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U3A Writing: Mungo National Park

...You learn to appreciate and enjoy the simple things in life. There's no better sound than life-giving rain on a corrugated-tin roof or the air suddenly filled with a frogs' chorus when for years not a croak has been heard. You watch for an hour as a caterpillar digs a hole, bringing up the sand one grain at a time, or you follow some ants to see where they are taking that huge peanut...

Joan Miles tells of happy days in Mungo National Park.

"Action word - Wink". Most players quickly scribble a closed eye and an open eye and point to the closed one with their partners screaming out the answer, but one laboriously draws a face complete with nose and mouth.

We were enjoying a hilarious game of 'Pictionary' with friends and I was transported back in time to a similar game held in the woolshed at Mungo National Park. We were on a School of the Air 'workshop' - all the schoolchildren from surrounding properties meeting together for three days with their teachers from Broken Hill and on this occasion a special guest, an accomplished artist. We had all hoped to be on his team but as the game progressed were quite pleased not to be. Not for him, the frantically scribbled stick figures in the race against time - he simply had to draw properly.

It was one of the funniest evenings I've ever experienced. I watched the children, teachers, parents and others with their wonderful team spirit and laughter and felt this was the epitome of life in the bush.

Bush people, used to a life of isolation, really appreciate a get-together. For the children these workshops with there varied group activities, were essential as their only playmates were the siblings and Mum their teacher. The occasional air-lesson was all they had to break the monotony and feel part of a class.

This particular workshop provided the usual much needed chance for the mums to chat to teachers and other mums and discuss teaching methods and behavioural problems, but also provided a very emotional experience for me.

One day I was trailing behind the group as the guide took us over the 'Walls of China' and I watched as the children examined the tiny pieces of fish bone. The guide explained how the Aborigines would have cooked their fish on the charcoal and how these ancient middens were constantly being revealed as the sand was blown away. The children chatted and laughed, scampered over and rolled down the enormous sand hills. Suddenly they seemed to have black shiny skins and were lighting fires and eating the fish as they chattered and laughed. I had an eerie but exhilarating feeling of past, present and future all rolled into one.

Three days of exciting activities came to an end and two exhausted children are taken home to their own property, 'Boree Plains via Balranald NSW. Boree Plains has a 16 kilometre boundary with Mungo National Park and is situated 120 kilometres NE of Balranald and 165 kilometres NW of Mildura. It consists of 112000 acres of fairly scrubby land divided into 9 roughly 12000 acre paddocks, with the farmhouse centrally located. It is mainly flat with gently undulating Mallee ridges and covered with a wide variety of trees including Mallee, Belah, Murray Pine and Wilga. There is no saltbush but various other stock-edible vegetation and much that is inedible. It has been sheep country since European settlement and has over the years mainly run Wethers. The difficulty with ewes and lambs lies in the task of mustering over such large areas and the rarity of green feed. Wethers seem to manage quite well on dry sticks! Some cattle are now bred on the property and areas have been cleared for cropping, only successful in the rare wet year.

There are several man-made dams and in recent years a bore has been sunk near the house and also a large dam with many kilometres of pipeline servicing most paddocks.

The land has seen many droughts and can be very dry and barren but a good rain transforms it into a lush green welcoming sight.

Native animals abound - including kangaroos, emus, echidnas, goannas and an assortment of lizards and snakes. Feral animals include goats, rabbits, foxes and cats.

Power and telephone lines have altered the landscape with their towers, poles and wires. Old fences and gates made of Murray Pine are being replaced as needed with steel posts and gates are often made out of old shearers' beds. Three separate paddocks contain sets of cattle and sheep yards built mainly out of Murray Pine (this being unpalatable to white ants).

The homestead if made of drop-log Murray Pine and corrugated iron with pressed tin lining several of the rooms.

The roads when we arrived would wind around a long-ago fallen log or a low wet spot but most have now been straightened, cutting distance travelled almost by half.

Children need to be schooled by Correspondence and School of the Air and are often sent away to boarding school for secondary years. Education in the bush now has real meaning for me. I've taken the two youngest through their primary years and an older one through Year 9 and 10 but mainly it is I who have been educated.

Bush life is so different from city life (I'd only ever lived in the city suburban areas before moving to Boree in 1985). You find that you are totally at the mercy of the weather and not only for your living. As sure as you plan to travel somewhere that much needed rain will arrive and you are stranded due to impassable dirt roads - this situation being greeted gleefully by boarders returning to school. Or if you do arrive at your destination having endured incredibly dusty roads on the way, you are likely to have an extremely slippery trip home. You become a very resourceful cook. The two hour trip to town is not taken lightly so you learn to make do.

Before grid power was connected it would be quite a daunting experience at times to get the temperamental generator to start and the kerosene fridges were notorious for freezing everything in winter and barely keeping things cool in summer.

You learn to appreciate and enjoy the simple things in life. There's no better sound than life-giving rain on a corrugated-tin roof or the air suddenly filled with a frogs' chorus when for years not a croak has been heard. You watch for an hour as a caterpillar digs a hole, bringing up the sand one grain at a time, or you follow some ants to see where they are taking that huge peanut. You gaze at the sky, picking out exciting shapes in the clouds, or abandon dinner preparation when the five year old calls "Mum, come and see the beautiful orange sunset". You see a cloud of dust out the window and there is your seven year old on a motorbike and your nine year old propped up on three cushions driving the Suzuki as they push a mob of sheep over to the yards. Wool days, tennis days, race meetings all have a special atmosphere -1 don't think bush camaraderie (or blowflies) can be equalled anywhere.

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