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Brewarrina, what can I say…. Just something else altogether! For those of you that have read some of my other posts on this blog I think you’ll have realised that I left for Australia in search of adventure, well this is where i found it. There ain’t no doubt about it! The story starts in Nimbin, a sleepy little stoner village 70kms west of Byron bay. After travelling to the area for work on a macadamia farm which quickily turned out to be a non-starter, the 3 of us travelling together in 2 campervans, were starting to get a bit desperate for some paid work.
A few days later I got some luck from an email I’d sent the week previous. It was a chap called Dave who needed 3-4 people for 2 weeks work. The positions were with food and board plus $200 per week, what? Only $200! Yes normally I wouldn’t have even entertained this but times were hard and once we arrived there it wouldn’t cost us anything so the way you’ve got to look at it is 2 weeks to find the next job and we’ll all be $400 dollars richer (fair amount when you’re a clampett and live in a van). 800kms inland, we arrived in Brewarrina. In Australia a lot of the welcome signs on the borders of towns have their own tag line. “Stop a while, you’ll be surprised”, is the first taste I got of Brewarrina. To be honest not really a place I could see myself setteling down. Population of around 1200, absolutely nothing going on, a village left behind.
Once we arrived, Dave had given us detailed instructions on how to find his farm, afterall it was 80kms down dirt tracks with no sign posts. Seen as it was 5pm upon arrival we decided to go to the shop get some “snags” and build a fire down by the river on the edge of the town. That night, the three of us were sat round our camp fire cooking sausages on sticks, plastic cup of goon in hand as the sun went down… Living the dream!
Now it’s black as a bag and all of a sudden, something big! Something really big! Is making a whole lot of commotion in the river! We look at each other, hearts in our mouths…. whispering “What the f**k is that!?” Within seconds we were scrambling for the van door like 5 year olds that didn’t want to be the rotten egg. Now in the relative safety of our van, “are we far enough north for crocodiles?” Subconciously we knew we weren’t, but hey you’re welcome to be the hero!! Nigel hits us with a stroke of genius, “just spin van round and bang the lights on”. About 12 of the biggest cows you’ve ever seen crossing the river just 10m away from us… Now it’s time to wipe the sweat from your brow, vacate the van like it’s all under control and fear’s nothing more than just a word.
Later on that night after the box of goon is empty and we all should be asleep, we hatched a dastardly plan to get Nigel, we slowly slid the van door open crept over to where Nigel was, while one started to knock into the side of his van the other let out the most terrifying of grunts concievable. ANTHONY!!!!! ANTHONY!!!! GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE!! Looking back i’m glad it wasn’t me. Again something I’ll never forget.
Goat ranch here we come
First thing the next morning, we saddled up and headed down the dirt track to find Dave’s farm. Driving 80kms on what can only be described as corrugated steel in a van that was 22 years old and had covered 450,000kms is far from ideal. I was fully expecting to loose a wheel or 2. After around 2 hours we arrived, believe it or not without getting lost. The farm had 2000 head of goat and sheep on 26,000 acres (40 square miles in English), so an absolute monster of a place. In the middle would be a good size single storey house where we would be calling home for the next few weeks, as well as a few random outbuildings. Dave explainded that they had not had rain for nearly 4 years, no wonder there wasn’t a blade of grass in sight and his animals looked a bit “scabby”.
Dave himself was a nice chap in his mid 60’s, who we later found out had made his money from cattle feeds (ironic considering his animals were starving to death). He never said this but it seemed he had bought the farm as an escape from his wife who lived in Sydney, he did seem awfully relaxed! Dave did also like good bit of whiskey… Again he never said this but when every 30 minutes you walk into your outhouse for a can of coke and there’s the hiss of the ring pull, a couple of glugs down the sink and then the distinct sound of running whiskey to top it back up. We’re onto you mate!
Then there was “Pom”, an English expat also in his 60’s who moved to Australia when he was 18 and had never been back to the UK since. Pom was a true nomad, he had a “ute”, flat bed van to you and me, equiped with a tin boat on the roof and a caravan in tow. All Pom had to survive was flour to make bread, a fishing rod and a shot gun, he could travel anywhere he wanted and as long as he could find water he needed nothing else. He roamed around the continent looking after his friends farms and estates when they went on holiday/needed a hand, a true simplistic way of life.
So what was the job?
I still can’t believe what Dave wanted us to do in 2 weeks. His 40 square mile farm had become over run with bushes that needed individualy spraying with herbicide…. it’s 40 square miles Dave!! So armed with backpack tanks full of chemicals we set off into the bush looking like ghostbusters, squirting one weed at a time. The biggest problem was once we’d walked a good mile across his land to a tree line, then to turn back, oh where had we been!? The next day he gave us two quads, so yesterday we were ghostbusters on foot, today we looked like members of the Crips doing drive bys! The majority of the two weeks was spent doing this, did we get them all? Well seen as it has to rain to wash the chemicals in and that hadn’t happened for 4 years….
Another part of the job was to burn all the dead trees that Pom had been scraping together with the bulldozer. “here’s three 5 gallon drums of petrol/diesel mixture and 5 boxes of matches to get you going”. Is this not every kids dream? To be honest it got a bit dangerous, re-phrase that, we made it a bit dangerous! Me and Nigel on the back of the ute, one with the flammable mixture the other with the matches and Stacey driving. We’d pull up to the wood to be burnt, I’d throw some of the mixture on and Nigel would flick a lit match at it and when there was a woosh of flame Stacey would quickly drive us on to the next one. Only one problem with this, Stacey couldn’t drive and kept on stalling it! Say goodbye to your eyebrows. Looking back we were bloody stupid but it was some serious fun.
A days work lamb marking.
During our stay on this farm one of the local farmers heard of our presence and asked to borrow us for a day to do this years lamb marking, an extra $100 dollar, yes please!! Now this was an eye opener. The 3 lads we helped with the lambing were propper “country folk” with little interest for the animal’s welfare, I suppose when this is what you do for a living then you just see the little lambs as nothing more than dollars. I was tasked with grabbing the lambs by opposite legs and placing them on their backs into a contraption that pinned them onto their backs with their legs spread, they would then have an elastic band put around their nuts and tail so they would eventually drop off. We also gave them injections in the neck, squeezed a tag through the ear and clipped a bit off the other ear, a little horriffic. I can only describe it as cutting 5 pieces of paper with sharp scissors, it’s the same sound… poor little lambs. One of the ozzy lads got kicked in the chest by a lamb and then proceeded to throw it onto the floor with a penalty kick it on the way down. A couple of minutes passed and the lamb still hadn’t moved, on closer inspection the lambs back was broken and it’s back legs no longer worked. The lamb was picked up by the scruff of its neck and had its throat slit…. “Dinner for My dog”.
Everywhere you looked around this place there were signs of the 4 years of drought. Skelletons of many animals. Weak, malnurished goats and sheep, one farmer was selling all of his stock for a bad price because he didn’t believe they would make it until the next rain, I watched as they loaded goats onto the lorries, leaving the all the kids behind to starve.
Going to the shop with Pom.
One night after work had finished, Pom came over and asked if I would drive him the 80kms to the nearest shop, of course I obliged, afterall it would be nice to see some civilization again, “ok meet me at the ute in 10”. 10 minutes pass and I clamber into the ute, look to the left and there is Pom sat with smile on face and double barrel shotgun in hand, “were not robbing the shop are we!?”. “we’re goin get us some ‘roo” he replied, basically we drove round to the watering hole, he jumped on the back of the ute while I crept closer and closer until BANG! Down goes the first one, we repeated this another 2 times, then was the butchery. Grabbed a leg each. One, two, three and onto the flat bed it swung. Next thing Pom’s got out some little razor sharp machete, sliced it’s torso open and in goes a hand, “thats it’s liver, thats it’s kidneys” and so on. Then it came to hacking a leg off, he held the knife while I hit the back of it to go through the bone, each strike sent warm blood onto my hands, face and chest. Well I eat meat so I can’t shy away from how it gets onto the table now can I?. The legs were left to hang in shed with a bit of fly net round it for two days…. At this point I’m waiting for the day to take off the slow cooker lid and it be the kangaroo meat in that nights stew. All I can say is it aint no sirloin.
The boar bath
Definitely one of the highlights of the 2 week stay at Dave’s was the boar bath. Being so far off the beaten track water mains don’t exist, the only ways to get water is to either collect rain water, get it delivered at great expense or drill a boar hole. This particular bore hole went down 600 metres, deep enough for the water to come out at bath temperature. Dave had a stroke of pure genius, bought an old 6 person hot tub welded together a 4 foot high steel frame and put it adjacent to the water bore. Grab a few “tinnies”, watch the sunset surrounded by kangaroos drinking from the pond 20 feet away. What can i say…. One in a million!!
This experience was beyond my wildest dreams.
I went to Australia looking for adventure but that 2 weeks we shared in Brewarrina was just the stuff of dreams. How much would some people pay for that experience!? 40 square miles to explore on quad bike, camp fires, kangaroo hunting, hot tub drinking, sheep herding/lambing. There’s just too much to fit in, I normally aim for 900-1500 words per post but I could easily write 1000’s more on this one. Yes it may not be the most factual and informative post i’ve written but, hell it could well be my fondest. If you’re a potential backpacker who’s still sat on the fence, I hope you’ve fallen off and you’re now booking your flight. This post is more of an inspirational one, for people looking for the real outback Australia I truely believe this is it! The dream!