Burrowye Station Express

Arts, Agriculture,Community,Country

Month: March, 2014

Fear, Craving and Friends

IMG_0311 When the rain cleared a little, we found boots, gloves, baskets and scissors and approached the nettle patches.  A mob of trade weaners (that’s young cattle bought to fatten and re-sell) had passed through and done a first cut, but with some fossicking we found the fresher looking growth.  I only had one glove, so the harvest was an exercise in awareness and focus. Not things I am renowned for.  I was transported back to the big nettle patches in Wales, and our muddy adventures as kids. Blood, stings, scratches, cold rain, muck. All highly dramatic near death experiences to us and our friends – Charlotte’s come off her bicycle and she’s broken her back and she’s walking down the drive now…..Oliver is stuck in quicksand, it’s over the top of his boots and if we don’t rescue him right away he’ll…..Benny slipped on the edge of the slurry pit but we got a stick and we dragged him out before….  We were heavily influenced by a children’s farm safety program called Apaches –  35 years later I can still see the accidents – the kid sucked into the grain auger, the kid who drank poison, the kid who sank without trace in the slurry pit, the kid crushed by the tractor, the kid impaled on a rake. It may have left us crippled by anxieties rather than just plain crippled, but I am reminded that our childhood was so much more free range than the experience of kids growing up now.IMG_0316 Our guest (more details in the next post) was highly concerned that nettles could be toxic to a heavily pregnant woman, and a web search was very ambiguous.  Frequently recommended as a pregnancy tea, and rich in all sorts of fantastic nutrients, the plant still made it to the “possibly unsafe” list on one American site.  Beatrice and I discussed the issue, had a think and then another think, and then I concluded that while I am supposed to be eating all kinds of greens, nettles are the only ones I’m craving.  I blanched them for 2 minutes, wrung them out in a rolled tea towel, roughly chopped them, then added them to a pestle and mortar with toasted pine nuts, (undeliberately) scorched almonds, two small cloves of garlic, olive oil, three kalamata olives (all we had in the fridge), some orange juice and plenty of  orange zest.  Lemon is the traditional acidulator for pesto, but ours aren’t ripe yet, so we substituted.  I reckon it was the master touch.  I also think I was the only one who really enjoyed the dish – one half of the dining table was given over to a Skype meeting to sell real estate and a  webinar, James took a call about a seed drill from his Uncle, and our guest of Mauritian origin struggled with the slightly slimy texture of the nettle – it reminded her of the okra she’d been force fed as a kid.  I crave okra too, come to think of it.IMG_0317

Our second guest, a well scarred action man and motivational speaker, is often quoted as saying “Give fear the finger”.  This time, in my little way, I’m glad I did.

Here’s that creepy little film.  Proceed at your own risk…..



Getting Out a Bit

My great grandfather believed that the best fertiliser was to be found on the soles of a farmer’s boots.  On Tuesday I swapped house for paddock, and helped James with the feeding out.  Just having an extra person takes an hour off a four hour job. The lucerne was short.IMG_0318 The silage takes a bit of un-doing – all that non biodegradable plastic and fuel burning is a worry.  We can pay to get the wraps recycled, which prompts a discussion about to what extent farmers must carry the cost of any environmental initiatives.  Monday was spent with a film crew – the second in the past few months – making a video to promote the Meat and Livestock Association’s Climate Change program.  James ran and juggled jobs to make the time to talk.  I found my knife work quite therapeutic. Friends joked about pregnant women getting away with murder. I don’t know about getting away with it, but I have to admit that this hormone fuelled belly fire may well have enhanced my potential/capacity. On the up-side, feeding out can enhance soil quality – wastage rots back to the earth and the cattle fertilise the feeding patches with their manure and urine.  So folks reckon it’s a good idea to put feed rings on patches that need a boost.  I’ll be watching the way the pastures re-grow in these areas.IMG_0321 And feeding-out gave me the opportunity to indulge two fetishes – John Deere and overalls.  As  kids growing up on a farm in South West Wales, we had a red Massey Fergusson tractor and we loved it. John Deeres were a distant dream.  As a newly wed, I complained about cash  and my husband pointed out that I was driving round in a big green and yellow machine. I had no comeback.

My Dad used to wear blue overalls to keep the muck at bay while he was dairy farming.  When I bought a job-lot of heavily patched overalls a couple of years ago, there was family talk of Freudian attachments.  For me, the attraction is the smell of fossil fuel, the beautiful range of blues, the  boro-style patching, the way the scars in the fabric  record the bodies and the working tasks of the previous owners…That job -lot has become pot holders, a quilt, lavender/diesel sachets, embroidered bomber jackets, a dress, trousers, rag balls…actual oil rags back in the tool shed…and now all the way around and back to my working uniform.  Despite all the re-purposing and some bonfires, I still have overalls to last me a lifetime.  The overalls were my first and last job lot, but I still regret not buying the pallet load of half rotted linen nurse’s wrap dresses. Maybe they’re still in Billy Toole’s bunker….IMG_0333 And,treat of treats, walking home through the grove between the road and our house, I noticed that the recent rain has brought out new growth in the nettles. After reading about cooking with nettles for the past two years, I am very very close to actually  thinking about doing it. Didn’t think it would be possible in Autumn. I have been simultaneously craving green stuff and shuddering at the thought of spinach, kale or broccoli. This adds to the motivation. Stay tuned……IMG_0336

Inside Out

A very strange week.  Combination of making things soft and cosy for the approaching addition to the family…and being totally at odds with the world. And saying so.  Three stoushes in three days, all about boundaries in one way or another.  On a positive note, the best bull is better (we think he just went on a drinking binge), the in-laws enjoyed their holiday (being related to people who know how to enjoy themselves is so much better than being related to those who don’t. note to self.) and we received 15 ml of rain last night.  It’s still festival season in the local area and the news that comes down the tube about music and markets and events makes me shudder a little bit.  All four of us sat on the two seater couch yesterday and counted the rain drops as they tumbled. We shared a packet of potato chips and half a cold roast chicken (no one could remember the last time we had either of those in the house). I may have had a couple of fantasies about south-central-LA style blow-outs, but rain-drops, bought chicken, and packety chips are my preferred peak of excitement/risk/toxicity right now.  The day before it rained, nailed to the bed and emotionally drained, I noticed that the afternoon light was playing some marvellous tricks…..

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Baby D was showered today. She’s ten or eleven weeks away, but she already has wardrobe for the next three years – soft things, hand knitted things, things with spots and frills and matching bloomers.

James’ paintings played against the autumn foliage.

We didn’ t need to, but we lit one of the fires. Magic decadence.

The old visitors book was dusted off and added to. It was so good to spend time with dear friends.

Our puppy hitch-hicked to Tallangatta (70km away), a very good bull has a bad stomach ache, the rain hangs in the air like a vague thought and the grass is…..best not mentioned.

Something always blows in March. We shall see.

I was a little proud of my Lindt-dipped raspberry jellies.  The camp is getting girlier.

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Date Night

Today was an interesting example of the quiet life.

The phone rang so hot I had to carry it around with me, as I am no longer doing my best times in the sprint from one end of the house to the other.  A new seed drill arriving, fertiliser spreading happening, talk of  heifers going to Russia (they probably won’t but they might), feedback from a CSIRO scientist who did some work on the place, emails to and from agents and government bodies, drench and salt to order, baby shower to plan and so on.

Load after load of washing went on – far more than seems natural for a family of three. Neurotic about clothes from childhood, I  still need about four outfits a day to feel sane.  James and Joe are not so far behind. We are all guilty of wearing our “best” in the paddock (morale boosting) and dressing down to go to town (moth eaten, faded and cattle stained).  Grunge dies hard, even when now we know better.  Joe is showing unsettling signs of street style.  I think we’d all secretly like to see each other in the neatly pressed, cotton shirt RB Sellars  australian country life uniform  but nobody wants to take the plunge. Joe saw his first iron when  he was about four -What’s that Mum? – I was pressing digital photos of patched overalls in close-up onto grinder-burnt tshirts at the time.

Blue Dog, our newest puppy and great black and white hope,  needed to be collected from the vet. A 50km round trip.  He learnt  a tough lesson about vehicles about eight weeks ago, and has had problems with his back leg ever since.  Lumps, bumps, stitches, a pin, tablets galore and an operation…his recovery has been controversial.  The neighbours call him the million dollar dog.  Just before his last trip to the vet he broke into the house, hit the much abused white carpet that runs down the hall,  took a right into the nursery I had just finished clearing and broke the drought right in the middle of the room. He topped off his act by running back outside and rolling in something dead.  I had a few errands to do in Walwa today. The town was ringing with the sound of his croaky barking.

Also: sorted a mountain of mail (Australia post keep sending “update your address” notices and yellow stickers, complete with wrong address scrawled on by the mail contractor – both to us and the lady that they imagine lives here (she died two years ago and lived her whole 90 years about 50km upstream); planned my carefully worded response to Australia post; pruned three little bushes into what I hope are “bourgeois box balls”; contemplated the olives that should be picked and the windows that should be washed, fed James steak sandwiches for smoko and spaghetti for lunch; lectured on the importance of basic manners and boot  removal on entry to the domestic space (blame the hormones); cut out a few raw silk pieces for rough bunting to decorate the baby shower; lobbied to get the bloody broken dishwasher removed from the bloody back verandah; and FINALLY fixed the broken spring on the fly wire door that has been flapping away all summer.

By seven o’clock it was time for a date. With my husband, four gates, five animals in a tree plot and a big mob of cattle on the road.  The tree plot is one of the more established ones on the place. It’s been recently widened so we can get a vehicle in to push stray animals out.  I am no expert, but I like the medium density planting  and the grassiness on the creek banks. Burrowye has the southernmost colony of the rare Borrolong Frog, so when we think about creeks we think about habitat.  Interestingly, the frogs prefer less grass and more water over cobble, so they prefer the  horribly degraded Burrowye Creek to places like this grassy little stream.  In the second photo you can see how dry the hills are, and how fencing out has protected and encouraged a lush green space.  Stay tuned for more about tree plots – it’s 6.30am and my day is about to start again.
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IMG_0197It was a 120km trip to the Mitta Muster, but by the time we had arrived my stomach was cramping and my head was spinning.  Bigger and busier than ever, it was a whirl of Wagyu steak sandwiches, wood chopping, dirt bike flipping, whip cracking, hot rods, horses, tourists and army recruiters.  Too much!  When I lived locally it was the event of the year and a great chance to catch up with the neighbours I didn’t see often enough..but things have changed. I guess the equivalent event for us is The Jingellic show, also in March.  I think I need to save a bit of energy for that.  We limped back to my parent’s house and I hit the couch we call “The Tallangatta Day Bed”. Not a thing of greatest beauty, it rests in perfect alignment with the mystical Mount Bullhead.  Whenever guests arrive looking ragged (often having crossed mountains and rivers and whole continents to visit) they are directed to the day bed.  If you lie with your feet towards the mountain you are almost guaranteed to fall into a light but immobilising slumber for about 20 minutes.  Then you wake up recharged.  I feel as though I have spent whole years on that day bed, boomeranging home after any number of adventures-gone-wrong.  Once the resting spot was inside a little fibro sleep out, but at around the time Joseph was born my Uncle Alan came down and built the marvellous glassed in verandah that has transformed the way my parents live in the old homestead.  A rammed earth hut built to keep out the heat and the blinding light, it was a cosy but introspective place.  Now we get to rest inside a view of the valley and the hills beyond. Lovely stuff.  James thought perhaps I needed a few days away from the Burrowye bustle but after an overnight stay at Stonroy (cup of tea in a William Morris patterned cup, home made strawberry ice cream, plenty of good chat, fresh rye bread, a riffle through the embroidery silks) and a trip to the Wodonga maternity ward for a check up (beeps, pricks, reassurance and sandwiches) I needed to come home. Not early labour, just a bit of a stomach bug. Phew.  I guess all the lost pregnancies have left me a bit shell shocked and nervous. Back to the breathing exercises.

Feathers, Nests and the March Hare


ImageAfter three years around here, I am starting to see patterns in things. The Mad March Hare is a european creature, but he is very much alive and well down under.  I’m not sure if he is the gorgeous blonde rabbit that has taken up residence in the orchard, but his influence is everywhere.  A social whirl has cranked up, and the weekends are loaded with events.  Clashes of  all kinds occur.  There is a bustle as we all prepare for winter and enjoy the glorious days, but a tension as we wait for more rain.  People seem to smile wider and shout louder.

The grass and cow growers are waiting for “the autumn break” most of all- we have had enough rain to watercolour the paddocks in green, but not enough to bring up real grass. There is a chance that, if we don’t get follow up, the pastures will seed and we’ll lose the autumn growth we need.  Even the great dividing river between states and properties is slowing down and shallowing.  Our very tolerant neighbours from-the-other-side have been dealing with repeated visits from our cattle.  Mr Smithwick rang to inform us that he had pushed a mob back across the river, but by the time we’d got down to collect them, they had disappeared back into NSW.

Talmalmo Station is our nearest neighbour, and in James’s grand parents’ time there were frequent crossings – kids rowing across to school at Burrowye, parents coming and going from parties…These days the only thing that usually travels is sound (as our neighbours have very gently let us know). Every summer I think about kayaking across, and reviving the days that are recorded in our old visitors book.  This autumn, the cows have done the inviting for us. When Mr Keith Breaden (Mr Smithwick’s nephew) turned up at the back door the other day, he was press ganged into the front room and served tea.  He was dripping wet after riding an ag bike over the river, but we have recently removed granny’s best pink carpet,  so entertaining was an option.

James and I often joke about our dire lack of social life, but this March has bought three visitors in two days. Thus emboldened, we are planning to actually engage in some of the events happening in surrounding districts.


Feeding out silage and pellets has just started, and I am overwhelmed by the nesting urge to clean and sort and cook frozen meals and move furniture around and around the house, so the preparation needed to just get off the place is quite a process.  But de-cluttering the craft shelves has paid off – when James came in yesterday and announced we were heading to the races in an hour’s time, I had Cottage Industry needle book, feathers and double sided tape all at hand. We dressed, we went, we put money on The Towong Cup and came out even. Or up, if we count the beautiful light rain that was falling as we arrived home.


Taking Stock

At the end of summer, when everything is a bit bedraggled, these lilies scream MARCH! The orange fleshed peaches are for Joe, gifts from Granny’s garden.


I kill succulents. Two pots of herbs flourishing at this time of year  = a sign of great things to come.

IMG_0116This year, we weaned calves in the yards and then in the creek paddock.

We can see them from the window behind the kitchen sink and they can hear us carrying on.  They’ve been breaching security and breaking into the orchard about four times a day, but this has given us a chance to train the pups.

One day I’ll write to you about the five dogs motley dogs we have. Plenty of character and potential. Not one of them in full time work.

It was one of the most exciting moments of the year when the black kelpie pup joined me in quietly “reminding” the weaners to go back to their paddock. Hope springs.


The girls staying with us braved the nightmare that was the meat house, removing two freezers, a massive chopping block, a meat safe, rusted tins, hooks, bits of cream separator, plastic bags and towels, dusty print and most of the thick layer of mutton fat that was coating the floor.  My plan is to furnish it with nothing but a steel bench, a chair and a light globe – my dream writing environment and a room that doubles as a place to butcher meat when we need it.  From here, I plan to writing a winning entry in the next Elyne Mitchell award. Plans are good. Even when god laughs.


A great year for pomegranates – fertility, jewels, danger, promise and threat.


This was the first year I dead-headed roses. The second blooming is so precious.

IMG_0139 A seriously louche bunch of lilies has bloomed against the cherry tree – white petals on black wood.

 IMG_0155 Even the pesky seeds from the looming liquid amber are…to be appreciated.


On Walking The Long Paddock

IMG_0087It’s been a long, hot, summer and cattle are grazing verges up and down the roads and highways around us.  In the big drought years, the Houstons sent cattle far and wide, deciding to hang onto stock at all costs and gambling that those costs would be recovered after the rains.  The decision paid off and the herd has grown, but at this time of year a delicate juggling act is required to maintain both pastures and animal condition.  James and our visiting back packers Christine, Abby and Annie have been up early most mornings, minding the cattle as they graze.  The girls find the job mind numbingly boring – they get to sit for up to four hours at a stretch.  James uses the time to catch up on emails, but he often can’t resist the temptation to leave the cattle briefly to “do things that need doing”.  That’s when I start to field concerned phone calls and visits from passers-by at the homestead.  Legally, we are all obliged to  put up warning signs and supervise any cattle on roads … but not everybody sticks to the rules all the time.  This is where farmer’s wives come in.

For me, the turning point came when I got a call from a neighbour who had chased cattle out of her garden for the second time that week.   Most of us have grid entrances to deal with the issue of passing stock, but grid entrances are not legal requirements.  We are all struggling to maintain our gardens through this dry spell and other people’s cattle are not the kind of things we want to be nurturing.  So, as a farmer’s wife, I set about raising the idea of a “policy”. No HPC cattle on roads unattended.  This is my second “policy” in three years – the first relates to motorcycle accidents and the importance of immobilising victims as soon as possible.  Shortly after we were married, James flew off his bike, planted his face into some hard dirt and was found directing cars around cattle on the road, on foot, with his face a bloody mess. He was bundled into a ute and delivered to the kitchen, trucked off to town in an ambulance and eventually diagnosed with torn neck ligaments, a broken nose and a nasty case of post concussion syndrome.  On reflection, I am becoming aware that my first policy could conflict terribly with my second policy.

So much for policy.  It’s also to blame for getting me out onto the roads to mind stock when the others were called away.  I was shocked at the scale of things when I took this photo – the sense of wide brown land, the number of shiny black cattle, the big skies.  It reminds me of how house bound my gaze has been, tending to see things close up, in small pockets.  I found minding the cattle nerve wracking. At one end, they were pushing towards a highway intersection.  The middle of the mob was exploring the tennis court reserve and the earth moving machines parked there. At the other end, cattle were approaching the open garden gate of the neighbour who had complained. I also felt that the animals were picking out the patches of grass that suited them best, and was loathe to force them into a tighter configuration.  One of the things I learnt from working as a milker was that all herds have their own sense of order – lead cows, cows that can’t stand each other, cows that like to be last.  Mixing up the natural order and “personal space” boundaries leads to what my in-laws call “A *#$@!!! CIRCUS”.  It just wasn’t the morning for that sort of thing.  Looking down that road full of cattle I wondered about improving our lane way systems – bit of a trend at the moment amongst the more progressive farmers in the region.  Massive job. Why don’t we fence off the reserves at the edge of the roads? Way too expensive.  For the present, we need to work on ways to improve the way we share our common access roads. Even when the mobs are fully supervised, we still cop ire and over-revs from a lot of motorists.

Perhaps, mused James, if we all walked, cattle and humans, there would be less of an issue.


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