The Wanderings Month 5: Calamity Holly

Just as I was beginning to settle in at my job in Winton, I was offered a job at a cattle station outside of Julia Creek, I’ve talked at length about the struggle to find regional work on here and lucky for me I was approached by a station that’s run by an English woman and her husband. I have to say that after a few weeks in the outback surrounded by Australians, it’s nice to be in the company of a fellow Brit.  

I accepted the job and had two weeks left in Winton, I couldn’t believe my luck but at the same time I was very sad to be leaving Winton. When I look back on my time in Winton now I can’t believe how I felt about leaving to how I felt when I arrived, on the coach to Winton I was absolutely petrified, why? Because I had no idea if the job was going to work out or whether I’d make it work, it was the point in my trip where I had to take a risk and it paid off. I guess that’s what makes Winton feel special now, the fact that it was never part of the plan, it wasn’t one of the places I had a prior awareness of, it just so happened that I found the ad on gumtree and as the dinosaur capital of Australia my curiosity got the better of me and I’m so glad I took that chance. I learned a lot from making myself go there and giving it a go, and I learned that great travel truth of things not going to plan is not always a bad thing, embracing the unexpected is part and parcel of backpacking and my time in Winton was worth it.

I felt very emotional about leaving, and as it’s a small town it wasn’t long before all my locals knew that I was heading off. I got really sucked into the small town and so telling a couple of my favourite regulars was difficult, it seems melodramatic, I was only there for six weeks but in that time I learned a lot about the Australian outback. The tight community vibe is what really got me, particularly when it came to an elderly man called Paddy, I’ve spoken about him before and he’s appeared in my outback barmaid diaries, he’s eighty years old and suffers from dementia, every morning he gets dropped off in town and he moves around from bench to bench, shop to bar to café, and came into the Gregory most days for a can of coke. One day I was chatting to him on my morning off and suddenly a lady appeared out of nowhere with a cup of pills for him to take, “Here’s your medicine Paddy!” She was a community nurse who had the task of finding him at the right time to give him his meds. It made me think of home and about how the elderly are treated there, here Paddy still has some semblance of independence as he’s able to meander around Winton all day, he comes in and asks after friends who may have died some years ago, and a couple of times he has come to the bar and asked for a biscuit or a sandwich. He’s a confused old man, and yet everyone treats him well, and listens to what he has to say, I enjoyed hearing his stories about picking up girls from around the corner for “business” and I also enjoyed watching the way the locals looked out for him. Another thing that I liked about my time in Winton was how much I learned about Australian history, first of all I got to learn about dinosaurs – I had no idea that there were dinosaurs in Australia! However the workers history is what really interested me, in particular the fact that if farmers found dinosaur bones on their property they would destroy them in order to stop their land being taken away for excavations. It seems crazy, until you realise that it’s a dog eat dog world in the outback, and anything that threatens a farmers work has to be dealt with. Out here the workers have to look out for themselves, they work hard and they work even harder to make things work, and I found it humbling.

On one of my last days off I overheard a couple of regulars talking about pigging, pigging is wild boar hunting, it’s a pretty big outback pastime and as the wild boars are a pest like Kangaroos, men go out pigging in their spare time. I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy it, but I thought it’d be an interesting experience nonetheless. The plan was to help Lawrence muster his cattle at a property called Gameda, and then go pigging. We met up at 7am and went off to the property, the three men were riding motorbikes and I was given a quad bike to ride. It was the first time I’d ever ridden a quad bike, and it was quite an experience. Lawrence gathered us together and drew a plan of the paddock in the dirt with a stick, apart from serving him stubbies of Great Northern when I was working behind the bar, I hadn’t seen what he did on a daily basis and seeing him draw this plan and direct us on what to do was eye opening. I was told to follow the fence until I hit a corner and then go north, “North is that way,” he said gesturing to the right, “the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, you’re not in the pub now Holly.”

I set off and came across Dig whose motorbike had broken down, he sat on the back of my quad and I rode along some more before the terrain became rough and I crashed into a small tree. This was enough to scare Dig and make him want to take control, so I ended up spending the rest of the day clinging on the back of the quad and being driven around the paddock. The mustering failed, with Dig’s motorbike broken down, Pagey not responding to radio calls (Walkie talkies are used to communicate whilst gathering cattle) Lawrence was alone mustering his cattle. In the end he managed to group them in bunches, but gave up and told us he’d have a helicopter come by next week to help. We headed back to the property eating corned beef sandwiches and discussing how I was going to get to Julia Creek the following week. Later that night I thanked Lawrence for taking me to Gameda and giving me the chance to see what mustering entailed, “I’m glad I can go to this property and say I have an idea of what work they do out there.” “You have no idea,” he said “and don’t tell them you’re a Jillaroo either, you’ve been employed as a cook so just stick with that, if they ask you to muster with them and you can’t stay in position you’ll get in trouble. If you don’t know how to do something, say so and then someone will show you how to do it.” And with that advice in mind I left him to it.

My last night in Winton is a bit hazy when I try and remember it. I remember going to Tatts and challenging Amy to make me a Cherry Ripe cocktail, Amy is the queen of cocktails and has an extensive menu, Lauren the English backpacker who works there suggested she add pornstar martini to the menu, bringing London chic to Winton. After discussing what alcohol could be used to make a cherry ripe flavour cocktail, Amy whipped me up the most flamboyant looking cocktail ever, and after some feedback made me a second one with some variations to the recipe. Afterwards I ventured back to the Gregory where I drank rum and ginger beer, played pool and then was treated to a round of wet pussy shots and a toast to “Miss Holly” by my manager Ben. I can’t remember saying goodbye to people that night, and needless to say I was very hungover the next day. I got a lift to Cloncurry was dropped off at the library, where I waited for my new boss and tried and failed to nap subtly.

“Most importantly I need someone who’s not going to freak out,” she’d said on the phone when she’d explained the job to me, “you’ll be left alone quite a lot, I need someone who if they see a job that needs doing they do it, we work as hard as we play, but the work is hard I’m not going to lie.” After working in Winton I thought I was prepared for anything, on occasion I’d pulled twelve hour split shifts, and the landlady had commented on how I’d still be smiling. My work at the cattle station warrants a whole blog post in itself and it is coming, but in a nutshell I cook and clean for 7 people everyday, starting at 6am with breakfast and finishing after 8pm with dinner. I also have to feed the orphaned animals, and maintain the garden with a strict watering regime. I work with two French and Belgian backpackers who are Jackaroos, Rafael and Nicolai, my bosses are a married couple and will be referred to as Bossman and Bosslady on here. Bossman was brought up in this station and is firm but fair, he has a great sense of humour and even did a beer run for us when we thought Cyclone Debbie was going to hit, Bosslady came here a few years ago as part of “World Changers” (something like work away) and in Bossman’s words “changed his world” and they have a baby boy who does the funniest wet farts. Bosslady is superwoman, she gets up looks after her baby and musters and looks out for each and every one of us at the station, even though we whinge and moan a lot, she always listens to us and makes us laugh. Bosslady’s sister and her boyfriend, Amanda and Alex are also staying here. Then there are the animals, there’s a wallaby called Mudgee, a cat called Gremlin, two dogs JD and Diva, Poddies who are orphaned cows, chickens, pigs, sheep and eight thousand head of cattle.

I’ve been here for three weeks now, and I’ve found it easier to settle in to the job here, than I did in my first weeks in Winton. The work is completely different, it is hard and I am constantly busy, in fact everyone that works here is constantly busy, there is always something to do and as we’re mustering at the moment things are pretty hectic. My work requires a level of discipline, diligence and organisation that I’ve never experienced before, I seem to always have a timer set on my phone for sprinkler rotations, refilling the water tank, or taking a break. Not to mention the fact the work is very physical, in the morning I’m on my feet cooking, then in the afternoon I have to shift massive hoses and lift hay bales and feed bags in the evening. Sometimes I can’t get to sleep because my feet hurt, and my hands ache. It is hard, but that doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying it, in fact I’m growing to love the changing nature of the job as I am continuously thrown out of my comfort zone, I like that I wake up and have a rough idea of how the day is going to go and I quite enjoy always having something to do, it makes a difference from scrolling mindlessly through Facebook.

So how have I been getting on with my job? Well it’s had its ups and downs for sure and I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the funnier incidents as I’ve got to grips with farm life. I imagine a lot of people at home couldn’t imagine me working on a farm, and to be honest neither could I before I came here, but now I’m here there’s something about getting all these jobs done that makes me look forward to the day ahead. I’ve completely thrown myself into work here, with a determination that has resulted in some pretty hilarious stories, Bosslady said the other day “It’s like a comedy show, I’ve never seen someone try so hard to get things right and yet have so many things go wrong, you’re like a mad woman,”

It started on my second day at the cattle station, and after being shown how to do the majority of my jobs the day before, I was going to be left to it as the rest of the day. Although I had managed to get off to a flying start by making mini pizzas and lemon drizzle cake for smoko on my first day, the second day I felt completely overwhelmed, I began crying at breakfast and continued all day. Bosslady knew that I could manage it but suggested things I could make for smoko, lunch and dinner. “Pancakes are always a winner,” she said, Rafael had requested them at dinner the other night and I had fancied establishing myself as the best cook ever by cooking people’s favourites, “you don’t have to cook them until just before we arrive so you can get on with prepping lunch and dinner, don’t worry you’ve got this.”

Fast forward a couple of hours and I had heated up the hot plate and was preparing to make pancakes, I had heard everyone start to pull up and so I began cooking, I poured some mixture onto the hot plate and as I went to toss the first two, Nicolai walked in. I grabbed a spatula and tried to flip the pancake only to find it was stuck to the hot plate. Nicolai laughed as he watched, at which point I burst into tears and hysterically said “get the fuck out!” At this point I started sobbing, and Nicolai came over and said “Holly, Holly it’s okay, go and take five.” I grabbed the toastie maker which I’d been told could be used for smoko emergencies and took it to the Fernhouse. I came back to the kitchen where Nicolai had taken over making pancakes, I grabbed two frying pans in order to speed things up. Eventually we ended up with a plate of the grimmest looking pancakes ever made, most of which were cooked by Nicolai whilst Bosslady tried to console me on the couch, “Do you know how long I spent crying when I first started here?” She said, “weeks! You’ve just got to believe in yourself more.”

My next meltdown came a couple of weeks later when it transpired that I hadn’t been doing the watering properly. The gardens surrounding the homestead need watering on the daily, with a strict schedule that must be adhered to involving pop ups and sprinklers, it’s my job to carry out the watering schedule, to move bore hoses and sprinklers and to hand water certain areas as well as any dry spots that emerge. I had told Bosslady over and over that I was struggling to get it right, and it all came to head when both Bossman and Bosslady noticed I hadn’t been rotating the sprinklers often enough or hand watering the edges enough. I had got soaked by the inside pop ups, and was trudging around in boots making a squelching sound when Bosslady said she’d show me again where I needed to water. On hearing the sound of my soggy boots as I walked, she offered me her wellies, which also got wet because of my wet socks. I followed her as she showed me the places I’d spent two hours watering the day before (whilst making the boys endure two hours of me singing along to songs on my phone). “Breathe Holly,” Bosslady said as she finished showing me where I needed to water, at this point I launched into a rant about how I’d been doing this all already finished with “I fucking hate this grass.” I think Bosslady had to stop herself from laughing at this point. Everyone else left for the yard and I was left stewing as I furiously watered the edges again, I was still there when they got back at which point Bosslady told me to go and shower. “No!” I said “I need to finish this, I’ll just have to do it again tomorrow!” At this point I was committed to being a martyr. “You’ll have to do it tomorrow anyway, come on Holly it’s just grass.” “I know! That’s what I think everyday!” I cried as I stalked off with the hose, apparently the rest of the staff observed my ranting and raving from the shed, and the sight of me in a soaking wet shirt and soggy wellies was a very funny one to say the least.

One morning as I was about to put smoko out in the Fernhouse when Bosslady appeared at the door, “How do you fancy helping to move some cattle? You’ll have to be quick.” I ran off to put jeans and boots on, before running out to meet Bosslady out the front. I got on the quad bike and attempted to reverse out of the drive, and went to meet Nicolai and Rafael. I was told I would be helping Nicolai and I needed to stay at the back, we were mustering cattle, moving them from one paddock to another, along what was called the stock route. It was my first time helping out on a muster and it was amazing to be working with the boys and getting to see what they do on a daily basis. There was dust everywhere and cows moving away from the roaring quads, we pushed them through fields and led them through gates, riding the quads to speed them up and keep them together. At one point we reached a paddock where the cattle needed to go straight ahead but instead when to the left, I rode my quad around to try and keep the cattle together when all of a sudden I heard my name being called, it was Rafael waving and crossing his arms over motioning for me to stop. I stopped, eventually he came over, parking his quad next to mine “Holly, we need to hold the cattle. When I do this it means stop.” He said doing the same crossing arm wave he’d done earlier, “When I do this it means hold.” He lifted stretched his arms out and bent over his two fore fingers. “If you keep pushing the cattle they’ll go in the opposite direction and then you’ll undo all the work we’ve done.” We carried on and I continued to hold back as I was unsure of what to do or whether I was doing the right thing at all.

We came to a small field, Rafael came over the sun protecting brim of his helmet flapping in the wind and his orange sunglasses lenses glinting in the sun, making him look like some kind of terminator shepherd. He explained that we needed to hold the cattle again which meant not going anywhere near them unless any left the group, only then was I to do anything. I thought I was doing as I was told, as I sat there and then rode my bike slightly closer to keep the cattle together, but then Rafael appeared at my side again. “Holly, stop, you’re getting too close. Don’t move your bike, if you need to move go backwards.” As I switched off my quad, making myself redundant, I realised I am not a Jillaroo in the making. 

 It’s fair to say it’s been a little rocky here, and what with all the weird and wonderful incidents of getting used to farm life, I’ve found myself feeling like Lauren Juliff. There are a few more funny stories to be told, but I think I’ve landed on my feet coming here. I’ve secured my regional work and to top it off I am working with an amazing team, we’ve been mustering for the past three weeks that I’ve been here which is really intense. Everyone is working hard and giving 100% and though I’m not out at the yard, I feel like I’m part of something special here. Everyone is tired, everyone is sore, everyone wishes they could have a lay in, but there’s work to be done and we get on with it and though some days are harder than others we all find time to have a laugh about it at the end of the day. Station life is a mixture blood, sweat and tears,which is why I am so excited for this weekend as I am going to the Dirt and Dust festival with my colleagues and I can’t wait to see what an Outback music festival is like!

Until next time,

Thanks for reading



2 thoughts on “The Wanderings Month 5: Calamity Holly

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