October 24, 2013

Country Women and their gardens

13-Array of colour1 smlMany country women take great pleasure in their gardens. It’s one thing I’ve struggled with in coming to live in the bush. I’m not a keen gardener as I’d rather be in the office writing. But I’ve worked at it (with some help) and I have to say after five years, my garden is gradually improving. This year some visitors even commented, “Margôt, the garden is looking lovely.” I was very proud as no one has ever said that to me before!

Contrasting Colours

Contrasting Colours

But today I had delight in sharing my neighbour’s triumph for a little while at “Cooinda” near Stanthorpe. Margaret Finlay’s spectacular array of colours and hidden delights took my breath away as I explored her substantial garden (which has grown over the years requiring the garden gate be pushed back again and again).

As I wandered, enjoying Margaret’s “contrasting colours” which appear random but I’m sure have been meticulously placed, I couldn’t help noticing the birds darting and diving around us chorusing the crickets and cicadas. I wasn’t the only one enjoying the garden. I’m told sometimes they are so loud it’s difficult to talk!

Margaret followed along contributing the names of the plants and telling me the story of her garden which echoes the story of her family. The Finlays have had their fair share of tragedy in recent years including losing a daughter and daughter-in-law to cancer. Her garden has become, in many respects, a memorial, nurturing family tributes to members now lost, amongst gifts from concerned loved ones and family eccentricities.

Gum tress subsumed

Gum tress subsumed

The garden has become Margaret’s life. It’s her work, her hobby, her passion … her retreat. I can’t see me ever achieving anything so heart-stopping at Spring Creek Station but I have to admire what Scott and Margaret have achieved. They’ve created a garden that the family loves to share for weddings, parties, barbeques, tennis tournaments. I imagined imbibing a casual glass of wine amongst the beautiful gums that have been gradually subsumed and provide a stunning contrast to the shrubs and bushes set around them.

It’s impossible not to be infected by Margaret’s enthusiasm. She made me realise a good garden is a learning journey: what works where; the importance of mulching, when to touch and when to leave alone. I shall have to visit again soon. I only scratched the surface!13-Montage of blooms

If you are interested and live nearby, they are having an open garden on 2nd and 3rd November (http://www.opengarden.org.au/regions/qld_calendar.html). It’s $7.00 entry and proceeds raised support Kim Walter’s Choices Program based at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane. I guess they wanted to give back a little. They certainly inspired me.

Margaret and Scott

Margaret and Scott

October 2, 2013

Rousabouting

Shearers set the pace

Shearers set the pace

I finally got an opportunity to work in a shearing shed … something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

The music comes on, the motors start up … game on! The pace is fairly frenetic … set by the shearers. They get paid by the fleece so they work hard. I didn’t really know what to do but had to learn fast or those fleeces would bank up and you can’t let that happen. As soon as the fleece is off, the shearer’s through the door dragging along the next sheep. The rousabout has to grab the fleece (in a special way) and throw it onto the classing table. The better you throw the fleece, the easier and quicker it is to work.

I threw some good ones

I threw some good ones

I did some shockers! They would end up more in a bundle and it was hard to tell top from bottom. Oops. The head is always supposed to be at one end but I truly had trouble finding it a few times. Thank God for the expert classer on hand to help. But I did manage to throw a couple of beauties, very proud of that! And the only way to learn is to keep trying, and so I did.

Once the fleece is thrown, you have to work (usually in pairs) to pull off the skirting, then the neck and shanks and finally you separate the back. There are bins around the room for all the different bits.

Camaraderie in the shed

Camaraderie in the shed

Then you start again … in a hurry as the next fleece is waiting. If you do manage to catch up to the shearers, there is wool to be swept, bins to be emptied, bales to be trampled. So it goes for eight hours (with regular breaks of course).

It was tough at times. It makes you pull up for a second when you clamp down hard on an unseen prickle or burr. Perhaps worst of all was that nasty prickly pear whose needles are so fine they are difficult to get out! I can see a seasoned shed hand would need toughened skin. Working with the belly piece to pull out the stained bits (from urine) was not so nice a job … especially when the poor wether was fly-blown. Eek!

The sheep are surprisingly compliant and quiet. They rarely bleat and seem mesmerised by the whole affair. They tell me it’s only because the shearer knows how to handle them. Despite a few nicks and an undignified look on departure (looking very skinny), they don’t really seem to mind. Perhaps they’re glad to be rid of all that weight.

Bins need to be emptied

Bins need to be emptied

The camaraderie in the shed is uplifting. A good team working hard together brings a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day. I think I’ll be back in that shearing shed sometime. It was a little addictive and somehow an experience tied up with my sense of being Australian. After all, shearing and shearing sheds shadow the myths of our past as a fledgling nation created by our hardworking pioneers … and now I’ve shared just a tiny part of it.

September 14, 2013

Thought I was good at Mustering

More usual mustering

More usual mustering

It’s easy to get carried away with your own abilities sometimes. I’ve even boasted about my exploits amongst the Traprock Group at social events. Oops!
Ha! How wrong I was.

We set off yesterday on a fairly routine work detail – to muster one of our breeding herds into the yards (which are in the paddock they are currently grazing). Simple, should only take a couple of hours … until we came across our bull on the road.

He had jumped the fence, no doubt that sniffing impulse they have (they raise their head and flair their nostrils, quit disgusting really) had brought a cycling cow to his attention … on the other side of the fence. He was now grazing with a few of the neighbour’s crew. So, our first job was to get him back. He wasn’t far from the front gate, should have been a quick and easy rescue. Simple!

We edged them down the road and got them to the gate which was open, ready and waiting. All was going well … until, a Belted-Galloway cross, mad as a meat axe, took off full pelt. That set us on a very merry chase indeed in country we don’t know well, rough country. My abilities were stretched to the max … no, I’m lying … I couldn’t keep up! Christopher took off on his two-wheeler in hot pursuit as he charged through the thick re-growth, bouncing over logs and bumpy ground, traversing gullies and gorges.

Maybe is the bike ... nah :(

Maybe is the bike … nah 🙁

He soon disappeared and I crept along behind trying to track him by the sound of his bike. I did manage to catch up (pretty impressed I managed to do that!) just as he had them pinned to a fence. It should have been an easy muster down to the fence back to our gate. (Chris admitted later, he didn’t even know I’d come up behind him – shows how much confidence he had in my mustering ability!)

But the unpredictable happened yet again! That naughty Belted-Galloway took off at full pace straight into the middle of the scrub. I’m sure our poor bull would have been quite happy to toddle home, But I guess, perhaps, he had another agenda on his mind. Hmm … whatever … he followed her.

I gave up and was left parked under a tree in some shade confronting the reality of my still yet developing mustering skills. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t even hear Christopher. It seems I have no problem, moving our well-trained, well-behaved stock around familiar territory. But mustering isn’t always so predictable, as I was reminded yesterday.

Now I’ll have to learn to say, “I’m okay at mustering … most of the time.” Sigh, but at least I’m better than when we first started!

August 26, 2013

Sunday Roast

The Spread

The Spread

Moving from the city to the bush was, as you can imagine a massive adjustment. I was quite lost for the first few years in lots of ways (and I still have trouble deciding what to wear each morning). So to create some structure and routine, I decided to implement some rituals. For example, morning tea is big everyday with homemade cappuccinos and home baking. We always have a barbeque on Friday nights – to mark the end of the week. But it’s often too cold in winter, so it’s difficult to adhere to all year round (though we always make sure we have Friday drinks!).

Mouth Watering

Mouth Watering

But there is one ritual we’ve implemented that has stuck and we follow it quite religiously. Why … because we LOVE it. That is of course, Sunday Roast Lunch!

There are a lot of reasons why this particular ritual works so well and why we really miss it when we don’t get to enjoy it for some reason or another.

We love it so much because …

Firstly, we target the roast being ready for 2pm which means Sunday becomes the only day Christ knocks off early. If we didn’t have roast lunch, Sunday would just be like any other day.

Because I cook them so regularly, I’ve mastered the process. The roast comes out juicy, tender and mouth-watering. Chris has refined his carving skill which also helps to guarantee tenderness. The veggies are also cooked to perfection – the potatoes crispy and coated in garlic, rosemary and olive oil. The other veggies are lightly tossed in cumin and chilli flakes with just a little olive oil … yum!

Crispy Potatoes

Crispy Potatoes

The meat is typically home grown … either a beast we’ve prepared with grain for a few months, or one of our pigs grown out in our custom built pig pen, or it could be a sheep we’ve fed and prepared just for the purpose. All are slaughtered and butchered on site. Yes, it’s quite confronting and definitely a reality check to realise how the meat bought in the supermarket is actually prepared. But it’s also kind of satisfying growing and eating your own meat. It makes you feel self-sufficient.

But most of all, it’s just the experience of the meal itself: a few glasses of our favourite sparkling to warm us up to the meal; the spread of dishes enhanced by delicious homemade gravy; sitting on the deck enjoying the rural view and the sound of the birds. It’s a good time to reflect on achievements and plan the upcoming week and of course enjoy our favourite topic of conversation (in between world economics, philosophy and religion) – our children, all of whom we are very proud.

Can;t wait for next time

Can;t wait for next time

Sunday roast lunch is the best. I can’t wait for the next one.

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