Tim lives in the front section of his barn. He has it cordoned off with loose sheets of plywood. There is a sink and an open concept shower in one corner, a small water heater where frogs congregate and a fireplace in the other. Beside the sink are ten cartons of eggs, stacked precariously. Tim gets them from a local woman but does not want to tell her she gives him more than he can eat in case she stops. When asked if he’s got a bathroom he grins and says, “I got a shovel”.
The Farmer and I arrive at eight on Sunday morning. Tim, the Farmer’s longtime friend, is playing his poetry recorded with a background guitar line from his lap top. It’s about his neighbors, conventional farmers, spraying pesticides and fertilizers and the drift of these onto his organic paddocks. He tells me he’s going to compile a collection of his poetry and title it, “The Book of Whinge.”
We sit around the once-white table with a bare, environmentally friendly light bulb hanging from a wire overhead, drinking instant coffee and raw milk and discussing the beef market. We are here to sort through cattle – Tim’s from the Farmer’s, the ones the Farmer intends to sell to Tim and the ones destined for the abattoir – and to mark, tag and castrate the young ones.
When Tim’s hired help, a man called Doughy, arrives we are outside watching a large Dugite snake crawl out from under the Farmer’s truck. I rush to put my rubber boots on and they all laugh. ‘The snake you see is better than the one you don’t,” says Doughy.
We climb into two trucks and set about mustering cattle. Tim has let his farm go feral for eight years while he occupied himself at the Esperance community arts center and drove the school bus. He has just recently decided to start farming again, and the Farmer is helping him increase his herd. The grass comes to my shoulder and the cattle are dark smudges in the distance; the calves play hide and go seek.
The day is long, hot and dusty. We are plagued by swarms of flying ants and beetles – Tim says they are the harbinger of a storm. As cattle lurch this way and that, we hold our arms wide and call out: ‘Move it, let’s go, no turn around, yes we’re all going come on hup hup.” At midday we separate the mothers from their calves and the mooing gets progressively louder until we have to yell at each other and even then no one can hear anything above the din.
By the end of the second day the cattle are just as tired of being pushed around as we are of pushing. The sun is skimming the horizon, right on the cusp, and we’re just barely finishing up with the calves. One little steer, held tight in the race, sticks out his tongue and goes, “Blehh”. Tim looks down, cigarette hanging from his lips, and says, “Yeah I reckon”.