The joy of taking the dirt road

May 11, 2017

Treasured meeting: Local fans of author Rachel Treasure had the opportunity to meet her in Cobram last month when she was in town speaking about her new book.

‘‘I had been getting tired of being called an outback romance novelist by this stage and I thought ‘right, I’m going to write about human poo’. So this book (Cleanskin Cowgirls) is about human sewerage and it’s all tied up in outback romance.’’

This is how Australian author Rachael Treasure sums up basing her best-selling books on topics of importance in the agricultural sphere — in this case, finding an alternative energy source.

Speaking at the Cobram Civic Centre as part of the High Road to Reading program last month and to promote her latest book Down the Dirt Roads, Treasure spoke about her passion for writing about agricultural topics for a mass audience.

‘‘I want to unpack a concept like soil degradation and then run with it so my books went out to the masses — not just people who were interested in agriculture, but people who wouldn’t otherwise read it,’’ she said.

‘‘Who has read Jillaroo? 2002 I wrote this. It was 1999 when I decided I would quit my day job as a Stock and Land reporter, which had brought me out to Cobram and this area because I would do dairy reporting at Tatura and Shepp.’’

She said it was amazing to hear from readers it was a book that had kick-started a lifetime and love of reading.

‘‘The other thing it did was it opened publishers’ eyes to the fact that there were people outside Sydney and Melbourne who read, and who want books about our country and lifestyle.

‘‘While it founded outback romance, it was never set down on a page as a romance.

‘‘The Stockman was born because I was at the time studying low stress stock handling and I was learning stock psychology.

‘‘When I’ve worked in agriculture industry, I had seen the most cruel and barbaric agriculture practices when it came to livestock.

‘‘I wanted to be better at handling my dogs, cattle, sheep and horses, so The Stockman was a tribute to that.’’

She said she aimed to speak to people who farm, who love books, and people who love food.

‘‘Agriculture is so important to everybody, but not just agriculture but the agriculture that Down the Dirt Roads talks about, which is regenerative agriculture, which is a step along from sustainability.

‘‘As we unpack my journey, you’ll see that what we’re doing with our landscape is not sustainable, so we need a grassroots revolution and that’s what I’m hoping to spark with Down the Dirt Roads.’’

Her inspiration to begin writing was her grandmother, also a published author, but she was also fortunate to have been born into an agricultural family.

‘‘It was an upbringing that founded life for me as a writer but also for my love for farming,’’ she said.

‘‘That foundation taught me to be a reader of both books and of landscape and I was lucky enough to have that foundation.

‘‘This is why I write ... this landscape I read, it’s compelling that I get this book out to help you understand that superphosphate has been inhibiting plants.

‘‘What I try to do with my fiction is inspire people to see it and then to find ways forward.’’

Treasure said her latest offering was about her journey, where she’d always taken the windy road, the dirt road, the road less travelled and the ones with the biggest potholes in them, rather than the main roads.

‘‘Down the Dirt Roads — it has been a long journey to this book ... [reading from the introduction] Never in my wildest imaginings of my adult future did I think I would be in my 40s, living in a rental property with my children, farm-less,’’ she said.

‘‘Life is like that, it takes you down roads you never expect to go down, under circumstances that are at times stranger than outback fiction and harder to swallow than a John Deere 24-plate disc plough.’’

Six years on from her pothole, Treasure is hoping the book can deliver many messages of heart and hope and forgiveness, like it has for her.

‘‘The other thing I want to keep doing is inspiring the next generation,’’ she said.

‘‘Are you going to just take the normal road why not take the high road, why not take the dirt road, why not take the windier road?

‘‘Tomorrow when you wake up, do something different, shake it up a bit.’’

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