About janus

British-born, schooled in Holland and Wales, I worked my journalism cadetship in the Home Counties, escaped to London, then spent a couple of years travelling before settling in Melbourne, where I have written and edited for a range of publications, including Pacific Magazines [Your Garden, Home Beautiful, New Idea] and Fairfax Community Newspapers. Now a mother of two wonderful teenagers, I write about gardening, sustainability and people, when I can drag myself away from the vegie patch and my saxophone.
Website: http://janeswrite.com
janus has written 55 articles so far, you can find them below.


Wine, wildflowers and wallabies

By Jane Canaway

First published in Your Garden, Autumn 2012

Sue and Sean Delaney tasting wine at Sinclair's Gully

It was a year or two after bringing in professionals to manage their vineyard that Sean and Sue Delaney noticed all the insect and aquatic life around their dam had disappeared.

“We realized all the herbicides, pesticides and fungicides the contractors were using was running off to the holding dam and killing everything off,” Sean explains.

“We thought ‘this is ridiculous’ – we’re living at the bottom of hill with this run-off heading to our house with young children and we could see the damage water-soluble sprays were doing; biodynamics was a way to find alternative method to break our reliance on chemicals.”

At this stage you may be thinking: ‘biodynamics – yes, heard of that – Rudolf Steiner’s take on organic farming, isn’t it?’ and, yes, that’s part of the story.

But biodynamics also requires planting, cultivating and harvesting according to the lunar calendar, as well as more spiritual aspects that critics have compared to alchemy and magic – such as creating compost improver from ‘Oak bark fermented in the skull of a domestic animal’, fermenting dandelions in a cow’s stomach for another preparation, stirring spray solutions in alternative directions for an hour to energise the mix, and burying a cow’s horn to improve the soil’s condition.

Such unorthodox methods might raise eyebrows in a Nimbin commune, so what was the appeal for city professionals with accounting and engineering backgrounds?

From skeptic to accept-nik

“As an engineer I was very skeptical,” agrees Sean. “But I thought ‘if it works I’ll try it and if it doesn’t I won’t’. And, you know, a lot of it works.”

Sean quotes pruning as an example.

“When you’re pruning, you’re cutting 70-80% of the plant away, creating large wounds and increasing the chance of disease; in biodynamic culture you wait until the sap is moving up into the plant so when you cut the plant the wound will be wet – if you cut at a different part of the cycle when the sap is going down, you could pull disease into plant.

“So I tried it and cut the plant when the lunar calendar says it’s good to prune and [the wound] was dripping like a tap. I tried again four or five days later and it was dry. I did it a few times with different plants and it was always the same.

“As engineer I needed to know how things work but as I’ve got older I’ve had to accept that I don’t have to understand it if it works. I don’t believe in all that life force stuff but I think there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about soil and growth so it will probably be explained one day.”

Because biodynamic methods aim to improve the soil health, and soil plays such a key role in determining a wine’s taste, biodynamic principals are being adopted by a growing number of wine makers who believe it improves their end product.

“I can’t put my heart on my hand and say it’s a better, healthier product but the methodology of making them is healthier,” Sean says. “Others who have gone down this path do it because they say it expresses the terroir and sense of place better in their wine; I can’t guarantee that – it may well but we do it because we live at the bottom of hill below a vineyard.”

Filling a gap in the forest

The Delaneys’ winery is the Adelaide Hills’ only cellar door in the area to be “climate action innovator and advanced eco-certified” and their business model has won a slew of tourism and environmental awards.

Sean and Sue are also happy with the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay their vines are producing and their sparkling wine has been ranked an impressive 93 in the prestigious James Halliday rankings. However farming was not even on the radar when they bought their 10.5-hectare patch of bush in 1997.

“We had no horticultural or agriculture background at all, but we had been looking for a project we could work on together and we fell in love with the property,” Sean says.

Wildflower walks through the Candlebark Woodlands are nearly as popular as the Sinclair's Gully wines

The land is home to a miraculously well-preserved stand of Candlebark woodland – an endangered ecosystem that has the highest conservation rating in the Mt Lofty Ranges.

“But the trees had been cleared from the top 5 acres – it was too big to revegetate and in ’96-’97 there were good tax incentives for primary production. Soil samples suggested it would be a good site for cool-climate grapes or olives – well, olives were a weed species that we were pulling out on the other side of hill, so we looked at grapes.

“If the land hadn’t been cleared we wouldn’t have had a vineyard, so it is just through serendipity that the property has been able to provide us with an income.”

Seedbank is biggest asset – and biggest threat

Aware of their land’s value in terms of habitat and biodiversity, the Delaneys have put huge amounts of time, money and passion into restoring its natural balance.

“Only 2% of remnant vegetation remains intact in South Australia,” Sean explains. “A lot of Candlebark woodland has been grazed, so you get the beautiful white trees and no understorey; our property has about 150 plant species and supports 66 birds,” he says.

However the Delaneys’ block was still under threat from weeds.

“Our biggest asset is the native seed still in the soil – it can stay viable for many decades – but our biggest liability is the weed seed that is also in the soil,” Sean says.

Their solution was to use “strip burning” techniques; burning off to sterilize the soil and create light and space to encourage seeds to germinate.

“The main weed species like broom and gorse emerge first but we can use a selective herbicide to knock that out and then the second flush is native seed.”

Some 600,000 plants have also been planted on the property and, through local Landcare group, Sue has recently won a grant to establish a biolink between Morialta to Coralinga parks, covering 260 hectares on 19 adjoining properties – an essential feature in a landscape where fragmentation is one of the greatest risks to remnant vegetation.

To complete the sustainable picture, the business has a policy of zero waste policy (“you buy differently and do a hell of a lot of washing up,” says Sean), all water is harvested and reused on the property and, to attract beneficial insects and increase biodiversity, native grasses are being replanted between the vines.

Good karma

As if repaying them, nature is rewarding their efforts.

Guided wildflower walks, live music events and the kids’ discovery trail through the bush are nearly as popular as wine tastings and South Australia’s Natural Resources Management Board uses the property as a showcase.

Interestingly, since adopting biodynamic principles, the vines’ yield has actually dropped by a third, but the quality has improved, and they save money on sprays. Plus the frogs have returned to the dam.

To help protect the local population of Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, community baiting has removed at least 2,300 foxes over 13 years.

“We also have a family of Yellow Footed Antechinus living under the floor,” Sean adds.

The couple is constantly amazed by the power of the Australian bush to heal itself.

“Near here there’s a place that burnt down in 1980 and sat vacant for many years,” Sean tells. “A few years ago developers finally removed the concrete and a huge amount of native orchids and lilies came up; they had been buried for 37 years and yet the seed was still viable,” he marvels.

“Living here, you can’t help but be affected by the beauty of the place.

“We have mob of Tamar Wallabies that always give birth on same night – summer solstice – and two major insect hatchings on full moon twice a year; when you are living in the city, focused on TV, you don’t notice things like that.”

http://www.sinclairsgully.com/

Kate’s place

By Jane Canaway

First published Your Garden magazine, Summer 2012

Seasonal change and contrasting texture is provided by Sedum 'Autumn Joy' in the foreground with purple Salvia leucantha and white-flowering spikes of Yucca filamentosa behind.

If sharing adds to a garden’s beauty, then Kate Herd’s chunk of escarpment overlooking the Yarra River is doubly lovely.

Kate’s generosity with her garden is almost as remarkable as the garden itself.  Not only is it open regularly through Australia’s Open Garden Scheme, but locals use the tennis courts for a nominal fee (which hasn’t changed for 15 years) and Kate has built an amphitheatre to host local events and productions.

“We host the Alphington Christmas carols every year and an annual event called Music from the Wetlands festival in autumn,” Kate says.  “We got 1000 people last time – you get a real sense of being down in the wetlands by the river there.”

Enjoying the view over two-and-a-half hectares [six-and-a-bit acres] from her balcony, Kate can see which neighbours are out walking their dogs along the riverside path that fringes her garden.

“I have a belief that people should be able to access to the river in these urban areas – there is an element of trust involved but I’ve never had problems.”

However she does draw the line at young hoons who find she’s left a side gate open and decide to test out their off-road skills on the river flats.

“I just go down and yell at them and remember to shut the gates.

“It’s never scary.”

It’s brave talk for any young woman, but Kate could be forgiven for feeling more vulnerable than most – she’s been confined to a wheelchair since a diving accident when she was 16. But feeling vulnerable isn’t in Kate’s repertoire; she’s far too busy finding new outlets for her creativity and love of gardening.

From clubhouse to home

When Kate’s mother first bought the property in 1994, the 1890-built house had spent 14 years as a ‘clubhouse’ for a group of university mates who repaired the dilapidated buildings, built the tennis courts and dug the dam but kept the rest of the garden as lawns or car park.

“The house was all open plan with a huge mahogany bar and toilets out the side, so we spent a year renovating it,” Kate recalls.

“I think the topsoil from the river flats was actually removed – it’s solid clay in parts – so we did extensive earthworks.

“Then [landscaper] Simon Rigg built the stone walls for the terraced garden and I planted it out with two gardening friends, Annie James and Sue Smart.”

Now her mother lives mostly in NSW and Kate is caretaker at View Street, which she shares with two friends, a dog and two cats.

Tamarillos add colour - and are yummy.

A fan of productive gardens, Kate has planted out a kitchen garden close to the house with a Navel orange, Meyer lemon, Tahitian lime, Kaffir lime and tamarillo, plus herbs, salad plants, rhubarb and a muscatel grapevine.

From here a bluestone stairway cuts through the terraced levels, while a wide path of granitic sand – carefully cambered to reduce erosion – snakes along each level to the river valley below.

Designed for access

Kate’s garden is designed to be wheelchair accessible, but where her chair won’t go, she gets out and crawls.

“I’ve ‘bummed’ my way around many gardens in Australia and Europe,” she says.

She uses the same method for planting and weeding.

“Steps are not an issue. Although I don’t like ‘bumming’ around the garden in the summer because I feel I can’t move quickly enough if I come across a snake.”

A garden designer herself, Kate likes to test-drive plants at home before recommending them to others, but the garden is also influenced by her partner, fellow garden designer Phil Stray, and plantswoman Jane Dennithorne, who works with Kate two days a week and brings a love of historic plants, honed from more than a decade as head gardener at Jeanne Pratt’s mansion, Raheen.

The resultant range of plants is eclectic, exciting and skillfully arranged to offer interest in every season.

The borders tumble down the escarpment like a waterfall, spilling over stone retaining walls and splashing onto the paths, creating a flood of colour, foliage and texture, and slowing down only where the flow is broken by a sculpture here, a folly there, or to swirl around a calm, circular ‘pond’ of open space that serves as an alfresco coffee or lunch spot, mid-way down.

Old, new and originals

Plantings include Old-World favourites, Australian beauties and newly discovered exotics, such as the intriguing Mountain Cabbage Tree (Cussonia paniculata).

While she is a huge fan of native plants and has done a lot of revegetation work on the river flats, she’s not a ‘purist’.

Borders tumble down the escarpment to the billabong and wetlands in the valley below.

“I’ve been through this love affair of exotics and perennials and, as an artist, I think I love colour first and of course form matters, but I think that my current passion for Australian plants is about the texture that you get from many of these mostly evergreen plants and the rewards of growing things that are so suitable for your garden.

“It’s not just Australian plants I’m passionate about – it’s plants that come from a similar climate to Melbourne’s, that aren’t weedy, that aren’t going to be a threat to our bushland, that provide form and colour and look good with the natives too, because I like to mix natives with exotics.

“I also love evergreen plants; you get the texture and colour and form that is there all year round – you don’t get that bare, nude look.”

Salvias and ornamental grasses feature strongly, as do succulents, hardy native shrubs, perennials and old-fashioned favourites, such as Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, Melianthus major, roses and dahlias.

“I’m loving the Beschornerias – the Mexican lily – at the moment,” she says, rattling off the Latin names with ease. “Especially [B.] tonelli and [B.] yuccoides, the grey-leafed one.

“Australian correas are also wonderful, and I’m pulling out weedy Euphorbia wulfenii and replacing with sterile ones, such as Euphorbia x martini.”

Planning ahead

For the future, she wants to make the garden as sustainable as possible and hopes to incorporate some of the knowledge gained from studying a unit on sustainable farming and horticulture at TAFE last year: “I did a project on how to stop using roundup to maintain my reveg. areas  - more mulch and more plants is what I came up with; you pay more for labour and mulch and plants are $1 a tube, but I’m happier to do that.”

Her next garden project is to create an eight-bed vegie patch on the river flats that she will share with neighbours.

“I’ve got three neighbours going in with me so it will feed four households and I don’t have to do all the labour myself,” she explains, although after interviewing water-conscious TV gardener Josh Byrne, she is considering installing a new water tank.

“When you don’t get rain, you may need anywhere from 5-8 litres per square metre. For a 30 square-metre vegie garden that’s at least 150L a day, which is like having another person in the household.”

 

Kate and Inka

A gardening life

Kate’s first foray into gardening was as a teenager when her parents were “doing the hippy thing in late ’70s” in a controlled-living zone where cats and dogs were banned and the kids helped out at weeding working bees every month.

She has strong memories of her grandparents’ home in Ascot Vale where a “fake clam shell pond and white pebbles” were offset by magnificent, espaliered pear and apple trees, set against an asbestos garage.

“My first garden at about 16 was sort of permaculture-styled; I loved plants and I liked growing things but it wasn’t something I thought I’d do professionally.”

Her accident put an end to her finishing school but didn’t stop her learning.

“I spent six months in hospital and when I came out I didn’t know what I was going to do.” She settled on a plant identification course at Burnley – by correspondence – then took an Arts degree, finding work as a graphic artist.

“I’ve been working for myself since I was 16 and a half, which means I’m basically unemployable by anyone’s standards!,” she jokes.

“It’s nice I can now combine my graphic skills and love of gardening in designing gardens for other people.

“Plants are wonderful, and making people happy when you transform a bare mud pile into a garden is such a delight – meeting all those requirements people might have for function but making things beautiful as well.”

Her other talent is her interest in people, and this has found an outlet in her latest project – a coffee-table book on productive gardens, for which she interviewed 19 different gardeners across Australia, seeing what they grew and why.

“I really enjoyed those gardens that were so different to my own with different conditions and climates,” she reflects.

* Kate’s book, Kitchen Gardens of Australia, is published [2011] by Penguin.

Shona Nunan's bronze statue 'The Journey' is a central feature on the lawn below the house.

Garden Facts

Size: 6 acres/ 2.4 hectares

Aspect: South-facing on escarpment of Yarra River in inner-city Melbourne

Age: House dates to 1890; property run as a ‘clubhouse’ from 1980-94, when current owner bought and renovated.

Watering: Spray irrigation from dam for ornamental garden;

Dripline from 23,000L polytank for veggies;

Rain only for revegetation areas.

Compost: Garden produces about 25 m3 of green waste a year, which makes 6m3 of compost after being processed via a tractor-driven flail mulcher.

Mulch: Pea straw and compost on ornamental garden; 12mm recycled hardwood chips (fence palings) on reveg and dry garden.

Lawn:  Kikuyu.

 

Hungry to help

Royal Auto magazine, September 2011

Hungry to help

FareShare  CEO
september 2011

When battlers are going hungry and big suppliers are dumping surplus food, something is wrong. Meet a man with an appetite for redressing the imbalance.

 

He shrugs his shoulders and tries to be philosophical, but FareShare CEO Marcus Godinho looks personally affronted as he relates how one food producer hires guards to escort trucks taking surplus food to the tip rather than tarnish its brand by giving it away.

Such waste seems criminal after witnessing FareShare’s kitchen full of volunteers, transforming boxes of donated food into hundreds of healthy meals, packed and frozen for distribution to homeless and hungry Victorians.

Last year 3000 volunteers – organised by a handful of paid staff – “rescued” 400 tonnes of food from landfill and created 450,000 meals, supplying 130 charities.  When they can afford a bigger kitchen, Marcus believes there’s enough demand for FareShare to double that.  “We’re aiming for a million meals a year.”

Up to 370,000 Victorians run out of food each year, and a survey of agencies feeding them reveals demand for at least 50% more meals, despite FareShare recently increasing its output to 10,000 meals a week.

“There’s far more food out there that’s surplus and good quality than there is need for food in the community from people struggling to make ends meet,” Marcus says. “Umpteen times more.” Young, motivated and buzzing with energy, he explains that the idea of saving food from landfill was what drew him to volunteering for the charity. At the time he was head of Environment Victoria and was focusing on climate change, water and waste.

“I knew of the resources involved with producing food and I thought it was a clever idea – when I learned people are going hungry in our society in the 21st century, it was a real shock.

“Learning about food security has opened my eyes but it’s the people and business involvement that I find so heartening, especially the small businesses. That spirit of generosity in our society is so strong. That’s something I get so excited about.”

Since his first shift as a kitchen hand in 2004, Marcus and the enterprise have come a long way.

FareShare was formed in 2001 from a merger between One Umbrella, which started cooking meals in RACV City Club’s kitchen, and Melbourne City Harvest.  RACV was one of the first organisations to see its potential and provided seed funding. FareShare bought its first van in 2002, moved into its own kitchen in 2008 and now run three shifts of volunteers a day.

After a stint on the board, Marcus became its first paid CEO in 2007, taking his life even further away from its early course as a commerce graduate working for Mobil and NAB.

At FareShare, Marcus’s role is to develop partnerships and raise money. Under his guidance both have flourished: Woolworths, Aldi and Thomas Dux supermarkets supply 1500kg of meat, fruit and vegetables a day, Linfox donated a truck (FareShare now has six), philanthropic groups have jumped on board and dozens of companies provide in-kind or material support.

“We help some companies meet their zero waste goals, but others like to join because they know staff can get involved.”

Volunteers also have fun, which is why there’s a four-month waiting list for the daily corporate shifts.

“How community-minded would you think a group of 40-something blokes who did commerce degrees are?  They are now working in high-flying careers and busy with young families but they do a nightshift every three months then go for a meal afterwards – and they’re one of our most productive shifts because they’re always so keen to get through their list of food to prepare and get down to the pub,” he says with a laugh.

Then there’s the singles nights that FareShare has run at Etihad stadium for the past two years. Both events have attracted 200 volunteers and produced 10,000 meals per shift.

While Marcus has increased FareShare’s efficiency by quantifying their supplies and demand, he knows he walks a fine line between saving waste and losing donations.

“Since we started reporting to companies how much we collect from them, (one donor’s) donations dropped by a third.”

Still he remains positive: “I’m curious to explore what we do with surplus quality food when we’re getting enough food to all the charities across Victoria.”

Marcus applies an interesting mix of business brain and social conscience to his role.  He targets large suppliers with the potential to provide premium returns, but he recently turned down funding from one foundation because he thought another charity was better suited to take advantage of the offer.

“You can’t be greedy,” he explains.  “And instead they made a donation towards our new kitchen, so we were happy.”

To know more about its work, go to www.fareshare.com.au

 

Waste and Want

True teamwork

FareShare works in close partnership with two other Melbourne-based groups involved in similar work: the state-sponsored VicRelief Foodbank, which since 1930 has supplied non-perishable food to relief agencies; and SecondBite, launched in 2005 to rescue fresh fruit and vegetables from being wasted.

The three groups share transport, storage and information, and recently collaborated on a survey of Victoria’s Community Food Programs (CFPs) to determine their need for food and infrastructure.

The survey found that in 2010 the three organisations donated more than 4.5 million kilograms of food to relief programs in Victoria.  The 108 CFPs surveyed – less than one-fifth of the state total – serve 25,000 meals and distribute 7300 food parcels a week.  Despite this, they cannot meet demand.

The CFPs distribute 30,638kg of food a week (about two-thirds is donated, the rest bought) but another 15,000kg is needed to meet demand.

Many agencies lack infrastructure, and Marcus Godinho is co-founder of Feed Melbourne, which seeks to provide fridges, freezers, microwaves and refrigerated vans to help agencies prepare, store and deliver more rescued food.

Big breakthrough

A major barrier to the flow of surplus food was removed in Victoria in 2002 with the introduction of the so-called Good Samaritan legislation, which indemnifies suppliers who donate safe food to charitable organisations.  This exemption has now been introduced to all Australian states and territories.  Strict food-handling timelines are in place at FareShare to ensure food is cooked and frozen judiciously.

 

Our throwaway society

  • Each year Victorians throw out 700,000 tonnes of food – about 28,000 supermarkets worth of food.  Australians throw out more than $7.8 billion worth of food annually.  Some waste is due to incorrect labelling or damaged packaging.
  • FareShare can cook, freeze and distribute a meal for about 50 cents.
  • A survey of 108 agencies in Victoria revealed a shortfall of more than 26,000kg of food a week.
  • FareShare aims to double its production to 20,000 meals a week.
  • On average, every kilogram of food that FareShare recovers results in a saving of 1.5kg CO2 emissions and 56 litres of water.
  • Putting food waste in landfill often results in the production of methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than CO2.  Food waste is also a major contributor to the formation of leachate, a liquid run-off common in landfills, which pollutes ground water.
  • 47% of municipal waste in landfill is food and green organic waste.
  • More than three million tonnes of food is driven to landfill in Australia each year.

What goes up …

Royal Auto magazine, August 2011

What goes up . . .

Faith, hope and coordination is all the average driver needs to take one of these babies for a spin.

With the front wheels at the top of the wall and the vehicle almost vertical, I hit the brakes. Looking out through the mud-encrusted webbing of the roll cage that had already saved my head once, my instructor Jake is grinning.

“You’re getting the hang of this, aren’t you?”

An hour ago I would have been hanging on to my harness for dear life, so yes, this feeling of relaxed control is definitely progress.

“OK,” Jake says, “now knock it into front-wheel-drive, lock the rear wheels to the left and slowly drive down the wall.”

Amazingly, the vehicle responds as sedately as if asked to mount a low kerb, and soon we’re back on level ground – although only for a few seconds before a steep left turn that requires you to actually drive up the 80? embankment so that the bottom front tyre is practically side-on to the ground. But it’s still moving along, holding its balance, then straightening up to climb the monstrously steep ridge behind.

‘Extreme’ can be overused as a term but this madcap activity is truly bizarre. The trucks looks like pared-back tractors on steroids – a minimalist aluminium-tube frame on 44-inch tyres powered by a V8 engine producing 240kW channeled through a simple automatic transmission to an Atlas II transfer case with ‘rear disconnect’ so you can choose four-wheel or front-wheel drive. The differentials are purpose-built with Nissan centres grafted to military truck outers providing four-wheel steering.

Based at Avalon, Ragged Edge 4×4 uses three vehicles for a range of courses. All are gas-powered to avoid the problem of fuel leakage at extreme angles; oil levels are carefully monitored for the same reason.

But, unlike other forms of motorised madness, the skill you’ll need more than quick reactions and nerves of steel is coordination.

Driving these trucks is like standing on your head trying to walk.  You need to keep the revs fairly constant, controlling your speed with the brake. For the tougher parts of the track where maximum traction is required, you actually apply more brake, not less.

Adding to the confusion is the lever used to control the rear tyres. Apart from the fact you pull it right to turn left, you’ll also need the rear wheels pointing uphill for the many steep curves on the purpose-built course.

Beyond that you need blind faith: faith that your marshall-instructor is guiding you along the right line to avoid a huge hole apparently right below you, but you can’t see it because you’re facing the sky. And faith that their directions to put yourself, the machine and, often, a passenger in the most unlikely position is going to get you through the next obstacle and not simply irritate the gods of physics.  You rarely go more than walking pace but these machines will go anywhere, at any angle.

“In the competitions we do the course without marshalls,” explains Ragged Edge’s Chris Nolan, who started the 4×4 school to help finance his growing addiction to the sport. “You learn to feel your way by how the vehicle responds.”

Ragged Edge 4×4 is at Avalon Raceway, 210 Melbourne Rd, Lara. You’ll need a full drivers’ licence and passengers must be over 12.  Visit www.raggededge.com.au, call 0428 737 864 or email chris@raggededge.com.au

 

Permaculture meets capitalism in this man of the earth

Your Garden magazine, Spring 2011

From his Blundstone boots to his wild and woolly beard, Peter Allen is unmistakably a man of the earth.

His connection to his land is evident as he walks around his hilltop home in the Dandenongs, pointing out hydrangeas that remain from when the land was a cut-flower farm, describing the huge areas he and wife Silvia have reclaimed from the grip of blackberries, explaining how the geese, chickens, sheep and llamas complement each other with their techniques of ‘mowing’ lawns or scratching out bugs, and how the milk cows were the ones to conquer one particularly dense area of scrubby weeds.

It is this complementary inter-connection of life on the land that fuels Pete’s passion and led to him giving up a stellar career in retail in order to spend his days farming and learning – then passing on that knowledge.

More than 800 fruit varieties grow on the 3 hectares he cultivates (another 3ha has been returned to bush) and he can name them all, then give you a potted history of each one’s heritage to boot. Silvia’s expertise lies more with the animals, but their skills overlap a fair amount , as visitors to their farm shop or market stalls soon discover.

“It was my mum who taught me to fix the brakes on the car… so there’s none of this girl’s job, boys’ job stuff, it’s just a matter of who’s better at it – and who’s there,” he says.

Pete’s parents moved to a hobby farm in the hills when he was nine, but they had always been keen gardeners, growing much of their own food and keeping poultry, just as their own parents had.

“I didn’t have a childhood, I had an apprenticeship,” he says, only half joking.

“I like to conserve the old stuff – I’ve got apples that probably comes from Roman times but also modern varieties like ‘Pink Lady’. I like heritage things but also useful things,” he explains, going to extol the virtues of the East Friesian and Finnish sheep he and wife Silvia keep.

It is hard to believe that, for 15 years of his life, ‘Pete the Permie’ was the epitome of corporate man, working his way up the Coles business ladder and managing dozens of stores across Victoria – many of which were originally opened by his father during his own career with Coles.

“By the time I left [Coles] in 2002 I had a company Statesman and was on a six-figure salary but I gave it away to do this,” he says, gesturing to the teaching complex alongside his century-old weatherboard home.

“This” started out as a lifestyle choice, living off the land as much as possible and running permaculture and other courses to pay for the extras. However, Pete and Silvia’s constant thirst for knowledge and their enthusiasm to pursue new skills has led to an ever-evolving set of enterprises and plans.

“I probably run about four micro-businesses now, which isn’t bad considering I retired with no plans to do anything,” he laughs.

As Pete explains his different income streams it becomes clear that, alongside Pete the Permie, who loves nothing more than spreading the love about organically grown produce and age-old agricultural wisdom, sits Pete the Capitalist, master of the spreadsheet and natural entrepreneur, who can’t resist an decent business opportunity when he sees one.

Pete and Silvia’s central businesses are still running courses – the subject list grows each year – and a plant nursery, where gardeners can find hundreds of varieties of apples, pears, plums and citrus, as well as “old-fashioned” fruits, such as medlars, crabapples, quinces, figs, mulberrries and persimmons, and semi-tropical exotics, including babaco and taro.

Business Number Three is a cidery business, producing Snake Gully cider and perry, which grew out of what he calls “sly grog workshops” and a need to use the many tonnes of windfall apples that were going to waste.

Finally is his consulting business, designing passive solar home solutions and garden layouts, as well as pre-purchase land assessments for those planning their own tree change.

Added to that is his involvement with Petty’s Orchard, where he has co-ordinated the open day and run grafting sessions for several years, and other groups, such as the Heritage Fruit Society.

Then there is his writing: “English was my worst subject at school,“ he grins, loving the irony. “Now I’m paid to write for magazines and I’ve just released my first book, plus I’ve got about four more planned.”

Despite not enjoying school (“it was a bit regimental for me“), Pete’s overriding passion is for knowledge, and he reckons he has earned about 32 certificates on various subjects.

“I always had one night a week out studying – I didn’t know why I was studying all these weird things, they just appealed and Silvia was happy because she had one night a week on her own not listening to me,” he says. “Then when I did the permaculture class I realised it was all relevant to that, whether it was horticultural landscaping, meditation, accountancy or whatever.”

On his last trip to England, he bought about $3000 worth of books – mostly on apples and cider – and he has whole bookshelves dedicated to pet topics.

“Our trips are never really holidays, they have a theme – we spent nine weeks chasing around rare-breed farm parks in Europe and on another we did 50 cideries in four countries, including going to a festival that had been going for almost 2000 years in Spain.”

As well as making fruit wine, owning a still (he’s growing junipers to make gin soon), and producing 22 different dairy products, Pete was recently given a second-hand smokehouse, so his next project is teaming up with a local butcher to run courses such as A Pig In a Day and a preserving the harvest course.

It’s a busy lifestyle, but Pete reckons he’s never been healthier.

“When I left work I had six different health issues, and I used to work 90 hours a week don’t stop for lunch or eat properly – now I probably do more hours but the physical side of it keeps me fitter – I’ve lost about 10kg. Of course with making cheese and wine I’m never going to be skinny but the exercise balances out the love of food!

“We might do seven days a week and six nights a week … but it’s what we want to do … there’s a lot of embodied energy in me having acquired this knowledge and I believe I’m bound to pass it on, so if I don’t have kids I have to pass in on in some other way.”

 

Driving ambition to win

January 2011

CHILDHOOD memories of standing in a forest, watching rally cars race past didn’t do much to inspire Molly Taylor. It was just what her parents did at weekends, but she preferred horses.

Then, at 15 and aspiring to L-plates, her father took Molly and her sister to his rally driving school for some off-road practice.

“I was pretty much hooked from then on,” the 22-year now admits. “It’s definitely an adrenalin rush and a challenge – being able to push a car to its limits is very addictive, but the atmosphere and people are fun, too.”

Two years later she raced in her first rally; another two years and she was competing in the Australian championships and late last year she was chosen as one of the six most promising young rally car drivers in the world and given a scholarship from Pirelli to join the FIA’s young driver program which, in 2011, will be integrated into the newly-created World Rally Championship Academy.

As well as the kudos, the place is worth about $185,000 in entry fees, fuel and tyres for her to race in six rounds of the World Championship, starting in Portugal this March.

Molly will be joined at the Academy by fellow Australian Brendan Reeves, 22, whose co-driver is his sister Rhianon Smyth. The other four drivers came from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Sweden.

In another family pairing, Taylor won her place in the Pirelli program with her mother as co-driver. Coral Taylor, who is a four-time Australian Rally Champion as co-driver to Neal Bates, teamed up with her daughter for the Citroen Racing Trophy, in which they claimed third, despite Molly being out of her comfort zone driving on tarmac.

For 2011, Molly will have a new co-driver: Rebecca Smart, 24, from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, who was second outright last year in the Australian Rally Champions as co-driver to her brother Ryan. They also won the Kumho Tyres’ Future Champions Award.

“I am really excited to have Bec on board,” says Taylor.

“It will be great to have an all-girl team, but more importantly she is just as determined as I am with the same ambitions. We are both committed to focus 100% on this year in the WRC Academy.”

Smart agrees: “The WRC Academy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m definitely up for the challenge.”

While rallying is traditionally a male-dominated sport, Taylor says she has nothing but support.

“Rallying is very friendly – there is no face-to-face confrontation and people help each other out.

“It’s just that guys are more exposed to it and females don’t think they can get involved, but I haven’t met any resistance. If you take it seriously and get out there, then you’re taken seriously.”

To that end Taylor has become a competent mechanic and puts a lot of work into her physical fitness.

“Getting driving experience is difficult because the car is always being prepared, but I train myself to keep fit – running, cycling, cross training and doing weights. Drivers need be fit to cope with the heat – there’s no air conditioning – long days, and concentration.”

Competitions usually run over two or three days, driving from dawn to dusk in up to 10 stages, each anywhere from 8-30km long. Most are on gravel, but some are on tarmac.

Two years ago, Taylor moved to the UK to expose herself to wider competition.

She is now based in Cumbria, where she works for M-Sport – the company that prepares the Ford Fiesta R2s the academy teams will drive.

M-Sport also prepares Super 2000-specification Ford Fiestas, so she grabs some extra time behind the wheel test-driving cars before they are delivered.

“We have customers all over the world that we support with parts and technical information. I needed some way of paying rent, but to be able to do that in a motor sport environment is great; making contacts and learning stuff all the time is a win-win.”

While Taylor says she’s too busy to get homesick, she is pleased her sister Jane will be joining her in the UK this year. Jane has also won a scholarship but the similarities end there – she will be studying her Masters in Law at Oxford.

“We always say she’s the only white sheep in the family,” Taylor jokes.

She’s come a long way in the five years since getting her first car – an old Holden Gemini that she drove off the road in her first rally – and from school days when she would have to get someone from the local car club to sign her out of boarding school to compete in events.

“It’s ironic really; I chose that school because it had a really good equestrian program and I was competing in eventing: dressage, cross country and show jumping. But then I discovered driving and was always getting leave passes to do rallying events.

“I guess I’ve always been fairly competitive.”

 

Love, humour and schnitzels

Last night I sat down with comedian Rachel Berger and she spent a couple of hours telling me the whole amazing saga of her family’s escape from Nazi-held Poland – about love stronger than fear, about belonging, pain and survival.

We’d only just met but, along with a few hundred close strangers, she opened up her heart to me and shared the stories of her childhood – the ones of how her parents endured, evaded then escaped one of the most disciplined, highly trained military machines Europe has ever witnessed, and her equally angst-ridden flight from the bullying of two primary school-aged girls in Spotswood.

For her, schnitzels helped save the day, but love and a sense of humour were essential for both and it is these traits that shine through, forcing light into the darkest corners of her own personal history and lifting the weight that builds over the audience.

Reprising her first foray into serious theatre, Berger steps out from behind the microphone stand she has teamed up with for more than 25 years of comedy.

Using minimal props and starkly simple lighting, Berger dazzles her audience from the start, leading with the sheer strength of her parents’ story, then following through with sharp but sensitive mimicry skills, bringing scores of characters to life as she jumps between her parents, hardy Hungarian teachers, brassy Skip neighbours in the western ’burbs, then finally the broken, displaced people that make up her tribe in Acland Street. It is here that feels like home, as the family settles into running a delicatessen, comforting homesick refugees with sausages, potato salad, chopped liver and sandwiches that enjoyed a city-wide reputation.

While the story is intensely personal, the strong strands of Melbourne and universal humanity that are woven through it draw in the audience without seeming to try: “All I wanted was to fit in and be liked – that and to have the full 72-colour set of Derwent pencils,” she says and looks up in surprise as the audience as one moans with shared desire. “You too, huh?”

Berger first shared this harrowing, uplifting tale with Melbourne in 2008, first at La Mama then Chapel off Chapel, earning her Green Room Association nominations for both writing and performance. She was inspired to break from her usual comedy routines by the Tampa-led events of 2001, so the ongoing ‘turn back the boats’ debate makes it an interesting time to revive this heart-warming show.

“It’s not a comedy, it’s a play,” was how someone described the show to me beforehand, but as Berger adopts her mother’s accent and persona to retell the stories she heard as a child, she reveals the source of her dry wit and comic timing; only the remarkable Rosa could get a belly laugh from relating how she averted her beloved Marcus from committing suicide.

Take a supply of tissues and get there on time – there’s a whole-show lockout for latecomers – but go; there are few other ways of spending 75 minutes in a basement that will leave you feeling so content with your life.

 

HOLD THE PICKLE, written and performed by Rachel Berger, runs until Saturday 24 September at ?Fairfax Studio, The Arts Centre, 100 St. Kilda Rd, Melbourne. Wed-Sat 8pm, Sat 2pm.

Website: www.holdthepickle.com.au

Tickets: $40-$55?Arts Centre Box Office?1300 182 183?or Ticketmaster?136 100 or (for a discount) visit: www.rachelberger.com/

 

Turns out it was pretty twisted

It was only after the play had finished that I noticed the sub title to Turns: A pantomime with a twist.

Would this have helped me understand it better?

Probably not, although I might not have been so bewildered at the opening scene as Nancye Hayes’ character, Marjory Joy, appears in cartoon-like Little Miss Muffett-type costume and leaps from one vaudeville flashback to another, occasionally joined by Reg Livermore in Little Tommy Tucker-type dress.

As Marjory claims the stage for herself, the flashbacks become a monologue of addled memories and twisted idioms.

OK, so maybe the show is about an ageing star reliving her glory days?

Reg Livermore acts as accessory at this stage, playing the parts of her dead husband, Douglas, and living son, Alistair, as their memories and realities merge in her confuddled mind.

Then comes the time for Alistair to reclaim his place in the spotlight as Marjory’s star fades away – and he shines an altogether different light on what we have seen, plus his own projection of the future.

Once one illusion is dashed, more and more tumble like dominoes, getting more bizarre and being delivered with increasingly tight scripting.

Now things are happening – suddenly things are falling into place.

Then, just as a rather neat ending had, I thought, been revealed, back comes the song and dance routine again. Ah well.

Reg Livermore devised and wrote the whole creation with himself and Nancye Hayes in mind and there is no doubt that they are the perfect pair to carry it off.

Their timing and delivery are a joy to watch and some of the lines and concepts are breathtakingly brilliant. Reg especially can drag the audience along in revelling in raucous revelations – only to shut them down in a flash of realism and remorse.

In his introductory note, Reg Livermore writes: “It isn’t exactly the show we discussed but it does I think give us a chance to show what we’re made of, show what we like to do on stage and what we thing we do best, a series of theatrical turns tailored especially for this occasion”.

That is does, but some of the enjoyment was lost for me in the confusion of it all; maybe this is a clever device to mimic the confusion of old age and the lies, imaginings, half-truths and shadows that make up many people’s lives – or maybe the plot just got lost.

Fans of Hayes and Livermore will enjoy this, no matter what – as will anyone who enjoyed the inter-reliant relationships in the TV show Mother and Son – and there are few plays around that include such good live piano solos as offered by Vincent Colagiuri.

The trick to ‘getting’ it is, perhaps, not to try, but instead to follow producer Christine Dunstan’s advice: “Please hand yourself over to the Turns experience and enjoy the ride”.

 

Turns is at the Playhouse Theatre at The Arts Centre until Saturday, July 9.

Details: www.turnstheshow.com.au

 

Tripod Versus the Dragon

Tripod Versus the Dragon, live at the Forum

THE nerdometer was going off the scale as patrons filed into the Forum Theatre discussing probability curves and statistics.

Nerd nostalgia and pride are central to Tripod’s new show; it’s a musical homage to the original role-playing game that developed a huge cult following – Dungeons and Dragons – and it celebrates the ‘’coming out’’ of awkward teens who wore cardigans over ankle-length slacks and excelled at maths but now have the confidence to embrace their love of the underworld game they probably kept quiet about at school.

Not that you need to be a D&D fan to understand or enjoy the show – it opens with two of the Melbourne-based trio – Scod (Scott Edgar) and Yon (Simon Hall) initiating D&D virgin Gatesy (Steven Gates) to the game, giving them license to explain the some jargon and rules.

Tripod Versus the Dragon then fills with all the witty ditties and self-deprecating comedy fans have come to expect, but the for the first time introduces in a foreign body to the formula – a girl, armed with a full set of girl germs.

Elana Stone plays the role of Dungeon Master and later, the dragon, guarding the secret place on the magic map that the trio set out to explore. She brings not only a fresh element to the Tripod chemistry, but a huge musical and comedic talent of her own, as well as a stunning set of lungs; her first solo won the biggest applause of the first preview night.

The script is clever, mocking their own love of the cult subject while parodying a classical tragedy, complete with a dangerous quest, love interest, betrayal, tragic death, morality and redemption – plus a chorus, even if it is one that answers back.

Special effects include a guitar, chair, overhead projector, a sheet and a stick with a pointy bit, but the simple, honest way they are used brings another level of comedy again.

The plot seems to lose a bit of momentum about three-quarters of the way through, when a couple of the songs could have been cropped or sped up a bit, but otherwise it’s an enlightening hour, whether you’re a D&D virgin or fan.

Tripod Versus the Dragon is upstairs at the Forum Melbourne, corner Flinders and Russell streets, Tuesdays to Sundays at 9.15pm, until April 18.

 

Geared up

Appeared in first edition of Treadlie, December 2010

pedalpaloozaparade


Despite mounting evidence that reduced car travel could provide a panacea for many ailments of modern life, it seems the message is too-rarely translating to action.

Last month (October) cyclists were given an armoury of ammunition to fire at recalcitrant governments by visiting Roger Geller, bicycle co-ordinator for the City of Portland, Oregon.

Once a typical, car-focused American city, the state capital has transformed itself by building the most comprehensive bikeway network in the USA.

As a result, the number of residents who consider cycling to be either their main or second means of transport is up to 18%. – higher in some areas.

Build it and they will come

Geller believes the key to Portland’s success has been extending the 10 kilometers of bike paths that existed in 1980 to a 500-kilometer network that criss-crosses the city today; paths range from lines painted on roads to separated ‘Copenhagen-style’ tracks with their own stop signals.

“We started with the easiest roads first – those wide enough to create bike lanes without it impacting other traffic – and we’ve slowly tackled harder and harder streets as we won more political momentum,” Geller explains.

Bike paths are signposted with direction, distance and approximate riding time, addressing the misconception that cycling is slow.

Portland’s building code says all new buildings must have long- and short-term bike parking and developers are given incentives to include showers and lockers.

Bikes can be carried on buses, light rail and trams.

Geller is quick to point out that while engineering is a key ingredient, other ‘Es’ of cycling are also vital: Encouragement, Education, Enforcement and Evaluation.

Good for the City

“We had a lot of complaints at the start,” Geller admits, and quotes: “ ‘Why are you wasting my taxes? – no-one is using the bike paths’ – but our data shows they are being used and the usage is growing.”

A major bonus for the city are statistics that show, in a city of many bridges, it is the bike traffic that is expanding, while car numbers stay the same.

“This means our bridges are still operating as well today for cars as they did 20 years ago – that’s huge for a growing city trying to manage transportation.”

Good for Health

Poor diet and lack of exercise is the second leading cause of avoidable disease in America.

“For the first time in history, our children are destined to have shorter life expectancies than their parents, and we have to do fix that,” Geller says.

A goal adopted by Portland city fathers is to get people out of cars and walking.

Quoting Danish statistics, Geller believes cyclists save between 25 cents and $1 on health costs for every kilometer they ride.

“This has huge ramifications for employers, who often pay health cover in US – plus fewer sick days,” Geller adds.

Safety-wise, Portland’s figures are encouraging, with the number of cycling incidents and injuries holding steady despite more cyclists.

“Cyclists today are four times safer than they were 10 years ago,” Geller cites.

Helmets are compulsory for riders under 16, but surveys have found more than 80% of all riders wear helmets – up from about 45% in the 1990s.

Good for Business

Winning support for bicycle road space became easier since businesses recognised riders as valuable customers.

Portland residents drive about 6.5 kilometres a day less than the national average – together saving US$1.2 billion a year on transport.

“We buy less gas and fewer car parts, and don’t replace cars as quickly,” Geller explains.

Of that US$1.2B, about $800 million is spent locally instead.

“People who ride bikes have more money in their pockets,” he says. “Businesses are noticing that and are asking for on-street parking to be removed and replaced with corrals for more bikes.

“There are currently 51 in city and 11 in the works, and 65 more have been requested,” Geller says.

“In a very barren economic time in US, inner Portland is doing quite well.”

New ventures have also sprung up to meet the new demand, such as a bike-friendly guest house, a community cycling centre and at least two boutique bike manufacturers.

Good Fun

An amazing 4000 cycling events are held in Portland annually, from pub crawls, mystery rides and heritage tree tours through to major events such as Peddlepalooza, Bridgepedal (20,000 participants) and the famous World Naked Bike Ride, which attracted 11,000 riders in 2010.

“There are a lot of ‘bike funnists’ in Portland,” explains Geller.

While more families and children are taking to bikes – and Portland-built cargo bikes are seeing more businesses use bikes – a challenge identified by the Community Cycling Center is encouraging cycling in Hispanic and other ethnic communities, many of whom live in outer suburbs where the bike network is weakest.

The Future

Now that the pro-bike lobby has some momentum, future plans include tripling the amount of bike lanes to 1500km, and making life harder for motorists by reducing their share of roads.

“Originally our policy aimed to make bicycling an integral part of transport.

“Now it is to make cycling more attractive than driving for trips of 3 miles [5km] or less.”

After surveying Portland residents on their attitude to cycling, city planners have identified four groups:

  • The Strong and Fearless, who will ride whatever the weather and even without bike lanes – about 1% of the population.
  • The Enthused and accomplished, who will only ride on bike lanes. This 18% are the ones the new Portland network has won over.
  • About 30% are ‘No Way, No How’ and will never cycle, whatever you do or say.
  • About 50% are Interested but concerned and want to ride but are terrified of bike lanes and traffic.

“This last group is who we’re now focused on,” Geller says.

To reach them, he believes the city needs a network to the standard set by Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

“They’ve created conditions where it doesn’t feel any less safe or comfortable to be on bikes as it does getting in a car. When people are able to look at just the advantages – the cost, the enjoyment, the speed – then they will use bikes.”

PORTLAND – Key Facts:

  • Portland has a population of 580,000 people and covers 380 square km.
  • The average distance per bike ride is 5km and the average speed is 16 kph
  • About 4000 bicycle events are held in Portland each year
  • If Portland rebuilt its bike network from scratch today, it would cost $60 million – roughly equivalent to buying 1.6km of urban freeway.
  • Portland spends 0.7% of its capital money on bike infrastructure but Geller warns that you get what you pay for – currently spending is at about $2 per capita, but he would like to see it increased to $18 or $10 million more a year.
  • Metrofiets, which makes cargo bikes to order, has crafted a bike for a local brewery that stores two beer kegs under an inlaid wooden bar, and boasts pizza rack and sound system.
  • Two thirds off all trips are now made by car in Portland. About 50% are trips of 5km or less.

How Does Australia Rate?

Geller said he was particularly impressed with the level of investment and the quality of the facilities being built in Sydney.

“They have clearly recognized the importance of separation from automotive traffic and that is reflected in their designs. Their challenge will be to make sure the facilities are well-connected and that people in the outlying areas are able to access the central city.”

Melbourne reminded Geller of Portland.

“I took several long rides and walks throughout city and surrounding areas and found I was able to be in either some type of bicycle lane, traffic-calmed street or off-street pathway almost constantly. The network seemed comprehensive and well-connected – at least in the areas where I rode. I also thought Melbourne was making good progress in improving the quality of their facilities by developing buffered bicycle lanes and were looking comprehensively at improving routes in the CBD.”

While in Australia Geller met MPs and councillors in NSW and Victoria, as well as VicRoads.

“I thought there was a high level of interest among all with whom I met and they were clearly open to learning what they could from me.

“As the Lord Mayor of Melbourne said at the Bike Futures 2010 conference, he hasn’t run into any mayors who are saying that they want more automobile traffic in their central cities.”

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