Saturday, December 7, 2013

Letters - Part 1

It was always my intention, when I began Bessie at Burragan, to weave a little history into its stories. You see, Burragan is an entity of its own, with an intriguing and mysterious past - involving arson, a multi millionaire, and a murder plot! To me, Burragan is the star of the show. It writes the stories… I just retell them.

Burragan’s previous owner Elinor, who was always known as Lin, was an intensely private person. So much so that she actually used to have the mail box set up on the opposite side of the road from where the driveway was (and at one stage, even on the highway many miles away) so that people wouldn’t know how to find the house. Many neighbours had never visited the homestead, and the story goes that workers were also always directed straight to the wool shed (which is several kilometres from the house), and rarely, if ever, invited in for tea and cake.

After many years in a nursing home, with dementia, Lin died last year aged 79. And I’m sure she’d be mortified to know I’m broadcasting stories about Burragan to the entire world. Though I have been told by many locals that she always liked my in-laws – who were, of course, her family’s neighbours for many generations - so would be happy to know Burragan is in good hands with them… and that I too am in love with Burragan in my own way.

I won’t give the whole story away at the start, though really, given Lin’s discrete nature and secluded life at Burragan, I’m not sure anyone truly knows the whole story.

These simple facts I can tell you:

Born in August 1933, Lin was the only child of Des and Margaret (Madge) Fitzgerald. Des had owned parts of Burragan from as far back as 1903. He died in 1948, when Lin was 15, and she returned home from boarding school in Adelaide, to live and work at Burragan for the next 60 years. Much to her mother’s disapproval, Lin married Laurie, a station hand on the property, in 1964. They never had children. Madge passed away some years later, and Laurie died in 1998. In 2007 Lin was found collapsed, though still alive, at the Burragan homestead. She moved to a nursing home in Broken Hill, where she lived for another four years.

With absolutely no known family, the contents and collections of Lin’s life at Burragan were sold at auction before ST’s family bought the property, and so the house was nearly empty when ST and I arrived at the beginning of 2011.

But in an old, wooden box, in the loft of a machinery shed, we came across one small wad of letters dated 1957. Some are to Lin, others are to Madge, some are receipts for purchases, others are newspaper clippings. While they don't say much individually, to me they provide an fascinating patchwork of time, place, life and the story of Burragan.

Interestingly, in 1957 Lin would have been just a year younger than I am today.

I’d like to share these with you over the coming months - if I can decipher the ornate handwriting.

Here’s an easy one to start…

Postmarked: Cairns, Queensland, 1957.

To Miss Elinor Fitzgerald
Burragan Station

From M. Fitzgerald
Green Island
Pacific Ocean

Your Whacko Letter from Green Island.

Dear Pal,
My trip was Delightful
I’m having Good Fun
However I’m expecting A Dose of Sunburn
Because I Have Been Sightseeing
But I’ve acquired Lots of Weight
The weather is Delightful
I have been Kept Busy
And enjoying The Scenery
As well as Motoring, Eating and Boating
If you could only see How Well I Look
Just like a Rising Sun
But I’ll be back Next Month
My love to The Gang
Signed, So! Cheerio, All My Love, Your Pal
P.S. Don’t forget to Feed The Dog

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The best thing since sliced bread…

Remember the “bread incident”? Well, there’s been a delightful and hilarious development…

For those who aren’t on Facebook, or need a refresher, late last week I posted a story on the Bessie at Burragan Facebook page about our ongoing struggle with transporting bread from Town to Burragan without it ending up totally decimated… Here it is:

“Ever since living at Burragan, and therefore buying groceries from hundreds of kilometres away, ST and I have had an ongoing issue with bread.... yes, bread.
It doesn't matter how far it's got to travel (110km or 500km), how many loaves we buy, or where we put it in the car - even if I nurse the bloody thing in my lap the whole way home - the bread ALWAYS ends up squashed and barely salvageable by the time we're home.
Yesterday we thought we'd be clever. We put the three loaves of bread in their own container, all lined up together nicely, by themselves, protected from the elements, tied up in the back of the ute... What could possibly go wrong?
Well, late last night we pulled up at ST's mum and dad's place to drop them off their shopping - including a loaf of bread - only to discover the welded piece of STEEL that holds the SPARE TYRE onto the back of the cab (The VERY same type of spare tyre hold-er-on-er-er used on thousands of Landcruisers across the country without any issue whatsoever) had actually SNAPPED OFF and the MASSIVE Landcruiser tyre had SMASHED straight on top of the container holding the BREAD... basically creating a mass of plastic and wholegrain pulp.
I couldn't even make this stuff up if I tried...”

And now there’s a Part 2…

Yesterday evening I had a phone call from our neighbour. JE is in his 60s, has lived in the area his whole life, and lives next door (about 12km away through the back paddocks) with his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

JE said he had a parcel for me that he was going to leave at the boundary gate between our two properties. He seemed kind of in a hurry, so I didn’t question him about the parcel. As yesterday was also our mail delivery day, and JE mentioned he had just come back from Cobar (200km away) I simply assumed he’d either picked up something in Cobar for ST, or something for us had been accidentally delivered to the wrong mail box.

A little later, after the daily evening tasks of watering plants and feeding animals, ST and I made the drive out to the boundary gate.

This largish, white box sat on the ground. It had a heavy stick on top to hold the lid on.

I’ll admit my first thought was it was going to contain either (a) some kind of reptile or (b) some kind of baby animal. I was definitely suspicious.

We approached the box with caution and noticed it had a message on top:

Using the stick to carefully flick the lid off, we were surprised to see the contents:

And then we just Could. Not. Stop. Laughing.

JE is not on Facebook, so I wondered how he even knew about the “bread incident”… but a bit of investigation revealed he has a few Facebook Fairies who’d told him the story.

So to JE and the Facebook Fairies – THANK YOU! The choccy is already half gone (I’m blaming ST – of course!) and my toast was extra deliciously fresh and beautiful this morning!

It’s official: the very best thing since sliced bread is magical neighbours who deliver it to you (with chocolate)!

And a note for everyone on Facebook who mentioned it's time for us to get a breadmaker... you'll be pleased to hear we already have one! I just felt it was a bit unfair of the Universe to constantly destroy our store bought bread when we only get the luxury of actually buying bread from the shops a few times a year. It is a nice treat to have one less job to do sometimes. I am sure the universe was laughing at us - and trust me, I was laughing too - when it squished our bread with the spare tyre! Good one Universe, good one. Who's laughing now? ;)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Everything I know about drought

I don’t know much about drought. Even when I saw her face, I didn’t recognise her.

Years before I moved to Burragan, we visited ST’s mum and dad one summer. Their house yard was a true oasis in the middle of a desert, in every sense. Outside the confines of the garden fence, they were feeding hay to cattle and saving animals from of empty, muddy dams. At the time, I didn’t realise that was what she looked like.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know that she’s inevitable.

I am lucky – or perhaps unlucky and lulled into a false sense of beauty and romance - to have moved to Burragan in the middle of several great seasons. This year, we’ve just less than average rainfall. We are thankful for that. And yet it’s dry. It’s dusty. It’s only getting hotter.

I don’t know much about drought. But I can feel her creeping up on us.

The signs are there. Selling stock. Buying hay. Blowing bores. Boggy dams. Empty tanks. Moving stock. Fierce winds. Thunderstorms that are no longer viewed as salvation, but instead, as fire threats. Those afternoons that smelt like rain; but when they came, they looked, and felt, and taste, like dust. Perpetrations for a dry summer.

I don’t know much about drought. But I know she’s more than a lack of rain.

She’s stress. She’s suffocation. She’s the haunted eyes of men whose strength is buckled by the weight of the world, and women who wish they could take the load off.

I don’t know much about drought. But I wonder if we will recognise each other, when we meet again.

I know we can’t be friends, and yet, to survive in this environment I cannot view her as the enemy.

We might have to learn to get along for quite a while.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

It's a jungle out there

I’ve faced many challenges during my time at Burragan which seem totally removed from my previous life. These things were definitely not part of the plan. Not part of being a farmer or farmer’s wife. Not part of being 100km from the closest tiny town, or 200km from the next.

But generally they are a lot to do with being smack bang in the middle of the Australian bush. Because let me tell you, it’s a jungle out there.

Yesterday I was weeding in the garden when an emu came right up to the fence to say G’day. That’s pretty standard. I’m used to it now. There’s a group of three who’ve been living near the house for years and every season they bring their babies back too.

Kangaroos are a common occurrence over the back fence too. And when I see them cruising by so casually, I think to myself, If I was from another country, then this would be the equivalent of what Australians feel when confronted with lions, elephants and giraffes while on safari in Africa.

Except I’m not from another country. So it’s just like, whatevz.

But remember how excited I was when we had that run of echidnas a few months back? They’re more elusive you see. A bit of a novelty.

Conversely, there’s the livestock. Sometimes they also get a bit closer than expected. This one time, before we had a fence around our house, I got up in the chilly hours of the morning, stumbling to the bathroom without my glasses on. I looked out the window into a blurry sea of white and called back to ST in the bedroom, “Baaaaabe… Either it’s snowed overnight, or there are 3,000 sheep camped on our doorstep.”

The cattle are also notoriously curious, with a need to rub themselves up against, or attempt to eat, anything man-made. Including the electrics in the tractor.

And then there’s the wildlife that isn’t so welcome. Lizards I can cope with. Sort of.

Snakes I cannot.

It’s open season for snakes again and after getting our first one near the house last week, and two more in quick succession nearby, I was left feeling violated and traumatised.

Yet also relieved.

Because before that first encounter, I was walking around like a reformed drug addict craving a fix. I didn’t want to see one. And yet I so desperately needed to see one, to remind myself that the world wouldn’t suddenly spin off orbit when I did. It didn’t need to be a big one, and it didn’t need to be close by, but just a teeny, tiny, little one, just casually sunning itself out on the road, off in the distance, a million miles away. Just to take the edge off, you know? That would have been fine.

The fear of the unknown was almost paralysing. I was avoiding being outside, just to avoid the possibility of my first run in. And then, knowing how the universe works in weird ways, I was beginning to contemplate wearing my boots inside – just in case, you know, the universe might have been thinking, ‘If she doesn’t come to the snake, we’ll bring the snake to her.’

I was pretty much convinced all the snakes in the general vicinity were plotting my demise. If not by venomous strike, then by slowly turning me into a raving, paranoid, shaking mess of a crazy person.

In the end my amazingly brave mother was there to save the day, while I ran around with my eyes shut, practicing deep breathing exercises. And by deep breathing exercises, I mean hyperventilating between cuss words, obviously.

And now the encroaching wildlife has moved into insect mode. Flies are a given as we move into summer. But this season we’re experiencing another insect en masse for the very first time.

When we first moved into Burragan I remember cleaning out window sills that looked like this:

We thought this must have been what 30 years’ worth of unclean window sills must have looked like. Turns out that could have just been one week’s worth. Because MOTH PLAGUE.

That’s right people. While you enjoy your quiet Thursday night dinner in relative peace this evening, ST and I will be dining with 3,000 sets of moth eyes beaming down at us from the ceiling. Of every. Single. Room.

I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. Especially when you’re halfway through a cup of coffee and then discover a moth head floating around in it, just millimetres from your lips. *Pithhh, uggghh, sppluugh*

But like usual, I will take it on as a challenge. Just like the sheep, the snakes, the frogs, the pigs, the foxes, and the mice… oh, sweet Lord, the mice… now they were a real welcome to the jungle. But I’ll save that one for another time.

(EDIT NOTE: So it turns out attempting to take photos of the moths after dark is not the best idea in the world. Given the need for flash photography, and the whole moths being attracted to light thing...the squeals were chilling.)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cheat sheet for country living…

Yesterday I did something which caused ST to call me a “city slicker on her first trip to the sticks.”

Did I accidentally leave a gate open?

Did I mix up some sheep in the yards after they’d been drafted?

Did I drive the ute to the other side of the property and run out of fuel?

So what did I do that could possibly have received such a harsh critique?
Well, when asked to pick up some steel posts from the shed and deliver them to him about 15km away, I grabbed 210cm long posts instead of regular sized 165cm ones. Woops.

ST: “But didn’t you look at them when you grabbed them, and hold them up next to you and realise they were too big?”

Ummm… No. I popped them straight in the back of the ute and drove off, congratulating myself on what a good job I’d done choosing the nicer, straighter, blacker posts instead of the bent, rusty, dodgy looking ones next to them.

As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the city but you can’t make her drink when a champagne in the hand is worth two in the fridge. That is what they say, isn’t it?

So as a public service to the people of Australia, I'm sharing some of the stupidest, most embarrassing city slicker things I’ve done in my 2.5years at Burragan. This way everyone else can learn from my mistakes, and we’ll become a nation of uber paddock-savvy, professional farmers.

Things you need to know (or what not to do) when you visit your country cousins… or marry a farmer:

1) Not all sheep look like miniature versions of Goulburn’s famous Big Merino.

I found this out not long after moving to Burragan, when I went to collect the mail and came back with a wondrous story about all the things I’d seen during the trip. It’s 15km to the mailbox and most of that is through the neighbour’s place…

Bessie: “…and oh, you should have seen the goats! Thousands of goats that were in the neighbour’s place… thousands, just thousands… all there running in a mob! You should have seen them! It’s like they are running goats instead of sheep!”

ST: “Where did you say they were?”

Bessie: “Just in the neighbour’s place there, in the paddock with our mail box in it.”

ST: “They’re not goats. That’s the neighbour’s dorper-damaras.”

2) Some sheep don’t have wool.
They’re still sheep. Not diseased sheep. They’re just meat sheep, not wool sheep.
I found this out during my very first shearing experience. ST and I were helping his parents draft sheep at their place. His mum and I was pushing up the sheep from behind, making sure they were running through the draft continuously… when all of a sudden this crazy looking animal came through the mob with all its weird hairy wool stuff half falling off…

Bessie: “Ohmigod! Ohmigod! WHAT on earth is THAT, that, that, THING?”

ST’s Mum: “What thing?”

Bessie : “That! That one there! What’s wrong with it? Why does it look like that!? What’s happening to it?”

ST’s Mum: “Which one?”

Bessie: “The one with the MOHAWK! What IS it!?”

ST’s Mum: “The dorper ram?”

3) Sheep eat grass.
They have done for centuries. They’re unlikely to try eating meat any time soon.
I found this out, quite embarrassingly, when ST’s sister and brother-in-law were visiting. ST and the brother-in-law were talking about poison baiting for feral animals such as foxes and pigs, when I piped up and asked: “But doesn’t anyone ever have any trouble with the sheep eating the baits?”

BIL: “Well, generally sheep eat grass.”

Bessie: “Yeeeaahhh… but what’s stopping them from accidentally eating the baits?”

BIL: “Being herbivores and all… they don’t eat meat.”

And my brain connected the dots in three, two, one...

4) Driving with a flat tyre is not OK.
It’s not even forgivable. Even if it's an accident. Just don't do it.
I found this out the hard way. The overhead tank at the house was empty so being a good farm-girl I grabbed the jerry can and jumped in the ute to go to the dam and start the pump. ST was on the motorbike, moving some sheep in the same area, and when he noticed the ute parked over at the dam, he called me up on the UHF…

ST: “Hey Bess, did you fix that flat tyre on the ute?”

Bessie: “No. What? What flat tyre?”

ST: “You’re joking, aren’t you?”

Bessie: “No. What flat ty- oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.”

ST: “Tell me you didn’t just drive that ute all the way from the house on a rim.”

Bessie: “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit…”

5) Mustering the wrong paddock is also not OK.
Remember the time I tried to muster Pretties Paddock? You can read about it HERE. But, yeah, let’s not bring that up again.

OK, I told you mine, now you tell me yours... Go on!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Life… with a side of salt

I’ve been feeling a bit off colour lately. More of a volcanic grey than my usual sunshine yellow and devil’s sidekick red.

Blame it on the lead up to shearing, the atmospheric pressure, the post party blues that happen after nine lots of visitors in nine weeks (and just before the tenth), the end of winter funk, the poddy calf getting sick, or a lack of champagne and decent evening TV… but I just can’t seem to kick it.

It has been one of “those” weeks, you see.

The ones where you manage to burst three underground water pipes within 24 hours (one with the bobcat and two with the trench digger) despite consulting the pipe layout map.

The ones where you end up washing all the dishes by hand because the dishwasher is full of clean dishes that no one is feeling sprightly enough to unpack.

The ones where you eat leftovers for dinner four nights in a row.

The ones where you discover the freezer at the shearer’s quarters was accidentally turned off a week ago. And it’s full of meat.

Yeah, those weeks. Ever been there?

And it’s not like anything totally disastrous has happened (though listen up universe, I’m not trying to tempt fate with that comment, OK?)… but as usual there’s just too much to do, not enough time, not enough hands, not enough energy, not enough money, not enough swear words in the world to get it done.

Wow, that came out much more whiny and depressing than I was aiming for. Oh well.

But moving on…

You might have read my last post A poem for my friend in the stars…

Late last month my friend M should have turned 25. Instead she is forever 18. I don’t talk about her because I’m acutely aware the internet is a very loud place. Her memories are not mine to broadcast.

But she is in my life, in everything. And she is my daily reminder that I am intensely lucky to have a voice, and a platform to use it.

My blog was very bare last month as (a) we’ve been busy and (b) I wasn’t up for writing any more light hearted, entertaining posts. And I like to try to use my words wisely.

This was going to be a blog about criticisms on the internet and a correlation between that and “yard language” (farmers will know what I’m talking about there)… But instead I’ll shelve that idea, keep it short and sweet, and hope that getting this out in the open will clear the channels for many more up to date blogs this month.

As for those little things that go wrong in life, I am learning to take them with a big salad-bowl sized serving of salt.

I just wish it was more often preluded by a shot of tequila.

That would keep my cheeks rosy.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A poem for my friend in the stars

Peace stretches endless, a gaping wound, and surges like butchered blood; solace is bare.
Like shadows consuming all, there are visions that dissolve gaunt, but my heart remembers yours.
At times, like words upon my tongue,
I stumble, plunging
Awkward and uneasy without-

Jewelled fancy of future passions shatter, and spill in scalding tears; your now is ever.
Like darting moths to light, there are instants that pass us, but your memories are mine.
At times your eyes beneath the smoke
Ask me to burn again,
Craving, howling to keep.

I need your naked hand like blossoms need nature’s glow,
Or maybe, as certain as sunset is soon forgotten and the next will draw.

Sparks of cindered timber jolt as gusts desire, and soar like falling wishes; night is glittered.
Like infinite mornings of life, there are things that fade far, but our love reaches.
At times, like leaves across the wind
You drift away with me,
Senses adoring in all you give.

I need your naked hand like blossoms need nature’s glow-
As certain as sunset is soon forgotten and the next will draw.

Bessie Blore - 2008

Monday, July 29, 2013

Clear as mud... (and Super Exciting Amazing News #3)

to feel isolated when you live 110 kilometres from the closest small town – or even if you live in those small towns. It’s true that things like phones and Facebook combat the loneliness, solitude and other mental aspects of isolation. But as one of the 11percent of Australians who don’t live in “urban areas” - that’s cities and towns of more than 1,000 people, according to ABS - it’s still reality to sometimes feel as if you are out of sight, out of mind, and out of touch.

Of all the various issues surrounding living on a relatively remote sheep station, when ST and I first moved to Burragan I was most constantly anxious about the possibility of being “rained in.” There’s about 35 kilometres, give or take, of dirt road between the Burragan house and a bitumen highway, and although 35km isn’t much in the scheme of things, the thing about dirt is that when it rains it turns to mud. And the thing about mud is that it’s pretty much impenetrable by man… or woman. So when it rains you either get out quick (not always an option), or bunker down at home in preparation for a period of house and shed-bound jobs.

ST always alleviated my fear by telling me that if we ever simply had to get out after rain, we could take the motorbike cross-paddock to the highway. Over time my anxiety eased as I became used to this plan, and when people asked what happened when we were rained in, I simply answered, “We really could get out on the motorbike, across the paddock, if we needed to.”

In my mind this was acceptable. I would never be totally trapped. Obviously I hadn’t given it much further thought. You know, about, like, exactly what happens when we get to the highway and only have a motorbike to travel on and are still 80 kilometres from the closest town? Yeah, that bit… hmmm… interesting you bring that up… I hadn’t really thought about that bit.

So it was part traumatic and part wild adventure last month when we had 50 millimetres (that’s 2 inches for the oldies out there) of rain overnight and I was due to catch a flight out of Broken Hill. Then the true physical issues behind the motorbike-cross-country plan finally became clear… much clearer than mud – yet still with the exact same colour, consistency, and chemical structure. So yeah, pretty much as clear as mud – except actually clear. Are you with me?

I was due to catch this flight to Sydney because of my #3 Super Exciting Amazing News that I’ve been busting to tell you about for months now. I’ve been chosen as a 2013 Young Farming Champion to represent the wool industry as part of the Art4Agriculture and Archibull Prize programs! (Insert claps, cheers and wolf whistles here!!) If you haven’t heard of this, then let me explain…

Art4Agriculture is the brain child of Illawarra based dairy farmer Lynne Strong. At its heart Art4Ag aims to bridge the divides between food and fibre producers and consumers, through awareness and participation. Just one aspect of the program is the Archibull Prize, where participating schools are provided with a life-size fibreglass cow statue to decorate in the theme of a particular primary industry (think cotton, wool, beef, dairy etc). The Archibulls, along with blogs and video projects, are then entered in the annual Archibull Prize competition against all the other schools. Part of the program – and this is where I come in - is to train up young farmers as champions for their industry, and partner each school with its own Young Farming Champion to help inspire their themed Archibull entry, but also to teach students all about how fun, innovating and exciting Australian agriculture is as a whole. Doesn’t it sound great!!??

So, there I was, at home, due to catch this flight to Sydney for my very first meet and greet with this year’s fellow Young Farming Champions (there’s a few of us – check us out HERE) and our initial training workshop. We’d had a little bit of forecast rain the day before and the usual protocol here, when no more rain is forecast for the immediate future, is to hope for some warm and windy weather to dry out the roads. With 24 hours still to go before I was due to leave for my 4pm flight from Broken Hill, we decided to enact this kind of watch and wait plan. And while I went to bed hoping for a windy night to harden up the muddy track to the highway, ST, I’m sure, was secretly hoping for a heavy 5inch downpour to fill our drying dams.

As I lay in bed I heard the rains tumble down. In June.

Fifty-millimetres had fallen by the time we woke. And it wasn’t warm and windy and dry. It was cold and still and wet. ST was delighted. I was anxious… and a little bit peeved. And feeling extremely traitorous for not being delighted.

But everything would be OK, because we could just push out through the paddock on the motorbike, right? Right. Except, then what? Our bikes are only ever used on the property, so they’re not registered for use on main roads. It would be illegal, not to mention highly dangerous given the amount of fuel (and my luggage) we’d need to strap on for the trip, and too slow going anyway, to take the motorbike all the way to Town. And asking a friend for a casual old lift to the airport is just a fraction more than your average favour when the airport is 330km away.

Plan C? ST braved the freezing rain on his motorbike to check the state of all our roads, to see if there was any possible way of me making it out to the highway in the car. Now that is love; having one billion other things to do and dropping everything, to ride 70km through mud and slush, in awful weather, all to make his new wife hap… Hang on a minute – it has just come to me that all this time I thought he was doing something super-sweet, when really maybe that’s just how much he really, really wanted to get rid of me for a few days!? Hmmmm…

Anyway, ST returned two hours later bearing bad news. The road turned to soup closer to the highway and it was more than likely any attempt to escape by car would end with me stuck not only a long way from the airport, but also a long way from the house.

Plan D? Call all the neighbours for a road report on all possible access points through their properties – perhaps I could make it the back way? But as I rang around the neighbours, the time was a-ticking. With at least three and a half hours of travel between Burragan and Broken Hill I was going to have to leave soon, or risk missing the flight altogether. Of course, the neighbours were just was rained in as we were…

Plan E? Helicopter? Ours was still at the mechanic, being serviced. Damn! (Hahaha, I wish!)

Plan F? As it slipped passed midday and I lost my window of opportunity to reach the departure gate in time for take-off, I was left with no other option but to call the Art4Ag crew in Sydney and apologise in advance for missing my flight. I disappointedly began dialling.

Plan G? Plan H? Plan I, Plan J, PlanKPlanLPlanPlanPlanlanananannnnnnnnnaaaarrrggghhh!!! Plan Z?

There was ONE other option ST and I could come up with. Every night a bus stops at the local roadhouse on the highway about 50km away, journeying from Sydney to Broken Hill. If my flight could be changed to the following day, there was a possibility I could somehow catch that bus and make it to Broken Hill, stop over at a friend’s place for the night and be at the airport early the next morning.

It was going to be risky, first relying on the possibility of changing the flight at such late notice, then relying on the availability of seats on the bus, then being able to make it all the way to the highway on the quad bike – with my luggage – without being covered in mud by the end of it, and then the dilemma of making it a further 15km on the highway to the roadhouse, given the aforementioned dangers and illegalities of riding on the road. It would be a battle of determination and strength, a test of will and cross-country quad riding skills, a trial of friendship and mud-proof luggage wrapping abilities, a journey of epic proportions, a story of courage and undying lo… Oh, have I gone too far?

Following the all clear for the flight to be changed with the proof of road closures from the Road Traffic Authority (easy done!), I rang the bus company to see if they could make an exception for me and stop at our turn off on the highway. They said no. I didn’t argue the point. Instead, I calmly hung up and I may, or may not, (but most likely may) have cried at this point. It was beginning to look like the universe was trying to tell me something, and that I was not supposed to make it to Sydney.

But I had one final card up my sleeve, or more accurately, business card stuck to my fridge door. I phoned the owner of the local roadhouse and begged for a favour. If she wasn’t too busy, if it was not too much trouble, only if she had the time, would she please, pretty, pretty please be able to meet me at our turn off at sundown and take me back to the roadhouse in time to catch the bus? I’m fairly certain I heard angels singing in the background as she said yes.

And so ST and I prepared for battle, fuelling up the quad, donning 70 million layers of winter clothes, and wrapping my luggage in plastic bags, before setting off through the paddocks, highway headed.

True to her word, the lovely roadhouse owner ferried me to the warmth of the roadhouse, where she fed me delicious cappuccinos and hot chips as I waited for the bus for two hours.

And then I sat on the bus for three and a half hours while my feet numbed from the cold, arriving in Broken Hill around midnight.

And then I sat in the airport for three hours the next morning while my flight was delayed and eventually diverted via a longer route.

Oh Sydney, you tried to avoid me, but ain’t nobody gonn’ stop me! You can attempt to delay me for approximately 24 hours, but you will never evade me completely! I showed you!

So I eventually made it to Sydney, and loved my first training weekend alongside a fantastic group of fellow Young Farming Champions. I am really looking forward to my time with them and in schools across the country.

This is an opportunity I am embracing with both hands, not only to excite urban audiences about Australian agriculture, but also to break down the barriers between those who grow our nation’s food and fibre and those who eat and wear it…

To traverse that gulf, between you and I…

And to fade that feeling of isolation, for the 11percent. It can take us a little longer to make it to where the action’s at, but that doesn’t mean we’re not trying hard to get there.

I anticipate many obstacles along the way: rain, muddy roads, missed flights, inflexible bus company policies… But in the immortal words of Unique II (because I think we can all agree the original Matthew Wilder version is just a little too weird), “Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride.” And I warn you, I will take the motorbike cross-country through the mud, if it comes to that.

Are we clear?

Editor’s Note: Yes, I am aware the next line of the song is, “Nobody’s gonna slow me down,” and that that contradicts my previous statements about delays/interruptions/lags/minor hold ups etc… But for the sake of me really needing to end this blog, can we allow some poetic licence and let it slide?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Dear Wilcannia...

Dear Wilcannia,

I had the sweetest experience of you last week.

Some long term medical issues had me doing the 110km dash to your hospital for my regular blood test (Don’t worry folks, I’m fine!). Usually I’ve been going to the Cobar pathology (400km return drive) for this, but I had visitors this week and didn’t want to miss too much fun at Burragan, so the Wilcannia hospital said it had an employee driving west to Broken Hill on this particular day who would kindly take my blood all the way to their pathology instead. Now that’s service!

Rocking up to the nurses’ station I was greeted by SIX smiling faces… two nurses, two third year medical students on their rural rotation from University of Sydney, and two nursing students. Like many rural hospitals, there is no full time doctor in Wilcannia. Instead the hospital is serviced by fly-in fly-out clinics from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) three days a week, while local nurses hold down the fort the rest of the time, 24 hours a day.

One of the med students was keen to have a go at taking my blood, so I offered up my best veins for her to drain. I’m quite the regular pathology goer these days so although I do stare intently at the opposite wall, make awkward conversation, and try to drift off to my happy place, I am ultimately at ease with the process and was happy for the med student to use me for practice.

Unfortunately my veins weren’t cooperating as well as usual, so the local nurse came to the rescue. Half way through draining my other arm she tells me, “I’m your neighbour actually.” Suffice to say I was surprised. But yes, it turned out she lived “just down the road” from me and although we’d never met in my 2.5 years at Burragan, she recognised the name and address on my pathology form and knew who I was. “You’re not like what I imagined you to be,” she said honestly.

“Oh!” I replied taken aback, “What did you imagine me to be like?”

“I’m not sure really. You’re a journalist, aren’t you?” she queried.

Was that what she’d imagined me to be like? Some stereotypical, preconceived notion of a journalist? What is that stereotype anyway… that we’re all blood-sucking, story chasing, pompous, alcoholics? I’d like to think only one of those descriptions fits me… and it’s the only one involving scotch whisky.

“Well, yes,” I said, “but I don’t do a whole lot of that these days. Mostly I’m just out in the paddock with ST.”

“LS (another mutual neighbour) tells me you’re a writer. She speaks very highly of you,” she continues.

And as the conversation went on I realised there’s a lot to be said about reputations in rural communities. Obviously I’ve gained myself a bit of a preconceived persona which walks into the room ahead of me. I’m sure some people assume that persona is anything from naive and bitchy to… well… I can’t come up with any nice words right now without also sounding pompous, but feel free to add your own in here.

But like anyone, the truth is the real me probably lies somewhere in between. I’m wouldn’t say I’m naive, but I’m not afraid to admit when I don’t know or understand something. I don’t go out of my way to be a bitch, but like most women I sure know how to turn it on when I want to. I’m not out to get anyone, not out to be the new person in town who barges in trying to change things, not out to big note myself, or pretend that I’m the most hard done by woman in the world. I’m well aware there are people out there living in far more isolated areas than me, working twice as hard to survive, and doing far more exciting and interesting things than I. But I am not those people; I am me. And I enjoy writing, and appreciate honesty in writing. So that is why I do what I do – reputation, perceptions and assumptions be damned!

The thing is Wilcannia, you too are fighting a reputation you’ve gained over the last 30 years, which doesn’t really represent the real you. It would only be honest for me to say that you and I don’t always get along – but last week your inner good shone through in way that deserves a little piece of your negative persona to be chipped away.

As the blood finished pumping from my arm and it was approaching time for me to leave the hospital, I began feeling light headed, my vision was blurring and my hearing fading. Quietly concerned I would faint if I stood up, I clutched my water bottle and asked my Neighbour/Nurse if it was OK to sit for a few minutes before heading off. She immediately offered me a cup of tea and delivered it shortly after, along with two Arnott’s biscuits. She pulled up a chair, sat down with me and started chatting about writing, nursing in country hospitals, gardening and living out of town. In 15 minutes I was feeling buoyed and uplifted, and actually impressed with the service Wilcannia could deliver.

From the hospital I made my way to the general store…

And from the general store I made my way to the small coffee shop in the main street. The owner’s grandkids were visiting for the school holidays and I helped them set up the chairs and tables out the front as their Gran warmed up the coffee machine for me. Their beaming smiles and the friendly conversation with their Gran, along with the aroma of fresh coffee, continued my good mood for the drive home.

The difference between us though, Wilcannia, is that I can pick and choose the details of what I let out into the world, while you are stuck at the mercy of what others do and say about you. I’ve heard you used to be a thriving major centre. And judging by the gorgeous heritage buildings that line your riverbank it’s unfortunate the current negative reputation is continuing to hinder your grand potential. From what I see recently, change is a comin’ in Wilcannia. Historic sandstone buildings are being renovated and re-purposed, tourism ventures are making their way back to town, and caravaners are pulling up for a coffee rather than driving straight through.

I think you know you’ve got some issues, just as I know I’ve got issues too. But ultimately our success lays in finding a focus on the good points, and hoping the rest of the world likes that and runs with it while we work away quietly in the background to improve the bad points.

Lovely locals, a great health service and nice coffee are a good start.

I think you and I might end up liking each other after all.

Until next time,

Editor's Note: Want to find out more about Wilcannia or thinking of stopping by next time you're in the region? Check out the Wilcannia Tourism website HERE.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The super exciting things!

Advanced apologies for the lack of laughs in this one friends.

I am currently swallowing razor blades and leaking fluids from places they really shouldn't be (in the head region people, keep it clean, please!)... and it's not just part of some wannabe Houdini-esque show of strength and awesomeness, but instead, yes, the dreaded head cold.

It's raining, which is fabulous(!!), but also stressing me out mega-time as I'm supposed to catch a flight tomorrow and I'm envisioning ST having to dink both my suitcase and I (I'm thinking I'll strap it onto my head with some occy straps, but I'm open to suggestions) on the motorbike, through 40 kilometres of mud to reach the highway, where I'll probably have to flag some hopefully-not-an-axe-murderer down to hitch a ride to the airport 330km away... The unfortunate part of this is that I'm really not joking. It's possibly either this, or missing the flight. Ohhhh, the serenity.

But I digress! My reason for this unfunny post today is simply to update what's been happening in the worlds of both Bessie and Burragan recently. Those of you who follow the Facebook page would already be all over it, but I know I have some keen readers who haven't entered the dark, inescapable forest that is Facebook, so this one is for you!

These last few weeks I've been counting down some "Super Exciting Things"... there were three of them, to be precise.

SUPER EXCITING THING #1: Bessie at Burragan was blogged on one of Australia's biggest blogging websites, Mamamia!

They have more than 53,000 Facebook followers and were just awarded the Mumbrella award for Media Brand of the Year 2013. They're kind of a big deal.
The girls over at Mamamia have been sooooo lovely to me. I kind of wanna email myself to them for the day and feel the camaraderie of old when I used to work in a busy, fabulous, female environment... as in, one where I can actually reach out and tangibly touch people (aaghhh, holy inappropriateness, again!)rather than just read their words via the interwebs. Anyway, they were keen to re-blog my Trip To Town story on their site. And so they did!

Check it out here: Real Life Farmer Wants a Wife

It's now been shared on Facebook 930 times!! Holy craziness!

SUPER EXCITING THING #2: Bessie at Burragan was blogged in PRINT! I looooove print. It reminds me of my days as an intern at a large regional newspaper... and the wonder of first time I was published in a magazine. While the instantaneousness of blogging online is so, so, cool... what a treasure to have something in print! The gorgeous team over at The Horse Downunder Magazine wanted to share my blog, 21 Things I didn't know about living out bush, until I live out bush... And so they did! Pick up their current Winter edition from "all good newsagents" (ha! I've always wanted to use that line!)...

SUPER EXCITING THING #4 Mamamia asked for more! They had such good feedback from my first story that they asked to know the real story behind how ST and I ended up at Burragan. So Mamamia have a brand new, exclusive blog from me up on their site right now!

You won't see this one on my blog, so please click this link to read all about it, and find the space down the bottom where you leave adoring comments: Could you do THIS for love?

OK so that's all the exciting things! Oh except that I accidentally put a number 4 there at the end, instead of number 3... Oh, that's right! I haven't told you about number 3 yet!

Well... maybe I'll let you in on the little secret... if I can just catch that flight tomorrow...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cheater, cheater... cake mix eater!

I want to talk about cooking. Now, before you roll your eyes, let me explain… I don’t blog much about cooking because, in all honesty, I feel there are already so many other beautiful, creative blogs out there already doing such a good job of it, I don’t really have anything new to add to that world.

I do love cooking. Very much. Almost as much eating. And really you’d be slightly stuffed in the world of “station wife” if you didn’t at least slightly, sliiiightly not want to die at the thought of cooking – it’s kind of a big part of the role!

I am the kind of cook who actually gets physical and mental enjoyment out of something that has taken painful hours or days to construct… whether that be the monotonous stirring of rich, homemade custard which will later become real, authentic ice-cream, or meticulous moulding, cutting, shaping and baking of a decadent, layered birthday cake… I’m the girl who makes Burragan beef spring rolls or Asian chicken wontons from scratch, and hosts Indian or Mexican themed nights (for just ST and the dogs so far, but neighbours, you’d be welcome!) right down to the handmade roti and pickled home-grown eggplant sides. I even make my own sweet fruit buns, fruit roll ups, and buttermilk... because doing it the other way (read: buying it from the shops) is “cheating”... (read: not always an option).

And yes, that image above is a bounty from my extensive veggie patch.

But let’s be realistic here. As a station wife the consumers of our kitchen creations are usually men. And when we’re dealing with men, and animals, and isolation… anything is possible, and likely. It’s likely as soon as you put that marinated duck in the oven to roast, you’ll get a call on the UHF to the furthest paddock to help pull a stuck cow out of a boggy dam. It’s likely you’ll end up with a dining table full of unexpected hungry helpers, when you’ve only defrosted enough lamp chops for two. It’s likely you’ll only be told about tomorrow’s all-day fencing expedition (which will require a pre-packed smoko and lunch) at 10pm after you’ve brushed your teeth and taken your contact lenses out and have one foot sans slipper and half into bed. And it’s likely your last two laying hens will have been killed in a vicious wild cat attack and you will be severely lacking in eggs… and anything else that’s half useful in the world of cooking.

So, in the spirit of keeping it real, let me share with you my biggest, best “CHEAT’S and CHEATERS, CHEATY-McCHEAT-CHEAT” recipes and tips on how to look like a kitchen pro, when really you’re a blubbering mess, savouring cake batter off the beaters at a quarter past midnight and hoping your husband doesn’t catch you.

Tip 1) CHEAT’S CHOCOLATE PUDDING CAKE: Suitable as a cake or a pudding, this diverse recipe can be adapted to suit all your cake and pudding needs. Best of all! It only takes 10 minutes, max.

You will need: 1 packet homebrand cake mix (chocolate or vanilla), 1 packet instant pudding mix (chocolate or vanilla), 300ml milk, 2 eggs, 1 cup choc chips (dark or white)… and for the vanilla version, add half a cup of coconut if you’re feeling up to it.

What to do: Mix all together. Put in greased silicone ring tin. Microwave on high for up to 8 minutes. Vwwaalah!


You will need: 1 cup Self Raising Flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup milk.

What to do: Mix. Bake (25-30 minutes in a medium oven if you wish… but there’s nothing wrong with the 8 minute microwave version either, baby, yeah!) Eat.


You will need: 1 cup yoghurt (any flavour!) 1 cup Self Raising Flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup coconut, 1 cup of anything you choose (as in.. choc chips, dried fruit, crumbled biscuits etc… no metal shavings, please.)

What to do: Mix. Bake (see above). Eat.

Tip 4) CHEAT’S ICING: When one can’t be effed icing a cake… one keeps those little tins of passion-fruit pulp in the pantry. One upends one’s tin all over one’s cake, and one looks like one went to a lot of trouble!

Tip 5) PASTA: Pasta is filling. Pasta is delicious. Pasta is SO ADAPTABLE (well, except for the celiacs. Sorry folks.) And there are SO MANY pasta sauces that can be made by the time your pasta has boiled… that’s 12 minutes guys! Think about the possibilities…

- Ham/bacon/chicken, garlic, onion, chicken stock, peas/zucchini/broccoli, white wine, cheese.
- Ham/bacon/chicken, garlic, onion, chicken stock, peas/zucchini/broccoli, cream/evaporated milk.
- Salami, garlic, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, herbs, red wine.
- Beef/lamb, garlic, onion, mushrooms, capsicum, tomatoes, herbs, olives.
- Chilli, oil, garlic, fresh parsley.
- Ham/Bacon, garlic, cheese, white wine, eggs.

Get creative! It doesn’t have to have a million ingredients and be slow cooked since 6am to be totally yummy. Really all you need is garlic!

Tip 6) LET THEM STARVE: This trick has been working for centuries… pretend you’re too busy, tired and stressed to cook anything. Don’t get any meat out to defrost for dinner. Don’t even be anywhere near the kitchen when hubby gets in from the paddock. When you’re pressed on, “What’s for dinner?” several hours after dark, after beers, after TV and relax time, be sure to answer, “Ohhhh, well, I hadn’t really thought about it.”

One will hear the sizzling of steak (or inhale the scent of burnt toast) in no time.

So there’s the Top 6 I can think of off the top of my brain… what are yours?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Everything I know about rain…

Lemme tell you everything I know about rain…

I grew up in a country Victorian town where shop assistants made small talk about the weather and everyone went around saying how lovely the days were before adding, “but I really do hope it rains… for the farmers.”

“Oh yes, they need it,” came the standard reply, which I soon parroted too, despite not really having a clue whether it was seeding time or harvest time or whether the farmers really did actually need it to rain at that exact moment. The perception was that they always needed it, because of that other faceless, more nasty, identity everyone talked about, “The Drought.”

Thinking back, I can’t actually pinpoint what years of my childhood would have been considered drought years. Although we had cousins with cropping properties not all that far out of town, my day to day existence revolved around in-town happenings and I can’t seem to differentiate between the years when it rained and the years when it didn’t. That is, aside from the memory that we used to be keen water skiers, spending weeks camping and skiing at the local lakes during summer, and one year the lakes started to go dry, one by one. And we couldn’t go skiing any more. One winter we visited our favourite lake and saw that “Mr Farmer” had put a crop in… I must have been a young teen, or tween even, but before that I really don’t recall registering that the lake might have even been owned by Mr Farmer or that you could put a crop in a lake!

When I was 15 my family moved to the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, where, ironically, it rains A LOT. But The Drought was definitely still going on then too because people from “the other side of the highway” used to talk about how dry it was over there, out west.

Soon after that I was living in Brisbane for Uni and there was lots of chat about water restrictions and which numbered days we were allowed to water the lawn. It was during this time that the nearby city of Toowoomba started hitting the headlines. They were fast running out of water and were pursuing plans to use recycled sewage water in their houses – there was lots of scaremongering and I recall the plans were nixed after a referendum, due to people not gelling to the idea of essentially drinking their own reconstituted, purified, excrement. But there was still water coming out of my kitchen and bathroom taps, and flowing down the Brisbane River as I walked to work in South Bank every weekend… so I wasn’t really concerned.

Then I moved to Darwin. There, as a general rule, it’s blissfully sunny and 27 degrees for half the year, and sultry hot, sticky, 33 degrees and raining for the other half. I spent 12 months in Darwin, including a wet season and a Cat 2 cyclone, and was thrilled by the magnetic force of wild wet-season storms and monsoonal evening downpours which could cool off the night like a blissful climatic release.

After Darwin came Townsville, or, as it’s less affectionately known by many North Queenslanders, “Brownsville”… the capital of the Dry Tropics. But still, even in Brownsville the yearly average rainfall can be measured in metres rather than millimetres.

If I list the years of my life by notable moments – things that stick out in my mind about a certain year – then it goes a little something like this: 2003, moved to Queensland; 2005, graduated high school; 2006, moved to Brisbane for Uni; 2007, moved to Darwin; 2008, met ST, and moved to Townsville; 2010, graduated Uni and got my first full time journo gig; 2011, moved to Burragan; 2013, got married.

Conversely, if I were to ask ST to list the years of his life, he could tell me exactly which years were drought at his parent’s property, and which years were heaven sent with the liquid of the Gods. He could tell me which years the Sandy Creek ran (a once a decade occurrence), and which years the dust storms were so fierce the sheep yards disappeared beneath a sandhill. Which years it was kinder to shoot sheep than watch them starve, and which years the roo, rabbit, and snake numbers sky-rocketed with an abundance of fresh feed.

I interviewed enough “cockies” during my first 12 months at Burragan (while I was still working full-time as an online rural reporter) to know they can list the dates of drought and flood better than if they were their own children’s birthdays. Even those of an age when memories fail to recall what they ate for breakfast can tell you which years The Drought broke.

Sometime between the years of 2008 and 2011 ST and I drove from Townsville to visit his parents for a week or so on the property. While I was “on holiday” – reading books and drinking champagne in the garden - ST was put to work as his parents relished the extra set of capable hands to help put new tanks and troughs in. Meanwhile, ST’s Mum and I were feeding hay to the cattle every morning. And one day we pulled two stuck goats from a dry dam.

We moved to Burragan at the start of a brilliant season. There’d been significant rainfall during the summer - before we arrived at the very start of March - and the dams were full, grass was long, wildlife was plentiful, and the sheep were plump and happy. It wasn’t until I saw the countryside like this, green and lively, that I had a little epiphany and realised my previous experience of ST’s mum and dad’s place had been during The Drought… I’d kind of just been thinking “cattle eat hay, that’s what they do, so we have to feed them”… Well, no. I was wrong. Cattle eat grass – when it has rained and there’s enough grass for them to eat – usually they can feed themselves.

Burragan is in an 11inch annual rainfall band; that’s just less than the length of a 30cm ruler. That mightn’t sound like much (and it’s not) but we’re in the same boat as more than 50% of the continent… and most of the time that boat’s in the shed, out of use. Any cockie will tell you that if you get the annual average that’s a good year, any more and it’s exceptional.

Lemme tell you everything I know about rain at Burragan…

A ground tank (or dam) doesn’t just catch whatever rain falls within the space of the hole in the ground that is the tank/dam. I can hear the farmers laughing at me, but yes, this is what I believed happened. Again, I was wrong. There are actually “drains” which are like shallow little channels built all around the tank to collect the rain run-off from around the paddock and channel the water all the way downhill to the “catch tank”. The catch tank is a shallow little dam right beside the big dam which obviously, as the name suggests, catches all the water. There’s then a “fluming” – very, very large pipe – which runs through the bank of the tanks, draining all the water from the catch tank into the big tank. Magic, isn’t it? (Yeah, yeah, I’m the idiot who never knew all this. Laugh it off folks.)

Lemme tell you everything I know about tanks…

At Burragan we don’t have any working bores (that’s where groundwater is pumped up to the surface for use), and due to disrepair following from the previous owner we also have very few poly tanks and troughs, so all of our sheep and cattle drink straight from the ground tanks. Some of them hold water better than others… some of them go dry far too quickly.

Water won’t run into a ground tank every time it rains. Of course, it depends how well set up and maintained your drains, catch tank, and fluming are, and also the soil type surrounding the tank… but at Burragan we’d probably need a good heavy 35 to 50mm (1-and-a-bit to 2 inches) in one rain event to run water into most of the tanks.

Also, (farming folks, please politely restrain your laughter) I was unaware that the high water level of a ground tank is NOT the top of the bank… Apparently it’s the top of the fluming, which is often MUCH lower than the top of the bank. So why is the bank so high then? Good question. I’ve voiced that one myself and got laughed at so let me save you the same embarrassment by sharing the secret with you here. All that dirt that makes up the bank is what is taken out of the hole that is the tank. And every time the tank is cleaned out (which can only happen when it’s dry), then dirt gets piled up on the bank and the bank gets higher! Magic, isn’t it?

Lemme tell you everything I know about water…

Having taps that have water come out of them is quite the awesome privilege. Because sometimes I turn the tap on and no water comes out, or sometimes the water stops soon after I’ve turned the tap on – this is usually when I’m halfway through shampooing my hair in the shower, or when my hands are covered in meat juice while preparing dinner.

This requires a trip the House Tank – about a three minute quad bike ride away – with the jerry can of petrol to start the pump, which fills the Overhead Tank at the house, which gravity feeds water into the taps in our kitchen, bathroom, toilet, laundry and yard. Magic, isn’t it?

A lot of the time House Tanks are fenced off from livestock to keep them cleaner but ours isn’t , meaning the sheep and cattle call all drink, defecate and die (ok, that’s a bit overboard but I couldn’t resist the allure of a possible alliteration!) in there as well. But truthfully our dam water is exceptionally clean and clear… you could drink it, if you were desperate, but instead we drink rain water.

Which brings me back to everything I know about rain…

On the last day of February last year it started raining at Burragan and didn’t stop for seven days and seven nights… I’ve since referred to this time as “The Big Rain” when we received 8.5inches of rain in one week. That’s more than three quarters of our annual average! Some friends just 100km south received more than 20inches and watched their wool shed, shearer’s quarters and house go under. This was once-in-a-lifetime stuff…

ST, his parents, and I had just finished cementing the base of our intended-to-be snake-proof fence all around the perimeter of the house. Yes, essentially we’d built a dam wall with ourselves on the inside! Braving the elements ST and I spent hours trudging through the mud, digging trenches across the yard, underneath the cement fence base, trying to drain the water away from the house.

You might have heard me mention previously that the Burragan house is in the middle of an old “dry” swamp… that week the swamp certainly wasn’t dry and I was monitoring the rising water level daily, wondering when I should start suggesting it might be time for ST to consider servicing the motor of the tinnie.

Rob Dog plays in the then full swamp beside the house

When the downpours eased ST and I would don our gumboots, wading through the water to check out the levels on all the nearby ground tanks. With what looked like rivers of water barrelling down the slopes around the house paddock, the tanks were all filling quickly, as were our gumboots when the heavy showers would start again before we made it back to the house. Low lying areas became makeshift dams of their own, with water pooling around the outside of dams, old creek beds and clay pans for months. One spot where there are four dams in a row flooded into one massive lake which became known as "The Big Water" - even the old windmill on its bank was underwater. It was an amazing, instant transformation, with the sudden deafening chorus of frogs of a night time and bird life and insects of a day time.

On the seventh day, when the sun came out, we could honestly hear the angels singing and a string quartet accompaniment. But since then they've obviously cracked the shits, shut up shop, and gone to sing on some other street corner.

Although we’ve had a few showers since then to keep the grass from completely dying out, we’ve now not had any rain run-off into tanks since The Big Rain… That's, ohhh… 14.5 months. Too many dams are now empty, with sheep and cattle getting bogged in the ones that aren’t quite. A quick look at the rain record tells me we’ve had 61mm for the year so far (and unfortunately I can’t locate last year’s record.)…but for January to May that’s about half of what we “should” be according to the last 134 years of recorded averages from the Bureau of Meteorology. There are people worse off - heaps of them. But honestly, now would be the perfect time for that 8.5 inches to become twice-in-a-lifetime rain…

In Dubbo last month during the usual trip to Town the Woolworths cashier was chatting to me about how lovely the Autumn weather was. Spending so little time in shops these days I'm no longer accustomed to making small talk, and it was a blast from the past when she added the line, “but I really do hope it rains… for the farmers.”

I smiled and replied, “I am a farmer. I hope it rains too.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sitting Pretty... in the idiot's corner.

I’ve had a reader request from someone (OK it’s from ST… he does like to read my blogs when he gets a chance, just to make sure I’m not giving away any of his secrets)… following on from my previous blog, “How not to muster a paddock.”

When ST heard the last title his first words were, “Is it about that time you tried to muster Pretties Paddock?”… “Umm, no,” I replied surprised, “But that WOULD have been a good idea.”

“You should do that one next,” he said.

And so here we are… That time I tried to muster Pretties… Oh sweet Lord, I’d tried to block it from memory…

It must have been shearing time six months ago, so around September last year, because I was on the quad bike which is still considered a relatively “new” addition to Burragan. ST and I had discussed the game plan the night previous as we prepared to muster Pretties Paddock. The plan, as usual, was for ST to head out an hour or so before me and gather the majority of the sheep together before calling me on the UHF. I was then to ride out and help put the mob into the small set of yards out there in the paddock. Due to it being a rather long way from the wool shed yard, we were going to rest them in the smaller Pretties yards first and walk them the rest of the way in the evening.

Now this was all making sense to me, though it did seem just ever so sliiiightly odd that we’d be resting the sheep in the yards in Pretties seeing as the yards were closer to the back of the paddock than to the end towards the wool shed. But you know, I’m no expert at this stuff and ST’s been doing it since birth, so I wasn’t about to question him.

Next morning - mustering day - smoko time nears and I’m still waiting for that call on the UHF. Bugger it, I thought, I’ll just start heading out there and call him on the way to see where he wants me. So off I go, fuel up the quad, check the tyres, and head off up the hill, past the wool shed and into the bottom end of Pretties.

It was a warm day for the beginning of spring so I hadn’t worn a jumper. As I straddled the uneven tyre tracks of the water run road through Pretties I was beginning to wish I had donned another layer. The cold, rushing air was quickly infiltrating my skin and a dark cloud was suddenly, and quickly, manifesting on the south western horizon.

Strangely I was starting to see the odd sheep scattered around Pretties as I zoomed up the road. Jeeze, he’s done a shit job of mustering this end, I thought, Wonder if I should start pushing these ones up to the yards? Surely if he was going to the north end yards he’d have done this end of the paddock already.

I tried calling ST on the bike’s UHF but got no reply. I kept riding.

The closer I got to the Pretties ground tanks and the vicinity of the yards the more sheep I saw, just leisurely picking their way through burrs and grass as if I was little more than a fly buzzing by. These sheep we relaxed and disinterested. These were definitely not sheep in the middle of being mustered.

I tried for ST on the radio again, several times, with only silence to answer. This was interesting… verrrrrry interesting.

The wind was picking up, blowing the threatening southerly storm cloud rapidly closer and heightening my panic at the same time. Why wasn’t ST answering the radio? I turned my bike off to see if I could hear the hum of ST’s Suzuki in the distance. All I could hear was the storm blowing in.

My mind was racing. Sure, his radio could be on the wrong channel by accident, but HE was due to call ME, so you’d think he would have checked it by now and realised, right? Maybe he’s had an accident? None of the sheep are mustered! There’re no sheep in the yards what-so-ever. My heart was starting to thump heavily at all the possibilities crashed loudly into my thoughts, riding in on the furious gusts of the approaching thunderstorm. He’s had an accident, I determined. So, let’s think straight here… there were no bike tacks on the road up through Pretties so he’d obviously come through Lyn’s Paddock. I’ll ride in that direction, I thought, and see if I can pick up any tracks criss-crossing the road through to Lyn’s.

Heavy rain droplets started to fall, stinging my cheeks as I pressed the throttle down harder. And I thought, How bloody typical is this? My fiancĂ© is missing in the middle of 70,000 acres, probably crushed beneath his bike, and no one knows except me, and the only rain to pass through here in months has decided to come right now, while I’m riding around blind, squinting my eyelashes together in an attempt to see through the bloody water haze and hoping to just magically spot a bright yellow motorbike somewhere nearby, and I’m likely to die of hypothermia trying to find him just because I forgot to wear a stupid friking jumper!

As my frustration and terror grew, so did the storm. I slowed down on the road to Lyn’s keeping an eye out for tracks or anything out of the ordinary, when suddenly the radio began crackling. It could just be the moisture in the air from the storm, I thought, but a gut feeling forced me to stop.

“Is that you ST?” I answered.

And the radio crackled back.

“I can’t hear you! I’m near the Pretties tank, can you come to me?” I talked into the hand piece.

Crackle, crackle, it replied.

Ohhh shit. Oh shit, shit, shit. I thought. This is bad. He can’t even talk. He’s severed his spine! Ohhh God, how am I going to find him?

I still hadn’t come across any tracks… So he obviously hasn’t even made it to Pretties this morning… he’s somewhere along the road in Lyn’s. He’s hit a roo on his bike going too fast along the road and come off at speed… Oh God, Oh God…

“Are you ok? Can you press the UHF button in twice for yes, and once for no?"

No response.

I pressed the throttle down hard and made a b-line to the gate into Lyn’s.

The UHF crackled again, more clearly this time… or as clear as crackle can be. Crackle, crackle, crackle… “Are you there Bess?” I heard ST’s voice come through distantly between the crackle.

“Yes! Oh my God! Where are you?” I yelled down the line in relief.

“Where are you?” he questioned back, ignoring me.

“I’m just at the gate going into Lyn’s from Pretties. Where are you? Are you OK? Tell me where you are and I’ll come to you.”

“What!?” came his incredulous response, “What the hell are you doing there?”

“I’m looking for you! Where are you? Are you over at the yards? There’s sheep everywhere down the bottom end, do you want me to go back and start pushing them up?”

“I’m at the house.” Oh GOD! I thought, he’s had to make his way all the way back to the house, with broken limbs, to call the flying doctor and I’m not there!

“Why are you at the house? What happened to mustering Pretties? ARE. YOU. OK!?” I yelled.

“Of course I’m OK! What are you doing in Pretties?”

“Why are you back at the house already? There’s sheep EVERYWHERE!”

“Of course there’s bloody sheep everywhere. We weren’t mustering Pretties…” He said.

“What do you mean we weren’t mustering Pretties? I’m out here, now, waiting for you, ready to muster!”

“We were mustering Candy’s. And I’ve finished already so I’m back at the house wondering where the hell you are!”

Ohhhh. Mmmyyyyy. Godddddd,
I thought.

“Ohhhh. Mmmyyyyy. Godddddd,” I said. “So you’re OK?” I questioned a bit more quietly this time.

“Yes I’m OK! Are you OK?” his voice was getting louder and angrier…

“Yep, fine. Just cold and wet. I’ll see you back at the house soon.”

I rode home fast, bracing myself against the needle-like rain and slowly feeling my panic turn to relief, before exploding over me in a massive, big, heap of embarrassment. I started giggling hysterically for a little bit as I pushed the throttle down again, deliriously embracing the cold wind and the power of the dark clouds hanging overhead.

As I neared the house the rain stopped. ST was standing on the front lawn with a cup of coffee in hand. I was readying myself for the likely onslaught of how-could-you-have-buggered-that-up-so-royally anger, but instead, as I rode past the front yard with a little apologetic smile on my face, ST doubled over in laughter, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Just five paddocks and 30 kilometres in the wrong direction Bess,” he teased as I swung the yard gate closed behind me and ripped off the top layer of my soaking shirts.

“Where’s my coffee?” I grinned.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How not to muster a paddock

Well, after four weeks of crutching and shearing across three properties, we have finally finished… And four weeks is practically world record time!

Crutching and shearing are pretty much as busy as it can get here – it’s a wool grower’s equivalent to harvest, though I’m endlessly glad we don’t have to do the 24 hour tractor driving sifts. Sometimes late at night on the drive back from Town, we pass cropping country where rows of tractor headlights are making beautiful symmetry in the paddocks after dark, and ST and I concede how lucky we are we don’t have to do that. (Though ST’s the kind of person who could work through the pain to see the gain, I’m the kind who’d be driven to the bottom of the whiskey bottle during week one.)

Despite the absence of a round the clock roster, it’s still a fairly full on period of pre-dawn to post-sundown shifts, seven days a week, for four - and sometimes up to six - weeks in a row. Twice a year.

While some days during this time my assistance is not required in the sheep yards or the paddock, and I’m relegated to regular “farmer’s wife” duty, other days it’s all hands on deck to make sure the sheep work runs smoothly. And on those days, I’ve got to tell you, I take a little issue with the tag of “farmer’s wife”. And yep, I know that’s a tag I’ve given myself – I’m well aware it’s up there in my little bio on the top right of this page. But on those days - and let’s put it out there that it probably boils down to most days -I feel I deserve the tag “farmer.” Not “farmer’s wife.” (And I’d put money on the fact that ST’s never introduced himself as a journalist’s husband…)

As a farmer’s wife I wear a lot of hats – executive chef, managing director of housekeeping, head of landscaping, administrative director, artistic director, costume designer, set designer, facebook account manager, and chief operating officer of any of my own projects I’ve got on the go. But just as often I wear my farmer’s hat, and although it’s not an Akubra, it’s still fairly freakin’ wide brimmed.

Unfortunately the wide brim does NOT increase the level of farming-nouse. In fact, you could probably say that the larger your hat, the smaller your… nouse... if you get my drift. And, perhaps more unfortunately, the sheep still haven’t got the memo that when I’m wearing my farmer’s hat, it’s supposed to mean I’m the boss.
Now, I don’t want to upset anyone by perpetuating the whole “sheep are a stupid animal” belief. But I have to say, even if they are generally intelligent, merinos are still definitely the dumb blonde of the species… (And now I’ve upset the blondes… woops!)…

It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I head out on the quad bike to help ST bring the sheep in, my nouse isn’t getting any bigger, and the sheep still don’t seem to understand that we simply want them to walk in an orderly fashion, in the correct direction, at a suitable pace.

In the larger paddocks ST will usually head out before me, gather most of the sheep together in a group and then call me out to help walk them to wherever we’re taking them. (This is usually to the sheep yards at the shearing shed). But as soon as ST utters the words, “You just look after this mob while I go and check for more on the other fence line,” the little woolly bastards make a run for it. I’m fairly certain I can actually hear them plotting against me, “Oh! It’s this idiot again. The girl. She has no idea what she’s doing. As soon as the bloke leaves, you go that way, I’ll go this way and the rest of you should run directly at her.” Ahhhgggg…

It’s the same old story every time and I’m not quite sure what I’m doing wrong, aside from even bothering to leave the house!

Though I actually have an excellent sense of direction, for some misguided reason ST’s usual first query when he leaves me in charge of the mob in the middle of a 10,000 acre paddock is, “Now, you won’t get lost will you?”… and my standard reply is, “No. I’m not going to get bloody lost. I know exactly where I am. I’ll make it back to the yards just fine….. Now, I maaaaayyyy not have aaallllllll 800 of the sheep with me when I get there, but I’ll get there, don’t worry. You just run along babe.” For the men reading this, the above is woman speak, roughly translated to, “DON’T FREAKING LEAVE ME HERE WITH THEM! I CAN’T TELL WHAT THEY’RE THINKING, AND THAT SCARES ME!”

But he does. Every. Single. Time. And within seconds the leader of the pack will be veering off through a thicket of hopbush so dense I may as well be mustering monkeys on a unicycle in the Amazonian jungle. Of course when this starts to happen, I try to ride around them as quick as possible to turn them back in the right direction, but riding a quad bike super-fast through the crater-like pot holes of an ancient clay pan ain’t as easy as it sounds… and generally by the time I’ve lollygagged up to the front and turned the trouble maker around, some smart-thinker on the opposite side is hot footing it in the other direction, and the stragglers at the back have stopped walking altogether. Yep, it's. Just. That. Much. Fun.

It’s about this time my tongue loosens up and I’m vomiting expletives like the proper lady that I am.

In fact, I think we need to set some code words before I tell you this next tale. It’s no secret those of us here at Burragan are big fans of the odd well-placed colourful adjective, or noun, or verb. We’re still pre-children and the closest one I can think of would be about 60km away (Hey Clare! You’re probably not old enough to use the computer yet, but say hi to your mum for me! ) so we’re quite free to express our feelings in “mature” and “emotive” ways. I want you to think of the top three most awful swear words you have ever heard. Thinking of then? Yep. Those ones. The really, reeaaallly bad ones. And now we’re going to replace them with ‘Holy crazy cow udders,’ ‘Hallelujah brother, Amen and Mercy! ’ and ‘For the love of God, Ryan Gosling should father my babies.’ (Sorry ST, you’re next in line, I promise xx)

But back to the story at hand! Soooo, despite what I’ve mentioned above actually coming across as complete incompetence, I USUALLY do end up with MOST of the sheep where they’re supposed to be . And that’s in the big paddocks. So it was with great overconfidence during this shearing that I took to the task of moving just 30 sheep from a dam (or tank! ‘scuse my Victorian heritage there for a second) on one side of the House Paddock, through the House Paddock, and out a gate on the opposite side of the House Paddock, all by my little self.

Let’s a get a visual on this shall we… Aptly named due to its geographical situation surrounding our house, the House Paddock is among the smallest of paddocks on Burragan. Though no exact measurements have been taken, conservative estimates would put its area somewhere between 500 and 1,000 acres (yep, basically I have no sweet holy crazy cow udder of an idea). As you’ll see from the diagram below, the Burragan homestead is somewhat central in the layout of the paddock, with sheds ‘n’ crap to the north, the rubbish dump to the south, and a dirt road extending from its east to west boundaries. I’ve also added some green as a rough indication of where thick patches of Box Gum trees are present, due to the House Paddock’s location in the middle of a great big holy crazy cow udder dry swamp bed.

So, I’m on the quad, right? Starting from the dam down the bottom, right? And ST always says it’s easier to take the sheep around the far side of the paddock, away from all the sheds ‘n’ crap because sometimes it can be tricky to keep them walking through that area. So they go through the gate at the bottom no problems and I shut it behind me just in case there’s a monumental Hallelujah brother, Amen and Mercy! But just as they should, my little mob veers off to the right (Good work team!) so I push them along in hopes of steering well clear of the old dry dam because it’s always a disaster zone there.

Unfortunately as we approach the dry dam, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, my one mob of 30 splinters into three mobs of 10. That’s OK, I’m calm, I’m calm. This always happens, I’m prepared, I can deal with this. “Holy crazy cow udders!!!!!!” I’m thinking to myself.

Riding around to the left, I try and push them back together as the far-right mob moves further away towards the southern fence line. “OK everyone, just stay calm. Look, if we can just stay together in one group, and walk in the right direction, no one’s going to get hurt OK? It’s all really simple. Just do as I tell you, and you can all go home to your loved ones.”

My pack leaders are galloping (do sheep even gallop? I don’t know, but I’m sure that’s what they were doing!) ahead into the Box trees, some stowaways in the middle were attempting a run for it through the saplings on the bank of the dry dam, several others were just dazed and confused, wondering which mob to follow, and one stupid Hallelujah brother, Amen and Mercy decided right then would be the perfect time to sit down behind a tree. I rode over to her and revved my bike, urging her to get up and join any of my mini-mobs.

Revvvvv, revvvv… I got off and tried to help her by lifting her 50kg frame to her feet, “Holy crazy cow udders!! Hallelujah brother, Amen and Mercy!!! Amen and Mercy! Amen and Mercy!!”… My frustration turned to panic as I realised I’d lost sight of the mob leaders. I’d spent way too much time on this holy crazy cow udder – I’d have to leave her behind.

Back on the bike and racing ahead, I tried to re-join my mobs over the other side of the dry dam. If I could just make these back ones walk fast enough to catch up with the first ones, which were quickly veering much more south than necessary, then we’d be fine. Easy girls, easy…

For some reason totally beyond my comprehension sheep like to walk on an angle… let me demonstrate to you via way of another diagram, the direction those sheep walked me across the House Paddock this day… and yes, I said THEY walked ME… not the other way around. Basically I was just a misplaced human chaperone on their leisurely Monday morning walk…

You with me?? Right so now we’re up the top of the paddock and this job has already taken about 50 million times as long as it should have. I’m feeling horrible because A) I’m dying of thirst despite not being more than two kilometres from the house, and B) I’ve said some things to those sheep that I’ve never said to anyone before in my life. Things that can’t be unsaid.

But we get to the road and I’m like, “Hallelujah brother!” because look, guys, look, there’s a road leading straight to the gate that we’re supposed to be going through. It’s easy! Let’s just all stick to the road, walk in a straight line, and we’ll be there in no time… But nope, nut, not interested…

Rather than walking on the road, my 29 sheep walk all. Over. The. Holy. Crazy. Cow. Udder. Paddock. And I’m bawling my eyes out, “For the love of God, Ryan Gosling should father my babies!!! How could you do this to me!? WHY! WHYYYYY!?”

And I’m screaming it, “For the love of God, WHY!?” Screaming it like a choir boy possessed, “Just father my holy crazy cow udder babies! Ryan Gosling! Sweet, brother, Amen and Mercy, just holy cow brother, father them Ryan Gosling!”

And it must have worked. Finally I was speaking their language. And my 29 sheep trotted through the top gate, cow kicking as they jumped over the next hill in search of fresh feed and cool water.

And I rode back to the house, hung my farmer’s hat on its hook, and poured myself a mother freaking wine biatches. Mission completed. Who’s the “farmer’s wife” now, hey?

Just five more months until next shearing…