Billy-Boy

DSC01363A little over a hear ago, a new member joined our family, in the form of a goofy white dog, of dubious parentage, who soon came to be known as Billy-Boy.

For some time, I had been thinking about getting another dog as a companion for my tiny Morky, Gypsy. When my partner was here the canine population swelled to three but when he and his dogs returned to Melbourne, Gypsy would sink into a deep depression, moping around the house or sitting at the gate, like Greyfriar’s Bobby, staring mournfully down the track where their car had disappeared.

Once I had made the decision I was keen to rush out and find a cute puppy to fit the bill. The more I thought about it the more I wanted one and spent endless hours on the internet looking at breeds of small dogs that might make a good companion for Gypsy. Aside from the fact I couldn’t believe how much a puppy from a breeder was going to cost, the more I started to think my responsibility as a dog lover was to get a rescue dog.

And so my search began.  I scanned all the websites, reading heartbreaking stories of abuse; filled out numerous lengthy questionnaires and made several adoption applications, each time missing out on my chosen pooch.

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The decision to take on a rescue dog is a fraught with questions.  Who knows what baggage they will bring? Deep down, like most people, I sort of wanted a puppy who I could help shape from the start and would grow into a member of our already sizable pack. Perhaps this wasn’t the right time?  When that time came, the dog would find me.

But still I kept looking and applying to no avail. Then, late one night I came across twelve month old ‘Benji’. A small maltese terrier, located somewhere in Central Victoria, the description said. It was hard to tell much from the photo but there was something about his sad eyes that seemed to stare deeply into my psyche. Something felt very right about him. This would be my last application, I told myself, as I pressed the send button.

Two days later I received a phone call from his foster carer saying that she had received my application and thought that I could offer him the kind of home that he needed. In my excitement, I tried to think of all the questions that I should ask. I found out that he had been seized by the RSPCA from a property where he had been locked in a shed and that he had been severely abused and was terrified of men and just about everything else but loved the company of other animals.  He would need a lot of patience and training but she felt that the home I had described in my application would be a perfect environment for him.  That was enough for me and I agreed to take him for a trial.

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The day came to pick him up.  We had agreed to meet half way, in St Arnaud at the Botanical Gardens. We were up early but the heat to come was obvious as we piled the three dogs into the car for the hour and a half drive north.

I felt my jaw drop as I caught my first glimpse of him through the border of red hot pokers, that all municipal gardeners seem to favour.  I had known that he was going to be a bit bigger than I had planned but he was like an old flokati hearth rug!  He sure as hell wasn’t a small maltese terrier. The only thing he had in common with a maltese was that he was white and a dog!  A dog that had been put together by a committee;  a huge head, long body and stumpy legs.

We all bundled out of the car, after all it was as important for our dogs to meet him as it was us. My partner and the dogs hung back as I quietly sidled over to where he and his carer were waiting in the shade of an old elm tree. He immediately shied away and tentatively peered out from behind his carer’s legs, eventually allowing me to get close enough to hold out my hand for a sniff.  Although he was incredibly timid he was quite interested in our dogs who were now sitting under the tree with my partner and slowly edged closer to them, wagging his tail in greeting.

We all sat there, in the shade, finding out more about his past as he gained confidence, allowing pats and playing with the dogs. I looked across to my partner and we both knew that we would be taking him home with us.DSC01350

Papers were signed and fees paid.  We all headed towards the car, not knowing how the trip back would be.  Would we all fit in the car?  Would he even get in the car?  My partner headed over to open the door and make some space. Within seconds of the door opening, “Benj” was in and settled himself in between the front seats!

He never looked back…there was nothing to leave behind. Only a life ahead and it had to be better than the one he was leaving. He sat there between us, looking at the road ahead all the way home and he hasn’t looked back since.

DSC01386A new life and a new name. Pretty quickly we settled on Billy-Boy, as the only words that he responded to were good boy and Boy seemed a little hard.

The next few weeks were filled with new experiences for Billy.  Routines to learn, freedom to run around and explore, dogs to play with, couches and beds to sleep on and house training, something Billy had no idea about!

The carpet took a beating those first few months but what joy Billy brought, watching him slowly relax and settle into his new pack. It’s still impossible to look at him without smiling.

He is like a great, big, goofy cartoon character. He is a very odd shape and everything about him is slightly crooked. His fur grows in all directions and sticks up like a cocky’s crest on his head. His long eyelashes, like deadmen’s fingers. He walks with a Mae West swagger. He doesn’t quite get games like fetch but creates his own ball games. He’s not sure what to do with toys but takes them out of the basket and places them in lines across the floor.  He misses the bed when he enthusiastically tries to jump on to get his collar put on and howls like a hound dog in excitement when we leave for our afternoon walk. In short, he is a dag and he loves life.

He is still frightened of men and takes several meetings to trust new people but once he has decided that you are part of his pack, he will engulf you with love and adoration.

How anyone could have abused and hurt such a gentle and affectionate creature is beyond belief.

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Winter

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You could be forgiven for thinking that I have gone into hibernation and in many ways I suppose that I have. It has been a long, cold winter, one of the coldest and driest for many years but finally the signs that spring is here are slowly appearing.

The nights have been long and the days all too short and with them came the seasonal colour palette change. Some mornings when I drew back the curtains I looked out on the soft greys and sage greens, tinged with blues and mauves. On the iciest and coldest mornings I awoke to a vibrant blue sky, the sun sparkling on a thick carpeting of frost, the trees dripping with silver droplets glistening on the leaves. The wattles bursting with buds of glorious yellow.

The once cracked, parched earth is now a vibrant green belying the harsh summer ahead. Each day I seek out the signs that spring is at last here; crocuses and daffodils making their way to the light through the blanket of oxalis and miners’ lettuce and most exciting of all, the first spear of asparagus breaking through the earth. Continue reading

Cumquats

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I love summer and winter and the extremes that come with each but there is something about the softness of autumn, the gentle days, the crisp, cool nights.  Much as I miss the long summer days and warm evenings there is something incredibly comforting in the shortening days. The landscape here seems to have completely changed in a few short weeks.  Gone is parched ochre ground shimmering under delphinium blue skies, criss-crossed with the ebony shadows of the tall, stringy gums, replaced with a softer colour palette.

Here in my garden in Central Victoria there are few deciduous trees so the colours of autumn don’t reflect those traditionally associated with the season. There are no bursts of crimson and magenta, only the fading yellow leaves of the fruit trees floating in the air and fluttering quietly to the ground.  There is a soft green haze, unimaginable in the height of summer, appearing through the straw coloured  stubble that covers the ground in between the garden beds and the stands of gums, so dramatic against a summer sky are now more mellow in the soft autumn light, their trunks mottled with soft pink, grey and lilac; their leaves a hazy, sage green.

There is, however, one flash of colour in the garden, amongst the debris of the decaying tomato and pumpkin vines, hanging like huge cobwebs on the trellis. The glossy leafed cumquat, weigh down by orange orbs glistening, with dew in the hazy, morning light; the air filled with wisps of smoke from chimneys dotted through the bush. My cumquat tree, unlike the other citrus, seems to thrive here and doesn’t mind the frosts in winter and the long dry summers. Continue reading

Creating a History

IMG_1843I have to admit to being a bit of a ‘princess’ lately.  I have the most wonderful kitchen that works like a dream and still I’m not satisfied, something is missing.  History.  For now it is still the vision of the designers and builders, it doesn’t hold the scars and stories of a life lived, of my life.

I have always lived in old houses, oozing with their own history, stories and loved objects and I am still struggling to relate to this fabulous space in an intimate way.  Pre-loved is the way I have chosen to create my homes, partly due to budgetary restraints but mostly because I love the history and stories behind each object.

I have always preferred a cracked porcelain tea cup to the latest designer mug as I sit anticipating the day ahead, pondering on the story of my chosen vessel for my morning brew; its history, in most cases, unknown.

I am a dreamer and a story-teller, constantly inventing fanciful stories to amuse myself, often to the annoyance of my partner.  Who held this cup in their hand before me; where did they live; did they fulfill their dreams?  I may be a dreamer, but it beats the depressing morning news.

So, much as I love my new space, it doesn’t yet hold any history, it has no stories to tell embedded in its walls, only the anticipation of a future. Continue reading

Autumn Harvest

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It has been a crazy month or so, the kitchen is finally finished, the Castlemaine State Festival has been celebrated and the last of the summer veggie crop is crying out to be put to use.  I have spent many hours unpacking boxes and moving into my fabulous new space.  A much more arduous task than I had ever imagined.  It is unbelievable just how filthy things in storage can get.  Admittedly they had been stored in my as yet unused chook shed and, unfortunately, many of the boxes had become cosy homes to a variety of spiders and rodents.

The garden is in desperate need of attention having received very little over summer as I focused on the new kitchen. I did, however, manage to have a reasonable crop of tomatoes although I wasn’t altogether happy with some of my variety choices.  As always the zucchinis thrived regardless of my lack of attention. I also had a marvellous crop of aubergines, something that I could never manage to successfully grow in my gardens in Melbourne.IMG_1322

So now the autumn harvest is upon us and it’s a desperate race to make use of all that remains in the veggie patch before the first frost strikes.  My freezer is yet to arrive from Melbourne so I will have to rely on other preserving measures such as bottling and pickling and jams. Continue reading

The Builders Are Back

After the builders’ herculean efforts to get the kitchen in basic working order for Christmas, they left for a well earned summer break.  For me, it meant a fortnight of constant access to my kitchen, albeit an incomplete one.

Once the frantic and adrenalin fueled festivities were over I still had a couple of weeks to enjoy my new space.  My partner returned to Melbourne and I was left to contemplate the adventure so far in solitude.IMG_0496

The light in the kitchen was glorious. The early morning sun filtered through the swaying eucalypts standing tall against a delphinium blue sky, dappling the ground with dancing shadows, as I sipped my first coffee of the day. The soft light belying the scorching heat that within a few hours would turn the veggie patch to dust, all moisture seemingly sucked from it. The eggplants and tomatoes listlessly swaying in the hot northerly wind; the cucumbers and squash collapsed in melting heaps.

I was almost overwhelmed by the sudden realisation that somehow, after all this time, I had managed to create the most beautiful space, with the help of an amazing group of craftsmen and it was only part way there. Continue reading

Magpie Madness

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Something has been missing in the garden the last couple of years and I don’t just mean rain!  My resident magpies failed to produce offspring. Despite much nest making and  one clutch of eggs hatching, they failed to survive the wild spring weather.

This year Ladybird and her beau Winston made at least two attempts, destroying my coir hanging baskets and stealing the clippings from the dogs’ haircuts, along with insulation from the building site, to furnish their nests.  But no sightings of any chicks.  It made me feel quite sad that their hard work had come to no avail, yet again.

I gave up hope as summer approached, until one morning I awoke, not only to the familiar dawn carolling of Ladybird and Winston but the plaintiff cry of a baby magpie.  There under a low hanging grevillea tottered two balls of fluff, their downy feathers ruffled by the warm breeze, their gaping mouths perched atop long scrawny necks.

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As I quietly walked outside to get a closer look, Ladybird swooped down, landing by the tin of cashew nuts that she covets as a morning treat.  Looking at me with head on one side and  imploring eyes, her usually sleek feathers in disarray and the exhausted look of a new mother, I weakened and opened the tin for her. Continue reading

A Very Happy New Year

IMG_0436What a month it has been!

The weather has gone from pleasantly warm to the searing heat so much a part of summers in Central Victoria.  The once green landscape, now just crisp stubble and dust and the threat of bush fires looms with each glorious sunrise; the fire siren competing with the birds’ raucous morning chorus, ringing out through the bush. Continue reading

Progress

It has been a massive couple of weeks, culminating in The Mount Alexander Sustainability Group Sustainable House Tour on Sunday.

The kitchen has really started to take shape over the past couple of weeks and is now a space that I can start imagining myself working in.  It has been plaster and painted, the ceiling put in and finally the long awaited installation of the trusses.

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Gypsy checking the plasterer’s handy work

Continue reading