When the wind gets above 45km/h every gap and crack in this old house begins to whistle. The walls are two feet thick, made of rammed earth, but many of the windows are single-glazed and rattle…a lot. Even the ones that are double-glazed seem to have gaps for cold drafts.
The oil-burning central heating we use is not as old as the house. It dates from 1980 when my Dad decided that he didn’t want to come home after a long day in the Parliament to a freezing house. It has only been used part time for that 34 years, and our electricity bills are excruciating, so we haven’t replaced it yet. In the meantime it’s getting more and more finicky. If a single internal door or vent in the house is closed, it overheats and cuts out. That means a trip down among the spiders under the verandah to press the red button, or, if it’s really bad, the OTHER red button. Unfortunately, at the moment neither button is working and I’m waiting for Touie Smith to come and look at a probable blockage in the burner.
Just another mechanical thing I never really wanted to know about.
In the meantime I’m burning wood at a great rate. We have a wood firebox which is somewhat undersized for this house. It should burn all night and keep the house warm. Instead, it keeps one room warm and the rest just a little less chilly than they should have been. With the oil system on low, it works well. Alone, not so well.
Today I’ve lit the big open fire at the far end of the house as well, just to take that chill off that part of the house.
Our wood comes from the paddocks around the farm. Our current pile is mostly the remnants of some branches from a river red gum (eucalypt)that is probably three hundred years old. The rings are so tiny it would be difficult to count, plus the inner parts are eaten by termites. At other times we use yellow box (eucalypt) which is also a fantastically effective hardwood. Stringybark, pruned branches from the fruit trees and peppermint gum we use in smaller amounts. I’m told casuarinas from along the riverbank are very effective to burn also, but we’ve always avoided them as too quick to burn. They almost disappeared from this neighbourhood a century ago because they burn so hot and were very useful in kilns firing bricks and pottery. Stringybark also vanished from many of the accessible places, because it was so good for getting a wood fire going, back when everyone used them.
We don’t like to take too much timber out of our heavily cleared paddocks any more. Dad used to burn any standing timber or logs to stop rabbits making burrows under them, until Mum stopped him, pleading the cause of nesting birds and other animals. Now rabbits are much less of an issue, since the calici virus has helped bring their numbers down to a controllable level. So the dead trees and logs are allowed to lie around. In the really inaccessible places they look as if someone has thrown down a box of giant matchsticks. No one’s ever going to take those ones for firewood.
It’s good to see the rain, though. We accidentally sprayed some metsulfon instead of glyphosate in the first few spots we prepared for planting trees next weekend. I believe that the rule is 25 days or 25mm of rain to dilute it enough to make it safe to plant. We’re up to 19mm of rain so far. To be safe we’ll still ignore that first half dozen spots. If we get another bleak day like this it should be enough for the rest.
I’m still glad I’ve got a fireplace and don’t have to huddle in the rain like the sheep, though.