The great muster

The grand-master fixing the gate on the farmLiving in community can be challenging. This is perhaps made more particularly so when you live in community with those who know you best. Those with whom you have spent extensive amounts of time. Basically, those you are related to.

With the long weekend looming we decided to get out of Sydney for a few days. We sought wide open spaces, and green pastures. We found a three bedroom, two bathroom house with the most magnificent view. We found 200 acres of wide open space. And when we arrived, there were eleven other people to share it with.

This was not a surprise. The grand-matron and grand-master recipe testers (aka Mum & Dad) own a farm which we all like to frequent. Often at the same time. The grand-master fancies himself as a farmer (the Pitt Street variety, it should be noted), but this suits us all well, as we are the beneficiaries of a fabulous place for weekends and holidays.

The farm does have some animals, mostly managed by a very dear friend and neighbour. And so, one afternoon at about the time some of us were considering a siesta, the grand-master recipe tester decided that the sheep should be moved.

Moving a herd of sheep is not difficult. If you are a well-trained border collie. We are not. Nor did we have one handy. What we did have was six completely untrained adult-shepherds (save we've been made to do this a number of times before) and five junior recipe tester-shepherds, the eldest of whom has not yet reached primary school. The youngest shepherd had to be carried. And spent a lot of time saying, "Baaa". Clearly, we were well equipped.

Sheep like to move together and can often be encouraged to move in the direction you'd like them to. In our case, we needed to move them from one paddock to another. They do not like to move through tight spaces, such as gates. It is a delicate dance between frightening the flock enough to get them moving and overdoing it so they freak out.

Mostly, we overdid it. Freaked out sheep run. They run fast and together in completely the direction you would not like them to go. The first time this happened we had to run back down the hill and shoo them back up again. The second time it happened three juniors got a bit caught up in a woolly stampede. They did what sensible juniors would do. They climbed onto a large rock and screamed their heads off. We ran back down the hill and started again.

To prove that miracles do occur, we did at some point get all the sheep up the hill, into the corner of the paddock, and ready to move through the gate. It was not the gate we had initially been trying for, but at that point any gate would do. The grand-master shepherd then casually mentioned that this particular gate had not opened in ten years. It was completely rusted shut.

Six of us, plus one on hip, were required to form a barricade, and keep the sheep calm and contained while the grand-master worked on the gate. The sheep began to get the freaked out look again, particularly when they caught sight of the grand-master walking quietly up behind them. I'm not sure why he bothered to be quiet. He wasn't particularly quiet when he was walloping the gate with a two-pound hammer, trying to get it to open.

It didn't. He then declared what a good job we were all doing as a calming barricade and that he was just going to find a hacksaw. We waited. Fortunately, so did the sheep. The hacksaw, when retrieved, wasn't particularly quiet either, but it did have the desired effect.

The grand-master was last seen climbing atop a large rock, trying to get out of the way of a woolly stampede.