Sunday, September 2, 2012

Papanui, Merriwa

The essential goal of my year in Aus is to travel as much and as far as possible, on the smallest budget possible. With the help of (much like WWOOF), I think this task is one very capable of conquering. I had spent the weeks before leaving home casually browsing through the various hosts on the website just to get an idea of what was available. When I thought I was ready to pick a farm, I contacted a few of the hosts via e-mail. Lucky me, the first farm I happened to contact, and the first one to respond, was Papanui Farm, owned and operated by Mark and Di Killen. 

The name Papanui, as Mark told me, is suspected to be the name of a winning race horse of a previous owner of the land, years ago, and the word actually came from New Zealand. 

I arrived on the farm Wednesday the 29th at about 2 pm after being picked up from the train station by Mark. He and his wife Di (dye) are both very good people. Mark showed me to my room, gave me a quick tour of the guest house, and introduced me to the two other guys staying here. A 26 year old german named Marcel and a 24 year old Frenchy named Michael. After dumping my stuff in my room and quickly unpacking some things, I went outside to meet Mark for my first task, which was to accompany Marcel and Michael in a late 80's Toyata Land Cruiser troop carrier, appropriately nick named the Troopy, to go collect the eggs for the day. 
The beloved ruff and tuff Troopy

We followed a two-track road through the pastures to each of the four chicken 'stations'. One station consists of two old school buses, gutted and converted into chicken coops/roosts, as well as a feeder and water tank built onto a trailer, so the entire stations can be moved throughout the pastures to areas of fresh grass. We collected the eggs from each station, recording how many eggs (and dead chickens, if there happened to be any) into a day by day spread sheet. After each station was cleared, we headed back to home base and unloaded the eggs, which total over 2600 each day, into a large walk in cooler. 

The row of metal flaps I'm pointing to here each lift up, to reveal the egg catch trays, so they can be easily collected from the outside.

Thats a lot of chooks. And this isn't even half of the total for this station. There are hundreds more inside the bus and in the surrounding field.

Di just happened to be cooking for all 5 of us that night, and she is a great cook. Meatloaf with roasted vegetables, and 'impossible' (coconut and egg cream) pie with peaches and ice cream for dessert. While dinner was cooking, Mark, Michael, Marcel and I played ping pong on Mark's veranda, while enjoying Australian beer. Over dinner we discussed each of our own lives and home countries. 

As if it couldn't get any better...

The next morning I ate a breakfast of toast, Papanui's own fresh, very delicious eggs, and an orange grown not 50 feet from where I sleep. 
Standing on the Love Shack porch, looking out into the citrus trees. That's Mark's house in the back.

Mark gave the three of us the day's instructions at 8:00 am. "I am going to take Daniel to move some cows around while you two check the chickens (food and water). Once we're done..." blah blah boring stuff, weeding, spreading compost around each citrus tree, washing baby chick feeders. So Mark gives me the once-over on how to run his ATV, called quad bikes here in Aus, and told me to give it a quick test drive while he checks on the chicks. The farm just got 1200 day old chicks on monday. They alone are a sight to see.

There are seven cattle dogs on the farm. I'm not sure what breed they are, but there are the friendliest little dogs I have seen. Mark and I took three of them out to move the cows with us. They are relatively small dogs, maybe two or three times the size of a wiener dog. They like to ride along with us on the back of the ATV's. They just hop right up there and enjoy the ride like they're kings. It's absolutely hilarious.
After we get the cows moved to fresh pastures, and pump water into their water tanks, Mark takes me for a bit of a tour of the property. He led me up to the top of a large hill, the highest point on the property.

Now, I'll admit, I have been having some second thoughts about this whole thing. Thoughts like, "What have I gotten myself into? Why am I doing this? How did I think I am going to be able to spend a year out here in this unknown country all by myself?" Well I'll tell you, when Mark and I cut the engines to our ATV's at the top of that hill and sat looking out over the rolling hills, every second thought, every doubt in I had in myself, every bit of negative energy in me was instantly shattered to pieces, never to be heard from again. There, on the top of that hill, I could see for miles and miles around, including all of Mark's chicken and cow pastures, all of his neighbor's olive tree fields, the canola fields across the valley, the rolling hills of grassy fields that seemed to go on and on forever; I could see everything, and it was stunning. Beautiful. Breath taking. Awe inpiring. I wish there were words to describe it. I wish pictures could do it justice. I think it was at that moment that it finally set in, and I thought to myself "I get to do this... for a year!" 

I had to take a break half way through writing this to go collect the eggs for today. 2754 eggs. I got to drive the manual transmission, right hand drive Troopy this time around, which was great fun. Funny fact about chickens: they're cannibals. They all swarm to any bad eggs that we toss away to discard, and they also peck to death, and then eat, their own sick or wounded. 700+ chickens flocking around cooing and clucking all around you can make quite the cacophony. There are also 5 larger, white and shaggy, very friendly chicken-dogs that hang out around the chicken stations. They protect from dingos and eagles that try to prey on the chickens. 

The "love shack" as they call it, is the guest house where the WWOOFers stay. We each have our own bedroom, a shared bathroom, a kitchen, a large covered patio with a pool table and ping pong table (Mark has his own table on his own veranda on his house), and a living room, complete with a TV/dvd player, stereo, elctronic keyboard, guitar, etc etc etc. I'd say its tough living here on a farm, but I'd be lying.

My room

Our porch. The door at the back leads to the living room and two bedrooms.

It's been less than a week here and I already feel like I'm part of the family. Mark and Di are excellent hosts, and the other two guests are great guys. Matt, the first WWOFer to ever stay here, is visiting for a few days and staying in Mark and Di's house. He is also a great guy. He lived in Britain, but after travelling Aus, he decided to more here and become a citizen. He works on a very large farm (200k cattle) in southern Queensland.

We get weekends off, other than the daily chicken routes. This past Saturday I took a mountain bike up to the top of the hill, though I had to ditch the bike and hike the last half-kilometer because of the steep rocky terrain. You can see here the path I took, and the farm way up in the top of the pic.

Everything is going great so far. I'm watching the sunset over the hills as I type this. I am very much looking forward to the few weeks, and the year, ahead of me. I want to thank each member of my family for all their assistance in helping me get to this point. I couldn't have gotten here without you.

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