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.