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18 May 2011 - 1:55 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Golden vines. Naked quince. Russet tones on the trees near the barn. That’s my home.

It’s a long way from Cygnet (in Australia’s most southernmost shire) to Cunnamulla, Goondiwindi and Roma in Queensland’s west. But that’s where I’ve been for a few days. I even got to see the inside of a farmhouse on a property that’s about 75,000 acres in size – a little larger than the 20 or so acres that I have.

The land around that part of south western Queensland is lush, they reckon, compared to most years, and particularly compared to the 10 years of drought. The long grass, mostly dull brown, shooting straight out of ruddy earth with little of what we think of as topsoil, is not usual. Thanks to a couple of floods and some good rain over summer, they do have grass, which isn’t always the case at this time of year. You don’t stock your land in terms of animals per acre, rather acres per animal out there. Goats, sheep and cattle farms were reputedly everywhere up the side roads off the highway, on majestic-sized stations. I saw signs to farms from the road, and fences stretching on to the horizon, but very few livestock on them. It’s farming, but not as I know it. The highway near the border was lined with cotton fields, the very edge of the roads fringed with loose cotton that’d blown off the trucks. I felt like I was in a very different part of the world, almost a different country from my rolling hills, green pasture and fences that never, ever seem to go more than 100m without a creek, a road, a bend or a hill. My damp, cool, relatively low-lit farmlet in southern Tassie, an area where broadacre farming simply couldn’t happen.

Queenslanders have their own challenges completely unlike our oppressive winter. Such as a searing summer that burns plants and destroys any chance of pollination. The threat of dry times where rainfall is so low, even the houses use bore water. Low nutrient levels in the soil. Severely long distances between towns. But the themes that people talked about, as far as food is concerned, seemed universal. Why can’t we buy locally grown produce? The best is shipped from farms to Brisbane, some to be trucked back to the local stores a few days older, and more expensive than when it left the nearby growers. Why are there no small abattoirs left, rather than huge operations hundreds and hundreds of kilometres from where the beasts are raised? Is it possible to run a market garden in a small rural hub in outback Queensland and make a fair living? But, for all their isolation, there was a sense that great food is being cooked in peoples’ homes. Great fresh vegetables were flourishing in local gardens and, if you had the time, terrific yellow belly could be caught in the river and grilled over coals.

Back home, Priscilla, my Jersey, is looking ever closer to dropping her calf. Not that I’m any kind of expert, but her udder is filling, her belly is dropping and she’s not interested in walking very far to forage for food. It’s a nervous time, waiting for new life on the farm. Every time we have piglets, lambs, chicks or calves, I find myself getting all nervy, and not without good reason. Childbirth isn’t the least stressful thing an animal can go through, and there’s more chance of problems than most times in their life. Fingers crossed for an easy birth and none of the associated health issues that can come with it. I look forward to milking again, the warmth of the cow’s belly against my face, the smell of the earth and milk and beast in the milking shed each morning. That and some really good clotted cream from the edge of the Rayburn.    

It feels like an eternity since we cooked scones.