Margot

Author Archives: Margot

August 19, 2013

Max

Max comes to visit

Max comes to visit

We have just experienced the interesting opportunity over the last three weeks, of hosting a young 16-year-old lad from Germany. Max, the nephew of a very good friend of mine, wanted to have a farm experience during his summer holidays. We planned it several months in advance.

Apart from enjoying having someone to look after for a little while (the tragic empty-nester syndrome) having Max in the house, whose first language is not English, has given me an opportunity to see my language and culture in a new light. Max’s English (currently B but he hopes to turn it into an A next year) is very good but of course we use many colloquialisms, not taught in the classroom, and we are totally unaware that we use them.

Max on the Bobcat

Max on the Bobcat

For example, we were out working on a fence. Max was busy putting on droppers, a task he had just learned how to do. I asked him “Are you getting the hang of it?” He didn’t answer. I reflected on my choice of words (as I’ve had to do often over the last few weeks). Why the hell do we use the word “hang” in that context? Weird. But there are lots of examples just like that. For example, we use “ridiculous” and “hilarious” in not quite the same way those words were originally intended. He had to adjust to “Hi” and “Righto”.
Another example is “Good on you!” What does that mean exactly? Funny when you stop to think about it.

Max building

Max building

All this has reinforced an appreciation of a definition of language I read some time ago while studying my Master of Arts. “Language is an agreement within a social group as to the meaning of a word” [Umberto Eco]. We take our language for granted in Australia, particularly, I think because we rarely hear any other languages day to day, especially in the bush. I realise this is maybe changing in the city.

Max also made me look at my own prejudice towards Aboriginals … a prejudice I would have denied vehemently that I held. But prejudices can be so deeply ingrained in our culture that it’s “normal”, and we don’t “see” them. It came about while watching a news program and a young aboriginal woman was exhorting other young aboriginal women to follow her example in joining the armed forces. I made a derogatory comment about her use of the English language when I heard her say “Other womens should get out there and have a go”. Max challenged me by pointing out that English is not her first language. My quick retort was, “Yes, but she was born in Australia.” I didn’t think much about it at the time, but my mind kept coming back to it. My self-reflection forced me to confront the intolerant and prejudicial nature of my retort which didn’t take into account the known disadvantages she likely encountered in her education (and life) … interesting how a visitor from another culture can make you confront attitudes.

So while we are looking forward to returning to our normal routine, Max shall be missed and he will leave me pondering the use of language, culture and world perspectives. We have certainly had some very interesting conversations!

Highs and Lows of Travel

Travel is usually an exciting affair though I must admit, as I’m aging, it can be a bit daunting. We have just returned from a trip to Dubai to meet our new granddaughter, Livia,and I took the opportunity to duck over to Germany while so close.

Bathing Livia

Bathing Livia

Having a daughter working for Emirates brings benefits. But cheap travel comes at a cost. Standby is high risk and you never know exactly what might happen and so started our trip, which saw us waiting at Brisbane airport for 7 hours only to be sent home. We got on a flight the next night though, but I think all the stress took its toll. I’ve never been sick on a plane before, but our leg from Singapore to Dubai was a nightmare. I came down with a severe migraine and unfortunately for me, the pain becomes so intense that I start vomitting … and it doesn’t stop, not until the headache passes, which can take days. It was 7 hours of HELL! The crew and other passengers were amazing and really looked after me as did Chris. You can imagine how relieved I was to get off the plane, even though I had to be taken in a wheelchair to the Emirates Airport medical centre (amazing facility) to rehydrate and recover enough to get out of the airport!

But of course once recovered, it was all worth it to meet our little granddaughter and reconnect with our two grandsons. We have a daughter, Zoe and a son, Neal and his wife Lauren, living in the UAE. It is precious time with them, to understand their lifestyles and experience the extremes of Dubai – the multi-culturalism, 5 star shopping malls, the desert and other developments. This is the hottest time of the year in the Middle East – 40° to 45° and it doesn’t cool down much at night. You live in air-conditioning. So it was a relief, climate-wise, to move to the next leg of my journey, visiting my good friend, Birgit, in Frankfurt where the summer was more tepid. Of course, my anxiety levels were high getting back on that plane! Fortunately the trip was awesome and my travel-legs regained.

Lush Countryside

Lush Countryside

Germany is stunningly beautiful. What a place, breathtaking. Though I have been there once before, this time I fell in love. The countryside is so lush and despite the high population density, the landscape is dotted with forests and fields such that you have a sense of openness. I admire the German’s for their organisation, structure and dependability. The cities, towns and villages are full of character, history and interest. It was so lovely to stroll around the malls on cobbled streets with alfresco dining everywhere. I can’t wait to go back.

I returned to Dubai to see the family again and break up the journey home

Cobbled Malls

Cobbled Malls

(especially after what happened on the way over). All was good. Ramadan had started. State and Church are not separate in Dubai, so it’s law. You cannot be seen eating or even drinking water in public all day … interesting. The family decided to enjoy Iftar (the breaking of the fast at sundown). Many of the hotels cater for this special meal and it was an opportunity to appreciate some Muslim culture at its best. We had a lovely evening … until Lauren and I awoke at 4 am in the morning with vomitting and diarrhoea! The day before I was due to fly home! Can you believe it?

We recovered within a few hours fortunately and I was able to tackle the journey home – 2 kilos lighter than when I had arrived.

June 25, 2013

For the Love of Country

 

Mustering

Mustering

 

Nicole Alexander says the inspiration and motivation for her writing comes from her desire to communicate the grazier’s deep love of and commitment to their land.

We’ve been at Spring Creek now for over eight years and although I understand Nicole is talking about generations of graziers managing, nurturing and developing their properties, I’ve had an inkling of what that feels like, even in my short time on the land.

Several times recently, when driving back from town or back from a visit

The Grand Entrance

The Grand Entrance

somewhere, I’ve had an inner stirring, a sense of pride, as I’ve driven down the road, approaching our grand entrance (it’s not really that grand but we are proud of it). It’s not that Spring Creek is looking its best at the moment. The winter cold and frosts have snuffed the green landscape. Though, thankfully, we still have plenty of grass from a good summer season, it has hayed off and gone brown.

But it’s weird, it’s that “hayed off” colour that I find so charming and appealing. It’s the colour of the Traprock.

Colours of the Traprock

Colours of the Traprock

We spent last weekend visiting friends on their beautiful block outside Kyogle. The Richmond River district is such different country to the Traprock – green and lush. Though I thoroughly enjoyed imbibing their landscape for a while, I have to say, I’ve realised there is something far more endearing about the Traprock, despite its coarse surfaces, rocky outcrops and shaly valleys.
It has a rugged appeal of its own that I have truly come to appreciate.

I never thought I would have said this. I remember driving around the block with the previous owner, checking it out, considering the purchase. I sat in the back. I was quiet. I was overwhelmed with its size and the amount of work required to make it look “nice”.

But I’ve realised you never really make the Traprock look “nice”. There will always be fallen logs, dead trees, stump holes and regrowth. That’s part of the Traprock charm. (Yet it’s amazing what a few hours in the dozer can do to clean and clear some space.)

We’ve done a lot work. We’ve made a lot of improvements. We’ve built and repaired a lot of fences. We’ve made it home and I’m starting to feel that stirring deep within when I leave and return.

I’m surprised myself to actually feel that … maybe I even love Spring Creek.

Been MOOC’d Lately?

In making the leap from the corporate office to running a cattle property, I had to go through numerous adjustments … as you can imagine.

My Office Window

My Office Window

My work at Virgin Blue was implementing change at the corporate level. I was bumping heads with strong-willed general managers. It was extremely intellectually challenging to navigate their ambitions yet change their ways of working to help consolidate a young, fast growing company.

In coming to Spring Creek, I missed the fiery, stimulating intellectual debate my relationships at VB had afforded me. I’ve had to look for new avenues for intellectual stimulation.

It’s not that living in the bush isn’t intellectually challenging at times. You are more often than not drawn into significant problem solving – the dozer stuck in a dam, the fallen windmill that has to be re-erected … and these are more frequent occurrences than most would like.

But … it’s different.

Then I discovered MOOC’s (Massive Open On-line Courses)! They are brilliant. They are delivered over the internet, they’re free and they’re university standard.

Cute Jewish Professor

Cute Jewish Professor

I’ve just finished my first one: Neurons, Synapses and the Brain. I sat in my remote farm house, looking out across the paddock, listening to a cute Jewish professor instruct me on the intricacies of neuroscience – at the perfect level for my current understanding. Brilliant!

Discovering www.coursera.org has definitely filled a hole for me. I now understand the current thinking and research on the workings of the brain. Why do I want to know about that, you ask?

Of course it isn’t just for the pure fun of it … it’s research for my second book, Mind Minders.

The dendrites of a neuron

The dendrites of a neuron

But overall, I guess it’s about finding my way in a remote, isolated community. I still want to grow and develop and learn. I want to think along new lines and explore new avenues such as … do we really have free will or are our actions dictated by the neural networks in our brain? Now that’s an interesting debate and has sparked a few conversations.

Can’t wait for my next MOOC and to see where that will lead my thinking!

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