Sue Armstrong - “Core of my Heart, my Country!”

A Tale of Flood, Fire and Drought

Sue Armstrong - “Core of my Heart, my Country!”

“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of droughts and flooding rains”.

For ten years we drove back and forth and in February 2012 retired to the farm. We moved on Wednesday in the pouring rain and the furniture van couldn’t get through the flooded roads. Thursday we watched the rain come down. Friday, as a farmer does, Brian drove to Dubbo markets to buy some cattle. Flooded creeks and deep water on the roads didn’t deter his urge to see what was on offer. I squinted through the deluge and prayed for a cup of coffee before we hit the saleyards.

Forget the coffee. Forget the saleyards. “Drop me off at the hospital on the way through. Must have pulled a muscle in the chest.”  Who takes a toothbrush and PJ’s to town? The girl on the closing doors of Big W stood no chance. ”Sorry dear, please let me in. It’s an emergency”.

He was sent by air ambulance to Sydney.

The road home was long and I was worried about Brian. No ‘roos to dodge. Too wet. Just a couple of ducks in a puddle.  A neighbour called in the next morning. “Why have you got a duck stuck in your bull bar? How’s Brian?” He was home in time to get on the tractor to meet the furniture van. It got bogged in the gateway. An auspicious beginning to life on the farm.

The following year in 2013 a fire started in the Warrumbungle National Park which adjoins our place. Brian was on duty with the RFS. Watch and wait. Up the drive he flew. “It’s gone. It’s got away”.   He rushed to move stock from distant paddocks and the visiting grandchildren helped pack the car. “Don’t forget the photos Grandma.” “Don’t forget your jewels.” “Don’t forget grandpa’s best R. M. Williams boots.” “Grandma I think we would feel much better if we evacuated.” It was 47 degrees C with wind like a blast furnace. Our washing line, the fence and the lawn was covered with birds, their wings spread out and beaks wide. Largest birds first, smallest darting in under a wing and snatching a drink from the dog bowl. The children were evacuated. The next day the fire hit our place. A water bombing aircraft and dozens of fire trucks descended to fight the fire. Two men appeared at our door, “can we help?’. They stayed for two weeks. Firefighters kipped in the shearing shed and the lights burnt night and day. Our lost fencing and pasture was nothing. Others lost so much more.

Then in 2014 it was drought. Our dams were empty but we have a good bore. We hand fed our stock while our neighbours trucked off what sheep and cattle could stand. Others were shot. No water. No feed. Some people hardly survived. Depression was rampant. How to feed the family, pay the bills? But the rains came again. “Did you get any rain?”  “How much did you get?” And the crops grew and the grass grew and the stock put on weight.  

Now, it’s 2015. Despite the bad years, the good years repay us. Would we live anywhere else?

“Core of my heart, my country! Land of the rainbow gold, for flood and fire and famine, She pays us back threefold-“

Mackellar, Dorothea (1885-1968): extracts from “My Country” written in London in 1904

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