After a lovely few weeks cutting choy, I had a short hiatus. The job that I had quit my original farm job for, had fallen through. So it was back to gumtree, updating CVs with my newfound experience (No references unfortunately), and on the search again. After a few days, I got a call from a bloke called Bruce, who said he had a horse farm about an hour outside Murwillumbah, a small town 60kms inland from The Gold Coast. Fun fact- they film the British version of "I'm a celebrity get me out of here", here. He sold it to me as an easy job, so I borrowed my sisters car, and away I went for a trial run.
Upon arrival, the first thing Bruce told me, is that if I want to work for him, I have to drink with him. Now, there was a time in my life where I would have felt this was the best job perk in the world. But, when your drinking buddy is a raging mid 60s alcoholic, who lived in a converted caravan shed with his visa chasing Thai wife, it's normal to question these things. However I'm nothing if not resilient, so I drank beers with him, as we drove off in his yute to feed his herds of horses.
My first impression was that Bruce was your typical Aussie farmer, loud, opinionated, and mistrusting of anyone who would consider a back tattoo of the Southern Cross distasteful. He was politically conservative, yet liberal in his use of 'facking halfwit' and 'cunt'. His collection of Australia's finest insults were full of colour, unlike his preferred immigrants to Australia. The beer and the trial run went down well, and Bruce happily informed me I could start Monday.
Now the area where Bruce lived was stunning. Hills rolled down to small rivers that cut through the valley, and these hills were sharply contrasted against the cliffs that grew steeply behind them. This was the middle of South Queensland's 'winter', so the valley was a verdant, lively green, with the state route road following the rivers. Each hill was divided into rectangular paddocks for cattle and horses, and where the hills met the cliffs eucalyptus woods grew. What nobody tells you about Australia, is that 16% of it is covered in forest (125 million hectares), with 123 million hectares of that native forest, the majority eucalyptus. Definitely not the rough barren outback I had in my mind. (Quick anecdote- During my first 6 months working as a travel agent, I informed people that the Mataranka Hot Springs in Northern Territory were a desert oasis that suddenly appears from nowhere in the outback, like a mirage, and that they were completely remote from everything. As it turns out, I couldn't have been more wrong, they're entirely surrounded by forest for hundreds of miles in every direction, have a resort on site, and are minutes from the nearest town). To cross into Bruce's land you needed a 4x4 - there was a small ford on the river, that after storms became completely unfordable, essentially trapping you on one side.
How could Bruce afford land in such a scenic place? By good old fashioned aussie hard work and creativity of course. He and his brother were raising horses in NSW and managed to breed a winner of a filly, a one in a million type racing horse. They trained him up professionally, behind closed doors, entered him at a meet in Victoria, where nobody would know him, and Bruce stuck his life savings on him at 50-1. The horse won, Bruce bought a nice plot of land and a business with the winnings, and now he can take it easy with a hobby farm in the countryside.
This plot of land contained a shed-come-house located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley below, and the scenery from there was pretty sweet. There was a separate outhouse for the toilet on the same outcrop of rock, and he enjoyed the landscape so much there wasn't a door on the toilet, so you could enjoy a 'poo with a view'. There was even a set of binoculars next to the toilet for those longer sessions. However, the quality amenities didn't extend to my lodgings. My caravan was run down, full of holes, and had a strong chemical scent. We spent most of my first week unsuccessfully trying to do it up, and plugging the holes, and driving around his fields drinking.
The land was completely off the grid, and practically self-sufficient. Electricity came from the solar panels on the roof, and on cloudy days, from a diesel generator out the back. Internet and wifi was non-existent, but there was foxtel- you had to be able to watch the footy and Pauline Hanson interviews somewhere. The lack of internet was a big thing- you don't realise how much you rely on internet until you don't have it, and while its liberating to be free from constant notifications and distractions, anytime you don't know something, you are forced to either guess or wait until you get internet again. It makes me think people must have had far more disagreements before. Finally, there was no running water as the lodgings were located overlooking the valley, so every morning we had to drive down to the river, fill up a water tank, and bring it up for a shower and to wash the dishes. Obviously you couldn't drink this water, so there was a stock of bottled water there too.. terrible waste of plastics for the environment, but better than getting worms.
My main role on the farm was to prepare the feed for the horses and foals twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. This wasn't difficult, it was just adding nuts, canola oil, and hay to 30+ meals kegs each time, then taking off in the yute around the fields. The main issue was when I was asked to do anything else- I knew absolutely nothing about horses, and I still know absolutely nothing about horses. So apart from helping herd them up, I was about as useful as a flat tire. I couldn't tell if a pony was thriving or not, I wasn't great at reading their signs, and I was useless for trying to stirrup them. Now, horses are really an animal that you need confidence around- they can sense nervousness, and it makes them anxious. But you try to not be slightly nervous the first time there is a herd of 25 horses are cantering around you while you're trying to get the feed out, and I'll give you a medal for either been very brave, or very stupid. Of course Bruce wasn't aware of this, as I had slightly exaggerated my credentials online. Good craic.
But horses weren't the only animal that roamed these fields though- this being Aus there was a mob of wallabies that regularly popped by for a bite to eat, a herd of deer that dropped in now and then for water and grass, and a flock of cockatoos that took over the treetops and kept a tinge of gunpowder in the air whenever Bruce saw them. It wasn't all bad-sure the living conditions were gypsy-esque, the drinking was alcoholic-esque and the company was Wolfe-Creek-esque, but the scenery was amazing, Bruce had quads that we took out for a spin now and then, and every weekend he gave me his yute and $200 to do as I please, as long as it was returned it full of petrol (A big plus as I'd lost my Irish licence my first day in Australia).
During our first two weeks together things went fairly smoothly with Bruce and myself. We'd get up around 8am, get some water from the river and have a bit of breakfast. I'd go prepare the feeds for the horses and he'd do whatever needed to be done inside his shed. We'd spend the day fixing bits and bobs around the farm, he'd watch the lunchtime races and stick a few bets on, we'd have a few drinks in the evening, have dinner, and I'd head to bed around 11pm.
The exception to this was one evening during the second week, when one of his old mates arrived from Newcastle for the evening. Bruce was excited, it'd being a long time since they saw eachother, so after a few bevvies in the shed we headed to the nearest gentleman's bar. As a titty bar virgin, it was a new experience for me. Midweek in a small town titty bar, you'd think it would be quiet. On the contrary, there were several elderly couples, a yute of tradies, and three waitresses wearing little but a smile. Like all Aussie hotels/bars, it was full of blokes who liked a good wager- there were pokies, racing on the screens, and a dismissive attitude towards the anti-gambling ads. The waitresses had two obstacles preventing them from getting tips here- the screens with racing on them, which were a bigger draw for the men, and the desperate-for-attention elderly woman, who had to be kept entertained with polite conversation.
Watching two grannies and a topless waitress have a casual conversation about the winter weather was bemusing but kind of sweet- the old women were at the age where they didn't give a fuck about anything or anyone anymore, and the waitresses were clearly at ease in any situation- in a way it was like seeing the 'I don't give a fuck attitude' across generations. But for the waitresses the real money makers were the lonely men, where you could see the exchange in real time: the waitresses provided the service by giving them the attention that they craved, while the men completed the transaction by giving them big fat tips and longing looks. Despite having hisThai wife, Bruce fitted in the second category of lonely men. After staying for a few hours, losing a lot of money on bets and tips with no return, we headed home. The drive home was through the winding narrow road in the valley, with one drunk driver, and two very drunk passengers. And it was still one of the few times in my life where I thought I was going to die. I'd driven this road sober and it was dodgy, there was no way it was any less dodgy after a day of drinking. But we arrived home safely, fought off the hangover the next day, and life continued.
Unlike the drive back from the titty bar, my time working with Bruce did end with a bang. The following week, I arrived Sunday night and Bruce told me he'd be taking the yute to go to a funeral, and wouldn't be back until Monday evening, but to do all the jobs around the farm as usual. There was plenty of food in the shed if I got hungry, and to call him if anything happened. This was fine by me, I could do my own thing, have a day where I wasn't forced to drink, and finish whatever time I pleased.
Monday evening, I got a call from an inebriated Bruce saying he wouldn't be back until Tuesday, but to do the jobs again in the morning. So Tuesday came around and I headed out by myself again, making use of the quadbike for a bit of spinning around the hills when I was finished the jobs.
Tuesday night, I got a text from Bruce saying he wouldn't be back that night, but he would be Wednesday evening, and to keep going with the jobs. I was fine with this, a bit bored of been stuck in the middle of nowhere for a few days alone, but go on with it Wednesday.
After finishing all the jobs, and cooking the last of the fresh food, I got a text from Bruce- Will be back tomorrow, do all the jobs, call me if anything comes up. At this stage the food was getting a bit low, I'd had no human contact in 3 days, and there's only so many things you can do when your stuck in the middle of nowhere, alone. I got up Thursday, feed the horses, filled the water for the morning, cooked whatever was left, and waited to see if Bruce'd show up. The only option was to hang around and watch foxtel until the electricity went out.
Thursday night, got a text from Bruce- Back tomorrow, do the jobs. At this stage I was fairly pissed (in the not happy meaning of the word) at been left alone for a week, so I got up Friday morning, called my sister to pick me up after I finished work, fed the horses, and packed my bags. While I was waiting, I sent Bruce a text saying I was finished working here, we were nearly out of food, and he'd have to come back to do the jobs for the weekend.
And lo and behold, as I was on the the way to the Goldie I get a call from Bruce. He'd returned to the farm, and wasn't a happy camper- he claimed some of the horses had gotten mixed between the fields while I was there, and that he didn't want me back after the weekend anyway. I disagreed, there was nothing wrong when I'd left, but I had no idea how many were meant to be in each field, so I couldn't deny that. But really, what person leaves a backpacker they barely know, who has no experience with horses, in charge of their horse farm for a week? So alas, there was no goodbye tears, just another experience to reminisce on. And now, back to searching the internet for more farmwork- only 35 more days to go!
Entertainment value: ** Only entertainment was arguments between Bruce and his Thai wife
Real life Aussie Experience: **** A caravan in a horse farm in the middle of nowhere? Count me in! Loses a star because there were too many trees.
Monetary value: Saved $600 in 3 weeks, slowly improving.
SEARCHING FOR FARM WORK FOR YOUR SECOND YEAR VISA? LEARN FROM MY LESSONS:
- Avoid staying alone on remote farms if you don't feel good about things
- Drinking beer every night might seem like great fun, but the hangovers wear you down eventually
- Don't drink and drive, tip the workers in titty bars
- Always have a way to get out if your stuck- in my case my sister, but make sure you have friends nearby.
All names have been changed to protect the people involved (Mainly me).
Have you had a similar experience with your Australian farm work? Add a comment below.