By BESSIE BLORE
Editor’s note: This is a post from a Mamamia reader named Bessie Blore. Bessie is a 25-year-old farmer’s wife who lives on a far-western NSW property called Burragan that’s 110km from the nearest town and 200km from the nearest supermarket. Bessie recently sent us a link to her blog and we couldn’t stop reading.
Question: When does 70,000 acres become too small for two people?
Answer: After six weeks of shearing.
It’s about the six week mark, and I guess not just of shearing, but of being at Burragan without a break, when things start to teeter on the edge of homicide and there’s not enough room in this 70,000 acres for the both of us some days. Yet, my husband ST can still go out “to check the sheep” for a couple of hours and I miss him. I think that is the key, that even when you’re ready to start shooting the pellet rifle at the other’s feet to watch them dance like a popcorn kernel, you’re still on the same team. Seventy-thousand acres is too small to hate each other for too long. Though, once the bottom lip is dropped, in a 20 room house with 32 doors, there’s a lot of angry foot stomping and door slamming to be done.
By the six week mark we’ve well and truly run out of chocolate (that usually happens at around week two, unless it’s the month after Easter). Even the cooking chocolate supplies will be disappearing fast. It’s most likely we’ll have also run out of any supermarket-bought vegetables and fruit, including staples like onions, potatoes and garlic. We’ll be nearing the end of the frozen vegetable stash, and will be relying almost totally on tinned or jarred goods to back up anything ready to harvest in the vegie patch.
At the six week mark scotch finger biscuits will diminish completely, making for a grumpy ST. While dwindling supplies of peppermint tea will be making for a grumpy Bess. Margarine and butter, naughty snacks like chips and biscuits, coffee and white sugar may well be on the blink. The freezer will be void of any chicken, bacon, or beef mince, and treats like puff pastry and frozen chips will be long gone. Fortunately, given we grow lamb, there will always be a plentiful supply of beautiful, home grown lamb… but after six weeks of shearing you’re usually left with cuts like neck chops and shoulders which require more effort and inventiveness than you feel like giving after 42 days without an espresso coffee.
By the seven week mark I’ll consider ordering this stuff out in the mail, but then I’m sure we should be heading to Town any day now, so I usually decide that as long as no one calls in and catches us surviving in this state, we can live without these things for at least a little while yet.
By the eight week mark I’m making cakes out of beetroot, ground almonds and honey, because I’ve got beetroot growing in the vegie patch and we’re on serious rations with the sugar and flour. And because I’ve still got more beetroot, and am craving anything remotely junk-foody, I’ll decide that making baked chips out of beetroot would also be an awesome idea. And it is awesome. But really, who wants to painstakingly slice beetroot into bible-page thin slices to bake into delicate homemade crisps after a 12 hour day in the paddock when I’ve still got to water the garden, feed the dogs and chooks, put on/hang out/bring in/fold up the washing, clean the kitchen, mend ST’s jeans, and butcher up a lamb shoulder just to make a stir fry…
At the end of eight week I’ll convince myself a spoonful, or ten, of condensed milk is appropriate for smoko, and dessert, and a midnight snack, and sometimes even breakfast. It was okay when I was 14 and my parents were out, why is it not okay when I’m 24 and my parents live 1000 kilometres away? And if I do happen to get visitors, they’ll have to be happy with lamb chops and lettuce for dinner, and if they really want dessert they can have condensed milk too, maybe whipped and frozen, maybe with some beetroot.
By week nine I’ll have run out of tonic water and I’ll be wondering if it’s okay to start mixing gin with coke. Bathroom soap may well be gone by now too, so we’ll start bathing with shampoo. And in desperate times, kitchen dishwashing liquid has been known to be replaced with antibacterial hand wash.
It’s basically impossible to get the shopping quantities right. Even if I were to buy ten extra of everything, then I can guarantee there’d be a mini tornado hit the walk-in pantry at the five week mark, totally destroying all edible stores, leaving only the tinned asparagus in its wake. Murphy always wins.
Ten weeks is the longest continual time I’ve ever spent at Burragan sans Town visit. By the ten week mark ST and I are doing well if we’re still talking to each other. And that’s less to do with not getting along than it is to do with actually being lucky if we can still remember how to speak English after two and a half months total of social isolation. Although, by that stage, often not talking is safer than what the voices in my head are telling me to say.
Maybe it’s a female thing but by this stage every day seems to become one of “those days” where everything gets to you and you feel like screaming the house down because of something as simple as, say, you know, you wanted cheese for lunch. But you ran out of cheese and you live 200 freaking kilometres from the closest cheese store. And why doesn’t anyone else around here care about the supply of cheese? Why is it always me who looks after buying cheese and doing everything to do with cheese? And “everyone else” acts like they don’t have enough time to get cheese. Yet, they don’t have any problem eating cheese. And they seem to have time to do other things that in the big scheme of things, probably aren’t really as important as ordering cheese. But they’ll still do those other things before ordering cheese, even though having cheese is a pretty big freaking deal. And in the end they just leave buying cheese up to you, even though you bloody well hate having to be the one that buys cheese all the time.
Sure, cheese is symbolising a lot of things in this story, but I think it about sums up the general thought process at the ten week point. I’m certain ST thinks the same. Just replace cheese with doing sheep work or renovating the laundry. Anyone for a whine with that cheese?
The worst thing though, is that a trip to Town after 10 weeks is a kamikaze journey. I’m not joking. It. Can. Make. You. Want. To kill yourself. With a supermarket green bag. But the good thing is you accidentally left those in the cupboard at home (again), which is 500km away.
Five-hundred kilometres!? I can hear you ask. But Bessie, it says in your little bio up there on the top right of the page that you’re only 110km from the closest town, and 200km from the supermarket? Well my friend, that’s true. We are only 110km from Wilcannia – you’ll notice I’ve put it in italics there. That’s because I want you to read the word in such a way that it has so much meaning and emphasis, that it conveys exactly what I’m trying to say about Wilcannia, without me actually having to spell it out for you here…if you know what I mean? Anyway, without going into detail, there are no shops in Wilcannia, so it’d be totally pointless driving the 110km to get there.
To our east, 200km away, we have Cobar… (Notice there’s no italics; Cobar is nowhere near in the same league as Wilcannia.) Cobar’s nice enough. A mining town. Two IGA supermarkets (where I can order groceries from to be delivered in our twice weekly mail if I wish), a bakery, a few coffee shops, an excellent motorbike shop, a Subway and Eagle Boys… (I don’t eat either of those, but I wanted to emphasise the lack of a MacDonald’s, KFC or Red Rooster)…
But still, we’re running 70,000 acres here! We’ve got NEEDS! Like car parts and shed supplies and building renovation materials, and WINE! And not just any old wine, but BULK, well priced wine! The kind of wine where you get a discount for buying six or more bottles. We require Dan Murphy’s and Bunnings, speciality farm supplies shops, stock feed shops, and auto parts shops.
And I require Thai food and the shoe department at Myer.
And so, when we “Go to Town,” we drive 500 kilometres east to the bright lights of Central Western NSW’s major centre, Dubbo! (Notice lack of italics AND the addition of an exclamation mark.) To everyone who’s ever heard me say, “We went to Town yesterday,” or “I popped a letter a letter in the post for you in Town,” or “I found something for you in town, I’ll post it when I can,” or ‘I just got back from town, so it took a while to unpack,’ I want you to listen to me right now, very carefully: there was really no simple ‘popping’ or ‘finding’ or ‘just’ or ‘a while’ about it … We drove 500km there, and 500km back, we paid $130 for a night in a three star motel where the shower head most likely fell off , and we forgot to take our green bags.
SO – after ten deprived weeks at Burragan, without chocolate or margarine or scotch finger biscuits, Town becomes this mythical Atlantis where people can walk to the corner store without having to pack a cut lunch, where ice cream comes on sticks out of huge freezers and there’s, like, 50 different flavours, and where women can wear ballet flats made out of felt and suede, in colours like beige without them turning dirt-red, and where you can still drive around when it rains, because the ground is covered in this stuff called cement and bitumen.
Delirious with anticipation at the magical things which happen in this place called Town, I envisage a Grace Kelly like version of myself waltzing into a day spa, ready for a full day of pampering, waxing, preening and hair styling. The pre-haircut scalp massage is so undoing that other ladies in the salon point to me, “I’ll have what she’s having,” they say.
Afterwards, ST, who’s donned a suit and tie for the occasion (which I haven’t have to spend hours dragging him around every bloody men’s shop in Town to try on), takes me out to dinner at the best restaurant in Town where we feast on seafood that’s been flown in fresh from the trawlers that morning. We might catch a movie after dinner, or we might hit the local wine bar for cocktails and a cheese platter.
We’ll enjoy a full 12 hours of sleep on a King-size bed with luxurious 1000TC sheets, and who knows, maybe we’ll be upgraded to the Premium Deluxe Room, just because. A full cooked breakfast will be delivered straight to the door come 8.30am and we’ll be ready to complete our remaining few Town jobs by the time the shops open at 9…
And then, when you’re two hours into a five hour car trip to Town, reality comes crashing down – because actually, by week ten, the trip to Town is like a 15 minute trip to Disney Land where Mickey Mouse throws up on you on the giant tea cup ride. I’ve never been to Disney Land, or had Mickey throw up on me. But my point is that there’s just way not enough time to any of the fun stuff, yet you can’t avoid the bad stuff – it sticks to you and smells gross.
When we lived in Townsville the local supermarket was less than a block from our house. I used to visit every second day. So say, for 15 minutes every second day, for ten weeks, is… 8 hours and 45 minutes of supermarket time… How much fun do you think there’s to be had in cramming 8 hours and 45 minutes of supermarket time into 2 hours max?! And say $20 per trip for every second day over 10 weeks, equates to $700… yep, that sounds about right… it hurts when that figure flashes up on the checkout scanner. And you haven’t even been to Dan Murphy’s yet.
The trip to Town is a nightmare. You will NEVER be able to achieve 100percent of the jobs on your list. You will NEVER be able to complete the supermarket shopping without causing a scene with your loved one in the canned food section. You will NEVER be able to find the right motorbike/car/truck filter at the first, second, or even third store you visit, so you will spend precious hours visiting every, single auto parts store in Town and you will have to forfeit your time in the Myer shoe department. You will NEVER have to time for a three course dinner – if you’re lucky you might get a 50cent cone to eat in the stinky, cramped motel room after Thai takeaway. You will NEVER have time to see a movie at the cinemas.
You will have a fitful sleep, and you will wake up at sunrise just as you normally do. You will be grumpy the next morning as you scoff a McMuffin for breakfast and then you’ll proceed to run around like a headless chook still trying to find yesterday’s motorbike/car/truck filter. The garden nurseries will NOT have any of the plants you’re looking for, and the ones you do manage to buy will need to be tightly wrapped in plastic to ensure they still have leaves after a journey home in the back of the ute. And even then, they’ll still probably die once you re-plant them and you’ll be waiting another 10 weeks until you can buy new ones (and there’s only five lots of ten weeks in a year!)
Then, just as you wish you could stop for the day, have a coffee and head back to the motel room for a nap before dinner and stay another night to finish you list, nope, nup, sorry, I forgot to mention you had to check out of the motel by 10am, so allllllllllllll day every time you got out of the ute, you had to shift stuff from the tray to the front seat so it wouldn’t get stolen, and back again every time you got back in the car.
It’s also incredibly likely that something will go wrong with your car during this trip to Town and you will have to drop at the mechanic and complete the remainder of your 700 mile long shopping list by foot.
And then, finally, you get back in the car for the last time, ready for the glorious 500km journey home… and to be honest, you can’t wait to get home so you can just breathe again. But you’re not looking forward to unpacking everything at midnight.
Whoa, whoa, whao! Hold up! Deep breaths… Have I scared you off yet?
Let’s go back a step…
Let me tell you about week number one.
The first week back at home after a trip to Town is glorious, with all the treats you bought from the supermarket, justified because “we live in the middle of no-where, dammit, we’ve got to have something worth living for!” As you sit back on the veranda at dusk, cicadas chirping, the scent of citronella in the air, a postcard perfect sunset dipping behind the Box Gums, sipping a glass of great champagne (because sometimes it’s worth it) with strawberries ripe from your own garden. Dogs fed, trees planted, veggie patch watered, roast in the oven, contented fiancé, the only two people around for 280 square kilometres.
70,000 acres, just the pair of us.
Bessie is a journalist, farmer’s wife, and chocoholic, living and working with her husband on a sheep property in far-western New South Wales. Their place “Burragan” is 110km from the nearest town, 200km from the nearest grocery store, and 300km from the nearest major centre. When she’s not out in the paddock helping with sheep work, she likes keeping up with global issues, and writing about the strange secrets of her beautiful bush landscape on her blog.