Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sky Larks launch at Hopetoun

The launch of the Southern Scibes latest book 'Sky Larks' took place at Hopetoun last night and was a wonderful evening of recitations, celebrations and entertainment.
I was delighted to be invited as Master of Ceremonies for the event, which included performances by local soprano Evelyn Arnold, the Qualup Choir, recitations from 'Sky Larks' by some of the contributing poets, a heartfelt official launch by poet and author Graham Kershaw from Denmark and wonderful music from a fabulous Denmark duo, Tony and Jude (two of the three socks in Jazz trio 'Odd Socks' from Denmark.......and a fabulous pair of socks they are too.)
Tony had written the music and adapted the lyrics of three of the poems in 'Sky Larks' which were very well received by the crowd. It would be good to see and hear a lot more from these musicians who effortlessly entertained throughout the evening with a guitar, a violin and two lovely voices. What really was the icing on the cake for me was watching local violinist Ron (who is no spring chicken, but plays like one) join the duo and jam away with nothing to use as music other than his ear! Quite brilliant.
It was a top night in the Hopetoun rural community which is still recovering from the shock of the Ravensthorpe mine closure late last year. I was given a quick tour of the town before the book launch by Southern Scribe Eve and her husband Frank, and was impressed at the infrastructure and money poured into the town, which looks fabulous. Not so impressed are some of the locals.
"BHP......Buggered Hopetoun Permanently. That's what I call it."said barman Cocky.
It is very sad to see so many new homes and buildings totally empty and deserted in the little seaside town and to hear of the huge financial losses and pain of those who were left holding the baby after BHP threw out the bath water.
However the true country spirit always shines through and there were plenty of laughs and good humour at the launch. Of particular note was a Southern Scribe husband's basterdised rendition of Paterson's 'Geebung Polo Club'. Highly entertaining!
Thanks you for inviting me to be a part of it all last night and I look forward to returning to entertain the Hopetoun community next year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Wee or Not the Wee.....

What is this? Is it a plastic water bottle filled with urine? I did wonder when I extricated it from the bowels of the back of Will's cupboard. No....I am not fossicking around in there looking for 'stuff'. I am ripping out all the carpet in the bedrooms as we having new carpet after twenty two years. Yay!
We do not have a 'little man' to do the ripping up and furniture removing in preparation for the carpet layers. I am it. All the muscled, useful types are out in the fields swathing the canola. But I digress......
"What is this?" I said to Dad, shaking the vile looking liquid in the bottle. The only good thing to be said about it was that it wasn't tepid....
"Sniff it" he said, looking slightly nervous, and obviously not keen to do the 'nose test' himself.
"Sniff it yourself" I replied.
But being the brave bush woman that I am I did the deed and announced, "It smells like alcohol."
Suddenly, quite keen to sniff the liquid, my 'hunka spunk' agreed. "Smells like scotch."
We rang 'the son and heir' at boarding school in Perth and questioned him as to the contents of his water bottle.
"Scotch and vodka" he said, outrightly and unashamedly (has learnt that lying is a worse crime than the crime itself)
"Gleaned from the drinks cupboards of the parents of your day boy friends?" I asked
"Yes" he replied, obviously amazed at my visionary powers (Hello? I was young once too....)
"Would I be right in presuming you have yet to work over ours?"
"Yup" he said.......
Tip: Turn every bottle of grog in your drinks cabinet upside down before you mark a line on what's in the bottle. Brilliant! The youth of today can't work it out as the line doesn't match up with the level of booze in the bottle when they are trying to filch it.
Reminder to self: Stop slugging intermittently from the bottle or the above ploy doesn't work.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Esperance Bush Poets' Breakfast

We have just had the inaugural Bush Poets' Breakfast at Esperance this month and it was a huge success with over 150 people turning up to hear the poets perform.
Here is WA Bush Poets and Yarn Spinners President, Brian Langley, performing to the very enthusiastic crowd. Other poets entertaining the masses were Bill Gordon from Boyup Brook, Victor Dale from Kalgoorlie and myself. Unfortunatley Peter Blyth from Albany (formerly of BuggerUp Downs, Salmon Gums) couldn't make it as he had 'buggered up' his back.
Brian's wife Dot started off the 'walk ups' for us, encouraging any would be poets to get up on stage and have a go at reading or reciting either their work or someone else's. After Dot had performed her piece, local writer Lesley Higson took to the stage and read two of her poems which were very well received. This bodes well for future bush poets' performances in the district. Hopefully we might run a Poets in the Park event next spring.
The morning was so much fun and so well attended that the Esperance Ag Society committee have decided to run it again next would be poets, get your pens onto paper or start learning your favourite piece for next year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Swathing canola and crows

I climbed up on the roof of the house to take this shot across the home paddock a couple of weeks ago, with a view of the canola in flower and Mt Ney in the background. That beautiful yellow mass is no longer there, as the canola has nearly finished flowering, and swathing it will be the next job here on the farm.

In the meantime I am off to Pingrup this weekend for a Bush Poets' Dinner and fundraiser for the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This was a great gig last year, and I am looking forward to meeting up with fellow bush poets and hearing their contributions to the evening.

I am in the throes of writing some new poems as well as trying to kill a crow that keeps invading my chook house and stealing eggs. We've had three attempts at shooting it, none of them successful. Crows have ears and eyes in the backs of their heads. Everytime Tom tries to sneak round the side of the house to take a pot shot at it first thing in the morning (e.g. 5.30am) it spies him and takes off.

It is probably not helped by the fact he has done nothing to camouflage himself and blend into the scenery. Naked, apart from ugg boots and a gun is enough to scare anyone away.....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Celebrity Dog Obedience Competition

This is Dodger looking the epitome of virtue and good behaviour after a hard day's work on the farm.
Not so good today were some of the ABC Radio Celebrity Dog Obedience entrants at this year's Perth Royal Show.
Listeners of ABC Radio and spectators at the show were entertained with an extraordinary exhibition of behaviour from the celebrity pooches and their owners as they attempted to wend their way through the tasks set by the judges.
There was Breakfast presenter Eoin Cameron with his 'star struck psycho spaniel' Taj, claiming he was, quote "a little disappointed" with his canine companion's performance, citing "performance anxiety" ( referring maybe to the pair of them and not just his pooch). Taking the competition very seriously was Mornings presenter Geoff Hutchison and his mutt Milo, but the crowd pleaser was Drive's Russell Woolf, who unashamedly worked the crowd at every opportunity to give his dog Banjo the best advantage, resorting to good old fashioned bribery by dropping the judges off a bowl of his hand made rum balls before the competition had even started.
Dogs who didn't want to walk the plank were dragged along it. Dogs who were height challenged were lifted up to eat the sausage suspended from the string, and dogs who refused to jump through rings or run through tunnels were tossed through like cabers by their owners in an attempt to claim first prize.
I'll be talking to Cammo on his show tomorrow morning and performing 'Simmo's Last Laugh', a poem about a very naughty working dog who took off in his owner's ute and drove it into a salt lake. The poem was inspired by the true story of London Capitol Radio DJ Johnny Vaughan, whose dog drove his Maserati into the back of a rubbish skip!
Taj maybe able to open a fridge and help himself to the contents of the third shelf, but can he drive a ute? I doubt it.....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Review of Bronwyn Parry's "Dark Country"

If you enjoyed Fleur McDonald's "Red Dust" then add Bronwyn Parry's "Dark Country" to your list of books to read in the near future.

When the police vehicle she is driving breaks down one night on a quiet country road near Dungirri, New South Wales, local police sergeant Kris Matthews flags down a passing car. She gets a lift into town with Morgan 'Gil' Gillespie, a man who appears somewhat guarded and secretive, but does not seem out to harm her. What she doesn't know is that the residents of Dungirri have branded this man a murderer for the last eighteen years, and are in no mood to welcome him home to the small country community.

Things take a turn for the worse when the body of a dead woman is pulled from Gillepsie's car boot the following morning. However, one thing Kris Matthews is certain of is that Gillespie is not the murderer. Why? Because the body wasn't in the boot the previous night when they drove into town, and Gillespie has the best alibi a man could want.....Sergeant Kris Matthews herself.

So begins a fast paced novel of crime and romance as Kris and Gil embark on a journey to discover who the murderer is. This novel is packed with action, organised crime, and police corruption as the reader is drawn through an intriguing unravelling of Gillespie's past and his ties to this small country town.

Set in a dramatic Australian landscape, "Dark Country" is one of those books you hope to read on a wet weekend, curled up on the sofa, whilst disappearing into its pages for a ripping read of thrills and spills. Pure, unadulterated entertainment of the 'popular fiction' genre. Long may it live!

Be prepared for bodies walled up in deserted farm houses, bodies pressed up against one another in unbridled passion and bodies of evidence all hurtling towards a dramatic climax.

Just the book I was looking for after Christos Tsiolkas's "The Slap."

Also by Bronwyn Parry "As Darkness Falls." Visit

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Review of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

This book is a 'must read'.
I did not pick it up because it was short listed for the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award, or because it was winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Overall Best Book. I picked it up after hearing a review of 'The Slap' on ABC Radio, and the subject matter intrigued me.
At a suburban barbecue in Melbourne, a man slaps a small boy who is not his own. This action has an immediate effect on those gathered in the back yard that 'lush late-summer afternoon'. It not only shuts down the barbecue immediately, but sends shock waves and reverberations through the group of family and friends who are present and who are either directly or indirectly affected and influenced by the slap.
The novel is told through the eyes and points of view of eight of the guests present at the barbecue. Using this form Tsiolkas has written a most thought provoking and disturbing comment on a modern twenty first century mixed ethnic group of family and friends living, loving, loathing and lusting in modern Australian suburban society.
I have to say that when I put the book down I thought "What a horrible group of people. I hope I never have to meet or associate with any of them." With the exception of the two teenage characters Connie and Richie; Aisha, the hostess that fateful afternoon; and Anouk, I wanted to get up and slap everyone else who stood up and gave their view point on the event.
The person I wanted to slap the most was the damned child! Spoilt, indulged, demanding and totally undisciplined I was fighting the urge to slap the little bastard myself. But had I been at the barbecue would I have slapped him, a child that was not my own, even if he was threatening to belt my child with a cricket bat? Definitley not, but then neither would I have associated with either of his ghastly parents.
This book will get you asking yourself many questions about how families of mixed ethnic origins manage to balance their beliefs, desires, dreams, traditions and expectations of one another and still manage to live together. Tsiolkas gives the reader a jaw dropping vision of a sector of the Australian middle class, and I wouldn't want to be living in it I can tell you.
The language is coarse, the sex is frenetic, the pace is suberb. A novel about loyalties, the nature of happiness and the compromises one has to make in order to attain that happiness.
After you've finished it, might I suggest you ring a friend who has also read 'The Slap' and enjoy a good dissection of the novel over a coffee or a glass of wine.
Oh, and read something light afterwards.......

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ned the Gnome

This is Ned the Gnome. He was given to me by Mark and Jan for my birthday with a message on the card that read:
"Please love me and do not break me and make out it was an accident."
He resides in the garden as you can see. I was reminded of Ned today whilst in Bunnings. I had one of those wonderful 'inter reaction with a total stranger' moments there this morning.
I was at the check out with my wares, some rather nice potted grasses, which were being admired by the lady scanning my purchases.
"How tall do they grow?" she enquired. At which point a man joined me in the line with his punnet of vegetable seedlings. He admired the grasses too. He was an interesting looking character with a twinkle in his eye.
"About fifty centimetres" I replied, placing my hand above the bench by my estimation of fifty centimetres. "About this high, you reckon?" I asked them both.
"Yup!" said the character, as his tufty hair poked somewhat tuftily, funnily enough, from underneath his rather colourful beanie "About as high as my G-nome" (pronouncing it as in G-orilla)
"I have G-nome too!" I cried out with delight! "Mine is called Ned the Gnome."
"I call mine 'Arsehole' " he replied "As he keeps turning all the lights on and off in the house."
Then, giving me a cheeky wink, he went on his way, leaving me totally speechless!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fence finally finished!

At last the fence is finished around the house, and the new garden is offered a bit of protection.

We used posts and tin sheeting for a rustic effect on the eye, a sensational feeling on the pocket, and to tie in with the stables which you can't see in this photo, but are to the right of the fence. It's all starting to come together and an annihilation and rejuvenation of the old garden has given us a great project at the homestead.

We went over to Scadden on Saturday and saw a beautiful garden owned and tended by the Thomas's. Sensational! I was swept up in the wonderful box hedges, amazing array of plants, olive trees, weeping mulberry trees, mop tops, crystal clear swimming pool and grass tennis court complete with pavilion. Quite breath taking. It made me want to rush home and start frenetically and frantically working on my own garden, and ours needs a lot of work let me tell you. The pool, for example, has water in it, but it is black, three inches deep and full of sticks, leaves, dead frogs and mosquitoes.

So on Sunday we decided to finish the fence before attacking the pool. In my frenzy to help shift a pile of posts off the trailer I dropped one on my foot and am now nursing a broken toe. I then took a large piece of skin off the middle finger of my left hand moving a selection of wooden rails, and capped off the day by driving a piece of weld mesh wire into my skull as I bent down to plant some wormwood in the chook house.

Given that I had also started the day with a extremely energetic walk for over an hour, I was totally crippled by 6pm and a strong gin and tonic was called for. I am subsequently looking for a strong, youthful virile type with steel capped boots, gloves and head protection to work in the garden.

Apply within.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dear Ted,
Here you are having the Hill Plains experience along The Duke of Orleans beaches east of Esperance. The city boy turns biker boy and let me say you 'done real good' for the first time on a quad bike. What a day it was and didn't we blow out the cobwebs!

Just thought I'd let you know I am slowly recovering from my injuries after Tommo took off like a mad man along the beach with me and the dog up pillion and realised too late that he was headed for a cut away on the beach. Too late! Did you see how far we flew and where we landed after we had become airbourne?! My ribs are still a bit tender after the impact on landing and the dog looks a bit wary when we both get onto the quad now and suggest he joins us.....

Thought you'd like this pic, Teddly. Easy rider!! Catch you back in the big smoke,

Love Vic x

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ted Bull hits Hill Plains

A question I am often asked at gigs is "What does Ted look like?"
Well here's a photo of me and the infamous Ted Bull, whilst he was visiting us at Hill Plains over the weekend. He came down with fellow ABC broadcaster and good mate Greg Marston, who took this photo and was instrumental in getting my CD 'A Bird in the Bush' recorded and produced. You may have heard this 'pair of old jocks' entertaining us on weekend ABC radio.
True to form we imbibed in a few good reds and many a laugh on Saturday night before taking the boys to the beach and setting them up on quad bikes for a blast along the coast. Ted is currently enjoying ten months long service leave, so took the opportunity to jump in Greg's car and go on a road trip to Esperance.
Thelma and Louise eat your hearts out!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Flying High for the RFDS at Jerramungup

What a brilliant evening I had this week at the Needilup Hall, near Jerramungup. The Jerry Lions Club were hosting their annual fundraising dinner, this year in aid of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, so the evening had a flying theme. Pictured are Lions President Trevor and Flight Captain John at the end of the evening, by which time the Captain had lost his hat and stick on moustache! I was lucky enough to be invited as guest poet for the night.
On arrival we were led up the candle lit gangway to the 'plane' and ushered through the security gate and into the VIP lounge. Here we were served delicious canapes by the cabin staff, suitably dressed in their uniforms, before being seated for 'the flight'. The Captain welcomed us and instructed his crew to give us the safety demonstration, which I must say didn't inspire a heap of confidence. None of then seemed to have a clue how to put on their life jackets! Then we were invited to peruse the In flight dinner menu and In flight entertainment, all delightfully printed on our individual sick bags!
This was country hospitality at its very best. Eighty locals had gathered together and the time and effort put into this show by the organisers was fantastic. The log fire was roaring and the laughter, wine and good food flowing, and I felt right at home the minute I walked in the door. With Matt singing a selection of songs to his guitar and Murray adding his unique style of poetry to the evening we were well set. We had a twenty question quiz sheet on each table, the good old raffle and a poetry competition where each table was required to pen a verse.
It's a night like this that makes me realise just how great small rural communities really are. Thank you all for my beautiful banksias, a truly memorable night and the opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of some wonderful people; John & Helen, Don & Val, Trevor, Kim & Colleen and Linda to name a few.
It wasn't just the RFDS who benefited from this fundraiser.......

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Claudia Wayup, International Motivational Speaker sidles up to State Treasurer and Minster for Commerce Troy Buswell at the 2009 Esperance Business Awards.
If ever you wanted to chuck a rotten tomato at someone on stage this ghastly woman would have to take the cake.....and the tomato too. On a whirlwind cicuit of WA she was in town for one night only.......mercifully.
She condescendingly addressed the audience in her American drawl, truly believing she was the only person to have ever got anywhere in the business world, and leaving them in no doubt that any of her business successes certainly had nothing to do with anything that was going on in her head. In fact, they were left wondering whether there was any action all at above her navel.
The award of the night surely must go to CEO Marcus Tromp and the President and commitee of the The Esperance Chamber of Commerce, who have well and truly got this prestigious event back on the town calendar. Congratulations to you, and to all the winners of awards on the night.

Friday, August 7, 2009

SEPWA Ladies' Day 2009 and what a day it was! Great speakers throughout the day, including inspirational Kirsten Skraha the RIRDC Rural Women's Award Winner 2009; Rochelle Adonis, amazing Canadian French Pastry Chef with a fascinating life story; pigheaded (her own words) Sonja Johnson, Silver Medalist at the Beijing Olympics in the Equestrian competition and Sabrina Hahn, gardening guru and total nutter! We laughed, we cried. It was a fabulous day and night, and if you weren't there you missed a real treat.

There was quite an attractive photo of Sabrina & I taken at the dinner that evening, but we liked this one more, and I've called it "The Two Nuts", which seemed appropriate given Sabrina's Dinner Speech. She stood on a coffee table, as she is knee high to a grasshopper, with a glass of red in one hand (which no-one seemed able to prise off her, and as she has a black belt in kick boxing no-one seemed overly keen to either) and regaled us with wonderfully politically incorrect tales of her life up north. These sort of people really should be bottled. Note I say bottled, not pickled. We were all fairly pickled by the end of the night anyway.

Local girls who added to this wonderful day included Michelle Barrett from HomebodE who not only shared her business sucess story with us, but the emotional roller coaster she is currently on having a severely injured three year old in Princess Margaret Hospital at the moment. We had a 'Parky' style interview with author of 'Red Dust' Fleur McDonald, who absolutley loathes public speaking, but did a fabulous job. She has a great website.

"Just google Fleur McDonald and I come up in first spot" she said.

"Just google Victoria Brown and I come up as a 23 year old American pole dancer" I replied.

And the list of wonderful women continued with Gill and Mandy providing delicious morning and afternoon teas from their enterprise 'Biccies', to Gail Adamson-Reynolds talking about the indigenous culture tour and bush tucker business her family runs, Kepa Kurl. Gail is a great bird who had us in stitches telling us how they had tried to get grants from the government for various projects in their business. Cramming an hour and a half of info into forty minutes, she delivered some classic lines, including;

"We put in for one government grant thinking 'You beauty, we'll get it, we're black....but we didn't!"

One of her messages to us was 'If you haven't been on a local tourist trip offered by a business in your town you should. How else can you promote your region if you haven't experienced what's on offer?'

Mae Connelly from Farmanco spoke to us on Grain Marketing in the most entertaining and engaging way,if that is humanely possible, and Crawford Taylor from Diamond Sponsor Rabobank seemed an exceptionally happy chappy, particularly at the dinner where he was the only man in a room full of drop dead gorgeous women. Onya Crawford!

Congratulations to the SEPWA Ladies Committee once again. If you weren't there this year, make sure you are in 2010.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Back from Shark Bay

Sorry to have been so long in posting a blog, folks. We've just got back from a week in Shark Bay having taken two boats and the family up the coast. Here is a Monkey Mia dolphin whose curiosity got the better of her when we pulled over to take a look at her and her baby whilst on a run up the Francois Peron National Park coastline.

We had a fabulous time exploring Denham, Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island. Well worth a visit, and with 'young' who are capable of shopping and cooking I did not have to be Camp Bitch on this trip. Bonus! The usual joys of camping occured. Rain and wet tents, leaky swags, bout of tonsilitis for 'the boy', but luckily on a day when a doctor was in Denham. The doctor only visits twice a week! Oh, and I had the usual ablution experience, dashing in for a 'quickie', ripping my pants down, delivering, and then discovering there was no loo paper about two seconds before the automatic lights went out and I was plunged into darkness. 'Noice....'

Back home now for week two of the school hols, and surrounded by washing and 'boy' magazines of the shooting variety. We have a rabbit problem so 'the boy' has pulled out his back copies of "Shooter". The title story on one reads "Big Night Out on the Bunnies".........phew! at least it's not "Big Night Out on the Birds"....

Off to the washouse, darlings! Catch you soon.....

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Club on Serendipity

We had book club last night. Our bookclub is called The Sneaky Readers. We meet once a month with the following format. One member chooses the book which we have all hopefully read before the night for review, and they also direct the discussion. Another member hosts the evening and provides red wine followed by coffee and cake.
Sounds terrible, doesn't it? It's murder I can tell you.

We did Fleur McDonald's "Red Dust" last night. Fleur is a local Esperance farmer who manages to juggle working on the family farm, two young children and writing and publishing novels!

The book discussion went down well, so did the red wine and so did the cake. I made the cake that was on the front page of the May edition of Delicious magazine and it is an absolute ripper and to be recommended. In fact, every cake I've ever sampled at Book Club has been delicious, so good that I suggested we compile a 'Book Club Cakes for the Discerning Reader' publication. It would be a sell out I reckon. A slice of delicious cake and a good book to go with it. Yum...

All Sneaky Reader members live in town apart from me, and as we don't have a town house I have to make alternative arrangements when it is my turn to host. Therefore we have it on Serendipity (pictured) which is housed in a pen at The Esperance Bay Yacht Club marina. Let me tell you, getting the other members on and off is often more entertaining than the literary discussion. They have to leap from the marina jetty over an expanse of water, onto the bow of the boat and over a rail. Very amusing to watch, and to their credit we haven't lost anyone in the drink.......yet. Not even Peg Leg Hall who managed to get on and off last night with one leg in a cast. Pretty impressive, especially when faced with the prospect of getting on at a time when the boat is level with the marina, and getting off three of fours hours later when the tide has dropped a metre.

A merry night it is, particularly when we have finished discussing the book and get on to other matters that amuse and titillate the female mind. Last night it was how to botox your nether regions. Apparently it's all the rage!

Personally, given the choice of botoxing my bits or reading a good book, I'd choose the latter!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Seeding comes to an end

Seeding is almost at an end here at Hill Plains. I thought I'd better post a picture of 'the rig' that has put the whole 4500 hectares into the ground. Seems funny to think the whole farm is under crop this year having sold all of our sheep due to the shocking late break to the 2008 season.

Canola, wheat, barley and 10 hectares of peas are going in this year. The talk around the kitchen table is all about 'Do we need a bigger seeding bar?' Do we need another header? Do we need another chaser bin?' Boys, please...I know Prime Minister Krudd is encouraging us to spend in order to keep the economy going but there's no need to go crazy. What ever happened to cutting the stuff with a sythe and putting it up in stooks? If the world collapses and we run out of fuel that might be the only solution to getting the harvest in. Scary....all day out in the fields . I'd feel like Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Better get another milking cow.

I keep reminding the husband that it is only fair that I do my own personal bit to help boost the economy, and this time there is no question about it. 'I do need another winter coat. I do need another pair of winter boots. I do need another winter sojourn.'

But as they say....'some seeds fell on stoney ground'.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Lovely weather for ducks

At last we've had some rain and as we drove around the farm this morning we came across a mob of ducks on a dam. The collective noun for ducks escapes me for the moment. It's not a flock, I'm sure. This is one of the many things I love about Australia, everything can be lumped under 'mob' in the collective world and no-one contradicts you!

It's been a great week so far and this rain has capped it off. As I watched the dawn come up this morning, silhouetting the shearing shed and the eucalyptus trees, I could hear the steady throb of the tractor engine in a nearby paddock, seeding our barley crop. Above that, the heavenly sound of rain on a tin roof, whislt the fire crackled away in the sitting room, revitalised by a few well placed mallee roots. A perfect start to a June day on the farm.

On Wednesday I had a radio gig on ABC 720 with Eoin Cameron and the Slim But Savage One (his producer for those not familiar with the Perth ABC Radio breakfast program). We played The Appendage (the poem about having fun with chicken necks.) This led to many lovely emails from all sorts of people including a gentleman from a group of dog walkers in Perth; a lovely lady hoping to get a copy of A Bird in the Bush for her mother who is blind; two emails from old friends we haven't spoken to for over ten years, and one from a lady who remembered my dear departed mother when she was living in Kalamunda. She too lost her mother to cancer (her mother Sheila had lived next door to my mother, Jane) and we have decided to raise our glasses to them both at 6pm tonight.

Thanks for contacting me, Christine, and in answer to your question "Is 6pm to early for farmers?" the answer is "It is never too early for these farmers to appreciate a good glass of red."

This is one of the things I love about radio, its ability to connect, or in this case reconnect. Thanks to Cammo and the team having me on the program this week I shall be sharing a reflective moment at 6pm tonight, when I raise my glass with a woman in Perth whom I hardly know to toast our wonderful mothers.

"To Jane and Sheila".......wish you were both here...

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dodger the Dog

This is Dodger. Most indulged of Hill Plains' dogs. It was Christmas time five years ago when he arrived in our lives.
We went, the children and I, into the pet shop to get a pig's ear each for the working dogs for Christmas.
"Don't go up the back to where the puppies and other animals are," I said to my three very obedient children. "We are only here for pigs' ears."
And some seeds fell on stoney ground...
We came out with four pigs' ears and Dodger.
"A present for Dad," they chorused.
The pup was so traumatised to be greeted by four massive border collies when he eventually got to the farm, that he promptly bit the hand that fed when he was handed over to Tom, and drew blood. It was the start of a wonderful relationship. The man who swore there would be no dogs in the house, or in the tractor or in the car has let this little fellow into all of the aforementioned.
Dodger is out on pest control duties tonight with Tom and Will. We have been so indundated with rabbits this year that between the three of them they have a tally of over eight hundred, and if we don't keep on top of them they will rip into the emerging crops that are just starting to appear in the paddocks.
It's a bit like Watership Down here at the moment.
You've read the book. You've seen the film. Now eat the pie...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not much rain so more gardening

Having only received eight mils of rain out of last week's downfall it is back into the gardening this week. Off in the ute we went with Dodger the Jack Russell and collected a pile of limestone rocks which I have set up around Will's plum tree.
This tree was given to Will as a christening present from his god parents. It is a brilliant idea for a christening gift, and this little tree has never let us down when it comes to yield. Earlier this year we were inundated with masses of beautiful fruit that I dutifully bottled, stewed and turned into plum sauce when we couldn't fit another fresh one in! Now that we have started to move towards the cold weather it is very satisfying to pluck a bottle of fruit from the pantry and make a delicious plum crumble.
I also made 'plum juice' this year. Sounds innocent enough, but it involves steeping a jar of plums in neat vodka and sugar until the liquid turns the most glorious deep purple. Beware! Two glasses will have you on your ear! The first time I was introduced to it we had gone over to the neighbours for dinner. So thoroughly imbibed were we, that we ended up having to stay the night! It reminds me of my mother making sloe gin out of freshly picked sloe berries found in the hedgerows of England where I grew up. I've never seen sloe berries here so presume they are not imported. You can buy commercial sloe gin, but like my plum juice, it never tastes quite the same as home made!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On farmers as gardeners

Sometimes farming husbands are quite useful in the garden. Mine, for example, dug sixty holes for me this morning into which I then planted the bottle brushes seen in the picture. These are Callistemon citrinus “White Anzac”.

I usually have to cajole and wheedle my Hunter Gatherer into doing anything in the garden. “I’ve got nearly twelve thousand acres to garden without your bloody acre too” is a well worn cry in this household. If there is the slightest whiff of a menial gardening task, both he and the dog are on that four wheeler motorbike and off in a cloud of dust faster than a kid sneaking biscuits from the pantry....and that’s lightning fast I can tell you.

However, mention the phrase “I might need a chainsaw” or “The backhoe might do it,” and suddenly you have a gardening maniac on your hands. A farmer with a backhoe will ignore seeding, harvest, or any really important farm job, if given the slightest opportunity, to dig up twenty years worth of eucalypts, garden beds, lawn, orchards; in fact he’ll dig up anything he can place his digging and ripping tool into given half the chance. A backhoe is like drugs to most men. Once they get a taste for it they are hooked for life. This is because they never really wanted to turn their backs on all their Tonka toys in the sandpit of their youth.

My advice is to supervise constantly. Do not, under any circumstance, pop into the house to quickly get that load of washing out and onto the line whilst leaving the husband to rip out the single dead tree you wanted removed. Big mistake. I did that once, and we now have no eucalypts at the front of the house at all. The same applies with the chainsaw. Men go crazy with this power tool in their hands. A light pruning or simple request for the removal of a few diseased branches on a fruit tree can leave you totally branchless, fruitless, leafless and staring at a single stick in the ground.

“I was only trying to balance it up” he will declare.

Finally, never forget that women sit on a potential fortune. Use it. Men always complain that they ‘never get enough’, so use your asset to get what you want done in the garden. In line with gardening terminology we call this “The Root System”. Warning.....never pay up front, and never offer a totally unreasonable amount of “roots” in order to get the job done. I did, and we now have a heart shaped piece of concrete by the swimming pool fence into which are scratched the words “One Root X 200”.

A banker friend out for lunch one year casually asked if the debt had been repaid. When told that it hadn’t, he quipped,

“What about interest?”

Nice one, Dave. Needless to say I have not invited him back for lunch since.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daylight Saving

Here are my chickens in March getting up an hour later than they usually do in order to exercise in the daylight before they go off to work and lay eggs for our family.
They have told me they are voting No to daylight saving as it has completley thrown their body clocks out as you can imagine. I for one am sick of their squarkings and cluckings on the subject of how they are so exhausted because they're going to bed so much later because of daylight saving. I've heard a couple of them of moaning on and on about missing the News at 7pm on the ABC. "Get a life!" I cried "What's wrong with listening to the radio?" Honestly, the chickens of today.....
We're No voters here on the farm, but I'm not going to get worked up about it if the Yes vote gets up. I'll just shut up and get on with it and load black cows in the dark and put up new curtains every year.....or whatever.
We have two daughters in their early twenties living in Perth and voting today. One is voting No. (Beautiful girl....) The other is voting Yes (Quite a nice girl....) The one who is voting Yes rang this morning to ask how to do an absentee vote in the city.
"Don't tell her" her Father shouted across the kitchen. "Tell her it can't be done."
"Dad!" she shrieked.
"I was thinking I might split the money I got from Krudd three ways for you kids" he continued "but I'm not so sure if you'll get any if you vote Yes" he joked.
"Dad!" she shrieked
"You vote Yes if you want to, darling" I interjected "and enjoy getting up in the dark to exercise with the chickens before you go to work. Or alternatively exercise at the end of the day in the gruelling heat when you get home. Enjoy, my darling. Enjoy......"
At least we can all laugh about it.
And my final gripe. It's not Daylight Savings, it's Daylight Saving, just as it is Wimbledon not Wimbleton. Got it?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Memoir

Well I've started it at last. The memoir of an English rose in the Australian outback. Here's the draft of the Prologue:


What am I doing here on this glorious spring day, lying in the dusty dirt of the sheep yards grasping a pig’s penis? Can’t the over-sexed idiot sort out his own love life so that I can peel off my androgynously unattractive work clothes and take off to town clad in crisp white linen to sip on a latte whilst overlooking the spectacular view of Esperance Bay like other girls?

No, he quite obviously is incapable of sorting out his love life, which is why I am here grovelling in the dirt trying to help him impregnate a somewhat reluctant sow. I am reminded by my husband (who is grappling the head end of the sow to prevent her running away from this incompetent inamorato), that these are the sort of things a farmer’s wife must do in order to bring home the bacon.

I should not be here. This was not the life plan I had in mind when I arrived, a fresh faced English rose at the age of twenty two, on Western Australian shores for a year of travel, fun and frivolity. As the great niece of William Hartnell, the first actor to play ‘Dr Who’, I rather fancied myself on television as a time traveller’s assistant journeying through the universe. Fresh out of University with an arts degree in English and Drama I was going to be an actress and ‘tread the boards, darling’. I had no intention of becoming a provincial yeoman.

Well, a fat lot of good that plan was. Just one look was all it took, and here I’ve been ever since, a farmer’s wife living in the middle of the Australian bush.

(to be continued)

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Mother's Day

In Australia we celebrate Mother's Day on the second Sunday in May. Growing up in the UK, we celebrated Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday, on the fourth Sunday in Lent, just before Easter.

Who cares what the date is……thank God we’ve got one! Our one day of the year when we can sit back and say without guilt to our offspring, “What’s for tea?” Isn’t that the number one phrase that is guaranteed to drive even the most patient mother to drink?

Many children take the opportunity of making their mother breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day, which can be a joy or a nightmare, depending on whether breakfast in bed is your thing or not. It’s not mine. It reminds me of a little ditty:

‘They woke her up early that day
With a half-cooked boiled egg on a tray
She cried tears of delight
Though it wasn’t yet light
The dawn was two hours away……’

I remember the first year my brother and I were allowed to buy our own Mother’s Day gifts without any guidance from our father as to what might be appropriate. We hot footed it round to the village shop, and bought what we presumed was the perfect gift for any mother. A packet of Brillo Pads and a dishing washing sponge on a stick. Needless to say there were no tears of delight on that occasion either.

I’ve kept all the gifts and cards my children made for me when they were at primary school. The champagne corks on a string transformed into birds with stick-on beaks, eyes and feathers; the set of pipe cleaner rings made by my then four year old son; the little hand prints and poems; but by far the most hilarious would have to be the computer generated card from Tiffany, when aged eight. A rose adorns the outside and the inscription within is a classic:

‘Dear Mum,

You are like a rose. You bloom every now and again….’

Ouch! But you must take into consideration that this card was for a mother who didn’t let you watch ‘Home and Away’ or have roll-ups in your lunch box.

Mothers are carers, but some are seemingly more caring than others. Am I a mother who dropped everything immediately at the sound and sight of my screaming child clutching a mildly scraped knee? No. It had to be loss of limb or arterial bleeding before my sympathies and attention could be attracted. A decent sort of injury was required in this household. We bred ‘em tough out in the bush.
Why this callous attitude, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a generational thing isn’t it? My grandmother dislocated my mother’s arm whilst trying to stuff her into a winter coat, and shouting “Stop screaming, Jane and just put the dratted coat on…”

My own mother sent me to school with a bunch of grapes and a very nasty looking arm saying “Stop fussing, Victoria. The swelling will soon go down.” When it hadn’t after three days an X-ray revealed a green stick fracture.

When my son broke his leg after falling off his motorbike; exactly a year after his sister, imbibed with champagne, had broken her leg falling off a pair of high heeled shoes at a party; exactly three years after she had broken her collar bone falling from the top bunk bed onto my son; wasn’t I entitled to scream to the heavens:

“Why do you kids always need doctors, X-rays, surgeons and hospitalisation on the January long weekend when everybody is out of town for God’s sake?”

I can’t help wondering how my children will bring up and fuss over their little dears.

Maybe they’ll be like the mother of three notoriously unruly youngsters who, when asked whether she would have children if she had the choice to do it again, replied “Yes……but not the same ones”.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

On Fleur McDonald’s novel ‘Red Dust’.

It is a pretty exciting week for Fleur McDonald of Esperance as her debut novel “Red Dust” hits the shelves of book shops all over Australia. I will be interviewing Fleur at her book launch at Le Grand Bookshop in Esperance this Friday night, where so many friends and family will raise a glass to celebrate her wonderful achievement.

“Red Dust” is Allen & Unwin’s lead title for May and I can thoroughly recommend it as a great read. In the tradition of Rachael Treasure, this heart-wrenching outback saga is the inspirational story of a woman doing her best to triumph over adversity and forge a new life. I opened the first page at seven thirty one wet Sunday morning, and finally put it down, finished, at eight o’clock that night. I don’t recall eating much that day, and I couldn’t think of a better Mother’s Day present for this weekend.

After the tragic death of her husband, Adam, in an horrific plane crash, Gemma Sinclair defies community expectations -and Adam’s dying words- by taking on the daunting task of managing the 10,000 hectare station he bequeathed her.

As if Gemma’s grief and the job of looking after Billbinya Station aren’t enough, a wave of innuendo soon sweeps the community that Adam’s death was no accident.

Congratulations Fleur! If you enjoy this sort of fiction, and have a passion for the Australian bush and the characters that live in it, buy the book and check out Fleur’s website

Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the death of family pets:

Farm kids are brought up with death from a very early age. They see sheep die out in the paddock from fly strike. They see casualties at lambing and cancerous ewes that need to be put down. On one occasion, as we checked the lambing paddock, our children watched as an eagle suddenly swooped down out of the sky and carried off a weakened lamb from right under its mother’s nose. The ewes cries of protest were pitiful to hear and we could do nothing but watch. We couldn’t do a thing.

Then there’s off the farm death in the form of roadside carnage passed on the weekly trip into town.

We had two types of ‘dead’ as our kids were growing up. There was ‘Dead’…..and there was ‘Flat Dead’, depending on how many times a vehicle had run over the carcass on the road. The kids didn’t express much of an interest or emotion in the dead animal at all. It was just a fact of life. They were very complacent about the whole thing, and usually very together when it came to the death of family pets.

I particularly remember a phone call we made to the children while we were away sailing in Ireland one summer. They were being looked after on the farm while we were away, and we rang every couple of days for a catch up on their news. This particular morning we managed to get hold of eight year old Will first.

“G’day Will. It’s Mum. How are things on the farm?”

“Yeah, good thanks, Mum. But I think the rabbit’s dead.”

“What do you mean you think the rabbit’s dead?”

“Well we found the head in the carport.”

He was quite matter of fact about it, but this is hardly surprising. We’re talking about a child who, having buried his pet guinea pig a few years earlier kept discovering the carcass as the family dog exhumed it on a daily basis. It became a bit of a game for the family. Each morning after breakfast it would be a case of ‘find the carcass’. A good nose was essential of course. It would turn up under hydrangeas, on the verandah or in the vegie patch. After six days it resembled a very small toupee, but mercifully as the decaying smell diminished, so did the dog’s urge to exhume it. Eventually Brownie did get to rest in peace….or was that ‘pieces’……?

We had a pet kangaroo for a few months. We had found her on the roadside still in her mother’s pouch after the poor thing, dazzled by the car’s headlight’s, had leapt straight in front of our oncoming vehicle. She was doing so well and we loved her dearly, but one day she was inadvertently run over by a reversing vehicle. The mortified driver didn’t realise that Missy was directly behind him. We decided to bury her with the other pets in the orchard. It was in the middle of harvest so we were pushed for time, an undertaker and a decent service. The husband rushed in for lunch and a swift burial, and we all clustered around as he speedily (“got-to-get-back-on-the-header”) dug a hole. The only problem was that in his haste he didn’t realise he was digging over the burial site of one of the guinea pigs. There was a strangled “Oh…” as the digging ceased. “I seem to have dug up someone else” he said. He moved three feet to the right and the burial resumed. The children didn’t miss a beat and just shifted all their flowers to the new site.

I don’t mean to be flippant, but death is such a part of life here, though not every pet death has a black humour story to accompany it. Three years ago we lost our beautiful black pony, Zipper Mouse. It was a cloudless, clear blue skied December morning after a storm the night before. One of many that cross our farm during the summer months. We were about to leave for Tiffany’s Year 12 graduation dinner in Perth. Zipper was Tiffany’s beloved first and only pony. We received a call on the two-way as we were about to pull out of the farm.

“You’d better get back here and over to the goose paddock,” said our workman, Kris, “and you’d better bring a gun, Tom.”

I knew it was one of the horses immediately. I wondered which one of the three it might be, the relatively new chestnut mare, the old buckskin mare or the much loved high spirited black pony, Zipper Mouse. The last pony my mother had broken in before she died. The first pony the children had ever sat on.

To my horror it was Zipper, fatally struck down in the paddock by lightning the night before. A freak accident. She lay so still that I knew she was, mercifully, passed the gun. She was quite stiff and cold. A small trickle of blood oozed from her nose. The only sign of the lightning strike was a section of her mane that was frizzled as if caught on a gas burner. Death would have been instantaneous.

She had been a fiery pony in life, difficult to break in, but an amazing jumper and performer when you had won her confidence and trust. Her bond with Tiffany was very strong. High-couraged and sometimes unpredictable, she had lightning speed in life, and had certainly made her exit from this world with a bang. That was the nearest we could get to any humour to alleviate the sadness of losing this furry friend. It took us until last weekend to go through her rugs and ribbons and pony gear that had been stored for the last three years in the tack room. We made a pile of her things to sell or give away. They sit on the verandah as I write.

Some family pets leave a foot print indelibly etched on your heart. Zipper was one of those. We miss her so much.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Bird in the Bush on ‘The Pending Pandemic’

Monday 27th April 2009

Well, our family has been waiting since the last SARS outbreak for the next bout of fatal respiratory influenza. A good friend informed us last year that it wouldn’t be a case of ‘if’, but ‘when’ another viral ‘flu, be it bird or otherwise, mutated and gave the world a shake up. “Were we prepared?” she asked.

Discussions ensued on how we would cope if we had to batten down the hatches to avoid any contamination from those people in the nearby environs who may have contracted the disease. There would be no trips to town. We would go into lock down mode. We would have to be self sufficient. My husband, The King, came up with the idea of a commune, for a select few, at Hill Plains. It became ‘the’ conversation at every district dinner party. We have been sounding out possible recruits from friends and family ever since.

It’s quite simple. If you have a skill to share you’re in. If you don’t……er…..sorry, you’re out. But me no buts. That’s the rule. I swiftly grabbed the position of Entertainment Officer, for fear of ending up with Washer Woman, Cow Milker or Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. (I have to leave some positions for the less skilled….. mercifully.) The King is so useful he can fill a myriad of positions, all of which are extremely useful and manly, so he’s definitely in. Plus he’s the only truly useful person in the family when it comes to hunting and gathering, so we can’t argue with him anyway. Dictator is a word that springs readily to mind when I glance at him across the kitchen table. He wasn’t totally convinced that we really needed an Entertainment Officer, but as I have a few physical attributes that he finds highly entertaining, and which I threatened to withdraw his access to if I couldn't take on my job of choice, the position was reinstated very swiftly.

The phones and emails have run hot today with the first few city friends booking their places. So far we have had offers for the positions of nurse, communications and intelligence officer, wheat grister, cider/beer maker, a lady with a recipe for making yeast, as well as an email from a couple in Leederville:

Subject: Crisis

Requesting permission to seek refuge at Hill Plains for the near wipe-out of mankind. We will require abluting facilities and power and in return will be the vegie garden growers.
Yours …..etc

Tomorrow I will be joining ABC Radio’s Ted Bull on his program, to discuss just how the commune plans are progressing. I have a sneaky suspicion he might be angling for a berth in the commune, and that he will put himself up as T-Ball Coach, for which I fear I shall have to tell him, there is no position. Knowing him he will then ask if it is OK if he brings a bottle of wine instead. I shall reply, “If it’s a bottle of Grange, Ted, you’re in. Actually, make it a case.” That’s reasonable. We can’t be giving away beds here.

One good thing to have come out of this pending crisis is that the children have all of a sudden become uncharacteristically helpful about the place, displaying hereto unknown cooking skills, pouring over an old cook book favourite ‘101 ways with mutton’ and displaying physical attributes such as swinging on axes. It’s been a long time coming.

Yesterday I retrieved from the bowels of the pantry cupboard the large esky filled last year, in a moment of panic, with emergency survival rations in case we were isolated from the shops for a few weeks. It is supposed to contain vast quantities of pasta, rice, tinned foods, dried fruits and vegies, matches, batteries and most important of all…….chocolate. The only problem is that I keep flogging bits and pieces out of it when I run out of things and then totally forget to replace them. Also, some stuff has already passed its use by date. Well, I guess that’s not actually news in this household. The kids found something in the back of the fridge last week that had Use by: Mar 2001. I hadn’t the heart to tell them I cook with that sort of stuff all the time….

Maybe our immune systems will be able to fight off the disease after all…..