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