In the last couple of years we’ve netted the most accessible of the peach trees that have naturalized along Mullion Creek to keep the cockatoos from eating them. The whole operation is worse than trying to get a giant bride and her veil through a forest.
Four people were needed (one of them tall) and a lot of long poles. The trick is not to twist your ankle, fall into the wombat hole, the thistles, or in among the blackberries that grow lower down the bank. Last year Charles tried throwing the net over using a tent pole as a javelin, resulting in a snarl of unreachable netting at the top. This year we modified the system to prod the net over and then wrap it around.
I’ve heard that using flexible electrical conduit curved into hoops can make netting easier, but this tree is pretty high and awkwardly placed for that. Also, you’d have to pre-plan.
Last year I netted some of the quince trees as well, but it turned out not to be worth it. They tasted of nothing. Possibly that was because of the heavy rain in February. They grew impressively enormous though.
The peaches, while they’re usually too tough for eating fresh, are good stewed, frozen or bottled and are a cheerful reminder of summer in midwinter.
Getting nets off again in the autumn can be a hassle. The grass grows through at the bottom weighing it down, the twigs grow through at the top. I had to knot up quite a few holes this year, including one where Craig cut free a brown snake that had got itself caught. He pinned it down while he snipped it, carefully, free. At the recent RFS meeting a neighbour looked at him thoughtfully and remarked “A black snake, I’d free that, but a brown snake, I don’t think so.”
Those peach, quince and plum trees were planted down by the creek probably by the Davis family back in the late 1800s, when few houses had water tanks or much garden water. I’d do that too if I only had buckets to keep a tree alive. Also, if that was the only way to get fruit.
Probably that house was some sort of wooden slab hut that’s completely rotted away now, leaving behind only the trees they planted.
There are also some wonderful fig trees in a damp spot where a gully comes down towards the river, and a different gully near the house there are masses of tiny bitter cherries that are frustrating to cook with, but make okay cherry sauce if you can be bothered. Blackberries grow all over, but they’re dropped by birds and no particular sign of an old house.
On Adnamira the only fruit tree away from the much newer house orchards is an apple that grows almost opposite the modern Esdale homestead. When we first came there it was surrounded by invasive briar roses. Its fruit is small, tart and dry. Nearby, ragged rows of dried up sweet corn showed where a market garden had been in operation for several decades. The apple tree may have had a longer history, though, as fruit trees often show old house sites.
“On the opposite side of the river to our house (said Rosa Learmont nee Davis in her 1980s memoir) was the site of McCarthy’s hut, the shepherd who was murdered in 1876 by “Waterloo” Tom Robertson. McCarthy’s grave is a little further along on the river bank, unmarked. As a child I had always looked, unsuccessfully, for McCarthy’s “ghost” which reportedly appears as a white bull. It is only in the last 20 years I have read the story as reported in J Fearn Wannon’s “Australian Folklore” – The White Bull of the Washpan.”
I haven’t been able to find that story, but spent a few hours in the paddock one day wandering up and down and trying to spot an unmarked grave. Since it was unmarked, I didn’t find it. I’m assuming she doesn’t mean the small cottage that still exists on Adnamira, because that wold have been in existence and not a “site”. And of course, I’m still wondering why a ghost would come back as a white bull. Very strange.