My historical fiction: The faraway land of the house and two cows


Sewerage ghost towns. They exist. Just ask Sorrowing Father, Dear Daughter and Blackened boy, and Yankee doodle dandy that smiles with the eyes and his shadowy mate. They and other characters tell the untold story of the community once living on Melbourne’s first sewerage farm through a timeless reality.

The faraway land of the house and two cows is a story like no other. Unique because it’s the story of an isolated community once living on a sewerage farm: beside land filtration and grass filtration paddocks being watered 24 hours a day with Melbourne’s sewage. And it’s told by characters with their own connection to the place in a way that combines fact, memories and legendary tales.

Head of the Road, date unknown. Photo courtesy of the Pengelly Family.

The faraway land of the house and two cows is a must read historical fiction about the families that built and maintained the Metropolitan Sewerage Farm: from early workers and their families arriving in the 1890s to camp on the foreshore, living and working through the great Depression, both world wars and boom times of the 1950s, to ultimately move away from the four main settlements spread across the sewerage farm, to leave an abandoned town in the 1970s. A sewerage ghost town.

The Metropolitan Sewerage Farm community spread across the site, 1951. Map courtesy of the McNaughton family.

The community was behind the making of one of Australia’s most important civic works projects from the 1890s into the 1900s, providing job security during the 1890s economic crash and the 1930s depression.

Jim 'Snowy' Miller and Charlie Hickey out Moubrays Lane. Photo courtesy of the Pengelly family.

Colourful characters tell the story of community life across the Metropolitan Farm: in both the bottom-end and top-end townships and out around Murtcaim, the Ranch and Moubrays Lane, about how and why it all began in the 1900s, until the community’s tragic demise.

There are highs and lows, as in any community, and historical moments that mark time.


Where tennis courts and croquet lawns are now covered over beneath overgrowth upon overgrowth, under the eye of the football pavilion still standing and where dalliances within them and by the workshops nearby, continue.

Swimming pool, change rooms, community hall and heritage listed water tank, 2018.

The oval where football and cricket were once played still exists, even if smothered in a dense, undulating cover of green with goal posts standing on command at each end, serving the dual purpose of ventilation through their tops for sewage pipes running below the ground’s surface. The community hall still stands, now refurbished as a centre for education, and the swimming pool exists, although set to become a rain garden. The change rooms were demolished and rebuilt to serve as public toilets, and the heritage listed water tank commands as a reminder of Melbourne’s first water supply.

The reservoir is gone, the church and all four schools too. No abode or home exists or gardens well tendered or the cows that came with homes for milking. All are gone. In physicality, that is.

In the sublime of the underworld in this ghost town of lands faraway, many breathe beneath the earth from where they once stood.


Pre-release reviews are saying:

“A brilliantly told story…”

“I was a wreck... I cried my eyes out... it finally got me, all the sadness, emotion, loss, pain of endless change, the desperate ache for what Was … WOW! WOW! WOW! Thank you...”

“Who would have dreamt that a tale of such grandeur could come from a load of old sewage? Monika did, and the Magic of her words create a Time Machine that takes us back to glimpse moments in the lives of a multitude of colourful characters. She puts flesh back on the bones of the ghosts of the past. We experience the lives, loves, losses and tragedies of pioneers, heroes and the occasional villains. Monika has woven the twists and turns of Life and Afterlife over Time and Tide…”

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Thinking Small

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When I go for a walk, I often have my head down. So far I haven't bumped into anyone. Or they haven't bumped into me. I suppose social distancing has helped, when it comes to that.

I like to think that my fellow sojourners imagine I am deep in thought pondering vast questions of human existence. More likely, they think I am anti-social, which I suppose is partly true.

The real reason I look down as I walk is so I don't step on anyone (or more than one). I am convinced that after death, if there is a tribunal with St. Peter or Rhadamanthus or Anubis, the primary category of judging will be how many beings you have stepped on (or otherwise hurt) and how many saved. And I don't think  size matters - a being is a being in my ecocosmic view. Maybe you even get credit for thinking small.
I believe I am doing well in the Karma department, though I don't have an actual count to offer. Though I'm hoping that beings I can't see don't count, or better that I don't hurt them if I do step on them. There is more biomass in bacteria than in any other form of animal life, so that worries me a bit.
 All in all, it makes for a gentle life, seeking goodness where it exists, beauty where it is found, laughter as it comes, and joy in everything. Thinking small makes you a small part of a larger life, instead of a large part of a smaller one. It's worth the tradeoff.
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The Rumour Of Sadness And Change

Seasons came and seasons went
during months in lockdown spent,
summer took a blazing glance,
quickened the astonished plants
who had waited on the lip
of efflorescence, but a dip
in weather's fickle capering
snatched clement airs and left a sting
of stringent frost, of gale and storm
and crucified the longed-for balm,
while global horrors put a brake
on freedom's joy; the hive-mind's wake
soon clipped the wings of halcyon dreams
beside the sea and gleaming streams,
with obtuse yearning for the Fall,
the 'sere and yellow leaf', and gall
went wishing that the equinox
would ring the changes, burst the locks
so that the season might prove true
to former character and hue
and comply with valediction
and settle hackles caused by friction.

But then a miracle occurred,
the sun from slumber rose and stirred,
recalled the season's closing door
and pushed his purpose to the fore,
pierced through pollution's hellish gloom
and for a carnival made room,
the flowers danced in fine array,
rejoicing they could live their day,
to butterflies and bees play host,
thus melancholy musing lost!

Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

One day you discover you are alive. Explosion! Concussion! Illumination! Delight! You laugh, you dance around, you shout.
But, not long after, the sun goes out. Snow falls, but no one sees it, on an August noon.

Ray Bradbury


Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

Henry James

Summer has filled her veins with light and her heart is washed with noon.

C Day Lewis


August rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time.

Sylvia Plath

The busy bee has no time for sorrow.

William Blake 


Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year - the days when summer is changing into autumn -
the crickets spread the rumour of sadness and change.

E B White


 As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.

Genesis 8:22

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I once had lunch with a very successful writer -- an Author. You would recognize the name instantly. The problem was that we were sitting at different tables. Two tables, separated only by an aisle in a nearly empty restaurant, for a lazy mid-afternoon lunch in a nice Italian restaurant. I didn't pay much attention at first until my lunch partner whispered and did an amazing eye thing to direct my attention. My wife was a champion eavesdropper, but I never perfected the skill because she was so good and would always share what she heard. In this instance I was on my own. The nearby conversation was loud enough that it was easy to overhear what was being said. The Author has a distinctive voice and sound carried in the mostly empty room. Our own conversation was disjointed and lagged because we were now zoned in to the neighboring table. I used to mildly scold my wife for not paying attention to my important table comments in this kind of situation but all that was out the window. It turns out that the conversation of interest was between the Author and his financial advisor, and the discussion was about whether he should buy a Ferrari or a Maserati. I almost choked which would have given away the supposed secrecy of our interest. I tried to ignore the conversation -- really, I did. We continued in our own peasant small talk for a few minutes. We tried to be virtuous and pretend that there was nothing going on. That lasted for a few minutes until I heard him say "...I like round numbers, go ahead and put another $800,000 in the pot." My head swiveled involuntarily. The financial guy was looking a little flustered for a second or two but recovered nicely. A nice round numbered investment -- somebody was going to have a very good day. I was finished eating but ordered a coffee and was considering dessert. This was too much to leave behind.

I had a similar late lunch one time with singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman. She was gorgeous in a very relaxed and casual way but sadly, she was in the restaurant booth directly behind me facing the opposite direction. We were inches apart, surely closer than her friends at the table. I was engaged in a business meeting lunch and could not hear what was going on behind me. From the laughter and the voices, it was simply a friends' time together. No Ferrari or Maserati involved.

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Kiowa Ranch 2018 — Waiting for D.H. Lawrence

Our thoughts bewitch us at times. A certain rough edge
of our perception snags an errant and unsettled
hint of trespass.  Like time is standing still. Such was
the case on my visit to the Kiowa Ranch.


The old throne chair, now in ruins, sits on the porch
as if waiting for some wandering king’s return.
That was his chair, back then, and it saw a lot of use
almost a century ago.


Every day the current cat comes from somewhere
and sits on the arm of the chair and waits.
He is of the present generation of cats. It’s his job now.
Passed down. It is his chair now. He waits.


He has a spot worn into the arm of that old chair.
He listens and surveys the view, near and far;
to the somber hills and to the distant peaks:
to the Sangre de Cristos — the Blood of Christ.


The “master” left in 1925. He returned only once – to be
finally laid to rest. This was the only place that Lawrence
and his wife, Freida (the Baroness von Richthofen),
ever owned. It was called Kiowa Ranch, back then.


It seems fitting as a resting place for a restless soul.
This small ranch, near the village of San Cristobal,
a mere fly spec, was his treasured home.  But
San Cristobal is the patron saint of wanderers.


Frieda lived on at the ranch into the 1950s.
The cats knew her. Georgia O’Keefe was here.
Aldous Huxley was here.  A constellation of stars
once graced this old porch.


Accommodations were challenging and rude, at best.
But this place stood in opposition to the “roaring 1920s”
and I think that was the deliberate point of it –
a point of departure – of escape.


Lawrence was contrary if he was anything at all,
and as remote as the ranch. Getting there, even today,
is a challenge. It was far different from what he knew
before, in England and Europe.


How was he viewed by the local Hispanos?
He was the stranger on the hill. He was a writer.
Some days they might have faintly heard him hammering,
trying to fix the barn or the fence for Susan, the lone cow.


Lawrence liked to write outside under a huge Ponderosa Pine.
He would drag a table outside and write in the open air.
He remembered: “One goes out of the door and the
 tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel.”


The tree is still there, waiting too, a guardian angel
along with the cat and the chair and the porch and
the house,  just as it was when it shaded the writer
at his table. It still drops pinecones where he worked.


Georgia O’Keefe made a painting of the old tree —
lying on her back during her time at the ranch.
It is tall and strong and could likely endure and
wait another hundred years.


New Mexico agreed with him and offered a cure
for his soul and his ever-weakening affliction.
He completed five novels and several short stories,
and a collection of travel essays, all under his tree.


Wanderlust returned and he headed back to Europe.
He stayed near Florence and in France. Soon years passed.
His affliction returned. He died in France in 1930.
He never again saw the ranch.


Years later Frieda had his ashes brought back to the ranch
and interred in a small shrine that sits on the hillside
above the old cabin with the porch and the chair
and the cat and the tree all patiently waiting.



The Home Place – 2021

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Latest Blogs

Sewerage ghost towns. They exist. Just ask Sorrowing Father, Dear Daughter and Blackened boy, and Yankee doodle dandy that smiles with the eyes and h...
  When I go for a walk, I often have my head down. So far I haven't bumped into anyone. Or they haven't bumped into me. I suppose social distancing h...
Our thoughts bewitch us at times. A certain rough edge of our perception snags an errant and unsettled hint of trespass.  Like time is standing still....

Latest Comments

Rosy Cole My historical fiction: The faraway land of the house and two cows
22 October 2021
What an achievement, Moni, to have created something vibrant out of the lives of a tucked away commu...
Monika Schott PhD My historical fiction: The faraway land of the house and two cows
19 October 2021
Thanks Stephen. I'm quite happy with it. ?
Stephen Evans Thinking Small
11 October 2021
Always glad to hear that!
Rosy Cole Thinking Small
11 October 2021
It did make me chuckle, though :-)))