Farmers? Are You Serious?
Down to Earth
At last we had really done it! Moved out of the rat-race, out of the smog. No more rush hours and never-ending traffic jams. No more 'weekends' (as we had known them), nor public holidays, nor that phenomenon known variously as 'RDO's' or 'flex-off' days. (To be honest - we go back SO far, these 'perks' hadn't yet come into existence. Nor 'holiday loading' either!)
A slow and careful four hour trip from the city in a hired removal van had brought us to this farm - our new home - to work and learn about farming from our boss and friend, for the next 18 months.
Peace and clean air embraced us; bird calls the sweetest music to our exhausted ears. The sky out here seemed to go on forever - so clear, so blue.
Our dream of farm-life - coming true at last. For Kanute this had taken the longest time - from that little boy in Denmark, spending every possible school holiday on his uncle's farm, far from the city of Copenhagen. My farm dream was recent, but my love of animals and the great outdoors had dictated my growing passion from a small child.
...and the Thunderbox
The long trip from the city had left me with an urgent need to immediately locate the smallest room on the farm - in this case, a detached outhouse.
On lifting the toilet lid, I found a beautifully symmetrical web spun across the pan, with a not so beautiful red back spider sitting patiently in its dead centre, grinning evilly at me. I shudder at the possibilities, had it been dark!
In time, this loo became quite a conversation piece, following its 'civilisation' with a red painted floor, fluffy mat and seat cover, and reading material. A hand-painted china sign on the door declaring - 'It's here' - promoted much hilarity, looking quite bizarre in the 'great outdoors' at the end of a concrete path. This particular 'sign' would grace the door of the smallest room of a number of houses we lived in, including this one. I wish I could report it lives on - but sadly, it succumbed to old age, fell off its 'perch' and smashed. A sad day...after all the years of reading my Mum's message.
Meanwhile back on farm No. 1, old-style toilets such as this one had a water tank up near the galvanised iron roof (to provide water pressure by gravity alone), and a handle at the end of a chain to pull for the 'flush'. It happens that this particular arrangement would provide us with much entertainment, when the unwitting 'newbie' visitor would return from a visit there, holding the handle and chain in dumbfounded embarrassment, after it had fallen off in their hand! There was a trick to the 'flushing' action, you see. If I remember correctly, it was something like two fast pulls, wait a second, then one slow! So much fun, as it was easily re-attached!
We were told we were lucky to have a loo of such class and style. The superseded model, the 'thunderbox', stood in state a hundred yards further away. This prototype came in corrugated iron, with a three-quarter door to enable outsiders to determine occupancy status, a wide plank seat with a hole that the 'Black Hole of Calcutta' was surely named after, and a huge stick in the corner - "to kill the snakes that come in for shade!" Well-ll-ll...I would NOT have shared that confined area with anything at all...let alone something slithery! Oh-h-h, just imagine if it was between you and the doorway! No wonder the stick was so long and sturdy! (This was definitely the place that gave birth to the expression - "we won't go there" - don't you agree?)
At this point, a more chicken-hearted, less pig-headed ex-secretary would have dragged her husband bodily back to such questionable comforts as pollution, traffic jams and sardine-can crowds. (In those less-populated days,'road rage' was confined to the odd, frustrated beep or two of a car horn, and a few choice words mumbled under the breath - or out loud if you were on your own!)
'Vestibules' of distinction
...and the rest!
Meanwhile, our friend and new employer, had unlocked the back door into an Entry room that consisted of no less than six doors. We immediately proclaimed this room 'the Vestibule'. One had to show kindness to a room like that.
Maybe the name Vestibule is not a familiar one? the dictionary definition is -
'a passage, hall, or antechamber between the outer door and the interior parts of a house or building'.
This actually sounds nearly as grandiose as this photo of a Vestibule that was NOT the one on the farm - but one can dream!
Actually, I cannot really picture 'rescued' baby kangaroos hanging in bags from every door knob in this picture - can you? But that is what happened in OUR vestibule, during my 'roo raising year or so..
I think, in other times, this room would have been mainly used to hang coats and jackets and the obligatory 'cocky' hats, plus all the assorted boots or thongs on the floor. That all happened in our vestibule, as well as the kangaroos - and any other 'rescues' who needed just a little more shelter than usual, to get a 'start' in life. Most of these were nurtured back into life with the added assistance of our trusty wood stove.
'Roo stories? I have a few, and can't resist the opportunity to mention -
...or lack thereof
Our next most pressing need was a cuppa, and intelligently (or so I'd thought, back in that ever-receding city) I had packed a box with my electric kettle, electric toasted-sandwich-maker, and the necessary groceries to make an instant lunch.
"But where's the power point for the fridge?" I asked innocently, wishing to put away some now rapidly warming items. "A kero fridge?" I said dubiously. "That's novel!" But much of the novelty would wear off by next morning, when everything in the fridge was frozen. And all novelty fled when, after a small adjustment to the flame, everything that should be frozen became a soggy sludge.
I tried kindness and I tried cruelty, but that brute only behaved after it was given a 24 hour rest, on its back, on a mattress. Had it been a wider mattress, I would have joined it - I certainly needed R&R more urgently than 'the monster'. (Some years ago, when I was doing a writing course, I mentioned this - only to have my 'tutor' suggest - "Strange lusts you have" - well-ll-ll)
I looked around the Kitchen and finally, joyfully, found a lonely SINGLE power point.....only to be told gently that my appliances were designed for 240v. power - NOT the 32v. that the petrol motor in the last shed at the bottom of the garden provided - WHEN it was going!
Now this was really something. Here was I, the original press-button kid, with a treasure trove of electrical goods that were about to sit in silent splendour in their boxes for the next 18 months, whilst we worked for our friend, and decided if farm-life was the 'impossible dream' family and friends predicted.
Actually, I could use one appliance at a time, IF I had the motor going, and IF I didn't mind ultra-pathetic power!
"So this is what they meant by life being slower in the country," I muttered quietly to myself.
I suddenly had a thought. "What about TV?"
Of course, there had to be good news and bad news. With the assistance of an inverter, and when the motor was going, there was a reasonable reception (EVERYTHING filmed in the midst of a snowstorm??) The bad news? We could only receive two channels - ABC and a country channel - both of which closed transmission at about 10.30 p.m. most nights.
"We don't really care about TV," I said bravely, "and besides, now we're in the country, we're supposed to be early to bed and early to rise, aren't we?"
With a more than slightly quivering chin, I turned to my stoves - one gas (vintage), and the other wood-burning (antique). I then learnt that the gas came from bottles - not some hidden, never-ending piped supply.
And I was told I should keep feeling the gas bottles? How extraordinary! I'd felt a lot of things in my life, but gas bottles??
The theory is they are colder below the content level than above - and so the 'level' could be established. But the whole tank felt cold to me that day, until I eventually developed a mysterious and unteachable sensitivity. This, however, would come only after many run-outs, inevitably at the worst possible moments - in the middle of cooking for the shearers, or a long-awaited weekend visit from city friends.
The wood stove didn't have to be lit every day, I was relieved to hear. However, if it didn't burn for at least 3 or 4 hours, then there would be no hot water to either Kitchen or Bathroom! This snippet stirred me into an instant learning attitude.
There was no way I was going to miss out on a steaming bath after this long and traumatic Moving Day. Due to necessity (and a life-long love of hot baths) I became first a star pupil, and then an experienced operator....in quick succession.
A reconnaissance trip through the rest of the house revealed a very large, dark, linoleum-floored Lounge room in the centre of the house. Later, when the heat really set in, we learnt the ecstasy of taking a 'siesta' after lunch in the cool calm of this room, lying thankfully with just a pillow on the cold lino floor until the sun slanted its blazing heat to a slightly more sociable level, at which time work could resume until dark. And darkness is an extremely late occurrence in Summer....in the golden West.
The trip through the remaining rooms was relatively uneventful, apart from learning that our friend's grandparents had both died in the bed that was to be ours. Never having previously had a 'ghostly' experience, I thought I handled this information with great stoicism and dignity.
Later I must admit, I had the odd petrifying moments some nights when the ceiling and floor beams contracted and groaned, one by one, up the full length of the long Passage towards our room!! At such times, I was convinced some variety of intruder was creeping up on me - but absolutely nothing ever happened - except 'sweat and tears' (no blood!).
And quite amazingly, this only occurred when my husband was out somewhere far away in the paddocks, doing an overnight shift of plowing and seeding - and I was alone in the creaky old house. That was spooky - really, truly spooky!
I said Laundry
...they said Wash-house!
On this first day, however, I drew our friend's attention to the fact that I had not yet sighted the Laundry. "Oh, that's outside," he said cheerfully. "It's the nearest shed to the house."
A Laundry it wasn't....a wash-house it definitely was! (But this photo is a terrible exaggeration of how bad it was! Not true at all, but maybe a little too close for comfort!)
It contained ninety-four cobwebs plus occupants, and a copper wash tub in one corner (with yet another fire to tend, only if I wanted to do a hot wash - in the days before 'cold' wash detergents!) Then there was a double cement trough which created wondrous ladders and snags in nylon items, and a rather old, rather tired, but incredibly ELECTRIC wringer washing machine.
This machine was only a part-time brute. Its major problem was that it had a defective memory. I would have to spend the first five minutes of every washing day up to my armpits in suds, agitating the agitator until its amnesia cleared.
This, too, had its own quirky requirements in order to operate at all. Just agitating wasn't enough - it was the increasing speed that brought success. A slow and steady start, twisting the agitator back and forth, then ever so gradually moving faster and faster, until - YES! - Success! - and it would be off and running, all by itself!!
Just imagine the amounts of money 'fitness fiends' spend today on workout equipment! I had my own, once a week at least, way out in there in the bush!
And after all that drama, that old washing machine would become an amiable friend, capable of some of the cleanest and brightest washing I've every produced.
A Perfect End - ...to a 'less than perfect' Day!
We walked outside the wash-house, and for the first time realised the totality of the space around us. Paddocks and sky seemed to stretch to eternity. Bird calls, the rustle of a gentle wind in the gums, and the odd distant "baa" were the only sounds. Unimaginably clean and fresh air - with just a hint of eucalypt from the gum trees, and hay, and animal smells.
Simply amazing - absolutely beautiful. I turned to Kanute, and he put his arms around me.
Here we were. Our country life had begun.
And do you know what? It has never ended...to this day (in 2014). Don't know how long into the future we can continue, but we plan to give it our best shot for ALAP (as long as possible).
They say 'out of tiny acorns, mighty oak trees grow', and so it has been with this farm life we chose. Now I have created a website dedicated to the farming memoir books I am writing. If you would like a sneak preview -
is the name of the website, and of the series of books I plan.