THE ROAD TO THE FARM

by Margot Paterson

 

 

 

http://alexpaterson.net/anecdote/TRTTF_4.htm

Last updated: 2 January 2020
 


MASTER INDEX of articles written or recommended by Alex Paterson

 


 
The Road to the Farm.  
Chapter 4

The Search.

    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 from overseas.
    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, exactly.   
     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 shop. 
    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 station wagon.
    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 negotiations.
    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.

Reflections.

    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 dispossessed.

    *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 islands.
    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 ethnic cleansing.
    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 World market.
    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 route'.

    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 damage.
    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 smiled, ruefully.
    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 check later.
    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 exercise.
    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 like tailenders.
    '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 too. 
    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 say so. 
    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 five years.
    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 too.
    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 clean pasture,
    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 noticeably disfigured.
 
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 bit terse. 
    '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 the River.
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.
 
Poor Bill.

    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 juices.
 
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 fat.
 
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 finally said,
    '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 neighbours said,
    '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 day. 

*Ram- hydraulic water lifting machine.

Positive Progress.
   
    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 years.
     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 and feeding.
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 management,
     'Australian housewives were not 'ready' for them yet and home models were nowhere near being released on the domestic market'.
 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.
 
Local Gossip.

    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, 'come out
 on top.'
    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!
 
The Stables.   

    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 of fitness.
    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 new sheep.
    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 balanced.
    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.
 

Shorthorn Heifers.
   
    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.
 

Fire.
   
    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 fire.
    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 ceilings.
    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 pristine.
    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 the homestead.
    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.
 
Shearing.
   
    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 separation.
    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 I know,
 ' 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 cold months.
    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 winter. 
    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 that way,
    '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 more tea.
    '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 paused briefly.
    '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.
 
Unexpected Visitors.

    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 wagon.
    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 awhile'.
    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 boundary fence.
    '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. 'Appy  Crismas'.
    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 not.
    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.
 
Overweight Ponies

    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.
 
Turnip Rains.

    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 the score.
 
Lamb 'Marking'.

    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 satisfactory.
    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.

 
Built-In Blunders.

     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 dreams.      
    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 Ansett.
    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 ovation.
     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 was realised.

 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.


Ted.

    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 enjoyed. 
    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 resources ?'
    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,
    'What happened?'
    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 finally said,
    '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 turvey narrative.
    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 clear.
    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 dead.

    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 next!
 
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 hereabouts.
    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 faith. 
    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' and unpredictable.

     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 his domain.
    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'.
 

New 'Wheels'

    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.



Isandula Road.

    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 resumed. 
    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 Store.
    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 family picnickers.
    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 reality.
    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 larger animals.
     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 immobility.
    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 distress.
     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 occur.
    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 growth.

New Dilemmas

    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 movement.
     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 harvest.'
    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 had reservations. 
    '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 dangerous.'
    '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 barn stacking.
    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 made sense. 
     '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, including ours.
    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 gloves though'.
    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.


Problems Escalate.

    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.
 
New Cattle.

    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 diseases.
    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 learners.
    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 now.'
    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 service.'
     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 process.
    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' Enterprise

    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 diary.
                                                          Truck Talk.

    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 lap.
    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 and remembered.
    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 after licking
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 control. 
    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 me. 
    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 laughed.
    '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 Stud.
    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 learning curve.
    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 from Classification.
    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 breed characteristics.
    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 decidid'.                                   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 pasture land.
    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 flying.     
    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 Pleasant. 

    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 tempting.   
    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 blowfly strike.
    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 finally successful.
    Throughout her time on Mount Pleasant, she amazed me by her quiet and effective handling of our animals and farm machinary, never
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 Apprentice too.
    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 Death Valley.
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.
            She 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 suddenly Shallum
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 treatment.   
    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 indeed.
    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' in Devonport.               
    '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 and grace.

    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 engaged. 
    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 many years.   
    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. 

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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 assistant
'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.

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    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 had sustained
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'
   

 


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The document, 'The Road to the Farm' is the copyright of the author, Margot Paterson. All rights reserved by the author.


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