“We know this area well, as we spent several years going to the annual Mudgee Wine Festival – a whole gang of us – such fun! We’ve also spent times in Gulgong – gliding – frightened the pants off me!” (Inspirational feedback from one of my blog followers.)
Day 4 Saturday 9th July 2011
As far as we can figure from snatches of weather reports from other areas, Gulgong must be having overnight temperatures of about -3 degrees Celsius, with a daytime maximum of around eleven degrees. Today would not have reached that height, and the sky is cloudy again, with a sharp wind blowing. Reports from the snowfields are that they have their deepest falls in twenty years, and certainly this wind feels as if it carries ice, even though the alpine area is more than three hundred kilometres away.
Never mind, it didn’t rain today, and we are well prepared for cold with warm underwear and scarves and coats. When we woke this morning our fire still had a few red embers, but we needed some kindling to get it to blaze again, and we didn’t find that until after breakfast, but the cabin was still warm enough in the meantime. After a cooked breakfast and a chat with the owner and her two young children we drove back to Mudgee to have a look at their Saturday market. We imagined there may have been a lot of local produce, and specialty food products, given how Mudgee is such a fine food destination these days.
As we parked our car, another young couple with a baby and a young girl were getting ready to go to the market too. The country people are so friendly that the little girl, about three years old, starting chatting with us straight away without any shyness, asking our names and telling us hers was “Charlie”. Her mum said “Give me your hand as we walk down the street” and Charlie said straight away “I want to hold her hand” pointing at me – so the three of us walked to the park together as naturally as if I were her grandmother! As soon as we arrived at the park the mother started to meet other people she knew, so we parted our ways, only to bump into each other again at the end, and Charlie still as bright and bubbly as before. A rather sweet start to our day.
The markets weren’t much, but at least it gave us a taste of the local atmosphere. Bill and I were tempted with the idea of our cosy cabin, and we justified to each other, that part of our holiday is to relax in such pleasant surroundings and read a book or watch TV (Bill is watching the rugby union as I write this), so we abandoned any idea to do serious sightseeing. The weather was so nippy we could have easily headed straight back then and there.
Nevertheless, this area is very famous for wine-growing, and also olive farms and at least one cheese manufacturer, and so we set off to visit a few that were grouped together. We managed to miss that road and ended up at another winery altogether, one along a rather isolated by-road. We were the only visitors at that moment and the lady was very generous in giving us tastings of all their wines, and in the end it was probably better that we didn’t go to any more wineries or Bill would have been over the limit for driving.
I admired the lady’s engagement ring, and that sparked her to tell us her story, which she was very open and frank about. She said that she had always promised herself that if she hadn’t met anyone suitable by the time she was mature aged, that she would go ahead and have a child by herself, and when she reached thirty-eight, that is exactly what she did. As part of the plan, she decided that she would buy an engagement ring that her son would ‘give’ her on the day of his birth, as she believed that he was the diamond in her life. She discussed it all with her mother, two sisters and grandparents, who all live close by as is common in the country, and they agreed to support her emotionally, and with child-minding – as she works seven days a week.
Her son is now a healthy and happy two year old, who has constant contact with his extended family. She said there were so many family members at the birth, that the doctor was concerned there would be chaos in the delivery room, and yet in the end the doctor thought it had been a very positive experience for him as well as mum. She also commented particularly on how social attitudes have changed, because no-one ever criticised her decision to her face, and no bad comments have reached her ears.
There is so much more to this tale, however, in the interests of prudence and privacy, I shall refrain from recounting everything that this inspiring woman had to share with me.
It was a strange and wonderful story for me to hear because the social stigma against single mothers is one of the themes in my manuscript, ‘I Belong to No One.’ Back in the day, the community attitudes in the country were even stricter than in the city. Country families often sent their daughters to unmarried mothers’ homes in Sydney, away from prying eyes. The baby would be given up for adoption (the mother had little/no say in the matter), and the mother would ultimately return to the family fold, with a story about being elsewhere for a long visit, and sworn to secrecy about what had actually happened. In fact, told to forget that she had ever had a baby. This was common practice until the mid 70s, and still sporadic after that. (Editorial Note: The Australian government issued an apology just last March 2013, for the practices of what they now call the ‘Forced Adoption Era’).
Well, you can imagine that by the time we had finished having that heart to heart chat, quite an amount of time had passed, so Bill and I started to head back to Gulgong and to buy some food for a late lunch and a dinner that we could cook at home.
Gulgong has an extensive pioneer museum (www.gulgong.net/gulgong_pioneers_museum), and I was very tempted to lose myself in there. However, I knew that I would need at least three hours to do it justice, and time was ticking away.
Instead, I looked through the museum dedicated to Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922), who is one of Australia’s most famous bush poets and short story writers. He was born about three hours away at Grenfell, but spent most of his early life in Gulgong. I spent an hour or so there, and now I am inspired to read more of his work, which talks about gold diggings, the hard aspects of country life, poverty in the city, and social conditions of his time, from around 1880 onwards until his death (many of the stories are funny, for example ‘The Loaded Dog’). The museum is manned by volunteers, and as I was the only one in the building at the time, the volunteer on duty – a retired high school industrial arts teacher – had a lot to talk to me about. Everyone in the country seems to have lots of things to talk about and lots of time to do it!
Back at the cottage, we had a short walk around the farm property without straying too far. Just mooching around, seeing what there is to see. There are sheep in a back paddock. They clustered into a mini stampede when they saw us in the distance, and as is the way with sheep, they all followed the leader. Then they took shelter in a far corner, where they stood looking at each other with an expression that read – ‘what do we now? Anyone got an idea?’ Sheep!
A pony with a shaggy winter coat came to investigate if we had any food, and snuffled my empty hands with a disgusted look……. We admired the sun striking on distance hills …… and we remarked with amazement about the amount of kangaroo droppings in the paddocks. There is not much feed around – I guess because the kangaroos destroy the grass roots – and in any case the frosts are severe at this time of the year.
We found a soccer ball in a back paddock and as we kicked it back we discovered that it is a plaything of the children’s dog Eddie, which is a tiny terrier with a lot of energy. The ball is three times his size but he is very good at dribbling it, using his head and body to drive it forward. He thinks it is great that we have come for a visit – someone new to play with for a while.
There was one little mouse in the cabin when we got back, and I caught him easily and put him back outside. He had a cute long nose as he sniffed the air around me, and he was quite docile in my hands, moving so slowly when I put him out that I thought he had an injured leg, and I felt a little sorry for him. For some months now we have been hearing about the mice plague across country areas and the damage they are doing to crops, but there are no crops growing within sight on this property, and it is so cold now that the mice have probably died off – he may be one of the last for this season.
So now I am back in this cosy cabin, catching up on my diary travelogue, sipping a little red wine we bought earlier in the day, and drying a little washing over the combustion fire.
The evening news on the television has just finished, with the weather bulletin for Sydney – as there is no regional report on the weekend. The temperatures and forecast for coastal areas are quite irrelevant to what we are experiencing three hundred kilometres inland. Thank goodness I bought a new winter coat a few weeks ago. I only bought it because it was cute and red – we hardly need a coat in Wollongong – but I have been living in it for the last few days. So I not only feel stylish, I am toasty warm inside too.
Next Destination: Coonabarabran