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Saturday, June 16, 2007

A baptism by fire.

Found this nice Water Truck story from across the big pond: A baptism by fire. - PerthNorg - Your News, Your Views:
It was the third day of the new year and an entirely new life for a city slicker like me. I soon found out that farming life in the wheat-belt was as far-out as life on the moon. The Christmas period was traditionally my holiday time. This year was quite different, as I was eager to lend a hand in return for Peter and Michelle Brown’s hospitality. At harvest time Peter worked up to eighteen hours a day. He had recently invested in a state-of-the-art harvester, recognising a business opportunity in contract harvesting. He rendered a service to his neighbours that paid for his investment. He asked me to give him a hand moving some gear.

“Gear?” I thought. “Right!” I said

We were driving to where he had left the harvester the night before. The multi-thousand dollar mechanical monster was parked in a paddock on a neighbouring farm. My light duty was to accompany him to the harvester, drop him off and then drive the ‘ute’ back home. I reminded him that I was more than willing to help with the real work. He explained that he had run the farm on his own for so long that he found it difficult to delegate. He waved away an annoying fly and my offer to help in the same motion. A hot uncomfortable wind drafted across the wheat-scape. The harvested paddocks looked crisp and dry, like tinder.

“That’s a bloody fire!” Peter yelled suddenly. He pointed ahead. I looked towards the end of the red dusty road and saw only salmon coloured gum trees. “Struth! That could be the Roberts’ farm.” He said and floored the accelerator. Orange puffs of dust ballooned up beside us as we ripped the gravel. A gang of pink and grey galahs shrieked and scattered skyward. Only then did I see the smoke.

I hadn’t buckled my seat belt until then, but as the vehicle hurtled along the unstable surface I pulled down the oily, dusty strap and punched it home. Rapid exchanges of snaps and crackles sparked on the two-way radio. Key information was traded but it was too curt for me to grasp. I hadn’t yet tuned in to the country accent, but one thing was certain - there was panic in the air. Dark grey billows of smoke violated the bright blue sky.

At first I was relieved to see the harvester. It was in a field of freshly cut stubble. Had we arrived in time? It was silhouetted against a backdrop of the looming fire and smoke. Peter spun the vehicle round, stumbled out and ran off towards the harvester, then left towards the fire and disappeared into the smoke and haze. Why, I wondered.

The fire was real to me then. I could feel the heat of it rise well above that of the thermo-fan day. I could smell it and taste it. Little bits of charred white ash dropped round me like snowflakes. What was I to do? I could have done as he asked and driven the ute back home, but why leave then when I might be needed.

The thought occurred to me to try to move the harvester. I ran towards the beast and in one movement scaled the alloy steps into its lofty cockpit. I knew I was in trouble then. The hi-tech dashboard was no user-friendly workstation. There was no way of knowing where to begin. The clutter of control dials showed up dead as dull granite. There was no clue, no start button and no ignition key.

The elevated view helped me realise that the fire wasn’t actually moving towards the harvester. A diagonal wind was drafting it away to the right. There was nothing I could do about the harvester. Where was Peter? What should I do for the best? I ran back and leapt onto the back of the ute, hoping to get a better view from there. I saw nothing but smoke.

“Do you know what to do, mate?” I spun round to see a man I thought I’d met the day before. The locals had nicknamed him ‘Jorgy.' He must have sensed my helplessness. He invited me aboard his old Bedford water truck and drove us calmly into the heart of the action. Cool as canned beer he showed me how to aim the hose at the base of the flames. They reluctantly succumbed to the piercing jet of water. I looked to left and right and slowly identified several other figures in the haze with wet sacks and fire fighting paraphernalia. We appeared to be in a grove of mallee trees on the edge of a firebreak road. The men were surprisingly calm and seemed almost amused at my fervent attempts at fire fighting.

I should have known that neighbours play a vital support role in farming life. They had rallied round with water trucks to help contain the blaze - well before Jorgy and I arrived. “Goodonya, Mates!” they greeted us dryly. I learned from the good-natured banter that followed that July Roberts had inadvertently driven a tractor across a paddock and that had sparked the dry wheat stubble.

Although the blaze had been contained, there was still a danger of the fire spreading by the underground root system. The volunteers decided to abandon their farming duties for the day to stand vigil. “You never know how them bush fires might spread”, said Jorgy with a wink.

Peter then proposed that my next duty should be to hurry into Dumbleyung, the nearby town. There I was to buy a block of beer. On the way back, I was to pick up the sandwiches that Michelle had prepared.

“No worries.” I thought. The blokes were settling in for an afternoon off.

1 comment:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus