The weather is not something that can ever be planned for, at least not when its accuracy is required months in advance. An ideal year would consist of a warm-to-hot summer, interspersed with occasional summer storms and the odd cool day, gradually cooling across autumn until consistent showers set in from early May and continue through waves of cool to moderate temperatures until the start of October, before slowly warming and drying until the end of year. Of course within this pattern the weeks when the farmer wants it to remain dry it must remain dry, and the weeks that the farmer wants it to be cool and wet it must be so.
The weather is a fickle mistress. A winter may break early in April and send all and sundry out into their paddocks to plant their potatoes and onions in the hope of being able to fit that extra crop swing in before the rains end, only to have the rain clear up and stay away in any reasonable quantities for the remainder of the year and prevent any of the crops from flourishing; while in other years it may stay dry and hot right up until mid-May and then rain incessantly for 5 months, burying everything in mud and rotting the crops in the ground.
A couple of years after Phillip and Beth were married the rain started falling early, and right on cue all the farmers took to their fields on their tractors to prepare for and plant their winter crops. However the rain just continue, it got heavier and heavier. It rained until the ground simply couldn’t hold any more water and rivulets started to scar the flesh of the hills. As the rain intensified the scars deepened and widened, sweeping sections of the crops downhill into the dam. Cows, calves, ewes and lambs got caught in the mud and the shallows of the waterholes, and their distressed bellows and bleats rang up to out of the valleys throughout the day and night.
My roots kept me safe on the side of the hill, spreading deep and wide to cling to the earth. I watched steadfast and immovable, unable to help, for all appearances a passive observer.
While our valley lost a lot of its crops during this winter, as a mere upstream tributary we were protected from the worst. With the accumulation of waters from the many valleys just like ours the river transformed from its idyll into a swollen torrent. The river broke its banks and rose all the way up to within a couple of feet of the bottom of the dam wall. The force of its torrent picked up rotting logs from the forest floor, uprooted ancient elders and cleared the undergrowth from around its banks. Others died from the waterlogging over the following months. Farms lining the river were washed out, flocks were lost (although in one instance an entire herd was found a week later about 10 miles downstream), houses, sheds, machinery and bridges were damaged or destroyed, The one thing to be thankful for was that there was no loss of human life.
The cleanup was a long and arduous task. Debris had to be cleared and mud transferred from the flats back up to the slopes. Those farmers that escaped largely unaffected pitched in with their time and machinery to lend a hand. The damage was so extensive in a couple of areas closer to the coast that some simply walked away from their farms, while others were claimed in the following months by depression.
Not long after the flood the Mayfield’s sold up to finance their buying of a larger farm closer to the limestone coast, where they would be amongst the first wave of farmers to transform their rolling pastures into vineyards, creating a dynasty of their own and a considerable fortune in the process. The Mayfield block had long been a thing of envy for my family, containing as it did the greatest area and quality of arable land in the valley. The hill rose steeply from the water’s edge to a crest, and then receded slowly towards the north- a fertile slope that caught the best of the sun. The rockier southern incline had long been established as an orchard containing varieties of apples, pears and nectarines that provided a great source of fruit for the kitchen table, as well as being a nice little extra money-spinner.
Only a couple of weeks after they had bought the Mayfield’s farm, Phillip and Beth announced to the family that they were expecting a child. They had known this information for several weeks and had successfully managed to keep it hidden, but now that the truth was out the cause of Phillip’s recent vagueness and Beth’s coy smile were only too apparent, and their mothers in particular berated themselves in private for not having put the pieces together before now, while simultaneously implying that they had known all along.
Of course everyone was overjoyed at the news. They had been married a couple of years and whispers had begun in the bedrooms and studies of their families as to why they hadn’t conceived by now, so the news caused a palpable ripple of relief across their faces. The grandmother’s set to work crocheting little boots, gloves, pants and jumpers, erring on the side of yellow since the sex of the little one was not yet known.
When she did arrive, little Olive was possibly the most doted upon baby in the world. Both grandmother’s would visit daily and developed something of a rivalry, which Beth tried to mediate by dressing Olive in clothes made by the two elders on alternate days. Meanwhile Dad, Albert and the Moriarty’s never tired of slapping Phillip on the back with a sly wink and bringing up stories of when Phillip was a wee one. Not one of them could disguise their pride.
The years following Olive’s birth were a time of great change for Karabup. The roads into the district were widened, and some of them sealed to give better access for the logging companies whose bulldozers, loaders and trucks cut their way deeper into the forest. With the improved infrastructure the school bus also extended a spur from the schools in Manjimup along the highway that serviced the districts and forests behind Karabup. The arrival of the bus heralded the closure of the school. Its two teachers were transferred to town, leaving the small wooden building to serve as the local children’s playgroup, before also being moved into town many years later as a historical relic of the failed Group Settlement Scheme.
The local store would battle on for another decade, but would eventually succumb to the greater range of goods available in town. The post office continued to receive and distribute the local mail for 20 more years until the postmistress Ms Giacomo finally died of old age. And so for all intents and purposes- other than for the local’s themselves- the district of Karabup was lost from the postal chain and so too the maps. The road signs notifying travellers of its existence still pointed the way from the highway and the old postcode remained, but these were now merely relics of an age lost but for the memory of a few.
Society was changing fast and hordes of young people from right across the globe set upon the world searching for some other meaning in life, and in order to find and fulfil this quest they needed money, work. My family welcomed in these young travellers- backpackers as they came to be known- with the promise of food, board and a small wage in exchange for their time working on the farm. For the first few years these backpackers, usually between 2 and 4 at a time, were put up in any of the spare rooms either in the house or the uninhabited cottages, until some bright spark had the idea to set up a business of her own accommodating, feeding and drinking these youth on an old tobacco farm out of town, finding them work on local farms and ferrying them to and from work as required. It took a lot of the obligation off the host farms, and strong bonds were developed between the locals, the hostel owners and the backpackers so that there was never any real shortage of workers or locals. So long as everybody treated each other well and with the right spirit, everything worked harmoniously.
From an early age Olive displayed tendencies not at all like those of a normal little girl. As soon as she could toddle she would follow her father around the yard and as he left the house in the mornings with the backpackers she would stand there, hands pressed against the wooden slats of the front gate, wailing. As a child she would prefer to sit for hours digging amongst the chook shit rather than play inside with the dolls that her grand- and great-grandparents insisted on buying her, and which sat barely noticed in a box of similar such toys in the lounge room.
Given Olive’s proclivity for hands-on work, by the time she had started school Beth had put her in charge of looking after the chooks and a small patch of the veggie garden. Just like her father and grandfather before her, Olive took to her tasks with verve. No sooner had she jumped off the school bus, ridden her bike down the track and dumped her bag in the corner of the kitchen, than she would be outside in the mud scratching away at the dirt pulling out the smallest of weed sprouts or searching for earthworms, so that by the time it came to clean up she would be caked in a heavy layer of drying mud. Phillip and Beth would joke at night about how this daughter of theirs seemed to think that it was the chickens that were her parents and not them at all.