The first time we came to see the farm with a view to buying it, the owner, Eva, a woman in her eighties, who had run the property since the ’50s as a dairy farm with her husband, dead for ten years when we met her, told us that the white cockatoos had been so bad in the orange trees that morning that she’d got out her shotgun and had a go at them. Part of me was shocked – shoot at cockatoos, those whimsical jesters? – but part of me knew that one day I would understand. That day has come, with the sight not of cockatoos but of three king parrots sitting in our apple trees this morning, pulling at the developing fruit, chewing through to the seeds then moving on to the next one, unmoved by our shouts or thrown stones. Not having a shotgun to hand I rushed up the embankment waving my arms until they rose in a leisurely manner and landed a few trees away, watching to see if I would leave them in peace. More rushing and waving sent them off into the paddock. Beautiful they may be, with glistening feathers of impossibly bright red and green, but we want those apples. Our two apple trees are only two or three metres high, our crop is only going to be in the order of 20 apples, but that makes them precious. Maybe when we have a garden full of established fruit trees, loaded down with fruit, I’ll be able to emulate Jackie French and have a more ‘one for you, one for me’ philosophy.
The day turned hot, and I had to wait until the evening cool to wrestle with netting. I had just finished (one tree fully enclosed and the other covered in netting bags like a badly decorated Christmas tree) when my neighbour Rachel appeared. She had just seen another koala. We hurried up the hill, up behind the houses and along the wallaby track. There, in a spindly tree, was the koala, as promised. Hunched in the tree, its back to us, dark grey fur with a redder tinge around its shoulders. It seemed smaller than the others – the one we’d seen in the tree by the creek, and the one Rachel had seen in a different tree further down the hill. This was the first one I had seen without the aid of binoculars, standing on a hill almost level with it in its tree. Suddenly every eucalyptus amplifolia has the potential to hold a koala, to be infinitely more interesting than it was yesterday.
That’s the thing with living on the farm. The excitement can be intense, like seeing a koala up close, or it can be soft, like seeing the new silhouette of a wrapped apple tree against the deep blue night sky.