Driving to and from Perth

31 01 2016

I had to go to Perth yesterday, some three weeks after the bushfire closed the two main highways between Perth and Bunbury. I went up via Forrest Highway and came home via South West Highway. On each highway, there was a stretch of about 12 km where the fire damage was extensive. Coming home on South West Highway, I was amazed at how close the fire came to wiping out Waroona too — the hills behind the town were all burnt, and the fire damage to the southern outskirts of town was devastating. There’s still no access to Yarloop (not that I would’ve wanted to drive through there anyway), but most of the houses on the highway just outside the town are ruined. How Hamel didn’t get wiped off the map too, is beyond me.

We had quite a bit of rain about a week after the fires, so parts are starting to ‘green up’ already, and we had more rain yesterday, which is why the skies aren’t the blue you’d expect from an Australian summer!

Forrest Highway











South West Highway

















Making stuff for our tour

31 01 2016

I’m off on QuiltVenture 2016 later this year, about a three-week tour for mostly Western Australian quilters organised by my good friend Michelle. I went on the inaugural tour in 2014, and it was fabulous. This time we’re ‘doing’ New England in the fall, then finishing at the Houston International Quilt Festival. For the last tour, I made a luggage handle wrap for everyone, which was fantastic when identifying baggage as belonging to our group — you just looked for our unique wraps and grabbed that bag, whether it was yours or not. It made for a very efficient system in retrieving our bags.

For this tour, I’ve made luggage handle wraps AND luggage tags for everyone, plus a couple of spares. Michelle gave me the waratah fabric and Velcro from her store, and I provided the stitch and shape, plastic inserts, webbed straps, batting, and time and expertise in making them. I made them over a weekend.

We’ll give them out at our first QV2016 meeting on Saturday 30 Jan 2016.

Before (everything prepped ready to sew):


After — 27 luggage tags and luggage handle wraps:


Pretty Rocks: Kunzite

28 01 2016

Stephanie Bateman-Graham, my friend and an ex-work colleague, takes microscopic photos of slivers of rocks and minerals. All her images are just amazing and many emulate pictures of the universe taken from space. She sells these images in various formats (cards, calendars, phone cases, etc.) via her website http://www.prettyrockdesigns.com/, and through Spoonflower, the on-demand fabric printing company: http://www.spoonflower.com/profiles/prettyrockdesigns

I’ve purchased several fat quarters of Steph’s photos via Spoonflower, all in Kona cotton. And for the first time, I’ve now stitched one. The others are all ‘in process’! I’d held off stitching them as the fabrics are so pretty and I deemed them ‘too good’ to touch and possibly ruin. But I can’t keep fabric forever…

The first photo-printed fabric I stitched is of Kunzite, a variety of Spodumene. Here’s the finished art quilt (yes, it is ‘square’ — the photo distorts the edges), which is now available or sale from my Etsy store: https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/618943875/kunzite-art-quilt:


The process

I knew I had to stabilise this quilt really well because dense stitching warps and distorts the layers and edges. And I knew it needed ‘puff’ to emphasise various areas. Beneath the top printed fabric are two layers of batting (Pellon and a wool batting) as well as a stabilising layer of buckram. I added backing fabric at the end when I finished off this quilt, but not while I was thread painting it.


Next came choosing the thread colours. First, I auditioned all the likely colours against the fabric, then stacked them in colour variations off to the side, ready for use (first two photos below). The third photo shows the actual threads I used.




I started by stitching all around the edge of the photo-printed fabric, using invisible thread. This was both to stabilise the layers and hopefully  prevent too much distortion of the finished quilt. Then I outline stitched all the major elements in the photo in invisible thread, starting from the diagonal central elements and working back to the edges. Again, this was to stabilise the quilt in preparation for the dense stitching to come.






The back (buckram side), showing the outline stitching:


Once I’d outline stitched the main elements, I started the dense stitching. I began with the dark colours first, then added layers and layers of progressively lighter colours on top and as the photo dictated. I left some areas unstitched so they’d ‘puff’ (or ‘pop’).








After finishing all the stitching, there was a little bit of warp/distortion in the piece, so I steam pressed it and then squashed it under some heavy weights for a day or so, then steam pressed it again and pinned it securely to my design wall for a couple of weeks (I couldn’t do much more at that stage as I had shoulder surgery a few days later, then it was Christmas, etc.).

Finally, I got back to it this long weekend just past, adding some backing fabric, trimming it square, and binding it with some fabric from my stash that picked up many of the colours in this quilt. Then I added a hanging sleeve on the back and a label. It’s next destination is a local art competition in mid-February.


I really enjoyed giving a different life to Steph’s great photo!

Finished dimensions:

  • Width: 17.5 inches (44.5 cm)
  • Height: 20.5 inches (52 cm)


The blessed coolth

23 01 2016

If you can say ‘warmth’, why can’t you say ‘coolth’? 😉

We bit the bullet and invested in whole-of-house reverse cycle ducted air conditioning for our home. Previously, we’d had two split system reverse cycle air conditioners — one in the living area and one in the office, but they couldn’t cope with sending that cool air into the main bedroom or anywhere outside those areas during the heat of summer, or warming the other areas in winter. And one of the units (10 years old) had had a condensate pump failure over Christmas.

The guys arrived yesterday to install the ducted system. There were about 6 guys (the ‘duct monkeys’) here including an electrician, and between them it took them eight hours from start to finish. It was a big job, and I can see why it’s far easier to install it when a house is being built than to retrofit it.

Our system is 6 zones with 9 outlets. Lots of cutting into ceilings had to be done, but the guys were professional every inch of the way — polite, listened, advised where necessary, positioned all outlets centrally so nothing looks out of place on the ceilings, worked well together, were a happy bunch, didn’t swear (that I could hear anyway), protected our wooden floors/property/possessions, cleaned up after themselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better team. And they turned up on time and with a great attitude.

I took quite a few ‘in progress’ photos. Needless to say, we’re currently enjoying the coolth in all parts of the house now 😉

Unpacking the truck:



Taping protective plastic over the wooden floors:


Cutting into the ceiling for one of the two the return air vents:


The ‘sandworms of Dune’:


The big behemoth on the concrete is the compressor unit; the one on the wall behind it (in the foreground) is the old split system unit, which I’m giving to a friend who has no air conditioning at all in her house:


The closest I’ll ever come to seeing what’s in the roof space:







The controller:





Figuring out how to get this big unit up into the ceiling space through the hole they cut:





Starting to look like our house again:



Yes, a zone and outlet for my sewing room!




The past few days

11 01 2016

As I wrote last Thursday 7 January 2016, a major bushfire was in our vicinity. As that day progressed, the situation got worse and with the hot dry easterly then north-easterly winds, 40+ C temperatures, tinder-dry country, the fire was uncontained and out of control. And it was headed in our direction. We were still some 30 km (20 miles) from the fire front, but by mid-afternoon, our locality was on the lowest of the three emergency alert levels, and a locality just 8 km (5 miles) north of us was on the next highest. With no expected change in wind direction, the fire was headed our way. Already the two highways between Perth and Bunbury had been closed, and people from various towns were being evacuated. We weren’t being evacuated, but the fire warnings were asking us to prepare for such a situation.

One of the things that gets drummed into us with fire warnings is that if you aren’t prepared to stay and defend, evacuate early. And by ‘stay and defend’, they mean you must be physically and mentally capable of staying and defending, with an independent water source (large water tanks, swimming pool, dam etc.), pumps and suitable hoses (not rubber garden hoses!), and a generator because the mains power and water supply cannot be relied on. This is something that most people cannot do as it requires not only physical resources that most people living in towns or suburbs don’t have, but also requires physical and mental stamina to deal with some of the severest conditions a human being can endure.

Because I have a terror of bushfires (as I found out in the January 2009 fires near Bridgetown where we lived at the time), my body was on a path to evacuate. My husband said he felt safe in our house; me, not so much. I actually think our house is very safe (if any house in Australia can be considered safe from fire), but a massive firestorm like the one heading our way was a different matter. Heat and smoke are more likely to kill you than the fire itself. So I packed up my computers, some clothes and toiletries, my ‘vital info’ folder, some woollen blankets, water bottles etc. and headed to my parents’ place in Busselton around 3:30 pm on Thursday afternoon (7 January). I spoke to my husband that evening and pleaded with him to join me, which he did the following morning, bringing the server, his computers, backup drives, some clothes etc. The house and its contents are insured, but nothing can replace a human life. I was very pleased to have him with me.

Here are some of my Facebook posts over those few days…

7 Jan 9:30 pm: Even though I’m safe, I doubt I’ll get much sleep tonight. The two towns within 10 km north of our house have just been put on a bushfire advisory. Not an emergency warning, but scary nonetheless. Who knows what will happen overnight, with still high temps, easterly winds, low humidity, and exhausted firies. And no aerial support until first light tomorrow. A good strong sea breeze would be very welcome, as it would force the fire back on itself. I have nothing but gratitude for those putting themselves on the line to save others and their homes. But mourn the loss of some of the best dairy farm country in our state and the very likely loss of prime livestock.

8 Jan 7:30 am: Our area is now on a bushfire alert (lowest level of 3). In fact the whole of outer Bunbury is on alert – Australind, Eaton etc.

8 Jan noon: Been offline for a while doing stuff with family. But we’re fine here (my husband arrived about 9 am). Hearts go out to those who’ve lost everything in these fires, especially those in my birthplace of Yarloop where 95 houses have been obliterated.

9 Jan 7 am: Reporting in…. We’re still safe at my parents’ place in Busselton. Based on the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) info this morning, the locality where our house is is still on Alert. The bushfire had now burnt some 60000 ha and the fire perimeter is more than 200 km. The two highways between Perth and the Southwest remain closed and only essential traffic is being routed via Albany Highway/Collie. Yarloop has been devastated with the loss of 121 homes. I haven’t checked any news reports yet to see what other devastation there’s been. I won’t be checking FB much each day, but be assured we are safe for now and our house remains out of the high danger zone.

10 Jan Sunday morning update: We should go home today. The weather conditions have eased, and the wind is now blowing away from our area. I think the amazing firies saved Harvey last night, which along with Wokalup and Cookernup were under immediate threat. The consequences of this fire will be with us a long time – devastation of properties, a prime agricultural region, state and national parks, livestock (dairy and beef cattle, sheep, horses…), market gardens and orchards and wineries, wildlife, infrastructure (roads, bridges, power etc), tourism … And will be felt throughout the Southwest, which relies on summer holiday makers to survive the rest of the year. And of course all our insurance policies will increase. Our hearts go out to those who have suffered unimaginable losses, and our heartfelt thanks go to those who bravely face the fires of hell to protect our communities.

10 Jan afternoon update: We returned home this afternoon, once the weather conditions had eased and the fire starting going back on itself and in the opposite direction to our house. And after the warnings for our area and the nearby areas had been lifted.


Here are some statistics about this fire as listed in ‘The West Australian’ newspaper today (11 Jan):


  • Two people dead
  • 143 structures lost in Yarloop, including 128 houses (as at 15 January: 181 properties including 162 houses and 18 other structures including sheds, caravans, community and commercial properties have been confirmed lost. A number of bridges have also been lost.)
  • Four firefighters injured
  • More than 71,100 hectares burnt (71,357 ha as at 15 January)
  • Fire perimeter in excess of 232 km (see comparison map below) (327 km perimeter as at 15 January)
  • Fire first reported 7.25am on Wednesday 6 January 2016
  • Caused by lightning
  • Declared a natural disaster
  • Several recreation sites and roads closed


  • More than 350 firefighters, including about 130 from the other states
  • Aerial support
  • More than 80 appliances, including 28 heavy machines

Map of the impacted area


Note: The length of the scale for this map is 9 km (just over 5 miles). The locality of Myalup (bottom left corner) is 8 km from where we live. Click on the map to view it larger.

Comparison maps

A Stephen Swain on Facebook uploaded these two comparison maps just to give some perspective as to the area covered by the fire. The inner blue line is where the fire went; the outer blue line is the danger zone. The comparison maps superimpose the fire and danger zones over Sydney and London respectively, just to give you some idea of the size of this fire.



The plume as seen from space

In my earlier post, I included a weather radar map showing supposed ‘rain’, which I suspected was smoke. NASA released this photo (I got it from http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/01/10/wa-bushfire-contained-not-controlled), which pretty much confirms that what the weather radar thought was rain was actually thick smoke:


Personal connection

This fire had a very personal connection to me, in addition to its location relatively close to our current home. It started near Waroona, where my paternal grandparents and my father lived from 1935 to the late 1960s (my uncle also lived there, but left before the others). It threatened Harvey, where my mother and her family lived from about 1939 or so until the late 1960s. My parents lived in Waroona after they married in the early 1950s, and Waroona was where my sister and I spent our childhood. And it destroyed Yarloop where my sister and I were both born (Waroona didn’t have a doctor or a hospital, but Yarloop, which was much smaller, did because it was a timber mill town). The old Yarloop Hospital where I was born and where I nearly died a few hours later, was totally destroyed, along with another 128 homes in Yarloop, plus many of this small town’s other buildings. Preston Beach was the closest beach to Waroona and it’s where my parents owned a beach block for several years, and where we used to go if we wanted to swim in the ocean. All this territory is very much part of my family history.


The short-, medium-, and long-term consequences of this fire will be felt for a long time. Obviously there’s the impact to those who’ve lost everything — homes, farms, livestock, livelihoods, etc. I can’t imagine how they will cope. And there’s the impact on those brave heroes (and their support teams) who fought the many fronts of this fire saving strangers’ lives and properties, often when their own properties were being destroyed. I can’t imagine how they cope, either. My heart goes out to them all.

There’s also the flow-on impact to the region. The immediate impact is from the closure of the two highways linking Perth and Bunbury. This would be similar (albeit on a much smaller scale) to closing the roads between Los Angeles and San Diego for a week and routing the traffic via a small state road that adds three hours to the usual duration of the trip. These two roads supply the southwest region with goods from Perth and the rest of the world, and equally, supply Perth and other places with produce. Having to detour both ways on a smaller, less-maintained road, adds costs both in time and fuel, and I’m sure the prices of some goods may increase. There may also be shortages of some products for a time.

The affected area is a prime agricultural area for Western Australia, supplying much of the dairy produce (milk, cheese etc.), beef cattle, citrus orchards, vegetable market gardens, etc. Cows still need to be milked, and if they aren’t milked, serious consequences can occur to both the cow and its milk. They also need to be fed — much of the pasture land where the beef and dairy cattle grazed is now a charred wasteland. I don’t know how many of the citrus orchards or market gardens were affected by either fire or smoke, but either could damage these producers for many months to come.

And of course, all our insurance premiums will go up.

At this stage, those providing relief to people dispossessed do NOT want goods (goods are too hard to organise and manage, and often can’t be matched to those needing help). Cash donations are far better as the organisers/recipients can then use the cash to purchase exactly what is needed. The Perth Lord Mayor’s Distress Relief Fund has been activated and details for donating are available here: http://www.appealswa.org.au/currentappeal.html. WAFarmers have set up a GoFundMe page for donations for feed etc. for livestock: https://www.gofundme.com/8gx38ezg

Finally, this fire is not yet under control. Hot weather conditions are expected later this week, so hop-overs and spot fires could cause further flare-ups and damage. And if we get thunderstorms with lightning with that hot weather, then we could see a repeat of the past five days.

Update 19 Jan 2016: Given time, more favourable conditions, and the resources thrown at it, this fire is now contained and controlled. And the best news? Overnight (18 Jan) we had some 20 mm of rain in the area — good soaking rain, too.


7 01 2016

We woke this morning to bushfire warnings and evacuations for two towns about 35 km from us. The fire was caused by lightning from a summer storm in a forest north of here.

We’ve had no warnings here as yet, and I pray there won’t be. The sky has been full of smoke, obscuring the sun, and potentially messing up the weather radar, which seems to be reporting it as rain! In the past hour or so, burnt embers have been raining down — mostly burnt leaves. The wind is fickle, though mostly from the east pushing the fire towards the coast and blowing the smoke cloud towards the coast and the southwest. It is stinking hot and the humidity is around 10% — ideal fire conditions.

How do I feel? Sick to my stomach! My fight or flight response has been activated, and I’m continually checking the emergency warnings websites and the weather websites for changes to location, wind speed/direction, etc. I have a list of things to pack urgently if it comes this way or this far, and my ‘vital info’ folder is up-to-date with all the details of insurance policy numbers, bank account details, copies of passports, drivers licenses, Wills etc.

I hate summer — it should be renamed ‘fire season’.

Here are some photos from this morning.

Photos from around 9am (from eastern side of our house):




From western side of the house:


Photos from around 11:30am:









Radar image around 11:45am:


That green stuff looks like rain, but I expect it’s the smoke cloud that’s being reported. The town of Waroona has been evacuated, and the two highways between Perth and Bunbury have been closed.

Update 12 noon: An Emergency Warning is now in place for Harvey townsite and it is being evacuated now.

Photos from 12:15pm:



Burnt leaves rained down on us…


Photos from 12:40pm:




Photo from 1:50pm:


Update Sunday – 3 days later: All safe and sound and back at home now. Will write another blog post in next few days about what happened after I wrote the post above.

See also: