Visiting Oz

I’ve just been through a whirlwind one and a half weeks. I’m in Australia, on a small farm near Murgon in Queensland. Ever since It became clear I’d be taking my life in a new direction, I’ve been planning a lot of different things, but by far the biggest adventure so far is coming to Australia. I’m on a Working Holiday Visa, WHV in short and have opted to follow a program called “VisitOz” that helps you get started, trains you on a farm and then finds you a farm job. So far I have had a bunch of things lined up, but after this course, I literally had no idea what would be next.

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We got picked up at the Brisbane airport, all very well handled, and dropped off at the Halse Lodge hostel in Noosa, a great beach town on the Sunshine Coast. We’d be recovering from jetlag and have a bit of a holiday there for 4 days.

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It was really almost a shock, beaches, sunshine, palmtrees.

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The first day the Australian Airforce flew past in two C17 Globemasters, really close to the beach, shaking their wings at the tourists and surfers. It seemed almost surreal.

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I spent the first day at the beach, and on Saturday I went for a walk in Noosa National Park with Bibi from Holland. There was a more desolate beach there with huge waves and some people swimming naked in the ocean.

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Noosa literally felt like paradise, and the cool thing about the hostel was all the young people staying there. A lot of people (ok well everybody) is younger than me but we all get along well. On top of that a lot of backpackers in the hostel just stay there to meet other people. I’ll definitely stay in these kinds of hostels more once I travel around Australia.

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The last day I already felt anxious to get out there so me and Hedda, a girl from Norway in the VisitOz group, rented a scooter and went for a drive from Noosa to Mooloolaba. It was pretty cool to get out there and see some more, though it felt a bit strange to ride with so little protection with me usually being all armored up. It got quite cold as well when we got back by sunset (comes early compared to Scandinavia, plus there is no DST in Queensland).

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Monday we were taken to the training farm(s). Turns out if there’s a big group of 15 or more, they get split up and half goes to Jaylyn Downs instead of VisitOz’ own Springbrook farm.

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When we got there, we were told by Justin, who runs the farm with his family, that we were “the lucky ones” since this was a real, working farm that doesn’t just train backpackers. Accommodation was perhaps more basic with just a single barrack for us, but at least we had phone (and thus internet) reception here.

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Now, if the farm in Norway was different, Jaylyn Downs and Justin are just a whole other level. Justin, like most Australians doesn’t hold back at all when talking and will make it very clear we’ve done something wrong in the most colorful language. He regularly tests us with all kinds of things, making us try stuff we’ve never done before.

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Hay bales had to be brought to the horses on day 1, and he said the wires on his tractor had to be crossed to start it, from the fuel pump to the start motor, he just looked at me and said “go do it, start the tractor”. Since then I’ve gotten decent at driving the tractor; it got used a lot this week to get sand for the stables, drag trees from the paddock (Australian for forest) and lift fence posts around.

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There’s just a whole bunch of cool machinery around here, but on the second day we’d be doing what I was most nervous about: muster cattle on horseback for an entire day. We loaded up 13 horses in Justin’s truck and drove for one hour to another property (a short drive by local standards).

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Now at this point I’d given up on attempting to take pictures all the time. I’ve seen some amazing things last week, riding through fields on the back of a pickup truck, driving 100 cows through a creek from horseback and so much more. But with Justin being a harsh but fair teacher, it would just be really wrong to be a tourist and take pictures all the time. Not to mention the work and situations are extremely physical and rough and my camera might not have even survived. I’m sure I’ll get other chances for photos like that.

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On day 2 we also got a very, very vivid and real reminder that this is not summer camp or some tourist attraction. We we’re felling a tree in the forest and me, Joe and Stefan had to lift a very heavy log up a hill. Joe went first, but slipped, and smashed his hand into the ground. Big Joe is a pretty tough guy, as anyone else would probably have made a bit more noise; he had bone sticking out the top and lost a fingernail. He was back the next day with a cast on his arm and a diagnosis of three broken fingers. He gets to stay with Justin on the farm until he recovers though, which isn’t a bad preposition.

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There were quite a few situations in the past week that just felt extreme in a lot of ways. Seeing Justin’s control over animals, how he gets a (wild) horse to just come to him and follow him, how his dogs are the perfect tools for mustering, listening to his every command. Or how he tests us, by throwing the castrated testicles of little calves at us, lets us pick up a chainsaw to take the top of a log, etc…

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This past week we’ve also gotten really close as a group, the 10 of us at Jaylyn Downs. I’m quite happy I ended up with this group on this farm. We’re all already saying how we’re going to miss each other after this week.

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(Unrelated picture featuring princesses attempting to kiss frog)
During the week, VisitOz arranged for job offers to come in. I talked to 4 different people, the first one sounded cool at first, mustering cattle with motorbikes and helicopters (I wouldn’t be flying obviously) and general farm work, but it didn’t seem that well paid, a set wage per week with no account for overtime could have equated to 3 to 5 Australian dollars per hour, while the minimum is 17.29!

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(Unrelated picture of bulldozer I helped reinstall a repaired hydraulic ram onto)
It ended up going between two harvest jobs that paid pretty well and went exactly by the hour. Downside was they are both only 6 weeks until the end of harvest, I will have to find something else by December. I ended up going for the one that promised driving a truck, harvester and tractor with some shed work repairing machines after harvest. Sounds like my thing, though I’m a bit nervous about the long days, he mentioned 7:30am to 10pm when harvest is on. Exciting either way though!

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