I am 530 kms north of Adelaide in the Flinders Ranges. My creative writing group is spending 3 nights at a working sheep station called Willow Springs. We booked the shearers’ quarters with its communal kitchens and close proximity to the woodshed.
This a different world controlled by the weather and long term decisions about stocking and de-stocking large quantities of sheep. The dramatic world of USA elections seems as remote as Mars.
We arrived to see a stock-carrier vehicle discharging 1,200 8-month old merino lambs into an small paddock. The lambs had to be encouraged out of their confinement but once free they hurried to the piles of hay. Another 1,000 lambs arrived today.
The sounds of the ma-ing in all their varying tones has been the backdrop to our hours here. The Reynold family, owners of Willow Springs, are excited. They have suffered 4 years of drought with only 17 inches of rain over 4 years when the average is normally 12 inches a year. They are north of the Goyder line (north of this virtual line grain is not considered possible).
The fodder for sheep wilted and died and pastoralists in this region sold their stock. On our walk today we could see how huge numbers of the hardy native callitris pines and river red gums have also died. They stand as ashen sticks on the hillsides and in the creek beds.
This year, Willow Springs has received 9 inches of rain and the hillsides are once more green with pasture. To the untrained eye the feed seems minimal but apparently there is enough for the lambs to survive our coming blast of a summer.
I have discovered that each sheep has a slightly different voice. Some high, some low. Why do they call so? It is strange to listen to them calling to one another and to watch them huddle together in the shade of the few river red gums. What I do see is how frightened they are of us and I can understand why – we are indeed a brutal lot.
Mrs Reynolds told us that before the drought there were huge problems from dingoes (or wild dogs x dingoes) mauling their sheep. Distressing. The drought has decimated the dingoes – and the mobs of kangaroos that we used to see along the roads all over the Flinders Ranges. We have yet to see a kangaroo. The pastoralists are happy about this as the kangaroos competed with the sheep for the fodder.
Tomorrow morning, the sheep will be released into the larger paddocks of the station. It is forecast to be 40 degrees and they will need to find a cool spot in the dry but cooler river beds.
At Willow Springs they are hoping for some sort of return to normalacy very soon. I hope this will also be the case in the USA.