Barraba

Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
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Where I stayed
Kate and Rob's Farm

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Thursday, January 13, 2011

We left Sydney and headed to Barraba, a small country town in New England. New England is an area inland full of rolling hills and farmland, 500km from Sydney. It took us all day to drive, passing through small country towns and countryside. We had never heard of Barraba so when we finally arrived in the town 8 hours later we weren't too sure what to expect! We had arranged to meet our HelpX host, Rob in Barraba at a friend of theirs place called Andy's Guest House. Barraba itself was tiny, one wide street with a few shops, most of them closed, with a few pubs mixed in for good measure! Barraba being in the middle of the countryside felt preety isolated as the nearest major town was over 100km away!

HelpX is this organisation we signed up for when we were in Darwin but never got the chance. HelpX is basically a scheme that allows backpackers to stay with an Australian family with free food and accommodation in exchange for 4 hours work per day on their property. The majority of HelpX hosts are in rural areas on farms but there is a wide range of different hosts. It is all online where you pay $20 membership which enables you look for hosts as the hosts advertise what they are looking for and have reviews and things, its a really good organisation.

From the host page we knew we were going to a hobby organic farm, 40km from Barraba and staying with a family called the Websters! We met Rob at Andy's Guest House and then followed him to his property. It was almost dark by this point so driving around the countryside was quite scary as there was kangaroos and cows all over the road but eventually we turned off to a dirt road and thought we couldn't be much further. Rob got out his car and told us we still had another 3km to go passing through streams and creeks and some serious steep hills. After a couple of kilometres the van gave up as the brakes got wet and were shuddering and the streams were too deep and rocky with some ridiciously steep hills we had no chance so we pulled over and drove the rest of the way with Rob.

We finally got the the farm house and were greeted by Kate, Rob's wife and their two children, Kaiden aged 9 and Ayla aged 13. There was also another helper there called Rao, a Japanese guy that couldn't speak a word of English, Rao only stayed for a few days as Kate and Rob found it too hard to communicate with him. A week or so later we were joined by a Scottish girl called Shavonne who was a good laugh but he rest of the time it was just us with the Webster's and their animals.

The Webster's live on a 1,000 acre property of virgin scrub land in the bush. When they first bought the property 9 years ago they had to build everything themselves including all the tracks, the dams and the house! The house was pretty much two caravans joined together by a wooden shed in the middle! They had done a great job of it though, the living area was great with a huge kitchen and it was all really homely and comfortable.

The only power source was from solar panels so electricity was very limited which was only used if it was a necessity. The drinking water was from a rain tank and the shower was water pumped from one of the nearby dams! The toilet was outside in the middle of the orchard, basically they just dug a hole and put a toilet over it, there was no doors no privacy or anything it took us a while to get used to that one!!

The house is in a river valley with the river only about 100 metres from the house. You actually have to cross the river a couple of times to get to the house! They had built a a good few dams around the property, each for a different purpose, one was for swimming, one was for fishing as they had stocked it with fish, one was for the shower water and others just to store water for watering the gardens and things.

In the middle of the property was a huge orchard where they grow all kinds of fruits. Next to the orchard is the massive vegetable patch and shade house where they grew everything! They had pumpkins, herbs, lettuce, onions, garlic, grapes, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, kiwis, capsicums, beetroot and loads more, they literally had everything in that vegetable garden, it was awesome!
They also keep a few animals which they kept mainly for eating. They had a small flock of sheep and one of the ewes had two lambs born on Christmas night! They had around 20 chickens they kept for eggs, and one duck who thinks he is a chicken! They have a cow who was almost ready to eat and two horses called Coco and Flash. The also had two wallabies called Emily and Eddy that wandered around the property as Kate had reared them from birth they were really tame. They also had a possum, two dogs, they were breeding mice to give to the rehabilitation centre to feed snakes and birds and kept yabbis caught from the river as fishing bait!

Kate and Rob's aim is to be totally self sufficient so make most of the food themselves. The majority of the fruit and vegetables are picked from the garden and all the meat is from their own animals they slaughter the animals themselves and then send them off to the local butchers to be cut into joints or made into mince and sausages, their meat is amazing better than anything you can buy. They also make their own bread and at weekends Kate would cook lots of cakes and treats! They even had there own herbal tea which tasted great and had over 70 different herbs in each brew!

The food was absolutely amazing though, we have never eaten so well. Kate was an amazing cook and to have all the ingredients so fresh was awesome. We ate so much as well. Each morning we would have a fruit salad, muesli and porridge for breakfast. Then at morning tea we would have something like pancakes with homemade jams, hard boiled eggs or cakes. Then at lunch we would have something like homemade burgers, salad, pasta, sausages, home made bread and then the best meal of the day was dinner! We would have spare ribs, lamb shanks, roast beef, roast lamb and best of all they Chris king size pigs in blankets one night! The food was so great.

We worked for 4 hours a day doing all kinds of work on the property. Em was mainly in the veggie patch working with Ayla and Kate digging potatoes, picking vegetables, planting new seedlings in the shade house, replanting the potatoes and strawing the soil. Em also helped a lot in the kitchen as Kate did all the cooking and made everything from strach so Em helped make the bread, cakes and all the meals. Em's other job was helping Kaidan feed the chickens each night and collect all the eggs.

Chris and Dan were doing the "manly" jobs. The property has 15 kms of tracks all made by Rob and his Bulldozer. One day there job was to clear the tracks of fallens treesand branches it was really hard work but a good laugh. The lads also did a lot of wood cutting, they did three huge piles whilst we were there, they collected the firewood each night for the camp fire and helped Rob building a table using the saw mill and sander. They also helped out in the veggie patch planting pumpkins, and spreading the straw.

They never worked us hard though and we never worked more than four hours each day. One day we all helped out catching the sheep to be wormed and then helped Rob shear one of teh sheep which was good fun. We always worked in the morning when it was cooler, we would have breakfast then work for 2 hours, have morning tea then do another two hours work. The rest of the afternoon was ours but we still helped out around the place with dinner and washing up and things.

We spent most of the afternoons with Ayla and Kaidan. We went swimming in the dam most afternoons to cool down. Ayla taught us how to ride the horses which was great. Kaiden taught us how to ride his dirt bike and we did some archery and played cricket. They were really fun kids and kept us active, we also did a bit of fishing with Kaiden in the fishing dam. One morning Chris caught two fish, a silver perch and a yellow belly.

Rob did a lot of work on our van for us too which was great. Our back brakes weren't working so he showed us how to realign our brakes, he tunned the engine and chnaged the spark plugs! Rob also gave Dan a driving lesson in the ute, Dan was a natural! We also saw loads  of huge spiders and snakes all round the farm, most of them were deadly ones!

We went into Barraba a couple of times once when Ayla and Kaiden went for their swimming lessons, we usually just went to the local pub with Rob and had a few beers and played some pool whilst looking for work. Rob had been making a table for one of his friends so the lads went to deliver the table, his friend lived in the middle of nowhere and on the way back to Barraba Rob ran over a wild pig which Chris and Dan had to help put in the back of the ute! We all met in the pub for a huge pizza and some beers afterwards and then Kate came back with an owl that had been injured.  Kate works for a rehabilitation centre so from time to time takes injured animals and looks after then until they are fit enough to be released.  

We didn't have to work on Sundays which was great as one Sunday Kate and Rob took us to the nearby Horton falls. It was a huge river valley just a few kms from their property. We went to a view point where you could see the waterfall n the middle of the valley it looked amazing. At the top of the falls was a swimming hole with a rope swing which was great fun. After an hour or two swinging and swimming we followed the river down the valley which openned out to some smaller pools where we did some fishing. We then went to the top of the waterfall which had some more awesome views of the valley.

In the evenings we always had an amazing dinner and then lit the camp fire in the garden. We usually played cards or darts and sat around talking and toasting marshmellows. We occasionally watched a film if there was enough electricity or smoked Rob's pipe with him.

We left after 10 days as we found work in the Hunter Valley starting a couple of days later picking grapes so Kate packed us up with a load of food and we set off. We were really sad to leave as we had such a brilliant time. Kate and Rob were awesome hosts and awesome people, they really made us feel like part of the family and were so kind and generous. The kids were great fun and taught us loads of new things, it was such a great experience and something completely different! It was fantastic to be in the bush, with a real Aussie family and have such a great time!
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