A Minor Victory

Photo of a tractorThis is what I like about the dairy farmer: he never seems phased that I’m a woman. He just tells me to do stuff and I do it. “Move those tyres off that maize pile and pull the tarp back.” “Take the quad bike down to the end paddock and let the cows out.” He’s never like, “Oh wait, are you strong enough to throw tyres? Can you handle driving a quad bike?”

The other day we went out into a field where row upon row of freshly shorn, frayed maize stalks poked out of the earth.

“Come with me Helen, I’ve got a job for you.”

I followed him up into the cab of the tractor and he started driving.

“Mumble mumble mumble…” He was turned away from me, looking out the back window. I couldn’t hear him over the noise of the engine but I thought he was asking me to look at the mulcher that we were towing behind us. He pulled a lever and the mulcher rose up off the ground. “Mumble mumble up and down.”

“I can’t hear you,” I yelled.

He flicked a couple of switches and the tractor came to a halt. “This is the clutch, this is how you make the tractor go forward,” press, flick.

So I think he’s expecting me to drive the tractor?

“This is the throttle,” push, “the number here should read around 570. These are the gears, up and down.”

“Was that right button for up, left for down?”

He nodded. “Three is good. If you hear the engine struggling go down to two. The mulcher is here.” Click. “That’s it on. If you see a stone lift it up. Got it?”

“I think so.”

He stopped the tractor again.

“Sit down. See if you can do it.”

So I took my place behind the wheel and went through all the controls he’d just shown me. The tractor chugged along the field, mulching the gnawed off maize stalks into the soil. We got to the end of a row and I turned the tractor round.

“Left a bit. No, right! Look, can you see the line where you just came down?”

“Where are the brakes?” I suddenly thought to ask.

“Down there,” he pointed to a pedal on the floor. “But if you want to stop, just flick into neutral and take the throttle down to zero.”

He opened the door to the cab and swung a leg out. “I’ll be back to get you in a couple of hours!” he called, leaping out of the moving tractor and slamming the door behind him.

A couple of hours?! It was hot in the cab and I’d left my water bottle in the ute, and was I allowed to be in charge of a tractor? And who let the cows into the field??

But as I settled into it I thought this is actually kinda cool. I liked that the farmer trusted me just to get on and do something that I hadn’t done before. In general I think you live up to people’s expectations of your capabilities.

So I was surprised the other night when we were watching a reality cop show on TV and he suddenly said, “I don’t agree with women being police.” I couldn’t understand why he would think a woman was less capable than a man of doing police work. It turned out he was basing this on the idea that on a Friday night, if trouble kicks off amongst a drunken crowd, you need someone big and intimidating to restore order; in his view, a man.

What followed was a strange and stilted discussion where I wanted to change his mind but I didn’t want to come across as disrespectful or force my opinion onto him.

“I think that with the proper training, a woman could do just as well as a man in that situation. You don’t need to be physically big to take someone down.”

He shook his head. “I’m not talking about taking someone down. Just about intimidating them.”

I went into the kitchen to do the dishes. I could see where he was coming from. I know that in general men are bigger and stronger than women, but I just can’t shake the idea that a woman can do anything a man can do. I’m not saying that every woman can do something that one particular man can do, but that there is no activity on earth that a woman cannot do, purely because she is a woman.

I walked back into the living room with soap suds up my arms saying, “I think the problem is that we’re assuming that the only way to resolve drunken violence is by intimidation but there might be another way that doesn’t require a large male, that a female would be equally as good at.”

“What, like talking to them?”


“No, that would never work. Trust me. Have you ever been in a bar fight? No? Well, I’ve seen enough to know that a big, intimidating guy is the only way.”

“I just think it seems a bit harsh not to let women join the police in case this one particular situation arises where they might not be intimidating enough.”

I went back into the kitchen. He must have been starting to come round a bit because he came in a few minutes later: “I see what you’re saying that the Friday night violence is only a small part of the job. I suppose there are other areas where a woman would be better than a man…”

Which was not quite what I was saying either. I’d like to think that a man could do just as well as a woman in an task that’s been traditionally thought of as a woman’s role. But I appreciated that he was thinking about it and changing his mind, so I said, “Maybe having men and women working together would be the best thing,” and he agreed with me. And I was pretty happy with that, until he added: “But women in the Defence Force. I definitely don’t agree with that.”



Flock_of_sheepI’m staying with Gaye and Michael on their farm in the Wairarapa. They run sheep for meat and for wool, some of which Gaye keeps to spin into yarn. Recently I helped Michael round up the sheep for their annual shearing.

“The sheep are really nutty,” he warned me. “They’re Finns, a Finnish breed, and we got them because their fleece is good for spinning, but they like to jump around a lot.”

The shearer told Gaye off. “You should have got nice, quiet Romneys,” he said, because he’s the one who has to wrestle them to the ground to get the fleece off them.

I hid behind the chicken shed while Michael chased the sheep up the field. There were ten of them, all rams. When they got close, Michael called to me to come out of my hiding place. “Wave your arms so they can see you!” I wondered if I just looked like a blob in the landscape to the sheep, indistinguishable from the gorse bushes. I raised and lowered my arms and the sheep stopped in their tracks. They looked at me then turned their heads and looked back at Michael, uncertain. I moved ever so slightly and they bolted back down the field.

We resumed our starting positions. I edged out from behind the chicken shed like a table football goalkeeper when the sheep came my way. They weren’t getting past me.

I waved my arms again but the sheep were bolder this time. They looked for ways round me.

“Make a noise!” Michael called to me.

When Michael makes a noise to chivvy along the sheep, he claps his hands, bangs sticks together, makes a harsh, staticky-sounding kshkshksh noise in his throat or yells, “Come on you bloody idiots!”

This is what I did: I looked at the sheep and I said, “Not this way,” shaking my head, as though I could reason with them. I didn’t even say it that loudly. I just assumed that the sheep at the front would relay my message to the rest of the flock.

Just for a moment, I thought I had them. Then one at the front leapt up in the air, all four legs kicking out as if to clear an imaginary fence, and raced past me. The rest bounded along after him.

Finally we got the sheep over the bridge and through the next two gates into the pen. The pen is divided into three enclosures. We got the rams in one and the ewes in another. Then, disaster. We heard a metallic clash as one of the rams threw himself at the gate and managed to squeeze through the gap where it didn’t quite meet the gate post. He quickly became lost amongst the ewes.

I pointed to a sheep that I thought had a manly looking face. “Is it that one?”

Michael shook his head.

“How about that one peeing on the ground?” That seemed like an uncouth, male thing to do.

“No, that’s a ewe.”

Right enough, the way it bobbed its bum and bowed its legs a bit to pee should have been a giveaway.

“How about that one there?” I pointed to a sheep with a pendulous mass quivering on its underside.

“No, I thought that too,” Michael said, “but it’s just a ewe with a fat belly.”

He waded through the sheep, lifting up their tails, searching for the one out-of-place ram. Sometimes one of the sheep would startle and run crazily round in the pen before leaping up to land on the backs of the other sheep.

“See what I mean? Nutty.”

Michael searched and searched and searched but could not find the ram. Eventually he concluded that his first count had been wrong and he actually had twelve ewes, not eleven, and one had just been misfiled with the rams. Indeed this proved to be the case. After the sheep had been shorn it was clear that none of the twelve ewes had an unexpected appendage.

Shortly after returning the freshly shorn sheep to their paddocks, three of the rams bounded over electric fences to join the ewes. At least now it was very easy to spot which of the sheep were the interlopers.

Liebster Award

Thanks to Rachel for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I’ve been struggling to get back into blogging and the encouragement is much appreciated.

Let me start by answering Rachel’s questions:

Who or what motivates you?

Travelling and donuts.

If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you do?

I’m thinking about crocheting things to sell? Maybe baby bootees because they’re fun to make and ridiculously cute. I’m also interested in taking a photography course.

You’re on a desert island, what have you taken with you?

A notebook, a pen and a knife. I’m assuming that I can find drinking water, food and shelter on the island, and that with enough time I will figure out how to use the knife to whittle a canoe out of a tree. Then I can paddle back to society with my soon-to-be bestselling book about my experience. Or am I there for a holiday? In which case, sunscreen and swimming togs. And the notebook and pen, of course.

Describe in one sentence your work area.

A library desk with my laptop, notebook, pen and water bottle on it.

What are the barriers to your creativity?

An inability to say in words what I see in my head and fear that what I write will sound stupid to someone else.

What’s your definition of success?

Feeling happy with what you’ve achieved.

Now, as per the award rules, I present you with: 

11 Random Facts About Myself 

  1. I recently set myself an “always accept free fruit” rule. I always take cake and biscuits when they’re on offer so this should make my diet more balanced.
  2. I don’t put sugar in my tea or coffee because I eat so much chocolate that any extra sugar might kill me.
  3. I find big books off putting. How are you supposed to even lift them when you’re lying in bed reading?
  4. I like tattoos on other people but not on me.
  5. I will probably never do a bungee jump.
  6. I don’t like saying that I will definitely never do something.
  7. There are many things I think I could learn how to do but singing is not one of them.
  8. I like maps.
  9. I love libraries.
  10. I recently figured out how to open a beer bottle with a key, which I think may be one of my most useful achievements.
  11. I used to be too lazy to send postcards but now I quite like doing it.

The people I would like to nominate for Liebster Award are:

Lucy Barker

Anna Burkey

Claire Sessions

WIlliam Kendall

Sarah & Craig

Nominees, should you choose to accept the award, the rules are as follows:

Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.

Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)

Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.

Provide 11 random facts about yourself.

Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)

Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.

List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:

Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Finally, the new questions:

  1. What is your favourite piece of random knowledge gleaned from Wikipedia?
  2. What unusual combination of foods/flavours do you swear by?
  3. If you were allowed to go on holiday as many times as you liked for the rest of your life, but to only one place, where would it be?
  4. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
  5. What’s the worst date you’ve been on?
  6. What’s the most amazing coincidence you’ve experienced?
  7. Do you think you are lucky or unlucky?
  8. Do you have an unlikely sounding book recommendation?
  9. Where can I find the tastiest donuts?
  10. How much would you be prepared to pay in New Zealand dollars for a pair of hand crotched baby bootees?
  11. How many pairs would you like to order?

Crocheted Fruit Covers

photo of crocheted fruit coversA frivolous idea, I know, and I’m not sure what practical use a crocheted banana cover has, although the pear and plum covers might cushion the fruit from bruising. I made these as a birthday present for my housemate. She already had a crocheted apple cover so these were to add to to her fruit cover collection.

I got the banana cover pattern from The Indigo Phial. I accidentally made mine two stitches narrower which meant I had to pick out a slim banana to fit it.

I adapted Planet June’s pear amigurumi pattern to make the pear cover. When I got as far round 17 (36 stitches) I switched to Indigo Phial’s apple cosy pattern and took off from round 18 (also 36 stitches, so it’s basically a franken-fruit-cover.

Finally, in my most adventurous fruit cover yet, I started out following Jan Bass’s crocheted plum pattern but deviated from this and winged it quite a bit to make it into a plum cover. When I was about half-way through the pattern, I decided to go out and buy a plum so that I could check I was on the right track. It turns out plums are not in season but passionfruits are plentiful and a similar size, so I bought one of those. I saw straight away that if I followed the pattern to the end, even including a hole to put the fruit in, the cover would still be too small. So I experimented and after a few false starts, I extended the cover and added a flap to close over the fruit. The result is somewhat nappy-like but I hope the cute button compensates for that.


The Sketchbook Project

ImageIf the Sketchbook Project Library is popping up anywhere near you, then you have to visit. It’s in Melbourne at the moment and I went to have a look at the weekend.

It’s a travelling library of artists’ sketchbooks. Every artist involved in the project started with the same blank sketchbook which they could then write, draw, paint, paste in, cut out, as they wanted.

The books we saw were absolutely beautiful. Some were travel journals, others filled with preliminary sketches to prepare for a larger work; some had a narrative, others were collections of random images and writing. It was amazing to be able to touch these books and leaf through them, to feel the paper that was almost solid with paint or to unfold pages that had been cut out to make intricate patterns. Getting such a close insight into an artist’s work and being able to interact with it is a very special experience. I went with two friends and we spent hours exploring the books.

Even checking the books out with our personal library cards was fun. We picked up a card at the entrance and registered it, then we looked at the online catalogue and chose a theme (travel, cartography, science, narrative, etc.). One book related to that theme was brought out to us along with a random book. This meant we saw amazing books on themes we might never have considered. We could only have two books at a time each so we went up multiple times to make different selections.  We saw around 24 books in two hours. There are a few thousand sketchbooks currently in Melbourne (the total collection comprises close to 28 000 books) – if only I had enough time to see them all!

I felt really inspired looking at the books. I wish I could draw! But the best thing about the project is that absolutely anyone can take part, regardless of their drawing skills. The next submission date is 15 January 2014 and you can choose to make a basic submission of a sketchbook only (25 AUD), or to have your work digitized (60 AUD). This means that even if you can’t get to The Sketchbook Library in person, you can still have a look at some of the work online in the Digital Library. Do it, it’s great!

The Sketchbook Project Pop-up Library is located at 234 St. Kilda Road, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Building, Melbourne until 9 November.


ImageMindful that my time in Australia is running out, I went on a sightseeing trip to Geelong last week. It’s the second biggest city in Victoria and only an hour from Melbourne by train so, considering that I’ve been living here for well over a year, it’s surprising that I didn’t check it out sooner.

I went for a walk along the waterfront following the trail of Jan Mitchell’s bollards, carved and painted to look like people. This led me up to the Botanic Gardens, where I snapped a pair that I at first took to be a bride and groom. After reading the information plaque I discovered that the gentleman is in fact Daniel Bunce, the first curator of the gardens. He returned from an expedition across Australia with Sturt’s Desert Pea, which he planted in the gardens. The attractive wildflowers were highly sought after by the ladies of Geelong for their pressed flower collections and the guilty looking woman by Bunce’s side is concealing some of the desert peas and a flower press behind her back.

There is an entertaining post over at The Friends of Geelong Botanic Gardens blog about how some of the sneaky local women even went so far as to try smuggling rare flowers out of the gardens under their hooped petticoats!