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.