Thursday, January 07, 2010

A rural reflection

If that sounds boring, life in rural isolation has been anything but. The area of north central Victoria suffered in last February’s bushfires, so we are all nervous now as the bushfire season is back with us. I don’t have naming rights to the four acre block, but am tempted to go with the Fishbowl, as the surrounding community is watching for each improvement made.

A close second is Stone Farm. Part of my Christmas reading covered the story of Charles Darwin and his son Horace investigating the power of earthworms by placing a stone on the ground and watching it sink by about 2 mm per year. Apparently that experiment is still being monitored at Down House near London. Well if Charles had gone to Stone Farm he could watch as stones rose out of the red clay, volcanic earth.

I’ve had two major tasks to occupy my time on Stone Farm. Given the extreme fire danger hereabouts, particularly grass and stubble fires, there has been an immediate need to slash back the wild, ungrazed pasture around the house at least. Then the robbery late last year, including generators and water pump prompted the need to at least make a work in progress look like an occupied property – like paint the house!

Since Christmas the weather has been against both those operations. Either/or very hot with low humidity and extremely windy. With the painting it was a simple issue, either the paint was drying on the brush or I was blown off the ladder. The danger of slashing is the blades hitting rocks and other debris and sparking a fire. The kanga pic (note the numerous bullet holes) above is an old road sign, found lying under the rampant grass.

Too much excitement

Normally, if I feel the need for company I’ll do the mountain treck to the pub, a stiff climb 20 minutes away, enough to moderate all but the direst needs. However, over the New Year period I seemed to have a stream of drop ins, none carrying a cheering bottle mind. Among them was a motor bike cop who patrols the area. The Bendigo cops cover something like 3000 square kilometres, or it last the major roads.

It seems the heifers I had been watching, in a paddock across the road, had decided the grass was greener on the other side of the fence – and it indeed was. Said cop was looking for the owner, or at least someone to keep a watch out. The road had been busy all day, including holiday bikers. He was concerned that with shark corners and a steep hill (either end of my boundaries) it was a potentially fatal situation to have cows wandering the road.

So I became lookout, then later in the afternoon rounded a bunch of cows off the road and led them up the lane looking for their home. Well all the gates were padlocked and with ‘beware of dogs’ signs, so I left them a fair way up to find their way home. Then a Vic Roads patrol contractor came by. He pushed then back up the lane, honking the whole way, then saw me and drove in to find out where they belonged. I’unno!

Now with the police and the roads authority in my ear I was keeping a close watch. It was a potentially serious situation. Just on dusk the next day the whole herd of two dozen cows all wandered out onto the road. I was told to call the emergency number 000, but with poor cell phone reception, running up and down shooing them off the road and warning drivers I didn’t get far. Finally I called my son in Melbourne and he talked to the police in Bendigo.

By the time a council ranger arrived an hour later I had 18 of the heifers locked in my yard, eating the fresh, well watered plantings rather than the abundant dry pasture grass. He found the other six just as the owner turned up, raging angry. Well I was too at that stage, but he didn’t clobber me when I refused access to my place until he’d talked to the ranger he’d brushed aside.

The kangaroo sign seemed apposite in all this; it was not posted to protect the poor roos, the which we have many grazing our block, but to protect unsuspecting drivers on a dangerous piece of road. I don’t know who shot it up or when, but that act was as delinquent as allowing cattle to stray on a busy road.

Ownership and possession

I was still sitting out at midnight, on a glorious night, winding down from all this and listening to the conversation as temporary fence were underway. The comment which floored me was a loud “well we mustn’t upset the neighbours. Never mind that I was biting my tongue with the owners only comment “I wasn’t angry at you, I was angry at the cows!” Like maintaining fences was the lot of these poor heifers.

Sure I’m just a city bloke, but I thought I did well to move ¾ of the herd, on a dark night, into my yard without harm to them or me. In fact two I missed nudged me in the back so they could get in as well. Perhaps I’m better with animals than with people.

Whatever, I’m no Marxist, but I do have issues over ownership perhaps different from those Karl expressed. The fact is, if regardless of how you on something, a gift, theft or earned, it will keep on demanding from you. Ownership comes with a multitude of obligations. Possession is something you never stop paying for.

In this instance I could have been sensitive to my outsider status, but I still own my conscience. It would have troubled me if one of those animals had been hit by a car if I did not act. Even though I had no legal culpability if I did not at it would have troubled me more justifying to someone’s loved ones my inaction. My sense of ownership is more about my intellect and a sense of understanding social values.

The cost here was to act on those social values, even when they were clearly opposed to my new neighbours. I expect I have partly resolved the tensions since, but only on a clear understanding that I would do the same thing again. Or perhaps the wilderness is not really the place for me…


lindsaylobe said...

The anger of the landowner over his straying heifers is typical of one who wants the world to conform to his view rather than acknowledge the importance of all relationships to the environment – to take responsibility for the natural interaction of his animals which has nothing to do with living in the bush or city. That shift in thinking is straightforward enough but has a big impact on how well people get along with one another wherever they live- whether their able to enjoy simple pleasures or become unjustifiable angry like your neighbor over his cattle’s propensity to seek greener pastures. I think we also all tend to philosophically think we are in a constant state of changing the world to fit in with our expectations. But I have formed the view that to give effect to our gifts in life’s interaction to help maintain relationships is what adds most to our sense of wellbeing. In that respect I think your post indicates you’re adapt handling of the situation ensured a more conciliatory overall outcome.

Best wishes

Cartledge said...

Thanks Lindsay, I was just sneaking another post in while I could, "Perspectives on racism" when your comment came through.
I somehow suspect your comment is appropriate to that as well :)

D.K. Raed said...

The cows were just being cows, doing what cows do. The owner was just being an idiot. You did the right thing. A cow on the road is a danger to drivers as well as to the cow itself. Just think of hitting a ton of live beef! They don't die easily either, so it would've been a prolonged nightmare-producing mess. Where is your herding dog?

Cartledge said...

WoW DK, you are alive and well! Hope the move wasn't too savage, or the weather.