The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Judy Scholfield

IT is Fri­day the 13th and an un­sea­son­ably hot, windy day for Oc­to­ber. The fam­ily farm has been sold and now the left­over stock and plant has to go — ev­ery­thing — to­day.

All the para­pher­na­lia of a work­ing farm is laid out in rows in the front pad­dock — from trac­tors, trucks and big ma­chin­ery to rusty rab­bit traps and piles of cor­ru­gated iron — all trea­sures of my brother and fa­ther, and grand­fa­ther be­fore them, some of the items brought home from other clear­ing sales in other times in the ex­pec­ta­tion of com­ing in handy some­time.

The stock­yards hold the re­main­ing an­i­mals: shorn sheep with fat au­tumn lambs worth $150 in a good year will sell for $47; beau­ti­ful stud An­gus cat­tle, knocked down for half their value.

How does one put a fig­ure to the work of three gen­er­a­tions? Af­ter all, we are lucky to have sold the old place. It is now the fifth year of a drought, a drought that will prob­a­bly break all records.

Ev­ery­thing is sold — the good, the rub­bish, and the gen­uine tro­phies such as the old iron wa­ter cart by John Fur­phy with its unique in­scrip­tion, snapped up by a lo­cal an­tique dealer.

Af­ter the sale, as the loaded trucks and trail­ers drive away, I sit on the front ve­randa of the old home­stead for the last time in close to 60 years. There are ghosts here — so much stuff hap­pened here, as it does to us all.

Among those ghosts I see a lit­tle girl with her beloved grand­mother telling her sto­ries, singing songs and recit­ing favourite po­ems; sev­eral years later, I see the same lit­tle girl leav­ing for board­ing school, 10 long steps to the car, last hug from Nana, last look back. That lit­tle girl is me and I never see my nana again — she dies sud­denly three weeks later. I am 12.

I see the spot­light still rigged up near the gut­ter for my dad to shoot foxes. There were al­ways foxes; es­pe­cially when my sis­ters and I came home at night in cars with boyfriends. The sight of my dad in his PJs on the ve­randa with a ri­fle worked ev­ery time.

I hear the heavy drum­ming of rain on the iron roof at night — the best sound in the world — snug­gled up safe and warm in bed, and my par­ents are young again and bright with hope.

We, who are al­ready ghosts of our past, gather around on this ve­randa. My strong, lovely, funny brother only 38, with a new lit­tle daugh­ter and so much still to do and to live for then, is here too. He has pan­cre­atic can­cer and he is dy­ing. We sit with him as he leaves us for­ever, and let him go.

A true farmer to the end, his last words are: ‘‘Dad, go and shoot that bloody use­less sheep­dog — the mon­grel’s not go­ing to out­live me!’’

Our small world, with all its hopes and plans, frac­tures then.

There is a swal­low’s nest above the front door with three fat, baby swal­lows cran­ing over the rim. They look ready to fly, with the par­ent birds perched on a nearby fence keep­ing watch. I hope the new own­ers don’t knock all the nests down, but I think the ba­bies will be gone by then. Ev­ery year they come back to this ve­randa, from thou­sands of kilo­me­tres away in an­other land, to build their nests and send the lit­tle ones off on their own jour­neys.

I think about home, the smell and feel of it, the deep know­ing when you are there. I drive down the hill and away.

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