Tea with a Whisky Chaser
Recently, our family were reminiscing over photographs taken throughout our five-year stint at Glenham, a small country settlement in the south.
During that time, I sketched many subjects that took my fancy, among which, was an old woolshed standing inside a grove of native trees and bush, which surrounded part of our ten hectare property. As farm buildings go, it was fairly typical of those erected during the 1870’s. During that period it was constructed as a set of stables by Adam Hunter, whose family carved a large hunk out of this bush covered terrain, before gradually bringing his land into production.
During the following years, additions were obviously tacked on as the need arose and those stables were eventually turned into a shearing shed. Our family spent a delightful time here.
Perhaps, I should tell you a little story of our experience in this picturesque part of the country.
It was on a whim, my wife and I bought this small lifestyle block. Becky, my wife for the last thirty years, was the farmer in the family. I was the general roustabout, when not working in the city, thirty miles away. What did we know about farming? Absolutely nothing!
My wife’s first priority, she told me as we lay in bed one Sunday night, was to stock our little bit of paradise with a few high-quality sheep.
‘Oh yeah,’ I mumbled, snuggling up to Becky. I had a more urgent activity on my mind and it certainly was not counting flamin’ sheep.
Monday morning, Becky was up early and on the phone to a stock agent. By lunch time, she was away with him to thrash out some sort of deal and purchase her first flock.
It was a couple of days later, a transporter pulled into the yard with eighty or so, in-lamb ewes on board. My mild excitement turned to despair in a matter of minutes, as the first of the mob ambled out. These sheep, I imagined, were supposed to be classy stuff? But hell man, if these were high quality, I’d hate to see the crappy stuff.
With sixty or so sheep safely in the yards, I looked at the driver, a giant of a man. He was as bald as a babies bum, had cauliflower ears and a couple of teeth missing.
“Where’s the rest?” I said.
With a toothless grin, he pointed to his truck, “in there mate.”
We began by dragging the last twenty or so out,
what a motley lot those few turned out to be.
“What do you think dear?” Becky asked, her face beaming with pride.
“Well my love, I don’t know how you do it, you are so magnificent in your dealings, you take my breath away.”
“Really,” she cackled. “You think I’ve got an instinct for this sort of thing?”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Those sheep were crippled with rheumatism and were full of footrot. In my humble opinion, they had lived well beyond their normal life expectancy.
What did I think? I was bloody gobsmacked, ___ that’s what! This was a blinkin’ nightmare. I began wondering if I should dig a communal grave now, or wait a few days. What a god-damned disaster, a waste of our meagre finances.
The cocky who sold those sheep must have seen Becky coming a mile off. He would have been rubbing his hands with glee. Under my breath, I was abusing that stock agent. Yet calling him all the names under the sun was not the answer. Perhaps I should let all his tyres down one dark night? Then I began to laugh, at the absurdity of it all.
Over a strong cup of tea laced with a generous treble whisky, I was still shaking my head in disbelief.
Becky, cautiously sipping her tea at the other end of the table, said, “Don’t look at me like that.” She was thinking of ways to humour me. “You’ll see. In a couple of weeks, after they have all been drenched and had a big sleep, these sheep will be as fit as a fiddle. So, hurry up and finish your tea,” she snapped, slapping her hand on the table.
“C’mon we haven’t got all day.”
“You’re going to drench those poor creatures!” I muttered, thinking what a waste of good money.
“Yes.” She said in a voice that sent ripples up my spine. I had visions of having to do some work.
“What are we going to drench them with?” I asked, knowing we never had such a thing as a drenching gun. So what the hell did this woman have up her sleeve?
“C’mon,” she said slapping her hand on the top rail of the yard, “I shouldn’t have to answer your stupid questions.” She said, disappearing into the shed.
Lagging behind, as usual, I heard her scrambling around in the shed, amongst what I knew to be a load of old junk. Involuntarily, I must have groaned, for Becky glared at me.
“I wasn’t going to say anything,” I said, standing there like a dork. Then with a crash, she came up from under a load of old tins and other junk, with a dirty old funnel and a piece of rubber hose. “Ah,” she said, looking at me with a mischievous look in her eye. “Just, what I need.” She was still looking at me.
Oh hell, I tested my belt to see if it was tight and began backing out the door. I’d sampled my mother with a rubber hose and warm soapy water when I was constipated as a little kid, and I wasn’t going back there again, thank you very much.
“Hey! Where do you think you are going?” Becky demanded, her voice tinged with authority.
“I want you to hold these!” She commanded.
Relief washed over me. It seems I had completely misjudged her intentions with that hose
Her pregnant ewes were herded into the drafting pen, where I was instructed to hold each old ewe, in what could be best described in wrestling circles, as a ‘Half Nelson.’ At the same time and from the same position, I was required to force their mouths open for the wife’s next hilarious act.
As I and the old ewe performed a dance of the seven veils, I watched in horror as Becky plunged that rubber hose down the poor old bugger’s throat. Then, from a small measuring jug, she poured a quantity of drench into the funnel. Jiggling the hose up and down in the animal’s throat, she made sure every last drop went down. Some of the poor old dears coughed and gasped for breath, a bit of drench obviously slid down the wrong way.
Becky was getting a bit twitchy as those unfortunate old dear’s struggled more than she had anticipated. Couldn’t blame them myself, yet I kept my trap shut. One word out of me and that hose would’ve gone straight up my rectum, quicker than a gnat could pass wind.
When the neighbours found out, they went into hysterics. I don’t how they did find out, God, it was embarrassing. Although I must say, in between fits of laughter, Colin did take pity and returned with an old drenching gun he seldom used. He was too late of course for this episode, but it would certainly come in handy next time, should any of this present mob survive their ordeal.
Lambing was the next bit of excitement; it came and went in hilarious fashion.
Every morning and night, Becky was out there with her little bag of tricks, in case she came across one of her mothers-in-waiting having a little bit of trouble.
I can vividly recall one of her patients, as she called them, getting into a spot of strife down the bottom of a gully on our little block. “We’ve got to get her out of there and up to the shed so I can treat her,” Becky said.
“Right,” I said, looking around to see what other half-baked scheme, the wife had up her bloody sleeve. “And, how do you think we are going to accomplish this feat?”
“Oh, you’ll think of something,” she beamed, “you are clever like that.”
“Don’t you patronise me?” I growled.
Grinning, she said. “Oh, go on sweetheart, you love it.”
“Alright! Alright. I’ll go and get the blasted wheelbarrow.”
Trudging all the way back out of the gully to the shed, I cussed that crafty old ewe up the hill and down dale, for having the audacity to feign delivering her lamb in the most inaccessible part of our little block, just so Becky would take pity on her.
Returning with the wheelbarrow and other crucial bits and pieces on the list, we struggled to load the old girl into the tray.
With me in the shafts, and Becky attaching herself like a draft horse to a rope out front, we, with a lot of grunting and cussing, began our trip to the shed. Red-faced and out of breath, it had taken us about an hour of slipping and sliding, apart from expelling vulgar noises, to make the hundred yards back to the shed.
Any reasonably sane individual would have had an easier means of transport. Then, of course, I don’t think any of the neighbours ever thought we came close to being sane, anyway.
I grumbled a bit and then began to laugh at how ridiculous we must have looked “For goodness sake don’t let the neighbours know,” I said.
“And as for you, you, crafty old bitch,” I said shaking my finger at the old ewe, lying there like lady muck, on a nice clean bed of straw. I swear I could see the amusement in her eyes, as she pulled her top lip back, in what could be regarded as a sheepish grin.
If I ever thought that was going to be the only maternity rescue, I was deluding myself. With a wife who loves animals as much as Becky does, I might have known there would be another incident sometime in the not too distant future.
Of course, in a few weeks, it was time to dock lamb tails etc. In total, there were one hundred and twenty lambs.
We borrowed a gadget from one of the neighbours to fit each rubber ring. Those ewe lambs were a piece of cake, well . . . would you believe? It was those ram lambs; they were the one’s that tested my patience to the limit. They were crafty little beggars, drawing their testicles up as soon as I looked in their direction. Although I must say in all fairness, I felt a certain amount of sympathy.
As the days turned to weeks, lambs were heavy enough to take their turn at visiting the freezing works. Before this could happen, of course, I was advised to crutch our lambs before they were sent on their way.
That was a classic operation, I must say. Armed with a handpiece borrowed from my brother-in-law and last minute instructions from my eldest son, I told Becky crutching these lambs was going to be a piece of cake.
By lunch, the number in the catching pen had reduced by about twenty. I was sweating profusely and getting around like a half shut pocket knife. It was at this point, I gave up all thoughts of becoming a shearer.
What with attending to footrot, crutching our sheep, operating the wool press, a survivor from the seventeenth century, we were a constant source of amusement in the neighbourhood.
Becky always felt good though at the end of each season. She often outsmarted those older cocky’s who found us entertaining. To their horror, this teeny weenie townie, commanded top lamb prices from within our locality. All stemming from those original old ewes, I had had the audacity to condemn and for Becky’s blind faith and love she stowed upon her wretched animals.