by Kim Kelly

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CHICORY, PIG FEED & ME

History isn’t so much an interest or a hobby of mine but a way of being in the present. I can’t walk into the world – anywhere – without wondering what was here, or who was here, before me.

Must have been all those Sunday treks through The Rocks in Sydney as a kid, and my dad Charlie dragging us to every Roman ruin and every medieval cathedral across Europe. My most vivid memory of entering the University of Sydney at seventeen is a picture of my little black canvas mary-janes stepping onto the sandstone flags on my way into Quadrangle off the lawn, those flags worn down by more than a century of footsteps, before me.

So, thirty years later, when I first saw the blue chicory flowers that speckle the roadsides from Millthorpe to Blayney in the rural district of rolling hills that Dean and I would soon decide to call home, I wondered not only at their cheerful beauty, but why they were there at all.

It’s these wonders that feed all my stories, as chicory once fed pigs here, so I discovered, and then fed a processing plant in town. Locals are mostly surprised, though, when I tell them the history of this pretty weed, its importance to the economy once upon a time. One chap said he’d thought the seed had spread out here by falling off trucks coming through from Sydney, not quite believing the chicory had long ago been a crop.

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Bathurst Advocate, 1900

The broad brushstroke of history tells us only that that this country was taken for sheep stations, and gold. The war of 1824 that was fought over this land I live on is rarely if ever mentioned but I can’t look out across our front paddock without thinking of those warriors, the Wiradjuri, seeing them at some edge of memory not my own, their general, Windradyne, striding towards Sydney, tall and handsome in his possum-skin cloak, seeking a peace, a treaty, he would never receive from those who found theft more expedient than honour.

History, rich and wild and colourful, exists wherever we step and mostly it’s unknowable, but the tiny threads I catch are fascinating to me, for all they tell us about today, and more than that: they tell me how it is that I am here.

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And you can find out more about my new novella, Wild Chicory, right here, too.