Swatting at flies between keystrokes today. This morning I removed the coral paint from my fingernails and swapped sandals for elastic-sided boots. Party season’s over and there are jobs to be done.
Rather than open two week’s worth of mail or deal with the pantry-moth infestation in my kitchen, I’ve run away to the country pad, The Farm, for a few nights. This is where we escape to mow and weed and read and ponder.
The farm is forty acres of hilly, scrub country in Queensland’s Fassifern Valley. It’s a long, narrow strip carved from a cattle property converted into lifestyle blocks ten years ago. We bought one early, signing a contract before the subdivision was approved. There was no road then. The agent drove us up over rough terrain in his four-wheel drive and we tramped about looking at blocks staked out with red flags. We chose the patch with the best view of the scenic rim, without a moment’s thought given to growing or grazing. This land wasn’t about production for us. We bought it purely for recreation.
That one family can afford to own more than one property, can invest in 40 acres of cleared land within cooee of a major city purely for weekend fun, speaks to a level of personal wealth. But it’s also a measure of European settlement in general.
My bedtime reading this week is Don Watson’s The Bush. The book is an unsentimental reflection on life beyond Australia’s urban fringe, a history of how vast tracts of virgin scrub and bush were cleared by Europeans for farming and settlement through ringbarking, logging and burning; how the character of Australia’s bush landscape and lifestyle has changed from the moment of first contact to now.
I visit our ‘farm’ a few times a year, poncing about planting lemon and pecan trees and encouraging lavender to bloom in my rock garden. The other half jumps on his tractor and slashes ‘the top paddock’, ear plugs in and mobile phone mercifully out of range. The European immigrants, mostly German, who carved an existence out of the forests which once covered our patch of dirt, would scratch their heads at this behaviour. They felled monster trees to make my view. They wrestled with extreme heat, dense scrub, impassable creeks after heavy rain and failing crops when there was none. They died from snake bite, childbirth, blunt force trauma, infection and loneliness. Dense graveyards are scattered about the district, nestled between paddocks, pubs and air-strips. And just four generations later here I sit, Reisling by my side and a slab of brie in the fridge, mewling because the internet is patchy.
We’ve come a long way in 150 years.