Thursday, 18 August 2016

A taste of rural Australian life...

... "The nicest times I'd had with dad was when he'd read me bedtime stories. He'd lie on the bed and start a book then fall asleep beside me, more often than not. Of course, we worked together on the farm a lot, but he always seemed stressed then. If a calf got out of the cattle yards or a dog scattered a mob of sheep or it rained during shearing he'd get so mad. There'd be a flood of swear words; he'd be red in the face and cursing the stock and the dog and the government and the whole farming industry and the heavens above and me too if I was stupid enough to get in the way. Then mum would upset me sometimes by telling me how worried she was about his blood pressure and how his father had dropped dead in the middle of changing a tyre on a tractor, at the age of forty-five and she was scared dad would go the same way. I never really wanted her to talk to me about things like that - and yet I sort of liked it in a way. I felt like an adult, like we were talking on equal terms.
... Once I left the gate open on Cooper's (that's our biggest paddock) and the joined ewes that were in there wandered into One Tree (another paddock) and got mixed up with the unjoined ewes. Dad went birko that time ... Mum did all of the things that farmer's wives do in our part of the world and she often look ed a bit amused at the things she found herself doing. When she won Best Sponge Cake she just gave a sly little smile and didn't say anything in public but when we got home she'd laugh and celebrate and one year she even danced around the kitchen.
...From the first I loved the land. I don't know whether dad wanted a son - most places around Wirrawee are run by men and handed on from father to son - but he never gave me any sign of that. One time when a bloke at the Wirrawee Saleyards was talking to us he said to dad, right in front of me, "if I had daughters I wouldn't let them do stockwork." Dad just looked at me for a minute while I waited to see what he would say. Finally he said, "I don't know what I'd do without her." I went red with pleasure. It was the best compliment he'd ever paid me. I was nine years old.
... I didn't like some of the jobs, like mulesing - well, you'd have to be sick to like that. But I also didn't like feeding poddies on cold mornings, chopping kindling and lighting the Aga, putting the dogs back on their chains after they'd been for a run, finding mice in my bed during a plague and finding spiders in my gumboots a few minutes after I'd put them on. The best part of the year was definitely shearing... it was more fun when contractors came in but I didn't mind either way. As soon as I was old enough I became the roustabout. That was a big moment in my life, being able to do that. Another big moment was being able to throw a fleece onto the table for the classer. I loved the activity in the shearing shed. The sheep milling in the pens. The dogs lying in the shadows panting, their bright eyes watching the sheep, hoping they'd be called up again to run across their backs and shift them to the next yard or back to the paddock. I loved the oily feel of the classing table, the soft whiteness of the fleeces, the quiet bleating of the waiting sheep. I was proud to see our bales, with our brands on them, on the back of a truck heading for the sales. I knew they were going halfway around the world ... even the really hard-bitten farmers, the ones you'd think had as much poetry in them as a sedimentary rock, got a bit emotional about shearing ... turned into such things of beauty - it was a long way from Wirrawee to Paris and Rome and Tokyo.
But I don't want to give the impression dad was a rural redneck, like some of the men in our district. When mum decided she wanted to do things to extend her mind, he backed her all of the way... and even boasted to everyone about how smart she was. Some farmers didn't like their wives going to town more than once a week... Mrs Salter wasn't allowed to take a job because her husband wouldn't allow it so it was pretty gutsy of my dad to stand up in front of his mates and take their jokes about his feminist wife. I have to admit, we're a few decades behind in Wirrawee.
...Despite all of that mum was happiest in her kitchen. It was the warm heart of our house and I think she felt comfortable in it. It was her territory and she was in control. There was never much doubt in mind that I'd run the farm one day. We never talked about it but I think we took it for granted. All I had to worry about was how to get dad to give it up without him hanging around for twenty years afterwards telling me what to do.
      All of that seemed like a movie to me now ... it seemed unreal. I cried             myself to sleep, but it wasn't much of a sleep anyway. I was just lonely            and scared and lost and the morning seemed a long way away."
By John Marsden, The Third Day The Frost. Tomorrow, When The War Began series.

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