DAY 5: WODONGA – Sunday 27 December – Day Trips: Lake Hume -Dairy Farm – Horses – Bright, Beechworth and more.
5a. Lake Hume, Dairy Farm, Horses
Today turned out to be one the fullest days of the entire trip; so many things done and seen, so much so that I have divided the day into two parts for these postings. The first part (5a) begins with the morning excursion with my kind and generous host, who took me via Lake Hume, to see the old town of Tallangatta that was moved due to the creation of Lake Hume and the Hume Weir, then to a Dairy Farm in which one of his grand-daughters is like a modern day Milk Maid. This was an brilliant experience in itself – watching the cows being milked with modern equipment, but the best was yet to be – a visit to the paddock that holds the family’s Horses, with four young foals to add to the sheer wonder and joy of this very country experience.
The old town of Tallangatta, which was a major centre for the region in regard to Gold Mining and Dairy production was first established in 1870-71. Due to expansion of Lake Hume in the mid-1950s the old town was was moved 8 kilometres to the west where it now sits. Whilst the remnants of its heady Gold Rush days are barely visible, nonetheless, the new town, like the old town, is a centre for Dairy production. My host took me to a lookout overseeing the place where the old town existed. You can clearly see in the grass the street plan and layout of the old town.
The next part of the morning excursion was a visit to a local Dairy Farm, which produces top quality A2 milk for the Devondale company. I am calling the following series of photos The Milk Maids in honour of the two young women who generously and openly gave their valuable time and expert advice to enlighten me in regard to the modern day production of milk at the beginning of the entire process. The cows are milked twice a day, morning and late afternoon – sounds pretty easy – except that there happens to be over 650 cows, a mixture of Jersey and Friesian cows that produce milk of the highest quality.
To successfully milk the cows each day the dairy uses an elaborate and quite extraordinary piece of modern machinery; a large rotating dial with individual stalls that the cows enter and stand and eat whilst suction valves are applied to their udders, the valves automatically dropping off once the individual cow has been milked.
It is quite an impressive operation done by just two highly efficient and friendly modern-day Milk Maids, one of which is my hosts’ grand-daughter – the one with the degree in Animal Science and startling information about how to hide dead bodies in horses – she is fantastic and smart – she knows all about each of the 650-odd cows and more. Good thing too as she knows which cows are currently not to be milked due to suspected illness and/or age, and subsequently not producing the desired A2 milk. Nonetheless, they enter the milking dial with all the others, take up a position and begin to eat – but the Milk Maid do not put the suction valves on these few ‘suspect’ cows. It really is only a few; that leaves the vast majority of the 650-odd cows to be individually milked under the supervision of the Milk Maids.
Each cow has a number, with a tag through one of their ears; they also have painted stripes on their butt, red, green, white, or orange, which also helps identify each cow’s particular position, including whether or not they are pregnant.
They do about 50 cows at a time, and the whole process is done,with one circuit of the dial in about 15 minutes. I had never seen this process up close and it was fascinating – as well as a bit humbling in that we who live in the cities take for advantage the amount of effort that goes into producing 1 litre of milk that we buy in our local supermarkets.
It is not the easiest of jobs – the hours are long and the work is arduous – and smelly; I mean these cows eat and get milked and still shit at the drop of a hat, which then has to washed out.
There is a lot of fluids flowing – water, milk, urine, more water and it goes on and on until the entire herd are done. This whole process is then repeated again in the late-afternoon.
Whilst still on the Dairy Farm we went from the milk production line to visit the young calves who were nearby, as was one of the ‘special’ cows of this farm who was in a neighbouring paddock – a young cow who was born with only three legs. We were told that they were probably going to have it put down but the cow had managed to survive its infancy and whilst awkward, nonetheless it was quite capable of moving around and grazing on three legs – as we observed.
It was feeding Time at ‘Calf Central’,at which we met the New Zealand owners, a husband and wife team, of the Dairy Farm. The calves were gorgeous and cute but when ballistic when fed – a drinking frenzy.
There was one sick calf nearby, lying down just outside the feeding frenzy pen, and was being attended to by the dairy owners. They tried to get the calf to stand, but unfortunately to no avail.
From the Dairy we then drove further into the hinterland – my generous host pointing out certain features and properties as we drove. He drew my attention to one house sitting on top of one of the numerous hills. I was told that the house actually looks out over the other side of the hill; a stunning view of the 140 acre property. I was also politely informed that the previous owners was a ‘gay boy’, with a partner who had died recently. My host told me that he and his wife had often taken their caravan and stayed on the property, keeping an eye on it when the owner was away. My host was very complimentary of the owner, and then stated that the house was full of ‘gayisms’. It wasn’t said in a negative homophobic way, it was affectionate and highly amusing; but I didn’t respond, even though my imagination ran riot with what these ‘gayisms’ may have been – movie posters? Westerns? Dolly Parton? Maybe a poster Nicholas Roeg’s movie masterpiece Johnny Guitar (1954) starring Joan Crawford??? There wasn’t time to go and see this place, but it did bring up two things that were to resurface every now and then during the rest of the trip. First, my continued dream to find a place where I can hold events, such as the ‘Movie and Meal’ idea where a select group of people come to a place where they are to have a meal and watch a movie; the meal would come from this particular movie, which would also have a talk from me (or some other) about the movie – and then they watch the film in an open-air deckchair cinema under the stars. Dreams. Second – ‘gayisms‘; this was to come up again later that afternoon when we went to Yackandandah – with great hilarity.
Just past the ‘gayism’ property we came to the entrance to a farm with two large paddocks on either side of the drive up to the house. The paddocks were surrounded by hills that looked like mountains in the distance. We had come here to see the horses that were owned by the extended family members of our host and hostess. There were a number of beautiful looking horses, including four foals. We first went to the paddock on the left that had the mares and foals.When I first saw the horses that we had come to see I suddenly thought of the opening scene of The Sound of Music – only this time there was no sound; it was all very quiet, majestic and wonderful.
I was completely bold-over by the horses. They were so – unafraid. The four foals were inquisitive and friendly, my host having a great affinity and gentleness to which the foals readily responded.
We then crossed over to the other paddock which primarily contained the stallions and bigger horses. My host called his horse – ‘Blackie’ – who came with the others without any coaxing; the name being rather appropriate considering the dark lustre that shone from the horses hide – beautiful. I must admit, however, to feeling just a little bit anxious when I was suddenly surrounded by a number of very tall and powerful horses. Like the foals, they were also inquisitive and gently started to nibble my clothing. My host kept gently reprimanded them to ‘Don’t bite’, which the horses basically ignored, further exacerbating my concerns. Don’t get me wrong – I love horses – but these ones, the stallions, were rather big and a little intimidating and scary. However, this pack was controlled by ‘Blackie’ who would brook no nonsense – or competition – and quickly shooed the others away when they pressed too close – wanting some of the carrots that my host had bought with him.
The horses were owned primarily by my host and three other members of the family, including the Milk Maid with the degree in Animal Science. It was very clear that they all had a great affinity with horses, something that is perhaps lacking in a city boy’s make-up, living in an environment of cars, buses, taxis, trains, planes and ferries.This, however, was the Australian countryside in which the horse is still a major player in people’s lives. Furthermore, this family had chosen well in regard to the horses that they owned, partly due to gained knowledge either through university and/or experience in such things as ‘endurance’ races. The horses came from good stock, and the family had the potential to make considerable earnings and profits in another five years due to their careful and clever selection of horses to buy and rear – and love. It was very clear to me from how the horses responded to my host that this particular group from my brother-in-law’s Wodonga family loved their horses. Wonderful.
As we were leaving to drive back to Wodonga my host draw my attention to the sign that was fixed onto a tree at the entrance to the property.
The sign states,‘DEE”S PLACE – Trespasses will be Shot! Survivors will Shot Again!’ The dark ‘gallows humour’ of this so-called welcoming sign at the entrance to the property did make me laugh, and yet at the same time kind of confirming the distinctive darkness in attitude towards strangers and other outsiders, essentially as a kind of threat, which seems is another common characteristic in this region of the Australian countryside. Maybe it is a common characteristic for the entire country? The blunt dry sardonic humour exemplified by this ‘welcoming’ (or rather ‘warning’) sign.
This was such a fantastic way to conclude our morning excursion; in fact, it was one of the main highlights of the entire trip, particularly the enchanting beauty of the foals, and everything being set against a most spectacular background of the Australian countryside.
At a much later point when I was talking about the horses to the 17 year old grand-son, currently doing his apprenticeship as a ‘farrier’ and becoming a ‘blacksmith’, that I recalled the poem The Horses by Edwin Muir (1887-1959), one of my favourite poems of the twentieth century. This poem in a way encapsulates so much about the unique, mysterious and ages-old relationship between horses and man. Subsequently, It seems appropriate to finish this first part of the day by posting Edwin Muir’s beautiful poem.
THE HORSES by Edwin Muir
Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
‘They’ll molder away and be like other loam.’
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.