Some time has passed since we started out on our off grid project…someone liked ‘summer’ and I remembered; I had forgotten (ha) to document some of the changes up river.
The most exciting thing is we are now fully solar powered with a large battery bank. Our Solar panels sit atop a wooden structure on the end of our jetty, ensuring a full sun aspect (weather permitting). The design is similar to our neighbours but my partner devised a way to hang our wooden row boat for easy access and egress. We’ve added a 1960s Evinrude outboard engine to potter and explore the creeks and river. Everyone is milling about on the pontoon pictured, assisting my eighty five year old mother, who has caught yet another eel…
Our pontoon is new, the former leaking and sinking so often we spent hours pumping out water. The pontoon extends our jetty, much need as we are subject to the ebb and flo of the tides. The pontoon has helped although we still attempt exits slowly trudging through the mud and wild careering entrances only to suddenly dead stop in the muddy sludge.
We are still painting here and there, we have a new kitchen which includes a LPG gas oven. So exciting as we like to cook and invite family and friends for long lunches on the deck.
A looming project is the toilet… our defunct composting throne sits in the bathroom alongside an aldi camping toilet, it’s inside ‘for no 1’ and outside in the shed ‘for no 2s’. Yes! its a real shame job… everyone avoids, holds or makes the trip across the bay after we watch through the kitchen window, laughing as the brave ones try to scarper unnoticed up the back path.
Only thing that hasn’t changed is the charm of our river and the time we spend up here
I take the walk to be the externalisation of an interior seeking so that the analogy is first of all between the external and the internal
as the weeks pass I realise I have adjusted my gaze outwards…i gaze towards the horizon. i watch the tidal patterns ebb and flow, i search for small treasures of cobbled glass or driftwood deposited on the sand by receding tides. i register my neighbours comings and goings on the bay, the daily visits by our dashing ducklings sporting smart downy jackets. i spy the sandy imprints of the bush turkey and wallabies early morning sojourn.
however the bushland beckons… natures ephemeral choir of koel cries transcend the surging cicada chorus and i am forced to look towards the interior. i wander along the rivers edge until i find a foothold in the vertical swathe of bushland and steadily climb upwards towards the interior ridge. i scrape and scramble; artlessly evading sleepy pythons and unwanted sticky spider shrouds. i whirl and ward off warrior attacks from wasps and winged bull-ants and search the interiors…high, amidst lonely old settlements on the ridge, i am told a small stream pools on the flattened sandstone bed. so i follow crunchy salmon bark peels and squints of watery sparkle and within the inviting cool shallows tinted by the leaching rusty gumminess of the surrounding angophoras, i finally find calm.
i am left feeling complete and worth all token discomforts, scrapes and bites 🙂
as important as scribed histories are, i have been trying to glean local oral histories from my surrounding deerubbin neighbours, to be honest, they can’t even appear on their jetty, take a stroll along the river or tred below our deck without being accosted for a local history probe… sounds a lot worse than it is; storytelling or oral history is always reciprocated with a cuppa tea or a chilled beer out on our deck.
local recollections are proving invaluable to comprehend the complexities, habits and customs of former river residents. i really hit the jackpot, when my nearest neighbour a third generation resident, trekked over for his annual family camp out 🙂
he scanned some old polaroids taken throughout 1979 to 1980, during this period his grandfather and father were renovating the dwelling next door; these polaroids capture the demolition process, the planning of building works, repointing of the old sandstone yellow blocks and stoney pathways and finally show a little but discernible sliver of our freshly painted cabin from our neighbours aspect next door.
i have always loved the stories passed down through families and communities, they conjure a vivid snapshot of former lives carried out alongside the river; they demonstrate the joys and challenges encountered and ambiguities experienced, enlightening traditions and wisdoms that prevailed during former times. however these old grainy polaroids help illuminate some inevitable gaps and recreate a time frame, particularly on the challenges of renovating, of carting rubble and supplies to and fro within an area accessible only by boat, activities constrained by the perpetual ebb and flow of the tides and where self sufficiency and resilience were called upon due to the apparent lack of services, yet significantly they obviously could call upon each other.
summer here is heralded by a chorus of cicadas, their spent shells crush lightly underfoot as the children rush headlong down the stone steps trailing their fishing rods and tangled twine. the suns’ former graceful arc now attentively sears us from high overhead, luckily the water beckons with a promise a mere hop, skip and jump away.
long, lazy days punctuated only by the demands from family; children and adults alike… taking turns on our river toys. a preloved handmade canoe ensured everyone could scope the bay and check out all the neighbouring bay shacks while seriously active contenders could strengthen their core muscles while wrestling with former lifesaver surf kayaks.
playtime over, we settled in to feed our hungry horde a non-traditional Christmas feast. sharing quickly morphed into a strange and wonderful medley – a potlatch of fresh prawns, cold turkey, new town pork pie and a whacking great smoked ham, all served alongside very moreish and fresh vietnamese veggie spring rolls, potato, couscous and green salads, finally we were completely finished off with fresh cream, mangoes and berries dolloped on top of pavlova…so full !!! thinking about just collapsing onto the cane lounger feeling weary; when i overheard the children cry out ‘pressies’ 🙂
‘the soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases’
we decided to test the tinny… so we jumped in, grabbed life jackets, our dog and headed towards mullet creek; I was reading about the old fisherman’s cottages and oyster leases dotted along mullet creek in some books from deerubbin press.
deerubbin is the Aboriginal name for this wide deep estuary, in former times passengers were conveyed along the river by the ‘general gordon‘ paddle steamer. today we are lazily meandering along in our little tinny. i have been reading about an old, but working sandstone quarry down mullet creek. i was told our own dwellings large yellow, sandstone block foundations were quarried locally and may have been quarried then carted back along the river. i also heard snippets from neighbours about an elderly australian-chinese stonemason who worked on the nearby railway bridge foundations, eventually retiring in our bay.
we meandered along, with minimal wash and some water pooling around our ankles having just missed the sunrise. the central coast railway line skirts the national park alongside the river edge and several passengers on their journey to work, gracefully waved to us as we made our gentle progress. the water was still and tiny shafts of sunlight illuminated our leisurely passage up creek, we gaze at the ever changing reflective mirage. we pass the silent quarry nestled in the bushland surrounds revealing remnants of a historic gape, followed by the tiny railway station where nearby river residents hail down their train to work.
we meandered onwards past fisherman’s cottages, creaking wooden houseboats, and the rows and rows of former oyster leases, even our dog finally settled sleepy eyed as he was gently rocked to and fro and lulled by the early morning glow. surprised, we find our journey suddenly terminated by a surprising stone archway, nestled, cool and dark concealing a sunlit rainforest beyond.
guess we will need to come back with our canoes to approach what lies beyond.
so after a few weeks of nonchalantly and ignorantly using all existing rainwater tank supplies, we devised the simple float weight & pulley system to gauge our water levels and found we had less than third of a tank left up the hill; with friends and family about to descend in droves over christmas we thought we should…do something!!
we found a beautiful factory second, a 3000 litre tank recycled to use as our header tank; it is slightly indented and has an uneven patina (like most of us) so we carted it across the river and it is now in position.
we still have to tweak our hasty guttering system; however as the looming storms finally rolled in we wanted to capture every precious drop, so a functional but very makeshift job was devised. we can refine our ad hoc efforts with brackets and joins after the thunderclouds roll on by.
…then ponder practicalities like power, water, sewerage and tides later
our weekender promised a steep learning curve, we want sustainability so we need to learn this new language and fast. unwilling to pursue interminable carting of all and sundry up river… rather, to navigate off the grid power systems, long term solar, rainwater and sewerage options ; however our pressing power needs required a short term solution. during those first few weeks we invested in a honda petrol generator which we use for our immediate power needs alongside a substantial recycled battery bank we are sourcing through a neighbourly contact.
a defunct and huge throne like composting toilet lurks in the tiny bathroom; everyone happily scaled the bushland precipice those first few weeks calling to nature until a tiny portable camping toilet miraculously made the journey up the river from aldi.
a former custodian left the 5000 litre water tank, alongside an old style rain collection tank situated halfway up our very steep bushland site ; this tank gravity feeds the dwelling below. the header tank was sold prior… hmmm yes you’ve guessed it more carting. so we carted a 3000 litre secondhand rainwater tank atop the boat and along the freeway, tenuously it crossed the river in our small craft to be heave-hoed up narrow sandstone steps into position on its resting plinth. the header tank is still perched, awaiting one of our many projects; the imminent reconstruction of the fascia boards and guttering. stay tuned.