Falling in love with farm life

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything. At least, for my ‘blog’ anyway. I thought at first that I would be writing about how I was staying fit and healthy while on my travels and how I was maintaining the lifestyle I had carved for myself before arriving in Australia. But it turns out that it’s become more of a therapy exercise and a way to record what I’ve been doing on my travels. And that works for me. I like it that way.

It’s been about 6 months since I’ve written anything worthwhile. That’s about the time that I started at the farm. There is no wifi there so it makes it impossible to upload anything so I sort of gave up with the blogging. Now I’m sitting on a plane on the way back home and finally have time to reflect on what has happened over the last few months so thought I’d take the opportunity to write. I think it’s easier to write about my farm experience in one hit rather than try to write about everything else too so this is probably going to be a long one.

Most people will know that when I arrived at the farm, I hated it. I mean, I was miserable. I remember driving from Sydney and crying pretty much all the way to Mildura because I really didn’t want to leave. I had a great life in Sydney and loved all my friends there, the lifestyle, my job…there was no reason for me to WANT to leave. But of course, I had to because I needed to get my farm days done. Kelly had found a farmer on Gumtree and she’d persuaded me to come and give it a go. The deal was that it was meant to be orange picking and packing, but at the time, John (the farmer who had posted the ad) didn’t have any work. His wife, Jeanette, had a brother called Robert who employed backpackers as well, and at the time he was thinning his mandarin trees, so Kelly and Sam were helping out with that. The farm was only 15km down the road so it wasn’t far.I’ll be quite honest and admit that when Kelly told me about it, it sounded like a complete farce. I wasn’t having any of it. Sceptical could have been my middle name. Instead, I actually booked a place at a working hostel in Wentworth, not far from Mildura, and was adamant that I would do my days there. But Kelly persisted and so in the end I caved and gave John a call to see if he would take me on as well.

I remember when Kelly first told me about John, she said she spoke to him on the phone and got a good feeling about him. As previously mentioned, I wasn’t exactly on board with her going to pick oranges and basically rolled my eyes at her when she talked about this ‘good feeling’. But, after calling John the first time, I understood what she meant. John chatted to me about getting to the farm and how I should take it easy and to make sure I check my car and break up the journey if I needed to etc. He’d spoken to me for all of five seconds before he made me feel at ease. Told me I should call him on the way if I needed to and not to worry about rushing there. I have to admit, I too got this good feeling and my mind was put to rest.

On the journey to the farm, I remember stopping at this crappy little motel thing in Wagga Wagga and facebooking something about how I’d cried all the way and that now I was staying in this weird place and I was so glad I hadn’t seen Wolf Creek. I must have tagged Kelly in it because I got a notification to say somebody called Jeanette Mason had commented on it. I knew that this was John’s wife and was intrigued to see what she had written. I don’t remember the exact comment but it was something along the lines of ‘take it easy, we’ll look after you when you get here, see you soon’. Now it’s worth bearing in mind that this lady was a complete stranger to me so I was taken aback, in a positive way of course, that she had taken the time to write something to me. But as I was still so anxious, I didn’t think much of it and carried along with my journey.

I don’t really remember much about the first few days at the farm, but one thing that really stands out is how anxious I was. I couldn’t sleep for fear of seeing huge huntsman crawling on the wall (or more worryingly, on my face) and I was completely convinced the first few nights that I’d wake up to have several bites from red backs (which I’ve learned now I MUST kill even though they’re pretty small and I’m not actually that frightened of them because they’re not big and furry like huntsman spiders). But more distinctly, I remember rocking up to Robert’s farm, with Kelly assuring me that John had told them that I was coming, and it clearly being a complete surprise to everyone that I was there. In fact, my most vivid memory of that first day is of Robert driving up in his white ute to Smoko (which to non-farm people is basically the term for ‘break’, even if you didn’t actually smoke) and Ben, Robert’s eldest son and the man in charge of sorting out the backpackers, having a quiet conversation at Robert’s ute before he joined us at the table. It was very clear that he, nor Ben, nor anyone else for that matter, had been expecting me and I was mortified.

Suffice to say that when we all went off into the paddocks to actually start our work of thinning the trees, I was nervous and apprehensive. I felt like a complete idiot being there, just rocking up and expecting a job, and was even more mortified when Robert took the time to tell me why and how we thinned the trees (I could go into a huge amount of detail about this but I won’t because I fear I may go completely off tangent). He showed me what I had to and then left me to it, promising to come back and take a look to see how I was getting on at a later stage.

So there I was. My first day of thinning turned into my first week, and although I was glad the work was fairly straight forward and Robert seemed like a genuine man, I was still miserable. I desperately missed Sydney and all my friends and kept myself to myself when on the farm. All the other backpackers had been there for some time and lived together for a while, so I felt like the odd one out and, I can admit now, I cried most nights because I’d gone from having this great social life in Sydney to absolute nothing.

Fast forward a week and I was invited to drinks at the flat on Robert’s farm with Kelly and Sam. I’d decided that the best thing to do would be to get a bit merry, loosen up, and get to know some people. So that’s what I did. And it worked. There’s not much to say after that because eventually, I started becoming friends with the people I worked with – we’d go to the river after work and have a swim or have a beer outside…it was pretty easy going and I started really enjoying myself.

And this is where I started falling in love with the country and the people I was surrounded by. Ben in particular became someone I increasingly grew to be comfortable around (not least because he was pretty easy on the eye). We spent a lot of time together and he was great in dealing with my constant questions about the farm. In fact, Robert was too. He’d spend hours if he could talking to me about why they did what they did and what this machine did and who bought the fruit and what the market was etc…his passion about the farm made me passionate about it too. I loved, loved, loved hearing about it.

But as all good things do, eventually my time thinning mandarin trees came to an end. We’d done a bit of mango picking and packing too which had broken up the time a bit, but eventually we had to stop. It was getting quieter on the farm with people leaving to go and travel or head back home, and the anxiety started surfacing again about what would happen and whether I’d get my days or not. Thankfully, John needed some oranges picking and had liaised with Kelly that we would start two weeks worth of picking.

You’ll probably note that I haven’t mentioned John or Jeanette that much in this whole thing, and that’s because I hadn’t really spent a huge amount of time with them. I knew enough that I liked them and they were good people, but my time picking oranges really made the difference. Picking oranges was hard. In fact, it was bloody exhausting. The trees were dead inside and there wasn’t a huge amount of fruit on the trees so filling up a bin took a long, long time. But to cut a long story short, I persevered, picking at least one and a half bins a day by myself. It was character building and the sense of satisfaction was pretty damn good. And during this time, I really got to know John. He didn’t say a huge amount, but I had this feeling that he was eternally grateful to us for doing this picking and it humbled me beyond belief. Here I was, living in his house, toodling about my day, not even working for him up to this point, and he’d say every day that he was thankful we were doing it. I used to love it when I heard his ute come into the paddock and saw Digger, his ever faithful Alsatian, running through the trees, because I loved stopping and chatting to him as well about how the farm worked (again, won’t go into a huge amount of detail because I could ramble on and on and on). While we were picking, Kelly and Sam decided to move on with their farm work and so I ended up having the house to myself, which meant that I spent a lot of free time up at John and Jette’s place (calling her ‘Jeanette’ was way too formal…she was known as Jette to people that knew her well and I cheekily decided I’d be one of those people). We’d chat for hours and I’d go out for lunch with her or go round for a cup of coffee and end up staying for dinner…she just became like my mum. I had so much love for her – she could never ever do enough for me and again, I was so humbled that I’d met a family so loving that they treated me like a daughter. There are just no words to describe the feeling. When we eventually started packing beans in the shed, Jette would often come down with some delicious goody to keep us going and I’m pretty convinced that her baking is the reason I’m sitting here with an extra 5kg around my belly! They both looked after us girls like we were their own.

I can’t talk about every little detail without this turning into a book, so to summarise, over the next 3 or 4 months, I felt like my eyes had been opened. Here I was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by people who treated me like I was family without even questioning it. I remember one time, Julie, Robert’s wife, talking to me about how to make her famous spinach and feta dip while we were having a bbq at their house and just feeling like…I can’t even put it into words. I was the luckiest girl alive because not only did I have my parents at home, but I had John and Jette AND Robert and Julie…I basically had six parents and the thought was overwhelming.

There were lots of ups and downs during this time, and again, I can’t go into detail because I’d need a separate book to write about everything that happened. But needless to say, I fell in love. There is not a single thing about my time getting my days that I regret. And in the end, it wasn’t just about getting my days. I never thought in a million years that I’d go to live on a farm and end up being completely besotted by it. I was – I AM – devastated that I’m not there right now. I have no qualms in admitting that once I’ve done a bit of travel, I want to go back and stay for as long as I can. There are no words to describe how lucky I am to have found such a special place, brimming with love and laughter and happiness. When I think about the time I had to say goodbye, it makes my heart ache like something I’ve never felt before. I met the most amazing people I have ever met in my life and haven’t even mentioned a handful of them. I cannot, cannot wait to get back there.

I know that there will be people reading this who have had the same experience as me and so I feel like I need to mention those people who truly make the world a better place and publicly say how amazing they are.

John and Jette, you went above and beyond for me and for everyone you’ve ever had working for you and the love you continue to show me is overwhelming. I am humbled to call you my aussie parents.

Robert and Julie, you treat everyone like they’re family and that it’s no big deal that you have 20+ kids to worry about at one time (not including your own big kids!). I have never met people with such big hearts and like John and Jette, I am so privileged to have another set of aussie parents.

Sam, you are the big brother I never had and even though you bully me all the time, I know you’ll always look out for me.

Julz, you fit perfectly into the family because your heart is just as big and full and it’s no wonder that Sam isn’t willing to let you go. Thanks for looking after me even when I was a disgusting mess.

Ollie, you’re a plonker and your jokes are terrible but somehow you still make people laugh and that is something not everyone can do.

Kate, you have the patience of a saint when it comes to the hundreds of questions about whether this particular mango is a grade 1 or grade 2, and your playlists are awesome but need updating 😛

Benjamin…there are no words. The passion you show for what you love is contagious and because of that, you are the reason I fell in love with the country. Everyone can blame you when I turn up at the doorstep again.

I know this post has been pretty gushing and emotional but I honestly don’t care. If anyone feels half the love I felt from my farm family then they will be very, very lucky people. I’m already counting the days until I can go back.


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