Disclaimer: There's a lot of writing down there. I don't usually write this much, so just thought it was fair to warn you beforehand. Feel free to skim it if you want and just look at the photos - I won't be offended!
I grew up on a dairy farm at a place called Preolenna. It's about half an hour's drive from Wynyard on the north west coast of Tasmania. When I was fourteen, we sold the farm and moved to Boat Harbour. I remember being happy to be off the farm and closer to friends in town (Boat Harbour is about ten minute's drive to Wynyard, where I went to high school.) Soon afterwards, the majority of the farmland in the community was sold off and pretty much the whole place is now covered in forestry plantations. Yes, it was sad to see all that farmland go, but I'm a bit of a realist, really. I know we struggled to make ends meet living on the farm - and it came to a point where we needed to leave. Lots in the community had the same struggle as we did. It was a community that just couldn't sustain the number of dairy farms trying to eke out a living.
I think my dad would have loved for us to keep the farm - but it would have needed one of us to take it over. If there's one thing farm kids know, it's about the realities of that kind of life. It was bloody hard work for my parents - we helped where we could, but I can't imagine bringing up three young kids out in the middle of nowhere. Having said that, there are some wonderful memories of the good things that come from being a kid living on a farm. I remember lots of time wandering through grassy paddocks; choosing the best cow pat to jump in - then making sure you swished through a decent puddle to get the poo off your gumboots. (What? Like you all haven't done that before.) We were treated to some of the most beautiful views across to our neighbours' farms and in the opposite direction, out to sea. We were lucky enough to be able to see Table Cape from our kitchen window.
The third photo above is from a stretch of road near the house and (old) cowshed, where I used to ride my bike (once I learnt to, that is - I came to bike riding and car driving later in life than most of my contemporaries.) I rode up and down that stretch of road constantly - doing lap after lap after lap (after lap, after lap) until it was 4pm and we were supposed to be inside and out of the cold air. Mum would yell out to us from the cowshed, "Get inside you kids, it's four o'clock!" There'd be big trouble if we loitered outside longer than that (but often did, sorry mum, now you know!)
Needless to say, it looks (and feels) very very different. There's the expected feeling of everything being so much smaller than you remember (you can get that feeling when you visit your grandparents' house as a grown up) but because of the tree plantations, I think that's heightened at Preolenna. Growing up, it seemed a vast space and views spread before you, literally as far as the eye could see. Now, it's cloaked with leafy gums, plotted out in uniform rows. I had trouble recognising parts of the landscape. It was all at once familiar and unfamiliar - again, something to be expected when returning to your childhood neighbourhood, but here made even more intense because of the significant changes in landscape.
While some things are starkly different, there are still some things that are remarkably the same. There's a specific smell given off by gum trees in the bush - many of you will know that smell, the kind that wafts past and tells you its summer now - for me, that immediately takes me back to exploring the bush on our farm, playing Secret Valley with dry leaves crunching underfoot. With so many more trees around now, you can't help but notice the eucalyptus tang.
I tend to feel very (dis) connected to that place. It was where I grew up and spent my formative years, but clearly as a community, it isn't really there anymore. Yes, people still live there, but not the way we did. I end up coming back after a drive out that way now, and wonder if I actually imagined that childhood in that place.
Our house is still standing (many aren't) but has an extension almost the size of the original house jutting out the front. The primary school has been transformed into someone's home, as has the gospel chapel where we went to Sunday School every week and sang carols at Christmas time. The community hall (pictured above) where we had school plays and where both my parents (along with all the parents in the community at the time) stood on stage and performed skits for the annual Variety Night is still standing, but looking a bit worse for wear (hey, aren't we all.) Then part of me wonders if the people who now live at the school ever found our time capsule? (It was buried near the old fishpond near where we used to line up to catch the bus home.)
It's with all these kinds of thoughts rummaging through my mind, that I wind my way back out of the trees and into parts of nearby communities that are still swathed in farmland, that haven't gone down the same path as where I grew up - cows gently nodding and chewing cud in ludicrously lush green paddocks, curiously watching rural traffic passing by.
One of these places is Moorleah - it's on the way back into Wynyard that you pass their community hall, which just happened to have right smack bang next to it, a paddock full of flowering tulips.
For those of you who are locals (or not but are visiting) and want to check out some tulips somewhere other than the tulip farm at Table Cape, maybe head out to Moorleah and have a look. You take Preolenna Road from the Bass Highway, follow your nose and before you know it you'll be treated to a shock of colour in the landscape. And if you're lucky like me, you might just happen to happen upon them during a break in the spring weather.
Have you visited your childhood neighbourhood as an adult? Was everything just exactly the same or had it all changed? I'd love to know, tell me in the comments if you like.
PHOTOGRAPHER . TASMANIA . AUSTRALIA
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