A Long but Poignant History of Winsome Ridge

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Exciting stories of rural life, with all its wicked perversions!Tales of Gumtree Gully
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Episode 2 - Episode 3 - Episode 4

Episode 1

It all started back in 1984 when Tony met Linda in the Photography Dept of the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Tony was a social worker wondering how to get some slides made and Linda was the girl with the answers. After a whirlwind courtship that lasted for seven years, they got married. For awhile, they lived the high life in a trendy townhouse in the upmarket locale of North Adelaide, South Australia, where the action of the city was within walking distance and the noise was unbearable. They soon moved to the suburbs and took up gardening, goldfish and listening to the neighbour’s power tools. Tony continued his social working at various hospitals, while Linda worked for a media production company.

One day Linda said, ‘Let’s spend a weekend in a little B&B called Apple Tree Cottage in the Adelaide Hills.’ So they did. From then on, they knew they couldn’t

possibly continue living in the suburbs, but absolutely must move to the quiet green hills and get some sheep ASAP. So the hunt for a home in the hills began. Soon it became clear that they would never find a suitable house, so Linda started designing one while Tony went off in search of some vacant land to build it on. They had no idea of the ramifications of this seemingly simple decision. Casting aside friends’ advice, and indeed busybodies’ advice, they went for it. Here is their story….

One fateful day we found the land we wanted and walked into the office of a Real Estate Agent, a rather quaint little old building in Gumtree Gully. There he was, smiling at us, we smiled back, and the die was cast. We should have been wary when we noticed he had trouble spelling not only our name, but also his own. But we wanted the property and lost our heads. Normally intelligent human beings, we forgot the cardinal rule of purchasing anything ‘let the buyer beware’. ‘It has fencing, electricity, and water, all included in the price’, he said, even though none of these amenities were actually there at the time. ‘Oh goody’, we exclaimed like two little children. ‘When will the electricity be connected?’ we said naively. After a brief phone call to who knows who, he said ‘eight weeks’. So we signed the contract. Six months passed.

Some time later we wondered where the water was going to come from, and ten phone calls later, we found out. It was to come from Mrs Flick (the previous owner) over the hills quite a spell, via her own private meter and her own private pipeline, at her own private price. The fencing, by now hardly worth bothering about, and certainly a minor concern, was to be done at her son-in-law’s convenience, mostly during State Holidays spread out over a year or so. We also had another logistical problem, the land broker, who, as a small matter of interest, ran her business out of a deli in an Adelaide suburb, and had a severe cash flow problem, was the real estate agent's ex-wife, hated him and we think by default, all his clients. She insisted in being paid in a complex manner involving several cheques, that we subsequently found out was only beneficial to herself. We concluded the land purchase in the back of a shop amidst a multitude of sandwiches. We since found out that some of our purchase money did not arrive in Mrs Flick’s purse, but that’s another story, and Mrs F’s problem.

To get back to the fascinating story of the water. Learning fast, we decided that we were not going to risk the rest of our financial future in paying to water Mrs F’s herd of cattle, and told her she could shove her water in any direction she desired, but not ours. It is fortuitous that we did this, because there ensued a train of interesting events. We applied to SA Water for a direct supply, and after two months of futile phone calls, always starting with the person on the front desk who informed us that she was ‘Kylie, can I help you’ and then didn’t, and then going through a procession of office bureaucrats, always the same procedure, and achieving nothing. It is of interest to note that the SA Government had lately privatised the water supply to save money and give the public a better service. Finally we received a terse letter saying that it was technically impossible to connect us to the main water supply. This is piquant because the main pipeline is a mere spit away from our estate.

What is of even more interest is the fact that the day after receiving the refusal to connect, we received an account for $230 for a metered amount of water on a block of land that had not received a driblet, except from out of the sky. A call to SA Water, after going through the usual channels of explaining the problem to at least four people including Kylie, resulted in them saying, ‘pay the bill and then we will sort it out’. We of course ignored this silly request, and tried to forget such incompetence.

Well a couple of months later, surprise, surprise, we received another bill for metered water. We were ready to explode, and once again phoned to express our concern to Kylie et al. ‘Pay up’ they said again, ‘and we will send a water inspector to sort out your problem’. We told them to shove their inspector, well actually we told them to go forth and multiply, in the biblical sense of course. Then we suggested that we should contact every media source that we could think of and put this anomaly on TV. There was no reply. Two weeks later there was a message from Kylie on the answering machine stating that the amount claimed from us was for Mrs F’s meter, and we were permitted not to pay the bill. We were astounded that this mistake could have happened, and could only conclude that Mrs F’s cows had been unusually thirsty over the hot summer. We were very happy that we had not set a precedent for the continual maintenance of the cows, thirsty though the poor dears must have must have been. We were hurt that there was no apology from SA Water in writing, but were confident that Kylie, bless her, would be in contact soon. Meanwhile, we invested in rainwater tank, and a mystical water diviner told us where to drill a bore, which we duly did, giving us a veritable river of free water. (But not until we had electricity to run the pump).

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Episode 2

We now return to the electricity adventure, a story that will galvanise you. The power supply was part of the land deal, or such was stated in the contract. After a few calls to the power company we began to wonder. You see, they had not been paid and would not start work without the cash. We phoned the real estate agent who, you will remember, was the congenial man who made the mysterious call when we naively bought the land. He denied all knowledge of anything, and then refused to take part in the proceedings. In fact on receipt of a fax demanding our rights, he sent us a very badly spelled and completely ungrammatical fax accusing us of hounding and threatening him. He was quite hurt that we wanted what we had paid for, and felt bewildered by our attitude. However, our fax to Mrs F, explaining very politely that we would be forced to drag her through the courts if she didn’t cough up, did the trick, because the electricity company soon phoned to confirm that they had been paid at last. This is the end of our problems we thought, but no, this was just the beginning of another phase.

The Electricity Trust of South Australia, known as ETSA, in the interests of a better service to the community, has been privatised by our State Government. It may interest you to know that the government is selling everything that the State owns. But we digress. More weeks went by and we still had no electricity. We needed info fast, so we phoned Trudie at ETSA to check on our power supply. She put us through to Damien, the order clerk. On asking how our order was coming along, for we needed to know if we should stock up on candles, we were told that they had not as yet selected a contractor to dig the hole to put the cable in, and even if they had got a hole digger, they had not got any cable. We suggested the local hardware store, but he thought this a frivolous idea, and treated it with contempt .The high technology of digging a hole also seemed a task that filled them with great pause, and they certainly did not want to discuss it with a layman or laywoman, or as Trudie corrected us, for she was listening in with no little contempt, a layperson.

The mere idea of even getting anyone to talk about the problem was similar to the SA Water bureaucracy. After much filibustering from 12 year old Damien, we were eventually put through to Shane, the Emergency Order Clerk, who after pouring contempt on our request, put us through to Dwayne the Crisis Order Supervisor. He was an insulting little devil with an inclination to split his infinitives. The total telephone calls to this high technology company exceeded twenty-five. You will remember we had paid for the service six months previously. Having no success with Dwayne, who didn’t seem to be in the office on the days between and including Monday to Thursday, and at the suggestion of Maria the tea lady who happened to pick up the phone one day, as there was no one in the office due to it being Trudie’s Birthday, we called the Customer Liaison Executive Officer, Bazza. He said he would get straight on it, and you probably won’t believe this, he did. The hole was dug in the next three days. We were so overjoyed we went to inspect the cavity, yes it was there, an absence of dirt, an abyss, a crater, a channel with a cable in it. Never have we been so pleased to see a hole. But where were the bits on the end that are connected to one’s light bulb? There was obviously something missing.

A call to ETSA confirmed our worst fears; they had been holding out on us. They did say that the job would be finished in four days but would not say which four days. It seems that ETSA does not have on hand such a thing as a transformer. Either Shane or Dwayne or even Bazza (but definitely not Maria the tea lady) had ordered a transformer, but none of them, not even Maria, had any idea when it might arrive from the depot in Woop Woop. This small matter was apparently in the lap of the gods, and they weren’t telling. This left us in a tricky situation; we probably needed more candles, how many was the question.

We then had an inspiration - could the government, who had got us into this tricky situation, get us out of it? Well we phoned our local member, who happens to be a member of the Liberal Party, and told him that if he did not get us a transformer quickly, we were going to tell on him to the Labor Party. And we would have, too. This seems to have done the trick, cause very soon we had a call from Dwayne or it may have been Shane, they sound alike on the phone, saying they had suddenly found us a transformer. Dwayne or Shane did not sound very impressed with the fact that we had complained to a higher authority. However, it worked, and the electricity was duly connected within the next four days. We have a slight suspicion that ETSA will not soon forget our impertinence, and has something else in store for us and we don't mean a free circuit breaker. After all, how dare we complain when they are only running four months behind schedule?

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Episode 3

This brings us to the story of selecting a builder, which also took several months longer than expected. Even the most cynical and jaded among you would not believe the general incompetence, arrogance and disinterest displayed by the state’s wide array of building companies. We sent copies of our house plans to many of them, asking for a quote, and for the most part, their attitude was ‘we’ll get to it sometime, possibly never’ or ‘you don’t really want this house because it’s too hard for us to build’ or ‘it’ll cost you a million dollars, not including the heating’. What a dilemma. We trudged the narrow streets of several display housing estates, earnestly searching for a reasonable builder to make our dreams come true, as opposed to our nightmares, which were already coming true on a daily basis. Some of them, we’re sure, had never actually built a house, nay, perhaps had never even seen one, they were so puzzled by our requests for solid brick and wooden floors and high ceilings. But at last we discovered a Dutch man called Fred who assured us that his company can build our house til the cows come home, and would have great pleasure in doing so. We eventually settled on a price, having by this time sold our previous house and discovered just how small our budget was, and signed a contract. Now it was simply a matter of waiting for the council to give us permission to build.

But alas, even though the Gumtree Gully Council had had our plans in their hands or under their water cooler for nearly three months, it would be awhile yet before they got around to actually looking at them. And when they finally did, they discovered a slight problem which is the subject of our next sad tale.

This story is about a toilet, so settle back and I will begin. The Gumtree Gully Council consists of a bunch of bureaucrats who go to a lot of meetings and pretend they are doing something useful. Their girl on the switchboard is named Kirstie, or maybe it’s Christie, and when you phone the council, she says, ‘Gumtree Gully Council, Kirstie, or Christie speaking, can you hold.’ She then disappears for hours, maybe days for all we know, whilst you have to listen to a record of dogs barking ‘Jingle Bells’ unaccompanied. I left the phone one day and went to Adelaide, did four hours work, and on my return, picked up the phone, and they were still at it.

If by sheer luck, like for instance she is not concentrating, she will put you through to the Planning Officer, not to be confused with the Chief Planning Officer, who is never there. The Planning Officer will agree to everything you say, but will never actually do anything. It came as a great surprise to him to be told by us that he probably works for the Building Approval Office. This suggestion came about due to the fact that he didn’t seem to know anything about the Planning Office. After checking with his superior one day, the one who is never there, they did agree that in principle he did possibly work for the other office, but this needs ratifying at the next Council Meeting, and no one knows when this may be; but everyone is welcome. This misadministration, which has caused major hiccups in the flow of building and planning approval, may have been going on since 1952 or even earlier, for the Planning Officer is quite ancient. We did hear from an unimpeachable source that this may develop into a Gumtreegate.

But we digress. Let’s not forget the fascinating subject of this epistle, the toilet. We planned to live in a caravan while the house was being built, a good idea we hear you say, well yes, except the council insisted on us having a flush amenity in the garage while we are in residence in the caravan. We didn’t want a throne in the garage, we would have one of the chemical variety, in the caravan. But the council insists on regulation toileting and hygienic disposal of all waste materials into an approved and duly inspected septic tank, even though this would cost us much $ to install and then we would only use it for three months.

There are three rather amusing ironies in this situation, one being that the tradesmen building our house had a really stinking mobile potty on the property for five months for their own exclusive use (well, we would never want to use it anyway, even if we had been constipated for a decade, such is the general vileness of these contraptions.) The second irony is that even though the council seems to be concerned to the point of obsession about waste disposal, they will not collect our rubbish because we live in a rural area, and must pay extra for the privilege of taking our rubbish to the dump ourselves. The third irony is that the whole of the property and beyond for scores of miles is covered in cow manure, sheep poo and the odd excretion from a passing horse or two. But the Gumtree Gully Council would not move on this matter; they insisted that we set in motion plans for our movements. We were not impressed with this scrutiny of our privy habits, and may choose to take on the Council’s Privy Security Police with all the force of the righteously indignant. In any event, it’s a matter we did not intend to take sitting down.

By the way, a fourth irony is that (don’t tell anyone this) we already had a highly illegal portable chemical toilet in the garage, for use during our day trips to the property, which the council knew nothing about. If the Chief Planning Officer ever found out, he’d go through the roof, but not of course, the roof of the council offices, because he’s never there.

Anyway, Fred the builder, being sympathetic to our plight, went at it hammer and tongs with the council for several days, trying to persuade them to keep their noses out of our excreta, good advice, don’t you think, but to no avail. The Planning Officer, in the meantime, or perhaps his boss, gave us his permission to plan the house, which we had already done, but not to build it. However, we eventually received both a Conditional Planning Approval and a Provisional Development Approval, which Fred informed us, when you add these two together they make Final Building Approval, even though the Planning Officer would not admit it. Fred appeared to know more about these things than the Gumtree Gully Council did, and also he couldn’t get any money out of us until he actually started building, so he planned to go ahead and start digging the foundations anyway.

Well, another ten crises happened in quick succession. Maybe not quite ten, but it felt like it. First, we were robbed. Having stored a few of our minor valuables in our new garage, we were dismayed to discover that someone had broken in and stolen one of our most prized possessions - our beer making kit. Fortunately, he left us the bottles, which took years of serious beer drinking to collect. Next, Fred lost the mighty toilet fight with the council. Then, building was delayed, we were informed by yet another Kylie, because the plans had to have some minor alterations and we hadn’t yet chosen the colour of the paint or the style of taps. We have yet to discover what paint and taps have to do with digging holes in the ground, but that’s another story. When the delay stretched out so much that the builder was actually in breach of the contract, we started sending nasty faxes to the manager of the building company, which resulted in an apologetic phone call and a promise that they would start ‘on Thursday’. Another apologetic phone call on Thursday informed us that the hole digger couldn’t come today, so they’d start on Friday. Tony went to visit the site on Friday, mobile phone at the ready to lodge an instant complaint if the work hadn’t started, but lo and behold, there was actually somebody working there. He was Roger (who turned out to be a right arsehole) the construction manager, who carefully placed a piece of string around where the perimeter of the house would be, and called it a day. Although it didn’t amount to much, it meant that work had started at last, and the clock was ticking.

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Episode 4

The next problem was, once again, water. It hadn’t rained since December, and our brand new rainwater tank was sitting there empty and useless, when the builders announced that they would need water to mix mortar and clean their tools etc. Of course we couldn’t get water from the bore yet, because there was no pump, and even if there was, there wouldn’t be any electricity to run it until the electrician had done his bit, which was scheduled somewhere in the distant future. So we had to pay a water carter to deliver a load of rainwater to our tank, a most annoying state of affairs. But of course it began to rain buckets on the day the builders wanted to lay the concrete.

Meanwhile, by the time Fred got through arguing with the council, not only did they still insist on a flush toilet, but now they insisted on a sink in the garage as well! Far be it from them to allow us to leave the garage without washing our hands. We wondered if they intended to have an inspector on site at all times to make sure we scrubbed up properly. Anyway, we were almost resigned to the dreadful fact of having to spend a whole lot of money on unnecessary plumbing, when the next problem arose. Tony called in to see the caravan people one day, and they kindly told him that we couldn’t have the caravan we had booked, because they had rented it to someone else. Apparently they were saving this bit of news as a jolly surprise for us to discover on moving day, when our caravan would mysteriously fail to arrive, and we’d be perched on the side of a hill with nothing but a garage crammed with all our worldly goods and the evil toilet.

So, after giving the caravan people what for, we thought ‘What do we do now?’ We’re nearly homeless, a state which we did not look upon with relish. Having already spoken to every other caravan renter in town and finding that they either didn’t have any caravans or the ones they had were stinking and dirty and not the sort of place where you’d house your pet lizard, we thought we’d have to spend a veritable fortune renting a house somewhere. Then we remembered that we have some friends, Joan and Ken, who have a spare house.

With high hopes, we rang them to ask if they’d rent it to us for awhile, cheap. Imagine our distress when they told us they’d sold it. However, they said, ‘you could live on our yacht if you like.’ Naturally, we jumped at the chance, especially when we asked how much rent they wanted, and they said ‘none’. ‘But what about our cats?’ said we. Silly us, we had temporarily forgotten that Ken is a veterinarian, and of course he would be happy to board the cats at his surgery until such time as we return to dry land. Well, we thought a miracle had happened. Suddenly all our accommodation and cat problems were solved, and we’d save so much money we could buy a ride on mower. Tears of relief were shed, and a joyful noise was made unto the lord, let me tell you.

A few days later, we went to visit Joan and Ken, and have a tour of the yacht, which is moored in a marina at a place called North Haven, several miles north of the city, and awfully nice, don’t you know, with luxury apartment buildings and trendy shops and private beaches all around. Unfortunately, the yacht doesn’t quite live up to the luxury and spaciousness surrounding it. Although it is a 6 berth yacht, if there were 6 people berthing in it, none of them could walk around at all without stepping on the others. It is, how shall we put it, ‘very cosy’. There is a toilet on board, or as we mariners say, a head, but one is not permitted to use it while in harbour. So a quick trip to the loo at 3am is an adventure, negotiating one’s way around the other yachts, up a flight of stairs and through a locked door to the marina’s toilet facilities. Woebetide he who forgets to take the key with him, which Tony was bound to do.

We were beginning to wonder if we’d been a bit hasty in accepting the offer of the yacht with such glee, in fact, we were beginning to dread the thought of living on it, when our friend Carol with a C, as opposed to Karel with a K who always has a headache and doesn’t get paid enough and whose mother was dyslexic, said that she and Wayne were going overseas for 10 weeks starting in May, and would we be able to housesit their house and dogsit their dog. Of course we said yes, and while you’re about it, why not leave right away and don’t come back til September? We couldn’t persuade them to extend their holiday, even though their dog showed a remarkable desire to have us with him and was last seen enthusiastically dragging their suitcases out of the garage.

So, at least we would have a 10 week reprieve from the cosy yacht, living in a real house. And even though it’s just an ordinary little house and an ordinary little dog, we couldn’t wait to get off the boat (which we weren’t on yet) and into Carol’s house.

Although we had our tribulations, it seemed that eventually things started to go right. For example, just when we were faced with the problem of having no telephone for several months, Tony was issued with a company mobile phone. And just when we were getting worried about the state of our car, which has turned into a country vehicle, complete with bangs and dents and dirt and squashed bugs all over the outside, and miscellaneous hardware and flies and bits of grass and rock decorating the interior, Tony was issued with a company car, which we’ll be most pleased to drive back and forth to the hills every day at no cost. And funnily enough, Linda’s boss (who in a frenzy of cost-saving, made Linda redundant a few months previously, but because Linda was a public servant, she was still getting paid for doing almost nothing at all) offered Linda a job. And not just any job, mind you, but that of Systems Administrator. It’s a funny old world, isn’t it?

One day we visited our new home to find that the footings had been laid, and as we were about to leave, the drain man arrived and deposited a massive piece of machinery on our lawn in preparation for digging trenches all over the place and installing the septic tank. Roger, meanwhile, assured us that the bricklayers would be arriving that week. He said we’d better hurry up and choose the paint colours.

So the day came when we said a farewell to our former home in Maple St, with mixed emotions. We packed the cats in their cages and headed for the surgery, and the dreaded yacht.....

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