A House Needs a Heart

27 Comments

old french doorsIt was exciting to be staying in a house rather than a dilapidated old caravan for a change. On the eve of the day we were to take the cattle through town, we stayed in the abandoned house belonging to the stock owner.

The shack had no electricity or gas, so we brought in our gas lamps and camp stove from the caravan to cook dinner. I had shot a rabbit that afternoon and was determined to cook it for dinner. Shooting for me is not a sport, but in reality, I should have fed it to the dogs like we usually did. I have since learnt how to cook rabbit and it is a bit more of an art than I had anticipated with delicious results if done well. We were hungry, we ate; it was disappointing.

It was going to be a big day the next day. We had 2000 head of cattle waiting in the sale yards for us to funnel through the busy country town of Denileqin. Although we were in a house, it was only the shell of what it once would have been. The high ceilings with neglected ceiling roses and peeling architraves echoed the spirits of a warm and happy home. It made me feel lonely and I longed for the happy home that I had grown up in.

Earlier, before the light had faded, we had set out our swags in our chosen bedrooms. Mine was big and airy with French doors opening out onto a courtyard. In the daylight it felt inviting and warm and the view from my double doors was that of the mystifying Barmah State Forest where we had earlier mustered the cattle from. An enormous blue centipede with a myriad of fine red legs decorated the lank and dusty orange curtains hanging either side of my view.Blue Centipede

Long grasses and seeding weeds grew forlornly between the cracks in the bricks of my courtyard, and an unattractive concrete well stood unapologetically to the side of the abandoned retreat. The urge to look inside was overwhelming and with the expectation of finding tadpoles, green algae or perhaps just smelly stagnant water, I ventured over to peer inside.

With a sharp withdrawal of breath, and an instant rush of adrenalin, my body jerked backwards at the sight of the King Brown Snake undulating in the green, stagnant, tadpole filled maw; just inches from my nose. How do these wells stay so full anyway? Well I guess a well is a well and that is why they exist. Evidently, they just keep on filling up even when forgotten and disused.

My heart pounded violently, but at odds to the cold and gripping fear, I couldn’t restrain the urge to crane back over the cracked edge and wonder at this fear inspiring creature. I had never been so close to a deadly snake before, and my skin crawled with its inexplicable affect on me, but I couldn’t help but wonder about the fate of this animal as it would surely lose its battle with the vertical edges of its ultimate crypt.

I searched around to find a long forked stick. Tentatively, fearfully, I snagged the beast in its hook and carefully lifted the snake above the lip of the well. In an uncoordinated movement, fuelled by terror, I flicked the snake into the bushes beyond, shoving the stick away from me with it.

With a pounding heart, a centipede broach on the drapes, and the absent warmth of those desolate echoing rooms, the shroud of sleep crept slowly over my conscience that night.

An Email Exchange about the Sandy Hook Shooting

18 Comments

From: Jiltaroo <wordpress@freerangekids.com>

More

Cattle Muster in the Barmah State Forest

38 Comments

Sheep ready for sale at the Hay Sale Yards, NSW

Sheep ready for sale at the Hay Sale Yards, NSW

The sheep were delivered to the sale yards as requested by the stock owner. Our dogs, in their element, scrambled over their backs and nipped and pushed them up the narrow races of the Hay Sale Yards as we sorted them into manageable lots of 1000 per yard. Our journey with these sheep had come to an end.

Sheep are generally mustered using motor bikes and dogs unless the terrain dictates the use of horses. However, I became a Jillaroo primarily because I love horses and cattle. In addition, the drover I was working for was moody and self absorbed. I found the evening silences to be oppressive and depressing and I was reduced to constantly second guessing my abilities and decisions as a result of  no positive feedback to draw upon.

I can’t remember how, but I was invited by another old drover to move over to his team after the sheep were “docked”.

This job filled me with excitement. It had the promise of an adventure that I yearned for.  In the time that we were moving the sheep, rain had bucketed down days upon days. Rivers were flooded and cattle needed to be moved off the sour grass that had been leeched of all nutrition by the swollen river. 2000 cattle had to be mustered from the Barma State Forest and taken onto “greener pastures”.Barmah Angus cattle

My new Drover was older than the first. At the time he seemed ancient to me but he was probably only in his early 60’s. He was serious, but humble and had a twinkle in his eyes that belied the hard life he had by now accepted. I was allocated a horse that was reliable and well versed in the in the job we had ahead of us. Ten additional Stockmen, with their wily dogs and eager horses were also employed to cooperate in this massive job of “hide and seek” we had ahead of us.

The cattle were spread though hundreds of acres of forest. Some in large groups, but others in groups of two or three. Others were solitary; but all were doing their best to eke out the maximum nutrition from their increasingly diminished pasture.

On the first day of muster, we arose at 5am to a dark and stagnant edge of dawn. By the time we were dressed and breakfasted, the dreary light of a daybreak confirmed itself, promising nothing more than loaded black clouds and fat, unrelenting rain for the mission ahead.

Barmah Cattle with rising steamDespite the ominous and foreboding prediction the dawn inspired, by the time the team of horsemen had gathered, rays of sunlight streamed through the gaps in the clouds like the fingers of God; caressing the damp earth and drawing a blue haze of eucalyptus steam from the thick bush beyond. As the plan for the muster came to bear, the men sucked their hand rolled cigarette, horses fidgeted and jingled their bits, saddles squeaked as weight shifted, oilskins creaked and dogs lay and slept, scratched or licked. Smells of wet horses, tobacco, leather and sodden bushland mingled, and an air of excitement took hold that made me feel at odds with this experienced tribe of misfits.

We headed off down the dirt road and disappeared in groups of 2’s and 3’s into the wild Australian bush to commence our seemingly impossible task of drawing this scattered mob together for their journey ahead towards the lush stock route awaiting them.

Barmah Muster

Sometimes it’s hard to accept an Award, but it never fails to be flattering.

36 Comments

Who doesn’t love awards? We all do because it means that in some way we have made an impression, someone has enjoyed reading what we write, or even just appreciated the comments we have written in admiration of their story, poems, photos or heart ache. Sometimes it’s empathy (I have a lot of that to give), sometimes it’s a connection that could be a suburb or half a world away. I love this blogging world, I have some friends here that I have been more candid with than perhaps my best friend face to face.

BUT, I am a bit lazy sometimes, or busy, or tired. I have been lazy with my blog lately (although I think I did just get back on track in some way). I was honored with an award several weeks ago by Daan Van den Berhg from fkknrokk.com; I have barely spoken to him since. That is so wrong! I love his blog, I am passionate about his words, his poetry and his humility (Ha!).

I have stopped looking at Daan’s blog. Do you know why? Because when he nominated me, I had just accepted the same award a few days before. Being awarded for the same thing twice is wonderful but I felt embarrassed to post two awards in a row when I hadn’t posted anything from myself in ages.

Now I feel bad because I have lost his connection, although he has been kind enough to come back and read my posts…I have been distant and out of touch.

Does this happen to other bloggers when they get an award sometimes? It’s such a lovely thing for anyone to get, but it’s a bit of work to properly accept ….but it is also so wonderful to be appreciated. I would never discount that.

So here I am, at 1.15am in Australia, without even starting to accept these lovely accolades. In the morning I have 4 little men to get out of bed, make lunches for, and take to school. BUT FUCK! It’s about time Daan isn’t it?

Daan is wonderful, sensitive, tortured in many ways (my interpretation and sorry if that is wrong), kind, perceptive and a great friend to have. Thank you Daan, for nominating me for the ‘Versatile Blogger’ Award.  In reading your blog, I know you to be supportive, kind, hilarious, poetic and sensitive to all of those you love to read. To be awarded this by you, is a lovely, lovely thing and I apologize for taking so long to officially accept.

Muchos Besos vfrom Jiltaroo  (if there was a thingy that showed blowing kisses off a hand, it would be at the end of this sentence!)

Just in case you didn’t already realize, you must go and visit http://www.ifkknrokk.com/about/ and meet the lovely, and versatile Daan.

The Lonely Road Again

39 Comments

Not long after losing what I had thought to be the love of my life, I remember sitting on our veranda with Dad. We were discussing my future. He wanted me to find a career that was important to me, worthwhile. My solution, my answer, was probably not what he expected or really wanted for me.

I found an “Ad” in the “Weekly Times”, an Australian country paper. Why I bought that paper, I don’t even know. I can’t really remember exactly what the advertisement said, but it was something like, “Wanted, Jillaroo, able to ride horses, motorbikes, cook, and have an understanding of sheep and cattle”. Well, I could ride, and even though I may not have had much of an understanding of cattle and sheep, I did have an appreciation for them.

I called, and was accepted on trial for the job. Melbourne, Suburban girl, on you go, gallop up that lonely road away from all you know. Run away from your problems, run away from pain; isn’t that the solution you learnt as a little girl? Yes.

On the first day, I had to learn to ride a motor bike. The stock were actually sheep, 5000 of them. My house was to be a caravan on the side of the road and my only friends besides the old drover were 3 noisy and very alert Australian Kelpie Dogs.

The stove was splattered in layer upon layer of ancient grease. The floor was no better. On my second day, with no time for training, I was left to clean. I wondered if this was to be the breadth my role. I wondered at the reasoning behind my hasty move to the bush.

By the time Peter returned, the Caravan was spotless and gleaming. The day confined in this small, barely ventilated hot box had sapped me of energy and I tried to disguise the dullness in my eyes as I cooked a simple dinner.

Soon after, I crawled into my single bunk. Thoughts of Vorn and my family paraded across my conscious mind in prelude to the dreamscape awaiting me. Uncertainty plagued me and quietly I allowed the salty tears, inspired by my broken heart to seep into my desolate pillow.

The next day heralded greater promise. The sheep that had been mustered the day prior were to be taken off the property and onto the “long paddock” or stock route. These sheep were to be grazed along the side of the road between Deniliquin and Hay in the Riverina, NSW, before stopping traffic and parading down the main road on their way to the Hay Stock market.

By law, the travelling stock must travel “six miles a day” (approximately 10 kilometres per day). This is to avoid all the roadside grass from being cleared in a particular area by an individual mob. Bores, equipped with windmills and troughs, may also be located at regular intervals to provide water in regions where there are no other reliable water sources. A Travelling Stock Reserve is a fenced paddock set aside at strategic distances to allow overnight watering and camping of stock. Reserves may also be located on many roadways that are not the typical wide TSRs.

The travelling stock is driven by a drover and stockmen using Australian Stock Horses or vehicles. Other working animals include working dogs such as Kelpies, or their crosses which have been bred for working sheep and cattle. The stockman may also be accompanied by a packhorse, carrying supplies and equipment, or a wagon with supplies might follow the stock. More recently travelling stock has been accompanied by four-wheel drive vehicles and mobile homes.

The purpose of “droving” livestock on such a journey might be to move the stock to different pastures. It was also the only way that most livestock producers had of getting their product to the markets of the towns and cities. The beef cattle were transported to a rail siding or abattoirs “on the hoof”. The rigors of the journey, the availability of feed and water and the reliability of those “droving” the stock were all factors in the condition of the livestock when it was slaughtered.

We chugged along on our Honda 250’s at a gentle pace. The distance between camps was determined by a conservative estimation of the speed a healthy mob of sheep would travel. The award for the amazing and tireless workers of our team had to be given to the three Kelpie dogs that were skilfully directed by the old drover with a language consisting of strange whistles and an array of hand signals. The instincts of these intelligent dogs were a sight to seen as they adeptly redirected a stray sheep or a bulging face in the mob.

The most intense part of a day would be where traffic had to be stopped in order to cross the sheep over a bridge, drawing them together after a water hole and of course, directing the seemingly never ending line of Merinos through the single gate to the yards at the end of the day.

Generally, at the start of the day and once the sheep were feeding and walking at the expected pace, I would be left with my bike and the dogs, to keep the mob relatively tight, whilst the Drover would relocate the camp ready for the next evening.

The days were exhausting but satisfying, and sleep that comes from the daily counting of thousands of sheep came all too easily.

Gum Trees and Walnut glades

24 Comments

One Spring Vorn convinced me to rough it in the Dargo High Plains with him for three days. We each took back packs filled with minimum supplies; including a  spare set of clothes, sleeping bags, a hoochie (a tarp for sleeping under), and army rations.

When Vorn’s father dropped us off at the foot of the Mountain, I remember seeing groves of lush, majestic trees lining the valley. They seemed to be at odds with the Australian bush that scattered the slopes above us and I was curious as to what they were. Vorn’s dad told me that they were century-old walnuts trees. I regarded them with interest and their age truly did appear to be etched in the rough bark of their trunks. Their gnarled branches reached outwards and downwards forming beautiful green canopies that would soon produce the delicious treasures that the Ancients believed to be “the nuts of the Gods”. We picked a poor excuse for a path and started our journey into the rugged terrain. The bush was marvelous  dry but green, harsh but beautiful and the first leg of our journey was all up hill.

On our first night, we pitched our Hoochie, just a piece of tarp stretched low over two trees, and built a fire to boil water for our evening meal. The ham and pineapple freeze dried food we had bought from the Army Disposal shop tasted like vomit, so we disappointedly cooked some plain rice in its place. Exhausted from our five hour hike we slept soundly despite the rain pattering on our humble sanctuary, and it didn’t seem long before the sun signaled the voices of a chorus of birds and drew out the aromatic particles from the moist earth to release them into the air.

Our camp had been set near the Dargo River and Vorn decided to go for a bathe. I watched him peel off his clothes and wade boldly into the water and then prostrate himself in the middle of the river without hesitation or trepidation against the cold. I however, gingerly tiptoed over the uneven rocks towards him. As the freezing water reached my waist, I sucked my stomach in as if to avoid its icy fingers. I cupped my hands into the water and tipped it over my face and let it run through my hair. The water was so cold, unexpectedly cold, and I hurriedly concluded my sluice without the vigorous enjoyment that Vorn appeared to be experiencing.

Vorn tending our fire for morning riceBreakfast was rice again; we had given up on Army food. And afterward we lay in the morning sun while the steam rose from our drying tarp and the smell of eucalyptus streamed from the gum leaves clearing our noses and pervading our lungs. We felt wholesome and energized.

When we eventually stepped out our nesting glade and gazed upwards once again, ours eyes were met by a steep and jagged path. Much of it was covered in uneven rocks and I remember the fatigue in my legs as I resolutely dug my toes into its unforgiving pitch. Vorn walked a little way ahead but turned periodically to encourage me and we were able to keep a steady pace to reach our destination within a few hours. The rise opened out into a plateau and we were encountered by a panoramic view of clear blue sky, a skirt of tree tops running down the slopes and a deeper ring of green signifying the walnuts nestled in the valley below. Words were not necessary and we held each other in silence and wonder at the world we were lucky to be within.

 

 

Just a Walk in the Park

19 Comments

Yesterday was the first day of Spring, and true to its form, here in Australia, it was glorious. Blue sky, with a few wisps of cloud and that blossomy smell that can only signal a change to this blissful season.

I resolved to get the children to the park and we loaded into the Tarago in readiness to visit a little dell that I had driven past many times but never ventured to explore. On arrival, the boys tumbled out of the car, with Felix waiting at the door with his hand reaching out to help his little girl friend who had slept over last night. Sweet and innocent they are in their 9 year old love.

The park was really pretty in a wild and unkempt kind of way. Instead of the lurid colours of the countless council playgrounds we drive past these days, this one was all built from wood with just a little fort and a couple of swings nestled between the pond and lush green grass beyond. A shallow creek flowed into the pool, hinting at the pleasures we may find ahead if we accepted its invitation of the mossy climbing rocks and snaggled trees that beckoned.

After a while on the swings, my youngest and I went to explore. We followed the creek and were pleased to find that its introduction was a truthful illustration of the riches it had in store for us. Jumping from rock to rock, the creek opened out into another pool and we found two ducks deep in conversation on a log. We sat and watched for a while then walked around the rocks and weaved our way between crooked trees to find a damp and mossy boardwalk. My son and I ran along the wooden path and were lead into a dark and mysterious world of overhanging trees with the dank smell of rotting wood and fungi hanging low in the moist air.

Before venturing any further, we decided to go back and get the rest of the gang so we could share the next stage of our quest.

….to be continued

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: