Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A Month in the Country

It’s very nearly a month since I arrived in Barraba, and tomorrow my visit will be over. It will be time to bid goodbye to the now familiar vines and dogs, fields and streets, and most importantly to my good, kind friends and hosts, to load myself into Coco’s car, and head back to Flood Street, Sydney.

The second half of my stay here has been as lively as the first … and as populated. The house welcomed guests from both sides of the family, the hotel welcomed another weekend full house including a posse of wandering travel journalists, and 20 year-old Nicholas from Germany arrived to take over from Benji and Sofie as the wwoofer in residence. And our daily activities continued the regular sun-broiled mixture of vineyards and hotel-rooms, washing lines and irrigation pipes, combined (in my case, at least) with a regular dose of lazing about.

Thanks to the less lazy moments, I discovered the unfamiliar joys of the swimming pool. What could be nicer, after a sweaty, fly-blown morning ripping recalcitrant weeds from the hard-baked earth around the struggling vines, with the aid of an effortful kitchen knife, than to strip off one’s dirty clothes and melt into a piscine full of fresh, cool and chemical-free river water? Bliss.

I’ll carry away a lot of new memories from here…

A visit to the home of Bill Bright, internationally renowned harpsichord craftsman, where we lunched on chicken salad and white wine on the ‘lawn’ overlooking a lake before a viewing of the workshop where his instruments are made. I even got to tinkle three bars of Chopin on one (before going wrong) … my first ever touch of a harpsichord.
Last night was Bill’s 61st birthday, so it was our turn to play host, and I took the opportunity to photograph the cutest (grrrr! wooff!) muso in New South Wales.

An afternoon at the Playhouse Hotel Theatre for Andrew’s screening of the German musical film Der Kongress tanzt. I’ve known about this famous movie for years … but, crazily, I had to come to Barraba actually to see it. I’m so happy that I did. It’s a delicious melange of naievete, sophistication and spectacle, with a couple of thoroughly plugged hit songs, and some splendidly characterful acting. I particularly relished the chance to see Paul Hörbiger, whom I’ve mentioned so much in my Encyclopaedia, doing his thing.

And then there was the snake. It wasn’t till I’d been here nearly three weeks that Haddon gave Nico and I a ‘what to do’ chat re snakes. And promptly found one in the woodpile. Then, yesterday, as we weeded our way down the alleys of vines, a volley of barking broke out. Alfie and Gus the ‘watchdogs’ (mostly they watch the inside of their eyelids!) were a little further up the field – where we would be working in 20-30 minutes -- bouncing up and down, snapping and yapping to beat the band. They had baled up a 4-5 foot brown (and definitely poisonous) snake. Weeding came to an abrupt halt, and we retreated briskly to the house with the dogs in gleeful pursuit. Alfie and Gus have, as far as I am concerned, thoroughly earned their title of watchdogs!
I wish, though, that they’d warned me about green ants. Those blighters have a nasty bite, and my digging forearm is right now a swollen mass of blistery fangmarks!

And finally, and oh so importantly, yesterday there was rain. About 12 millimetres of it, in three (very) short and sharp bursts. That may not sound much to those of us who live in damper climes, but what a difference it makes in this sunburned country. The greenery smiles. The weeds pop out of the ground instead of battling to stay in. And, of course, the house’s rainwater supplies get a top up. I’m glad I saw it rain on Barraba Station. It will be a happy memory to range with the others….

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