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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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Bush fires have been burning in the Grampians 3 hours south of us since the weekend, but with a slight northerly wind overnight on Monday, you wouldn’t have been alone thinking that fires were burning a lot closer to home Tuesday morning.

As the haze crept over Hotter’s hill and towards our house early in the day I admit I was slightly paranoid given recent events and did undertake a couple of drive-by’s to make sure that there wasn’t any closer fire activity that we had to worry about.

With the smokey haze still hanging as the sun set, my niece and I took a drive around the farm in an attempt to capture some of the eeriness of the day…  At times the Sun blazed red and then it suddenly disappeared and only the haze remained………..

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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.

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I always know this is ‘home’

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Ever since I got my new camera I’ve wondered if I could manage to pull off one of those spectacular startrail photographs that grace the web.

Surely with the camera I’ve got (Nikon D5100) I should have at least half a chance, but alas my first attempt in the Canadian Rockies at the remote location of Beaverfoot Lodge left ALOT to be desired and me wondering if I could ever really pull this photography trick off.  Needless to say my spirits that night were down and out…

Fast forward a couple of months and I am now back home in Australia and in our little corner of Victoria.

The best part of growing up on a farm is that there is no light pollution from the big city lights (we live about 3km out of town and the town would be lucky to have 5/6 street lights!).. the other part about being back home in Oz is that it is Summer and even at 10:30 / 11:00 at night, the temperature is still hovering around a mild 25 degrees celsius, so standing outside is actually quite pleasant.

But back to tonight.

I was just returning from a walk when I noticed the moon rising. A full moon and it was BIG.  It was just peaking over the hill to the left of Mum’s house and I got the idea that I would try and photograph it.  Again, not a well thought out plan.

For christmas I had received a remote shutter release (very happy I might add) and I thought that this might give me a good chance to try it out.  Unfortunately my attempt to photograph the spectacular moon was a bit like trying to photograph stars for the first time  –  under prepared and a total failure.

That’s when I decided to turn my attention to startrails again.

I sat on the front veranda and googled on my iPhone until I found some instructions and then decided to give it another crack.  I fiddled with my settings for a while.. took a photo, reviewed it and did this basically until I captured the first photograph that gave me a good image of the stars that I was trying to photograph.  Then I clicked away for the next half an hour or so to gain a collection of photos.

This is one of the first images:

It wasn’t until I had taken the 6th or 7th photo that I realised that I was photographing the Southern Cross
Southern cross
Note the southern Cross in the top left hand corner (points of the red cross)
In all I took approx. 16 photos, after all I was just experimenting. With the use of some software called startrails, layering each of the pictures on top of each other was so simple, the program does it for you (highly recommended for any other novices out there).  And this is my result….
Startrails over the Mallee
Now I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the best.
There is too long of a gap between my shutter releases (this is what is causing the dotted effect), but for a second attempt I’m pretty damn happy.  My next attempt will include a much more interesting foreground scene and fingers crossed some smooth startrails.  Now.. about that moon…

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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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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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Enjoying Christmas Day at Lake Louise 2011

I love living in another country. I love the ability to step outside of what I know are my comfort zones. To reach out on a limb and take a chance. I love experiencing new things. Love the sensations that I feel when something is new to me and the happiness I feel when I accomplish something that I may never have tried at home.. but I LOVE my family more!.

The past eight to nine weeks have been a whirlwind, but a weekend visiting extended family in southern Saskatchewan in early August gave me the clarification that I needed.

The wide open spaces of the prairie lands. The golden fields of wheat. The sweet sounds of nothingness. The clear skies scattered with a million stars… and the photo’s of MY family hanging on a wall… It was all that I needed for my head and my heart to align and for me to know that I wanted to go home.

Golden Fields of Saskatchewan

The last two and a half years have been amazing. There have been days when I could not have been blissfully more happy and days when I wanted to pack it all in. Curl up, close my eyes and wish that I was somewhere else.

I will miss EVERYTHING here in Calgary..I will miss my amazing friends that have made the two and a half years I have been here so much better, my adopted Canadian family, complete with nieces and nephews and our annual Thanksgiving get-aways and the colleagues and clients that have become part of my everyday life.

I will miss the summer day’s when hiking in the mountains makes you feel alive and the coldest of winter days when it feels like moths are stuck up your nose and you can’t open your eyes because of the icicles on your eyelashes have frozen them shut… but it is not a goodbye.. more simply a see-you-later.

Hiking the ‘Many Springs’ trail in Bow Valley Provincial Park (July 2011)

I am looking forward to coming home. Spending time with my ever-growing family. Meeting my new niece and spoiling all over again, each and every single one of the ten nieces and nephews in my life and annoying my four bigger and older brothers (and their wives).  Catching up with friends and preparing for the next adventure.

My Mum and my beautiful nieces and nephews (before Jorge)… so cannot wait to spoil them all again

By far my adventures, travel and personal, are not over.  They are simply beginning the next chapter.

‘Home James’ …. looking forward to seeing this sign once again

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