A journey of a thousand jobs

As we pass the two year mark of borrowing this particular farm, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at the jobs done, instead of the ones ahead of us. (One list is smaller than the other, admittedly, but let’s put that aside for the moment, shall we? Although, if I count the mowing and the vacuuming…perhaps not.)

We have become smarter about using the time we spend away to still move forward. While on our most recent and much needed lazy Queensland holiday (what a deliciously lovely place to be lazy), we had the circular driveway around our house and the bungalow resurfaced. This had the immediate effect of making it look like people other than 4WDers lived here, and really finished off the previous retaining wall and carpark work done earlier in the year (six truckloads of Tynong Quarry gravel will do that).

The garden beds thus framed properly, the roses decided to revive after their lengthy stay in the wheelbarrow and we have quite the rainbow of flowers at the front/back/side door. (As I’ve said previously – our house is around the wrong way and everyone comes in through the laundry door).

In addition, the outlook as we turn through the new driveway has been improved immensely with 300 metres of post and rail fencing around three neat pony paddocks. We put up these fences in the full gamut of Melbourne springtime weather – in the torrential downpour on Cup Day, we didn’t need to add water to the concrete. In the weeks before we went to Queensland, as we worked in the early spring heatwave we did need to add icypoles to the freezer.

With some perfect rows of bare timber just waiting for Hugo to chew, we had to patiently wait for the rails to cure before we could paint them (and at the same time hopefully make them unpalatable to troublesome ponies). Again, we relied on the goodness of friends willing to pick up a roller, while ostensibly celebrating my birthday. With the added incentive of 12 hour smoked pork and chicken wings, a few drinks and some tunes blaring across the paddock, we managed to paint all million kilometres of railing in one day – a huge achievement given it would have taken Dave and I about six weekends of lying on the grass and painting the underside of rails one and a half feet off the ground.

Add to this some judicious use of some recycled doors in the carport, and Dave spending the weekend with our stockpile of weatherboards, and we might have some form of usable carport.

In animal news, we’ve nursed a sick budgie back to health, after finding a thriving mouse nest in the aviary. After a quiet week in a warm, dark noodle box, the reunion between the two of them was actually quite touching.

The alpacas have had their annual dayspa treatment and have returned looking suitably ridiculous. Case in point…

If these things are not achievements, I don’t know what is (and that’s not even mentioning the rangehood and dishwasher installation, the huge pile of cleared tea trees, the removal of the snakey woodpile – more on that later, gates put across the driveway for the white house so the alpacas can graze in and on the garden, and the massive job of clearing the fallen gumtree in the alpaca yard…phew!)

Breaking news in the middle of this post was Rosie’s Adventures with Venomous Visitors.

We came home to find Rosie being all waggy and focused on a ‘thing’ in the grass. As we ventured closer to see what it was (‘please be a lizard, please be a lizard’) we were suitably horrified to realise it was a snake… a very still but very large snake. In the house yard, just metres from our back door. Rosie was all ‘Look, look, hey guys, have you seen what I’ve got, huh huh?’ and we were ‘GET AWAY FROM IT!’. I grabbed her and took both her and Wally inside to inspect them for bite marks (really not that easy at the best of times let alone on the world’s fluffiest dogs), while Dave circled warily around the snake trying to detect a sign of life. He threw something at it, and it flinched, but didn’t retreat, so it was clearly not in good shape although we couldn’t see what was wrong or if it was just unwell (and weren’t that keen on getting close enough for an intimate examination!)

Luckily, I’d taken notice of a post on a community Facebook group, where a snake catcher had shared his details, which I’d saved into my phone in the hope of never having to use it. But thankfully I had, so I scrolled through to ‘SNAKE GUY’ in my phone and gave him a call. He was around in about 10 minutes, the snake still hadn’t moved, and he picked her up easily with his hooked pole – the poor thing had very little fight in her, and was sporting a couple of serious Rosie-inflicted bites. He identified her easily as a tiger snake, and a fairly mature one, and cheerfully said ‘There’d be 50-60 on this property, you’d just usually never see them’! (*cue nightmares forever*)

He took her back to his place, where he attempted to save her (note that snakes are protected as native wildlife, so while many people prefer the shovel dispatch method, that is not the right thing to do, and further upsets our already fragile ecosystem). Her injuries were too severe however, and he had to euthanise her.

Meanwhile we were madly Googling snakebite symptoms in dogs and wondering why Rosie wasn’t showing any of them. How could she not have been bitten? She is fast but she’s also very reckless (see her dashing in front of the quadbike at 60kms/hr for some heart starting footage) and considering she thinks thunder is something to be attacked, her logic is sometimes wanting. But it seems she escaped unscathed.

For the record, snakebite is usually fairly fast acting on dogs and causes paralysis, vomiting, and bleeding. Rosie showed none of this, but if she’d even blinked strangely, we’d have hauled her off to emergency. As it was, we had a fairly sleepless night, what with the dog checking and the ‘what ifs’ of a venomous snake on our back doorstep, where our 5 year old little farmer plays. Rosie looked askance at us each time we woke her up, and in our confusion and gratitude we paid the snake guy twice but all is right in the world again now. Rosie protected her territory and family, and our newfound habit of stomping everywhere along the yard boundaries probably does very little to determine the further snakes but makes us feel a bit better.


Whispering to horses

Twelve months ago we had everything in place for Sunny’s big moment on a difficult day. The harness was cleaned, the lorry was on the trailer and Sunny was shampooed down to her luxuriant feathers.

Everyone has their own language for their animals. Not many would repeat it or admit to it in public, but we each have our own patter. It might be high pitched and silly, low and soothing, matter of fact and confessional, or wordless and quiet. Sunny was a good listener. Harness horses work by voice and she listened – her trainer’s switch in language, the senior farmer’s carrot calls, and our rallying call for dinner.

The night before Sunny died, she was waiting by the fence alongside the driveway as I came home in the dark. I wound down the window and we had a chat. She seemed to be in a talkative mood, so I climbed out of the car to give her a chin scratch and an ear rub. She’s a reserved thing and not inclined to nuzzle, but she tolerated a quick neck hug – hers was a particularly huggable neck (all that luxuriant mane!). I thought to myself what a lovely thing she is – of all the horses we have, I don’t think we’ve ever had to correct her or tell her off for anything (Hugo! Stop eating! Bell, stop making awful faces at Sunny!) – except for that one time we put her on the float without tying her up, then put up the tailgate, only for her to perform some kind of Clydesdale gymnastics and stick her head out over the back gate as if to say ‘I prefer to travel this way ‘. And that was less a telling off, but rather ‘How the hell did you do that?!’

It was therefore impossible to believe that she was dead in the paddock the next morning, almost exactly where I had left her. No signs of distress or struggle, just stretched out for all the world like she was sleeping.

She gave us almost 12 months, a little leftover love story as a payoff for our loss. She was the anchor to our little herd and the centrepiece of the farm, and she just reminded us of the senior farmer who was so proud of her. We weren’t ready at all for her to go but she left on her own terms, without troubling us with distressing decisions or drawing out a long painful goodbye. She knew we’d had our fill of those things. She was a good girl like that – she talked back as often as we wanted to listen. Rest softly and well Sunset Boulevard.

Sunny’s cherry blossom tree that will greet us at the gate

The couple who fence together…

A Hobby Farm Haiku

We have a vision
Of Gourmet River Cottage
But first…we must fence

The learnings are constant when it’s your first property. The administration of rates and mortgages, of post offices and bin collections, of utilities and access. But there are also the discoveries you make about yourself.

Who knew for example that you could end up having a least favourite piece of machinery? I mean sure, I harbour little affection for my washing machine and vacuum, even my hand mower, but at least they generally do what they say on the box. Press a button, pull a cord, empty a barrel and they require little skill to use them (care, absolutely – thus why there is only one person in the house apparently qualified to use these things…but I digress). In fact the worst appliance I have used previously in my little suburban unit was the line trimmer, which often let go of its line halfway through an energetic lawn edging session.

And then I met the post-hole digger. This thing is basically an unergonomic giant dirt drill. It cannot be operated by one person, because it is top heavy and it spins, and requires two people to hold it in place while it determinedly wrestles for freedom. In addition to this, it also has a very hot exhaust pipe that sits basically at face level of the unlucky assistant who is not on the controls. (Guess who?). It is loud and smelly, unwieldy and mildly frightening and I don’t know how I managed to melt one of my ear muffs while using it, but I am treating it as a threat.

I have to brace myself against it as I’m not quite strong enough to hold it in place with just my arms, so first my ribs are bruised, then my hip bone, then my thigh as we push it into the ground. Unfortunately it’s only bucked me off once, giving me blessed respite with a wrenched wrist, but that’s better now, so there were no excuses for the twenty post holes we dug on the weekend. Apparently the melted ear muff was not eligible as a lost time injury.

So I guess I have to take my own rider’s advice and get back on that ugly peg legged horse. Admittedly all of this is so that the actual horses I ride – who never buck me off – have somewhere to live. Fair enough, it’s a reasonable price to pay.

Do they look grateful?

One of the nice things (it’s not all bad) about spending decent hours outside in the paddocks is watching the abundance of birdlife we are fortunate to host. I’m fancying myself as quite the twitcher as I mentally identify each bird that flits across our path. Wrens, parrots, herons, ibis, wattle birds, kookaburras, cockatoos and the occasional bird of prey. Great excitement ensued after an afternoon of twitching wire when I spotted a big grey bird with a hooked beak high up in one of the trees. I took a series of truly terrible photos of it in an attempt to record its features to later identify it. When we were at Healesville Sanctuary on the weekend for a family function, I saw my opportunity. I waited patiently to speak to a ranger after the bird show, queuing up behind the scores of small children with their own neverending rambling questions. As I went to describe my find, with my grainy phone photo in hand, the ranger didn’t even glance at it as he said ‘Grey bird of prey? Sort of white chest? Yes, black shouldered kite – very common!’

He looked more impressive in real life.

Learner fencer. Learner twitcher. At least my haiku game is strong. Right?

Don’t fence me in (or out)

Last weekend on the way to the small farmer’s swimming lesson, I saw a telltale lump on the road. ‘Please let it be dumped carpet, please let it be dumped carpet’. It’s surprising how often that mantra works, but that day it didn’t. Worse, I caught the eye of an injured kangaroo as I drove past. She was in the middle of the road, she was terribly injured and she was struggling to drag herself off the road. I contemplated driving on. I was late, and I did not want to deal with this sad unpleasantness. It was freezing cold, and I had a kid in the car. But all of those thoughts were also very good reasons for stopping. I pulled over, put my hazards on and jumped out of the car – not sure why but I figured calling for help from outside the car would be easier. I have saved local wildlife rescue numbers in my phone after the kookaburra we picked up on the same road (#ripkooka) and as I was dialling the first one in my list, a kind gentleman pulled over as well, and rushed back to see if I was ok. After explaining that I hadn’t hit it, he also went into organising mode (hooray for CFA volunteers), and called the police at the suggestion of the wildlife rescuer that I had called, who was sick in bed. It should be noted that volunteer rescuers (most of the ones who answer the mobile numbers listed on signs on the side of the road) are not able to euthanase animals, but the police can. As it happened, after some bouncing around between local police stations, we found a nearby patrol who promised to attend within half an hour, and another wildlife rescuer who also said they would come out to check for young in the pouch. The lovely CFA volunteer who stayed with me to direct traffic around the poor creature suggested I take the small farmer away before the police arrived, and I gratefully took his suggestion, even though our swimming lesson was long gone. He texted me shortly after to let me know the deed was done, and that the volunteer hadn’t found any joeys. Sad outcome, but I think the community teamwork outweighed the original hit and run driver’s selfishness.


Be a decent human and stop if you hit an animal. It’s not nice, and accidents do happen but the least you can do is check it’s not going to suffer a slow death, or be hit again by someone else.

It does seem to be the season of animals not being where they should be. Despite the cats only having access to the outside world via their converted greenhouse cat run, the number of small corpses that litter my floor has me treading very carefully whenever I arrive home. It doesn’t help that our tiles are exactly the colour of dead mice (a brave design decision on the part of the original occupants), to the point that I see dead mice everywhere, even where they are not there (or else the cats are playing elaborate pranks on me and moving them as soon as they see me head for the dustpan). The mice I don’t mind, but the delightful flame-browed finches that end up being played with to death are a little upsetting. Granted, if birds and mice are foolhardy enough to squeeze through the wire into the lions’ cage, it really can’t be helped, but I am still trying to find a good way to deter the very tiny birds from trying (you know, apart from the actual feline deterrent that I kind of thought would be instinctive). The CD string has worked a little, the plastic owl has intrigued the cats but not scared the other birds, so I still have to tread carefully and watch exactly what the cats are playing with to make sure it’s not an unwilling participant.

I can haz plastic owl? (with thanks to the internet circa 2007 for that reference)

Hugo has also finally achieved his goal of breaking into the pony-topia of the creek paddock, which is full of lush grass and delightful mud baths. Our temporary house yard fence is barely up to the task of containing the dogs (more on that later) so it wasn’t much for Hugo to create a Looney-Toonsesque pony-shaped hole in the mesh and happily come and go as he pleases. Wally too, who is Hugo’s canine equivalent (blonde, fluffy and obsessed with filling his belly) has been living large on the outside, and meeting us at the front door when he decidedly supposed to be in the yard. After blocking countless Sheltie sized holes, and after trying for weeks to get him to show us where he was getting through, he finally became exasperated with our stupidity and shimmied through the gap between the gate and the fence post in front of me, as if to say ‘Oh for goodness sake – it’s HERE!’. Enter one pool noodle tied to the gate, and his adventures are curbed. Hugo meanwhile enjoys a free rein (haha) between house yard and creek paddock while we hurriedly construct his new pony paddock/prison in the next paddock. We are looking forward to electrifying that fence to a fairly high voltage.

Yeah. Also not your paddock Hugo.

Wally pretending he doesn’t know how to get through the gate.

The other fencing drama was certainly not the animals’ fault, but the alpacas (who haven’t yet featured in this blog!) were surprised by a very large gum tree landing in their yard. The alpacas are fairly sensitive creatures who don’t appreciate change very much, so they were definitely put out by this intrusion, and the days of chainsawing to get the tree off their fence was also not to their liking. However, Nigel, Sterling and Spocky, as the trio are named, are now settled back in their yard and have an extra large log to frolic around until we finally move the remainder of the tree (another weekend perhaps… we’re a bit weary now… please enjoy some photos instead!)

Introducing Nigel, Spocky and Sterling!

We’re right for firewood, thanks for the offer.

Deer! Also on the whatever side of the fence they damn well please.

Here’s to all creatures staying on the correct sides of the fences and roads – it’s dangerous out there (and in here!).

All Australian boys need a shed

Annual leave. Ah, what wonderful words they are, what blissful imagery they conjure. It’s July in Victoria, so perhaps a tropical escape, or maybe even a cosy log cabin in the snow?

Or, how about ferrying around sheets of corrugated iron in gale force winds, and cleaning out 30 years’ worth of pigeon poo? I’ll tell you one thing… we’re definitely not thinking about our day jobs too much, so in my books that’s still annual leave done right.

The original Borrowed Farm is under siege. It’s a warzone of scorched earth and monstrous machinery. It’s hard to believe it was ever a sleepy farm, where you could sit on the farmhouse verandah in your PJs and drink coffee (doing that now would constitute a workplace safety issue). And of course, it will again be a peaceful and ordered community with parklands and creeks and a much advertised sensory garden. But for now. It’s kind of sad.

The deadline has arrived for the actual bones of the farm to be bulldozed or buried to make way for the roads and construction. All of the markers of its agricultural life and its orientation points – sheds, stockyards, fences, troughs, silos, trees, windmills and laneways are all going to be razed for the neatly planned landscape of a new estate. The huge green sheds that we used as a directional aid for everyone from pizza delivery drivers to visiting family had already been moved once as progress took over an earlier farm, and now they are moving to Glen Mist Farm. Obviously this is a huge (lifechanging!) gift for us and it also makes us happy that we’re able to bring a piece of Wilandra with us, not to mention we’re ‘respecting the bird’ by reducing, reusing and recycling some great materials that still have a lot of life left in them.  (Definitely more life left in them than our existing shed… er… lean to)

First things first is to remove years of inherited flotsam and jetsam. Bird poo, dusty hay, unidentifiable machinery bits, and of course various unfortunate vermin found trapped in walls and under blocks of wood. Oh and one very alive and very large rat. We have hired help for the technical deconstruction, because as builders and handymen, we make great office workers. These guys got stuck in drilling, grinding and meticulously labelling and stacking the skin of the sheds, while devoted family members (#thanksmumanddad) stripped out the internal walls of the (squee!) stable and tack room. (even better, they brought snacks). The weather was not our friend on day 1 of the exercise, with cyclonic winds and sideways rain, so it was lucky that the roof remained over our heads for that.


Day 1 – still smiling #onthetools

We are now three days into the exercise proper, and one half of the shed is down, with its twin to follow over the next few days, once the power is definitely disconnected (#goodtobesure). It has all been ferried to Glen Mist and piled neatly while we start the council approval process. (For this I refer you to the graffiti that adorns our current hayshed, left by some spraycan philosopher – ‘Through struggle comes strength’ – would that this were true).

Meanwhile, the maelstrom of new estate construction circles around us. The machinery and activity is manic, with excavators capering backwards and forwards, ripping the pasture up to expose the bare earth, trucks ferrying dirt to and from god knows where but at great pace, and beeping trucks and utes with orange lights rush about with urgent purpose. There is no doubt method in the madness. But it is madness.

The Summer of Nothing Doing

It’s been something of a summer of pretending we don’t have a farm. After we were thrown off course by a series of roadside grief bombs, we then chose to invest in friends, food and music for a while. This was a good decision (personally, if not financially) but thanks to a little planning, it didn’t mean that nothing was happening at Glen Mist. We have plenty to do in terms of renovating and landscaping that are beyond our (admittedly limited) skillset and machinery set – things like shelves and wardrobes, and retaining walls and earthworks.

When the quotes came in almost dollar for dollar the same for the interior works and the exterior works, we decided that the most life changing work would be to get rid of the ‘steps’ at the front of the house (aka deathslide) and install a proper retaining wall (instead of the weed infested rock fall that was there), and also to flatten out a proper area for the cars, instead of having to drive off a cliff to get the cars off the driveway. Many a time we’ve struggled with child, grocery bags, car doors and keys, in work shoes and in the dark, while also negotiating a slippery hill back up to the house. We were so spoiled at Wilandra with the automatic doors and lighting, plus the gorgeous paved paths that meant your shoes never had to touch the actual earth that we really noticed this lack at the new place. It also made a huge difference to how easy it is to keep the house clean, when you’re forever tracking dirt into the house. Shoes off at the door is part of it, but when you’re traipsing through wet grass and gravel puddles and the cuffs of your pants are also implicated – getting undressed on the verandah is a step too far.

Downmarket Gumbuya World attraction

So we went with the earth works and found a fantastic local ‘guy with a tractor’ who got the vision straight away and had plenty of wise suggestions all of his own – including moving the shipping container back further in line with the house, which was so simple and made such a difference that we didn’t even realise what an eyesore it had been.

Knowing that nothing makes sense in our houses, and that there is little method in the mad way that everything has been strung together, we explained to him that we don’t know where any of the pipes are, or even electrical wires, so it was some miracle that we only hit one. We discovered that the hard way when one of the holes filled with water while I was running the washing machine.

Memes always have terrible grammar :/

Thankfully it was easily rectified by rerouting the drain to its original outlet…and now we know where the pipes are. #dialbeforeyoudig #nothingmakessensehere

Farmers small and large spent most of the month or so that the works took staring enviously at the zippy little Bobcat. Eventually the hint was taken and I received this selfie. Nothing was broken when got home, so I’m assuming he didn’t actually get the keys.

To say we’re chuffed with the end result is understating it slightly. The turning circle! The carpark! The journey to the car with dry feet (and pant cuffs!) The steps! (Which take you to the laundry door, which doubles as our front door…I mean who doesn’t enjoy welcoming everyone through the room usually used to store lint and dirty clothes?) #ourhouseisbackwards

Our guy and his trusty Bobcat even flattened out a spot for the small one’s playground that is definitely going to be a hit at his next birthday party (once we move Hugo out!)

After that, it was a simple and effortless matter of shovelling seven cubic metres of mulch into the beds by hand. Yes that sounds like a job for a tractor, but it’s having a little rest. (#itsnotdeaditssleeping) If the Gourmet Farmer thing doesn’t work out, there is serious potential with the farm camp/ boot camp mixed business (although I feel we should be skinnier already after all that shovelling…)

The plan is to replant the roses in the lower side, and some bright groundcover in between. The higher garden bed will be our kitchen garden…it already has some hardy rhubarb, which survived cheekily despite being run over repeatedly by the aforementioned Bobcat (The Borrowed Farmer assures me he was not at the controls). Suggestions welcome for filling these amazing beds.

In other news, the horses have been doing what horses do best … apart from providing plenty of fertiliser for the garden beds they’ve also been burning dollars as well as hay. Bell has been diagnosed with Cushings (a disease that affects the pituitary gland), which caused a snap bout of founder…hoof xrays, blood tests and what is effectively a diabetic diet, and she is sound again and hopefully ready start work.

Refusing to make a nice silhouette face for the ‘gram because it was delaying her dinner.

Sunny meanwhile continues to prove that Clydesdales are not large horses at all, but are actually giant pony/Labrador hybrids. She gave us a nasty fright the other night when she attacked her dinner with such gusto (a tiny pity feed she gets to distract her from Bell’s three course dinner) that she started to choke. Heimlich for a horse that size is not really an option, so the after hours vet was summoned to help. Thankfully she was ok, she coughed up some delightful green goop, and was sedated and had her gullet flushed out and once the drugs wore off (an hilariously small amount had her swaying and snoring in the Borrowed Farmer’s arms) she was snuffling for more food.

Holding back the drunk girl’s hair

So one horse has the diabetic menu, the other has the antibiotics in soaked pensioner porridge to stop her inhaling it…and Hugo…well poor Hugo would be happy with any of that but alas he has the fat camp diet of dirt paddock and hay rations.

Our one revenue avenue on the place is selling excess hay to keep the fencing supplies coming. The Borrowed Farmer saved a step in process of spending money on the place by immediately throwing a $50 note away into the paddock after we sold some, so we’re hoping it shows up as one hundred dollars in spring, if we fertilise right.

It’s sometime hard to write these posts as there isn’t always a coherent story to update with… It’s more an ongoing stream of consciousness as things happen and overlap and are delayed and aren’t photo worthy or are just plain boring. But that’s all part of the journey, so if little snippets and vignettes are what keep this blog more active, then so be it. Also it’s a good excuse to share some cute Hugo and small farmer pics 🙂

Hugo is no good at pushing the swing.

He is good however at providing a fluffy landing cushion for errant fence climbers. He always positions himself right where the small farmer is 🙂

With a little help from our friends

If there’s anything we’ve learned over this weird, wonderful, busy summer is that we only get by with the help of our equally weird, wonderful and busy friends. The saying that ‘if you want something done, ask a busy person’ was clearly directed at the best and brightest by whom we are lucky to be surrounded.

Hay Ho, Let’s Go

As predicted, the hay guy rolled in with his balers and rakers and tractors and all manner of clanking machinery and cut the paddocks exactly when they needed to be cut. He left us with over 500 bales neatly marching in rows across our three big fields. We still had about 200 left from last season, which were taking up half of our precious hay storage real estate. Given we’ve been pouring all our hard earned into fence posts and tractors, our charitable donations over the past 12 months have been sorely lacking. In this part of the world hay is currency though and so we decided to donate the season’s excess to a lovely local horsey charity – Cherry Lane Equine Retirement. Knowing how much roughage it takes to keep golden oldies in good nick, it seemed like a good use of our ‘funds’.

With the sheds cleared though – there were still 500 bales to bring in. It had been a daunting task last year at around the 400 mark with just Dave and myself doing it in eight hours with one car and horse float and neither of us were keen to further that effort. Here’s where the friends outdid themselves… with naught but the bribery of a sausage sizzle (hey, it works for Bunnings) and some cold beverages in the esky, we rallied a crack team of drivers, trailers, stackers, BBQers (and plenty of kids to get in the way 🙂 ). Brothers, sisters, cousins, parents and friends… I don’t know WHY you would volunteer for such torturous (prickly, sweaty, dirty, dusty) labour but we love you for it. With three cars and trailers, a couple of buyers straight out of the paddock, and eleven people, the job was done in an incredible three hours on a warm (but thankfully not hot!) Friday evening. There is an adage somewhere about full sheds being akin to happiness and it is partially because it’s good to know you have the horse feed set aside for the winter months, but it’s also because that filthy job is DONE for another year.

Clear eyes, full shed, can’t lose

The Gift Horse

Our lovely Clydesdale Sunny was worth her (considerable) weight in gold over the last few months of the senior Borrowed Farmer’s life. Patient and kind and appreciative of carrots and pats, she’d stand solidly to be rugged and fussed over with just a lead rope around her neck (putting a halter on even a cooperative Clydesdale is a job that is really only for tall people, or those standing on buckets).

When it came time for funeral arrangements, it seemed obvious that Sunny would be part of the proceedings. We didn’t know a lot about her past but we knew she was harness broken (and obviously working bred), so the tiny germ of a ‘wouldn’t it be perfect?’ idea was formed. The trainer who had broken Hugo into harness was called, and asked if he would take on an unknown quantity Clydesdale and see if her buttons still worked and if she might be called in for hearse pulling duty. Quite rightly he suggested we call John Allison Monkhouse and leave the equine funeral processions to the professionals, but he said he would humour us and give her a go.

She looked around at his yard, full of harness, carts and other horses, and visibly relaxed. She knew what this was about. Harnessed up for a quick long rein, she was expertly circled around the yard as the trainer worked out what ‘her’ words were…he tried a few until he realised she’d been trained by a real old timer and, switching his language, she in turn switched into gear. ‘She’s got a beautiful mouth – someone’s done a good job with her!’ She pulled a tyre along the driveway without flinching and looked absolutely thrilled to be showing off what she could do. It was if she was saying ‘Finally, they’ve figured out what I’m for!’ The trainer said ‘Go ahead with your plans – she won’t let you down’. He kept her for the week in preparation for the funeral and she didn’t put a foot wrong the entire time.

Of course, the next piece in the puzzle was a suitable horse-drawn vehicle. It needed to be small enough for a single old mare to pull, and the right height and shape to lift a coffin onto. The sheds at Wilandra had been stocked with gorgeous draught horse vehicles, long disused and draped in pigeon-poo-covered canvas sheeting, and I assumed that they were not in working condition and meant for a team of Clydesdales at Melbourne Show grand parades. But when the idea was put to Wilandra’s patriarch (now in his 90s), in the hope that he would know someone who had such a vehicle, he unhesitatingly offered his beautiful lorry – ‘it’s perfect for one horse, and doesn’t need anything done to it.’ And it didn’t – the covers had protected it beautifully from the marauding winged rats. With harness borrowed from the trainer and another trusted family member roped in to do the driving on the day (as well as the massive task of Clydesdale cleaning – those white feathers take some washing!), we had somehow managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat (or a retired draught horse out of a paddock). We (and Sunny) were being entrusted with a family heirloom, and with a family ceremony of the utmost gravity.

Once were farms in Moorabbin!

With her coat shining and the Essendon colours plaited into her mane and tail, with black and red feathers pluming from her headpiece, she completed her solemn duty with dignity and took her person home to his resting place. Like a famous player coming out of retirement for the big game, she knew what she was doing, put her head down and her shoulders into it and accepted the attention and praise with humility. She did her job well and did everyone proud.

She was collected a week after the funeral to go back to her previous home, as much as we would have loved to have kept her a while longer, having gladly taken over carrot feeding duty.

Seven weeks later, in a strange twist of Facebook fate, a post on a page I do not follow popped up on my newsfeed. I follow plenty of similar pages, but not this one specifically –it is a page that lists horses being sent to the saleyards up on the border.

A note about saleyards. They have their place in the equine marketplace but as a general rule you’re picking up a horse as an unknown quantity and as a result of some misfortune – someone needs quick money, has a horse they can’t afford, a horse they can’t manage, or just one they don’t particularly care about for whatever reason. It’s also the end of the road for plenty of horses with no reserve price.

So this saleyard page posted a picture of a Clydesdale mare. A Clydesdale mare with a distinctive hook in her blaze above her eye. The photo showed enough of her brand to pique my interest further. I read the caption – the description fit. My heart pounding, I noted that even though the page provided the option for bidding via mobile phone, the auction deadline had passed about twenty minutes previously. Still we rang and asked – could she tell us this horse’s name? She couldn’t (there were 120 horses for sale and she was taking lots of calls) but she said that the auction was running late and we were welcome to still bid via text. We hung up, and texted her saying ‘We think that horse is called Sunset Boulevard – and if she is, we have no maximum bid, please offer what you have to on our behalf’. She texted back with a picture of her papers saying ‘I don’t know how you know that – but this is Sunset Boulevard’. The auction was running so late that we didn’t hear back for a nerve-wracking three hours, but she finally confirmed – Sunny was coming home again.

Luck doesn’t begin to cover the events that brought her back to us – 120 horses for sale, and the only photo posted on their page was of Sunny, with a good enough picture to capture her unique markings and expression. We had been paid a bonus that month that hadn’t yet landed our accounts, but when it did it covered her purchase price almost exactly. To quote Nick Cave (with the appropriate gravity and timbre), even if you ‘don’t believe in an interventionist God’, it’s hard to credit chance with such a perfect storm of events. We’re grateful.

Again, friends helped immeasurably (say what you will about the horse community but it is full of generosity) – we had offers of transport, we were loaned a float more suitable than our own for a large horse on a long trip, cash was borrowed, and champagne was shared.

Collecting her was quite an emotional experience. We found her (after dashing back and forth along the gangways trying to find her pen) alone amidst rows and rows of steel yards in a gigantic livestock facility. She walked straight up to Dave and put her face in her halter, as if to say ‘Guys, this wasn’t even funny. What took you so long?!’ It was a sight to see her power walk out of there and straight onto the float, and even the prospect of a three hour trip didn’t seem to daunt her.

Renewing acquaintances with the neighbours

Arriving back in her paddock, she looked around with her wise eyes, took a long drink from her trough, and settled immediately back into her paddock ornament life – yet always ready for ceremonial duties should they be required.

We’re still not sure how he did it, but it seems that the senior Borrowed Farmer knew how to manipulate Facebook algorithms to bring his girl back home – perhaps to say thanks for her doing the same for him.