Last weekend I drove down to Hynam and spent a couple of days with my brother and sister-in-law at Langkyne, the property I grew up on. Just three-and-a-half hours south of Adelaide, it’s always nostalgic going back and I am thankful that I am still able to revisit my childhood home, which is full of happy memories.
At first light on Sunday morning I crept out of the house, pulled on my rubber boots and went for a long walk around the vineyards and across the paddocks, as I always do when I visit. There is something incredibly special about being under a big morning sky, the air crisp and clean, not another human-being within cooee*. The only sound is warbling magpies.
On this cold winter morning, I greet Lily the deer,
then head out into the paddocks where the sun is just rising above the gums.
I trudge on – up the hillside and past the caves my brothers and I used to play in – spotting a fox that slinks back into his den the moment he spies me.
On to the limestone quarry…another playground that is now much deeper and steeper than I remember, where the ochre light dances and I hear the echo of ‘laughter past’.
At the top of the hill, I pause to look over this precious land, where magnificent red gums throw long morning shadows.
On the other side of the hill, beyond the vines, a mob of kangaroos jumps away as I approach.
At the shearing shed I climb the stairs as I have so many times before, bringing smoko in a basket to the shearers as a child; tea, jubilee cake and sandwiches. The smell of lanolin hangs in the air. This morning the shears are still and silent but it’s easy to conjure in my mind their constant drone, the shed a hive of activity.
The sun shines brighter as I meander through rows of vines,
and head back towards the house paddock.
It was on this very lawn, left of the white wooden fence, that I celebrated my wedding reception in a big white marquee – many moons ago. Oh, how the trees have grown and life has changed…
I throw off my boots and open the door to the smell of bacon. My brother is cooking breakfast with eggs collected this morning. Suddenly I’m famished.
As I walked through the paddocks I had a flashback to a ‘Winter Morning in Time’, circa 1970…
My breath curls into the crisp morning air as I dig my hands deeper into my parka pockets. I am perched on a wooden railing of the milking shed, swinging my legs in my rubber boots as I watch the warm milk squirt noisily against the cold, steel bucket. It is rhythmical and comforting. The only sound apart from the milk hitting the steel is Clarabelle, a jersey cow the colour of milky espresso, munching on her half bucket of oats.
My father sits on a stump of wood, its seat worn smooth with use, hand milking with a deft proficiency that comes from years of practice. Depending on the amount of feed in the paddock, the house cow produces about a gallon and a half of milk in the morning and a gallon at night … more with the new spring grasses. The sound of milk grows duller and deeper as the bucket fills with frothy warm milk. By the time the soft morning sun caresses my hair and the last drop of milk is shaken into the bucket, I am almost in a trance-like state, hypnotised by the sound of the ritual.
The cats that live in the haystack on the mice they catch are lurking about. My father pours a little milk into their tins near the shed. They lap it up. We walk up the gentle slope of the orchard together, towards the house, milk sloshing precariously close to the rim of the bucket. Jack Frost is still lying on the grass and the winter light throws magic into the morning. We kick off our boots and enter into the warm kitchen where my Scottish grandmother is slowly stirring oatmeal over the fire with her spurtle (porridge stick). Another morning ritual.
A large bowl sits ready on the table and a strong river of milk quickly fills it, foaming and swirling. This bowl has a permanent home on the top shelf of the fridge where it sits and forms a layer of cream that begs to be skimmed off with a spoon. My father likes to eat it on bread with homemade jam. A jug is filled with the remaining milk: raw, real, full-cream milk straight from a happy, coffee-coloured cow. The cereal is on the table. It’s time for breakfast.
*Cooee! is a shout used in Australia, usually in the bush, to attract attention, find missing people, or indicate one’s own location. When done correctly – loudly and shrilly – a call of “cooee” can carry over a considerable distance. The distance one’s cooee call travels can be a matter of competitive pride. It is also known as a call of help.