BE­HIND THE GATE

Country Style - - A DAY IN THE COUNTRY -

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

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