Time for the dreaded 4 letter word

Here we are in Pinnaroo, a little wheat belt town almost at the border of South Australia (SA) and Victoria, on the SA side. We’re here for a couple of months for that dreaded thing called ‘WORK’.

We arrived last Wednesday and are staying in the local caravan park. To say it wouldn’t win awards would be an understatement, but that’s awards for being the best, or the worst of caravan parks. It’s adequate for it’s clientele which is predominantly seasonal workers. We are luckier than many here for the wheat season in that our caravan is self contained and we don’t have to use the amenities. There’s also a considerable amount of backpackers here working on the potato crops.

We did our compulsory induction last Friday, which is the usual type of box ticking induction to say the company has followed due process in relation to safety training. Paul went in yesterday to the Bunker trainer induction, and is in again today helping to get the bunkers ready for the crops when they start coming into the silos. The expectation is this will commence next week. So, between our on line training, both inductions and Paul’s shift today we’ve more than covered this weeks expenses and our bank account should have altered direction from it’s downward spiral.

It’s up around 40 degrees today and Paul will be outside working on hot concrete in the open. I wonder if it’ll mean a short end to our careers on the wheat silos! I suspect not – he’s built of sturdy stuff is ‘my Paul’. I do feel for him though, it must be a rude finish to that which has been an idealic eight months. I’m sitting inside the caravan with the air conditioning blasting away and writing this.

We are yet to find out what our main jobs will be. Indications are Paul will be operating the Hopper, which we think is where the wheat is unloaded and which then transports the wheat along to be unloaded into the bunker. I think I’m going to be entering the data in relation to the grade of wheat and completing the paperwork for the farmers, and on occasion operating the weigh bridge. I’ll be predominantly in an air conditioned office. As yet though, it’s all about as clear as mud, but time will bring clarification to the process of work on the wheat silos I’m sure.

We’ll be working shifts alternating between 6.30am to 3pm shift for the first week, and 2.30pm till the last truck is processed on the second week. The trucks have to be in the queue by 8.30pm but often it can be as late as midnight when the processing and clean up is finished. We’ll be working 6 days a week. But, it’s only for a couple of months and with shift allowances and penalty rates hopefully it’ll go a long way to paying for our UK and Italian holiday next year.

We each have uniforms, boots, hard hats etc supplied. Mine were the wrong size so I’m waiting for replacements. When mine arrives I’ll post some real ‘glamour photos’ of us both in our top of head to tip of toe, high viz cover up clothing. No reason why you can’t all have a laugh with us, and at us in our cat walk gear!!

The big swim

We’ve been in Robinvale now for almost a week. Robinvale is on the Victorian side of the Mighty Murray. The Murray forms the border between the two states with NSW having laid claim to the actual river.

The Mighty Murray.

The Mighty Murray.

The first few days here were glorious, with temperatures around 30 most days. We went in the river for a dip one day, but Paul was a bit reluctant to venture far from the bank. There can be strong undercurrents here, so it’s wise to be cautious I guess.

Undercurrents aside though, I couldn’t resist the challenge of swimming from ‘Victoria to NSW’. There was a guy in the park who was swimming it twice a day. I approached him and asked of the dangers, explaining I’m a reasonable swimmer but more consistent than strong. He was thrilled to accompany me across and back, and I’m pleased to say we weren’t troubled by any undercurrents. So, I can now boast that I’ve swam from Victoria to NSW. I was elated to have done it, but really it wasn’t that far, or that hard. Paul’s just a bit of wus.

Our van is backed right up to the rivers edge almost. It’s stunning. The first few nights we were very lucky to have NSW retired farmers on either side of us. We shared happy hours and dinners with them on the banks of the Murray under the shade of a big weeping willow. They were wonderful people and we enjoyed their company immensely.

How good is this for a camping spot.

How good is this for a camping spot.

I must say, they blew the stereo type of ‘tunnel visioned’ country folk right out of the water. I’m used to being very cautious when I play the devils advocate and approach subjects such as boat people, refugee camps and length of processing time, drug legalisation and several other topics that have a tendency to create heated discussions on occasions. It was refreshing to meet people with whom these topics could be discussed openly and without reticence. I’m so used to feeling like I’m being attacked by a flock of Hitchcock’s birds most times when I put my point of view forward, so to meet like minded people was like a breath of fresh air.

That’s the real beauty of life on the road. You get to meet so many wonderful people from all different back grounds that you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

We leave here tomorrow for Pinaroo in SA where we’ll be doing a couple of months work on the wheat silos all going well. Hope we can tolerate it, but if we can’t we haven’t lost anything and will have had another of life’s experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have had without this trip.

Leaving Grafton

The paperwork for our wheat silo jobs has held up our start date, so we were able to extend our time on the farm by a few days. Currently, we’re still not sure when we’re going to be starting, but have agreed to get there around the end of next week. The site we’re going to need us to start sooner rather than later, but head office (who doesn’t have to face the farmers) is dragging it’s heals with the paperwork. The idea is that if we’re there, the site managers can then try and nudge head office along. So, we’re now set to leave our lovely little farm on Tuesday morning.

Paul is thrilled that he has managed to get several of the cows eating fresh picked grass out of his hand. We’ve now been here long enough to start giving some of the cows names. So far we have Doe Eyes, Short Horns, Long Horns, and Blue (the four red cows). The two small brown cows we’ve called Murray 1 and Murray 2 – that’s because they’re both of the breed called Murrays I believe. The blacks are harder to identify with the exception of, Testie (so named because he has a huge growth that resembles, you guessed it, a rather large testicle), and the only female is, Missie.

Murray 1 and Short Horns enjoying a hand fill of lush grass.

Murray 1 and Short Horns enjoying a hand full of lush grass.

Short Horns enjoying a bit of a pat.

Short Horns enjoying a bit of a pat.

Sharing a kiss.

Sharing a kiss.

Murray 1, Short Horns and Blue all eat now from Paul’s hand. Some of the others do as well, but those three will always come up for a nibble. Short Horns up until today was tentatively letting let Paul give him a bit of neck rub. Today though he actually seemed to be enjoying it and was making his neck accessible without any sign of reticence. Murray 1 and a couple of the others are just starting to warm to him give their neck a bit of a rub.

We’ve been walking out over the farm quite often and have come across two huge rabbit warrens, both of which the dogs are well aware of, unfortunately. They’ve bought home two dead baby rabbits and two dead adult rabbits. We’ve told them off each time, but yesterday we gave them a right good scolding. We managed to catch Riley and severely scolded her while showing her the dead rabbit, and we put her in the old bird coop (which is now the ‘dog house’, for when the dogs need to be put into the ‘dog house’, I believe). Abbey slunk away and hid under our caravan, so she escaped ‘the dog house’, but not a good tongue lashing. They’re both very quiet today, so I think they’re still sulking a bit that their beloved minders got really cross with them. They thought they had us wrapped around their little paws.

I’m sure they’re only doing what comes naturally to dogs though. Riley, being foxy cross, is a natural for heading into the burrows to chase the rabbits out. And I’m sure Abbey gets excited by the thrill of the chase when one makes a run for it. But they do seem to look very guilty when they’ve forgotten themselves and dragged their ‘kill’ home for us to discover. Ratbags.

We’ve loved staying on the farm. It’s been an experience we wouldn’t have missed. So, thank you to Kaye and Paul for letting us have a share of your little piece of paradise. It’s only been for a short time, but the joy has been immense.

Medicals for work – perhaps as a Rocket Scientist

We had our medicals for work this week. The first was at the Grafton Medical Centre and took close to two hours each. We were weighed and measured. We were tested for asthma. We had our hearing and sight tested. We had our balance tested. This involved standing barefooted in one spot for 30 seconds with our eyes closed – not as easy as it sounds.

We were given a breathalyser to ensure we were alcohol free. All our reflexes were tested and our limbs and joints tested to make sure they all worked well and could rotate in all the directions they’re supposed to rotate in. We had to squat walk across a room, and we had to touch our toes. We provided urine samples which was checked for protein and other possible abnormalities. Our blood pressure was taken, and all our medication checked and noted.

Then the appointment was made for two days later for drug screening. We were separately taken into cubicles where we were required to wash our hands without using soap, then presented with a tray of specimen containers and requested to pick one. They weren’t allowed to hand us one! The cubicles had a toilet one side and wash basin the other which were separated by a curtain. On route to the cubical I had to lock my handbag in a cupboard, I wasn’t allowed it with me in the cubical. We were both required to empty our pockets.

Then with the curtain half drawn we were required to pee into the container whilst the Dr stood about two feet away on the other side of the curtain making sure we didn’t substitute a drug free sample for our own. Again we had to list all medications both prescription and non prescription that had been taken over the last month. We were again breathalysed for alcohol.

It was a surreal type of experience. We think we’ve applied for seasonal work on the wheat silos. It’s usually around an eight week season, the work is laborious, and we’ll be working in hot, dusty conditions. It’s repetitive, unskilled work and is amongst the lowest paid type of work in the country. It’s akin to fruit picking basically. Anyway that’s what we think we’ve applied for. But after the tests we’re not so sure. Perhaps they have us earmarked for something really amazing – perhaps we’ll be working as Rocket Scientists!

How absolutely bazaar. The mind boggles….

First anniversary of ‘the rig’

One year ago today we picked up our rig from Lithgow and headed for Bathurst. The grass was white and crisp on our first morning, and we froze.

It’s been a great year. Next week should see us heading for South Australia to do our first bit of work – about 8 – 10 weeks on the wheat silos. Training starts on the 7th October. The season’s short so hopefully bearable. It’ll be a new experience for us both, and that’s what we want now from life – new experiences (preferably ones that have us saying, “what a pleasure!”) We’ve had lots of occasions to say that over the past year, and in fact it’s becoming one of our favourite sayings.

The rig has evolved and changed somewhat since we picked it up. We’ve had new lifter legs fitted, new axles and new tyres, by necessity rather than choice. At the same time we had a huge storage compartment fitted to the underneath of the van. It’s like a very big tunnel boot, and holds most of our outdoor furniture. The outdoor table and chairs used to travel on our bed and I was constantly worried what creepy crawlies we were bringing into the van with each pack up. This is proving to be a priceless addition. It’s a massive amount of extra storage and holds a multitude.

The two single mattresses have been replaced with a pillow top double recently. It’s very comfortable and better than having the two singles zipped together. Both TVs have been replaced. We’ve changed our original barbecue for a Baby Q, which we love, and this week we bought one of those little portable glass turbo ovens. We’ve only cooked once in that so far – roast pork. The crackle was the best ever, and the potatoes were brown and crisp. Very entertaining to sit outside and watch the pork cooking too.

Currently, we’re trialling doing away with some of the seating and increasing our kitchen area. We have seating for 6, yet the kitchen is barely adequate. It makes sense to reduce the seating by two seats, and increase the kitchen and bench space. We haven’t made any permanent changes yet until we check which of two options is the going to be the most suitable. Living in a caravan isn’t free of maintenance or update expenses. Can’t complain though, it’s a lot less than in a house.

We’ve put some plans in place for the next year, including a 6 – 8 week trip to the UK and Italy. It’s our 60th in May, so we’ve booked ourselves a 12 night tour of the Amalfi coast through to Puglia (not sure if I’ve spelt that correctly – the heel of Italy’s boot). It’s a small coach tour with only around 16 passengers, and it goes to some main tourist destinations but also quite a few villages that are off the beaten track. We’ve read lots of reviews on different tour companies, and Amber Roads sounds like it’s the real deal. Fingers crossed that our homework pays off and gives us lots of occasions to say, “what a pleasure”.

We combining that trip with going to see Paul’s dad and cousins in the UK. It’ll be rather nice to have some time to spend there this time, knowing we don’t have to rush back to work.

We’re going to try out the premium economy seats on Cathay Pacific. It’ll cost a bit more, but we’ll forfeit stopovers, so should end up costing around the same all up. It won’t be anywhere near as good as business class of course, but hopefully better than normal economy. Anyway, it’s only money – not that we have that much of that, but what we have is no good to us once we’re gone. We figure about half our life time to earn it, and the other half to spend it sounds about right. Not sure what happens if our maths is way out though, and the 2nd half ends up being greater than the first half – guess there’s still such a thing as ‘pauper’s graves’…. LOL!!!

Animals certainly are ‘beautiful people’.

We’re still at the farm in Elland, and aren’t in any hurry for it to come to an end.

We use the kitchen and laundry in the house, but we sleep in the granny flat Most of our meals we eat out on the patio where the chickens, wild birds and dogs continue to entertain us throughout the day.

Some of the animals have real stand out personalities. Izzy, the smallest of the chooks is such a plucky little bird, (at the moment almost literally.) She’s the leader of the chooks in getting up to mischief, and we’re constantly chasing her out of the garden. She knows she’s not supposed to be there too. When she’s scratching in the garden, we only have to stand up and she’s running for her life. When she’s not in the garden, if we stand up, she’s more inclined to follow us to see if we have any tit bits on offer. She also taunts the dogs sometimes by approaching their food bowls. The dogs seem to have no problems with the chooks sharing their water bowl, and will happily share breakfast on the lawn with all the birds. Their food bowls though are seemingly, strictly out of bounds, again, something Izzy seems to know only too well.

But she does taunt them. She watches them as she sneaks up to their bowls, and one move from them and she’s again running for her life. Hence the almost literally, ‘plucked chook’, at the moment, I think she was a little too slow on one occasion, but that was before we arrived, (and I’m only guessing that’s how it would have come about). ┬áHer feathers are now growing back, but plucky little thing hasn’t learnt any lessons. She continues to taunt the dogs. I fear one day she’ll get a little more than ‘plucking’!

The dogs too are so funny. They love to walk up the driveway and back with us, which we usually do twice a day (1.4 kms in total each walk). Riley, the little foxy generally seems to be ‘boss dog’, and Abbey doesn’t seem to have any problems with her designated place – most of the time! Abbey won’t touch either food bowl until Riley’s had a nibble. So, Riley nibbles first at one bowl with Abbey watching, then after a few minutes moves to other bowl. Only then will Abbey start to eat. They have a larger sized kennel, which was obviously meant for Abbey, and a slightly smaller one for Riley. Riley, though takes her pick, which varies from day to day. If Riley takes possession of the larger kennel, Abbey will squeeze into the smaller one without any complaint.

Abbey always carries a soccer ball when she walks with us, which Paul kicks for her to chase. And this is the only time where it seems Abbey becomes, ‘she who must be obeyed’. Riley’s clearly not allowed to participate in the game in any way. It’s fun to watch them though when Riley decides to put up a challenge. Abbey drags her by the ear, or the front leg, or the back leg, or the collar and neck away from the ball. Once Riley realises she doesn’t stand a chance with the ball, she’ll go and pick up a pine cone to carry. If she only carries, it seems to be allowable, but sometimes she drops it at our feet obviously intent on us throwing it for her. Then it’s on again. Mind you, Riley seems to love every minute of it, and just like Izzy the chook, she knows when and how to taunt Abbey to get the best reaction. I suspect the ball is Abbey’s game, and for Riley the game is to taunt her pretending she’s trying to get in on the act.

Abbey with her ball.

Abbey with her ball.

Having a friendly spat.

Having a friendly spat.

So, the animals continue to amuse us. There’s a lot more here though than the animals keeping us contented and happy. I could write a book….. From early morning with the sunrise chasing the mist from the valley, to sunset with the sun again bringing a special life to the valley as it drops in the western sky – it’s all shear magic, and the type of place that must inspire poetry. This chapter in our ‘book of life’ will be always remembered fondly.
Early morning mist over the valley.

Early morning mist over the valley.

Men’s sheds, Men’s toys

How's this for a shed.

How’s this for a shed.

Just posing!!!

Just posing!!!

Excuse the expression, but Paul’s as happy as a ‘pig in mud’. I think it has something to do with men’s toys and men’s sheds. There is one huge shed here with 4 roller doors, and behind each roller door there’s more than enough room for a full sized caravan. That’s just one of the sheds. Currently it has a big bale of hay for feeding the cows, a tractor and all it’s attachments, and Paul’s moved our van in there where he’s giving it a good cut and polish. The shed’s more than half empty…..

There’s also another huge shed with two big roller doors on it. This one houses all the quad bikes, motor bikes, ride on lawn mowers, normal lawn mowers and loads of other stuff that only a man could understand.

Men's toys, no wonder Paul's happy as a 'pig in mud'.

Men’s toys, no wonder Paul’s happy as a ‘pig in mud’.

There’s more out buildings too, but those are the two that are like candy to a man.

And what does a man do with a shed like this, he attaches the trailer to one of the quad bikes, Abbey sits behind him with her head resting on his shoulder, Riley sits in front of him on the seat. Then he drives from one shed to the other and loads the trailer up with hay, and drives out to the paddock to feed the cows. Result – happy cows, happy dogs, happy man!

Heading out to the cow paddock

Heading out to the cow paddock

Feeding the cows

Feeding the cows