Friday, December 23, 2011

Remembering Christmas

Like a general preparing for some epic battle, I like to have Christmas Day mapped out to military precision… but unlike a general I usually leave it to the last possible moment and then call upon the powers of unbridled panic to get me over the line. Three weeks ago the only Christmas shopping I had completed was ordering a red-gum smoked ham from Barham Meats. Fortunately I have since purchased some gifts for the family, a suitably large frozen turkey and I am now attempting to connect with my inner domestic goddess… and the vacuum cleaner…
Christmas Day for me is all about family and food and spending time with people you love. The day can also conjure up feelings of sadness for family members that are no longer here and life paths that haven’t always headed where you thought they would.
I have fond childhood memories of Christmas Day. One not so fond memory is the feeling of frustration that used to envelope me on Christmas Eve when I was unable to fall asleep due to excitement-induced insomnia. One year I remember counting sheep out aloud in earnest, I so wanted to be asleep so the morning would come quicker.
Christmas was without a doubt the most magical day of the whole year. Tom, Rachel, Bruce and I would all scamper as quietly as we could in the early light of Christmas morning to see what treasures had been left under the tree during the night. Our parents would (finally) appear around 7am and then Father Bill would be in charge of reading the cards on each gift and distributing them to all of us. Following on from the present frenzy we would enjoy a breakfast around the kitchen table of ham, boiled eggs, freshly sliced tomatoes and Mother’s delicious tomato & apple chutney.
As a family we either celebrated Christmas at Red Hill Station out on the Hay Plains with ourselves and Gran and the withering heat of summer or every two to three years we made the pilgrimage to my Mother’s family farm in New Zealand where we marvelled at the green grass, white sheep and absence of flies and dust. We would celebrate with Granny Olga and Grandfather and a multitude of aunts, uncles and cousins.
Whether the dinner was at Hay or Halcombe we always sat down to a magnificent traditional hot meal prepared with pride by my Mother or if we were across the Tasman, by my Grandmother. Our plates would be piled with roast turkey, gravy, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, roast pumpkin, boiled baby potatoes and steamed green beans. At the conclusion of the main course the curtains would be drawn and the lights switched off as the very impressive Christmas pudding entered the dining room alight, a mass of blue gassy flames fuelled by a half bottle of cheap brandy. By about 4pm on Christmas day most of us were vowing never to eat again and rallying ourselves for a game of backyard cricket.
This year is the “away Christmas” with my siblings celebrating at their respective in-law’s homes and the boys and I will be celebrating in Barham with Granny and Grandfather Bill. I am visualising a beautiful 26 degree sunny day so we can dine out on the riverbank… not sure how well my powers of manifestation are going having just had a quick look at the Elders weather site...
Wherever you are I hope you’ve enjoyed reading Behind the Barr in 2011 and wish you all a very happy and joy-filled Christmas and an excellent year ahead in 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The joys of owning a dog

During a moment of uncharacteristic weakness in October I relented and agreed that Max could get a puppy. I was caught up in the nostalgia of my own country childhood and growing up with our farm dogs. My first dog was Blackie, a big shaggy black sheep dog who arrived before I was born and was famous for swimming the Murrumbidgee River in full flood to visit a bitch over fifty kilometres away. Blackie’s working mate was my older brother’s dog Rinso a shorthaired black and white collie. I can still remember the feeling of awe that came over me in my Grandmother’s laundry the day I discovered that a washing powder had been named after Tom’s dog.
Another good sheepdog from my childhood was Abba, a black and tan kelpie who arrived as a pup in 1974; the same year a Swedish band won the Eurovision Song Contest. Dad reckoned the pup sounded as though he was trying to sing “Waterloo” when he howled at night.
A good working dog is worth its weight in gold and my all time favourite to this day was a black and tan kelpie bitch I was given in 1991. Spook as I named her, was a beautiful looking kelpie, the Elle Macpherson of the dog world. Unfortunately she was also extremely timid and unable to run having spent the first part of her life locked in a cage and not handled. Several times during the first month of my ownership Dad advised me not to become too attached as “she probably won’t make a sheepdog and you’ll have to shoot her.” Fortunately for Spook we persevered and I took her everywhere with me. She quickly learnt to stick on the back of a motorbike or ute and keep out of the way of horses hooves. A month’s holiday at my parent’s property got her socialising with other dogs and she learnt how to run.
For about the first twelve months Spook was my constant companion but did no work whatsoever. She watched the mustering of sheep with interest from the back of the bike but showed no inclination to actually get off and assist until one day when she was about eighteen months old. I was putting a large mob of merino ewes through a narrow gate and the leaders were getting away. As I started to get agitated and curse Spook looked at me sympathetically. Gesticulating wildly towards the sheep I said to her “Don’t just watch, get off the bloody bike and do something!” …and with that she took off through the fence and around the mob in a perfect cast. She held the leading sheep neatly until the tail of the mob was through the gate and together we got them to their destination. (I still get a warm fuzzy feeling inside when I remember that day) From that day onwards she rarely put a foot wrong and her ability to work out what needed to be done when it came to sheep work was uncanny.
With those fond memories in my mind, on the evening of November 2nd 2011 (it was a Wednesday night around 7 o’clock), Jackie the black and tan kelpie joined our family.
As I lay in bed that night listening to her incessant howling (sorry neighbours), I had two main thoughts: “Thank goodness I’m leaving for Western Australia tomorrow” and “I hope she’s all grown up and through the puppy stage by the time I get back”…ok, well the second thought was optimistic and totally unrealistic I know.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Moulamein Races - bush racing at its best

The festive season kicks along tomorrow with the annual Moulamein Races set to swell the northern end of our shire by a couple of thousand people. There’s nothing quite like a country race meeting to entice people out for a day of socialising, glamorous attire and gambling.
My excitement levels have been slightly subdued on discovery that my planned race outfit has uncharacteristically shrunk in my wardrobe during the last month or so. It would appear that November’s excellent adventure to Western Australia combining detailed research into beer and pizza with Margaret River wines and cheeses is to blame… I may end up wearing a toga in the hotly contested Fashions on the Field and stand next to the ΓΌber glamorous Emma (First Lady of Wakool Shire) in a thinly veiled attempt to bask in her fashion aura. No matter what I wear, I have no doubt I will be enjoying catching up with friends and having fun in my attempts to back a winning horse. Using age old techniques such as “What colour is the jockey wearing?” “What number is the horse?” and “What is the horse’s name and can I draw any significance to that name?” I am ever optimistic of winning some lunch money.
Horseracing has been interwoven into the social fabric of Australia since the first Melbourne Cup was run in 1861. Mark Twain, the great American writer, humorist and author of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, visited Australia and went to the Melbourne Cup in 1895, observing:
“Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me.”
More than one hundred years since Mr Twain visited our shores and the Cup still stops and unites the nation. Whether that is to attend the race in person; watch it on television; listen to it on a wireless out in the paddock or in my case this year: enjoying the extraordinarily delicious buffet lunch in the Barham Hotel’s beer garden with some friends before downing my glass of sparkling mineral water and heading back to work.
My father Farmer Bill is a keen racegoer and enjoys making a few pilgrimages each year to Flemington to watch the “Sport of Kings” and try his luck on the horses. He has made the observation on more than one occasion that people at race meetings are all smiling and having a good time and often losing money, while people playing poker machines in casinos are devoid of smiles, tense, glum and also often losing money. You can now bet on computer generated racehorses on the internet and often lose money alone in the comfort of your home… I suspect this form of gambling does little to enhance a community’s spirit or an individual’s self-worth.
Meanwhile back to Moulamein Races that will be celebrating more than 130 odd years of bush racing tomorrow. Where the sun will be shining (most likely literally or if not, metaphorically), community spirit will be alive and well and fun times will be had by all… long may they last.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

National parks and state forests need common sense management

With the official arrival of summer yesterday and already at least one “horror” day a couple of months ago of 30 plus degrees with a howling northerly wind, my thoughts turned somewhat apprehensively towards the magnificent red gum forests that surround our towns of Barham and Koondrook. Bushfires are an inevitable part of life in Australia and yet how this threat is managed often leaves plenty to be desired (just ask the poor inhabitants of the Margaret River region of Western Australia who lost their homes last week courtesy of an out-of-control control burn).
In the last twelve months large areas of our local bush have been locked up under the banner of state forests and national parks. A move that put a smile on the faces of the enthusiastic environmental extremists of our nation while decimating our local economy that was previously reliant on the sustainable logging of the red gum forests. In past years when the inevitable lightning strike sparked a bushfire it was often our local timber workers in conjunction with the Rural Fire Service who answered the call to help with their equipment. Logging tracks were maintained, providing access and suitable equipment such as graders, excavators etc were on hand to help contain and extinguish the fires. Who will be on hand now, what equipment will be available and will the bush tracks be maintained to an accessible standard?
On the 19th February 2009 a group of fellow massage therapists and I drove into the charred remains of Marysville, Victoria. As part of a team for the Australian Practitioner Emergency Response Network (APERN) we were called in to massage exhausted CFA workers, army personnel and the forensic police. Seeing the still smouldering aftermath of Black Saturday first hand was a sobering experience to put it mildly. Since then much time and public money has been spent by state and federal governments on trying to work out who is to blame for the Black Saturday fires and how to prevent a reoccurrence of that situation. Personally I am a bit of a fan of the “Keep It Short and Simple” or KISS principle and while I’m not suggesting logging and or cattle grazing would have prevented those fires, I am pretty sure it would have reduced their intensity.
While urban greenies and environmental scientists are busy explaining to us country folk how detrimental selective logging and cattle grazing is to our eucalypt forests these same forests are being wiped out by bushfires, along with anything else in the path of the fires. Perhaps my view is overly simplistic, but I cannot understand why well managed seasonal cattle grazing to reduce the fuel load in the forests and selective logging isn’t a better option? The red gums in our district are springing up like a crop of un-thinned mutant carrots thanks to the flooding of the last two years. How long before we have our own Black Saturday event and will the greenies come and save us?