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.
Our lives this year have been like the seasons; unpredictable and inescapable. There are hints we can shake off our layers gathered over winter and venture out with a sense of freedom that the warmer spring days offer, but beware spring is a fickle season and teases us. September 1 in the Southern Hemisphere is technically the start of spring but as soon as one is tempted to stow away the woollies Jack Frost and sleety snow return.
Our lives are like the seasons that change from dark and gloomy to the flourish of new growth seen in the abundance of blossoms and flowering bulbs to the inquisitive new-born calves along our fence line.
We choose to celebrate the gift of life. Earlier this year we lost my 39 year-old-stepson to suicide. His Dad and I knew that he had suffered from highs and lows throughout his life but not to the extent that he would take his own life. We have decided to be open about the circumstances of Matt’s death. This has encouraged others to share their stories with us. While there is much being done to raise awareness about depression and suicide; the numbers continue to climb and more families, friends and workmates are left numb with the loss and waste of another life.
It has been a difficult and sad time for us, but we choose to embrace life and the memory of Matt positively. Our faith and support of friends and neighbours have made the grief more bearable. But it never goes away. When I hear of another suicide, my heart goes out to their loved ones. Never be afraid to ask someone if they are OK and offer a listening ear if needed or practical help to ease their distress. Remember not everyone will accept your offer but sometimes you may be the right person at the right time.
For those left behind as my husband has found, it is sad and at times a frustrating process of dealing with the coroner’s court, police, funeral directors, solicitors and even fractured family relations. Five months later we are still trying to sort out the legalities while we grieve in our own ways.
Mental health is complex and many of us at some stage of our lives experience depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. For most of us, that dark season of our life ends and can be like a daffodil stretching towards the sunlight in spring with the promise of renewed hope. The dark clouds and icy tentacles of winter have been replaced in my heart and mind, reminding me how precious every single moment is.
For those still struggling we need to advocate for better services and more funding; combined with increased public awareness around suicide prevention. We also need to aim for a kinder and more caring world for all. If you are struggling there is help out there.
You can also visit the following websites for useful resources and support.
The following website addresses the issue of understanding the available data and how to apply it to the various suicide prevention approaches and programs in this country https://www.lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/about-suicide/suicide-data
And here is an American website promoting a suicide prevention campaign during September.
Hard to believe but spring has arrived again; in all its magnificent and fickle ways. How do I define spring here in the hill country of Victoria, in the Southern Hemisphere? My fellow bloggers and other social media friends on the other side of the world begin to retreat into their cocoons for approaching winter months while we here are emerging from ours. Layer by layer we peel off the extra garments and tentatively risk flaunting our summer fashions. But the layers gained from winter comfort food, cheery bottles of red and chocolate on the couch watching TV in front of the open fire, are now exposed!
Spring and the advent of warmer days heralds thoughts of venturing outdoors and getting into shape – a better shape than what I’m currently in! It is a time for the clocks to spring forward for daylight saving which lures us outdoors for longer and hence later dinners. Spring rains much welcomed has produced a flurry of green growth, especially grass which seems to be growing in front of our very eyes this week. My husband despairs that he can’t keep up with the slashing and keeping it at bay.
Yesterday, I tackled one of our garden beds full of brilliant yellow irises competing with the long grass. Something satisfying about weeding. Friskie enjoys a romp in the garden as my companion. Our hard work over the last two years, is starting to pay off. Where another garden bed against the house was overrun with blackberries, it is now full of plants flowering for the first time, adding a burst of colour.
Spring is a busy time for primary producers, new-born calves and lambs fill the nearby paddocks. We miss our old cows but it was the right thing not to let them suffer through a bitterly cold winter. One of our friends wants to put their bull in our paddock to rest him for a month or so. We can still take up the offer of our neighbour to run some of his steers on our place to help keep grass at bay. At the moment we seem to be home to rabbits(who seem to multiply in spring!), wombats intent on digging huge holes, with occasional visits from several kangaroos, and red foxes around the dam where wild ducks frequent. My get-fit campaign is being thwarted by a pesky magpie dive-bombing me when I walk down our driveway. These black and white, native Australian birds, are beautiful the way they warble and their cheeky personalities make them lovable. Come spring and new chicks, they become very territorial. I could say it is just an act of revenge for not winning this year’s Australian Rules Football Grand Final against the Eagles from Western Australia.
One of the downsides of the warmer weather, is the emergence of snakes which is a worry when you have dogs and cats. My husband saw a rather large Eastern Brown and a Tiger snake within five minutes of each other while over near our wood pile last week. Another good reason to keep vegetation around the house cleared. This year the annual fire season is commencing earlier than usual in response to the extra fuel load from our recent rains. This means no burning off. Bolly, my husband, is working down in the city for a month, so won’t get a chance to do any more this year.
Spring also means the horse racing carnival is in full swing and ladies are busy searching for new head-wear, with dresses and shoes to match. The Melbourne Cup always run on the first Tuesday in November, is the reason for a public holiday in Melbourne. Mansfield’s High Country Festival over the weekend preceding the cup, is a hive of activity with a grand parade, bush-market, local produce to sip and devour, and artistic endeavours to admire. The town hosts its own cup meeting on the same day as the big Melbourne event and gives racegoers the opportunity to enjoy themselves without the big crowds of Flemington. I am rather partial to frocking up for the races and imbibing in a glass of bubbles or two!
Spring also means the start of the agricultural show circuit with our own show on November 17. It also means an extremely busy time for the secretary (meaning me!) and all the other volunteers on the committee. So time to spring into action while enjoying this season of renewal.
What has changed in my faith journey since Easter last year? Not a lot I think to myself. After many years of involvement in my city parish and through my work, I have stepped back from the busyness of my life. I thought my purpose was all preordained and God had placed me where I was meant to be. Number one mistake! Yes, it was where I was meant to be at that time, a time when I grew and learnt much about myself and others. But faith is not a static thing, it needs to grow or move beyond the comfortable boundaries we adopt.
The past two years have been a period of transition. Instead of trying to walk with others in their struggles, I have been granted a time to reconnect with nature and the more physical aspects of my being. Mentally, I feel much stronger and much less stressed, but there is a sense I still hold onto memories and habits that hold me back. I start the new year with a zeal to make this my best year ever. Started well, but need to reassess and renew my goals for the year ahead.
I think Easter can be a bit like that. We prepare by giving up something we value or enjoy during Lent. To help us on this journey, some of us come together for weekly Lenten studies to explore the scriptures and what it means for us as we approach this most holiest period in the Christian calendar. There is the darkness of Good Friday, when Jesus dies on the cross in the most horrible manner followed by Easter Sunday. When the “Resurrection Sunday” euphoria wears off we need to make space in our busy lives to ponder why we were the recipients of such a powerful gift that continues to give throughout the year and beyond Easter.
Waking to a sky washed with shades of pink and grey, accompanied by the melodious dawn chorus, is deeply satisfying. This morning we were also treated to the sight of four kangaroos outside our bedroom window. Sadly, these native animals because of their large numbers are culled by local farmers trying to preserve pasture for stock and we hadn’t seen any on our place for several weeks. Earlier in the year we had seen three rather large males vying for dominance. We haven’t seen them since. You still have to exercise caution when driving on our country roads during the hours of darkness because they can suddenly appear from nowhere.
Introduced species also cause havoc such as the fox. While they are a magnificent looking creature they are a threat to young lambs and chickens. One morning I was enjoying a bowl of cereal gazing out the window well after sunup when a fox appeared outside the kitchen door. Another morning a wayward wombat, usually a nocturnal animal, was running across our front lawn.
Although the 40 Celsius plus days seem to have gone, the sun is still baking hot and with little rain in the past month, everything is looking brown and withered. There some hints of autumn colour with our poplar trees sporting orange and yellow leaves. It shouldn’t be long before the local vineyards follow suite. I had a good friend come to stay who tended my rose bushes with loving care. I am amazed how hardy old roses can be. They give me great pleasure.
After only 7 ml rain for the whole of February, a week ago we received more than 34 ml in less than 24 hours. It is the most wonderful sound when the runoff from the gutters splashes into our rainwater tanks. This week for the first time this year, we lit our wood fire when there was a dusting of snow on the nearby mountain. But it doesn’t take long and the weather returns to sunny days of 26 degrees Celsius plus. This bodes well for the four-day Easter break and the start of school holidays. Many take the opportunity to enjoy the good weather and as a last gasp before winter arrives. Our country town is overflowing with many tourists and visitors. For the locals, it is a good time to retreat to their homes until we can reclaim our roads and town once again. I had to laugh last year, when I heard tourists complaining there were too many tourists!
But tomorrow both Bolly (my husband) and I will volunteer our time to help out during the Easter Saturday bush market. Our Anglican church is popular with shoppers looking to relax with a cuppa and freshly baked scones enjoyed under the old pin-oak. My husband helps with the set-up and I will be on the stall for our Friends of Venilale group which raises funds for East Timor.
Two weeks ago we hosted a Trivia Night at our church which supports remote area schools in Timor-Leste in partnership with the “Friends” group. We had run similar nights in Melbourne but were not sure how we would go here in a new place. But thanks to a lot of support and a good turn-out on the night it was a highly successful event as well as being a lot of fun.
As if the weekend was not already busy enough I also helped out at the local campdraft (an Australian competition which involves horses and cattle) which was run the same weekend. I am on the local agricultural and pastoral show society committee which supports the event which is held at the showgrounds. Dry and very dusty conditions. On the Sunday, the wind was horrendous, with a very high fire warning being issued. Fortunately, no fires in our part of the world although other parts of Victoria suffered property and stock losses due to bush fires. Although we had a good drenching last weekend, we still need follow-up rains.
We are enjoying a quiet, relaxing afternoon on this Good Friday. Church this morning was an opportunity to reflect and think about the sacrifice made for us all on the cross. Life and death entwined. For some it is a highly emotional time and a reminder of grief in our own lives. Other denominations are invited to join the Catholic parish as they walked the stations of the cross in one of our main streets. A visible reminder to those passing by on foot or car about the reason for Easter.
There seems to be a rhythm to our daily routines as we settle into our second year as permanent residents. We now have new friends that we welcome into our home and lives, as well as our old city friends. Wednesday has become our social bike riding day. For health reasons, I had avoided cycling for over two years but decided to give it a go. Our group has a mixture of men and women, some retired and others working part-time. It has proved to be a wonderful experience with everyone getting on so well and really considerate of each other regardless of how slow we may be! It has morphed into a farm drop in session as we cycle around and enjoy hospitality at each other’s homes. Sometimes we do short rides around the township followed by morning tea at a popular local café, or along the rail-trail for longer rides of up to 28kms or ride out to Lake Eildon.
The rhythm of life is interrupted for our friends and neighbours when they lose love ones. We attended one funeral for my girlfriend’s father, buried not far from his farm in a quiet, country graveyard with extended views of the hills beyond. It was a fitting end to a life well-lived. The other funeral was the brother of our neighbour who we had never met because he was living and working overseas. We felt privileged to be able to share in hearing about the life of a man taken too soon who lived his life to the full. Again we are reminded of the fragility of life and how precious each moment is.
It has taken some months but finally, I feel this is where I am supposed to be. I have found that rhythm and with a tweak here and there, my life is like a river meandering through this beautiful landscape, that never fails to lift my spirits.
It’s like osmosis. This gradual shifting of one’s mindset from crazy full-on life in the city to one that seems to move with the seasons and the natural world. Don’t get me wrong I’m not exactly enthusiastic about the rather large brown snake that chooses my veranda as its own personal sun deck. And I’m still grappling with the mystery of how do dead frogs end up on my bed! This week we feel like we are living on top of Old Smokey because of the planned burn-off in the nearby hills that has shrouded us in smoke haze. While I know we are not in any danger, I do feel for those people who are traumatised by the smell of smoke and are reminded of bush fires that have caused loss of life and property. One positive, is that it provides spectacular sunsets.
Autumn seemed to emerge in a matter of 24-hours about a week ago. Heat, dust and flies has been replaced with pleasant autumnal days and chilly starts. Thoughts of lighting the wood fire are becoming more frequent with temperatures down to 5 degrees Celsius overnight. I love pulling on a pair of jeans, boots and T-shirt plus fleece if needed. No need to worry about what am I going to wear today.
I’m relishing these cooler days and seem to be more productive. I can choose when I want to go for my daily walk instead of trying to beat the heat. Bolly (my hubby) has been busy gathering and cutting wood for winter. We are fortunate that there are plenty of fallen branches and old logs on our property to use. My husband hired a wood splitter which made easy work of rather large pieces and much easier than chopping by hand! Bolly has a small 30-year-old chainsaw. Since moving here, he has pulled it apart several times to try to fix it. Despite my comments, that maybe a new chain saw might be a good idea, he spent hours working on it (This must be a man thing!).
On our weekly shopping trip to town yesterday, he became the proud owner of a rather impressive looking chain saw. He succumbed! The week before he bought a large water tank to capture the run-off on our shed for when it does decide to rain again. Just as well we only go to town to shop once a week!
Today, we are doing our bit for the local economy! Got a local plumber in to deal with some suspected tree roots that are blocking our toilet. We use to have the same issue at our old house in Melbourne.
All of this is just part of normal life for many of us, but there is something comforting to know that others experience it as well.
Our life here is still a work in progress. Last week we walked around our place and discussed the possibilities of creating horse yards which is exciting for me. Getting back on a horse after many years is on my bucket list!
We are both keen to build some raised garden beds for our own vegetable patch. Will need to protect it from stock and other wildlife.
Plenty to keep us occupied. Almost done unpacking the boxes, although we still seem to have more stuff than places to put it! Slowly getting more organised and starting to make plans for the year ahead. We feel so blessed to have this place to call home.