Sunday, June 15, 2014

Enough with the “lifestyle” already…

THIS IS PROBABLY not the kind of thing I’m supposed to say out loud… but maybe it’s time to break the rules.

If I hear one more person say the best thing about being a farmer is the “lifestyle”… I’m going to hurl my not-quite-CWA-perfected sponge cake across the room. Enough with the “lifestyle” already.

Maybe this needs to come with a disclaimer: I love being a farmer. I love being a farmer’s wife. I absolutely adore Burragan, and our sheep and cattle, and I love my famer husband, his farming family, and our farming life. I love being an ambassador for Australian agriculture. I whole heartedly believe this is a fantastic industry with so, so much to offer young people.

But a picture perfect, magazine worthy, smoko-scones-and-sunset-drinks “lifestyle”, farming is not.

I’m sure my “lifestyle” issue has a lot to do with the last six months of my life being totally over the top whinge worthy. There have been some bottom-of-the-barrel, below-low points – though most of them have nothing to do with farming.

I’m also well aware there’s a very fine line between an amusing gripe and a big fat ol’ pity party. (I do hope you’ll put this in the first category.)

I just can’t keep it to myself anymore. Every time I read a news story or blog or answer to an interview question that says farmers farm for the “lifestyle,” it feels like someone sticks a piece of rusty fencing wire straight into the heart of a little pocket-sized Bessie at Burragan voodoo doll.

Because surely I’m not the only farmer who feels like they don’t have a life? Let alone a “lifestyle.”

Farming is a lot of really great things. It’s a profitable business. It’s extremely satisfying. It’s a worldwide NECESSITY. It’s a way to really connect with and enjoy your environment. It’s fabulous fun, and is different to any other career out there.

But let’s get one thing straight. It is a job. Yes, it’s a job we love, but it is a job. I. Am. At. Work. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, almost 365 days a year.

Can you imagine a doctor who actually LIVES at the hospital saying she or he does it for “lifestyle”…. or a lawyer who actually LIVES at the courthouse saying the best bit is the “lifestyle”… or a teacher!?

Maybe I don’t run in the right circles, but - and it must be added, my father is a teacher - I cannot recall ever hearing a teacher say they teach for the “lifestyle.” And as overworked and underpaid as teachers may be, it can’t be denied that they actually get designated holiday periods.

Nope, most teachers teach because it’s inspiring and interesting and fun and makes a difference to people’s lives. And I just can’t get my head around why the same is not often enough said by farmers. Why do we play the “lifestyle” card?

In just the last few months, my fabulous farming lifestyle has consisted of more than 15,000 (make no mistake about the number of zeroes in that number) kilometres of driving to the city, because our “lifestyle” means we live so far away from its necessary services.

In summer, the lifestyle entails groundhog days of constant water problems, animal rescues, fire threats, fodder feeding, deadly-venomous snakes and hot, hot heat.

In winter, the lifestyle means frozen water pipes, fencing in the sleeting rain, and the excruciating sting of cold knuckles accidentally hitting hard metal in the climb across the sheep yard fences for lamb marking.

During shearing, the pre-dawn to post-dusk lifestyle means I might only get to spend an hour a day, max, with my farmer husband… and we’re both guaranteed to be tired and cranky.

During drought, the lifestyle means constant, constant, constant stress and worry and total helplessness.

And during the good seasons, the lifestyle means we are so freaking busy trying to make a go of it that we don’t even have time to stop and smell the Salvation Jane.

Sure, maybe there are some farmers out there who manage to juggle all this with an actual, real lifestyle… Good on them. I envy them. I also imagine they’re the minority.

I’m not denying that farming comes with a certain way of life. But mostly that’s busy, hard, and tiring.

Sometimes – usually the few times a year friends come to visit - there are scones at smoko time, and drinks at sunset.

But I’m not convinced those so incredibly infrequent “lifestyle” moments are that must-be-total-magic thing that keeps farmers farming…

for entire lifetimes…

and generations…

upon generations…

and generations.

Are you?


  1. Great, brilliant, excellent. Said so very well!

    1. Thanks Fleur xx
      Did I ever tell you how much LOVED my copy of Crimson Dawn? It served me very well during the above mentioned thousand kilometre road trips. Thank you so much!

  2. You write so beautifully Bess and I can certainly relate to everything you say. But, I would prefer our "lifestyle" over the 9-5 grind in the city any day. I would prefer to raise my children in the wide open spaces and teach them the practical life skills that come with living on the land. Just my opinion of course!

    1. Oh Jane, would you believe I actually did think of you while I was writing this and wistfully thought, "Ohhh if only life really was like Jane's blog!"... I don't know how you find the time to fit all the extra juicy glorious bits in so often! Any tips? xx
      P.S. I definitely think not having kids makes it a bit different. Seeing them be so in tune and in love with their surroundings must changes ones thoughts on the "lifestyle."

    2. I work very hard at fitting the juicy bits in and often they happen very quickly! Having kids certainly makes a difference, before we had children I was commuting daily to a crappy & stressful job in Menindee and life was very different. Have a great week Bess x

  3. So very well said Bess. It's a standard joke in our family, my Dad always 'tongue-in-cheek' commenting on our "lifestyle". Even the kids are beginning to roll their eyes when someone notes how fortunate we are to be raising our children in this environment.
    Fortunately we all have our humour to keep us going!

    1. May there always be laughter! Thanks Fiona xx

  4. See Bess I would probably be one of those ignoramus who looks at pictures of farming life in magazines or those Farmer wants a wife shows and goes "oh what a gorgeous lifestyle" eeeek sorry hun. But of course I have not even step foot on a real farm, let alone lived a day or a month or a season in your life so I totally get where you are coming from. I can only imagine how much hard work it must be... rewarding yep that too but man you guys work damn hard. I shall never look at Farmer wants a wife in the same way lol. Lovely to meet you chick - thanks for saying hello on my blog :) xx

    1. Thank you Sonia! Ohh... it is lovely and fabulous and roses and farmer wants a wife sometimes... just not as often as we'd love it to be! Thanks for stopping by - how exciting to have a new reader! xx

  5. Beautifully said. No one can understand the uncertainty of a farmer's life - you are at the mercy of world prices and the weather. You work on yearly budgets, not fortnightly ones. You get the house that comes with the farm (and there aren't many Drover's Runs out there). You work both in the business and on the business. Hats off to all the farmers out there!

    1. Thanks for reading Lucinda! Yep, it's tough, and takes tough people to stick it out. But there's definitely something magic that keeps it going. xx

  6. I was thinking about how to say what I like about farm or station life and you know it might just be the lifestyle :) but not in the way you are thinking ... a lifestyle of hard work, of striving to achieve, of doing your best, enjoying and appreciating the outdoors but then what you have said it so true there may be many good and wonderful things but there are also many hard things as well. Like you said farming is a 365 day a year job it is more than a lifestyle ... it is a life so maybe I love the 'way of life' is a better way to put it. Anyway great post and with you there. Also everyone is entitled to a gripe every now and again and yours just highlights what most farming families cope with every day even though they are thing that might drive them mad on occasion.

    1. Thanks CountryMouse! Yep, there's no denying it's a truly wonderful life! xx

  7. But I saw an episode of McCloud's Daughters once and there were scones piled as high as the ceiling...

  8. Well put Bessie - I'm sure most people have a romanticied view of farming life from TV shows and what they see in magazines. I like that a lot of our rural authors not brush over the hard work people on the land have to deal with. And I agree with your teaching comment (I work in a school library) and while is it a better 'lifestyle' than my old job its not all school holidays - I feel bad for your 15,000km in a few months - I didn't even get to 50,000km in 11 years!

  9. Oh yes. (Braydon's comment made me L. O. L. !!!)

    I could probably be accused of being a 'lifestyle' advocate... and I don't mean to be trite about it. I do try to focus (quite literally) on the beauty of our 'office'. It keeps me sane and MAKES me remember why I chose this life. Yes, the holiday breaks suck. Yes, the worrying about animals/waters/fences WHILE you are on holidays sucks. Yes, Mother Nature can be a complete bitch sometimes and heartache is a very real part of our workplace. I knew that coming back into this life. It's no accident that I am here, so (for the most part) I try to suck it up when it hurts. Not for my readers, but for me.

    I love that you have tackled it head-on though. You say so well what I, too, feel sometimes. It's all part of the colour of our worlds, eh?

    1. Oh yes, I totally get what you are saying Bush Babe. No matter where we are in life or what we're doing, for our own sanity we need to focus on the positives. I spent 99% of my time doing that too I reckon.. otherwise I'd be tearing my hair out. But I love a good rant every now and then, just to keep it real.

  10. I was thinking when I first started reading this post that "lifestyle" is just an overused cliche and to "harden up". I've have the same turmoil being self-employed. No point being sensitive to those that say "Oh, working for yourself, what a great lifestyle." when the reality is yada yada...

    Watching them disappear for paid holidays etc. makes me feel crook, however we make our own beds and have to learn to lie in them. I reckon that CountryMouse has the idea, it's a "life" and a life that one can, to degree, choose.

    Lifestyle mags and (un)reality TV are much to blame as pointed out in some of the replies. We just shake our heads sometimes when talking to city people, the realities of the bush are just so alien to their experiences, that it is easier to smile and say nothing. "They just don't 'get it', do they." we say to each other.

    That said, think of yourself as a member of an exclusive club. Hard as it may be, life on the land is interwoven with such wonderful experiences and ways of doing and being, that to think sundowners on the stoep and scone parties are its high points, might be a bit of a put-down.

    Good on yer JB.