When we arrived back in Australia, one of the first things I wanted to do was to go to the farm. This is the farm that I grew up with, and lived on during varies stages of my upbringing. My Grandparents bought this farm not long after they immigrated from America to Australia in 1969. When I came along in 1976 my Mother and I lived here with Grandpa, Grandma, and my four Aunts and Uncles – Lane, Shannon, Heidi and Garth. My Mother Terri, was the eldest of five children. At 19 years old she was with child and single and so not long after she had me she moved back home to the family farm. My first years of life were spent with an active extended family. I was living with very young Grandparents (Grandma was 40 when I was born) and all of my Aunts and Uncles who were still in high school. I of course was the completely doted on baby of the family.
The farm, back then was not what it is as you see it today. My family worked very hard to improve the land. Owning land, taking car of land is a lot of work, and I recall many workdays of picking up rocks so the paddocks could be slashed, pulling out fire-weed and thistles by hand and bagging them, so they did not seed. I recall the planting of eucalyptus trees for Koala corridors, and of fruit trees for produce. I recall building and repairing fences for the cattle. Dipping the cattle and now and then milking cows. There were chickens to tend, and dogs to feed. Calves were born, and lots of puppies too. I recall vets coming and going and bush fires and floods and snakes, yes, lots of snakes. There was annual planting of fruit and vegetables in the food garden, and there was plenty of little things to do, like emptying the compost bucket and filling a water trough. My Grandfather was a hard working man and he made his children work. Even at a small age, I too had jobs. Because so, this farm, these paddocks, and buildings, these trees, are really special to me, they are, or what once where, my home.
Taking my children to the farm was filled with emotions for me. I had the pleasure of seeing them enjoy the animals, and the trees, and seeing how much they love the open space. It brought back my childhood memories, I loved re-experiencing the farm from the prospective of a 3 year old. I remember when I could shimmy under a barbed wire fence with plenty of clearance, and when I would ride the gigantic limbs of the fig trees with legs dangling to touch the ground. I remembered so much.
In 2000, a long while after Grandpa’s passing, Grandma sold half of the 150 acre farm – including the farm house and moved to her house on the water in Ballina. The remaining 75 acres were given to my Uncle Lane. Lane went on to build a new house on the 75 acres and to continue to farm the land as it had been farmed by my Grandfather, but with the addition of sheep, ostrich and Charlie the donkey. I always felt so sad that the farm house was sold, but was glad that we could still enjoy the land around it. Uncle Lane tended it meticulously and I always thought he would do this for the rest of his life, but sadly, due to unexpected life changes, Uncle Lane will be selling the farm some time soon. I will be broken hearted to see it go, and with knowing this I kept in mind it may be may be the last trip to the farm as I know it.
Mindfully I tried to look and see all of the things I love about it, the things that I did not even know I loved, like the shape of the gate locks, and the way they feel. As a child I would hang my hand over the little knob. It would be either cool or warm and it would press so perfectly into the concave palm of my hand. They were smooth, and they felt good. These same gate locks could also be the source of much frustration. It is a well known rule of living on a farm, if a gate is closed, close it again behind you. Because of this rule being firmly reinforced to me, I could spend the longest time at a gate post trying my hardest to lock a gate behind me. On many of the gates there was a knack to getting the loop over the knob, some of which involved putting the chain through a precise grid in the gate, or by lifting the gate to take the pressure off the chain. As a child I would stand, persistently working at the gate lock – knowing that it could be done, and that I had to do it. Some gates were all together too hard for me and I would not go in or out of them. It is another farm rule not to stand on or ride gates because it damages the hinges, which mean’t I could not climb over the gate but instead, I would have to walk along the barbed wire fence, looking for the best spot to roll under. As I got older I became very good at squatting flat backed and stepping through the lines of wire. My skin remembers the quick sharp scratch of the wire on the few occasions a barb would snag my shirt and etch my back.
Returning to the farm always fills me with a sense of amazement that I was so blessed to grow up in this paradise. A place were virtually anything will grow in the red volcanic soil and subtropical temperatures. The soil in this part of the world is rich, and such a brilliant colour, made so from the volcanic eruptions of Mt Warning depositing the first wave of lava known as “Lismore basalt” across the region. This soil is wonderful nutritious growing soil, and I cant help but feel while walking over the farm how much the ground beneath my feet nurtured me.
Countless hours I would wander the farm, firstly in tow with Grandpa, or Aunts and Uncles and then later on my own. I recall enjoying solitary walks when I was young. There was so much land to roam, and it was all there for me. I would wander the paddocks, make my way down to the dam to look at the geese that lived on an island that Grandpa built for them in the middle of the water. I would try and avoid the goose droppings, while looking for large white goose feathers. Sometimes I would take off my rubber boots and squelch into the damn, sinking into the warm red mud. I would then meandering barefoot home, along the cow tracks. Cows have the most marvelous way of walking the same path again and again, so that over time it becomes a trodden line. The cow paths that cover the farm are decades old, and when you step onto one of these paths, you know you are going somewhere.
Another of my favorite solo outings was to explore the fig trees. There was not another place on the farm that set my imagination free like the fig trees. This was a place of fantasy for me, still to this day, I am transported by these old beauties. I could lay over them and weep an ocean of tears, I could swing from their limbs hysterical and free, I could perch on them naked, beckoning like a siren…but mostly I used to pretend they were my home, like a fairy living in the roots of the trees, I would gather and collect and explore. The whole while being wary of all those that could bite. These trees are eternally precious to me, and I secretly think of them as my trees. My imagination was captured like no others in their canopy. I even went so far as to imagine a wedding beneath them, with a long wooden white clothed table and hundreds of paper lanterns hanging from the branches. There was one particular paddock that I liked to visit, near the Bales (Cow Bales – where cows are milked or corralled). This paddock had five giant fig trees in a clump, almost a circle. Together they formed an enormous mass, with their root systems and canopies sprawling to touch. They were like a family of trees to me, living eternity rooted together, and I loved to be in that special spot.
The absolute most difficult thing for me during this visit was an inkling it was the last time these would be my fig trees. I mean, technically they are not mine anyway, but while they were my Grandparents, then given to my Uncle, they still felt like mine. Mine to climb, mine to swing from, and mine to imagine. It is really hard letting go of things like this.
Tregeagle, where the farm is was once dairy farms owned by the Davis Family. It has a small school and a hall and a church and has remained beautiful and rural. The dairy farms are almost all gone, and the land has slowly turned into macadamia plantations and small scale hobby farm homesteads. It is the nature of beautiful places like this, where people want to live, over time there is noticeable change. I know nothing can last forever, and one can just hope that along the way, that change is for better. I will just have to wait and see, and in the meanwhile, be very, grateful for the past, and hope to visit the farm again, one last time.