Visa chaos

Last Saturday night, Clara Nitsch, who has been a long term WWOOFer/helper here at the farm for many months, was refused re-entry to Australia after a short trip to New Zealand.  Clara had gone to NZ to spend time with a friend there, but also to ensure she complied with her tourist visa, which allows a maximum stay in Australia of 3 months at a time.

girls on couch smiling
Clara on a happier day!

When she was stopped at Tullamarine, Clara explained to Border Force that she was WWOOFing here; that she worked a set number of hours each week in exchange for room & board.  The officer claimed that she must be being paid to stay at one place for an extended period.  There’s your first cultural gulf right there – the inability of a person working within a conservative government structure to understand why another would choose to explore the world through WWOOFing, Workaway, HelpX or similar schemes.

[WWOOFing has declined significantly since the changes to 2nd Year Working Holiday visa laws; to the point that after a couple of years of having no enquiries from the WWOOF system, I am no longer registered as a WWOOF host.  Other schemes, particularly Workaway, seem to have become more popular and nearly all my helpers in the last 3 years have come through Workaway.]

Regardless of which scheme they use, visitors to Australia (whether tourists or working holiday visa holders) are surely entitled to choose to spend their holidays any way they want.  Border Force don’t get to make them go to Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef, buy crap fake boomerangs or have Aussie flag tattoos.  If visitors want to learn about permaculture or sustainable agriculture or just like hanging out with chickens on farms, they have the right to decide how they want to spend their holidays… or do they?

Clara was completely accurate in describing the work arrangements here.  I have never paid her or any of the many other helpers I’ve here over the last decade or more.  I’d be very happy to sign a Statutory Declaration or testify in court to that effect, but Border Force didn’t ask me to do that.  Seems like an obvious thing to do, but they don’t ring anyone to check facts.  It must be a bit of a power rush to be judge jury & executioner all rolled into one.  I understand that entering another country is a privilege, not a right, and that Border Force officers have a tough job where they have to judge whether people are telling the truth or not.  I used to be an auditor and I know that, over time, you get a pretty good sense of whether people are lying to you.  On Saturday night, Border Force got it wrong.  Clara was telling the truth.

But once they decide that they aren’t going to believe you, what hope have you got?  How do you feel when you are confined in a secured room, your phone and passport are taken from you and you are subjected to a series of obtuse interviews over many hours? When you went overseas last time, did you have your dossier of ‘defence’ documents with you, or the phone number of a local immigration lawyer…  and there’s the old conundrum of “How do you prove that you haven’t done something?:  Reminds me of the joke “When did you stop beating your wife?” Tricky, huh?

Many helpers have stayed here at the farm for months at a time.  Many helpers have returned to the farm multiple times.  I’m proud of the score of international friends I’ve made over the years, and their testimonials are evidence of the value of the WWOOFing/helping experience.

Clara had taken what she thought was a brief trip to NZ to comply with her visa conditions.  I wonder if her pattern of leaving the country regularly – ironically, to comply with visa conditions! – was what prompted officials to take her aside and question her in the first place?   Being only away for a week, she’d left lots of important things here (e.g. laptop, official documents, most of her clothes, etc) so when she was forced to get on a plane to Germany on Saturday night, all those things remained here.  Messy shipping arrangements are still to be made.

Clara now faces the prospect of being banned from re-entering Australia for years.  The arbitrary nature of the decision to cancel her visa is extraordinary.  If a different official who understood WWOOFing more or had a different attitude had interviewed her, she’d be working on the farm today.  Instead, she’s back in Germany looking at WWOOFing opportunities on permaculture farms in England.

In the big picture, what’s going on?

Have Border Force decided that they don’t like WWOOFers?  Did someone have a quota of cancellations to fill?  Should Germans who travel be taught to make small-talk?  Should incoming visitors pretend that they are champing at the bit to see the penguin-parade at Phillip Island or go to Sovereign Hill?

The whole thing is rather surreal.  One thing’s for sure; if you are here with WWOOF, Workaway or HelpX, complying with your visa conditions is no longer enough to ensure you get to stay in Australia, you also have to get lucky at airport roulette.

Clara constructing cubby hosue framework
Clara learning about pre-fab stud wall framing

Storage rack build

Had a very productive 48 hours (well, yesterday and this morning) building a new storage rack along the back wall of the paint shed.  Thanks to new helper Victor for his work yesterday  – here’s the end result, man!

Vertical posts screwed into the wall with 100 mm tech screws.  Horizontal support rails screwed into the uprights (and into the wall) with 100 mm tech screws.

Victor checking the position of the horizontal rails on the front structure.  The front is built ‘free standing’ and attached to the wall-mounted timbers by the shelves themselves.

Shelves are 24 mm melamine offcuts from a local furniture factory.  Industrial waste product becomes sweet, high visibility, easy-to-clean shelving.

End of day one: all uprights in position, half the frame painted and some shelves installed.

Clara did a heap of helping on Day Two – especially painting the recycled pallet timber frame so that it looks good and reflects light within the shed.  (No electric lights in here).

Day Two (lunchtime) finish… couldn’t resist throwing a few tools on the shelves to make them look occupied.

It’s the little things…

While juicing some Carolina Black Rose grapes, Pepper found this little dude in a big bunch of grapes…

She thought it was Christmas…  “What a cute baby snail!”

After letting it crawl all over her fingers for a while, she went to show everybody else then gave it a special home in the garden.  I was reminded of  something I’ve heard David Holmgren say repeatedly – how when we observe the environment, we often need to pay attention to the small things.  Good onya, Pepper… you’re on the job!  🙂

Tiny house foundations

You know that we’re working on 3 small buildings simultaneously – one is going to be a paint shed and the other two would have been called ‘sleep outs’ in the 60’s but we now call them tiny houses and it’s much cooler, right?  Because the buildings here at Chestnut Farm don’t contain cooking or bathroom facilities, they’re not fully fledged tiny houses, but the basic challenge of constructing a small building is the first hurdle for prospective builders, so I’m hoping these posts will help you pick up a few things.

I want to show two different ways to build tiny houses; one with post and rail construction to support the walls & roof, and the other featuring pre-fabricated (on site) stud framing fixed to plain concrete slabs.

On Monday, we finished the low formwork (or ‘boxing’) for the paint shed.

The posts were put in last week (see previous post)and some cross timbers added for support and also because we can add them without them getting in  the way of pouring the slab.  Post and beam is much quicker than stud framing, and uses a lot less timber.  You need heavier timbers, but fewer of them.  One disadvantage of round posts is that they get in the way if you want to line the building.  Note that the slab is off-set from the posts, so that the posts will be integrated into the slab.

The offset is the same distance as the beams are thick, so that corrugated iron fixed to the outside of the beams will slide down neatly against the side of the finished slab

After finishing the formwork at the paint shed, we jumped across to the Apple House site.  This will be the same size and shape as the paint shed – 2.4 m x 4 m.  (If you’re thinking of a tiny house, mark this out on the ground and walk around in it: it’s a very human-friendly shape for a multipurpose room)

The Apple House is adjacent to the top dam and will nestle behind the seedling apple which is at its NW corner.  We’d shifted some fill during the dam renovation in December, but were (yesterday!) lucky enough to get another 6 ute-loads from a nearby housing development.  These extend the ‘bench’ around the building – meaning we can build a small level garden around the building, which will be aesthetically pleasing, but also fulfil a key structural function in resisting any movement (under the slab) of the fill from the dam.

Jump ahead a few hours and here’s Clem rechecking that everything is level and that all the distances are right.  Once you’ve checked all your sides are the correct lengths (the short ends are 2.4m and the long sides are 4 m) the key test is to measure the diagonal from corner to corner.  If those two distances are the same, you have created a rectangle.  If not, and your side measurements are correct, your corners aren’t at 90 degrees – you’ve created a parallelogram.  (If that happens, a bit of shuffling of timbers should get it right.  Easier to demonstrate than to write about!)

This big pile of fill – mostly topsoil mix – came from a local earthmover, Paul Mullane, who I highly recommend.  Top operator and great guy to boot.  Paul was doing a job in Wendouree, heard we needed some more fill and dropped this off at about 8.30 am.  It provides a heap of further support for the fill under the slab – we’ll also spread some on top of the clay fill we’ve already spread around the Apple House site.  It’ll help our garden grow – thanks, Paul!

Meantime, with the side timbers in place (note small timber pegs at strategic points), I started shovelling a shallow trench around the inside edge of the future slab.  It’ll be about 350 mm wide and 200 mm deep, whereas the rest of the slab will be only 100 mm deep.  The thicker edge makes the slab stronger and is located near the edge because that’s where the weight of the walls and roof come down.

Lunchtime and Clem & Jackie have already got stuck into Paul’s load of fill.  Some is spread around the base of the apple, and some on the exposed walls of the dam.  We’ll spread more around the South side of the Apple House (where the straw is) tomorrow.  [The straw was there in case it rained – clay subsoil is disgusting to walk on once it gets wet!  It sticks to your boots and you walk it everywhere!]

 

Up she goes!

We’re putting a little shed up at one end of a long screening fence.  The fence will come later.  We’re getting the shed up now.  It is 2.4 x 4m which means it does not require a building or planning permit.  We’ll build it solid and wonderful, of course, because we want to be good stewards of our resources, hate repeating work and because we want to prove that a patient amateur builds as well as a rushed professional.

Jackie & Clement set up the four corner posts after Clement did a marathon job digging the holes (some of them were pretty nasty!)

Yesterday, Clem and I put up the rest of the posts.  Today, Jackie & Clem took turns digging out shallow trenches for the concrete form work, and painting the posts.

They line up pretty well, too, those posts!

The plan is to erect 3 buildings of about this size (all under the magic 10 sq metres); the other two will be for WWOOFers to stay in.  (Think old school ‘sleep out’ but funky design, solar passive orientation, good insulation and NOT made out of 1960’s asbestos sheeting)

Cubby decking

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and the cubby deck has jumped ahead!  Here’s Clement putting down the planks on the deck

Then we sorted out the stairs, but took our time to build them right.  Big thanks to Kyle for helping with the stringers.  In fact, Kyle was so impressed with his work that he took a photo of it!

Clement finished the planks  on the deck

and then we fitted the treads while Jackie started painting them.

Did I mention that Jackie loves painting?

After the stairs, we fitted rails to the posts, to stop the little people tumbling off the deck…

Pepper stayed over for a visit and gave the stairs a five star rating!

Jackie kept painting anything we put up…

The deck rails are finished – just those beside the steps to do

Do you like or aqua and off-white colour scheme?  It’s what you get when your choices are determined by other people’s mistints!   🙂  Big thanks to Clement, Jackie & Kyle for their work on the deck.

 

 

Summer work

A month ago, it was light and bright at 6 am, but no more… the Summer days are starting to wane and it is now decidedly dull when we start work at 7 am each day.  The pattern of working 7 – 9, taking half an hour tea (or breakfast) break, then working 9.30 – 12.30 is working well.  It gives the WWOOFers every afternoon ‘off’ to sleep, research, play games, go for walks, make music or drive into town and run around the lake.

From 7 – 9 every morning, two people water the gardens – vegetable, forest garden, apples in pots, gardens around verandah and now the plantings on the dam wall.  Here’s Clara helping along the apple in the cubby garden.  It was only planted a bit over a year ago.

Louana has been watering the apples and the forest garden every week day for the last three weeks.  The apples have never had a better summer!  The forest garden is looking great, too; we’ve lost a couple of strawberries but everything else is growing well.

Rhubarb, fig, dwarf comfrey, sea kale and a smartering of annual vegetables filling gaps in the groundcover

While the watering is happening, other jobs are also going on… here’s Jackie painting poles to be used in Pepper’s cubby deck

Later on that day, Clara finished the fly screens for the cubby opening windows

It took a day or two, but we eventually put up the first posts and beams for the deck outside the cubby door… heck, I might even build those stairs I’ve been promising her!

Jackie loves building!

Clara loves supervising, but decided she needed something subtle to emphasise her superior position.

I look like I’m smiling, but I’m really singing a song about clamps (“ripping off his turban…”)

and at the end of the day, we got the key beams up so Jackie celebrated with a hammer and clamp gangster pose.  I don’t know what it means, either.

 

Apple treat

On Saturday I visited my old mate Tony down at Apollo Bay and we went for a walk in the hills behind the town, where his family farm contains an amazing array of heritage apples.  We got very lucky because the Duchess of Oldenburg graced us with a few gifts!

It is an early season spur-bearing cooking apple, but tasted quite fine straight off the tree.  The distinctive stripes of yellow & red make this a very attractive, if small, apple.

Originally from Russia (mid 1700’s), this tree is a parent to the well-known Northern Spy (a prominent rootstock tree for many decades).  The fruit doesn’t keep long (a characteristic of many early apples) but cooks to a puree with a slight orange taste…  think I’d better get some on the stove!

Click for more info on the Duchess of Oldenburg apple

The Retrosuburbia interview

David Holmgren will be interviewed by Jon Faine on The Conversation Hour ABC Radio Melbourne on Thursday 8th Feb, 11.00am – 12.00pm. The interview will focus on David’s new book Retrosuburbia, which is officially released at the Sustainable Living Festival on Saturday Feb 10.  Costa Georgiadis from Gardening Australia will lead the book launch, which is a free event – tickets here.

You can find ABC Radio Melbourne here.

Try again

When Dave Jacke was out here for the Forest Garden Design Intensive in 2016, we planted out a forest garden area and put in a heap of mostly native ground covers… which were swamped by fungi and grass within a few months.

Having now recovered the site from the grass and restored the larger plants to health with daily watering over the last few weeks of Summer, my thoughts turned to the ground covers.  A couple of cooler days after a big storm seemed a perfect time to put just a few new seedlings in.

I visited Matt Pywell at Ballarat Wild Plants and he gave me a great deal on some little fellas .  [Ballarat Wild Plants. 5333 5548/ 0409 388 014 wildplants@ncable.net.au ]

Viola hederacea

Daley’s say that the flowers are edible and can be used in salads, but I’m mainly after it forming a dense mat.  It dies back in Winter, so we’ll have to see how it copes with Ballarat frosts.  I had one from the first planting which did quite well until it was accidentally ‘weeded’ out.

Eutaxia microphylla prostrate

This wasn’t part of my original planting plan, but it’s a member of the Fabacea (pea) family so I’m hoping to gain some Nitrogen as well as an attractive ground cover.  It’s often grown in rockeries and likes dry sunny spots, so I’ve planted it on solar oriented sides of raised beds.

Hardenbergia violacea

Commonly known as “Running Postman”, this is another Fabacea family Nitrogen fixer, which isn’t a ground cover so much as a sprawling rambler or climber.  I’ve planted one either side of a patch of established dwarf comfrey, hoping that it will ramble through them.  Matt tells me this is a local selection which is less vigorous than others so it won’t swamp the comfrey or the fig planted in the middle of the comfrey.

Amaranthus spp

While not part of today’s ground cover planting, I thought you might like to see these Amaranth which we planted to fill a gap – and because Clara cranked out so many seedlings so we had plenty spare.  You might call it taking advantage of a ‘space’ in the succession.  I planted Eutaxia and Viola under the amaranth, so they can start to colonise the ground while we take advantage of the chance to harvest some Amaranth grain.  Stacking layers, stacking functions… sounds like permaculture to me.  🙂

Portulaca oleracea sativa

This Golden Purslane is an annual that we planted to take advantage of the bare ground and frequent watering.  Purslane is lovely in a summer salad,; it is crisp and juicy, with a mixed sweet & sour taste.  This variety is much bigger than the purslane I’ve got growing randomly in the lawn or veggie beds.   (Note the flush of new growth in the black currant behind… don’t plants love frequent watering and no grass competing with them!)

Martin Crawford says the ground cover layer is the most important in a forest garden.   Let’s hope today’s little guys do better than the last and that bare ground is soon green and grey!