Monday, January 30, 2012

The arrival of the pigs Coleamblly

Contented pigs.

As I drove down a pot-holed road, around bends, up hill and dale it never occurred to me what a commitment to a disease free piggery would turn out to be. Why disease free you ask, well a disease free pig is one bred by a quarantined breeder from foundation stock  born by Cesarean means, were the newly born piglet never comes into contact with the mother or any other pigs that have not started life in a similar manner. The reason being that the piglets  carry over no illness or bugs from the parent. I know this doesn't sound very nice , but the result is stock that grows into strong healthy animals.

On arrival at the outskirts of the piggery, some five miles or so from the highway gate, I was greeted by a high cyclone fence surmounted with barb wire topping. At first I thought I had stumbled onto some movie set were they were making another concentration camp film. A loud voice boomed out instructing me to first turn off the alarm by pushing a button and make contact with the inmates inside via the telephone near by. T I was then instructed to put on clean overalls provided in the cupboard, remove my shoes and replace them with  gum boots also in the cupboard. Then walk through a trough filled with heavens knows what and press a further button and wait.

Eventually someone appeared and escorted me through a few more decontamination units until we arrived at the piggery proper.This establishment breed what is called the " Super Pig". The owner claimed his animals grew into bacon pigs in 30  weeks. The Super pig has been developed from foundation stock of one half Large White, a very hardy pig with white bristles, apparently the public doesn't like blacks hairs on their bacon! Then there is one quarter Wessex Saddle Back [great mothers], they are the sows with a white strip around their tummies. Finally their is the Landrace, that long lean animal so much loved in Denmark. When you put these three breeds together you have one of the most productive pigs in the world. Mind you they are not cheap, but I had decided that after my experience in vegetable growing only the best would do.

Naturally I was not able to drive up to the piggery in my truck, so the stock of ten gilts and one boar were brought out to me. I decided to call the boar Romeo after a rather amorous settler in our district. I set off feeling very pleased with myself for the two hundred mile trip back home. The pig seemed contented sleeping on their pile of straw in the back. These pigs were going to have to pay for the vineyard development [see Pioneering in Australia blogs]. My research had suggested that the best results were obtained by mixing my own feed rather than purchasing commercial brands. Our farm was in a grain growing   belt, so I had obtained a hammer mill to crack the wheat which I would mix in a big bath with rice bran, meat and fish meal with any recommended vitamins, this was to be done with a shovel. This was fine at first for a few animals, but as numbers grew the task became a major problem.

A month or so earlier I had obtained some portable pig pens from a farm clearance sale which I had set up on a five acre paddock at the far end of the property [pig can have an unfortunate bouquet at times]. The breeding stock would free range. The paddock had plenty of trees for shade as pigs suffer from sunburn which is why they like to roll in the mud, I had even provide a dam for them to swim in, pigs do swim you know.

The first task was to unload them off the truck, as this was the first time I had ever had anything to do  with livestock, I attempted to encourage them down the rough log ramp I had built with food with little success. It was only then that I appreciated the true meaning of the expression pig headed, trying to push or pull a solid animal like a pig any where it does not want to go  is no laughing matter. Several hours later after much sweat and cursing ,I finally got them to leave their warm straw beds for their new home. As they had not been out in an open paddock before I decided to clematises them firstly in the pens for a day or two. Finally they were released out into the open and I would just have to wait and hope for a population

The pig paddock.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Trouble with Vegetables-Pioneering in Australia

Developing any fruit farm or permanent crop through cash cropping of vegetables is full of problems[ see blog Pioneering in 20th cent Australia]. Despite many years of effort, events outside of my control seemed to intervene . Weather, poor prices, excessive charges such as transport and plain dishonesty would raise their ugly heads. Unlike broad acre farming such as wheat and other cereal crops, or sheep raising where controlled prices and marketing structures are in place through Government agencies or co-operatives, vegetables were a free for all.

Often, after loading twenty tons of potatoes out in the paddock onto a truck without assistance, I would collapse from exhaustion. Generally this sort of activity would take place in the middle of the night in order to allow the truck driver sufficient time to drive the six hundred odd miles to the Sydney Markets. Even today many years later, my body still sufferers from the damage. The major cash crop we grew were potatoes [ in those days they were sold in 112lb bags] as our soils were sandy loam, when dug and washed, they looked like white billiard balls on the supermarket shelf and as such commanded top prices.

In order for you to understand how the market works, I shall detail the normal procedure. Firstly , I would phone my agent to ask the going price that day and then decide whether to consign a shipment. How ever, no matter what the price quoted or the actual price paid, I always received a lesser amount. The reason of course, I could not be there to check the auction prices and had to rely on the agent being honest. No paper work was required by law, the only requirement being that a consignment had to be paid for within five days of sale. Often I would find out that a load had sold at $12 per bag, but I would receive payment of $10. One year, when I had consigned several loads, but received no payment after many requests to the agent, I phoned the legal office of the Agriculture Department to lodge a complaint. The legal office is supposed to safe guard the interest of distant growers unable to attend. However, in this instant the officer informed me that because the agent had suggest a possible price, the crop did not qualify as a consigned in the legal terms of the act any more,  the agent was now acting in a commercial way and therefor was not obliged to pay within the time limit. This agent would sell several growers crops, not pay, then declare himself bankrupt, after transferring the money elsewhere. In this way he became a multi-millionaire,  he had carried out the exercises four times.I was advised to seek my own legal advice and sue the agent,which I could not afford to do, such is the concern of supposed Government bureaucrats looking after your interest. I often wondered how many boxes of whisky he received each Christmas. What was even more unbelievable, the same agent repeated the trick several times, but could always get his licence to sell back!

Then of course there was the Mafia control in the marketing and  packaging of vegetables in NSW. Griffith was notorious for much funny business and organised crime. While I lived there a well known political figure standing on a platform to clean up the town disappeared in the middle of a election campaign and apart from a little blood on the pavement was never seen again. Local wisdom used to claim bodies were feed to the pigs! In the end, I decided to replace vegetable growing with a small piggery, not for the above mentioned reasons I might add, but simply because I could deliver the them to the auction myself, receive the correct price with little trouble as the auction was only a two hour drive or so down the road. I shall tell you more about the amusing entertainment of pig farming in another blog. They love their toys and are very fond of music, but more of that another time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Impressions of Hanoi.

Hanoi has the appearance  of  "Old Asia", streets and back alleys crowded with people squatting, seated on small plastic stools, eating their evening meal from the numerous street cafe. Garbage stacked high in piles were every space allows. The aroma of spice and incense fill the air among a vocal throng. I have always found Asia exciting, both new and old at the same time. The traffic is chaotic to say least, when viewed from above the street scape takes the form a motorised ballet. Scooters weaving between  and around each other from not one, but both directions, while they incorporate a U turn here or there. Traffic turning right and left with abandon as bright splashes of coloured clothing stream out behind, while the odd car adds a new dimension.

Crossing the road becomes an art form in itself, simply walk out and trust in God, you are in the hands of a variety of driving skills. Drivers somehow make the necessary adjustment to the right or left to avoid hitting you. Generally they will pass behind, this is important as the flow in one or another direction can mean the difference between life or death. During the first few days we experienced a few close calls, the important thing is never run or stop as this will destroy the rhythm of movement, the dance of life.

The most rewarding experience is the people themselves particularly the young,  half the Vietnamese population are under thirty years. They express such enthusiasm for life, confident that their world can only get better. There seemed little bitterness towards the outside world despite the war, the hardship that followed the years of sanctions. It is hard not to admire their fortitude and confidence in the future. When ever I would sit down to draw, a crowd would gather around generally young students keen to be shown how to make pictures. Most were learning English at high school with an almost standard desire to work in tourism when they leave school. This was were they saw the opportunity to earn a good wage. The young girls seemed far more open to the outside world than the boys who were more reserved. They were all full of questions, did I like the food, was I going to teach here, how long would I stay and so on.

Heather and I tend to walk every where, when in a new city. It is the best way to gain the feel of the place, you can put your finger on the pulse of things, discovering new experiences, places, people. The energy displayed by this young population auger well for the future. We shall return , hopefully when Vietnam grants longer visa than their present thirty days.

                 XUAN  HUONG.

"Praise whoever raised these poles
for some to swing while others watch.
A boy pumps, then arcs his back.
The shapely girl shoves up her hips.
Four pink trousers flapping hard,
two pairs of legs stretched side by side.
Spring games. Who hasn't known them?
Swingposts removed, the holes lie empty."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

MonaFoma2012 BalletLab's Aviary

New ballet is not to everyones' taste, Phillip Adams' Aviary is challenging. Structured into three sections, best described as the ideal, the controlled and result. The ideal deal in modern dance form with the preening and  rituals of mate selection of most animal life on this planet. The mood changes in the second movement to a rather sinister, militaristic tone of control, were one individual takes charge and subjects his captives to various types of confinement. At this point of the ballet is structured between classical and modern dance forms.
The final sequence deals with a total break down of civilised structures in society. The dance is totally free form without any apparent discipline or relationship between its parts. The vision is chaos, each dancer doing their own thing. If we believe the arts present a window onto the current world and its likely direction the picture is not a pretty one. Actions take place without meaning or purpose. The idea has merit but in the view of this reviewer lacks cohesion and many problems remain to be resolved and edited into a meaningful whole.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pioneering in 20th cent Australia.

Self on our first load of grapes

Pioneering in 20th cent. Australia.

In the mid 60’s Australia offered opportunities to fulfil many potential  farmers’ dream of owning a property of their own. Mass migration of the post-war years had helped to build the Snowy Mountain  Scheme, a series of interlocking dams and hydro electric power stations. This allowed the development of the Coleambally Irrigation Area, a fairly remote district in central New South Wales. At the time this was a grand national vision, one of the largest irrigation schemes every undertaken in this country. Any interested person could enter a ballot for the allocation of a “farm”. Coleambally was not the only possibility to obtain a property of your own, at the time the Ord River scheme was being developed in  Northern Australia, Brigalow country in Queensland was being released, as was the Esperance wheat growing area in West Australia, were it had been discovered that the lack of trace elements in the soil had been the reason for failure in the past. It was possible for anyone with a little capital and drive to make a new life for themselves could try their luck.

My wife, Heather and I had just returned to Australia after several years in Europe and after a few years teaching were keen to try our luck. There is something very  seductive about  owning land, a desire as old as human habitation of the planet. Personally I always had a secret  desire to establish a family vineyard and winery. During the four years I was teaching, I would purchase half hogs head barrels of wine from the Clare Valley, so making my own seemed to be a sensible thing to do. Each of these hogs heads contained some two hundred bottles of new season wine. Our joke used to be keeping a journal  on the perceived improvement of our wine cellar, after the first few weeks ,we would be convinced the wine was greatly improved! The last entry a few months later  usually would read finished  last bottle," great development in all respects”. Not that we drank the lot ourselves regular friends were only too keen to help in this research.

As I did not feel confident enough to select a parcel of land  suitable for my purpose, I decided it was best to let the” experts”  give the seal of approval on possible land use.  The Coleambally Irrigation Area was being developed for rice growing, but spread among the heavy soil types were hillocks of light sandy loam suitable for horticulture. Australians generally were disinterested in horticulture as it was considered too much like hard work, only later did I realise why. History bears out the failure of closer horticultural settlement in the MIA in NSW, as this area was resurrected as a fruit growing area by Italian migrants, after many soldiers walked off their farms. This disinterested  proved to be to my advantage as the likelihood of success was greatly enhanced. Luck rode with me and I was allocated my first choice of some one hundred acres. As  I had no knowledge of farming, I decided to undertake a correspondence course in fruit growing.

The next problem was how the enterprise was to be financed , the block required clearing grading and sprinkler irrigation. I decided to put together a ten year plan [they were very popular in the 60s]. My first task was to gather together the price history of various vegetables sold in the Sydney markets by season. Then by dividing up many sheets of paper and colouring in each to indicate the rotation of crops ,variety and planting times I could demonstrate the likely cash flow  from vegetables growing ,while I was waiting for the vines to grow and bear fruit. I then costed up the capital required to develop twenty acres of grapevines to fruiting and set off to see my friendly bank manager. What ever I did he seemed impressed, so we were ready to set out on this big adventure in the middle of nowhere. I resigned my job at the school I was teaching at, all the staff and my friends thought I had lost my mind, I must confess I did not ever know how to start a tractor let alone work with one.

My young daughters and dog

Our next door neighbour in Paddington wished us well, so we set off in our little car, two children aged three and nine months, plus the cat and dog for an unknown future hundreds of miles in the semi -desert. I had purchased a small transportable house which was just as well, but we would have to wait several weeks for power and wait for  rain to have drinking water. My next door neighbour in Coleambally , an old fruit farmer, turned rice grower was a great help in those early days. He had taken up a rice farm for his son.  Water for washing proved to be no problem, as we were able to draw water from the irrigation channel by bucket until the rain came and put some in our tank.

Our first task was clearing the block of  very large pine trees, then bulldoze the stumps, some required dynamite, then  spend months picking up sticks and burning everything before we could grade and install the irrigation equipment. Governments often think you just give an axe ,crowbar and land to a settler and presto, there is a farm. Our clearing took the best part of a year, before we were ready to plant our first crop. Slowly things improved, we used he council road graders to dig our trenched for the irrigation pipes much to the amusement of fellow settlers. Everyone was in the same situation, so considerable camaraderie existed.

Preparing the ground for the first carrot crop

Our first commercial crop was to be carrots, the crop was brilliant, some 650 tons of carrots. Unfortunately although I had selected the correct time to grow the crop, I did not realise that knowledge of  supply and demand at any one time was required to maximise profits. Our crop would supply the whole of Australia for six weeks, resulting in a price collapse, resulting in a return of just one dollar per ton after all expenses, was naturally very disappointing, but such is life on the land!

I found that working sixteen to eighteen hours a day were required to develop a fruit and vegetable block, as the months past I sometimes felt that this venture would kill me. Towards the end I would suffer many giddy spells, lost a lot of weight working these long hours in 40 degree heat. Some days I would have to load twenty five tons of potatoes on to a truck single handed. I really was not built to throw one hundred weight bags up onto  the back of a truck. The drivers did not consider it their job to get off the truck back.

Heather & girls among the first vine plantings

Apart from the physical strain, the hardest and most disappointing aspect was the outright corruption and dishonest behaviour of various market agent some 600 miles away. No matter what the official price broadcast on the radio, what you received was always considerably less. It was impossible to ever know what your crop had actually been sold for. Then there was the Mafia, who seem to control the marketing and distribution of fresh produce in the Sydney Markets. I have had personal experience of a bag of onions increasing in price from one dollar to eight dollar as it worked it way across the market floor. I shall try to deal with some of these issues in future blogs. But we finally got there, planting premium varieties of wine grapes. At times we were forced to import certain grape canes from aboard.

Young vines
 Eventually  after many trials and crisis, we planted our twenty five acres of vines, but I shall leave those details for later.

Early load of grapes

Loading a grape crop for the trip to the winery

Our milk supply.

Monday, January 2, 2012

David Walsh's Museum of Old & New Art, Hobart.

David Walsh’s Museum of New & Old Art.

When I first Settled in Hobart in the 70’s ,I some how made the transition from pig farmer to the owner of a perfumery shop owner in Wrest Point Casino.  It was here ,that I first became aware of David Walsh. Often after closing the shop, I would pop into the roulette and card gambling area of Wrest Point. In those day everyone was required to be appropriately dressed and it was  with some astonishment that David and his two friends could be observed dragging a pillow case of  chips from one Black Jack table to the next. Those of you who are not familiar with gambling card games, it is reasonable to claim that after poker, black jack would be one of the most popular  card games for clubs and casino. The reason no doubt would be that the establishment was able to be the permanent banker with all players betting against it. Casinos, unlike domestic  games would use several packs of card, thus improving their winning odds.

Enter the card counter, for this was really what David Walsh and friends were. They obviously had considerable mathematical skills as they were able to calculate the likely odds  of winning cards being turned over by the dealer. Casinos of course don’t like to lose, so over time David and friends were banned  from playing at Wrest Point., being young they looked internationally.  Each of them had some interest in the arts, one collected  Roman mosaics, one Egyptian antiquities, while the third member of the trio had an interest in the arts of  Central America. I suspect that was where the title for the current museum came from, the Museum of Old and New Art.

Moorilla Winery and Vineyard had been established by another great lover of art Claude Alcorso. Claude had been a moving force in the establishment of Opera Australia in Sydney before moving to Tasmania were he established Silk and Textiles, an art based fabric manufacturing business. He set a new high watermark for  growing grapes in the state despite considerable  local scepticism.  The local population like many Australians, they considered Tasmania  as too cold, like some sort of island  a few miles from Antarctica! During the 60’s and 70’s there was a revival of interest in table wine in Australia ,Claude realised the potentional of the acres of limestone soils along the banks or the River Derwent. He was very much a hands on fellow and I still have a bottle of his first vintage he gave me complete with it’s hand written cloth label. Unfortunately, family drama intervened resulting in a fire sale of the estate, enter David Walsh who purchased the vineyard and winery.

The old family home had been built along the lines of an ancient Roman Villa with a central open courtyard,currently the entrance area to the museum. This is the area were the lift takes visitors down into the bowels of the underground complex. The Alcorsos used  this area to stage musical evenings and I have personally spent many a pleasant evening there in front of the fire listening to various musical  groups. Later, when David Walsh acquired the property, it was used as an upmarket restaurant and diners could look down from their tables at a floor of Roman mosaic.

I doubt that anyone  back in those early days would have imaged that David Walsh would amass such a vast fortune from gambling or that he would invest some 180 million dollars building his personal artistic statement. A visitor must suspend belief in everything they believe a museum should be. Who would imagine someone would create a huge underground cave like space of several  floors, cut through solid rock. It is not surprising that the  international magazine Gourmet Traveller named the experience as the best in the world for 2011.

I shall not attempt to describe the experience, any reader may view the museum by logging on to the MONA web page. It is of course to every ones taste. David Walsh  would best be described as an iconoclast with little regard for the opinion of others. He is a creator in his own right, who has generously invited the world to view his gift to Tasmania, his “Subversive Adult Disneyland”.