I’m not sure why it’s heart wrenching, incomprehensible tragedies that make us stop and look at our lives – I don’t understand why we can’t see what we have until something happens. Why have I enjoyed the hugs I’ve had from my children more this week than others? Why couldn’t I appreciate the smiles they’ve given me instead of flashing them a quick half-hearted one as I rush through the house on a mission to do something that didn’t really matter?
I wrote this article earlier this year for a magazine that had a focus on suicide and depression. Maybe (I hope) it will make you stop and smell the flowers.
“It’s not like the old days. Nothing is any more is it? Thank goodness I don’t have to wash the clothes by hand or carry water from the creek! There’s so many things I’m thankful to avoid that my Nana had to tolerate when she settled with my grandfather on “Glenroy” in the mid-north of South Australia. It’s been in our family since the early1800’s. And my mother is thrilled for me now to not have to spend the evenings returning phone calls and organising the next days work like she did. As often as I curse the modern tie that is the mobile phone, I’m pleased we can turn it off in the evening and enjoy our family meal together. Well, in theory anyway.
Our lives seem to hurtle along at an unstoppable pace sometimes, propelled by the modern “conveniences” that seem to throw us the challenge to switch off and take a break. Every night I try to watch the gorgeous sunsets, and remember to take note of the bird laughing at itself in the side mirror of the ute, like we had last week. As a writer, it is important to me to look for the details of our farming life, and I often photograph these things to preserve them for my minds eye – you never know when you might need them. The best part about carrying the camera, is that it makes me stop and breathe, and no matter how fleetingly, forget about the puddle that is our drying dam, the dwindling stock numbers and the pressures of lambing percentages, higher crop yields and improved wool production. With a photographers eye, I can look for the beauty in our unique landscape. It’s the same view, just a different perspective.
When the modern demands make my head whirl, I often think of Nana and the leisurely way that she and Papa lived their lives, farming the station country. My husband and I own 8,000 acres on the south coast of Western Australia and it consumes a lot of our leisure and rest time. It’s a very different life to my grandparents.
We’ve just returned from a well-earned break to visit my family at Glenroy. It was the first family holiday for 16 years, and it was so much fun to do the things we did as kids when Nana and Papa were in control. We wandered down to the creek to lite a fire. We boiled the billy and shared some biscuits for smoko. Papa always stopped marking or drafting in the yards at 9.30am when Nana appeared with a basket full of sponge cake and sausage rolls. Everything seemed to be calm and measured. I guess they had the same worries that we face today – after all, it’s the same stuff, just happening to a different generation isn’t it? After four pretty tough seasons, endlessly hand-feeding stock, eyeing the cloudless skies and running in seemingly ever-decreasing circles, I have to remind myself to look for the beauty.
We hadn’t realised how getting off our own place, even though just for a week, gave us the distance and change of scenery we yearned, and a chance to stop and smell the flowers – and the scones. We’ve determined now to take our early morning coffee outside when we can breathe the brisk air. Even though we know at some stage we’ll be dragging our heels – there’ll always be something to be thankful for, and to photograph. Recently it’s been eyeing the little clover seeds pushing up, and the smell of rain on the dusty soil.
When things get too tough for me outside, it’s a pleasure to bury myself in writing, where I can make it rain or have the cattle eating green grass that is a foot high. It’s my escape and I’m not sure that I would have dealt with the 2008 drought as well as I did, if I couldn’t disappear inside my fictional world for a time.
2008 saw us agist over eight hundred cows across the state of WA, some nearly eight hours drive away, when we ran short of water and hay. Because of that and previous bad seasons, I know how soul destroying it is to hand-feed stock day after day, with nothing but blue skies and northerly winds for company. Skinny cattle and poor sheep tear at your heart, because contrary to some beliefs, farmers actually care for their animals.
That’s why it is so important to have an outlet. My husband’s is fishing. There is a tranquillity at the beach which would send him home calm and ready to make decisions.
2008 and late breaks every year since has made us stop and smell the flowers – even if it’s only the Canola. It chases away the demons that try plague us when things aren’t going well.”