Tindarra was the farm I grew up on in New South Wales, just west of Muswellbrook. When I explain to people in the city, and to many outside Australia, that 500 acres is not enough to make a living on, they are often incredulous; but the soil was poor and the area had its share of drought and it was just enough to keep about 80 beef cattle. My parents chose the name Tindarra because it was an Aboriginal word meaning place of shallow water: the creek never went dry, but it barely flowed outside flood or heavy rain.
When we moved there thirty years ago it rained enough for farmers to plant wheat and oats and milo and lucerne as rotational cash crops or for hay. Wheat was my favourite, sprouting out of the Autumn plough ruts to grow through the Winter and ripen in Spring.
Everyone hoped for the rain to stay away in the weeks before the harvest to keep the kernels hard and stop them from sprouting in storage, and then for a big storm straight after so there would be fresh grass for their stock over summer. We never had crops, but some seeds would get caught in the wind and every year you could find one or two wheat stalks growing near the house.
When rain became too unreliable, and grain prices dropped, and economic cropping became impossible with a just a few paddocks, no-one could afford the risk. The wheat paddocks returned to whatever grass and thistle would grow in the depleted soil and in dry times there was not much of either.
Years later, after I had long since moved away, I remembered the crops again when I read Evelyn Underhill’s poem Immanence in the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse, partly quoted here in prose: “I come in the little things, saith the Lord: not borne on morning wings of majesty, but I have set My Feet amidst the delicate and bladed wheat that springs triumphant in the furrowed sod.”
As the cycle of living with the land would have it, many of the farmers in the area have gone. These days the economic value lies under the ground and farmers have compulsorily sold to coal mining companies and moved elsewhere. Some bought farms on rich-soiled river flats with an irrigation licence. Some moved into town. Some moved away.
Of the photos below only the grove of young ironbark trees was on the mine site. The trees, cattle yards and storage sheds, and the old house, still gather dust and wait for the rain to wash it away again – dust that will turn black when the coal seam is blasted open.
The photos were taken in drought in 2007 when even the gum trees looked sick from lack of water, just before my father sold all the cattle because there was just not enough feed. It was another year before the drought broke.