"We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and for each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes that we are inviting catastrophe to make. The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependant on what is wrong. But that is the addict's excuse, and we know that it will not do."
—Wendell Berry

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Our journey.

We, that is to say; the Wife and I, started our journey over a decade ago in Brisbane. The potted version goes sort of like this.
I had moved down from the north for a variety of reasons. I lived on the Darling Downs for seven years, first on my parents small farm where we kept chooks for eggs, goats for milk and meat and geese because we liked geese. Dad grew grapes to produce a bit of home wine and I kept bees for the honey and to brew mead.
Later I moved down to Brisbane where I lived a life of poverty and student share housing. I worked a lot of dead end jobs on minimal wage until I gained a trade as a cabinetmaker and ran my own business for seven years making historical reproduction furniture. Like this.
A fifteenth century folding "Savonarola" chair.
Business was actually good and I loved the work. It was always something new each day. However, banks do not like to lend money to the owners of small businesses so the prospect of ever owning our own property was non existent.
Now my beautiful girlfriend (who for brevity sake I will here after call BG), who would later become my beautiful wife (BW) was raised in Brisbane, Wynnum to be exact.  So I guess the place has its good points. This did present me with a problem though, as I had well and truly had enough of city life and wanted to return to life in the bush, preferably in the north. However I felt it would be downright cruel to take a city girl and move out into the bush and away from everyone and everything she knows. This meant we were doomed to search the small pockets of bush within a commute of the city. We quickly discovered that these areas were hotly sought after by all of the yuppies in their BMW's so they could have five acres to mow each weekend and keep a horse to never be ridden. This had the effect of pricing us utterly out of the market unless we were to sell our souls to be wage slaves doomed to the hell of commuting each week day. This was simply not an option.
Defeated, we gave up and returned to our rented house above the workshop in town.
Then we visited my parents, now living in Cairns, for Christmas one year. It was hellishly hot and humid, the northerner in me loved it, I was coming home. BG was appalled. We got off the plane into the humidity (at night) and she almost turned around and got back on! (Come on honey, you will quickly get used to it...). Well she put a brave face on it indeed and struggled through the Christmas celebrations somehow. A few days later we borrowed the folks car and went for a tour around the Atherton tablelands, just inland from Cairns. Here at altitude it was entirely different from the coast- cool and green. We fantasized about living here and agreed it would be impossible, and then on our way back home to Brisbane a day later BG (I still hadn't proposed for some reason) turned to me and said in a quiet but deadly serious voice "well do you think we should move here?"
To say I was absolutely stunned would be an understatement! I had to be sure she was serious and understood what she was asking. Therefore I asked her to think deeply about it for a month at least and then, if she was sure, we could begin looking it it seriously.

Here I will abbreviate the next couple of years for the sake of the narrative.

So we returned to Brisbane with its traffic and crowding and neighbours and rental housing. We dealt with life as it arises, breaking the news to dear friends and family, business difficulties, packing our worldly possessions, arranging finances, saying goodbyes and then early one morning getting into our car and driving north. We drove north out of the city with elation in our hearts. I remember listening to particularly fine Paganini solo as the sun rose and it was a fitting theme to the day.
We drove north through the small untouched towns that litter the coast and into the heat and cane fields, the rain forests and rain. Past the cattle plains which are vast waterlily covered floodplains in the wet, past the ghost gums and the place where I saw the min-min lights when I was a child, always with the sea on our right and the mountains to our left. We drove back to my old home and to our new home.
For a time we lived in Cairns working jobs to gather finances, saving fiercely. Here I finally proposed to my darling BG on a deserted beach (she said yes, which was fortunate when you think about everything we were engaged in doing).
Finally after banks and loans and lawyers and enough frustration and heartache we bought the first house with the banks money in a town called Malanda. Not the farm we had longed for all these years. No, the banks were not going to allow that but they would allow us just enough cash to buy a house in need of renovation but with plenty of "potential" as the real estate vampires called it. So we named our house "Stepping stone" so we would always be reminded of what it was to us on our way to the real goal. And we worked on that house, God how we worked, coming home from the job at night to eat a meal from the temporary kitchen and then paint ceilings before collapsing into bed at two in the morning before work the next day. But, in the end we had taken that dingy old house with its green laminate and red doored kitchen, pink bathtub and strange doorways that went nowhere and we turned it into a "modern queenslander" as the vampires called it. It now had a polished timber kitchen with all new plumbing and painted walls, walk in pantry, new bathroom with fancy taps, polished floors and painted throughout, stove with custom hood and sink with shiny taps. We even gave the dunny a lace ironwork window to let the pong out but the vampire lady told me this was a heritage feature adding elegance and design contrast.
We then argued with the real estate vampires as to what it was worth. We believed it was worth fifty thousand more than the bloodsuckers did and we insisted on this figure. The vampires plainly wanted a quick sale, and payday. Nevertheless we did indeed sell for the price we wanted- on the first day and to the second couple to see the house. The first couple to inspect just the hour before called back shortly after and also offered the same price. See, never trust a vampire, they have impure motives.
As we were selling we were also buying, not an experience I recommend to anyone. Our hobby for the time we had been at the Stepping Stone, when not renovating, was to drive the countryside looking for our perfect farm. We had made a list of mandatory requirements and a second list of desired extras. And we found it!
Perfect! OK no, not as large as I wanted, nor did it have enough sheds and it will need a new roof soon and the fences are falling down but still perfect.
After much heartache again and banks and lawyers and frustration we finally finished our decade long search. We had our farm.
Oh and the city girl loves it!

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