this (show­ing) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Kristin Han­naford

BE­TWEEN the orange bars of the ready-as­sem­ble fenc­ing a young Bran­gus bull is eye­balling me. His mother El­lie lets out a bel­low. It’s the first weekend of the agri­cul­tural show sea­son in cen­tral Queens­land. The sun is shin­ing and be­hind me girls in jodh­purs fly through the air on their steeds.

My son is lead­ing a Bran­gus calf named Ari­zona. With his Akubra, blue jeans and che­quered shirt, he looks as if he has stepped out of an RM Wil­liams ad­ver­tise­ment.

There’s some­thing other-worldly and gen­tle about this prac­tice of show­ing: cat­tle led around a hay-bale cir­cuit as white-coated as­ses­sors praise qual­i­ties such as depth of flank, fem­i­nin­ity and mus­cle def­i­ni­tion.

We are not a farm­ing fam­ily. Sure, we have less than a hectare just out of a re­gional Aus­tralian town and a few chick­ens, but we con­sider it a re­treat, not a farm.

It’s our 15-year-old son — in love with the agri­cul­ture pro­gram at the lo­cal high school — who has led us here. He has be­come ob­sessed with farm­ing. In an age in which many teens are crit­i­cised for be­ing self-ob­sessed and tech­nol­ogy fo­cused, mine is busy writ­ing emails to sheep breed­ers and agri­cul­tur­al­ists seek­ing quotes for preg­nant ewes. Many of our din­ner ta­ble con­ver­sa­tions now re­volve around farm­ing. I lis­ten at­ten­tively and with a kind of hor­ri­fied fas­ci­na­tion to talk of cas­tra­tion, spay­ing meth­ods and the best way to drench.

I of­ten won­der where this young man has come from, this man who switches to slowtalk­ing farm talk with such ease. He is up at spar­row’s, hap­pily head­ing to school to feed its menagerie of an­i­mals. One af­ter­noon he stays at school well into the evening. We fi­nally get his text: ‘‘ It’s a boy!’’

At the show, well-dressed coun­try men and women talk softly with dust-laden ru­ral ac­cents. Ev­ery­one says hello and smiles. Th­ese are gen­er­ous peo­ple. My son wan­ders in among them and I watch his grin crack wide as he talks cat­tle.

At home, we are start­ing small and now own three sheep. I like hav­ing the Dor­pers around. They chew the pea-vine and keep the gar­den trim; I also like the way they seem to con­sider things. We’ve wit­nessed the birth of a lamb and are con­tem­plat­ing whether we need to dock its tail. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a sort of gift here, an ed­u­ca­tion. I lis­ten to the names of sheep and cat­tle breeds like they are po­ems un­fold­ing — Charo­lais, Santa Gertrudis, Da­mara, Sim­men­tal — and I’ve been caught by my hus­band ob­serv­ing cat­tle from the car. Per­haps most of all I’ve dis­cov­ered a de­light in tak­ing my time, in be­ing slow, in set­tling down to re­ally look at an an­i­mal.

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