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High Heels and Gumboots: The Art of Mowing

The Massey Ferguson 135 which stars in this story is now for sale, looking for new meadows to mow. She's a beauty!

We pulled the tarpaulins off the Massey Ferguson 135 as sheetweb spiders skittered off to find new suburbs. Men stood back, thumbs in pockets, to admire my big red tractor and exhaled in blokish wisdom: “She’s a beauty.”


I saw rusty panels strung with cobwebs. I saw front wheels which seemed to lean oddly inwards. A friend gave me a new battery for Christmas to crank-her-up but it sat dormant in its terminals for a year because I didn’t know how to drive the tractor, let alone its PTO. That’s the Power Take Off and it spins the mowing blades. Apparently everyone knows that.

A real farmer arrived. He sauntered around the tractor like John-Boy Walton, leapt aboard in a single bound, engaged a few levers and roared down the driveway like a man off to mow a meadow. He rattled off a set of instructions that only horrified me with what I didn’t know. Six months later, the tractor seat and my bum were still strangers.

The reeds in the paddock cared not for my insecurities. They grew to taunt me as they swayed in the breeze: “Here lives a girl who doesn’t know how to mow...”

Another lifestyle blocker nearby was mowing his paddocks with a line trimmer. He asked if he could borrow my tractor.

“Do you know how to drive it?” I asked hopefully.

“No, I thought you did,” he said.

Now I had an ally. I printed off the owner’s manual from the internet. It was a collector’s edition of 1970s publishing: black and white photos with typed captions that really had been cut and pasted. Cartoons depicted dire consequences for farmers in dungarees who did not take heed, their hats in tatters as they leapt among farts of black smoke and erupting radiator caps. And, I loved this: ‘Do not bypass the starter safety switch with “homemade” wiring.’ Massey Ferguson 135 waited patiently as we worked over her anatomy. We identified clutch, brakes, engine stop, gear lever, throttle and finally graduated to spinning the PTO and making it go up and down. Complicated stuff like the dual range shift lever and the differential lock pedal “especially advantageous where traction is poor” we left for the advanced class. Out in the field, we learned that to drive a tractor with a PTO you need to engage – sometimes with a kick – the right combination of levers in the right order to make it all work. It’s a mechanised version of a Rubix cube. The reeds surrendered to such majesty, and after several runs I turned to survey my work. I had imagined lines as straight as a cricket pitch linked by perfect curves of equal radius; it looked like the meanderings of a snail after a night on the hemlock. This taught me that farmers are artists. They chug their tractors around their paddocks as though it happens without them, but they are multi-tasking with precision as they lead their dance in perfect, pastoral geometry.

I doff to them my tattered hat.

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