Down on the Farm: Regional Work in Australia

First of all apologies for the quiet spell. I have been away from civilisation working 7 days a week on a farm since the end of May. My life has been entirely cow-centric. Initially, I had planned to do weekly update’s but then no one wants to read about the same routine for 13 weeks.

Eat, sleep, work, repeat has been my day to day and cows from sunrise to sunset (and some epic ones at that, can’t beat an outback sky), my life.

04.05am. First alarm. Daily.*

04.15am. Second alarm. Get out of bed alarm. Daily.

04.20am. Back up alarm. My just in case I told myself “just 5 minutes longer” alarm. Daily. (This is the single most useful alarm and most days the only one I listened to. Also one day slept through and woke up at the time we were supposed to start milking. My 5 more minutes turned into 35 more – oops! And yes, I’ve seen the Ted talks and read the research about why the snooze button is the devil but my sleep addled brain just can’t get enough and I’ve been a perpetual snoozer since 1987.)

04.35am. Get picked up and taken to work.

04.45am. Arrive at work, clock on and set up. I.e. change filters, start the machines and dress yourself up for a cold, wet morning trying to avoid getting shit on.

05.00am. The cows arrive and we start milking. This simply consists of them walking onto a rotating platform and attaching milking cups to their udders. Simple right? In theory, yes.

In practice, the cows often are lazy and don’t want to come onto the platform. The pipes on the cups are often broken by cows standing on them and they are really hard to fix. The rotating platform means you are required to move whilst you milk. The cups are pretty heavy – fine if you are milking a couple of cows. We milk 1046. Over 1000 cows. Some of the cows are tall, or have tiny little teets, or really high udders, or are kicking, or are really far away from you on the platform…. it’s exhausting. Anyone who knows me will probably know that I am pathetically weak. Combine this with learning how to be a ninja dodging cow shit and you’ll go some way towards imagining what it’s like. This job is the single hardest thing I’ve ever done.

08.00am. Finish milking and start cleaning.

08.30am approx. Home time. My favourite time of day. I’ve always been a morning person (once I can get my ass out of bed and away from you that snooze button) and finishing a full shift when most people are just getting up for work is a great feeling.

Time for a run, giant coffee and breakfast. Is it possible to be addicted to porridge? …because I think I’m there. Then it’s a good hard sleep, maybe a German lesson or some drawing, eat lunch and do it all again because:

13.35pm. Here come the team to take me back to work.

13.45pm-14.30. Clean feed troughs. Or as my friend prefers to remind me; shit shoveling.

14.30pm. Time for for another caffeine hit before the cows arrive at 3 and we repeat the morning milking routine.

18.00pm. Home. Shower. Eat. Bed.

If I’m still awake at 8.30pm I’m in trouble.

My body is nothing short of fucked. The skin on my hands is peeling off from being constantly damp and the skin on my elbows is raw for the same reason. When I wake up in the mornings, my hands have seized up into a weird position I like to refer to as “the claw”. In the beginning, I had sore shoulders for about 2 weeks but this has now turned into the first time I have ever had arm muscles! I also lost 4.5kg in first 2-3 weeks.

Come rain, shine or Swan Hill’s bitterly cold -3°c on one particular morning, we milked those cows.

It’s also been an interesting exploration into my own mind, morality and belief system. As a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I have questioned my support of the dairy industry before. On a couple of occasions I was met with a stark reminder that this is, indeed, the same industry. When I first started work and I was having to consciously think about everything I was doing as I was still learning, I was incredibly aware that I was quite uncomfortable with the process (disclaimer: due to my beliefs entirely, nothing to do with the dairy I worked at. The cows are treated incredibly well here). However, as time went on and the work became second nature, I became increasingly desensitised to it. The cows went from being innocent animals, to me hating them in in a very short space of time. I read an article during my time at the farm about an artist in New Zealand who had photographed staff working at an abattoir to see whether the horrors of their work could be seen on their faces and as an exploration into the human condition and how over time we can get used to anything. He documented that people who had recently just started looked harrowed and tired and the longer they had remained, the less you could see in their outward appearance.

It’s been funny, milking cows in Swan Hill and not just because that’s something I never thought I would add to my list of skills! But because my Grandad was from Swan Hill and the family used to own a dairy farm. It’s in in my blood!

As you may remember, I was very resistant to this chapter of my life and also more than a little scared. I was scared of the unknown and of wasting my time in Australia stuck in the outback and not exploring and adventuring. However, I honestly wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else (apart from during Glastonbury weekend. Definitely wanted to be elsewhere during Glastonbury weekend!).

At the end of Melbourne, I was was a mess. I hadn’t been looking after myself properly so I needed to take this time out for me. And I found myself again. Making art, listening to inspirational and motivational Ted talks, learning German, running, healthy eating, positive thinking, affirmations, gratitude, strength, determination and future plans. Just generally bettering myself. Daily, small steps towards a better me 😊.

My journey with the cows has been an interesting one. I’ve always loved cows. I love cartoon cows, cow print and cows when there is a fence between me and the cow. But the truth is, I have always been afraid of cows. The first time I had to herd the cows at the dairy I was terrified; these huge tank-like creatures looming at me out of the darkness.

Well, the fear swiftly became annoyance which turned to hatred and exasperation. However, by the end, when I had to learnt how to handle them and even made some relationships with a couple, all previous emotions disappeared and were replaced with love. They really are are the cutest (when they’re not shitting on your head (true story. This actually happened. Luckily I had my hood up!))

I would like like to extend extend my gratitude to Rose; inspirational teen, Rom; with the most beautiful love story, but it’s not my story to tell, and Laura; with that infectious laugh and the German lessons. My original farm family. Thank you for your support and patience and believing in me when I was literally shit at EVERYTHING. You are all amazing people and my experience wouldn’t have been the same without you. You guys had the faith in me I needed in order to find my determination and you have been missed.

Marina and Manon; my support system. I couldn’t have made it through without the two of you. Thank you for the laughs and the moans, the coffees and our chats – setting the world to right whilst stinking up a coffee house covered in cow dung.

Matt Glowrey, hands down best boss I’ve ever had and that legendairy (couldn’t resist, sorry 😉) sense of humour and of course Joy Jones. Your generosity and kindness has been overwhelming and I’ve really enjoyed sharing your home and this experience with you. Every single one of you means so much to me and I’m so grateful I met you.

Now it’s time for a quick trip down the East Coast! Pumped doesn’t cut it. The cows will be missed but I am ready for the time of my life.

*And by the way, when I say daily, I don’t mean Monday to Friday. I don’t mean for for a month and then I get a day or two off. I mean 7 days a week for 12 weeks and 5 days. 89 days. INAROW. Today is my first day off since May 23 and my God, today is a bloody good day.

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2 thoughts on “Down on the Farm: Regional Work in Australia

  1. Hi Rebecca, read your farm blog. Glad you ‘found yourself and your art!’ You have met some more Aussies.while on the farm.
    I am sorry I didn’t meet up with you while you were here. You met my husband Alex Jones who works at Glowreys
    Joy’s brother-in-law. Another 2nd cousin of yours. Take care on your travels, your art is amazing, keep it up! From
    Pam Jones , sister-in-law of Joy’s. I had met you at Jones’ get together in Cobram in January at Uncle Don’s 90th birthday. Pam

    Like

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