As I sit here and write this week’s essay, I’m sitting in the shade of my outdoor lounge area by the pool. Yeah, nice, and relaxing and a million miles from where my mind has taken me today…
It’s morning, but already one of those days where the wind is already hot and gusty. My senses have brought me back to my adolescent years when I worked on local farms during the summers.
Three things came to mind – heat, dust, and the constant smell of diesel fuel.
I grew up in a small rural community in Australia where the land is relatively flat, dry and drought prone.
The farms mostly produce wheat, oats, and barley. Although on the farm I worked we also had sheep, prize bulls and horses.
Summers were hot, dry and dusty. As you can imagine, once the crops were taken off the land became a bit of a dust bowl anytime the wind picked up, which was quite often.
We had days and sometimes weeks on end when the temperature gauge would hover in the 30’s and low 40’s (Celsius).
However, the worst days were when it was hot but also had a strong north wind blowing bringing the heat and dust out of the western and northern deserts.
Days like this began innocently enough with a clear sky and slight breeze, but by mid-morning the wind would strengthen.
By early afternoon the sky would turn a dirty shade of grey-brown and become dark and menacing. The air thick and suffocatingly hot, like a blast furnace…
The thing that lingered on everyone’s mind was the threat of bushfires.
This meant potentially death and destruction on a massive scale. It was days like this that our community held its collective breath.
If you’ve experienced a bushfire firsthand, then you’ll also know that they roar like a jet engine.
In fact, it roars with such ferocity that it’s difficult to hear, but worst of all is to see it roll across open farmland at speeds of up to 60 kms per hour incinerating everything in its path within seconds.
The core of the fireball within a bushfire can reach over 1100 C (2012 F).
I remember seeing road signs melted as if they were icing on a cake, literally just a puddle of metal after the bushfire had rolled over it…
The worst though was when animals had been trapped and burned, some caught out in the open, others caught by fences or stuck in trees.
Some clung to life although horribly burned, these are the ones that had to be put down…
Such devastating images, both to see the cruelly burned animals but also for the distraught farmers who had to put them down to stop their suffering.
Unfortunately, I was a witness to these scenes on more than one occasion.
Growing up in a small rural community we were all expected to become volunteer firefighters once we turned 16. We’d train Sunday mornings at the fire station, but to say it was rather rudimentary in those days would be a huge understatement.
Thank goodness the Country Fire Authority (CFA) has been restructured and formalized since those days with a huge emphasis on equipment and training to support these small communities.
Trust me there is nothing more eerie that hearing the fire siren (WWII air raid siren) start to wail which you could hear all over town and knowing that you had to get down to the fire station as quickly as possible. Who knew what lay before us?
Was it the fear of the unknown or the adrenaline rush that made my heart jump?
All I know is that I was scared shitless every time I heard that mournful siren wail…
Along with these memories this morning came the almost palpable smell of diesel fuel. Most of the farm equipment – trucks, tractors and combine harvesters are run on diesel which has such a distinctive smell.
Isn’t it fascinating how a single memory can churn up such a breadth of interrelated memories?
My senses are often triggered by my sense of smell, and vice versa. Once a memory surfaces my senses kick into high gear… ❤️
During my time on the farm, it felt like I was always driving a vehicle of some variety.
Whether it be feeding animals in far flung paddocks, cutting and baling grass, taking off the crops with a combine harvester or transporting grain to the local silos there was always a never-ending list of jobs to do.
My days on the farm were instructive in that it I soon learned that seasonal farm work was often monotonous and repetitive.
However, overall, it was helpful in helping me decide what I wanted to do with my life.
Not only was a great experience but it taught me valuable skills and most importantly helped me understand the pains of hard manual labour.
It’s definitely been a solid foundation for life!
Until next week