I get back to the city and my lovely week at Trundle is pushed out of the way by a whirling round of engagements. Most of you know I have a thing going with Big hART – I’m not sure what is, but it feels good. This was my third venture into one of their projects: this one is called GOLD– which is, in the 21st century, another word for ‘water’ – or, in this case, lack of it. The project is connecting with farming families along the length of the Murray Darling Basin – with a view to helping reduce some of the increasing isolation many are feeling – especially through these years of drought. it might have rained in Sydney a few times this past year – but not out Trundle way – where wheat farmers, right now, are looking out over their seventh year in a row of failed annual crop.
Trundle, since you ask is somewhere in the vicinity of Condo (Condobolin to you urban cockroaches) and Parkes, and only a bullock ride to Bogan Gate and Woodenbong.
Bullocks? Here’s one my now famous quotes from Madame Google:
“When you drive into town [Trundle] you may notice a very wide main street. It is one of the widest main streets in Australia and it is part of Travelling Stock Route (TSR No 350). It is 3 chain or 198 feet (60 metres) wide and was designed to allow bullock trains to turn around, hence the reason for the wide street. With a street this wide come a number of stories like:
“A commercial traveller who booked into the Trundle Hotel one night walked onto the verandah the next morning and asks what the name of the town in the distance was. He was referring to the shops on the other side of the street.”
And here’s a bit on the history of the hotel: “The present hotel was opened on 17th March 1912 and replaced an earlier building that was opened in 1888 and operated by Mrs Honara Moloney. The new hotel was designed with long halls and corridors to allow draughts to flow through the building to cool it during the summer. It had eight private rooms, twenty four public rooms. The verandah, facing Forbes Street is 222 feet (67.7 metres), making it the longest verandah in NSW. A.E.Ware built the present hotel for 5,000 pounds ($10,000).” So there you are – ready for your next trivia night.
I have been trying to work out what the bullock teams were hauling; but with the railway connects to Trundle by at least 1907, one presumes this was a picking up and dropping off point of some significance. No doubt, given the size of the hotel. By the way, Madame Google has not helped me with info on the purpose of bullock teams and has rather rudely wondered if I might have intended to search ‘Trundle Bollocking’, which is quite another thing (I think).
Anyways, Chris and Davo have made friends with a number of Trundle families most notably Kathy and Tim Patton. They are typical of the area in that they are facing the ravages of this ever continuing drought (or is it climate change?… a sensitive subject among farmers out this way). Their close friends, John & Gail Heindrich have also joined the GOLD project.
The hotel not only boasts one of the longest balconies in the universe, but it has a ghost, with which I had an encounter during my stay. The hotel has been allowed to run down, but a family – the Wards – with local connections has recently purchased with plans to restore.
It will be a big job and take some years. Dannielle (Wardy) is the proprietor, with her four brothers all involved in different ways: Robert (Boggy), David (Bean), Matthew (Screech) and Andrew (Andy). Oh and mother Yvonne too. Interestingly the motive for buying the hotel was their father’s sale of the family farm. Not only was the purchase (and intended upgrade) a way of staying linked to the community they had grown up in (maybe give something back?). It also gives the Wards a much needed new place place to meet up for Christmas, suggested Andy in a profile on the pub recently in Style magazine – now the farm is gone. I’ve been thinking of purchasing a Caribbean island myself for similar reasons.
For the first few days we – Chris Saunders, Davo (Sera Davies) and myself – stayed in a cosy ‘demountable’ in the yard of the local ex-serviceman’s club. After a long drive we were quick to hit the bar, where I committed my first rural socio-cultural faux pas. Davo had given me an excellent new cap promoting a firm that builds tractors, I think. “Take your hat off mate”, were the first words spoken to me – quiet but firm – by a real Trundler. The man behind the bar. Talk about disrespect for the dead …’as the sun goes down…’ and all that.
The Gold project has been going for few years and is focusing on the difficulties farming communities are facing down the length of the Murray Darling basin, particularly in relation to the ongoing drought.
It”s not about the survival of the farm. It’s the survival of the family.
Farmer – Boree Creek
While the farmers we encountered on this trip were typically low key, many are close to selling up (at what price?) and walking away. This is a tragedy of such enormous proportions at so many levels – from the personal to the national – even international. Are Australia’s farmers to be the first major group of refugees rendered homeless/redundant by climate change? The thought is almost impossible to comprehend. Then again we should try to put our heads around the possibility.
While no doubt many farming are delightful, hospitable people, Tim and Kathy Patton are special to GOLD because they have opened their lives to the project. It was a great treat to be invited out to their farm and enjoy a family meal. Why else were we in Trundle? Because last Saturday (5 September 2009) Trundle was hosting its 22nd annual Bush Tucker Day. An event that began by a group of local men getting together to doing a bit of bush cooking – and now two decades later – it’s a huge weekend of families camping out, bush tucker cooking competitions, food tastings, catch up and chat, some ‘modest’ beer drinking, working dog trials, and live bands for entertainment. Kicking off the day were two school kids (the third failed to make it) known as Pink Slip. As night fell we encountered the headline act who call themselves The Handsome Young Strangers. Well maybe once…
GOLD put up its exhibition of photos and videos in a nice indoor space, with info available to all who were curious. Many were drawn inside in by the 600 photographs installed outside in long rows, on stems – like a wheat crop.
As for me, I was there to make connections with people in the Trundle community and surrounds who felt they might like to start writing about life out this way. My own personal satisfaction drawn from having a website (this one) has been immeasurable. So I know there is fun in it for those with a desire to express themselves in this way. It’s not just putting yourself out there; but what you get back. And GOLD also has an interest in helping people to connect (online) who are otherwise separated by vast distances.
And maybe we city slickers should be paying a little more attention to what people out this way – a huge swathe of our fellow Australians – are going through. All we ever do is eat the food they make for us and complain about the price. While were out there, the last chance for this year’s wheat crop hung in the balance. Apart from cruelly teasing sun showers, the rain did not come. Surely there is only so much the stoicism of these farmers can take.
In the first gathering of would-be ‘onliners’ (my new word for ‘bloggists!) we had a good chat and a bit of a muck around – and then set down to a writing exercise. I took the view that the letter format is one which just about everyone is at ease – whether by hand with a stamp on it – or email.
The discussion hitherto had been centred around the theme of Bush Tucker Day – more specifically family and food. Some examples of this exercise will be up on the GOLD website in a day or so. But here’s one..
Wish you were here the other day, you would have been surprised or perhaps shocked to see Max attack a goanna. This goanna came close to the house and the dogs Star, Max and Emma started playing with it. The goanna turned on Emma who was only a few months old and Max pounced on it and broke the goanna’s neck. Do goannas have necks?
You know me, I hate wasting anything, especially food, so I skinned and gutted the goanna and cut it up into steaks. We’ll be eating steaks for a week or more. We have fried it, grilled it, stewed it and baked it. Depending on which way it was cooked, it either tasted like chicken or rabbit.
When you next come to visit we might go goanna hunting so you can experience a new taste. Hope to see you soon.
You get the impression Val has a few more interesting stories up her sleeve. Another participant in the workshop was Kathy and Tim’s 11-year-old son, Harry. He really loves writing and very keen – and he is now famous for being the first person to post a story on the Trundle Writing Workshop site. If you go to his story – http://www.au.org.au/public/?p=forum - you will see he has got stuck and is looking for suggestions as to where to go next. On reading it again I am wondering if this story might already be finished – it’s kind of cliffhanger ending!! Anyway any suggestions? We would love people from the city to get involved in this exercise in breaking down the isolation many farming families are feeling. So it would be great if some readers of jameswaites.com not only dropped into the Gold site for a look around, but maybe offered some reactions from the Big Smoke. There is plenty on the site, but the form of interactive writing is in early days. And yep, that’s my job – I think. To help get that up and running. It will take time and evolve at its own pace. The fact that Sol Trujillo spent all the money (that could have unrolled fast broadband to every corner of this continent) on office parties and executive bonuses is a sore point once you get beyond the Blue Mountains (the Sandstone Fence) – it will impede but not halt the advancement of this project.
And heck, the people I met were – of course – fabulous. And if they have a writer hiding inside them, then I am happy to help however I can to release that voice.
We had a second workshop which involved a discussion of the themes and issues a GOLD-based online writing site might focus on. Below is a photo of the whiteboard at the end of that meeting. We also did another writing exercise where we each started a story with a paragraph and then moved them around the circle. I was very happy to see, in both writing exercises how quick participants were to put pen to paper – and the results were fantastic. More and plenty lies ahead…
With our writing project initiated, Davo, Chris and I set up the exhibition. And spent last Saturday taking it in turns to serve as a presence at the installation and/or immerse ourselves in the razzle-dazzle of Bush Tucker Day. Of course, a fun day was had by all.
In my research into bollocking (sorry bullocking) I stumbled across an ‘onliner-site’ where a young woman from the city described visiting her grandmother, a Trundle resident, last year. As smirky as us city folk might be to the name Bogan Gate ( I have a friend who says he has a photo of himself with friends outside an alleged Bogan Advisory Centre) this woman’s grandmother was able to explain that there is a real live Bogan Gate. And it stands in a paddock. Like any intepid onliner, Alison Y just had to have a photo taken for evidence!
Photos by Chris Saunders, Sera ‘Davo’ Davies & James Waites