When friends of ours, Sally and Greg, from Daylesford invited Denise and me to house sit and feed their farm animals over the weekend, we snapped at the chance to play Green Acres in Oz. If you're over forty from either America or Australia you likely remember the television series, Green Acres, which ran from 1965 to 1971 in the United States starring Edie Albert and Eva Gabor (one of the Hungarian Gabor sisters -- Zsa Zsa was a bit more famous -- the way Liberace was famous). I mention Green Acres because I am about as city slicker as they come (Jewish boy raised in New York City who knew the subways real well by age 14 but wouldn't know a rake from a hoe). Denise's had Long Island potato farms and woods growing up but she had never taken care of chickens or sheep either. By the way, if you're like I am and have 1960s sitcom TV trailers still stuck in your head somewhere check out this YouTube video. But I warn you it could ear worm itself into your brain.
Denise and I had already been to Daylesford and found it a charming upscale country town about 90 minutes into the Victorian countryside, northwest of Melbourne. When you live in one of the big cities of Australia you can forget that once you're about an hour from the CBD there are relatively very few people living in Australia (23 million on a continent island the size of the continental United States). What we really appreciated about Daylesford the first time around was just how a ten minutes walk from Main Street put you on someone's farm. Well maybe three acres -- the size of Sally and Greg's spread.
But it was the thought of feeding the critters that had us both excited and a bit worried. We each had experience with dogs and cats but not farm type animals. Fortunately, Sally was around the first morning and took me through the chores. After I spread the birdseed in the chicken coop I was to search for eggs in the hen house. Readers of the Letter know that hens in Oz are also called "chooks". Then I was to mix a pail of hay and grain for the sheep (four of them) and pour the mixture in a line over the fence. That way the sheep wouldn't battle for the feed which apparently they do if it is left all in one pile.
Being on "the farm" gives me an opportunity to check out the role of agriculture Down Under. Australia is a major exporter of food. However, agricultural products make up only 3 percent of Australia's GDP. Nevertheless Australia's 135,000 farmers can feed 80 million people. Chief exports (in order of commercial value) are cattle, wheat, milk, fruit/nuts, vegetables and wool. Three quarters of the family farms have disappeared over the last 70 years and corporate farms, while in the minority in number, produce the great bulk of agriculture products.
The wine industry is huge here. Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wines internationally and there's a $2.8AUD billion domestic market for Australian wines. Indeed in our travels around the eastern and southern regions of this continent, vineyards and wineries seemed just about everywhere. Top on Australian farmers' minds these days are drought, water security, low soil fertility, climate change, export tariffs on their products and national subsidies paid by other countries to support local farmers.
Of course, Denise and I named all seven chickens. I was surprised on how beautiful these hens were. My favorite was the white chook we called Yvette. I discovered an egg on the second morning! Our stay at our Daylesford farm was very pleasant but alas, we had to return to the city after three nights. We decided to check out Hanging Rock Reserve which was only about 40 minutes from Daylesford and on our way back to Melbourne.
Again, more mature readers or cineastes will recall Hanging Rock from the very famous Peter Weir film released internationally in 1976, Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film was based on a 1967 book by the Australian, Joan Lindsey. Lindsey wrote a spooky, atmospheric novel that seemed to report on a true incident on Valentine's Day in 1900 when three high school girls and one of their female teachers mysteriously disappeared while picnicking at Hanging Rock. Hanging Rock is a volcanic formation of rocks that stick out sharply from the otherwise flat terrain outside the town of Woodend in Victoria. It's been a tourist site/park since the 1860s. In fact, the story was entirely fiction. However, it was written so convincingly, that for fifty years now people continue to search for clues as to what happened to the girls.
So we were driving on our way to Hanging Rock Reserve. We had brought some nuts and water that we purchased and never ate in Daylesford. It suddenly occurred to me that with a few more items to eat we could PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK! I proposed as much to Denise. She was game. We stopped at the Coles in Woodend (this is a real town that was featured in the book and movie). We picked up some bread, cheese, and Hungarian salami (for me).
It was a beautiful day. There were many picnic tables in shaded areas at the park which was pleasantly filled with families because of Easter holidays. After lunch we of course had to climb up to the Hanging Rock. It took about 45 minutes. Along the way I got too far ahead and couldn't find Denise. I thought of the film. I worried slightly. I mentioned to another man ahead of me that I was concerned that I might have lost my wife on Hanging Rock. He knew the film. He said I'd be lucky if I lost my wife. He was just kidding and we both laughed. She showed up a couple of minutes later.
The view from the top was lovely and spectacular. I think the climb up would be an ideal adventure for any boy (or girl) from age 8 to 14. It was pretty fun for this 64-year-old boy as well.
Only one word today for our Australian language lesson:
• Swag -- a traveler's bundle containing personal belongings, cooking utensils, food or the like.
Which gives me the notion to check out all the words to Waltzing Matilda for the next Letter from Melbourne. Until then...