The Decision

By Lynn Elder

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com
To stay or leave?
I am torn.
My heart and mind
are at odds.
What is the chance
one whispers,
of fire reaching us here.
The radio crackles.
Emergency announcement.
"If you have not already left,
it is now too late to leave."
Decision made.

This poem was included in a collection of poems published in 2021 as High Country Poets highlighting the works of local poets from Mansfield in North East Victoria, Australia. Proceeds from sales of the book go to the Mansfield Secondary College Welfare Fund.

Horsing around in the High Country

Biscuit and I

I was finally on track to achieve one of my biggest goals and dreams when it all went somewhat pear-shaped. Back in September, I found the ideal horse to build up my confidence again after many years of absence from the saddle. His owner wanted to see how I bonded with him and make sure we were a good match before selling him, which was fair enough. I was upfront that it had been several years since I was riding regularly.
He is a gorgeous 15.2 hands palomino part-quarter horse gelding with a lovely nature and a delight to ride. Biscuit had been used by many a beginner and was soft in the mouth without a hint of pulling. I visited him several times. With the assistance of a curry comb, I got stuck into shifting his shedding winter coat revealing a bronze-like colour beneath. I got to rug him, feed him and watch him being shod. Biscuit is the ideal horse to handle.
We took it slowly to begin with, but we were cantering around the small paddock by the second time. My dream of being a horse owner was about to become a reality. Biscuit and I were working well as a team. I had no nerves while riding him. I joked with my husband that I felt safer on that horse than on our ride-on lawnmower!
After a couple more visits, three of us set out to ride along the grassed roadside near his home in late October. It was a beautiful vista being in the foothills of the nearby mountains and walking past the bushland on horseback. The ground was very wet in places following heavy spring rains, and several small ditches were full of flowing water.
On our return trip, the rider leapt over a ditch on her horse in front of me. So Biscuit and I followed suit. We did this fantastic leap, and his hooves had barely hit the ground when suddenly his backend went up. As I felt the buck beneath me, I remember thinking where did that come from as I tried to rebalance myself. Alas, it was too late, as I parted company with Biscuit and fell with a thud onto the ground below.
I was ever so apologetic to his owner for managing to fall off such a quiet horse. She said it was totally out of character for him, not to blame myself so much. Biscuit didn’t run away, and I intended to get back on thinking maybe I had just winded myself. I held my ribs as I sat on the ground when everything began to swim before my eyes and started to blackout. It dawned on me maybe; I wouldn’t be getting back on after all.
Biscuit’s owner called her husband to come and get me, as I turned as white as could be from the shock. My right side had taken the brunt of the fall with my arm so painful that I couldn’t move it. Back up at the stables, I sat quietly with a bottle of water. I was going to drive myself home, but Biscuit’s Mum insisted that I shouldn’t do that. I let her drive my car, and her husband followed behind to my place.
On hearing the cars pull up, my husband thought Biscuit was arriving at his new home but found his wife in the passenger seat of her car in a world of pain. I found what painkillers were in the house and dragged on my pyjamas. After a terrible night’s sleep and concerns the following day that I couldn’t move my right arm, it was a trip to the emergency department of our local hospital still in my PJs and dressing gown.
COVID restrictions prevented my husband from coming inside the hospital with me. Because I couldn’t use my right arm, he had to put my face mask on for me and learn to use my mobile phone for the QR code required for contact tracing. Finally, I was admitted inside. The nurses found me some strong painkillers before the doctor ordered some x-rays done on-site. I was in so much pain. The hospital staff were worried that my right arm was dislocated, so advised a trip to a bigger hospital over an hour away to get scans.
It was suggested by the staff that I get someone to drive me over there. Since the advent of COVID, our paramedics and other front-line health workers, like many others worldwide, are being overwhelmed by demand. I was loaded up with paperwork to take to the emergency department at the other hospital and a “green whistle” full of morphine to dull the pain en route. A nurse found a triangle bandage to make a temporary sling for my arm. So I go to the other hospital with my husband, still dressed in my night attire. Of course, once again, when we arrived about midday, my husband had to remain outside after we managed to do the COVID-safe check-in. Then more paperwork. The waiting room was full of patients and divided into two with a plastic sheet separating the COVID or potential cases from the rest of us, which I found a bit unsettling although I had recently had my second jab.
Finally, I was taken to another part of the hospital’s emergency section, and the staff did a cat scan of my upper body, including my injured right arm. I then went into a room with other patients, some on beds and others like myself in an upright chair. I had to request more painkillers because the opiates had worn off.
Three different doctors attended me, with one confirming that I had sustained four cracked ribs, a broken scapula (shoulder blade) and suspected nerve damage to my arm. I also learned that the hospital had a three cracked ribs policy which requires hospitalisation of the patient for 24-hours because of the risk of developing pneumonia. Once I convinced the doctors, I understood the risk and had spent the previous night at home after the accident; they allowed my discharge. With several COVID cases presenting at the hospital, I felt it was safer to be at home.
About 5 pm, my husband was able to collect me from outside the main door of the hospital. I had been given some prescriptions, which we then took to the large pharmacy store in the town to be filled. A staff member told my husband at the door that the store was closed for a deep clean following a COVID exposure. The chemist in my hometown would be closed by the time we got back.
I struggled through the night with what pills I had. My whole right side was in so much pain, and the slightest movement triggered spasms. Once I got into a somewhat comfortable position, I wasn’t game to move. My poor husband had to help me out of bed because I couldn’t use my arm and put up with my groans. For several days, he was my wonderful full-time carer, which turned into weeks.
Since then, there have been trips to the local doctor, physio and the hospital for more x-rays. Two weeks ago, I thought I had turned the corner but overdid it because my arm pain flared up badly, and I needed to use a sling again. The doctors recommend only using a sling for about two weeks or so. I am supposed to be doing some exercises to assist in getting more mobility in my arm, which is hard when my ribs are still sore. But almost seven weeks since the accident, and I am slowly starting to feel more like my old self. I still have plenty of work to do to improve my breathing and build up muscle tone in my arm again. I am very weak on my right side and still can’t do any heavy lifting. But I am hopeful that I will be much better soon and able to get back into the saddle again by the early new year. I intend to stay on next time.

Wombat welfare concerns

Photo by International Fund for Animal Welfare on Pexels.com

Life is a gamble for many of our native wildlife species in Australia. Wombats are often fatal victims on our busy country roads and have succumbed to the scourge of mange in more recent years. It is believed the mange is spread by introduced species such as foxes and rabbits as well as wild dogs.


Farmers have a love-hate relationship with these animals due to their ability to burrow underground and create cavernous tunnels. Our country house and shed are built on a concrete slab, so they don’t try to dig under our buildings, but neighbours with weatherboard houses on stumps are forever trying to keep them out. City people may think wombats are cute animals but have never seen the damage caused by their powerful digging prowess. They are also nocturnal mammals, so they are out and about during the hours of darkness when most of us are indoors. I often find piles of scats around our property the following day marking their journey.

Suppose you happen to see a wombat wandering about during daylight hours. It is usually a sign that the animal has serious health issues related to mange which is an infestation of mites. They get under the skin of the wombat and cause unrelenting itchiness and loss of hair covering. Constant scratching creates red raw sore patches on their body and in the worst cases open wounds. The loss of hair covering forces the wombat to graze more to keep warm and to come out during daylight hours.

Mange causes this crust to form on the skin of the affected wombat which has been wandering onto our property during the day to graze grass.

Another sad aspect is the impact on their hearing and sight. I have a wombat on my property at present who I can get very close when it is out eating grass during the day. I am careful not to get too close because wombats are wild animals and can get distressed. But I did get close enough to take some pictures and a video as a record of the wombat’s condition.

My husband and I thought we had discovered where the burrow of this particular wombat is on our property. We put some small sticks in the entrance to test this theory. Unfortunately, they remain undisturbed. Other burrows are waterlogged due to the heavy winter rains we are having this month. So we think its home must be on one of our neighbours properties. We had hoped to treat the wombat as per the instructions from the Wombat Mange Welfare website https://mangemanagement.org.au/.

It is not always easy to know when the wombat will be out and about. We have contacted the welfare people to see what can be done. It is heartbreaking to see them suffering this way so we need to encourage more action to eliminate this mange and return our wombats back to full health. Hopefully as more people are aware of this serious issue the more that can be done for them.

I haven’t seen the wombat this week probably due to it being so cold and wet, but will continue to keep an eye out for it. Follow the link to the website to learn more about what is being done to manage mange in wombats

Seen on the rail trail while I was out cycling

A horse with no name

I’ve been through the desert
On a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert, you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
.

America – 1972

A significant reason for my tree change to a country property was to have space for a horse after many years break from riding. Living in a major capital city makes horse ownership difficult and expensive. So here I am almost 30 years later with a yearning to connect with an equine friend once again. I already have horse yards, a round yard, hay bales and saddlery but sadly, no horse as yet. We shifted here full-time four years ago, so time has been marching on.

This horse I am seeking is almost like searching for a unicorn – it is so elusive! Finding something that is quiet and suitable for a mature-age rider wanting to gain their confidence back involves a lot of patience and networking. I trawl websites and magazines to see what is available and in what price ranges. Once I find that horse, items to be added to the shopping list include a horse float, rugs for our cold, frosty days, and many other things.

America’s song about a horse with no name entered into my head as I thought about my search and how this nameless creature is out there somewhere. Believe it or not, growing up, my family did own a horse called No Name. We never did find her breeding background to help find her a new name. Hopefully, I won’t have to go as far as the desert to find my horse with no name or a name yet unknown!

Spring chorus brings joy to the soul

While we are in this COVID bubble the arrival of spring brings a sense of a change and maybe a little bit of hope (Cases in Victoria have remained under 100 for the last three days!) One of the many things that makes me happy living in the beautiful high country is the sounds of nature that fill the air. The winter rains have our dams overflowing which attracts the frogs. I can lie in bed at night and hear them croaking loudly. It pays for them to be a bit quieter during the day when the rather large white-faced herons are about! This is a short video I filmed to capture the sounds of my own personal chorus. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Aussie frog chorus in the High Country

Masking up Down Under

In my home amongst the gumtrees in Victoria’s High Country

The Kookaburras laugh from their lofty perches

At the sight of masked humans going about their business.

The state government has mandated face coverings for public forays.

I can make it to the farm gate without covering up my face

But as soon as I cross the cattle grid out comes my mask;

My defence against a world that is playing host to a virus

That has us locked down in a fight against an enemy that doesn’t bear arms.

In a small town where we are use to greeting one another as old friends;

We hog supermarket aisles; as we compare the price of sheep and cattle;

If we are fortunate we can also boast our latest rainfall readings;

Battered hats and well-worn boots can separate the townies from the farming folk;

But a second look is needed as we try to recognise each other wearing such strange attire.

Face coverings come in all shapes and sizes, some in colours and designs;

In a display of the wearer’s fashion sense and personality.

Forced to adopt this strange new ritual we hope to flatten that damn curve.

#

Another Aussie take on this COVID thing is a ballad by comedian Sammy J. Apologies to “Banjo” Paterson who penned the “Man from Snowy River”, a poem that inspired the movie made in the High Country where I live. The Bunnings reference is to a rather large chain of hardware stores popular with do DIY types and tradies. Also apologies to anyone called Karen who may be offended.

 

 

Autumn fades as the seasons change

Autumn colour on my door step with this beautiful oak tree

As the earth turns so do the seasons. We are all experiencing a different season in our lives these last few months of the COVID-19 emergency. Today, Victoria, Australia, was the only state or territory to record any new coronavirus infections in the last 24 hours. These cases are a worry but seem to be under control. The curve is flattening but as we ease restrictions from midnight, the start of winter will see a flurry of activities as more freedom to dine in or travel within the state begins. Our ski season is opening a week later this year on June 22 instead of the traditional Queen’s birthday long weekend.

Only time will only tell if the measures taken by our government and individuals will see a quicker return to normal life for many of us. But the damage has already been done to the economy which no doubt will take longer to bounce back.

It has been a struggle some days dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions in response to changed circumstances. Thankfully I live somewhere close to nature and the autumn tones this year have been a joy to capture during this period of self-isolation. It is also a reminder of something much bigger and more significant than ourselves.

“A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south;
and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.”
-Ecclesiastes 1:4-7


Here is a collection of some of my favourite shots of autumn 2020.

Unprecedented

Nature is a picture of resilience

Several words have become the new catch phrases of our world-wide “new normal” during the Coronavirus pandemic including “unprecedented”, “stay home” and “we’re all in this together”. So stay home I have except for one trip into town, my first in two weeks. It was an eerie feeling and not a lot of joy to be had. Strict hygiene measures were in place at the pharmacy and supermarkets. People giving me a wide berth on the street as part of their social distancing. There are still shortages of certain items and limits are in place.

There was an hour and a half wait to pick up prescriptions so my husband and I had to fill in time. It is not worth going home when you live more than 20 minutes away. Cafes are only open for takeaway coffees but you are not allowed to sit outside to drink them. An older friend of ours got moved on the other day by the police for enjoying a coffee in the median strip with a friend after their bike ride.

You are allowed to exercise (just don’t congregate) so we did a walk around town which was very quiet. Otherwise, we have been self-isolating on our 25 acres where we are surrounded by fresh air and nature in abundance. No complaints from us, it could be a lot worse and is for a lot of people.

We enjoyed stunning autumn days beginning of the week which has now ended with more 60ml of rain which was much needed. During the week I have enjoyed exploring photo opportunities and been playing around with some editing tools. Lovely to have time to do these things without feeling guilty that you should be doing other tasks.

While it is surreal staying home and not being engaged in any activities beyond our boundary fences, there has been positives in getting more jobs done and the chance to phone friends you haven’t spoken to in a long time. As they say “‘We’re all in this together” and if we pull together then hopefully sooner rather than later we will get through to the other side.

Would love to hear your comments for survival during COVID-19.

Beyond the smoky haze

Sunset through the smoke haze
Nearby hills are obscured by thick smoke haze

Summer in Australia includes the Christmas and New Year celebrations followed by fun filled relaxing holidays by the beach or camping in the bush. Boating, fishing and water-skiing are popular on large lakes and rivers. December and January have marked a period of heartache and devastation as fires raged across the country with NSW, Victoria and South Australia receiving the brunt of the damage. Many people’s holiday plans have been impacted by the closure of our national and state parks by authorities where there are fires and significant threat to life. There was the mass exodus of holidaymakers through our town when the evacuation order was made. Now it is strangely quiet and many local businesses are suffering from loss of income from the impact of the fires. Most of Victoria and NSW has been shrouded in smoke for several days with reports of smoke haze in New Zealand and South America.

We have been fortunate to only be subjected to smoke haze when so many have suffered lost of lives, homes, livelihoods, massive stock losses and trauma elsewhere. But it has been difficult to escape the wall-to-wall coverage of the fires and the social media frenzy without feeling somewhat overwhelmed. Situations like this also seems to bring out the best and the worse in humans. Stories of unsung heroes and the compassion for others has been uplifting. Another sad aspect of our bushfires is the huge loss of our native flora and fauna.

We continue to ensure on the hot days that there are plenty of water bowls around the house for all the different birds that visit us ranging from the tiny finches through to the larger magpies. Bolly(my husband) has been working extremely hard clearing any fallen leaves and branches from around our property. The hot windy days are nuisance because you have to clear up all over again! We have complied a “what to do in a fire” situation book of instructions and photos for us to refer to and for any house sitters or visitors. We have a fire-fighting pump near our dam and sprinklers in our lawn if needed. While we don’t feel in any particular danger being in cleared farming land there is still the risk of grassfires and lightening strikes hitting paddock trees.

A most welcome cool change overnight has brought 7ml of rain followed by clear, blue skies, this morning. One has to be optimistic if we are to support one another and look after our mates to get through the tough times.

The Spring that was…and the start of Summer that wasn’t.

It is not the language of the painters but the language of nature to which one has to listen.

– Vincent van Gough (1853-1890) Dutch painter

The end of November is technically the end of spring in the Southern Hemisphere but since when has Mother Nature complied with calendar definitions of the seasons? The start of summer here in the high country of Victoria saw a dump of snow on nearby Mt Buller and chilly days for the locals. We were talking to family in England and there wasn’t much difference between their temperatures and ours.

But the sun has returned with the promise of warmer days ahead. Our neighbour has tackled our long grass and soon it will be turned into large round bales for fodder. Our November has been a busy month and brings with it a mixture of joy and sadness.

The local Mansfield Festival over the unofficial Melbourne Cup long weekend brings an influx of visitors from the city to join in the activities. I help out early at the bush market on a stall to raise funds and awareness of our East Timor Friends of Venilale group while Bolly my husband is at the Anglican church setting up for the book stall and Devonshire Teas. Then at 11am myself and several others from our agricultural society group gather to participate in the annual street parade. Great opportunity to promote our up and coming show on the 16th November. Part of our display was a rusty 1937 Chevrolet farm ute which attracted plenty of attention. The rain held off until after the parade.

This Chevy hasn’t been on the high street since the 1950s! Road closed for parade traffic only.

Sunny skies were the order of the day for the Mansfield Melbourne Cup Day horse races and despite recent bad publicity about the treatment of some racehorses after their career is over, there was a good crowd and a social atmosphere for all ages. These country events also provide much needed fundraising for community groups.

We join the members of our RSL sub-branch and the wider community to pay our respects on Remembrance Day with a special service.

I somehow managed to find time to write a short story for the local Bushy Tales competition. This year’s theme was to be based on an “animal”. While I did not win with my piece about Friskie, our beautiful bushy-tailed friend who we sadly lost in October, it was published in a collection of stories and poems. I was invited on the presentation night to share my story which was written as part of my healing from the grief of losing a much-loved pet.

The 130th Mansfield Show was hailed as one of the most successful in years which was helped by perfect sunny spring weather. Without the huge effort by committee members and many other volunteers the show would not happen. As secretary my November was extremely busy. It was good to see horse entries up this year and the number of young children entering the various pavilion sections.

We entertain two lots of visitors during November and always enjoy sharing our little bit of country with them. The kids especially enjoy a ride in the trailer and wielding an axe! There are birthdays to celebrate not far from home, one a 70th and the other an 80th in idyllic rural settings. November is also sad as I remember family members who died five years ago.

But as the year draws to end, we reflect on the good things and learn from the not so good, and continue to count our blessings

Winter solstice a reason to light up

June 1 heralds the start of winter in the southern hemisphere. From the idyllic autumnal days of warming sunshine we have plunged headlong into an extremely cold season for this part of the world. This morning I had to add a minus sign to the temperature of 3 degrees! Usually I get up early but this morning I was struggling to get warm. My feet still feel like ice-blocks but that might have something to do with popping outside to photograph a somewhat icy but stunning landscape. It reminds me of my winter travels to Lancashire and Yorkshire as I look across the open paddocks with rolling hills. But hopefully, with the sun on the way up, it will warm up soon.

To celebrate our winter solstice the Mansfield Lantern Festival now in its fifth year runs an event for all the family to get involved. In the weeks leading up to the event there are lantern workshops to encourage children to make their own. My husband and I, did the lazy adult’s version with my Ikea Christmas lanterns replacing the candles with safer lighting being the flashing red tail light from my bicycle and his head torch! There was a procession to the area which had been set up for the festivities. Loved seeing the families and the little ones with their lanterns. The cast from the forthcoming Dr Seuss musical had donned the red and white stripy tall hats with lights to promote their show. The night was clear but cold so parkas and gloves were a must. For a town of 4000 there was an excellent turn-out accounting for the queues for food and drink including a mulled cider which I can recommend. The two huge fire pits were most appreciated by festival goers and added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the atmosphere of an European city in winter. For some with littlies the nearby pub for a meal and a chance to warm up was a popular option. It is always great to talk to new people and catch up with locals. Life in this small town is never boring!