ROAD TO THE FARM
Last updated: 2 January 2020
INDEX of articles written or recommended
by Alex Paterson
The Road to the Farm. Chapter 4
Sep was in Japan on Hydro Electric Commission
business. Prior to his departure, he had given us a list of properties
for Alex, Chris, Nic and me to inspect with a Stock and Station agent
in the Sassafras and Sheffield districts, all relatively close to his
new work office on the already commenced Mersey-Forth Hydro-Electric
Scheme. Before leaving for overseas, he had inspected them himself but
had made no comment about any of them, with the exception of a
'wilderness place' for private sale at Central Castra which he reckoned
was 'mountain goat country' and 'would not sell in a hurry.'
In his absence, his family was booked to inspect the
four more 'civilized' ones, closer to his new workplace office at
Gowrie Park. They had also decided to visit Mount Pleasant to see how a
'mountain goat, wilderness' farm might stack up against more
conventional ones, and the owners had invited them to midday dinner! A
big incentive, even if running late.
On the morning of our appointment with the Agent,
the boys and I rose long before daylight to care for our livestock at
Kingston and have a good breakfast before leaving Sherwood Forest to
meet our Agent at Sassafras at 8.30 am. With little traffic on the
road, we arrived in good time and were greeted amicably. All three lads
loved Kingston with passion and were loath to leave their school, their
friends, Pony Club, the usually sheltered beach and the many miles of
bush trails that spread out in three directions from their own front
gate. They were a bit grumpy until they saw the big smile on the
Agent's face and their spirits soon rose sky high on meeting this
friendly man. He could empathize with them, especially after the
elderly owners of the first farm we inspected, right there in
Sassafras, were visibly antagonistic towards them, for no apparent
reason, except perhaps, that they were boys.
We soon moved on, and following the Agent's car,
drove up a long and winding road towards the Sheffield area, with its
rich, red basalt soil, rugged Mount Roland standing as sentinel to the
south and an aura of prosperity.
Along the way we passed signposts to places with
fairy tale names - Paradise, Devil's Gate and Nowhere Else. When we
pulled up beside his car to view the magnificence of the surrounding
countryside, three lads wanted to know;
'Where on earth are we headed?'
'To the best places in the district', our Agent said with a smile.
The first farm we were shown was breathtakinly beautiful,
with black and white dairy cows gently grazing on emerald pasture,
fodder crops of green oats and brassicas, ready for strip feeding and
magnificent views in all directions. We were on top of the world!
Freshly turned, rich chocolate loam awaited Spring sowing and we could
all see the potential of the place. Sadly, those level, well kept
fields were on high, exposed ground and lacked trees for shade and
shelter, a habitable house or any sound, usable farm buildings. The
elderly owners had retired some years previously, the house and all the
farm buildings were now too derelict to be considered fit for
restoration and the well managed pasture and cropping land was
currently leased to a next door neighbour and his dairy cows. We
explained that we needed a habitable house to live in straight away, as
Sep would be needed at Gowrie Park almost immediately, after his return
The next property we inspected was in excellent
condition, on a corner block, with a solid and spacious concrete brick
homestead, sound outbuildings, including stables and a cattle byre,
which would suit our menagerie, good fencing, an excellent stock
watering system and sheep and cattle drafting yards, but nowhere
to gallop or go exploring and it overlooked a Hydro dam site. Way down
below, in a deep ravine, continuous blasting, at varying intervals,
went on all day, deafening us and shaking the big, strong house. As we
walked over the immaculate fields, the explosions were even more
violent outdoors, hurting our ears, without upsetting the livestock,
apparently accostomed to severe and constant day time noise,
The boys, although impressed by the property,
found it too confined by tarred roads and limited views, much like the
one at Sassafras and they did not think the blasting would be
appreciated by the horses, whose hearing could be damaged. So once more
we knew this was not to be our place, unless the blasting would soon
cease. Sadly, for the vendors, it had only recently commenced and could
go on for a very long time.
The last property shown to us had a sound and welcoming old
wooden farm house with picture windows and magnificent views, but
sadly, possessed no other virtues. All the land had been stripped of
vegetation, farm buildings and fencing for continuous broardacre cash
crop growing and mechanical harvesting. The lads were outraged by the
treatment of that land and I felt guilty about wasting the Agent's
time, but from what we had seen, it certainly looked as if Sep
had been right when he had told us that 'all the best
pickings were gone.' As we thanked our kind Agent, I told him that I
had quite liked the place on the Hell's Gate turnoff and would ask Sep
just how long the blasting would continue. He would know,
In spite of not wanting to move anywhere and
following the departure of our Agent from the Sheffield area, we
hastened back to the Bass Highway and bypassed Devonport. Our route now
took us through Forth, uphill, into rich cropping country overlooking
Bass Strait, then twisted and turned down to a river crossing at a
sleepy little town, then named Hamilton on Forth, now simply Forth. Our
map indicated that the second main turn left would take us up a long,
steep hill, through the highly productive, mostly cropping area of
Kindred and finally to the Nietta Road, where another left turn soon
found us passing through the township of Sprent, with its
imposing, red brick general store and nearby large grain and fertilizer
store shed, a Comprehensive Area School, two Churches and a small
One mile further, on the right hand side, we reached
the turning to Central Castra and all knew it would be a hard drive
from here to the Farm. Sep had given fair warning!
The road was steep. It was tortuous, narrow and
paved with huge chunks of shifting blue metal. It twisted in blind
curves, down to a raging torrent and the crossing was a high, old
wooden bridge that had weathered many a storm. On the far side, the
road offered a greater challenge - it was steeper and even more
tortuous than the descent. The loose, stony surface provided poor
traction for rubber tyres but the trusty station wagon finally lurched
on to more level ground and the temperature gauge fell slowly. A sheer
cliff, on the left hand side, showed signs of serious instability from
above; boulders of various shapes and sizes littered the roadway.
Help from the lads in rock removal and careful navigation, almost
off-road in some places, permitted forward progress. To the right, on
the lower side, a thriving young forest of Radiata pine flowed
over a convoluted landscape and out of sight.
There were more hills and sharp, unexpected twists
and turns, then, quite suddenly, the road ahead was bathed in brilliant
sunshine, revealing a wondrous panorama of fertile, well nurtured
farmland on flat or rising ground, some of it steep. Well maintained,
old style timber homesteads and farm buildings, surrounded by shrubs,
orchards and colourful gardens, spread an aura of nurture in this
'difficult to access' paradise. Remnant forest trees had been
preserved for stock shade and shelter and water abounded in rivers,
streams and multiple permanent springs.
The country had been opened up to timber cutters
during the 1840's and the biggest log ever hauled out to the coast by
bullock team was said to have come from higher ground, a mile or so
ahead. And that was the destination of the intrepid travellers in the
Briefly on a sealed surface,we cruised slowly
through the tiny village of Central Castra, now reduced to one 'near
the road' farm house, with scattered barns, sheds and an extensive
acreage. Around the corner, on the road to Upper Castra, we glimpsed a
solid old weatherboard home surrounded by dense shrubbery, with a sign
outside which stated that this was the 'Central Castra Post Office'. A
red public GPO phone box stood across the road. After we finally bought
Mount Pleasant, we discovered that the Post Office had a party line
telephone system, different from the private line we had previously
known in Wau. This connection to the outside world was fascinating.
Anyone connected to the service could pick up his or her receiver and
listen to all we, or others, had to say.
Now, following our direction map, we left the
short area of bitumen and drove on to a byway, clearly marked as a 'No
Through Road'. It went past the resident- built and maintained village
Hall, down a gentle hill, along a valley floor and crossed several
small bridges over a fast flowing stream. There were two neat and tidy
farm houses with flourishing gardens, orchards and outbuildings on
opposite sides of the road and saw that the place on the Camp Creek
side had been constructed on high, dry land, well above flood level.
Realising that we had seen no signs of life, or householders flagging
us down to know our business on this dead end road, we finally
commenced the last long haul to the Farm. The byway was in much
better condition than the road to the village, so, though steep,
winding and narrow, it gave us, as prospective buyers, hope that
this might just turn out to be the road to Our Place.
We had spent a great deal of time inspecting those
four places in the Sassafras and Sheffield areas and were now
running late for midday lunch at Mount Pleasant. We were feeling
contrite, as the journey, thus far, had taken longer than expected, but
at last we topped the final rise and approached the tree sheltered,
neat little house and were warmly welcomed by the present owners who
were really pleased to see us. After a hot and delicious baked dinner,
followed by steamed date pudding with lashings of cream and as much tea
as we could drink, we were escorted over the extensive
acreage in a trailer with hay bale seats, drawn by the biggest, oldest
tractor we had ever seen anywhere and in spite of the steepness of much
of the terrain, we all felt comfortable there. It was open and free.
The prefabricated, three bedroom weatherboard
homestead, although small, was masterfully reconstructed, with large
windows, built-in cupboards and adequate space in two of the bedrooms.
The living room, the kitchen, an inside back porch, bathroom and
laundry were in good order and only the toilet seemed cramped. The
smallest bedroom was eventually chosen by Sep and myself, when we
discovered that our bed, bedside cupboards and my sewing machine all
fitted in neatly. On the covered front porch, the meter box was
sheltered and easily accessed. The outbuildings were mostly old but
sound and the views of the West Gawler River, entering under the cover
of dense bush to follow the shared western boundary through five
adjoining fields, 300 ' below the homestead at the southern end, to
500', on reaching the northern boundary, offered dramatic panoramic
views of immense grandeur and beauty.
Fast flowing Camp Creek ran through the eastern side
of the place and a permanent spring, its actual source dowsed
near the Black Bluff during the Story family's years on Mount
Pleasant and thought to have been the original house and trough water
supply, ensured that our family members and livestock remained in good
health for all the time they remained on the property.
When we inspected the higher, well sheltered
pastures, away from the macrocarpa pine-protected house and farm
buildings, we found ourselves surrounded by spectacular mountains, with
Mount Roland, the Tiers and Black Bluff, all overlooking the blue,
restless waters of Bass Strait, sparkling in the sunshine.
We hugged one another.
We knew, that in spite of the roads, that this would
be our future home - it felt right. Sep was still overseas, on
Hydro business. We hoped he would share our enthusiasm, On his
return, he took some convincing, then, after having another really good
look at the whole property, he finally smiled and agreed to start
So our family bought The Farm. We prospered.
Adults, children and livestock stayed healthy and strong - after
initial ups and downs.
It was, indeed, A Good Place, a Family Place, 'Mount Pleasant'.
Central Castra, in north west Tasmania.
Long ago, a dark skinned people may have used a
different road, descending from the high country as the nights
grew cooler and the black cockatoos warned them of approaching stormy
weather. They would have known, from myriads of other subtle
changes in their summer hunting grounds, that this was now the
time to finally return to the warmer coastal areas where the aged,
expectant mothers and very young may have remained during summer and
where there was adequate shelter and sustenance for all from the icy
south westerly winds of winter.
¥ A gently sloping,
flat-topped ridge, running towards the sea, traverses what was then,
the farm. The boys and I always had a strong sense, that because of the
abundance of wildlife and water and perhaps more open ground, that
those first people may have travelled through there and camped on
the very spot where the homestead still stands. Nic was sure he could
feel their spiritual presence.
Prior to British Colonisation, the area was covered
in dense, mostly Rain forest trees, usually thicker on the lower
hillsides, along valleys and beside streams than on exposed sclerophyll
ridges. After the first timber getters moved on and settlement was
encouraged, Mount Pleasant, in the early days of European habitation,
was gradually cleared of vegetation on land considered arable. Much of
that land was steep, suitable only for horse or bullock-drawn
cultivators, which was all they possessed. In spite of the sharp
slopes, the property had the reputation of producing the 'best potatoes
in the district', in the deep, red basalt soil, 'for well over a
hundred years'. Some Rain forest species and sclerophylls, including
Sassafras, Blackwood, Myrtle and varied Eucalypts, still flourished in
the more level and better watered areas. Remnant trees remained along
the banks of waterways and in lower fields to control erosion and
provide shade for livestock.
The First People of Tasmania did not survive the
invasion of their land for long. They were almost totally
*Aboriginal occupation of Tasmania occurred about 40,000 years ago.
The sinking of Bass Strait, about 12,000 years ago, separared the Tasmanian people from their Mainland kin.
British exploitation of Tasmania, Van Dieman's Land,
as the island was then named, began with Bass Strait sealing in the
1790's. The sealers stole many young Aboriginal women to work as
slaves. A considerable number of these women found their captors
humane. Being strong swimmers and good seal hunters, they survived
their incarceration and reared the sealers' children on the Bass Strait
Formal British colonization followed in both the
south and north,[1803-1804], centred around Hobart Town and Launceston.
The Aboriginal people fought hard against the
invaders but were mercilessly hunted and shot down as vermin. In
1829, G.A. Robinson, a Government Agent, with the assistance of
*Truganini [1812- 1876] and her partner Wooredy, made four epic
journeys throughout Van Diemen's Land to 'Conciliate' with an estimated
300 survivors of their Race. They were persuaded to leave their
homeland for 'sanctuary' on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. There they
were confined, given English names, religion, language, food, clothes
and shelter and forbidden to use their native tongues. The once
highly spiritual, proud and healthy hunter gatherers were prisoners and
their spirituality and physical health deteriorated very rapidly.
Many scholars have criticised Truganini for her
involvement, overlooking the fact that she was born at Recherche Bay,
nine years after the invasion. Her tribal Place was in the far south,
below D'Entrecasteaux Channel, which separates Bruny Island from
Tasmania. Her family was decimated by sealers and colonists. She grew
up on the fringes of white settlement. With such overwhelming
destruction of tribal lands, lore and spirituality, she was unlikely to
have fully learned the complexities and deep wisdom of her people.
Incarcerated in their new home, these remnants of a
proud people lost heart and failed to thrive. By 1847, only 48 souls
remained to be repatriated to their own island where they were again
confined, at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart and again, failed to thrive.
All had perished by the time of Truganina's death - a supreme case of
Descendants of Tasmania's indigenous women, stolen
by sealers prior to official settlement, survived on the islands of
Bass Strait. Many of them have since returned to Tasmania to uphold the
honour and integrity of their People.
The Passage of Time Brings Changes on The Farm.
After thirty five years of nurture and prosperity, with family
members scattered by their various pursuits and I, the old
farmer past retirement time in age and physical strength, all
agreed that, because Our Place was unique, it should be placed on the
Stud and market livestock from the property had
consistently topped almost every Sale and no pesticides, herbicides or
artificial fertilizers had been applied anywhere for over 30 years. As
stated earlier, house, stock, vegetable and fruit growing water came
from a pristine mountain spring, sourced near the Black Bluff, emerging
on Mount Pleasant above the present concrete dam and pump house. The
water was fresh and sparkling. To my knowledge, no one ever ailed
whilst living there.
Our family established in excess of 300,000 thriving
plantation trees, [Pinus Radiata on the steeper slopes and mixed
Eucalypts and Blackwoods in many and varied suitable areas.
Shelter belts of Tasmanian flowering shrubs and trees surrounded every
field and turned the property into a haven for native birds, many of
them endangered species.
With its north easterly frontal aspect, forested
south west slopes, peaceful, productive river and creek valleys and
Five Star views, the the old farmer felt confident that a buyer would
quickly appear, especially as the whole place was highly productive,
close to service areas, port and airport and in immaculate condition.
Not so. Only one agent would take on the handling of the sale. Protest
was in vain. * * The Carbon Credit Company, who wished to purchase it,
put in an offer as soon as the first of many advertisements appeared in
Tasmanian Newspapers and on the Internet. From that moment on,
beautiful Mount Pleasant was 'Under Offer.'
Confrontation ensued. The West Gawler river
was damned above the property, decimating the native blackfish,
introduced trout and any highly endangered native crayfish which may
have still been hiding in shaded, deep pools. In time,
unrelenting aerial spraying commenced and continued. We no
longer had an organic farm and after a two year, concerted
battle, I eventually capitulated.
Because the property had 'water, water everywhere,'
it was totally unsuited to 'carbon credit' tree farming. Our trees had
been planted in the most suitable places but the university trained
experts knew better. They harvested some, then bulldozed, Napalmed and
buried the remainder. The place damaged the viability of the company. I
was named Tasmania's Shame for ruining the district.
So be it.
* The Oxford Companion To Australian History. pages. 628 &251.
** Carbon Credit tree farming is practised, usually
by State or private tree growing Companies, on high rainfall, fertile
soil to produce fast growing, monoculture trees which are suited
to the selected land, climate and altitude. The preparation of
the ground entails the removal of all vegetation with either two doses
of double strength RoundUp and Brush Off on cropping or grazing land,
or clear felling of timbered country for saw logs or wood chips, then
bulldozing and Napalming of stumps and branches to eliminate any
impediment to contour ploughing, prior to re-planting. 1080 is
used to repel wildlife which may damage the fragile seedlings. As
the trees grow, aerial spraying of pesticides occurs regularly to kill
insect pests. The new forests harbour no birds or animal life. They are
as silent as the tomb.
When riding and camping with my friend, Gabrielle
Schenk and her five sturdy Arab bred horses on the Tasmanian extension
of the Bi-Centennial National Trail during the late 1990's, I would
sometimes see tears in her eyes. Initially, she did not wish to
discuss her sadness but when the Trail briefly left the State
forests and entered private land, the bush echoed birdsong and came
alive. We rode on, into an open area beside a clear stream, under a
canopy of towering Eucalypts and Gabrielle called a lunch break. We
watered the horses and tied them on long lines so that they could
browse while we ate our meal. Tiny scrub wrens joined us on the log
where we were sitting and were soon around our feet, savouring crumbs.
It was then that she finally told me the reason for her tears.
'I have ridden for years on the Trail, often alone,
through far North Queensland, from Cooktown, roughly following the
Great Divide, to Healesville, in Victoria and have never felt lonely
along the way. Now I have your company and incredibly beautiful
scenery, but it's all so deathly quiet. Until this moment, I have seen
no birds in the trees in daylight nor the noisy clamour of native
animals during the night. I'm sorry, but the eerie, unaccustomed
silence has unnerved me. We'll be out of this tiny sanctuary very soon
and back into the gloomy, silent forests, so unlike those in
Queensland, NSW and Victoria, where you would remember, that on our NSW
journey from Hanging Rock to Aberdeen, nocturnal native wildlife
abounded, even though we were on a poorly vegetated, travelling stock
When Sep returned from Japan, he was disappointed at
his family's assessment that Mount Pleasant should be our future
home. It was the steepest and the most remote from his work. The
others, which he knew we had also inspected, were so much more
civilised, closer to Gowrie Park and serviced by sealed roads. He could
not understand our priorities. On his return, his lads, accepting that
a move to the North West was inevitable, simply enumerated them.
The wilderness place was beautiful, open and truly exhilarating, with
grand views in all directions and it gave them a sense of unlimited
freedom. They had also gleaned news from the owners that there was
another road out of Central Castra which would allow their Dad to reach
work in no time at all - could that be true? They hoped so.
All the other farms over which they had trudged and
surveyed with care, had made them feel trapped; as if they were on big
suburban blocks, facing tarred roads, without anywhere exciting
to go exploring. I had similar thoughts but knew I would never enjoy
time for such adventuring, wherever we settled. After our pampered
years in New Guinea and mostly halcyon ones at Taroona and Kingston,
chances of a sheltered life seemed unlikely, on any farm. The one they
all liked though, possessed something that was rare - unlimited water,
a precious resource. It also had Macrocarpa shelter belts surrounding
the highest and most exposed fields. So Sep went back there and had
another look. Although still uncertain, because the house was so small
and the roads diabolical, he finally agreed to start negotiations. The
owners were very pleased and made concessions.
They had been holidaying in Ulverstone during the
Summer and had fallen in love with the place when the fields were all
covered in deep, lush grass and shiny black Angus cows, with forward
calves at foot, made the place look irresistible. So they bought Mount
Pleasant, walk in, walk out, and even although they knew the Angus
cattle were not part of the deal, they moved there in early Autumn and
a highland fog greeted them. It did not lift for over three long weeks,
so they put the place back on the market forthwith, again, 'walk in,
walk out.' They received zero offers; not one person had even
looked over it till Sep arrived there, for a brief inspection, before
leaving on his overseas journey and a little later, we had turned up
and were enthused.
The wife hated every moment she spent in Central
Castra and could not get back 'down south' fast enough, where it seldom
rained, so she would always be able to get the washing dry. Her husband
was relieved too. The blackberries and ferns, previously unencountered
in the Derwent Valley, were a curse and with his wife and children so
unhappy, they accepted our offer. Mount Pleasant changed hands
amicably, with part payment being our sunny, fully paid up and well
maintained home in Kingston which would suit our vendors while they
decided what they would do next for a living.
Our Arrival at Mount Pleasant.
Following a successful Royal Hobart Show, where the
family riders, ponies, Peter Pan and the dairy goats had all performed
with great distinction, the Kingston house was packed up in readiness
for the big move to greener pastures on the North West Coast. I hired a
stock truck and driver to cart Peter Pan, the ponies and all their tack
to our new home - Our Place. Sep organised a removal van and crew to
transport family household belongings.
The equine contingent travelled well and liked what
they saw in their new domain. I drove the station wagon, towing the
horsebox with the goats on board and Alex and Chris accompanied me. Sep
followed in the ute, with Nic beside him for the journey. An outraged
Kitty Koo occupied a cat crate in the back, sheltered from the elements
by oat sacks over the front, top and sides, but not the bottom
end, plus boxes of tools, science journals and reference books about
farming practices on basalt soils in a high rainfall area above 1000
'.The stock truck followed, well behind and the removal van arrived a
dismal last, with both drivers bemoaning the poor condition and
steepness of the road They had never experienced anything like it,
anywhere. But, with good humour and professionalism, they unloaded the
livestock and household goods, all of which arrived free of injury or
The four legged animals, even the cat, were
delighted with this new place, but squeezing the family belongings into
the tiny homestead proved difficult. The windows in the boys' bedrooms
had to be removed to get their demountable, double bunks inside and
crates of non- essentials found their way to the fully lined and
weatherproof potato shed where they would remain 'till the cows came
home.' Sep and I thanked the carriers with mugs of tea and hastily
prepared sandwiches, then gave them their cheques, Sep remarking that
'the road back out to the bitumen would be easier now, unladen'. They
Our family had arrived. Albeit we had heaps to do
for the domestic animals before nightfall, we silently absorbed the
peaceful beauty which surrounded us, then commenced our tasks with
smiles of deep satisfaction. Even Sep seemed happy, in spite of his
initial reservations. This really was Our Place now and we all felt a
deep sense of belonging. We would have a lot to learn, as the seasons,
years, then decades passed. Time would tell and be the judge.
Getting to Know the Place.
The learning process commenced the very next day.
Sep and I rose at first light to check the stock. Hand in hand, we went
out on foot and quickly realised that this new property, beauty aside,
was very steep and extensive too. With the task beyond us, we hurried
back to the house for breakfast. I would milk and attend the stock
The three lads were already up and about, caring for
the ponies; Silver, mother of Wee Jock and two year old filly Vanessa,
Sasha, Chris' great love and the enigmatic Peter Pan, a saddle horse,
already famous as a show jumper and eventer. He was Alex's pride and
joy. Nic rode Silver and sometimes Alex's first pony, Wee Jock. He was
looking forward to claiming Vanessa when she was old enough to
ride. Chris's Sasha was a truly beautiful rose pink, three
quarter bred Arab, standing just under fourteen hands. He had been
judged champion pony stallion at Hobart Royal four years earlier and
was now a gelding with impeccable manners. Chris idolised him. He was
the sire of Vanessa. All but Wee Jock, a lovely chocolate coloured chap
with a creamy mane and tail and Peter Pan, a dark brown, were
grey. They were pleasant to behold when clean and well groomed
but the deep red soil of their new home was going to mean plenty of
hard work to turn them out looking spotless.
The boys all liked their new primary school in
Ulverstone, even although Alex would move on to the nearby new High
School after the Christmas holidays. They made friends quickly and a
steady stream of week-end visitors ensued, three at a time,
because few of them had ever heard of Central Castra and loved the idea
of venturing into the 'back country.'
Those unaware that the bus ride was mostly
over steep, winding , unsealed roads, which made them feel queasy, were
really shocked when they found, that once off the bus, they still had a
mile to walk and half of that was uphill, just like all the other kids,
only most of them had even longer distances to cover to reach their
homes. And, when they finally arrived at Mount Pleasant, no
loving Mother welcomed them. They just had to change into farm clothes
and eat buttered Weetbix, like biscuits, outside, because of the crumbs
- or they could have them with milk and brown sugar, inside if they
liked. There was no cake or sweet biscuits but plenty of fresh fruit,
Ugh!- but why not whiz up a milkshake? Never! Nobody knew too much
about these hillbillies, but everyone knew they had goats. Worse still,
their hosts had chores to attend before they could show their guests
around. So the waiting list of visitors gradually dwindled.
Those who kept coming became the boys' true friends.
In time, some even volunteered to assist with lamb marking, shifting
stock and cutting ferns. They grew to love the place. During hot
weather they truly revelled in the turbulent but safe swimming hole in
the River where they could cool off like seals and finally toss in a
hand line upstream to maybe catch a trout for dinner. Then,
rather than climbing the steep hill to the homestead, they could double
dink home on a pony. Neat. They liked it and they kept coming.
The Dipping Disaster.
As I was the full time farmer all week, I thought I
had come to grips with the place pretty competently. Unable to handle
that monstrous Fordson, 'Henry,' behind which we had initially viewed
the farm from a trailer, Sep had taken pity on me and purchased a much
lighter and more stable Fiat 411R. It came from a local dairy farmer,
later to become well known to us as Michael, who needed a higher
powered tractor for hay baling.
I had mastered the Fiat's vagaries well enough to
still be around when the boys came home from school. Managing to cope
with many small, unexpected crises, I still put a square meal on the
table each night. The clothes were washed and ready to wear. Even the
house was clean. The cows and their splendid vealer calves were very
obliging and easy to handle and Lassie, the sheepdog, knew exactly what
to do and when, with the sheep and lambs, without being told.
There were two work dogs when we first arrived but
the big, rough kelpie x cattle dog, Percy, was far too forceful for me
to handle. He had suffered from distemper earlier in his career and had
proved over- keen since surviving this usually fatal illness. A new
home was soon found for him with a neighbour who knew and understood
him. Happy days. Sufficient rain and sunshine to keep the pastures
growing well. Bliss!
Then along came the men and their dogs to dip the
sheep. No prior warning had been given - they just drove up the hill,
alighted and asked to see the dip which was a total wreck. Well, it
seemed that no sheep had been dipped on the property for a very long
time and these two, big, strapping men said they would find one
somewhere in the district and drive the sheep to it, then do the job. I
was upset because the ewes were in full wool and the lambs would soon
be ready for market. And who were these men anyway? They then
introduced themselves as Department of Agriculture officials who had
heard about the wild woman on the hill with a dozy old dog which would
be useless, so they'd brought their own - they didn't have all day.
Then, off they went to find a dip. Adjoining neighbours had sheep but
the one chosen was at least two miles distant from the River paddocks
and the long time owner was a dairy farmer who also had stud pigs. He
and his wife had raised a family there but they had never run sheep.
Somebody had though, once upon a time.
The Ag. officials asked for the whereabouts of sheep
and lambs most distant from the dip. They were right down at the far
end of the property, all near the Hut, well above the River and
adjoining three of our nine neighbours. A metalled byway ran through
their farm to a road which would eventually lead to the dipping place.
The byway gave legal access to and from our farm to the road.
The boys had made good use of this short cut to the extensive
State Forestry pine plantations which offered mile after mile of white
gravel 'conditioning' tracks, longer and much steeper than those at
home. The ewes and lambs did not want to enter this unknown
territory but were viscously forced down the lane and out to the
road by the barking, snapping dogs and vociferous officials.
It was a very long proposed journey for these woolly
sheep who were unaccustomed to being driven on dusty, stony surfaces in
hot weather. This morning was indeed extremely warm and still. I tried
hard but in vain to explain that it was not a good idea,
[especially as the dogs were so pushy], to hurry these sheep over hard
ground. They just weren't up to it. Many of the ewes
were elderly and most of those old timers were suckling twins - and
could I please go out in front - as on the farm - and they'd follow me
with the dogs trotting along, quietly behind. The gentlemen
were not amused;
'We have a busy schedule and would you settle down so that we can get on with it!'
The flock soon hurtled past me and one of the
old girls collapsed and died in the first 200 yards of a desperate
stampede. She was hastily dragged off the road and without comment,
dumped over a bank.
Perhaps the dogs were then restrained slightly
as, eventually, with mouths open, gasping, the very visibly distressed
sheep finally made it to the distant dip. They were given no time to
recover from the hectic journey before they were forced into the
stinking water where they were each fully submerged, twice, by the men
using dipping crooks. In spite of the forceful, yapping dogs, the ewes
were very unwilling to enter the water but the terrified lambs leapt
in, 'quick smart', to get away from the dogs. They then crowded, in a
tight huddle, at the far end of the draining pen. Alarmed, because
Lassie was not there to stop the crowding, I screamed out that they
would smother one another, but my protests went unheeded.
At the end of the gruesome exercise, over forty of
them were dead, piled one on top of the other, in that wretched charnel
house. The survivors were then returned to their paddock with many of
the ewes lame and bleating for their missing lambs.
The men and dogs made off to the homestead to
collect their vehicle. 'No, we haven't the time to help cart the dead
lambs away and dispose of them. After all, they 're your lambs and your
responsibility and you'd better shake a leg because Geoff will want to
cover the dip and hose out the yards thoroughly so they'll be sweet by
evening milking time. And we'll be back, same time tomorrow
morning, to do the next two mobs.'
Stunned, I hitched the horsebox behind the station
wagon and, at Geoff's, filled it with as many drenched lambs as I
thought the towing vehicle could haul up the steep hill to the
farmyard. There, in tears, I backed the tractor, with new, rear
transport board, right up to the open loading ramp of the horsebox and
dragged the lambs from one to the other, then took them downhill to the
river side of the farm where Sep and I had built a sizeable
funeral pyre, in the certain knowledge that some losses may eventually
occur. The pyre did not look capable of dealing with such numbers but I
hauled and threw each heavy, dip drenched lamb atop it and covered them
with extra firewood from a nearby stack.
The pyre had been constructed below a farm road and
was surrounded by a swamp to ensure that no fire would be likely to
'get away'. Two more trips with horsebox and tractor completed the
When Sep came home he found some way to deal with
the Authorities - even although it was 'after hours' by then - and next
morning, only one officer appeared, minus even one dog. With Lassie in
control, two more successive flocks of ewes and lambs were quietly
driven along the shorter front road and dipped without incident or
turmoil, deterred by the 'not so useless dog' from smothering one
another and were then returned to their respective home paddocks. They
required no urging.
Next day, the remaining two mobs also survived their
ordeal, again without noticeable harm. Sep, appalled by the deaths of
the lambs in the first mob, immediately requested plans from the
Department of Agriculture's head office in Hobart, to enable him
to build a dip on the property. Dipping of all sheep in Tasmania
was compulsory in the Sixties. With help from me and neighbours,
Harold, from Deyrah, and his Dad Wally, from across the road, on
Wally's Farm, a site adjacent to the existing sheep yards was selected.
A round plunge design was chosen because it would enable the contents
to be emptied and rapidly absorbed, on the flat verge beside the
roadway, where no contamination of waterways or pasture would occur. It
could also be operated by one person, if necessary. When completed, it
worked well, although the ewes were not impressed and needed pretty
firm encouragement to take the plunge. Petroleum Jelly was smeared on
the concrete of the narrow entry race, to stop them baulking and ewes
and lambs were, never again, dipped together.
The draining pens were magnificent. Every filtered
drop off the sheep went straight back into the dip. The only 'minus'
was that Sep commenced taking on almost every job that was required and
never had a moment to spare for quiet reflection or conversation with
his family. As a Field Geologist, he worked five long days all week,
mostly in precipitous terrain, then maintained machinery, built
concrete strainer posts for new fencing, steel gates to replace some
awful old barbed wire 'pull-up' ones and, over the years, never took a
day off for himself.
His only concession was to employ Tas, a Sprent
dairy farmer, on the fencing of areas which we both considered
far too steep and dangerous for any enterprise other than farm
forestry. Tas was also a great help with mowing, bale carting and
stacking hay in the barn during our second harvest. I was aware and
worried about Sep's drifting away from me, but knew not what to do.
Enjoying in depth discussions with an overworked husband was already
rare indeed and I lacked the confidence and skill to initiate and
maintain any meaningful dialogue.
Stock Agent Ray.
Shortly after our arrival on Mount Pleasant, Ray
phoned Sep one evening to introduce himself and arranged to make a
visit to assess the livestock. He would be in the district the
following Tuesday and would call in about 11am. He represented the
stock and station agency which had handled the buying and selling
of sheep, cattle, farm machinery and fertilizers for many years
and he knew the place like the back of his hand. Arthur and Mabel, long
time owners before the family from whom we had purchased the Farm, had
kindly called in, just the other day, to meet us and offer much
needed, timely advice. They had suggested that Ray was 'the bloke to
deal with.' So Sep welcomed the prospect of his involvement. We would
have to deal through an agent and who better than one who came with
high accreditation and was familiar with the property.
The following Tuesday, Ray arrived on time. He had
been working on several nearby farms all morning, selecting sheep and
cattle for Sales later in the week.
'No, he did not need a cup of tea; he'd had one at
Donny's place not twenty minutes ago,' but said, 'thanks for the
offer', then went on,
'I'd like to look around the lambs and calves - some
lambs must be near Market weight by now. Bring Lass and we can go in my
car to all the paddocks here. It's steep and extensive but easy
to get around, when you know it. Back and front, you can work
your way down and across to the metalled roads for an easy return to
the farm yard, as you would know. It's a good place, this one'.
So I opened the gate to go down Roger's Road,
towards the Hut paddock, where the cows and their August dropped calves
were grazing. Roger was Arthur and Mabel's only son and he did not like
handling livestock, so they had bought him an old bulldozer in the hope
of keeping him on the place when he finished his schooling. He
certainly made an impact with this huge machine, changing the landscape
spectacularly in many places, including the perilous 400' descent to
the south Western fields by the Gawler River. But Ray demurred,
reckoning it was too steep, even if he did not have to return that way.
'Hop in and we'll go round by the Preston Road'.
I opened the front passenger door, 'hopped in' and
asked Lassie to do likewise. She knew Ray but not his car, as
Arthur had always used his old ute when showing stock to agents, so she
waited for Ray's command - a very circumspect dog! He was impressed
when she obeyed him and settled quietly at my feet. We were round in
the Hut paddock in no time, surveying the cattle who soon surrounded us
in answer his 'bull roaring' call. After careful inspection, he decided
that the calves were advanced for their age and 'will likely top the
sale in May,' if we could keep the feed up to the cows which were all
beef - dairy x and had plenty of milk. An elderly Jersey house cow was
also among them, with the sleekest Hereford sired calf of all.
A level roadway, well above the River, then
delivered us into the next paddock where Lassie made a wide cast to
bring the ewes and lambs up for Ray's inspection. 'Just as I thought,
there's a top pull of suckers here already - are these the oldest?'
Well, I was not sure as I had not been around when
they were 'drifted off' into separate mobs after lambing, so I told him
there were three more lots with forward lambs and one lot that looked
'They've done well then, so we better get going and check the lot'.
The track across this paddock had some ups and downs
but Ray, knowing the whole place so well, drove very slowly to avoid
wheel spin and we soon entered and crossed the next one, which was very
steep and unstocked, although the road was level and well above the
river. It was the one with the funeral pyre of the lambs who were
crushed and smothered in the dipping debacle. Ray had heard about that.
'Well,' I said, 'They're in the next paddock. Arthur
has told me all about the challenge he faced in clearing it and the
last one, further on. He named them - the Old and the New Gawler
paddocks. He never quite got round to clearing the stumps up the far
end or did much with the area of swampy ground and steep, forested land
across the river, apparently Crown Lease, added quite recently. What
now constitutes the Gawler Paddocks was such a wilderness when he
considered purchasing the farm that all that area was thrown in with
the purchase price. The north eastern end, where we saw the cows and
calves and the adjoining one, with the sheep and lambs, was a working
farm in its own right and when the then owner, who lived in the hut
that's still there, decided he'd had enough, Arthur bought that
For over a hundred years, that whole block grew
spuds, mostly on perilously steep land, where the soil was better. The
evidence is in the rock piles! I guess all the best topsoil has long
since found its way down to the River and, before the dam was built for
Ulverstone's water supply, out into Bass Strait'.
What a diatribe. No doubt Ray had heard it all
before, time and time again, but he was patient and kind. He did not
The next field we entered was the Old Gawler and I
repeated to Ray that it now held the flock which had suffered the awful
carnage at the dipping place. It was not that long ago and, although I
had put the sheep and lambs through the race in an attempt to identify
those ewes who were now without lambs, I had failed to be
certain, so none had been removed. He agreed that they needed to be
identified and said we would find them on the first 'pull,' as, by
then, 'they'd be stone dry'.
In spite of what they had been through, this mob
really impressed Ray. Many of the lambs were superior to the best in
the first lot. On to the New Gawler Paddock and the lambs there were
even better. So I had to give some explanation, describing the length
and depth of the dip and how far down they had been submerged, that it
had rained solidly and thoroughly rinsed them all since and, most
important of all, Tas and I had been working on the place, fencing for
tree plantations and he had noticed some flies about a ewe in the Pea
Paddock, had dealt with it and then taught me how to crutch, as others
were a bit stained - so, now they were all squeaky clean. Ray
laughed, looked at his watch and. with two more flocks on the front of
the farm yet to be assessed, said,
'We best get the job finished or I'll be running late in Sprent'.
Lassie and I leapt into the car together. Once on
'the front' of the farm, she quietly rounded up and presented the sheep
in their separate fields for inspection and I left her in the car to
rest while I was opening and shutting gates. When Ray drove through the
last one, he voiced the opinion that the lambs there were close to
market weight and condition too, even the 'tailenders', which amazed
me. At the bottom gate, I called Lassie to heel and thanked Ray
for the inspection. Mindful of his next appointment, I told him that
there was no need for him to take us back up the hill, as I wanted to
prime the water ram to fill the tanks on the way, then thanked him for
his time and expertise.
Having 'checked the stock' with Ray, the vegie patch
beckoned, so till lunch time, I pulled a few weeds, which seemed to
have grown overnight, and then Lassie went back to her box, receiving
kind words and pats of appreciation as I clipped the chain to her
collar, washed my hands in the laundry, switched on The Country Hour
and fixed a home grown salad for my lunch. Later, with the great little
dog for company, I slipped out into the Fern paddock to eliminate a few
baby scotch thistles that had dared to raise first shoots in an area
that had been gone over thoroughly just days ago. The adjoining farm,
on that long southern boundary, was covered in 'rubbish' and would
prove to be an endless problem, as the south westerly prevailing winds
spread thistle and ragwort seeds on to our place for the next thirty
It was a beautiful afternoon and, feeling encouraged
by Ray's approval of the condition of the lambs and had dealt with the
thistles, I brought Peter Pan and the ponies into the yards to knock
the mud off them, then groom and saddle them, to enable us all, when
the boys came home from school, to ride together, in the fragrant
beauty of the nearby State pine forests and attend the evening
stock checks on our way home. Lassie headed towards her box when the
boys were ready to ride, making it clear that the forest trails were
too steep for a dog of her advanced years, especially as the evening
stock check might find a problem requiring her assistance. Already, she
knew us so well!
Ray was as good as his word and soon rang to advise
that he would be up to select sixty sucker lambs from the New Gawler
mob next Monday at 10am. He asked Sep, who answered the phone, to tell
me to yard them nice and early; he wanted them settled and
relaxed. He would also like to wash in the laundry afterwards and would
appreciate a cup of tea before moving on to the next place on his list.
That first selection morning was trouble free and
subsequent selections continued until all the suckers had been sold, in
spite of one pretty bad interruption towards the end. He even took that
in his stride - a tale in its own right for later revelation - and,
like Tas, gave me the confidence to strive for total competence on this
new learning curve. He did not have time
to teach me the fine art of condition scoring though, so I went off to
livestock improvement seminars and slowly learned the intricacies of
determining fat cover and meat density by touch. It was all 'hands on'
with sheep. With cattle, the learning process took even longer.
Students were given pencil, paper and clip board to assess and record
live and dressed weight, eye muscle, fat cover and meat to bone ratio
by eye alone and this took quite a lot of time initially, especially if
the cattle were thick coated or overly fat.
Participating breeders with suitable yard, race and
crush equipment, seldom available in our district, allowed students
access to their patient beasts who let us assess them briefly, one or
two at a time in a holding pen and, occasionally, in a long line, head
to tail in a race, where we climbed up the side rails to 'feel' them
from above. Being small, I found this a bit of a challenge and
initially waited till near last in line. The cattle were used to being
prodded and 'felt' by then and eventually, I became proficient.
Sep Keeps Working, Oh, So Hard.
Sep's commitment to the farm continued, unabated.
Over the years, with measured excellence, he concreted and extended the
cattle yards, installed a covered raceway and cattle crush and replaced
the tumble-down shearing shed, which had once housed the farm's bullock
team. It was adjacent to the hay barn, which had once made the filling
of the bullocks' hay racks an easy task. The new shearing shed, unlike
the old one, where the grating was pretty close to the ground and
difficult to clean out, was to be built high on reinforced concrete
piles, leaving adequate headroom for bagging and removal of sheep
droppings, a valuable fertiliser, once aged and preferably composted
The building of this wonderful new professionally
planned shed turned into a nightmare for Sep, who knew nothing about
the stones under the old one. Because access to a shearing floor is a
necessity for most of each year on a property running sheep, he
commenced boring the post holes with the tractor driven post hole
digger at the far end of the proposed new shed - seven across and four
down towards the old shed, planning to dig more holes later and have
the new shed more than half completed before removing the original.
The post hole digger was doing a great job till it
reached the fifth row and met the stones, carefully laid there to an
enormous depth to absorb decades of excrement from the shedded
bullocks, Now, he could not proceed and decided that the new shed
should be built elsewhere. Because the yards were excellent and the new
dip adjacent, I disagreed and suggested we should speak to our nearest
neighbour, Harold, whose grandparents had farmed here, thinking he
would know the extent of the stoned area. Harold obligingly came up and
had a look but was not absolutely certain - it was all before his time.
He reckoned his Pa would know, for sure. So Wally came up and he did
know - the entire extent of the old shed had been dug out to a
considerable depth, then fully stoned and those stones could only be
removed by hand. He said it would be easy, because the bullocks were
long gone and the raised wooden gratings for the sheep had removed most
of the weight pressing down on them.
'Yu'll shift 'em easy with a crowbar, no sweat.'
Sep rolled his eyes and mentioned moving the entire
project to another site. Wally just laughed and said,
'Yu cun shift anyweres on this place an yu'll find stone, some of it big.'
Poor Sep. We talked about the dilemma for a couple
of evenings and then, still hoping to find an easier way around the
problem, he hitched the post hole digger back behind the Fiat and went
up to the flattest corner of the House paddock, only to discover that
Wally had given the right advice. Together, each with a crowbar, we
resumed where the job had been abandoned and suddenly discovered a
windfall - the rocks really did come up easily and, with white road
gravel, delivered by contractor from the nearby gravel pits at Preston,
made excellent material for paving the entire farm yard, around
watering troughs and through gateways.
Sep persevered, on and off between other more
pressing jobs, like an urgently needed new prefabricated steel barn to
house our third harvest, which promised to be bountiful. There, he ran
into more rock problems with the concrete foundations but these were
easier to rectify, as only outside upright foundations were required.
When all the preliminary work was completed, the prefabricated steel
arrived on a huge semi trailer and the hard construction job commenced,
all of us toiling like navvies. Even that combined effort was
insufficient and we had to call in a crane and operator to lift and
position the steel framework and wooden rafters of the high hipped
roof, where only Alex seemed relatively unnerved by the extreme
altitude. It was a massive undertaking, ably assisted by outside
experts on one or two occasions before it was finally completed.
What a boon it proved to be over the years. Lambing
was always planned to ensure that all but one 1000 bale stack of fenced
off hay had been fed out by then to enable a sizeable flock of ewes, on
the point of 'dropping' their lambs, to be ushered in to the four empty
bays, in such atrocious weather that their lambs could not have
otherwise survived the hours of night, outside in the icy, wind ravaged
or deeply snow covered paddocks. When the weather cleared, the
unlambed ewes came out and went to their next lambing paddock. Left
undisturbed, those who had lambed overnight, gradually sorted out which
ewe owned which lambs and brought them into the sunshine, with the huge
sliding doors left open and secured with steel pegs, against the
outside wall, to allow the barn to 'air.' If the weather was still
inclement, they were left as long as possible under shelter to give the
lambs time to strengthen before they and their dams were moved on to
The barn was then cleaned out to make compost, and prepared, with fresh bedding, for the next stormy weather.
Following the completion of the big barn, which our
neighbours named 'the Mount Pleasant Opera House,' Sep soon returned to
the task of completing the new shearing shed and the removal of the
very elderly original barn which he planned to eventually replace with
a modern, concrete floored workshop, incorporating benches for
welding, pipe bending equipment, open work areas and storage
cupboards, plus a well appointed and lit, deep service pit where, with
all necessary tools within easy reach, he could stand up in comfort to
change the oil and grease all our farm and road vehicles.
The pit in the old motor shed had proved too cramped
for comfort and harboured huge yellow-bellied black Tiger snakes which
crawled in and out of cracks in the concrete walls all Summer and would
sometimes be found asleep in the workshop drawers in the cooler Autumn
weather. I loathed finding one there when I went to get the tyre
pressure meter. This was a regular, daily occurrence, as tyre air
pressure, fuel, oil, grease and radiator water levels, were routinely
checked before any vehicle or machine was started up, however it was
powered. Battery water levels were checked weekly. These were good
disciplines and ensured that even very old machinery never reached its
use-by date - infectious too - we remain 'carers' of working
machinery and very selective buyers of all things new.
At last the great day came when the new shearing
shed was completed and in use, much to the satisfaction of our shearer,
Jack, who had loathed its predecessor. At the end of the first full
day's shearing, he and Sep enjoyed a beer together, out there in the
shed, to celebrate a new era in industrial relations. They had worked
together on the plans and Sep had followed Jack's advice exactly.
'Easy to work in, light and well ventilated -
absolutely spot on!' Jack extolled and Sep was really happy, but
his continuing enterprise did not falter. His inability to take 'time
out' continued to concern me. I was getting the boys away to Pony Club,
or some other off farm, horse activity as often as possible, but their
Dad lacked interest in all equine related events and never wished to
join them. Instead of wasting time on 'trivial pursuits', as he
described them, he divided the house paddock into three, allowing
easier access to the now extended cattle yards and did preliminary work
on a smaller barn, which we all helped him build.
Nic sustained a nasty injury on that job and nearly
lost a little finger whilst assisting with the lowering of a steel
upright into a round, steel slot in the concrete foundation. The finger
was hanging by a shred of tendon. I cleaned it, packed it in a crushed
ice, surgical dressing and raced him to the hospital at Latrobe where
he arrived, barely conscious from pain and shock and was expertly
attended straight away. The finger was saved and was not even
The 'Once in a Thousand Years' Flood.
Sep still never gave himself a day off, with the
exception of quick, family visits to the beach, on the rare occasions
when week- end or holiday weather was hot enough - the sea water was
freezing, way back then - or for work related overseas trips.
Once, in our third year on Mount Pleasant, when I had overcome my
propensity for errors and developed reasonable managerial capabilities,
he extended his official stay in Japan, at his own expense, because he
liked the place. We were all pleased that he was taking a break.
Then, just days after receiving this news, good,
soaking rains commenced and continued - and continued - till the water
table overflowed in all the sloping fields around the farmhouse,
outbuildings and Gran's 'Cottage.' From our kitchen windows, we could
see water cascading out of the hillsides on our place, Wally's Farm and
surrounding properties. Because of the depth and strength of the root
systems of the pasture plants, no visible soil erosion occurred.
Forewarned by radio weather forecasts, I had already
moved all our livestock on to high, sheltered ground and fed them
hay to ensure a balanced dietary intake. At 'The Cottage', Gran was
playing Bridge with Mrs. Sillet and two of here Ulverstone neighbours.
Concerned that Camp Creek would flood and close the road, I rang to
alert her on the intercom between our houses. Her reply was a wee
'They're already safely home. They know how
dangerous flash floods can be in the back country and Dorothy has just
rung to say that the Leven is running high and may break its banks when
the tide comes in. Are the boys all at home and inside the house?'
'Yes, they're fine Ma and so are all the animals.
Are you warm and comfortable?. We may lose the power if things get
worse. Just call us on the blower if you need any assistance.'
'I'm fine too Babe - you be careful on that tractor!'
Soon after the rain commenced in earnest, the
Weather Bureau released regular reports on river levels across the
North West Coast, followed by flood warnings for low lying areas
surrounding the Mersey, Forth, Leven and East and West Gawler River
systems. Within hours, these warnings extended to Stock alerts, then
full alerts, including evacuation of homes in flood prone areas,
especially surrounding Latrobe, where even major roads and bridges were
threatened, and later, inundated, when the rain continued, unabated.
Water levels rose to record heights and a Disaster Area proclaimed as A
Once in a Thousand Year Flood was forecast to occur when high Bass
Strait estuarine tides met the swollen rivers. The forecast eventuated.
No one had ever seen, or even heard of anything like it before. Areas
previously considered ' well above flood level', went under water,
fences, farm buildings and homes were wrecked and stock losses were
high. Miraculously, no human lives were lost. There were plenty of
boats around Latrobe.
The story did not make headlines in Japan, so Sep
escaped having to tackle the worst of the devastation in the West
Gawler valley, for days transformed into a vast inland lake, surrounded
by six farms, suddenly turned into one.
Viewing this transformation from the safety of our
high fields, we were spellbound by the realisation that Mother Nature
had shown us her full strength, over which we had absolutely no
control. It was humbling and salutary too. We needed to acknowledge our
limitations and be grateful that we possessed so much high land.
That night we watched the News on Television and
were glad we still had power to see it. This really was a once in a
thousand year flood and hundreds of people, including those living in
high country, found themselves marooned by road and bridge washaways,
fallen trees and landslides. We were well and truly trapped close to
home where Camp Creek had completely covered the Valley road and low
lying paddocks on Ruth and Harold's Deyrah and on Wally's Farm.
When the waters subsided, the sight of one washed
out culvert and another damaged, did not distress the lads too much
because they knew they could not get to school and that they would be
needed at home, rebuilding fences and now, culverts too, at least until
Sep returned from Japan. When he did arrive, local and Council effort
had already cleared the fallen trees and collapsed embankments,
repaired road washouts and re-opened the road to Sprent. The bridge
spanning the East Gawler River had survived as soon after our arrival,
it had been rebuilt, well above even this latest flood level, following
two, much earlier bridge wash aways.
Sep was pleasantly surprised by the efforts of his
family and neighbours on the rebuilding of the boundary fences along
He arrived home in time to assist in the reconstruction of two
floodgates that had completely disappeared, downstream. The damaged
ones were already mended. Back in the kitchen at home he congratulated
us, then said,
'I'll replace those salvaged and reinstated
old bush timber strainers with reinforced concrete ones though -
they will be much stronger'.
The boys all rolled their eyes and I gasped but not
one of us said a word. Sep would never know about the struggle we had
in getting those old ones back there at all - they had been
retrievable only because they had fences attached that were way above
flood level and those higher strainers had 'held'. We knew jolly well
that dislodged, heavy concrete ones would have torn the place
apart! And I should have told him so. How could we ever
expect meaningful communication between us all, if I did not set a good
example? The boys must have alerted him though. He did not replace the
old ones and they may well still be there.
When the floodwaters fell, we could not even find
half of the fencing, which must have washed miles downstream, through
Bob's place, an oasis surrounded by State Forests and into the huge
pine plantations, before reaching Ulverstone's water supply dam. All
the neighbours, except Bob, who also lost his River fencing and was
neighbourless along it, excluding our place, got together to repair the
damage and we shared the work and the costs. The boys were grand. They
displayed skills and perseverance that made me very proud.
Unlike those unfortunate farmers who owned no high
ground for stock safety, we had received adequate notice and had been
able to shift ours, well before they were in any danger. I had already
learned about our fickle river the hard way and that had not been a
real flood - it was just a minor spate.
After the Great Flood, which had washed out the
bridge on the short cut to Sep's work areas, - it had existed and he
had found that he could travel by the top road through Upper Castra,
down to and across the Wilmot River, then up a long steep hill on the
far side and he was nearly there, but now he had to travel the long way
round for quite some time. As most of those roads were sealed, he did
not find the extra mileage too time-wasting and continued to work like
a beaver as soon as he reached home, usually in the workshop, as the
Autumn days shortened, heralding the approach of Winter.
Stepping back to our first year on the farm, Bill,
the giant sized, genial Hereford bull, had enjoyed his glory days with
the cows from soon after our arrival till now, the first day of April -
a nice long break to save hand feeding him. We were very lucky
that he did not bust fences and go searching for unmated females on
neighbouring properties, as Arthur had warned us 'was his wont'.
Looking a bit dejected, he was now in the cattle
yard, with his head in a round feed trough that the lads had made from
the bottom third of a well scoured forty four gallon drum, the base
concreted deep enough to stop horses and now Bill. tipping them over
whilst feeding. The sharp cut top had rubber hosepipe, cut lengthways,
neatly and securely covering it and Super glued down, thus avoiding
possible injury to man or beast. They made all sizes out of five gallon
ones, up to the tops and bottoms of the forty fours and, although they
were a bit heavy, they saved us considerably on feed bills, as Peter
Pan and Sasha, when 'in work' for equestrian competitions, were not
totally self sufficient and were fed oats and oaten chaff. In stables,
most horse mangers are about waist high on humans but we always
believed that horses are grazers, not browsers and should eat with
their heads in the grazing position to permit a free flow of digestive
April Fools' Day!
Again returning to our first year, the rams were in
the race for thorough inspection before release into the ewe paddock -
ten feisty Suffolks to cover 550 healthy Border Leicester x Polworth
ewes. Their glory days had arrived. They knew the score and jostled one
another. I went over them carefully, checking their teeth, their feet
and their working parts. Very keen to get going, they jostled me too.
All passed muster and fairly galloped into the yard when released from
the confines of the race. Lassie busied herself flocking them up to
ensure that their exuberance was controllable on their way to the ewes,
none of whom initially bothered to even raise their heads in greeting.
Returning to the farmyard, we found Bill, only recently removed from
his herd, looking sadder than ever; he had finished his chaff so was
released back into his own bull paddock and cheered up when he saw
fresh hay awaiting him there.
Three weeks later, when the ewes and rams were in a
distant field and looking alert and happy, I was hoeing thistles in the
one adjacent, and two rams charged one another head on, as they often
do. The impact sounded just like a gun shot and must have upset them so
badly that they were momentarily dazed. Then, both recovered, one
resumed his ram grunting and the other, in blind rage, charged again.
They were mature Suffolks of immense weight and killed one another
outright, each with a compound fracture of the neck. None of the ewes
or the remaining rams showed any interest in this violent slaughter and
continued to graze in apparent contentment.
I wondered though, if Lass 's and my proximity had
upset them. Just in case, we did not work near them again. Disposing of
two dead rams may not be too difficult but replacing them next year
would prove costly. I took no further chances and it never happened
again. But it was I who went to a well regarded Suffolk stud and
selected the replacements for the honourable gentlemen who had killed
one another. Both selections were inappropriate. They looked a noble
pair to me but their heads and shoulders were a bit on the course side
and their forelegs, below the knees, were far too short.
When lambing commenced at the end of August, the
error was soon obvious - some lambs presented head only and required
assisted deliveries. Similar overnight presentations had developed
hugely oedematous heads and the two little forefeet, which should have
been placed as pathfinders on either side of the lambs' noses, had been
left behind in the birth canals. These early morning lambs, in deep
trouble, were alive but unconcious and most of them required
resuscitation after each forefoot was brought forward, the lambs
delivered, the mucous sucked out of their throats and lungs and 'mouth
to mouth' breaths of life given. None failed to survive.
Usually. there was another one just behind, so, once
the first lamb was conscious and struggling to stand and the ewe still
in the birthing position, the twin was also delivered. Antiseptic cream
was liberally used on hands and arms for all these assisted
deliveries, then removed by scrubbing brush in a bucket of clean water.
Before the ewe rose to meet her offspring, the birthing fluids from
both lambs were wiped over her nose and mouth to ensure that she
accepted the pair and I never failed to be amazed that she did so and
me too! The other miracle was that the first born, with the enormously
oedematous head, was always able to suckle.
These ewes and lambs were not separated from the
flock and next day, when the unlambed ewes were drifted off to an
adjoining field, it was clear that no lambs had perished and none still
had huge heads. Because newly lambed ewes defy the dog and will not be
driven and the unlambed ones move quietly away from both dog and
shepherd, it was easy for me and Lassie to achieve this daily
separation without causing any upheaval.
In later years, when there were pregnant ewe lambs
in the flock, they were not run separately, as they appeared much
more settled amongst their elders, who accepted them as equals and
maybe even offered a bit of mothering advice. Many people say that
animals have no brains or language but the matriarch of each
individual flock or herd on our place never failed to alert their mobs
to any perceived threat or possible danger and took very little
exception to normal stock checks or movements. No matter how big or
small the mob, some female always appeared to be in charge - with, of
course, the exception of Alpha male, Peter Pan, among the ponies.
The sires of the boofheads went off to ram heaven.
They were replaced by streamlined beauties and lambing difficulties did
not re-occur, with the rare exception of a few tailenders who were over
Modern Improvements - The End of Water Self- Sufficiency.
By mid January, some ten weeks after our arrival at
the Farm and long before the completion of the majority of the
miraculous improvements that Sep would build, he started to worry about
the house water supply. Although the *ram was working well, he and I
talked about building a big concrete tank on the highest point on
the property to gravity feed water anywhere it may be required, even to
eventually excluding all livestock from the river, streams and springs,
by fencing them off and the provision of multiple concrete troughs, at
least one in every field, all connected to the system. Stop cocks would
also be necessary to enable isolation and repair, should damage to
pipes or trough fittings occur.
By eliminating the contamination of their drinking
water, this strategy would greatly assist in the control of internal
parasitic worm infestations in all our animals. Soil erosion and
pugging would also be avoided by stoning and gravelling wide
areas around each trough. Such a plan was on a grand scale but made
sense to all of us. We knew it would take many years to reach
completion but considered that dealing with the North East facing,
sheltered front paddocks would be a good place to start.
Grandma had finally recovered from Christmas with
the Army Worms - another early days story, for later revelation- and
had decided to return to Mount Pleasant to supervise the building of
her own spacious Cottage, on a rise, well below and across the road
from our homestead. She had chosen an ideal site, which was sheltered
and commanded magnificent views of Bass Strait, Mount Roland, the
Western Tiers and miles and miles of well maintained Central Castra
farmland. Her house would face North East, with wide eaves to enable
the winter sun to warm it and exclude the Summer sun, travelling so
much higher in the sky. Sep, always a perfectionist, sought advice from
colleagues who were experts in the field and with Gran's and his own
input, planned it well and she lived there in comfort for over twenty
years. But, first of all, the blueprint required Council approval, then
competent builders to prepare the site and construct The Cottage.
A big hardware store in Devonport had been in
the business of building prefabricated homes for many years - our Farm
homestead was one of them - hauled here over the dreadful roads, then
all unsealed after leaving the Bass Highway at Forth. Delivered in
three sections and placed on pre-constructed concrete stumps, sections
expertly joined and already complete with stove, electrical wiring and
fittings, fail-safe hot water system, bath, shower, vanity, laundry
tubs, kitchen cupboards, sink, inside toilet and built-in wardrobes in
the two larger bedrooms, so only the external plumbing and wiring
required connection. A miracle house, 'built' in a day!
Although the 'prefab' houses were well planned,
masterfully constructed and very comfortable, they were small by modern
standards - so business was falling and their production was soon to
cease. Another reason may have been that the Hydro Electric Commission
brought in their own 'ready builts' to new dam site villages and, at
the discontinuation of their operations, when dams were completed and
many of the houses moved on to the next site or sold for re-location,
the locally constructed ones would surely flood the market. Whatever
the reasoning, it meant that a seasoned team of experts in all
architectural and construction disciplines was seeking work, especially
on a scenic site, to use as an advertisement for future enterprises.
Gran's house would be a great place to start.
Because of the excellence of the Council approved plan, it would be
environmentally friendly and also incorporate the very first
residential concrete floor ever built in the municipality, prospective
customers would flock up the tough entry road to see for themselves and
business should be brisk. That expert team would never be out of work,
as an ideal site could always be found on any elevated property.
And the superbly laid floor at Gran's was a winner- no creeping damp
and no draughts.
As Gran's place took shape, Sep constructed the big
square concrete tank atop the Pea Paddock - all the paddocks had names
relating to salient features or former use and we newcomers renamed
only one; the Laurelberry, incorporating Gran's, plus a new orchard,
planted by me and Alex. The remainder was later subdivided into four
separate tree lined fields - all referred to as Gran's, front, middle
etc. - a family lacking imagination? Maybe, but we all knew the
Laurelberry tree was ripped out of the ground in a gale, long ago and
well before our tenure on the property had commenced.
When the big water tank was 'seasoned' and ready to
be filled, I raced down the hill to jubilantly set the ram working,
then struggled up the long, long Stable Paddock and through the Park,
towards the Pea, awaiting Sep's cheer of success. It did not come.
Together, we watched the water creeping, very slowly, up the walls.
When the tank was only a little over a third full, the pumping ceased
and we realised that the ram could not lift the water any higher. We
checked the temporary piping Sep had laid to the new tank, above
ground, from the stopcock below the old tanks, on their very high
stand, in case the connection had failed. Nothing had failed, except
the precious ram. Sep was happy because now he could install a proper
electric pump beside the mountain spring fed concrete dam, situated
below the road to the Breadbox field and all its contents could be used
instead of much of it being squandered by the ram.
Paranoid about sustainability since early childhood,
I pleaded with him to get a bigger ram because they cost nothing
to run, except the minute human effort of 'priming' them and an
electric pump would add megabucks to the Hydro bill. ' Floundering now,
because Sep was just grinning, I was grasping for credibility and
'By law, we cannot cut the flow of the stream to
zero and we often have power failures too! '. I was never much good at
debating and my bleating fell on deaf ears. Sep soon found the best
pump and was advised to replace all the old, rusty iron piping. The
'It's been down for well over a hundred years and
probably won't take the extra pressure of an electric pump'.
Sound advice, especially as the polypipe
contractor had a state of the art, very special, rock safe machine that
could bury the new pipe deep in the red earth, thus avoiding any heat
induced water toxicity in hot weather, or 'freezing up' in winter.
Next day the pipes were laid and stopcocks installed
at each junction; to our house, the stockyards, stables and below the
road, to connect the water to Gran's pretty Cottage, when completed and
to the new tank, which filled up and over in no time. Modern technology
was amazing. Weeks of trench digging completed in a couple hours!
Chris was always a bit sceptical about miracles.
This was stony land. He had overheard Sep discussing the fact with
the contractor, who said that the pipe-laying machine was
designed to work satisfactorily under the roughest conditions. We had
all inspected its smart construction and only Chris was unconvinced. He
could see that it would be fine amongst the stones but felt sure that
it would buckle and crimp the pipe whenever it hit a really big rock.
So, before the job was finished, he followed the pipe line from near
the dam, up to the house , the stockyards, stables, the stopcock, for
later connection, to Gran's Cottage and the new tank, placing marker
sticks at the places where the ground had buckled. And then he told his
Dad, who fired back with,
'How does a ten year old kid know all this stuff?' From Chris, shrugged shoulders, then,
'Check the markers before the bloke leaves.'
He did. Result;
'The 'bloke' will have pipe joiners delivered first
thing to morrow morning.' Which turned out to be afternoon. But we had
plenty of water, just not available right now. Sep reconnected the
pipes - mostly shaded by the macrocarpa hedges, to the original tanks
and hoped the supply would see us through this hiccup but it was Summer
School holidays and really hot. Digging up the newly laid pipe may take
weeks and the boys and I would be on our own. Sep had to be back at
work on Monday.
The extent of the damage to the pipe revealed itself
slowly. The raised ground areas were tackled first. With stop cocks now
all turned 'off', the damaged areas of pipe were extensive and easily
identified - they had been leaking, making the red earth look nearly
black. We were also aware that we would need to break up and remove the
rocks that had lifted the pipe, by deepening the trench. It was
all hard yakka, with far too much damage and nowhere near enough pipe
joiners. Two trenching shovels graced the tool shed and when it was
finally realised that the entire line would need thorough inspection,
we all set to work, two at a time and soon found that gloved hands and
very carefully wielded crowbars and the trenching shovels were
the only implements that could be used without further damaging the pipe
Alex and Chris were willing and effective shovellers
but Nic preferred to exercise the ponies or check the stock 'down the
back', where it was easy to cool off in the river or tickle a fish for
tea. He did, of course, have to take his turn now and again - his
brothers insisted. The ponies though, were becoming a real worry . All
the exercise in the world failed to stop them gaining weight. Wee Jock
was the first to begin to founder. When Nic alerted Alex, he handed the
trenching shovel to him and took his beloved pony down to the dam at
the bottom of the [then] Laurelberry paddock where he spent the night
on Jock's back, in the middle of the shallow pond, dropped soles and
crippledom averted - for now. But he knew this place was too rich for
ponies - he would have to find a new home for him.
I took dinner and a blanket down to Alex and
commiserated with him while he ate. Very businesslike now he was
twelve, he claimed he was fine since he had eaten and could rug up if
the night became chilly - he had already dozed awhile because the pony
was warm and sleepy too. Next morning, Wee Jock was relegated to the
cattle yards with Silver and Vanessa, all getting too fat. There
was no sign of any heat in his feet - the dam treatment had worked. I
found a couple of bales of bleached hay in the barn that would be
suitable for all of them, but only a little at a time.
Out of the blue, new homes promptly appeared for Wee
Jock and his mother, Silver Venn. Close to home, a Pony Club lad had
just lost his little black pony, who had lived next to the railway line
in West Ulverstone. A famous escape artist, the pony broke free
one night and was so busy guzzling forbidden green grass beside the
track that, despite the furious train whistle and the screeching of
brakes, he refused to move for the 10 pm. log train and became history.
Snow white Silver Venn, the 'Round Tasmania' traveller, easily pleased
with simple rations and wary of trains. filled that gap with dignity.
Wee Jock had always been a favourite Down South. He was purchased
almost straight away. He travelled to his new home, in a cattle truck,
by train. The tale of his close call with founder went with him - so,
Buyer, be warned!. The new owner did not listen though and Wee Jock
'foundered'. He was rescued and rehabilitated by the MacKenzie family
who had recently relocated from Somerset, on the North West coast, to
Longford, in the Northern Midlands. They had known and admired him
since he first turned up at Pony Club Events. Their daughter, Catherine
rode him for many years and when outgrown, he was handed on to her
younger brother. Jock reached a grand old age with the MacKenzie's, who
loved him dearly and kept him sound.
When Silver Venn was outgrown, she went on to the
Willey family in Forth, where she was ridden by Kristina's brother
Richard and then on to their cousins at Beaconsfield. She too, in spite
of her propensity for giving young riders a difficult initiation into
the fine art of equitation, was much loved and enjoyed a happy old age.
This wholesale ousting of fat ponies left Nic
without one - except, of course, his 'far too young to ride, yet,
Vanessa'. Chris wanted Sasha all to himself and only Alex or I ever
tackled the enigmatic Peter Pan. Well, Nic said nothing and just
started riding his 'unbroken, too young,' Vanessa, who was so
greedy that she spent most of her time yarded, fed only bleached
hay and led from another horse for exercise. Nic had been climbing all
over her for ages so it was no surprise to see them together, along the
sides of waterways, racing joyously in pursuit of those pesky native
hens, who, no matter how often they were routed, always returned.
I spotted these two often enough. Nic just rode the gentle pony,
talking to her all the while and she listened. There was no sign of
saddle, bridle or even a rope halter. They galloped flat strap after
the hens and Nic reckoned she was a really top pony 'because no one had
wrecked her'. A gentle reminder to me about Sasha's 'nappiness'! I was
not so sure, wondering if galloping was an appropriate first discipline
but did not intervene because Nic was very light and he and his pony
were happy. They had bonded. No 'breaking' required. She was Sasha's
daughter but she never refused any request.
Back on the water pipe, the job of finding and
repairing the multiple cuts and abrasions was slow indeed. Sep could
not believe the extent of the damage, mostly easy to find because of
the multiple leaks. More difficult to assess was pipe that had been
stretched or distorted when the laying machine had dragged it between
boulders or around one, too huge to shift.
The weather was sizzling along the mostly shadeless
pipeline. The boys and I each worked, two at a time, for short shifts.
Wearing wide brimmed hats, long sleeved shirts, long pants and leather
work gloves, because of the sun and the fact that examining every
inch of the pipe and the frequent need to excise damaged areas and
insert new lengths of pipe between joiners, meant that we spent most of
our time on our hands and knees. We did not falter though because the
original house tank levels were falling rapidly, despite concerted
efforts to limit use. Towards the end of the line, although sheltered
from the sun by a tall Macrocarpa hedge, the job was so difficult and
slow amongst the tree roots, that we nearly lost heart.
Refreshed by a break in the kitchen with tea
and Anzacs, we rallied and completed it, opened the stop cocks,
then started the pump. Eureka! We could now use real shovels to
put soil back over the pipe and worry about rock carting another
*Ram- hydraulic water lifting machine.
One Saturday morning, soon after our arrival in the
district, Sep organised a trip to Ulverstone for the whole family to
visit the huge, red brick, Ellis Hardware and General Store in the main
street. You could buy anything and everything there. We all had our
special lists. Sep needed nuts and bolts, Alex saddle dressing. Chris
wanted a new stainless steel, extra fine strainer for the milk and Nic
fancied those coloured, stretchy jellied 'snakes' - everybody's
favourites. After we had all
discovered the locations of the departments likely to stock our varied
needs, we checked the time and went our separate ways. My destination
was the grocery and smallgoods section where the variety and the
quality available absolutely amazed me. There had been nothing
like this in Hobart - just the regimentation of American style
Supermarkets, where the customer did all the work of finding the goods
required, stretched and reached for them, put them into a difficult to
steer trolley and waited in line, 'Queued up like cattle ready for the
chop', to reach the elevated conveyer belt ,where all the goods were
rehandled, lifted on to it and moved to the scanner, then bagged, paid
for and replaced in the trolley, to be pushed to some distant motor
vehicle in a shadeless Parking Area. There, the goods were again lifted
up, transferred into the vehicle and the trolley pushed to a usually
remote 'trolley return' area - the entire exercise, one of disrespect,
requiring total subservience from the customers.
In Ellis's Store, everything was civilised, visible
and served across the counter with a smile. All our purchases went into
manageable paper carry bags with strong handle grips, or they could
have been delivered, if overweight or too bulky. They were listed on
our Monthly Account, so we did not need any cash, but - Sep had said,
'Hang on to your dockets. We'll meet at the front
door at 11o'clock and you can give them to me then. There's a milk bar
next door. It's hot today, so you might all like a cool
drink or an ice cream.'
Nic, clutching his little lolly bag of snakes,
reckoned he'd like both and Sep looked a bit cross. In the milk bar, he
relented though and Chris and Alex both scowled at Nic. They thought he
got away with murder!
'Poor little Nicholas,'
That was Sep's catch cry, because Nic had nearly
died in infancy. How his brothers loathed those three little words.
Their purchases were relatively light so they were helping me
carry the groceries but Nic had not offered. There wasn't much of him,
so I was nearly as sooky as Sep.
'He'll keep till later!' Mumbled threats, never executed.
Not long after leaving Ulverstone, Sep and I each
remembered some item we had failed to put on our lists, so we stopped
at the General Store in Sprent, five miles from home. It was
another Ellis establishment, similar in ambience and of double red
brick construction but much smaller than the one in town. On his way
home from work, Sep had already introduced himself there but
neither the boys nor I had even been inside this relaxed and friendly
looking, old fashioned building. We were impressed by its size and the
warm greetings we all received from the storekeeper and a couple of
locals who were yarning in a corner. They wandered over and introduced
themselves as Jack and Tas, both of whom owned farms nearby.
When Sep mentioned fencing the areas of almost
vertical land where the establishment of Radiata pine forests was
part of our Family Farm Plan, one of the men, the tall, amiable dairy
farmer called Tas, reckoned he could help as he had worked there,
'On the spuds, as a lad and I know the place
backwards'. Sep gratefully accepted this timely offer and a deal was
struck. Tas would start at ten next Thursday morning and leave at
three. It was nearing the time of year to begin planting, so he could
see there was some urgency required and, knowing the farm so well from
all that manual potato digging and bagging in his youth, reckoned it
would take a good forty eight hours, at least, to fence the designated
area to go under trees this first year.
We all hoped that the fast growing evergreens
would flourish in the deep red basalt soil. Severe erosion, deep enough
to obscure a rider on horseback and caused by cloven hoofed livestock,
would gradually be repaired by lateral and medial tree
roots. The trees themselves would reduce the exposure of the higher
ground to the prevailing South Westerly gales.Two separate roadways
also negotiated these precipitous slopes- fencing them into laneways
would make stock movement simpler too - no more sheep or cattle
'peeling off' at gateways at the half-way mark.
But softly, softly; the fencing of only one roadway
and the perimeters of the extent of this years planting's, was planned
for now. The subsequent fencing jobs were extensive and took two years
to complete, as all the areas for tree planting had to be fully fenced
- the laneways were just the start.
Tas Tackles the Fencing Job and Teachers Me Proficiency.
When Tas arrived, right on time, on the Thursday
following our meeting in the Sprent store, he parked his ute in the
shade of the big Macrocarpas outside the gate, said 'Gooday' cheerily,
then went straight out to the tractor shed with me trotting along
behind. Chatting away amiably, he checked tyre pressures, fuel, oil and
water, [ which I had already attended but did not say so,] then loaded
barbed wire, already on a wire spinner, plain, high tensile wire, on a
separate spinner, wooden droppers, to ensure even spacing between the
wires, hammers, staples, steel 'star' posts, tie wire, crowbars
and fencing tools, plus a big steel bucket for wire cut-offs and bent
staples. He then checked the equipment before asking me whether I would
like to drive. Astounded, I took a deep breath and said,
'It may be easier if you drive Tas, then you can
decide where to stop in relation to which end of the new fence may be
best to commence the work.'
He grinned and off we went, with him at the wheel
and me on the transport board with all the gear. We both wore strong,
supple leather work gloves because barbed wire can be a killer to
handle. Right from the start, I quickly found that learning proper
fencing skills from Tas was a pleasure because I was treated as an
equal and not diminished by my initial ineptitude, which he did not
seem to notice. We took turns working on either side of the fence,
swapping sides after each wire run. His instructions were simple to
understand and I gained confidence and the ability to drive the staples
home, straight and true. I had been taught fencing skills by Mr Overed
on the Chapman's farm at Luddenham as a child, so was pleased to
receive this refresher course, which was sure to prove useful, over the
When it was my turn to work on the easier side
of the fence to hold the big crowbar against each dropper to make
it stable as Tas hammered the staples home, I did not have
to concentrate quite so intently and enjoyed listening to
the local folk lore of the entire district. A fine raconteur, he never
ran out of amazing stories and recollections.
Initially, all the fencing jobs were on high ground, overlooking the
West Gawler River, so we could monitor adjacent fields and those
bordering the river below, as they were all clearly visible from where
we were working. Once, in the second year - but our first calving
experience, and lambing too, just over - when we were fencing
both sides of Roger's Road and a cow looked to be in trouble, we downed
tools, cut her out of the mob and drove her up to the yards where Tas
delivered her breech presented calf expertly and alive.
Not long after he commenced working on the farm,
while he and I were just starting the fencing job, we noticed a ewe in
a nearby field, who was turning her head towards her rear and stamping
her back legs in agitation. Tassie said, 'Flystrike', so Lassie quietly
mustered the flock into the yards where the ewe was swiftly cut out of
the mob, pushed through the door into the old shearing shed and her
problem was expertly dealt with on the shearing floor. He then caught a
number of others whose crutch wool was stained, penned them and
showed me how to handle the handpiece and ' crutch' - shear -
wool off soiled rear ends and sometimes, the back legs of sheep or
lambs to keep the blowflies away - so much more effective than having
to deal with flystrike.
Crutching skills were even easier to perfect than
fencing, especially on the gentle lambs, all so trusting and unafraid.
Tas's visits followed no regular pattern because of the work load on
his own family dairy farm, but he came once, or occasionally, twice for
four or five hours most weeks till the days grew shorter. And he always
gave plenty of notice, well in advance.
When the first fencing jobs were completed, the
Forestry Officers assessed the sights for planting. They decided
that the selected trees would be advanced seedlings, set in straight
rows, 6 by 12 feet apart, facing north, south west. Because the land
was undulating as well as steep, they provided very tall wooden marker
stakes to enable the planters to accurately set the seedlings in those
straight rows, thus ensuring that adequate sunlight would reach them
evenly. They also gave permission for their local Forestry
workers to assist us with planting on their days off and on a purely
voluntary basis, at the farms' expense. This was a generous offer
because the volunteer response was magnificent. With their help, the
seedlings quickly took root and shot away, tall, straight and healthy.
The seedlings, grown nearby, at Upper Castra, were
delivered, as required each morning, by a Forestry worker. Their roots
were protected by damp sphagnum moss, all carefully wrapped in cloth
sachets and placed in hessian bags with single shoulder straps. These
were worn across our chests to leave our hands free to open the ground
with a light mattock, then set each seedling. When available, all
the boys lent a hand and Alex, especially, seemed to relish the freedom
of those steep slopes, with uninterrupted views of the River, the
valley fields, and the equally steep land of our Preston neighbours,
all with a backdrop of the Dial Range, St. Valentine's Peak, the
Loongana Range, the Western Tiers and towering Black Bluff, the
highest peak in North West Tasmania.
Those first thirty thousand trees were already
affording precious stock shelter before the last of the steep land was
prepared and ready for planting. Unlike the very steep but clean
grazing land first fenced and the seedlings set in the ground,
subsequent plantation sites were on rougher, even steeper country
which had to be cleared of bracken, brambles, dolly bush, wattle and
scrub, then burned in windrows - a terrifying exercise because,
although it was Winter [Tas's cows were dry now, awaiting early Spring
calving.] and every care was taken to chose still, moist weather and
ensure widely spaced windrows, the fires created their own wind. Wet
bags and heaps of agility only just kept them under control and I knew
that those burnings could never have been successfully accomplished
without Tas's expertise.
Imagine my dismay when Sep decided that expenses
were running too high and I would have to manage alone. Oh, well! Never
mind. I had certainly made spectacular and costly mistakes but had
learned a lot, so would just have to get on with it.
Our first Autumn.
During March, rabbit poisoning time and our first
introduction to this essential but grisly exercise, the weather was
absolutely sublime with clear, mostly warm, sunny days and a definite
chill in the air towards evening The prevailing south westerly
winds faded to zephyr breezes for three full weeks and the leaves of
the English trees on Wally's farm and Harold and Ruth's Deyrah, changed
to striking variations of yellow, red and gold. They were unable to
reach their full glory, as heavy easterly rain, followed by a savage,
south westerly gale, soon tore them to pieces.
April brought early frosts, which rapidly became
severe and the cows and their magnificent vealers required special care
In early May, at exactly the right time to obtain a fair price, Ray
decided that the vealers could all go to market together as Hobart,
Launceston and Melbourne buyers would be bidding. He organised a
semitrailer to transport them, they looked a picture in the yards and a
select pen topped the Sale. Sep was very impressed by Ray's market
reading ability and told me to always listen to his advice. I had no
trouble acceding to this direction as his stock assessment and handling
of all livestock was evidence of his competence and attention to detail.
It was not always easy to complete all my tasks. It was a big place
and just getting around it, rotating mobs to clean paddocks, hoeing
weeds. cutting ferns and blackberries and making sure that
nothing went wrong with any of the livestock, then crutching sheep, if
necessary and grass harrowing after cattle were moved on to fresh
pasture, were all time - consuming exercises. I quickly learned that
walking and working among the animals actually saved time because they
were undisturbed by my presence and any irregularity was easily
spotted. Lassie was asked to 'stay' outside each gateway and she did,
although she would move into the closest shade on the rare, warmer
days, then come instantly when called but leaping over high gates
and netted fences was occasionally beyond her. She was getting old.
On the home front, I had managed to obtain a clothes
drier; an industrial one, as I was told, very confidentially, by
'Australian housewives were not 'ready' for
them yet and home models were nowhere near being released on the
I empathised with the previous housewife up here on Mount
Pleasant - scattered showers and torrential downpours seemed to
be the norm. My menfolk were exceptional - they cleaned up in the
bathroom, kitchen and bedrooms and actually put their clothes, with
socks right side out and free of grass seeds, in the laundry basket, in
the sure knowledge that they would never get washed otherwise.
Much earlier, I had started a vegie patch and
planted some easy care flowers and shrubs. The immediate previous
owners had used the house garden area as a ram paddock and then grew
vegetables. Arthur and Mabel's prized standard roses had been chewed
and ringbarked beyond redemption but many of the original garden shrubs
responded to careful pruning and T L C. Things were looking up. Even
Peter Pan was genial when I rode him for one stock check each day and
elated when given his routine, flat out gallop in an unstocked field.
In the absence of Silver Venn and Wee Jock,
the worries about ponies foundering became a memory. Vanessa still
spent her days in the cattle or sheep yards, fed only hay and just a
minuscule of oaten chaff from a bucket at the same time as Peter and
Sasha received theirs. This strategy was Nic's idea and it satisfied
her because she was the first one served. Always sweet natured
and obedient, it had grieved Nic to see her ears go hard back on her
neck when she previously spotted big buckets of chaff and oats on their
way to the Privileged Elite.
Now the sight of feed buckets made her whinny with
pleasure. To cheer her up even more, he sometimes allowed her to grab a
bite of old sags down by the River and even permitted grazing between
them where the Native Hens had so fouled the short cropped grass that
her appetite waned. Boy and pony had formed strong bonds of
friendship and respect. They were 'good mates'. When Autumn turned so
very cold, she had been let into the House Paddock to enable her to
gallop to keep warm and share hay with Bill, the bull and, a little
later, the rams too.
She wintered well and turned three in August; another year to wait for shoes, real work and Pony Club.
It was pretty well known that a greenhorn was
floundering around on that farm on the hill. 'She'd even let dozens and
dozens of lambs perish down at Geoff's place. Now she's got Tassie
there, building miles and miles of b. fences to plant trees! And after
decent blokes spent lifetimes clearing the place to grow the best spuds
in the district. They grew 'em for over a hundred years and prospered.
She'll ruin a real good place. It's a disgrace. Her 'usband seems ok; a
sensible chap - why doesn't he deal with 'er' ?'
I knew nothing about all this talk, which was just
as well, as my confidence was near rock bottom and the next episode in
the tales of my ineptitude was about to make headlines. I didn't hear
that either. If they had heard about these stories, Sep said
nothing, the boys said nothing and I just blundered on. After the
dipping debacle and enough time had passed for the sheep and lambs'
wool to be free of chemicals, I could see that many of the lambs were
ready for market- they looked just grand but looks are not enough. They
must be condition scored and properly assessed by Ray, the Stock Agent.
With the help of livestock improvement 'hands on' courses currently
available, I was learning fast but expert evaluation in condition
scoring would take time - it's a 'real art'. So I knew I still lacked
the skill to select the lambs for sale days, as they had to be
absolutely perfect. If just one in a pen failed the buyers' expert
touch, then the whole pen was devalued accordingly.
There were 550 Leicester/Polworth breeding ewes with
Suffolk cross lambs at foot, around three quarters of which where
twins and forty breeding cows with vealer calves which would be ready
for market in the late Autumn. Ray would determine the right time,
depending on the weather and the markets.
The property had been purchased 'Walk in walk out,'
except for furniture and personal items. Calving and lambing were
completed months before hand over. The previous owner had done a good
job in separating 110 ewes, plus their lambs, into separate paddocks
soon after the lambs were born so there were five individual flocks,
rotated on to clean paddocks at frequent intervals, depending on the
paddock size and the quality of the pasture. The cows and calves, in
one mob, followed the sheep to eat the long grass, unattractive
to the ewes and lambs who were very fussy. The cattle were easily
pleased and left each field neat and tidy, ready to be grass harrowed.
All livestock on the place were in fine fettle.
The dairy goats enjoyed living in the old dairy
within the cattle yards and had access to the Stable paddock via the
loading race, enabling them to decimate blackberry regrowth along the
fence lines and on the sides of a steep gully. They detested getting
wet and hastily retreated to their quarters when sudden showers
threatened, nimbly springing up from the paddock, under the elevated,
lower rung of the drop gate into the race and back to their sheltered
hay nets. No other livestock ever attempted to follow suit, so they
enjoyed a safe haven, except when lambs and later, vealers, were put
through the yard and race for loading on Sale days, when I
introduced them to the shelter of the machinery shed in the House
paddock on wet days or the nearby scenic Pea paddock, in good weather.
Later, after Sep had obtained suitable equipment to
bend the steel pipes and spot weld them into a gate with strengtheners
between the top and the bottom and heavy, small gauge steel netting to
keep young kids behind it, they could remain sheltered, even when
Market stock were in the yards, They liked that.
The Leven Pony Club fills some gaping holes.
At last the official Transfers arrived from
Huntingfield, enabling the three Paterson lads to officially become
Leven Pony Club Members. With the State Pony Club Horse Trials
Championships looming in early March and aware that Leven would not be
fielding a team, Huntingfield had arranged for Alex and Peter Pan to
compete in a scrambled team, in his old Club colours. He had hoped that
some way would be found to make this possible and, in anticipation, he
had the horse fit, well conditioned and ready to compete - a bit of an
understatement, really, because living and working on this glorious
place we had stumbled upon, when not another soul wanted it, made
'conditioning' a cinch - for man and beast alike. Was it the altitude,
the pristine mountain spring water, the magnificent views or just the
deep feeling of 'belonging' that made it so special? Perhaps none of us
ever considered an answer. We simply knew it was unique.
The Trials were masterfully conducted by The
Tasmanian Pony and Riding Club, with stabling, welcoming party,
Dressage and Show Jumping, all comfortably accommodated at the Elwick
Showground and Trotting Complex at Newnham. The Cross Country course
was not far out of town, at Waverley, off the Scottsdale road, in and
around a deep valley, which was very hot on the day of competition,
distressing some riders and their mounts. Alex and Peter Pan went
really well in the Dressage and Cross Country phases. They looked set
to shine. And then the +10 point penalty was added to their score - a
penalty we did not know about until that moment. [In eventing, the
combination with the lowest number of penalty points is proclaimed the
winner.] It was incurred because of my win in a Novice O.D.E. at
Ross, years earlier. Alex was not disheartened. They came
very close, in spite of the penalty which dogged them for years
and made the possibility of ever actually winning, remote indeed.
The Leven Pony Club Officials thought the whole
episode outrageous, claiming it was the sort of thing that broke
children's hearts and it took me a lot of 'sweet talking' to get them
even remotely interested in having a crack at Eventing. I explained, at
great length, how the 'ups and downs' were character building and that
'life could be tough and often unfair' - they would learn to overcome
setbacks by dealing with them individually and would, sooner or later,
Eventually, with reservations, the District
Commissioner commenced the construction of Cross Country obstacles on
his Gawler property. He had two teenage daughters with very handy
little horses and it was not long before other members also showed keen
interest. Eventually, the dread of Dressage lessened and some wonderful
One Day Events were held, enabling two teams of three to qualify for
the next Trials in southern Tasmania. They went well but Alex blew
their chances in the X country phase by starting his round through the
finish flags. He never forgave himself for that unbelievable error.
In 1997, I self published a little book about A
Horse Called Peter, detailing the lives of our sons and their mounts
through the years of training and competing in Pony Club activities,
Combined Training One Day Events of Dressage, Speed and Endurance, with
at least twenty difficult obstacles, many of which were 'combinations',
over two miles, up hill and down again and across water obstacles,
[Cross Country] followed by Showjumping. Then Hobart Royal show in
October and a few country Shows, all leading up to the prestigious
Annual State Horse Trial Championships in early March.
Alex and Chris also went Hunting with The
Northern and North West Hunt Clubs - the hounds following aniseed
scents, not live game and Sasha loved it. He was transformed into an
intrepid cross country jumping pony of immense ability in the hunting
field. Once he heard or spotted the hounds, he became really animated,
threw caution to the wind and would follow them anywhere. Chris had
trouble ensuring that he remained behind the Master, which was
mandatory. Then there were Pony Club instructional rallies, trail
rides, bush and beach camps, gymkhanas, special instructional Schools
and usually, an annual Open Horse Show to boost Club Funds. There were
also Inter Club Shield Events which covered all disciplines on the one
day, Inter Club Games Competitions and even a brief flutter with
Polocrosse. All these activities required organisation and commitment
from all of us on the home front and there were times, such as lambing,
calving or inclement weather conditions which threatened our livestock,
when we could not participate in the scheduled events.
At some early stage on the farm; none of us can
remember the exact year, Alex became the owner of a very tall, ewe
necked, hollow backed thoroughbred gelding named Dick, by Launceston
Cup winner, Dick Turpin, out of a Bustard mare. He was sold to us by
Bill, owner of huge tracts of land in the Ulverstone Municipality and
along the road to Cradle Mountain. Bill also owned, but did not reside
on, the largest of the properties adjoining Mount Pleasant. Alex and I
think that Sep bought the near black horse because it was very
reasonably priced and Bill reckoned ,
'He could have a race or two in him'.
Bill was right and after nearly two years of
suppling exercises, schooling and conditioning, the horse no longer had
any suggestion of a ewe neck or a hollow back and became a highly
competitive Eventer and racehorse, winning O. D. E's and Hunt Club
Hurdle races over two miles and two, four mile Point to Point races, in
open country, over obstacles, 'up hill and down dale', easily winning
them and defeating a Victorian Grand National winner by the length of a
couple of paddocks. Now Sep had credibility at work - his son was a
registered amateur Jockey who rode on Metropolitan racetracks and Point
to Points and he even won races!
On our initial inspection of the Farm, Alex and I
both felt that the stables, although very old and shabby, were of sound
construction and could be made comfortable for horses or ponies 'in
work' - being conditioned for Eventing - Dressage, X country and
Show Jumping - sequential tough tests - requiring very high standards
On either side of the entrance, these stables
contained a gloomy looking unpaved room on the cold, southern side
which had been the lamb slaughter house in Arthur's time and a paved,
bright and warm one, on the northern side. It had been the harness
room, set up with pegs for holding horse collars, hames, harness,
blinkered bridles, long reins and chains. Both had windows in working
order. Alex reckoned that he could line the warm one that would become
the tack room for our saddles, bridles, lunging and grooming equipment,
plus rugs, farriery tools and odds and ends. On the opposite side, I
thought we would need to concrete the floor and fully zinc line the
walls and ceiling, for rat proofing, then make it the feed room.
Between two steps, up to the proposed tack and feed
rooms, the paved entrance led through the stable double door into a
wide, concreted corridor which ran down the middle, with stalls for
four draught horses, two on either side, ending at a small, push-up
door. On the other side of this door, we found ourselves in an
enormous, high roofed area, until fairly recently, the chaff house. It
was now divided into sheep pens, part- lined around the walls, the
lining, possibly added by Arthur, to stop newly acquired, highly
infectious sheep from getting their front feet out of the footrot
treatment water. We did not know whether it had originally been fully
lined. High above, under the hip of the roof, there were two outward
opening doors for filling this massive space with a year's supply of
chaff, augured up there and inside, by a steam driven chaff cutter.
Pulled by steam traction engines, they travelled the countryside when
the sheaves of oats in the haystacks had matured and were ready to be
chaffed. Insufficiently matured chaff is indigestible and can cause
colic and even death, so haystacks, carefully thatched, or good barns,
were essential to avoid weather intrusion.
When Arthur bought Henry, the Fordson tractor, he
had no further use for his faithful but aging work horses.
Considering it more humane than sending them to the knackery, he put
them to rest at home. Now that the fossil fuel age had reached the
'backblocks,' there was absolutely no market for heavy horses and
the knackers were over supplied. It was not long after 'the end of the
horse era' on Mount Pleasant that Arthur had found the footrot in the
Now that he no longer needed a chaff house, he cut
an entry doorway at the bottom of its southern side, re-concreted and
walled the floor perimeters, erected makeshift pens and forced the
afflicted sheep inside, via a raceway and into the pens to stand in the
formalin and water footrot treatment for however long it took to
totally destroy the infection. The sheep were then discharged into the
clean Stable Paddock, through the push-up door, down the stable
corridor and out the front door, nowhere near the infected area around
the 'hole in the wall' through which they had entered the footbaths.
With no sign of footrot on the place for many years,
or during Len's tenure, the pens were empty now and waiting to be
transformed into two spacious loose boxes with a wide corridor
separating them, thus leaving generous room for horses to enter and
exit with ease. Alex did a grand job with the tack room and gratefully
accepted Sep's expertise with the feed room and the two loose boxes,
both of which needed high windows for light and ventilation. Both
additions had strong half walls with sturdy doors on either side
of the central corridor. They also removed the part of the footbath
wall that stretched across the corridor between the loose boxes and the
draught horse stalls.
The stalls were all in excellent condition, with
high wooden mangers, rope holes through the beams across their
fronts and smooth, shallow draining channels for free flow escape of
bodily fluids where the stalls met the central corridor and drained
outside, past the 'step up' feed and tack room doors, both high enough
to avoid contamination, even when the stalls were hosed out. Sep and
Alex placed slip rails across the entrances to enable ponies to
be 'bedded down,' if necessary. Having been built for giant
Clydesdales, the mangers were far too high for ponies. They would need
cement bottomed drums on the floor. The original manger setup was not
removed because of its excellent construction and possible value in the
future for larger horses.
Now, well before they were needed for the Winter
Hunt Club Eventing Season, spacious and comfortable loose boxes or
stalls were ready and waiting. Alex competed in Hunt Club One Day
Events against seasoned adult competition for several years and reached
Reserve Championship status, never quite eclipsing the State's adult A
grade eventing Champion. He was required to compete at this level
because Peter Pan had attained the Grade by winning just one Novice ODE
with me in the saddle, long before we bought the farm.
The tack and feed rooms were welcome right after
their completion, as horse gear was now in its rightful place; in the
tack room. Its removal made the boys' bedrooms spacious enough to
enable them to invite more weekend or holiday visitors home to
stay. As time went by, Pony Clubbers joined the queue. They were
mostly girls, so their beds were on the living room carpet - the foam
filled cushions from the lounge settee and chairs were thick, flat and
comfortable. As the 'horsy' visitors were delivered in vehicles towing
horse floats and usually driven by a parent or friend, they brought
their own pillows and sleeping bags + horse/pony and gear. Some
generous Mums arrived with pre-cooked, special favourite meals as well,
ensuring that the food was so good that no one ever wanted to go
home! I, too, was a pretty fair cook and there was never any
limit on second helpings.
All the visitor's saddles and bridles were carefully
checked for comfort and correct fit on their mounts before riding
instruction was forthcoming, if requested, but usually the precipitous
terrain proved the best teacher. Alex or I always rode with the
visitors, mostly off farm, to protect the ground from the unbalanced
hoof falls of very stiff ponies and horses, unaccustomed to steep
country. For safety, no visitors could ride off on their own and one
strict requirement was that they must first ride up and down hills only
at a balanced walk. This restriction caused plenty of comment. When
confronted by hills in the past, their mounts always wanted to gallop.
'Of course they would.' I'd venture guardedly.
'While you're here, you and your mounts will find
the quite extreme 'ups and downs' a challenge, unless you are both
already balanced and well suppled. Just keep an eye on Peter Pan and
watch how he engages his hocks to place the weight of the rider over
each hind hoof fall, both up hill and down the other side. We'll work
on gentle slopes till you all feel relaxed and comfortable.' The
visitors would look bored and glum. I'd try to cheer them up a bit,
usually without avail, so blundered on.
'Unsuppled horses will always try to gallop uphill
because most riders will lean too far forward and that is the only way
the horse can then balance the weight. Going downhill, you may put your
weight behind the movement so then the horse will swing its
hindquarters, zigzag or 'crab' along in tiny, often uneven steps,
again, trying hard to balance the weight. He may get so upset that
he'll pigroot and tip you off!. '
Children are rarely stupid and they all hate
diatribes. They actually worked it all out at lightning speed and
pretty soon they could enjoy the pleasure of riding up and down hills
at any pace, beautifully balanced on happy, obedient horses and ponies
who appreciated thoughtful riders with equipoise. The lightweights did
not have to put so much effort into these exercises, or at least until
the time when their mounts could no longer balance the increasing
weight of their growing riders.
As the Pony Club years progressed, Chris and Nic
also assisted with the young riders, although Chris' best friend Graham
never showed any interest in the horses. When he came to visit, Chris
followed Graham's inclinations which kept them busy in the workshop or
wiring listening devices throughout the house.
On some occasions, parents asked the boys to sort
out behavioural problems with their children's mounts but they soon
found such exercises embarrassing, as the cluey animals never put a
foot wrong with one of them in the saddle and young fry, very
naturally, felt demoralised. The only satisfactory solution was for
them to come to stay for awhile and go out riding, initially at the
walk only, in the State pine forests which were such hard going that
spoilt ponies soon learned some manners and became more supple and
Our homestead and all the farm buildings, were at
the top of the hill and this created a problem for any new visitors to
the property. After saddling up, every destination commenced with a
steep descent. On some occasions, if their mounts looked close to
pigrooting, or even worse, getting their heads down and threatening to
actually buck, we would ask the riders to dismount, run their stirrups
up and lead their steeds down to level ground. Similarly, new
livestock, be they bought or borrowed, found themselves tested by the
terrain, as all roadways or fenced lanes ran down into the valleys and
forced quadrupeds to engage their hocks and proceed with care.
I bought eight, three year old Shorthorn heifers at
Cressy sale in the early days. We had a truck by then and they
travelled home well but were flighty and disturbed when unloaded into
the yards - their udders were near bursting as they had been weaned of
their vealer calves at the sale, the vealers sold in a butchers'
pen and the heifers sold as 'springers', due in five or six
weeks. I did not dare to put them in the paddock intended for
them, realising that they would probably bulldoze the fences, trying to
find their calves. They had adequate hay and water there, in the yards
but goodness knows what they would think of the goats!
After nearly a week they made friends with the
little white strangers who skipped through the yards and disappeared
under the securely fixed gate at the end of the race and out into the
Stable Paddock, popping back in if it rained. They could then return to
their own sheltered quarters through a pull up gate, also far to low
for cattle access.
All this coming and going intrigued the trough-fed
heifers who became quite tractable with us too and were finally
released into the lane leading to Rogers Road. Well before reaching the
steepest part, I withdrew, lest my presence stampeded them, then
went right round via the Gawler paddocks to make sure they had found
their way down safely, and there they were, all together on the top of
a rise, above the river and visibly distressed.
They must have galloped all the way down, in spite
of my precautions. I just sat down on the grass and waited till they
settled and started to graze, hoping that none had fallen to endanger
the new calves they were carrying. After slowly walking right round
them and noting no obvious injuries, I closed the gate behind me
and commenced the long climb up the road they had descended. Hoof
prints, gouged deeply into the gravelly surface, clearly indicated a
rapid descent but the heifers had not damaged the fence on the lower
side of the road and none had they run along the top of the cliff on
the higher side.
On inspection next morning, all were still in their
new domain. Their udders were soft and quite normal for springers, they
were grazing peacefully and appeared to have ceased lamenting the loss
of their calves.
They were a wild lot though and we lost two of them
when they succumbed to either milk fever or grass tetany after a storm.
When approached to receive the magic subcutaneous cures, they struggled
so hard to rise and run away that they had heart attacks and died. The
dog man did not reject them though, so big bonfires were not needed.
All the others survived and had no further problems after we treated
the hay with Causmag and then discontinued the use of artificial
fertilisers. Some produced good 1st cross foundation heifers in the
Santa cattle grade-up programme and became tractable and even friendly
over time, especially if the goats were thereabouts.
Back to the early days on Mount Pleasant, one sunny
Monday morning towards the end of January, having hastened through the
early chores, the shorn lambs for Market selection were already
mustered and resting quietly in the yards. Ray was coming at 10am, so
there was still time to clean myself up in the laundry, then prepare
morning tea, which he always appreciated.
Whilst giving the stove a final wipe with the dish
cloth, I heard his car approaching and finished up in a panic - still
very much in awe of this competent and busy man. Out on the back
porch, I hurriedly pulled on my boots and was just in time to open the
gate for him. Greetings exchanged, Ray took his place at the drafting
gate and Lassie and I gently steered the lambs into the race. The job
was near completion when we made a final cast of the yard to gather a
few stragglers and I saw thick black smoke billowing through two open
windows and from under the eaves of the house. The closed house windows
glowed a hectic red. Panic stricken but still in awe, I apologised to
Ray for the interruption, then fled towards the house. He could see
only the potato shed from the head of the race and I had already shut
the windows and connected the hose by the time he arrived.
His first action ultimately saved the house - he
switched off the power - the fuse box was on a sheltered wall on the
front porch. He then took the running hose and quickly angled himself
through the outside back door and into the enclosed interior porch,
requesting that I follow, then hold the outside door closed, without
cutting off the water supply. Gingerly, he then fractionally opened the
door into the flaming, smoke filled kitchen and played the water onto
the fire, which was raging above the stove and well into the overhead
cupboards - I must have spun the simmer knob on to 'High' in my urgency
- it was always a danger because it had no fixed settings.
In absolute horror, I then noticed smoke creeping
under the door from the laundry and presumably, the open, adjacent
hallway. Ray spotted it too.
'Please', he said, [Oh, so politely!], 'fetch the
closest ladder that will reach the manhole - the rafters must be alight
- and don't let more air in here than you can help.'
I flew back with the ladder, brought it inside,
closed the door gently on the hose and changed places with Ray
momentarily, while he set up the ladder. Atop it, with the manhole
cover removed and handed down to me, smoke was engulfing him and the
burning rafters, crackling and spitting, were threatening to start
falling at any moment. He yelled for the hose and a light, woollen
garment to protect his head. I removed my woollen sweater,
changed places with him and hosed the flames while he adjusted
his headgear, which only took seconds before he was back in command.
I found another woollen sweater for myself in the
clothes basket in the laundry and it lessened the effects of smoke
inhalation and eye damage considerably, without impeding vision.
Ray said he did not need to take a breather outside - he
was OK and he reckoned the house could be saved because the water
pressure was strong enough to be effective and the fire was nearly out.
He could see all the half burned rafters of both rooms from his vantage
spot, so I shifted the brand new arc welder that Sep had bought only
yesterday - it was sitting in the hallway, against the wall of the
living room- and the rafters there were looking nearly as fragile as
those in the kitchen because the stove was adjacent to both rooms and
the thin dividing plaster wall had fallen.
Thank goodness the hall wall was double-studded. As
I moved the welder towards the front door, Ray said,
'Whoa! - open it a bit and let the smoke out - fresh
air will rekindle the flames if anything's still smouldering.'
We waited awhile and finally he told me to turn the
water off and open some windows, 'but not in the kitchen or living
room'. I quickly opened the bedroom, bathroom, laundry and porch
windows and as I went outside to turn off the hose, the kitchen started
to creak and groan and then the ceiling fell down with a roar. Ray was
still up the ladder, surveying the wreckage below and not yet willing
to leave his post, knowing full well that the living room ceiling would
tumble at any moment, and still not 100 per cent certain that the fire
was wholly extinguished.
That living room ceiling took its time before
crashing down. I had no way of giving Ray his cup of tea and reassured
by him that he had suffered no harm from his heroic efforts in saving
the house, I was about to thank him when he ventured the opinion that
it was only the superb planning and construction of the place that had
made it possible for him to save it.
'It was the fact that we were able to keep air out,
plus two lots of studs on the walls and double rafters above the
kitchen and the living room that made it worth saving. In a normal
weatherboard building, the studs above the stove and the overhead
cupboards would have burned through and that area of roof rafters on
top, would have caved in. And then the whole place would have
been engulfed in minutes. If you look at that double rows of studs,
well, it was a near thing.'
Then, realising that the yard job still had to be
completed, out we went with the dog and 'sewed it up'.
I then offered Ray the use of the shower and bathroom but he declined.
'I only have one more job out this way, so I best
get on with it, but thanks anyway. I'll just wash up in the laundry - I
noticed soap and a towel in there'.
In a state of near amnesia, I sat down on the sunny
back steps and found some consolation in the very obvious concern of
our faithful Lassie. Ray soon emerged from the laundry, still reeking
of smoke but he simply said,
'Not to worry; just part of the job. Oh, and by the
way, the carrier will pick those lambs up around 6.30 am tomorrow.'
He shook my grotty hand firmly and wished me luck,
then, with a wave, drove off to Donnie's place across the next ridge.
There I was, still in the sun on the back steps but
standing now, as when Ray drove off. Lassie brought me back
to earth. She touched my hand and looked over at the lambs in the yard
- she wanted her work finished so that she could get back to her box
for a nap. I patted her and we soon had those market lambs in the
shearing shed, on the wooden grating to 'empty out'. At first light
tomorrow we would take them to the trough to drink. For now, she was
'off duty'. And I was numb.
Where was Gran? Down there at The Cottage with the
builders, no doubt. Thank goodness the place was nearly finished. But
why weren't they up here? You'd think a Mount Pleasant fire would make
great theatre - after all, three previous homesteads had been razed
completely on this very property. Was it possible that nobody in the
district had even seen the billowing smoke? My head started spinning.
Blow Gran and the builders - I had to contact Sep and I was scared. He
had coped with my ineptitude thus far but the house - that would surely
be the last straw.
There were strict protocols about ringing him at
work and I had never dreamed of doing so, up till now. The phone was in
the hallway, in the centre of the house and, like the fuse box on the
front porch, was still working as, right at the start, Ray had pulled
out the lounge and kitchen fuses. After much consultation with 'brass',
I just wished I had not tried because Sep's testy response was,
'Why the blazes did you put it out?'
I had forgotten that he hankered for a proper brick
residence to reflect his superior status and that I much preferred this
little wooden one. I thought I would die of shame, as it was such a
wreck - totally uninhabitable.
I cannot now recall where we all stayed or how we
managed with meals etc. while it was under repair. Probably we had to
sleep and shower in our despised abode. The hallways, bedrooms,
bathroom, laundry and enclosed back porch, plus the essential wc, were
all undamaged, except by water and acrid, stinking smoke. Perhaps we
were able to cook and eat in Gran's lovely Cottage. I will never know
because Gran is dead and not one family member can recall a single
episode during those tumultuous days and nights. After the luxury of
life in Wau and the beauty of Taroona and Kingston, we were all
surely suffering from culture shock.
There is certain recall of some facts though. I was
on the property, alone all day, every weekday, to take care of Lassie,
the goats, the horses and the livestock and collapsed completely when
the Insurance Assessment team accused me of deliberately lighting the
Repairs were expertly dealt with after Ray satisfied
the Insurers that no illegalities existed. Because so much work was
necessary in the living room, kitchen, studs and rafters, it was a
golden opportunity to get rid of the smoky chimney in the loungroom and
replace it with a double sided oil heater on the inside wall, between
the lounge and the hallway, thus warming the whole place, when desired.
New 'near everything' looked better than the old overhead
cupboards, floor coverings and venetian blinds. Somehow, the kitchen
table and Sep's lovely, handcrafted wooden furniture survived the
immense heat, water saturation and the weight of the falling plaster
When all the repairs were completed, family life
returned to a degree of normalcy. Fully lined, sunproof, forest green
velvet curtains replaced venetian blinds and freshly covered, new foam
cushions graced the living room furniture. Checked gingham curtains
brightened the kitchen, with its spanking new cupboards above the work
areas, a new stove, with a 'fail safe' simmer knob and the original
deep stainless steel round sink and draining boards, all looked
Sep built bookcases and a desk in the old chimney
corner, another bookcase, with a central cupboard, under the big front
window and in the opposite corner, a new television reigned supreme.
The garden was blooming, the vegetables were doing well and tasting
delicious, the livestock were thriving and even I seemed to be coming
to grips with my failings.
Sep said that the house could do with a new coat of paint, so he asked,
'What colour would we like it to be?'
The combined family choice was a delicate, soft,
sandy green which made our place sit comfortably in its tree-lined
surroundings and created a sense of total harmony. It was beautiful.
The Slow Learner.
Back to the early days, yet again. By mid December,
less than two months after our arrival in the district, I was still
relying on expert assistance with the selection of market lambs. Only
one flock of ewes and their suckers remained to be drafted and
the lambs assessed. Stock Agent Ray was coming to condition score them
at 10 am on Monday, so they would need to be in the yards nice and
early to enable them to be relaxed. With my direction, Lassie's job was
to muster this flock, drive them to the yards, allow them to settle for
a good half hour and then separate the ewes from their lambs. With the
dog at heel, I would then move quietly through them, open the gate into
the race, walk through it, and standing outside the race, be in
position to operate the drafting gate to direct ewes into one yard and
lambs into the other. Discreetly, but with excellent judgement, Lassie
would direct the flock through the race and have the job quickly and
painlessly completed, although not without bleating disapproval, once
the ewes and lambs were in two mobs, with a stout fence between them.
On this particular bright and sunny Monday morning,
the ground was wet. Some gentle showers had fallen overnight but
insufficient to cause the river to rise, or so I thought, having failed
to consider the watershed. So, off I set, with Lassie at heel. We did
not go far. From the roadway just outside the farmyard, we had a bird's
eye view of the entire western side of the property, with five River
fields, three to five hundred feet below. The sheep and lambs for
muster were in the 300ft. one - the New Gawler, the closest to the road.
The recent previous owner, Arthur, had employed
tree- fellers and with his horses and daughter Gill's assistance, had
cleared the eucalypt and rain forest species of Myrtle, Blackwood,
Sassafras, Man ferns and bracken some fifteen years earlier and created
a well sheltered pasture, relished by livestock. The road to it had
been properly planned and built, blue metal surfaced, culverts and all,
when the area was originally opened up for settlement. A ''township'
was supposed to be down there somewhere!. No one had given much thought
to the terrain.
Although they were a long way off, those wily sheep
spotted the dog and immediately commenced to flock together. To my
horror, I saw that some were on the opposite side of the river, which
was running a banker. They too, had flocked together but none appeared
to have attempted to jump into the water. In hindsight, we musterers
should have sat down on the wet roadway and waited till equilibrium
returned to that distant field, then, when all was peaceful and serene,
crept away, out of sight of the sheep, who never commit suicide unless
provoked and called it a day. Or, at the very least, consulted Ray.
Before coming to the farm, I had scant experience of
handling sheep. As a child, I had visited and stayed on an inland
property experiencing severe drought. I vividly remember seeing unshorn
lambing ewes, with no trees to offer shade, who were so starved and
heavy in wool that they were unable to rise and suckle their
young after giving birth under the midday sun. All the lambs, lively at
first, perished before nightfall and the black ravens, usually
referred to as 'crows' were there, waiting for their demise. Ewes who
lambed in the cool of the night were strong enough to stand, feed
their young and get water and chaffy grain from hastily erected
troughs. I vowed then, that if I ever owned sheep, I would make
absolutely sure that they were cared for properly.
Now, here was I, after six or seven weeks of trouble
free husbandry, excluding the dipping disaster, about to make a serious
blunder. I thought that Lassie and I could go down the back road,
unseen by the sheep and, by following the river upstream,would be able
to separate the mobs on either side. I knew that the goats could be
handled accordingly but overlooked the huge behavioural difference
between the species - goats scatter when disturbed - sheep flock
together. Because the sheep across the river had mobbed up but not
jumped into the torrent when they had seen the dog, I truly believed
that the ones on the far side would stay there when Lassie and I walked
along the river bank between the two mobs.
Ignorance can be costly. They did not. As soon as
the main flock started moving away from us and towards the
road, in spite of our efforts of dissuasion at the waters' edge, those
on the far side, leapt, one after another, into the raging torrent.
Most of the ewes made it across but the majority of the lambs,
unaccustomed to turbulent swimming, sailed off at high speed, under the
raised floodgate and out of sight around the bend, into the huge
blackberry bushes on the waters edge of the adjoining property. Because
of the T-shape of the farm, there were nine neighbours, five of
them along the river, the middle of which formed the boundaries. To
allow land holders water in equal proportion, floodgates
crisscrossed at frequent intervals and half of each boundary was fenced
on higher ground, leaving access to stock water from the other half.
Well, now I was in a proper pickle. I could
not let the stock agent know of my debacle because I had to try to save
those lambs, washed away down stream. Without a second thought I told
Lassie to 'Stay', then plunged into the river and was instantly whisked
away, under the floodgate, round the bend and cannoned into an
entangled 'woolly'. The force of impact tore the lamb free from the
blackberries. I grabbed it. Together, we hit another lamb which was
also dislodged from the clinging canes and grasped that one too. There
were dozens and dozens of them. However could I have allowed this
crazy situation to occur! And they would probably all
drown, myself included. Idiot! But then there was calm. We had been
washed up on a sandbank on our side of the river. Gumboots gone, hands
bleeding profusely and my whole body numb with cold, I remembered some
snippet of wisdom I been told somewhere.
'You can't let ruminants lie flat if they're 'Down' - they'll drown in their own fluids.'
Well, these two were 'Down,' probably shocked
or frozen or both, so I sat them on their folded legs, side by side on
the ground, balancing one another and facing their home padocks. Hoping
for miracles, I fought my way along the boundary fence, oblivious to
the stones and thorns, just determined to save those poor creatures. It
took hours and hours but the level and force of the flood dropped
steadily towards the completion of the exercise and all the sheep were
rescued - they had been thrown into the blackberries with their heads
above water- it was all miraculous. With each new haul from the
freezing water, I found the last lot up and huddled against our
boundary fence. and so it continued until all were safely ashore.
But they were Next door! And Downstream. The only
thing to do was to move their mob in to the paddock adjoining the
safe haven where they were now confined. Just as well it was unstocked
and I asked Lassie to fetch them through. They did not need much
encouragement, especially those whose lambs were down there, on
the other side of that boundary fence. I could not let them through
that one because it had no gate and was of strong rabbit proof netting
and barbed wire. It would have to be cut, opened and then mended;
later, for now I had no fencing tools and was feeling quite strange. My
sight was being replaced by a wobbly white world. I spoke to the dog
and asked to be taken home. Lassie understood. She walked beside
me, gently touching my right leg and pausing on the steeper bits going
up towards the blue metal road. Although still feeling no pain, my bare
feet certainly felt the roughness of the road surface and I had to be
careful to avoid stumbling. That great dog gave me forewarning of all
four gates to be opened and closed on the way up the hill, approaching
On reaching the back door, I invited her inside,
knowing I needed her warmth to give me the strength to decide what to
do next. I still could not see but knew the sun would be pouring
through the living room window. It was pleasantly warm and together we
lay down on the carpet, the dog faithfully licking my wounds.
Time passed and soon those bruises, rips and tears
began to hurt; a sure signal to get under a tepid shower and defrost.
As feeling and pain increased, I put the plug in the bath and removed
my tattered, thorn infested clothes and washed as best I could. Wrapped
in a big thirsty towel, I found my sight returning. Relieved, I opened
the medicine cupboard and took down a jar of wool fat and cod liver
oil, recommended by a friend to cure any injury to man or beast, in
spite of its dreadful stench. I donned clean work attire, put plenty of
the magic mixture into my socks and pulled on my Blundstone boots.
Better now, whimpering a bit and feeling wretched, I made a cup of tea
and some buttered toast, the crusty bits relished by a grateful dog.
With sight returned, albeit hazy, I phoned Ray, the
agent. He was out on another job so I left a message of apology with a
workmate. I then found a clean pair of soft leather work gloves and
rubbed my throbbing hands liberally with the panacea before
putting them on. After cleaning the
bathroom and placing the wet clothes in the laundry basket for later
attention, Lassie and I went out to the machinery shed to find the
multi purpose fencing pliers to cut a hole in the netting to enable the
stranded lambs and the few ewes to get back to their flock. All had
recovered their land legs by the time I and the dog returned but
Lass had to 'hold' them there, against the fence, for bramble
removal, a time consuming exercise, made possible by the supple but
thick gloves. At last that job was completed, the netting cut above the
lower barbed wire then vertically to the higher barb on either side of
the lower one to make a generous hole to be jumped through, once the
cut flap was lifted and folded over the top of the fence.
The still wet and bedraggled 'riders of the storm'
needed no encouragement to return home but the repair of the fence was
much slower. Painful, gloved hands proved clumsy. Each wire in the
netting had to be attached to a complementary but undamaged one on the
'cut out' section. The stapling guns of later years where not in
my fencing kit, so each join required a separate short length of fine
tie wire, twisted into place and secured with the fencing pliers.
With the task completed and ewes and lambs reunited,
one important question remained; whether any sheep had bypassed the
blackberries and been washed further downstream. Close investigation
proved negative. The final boundary floodgate had held because the land
down there was flat and the water had spread debris across the
paddocks, lessening its intensity. It was well over a mile back to the
house from that boundary and uphill all the way.
When the boys came home from school, they found
Lassie and me fast asleep in the last of the sun on the living room
carpet. They knew, from the pungent smell from my boots and
gloves, that something had gone amiss but could not believe their eyes.
Dogs were never allowed in the house and boots and work gloves were
always removed out on the back porch. They hoped Sep would not find
out. They did not disturb the workers though. They closed the door,
changed their clothes, ate piles of weet-bix and attended to their
chores; the usual exercises of checking the stock and sometimes,
like today, milking the goats. On their return, they found Lassie back
in her box and on the chain. My boots and gloves were in their
rightful place and I was all cleaned up and bandaged, asleep on my side
of the bed. Sep must have been delayed; he was not home yet, thank
goodness. He'd never know about the dog being inside. But he would know
that something had happened because they could still smell the wool fat
concoction; a bit, anyway. So they decided to give homework a miss
and serve his favourite meal - tinned Chilli Con Carn and
steamed vegies for dinner- that would devour any bad smells!
What great lads - so perceptive and kind. When Sep
arrived, I came out and told my crazy story. I even had a bit of dinner
and then thanked my family for being just marvellous. I sincerely
hoped, fingers crossed, I had learned a few lessons that day. Stock
agent Ray rang a little later to inquire about me and the sheep and
said he'd be up next Monday to select the lambs for market and he would
advise the carrier.
He also said that the ewes were ready to be shorn and the remaining
lambs weaned. He reckoned that by the time all the ewes had their wool
off, the weaned lambs would have 'settled down' and could also lose
their winter woollies; it was getting nice and warm now.
'Oh, I'll organise a shearer and a shedhand
too.' he concluded. Wow, what a great stock agent these
greenhorns had inherited with the place. He, and all others who
followed, consistently gave sound advice and encouragement.
There was no drama with the shearing and apart from
having each mob mustered, lambs removed, out of earshot and the ewes
shedded to empty out overnight, I had little to do with the whole
procedure. Both the ewes and the last of the lambs bleated themselves
hoarse with outrage at what they must have realised was a final
I found my presence in the shed unwelcome, except
for the provision of 'morning lunch,' 'dinner' and 'afternoon lunch,'
which I served at given times, set down on clean boards placed on the
wool table. I would return, again at given times, to collect the
cutlery and dishes. The shearer and his shedhand offered little
conversation except 'thanks' for the food and for shedding the next
day's sheep each evening to 'empty out'.
The weather miraculously stayed fine and mild
throughout and the job was completed in eight shearing days, all ewes
and remaining lambs shorn without too many nicks and cuts. The men
welcomed me into the shed when I came to pay them but looked askance
when I wrote their cheques. Briefly, I wondered why. With equal
brevity, I had noted that the livestock carriers, who came to take the
fat lambs to the sale yards and the farm machinery reps, who delivered
new farm equipment, always had their wives beside them. I had concluded
that they were just caring people who wished to show them the
magnificent sea and mountain views, so easily seen from the farmyard,
as it was on high ground, at the end of a 'No Through Road.' Little did
' the word had passed around' that I was 'a wild woman and no man was safe from my clutches'! Poor Sep.
Our First Harvest.
The next big job was haymaking. Sep realised he
would need to take some time off work because Tas and the
neighbours had told him that good hay, safely in the barn, was the only
way to get the livestock through the long, cold winters experienced in
this district. Two extensive front paddocks had been 'locked up'
shortly after the family arrived. Because the weather had been kind,
the standing hay looked wonderful and so it proved when 'fed out' from
May 1st till October 31st, six long, often wet and always very
Both Sep and Tas used the Fiat for carting fencing
gear and I, for grass harrowing. With this nifty 'new' tractor, Sep,
who had succeeded in getting his requested 'time off' from work for the
harvest, did most of the mowing that first year. He also raked the
swathes into windrows ahead of the contract baler, who arranged
for bale carters, essential, as according to local sentiment, the boys
did not look strong enough to be humping bales, each of which could
weigh over a hundred pounds. And, in this district, harvesting was
considered 'no place for a woman' at any stage of the entire procedure
- excepting the essential provision of refreshments for the workers -
even although she would load the same hay, off the stacks in the barn,
on to the transport board on the back of the tractor, three tiers high,
and 'feed out ' every last straw of it through the long, freezing
Unwanted, out there in the paddocks, I felt
ridiculous and do not remember much about it until, right near the end
of the last day, storm clouds gathered at alarming speed and
neighbours' trucks and crews came from all around to stack every last
bale under cover just moments before the heavens opened. In spite of my
pique, the neighbours in this district had proved themselves just as
great as Stock Agent Ray.
A Welcome Visitor
At nine o'clock next morning, a stunningly beautiful
young woman came to visit. She introduced herself as Gill, from the
East Gawler property Kinvarra, on the Top Road, opposite Wally's Farm.
She was the daughter of Arthur and Mabel, the owners of Mount Pleasant,
prior to the brief residency of the unfortunate folk who loathed the
place and sold it to us, at a small loss, to escape to the sanity of
Down South. I had just come in from the fields and was really happy to
meet Gill, because soon after our arrival in the district, Mabel and
Arthur had called in on several occasions to see how we were all
coping and had spoken rapturously about her competence and ability with
any type of livestock or farm work. Each in turn, they also
offered helpful advice to me on many house and farm management
related subjects, all of which was gratefully received.
Mabel and Arthur had been caretaking Gill and
Michael's place whilst they were away on a well-earned motoring holiday
in North Queensland while their cows were dry and dropping their
calves. Three of their four little girls were in the care of their
grandparents - the eldest one with a local neighbour - both here and in
Hobart. The young couple had worked so hard on their place that they
had achieved the near impossible; they had paid it all off, including
their 86 milking cows, in less than ten years and this was their first
holiday since their marriage. Arthur and Mabel did not have to 'pull' a
single calf, so well chosen and healthy were the cows. Because they
were rearing those calves, they were left in the calving paddocks and
fed only hay to limit their milk output until the family's
return, when the sleek, fast growing calves would bring good money in
the Saleyard and the cows would go back to normal duties in the dairy.
Those cows did not fret too much for their young because they
were re-introduced to paddocks of fresh, clean late Spring pasture and
liked being machine milked.
After greetings were exchanged and a bit of a natter
in the farm yard, Gill came inside the house for a cup of tea to
continue this amazing story, which her Mum and Pop had related
thus far and I was deeply impressed. So then I asked,
'Will the cows milk as well after suckling those calves?'
Gill said she hoped so; they had never done this
before but because they were 'out of debt', she reckoned they would not
be much 'out of pocket' at all. The cows were all young and fit
and there were no heifers among them. She and Michael had planned it
'So that Pop could expect them all to calve easily
and indeed, that was the how things turned out. We drove all the way to
Rockhampton, then Cairns and the Atherton Tableland in the Vanguard and
had a great holiday thereabouts and on the journey home - the first one
ever for me and Michael.'
She then altered tack and looked serious, explaining
the many prejudices of the kind but very old fashioned folk of Central
Castra. I immediately felt prickly all over, wondering if the good
neighbours who had saved three truckloads of our hay from yesterday's
storm, had made some complaint about our family's breadwinner usually
being away, off-farm all week. But Gill made no mention of the storm
and was probably milking then anyway, so she continued, uninterrupted.
'One day, before I married Michael, I went down to
the Post Office to collect the mail and help the Post Mistress clear a
blocked drain. I passed the Hall with a mattock over my shoulder and
the ladies were having a CWA meeting in there. They came up to
speak to Pop about it, not long after the meeting. Mum had been at that
meeting and had come straight home. The others all knew I worked on the
farm but that was out of sight so it was out of mind too. They just
wanted Pop to know that they could not 'countenance' a girl in work
clothes. carrying a mattock, lowering the standards of the community.
Mum overheard their complaints. Outraged, she came to the door and
really told them off, before Pop could get a word in.'
Gill stopped for breath and praised the Anzac
biscuits. She then warned me about the stories that were going around,
describing me as a 'disgrace', because all the men that came to the
Farm 'went inside the house, when none of my menfolk were home'. I was
really shaken. I had not twigged at all, and simply could not
comprehend the logic behind such allegations. I was a nurse and thought
I knew a lot about men. The ones who had been helping out on the farm
had, without exception, had been exemplary.
'So that explains the wives in carriers trucks,' I ventured.
Gill laughed. She felt that there was not much point in worrying too much because,
'That's the way they think here. When I was a kid,
on the isolated farm where we lived at Avoca, I never wanted to go to
school with my studious young sister Sue, and Pop found me so handy
around the livestock, he sometimes let me wag. I loved the farm work,
especially with the work horses. They were ever willing, lived off the
land, never let you down - and they smelled delicious - not like the
stinking, noisy tractors that have replaced them. You have met my Mum,
Mabel. She's a wonderful women who always kept the peace in the home.
I'm left handed. Sometimes the sheep at Avoca needed crutching and Pop
tried to teach me to use the right handed shearing machine. Mum made
sure that he soon bought a left-hander and I was away, so he
transferred that up here when we moved.' She paused briefly to drink
'Before long, I did all the shearing too, with Pop
as shedhand, throwing and skirting the fleeces on the old wooden
slatted wool table and pressing it into the bales. He brought the
horses, their gear and implements, including the reaper and binder, to
make oaten hay for stacking and with stables and a chaff house here,
got the chaffing machine in to chaff our oats and fill it, brim full,
to feed them through winter when the grass stopped growing.' Again she
'I left school at fourteen and took over a lot
of the farm work. We continued the potato growing here until the prices
fell to rock bottom and we switched to fat lamb production and after a
brief flutter with dairying flopped, eventually vealers too.
Pop was broken hearted that he couldn't interest my
young brother, Roger in farming but he liked mechanical things, not
handling livestock, so that's where the bulldozer came in. He finally
left to go flying. Only Sue took up an academic career; in teaching, in
which she excelled. I've just rattled on and on - I guess you've heard
it all before, from Mum and Pop.'
'No Gill, I haven't heard it all. Your account is
very encouraging and helpful too. I love this place and need all the
tips I can get, so please keep going.'
'O K. Well, like I did, you are working the farm and
nothing will change the neighbours' outlook. Men including
Michael, expect woman to do the lion's share of the work
but way out of sight of any onlookers.'
Suddenly, I was shaking and close to tears. If Gill
was denigrated for working on the farm, by choice, when both her
parents were here to protect her and now, her husband too, on their own
place, there would never be any hope of me being accepted as a farmer,
here and probably anywhere on earth. Because my work experience was in
nursing and midwifery, I had not encountered any sexist antipathy,
as both professions were considered 'women's business.' In
Canberra, after I became engaged and then, in New Guinea, when I was a
wife and mother, I felt comfortable in those roles. Relocating to
Tasmania with a young family and Sep fully engaged in his new and
challenging position with the Hydro Electric Commission, I took a while
to adjust. As the boys grew and opened up as beautiful but dissimilar
and immensely bright individuals, I knew that it was just as well that
I did not study Ag. Science. I' d have found myself left behind in the
laboratory while the men did all the fieldwork! '
Gill agreed that women would always be ridiculed as
farmers; it was how things were in the country, here, anyway.
' Unless there's another terrible World War and the
men go off to fight to save our country. Then we'd be expected to fill
the breach'. We had another cup of tea
before we both went back to work on our separate patches. She promised
to return soon to go right round the farm with me, to explain the
intricacies of the best management for every single acre on it. She was
as good as her word and a tremendous support in times of trouble for
all the years we were near neighbours. And it was her husband, Michael
who came to our rescue when the Army Worms, the day after her visit,
invaded the district.
And then it was Christmas!. With farm chores shared
by all, then presents exchanged, the Day looked set to be perfect.
Grandma had come to stay, to oversee the building of her Cottage and
was amicably squeezed in somehow, in Alex's spare bunk. She'd cooked
two chooks with baked vegies, greens and all the trimmings but no
peas, because she knew Chris hated peas with a vengeance and she wanted
harmony at any price. Sep, usually very quiet, was jovial and suggested
a trip to the beach - 'after the washing up is done and not by Gran -
she's cooked dinner'. Volunteers in the dishes department were a bit
slow off the mark but eventually the job was completed and Sep, I
and the lads found swimmers and towels before racing out to the station
Grandma elected to snatch an hour or two of peaceful
solitude. Preparing and cooking a superb Christmas dinner was a
monumental task, for which we all felt immense gratitude and told her
so but we were a noisy lot and she needed 'to put her feet up for
We had only just started down the hill towards Camp
Creek, on the eastern side of the farm, when Nic, whose turn it was to
sit up front with Sep and me, suddenly spotted something amiss on the
top of the hill on Wally's Farm, on the far side of the Eastern
'It's all gone brown. It was as green as green early this morning when I rode round the stock'.
Sep 'humphed' and drove on down to the foot of the
hill. He was questioning Nic's eyesight. Camp Creek flowed fast through
the Farm's east facing paddocks and the last of the lambs, recently
shorn and growing apace, were knee deep in a forage crop of annual Rape
and Italian rye grass, planted by Len both here in the Breadbox field
and in the vast Laurelberry paddock, running along our Northern
boundary. Busily eating, they were completely undisturbed by our
arrival and whatever may be amiss across the creek, through the
boundary fence and atop the hill, on Wally's farm. Sep could see
nothing wrong there. Wally's cows and calves grazed contentedly.
Again he 'humphed', then put the wagon into gear and
drove on, along the valley road. At Wally's farmyard, he noticed
several utes and plenty of activity so pulled over and parked, alighted
and went in, said 'Hello' to Wally, Harold, Donny and Geoff and soon
learned that Nic wasn't crazy - millions of army worms* had crossed the
Top road from Donny's place and his adjoining neighbour, Michael, the
only bloke in the district with a tractor- operated spray unit, had
been flat out since after morning milking, desperately trying to stem
their advance with DDT but with only minimal success - their
numbers were just too great. Although multitudes perished, more and
more kept advancing, looping their way over their fallen comrades. Hand
operated spray units were proving totally inadequate. The army worms
were in plague proportion and were previously unknown here.
Wally told Sep to forget the beach and try to stop the advance at the creek.
'Michael 'l 'elp us all, when 'e can - 'is wife an'
kids 'l milk and feed the calves at 4o'clock - 'e'll just
keep goin' - thank 'Eaven's 'e's a spray fanatic - got 'nough o'
that stuff to keep on fer a month o' Sundys - make sure there's no
fallen branches nor nothin' to 'elp them critters across that crick
- you'd best move them lambs way down the back. Good luck.
Sep was red faced and ropeable when he got back to the wagon.
'Why the blazes didn't the kids have their ears to
the ground and know what was going on around the place and what does
Mum do all day?'. he wanted to know . Nobody answered him but I
wondered why Michael's wife Gill, who had introduced herself only
yesterday, had not phoned and then realised that she and the family
would have been too flat out themselves and that no one knew until
morning milking. The early stock checks had been thorough, right round
our property and no unusual activity had been spotted on our
neighbours' places. Today, we planned to skip the midday check as
we never spent long at the beach because the water was always freezing
and both Alex and I sunburned easily - and we could do two more
checks before dark.
Sep, still upset, turned the wagon around and drove
home. Beach attire was inappropriate for creek patrol and I
needed Lassie to move the lambs. Gran was fast asleep in Alex's room,
so we all changed in a rush, but quiet as mice and did not waken her.
We then went back down the hill in the ute, armed with mattocks, heavy
machete type brush cutters, matches and binder twine, having no real
idea how we could stop the imminent invasion. Some of the sags*
were old and full of dead stems so the boys decided to burn what they
could while Sep removed any impediment to water flow.
Lassie and I shifted the startled lambs to the back
of the Farm. On my return, there was frantic activity. The invaders
were already through the boundary fence and nothing was going to stop
their advance. They poured into the stream in such numbers that their
bodies, banked up high by the current as it twisted and turned, created
temporary floating bridges, thus enabling millions to make a crossing.
Towards evening, they had completely stripped every
vestige of vegetation in the four front paddocks and were looping their
way into the recently harvested top ones, when an exhausted Michael
turned up to do battle to save the rest of the farm.
He was successful. As he drove away down the long
hill, through the ravaged valley, then up the top road to his place,
Kinvarra, the sound of his tractor still echoed through the landscape,
even as its lights dipped out of sight.
The family on Mount Pleasant were, ourselves,
exhausted, but very grateful for Michael's intervention, with no
concept of how we would have coped if the remaining two thirds of the
farm had been stripped bare. I thought it would have meant selling the
vealer calves early, then finding suitable agistment for the cows and
ewes. The horses, goats, rams and the bull would have been all
together, in the unsprayed House paddock, adjoining the machinery shed
and could have survived on hay, thanks to the bountiful harvest. The
shorn lambs would have been history - straight off to market, ready or
Grandma was overwhelmed by the Army Worm invasion.
She envisaged the locust plagues of Biblical times and felt certain
that this attack must surely be a warning about pushing Nature too far.
'After all, this whole district was once virgin forest.'
Her concern did not receive the family response she
may have expected and she decided to leave this tiny, overcrowded house
to return to Sydney to stay with Auntie Rita, where she
could give the matter further, in depth, consideration. But, Oh Dear!
She had 'burned her bridges' and would eventually have to return to her
chosen Cottage because her Pymble home, long sold to help enable our
family to make full payment for Mount Pleasant and my brother Rob, to
secure Spine Cop, Wallabadah, now belonged to a High Court Judge.
p60. *Army worms. The caterpillars of a widely
distributed noctuid moth, Leucania Unipuncta, which travel in vast
hordes and are a severe pest in cereal crops in North America. Any of
various similar caterpillars. Collins English Dictionary.
p61. *Sags. Reeds. ditto.
Because the ponies were on very light rations, lest
they foundered, they had to be relegated to the sheep yards, hand fed,
watered and exercised night and morning and their droppings cleaned up
and composted; extra work and angry ponies. Only Peter Pan and Sasha
were allowed into the other fodder crop paddock across the road,
earlier well eaten down by ewes and lambs and sheltered from spray
drift by a tall, thick Macrocarpa hedge but within whickering distance
of the 'prisoners doing time.' They were threatening to jump out at any
moment and were only deterred by the height of the roadway fence, much
taller than the others within the yards.
As it was School holiday time, the lads did not
resent the extra chores. They could still escape for hours on end,
exploring the forestry trails, many of which led them into completely
unspoiled, virgin forests of immense grandeur. They had enjoyed
similar, although less extensive freedom in Kingston, and the beauty of
Wau was deeply imprinted. Even Nic, still only a toddler when whisked
away into a strange new world, occasionally remembered people and
places, with special emphasis on Pam and on Bukem.
The neighbours, most of whom had suffered more
severely than we, were quite philosophical about the damage to pastures
caused by the Viet Kong, as Michael called the Army Worms.
'The Turnip Rains 'il do the trick, good an proper.
Shee'l be right. No worries.' they said.
Then those promised rains arrived, on exactly the
day the neighbours said they would start to fall. It would be steady,
gentle early January rain which would penetrate deep into the soil and
continue for five days, thus ensuring a bumper turnip crop for winter
cattle feed. [Not on Our Place though; after the Kingston debacle, we
now never ploughed and planted fodder crops, or anything at all,]
excepting all our fruit trees and vegetables, which was second nature
to me , after my years at Shalimar, North Rocks, NSW. This
welcome change in the weather cleansed the sprayed paddocks. Grass and
clover sprouted so rapidly that Sep thought it could be possible to
make more hay, as he had observed on one of his Hydro conference trips
in New Zealand but Wally insisted that you must never do that, or
even harvest the same paddocks within three years or more,
'Cause makin' 'ay takes so much outa the ground.'
He reckoned it was best to 'top' those fields
lightly, since 'The soil 'as warmed up now and the grass'll run away to
seed. Stock, 'specially sheep, don't like seedy grass. They'll jist eat
the bottom out and trample the rest, cos it's soft.'
Sep was a bit daunted by this 'topping' exercise. He
did not feel able to manage the mower, held up high, to cut the heads
off the pasture plants and, because his Christmas - New year break was
all but over, he asked Tas to do it. Tas also had the same task to
attend at home, so it was awhile before he found the time and by then,
the grass had 'got away' alarmingly. After in depth discussion with
Tas, we decided to forget the 'topping' and let the cows and their
vealer calves do the job instead.
It was a bountiful year, with incredible regrowth,
so we could be sure of a good return on the vealers when Ray determined
the optimum time for their journey to the saleyards.
The ewes, with lambs weaned and all but the shorn
ones gone to market, were in 'a rough paddock' to allow them to lose
excess weight by working hard for their sustenance till 'flushing' time
- lifting their level of nutrition, minus clover, for two weeks before
turning the rams loose in their fresh paddock on April Fool's Day.[ the
gestation period for sheep and goats is five months and for cattle,
nine months.] I had gained all this intricate knowledge by listening
to the ABC Country hour, long before the family left
Kingston. I hoped it would work. If all the ewes did not lamb within
three to six weeks, the advice was to identify the late ones, using
small ear tags, then cull them after their lambs were weaned.
Over the subsequent years, that information proved
correct. Tailenders were on top rations for too long; they were the
only ones to have lambing difficulties and they failed to settle back
in lamb on their first cycle. The experts and the old timers all knew
Next year, at lambing time, I knew it would be very
important to have our first crop of lambs up and running by Spring
School Holiday time. That way there would be adequate
help with marking and vaccinating of the lambs, in easily erected,
temporary yards in a sunny corner of a clean, fresh
paddock, to ensure total infection control. In this, our first year,
all those jobs, for both calves and lambs, had been completed before
our arrival but we doubted whether the stock had received any
vaccinations, as several lambs had died of tetanus and a big, bonny
vealer succumbed to blackleg - all agonising deaths. Arthur had warned
us that both these scourges were on the land so we knew we could not
ignore his warning. In subsequent years, on his advice and as an
extra precaution, I vaccinated the ewes before lambing.
When our first lambing commenced, Sep and Alex or
Chris erected the lamb marking yards, and when the weather was fine,
we all beat the ground with polypipe or anything that made a
noise and helped to induce the ewes and lambs to enter them. With
Lassie's discreet assistance, and enough noisemakers, we usually got
them in quite easily, especially if the wide entry race ran up hill.
Sep dealt with the 'elastrators' and earmarkers, standing in a
frequently topped up container of disinfectant and pre-boiled water and
I vaccinated on fine weekends. We did not encounter any losses or
infections as a result of the procedures, so they must have been
For mid- week marking - it was school holiday time
for lambing - the lads constructed the yards and I performed all the
procedures. This was necessary, as the lambs were born and grew at such
a rate that if they were more than a few days old, it became hard work
to catch, lift and hold them, all four legs deftly clasped, lying on
their backs on the 'marking' board, atop the best placed fence panel
and ensuring painless immobility. Unless we had an army of helpers, we
found that the mobs were difficult to get into the yards. The
ewes knew exactly what the exercise was all about. All animals take
exception to dogs when their young are newborn. We soon learned that
persuasion was better than force. Lassie circled the mob at a distance
and held it together, then every one else beat the ground with noisy,
hollow polypiping or empty fertiliser bags, which made a
crackling sound. The task was eventually completed with relative ease,
especially if the approach to the yard was on rising ground.
When all the baby lambs had been marked, Alex and
Chris attended some locally held Pony Club Rallies and had
barrels of fun. Nic preferred hunting native hens, bareback, on
barefoot Vanessa, an endless delight.
I had very little luck in gaining our lads'
overwhelming interest in fern cutting or thistle hoeing. especially if
they had friends to stay, which was often. But that was fine by
me because we never experienced any angst during these visits, the
guests were not put off by our perhaps, by some standards, humble abode
and all of them appreciated being left to decide the activities in
which they participated.
Our boys had their chores, about which they never
complained, and their friends either helped them or me, as first light
occasionally revealed paddock situations that had to be dealt with
immediately. A hearty breakfast always followed. As they only came on
weekends or for short breaks during school holidays, they did not get
bored by constant repetition and could happily sleep in if they chose.
I revelled in their company because they were boys and I had learned to
understand that they never liked being told what to do, unless they
actually requested direction.
Sep suffered these 'invasions' stoically and did not
seem to mind a full and noisy house , except at evening dinner time,
when, with a smile, he placed his meal on a tray, withdrew to the
living room, closed the door and dined alone, totally absorbed in
television. Our mob were rarely interested in TV, so boys who loved it
did not bother to visit. No one would have dreamed of disturbing Sep.
He valued his solitude.
Chris and Nic, who had scored the sunny master
bedroom for study desks, bookshelves and room to socialise, had double
decker bunks, made by Sep in Kingston long before the move and never
previously used by visitors, as the need had not arisen in a closely
settled area. Alex had a room to himself because he had given Nic a
hard time for 'snuffling' at Kingston. His room faced SE where the
early morning sun aroused him at first light and could accommodate his
two floor bunks with drawers underneath and adequate space for his desk
and bookcases. Both of those bedrooms had built-in clothes cupboards,
with shelves and hanging space.
Sep and I had chosen the smallest room, minus any
cupboards. It faced North, like Chris and Nic's. Our bed, bedside
tables and my sewing machine, all just fitted in neatly. We lived out
of suitcases until a carpenter in Ulverstone made lovely wooden floor
to ceiling, fitted wardrobes for each of us. When they were
delivered, it was not possible to install them because there was no
straight passage from either front or back door to our bedroom door and
even if such a passage had existed, we would not have been able to
stand them up!
Sep and I were red faced and so was the carpenter.
Not one of us had thought of the impossibility of getting those
structures upright inside any house with a ceiling of similar height!
So off they were carted, back to Ulverstone, where a contrite carpenter
felt as silly as we did and we all had a jolly good laugh. He then 'cut
their heads off,' made every thing look fine, then supervised their
reconstruction in the bedroom. After all this drama, we decided they
were now 'built-ins and would remain there for the life of the house.
Back to the boys. None of them had acquired
'horsy' friends thus far, so they devised strategies to keep their
guests entertained. The steep slopes of heavy timber across the river
and on adjoining properties left plenty of options for exploring on
foot or building cubbies of intricate design - always with a keen eye
out for avoiding the prodigious number of giant sized yellow bellied
black 'tiger' snakes that inhabited the whole farm. As even very
precipitous land had been cleared for potato growing, except the block
across the river, which was a late acquisition in Arthur's time, little
had been left under forest.
All the tillage had been powered by horses and
men - and Gill, - on foot, enabling cultivation where even
crawler tractors would have overturned. Because the land was so
bountiful, it was ploughed often and as the plough always encountered
basalt rocks which must have broken easily, there were big rock piles
all over the hillsides. Where they were absent, with the exception of
river flats, regularly top dressed during sudden spates, the soil was
poorer and probably once used for artificially fertilised fodder crops,
or left for grazing. Those huge piles of stones, carefully constructed
to ensure their stability, made ideal homes for rabbits and snakes, so
it really was 'a snaky place'. You had to watch your step!
Miraculously, no man or beast was ever bitten during the thirty five
years the family lived on, or visited the property and I continued,
alone, after all family members had moved on to new endeavours. With
top Farm Apprentice Daleen working with me, good friends around me and
our great working dogs making every task a pleasure, there was no cause
for sadness. All the family members were following their individual
After years of working and training, Alex,
initially in Tasmania and then in far North Queensland, became a flying
instructor at Moorabbin, Victoria and following the accumulation
of sufficient flying hours in varied aircraft, night and day, was
accepted as a First officer with Ansett Airlines.
Two years later, Chris had followed Alex's example
and briefly became a flying instructor with Flightways, which was
failing, so he switched to the Royal Victorian Aero Club, where
he made some good friends before leaving for real challenges in
New Guinea, with Talair, a regional airline, offering 'Jetstyle Comfort
Where Jets Can't Fly' and based in Wau, where he was born. A head
hunter from Ansett was in New Guinea, a very dangerous flying zone, to
offer job applications to interested pilots. Chris accepted an
application form, was successful and joined his elder brother with
Nic was at Uni in Launceston for four years and
graduated as a qualified Secondary Teacher. He suffered a
life-threatening accident during his final year but managed to graduate
well, with his peers, as he dragged his cumbersome arthrodesis up the
stairs to the rostrum of the City Hall in Launceston, received his
degree and clomped downstairs again on the other side, to a huge
Sep, scaling the heights, moved to Hydro Head
Office in Hobart. Now true brass, as the Hydro Electric Commission's
Chief Geologist and a resident of Empress Towers, his worthy ambition
The Rabbit Problem.
The rabbits on Mount Pleasant have finally scored a
mention. During our first Autumn on Mount Pleasant, the district Vermin
Control Officer turned up in early March and carefully explained our
responsibility for full co-operation in the drive to exterminate all
rabbits in the District, as an integral part of a Statewide endeavour
to make Tasmania totally free of the damaging pests. We were more than
pleased to see him, for we had a huge and damaging number of rabbits,
so numerous down in the gravelly Hut paddock that the noise of them
scurrying down their burrows could still be heard long after they had
disappeared from view - the ground fairly rattled and shook.
We soon learned that we and all landholders, were
legally required, over a period of many weeks, to poison them annually.
As each treated area was deemed safe for restocking, the next lot of
poison baits were laid in unstocked fields, on and on until the whole
place had been systematically 'cleared of vermin' and the big warning
sign, 1080 Poison Laid, taken to the next place on the Vermin Control
Officer's list. 'Extermination' was the big word used by the
authorities but who ever heard of that happening before Myxomatosis was
introduced! And even then, the wily bunnies would persist, albeit
in fewer numbers.
Most of our neighbours took rabbit control seriously
and we all did our best, with the exception of the one with the largest
property in the district who shared the longest boundary adjoining our
place. This bloke was finally forced to poison but did not put his
carrots or apples through the magic mangold cutter that 'came with our
place' and used by many surrounding property owners. It was a
beautifully balanced 'arm strong ' machine that required no sweat at
all to produce the perfect bait and certainly much less effort than
chopping them up small with a spade in a steel tub.
We had also obtained an old horse drawn shave
plough in the hand-over when we bought the place and it worked like a
gem behind the Fiat, cutting a neat, shallow furrow, then turning the
sod cleanly to the side, earth side up, to allow replacement over the
furrow and quick regrowth of grass at the completion of the grisly
exercise, which I absolutely loathed.
Vermin Control was taken very seriously by the
Authorities, who employed a special Vermin Control Officer, who was
always helpful and efficient. He was the only person permitted to
handle the dreaded 1080 and dispensed it on the chopped carrots or
apples, mixed it thoroughly and erected the big red and white 1080
POISON LAID notices on every access gate to the property. He kept a
very keen eye open for any land holders who might misuse his
trust. If any poisoned bait was unused, we had to inform him and only
he could dispose of it as it was lethal to many animals, especially
dogs, cats and some native fauna.
Before our second poisoning year came round, Nic had
been given a very inappropriate little terrier x pup whom he named Ted,
and was able to train him to remain 'at heel.' A miracle, because
terriers are not bred to 'heel'. He truly adored this bundle of devoted
energy who followed him everywhere, even clandestinely into his top
bunk at night, but was left safely chained and in his own
kennel while Nic was at school during the day. Since poisoning time,
Ted was no longer just 'at heel', but also on a lead, at all times -
except when in Nick's bunk or chained up and in his kennel.
Weeks after poisoning was over, Nic decided to see
if he could spot a crayfish in the River. Ted, still on the lead, 'just
in case', trotted along beside him, down through the fast growing pine
forests. At the river, Nic tied him up at the base of a sag plant and
went to look for his crayfish but had no luck - the smelly meat lure
wasn't smelly enough - so he untied his pup and set off for home in the
fading light. Once there, Ted went back on his chain and Nic came
inside to prepare dinner for him and for Lassie, who were both fed at
night. I served our dinner, and when replete, all three boys asked Sep
if they could watch Z Cars, an English Police series which they all
Cleaning up in the kitchen, I suddenly heard a
frantic, piercing howl and raced out to find Ted thrashing around on
the ground at the end of his chain, foaming at the mouth and totally
demented. I threw a clean potato bag over him to allow me to pick him
up and hold him to me, without getting savaged. It was an awful death;
the worst I'd ever seen, in man or beast. It made tetanus and blackleg
seem almost humane. I was glad I had heard his initial anguished wail
because he now looked peaceful enough in my arms for me to go in and
tell Nic. Had I not been able to wrap him in the bag and hold him tight
he would have smashed his head to pieces.
Rage at humankind engulfed me. Suddenly, I realised
that we had no right on this stolen land which had no rabbits before it
was settled by our forebears, such a short time ago. We were
brutal and greedy people. To kill rabbits, we used 1080 - to end a war,
we used Nuclear Bombs. What future was there for our wonderful boys?
What future faced our polluted, over stressed and only World where
economies depend on 'unlimited growth and exploitation of finite
With tears streaming down my face, I carried Ted
into the milking shed and turned on the light, wanting to make sure he
really did look at peace. And he did. He was also clean, all over.
Unsure of what to do next, I turned the light off and left the dairy.
At that moment, the light outside our back door came on and Alex
called me to the 'phone.
'Just get the number and say I'll ring back soon,
then come outside for a moment please. I need your help'. I carried Ted
up into the light and Alex soon joined me. He put his arms around me
and held me and the cradled puppy close for quite awhile, then asked,
When I told him, he was as distraught as I. We both
knew Nic had continued to keep his little dog on a lead, ages now since
the danger period was declared 'over'. After a long silence, Alex
'I think this is so serious that it concerns us all.
I'll go in and tell Nic, by himself and afterwards, just bring Ted in.
I can't believe we didn't hear anything in the living room. It must be
sound proof when that 'box' is on'.
Nic, not long turned ten, cracked up
completely, just like his Mum and both Sep and Chris 'took it hard too'.
Next day, a holiday, with lots of tears and
due ceremony, I went with Nic to bury Ted in the pine forest. He did
not say why he had chosen the spot until a year or so later, when Sep
relocated the fuel tanks into a well shaded area to avoid condensation
and we took the dog kennels to a good spot where they had full sun in
the morning, to keep them 'sweet,' then shade in the heat of midday and
early to mid afternoon.
On moving Ted's kennel, we found a well concealed
rabbit burrow underneath, with a long dead rabbit blocking the entrance
and minus one back foot. When poisoned, rabbits always make for home,
often blocking the burrows completely, so I made a practise of having a
long, strong length of flexible fencing wire handy to hook out those I
could not reach for burning, before sealing the burrow with fertiliser
bags, rammed in tight plus a well shaped rock, of which there was
seldom a shortage, belted in to place with a sledge hammer. We had
never seen rabbits, right under our noses, in the farmyard but the
evidence was clear - Nic's little mate did not find a rabbit's foot in
the forest - he found it at home, under his kennel.
More Poison woes.
As mentioned earlier, we shared our longest
south/east boundary with our one 'difficult' neighbour; the one who did
not approve of the law that compelled us all to poison rabbits every
year, or until such time as the they were deemed 'eliminated'.
Our place was shaped like a ragged T, with the
lengthiest north/south boundary vaguely following the West Gawler
River. The next most extensive, running east west, joined ours above
the third gate descending to our Gawler fields. There, at a huge
concrete post, it turned south, then roughly followed
a bank above the blue metal, winding road till the metal and culverts
petered out before reaching the final gate on our land. The boundary
fence continued, below the road, to a rough corner where it met yet
another neighbouring boundary fence and another hefty concrete post
where a pretty old and dilapidated rusty barbed wire fence turned west.
With rough bush next door, belonging to another neighbour, it proceeded
through a grassed area, along a spit of solid ground, with a Tea tree
and sag swampland on our side, crossed the river via a sagging
floodgate and then struggled up a steep hill through dense bush, all
the way up to the western boundary.
Between the third and final gates on our road,
a huge blackberry hedge created a strong barrier between our
place and our neighbour who did not wish to poison rabbits. He was
eventually forced, by law, to comply, thus creating a disaster for some
of our ewes, as whole carrots or big chunks of them, rolled out from
under the hedge and on to the roadway below. Later inspection showed
that the netting of the fence had been trampled in to the ground by the
neighbouring cattle in that very exposed next-door paddock as they
jostled for shelter against the savage south westerly gales. The ewes
in our paddock, the beautiful New Gawler, who were luxuriating on pre
mating, not too rich grass, liked to 'camp' on the level road at night
and some must have taken a liking to the carrots when they rolled under
the fence, down through the blackberries and on to the road. By law,
every land holder had to notify neighbours prior to poisoning and the
Rabbit Control Officer erected signs stating - 1080 Poison Laid.
Stock checks, early morning, noon and evening, gave us no clue that our
neighbour planned, at long last, to actually poison rabbits. No visible
furrows had been ploughed, nor any notification given, either
verbally or by letter, but we needed a new funeral pyre for the ewes
who perished. The Rabbit Control man, usually so diligent, confirmed
that the dead ewes had ingested carrots and the 1080 poison bait, but
had no explanation as to how, why and by whom they were poisoned.
Due to the extreme difficulty of the terrain and the
disinterest of that neighbour, I dreaded working down there, near the
boundary - it was spooky and smelt bad. Neighbouring stock, with the
exception of rabbits, did not breach the fence with its high forest of
thorns on our side, perhaps because they could not see over it, so I
only spent time and sweat on bramble removal in that particular area
after the 'hot wires' were installed in the 1980's. An earlier
breaching had occurred beyond and below our boundary gate, where
there was no tall blackberry hedge to protect the old fence. The ground
in that corner was of light loam, not rich, red basalt, so essential
for vigorous bramble proliferation. Sep, bristling with anger,
succeeded in getting himself paid, in full, by the neighbour, to
replace that fence.
Myxomatosis was the next Big Miracle to be
introduced to deal with the wily bunny. Rabbit control officers trapped
many of our rabbits, ear tagged them, introduced rabbits carrying the
fleas that spread the disease and then put them all together in the
horse float, from which there was no escape. They were supplied with
adequate food and water and eventually released around the farm.
The disease slowly but surely took hold and proved reasonably
effective, but the way the animals died, slowly; blind, deaf and
disoriented, with very little fur left to protect their emaciated
frames from the elements as they dragged themselves around laboriously
in search of soft grass to nibble with their cancerous looking lips and
loose teeth - was worse than 1080 for them - at least that had ensured
a lightning fast demise.
Fast Forward. Interlude with the Big, Black, Angry Snake.
Many years later, after Sep had become 'brass' at
the Hydro Head Office in Hobart, and left the Farm, one early
Summer evening, soon after our Farm Apprentice, Daleen, had completed
her course and topped the State, and I had been persuaded by the Ag.
Dept to take on a 9 to 5 lad for the final six months of his course, I
was alone on the property and went to check weaned heifers in The Slip.
This was a steeply banked, rough area on either side of the swiftly
flowing Camp Creek on our Eastern and Southern boundary corner. Arthur
had fenced it off with sturdy, double gauged rabbit proof netting and
galvanised barbed wire to create a barrier between his neighbours'
rabbits and his artificially fertilised fields. He told me that he was
the first in the district to use the miraculous superphosphate. We
quickly found it counterproductive on this acid, basalt soil. The
spreading of tons of lime was essential to follow it to ensure the
optimum pH for the growth of really strong pasture species but
which we soon found lacking in essential minerals, thus creating severe
deficiency diseases, as described in a later episode of this topsy
Earlier, during the hay making season, Alex had come
home from Melbourne on his days off from flying with Ansett and mowed
Wright's Corner paddock, adjacent to the Slip, initially 'rounding' the
corners, to save precious time, thus leaving quite a large area of
tall, unmown pasture on the unsquared angles, While checking the
heifers, who all came up to the fence to see what I was doing there, I
chose to push my fern hook ahead of me to clear any snakes in the grass
who may be snoozing in the warmth of the setting sun. Well, suddenly I
disturbed the biggest Tiger snake I'd ever seen. Instead of moving away
at the touch of the fern hook, as normally occured, this one towered to
an enormous height, then, lowering its head and body, charged straight
at me, following the line of the hook. Its momentum shot it between my
legs and as it rose to strike, it went under the back of my sweater
which was tied around my waist.
Both the snake and I were terrified, it belting the
back of my head and neck with the top part of its anatomy whilst
whipping my legs to pieces with its nether end. Struggling to
untie the knotted sleeves of my sweater to release this
antagonist and somehow managing to keep a grip on the handle of the
fern hook to defend myself, I have never been able to fathom how I was
able to leap a Grand National Beacher's Brook to finally get completely
The snake was where I left it, half 'standing' and
absolutely dazed. With all its smashing about at the back of my
head, I too felt faint and sure that I must have sustained multiple
venomous bites. There was nothing I could do. I was alone. Not even
Lassie's replacement, Bengeo Peggy Sue was there - she had new puppies,
again. She'd had a busy day, shifting sheep to clean pastures and had
returned to the pups, in the barn. They probably took more out of her
than working and as I started to withdraw from the battlefield, there
she was, coming to lick my hand, just as my sight was fading. Usually,
when she'd 'had enough' of the young of her many litters, she'd simply
jump out of their hay bale pen and enjoy a nap close by. However did
she know where I was and that I needed her? Crying with gratitude, I
knelt down beside her and hugged her to me as she licked my salty tears.
Sue's arrival alerted the snake who 'stood up'
really high then lowered its head and threatened us. I could still
dimly see its menacing intent, so I shook the hook at it and went to
advance, saying quite politely that 'I'll cut your B head off if you
don't piss off!' He/she, got the message, turned away, dropped into the
grass and slithered towards the safety of Bill's place, next door. As
it departed, so did my sight.
Just like Lassie, all those years ago, Sue guided me
home. Never before had she entered the house but she came in, as if it
was the usual thing to do. She stayed close beside me as I went to
phone the Doctor. The phone was a new one, in the kitchen now and I was
able to dial the familiar number by 'feel'. He was very upset but as I
was not exhibiting any of the usual signs of snake bite, except fear
and shock, he felt sure that the snake was probably more
terrified than I, and as it struggled so hard to escape, had been
unable to actually strike.
'And I don't have any antivenene here either - even
if I send the ambulance up from the Hospital at Latrobe - that's the
closest place with a supply - it could not arrive in time - those big
blacks kill too fast. The loss of eyesight is simply shock. Rug up well
and try to relax. I'll ring you in about an hour, so stay awake till
then. Don't worry, you'll be fine.'
And so I was - just fine.
Playing with Fire.
Because Len, our briefly immediate predecessor
on this land, had tried to eliminate all the Rubbish by setting it
alight, he had made a real mess all over the place, most devastatively,
in the Slip. On our early investigation of that area, whilst looking
over the property, I had noted its steepness, ferns and blackberries
galore but was cheered by the prolific growth of young, tall and
healthy blackwood trees, right throughout the gully. During the
interval between our inspection and subsequent purchase, he had burnt
the whole area to a crisp, encouraging abundant regrowth of everything
but the fire tender, rainforest Blackwoods, all of which were stone
I had been absolutely devastated by this wanton and
senseless destruction. The fire had also damaged or destroyed most of
the boundary fence posts, giving us a difficult job to tackle early on;
our neighbours there, Wally, on the east side and Bill, on the
south, reckoning the normal share procedures for boundary fencing did
not apply, as they had not been consulted or recompensed by Len, and
would not countenance the thought of any assistance with the
fence replacements. Great neighbours one day, tough the
An Early Interlude.
I planned my days with care, forever tackling
'rubbish;' mostly blackberries, ferns and thistles and could be seen
- actually, a pretty rare event, due to the topography of the
place - with the-good natured goats trotting along beside me.
They needed no urging because they relished blackberries, especially
the young shoots emerging from recently cut and burned bushes. Cutting
and burning the bushes and the Scotch Thistles was essential, lest
woolly sheep fleeces became infested with thorns or seeds, thus
seriosly lowering their handling properties and value. When the family
was at home, I would return to the house to fix lunch but usually spent
long hours on the midday stock check, hoeing one day and slashing the
next. The place was looking better all the time. The shrubs, flowers
and vegetables were thriving. as were the livestock. And, best of all,
Sep, I and lads were healthy and fit.
After the Turnip Rains and the complete recovery of
permanent pastures decimated by the Army Worms, the fodder crops of
rape and Italian ryegrass, recognisable only by the bleached stalks of
rape on bare red earth, required resowing with perennial grass and
clover. At Kingston, when I decided we wanted something like that, Sep
had hired a contractor to plough and sow our five acres, in the forlorn
hope that we would finish up with three nice paddocks of forage for
goats and ponies.
Our sloping block was on sandstone country. As soon
as the job was completed, gentle rain began to fall and we were
jubilant. But not for long. The rain became a torrent and we watched
our precious soil washed into runnels that finally carried it all the
way down the steep hillside below our property, across roads, down many
driveways and through gardens, to Brown's Creek and out into the
Derwent River estuary. Our 'nice little paddocks' were now washed away
and, in their place was a vastly altered landscape of
piled-up remnant soil between large, flattish sandstone rocks, in soft
shades of mauve, ochre and pink, on which the goats were
comfortably 'at home' and the ponies dejected. Some grass came up,
perhaps from hayseeds, but the winner was Cape Weed, an absolute
scourge. With such a catastrophe imprinted forever, neither Sep nor I
wanted to see a plough on any paddock again.
Thus informed, Michael suggested we buy a sod seeder
which we did, at enormous cost and never regretted the purchase -
it was a gem, delivering the seed straight into the ground, the deep,
gently cut soil closing as soon as the coulters had passed through it.
As the big, then Laurelberry paddock opposite the house had also been
sown down to annual fodder crop and heavily grazed through Spring and
early Summer, in spite of being saved from the Army Worm invasion, it
had been 'eaten out' and it too, was now ready to be resown to
permanent pasture. With truck spreaders, contractors diffused lime and
super phosphate over both fields and a week later, Tas sod-seeded both
paddocks . They shot away quickly and looked like all the others in no
time. I was regaining my confidence. Things were going well,
until the entire Lauralberry paddock became infested with Scotch
Thistles. On advice from the Dept of Agriculture, it was sprayed with
the Magic 254T, which decimated the thistles and also the essential
clover, which took years to recover. Now believing in University
trained experts, I had once again forgotten North Rocks and Mr Maher's
proven words of wisdom. Sep was right when he reckoned I was all brawn
and no brains!
The Next Disaster!
The recently shorn ewes in the rough Pea paddock,
had done an incredible job of clearing the weeds, even to eliminating
the 'buzzies'. There, the seeds, if allowed to mature, could have
ruined their new wool. They were now being fed a daily ration of hay,
the 'leaves' set out in ordered rows to ensure that fresh hayseeds
would be sown by their cloven hooves by trampling them into the rich
chocolate soil. As the Fiat was often in use for grass harrowing
or for carting the concrete mixer, reinforcing iron, gravel, water and
bags of cement to enable Sep to construct new straining posts to hang
steel gates in a couple of paddock entrances still served by pull-up
barbed wire varieties, I had been using the trailer, hitched behind the
station wagon, when the tractor jobs were unfinished and I did not want
to waste time on the 'change- over'.
One day I was away longer than planned and the boys
came home from school to find the trailer, loaded with hay, hitched
behind the wagon and ready to go. Same as usual, they changed into farm
clothes, ate piles of weetbix, and wondered why I had not 'fed out' the
hay. With tractor and harrows absent, they reckoned I had not finished
down there, wherever I was working and decided to give me a nice
surprise by feeding the ewes, who were in an adjacent field - they knew
what to do - they had helped me before. But not without the dog,
who was with me.
Already, in spite of their tender years, all of them
could ride or drive everything on the place, even old Henry. I was
scared stiff of him. Sep had given me lessons out behind Gran's place,
on the relatively level ground but Henry was far too heavy to handle
and I knew his weight would compact the soil - just one single back
wheel weighed over a ton - I thought he would make a fine
stationary motor down on Camp Creek, pumping irrigation water for
lucerne, if we ever decided to follow that craze, becoming popular
So the lads went down the road and struggled to get
through the gate, two of them , outside the wagon, matched against 550
hungry sheep, who, at that stage, like themselves, had not realised
that Lassie was missing and did not immediately charge at the entrance.
Neither Chris nor Nic thought to get atop the load to be ready to cut
and secure the binder twine - they knew that it was dangerous for
livestock and must never be dropped - but when they'd helped before
they'd climbed aboard after they had shut the gate - and Lassie
controlled the sheep. Where was she?
Unaware of her absence, the driver, Alex, sped well
up the incline to where they would start feeding out, jammed on the
handbrake, put the wagon in Park or First gear, he could not remember
which, then had a battle to exit the vehicle because the sheep were
running round and round it in a frenzy. unable to get near the hay,
which was beyond their reach. He then realised they were actually
pushing the trailer and, through the towbar, the wagon, in little jumps
uphill - it was in gear - and there was no way he could get
back inside to save it.
Minus Lassie, none of them could now get anywhere
near the trailer to drag a few bales off it to keep the ewes occupied
- ewes are much bigger, heavier and stronger than young
schoolboys and they were unable to run over their backs like a
sheep dog. Devastated, they watched as the front wheels turned,
the 550 ewes kept pushing and the momentum of the wagon and trailer
accelerated, still in slow motion jumps, now, downhill. The grade eased
a little at the barbed wire fence beside the road to the southern end
of the Gawler River fields and the boys hoped for a miracle as the
wagon's progress was briefly halted.
Then all the fence wires snapped or were flattened
and the progress continued, very slowly, across the blue metal,
coarsely gravelled road. The weight of the heavily laden trailer
counter balanced the wagon till it was held horizontally over the
steep, almost sheer 12ft drop into the field below. Three horrified
boys then watched as the avalanche of hungry sheep picked their way
through the severed or flattened wires of the broken fence and
continued to attack the hay, edging the trailer forward. Then suddenly,
but still in slow motion, the wagon arced into a nose dive,
somersaulting the trailer and its load way out onto the grass below,
scattering the bales in all directions.
Alex said the sheep were momentarily nonplussed but
then they realised that all movement had ceased and dinner was served.
Avoiding the huge leap before them, they streamed down the road to gain
easier access and were attacking the bales with relish. They then
swiftly smelled the fresh, green grass being trampled underfoot and
their priorities changed. They spread out and commenced to graze with
gusto - a privilege denied for two long months. Who ever thought
that sheep were silly!
The boys were in shock. Their precious station
wagon lay on its roof - all four wheels in the air. The trailer,
built by Sep, also had its wheels aloft, but, from their viewing
position, well up the road and out of danger, it appeared undamaged.
Even the wagon still looked like a wagon, albeit with a snappy,
flattened roof. All the glass looked intact and they could see the
steering wheel, not broken, either.
Then they ventured down the road to the steep
bank where the accident occurred. From that elevated viewing spot, they
could see that the engine block, the drive shaft and the differential
were fractured and oozing oil. They all knew that meant 'curtains' and
they may have wept. They could not remember, as they suddenly realised
that they were uninjured and not one of those pesky sheep had been hurt
at all, even when the fence wires snapped.
Very shaken, Alex elected to find and tell me the
sad news. Suddenly aware that he could not hear the tractor, he felt a
surge of panic - he could not recall whether he had listened out
for it before they had decided to 'help' me. To confine the
'wicked' sheep, now briefly enjoying all that hay and fresh grass,
Chris and Nic shut the Dip paddock gates along the roadway to the
Gawler Paddocks, and the road to the outside world, then hopped on
their steeds, bareback and bridleless, to check the stock.
Alex ran through the lower half of the Laurelberry
paddock, then followed the track below Harold's's western boundary
fence, towards the enormous Hut paddock which encompassed very steep
hillsides, facing right round through north east, north and west, and
with the West Gawler River meandering through the only really flat land
on the property. It had once been a farm in its own right and it did
have a well built, habitable hut, home to the original owner. Alex
always planned to remove it to his chosen site on the far side of the
river, in a sheltered nook, well above flood level.
Years later, he actually did dismantle the hut
with extreme care, planed and sealed all its timbers and cleaned its
roofing iron, then rebuilt it on a concrete base with nice big windows
and the chimney facing the end of 'next door's' gully, to catch
the breeze. The heavily timbered gully, fenced off from livestock, also
delivered pristine spring water close to home, albeit way down at the
bottom of a steep bank, which ensured against flooding of his chosen
site. He fully lined the interior, Grandma donated a thick , luxurious
wall to wall rubber backed carpet and verandahs graced front and
back of his secluded hideaway with its Gawler Valley views.
Just moments before Alex reached my side to
relate the news about the demise of the precious station wagon, I had
been thinking about him and his selection of the hut's siting after the
1000 year flood went down. Stock checking on horseback, he had diverged
and ridden into that very spot, then surrounded by huge, grand old
wattle trees , all covered in blue-green lichen and with not long to
live. There, he observed the small, elevated area that had no flood
detritus on it and knew it was a safe place to relocate his dream. He
had shown it to me, and it was lovely but I doubted his resolve to
actually get around to the task. What a cynical, doubting mother. I had
misjudged that resolve and always felt humbled by my lack of
Now, as he approached the gateway into that paddock,
he spotted me, off the tractor and nonchalantly hoeing thistles,
mindless of the time of day because I never wore a watch when harrowing
- I thought the 'jarring' was bad for it! It was early March but
'daylight saving' still made it hard to be sure of the time and these
thistles had waylaid me considerably - what had looked to be few
turned out to be many.
Lassie ran up to greet Alex, and I, alerted by
the dog's movement, stopped hoeing and walked towards him. He later
said that he was glad to see that I was all right - he had
imagined every possible horror when he could not hear the penetrating
put, put, put, of the Fiat, which did not sound loud to the operator
but could be heard miles and miles away. He was unable to find words to
describe the debacle in the Pea paddock but I knew what would have
occurred without Lassie to help them and just hugged him. I too, was
speechless with relief that no one was injured.
It was as well that the stock check was over by the
time we returned to the house. I knew Nic often rode 'naked' but had
never seen Chris on a saddle and bridleless Sasha, who could be 'nappy'
At last we were in the kitchen, drinking tea and eating Anzacs,
all safe and sound. Sep would soon be home - we were not looking
forward to telling him about yet another disaster. Tea and biscuits
finished, I asked Chris if he would 'please milk this evening', which
he often did, anyway. Then I went out with Alex to examine the wreckage
in the Dip paddock and all I could do was thank God that no one
had been injured. Surveying the density of grass in the paddock, the
speed with which it was being consumed and the almost untouched hay
bales, I knew that fresh grass would scour and possibly even bloat the
ewes after their lengthy confinement on dry tack. Without further ado,
Lassie and I mustered and drove them into the yards, hoping they would
all be fine by morning.
Very nervous now about Sep's reaction to the paddock
scene and wanting to prepare a meal he would really enjoy, I showed and
dressed in clean clothes. It was getting pretty late, the shadows were
lengthening and soon the sun would disappear behind the Dial Range, as
the long twilights were drawing in.
At last we heard the Ute approaching, and, unasked,
we all went out in force to meet it. As I had been the main culprit in
most of the disasters of our tenure on this land, I stepped forward to
announce the latest episode of my ineptitude, frankly admitting that I
should have been at the house to welcome the boys home from school,
thus averting the accident that had now crippled the station wagon and
which could so easily have maimed our precious boys. How they all
avoided those high tensile, snapping wires was a miracle!
Sep looked perplexed and shocked, but not angry. The
poor fellow must have become accustomed to his family of Dingbats. Alex
then told him what had happened and he just grinned!
'Like all FC models, the station wagon has and
always had, a totally worthless handbrake, so don't get too broken
hearted, Alex - the wagon carries full insurance - just
thank your lucky stars that you all managed to escape.'
Nic hugged him round the legs. Chris, tall for his
age, stepped forward to hold his hand and Alex looked mightily
relieved. Sep just patted their snowy heads and continued,
'Now take me down there to assess the damage before
we lose the light.' And off they walked in single file, hand in hand,
Sep picking up the big torch from its hook in the back porch as they
filed through the door.
On their return, he walked straight to the phone to
call the Insurance Agent and I started dishing up dinner. Because he
and the boys had to go to work or school next morning, Sep in his Hydro
Ute, also an FC, with a useless handbrake, I hurried through my early
morning chores in intense trepidation, hoping this Insurance Man would
not be like the ones who, not all that long ago, accused me of
deliberately lighting the house fire. Fortunately, he was genial,
suitably sympathetic and made no mention of children being left in
charge. He just looked at the wagon and expressed awe at the fact that
the chassis and pillars had withstood such a huge fall.
'Good, strong construction,' he stated, with satisfaction. 'Saves many lives'.
Later, I was able to hitch the trailer behind the
tractor and retrieve the scattered bales, most of which had not
even busted their binder twine as they were catapulted in all
directions. The floor bales had been wedged in firmly and were not
dislodged, thus softening the impact when the flying trailer hit
the soft ground. The towbar was a bit bent but Sep reckoned it would be
alright to use it until he could straighten the bar during the weekend.
Before releasing the ewes from the yards where they
had spent the night, I inspected them closely to make sure that none
required crutching - some were 'a little loose' but they had not
been on the grass long enough to upset their digestions -
'thank you, God'. So I spread all the salvaged hay out in rows of
'leaves' in the almost bare house paddock, bare because the rams
- hastily removed to a pretty restricted area near the stables
- and Big Bill, the bull, resided there for about nine months and
the rams for over ten months of every year. Bill, with nowhere else to
go, was pleased to see all this hay spread out before him but
pretty angry when the ewes were released from the yards and into
Those ewes were not impressed either. Before
eventually tackling the sweet and nutritious hay, they inspected
every inch of their 'prison,' searching for more of yesterday's
delicious grass which they could smell - it was just across the
road - but a well fenced Macrocarpa hedge blocked their way.
Sep had arranged for Tas to mend the busted fence
when next he came and I hoped it would be soon, lest grass and clover,
from hayseeds planted by the ewes sharp, cloven hooves, shot away in
there too. I wished I felt confident enough to do the job on my own,
but there was rusty wartime wire in that fence and the prospect of
using the wire strainers on it made me scared - having learned on
new, galvanised, high tensile wire thus far- and there were miles and
miles of rusty, ungalvanized wire fences on the farm - all that was
available during WW2. I knew there would surely be fallen trees across
them, once the Winter storms arrived. so it was essential to learn the
exact techniques for judging correct tension to avoid self harm.
Tas turned up later that very morning to
resurrect the flattened fence. The concrete 'strainers' had withstood
the immense tension without budging an inch, thus simplifying the job
ahead. He showed me how to accurately gauge safe tension on the old
wires and deemed it necessary to renew two that had been so
over-stretched that they were no longer fit to handle. With the fence
repaired and scattered staples and stray lengths of rusty wire
carefully placed in the big fencing bucket, we replaced all the 'wooden
droppers' and steel 'star' posts that had been bent, broken or
displaced and were satisfied that the ewes could return there when they
had eaten their hay.
The ewes knew that fresh grass lay just across the
road. Aware that it would be difficult for Lassie to hold them against
the inside fence line between the House paddock, where they grudgingly
picked at their hay and their adjoining 'conditioning' Pea paddock, Tas
and I placed all the fencing gear in the trailer to carry it out to the
start of the next fencing job - along the opposite side of that
road. Sep had constructed the two reinforced concrete straining posts
when he finished the dip and they were now seasoned enough to carry the
steel and mesh gates, which he had also built. Tas said he would,
'Do my best to come back tomorrow - with
all new materials, hanging the gates and erecting the fence will be
child's play. I'll bring the Kelpie too - to give Lass a hand.'
As he was leaving to go home and milk his cows, the
Insurance Company crew arrived, with hoist-equipped tow truck and
trailer to remove the broken wagon. Tas reckoned they had timed the
visit perfectly and asked,
'Would you spend a couple of minutes with polypipe
and noisy plastic to help get the sheep into their field'?
And they did. It was just so easy. Once laden, the
vehicle recovery truck and trailer had no trouble getting out of the
paddock either. The driver assessed the gradient and decided to
go to the more level ground in the bottom corner where he easily
manoeuvred tow truck, trailer and load onto the blue metal road. The
station wagon was sitting evenly on its wheels and looked very smart
with its modern, flattened roof. I felt sure that no one would know
that it was a 'write- off'.
Sep came home with brochures advertising varied
prospective replacements for the station wagon. We had already found
that it had really struggled to get our new double horsebox up
the hills to the farm, so it seemed we needed a more powerful towing
vehicle and we all went into raptures over a glossy pamphlet,
advertising a white Valiant Regal in a pine forest setting, well aware
that red leather upholstery, wool carpeting to match and white walled
tyres would be impractical for a farm vehicle. Sep at last selected a
no nonsense, green standard model, with rubber on the floors, brown
bench seats and a lighter brown interior.
When the dealer brought it to our place for a trial
run around the paddocks, it looked very plebeian but it was equipped
with smooth, automatic transmission and performed exceedingly well,
without any slipping and sliding in gateways or on wet or steep ground.
And it was quiet. The motor purred softly. We were all mightily
impressed so Sep said,
'Yes, we'll have this one, but it will need 'proof
coating' to avoid stone and gravel damage underneath and also under the
bonnet lid and inside the boot, to avoid rust; plus a towbar for the
double horse float and a white roof, to keep it cool inside.'
He handed his list of extras to the dealer, who glanced at it briefly before saying,
'There's a fair bit of work to be done then. It's
Friday evening and it's unlikely that much will be started till Monday
and that's if it can be fitted in. There's usually only us blokes
around on week - ends. I'll just call them now on your
phone, if that's ok. There's sure to be someone working back to finish
a job. I'll deliver it up there on my way home and leave a Sold
sign and your list.'
He was right. He actually just caught his Boss, who
was about to leave. So the Boss spoke to Sep. 'We would have our new
'wheels' delivered next Wednesday evening.' Our salesman shook hands
and away he went.
We never saw him or the car again, even although the
vehicle was delivered, as arranged, to the Burnie workshop, which was
close to his home. Well. he had a key to the workshop and another
salesman had one too.
Next morning, bright and early, Salesman Number two
turned up to collect a designated car for him to demonstrate and
hopefully sell at the Wynyard Show. The run on the current model of '68
Valiants had been high, which was just as well, as the 69 Hemi's
were due in on Monday, so he was glad to see the last of the 'slant
six's ready and waiting for him. He collected the key from the
Manager's desk, went out to the car to check it over, noticed that it
had been fitted with a chrome towbar and a white roof, but he failed to
investigate the reason why. We were later told that there were a couple
of young blokes already working around the shop floor but nobody said a
word when he hopped behind the wheel and set off for the Show. There
the car was sold, paid for in full and delivery taken within minutes of
its arrival; the shiny towbar did the trick.
The salesman travelled with the new owners back to
the Burnie Office to complete the transfer of the vehicle and fireworks
exploded - the wrong car had changed hands and had now been paid for
twice. The new owner claimed 'possession was nine tenths of the law',
refused to abandon the wheel and drove away, saying, 'I'll collect the
papers on Tuesday.' The boys, equines and I had attended the Show and
knew nothing about this debacle. We were deeply shocked.
When Sep was informed, he simply stated that the
Company would have to find a replacement. They did not have one and
wanted to give us our money back. That offer was firmly refused. In the
end, the last of the model, state wide, was found in a rival Company
showroom in Launceston. And it was a white Regal - just as beautiful as
the one we had so admired in the brochure. It was finally delivered,
fully proof coated, with a chrome towbar and safety chain, for the
price already paid for the cheaper one.
Respecting its beauty, the Regal was treated thus
and was still going strong, with over 500,000 miles on the clock,
when the family sold the farm in the year 2000. It was never used as a
workhorse in the paddocks except to take VIP visitors on tours of
inspection, but it spent many long years towing the double box up and
down our precipitous roads and on multiple unmade tracks to and from
Eventing or Hunting venues, State wide, without ever letting us down.
It quietly made its way through deep mud and over areas torn to pieces
by 4 wheel drives, overdriven and hopelessly bogged and always reached
its destination without mishap. It reflected Sep's, and latterly, the
adult 'boys', expert attention to detail in regular motor maintenance,
plus the family's pre-start checks and careful driving.
Right from the start, the boys liked their new
school, even although they had arrived there well into the final term
of the year. Their school bus, from Gawler, departed from the Central
Castra District Hall each morning at 7.15 am and returned them back
there at 5 pm. They, like all the other local children, walked to and
from the bus and for many, the distances were considerable. The mile up
to Mount Pleasant was a cinch.
Alex was in Grade Six, Chris in Four and Nic in
Three. They had all made friends and a few came to visit on week-ends.
Our lads had been accepted at the local Pony Club, pending transfer
from their Southern Club. They loved this new one because it was
deliciously wild and woolly - none of the members really enjoyed staid
formality. The boys continued to attend farm tasks without
rancour and often cut their own school lunches too, while I cooked
breakfast - I thought that was the most important meal of the day.
After years of trying to induce them to consume ' healthy, Oslo type
lunches' at Kingston School, I had retired, beaten. The lunches I had
packed were very much in demand by children who always had white bread
and jam sandwiches. Now, if anyone chose to make those for his lunch, I
turned a blind eye.
After the Christmas school holidays, they all went
up a class and Alex commenced his secondary education at the Ulverstone
High School, which boasted about a thousand students and he loved it.
The same school bus catered for all Central Castra students, including
the private school children, who had their own primary school, down
near the beach. The bus driver was a pernickety little man, very easily
upset by the perceived misdemeanours of his passengers, and refused to
carry the culprits who were simply nettling the poor bloke by
pretending to dismantle the seats or damage windows with toy tool sets.
When he stopped and would not continue, all the passengers
cheered and exchanged plastic screwdrivers and wrenches. They grunted
and groaned to make their driver apoplectic and when he was truly
frantic, they sent the biggest boy down to tell him that they had put
everything back together again. Their journey home was then
Amid howls of disapproval by his peers, a day
finally arrived when Alex, who may well have been a ringleader in
all things wicked, was put off the bus, right at the bottom of the
first of two very steep hills, with a mighty long walk ahead of him. He
waved to his mates and was not the least upset. In no time, an old
Volkswagon, full of Hippies, picked him up, and, in a swirl of dust and
gravel, sped past the bus and his cheering mates. Humiliation for the
luckless bus driver.
The Isandula Road, because of its twists and turns,
precipitous gradients and rough, unsealed surfaces, carried very little
traffic, even although there were scattered farms all the way along it,
until it finally reached the higher ground and entered the State
Forestry pine plantations.
The farms there had reverted to the Crown after the
Great Depression, from the late nineteen twenties till WW2. The small
farmers who lived on and worked the land, had been unable to maintain
their usual self sufficiency, in spite of the good, basalt soil and
plenty of water. They had been persuaded by clever salesman to get rid
of their old-fashioned working cattle and horses, which reproduced
themselves, as required, and consumed only home grown grass, oats and
hay, for shiny trucks and tractors, so expensive to maintain and to
fuel. The Management of the Ellis General Stores in Ulverstone, Sprent
and Preston, attempted to supply basic sustenance to these now
destitute families, but the depression went on and on. Eventually,
almost all the landowners gave Ellis's their property deeds in exchange
for occupancy of their homes until they found work and moved away.
After the War, many displaced people from Europe
commenced their migration to Australia and one of them, an
experienced temperate zone forester, from Ukraine, found his way to
Tasmania and Isandula where he worked for the State Forestry
Commission, which had acquired the abandoned land ceded to Ellis's
By the time the Paterson clan arrived in Central
Castra, thousands of acres, between the East and West Gawler
rivers and the surrounding countryside, were densely covered with well
pruned, straight, majestic Radiata pine trees and scattered stands of
Douglas Firs. The migrant forester, who was the overseer in the area,
lived and raised a family on the edge of the place he loved, he and his
wife remaining there long after retirement. The forests were serviced
by heavy vehicle, white gravel roads for forest maintenance, and were
well used by motor cyclists, hot rodders, horse riders, anglers and
After our lads were grown and had left home to
follow their chosen careers, those friendly, picturesque roads were
replaced by heavily compacted rock and clay ones, prior to the
systematic harvesting of the mature trees. The new roads were
constructed to carry huge, modern day tree harvesting equipment and log
trucks. They were built for 'super efficiency' and lacked the beauty
and extent of the original ones by cutting out most of the very steep
and tortuous originals, or making them difficult to access.
The harvesting process was spread out over several
years. All the trees were felled but the new roads were not built
beside the river and many other spectacular sites, so large areas
were rendered impassable to wheeled recreational traffic and, in some
places, even horses. Woodcutters were unable to salvage firewood.
Extensive tracts of felled timber were left to rot. When sufficiently
dried out, all remaining logged areas were burned and gradually
replanted. Recreational activity had lost its allure.
By the time the last of the family members left
Mount Pleasant, the replanted forests, especially those on more fertile
ground, were looking strong, healthy and 'clean', due to expert
pruning. In another decade or so, they may be as grand as the
originals. Hopefully, the passage of time and the decomposition of
those trees felled and never harvested, will allow access to the
recreational and fishing areas that once made the Isandula forests so
majestic, but unless the area is in drought, most wheeled traffic will
be halted at the River crossings, because the bridges have all been
washed away and the banks are too high, the water too deep and the
river flow too strong, for easy access, even for off-road vehicles.
Our first Autumn.
Briefly, Daylight Saving still made the days one
hour longer, so we all continued to rise well before the crack of dawn.
The weather was very kind, with plenty of paddock feed and, with no
more lambs to sell and the rabbits under control, Sep was anxious to
know when the vealers would be ready to pay for the high cost of annual
contracted spreading of lime and superphosphate, as prescribed by
Arthur and surrounding neighbours. Ray advised that the markets were
'flat' and currently over supplied.
'It will be better to wait until at least the middle
of May. The numbers and quality in the saleyards will have dropped off
by then and yours will have reached their prime, leaving plenty of time
for the cows to be fit and ready to calve again in August.'
But in April, frost commenced to cover the ground
and scorch the artificially fertilised fields where the pasture became
badly 'burned' by cattle trampling it in the early mornings - a waste
of precious feed.
Without being advised by anyone, each ealy evening I
moved them to a fairly small, well sheltered area called the Six Acre
Bank and commenced feeding out sufficient precious hay to keep them
occupied till the frosts had melted next morning. From that night area,
after the frost had melted completely, they were given day access to
one of three adjoining, well grassed paddocks and their calves did not
suffer any setback. They 'finished' in prime condition and sold well.
Some tentative initiative had proved fruitful and Sep was pleased.
The ewes and rams were less damaging to frosty
grass. If left undisturbed, they wakened early, observed the snow white
ground and chewed the cud until the warmth from the sun made the
pasture grass palatable. After six busy weeks, the glory days of the
feisty remaining rams come to a close and they were returned to keep
Bill the bull company till next year. They were pretty grumpy about
this downgrading of status and fought one another, on and off, for a
week or so but there battles lacked zest and no more necks were broken.
Daylight Saving ended well before the
successful sale of the sappy, well finished vealers and the cows seemed
relieved that they were gone. They did not hang about, bawling, for
very long at all. They were grazed and fed hay in much the same pattern
as when they were all together, but now those same cows were very
contented. Because so many of their calves had reached weights near
rivalling their dams, they had became noticeably rough and demanding
towards the end and must have become a real burden on the cows.
Each successive morning the frosts were
heavier and thick ice covered the water troughs. Winter was nigh. When
riding Peter Pan over exposed fields on the front of the farm at first
light, I soon realised that it may be better to now check the
stock on foot, as his steel shod hoofs resonated as if on
bitumen. The ground was frozen solid, like a skating rink and he had
never experienced similar conditions at the lower altitudes of his
previous homes. Being Peter Pan, he must have considered me a Wuss for
dismounting and leading him home. He had not put a foot wrong, in spite
the conditions. Sensing his scorn, I remounted him in the farmyard,
rode him down our frozen road and out onto the unfrozen white gravel of
the pine forest for a quick 'burn'.
Honour restored, he came home in high spirits. We
met Alex on Sasha and Nic on Vanessa. They had checked the stock by the
River without concern on barefoot ponies, Chris had done the milking
and was in the deliciously warm kitchen, cutting school lunches and Sep
had fixed his own breakfast and was ready to leave for work. Late,
because I'd been belittled by a horse, I really did feel a proper Wuss
now. Nobody had noticed my absence, nor had
they needed me for anything at all!
The last days of Autumn were absolutely freezing. We
were grateful for the trouble free oil heater which radiated heat
throughout the house and was very economical on fuel. So far, it
required no maintenance either - always a plus with any appliance.
Our First Winter.
We had already experienced a strong foretaste of
this fabled, much dreaded season. Now it officially commenced on a
reasonably mild, windless evening, brilliantly lit by the finest sunset
so far experienced by any of us, anywhere. Our little house had very
big windows and the views were grand, so we did not normally troop
outside to look closely at the wonders of nature. Surrounded by beauty,
we had become indifferent to its subtelies.
This evening though, was different. Nobody said a
word but suddenly we were out in the Laurelberry paddock, Gran too, in
the soft, all encompassing, suffused light surrounding us and totally
entranced. As we stood there, mouths slightly open in wonder, a gentle
fall of fluffy, pink and gold snowflakes brought us back to a degree of
Looking skyward, the snow clouds which had crept in
were not the usual leaden black, blue and purple variety, experienced
here a few weeks back - the sleety snow they released was accompanied
by biting South Westerly gales and driving rain, fit to annihilate any
unsheltered newborn lambs - these were all of bright sunset hues,
breathtakingly soft and beautiful.
The air was still. I held Sep's hand and squeezed it
gently. He, who so eschewed emotion, returned the squeeze but not one
of us uttered a single word. We were all surely spellbound in the
wonderland surrounding us. Nic finally broke the spell. 'I'm cold' he
stated and we all concurred. As we walked back to our warm houses,
Chris broke rank to see Gran safely home to her Cottage, the clouds
lost their brilliance and the deepening snow turned from pink to white.
Soon night would fall.
The 'feeding out' of hay to all livestock had
commenced when the frosts became severe and the paddock feed, although
emerald green if untrampled, almost completely stopped growing. The
cows and vealers had been the first to receive supplementary
feeding and the importance of 'good hay in the barn' was truly evident.
To minimise damage to the stocked paddocks, waiting till quite late in
the day to feed the sheep and the cattle seemed the best option and
they never wasted a single straw unless heavy rain was falling.
Entering any field of cattle with a fully laden
transport board of hay was always a bit of a challenge. Lassie amazed
me by her tenacity She snapped at noses, driving the cows back
and holding them well away while I opened the gate, drove through it
and lowered the load to enable her to jump onto the hay to protect it
while I raised the board, then closed the gate. Snap, snap, snap went
her sharp little teeth. The cows respected those teeth. After all, they
had experienced her plucky determination when fed hay briefly before
their vealers were taken away. They now filed behind the tractor and
made no further effort to reach the bales.
When a clean, open and not too steep area was
reached, I put the tractor into its lowest, low ratio gear, set it on a
given course, lowered the transport board to the halfway mark
and, with my left hand on the engine cowling and my right hand on the
mudguard, lifted myself well above all the knobbed levers around
my boots and wet weather gear and jumped clear of the wheels, way
out into the field to then climb up beside Lassie, on top the hay. She
always appreciated a pat, acknowledged by a lick on my cheek, before
the cutting and saving of binder twine, then the throwing of single
leaves well clear of the tractor and wide apart so that none of it
would be trampled and spoiled, thus eventually perfecting an exercise
that would see me through 'feeding out' from the first day of May till
the last day of October for nearly thirty years.
The sheep were much easier for the dog to control.
For them, each leaf was broken into delicate handfuls and they 'cleaned
up' every single straw, having learned the art in the Pea Paddock
before 'tupping time', when the rams went out with them.
The cows were due to calve in early August and the
lambs in September. This first Winter was indeed very cold and the
south westerly storms forbidding, but Gill told me it was nowhere near
as bad as winters can get in our high country. She also told me where
the cows should be able to find the best shelter for calving and I was
grateful for her advice.
On another helpful visit, she suggested that the
front of the farm was the most protected from the elements, with its
Macrocarpa hedges that went right to the ground, and facing north east,
received more sun and less wind than most other areas. Except in wet,
easterly weather, 'the front' was usually best for lambing, as
adjoining fields, where 110 ewes and their newborn lambs could be
'drifted off' into groups for 'marking', ie, their ears clipped with
the property earmark, vaccination against an array of fatal diseases,
desexing of ram lambs and docking of all tails, less the blowflies get
them, later on, was an essential and relatively easy task.
Our First Calf and Lamb Drops.
The first calves were born a bit early, at the end
of July and their quiet, bucket reared mothers let me desex the bulls
with an elstrastor, which caused no distress and then earmark them all
in the paddock. With the cows enormous horns lowered and their hot
breaths blowing on to me, I should have been terrified, but not one of
them hurt me, perhaps because the calves were so newborn that they had
not yet learned about pain or fear and were quietly immobilized whilst
sleeping by me deftly placing a front leg of the calf over its head and
pinning it back by my leg - an immobilizing skill learned as a
youngster on Uncle Clem's farm at Luddenham and very effective, even on
When calving was completed, trouble free,
except for the cow spotted by Tas when we were fencing, lambing
commenced, also a little ahead of schedule and proceeded without losses
for two weeks of good weather and almost all the lambs up and running
without any human intervention. The few ewes that 'muffed it' got tags
in their ears. Sep and the bigger lads soon perfected the art of
building the lamb marking pens and, while the good weather held, we
managed, with help from a few of the boys stalwart school friends, to
deal with more than half the flock without any tragedies.
With110 ewes and their lambs penned, the lads and
their helpers climbed in too and moving slowly, picked up each lamb
with great care and presented it, correctly held for me to vaccinate in
the cheek and examine it for any abnormalities and then on to the
adjacent marking board, where they were presented on their backs with
each pair of front and back legs firmly held to ensure painless
Sep wielded the elastrators to remove the testicles
on the males and all of the tails, then he clipped their ears with the
property ear mark and each lamb was then gently lowered on to the
grass, outside the pen. Initially, they all charged up and down and
round the corners, trying to get back to their mothers, but then they
would start to feel the rubber rings on their tails and race away, up
the paddock and finally throw themselves down, in obvious, deep
This really upset us all initially, until we
realised the pain was short lived and they soon came racing back,
around our feet , trying to get back into the pen. While separated, all
the ewes and lambs bleated incessantly until reunited and the noise
carried for miles. With willing helpers, the exercise was quickly
completed; the pen dismantled and the unlambed ewes in an adjacent
field checked to ensure that no birthing difficulties were likely to
Newborn lambs grow very fast indeed, necessitating
mid week 'marking' too, so the lads and I were on our own then and it
took longer because I was dealing with all the 'operations'. It was
never anyones' favourite job but we all agreed that the younger the
lambs, the better it was for them and for us, especially if bad weather
was expected. Infection control would be compromised in muddy yards.
We were feeling quite cock-a- hoop because 'things
were going well' - until unforcasted storm clouds gathered
with amazing speed and Lassie and I quickly drifted the unlambed ewes
into the empty Fern paddock, which would offer maximum shelter. It was
School holiday time and Chris' friend Graham had come to stay. The
evening stock check revealed no problems and the ewes who had lambed
since they were drifted into shelter had fed their lambs and hidden
them away from wind and imminent snow, so all we could do was pray that
the elements would not be overwhelming. The storm developed into a
tempest overnight and the snowfalls were peppered with hail, driving
sleet and finally, torrential rain.
Before we all retired for the night, I warned the
boys about what we might expect in the morning, as losses would surely
occur. Arthur had warned us about such conditions, highlighting the
fact that disturbing the sheep would only make things worse. 'You just
have to wait till they sort it out - they do that very well, unless you
interfere. It's no good racing out to help - just go back to sleep
until the weather improves and the sun comes out'.
It was hard to induce them to follow these
instructions but at last, when the skies were clear and the wind was
little more than a breeze, they checked the already marked lambs and
their dams and the cows and calves, before returning to the house for
breakfast. Much later, after lunch, I left them playing Monopoly and
crept out to see how the lambs in the Park paddock, marked only
yesterday, had coped with the savage change in the weather. Their
entire field was running with water but there they were, gambolling and
playing tag on the rock piles and steeper slopes where the ewes were
grazing, and not one of those lambs had perished. I did not venture to
the Fern Paddock - after an early lunch would be soon
enough, as I knew there would be heartbreak there and the unlambed ewes
would need to be drifted off, lest ewes still guarding dead lambs would
eventually leave them and join those yet to lamb. Gill had advised that
they were a menace because they would try to steal the first born of
twins while the ewe was still down, delivering her second.
'I called them 'Aunties' - they're very belligerent
and will pinch a lamb at any price. They'll take on the dog and you too
and they're strong enough to knock you down and hurt you. Just leave
ewes with their dead lambs in their own mob. The other lambed ewes
wont' be bothered by them - they'll fight them off and flatten them.
They 'll accept their loss in time and can be separated in the shearing
shed - they'll be 'dry' by then'.
It was hard to again request that the boys continue
to leave the sheep undisturbed for now and to say, 'the dead lambs can
be picked up in a day or so - there's no hurry ' and explained why.
Chris and Graham thought I was callous. Graham knew of farmers who
brought frozen, apparently dead lambs in by the fire and eventually,
the warmth revived them and their mothers took them back and fed them.
The boys' obvious concern made me feel guilty, so I promised to
try warming and reviving unconscious lambs if the weather 'knocked them
down' in daylight but insisted that the severity and length of last
night's storm could well have drowned newborns before they could get up
for a drink and nothing could have saved them. Those that had
managed to get on their feet and suckle, may well have all
survived. And then I explained the Auntie worry and why Lassie and I,
whom the ewes knew, needed to be alone to drift off the unlambed ewes.
Graham still looked downcast. Chris said.
'Let's grab the Jaffle Iron, some bread and bacon
and eggs and get down to my cubby on that rise near the River in the
New Gawler. It's got a fireplace and I need your help with a window.'
Graham was not impressed.
'It's all 'probly' flooded out.' But they went
anyway and didn't come home till near dark, both filthy but happy
enough. Alex and Nic went off riding after lunch and said they'd check
the cows and calves and be back in time to help me feed out, if needed.
The day had turned balmy, so now Lassie and I would venture into the
Fern Paddock, Lass with a spring in her step and me, full of dread,
mightily relieved that I'd listened to both Arthur and Gill. When Lass
and I went through the gate into the field, there was evidence of
severe flooding on the steep slopes on either side of it and several
dead, unlicked lambs, which had been washed down those slopes, were
there, to 'greet' us.
The unlambed ewes were grazing together on the
flatter ground at the very bottom, between two gates, one into the
small but sheltered Six Acre bank and the other into the extensive but
exposed Wright's Corner, waiting, it seemed, to be 'drifted off.' As
most of them were old timers who knew all about normal procedures, it
appeared that they may have done our job for us. But being human and so
superior, I naturally had to make sure. With Lass trotting along, very
quietly, at heel, we proceeded to the south western slopes where ewes
and lambs were congregated in the sunshine, the lambs gambolling
joyfully and looking fine. Off under the shelter of the
Macrocarpa hedge, a few ewes shifted nervously as they hovered over
dead lambs. We did not disturb them.
There was a big rock pile, right up in the top
corner so I asked Lass to 'Stay' where she was while I checked it out.
To my amazement, there were no bodies up there. I could not believe it
and called the dog to me to check the bottom of the paddock in
the lower, south west corner where we found a couple of dead,
unaccompanied lambs with the membranes still on them, probably from
twins or maybe triplets that no ewe could get up and running under the
appalling conditions of last night - being able to save just one
would have been a miracle. With only the other top corner to check, it
was tempting to accept that the sheep had ' sorted themselves out
when left undisturbed' and let the unlambed ewes into the sheltered Six
Acre Bank, just in case the weather cracked up again, overnight. But,
taking no chances, we made our way diagonally across, towards the rock
pile, below the ewes and lambs on their hillside in the sun and above
the unlambed ones down on the flat land, between the two gates.
At the halfway mark, visible to both mobs,
Lassie sat down, without any order from me and acted as sentry while I
scooted up the hill to check around the other rock pile. I wept when I
made the grade, for there, huddled in amongst the boulders, was a
classically beautiful BorderLeicester x Polworth ewe with unlicked twin
lambs and a prolapse behind her. She must have died of shock
whilst giving birth and the lambs, with the cauls still over their
heads, would mercifully have been unable to breathe. As I walked back
down the hillside, Lass touched my hand to remind me that our job was
not yet completed and we needed to work quickly, as some of the ewes
still guarding their dead lambs were getting restive. It was surely
time to move the unlambed ones through the gate and into the adjacent,
sheltered field before any prospective Aunties could join them.
By mid September, lambing was all over till next
year and both cattle and sheep continued to be hand fed on hay till the
end of October. Then, as if by magic, the pastures responded to the
warming of the ground and the grass shot away in a frenzy of Spring
As spring progressed, we thought we were in
Paradise. Peter Pan, Sasha and Vanessa all shed their Winter coats
earlier than usual, in spite of the snow, sleet, hail and windswept
rain they had encountered when out in the paddocks where Vanessa had
spent all her time unrugged and galloping to keep warm. The two
'elites' had been stabled at night and spoiled rotten during extreme
weather because they required special rations for Hunting and Eventing
but, rugged up, joined Vanessa during the day and sort shelter rather
than galloping, their heavy, waterproof rugs restricting their free
The calves and lambs grew so quickly that we
could not believe our eyes, especially as the milk supply from their
dams appeared to increase as required to meet demand, without
apparently adversely affecting the cows or the ewes. It was all too
good to be true.
The old timers had warned that Spring always comes late in the
'higher back country' and that was why we still needed to feed hay right through till the end of October.
'But,' Gill advised, 'it pays to lock up the new hay
paddocks nice and early to allow the pastures to get roots down deep in
case the hot northerlies blow in and dry out the ground. Strong, early
growth will ensure that moisture is retained to guarantee a good
On Tas' advice, we decided to close two big
paddocks, the Stable, to fill the old barn near the homestead and the
Breadbox, down the front, where the Baker still left the bread in the
sealed box near the road to save coming up to the top of the hill at
the end of our 'No Through Road.' Unless I beat them to it, the
lads would collect the bread on their way home from school. Tas said,
as an afterthought,
'The Breadbox opens on to the Valley road and the
hay can be carted on reasonable going, along there and right round to
the old barn in the Hut paddock, via the Preston Road, for feeding out
in the paddocks that run down to the River'.
It was a long haul and Roger's road, on our place,
was very steep, as was the hill up through the Laurelberry Paddock, so
we could not cart hay that way and would have to go round, but I still
'The Breadbox had a fodder crop last Spring and was
eaten out by the Army worms, then resown by you. Won't harvesting the
new growth be too hard on the ground?'
'No'. he quipped, reckoning it had been well
fertilised before the resowing and had enjoyed a lengthy rest when it
grew nothing after the invasion, then added convincingly,
'She'll be right, mate'.
And so it was, although raking the hay ahead of the
baler was pretty scary, as the paddock had some very steep banks and it
was hard for Tas to hold the tractor on line as the weight of the
heavily laden rake threatened to impel the tractor too fast or lock its
wheels - very dangerous indeed.
The rake had been foisted on to us by GilI's
husband, Michael and Tas had plenty to say about that! They were not
good mates. Then I had another concern.
'The old slab barn near the hut has an awful lean on
it and may fall down while we're stacking the hay, or later, when I'm
getting it out onto the transport board to feed the cattle. It could be
'Nup,' came the jaunty reply, 'We'll shore her up
first, stack carefully, away from the walls, except to correct the lean
and she'll be apples. Len got the hay in there fine last year and he
had to cart it all the way up the road from the New Gawler and down the
other side past the Breadbox, then right round to the Hut Paddock,
along the Valley and Preston Roads. I'll get a couple of my Preston
brothers to give us a hand. They know that barn'.
And so it was all arranged. Hay making was a cinch
with Tas and his brothers around and the older boys and their mates
thought so too, as they were paid standard rates for 'carting in' and
Things went wrong though, well before harvest time.
By early November the ground must have warmed up fast and the paddock
feed was so lush that the cows started to be stricken by bloat. Some
may well have died an agonising death, had Harold, from adjoining
Deyrah, just stuck his head over the fence and called,
'Get buckets of cold water to throw on their udders - they won't be able to run away if they're crook'.
Again, timely intervention saved the cows, and, with
cold water close by in every field, I became adept at landing it in the
right place and also carried a trusty trochar and cannular, in case it
was necessary to 'stab' one that was 'down' to enable the huge build up
of digestive gasses to escape. Fortunately, it was never actually used
- I could still hit the udders of the few that 'went down' with several
buckets of near freezing Spring water and that sufficed to make them
get up and belch.
In spite of all the help and advice from kind
friends and neighbours, I was uneasy about the stock bloating in the
first place and suddenly Mr Maher's words of wisdom rang in my ears and
'Toxic sprays and artificial fertilizers all
upset the metabolism of every living thing and food grown with their
use will be lacking, not only texture and flavour, but in the natural
minerals so vital to their wellbeing'.
No one in this district thought and farmed like our
neighbours at North Rocks. There we had all prospered on five acre
blocks of poor Sydney sandstone soil, transformed into deep, rich,
chocolate loam by the use of compost, made from the home grown, well
manured bedding of whatever animals or poultry were kept. All livestock
feed and bedding, except a modicum of wheat for the chooks, on the
Jago's place, to supplement cracked corn, was organically home grown,
cut, stooked and 'cured' in windrows, and finally carted to the barns
to 'cook' again to make the fully cured stock food. Between them, the
Jago's and the Maher's produced top quality summer fruit, year round
market vegetables, 'slip' and 'weaner' pigs, cream, butter, cut flowers
and market eggs. They helped our little family achieve almost total
self sufficiency. Bonnie, Mr Maher's Clydesdale, worked the land,
Like our neighbours, in spring we grew oats between
the summer fruit trees, and, when ready to harvest, cut the stalks with
a sickle or a scythe, ensuring the crop fell in an even swathe with the
heads of grain on top. Only sufficient oats were cut at a time to be
bundled and tied into sheaves, then 'stooked,' with cut ends to the
ground and oat heads aloft. The stooks looked like wigwams with all the
doors left open. The gaps at the bottom ensured a free current of air
through each stook to avoid overheating during the early 'curing'
process. We cut and stooked only a little at a time to ensure that bad
weather would not catch us with stooked hay to 'spoil'. Mr Maher
would inspect our stooks and tell us when to finally cart our harvest
to the barn to continue to 'mature,' thus ensuring easily digested,
palatable, organically grown chaff for next winter, when it would be
fully cured.Our grazing paddock initially offered only meagre forage
for our horse and cow, so chaff from the produce store in Parramatta
was necessary that first year, until ours was ready.
With the use of a keenly honed blade in the
hand operated chaffcutter, half a sheaf of 'cured' oats was chaffed
each morning and evening, grain and sweet end first, as fodder for our
Jersey milking cow and saddle horse, the coarser, long stalk-ends tied
with a couple of full length stalks into neat bundles to be used for
their bedding. Each morning, their stables were 'mucked out' by me, the
clean bedding forked and fluffed up around the perimeters and all the
wet or soiled bedding went straight into the ' stacking' compost heap,
beside the 'cooking' and the 'in use' one. With all this wonderful
compost for the vegetable crops and fruit trees, it was no surprise
that our farm was soon as productive as those of our neighbours.
Still daydreaming, I sat down on the verdant grass
with Lassie, hoping to reach some conclusions from her wisdom but the
sun was deliciously warm and she had fallen asleep. The cows did not
like her in the paddock when their calves were new but now that they
were growing fast, their dams no longer took exception.
As I sat there, 'miles away', I suddenly realised
that more cows were starting to look uncomfortably 'big'. I would have
to shift them somewhere safe and at last decided that the Stable
paddock, across the road and through the the farmyard and stocked with
ewes and lambs until late last week, had heaps of good grass but
the clover and young, new growth were in short supply, so it may be
more suitable for these cattle. But would they go there, voluntarily ?
Well, with the road gate closed above Grandma's cottage and with Lassie
discreetly, well behind, they might just follow me through the gate and
when we neared the barn, I could throw some hay out for them to keep
them busy while I called Lass to stop them raiding that barn and
opened the gate into the Stable paddock. With a big 'leaf' of hay under
my arm and dropping handfuls, they all came to my call, were rewarded
and never realised they'd been duped. They would follow me anywhere!
On evening stock check, Alex noted that the
old Jersey house cow was sick and he helped me get her and her great
big calf into the cattle yard. She looked droopy and her udder appeared
to be engorged. I thanked Alex for his observation, not having noticed
anything wrong when she followed me through the gate some five hours
earlier and lined up out near the barn, with all the others behind her,
to receive the 'reward' of a generous portion of the last of the old
season's hay. On examination, her udder was hard. One of her only three
teats was cracked and red hot around the nipple and her calf had
started to scour. This looked like a bad case of mastitis. Fortunately,
treatment for both problems had been obtained, Gill having warned of
the possibility of such afflictions in either sheep or cattle. After
administering appropriate antibiotics to each of them, I washed the
cow's udder very gently and eventually managed to get the teats to
slowly release their purulent, blood stained contents.
Chris, knowing I was occupied, came down to milk the
goats so I told him to lock them in their own area for the night, as
the cattle yard would be infectious and I'd work out how to get them
away to clean browsing tomorrow, after morning milking.
With Bill the Bull, Vanessa, lest she founder
on the new Spring growth, plus the rams in the House paddock, I did not
know where to put the sick cow and calf. The cattle yards were often
muddy in those days, well before they were concreted and easily cleaned
- no place for sick animals needing to lie down. The only solution was
to allow them into the farmyard which offered some grassed areas, water
and adequate shelter but also access to the barn which was
unacceptable, as these two were highly infectious and would contaminate
it. What to do? Alex again found a solution.
'Those old barbed wire pull- up gates are in the
trailer, ready to go to the tip. Chris and I can erect them across the
doorways while you get dinner, We'll need to borrow your leather work
Problem solved. Nic could open the road and front gates for Sep, well before he came home.
Next morning, the early stock checks found no
further problems out in the paddocks but the cow and the calf required
a repeat of yesterdays treatments and still looked miserable. I offered
the calf warmed boiled water and glucose from a bottle as its mother's
milk must have tasted awful, but it declined. By mid afternoon it was
unconscious and I thought it was dead so looked for rock free ground in
which to bury it. The calf was big, so an enormous hole would need to
be dug when I finally found a soft enough spot in the garden in
which to excavate that great big grave. Mission accomplished and tired
and dispirited, I went into the yard with the barrow to transport the
calf to the hole. As I tried to manhandle it into the barrow, it
wakened, struggled and bawled. It's irate mother, the quiet Jersey
milking cow, threatened to savage me as she pushed me about with her
crumpled horns. The pair of them could now wait for their next
antibiotics till the boys came home! I'd go out with Lassie and
the fern hook to cut some rubbish and we'd both have a yarn with the
dog-loving goats, who were in the Pea paddock for the day. They enjoyed
being there, with its blackberry hedges, rock piles and views to the
end of the world. Gentle Saanens, they maybe felt a pull from
their Swiss Alpine heritage.
With so much wonderful paddock feed everywhere, the
lambs and the calves continued to thrive. Mabel's Jersey cow and her
'calf that died', both rallied well and rejoined the herd. The ewes and
lambs somehow escaped the scourges that surrounded them and Stock Agent
Ray said the lambs would nearly all be gone by Christmas and the
vealers by May, the same as last year. Then the weather turned 'very
nasty', with devastatingly cold winds, 'straight from the South Pole',
or so the neighbours said, and the cows started 'going down' with Milk
Fever- Calcium - deficiency, or Grass Tetany - Magnesium
deficiency, 'all quite normal and easily treated,' or so those
neighbours insisted. They gave me big plastic bags of a mixture of
saline and the missing minerals, suitable for treating both conditions,
'to be replaced when you're next in town.' Their welcome generosity
saved the cows
They showed me how to prop the unconscious cows up,
so that they did not drown in their own fluids whilst lying out flat,
how to subcutaneously inject the huge needle, connected by a lengthy
tube to the magic bag and, holding it aloft, turn it 'on' so that the
fluid gravitated under the beast's skin and was absorbed to save its
life. Some cows needed two bags, and then they just got up to find
their calves, fed them and started grazing again. It was a nightmare
because, after the initial onset, I was almost always on my own, often
needed the tractor to pull the cows into the sitting position, with
their legs folded neatly under them and quickly resorted to propping
them up on filled bags of soiled crutchings, securely fastened with
steel bale clips. The smelly bags had accumulated in the shearing shed
from my determination to always ensure that all the sheep were kept
squeaky clean and free of flystrike.
This use of crutchings worked well. It stopped other
cows pulling the 'prop' out and eating it, as occurred instantly when
hay bales were used, just as soon as my original helpers left the
scene, creating the problem of loose binder twine, itself a sure killer
if ingested. In inclement weather, this constant surveillance of
the cattle, night and day, was exhausting but absolutely necessary
because 'downer' cows would perish quickly if they reached the stage of
coma. We guessed that Len must have endured this nightmare last year
but had declined to mention it, lest we took fright and changed our
minds about the place. A wise man.
Eventually, the feed hardened up and the drama was
over. When harvest time arrived, we spread a ready mixed, commercial
line of powdered magnesium and calcium, Causmag, sold in cement type
bags of manageable weight, on every layer of bales as they were stacked
in the barns. As hay always heats up after stacking, the mixture
was absorbed into the bales as they 'cured' and we hoped that trouble
would be averted next Spring. And it was. We had found a miracle
cure, which did not even damage the bale strings, but I knew
there had to be an easier and better way to achieve it - by ensuring
that the necessary minerals and trace elements were in the pastures
they grazed. We knew they were in the soil and if the Maher's and the
Jago's were correct, they were 'locked up' by the use of superphosphate
and all artificial fertilizers . Well, that practise had ceased, at
least for now, and soon it
would be permanent.
All the Spring lambs and vealers, born and raised
since our arrival, sold well and gave Sep a break with the running
costs of the property. However, for tax deduction purposes, he
considered that the routine super and lime spreading should continue,
as normal. I told him about Mr Maher's warnings on the issue and was
able to convince him to agree to discontinue the exercise this once, to
see how the stock responded. I had the Ag. Department's recommendation
of 'doubling up' on the calves to convince him, because the extra day
old calves would have to be bought in and would be costly. I also
pointed out that it would be hard work getting the cows to accept them
and we could not afford to have any affected by bloat or deficiency
I cannot understand how I was persuaded to
even consider the 'two calves' per cow exercise, as we now had twenty
more of them, purchased, on the Ag. Dept's recommendation. They were
quiet, bucket reared Dairy/Beef heifers, 'bred specially for the job of
rearing two calves apiece', or so these experts insisted.
The heifers and even some of the old cows did accept
them in the yards or in nearby fields but gave the interlopers the boot
down by the River or anywhere far away from those yards. It was evident
that the experiment was flawed.
'Oh no,' said the 'experts,' who never actually did anything like it themselves,
'Just get Fotheringhams to send you a hundred and
twenty leather calf collars and sixty hobble chains to double 'em up
and you'll be right.'
The calves were outraged. As the cows own calf was
usually stronger than the bought in one, they were firstly, each tied
up in the small barn and when they had stopped fighting to get loose,
they were joined together with a hobble chain between their collars,
and, still in the barn, left 'to sort it out' while the cow or heifer
was baled up and given hay to keep her calm. The calves were then
released as a pair, cajoled into the yards and positioned to approach
her with her own calf closest to her head. That way, she was less
likely to attempt to kick them both to death and they were fast
We did not lose a single one but the cows own calf
always 'finished' better and I did not think the exercise was worth the
initial cruelty or the end result. Next year I'd give it a miss. But
the experts insisted that,
'Every farmer had to become more efficient to help feed a starving world'.
Still 'wet behind the ears,' I had not yet commenced
buying 'The New Internationalist' for the boys' education and did not
realise that the 'experts' were talking rubbish. So the whole procedure
was repeated, the prices fell, because too many farmers were doing
likewise and the market was over supplied. There was one plus though
- no more bloat or deficiency diseases occurred. Sep still
insisted on fertilizers to appease the Tax man, so we compromised. The
lime truck spread costly Tasmanian dolomite, delivering calcium
magnesium carbonate and the Super truck spread sterilised, pelletised
blood and bone, at about the same cost as super, and everyone was happy.
A New Direction.
My Geneticist brother Rob came to visit during that
second year, noted that the calf collars were stretched and would soon
wear out or be 'slipped', he expressed the opinion that 'doubling-up
was definitely cruel and should be banned'. He said that 'Hybrid
vigour' was what we needed.
'A Santa Gertrudis bull will give you that and one
of those vealers will bring a better return than any pair you have here
We took his advice and it was, eventually, correct.
The Santa people, with Head Office in Sydney, way back then, talked us
out of purchasing a herd bull and persuaded us to start a stud, by
'grading up over four generations', initially using artificial
insemination to cover the cows and heifers on their first cycle,
'By using a vasectomised teaser, wearing a
headcollar with a ball marker to identify the cows ready for AI
Sep and I were naive indeed. We still believed what they told us.
We had no idea that 'a vasectomised bull' was not part of the
local ethos in these Tasmanian back woods, and even Ray could not track
one down, anywhere, but he bought us a nice young Hereford bull at a
reasonable price, 'for Mike, the Vet to Fix Up.' The Fixed Up young
bull had many admirers. He was the busiest and most tireless bull that
they had ever seen. He certainly lived a charmed life and wore his
headcollar with pride. He marked his females clearly, thus simplifying
the AI man's job. To shorten the next calving period, I clipped
numbered tags in the ears of all the cows and heifers prior to calving
and their respective calves, as they were born. They were then
identifiable as pairs. As all our cows and heifers had been bucket
reared, they did not object too strongly to me slipping an elastrator
around their bull calves testicles and clipping the identity tags into
all of their ears. Recently AI'd cows could now be run out with Bill
after sufficient time had passed since their insemination, to allow him
to 'pick them up' on their next cycle if they had 'missed'.
We then purchased more new cattle; Angus and
Shorthorn heifers, replacing most of the very elderly beef x dairy
'faithfuls'. The local AI man came promptly when called and it all
seemed very straightforward - until calving time.
These new, young cattle were fine to handle in the
yards when inseminated but would not let me into the paddock after
their calves were born. I went in, as usual, to make sure that none
were having calving problems and was promptly whisked off my feet and
carried aloft, flat strap down the paddock between the pretty generous
horns of a Shorthorn, sure I was soon to be dead. Then her calf bawled
so she lowered her head, dropped me like a sack of spuds, and scooted
back up the hill as fast as she had descended. New cattle, new learning
Subsequent checks were by tractor and one black
heifer even had a go at rolling that. It did not matter whether they
dropped AI calves or not - all those who threatened me unreasonably had
their tag numbers recorded and were sold, with their calves, like hot
cakes in the saleyard - because they were really savage and were needed
up Wilmot way to keep thieving intruders out of calving fields.
Calves were very valuable that year! With occasional
help from the boys, on horseback, creating a distraction out in the
calving paddock, I was eventually able to mark, examine and tag all the
newborns, behind the shelter of the noisy tractor, without interference
from their mothers. The sleeping calves seldom wakened until the tags
were clipped in their ears and by then it was too late - the job was
done. In no time the cattle became accustomed to this procedure and I
was able to proceed on my own, always waiting till the newborns had
been licked clean, suckled till their flanks filled and their dams had
'planted' them in sheltered spots from which they would not budge until
given the maternal signal. The two year old Angus heifers and the three
year old Shorthorn second calvers were running with the last of the
older, quiet cows who radiated confidence and were a calming influence
on the inexperienced first timers.
There were no calving problems with any of them, the
return to 'a one calf only' principle was appreciated by all concerned
and the wild ones were doing a much talked about, sterling job in
Wilmot. I was glad that our stocking rate was down a bit because the
Summer was drier than last year and we could have been 'a bit
pinched for feed'.
Chris was always and remains a perfectionist. He
felt that our fence lines were not as neat and perfect as some he
observed from the bus as he travelled to and from School. He made
inquiries and learned that those he so admired had been 'sprayed'.
Further questions led him to the Council works yard, adjacent to the
School, where, during lunchbreak, he was able to obtain a fair sized
drum of this special spray which fitted in to his locker and on to the
bus, without detection. He then carted it all the way home.
He told me about its wonderful properties and asked
my permission to apply it - the Council Officer had assured him that it
was perfectly safe and, anyway, just to make certain, he only intended
to spray on the road side of our rabbit proof fences. Touched by his
initiative and once again, completely forgetting Mr Maher's words of
wisdom, I agreed. Some latent concern must have been triggered
though, as I recorded the exact date of applications in the farm diary.
Time passed. Encouraged by the efficacy of his
endeavours, Chris went back to visit his helpful Council man and scored
another drum of 245T, a label that simply did not ring alarm bells with
me, even though we had already used it to decimate Scotch Thistles in
the resown Laurelberry Paddock and all the clover had subsequently
disappeared - an absolute disaster - it was years before it
regenerated fully. The council man had given Chris full
instructions on safe handling and application of this toxic compound
and they were followed to a T. Sep said, 'The empty drums were
'appropriately dealt with' at our closest Tip, on the Gravel Hill, at
Preston,' As with the first application, all details were recorded in
The year was kind, with adequate paddock feed and
fair prices for our early fat lambs which were collected and carted to
the Ulverstone saleyards by our usual carriers, as arranged
by Ray, who still came to ensure that my condition scoring was up
to scratch and for which I was always grateful. I was improving but not
yet 'spot on.'
One morning, following 'emptying out' overnight and
a drink from the trough next morning, the lambs were in the loading
yard and a different carrier turned up to load and take them to
the Sale. He had already carted cattle and the truck had not been
cleaned out. It was deep in slurry and totally unfit to carry any
livestock. He reckoned I was 'picky' and went off in a huff. The lambs
rejoined their flock and quickly found their mothers. Their joyful
reunions made me feel even more guilty than usual. I never liked
sending them but had to be realistic; they would not have been bred in
the first place if no market existed. Ray understood the trucking
problem, apologised and said it would not happen again.
When Sep came home, he was irate that the lambs had
not been sold, so we sat down and had a talk about trucking.
' Next year we' ll need to be more self sufficient
all round and even make and bale our own hay. This year it
should be ready for the contract baler by Christmas. We're going to
need a truck soon anyway, so I'll start looking around. You can get the
feel of it in the paddock, picking up bales with a bale loader,
attached to the front of the truck tray, above the back wheels and
powered by a sprocket attached to the loader. This connects to a
spiked, endless chain elevator mechanism on the loading chute which has
wide arms to direct each lined - up bale in the paddock into the chute
and lift them, one at a time, to a platform above the truck tray for
easy stacking. As the truck driver, for safety, you will need to drive
very steadily, with a constant eye on your stackers and an ear out to
all their commands. If you can do well in the paddock, then maybe you'
ll be competent enough to take the stock to market yourself.'
It was a great idea but it looked like I'd have a
lot more work on my plate and a truck would add to the pre-start'check
list' and have to be housed. It would require 'hurdles' for carrying
livestock and somewhere to put them when only the tray was needed. Then
Sep mentioned a stationary bale elevator, with its own motor, to lift
bales way up to the top of our 'Opera House' barn - it was all getting
very technical 'for keep it simple me'. As if he was not already
working hard enough on the planned Hydro Scheme and the Farm
improvements, here he was talking about building, not buying the
hurdles and he had an elaborate plan for their storage too. In the end,
he completed every plan with his usual, studied excellence, and Mount
Pleasant, not long past the horse and bullock era, became totally
dependent on electricity and petroleum products, even for the most
basic essential - water - on what must have been the best naturally
watered farm, anywhere.
Sep found a suitable flat tray, red Bedford delivery
truck for sale at the big hardware store in Devonport. It would cart
100 + bales of new pressed hay per load from the paddock to the barns
and our normal load of market lambs, vealers and ours and other horses
too. With only four forward gears, there was not much to learn about
its performance, except that it was slow on hills and needed a double
shuffle for second gear and a complete halt to get into first, so you
had to know the road ahead intimately.
From the start, we had the perfect access roads and
farm paddocks to have acquired advanced driving skills, especially now,
as this vehicle was equipped with 'only two pumps' on the air breaks
which gave me nightmares, just thinking about the horrendous
possibilities of brake failure. Sep had no problems. He had been
confronted with Blitz trucks in the Kimberley's. All their gears were
hard to shift and their brakes erratic. And all the boys could drive
anything, with flair, no trouble at all.
When Sep was at work at baling time, his sons were
at home for the long Christmas holidays. I drove the Fiat to rake the
hay ahead of the contract baler and then the truck and bale loader in
the field, where the boys stacked the truck. They soon learned a tough
lesson in critical balance when a load fell off and it was only a
tentative start to self sufficiency as there was far too much hay for
us to manage it, all alone. Ken, the contractor, who thus far had baled
for us and supplied bale carters, now had a new baler and the bales
were even heavier than before, so we struggled to handle them easily.
Come the first of May, those same bales were not too difficult for me
to handle for early 'feeding out,' as the numbers were insignificant
compared with carting and stacking a portion of the harvest.
Sep soon built the truck hurdles and constructed an
efficient, strong and safe storage area for them. It was made of
parallel railway irons, sitting firmly on massive stumps, commencing at
tray height and rising gradually, before levelling out to accommodate
the hurdles, which travelled on two steel pipes, slotted into opposite
holes at the bottom of the hurdles and across the tray. No beast, storm
or tempest ever looked like shifting them, even although they were
simple to put back on the truck when required for livestock transport.
Thus equipped, horse, cattle and lamb cartage was a
pleasure, with a modicum of fine, white road gravel, evenly spread on
the truck floor to prevent the animals slipping or 'going down' on our
steep hills during transit. Clean, well presented lambs and vealers
brought higher prices, perhaps because they could always be taken home
again if prices were unsatisfactory. By some miracle, that eventuality
only occurred on one occasion.
Away from the hill country, the truck was a
gem. It purred along quietly and could carry sixty fat lambs, sixteen
plus vealers and six big horses, head to tail, crosswise, five loaded
up the 'lift-up ramp' and the last one, through the 'race' door. If
there was no re - loading race at our destination, we could carry only
five. Only one horse and two ponies were carted out of our place and
the others picked up along the way. Their heads pillared, they
travelled well, head to tail, with round steel rails, secured by
chained pins at flank height as dividers to prevent crowding. It was a
great set-up and no animal ever suffered injury during transit, but
some Pony Club horses, untrained in walking up and down the easy ramp,
managed to scratch a bit of skin by jumping off awkwardly. This was
long before the days of Monty Roberts and not much 'join up' was in
evidence, but Pony Club training certainly encouraged patience and tact
in young riders, most of whom did their very best to be on good terms
with their steeds.
Alex, an absolute wizard with 'difficult' horses,
always made a point of having an enormously long lead clipped on to the
steel ring in any newcomer's leather headstall. With the lead
shortened, he would ask it to follow him. If it declined, he simply
lengthened the lead rope and walked away, sat down on the loading ramp
and read a book. Horses are very curious. In no time, every single one
of them would come to him to give him a nudge - always - and would then
comply with any reasonable request. I could never believe my eyes.
A Nice Little Horse.
We once bought a well conformed, little bay
thoroughbred called Oliver, who had come from the Midlands and was For
Sale, very cheap. We were never told why, but perhaps he could not be
caught. He was 'turned out', alone, in a 50 acre hillside paddock near
Ulverstone. Alex asked me to drive into the paddock
with the horsebox and either come out into the shade with him, or stay
in the car, so I sat in the shade. Within minutes, this flighty looking
little bloke came up the hill to investigate the invasion of his space.
Alex greeted him by calling his name, then kept on reading. Curious,
Oliver then walked right up to Alex and nudged the book, which was
shown to him and the horse stepped back, prompting the lad to get to
his feet and causing Oliver to then run back . I just stayed where I
was and watched in awe as Alex walked to the horsebox, lowered the
ramp, collected the leather headstall and the very long lead, then
resumed his disinterest in Oliver by going back to his book, this time
sitting on the higher part of the ramp. with the leading gear on his
Throughout this rigmarole, the horse remained
stationary. I could see the possibility that he might get bored and
simply wander off but he did not - his curiosity was too strong and
within minutes he went straight up to Alex to thoroughly investigate
the headstall and the long lead rein. Satisfied that no gremlins were
out to get him, he then gave the nonchalant boy a nudge with his
aristocratic head, prompting him to stand up and display the gear in
full, before inviting Oliver to put his head in the headstall. There
was no coercion at all - the horse could either lower his head or walk
away. Eventually, he put his head half way in several times then threw
it up in the air in defiance, without any response from Alex and still
this perfectly free horse stayed where he was. Alex just waited,
breathing gently towards the horse's nostrils.
At last, hesitantly, Oliver lowered his head into
the headstall and allowed the boy to slip it over his ears, fasten the
throatlash and clip the lead on the ring. They then quietly walked,
side by side', across the sunburnt grass to a patch of grass
under a tree that looked less trampled but where the offer of a 'pick'
was declined. To maintain the bond between them, Alex then led Oliver
to the loading ramp and asked him to walk on board. Wishing to please,
he took a few tentative steps but having only ever travelled in cattle
trucks, he lost confidence and backed off. Given adequate rein, he
could have run away but went no further than having all four feet on
the grass behind the ramp and Alex went back to reading his book.
Thus ignored, Oliver walked right on to the
ramp, Alex stood up, put the book in his pocket, shortened the lead and
said, 'Good boy, come on then.' Oliver rushed a bit towards the end,
perhaps to reach the sweet smelling meadow hay in the net up front. I
did not think it mattered much but Alex let him have several good
mouthfuls, then asked him to back out, very slowly. With lots of
'steady, steady,' from his handler, he listened and reversed
confidently, keeping straight and 'steady', all the way. He then walked
'back on' with certainty, as if he had done so all his life.
He turned into a very handy type but was soon
spirited away. Chris took him to an Equestrian School in Launceston
where he shone like gold dust - his conformation, balance and action
were impeccable and Chris was probably, quite rightly,' persuaded that
he would be wasted in our rough and tumble world'. He was sold to a top
dressage rider and so excelled in this dignified discipline that he and
his new owner eventually re-located, to shine in Sydney.
Our first 'hands-on' Harvest.
As described earlier, the Summer holidays found me
and the boys making a contribution to bringing in the harvest. Our
truck was ideal because it could crawl along at a snail's pace to
enable those doing the loading sufficient time to intermesh the bales
in the correct pattern to ensure their stability on uneven ground. It
only took the overbalance of that one load to perfect the stacking ever
after - 106 heavy bales, in a tumbled heap on the down side of
the truck, all of which had to be picked up, one at a time and
restacked, without help from the bale loader, which could only work
while the truck was in motion, with the bales all evenly spaced, out
there in the paddock. Thus the lesson of critical balance was learned
Ken still provided his truck and bale carting team
of Tas and his Preston brothers, who had helped the lads when their
poorly knitted load fell off and showed them how to make certain they
never lost another, so we did not feel too inept. Then, with all the
wonderful, sweet smelling hay 'curing' in the barn and adequate feed in
the fields for the livestock, we could enjoy the company of friends and
neighbours or follow our own pursuits, frequently interspersed with
horse events which Nic could not attend because Vanessa was still too
young. He had friends to stay and they loved 'huntin an fishin',
especially with snorkels, in the River.
There were times too, when they all received
invitations to visit and stay with individual classmates in Ulverstone,
with its wide beaches and freezing water or in other farming
areas like Preston or Gunn's Plains. Like our mob, all the country
children were bussed to and from their schools.
Autumn tapped us gently on the shoulder this year.
The leaves on the English trees in the Camp Creek valley passed through
a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues over an extended period because
the wind was much less vicious than last year when the trees were
stripped bare without having time to display their full Autumn grandeur.
The vealers went to market. As expected, the doubled
up ones were not comparable with the cows' own calves, the collars were
stretched beyond further use and I was relieved that this 'not very
ethical' period in my life was finally over. After a nice rest,
down in the Gawler fields, the cows would recover their equilibrium and
by the end of June or early in July, be ready for the vanguard of their
new arrivals, some of whom should be Santas. Dressed for winter, with
emerald fields of velvet grass, which would not do much growing till
late Spring and the 'Opera House' chock full of well cured hay, with
its intoxicating aroma, the farm emanated well-being. The 'slow
learner' was on the improve.
The Wrath of God.
Calving commenced a week earlier than expected and
all the first calves were Bill's trouble free, easy care editions who
were up and running in no time. The weather was pretty unkind, thus
motivating the cows to find sheltered spots to 'plant' their calves
them clean, all over, from nostrils to feet, until they were standing
and sufficiently stimulated to latch on to a teat for their first drink
of rich colostrum, chock full of antibodies to ensure total infection
Time had moved on since our early days and most of
our misjudgments were behind us, except the weather, which continued to
confound me, but which all the boys could predict with uncanny
accuracy. To exercise their mounts, morning and evening, they still
checked the stock, except in lambing and calving paddocks and
their precise assessments were always correct and a big help to
One morning, towards the end of the second week of
continuing trouble free calf births, Chris mentioned that he had
noticed a cow calving in an adjoining paddock to the one he was
checking and his route brought him back the same way on his return, so
he glanced over the fence again to see that the cow was up and fussing
around the calf which had been cleaned by the cow, was alive, but had
not risen. After checking the calving paddock at first light and
finding no problems, I had milked the goats and prepared breakfast, so
thanked Chris for his observation, adding,
'I'll get out there as soon you guys have left to
catch the bus - it's probably one of those big, lazy beggars who are
always so dopey'.
The calf was big but would never walk. It was a
freak, with such severe deformities that all I could do was hope
that the cow would let me pull it on to the transport board behind the
Fiat and follow it out the gate and into the farmyard. She must have
known that it was doomed because she did not interfere and followed
like a lamb. Once in the farm yard, she nuzzled it briefly, then
wandered off to graze nearby. I shut the gate and went inside to ring
around the local dairy farmers, in search of a replacement calf that
had obtained that essential first essential drink of colostrum from its
dam. At last I found one at Gill and Michael's place and which Gill had
time to deliver. She was horrified by our freak but said it must be
'put down' and its skin made into a coat for the new calf which she had
brought over for us.
She then found a few loose leaves of hay in the barn
to humour the cow and moved the tractor out of sight, onto the road.
After closing the gate, she quickly and humanely killed and skinned the
calf. The new calf was in the back of Gill's vehicle, lying on a jute
bag with its legs tied. She glanced at it to assess its size for the
coat it would soon be sporting and she achieved a perfect fit. It took
some ingenuity though, because the forelegs of the deformed calf were
locked at the knees and the hind legs, hindquarters and tail were all
one, like a mermaid. With an opening for its head, four 'no tear' holes
for its legs, plus a flap over the tail, the surrogate calf was set
loose and started to bawl, bringing the cow up to it. She spent quite a
bit of time licking the skin, which had the right smell then knocked
the calf down when its face and legs were alien. Unperturbed, Gill
'Give her a bit of time alone - she' ll soon take it. Let's have a cuppa. We can watch from the kitchen.'
The cow took the calf. But it was the beginning of a
nightmare. For ten days these grotesquely deformed calves, all of them
AI ones, kept turning up, none had any hope of survival and had
to be replaced. Interspersed between them were normal calves and some
were fine, healthy Santas. The Farm Diary told the story.
The Santa Trail.
The first Santa calves looked like skinned rabbits
at birth, then grew faster than anything we had ever seen, deep cherry
red, and elegant. Initially, I was too busy buying-in new calves and
reclothing them in the skins of those born to be destroyed to watch
them closely, but when the spate of abnormalities ended, I did notice
that they were flighty. As soon as I entered their field, up went their
heads and tails and away they fairly galloped, seriously upsetting the
rest of the herd. They were not my idea of companionable cattle and
knew that I would never take any of this line to any saleyard. When
grown and ready for market,they would go straight to the meatworks. All
future Santas would be sired by a bull whose entire drop were born
easily and grew rapidly, just like the high spirited beauties already
here, but they would need to be tractable to form the foundation of our
Calving, lambing, and hand feeding over, while the
weather was good and only stock and water checking was essential,
morning and evening, Grandma, who knew that we were anxious to try our
luck, once again, to find a well bred, superior foundation sire,
generously volunteered to move into our place, to keep an eye on the
boys and prepare and serve hot dinners for them each evening, to enable
Sep and me to look for a real, live, Stud Santa bull.
We searched all over temperate southern Australia
for our sire and made two unfortunate choices. Our first bull was
superb and topped the Sale. Our cows loved him and could be seen
licking and grooming his smooth, shiny coat but he broke down in the
sheath early on - it was full of sutures, and he had to be destroyed.
Although his drop were all outstanding and very tractable, we did not
retain any of his calves, all of which grew into top vealers, keenly
sought by butchers. Under warranty, the bull was replaced by one that
looked superb and behaved admirably but was not interested in
cows and would only serve the race. A write-off - bought from a Stud
property specialising in AI and ovum transplants. We were on a costly
With Grandma and the lads again managing the home
front with ease, we then again toured briefly, but extensively, looked
at all the accredited AI bulls in the flesh and unimpressed, finished
up in the Widden Valley. famous for racehorse breeding and now, also
Santa cattle. There, at the annual Widden auction of stud bulls and
females, we bought Widden Hua, full brother to the champion all breeds
carcase - out of 800 - at the previous year's Sydney Royal Show. That
super carcase animal had a white spot on him somewhere, barring him
Hua soon proved himself a champion too and a
remarkable foundation sire, even if his brother failed to satisfy the
Classifier, I did not think the white spot on a brother would matter
for !st Cross breeding but other buyers probably only had pure breds,
so we were able to purchase him at a reasonable price. We returned
home: Sep went back to work, Ray checked my selection of market lambs
for the weekly sales and I delivered them. Nothing had gone wrong
during our abscence.
Hua came through six weeks of Tasmanian Quarantine
in fine fettle, stepped off the truck at Mount Pleasant and loudly
stated that he had arrived. He was only a whipper snapper but did not
miss a single cow or heifer, all of whom were pleased to meet him.
Over the years, all his first cross calves were born
easily and the females satisfied the Tasmanian herd improvement
standards on weight for age and soundness guidelines. We selected those
to be mated on the Herd Improvement Assessment recommendation ratio,
which excluded the very biggest heifers and the bottom third, leaving
the selections up to structural soundness, conformation, temperament,
sound, flat bone, sound mouths and feet, plus desirable individual
The selected heifers had no calving problems and
reared excellent vealer steers and many outstanding heifers who
fulfilled all our expectations. They grew well, settled in calf to AI
at 15 months and we were on our way to success with a sound start in
Grading Up to Stud status. We were also making a profit, as the reject
heifers and all the steer vealers dressed out really well, a point not
missed by the buyers, who paid top price to get them for the Tasmanian
and interstate Supermarket trade.
I lightened off the number of ewes to be mated
to ensure that all livestock always had plenty to eat and we also put
in extra water troughs to enable us to divide a couple of the larger
fields. There were absolutely no calving problems with Hua's offspring
but one AI bull created a few, so I went to Victoria and purchased
Bolinda Janitor, another winner on all counts. He and Hua, when not at
work with their separate herds, fought one another in the Dip paddock,
established an acknowledged supremacy order and maintained it with
dignity during all their years with us.
One day, when checking stock on Peter Pan, I rode
down the blue metal road, or the Ten Foot Track, as it was officially
known. The pine trees had long since obscured river and pasture views
along the Gawler and I was through the third gate, round the last bend
and past all the pines before I was confronted with a scene of absolute
mayhem and confusion - neighbour Bill's entire herd of horned Hereford
cows, calves and a noisy bull, eating like crazy and spreading out
right across the New Gawler field and our bellowing Janitor, pushing
his mob into a corner, on the other side of the River. Satisfied that
he had got his message across to all the members of his mob, he swiftly
re - crossed the Gawler and commenced forcing the invading cattle back
towards the boundary of our property and another adjoining neighbour,
below Bill's place, where he finally met the enormously horned bull and
they charged one another. Terrified , because all our cattle were
dehorned and I did not think that Janitor had a chance against a horned
assailant, I turned the horse back up the hill to seek assistance. I
phoned Bill's place, hoping he or Reg might be around but the phone
rang out. Then I tried Harold and his wife, Ruth, said he had gone to
Donny's place, so I rode down to Wally's, where they had just finished
milking and told him about the fighting bulls. Wally grinned and said.
'They'll be right. Yor bull 'as already sorted 'is
mob out an pushed tha uther bull's mob way back. Reckon it's bin
So I thanked him, remounted and rode up the hill,
past the farmyard, and went straight on down to the New Gawler paddock
, opening and closing the gates from the saddle. Janitor's mob was
still across the River but spread out a bit and grazing cautiously. The
rest of that very large field was completely empty of livestock and I
knew that the horse would show me the whereabouts of the bulls, so
dropped the reins on his withers and urged him forward. He walked
straight ahead, in the direction that our bull had been driving the
other bull's huge mob and soon reached the rusty old southern boundary
fence, where he paused, facing the narrow strip of land between the
Teatree swamp and the now dark, dense bush next door, which was not
Bill's property, so other fences must be down, on Mike's patch. Steam
was rising in the gloom. We edged a little closer and found the two
bulls, standing head to tail, side by side, still breathing heavily and
the Hereford visibly trembling, perhaps from exhaustion, but not yet
conceding defeat. Each bull was standing on his perceived home
territory, with a reasonably short length of flattened boundary fence
beneath them. Janitor was standing with his head held high, steam
rising off his sweaty flanks and showing no visible signs of serious
injury. The understorey of the bush behind them had been trampled by
the Hereford horde, both coming and going, so quick action was needed,
as they would surely soon return. There was never much decent tucker
anywhere on the back of Bill's place, or on Mike's either. Reining back
gently, to avoid disturbing the bulls, both of whom were now breathing
more easily and finally reaching the open ground, I turned Peter Pan's
head for home to enable me to put fencing gear in the back of the old
ute Sep used to drive for his Hydro work and which he had purchased
when he had been issued with a new one. It would have been a mistake to
take the tractor, as it had become firmly associated with feeding out
and it would have unsettled the cattle - I did not want Janitor's mob
recrossing the river until directed by him, who had willed them to stay
over there. With the horse back in his paddock and the boys home from
school, Chris offered to assist me with the fence mending.
The Hereford had gone by the time we reached the
breach and Janitor supervised proceedings from his home side of the
flattened fence. We could inspect both sides of him now and he had not
been gored anywhere. While we were finishing the job, he left us to
usher his mob back over the river, then returned to stand guard at the
breaching spot. Sep managed to get Bill and Reg to deal with the all
the fences busted on the way into our place and I moved our cattle into
the paddock below Roger's road, to place plenty of distance between the
two bulls, should another incursion occur.
Santa Gertrudis cattle evolved on King Ranch, in
Texas, USA, before the age of motor transport, and after British bred
cattle had found the going too hard on the long walk to the 'finishing
fields' of America's grain belt, near Chicago, Illinois, well over a
century ago. Texas Longhorns were able to make the journey with ease,
but no matter how much grain they consumed on the journey and
after arrival and how much they were pampered, they remained 'as tough
as the hides they were wrapped in.' Finally, a fixed cross, deep cherry
red young bull, five eighths red British Shorthorn and three eighths
red Brahman, gave King Ranch a prepotent sire, named Monkey, because of
his friendly antics. He stamped his male offspring as mirrior images
and his females, all true to colour, type and easy calvers.
Monkey became the foundation sire of the Santa
Gertrudis breed, which has now spread across the globe to countries
suited to grazing easy care, good natured cattle. With their sound
conformation, strong hooves, intelligence and their ability to sweat
and remain tick free, they could travel long distances, fatten fast on
reaching the great grain belt and dress out as superior carcases.
King Ranch had been trying for a very long time to breed cattle with
top carcase qualities, strong enough to walk 2000 miles to the
'finishing' fields of America's Grain Belt and deliver top
carcase quality at the slaughterhouses in Chicago, Illinois, 'the
meat capital of the world.'
Our neighbours and farmers in general, were
sceptical and for years, would have nothing to do with our beautiful
'cherry reds'. With their hooded eyes, to keep out the glare of the sun
and dust too, when driven long distances; supple, loose skins
that sweated, to keep them cool, tick-free and less attractive to
insect pests, fine, gleaming summer coats, strong, flat bone and sound,
sturdy hooves for covering rough ground, all added up to a 'drovers
dream', but not in Central Castra. In harsh winter climates, like ours,
they promptly grew thick, warm overcoats to weather the storms and
biting winds from early May till late October, then shed them with ease
as the days and nights grew warmer.
Up our way they were dubbed 'lop eared mongrels.'
One of our neighbours put a mob of heifers in a paddock adjoining our
place and they broke in to visit Hua and his mob. That owner went off
his head and tried to put the bull out of action for good with a fern
hook, [machete].Hua carried the battle scars all his life.
The sullied heifers were rewarded with a trip to the abattoir.
Getting sidelined with the Santa story has led me
away from the huge significance of the use of toxic sprays when females
are in the early stages of pregnancy. With my permission, as stated
earlier, 245T had been sprayed on the road side of our Stable paddock
on two separate occasions, to kill blackberries which our goats
relished and destroyed wherever they could access them, but could not
reach through the heavy gauge wire netting fence. They were not
let out onto our dead end road unless closely monitored, as it was a
surprisingly busy one, frequently accessed by 'lost,'sightseeing
tourists. After the debacle with the deformed calves, I was now aware
of the side affects of the spray and knew that some problems
could be expected among the lambs.
Lambing commenced at the end of August and there
were no problems for the first week because the weather was perfect.
Then it started to rain heavily, with an Easterly wind blowing on to
our most protected lambing paddocks and a few losses occurred
overnight. The unlambed ewes were drifted off in the morning to the
Stable paddock where swift intervention could save any newborns who
chilled before they could get up and drink. Being close to the small
barn, it was easy to go out with a hay-strewn, wire sheep pen, firmly
tied on the transport board behind the Fiat, put any 'downer'
lambs or weak twins in it and drive, very slowly, to shelter with the
frantic ewes following behind.
Lassie made this possible by quietly dissuading the
ewes from running round and round or even trying to get under the
moving tractor. I could never see how she managed this acrobatic
exercise but knew I could not have done the job without her.
As quickly as the bad weather arrived, the rain
ceased, the wind dropped and there were no little pockets of misery
anywhere. Three mobs of ewes and lambs had been yarded and the lambs
'marked', live lamb averages were the highest we had, thus far,
achieved and the horror of the calving calamity was fading, although
not forgotten, when we were jolted out of complacency by Nic coming in
to say that there was trouble in the Laurelberry paddock, 'Right down
the bottom, amongst the sags.'
A bit later than expected, the ewes had started
having grossly deformed lambs. These births were few in number
initially but by the fifth and last day, were many and the magnitude of
our error overwhelmed me. Skinning dead lambs and getting replacements
was not an option because no one in our district had started milking
sheep. Then something strange happened. I could actually hear Mr
Maher's wise and gentle voice, talking to me. Weeping with shame at
ever failing to remember the proven wisdom of all he had taught me at
Shalimar, I made a lasting decision.
Without hesitation and without even initial
consultation with Sep, I declared that Mount Pleasant would henceforth
become an Organic Farm, unregistered as such, as I knew we could not
meet the guidelines on vaccination and because of the known
history of blackleg and tetanus on the place, I was not prepared
to consider them. I also knew that I would continue to drench retained
ewes, lambs and calves at weaning time, because of the immense stress
incurred when separated from their dams. The sheep and cattle were
regularly rotated on to clean pasture and showed no signs of parasitic
worm infection but they surely harboured a few, which could run riot in
their young, after the trauma of weaning.
In the long run, being a registered organic producer
may also have meant lower prices in the saleyards, as this was an area
where any perceived following of Sustainable Philosophy was a definite
crime. The high country further back was alive with so called Hippies
who were universally condemned as Pot smoking layabouts and Dole
bludgers but who, in my experience, were decent young people,
attempting to forge a sustainable life style in a relentlessly harsh
environment, where only the fittest could hope to survive. Long after
my family had all left home, they were the ones who helped me at
harvest time each year, right to the end.
All the other farmers had switched to huge round
bales, requiring an enormous capital outlay for the equipment for
handling them. They did not like hiring bale carters and wished to do
the entire job alone. They succeeded but at enormous cost - $35,000 -
for the bale loader and lifter and maybe the immense cost a heavier
tractor too, if the old one could not handle the weight of the new
equipment. The Fiat would have been useless and even the David Brown,
which Sep had bought for square baling, looked like toys against the
monsters that some of our neighbours drove in fully enclosed,
soundproof, air conditioned comfort. But that equipment could not fill
big barns like our Opera house. Round bales could only be elevated to
three layers and were difficult to feed out, often resulting in
trampled wastage, which smothered the pasture lying underneath.
The Organic Farm.
We stuck to organic fertilizers and used no toxic
pesticides or herbicides for thirty years. We were poor customers for
veterinary medicines and food additives, except for a mixture of
molasses and double strength apple cider vinegar, drizzled into the cut
sides of hay bales during dry years when the pasture may have lacked
sufficient nourishment to fully satisfy the dietary needs of hard
working livestock, who were forever engaged in reproducing and raising
their young and withstanding the rigours of our fickle and often harsh
climate. Horses in work were fed bought - in chaff and oats which may
not have been organically grown, but as explained a little further on,
Peter Pan selected them and he surely knew a thing or two.
Most lambs were marketed straight off their dams and
required no treatment for 'worms.' The small number who failed to
'finish' were drenched and shorn at weaning. Initially, all vealers,
even during those awful years when 'doubled up,' were not drenched.
They went straight off the cows to the butcher's pens at the saleyards.
All drenched animals were placed in withholding areas until the period
of toxicity was past. Their droppings went into compost crates and
never drained on to pasture land.
When we commenced the Santa journey, only heifers
retained for breeding received a dose of drench at weaning time. The
others joined the steer weaners on market days. Our first lot of
flighty Santa weaners went straight to the abattoir. I delivered them
and waited till they were dressed out to obtain official condition
score ratios. All of them were top class. What a pity that their AI
sire was a nutter.
Calves retained as breeders continued to be drenched
when weaned and the horses continued to be treated against the
ingestion of killer Bot Fly larvae. No matter how hard we tried to keep
them from the horses, come late Spring and early Summer, bot fly
eggs would eventually be laid on legs, manes and flanks. The male bot
fly bites and 'worries' horses where the female has laid eggs and the
horses rub the bitten areas with their whiskery muzzles, causing the
eggs to instantly hatch into athletic larvae. The tiny larvae then
cling onto the horses' whiskers, climb onto the upper or lower lips,
then slip into the horses' mouths to journey to the hosts' stomachs
where, unharmed by strong gastric juices, they attach themselves to the
stomach linings and commence their parasitic bot life cycles. If not
treated and the bots eliminated, damage to the linings of horses'
stomachs can prove fatal. After drenching, the horses were confined in
the sheep yards, thus eliminating run-off of toxic chemicals onto
Peter Pan, who always 'held' other horses in a
sheltered corner during aerial spraying on neighbouring farms and then
subsequently assessed where it was safe for them to graze, was also an
extremely selective eater of bought in oats and chaff and seemed
to know what was grown on contaminated ground. He made it clear that he
needed little samples from the grain store, skillfully augured from
each bag of chaff or oats, placed in sealed paper bags and carefully
carried home by me, in separate, small paper sachets, to enable him to
choose. Thus we soon learned which grower's had clean ground and then
purchased their bagged products only, some of which looked weather
stained and unpalatable but smelt good and were readily accepted.
Having spent so much of my life with perceptive,
good natured ponies and horses, and loved them dearly, it seems strange
that Peter Pan, a true rebel, was the only one with so much
unparalleled nous. Perhaps others may have thought him pernickety but
our family had all learned to respect his apparent foibles as downright
common sense. By accepting those attributes, added to the Maher's and
Jago's wisdom, we were able to keep all our livestock in good health
and fine fettle, year after year.
In Winter, the cattle, horses and goats grew their
own thick winter coats and the sheep, their heavy fleeces. Keeping warm
is energy intensive for all warm blooded animals and requires a high
intake of good tucker. Whilst flying with Ansett, both Alex and Chris
lived in Melbourne and when they had a reasonable block of days off,
seldom concurrent - so they rarely came together - they flew a
part owned, high performance Cessna aircraft, won in a raffle by Chris'
friend Gerald, from Moorabbin to Mount Pleasant in all weathers, often
in zero visability, giving me goose bumps. After Sep left for greener
pastures at HEC Head Office as Chief Geologist in Hobart, they
maintained all the machinary on a regular basis and planted double
fenced shelter belts of mostly native trees and shrubs around every
field to keep out the cold and attract the birds, who kept those fields
free of pasture pests, thus ensuring more forage for the livestock.
Chris had met Gerald at Moorabbin when Chris was a
flying instructor there. Gerald, a 'weights and measures man', had
earlier obtained his flying licence and bought a raffle ticket which
won the Super Cessna aeroplane. Chris 'did the sums' to determine the
number of registered pilot-owners required to part-own, maintain, and
fly the plane. The number was six. Chris and Alex agreed to the plan,
Gerald already had the other three and the partnership was a complete
success, with the plane well maintained, rarely idle and it made
frequent trips to Mount Pleasant. Having never learned to fly myself, I
was on tenterhooks when the plane was approaching, quite often with
zero visibility. Ours was a one-way landing strip, just like Wau, in
New Guinea, where no possibility to 'touch and go round' existed. They
were top pilots then and are still
The successful and long-running Cessna partnership
was terminated after the plane had its compulsory total overhaul,
where it was fully checked for structural soundness and its engine was
fully reconditioned. Now lacking its former zest, all shareholders
agreed that it should be sold. They had enjoyed a great, incident free
run with it for many years and some were now working under more
straitened circumstances. Times had changed for all of them.
On the farm, the livestock thrived on their organic
pastures.The cattle shed their winter woollies without any human
intervention. They used Sep's sturdy gates and succeeded in bending
them, ever so slightly, each year but they were easily straightened out
again. They also rubbed their old coats off on the steel mesh of the
paddock shelter tree protectors and some bird species used the hair,
mixed with a multitude of other components, to make their nests
The sheep had theirs removed by the shearer when the
weather lost its frigid bite and their clean, carefully skirted wool
sold well, especially the Suffolk fleeces in the later years. This
amazed the Agents, as Suffolk wool had always been unpopular because of
the likelihood of black wool intrusion or, worse still, black kemp from
the heads and legs, contaminating the snow white fleece. For the
manufacture of Futons, the colour of the wool was not an issue, but
prickly kemp, the course hair from faces and legs of many sheep breeds,
would be totally unacceptable. There was never any kemp or black in our
wool as I had been the shedhand on the farm for all but one year of our
tenure and was adept at skirting any black wool and kemp from the
'points' where black met white as Jack sheared each sheep, without
getting in his way or slowing him down. Throwing and rolling the fleece
on the wool table then took no time at all as three parts of the job
was already done. Pressing the wool into the bale and sweeping the
floor was completed before Jack had caught and pulled the next sheep
out of the catching pen and on to the shearing floor.
The unexpected popularity of the Suffolk wool had
arisen because the Japanese had discovered its resilience in
mattresses. Unlike cotton and many other wools that tend to flatten
under pressure, they found that Suffolk fleece, although fine, was
superior for their Futons as it was comfortable to sit or sleep on and
did not compact or lose its bounce.
We had always grown our own fruit and vegetables and
used many old fashioned ways of foiling insect pests, mostly by
companion planting and ensuring that the compost was good and the soil
in fine tilth. A little ring of fire ash or lime around tender
seedlings gave effective protection, as did the great old standby of a
bowl of beer!
When the shelter belts became established, the bird
numbers grew and controlled pasture and garden pests. The 'old grass
harrowing at night exercises', which had cut the silken cords of the
corbie grubs and left them stranded at dawn, unable to find their homes
and now breakfast for the birds, were over, with no bare patches of
ground to show where the grubs had feasted. It seemed that the moths
now bypassed our fields and laid their eggs elsewhere.
Nic Finds his Way and Daleen Arrives.
At the end of the seventies or the beginning
of the eighties, Alex and Chris were flying with Ansett and Nic was at
the 'college of knowledge' in Launceston on a four year degree course
in Education. He had won all the prizes in his final year at Primary
School, because he liked and respected his teacher, who was also the
Principal. The new year saw him setting off to High School on the bus,
with his brothers, who ensured that he entered his designated class and
travelled back home with them each day. Soon though, he slipped off the
radar, and could seldom be found and when he was, would pretend
to be stupid, finishing up with the dummies, where he was happy enough,
never doing any homework. I knew he was as sharp as a tack, so left him
to make his own decisions about his future. Thus, throughout secondary
school and two Matric years, apparently because it was 'boring,' he
could never be found to sit any tests or exams.
Sep was finally roused to anger by Nic's attitude to
the 'real world', so took him to Tullah to work for the Hydro, as had
his brothers before him. There he finished up on a huge, cold and
wet machinary maintenance floor, full of monstrous motorised
equipment and there he eventually suffered a nasty whiplash
injury. A fellow workmate had unintentionally allowed the rim of a
heavy truck tyre to fly off and glancing Nic, sent him spinning across
the concrete floor, into a distant wall, whiplashed. Finally realising
that manual labour did not suit his youngest son, Sep brought him back
to the Farm, where he recovered.
Having discovered that work environments with the
Hydro were freezing cold and dangerous, Nic returned to Matric after
Easter, to ask his ever patient teachers if they would take him back
for the remainder of this, his third year, assuring them that he would
not let them down. They were pleased and he did well, surpassing all
expectations and his studious brothers' results. He had fooled everyone
for years, acting the really dumb class clown and whilst relegated to
level one subjects, he said they were intriguing and full of subtle
nuances. After the subsequent Christmas holidays, he commenced his four
year degee course in Education at the College of Knowledge in
Launceeston and galloped through at lightning speed until three parts
through his final year, when a crippling road accident hospitalized him
for six months and he missed his final exams. Later, an aggregate of
his results during the course saw him hobbling up the steps, dragging
his noisy arthridesis onto the dias to receive his degree with much
acclamation, then descending the steps on the other side, clomp clomp,
to hearty cheers.
Nic had already been in Hospital, in a fracture bed,
for six months, in the hope that his shattered leg, shot through his
pelvis in four pieces, may miraculously heal, he went to stay with
friends at Deloraine, sailed up the Gordon River in his Heavyweight
Sharpie with his great crew to help save the Franklin River and finally
returned to the Farm for R and R, only to find that his leg was not any
better. Still hoping for that illusive miracle, his Doctors put him
back in Hospital for another six months and tried their level best to
make him sound once more but sadly failed. Nic came home again, had his
Tardis adapted to enable him to drive and started work, teaching
secondary classes, far and wide, at schools without long flights of
stairs. They were hard to find.
To cut travelling time to wherever he was was
working, he stayed with friends in Devonport for most of the first year
and one day he saw a lovely young Primary School teacher outside her
school. She was loading her flock onto a bus to take them swimming in
the Pool at Sheffield. Smitten, Nic followed that bus and the rest is
history. They married and are still together. Some time after my
Mother's death in 1996, they moved into her home, The Cottage, on Mount
Nic already knew the little girl called Daleen, from
Upper Castra. Both she and her elder sister, Janine had travelled on
the School Bus to their separate schools in Devonport while he was
messing about at Matric, long before he decided to actually sit his
exams. Both girls were attractive and good company and he was pleased
when he heard that Daleen had arrived at the Farm on horseback, to ask
me whether I would consider employing her as a Farm Apprentice. With
both Alex and Chris living in Melbourne and flying for Ansett and Sep
getting restive about his own prospects of becoming Chief Geologist
with the Hydro, it was clear that I would soon be alone on the Hill.
This little girl's request was well timed and
Daleen had grown up on the family farm at
Upper Castra and did not wish to go to Matriculation College. In spite
of her keen intelligence and above average Schools Board results, she
dreamed of a life on the land. Alex and Chris also knew her from
travelling to Devonport on the bus to seconday schools there, including
Matric. They liked and respected her but only Nic thought she could
become a competent heavy livestock handler and farmer. Sep was sure she
would be useless; 'just another mouth to be fed and she'd have to
be paid!' How little they knew of the skills she possessed.
My visitor had ridden her young, green horse down
the steep Ten Foot Track and into the valley to avoid heavy traffic on
the road to Central Castra, unaware that the once thriving farm was now
known as Death Valley. Some two years earlier, the property had changed
hands. It was purchased by a group of accountants from Burnie. Having
no knowledge of farming or any intention of keeping an eye on the place
themselves, they dealt through astute Stock Agents, who arranged
the purchase and cartage of superior breeding sheep and cattle, to be
left in the care of and an elderly and incompetent 'live in'
manager. The sheep multiplied profusely and were not moved to fresh
pasture, crutched or shorn, none of their lambs were marked, docked,
shorn or culled and those who had survived were now in their second
year of total neglect and were dying in droves from starvation and
Most of the cattle had escaped on to neighbouring
properties or into the adjoining, heavily overgrown, adjoining State
forest. The condition of the sheep and lambs, their lack of due
care and their current parlous state had been reported, time and again,
to appropriate officials but no action had eventuated. Not
surprisingly, Daleen was overwhelmed by the horror of the cruelty
and the sickly stench of the dead and dying sheep. She did not know
about the cattle but was in a state of shock as she rode into our
farmyard, then she raised a smile on seeing me there, cleaning up
in the goathouse.
Welcoming her, then suggesting she let her horse
loose in the small barn paddock to have a roll and a drink from the
trough, she did so, then followed me into the kitchen to discuss the
reason for her visit over a cup of tea and she came straight to the
point - the possibility that I may consider employing her on the State
Government's Farm Apprenticement Scheme. Knowing, that with the
exception of Nic, all my menfolk considered her far too small and far
too good looking to be of any use on the place, I felt honoured to be
asked to consider her request and assured her that I would do my best
to remove the barriers to her employment on the property and was
Throughout her time on Mount Pleasant, she amazed me
by her quiet and effective handling of our animals and farm machinary,
becoming flustered or using any force. Our Santa Gertrudis bulls were
massive and she was tiny, but whilst waiting in the crush, they soon
lowered their heads in response to her quiet words and did not move as
she covered each eye with a cloth while administering iodine paint for
ringworm control around those delicate eyes. When coupling farm
machinary behind the Fiat, she auomatically used appropriate levers,
effectively and without error, then quickly became proficient
with the fern hook and the thistle hoe. Only sixteen, a slip of a girl,
4'11"tall, she was blonde, bonny and beautiful and a top Farm
Inside the house, Daleen knew how to prepare and
serve simple, nourishing meals, kept the cutlery, plates and pots and
pans spotless and was good company for me. We worked well together.
Initially, she went home to Upper Castra on Shallum each evening,
returning at first light to commence her working day. I had ridden home
with her, on the top road, after her first visit to the Farm, via the
Ten Foot Track.
Neither of us ventured down there again until new owners returned the
place to peaceful, well maintained pastures, studded with healthy
Hereford cows and calves. Scattered, clean limbed young trees for shade
and shelter and well fenced fields with easy opening, light steel gates
onto The Track, a public road, had made access to visitors and farm
management a great deal easier for all concerned.
Shallum soon became accostomed to the traffic on the
top road and Daleen used that route for travelling, as all the
improvements in the world would never allow her to forget the horror of
Soon her family sold their farm and moved to West Gawler, near
Ulverstone, to a new home they had built there, atop a high hill,
giving them grand views. Now Daleen and Shallum stayed on the Farm all
week, making the fifteen mile jouney home on Friday afternoons
and returning early on Monday mornings.
then went off to Tech in Burnie to learn various skills and one of
those was welding. Sep had topped the State in his welding
course, but on his own admission, had spent a lot of time 'stuck to the
bench' in the early stages. Chris had taught himself with a lot of
heartache and neither Alex or Nic had even tried, thus far. But minute
Daleen went up there, to Burnie and got it all together straight away.
Those three years with Daleen were good. We learned
a lot from one another. Inevitably, there were some ups and downs. Just
before Christmas, on the last day of her first year, she stopped
on her homeward journey to talk to a man who had some fine horses. She
dis mounted and let Shallum graze on the wide verge as they
discussed his future plans for all of them. There was a tall
blackberry hedge between them, but it was below the road and did not
impair her view. They chatted away for some twenty minutes or so, then
started to shiver violently and froth at the mouth.
The man yelled frantically, 'Oh, my God, Daleen, I
clean forgot. The Council sprayed the verge side of the blackberries
this morning - the residue is on the grass - he's been poisoned!'
He clambered though the hedge and held Shallum while
Daleen whipped the saddle off - just in time because the poor beast
went down, struggling wildly. He writhed around for what seemed to
Daleen to be ages, then became quieter, Eventually he settled before
regaining his feet. He was in a lather of sweat and shivering
violently. Gradually the shivering abated and Daleen decided to
re-saddle him and lead him home. Her friend said he would ring the Vet
to meet her there to see what could be done. Peter, our lovely young
Vet, turned up promptly but said there was nothing he could do. Shallum
had ingested a hefty dose of Agent Orange, or something similar. He had
overcome the severe initial reaction and Daleen would just have to give
him plenty of rest and hope for a miracle - there was no
Daleen was a State under 19 softball player and most
of her vacation was spent competing on the mainland. When the time came
to return to Mount Pleasant, she saddled her Shallum for the journey,
but knew she would have to lead him most of the way - he had been so
sick and had not been ridden during her absence on the mainland. On
arrival, he looked fine. Off he went to the paddock to enjoy our great
grass. We did not use artificial fertilisers but did topdress with
dolomite and sterilized blood and bone, so the pastures were fine
Several weeks later, after they had done the weekend
hike several times, we suddenly noticed that Shallam's coat was loosing
its sheen, beginning to dull and turn up at the ends. He also looked
very fat. It was a great year for feed, and fearful of founder, he was
briefly relegated to the sheepyards with hay and water, where he
immediately became hollow-flanked and we realized that the fatness was
oedema- he would swell up like a football and then deflate. Blood tests
were taken and the prognosis was grim. The poor creature was riddled
with cancer and within a week, was unable to walk properly to be
taken to the warm, big barn, almost full of well cured, meadow hay and
the obvious place to put him. By heating our woollen stable rugs in the
tumble dryer and with help from our good neighbour, Harold, we finally
managed to get him inside the barn. There, he stood like a stature,
getting colder and colder, until he finally went down and
eventually lost consciousness. Harold told us stories of the great
workhorses he had used on his farm and he held Daleen's hand to comfort
her. Unexpectedly, Alex burst through the door - he had an 'overnight'
'What are you doing moping about here with a dying
horse. Why hasn't someone called Patti?' he wanted to know. Patti was a
friend of Jill who saved people and animals with a myriad of ailments
but I had not thought it would apply to something like this. Angry at
our stupidity, Alex just grabbed a bit of Shallum's mane and leapt into
his old VW to go to Patti's place. Within fifty minutes he was
back. By now, Shallum was really cold; only his girth area retained any
warmth at all.
He had been unconcious for nearly two hours. Alex had some sugar pills
in a glass phial. He grabbed Shallum's head and lifted it up,
then prised his mouth open. The horse seemed to me to be already dead.
But into the back of his mouth Alex tipped the sugar pills and gently
lowered his head back down on the hay on the barn floor. Poor Harold
thought we were all crazy for sure but was too polite to say so. Daleen
just hugged him and wept. Alex was speechless because we had let things
get this bad. As usual, I was just numb. Finally we all agreed the
battle had been lost. There were no signs of life at all and we
prepared to leave. As we opened the rattly old steel door, Shallum
moved - in the weak torchlight it frightened us. We stood stock still.
He moved again, then took some deep, deep breaths. We huddled together
and as we did, this 'dead' horse rose up and shook his woolly rugs off-
they were only thrown over him.
Ever practical, Alex said. 'Patti has sent more
medication to be given in apple after he gets up. You must not touch
the pills - I'll show you what to do.'
Harold was too overwhelmed to say anything more than
'Thank God, Daleen' and off home he went. Daleen did thank God. She had
certainly witnessed a miracle.
It took four months of treatment four times a day
for Shallum to recover. One Friday night I went to Patti's home to
collect his treatment for the next fortnight and she told me that he
did not need it. He was cured. On Sunday she came to visit him. Patti
was not a horse person. She had never had anything to do with them, but
as she approached the gate to his field, currently shared with the
bulls, he galloped up the hill to greet and sniff noses with her. He
then performed a magical display of high school movements in
recognition of his appreciation. And it is all true. Standing well away
from Patti and the horse, I had witnessed the entire performance,
marvelling at the obvious conclusion that Shallum knew that it was
Patti who had made him well again. But I was also sure that grown
horses rarely, if ever, perform the full repertoire of those movements
voluntarily, whereas foals, whilst playing together, are a joy to
observe, until they grow too big and gangling to dance with grace. By
then they were more inclined kick up their heels, race one another and
torment their dams, ensuring that weaning time was nigh. For Patti,
unschooled, barefoot Shallum had danced with wondrous elegance, beauty
Shallum, aged four or five, had matured into a
well balanced and supple horse in the later stages of his full
recovery, his lutrous, bay coat colour and the cheeky sparkle in his
big brown eyes, all well and truly back again. The steepness of
our paddocks and those at Daleen's new home in Gawler,had made it
easier for him to negotiate the ups and downs, with his hocks
Shallum was out of action for so long that Daleen's
Mum had to fetch and carry her for a time. She then obtained her
Provisional Driver's License and trundled along in an elderly Datsun,
purchased with her pay. Because of the stringency of our twice daily
checks, it lasted for years. She and Shallum had been attending Rallies
at Mersey Valley Pony Club before his illness, so while he was still
sick, and with Alex's blessing, she decided to take Klinke to an open
Pony Club Gymkhana at Devonport Showground. She would not take Peter
Pan. He was still far too bossy for her to manage. Klinke had not
travelled far off the Farm before but he was well schooled and obedient
and won the Hack Class, beating that year's Royal Show champion.
He looked a treat. She then took him to a Pony Club One Day Event. His
eyes were like organ stops, but ever obedient, he went clear there too.
He may have won had Alex not forbidden cantering in the dressage
arena. Although they had missed those two lots of marks, he and Daleen
finished in fourth place.
In spite of these successes with big bold Kolonal
Klinke, minute Daleen did not like him much more than Peter Pan. They
were both far too bossy. She was pleased when she no longer
needed either of them to check the stock and could return to her
faithful, but still totally unschhooled Shallum. Daleen did as well
with her procedural, off farm studies as she did with her work on the
Farm. At the end of her three years on Mount Pleasant, she topped the
State in Farm Apprenticeship. What a triumph for us both. She then went
off to Orange, in NSW, to complete her final year at College and she
graduated as a Qualified Stud, or any Stock, Bookkeeper, Accountant and
Secretary. Back home again and in spite of her glowing record and
references, she could not find a single sole to employ her. Sep had
long gone to Head Office in Hobart as Chief Geologist with the Hydro
Electric Commission and I could not afford to do so, as her wages would
now be beyond my capacity to pay her.
In spite of all those glowing references, farmers
and graziers were disinterested in her talents - she was just too small
and too pretty. How little did they know! She was even knocked back by
a big market vegetable grower to thin carrots, a job at which she
excelled. Sadly, she had no choice and eventually gave up the search
for a farm apprentice placement and gained lucrative employment in a
Devonport legal office. It was fortunate that she had spent that final
year in Orange. It gave her a meal ticket.
Daleen and husband Ralph Koch, live in Forth. They
have a beautiful daughter, Samantha, now in her mid teens, whom I knew
and loved as a tiny tot and a ten year old son, Jergen, who sounds
delightful on the phone and I hope to meet him some time soon.
Shallum, visited daily on Daleen's way to work and
exercised whenever possible, spent the rest of his days in the lap of
luxury in beautiful fields, in the company of other pampered, much
loved, genial horses, with shelter from inclement weather, without the
tyranny of any Peter Pans. After her marriage, Daleen found it
difficult to find time to ride her faithful Shallum on a regular basis
but she visited him almost daily on her way to work and exercised him
as frequently as possible. By 2006, he was losing his usual vim and
vigour and was finally put down before the cold storms of winter could
make him miserable.
As Time Goes By.
After Sep moved away and Daleen's apprenticeship
ended. a time of change arrived on Mount Pleasant. The boys were all
following their own paths in life and the little house on the hill
suddenly became very lonely, if only for a short period, for I soon
discovered people I knew who were experiencing hard times. One of the
Pony Club mothers had been superseded by a new edition. On my way home
from the sale of a load of vealers at Quoiba saleyards one day, I
met her outside the big hardware store in Devonport, standing outside
the main entrance, close to where I had parked the truck and she
explained her difficult predicament. Because having company would lift
my spirits, I invited her to visit the farm any time, 'starting today,
if suitable.'and the invitation was accepted, over short periods, for
Another young woman I knew had two young children
and a sizeable herd of dairy goats. Her marraige had also failed and
she needed a safe haven. Before Daleen commenced her apprenticeship,
heartbroken, I had sold our remaining beautiful goats after losing
Snowbelle in a freak accident. She was strangled by her own special
light show chain, worn throughout her life with us, so now the
goathouse was empty and the milking stand still in good order. This
arrangement lasted till the delightful children had grown tall and
strong and they and the goats all moved on to a new farm home when
their mother re-married one of Alex's schoolfriends.
housed Gill and Michael had long since sold Kinvarra and moved to a
smaller place, off the Castra Road, with a well situated, heritage
homestead on the outskirts of Ulverstone, where Gill was milking a
smaller herd of 40 cows and Michael was engaged in some off-farm
work for a business in town, so I caught up with them occasionally, on
Friday evenings, on my way to meet Sep for a Chinese Meal in
Ulverstone. Th Gill, by then, also had a flock of thirty stud Suffolk
sheep which she showed successfully. She loved that sunny little farm
of 75 productive acres, with a permanent stream running through, which
often overflowed the banks and spread water across the flatter pasture
land, ensuring adequate, all year round forage for the cows. A
flourishing orchard and vegetable garden grew near the homestead, well
situated on sunny, high ground and surrounded by flowering shrubs,
perennials and with Gill's magic touch, annuals too. all with a much
warmer climate and longer growing season than on Kinvarra.
One day Michael, who had become bored by his town
and country liaison job, met a man who was a bricklayer. Having long
ago felt convinced that dairy farming was a mug's job, with never a day
off for nine or ten months of each year and the idea that this man
could teach him how to lay bricks to perfection, could be the beginning
of a more rewarding way of life for him, anyway. It would mean selling
this place, where Gill and their family of five children had been so
happy and moving to a town house in Wynyard. Once there, Michael would
commence his apprenticeship, Gill would have to find another way
of life altogether, and I would lose my best friend. Gill took up oil
painting and golf, at which she still excels and their brilliant
linguist, eldest daughter, Kim entered the academic world, in Hobart at
the University of Tasmania. Their second daughter, Wendy, commenced her
nursing career and Joan, quite early, decided that she liked to cook
and a little later, made it her career. Youngest daughter, Toni and
only son, Kevin, were still at school.
At the end of his long apprenticeship, Michael got
itchy feet and the now smaller family moved to Tannum Sands, near
Gladstone, in Queensland and Toni and Kevin went too. Of High School
age, Toni attended Gladstone High where she matriculated and Kevin
scored an apprenticeship in plumbing. Never feeling really
settled amongst the Queenslandes, both eventually returned to Tasmania.
There, Toni scored a decent job in Hobart with MBF and Kevin worked as
a plumber in Burnie.
Michael was a good bricklayer and Gill a top hod
carrier. They were a great team and in high demand, constructing blocks
of units in record time with the help of expert plumbers, carpenters
and joiners and an electrician. Gill's horticultural ability enhanced
the units and ensured that their completed properties were always
keenly sought. A tidal river ran past their place, down to the sea and
Gill's exhilerating recreation was windsurfing. Michael found the sport
too tiring after a hard day's work, so Gill windsurfed alone.
One day, a tenant from one of the units that Michael
and she had built, came out to ask her if she could give him a
windsurfing lesson. He had been watching her for ages and could not
resist the temptation of trying to master the art himself. Because this
clean cut young man was always cordial and polite and never late with
rental payments, Gill agreed and off they went, in tandem. His name was
Nep and of Maori lineage. He was a good pupil and a fast learner.
Within an hour he had mastered the intracies of windsurfing and both
found themselves irrevocably drawn to one another. They knew not what
to do. It was 1996 and Gill told Michael that she intended to leave
him. He was very angry but Gill was adament that they must visit a
lawyer to commence divorce proceedings. A settlement was finally drawn
up, Nep and Gill scored the caravan and Michael was left with all their
worldly goods at Tannum Sands. But not for long. He soon married a
nice, sensible woman from the Phillipines and his children visit them
from time to time. Although outraged by Gill's 'disgraceful elopement,'
Michael and his wife are still in Queensland.
Nep hitched the caravan behind his truck and he and
Gill began their lives together, initially in the scrap metal industry
and wandered the Continent, buying, refurbishing and selling houses,
complete with Gill's new and productive gardens. Nep continued in the
usually lucrative scrap metal business and Gill became a geriatric
'par excellence.' There are no limits to their talents. Both love one
another unconditionally, and are still wandering the Continent and
Tasmania, now settling longer in one place, currently in the south of
Queensland, where Nep has much easier and more lucrative work on the
Brisbane wharfs. There, the truck is loaded by the Wharfies and
unloaded at its destinations by those who ordered the consignments. He
works late at night and into the small hours, as the roads are less
congested and the 'turnarounds' much faster.
Gill is now the homemaker, with a welcoming, open
plan house and garden. On alternate days, she plays golf at first
light, works out at the Gym, or socialises or shops while Nep is
sleeping, usually until mid morning or midday dinner time. depending on
when his shift ends and he gets home. They are supremely happy. Highly
acclaimed Academic Kim lives and works in California and she and all
Gill's and Michael's now adult children usually spend Christmas with
Gill and Nep. They also visit Michael and his caring wife and there is
no acrimony about the past.
Time and possums in plague proportion, driven out of
their natural habitat by nearby forestry activities, destroyed most of
our orchard trees, planted in the early days of our tenure. They ate
all the young Spring shoots and being heavy, broke branches. As forest
trees were cleared in the surrounding districts, Wallabies appeared,
for the first time, in near plague proportion, in the Gawler Valley
fields and were not deterred by multiple strand electric fences
In spite of a well maintained, moderate stocking
rate, the average annual rainfall halved in our district and the
weather gradually warmed considerably. When once it was necessary to
break the winter ice on the water troughs each morning with a pick-axe
hammer, or move stock if their trough was exposed and frozen solid,
they could easily break the thin ice themselves in later years. Climate
Change was now a fact of life.
The Slippery Slide.
After my retirement, our first agisting farmers were
good friends and neighbours who kept the whole place in tip top
condition for two trouble free years. These caring, exceptional
and expert farmers had bought Kinvarra from the last of long list of
owners, all of whom, with the notable exception of Michael and Gill,
had failed to prosper there but had been able to recoup their losses,
as rural land values had risen over time. Ted and Marg paid
top dollar because the place carried 86 milking cows, had a lucrative
seed potato contract and now had a near new spacious brick homestead to
accommodate themselves and their three young children, the original
weatherboard cottage having burned down, not that long ago. It also had
clean, modern holding yards, a concrete brick dairy and a milk cooler
room with milk tanker access, built by Michael and Gill.
Ted and Marg and their children all worked like
beavers on their new place and turned it back into the goldmine that
Michael and Gill and their five children so well.Both families were
able to pay off all their debts, on high interest rates, in under ten
years, while all the intervening owners had failed to make a living on
the same place. Subsequent agisting farmers on Mount Pleasant scoffed
at any suggestion of following even basic principles of sustainability
and cheated shamelessly by overstocking and applying inappropriate
fertilizers. They also did some random spraying of weeds, soon noted
and forbidden and even failed to use the designated areas set aside for
drenched stock to 'empty out' after such procedures, thus causing
contamination of clean pastures. Nic and Tara had moved to Gran's
Cottage some years after her death in 1986, with Tara's horses, Comet
and Twister and Nic's Irish Terrier, Barnaby Rudge came with them. They
tried to intervene, but they were both teachers, working off farm all
week and their pleas fell on deaf ears.
When I visited the property, I did my best to keep
it 'clean' but the last agistor overstocked so heavily that the cattle,
when confined to a field with trough water for only fifty cows and
their calves, soon became frenzied by thirst. Knowing the whereabouts
of the River, they smashed their way through the fences and
stampeded downhill, through the forests and down the steep banks, into
the River. It cost thousands of dollars and nearly two years to repair
the fences and the erosion created by cloven hooves but it was now as
clear as crystal that the Mount Pleasant would have to be sold.
I had aged and weakened in retirement and needed
help with the repair jobs. This was not easy to find, as my
'reputation' was still alive and well. Eventually, Daleen's uncle came
to say that he would work with me. He did a really good job and I was
very grateful. After months of hard work, the whole place eventually
looked near picture perfect again and Alex and Stephynee came home from
Queensland to add expertise and moral support, leading up to the Sale.
1999 was a dry year. Instead of agisting stock,
grazing cattle for local farmers, short of feed, at no charge, seemed a
smart idea, as cattle would keep the grass down, before it became a
fire hazard. The offer was promptly taken up and two families found
grazing for their hungry beasts, who repaid us by keeping the
property safe. The first big mob came from Preston and did so well,
down by the River, they were fit for slaughter quite quickly.
They were replaced by a second, similar sized mob, who went onto
fresh paddocks and also 'finished' well. They may
well have kept coming, right to the end.
The second large mob of cattle limped onto the
front and top of the farm after a long 'drive' on stony roads from some
earlier haven and comprised cows with forward Santa x vealers at foot.
They responded so well to the good feed and and the soothing water of
Camp Creek, that all lameness quickly vanished and the red or black
coats of the vealers soon glowed with such brilliance, they mirrored
our reflections. They were still there, briefly, after Our Place
changed hands and its total destruction commenced. They would sell like
hot cakes as the fires of destuction clouded the once beautiful and
bountiful Mount Pleasant.
How the property came to this tragic end.
As soon as the property was listed For Sale on the
Tasmanian market and on the Internet, a Carbon Credit tree farming
company made the first offer. It was rejected. We had fought to save it
for livestock farming and mixed forest trees for the two years after
the last agister's cattle had caused so much damage, but now, as the
entire property was being heavily sprayed from the air and 'under
offer', no others could be considered. After much haggling, the
'first bidder' eventually bought our paradise, It is now
unrecognisable; our once well maintained homes appear to be
abandoned. Both are fast falling into ruin from the tyranny of
neglect and rising damp, as no direct light or sunshine can penetrate
the canopy, as all the land is covered with the ubiquitous monoculture
of Eucalyptus Nitens. After thirty five years of nurture of the
highly productive land, it is now no longer recognisable,
What a wicked waste: reminiscent of John Steinbeck's 'Grapes of Wrath'
The document, 'The Road to the
Farm' is the copyright © of the author,
Paterson. All rights reserved by the author.
TO THE BEGINNING