Story telling from Australia
I once booked a flight to San Jose for a job in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately the capital of Puerto Rico is San Juan. I was reminded of that blunder as I drove through Tasmania’s Meander Valley this week, searching for a farm that, when I left the airport, I felt sure I couldn’t miss.
Tasmania is the smallest state in Australia. I’d given the map a cursory glance before I left Sydney but I wasn’t too concerned, the island is only 286 kilometres long. I had a suburb and a street address. How hard could it be?
Harder than I thought. Sat Nav refused to accept the house number I repeatedly tried to enter so I settled for the street name. It was a long street. On a cloudy night, with cold rain spitting at the windscreen and no street lights (dammit, why didn’t I pack that head torch?) I lost all sense of direction. Every few hundred metres I would spot the lights of a farmhouse, set well back from the road but, when I got out to check, more often than not they had names, not numbers.
After last week’s expense of roadhouses and motels, satellite phone and 4WD, I economised and booked the cheapest car I could get. I’ve had lawnmowers with more power. The tiny Mazda coughed its way up a steep hill and Sat Nav suddenly sprang to life. ‘You have arrived at your destination.’
I pulled up on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. A cow peered at me through a nearby hedge, rain dripping from its ears, steam rising from its nostrils. ‘You’ll never get lost if you’ve got a tongue in your head,’ my mother once told me. If only I could speak cow.
I kept driving, cursing the weather, the darkness, the cold and the whole ridiculous notion of travelling Australia to interview people for a book on farming families when I’m not a farmer and I don’t have children. Or any sense of direction.
After a detour into a neighbouring farm, where I sat in darkness for several minutes listening to large dogs bark while I waited in vain for someone to come out and see why, I finally drove high enough to get a mobile signal and I rang my host, Virginia. She talked me through the last few kilometres and her smiling face, lit by the glow of a wood-burning stove, was the most welcome sight.
Early next morning the sun rose over tree covered mountains and steep paddocks. Mist hovered over the Meander Valley, thick dew covered the grass, a fast running creek chattered behind the house and peacocks roamed beside winter-bare trees in a mature orchard. It was a shock of unexpected beauty, all of it hidden in darkness the night before.
Virginia and Stephen are chalk and cheese in farming terms – he’s dairy, she’s sheep – but they both have a deep affinity with their animals (Virginia even thought she was a dog when she was a child) They had fascinating stories to tell about their experience of growing up in multi-generational farming families and living on the land, and a laid back, loving approach to raising their own young children, Henry and Georgie.
The visit reminded me why I jumped at the chance to write this book.