Time moves slowly in Rutherford, NSW. Or at least it did until the developers moved in. What was once a rolling expanse of beef country, has over night become burning roofs and hot black bitumen. You will of course see the occasional small grass yard, but no other plants inside sustain it.
Agriculture still does take place here, and will again, once the developers and their bagmen have done their work and moved on to greener pastures. New South Wales is currently trapped in one of the biggest housing bubbles in the world and Maitland (the district that Rutherford falls into) is the fastest growing region in the state. A bad omen for all the new home owners and small businesses that have just moved in. The good news is that tucked in behind the grey concrete haze there are still farms. Purple Pear Farm is one such and is where I became accustomed to this land.
The earth here is red clay with no top soil to speak of. During dry periods, which is most of the time, huge cracks appear in the earth, two centimeters wide and as much or more than ten meters deep. Nobody really knows. I’m told that some people once tried to fill a crack with sand. It took three barrow loads and could have taken more, but they gave up.There was no end in sight. Needless to say, the market garden here is thirsty and the dams empty fast.
There is a small outcropping of mountain just to the NorthWest and is a green belt that provides little more than scenery. Purple Pear Farm, you see, sits right in its rain shadow. This is a place where nearly all of the weatherman’s promises come to nil. He will promise a day of heavy rain and you will sit and look at the radar on your computer screen. You will watch the white expanse roll in to your location and then you look out the window and watch the much needed rain roll right past only a few kilometers away. You look at the radar again and there is a perfect clear circle around where you are. The folks in their homes and offices are happy to be high and dry.
Elsewhere on the radar, particularly Newcastle, red dots are surrounded by the full spectrum of green and then blue going to white, but over Rutherford all is clarity. If you go and stand out in the field, an enormous front of rain cloud will amass in front of you. Rich creamy white, with huge updrafts that brilliantly billow upwards like a bed from which the gods can taunt you. On each side the atmosphere is sultry blue and speaks of moisture and softness, but under your patch of azure sunshine, a farmer could almost make himself prostrate and beg for rain. It will come eventually. If the rains are heavy enough and last long enough, the gods will make their procession over the cracked, chafed land and flood it bare. Water will build up on all the higher land around and tear through this little place, taking with it what it will. Other times the sky will go a sickly green colour, and hail will fall and tear every productive thing apart.
I’ve often thought of my own emotions as storm clouds. How happy I once was under sunny skies. I could frolic and play and do all I could to hold back the storm clouds and I had a very good time. Eventually though, the wetness of my youth dried up and I became like this farm. My heart was bare red earth, cracked and dry, brittle to the touch. When at last I was broken enough to beg for respite I was met by a sickly green sky and a flood.
Times were tough and my emotions had the better of me for a good long while. Eventually though, the weather subsided in intensity and became clear for a small time. But the storm-clouds would roll back in frequently and would create huge bolts of lightning and deafening peals of thunder. Trapped in the midst of these ferocious electrical storms I lost all perspective of time and could not have possibly known that the storm would clear. In these moments all there was and could ever be was pain and suffering, along with a crippling sense of panic. Time went on though and their intensity subsided more, to the point that I could realise they were just passing over and I would be ok if I would just batten down the hatches and bare it. During this time my rage fueled anger gave way to a deeper, more introspective type of depression. The water had begun to penetrate the surface of my heart.
It takes a lot of water to soften land like this and make it fertile. I’m told that the cracks in the ground are actually a feature of the Australian landscape in heavy clay areas that allow water to soak deeper into the earth and fill under water reservoirs. Gigalitre upon gigalitre could flow across it and it would still remain dry. Eventually, and I can say this from experience, you end up with healthy ground. Of course healthy ground means plants and not just one or two, but a whole variety of plants in all sizes filling every possible role there is to fill in an eco-system. Which means there has to be animals of all kinds as well. Birds, insects, mammals in the trees and reptiles foraging below. Everything works to strengthen the system by feeding back to it in cycles. So a kookaburra will eat a work in a grassy area at the bottom of a hill and then fly to the top and drop his manure. This will firtelise the soil and provide sustenance for a tree which will drop its leaves which will decompose and become healthy soil which will gradually filter its way down the hill over the course of years becoming a part of nearly every blade of grass there is. Eventually it makes its way to the bottom and in eaten by a worm which is eaten by a kookaburra. The more parts there are to this system of feedback loops the stronger it is and the more it can flourish.
What a joy is the sun then. What golden brilliance floods down and feeds the green of my emotions and what welcome comfort becomes the rain. Any gardener will tell you that the rain has a better effect on their garden than if they were to water it. It seems strange, but there’s a very good reason for it. The major chemical in soil that determines plant growth is nitrogen. 78% of the earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen. Naturally there is plenty of nitrogen in clouds and so when it rains the water that falls is charged with the stuff. All that fiery goodness that warms the plants blood, soaks into the ground and is available to whoever is in need of sustenance and warmth. Thunder is even better, because it releases an electrical charge into the earth that allows nitrogen to pass from sky to ground. Everything on this blue ball is connected and everything works better when viewed as a whole rather than reduced to its component parts.
And so it goes. If only they thought of that before they bulldozed the bush around Rutherford.