This is a story in some ways I’ve been dying to write but in other ways not at all. Being on an Australian Working Holiday Visa, to get your second-year visa you must do regional work. This is work in certain postcodes is farmwork, fruit picking or packing etc. I did all three. In the end, I did well over the 88 days needed, I got 127 (overachiever). But that’s neither here nor there. My point is we all have to do it. Out of a group of backpackers, there is always a horror story, and this is mine.
I am slightly scared to write about it but I’ll get over it. I won’t name names or even places but this cattle farm I went to, was thirty miles from the nearest next farm and more than 80 kilometres after that to the next place. As outback and remote as you get. No phone coverage for about 80 per cent of your day but some nights if you go up a hill you can get signal. I arrived and realized I was the only backpacker possibly for hundreds of miles possibly the only sane person too. There was no internet. I probably won’t tell you everything as its hard to talk about but I ‘ll put in the stuff that’s crazier rather than sad. It was WOOFing which means you work’ apparently’ for only a few hours a day, light work and in return, you get your food and accommodation and your visa get signed off. Ha, little did I know.
Day one began at 5am, I kid you not when I say it all started with the ‘Open Pig Surgery’. They had a feral pig which is actually illegal, and it was a couple years old. The farmer threw me a rope and said test number one let’s see what you are made of. I’m super enthusiastic and I am well up for proving myself. The pig weighed ninety kilos but it was twice as strong as me. We eventually got him on his back and tied all his legs together and started off by slowly cutting his balls off. Which were HUGE I mean one would fill a decent-sized bowl. It took about twenty minutes I think. The screams and squeals from the pig I will never ever forget. For the entire hour and I remember the time because this pig had broken my brand new Polar HR monitor watch right off. Usually when creatures are in pain they stop screaming for a while but not this big strong piggy. It literally often sounded human. The farmer said he was saving the anesthetic for his horses. There were blood and guts all over us, the pieces (Particularly Kidneys) got thrown to the dogs who savaged them up. I tried not to puke each time warm blood ran over my arms which were tightly around the front legs. But I held an expressionless face and I was in serious pain. I had scratches down my forearms from the hoofs or feet whatever and got a very solid kick to the rib cage that was killing me. But the screams….Kidneys are full of the right nutrition to keep dogs mustering cattle and working hard. One dog was sick and needed to eat the kidney we had removed. He had about ten dogs, working dogs which to be fair were awesome. The teamwork was incredible watching them work a field of cattle.
Anyway, I m going to shorten this story a lot. Generally: I worked hours 5am till 9/10pm it varied slightly. I had no days off. No seatbelts allowed to be worn in farm vehicles, he was strict on this being a waste of time and utter nonsense. Not that many vehicles worked properly (we had one bad crash when I was driving a truck). Very strict diet, small breakfast, small lunch, okay dinner. No sweet snacks. (The day I got a pear, WOW) (I also stole about five, for comfort food, I don’t even like pears) No playing games on your phone. (I had it confiscated) I always had to talk (debate, argue) and engage with the farmer in the car/ute. I always have to have a point of view. I was always wrong. Redbacks spiders were everywhere and I mean everywhere. I always had to prove yourself, I cannot be fearful of anything, I can’t be weak, I need to prove that I had a backbone. Otherwise, I was told how completely useless I was.
One time, I was chucking (Totally my favourite Aussie slang word) twenty-kilo bags of oats onto the back of a big truck for a long long hour. I was getting really tired. Anyway I was aware there were a couple mice running around, fine I wasn’t going to let that bother me. One ran up my arm as I pick up a bag and I hear more movement as I try to shake it off, well if it isn’t the first damn SNAKE I ‘ve seen in Australia, right at the back of the shed. I could see myself becoming a part of the food chain. I dropped the bag the climbed the truck. The mouse must have fallen off. I couldn’t tell if the snake was brown or black but it wasn’t big. The farmer standing right there on the truck freaks out at me for being a wimp, blah blah blah….
I’ve never ridden a horse before but let’s just say now I certainly have. The farm was huge by the way 70,000 acres and all hilly land, not very fertile, which is why we have to keep cattle moving paddock to paddock. If you’ve ever ridden a horse down a mountain especially when its sixteen hands tall and it’s your first time, you don’t know what way to lean. Add in you’re not allowed a helmet. (He thinks they are nonsense too). Add in a couple hundred cattle being chased by four dogs and it is scary as hell.
Other work I did, without any safety equipment because that’s for wimps: Chopping really solid gumwood, well attempting to split it really, I just lacked the raw power and that made the farmer so mad. How could I be so weak? This was my first encounter with a whitetail spider which landed on my shoe as I chopped the wood. I was lucky splinters of wood didn’t take my eye out.
I did a lot of cleaning and maintenance. Every day started with an hours weeding when I’d give anything to have a pair of gloves. My hands got ruined, stung and cut to bits. There was loads of very heavy lifting and some pretty dangerous work. The few times I half smiled was riding my first motorcycle around the mountains and a quad. Or driving the Ute up the creek, or even just getting my horse across the creek safely. The cattle-yard was probably my favourite work because I actually got the hang of it and the farmer was so busy I rarely got roared at. I basically herded cattle through each stage but sometimes I’d to separate some and not others etc. It can get a bit complicated especially if dogs stick their noses in, get excited and mess everything up. Many of the cattle were quite aggressive all the time. I’ve nothing to compare it to so I’ve no idea what is normal. But other people have said usually cattle aren’t that crazy but these weren’t used to it, probably due to the huge size of the farm. I picked up two solid kicks doing it. But I survived a 800kg Wagga Wagga bull. Anyway, long horrible story short I escaped and survived to tell the tale. (which I don’t really like doing). So my biggest advice to people looking to get their regional work done is to do it where there are other backpackers and people, loads of them, even a small town. It is safer and much more fun. Its easier to go through the hard times with people. No matter what regional work is hard work, there is no escaping that. But there are loads of places out there that pay so you shouldn’t have to do the volunteering thing. You shouldn’t not be risking your life either or be bullied every day.
If you’d asked me what I thought of the Regional work scheme after that I d have a few colourful choice words for you but I went on to South Australia to do paid regional work. There I met lifetime friends and shared some of the best memories I’ve made in Australia as of yet. Check out Waikerie Winter Rowing or The Murray River Queen. I saw a completely different side to Australia compared to the cities, so I would say it is a good scheme but it needs to be controlled better and made way safer. I’ve reported this farmer but basically nothing will ever be done which is a common story in Australia with this scheme. It is very sad as most Australians I meet are horrified that this sort of thing happens.