Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There’s no place like home…

They say there’s nothing like travel to make you appreciate home, and I’m pained to say I’m starting to agree with “them”.

It’s been just days since I got back to Burragan following a month-long holiday and I’m already feeling like a fraud when answering queries about our overseas trip with “Yeah, it was good, thanks” in the type of voice which is really saying “Holy Crap, I’m glad to be home!”

An old uni girlfriend’s wedding in up-state New York, USA, seemed like the perfect opportunity to drag ST to the States and see the sights of NYC, LA, Hawaii, a touch of Canada and the likes. If you’ve ever known a farmer then you’ll know oftentimes it’s an Olympic marathon just to get them past the boundary gate let alone on a plane to the opposite side of the world. So I teed it up with ST’s family and booked flights at the very beginning of the year, giving ST no room to back out as our August departure drew closer.

Well, if you’ve ever wanted to really convince a man (who’s already not a friend of the “overnight trip to town”) that he really, really should never leave the property again, then, dear readers, take note… Because this is how it’s done...

We arrived in Hawaii at 7am - which really felt like 2am – after a sleepless, crammed flight, and dropped our bags at our hotel before hitting the beach. With eight hours to kill before we could check into our room, hitting the beach meant buying a beach towel, finding a shady palm tree and napping in the summer heat of Waikiki among the delightful company of 70 thousand other tourists. The jetlag was like a hangover, we were tired, cranky, hungry, hotel-less… and I’m still not sure why no one understood my woeful cries of “Seriously, would somebody please bring this woman a Mai Tai!”

For the first 12 hours Hawaii sucked. Though we didn’t actually say that out loud, I’m sure we were both thinking it. But hey, we were on vacation, we were in beautiful, romantic Hawaii, and so we knew our blues were nothing an afternoon nap (we could finally check-into the hotel!) and a few G&Ts couldn’t fix.

It was around this time that we stumbled across a little smoothie bar riiiggghhht down the back of the International Markets. It’s funny how a good drink or feed can change your mood, and I’m not sure if it was just that it was completely what we needed at the time, or if it was, in actual fact, the world’s best smoothie, but boy did the creamy, fresh coconut and pineapple concoction rock our world.

It was just what we needed after some spruiker had shoved a mega-giant, multi-coloured bird on my shoulder, grabbed my camera out of my hand and started taking (blurry!) photos of me before demanding we pay him $10 (in fact, that guy kind of sums up my feelings about Hawaii).

Later on, a night of the most delicious passionfruit mojitos we’ve ever had revealed to us the sort of Hawaii we’d imagined before leaving Australia, finally!
A satisfying night’s sleep meant we liked Hawaii even more come our second day. One of the best meals of the whole trip was that morning’s Brazilian breakfast dish known as an Acai bowl:

Overall, Hawaii was nice. And yes, I mean “nice” as in how you can’t be bothered to think of anything better to say. Sure, it was beautiful, the weather was fabulous, there were fresh pineapples and coconuts galore, we had some fantastic fresh seafood meals and some great drinks to go with the beautiful meals… but it was also expensive and very touristy – this we found out the hard way, following:

1) a recommended “more private” and “authentic” Hawaiian Luau where six other coach-loads of tourists arrived with us to be drafted through queues like cattle before a fake pig was pulled out of a fake fire pit and served up to us with fake fish by waiters with fake tans to match their fake smiles;

2) a much anticipated tour of the Kualoa Ranch and the adjoining valley where Jurassic Park (one of my all-time favourite movies) was filmed, where an “extreme adventure” ATV tour was ruined by being limited to a maximum speed of 15 miles per hour and having to sign waivers stating we were definitely not going to have any fun, at all, whatsoever (heaven forbid you should have some fun and then sue them);

3) and finally a day tour which had promised to be “12 people, private and fun… just for Aussies and young people” and instead proved to include Gran and Pa from southern Kentucky along with 30 of their closest friends and family.

I had desperately wanted to explore the island of Oahu and try to uncover the real Hawaii… the Polynesian, tropical, relaxed Hawaii I’d seen in my mind’s eye. Instead it was all like “Here, try this authentic Hawaiian Japanese sushi roll,” or “Here’s your authentic Hawaiian wood carving labelled ‘Made in the Philippines’,” and “Oh, look at this beautiful mountain fed waterfall and rock pool, please go from a swim… but no, no, no… do not enter the water from outside the flags, do not swim over to the waterfall, do not touch! Do not have fun! Or else we’ll chastise you in front of everyone with my megaphone!” (Yes we actually witnessed this happen.)

The worst part was that these things were all expensive – built for hordes of tourists… and by the end of it we just felt empty and ripped off.

Fortunately, the thing I was most looking forward to in Hawaii also turned out to be our highlight of the state. Waaaayy back in February, right after I’d booked our flights, I had also booked us a native guided tour of the active volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. We had to fly to the other island for the day, but I’m so, so glad we went to the effort.

ST and I stood on the rim of the Kīlauea caldera (one of five volcanoes that make up the Big Island of Hawaii, along with its more famous cousins Mona Loa and Mona Kea)… walked through lava tubes no one else gets to walk through… felt the warm, sulphur gases of deep steam vents coming from the centre of the earth… and hiked through lush rainforest leading to barren, black deserts of dried lava.

Actually, according to the US Geological Society, Kilauea is regarded as the most dangerous volcano in the world. Though it’s very safe and easy for visitors to look around, there are areas away from the main caldera (currently a full days hike to see) which are constantly flowing fresh lava, slowly claiming suburbs and entire cities of the Big Island. Yep, it’s awesome. Check out some up to date webcam images of the Kilauea Volcano here:

But just like everything in Hawaii, a good moment was followed up by a sucky, expensive moment. And after our super cool day exploring the volcanoes, we ended up standing in the pouring rain for an hour in the town of Hilo waiting for a taxi which we had to call three times, worrying that we would miss our flight back to the island of Oahu.

When it came time to leave Hawaii a few days later, headed for New York City (via bus from Boston, after plane from Honolulu via a very tight connection in Seattle), we were actually relieved and really looking forward to the US main land. So after a $60 cab ride to the Honolulu airport (it seemed to be getting more expensive each time) and lining up to check into our 1pm flight, it was the last thing we wanted to hear when the check-in lady said, “Oh you’ve been changed to the 8pm flight….”

Ummmm, say WHAT!?

To be continued…

Friday, July 27, 2012

21 things I didn’t realise about living out bush, until I lived out bush…

21 things I didn’t realise about living out bush, until I lived out bush…

1. The weather is more than just a mundane conversation topic; it’s a living entity, and also the boss.
2. Mobile phone reception is not a right, it’s a privilege.
3. Chocolate: I know I’ve mentioned this before, and I don’t want to harp on, but as I woman I feel it should be brought to the attention of females around the world that chocolate, a life essential, is not readily available in the middle of no-where. One must purchase chocolate in large supplies before heading out bush, or risk certain death.
4. Mail only comes twice a week, and not at all if it’s raining.
5. Grocery items, plants, alcohol, gas bottles, motorbikes and assorted mechanical parts can all be ordered through the mail and delivered to the mailbox. Mailboxes are generally the size of a 44 gallon drum. Our mail box is 15km from the house.
6. Fuel is bought in the thousands of litres instead of tens of litres… and yes, we have our own fuel bowsers!
7. There’s no such thing as the weekend, or business hours.
8. The world consists of only two types of cars: Toyotas and motorcars.
9. Number 1s and Number2s don’t just disappear into the ether for someone else to deal with once you flush. And if something goes wrong, then sometimes you really are, literally, in the shit.
10. Medical receptionists, accountants and government employees will never understand the inconvenience of driving 300+km for an appointment that is rescheduled or cancelled. Pharmacists and optometrists, on the other hand, will post almost anything to you!
11. Border Collies and Kelpies are actually one quarter human… and can understand (but not speak) English.
12. Reading a book on an afternoon off is not considered a valid use of time. (Nor is having an afternoon off.)
13. A 90 kilometre return trip is not too far to drive to get a roadhouse burger and chips (or a proper espresso coffee) for dinner when you really can’t be bothered cooking.
14. You can never have too much toilet paper. Always have backup for your backup, and backup for that backup.
15. Same with wine. And batteries. And matches. And chocolate.
16. Smoko is the main, most important, and most enjoyable, meal of the day.
17. A Leatherman is a magical implement, kind of like a lightsaber, which can be used to complete any task from digging splinters out of your hand, fixing fences, fixing engines, “disposing” of feral animals and cutting your cake at smoko. In order to retain its special powers, the Leatherman must not be washed between tasks.
18. Fencing, shearing, crutching, spraying and marking are all nouns, not verbs.
19. Plumbers are not always necessary to get a job done right. Electricians are. And they live far away, and charge a per kilometre rate to visit you.
20. There is no garbage truck. Everyone has their own rubbish dumps… so you actually have to load your rubbish into the Toyota, drive it to your dump, and dispose appropriately.
21. 4.30am is actually the morning of a new day, not just the end of a big night.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Getting back to business and a very special delivery

Life as I know it at Burragan has been back to the norm lately. No major events, no snake sightings (thankfully, given it is winter), no bizarre injuries… just life, slipping by, with the day to day workings of the property.

We’ve been lamb marking for the last few weeks. For those not in the know, that’s when we ear tag, ear mark, castrate and tail dock the lambs. The ear marks and tags help to identify which sheep belong to which property and which are male and female, while tight elastic rings are used to castrate the boys to control breeding and dock the tails to help prevent flies laying eggs in the woolly areas around their hind.

While it can be monotonous - and messy - lamb marking is one of my favourite “on farm” duties. As a child growing up in regional Victoria, we had a friend who used to give me an orphaned lamb every year for my birthday. We’d rear it in town until it was old enough to go back to the farm. There was Snowball 1, Dandelion 1, Snowball 2, Dandelion 2… I think you can see where this is going…
I used to walk them around town, and years later, in my teens, I was still known by some as the girl who used to have pet lambs.

I LOVE lambs… and I love lamb marking, when we get to see all the lambs together in the sheep yards and they’re bleating at me saying, “Beeeesss, love me Beeeeess, love me.” It’s like being in a pen of 500 adorable puppies, with bows on their collars… offering unconditional love… and a never-ending supply of chocolate… and a neck massage.

While I do enjoy the actual process of lamb marking, it also involves mustering every paddock on Burragan, as well as ST’s parent’s place, and the third property we run stock on. Which means a lot of down time for me while the men are out on their motorbikes rounding up the mobs.

And generally these days down time means getting stuck into another renovation project. A few weeks ago my totally awesome dad drove down from Queensland with a special delivery for us – our new laundry! Ever since the great snake incident of Summer 2011/12, we’ve thought it might be a good idea to start moving the laundry from its old tin shed outside, into a vacant “sleep out” area in the house.

So it was The Block meets Burragan for the better part of a week while Dad worked tirelessly to install new windows, plumbing, cupboards and benches, and tile the splash back wall. Renovating is always an interesting game out here when you have to make sure you bring out every possible material and tool you may need. One missing or broken component, sometimes as simple as a pipe fitting or a certain sized screwdriver/drill bit/chisel/saw blade, can stall a project for weeks or months while you try to arrange to get something sent from a hardware store 500km away and other jobs keep cropping up along the way.

Sorry I don't have any great pics of this room before we started the reno, but I hope you can make out from these that the room was all old louvre windows so we actually had to put new walls up, as well as plasterboard the ceiling, and enclose some open gauzed areas. We still have to paint the whole room (Arctic white and Shale Grey), but the laundry is well on its way and I think it’s looking damn fine even if it is half finished! The cupboards and bench tops are actually from my Mum and Dad’s old kitchen, which they recently renovated.

And while we’re on the subject of special deliveries, I’ve been bouncing from the walls to tell you all about an amazing package that arrived in my mail box last month. It really deserves its own entire blog post dedication, that’s how much it blew my mind…

Shortly after writing my “Anything you can do I can do backwards… in heels” post (also commonly referred to as the one about how much I love chocolate) back at the end of May, I received a package with unfamiliar handwriting on the front.

In the hesitant knowledge that yes, it could be hate mail, it could be anthrax, or a bomb, the package and I stared at each other as it rode in the passenger seat for the 15km trip home from the mail box.

“Who sent you here?” I asked it. “How did you know where to find me?”
But the package remained silent.

By the time we arrived home that journalistic need to know everything, about everyone, all the time, got the better of me. And as I tore at the padded postage satchel its contents was revealed as… CHOCOLATE!! Freddos and Cadburys and tasty treats galore... oh my!! Tea bags and a personalised pen… magnets and assorted goodies… from who? From a woman I’ve never met! A fan? And a famous fan at that!

My big bag ‘o chocolate was from the extremely talented Australian rural romance author Karly Lane. And when I thanked her on her Facebook page that evening she said, “I just wanted you to know, that even though you’re far from chocolate, you’re never far from friends.” What a line! My heart melted into a gooey chocolate mess. Isn’t it an amazing world we live in, when strangers can possess such kindness as this.

We had a visitor for dinner that night and when I showed him my fan mail he said, "That definitely seems like a great friend to have Bessie," and I couldn't agree more!

So if you’re into chick lit with a rural twist, please share the sweet, cocoa covered love and check out Karly’s books:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Let's make some new cliches

It seems these days every farm blog needs at a good couple of posts on the following two topics: baking and bonfires. While I was trying to steer away from such clichés, I actually indulged in both this week, so thought I’d get this out of the way quickly and smoothly.

On Sunday night ST and I had a bonfire; it was magnificent.

We cooked lamb chops, spud in the jacket, pumpkin and corn on the coals; it was magnificent.

We watched the flames, and drank whisky, and talked about the world, which was magnificent.

Also this week it’s ST’s dad’s birthday. Last year I baked him a mob of sheep inspired biscuits.

So this year I went up a notch with these sheep inspired cupcakes. They are lime and ricotta flavour: magnificent!

Now, that wasn’t so painful was it?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bright lights, big city

Driving out of Melbourne last week, dodging rain and slow pokes in the fast lane, I could physically feel my lungs breathe deep, exhale and relax again, as if I’d been holding my breath for the past 24 hours.

A flying trip to catch up with a long lost favourite cousin, in the Victorian country town I grew up in, turned into a three night sojourn across the state. On a whim (okay, maybe I’d been planning it for weeks, but only just managed to convince ST it was a good idea at the last minute) we ducked down to Melbourne to see the footy – my type of footy, AFL. And before all my gorgeous Melbournian friends jump up in disgust, I’m sorry! But we literally arrived with enough time to scoff some awful food court fish and chips before cheering Geelong home at Etihad, sleeping off the cheap wine, gorging breakfast in Hardware Lane, jumping in the car and navigating our way back out of that bitterly cold, windy city.

According to Google Maps, we’re about 760km from Melbourne via the most direct route, with the last 130km of that being dirt roads. It’s a long trip home, especially when you have to stop along the way to do the grocery shopping – Here’s a picture of my pantry so you can really envision what the “grocery shopping” involves.

But I digress, also according to Google Maps, Burragan is 891km from Sydney (but of course you have to cross the Great Dividing Range which really slows things up), and 817km from Adelaide – so I guess you could say we're pretty “central” really! “Huge house, renovators delight, open fireplaces throughout. TLUG plus more off street parking. Extensive backyard with room for sheds and pets. Situated in quiet cul-de-sac, fantastic central location!”

It doesn’t take long to adjust to the spaciousness of station life - and suddenly the city feels suffocating.

Months ahead I’ll plant the seed of a big city trip in ST’s mind, craving the excitement of shops (Oh! How I love shops!) and real coffee (Oh! How I love to shop all morning and then stop to refresh with real coffee!) and restaurants (Oh! To shop, have coffee and then go out for dinner!). And within 24 hours of actually arriving in the city, I’ll be hyperventilating having to cross the road without a pedestrian walkway.

On a fleeting trip to Sydney last year, I actually tried to go down an up escalator. That’s right folks – the fluid steps were coming up towards me, but of course, I’d already committed my body to going down. Stepping on, my legs were thrown backwards, while my body – and arms laden with a day’s worth of shopping – continued to fly forwards. Thrusting my arms out to save myself, my bags, purse and umbrella cascaded over the edge of the escalator, tumbling down who knows how many flights of Myers…. And from my lips escaped a booming, “Ssshhhhhhhhhhiiiiiiiiiii – ver me timbers!” – Except maybe that’s not the exact phrase I used at the time. Did I mention I was in the kids section?

Since living out bush, I’ve also been known to strike up in depth conversation with city strangers, whom I forget probably aren’t as interested or inviting as my Burragan neighbours. ST calls it “doing and on-and-on-and-on-er”. One time he lost me in crowded mall after a spruiker asked me how my day was and I stopped to discuss this with him. The salesman was left laughing as ST grabbed me by the arm and dragged me away saying, “You just say, ‘I’m not interested thanks’, and keep walking like everyone else does Bess!”

And it’s not like I was born being completely inept at traversing city protocol. I did live in Brisbane for 18 months after leaving home at 17. And there were certainly many Melbourne holidays dotted throughout my childhood. And I’ve survived trips to Singapore, Hong Kong and Shenzhen without any issues (well, except for the time my brother and I spent an entire afternoon drinking cocktails at Raffles and then paid a rickshaw driver our last $20 to take us back to our hotel, and he dropped us in the middle of nowhere instead – click here to watch it!)

So the only thing I can put it down to is being totally acclimatised to a space and time different to that of the city. A space where you can breathe easily, and a time when you’re not going to get ploughed down by a delivery van if you’re a little slow on the zebra crossing.

So city friends… you might just have to come and visit me instead! It’s not that far after all… Pretty central really.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anything you can do... I can do backwards, in heels

A question which pops up more often than not from family, friends, and strangers alike is, “Are you enjoying it out there?” or “How do you cope with being so far away from anywhere?”

Well, I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes it’s hard! Like when medical emergencies arise and none of your neighbours answer their phones… Or when it’s been eight and a half weeks since you left the property, or six months since you’ve had a proper haircut, or you’re trying to organise a wedding from 700km away… And then, just to kick you while you’re down, an essential element of coping with all of these types of challenges is gorging on copious amounts of chocolate, which, of course, you’ve already polished off weeks ago (cooking chocolate included!), and there’s no just popping down to the shop to buy some more.

So, being rather competitive, my general rule of thumb comes from the immortal words of sharpshooter Annie Oakley - well, Betty Hutton’s portrayal of her in the 1950 musical Annie Get Your Gun - “Anything you can do, I can do better.” And it’s all been done before, by people from all walks of life. People have lived in far more isolated and harsher environments, with less technological advancement, than I have. And if they can do it, I can do it – hopefully better.

But it certainly helps when your neighbours answer their phones. ST and I are lucky to have neighbours just 10kms away, over the back way. It’s unusual to get neighbours that close out here, but we have a couple in their 60s whose son and daughter-in-law are around our age and live on the property too. They are all great fun, would do anything for you, and ST has known them his whole life. We don’t get to catch up with them all that often, but it is always appreciated when we do.

And it certainly helps that when you can’t get to town for eight weeks, I still have ST on my team – I haven’t tried to kill him yet! (That's him below, looking wistfully at the sunset!) And my family and friends are only a phone call (or a facebook message) away.

And it helps to brush your hair, pluck your eyebrows, put on perfume and dress nicely every once in a while – even if you haven’t managed to get a haircut for six months.

It helps to take a deep breath and relax every once in a while. Enjoy the isolation instead of fighting it. You could be the only human to ever tread on that patch of ground, in a 10,000 acre paddock. Walk to the clothesline in your undies, dance around the house to guiltily pleasurable music you’d never get caught dead listening to, and eat chocolate for breakfast if you really want to. No one is watching.

It helps to be productive, get things done, but don’t get so caught up in it that you can’t see beyond your own backyard, no matter how bloody big it is. It’s a common grievance from country women that often their men get too bogged down in the never depleting list of things to do on-farm. I haven’t come up with a solution to that one yet, but I’m quickly coming to the realisation that if I need a mental health day, a wine (or whine) and cheese arvo at the boundary gate with my neighbour, or a date with my blog, then I need to take it. Of course there’re limits to this, if there’s work to be done, then there’s work to be done – and that’s when it’s good to remember, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

It also helps to always have a secret stash of emergency chocolate, but if you’re anything like ST and I, then this has generally always been consumed within the four-weeks-since-town mark. There’s not much that can be done about this, except maybe you could bake a chocolate cake instead. Cake helps too.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A rural revival

It has been too long between blogs, so I’m briefly putting aside the short history of Burragan I’ve been preparing for you, and am instead leading with some photos of our homestead, which we’ve been busily sprucing up since our arrival in March last year.

The current house was built in the 1950s (we think) and local legend has it that it is the third house to stand in this spot (in addition to a small, derelict, wooden cottage a few hundred metres away). A neighbour told me that the original homestead was burnt down by a disgruntled female worker who threw a match in the wood pile. She was apparently later jailed for murder after another incident where she pushed a wheelchair bound man into a river.

More common knowledge around the district is that the second Burragan homestead burnt down within 12 months of being erected. The charred stumps of that building can still be seen underneath the house that stands today. A faint memory tells me I had seen an old newspaper snippet on Trove mentioning this fire, but searches to find it again this morning were fruitless.

Never the less the latest Burragan homestead is an incredibly interesting home, with 19 rooms (each with a varying pattern of retro lino), a bathroom bigger than most suburban units (and enough towel hangers for a whole shearing team), and floor to ceiling cupboards in almost every room – so deep I have to walk into them to reach things! It is a house built for a family, and yet, the previous owner was an only child with no living relatives. It is a house so large that I’m going to save photos of our inside renovations for another blog…

For now, here are some before and after shots of the outside of the house from March 2011 (when the house was mint-green, on a considerable lean, and surrounded by 50 years of junk, including 10, rusted, useless water tanks)to April 2012. Apologies that a couple of the photos are in the wrong order, but I can't figure out how to fix that.

Hint: If you click on the first photo you should be able to see them all larger in a slide-show.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Snakes Alive!

There’s a snake on the loose and ST is out mustering!

There is a snake on the loose, over by the dog kennels. I was wandering past, just dilly-dallying by with my one working eye, when our Border Collie ‘Rob’ stopped to inspect something by a tree. The snake (assumedly a Brown – second deadliest in the world) was slithering up over some old bricks and rubble just metres to my left. Quickly tying Rob at his kennel, I hot footed it the long way round the trees and back to the house.

Snakes terrify me. And I’m not sure what’s worse: knowing there’s a live snake out there and if you leave it there, it won’t harm you, but you’ll probably never be able to leave the house ever again; or having to man up and have a go at disposing of it yourself…?

Australia is home to seven of the world’s top 10 deadliest snakes, and running into them is common place when you’re living in their habitat. I’ve heard stories of horses and dogs dying within five minutes of a bite from a Taipan, the poll contender on the world’s most deadly list. Brown snakes run a close second and are the most common breed to come across in western New South Wales.

It is illegal to kill snakes – they are native and a protected species. But not killing them is a difficult decision to make when out here, 110km from the nearest town - which does have a hospital, but does not have a doctor – a snake bite would almost certainly be fatal. In the event of snakebite the Royal Flying Doctor Service would immediately dispatch an emergency airplane from the Broken Hill base (300km west), but our nearest RFDS accessible airstrip is 40kilometres away, along rough, dirt roads and with four gates to open on the way.

So when a snake comes dangerously close to your house, yard, and pets... your gut instinct is to protect yourself, which often means trying to kill the snake.

Generally so fired up with fear at the sight of a snake that I run for miles in the opposite direction, I could never kill a snake with a shovel. With this in mind, and adrenalin pumping through my body, I grabbed reinforcements from inside and headed back out to the dog kennels ready to lock and load at the first sighting. I stood around for at least 15 minutes, but couldn’t see anything. There’s no doubt in the time it’d taken me to run inside, and return with a weapon, the snake could have been long gone, or it could have just been curled up under some leaf litter exactly where I’d seen it. Honestly, it could have already made it past me and into the house! I wandered back inside annoyed that it would live to return another time, but relieved I hadn’t had to deal with it by myself…

Just weeks earlier, ST had seen a sinister looking banded brown snake go into our laundry, which is in a little shed, separate to the house but still inside the yard. I had clothes baskets full of sheets in there that it could have easily curled up in… I shiver at the thought of what could have been if we took the “green” approach of just leaving it alone. This particular day, I was inside when I heard ST yelling for me to bring him the gun.

We both stood back, surrounding the laundry shed from either side, just watching and waiting for the snake to exit. “It’s got to come out some time,” ST reasoned. And so we stood there for at least 40 minutes. Drained from standing on guard in the sun, I grabbed some chairs and water bottles so we could take sentry again in a bit more comfort. More than an hour and a half had passed and neither of us had seen any movement around the outside of the shed. We couldn’t stay there forever, and snakes can live for weeks without food... so it certainly could outwait us!

“Are you able to just bring the washing out please?” I asked.

Armed with a shovel, ST dragged the two washing baskets well outside the shed and tipped them over away from him, shovelling through the clothes to make sure there was no way the snake had hidden inside. Satisfied they were safe, I moved them well away before ST grabbed the garden hose and started spraying water around the outside of the shed where he’d seen the snake slither in. There was no sign of it.

We moved rolls of carpet and shade cloth out to make sure it wasn’t curled up in one of them… and then ST spotted a tiny hole in the cement slab, in the far back corner.
Snakes can hide almost anywhere. I’ve seen a seven foot python slither into a fern tree so silently not a single leaf shivered. ST’s mum has told me stories of snakes inside their house which escape through hairline cracks under doorways… It is too frightening to think of the possible consequences if we don’t get these creatures away from the areas we frequent daily…

So, having spent hours looking for the snake in the laundry, we decided to throw petrol down the hole.

I stood back outside, armed and at the ready, while ST entered the laundry with a shovel in one hand and an ice-cream container of petrol in the other. As quickly as he’d thrown it he came backing out the laundry door, whispering loudly “It’s in there. It’s definitely in there. I could hear it moving as soon as I’d thrown it.”

Swapping the shovel for the gun, we returned to our positions at either end of the building… waiting, waiting… and sooner than I could blink the snake shot out underneath the corrugated iron wall. I gasped deeply in fright, and started waving my arms around, pointing crazily before I could get any words out. “It’s here, it’s over here!”

The first shot injured it and the second shot finished the job. At last! We’d spent three hours of our afternoon on that snake, and the shot gun pellets had also sprayed holes through a brand new roll of poly pipe! But how much do you value your life?

I think I might drive over to feed the dogs from now on… sounds safer!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

An eye for an eye and everyone shall be blind

The house looks like it has been broken into by a junkie. First aid kits in the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom are strewn across the floor, cupboards are wide open and draws pulled out in the hunt for a fast fix. Plastic wrappers and empty canisters are spread haphazardly from one end of the house to the other, while puddles of strange liquids mingle with crumbs of chocolate on the lounge room floor…

Yesterday I nearly blinded myself. Who knew a daily task as simple as putting contact lenses in after a morning shower could turn so deadly? OK, well maybe not “deadly” as such… but it was excruciatingly painful and incredibly scary.

In a traumatic turn of events I managed to bleach my eyeball with un-neutralised hydrogen peroxide contact lens solution. As soon as I shoved the first lens into my eye it felt as if I’d had boiling water thrown into my face. A terrified scream rose up through my throat as I desperately tried to splash fresh water on my eye and keep it open wide enough to retrieve the lens which had suctioned perfectly onto my eyeball. I fell to the floor and grabbed at my face, screaming and crying hysterically. The pain was agonising. I couldn’t even swear! I just moaned and squawked until I could get the lens out, while attempts to soothe the burn with cold water were fruitless.

ST had left at dawn to help muster at his parent’s place, so I phoned my parents in Queensland, thinking mum, a nurse, would know the next step. Mum and Dad phoned ST’s parents but there was no answer. Mum then called the poisons information hotline, who said I should get to a doctor to see if any permanent damage was done.

“Who else is nearby that could come to you or get a hold of ST?” Mum asked. I gave her the numbers of all my neighbours and anyone I could think of who had a Royal Flying Doctor medical chest, and Dad set about calling everyone in the area… no one answered.

I was still holding my head under the cold tap and crying in pain between phone calls to Mum. Knowing that our tap water is dam water, Mum suggested I use rainwater to clean my eye properly. Staggering into the kitchen, pots and pans crashed across the floor as I tried to find a container to decant some rainwater into to bathe my face. Water splashed along the table and I dropped my towel to clean it up… realising for the first time that I still hadn’t dressed from my shower.

“Do you have any eye drops or saline solution?” Mum asked through the phone.

I tipped the contents of every medical kit and toiletries bag onto the ground and came up with nothing. Everything was a blur. I couldn’t tell bandages from alcohol swabs or saline solution from cough medicine. I was carrying a saucepan of rainwater around with me through the house, dipping my head in at every chance, spilling water over every surface.

Mum rang the Royal Flying Doctor Service who told her to tell me to call them. I rang the Broken Hill base and burst into fresh tears as the gently spoken Doctor tried to calm me over the phone.

“You will be OK Bessie. It’s OK, you will be OK. Don’t worry…” he placated. “Do you have a Flying Doctor medical chest?”

“No! I don’t have one and I’ve tried ringing all my neighbours who do have them and no one is answering…” a frog climbed up my throat and began wailing in pain.

“OK, do you have any eye drops at all, anything you usually use for your contacts or for dry eyes?"

“I thought I did but I can’t find them! I’ve looked everywhere and I don’t know whether I’ve just used them all and run out, or put them somewhere I can’t remember…”

“OK, don’t worry. As long as you have rinsed it with water for at least 20 minutes it will eventually stop hurting. What you need to do is keep it moist. It shouldn’t cause any permanent damage, but it would be good if you could find some eye drops, or get some things from an RFDS kit…”

Explaining that ST was out mustering at a property which had a kit, the Doctor reassured me that it would be fine to get him to bring them home with him at the end of the day. But the pain was so great, I wanted relief immediately. I phoned his parent’s place again and left a message… dressed clumsily and lay back on the couch with an ice pack pressed to my eye.

In a last ditch effort I continued the blind search for some eye drops. Success! Behind a year’s worth of skin lotions in the bathroom! Reclining on the couch I emptied half a dozen of those miniature eye drop packets onto my face; none of the liquid made it into my eye. I curled up again with the ice pack held firm into the eye socket.

By lunch time I was feeling well enough to stand up and find my glasses. Perching them sideways, I could now see out of my left eye, while my right was too sore to open. Shuffling into the bedroom, I grabbed my fluffy “hangover” mask (a decorative version of those sleeping eye mask things they hand out on international flights), fashioning it to make an eye patch, and then moved my doona and pillows into the lounge room where I set myself up with as much junk food I could muster.

With limited eye-sight TV and reading were off the cards. High on chocolate and lemonade, and wanting to make the most of my remaining functioning faculties, I grabbed the phone book and rang my grandma and a girlfriend for a chat to fill in time until ST called back. He never called… I rang every hour… no one answered…. “They must have taken smoko and lunch out into the paddock and still be mustering,” I thought.

I tried my neighbours again with no luck, and then decided to try the neighbours on the other side of ST’s parent’s place. Their number wasn’t in the phone book, so I started ringing total strangers in the same area to see if they knew the phone number… no one answered!!! I was beginning to think I was the only person left in the Western Division of New South Wales!

Concerned that ST would leave for home without getting any of my phone messages, I left a final effort message on his dad’s mobile. It was a stretch considering mobile coverage is very limited, but relief ran through me when ST finally rang back at around 7pm – only 11 hours since the incident! Major eye roll!! They had only just got the messages and he was on his way home immediately with the necessary creams and potions from the RFDS kit.

With my sugar high wearing off but my eye-patch still firmly in place, I embraced my inner pirate, mixing a G&T and settling back into my nest on the couch, ready to act ASAP (As Sick As Possible) when ST walked in the door. He arrived bearing medicine and apologetic kisses.

We returned to the scene of the crime – the bathroom – where ST held my head down over the edge of the bath and forced my painfully bloodshot eye open to apply the necessary drops and ointments. Fastening a proper eye patch he’d brought home from the RFDS kit, we sat down to bacon and eggs for dinner, “So, what did you do today, Bess?” ST asked…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Burragan and beyond...

As the first day of crutching kicks into gear, it’s probably not the best time to be starting a blog. But I’ve been given reprieve from sheep work duties this morning and so am grabbing the opportunity to write what I’ve been meaning to write for the past two weeks.

After a few years of forced and failed blogs for university assessments, I’m hoping to keep my new endeavour a bit more up to date. I wanted to get this up and running a few weeks ago, to mark our one year anniversary at Burragan, but ‘life’ got in the way. Unfortunately that means you’ll miss out on stories about deadly snakes in the laundry, injury by sheep stampede in the yards, 8.5 inches of once-in-a-lifetime rain (in an annual 12 inch rainfall region), and the great akubra massacre and miraculous sunglasses discovery of 2012 - starring our two Border Collie pups.

Perhaps I can tell you these stories another time, if they ever come up in conversation…. For now, I guess I should start with a little about Burragan and I.

Burragan is a 70,000 acre sheep and cattle property in western NSW, around 110km east of Wilcannia. My partner’s parents bought it roughly two years ago, after the previous owner, Lin, moved to a nursing home. The property was bought by Lin’s parents in the early 1900s and Lin had lived and worked here her entire life. She married, but never had children, and sadly she passed away in early March 2012. I never met her, but the stories I have heard and my experience of Burragan have built an intriguing and amazing picture.

My partner - we’ll call him ST - grew up on his mum and dad’s property, 40km south of us, which has been in his dad’s family for many generations. The four of us run wool and meat sheep on both places (and a small herd of Angus cattle), as well as a third property a bit further south again.

ST and I moved to Burragan in March 2011 after a few years in Townsville, Queensland, where I studied Journalism at Uni and later worked for the local newspaper and then a TV station. It sounds trashily romantic, but the truth is ST moved to Townsville to be with me! I had been living in Darwin in the Northern Territory for 12 months and was one week from embarking on an amazing adventure through the Kimberley region of Western Australia before moving to Townsville, when ST and his best mate sat across from a girlfriend and I on a bus, headed for the Adelaide River Races. He’d been travelling around Australia after working in Margaret River for a few years… and the rest is history! ST proposed to me up in the hills of Burragan’s back paddock last year with a bunch of hopbush and turpentine flowers; I said yes!

Before Darwin, I’d lived in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast… and grew up in a Murray River town in north western Victoria. I’m not from a farming background, but I have many a childhood memory of camping trips to visit family and friends in all corners of the country, across all industries. I love exploring Australia and the experiences that come with being in the bush.

So here’s cheers to an exceptional life at Burragan and beyond… and may you enjoy the journey with me.