My main worry is that I am having such a chilled time that I have become very idle in the Blog department! Since my last blog (May 21 I think), a month has flown by and I have been in and out from Sydney a few times, latterly a few hours south to my ex’s (that’s Steven) near Canberra – where his partner Tony has a sheep farm.
Seriously. At the moment there are only 450 sheep on the 3300 acres – their part of the country is only just recovering from an 8-year drought, when animal stocks were almost zero and many farms and holdings were sold off. Tony’s family has been on this farm since the 1890s – and in Australia since the 1830s, so it’s great that he survived. Especially since I can now add Sheep Wrangler / Drover to my CV. I think the proper term could also be Jackeroo – but I feel a bit Senior for that.
(Talking of which, I quite blatantly request a Senior Concession Fare on the bus from Brenda’s into the City – tho I am not entitled (being non-Aussie) and also not old enough, as their age for Concessions is 65. So far it has worked and I get full use of trains buses and ferries for $2.50 a day!)
I digress. Here’s a typical view of the land in the southern tablelands where Tony’s farm is situated.
A very nice young Aussie called Mike came to the farm for half a day, to scan the sheep. As in scan for pregnancy. As I recall, 390 or so were with lamb! They had to be rounded up, passed through a paddock or two and finally funneled into Mike’s machine. He had the worst job – shoving the hand-held scanner between their rear legs to get a reading. This caused lots of them to wee themselves. What a day job, eh?
I was (at first) charged with feeding the ewes up the last little ramp into his machine, but didn’t have the strength to really shove those who lowered their heads and refused to budge. Plus their wool has lots of sharp burrs which – despite my gloves – were really working into my “townie” hands. Tony had a trick of grasping them somewhere “down below” which I didn’t fancy even trying to learn, so I moved down the line and found I had a good knack for funnel duties – aided by a useful wooden staff I picked up in the meadow, which I used to prod them rather effectively in the left buttock! We soon had them running through pretty neatly.
I shan’t be taking up a career as a sheep farmer anytime soon, however.
This is the Deep Space Station in the hills outside Canberra. There are 3 in the World (all owned/run by NASA): this one, one in Spain and one in California. They spend their days communicating with satellites / spacecraft / stations we have up there (so to speak) and also listening into Deep Space for any signals that might be coming To Us. ET phone home – that sort of thing.
It opened in time for the moon landing in 1969 and has some stunning equipment, films and footage from those days as well as many other space excursions. At the moment they continue to monitor two spacecraft now at the very edge of our Galaxy and have been tracking for 10 years or more. They are watching Mars, Pluto, probes and meteor showers. Is their work about looking at the past (light years etc) or the future – who knows what they will find?
As luck would have it, the very time we were there, this huge disc (300 feet across) tilted and turned till it was lying flat and facing straight up. Like a scene from a James Bond movie! Though we are actually sitting on the back terrace having tea and cake.
We were out for the day to visit some of Tony’s family history. His surname in De Salis – note the De – not de! And the family dates from ad the 9th century in a Swiss province close to the Italian border called Soglio. This happens to be the name of the property he currently farms and where I’ve been staying. Say “solio” not sog – and you realise how Italian it is. Until about 1930 all the males of the family held a courtesy title of Count – and indeed there is a current Count and Countess Charles De Salis – they run a very upmarket B&B in a stately home in Somerset!
Back in the 1830s, sons of the then Count came to Australia and over the following generations bought, farmed, sold or lost a number of very large estates – one of which now forms an entire suburb of Canberra itself. Our trip that day took us to one earlier property which even includes a beautiful small walled family cemetery – part of the national heritage trail these days.
This branch of the family is actually called Fane De Salis – but that’s too confusing to try and explain here! Suffice to say, a visit to this historic place – where the cemetery gets the best spot – on a little hill adjoining the two rivers which run through the property – was a really special occasion.
Of these two rivers, one – the Murrumbidgee – runs along the border of Tony’s current property – though Soglio is about 30 miles away!
As a suburban London boy – and never a country dweller really, I find it fascinating and enthralling to explore a family that can trace it’s occupancy of the same land for 150 years and the family itself back over 1000. I feel sure I shall steal some of their story for future writings.
Meantime, their life – that’s Tony and Steven’s – carries on in a gentle and natural way. Steven is an artist (some of you will know that) and now continues to make his art in some of the rooms in the farmhouse, as well as lending hands – when the need arises – to farm stuff. Suffice to say that he prefers making art to sheep wrangling! He is currently teaching art at the Australian National University in Canberra, as well as working on his own PhD with a project concentrating on Bronze Serpents and their appearance and meaning in cultures worldwide
See http://www.stevenmarkholland.com. for some examples of his talent.
I leave you with a dinner scene from Soglio. Jane and Greg (the neighbourly tenants next door), me (serving the roast mutton), Mike De Salis (Tony’s cousin) and Tony himself. Steven on camera.
Don’t be fooled by the jollity of the occasion. We are having fun of course, rugged up (as we say here) with several layers and the wood stove on which we rely for cooking and hot water. Head beyond this room to the bedroom wing or outside areas and you risk a severe chilling, in a not-so-fun way!!
Canberra is over 3000 feet and I had forgotten till I arrived that we are still in winter here. Frost and not a heater to be found in the shower! Yikes ; high speed washing – if at all – was the order of the day. I began to wonder why I was in the habit of showering daily – I decided I would rather not impersonate a brass monkey.