Authors: Fiona Palmer
The Family Farm
Fiona Palmer lives in the tiny rural town of Pingaring in Western Australia, three-and-a-half hours south-west of Perth. She discovered Danielle Steele at the age of eleven, and has finally written her own brand of rural romance. She has attended romance writers’ groups and received an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for this novel. She has extensive farming experience, does the local mail run, and was a speedway-racing driver for seven years. She currently works two days a week at the local shop in between writing her next book and looking after her two small children.
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First published by Penguin Group (Australia), 2009
Copyright © Fiona Palmer 2009
The moral right of the author has been asserted
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To my husband, Das, and our children, Mac and Blake
THE old Holden ute squeaked and rattled as it rolled along the gravel road, leaving a billowing dust trail. Isabelle Simpson was glad to see the land around her home district hadn’t changed during her absence. The same vast blue sky watched over her, and the unchanged trees were filled with pink and grey galahs and bright-green parrots. Her heart felt free and her skin tingled with eagerness. Not long now. She smiled at the familiar farm signs along the road as if remembering old friends. Izzy was glad that the farmers she’d known her whole life hadn’t sold out and moved on. It just wouldn’t be home without them.
A high-pitched ringing interrupted her thoughts. Pulling over, Izzy picked up her mobile, saw who was calling and promptly pressed cancel before throwing the phone down. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? Didn’t he realise what he’d done?
The phone began vibrating on the seat near her leg. A text message had arrived. Hesitantly, she picked up her mobile.
We need 2 talk. Can u please call me.
Like hell, she thought. Izzy had already told him all she was going to say on the matter. Suddenly a sob forced its way out from deep in her throat, catching her by surprise. Her shoulders shook as she clutched the steering wheel. Finally, the bottled-up tears fell in floods. He had ruined everything and she felt so betrayed. Izzy let the tears fall freely, hoping it might help her move on and be done with this whole cock-up.
The familiar road beckoned when she glanced at it through blurry eyes. I’m almost home, she thought. Sniffing loudly, she wiped away the last of her tears and sat up straight. Izzy Simpson was made of tougher stuff than that. Besides, another few minutes and she’d be back home. Back to her parents. Back to the strong memories of her sister, Claire. Back to the close proximity of Will Timmins. Back to another man complicating her life.
Bloody hell. That’s all I need, she thought, sighing.
Planting her foot on the accelerator and spraying gravel, Izzy drove her ute back onto the road. She headed through her local town, past the three large grain-storage bins. They were a towering icon of Pingaring and a marker point for Izzy. Her family’s farm lay only ten minutes to the east. After days of travelling, it finally felt like she was coming home.
As she peered out of the open window, the breeze flicked her long dark hair about her face, tickling her skin. There was something about returning that made the landscape seem so much more beautiful and bright, highlighting the smell of the warm dusty air, the hint of eucalyptus and the glorious blue of the sky. She knew this route like the back of her hand – the mallee trees and scrub bush that lined the road, and the places where the wildflowers grew in spring.
Taking a deep breath, as if she could suck in all the familiar smells at once, Izzy glanced at her kelpie dog. ‘What do you reckon, Tom? Good to be home, isn’t it, mate?’
His answer was to stick his head out the open passenger window. Tom’s tongue flapped in the wind and his bottom lip blew down, revealing his yellowing teeth.
Both windows were open, and the hot afternoon breeze provided the only relief from the stifling heat. Even though her ute was old, it still ran well. Brown vinyl lined the interior, well worn but clean and tidy, except for the dog hairs that coated the brown seat covers on the passenger side. On the floor below Tom sat his ice-cream container with enough water to wet his chops.
Yes, her old blue Holden was more than just metal and rubber. It was almost like a member of her family. Izzy had bought it when she was fifteen. After four long weeks working on Spud’s crutching cradle she had earned enough money to buy it off the local mechanic in town.
Izzy remembered that long month, many years ago. It had been the first time she’d worked off the family farm. Her first day’s work was over at a neighbouring property crutching six hundred head of ewes, big fat ones too. It was a stinking hot day full of endless flies and large blowies. Spud, Johnno and Mick were on the crew back then. They crutched the wool off around the tail of the ewes to prevent them from being blown by flies, while she roused and pushed up sheep. She could still remember the clang of the metal flap as the blokes had pulled the ewes from the high race she’d just pushed them up into. The whirr from the hand pieces and the constant bangs, mixed in with Mick and Johnno yelling sick jokes to each other, had caused her ears to ring that day. Then there were the sharp prickles hidden in the wool that had made her already sore and swollen fingers sting as she grabbed the ewes by their thick, greasy coats, struggling to move the more stubborn ones up the race. Not to mention her aching back from bending over all day sorting the crutchings from the shitty dags and half-clean bits of wool.
Izzy had quickly learnt to pack her own toilet paper. It came in handy when you had to squat behind the ute or cradle.
Yes, it had been hard work, but bloody good pay for a fifteen-year-old. Her HQ ute was her reward, and she had spent a special couple of days with her dad cleaning it up. That was before the accident, back in the days when he allowed her to help him around the machinery on the farm. Over the years she’d earned enough money to upgrade her ute if she’d wanted to. But strangely, she felt too attached to ever sell. It held a lot of good memories of times spent with her dad, and of cruising the paddocks with Claire in her newfound freedom.
Slowing down as the familiar turnoff approached, Izzy flicked on the indicator and turned left, stopping just short of a faded sign.
B & J Simpson, Gumlea
was etched into a piece of ancient red jarrah, and faded white paint peeled out from the grooves. Gumlea was the name that had been given to the farm long before her grandad had bought it, named, she guessed, after all the salmon gums, which had been planted on the farm many years ago. The sign hung from two small chains off a thicker rusty frame. Her dad would’ve loved to see the words
up there. He’d wanted someone to pass his farm on to, and Izzy had wished with all her heart that it would be her. She’d dreamed of running the family farm nearly her whole life. She was twelve when she realised that was what she definitely wanted. Being away at boarding school had been hell and had proved how much the farm meant to her. The only thing standing in her way was good ol’ dad. He could be like a mule sometimes, which was the main reason Izzy had been away from the farm she loved for the past few years. He’d have a fit if he knew what kind of work she’d been doing.
Izzy sighed as she moved the stick into gear and headed down the corrugated gravel driveway, intermittently lined with the tall gum trees that she used to climb as a child. Her nerves started to twinge. Crap. What were her folks going to say when they saw her? She knew her mum would be ecstatic – Mum always missed her the most – but Dad was never too keen on surprises.