We children soon tired of unpacking after moving to the Mooloo property in 1949. My Brother Barry and I began pestering parents Eric and Maude for permission to explore our two hundred and seventy acre new property home. With usual parental caution to be careful we were released from tedious work and were soon on our way to the initial grand tour.
First port of call was the barn, where an assortment of farm goodies was kept. Tractor and implements somehow had been cleverly sandwiched in to their assigned space, leaving plenty of space for other items of interest. Some of these had obviously been in their dark corners for decades, gathering dust and cobwebs. But the novelty and quantity of these items kept us busy for a time trying to figure out intended use, and whether crank handles when turned would reveal their secrets. To city kids this was a treasure trove indeed, and we marked them in our minds for later detailed inspection.
But the motivator on our first visit was curiosity about animals. To our left on the way down to milking sheds was a substantial paddock occupied by two bulls. One was a giant black beast with piercing black eyes and two substantial horns. He paused from tearing out grass with his muscular jaws to survey us as we walked gingerly past the wood slab fence keeping him confined. Feeling secure behind this wooden barrier we eyeballed him through the fence, muscles tensed ready for rapid retreat to the barn should this monster make a gigantic leap over to our side. The bull snorted in disgust, dug dirt with his front hooves then turned away to resume his meal.
The other bull was a brown beast of medium size which fed on the opposite side of the bull paddock. He also sported significant horns, but had obviously come off second best in a former challenge with big black, and surveyed distance between them frequently to avoid further conflict. It was the brown bull who later gored Eric’s prize cow, after which we were treated to the humorous sight of an angry father rushing in to separate bull and cow with an upraised axe. Brown bull was so surprised he jumped the high fence and sprinted to safety; my father still in hot pursuit with the upraised axe. For the rest of our time on Mooloo property brown bull lived in scrub country on the third mountain, and we’d hear him crashing further into bush land whenever we appeared on our horses or tractor.
In a paddock near milking sheds was the calf run, a place for new born calves needing special attention. Mothers would rush at us with anxious eyes silently communicating this was a place children were unwelcome. On that initial visit we stayed warily outside the fence while mothers sniffed us to determine whether we were a threat or not. Later as we bucket fed some of these calves whose mothers had abandoned them to their fate mothers in that pen accepted our presence without fear. But on this initial visit we were strangers and a potential threat.
On the far side of that paddock was a complex which curiosity dictated needed further investigation. It turned out to be pig sties, and we were greeted instantly by a mad rush of grunting squealing pink bodies rounded by frequent visits to corn and milk in their troughs. Their moist snouts poked air tentatively in our direction, and we understood the appearance of humans usually signified a top up of troughs. With squeals of anger they resumed their wallowing as we walked away. Eric hated the stench and habits of pigs, and they were soon shipped to market leaving that corner of the farm an empty reminder of their former reign.
It would be sometime later in the afternoon we’d witness the spectacle of cattle being herded methodically and orderly on their twice a day trek to the milking sheds by sandy our part dingo cattle dog. Many are the happy memories of time in the shed. While machines were used to extract milk, final stripping was a hand job we’d plead to be permitted to practice. We children learned to shoot that milk with deadly accuracy at a sibling’s head as they walked past or sat on stools with their buckets in the stripping process. Father was not a happy camper if we happened to be caught out in our wasteful fun.
Now at the milking shed tied to the corral was flicker the horse, Maharaja of the property. To us as children he was a gigantic beast impossible to mount in stirrups level with our heads. It was some time before we were permitted to ride that horse, and only when we were led around the paddocks by father or one of the farm hands. To mount him we would climb the corral fence and make a leap toward flicker’s back before he neatly sidestepped and left us plunging to the ground arms flaying for something to hold onto. Eventually we managed to sneak solo rides and father decided to leave us learn the ropes by ourselves.
Flicker was a picture of fine breeding and manners when my father rode him around. Nothing was too much trouble; no place too difficult to go. Flicker was equally a gentleman when dealing with baby sister Jan. She was but four years old when she learned to climb the corral and maneuver herself onto flicker’s back. Flicker stood stoically and let her pull the reins this way and that, than walked her gently to the house where mother Maude nearly had cardiac arrest seeing her tiny daughter perched precariously on the back of a horse.
But flicker and I had a different relationship. For some reason he objected strongly to me riding him. He’d amble casually around tasting the grass here, or tender leaves there totally ignoring my signaling through his reins. After a while I figured out a way to get him mobile. As he passed under a tree ignoring my signals I’d reach up, snap off a branch and give him some encouragement on the flanks with it. Flicker took off like a rocket the first time I discovered this motivational tool, me hanging on for dear life. But being a fast learner he studiously avoided meandering near trees after that.
The farm hands suggested I try heel spurs until flicker learned to give me more respect. I did try that once, but flicker bested me on that too. He galloped into scrub land crashing through an undergrowth of briers and lantana bushes until my arms and legs had been scraped into a bloody mess. The farm hands who’d anticipated that result were delighted with the outcome and I learned a lesson in trust. My relationship with flicker improved when I discovered his liking for carrots.
That initial time on the farm still comes clearly to mind as we tour the countryside now and see farmers working their land. They were days of joy newly discovering the excitement of rural life through the eyes of a child.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011, all rights reserved”