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I could trace the lines of the fences that crisscross this land with my eyes closed and listen to the sounds of the pink and grey galah’s as they sit amongst the stubble paddock, feeding on dropped wheat grains hidden in the dirt and basking in the evening sun.

I have committed to memory the roads which lie within these fences.  The rustic red tracks that are the veins of this land.  Roads that can be seen covered in footsteps and hooves or imprinted by the tyre tracks of the farm vehicles – utes, motorbikes, tractors. Each impression recalling a story of history past. Yet often too they are manicured by the blowing winds, erasing all traces, as if nothing has ever passed. Tonight is one of those nights.

The wind overnight has blown away all impressions of yesterday and our tyre tracks from last nights drive have disappeared as if it had never happened.  Tonight is a new night and I get to create a new story.

With one foot in front of the other my journey begins.   The sun is still high and with my sunglasses on I begin my brisk walk.

The first hill is always sandy and I leave divots where my shoes have broken the wind swept earth. I can’t say that they are footprints, my toes have sunk too deep as I push back into the sand causing more of a stepping stone effect.  Beyond the first hill, the double iron gates leading into the tank paddock, known simply by this name due to the concrete cement structure that stands proud on the hill in the distance.  It feeds water via the underground pipelines to the water troughs in this and the neighboring paddocks. Standing tall and watching over the once golden paddocks and knowing too that they need rain. The gates signal a change in the ground and road becomes more compact. But it is not for long.

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My iPhone app tells me it’s time to jog. It is not something I normally do, preferring more to walk, but its a New Years resolution to learn to run. Slowly at first the road appears to disappear beneath my feet, and then slightly quicker.  This road runs parallel with the fence line to my left and I keep my eyes straight on the road ahead, seeing only as far to the sides as my preferential vision will allow.

“And brisk walk.”

My heart rate is up but the land before me still amazes me.  The gateway leading into Lynch’s paddock is open to my left and a murder of crows scatters from around the water trough at the sound of my footsteps..

“Lets jog.”

The 90 second intervals of jogging amongst the two minutes of walking are beginning to become routine after almost 10 nights.  Again the road passes beneath my feet. This time the hill is barren and windswept. It is good because it is hard, but difficult because the wind erosion has caused numerous potholes, large and small and the wrong placement of a foot could result in an rolled ankle.  Just one more hill and then it will be flat ground.  I can see it in the distance.

“And walk”

I love the blueness of the sky. It is bright and a stark contrast to the red dirt and golden stubble that lies beneath. A single jet stream leaves two lines across the blue canvas, a simple reminder that our lives carry on unknown to many, both near and far.

“Lets jog.”

With each jogging step I’m aiming for those next gates. For the road that is flat. For that road which is harder under foot. It gets closer and closer but with the words ‘“brisk walk” I fall 10 steel posts short of the gates.  I will walk through them.

The steel posts that hold up the wire fence to my left have become my distance gauge.  The fewer there is to the intersecting fence line that meets the road, the more distance I am gaining with every training session. I know it’s mind over matter and my app tells me my stats at the end of the session, but it’s simply my competitive streak.IMG_3548

Through the gates and into Kingies.  The site of the old house block is still peppered with cactus plants and the tall gum trees line the old house yard.  Across from it a broken down windmill stand.  It’s spokes all long fallen off and the tank that it once pumped water to, a bent and corrugated mess below.  This is my half-way point goal. But I’m not there yet.

“Lets jog.  Congratulations you are halfway there.”

With the windmill still ahead of me I turn my back to it and begin my journey home, retracing my steps from not so long ago.  The sun has now begun to set and it’s warm rays beat down on my back allowing my shadow to run in front of me.  Now I have a running partner I can keep up with.

“Brisk walk”

I know that my running distances are becoming shorter as the session wears on, but it still feels good.  How could it not? I am surrounded by fresh air and the only sounds are those of my breathing, my feet pounding the ground and the chatter of the birds as they too enjoy the evening sun.

“Lets jog.”

This is it Janine.  This is the last run session of the program. You can do it. They are the words I tell myself as I push on.  The crows that I scared earlier have returned and are now sit on the barbed wire fence, just up from the gate into Lynch’s paddock. They are all facing away from me and now with me running into the slight breeze they do not hear me until I have passed.  With a flutter some of them fly off but the remainder realise I have gone and no longer pose a threat to them.

“Brisk walk.”

The setting sun creates a golden glow across the paddock and its like it has become alive. It’s a beautiful time of night. A couple of  rabbits dart from beneath a clump of straw and head straight through the larger squares at the bottom of the fence and under a peppercorn tree, presumably back to its burrow for the night.

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“Time to cool down.”

That’s it almost for another session.  Now just to pass back through that first set of double gates and back over that hill to the barn where I started.  To my left now the tank on the hill is casting a long shadow as the sun dips lower into the evening and the colours of the sky turn to red to match the dirt beneath my feet. Ahead of me the final hill and beyond that the trees surrounding Mum’s house.

As I start to climb the hill I follow in the earlier foot divots, they make it easier to push through the sandy track and I leave only a single track behind me in the sand. It reminds me slightly of imprints on a sandune, just on a much smaller scale.

As my session comes to an end and the trainer on my app announces “Congratulations, I knew you could do it.” I have circled back past the barn happy to have completed another session and happier still that I have managed to run/walk a further distance than the last session.

Now to enjoy this sunset.

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It’s hard to believe that just over a week ago I was telling you all about my enrollment in the Matador U’s Travel Writing course.  Now a couple of weeks in, I have submitted my first assignment – writing about my home town.  There have been a couple of revisions to the initial draft, but I hope that you all feel like you are with me as I returned ‘Home’ to this place I love so much.

Travel writing evolution Assignment – Returning home

Reminders of home

Across the farming land I see them.  The high-rises of my home town.  Two concrete wheat silos standing tall above the mallee scrub. Their corrugated tin roofs reflecting the hot summer sun’s rays back up into the brilliant blue, cloudless sky, and I know I’m almost home.

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The newest additions to Patche – Two 10 meter tall Mallee Fowls. The intention is that they will become a draw card for travellers hoping to tick visiting all the ‘big things’ off their list.

Past the ‘Welcome to Patchewollock’ sign the deserted main street is a familiarity.  The football oval a silvery grey, with bands of brown.  The grass long dead after years of drought and the weeds now crusty from the early summer heat. The old general store, though closed now for years, stands beyond black and yellow striped tape, a caution by the council of danger.  The local hotel, the hub of our community, freshly painted but desolate.  The farmers too busy with harvest to call in for a cold beer or a quite yarn.

Across the road, two giant mallee fowls. Their 10 meter tall structures built to honor this native flightless bird that was once thought to be close to extinction, but now which frequently roams across our remote desert landscape.  They seem strange; foreign, yet their sculptured bodies and finely detailed painted feathers provide our small town with a glimmer of tourist hope.

Nothing has really changed, but it all seems slightly different.  Perhaps I am seeing it through new eyes. Once a town at the ‘end of the line’, many may see it as a lost cause.  A town without life, without heart, without hope, but I know its secret.

Before I know it we are out of town. Where I’d previously thought a puddle of water lay on the road, now only dry bitumen remains. The watery mirage from the 40 degree heat now dancing on the road 50 meter’s ahead.

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Fields of Wheat

As far as the eye can see, paddocks after paddock of golden wheat line the road, their full heads of grain swaying in the light summer breeze, a living tribute to the settlers that selected and cleared this land in the early 1900′s. Land that their grandchildren and great grandchildren continue to work and graze in this harsh but un-spoilt corner of Victoria’s northwest.

The blue bitumen turns to white gypsum and the white gypsum to red dirt. The type of dirt that burns your feet on a hot summer’s day, that’s fine enough to stick to your skin after a hard day’s work and the type of dirt that creates a layer of dust on EVERYTHING inside the house after a mid-season dust storm. I know I am home.

The shearing shed, the grain shed. The tractors and the trucks, all reminders of my childhood.  Memories engrained in the sand, the sheds and the land these machines have worked.

Memories of racing through the pouring rain on pushbikes. Of sitting on Dad’s knee and steering the huge tractor and of resting in its wheel hub while sharing cheese and jam sandwiches under a shady tree in the middle of the vast open paddocks.

The smell of freshly turned soil after a rain and the sound of large rain drops falling on the tin roof as I fell to sleep on stormy summer nights. Of waking up to the stillness and calmness of the farm.  The only noise that of birds chirping in the cool of the morning and of the dogs barking, marking the new day.

Getting out of the car, the still dry heat hits me. It has been 20 months since I was last home and only 30 hours since I left a snow dusted Calgary. It feels a long way from where I have come, but everything about this place remains alive within me and I know in my heart that this will always be my home.

DSC_0479_Snapseed - Shearing shed

I always know this is ‘home’

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Reminders of homeThe original family farm truck

It’s hard to believe that is a month ago at this exact moment that I was saying ‘see-ya later’ to some of my amazing friends that I had made whilst I was living in Calgary.

It was an emotional time, but I have to admit I suprised myself and contained the majority of my tears.  I’m not sure if this was because I was tired and lacked the energy; because I was coming home and would see family and loved ones that I had not seen for the last year and a half; or simply because I knew that this was the beginning of the next chapter of my life.  Secretly, I think it was a combination of EVERYTHING.

Getting home was not a quick trip.

Calgary to L.A.  A 12 hour layover in LA.  LA to Melbourne. 5 hour layover in Melbourne. Melbourne to Mildura.

In total I think it was around 30+ hours, but walking across the tarmac in Mildura and spotting my niece Tamsin pressed up as close as she could get to the entrance turnstile with one of the biggest smiles on her face, made the entire journey so much more worth while.  Of course there was the rest of the homecoming crowd including my Mum, complete with a ‘Welcome Home’ balloon.

It was good to be home!

Golden Fields of Wheat

Golden Paddocks of Wheat

The last four weeks have passed by almost in a blur (thank goodness I have photo’s).  I have witnessed 2 amazing friends get married. Enjoyed a day in the beautiful Grampians. Celebrated a hen’s day floating down the mighty Murray river. Played, painted and laughed with my neices and nephews. Met the newest addition to the beautiful McLean family – Jorge. Become a ‘cricket Mum’ for our four farm kids and simply enjoyed the peace and quite, warmth and beautiful sunsets and simplicity of life that exists in this untouched place that I love and that I call home.

 There truly isn’t no place like home!

Beautiful day in the Grampian's

A beautiful day in The Grampians

Watching the kids at cricket
An evening on the pitch
Oops.. was I in charge!!
Oops… was I in charge??
Sunset at the Farm
A picture perfect sunset on the farm

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Denim, Boots and Big Hat‘s.. yep that’s that Calgary Stampede.

No visit to Calgary in July is complete without making it at least one day to the Stampede.

The first I ever heard about the Calgary Stampede was from my eldest brother when he came to Calgary to visit his then girlfriend (now wife) in the early ’90’s.  I remember him coming home and telling us that while he was visiting he had been asked to go into her work to help ‘build horses‘.  We were a bit stunned.. Horses.. why did they need horses in the bank?  His reply ‘Everyone has them, they go crazy at stampede time’.  Now I know what he is talking about.

From July 1st downtown Calgary becomes a mix of wood and hay bales as every establishment ‘Stampede-ifies’ their buildings in hope to convert their corporate buildings into rustic old ranch stables, outhouses and barns.  And if it’s not wood and hay bales, it’s painted windows depicting a wild wild west or a simple YEE-HAW!!!.

Corporate suits go out the window and wrangler jeans, boots and big hats become the office norm.  Rarely any work is ever done for the 10 days of the Stampede. Corporate functions, staff parties and other entertainment take over the working world and the celebrations begin.

Every morning generally commences with free stampede breakfasts at various street venues around the city (if you wish to wait in line…. enjoy) and of course on day one the Stampede Parade takes centre stage as it passes through the downtown core and onto the stampede grounds.

The full 10 days are action packed.  From walking the park and taking in all the sights, to enjoying the free entertainment at the various stages; hypnotists, bands, dog shows, motorbike riders, to sitting back in the saddledome and watching the Cowboy Up Challenge, Sheep dog trials or Team Cattle Penning. Wondering the Agricultural section and watching the blacksmiths, the shearers and even the Clydesdale teams being prepped and primed for the heavy hitch competitions, or simply to be ‘bedded down for the night’.

And of course you can’t forget the daily bone crunching rodeo where cowboys rope and wrestle steers and attempt to ride a full 8 seconds on bucking bronc’s and spinning bulls, nor the excitement and speed of the nightly chuckwagon races when the pounding of hooves takes over the arena and wagon’s appear to be flying all over the track.  When dinner consist of the best pizza, fried chicken or strangest concoction of foods available on the midway and dessert is that deep-fried cheesecake, snickers or in my case this year, wagon wheel (YUMMO!)

In my time here I have been to the Stampede all three years.  Watched the chuckwagon races every year and witnessed the rodeo nine times (yes nine!.. I may be slightly addicted!!).  I’ve enjoyed it on my own and with new-found friends, but by far I enjoyed it the most when I got to share it with my family and my two beautiful nephews.

The excitement on their faces. The joy in their eyes.  The passion to be ‘just like everyone else’ as they laid out their jeans and shirts  the night before in anticipation of the day ahead.  The morning of as they threaded their belts and fastened their buckles to make sure that they sat ‘just right’ before pulling on their boots and tipping their hats with a ‘howdy partner’.  They were set for the day ahead.

Seeing the amazement in their eyes as they watched in awe (and sometimes pain) the cowboys below us in the world renown Calgary Stampede Rodeo Arena, being thrown from their beasts; to watching the team cattle penning in the Saddledome and hoping and praying that the team working the cattle could beat the clock and be faster than the team before.  They truly have been special moments.

My two favorite Cowboys!

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Rockin’ the Mo..

Life should never be taken too seriously..

No matter what happens in life there are always people there that can cheer you up and be there to lift your spirits.  It’s hard to believe that one of those in the pic above is now a mum and the other is studying law.. I’m not sure I would trust either of them.  But they have taught me to laugh again when I thought things got hard and  have taught me not to take life too seriously.. (with them around it’s not that hard).

For some reason life leads us in a direction that allows us to cross paths with people that we would never have otherwise met and circumstance leads us to become friends when perhaps in normal surroundings we may not have stepped out of our comfort zones to talk with one another.

In October 2010 I had been in Calgary for 7 months and with my first winter on the verge of arriving, I was seriously considering whether or not I could handle living in this place for much longer. Then I made the decision to step out of my comfort zone and meet some like-minded people.  Yes they were ex-pats, and yes they were Australian, but they understood what it was like to be in a new place and to be the odd ones out.  And that changed everything.  I have ‘mum (tiger) and dad (lurking zombie)’ to thank for all the amazing people who I have met while I have been in Calgary.

It will be hard to say farewell to them, and little bean in a week or so, but am I ever grateful that they came into my life.xx

The Pirate, Tiger and the Disco Diva (with the Zombie lurking in the background)

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Nothing beats a visit from the family and I was blessed to be able to explore and share my Canada (and Montana) with not only my Mum, but also one of my brothers, my sister-in-law and two of the cheekiest nephews known to man kind!.

After arriving in Vancouver the night of the NHL Game 7 riots, the family chose to drive the beautiful scenic route from Vancouver to Calgary via Whistler and Jasper.  To say that I was slightly jealous that the time was an understatement (and still am on that note).

But on the plus side, I got to spend an unbelievable two and a half weeks with them re-visiting and exploring a number of amazing places in Southern Alberta, and being able to introduce them to my new Canadian family was a pleasure.

Being able to shares such amazing memories with those that you love is something that I will cherish and be forever grateful for and something that no one will ever be able to take away from me, nor diminish.

The photo above was taken in Waterton Lakes National Park.  Waterton is known for its howling winds and earlier in the day Tony, Tash, the boys and I had all climbed the ‘Bear’s Hump’ to take in the stunning views over Waterton (Mum, like the  trooper she is made it just past halfway before it became too steep and had to turn back). We had decided to take the last boat ride down the Upper Waterton Lake into Montana, USA in hope that we might see some wildlife along the water’s edge, but it was not to be, instead in the 15 minutes we had to enjoy our taste in the USA, the boys found time to ‘skim rocks over the water’ and get together to capture our time in this beautiful setting..

ps.  I can’t wait to get home and give these two nephews loads of hugs and kisses (and the other 8 nieces and nephews too )

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Ree and Jono double checking the tubes to make sure we were all set to go!

Sept 2010 –

For some people being away from family can be a blessing.. for others like me.. it’s a tad harder.

Yes there are always exciting things to tell them, but it’s always hard being that person living so far away when something exciting (or mundane) happens back home that you miss out on.

Thankfully for me I had Ree and Jono just down the road from me in Florida.. ok, well it wasn’t ‘quite’ just down the road.  It was still 4,477 kms away (according to google maps), but it was definitely a lot closer than the family back home. So in September 2010 I diverted via Las Vegas to Orlando and was met at the airport by not only Ree and Jono, but also ‘bump’.

With only 6 weeks between us in age and being cousin’s, Ree and I were pretty much inseparable growing up. Plus being the only girl in my family and practically living at her house when Mum and Dad were in Melbourne for Dad’s treatment meant that Ree was the closest thing that I had to a sister – so really visiting with them really was being with family.

Ree and Jono had been living in Gainesville for a couple of years so it was good to have some personal guides for the 7 days.  Being a University city (Go Gators Go!!) there wasn’t too many touristy things to do ‘downtown’, so after exploring Paynes Prairie in the morning in search of Alligator’s on the Saturday, Ree and Jono decided that we should tube down the Ichetucknee River.

Yes.  Tube down a river in a state that is WELL known for its Alligators!!.. I was slightly skeptical to say the least, but they both told me that I had nothing to worry about and that it would be a relaxing afternoon.. agh they were so right (except for those damn water snakes!!).

So after stopping along the road to collect our tubes, we hit the Ichetucknee Springs State Park, untied our tubes from the roof of the car, walked to the river and launched ourselves for an afternoon of ‘floating ‘.  It is one of the many occasions that I wish that my small point and shoot camera was waterproof.  The water was crystal clear and you could see EVERYTHING .. small fishes, the protected reeds, fallen trees… and I swear (Jono) small water snakes.  Thankfully though no Gators!!.

I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to enjoy our surroundings and being together than simply floating down the river on a sunny day, catching up on lost time and being with those that you love.

Of course the true highlight of the trip was just spending time with Ree and Jono and getting excited with them about the impending arrival later that year of ‘bump’.. now known as Master Jedadiah James.

I can’t wait to get home to Australia and visit them again.. after all young little Jed will almost be two .. and two years  is just a tad too long not to see your bestfriend..

and yes.. I couldn’t write this post without adding a second photo 🙂

Ree and I in St Augustine, Florida

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