Tassie Sheep

SHrek

Tasmania is often the butt of jokes for those from the Australian ‘mainland’ – rumoured to be home of the hillbillies with two heads, it is in fact quite a civilised isle. Any city that boasts a weekly inner-city market with more than 2 stalls selling merino/ possum blend socks has got to be a winner in my books, and Hobart ticks that box. Even though it isa city, with 4-story buildings and a whole fleet of parking wardens, it is nevertheless remarkably similar to New Zealand. This was reinforced to me last week, thanks to, well, a sheep in general conversation.

A discussion on digital media suddenly took an interesting turn, when the question of what constitutes breaking news came up. The answer? 23kg of wild fleece, recently detached from a sheep that called the wilderness of Tasmania ‘home.’ ‘Shaun’ the sheep was headline news not only in the local Tassie paper, but all over Australia. I even heard about it in almost real time from my Australian colleagues whilst we were out in the middle of the ocean – the animal had global penetration. Of course, at just 23kg Shaun’s shavings didn’t have a patch on the fleece of our very own Shrek. And of course I couldn’t resist letting everyone know this fact. But it didn’t end there.

Arguments over the relative merits of youtube and twitter were soon left by the wayside, thanks to the use of the words ‘sheep’ and ‘iceberg’ in the same sentence. Hobart may be a ‘Gateway to Antarctica’, but it is not the sort of port where icebergs head for a sightseeing holiday. Dunedin, of course, is exactly the sort of port past which large chunks of ice from the far south periodically cruise.

‘It’s not just about the fleece,’ I told my colleagues, ‘that’s not where the story ends at all. It’s what the sheep does afterwards that is the really ground breaking stuff.’ This concept appeared to be ground breaking for all those around the table. Sheep, of course, are not only good for grazing our lawns and gracing our plates. They are also great models to star in wool commercials for the warmest textiles – and where better to stage such an advert than on an Antarctic iceberg? Crampons, clippers, and a chopper ride had NZ transfixed a decade ago, and Hobart transfixed last week.

Shaun and Shrek do have plenty in common, but for me, the iceberg-shearing incident seals the deal. Next time an overgrown ovine appears from the Hobart hinterlands though, we’d best keep an eye on our own headlines, as seeds of ideas have now been planted…A bit of trans-Tasman rivalry never did anyone any harm, but it is nice to be on the winning side, even if I am currently on the ‘wrong’ side of ‘the ditch.’

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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Bream Creek Show

pumpkinYesterday I broke out my gumboots and checked shirt, hired a car, and enjoyed the kind of agricultural experience I had hitherto associated only with rural NZ towns. The Bream Creek Show north of Hobart was evidence that we share more than a very similar flag with our cousins across the ditch.

I came across A&P Shows rather late in life. In fact, my very first encounter with such an agricultural extravaganza was the Methven Show of 2012. I came out of that experience with a much better appreciation of the various types of sheep, a candyfloss sugar high, and an insatiable desire to win a prize for produce. Third in the open tomato category the following year is the closest I ever got, but my appetite for shows remains. When I heard the radio announcement for the Bream Creek Show this weekend, of course I just had to go along. The fact that two of the entries in the giant pumpkin competition looked set to break the weight record for all of southern Australia just sealed the deal.

As we walked in the gate and surveyed the tents of food vendors, the produce hall, and the wood-shopping poles, I felt quite at home. Methven had primed me well to explain the intricacies of the axe-men’s events to my European friends. Next we toured “gourmet alley,” whereupon the smoke of an open range caught our attention. “Billy Tea and Dampers,” announced a hand-written sign, “Gold Coin.” At that point, overtaken both by imagined scenes from “Waltzing Matilda” and the scent of the golden syrup topping, I needed no further prompting. My friends were not so sure. I agreed to meet them at the next display after fortifying myself with morning tea. The brew was most relaxing.

So far, so familiar. The next display tent, however, changed everything. From a distance, the square enclosure of blue tarpaulin looked quite innocuous. It wasn’t until we got close enough to see the slim back form entwined in the display holder’s hands that the reality of the situation hit home: Australia has snakes. So too, it seems, do Australian A&P Shows. Tiger snakes, copperhead snakes, and even teeny tiny whip snakes, squiggling over the canvas floor and melting flat in the sun. Naturally, we lined up to pat the most venomous of the three varieties, before wandering over to the Lions stand for hot chips. It’s just what you do at that kind of an event.

As for the pumpkins, 422.5kg took the record, well and truly. In fact, it was so exciting to watch the weigh in that I had to go back for a second round of tea and damper just to recover. This time, the Europeans also partook, with the verdict being that the Aussie camping staples not half bad. To top is all off, not one person asked me to “fush and chups” all day. Finally, I think I might actually be winning at Australia.

Farmyard Philosophy

At what point does a chicken on your lawn become your chicken on the lawn? This is the question we’ve been faced with in recent weeks, as a rather handsome hen has taken up residence in our driveway and made itself quite at home. While it has been strutting about our front lawn for some time, it was only last weekend that we really became properly acquainted thanks to the intervention of Mya, our dog.

Mya’s brand of dog food proudly proclaims ‘our number one ingredient is chicken!’ but knowing where your food comes from can be a painful experience, and in an altercation between pup and the chook, the bird defintely came out better off. Heading outside to an awful racket that would have made Chicken Licken proud, we found Mya on the wrong side of the hedge and the chicken nowhere to be seen. No number of dog biscuits could coax our pup back through the fence, so having retrieved her the long way round and finally ascertained the location of her escape hatch, we set about sealing off the hedge with a roll of chicken wire. Then, as we were cable tying the last section to the stake, something caught my eye. It was black, feathery, and wedged right into the passage where our puppy had been practicing her Houdini skills. Could it be the chicken?

Not having had much experience in the art of handling hens, I was not entirely sure how to go about picking it up. Approaching it from what I assumed must be behind I attempted to grasp the chook like a rugby ball, but I clearly didn’t pay enough attention in high school PE class, because my grip didn’t last long. Then again, standard issue rugby balls don’t have beaks and claws that suddenly sprout from unexpected places, and the creature I encountered certainly did. It turned out this wasn’t a headless chicken at all, but a sleeping one, and one that was very vocal in its annoyance about having been woken up. Having experienced the wrath of this chicken first hand, I can now understand why Mya was most reluctant to return through the hole in the hedge and risk another run in with the feathered beast.

These days harmony has been restored, with the chicken staking out the front yard and Mya confined to the back. In fact, I would be quite happy to wake up to the farmyard warbling if it wasn’t the symptom of a larger trend. In the past few weeks we have had several lost dogs take refuge in our garden, and dinner table talk has been turning with alarming regularity to the possibility of adopting an alpaca. When I came home to find a trademe auction for kune kune pigs open on the desktop machine, I actually had to go and check that Old MacDonald hadn’t snuck in and taken up residence in our spare room. Four legs may be good, but in the context of our current place, two legs are definitely better. The chook can stay.

Originally published in The Ashburton Guardian

Paved stones under shadow

In what was once a monastery,
Stone pillars,
Stained glass,
A darkened archway
hides from eyes the sideways path
possibility for those who dare
explore

and there is the cat
purring
whisker halo as it bathes
in the blink of sunlight
that slips through the door
Painting the wall, the flagstones on the ground
Printing them with morning

and there is the cat
safe and black and purring
shadow imprinted on the wall
assured of an existence
right Here right Now
by the dark, the shape that is left
where it soaks up the sun
leaving paved stones under shadow

After a Derek Langley photograph