Strawberries in the Desert

Story telling from Australia

How long would you last?

Outback ER is a documentary set in the emergency department of Broken Hill hospital (here’s a trailer). It was designed to make you feel like Broken Hill was the most remote place on the planet, with limited emergency facilities that make it an extremely challenging place to live.

Broken Hill can look like this

Broken Hill can look like this

That may be true (notwithstanding the shameless over dramatization about being the most remote place on the planet) but watching it made me homesick. It wasn’t just the sweeping plains of red earth and a sky studded with stars, or the gritty mining history of what was recently declared Australia’s first ever heritage listed city, it was also the people; the unique humour and love in everyone they interviewed.

The town looks like this from the top of what locals affectionately call 'the slag heap'

The town looks like this from the top of what locals affectionately call ‘the slag heap’

For anyone not familiar with Broken Hill you get in a car in Sydney, point it across the Blue Mountains and head northwest. Put your foot down, drive flat out and when you haven’t passed a town for several hours and all you can see is red dirt and sparse scrub, the next place you reach – providing you’ve driven for at least eleven or twelve hours – will probably be Broken Hill.

And it can look like this

And it can look like this

It’s true that the local emergency medical facilities aren’t as sophisticated as those you’d find in a capital city, and quite frankly some bits of the programme had me peeking through my fingers (at least I still had fingers to peek through, the poor station owner whose finger got mangled by an angry steer faced the prospect of driving five and a half hours to Adelaide for surgery, with every chance his finger would be amputated when he got there.)

Here's where they filmed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Here’s where they filmed Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

But medicine isn’t always about the latest equipment, the top specialist or the most sophisticated facilities. Sometimes, medicine doesn’t have the answer, and when the moment comes for life to end I can’t help thinking that nothing matters more than having someone there to hold your hand – someone who cares. It was heart breaking to watch a loving wife say goodbye to her husband, and equally moving to hear another local admit, as he held his burnt hand under cold running water, that he’d thought about his wife every day in the eight years since she’d died. If I’d passed that man on the street I would have looked askance at his grizzled appearance and never guessed at the love and devotion that lay behind the rings he wore in his ears. They were his wife’s, his way of keeping her close.

Broken Hill forced me to look beyond first impressions and preconceived ideas and I soon realised beauty and love are anywhere and everywhere. The authenticity of Broken Hill reminds me of Keats; Beauty is truth, truth beauty.

There’s a lime tree in the car park of Broken Hill hospital, and I know that because the green grocer on Argent Street told me. I’d gone to buy limes for a meal that night and he’d run out. ‘Try the car park at the hospital,’ he said. ‘They’ve got a lime tree, should be quite a few on it, no point them going to waste is there?’ In the end I changed the recipe and made something else, so I never got to find out if what he said was true.

I don’t doubt it though. I grew more fruit and veg in Broken Hill than I’ve ever grown anywhere, including an allotment style garden in England. I wondered the other day how long we’d last if we had to survive on what’s growing in the back garden here in Sydney.

A small portion of the  harvest from Broken Hill

A small portion of the harvest from Broken Hill

In Broken Hill I could confidently have said several weeks, thanks to chooks that produced four eggs a day, fruit trees so productive I dried my own peaches (and plums, nectarines and apricots) and a veggie garden with abundant supplies.

Here in Sydney we’d struggle to make it past lunch. The seven figs would do for breakfast (it was a bumper crop this year, I’ve eaten two already), and lunch would consist of three undersized beetroot, a handful of parsley and a smattering of baby rocket. The tomatoes are long gone and I suppose I could save the leeks until dinner (one each, with one left over) but that would be about it. The six grapefruit won’t ripen for months, and we certainly wouldn’t last that long.

Young grapefruit loved the rain

Young grapefruit won’t ripen in Sydney for several months

It’s funny how many preconceived ideas I had about Broken Hill before I went to live there. The first episode of Outback ER reinforced some of those, especially the brooding silhouettes of old mining equipment and long tracking shots of seemingly empty desert. I grew to love it.

I didn’t think I’d last when I first went to live there but I’d certainly last a lot longer in Broken Hill if I had to feed myself from what I grew myself than I would here in Sydney.

The garden in Broken Hill was gloriously productive

The garden in Broken Hill was gloriously productive

I’m heading to the community garden this weekend, to remind myself that food comes from the ground not from a supermarket then I’m off to a tomato festival in the Botanic Gardens.

And next time I’m in Broken Hill I’m going to look for that lime tree.

How long do you think you would last if you had to feed yourself from your back garden? Please tell me, I’d love to know.

14 comments on “How long would you last?

  1. monsoonwendy
    February 12, 2015

    Ah lovely Deb…and Broken Hill misses you. A heap of people gathered down at The Palace to watch the show. We clapped, we cheered, we groaned, we cried. And yes, the “most isolated place on the planet” thing was a bit rich but it was, as we’d say here “Not bad eh?” I watched with a new perspective, knowing it would not always be home but for now, a home I have really grown to love very deeply. Your post expresses why so very well. Much love from here!

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 12, 2015

      Wish I’d been there to share the cheers and the tears, let’s hope it brings more tourists into town so they can all feel the love! X

      Like

  2. solidgoldcreativity
    February 12, 2015

    Wonderful post! Love in every word. x

    Like

  3. Maggie Wilson
    February 12, 2015

    I’ll answer your question – If I had to eat from my garden, I’d last a season, tops. I’m careless about weeding and watering and pest control. If I depended on the garden, I’d take an entirely different approach.

    Now, a question for you – what are those red flowers with the dark centres?

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 12, 2015

      A whole season, during which time you could plant for the next season! The odd looking flowers are Sturt’s Desert Peas, there is an aboriginal legend about blood being spilt when a jealous old man killed his bride’s family and the flowers sprang up where the blood had been spilt. They are rare and protected and they spring up in random places!

      Like

  4. bkpyett
    February 12, 2015

    Deb, it’s good to hear of your experience of Broken Hill. I also enjoyed my year in a mining town in Clermont, Queensland. The people were so accepting and friendly. The climate was dry and hot, so I’m glad to be living closer to the coast now. As far as growing things. It’s our 7th year in this house and it’s the first year we’ve had a really good harvest. Everything is producing. I do think it takes a long time for the compost to build the soil up to a reasonable quality. Perhaps the shade house has made a huge difference too. Plus the season. Many variables!! Adding to the soil is a constant, putting back into the soil is a huge part of my gardening. Maybe gardening is a way of teaching patience! ❤

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 12, 2015

      Your garden sounds fascinating and you’re right Barbara, gardening teaches you the rewards of patience. What a treat to have a shade house. I’m hankering for that hot dry climate right now – watching the roses succumb to black spot in the humid heat of Sydney is very dispiriting but I’m not going to be defeated!! Best wishes to you and your garden

      Like

  5. helen meikle's scribblefest
    February 13, 2015

    I watched the program, loved it, was deeply impressed, moved… All of it. No, it’s not the remotest place on earth, but to city-dwellers, it might as well be. They haven’t the remotest concept of this ‘other’ Australia – the country that to me is far more authentic than city frills, fun though they be. This is where the values we like to claim – mateship (much as I hate the word), initiative, resourcefulness, courage, and an ironic sense of humour – are a normal part of the culture, not flags we wave at tourists. It’s also the country people like the PM would never understand, even if he acknowledged its existence.

    Like

  6. debhuntinbrokenhill
    February 13, 2015

    Friends watched it in the Palace Hotel and they said there were cheers as well as tears. I suspect the PM will have to acknowledge its existence because not only has he been there, a member of his front bench, Sussan Ley (Minister for Health) is also Member for Farrier which covers Broken Hill. She has an office in ‘The Hill’ and is a longstanding advocate for that area 🙂

    Like

  7. Eliza Waters
    February 13, 2015

    At one time I had a large veggie garden and canned and froze a lot. Now that I am older, I let the younger farm family in our town supply us. There is a lot of local food grown here, so we are fortunate in that regard.
    Broken Hill looks like a beautiful and wild landscape. Love that red earth.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 13, 2015

      And I love seeing the pics of your neck of the woods Eliza! I love the way we can visit virtually, and I’m also lucky that we have a farmer’s market within cycling distance. Best wishes to you and yours

      Liked by 1 person

  8. nantubre
    February 13, 2015

    This year I am going to try a new way of gardening – planting in hay bales instead of the ground. Our season is about to begin and I’m looking forward to it. THIS YEAR we will have a good garden!
    I haven’t seen Outback ER but I have seen Sydney ER. I think of you when I see it.
    Someday, if God says the same, I will be lucky enough to visit your country.

    Like

    • debhuntinbrokenhill
      February 13, 2015

      Nan what a great idea! Let me know how you get on and let’s hope God gives you a nudge in this direction 🙂

      Like

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , .

I'm a writer based in Australia with a passion for gardening, remote places and people with a story to tell.

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