Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ode to Corrugated Iron & Camembert

Cheddar cheese brought me to Australia (well, that and tennis tournaments, wonderful friends, warm weather, and great food & wine), but I want to put it aside for this blog entry, and this one only, to pay homage to something truly Australian: corrugated iron.

In case you are not familiar with corrugated galvanized iron, it's a lightweight but durable building material that can be used cheaply by semi-skilled workers in rural and developing areas. Its uses are numerous, and it's the Australians, since the 1840s, who have coaxed the most out of it. Corrugated iron is such a part of the fabric of Australian living, even in urban areas where sheets of it are laid as roofing, that the cartoonist Michael Leunig suggested that it be adopted as the flag of Australia (see above).

On my visits to Australia I've seen corrugated iron function as the structure of whole buildings, including fancy & innovative cellar doors (the tasting rooms of vineyards) and Italian restaurants. Wille, Lucy's husband, has fabricated auxiliary housing units on his farm in the Southern Highlands (New South Wales) with it, one for his daughter and one for guests. It's also good for hen houses and dog houses and potting sheds and tool sheds. Willie uses upright circular containers made of corrugated iron to store rainwater. On their side these containers shield firewood from the occasional rain. Needless to say, every building on Willie and Lucy's property has roofing made from corrugated iron.
It might not be the classiest of building materials, but it's one of the most functional and it underscores the pioneering self-sufficiency of Australians, at least the ones who don't live in cities. And in this sparsely populated country it doesn't take long to get out of the cities! Australians know how to make and fix things, a skill I don't come across as frequently in the U.S., and one I wish I had. While visiting Nina on the South Coast of New South Wales, Neville, the elderly Australian who owns the property on which she lives, busies himself all day with projects. He builds and fixes furniture, and in the past built a mediation hut in the bush for his now-deceased wife and the tree-house like building in which Nina lives. He originally designed it for his daughter so that she would have a quiet place of her own while she was at university. His latest project was building a whole pizza oven from scratch! Someone he knows in Adelaide is handmaking tools for his oven so he can pull out pizzas without burning his arms. So cool and impressive (even if it hasn't been made with any corrugated iron)!
Lucy, who herself is quite skilled at making things (she was a prop designer), is gunning for self-sufficiency in the Australian bush. With Willie's skillful help and with the monetary donations from her wedding over two years ago, she has made an enormous kitchen garden, with beetroot, celery root, lettuces, beans, fruit trees, squashes, etc. She was recently given a calf, which, although it's a breed for beef, she hopes, she hopes will supply milk for cheese and butter. While I was visiting, Lucy devoted a whole day to making two Camembert cheeses with unhomogenized milk bought from the supermarket, so she can prefect her cheesemaking skills by the time her calf provides milk. She is even hoping one day to make Cheddar, but this is more complicated because you need a cheese press and a cool place to store the cheese--not easy to come by in Australia. But knowing how innovative Aussies are, even ones who, like Lucy, immigrated there not so long ago, I bet she'll find a way.


Loe said...

Hey! Glad to hear you're still alive and doing well. Your friends sound very ingenious and must be a blast to hang out with. I'm very jealous of your travels.

Hope you have a great weekend!!

Olivia said...

Just to give your blog on corrugated iron roofs -- which I remember clearly from my English childhood -- a Latin twist, I thought you might like this on "lares and penates," quoted from an Aussie newspaper in today's Word of the Day:

"But let's face it, the nearest thing that many Aussies have in the way of religion, or, as it is labelled with new-age vagueness, spirituality, are those little do-it-yourself offerings to the roadside gods, the lares and penates of the new-age pantheists."

The Soft Toy Taking on a Religious Symbolism; The Canberra Times (Australia); Jan 14, 2006.