Such is Life

Journal: 091

Such is Life is a cheeky title to choose, but I feel very Tom Collins, having loaded the wagons with fencing wire and dragged them north to a station in the furthest backblocks – of the Northern Territory in my case rather than the Riverina in Tom’s – taking two and a half hours to cover the last 70 km of dirt tracks in. Arriving just on sunset I got a very Tom Collins reception too, being told to make myself comfortable in the amenities of the workmen’s quarters, dongas on stilts in the approved outback fashion, though I didn’t feel the need to water the cattle at the owner’s expense, nor, not being as gregarious as Tom, rather the opposite, did I spend much time yarning with the workmen coming in from the surrounding paddocks.

And ‘paddocks’ is the key word here. Nearly all stations in the NT are pastoral leases, cattle grazing in the scrub, the only ‘improvements’ yards and bores, but this lease has been approved for cropping. Around 3,000 hectares cleared, the scrub bulldozed into long rows and burned

Probably, it will prove initially viable, but soon the bores will be run down, the poor soils depleted of their last remaining nutrients, distance from market will be a killer and here as elsewhere through the NT, Queensland and NSW, the scrub will return.

I unloaded in the morning (Tues) and came on to Darwin where as soon as I have finished posting this I will catch up with Psyche. And maybe Lou, who left a cryptic comment elsewhere that he might be in Darwin Thurs.

How long since I last posted a journal? A month maybe. Early in September Milly was staying with Gee and the grandkids in their idyllic new home between the bush and the Southern Ocean. I ran down on the Saturday, stayed overnight, and brought Milly home. By Monday, Milly reported she had ‘the flu’. On Tuesday, I had an excellent long lunch with the Gums just off the plane for a flying visit to the west. Thursday I loaded for the Goldfields. Woke Friday feeling crook, but a RAT was negative. Got to my destination mine 300 km north of Kalgoorlie in the afternoon. Another negative RAT but my temperature was over 38 and I was not allowed in. Did a PCR, also negative. Unloaded in a parking bay 100m from my destination but not ‘inside’ the mine and went home to spend a few days in bed. Just a common cold, thankyou grandkids (the babies had very runny noses).

Luckily, I didn’t pass it on to the Gums and they were able to visit Neil@Kallaroo, an old friend of the Gumses. But sadly I wasn’t fit to have dinner with them in Freo before they flew home.

All this not working means I haven’t yet listened to my next North America Project read, Son of a Trickster. Listened to a couple of ‘re-reads’ instead, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, and Pink Mountain on Locust Island which I was surprised and happy to see on audiobook at my local library. Also an ok Isabelle Allende (it was a long trip!) and now I have on a book about live-in carers, which might be germane as Psyche has one coming, The Leftovers by Cassandra Parkin.

Liz Dexter asked me which McMurtry I listened to last month. It was Sin Killer, a sort of Western farce about an English lord and his family – daughters, wife, mistress – venturing up the barely navigable reaches of the Missouri. But so many of you like Lonesome Dove that I’ll give it a try sooner rather than later.

A truck pic to end with, at the beginning of the track into the station. Not showing the innumerable gates, so you will have to imagine them.

And the new trailer? you ask. It’s in the home paddock, unused, eating its head off on insurance payments. Its day will come.

.

Recent audiobooks 

Natalie Hynes (F, Eng), A Thousand Ships (2020) – The siege of Troy from the POV of women
Jamie Marina Lau (F, Aus/Vic), Pink Mountain on Locust Island (2018)
Ellie Eaton (F, Eng), The Divines (2021)
Henning Mantell (M, Swe), Sidetracked (1995) – Crime
Isabelle Allende (F, Chile), Daughter of Fortune (1999) – Hist.Fic
Cassandra Parkin (F, Eng), The Leftovers (2022)

Currently Reading 

W Green (M, Aus/NSW), The Interim Anxieties & other poems (2022) – Poetry
Alan Wearne (M, Aus/WA), Near Believing (2022) – Poetry
George Saunders (M, USA), A Swim in the Pond in the Rain (2021) – NF/Short Stories
Kylie Tenant (F, Aus/NSW), Ma Jones and the Little White Cannibals (1967) – Short Stories
Haruki Murakami (M, Jap), First Person Singular (2021) – Short Stories

AWWC Sept. 2022

DateContributorTitle
Fri 02Stories FTAE H D, The Aboriginal Mother (poem)
Wed 07Elizabeth LhuedeGender Unknown: the case of R McKay Tully
Fri 09Stories FTAR McKay Tully, The Power of a Child (short story)
Wed 14Jessica WhiteRosa Praed, Sister Sorrow (review)
Fri 16Stories FTARosa Praed, The Sea-birds’ Message (short story)
Wed 21Bill HollowayErnestine Hill, The Great Australian Loneliness (review)
Fri 23Stories FTAErnestine Hill, “The Strange Case of Mrs Widgety” (nonfiction extract)
Wed 28Whispering GumsCapel Boake
Fri 30Stories FTACapel Boake, The Room Next Door (short story)
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27 thoughts on “Such is Life

  1. Hmmm, there ought to be a law against farming on marginal land, it’s not good enough that the market will kill it off in the end (along with sob stories, no doubt, about the heartless banks).
    Am I right in thinking that Pink Locusts is a re-read?

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  2. It was inevitable that Qld style land clearing would make its way to NT (and the mining companies in WA, especially Andrew Forrest, are also farming in the Pilbara using water pumped out when their mines intersect aquifers). You just have to look at the scrub to see the ground lacks nutrients.

    It was a joy to have Pink Mountain as a re-read. Lau’s use of language is a treat. Later today I might link to my review.

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  3. I am glad you didn’t infect the Gums, I had a delightful visit from them. And yes, long time friends. Been about 40 years since we last met face to face.

    Mrs Gums suggested you and I ought to meet. You’ll not be getting an invite to Kallaroo, but if you are happy to visit me in hospital, I’m in Hollywood for far too much time. I’m in there at the moment, and liable to still be there in a week. Email me if you are interested.

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    • I’ve often wondered how the natives live in the northern suburbs, but I can wonder a bit longer. I’ll be home late next week and I’ll email you then. Meanwhile, have a good time being looked after by all those nurses.

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  4. You know I always love the truck pics, but that sunset looks like it is on fire! I’m always amazed/astounded/horrified by the places people chose to try farming. I’ve been wondering how Psyche was doing, so thank you for the update. Sorry to hear you’ve been unwell, so many nasty colds going around again this year.

    The rain has started up proper again in Sydney. I was meant to have a weekend away in western NSW with my book group, but looks like it will be postponed due to the chances of the country roads we would have driven on turning into rivers instead! At least I may have time to catch up on writing some blog posts instead!

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    • The sunset is a great pic, eh! When I was driving onto the station, the last bit up to the buildings, I was heading straight into the setting sun and had to call out on the radio to get directions. But later, after I’d had a shower, the sunset was off to my right. And it was only then I realised it was the windrows of scrub timber being burnt. Late in the night my cab was full of smoke, but that was still better than shutting the windows.

      On Friday we’ll get a full update as to how Psyche’s ms is progressing, but meanwhile we’ve been down to the sailing club for a long lunch. And Lou has been in touch again so the lunches will only get longer.

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      • I’ve just finished a book called The Sun Walks Down by Fiona McFarlane set in SA the year that Krakatoa blew. An artist describes the sunsets in terms of fire licking the horizon and your photo was exactly how I imagined what they experienced back then.

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      • And I’ve not read it even though I seem to be getting a lot of other people to! I adore his more modern novels but the Westerns are too grim for me (even though there is grimness in the modern ones, too!). I think you will like it.

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  5. Where to start? First, the Gums loved our long lunch with you, and given how it all worked out with your cold, I’m even more glad we were able to do that lunch the day we arrived. (We also liked your route recommendations.) And, we were very pleased to not have picked up your cold. Since we saw you a week before we saw Neil we were confident we hadn’t caught it. It was wonderful that we also saw Neil, and we had a good afternoon with the kimbofos BUT I am very sad that we missed out on meeting Milly.

    When I saw that “sunset” on Facebook, I nearly said beautiful sunset, then thought, hmm, that’s way too wide/long – must be burning. It’s a dramatic pic, either way. And your truck pis are great.

    Was Pink locust good via audiobook? I might see if my library has it.

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    • Milly was still miserable when I left Perth. I’m over it now but it did drag on. I’m a bit sorry that Covid precautions won’t go on forever, and spare us all those ‘routine’ colds and flus.

      The fire was dramatic, though I wish all that carbon could have been returned to the soil, which is what I think every year when farmers burn their stubble.

      Pink Mountain is excellent as an audiobook. Makes you appreciate Lau’s skill with language.

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      • There’s a strong pro-mask strain in the people I follow on Twitter, but also frequent comments of people getting angry at them for wearing masks. I wear one to go shopping, which is about the only time I’m in crowds, except restaurants, which I find problematic because they are often crowded and of course always unmasked. I eat outside as often as possible.

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  6. Thank you for letting me know which McMurtry you read – the first of the Berrybender series, which I haven’t read. I am a bit weird in liking only his modern novels, I think it’s because he’s such a realistic writer it’s all too horrific for me in the olden days! (also I read Paul Theroux’s travel but not his novels, and Doris Lessing’s realistic British novels but not her African ones or sci-fi so I have form in this!). And thank you for the update, too. I’ve been struggling with a bad back, not something I get and came out of the blue. I’ve spoken to a doctor, got some strong pills I’m eking out, and am seeing a physio on Monday so hopefully will all be sorted soon. I do not like creeping around and being inactive, as you can imagine. Fortunately, I have a few books in the house. You know, just the odd one or two …

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    • I’ve put my back out off and on over the years, usually from not sitting bolt upright when I drive. But a physio gets the spasms out in a week or so and life goes back to normal (I’m tempting fate slouched in a lounge chair as I write). I think you could move on to Lessing’s African novels ok. Her SF ones are a bit weird, but I love them anyway (Mara and Dann is more African than SF). And yes I’m sure you’ll find something to read.

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      • I think I could, too. I am keeping my fingers crossed as the drugs seem to be working this morning. It was scary how I went from running 7 or so miles to being fearful about the stairs!

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  7. I completely forgot that both you and Sue were sick, but I did know it at the time. You’re right about babies. My brother calls his son a Petri dish. After covid was declining and we were all vaccinated and got together for Christmas last year, I was so nervous about my nephew. The kid coughs and coughs and has this runny nose. And then all of a sudden his older sister, who is six, will start coughing, and I can’t tell if she’s actually coughing for real or she’s just mimicking him because 6 year olds are weird.

    After Australia had those bush fires during which a bunch of koalas died, I’d be awfully nervous about seeing a fire in the distance. I know slash and burn is a technique that they do in lots of countries, but still. I will say the old burn pile out back from our new house has made some rather fertile ground. There are all sorts of flowers that keep springing up as the seasons change. I have no clue what they are but they are all kinds of colors and heights. Some are extremely tall. The field behind us, in which the farmer planted soybeans, is starting to dry up and turn brown. I’m thinking that’s normal because all the other fields around us that have soybeans are also turning brown. So is the corn. This may be a stupid question, but do you guys grow corn in Australia? It’s so ubiquitous in the US that I can’t imagine a place where there isn’t corn.

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    • Australians used to grow mostly wheat, oats and barley, though I remember some corn fields from when I was young. Grain was sold via government agencies and I don’t think there was one for corn. Now the (state) governments are out, all marketing is privatised and a much wider range of grains is grown, but mostly wheat and canola. Corn is still a minority crop but as it happens Banjo Station has an impressive crop (from last February) on its website.

      Farmers default to burning off to solve all their problems and it p…s me off. But then would a diesel powered wood chipper be better or worse? I wish land clearing were illegal/made redundant by carbon credits but it doesn’t seem likely before it’s too late (It is already too late).

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      • The slash-and-burn I’m thinking of is when there is some brushy area full of highly flammable kindling, and should lightning strike, the whole forest would burn down. To save it, they do a control-burn with the brush to prevent disaster. Land clearing is a massive problem, and I’m sure most folks think about trees clean the air, but I’m also thinking about how the root system of trees keeps the soil from washing away.

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      • Ah yes, we need burning off to stop forests catching fire, but there is always some excuse for not doing enough. My daughter badly needs some slash and burn on her 90 acres with summer only a month or two away. At the moment the chances of a wildfire ripping through her block (and two houses) is pretty high.

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      • Don’t forget the canola now – people are sightseeing the canola fields!

        We do need land to grow food, but I suspect we have enough land cleared to do this, but need to learn to use what we now have more efficiently and sustainably – so, essentially, I agree with you.

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      • The land now uncultivated is marginal, despite the mad schemes of irrigation enthusiasts. And the land most under threat from fracking and coal mining is also the most fertile. What we really need is more trees, not fewer (or less) – are you listening forest-felling Dan (Labor Premier of Victoria for non-Australians).

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  8. Catching up on blogs, so apologies for this late comment! Sorry to hear you have been sick. I went two-plus years without getting a single illness but as soon as I joined a new company with an open plan office and a very strong meeting culture (ie. lots of mixing with people in little rooms), I got bloody covid. I had been trying so hard to avoid it because I was living alone and didn’t have a support network to help me if I got really sick, but fortunately, my dose was relatively mild and I had a kindly neighour who offered to help out, so it was OK. Now trying to line up my fourth booster…

    Is Pink Mountain on Locust Island a reread for you? I thought you had read that one? I have her new one here where it’s been lingering in my TBR for a year or so. I’ll get around to it eventually.

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  9. I spoke to you just before this new job and I remember how cautious you were about Covid. My personal opinion is that it is at least a year too early to stop wearing masks. That probably applies to colds and flus too, but who could wear a mask to play with their grandchildren.

    I took the opportunity of finding it as a library audiobook to have a second read of Pink Mountain, and loved it again. I know Lau has a three book deal with Brow Books but I hadn’t noticed that number two was out. Down to the bookshop I go.

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  10. We found the land around Broken Hill badly damaged by heavy-hoofed stock animals. There’s a lot of erosion. Crops won’t help either – what are they going to plant, do you know Bill?

    When I lived up the north coast (around Port Macquarie) the land clearing was horrifying. We used to be able to sit at a lovely outdoor cafe in Kendall – a once quiet little village – but the huge trucks carrying loads of freshly-felled timber were known to miss the bend and so it became dangerous to sit there. A friend of a friend lived near the clear felling and got a sympathetic journalist from the local rag into take photographs. We saw the print version of it online – next day the picture of the felled forest was replaced by a pic of a pristine forest and an article praising the careful logging. We have never found out who put the pressure on the local newspaper.

    The koala habit around Dunbogan has gone under a sea of rooftops – we had tried to keep that area for them at least.

    My pleasant little young GP had to take a week off as stress leave recently due to the abuse she suffered from patients refusing to wear the requested mask in the surgery. She sees vulnerable patients and her elderly parents at home. People can be gross.

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