Now it’s COVID-19

Australia goes into lock-down.

But amazingly, this makes very little difference to us.

Sure, we are on our own, but we are locked up on 32 hectares with plenty to do, and we are used to it. We just admire how most people cope.
Local wine deliveries go on, leaving the wine on door steps rather than having a chat.
Friends still call in to get “very essential supplies”, but rather than hugging we shout at one another from a distance.

Sure, we cannot send our wines to the international Wine exhibition in Vienna, because Australia Post doesn’t accept parcels to Austria. But we keep them for for next year.

And repairs go on by the two of us, if ever so slowly.

But: We have learnt from our friends.
When contractors start piling up wood, just down the road from us, we observe covertly but greedily, watch the quiet activity of neighbours with chainsaws and trailers coming and going, and when we hear on the grapevine that it is hoped that the wood will walk away…
Of course we oblige and help!

We know what to do with piles of burnt trees!
Posts for our stockyards!

We find some good posts for yards, and it would be a shame to waste them as firewood. The guy who unloads gives a friendly wave as we cart our bounty home.

And now, we find some time to repair the stock yards.

We get the burnt rails off, dig the burnt stumps out of the ground (they go down about a meter), peel the bark off the new posts and set them into the holes. They are much to heavy to lift and have to be maneuvered in with chain and tractor. Then we find unburnt boards long enough to connect them. Some we have to replace with steel rails.

And then it is done: The main pens are functional again, perhaps not as good as before, but adequate for the moment.

And every spare moment (and sometimes moments I don’t really have to spare) I use to throw up emergency housing for all my homeless flocks of Croad Langshan chickens.

My chookies immediately like my newest design, it is built from second-hand pallets and offers shelter beneath and on the side.
The front opens for easy and fast daily cleaning.

And then the lock-down ends, just in time to get help with pruning the burnt grapevines.

Recovery begins

Now the excitement is over and we are supposed to recover.

So why are repairs so extremely slow?
Every simple task now takes a lot longer than it used to, a lot longer than expected and certainly a lot longer than it should.

More than 4 months after the fire we have very little to show for our recovery efforts.

Rebuilding what the two of us had built quite by ourselves seemed easy enough at first.
Yes, we are 30 years older, but we have better machinery, more tools, a lot more experience and certainly more resilience now.
But we never before realised just how much we actually did build over all these years.

Before the fire: The cattle yards the two of us designed and built more than a quarter of a century ago, when we ran up to 90 cattle (down to 10 due to the drought now.)

And the normal work goes on, with little spare time for repairs.
Looking after the wine, topping barrels, racking, bottling, labeling and packing takes more time than usual because the winery needs constant cleaning.

Ash and dead leaves blowing around with every wind gust dirty the winery, the house and contaminate our drinking water.
Weeks after the fire the water from our rainwater tanks suddenly turns black (yeah, yeah, did all the disconnecting, gutter-cleaning and so on). Our water-filtering system and other water-cleaning techniques do not seem to help, and for coffee and cooking we live out of a camping water container, filled from the winery tanks which are fine but don’t connect to the house.
No big problem, but again, time-consuming.

My chookies have to roost in totally unsuitable, but fox-proof places during the night. Cleaning these every day is a nightmare.
During the day they are not safe. The foxes roaming the vineyard for grapes hide in the high grass, kill 4 and injure 3 more in a dozen brazen daylight attacks very close to the house.

hopeless roost situations
Chooks injured by the fire or foxes live in the garden shed

Still, with the help of two friends we start to dismantle some of the burnt fences and repair the stockyards.
The stockyards have highest priority because we have to load and return a borrowed bull, and there might be an injured or sick animal requiring treatment any time.

A friend knows where to find replacement posts, where a firebreak was cut and the usable posts separated.

Another friend gives a hand with dismantling the old boundary fences, now just burnt posts, burnt droppers, nails, staples, clips and lots of wire.

We’re all set and begin the repairs, but now the corona virus hits, our friends work from home, and everything is even slower.


The flood has not ended the drought, but for the first time in a long time there is moisture in the soil. Now we see growth as we have never seen it here.
A lot is recovering, but nothing is the way it was.

First rabbit numbers explode, then fox numbers, and of course: weeds.

But also some of the burnt and dead-looking Eucalypti start to shoot again, and a few of the other native trees and shrubs. Many only shoot at ground-level and some are utterly dead, but there is a promise of recovery.

End of December 2019
Mid-April 2020

Then new seedlings start to grow.

The first to come up is a little herb, Sweet Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum suaveolens), which has a small, nondescript flower and the most exquisite perfume. I had not seen it here for several years. Then thousands and thousands of wattle-trees germinate. Wattles are a pioneer tree and will quickly close the tree canopy again. But they are short-lived and will die in about 10 years time, to create an increased fire hazard.
No idea how to manage this.

Sweet Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum suaveolens)
Wattle seedlings, thousands of them germinate.

The grass is suddenly knee-high, a sight we are so unaccustomed to that I am searching for our cattle, then detect them laying down, with only black ears poking out of the high grass.

But the pasture is also very different. Native grasses grow first. They are beautiful, very hardy, prevent erosion, and are generally useless for feeding cattle.
Pasture management is one thing I thought we would need advice with.

Trying to decide the new fence line.

The fruit-trees do their spring growth thing, with burnt apples hanging next to prolific apple blossoms. But many fruit trees are dead or only shoot again from the rootstock, which of course is no good. Some have survived but their mate, the tree needed for cross-pollination has died.
There is no time to do anything about it.

Dead Nashy tree regrowing as pear rootstock
Badly damaged Apricot, throwing up suckers.

The vines start to shoot again, too.

Some regain their canopy, some shoot from the roots, some don’t shoot again, and some have burnt to the ground. Some even have grapes, but many vines turn red – a sure sign that the fire has strangled their trunk.

Most grapes have burnt
Some grapes survived but are awful and don’t mature properly.
Red autumn leaves indicate that the trunk has been girdled by the fire.

And shortly after the vineyard goes out of control.

The vines collapse with disease. Caring for them was low priority and they show it. The vineyard has never ever looked so bad. We try to mow the grass between the rows, but the mulcher- mower catches a wire from a damaged trellis and is out of action for 2 weeks.

The trellis posts and irrigation lines don’t seem to recover much either, but let’s give them some more time perhaps…

And business explodes, too.

After assuring worried customers that NO, there is NO need to panic-buy the last ever bottles of wine left to us, NO, we are NOT down and out and closing and moving away, and YES, we are open for business as usual, sales resume.

Then they start to boom.

The Sarsfield bushfire has made headlines and many people want to help.

Mount Majura Vineyard, Tinamba Hotel and several private people promote our wines. People are incredibly generous! Please visit our thank you page here.

We spend our time labelling, packing, delivering. This not only helps cash flow, it also gives us a tremendous moral boost.
Some people care about Sarsfield Estate.

Flood, 20. 1. 2020

A week after the fire we get a little bit of rain – the first for weeks, really.
It dampens the remaining nests of embers and we get a little bit of water into our tanks.
A week later we get a few millimeters more, and to our surprise a tinge of green appears. Our pasture starts to recover!

Suddenly there are also some small birds and some very noisy frogs, and some butterflies, and a little wild Lilly flowers under the trees behind the house.

These are things we have not seen for a year or more.

And then, three weeks after the fire, it starts to RAIN. We get 80 mm rain and everything floods.

It is still raining heavily when we race down to the dam and find our (drought located) diesel pump already standing in water. We frantically disconnect the hoses and yank the pump to higher ground.

Isn’t this wonderful?

Within an hour the dam rises half a meter.

Now it is back at the level it was in spring, when we decided that we could no longer afford to irrigate the vineyard. The windmill can suck water again. Our main diesel pump, too.

We are at back to square one, which is a huge advancement.

The little dam behind the house, (which in our planning, before the drought) was reserved for firefighting and wildlife only, fills up a little bit, too.

Fortunately the soil is now no longer totally bare and erosion isn’t too bad. Still, a lot of ash is washed into the dams. Shortly afterwards we find tortoises leaving the little dam. The water seems to be too polluted for them now. We take them down to the main dam which we hope has better water quality. The frogs and other aquatic life we don’t know….

But for now: The fire danger is finally over.

The vineyard

There is definitely no vintage 2020.

The fire was worst where the grass was slightly longer.
Posts were burnt at ground level
Irrigation is melted.
The leaves have been toasted and the grapes cooked.
Several fruit trees shared the fate.

We decide to look at it all at a later date, say in winter.