River Cottage Australia keeps popping up on my TV. Every time, I marvel that it’s yet another bloke on our screens wondering in the delight of putting his hand underneath a hen and drawing out a warm egg. Where are all the women, I wonder? Do program makers really think it’s just blokes moving to the country and living the dream?
Don’t get me wrong – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall was a huge inspiration to us here on our small patch and so was Tasmania’s own Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans. And then there’s Jimmy Doherty with his cheeky Essex chap ways, and now Paul West of River Cottage Australia.
They’re all doing a great job of exemplifying the delights of rural living. But they’re all blokes! Come on, you broadcasting dudes!!
Anybody who knows the slightest thing about the Fearnley-Whittingstalls, the Evanses and the other chaps knows that they’ve got women alongside them, feeding the hens, planning and digging the vegetable garden, helping them with their decision making and raising the children and cooking dinner, when they can get elbow room in the kitchen.
And that’s where the Apple Island Wife comes in – it’s the Wife’s Tale!
Apple Island Wife is our story of moving to Tasmania. I wrote it as a blog when we first got here, when everything was a huge adventure, when we were having to learn strange new ways of living. And now it’s a book. And if someone would like to make it a television series, I’m well up for it.
I like to describe Apple Island Wife as a bit like Gourmet Farmer but with a pinny on and more content about breastfeeding. Because while Oliver was outside chain-sawing rotten trees and building sheds for pigs, I was multi-tasking in the house, running things there and setting up our gourmet food business – researching the food act, building a website, establishing a relationship with the gestapo-like hygiene inspectors at the local Council. Just the way the women in farming have done for centuries – the so called Invisible Farmers.
Perhaps the program makers don’t feature us because they believe we are simply following our men. They should catch themselves on. It was my idea that we come to Tasmania. And with all that experience of using my own breasts for their primary function, I was only too capable of holding my own in a conversation about udders with the pig farmers we dealt with.
You catch a glimpse of Mrs Fearnley-Whittingstall in the early series of River Cottage and he’s definitely got a wife of some sort because he keeps appearing with more babies. Paul West is now looking for a living beyond Australian River Cottage because he’s got a growing family to support. And I know that our own Gourmet Farmer has a wife because not only does she appear in the middle of the pond in one episode installing a water pump, she also accompanied Matthew to a Lilydale Producer’s Market when we had a stall there, and I met her, and she was deeply lovely, they both were. Despite the torrential rain, Matt made his mum’s Cottage Pie and gave everybody a warm, mustardy taste of it, and then went round every single stall and had a conversation with each stallholder in turn – as did Sadie. She bought some of our sausages for their tea. I hope they liked them.
That’s how I know that people like Sadie and myself – the women on the land! – have just as much to say as the blokes. So if SBS would like to send Sadie and me around Tasmania in an open topped ute anytime soon to taste test and report back on the produce here, we won’t necessarily have surf boards in the back like the millennial dudes who are perpetually boring our arses off now with their tours of Australian food destinations – (don’t they have anything else to say other than ‘Maaaate, we’re so lucky!!’) – but we’ll make for better telly, we’ve got better hair, and we’ll have more to say that’s of interest because we’re deeply entrenched in this life. And we’re women, and that’s becoming a different angle all in itself.
It was a little galling to be told by one mainstream publisher, when Apple Island Wife did the rounds last year, that ‘Matthew Evans has got this sort of thing all sewn up’. What utter codswallop – no disrespect to Matthew. And that from a woman too! She should have known better. There are infinite stories to be told, and infinite perspectives to be taken, and infinite room for women like Hilary Burden, Michelle Crawford, and all the other women I know through social media who are writing and blogging beautifully about their rural lives.
But if self-publishing and crowdfunding publishers have shown us one thing, it’s that mainstream publishers don’t have all the answers any more, and can often be wrong!
Apple Island Wife is one woman’s story of adventures on five acres in Tasmania. My husband features large in it because he is an ever-present source of mystery and the sort of blokey skills you need when you have an underground water tank that’s leaking, gutters that need clearing, and a septic tank overflow that needs re-digging. And because I like to have him along for the ride.
We all take our partners with us when we up sticks, downshift, relocate and go live the dream somewhere different. Some of the people doing it are blokes and broadcasters. But some of us are ladies and authors. So take your hand off that hen, Paul Best, and make room at the wheel you millennial dudes – it’s our turn now!
I am 31% funded in the crowdfunding campaign for Apple Island Wife the book, now live on the website of international crowdfunding publisher Unbound . Please visit it here, pre-order your copy and pledge your support! This is my one shot at glory and I need all the help I can get!