DOWN ON THE FARM

Gnarled old countryman Bill Grumble pushed his battered hat back from his forehead and gazed across his acres with narrowed eyes. "It's still pissin' down," he observed to his son Dave. "At this rate every paddock'll be flooded by the end of the week. Nothin'll grow."

"Jeez, Dad," said Dave. "That's no good."

"Yer can't trust them smart-aleck city bastards with their forecasts. What's the name of that galah who was on telly saying it would never rain again?"

"I don't remember, Dad. Was it Eddie McGuire?"

"No, yer drongo. Slattery, Flattery, something like that. Said we were all going to die of thirst in a drought. Drown more likely. Half our best cattle are floating belly upwards. The wheat's been washed away. Even the farm-stay bungalow looks like lifting clear of its slab and floating off. Just as well that family left last week. I'd say we're stuffed. The bank'll take the farm and we'll be out." He raised his voice above a chorus of shrieking and cackling. "Them cockatoos will have the place to themselves."

"Yer've said we was finished before, Dad. Lots of times. But why don't we grow somethink that the rain won't damage? Why don't we whatchamacallit - I saw it in the Weekly Times - why don't we diversify?"

"Into what? Running cruises in the floating bungalow?"

"No, Dad, into somethink - what's that word young Nipper was saying his teacher's always ramming down their throats at school? - sustainable. Something that'll resist the extremes of weather that guy on TV said we can now expect. I remember him now. Faggetty. He was raving on about the need for sustainability."

"If yer arst me that peanut should spend less of his time introducing his best friend to Mrs Palmer and her five daughters."

"I don't get you, Dad,"

"Never mind. But hang on, he did say something, you're right. There was some type of farm he reckoned was going to be all the rage. There were goin' to be subsidies yer can get from the government to set one up. And there were them thingamajigs he said were the powerhouses of the future. He had all them snaps on the programme showing hillsides covered with these huge white things an' yer can sell the wind they produce for helectricity. Subsidies. Gwen, bring us a cuppa. I'm goin' to get the government on the blower."

And so it was decided. Grumble's Farm would become a wind farm. Semi-trailers carrying the giant gawky turbines, so reminiscent of the alien invaders' towers in The War of the Worlds, churned up the mud as they delivered their burden. Several got bogged and had to be winched free by helicopter. But the rain eased, and before long the green paddocks were sprouting their new crop of white towers with vast rotating blades.

Except that they were rotating very slowly. "It's awful still," said Dave, looking up. "There's not much wind."

But there was enough to make a faint eerie whirr from on high. This was suddenly punctuated by a thump from one of the blades and something white and red and squishy landed on Dave's upturned face. "Strewth, it's a cockatoo," he cried, passing his sleeve across his face to wipe away the gore seeping from the avian remains. "It's dead, it looks as though it's been chopped up. And there's another over there. And what's that, a crow? Shit, it's disgusting."

A few weeks later Mr Combet from the Green n' Clean Energy Company called at the farm. "We had hoped for better results than this," he said, pushing an official-looking document across the kitchen table. "There's a statement of your business activity. I'm afraid your generation quota has not been met."

"Where's me cheque for the helectricity?" asked Mr Grumble through a mouthful of scone, spraying the statement with crumbs.

"That's what I'm trying to explain," said the company official. "The poor result means we cannot pay a commission. In fact your installation and rental fees exceed the small amount of energy-generated income. Your account actually has a a negative balance and you will have to pay us rather than the other way round."

Mr Grumble reached for his shotgun. "Dave!" he called.

Dave came in trailing clouds of feathers. He had been minding the turbines and was covered as usual with the remains of minced-up birds. Mr Combet clutched his briefcase to his chest and backed away, colliding with the dresser and sending serried ranks of Gwen's jams and chutneys cascading to the floor. The accident gave Mr Grumble an idea.

"Smear him with the jam, Dave," the old farmer commanded, "It'll be just as good as tar and I'll stick on the feathers. I'll teach him negative balance. Watch for the broken glass, we don't want to be had up for bodily harm."

They pushed the squawking and now feathered functionary out the door, surprising Dave's playful younger brother Nipper in the act of letting down the tyres of the Green n' Clean company Prius. Just for once Mr Grumble seemed to be looking on the bright side. "Them things may not be much good for helectricity but they have sure got rid of our cocky problem." he said. "And I reckon they could bring us in a regular harvest of feathers. Cocky feathers are nice and soft. Maybe we could sell them to some manufackterer for cushions and pillows."

"And for feather doonas, Dad, like Mabel was looking at in the Homemaker catalogue. And the bits of bird we could sell to a cat's meat company. There's enough out there for millions of tins. Unless yer think that Chinese cafe in town..."

25 May 2012

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