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Trip Start Sep 19, 2002
129Trip End Sep 22, 2003
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We were picked up at the Rockhampton YHA at 0630 by Mick who could have stepped right out of an episode of the Flying Doctors or something! He spoke out of the side of his mouth and wore a cowboy hat and a check shirt and complained about having to work too hard. He was new on the farm having moved there from his own place in the middle of Oz due to the drought and was fascinated by people travelling as he'd never been out of Queensland or New South Wales.
On arrival at the farm about 1.5 hrs later, we were struck by how much it looked the Australia on the telly that we had rarely seen so far. Miles and miles of pasty looking scrub and rich red soil with trucks or utes driven by scowling weathered old men. We jumped out of the minibus at the camp kitchen which was a large pergola with tables, fridges, sinks and work surfaces etc, where people were sat around having brekkie. However, our attention was taken by our first farm animal - "chook". No, not a chicken, although he did look like one, a plucked one in fact. Chook is a yellow crested cockatoo who has had no feathers at all for 3 years due to disease and looks a very sorry sight and very comical as he has one yellow plume feather which makes it look like he's dressed up as a red indian! Olive, the mum, offered us tea and coffee which we made with water from the billy can (a cast iron kettle which hangs over an open fire) which was a new experience for us, and Phil cooked us some toast using a piece of wire with a curly end which held the bread and he swung it over the logs until it was done. We soon began to notice the abundance of wildlife on the farm but these animals were unlike we have on the farms in England. There was a baby kookaburra which they are feeding with bits of snake and a few orphaned kangaroos, including two (Santa and Johan Sam) that are small enough to still be fed with the bottle and need constant petting. Santa is only 8 months and he hangs in a shoe bag (to silumate his mother's pouch) on a meat hook in the camp until people are ready for a cuddle or it's time to feed. He sits there sucking his toe and sleeping and snuffling like a human baby (except less demanding!)
But there was no time to coo over the baby as it was time to put on our working clothes. The farm provides old shirts and trousers, riding boots and cowboy hats for you to use and we excitedly put them all on and immediately felt and looked the part - except for Phil who couldn't find a stetson big enough to fit his head! We went out to the back of the farm buildings and saw the stalls of horses that we would be riding that morning. They have 32 in total so there is plenty of scope to find one who fits your capabilities. Phil was partnered with Speckles and the two boys soon hit it off as neither one wanted to go very fast. I had Echo who unfortunately had very short legs and therefore a quick gait, which made our journey very bouncy and sore on my inexperienced bottom (yes, despite all it's padding!) It was interesting to see the differences between the riding at home and here, things like the saddles which are stock saddles for mustering cattle and have different girths (the bit that holds it on the horse) and they are quite curvy. The horses also respond better when left alone unless there is something happening, whereas in England you always have contact. We are also used to riding in a line and doing what the horse in front does, which is why Phil doesn't like riding much at home. Not here though. Once we were out of the gate it was every man for himself and we wandered about across the bush sometimes 6 abreast all going in different routes. Myella cattle farm land is 2 kilometres by 5 kilometres so we had acres of space to play and we found a good spot to test our riding skills and get the new people (us) used to our mounts. We tried some different paces and going over logs etc and then some figure 8's against the clock where we had people in stiches. I got confused as to which trees we were using and got disqualified and on Phil's turn he shouted "Go on Speckles, ride like the wind!", to which Speckles snorted and slowed down to a plod!
Further into the bush we began spotting many many kangaroos, some as big as Phil, all hopping about and enjoying life and we could see the great extent of the farm land we had available to us. We stopped again at another flat scrubless paddock and played some more and Phil was soon cantering about with the experienced riders and getting into the swing of things (although he was holding on for dear life!) After about 2.5 hours we headed back and I could feel the aches and pains starting as our bodies got used to being in the saddle again but it was definitely an exhilerating experience to have so much land to speed around on. We untacked the horses and washed them down before turning them all out back into the expanse of fields where they spend most of the their time. We were then left a bit confused as to what we were supposed to do next but the options were to have a shower (which we did) or to have a quick dip in the pool before lunch.
Lunch was an abundance of salads and cold meats and a bit of stew if you wanted something hot (cos it was only 32 degrees in the shade!) Pete (the Dad) explained that we should drink water down in one go and it therefore shouldn't be too cold as this confuses the body into thinking it is refreshed and that's how you get dehydrated. By the end of our stay we were well aquainted with this lecture!!! During lunch I kept feeling someone scratching my leg and looked down to find one of the joeys demanding a feed. Bottle feeding a baby kangaroo who sits in you arms like a human baby and who believes you are it's mum it's a wonderful experience and I saw many chaps getting all gaga over him during our stay. After lunch we had to collect the eggs from the chooks which involved throwing salad into the pen when you open the door so as to stop them getting out. Unfortunately I didn't throw the stuff far enough and a few of the chickens had beetroot juice dripping off them! We found the eggs in the milk churns on their sides but there was still a chook in one which Pete told us pull her out by the head as she was too clucky. Phil pulled her her neck got longer and longer until I thought it would break but she eventually gave up and we got 14 eggs in total. Next it was time to collect wood for the fire and we piled into the back of a ute to drive to a paddock where there was some dead wood for us. We noted the temperature here was 40 degrees and were glad we brought water and our wide brimmed hats. We also had to collect bugs (cockroaches, scorpions etc) in the rotting logs for the kookaburra but we didn't find any scorpions (oh well never mind eh?) 5 English people all willing the bugs into the container is a funny site but the boys soon got all macho and started pushing them in with sticks while Claire (another guest) and I ran around screaming and hopping from foot to foot.
The next activity was the motorbikes which they use to help round up the horses and the cattle. So with a little instruction we were off on our 100cc agricultural bikes zooming up and down the tracks around the farm. Phil had never been on a bike before but managed to get the hang of it really quickly. Therefore, with the riding, there is now nothing I can do that he can't! We rode out to a gap in the trees and sat on a log looking out across the bush at a fantastic sunset and felt tired but really happy with our first days farm experience. Back at the camp we had our third shower of the day and settled down to a fab meal of good Aussie bush tucker - loads of veg, white sauce and a cut of meat they call corned beef which is as far away from the corned beef we are used to as a sausage. After a glass of Ken's homebrew (the son), we fell into bed in our air conditioned room and slept like absolute logs.
The next day we were up and about early to milk the cows. Buttercup and Naomi Campbell are the two cows on shift at the moment to provide all the milk the farm needs (the other milk cows are used to feed the calves). I hadn't really thought about it the day before but the milk we used for our drinks etc had gone straight from the cow to the fridge (which is why there was no skimmed milk available!) I got the hang of milking straight away and managed a steady stream from 2 udders. I asked Mick if you could get all of the milk out of one udder or whether there were 4 compartments. He replied that a cow had 4 compartments, therefore 4 nipples the same as I had two compartments and nipples and pointed to my chest!! When I recounted this story to Lynn (the daughter) later at lunch she just put her head in her hands. Claire also had a go a milking but managed to kick the bucket over as she stood up to show Mick her proud acheivements. There was a gasp followed by silence as we all looked on in horror, expecting a grumble from the old farm hand. She said "Don't worry, I'm leaving today!" and he laughed a big bellow and we were all relieved.
Phil and I concocted a fantastic breakfast on the open fire using the wonderful fresh eggs from the hens. Phil had fried egg in bread and I had a cheese and tomato omellette and somehow it all tasted better knowing how fresh the ingredients were. Soon it was back onto the horses as we had to check the water for the cattle and immediately my bottom started to hurt again. This was after another palava trying to get on in the first place as I have no propulsion in my knees. We rode out to wallaby hill to give us fantastic views over the land and checked the welfare of the Brahman cattle which are growing steadily. At the hill is a mound of stones where a time capsule is buried and everyone who goes there has to add another stone. This meant getting off and Mick had to help me back into the saddle again which was even more of a palava than before as there was nothing for me to stand on so he had to lift me. He then commented to the group that he had lifted sheep and he had lifted bales of hay, but I was the heaviest thing he had ever lifted. He then asked what I weighed - about 9 stone? I didn't know whether to be pleased or offended as I'm actually about 11.5 stone! On the way back I was so sore and achy that I just wanted to get off and decided to try a different horse the next day. When we got back we all jumped in the pool to try and get some life back in our achy bones before lunch and to cool off a bit in the intense heat. After lunch we collected another 14 eggs and got a stray hen back into the pen which was really funny as we were all falpping our arms and chasing it around for ages. Then we all just chilled out and it was time for some of the guests to leave as most people do a 2 night / 3 day package (which for $240 all inclusive including transfers is a bit of a bargain) although many people stay on and one chap stayed for 38 days!! Phil went out on the bikes again and I got back into the pool as I was very stiff. More veg for dinner and a lovely lasagne and I feel I have become addicted to pumpkin which is eaten as often as potatoes. We then had to go out and pump the water from the creek as we were getting low so we went out in the ute to start the pump in the field. Lynn showed us a hole in the ground which was covered in black dots and suddenly they all started to move - they were meatants!! These ants can eat a mouse down to a skeleton within 2-3 hours so we all jumped back in the ute a bit quick slapping our legs.
On our last day we got up early again as we knew there would be a lot to do with many of the guests gone. We milked the cows and I gave Patch the calf his bottle but when we had finished he put his head between my legs and pushed me up from behind to let me know he wanted more. After a quick brekkie we headed straight out to the horse stalls to wait for Mick who had rounded them up from the land on his motorbike. Suddenly loads of horses appeared and we had to shout and wave at them to get them into the stalls. What followed was like a scene from Laurel and Hardy as we chased the horses around and they escaped each time we turned our backs. At one stage we had 5 horses in one stall and when Mick came back with the remaining horses he just shook his head and walked away laughing. It can get quite scary when you have 32 horses all trying to avoid going where you want them to and when we turned out the ones we didn't need they sped off with dust and hooves flying. We still had to feed them all though which involved mixing 4 different feed types together with water and then handing them around. Doing this for 32 horses in that heat was really hard work and we were tired before we had even gone out riding! As we were now the experienced ones, we helped the new guests find all their gear etc and I opted to ride a horse called Mick oddly enough, who was much bigger and easier on the bum. Lynn and Mick the man were dying to see me get on this taller horse but I swung into the saddle with ease(using a ladder) and thoroughly enjoyed our ride together. Phil was jumping on and off Speckles and riding around as if he'd been riding for years and he looked like he was really enjoying himself. We played a lot that day just speeding around the land and doing jumps etc. We did some more timed figure 8's and I came second after a girl who had beeing riding for 16 years and Phil came 3rd!!
Again we jumped into the pool when we got back and Phil and I sadly packed up our stuff. I fed Santa for the last time and put him on the grass for a play as he should be out more now but he wouldn't let go of my leg as he was a bit scared so we put him back in his bag again. After lunch Lynn took us on a tour of the farm and asked if there was anything else we wanted to do. As there was no mustering or branding to be done, I asked if she could arrange for a calf to be born but the next one is not due till October. After some lovely anzac biscuits it was time to leave and I got all sad and cried as I didn't want to leave this fantastic place where we had felt so at home, slept and eaten so well and had such a fantastic and unusual experience. Lynn then said that she would name the calf after me if it's a girl!
Back in Rockhampton we discussed all the things we had been doing over the previous days and how much we both enjoyed it. It is a way of life for so many in Australia and it is something that most backpackers miss out on but we would definitely recommend it to anyone, whatever their riding skills, just to experience the culture and atmosphere of a real outback farm. As we said at the start, definitely the highlight of our trip so far!