A PIECE OF MY HEART
There are many things that I vividly remember.
On hot, still, summer nights, sitting on the back porch of our house in the middle of thousands of acres, in the middle of nowhere. The heat like a warm cloak over our bodies, the stars so bright and so near that if I reached out I could touch them. Far away in the north the flash of lightning as it illuminates a massive cloud that for a few moments looks like a giant’s glass house lit from within. The rumble of thunder that reaches us many seconds later that reminds my father too much of shell fire during the war. A red glow just peeking over the horizon in the west, another bush fire on the Liverpool Plains reminding us of the fragility of life here. Tomorrow could bring either flooding rains or more fierce heat and all consuming fire.
On a bitterly cold winter’s morning riding my horse behind a slow moving mob of sheep as the dogs ceaselessly circle behind them, keeping them together and headed in the right direction. Watching the skill of the dogs as they seem to anticipate the movements of individual sheep that try to break away, the short bursts of white breath from their mouths as they work. The low morning sun strikes the frost crystals on the grass and the bushes and sends streaks of diamond light across our path.
Out on the edge of the plains taking a rest beneath a lone gum tree, its leaves hardly moving in a gentle breeze. It is so quiet that I am sure that if I concentrate hard enough I will hear the living movements of the tree that I am resting against; its roots drawing in moisture and food and the trunk transporting it upwards to the leaves high above me.
Lying in my bed listening to the sounds of the night. The sigh of the wind through the large pine tree just outside my window. My parents talking quietly in front of the fire in the kitchen. The sound of rain drumming on the tin roof. Sometimes the unmistakable howl of a dingo that will start off an eerie choir as others respond.
Visits to the nearest town for shopping, business for my father and sometimes for social outings such as the annual races or rodeo. Shopping was always an exciting adventure as we only went to town once a month on a Saturday. An ice cream was often my reward for behaving myself whilst the boring business of buying groceries and clothes was conducted. However I still remember my parents buying me my very first pair of R M Williams and a proper Akubra hat.
Out here in the bush there were only friends and neighbours. One never had to ask for help as it was always there whenever one needed it. A handshake was not only a greeting but also a binding contract and a promise was always kept and a person’s word was his bond.
I remember the pride I felt in the fact that I was an integral part of the running of the property. My daily chores which included, feeding the chooks and the dogs, keeping the kitchen stove supplied with wood, tending the vegetable garden, making sure the kerosene fridge never went out, lighting the chip heater for hot water for the bath, all enabled my father to concentrate on the major tasks that only he could do.
The freedom to explore and experiment. The exhilaration of galloping full speed on my horse down the long slope to our house; the wind on my face, the rhythmic movements of the horse and the feeling of power that emanated from him. The sense of achievement, and really contributing, when I brought home the first rabbit that I had shot with my new rifle and my mother cooking it for our evening meal. On weekends and holidays riding my horse out to the mountains, ridges and deep valleys that surrounded our house; watching kangaroos grazing next to the fast flowing streams, the goannas sunbaking on the rocks and the fish rising to take insects that had settled on the surface of the water. The never ending story of new birth, life and death that was played out almost daily on the wide acres of the land. It was my kingdom and I was free to explore it, to learn from it and to try to understand it.
The two times of the year that held a magical hold over me. Shearing time and lambing time. Nearly all year the shearing shed and the shearer’s quarters were the sole domain of families of mice and spiders but come shearing time they were filled with movement, energy, laughter and hard work. For me it was a whirlwind of penning up sheep, sweeping the board, keeping the water bag filled, listening to the banter of the shearers and all the time learning from my father who did the wool classing. I fell into bed every night exhausted but loved every minute of it. Lambing time was also a busy time but also one of wonder at nature at its best; the miracle of new life. We had to keep watch day and night over the ewes as they gave birth as this was a time of great danger for them and their new lambs; dingos, wild dogs, foxes and crows were always ready to take advantage. It was a time of little sleep but great rewards and to me watching over a paddock full of newborn lambs was recompense enough.
There are many other things that I remember. The smell of approaching rain, of newly mown hay, the distinctive smell that comes with the dawn just before a hot summer’s day and the aroma of freshly baked bread straight from the kitchen oven. The sound that a thousand new born lambs make, the cries of a flock of hundreds of budgerigars, the thunder of the hooves of my horse at full gallop, the crack of my father’s stock whip and the roar of a usually dry stream in full flood. The sight of a lone wedge tail eagle riding a thermal, of thousands of galahs following the harvester, of horses frisky and jumpy at the smell of approaching rain, of low branches on a willow tree trailing in the flowing river, the splendour of hillsides covered in the white of flowering gums and the brilliant green of new grass after a bush fire.
Mostly I miss the sense of belonging and being one with something. Perhaps I do not explain myself well but I am sure of one thing I left a piece of my heart in that place and at that time.