Saturday, 28 February 2009

THE AFTERMATH OF THE TEMPEST

image We went for a drive to Arcachon which is on the Atlantic coast,  2 hours southwest-ish of Bergerac, south-west France. It was a beautiful sunny day for a picnic and a walk on the beach. The tempest or hurricane that lashed south west France a few weeks ago had come in from the Atlantic at about this position on the coast and the devastation is everywhere still. Whole forests of large pine trees are lying broken in half or ripped from the ground, leaving a few lonely specimens to show what was previously hundreds of mature trees. image

All along the roads and in people's yards and on every piece of vacant land now stand piles of logs, ranging from over half a metre across, down to kindling size.

 

These major roads were closed for days because so many trees had fallen across them and many now lie alongside the road, awaiting the chainsaws.

In the photo below there are many rootballs of fallen trees, as far as the eye can see, and not much else.
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Tears of sap.

 

 

Near Arcachon is the tallest sandhill in Europe, La Dune de Pilat, at over 100m high and 3km long.image And along the coast are miles of beautiful, white beaches.

 

 

 

Those who were not out dealing with timber today, were preparing the soil in their vegetable gardens for the new season. What a place France is for growing food! Everywhere, people were outside enjoying the sunshine and working in their plots. Many are warming the soil with small, plastic cloches. Some are hoeing weeds or preparing seedling beds. What a sight all they will be in a couple of months, full of tomatoes, capsicums, lettuce etc for the enjoyment of a great percentage of the families of rural France.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Summer ends, and harvesting begins

DSCN0008For those of us in Adelaide who’ve continued to grow our own fruit and vegetables through heat, dust, drought and water restrictions, the prospect of summer’s end in a few days time holds out the promise of golden sunny days and cooler mornings and evenings. Maybe even rain? The winds drop too in autumn in South Australia, and it’s time to take stock of the past growing season as harvest begins in earnest.

DSCN0023 Things are a bit sad around my household, because Claudia’s mum in Germany suffered a stroke a few weeks back, followed by all sorts of complications. So it’s just myself and my three sons around the kitchen table while Claudia is over in Europe at her mother’s bedside as mum recovers slowly.

Fortunately for me, my three sons can all cook, and I can clean, garden, feed chickens and make salads and everyday meals, so we’re getting by. But what I really miss around here is the sight of the cook herself browsing through the garden, picking whatever’s fresh for our evening meal together, and offering a quiet word of encouragement to theDSCN0009 gardener humping water on his lonely rounds.

So with your forbearance, and a little help from my friend Roger, here’s the state of play in the veggie patch; all to bring a touch of home to loved one’s in Europe.

And PS: I was supposed to appear in these photos… But Roger is as fit as the proverbial “Mallee Bull”, and looks much better draped over things than I do, so he gets the starring role. He’s a darn sight smarter than I am too, but you can’t see that in the photos.

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Wednesday, 25 February 2009

HOW LOCAL IS LOCAL FOR YOU?

Lots of us try to buy local but I have been thinking about this while I am in France and comparing it to what I know of Australia, or really just South Australia. Keep in mind that South Australia is 1.5 times larger than France in area but France has 40 times as many people!

For me, in SA, local means a few things. First, it means from a friend or producer very close to my house. Next it means within about 100km, like the oats Andrew wrote about. Thirdly, it means in the state of South Australia, and finally it means in Australia. I have even added the idea of local including Asia, at times.

Most of the food I eat at home comes from my garden or very near my home - such as fruit from my mother and vegetables from growers like Tony Scarfo at Virginia. Most of the dairy and grains I buy come from the 100km zone, and from Paris Creek Dairy and Four Leaf Milling in particular. Most of the seafood and wine I buy comes from somewhere in South Australia and most of the rest of the things I buy, like bananas and toilet paper and seeds and other bits and pieces are grown or made in Australia. I included Asia when I was thinking of rice, coconuts and soy sauce etc. In Europe, these things come from the African continent.

France is divided into 96 departments, all numbered in alphabetical order (which makes looking for them on a map very difficult!!). (This is like dividing South Australia into nearly 150 little areas). Every food item you buy has the number of its origin prominently displayed. This area, Dordogne, is number 24, and nearly everything I have seen at the markets has this number or 47, Lot et Garonne, the next department to the west and actually where the market is situated. Although things like oranges, this time of the year, are clearly marked 'from Spain', which is the next country but only 2 hours away! Even the milk bottles have this information in number form and I just noticed that our current bottle of milk comes from just 2 departments away to the south.

I love France's system of identifying small areas by number or name, and in France everyone seems to want as local as possible because it is the custom to believe that the best of everything comes from your local area and the farmers over the hill or on the other side of the next town just don't produce goods of the same quality as the farmers nearest you! And produce from several departments away ... well.... it might just as well be from Mars! Of course this wouldn't work in the same way for South Australia because so much of it is arid.

We are very lucky in South Australia to be able to grow most things, from vegetables and fruit to milk and grains, grapes and seafood. I cannot understand why the SA government does not encourage the state to be as self-sufficient in food as possible. Instead they cut the growers' water allocations but do not cut water allocations to any other businesses in the whole state!

Monday, 23 February 2009

Summer in Adelaide by Maggie

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It is 8pm, summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the birds are swirling through the sky, settling for the night.

There is a cool breeze, the plants in the garden are not stressed by the heat that is promised later in the week.

Victoria has wind and heat and bushfires, please be safe everyone.

Life is nature, life is change, life is energy, life is choices, life is growth, life is celebration, life is joy, life is happiness, life is sadness, life is mistakes, life is living in the moment, life is making choices for that moment, life is about equality for all, life is compassion for all, life is the energy of the universe, life is seeds and the bounty they produce, life is you and me and all of nature.

We have just enjoyed a wonderful meal with pasta, garlic,tomatoes, basil. spring onions, zucchini and eggplant, all from the garden, all from seeds which were saved and sown and planted and watered and protected from the harsh summer sun.

Take care everyone in Aussie land for the hot days ahead.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Mystery cleanup…

DSCN0001 Down-under in Adelaide, many of us still have ‘backyards’ – places down behind the house where we hang out on weekends enjoying the long sunny days in this very Mediterranean climate, with BBQs for outdoor cooking, lawns, woodheaps, compost heaps, flowers and shrubs and assorted trees, chook sheds, tool sheds, the bloke’s shed, verandahs to stand under in case of rain or too much sun, fruit trees and vegetables and clothes lines for drying our washing in the open air.

Some of us move to bigger houses, some to smaller ones. When that happens, youDSCN0005 call on your mates and they come around and ‘give you a hand to sort the joint out’. This means a bit of social weeding and chatting, swapping tips on pruning and mulling over whether or not a plant is a weed or a forgotten seed that’s turned into a useful food plant.

DSCN0007 So here we are (top), being supervised by young Peter but avoiding the camera to protect the innocent!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Home-ground porridge

DSCN0001About 80 kilometres north of Adelaide, at the head of the Gilbert Valley on the road to the historic copper-mining town of Burra, lies the tiny hamlet of Tarlee, home of the Grasshopper Cafe and the source of our organic oats - Four Leaf Milling.

So breakfast is a simple and nourishing affair around here, provided I remember to grind and soak our oats the night before. This German hand-operated stone-grinder (pictured) takes quite some effort to flatten the oat grains into the more familiar porridge flakes; all part of the free daily exercise one gets when living quietly with the chores.DSCN0004

Once the oats are ground, they are just covered with water from our ceramic water filters, filled daily with rainwater brought up to the house in a stainless-steel bucket from the rainwater tanks. We also squeeze in a fresh lemon brought in from our giant lemon tree; some slight fermenting overnight in lemon juice softens the oats and makes them more digestible.

Next morning the oats are cooked on low heat until just firm. Then we add whatever DSCN0007fruit is in season from the backyard (peaches, plums and grapes at the moment), add a handful of juicy Australian sultanas and almonds, serve with organic milk, and there’s a breakfast even a bloke can make!

All this is eaten on the back verandah overlooking the garden, and accompanied by a double-espresso made from organic Mexican coffee beans. Fresh ground, of course!DSCN0008

 

  P.S. Rain water is available free on nearly every Australian property, thanks to low levels of air pollution in this big country. I’ve found many Europeans to be absolutely appalled at the idea of drinking water from a tank connected to our house gutters. Few understand the importance and the necessity of such a rain water tank in the Australian life. It’s the purest form of water available to us, unless one buys in expensive ‘spring’ water (i.e. ‘bore’ water!). Our main rivers in southern Australia  - source of our ‘town water’ - are increasingly laden with salt. The water authorities also add chlorine to it to keep the bugs out that thrive in warm weather. So drinking tap water in Adelaide is rarely as pleasant as drinking filtered rain water. The old girl’s from my parent's generation and further back always preferred tea made from rain water to anything else.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

WHITE

Overnight it was - 3.5C and clear so there was a lot of frost this morning, the most since I arrived. I went out to take these photos at about 9am, when it had warmed up to - 2. Crisp is a word I have often used about chilly, fresh morning air but never has crisp felt like this to me before! It is beautiful.... not as beautiful as snow but still a lovely thing to see what patterns nature has been designing during the night....

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the orchard and beyond
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broad bean leaf
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the grass
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the rear view mirror
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Interesting to see how some plants, such as broad beans and garlic can cope with being frozen but others would die at these temperatures.

There are more photos here...
Meanwhile in Oxford,UK, son Alex and friends spent the day building Oxford's first igloo!!
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10 calories of energy is too much to produce one calorie of food

I have been reading the online newsletter I get from BFA (Biological farmers of Australia) and there is something worth commenting on, that I have had at the back of my mind, but not put into words before reading this. It is to do with the argument that says we need large scale agriculture and genetically modified seeds to produce enough food to feed the world into the future and that organic agriculture is not able to do this.

This sounds like a simple enough solution to what at first glance is a simple problem. Lots of us who read this and other blogs about growing food as close to naturally as possible would strongly argue that organics is the only way forward and that small farmers and individuals growing food for local people can indeed provide all the food required but sometimes we struggle to give factual explanations.

What I have never put into words before is the convergence of related issues to food security. We are all aware of and I have written often about climate change, peak oil, water shortages, carbon footprints, pollution of land, sea and water and reduced availability of arable land. But their inclusion in the equation of food supply is often ignored, on the pretext that we must continue producing food on a mass scale or fear a food security crisis.

Currently it is estimated that it takes 10 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of food using 'conventional' agriculture. (Although for 10,000 years 'conventional' meant natural and organic as there was no other way!).The 10 calories come from energy used to make chemical fertilisers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides etc and ship them to farms, build and run enormous machinery, store and ship goods to ports, package and deliver products all over the world and for the manufacturing industries behind all these calorie-hungry food production businesses. Moreover, the carbon footprint of intensive, chemical agriculture is enormous, magnifying most of the world's serious problems while attempting to solve one. Water wastage on large scale farms is so significant that the entire water allocation for the whole of the city of Adelaide pales into insignificance in comparison. Simply put, we cannot go on using up the earth's resources in such an irresponsible way and must find a more energy efficient way to provide food.

Producing food naturally, in your own backyard or close to home actually produces 10 calories of food for every 1 calorie put in to its production. Importantly, organic food production sequesters carbon, produces no waste which cannot be re-used (ie composted), uses less water, less fuel/oil and gives a net gain in value to solving the world's problems and at the same time can produce enough food to feed the world, cleanly and locally. Modern agricultural methods fail another basic test in the race to provide food for the poor....price. There is already plenty of food, the problem often lies in its distribution because poor people have no means to pay for food shipped in from elsewhere, especially when oil prices send the costs soaring. Growing food locally and organically means these additional costs are reduced or even removed. Therefore I cannot understand why we keep on the path of destruction when the answers are in front of us - the only way to produce food in a way that benefits those who need it and in a way that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, water, chemicals and actually sequesters carbon instead of releasing it, is to encourage and support the growing food close to or at home, in the most natural way possible.

The UK Soil Association Director, Patrick Holden, was in Australia last week and spoke at  free public talks in Sydney.  His message was - We can’t eat a scorched earth! Thanks to BFA and Patrick Holden for making us think.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

TOMATO JOY

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Don't you love this photo of one of our seed savers group, hugging her tomatoes?

 

Thanks for sending it to me, Sam.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Seed Savers Savour Sunday Seed Swap…

The Hills and Plains Seed Savers met at Kath and Rob’s on Sunday morning to swap seeds and tall tales of how we survived (or collapsed) through the recent summer heat wave. Each of us had a chance to relate our garden doings, and to swap advice on everything from growing sweet potatoes to strange Japanese greens.

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Of particular interest to us all was Rob’s tomato house; 120 kilograms of tomatoes so far, and more to be bottled or sauced. Rob and Kath have also kept track of what money they’ve saved by growing their own vegetables this summer; over $1400 at the most conservative shop prices.

Rob grows the tomatoes on a four-year rotation, digging a new trench each year to a depth of about 400-mm and filling it with compost, pigeon manure then soil, and planting into that. Rob plants Carmellos – a pre-cursor to the Mighty Red – as these set more fruit (over 90%) for longer than regular Australian varieties like Gross Lisse. A drip-line through the crop keeps water up to them for most of the season without exceeding his limited water allocation. Basil is also grown for use in the tomato sauce.

DSCN0005 Bob and Maggie bought all sorts of tomatoes for tasting, such as Purple Russians. Andrew brought the seed collection including luffas, snake beans and grain amaranth. Claudia brought roast egg-plant slices, Maggie had jars of peach and green tomato chutney, and there were some great peach slices.

Next meeting will be at Chook’s place in April to help her get her garden in order as she sells up to make the move to a bigger home to house the four kids (one of whom is still just a plan!)

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THE HORROR OF HEAT

I have been reading about the bushfires in Victoria, Australia and looking at the videos on the ABC NEWS website. Horrendous, shocking and even from here I can feel the pain of those communities. 80 people dead. Roads littered with burnt-out cars with the people, dead, still inside and no-one knows who they are. Towns wiped out. It is a holocaust.

But I came across this little snippet..... enough to make you smile on a sad, sad day....

It's so hot!

Thirsty koala

Friday, 06/02/2009

The soaring heatwave across South Australia has seen koalas come down from the trees and seek water.

I was out riding in the Adelaide Hills and my friend spotted a very dehydrated koala.

It was so thirsty it drank out of two water bottles.

This is quite ironic considering the word ' koala' is erroneously said to mean 'doesn't drink', so this photo should be kept for the history book

By Annabelle Homer from Adelaide , SA

http://www.abc.net.au/rural/content/2008/s2484767.htm

Sunday, 8 February 2009

TIME FOR OPTIMISM?

I received a piece from Gary, at the Green Providers' Directory and thought I would post it here, as he suggested. Thanks Gary.

The prospects for the emergence of a genuinely sustainable global economy have been given fresh impetus with the election of Barack Obama, extending beyond the well intentioned rhetoric characteristic of new administrations. I think we can be optimistic for several reasons.

Firstly, it signals a radical departure from the previous administration’s policy of denial, apathy and denigration of science. Gone too is the unthinkable prospect of Sarah Palin presiding over US energy policy, whose ignorance on scientific and environmental matters are truly breathtaking.

Secondly, the Obama administration does not regard sustainable energy investment as ‘nice to have but not during a recession’. In particular, there is a stark recognition that a reversion to old coal mining technology and a reliance on foreign oil are not in the US’s long-term economic or international interests. Investment in sustainable projects is seen as a growth opportunity that will contribute to (i.e. not dilute) the US economy, creating new jobs and new technologies. For example, the Obama administration aims to create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyse private efforts to build a clean energy future. It has also set a target of 10% of US electricity from renewable sources by 2012, and 25% by 2025.

Thirdly, US environmental and energy policies have ramifications far beyond its borders. The old adage that when the US sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold applies not just to financial markets, but also to the global environment. As the largest contributor to global emissions, its commitment to developing renewable energy sources, cutting back on fossil fuels (which should concurrently reduce its involvement in foreign conflicts) and investment in sustainable living will naturally have the largest impact whilst encouraging other nations to follow suit. More specifically, the new administration seeks eliminate its current imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 years.

Of course the Obama administration will be criticised by both sides. The oil industry, loggers, car manufacturers, arms industry, et al will claim that his ambitions are unrealistic, and that they will cost jobs – they will use lobbying, corporate influence and every tactic available to undermine him (expect to see Bush’s involvement here too). On the other side, he will be condemned by the doom mongers as doing too little too late.

The transition from the world’s worst polluter to a leading, sustainable economy will not happen overnight. Old infrastructure, corporate inertia and scepticism, vested interests and general apathy will slow down progress. However, green campaigners, long frustrated by the Bush years, now have cause to be imbued with real optimism.

Dr Gary Robertshaw

The Green Providers Directory

The Green Providers Directory is the UK's leading resource for finding green, organic and fair trade products and services. We are a not-for-profit search directory whose aim is to encourage more people to buy from ethical and sustainable sources.

In my opinion what we now need from President Obama is for him to take up Roger D's idea of a vegetable garden at the White House, as a personal commitment to a truly sustainable future for us all.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

FUNNY THINGS ABOUT FRANCE

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On Tuesday, we went to a lovely market in the streets of a village nearby, Castillonnès, on the top of a hill. There were people with stalls, selling their vegetables, fish, meat, plants, flowers, cheeses etc. It was freezing and I had on 3 layers under my ski jacket, and a scarf and gloves and I was almost warm enough! I bought a chicken to cook and it still had its neck, head and red comb imageattached and came with a little bundle of gizzards. Very French, evidently. 

 

Vegetarians beware!

We have discovered celeriac, which I often see in the Adelaide market too - you must get one to try. It is an ugly, knobbly thing but you can cut bits off, like a pumpkin, and roast them and they are really, really delicious. You can also grate it into a salad to eat raw which is also nice. It lasts for ages so you just keep cutting bits off when you want to. I also have really enjoyed endive.... a kind of stem and leaf veg like spinach, that they grow in the dark and it goes pale. I dug them at Roger D's place in Maine. We roasted them in the pan with the celeriac and pumpkin etc and I thought it would dry out but Ian assured me it would be ok and it was much better than ok - it was fabulous.

Then, there is blette, which we learned from the dictionary is Swiss chard. It is like a short, fat version of silver beet. I am going to make spinach and fetta pie tomorrow.

One funny thing is that it is hard to get raw beetroot - it is always sold boiled, on the vegetable stalls. You can get the large, round ones or large, long ones but they are nearly always cooked.

One of my favourite blue cheeses is St. Agur, which son Hugh first told me about at the Adelaide market. It costs about $75 / kg there but you wouldn't believe the price here! Ian buys a kilogram of it at a time and freezes it in pieces. You only need a little. It is less than $30 / kg and you can get it at the supermarket!! There are lots of other beautiful and reasonably priced cheeses here too and it is very difficult not to eat too much. So much local stuff is available from the supermarkets, it is very good.

There is a local baker that drives around this area twice a week, selling bread from the back of the van. We bought 2 croissants and a baguette and they were still warm. The croissants are a bit smaller than in Adelaide and generally straight, not curved, and very good. I am trying to avoid going anywhere near a patisserie until I lose a few kilograms but I do love the croissants, which come from bakers not patisseries. And the chausson au pomme..... a kind of pasty shaped, apple filled croissant.... perfect with a noisette, which is a short black coffee with a dash of milk. You can't get flat white so I am now getting used to noisettes, and sometimes they bring it with a little jug of hot milk extra , which is great.

image This morning at the Villereal market it was icy cold but sunny and I was not even nearly warm, even with a woollen spencer, long-sleeved shirt, woollen jumper and my ski jacket, scarf and gloves! So we bought our chausson au pomme (for me), pain au raisin (sultana croissant, for Ian) and then Ian bought this thin paper-wrapped tube of crepes. We took them to the bar/cafe in the market square and had our noisettes inside in the warm. This is what they do, buy food from the boulangerie (bakery) or patisserie (cake shop) or pizzeria or from the hot chicken stall and then take it to the bar/cafe and eat it with your coffee. The waiter sometimes calls out 'Bon appetit', even though you didn't get the food there and will bring you a plate and hot handtowel, if like me, you get in a mess with your chicken! The bag of crepes was just that..... a bag of cold, soggy,very sweet, rolled crepes, that felt like long, fat worms.... yuk! The first French thing I haven't liked at all.image

You have to be quick to get your goods from the bakeries / patisseries / sandwich shops etc because  even they close for 2 - 3 hours every day for lunch....well, you can't expect to buy lunch at lunch-time can you?? The supermarkets and all other shops except restaurants close for lunch too. Restaurants and cafes won't serve you though, if you don't get there by about 1pm. Why? They need time to enjoy their own lunch break, of course! Only foreigners would dare ask for lunch out of the time slot 12 - 1pm or soon after. Food is a serious business in France.

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On Thursday we drove through the pretty countryside, dotted with farm houses and sprinkled with fields, edged in hedgerows to Monflanquin. It was about 12.30 by the time we got there and of course everything was shut but the streets were nice to just wander about. One shop (above, right) in this tourist village opens only from 10.30 - 12.30 then 3pm - 6pm. Another sign sat (left)  prominently on the footpath and it said in French "Due to a general lack of interest, tomorrow will not take place" !! OK, so do we all jump forward a day or what?? Yeah, lets give Friday a miss this week.... who needs it?

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There are more photos here.

Well it’s almost cool again.

It is a lovely evening, there is little cool breeze, a lovely moon, some bright stars.

The plants are scorched and need to be cut back.

There will be a few warm days before it is hot again.

Time to prune and refresh and water, time to get on the gardening road again.

Time to enjoy the cool and make plans for our Autumn gardens.

Tomorrow we will meet together and tell tales and make plans.

We've been here before...

SAID HANRAHAN by John O'Brien

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
In accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began,
One frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about,
Coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought,
As it had done for years.

"It's looking crook," said Daniel Croke;
"Bedad, it's cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke
Has seasons been so bad."

"It's dry, all right," said young O'Neil,
With which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel
And chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran
"It's keepin' dry, no doubt."
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

"The crops are done; ye'll have your work
To save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o'-Bourke
They're singin' out for rain."

"They're singin' out for rain," he said,
"And all the tanks are dry."
The congregation scratched its head,
And gazed around the sky.

"There won't be grass, in any case,
Enough to feed an ass;
There's not a blade on Casey's place
As I came down to Mass."

"If rain don't come this month," said Dan,
And cleared his throat to speak -
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If rain don't come this week."

A heavy silence seemed to steal
On all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed a piece of bark.

"We want an inch of rain, we do,"
O'Neil observed at last;
But Croke "maintained" we wanted two
To put the danger past.

"If we don't get three inches, man,
Or four to break this drought,
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

In God's good time down came the rain;
And all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane
It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still,
And lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill
Kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long,
A-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song
Way out to Back-o'-Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran,
And dams filled overtop;
"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"If this rain doesn't stop."

And stop it did, in God's good time;
And spring came in to fold
A mantle o'er the hills sublime
Of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet,
With harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat
Nid-nodding o'er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face,
As happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey's place
Went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel
Discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel,
And chewed his piece of bark.

"There'll be bush-fires for sure, me man,
There will, without a doubt;
We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,
"Before the year is out."

Around the Boree Log and Other Verses, 1921
(Photo: "Pine Hut Knob", Cambrai, South Australia)