BEHIND THE GATE
ANNABELLE HICKSON EXPLORES THE VASTNESS OF COUNTRY LIFE, HIDDEN DOWN A BEATEN TRACK.
When you travel through our valley, it is almost always quiet, without a soul in sight. I imagine most people driving through would think it was a spectacular spot. But some might also murmur, “What about living out here? It would be so lonely.” Don’t be fooled. Down every long driveway — of which some are marked by an old barrel as a letterbox — are hubs of life. Little worlds of their own, buzzing with farmers, backpackers, children, mechanics fifixing machinery, animals, people gardening, teams of men laying down irrigation pipes, packs of teenagers home for holidays catching yabbies in the dam, commercial beekeepers dropping offff hundreds of hives near the flflowering ironbark trees. It goes on and on. This morning, as I looked out to the shed, I saw a staffff meeting of six people, which involved a demonstration of the new drone that will be used to monitor the pecan trees and chase the pesky cockatoos away. A builder and his sidekick were in the background working on a farm building. Inside the house, as I got my three children ready for school, a couple visiting from down south made themselves breakfast among the morning chaos. On the weekend there had been seven young children and fifive adults staying in the house, while the backpackers up the hill had a bonfifire party to farewell one of their crew — about 40 people went to that. None of this you could see from the road. I am not pointing to all of these people to demonstrate how popular or busy we are. Not at all. I just want to paint a picture that is representative of most of these seemingly empty farms that you whiz past at 100 kilometres an hour, wondering what on earth anyone ever does out there. Through these gates are progressive and varied little worlds. My husband is focused on growing pecan nuts here and getting his head around what is a new industry for him. He’s also remotely running a cotton farm, and locking in future prices and currency swaps. Down the road, there are men and women doing the same for their own corn, peanut and pumpkin crops, while making sure they can pay their kids’ boarding school fees and organise the local camp draught to raise money for the community tennis court. Just east of us live Julia and Philip Harpham, who featured in Country Style late last year. They have helped three African refugee families set up a garlic business on their farm, which the adults tend to daily, while the children — sometimes up to 18 of them — play and do their homework in the Harphams’ main house. I marvel at what is happening there and, as I get to know the region more, I sometimes get dizzy thinking about the difffferent lives and businesses all around me. In his book, The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks writes about the connection between the land and those who live on it. “I understand for the fifirst time that our sense of belonging is all about participation. We belong because we are part of the work of this place,” he writes. And the work of this valley is vibrant and varied, as it is across regional Australia. It is resourceful and community-minded, modern and traditional. It can be visionary. And I feel lucky that my life is one of the many threads that make up its textured fabric. Annabelle Hickson lives with her family on a pecan farm in the Dumaresq Valley in NSW. Follow her on Instagram @annabellehickson