Here is a section from the original The Love of Devotion which has returned in my latest re-edit. It includes some family history and describes the most simple pleasures of home and overcoming fear.
My grandfather, Michael John Pope, was a pioneer farmer in outback New South Wales, Australia. He built his small, four-room home, Little Oakey, from the creek-stones of the area. Behind the house was a wattle and daub (clay) kitchen and cellar. In that little home, with his wife Mary Jane, he raised five children in, what would be considered by today’s standards, primitive isolation. One of his daughters, my aunt, describes Little Oakey,
Our home was situated on Little Oakey Creek; a very pretty spot surrounded by lovely oak trees and mountains. There were paddocks, a creek running by the orchard, haystacks, a vegetable garden, wells dug in both gardens, wildflowers growing all around the flats, and a spring where we all swam. I always loved our home and dreamed about it many times. I had happy times when going to school. — Ann Pope
My mother was the youngest child in her family. She and the other children would walk or ride by horseback to a tiny country school miles away. The school was a one-room, one-teacher school with a chimney that constantly smoked. The students consisted of brothers, sisters, and cousins. Sometimes, the Macquarie River would flood and they would cross the river by boat if it was too high to cross over on horseback. On weekends, my mother and her same-aged niece would cross the river and walk several miles to deliver mail, bread, and parcels to Little Oakey. On Saturday evenings, Grandfather would get out his concertina and play for the extended family.
To visit the nearest town to shop was a rare event. The Post Office had the only phone in the district. A great highlight was going to the local dances. However, getting there was not such an easy task as another aunt describes,
We had to ride in the back of our father’s truck; regal in our ball gowns and all our finery. One drawback was eight gates in eight miles to open; a fifteen-mile journey in all. At times, it was a very cold ride. At other times, it would be dry and dusty. Wet weather was another obstacle. There were several creek crossings to ford. The big hill with its slippery red clay was, sometimes, too difficult for our vehicle to get up, even if we all piled out and pushed. So, often, it was safer to stay home and suffer disappointment. — Beryl Lang
Grandfather worked his sheep grazing property from dawn to dusk, as is the way with farmers. His son, also a farmer, was given two Italian prisoners-of-war, Giacomo and Lorenzo, to help with the workload during World War II. The family treated them with care and respect and became very fond of them, much to the disapproval of some local families. Sometimes, the two “prisoners” were sent off with guns and children-in-tow to catch rabbits for the day. Hardly war-time behaviour with the prisoners in charge of the weapons and with the care of the children! The family kept in contact with the Italian men and visited them, many years later, on a once-in-a-lifetime European trip. Our spiritual heritage is brothers with linked arms, not brothers in armament.
Such was life in the outback. It was and, essentially, still is harsh, relentless, and intensely beautiful. It becomes part of the soul and is embedded in one’s psyche as a primal home.
Solitude and Civilization
If possible, it is best to have a balance between the civilisation of city life and the solitude of country living. Too much solitude and we can become isolated and lose the benefit of human culture, progress, and communication. Too much urban life and we lose our spiritual essence and our fundamental native homeostasis.
Many people instinctively withdraw to the country or the seaside when they feel the noise of city life is drowning out the quiet inner voice of peace. The country does what the city cannot. It quietens the mind and brings simplicity into one’s life. The city does what the country cannot. It enlivens the mind and brings culture into one’s life. If possible, we try to engage with both and benefit from the well-roundedness of a complete experience of all that life has to offer.
Get Back on the Horse
Some years ago, I went horse riding with my then fifteen-year-old son while on holiday. Horses are a part of life in the outback. My horse-riding skills are not like my country relatives, but horses are, nevertheless, not strangers. All was going well with our ride until the very end when I closely avoided an accident with a bolting horse. I was on the bolting horse. Although the accident was avoided, I noticed that for the coming week I had a growing dread of our approaching next ride. I started telling myself that I must be too old to ride. I tried to escape from going to the next ride, but my son insisted I go.
So, I started to work on the fear.
For the next few days, I could hear my male relatives’ voices telling me, in a rather gruff tone, Just get back on the horse. There is a common wisdom among horsemen and women that if you have a fall, if at all possible, you must get back on straight away. They know that if you don’t, the fear can grow to such proportions that you may never get on again. Another common saying is, If you can count how many times you have fallen off a horse then you are not a real rider.
Falling and failing are an inbuilt part of the whole thing.
There are many times in life when we fall and fail. Sometimes, it is our own fault. Sometimes, it is not. It may be the horse, someone else, the circumstance, the timing, human nature, destiny, or a complex problem of considerable proportions. In all these situations, we need courage. Courage to get back on that horse. Courage to keep going; to try again. Courage is the basis of all growth, and if we are not growing then we are probably going backward. So, get back on that horse and live your life as you are meant to.