Sydney is a riot of sun, sea, space, wealth and waste, steep hills, bendy roads, exotic trees and pretty houses.
Three hours north, the farm is a different kind of paradise, a rich slice of planet earth, with its pastures, forests, even steeper hills, creeks and ravines. Instead of the whooping and crackling of city birds, the sounds of a trillion cicadas in the distant forest come in waves.
But night time is the most magical. Frogs and crickets sing a different song. A million stars stab the eyes from a sky black as bitumen; a sight seldom seen since street lights came to dim and dull the heavens.
At first, the illusion of divine seclusion. The nearest neighbour a half hour’s walk away. Even longer to a hidden clearing, inexplicably, the only place where a mobile phone works. Here, it’s just you and nature.
But the fantasy double life is real. The great escape! On Friday afternoon, Lieske piles food, drink and clothes into the Ford, and whisks the children out of school. At the farm, the children play more natural games, riding “bareback” in the UTE, manning the gates, hurling bread and hay at the ravenous cows. Justin, a gentle giant of a man, casts his city garb aside, dons his ANZAC hat, grabs his keys that dangle with world war one bullets, thrusts a nine inch machete into his belt, and thunders off into the fields in the Massey Ferguson to fight the weeds.
Just now it hasn’t rained for weeks. The grass is brown, the leaves are shrivelled, the creeks are dry, the springs struggling to feed the ponds.
A cow’s gone missing. Little hope of finding it. On the quad bikes we search miles of precarious lanes, among the forrests and fields, skirting sheer drops of hundreds of feet. To tumble there is never to be seen again, rotting in the reeds in the depths of the ravine.
If the illusion were real, you would have to travel back through time, begging and praying for rain, or that blights would fade, animals thrive enough to feed the family, and the spirits of the forest be kind.
As it is, Sunday is a scuttle back to Sydney, where it’s easier to turn on the tap, fetch frozen food from the fridge and watch the kids gazing helplessly at the frightful fodder on the goggle box.
So be it.