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Tasmania: Living in the House that Doesn't Exist (3) Neighbours.

Updated on January 14, 2014

Around the house

the drive way to the barn
the drive way to the barn
My hippy overalls.
My hippy overalls.

Our animal neighbours. (Our cat gets it's courage and we gain confidence))

In between work in the barn, and in between the storms, there were magic moments of blue skies and the most intense rainbows imaginable. The air also gave hint of the spring to come, and was scented with blossoming apple and fruit trees. The garden was also in full flowering mode. To my joy, underneath the blackberries and ivy in front of the house, we discovered flowering rhododendrons, camellias and daffodils. They showed us they hadn’t given up despite their years of battle for light against the climbers and the thorns.

There was also the most wonderful scent in the garden that totally enchanted me, but I couldn’t find the source. It took me several days to track down a small rhododendron with white flowers almost invisible under the blackberries. This was the most fragrant plant I have ever smelled and it was right outside the front door. It was also the first plant I released from captivity.

On the down side we saw plenty of rabbits and they were chewing everything. When I say plenty of rabbits… I mean hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rabbits. They bounded up the drive, and scattered through the garden when we walked outside. Not far from the house was a huge pile of boulders, hundreds of tons of them. This amazing mini-mountain was covered in…you guessed it… more blackberries! Peeping out from the briars were old bicycles, roofing iron, irrigation pipes, parts of old cars, loads of beer bottles, tins and anything else you could imagine in a tip. (This is because there has never been any garbage collection in this part of the world and people dumped where they lived. Besides, it was cheaper than driving to the tip and paying tip fees.)

Under this tip site was a rabbit megopolis! Here partied every sized rabbit imaginable. The fluffy little blighters bounded and hopped, somersaulted and played chasey. Even the goshawks, eagles and falcons didn’t seem to bother them. They were so brazen they barely moved out of our way when we went towards them. Watership Downs it may have been, but we were not happy at the sight of so many rabbits. Rod’s first retirement plan was to build a vineyard. We were told that rabbits would just chew through your vines in a minute flat. Horrid rabbits!

But Rod, my husband) got that look in his eye and I knew, like the rats, the rabbits were doomed.

The rabbits bred faster and faster with the hint of spring. We thought they had been in plague proportions before, but now they were everywhere and burrowing around the house. I found a burrow under a beautiful old pear tree just outside the house and beside a massive wall of flowering creepers.

Zen, our cat, was staring down the burrow intensely, so I rammed my hand down and connected with something furry. I grabbed and pulled, and out came the tiniest baby bunny with adorable big black eyes and tiny twitching soft whiskery noses. I put my hand back down the hole and pulled out four more. They all squealed in terror. Their little cries were heart wrenching.

'Rod,' I yelled, amazed by what I’d found. 'I've caught five bunnies!'

Rod clumped over. We clumped now, as we were wearing working boots. (We had to wear working boots because if we trod in a cow poo with good shoes, they soon became working boots and we were using dangerous tools and feet had to be protected..)

'Oh, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail,’ Rod cooed, as I held up the little squalling creatures. They looked at us with tears in their eyes. They were just like the Flopsy Bunnies.

‘I suppose you want me to kill them?' he said.

How could we kill them? We couldn't. We let them go.

Our cat chased them! Ahhh, perhaps this was a good sign. It would take the guilt away if our city cat killed the rabbits. But, no. She picked them up one by one by the scruff of the neck, as she would a kitten, and began mothering them and shepherding them around the garden. Two days later she was still looking after them. She'd turned from bunny killer into bunny mother!

I’m happy to say, all five bunnies managed to escape and dived back down the hole to their mummy. Then they got bigger really fast and off they all went to visit their aunties and uncles in the rabbit megopolis.

Beside the rabbit megapolis was an eternal source of water, as three springs burbled from beneath all the junk. These springs continued down through the property and became a huge bog where the cattle had wallowed, and the land degraded. Then the springs disappeared into the earth again just short of our front boundary fence. This was also an area that would need a lot of work. We mentally chalked up that if we were careful with our budget we could build a dam in this area to irrigate the grapes.

While we explored and worked on the property we also became acquainted with the neighbour’s cattle, which happily grazed over our farm. We had agreed to them being there, just before we had settlement on the property. Letting the cattle on the property had been one of those awkward moments with our neighbours.

Rod had flown back to Tasmania at settlement time and inspected the house. He noticed the vendor’s cows still grazing in the paddocks. We told our lawyer about the cows, and he told us we were liable if they caused anyone damage so the vendor had to remove them.

‘They’re not my cows,’ the vendor had replied, after we asked him to take his cattle away. ‘You need to talk to the folk in that brick house next door.’

When Rod phoned the folk in the brick house next door (Don and Penny) about the cattle on our land, they were rather surprised. ‘We thought you wanted them there,’ Don grumbled. ‘Your vendor sold those cows to us last week and said you were happy to have them keep the grass down!’

As we were newcomers and Rod didn’t want to start off our move on the wrong foot, or distress our new neighbours by demanding the cattle’s removal, and logic told him we’d need the grass mowed until we moved, Rod replied, ‘That’s fine. Leave them there.’

So, when we arrived there were seven cows with seven new calves and a big bull on the property. We had never been near cattle before. To us they looked ENORMOUS! But, we hadn’t dared walk out in our own fields. We were afraid of the massive bovine beasts that prowled outside the electric fence. Oh yes, there was an electric fence. It’s source box clicked away from inside the barn and I was terrified of being electrocuted by it. I thought if two thin fencing wires can keep great big bulls and cows away, how big is the shock?!

So, as it was the first fine day since our move that looked fine, and we hadn’t been around the property, and the cattle were way off in the distance, we decided to venture forth. We turned off the electric fence. Climbed between the two wires. Zen came with us, hugging our heels. Zen has the Burmese cat thing that says she has to walk with her owners and, since we had arrived, she hadn’t let us out of her sight. If we moved too far away from the house she began howling neurotically.

The cattle on the property did raise their heads as we made our way down through the paddock. We didn’t have any gates on the land. They took one look at us wandering over the fields with a cat (still howling) between our legs and they wandered over to investigate. As they approached, they got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger! By the time they were about two meters away we froze.

God they were huge!

Zen slunk right down between our legs. Within seconds the cattle made a ring around us. They had giant heads, enormous eyes, dribbling noses and they sniffed at us, very loudly.

The bull had the biggest head ever and he pushed it forward. Zen made a small move. The bull put its head down and gave a huge snort.

Zen reacted. Every hair stood at right angles and she doubled in size.

The bull jumped back. The cows jumped back.

Zen took off like a crazed thing towards the house. For some reason, all the cattle took off after her in a thunderous stampede. The cat only just made the electric fence and disappeared up the first tree.

Strangely this near death trauma stopped her constant howling. For the first time since we arrived she seemed happy just to be alive and well. From that moment she went outside on her own and reverted to her normal pleasant self. Needless to say, Zen kept away from the cattle. But, she didn’t forgive them. It took her several weeks to discover the cattle wouldn’t go near the electric fence. Later, we observed her pacing up and down on our side of the fence, with her tail arrogantly high in the air.

The big bull would come to the wire and sniff. Then, Zen would roll onto her back and wriggle with her paws in the air in the most taunting manner imaginable.

cows and cats.

Zen outside the newly repaired barn.
Zen outside the newly repaired barn.
Our cat adapting to country living.
Our cat adapting to country living.
The bunny megopolis. And some of the many blackberries on the farm.
The bunny megopolis. And some of the many blackberries on the farm.
Me feeding cows some apples. (waste apples)
Me feeding cows some apples. (waste apples)
Loads of cows..big cows.
Loads of cows..big cows.

People: Neighbours.

Don and Penny, our cow owners, were our closest neighbours and lived about a hundred metres away and their apple orchard fringed one side of our house. But I had not met them.

One bright morning, I woke early and planned to get to work hacking the blackberries. I put on some old rainbow coloured overalls that a friend had given me. There was a knock at the back door and when I answered a young man with the cheekiest smile, sunburned face and twinkling eyes gave me ‘a look’. It was written all over him that he thought I was a trendy new-age hippy of the virulent variety that hadn’t died out in the sixties. Beside him was a petite curly headed lady. She ignored my garb and exuding warmth, and with her direct gaze and generous smile greeted me with a warm handshake.

‘Welcome,’ she said. ‘I’m Penny.’ She gave the man a little push, ‘Don has something for you,’ she added. Don reached down and picked up a huge box near the back door.

‘It’s a quarter of beef,’ he told me. ‘I thought you might like it, especially as you’ve had our cows on your land.’ The gift was overwhelming. I looked at the giant box and wondered how I’d ever fit it into our small freezer. I thanked them warmly and invited them in for morning coffee. Soon we were seated on our outdoor garden chairs in our brown kitchen balancing our cups on our knees. (We didn’t bring a dining table with us.)

Don and Penny were more than pleased to tell us about the neighbourhood. We discovered that we had four sets of neighbours, if we counted those folk whose land boarded our land. With Don pointing, we got some good local gossip. On the right side of our property was another road, some half kilometre away fringed by a wall of blackberries. On the other side of the blackberries Don pointed out a dark-grey, wooden house almost hidden by a corrugated iron wall some four meters high and of some 50 or 60 metres in length. This daunting iron wall was reinforced against intruders with rolls of barbed wire. It looked like a concentration camp. There was also a thick forest of massive gum trees that blocked any sight of the rest of this neighbour’s property. ‘That’s the drug dealer’s house,’ Penny almost whispered. She gave Don a tense look.

‘But if you’re lucky he’s just moved,’ said Don. ‘But we’re not sure.’

‘We heard from a mate in town that he’s sold to some blow-ins,’ Penny added. Then she blushed, realising she might have offended us. The locals call us new comers, blow-ins. You have to have lived in the valley for six generations to be accepted as a local.

‘I can only hope some new folk have taken it,’ Don said. ‘The guy who lives there is really scary.’

‘Not the sort you’d make friends with,’ Penny said. ‘We’re all frightened of him.’

‘Why were you frightened?’ Rod asked.

‘He’s crazy,’ Don told us. ‘He built the iron wall to keep the police out. He has guns and everything and he won’t let his kids out. They’re home schooled and they were all born in the lounge room.’

‘He grows the dope in the yard and in the house, and there are ‘odd bods’ driving up on motorbikes every other day to buy his stuff,’ chimed in Penny.

‘Surely the police could do something about him?’ I asked, hardly believing the tale.

‘Well, not really,’ Don answered. ‘You see he might know who dobbed him. Like, one day he was sitting naked in the driveway holding a knife. He jumped out at this friend of ours who was driving her kids to school. She was frightened out of her wits. She was too scared to tell the police in case he came by and hurt one of them.’

‘All the neighbours are scared,’ Penny said. ‘ He’s stolen from everyone and no one reports it, in case one of his mates make you pay. The police know what he was up to, but it’s catching him that’s hard.’

‘Like he cut down a neighbour’s trees while they were out for the day,’ Don added. ‘He stole this bloke’s cast iron stove, which weighed, like a ton, right out of his kitchen while he was working down in a back paddock and his door was open.’

‘And their baby died during a home birth and they buried it in their yard!’ Penny was really warming to the gossip.

We were horrified! What sort of place was this, where people could bury children in their yard? Surely that wasn’t true? I couldn’t believe it.

‘And,’ Don told us, his voice now beyond shocked, ‘he pushed his cow into your paddock to get it pregnant by our bull… without paying!’

‘Dear Heavens!’ Rod patted Don on the shoulder. ‘Terrible!’

We all stared at the wretched house across the way. Silence descended. I wondered if this unsavoury neighbour was the real reason our house had been for sale.

‘I do hope a mainlander has bought the house,’ said Penny. We nodded in agreement.

But this was not the end of the gossip! As Don and Penny got up to leave, they parted with another warning, ‘If you hear a big bang in the middle of the night, don’t worry,’ said Don.

‘Big bang?’ Rod now looked a little grey around the gills.

‘Yep,’ said Penny. ‘There’s a guy up the road who makes bombs and he gets drunk and lets them off.’

I must have paled. ‘Where have we come to?’ I gasped, thinking in these days of terrorism and uni-bombers. I was shocked that the neighbours thought it was OK for someone to let off bombs in the middle of the night and bury babies in their yards and do nothing about it!

‘It’s Trev,’ said Penny. ‘He lives up the road, not far away. He’s harmless. It’s just his hobby.’

‘Hobby!?’ Rod and I looked at each other with buggy eyes.

Sure enough, a few nights later a huge explosion woke us from our sleep. ‘Should we ring the police?’ I asked.

‘Let’s meet people first,’ he advised. ‘We’ve just arrived. If we go dobbing people in, who might be related or best-friends of the locals, then we may never be accepted.’

A few days later, while walking up one of the nearby roads I walked past a run down besser brick house. I noticed a long-haired man working in his garage. He was bent over a blender, which was roaring at full speed. He looked up as I went past. He had two huge rags stuffed up his nostrils. He waved cheerily. There was no avoiding him because he stopped what he was doing and walked towards me with his hand outstretched. ‘I’m Trev!’ he smiled, nose rags wobbling.

Seeing my shocked face, he added. ‘Oh the rags!’ He pulled them out with a flourish. ‘I’m trying to make gunpowder in me blender,’ he explained. ‘And you know how gunpowder gets up ya nose.’

‘Of course,’ I said, trying to make it sound like I’m always making gunpowder in my blender and getting it up my nose. ‘Worse than cocaine!’

He nodded, taking me seriously.

‘I’m trying to make a rocket,’ he continued. ‘I’d like to go on the internet and find out how you get it to lift, but I don’t have a computer. I’d like to get colour too, but if I went on the net, I might get done by the cops somehow.’

‘A rocket?’ I asked.

‘You don’t know how to make coloured fireworks, do you?’ he asked.

I shook my head.

‘I tried a rocket the other night,’ he added. ‘But all I get is an explosion. Hope the noise didn’t worry you.’

‘Not at all!’ I replied, wondering that if I did complain, if one of his rockets might wiz through a window one night. But all in all, I made the decision that if the local’s weren’t worried about his experiments, then I shouldn’t be.

Trev and I shook hands and I returned home, a little wiser, but no less wondering what on earth we were doing way out here at the end of civilisation with an alcoholic rocket man and a drug dealer as neighbours.

A few days later, we had to go down to the drug dealer side of the property to inspect the fences and figure out how to repair them. We had got used to the cows by then. We found out that once they got to know you, they seemed to ignore you.

While we were staring at the rotting fence posts and the acres of wild blackberries, (which actually stopped the cattle escaping) we nervously eyed the iron wall and barbed wire fortification across the road. Suddenly, a large sheet of iron fell to the ground with a clatter, exposing a man on a ladder.

He saw us, waved! ‘Hi there! We’re your new neighbours,’ he called as he climbed down from his ladder, opened a huge iron gate and wandered across the road. A tail wagging, kelpie-cross, followed him.

‘I’m Mike,’ he said, shaking our hands over the barbed wire and dodging the entangling blackberries, ‘and Buddy,’ he added, nodding towards the dog.

‘You’ve got a bit of work there,’ Rod said, indicating the fence.

‘It’s not just the fence,’ Mike told us, ‘the whole house is fortified. We keep finding secret rooms, hidden hydroponics, and we’ve been pulling down masses of barbed wire all around the house.’

Rod and I nodded in sympathy. We didn’t want to acknowledge we had been listening with flapping ears to local gossip. Although, I was tempted to ask, so,have you found the grave yet!? We let our new neighbour talk. Mike ran his hands through his curly blond hair. ‘We are pleased to see you guys,’ he said. ‘The locals have avoided us. We’ve been here more than a month. And we’d just moved in when we had all our tools stolen.’

‘I hadn’t realised there was so much crime out here,’ I said, feeling rather threatened by the remoteness of our new home and vulnerability, where people didn’t ring the police.

‘Who do you think stole them?’ Rod was obviously shocked.

‘The ex-owner,’ Mike said. ‘The police knew him. We’ve had to call them several times since we moved in, to come and collect all these packets of dope we kept finding. In fact, we found so much wacky-backy, we rang the police yesterday,’ he looked to the heavens. ‘Do you know what they said?’

We shook our heads in the negative, still speechless from hearing about the robbery.

They said, ‘We know you don’t like dope, and we know it’s not yours. But in law it is yours, as it is on your property, so there’s probably no need to call us every time you find drugs.’ They told us just to burn it if we find anymore. So if you smell anything funny that’s us burning the stuff.’

‘Good for you,’ said Rod. ‘It sounds like your owner was pretty lazy. You’d of thought he’d take his stuff with him.’

‘We heard he was schizophrenic.’ Mike shook his head sadly. ‘He mightn’t have remembered where he put it all as it was all stashed and hidden. It is literally everywhere.’

While Mike was recounting the misdemeanours of the past owner, a small dark woman joined us. ‘I’m Jen,’ she told us. Then realising her husband was unloading his problems on us, she added, ‘The dope’s bad enough and getting robbed was awful, but yesterday, to top everything off, we found a baby’s grave! We wouldn’t have bought the place if we’d known all this.’

Even though I pitied her, my sense of relief was so great I could barely restrain a smile. Thank heavens, I was thinking, that the terrible neighbour has gone and these lovely people are living here.

‘So, do the police know about the grave?’ I asked, pulling my lips down and looking as shocked as I could on hearing such news.

‘It’s a registered grave,’ Mike replied. ‘We contacted our lawyer, and they looked it up. It seems the druggy guy got permission to bury the baby here after it died, but then they sold up and moved away. But, they’re allowed to come and visit the grave when ever they want!’

‘We’d never have agreed to buy the place if we’d known that,’ said Jen. ‘We don’t want them back here. It’s bad enough we’ve had one of their children visit already!’

I raised an eyebrow, concerned. ‘What happened?’

‘Just after we arrived we went out one morning and unlocked that big gate and left it open. We went out to do the shopping, and when we got home there was this bomb car bogged in our front lawn and two people wandering around our yard, peering in our windows.’

‘It was one of this guy’s kids,’ Mike interjected. ‘This kid said she had run away from home about six years ago, and for some reason had come back to see her parents. She said she didn’t know they’d moved. This kid and her boyfriend soon realised no one was home, and because their car had no reverse gear, they decided to drive onto the lawn, do a big circle and get back on the road.’

‘But, as its been raining so heavily, they sunk, and bogged the car up to its doors,’ Jen added.

‘I think they came to case the joint, and they just said they were looking for their parents as an excuse,’ Mike said, ‘because it was just after that we were robbed.’

‘And, we nearly wrecked our backs and our car digging them out and towing them back onto the road so they could drive off,’ Jen grumbled.

‘You poor things,’ Rod sympathised. ‘I wouldn’t blame you if you sold up and left.’

‘No way,’ smiled Mike. ‘Things’ll get better.’

‘Come and have a look at the place,’ Jen offered.

It wasn’t long before we were inside the infamous house, drinking coffee and exchanging our limited local knowledge and enjoying each other’s company.

Mike and Jen’s house was younger than ours, built in 1910. The house was in total gloom with the heavy fences and the surrounding trees blocking out all the light. ‘Once the prison walls are down and some of the giant trees are removed we’ll have a real gem,’ Mike continued. ‘You might not believe this, but, the reason we’re here, is that I dreamt about this house when we lived in Perth. I kept dreaming about a house on a hill looking over water with a big front room and big trees around it. I even dreamed the weird fence with the barbed wire. We came to Tasmania for holiday, and there it was advertised in the Real Estate window. It was so unbelievable that we went to see it. I just knew we had to have it, so we sold up and moved over.’

‘No one told us about the owner and the drugs and the grave,’ Jen added. ‘We might have re-thought Mike’s dream. In a way it’s been a bit of a nightmare.’

I understood what she was saying and nodded.

‘But the house has some positive things about it,’ Mike said, ‘and now we have met you guys we feel a bit better. We haven’t met any other neighbours just yet, and we were actually a bit nervous about everyone after what happened and what we found here.’

I decided not to mention the bomb maker/rocket man.

Then Mike and Jen showed us around their house. We started in the wonderful old bedrooms with their original hardwood floors and Baltic ceilings. (no leaks anywhere) We admired their central hallway that could have hosted a barn dance. We noted the unusual stolen cast-iron stove and didn’t say a word. It was a very nice cast iron stove with loads of lovely decorative castings and it was pink!

We laughed mightily at the secret staircase recently built inside a false chimney, and we climbed up the stairs to view the remains of the hydroponic system in the roof. I couldn’t help but think the roof space was very clean, and that hydroponics would have been a much better find than what we discovered in our roof space.

When we came down we continued on our inspection.

‘This is the coup de grace,’ Jen informed us as she opened up the bathroom door. The floor was shattered and the floorboards had fallen into a hole to the ground. The bath was on the ground too surrounded by the splintered floorboards. ‘We had a floor till just the other day,’ Jen told us. ‘We decided to have a hot bath together with a glass of wine. We hopped in the bath and ... bang! Our weight was too much for the floor and we found ourselves down there.’

Rod and I looked at each other and smiled. And, we thought we had problems with our bathroom!

But, we were a little jealous. Firstly Mike and Jen had foundations in their house. We didn’t. They had beautiful Baltic pine ceilings and hardwood floors that gleamed and they weren’t rotted through. But, like us, Mike and Jen had a dream to restore the old farmhouse and make it a home. Mike was also a talented plumber, carpenter and a man who had renovated houses before. It would only be a few days before he had that bathroom up and running again.


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