I got out of the car and knew at once, despite the abandoned cars peppering the green hills. I couldn’t even see the main house, hidden by vegetation as high as the roof. I wasn’t put off by the bare brick interior or the dark stained floorboards. I smiled and then I noticed Andrew’s face, a mix of horror and amazement. Apartments in London and Sydney, and a McMansion in a street lined with shiny mail boxes hadn’t prepared us for this.
Reduced to rustic, by choice. A brick cottage with no upstairs bathroom and ventilation holes big enough for snakes and more. “Eighth generation possum.” The vendor told us proudly. Andrew assured me that although the possum could get down into the bathroom, it wouldn’t. What did he know? A high pitched shriek from me and he appeared carrying a piece of gyprock. ‘We won’t block it up completely, just so she can stick her nose out and the kids can feed her.’ My friends would be amazed that I’d even pop in to use the toilet, let alone live here. And that was before a giant cane toad sat by my feet while I sat on said toilet. ‘Andreeeeeeeeewwww’.
That was just the main dwelling. We had another building which was to be my writing and painting space, plus guest accommodation for anyone game to spend some time on the ‘farm’. I decreed that the building should be dismantled. Termites I could have lived with. My dad christened ‘the building that never was’. More accurately he was almost ‘the dad that was no more’. He leaned on the wooden railing, chatting to Andrew. The railing gave way, the building spat him out. Crunch, splat. He jumped and launched himself to avoid a steel post where only yesterday a tree had been tethered. He fell 10 feet, I wailed like a banshee and my mother didn’t speak for half an hour. A black bruised foot and a scar shaped like devil’s horns on his forehead. Unusual souvenirs for the couple who usually played it safe with a bag of local nougat or marmalade from the Ginger Factory. I declared the building evil and Andrew took it to pieces over our first winter, some white ant ravaged walls as thin as paper and as easily torn as sweet wrappers.
And the cottage, I repainted those bare walls in white. My instinct to paint the entire building white, inside and out, strong. To make it clean, to paint out the dark. Then came the stairs, a wooden step ladder I couldn’t imagine negotiating after a glass or two of cab sav. Our first big job, the stairs, until we discovered the wooden floor was full of holes and little white ants. The day we found the little critters was the first day of many hard rains. We ripped the floor up. We had no stairs. To get to bed we had to climb a mud bank four feet from the ground which led to a door giving access to the bedrooms. Emerging from the rain with a determined face, I clutched a bottle of wine, trying not to fall as I negotiated a river of mud. It wasn’t until day 10 that we had stairs and flooring and the rain still hammered on a, thankfully intact, tin roof.
I call it a farm because it is to us, despite the animals being wild; wallabies, rabbits, and once a wandering dingo howling in the night. And two dogs that adopted our boys, or the other way around. Cold Comfort Farm is what I dubbed it in the early days. We planned to live off the land, without a clue we researched. We have clay soil and predators. We’ll turnover the soil with a crowbar, plant legumes. And we have to have chickens, right?
Tough for a girl like me, with a bird phobia. The bush turkeys have lived here for longer than we have. The prince of darkness birds with rudders for tails but no sense of direction, their huge bulk and tiny heads. I asked the locals for advice on how to tackle them, ‘shoot them’ came the reply. I didn’t like them but I didn’t want to shoot them. I would name them to personalise them, make them less scary. Philip, Bartholomew and Lester. Only one left. I asked my boys if they wanted to name it. “Dave,” said Jordan the 10-year old.
Now I’m so used to them, secure in the knowledge that they’re scared of me. We live side by side and I protect my herbs with swathes of chicken wire. Not sure how I’ll go with those chickens.
I love shopping in the local town. I chat on first name terms with the shopkeepers. I know the difference between fresh local produce and the smorgasbord of city choice. For me it’s all about the people. How things have changed since London or Sydney when I’d spend hours searching for an obscure ingredient for our evening meal. Now I’m happy with a locally grown tomato.
Now where was I? Anyone know a good name for a chicken?

11 thoughts on “HINTERLAND CALLING

  1. ? Is this re / from your Qld home?? completely fascinating & gutsy; & wish I could write as evocatively about my current humble bush rental abode – which I sorta love too … complete with interesting varying temporary or semi-permanent residents … 😉 xxx
    … Henrietta was the name of our beautiful grey-speckled chook (years ago in Nigeria …) … what about Henry then?
    … And I have a new baby tomato on one of my 6 or so plants … yay!

  2. Dawn – but mother-in-law is called Erica so could lead to confusion. Julia – you could write like that about your home – or anything. And yes it is our Queensland home – still here. Sometimes you have to put a bit of space and time between writing about something. Well done on the baby tomatoes. I haven’t even got round to planting anything this season!

      • Onslow … now that’s a remote north-west WA ‘town’ devastated by cyclone a few years back … strugglin’ to connect it mentally w chooks?? but should you decide to take them on, I do have a spare chook-roosting-pen-thing (well my landlord does)! … obscures my view of … golding fields of grass … 😉 Thanks for the writing encouragement Jules … xx

  3. No problem, Julia. I will confess – piece written nearly six yeas ago. Have to take Bolly dog out to protect oneself from maggies when pegging washing on line. Terrified of friends chickens. Therapy might help. 😀

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