Rosalie Ham

Rosalie Ham is a successful city-based author with strong country roots. She grew up on the family farm at Jerilderie, on the Billabong Creek. She is perhaps best known for her novel 'The Dressmaker'. For Rosalie, the much-loved muddy creek reminds her of the importance of nature and the environment.

Rosalie HamThe importance of water . . .

There was a drought when I was growing up, so water’s the element I am most conscious of. It’s the thing my children tease me about. And they warn their own kids about my obsession – ‘Don’t waste water. Rose has got a thing about it.’ I still collect the shower water in a bucket until it runs hot. I use the dog’s stale water for my pot plants and pour the water I rinse veggies in onto my herb garden. I can’t help it.

Where do you go to get away from it all?

I live in Brunswick – it’s multicultural, close to the city, and where I live there are many big, lovely parks, so I go there, but I only have to travel to the corner, turn left and drive for 3.5 hours and I’m in Jerilderie. Lara Plains, on the Billabong Creek, is the family farm.

How often do you go there?

To the park, daily, but to Jerilderie not often enough. But a photo of the creek is my screensaver.

What do you like to do there?

We’ll have a picnic and campfire to cook damper, we go fishing, or yabbying, we’ve been known to paddle up and down the creek in canoes. The kids climb trees and carry sticks around and occasionally we’ll camp and sit under the stars – all with family and friends.

How do you feel when you are there?

I feel like I’m at home. On one creek bend there is what we call an ‘Aboriginal Oven’, middens of ash from fires long ago, back when the mussels were edible, and that’s something to ponder. And I love the flat plains and the dry, dusty gums and the muddy creek. I’m reminded of the importance of nature and the environment. I like the fact that time is slower and the world bigger, so our significance is made sensible against it. Sadly, our impact isn’t.

Why is water an important part of your relaxation?

Water has a calming effect and water was an important part of my childhood, and childhoods make us who we are and remind us of what we are. Also, being by water is an activity that’s a complete event. If you are ‘at the creek’, then you’re at a specific location and engaged in something solid and pleasant. The level of water in the creek is a topic of conversation and a couple of generations of people I know will nod knowingly when they hear that you’ve ‘been at the creek’.

The associations that go with that activity are complex, personal but universal.

Happiest memories?

In summer, we liked to employ the inner tube of a tractor tyre and go for a float.

I think two nephews proposed to their wives at the Billabong. A niece got married on the bank and the creek put on a show. It filled itself up just for the occasion. Then, on the day, it flowed steadily and pleasingly. Birds appeared and were busy and the gums were alert. The setting sun turned the brown water pink and the sky lit yellow and dark blue just as they said, ‘I do’.

The guests stood watching the creek while the wedding party had photos taken in the stubble, and everyone talked about learning to swim in the creek, regattas and fishing. People walked up to the river gums and slapped them, leaned on them, climbed them and threw mud rocks across the surface of the billabong. I think most people at that wedding spend most of their leisure time on or around waterways.

Finish this sentence

When I was little, I used to go...

. . . swimming at the official swimming hole at the creek. It seemed we set off on our own with no parental supervision, but I now realise there was always an adult there so someone was always watching.

I love to get away from it all and...

. . . hang at the family farm. I like the long silences, I like to look at the paddocks, watch nothing and see everything. It’s best when I have kids with me (city kids) because they collect eggs and they get to go for a ride on the back of the ute, and maybe even get to ‘drive’ the ute. I like to stand in the crop at harvest until the header comes past and stops to give me a ride.

When my brother stands up and reaches for his hat, people stand and follow him, even if it’s just to go and check on a ewe or close a gate.

The creek is where everyone cooled off, we learned to swim there and to turn leeches inside out on a stick, which is not as bad as it sounds since the fun part was to let them go and watch them flip back the right way and wriggle off. The creek is where we socialised, got kissed for the first time or drank beer for the first time.

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