Clay Gully by Sally Van Gent
Stories from a Bendigo apple orchard
By Laura McKinnon
Sally van Gent wonders how to utilise the beautiful land of Clay Gully. Goats? A vineyard? Remembering the sweet fruit she ate as a child, she decides to establish a heritage apple orchard.
She sets to work – and soon enough, the rains falter, bugs, birds and feral animals attack the trees, and a snake takes refuge in the leg of her jeans.
As the drought takes its toll and animals in the surrounding bush begin to suffer, Sally fights to keep her orchard alive.
Sally’s story of battling the elements to establish and care for an organic heirloom apple orchard in Bendigo is nicely illustrated by Sally herself, with 180 line drawings and sketches of her property as well as the flora and fauna associated with the area.
Sally's love for Clay Gully, despite the challenges it provided, comes through in her writing. However, written like diary entries and with 90 short stories, I found it difficult to stay engaged.
As a home gardener with apple trees of my own and a temperamental vegetable plot I can appreciate the hard work and sweat that Sally and her family put into their orchard. As someone who moved to Australia, I can also appreciate the extra work put into replicating a taste from home, in her case varieties of apples traditionally found in England.
It's a story that no doubt many of Australia's pioneers could relate to – sweat and toil meets the harsh reality of the Australian climate, pests and wildlife. It's not all Gourmet Farmer TV land out there.
While Sally's successes of finding organic, humane ways to deal with codlin moth burrowing into her apples, hungry birds demolishing the rest, hares ring-barking the trees, animals scattering the mulch, and currawongs ripping off the trunk guards are inspiring, the Clay Gully story overall is predominately one about the loss of her dream.
While this book wasn't for me, I can imagine many home gardeners – especially those who may have grown up on larger properties – enjoying the short stories I imagine they can relate to. A glass of wine or two and a sense of humour in the face of adversity would help.
If you're planning your own city to country move, or moving from hobby farming to self-sustainability or beyond, this should be required reading.
There is also a lovely selection of recipes throughout that anyone can enjoy, many of which including Sally's favourite fruit: apples.
Clay Gully by Sally Van Gent is published in Australia by Wakefield Press (Adelaide 2013; sc, 144 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$24.99
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- Bendigo (VIC)
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