When I was small we used to visit some friends who lived in a town called Dookie. Dookie is near Shepparton and is well known for the Dookie Agricultural College. My parents friends were called Kirsten and Henning and were, like my parents, Danish. Kirsten came over from Denmark with my mother in 1959 so they were close friends. They had moved up to Dookie as they were chefs and actually worked at the College in the kitchens cooking for the students, boarders and staff.
The drive to Dookie was long and generally hot. It took at least 3 to 4 hours to get there in mum and dad's big Chevrolet. The highway seemed to go on forever and the view was brown grassed paddocks peppered with ring barked trees.
The house were we stayed was the quintessential Australian country home. Timber, tin roofed with a wide veranda and hot. The grass was brown but there was always a row of beautiful and colorful standard rose bushes growing along the white wire fence. Inside the walls were lined with painted, timber lining boards and the floors were polished boards. The kitchen was small and in the centre was a laminex topped table around which we sat for each meal.
Dookie is, of course, a farming area. For myself and my brother and sisters it was the most amazing place to come to. So different to the hemmed in suburb of Hampton where we lived cheek to jowl with others. Vast acres of brown land surrounded us in Dookie. There were farm animals to visit, barns to explore, tractors to climb and haystacks to scramble upon. I would walk through the paddocks trying to catch the locusts that were eating the brown grass. Sometimes I would hold one and study its brown and hard body before letting it go.
In the morning we were up early and after breakfast we would disappear to roam free. I was six at the time and when I think about it I do wonder that our parents let us be so free at around a place full of dangers for children. Occasionally we would watch them call the cows in for milking. The poor animals would walk slowly towards the milking sheds, their udders swollen with milk and painfully swinging side to side. Inside the milking barn they would clap the machines on the the teats and the rhythmic sound of milking would be constant.
We would search for frogs in the green dam and wade in as deep as we felt was safe. Sometimes we would remember to bring a jar in which we would tip some poor unsuspecting tadpoles and brown water to take home. There was always an unceremonius toilet flush when they later died.
The big, tin roofed barns were full of strange equipment that we would climb over and explore. Things that had big teeth like apparatus or something equally monster like. One time I remember some sheep had found there way into an area where grain was stored and ate themselves silly until they ended up with big, bloated bellies. The farmer came along and, using what appeared to be a fat skewer, poked the poor animal in the gut and the most foul smelling air was released. Within minutes the sheep was up and about with no obvious side effects.
I learnt to play chess when I was there. I stepped in fresh cow dung and the memory of that lovely warm cow pat covering my bare feet has always been a nice one.
As Kirsten was a good cook, there was always the most delicious food to eat and whenever we came back to the house there was always something waiting for us. There was one exception to that. In the morning we were given cornflakes upon which was poured fresh cows milk. Fresh milk has nothing to do with what we drink from the shop and I remember the absolute revulsion at the creaminess of the milk. It was only topped by the hair that poured out of the jug onto my cereal.
I still recall so many wonderful memories of being there. The heat, the freedom, the animals and the sense of the cycle of life. One time one of the sheep had twins and I was able to watch without feeling repulsed. It seemed so natural. It was a great learning process for me.
They owned a pet sheep called Mary. My sister and I would take turns in the mornings to give it some milk from a bottle. One morning we ran out together to feed Mary but she was gone from the adjoining paddock. We searched and called for her and one of the farm hands called us over to a large shed and said to us "here's Mary". There was Mary alright. Strung up by her back legs and sliced down the middle. I was horrified and my sister started to cry. I was still holding the bottle in my hand.
That same day we were going home. Mary had been butchered and my mother was given the choice cuts to pack into the eski and take home. That night, when we got home, she cooked lamb chops. I recall looking at the fatty chops and all I could think of was what I had seen that morning. My sister started to cry again. I said I could not eat it. It made me feel sick. I was allowed to leave the table.
It was one of the few times that I did not have to eat all my meal.