Fifty Years on an Upper Murray Cattle Station – Elyne Mitchell

Fifty Years on an Upper Murray Cattle Station – Elyne MitchellTowong Hill, Fifty Years On An Upper Murray Cattle Station by Elyne Mitchell
on 1989
Pages: 244

This autobiography is one I was exceedingly pleased to find. I have read and enjoyed Mitchell’s Brumby books for years and I wanted to know more about her life. I also wanted to know more about the area where the books were set, what better way to see the world where the brumbies lived than through the author’s own words.

What we get here is the highs and the lows, the heartbreaks and the beautiful scenery in a way that only Elyne Mitchell can describe. One story talks about how the bull outwits them and is brought back to the homestead by a neighbour some time later.

But let me give you a little context.

The setting is the most beautiful countryside in the world, apart from New Zealand. I’m sure people are going to disagree with me, that is entirely your prerogative. It is about a five and a half hour drive from my place, driving north and then a lot of east. It’s relatively close to the border between Victoria and New South Wales. A place that either gets snow in winter or is close to places that get snow in winter. It’s still quite warm in summer. Looking at the fourteen day forecast I see the area is expecting temperatures of 33°C in a few days. This probably means they’re expecting much hotter weather over the next few months.

Mitchell leads us gently towards the topic of bushfires. She talks about the temperature in January 1982 being 110°F which is about 43°C. We get an ode to a sheep dog, even a sheep dog who gets so excited about working he forgets his lessons. A few words about feeding a magpie, a bird which attacks during nesting seaso. And then we’re lead through the year. Mitchell shows us the beauty of rain and all of a sudden it’s November. We’re told it’s ‘so dry that we had sheep on the river flats’ and that was probably a good place for them. This lead up to how dry everything is and how prone to bushfire we are is relatively gentle. But the actual bushfire is anything but gentle. They’re playing tennis when the Corryong fire siren sounds. They continue playing until someone comes riding in on a bicycle ‘Fire’s on your place’ and Mitchell heads back home to fight fires…literally. This is something every Australian knows something about. Timewise it’s only a few weeks before Ash Wednesday, a day that is etched on my brain.

16th February 1983 I had a new job near central Melbourne and listened to people around me complain about the smoke in their homes. The weather was exceedingly hot. Everyone wanted to open up their homes to get whatever breeze was possible but it was impossible as the smoke from Ash Wednesday was coming both from Adelaide and outside Melbourne. With 180 fires in Victoria and 75 deaths things were pretty dire. Ash Wednesday set the template for how the fire brigade would cope with fires until Black Saturday in 2009 which eclipsed all records.

I was in safety but I couldn’t help thinking of those people who weren’t. Those who were directly affected by the bush fires. And that brings me back to the book. Mitchell headed directly back to her home so she could fight the fires and save as much of her home and buildings as she possibly could. Apparently ‘Nothing was really far from the fire’ and therefore they had to do everything they possibly could. The descriptions of the work they had to do and the descriptions of the fires are nerve wracking. Not good for people with PTSD from fires, but fine for me.

I highly recommend this book as it really gives some good visuals of what it’s like to live in this absolutely beautiful area. It gives good visuals of Mitchell’s life and also helps understand how it is possible to fight a bush fire.