Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Weekend in 'Real Australia' (TM)

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.

65 comments:

Alex said...

I grew up in a town similar to the one you've described here and I can't say that I have any feelings of awe/romance/wonderment toward the 'real' Australia. Actually, I can't say that I have any real feelings toward it at all. It does however give me an odd feeling, hearing someone talk about it the way you have.

Still, it's nice that you had a good time.

Melba said...

1. that was lovely. Interestingly I am researching Hopetoun and the Mallee at the mo so it was particularly interesting to read your post.

2. she'll be back (Ponygirl, not the weather), but you can't wait for her, you know that don't you? Or was that part of the Thomas Hardy bit? Making oaths of waiting forever and that stuff.

3. if you click on the pics you get a bigger image. I wanted to check out PG as closely as poss and that's how I found out that one can also check out your arse as closely as poss as well.

Lewd Bob said...

Well Perseus, that was an interesting read, but all I have to say is this:

I'D GONE 34 YEARS WITHOUT SEEING YOUR ARSE AND YOU SPRING THIS PORNOGRAPHY ON ME YOU SHAMELESS, DESPICABLE, MOST FOUL PIECE OF SHIT!

Glad you had an ace weekend but.

patchouligirl said...

If you get a chance, do call in on old Alf. Take notes and put them somewhere safe. Once you have a child, you realise that there is a point to collating and preserving all the family photos and stories. For me, its now a race against time as the generation who have the information are nearing expiry. I rescued almost all of the photos of one branch of the family from a milk crate in my brothers shed. Some people we have no photos of. I am phoning 90 year olds and dementia patients trying to obtain names, dates and memories. I found out this week my great great grandfather was on the inaugural Lismore council and they have a photo of him in the historical society up there. If Alf is 90 now, I don't think I'd be putting it off too long.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

The Mallee is also famous for a number of soldier settlements, whereby those returning from the First World War were offered farms.

In the desert.

Must of which went broke.

I know this because my grandfather had one of said farms.

Which went broke.

By-the-by, Lawson hated the bush and spent most of his later life in Sydney.

Perseus said...

Alex: Probably because you grew up there it's harder to romantacise the place. As a city kid, going into a desert town is like bringing a book to life.

Melba: No, we're not 'waiting' at all. I don't think she was waiting any longer than the time it took me to drive off the property. Oh, and the Thomas Hardy bit was, er, frisky stuff.

Bob: Consider it revenge for the amount of times I saw your arse and worse, including on 8mm film.

PG: Yes, I'm with you there, and am seriously considering visiting Alf. Dad doesn't talk much about that sort of stuff and I'm suddenly wanting to know everything.

Ramon: Mt great-grandfather was a cobbler, not a farmer. It was probably a wise move, because even farmers going broke needed shoes. Also, I put it to you that Lawson had love/hate for the bush. He especially enjoyed its 'whiteness' (being an amateur Lawson scholar as I am, may I point out that he was as racist as they come. Gee he hated Asians in particular.)

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Gee he hated Asians in particular

Oh, indeed. No argument there.

He didn't particularly like Queen Victoria, either.

And you do know that photo of your bum will end up as somebody's screensaver, don't you?

Lewd Bob said...

Stop it, Ramon. Who would be so depraved?

WitchOne said...

Thanks Melba, the first thing I did was enlarge the arse of Perseus.

Not bad.

PG doesn't have as nice an arse. Maybe because hers is clothed.

In other news, I do like the Mallee.

WitchOne said...

Oh, sorry Lewd. Phew, glad I didn't admit it......

Perseus said...

I agree with Bob.

Besides, my bum is so white you'd need sunglasses to sit at the computer.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

The internet is big enough to cater for all tastes, Bob.

I'm sure there's already a Facebook group called "I love Perseus' bum".

squib said...

This is like 'The Farmer wants a Wife' but arsy-versy (with an emphasis on arsy)

That's not Real Australia. Real Australia has spinifex and red dust. Sheesh, an avocado patch is practically the CBD where I come from

Beware of genealogy, I started some research a couple of years ago and ended up with a 39 page tree. I bored everyone to tears

Perseus said...

Oh there was spinifex and red dust alright. A lot of it. It's just that interspersed were well-watered farms.

*

It's more like 'City Man wants a Farmwife'.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

The book which best sums up my reaction to rural Australia is Wake in Fright.

Perseus said...

Which is also the best Australian film ever made. Ever. By a mile.

squib said...

I've never read/seen it

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Is that a tatt on your back, Pers?

Don't tell me - it's a pony, isn't it?

Perseus said...

Tatt yes.
Pony no.
But that's not a bad idea for the other shoulde-blade.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Am I the only person in the western world under the age of 50 who doesn't have a tatt?

Perseus said...

I thought you would have had 'Kevin 07' done by now.

patchouligirl said...

No Ramon, I too am under 50 and tatoo-less. Get a tan Pers.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I got enough teasing from Caz about the "Kevin07" t-shirt.

The Boy always says "That is Kevin07, he is our good friend" whenever he see Kev on the tellie.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

And glad to hear that, Patchie.

Perseus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Perseus said...

No, I won't get a tan.

Just you wait. Anti-sunbakers like Me and Desci will have the last laugh. When we're 70, our skin will still be taut and terrific, and all you tanners will look like shrivelled footballs.

Boogeyman said...

Am I the only person in the western world under the age of 50 who doesn't have a tatt?

Nor do I, and I don't intend to get one until science has caught up to the point where tattoos are a) completely painless to get, b) easy and completely painless to remove, and c) stop being fashionable amongst chavs.

Then, and only then, will I consider getting a huge tramp stamp of a unicorn on my arse.

Also, Perseus is no whiter than me. And while I've never met Desci, but I'm quite sure she'd appear positively swarthy standing next to me.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

stop being fashionable amongst chavs.

Robot butlers will be cheap and plentiful and Ben Lee will be long a-rotting in his grave before that happens, Boogey.

catlick said...

Nanite Tattoo ( Patent Pending) is my latest thinkvention. Inject the programmable nanites, locate the device over the proposed area of decoration, dial up the tattoo and the nanites assemble at the site forming the chavtastic tramp stamp. A toggle of the switch releases the nanites back into the blood stream to clear plaque, and fight cancer. I must get out more.....

Boogeyman said...

And in the wrong hands, those nanites can whip through your body and reduce you a lump of grey goo in no time at all.

squib said...

Catlick that sounds really cool

Has anyone tried an ergonomic kneeling chair and are they as uncomfortable as they look? (sorry Ramon for asking something so bourgeois)

catlick said...

Squib the ergonomic chair is a great idea that fails somewhat in the execution. I would definitely try before you buy.

squib said...

thanks catlick I will

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

a great idea that fails somewhat in the execution.

Rather like the Catholic Church, really.

Boogeyman said...

the ergonomic chair is a great idea that fails somewhat in the execution.

I think they work quite well for that purpose, provided that for "execution" you are happy with "painful kneecapping followed by lower leg amputation when chair collapses with you sitting on it."

Mr E Discharge said...

The expression "Better to die on your feet than to live on your knees" was first coined in reference to an ergonomic chair.

squib said...

hah! very good. none of you have actually tried one, have you?

patchouligirl said...

Oh, I thought that was about Catholic schools

Boogeyman said...

My flatmate had one years ago, Squib. Damn thing used to collapse regularly when one jiggled or squirmed and dislodged the seat-height adjustment bar.

I'm sure today's ones are more stable. Or you could always just buy a giant ball and sit on that.

Mr E Discharge said...

I had one. They are crap.

Suitable only for Ageing Yoga Teachers and Arthritic Jesuits.

squib said...

a swivel chair it is then. thanks

Alex said...

Also, I put it to you that Lawson had love/hate for the bush. He especially enjoyed its 'whiteness'

My hometown wasn't particularly well known for its 'whiteness' but it did have its fair share of racism. Looking back, I think the most surprising thing was how normalised it all was. Then again, that might have been the case everywhere at the time.

Also, as Squib said, there were very few avocados. Not many grapes either. Lots of sheep though.

Mr E Discharge said...

Perseus needs to realise that the whole "white man" thing can be taken too far.

On the plus side however, he has forever changed my response to the term "Mallee Root".

Lewd Bob said...

My dad often said somebody or other was 'as fit as a mallee bull'.

Based on that photo perhaps it should be 'hung like a mallee bull'.

Pepsi said...

That is one of the saddest posts I've read on this site. The neon bottom only enhances the kleenex moment.

Hope your broken heart heals quickly Perseus.

Pepsi

patchouligirl said...

Don't worry Pepsi, Perseus' love life is fast paced enough to keep us all entertained. Last week: Goth chick. Next week? Dont miss the next exciting episode.

Perseus said...

I'll be okay Pepsi, and thank you.

Patchouligirl is mostly right (in my defense though, Pony Girl has been the topic of my blog and mind for more than a year... it's the others, like Goth chick, that come and go)

wari lasi said...

That was like reading a really long book that has a sad ending.

I feel robbed. Couldn't you have made up a happy ending? Something uplifting?

If it makes you feel any better, the lady that broke my heart last year made contact with me out of the blue last week. I had just about gotten over her and now I'm back to square one. Checking my emails every 5 minutes and hoping that every text message I get will be from her.

And what does "getting a bit Thomas Hardy" entail? His stuff is pretty tame.

Perseus said...

Hardy, tame?

Read between the lines.

Read 'The Woodlanders'. HOT!

*

I know how you feel re: the SMS's and emails. It's pathetic, isn't it?

wari lasi said...

It's pathetic, isn't it?

Yep. I'm ashamed of myself. But hope springs eternal, as they say.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a Thomas Hardy buff. My experience is limited to the stuff we did at school, and that was tame.

Melba said...

I read the Woodlanders in about Year 9 and can't remember any sexiness, but maybe I was too young to read between the lines. Tess and Mayor of Casterbridge; I'm racking my brains over them as well. I don't remember ANY raunch.

Desci said...

Perseus said...
Anti-sunbakers like Me and Desci will have the last laugh. When we're 70, our skin will still be taut and terrific, and all you tanners will look like shrivelled footballs.


Yes! Plus, tans look gross. Like you're a tradesman.

I support the showing of the pale buttocks of Perseus.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I support the showing of the pale buttocks of Perseus

Huzzah!

Start a Facebook campaign, or whatever the hell you crazy kids do.

Desci said...

Can't do. I'm a no-nonsense FBer, INH. I don't start wacky groups, add zany applications, or indulge in slactivism.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

I see.

Dang.

Boogeyman said...

Perseus should feel affronted people don't take his behind more seriously.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

He should be feeling a little behind.

I crack myself up.

Boogeyman said...

I think he was feeling a little left behind after pony girl felt his behind then left.

Bum jokes really are the bottomeless well of cheap humour, aren't they?

Lewd Bob said...

That's absolutely true Boogey. Butt who arsed you anyway?

Perseus said...

Well, this comment thread hit rock bottom.

eat my shorts said...

The Mallee is also famous for a number of soldier settlements, whereby those returning from the First World War were offered farms.

The same for where I grew up. Our farm was a soldier settlement, and the returned soldier who built our house died in it too.

Also, Perseus is no whiter than me. And while I've never met Desci, but I'm quite sure she'd appear positively swarthy standing next to me.

I'd be the palest out of all of youse, for sure.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Yeah, but you live in Tasmania, EMS.

eat my shorts said...

Well, you got me there.

The Brute said...

Right then. That'd be Nhill. I'd recognise the middle of nowhere from a mile away. Had a 'lady friend' myself that worked there as a teacher back in the 90's. Where the expression 'Nhillistic' came from.

Perseus said...

Et tu, Brute?

But anyway, nope, not Nihill.
But same sort of deal.