Bumping along dirt roads, the rear mirror filled with dust
Crossing dehydrated stream beds, impassable in the wet
Gate after gate, opened and carefully closed
Until only the lonely cluster of welcome awaits
Embracing, kissing, laughing, relaxing
Nothing had changed, at least not that we wanted to see
Cold cans cracked, news exchanged, it felt good to be together again
Country Roads had brought us home once more
Wood fire crackling, the smell of roasting lamb
Smoke in our hair, the taste of cheap red wine
The air throbbing with the sound of Hot August Night
And we were as one, and it felt so very, very good
It was not quite dark, when alone I walked up the hill
Intoxicated with the beauty of the southern sky
The smell of the night breeze in my face
I didn’t ever want the night to end
Sitting on a rock, still warm from the summer sun
Listening to the rustle and occasional squeak in the bush
Recalling so many nights of carefree abandon
Loving one and loving all.
I wrote that piece a few years ago, as part of an assignment for an Open University course in Creative Writing. The particular task was to recall a beautiful personal memory and to include all the five senses. I called it ‘Brian’s Farm’ and it was loosely based on my memories of a period in my life in Australia, during the years 1971-6.
When I knew Brian, he was in his mid to late twenties. When he was eighteen he bought a track of undeveloped bush near Guyra, about 70 km north of Armidale in northern New South Wales. I seem to remember that he had about 3000 acres, but I could not swear to that. His land was partly undulating, before backing up into the hills, and it included mineral rights to a river that flowed down from the hills, and contained evidence of gold and sapphires.
Now, when I tell you that Brian spent the first two years on his land living alone in a tent, while he slowly cleared a small area of bush to create some paddocks for sheep and horses, you can start to realize that he was an exceptional individual, of true pioneer spirit. He was of medium height and not heavily built, but he oozed strength.
I once met his father, a stocky balding little Englishman of florid complexion. I think that he was an English teacher in Armidale. I don’t remember his mother ever being mentioned. I suspect that his father helped him with the funds to buy the land. In those days, undeveloped bush land cost only a few dollars an acre.
Brian’s first building that he erected was a large wool shed, with a kitchen attached and containing a wood fired oven. At the back, he added a second small building, containing a shower unit and toilet. With the door open, the view from the toilet across the valley was stunning.
The shower unit was a marvel of engineering. The water from the roof of the woolshed was captured in a huge tank and from there it was pumped up the hill to another similar tank. From there it flowed with some force to a boiler above a wood fireplace. A cold shower was available at any time, but before having a hot shower, the water had to be heated. The shower room was large and had a ceiling shower head of enough diameter to allow six people to comfortably shower together. Brian encouraged communal showers, ostensibly to economize on water!
When Brian completed the woolshed, he started work on a small bungalow for himself, and that was where he was living when I first knew him. At that time, he was offering the opportunity to spend a week in his woolshed for a quite modest cost. And of course, it not just gave Brian some additional income, but brought some social opportunity into his otherwise hermitic existence.
Visitors had the opportunity to ride his horses, to go rock climbing, and to prospect for precious stones and gold. For those who doubted the existence of treasure in the river, Brian would show his jars of topaz and gold nuggets. And there was of course the wildlife, with lots of red kangaroos, kookaburras, and plenty of snakes.
The nearest ‘civilisation’ was The Red Lion Tavern in the tiny village of Glencoe, about 25 km north. Any visit to Brian’s farm was not complete without an evening in The Red Lion, with its roast lamb, washed down with copious glasses of Aussie red. How I would love to be able to turn the clock back to those days.
But life moves on, and there have now been nearly 500 full moons since I left Australia on my South American travels. I am yet to return.
I lost touch with Brian; keeping in contact was not as easy in those days of writing paper, envelopes, stamps and snail mail. I did hear that he married and then was once more on his own. It would have been a lonely life for a woman, especially if she was a city girl.
Occasionally I wonder what he is up to these days. Could he still scale Chimney Rock or do a forward roll over two wool bales, like we used to
Once upon a time…