Lessons from Uncle Addy
"Maaaaaaate, I've never seen compost like it!"
I’d first heard of Addy Jones from my mate Mick Waters, the filmmaker. Mick was travelling around Oz with his wife and three kids and had spent time with Addy on his Flinders Island property in Bass Strait. Mick had witnessed first-hand Addy’s wizardry on the land. "He's growing finger limes mate, and they’re pumping!" That really got me intrigued. Finger limes are an Aussie rainforest native. I had a friend with a finger lime orchard up on the North Coast where I grew up, and here was Addy, growing them on an island over a thousand kilometres to the south, smack bang in the middle of the Roaring Forties.
I saw my mate, Glen Casey soon after and he was raving about seeing Addy make a surfboard out of materials from the dump. Foam from an old fridge for the blank, wrapped in bamboo venetian blinds and other assorted pieces of junk. Case was also raving about Addy's garden and handed me his number. I typed in the number and gave it a ring. Five minutes later I knew I'd discovered a special mate.
Collecting seaweed for some 'tea' brewing. All photos: Hayden Richards.
Addy was full of life and energy for all things gardening, recycling and turning the tide on society’s disposable and wasteful attitude. We talked about compost, permaculture ideas, compost, surfboards, surfing… and more compost. I would take notes over the phone, head out to my compost heap and fork in a barrow load of animal manure, more greens or whatever he said was the missing ingredient.
Addy is also a top-notch earth-worker. He knows excavators like I know my Hilux. Dave Rastovich had lent me the book, Permaculture: A Designer's Manual soon after I bought my property in the Southern Australian drylands (sorry mate, it’s not coming back). I was fascinated by the drylands chapter and also the concept of swales – a low, contoured mound dug into the land to hold water.
When Addy started talking about swales to rehydrate my land and provide niche growing opportunities, I was all ears. This joint is dry and every drop counts. My priorities were changing from surfing great waves at any cost to growing healthy, chemical-free food for my family and having a holistic, closed-loop system where animals, plants, water and all our waste was integrated to make for a very satisfying, healthy life for my growing family. "Get an excavator and I'll be there, mate" said Addy over the phone.
Two years later and after a couple of false starts, I called Addy. "The excavator will be here in a week; can you make it?”
"I've got a bit on mate, but I'll do my best.”
I was going for it. I was halfway through an online permaculture design course and was convinced that I needed swales to help turn things around on my land. Having never done more than sit in the seat of an excavator, it was a baptism of fire. I figured it out slowly and a couple of weeks later had two kilometres of very rough swales dug into my hillside.
Thank God Addy arrived just in time. Having never met Addy, it would have been nice to go for a surf or show him around my neck of the woods, but that first week he didn’t get out the front gate. I was pushing him to get these swales finished off before I had to return the excavator. He was a master in driver's seat. The swales were beautiful; gently curving along the contour of the hill, with a nice, wide, workable mound. The way contours flow through landscape is an organic, beautiful and unpredictable thing. You can never be sure until you get a level out.
I was rushing Addy, trying to take shortcuts, not wanting to stop. He came up with an idea for a tool to make things easier but I didn’t want to take any time out to make it. I just wanted to keep trucking. He eventually convinced me and we made actually made a few tools, improvised from bits of "junk" on my property or from a nearby farmer’s dump. Addy made a raking tool out of an old farm gate and some fence posts. It was a game changer, saving me days raking the swale mounds smooth by hand. Then there was his one-pass seeder made from old concrete reo mesh and chain link.
Addy sees gold where anyone else would see junk.
One afternoon I took him to a dump near my farm. I've never seen so much froth from anyone, anywhere, about anything. Every time Addy turned his head or walked round a corner, I would hear an excited squeal coming from his direction. We came back with a lot of nick-nacks, even after I had to tell him to put some of them back. A couple of classics were the old plastic jerry can repurposed into a carry-all, and some old steel tubing and plastic bottles crafted into spinners to scare the roos and birds. Addy walked around the dump seeing potential everywhere.
Addy was also on my case to sort out some irrigation. I had to cut three different lines of poly pipe and I’d start searching the car for the tools to do it, which was a total mess. I was rushing and worried that we didn’t have enough time, but I stopped for a day to get all my tools in order. It's something my dad has been trying to teach me. Sometimes you have to lose a day to gain a week in the long run. For me, who always wants things done yesterday, it’s hard to stop moving ahead but I'm learning that slowing down and keeping things in order is a better way to work.
The other thing I learned is that Addy is pretty much always right. He’s a wealth of knowledge on all sorts of things. After cutting my finger badly one night while rushing to get dinner ready, Addy recommended I use his Critter Kleen cream to put on the wound. Back on Flinders he’d made the concoction himself out of all-natural ingredients to use on his pet wombats, which had bad cases of the mange. Nothing else had worked but the cream cured them straight away, and it turns out it heals pretty much everything, including my finger.
Addy's other passion is soil. Another product he’s formulated for the soil is made from blood and bone, humic acid, fulvic acid, microbial inoculants and fish emulsion. Addy called it “Ignition” and he’d rave about it. He also wanted to teach me how to brew my own “tea”. I bought an aerator, we grabbed an old IBC (thousand-litre container), cut the top off and got brewing. This was fun. The tea ingredients were two cups of Ignition, seaweed, compost, a bucket of worm juice, a litre of tuna emulsion and a litre of molasses all mixed in with water. It smelled sweet and I almost wanted to taste it.
He then spotted an old trailer I used when I first bought my property and decided it would be good to sit the brew on. It had been my stone-carting trailer given to me for nothing by a mate, but it was severely rusted and I wouldn’t take it out on the road anymore. It was just sitting there. But Addy sees gold where even I see trash (I pride myself on reusing people’s rubbish) and after half a day of fitting poly pipe and a water pump we had a brew trailer in action, ready to spray.
The brew trailer in action.
That afternoon I was driving along swales spraying a brew overflowing with life. With a beer in one hand and the sun setting over the sea behind the swales, life couldn’t get much better. Occasionally on a tight corner I would cop a mouthful of the brew through the window, but it smelled so sweet it made me smile even more (plus I reckon my beard grew an inch overnight). We also used the brew on my veggie beds. We sprayed the broccoli, and Addy goes, "Mate, just do the one side and leave the other. Let’s see what it does." Well, two weeks later one side had big fat broccoli heads ready for munching and the other was just getting started. The difference was dramatic.
Before Addy left, he made sure he taught me how to make compost. He made a lasagne-like pile of garden waste, animal waste, poultry beddings, wood-ash and some Ignition. When I turned the heap a week later it was the best smelling and warmest compost I’d ever turned. It smelt like a forest floor. Three weeks later I spread it out over my fruit trees and on the vegie beds. They haven’t looked back.
Both Addy and I are often working by ourselves on our properties. When you're by yourself and on site every day, projects can feel as if they take forever. Addy would often say, "Just keep crabbing away, brother." It made sense. Mulching the swales was one of those moments. After half a day I'd mulched maybe just a hundred metres of one swale. After a week crabbing away though, mulching every day, all the swales had a beautiful scatter mulch on the mounds and shone golden from the road. A week later we had the strongest westerly front for the winter move through and the 45-knot winds blew most of my mulching efforts off the mounds and into the trenches behind them. It was one of those moments you just have to laugh and crab on.
Sage advice and snack break.
Addy did all of this out of the goodwill of his heart. He wouldn’t take any money. He’s the most giving person I've ever met and was just happy to see his knowledge passed on and appreciated. I’ll never forget my time with Addy and neither will Eliza or the boys. Every night he would come and play with the kids, often with a new toy he'd wrangled from a junk pile or another present sprung from his duffel bag. He pimped Ziggy's boat cubby with a steering wheel, horn and a throttle he’d salvaged from a shipwreck back home on Flinders. If the boys were upset, a quick honk on the boat horn – Addy squeezing his nose at the same time – was always a mood turner, everyone in deep laughter.
A few weeks after Addy had left, Ziggy said to me that as soon as he gets his license, he’s getting our old bus and driving straight to Flinders Island to hang with Uncle Ad.
Banner image – Addy manifesting a seeder from old bits and pieces. All Photos: Hayden Richards.