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.

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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

Housesitting a hobby farm

We’re now house/farm sitting in Elland on 120 acres, and I can tell you, dreams are on fire – what an inspiring experience so far. There’s a property similar in size nearby, with a nice house and outbuildings on the market for just over $500,000, so by WA standards, very affordable. But that’ll have to wait for another life-time, we already have other plans for this life-time. The dreams are pleasant enough though, and our short month stint here so far feels like it’s going to be an unmissable experience.

King Parrots.

King Parrots.

There are 21 cows which we feed, three chooks and a stunning rooster than looks out for them, a kelpie cross and a foxy cross. Along with the domesticated animals, are dozens of wild birds, king parrots, lorrikeets, magpies, butcher birds, babblers, white cockatoos, pink and grey galahs, and honey eaters. There are four bird feeders for all the wild birds in a huge poinsianna near the patio.

Charlie the Rooster

Charlie the Rooster

There’s a big fire pit behind the old shearing sheds with seats around it for night time fires. We lit a fire there our first night here and watched a full moon rise over the trees, and watched the stars come out while we slurped back a couple of bottles of red. More than we usually drink, but the atmosphere seemed to demand it, and that’s the story we’re sticking too…. A story we’ll be sure to repeat several more times too, I’m sure.

The dogs sat next to us, and it just felt like a ‘me and my dog’, experience. It felt like the way life’s supposed to be.

Each morning a small amount of dog sausage is cut up and scattered along the grass for the dogs, chooks, magpies and butcher birds. They all forage together in relative harmony for their breakfast.

The menagerie breakfasting on the lawn.

The menagerie breakfasting on the lawn.

The dogs appear to want to stay near us for the morning, but in the afternoon they take themselves off around the farm for a ramble. Abbey, the kelpie seems to like to go for a daily swim in one of the many dams on the property and always comes back wet for her dinner. They’re probably the healthiest and most content dogs I’ve ever encountered. But then, why wouldn’t they be, living the ‘life to Riley’. Which incidentally is the name of the foxy cross – Riley, after the type of life they owners knew she’d be living.

Abbey and Riley

Abbey and Riley

Cheap beer, free food and Jon English

We’re a little blown away by the clubs and pubs on the east coast. It’s hard to believe we’re in the same country. Perth and the west coast are so, so different.

This afternoon we joined three others from our caravan park with whom we’ve been sharing happy hour. We phoned the local Grafton District Social Club and arranged their courtesy bus to come and pick us up at noon to take us to the club.

While there we drank $3.40 schooners of Carlton Draft (or beer of choice), and dined on free sandwiches with a choice of fillings. There was hot tender roast beef and gravy, sausages, fried eggs, and fried onions. We could have any, or all in between slices of fresh buttered bread. Not gourmet by any means, but it was all nicely cooked, plentiful, and absolutely free.

While there we had a bit of a flutter on a few races and watched the races on TV. No wins though. Then we went into the entertainment room and watched the football. There was only the five of us and one other woman there watching the football, along with tonights backing group for Jon English who were in there tuning their instruments and setting up for tonights entertainment. We’d only been in there about 15 minutes when Jon English arrived. After checking in with the band he came over to watch a bit of the footy with us and to check out how the game had progressed since he’d left his hotel. Now you wouldn’t get that in the West, you just wouldn’t.

When we were ready to leave we arranged the courtesy bus to bring us back to the caravan park. So, free transport, free food, cheap beer and a brief chat with Jon English. How good is that!!

Damn, though I wish we’d realised the concert was on tonight. We knew John English was coming there, but we’d thought it was last week when we weren’t here. We still could have got tickets at only $35 each, but being out at mid day we didn’t like our chances of lasting until nearly midnight (yes, we’re that old!!!!).

The Black Sorrows played at the club last week. Apparently well known acts are common place, and once you have purchased your ticket, it’s much like going to the movies. You sit wherever you like, and first in gets best choice of seats. It bought home to us how the isolation of the west coast contributes significantly to not being able to experience a small venue concert with a well known artist at an affordable price, and on a regular basis.

Back in Grafton

Our first house sit in Inverell is now completed, and I’m pleased to say with no breakages or any other disasters.

It was a pleasant 10 days, and it took us again to another part of the country we otherwise would have been unlikely to visit.

We discovered Copeton Dam, which is the dam that supplies Inverell’s water. We were told it holds 2 1/2 times the capacity of Sydney Harbour, which caused a chuckle from both Paul and I. It appears there are many, many bodies of water throughout Australia, and the benchmark to compare them all to is ‘Sydney Harbour’. Sydney Harbour always comes off second best, and is leading us to believe that Sydney Harbour is a very small body of water indeed! One day I may start up another category called, ‘water sources bigger than Sydney Harbour’. I can guarantee it wouldn’t take long for there to be more than a few posts…

But I digress – Copeton Dam covers a huge area and gives the locals from Inverell and surrounding areas a fabulous water body at which to camp and enjoy fishing, water skiing, canoing, boating, swimming and a multitude of other nature/water based activities. It’s a massive area with several different bays and camping areas, and one that will certainly tempt us if and when we’re back in this area.

Other surprises in Inverell – the size and facilities of the town. Compared to WA, which for anyone who is familiar with WA, apart from a small area in the south west, once you leave the coast line there are virtually no real towns apart from mining towns. And mining towns are sparsely located, and with limited facilities. I guess so much of the population in those areas work on a fly in, fly out basis, so they can pick up what they need when they’re in the fly out part of their working cycle.

The east coast is so, so populated, and each town is well serviced with most needs being catered for. We’ve concluded the amount of good sized inland towns and cities can probably be attributed to the amount of accessible water. It’s hard to travel more than 100 kms without crossing another river or seeing a large inland lake. With such an abundance of this natural resource, it’s not hard to see how so many towns have thrived.

We enjoyed Inverell, but we found ourselves a little lost in the large house, and were pleased to get back to the confines of our little van. We missed our little home on wheels.

Our next house sit is for nearly a month and is nearby. However, we’ll have our van with us at the next one. Not sure if we’ll be sleeping in the van, but if not, it’ll still be nice to have our belongings on hand with nothing having been forgotten or left behind.