Farm Lan­guage

The Monthly (Australia) - - CONTENTS - by Sam Vin­cent

Farm­ing in Aus­tralia largely in­volves swear­ing at the weather fore­caster and swear­ing at the farm. There’s the odd fence to fix and ute to bog, but th­ese jobs can usu­ally be com­pleted in time for morn­ing tea. The first time I heard my fa­ther use the c-word he was hold­ing a new­born calf in his left hand and a sy­ringe of Ul­travac® 5in1 (one jab pro­tects against tetanus, ma­lig­nant oedema, en­tero­tox­aemia, black dis­ease and black­leg) in his right. “You stay still now …” I would’ve been eight. “Ya MOVED, ya CUNT OF A THING!” Maybe 10. It was an ex­cit­ing new vari­ant on a fa­mil­iar theme: “Mon­grel bas­tard of a thing”; “You bas­tard of a thing”; “(Lit­tle) fuck­wit/head/er of a thing.” The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor wasn’t the curse but its tar­get: through an act that’s not so much de­hu­man­is­ing as de-an­i­mal­is­ing, Dad would ren­der the ob­ject of his frus­tra­tion – a coochy-coo, six-week-old, labrador-sized black An­gus with dole­ful eyes, lanky legs and vel­vety fur – a thing. Dad main­tains it’s a turn of phrase, but I’ve never heard him turn it on a hu­man. I asked Dad re­cently if there was some Freudian clue to this con­struc­tion – you can be as an­gry as you like with prop­erty, but abus­ing a be­ing risks elic­it­ing em­pa­thy. He ad­mit­ted that farm­ers are at their an­gri­est when work­ing in the stock­yards: mark­ing, mulesing, brand­ing, crutch­ing and dock­ing. When, in other words, they are hurt­ing an­i­mals. But his ra­tio­nale was that an­i­mals panic in the stress of th­ese en­vi­ron­ments, in turn frus­trat­ing farm­ers who “don’t like wast­ing time”. Time that could be spent swear­ing else­where on the farm. I once met a dog named Fuck­wit. Fuck­wit’s mas­ter, an itin­er­ant agri­cul­tural labourer (al­beit one sus­tained by servo pies and flavoured milk in­stead of damper and billy tea), roamed our val­ley do­ing odd jobs. He shall re­main name­less, if only so I can state the ob­vi­ous of some­one who calls their dog that – he was one him­self. But farm­ing, Dad says, is all about in­creas­ing your pro­duc­tiv­ity. Rather than curse his mon­grel when it failed to heed his com­mands, old mate cut his over­heads by com­bin­ing the mutt’s proper name with its im­proper one. Nam­ing a dog Fuck­wit would’ve been a bit vul­gar for my gra­zier grand­fa­ther. But he got into the spirit all the same. My aunt Amanda tells me he used to have a tan­gi­ble marker on his farm where deco­rum ended and the gut­ter be­gan: be­yond the gate to the cat­tle yards, and only be­yond it, you could say what you wanted. (Amanda, a gun horse­woman in her youth, crossed another thresh­old at the gate – she didn’t have to wear her rid­ing hel­met. While re­turn­ing, her dad would say, “Now mind your lan­guage in front of your mother.” And Amanda would put her hel­met back on.) My grand­fa­ther’s idea of swear­ing was to call his cows “old bitches”. My mum, an un­co­or­di­nated, dorky kid, would be called a “clot of a girl” if she didn’t open or close a gate fast enough to keep up with her fa­ther’s live­stock draft­ing. Even his favourite dog went by Biddy the Bitch af­ter a tele­gram from her breeder ar­rived: “Biddy the bitch ar­riv­ing to­mor­row’s train.” Most of­fen­sive were the names of two of Biddy the Bitch’s pre­de­ces­sors: Boozer and Darkie. But the most mem­o­rable name for a work­ing dog I’ve come across isn’t Fuck­wit, Boozer or Darkie. Mag­got was a squirm­ing grub of a pup. She trans­formed into a beau­ti­ful Fly. We don’t have work­ing dogs on our farm. And our cows and calves don’t have names. But our bulls do.

Crick­eters were once in vogue. There was Gill’pie (in hon­our of the MCG score­board’s in­abil­ity to ac­com­mo­date the full nine let­ters of Gille­spie), McGrath (as an­gry as the pace­man; not to be backed into a cor­ner) and Warnie (when the cows were on heat, there was no bet­ter per­former). There fol­lowed a pe­riod where our bulls didn’t have names so much as char­ac­ter slurs (Young Fella with the Dicky Knee, Old Bloke with the Use­less Prick). James Herd marks a de­par­ture from this tra­di­tion. A re­cent pur­chase, he was so named be­cause his rip­pling mus­cles looked sus­pi­ciously to have ben­e­fited from a pep­tide pro­gram. But slan­der isn’t re­served for an­i­mals. On our farm, pad­dock names in­clude Rear End (the de­fin­i­tive back pad­dock), Dead Horse (aka Tomato Sauce), Shit Creek (it was full of rub­bish when we bought it) and Hy-fer (how a fam­ily friend vis­it­ing from Ger­many pro­nounced the word for a young cow). Some­times, farm­ers tip the farm­yard con­fetti on each other. Dad likes to re­fer to con­tem­po­raries who’ve eaten a few too many CWA scones as hav­ing “been in a good pad­dock” or, should the weight-gain­ing prove ir­re­versible, “gone to seed”. A farmer who suc­cumbed to suc­ces­sion plan­ning has been “put out to pas­ture”. One dimwit­ted neigh­bour is said to have “a few kan­ga­roos loose in the top pad­dock”, and not a cat­tle sale goes by with­out Dad re­fer­ring to live­stock agents – tongues wag­ging, re­spon­sive to whis­tles – as “sheep­dogs in rid­ing boots”. Then there’s the in­fa­mous busi­ness card that is kept in a se­cret lo­ca­tion on my best friend’s fam­ily farm and only brought out on spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Oper­at­ing in the Bun­gen­dore re­gion in the early 1980s, the Mob of Cunts were a team of fenc­ing con­trac­tors. The slo­gan they chose to make a last­ing im­pres­sion on po­ten­tial clients? “We cum any­where, any­time.” It is not known if the MoC were much chop with the wire strain­ers, nor if they kept their word. Cu­ri­ously, the one as­pect of an­i­mal hus­bandry that seems to avoid dirty lan­guage is that which, among many hu­mans, gen­er­ates the most: mat­ing. Bulls are said to “serve” cows, and, if suc­cess­fully “joined”, the cows are “in calf”. Keep this in mind next time you visit a farm. Nothing will mark you as an out-of-touch, in­ner-city Monthly reader quite like ask­ing if the bulls are cur­rently root­ing the heifers, and, if so, how many they’ve knocked up.

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