Growing up on a sugar cane farm in Central Queensland, Australia, was great way to grow up. Our farmhouse was at the end of a long dirt road which emptied into our front yard. Across the front of the house was bushland – eucalyptus trees and kangaroos as far as you could see. Over the years, the land was eventually cleared by the neighbors for farmland but I will always remember the sight and sound of the trees moving in the morning breeze.
On all other sides of the house was sugar cane. We had a large area for the house and sheds and a chook pen, as well as some mango trees and banana trees as well, and lots of gardens at the front of the house.
We had a creek running through our farm – a beautiful shady spot which we called “the crossing”. It was just a small section of the creek which dad had filled in with gravel so that we could get to the cane paddocks on the other side of the creek. It was a beautiful secluded spot where my friends and I coukd ride our bikes there and swim, have a little picnic, talk about life and boys and school and who we would be someday.
My favourite childhood memory of home is not of a single event but an ongoing one. Each year, from about June through to September, is the cane crushing season. This is when the sugar cane is cut, carted to the sugar mill, and crushed to extract the sugar juice. Back then, before the cane was cut, it was burnt to remove all of the excess leaves and foliage.
Cane fires are beautiful creatures. The cane paddock was set alight on two sides, depending on the direction that wind was coming from. We would use a flame thrower to light the fire: a small cylindrical petrol tank with a long neck and the flame head on the end. We light the flame end and run along the paddock with the head pointing down so that the petrol runs out catching fire as it goes. Usually two people start at one corner and they both take off in opposite directions. Someone would always be on standby on a tractor with a massive water tank and it was from this vantage point that my brother and I would usually watch.
Things live in the cane paddocks – rats, bandicoots, feral cats, snakes… So many animals would run out when the fire started. One year, I rescued a baby bandicoot – a tiny little creature that fit in my hand. He had such big ears. I wasn’t allowed to keep him but I secretly did for an afternoon before I was discovered.
We always had dogs on the farm and we lost a few along the way. One such pup was Katie – she was my long-haired Australian Terrier cross and such a cutie. She used to ride in the basket of my bike. One year, the wind changed direction during a cane fire and we had to take off quickly on the tractor to put out the little runner fires so that adjacent paddocks didn’t catch alight. Poor Katie was run over by the tractor and didn’t make it – it broke my heart.
Another dog was Cujo, a bull Arab cross. We got him when he was a bit older, maybe two years old. He was fiercely protective of my brother and I. He actually saved my brother from a Taipan snake but was bitten multiple times in the mouth as he’d attacked the most dangerous part of the snake. We lived too far from town to get him to the vet for antivenin. Such a sad loss, we will always remember Cujo.
Wow, nostalgia turned to sadness there for a minute. We had many dogs who loved long happy lives and we had good times with the fires as well. One year, I came home from university with my friends for my birthday and we were able to be there for a cane fire. We had long sticks and toasted marshmallows in the massive roaring flames. Idiots. But we had so much fun. We all piled in the back of the ute and dad took us all over the farm and the neighboring farms and we had a great time, bouncing along, the wind whipping out hair around our faces. Then a big party that night. There was always plenty of room for people to stay over and mum would prep a big breakfast of bacon and eggs that dad would cook on the barbecue the next morning.
Mum and dad are probably the most generous people I’ve ever met. Everyone was always welcome. Mum always went out of her way to bake fresh cakes and biscuits and slices. And if people were coming by, there was always a roast in the oven.
My family has retired from the farm now and they’ve moved to the city, living not far from me. Nothing has changed, they are still warm and generous people who welcome anyone into the fold, they are accepting of all my friends and they often have family staying when they visit Brisbane or are passing through.
We will always cherish these memories from the farm. And I’m so glad that dad was always taking photos or slides of our time growing up. The photos that I’ve shared here are his photos that he captured as 35mm slides. My Dad and my brother spent many weeks going through all of his slides and digitizing them. They’ve done a fabulous job and it’s incredibly wonderful to be able to carry these pictures with me.
For today’s Writing101 prompt : Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you? For the Twist : pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.
I was going for nostalgia in this account of my childhood home. I think I achieved that but didn’t expect the sad stories to come out and I didn’t expect such a long post.
Thank you for reading.