Saturday, 30 July 2011

Barbed wire, cows and rolling tyres.

After the bus driver had abandoned us standing at the side of the road like the backpackers we were (having assured us that he has dropped people off there before and they have eventually been picked up) we did realise that we had in fact arrived before the scheduled time so we resigned ourselves to a bit of standing around in the cold and dark. Eventually, however, we gave in and rang the people who we were supposed to be staying with. We managed to get through to Fiona who was at home and informed us that Rohan had left ages ago and should already be there which naturally led to a spot of confusion. Eventually it was established that the buses aren't hugely consistent in exactly where they stop and Rohan had in fact been waiting in his car a couple hundred metres round the corner! We were rather thankful when Rohan eventually arrived, as 40 minutes standing in the cold and dark hadn't exactly been the most auspicious start to our farming experience. All negative thoughts were very quickly dispatched when we arrived at their farm and were introduced to the family, Rohan & Fiona, their lovely 2 year old daughter Eden, the cats Suki & Nook and the dogs Polly & Lucy. After a much appreciated hearty farm dinner we hit the sack pretty early in preparation for our first day of hard farm labour.

When I agreed to do some WWOOFing I wasn't really sure what it would entail, especially as I hadn't really spent a huge amount of time on farms, but it took very little time for me to fall in love with the lifestyle, the place and the whole experience.

The farm that Rohan, Fiona and Eden live on is located in a valley called Gleneden, next to Binjour in between Gayndah and Mundubbera (if you aren't up on your Australian geography then it is about 3 hours due west of Hervey Bay and Fraser Island). The farm has been in Rohan's family for ages and covers something like 300 acres. It isn't a commercial farm, rather they use it to be as self-sufficient as possible. They have a range of different animals (cows, pigs, chickens, horses) and an impressive garden where they grow a lot of fruit and vegetables. Rohan is also a Bullocky which means he drives bullocks as they would in the days of yore, he does this primarily for displays and currently has a team of 6 bullocks (Arthur, George, Edwin, Stanley, Rupert & Colin), all of which answer to their names and are very impressive when seen in action.

We had an absolutely fantastic time and both agreed it was probably the best 2 weeks we'd had in Australia (in fact we weren't originally going to stay that long, but we were having such a great time that we changed our plans). We were always very busy but loved being able to help out and try lots of wonderful new experiences. We were extremely lucky with our hosts as well, I was a little bit apprehensive at the idea of going to live with strangers, but Rohan, Fiona & Eden were lovely and made us feel incredibly welcome.

Every morning we would be up somewhere around 6:30am (often somewhat reluctantly) to see to the animals. We would feed the pigs and chickens and then have to go out into the fields to go and find the cows (Tinkerbell, Melissa, Teddy, Pitch, Duncan and the Bull) who could often prove to be a little elusive. Once they were in the yard we separated them so Tinkerbell could be milked and the calves (Duncan, Pitch and Bea who was kept in the yard overnight so she didn't drink all the milk) could be fed, before they could all be let out to wherever they would be spending the day. After checking all the relevant animals had enough water we would head back inside for breakfast (often porridge). They had a fine old wood-burning stove to keep the house warm (although it may have been winter it often actually ended up being nice and warm anyway) which required feeding in the morning and evening with wood (which I still bear scars from chopping).

During the day we would generally just do whatever needed to be done. This varied from heading into Gayndah to building a website, to housework or to something slightly more exciting (I shall elaborate shortly), generally with a healthy break for a remarkably healthy lunch with most of the produce being homegrown. Around 4pm we would have a fun excursion to bring the cows in, which sounds simple enough except for the fact that they were often left to wander down the drive and a dead-end road. Unfortunately they would often get adventurous and head off down the road out of the valley which meant we spent most of the day keeping an eye out for them and then having an occasional mad dash in the ute or by bike to go and turn them around. Added to this, they were often rather disinclined to actually head in the right direction and could take quite a bit of persuasion. This led to one escapade in which we were having to herd the bullocks back in the dark with only torches and the ute's headlights to guide us after having lost them up the road. Never a dull moment.

One of the more interesting projects that we engaged in was restoring and old dunny which Rohan had acquired from some friends so that he could use it when giving Bullock Displays as part of a true historial Australian experience. When we arrived it was upside-down looking rather sorry for itself. Clearly this meant we were going to have to flip it upright, onto the posts that Rohan had already measured and driven into the ground in the appropriate place. Using a system of pulleys, some levers, brute force and the power of the ute we first successfully managed to turn it onto it's side with surprisingly little difficulty. Next we rearranged the pulleys and prepared to use a similar method to bring it upright onto the posts. Being the forward thinkers we are we considered that it might be a good idea to cushion the impact with the posts somehow to try and prevent us from causing more damage than necessary so we got a big tractor tyre (which Daisy very adeptly manouvered into position) and put it under where the dunny was supposed to be landing. All seemed to be going well until the final movements of the attempted flip when the dunny came down, landed on the tyre, bounced off the tyre and fell sideways in a heap. We were not disheartened, however, and eventually righted said dunny and began reconstructing it. After two weeks it had complete walls, a new roof, a repaired floor and a fresh coat of paint and was certainly a pleasing sight to behold.

In those short two weeks we learned a number of new skills for our CVs (and I still have scars to prove it) including barbed-wire fence repair, cheese-making, rooster-plucking, cow-chasing and dunny-repairing. It was a huge amount of fun, even when things didn't proceed quite as planned and we ended up running around in circles trying to catch animals. It was a fantastic new experience and we were both gutted that we eventually had to leave. If nothing else it was great to live in a proper home for a couple of weeks and it was amazing to be able to eat home-cooked fresh food every day (and help in the preparation) and we'd both love to go back some day.

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