Wongari Eco Retreat

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Weekend Notes Says It Well

It’s nice to be understood and appreciated. That is why Kevin Liepins from Weekend Notes is in our good books. You can see why if you click on this link.

 

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Working With Nature

Every time I look at our Christmas Creek I can’t but help think about cyclone Dianne. It makes me think about the power there is nature, weather to wreck havoc or sow hope. At Lamington we saw both with cyclone Dianne but the positives far out-weighed the negatives. Huge rains created waterfalls where there were none before; streams down mountain sides that brought the usual sediment and landslips; and a creek changed once more.

Excess Water Finds Its Own Way Down

Water Everywhere to Christmas Creek

Before we came here, we were told, there was a large pool in front of our cabin, Serenity. It was so large you could swim pool lengths and dive off rocks. It wasn’t there when we arrived because the big flooks in 2008 had filled them in – and removed a platypus habitat.

Where did the road go?

Can’t drive over and you can’t canoe down

Now, the floods brought about by Cyclone Dianne has changed the creek again. By picking up everything that was loose and sending it downstream there was nothing left but bedrock and our old swimming hole. Hopefully, the platypus will follow.

But it makes you think differently about the natural world about us. Its forces are so large we would do well to stay on the right side of her. So, apart from leaving stuff like coal and gas in the ground, we should be pulling weeds out of the ground and putting plants back in. Rebuilding habitat, not removing it.

Which is why at Lamington we have started a Landcare group with the ambition of restoring Chritmas Creek and its riparian habitat back to something resembling the natural rainforest that it once was.

What Falls has to Flow

Waterfall Creek full with the flush of Cyclone Dianne

Preparing for the Storm

In calmer times when change seemed so remote

And, as a bonus for us, we had a group of volunteers turn up and spend time with the locals helping with the restoration. They came courtesy of Guy Cooper from ‘The World As I Am’. So we have a strategy, some funding, a lot of help and the commitment to make this work for everyone. Which means our landcare group is open to everyone.

If you want to know more about our local Lamington Landcare Group you can find us on facebook  and follow progress or, better still, join our group.

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Humming Hydro

August last year (2016) my micro hydro turbine, a Powerspout PLT, catastrophically disintegrated. I blogged shortly after ‘When Things Go Wrong’ about mistakes I had made which ruined the hydro and gave us all here at Wongari Eco Retreat a lot of hassles. It would have been worse but for very understanding guests. But, now, some 8 months later I regret my hasty mea culpa.

hydro-3

In retrospect, I should not have been so hard on myself when I initially entertained Ecoinnovation’s (supplier) theory. When I tried to challenge it I became the worse person on the planet and now they have excommunicated me from their businehydro-5ss books.

In summary: they said I had failed to properly grease the bearings; allowed my unit to operate in a soundproof enclosure that inadvertently created an environment of high humidity, therefore unfriendly to greased bearings; and added, belatedly, I had allowed my hydro unit to operate while submerged (or partly thereof)!

The only flaw in their theory was that none of this occurred. It’s amazing how one can be so certain and yet be so wrong. I put it down to ego. Michael took great offence that his fifteen years of engineering greatness (I’m not being entirely sarcastic – he has done a good job and has plenty of recognition for this) should be questioned by a lay person, albeit, one who is actually onsite.

What actually happened, which I can now say I have worked out only over time and without the help of Ecoinnovation, is that my own knowledge was incomplete and my experience was less. I put this system into our most recently built rented eco-cabin, Bimbul, where I was unable to monitor the unit for large periods of time. If I had been around I would have known that the hydro was running ‘wild’. It did this because it could not off-load unwanted electricity it was constantly making in my ‘standalone’. That is, the hot water was fully heated, the batteries were totally charged, no power was being consumed and the load dump (for excess electricity to burn, a common bar heater) was inadequate to the task.

The sad thing is Ecoinnovation could have learned from this as well as it was application, more so technical issues, which led to the meltdown and this would have been good advice to future hopefuls like me – if only for that reason.

I invited Ecoinnovation to discuss the issues with me but it didn’t quite fit their business model. Any discussion with them was at an hourly rate. They obviously didn’t think mutual benefit quite cut the mustard. Instead, they only saw their professionalism being questioned and/or given away cheaply. The unfortunate corollary of this is that they think their customers have little to offer unless it is a compliment or more business.

So my recommendation to those in my position: a hydro turbine is a fantastic option if you are in a position to install one but be aware: you will need to be able to monitor it on an ongoing and regular basis. While I would use a hydro again I will do it at home or at least not make it an off-grid standalone hydro but one feeding mains. That yet may be the best remedy to my situation for Bimbul.

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Stalls in Stinsons

A few stalls

Mountains of Forest

The setting says it all

The Scenic Rim hosts the Popular Eat Local Week and kicks off with the popular FarmGate Festival. An choice venue would be a Lunch and Picnic at Stinsons Caravan Park in Lamington.

 

It makes for a great country drive, a good day out, with an end destination that allows you to relax in country and enjoy its fare. Local food by local people – and produce from the Scenic Rim.

 

 

Christmas Creek runs along one side (far side) of Stinson Park. A Picnic on its banks is a great way to enjoy the food you bring or the food you buy from the gourmet take-away and fresh local produce stall.

 

If your hungry and local go to Stinsons

Food to Go at Stinsons

 

The stall’s signature produce are locally made sausages from meat grown in Lamington. Fresh meat is also sold and sourced in a similar way. Other little goodies include tarts and cakes – all homemade.

 

 

Mount Neglect can't be Forgotten at the FarmGate Picnic

In the shadow of the mountain we meet

There will be home-made local pickles and jams. A table with local produce, including finger-limes, and a small range of fruit and veges.

Don’t hurry your appreciation of the country you will drive through though as it’s beautiful.  But  if you haven’t been down this way before, there is a lot to see and do and there is no better time to do it.

 

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Progressing Rehabilitation on Christmas Creek

Christmas Creek is a beautiful creek. Not big, not small but part of a bigger picture. It is part of the catchment for the Logan river and is used (sometimes abused) for irrigation. It is pristine at our point but fails long before it reaches Moreton Bay. Not an unusual scenario for all our river systems unfortunately.
In our valley where Christmas Creek emerges from the Lamington National Park in the Boarder Ranges it always flows. Over rocks it is steady and reliable but when we have a rain event it can be like rolling thunder. It is accessible only in parts however as a variety of weeds have a strangle-hold over it.
Once more Wongari is partnering with SEQ Catchments to clear up a little more of our waterways and catchment.
The story so far: two years ago we got a grant to make accessible and clean up Waterfall Creek as it is a major tributrary to Christmas Creek which, in its turn, is a significant source of the Logan River. We managed to get a healthy start on 200m of Creek, in length, 50m wide, and which runs through our property, Wongari. It is still a work in progress, as a project this size can never be done justice in under a few years. But by the winter of 2017 we hope to have it under manageable and sustainable control – a joy to behold.
It’s other justification was to reinstitute a wildlife corridor between the McPherson Ranges on our South and Buchanan’s Fort to our North. Waterfall Creek begins at Lamington Falls on the southern end and links two national parks.
Now we are extending this work along Chritmas Creek and cleaning a major ravine and notorious slip area. It is a slightly less ambitious undertaking but, as the idea of a ravine denotes, it is not easy terrain to get at the lantana, glycine, croften and velcrow weed. A new danger on the block is devil’s fig. The work will be very noticable from Christmas Creek Road and open up a long stretch of Christmas Creek. The major aim of the project is to create more habitat for the koala, stabilise a notorious slip-prone area and minimise sediment run-off.

Choking our Creek, Strangling our Trees

Choking our Creek, Strangling our Trees

A Mass of Weeds CC
Then, just to make things more interesting, SEQ Catchments has sensed that a more ambitious project might well be possible. 4Kms of creek could be cleared. It will start where the bitumen ends and finish where the dirt road meets national park ie 6 kilometers of windy, dirt road. It is a project in the making with nothing final yet and depends greatly on a credible land-care group being formed from dirt-road residents. But a pilot project is under discussion and support is enthusiastic albeit, with qualifications.

There are doubts about the feasibility of such an ambitious project. Will we hold it together or fall out? Will we beat the weeds or will the weeds beat us? Such a long-term project relies heavily on the goodwill, abilities and availability of many stake-holders. So, initially, we will start our own little landcare group and have an open invitation to one and all. Ultimately, though, it will be held together by a committed core. Only time will tell if that happens.
ALERT: we have just been informed by SEQ Catchments area manager, Dennis Gannaway, that the funding for the initial pilot project to clear up our section of Christmas Creek has been approved. The Goal: to empower local residents to take control of the creek’s health. Next stage is to send an alert around the valley so every one can get their gloves, hats and siccateers on order.

Cleaned up It Sparkles

It Could Look Like This

 

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The Festival of the Farm Gate

Keep Saturday June the 25th free because it is ‘Festival of the Farm Gate’ time again. Part of the Scenic Rim ‘Eat Local Week’ it is a great day for visitor and residents of the great South East. It is especially good for us here on Christmas Creek as this is the first time we will be featuring a rare and locally sourced Vintage Car collection. From the back of these utes and sulkies farm fresh groceries locally sourced will be available for the discerning buyer. We hope to see you all here for a great weekend. Make a full weekend of it and plan ahead by visiting our Farm Gate Festival web site.

Below is a copy of the invite our collective, theLostWorld, dropped in the letter boxes of locals. Our festival, it seems, is being warmly received as it is as much about community as the attraction for visitors.

Farm Gate Festival: coming to a gate near you – again

Dear Neighbour,

In a nutshell, operators on our tourist drive, the Kerry Valley and Christmas Creek Road via the Darlington Connection Road, and collectively known as the Lost World, are opening our gates and offering our produce and selected acitivities to all who wish to take part – yet again.

It follows on the last two year’s success so we are naturally very excited about it again this year. It has brought a new form of celebration into our region; it show-cases the diversity and quality of our region; and it will continue to give locals who have something to offer an opportunity to do just that. Travellers now see the Scenic Rim as a destination on its own merits. We have a lot to offer.

We would like to extend an open invitation to all those who are on our tourist drive to participate in this event on Saturday the 25th of June. Maybe you have a hobby, a food, a novelty or just excess produce and only need the incentive to offer it to an appreciative audience at your own farm gate. Maybe you might check out the drive yourself?

Or you might like to participate in the following events:

On the Kerry Road:

Kerry Valley Wood-Fired PizzaTaste the Difference: 2061 Kerry Road

Tommerups Dairy FarmMoo to You and Farm to Fork: 2142 Kerry Road

Kirro TeaMorning and Muster: 2614 Kerry Road

Worendo Olives Open DayWith Wild Lime Cooking School: 3161 Kerry Road

On the Christmas Creek Road, Lamington

Christmas Creek CafeDrop In, Make and Bake: 2745 Christmas Creek Road

Stinsons Park MarketsFood, Produce and Picnic: 2787 Christmas Creek Road

Here it is: The Farm Gate Festival. Join us and join in the fun.

You can find out more about our contribution to ‘Eat Local Week’ and what the ‘Farm Gate Festival’ will be doing by going to the website of the Lost World: www.thelostworld.com.au.

 

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Arts in the Olives

The Arts in the Olives is a festival celebrating the creative arts.  The festival is a collaboration between the residents of the Lost World Valley Tourist Collective and BADCAP-Beaudesert and District Community Arts Projects. On offer are a variety of workshops in disciplines such as basket weaving, breadmaking, blacksmithing and more -much more.   The site is the lovely Worendo Olive Grove, Lost World Valley in the Scenic Rim of South East Queensland.

may june 2012 020

There are an array of interesting and informative activities that will take a good part of the day to fully appreciate. There are olives and olive products, yoga, massages, photography and drawing – to name but a few. The festival will again offer an exciting programme of music entertainment as well as gourmet food and wine tasting amongst the wonderful variety of artisan stalls offering beautiful handcrafted  goods.

Date for 2015 is Sunday May 8th – Mothers Day.

An important objective is to be all about community at the grass-roots level where it counts. The festival is predominantly volunteer operated and would not operate without this major component. One of the important aims of the festival is to support and encourage local arts practice. But thanks too to the Scenic Rim Council.

Ben creating

The workshops are affordable and are aimed at a broad range of ages, interests and abilities. The organisers are delighted that they can offer several free workshops for children- the children love it and their parents are free to participate in their own choice of workshop.

For more information: click here

 

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Introducing ‘the pad’

Now we are ready to go. Weather permitting. Just waiting on council approval to commence construction of Kumbartcho. You can see some of the Hoop Pines in the background. This is the Pad – or will be if you click to read more … It is all cleared with road access (out of frame).

 

an evolving story of a pad

that time between ‘ready, set’ and ‘go’

You can’t fully appreciate the slope. It drops away by 6m off to the north. Hopefully, the deck will help give the impression you are amongst the pines themselves.

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Serenity In Photo

This gallery contains 10 photos.

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When Things Go Wrong….

A hydro system in action is a joy to behold: water turning a (pelton) wheel powers the home/cabin and then continues on its way to the creek from which it came. No harm is done to the environment but a lot of good comes form it.

At the start of Waterfall Creek is the third and final drop in its 200m drop from above.

Water falls and energy is given off. How do we capture it?

What is even more exciting pre-exists the turbine even being considered: Country. At Wongari we are indeed priviledged in this dry continent to have not one but two beautiful creeks. In particular, Waterfall Creek starts behind us in the Mcpherson Ranges, has a very steep rocky drop almost exclusively through our property, has never dried up, can be a raging torrent when in flood, moves bolders like golf balls, cuts its way through beautiful remnant rainforest and has choice number of places to simply insert a pipe and get water wherever you need it. It’s a renewable energy source that dreams are made of.

Until things go wrong. As it has happened with our system and, sadly, it turns out to be my fault. Nothing wrong with the head where the water is captured and sent on its merry way down the 700m of high pressure poly pipe (penstock) until it is captured in the cleverly designed powerspout turbine from ecoinnovation in New Zealand. The problem, unfortunately, started closer to home .

To make it a feature of our eco-centered cabin, Bimbul, I put it as close as possible to the cabin. While I was prepared for some noise issues I was not expecting the sound of a small jet engine reverberating off Bimbul’s walls. It was loud. It was so loud we started to think of solar and all of its benefits, like, really quite operation. Solar would not register in at about 90db. But we didn’t think for long. Who would pass up the one in a thousand opportunity we had?

Housing the hrdro turbine worked to soundproof it but created a hydro bath in the process.

A well sealed housing for the hydro followed after its 86db proved a problem when it is this close to Bimbul.

So I built it an enclosure more sound proofed than I had anticipated. All good. It worked for getting the noise to acceptable levels. Hardly noticable really. And than we did have that constant stream of water flowing forth, creating its own little water course that was starting to be its own feature. And that was starting to give us ideas as well The only trouble with sound proofing though is that you have to virtually seal the unit in a near air-tight compartment – thus my undoing.

It turns out my hydro system hates moisture. Ironic what? Yes the old water wheel is not how it used to be. Today it is a wheel in a wet area turning a smart drive (PMA – Permanent Magnetic Alternator) in a dry area. Unfortunately, even a dry area can become wet if the humidity inside the turbine unit reaches nearly 100% which, as you may have guessed, came to be the consequence of me building a sound-proof enclosure that did not allow for ventilation as that meant openings for noise to escape from. And so my very efficient and new hydro turbine also became, inevitably, a hydro bath.

Thus the unfolding disaster became unavoidable just a mere five months later after the start of operation. The wheel in the dry zone is connected to the smart drive in the wet zone by a shaft that spins at an incredible 1500 (approx.) revolutions a minute. It can do this because it is held in place by two shielded bearings that, you guessed it, hate moisture. Consequently, the moisture prevented the grease lubricating the bearings and weakened them, then seized them and then, finally, shattered them. The wheel, still spinning, wrenched the shaft form its attachment to the dividing bulkhead and the rest is now history.

Proper care in Hydro instalation cannont be watered down

The hole in the bulk head dividing wall is three times the diameter it was originally

The understanding guests we had lost power. We had to cancel the next lot of guests and, luckily, were able to move all other guests to our original cabin, Serenity, while the full extent of the damage was realised and remedial action was taken.

As I write this all is coming together and the parts I need are on their way from New Zealand – fingers crossed – and we won’t have the same debacle as last time when DHL couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do with the parcel – deliver it, not deliver it, keep in storage or return it to sender. In the end, it did all four.

Fortunately, time was on our side then. Not now. We’re busy. Which makes events like this frustrating – and not the least, also, that it was an avoidable error on my part (read the manual!). On the other hand it has been another steep learning curve and, though not the best way to achieve the next level, it has been rewarding in solving and resolving the problem. I almost feel like I have graduated in the class of ‘worthy renewable energy.

And as they say in many philosophical reflections: No Pain, No Gain.

Post Script: I am going to vent my enclosure with a bathroon-style exhaust fan, more drain holes so there is absolutely no holding back of used water, and a new automatic grease canister to feed the bearings. Wish me luck.

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Bimbul in Photo

This gallery contains 24 photos.

Just a few photos I thought would say as much as needs to be said about our new wilderness cabin, Bimbul, in Lamington’s National Park. Enjoy.

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Restored, Powered and Guests In

We started to build Bimbul (aka Hoop Pine) in July of 2015. We knew it wouldn’t be a quick build as we were going to do a lot of the work ourselves – that not done by our builders, Kev and Chris Moran. Nevertheless, we were hopeful that we would be in by September. We were happy to work in with Kev and Chris, who obliged our every whim, just so we could keep up all the other works that needed doing eg plumbing, earthworks, driveway, electricals and such.

But like most builds ours changed in the course of doing the actual work. We were fortunate in that our arrangement with our builders was mutually flexible, accommodating and innovative. We all worked, I thought, to achieve the best outcome: an appropriate cabin for the beautiful country we were proud to be showcasing and which we have been working hard to restore.

Which is why September’s deadline then became one for December. When we passed that date as well the end of January seemed imminently obtainable. It could have been but wasn’t. The weather defeated us on this account. Then March came and went and so did easter. Not yet ready and neither was my blog so now it is May and I’ve decided to finish my blog seeing as the inevitable happened. We opened Bimbul for our guests. We took our first weekenders, Milton and Roslyn, on the 22nd of April. Included is their preferred photo. Thanks to Roslyn as, it turns out, she is a professional photographer. This is now our 2nd week of operation and it is going well with the fire place, the hydro, the view from the daybed and the sound of the creek, visible from the deck, being amongst the most deserving of comments.

But now the reflections. So many other things were put on hold while we focused our full and (nearly) undivided attention on getting the best job possible and not putting anyone out in the process that we are, at the moment, enjoying days without a schedule or a deadline. We have no quibbles about how things progressed though: a good build happened in the best time possible. Although it took a little longer then our overly optimistic predictions and promises would have had it, nevertheless, it happened – is happening – and there are a lot of people who made this work as well as it did. We’ve had a memorable time – on reflection.

But the most exciting addition to our build, which is relatively unique, has to be the installation of our hydro-electric power system. It took the entire time of this build to source the head (where we put the pipe into the creek), lay the pipe, build the enclosure for the turbine and wire it up to feed the cabin. Now that it is done, and working brilliantly, we can honestly say it has been worth it for both the learning curve we started – and finished – and for having the best form of renewable power generation that is available to us. For those who are keen to know more about how a hydro system works, the parts needed and the discoveries along the way that the novice (us:) would never have guessed is covered in another article I intend to post.

Suffice it to say, for the immediate purpose of this article, is that hydro is 24/7. Therefore you need less hourly generation, one battery bank (of 4), and a smaller one than most other standalone power generating systems. What makes this system even better, unique and rare is that the water used to power the turbine is returned to the creek. It is power at no cost to the environment. (To be fair we have a neighbour who is talking about a wind turbine – that will work just as well but you can’t see wind, just its effect.)

To make this issue even more brilliant, Eccoinnovation, the company that manufactures the powerspout turbine in New Zealand, claims the unit is made from 68% recycled materials and is 100% recyclable as the finished product.

But, wait! there’s more. The water that is being returned to the beautiful Christmas Creek has to get there somehow. Having turned the turgo wheel of our turbine the used water now has to make its own little creek, what we have called, imaginatively, Bimbul creek – the latest tributary to a greater catchment. It is also a feature of our build as it flows gently past the lower deck where our unique outdoor fireplace is situated.

One further item needing mention and done in more detail in another blog is the restoration of country. In order to make the weed infested, ex-dairy paddock suitable for Bimbul and reveal the creek, we had to spend many hours taking out lantana, glycene, croften weed, cotton weed, devils fig, nogurra burr and others I don’t even know the names by which they go. I estimated over nearly five years we spent at least 25 hours peeling the vegetation back, layer by layer.

The result was worth it. The transformation was a pleasure to behold. The final result, though satisfying, does not hint at its previous state. So the important point here is: that in the process of making a living off the land – from the hire of our cabins – we have helped in the re-establishment of country as it might have been and, if we have our own ambitions are ever realised, as it will once again be. This is sustainable living – you put more back than you take out.A Plough First Time Cleared 0416 Milton and Roslyn Pollock Bush Fire

Welcome to Wongari as an Eco Retreat :)

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Finishing Touches

On Saturday the 30th of January we were to have our official opening for Bimbul. We bravely decided this because we were so close that we thought, sometime near the end of December 2015, a month’s work would see us through to the finish. You can’t blame us for being optimistic. The build has been going now since July, albeit, off and on. And of course who had ever heard of a wet January. Whatever happened to El Nino?

So the opening got cancelled but some die-hards turned up anyway. The party, as it turned out to be, was well handled by the slightly unfinished Bimbul and only one guest had to be towed out of a bog. Still to go is the hydro (80% done); painting and oiling (90%) done; entrance gate and fence (10% done); landscaping (60%) done – but ever on-going as it merges with restoration works on Wongari.

In fact Wongari, along with SEQ Catchments, are about to work together now on our second joint project. In the land adjoining ours and next to Bimbul is a ravine that is engulfed in weed and notorious for land slips. It runs from Christmas Creek Road down to the creek and would be a great asset to all when it is cleared up and stabilised with new plantings. Not only will silt and other sediment not be washed into the creek, and the ground made suitable for regrowth, but animals will have more habitat at the same time as visitors to the area will get yet another great vista of our creeks and rolling hills from the road while they are passing by. We are particularly targeting habitat trees for Koalas. More about that in another blog.

And talking about wildlife. We have finally had a positive sighting of the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly. If you ever see this butterfly you will know why we’re pleased. The colours on this 120mm wide butterfly are dazzling. Once common they became restricted to a very limited range of habitat survival and were considered endangered. 25% of species in this country has been lost over the last 200 years so prospects were looking grim. Fortunately, a targeted programme for habitat renewal seems to be paying off with many more sightings, ours amongst them, have been reported this year. At each of our cabins we have planted their specialised vine, it takes their name, and we are now hopeful that some guests will get to see the butterfly for themselves.

Friends Putting Bimbul thru its PacesA Sense of Space

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NAVIGATION