In a past life I used to write a weekly column for the ODT on life viewed from the home paddock (from whence came the name of this blog). In honour of World Rural Women’s Day I’ve dug out the first one I wrote:
Some of us are rural by birth, some become rural because of the career we choose and some become rural by marriage.
If like me you’re in the latter group you’ll know that the marriage vows have extra meaning for those of us who choose farmers, because when you take on a man of the land you don’t get just the man, but the land and the lifestyle as well.
To love and to cherish applies not only to your farmer but his farm and everything that goes with it. In sickness and in health includes stock and machinery. For better or worse encompasses the weather and markets. All of these have a very real bearing on whether it’s for richer or poorer; and anyone with dreams of one day retiring to town should determine exactly what’s meant by “til death us do part”.
It didn’t take me long to realise what I’d let myself in for when I’d said, “I do.” During his speech at the wedding breakfast our best man mentioned he’d been surprised to see the groom throwing his gumboots into the car before they left for the church. When asked why, my soon to be husband had replied, “I’m irrigating tomorrow,”
I thought he was joking – until early next morning when I was woken to accompany him as he checked the irrigator before we left on our honeymoon.
Still, I should be grateful we had a honeymoon at all. Had it not been for a drought we’d have been in the middle of harvest. As it was we managed to snatch a long weekend away between a stock sale on Friday and drafting lambs on Tuesday.
And there were plenty more breaks ahead – two days for the Lincoln field days; three for a Young Farmers’ conference and four at the Young Farmer of the Year.
After all that, perhaps my farmer could be excused his reaction to my request for a real holiday for holiday’s sake and not something to do with farming. He looked at me in hurt surprise and said, “Life’s one long holiday when you enjoy what you’re doing”.
That’s when I had to confess I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about my new life.
The position of farmer’s wife hadn’t come with a job description but it went without saying that having accepted the post I was responsible for feeding farm workers, shearers, stock agents, orphan lambs and other strays – two or four legged.
Then there was the stream of phone calls to deal with, messages to run and the other minor but time consuming tasks that fall to your lot when you live with someone who lives on the job.
On top of that there was housework and with the house had come a garden that was big enough to be a full time job in itself. So it wasn’t that I didn’t have enough to do or even that I objected to doing any of it, I just felt something was lacking.
Before we’d married I’d had rosy visions of working together. It didn’t occur to me that my farmer had been running his business for several years alone and had no need for an assistant with a lot more enthusiasm than expertise.
There was the odd occasion when he wanted me to lend a hand but that wasn’t always successful. Take the day he asked me to help draft the ewes before lambing. It sounded so easy: he’d send the sheep up the race and if he said “full” I was to let them go straight ahead and if he said, “empty” I’d send them to the right.
It sounded so simple, even a fool could cope, and I did at first; but then a couple of ewes ran up together and when I’d sorted them out there were three more charging up the race. I wasn’t sure whether they were full or empty and by the time I’d worked it out there were several more coming at me. In the heat of the moment I forgot whether full was to the right or straight ahead…
It was about then that my farmer started yelling and I replied, “Woof!”
I suppose it was understandable that subsequent offers of help were met with a “thanks, but no thanks”. Or “if you really want to do something you could get us some afternoon tea because people are best doing what they do best.”
Fortunately soon after that I was offered a job as rural reporter on the local radio station. That let me combine the skills I’d been trained to use with my new found country contacts and left me with no time to hanker about a more active role on the farm.
But I’d learnt a valuable lesson from my time at home and put it to good use when winter approached. Our fire wood supply was getting low so I suggested my farmer might find time to cut some more.
“Why don’t you do it,” he replied. “After all you’re the one who says women can do anything.”
“Ah yes,” I retorted, “But you’d do it so much better than I could and thanks to you I’ve learnt that people are best doing the things they do best.”