been more of a cerebral thing. What I miss about Hamish is more tangible and physical - I just want to hold him and I'm devastated that I can't.
In the last months of Hamish's life I had to carry him around a fair bit. He was blind, his heart was failing and he tired easily. But every night after his dinner - which he was still enjoying at that stage - Hamish would give his favourite toy Fred a hard time and let out his excited little poodle bark. No matter what I was doing I would stop and play with him for a few minutes because I knew I would regret it if I didn't. He couldn't sustain any more than that and would collapse on his bed pretty quickly.
I had to carry him outside to have a wee, carry him to the car to go for 'walks' - which consisted of me trying to make him move a bit so his body didn't seize up entirely - and hold him on my lap in the car as well. He used to rest his head on my shoulder and I would wrap my arms around him. I think he felt secure and safe.
Often when I picked him up I would smell him. Each time I made a mental note of that smell. When he was dying I held him and breathed in as much of him as I could. After he had died I put patchouli oil on him as a way to mark the occasion and create a new olfactory memory. Since his death I sometimes put on patchouli oil as a way to try and bring him back - but it doesn't really fulfil the need.
The thing is - I just want to hold Hamish against my chest and smell him and I can't. He isn't physically here. His little body is buried under a metre of sand with Fred on our new block. I kept photos of him on my phone and every day I look at them. I touch the screen but I don't feel his soft white fur or his warm body - just glass. There's a barrier now, between him and me - a barrier I can't cross, that I will never be able to cross. Every so often I just start crying and my heart hurts. Even with my lifelong obsession with death, my spiritual understanding and enquiry into it - which includes a 40000 word thesis on the subject - the physicality of Hamish's passing reduces me to this.
I am really struggling with the passing of my beloved brave little Hamish so this will be short.
After a period of ill-health, during which Hamish tried so hard to stay positive and stay with us, I called the Roving Vet on Thursday 6 September. He had not eaten for a week and it was clear the end of his life had come. The vet was wonderful and Hamish's passing was dignified and peaceful. I held him against my chest while the sedative took effect and for half an hour after he had died. His heart to my heart.
Burying him was our first job on the new block. Hamish had held on at my request because we are 'camping out' on a friend's 6 acres just out of town and had nowhere to bury him. I was adamant I didn't want to leave him at our previous home on the hill. He was gone within 2 weeks of settlement of the new property. Loyal to the end.
My heart is broken. I miss my little friend more than I can say.
Well.... we are not quite there yet. Things are still moving - but slowly.
We got word on my birthday (a few weeks ago) that we had sold the house and had 21 days to find somewhere to live and move out. After a week of frantic activity we were told there was a holdup with paperwork - family court and titles - and that settlement could be 2-6 weeks. Needless to say I have been very stressed - which is probably why I got the flu soon afterwards and still have.
The past 15 months, since we put the house on the market, has been an emotional roller-coaster ride. We switched agents about 5 months in - after our 3 month contract expired and the agent didn't inform us I figured he wasn't very pro-active. The new agent hired her photographer and got great photos and a drone video. In the first couple of months we had 9000 hits on the website. Our place had the most action the agent had ever seen on a property. We had regular punters through. Each time we cleaned the place up and put stuff away we hoped it would be the last. It gets really exhausting - we are pretty neat people but not so great at cleaning things like windows. I doubt many people actually live like that but it's what you have to do when you have your home on the market.
We've had the place 'sold' 3 times but each time there has been a problem with finance. When the royal commission started the banks began playing hardball. As it progressed they got even meaner - asking for ridiculous amounts of paperwork and knocking people back even when they had large amounts of equity. I actually think they are punishing us and the government. The Australian economy is built on housing and the banks play a critical role so basically - 'you fuck with us and we will bring the economy to a standstill' - which is pretty much what has happened.
So we wait. There have been a couple of positives though. The long lead in time has allowed us to keep researching the best options for the next place. It will be a very modest 'shed' design (Aussie architecture at its best) on a few acres with as much solar passivity and as many environmental features as we can buld into it - including a composting toilet, solar power, double-glazed windows and double insulation (at my end anyway). Robin has been absolutely amazing - taught himself Sketchup so he could do the plans, completed short courses for a builder's licence and white card (yes, they are compulsory now), done heaps of research on the best affordable environmental design solutions, created a spread sheet with all the costings and much more. The extra time has also allowed us to find somewhere private to live too, while we get plans passed by the council, clear some bush, build a driveway and move a caravan there.
The idea is to build within our means, set ourselves up for 'retirement' (which for me is a mirage that moves further away the closer I get to it) and cut down our living costs (because the bloody government keeps us all on the treadmill paying for utilities and rates. Forget about the homeless - Australia is fast becoming unaffordable for the majority of its own economic middle class).
Given all the false starts - I won't feel really comfortable until settlement has gone through. Fingers and toes crossed.
I keep coming back to collage and I think I know why. Collage is the perfect artform for our Post-post Modernist era because it enables, actually encourages, the artist to bring disparate elements and ideas together in one image.
Collage is art made by sticking different materials together, a collection or combination of various things. It has links to Deconstructivism and DADA – 2 favourite genres of mine. DADA arrived in the early part of the 20th Century as a response to the ideologies that contributed to WW1. DADA artists were critical of the dominance of rationality and believed that the order of civilisation was in fact an illusion. The events of WW1 made it clear to them that nobody was actually ‘steering the ship’. DADA artists embraced ‘chance, accident, and improvisation’ and used a method of randomisation to deconstruct artistic practices and social norms.
Collage has to be one of the best ways to express and counter the collapse and disunification we are witnessing today all over the world. This method of creating art – new from old – has also been made easy because of the internet. Negotiating this aspect of an art practice is an intellectual property nightmare, but it is also an exciting way to make art and for me, to make social commentary.
image: Photoshopped 'hand-made' collage by author. MOMA