Category: Tree Change

Refuse transfer station gold

A visit to the tip is said to be like a good bowel evacuation. Or better. Our local tip offers even further pleasure. Philosophy, nuggets of wisdom, argument and analysis. And other treasures. Should you spot something you fancy amidst the broken, forlorn castoffs, rejects and discards, you can take it home with you as well. You don’t have to have an immediate use for it. Come in handy. It’s the handyman’s insurance policy. But first you have to get it past the operator.

“What do you think of the business in Iraq?”

Tip operator, Aristotle Bob opens topically. He’s a newshound in between tippers. Sits in his porta cabin glued to his recycled National 10 band transistor, an icon of the seventies. Things people throw away these days.

Waddles over to my driver’s window to issue his standard challenges:

“What have you got? What’s new?”

The John Wayne waddle helps him avoid arguments. Conveys authority. So does his height. Must be six foot six with his hat off. He’d be a good man to have on your side in an insurgency. He’s come over to assess what you’ll pay today. He’s agile for sixty five. True, he’s got a crook leg, crook knees and a crook back, diabetes, diverticulitis and a heart condition and PTSD from his time in ‘Nam but he’s always in good form. Sizes you up in flash.

“Ten dollars this time.”

“Iraq?”, I say.

“Iraq is just a distraction. Smokescreen. Sneaky bastards want to cover their domestic stuff ups.” 

“Our boys will give ’em hell.” He smiles and takes my money. Give ’em a hiding. A real hiding. They won’t know what they’ve struck.”

“Distract us from their buggered up budget.”

“Wronski, you need to have more faith in your government.”

Aristotle is in typically good form. Helpful. As quick to point out errors in a man’s thinking as he is to put you right on your rubbish sorting. Let you know which is household and which recycling. Don’t dare get them muddled. He checks each bin as you unload. Bob’s up just when you think he’s mentoring another tipper. Ferrets through to check your selection. What’s this? In the other bin, thanks, Wronksi, if you don’t mind.

Ari’s never short of a word. Talks at you like a taxi driver. Or a hairdresser. Only more to the right. And a fair bit louder. Put you straight on all sorts of matters from abortion to gun control.

Doesn’t pause to draw breath. Being deaf means that he hears his own voice better than yours. Who needs talkback radio. Crafty, too. Getting you to repeat yourself gives him more time to think up a reply.

Hawkeyed, he scans the driveway, without taking his eyes off you and your load. Other locals enter warily, utes and trailers laden with cargoes of lawn clippings, dead truck batteries, discarded BBQs, broken microwaves, rusty bicycles, outgrown play equipment, uncle’s bowling trophies and sundry other household and workshop detritus. Some tippers give him a cheery wave but none of them gets past him. Everything at the tip has its place.

Today an abandoned still fabricated from a gas cylinder by some home moonshiner doubtless poisoned by the results, glints in the spring sunshine. Catches my eye. I think better of asking to take it home. He’s probably got his eye on it himself. Anything good, he’s got first dibs on. No hard feelings. He’s only got others’ well-being at heart.

Today Aristotle Bob is putting me straight on politics. Again. Foreign policy. But nothing’s off limits. He’ll also take care of other misconceptions, illusions or misunderstandings. Including right of reply.

Former prison officer, father of six, pocket philosopher, and public guardian of proper recycling and correct waste disposal. Ari is a local hero. Renowned throughout the district for his symposia. Impromptu. Gratis. He’s on duty Wednesdays and Sundays if you want to catch him.

The weathered blue sign tacked to a scribbly bark says Transfer Station. But it’s so much more. It’s our own University of the Open Pit. Topics are suitably wide ranging, eclectic, topical. They embrace politics, philosophy, modern culture and society with a special focus on modern youth’s moral decline and the throw-away society. Everything you need to know that’s fit to be put on a fridge magnet.

Many locals choose to specialise in sport but it’s not compulsory. I was withdrawn from that elective when I told him that I was football illiterate. Told him to his face. It took a bit of doing.

He looked at me as if to say what are ya made of? Rolled his eyes. One of those. Still we remain on more than speaking terms. Ari always greets me like a brother. A daft, eccentric brother who needs a word to the wise about the ways of the world. And my job is to listen.

You, see, Wronski, those idiots over there would not last five minutes against our boys. No discipline. No stamina.

It’s more complex than you seem to think, Ari, I say regretting the challenge instantly. I need to be home before dark.

Won’t keep you, he says. Then he tells me that the enemy are just a bunch of thugs and wanna-be tough guys who will wet themselves when they have to deal with real soldiers. Go to water. Run away, he tells me. Only take a few good hidings and they’ll crawl away into hiding.

It’s a view which is repeated on national media when I get home. It seems we have a Defence Minister.

Australia has a “lot of capability” at its “fingertips” including the “incredibly capable Super Hornets” says David Johnstone who must have been away getting his teeth fixed for the last twelve months. Either that or embedded with top secret “on sand matters” in Canberra’s many golf courses and watering holes. All so hush hush we’ve never heard of him.

He’s geeing us up. Like Aristotle Bob, he knows we are invincible. Besides the enemy is known to be untrained in modern warfare. And we’ve got a moral cause. It’ll be a walkover. We’ll go through them like a dose of salts. A humanitarian dose, of course. 

O Solar Mio!

Getting solar power is a richly attractive idea, when you sit down and think about it. Part of a wonderful dream. In your mind you imagine independence, freedom. Freedom from the dirty brown coal burning multinational power generating industry. Independence. No longer will Heartless Bastards, a member of the Bullies International Incorporated Group push your buttons. You will save on power bills. You can even make some money by feeding some of the electricity you generate back into the grid. Your power company will pay you for it. You can put that big fat lazy old sun out to work for you as you snuggle up in your freely and cleanly heated, cooled and lit cottage. Make yourself another cup of tea. With free hot water ever on the boil.

It doesn’t even have to be fine and sunny. Overcast or cloudy works fine – just as long as there’s enough UV around to make those photo-voltaic cells in your solar panels work properly.

You will be green. And clean. You will reduce your household’s carbon footprint. You will become a more responsible global citizen. Respectable. Like Adam Bandt. You feel a warm inner glow. 

Your independent spirit surges:

“Let’s go it alone. Let’s be entirely self-sufficient in electricity. Self-sustaining.

You can go off grid by purchasing a system big enough to meet your needs and an adequate storage system or battery.  All you need to do is spend another $10,000. of course this part will need replacing after seven years. But improving technology means batteries keep getting better and cheaper.  Don’t let the costs bother you. Think of it as an investment.

Of course even a feed in system will cost you a bit at first. Systems have dropped in price but they are still expensive. When you consider the rising price of electricity, however, your average system will pay for itself in a short space of time. Or so you hope. Best of all a government rebate will help you and your family towards a more self-sufficient, eco-friendly life style. You’ll be set forever.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? What could go wrong? What are you waiting for? Just do it, whispers your inner green hippie child.

Look at the facts, here. We are being priced out of the electricity market. We cannot afford not to grow our own power. Our last bill was nearly $600.

Heavenly Sunbeams, your independent local power broker’s website made it so simple. Imperative, too. HS promised to us three independent local quotes. Quickly. They would make the calls. All they needed first was to know a bit about us. Quite a bit. We entered our details. This was the first time we would be asked for our data. It would not be the last.

A day later an email from HS explained that because of our location, there was only one company on its list. Luckily, for us, however, and HS, it turned out to be Spark Group – the biggest solar company in the world. Heavenly Sunbeams thoughtfully suggested ways we could contact other contracting firms outside our area. If we still needed to. But that step was up to us. 

“Firms outside our area?” Sounded expensive. Travel charges to add to installation costs. And would they still be keen to help us should anything go wrong, further, as they say in the bush, down the track. Should we go with in the area but off the list? The fine print on the website suggested otherwise. In their no cowboys clause they explained that only reputable, honest and reliable firms made it to their list. 

We had a light-bulb moment. That dull voice of reason again. Things solar were not, perhaps, as they seemed. Our green consumer dream of independence, freedom was fading before our eyes. It gave way to Franz Kafka’s nightmare. Authority ruled. It was everywhere. It was arbitrary. Independence was all well and good provided it was approved by those with more (ahem) power than you. You could do as you liked provided you did as you were told.

Within days, however, things were (as they say), moving forward. Inexorably. Rapidly. Before we knew it, Sales Rep Radiant Teeth had invited himself over to have a chat over a cup of tea. Our tea? He didn’t specify. I wasn’t going to suggest he packed a thermos. Teeth did tell us that he represented the biggest group in the industry. The biggest in the world. I couldn’t delay making the appointment. Into the future, as they say. He rang back the next day to bring it forward.

Teeth tooled up in an SUV. A big white rhino appeared in our driveway,menacing our little old Camry.

Teeth’s car was nothing special. Just an ordinary, common or garden 4WD. $40, 000 without options. It had options. No sign, however, of any tea pot. But it looked hungry for fuel. And dangerous to any other road user. The Camry trembled.

We introduced ourselves.  A roo topic sprang up apparently out of nowhere, commending itself to both of us. Radiant had run into one or two. We exchanged tallies.

Impossible to dodge. Dangerous. You feel so powerless. At their mercy. His firm bought him a better car. You do feel safer in a bigger vehicle, I volunteered. Bugger the planet.

In a bit of an awkward gap, I proudly offered him a cup of our finest Aldi coffee. I avoided any mention of hunger.

He would love a coffee, he said. Perhaps I had misheard him about the tea. Or was it a salesman’s ambit claim? But first, he had to check our supply and our meter. 

You realise, he said, alongside the transformer, your limits.

Limits?

Limits set by your power supply company. Powercorp will not permit you to generate more than 5KW.  Your transformer is rated 2.5KWH. This limits you to a 5KWH system. Or less. The earlier you get solar installed the more likely it is you are going to be able to connect a larger PV system. Too late and you may miss out entirely. If PV is already prevalent in an area you may not be able to connect at all. At all?  Until network upgrades are made in that area.  Or you pay for them yourself.

I am still trying to come to terms with this. You have to go cap in hand to your local electricity mafia to beg them to be allowed to generate your own juice? Only if you are going to feed it back into the grid, he says.

At least we will be able to say goodbye to power cuts.

Not if you are feeding into the grid. Only if you are going to go off grid.

Like a minnow swimming up to a white pointer, I ask him one of the questions they say you should ask your installation contractor. I have my research. I printed it out from Heavenly Sunbeams’s site. It sits beside my coffee cup on the dining table.

Let’s do it my way, he says. I will go through my presentation and you can ask questions afterwards.

He talks for one hour. I do ask questions. He tells me my questions are good. I thank him and tell him that I need to get at least two other quotes. His pitch is that his company is the biggest. The gear that they use is the best. Their installers are all fully trained in their own academy.

He has a colour ink-jet print out. Three options. The best panels in the world as used by NASA. The Canadian panels, stand up to extremes. The best value panels.

His cheapest top tier system, with twenty panels guaranteed for 25 years to generate up to 80% capacity. His top of the line Austrian inverter with 10 year extended warranty.  (Average life is up to 20 years.) price after rebate is $8900.

The government could abolish all rebates in a few days. The RET could be abolished. The findings of Warburton’s review are being considered now. Not that he wants us to feel pressured. Just needs to state the context.

The following Tuesday Rapunzel of Spark rings to say that the boys will be out tomorrow. Takes five to seven hours to install. And how would I like to pay the balance owing?

We’ll have to put the cat in the cabin with her tray. And keep a close eye on our chooks. They have just started to lay.

an email appears with a design for our approval. Ten panels face East and ten West. Unlike some aspects of the solar industry, the roof, happily has a low pitch.

To be continued …

To Buy A Chook

To buy a chook

Buying a few chooks is not a simple matter. In the country, there are complicated twists and turns and unexpected delights in most transactions. Few things are ever straightforward. You would be crazy to want it any other way. We have long learned to put aside any passing frustration. In the end, we know we will be enriched by the process.

Isa Browns. POL. It’s the first ad we Google. When I call the number in the local paper, Neil tells me to meet him in the car park next to the local BP station. He’s coming into town around mid-day. I offer to make things easier. Drive to his place. He won’t have any of it. He’ll be driving a white XF ute.

You will need some layers he adds. Red Hen, Darling Downs, any of those but not Golden. They hate it the Isa Browns. They are on point of lay, he adds helpfully. You want to give the right feed.

Fifteen minutes passes pleasantly in the sunshine. A wide blue sky betokens vast horizons of possibility. There are touches of spring in the air. Lambs gambol in a nearby paddock closely watched by some ewes whose vigilance and care inspires me. As it always does. The scent of acacia blossom mixes with the unmistakeable odour of cooking oil and diesel. A welcome swallow swoops fearless across the face of the day’s commercial trade. I feel like an undercover agent on a clandestine mission as I await my appointment with a complete stranger.

I look to see an old milk bar nearby which has been refurbished and repurposed. ‘George and kids fish n chips the newly painted signwriting on the shop. We are a long way from the sea. No doubt they will get around to painting the grey and peeling weatherboards when they prosper but at the moment the sign makes the place look flash. The old girl’s got her lipstick on.

I don’t know how long George has had to wait to realise his dream but we have waited years to get our own chooks. Waiting fifteen minutes is no big deal but I reach for my mobile in case there’s been an emergency. Secretly I am hoping to be redirected to Neil’s place but just as I squint to read the phone in bright daylight, a man in a scruffy white ute hangs a bold right turn and flashes across the stern of our parked Camry. I see the pen of chooks on the deck alongside the kelpie cross bolt upright beside it. They are a splash of russet against the rust of the ute’s tray. They glow health and wholesomeness.

Neil bounds out of the cab. He’s easily in his sixties and exudes an infectious vitality and cheery goodwill. He bustles with purpose. He wants to know where I’m parked and whether I have any containers. Have I bought the layers? I tell him I have bought some Red Hen from Mark at Farm Supplies. He is greatly cheered. Mark will look after you he tells me. I never met Mark before today but it boosts your spirits to be told that you are in good hands.

I have an old wicker hamper which I offer to bring across. I have also a cat basket and a cardboard box. For three chooks, it turns out, I am over-prepared.

Neil tucks one set of chook’s feet between two fingers of his left hand, adds another set of feet to his palm and grasps the feet of the third in his right wrist. The birds appear to fall asleep. He swings their bodies as he jogs to the Camry. I half expect him to throw them into the cabin.

Ideal! He beams when he spies the wicker basket. With one deft move, he’s opened it and deposited three birds inside. The chooks murmur contentedly.

Ideal, he says again. Don’t lose that! He makes me feel good about my basket. I am already feeling good about getting the chooks, finding a new fish and chip shop only half an hour away and enjoying the approach of spring and now there is his good will and proficiency. Life is rich. Now he is making me feel good about our choice.

You won’t have any trouble with them. He makes me feel we have made exactly the right choice. No fuss from these girls. Good layers. Very easy to deal with.

I can see he’s busy but venture that he must have more than a few chooks for sale.

Hundreds, he beams. But I’ve given away the eggs.

By this he means that he’s stopped producing eggs and now concentrates on breeding birds for sale.

I give him sixty six dollars in cash. He gives me his home laminated card.

Call me if you have questions. But these girls will be no trouble at all. He gives me a quick spiel on what Isa Browns like to eat and stresses the importance of protein and grit.

Then he jumps back behind the wheel, slamming the driver’s door with the crook catch. He just broke it this morning trying to open it when it was locked, need my bloody glasses for everything now, he tells me.

He drops the clutch and he’s off in a shower of roadside gravel, expertly picking a gap in the traffic and gunning the old Ford down the highway.

I turn the Camry to head home and the hens murmur a gentle communal warble. They quickly sing themselves to sleep. When I stop for a right hand turn they wake up only to coo reassurance.

I am intrigued. It’s a new experience. I have never driven a car with a chorus of chooks in a basket on the back seat. One hen relaxes into a soft warbling. Like Neil, she’s happy with the direction of events. Like me. Travelling home, with simple certainty of purpose, secure within the natural order, happily counting my blessings.

Steak knives for the caravan

Got these for ten dollars, says Peter, proprietor of our local post office. I have called when he is busy elsewhere. He has seen me arrive from where he is outside staking young nut trees. He quickly chases after me into the shop.
Plenty of time. No need to rush back to your post, Peter.

A pun to ease his embarrassment and my awkwardness. Wind’s getting up again, he says.

Last night there were gusts to 120 km shaking our little cabin in the woods. It’s a compact house which we like to call our cabin. A transportable, it was built in a factory and placed on site twelve years ago. When the wind blows like this at night it stirs as if it has further voyaging in mind.

Bits of broken tree are strewn across the Post Office drive. The winds have tossed a sprig of grey gum leaves, a trophy of chaos theory down like a gauntlet on the ferrous door mat. Peter need say no more. We are already united manfully in the battle against the elements. And a certain bending of the rules of duty are, it is tacitly agreed, are to be expected in the circumstances. It’s every man for himself in the fight against nature.

I have dropped in to pick up our shoes. I show him the red printed card, retrieved from our post box at the end of the road that cuts across our road. It feels good to be doing this. We are lucky to get a delivery in the bush. The card lets you know you have an item to collect. You have ordered it, you have paid for it but it seems like a gift.

Peter bobs down under the counter and surfaces with a large parcel to his chest. Too large, I fear. We are moved to put our heads down over the mystery item yet it is an uneasy moment. It is too big and too wrong not to be a type of rebuke. Neither of us can manage a word of banter.

We peer at each other over the barrier. The size of it on the counter our own brown paper Berlin wall. I read aloud the name on the parcel. He reads it aloud too. It is not my name. But it is similar. I point out that the addressee is lucky enough to have my surname as his first name. Apart from that I don’t know him from a bar of soap. It is the wrong parcel. Peter gets the picture. Not your name is it, he says after an owlish moment. I can see that he, too prefers, bargain bin reading glasses. His would do Woody Allen proud.

Peter then finds the correct parcel. It is much smaller and is the right shape to be containing two pairs of comfortable planet shoes. I can tell without needing to read the label that this one is our parcel and not someone else’s. Other people’s mail always looks and feels a bit strange. It is safely put out of the picture. Peter brightens. Yet there is some other redemptive business to be done in the nether regions.

Peter looks down, puts one knee forward and points to a brown trouser leg, as if preparing a stage bow. Got them from Vinnies. Cost me ten dollars.

Love Vinnies, I return. In fact, I love op shops full stop, I reply. Nothing wrong with recycling. We have bonded over the storm threat. Now we are recruited into admiring the trousers. King Gee khaki, still stiff with the dress in the cotton and shiny with the sanforising. I am aware that Peter is not a big man. There is something elfin about him at this point. Yet this is a serious trouser. I admire his industry and practicality. This needs no words. Besides, we are headed for agreement over bargaining and the battle to save the planet.

Work trousers, he says. Second hand but never been worn. Didn’t go looking for trousers. Went in to get a set of steak knives for the caravan.

He makes a little step forward on to his toes as if to dance.

Nothing worse, I say than a steak in a caravan without a steak knife. Takes the edge right off it.

Drives me crazy, he confesses. Of course, I found the knives I wanted.
Got a set for $2.50.

I point to the flouro top I am wearing. Two dollars in the same shop I tell him. Now we are brothers in the battle to stretch the dollar, save the planet and donate to charity.

It feels good to have the right parcel under my arm. Peter skips off, happily, his new trousers cracking, to return to his saving of the nut trees. I leave feeling happy to be in a right priced world where a man gets the right knife to eat steak in his trailer. And the right priced pants to tend his garden. Happy to be in on the bargain. Happy to live in the bush where the local post office is a place where such marvellous exchanges are possible.