Sunday, May 12, 2013

And, that's a wrap...

So, I’m currently sitting on a plane somewhere in the air south of Brisbane. Perhaps I’m flying somewhere over roads I’ve driven, although more likely over places I’ve never been.  I can see the undulating ground below me, with dark patches shaded from the scattered clouds in the sky.  The sun is setting to my right, as I travel south to Melbourne.  I got a window seat, which only inspires a traveling mind as I glance out the window and admire and reflect and think and wonder.  What’s going to come my way in the next few weeks?  Will I love teaching in Melbourne?  How will a adapt to the “cold” weather and humid bone chilling temperatures that are on the cold spectrum of Melbourne weather?  I know I’m a Canadian through and through, but after experiencing over a year of warm temperatures and fully avoiding a Canadian winter, I’ve enjoyed the warmth and the tan I’ve now carried comfortably since this time last year.  Houses in Australia are made to retain cool temperatures because of the heat in the summer – not retain the heat like many Canadian houses with insulation so we can half-hibernate in comfort!  I was just scanning through some pictures in my phone from the farm, of cows, cattle yards, horses, and life in the bush.  I can’t quite grasp the change I’m about to experience.  It sounds so silly to even mention that today in Brisbane, I was overwhelmed by the noises and cars and copious amounts of people buzzing by me like I’m no one.  Banging, beeping, buzzing.  I tried to admire the beauty of it, but it’s hard once you’ve been somewhere like the Australian outback, and have had the opportunity to experience peace and simplicity at it’s finest… well, that’s my opinion.  To each their own.  Although I am very highly adaptable, and realize that yes, I will be able to find my niche quickly in Melbourne, I can’t help but feel truly grateful and emotional leaving Wentworth.  There were days I honestly didn’t think I could handle another, and days that made me wonder why I was leaving at all.   So many mixed emotions, and such a variety of experiences.  Simplistic yet demanding.  Rugged yet luxurious.  I was pushed to my mental, emotional and physical limits – and don’t regret a minute of it.  I’ll steal a phrase from a gyspy friend of mine, and state that I’ve seen more than I can remember, and I remember more than I have seen.  There were so many moments that I would find myself paralyzed, standing in one place just looking into the horizon; perhaps at the sunset and palette of colours in the sky, or into a paddock where the cows were happily grazing while their calves dance and frolic around with their mates.  I could gladly wake up to cows bellowing in the distance, or to horses walking by the kitchen window, glancing in as they wander by, for the rest of my life.  I know I will feel this comfort again in my life with another experience, but station life has truly left a memorable impacting stamp on my heart, my mind and my soul. 

Yesterday, I packed up the rest of my belongings, which seem to multiply every time I unpack them and try to repack some time later.  I made my way to Richard and Dyan’s house across the driveway.  I’ll never forget the sounds of the gates as they open and swing slowly shut, first the one at the quarters, and then the one at the house, or vice versa upon my return after a long day.  Both so different, but with such unity.  I thanked Dyan and hugged her goodbye.  Dyan had become more like a mother.  Some days we’d have our differences, but other days we would have a really happy banter back and forth about anything and everything.  I learned more from Dyan than I can even begin to list… everything from how to clean a house “the right way,” to how to make tomato chutney, or from how to yard up cattle efficiently, to the proper way to plant a successive vegetable garden.  A lot of what Dyan taught me cannot even be quantified.  After we said our goodbyes, Richard drove me to the airport on his way to Strathalbyn.  Somehow, I managed to hold back the tears, and even squeak out a thank you and a goodbye through the lump in my throat.  He is a legend, and I will truly miss his perfect balance of diligence and professionalism combined with his carefree nature and sense of humour. 
My flight from Moranbah was slightly delayed, although I was still greeted on the other end of it, in Brisbane, by Heather and Tess Simpson – Mom and sister to my roommate, James, from the quarters at Wentworth.  Every time James would speak to his family while I was at Wentworth, we’d have a quick chat, and as James and I became better friends, I was more interested in meeting his family.  Heather and Tess were excited to meet me too, so we arranged to meet in Brisbane where they picked me up and hosted me in their home for the night on the Sunshine Coast in their beautiful country home.  We went out for lunch with Heather’s mom, who I’ve now adopted as my “Nan” too!  We picked Nan up at her condo, that has one of the neatest views of a canal and man-made community.  It’s very modern, and her balcony is my idea of the ideal Sunday afternoon sanctuary!  An open balcony with tile floors, overlooking the canal and a few docks, with palm trees and well maintained lawns below.  The four of us ate at a lovely restaurant by the beach, enjoying each other’s company, sharing stories and laughing over our meals.  I felt so at home with the three of them, and it was so nice to be so welcomed by such perfect not-so strangers.   While we ate, there were gigantic pelicans swimming around in the water behind us, just below the walkway near the restaurant.  After we took a series of pictures by the beach, we drove Nan back to her condo and said our goodbyes.  She is such a sweet little lady, and was keen on reading my blog and staying in touch.  She told me that she writes a short story every day, like a journal, and that I made her story of the day.  Well Nan, you certainly made mine!  You’re a gem, and it was a pleasure to meet you!  Tess and Heather and I headed up the coast towards the Simpson’s house.  On the way, we stopped for some ice cream at a local ice cream shop, where we all had a few samples before choosing our favourite.  We also stopped in briefly at the Melany Cheese Factory where we sampled a few cheeses!  The Simpson’s started the factory years ago.  Dave Simpson is a dairy farmer!  On our way home, we stopped in to the dairy to say hello, so I could see what happens in their little dairy barn.  There are absolutely no comparisons between Wentworth and the Simpson’s dairy farm!  Geographically, the Simpsons live on the range, in amongst a series of undulating hills, some very very steep ones, with winding roads through their valleys and up over their peaks.  The landscape is completely different, and I loved the views of cattle scattered all over the rich green hills.  The cattle are so quiet, and walk into the barn on their own, waiting in line for the cow in front of them to be milked.  They all go through the dairy in their own pecking order, and wait patiently in line.  They’re let in in small groups at a time, gated, milked with suction caps and sent on their way back to the paddock.  They’re milked twice a day.  The Simpson’s gave me a dairy cow charm for my Pandora for my birthday which was so sweet of them!  I love it.   We had a lovely dinner, and Tess’s boyfriend, also named James, popped over for the evening.  We were all pretty pooped by the end of the day and called it a relatively early night.

In the morning, we all got up.  Dave was up very early as he always is, and was milking the cows when we left, so I didn’t get to see him! (But I’ll be back to theit farm I am sure!!) Heather and I dropped Tess off at her bus stop, then continued into the town of Landsborough for a coffee before I caught the train to Brisbane.  Heather is such great company, and is like another Mom I’ve acquired on my travels!  My mom is always worried I’m not being looked after, or am by myself too often, but I have so many wonderful connections and friends, and ‘adoptive moms’ along my path it’s incredible! 

Into Brisbane, I was picked up by my friend Anne, who I was with last time I was in Brisbane!  We went out for lunch at that exquisite Italian restaurant we ate dinner at the last time I was in Brisbane, and had some frozen yogurt afterwards. There was a flavour we both tried made from taro and it was purple!  Strange, but very tasty.  Although a short visit, Anne and I caught up on most things, and had a great few hours before she dropped me off at the airport for my flight to Melbourne.  Which puts me at where I am now…  So since that did a mini full circle, I will enlighten you with some updates from prior to my last day at Wentworth! 

A few Wednesdays ago, I was invited to a Rotary meeting in Moranbah.  The way that came about was:  the Quota High Tea that I accompanied Dyan to in March, I met a lovely woman named Marcia Goulevitch, who was the emcee for the event.  Upon meeting her, she told me that there was in fact a Canadian Rotary International exchange student in Moranbah, and that I was welcome to come into town to meet him!  When I told her I was an exchange student years ago, she was thrilled and took down my information.  I told her I was interested in going to a meeting, and she informed me that her husband is a very well known Rotarian in the community and that they’d be happy to have me.  It all worked out so well, so with a few emails and phone calls to Grant Goulevitch, I went in to a meeting and said a few things about Argentina and my year there.  The club is on the smaller scale, but is a very successful and busy club.  That Saturday I volunteer my time and helped at an event serving hot dogs and popcorn for a family night movie night in a huge park of a new subdivision.  Afterwards, a few of us, including Luka, the exchange student in Moranbah from Montreal, went back to Grant and Marcia’s house for a visit.  So many different topics came up from travel and culture, to world events and Rotary at large.  What is was, what it is, what people think it is, and what it will be.  Grant smiled and smirked at me and said he would “see what he would do” about me joining Rotary… little did I know that the next Wednesday night, he put forward a motion for the Rotary Club of Moranbah to sponsor me as a Rotarian at large, allowing me to travel and visit clubs world wide as I travel around!  I didn’t know how to respond.  I was immediately on the phone with my Dad, who was just as happy about it as I was!  I can’t believe I’m a Rotarian – and I’m SO proud to be one!  I can’t thank the Rotary Club of Moranbah enough.  What an incredible group of people.  I was even invited with some members of the club, along with a GSE (Group Study Exchange) group from Brazil, to go on an underground coal mine tour at the AngloAmerican Moranbah North Coal Mine.  WHAT AN EXPERIENCE!  We spent an hour doing safety measures and training before going down.  We had to know how to use our self rescuer and gas masks and how and where to refill them with oxygen.  We were all filthy even before we went down!  The mine site has black dust everywhere.  We wore orange fluoro coveralls, big steel toed rubber boots, hard hats, safety goggles and gloves down.  We drove down in a big low Toyota vehicle that carried 10 passengers in the back.  We drove 7km underground, taking us to a depth of 370m below the earth’s surface!  We got to see is called a self miner, which is a huge $5M piece of equipment used to dig and mine coal as it moves.  They last between 8 and 10 years in service before they “retire” and are either left in place, disassembled and reassembled in a museum, or disassembled and taken to a scrap yard.  They look like something that would come to life in an scary alien movie or something.   I don’t have pictures besides a group shot, since we couldn’t take a camera down.  The halls were around 4-5 meters wide, and were 3.5 meters top to bottom.  It was much more “spacious” than I had pictured, but holy DARK.  At one point we all turned off our head lamps… yikes.  You don’t know dark until you’ve been underground.

I got to experience something very fast paced and interesting a few weeks ago at Wentworth.  Preg testing heifers!  That’s quite the ordeal too, but boy did I learn a lot.  We were literally run off our feet over the course of two days, short of staff since the crew went up to Strathalbyn (the other station) for mustering and branding.  So, Tess the vet, Richard, Dyan and myself, and a neighbour named Dave on the second day, got through just over 600 heifers – which isn’t a lot, but made for two good work days.  You know you've works hard and earned your day's pay when you're filthy under your jeans and socks, and have cow shit on your face and hands!  So, how do you preg test a cow?  Well a lot of the work comes with getting the cow into a location that the vet can assess them.  This includes yarding them up efficiently and appropriately without overcrowding each pen.  Then you need to move them using your body as a guide through what’s called a race (a narrow iron hallway), with slides to keep them evenly spaced, and then what’s called a head bale, which is a gentle vice that holds the cow still behind their head.  A gate closes behind the heifers legs, but is only about two feet high so the rear of the animal is still accessible.  Although a shoulder length plastic glove is a way to test for pregnancy, Tess has a very new and techy device that’s a Bluetooth ultrasound.  It’s a long device, about two 1.5-2 feet long, and about as big around as a banana.  On the end of it, there’s a spinning piece that works as a camera, which then displays a visual image to a screen that Tess had clipped to the beak of her cap, so she could see the calf and how far along it was.  Verification was done occasionally with the long glove and a heave ho! – But it was a pretty quick process to say the least.  We weighed the heifers too, and separated them accordingly.  Tess was lovely, and I was really happy to have met her and spent the two days working with her. 

My last weekend at the farm was spent at the Blair Athol Campdraft, where I got to see James and Chrisco and Bristow and a few other familiar faces before I headed to Melbourne.  What a great weekend!  Drinks and music and laughs with friends, watching the competitions and events, camping in the back of a ute, in a swag, under the stars.  I truly love the Australian outback and the outback lifestyle. 

I will write again after a few days in Melbourne while I settle down… I’m expecting a shock from one extreme to the next! 


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