My name’s Deb Hunt and I live in Sydney, Australia. I’m an author and an avid follower of the From Goats to Soaps blog, so I was delighted when Isabelle and Grey Dove asked if I would like to contribute a post. I thought the best way of giving you a glimpse into what life is like here in Australia would be to share an extract from my latest book, Australian Farming Families.
I hope you enjoy reading it and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via my blog: www.strawberriesinthedesert.com.
I’m hopelessly sentimental when it comes to land. I long to stand in a paddock under a gum tree, inhale the scent of eucalyptus and listen to the wind rustling through the leaves. I want to tramp across the bush, watch eagles fly overhead and feel the energy of the earth vibrating through my boots.
I carry a vague, ill-defined notion that I might one day find a small parcel of land where I can plant trees and grow food, a dream I suspect I might share with a not inconsiderable number of other people. It hasn’t happened yet. I live in the city and I dream of open space.
Most of us cluster near the coastline in this vast continent of ours. We turn our faces to the ocean and our backs to the land, rarely seeing what goes on beyond the coastal fringe. The Outback can seem a grim, forbidding place, thousands of kilometres of seemingly empty space with no mobile phone coverage and the nearest major hospital many hours drive away.
Perhaps that’s why the Royal Flying Doctor Service is such a well-respected and much-loved organisation – we all know how frightening it would be to have someone you love stranded ‘out there’, desperately ill and waiting for help to arrive.
Having worked for the Royal Flying Doctor Service for several years as a writer I had some idea of the challenges people faced in remote areas. I learnt a lot more writing my latest book – Australian Farming Families.
There were times during the research and interview process when I questioned my sanity, especially when I found myself driving alone on a dirt track hundreds of kilometres inland with nothing but wild pigs and kangaroos for company. More often than not, though, I felt blessed to have been granted the opportunity to find out more about the lives of people who live and work on the land.
Food is fundamental to our health and we can’t survive without it, but in our neatly packaged, over-processed, technology driven lives we’re in danger of forgetting where it comes from. Food doesn’t come from supermarkets; it comes from the land, and unless we’re prepared to grow our own, the food we eat in every café, every restaurant and every home has been planted, nurtured and harvested or bred, fed and raised by people who live and work on the land.
What interested me most during the interview process were the human aspects of farming – the stories of success and failure, of life and love, of hardship and celebration – and the passion and gritty determination that characterised every family I talked to, from those who have lived on the land for generations to those who are relatively new to it.
It takes a special kind of person to live happily away from the facilities most of us take for granted, someone like Cath Marriott, who lost her husband to cancer shortly after his fortieth birthday and who was left to run their Victorian sheep farm and raise their four young children alone,
or Lyn French, who ran away from her strict father in Queensland when she was fourteen and by fifteen was working full time as a roustabout.
Then there’s Roma and Glenn Britnell, who were knocked back time and again when they tried to borrow enough money for a sheep property, so they proved the banks wrong by switching from sheep to cows and they built their own dairy by hand.
Or what about Ian Jackson who was, on his own admission, ‘the most feral kid ever to draw breath’ and the ‘dumbest bastard’ in school? He went on to meet the President of the United States of America. Michelle Reay arrived in Australia as an English backpacker fresh out of university and somehow ended up with four sons, living and working at Durham Downs, often referred to as the jewel in the crown of the Kidman cattle empire.
All of the interviewees I visited had fascinating stories to tell and they lived and worked in unique places, from the rugged high country of the goldfields of northern Queensland to the grassy slopes of Tasmania; from the dusty red earth bordering Mutawintji National Park to the vast productive paddocks of Western Australia’s central wheat belt.
The eight families featured in my book welcomed me into their lives with unconditional warmth and hospitality (even after I’d confessed to being a vegetarian) and although we had never met before, and in most cases only spoken once briefly on the phone, each family invited me to stay with them. It was a humbling experience.
Any credit for a story well told belongs to the families I interviewed.
Deb Hunt blogs at www.strawberriesinthedesert.com