By Kathryn Sommerlad
As we pack up to leave “Kildare”, a sadness sits on my heart, and it is no longer easy to look out the windows. I have been thinking about sharing some of my favourite photos, and tonight I remembered a short story I wrote last year for a competition. I didn’t win the competition, but I’m so glad I took the time to write the story (even though I sat up late at night after my little ones were in bed). Here it is . . .
Written Autumn 2016
How can I explain the way I feel about living here? The thread of past lives is always before me, and whilst it is not eerie or disturbing, sometimes it’s almost palpable. Michael and I both loved growing up on a farm, but inheriting one was not our lot in life. Over the years we’ve managed to secure a couple of little acreages that helped relieve our longing for land, but now after 25 years of marriage and 9 children, we find ourselves stewards of a long-established Tenterfield property “Kildare”. Our miracle from God. But we’re ring-ins, always aware of the lives spent establishing the property before us.
The original outbuildings still have such strength, just like the characters who forged their massive piers and corner posts. If only they could speak I would have so many questions to ask them, but I do ask anyone I think may know.
The paint peels off the carved timber window awnings on the farmhouse. Some even have ornate pressed metal lining, and I am fascinated by them. They would cost a fortune to commission today, and when I questioned one of my brothers about their construction, he explained building was once an art, not just a trade.
The paint will peel off a little longer yet though, as my husband doesn’t share my same fascination. It’s soil renovation that lights his fire. So whilst he politely agrees how beautiful the window awnings are, he takes me by the hand and walks me through broken down fences into the paddocks. Beneath the farmed-out land, the thread of pioneering dedication can still be found. “They must have planted the Lotus here in this wet area, because it’s not a native species” My husband says as he stops to point out a yellow Lotus flower.
Then we take a drive up on top of the property that reaches to around 1100 metres above sea level. “I imagine they must have come up here on horseback and planted kikuyu runners for it to be so well established”.
As well as our own findings, the locals tell us stories: how the creek flats had Lucerne so high you couldn’t see the backs of the cattle, and how they helped fill the hay sheds to overflowing.
I cannot walk through the shearing shed without feeling a strong sense of past lives. Perhaps the sweat and lanolin captured the shearer’s stories as they soaked into the floor boards.
When I stand in my old kitchen I can look out the window and see the shearing shed. In the summer, the western sun makes it hard to stand at the sink in the afternoon, and I wonder whether they shore in the summer. Much food would have been prepared in this kitchen to fuel the workers. I found a wool bale stamp with the original owner’s initials; it was shoved in the stay post of the little metal gate in the backyard. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away, and stood at the side of the house for an extended period of time looking for a nail to hang it on, out of the kids’ reach. I just felt like it deserved a little bit of respect.
Our very first winter on the farm saw the return of snow coverage in the district, which had not been seen for 30 years. It was so exciting, especially for the kids, but the old farmhouse brought little comfort. Even after placing a massive wood heater in the lounge room’s open fire place, it was still zero degrees in the kitchen at breakfast time. A quick look in the ceiling revealed no one had ever insulated the house. No one. After all these years. The original owners did however have a wooden kitchen stove, so whilst the replacement electric wall oven is certainly quick and easy, it offers little winter comfort. With four young strapping sons, and a property full of timber, it would be good to put one in again.
The old farm rubbish heaps capture my fascination too. Their rusted bits and pieces, and broken glass and crockery quickly take my mind away on a journey of wondering what life was like for the people who dumped them there. Usually though, my mind is abruptly pulled back to my own reality by my little girls’ desire to join me on the rubbish heap, and the need to remove them from the dangerous heap.
“What does “Kildare” mean?” asked the kids during our first inspection of the property. I was curious too of course, and when we returned home I looked it up. “I think it must be named after a place in Ireland” I said, and looked to my husband for confirmation. He replied with a twinkle in his eye: “The two brothers were named Mick and Pat, does that sound Irish?” and we laughed as we could almost hear the phrase “saints be praised”. The older kids just managed to catch onto Mum and Dad’s joke, and picked up another thread of Australian history.
It’s a beautiful property, and apart from one neighbour on the hill behind us, we could be miles from anywhere, yet as the crow flies we’re only six kilometres from town, about ten by the road that winds all over the place like a mad dog’s dinner. The homestead’s northern verandah takes in some of the best views on the property, including the whimsical winding dirt road that leads off into town, and the beautifully shaped blue hills behind it. When I first stood at our front door the view took my breath away, and when life becomes full of the everyday chores, I often have to remind myself to just go back and look at it.
Our boys have now walked nearly every inch of the property, and I am so grateful that at their age they can. I, however, still have much to discover, somewhere between everyday life and putting the dinner on. Some of them talk of never leaving, and have picked out spots to build their future homes, and even though it may never happen, I love to know they feel that way.
We’ve been here for 12 months now, just beginning our turn to manage the farm. I hope it likes what we’re doing. We have so many hopes and plans, just like those gone before us. I wonder what threads our family will leave behind.