Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Survive on A Farm (Tips from someone who knows nothing about it). Part 4: Know Your Way Around The Farm

Our farm spans 32 000 acres. Or approximately 15 000 hectares. Or if you are from anywhere else in Australia, it's 130 square kilometres. Just to put this in perspective for you, the average property size in Australia is 0.000325 square kilometres. And our place is very average in regards to its size for this part of the world. Some properties in rural Australia are much larger. Some are over a million acres. One is even bigger than Belgium. 

Let's be clear about something. Size doesn't matter. 

That's not what my rant today is about. I would like to tell you about how important it is to know your way around your farm. If you think (like I did as a teacher) that it will be entirely possible to hide inside your home, your castle, and never have to maneuver your way through the labyrinth of gates and fences and goat tracks that a property is host to, then you are sadly mistaken. 

On my first ever visit to the farm (a week after CP and I started officially seeing each other) CP wanted me to follow his car from the northern end of the place to the southern end. (From the shearing shed, to the homesteads). This was fine in theory, however given that it was twilight,and the daylight hours were fading quickly, this proved to be quite an arduous task. CP's last piece of advice to me as we both stepped into our respective cars, was "stick to the main tracks." Oh good. I thought it would be something trickier than that. 

Two minutes into the drive, CP had disappeared into a haze of dust. I tried desperately to keep up, but my car and my confidence got the better of me. At a fork in the road I slammed on my brakes and came to an abrupt halt. Sweat permeated my brow and I verged on tears. The dust ahead settled and CP was nowhere to be seen. 5 minutes later CP reappeared, looking perplexed. After a brief explanation of my current frustrations, CP endeavored to drive at a pace usually reserved for Sunday Drivers and Grey Nomads. For the remainder of the journey I contemplated my surrounds. This new boyfriend of mine could easily kill me, cut me into a thousand pieces and bury me out here and no one would EVER find me. How well did I even know this guy? On that note, we drove (hopefully) towards his house, and not some deep, unexplored gorge, thus far unchartered by even the most intrepid adventurer.

Alas, we made it to his parents house. The trip took about 15 minutes from go to whoa. And yes - when you are dating a farmer, there is every chance he still lives with his parents. And with no fewer than 2 cooked meals a day (prepared by his mother), why wouldn't he? I digress...

It was about 6 months after we were married, that I faced the first test of my bearings. I had just returned home from work. The place was deserted. As I walked through my front door, a voice on the two way radio called me. 
"Are you on Channel Jessie? Are you there Jess?" It was my mother-in-law. (MIL).
"Yes! Is everything ok?"
"Oh good..." (And then a long, uncomfortable pause. I could almost swear that she sounded more than a little worried). "Jess... your father-in-law and I are out near the Sorghum crops, and we've got two flat tyres. We need you to come and get us. Do you know where to go?" 
After that there was a moment of my MIL describing paddock names and gates and tracks. My eyes began to glaze over and I snapped myself back to the very scary realisation that I needed to find them. This was a test not only of my knowledge of the farm, but my first test of my value to the property. I couldn't fail.
And so I replied. "Yes. I think I know where you are. I'm on my way now." 

Oh god. Don't let me fail now. 

As I buckled up I tried to get my thoughts together. I vaguely recalled a trip CP and I had done on a motorbike together after a local flood. He had taken me to look at the sorghum crop to see how it had grown. I distantly recalled a massive tree and a dam, where we nearly got bogged. I thought I should be able to find my way back there- eventually. I turned the two-way radio on in the car. 

"I'm on my way."

I headed out, and surprised myself immensely with my ability to remember my way back to the big tree and even the dam. But the grass was longer then, and things were so much more dried out now. Was I really that sure? And there were 2 gates in front of me, leading to 2 different paddocks. The more I thought about it, the less confident I was. How long had I been driving for at this point? Close to 20 minutes. I was about to cry, when I heard the familiar voice of my MIL on the two way again.

"Jess. We can see you from where we are. Look west of you." Are you kidding? West?? That could have been Chinese that my MIL was speaking. So I looked everywhere. "Just head through the gate on your left. Continue along the fence and then take the second gate. We will just be on the right of where you come out." Oh my god. So close. Please God... don't let me screw this up from here.

Driving along the fence line I saw the flashing car lights and the happy waving and smiling faces of my in laws. The good news is that even though I could have done the same trip in 7 minutes if I'd gone the 'right way', I found my way there, on my own. I was proud, and I know my in laws were proud. Proud, but still smart enough to give me a copy of a map of the farm when we got home!

Since then, there have been numerous times when I have had to find my way around, and surprise, surprise, it's getting easier. I certainly couldn't get lost out here anymore. But there are still plenty of times when Hubby will ask me to bring something out to him in the such and such paddock, and I'll stop and screw up my face. But that's what kids are for. That's why I have three of them! Surely one of them will be able to steer me in the right direction? The kids have never known anything else, and they are little masters of their domains!

A Farmers Wife friend of mine often recalls moments where she has asked her 9 year old son where a place on the farm is, and he will happily reply with such pearlers as "Yeah - that's out where dad and I killed that pig!" or "Remember when so and so ended up in the drain out there in all that mud?" or "(Brother) come off his bike there once." The kids out here have an inner knowledge of botany and geography that I will never fully understand. And thank goodness too. My mother once worried about the possibility of my kids wandering off as toddlers and never being seen again. We talked about the likelihood of me micro-chipping them with internal GPS systems or tracking devices. But thankfully, we haven't needed it. The kids know this place like the back of their hands. And as it turns out, I won't be needing the GPS while I have the kids around!

Time does wonderful things for me. I might forget your name or your face as the years pass, but  I will certainly be able to find  my way through the horse or ram paddock. And if you are to survive life on a farm, I think it really is worth making the effort to acquaint yourself with your surrounds.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How to Survive on A Farm (Tips from someone who knows nothing about it). Part 3: Getting Out and About

Without a doubt, the number one question I get asked by my non-country friends is "don't you get lonely out there?"

And my answer has always been the same. NOT A CHANCE.

I have a fantastic neighbour, who helps me polish off a good  bottle of bubbly (or not so good, more often than not - as she has pointed out to me), platter of cheese and crackers, or chocolate slice (depending on the occasion). She humours me by joining me as my "exercise buddy" when I think we have overdone the cheese and bubbly. She lends me ingredients to save me the 80km round trip to the nearest town. She lends me the use of her dryer when we have had several rainy days in a row and I am desperate for my washing to dry. We drive to book club together, have BBQ's and drop each other's mail in on occasion.Whatever the excuse, we find the opportunity to catch up on a regular basis. And that's just my neighbour.

I also have several very good friends who live locally (within a 150km radius) who provide me the same entertainment as my neighbour, only perhaps on a less regular basis. Our kids share play dates, kindy days and birthday parties. We share car trips to the nearest 'big town' to do our shopping.

Out here, everyone (and especially the women) gather regularly to discuss husbands, and children and in laws. We also discuss the pros and cons of country living, the cost of living, schooling, distance and recipes. I started a Book Club, where a variety of women from varying circumstances gather once a month to discuss books, life, garlic prawns, sticky date pudding and "bin juice" (long story). Many of my close friends are also involved in committees of some form or another. I am personally on the local Show and Rodeo Committee, I'm the President of the Parent Group at the local Kindy, and I attend P and C meetings for the Primary School. I assist in the organisation of key community events like the Annual Quiz Night and The Spring Fling. I do relief teaching and I am raising a young family. The community hosts a myriad of social events ranging from Local Celebrations, Fund Raisers and Races.

If anyone out here tells you they are bored or lonely, it's self-inflicted.

We don't have cinemas or trendy restaurants. Instead, we open our homes (and our kitchens) to our friends and family. We receive a steady flow of invitations to birthday parties and Christenings, weddings and celebrations. And we go to most of them.

I recently ventured out on a "Girls Trip" (with my neighbour) to New Zealand. 4 days of pure, unadulterated fun. No husbands and children. Sleeping in and eating whatever and whenever we wanted. Shopping till we dropped and thinking about ourselves the whole time. Absolute joy! Oh yes - I did miss my family quite a lot too, but when you put it in perspective, it was all about "me time".

And so, NO, I can assure you I am not lonely or bored out here!

I am not saying that you can't live in the city and have all this either. My point is that just because we live a million miles from anywhere, doesn't mean we act like it. Distance becomes relative. An hour in the car for hot chips is completely acceptable. An 80km round trip for bread and milk is normal. And a 300km round trip for a BBQ is encouraged! (And not an issue). In fact, when us country bumpkins find our way into the big, wide world, distance is even better! 10km to get groceries... a breeze. 100km to go to a theme park, NO WORRIES!

In order to survive out here and not drive yourself crazy listening to the droning hum of crickets, you need to CHOOSE to be social. You need to choose to make the effort. And of course, you are well within you right to stay at home too (sometimes I find it hard to say no). But never feel sorry for us and our ability to thrive as social creatures out here. Because we don't even have the time to think about it ourselves!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Road to Nowhere

When I first met CP, he invited me to come and see the shearing before it finished. Since we'd only been officially 'dating' for about a week at that point, I asked work for the Friday afternoon off work, and they supported me in that decision because "it was something I might never see again!" HA!

So there I was in my 1991 Model Ford, counting the grids (was it 6 or 7 I was supposed to cross??). I had been driving for over an hour at that point and was starting to fret about the definite possibility that I was lost. In the very likely event of that happening I would either be forced to drink my own urine or eat kangaroo carcass in order to survive before anybody would EVER find my fully dehydrated and emaciated body on this road to nowhere. For all I knew, I was already a goner. The road was crap, it was too far from anywhere and I was really starting to wonder if CP was even worth all this effort??? Luckily for CP, and for all the crazy hormones coursing rapidly through my body at the time, I DID believe sincerely that CP was sex on legs. And I say this only because it was my sheer attraction to the boy that kept my foot on the accelerator heading west. Because of all these things, he bought himself some time. And it was that time that led me to The Shearing Shed, my destination.

One day I will blog about what happened after I arrived there, but today I really just want to tell you about the road. (Exciting I know).

So flash forward almost another 10 years. CP and I were driving along the same road I drove on that fateful day. It is, for the most part, completely sealed these days. There is only 8km of gravel road remaining. A far cry from the first time I ever traveled on it. There is even talk that when they complete the sealing of the road, they will remove the cute little bridge connecting the country road to the small local community.

The road has become something of a metaphor of our relationship. In the beginning I was unsure of it, scared to travel on it, and had trouble maneuvering myself over it. In the ensuing years, it has become an old friend. We still have the occasional hick up, but mostly it is smooth sailing these days. And in the next few years it will become even more complete, only requiring the occasional patch up every now and then.

The narcissistic side of me likes to believe that the local council have conspired with my new family to fix that road in order to keep me happy. Happy wife, happy life.. right? But deep down I just feel fortunate to have things exactly as they are. For a place where things seem to always stay the same, things seem to be evolving. The road. The relationship. And furthermore, whilst CP may no longer be the sex on legs I once used to see, and travel over hell and high water to see. I am always excited about getting home and being around the people who love me most, regardless of that road.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How to Survive on A Farm (Tips from someone who knows nothing about it). Part 2: The Honest To Goodness Truth About Kangaroos

If you live anywhere in the world other than the "bush", you probably think kangaroos are these incredible, gorgeous, soft, cute, hopping animals. You probably want one as a pet. If you would give your left arm for a kangaroo as a pet, it's probably not a good idea to read on. Consider that a warning.

When I first moved out here ('out here' being just west of Woop Woop) I truly was amazed EVERY SINGLE TIME I saw a Kangaroo. "Oh look! It's hopping!" And "Awwww! It has a joey in it's pouch!" And they are truly remarkable animals. There is something very interesting about them. And they are incredibly cute. I suppose even all these years later, I still am amazed that I live in a part of the world where I see so many amazing creatures on a daily basis.

But let me give you the facts about Kangaroos. The facts as I know them.

1. Kangaroos are missiles on 2 legs, programmed to hit your car in the most expensive place to repair. This is a fact. You'd think after years and years of evolution they would have sussed out that the black strip of road connecting civilisations is a no-go zone. But no. Day after day these furry morons continue to hurtle themselves obliviously towards moving vehicles. The first time you ever hit a kangaroo, you'll feel very bad about it and maybe even cry. But rest assured, the next time you hit one you'll be angry about it. You want to hope with these hoppies that they actually DO die on impact. And I'm not saying that because I'm a sadistic monster. The alternative to death is barely surviving. If you are unfortunate enough to hit a kangaroo and NOT kill it, you are faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to put it out of misery yourself (and I have known people to have to finish the job with golf clubs, car repair parts and even sticks), or just drive on and hope that it dies sooner rather than later. And trust me, past experience has shown that you can't shake that image from your head in a hurry. And so I reiterate, you DO hope that a kangaroo dies on impact, in the unfortunate instance of you hitting one.

2. Kangaroos eat the feed intended for other livestock, and plants in your garden. In fact they eat pretty much everything they shouldn't be eating. And if anyone reading this has heard the fantastic stories about "the near extinction of kangaroos", then they surely haven't taken a drive past our sorghum crops, or the burgeoning wheat crops of our neighbours. No problem with kangaroo numbers out here. And these kangaroos don't have a problem breeding either. It's not uncommon to see a kangaroo with a tiny joey suckling at the teat, and a bigger joey in the pouch, and an even bigger joey, independently hopping beside its mother. SO don't try to tell me any of that tree hugger mumbo jumbo about kangaroos, because your cries will definitely fall on deaf ears. When these furry little hop hops terrorise your garden and crops, you tell me how much you love them!

3. The smell of a 3 day kangaroo carcass on the side of the road is something you won't forget in a hurry. Enough said.

4. Kangaroos make great working dog meat. But when you are going to shoot one, aim carefully, because missing the big one and hitting the joey can be heart breaking.

But the other truth about kangaroos is that they really are beautiful and incredible creatures. Watching them drink at a waterhole, or bound effortlessly over fences, drains and tall grass is mind boggling. Seeing a joey chasing it's mother and wobbling as it hops still makes me smile. And furthermore, it reminds me of what a wonderful part of Australia I really live in. And how lucky I am to live here.

If you haven't been to this part of the world yet, then pack your bags, and come and have a look. But remember to drive carefully.

How to Survive on A Farm (Tips from someone who knows nothing about it). Part 1: Know Your Animals

When I first moved to the farm (WAAAYYYYY back when) there was an incident involving a four legged beast.

I came home from school (where I worked) to find that I was the only person around that afternoon. When I wandered into the back yard, I noticed this 'four legged beast' (which I will here in refer to as a 'cow' for conversational purposes) sitting over the back fence. Something was definitely amiss. It didn't look right. It was kind of sitting there looking quite ill, if that is possible.

Being the 'city chick' that I am, I was at a loss at what to do. I mean, if this had been a dog or a cat in the city, I would have called the Vet. Did the same principal work for cows too?

So I moved closer to this sick animal and tried to feed it some grass. This was most unsuccessful. So I tried some water instead. The poor thing was not interested in the water either. I must have sat and watched the cow for close to half an hour before I realised I would have to actually do something else. But what? In desperation I called one of my hubby's aunts, who lives nearby, and also on a farm. The conversation went something like this.

"Hi Sue. I've come home and found a cow over the back fence and it looks really sick. I've tried to feed it but it won't have any. Should I call a vet?"

"Whatever you do, Jessie,  DO NOT call a Vet. Your Father in Law will KILL you if you call a vet."

"So what do I do? Surely I can't leave it here suffering?"

(Laughing) "Yes. Unfortunately that's exactly what you must do.Sadly, one of the things about living in the bush, is watching animals who are sick at one time or another. It will all be ok. Just wait for someone to come home and they'll sort it out."

Surely that couldn't be right? I needed a second opinion, and called a local friend for some advice. The phone call went pretty much the same as the conversation I had had previously. SO... the general consensus was to wait.

So that's what I did. I sat there and watched it from over the fence. I'm not 100% sure, but I think I recall sending it love and motivational words about getting better, and staying strong.

When someone did come home, it was my father in law (FIL). I hurried over to tell him all about "the sick cow over the back fence." He walked over to inspect this "sick cow", and then after a few minutes of careful consideration, FIL looked at me gravely and said "Yes... there are a few things wrong. Firstly, and most seriously, this is not a cow. It's a steer." * (Which meant nothing to me, but FIL found it quite amusing, and even had a chuckle at my expense.) "And secondly, I think this steer has been poisoned."

The next morning hubby got up early, and reappeared at home mid-morning. I asked how "my steer" was, and was told matter-of-factly that my friend hadn't made it through the night, and had been dragged away. And of course, I cried like a baby.

I suppose the first thing about surviving on a farm, is that you learn quickly that animals DO die, and that often the money you spend trying to save them, far out weighs the money they are worth. Farmers are practical beings, and this is hard for city folk like me to get their heads around. The second thing I learned about living on a farm is that you should know your animals.

A steer is NOT a cow. Just so you know...

* A steer is a castrated male beast.

Movie World - an Adventure

So hubby and I took the kids (Miss 5, Miss 3 and Master almost 2) to Movie World. 

It started well. The sun was shining, the kids were happy and everyone was well rested and ready for everything. 

I could blog about the insane queue's, the uber-rude tourists who have no concept of lining up politely and not-pushing in, the greasy, heart attack-inducing food etc. but I think the thing that really struck me is the calibre of parenting you see in a circus like this. Don't get me wrong - I won't be putting my hand up for parent of the year, however what we witnessed at Movie World on this particular day, was the largest parade of carny folk assembled in one place at any time ever. 

We had our own fair share of issues too. I forgot to pack a pram and it was only after carrying "Master almost 2" around for close to 7 hours that I found the "Pram Hire Facility."  Grrrrr. And hubby and I missed out on every cool ride they had on offer- which was kind of sad, but at the same time, it's a nice feeling knowing that your kids are having a ball. And yes, I did get a little cranky. Namely when Miss 5 dropped melted chocolate on the man sitting next to her in one of the shows, and when Miss 3 insisted on running ahead of us in busy crowds. But it was, overall, a nice day.

Definitely up for worst parent of the year award, are the following parents. 

1. Contender number one was the father of 3 boys lining up for the Looney Tune's Boat Ride.  Children numbers one and two barely reached the height restriction bar, and as such were able pass through and enter the ride legally and safely. Unfortunately child number three (who could only have been two years old at the most), was well and truly underneath the height bar, and as such, risked being banned from the ride. By this stage, Dad had been lining up with his family for over 1/2 an hour,and was not going to get out of line for anyone. Dad, seeing difficult times ahead, grabbed child number 3 roughly around the neck and mid section of his chest, and thrust him up against the height bar. With no chance in hell of this poor child ever being tall enough to go on the ride, Dad proceeded to stretch the neck of the poor child (all whilst barking at the kid to STAND UP STRAIGHT AND PUT YOUR HEAD UP DAMMIT!), and was pinning the boy against the wall whilst his little legs almost dangled on the ground beneath him. Everyone in eye shot could see that it was pointless, and I mean (let's be real about this) it was only a stupid theme park ride. And even when the ride attendant declared (much to the relief of everyone watching) that the boy would be unable to go on the ride, Dad let a few choice words fly and then angrily dragged the poor kid off to the side to wait for the remainder of his family. 

2. Contender number two was the Dad screaming driving tips to Master 3 on the "Tijuana Taxi Ride." For those who aren't familiar with the ride, it is a small one seater cartoon car, where the child inside pushes down on a pedal to make it move forward on a track. The child is also able to steer the vehicle along the track. (See photo).  

This crazy, psychopathic parent chased the child around the outside of the track hurling such beauties as "FOOT ON THE PEDAL YOU FOOL! HOW CAN YOU MOVE FORWARD IF YOU CAN'T EVEN KEEP YOUR FOOT DOWN!" and "STOP LOOKING AT ME! KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE TRACK! YOU'LL KEEP HITTING THE EDGES KID!" and even this pearler "THAT'S NOT HOW YOU DRIVE!"  Ummm mate - the kid is 3. It's not a real car, and the poor thing is sweating about his driving ability, and not being able to enjoy himself. Get a grip!

3. And contender number three (and I believe the actual winner of this prize) is the quality Mum who (late in the day) had Miss 5 try to hold her hand as they were walking. Obviously the poor little thing was tired, and in trying to reach for her mother's hand, must have accidentally scratched her hand. The mother stopped dead in her tracks and began her tirade. "YOU EFFING LITTLE C!!!! (And I am paraphrasing and not writing the actual words,but you can imagine). HOW DARE YOU SCRATCH ME YOU LITTLE B!!!! GET YOUR EFFING HANDS OFF ME AND PISS OFF YOU LITTLE C!!!" My blood (and the blood of those people around me) actually ran cold. And just as the crazy Mamma went to walk off, one of the Movie World attendants stopped her and said something to the effect of "We don't tolerate that language here at Movie World, and especially not towards children." Thank God, because I was really worried it would have to be me who said something.  But I really did feel for that poor little creature.

It's supposed to be a fun day people! A day for children to laugh and have fun and spend quality time with their families! Yes, small children will get tired. No, parents, you don't have to tolerate a tantrum. But you shouldn't turn your children against you in the meantime, and remember that YOU brought them there. Be the grown up. Love your kids. Nurture them! Enjoy.