Wednesday, April 20, 2016

That Australian Life - gates and grids

To take the simplest example I can think of - and something which I am sure you would recognise from your own country past - how would you as a newcomer to a large farm approach the problem of a closed (or open) gate?  
The rule is always that you leave it as you found it - closed or open - even though, for you as the visitor, its present state is less convenient (closed: you have to stop, open it, move through, close again) or seems careless (open: why have a fence if you leave the damn gate open?) given earlier gates you have travelled through. kvd 19 April 2016
kvd's comment brought back childhood memories. As children, we would run ahead to open the gates, then close them quickly and run to the car once it had passed through.

Those gates could be quite difficult to open.

Some were old, leaning and splintered wood gates where you had to slide back a small piece of wood to open the gate. Some were no more than temporary structures, wire strung between fence palings that collapsed to the ground when opened and had to be lifted up again to shut.

Others were more modern, but getting the chain and ring off the bulb holding it could be quite a challenge for a child, especially if the gate had dropped slightly and had to be lifted before you could open or close it. And then there were the gates shut with twisted wire. I really hated those.

Within properties, opening gates could be quite fun because it was usually associated with bouncing across the paddocks while sitting on the back tray of utilities. Yes, we used to do that. However, on longer trips along the secondary dirt roads linking localities that ran through properties, gate opening could be a real pain. Between my grandfather's place, Foreglen, and Wallumumbi Station there were no less than 33 gates.

Those secondary dirt roads were and are interesting because they brought you close and personal with the countrysid,e including native an domesticated animals and the rhythms of country life.

I don't know who invented cattle grids, slotted metal rods across the road. The Wikipedia article does not tell me, although the first US patent dates to 1915.

With time, the cattle or stock grid, often with a gate along side, replaced the gates on the dirt roads winding their way through the countryside. Stock find it difficult to cross the grid, so it serves the same purpose as a gate.

I do not regret the loss of the gates. They involved effort and, as an adult, opening gates does not have childish fun. Still, its another element now vanishing into the misty past.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jim

What an evocative piece. Brings back memories of spending extended time on a Northern NSW farm while on holidays with my father. Though city-bred (more properly outer-suburban raised) I spent enough time on that farm to understand the gate etiquette. My sister and I used to run through paddocks (and over fences, not being drivers) barefoot, even through the cow pats. Which would cause all of you to hold your sides, belly-laughing, if you realised what a "princess" I have turned out to be. Another memory brought up is being at the farm on an unplanned overnighter (dad and the farm parents were fairly merry) and mum from the farm brought a horse into the loungeroom to dance to the song "Lady Bump". The horse's name was Cha Cha, it seems for good reason. GL

Anonymous said...

Yes, lovely piece Jim - and also GL's memories.

Those ricketty barb wire strands with a couple of angle irons for support were the worst. You had to put the foot in first, then stretch the top of the pole close enough to the post to slip the wire loop back over it; bloody difficult if you were shorter than the post!

It's been used as metaphor many times in films; a recent one I remember is Kirsten Scott Thomas' big-city magazine editor leaving a gate open, and Robert Redford's tired rancher's eyes as he moved back to secure it: The Horse Whisperer. 30 seconds of film saving/setting 30 minutes of exposition.

Here in the valley there is another, continuing, feature of farm gates - the placing of a locked padlock on the chain in such a way that from even a few feet away it looks as if the gate is securely locked against intruders. But they never are.


Jim Belshaw said...

Loved the comment, GL. A "princess" running through the cow pats? And the horse! Now that could get quite messy.

I had forgotten the barbed wire, kvd, although most were not. You capture just so well the challenge of closing the bloody thing. And I've seen those apparently locked gates. It is interesting how many times the gate has been used as a metaphor. The locked gate carries particular resonance.

2 tanners said...

Loved driving over the grates. Radaradaradarada until your teeth rattled. :) Uncle Frank's gates were very well maintained so we really liked opening them (and swinging on them). Memories.