the best thing about being a responsible working dog owner (who wants her dogs to work) is you get to travel. for a sheep dog, there arent many sheep in the city, so you get to travel a long way. i set off about 10am friday to head 460kms northwest of here, to a little town called coolah. its a tiny little place, really only there because its half way between somewhere and somewhere else, although coolah’s main claim to fame is being the one of the towns in australia with a black stump. in white australian bushlore, the black stump signified the limits of ‘civilisation’, (although i would argue this point was actually 28.3kms out of mudgee when i lost my 3G phone connection. thanks telstra). but its in a beautiful part of the world, and being there made me more than a little homesick. i’ll show you what i mean.
first you have to get over the blue mountains, i had a good run though and stopped at blackheath to pick up a cake and some lunch. its gorgeous up there at the moment, cold enough to make you shiver but not enough to stop you soaking up a bit of sunshine in a park:
then it was on to mudgee, one of my favourite little country towns. the food and wine scene has hit big here and its changed a lot over the last 10 years. i pulled off the highway and into the vineyards looking for a fantastic place that trent and i have been to a few times before, di lusso. they were some of the first people to bring italian grapes to this part of australia, including the now popular pinot grigio (among others). apparently the climate and soil here are very similar to the lombardy region in italy where they are grown. not being a drinker anymore, i fell in love with this place for its spectacular olive oil. they also do fig products when they’re in season. its in beautiful surroundings,
complete with bocce court.
possum and i could have hung out here for a while, but i still had an hour and a half to drive, so we headed off past the coal mines at ulan and then started winding up into the slopes and long valleys of the warrumbungle foothills.
coolah is on a slope on the western side of a long wide valley, and is a tiny little village. the number of shop buildings (a large amount of them closed or for sale) down the main street signified that it had once been a little more populated and prosperous than it now is. i started to feel pretty homesick when i found the supermarket, it reminded me of the set up in a little town called manilla, northwest of tamworth, the closest town to the farm where i spent a big chunk of my childhood (more about that later). they do these things in country towns where there will be one big building with multiple shops in it, but you can walk through from one shop to the next inside the building, rather than go back outside. so the building here in coolah included a supermarket, green grocer, newsagent, and hardware. it made me laugh. then possum and i went for a drive, looking for the famous black stump. i found this in a park
but i dont think thats it. i also found the railway station.
that made me laugh too. at least it didnt have a cow tied up to it, like the platform at gurley (a tiny wheat village on the black soil near moree where i spent many a christmas at my aunty’s pub). maybe its from here i get my affection for outback pubs. the royal hotel gurley has a fond place in my memory. when we werent sitting on the bar eating smiths chicken chips, my sister and i used to lock each other in the cool room and have to perch up on crates of beer so we didnt freeze off our bare feet. things werent quite so exciting at the coolah vally hotel but it was a good place to stay, with an excellent view of the main street from the huge upstairs balcony
most importantly it was warm and comfortable. big rooms, roaring fire, comfy beds, big clean bathrooms with good hot water pressure. a bit noisy friday night, but no problem saturday night. and a decent pub dinner of course. poor possie had to sleep in the car, and there was a frost friday night.
it was still dark saturday morning when we headed out to the farm, which was still 37 kms northwest in a ‘location’ called weetaliba, and along a track called ‘gamble creek road’, off the warrumbungle way towards coonabarabran. i had as a goal in my mind the not killing of any native wildlife with my car, and it proved a bit of a challenge given the amount of kangaroos sitting on the grass verge along the road. i slowed down to let them cross in front of me, or some of them hopped along beside the car for a while before bouncing over fences and off into the trees. i didnt get any photos (you know, driving and all) but possum was excited to see them! if it wasnt kangaroos on the road, there was plenty of birdlife: rosellas, lorrikeets, king parrots, galahs, cockatoos, corellas, magpies and currawongs and ravens. the scenery here was beautiful. the mountains in the distance, with large swathes of cleared land bordered by typical eucalypt scrub with lots of beautiful snow gums. i found the turn off to the farm no problem
and headed down the red dust drive way to the actual house and yards, probably about 1.5kms back from the road. its a beautiful place, a really good solid working farm that jenny and phil bought recently, to take on the challenge of sheep for meat production. it was such a great feeling, being back on a sheep farm, though the one i grew up on was a wool production farm, complete with old wooden slab wool shed. i didnt realise until this weekend how much i miss it, and how i fully intend to end my days someplace like this.
we got to work pretty early, starting in the yards.
we worked some young ewes, and they were good natured and compliant, then a few of us took turns poking around in the big paddock ( i think thats jo and kobe headed out there).
possum and i worked really well. even i, my own harshest critic, knew we did well. in the yard we moved sheep from fence to gate and back again nice and smooth, with possum listening to me and turning when i asked and stopping when i said. this has always been the hardest part for her, she just wants to work, and she always seems to think the sheep just need that one more reminder that shes there. not today though. i was so happy with her, and that gave me more confidence out in the paddock, where we did a bit of what robert (our instructor) likes to call ‘fence inspecting’. this involves getting the sheep into a certain spot along the fence and me turning my back to the dog and letting her just hold them there without trying to work them or bark at them or make them move. it was perfect, i joked later i could have taken my knitting out there with me. its been years of hard work to get her to be able to do that, to work with me like that, and i was so happy i didnt stop smiling the rest of the day.
we took it in turns working in the yards and paddock all day, stopping for morning tea and lunch down in the house yard,
where there was a full orchard, vege gardens, beautiful trees, chook pens and dog runs. saturday night we had a bbq dinner and roaring bonfire, complete with marshmallows, and stories about when we all first started coming to herding and how much our dogs had improved. people drank phil’s homebrewed beer, and some stayed up late for port to fortify against camping in the cold, but i drove back to my nice warm pub bed. i was very glad of it the next day, there were many sore heads and backs complained of!
sunday morning dawned foggy, the valley buried under a thick white cloud.
which i then had to drive though
we worked in fog until about 1030 and when it cleared it didnt really warm up very much.
i was glad of the hat, which served its purpose very well all weekend. as did the knitted socks in boots! some people were staying over sunday night as well, but i left about 2pm for the 6 hour drive home. thankfully there was little traffic coming back over the blue mountains and i made it in about 5 and a half hours, including stops, with no speeding fines. i swear, some days i think im a cat when it comes to speeding, how i havent lost my licence three times over is beyond me. i was exhausted though, i may have had a little nap somewhere along the northern road. im still recovering today, with a sore back from driving, but it was totally worth it.
this was such a great weekend. i was sad sometimes, thinking how this was something that once trent and i used to do together, going to places we had been together. but it feels good to be doing it on my own now too. i was sad too for the path my life took after i left the childhood farm, and how it could have been different, but i felt more determined that going back to the country was something i really wanted to do. i havent realised fully how much ive missed it until this weekend. i love living on the coast, and in a city, now, but its not forever.
however, even though i didnt miss twitter or facebook one little bit all weekend, i do hope they get that phone coverage thing sorted out first!