A few weeks ago our family was very happy to welcome into our home a Kiwi, and city born chap, to show him a taste of the aussie bush.
Despite my protests that he should wait til it was cooler and wait til after it had rained, to be able to experience the bush, the way it should be experienced, he insisted on coming while we were in full drought.
So, for his very first experience here on the station, Kiwi got to see very few of the positives of lliving life in the bush, as he watched (and helped) us desperately trying to feed our starving cattle, the early mornings and the very late nights. He helped us work on our windmill, and learnt how to put an animal down when it was suffering.
Its hard work for one brought up in this land, mentally, physically and emotionally, I can hardly imagine what drought must look like through the eyes of one who has not grown up with it. Someone whose experience of death and suffering is limited to what the city is able to provide. Don’t get me wrong, I am not by any means belittling city life, but I do have ultimate respect for someone who came out with very little idea other than what can be conveyed in writing and words on a sheet of paper.
So when Kiwi offered to write down a little of what he experienced through his own eyes, I leapt at the chance, and after sending back too many very interesting but altogether far too long attempts, here is a taste of what bush life in drought is like through the eyes of a city boy.
(edited heavily from 8 pages, to about 3)
Home: Downtown Auckland New Zealand
Average yearly temperature: 15 degrees Celsius
Maximum temperature recorded temperature since 1853: 34.4 degrees Celsius
So, what is this doing on a farm girls blog?
It’s a long story and believe me, I’m going to TRY and keep this short.
Let me introduce myself and I’ll give you the back story what influenced me visiting their farm in the first place.
Firstly, I am not a girl. I have not had much to do with farming in any way and I am in fact, a born and bred New Zealander AKA: Kiwi.
I have lived in downtown Auckland for many years and I met a young couple at a conference held in one of the northern most cities in New Zealand.
They were polite, extremely helpful to everyone they met and exceptionally courteous towards the elders of our group.
Talking to them, I found their outlook and behaviour different enough to get me to start to wonder about what culture, what background could have nurtured them.
I was intrigued but, all I knew about them at the time was that they came from a country full of dangerous creatures and lived in a city that I’ve already visited a few times.
I learnt that the wife was originally from the countryside when she met her husband from the city.
We added each other to our various social networks, as I would any other person, and I got to know them even better. Through this medium I met the sister of the young wife..
After many exchanges, I learn the lived on the farm and she worked every day with her best friends.
Actually, calling them her best friends is an insult. However, for the rest of society where values are so twisted, I believe that is the best way for me to convey just how close their family is.
But if you’ll stay with me here, I’ll touch back on this point a bit later.
I was curious as to what she does since I wanted to find more of such people.
Questions abounding, she; with all the colourful descriptors, creative use of humour and with the delightful wit that she has – obliged me with answering every.single.question I had about life in the harsh countryside conditions of Australia.
Eventually, plans to visit the farm were made so I could see for myself
I downloaded an ‘app’ that listed most of the poisonous creatures in Australia. It even gives medical advice should I come across anyone that needs my help or worse, should I need to seek medical help myself.
In my bags, I packed as much protective gear as I could think of. Most of which are things to ensure my fair city skin remained as unblemished as I can keep it.
When I arrived in Brisbane, I caught up with the young couple.
Jillaroo’s Brother in law just came back from off the farm. He was to help erect a 50ft windmill on the property.
Much of it has been completed but, even with his help, the windmill still needs a fair bit of work before it’s ready to do its task and pump water to some of the property.
Before leaving on the bus, I checked out my social pages and saw a message from my Mum.
She was worried about me and was telling me things to look out for. Knowing that she’s still in worry mode, I also took the chance to give her assurance that I’ll be okay.
Having read her messages, I started questioning whether I really stopped to think how many ways I could be killed.
If I work on the windmill, I could fall.
If I walk out at night I could stand on a snake. My app actually says that 3 of the 5 most deadly snakes in the world are around this area.
A few days earlier I saw a video about some particularly nasty spiders too. ALL of which existed in the area.
My Mum told me about a family friend who actually nearly died with fluid in his lungs somehow because of the heat in the city I was already in. Given I was going to a place which gets about 10 degrees hotter, I thought there was a very real possibility that this too could be my fate. Especially given that I’m not going to have any hospitals nearby.
The bus was heading west, and I made sure I was wearing appropriately safe clothing: heavy hiking boots, a long sleeved shirt & long pants that have an elastic corded ends to allow me to reduce the gap from the boots… Everything I was wearing was my ignorant attempt to protect myself from Australia’s most dangerous of wildlife.
At the end of the bus ride, I see a car waiting by the road.
I honestly was thinking the worst as I approached but, after tapping on the windows, I realised that the bus was quieter than we realised.
It’s Jillaroo in there. And when she comes around the side of her car, I see she’s dressed all in pink and I quickly turn her attention to her not wearing shoes. We are on gravel road but, I can feel the heat through my shoes and was concerned that she left her shoes in the car on my account.
Turns out, she’s used to the heat and her feet are a fair bit tougher than mine. Right then, I make a sort-of new year’s resolution to toughen up the skin on the soles of my feet. Really not too sure how well I can do that.
She takes me for a drive down the road travelling next to her family’s property.
It is by far and away THE largest property I’ve ever seen.
I’m told that it’s not particularly large by Australian standards and that a couple of kilometres on one side is not unusual.
We eventually pull up to the yard and as I look into the yard and Jillaroo explains that the animals there are the “critical care/intensive care” babies that I’ve heard so much about in her letters.
We meet her Mother inside and who meets me with a smile.
Having already met 2 of her daughters, I can tell you now that if I was to bump into her in the busy streets of New York, I’d still be able to tell that she was their Mum.
She had a quiet effortless grace about her as we conversed.
She showed me to the room and asks me if I wanted to give a call to my Mum to tell her I arrived ok.
Now, I work for a Telephone company so, being as far out as this family is from any city and, seeing that it was going to be an international call to boot, I knew that it can’t be a cheap call to make. So, I did say that my own Mum was quite savvy on the social network so, a message to her might suffice.
However, their Mum gives me a “are you kidding me look” as she gives me the phone. You know that look. The look that says “Mums know better” and she said that my Mum should know I arrived. She’s right of course and I make the call.
She tells me later that the internet is “iffy” at the best of times but I don’t think that was why she told me to give my Mum a call.
Later on, I meet the Dad by their ute,
He’s a “bloke’s bloke” for sure and although he speaks at a normal volume and even though we were roughly about the same height, he still had the presence of a towering leader. I’d imagine that people gravitate to him all the time.
The youngest sister was by the gate and I get introduced. She gives me a firm handshake and I could see that she’s trying to figure me out already. There’s a personable intelligence there that seemed a bit more pronounced on this one. It was almost a quizzical look to say that I might be too “city” to survive out there in the countryside.
Her warmth of welcome was very obvious though, and I already started to feel completely at ease.
After these introductions, we make our way to our first job of transferring water from off the water truck to one of the dams.
These dams are HUGE. Or at least I thought so.
They looked capable of holding roughly 3 to 4 times the water held in an Olympic sized swimming pool but, without exaggerating, what water was left seemed nothing more than a small pond.
This far out inland, it was obvious that a person should attempt to stock up on as much water that is humanly possible and, that was the hope of these dams.
The water left is now an extremely precious commodity meaning that wild and feral animals are now even more desperate to get these waters and they’re becoming an ever more increasing danger to all life on the farm. Not only do they drink what precious little water there is, but they often carry with them ticks and diseases. Far too risky to expose any of the stock to further risk when the animals are already fighting to survive as it is.
When we arrive back at the family’s home and I meet their brother.
I give him a firm handshake and we each size each other up as we say hello, He’s young but, seemed very much a “bloke’s bloke” already. The connection between him and his Father could not have been more obvious.
Even though it was late, I still felt like I was cooking out in the heat. The Brother tells us that their thermometer hit 52 degrees C earlier that day. 52!! A new record for the area since records began and three times that of what I was used to.
My mind wonders back to my families’ friend… I hope that won’t be me.
As the night draws into a close, I witness the family’s close bonds as they send each other to bed.
The love and affection for each other was so obvious and I could not imagine a better send off.
Mornings start early just after day break and begins on the veranda.
A bible chapter is read and then discussed with the family first. This is then followed by breakfast.
On my first day there, Jillaroo takes me for a small walk maybe covering 2 square kilometres.
I get to see that the property stretches beyond my view. I see some of the equipment and buildings and get a brief overview of what the cattle can and can’t eat.
The beauty of the land was awe inspiring but, evidence of the desert was strongly showing through. Try as I might, it was difficult to imagine the land as once being green.
We start making our way up to another dam when all of a sudden, Jillaroo lets out a sudden “ohhh noo” and she’s looking directly ahead towards the water.
To me, I could only notice the muddied water and the trees surrounding it. There’s bits of tree debris around but I just couldn’t spot what it was that made her heart sink.
She sort of half runs across the dried mud to a small dark sport in the water.
She reaches in and pulls out the body of ‘Busta’ – one of the families much beloved pet and working dog. He had been heat struck the day before and went to the dam for a swim, where he must have collapsed in the water.
Having seen their love for their animals in her letters to me, my stomach wrenched as my mind seemed to wipe itself blank from the shock. I was stunned to silence.
I look to her and she’s got her face in her hand. She was trying to keep quiet but, the muffled sound of a woman crying was unmistakable.
When we eventually make our way back to the house, there was a heavy sense of purpose with everyone’s movements there.
It turns out; one of the cows has got itself stuck in the thick mud next to one of the dams.
Their Dad and brother goes out for a rescue.
I felt helpless but, there’s little I can do in this situation.
After a while, I could start making out the twinkle of lights through the trees way out in the distance.
Their Mother laments “Ohhh they needed the crane” as she looks at the clock. I could tell that she’s worried for them and for the poor animal that needed such a rescue. It was obvious that it was going to be a good while before they’d be coming back for dinner.
THIS was all on the first day!
In my first draft of this story, I went on to describe the highs and lows of most of my days there.
It was a week worth of learning and I feel like I’ve only just scratched the surface of what they experience every day.
In fact, imagining that I’ve even scratched the surface seems to be too much of a boast at this stage.
Yes, there was devastation in almost everywhere I looked there but, that was through my city eyes.
There, in the space of only one week, I witnessed the full gamut of life and it was something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. And they deserve all the thanks I can give.
There, they showed love to a near complete stranger who entered their home with only 3 bottles of wine. They gave him food, shelter and even the water of which they have little of.
They showed great love for their family, their land and love for their animals. These animals which themselves cause great heartache every time one of them dies.
As a person from the city visiting the farm, I think I’ve gained some perspective.
Outside the farm, we worry about what’s happened to our cell phones, why the busses are late, whats the holdup at the traffic lights and wishing that there was more to do in our spare time.
Inside the farm, the normal working day is literally from sun up to past sundown and spare time is something that they need to make and not a luxury that they simply have.
Inside the farm, you hear of complaints from animal rights activists demanding that farmers help their cattle more and protect the predatory animals. Ridicule from outsiders about farmers abilities and even persecution of the knowledge passed down through many generations.
It all seemed like many people felt like they knew enough about farming without actually being there and so, being a person who was once about as far removed from the farming scene as possible, I felt a great honour in being there with them and truly humbled that they shared what they had with me.
What I’m trying to say is that, it was so obvious that they love without need or want for reward.
In fact, the entire time I was there, I felt and witnessed nothing but love. And love that was being tried and tempered through the toughest imaginable times.
What’s more, it is likely to be tried again and quite likely it’s going to be tougher than ever.
So, what have I seen us as a people giving the farmer in return?
From safe havens where we demand water and free money, protection from the government, animal and pest control, I see people demanding that our primary industries slice their earnings and increase their expenditures. We have faith that the government is doing something to help and yet, do not question it or seek proof.
We dare not venture out to see for ourselves what else there is to where our food comes from or put even care to put a face to those that support us.
If anything, we threaten our countrymen that feed us by looking to foreign food suppliers with questionable ethics.
I am a proud New Zealander. There is no question about that, but I am not so proud as to boast that our farmers go through tougher times. They go through tough times – yes, tougher than Australian farmers – No.
In fact, I feel a fair bit of satisfaction knowing that as Kiwis, we’re better connected to our farmers. The rural news is not something we avoid and we do actually take an active interest in it.
As neighbouring countries, I know we enjoy our ANZAC relationship. We take pride with what we can each country can accomplish and even more pride when we see what can be accomplished when get together.
Together, we are pioneers, world records setters and have a relationship that is the envy the world over.
That said, it just eats at the soul when I see Australia neglecting that which makes them grow. Australia should be better than that and I know it once was.
Now, if you read from the start, you’ll see that most of what I set out to do was to learn more about human decency and caring. To seek out chivalry and virtue.
I found that. And I found it in abundance. All in a place that I expected to threaten me with 1000 different ways to die.
But, as we reach the end, I can tell you that I did not once fear for my life. In fact, the most danger I’ve felt in the last few weeks was in downtown Auckland by a man threatening to punch me for not giving him more money for his bus.
I’m sad to say that all that preparing and all the stories did not prepare me for the true hardships of the Australian farmer.
The family I stayed with have given me so much, and I know I can never pay them back.
It’s time that we, as a society support our famers. It’s time we question our government and demand that our money is spent properly to support the country that we choose to live in and live from.
As countries, we depend on our farmers more than we know and I can only hope that we all pull ourselves together to give them the support that they so richly deserve.