Sunday, December 20, 2015

The calf puller

I’d never seen one before. It was lying on a bench at a garage sale on the way to Broke. The farm with SOLD plastered in red letters over a For Sale sign. Near where the track turns off to the shipwreck beach, near where the cattle have been wandering on the road at dusk recently, near where the shaggy emu wears a path up and down the fence, pining for his wife and chicks on the other side.

A huge cardboard box with black texta advertised the garage sale but when I pulled in the gate was shut. I sat there wondering what to do, as the cattle watched, wondering what I was doing. Then I saw some paper pegged to the gate. I drove forward to read: Gate is unlocked please shut it after you and dont lock the cows outside.

I opened one of the gates shaped like an envelope, shut it behind me and drove up the hill towards the house, squishing over fresh cow pats. Garage Sale in Big Shed, read the next piece of cardboard near the house, fallen so it laid flat on the ground.

‘Everything’s for sale,’ the woman said to me as she walked with me from the house carrying a calico bank bag. She showed me into the Big Shed. ‘Except that four wheeler, and that car. We’ve just been in having lunch.’
Another woman, stouter and softer than the angular lined farmer, joined us in the Big Shed. I realised they were the two women I’d seen over several months: on four wheeler motorbikes rounding up cattle, or putting out traffic warning signs and waving me past as they’d moved the cattle across the highway from one paddock to another.

Fridges, freezers, juicers, microwaves, VHS players, DVD players, stereos, grinders, oxy’s, televisions, foot spas … I moved past all of these things. Living off the grid takes half of any garage sale out of the equation for me. The women settled into the director chairs and watched me. They were probably thinking ‘another tyre kicker’, maybe even ‘tourist’.

It got more interesting on the north side of the shed. Non-electrical machinery and tools were laid neatly on the dusty workbenches. A whole kit of spanners and sockets. Got them. A petrol whipper snipper in good nick. Mine. A lovely little gen set. Mmm… got a 4KVA. Nope, Boat trailer jockey wheel $5. Mine. A large stained heavy plastic bag with Calf Puller $100 written on lined notebook paper, sticky-taped to the plastic.
I opened the bag and looked inside.

Winches, two threaded posts, with gleaming silver chains, and rubber-coated handles for a better grip in the cold, cold nights when the grass was wet or even crunchy with ice. Brightened eyes in the torch light. Flesh. Contracting. Labour. Birthing. Steel. Winching.
A cold white bed with stirrups, steel tools and tie downs.

I wanted to take a photo of the stainless steel apparatus but worried that the women would be offended (or out me as a total tourist).
‘Oh my god,’ I said under my breath.  
Both women nodded.
‘A calf puller,’ said the farmer. ‘For getting the calves out.’
I crossed my legs and gave out an involuntary ‘Ooh!’
The farmer’s face was immovable but her companion said, ‘Makes you wince a bit, hey love?’
‘Seeing that thing makes me never want to have sex again,’ I said and the round, white-haired woman burst out laughing.
I brushed the dust from my hands onto my jeans and went for my wallet. If I had a hundred bucks, I thought, I’d buy that calf puller. Purely so that no other bastard could ever use it again.
‘How much for the whipper snipper?’

I’ve always liked cows but today as I ambled in my car through their slushy poos back to the gate, I looked at them anew. They looked at me too. Cows do look; they observe people because they are curious critters. At the gate they gathered around their latest visitor, staring at me while  stripping branches from European trees and scratching their foreheads against the remaining twigs. None of them looked pregnant. A lot of them looked like heifers actually. It’s probably the wrong time of year for calf pulling anyway.

Calving, Sarah. Calving.

I opened the gate, shooed them off as they crowded around, drove through and shut the gate. I could still see them in my rear view mirror as I turned onto the highway, my whipper snipper and jockey wheel bouncing around on the back of the ute.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Salt on the water

How to cook mullet

I took the fillets out of the fridge, peeled some off and threw them into a plastic bag lined with spelt flour and salt. I rolled the fillets around inside the shopping bag, spilled the fillets into a hot pan full of spitting olive oil, and threw the plastic bag and leftover flour into the bin. I wondered what he’d think about that last bit. Fresh limes squeezed over sizzling fillets. A sprinkle of salt.

The last time I saw Krispy he’d earned his moniker with his demeanour and daily damper bowl. That was ten years ago. I saw his car yesterday, pulled over on the track while I was looking for karri hazel sticks to hold up the purple beans I’d planted. He was looking at his phone at the ‘you’ve got range’ spot.

I flew past him, recognised his red beard and intense orange/crazy glare, stopped and did a whining reverse until I was back alongside his car window, grinning.
“Hello Krispy!
“Ah! Sarah!”
He jumped out of his car. His Bali shirt was unbuttoned and his chest and leg hairs covered in fine black sand. He gave me a huge big smelly hug, which was odd but welcome because he’d always been so shy.

He’d been on a trek from the Chesapeake Road to an isolated lake where he reckoned he’d seen more birds than ever in his life. Camped overnight. Walked back the next day to his car. Someone who’d been looping Australia for decades, recently living in the Daintree and eating red bellied snakes.
He’s a wanderer and a true bushy. I’ve never worked out his past, only his present. That’s how it’s always been with Krispy. You see him. He’s there, on a beach somewhere where you are camping and you eat damper and trench-baked kangaroo tail with him and it is excellent and then, after he’s smashed up the guitar with the twisted neck and thrown it in the fire and disappeared down into his peppermint hollow behind the beach, you won’t see him again for years. I’ve never known him to have a dog, although he likes dogs. He collected boats and canoes and beaches instead. There is something quiet and hurt and hermitty about him. I’ve always liked him. He likes to keep to himself.

I asked him back to my house for a feed and a cup of tea.

I cut up chilli cheese into cubes and looked at him.
“Has it got chilli in it? Then, nah,” he said.
“How about I just give you the knife and some tomatoes and veges and stuff.”
He nodded and cut up the tomatoes into chunks. He started on the fennel bulb. My bread had gone mouldy so we didn’t do bread. I squeezed a lime over the frying mullet and sprinkled on some more salt.

“Where’d you get that mullet? You been netting?” He shouted, not used to the timbre of his own voice.
“Shush Krispy!” I said.
“Ah. Sorry mate. Been in the bush too long. Stuff just comes outta me mouth.”
I picked some coriander and rocket from the garden and put them onto plates. Balsamic. Pepper grinder. Cutlery.

“Oh.” He said. “I’ve know how hungry I am now, smelling that fish cooking. Been eating raw nuts for days. Best energy count per gram, raw nuts. But dehydrated! I can just feel me getting hydrated again.” It was hot and he took another swig from his hot pink water bottle. “That was a huge walk.”
“One of your headlights isn’t working, just in case you enter the metropolis,” I said. “The passenger side one, I think.”
“That’s good to know mate. Thanks.”

I swear when I put down that plate of fresh mullet, tomatoes, rocket, coriander and fried fennel in front of him, Crusty wolfed the whole lot in twenty seconds flat.
I looked at his empty plate.
“D’you want some more?”
“I’ll wait a while,” he said, “see how it goes down.”

Maybe I won’t see him for another decade. Who knows.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Better get the washing in

Perfect, blackened spirals of bracken appear on the veranda
broken down to carbon
blown here from the burn at Mandalay.