My #1 role model — Mum

12 12 2021

My mum has her 90th birthday around Christmas, so we had a family get together this weekend so we could celebrate this milestone without the madness of Christmas commitments getting in the way. Dad (91) asked me and my niece to say a few words. I knew my niece would talk about Mum in her roles as mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, but Mum’s influence on me was different. Here’s what I said (some identifying info has been removed/changed).


Others will talk today about Mum as the best mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. But I’m going to take a different tack and focus on how she influenced me.

I always knew Mum was pretty special just because she’s my Mum, but I only recently found out some more things about her life, before Dad and us. Mum gave me her old high school yearbook, and I found out she’d been a sports house captain in Year 12 and an outstanding netball player. I already knew that she was a bit of a pioneer because not only did she go on to Year 12 when it was very unusual for women to do so, but also to teachers college. In those days, maybe 10% of ALL 14-year-olds went on to tertiary education, and very few of those were women. This was the late 1940s and the [Australian] government was bending all the rules to get returned WW2 servicemen back into the workforce, so for her to get a place at teachers college wouldn’t have been easy. But the [state] government wasn’t so friendly as to let her keep teaching, and she was sacked at the end of 1953. Why? Because she got married! It was Education Department policy that as soon as a female teacher married, they lost their job!!! Not the men… just the women. I think the moment I found out about this, I became a feminist, so I have Mum to thank for that.

Mum has been the best role model a girl could have. She didn’t just say we could do or be anything we wanted—she showed us by her actions. At a time when most women were forced to abandon any thought of a career and live out their lives doing unpaid housework and child rearing, Mum was running businesses with Dad and, for a while, his parents. In [town], she was front of house in the bakery, she looked after the accounts, and she learnt cake decorating. With Nana B she decorated countless wedding cakes, dipped hundreds of thousands of lamingtons, and filled countless cream puffs (those Italians in [town] had BIG weddings!) Did I also mention she ran the house, did all the cooking (most on a wood stove) and laundry (by hand, in a copper also heated by wood fire, until she got a washing machine), and reared 2 children? And that she likely didn’t get a salary?

When they were in their mid-late 30s, she and Dad upped stumps and moved to [larger town] to start a new completely different venture in the [name] shopping centre—a newsagency that wasn’t allowed to sell newspapers! After 7 years, they had one of the biggest newsagencies in [the state], based on turnover. And after many years of fighting bureaucracy and local newsagents, they finally got the OK to sell newspapers. Again, Mum quietly ran the business and money side of it all (buying stock, doing all the accounts, dealing with the reps), as well as being behind the counter with Dad. Later came [another town] and [a caravan park], which they ran for 8 years, turning it from a run-down caravan park into a thriving business. Again, Mum ran the business side of things, from bookings (often getting a phone call after 10pm when someone decided that they needed to book right now for the Christmas holidays) through to everything to do with the accounts. In all of this, there were no computers, just an adding machine, ledgers and booking books, and pens, pencils, and erasers, lots of erasers as bookings got changed around and vans and campsites got shifted around on paper—everything was done by hand and it all took a lot of time and nous to juggle it all.

After they retired, Mum and Dad were very involved in volunteer groups. Mum continued to look after their finances, and she still does. She was born in the Depression and lived her early years in what we would now term extreme poverty on a farm in the middle of nowhere at the back of [town in the wheatbelt]. Her South African parents had migrated just a few years before, and Nana P (her Mum) spoke almost no English when she arrived. From Mum’s experience growing up in the Depression years came a deep-seated belief in never wasting money—if you couldn’t afford it, you couldn’t have it. Speaking of frugal, in the early days after the [Australian] $50 note was released in 1973, it was very rare to see one, possibly because Mum stashed every one that she found in the businesses into a sanitary napkin box under the bathroom sink! There were no point-of-sale machines then to track what money came in and went out! She did the same with the early 50c coins, which were predominantly silver until the government realised they cost way more to produce than their face value—she had a stash of those too! I told you she was my role model!

Because of Mum’s business acumen and astuteness with money, their retirement years (until COVID hit) have been filled with travel all over the world and they’ve never wanted for anything. Despite paying untold taxes all their lives, they’ve never received a pension or government concession card. And Mum still watches the pennies, sniffing out things on sale.

Through all of this, Mum and Dad have stood together like a rock. I’m sure they had their ups and downs, but as kids, we never got to see that (except one time with the lemon meringue pie! [and no, I won’t elaborate]). They were a united front in everything and a formidable force as a couple. They love each other deeply, and have loved all their family as deeply, and they’ve been very proud of us all.

So, Mum, you’ve been the best role model a girl could have—you’ve walked the walk, not just talked the talk, and I’m very very proud when people say ‘you’re just like your Mum’, because while, for them, I may look like you, in my heart I know that it’s much more than that.


More information on coppers and other laundry paraphernalia, most of which I remember from my childhood in rural Australia (by the time I went to university, washing machines were common, typically a Twin Tub):

The wood stove Mum cooked on was a Metters No 2:

[Links last checked December 2021]

Feeling vindicated

1 12 2021

Feeling vindicated and very glad software testing was a de facto part of my job as a tech writer. We got a new air conditioning (AC) controller just under 2 weeks ago to better control the temperatures and airflow in each zone. The office zone worked fine; the living area… not so much. It was way too cold early in the morning when the outside temp was <15C and way too hot if the outside temp was >25C. The living area temp was set to 22C (cool mode), but I was recording up to 6C above or below that set temp. And our summer temps haven’t kicked in yet.

I recorded data—lots of data… temps at various spots in the house, weather bureau outside temps, power usage. A pattern began to form (patterns are good—you can narrow things down with a good pattern!). The patterns showed that the office temps were fine and within tolerances, and the issue was definitely the living area. I took photos of the controller’s settings, a video of the almost non-existent air flow from the outlets in the living area, and deduced that something was wrong in the roof space—either the ductwork for the living area, or on the new ‘motherboard’ control unit installed up there. I sent all my data and deductions to the AC people on Sunday.

The bloke from the AC company came out today. We talked about many things AC-related (and I learnt a lot), but he wasn’t really convinced the issue was in the roof until he’d eliminated everything else, which he did. Next stop, the roof space. And there he found an entire piece of ducting was NOT connected to the main ductwork. He showed me photos he took up there and I wanted to fist pump the air because I KNEW that was likely one of the 2 main causes I’d already figured out.

After he reconnected it all, we immediately had lovely cool airflow into the living area. On behalf of the company, he was most apologetic, and said he would definitely be having words with the installer and the apprentice, would be bringing it up in a staff meeting, AND would supply us with another sensor (about $150) for the 3rd zone for free.

Moondyne country

16 10 2021

I’ve been so focused on the school reunion the past 6 months that everything else has gone by the wayside, including writing a post on the quilting retreat I went to in August, the first I’d been to since early March 2020, just before the first COVID lockdown started. The venue near Toodyay we’d used for many years had sold in the interim so we had to find a new place—somewhere that had suitable accommodation, all meals, and a room big enough to hold about 20 people and all their sewing machines and gear, and not far from Perth. Our intrepid leader found a wonderful place in the Chittering Valley. We were there in mid-August when everything was lush and green and fresh. I think we’ve found our new home! The food was fantastic too. (However, I won’t be attending any retreats there in the summer months because of the bushfire risk—there’s only one road in and out and it goes through a national park for several kilometres, so the risk for me is too great.) By the way, the area is called Moondyne, named after Moondyne Joe, a notorious Western Australian bushranger who hid out in the area evading capture.

I’d pretty much lost my sewing/quilting mojo for the past 12 months, so this was a chance to see if it would come back, even just a little, and it did. That said, I haven’t touched what I made since I got home, but the reunion stuff has taken up an awful lot of my hours around my paid work. The reunion is next weekend, so my commitment will reduce to almost nothing once all the event photos are sorted out and shared.

Here are some photos of the venue (on about 1000+ acres, and overlooking the Avon River WAY down below; yes there are a LOT of kangaroos!) and the improv quilt top I put together over the 4 days.

late afternoon drinks on the veranda, with the afternoon sun casting a beautiful low over the people seated in the picture

Valley view down to the Avon River; many kangaroos grazing on the hillside

Avon River in full flow across rapids

Valley view down to the Avon River

Valley view across to the Avon Valley National Park

first quilt blocks partially completed -- purples and deep blues with splashes of yellow fabric

quilt top partially completed -- all aquas and purples with splashes of yellow fabric

quilt top completed -- all aquas and purples with splashes of yellow fabric

drinks on the veranda in the late afternoon, overlooking the green valley down to the Avon River

in the large conference room, set up with tables suitable for sewing

in the large conference room, set up with tables suitable for sewing

in the large conference room, set up with tables suitable for sewing



It’s getting real

11 10 2021

My school reunion just got real—today I printed off the 53 name tags of those who’ll be attending! It’s on in 12 days!

We found 85 of our group, had 32 apologies, no responses from 4, and the remaining 49 said they’ll attend, plus 3 ex-teachers and 1 partner of an ex-student.

(photo deliberately blurred)

And a few days later, I’d finished compiling and editing the yearbook and printed off my first copy (110p, from 59 contributors of the 85 found)

School reunion organisation

27 09 2021

I’ve been very lax in blogging for the past few months. I lost my quilting mojo about 12 months ago and it hasn’t come back—it will, but just not yet. My blogging mojo has disappeared too.

Meantime, I’ve been involved in organising a [very big scary number] reunion of those I graduated high school with. Since May, I’ve spent many hundreds of hours searching for and chasing down people (our only other previous reunion was before the internet!), setting up and managing a private Facebook group, sending out emails, etc. Neither the school nor the state education department nor the state library/archives seem to have any record of our class lists, and except for the previous reunion a long time ago, we had no idea of name changes for the females when they married, and just a few lists from that reunion, our old school magazines, and our memories to go on. Unlike some schools, we don’t have any sort of alumni association or central location where information is kept, so a lot of sleuthing has been happening.

We’re getting to the pointy end now, with the reunion scheduled to happen in just under 4 weeks’ time (COVID permitting).

I crunched some numbers today and this is what we have so far:

  • ~170 ex students on our lists, 10 of whom we know have died, so ~160 possible attendees at the reunion, of whom we have contact details for 83. We’ve ‘lost’ some 77 in the past [scary number] decades and have no contact details for them. We’ve reached out to some who we’ve found via internet searches using Facebook, LinkedIn, possible relatives, text messages, etc. but have received no reply – and that’s OK because school wasn’t a good place for many.
  • Of those 83 possible attendees, we know that 17 definitely can’t or won’t attend because they’re overseas, interstate, have other commitments, or don’t want to come, so that leaves us with 66 possibles.
  • Of those 66 possibles, 42 have indicated they will attend (+ 3 teachers); we haven’t received RSVPs from the other 24 as yet.
  • We’ve now received 30 brief bios for the yearbook from the 83 possibles (except for [name]’s bio, which is NOT brief 🙂 but he’s had such a fascinating life we’ve included most of it). Each bio takes between 15 minutes and an hour to edit, add to the yearbook, crop and add photos, etc. 
  • We’ve added headshot photos to the yearbook for many — some have been sent to us by the owners of the photos, some of the older ones we’ve grabbed from the old school magazines where people didn’t have a photo of themselves from way back when, some we’ve found on Facebook, LinkedIn, or other public internet sites. Everyone looks fantastic! Some are really recognisable as just slightly older versions of their school selves, while others are ‘Wow! Is that really xxxx?’

Looking at those numbers, I’m impressed that of the 66 possibles, already 42 have replied that they’re attending. It will be a very informal event, just 2.5 hours in a bar/restaurant  that’s opening especially for us. We’ll have a couple of speeches from the head boy and head girl early on, and then it will be a gabfest 🙂 I’ll be sending out the first edition of the yearbook the week prior so people can read up on others before the event, if they wish. Then, if we get further bios plus photos from the event, we’ll likely add those to a 2nd edition to be sent out a few weeks later.

It’s been fun and has drawn out a lot of my own memories—I’ve even created a playlist of well over 350 songs from my teen years!

(One other thing: Considering how many years have passed, our ‘death rate’ is very low—we know 10 of the 170 have died, though there may be more, which is just 6% of our cohort. I was checking on the whereabouts of an American exchange student we hosted that year who was from Seattle, and her high school’s reunion page for the same year lists some 150 students, of whom more than 50 (~35%) have died.)


I just don’t get it

6 08 2021

I just don’t get it. I don’t get why some people are SOOOO up in arms about vaccination status information being needed for work, travel, entry to venues etc. It’s not like this, or showing other types of statuses, is anything new. For example, in the Australian state where I live and in many other places, you are subject to these requirements, at least:

  • Drivers licence (state):
    • must have to drive a car
    • must sit a written test and a practical driving test to get it
    • must be at least 17 years old
    • must produce your licence on demand from a police officer
    • must have a photo taken for your licence, except under exceptional circumstances
    • can use as one form of verified (photographic) authentication of who you are
    • no licence = no driving
  • Gun licence (state)
    • must have to own and use a gun
    • must get from police department
    • minimum 28-day waiting period to get approved
    • must have a REALLY good reason to get one
    • checks are made in state, national, and possibly international databases before issuance
    • no licence = gun confiscated
  • Working with children licence (state)
    • must have if you want to work with children, whether paid or voluntary (e.g. teaching, child care, sporting teams, the local library, etc.)
    • must be able to produce on request of any prospective employer (including voluntary organisations)
    • must be authorised by the police department after checks are made in state, national, and possibly international databases
    • no licence = no work
  • Fishing licence (state)
    • must have if you want to catch certain types of fish
    • must produce on demand from a Fisheries Dept officer
    • no licence = not allowed to catch those types of fish
  • Boating licence (Recreational Skippers Ticket) (state)
    • must have to legally operate a boat >6hp on any body of water
    • must produce on demand from a Department of Transport official (and/or police or fisheries officer?)
    • must be at least 14 years old
  • Passport (federal)
    • must have a photo taken for it
    • must have a passport to leave your home country and to enter any other country
    • typically, also need a visa to enter that other country (e.g. ESTA to enter the US from Australia)
    • multiple checks are done when leaving or entering another country (e.g. by air: airline employees at check-in, then security staff at the entrance to the immigration area, then customs/immigration/border force officers, then airline staff again when boarding the aircraft)
    • no passport = can’t leave home country or enter another
    • no visa = deported from other country, at your expense
    • in addition, I have to be photographed and fingerprinted every time I enter the US—the US government has more details about me than the Australian government as NO Australian government agency has ever taken my fingerprints!
    • if I’m in the US and within 100 miles of a border, I need to keep my passport with me at all times (yes, I was subject to a border patrol check near Tucson, AZ one time and fortunately had my passport with me, not locked in my luggage in the hotel room)
  • Proof of age
    • required by licensed premises to sell you alcohol if they deem that you might be under a certain age
    • no ID = no entry or no sale of alcohol
  • Proof of vaccination
    • for ALL my school years, my parents had to show my (government) school my vaccination card to prove that I’d had my required shots (diphtheria, polio, mumps, measles, rubella etc.); school nurses would also come to all the schools to do vaccinations [hand out sugar lumps for the polio vaccine] and update our cards (I think I still have that card somewhere)
    • for as long as I can remember, I’ve had to have proof of vaccination to travel to certain countries (most recently, I needed to get various hepatitis and typhoid shots to travel to a particular country, and much earlier, proof of smallpox, yellow fever vaccinations; I still have that card in my travel documents for any overseas travel)
    • no vaccination that’s required by a country (or by your home country on your return) = no entry to that country
  • Workplace rules (public or private companies, government premises, retail premises, etc.)
    • many workplaces have employee/visitor ID badges (often with a photo) that must be scanned to gain entry to any building, elevator, or floor where they work (no badge = no access)
    • many workplaces have rules about fitness for duty (e.g. alcohol, drugs) and have random drug and alcohol tests that employees agree to as a condition of their employment (no compliance = anything from a warning to dismissal)
    • many companies have dress codes for employees, visitors, and/or customers, which might include safety rules for workwear (e.g. hi-vis clothing, all-cotton clothing, steel-capped boots, long sleeves/trousers, ear/eye protection, hard hats, PPE for certain activities [e.g. chemical gloves, breathing apparatus] etc.) (no compliance = anything from a warning to dismissal [employees] or refusal of entry [others], PLUS the potential to harm or cause the death of themselves or others)
    • public-facing workplaces (whether publicly or privately owned) have rules for visitor/customer entry (e.g. age restrictions, minimum clothing requirements, minimum behaviour standards) (no compliance = anything from a warning to ejection from the workplace)
    • some hotels (and all rental car companies) require proof of ID (e.g. drivers licence with a photo) as well as a credit card when you check in (the hotel requirement for proof of ID I’ve mostly encountered in the US); if you don’t provide it, you may be denied a room/car, even if you have a reservation.
    • these are their rules and if you don’t like it, you’re free to go elsewhere
  • Cruise ships
    • require you to HAND OVER your passport for the duration of the cruise (my only experience was on my one cruise, in the Caribbean, but my parents who’ve been on many cruises, say this is standard, and you’re not allowed to embark until you do so)
    • you don’t get your passport back when you disembark in another country for anything from a few hours to a day or so (yes, that’s scary because if you’re taken into custody for whatever reason, you not only don’t have your passport, but you may not make it back to the ship either, thus perhaps never seeing your passport again)
    • you only receive your passport back a few hours before you’re due back in the disembarkation port, typically after the home country’s immigration people board the ship and check everyone’s credentials before disembarkation.

No doubt there are many others. I haven’t even listed any of the myriad health and safety rules and laws that manufacturers of goods/food must comply with, nor the rules about driving a car we must comply with (e.g. wear seatbelts, turn on headlights at night, obey traffic signals etc.), or anything else, nearly all of which are to PREVENT US HARMING OR KILLING OURSELVES AND OTHERS IN OUR VICINITY.

So why this frenzy about vaccination requirements? ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. If you don’t have a drivers licence, you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and if you do, you’ll get fined or jailed—you might even kill yourself or one or two other people. If you don’t have proof of vaccination or refuse to reveal your vaccination status, you aren’t allowed to enter and/or work in certain places because you’ll endanger potentially MANY others in those places. And it’s always been so, at least for much of the last century and this one.

(Note: I will delete any comment that isn’t respectful or that spouts conspiracy theories garnered from the fringe corners of the internet—my blog, my rules. You’re free to voice your opinion somewhere else.)

Update: Since I wrote this an hour or so ago, I’ve found out that a best friend of mine in the US is now under self-imposed ‘house arrest’ all because so many won’t get vaccinated (COVIDIOTs, as she calls them). After decades of kidney disease, she was the recipient of a life-saving kidney transplant and is severely immunocompromised, and will be for the rest of her life. Their decisions are affecting her quality of life, and potentially her life.

Update 8 August 2021: Spotted on a retweet today; attributed to @KenTremendous: You are not allowed to claim something is a ‘personal choice’ if it affects literally everyone else you come into contact with. A ‘personal choice’ is what movie to watch, or what color pants to wear. Doing something that endangers the lives of others is an ‘everyone choice.’

Making the roof space safe for workers

8 07 2021

Every time I see a tradesperson hoist themselves from the top of their ladder through the access hole into our home’s roof space, I’ve cringed. It all looks so awkward—and dangerous! And it’s certainly something I’d never do (and doubt I could do these days as my upper body strength isn’t good).

Because I’ve worked in industries (e.g. mining; oil and gas; OHS software) where health and safety are HUGE issues, I’ve been concerned about this safety issue for some time. In Australia, very few houses have attics, so the roof space is a dusty open area of struts and rafters, with insulation between the rafters, plumbing pipework, electrical cables, air conditioning ductwork etc. When someone hoists themselves into the roof space, they don’t know what they’ll be faced with. They don’t know the layout and how they will support themselves and their tools. They typically wear a head lamp or carry a torch as there are no lights up there (and under a state law, the power to the house must be turned off if a anyone needs to access the roof space, so lights would be useless). Getting themselves and their tools up there usually entails a couple of trips up and down the ladder and through the small access hole.

Getting down is just as bad. They have to position and balance themselves on the access hole’s framework, dangle their legs until they reach the ladder, then climb down. Again, multiple trips if tools are involved.

I discussed this with my handyman (who is 194 cm [6′ 4″]), and he said all tradies are used to this and he didn’t really see the need. We talked about a commercial attic ladder from the garage into the roof space, but there were a few logistical issues with that. My next idea was some sort of platform, and preferably a railing, so that workers had somewhere to gather themselves and their belongings, without having to balance themselves on narrow rafters and framework. He was a bit skeptical about how useful it would be, but hey, I’m the client, and he’d figure out something.

And boy, did he figure something out! He created a platform, but first he had to add supporting framework above the nearby linen cupboard space as it didn’t have any, then build the platform, and then he chamfered the supporting vertical strut so that workers would have something to hold onto as they pulled themselves up into the roof space. His skepticism disappeared and this is what he wrote in an email with the pictures he sent: ‘I know it doesn’t look much but it actually has made a huge difference in getting in and out of the roof. I can stand 90% upright where the hammer is—originally that section was a void over the linen cupboard with no framing to stand on. I chamfered the Karri upright which gives a nice hand hold in addition to the other edge of the access hole.”

I think he’s a convert! And I’ll feel more comfortable any time someone has to go into our roof space.


Foxy loxy

28 04 2021

It all started when I noticed some scat around the house and on the lawns. It wasn’t cat scat, and it didn’t really look like dog scat, though it was more similar to dog than scat (I’m NOT a scat expert, but I had a cat for 17 years, so I’m very aware of what cat scat looks like). All the neighbourhood dogs stay on their properties and rarely, if ever, come onto our property. I Googled possum scat to see if it matched but it didn’t, so next I Googled fox scat. Hmmm, similar…. maybe we had a fox?

A couple of weeks after noticing the occasional scat, I walked out first thing in the morning to get the newspaper, as I do every day, and nearly trod on a big piece of flesh and fur—it was a hind leg of a rabbit, with the flesh cleaned off the lower leg and with meat and bunny fur still attached to the upper leg. I’d only walked there the previous morning, so this was new. My suspicions of a fox started to form (for those not living in Australia, we have very few native carnivores compared to other countries, so the choice of potential predator was limited). A few days later, I found another piece of dismembered rabbit (same one?) at the edge of the front lawn.

I called the Shire to see what to do if I thought there was a fox in our semi-suburban, semi-rural area, and was told they didn’t deal with foxes, but to contact the local biosecurity group (sort of part of the state government’s agriculture department). I did, and they offered to lend me a fox trap, but suggested I try a trail camera first to see what was coming into our yard. And yes, they would lend me a trailcam for 3 weeks. Off to the nearby town to pick it up and learn how to use it, and then I played the game of check the SD card each day to see what the camera captured.

Night one was promising—a rabbit went past the trailcam’s location! I moved the camera around various locations on our 0.4 ha (1-acre) property over the next week to find the optimal position. I captured LOTS of moving vegetation and clouds and not much else. But I did capture a fox! In fact, over the 3 weeks, the trailcam ‘caught’ the fox about 6 times, at various times of the night, and always crossing our large front driveway in much the same place each time.

OK, so I now know we have a fox, what to do about it? First, I let the neighbours who have chickens know that there was a fox travelling through our property to theirs. Then I contacted the biosecurity group who offered me a fox trap. But then the issue was what to do with the fox if one was caught in the trap (and no mention of what to do with rotting bait [chicken was recommended] while waiting for the fox to be caught). The standard thing is to shoot it, and if I didn’t know anyone with a gun who was prepared to shoot it in the cage, then they would give me the names of some sporting shooters who would do so for a small fee (most people in Australia don’t have guns, so it’s not like I knew anyone). But then the issue of a gunshot in semi-suburbia would arise, and I would expect the police to come and investigate, pronto. The other issue was disposal of the body—that would be our responsibility.

In addition to all those logistical issues were the emotional ones. My head absolutely knows that foxes are introduced vermin in Australia and they do untold damage to the local wildlife, as well as pets, chickens etc., and they must go. But my heart knows that foxes are beautiful creatures, with their pretty little faces and gorgeous colouring. And I know I would be REALLY upset if I had a fox in a trap and heard its mournful cries, and then heard the gunshot that killed it.

Fortunately, after I explained all this to the biosecurity people, they came up with a plan. Normally, they deal with farmers on large plots of land, where shooting and baiting foxes is a common occurrence, but this was semi-suburbia and I have a soft spot for foxes. A different strategy was needed. A few days later the person in charge called me and said she’d used Google Maps to see where we lived and suggested that the massive green belt on the other side of the highway from us would be an ideal place to bait for foxes, and, later in the year, rabbits. She would contact the government department and private owners of that land and the nearby farms, and once all was approved, the baiting would start (they can’t bait for foxes on properties less than 25 acres, so that ruled out that option for us).

A win-win for all, except the foxes, of course!

Moving teeth

28 04 2021

So, here’s a thing I didn’t know—it seems your teeth can move as you age! I’ve noticed a gap between two of my front left teeth getting wider and wider, and finally I asked my dentist to fix it. It ended up being just treated as a standard filling under a standard consultation time, so it cost no more than any other filling I might have. And it filled the gap!

Here’s how my teeth have moved over the past 13 years:

2008 no gaps in teeth

2010 – maybe a slight gap starting to form

2018 – gap is noticeable between the left central and lateral incisors (front left teeth, as shown on the right in this picture)

2021 – gap is quite big now

2021 – all filled!


More about septic tanks and leach drains than you ever wanted to know

23 02 2021

I live in a semi-rural area. Sewerage lines are not available here and likely never will be in my lifetime. This means that we have to have a septic tank and leach drains to dispose of solid and liquid waste water from the house. We are very careful not to put anything down the waste pipes that could clog them, or could cause ‘fatbergs’ in the septic tank. When such a system is working well, the septic needs pumping out about once every 5 years or so. We moved into this house in 2010, and, as far as I know, the previous owners (who built the house some 3 to 5 years before) had never had the septic pumped. We had it pumped for the first time in June 2017 and some 4500 litres of waste material was extracted and carted away. That’s at least 7 years’ worth of waste, and likely 10 or more years. The extraction people said that we should get it pumped every 3 to 5 years. Oh, one other thing… There’s a lever inside a pipe near the septic tank that I was told by the previous owners that I have to switch over every 6 months. I didn’t know why, but I’ve been really strict about doing that on the 1st of December and June each year. I’ve since found out that it’s the diverter for the leach drains (there are two leach drains).

Fast forward to 1st December 2020… I open the cap over the pipe that houses the lever only to find that the pipe is almost full of waste water. I’d never seen that before. There’d been very little rain, so it must have come from the septic tank or the leach drains. The septic pumping people came out that day and pumped out 4000 litres of waste. The guy told me the leach drains may have collapsed, but if we got the system pumped every two years, the waste water wouldn’t get high enough in the tank to flow into the leach drains. All good. I watched him do his job, then clean out the enormous tank in the ground (he had the big opening open, so I could see there were no roots etc. in the tank and that the tank was in good condition). I like to know how things work, so I was quite fascinated by the whole process.

Fast forward to Saturday 20 February 2021, not quite three months since we had the tank pumped out. The en suite toilet started making gurgling sounds when it was flushed, and the water level would rise a little before falling below the normal level. The other toilet did the same but only for a few hours. On Monday morning I contacted the plumbers to see if it was something we needed to worry about. He said it was likely a small blockage and he’d send someone out tomorrow to run the drain snake through both toilets.

Tuesday morning (today) arrives and I get an early phone call from the plumber saying he’d be there in 15 minutes. Great! It’s going to be a hot day, so it will be good to get this all sorted nice an early and before my work starts for the day. Ha! Little was I to know… When the plumber arrives, he grabs a shovel from the back of his ute. I ask him what it’s for and he says something about waste pipes on the outside of the house (to be honest, I really didn’t take much notice because everything that happened next blew his answer out of my brain). I describe the situation to the plumber (we’re still outside at this point) and take him to where the septic tank is so that he knows where the inspection opening is to watch the toilet water flush through once he’s cleared the blockage. He opens the inspection opening lid…. and the waste level is at the top of the tank!!! It’s totally full, even though we only had it pumped less than 3 months ago and it should take 3 to 5 years to fill.

He spots the diverter pipe and opens it—gross!!!! Liquid waste comes gushing out. He’s able to screw the cap back on, then cleans himself up and calls his boss to see what the next steps are. I also talk to his boss, and a plan of action is formed. The boss will call the septic pump people to come and drain the tank and the leach drains, but while we’re waiting for that, we need to FIND the leach drains. Did I mention this is a VERY lush garden bed (probably because the plants have been sucking up nutrients and liquid from the leach drains for years…)? The plumber starts cutting back bushes and putting down a probe to see if he can find the drains. I know the position of the drains is marked on the house plans, so make a photocopy of that for him. But they are nowhere to be found. He continues digging around the diverter pipe opening area and eventually finds the two pipes that go to the drains—they are certainly not where the plans indicate! We continue cutting back vegetation—this is a big job so I decided to help him, especially as we need to find the drains and their inspection openings before the septic pump people arrive. Did I mention that even at 8am it’s bloody hot?

Within 30 minutes or so of the phone call back to the plumbing office, the septic tank guys turn up. They pump the septic tank (another 4500 litres!!) and give me more information about the purpose of the leach drains and how pumping just the tank and not the drains as well will give us about two weeks reprieve before the tank would need to be pumped again. Why two weeks? Because if the leach drains aren’t functioning correctly, the waste has nowhere to go and so remains in the tank, filling it very quickly. The tank acts as a filter, but the leach drains are the engine. If the engine fails, the filter can only work for a short period of time afterwards. The bottom line is that the leach drains still need to be pumped out, but also we need to find the cause of them not working. The high probability is that the drains have collapsed or that roots have totally taken over (did I mention this part of the garden is LUSH?), or a combination of both. So why didn’t the leach drains dry out as the previous septic people said they should? Well, perhaps they did, but we had some 50 mm of rain about two weeks ago, and that wouldn’t have helped. If they’d been close to capacity, that rain just would’ve added more moisture to the soil and they couldn’t drain the waste into waterlogged soil.

The septic guys and the plumber had left by about 9:15am. The intention was to get an excavator out to the property in a few hours to dig up the garden to find the leach drains. But then the plumbing company suggested that that may not be necessary. The plumber had sent them photos of the pipe arrangement and the garden bed area, and around noon, the plumbing boss came out to check it out and give me a verbal quote and discuss a plan of action. Because we have plenty of room in that garden bed, he suggested that instead of ripping out the whole garden, they rip enough to find the inspection openings for the drains, pump them out, then cap those drains, which have very likely collapsed and need replacing, then leave them in place. Instead of ripping out the drains (and having to cart away all that material, including possible jack hammering to break them apart if they are concrete) and filling the space with replacement drains, he suggested pumping them out and capping them, then using part of the garden bed that doesn’t have as much vegetation on it and is lower (therefore better gravity feed) for the new leach drains.

I’ve decided to go with that as it seems a very sensible solution and preserves a lot of the garden. Not that I’m precious about my garden or particular plants, but it would be nice not to have to look out on a wasteland for a number of years! Even better, after the plumbing company sent the quote (I’d already said to start making arrangements), they said they’d had a cancellation so could do this work on Thursday!

I’ll update this blog post as required. Also, as a side note, the toilets now flush properly! No drain snake needed—just the septic pumped. The plumber didn’t even set foot inside the house, though his timetable for the day was likely very screwed up with all the time he spent cutting back the garden looking for pipes and leach drains.

Update Thursday 25 February 2021

The plumbers came this morning to clear the vegetation and install the new leach drains. I didn’t have to have the other drains found and pumped because they could be capped and left to dry out on their own over time. New pipework from the septic would be used for the two new drains. With a digger and 3 people, it was all done and cleaned up within 4 hours! In addition to the cost (several thousand dollars), I also had the cost of a 5 cubic metre general waste skip bin ($260 for 6 days), but no extra cost for pumping out the old leach drains. The plants can suck on those for a few more months.


Looking north-west from the house to the back driveway, across the top of the partially exposed septic tank and the garden area the plumber and I cleared on Tuesday

Looking back towards the house. Some vegetation already removed on Tuesday and piled up ready for disposal

Starting to dig the first trench; note the amount of vegetation already in the skip bin

Putting together the modules for the leach drain—all that playing with Lego ended up being useful!

Skip bin before being tamped down and only about 30 mins into the operation

Digging the first trench for the 7.5 m long leach drain

Despite what it looks like, the plumber is fiddling with pipe fittings some distance from the digger. Note the roots in the trench—the plumbers suspect root ingress was the reason for the failure of the old drains

The first leach drain, covered in geotextile fabric, is in place and the trench is ready to be filled

The first trench is now filled (note the white diverter pipework on the far right) and the second trench is being dug

The second drain comprises 12 modules side by side, so isn’t as long but is double the width of the other—interlocking modules allow a leach drain to be reshaped to fit the available space

Ready to start backfilling the second trench

All done and smoothed out. The white cap thing protects the diverter that sends flow to one drain or the other (previously I’d switched this over every 6 months to allow one leach drain to dry out while the other took over)

The plumbing company I use prides itself on cleaning up afterwards, and they certainly did that

Not much space left in the skip bin