Wednesday, September 30, 2009


There's an article in the September issue of The Monthly magazine by Drusilla Modjeska called 'The Death of The Good Father', which discusses Granta magazine's issue number 104: Fathers.

I was particularly interested in the piece by Siri Hustvedt, 'My Father Myself'. In it, Siri describes sending her parents a copy of her third novel, What I Loved. Usually her father didn't ring her; she and her mother spoke on the phone and then her mother put her father on. This time, however, her father rang. He loved her novel, he told her. She'd attempted something difficult and pulled it off.

Hustvedt sobbed, she said, at receiving this recognition from her father. I sobbed too when I read this story. I cried for her and I cried for myself because this was never going to happen to me.

Except that this morning it did.

I have been so anxious about showing my father my book. He knew I'd received my author copies and he kept asking when he could see one. As it happened he was in Perth visiting family the day I took delivery, and then the day he returned I went to Tasmania. So last Monday was the day.

Why was I so nervous? Well, the book is scrupulously honest about my mother's condition. It describes my mother (by which I mean I describe her) at her very worst. I was sure my father would see this as a betrayal: that I was humiliating an unprotected woman.

This wasn't my intention. In fact I wanted to honour my mother, but to do that I needed to tell the truth, unprettified and unembellished. I didn't think my father in his grief and loyalty would understand that.

On Monday night we were all at Dad's for a family dinner, and when I left I told him I'd put his copy of the book on his bed. By Tuesday morning he'd read almost half. 'It's very good,' he said, but he hadn't finished and I thought he sounded a bit uncertain.

This morning he rang again. His voice was hoarse from crying. He'd finished my memoir, he said, and he loved it. He thought it was beautiful. His only criticism was that I'd given him too much credit and been unnecessarily harsh on myself. I could tell he was proud of me, though he didn't say those words. We spoke about the book for nearly an hour.

I didn't cry. I smiled all day, though I'm crying now as I write this. One of the unasked-for blessings Alzheimer's bestowed on me is a closeness with my father that we never had before. As with many other daughters, and perhaps like Siri Hustvedt, my relationship was with my mother and through her with my father.

The epigraph for Siri Hustvedt's latest novel, The Sorrows of an American, is from the poet Rumi: 'Keep looking at the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.' That applies to my book too, I think.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Farmers In The Dell

After a rainy, sleety morning, this afternoon the weather fined up enough for some farming. Truth is, it's always fine enough for farming, even when it's pouring. Farming waits for no man - or woman.

Paddock by paddock we rounded up the goats

gave them a pre-kidding dose of drench

and where necessary trimmed their feet.

After all the recent rain the Mole Creek is in full flow.

And after last night and this morning's wild winds several large tree branches have come crashing down.

After a quick cuppa we headed out to the orchard to assess damage there and do some weeding.

I'm back in the city tomorrow. It's days like this I'll miss. Keep up the good work, Farmdoc.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

To Every Season

Each year at the autumn equinox, on March 21st, Farmdoc tilts the solar panels on our roof by the number of degrees latitude we are from the equator - ie 41 - to capture the maximum amount of sunshine during the winter months.

Then, at the spring equinox, September 21st, he climbs back onto the roof to lie the panels down again, ready for the warmer weather.

It's been too wet for roof climbing lately, so this morning Farmdoc took advantage of a clear spell to lower the panels. We're ready for the summer now.

Then we spent some time in the vegetable garden: spring cleaning and planting seeds of carrots, radishes, peas, beans and broad beans.

Sometimes I think that as a writer I see symbolism where there is none. We did these things today because they needed to be done and the weather was briefly fine. Still, it did feel healing, after yesterday's events, to be moving with the seasons, and looking forward to spring growth and summer harvest.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Death In The Afternoon

Farmers say, if you've got livestock, you've got dead stock. You can't be sentimental if you farm.

I'm used to stock dying; I'm even used to killing animals for meat. But today we killed Mrs T. She was over eleven years old, and for seven of those years she lived here on our farm. She was a fine old lady who was gradually worn down by age and weather. Over the last couple of days she couldn't get up, though she ate the pellets and drank the water Farmdoc brought her. In the end we thought it would be kinder to kill her than to let her waste away in misery, lying in her own faeces.

When we first moved here, we tried tethering her along the driveway to eat down the sycamore and blackberry, but she had other ideas. She got herself in such a mess that we got sick of untangling her, and after a short time we gave up and returned her to the paddocks, where she reared a number of kids and ruled in imperious fashion, queen of the goats. She was a lady of dignity and self-possession who always did things in her own way.

Mrs T spent her last year as the matriarch of Home Paddock, living with last year's kids, looking like Gulliver amongst the Lilliputians while she taught the youngsters how to behave.

Then, this afternoon as we fed out to the stock, we came across this aborted kid, abandoned near the trough next to the hay shed: a little doe.

And a little later, about 100 metres away, we saw this second miscarried foetus, this time a little buck.

Were they twins, or did two nannies miscarry today? We won't ever know, probably, but today was a very sad day here at Onemilebridge.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Full Charge Ahead

Last Monday our solar system reached full charge for only the third time for the month of September. Last September we were fully charged three times for the entire month, but as there is another week to go we may beat this target this year. Last August we got to full charge on 14 days; this August we didn't make it once.

It's been a long cold wet winter, and so far a wet spring. Tonight again we were happy to tuck into a bowl of vegetable soup.

Sadly, we only managed to keep two of the kids that were born in early August. And today Mrs T, an elderly and much loved Toggenburg goat, lay down and had to be helped to her feet. In our experience goats really don't deal well with rain.

Today there was snow on the Great Western Tiers. No wonder we can hardly remember our recent holiday in northern Queensland. Still, there's new growth in the paddocks, and we've begun to cut down the quantity of hay we're feeding out. The cold weather can't last forever; soon we'll be complaining about the heat and the lack of rain.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

As You Sow

Now that the new hothouse has had enough time to settle into position in our vegetable garden, we decided to go ahead with some planting.

Last week we bought packets of seeds from The Lost Seed Company, which is not far from us in Sheffield, and which specialises in rare, open-pollinated, heritage and heirloom seed varieties.

We were impressed by what Kerryn Martin, the 'proprietor and grower', says on the website and on the seed packets:

'It is my passion to open up to you the smorgasbord of seed available, to restore what an industrial world has taken away, and to do this in the most natural way possible.'

This afternoon we planted seeds of basil, beetroot, capsicum, two kinds of lettuce, pumpkin and tomatoes in some old ice cream and margarine containers. We'll plant the other seeds we bought directly into the soil in the garden.

It poured all day today so we left the newly planted seeds outside the hothouse for a few hours to get a good drenching, before we moved them indoors where they can develop, undisturbed by frost and birds. I can't wait to see how successful we'll be at growing these vegetables.

Tonight we ate one of Farmdoc's amazing pizzas for dinner. Of the toppings on it we only grew the spinach, garlic and herbs ourselves. It's exciting to think that at this moment those funny looking seeds are settling in, unafraid of the dark, preparing to put down roots and send up shoots that will become our summer harvest.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday, Early Spring

I love days like today. The sort of day where we light the kitchen stove to make the breakfast porridge and keep it lit all day. As much for warmth and keeping the house cosy as for cooking.

I made a pot of soup and left that simmering for a few hours. I also made a lamb stew for later in the week when we have guests for dinner. And then there are the herbs - sage and rosemary - that are drying on the rack above the stove.

Farmdoc was anxious to try out a new recipe for fruit loaf. We were expecting friends for afternoon tea so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

While the dough proved and the soup and stew simmered, we fed out hay to the stock. As soon as they heard the engine of the four-wheel drive bike the goats came running, though the sheep thought the pickings were better elsewhere.

This time of the year the hay in the hay shed is at about the halfway mark, but we have only another two or three weeks of feeding out to go before the spring growth in the paddock takes over, and we can take it a bit easier.

I don't mind feeding out, unless it's pouring. The farm is beautiful and it's nice to be out in the fresh air. This year is a good one for wattles.

Farmdoc says I look like a dinkum Aussie in my wet weather gear.

For me the best part is hanging it up

and coming inside for afternoon tea of freshly baked fruit bun.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

With A Little Help From My Friends

Well, here they are - ten author copies of my book. I picked them up from the lovely people at Scribe yesterday. I was so excited I couldn't stop babbling, but I guess they must be used to that behaviour and they all acted as though I was perfectly normal.

Apparently it will take from now until late October for the distributor to get the books out to all the shops so the rest of you will have to wait for your copies. The launch is November 12th, but I think the book will be for sale from October 26th.

It looks beautiful. I love the cover - so moody and evocative - and I think the designer has done a wonderful job with the inside of the book too. Not to mention Nicola, my painstaking editor, who, despite her gentle manner, insisted on polishing my prose until now it fairly shines on the page.

What an amazing experience this has been. I delivered the manuscript at the end of April and since then it's undergone meticulous editing and fine tuning to make sure it's the best version it can possibly be. And now here it is. I feel quite humble: I'm going to take all the credit, but I didn't do it alone.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Getting Dunked

I hate to do this to those of you who have toughed out the winter without escaping north, but Farmdoc and I have just returned from ten days in Far North Queensland and I can't help gloating. It was so beautiful it was almost impossible to take photos: they all looked like such cliches. These three were taken from our room on Dunk Island.

We swam, we ate too much, we paddled a kayak through turquoise water, we climbed to the highest point on the island - the top of Mount Kootaloo - to admire the view.

We trekked through the National Park that covers most of the island, and discovered tucked away beaches.

I apologise for this post.