From Boatsheds to Battlefields 23 Farming and Romancing

End of 22nd Entry: A large plate of maize meal porridge, a couple of freshly laid eggs and heavy meal of course brown bread put Mick on excellent terms with himself.

Breakfast over Van Zijl and the boy harnessing a pair of sturdy ponies to a light single poled cart drove off on a tour of inspection.

Half an hour’s drive brought them to a pumping station where Mick was introduced to a hard-featured Australian named Wallace who was in charge of a suction gas plant which pumped a large stream from a broad river up to an irrigation furrow. Half an hour was spent in explaining the working of the engine to Mick and then Van Zijl re-entering the cart drove into his lands.

Some four hundred acres lay under irrigation furrow of which a hundred were under cultivation. He explained that the Government was contemplating a scheme whereby a large canal would bring over two thousand acres of his lands under irrigation – “I took over this farm as a debt a year ago valuing it at fifteen shillings per acre – it is worth £2 per acre today and if the canal is built may be valued at £200 per acre in a couple of years time” he said. “I am willing however to give your Dad an option at forty shillings per acre over 700 acres or to rent them to him for two years at £40 per month. I will be advancing the implements and superintending the working of it until you are capable of doing it yourself.”

Mick thanked Van Zijl profusely and promised to write to Mr Osmond that night – inwardly he thought “Well Mick you won’t be staying anyway – perhaps Dad will let me go to sea.”

At one of the lands Van Zijl stopped at a plough pulled by sixteen oxen. “Now Mick if a farmer wants to show his employees how to do a job he must know how to do it himself. I don’t believe in false pride – to master a job a man must start from the very beginning. I want you to take the leader’s place on that plough for a few days, then lead mules, once you know a leader’s job I’ll put you on holding the plough and then to driving. Meanwhile you’ll learn to milk, handle animals and implements after which you will be able to take an intelligent interest in farming.

Three weeks of hard solid work followed. From dawn until breakfast time Mick worked in the stable, byre and dairy – after breakfast fetched the oxen or mules or held the plough or handled the long bamboo whip with its twenty-five foot lash. At midday his lunch was sent to him – a bottle of separated milk or cold coffee, cold meat and badly cooked bread – then after an hours spell back to plough, harrow or waggon. Just before sunset the animals were freed and walking back to the homestead Mick once again took up the farmyard routine until long after dark. A hasty sluice and a poor meal followed with an hours devotion ending the day.

Mick cursed with all the fluency gained by much mixing with hardened sailormen – unbosomed himself to Wallace with whom he had struck up a firm friendship.

“I like the work – I don’t mind leading and I love holding the plough or handling the whip – I want to learn to ride, drive, milk and the rest of it, but I hate Van Zijl he’s just a creeping — and his wife’s a bitch.”

The Australian laughed – “You’re right Sonny – that’s the worst of these lawyer blokes and book farmers – everything is theory and not practice – an ordinary boss is bad enough but a lawyer one is a bastard. I’ve worked on sheep runs, cattle stations, copra schooners and been in the army and I never struck a boss that hadn’t something wrong with him. Still if you’re lucky you’ll be a boss yourself one day and then your employees will curse you – it’s always a comfort thinking that.”

Mick found little opportunity for riding – once or twice Van Zijl took him out and Mick to his delight managed to sit the stallion which having been a pet from birth proved easily manageable.

A long course of twisting about and hanging onto ships rigging and mountain precipice had given young Mick all the nimbleness of a monkey and being entirely without nerves riding came easily and naturally to him.

Relations between Mrs Van Zijl and Mick became more and more strained – Mick complained openly about the food especially the quality of the bread – Mr Osmond wrote stating that he neither was nor ever would be likely to assist Mick financially and the Van Zijls began to look sourly at him.

Miss Van Zijl, a sixteen year old school girl, came to the farm for her holidays – like most South African country girls she was a robust pretty damsel full of rich blood – fresh from a boarding school and longing to play with boys. Susie immediately began to make eyes at Mick – Mick’s Celtic blood flamed and on several occasions Mrs Van Zijl’s eyes looked suspiciously at a flushed daughter who in answer to her calling had appeared with some excuse for her absence. Mrs Van Zijl watched, Mrs Van Zijl laid traps but Mick was a wily bird and Susie was experienced. Mrs Van Zijl felt, knew that her daughter and Mick were enjoying a little boy and girl romance but poor Mrs Van Zijl could gather no proof.