He is tall and very handsome with sleek glistening muscles. He is also so very sweet and joined me on a lunch date twice under the bright outback afternoon sun. He is so affectionate and constantly showered me with kisses whenever I was near him. He has the cutest personality: the perfect mix of confidence and cheeky curiosity. He might be a bit young, he is only four years old, but Kadaycha already has the makings of an amazing horse and I fell completely in love with him. Besides his sleek shiny black coat and the white star on his forehead he is by far the most affectionate horse I have ever met. When I had to walk from the city to a property where we were keeping some of the horses after the truck broke down I brought my lunch with me to eat by the horses. I decided to eat in the paddock with them so I could be closer to them and enjoy their company. Upon seeing me Kadaycha came over and starting curiously nosing me and my chicken sandwich. He was so curious that I finally broke off a piece of my sandwich bread and gave it to him. He showed his enthusiasm for the bread by violently throwing his head back and forth and showing me his teeth. I laughed and gave him a bit more and he ended up gratefully licking my hand and face like a little puppy dog. When I finally stood up he gently placed his face on my shoulder as I brushed his silky neck.
I have always wanted a black horse with a star on his forehead that was a sweetheart so that I could name him Casanova. Unfortunately this horse already had a name and an owner but I realized that he was exactly the kind of horse I have always dreamed of having!
Sometimes the best experiences come when you least expect them. These are the ones I enjoy and cherish the most.
If you would have talked to me a week ago I would have told you that I hated Walgett, the town in which I was staying, and my so-called Jillaroo experience. I was disappointed and bored out of my mind and consequently very frustrated about wasting my precious last days in Australia out in the middle of no where. And then one day everything fell into place, just not in a way I was expecting.
The reason I was disappointed with the jillaroo experience was after my first day working with the cattle I never worked with cattle again. I did get to ride though so I was more or less content. The horses were great and the landscape was beautiful. But even after a few days of camping out with Wayne and taking care of his horses the isolation was began to grate on me. Then disaster struck, or at least that is what I considered it to be when it first happened. Wayne’s truck broke down on the way into town one day leaving us stuck in Walgett, the town 45 minutes from his property. Then it started raining and never stopped. Usually I don’t mind a little bit of rain but out in the country when it rains everything shuts down. Because I was supposed to be exercising the horses the rain condemned me indoors, with the most of the population in town. As a reader this would not normally be a bad thing except that I had not brought a good selection of books. Having nothing to do all day coupled with annoyingly boring books left me wavering on the edge of insanity. On the fourth day I woke up at 11am, took the longest shower I possibly could, ate breakfast as slow as I could and then sat on my bed staring at the wall for about 20 minutes. It occurred to me then why prison is such an effective cause of punishment. I ended up going back to bed and watching movies all day until 7pm.
It seems that life never gives you too much of a challenge that you cannot handle it. When I was nearing my breaking point I was in the kitchen trying to read one the books I had brought with me. I had known that there were some Irish people around my age staying in the hostel that I was staying at but I had not really hung out with them. It was then that they had happened to come in with a slab of beer and offered me a stubbie. Although I did not accept their offer of alcohol it was the small spark I needed to remedy my isolation. I started hanging out with the Irish group for the next couple of days. The one girl in the group was working as a waitress across the street at a small cafe and I ended up being able to land a job with her. The best part? Wages were $25.50 on the weekend and $20 on the weekdays. I was able to make $500 in four days!
The other best part was meeting Lee, my Australian mother. She was also the owner of Lee’s Kitchen, the café in which I worked. She made us a hang over breakfast the morning after she knew we had went to an Irish house party. She gave us medicine when we didn’t feel well and sent me home every night with a delicious dinner coupled with dessert. She is just one of those truly good hearted people who likes to make the people around her happy if she can. She has owned the kitchen for the past two years and for that long has been employing backpackers looking for some temporary work in the outback.
Besides being able to make some money and occupy my time in Walgett knowing the Irish group ended up being such a blessing because they introduced me to all their other Irish friends in the area. I ended up becoming friends with a lot of them. It is random and I am not sure what the allure was but there ended up being about 12 Irish people working in Walgett. And I could not have been happier to know them. They took me under their wing and included me in their group. After the first week and a half of boredom I was so grateful for that small act of kindness.
So I may not have ended up being a cowgirl but I ended up having a great time in Walgett anyway. Not in any way that I had planned or expected but I feel like that just made it more fun.
July 3, 2012
The only cows I have ever had the pleasure of meeting are the one or two mild-tempered, doe-eyed cows in children’s petting zoos. These cows stare at you with an almost bored expression while they sweetly lick your hands clean of the food you offer them. Today I met an entirely new breed of cow. The cuteness factor of standing in front of one sweet timid cow completely disappears when it is replaced, along with any kind of dividing fence, by an entire heard of snorting, half-scared half-angry cattle. As I stood in the iron-fenced cattle paddock today, all the cattle pressed together on the opposite end of the paddock wild-eyeing me and as tense as coiled springs, I realized I was scared. Of course, I wasn’ t allowed much time to worry about the heard of cattle on the other side of the paddock when every five minutes four or five more cows would come hurtling in my direction through a gate I was told to open and close.
We were “marking cattle” today. When Wayne first told me we would be “marking cattle” a hollywood vision of a bunch of tanned, jean clad men with Stetsons wrestling calves to the ground to brand their flanks came to mind. It turns out that this vision was far from true.
First of all we had to sort all of the calves from the rest of the heard. This involved running small groups of the cattle through a series of interconnecting paddocks. This is what landed me in the iron-fenced paddock facing the snorting heard of cattle. I was the official keeper of the Baumen cattle gate. If the small group of cattle let into the series of gates were Baumen cattle then I was to open my gate and let them through. If they were Angus cattle then the guy across from me opened his gate while I kept mine closed. It was in this way we were able to slowly segregate the one giant heard into the two different types of beef. From then we did the same tedious process until we were left with a group of ‘weaners.’ At first, when the head farmer said this I thought he was referring to them as ‘weiners.’ I thought that was his G-rated version of referring to the little cattle in a crude way. I found out later on the was referring to the calves that were ready to be weaned from their mothers. Hence weaners.
Obviously, stirring up the cows to run them through the series of paddocks didn’t put them in the best mood. As I stood in the paddock with a growing number of stamping, snorting, and generally pissed-off cattle I was told to be ready to open my paddock’s gate to let in more stampeding cattle while watching my back for any vengeful chargers wanting to put their horns in my back. After we had successfully gotten the ‘weaners’ into one paddock we had to mark them. As I saw no lit fire or branding irons (or jean-clad, Stetson-wearing men) I came to the disappointed conclusion that hollywood had completely led me astray in my expectations of the whole cattle experience. Instead I was set up in an empty paddock in front of an upturned iron barrel. The farmer set up three metal devices on top of the barrel as well as two clear plastic baggies filled with plastic chips and one plastic container. The farmer showed me how to load the chips into the two different devices. Then he went over to the first calf that was restrained, took its ear between the device and squeezed it closed. The little calf had an instant plastic earring. Ah, the light bulb finally went off over my head. Marking calves- got it. Then the farmer returned to me and picked up the last device and opened the container. Inside the container were things that looked like little green Cheerios. The farmer explained to me that they were rubber bands. I had read a book recently in which a woman castrated her pet coyote using a rubber band. The book never showed any pictures or really described the process so I don’t know how it clicked in my mind but I immediately looked over at the small heard of waiting ‘weaners’ and sympathized with all the males present. Sure enough, after loading two impossibly small rubber bands on to the device the farmer fixed the device between the hind legs of the restrained bull. The poor thing just stood there stupidly unaware that in a few days time his testicles would swell up to the size of softballs before slowly drying up and completely falling off like a pair of dried prunes.
After the marking was finished we did something I have always wanted to do- we drove the cattle. We did it with a bit of a 21st century twist though. Instead of using horses we used two dirt-encrusted quad runners. It got the job done but once again left my hollywood impressed mind a bit wanting.
After being at my friend Claire’s house for a wonderful week I am travelling on to the outback today. In a few hours I am getting on a 8.5 hour bus ride deep into the country of the state of New South Wales. I have arranged to work with one of New South Wales’ best cattle drovers for the next two weeks. Here is the website: http://www.cattleahead.com.au/welcome/page1.php. This essentially means I get to ride horses all day while I help to muster up cattle. In America this work is defined as being a ‘cowgirl,’ in Australia though the term is a ‘jillaroo’ (the male form being ‘jackaroo). I have always wanted to do something like this and am very excited about this new adventure, unfortunately because of my location I probably won’t have internet access through out my stay. I promise to take lots of pictures and write lots of posts once I am back in the city again though. Let’s just hope I will not be acquainted with the Australian Outback’s more fatal charms like the world’s most deadly snakes, spiders, scorpions, etc.
After two weeks in the Outback I will travel to Sydney for a few days before returning to Melbourne for a final goodbye week. At the end of this month I return home.
(I didn’t take this picture I took it off Google.)