As cousins jostled for the best position in the back of Grandad’s blue Chrysler ute the uncles in the cabin scanned the paddocks for stray sheep. The black, white and tan dogs kept the main mob together and gently worked them down past the dam to the sheep yards nestled in the valley.
Amid so many cousins together (there were over 30 of us in total) there was an air of fun and mischief. The older ones got to ride the tailgate at the back, daring each other to jump on and off the moving vehicle until Grandad would yell out “Either stay on or get off and walk home you lot”.
As the mob and ute got closer to the sheep yards the cousins were put to work, working with the dogs to steer the sheep into the yards.
It was drenching and crutching time. The older cousins helped the uncles draft the ewes, the older lambs, the wethers. The uncles selected a few that would dress our tables in a week or so, while Grandad decided that a few of the lambs were ready for market. He will have to arrange the truck carrier later when he gets back to the house.
With cousins running around the yards, dogs barking and urging the sheep into the race, uncles whistling and shouting commands at dogs while keeping an eye on the younger cousins who had insisted on coming today an onlooker would think the scene utter bedlam.
It was an organised chaos that fills memories of childhood.
As if on cue a car appears over the contour bank, small arms of younger cousins waving out the windows, grandmother and the aunts coming to join the clan. Grandad calls a stop to the work as we all head over to the shade of the old pine tree near the edge of the yards. The dogs run off to take a cooling dip in the muddy waters of the dam, knowing the humans will be a while.
Out comes the thermos’ of hot water, the jar of coffee, a teapot (no teabags in this place!), sugar and milk. The cooking, straight from CWA cookbook is laid out in the back of the ute – complete with a tablecloth. Sandwiches are mixed with johnny cakes, jam drops and farmers friends baked fresh that morning in amongst the early mayhem of breakfast. Morning tea that provides sustenance to the workers and cousin playmates.
Our clothes may have been dirty with the red sand of the farm and the stains from the sheep, torn from the fences and scrapes of play, our hair a riot, our faces and hands painted with dust but we didn’t mind. These were the memories of family childhood.
At a recent solemn family gathering we were reminded of some of these times and could almost smell the sheep, the hot winds blowing over the wheat and the rain as it first hit the red bare dirt. If I close my eyes I can almost hear the dogs barking and uncles whistle, hear grandad and uncles yell ‘push up – get behind’ to the dogs in the sheep race. I smile as I remember the laughter that would still be singing over the family farm near Emerald Hill, as our uncle yells one last time “Shut the gate”.
Featured Image © Can Stock Photo Inc. / snucklepuff