My 88 days was a crazy experience of extreme highs and lows, and learning a whole lot about life, animals and hard work. Having come to the end of my regional work it’s been fun to reflect. As I enjoy my freedom drinking copious amounts of beer and catching up with old friends, I thought it would be fun to share some of the highlights from my time as a station hand, though stay tuned the lowlights and other helpful posts about my 88 days will follow…
The most obvious highlight to start with, not because I had planned to leave the day after which some backpackers do, but because I did it, I got to day 88 even though there were days when I thought I wouldn’t.
I think it was day 44 when I found myself crying into the steering wheel of the hilux outside the hay shed, for some reason or another the day had taken a downhill turn and I was struggling to pick myself back up. I had driven to the shed and had to pick up a hay bale to feed the sheep and horses, I had to pick up hay every other day, but that day I just didn’t want to. It wasn’t just that I didn’t want to pick up the bale, it was because my work for the day still wouldn’t be over.
I still had to: pick up the bale, drive to the feed shed and fill two buckets up with pig feed, before feeding the pig and sheep, refill water troughs and the pigs’ mud bath, drive to the horse pen, feed the horse, drive back to the homestead, feed the Poddies, prepare their milk, wait for them to finish their milk, clean up, put dinner in the oven, put Mudgee away, shower and then return to the homestead and set up dinner, have dinner, wash up, feed Mudgee, meal plan for the following day and go to bed.
I had done that for forty four days, and I’d have to do it forty four more times over, and that day I just didn’t want to anymore. Getting used to living and working on a station had been hard, and now reaching the half way point where I thought the struggle would be over, I found it harder than ever. Why hadn’t the pressure eased? Why didn’t I feel like I had got the hang of it yet? I still found myself wishing I had someone to help, when I knew this was my job, and I could do it alone. Forty four days in and it still felt overwhelming. I’d literally have rather been anywhere else, I think I closed my eyes for a moment and willed that I would find myself on the bus out of Julia Creek, where would I go? Anywhere but here. I don’t know how long I sat there for, but at some point I stopped crying, and found myself getting out of the car, picking up the bale and continuing my jobs for the day. It was like an out of body experience, I got up and did it and I did again the next day and the next day.
My time on the cattle station wasn’t always that testing, but that day sticks out in my mind because somehow I overcame the demons in my head that wanted to give up. I seriously thought about quitting, because it felt like I was going to come to the end of my time at the farm having spent the entire time moaning, crying, whinging and bitching about how hard it was all the time. At the end of the day I was just a backpacker working for my second year visa, but I wanted so much more from the experience and if I hadn’t felt as though I’d gained anything from the experience midway through would I ever get there?
And then I got to day 88, mustering was over, the other workers had left and I was the sole backpacker working on the station. The pressure had eased, and though the days were still often inconsistent, things were running a lot more smoothly. In the end it felt like day 88 crept up on me, and when it came I didn’t feel like I deserved a medal, it didn’t require a massive fanfare, instead the prize was that it was behind me and I had done it. To me farm work was my Everest, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done and yet I did it. I did it!
(Celebrating Day 88 with a beer, covered in mud, hay and cow shit after a hard day’s work)
Visiting Euroka and the old homestead
After mustering ended the pace of work slowed down and with my boss’ friends visiting from the UK there was an opportunity to explore the property. For the first two months I’m pretty sure I never ventured further than a 5km radius from the homestead, my duties were limited to driving to the top shed to get hay for the sheep, and I was required to go much further. As a result even though I knew the property was 250,000 acres, I had no idea what that meant until my boss invited me on a drive as she gave her friends a tour of the station.
The property I worked for was bought by my boss’ grandfather in 1947, he didn’t technically buy it, but won it through a land lottery, at the time the government had taken land off the big landowners and divided the properties up, awarding them to people who gave £10 into a lottery. A few years after buying the property, the family bought Euroka a property on the northern boundary, and later some land from the neighbouring property Millungera. First we drove to the remains of a Homestead that predated Euroka (though no one could tell me when the Euroka homestead was built), there were the remains of a motorcar which my boss’ friend said was a 1930s model, it had rusted away over time but was still there from when the owners had left, abandoning it or leaving it behind when the homestead was moved to its current position, nobody knew for certain.
There was also the remains of a fireplace with a stove still inside, proof that the kitchen is the beating heart of the homestead, then we walked over to what was thought to be the staff quarters, another stove lay there and also a mess of broken bottles. This tickled me as I thought of my nightly beer, I had joined centuries of station workers and knew the joy of that hard earned drink.
After that we visited the Euroka homestead, which still stands though in a slightly dilapidated state. It hasn’t housed a family for years, save a helicopter pilot and pig hunters in the 1980s. Unlike the current homestead, the Euroka house is a traditional Queenslander style house with a veranda that circles the entire top floor. You enter the house by going up the stairs and through the doors at the front. It was a beautiful house, and my bosses hope to restore it in the future.
Again it was the trip to the staff quarters that I most enjoyed, there on the back of the door was graffiti left by workers in the late eighties. Being the history geek that I am, this is the stuff that really gets me going. At university I studied the graffiti at Pompeii, and I found it funny that those who wrote it did it carelessly, expecting it to be seen, but the memory would be lost on those who saw it. The graffiti outlasts the person, and I guess no one expects graffiti to last, there’s always a chance it will be covered up and lost. Seeing the workers’ graffiti at Euroka brought that thought back to me, these weren’t backpackers who left their mark, but Australians and Aboriginals who worked here.
I know that the family I worked for started hiring backpackers in 1983 and that I was the 61st backpacker to work at the property, and though my time at the property was short, to be part of the history felt amazing.
When I researched the job cattle station cook, one blog told me to prepare to work alone a lot, what I didn’t expect was to be left alone on the property for three weeks! That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but in the middle of May my bosses went on holiday to the UK and I was left to look after the farm alongside Duncan, the farm sitter.
It was towards the end of my 88 days that I was left to look after the farm, and once my bosses left and I didn’t have so many people to cater for or wash up after, it dawned on me just how much work I got done during mustering. Though it took a while to adjust to no one being around apart from Duncan and I, I really enjoyed my time alone on the farm. I got to learn all about the history of the property from Duncan who had worked on the farm when he was 16 and now runs one of the other properties my bosses’ family owns. I also got to go out and try my hand at floodgating, which made a change from watering the grass!
Training the new boys
After my bosses returned from holiday it was time to hire new backpackers, and with it brought the joys of sorting through endless gumtree ads until we found two new boys to work at the station. It just so happened that my bosses had to go and pick up a new horse the day after the boys arrived and so I was left in charge of the new recruits, all I had to do was show them the jobs I did in a day and get them to help.
I really enjoyed my first experience of ‘training’ the new guys, and as I rattled off various rules and why we do this that way and not any other way, I relished being able to share what I had learned during my time at the farm. It was whilst I was feeding the poddies and explaining how I am surprised at how attentive I’ve become to the animals’ needs that I worry if I haven’t seen an animal do a poo for a few days, that I saw a look of astonishment… or perhaps bewilderment on the new boys’ faces. Here I was, a backpacker just like them, confidently explaining how to make milk for poddie calves after showing them how to feed a wallaby, chickens, and a goat.
It was then that I really understood how far I’d come in terms of my job, as I had finally mastered them after ages of thinking I never would. I explained to them that I realised I was getting better at looking after animals when my boss asked fewer and fewer questions when I reported back to her at the end of the day. I honestly hope the boys have the same experience I did, becoming capable of things they never thought they’d do.
And finally, there was Kelso.
On the way back from the Richmond field days, my boss stopped off at Corella Creek to pick up a new ram, I wasn’t originally going to get out of the car, but the post office was so rundown and ramshackle that I wanted to get a photo of it. My boss came out of the farm and said ‘Holly! Come here!’ excitedly. At first I saw a baby goat who was chocolate brown, skipping and jumping everywhere, we learned he was called Choco and had already been sold. Then there was another goat, called April after the backpacker who’d been feeding it. A quick check by my boss revealed that April wasn’t a baby girl, but a baby boy goat, and so he needed a new name.
He was newborn, with his umblicial cord still attached and oh was he cute. My boss bought him for $50 and he came home with us. At first he was allowed to live in the house, though we put a nappy on him to stop him from peeing on the floor, which didn’t work, he needed to be fed every two hours, and he fell asleep at my feed as I stood at the sink to wash up.
He thought I was his mummy, and followed me around everywhere and would cry as soon as I was out of sight. The first time I put him in his cage so that I could go off and do some work, he cried until he was hoarse.
Before I worked on the cattle station I wouldn’t describe myself as an animal lover, and even when I began working here it took me a while to warm up to the animals, as my “The Wanderings Month 6: Animal Killer” post would suggest. Because of the pressure mustering put on my daily schedule, I found it hard to bond with the animals, besides Mudgee and especially the poddies. It wasn’t until the pigs surprised me by having a litter of fourteen piglets, where I became obsessed with the runt that I named Iggle, that I began to care for the animals, as in more than just turning up to feed them, checking they were okay and going off to do the rest of my job.
Kelso was something different, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a bond with an animal like I had with Kelso. It broke my heart to leave him when I left my job at the station, as I cuddled him one day I whispered “You won’t remember me being your mummy will you?” which seems demented I know, and even more ridiculous when I cried saying goodbye to him on my final morning. Kelso will have loads of people caring for him throughout his life now, but I am pretty pleased to think of myself as his first mummy. I honestly loved letting him out three times a day to follow me when I fed the calves, did the watering and even took him on a trip to meet the piglets. To be able to walk a few paces ahead and turn my head to see him eagerly trying to keep up a few paces behind brightened my last month at the farm, and to have him fall asleep in my arms in the morning as I watched the poddies drink milk is one of the sweetest memories I have of him.
So there you have it, just a few of my personal highlights from my 88 days regional work which were an emotional rollercoaster that paid off in the end, and in so many more ways than just a sign off for my second year visa.
Finished your 88 days? Let me know some of your highlights in the comments below!