A farmer's life

Farm gate, Flickr image by Denis Fox1950

Twins were born in an isolated country town. Let's call them John and Jane.

He died at 53. She may live past 83.

Their mother, a city-bred woman of 'nervous disposition', struggled with farm life and her driven, angry husband. After four children in six years, her usual robot-mask crumpled when told she was carrying twins.


For six months they cried every night while their parents travelled Europe. All the children stayed with relatives who knew the alternative was a sanatorium.


John required sedatives to sleep. Jane created fantasy worlds. They cried easily and wet their beds at night. Care-givers came and went. They treated them warily.


He loved farm work, so struggled to gauge his father's moods, enduring beltings in silence — boys don't cry. Jane hid in books and her inner sagas.


They were sent to segregated boarding schools, socially unskilled, unable to make friends.


He attended an agricultural school, then studied for a farming diploma, bingeing every weekend. The father pitted the brothers against each other, all hungry for the land.

She won academic prizes but contemplated suicide.


She asked to see a psychiatrist. She could explain little but the Valium helped. She fled to Western Australia.


John returned to the farm, saying yes to everything. His older, strong-willed brothers had left.

Jane enrolled in nursing in the nearest city. Her classmates helped smooth her social awkwardness.


John lived in the male world of farms and pubs, tongue-tied around the few single girls.

Upon marriage, Jane discovered her husband was an angry patriarch like her father. Unwittingly, she copied her mother with silence and sedatives.


Jane had a son. She bought books about good parenting and vowed to stay alive. She told her brother about counsellors but 'I'm no psycho!' was his reply.

He mentioned a female friend. Jane hoped he'd found love but heard no more.


Jane's second child slept poorly. After three exhausting years, she forgave her mother's inadequate care.

John poisoned himself with herbicides. His sister admonished him but masks and gloves were 'sissy stuff'.


Their mother died. John drank more.

Jane was diagnosed with endogenous depression and anxiety disorder. After six weeks medication she decided upon divorce.


John enjoyed two years on the farm while his father's ill-health kept him in the city.

Jane collapsed — work pressures, her ex-husband's abuse, the children's distress, her personal struggles.


She returned to work but crumpled again — her future a disability pension. Medication clouded her mind but she enjoyed community work and a few close friends.

His father returned. John moved to the workman's cottage and refused to answer the phone.


The farm was sold when their father died. John moved into the town and became the local drunk.

Jane loved and was loved. Her children were scarred but she was deeply grateful that they were more resilient than herself.


Her annual mammogram showed early signs of cancer. Treated successfully.


John was diagnosed with cancer including several secondaries — inoperable, terminal. After a life-time's bodily abuse, no-one was surprised.


She nursed him as he weakened. He spent hours on the verandah encased in silence. She too was mute, hiding her grief behind the robot-mask and pills.

Afterwards, Jane revealed her silence to a local nun. The reply, 'You were Christ to him', eased her guilt a little. At least she'd been able to say, 'I love you', the night before he died.

Social isolation

Gabrielle BridgesGabrielle Bridges is a Geelong based writer. She has had some success in small state and interstate competitions and her work has been published in Pendulum and the 2008 Black Dog Institute's anthology. She is currently working on a novel.


Topic tags: gabrielle bridges, john an jane, country life, isolation



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Existing comments

How depressing! If only parents knew the legacy they impose upon their children. This should be a compulsory education during school years.

macca | 01 April 2009  

A powerful story beautifully told.

Paul Redmond | 01 April 2009  

Glad to hear that at least one survived such turmoil.

Carmel | 06 April 2009  

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