Men love to keep tough things a mystery … and the way we ladies have been ‘conditioned’ to be semi-hopeless, hopeless, or drastically hopeless is a matter of the situation or the man’s ego. I have now decided I am over this. It’s taken me until the retirement decade to get to this point but the realisation that mysterious-man-tasks are not always that secret or that daunting has opened up a wide range of things I can now do by myself.

I had a bloke who emptied the effluent pond for me on a regular basis. He was using the effluent as fertilizer on his place up the road and that was fine by me, especially as he had his own tractor. A couple of times I had sidled up alongside them as he was hooking everything up to start the slurry spreader. I wanted to learn how to do this task as I knew it was another one of those dairy-farmer skills I had to have. But the cursory explanation and demonstration he grudgingly gave were so loaded with man-terms, waving arms, and rude comments when I tried to clarify an instruction, I backed off. At that stage, I was too tired. I had too many other things to do and I viewed the whole job as another difficult chore that only a big strong man could complete. I decided to be drastically hopeless.

A few months later, I had my own tractor. Now, this was an issue as well. I wasn’t worried about the size, weight, or power of the big red beast as I have driven trucks the size of milk tankers for years … but it was all the dials, buttons, levers, and dashboard lights that had me worried. The tractor salesman gave me a quick lesson around the front paddock and left thinking he had done a great job. The next day I couldn’t remember much of what he had said and the thick manual wasn’t much help.

As I sat worrying, another man turned up. It was the chap who delivered my hay. He knew my new tractor had been delivered and he had stopped to check it out. This time the lesson stuck as he showed me how to operate all the front-end bits. He was patient as I fluffed about with my first practices and he willingly repeated the instruction list for each part of each process. I discovered it wasn’t so hard after all and he suggested we carried the lesson on to the back-end bits. I turned around in the seat, viewed another maze of dials, buttons, levers, and another panel of lights, and said, “No thank you, I think I’ll leave that end for another day!” It looked terribly mysterious.

But, now that I had my own tractor, it was time to spread the effluent on my place. I viewed the back-end bits … and rang a friend to see if he would be willing to take over. This was ok with him and so the problem was solved and I was able to remain hopeless.

Recently, as the milk price dropped and the finances tightened, my friend said those dreadful words, “Althea, you need to learn to spread the effluent yourself.” “What a good idea,” I cheerfully lied, and off I went for the back-end lesson (which my friend linked to the effluent spreading procedure). My friend was worried I wouldn’t cope with the heavy parts of hooking up the spreader but I have worked with children who have disabilities for most of my life – problem-solving for me is not a problem. We schemed and strategized and, with a block system to make lowering the tank onto the tractor easier and a barrel to help hold the lumbersome inlet pipe in place, it was all go. I could do it by myself. I devised a mantra to help me remember in which order the levers, dials, and buttons needed to be pushed or pulled in, I took my time for the first few spreading sessions and I checked, checked, and checked again to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. It really was so easy and I don’t know why I was such a whoosy-worrier. There was no mystery to it. It made me realise I didn’t have to be ‘hopeless’.

Getting over the mental block of the ‘man-made-mystery’ has given me a great deal of confidence and I am now eyeing up the fencing I can’t afford to get a man to do.