Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A letter to Grandma;

Lilli took care of the chickens; she was the one who looked after any animal or bird that had fallen on hard times and needed looking after.  She was the sensitive  go between her  two older sisters which did not always see eye to eye, as they are as  different as chalk and cheese. She has been as a child and now the best of the best daughter one can wish for.  Always helpful, always smiling, always matter of fact, no shenanigans with Lilli.

One of her letters to her grandma in Switzerland,  the girls called  her Mamma, 1976 

Here with Susi, a Wallaby Joe found along the road, the mother was killed by a car.
The Joe slept in her bed until it was grown up and left on its own account to join its tribe in the bush.

Lilli  loved to go to explore on the property. It was fine as long as she did not go over the road.  I was a bit worried, because it was a  1000 acre property and there were snakes and spiders and who knows what else!  Luckily one of the dogs would  go with her.  She came home with stone tools which were used by  Aboriginal people who lived in this area. She collected seeds and plants to propagate.
One day she came back very upset. She said she found a skeleton. When I heard her mention a skeleton I was very disturbed and asked her if she remembered the place where she saw it. Lilli said yes come and have a look. Peter was still out with his tractor and not around to hear the grisly news. We went together to the place, and there it was, the skeleton of a small dog its collar still around its neck on a leash attached to the branch of a tree. I said it’s the skeleton of a little dog why didn't you say so. Lilli said you didn't ask. We both thought it was a very sad sight and wondered what had  happened to the unlucky dog.

Living on a farm one has to get used to see animals in distress. Especially at calving time were certain incidents when it was necessary to interfere and help a cow who was in trouble, because the calf was to big or was laying the wrong way. Animals had to be sold which was never easy. The children were much more matter of fact. I was a coward, always hiding when the steers had to be shifted to the marked, or one had to be killed for meat.
The place looked always so serene, beautiful and perfect, the Herefords grazing peacefully under a wide open sky.The calves  free to run and frolic full of life and happiness.
Nature sometimes has dark moments in store; when the rain does not come. Everyday one scans the sky for the smallest cloud. The sky  remains blue, a glorious blue,  the sun a glaring ball of fire to burn the pasture until no fresh grass is left for the cattle. Armee worms make their appearance and eat up whats left. 
No wonder people turned to deities to ask for forgiveness and favours!
There were many beautiful moments when watching the animals taking care of the calves. They were usually families like mothers, daughters, aunties and babies, they would go together. One can only observe this when the cattle are free to graze and never put into a shed or tied up. The mothers would give birth and hide the calves in the bush; there were always other cows looking after the tiny ones when the mothers  went grazing.

In Australia, anyone who operates  and owns a cattle or sheep property  is called a Grazier.

©Photo/Text Ts

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ode to autumn and a visit to Coffs Harbour;

Autumn, very early in the morning is a very lovely time. The sky is already infused by light. In the east the sun hastens to smudge an orange hue along the ridges. The sky is without blemish and promises a beautiful autumn day. Down at the riverbank, mist still crowds the low fields and the river. It is a time of absolute peace and tranquility. The birds orientate themselves with tentative twitters. The orange wash at the horizon turns to pink and sweeps up higher scattering its colour in anticipation of the new day. At half past six the sun spreads gold over trees and fields. With melodious voices the birds are caroling their rebirth from night. The day has woken. At seven the landscape is suffused with light and shadow, the mist has lifted into nothingness.

Autumn is what I think the best time of year. The days are still quite warm, yet the summer’s furious heat, its harsh glaring light has exhausted itself. My spirits and industriousness have returned. The garden beckons for new plantings. Autumn here is not like in Europe a good bye to nature and a long wait for spring to return. Autumn here is a welcome to mellow, golden sunshine, gentle breezes, and an invitation to go back to the soil to plant. Bend over garden beds and feel the warm earth crumble between your fingers. Tiny plants go into rows and it is an every day pleasure to look and follow their growth.
Life is so much easier in autumn.

Autumn is also the time to make visits. Since quite a while we wanted to visit some Swiss people in Coffs Harbour.  Our neighbour Norman told us in the beginning about Jack and his small farm. He said we should go and visit him. When I asked Norman since when Jack lived in Australia; he laughed and said: Jack, not very long, probably about 40 Years.” I laughed and said, but Norman this is half a life time. What about us who have just touched base.  Quizzically he looked at me and  we both laughed. Norman was such a nice and easy going man.

Sunday came and we decided to go and visit Jack. The drive was pleasant over the range. Every where were small stalls selling Paw paws and Bananas.  Mainly Indian women  in colorful saris and their children were selling fruit. The women generally could not speak English and needed the help of their small children, perhaps  7 or 8 years old to help with the money. The children, mainly girls with small rattails and liquid black eyes  were fluent in English thanks to the schools they went to. They  were quite adept in counting the money, helpful with  a ready smile.

Arriving in Coffs we found Jacks farm outside of the town. A  pretty place with a homestead in the hacienda style of South America, as he had lived many years there before moving to Australia.  He was a small, wiry man in his seventies, not married, but lived together with two of his sisters. They were around the same age as him.  The sisters were tall and lean with hawkish faces. We were quite astounded when one of them asked if the Italian seasonal workers, she used a very derogative name, were  now out for ever of Switzerland.
I said, I do not know what you mean, the Italians who came to Switzerland were very hard working people and one should not use this word to describe their nationality. She snorted and we left it there.
Jack and his sisters belonged to a sect  and I think he was also sort of a missionary, as they had a chapel on their property. They showed us around and invited us for lunch.
Lunch consisted of leftovers from previous meals. Many small bowls were filled with dubious  food. My stomach just says no in a situation like this. I said a cup of tea will do for me. My children had their plates full  of macaroni, snow white, no sauce, their eyes saying we won’t eat this…. When the sisters turned their back to get more of the little bowls I quickly said: “pretend”! The girls shoved their food around the plates; one of the sisters said  in Swiss, are you not hungry. The sisters did not speak English, despite living in Australia for quite some years. I said we had a late breakfast and  ate fruit on the way.
My cup of tea had  a sugary rim from a previous use of the cup. We were all glad when we could leave the table, after quite a long thanks giving, nearly a sermon by Jack.
For sure it was an experience. After lunch Jack showed us  more of his farm.  On a small hill stood an ancient tractor.  Every time when he finished working with his tractor he had to drive it up the hill, so the next time he used it he could let it run down the hill as the battery was old and did not work properly. He had enough money to buy a new battery, he was not a poor man, but he was a bit mean with his money.
When we said good by he gave me some pamphlet of his sect to read. I said, I am not religious, and not interested, but he insisted that I take them. I did not want to offend him and took them home were they landed in the waste paper basket.  It would have been better if he kept them for somebody who would have appreciated them.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rural News; Ladies a plate please!

Big River Country; Grafton and the Clarence River;

On school days I made the run twice a day to the bus station  to bring and pick up the girls. It was  located at Hazels and Alex’s Take  away shop. They also sold Petrol and had a News Paper Agency where I could buy the local rag, “The Daily Examiner”. this Paper was read from front to back, not to miss anything “important”.  Everything what was happening  in this rural area was printed, who was born, who got married, who died, who had an accident, who wanted to sell  or buy. The most baffling were the announcements which said “Ladies a plate please”  when there was an announcement of a invitation to a party, birthday anything it always said, everybody welcome and ladies a plate please.

Grafton, Prince Street

It was not just one more plate they were asking for, it had to be filled with food, generally, cookies or a cake. One could also bring salads, and always drinks like beer and lemonade.  I was told newcomers brought generally an empty plate and soon found out their mistake. I was fortunate enough to ask Ella and she introduced me to the local customs.  Hazel was Scottish and Alex Greek.  Later on they also had a Restaurant with mainly Greek Food;  they introduced the locals to Moussaka, kotopita, feta cheese, greek salad and more. They build a new house and to celebrate they invited everybody in the area. It was a huge party, with a whole steer on the spit. Hazel and Alex used to have some relatives staying with them to help. Betty was always nice and friendly she was Scottish but her husband said, her foot was to fast in the car, so she was not allowed to drive anymore! Her husband was Polish and he was always talking about the war. It was so odd, because nobody could give a hoot. While he was filling the tank with petrol he would ramble on.  Anyway he was an oddball.

Take away and  Bus Stop;

Beside the take away shop was The Plantation Motel, with the only swimming pool in the area,  all the children were allowed to go and swim there. All in all it was a generous and nice community around this area;
Shopping for groceries was a big difference to the one I was used to in Switzerland. There was no variety of rice available.  In this area risotto was unknown and  Arborio rice was an unknown quantity.  Spaghetti, available in tins, mushy, sweet, in short inedible for our taste. The Pasta that was produced was not good, as it was not produced from durum wheat.  People were not eating pasta. So a very small variety, inferior  in quality, was available.  Cheese was very limited too,  mainly cheddar, or Philly cheese,  no Camembert, or Brie or other international cheeses.  No sausages we were used to, like Salami, Cervelat Frankfurts, Wienerli, Lyoner, nothing. The cuts of meat were also very basic, mainly rolled roasts, or steaks, pork was inedible as it always stank of bore, male porkers. Beef was excellent and Lamb also. I had to change my cooking around what was available.  Well, in rural China, women cooked and still do with one wok  on a tiny cooking space, and they produce wonderful meals, so what was I complaining about?
We are so spoiled, back in Switzerland, rows and rows of different cheeses and charcuterie, meats, beautifully arranged; Breads in so many varieties, Confectionery, Cakes and so much more; I have learned to live with so much less on the farm.
The best of everything, available; crazy, super long rows of just SOCKS; socks, who does need so many socks to choose from; in a way a consumer craziness which has spread far and wide.

Plantation Motel

The people were always nice and friendly, the butcher called me “Love”, the check out lady, “Darling”  The green grocer at McKimms  said Mrs. St-hee-lee, always helpful carrying the bags, it was known as service in those days!   I have nothing to complain about my fellow, rural Australians,  they are big hearted and generous with  kindness; with a few exceptions!

Reg, a dear man who gave his help and kindness generously; he was witty and liked a good laugh;
He went barefoot to pick the beans, when he asked me to come and pick some for my family. I asked him if he was not  afraid  that he could be bitten by a snake. As along the Clarence river where his field of beans was, was also the home of the Clarence River Snake, a very dangerous snake. He laughed and said if a snake bites him, the snake will die, luckily he was never bitten.

Clarence river or rough scaled snake.
Photo Wildlife Queensland

My first bag of Rice I bought was full of little creepy crawlies.  I asked Ella what to do with it, bring it back to the store, Woolis at the time. Ella laughed and said: “just clean it pick out the bugs the worms and whatever.” I had no choice, as the next batch would not be better. There was one advantage, this rice was not poisoned otherwise the creepies would not survive in there and be wriggling and trying to escape my endavour to pick them out.  I would have never thought that the University of life would teach me this as well. I did not tell the family that I had to clean the rice of inhabitants before making a dish. I made risotto with  long grain rice which was the only one available. It was not perfect but it was edible. 

Rural idyll on Little Gem;

Sandwiches were a staple at all the take away shops, cafes and restaurants. Always the same, white bread, ham and cheese, or cheese and ham, tomato and ham or cheese or all together with a pink bleeding beetroot on top, which easily stained a white blouse with pink polka dots.  I have never mustered to eat those huge, mountainous  sandwiches which were filled with anything available but mostly, first margarine, never butter, tomato, lettuce, cheese, ham, bleeding sweet and sour beetroot  and if one was vigilant one could also find some pieces of pineapple under  the crowning of yellow  pickles; what a mess I used to make!  I shudder when I see the huge tubs of margarine, the worst one can possibly eat, but advertised as the best. Well it is a very old saying; when in Rome do as the Romans do; I may add or as close as possible with certain exceptions!

Flood at Little Gem, my Terrier, Ali alias Ali Ben Ali Ben Jussef was always ready to go for a walk to the river. This time the river came to us.

 Movies were also advertised in the local rag. Outside of the town  on top of a hill was a huge drive in. Everybody came with their cars packed up with children, rugs, food and drinks.  What good and fun times we had. We watched again "Gone with the wind"!

The agricultural research station in Grafton  advertised for sale beautiful Hereford heifers to be auctioned  next Tuesday at the Grafton sale yard , we had to be there, as we wanted to introduce  some good stock into our herd.  
Next time at the sale yard!

Still in 1989, when Ali my  Australian Terrier went for a walkabout. I was searching for him everywhere, went to the pound,  but to no avail. I was so worried,then I thought,  the  paper, if he is still around he might be in the paper...and a tiny advertisement said: Found walking along the road, elderly, sandy Australian Terrier, ring.... I thought that could be Ali. I rang  and then went to the address provided to pick him up. Luckily the postman picked him up and took him home. When I arrived, he was sitting on a sheepskin with a big bone, and he had already found a home and a new Name JOHN. His little, wagging tail nearly fell of when he saw me. It was a happy reunion and he came home with me.

.... waiting for a tidbit...Gina, Ali, Bonnie, and Tomi

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Fellow called "Horseface";

A fellow called “Horse face”;

It was a very early autumn morning,  a soft  light seeping  from a pale  blue dawn. The low lying   river flats were still shrouded in  mist. Peter, stretching his long limbs, padded over to the window, looked out  and mumbled to himself oh…aah… mm…today we will have another nice day. Then quickly looking back at me still curled up  under the quilt, sang out, quick get up and have a look  who the hell is down there?  I jumped out of bed  and we both stared out of the window. Far down near the river was somebody on a horse riding over our property. Quickly,  Peter fetched his binoculars and said; oh it’s him “Horse face”!  Looking through the binoculars I said I should have known, there is only one person who sits  on a horse like a bag of potatoes. The man on the horse was a fellow we didn’t particularly like. One has this gut feeling when you  meet a person who does not look into your eyes and has a sly way about him. He was always ostensibly friendly. We thought he was not trustworthy he was always snooping around. He had one paddock on the northern side of our boundary. What was he looking for on our land? We called him “Horse face”, because he had this awfully long teeth sticking out of his face, well I don’t dare to tell what others called him! Anyway,  we went down to  the river bank by car to meet “Horse face” and asked him about his early visit to our property. He said he was looking for some cattle he was missing. Peter told him he might have first asked us before searching our land early in the morning when he thought nobody was around. He thought we might have them on our property. As the rumors went he was a cattle rustler himself and so he thought everybody else was too.
One day Marie Louise came home from checking the cattle and said Willi is missing.  She  went riding around the property and the boundary along the road to look for him. Near the road was a small loading yard. Horseface was loading some cattle and lo and behold our Willi was in the middle of his cattle in the stockyard.  We watched her as she challenged him and said with an earnest face, Sir, I see our bull  in between your cattle. Horseface with his shifting face and sly smile said:” I didn’t notice, bloody hell how did he get in there?” ML said I come in and get him out. Boldly she rode into the stockyard in between the cattle, which are quite wild, and got him out and  drove him home, a job well done.  Luckily he was found before he was loaded up. He was also branded, so I don’t know  what would have happened, probably nothing.
ML was a very good jillaroo.
She loved the cattle and riding around the property. She knew every calf  and to which cow it belonged.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Under a hotter sun; The Christmas cake.

The Christmas cake;

When the sun stands highest, when the weather is hot and muggy, Christmas is not far off. In Australia it is tradition to bake Christmas cakes or make Christmas Puddings like it is a tradition in Switzerland to bake many different Christmas cookies as in many other countries all over the world.
Country people are generally very helpful and find Christmas time also a good time to help charities
One Charity, I won’t mention which one had a special afternoon tea to say thank you to all the helpers. An old lady, she was then well in her eighties baked every year a big Christmas cake for the members of this particular charity, to enjoy.

People come together in a jolly mood to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a delicious piece of her famous Christmas cake.

The cake was sitting on a plate, glistening with a sugary glace waiting to be cut. The president of the club had the honor to cut the first slice.
He cut into the cake and the knife got stuck. He looked up just slightly confused. With a mighty effort he tried to cut through the cake to no avail. By this time everybody was interestingly watching him, trying to cut a slice. His patience ran out and he cried bloody hell what is in this cake that the knife can not get through it.
Everybody was now standing around him, watching and wondering what was going on.
Quite urgently he cut into the cake from the side and opened it up. There was something sitting in there. He touched it with the tip of the knife and then grabbed the thing with his fingers and tore it out of the cake.
Triumphantly he hold it up, laughed and showed the culprit to all.
It was one of those old fashioned big, hard sink stoppers, even with the little ring on top to hold it. The dear, old lady had mixed the ingredients of her cake in the sink. She might not have had a big enough bowl.
The stopper must have been caught and lodged firmly into the dough, while she was mixing it.
Well, everybody was laughing because it was so funny. Nobody had ever experienced a Christmas cake with an inbuilt sink stopper. Some were not really keen to eat the cake, just some very hungry and adventures souls had a slice.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Under a hotter Sun; Autumn is only the end of summer;

Planting a vegetable garden, one is very much in the hands of the gods!

In autumn when the sun retreats its fierceness and spreads out a golden mellow light, is the time for new plantings.
Most vegetables do very well over winter. Some have a standstill in the coldest month like July and August. All year round vegetables are growing; harvested and planted again, it is an ongoing job.
Herbs do well, mostly all of them all year round. Basil seeds itself. Lavender and Rosemary bushes are planted in the vegetable garden for use and for beauty Italian and curly Parsley and in autumn Coriander self seeds. A big bush of Lemongrass its long sharp leaves gracefully weeping waiting to be used in cooking and for cool drinks.

I had a very hard job to prepare the garden beds for my autumn and winter plantings. The soil had become hard and compact over the hottest summer month from the rain pelting down, compacting the soil. The unrelenting heat of the sun baked my poor garden beds so hard, it was ready to cut clay bricks from it.
After a lot of sweat and hard work the soil became crumbly again and spread with my coveted cow pads I had collected. Then came the easy and nice task of planting the tiny vegetable seedlings.
Lettuce, the snails liked the tender leaves just as much as we did. Cabbages and Broccoli, the beloved food of the larvae of the white butterfly. Beans were most of the time trouble free, if the weather was not to wet. Actually with everything I planted I was challenged by a myriad of insects, birds, possums everybody wanted a slice of my plantings.
I had to learn to share, which is hard when you rely on the vegetables or fruit planted. Very seldom I lost everything and then mostly because there was a bad hailstorm. Hailstorms were rampant in this flat land area.
I was scanning the sky when I saw the ominous band of blue-green clouds settling like a bruise. When the cattle started lowing and collected to wander up into the bush I was sure something was up.
I have experienced one very devastating hailstorm. The vegetable garden looked at its best. The beans were ready to harvest.Tomatoes, Capsicum and eggplants were already showing off their beautiful colours lacquer red and deep purple, plump and shiny in between the foliage. Melons were filling out, everything was at its peak looking healthy and perfect. The sky was now shrouded with boiling blue green and black clouds. Then came the hailstorm, jagged lumps of ice. Big as tennis balls were falling from the sky hitting the tin roof of the house with a noise not imaginable. It did not relent until all the trees and shrubs were stripped of leaves twigs and flowers. The vegetable garden was devastated, everything was smashed and pulped. It is quite strange the reaction one feels seeing all the devastation of ones work happening in such a short time.
Then the sun emerged, it slashed through the clouds and eerily a beautiful rainbow stretched its colours along the horizon.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Under a hotter Sun; A little "poddy rustling";

A little “poddy rustling”

We had a new neighbour on the southern boundary.
He kept a different breed of cattle than ours. We loved the Herefords; red brown with white faces very pretty animals. Our neighbours cattle were a mixed breed of Brahman cattle with long faces, a hump and quite aggressive.
It happened that one of his heifers went through the fence into our property. Peter saw her when he was checking if all the animals were OK. He did not like riding a horse so made his rounds usually on the small motorbike belonging to the girls. He tried to maneuver her towards the fence where he had opened a space to let her through. Yet the furious heifer turned around and charged him full speed on his bike.
She did some damage to the bike, fortunately not to Peter. She did not want to leave so Peter left her in our property and closed the fence.
Later when he saw the neighbour he asked him if he missed a little brown heifer. The neighbour said yes and asked where she was. Peter said that he tried to drive her back to his property but that in the process she did some damage to his motorbike. Then the neighbour changed his tune and didn’t want to acknowledge the heifer.
So the little heifer, she was a pretty girl, stayed with us.
A year later this neighbour said to Peter, I think I saw one of my heifers at your place. Didn’t you say that you saw one of my little heifers on your place? Peter said, oh no, that was a year ago and your heifer went back to your place, so I don’t know what you are talking about. And that was the end of it. Peter was not giving him back this little beauty which he had fed for the last year. The neighbour had never paid for the damaged motorbike. So we were more or less quits.

Cattle rustling was going on all the time on more remote properties.