January 26th, Year One. Australia Day...what’s left of Australia anyway.
This diary is a record for my family and descendants to refer to in the future. I know not what the future holds, but it may be of some use or interest to someone.
I only wish I had started this journal, diary, what have you, when we first moved out here from Brisbane after IT happened back in September, but, understandably, we were all a bit busy at the time. Now we have established ourselves and a lot of our areas inhabitants are also keeping journals, following my lead. I’ll attempt to fill in blanks about our previous activities as I go along or as they become relevant I’ll refer back to them.
January 30th, Year One.
I suppose you would like a description of the area where we now live. Here goes: I had sort of seen what was coming and had begun to prepare this retreat some time ago. I had a reasonably well-paying job and we had a fair amount of spare cash saved up. My wife thought it was a great idea to have a country holiday house far away from the hustle and bustle of Brisbane, where I had been transferred a short while before.
We chose a quiet country region, just north and inland of the Glasshouse Mountains, a leisurely drive away from Brisbane along quiet, clear back roads once you turn off the highway. It was far enough away from the big city to be safe, but still close enough to be convenient for a “weekender”. Near a small township we established ourselves and became a part of the community, joining weekend working bees, social clubs, the local golf course (and my game hasn’t got any better with practice I’m afraid…), and going to the dances held in the hall every month. Showing you were willing to fit in and not be snooty bastards from the big smoke let people see you were down-to-earth and honest. Buying the land through a local real estate agent, buying all building materials and so-on locally, makes you welcome as a lot of small towns need the business...correction, they needed the business at the time back then. They appreciated the fact that you were willing to pay (sometimes) higher prices and shop locally than head off to Brisbane and save a few bucks.
We bought 120 acres with the front gate seven kilometers from the town. We started by telling the real estate agent our firm requirements. Namely: a permanent creek, established dams, a good bore, well-timbered, possibly backing up to a nearby national park which was in the area (the former federal and state governments loved to spend up big on vast areas of national parks while good farms and their family owners went bust through economic rationalism.). We also needed a place that didn’t face straight onto a main road, minor country roads were OK though, but nowhere in the area towards the highway, with the house site well back from the road. Our excuses of “We’re sick of traffic after the city” and “We’re private people and don’t want uninvited guests dropping in”, both go down well in a lot of country areas and weren’t questioned. The property we bought already had a large cleared house area and three huge enclosed machinery sheds and another large storage shed with an open front. A couple of cattle yards were already built in strategic spots, though running cattle wasn’t our prime concern. It did indeed back onto the national park, which gave us a huge access to wood and grazing and even more land to expand onto if we felt the need.
We built a modular home near the spring water source. The house was made from concrete water tanks, several very large ones for living and storage areas and a couple of smaller ones for bedrooms. These were modified with windows, doors, and so-on, joined by large diameter short sections of concrete pipe for hallways. Some of the larger ones had to be poured on site in large “molds’, a fascinating process to watch. We were a bit secretive about what we were doing, but now I realize we shouldn’t have bothered trying to keep secrets from these people…the whole reason for setting it up was that we may someday have to live here permanently and people would eventually see our house anyway.
The finished house looked fantastic, with earth berms built up on some sides and over the short joining pipes for insulation, and grass growing right up over the roof on a couple of the “modules”. Our kids of course looked at the earth-and-vegetation covered roof with chimneys for the fireplaces poking up, and then inside at the sturdy wooden framed furniture, round hallways, and central fireplace and immediately called it a Hobbit House, having been big fans of the Lord Of The Rings book and movies.
This is the beauty of the design...you can simply add to it as you see fit with another tank...or at least you could back when there were factories making that kind of thing. Luckily we looked ahead and have more space than we’ll ever need.
By the way...in case you are wondering exactly what I did for a living and how I managed to pay for all this, I’ll tell you: it was all one big gamble on what was going to happen in the near future.
I used to work for an engineering firm, and my pay wasn’t bad by the standards back then...I made $94,000 a year. This property was a huge gamble, taking up a large part of my pay and our savings to cover the mortgage on it. We went heavily into debt because I could see that the way things were developing, society had maybe a year at most to go. I was in fact getting a bit behind in the payments when the end came and we fled. Let’s see the bank get it all back now!
February 12th, Year One.
The kids have settled in pretty well, and have actually started to thrive on this new life we lead. My eldest boy, fourteen years old, has become quite the gentleman farmer, being able to work out cropping schedules from the books we have, and setting up efficient chicken coops and such. My youngest boy, eleven, is a big help around the house, keeping the place organised and always willing to get in and try anything. My wife was pretty upset at first when we had to flee out here, but luckily we were ahead of the worst of it and were gone from the city well and truly when the Shit Hit The Fan. We had already moved a lot of our stuff out here, planning to take my whole three month long service leave out here at the farm, and book the kids into local schools for the time. Her parents had both passed away some years ago tragically in a fire, and I only have my father left on my side. He actually lives about ten kilometers away, just on the other side of the small township. That was one of the reasons as well for us buying here. He isn’t a young man and will need a hand in time to come with his smallholding. His opinion of what happened to society? “Serves the bastards right!“.
Livestock: We have a large poultry set-up, running chooks and ducks, and have ostriches wandering wild around the property...don’t ask me why, they just look nice and don’t need much looking after and you can eat them if you have to. A good ostrich has a large amount of meat on each “drumstick and thigh” and makes for a bit of variety in the diet, and the fat can be rendered down into something like fine machine oil.
We have some cattle for milk, but our main red meat comes from kangaroos. It’s amazing how easily they will breed when there’s a good water supply and ample green pasture. There’s no point in trying to fence them in, so we just let them know that “the foods all here, come and get it!” and they tend to hang around. Then we just go out and shoot a couple when we need meat. Butchering them properly took a bit of practise, but we had plenty to practice on! A lot of people around here appear to be doing the same. I suppose generations of Australians grew up eating ’roo tail stew in decades past so why shouldn’t we? With a creative wife like I have there’s no lack of variety either, from casseroles to curries to plain old meat and veg to kebabs and, bless her, meat pies.
Our food storage units are separate modules of the house, sunk into the ground to help with insulation. They were the largest tanks we could get, besides the main house unit, and the same size as our fresh water tanks, (of which we have three above ground and four underground in case the spring and creek ever run low during drought conditions), foam layer insulated and with a sealing door. Inside them are separate rooms for dried spices and herbs, a vast supply of vacuum packed rice, flour, and other basics. I still remember the bulk supplier salesman’s face when I casually asked for five hundred kilograms of rice...only to go and do it again a month later...
We also have one complete cold room and also a walk-in freezer. Once these are down to the set temperature, they don’t take much power to maintain if they are well insulated enough, and being underground only helps. The cold room has its own independent solar power hook up. And power is something we have plenty of.
There are, in case you were wondering, complete spare gassed-up refrigeration units in storage just in case, and a large supply of gas. I had taken a course in refrigeration repair through work some time before the end came, so that was handy.
Bread is another story. We had assumed we’d have to make our own and prepared accordingly, stocking up on yeast and other ingredients, and for the first two months here homemade was all we had. Then one day a horse-drawn wagon pulled up at the gate while I was down near the road loading up our old Land Rover ute with a couple of kangaroos I’d shot. A girl got out, about fifteen years old, rather nice looking, and I got the aroma of fresh baked bread on the air. She smiled sweetly and said
“Hi...Mr Matthews isn’t it? Would you like to be listed on our rounds?”
I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, and she must have noticed my bewildered and confused look. But I felt embarrassed looking like a slack-jawed yokel in front of a pretty girl, so I quickly tried to pull myself together, and said “Pardon?“. She went to the back of the wagon and opened the doors and pulled out a old-styled tall unsliced loaf of bread. She walked over and handed it to me and said “We run the town bakery, we’re going to try to keep people in the area supplied. We’ve got a steady access to grain from our own big property west of here and an endless supply of yeast and so-on, so would you be interested?” I was still amazed, and asked the girl how we would pay. She smiled that stunning smile again and said
“We’ve noticed you’ve got cars that seem in better than average condition, everyone’s seen them around on the roads. Well, at our bakery we’ve got an old Commer bread van that needs doing up properly to get it running reliably, can you help with that?” Of course I could. I also asked her wasn’t she afraid being out on her own and talking to strangers? She replied that she was a pretty good judge of character and anyway, the local real estate agent knew everyone who lived and had bought into the area. Country people have a way of sussing out boneheads to be avoided, in her words. She also lifted up her denim shirt and showed me that tucked into a compact holster on her belt was a Walther PPK pistol. Fair enough, said I. We donated a quantity of our supply of yeast and some of the other ingredients as well to help out. We only kept as much as we thought we needed for the occasional home-made bun loaf, and anyway, our books tell us yeast can breed if you give it the right conditions.
So now we have an almost normal supply of fresh bread, as they do the rounds of nearby farms to the town once a week. My youngest son has expressed interest in a Bakers life because he’s always up long before anyone else in the morning. I might ask the baker at a later date if he’s after an apprentice.
Today marks six months since it happened (Beginning on September 19th last year). I am not going to go into gruesome details here...that is not really what this journal is for. This is a tale of surviving, not gloomily grumbling over the past. However, later if I am in the right frame of mind, I might add my personal observations about what happened. I suppose people who were around when it happened should write it down so that in the future when some sort of society gets back on it’s feet it doesn’t, hopefully, happen again.
Now that things hereabouts have settled down and started to get into some semblance of a routine, it was decided that tonight will be held the first big town meeting for whoever can attend. A skinny young guy on horseback turned up at the house and timidly asked if we’d be able to attend. I invited the poor sod in as it was midday meal time and he looked like he could use a feed. My wife fussed over him and treated him like a long-lost cousin. He is our first actual visitor to the house, rather than just the bread delivery that stops at the gate or a passing farmer on a horse and cart or driving a battered ute, giving a curt wave.
The town meeting went rather well. We certainly got some looks turning up in our shiny XC Fairmont sedan. There were quite a few other cars from people who’d horded fuel, but my son almost has a fetish for keeping our car spotlessly clean and polished and it really stood out. That and our tarred gravel (instead of bare dirt) driveway leading out to the bitumen road passing the farm gate meant the car got to town without being covered in dirt too.
To digress, I wondered what was in one of the boxes I saw him furtively loading onto our big high-sided double-axle trailer before we fled the city...they were cartons full of bottles of car polish and polishing cloths! I didn’t ask him exactly where he got it, suffice to say we lived two doors from a large auto spare parts supply shop back in Brisbane. I suppose I couldn’t blame him. I sort of “borrowed” a small mountain of boxes of spark plugs, points, coils, filters, oil, paint, bulbs, fuses, suspension components, and a hundred other useful fiddly bits myself. Luckily there was room on the trailer for it all as we didn’t need to take any furniture with us apart from a couple of sentimental items. Meanwhile other cretins were out the front of the shop stealing really useful stuff like stereos, speakers, and raiding the Coke machine for money and drinks. My son had always had a hankering to inherit the car after we’d finished with it, and maybe he will.
Anyway, the town meeting: There were about three hundred people there, and we held it in the community hall. There were a lot of grim-faced farmers, worried merchants from the town who were wondering what to do with themselves and their shops (apart from the baker who was doing nicely thank you very much, even if actual cash wasn’t involved), and just plain people who lived in town now. It included a few people like us who had fled there from Brisbane and surrounding areas. My father was there, tying his horse up outside and lighting up his battered old English Briar-wood pipe.
We went through a lot of issues, and got a heap settled. A “Barter Fair” was decided to be held roughly every six weeks on the sports field outside town, with people bringing produce and things to be traded. This was done because no-one could figure out how to get money circulating in the town yet. That might be something for the future.
A list was made up of peoples’ skills...who could do veterinary work, who could shoe horses, mechanical work, etc. I put myself down for mechanical work and first aid, also metalwork if someone could supply the equipment at their farm or, alternatively, bring the item to be repaired to me.
It was also decided to try and get as many people hooked up to power as possible, be it wind, solar, water, or whatever. Several teams were organised to go out and scrounge the surrounding areas for parts and equipment. Information was given out on machinery and power generation options printed out on a damn old hand-cranked Roneo machine! I hadn’t seen one of those copiers since I was a kid!
Education was talked about too, because we have a total of ninety-eight children of school ages from pre-school to high school in the area, and we weren’t going to let them turn into uneducated ferals like we suspect any survivors in the city would have. The local school, though the government had closed it some time back, luckily still had all it’s equipment as the Collapse came before they had a chance to come out and collect their precious books and supplies. It was decided that a schooling program of mathematics (A groan from the kids in the crowd) English, animal husbandry, chemistry, history, and a new course we nutted out tentatively named “Survival studies” dealing with power generation, maintaining water quality, building, and meat preparation and storage and so-on would be included.
The best was kept until last, we were to find out.
There was an excited report given on what a local man had discovered about the rest of the country. He was a big Ham radio enthusiast, and had a massive antenna, looking like a giant demented Hills Hoist, set up on a high hill near his house. There weren’t many people still in contact with him, he said. He told us that he was in contact with a man at a large aboriginal settlement which had been set up on Cape York in the far north. However, most importantly, he had also just gotten in contact with New Zealand. Amazingly it was nowhere near as bad as Australia! He had been told that Auckland and Wellington and some of the other larger cities had been hit, but not all that badly, as people had sufficient warning about what was coming their way, and that the population was around two-thirds what it used to be. Apparently a lot of people were starting to call the country by its old name, Aetaeroa. They were glad to hear from us he said, and we have agreed to keep in contact with them and exchange news and information. There was even an open-ended invitation to pack up our town and move there if we ever felt things weren’t working out here, as they had also heard the empty silence of the airwaves and were amazed at finding such a colony as ours.
The news about New Zealand...sorry, Aetaeroa, brightened every ones spirits considerably.
After some damn fine home-cooked cakes and biscuits and cups of tea, we all headed home.
I went to visit the Ham radio enthusiast. His name is Peter Sinclair, and he runs a small sheep farm on his own. As well as wool for knitting and meat, he turns out beautiful clothing made from the wool. I took him some metal bracing I had made up for repairs to his antenna mounts, and while there I took an opportunity to inspect his set-up. It is now solar powered, and fills a small room under his high-set Queenslander house. He showed me the large dial on the wall, over a circular map of the world, showing where his antenna was pointed. I could not make head or tail of the radio itself. He assured me he had spares to last forever to keep it running, but then turned a little melancholy when he pointed to a large cork noticeboard along one whole wall of the room. It had ten hand-printed cards on it with call signs and locations from around the world. He said
‘That used to have hundreds of contact cards on it...guys I’d talked to from all over the world, from everywhere you could think of. There was barely any free space on it. Now I’ve filed them away and only have those ten you see there. Pitiful isn’t it...hopefully more people will get in contact with me.’ He brightened though and said he was glad he was doing the community a service now...helping us find out how many people are left and what is going on, especially keeping in contact with Aetearoa.
I went back to my farm and left him to his important work.