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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Rain Dance

 I grew up as a child of the country. I knew geography not by lines on a map but by which rolling green hill. creek or clump of trees signified the end of our family properties in the Tweed Valley. My mum owned 5 acres near Murwillumbah and my dad lived on 25 acres of family land in Piggabeen.

Piggabeen Hall, down the road from our property

Living rurally and away from town centers meant we relied on tanks for a lot of our water needs which meant we had to be conservative with our water use, especially at the Piggabeen property. Cleaning off after a day of playing in mud, scrambling up trees, sitting in old rusted out tanks and traipsing through chin-high grasses was sometimes a challenge. There was a bath in the house, but we were limited to a few small centimeters of water in the bottom of the tub, barely enough to cover our toes. If we remembered early enough, we could have showers which we would do as quickly as possible because the hot water timer was set to 2 minutes of warm water before becoming freezing cold. Showers could only be taken during the day, because the shower and toilet were in an outhouse which had no lighting and was shared by cane toads at night. 

When storm and rain events happened we took full advantage of the pouring water, running around the yard with a bar of soap to enjoy a shower that lasted more than 2 minutes, and getting equally as dirty in the mud as we did clean in the rain.

In a really good storm, there was a dividing ditch that went from the start of the 500m long driveway and past our house. It had been dug to keep cattle and other animals from getting into the farmhouse (except horses, somehow they figured out the small footbridge and were always getting into the yard, or even the house). The ditch ran off into a creek behind the farm house. As kids, it was the best idea to go as far up the driveway as possible, get into the flooded ditch and ride the current until we got to the house, then hop out and do it again. It was not at all hygienic and we'd often be riding through the water next to cow patties, rotting wood and other unknown items. We just knew we had to scrub really hard in the bath afterwards.

The driveway into our property. The tree line at the far back is where Piggabeen Creek ran.

Storms and flooding were usually a fun adventure. The tanks would fill up and we could drink water from cups that we left out to collect the rainwater, which tasted way better than the metallic tasting water that came out of the tanks.

On the flip side, we understood well that too much water could be dangerous. The usually calm creek behind the house would rise and flow heavily and fast, out towards the Tweed River. Riding the ditch could become very dangerous if you didn't get out in time and ended up in the creek.

My mums property was on the outskirts of Murwillumbah and roads could flood quickly, cutting us off for a few days, unable to go to school - which as kids, was awesome. The house itself was never in any danger - it was on high ground. Mum was always prepared, and if she thought we might be cut off for a few days she would fill up all the containers and the bathtub so we would have enough water. She grew her own vegies and fruit and made her own bread so we didn't have to worry about food so much. Helicopter drops were also a good back-up option.

My grandparents still live in Murwillumbah. They live on high enough ground that they were able to stay in their homes over the last week when many others were evacuated.

The importance of being prepared and having a plan is something I learnt on the land. It can't account for all situations but it can help.


  1. Ashleigh, I grew up in a small community of about 50,000 people. I spent every day in the summer out doing one thing or another. I loved your blog today. It brought back some great memories.

    1. Having moved to the city 8 years ago I miss the country more and more. I feel sad that my kids probably wont get to experiance life like I did. We didn't even own a working TV until I was well into the middle of my primary school years. Most people my age have no idea how to relate when I talk about growing up, but I wouldn't have had it any other way. Now you've got me reminiscing!