Saturday, 22 August 2015

 A true story – written when I  was out on a property at Stanthorpe…..

  I had no knowledge of  shearing sheds or sheep but spent 6 years out there and loved it.   As we had just taken over this property complete with its stock of totally feral sheep, and without at that time a working dog – we were pushing ‘sh*t’ uphill well and truly.  Our shearing shed was over 100 years old and in disrepair – held together with Cobb and Co twitches.  We were on no contractors shearing calendar – but Jim and a mate of his very kindly helped us out between other jobs, and we had bought our place at the beginning of a 10 year drought which saw us hand feeding for over 6 years.  It was a baptism of fire – well and truly.

The story of My lost place – My country is also attached, but it is the poem that really details my introduction to sheep.  I have to say I fell in love with them, and  even though no longer on the property I am still passionate about them.  I went out there with my Pit Bull Khadizia much to the horror of the neighbours who threatened us with everything if she was found on their property.  Their cries of ‘she will rip your sheep to pieces’ I confess caused a degree of trepidation and we kept a very close eye on our 3 dogs.  Jessie was our Blue Heeler, old and nearly blind , Samantha was our Irish Wolfhound/Bull Arab bought by my partners son for pigging, and Khadizia was my much loved Pit.

I have to say that the dogs and the sheep got on just fine.   Khadizia fostered 4 lambs – Bob, Emma Louise, Oliver James and Wiggly and was diligent with washing and flea-ing them, and couldn’t understand why, when they got bigger, that her ministrations were spurned.  I can still recall the hurt look on her face the day that she got barrelled by Oliver James who was nearly fully grown at that stage and took a dim view of being pushed to the ground and washed.  Khadizia also raised our first little working dog – a Border Collie called Fiesta Anna who was bred by Dan Bougoure, a well known local identity who bred good working dogs and did very well trialling them.  Anna had excellent genes – her mother was Fiesta Jodie and her father Princes Wally and they were both good trial dogs.  The only problem with Anna was she was white – she got on with the sheep as well –they thought she was a lamb.   Of course as everyone does we had poddy lambs – one of mine just happened to be black.  The sheep though she was the dog.  Needless to say when mustering, with the white dog and the black lamb mayhem took over.  The other sheep ran away from my little Midnight – she was totally ostracized.  We eventually worked out that she was best kept in the home paddock with a couple of feral goats and a  small shetland pony - Fernando as well as a couple of old wethers that we were trying to save – don’t know why, they weren’t worth saving so everyone told us.  After a few weeks they became invaluable to us as lead sheep as they came when called and followed me around like a dog.  Made taking the mob out on the road for a bit of pick so much easier as Hornless, Bones and Hitler would all come at the rattle of the corn tin and a cooeeee from me.  I actually managed to muster 746 sheep from an adjoining paddock simply by standing on the front verandah and calling my 3 boys.  My partner could not believe it – but I had established a real bond with those 3 vagabonds.
As time went on we adopted a 2nd hand Kelpie, Buster who was a brilliant dog but had only ever mustered paddocks from R to L – so that was how we did it, and we then got another little red Kelpie from one of our shearers at Tenterfield.  Sadly little Ralph Patrick picked up a bait that we think was regurgitated by a crow as we rarely used baits on our property  and had none out at that time.  His little life was cut short at 6 months.

Lost places … Are places ever lost if they remain in someone’s memory – someone’s heart?

My lost place is an old sheep property – my home for only five years but my Karma.  The place that my heart and soul had been searching for – finally found, fleetingly enjoyed and now lost – to me.

Traprock country, though harsh and dry in drought is magnificent, beautiful and resplendent in good times.  New grass cloaks the land in green, and it is dotted with white wisps of Merino sheep, and the hard unyielding grey granite boulders that litter the slopes like a giant’s marbles.   Above in the brilliant  azure skies bronze Wedge tail Eagles fly high on the thermals, surveying the land below for rabbits or weak and new born lambs; the food for their survival and to feed their own young.

Towering crests of the hills are guarded by ring barked Gum trees that stand like sentinels pointing the way to who knows where.  Cleared acres of open space, and hills covered in thick scrub.  Deep gullies, with water holes edged with shivery grass beneath eroded granite cliffs, with steep snakelike tracks, wending down to the sweet waters below, tracks that have been worn over time by thousands of sheep, deer and feral goats on their daily trek to quench their thirsts.

Sundown National Park with its heavily wooded slopes and granite boulders, hidden waterholes and secret tracks, and its mystic spiritual links with the Dreamtime, sits right on the doorstep of “Springdale’.  Hidden caves with rock paintings of roo and snake.  The echoes faint – imagined – remembered, of tribal songs and native voices. The scar of the dingo fence, always visible winding its way through the trees – a useful landmark to head for if bushed.

The sonorous rumble of the ewes as they emerge wraithlike through the early morning mist, calling their lambs to go for their morning drink at the dam, leaving silver trails behind them in the dew drenched grass as they pass by in single file, nose to tail – heads nodding in time with their walking.

The rattle of gravel, a cloud of red dust and the rumble of wheels over the grid as a neighbour heads for town – always accompanied by the 'beep beep' of the horn or sometimes a shrill whistle as he passes by your place.  Three days now and no other vehicle has passed your gate.

Roos – big greys keeping pace with the car along the roadside and then bounding with ease over the barbed wire fence and across the paddock.  Cute pretty faced wallabies - small, dainty, sweet.  They stand heads up; ears pricked watching your approach – then pound off into the scrub hell for leather seconds before you reach them.

The reality – Sadness – Despair as lambs are lost.  Babies who had barely drawn breath killed by fox and pig and crow and eagle despite the best efforts to keep them all safe.  Old ewes, weakened by drought and mud mired – eyes taken by crows – a bullet their last reward. A harsh country with each death equating to dollars that are desperately needed.

The misery of losing a dog, a four legged mate.  So heartbreaking but somewhat inevitable.  Working dogs are worth two men.  Without their willing and eager assistance no farmer can manage in this country.  They are the controllers of the flock, guard dogs, loyal, loving and faithful companions. Sometimes your only Mate for days on end.  Some never understand that snakes can kill.  The curious succumb.

Wild pigs, (always a problem to farmers) fear nothing. They kill lambs and weakened sheep. Carrion eaters - silent, stealthy and deadly killers who flatten fences, root up good pasture, ruin fields of grain.  They are cunning – smart enough to drop down and hide behind a fallen log until the hunter passes by, then spring up and run away, which is fair enough – the fight or flee syndrome. A smart dog will bail them until the farmer can dispatch them swiftly with a well aimed bullet. But many a game dog, either too cocky, too slow or not pig smart has been lost to these black bulldozers.

This is my lost place. My country.  I grieve every day for her – but she lives forever in my heart.

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