Life on the farm had to go on, regardless of outside influences, or the weather, or the annual bird attacks from above by the magpies and plovers that nested on our farm.
The children all had daily chores, regular jobs to do on the farm, from a very early age.
One of our jobs, once we became capable horse riders, was to move the cattle from one paddock to another.There were day yards, and day paddocks, and night yards and paddocks. Some of the cattle were moved in the morning from the house yard, out to the day paddock opposite our house. This job was done before school each day, and the cattle were brought home each evening after school. There were cattle that were required to be moved from the back paddock and brought into the yards, ready for transport either that day, or the following day.
And then there were the resident Magpies and Plovers that had made their home at the numerous trees on the farm. We had two large dams, one in the day paddock opposite our house, and one in the large paddock at the rear of the property.
Riding our horses around the property during the bird breeding season was fraught with danger. Danger of attack from a swooping bird, whilst walking is bad enough, but substantially far more dangerous whilst riding a horse. Sometimes it was safer to walk and round up the cattle, versus riding the horse. But walking was a lengthy and time consuming exercise, and we rarely had the time for this.
We learnt some life saving tricks while riding the horses during the bird attack season. For example, straggling our bodies along the horse’s flanks, or on the side of the horse, rather than riding on its back, was one such ploy. But this trick riding took a lot of time to practice. Most of the time it was employed in emergency situations, and determined by circumstance, rather than by choice and practice. After a while we became adept at riding our horses in an unusual manner. These tactics were employed as a survival technique, but later also used for enjoyment purposes.
At one stage I recall taking a brolly out with me, to fend off the magpie that had decided a large portion of the back paddock was his sole domain. I was riding a horse that was unfamiliar with seeing me carry an umbrella whilst on his back. The majority of our horses could be determined as fool proof. A fool proof horse is one that is very safe for the even the most inexperienced riders. These horses are taught not to shy, or be frightened by unexpected or unusual circumstances.
I think I was riding my young horse Baby. My younger brother Brian and I had trained baby since he was a foal. We did this training without our parents supervision or knowledge. We had wanted to show our parents that we had learnt from them, and that we too could break in and train a young horse. We were both very proud of ourselves, and the proof was in how well the young horse named Baby behaved.
Obviously we had not trained Baby as well as we should, because Baby took fright at the site of the umbrella being waved around madly overhead. It would have been better had I just rode the horse and carried the umbrella above my head. But at the first sight of the Magpie swooping at me from another angle, coming at my face, rather than a swoop at the back, unnerved both the horse and the rider. I was riding the horse using just my left hand to hold the reins, with the umbrella in my right hand. The horse took fright and started to gallop off. He was a strong young horse, and normally I would be able to control him, if I held the reins in both hands. But there I was with only one hand on the reins, and the other hand waving the umbrella to fend off the swooping magpie. That is right, not only did I have to contend with a frightened horse, galloping off in the wrong direction, but a constant swooping magpie coming in for the kill.
I did the only sensible thing possible. I dropped the umbrella on the ground, knowing full well it would give the horse another fright, and make matters even worse. At least now, after throwing the umbrella away,I would have two hands to rein in my galloping horse. Luckily for me the horse was heading off home, and not in the other direction around the paddock. I eventually pulled up the horse, and gained control. But now I had an umbrella blowing around the back paddock, that was sure to skittle the other cattle and horses. What to do, the choice was simple. I would have to put my horse safely in a yard, while I walked back to collect the umbrella. First I would have to go home, and find another umbrella to fend off the magpie, while I walked back into the magpie’s patch, to collect the umbrella previously discarded.
You may be interested to know, my eldest brother convinced me one day, that he knew how to trick the plovers into not swooping me. I was only small, maybe seven years old, he was three years older at ten years. He knew I was petrified of the swooping birds, and their feathers.
In hindsight I should never have trusted my brother. He had previous form. But he was somehow always able to make amends, to explain away the circumstances, or apologise profusely, and gain my further trust. I loved and adored my family, so forgiveness was a given in most situations.
I did show some mistrust, based on his past performances, and asked inquisitively how we would trick the plovers.” No, he could not tell me how”, he said. “Just trust me to show you. You will see it works, and you will be safe in the future. Do you want to be frightened of the plovers, every day you have to go near the dam, or not”, he said. I hesitated for awhile, but then reluctantly agreed.
We had to walk, rather than ride our horses to near the dam he said. So off we went, my big brave fearless brother, leading his shy little skinny, and rather fearful, sister down the road to the dam.
Sure enough as we got closer to the dam, I could hear the sound of the Plovers calling out to us from down the bottom of the paddock, a few hundred yards away. I could not see the plovers, but suddenly I felt the wind and flapping wings at my shoulder, I heard the piercing shrill, just inches away from me. I cringed down into a crouching position. “Where the hell did that bird come from”. I screamed at my brother. “Get down, lie flat on the ground on your stomach”, he said ” and they will stop swooping”. I duly did as I was told, what the hell, I could see no alternative, except to get up and run for my life.
“I will run home”, I said”. “No”, he said,” they will swoop you even harder”. “You will only make it worse for yourself”, he said.
So there I lay, on my stomach, spread out, an even bigger and better target for the swooping birds. Yes, there was not one, but two birds by this stage. Both birds were swooping me constantly, their claws or talon’s, or whatever they were,they were touching my clothes, clawing at me, as they took it in turns to swoop me. One bird came from one direction and swooped, while the other bird came from the opposite direction and swooped.
Where on earth was my brother. There was no sounds coming from him. No shrieking or yelling, or cussing at the swooping birds. Between the swooping birds, and my absolute terror, I glanced around looking for my hero, my brother, my saviour. I spotted him, running for his life, he was not going in the direction of our home, he was headed for the nearest tree.
I do not know why, but the plovers did not swoop us, if we stood under a tree. They may swoop close to the tree, or below the branches if the branch of the tree was high enough, but generally they did not swoop in close to the trunk of the tree.
I realised I had been tricked again.
I was probably not in immense danger, as I was unaware of a Plover actually inflicting damage or physically wounding a person. Plovers were different to the Magpies. A magpie would try to inflict injury to intruders. I had seen many people with cuts and scratches to their head or arms from being attacked by a magpie, but never a plover.
Neverless, the damage to me mentally was horrendous. I was petrified of these birds, and here I was, in the absolutely worst possible situation, lying on the ground, exposed to the aggressive, and agitated, swooping birds.
I had no choice, I had to get up and run. They would follow me, attacking me, it could not be worse than what was happening to me now. I too looked for the nearest tree, or shelter. I ran to the same tree to escape the birds. My brother was there, laughing, he could barely control himself. When I finally got up the energy, I tried to hit him, to punch him, to punish him. But he took off, he ran down the hill, at the back of the tree, up the lane, he took the long way home.
I watched the magpie swoop him, as he ran away from the tree. I could hear him laughing, as he yelled at the magpie, and I watched him waving his arms in the air, as he ran, trying to fend off the attacking bird.
Oh my god, I prayed. Please keep the magpie with my brother, please let me sneak home safely, without the magpie attacking me as well.
God must have heard my prayers, the magpie was too busy chasing my brother to notice me. I was also a bit more cunning. There was a couple of houses, with big paling fences, that backed onto the paddock, not too far away. I ran as fast as I could, and crouched down near the ground, very close to the paling fences. I followed these fences to the perimeter of the paddock, all the while keeping an eye out for any birds, coming from any direction. I eventually made it to the main road, that led up to our house. The road went directly past the dam in the paddock, past the Plover’s nest nearby. I crept across the road, and again crouched beside the barbed wire fences that led the way, safely past the Plovers nest. It took me a long time to get home, running crouched down beside the protective fences. Eventually I got to the huge paling fence that surrounded the day paddock , which was attached near our house. I was home safe. This day paddock was only about fifty yards away from the Plover’s nest, but the plovers never ventured into this paddock to attack us.
I could not tell my parents. Dobbing on the siblings was not an option. The repercussions arising from dobbing on a sibling, was even more terrifying bullying and pranks, from said instigator of the original sibling crime.