Time to be silly again, briefly.
Sorry, it's a bit long, and it may contain traces of buttocks.
Last weekend I went to visit my lady friend, Pony Girl, at her family farm on the outskirts of Ponytown*. Ponytown is deep in The Mallee, a desert region in Victoria's north-west. The largest town in The Mallee is Mildura, which has, you know, some civilisation and long macchiatos and stuff, but Ponytown is nowhere near Mildura. It's just another Mallee town which means dirt, dust and blowflies the size of water buffalo.
When you hit The Mallee, you have also hit Real Australia where you can go all Henry Lawson and shit, and talk about distance, and dirt, and rusting fences drawing lines across your soul and hearts as harsh as landscapes... and you can also start referring to the weather as 'she' ("She's hot today!").
You know, where a Melbourne suburb will be proud of its multiculturalisn, its sustainable local policies, world's best practices and its commitment to recycling, Mallee Towns like the first one I came to are proud of the size of their bull's testicles.
The towns I came across were prima facie dry, barren and loveless. Romance? No. Well not that I could see... it'd be more that Thomas Hardy thing, where haystacks are involved.
Here is what a Mallee Town looks like:
A bowling green that is a bowling greeny-brown. Flies on the lens. Silos at the rear. Every single town looked like this, but boy, the sausage rolls were fantastic. Country-town bakeries = Very Fucking Good.
In between towns, the landscape is this:
And when there is some scrub, it looks like this:
And this is sadly a common sight:
The good news is that fire is rare up there. A) The farms are well watered, and B) The rest is desert so there's nothing to burn. Fires can go up, but they go straight back down again. It's dust storms that cause the problem up there, as well as the odd cyclone or two - they caused havoc last year in the region.
So who would settle in this place? Who would willingly come out here and think, "I might live here"? My great-grand parents, that's who. My Dad is from The Mallee, from a town called Ouyen which is famous for its annual vanilla-slice making competition. That's not a joke.
And so, at my Dad's request, I made a major detour on my way to Ponytown to go and see the town where he came from, because I'd never seen it. More spcifically, he wanted me to see if the house where he was born was still standing, though he was vague on the address. To find out where he lived I visited the Ouyen Historical Society (open Fridays) and sure enough, the lovely old biddies in charge there knew of my family (great grandma 'Digger' was the church organist for years) and they showed me an old 1920's map of the town with all the names of the householders on it, as well as a 1923 record of my great-grandfather paying his rates. They even suggested I go and visit 'old Alf' who is 90-something but 'still of keen mind, and an Anglican' who knew them, and my grandfather. If I ever visit again, I may drop in on old Alf (interestingly, from what the old biddies were saying, and the manner by which they spoke of people, the old Catholic vs Protestant thing is alive and well in country Australia). Also, one of the old biddies was the current organist, and there were only two organists between my great-grandmother and her.... almost 100 years and there's only ever been four organists!
So anyway, I found the house, and it was still standing:
Then I went to Ponytown, nervous as hell, because, you know, I'm in love with her and all, but I was going to be in a separate room because that's how it's done up there. I gave the family a rocking chair and a tartan blanket as a gift. Then we drank beer and wine. Luckily, her parents were grouse and made me feel welcome and I liked them.
Night came. That's when the work on the farm really starts... actually it never stops. The evening involved riding on a massive vine harvester thing, turning sprinklers on and off, checking things, moving things, dealing with things... farm work, and all under the influence of grog. This doesn't happen in Melbourne, but it happens on farms.
The next day was the killer hot day, and Ponyman, Ponygirl's dad, worked all day in the 48 degree heat, doing farm stuff, and we did a little bit of work but not much. I was amazed at the water usage. Thousands of sprinklers are going all day every day, in the middle of the day and all night. In the city we can't water a single geranium properly, but up there, thousands and thousands of litres are spat out continually across even just one farm, the reaosn for which is simple: No water, then no wine or avacados for us in the cities.
Here is Pony Girl in the avacado patch.
I spent a fair bit of time in the trees helping myself to avacados, not just because I like avacados, but because we were both in thongs and she said quite casually about ten minutes into the avacado tour, "Oh, watch out for brown snakes. They're everywhere."
By lunchtime it was 873 degrees, and so the pig-hunting was called off (not a joke either... pig-hunting was the plan) and so because I was being all Real Australian and stuff, I did the next best thing to shooting wild animals. Skinny-dipped in the nearest river.
Why no, I don't have any shame.
In the late evening, when the temperature had dropped to a cool 38 degrees, and when Ponygirl's parents had gone into a town to a do, we sat drinking wine looking over her vines.
There was something intoxicating above and beyond the wine that was to do with the farm itself. The lush vegetation on top of the red earth. The quintessential Australian-ness of the landscape, of the sunset, of the sounds of the birds and the threat of brown snakes. The Henry Lawson-ness of it all. I live in a tourist surf town that has none of this, even though we're 'out bush', sort of. The resorts out my front door graffiti all that's bush about my town, but up in The Mallee, like many other regions of Australia, there's that thing we learnt about in Primary School, that we sense in old bush songs, that we're meant to identify with as Australians. I just don't know what that thing is called other than to call it, with a dose of cityboy arrogance, Real Australia.
It is not to say Melbourne and other cities are not 'real'... it's just that their reality has a lot less to do with the ground.
And so, when the sun went down on Real Australia and Ponygirl and I were left in the dark to fend off mossies and our own inebriation, we kissed, finally, on the lawn, and then went a bit Thomas Hardy for a while.
The next morning she took me into town. Nothing was open. NOTHING.
I was gone after lunch, and may not see her again. She's off, soon. To England. One-way.
And so, to finish off this post, here's some Henry Lawson, which I dedicate to my Ponygirl:
It may be carelessly you spoke
Of never more returning,
But sometimes in the London smoke,
You'll smell the gum leaves burning;
And think of how the grassy plain
Beyond the fog is flowing,
And one that waits in shine or rain,
Where forty cheered you going.
* It's not actually called Ponytown.