Burrowye Station Express

Arts, Agriculture,Community,Country

500 a day

Writing is a funny thing. I caught up with a high school friend this week, and she said she was surprised I hadn’t published at least one novel. “What happened?” she asked. I bumbled through a response. Could have been the college room joint in the second week of first year of university that seemed to separate my mind from my body and myself from literature.  Could have been the horror of walking into the Ballieu Library in Melbourne University and confronting the forest of words about words about words about words about a book that somebody wrote. Once. Was it the way I passed myself off as, or acted the part of, a writer:  a black notebook; a fountain pen; a constitution that could withstand gallons of whiskey and black coffee, a ton of cigarettes, a legion of lovers and hour after hour of  public philosophising. Kinda hard to stay fresh with all that going on. Could have been the great “first novel”, a straight transcript of interesting times hurriedly printed and submitted to The Vogel. The kind of draft I call a mere typing exercise.  I remember my mother sitting up in bed and saying: “You’re not writing one of those grunge novels are you?” Busted. I know Henry Miller wrote books he didn’t want his mother to read, and that it troubled even him. But he was good.

After the sorry excuses I reassured my friend.  My novels are lining up at the gate. There may be one or two scruffy little plays in the line-up. A few brumby-like poems that bust out of nowhere and bust back into nowhere.   I have my prescription: 500 words a day, at the same time every day. And not necessarily on this blog. I can tell writing is about to start because I have been indulging in a frenzy of  indulgence and overcommitment: buying two shopfronts and a studio with planning permission for residential conversion, making the stock myself, attachment parenting the five month old and home-schooling the eight year old, swearing to attend more festivals with my singing dancing husband, playing hairdresser and manicurist to the booming spring garden, activating old friendships and nurturing the current ones, attending personal development workshops.

Then again, taking up writing is a bit like giving up drinking. Feels amazing for a bit, then gets harder and a little bit boring… and then every person, place or thing on the planet seems to conspire against the resolve.

My high school friend is a wine chemist and seems to be one of my few friends who still loves a sparkler.  She sent me away with an exquisite bottle from a small Tasmanian winery and I drank it last night with a couple of Albury friends. I’m going to think of it as the magnum that launched the ship that is my commitment to right proper thought out insightful sustained funny terrible good eloquent properly punctuated real writing on paper that someone else will pay for.

Done.

(Word count 500)

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Blossom Viewing

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We are in the middle of a most blazing spring, here at Burrowye.The ornamental cherry that James keeps wanting me to prune is a massive buzzing pink afro boa of a thing. Plums are declaring themselves with white blossom in the paddock. Some bulbs survived our rooting pig, and our rooting pig has not survived us.  After three years of bob cats and lawn mowers the lawns around the homestead are finally starting to sweep.  Even the pile of leaves and seeds under the liquid amber looks kind of regular and deliberate. I was discussing the Japanese sentiment for seasons with our guest Tray the other day. Cherry blossom parties are muddy wet slushy drunk kinds of things.  A clear day under the confetti is a superb thing, but most parties are held between puddles and raindrops, mud and tears. There is a melancholy in the froth, a nostalgia for spent youth, heartache for passing beauty.  I tried and failed to catch this in words, years ago:

I was a tree a buzz

A blazing barren plum

How should I mourn

Fleeting petals

How many more must come

No tears for rain around here – we had a few points this week. Hundred thousand dollar rain we called it. Million dollar rain according to the newspapers.  So the garden looks nearly amazing, there is a power of feed in the paddocks, we have good home grown meat in the freezer, a vegetable patch ready to go, two fine children….and all this incredible beauty is making me feel a bit funny. Could be nothing more than pollen.

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On the Wallaby

When Joe was four months old, like Dora, we started travelling. By the time he was speaking he was asking for nights in “hoe tails”. Last Thursday we stayed at The Georgian in Albury. Joe voted it his best hoe tail ever – two rooms and a spa, big breakfast, kind staff. Dora Dora had fun too.

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We had some time to kill in Circular Quay…I queued at the Luna Park ticket booth and missed our ferry. We had all been wondering why tall people had to pay more. James caught up on some work. Joe, Dora and I took a spin around the MCA. We saw a couple of Japanese artists – cartoon projections into space. It has been a long time since I was moved by anything in a gallery. We emerged after four point five minutes. An African guy smiled at me from his seat on a wall. He was looking at my Penelope Durston wax print dress. “My mother has so many of those dresses!” He said. “I’ve just got one, but it makes me happy!” I replied. Bold, roomy and shape shifting when you layer it, I love it.

 

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Everything really lit up on the ferry ride. Joe ran round and round the deck, Dora was mesmerised and James played Skyscraper Cowboy.

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We  got off at Hunters Hill, and read about The Great Northern Walk from Sydney to Newcastle.  We were inspired to do it.

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We took a minute to study this sign. Part of this trip has been about coming to terms with our deep disillusionment with mainstream schools. Apparently “home school” in Victoria has more pupils than any other.  I wonder if we’ll be seeing more of these signs about the place….image

The reason for our trip – Gurrumul at The Opera House. Our kids were the only ones in the audience. He sang about “the octopus” of eight family dreamings. Deep ceremony for us. We wonder about our responsibilities to community and family and the pain we share with them. We wonder how long this walkabout will last and how far it will take us. I can still feel the music playing in my cells.
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The view from the balcony at the house of my second cousin once removed. Ah Sydney you are a beautiful monster.image

                                                                                    Time to do a little needle work…

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Treats for the eye, nose and soul….

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Disturbances in the Ether

Our son has been taking these pictures

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upheaval

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crisis

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 distress

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change

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fear

Strange days for so many of us.

Mr James Houston and Miss Dora Bella Houston of Burrowye Station, visit Mr Hugh Paton of Noorongong Station.

Mr James Houston and Miss Dora Bella Houston of Burrowye Station, visit Mr Hugh Paton of Noorongong Station.

Back in 2011, I was working in IT for the NSW Rail Infrastructure Corporation and studying Information Science at UTS and living as an artist in residence for the Glebe Chamber of Commerce (who to this day still wonder if I was a REAL artist). We had been given an essay topic about the idea of a “Digital Dark Age”. There was a theory around that as we handed more and more of our data over to “the technologies of remembrance”, information would be lost through hardware obsolescence. This was paralleled with the Dark Ages – when Roman rule declined, the great monasteries and libraries were destroyed and barbarian rule erased massive tracts of culture.

I dug out Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and read a bit more about the decline of the Roman Empire. One book described the impact of the barbarians – smaller, wilder forces able to short circuit the Roman systems with random attacks and behaviours that were just beyond the conception of the centurions. Terrorists, in other words. I was at my desk working on this paragraph when the planes flew into the buildings.

I never finished the essay, I quit the IT job, I left the patronage of the Chamber..and went back to the Mitta Valley to milk cows. I have to admit to some pretty weird acting out, as I made the transition from tanned, plucked, buffed Bondi Management Consultant to splashed, kicked, unwashed Noorongong Dairy Hand. The tan was maintained by fencing in my bikini. There is not a fence on my parent’s farm that I haven’t twitched. The perils of borrowing from The Bank of Dad. $22,000 in credit card debt is a lot of milking and fencing. Away from coffee shops and social life and the diesel electric hum of Sydney, burning with horror and outrage at the ravages of late western capitalism, I began to make art in earnest. And boy was I mad.

 

"No more Real Jobs" 2001 (Masaaki Matsishima collar, liquid paper, biro ink and stitching)

“No more Real Jobs” 2001 (Masaaki Matsishima collar, liquid paper, biro ink and stitching)

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"We're in This World (To Rob Each other) 2001 (Glomesh purse, Kookai top)

“We’re in This World (To Rob Each other) 2001 (Glomesh purse, Kookai top)

It was a fertile time. Some people would brand doing commando rolls under barbed wire in a full trained wedding dress while foxes ran past as just another bi-polar symptom. But gee it was fun. And the video wasn’t bad either. At the end of the recovery period I had a shoe box full of mini-dv tapes. Moving postcards from the world beyond the edge. I made the mistake of showing my touch cuts to other film people. “I’m documenting the interior” I said to one director. “Indulgent”, he said. “Is all your work this RAW” commented another woman. To be honest, the responsibility of editing my nervous breakdown weighed incredibly heavy. What agonies documentary makers must go through.

Excerpt from The Wedding Machine 2001 digital video still

Excerpt from The Wedding Machine 2001 digital video still

When the debts were paid off, and all the art was made, I took ute loads to the Tallangatta tip. Over went the eight wedding dresses, the typewriters, the record players, the notebooks, the photographs…and my whole experimental experiential video oeuvre. Thirteen years later, my friend tells me that there is a photo app that automatically deletes the pictures after a few minutes. Technology is learning how to forget. Back then, I simply went to the desert.

Good things have been happening, bad things have been happening. We are moving closer to the point where we can escape all the forgetting and remembering. The tangled feedback loops. But we are not quite there yet.

Like water from Holbrook…

Like water from Holbrook….

Like water from Holbrook…

Beautiful as Burrowye is, sometimes we just need to get off the place. James has a weekly wool classing course in Wagga Wagga, so Dora and I have tagged along. Thanks to my mother-in-law, Joe will be enjoying some grandma time (and no doubt her iPad).

It seems that once a year we find ourselves in the comfort of Room 122 at The Carlyle. It’s a two bedroom kitchenette spa bath roomed extravagance but it’s cheaper than a psychiatrist and probably twice as effective.

To get to Wagga we took the Tumbarumba Road through Book Book and Ladysmith and golden sunset river gum land even more poetic than its place names. Book book is another name for the mopoke that calls in the early hours of the morning in certain seasons. James and I used to listen to it in the heady early days of our relationship, it was a kind of a touchstone for me during all the gruelling lost pregnancies, Dora was born at two thirty am….and now she wakes for a feed and a chat at this time. Book book station looks so wonderful that we are tempted to just drop in – it has beautiful park like paddocks with lots of old gum trees. Like the landscape described by Bill Gamidge in The Great Estate.

We got onto the Hume Highway at Holbrook – the town famous for its half sunk submarine. I wonder how many kids have begged their hurtling parents to stop at the landmark. And how many of us have not stopped. Holbrook is also known for its fantastic Landcare group – more inspirational, organised and visionary than others for miles around. We arrived at the Holbrook bakery around 4.30, short on energy, short on lunch, at the short end of our ropes over all sorts of things (this is a condition particular to us and August it seems). We were also short on cash.

James and I had a debate at the counter – didn’t have enough for the pie and the water, should have bought water from our BPA filled supply of old containers at home, blah blah. I ordered the pie and James wondered what we were going to do about water. I told him I’d sort something out. James went outside while our pie was being warmed. Dora and I looked longingly at three gorgeous school kids eating story book perfect cream buns. I’ve just given up sugar and poor Dora has to wait two more weeks before she can get her gums around solids. The mother of the kids chatted in the bustle of the store – about frost and rain and needing to see some grass somewhere, anywhere. Then she turned to me and said: “let me get you some water. I know what it’s like. On the road. Penny pinching. Her to feed.” I demurred, she persisted, I accepted. And nearly cried. The woman went outside and struck up a conversation with a woman from the Landcare network. I wasn’t quite up to joining in, but I know we’ll all cross paths again soon.

We got back into the Corolla that doubles as our ute and I told James about her beautiful gesture. The ladies at the bakery had carefully packaged up the pie. And added a salad.

They say the war will be fought over food and water.
How lucky we were to taste human kindness today.

Shooting for Stars

ten years in the planning...

ten years in the planning…

It’s the 7th of August and birthday mode is only just wearing off. This year’s stunt was inspired by the MONA Dark MOFO Festival, and the great Aussie farming tradition of home-growing things. I don’t think I’m the only farm child who railed against the thrift of orchard preserves and mother-sewn clothes…only to aspire to these things in later life. I remember my one-time boss, neighbour and now virtual relative Hugh Paton of Noorrongong Station bodge something up with a bit of wire and say: “There. Just like a bought one”. The Burrowye Dark MOFO festival (aka my 41st birthday) was not quite like the “bought one” down in Tassie. The band cancelled, the DJ’s kids got sick, and the celebrity guests fell victim to their own schedules. The “high tea” planned for the artist’s performance materialised in random coffee cups and a plate of lovely scones on the kitchen bench. The bone china, teapots and tiered cake stands never made it off the kitchen shelves. The much touted dawn swim happened – not across the frosty paddocks, through the frosts and across the Murray River to Talmalmo Station, but in granny’s big pink bath with a creamy foaming bath bomb from Upper Murray Soaps. Artist Megan Evans led a moment in the front room that was about as comfortable as the corset that wouldn’t let her sit down. But then discussions about reconciliation (black and white, past and present, country and loss) are kinda like that. I had thought that we would be engaged in a dialogue that led to audiences embroidering their responses into the seats of our balloon backed dining chairs. Instead I said very little, and spent most of the time figuring out how to breastfeed Dora discreetly whilst sitting at the front of the room, spotlit by a shard of afternoon sun. The performance may not have gone as planned, but the magic was in the conglomeration of people and place and the sensation of time traveling back and forth. Megan spoke about her quest to understand her ancestors and their role in the “war” we call colonisation and settlement. A little girl wrapped herself in a blanket and crawled up to the end of a didgeridoo, as if to tunnel into it. Farming m en stood in doorways and listened, but said nothing. Any silences were thick with imaginings and projections. The video footage might show a woman in vintage dress discussing black issues with a white audience, but knowing our guests as I do, and seeing them with my Londoner’s eyes, things were not so clear cut. Time mixes bloods and blends its own colours. Experience travels through DNA. Healing happened. I was pressed into a massage from the amazing Katherine Jury. I was quite sure I didn’t need one, but the second she put her hands on the back of my neck I dropped two or three notches of stress. Rukshin Dayanandah was planning to cook dinner but guests smelt her Sri Lankan feast and she graciously brought it forward to lunch, magically adjusting the quantities for four times the amount of people. Friends from across the state bought delicacies – brussel sprouts on the stem, homemade crackers, homegrown oranges and herbs, fine tea, seriously fancy cheese and a piece-de-resistance raw food chocolate “cake”. A young girl played violin with a veteran banjo player. A young punk bought his drum kit and blew the folkies out of the room. People who had not sung or played in a long time sang. And played. Plans were hatched, friends were made, knowledge was exchanged. Fires were lit. Many of us went away energised and inspired. There was none of the exhaustion or the horrific clean up associated with partying in the usual manner. I felt a pang at the friends who couldn’t join us,and wondered about the pain that dry communities must feel as they lose loved ones to an ideal and principles. This was less than the pain of watching my friends fluttering and flailing under the influence of stuff I gave up years ago. A friend who couldn’t make it asked me how the party went. “Oh you know how it is”, I waffled in true female faux deprecation. “You shoot for the stars and you wind up on the moon.” “Well,” she replied, “At least you were off the planet.” Somethings don’t change. Now all I need to do is figure out whether we are going to the Australian Burning Man festival – Burning Seed, in the Matong Forest in October. There is a little forest near the Burrowye Homestead and we were clearing sticks in it yesterday. With a bit of string and a bit of number 8 wire we might just…..

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Taking Stock

When it comes to my birthday, I go a bit over the top. Growing up in Wales, my parents organised parties that were more and more wonderful as the years went by. Tables groaning with food, games around the garden, adventures in the Preselli Mountains, a treasure hunt along an old railway line – sunny memories. I was ten when we came to Australia, and things changed. It was summer every day up in North Queensland. Birthdays faded. They came back into view in 1988, when we moved to the Upper Murray. One foggy, frosty mid winter day at Corryong High School a girl turned up with a basket full of roses. For me. The Lushness! After that, my birthday expanded into a “birth week” and now, however many years later, I unashamedly indulge in a “birth month”.

Planning for this year’s party began in late June, after the 8 week baby fog cleared. Part of the process involved my annual trip to The Essential Ingredient in Albury. I hit that place like a shearer just after cut out, warning the new owner that I was from out of town, with limited time and a birthday looming. The presents to self included: One massive heavily discounted french stock pot, five vegetable peelers, a zester, a Benrinner Vegetable shredder, freekah, wheat berries, spelt grain, puy lentils, Murray River Salt, pomegranate tea, rose bud tea, and sheets titanium strength gelatine. The owner offered me a choice of truffles or picked samphire as a present. I chose the samphire, which is like dill pickle in a seaweed body. All this sounds like mad decadence, but it came in well under last year’s spree – which included a bath tub full of grog, five kilos of lindt chocolate, food colouring and chilli strands.

First out of the box was the vegetable shredder – for turnip “spaghetti” under a Burrowye beef ragout.

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Next, the spelt – mixed with neighbour-grown silver beet and free range eggs from the Tallangatta Hub.

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Next, the gelatine, for making tea jelly to go into bone china tea cups as an “art stunt”. More on this later.

Next, the vegetable peelers – handed out to guests at the fiesta, for mash to go with the venison stew and for Sri Lankan spiced potatoes (part of Ruki’s Saturday Lunch feast)

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Next, the Zester for lemon tang to the honeyed Baklava. No photo evidence. It went too quickly.

Next, the tea for the “High Tea” event with Megan Evans. Some how the event and the “high” and the “tea” got separated. More on this later.

And finally, the stock pot. Folks were dubious: “When that’s full you won’t be able to lift it onto the stove.” “Is that even going to fit between the AGA and the shelf?” And, in my own voices to self: “That pot looks like something a serial killer would use to process victims”.

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I seem to be developing twin obsessions – one with vegetables and rawness, the other with meat. The second is hardly surprising, given that we are beef farmers. I am ashamed to admit that we have been buying supermarket meat for the past three years – near rotten little slabs on plastic trays that never really seemed to make the distance home. In the rush of “farming operations”, getting home grown meat butchered seemed to fail the cost benefits analysis – cheaper to buy quick-cooking cuts than muck about with a whole beast. Things have shifted since Dora was born. I was a bit scared about becoming housebound, but I find myself revelling in it. Driving 100km to wheel the baby around a supermarket seems like madness, and having a freezer full of meat means I don’t have to do this nearly as often. After the kill, James seemed most excited about the garbage bags full of dog bones. I was most excited about the little bags of soup bones. My insatiable appetite for panna cotta during pregnancy has developed into an obsession with bone stock.

All said and done, it took me about three weeks to get up the courage to pull the stock pot out from under the bench and have a go.
As soon as I had piled in the lamb bone left overs from our party curry,and poured on water, I instinctively knew I’d made a mistake. They should have been roasted. After one day on the slow plate of the AGA, the stock was OK, but not the jelly I was after. After two days on the slow plate I chickened out and removed the bones. Or I should say, I took a deep breath, lifted the lid and struggled to remove the bones without being disgusted. As a beef farmer and a stock maker, I AM a serial killer.

The result was a cloudy, golden, sweet lamb stock – pretty good in a turnip, carrot and spelt soup. I have frozen the excess, and even collected the fat with fancies of soap making. I’m not keen on using caustic soda and am considering the older, messier and more complex technique that involves soaking lye out of wood ash. This has nothing to do with frugality, sustainability, or environmental friendliness – I like the idea of the mess and the “play” factor.

A bit of internet research taught me that lamb and beef stock can require up to 72 hours to get to the jelly stage. And yes, roasted bones are better.

So. When it all boils down to it, taking stock takes time. And some negotiation with the dogs.

Hot Potatoes

On a trip to Corryong a couple of weeks ago, I came across two boxes of beautiful earthy LOCAL potatoes. Nariel Gold and Desiree. Nariel is the spot where they have a long running annual folk festival – I haven’t been there yet but they say its magic. This week, I splashed out and bought a 10kg sack. And felt very smug and wealthy. The sack of potatoes triggered memories of my grandfather, who had a farm just outside London, in South Bucks. Sacks of Spuds, red or white, were a currency for him. A way of getting things done. I remember him as a cross between the archetypical country squire and Arthur Daley..which is probably not fair, but kids see things differently I guess. Tales of Grandpa’s deals gone right, and gone wrong, are a big part of our family history. There was a great lump in the driveway at Mansfield Farm, a souvenir of the time Grandpa traded spuds for a cart load of bitumen from some council road workers. The cart over-turned and the bitumen set before they could shovel it back. Last time I went back to the UK I was astounded to see how “the fiddle” is such a part of life for so many people. Some-one somewhere said that in the UK the system is harsh, so the people are benevolent but in Australia the system is benevolent and people are harsher. I grew up in Wales and nobody “grassed” on anyone because nobody was innocent. Here, it seems that writing closely worded letters and “making a phone call” is a pastime that makes up for the local lack of entertainment and adrenaline sports. And we’re all guilty of it.
But back to my wealth of potatoes.

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Ten Lessons in Clay

1. Raku clay pre-pugged by a friend is a gift beyond price.

2. I may have one japanese tea bowl in mind, but my hands make what they make.

3. No perfection withut imperfection.

4. Smoking may almost be banned and I might only crave tobacco once a year, but my pots, bowls and cups will all be ashtrays. Until I have made enough ashtrays.

5. There is a mystical point in the hand modelling process when my lump of clay transforms into a beautiful form. I must remember to pause at this point.

6. Mastery is something to do with being able to start and knowing when to stop.

7. If hands enjoyed making it, hands will enjoy holding it.

8. Clay works like a clarifying mask on my tyrannical inner perfectionist.

9.Clay can offer an incredible amount of quiet fun in the time it takes a baby to nap

10. Did God work with some at some stage?

Photo on 27-06-14 at 8.15 PM #4

Photo on 27-06-14 at 7.01 PM

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