Living in a rural area, on a working farm, means that laneways feature prominently, but are often taken for granted. As I pulled together some thoughts for this “launching” blog, I looked closer at what laneways can represent to a country grandmother, trying to bridge that generation gap that we hear about so often.
A laneway remembered from childhood, led from our farmhouse to the mailbox on the main road. This was the infrequently travelled route that led to the growing city of Canberra, rising defiantly out of nearby paddocks, and any passing traffic was usually an easily identified local, the re-assuring mailman or a pretty “lost” visitor to the nation’s immature capital. Our old pise home, long gone, was situated to the north of Canberra and our sheep grazed where budding champions now play hockey, rugby and netball. My grandfather and Great Uncle held adjoining farms, and you can still see the old elm trees that sheltered the second mailbox at the entrance to Fern Hill. Our own RMB204, and its rusty gate only show in old photos and maps.
In the late 40’s and 50’s such laneways, scattered around the growing suburbs, were dusty or muddy reminders of the pioneering families that settled on the Limestone Plains in the early 1800’s. They eked out an existence through hardship and isolation before the area was recognised and set aside as the site for the nation’s capital. Gradually these dirt roads and stock routes were upgraded, school bus runs were established and more affordable access to motor transport saw dramatic changes between the Wars. Children like myself, moved on from the sprinkling of small bush schools, into better-built, larger establishments of learning, and yes we were picked up at the farm gate or the end of the lane on a daily basis and excitedly transported to those early city schools.
The laneway to my childhood home passed the remains of an old tennis court in the front paddock, and on the other side, a concrete cricket pitch which stood out brazenly amongst the grass and weeds. My curiosity about these old features grew as my grandmother delved into her photo albums. She lovingly recollected the joys of her own youth, when friends would gather from all round the district to compete, socialise and enjoy each other’s company. In my imagination, I often saw myself in those photos, as I developed a connection with how people lived and worked in the “good old days”. I actually felt more a part of their lives, instead my own frantic, post-war childhood. So over the years, laneways have continued to lead me to discover spaces and places, old and new, and while I certainly enjoy meandering along a bush walking track, I find laneways challenge the traveller in me in different ways.
What gave birth to the laneway? Was it a well-worn path for the earliest inhabitants? Taking them from hunting grounds, to watering points, to important ceremonial sites? Did the laneway then take on a new role, allowing the early settlers to push into fertile regions with their stock and families, linking the ancient routes with the developing need for pasture and grazing land? Did the laneway widen and lose those connections as it became an artery coursing with the life blood of commerce and trade? Did the laneway trample whole tracts of peaceful verge as the fever of gold drove hordes of people and vehicles into rapidly growing districts? At what point does a laneway lose its identity and take on the greater responsibility of a road or even a highway?
On our farm these days, internal laneways are not only a means of reaching a destination, they facilitate the safe and efficient movement of stock around the property – a long way from that softly trodden, thousand year old, path that traversed our district. We are also very lucky to still have a dirt, tree-lined lane lead from the hectic pace of a nearby bitumen road, down through gums and scrub to cross the river at our front gate. It wends its way past several farms, before once again joining “civilisation” on an even bigger road, proudly bearing the title of Highway. Those of us living on the lane, guard this humble connection with the slower pace of life and even with the distant sounds of heavy highway traffic now trespassing on the stillness, stay alert and vigilant, in case progress stalks into our world.
While a laneway can lead you away, perhaps never to return, it has an ability to hold you gently as you depart – the slope up from the river crossing, the first easy bend, where the tall grass and scrub lean towards you as you pass, the gums saluting and whispering “travel safe, God speed”. These are the images on leaving, but what joy awakes and swells in your heart as you return, because the laneway is different. The shadows, are plays of light, dancing in welcome as you turn that corner and approach the gate. A glance in the rear vision mirror shows the dust settling on where you have been, like the gentle touch of a re-assuring hand at the end of a long day. Your eyes are drawn forward and although the road is familiar, the trees still clinging to their usual spot, the fences and paddocks still at attention, you can feel the change in how you breathe, and your mind let’s go and your soul knows you are home.
So looking at laneways in different contexts and how they impact on your sense of space, can be a fascinating aspect of living in the country, covering both the practical, and the humorous. Moving difficult stock from one paddock to another, along a laneway, can be a task made memorable and even more amusing when it all goes terribly wrong. Such yarns bring us laughs and precious shared moments as tales of mishaps surface again and again over the years. No one recalls how easy it was to muster and move five hundred sheep to the yards, but everyone will remember the day the novice dog sent three uncontrollable, crossbred sheep over the ramp and halfway to Yass.
It may seem that the laneways we have built are a statement of how we intend to control and direct, but they can also be internal pathways of peace and respite from the commercial reality of paddocks stocked with animals and sown to crops. On our farm, laneways usually form part of a tree planting exercise, where we are trying to encourage regeneration of native species and the establishment of shelter belts. Walking along these laneways gives you a chance to hear the birds, smell the eucalypts or wattles as they bloom, and look carefully for signs where wallabies have used them as a safe corridor. These are the laneways that I encourage my grandchildren to appreciate, and as I pass on to them my limited knowledge, and a belief that we are only temporary custodians of these lands, I hope that they see the connection with ancient footpaths, and realise our past is surely their future.
Well I have started my Blog at last – the ruminations of a farmer, gardener and country grandmother. I want to include random photos, (to accompany the humble thoughts and jumbled words), hopefully lots of humorous prose, some whacky attempts at poetry, some “stretched” home truths, good quantities of historical fiction and sprinklings of common sense and practical advice.
I have chosen to “launch” my Blog on a very significant day for me, and I would like to dedicate this journey to a very talented artist and poet, who will always hold a special place in my heart
I look at all the happiness,
Nature and wondrous humanity,
Thankyou God for your gifts of love –
Of health and friendship and sanity.
I look at all the joy,
I see the stars and sky,
Thankyou God for your gifts of love,
Such gifts can never die.
Lisa-Jane Allan, 22 September 1981 – 9 November 1997