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.