We know, we know, it’s been a while since you’ve heard from us. OK, more than a while. But a lot has been happening (arguably in biblical proportions): drought, fires, floods, plague and of course, a global pandemic. Here’s a quick catch-up:
Drought (2019 – early 2020)
Who would have thought a lush coastal region would ever run out of water?
Bec H: I don’t remember when the drought started or how long it lasted but it was horrible. I acknowledge our experience was small fry compared with those who’ve lived through multi-year droughts, but it was harrowing nonetheless. A general state of despair slowly settled on our community in the later half of 2019. Spirits were low, conversations revolved around the weather more so than usual, and the BOM’s forecasts of ‘a slight chance of rain’ diminished every day. Watching the paddocks dry up, the grass die off, my garden wither in the hot, dry conditions was soul-destroying.
We hand fed our cattle every day, checking on calves who were born into this barren, harsh landscape. Two cows gave birth to twins which baffled us no end. What was Mother Nature thinking? Safe-guarding against a loss, produce two in case one doesn’t make it?
Bec C: Not being very active farmers (there’s an understatement), we only had a couple of steers left by the end of the drought. They didn’t take long to look for ‘greener’ grass in neighbouring paddocks, and that, as they say, was that. Noticed the higher prices for beef? We haven’t been able to afford cattle since.
As for our tank water – the water truck had a minimum one month wait. Mick the driver became everyone’s best mate. Trust me, you never want to run on empty – you can’t do much without water. But it’s not until you don’t have it that you really, really value it. So. Cherish It.
Bushfires, (November 2019)
Bec C: Again (hmmm… I sense a pattern emerging), we’re not very active farmers, so our paddocks were like a tinder box of dry dead weeds hanging onto the dirt. A huge smokey cloud encroached into the blue sky from seven or so kms away over our house – that cloud hung around like fog for the next few weeks, host to the water helicopters and ash which floated into laundry and lungs. With ‘Dougal’ away (performing on a performing arts cruise, missing most of the action) and our water tanks near empty (another pattern!), I spent two days cleaning up before getting out of there for the worst day, fish tank and Steve our adorable dog on our laps, hard drives, photos and guitar shoved in the boot. I will never forgive myself for leaving Colin, our ‘semi-wild’ horse, behind. He doesn’t ‘do’ horse floats, but it would have just taken an ember to set it all alight. What to do?? Somewhere in there I celebrated one of my most memorable of birthdays – mums and kids gathered back at mine needing something to celebrate. In times of stress, we all need our friends, even Audrey the puppy who was busted eating my birthday cake on the dining table, and Bec H’s son The Kid who ran blindly into the Hills Hoist splitting his forehead open. With all roads closed and no way to get to hospital, steri-strips saved the day! ‘The Kid’ bears the mark today, a reminder of when our coastline erupted.
Bec H: 26th October 2019, the date is etched in my memory. A fire started in some scrub not far from us which soon escalated into a large blaze. Of course it did – the entire coastline was a tinderbox. And so began 3 weeks of fires burning in a 180 degree arc to the NW and NE of our property. We had the car, the ute and a trailer loaded to the brim with our most precious items. On the morning of one of our evacuations, I farewelled my garden believing I’d lose it all. To be honest, I was more upset about that than the house. But our biggest concern was our cows, with brand new calves at foot. One calf, nick-named Smokey, emerged into this crackly dry, scorching hot day, thick with smoke and bereft of life – weather conditions formally categorised by the Bureau as ‘catastrophic’. The juxtaposition of new life being delivered into that scene was almost too much to bear. A friend with a firearm was lined up to shoot any of our cattle who survived the rampaging fire but who would not survive beyond it. It was the thought of our cattle suffering that finally brought me to tears. The night the fires were finally extinguished by extraordinarily brave fire fighters, I was an emotionally exhausted wreck, sleeping fitfully at Bec C’s. A number of friends, James, Tim, Craig and others guarded my parents’ neighbouring home, watching the flames miraculously go out in the darkness. They messaged me at 10pm to let me know our properties were safe. I sobbed.
Despite the trauma, my endearing memory of the fires is of community. One evening, all our neighbours, group by group ended up on our verandah. We were all checking on one another, sharing information and stories of horror, but also of humour – I’ll guard that memory forever. While the whole experience was heart-breaking and life-sapping, it was simultaneously heart-warming and life-affirming.
Floods…. and a mouse plague (various dates!)
Bec C: We are so fortunate to live on a hill so while I have never worried about being flooded, I have bizarrely had bad dreams of our 100 + year old house slipping down in a landslide (thank god for re-stumping!). The floods, strangely, were joyously welcomed for once as they put an end to the fires and the seemingly endless drought. Needless to say, we purchased another water tank. But the 2020 floods it turns out were a precursor to what was coming in 2021 (see pics below – the flooded ‘river’ shots are our creek bed above). The mice knew, so they decided to leave their burrows and generate their own flood, reaching our hill in limited but nonetheless disrupting waves. Here’s my handy tip – peanut butter works better than cheese on mouse traps, and try to empty the traps before the other mice reach them as their cannibalistic table manners are very confronting.
Bec H: The drought finally broke towards the end of January 2020. The light green tinge that soon blanketed the paddocks and hills brought a skip to everyone’s step. We didn’t dare complain about the deluge that soon followed. Being flooded in, on a semi-regular basis is a great excuse to work through the veggie patch and pantry. The impacts for us in the 2020 and 2021 floods were nothing compared with the havoc wreaked elsewhere on the Mid North Coast. More heart-wrenching images, this time of cattle being overwhelmed by swollen and thumping rivers and then washed up on beaches, and entire houses floating down the river.
Over the past couple of years, these lines from Dorothea Mackellar’s famous poem have often come to mind:
“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of drought and flooding rains”
COVID 19 Lands (March 2020)
Bec H: What to say of Covid-19? That hasn’t already been said? I suppose you could argue it was no surprise a global pandemic followed on from events of 2019. But whichever way you look at it, it’s been a rough ride for our communities. That said, lockdown, for many of us delivered the lifestyle for which we’d moved to the country in the first place. A slow pace of goin’ nowhere, doin’ nothin’ only to focus on our idyllic, now lush and verdant surroundings. Bliss!
Bec C: I am increasingly humbled by my inability to predict what’s coming. I’ll say no more on this topic except for the fact that I have never been so grateful for the fact – despite the fire, floods, and plague – that we live on a hill with space to roam, play table tennis and cricket, camp, have outdoor cinemas, and shout/sing.
Alternative Avenues of Revenue
Bec C: Finding straight musical channels of income increasingly bleak, Dougal and I converted his studio into short term accommodation in our renovated dairy (hit link to see). Unsurprisingly (yes, I probably should have predicted this one), he is finding this very disruptive to his creative flair as a content and music maker (see www.graceandhugh.com.au) as he now works from the house amongst us! All suggestions to resolve this are welcome. Surprisingly, he WAS able to complete with his musical partner / new honorary family member Grace Hickey a feature length documentary on the fires and music around Nymboida/Grafton. It was a challenge and gift for me to help carve their story into a script, and I’m so grateful to have had a role to play in it. It’s sincere, creative and heartwarming storytelling at its best.
I somehow graduated with my Masters of Teaching (Primary) on my verandah and after a year of teaching this and that, I am throwing myself (with caution) into my first class of 11 and 12 year olds at a wonderful school. Wish me luck!
Oh My God, We Almost Forgot The Kids
Bec C: High School started a year ago (no, no, not for me), when the teenage switch turned on for my eldest. Needless to say, he has embraced the stereotypes with fervour, but thankfully remains very cuddly. My second son is heading to fifth grade, and is also thankfully cuddly. I am, needless to say, on an emotional rollercoaster with them, which will no doubt last a lifetime.
Bec H: The Kid started high school this week. People say the high school years fly by even faster than Primary School, so I’m strapping in for the ride. He’s fallen madly, deeply in love with soccer and his commitment to the relationship is admirable. Jones and Audrey, our two canine kids, continue to bring us joy and laughter every single day.
Bec C: I am finally at peace with the concept of resting my paddocks. Thank you so much to my friend Lisa for pointing out that as she doesn’t recognise weeds, so to her, they just look like lovely plants.
One day we will get more cattle – or hey, maybe something else to help us manage our land sustainably as I really don’t like running down dark roads looking for black steers in the middle of the night. I find myself longing for a tractor as mowing has become so time consuming but the mechanics terrify me.
I remain grateful for everything (not always of course, I’m no saint). One of my favourite things to do is sit under the hills hoist with a glass of wine looking at our view while dinner is cooking, or standing on our front verandah under the stars looking across the valley before bed, imagining myself as a speck in time and the universe. It is my happy place.
Bec C: Our blog began 10 years ago as a shared record between new friends, back when our lives were hitting new chapters. It did what we needed it to do, even though we didn’t know what that was. But fundamentally, it gave us something to share. Now, 10 years on, older and wiser, we have so many things we can share when we find the time! So it’s a fitting time to say goodbye to the blog and to you, our few but treasured readers. It didn’t end up making us the millions we’d joke about (but perhaps secretly hoped for) but you never know, there’s still time before mid Feb when we shut-up shop for someone to come knocking and make us an offer we can’t refuse…
In the meantime, thanks for reading and coming along the journey with us… Until the next one. Retirement??
Bec H: In reading over this, I realise I’ve painted a rather gloomy picture of recent times. Which of course could help explain the lack of blog posts. Not much of that was fun to write about. But actually, when I reflect on the past few years, what stands out to me is not the tough times, but the funny times, the laughter, the little camping escapes in our local area we’ve managed to squeeze in (between lockdowns), my community, my friends.
Bec C and I started this blog basically as a way of celebrating friendship. We wanted to document our new lives as Mums living in the country. We wanted to focus on the humor in life that exists amongst the daily struggles. Perhaps we should have persevered over the last few years because there have been some very funny moments, but life got in the way. No, actually, life has been lived. We still love living here. I love my garden, our friends, and our life in the country.
Our first blog post was in February 2012, 10 years ago. That doesn’t seem possible. But it does seem an appropriate time to switch off the lights off here, and see where the next 10 years take us.