The month began with the threat of cyclone Debbie, we don’t get much time to watch TV here but our boss has the news on every morning, and the focus on the impending storm was intense. I’ll admit that despite the terrifying reality of being caught in a tropical cyclone, I was almost excited at the chance to experience one, and even more hopeful for rain as that would mean I wouldn’t have to water the grass for days! With cyclone Debbie looming, and the boys’ beer stash and smokes running low, Bossman drove into town and did a beer run, getting himself a few crates of 4X Gold, and myself and the boys were able to give him some money to get ourselves a crate of beer.
By the next week my hopes for rain were dashed when I greeted a visiting helicopter pilot and launched into conversation about the cyclone, “I’m hoping for rain!” I said, “Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you mate, but Debbie’s not going to hit here.” And with that I spent the rest of the month getting the hang of the watering routine, if you want a really good read about cyclone Debbie go and check out Mark Rambles On as he experienced it first hand!
Whilst Bossman went to Julia Creek to get beer and the new quad bike, Alex and Amanda took me to visit the yard. It was the first time I’d visited the yard properly, when I feed the animals the shed I drive to get the feed from is next to the yard, but a apart from seeing the boys walking around the cattle shouting “woo! Woo!” I had no idea what went on there. We climbed over the gate and went into the section where cattle are drafted, sorted into type of cow (by age and gender) and then branded, dehorned and castrated as necessary. As Alex and Amanda explained the different sections of the yard and how the process works, they told me to approach a lone white cow, stood by herself in one of pens. “Go on, see how close you can get to her.” I coolly walked towards the fence, where the cow was staring meanly from the pen, I must have got a mete away from her, when she suddenly charged forwards at the fence. I screamed aloud, whilst Alex and Amanda fell about laughing.
That weekend we headed to the Dirt n Dust festival at Julia Creek, a festival comprising of live music, bull riding, horse racing, a triathlon and a best butt contest. Yes, you read that right a best butt contest. It was our first weekend off in a month, and boy were we looking forward to a break from the farm, that first night I had a great time hanging out with Rafael and Nicolai, the constant stress of work 136km away from us, we drank and talked and laughed together. The next evening I spent time hanging out with one of my friends from Winton who happened to be there, we watched the bull ride together which was such an awesome experience. It was a very All-Australian event, including a prayer for the Bulls and the bullriders and singing the national anthem, as I stood looking solemn during the anthem, Dan looked at me as he belted it, what could I do? I didn’t know the words! There were about fifteen bull riders, and a few bulls who had never been ridden,that means a rider hasn’t been able to sit on them for the eight seconds which counts as a ride. It was honestly one of the most thrilling things I’ve watched in a long time, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Funny that bull riding has become my latest form of entertainment whilst working at a cattle station…
The next day we headed back to the station and I got right back to watering. That week I received a new Poddy to look after, his name was Dingo. Dingo had been bitten by a dingo and got an infection in the bite which had affected all of his legs, he’d somehow managed to walk from the yard to the Poddy pen when he was given to me to look after, but after settling in he was lame. After it became apparent that Dingo wasn’t getting any good as he wasn’t able to get to the food bun he was put in a pen by himself where I would bring food and water to him, he was a large cow, at first he lounged leisurely in the pen, and then took a turn for the worse lying on his side looking very woebegone indeed.
When I reported this back to my boss, Amanda was there too, “Have you been giving him water Holly?” “Yes,” I said and told her that with him lying down I wasn’t sure how to do it so I’d been pouring water at his mouth. “You have to pick his head up and put it in the bucket to make him drink.” Having only ever looked after a Guinea Pig before being responsible for a disabled cow was quite overwhelming. After a while there began talk of having Dingo shot, he wasn’t improving, ideally he’d start walking again but after a week he was still laying in the pen awaiting food, water and sympathy. One night I came back late from feeding the animals, and I’d left the Poddies till last, when I walked through Dingo’s pen to get to the Poddies I’d sighed as he was laying on his side as he had been when he was dehydrated the other day. I was tempted not to feed him, but told myself off for being lazy, and went and prepared his food.
I approached him with my bucket and a biscuit of hay, and put it down next to him. Dingo didn’t stir, “Dingo,” I cooed as I did with all the animals, “Dingo,” I said again tugging his ear. It was then that I wondered why he hadn’t blinked, I stroked and tugged him some more, realising he was dead, thinking I’d have to go and break the news to everyone. Then I used my phones torch to look at his head, there in the centre was a bullet hole.
It was Sunday and so Bosslady was on Skype to her folks, in my shock at Dingo being dead I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so I sorted out Mudgee’s food and went and fed him. When I came in later I asked how long Dingo had been dead for, Bosslady said about half an hour, “I just tried to feed him.” I told her and though I didn’t know it at the time this was to be the beginning of a series of unfortunate events involving animals in my care…
One day as I was preparing smoko I heard an odd exchange over the radio:
“Nicolai, take it back to Holly, tell her it’s not allowed inside the house.”
For some reason I thought one of the Walkie talkies had broken and it wasn’t allowed in the house due to signal interference. A little while later I heard my name called, I went to the door and there was Nicolai with a bird in his hand, apparently my job is cook, cleaner, gardener and general look-afterer of anything brought back to the house. I took the injured magpie from Nicolai and headed to the shed in search of a box to put it in, I found a box, put my welly boot on top and radioed Bosslady to check what she wanted me to do with it. “Put it in Mudgee’s house and give it water.” I went out to do just that and the bird had escaped the box, though the welly boot was on top still. I picked it up and put it in the hutch, calling it Welly Boot. Unfortunately Welly Boot didn’t make it through the day, I was just coming round to the idea of having a pet magpie too..
During mustering it’s common to have calves brought back if they lose their mothers or are considered weak, these calves are the Poddies I talk about and I got a whole new load in over the course of the muster. At first I had three: Buster, Bertie and Ee, Buster went on to dry food as he’s quite big, Ee took to milk straight away and Bertie struggled. Then I was walking across the drive one day and saw a calf sat on the grassy patch we call the round about, Bossman was watering the edges, “Uh is that calf meant to be there?” I said, “That’s for you, take it to the Poddy pen.” I untied it’s legs and led it back to the pen, with Nicolai and Rafael watching me in amusement, waiting to see if I’d lose my grip and have to chase the calf around the garden. The calf was newborn, still with her umbilical cord attached, which mere us worry she may not pull through as she may not have had colostrum from her Mum, we named her Stefan and thankfully she’s going strong. Finally a little while later Scooter was brought back during a muster, and then we had five calves to look after.
At first Amanda took charge ofthe calves as she had more experience than I did with looking after them, if they don’t take to the bottle straight away they can be hard to chase and coax into a corner to feed. What with everything else I had to accomplish in a morning, I didn’t fancy hysterically calling people on the radio after fifteen minutes chasing calves, and my colleagues didn’t fancy that either. Eventually the care of the calves was passed to me, and so begins my third tale of woe. Buster, Stefan and Ee are a sweet bunch of calves, Buster is older and playful, he moos loudly in the morning, and tried to eat my hair as I bottle fed Bertie, Stefan is a sweet little baby who goes around the other calves trying to drink from them, and Ee is a greedy thing. Then there was Bertie wouldn’t take to the milk, or life for that matter. He would sit down in the pen all day looking very forlorn, whenever I came to feed him I always found him in the same position. As he was sat down I didn’t have to chase him, instead I had to sit with my legs over him, and feed him a bottle of milk which occasionally involved massaging his tongue if he wouldn’t swallow by himself. Eventually he began swallowing, and I kind of enjoyed my time with him.
Then there was Scooter, she was brought to me quite late in the muster, and after being checked over by Amanda she was deemed very week and was a swallower too. I prepared her bottle and began feeding her. The day after she’d been brought in I found Scooter dead in the Poddy pen, at smoko I asked if I had to take her to the bone yard. I’d heard the guys talking about the bone yard but I didn’t know where it was. The guys gave me directions and told me I needed to take Scooter there as soon as possible or shed start to smell, she’d been lying in the pen over night.
I had struggled to lift her when she was alive and now she was dead I was looking forward to handling her even less. I went and got the wheelbarrow from the shed, and very clumsily picked her up and managed to get her into the wheelbarrow. I felt like a body snatcher. I took her down to the hills, where I lifted her into the boot and set off for the bone yard. I took the wrong turning, and had to come back, but eventually I saw the bones I had been told to look out for. I saw a carcass of another calf, and decided I would put Scooter near there.
I got out of the car, undid the back of the boot and pulled her towards me, attempting to lift her by the legs. I lost hold of her, and she landed on the ground, as something splatted me in the face from one of her orifices. Thank god for sunglasses is all I’ll say.
I grabbed her legs and dragged her to the tree, and left her there. As I drove out of the boneyard and back to the porter, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the land my bosses own is. I also had the thought “Wouldn’t it be ironic if Bertie was dead?” I got back to the property and immediately went and had a shower to wash the smell of death off of me.
After lunch, where I spent most of the time trying not to gag on my scrambled eggs, I went to give Bertie his midday bottle. I approached him and knew as soon as I saw him. He was dead. Luckily for him he looked like he was sleeping, Scooter he her eyes open and her tongue hanging out, looking like a prop for the London Dungeons. I had literally just washed the wheelbarrow, and put my clothes in the wash. I went and got the wheelbarrow, preparing myself for what would be my second trip to the bone yard.
As I made my way down the drive way, Nicolai was walking up it preparing the hills for a dump run, he saw Bertie’s legs sticking out of the wheelbarrow, “You killed another one?” he said smirking. By this point I was crying with the trauma of dealing with two dead calves, “it’s not funny!” I said the conversation echoing that of my first meltdown over the pancakes. “It’s natural,” he said softly and then offered to take Bertie along with the rubbish. I was spared a second trip to the boneyard and went back to watering.
I thought that was the last of my morbid encounters with animals, then as I was walking across the lawn to get ready to go to town, I stepped on something and heard a loud “peeeep!” It was a cane toad. Rafael looked up from the quad bike he was checking, “animal killer!” He said.
Mustering finally came to end and we were able to breathe a little easier without so much pressure, my job remained the same, and with the arrival of Bosslady’s friends in a couple of days I had to get the house in ship shape ready for them. At the end of the week we took an over night trip to Karumba, a beach town at the top of northern Queensland. Though it has a beach, the waters are home to salt water crocodiles so there’d be no paddling. It was exciting to get away and l was thrilled at the opportunity to visit another outback town. We walked along the beach at sunset as a group, enjoying each others company after the frenzy of mustering, and then had dinner and drinks overlooking the beach. The next day we drove to Normanton and visited the railway museum which was quaint, and then headed back to the property, just in time for me to feed the animals.
Our trip to Karumba was an excellent way to celebrate the end of mustering and to spend time together before Rafael, Alex and Amanda left. It was also a great way for me to finish my sixth month in Australia and time to reflect on my travels so far. I’m nearly two thirds of the way through my regional work, and am looking forward to planning the next steps. Although I spent the first half of my time on the farm in a flap, time has flown so quickly, and I’ve definitely learnt a lot from my experience. Next month I’ll be telling you all about exploring the property, being left on the farm with no one but a farm sitter for two weeks, and the Richmond Field Days and Saxby Round Up before as I finish my time in the outback.
Thanks for reading!
Until next time