wings and things

Once upon a time 1

Once upon a time, a dairy farmer fell in love with a girl half his age. She had come to help his mother out with the scrambled eggs, the polishing of brass and silver, the arrangement of camellia blooms in the shallow pink dish on the kitchen table. He didn’t know he was in love until, underneath the clothesline one day, she called him a ‘selfish pig’. The next day, he took her hand and led her outside to see the once-a-year bloom of the moonflower.

She, on the other hand, knew she was in love with the dairy farmer but she didn’t know what to do with the love. It felt like a disability, a heavy, sinking secret. As she cycled home each day, she would sometimes stop to eat an orange his mother had given her. The discarded seeds resembled hope but nothing ever grew from them.

They became best friends, confidantes, buddies. When her father died suddenly, the dairy farmer took her for a long drive. When his mother was admitted to hospital, the young girl sat with her for eight days and was holding her hand when she died.

You would think, wouldn’t you, that the unlikely couple would be united in their mutual grief but, instead, the earth seemed to shift, a strange chasm tossed them apart. The dairy farmer continued to milk cows and the young girl went to the city to train as a nurse. She figured she’d be a good nurse as she already knew about death, dying, and how the sight of a camellia bloom, or the scent of cow manure, can bring a person to their knees.


Thank you, Jill

In all of the decluttering and re-organising of this household/farm I have made some wonderful friends like Dina (Chaos to Clear), Mike (antique valuer from Australind Timeless Wares and Collectibles), and now Jill and Ray (from Dardanup Heritage Park and Museum). I’ve already provided links to Dina’s service and will do so for the other businesses once I obtain their permission.

I have sold some things to Mike and, this morning, a ute-load of ‘goodies’ from the sheds to Jill and Ray. Jill, whose late husband, Gary, began the heritage enterprise some years ago, now runs the museum with employees like Ray, and a team of volunteers. She is a delightful woman whose enthusiasm for some of the objects was contagious today. Jill likes items that can tell a story and this, to me, is invaluable and I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the stories her museum tells.

Ray, a big, strong, no-nonsense sort of man, single-handedly lifted everything from milk cans to a marble-topped vanity, to an old ice chest, into the back of his ute. Ming and I helped of course but we were distracted by the fascinating information Jill and Ray shared about each of the smaller bits and pieces. And I was able to provide some history of this farm to them too because I knew a bit about Anthony’s family’s predecessor from what Anthony has told me over the years; I also knew various dates.

Anyway, after the ute was full, we had a coffee break and I showed Jill some of the inside-the-house stuff – the hat box full of hats; the roll-top desk; an antique mirror; an old singer sewing machine, the old print we found in one of the sheds etc etc. and bits and pieces of very nice, but chipped, china. Just as we’d done with the shed contents, we agreed on prices for some things and I donated others.

Here are some pics of what will now be at the museum. I am going to be allowed to write something about Anthony’s history which will be displayed in the dairy section of the museum with the milk cans. I raced into town this afternoon to tell Anthony that, if he sold some milk cans to the Dardanup Heritage Park, he would go down in history because I would write something about him.

Anthony: How much money?
Me: Heaps!
Anthony: We need to check with xyz.
Me: Rubbish, Ants – they are your milk cans!
Anthony: Okay….


Okay so I am making some money from this massive cull, but I am also making friends with some really knowledgable people who know the difference between silver-plate and sterling silver (surprisingly difficult to tell sometimes); antique and just plain old; rare and common. I don’t even think Anthony would have known what was in the sheds; after all, he came here at 23 and proceeded to milk cows nonstop for decades.

The most hilarious thing that has happened so far is to do with the old copper washing machine that the heritage people were interested in. I got some advice from someone who said it could be worth $1,000 so I emailed Jill a couple of weeks ago with that quote and she didn’t reply so I got all paranoid-worried and apologised if the price seemed inflated. I subsequently got advice from Mike that it would only be worth $200 max. How embarrassing! But today, we all realised that the stupid copper was cemented to the floor of the wash house so would be impossible to retrieve anyway. Lots of laughs!

Me: Do you want me to get the Dardanup Heritage Park people to come and have a chat with you about the past?
Ants: With Ming too?
Me: Yes.
Ants: Good idea, Jules.

I am not sure how the same heart can splinter but still sing at the same time. This describes my paradoxical experience of the last several weeks since my decision in January to tackle the enormous job of decluttering, selling, finding, giving, keeping, organising over a century’s worth of stuff.

It isn’t over yet; there are still the old photos and documents to get through but it is a beautiful thing to have clear spaces that hold their history inside the dust of imagination.

Thank you for today, Jill – thank you for the hug.


On realising why I woke up miserable yesterday morning when I should have been happy ….

Yesterday evening I suddenly realised why the morning had been so blah, and the reason for this is going to sound absolutely ridiculous. But here goes:

The day before yesterday, Dina, from, came over for the final big job here – Ming’s extremely cluttered (but otherwise beautiful) shed that Anthony and I had renovated for him several years ago so that Ming could have his own space and some independence. Here are the before-and-after shots:
Untitled Untitled 2

After Ming’s shed was done (Dina never stops until it is done!) and we all had coffee and a chat, Dina hugged us and left but, even though I knew we would see her again after the holidays, I felt bereft! Maybe that is what happens when a problem is resolved? You find yourself in an enormous cavern of space (and for me this was both literal and figurative) in which you feel strangely lost.

Thankfully I woke up this morning in a much more appropriate mood, extremely happy with what we have accomplished, and full of incentive to maintain the new order of things. The garage sale is something I need to advertise pronto and I am really looking forward to this as it’s a wonderful opportunity to cull everything from old blazers from my university days, to old bicycles, to Ming’s lego, to bric-a-brac, to books etc. And now that I’ve met the Dardanup Heritage Park people, I have a good idea of what they might want so I will donate some items and sell others. One of the things that appealed to me about their museum’s philosophy was the way in which they enjoy displaying objects in a way that tells a story of the past in a personal way.

Here are some of the items that will go to the museum:

IMG_4482 IMG_4484 IMG_4487 IMG_4488 IMG_4490 IMG_4472 IMG_4504 IMG_4493 IMG_4495 IMG_4508 IMG_4491

Anyway, back to the strange sense of misery I felt yesterday morning: it is probably due to the exhaustion of being so driven to declutter; the extraordinary success of doing so which still seems miraculous to me (I could never, ever have done all of this without Dina); and the incredible journey back in time to an era preceding Anthony and even preceding his mother, affectionately known as ‘Gar’. Strangely, the moments of nostalgia I’ve experienced during the last several weeks of this adventure have mostly been due to memories of Gar and her stories about her own past shared with me over coffee and timtams or else a gin and tonic. She was a pivotal figure in my young life, this 83-year-old woman who commanded the whole household and dairy enterprise with a slight wave of her formidable walking stick, and encouraged my teenage heart in its infatuation with her son, Anthony. On her deathbed she said (after a couple of days of not saying anything and I know this because I was there), “Look after Anthony.” And I have, just as he has looked after me.

When I began this post, I thought I had a simple answer for yesterday morning’s misery but now, having written it out like this, I can see clearly why the whole adventure with Dina has been so cathartic and yet so bittersweet but, ultimately, absolutely beautiful.

I had to go back in time in order to go forward in time. So many memories, and artefacts of other people’s memories, have touched and intrigued me and now, with Dina having finished the big jobs, I have time and space to reflect, pause, re-imagine! Hindsight thoughts are particularly interesting.

Oh shut up, Julie, and go to bed!


Treasure hunting!

Just behind the flowering tree is one of two sheds that is was full of rusty tools, abandoned bookcases, paperwork covered in fly-poop/rat-poop, the occasional photo, bits and pieces of a long time ago – well before my time here on this farm and probably remnants of before Anthony’s time here too.



The two falling-down sheds contained objects from a long-ago era; one also contained asbestos. Then there is the little house we call ‘Arthur’s hut’ because he was Anthony’s dairy hand for decades and was the last to live there.


Today, Dina and her assistant donned protective masks and suits in order to clear all of the bits and pieces from the two sheds, and the hut, so that I could categorise them.


The three of us worked almost nonstop for six hours and we did it! We cleared all three buildings and I am astounded because I thought it would take days! I am sitting here now, filthy and exhausted and sneezing from all the ancient dust, feeling absolutely euphoric.

We took three enormous ute-loads of rubbish to the dump, once I had decided what was trash. ‘The Ming’ was conveniently at work and, as he rarely reads my blog, he will not need to know about those three ute-loads because we have left enough of the keepable clutter outside for him to check out.



Now all I have to do is to sort through a few suitcases full of miscellaneous papers, books and photos (from well before I was born – Anthony first came here with his mother and younger brother when he was 23); sort the scrap metal from the collectible metal; and decide what to do with memorabilia that family members might want.




The above photo is of the first shed we cleared. It was a very difficult job as the floor is collapsing as a result of rabbit warrens.


History is a weird thing: it can hurt you, or heal you, or humour you. I plan to take a box-full of the more interesting relics into the nursing home to show Anthony next week.


The garage sale has now been postponed until I do the remainder of sorting, but I am nearly ready to advertise it – hurray!

Many thanks again to Dina and to her wonderful assistant for the miracle of today!


Best laid plans

It has been another extraordinary couple of days with Dina, my decluttering/organising friend.

Yesterday morning we tackled the wash house. For those who don’t know, in Australia, people used to have separate-from-the-house facilities for washing clothes, and out-houses for toilet matters. To my knowledge there was never an actual out-house here but the wash house is and I have never had a problem with going out the back door and into the wash house to do the washing. What I have had a problem with, though, is that this wash house’s washing machine has had to share its space with cupboards FULL of junk miscellaneous tools, ancient bottles of cleaning fluids, pesticides, methylated spirits, even old photos and jewellery, old boxes of shoe polish and brushes, funny little tins full of buttons, a multitude of rusty nails, screws, AND the enormous mess made by animal life attracted to the water I guess – lizards, goannas, rats possums, wild cats who tend to have their babies on the roof of the wash house, visiting snakes (possibly), and several years of dead leaves blown in daily because of course there is no door. After all, it’s a wash house! I am beginning to wonder if I am the only person in the world to still think this is a normal arrangement!

Anyway, in less than two hours, Dina and I cleared the cupboards, brushed all the cobwebs out, swept the leaves out and categorised things. Tools went into one box, rubbish into another, stuff for the Ming to decide about into another and we were done!

In retrospect, I am a bit embarrassed that while Dina did most of the dirty work of de-cobwebbing and brushing the walls, I mulled over objects like old hammers and wrestled with what was rubbish and what might NOT be rubbish. But in the end we sorted the stuff and put back the useful stuff and I was able to decide between rubbish and garage sale categories very quickly.

Dina has been sending me summaries, with before-and-after photos, every week, and I have become rather addicted to reading these because of how wonderful the ‘after’ photos are! To have made so much progress so quickly in decluttering and organising this house has been a mixture of exhilarating and exhausting but not once have I shed a tear of nostalgia; instead, I am rejoicing because finally, after three years of sorrow, this house is becoming the comfortable, orderly home it always was. AND for the first time for so long, I know where everything is!

This morning (and that’s where the best-laid-plans theme comes in), Dina and I met at the nursing home at 10am with the intention of sorting all of the hundreds of photos out. A couple of situations came up that prevented us from doing this in the planned time frame but we still managed to sort photos into labelled envelopes (‘family history’; photos Ants might be interested in – old cars, dogs, cows; my own family photos of childhood; and the Ming.) The latter subject – an over-photographed little prince from 1994 to high school – have been kept in photo albums in one of Anthony’s top cupboards to scan and turn into photo books at a later date. I took these photo albums into the nursing home a few weeks ago with that purpose in mind but also to remind Ants and it has been great looking through them from time to time.

It is several weeks now since I first discovered Dina’s service and it is probably the best decision I have made for the past three difficult years to solicit her advice and help. She does this magic trick of holding various things in her hands and asking me, “What do you want to do with these things?” And she always has boxes ready for the various categories – absolutely brilliant!

Thanks again, Dina. The space you have helped me to create in this house and in my mind has helped me (and Ming too I think) to begin to live in the future and not in the past.



One of the things I have had to do in all of the recent decluttering is to toss some things into a miscellaneous box to be figured out at a later date. Despite the fact that this box is getting rather full it is good to know that I have one place to put anything that I don’t recognise. I will hold the object out to Dina and say, “Do you know what this is?” (Usually it’s some sort of ancient tool – an artefact from Anthony’s past). If neither of us can figure it out, it goes into the miscellaneous box – perfect. Then it’s over to ‘the Ming’.

I thought it might be quite fitting to write a bit of a miscellaneous post, having discovered that ‘miscellaneous’ is a definite, and quite acceptable, category. So here goes:

Most of the grapes are ripe now and I can just pick them and eat them whenever I go outside. I think it’s just the one vine and the wild birds get to them as fast as I can so there is almost no point picking them. They grow just outside the back door and I’m not sure if Anthony planted them or if they were there before the family came here.


The figs are nearly finished for the year as the heat is getting the better of them – and the butcher birds (which Gar, Anthony’s mother, used to hate). Last year I just let most of them fall of the tree and frizzle in the sun but this year I have given many bags away to friends, family, the local pub, the restaurant where Ming works (my mother and I went there today for lunch and the fig and coconut muffins were a hit), neighbours etc. I have also eaten quite a few with Ants in the nursing home. I also went to another restaurant and asked if they wanted figs and they said YES and I asked what I would get in exchange, suggesting a lunch voucher and they said yes to that too, though a little less enthusiastically.


After lunch with my mother today I went in to the nursing home to spend some time with Ants before my 3 – 7pm shift in the dementia house. I had my camera with me so took some photos through his window of the outlook from his room. This garden area – one of many – is where he often ‘sees’ calves and often asks me to go out and check if they are all okay, which of course I always do and the calves are always okay.


Periodically, I rearrange or change the pictures on his walls. The photo of younger Anthony has pride of place very high on one wall where there happened to be a hook and he rather likes looking up at himself!


Me: You really like looking at yourself don’t you! Such vanity, Ants.

Ants: Men need to love themselves.

Me: Why?

Ants: In case nobody else does.

Okay I am kind of cheating here as the above conversation happened over a year ago. Ants doesn’t articulate so well anymore but he sure as hell likes looking at the photo and so do I. It kind of pulls us both into the time warp of when we first met.

Then there is the oil painting of cattle that I commissioned from an artist friend years ago; a calendar my mother made of moments/months in our lives (e.g.. Ming recovering from his first spinal surgery); and one of the few photos of Anthony and his mother in her latter years, that I had framed for him once upon a time.


Then I took a picture of the rose plant I gave Ants not long ago. Everybody has remarked on their blooms and many people, including Anthony, thought they were real until I finally had to own up to the fact that they were VERY expensive fake roses made of silk. Some people are still fooled though, especially when I spray them with rose perfume – haha!


Well now that all of the ancient rose trees on the driveway of the farm are either dead or dying, the fake rose tree seemed like a good idea. In my defence, I am hopeless at gardening and every time I water something the pump makes the electricity bill soar!


Just before 3pm, after watching Judging Amy with Ants, I went into his bathroom and quickly changed out of my t-shirt into my new uniform, put my name tag on and explained I was going to work. He always only remembers a bit of this new situation so I have to explain again that I am not going somewhere else but will be working just next door and that I might be able to see him a couple of times during my shift. This reassures him and whenever he gets anxious I just tease and tickle him into his new half-smile and all is well.

This afternoon it was a bit too humid to take many people for a walk outside or through the complex and it wasn’t until I took a teary S for a wheelchair walk that I saw Ants again (just as I saw many of the people in the high-care section as S and I did a lap of the gardens and hallways).

S. Who’s that old chap?

Me: My husband.

S. Not bad-looking!

Me: Keep your hands off him, S!

S. (chuckling and sticking her tongue out at me) All right.




Golden Valley update

Yesterday, two women from the Balingup Historical Society came to visit Anthony in the nursing lodge. The first photo is of Helen with Anthony and the second is of Carol with Anthony. It took me an incredibly long time to achieve the bad lighting in the first picture and the blurriness in the second – ha! Oh well at least I have a bit of a record of what was a couple of hours of pure pleasure.

Together, we established that, in amongst that massive box of photos, there were¬†sixteen of Golden Valley from when Anthony was a boy. Unfortunately he isn’t in any of these photos but some of the trees he planted are. It was the loveliest visit, with lots of laughs as Anthony kept referring to his first girlfriend who still lives in Balingup.

Each and every photo provoked a little story, memory, date and it was such a fantastic experience for me/us to meet these two dedicated woman who are so keen to preserve this history. If I wore a hat, I would take it off for them.

Thankyou, Carol and Helen for making Anthony’s day unforgettable!