May 6th to 12th 2011
Answering the ad…
Well, as I mentioned before, I had answered this ad for farm work. I had done it mainly to experience some country life, maybe meet a few cool people and horse riding has always been a love of mine. So this ad seemed like a great opportunity. I had called up and spoken to, what seemed to be, a very down to earth guy named Ross. He said that the work was mainly a few minor house renovations and some basic farm work. Sounded perfect, I expected to meet other like minded travelers, most likely share meals with the family, feed chickens clean out horse stalls and maybe paint some window frames… The truth was so far from that fantasy you have no idea.
Arriving at the house
Since there was no way to get to Boorowa town on public transport I had to go into the town of Yass, meaning Ross had to come pick me up. We had agreed that I would buy him some wine as compensation, so $20 and 3 bottles later we headed to the farm. The drive was beautiful and Ross seemed like a good bloke and easy to chat to, although he did most of the chatting.
As we pulled into the farm he started explaining how this wasn’t his farm, it was his brother’s and since his sister-in-law didn’t approve of strangers on the farm I must never answer the phone or give the number out… I began to hear a distant ringing of warning bells. He also explained that the house was under a bit of renovation. Turns out his previous profession of marketing meant he was an excellent bullshitter.
The English pair, James and Ari, had got lunch prepared and we headed up the hill to have a bbq, beef patties and bread with some wine. The view was spectacular and the company was great, so I figured it would just be a great adventure…another understatement.
My First 3hrs of Work
I wasn’t even assigned a room when Ross decided to put me to work, which was fine with me but really surprised James and Ari. The chores of choice were fixing out riggers to fencing around baby trees to run an electric line through, thereby protecting the trees from the cattle (which I was yet to see). Then he had me mow a massive lawn, he decided it was too small for the sit on mower, it looked big enough to me. Once that was all done it was time to head in, figure out where I was supposed to sleep and try get warm. I was placed, temporarily, in his brother’s bedroom. It turned out we had no kitchen, only an electric skilled, kettle and microwave, dishes had to be done in the bathroom, the only finished room in the house. The bathroom was rather impressive but with slate floors and below freezing temps at night it made it very difficult to shower or brush teeth or anything without shoes or socks at the least.
That night he made us chicken stir fry but added a variety of herbs, rosemary, oregano and cloves amongst them (how conflicting can you get). As there was no heat in the house and the temperature had dropped below 0 C, James, Ari and I huddled around the fire.
My first night
Ross had given me extra blankets, making a total of 2 thin ones and a sheet, I managed to scrounge up something else as well. When I went to bed I noticed gaps to the outside where the floor met the walls… I went to bed wearing socks, pajama pants, a turtle neck shirt, my jumper, my alpaca sweater, gloves and my big wooly hat and I still barely slept from all the shivering. In the morning I discovered that mice had chewed a hole in my bag where I had had a piece of chocolate. When I told Ross, he said “Oh well, teach you to keep food in your bag”. He had failed to mention the rampant mouse explosion in the area (so bad it had made the news), and to be sure to take any food out of my bag, not to mention the feces left all over the corners and such. Just think positive, just think positive…
Today was the biggest event of the year for Boorowa, the horse races. The plan was to do some work in the morning, then get dressed up and head for a day at the races. Since his brother and sister-in-law were coming down from Sydney we had to hide our bags in his room, we would be sleeping somewhere else that night and we had no choice but to go to the races. At the last moment as we left he mentioned there might be a small fee to get in. Turned out to be $15 each, he also made us buy our own food for the day, he was kind enough to donate a bottle of wine, which he promptly opened at 11.30am and drank. Leaving us none… Oh deary maybe this wasn’t a good idea.
The races were great fun, and the whole town showed up dressed to the nines. Ari managed to win 2 of her bets, I came second in all of mine and it seemed as if James came last. My favorite horse was Al’s Mission, she had made direct eye contact when she walked past, and even though she didn’t win she was still a beauty.
Ross was very explicit in his instructions that we pretend we didn’t know him, and that we were not to say where we were staying. Yet he went around introducing us as the backpackers working on his brother’s farm and then would say, but don’t tell him ok. The 3 of us were beginning to come to the agreement that this guy was on the verge of a breakdown or something (he had just spent the last 5mths nursing his father who was dying of cancer, so you can’t blame him, but we didn’t ask to be involved). Around 3pm I decided to stop drinking in case I might have to drive the lot of us back. Please note, the last time I drove a stick was in Alaska 6yrs ago, and before that was learning to drive in South Africa 15yrs ago. So I was not too impressed with the fact that I might have to drive us in a stick shift double cab truck, on unknown roads through kangaroo country… Turned out I was right to stop drinking. When we tried to get details from him as to when and how and what if we got stopped he just brushed us off and said “no worries you are with me”. The truth is we were seriously beginning to worry. Just as we were leaving James bought me a coffee as designated driver. Barely away from the horse grounds Ross started drinking it.
Off to Young
We made it back to the farm safe and sound to pick up a few things, we had to spend the night at his father’s farm in case his brother came to the farm. As we headed out, Ross decided to drive as we were going on back roads. Then he suddenly said “I have an idea, lets go to Young, I will rent a room for all of us and we can go to the pubs listen to music, what do you think!” This was not so much a question as a statement, so we just nodded and went with it. So there we were, trapped in the car with a looney, inebriated guy heading to a town named Young. Turned out the town was dead, no live music, almost no people out… so we all ended up back at the motel by 9pm. What a roller coaster of a day.
The next day we spent the whole morning avoiding Ross until it was time to go to his father’s farm to spend the rest of the day in hiding. Sundays were meant to be our day off to do what we liked but it appeared that was not to be so. After doing a big shop for food, something we were not involved in, he never ever even asked if we were allergic to anything, we headed out of Young. Once we got there we had a quick bbq and then Ross went off to nap and we were left to our own devices and ultimately ended up discussing our situation. We all decided to figure out a way to get out of here as soon as possible.
Finally it was time to leave and we headed back to The Farm. On the way we saw my first wild kangaroos. There is a chance we saw one the night before but it might have been a bouncing fence post…who knows for sure.
When the cat’s away the mice will…plan their escape
Turned out the following day Ross decided to go into town and so left me in charge. I had just woken up and hadn’t even had my coffee when he told me he was showing me what had to be done. The list was as follows:
Sweep the porch
Clean out the fireplace
Paint a gate
Finish the electric fence outriggers
Catch the horses and put them in the paddock
As soon as he was out of sight the 3 of us did a little happy dance. We got all our work done had some tea and then headed out to deal with the horses. James and Ari had been there for a week and hadn’t even seen the horses yet and for some reason Ross felt that me having taken a horse riding class made me an expert. The plan was for James and Ari to have riding lessons from Ross, but at present none of us were trusting his mental stability let alone teaching skills. As it turned out the horses had been out to pasture for months and were not overly enthused about being brought into the paddock, so that made all of us doubt we wanted to ride. Apparently there had been 2 German girls who had spent 5 days twice a day grooming and working with them. It was most likely they were hiding from Ross, because these horses had not been worked in ages.
That evening karma gave us a gift, Ross was spending the night away!!! Woohoo!!! We also managed to convince him to let us drive into Boorowa so we check the internet and get some phone reception the next day. That night we also all moved into the same room and combined blankets. This meant that Ari and I shared a bed and James was on a mattress on the floor. It was way warmer in there.
So come Tuesday we jumped in the truck, before he could possibly come back and stop us and headed off back to the real world. There was serious consideration of just driving till we hit a bus station to get us out of there. In a local cafe we managed to figure out a cover story and get bus tickets.
James and Ari were saying they had picked up paid work back in the previous place they had been and were leaving Friday.
I was concerned about my friend who had a high risk pregnancy (a bit of a harsh one but not completely false as a number of my friends are pregnant and I was concerned about my own health). I would leave on Thursday.
We spent the next 2 days trying not to go crazy, or to stab him to death at night. All of us agreed we would rather be with a serial killer, at least you know how that episode is supposed to go. Instead of with a guy who was slowly losing his grip on reality.
Thats how its done in Australia
On the appointed day of my departure, trying hard not to do a little jig, I said goodbye to my new friends with secret plans to meet in Melbourne the following week. Ross had decided to go into Young again, which was about 30min in the wrong direction from where I had to go. As we pulled in he turned to me and said “You ok to put in for gas then?” Its weird how sometimes you are so shocked at the actions of people you don’t know quite what to say and so I just nodded. But when I told him that all I could contribute was around $5 he went off and demanded $20. Then he said “this is Australia, if you want to make it here you are going to have to learn to do things like put in for gas, so do you want to use your card or do I need to take you to an ATM”. I managed to scrape $19 together and didn’t talk to him for the rest of the drive to Harden where I had a 3hr wait till my train.
While I was waiting I was obliged to receive the following text message from Mr. Looney himself:
“Kath hi. We have had over 2000 travellers thru the farm over the years.
ur prescence although helpful was overall one of negativity and pessimistic.
U were shown care and provided with good food etc. Ur whinging about the
cold was appalling. That’s travelling. its not always great u take the ups and
downs and look at the positives. ur sulking when asked to contribute to the fuel
was childish. My advice be more optimistic and greatful for the help given
instead of whinging like a child..”
After my hands stopped shaking enough from sheer rage I managed to send this back:
“My advice to you is not to lie to backpackers or your sister-in-law. You never
mentioned staying in a freezing construction site and only told me about mice after
they ruined my bag. You should have offered something for that!!”
But lets look at the positives shall we:
– I got this hilarious blog entry
– 2 fantastic new friends
– I got into Melbourne at the right time to pick up a week of cash work
– It gave me the time to spend 10 days in Tasmania
So once you all stop laughing I hope you will join me tomorrow for my week in Melbourne.