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Grass Patch finale

Posted by Trevor Flinn

Sunday Afternoon, 21 September 2014, The Marshman's Place

A blow-by-blow account of the Marshman 'Twig' (pun intended). Where the unexpected stars of the show turned out to a dust storm, followed closely by a thunder storm. The latter bringing a total of 29mm of much needed rain.

By about 5pm the audience consisting of Marshman friends, neighbours and relatives began to arrive.

Driving down the long and dusty drive, the first thing to greet the visitor was Elliot's elaborate water feature (rigged up using the existing high-volume, low-pressure house pump) in the roadside dam. A  little further down the road, at the turn off to the machinery sheds, sat Ben's inexplicably abandoned and dot-painted ute.

The third and final driveway sculpture was located on the final bend in the road, before the house, and consisted of four round hay bales precariously stacked end to end. It seemed fitting to refer to it as 'The Leaning Tower of Babel'.

Those approaching the Marshman house (which is nestled into a pocket of remnant mallee scrub) would have noticed two tall, barbed wire 'trees' on either side of the drive, as well as three shorter ones at the entrance to Aneka's front yard. The front yard was set up with a line of tables, clothed and decorated with candles – including a rusty manifold 'menorah' as the centerpiece.

The audience seemed to be growing by the minute, with most congregating around the shed beside the house.

Rain was expected and you could almost feel the build up of electricity in the air, intermingled with anticipation for what the 'cultural' event of the evening might bring.

I carefully set up the projectors on a table underneath some thick agricultural plastic – the same material that Elliot had attached to the giant boom sprayer in order to create what I've come to call the Marshman-Mega-Screen.

At last everything was set. The sky looked dark and foreboding and there were even a few drops of rain and a distant rumble of thunder. It was clearly time to start the ball rolling, so to speak.

I gathered the Marshman's under the spotlight, which was attached to their front verandah. Aneka used her cow call to quiet the crowd and get everyone's attention. It worked a treat. I'm sure even Latte would have probably trotted over too if she wasn't contained by a barbed wire fence.

Aneka and Elliot welcomed the audience, introduced me, and I briefly thanked them and admitted that I was probably the only stranger amongst the group, and urged everyone to come with us now on a magical, mystery journey into the night.

At this point Luca, dressed as a cat, began pulling a four-wheeled gardening trolley, complete with candles and burning incense, down the driveway and into the dark night. Halfway down the drive I asked the audience to listen. "Can you hear that?" I asked. "It sounds like music!"

We followed the sound of music, cutting along a wallaby track, until we discovered Marli (Aneka' s younger sister) sitting beside a little cellophane camp fire playing a ukelele.

Once the audience, which seemed to number at least 30 people, had all arrived in Marli's little camp, she started on her second and final song about the moon – a sweet and haunting tune that seemed to completely enrapture the audience.

Once the song finished the spell was broken and people returned to their murmured conversations, moved back onto the main road, and once again followed Luca along another goat track to the next stop on the tour: Alby, who sat at a rusted L-shaped table behind a chess board, dressed inexplicably as a fox.

The audience gathered around Alby and his chess board as I explained that due to Alby's uncanny abilities the only possible way of defeating him would be for everyone to work together, united in their opposition. Alby began strongly as usual, taking a number of his opponents pawns, until one particularly determined looking bloke stepped up to the table and began to show his skills. The game was just starting to get quite intense, when a few more drops of rain persuaded me that it was time to once again move on and leave Alby and the chess game for another time.

Luca immediately moved deeper into the scrub and drew the audience along with her to the next stop: Neela, who sat quietly on a little chair inside a large cage (housing from around one of the numerous chemical drums) dressed as a bunny rabbit.

The audience was clearly intrigued and gathered around the cage, shining their torches, and making the scene even more pathetic, in the true sense of the word. Poor Neela looked like a proverbial rabbit in the headlights and seemed rather uncomfortable so I quickly decided it was time to leave her alone, and get the audience to move even deeper into the scrub until we all came to another clearing and a blue, rusted 44-gallon drum.

The drum, I explained, contained a very important substance that had magical properties. I then asked the audience to step forward and gather a handful of this ingredient before going any further. I removed the plough disk lid and revealed a large mound of chicken feathers, salvaged following the recent chicken processing exercise.

Everyone seemed happy to comply with the unusual request and soon the whole audience was moving along again, in pursuit of Luca and her cart, all carrying a handful of feathers in one hand and a refreshment or torch in the other. Luca pulled her cart around another corner and brought us to her own special spot in the scrub.

Carefully laid out on the ground was a circular arrangement of special objects, which included shells, coloured stones and heart-shaped rocks. The centrepiece was a large, heart-shaped piece of limestone that must have weighed at least 25kg. Once the audience had gathered around sufficiently, I drew people's attention to the central piece of heart-shaped limestone and announced that Luca needed some assistance to transfer it to her cart.

Ivan (Luca's grandfather), who was standing nearby, suggested that the young blokes should give her a hand. Three young blokes, who were possibly Luca's cousins, immediately stepped forward and carefully picked up and placed the heart-shaped rock into Luca's trolley, and on we went. Luca pulled the now fully loaded cart through the scrub and emerged in the scrap metal area. We all followed her, wending our way around old bits of machinery and rusting metal until we all came up to an old, rusty refrigerator.

As the audience approached the fridge I pulled open the door to reveal the icy, light filled interior, which was filled with numerous bottles and cans of liquid refreshment, including a big bottle of Latte the Cow's milk for the kids. Everyone was surprised and took great delight in sampling something from the bush fridge. Uncle Bill was particularly impressed, and exclaimed: "Perfect timing!" As he selected a fresh beer.

The fridge quickly emptied, Latte's milk proving to be by far the most popular beverage.  

Rehydrated, we continued on our way, exiting the scrap yard (via a weld-mesh archway strung with fairy lights) and emerging back onto the main drive in front of an old wood and tin shack: Jack's Camp.

At this point in the proceedings something rather strange and unexpected occurred. For as soon the audience approached 'Jack's Camp', a strong, swirling wind came out of nowhere and transformed the sleepy little cottage into a banging, rattling, scraping cacophony. Sand and dust enveloped everyone and everything. More than half the audience took fright and bolted for the main house, while the remaining audience members stood under the corrugated iron verandah of the little hut, looking pensive and unsure if they too should make a dash for the safety of the main house.

I attempted to reassure the audience that the safest place to escape the storm was inside Jack's Camp. However, two pieces of flapping tin on the verandah roof above us seemed to loudly contradict this idea and did nothing to calm nerves. With the assistance of Rowdy Rodgers (a very practical man and old friend of the Marshman family) we quickly removed the flapping pieces of tin and jammed them behind a piece of heavy machinery. Clearly there was no way that anyone could possibly be harmed by the corrugated iron now, so there was nothing for the audience to do but to step inside Jack's Camp and continue the journey.

On entering Jack's camp the visitor was greeted by a room filled with flickering candle light and a carefully arranged collection of bottles and jars around the perimeter of the space containing pieces of native flora. The first room contained a small table set for dinner and a fireplace all set up and ready to light. Tea lights placed inside clear, glass sherry bottles provided enough light to see and seemed to give everything a warm and comforting glow. The second room was more dimly lit and contained a single bed and two cupboards. On closer inspection the bed contained a large recumbent figure made entirely of mallee roots. In the dim light the mallee root figure seemed to evoke the form of a large framed man.

By now the audience had reduced in numbers by at least 50 per cent, and many in the room were still a little rattled from the recent display of extreme weather. What people needed was a good story to focus their attention, rather than worrying about the wild weather that continued to blow outside.

Suddenly the voice of the house boomed out from a hidden speaker addressing the audience and welcoming them to Jack's Camp. The house began to relate the history of the building and shared a number of anecdotes relating to its construction and those who had taken shelter under its roof over the years. Jack's story was shared with the audience – a humble tale about an ex-POW, his need of work, his warm relationship to the Starcevitch family and his long association with the house and those in the area who enjoyed a drink and a yarn.

The voice of the house went on to tell how Jack eventually passed away, and how the building later became a storage space and eventually started to deteriorate. The voice then told how the current owners were planning to restore the house and move it to a scenic spot near the chook yard and that it's future seemed bright and promising. "Happy Days!"

At the end of the story the audience was invited to partake in a little feast in memory of Jack which consisted of a warm scone with fresh (Latte) butter and small glass of port, Jack's favourite tipple.

Refreshed and revived by the story, a scone and a port, the audience left Jack's camp and once again took off into the dark night in pursuit of Luca and her trolley containing the still smouldering incense and the large limestone heart.

As we rounded the machinery shed we passed a large pile of crumpled agricultural plastic which lay beside Elliot's enormous boom spray. Unbeknownst to the audience this was in fact all that remained of the Marshman Mega-screen (the 'cinema screen' that Elliot had painstakingly created by attaching a large piece of agricultural plastic to his boom spray) and  a projection booth containing valuable AV equipment. It seemed that the two channel video projection piece would have to be postponed.

Clearly the sudden storm that hit while we were at Jack's camp had created more havoc than first thought. Never mind, the show simply had to go on regardless. Luca marched on towards the chook shed and the audience (though drastically reduced in numbers) continued to follow her. The wind was still gusting and a few more rain drops were blown into our collective faces, but we carried on into the dark.

At this point I asked the group to be on the look out for a rock on the ground before them. As with the chicken feathers I said that the significance of collecting and holding on to the rock would all be made clear in time. Everyone seemed happy to comply with the request, so before too long everybody was carrying a rock in one hand and a handfuls of feathers in the other.

Down the hill we marched and over to the edge of the gravel road to two mounds. We had reached the Marshman's pet cemetery.

Once everyone had gathered around the two mounds, I explained that we were standing before the graves of Reuben and Aliah, two of the Marshman's previous dogs. Reuben's grave was covered with rocks; however, Aliah's grave was bare.

Poor Aliah had died suddenly only six months ago after being bitten by a tiger snake. The pain of loosing her was still very raw for the whole Marshman family, but particularly for Aneka.

With all this in mind I asked the audience to take hold of the rock they had picked up along the way and think about a dog that has been special in their lives before placing it on Aliah's grave. I demonstrated what I meant by explaining that I was thinking about two dogs: Buddha, a friend's dingo cross German shepherd who was at death's door and Bobby, my mum's Boarder Collie who had also died suddenly. I then placed the rock on Aliah's grave and moved aside to allow everyone else to take their turn.

Once everyone had placed their rock, Luca returned to the road with her trolley and marched back up the hill to the entrance of Aneka's orchard. Once here I asked everyone to place their handful of feathers into a raised mound, that was once home to a pear tree. Clearly, however, this specimen was not doing particularly well, infact it was quite possibly dead.

This feather planting ritual was, I explained, a wonderful way of delivering valuable nutrients to the soil and in turn any plant planted in that soil. I insisted that thanks to the numerous handfuls of feathers the struggling tree would shortly be on the road to recovery. With all feathers and rocks planted, the only thing left to do was to deliver the heart shaped piece of limestone, which Luca had tirelessly carried the entire length of the journey.

So around the corner we walked to another gravesite located at the south end of a water tank, which was situated beside the house in which I had been staying for the last six days. This gravesite was only four days old and held the remains of Russ the ruminant, the unfortunate victim of fly strike, whom I'd buried with much ceremony during my second day on the farm.

The grave of Russ (the young Dorper sheep) was elaborately constructed out of countless, small, limestone boulders, in a heart shaped configuration. I incorporated a small, struggling fig tree into the grave, with the idea that the decomposing body of Russ might give the fig the kind of boost that it looked like it so desperately needed.

As rain began to lightly fall, I explained to those gathered that the final act of the evening would involve the planting of Luca's limestone heart within the heart shaped grave of Russ the Dorper sheep. So without further ado, the three lads (who had originally lifted the heart shaped rock into Luca's trolley) stepped forward and lifted the heart stone out of the trolley and carefully positioned it within the larger heart-shaped configuration. As they did so, Luca sprinkled a packet of mixed annuals into the disturbed soil around the grave and the rain, which was getting heavier by the minute, watered everything into place.

The Twig was finally complete. I thanked the small audience for persevering through to the end and invited them to make thier way around the corner to the Marshman's residence to partake of the spit roasted chicken feast.

As the audience dispersed I returned to destroyed projection screen and booth in order to asses the damage to the two data projectors that had copped the full force of the dust storm. It seemed that miraculously all was ok. So I switched off the power and returned to the main house to join in the post twig festivities.

The large bonfire that Elliot had built within a circle of silos remained unlit. The rain was falling steadily and it felt like it was settling in. Everyone seemed very happy. The crops were getting a good drink. There was food and drink aplenty. Even the dogs seemed calm and content.

After eating a large plateful of roast chicken and salad, followed by several pieces of Aneka's delightful chocolate cake, washed down with a few cool ales, I was well and truly ready for bed.

I packed away the projectors, said goodnight to anyone who was still up and retired to my little house. That night 12mm of rain fell. In the morning the driveway and dirt road into Grass Patch was like a muddy soup. A further 17mm of rain fell during the course of the day.

I packed up, said my goodbyes and slid down the road and back towards Esperance.

The Twig project in the Esperance region was complete, but I felt like I had only just begun my relationship with this part of the world.

All the best,

Trevor and two Marshman children consider how an empty fridge might become part of the Twig finaleTrevor and two Marshman children consider how an empty fridge might become part of the Twig finale

Trevor

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