Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Last night on Twitter, a community of people interested in Mental Health, were discussing issues relating to farmers and others in rural areas. There were some very interesting discussions pertaining to what issues rural people have to deal with and how this can affect their mental health. It then evolved to a discussion on how we can all help each other and what the signs might be that indicate someone is not coping.
I don’t profess to be an authority on mental health but I do know what happened to me and I have seen others in similar situations. From what I have seen, people respond differently to pressure and react differently when it all gets too much. I know that seems obvious but I wanted to put it out there because we do tend to put people in categories.
Some of the revelations that came out of last nights discussion are that rural people are affected by many things including money worries, natural disasters, media barrage, workload and isolation. We find it difficult to take time out for family and social activities. When the pressure is on, we often work harder instead of taking a much needed break.
How can we tell if someone we know is not coping? It’s different for everyone. There’s no hard and fast rule, but one thing that people were saying was to keep the communication line open. Listen to what your mates are telling you and see if there is something you can do to help. Some people just stop talking altogether and go into a kind of automation mode. Think about whether there is someone who has fallen off the radar an been out of touch with everyone for a while. Is there someone you know who is difficult to be around because they are cranky the whole time? Does someone you know seem to be drinking more than usual?
So what do we do if we think someone’s having trouble? Well the tweets last night were saying talk to them. Ask if they’re ok? Sometimes just that person to bounce ideas off is enough. I’d like to put my own two cents in here and say - see if you can get them out for a social endeavour. Leaving the house can have therapeutic benefits. Especially if someone’s spiralling downwards. Interrupting that negative flow can really help.
And what if it’s you that’s not coping. Again, talk. If you find that difficult, my own advice is to write. Get down on paper (or computer screen) what’s really bothering you. I found this extremely helpful. I also knew that I was on the road to recovery when I could read certain sections of my book without crying. You don’t have to write a book though. Start with a letter, or just a few notes. Have a look at what other people have written. Sometimes it helps just to know that you’re not the only one going through this. There are many people’s stories on the Beyond Blue website. www.beyondblue.org.au
But if talking sounds easier and you don’t know who to call, there are heaps of help lines ready to be the listener.
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Lifeline 12 11 14
Mensline Australia 1300 789 978
Suicide callback service 1800 659 467
Parentline 1300 30 1300
It’s because of people like you that I managed to get through my own depression. I didn’t even know there was a problem until someone pointed it out. I was really happy with my life. I would just burst into tears without warning and for no apparent reason. It didn’t occur to me that I might be unwell.
So if there is someone that you know (could be an almost stranger) who you think might be unwell and you’re wondering if you can help. I say the answer is yes, you can. See if you can start a conversation. Or maybe email them this post, or a link.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Dinky is my dog. One of them anyway. She’s a border collie, kelpie cross with a bit of mongrel thrown in for good measure. She was born the same week as my own daughter, Jessica so we will always know how old she is. She’s six months now. Or as Jim says, she’s point five. We picked her up when she was two months old and she came with the name “Inky” because she is mostly black. She answered to Inky but we didn’t like the name and after throwing around dozens of choices, we settled on shoving a D in front to make “Dinky”. Real creative huh.
The cat has a similar story. He was born a couple of months later and came without a name. I had asked for a girl but my family had conspired against me and got me a boy cat because they are easier to desex. Many names were considered. These included Minty, Beaver, George, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, Julius, Augustus, Arthur, Astro Boy and Dog. For some reason none of these names seemed to stick. Now we just call it Cat.
It was a tentative friendship at first. The Cat had six other dogs to contend with and had to fight for its place in this family when it was only a kitten. It managed to get a good few swipes into each dog and now unless they are ganging up on it, the dogs pretty much leave The Cat alone.
But Dinky is always hanging around. She kept her distance for a good while and as The Cat got used to her, he started to relax his guard a bit. Now they are thick as thieves. Where you see one, the other is not far behind and they are both intrigued by the new month-old puppies who have recently emerged from their birthplace under the shed.
Today, they managed to wreak a little havoc in the farmyard. All of the dogs had been for a walk and were tucked back in bed in their kennels. Dinky included, so I let the chooks out for a run. One of our chooks was not feeling well. It had a bung wing and for some reason had decided to rest in the water dish. I thought a nice walk in the grass might make it feel better.
Half an hour later I decided to let Dinky back out. Only a couple of days ago, one of Jim’s boots went missing and Dinky has a history of boot thievery. It probably wasn’t her, one of the new pups is more likely the culprit. But Dinky usually retrieved lost items within a couple of days and put them out in the yard. I gave her the job of boot retrieval and left her out for the day.
I forgot about the chooks.
Sometime around lunch, Jessie and I were out on the veranda and we noticed a few feathers out on the lawn. Investigations found Dinky looking very proud of herself and tucking into a chicken dinner. The poor little crook chook had met its maker. Dinky went straight to bed. The boot remained missing.
After locking her up, I grabbed Jedda (our old house dog) and tied her up too. The only animals left out were the two puppies and The Cat. Not sure how to dispose of the fateful chook, I ended up leaving it where it was in the yard. I figured it would end up being eaten whether I put it in a plastic bag and chucked it up the dump or disposed of it in the paddock. I figured Jim might have an idea what to do so I would wait until he got home.
Jessie and I had a lovely afternoon snooze and when we awoke, the chook had disappeared. Either the puppies had cleaned it up or The Cat had. My money was on The Cat. I had a feeling that would happen. I didn’t want to reward Dinky for hunting Chooks but the puppies are due to be weaned and could use the meat. The Cat also gets only dry food and since it wasn’t the one who killed the chook, I saw no great harm.
Unless… perhaps Dinky and The Cat were working together. Hmm. Maybe I was played here.
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Last weekend we were Mustering up at Jim’s Dad’s place. He’s got some good irrigated country on which he grows lucerne hay and sometimes oats. Most of the paddocks are grass though and we run cattle there.
The block is split in two by the Burnett river. It doesn’t usually run at this time of year in this area and is mostly used as another paddock in its own right. With the recent (6 months ago) floods however, there is a healthy amount of water in the river.
I hadn’t been down there since before Christmas last year. Boy has the landscape changed. But let me tell you, riding on a confident horse through that beautiful landscape gave me warm fuzzies all over. A day like that makes you really pay attention to how lucky we really are out here.
Our mission (and we chose to accept it) was to cross the river, gather about sixty bullocks and bring them back across the river to the yards and from there to another paddock closer to the homestead.
Three of us mounted our steeds and casually walked them down into the riverbed. The sun was out and it was a warm winters day so we didn’t need our jumpers. We had to trek a different way than usual because the river had moved many logs and debris down to block our path along the usual dirt track. The river was running also and we needed to cross at a shallow point.
It was so beautiful in the river. The sun glistening in the foliage, the water running and the sandy islets looked a picture. Had I thought about it before I would have taken my camera but alas, you will have to picture it in your own head.
Once across the river, we found all bullocks in a smallish paddock and started to approach. These boys hadn’t seen men on horses for about a year so were a little skittish. They headed for the fence and then got themselves stuck in a corner. The three of us parked ourselves out from the corner a little way and blocked them as they tried to make a break for open country. Jim’s dogs gave them some pressure to keep in the mob as well. There was a bit of tooing and froing like this for about fifteen minutes with one overexcited dog pushing a bullock through the fence. Jim gave one of his usual commands which brought the dog back to heal. We were all a bit scared.
Eventually the cattle settled down and we took them around the fence, the one we blew making his way back into the mob through an open gate. As soon as we got back into the river the hard riding started. The cattle which couldn’t break in the paddock now found themselves without a fence to bounce off and with a little confidence to make their own way. The trees in the river proved difficult obstacles and Jim managed to stake himself in the leg with a broken branch. Without the dogs, we would never have kept the mob together.
It was a real picture though. The cattle crashing through the trees then into the water with the horses and dogs on all sides. We got the boys back up the bank then into a holding paddock with no other dramas. The short adrenaline rush heightened the experience and we were all pretty excited by the successful muster.
Great day. If you get the opportunity to be part of something like this, take it. This life is awesome.
Monday, August 1, 2011
"Starlight is my horse. She’s one of two that I ride. When I first came here, I had barely been on a horse except for the odd trail ride when we were teenagers. Jim was afraid that I’d fall off or hurt myself or something so for the first couple of years I rode Foreman. Foreman is bombproof. He’s an old horse who is now more of a danger because he stumbles a lot, but he’s slow. He doesn’t get excited about anything. He has a very slow first gear and then ten different speeds of trot. He rarely canters.
But yesterday I was riding Starlight. Starlight has bad steering. She pulls to the left but has more accurate gears. She has a fast walk, a decent paced trot and will canter if she needs to go faster. Unfortunately sometimes the accelerator sticks and you can start cantering relatively slowly but end up out of control in no time if you don’t apply a little break now and then.
Mustering isn’t an exact science. Cattle, like any other animal, can be conditioned but you’ll always get a few that want to think for themselves. Even the good ones can have a bad day, be feeling sick or have simply not had enough to eat and want to do in a different direction to the one you are steering towards. When they’re feeling well, they are worse. This is especially true for young cattle.
We were mustering the weaners yesterday for a couple of reasons. The conditioning/training process needed to be started, but we also hadn’t had them in the yards for a couple of weeks and Jim wanted to count them so that we knew if any had gotten out of their allocated paddock.
Me on Starlight and Jim on Spinna (an appropriate name as it turns out), we set out from the yards heading towards the back corner of the Cow Paddock. We had all six of our dogs. The five working dogs all followed Jim and I had my loyal house dog, Jedda. Jedda is a Border Collie cross Blue Healer, a true Aussie cattle dog. Unfortunately she spent the first nine years of her life in the city and has proved completely useless in the paddock. She likes to come for the walk though.
The cattle were not all in one clump so we gathered up a few then I followed them along a fence line and Jim did some creative sweeps through the trees to collect some more. It went better than expected. The cattle that I had were happy enough to follow the fence and I had to do little to keep them there.
When Jim and I met up again we crossed a creek with our little group and followed the back fence. The idea here was to follow the fences around until we were back at the yards. Normally at this point, Jim would go and sweep the paddock again and I would follow the cattle with the creek on one side and the fence on the other, but these were weaners. If any of them decided to cross the creek again, I would not be able to get around them to push them back onto the fence. So Jim stayed with me and followed on the other side of the creek, gathering weaners that were in his words “close-handy”. As it turned out, this worked well because my little mob split in two and I couldn’t follow both.
We mustered the paddock like this twice and got most of the cattle in. I even managed to convince our oldest Kelpie dog to come with me for a short time and help keep the cattle on the fence.
Jim doesn’t use commands much when instructing his dogs. They tend to know what he wants by the tone of his voice. He has a whistle to get the dogs to the front of the herd to slow them down or “pull them up”. This I can replicate but his other commands such as “Over” which instructs the dog to push the cattle in from the sides, is more of a low gutteral growl in the back of his throat. The dogs don’t recognise when I say “over” what it is that I’m asking for. Then there is the command to stop. This is anything from a half heated “Kick your arse” to a very loud and scary “FORFUCKSAKEGETOUTOFTHEREYOUFUCKINGCUNTZORILLFUCKINGKILLYA” I can’t seem to replicate this command either for some reason. It was nice of Smoko to come with me but he didn’t really know what I wanted him to do. He kept looking back at me to say “is that okay?” Good dog.
It’s probably best that I don’t have my own dogs yet. It’s hard enough trying to get the horse to do what I want. But I’m getting better. As Jim keeps telling me, I don’t need lessons, I just need “Miles”."