Writer, explorer and cultural commentator Robyn Davidson is most famous for her book Tracks, less known is her powerful connection to the Australian sheep industry.
“There is lanolin running in these veins,” she told 300 enthralled attendees at the eighth Australian Sheep and Wool Show’s Women of Wool event yesterday.
She grew up in the “tiny, daring” community of Mooloolah, Queensland, where her family, with “foolish pluck” raised sheep.
She poetically described the gruelling conditions faced by the family’s mob of 250 Border Leicesters and Romney sheep, who like many other British migrants at the time, found Australia “harsh, horrid and whinged”.
“Our sheep whinged about the floods in which they died by the score, they whinged about the sub-tropical conditions that gave them footrot and blowflies to infest their tails,” Ms Davidson said.
“They whinged about the wild dogs that found their way through the dingo-proof netting to disembowel them and eat their lambs.
“They whinged about the cold wet weather in which they decided to give birth.”
During this period, she said the 1950s was tough for woman with the “cramping” expectations and social limitations placed upon them.
“I suspect that while many things have improved for people on the land, for women in particular, some basic ingredients remain the same,” she said.
“Coping with the inherent anxieties of dependency on weather and banks, the difficulty of schooling children, of having a social life and trying to be a good manager that is not trashing the country but still trying to earn a decent living from it.”
She spoke about the connection between her former nomadic life, which included her solo odyssey across Australia with her dog and four camels, and the similarity of a farmer, both requiring an inherent connection to the land and environment in which they survive.
“Country people all develop affection for their own bit of bush, though it has taken time for scientific knowledge to percolate through to agricultural practices in order to ditch the ignorant ruthlessness of our forefathers,” Ms Davidson said.
“What you do to the land today will rebound in its productivity tomorrow. What you give to it today will be re-payed to you in the future and in your children’s future.”
“In all the nomadic cultures I have come across, the woman tended to have a great deal more worth and power than in equivalent sedentary societies.
“They were hugely important component in the economic structure of their world – the men were in awe of them, and a bit scared of them.”