Old McLarsen Had Some Farms: a memoir by Christine Larsen by Christine Larsen - Read Online

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Old McLarsen Had Some Farms - Christine Larsen

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him.

Preface

Like a spider with its intricate web, I spin the tales of yesterday—the 1900’s or 20th century—as we lived them in rural Australia. These are my yarns of a city couple gone ‘green’—often unashamedly embarrassing, but always triumphantly truthful as I sing the sagas of yesteryear. I believe in their value—today, and way into the future.

Having survived this way of life and these times, I believe I have the right to write… about Life as it was lived in our corner of the world. My personal beginning and that of my husband Kanute (Old McLarsen himself), started in other places and times, with each of us having our own collection of life happenings that somehow brought us and rural life together. What follows here are our farming tales—from humbling and bumbling beginnings in the most Western State of Australia, to the ongoing saga of today's retirement farm back in our home State of South Australia.

Come join me on our 40+ year journey 'down the garden path’. Hopefully, the faintest stirring of human curiosity will entice you to share our fantastic odyssey. The dictionary definition of 'fantastic' is—odd and remarkable, bizarre, as if conceived by an unrestrained imagination, extravagantly fanciful or capricious, outlandish—and also extraordinarily good.

Our rural life together has been all of that… and so much more.

'The Missus'

Introduction

Please Mor… please let me go to the farm again. Wanda smiled down at the earnest face of her young son, and she rumpled his fine blonde hair. She knew that her own birth and upbringing on her parents' farm were the genetic reasons for his passion—and yet she never failed to feel surprise and delight at his single-mindedness about all things country.

Kanute may not have looked like typical farm material with his pale city complexion and his long skinny legs, but his flushed cheeks and glowing eyes told a different message. On his first visit to her brother's farm, Kanute had fallen in love—with the land and the animals. School holidays couldn't come around fast enough for this small city slicker with the soul of a farmer. Wanda and her brother often talked of the novel situation of their children. His sons yearned for the bright lights and pace of the city of Copenhagen, whilst Kanute's passion for country life never wavered.

No job was too dirty or too hard; no morning too early or too cold to roll out of bed at 4 a.m. and begin the new day with a serve of bread and cheese and a cup of tea to put courage in his belly. Even when the first outside job was to shovel a path through the snow to the housed dairy cows for their first milking, Kanute was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—eager for every challenge the new day would bring. There's a wonderful tale I've heard him tell many times that shows most clearly that nothing could dampen or deter him from his passion.

I mentioned the housed dairy cows—commonplace care for European stock through the cruel winter months—and this had been a particularly long and bitter season in Denmark. Now the first feeble warmth of Spring began, and with it came the chore of carting the accumulated animal waste out to the paddocks to be spread as natural fertiliser.

Undeterred by the pungent odours wafting relentlessly up from the open tank, Kanute climbed up on top. With legs spread wide to sit behind the opening, he picked up the reins, clicked with the side of his tongue in the age old command to the two great Belgian draft-horses to 'Giddyup', or 'Move on'. Slowly, the liquid manure tank on its great wooden-wheeled cart started moving forward. Despite the uncontrollable urge to twitch and scrunch up his nose, in Kanute's mind he was a King on his throne, proudly controlling the destiny of his vast kingdom.

Sadly, even royalty must bow to the weather—and a sudden storm announced its approach with a crack of lightning followed all too quickly by a great roll of thunder. The noble steeds of moments before changed in an instant to terror-stricken beasts incapable of thinking of anything else but home and shelter. No matter how loudly Kanute shouted or how hard he leant back on the reins, the horses were bolting in blind, mindless terror. The inevitable result of thei speedy flight was a great sloshing from side to side of the stinking contents of the tank. The final grinding halt inside the cobbled yard of the farmhouse and sheds covered Kanute in one last layer of…. (fertiliser). It was only the first of many such 'badges of honour' Kanute would wear in his lifetime—but it was definitely the most lavish and 'well-ripened'. His Aunt washed his clothes several times, and when he returned home, his mother attempted a couple more, but nothing would remove the indelible memory. There was finally no choice but to destroy them—no easy matter in the highly taxed and belt-tightened years of post-war Denmark.

On the other side of the world, there was absolutely nothing to suggest I would become a farmer. Being born a butcher's daughter in the suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia was the closest I came to rural life. And yet, from my immediate family came my ever-present need to care for and please all who matter to me. I was planned, conceived and born to ease the pain and grief my family had suffered when their beautiful son and brother had fallen victim to a diphtheria epidemic that swept the world—and had died as a toddler. From some distant genetic pool came a passionate love of animals—and the great outdoors, especially as viewed by young eyes from high atop a long flat-top hedge of tall pine trees—the boundary fence at a friend's home. Meld these factors, and another unlikely farmer began to evolve.

Following his family's immigration to Australia, it looked as if all dreams of farming were over for Kanute. His father was a tradesman and insisted an apprenticeship was the only way to go for the 16-year old. The choice to become a carpenter was made, and as the years rolled on, so did his ambition—and his climb up various ladders.

Kanute and I met at our workplace, a home-builder's office. The wannabe suave and sophisticated (huh?) 22-year old Building Supervisor and the 17-year old Secretary to the Building Department, crossed swords many times before an unexpected 'chemistry' began to develop. There is a whole other chapter (or three, or more) about those days of our lives. Such happenings as a broken engagement, myself going to work for another company, and that wonderful solution to so many of life's dilemmas—time—and suddenly, the five year age gap disappeared. At 25 and 20, we found ourselves deeply in love and were engaged and married in less than a year.

As a young married couple, we cheerfully and totally embraced an exciting life-style in the city, partying constantly with other newlywed friends for most of the first year of our marriage. And yet, one of our favourite past-times was taking long drives into the countryside, enjoying the space and freedom, the fresh air—and the peace and beauty of seeing cattle and sheep grazing. When the building industry slowed in South Australia in the late 1960's, and the pace simultaneously picked up in Western Australia, we flew across the Nullarbor and took up new jobs there—until Fate once more pointed us towards rural pursuits. The 40+ years that have followed proved another kind of 'chemistry' had begun its relentless addiction—producing an irresistible desire for us to become farmers.

Table of Contents

Preface

Introduction

ONE Welcome…?

TWO Kangaroo Rescue

THREE Life is Mostly Froth and Bubble

FOUR Roo-manship?

FIVE Bloody Hell… or Heaven?

SIX A Little Honey Called Candy

SEVEN Ooroo Means Goodbye

EIGHT A Bush Gymkhana

NINE A Kangaroo Dog?

TEN Food For Thought

ELEVEN Click Go The Shearers – Initiation

TWELVE Click Go The Shearers—By Day And By Night, By Gosh!

THIRTEEN Perils of the Paddocks

FOURTEEN A Spiritually Significant Circumstance

FIFTEEN Wild Life up North – The Journey

SIXTEEN Even Wilder Life up North – the Ecstasy and the Agony

SEVENTEEN Going Home… the first Road Trip

EIGHTEEN Going Home… more Road Trips

EPILOGUE: Going Home… Finally and Forever

Next?

About the Author

Bibliography of Primary Sources

ONE

Welcome…?

We knew it would be a jolt to our systems. The Building Supervisor and the Secretary trading air-conditioned offices for the great outdoors. Not for a simple weekend away, not for a holiday escape… this was a tree-change planned to last for at least a year, maybe two.

You'll be back, workmates said.

You two party animals turning into country bumpkins? No way! friends said.

Your jobs will still be waiting for you, said our boss. I'll give you three months!

Ignoring all this negativity, we side-stepped the rat-race, the smog, and the mainstream of Life as we had lived it so far—landing with a decided wallop, deep in the Western Australian countryside… in the famous Wheatbelt. This distance from the madding city crowds there would be no more weekends with two whole days off, no more public holidays, no more RDO's (rostered days off). Can't help a chuckle to myself. To be painfully honest, we go back so far, these perks hadn't yet been born.

Just imagine, I say to Kanute. If I'd been more chicken-hearted and less pig-headed, and a whole lot less in love with you AND our dream, I would have dragged you bodily back to the city!

A smug smile creeps over his face. I know, he says. But just imagine how much we would have missed.

A heap of hard work and heartbreak, for starters. But my tone softens as I feel my smile spreading, too. And blue skies and sunshine and fresh air.

And kangaroos and puppies? And baby lambs and ducks and pigs? I shake my head in defeat. Kanute always knows my most sentimental buttons to push.

It had been easy to say goodbye to such questionable comforts as the never-ending rush hour traffic jams, sardine-can crowds, and the almost constant frustrated beeps of car horns—the questionable music we had lived with.

Hmmph.. and no 'road rage' in those days. Kanute shakes his head in disbelief at the thoughts of a slower pace, kinder people, a gentler way of life altogether.

The corner of my mouth tightens in a twisted grin. Road rage. Hmmph… there's an expression that hadn't even been invented yet. I shake my head as I think about this unpleasant development. Wasn't needed back then. Passengers would be hard-pressed to hear choice words mumbled under the driver's breath. Rare moments indeed—even under great duress—for any cursing or bad tempered outbursts would happen. Maybe, IF the driver was alone/ Such genteel days by comparison—who'd have thought they'd end so soon?

Hard to believe that less than two months had unfolded since we made our choice to leave our jobs in Perth to change our lives… forever, it turned out. We would learn farming as Kanute worked for Sam, our friend—now our new boss. This idea of working together for a year or so had been born and blossomed over many weekend visits.

Wasn't it odd how the timing was so perfect for all three of us? Kanute nods, and then shakes his head slowly, thinking back.

Sam had inherited his grandfather's 6,000 acre (2,500 hectare) wheat and sheep farm. Unfortunately, the old man's age and physical problems had seen a significant deterioration in this farm in his last years. Since both grandparents deaths, Sam had tried valiantly to tend other substantial family farm holdings at the same time as this one. He desperately needed help to restore this old, established land to its previously flourishing condition. And here were we—in our prime—at 25 and 30 and no children yet—we were SO eager to see if farm life was what we really wanted.

You know, the way we were, without any 'real' farm experience, we'd have been pushing to get any kind of farm job, Again Kanute shakes his head, this time with a sober expression and faraway eyes. What do they say? It was a … uhmm…

Marriage made in Heaven?

That's the one. Trust you to know it!

At last here we were, at the end of a slow and carefully navigated, four-hour trip from Perth in a hired removal van.

Look at that sky—bluer than blue—it goes on forever and ever, I turned slowly on the spot. Undulating paddocks stretched far into the distance under the vast crystal-clear dome.

Kanute nodded thoughtfully in agreement,… we're here at long last. And he smiled in satisfaction. We obviously shared the same thought—our dream of farm-life was coming true at last. Unfussed by the obstacles and challenges ahead, we were full of confidence. After all, we had youth and enthusiasm on our side. Inexperience? Ha! We laughed that off as if it were nothing. We were confident we could learn. And learning is what we did—mostly the hard way—through old-fashioned 'hands-on' experience.

The tedious trip left me with an urgent need to locate the smallest room on the farm. Uh-oh! Sam showed us that the last time we were here on another weekend getaway—remember? Remember? How could anyone forget!

-o0o-

It's out there. Down the end of the verandah, Sam said casually, waving his hand in the general direction.

This smallest room was a detached brick outhouse or toilet… surely where the expression 'built like a brick shit-house' was born. Impossible to equate it to the description 'powder room', despite my feeble attempts at redecorating.

Didn't take you long to 'civilise' it! Kanute can't help himself—he always loves to tease me, at every opportunity. Hummph… imagine, once upon a time I thought my two older brothers were the kings of the 'teasemaster's list'.Yes well… I hadn't met Kanute then, had I?

Fluffy mat and matching seat cover. Trust you co co-ordinate even the toilet. He just can't leave it alone. But I can't stop a chuckle. Hot pink matching fluffy set! And I painted the cement floor and had a cane basket with magazines in one corner. I laugh out loud as I think of my Mum's delicately hand-painted china sign hanging outside, against the peeling paint of the outhouse door. Below a sweet pink rose with a couple of rosebuds and a leaf or two, were the words 'It's here'.

Bizarre, I manage to say, my shoulders shaking with laughter. Then I draw myself up tall and say, but you must admit it became one hell of a conversation piece whenever city visitors came. Kanute reluctantly nods his head.

Our charming sign graced the door of the smallest room of a number of our houses, including our present one. I wish I could report it lives on—but sadly, a few years ago, it succumbed to old age, fell off its perch and smashed on our tiled floor. That was a sad day. We miss my Mum's thoughtful direction.

I simply can't leave that modern outhouse without describing its other somewhat dubious 'claim to fame'. It featured an old-style toilet bowl with black Bakelite seat, and a water tank tucked up tightly beneath the galvanised iron roof, high above. Water pressure for the flush was produced by gravity alone. A wooden handle at the end of a chain was the forerunner of the cistern and push-button. This arrangement provided much entertainment whenever an unwitting guest returned from paying a visit—with handle and chain in hand—having luckily arrested its fall. Their faces reflected their dumbfounded embarrassment. A successful flush depended on a tricky sequence, a rhythm almost; two fast pulls, wait a second, then one slow. Its debatable charm caused a great deal of harmless hilarity. Happily, it was easily re-attached… to the profound relief of its latest victim. On this early scenic tour of our future home, I politely rejected Sam's offer to come and demonstrate its idiosyncrasies for me.

We were quite spoiled actually, having a loo of such class and style… Kanute cannot keep his face serious, despite his best effort.

No doubt about it, our modern 'loo' was a thing of beauty and luxury… compared to its predecessor, the aptly named 'thunderbox', standing in state a hundred yards or more further away. This ancient restroom was a corrugated iron creation with a three-quarter door to enable outsiders to determine occupancy status. Its wide plank seat had a hole so deep and dark; we dubbed it the 'Black Hole of Calcutta'.

Despite myself, I feel my eyes widen, my eyebrows lift, and I cannot help a shudder as I remember Sam's words explaining the lengthy sandalwood stick propped in one corner—to kill any snakes coming in for shade. An involuntary shudder runs through my body. I wouldn't share such a confined area with anything—let alone something slithery between myself and the toilet doorway! No wonder the stick was so long and sturdy. The expression