A friend recently asked if I wanted some old fence posts. He was clearing a property which the owner had recently sold. Unable (or unwilling) to say no to the possibility of acquiring items that I might use somewhere down the track I headed out towards Harrogate with ute and car plus trailer. I went full of hope, not only getting fenceposts but other useful items as well.
The property is about 32 kilometres from Wildflowers, a short distance but distant enough to change the landscape dramatically. Unlike Wildflowers where the rainfall is relatively high, Harrogate is in the rain shadow of the Mount Lofty Ranges. Around us there are vineyards, market gardens, orchards, strawberry farms, dairy farms and the like. Harrogate is sheep country.
Boulders and jagged rocks take advantage of the thin soil, pushing through and settling themselves all over the hillsides. Over time they become covered in grey lichen. It has been a dry summer everywhere, at Harrogate the grass is shorn back to the skin just like the sheep that search the hillsides for feed. Like the sheep the stubble is dusty grey in colour, sickly, dried out, begging for rain to come.
Dead gumtrees scatter the landscape. They too are grey. Their leafless boughs stretch up into the cloudless blue skies or lie broken and shattered next to the tree which could no longer support them. Dry creek beds and wash outs carve jagged scars across the face of the countryside.
The man that owned the property had lived there all his life, forty odd years. I assumed his parents had owned it before him. I asked him if it was hard for him to walk away from it. He answered quickly with an emphatic, ‘no’. He told me he was fed up of coming home from his day job as a heavy plant operator and then having to work the property, mend fences, get feed for sheep, lamb them and fix pumps. He had bought a small two bedroomed house near Adelaide, he pointed to a boat parked in a nearby shed and said he was going to spend more time fishing.
At first I was surprised at how easily he seemed to have been able to detach himself from where he had grown up and a place he had put so much of himself into. He left to go to his day job and I got to look around. It was then that I saw and was able to absorb the harshness on those hills and the evidence of the hard work that must always have been part and parcel of living there.
A number of outhouses built from those same red rocks that scattered the hills were dotted around about the newer home. They were beautiful and a testimony to the skill of the builder, but they smacked of hard physical labour. Like the outhouses, the fences were in disrepair. They stretched across the property, bedraggled , rusty and propped up with rotting posts, star droppers and railway sleepers, tired fences barely able to confine the sheep.
I looked at the scene that lay before me, the sun was high in the sky and getting hot. I could empathise with him. Like all that surrounded him, he seemed tired. Why wouldn’t you walk away if you could?