Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Better Fit

The first time that we saw the house had been about 18 months earlier. We loved it then in an unrequited way. It was for sale, but I'd just changed jobs so we weren't buying. But we'd loved it and had put in an offer, only to withdraw it later. 

And there it was, back on the market. "Hey look", I said one evening browsing the real estate for sale websites "that restored post office is back on the market."

A week or two later Amy and I were still convincing ourselves that it was all wrong for us. After all we'd nearly bought it before and decided that it was all wrong. And it was a week or two later. Probably the best thing was to have a look at it again and get it out of our respective systems.


So on a Sunday morning there we were, meeting a different real estate agent out the front of The House. He was the only thing that had changed. The tenants who really didn't like us looking through the house were still there, still trying to make us uncomfortable still and hoping we wouldn't buy. 

And the house was still right for us. Built somewhere around the 1890s as the Post Office and Post Masters residence for a town halfway between Geelong and Ballarat. All the restoration work was done. The post office business had moved to the general store down the street about 15 years earlier, so the former post office made for an additional room. 

This town was more like us. Close to Geelong, and not too far from work. New people moving in - not former farmers, but people moving out from the larger towns. Friendly - hugely friendly. People waved. Said hello. Two pubs - both of them working. Football, cricket and netball clubs - but also a tiny and active historical society. Churches - but there was a local psychic advertising a show at the local cafe. And the most marginal ALP electorate in Australia. Not entrenched conservatives - a swinging electorate.

We made an offer, the owner accepted it and we went back to the town that didn't want us and began to pack.

Not all Country Towns are.....

They're not all the same you know. That's the mistake we made. And in hindsight, it seems obvious. Not all country towns are the same. And we were in the wrong one. 

The folks who were there were very happy there. Generations and generations of them. Good folks. Mostly farming families, and people and businesses who provided services for farming families. In winter they played in the football and netball teams and in summer they played in the cricket and netball teams. They went to one of the three churches in town. They went to the pub for dinner every once in while - special occasions -  for a meal and had a beer more often there. Their kids went to the local primary school, and when the time came for secondary school, they got the bus to the high school in the next town. Just like their parents had, and their grand parents too. When it was time to leave the farm - through age and the needs of the next generation - they moved to town - the opposite side of town to us - to be near the tiny bush hospital and 6 bed nursing home. A trip to Ballarat was a big excursion. Mainly it was to be avoided - why would you want all that hustle and bustle?

The thing was - that wasn't us and we didn't know it until it was too late. There was exactly no chance of either of us playing on the netball team. There were no kids with us, and the town made the  - inaccurate - assumption that we didn't have any. No generations of connected-ness stretched behind us, and we weren't bringing any with us. Our spirituality didn't include the any of the churches. The one place where we might have found some acceptance - the country pub - had been hit badly in the floods that happened 4 days before we moved in, and didn't look like opening again soon.

We found we were further from Geelong that we thought we were. When your friends tell you 'oh yes of course we'll visit', take that statement with a grain of salt. We'd moved too far away to drop in on. Or for us to drop in on friends. 

Without realising it, we'd  moved to Conservative Farming Country. And there is no room in Conservative Farming Country for a couple of woman who bring no children with them, don't play in sports teams but go to arts festivals in Melbourne instead, who like having big cities just down the road, have problems with organised religion, who commute every day to that big town of 90,000 people, and who just Aren't Like US.

There was a reason that this was one of the safest conservative political electorates in the country. Malcolm Fraser, that Prime Minister, the one who played fast and loose with the constitution and tossed Gough Whitlam out of office - had been the local member here for years. The town was proud of  their now retired local member. The longest serving Victorian premier - Henry Bolte - was born and grew up right here in this town. And Henry was certainly one of politic's great conservatives. No wonder. The town shaped him and Malcolm both.

We'd made a mistake. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011


My cousin Stan loves his Big Green Farm Toys. His tractor, his quad bike, all those farm machines that he has. Most of them come from a manufacturer that makes them green – the colour, I have no idea if they’re kind to the environment or not. Stan thought it was pretty neat that I drove past the factory that makes Big Green Farm Toys on my way to work each day.

I didn’t quite understand Stan’s love affair with his farm machines. He’s on 35 acres and at that point in time I was on a quarter acre block in the suburbs. I figured it probably had something to do with upbringing – Stan grew up on the farming branch of the family and I grew up on the other branch that stayed determinedly town. Stan’s brothers all took off and did various things – helicopter piloting, agriculture school and farming like their father, my uncle, or accounting and business like our grandfather. Somehow Stan managed to get a bit of everything – go into business without the university degree that one of his brothers sweated for, go farming without the ag school education another brother slaved over, and still fly planes and helicopters like his dad and brothers – he just did it for fun, rather than a living.

So when Stan talked about his Big Green Farm Machines I just figured that it was another of those things that I didn’t understand but that’s okay. I don’t get duck shooting, or hunting, or giving each other high powered sights for their hunting rifles as Christmas presents either – but that’s Stan and his brothers and that’s their thing.  They thought my excitement at visiting the marvellous bookshops in Cambridge when I was in Boston was a bit odd too but that’s my thing. It’s family. 

If I thought about Stan and his farm machines at all, I thought that he probably loved them so much because they were so practical. How on earth would you look after 35 acres and all the assorted critters that Stan and Bridgette have without some mechanical help? 

And then I met Tallulah and everything changed.

Our former quarter acre suffered the drought for well over 10 years. There wasn’t a front lawn anymore – there was a front yard that was covered in daisies that could fend for themselves and didn’t need much - if any – water. The rest of it was covered in mulch and bark that dropped from the gum trees. Over the years, the back yard had become mostly paved and taken up with the swimming pool and the little bit of lawn that remained right up near the back fence didn’t grow much. When it did, Amy would call the lawn mowing guy and he’d come and take care of it. Maybe once a month, maybe longer. I can’t recall the last time that I got the mower out at the old house and used it. When we moved, we sold it on ebay.

When we bought the farm, we knew that we’d need a mower. Not some walking behind electric mower like the one that we’d just sold, but a ride on mower to take care of the yard and the paddocks.

I scoured ebay. I looked at the new ones. I read reviews. I talked to the blokes at work. And then I looked some more. On ebay there were a few that looked promising. The brand that all the blokes at work recommended.  There was one in particular that looked promising. It wasn’t the cheapest and it wasn’t the most expensive, but it had a good write up, and the seller answered all our questions promptly and - it seemed – honestly. Amy did the bidding, and we won our ride on. When I showed the ebay photo to Rose at work  - she did the whole tree change thing too and understood – she asked me what the mowers name was. ‘I don’t know’ I said ‘I hadn’t really thought about it’. ‘She looks like Tallulah’ said Rose. 

The first time I took Tallulah out into the paddocks, I fell in love. Maybe it’s that she started first time with a solid dependable thud and puff of exhaust. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of seeing our paddocks neatly tended and cared for. Maybe it’s the pleasure of up and down and up and down and humming to myself.  Maybe it’s a latent genetic thing and it’s all to do with New Zealand farming genes.  Whatever it is, I know that I’ll be having a very different conversation with Stan next time I see him.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Beatrix Goes Rural

No – not that Beatrix Potter. Beatrix Potter the golden retriever. She’s been an urban girl all of her 2 ½ years. That’s all changed. Now she’s getting the hang of:
1. Paddocks. Paddocks mean lots of space to chase her ball.
2. Pouncing on her ball. She may have to change her name to Tigger because Tiggers Bounce.
3. Old wool left in the paddock from Bob and Glen, the sheep that used to live there. This is what you chase and chew on when you are meant to be bringing your ball back.

Monday, March 14, 2011

I like chooks

We have a plethora of chook sheds. They were built by the previous owners – Rob and Denise – to house the plethora of chooks that they had. Their flock was just under 50 strong. They had a huge chook run that was the width of our yard and at least 10 metres wide. It was fenced in all sorts of strange ways. There was a huge, straggly rose bush growing through one part of it. Another part of it was made up of an old door. There was a ton of chicken wire of various gauges and types strung together and looped through rusty metal posts. The gate into the chook yard was a funny sort of contraption with all sorts wire looped in all sorts of directions.

Denise and Rob moved their chooks the day that they moved out. I’m told that Rob loaded them – all 50 – into his mini van and drove them across town to their new home. Denise told me that the chooks don’t have anything like the yard or the chook sheds that they had here. She says that she’s asked Rob to build something for the chooks, but that he’s not inclined to.

The fencing around the chook yard went the day after we moved in. Charlie was coming that day to put up the dogs run, and there was a corner of the chook yard that was just the right corner of the yard for the dogs to be in.

That left the chook sheds. All three of them, and the shelter for the ducks – there were two or three of them living in with the chooks. Mind you, these aren’t ordinary chook sheds. No siree! One of them was, I suspect, a children’s cubby house at one time – it’s a lot like the cubby house that was in the garden at our old house. The other two are large garden sheds with strange extra doors added and not very much light. There are strange things hanging from the ceiling – I think there used to be some sort of creeper or ivy or something. I’m pretty certain that one of them has been used for the scary scenes in a B-grade horror movie.
We decided that we didn’t want to keep chooks. They’re more of a tie than either of us would like – there are plenty of foxes around and so chooks need to be put away every night, and let out in the morning. If we want fresh eggs, we have plenty of neighbours who keep chooks.

It’s time for the chook sheds to go. It’s wonderful what you can do with a rubber mallet and crowbar. There’s no need for attention to detail, no need to worry about making it look nice. All you need to do is pay attention to where it’s likely to fall.

We’ve got one less chook shed and a slightly bigger rubbish pile, and a bit more space in the yard. It’s a good look.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And just so that you can see how gorgeous it is, here’s the sunset through the pine trees.

We're Here

We’re here. We’ve been here about 6 weeks and I wonder why I didn’t do this move to the country years ago. In the mornings I’m woken by so much light and sunshine coming into our bedroom. In the evenings the corellas fly overhead, and land in the pine trees that mark out the edges of our paddocks. There are a couple of kookaburras who are regular visitors, and just like the song, they sit in our old gum trees and they sing and laugh.

No one drives down our street – we’d be lucky to see more than two cars each day. It’s quiet and peaceful. I drive a very easy 35 or 40 minutes to and from work each day through the four little towns between here, and there. It’s a surprise if there are more than three cars on the road with me. There are ‘roo warning signs along the highway. I saw my first one standing watching the cars go by last week, before it took off back into the scrub.

Our house is snug and cosy. It’s smaller than the last place and that’s a Very Good Thing. We knocked about in the old house with much more space than we needed. Now, just like the littlest bear, our new house is neither too big, nor too small but Just Right. It’s a miners cottage, ninety-one years old. I like to think that we’ll have a party for the house when it turns 100 in a few years time.

Our land hasn’t been used for much in quite a while. There were a few pet sheep grazing and a lot of chooks doing their thing, but that was about it. Now the paddocks are green and after the wet summer that we’ve had, they’re very green. Eventually there’ll be goats or sheep or alpacas or donkeys or……..well eventually there’ll be someone living there, but not just yet.