My time as a farm worker in Queensland

“Girls, you’re working too hard ! Time for the smoko”. These were beautiful words, heard every day on the farm. The smoko was this tradition, once during the morning shift and once during the afternoon one, to sit down with the boss, drink hot tea and eat cakes and biscuits. Ah. Life on the farm.

I think I’ve already mentioned my glorious arrival in Yallaboroo (here).The bathroom, the meal, the goddess. Well, things were pretty much at the same level of perfect and fuzzy the whole time I was there.

I was hired as a farm helper and I loved the whole experience. The place was about an hour away from any kind of civilization. You had this gorgeous view of the valley from the kitchen and the back porch, nothing but fields and mountains in the background. After the massive yummy farm breakfast, I would get into the door-less car (my favorite ever), the dogs would jump in with me and we would drive to the teenage cows. Hungry little fellas, I would give them seeds and molasses, which smelled disgustingly sweet and always ended up all over my clothes.

After that it was driving the land mower, trying to do straight lines, then picking it all up with the wheelbarrow. I remember one time when I unloaded some of the grass by hand, a little baby snake sneaked out between my fingers. I was ecstatic “oh look, how cute and adorable !”. Turns out it was a brown snake and even at that age it could done some serious damage. Oh well. What doesn’t kill you.

The day was filled by fetching the chicken’s eggs and feeding the ducks. Painting the house, cleaning the cars, moving the cows. It was 11 o’clock smoko where we talked about life and travels and adventures. It was afternoons spent at the beach where my coworker would go for a jog while I would just lazily sit in the sun, reading my book and chasing little blue crabs. Evenings by the fire with the weird neighbors, petting their enormous puppies. Or at the table with the boss and her husband, sweetly annoying their teenage son who tried to be tough with his cowboy boots.

I loved the job, the remoteness of the location, the simple lifestyle, the beauty of the nature and being able to work outside all day.

And I really enjoyed the time spent with my boss. I was full of admiration and awe. She grew up on a farm even more remote than this, at about 4 to 5 hours from the next town. She was homeschooled by her mom and yet she was so social and curious about everything. She was living in the middle of nowhere yet had pretty clothes for the evenings and she took care of herself. She read, she was always upbeat and she treated me like the best of friends.

I loved the sense of community that you could find there. They all were very good neighbors, even though it was a 20 minutes’ drive to get to the next house. They were there for each other and made time and had drinks. It was such a different kind of life. And yet the bonds were deeper and the need and willingness to get human contact was that much stronger.

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Buying my first car

When I arrived in Australia, I had a very European, naïve way on how I was going to do things. Like, well, I was going to take the bus, and the train everywhere. Then I realized (especially arriving  in Western Australia), that the distances between cities were hours and hours, that the buses only made it to major populated areas, and that I was due to work in farms and national parks and getting there was going to be way more complicated than anticipated. I was used to everything being connected. I was used to cheap buses, carpooling and always finding a way to get somewhere. I was NOT expecting houses so lost that their mailboxes were completely elsewhere so that the postman could kind of reach them better. To people going shopping in the “big city” once every three weeks because it took two hours to get there. The sheer distances in Australia are mind blowing. It puts everything into perspective.

I realized soon enough that a car was going to be a necessity if I was to explore like I intended to. I could reach the cities with the bus, but the cities were not what I came for. I came for the endless beaches and forgotten tropical forests. For the outback and to truly get lost.

The thing was, I never bought a car. I didn’t know a single thing about cars. I didn’t know what to ask, what to look for, how to not get ripped off. I guess what I SHOULD have done is browse, see a couple of them, ask a bunch of questions, read stuff online.

What happened in real life though was, a friend of my boss was selling his car. I decided to have a look, asked my coworkers to come with me since they “kind of” knew some stuff about cars.

They did everything. They opened the hood, they asked the questions, they even took the car for a test drive since I didn’t really see the point of me driving it (what was I looking for ? What should I try ?). The ONLY question I asked was “can I connect my ipod ?” cause, let’s face it, when you intend to drive 8 hours a day, you NEED music.

I didn’t look at any other car. I loved it for the moment I saw it. My friends told me it looked good, I trusted them since I didn’t have any other choice anyway. Plus, I COULD connect my ipod. So, I bought it.

And that car was and always will be my favorite car. Her name was “Baby”. A little tiny SUV, bright red, so cute and adorable. It drove me through the desert and into the outback. It didn’t look tough but, just like me, it really was. We drove 20 000 km together and I never had a single problem. Selling it was heartbreaking and I refused a couple of dudes because they didn’t appreciate it enough. I ended up selling it to a cool girl, we stayed friends and she updated me on the car. Cause life works out sometimes.

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Yallaboroo or how I arrived in heaven

At one point during my Australian adventure, I decided to go on a 3 days boat trip through the Whitsundays. That’s a story for another time. It was marvelous, and absolutely exhausting. I’m writing this to tell you about the little things in traveling. Like arriving to a new place and finding it better that you have ever dreamed it could be.

So my boat arrived at the harbor late afternoon. I was exhausted. I didn’t shower for 3 days, my skin was salty and dry, my hair were blonder than ever before, I didn’t like a single person on that boat but for the friend I came with. I wanted a shower, a nice meal, 3 litters of water and to NOT be around people all the time.

20150501_161620But no rest for the warrior, I had to drive 2 hours to my next job. And of course I wouldn’t start working right away. But it’s always the same thing when you arrive in a new place. You have to be “on” all the time. And polite and nice and funny. Make a good impression, present well. Get up and do the dishes, help around, offer your service. And I was just exhausted, and uncomfortable in my skin.

So I drove the 2 hours, didn’t find my farm because of course it was in the middle of nowhere, had to call the people so they would help me on my way.

And then, something wonderful and amazing happened. I was suddenly and instantly home. The house was the nicest, so calm, comfortable, clean. I had my own room and, what never ever happened before, my own bathroom ! And I’m not talking about a shady shower outside of the house (because THAT happened). A full-on bathroom with a tub and a big mirror and made of marble. Now I know that I may seem overly excited over something that is, after all, pretty common. A bathroom. But when you are on the road for as long as I was, you really, TRULY appreciate those things. Not sharing the space with 10 other backpackers showering at the same time as you do. Not having to pack all your stuff every single time you take a shower. Not having to precariously balance your products so they don’t touch too much of the floor if it’s disgusting. Not worrying about the camel dudes barging in when you are in the shower. Your own space. Were you can leave your stuff. That, my friends, is pure LUXURY.

My new boss made me a yummy diner, didn’t ask anything out of me “you just rest darling. You look exhausted”. The conversation was easy and floating. I talked and I listening and none of it was awkward or forced, none of it was politeness, it was instant friendship, and instant ease. My whole body and mind relaxed in those first hours and quite frankly, it was like arriving home. And believe me, when you are on the road for two years, this is a rare miracle indeed. You have to appreciate to the fullest, every comfortable, easy, and fuzzy second.

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The great ocean road or the brutal reality of tourism

One of the top things I wanted to do when I got to Australia was to see and drive the great Ocean road. First of all, it’s basically just the most wonderful piece of coastline in the world, with nothing but stunning views of the beautiful ocean. And I am definitely an ocean child. Secondly, it was about driving this mythical road. The turns and turns of the asphalt, right next to cliffs, all drowning in the blue of the ocean, the salty air and the sun. I honestly can say that it was one if the best drives of my life. Ok, may be not Nullabor drive, but it was wonderful. I listened to Elvis Presley and the Beach boys (yes, I’m rather old school), sang along, had the windows pulled down and had to constantly remind myself to look at the road and not at the glory of the ocean.

That part was not disappointing. It was every bit as exhilarating as I thought it would be. The tragedy began when I started to pull over to look at the main “attractions” on the road. The arch. The 12 apostles. The grotto. That was just mass tourism at its worst.

To be fair, I just came from 4 months in the less touristy part of Australia. 3 months in Western Australia where I didn’t meet any other European but for the people I was working with. Working in deserted farms, in the middle of national parks, feeling blissfully lost in my adventures. It was all about going out of my comfort zone, getting dirty working the earth. Drinking beers with the locals, going to endless beautiful beaches where I could see only my footprints when leaving after hours of staring at the ocean and writing. I was naively unaware in those first few months to what extend Australia was touristic. I just experienced the wildest, loneliest part, and I loved every miles of it.

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And suddenly, I was thrown in the area. Without so much as a warning. Without a big city to get into before, without expectations and without defenses. And then it was endless buses filled with tourists which kept on arriving at my little spot on the beach. I didn’t get a second by myself.

And it was always the same. 50 people would go down. With big hats, high  uncomfortable heels, big cameras. They would walk powerfully to where the “thing” was. Whatever that was.

Beach, ocean, rocks. The “thing” they came to see. And snap snap snap pictures pictures pictures. Some pictures of the “thing” itself, but the great majority were selfies. That’s when I discovered the selfie stick by the way. Thousands of them. And everybody was just fake smiling for the pictures. Because it wasn’t enough to prove that you made it there, to show a picture of the THING. You had to show yourself with the thing, because, after all, it’s all about you.

And it just made me SO sad. All those people. Who had traveled from so far, spent so much money to BE here, not even stopping a SECOND to just LOOK AT IT. I swear some of them didn’t even bothered. Came, took a picture of it, took a picture of themselves with it, left. Not ONCE did they pause to look at that incredible beauty right in the face and not through a screen.

And I know it makes me sound old and grumpy. “aaah all those young folks don’t know what life is anymore”. And maybe it’s true. Don’t get me wrong. I am a digital nomad. I have Instagram and Twitter accounts and I travel blog. I believe technology has a lot to offer. And yes, I am a bit of a snob. I am a traveler and not a tourist. But tourism is fine. I have nothing against tourism. It expands your horizons and broadens your mind.

But you have to give it a chance. Let yourself be amazed. Look at things. Be there, in the moment. What I witnessed there was not being there in the moment. It was business. The business of being there, of showing yourself.

It made me sad but it didn’t bring me down. I just sat there. Looking at it all. Breathing it in. And it was glorious.

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If you want to know what it was like in my little car, just listen to it 🙂

 

Watching my world burn while drinking white wine

I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I feel like a good story is always worth living just to be able to tell it later on at some bar in some other place. Sometimes it was something funny, sometimes it was scary, but once you tell it, it was always worth it. You meet people on the road, and the stories you lived will only allow you to meet more people. It’s one of those little things that I truly appreciate. Being able to drink a whiskey in some lost bar somewhere in Texas, and wining over people with my stories about some other bar in the deep outback of Australia. I always feel really relaxed then. Like I have earn some swagger after all. Even though I always feel like I must appear way more badass than what I actually feel in my little heart.

So it was at the very beginning of my Australian trip, I was working in the middle of a national park in Western Australia. One glorious morning, I woke up to a burn smell in the air. When I went outside, the forest all around our little wooden cabins was just slowly burning down.

It was a CONTROLLED fire, explained my boss. She was very glad it was finally happening around here, because it had been a few years. The purpose of a controlled burn is to destroy the leaves and little wood in the forest, so that in case of a REAL fire, it won’t spread as fast and as wild. So they carefully and watchfully burn parts of the forest every year, to be able to better control any wild fire.

It was honestly a surreal experience. I couldn’t work so my boss just set two chairs right in the middle of the road, may be 4 meters from the fire, and we opened a bottle of chardonnay. We watched as the firemen came and went, exchanging jokes and waving. We just sat there and watched it burn. You could smell the fire, feel the heat if you walked a little closer. You could HEAR it, and I never realized until then how much NOISE it actually makes. It’s a soft, warm, but still kind of menacing background noise that never truly leaves you.

It was even more spectacular at night. Everything was burning and you were just standing still, in your little clearing, on the threshold of your wooden cabin. And I just sat there, listening to it, looking at it. Going to bed that night, everything burning around me, was surreal. I KNEW the firemen were there, monitoring it all. They gave me SO many explanations, a map, were so friendly. But still. Closing my door on the burning red flames 10 meters away from me, I felt that I would definitely be telling THAT story in a bar somewhere.

A thousand lives : my time as a house painter in Darwin

One of the things I love about traveling is all the people you get to be. I have been away two years and I have lived a thousand lives. Worked so many different jobs, been in so many different families, met and became friends with so many different people.

This is going to come across as incredibly snob and princess like but I was so happy to get the chance to do those odd jobs. When I was a student I didn’t work at McDonald’s, didn’t do the dishes in some shady pizzeria. The worse job I had was probably being webmaster for a really cool company.

So when I got to Australia and suddenly I was a waitress, a maid, a barista, it was like being somebody else. Adapting to your surroundings, always.

When I arrived in Darwin, Australia, it was near the end of a 10 months round trip across the country, and I needed money.  The ex-husband of the women I was babysitting for saw me one day in my “work pants”, covered in old paint, and hired me on the spot.

I spent 10 days with him, painting the inside of a WHOLE HOUSE. It was one of the most physical job I’ve ever done. We were working 10 hours a day. I did every single freaking ceiling on that house, and my arms were so sore it was uncomfortable to sleep. I LOVED it. John was completely insane, “on” 24 hours a day. Always on his way, always working some deal, always a cigarette between his lips. Laughing his barking laugh and making jokes and being busy so busy. And I was one of the guys. I was working like a maniac, being tough, dripping sweat, aching in my bones. But none of that mattered because every night, after the hours of hustle and hard work, John went and got a pack of Bundaberg. We sat on the back porch, lighted up a cigarette and opened up those rum and cook. My muscles were sore, my hands dirty with paint, I was stinking and famished. But that rum in my stomach was sweet and the hot Darwin night air was all around us. And we talked about life and we laughed exhausted laughs and it felt amazing. Physical labor has its perks, I was feeling productive and like I deserved a rest. My brain was mellow and I was just at ease. I loved that life of mine.

Sunset in Darwin

Sunset in Darwin

The open road is calling. Always and forever

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Australia was for the Outback. I wanted to taste it, to live it. Those endless roads, the red dust, the infinite blue sky. I wanted to drive for hours without seeing anyone. Be lost in a lost world. I wanted the roadhouses on the side of the dirt track where old tough drivers were drinking old tough beers.

Having arrived in Perth and bought my car there, if I wanted to continue my circle I had to drive through the desert of the Nullarbor. At the time it didn’t seem special. I didn’t understand the surprised expressions and look of worries of people around me. I didn’t get why my last boss before the long drive got me all those tools and camping equipment. Telling me to call when I made it through.

I guess it’s only from the other side, when people responded to my crossing with things like “by YOURSELF ?! in THAT car ?! oh my GOD it’s a story you’re going to be able to tell to your grandchildren” that I realized that I might have been a little reckless about it all.

But it was one of the best experiences of my life. You can’t drive through the desert at night because of all the kangaroos. They are nocturnal animals and bound to jump in front of your car in the middle of the night. Which would be as lethal for the kangaroos as for my adorable car.

So you’ve got to drive the 700 k between the last city and the only motel in the desert in daylight hours. Which means you cannot stop. Ever. You just drive. I drove 8 hours straight for 3 days. 8 hours without pausing, just for gas (and you pause EVERY TIME you see a gas station, because who KNOWS when the next one is going to be). I got so many cramps in my foot that I used the other one to push on the gas pedal. I had stages of intense deep thinking. Then almost falling asleep, so blasting the music and singing at the top of my lungs, the windows rolled down, the desert smell in my hair. I saw dingoes and kangaroos. Giant lizards making a slow crossing. You meet so few people than when you do see a car coming from the other direction, you do this awesome little salute, two fingers from your  temple and away.

Those three days were intense and exhausting. Exhilarating and delirious. It was the purest form of life on the infinite, open road. It was endless possibilities, the feeling of going somewhere and being nowhere at the same time. It was moving as fast as I could and standing still because the road would never end. It was dangerous and amazing. And I loved every second of it.

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More travel pictures on my Instagram

Adapting to the new rules

I had very few moments in my life on the road where I wanted SOMEONE to come and FIX IT all for me. That night in my wooden house in the middle of my national park was one of them.

The night started normal enough. Taking my torch to go one last time to the bathroom outside the house, meeting a few large kangaroos passively chewing while watching me, hearing the bats flying around, going to bed in the deafening silence of the forest. But THEN, in the middle of the night, something woke me up from under my bed. It already took me a good 10 minutes to sum up the courage to put that foot on the floor, get up and turn on the light. That’s when I saw SOMETHING jump behind the curtains of the widow.

What the HECK was that ?! no mouse could jump that far. No iguana was that fast. Grabbing the curtain and going up and down. What if it was something dangerous ? what if it could kill me ? No way I could just choose to go back to sleep. But what if it stung ? bit ? Breathed fire ? I couldn’t just pull that curtain.

In the middle of the forest, alone in my little wooden house, no one was there to help me. I then spent about an hour throwing shoes, t shirts, socks at the curtain in a desperate attempt to at least SEE what I was dealing with. Clearly the problem was the unknown. And I was tired. And annoyed. And felt inadequate. I didn’t know what to do. And SOMEONE needed to come RIGHT NOW to my rescue and fix everything so I could go to sleep.  I was on the verge of tears when suddenly, the little mouse came out from under the curtain. Australian mice are like tiny kangaroos. They can JUMP pretty high.

As soon as I saw that it wasn’t lethal, my whole body and mind relaxed. I put a cookie on the floor to apologize to my new roommate for all the shoes throwing and went straight to bed. THAT is the amazing power of adaptability of human beings. Back in Europe, NO WAY I would ever have been ok sleeping with a mouse creeping around my stuff and person. There, the rule was, if it couldn’t kill me, I didn’t give a damn.

Little did I know how MUCH I would adapt during my time on the road. That was one of my first stop. 10 months later I would be sleeping in a tiny little metal house in the bush where I would wake up with mice on my pillow smelling my hair … Oh well. If it can’t kill me.

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Bonus pictures on Instagram

A thousand lives : my time as a construction worker in Melbourne

By the time I got to Melbourne at the end of the great ocean road, I was ready to go back to the ground, the simple life and the locals, annoyed by the thousands of Asian tourists running to take pictures at every stop without pausing a second to look at what they came all this way for.

I found a construction job in a little city not far from Melbourne and I was de-lighted. Little did I know that it would be the hardest of all the jobs I had on the road.

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The very first day, dressed in my heavy boots, construction helmet, goggles and gloves, I was introduced to the saw mill. This massive piece of machinery, implying a lot of adjustments that I should master pretty quickly, to cut big ass trees into something that could be used in the construction of the house that we were building.  That was only the start. Then it was loading heavy metal into my wheelbarrow and dragging it from one side of the job site to the other. It was making mud bricks and turning them every day towards the sun. It was breaking rocks, putting gravels on the floor, sanding and polishing the wood. And, my master piece, by the end of my stay, I was in charge of the mud floor. From the gravel to the bricks to the mud to the beautiful leveling and smoothing it all at the end. It came with sore muscles, bruised arms, messed up hands, cuts, blood, sweat and dust but oh man was I proud.

20170422_191811I guess the other thing about the job was the living conditions. Eco friendly would be an understatement for those people. Mud brick house where it would rain inside as well. One tap only would provide drinkable water, everything else was brownish recycled water. Yes, the shower as well. After three weeks none of my cuts were healed and some of them were just turning a weird black color. The floor was uneven and not finished, you could hear mice INSIDE the walls and by the end they found a huge wasps nest right underneath by bedroom. I would sleep with the sound of those insects buzzing right there all night.

Was I happy to leave at the end ? Yes. But was it one of the best job experience of my life ? Absolutely. Those people were amazing. Honestly. It’s the kind of people you read about in books. The three sons were all working in construction. They would come home late in the afternoon, dirty from mud and paint, in washed up disgusting clothes, and then … One would sit at the piano and just play Mozart. The other one would be talking about the latest philosophy book he’d read. And the third about his soon to be trip to Argentina to perfect his Spanish. The mother was this tiny little thing with messed up white hair and delicate little hands, who would cook this amazing food in this stone age kitchen, loved by her three sons like the goddess she was, reading, listening to classical music while working the whole household and the whole money.

And the father. This eccentric with revolutionary ideas, who had me paint his van in bright yellow and put a big sunshine on it to go to farmers markets and talk to people about solar energy. Who would steal wood from the road to build his son his house. Who would yell at every single worker he ever got and love them all anyway.

Yes, it was rough, and I’m not one to say that lightly. But it is one of those stories I can tell at bars all around the world. And really, isn’t that the whole point ?

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A thousand lives : My time as a Camel farmer in Alice Springs

As soon as I arrived in Australia, Alice Spring was always on my mind. And yes, it seemed impossible to get there. And yes, it was at least 2 to 3 days of driving no matter where you started from. And then 2 or 3 days no matter where you wanted to go. It was in the middle of the red dust, forgotten by the Gods, lonely under the endless blue sky. It was the very heart of the Outback and it was for me. When I finally got there I got a job in a camel farm. Yes, Camels. It didn’t sound very Australian to me but apparently a lot of them are out there in the wild, from that time when they moved things with camels. Massive trucks ended up replacing them, and they were set free.

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Alice Springs, Australia

It was the Outback at its purest. My boss was a camel rider who always wore a messed up cow boy hat, spoke with that lazy crackling accent, moved in this careful wary way, and talked about the rest of the world like we just didn’t get IT.

I got this tiny metal house in the back of the garden, were mice would climb on my bed every night and I would wake up when they were smelling (or eating ?) my hair. I was sharing my bathroom with the tourists and the camel guys, and was always showering while singing loudly because there was no lock and I was letting everybody know that the bathroom was indeed occupied. My jobs were marvelous. I would wake up every morning and put a shitload of camel poo in a wheelbarrow, push it to the chickens and put that in there. I would then spend my mornings in a personal combat with the dry, nasty and inflexible outback earth, trying to dig up the weeds that were conquering everything. In the afternoon I was weaving smelly camel hair. And then for my all-time favorite : the douchebag bird. It was this 70 years old white cockatoo. The sweetest possible bird when the owner was around. Just loving and purring like a cat and snuggling under her arm and being adorable. As soon as the owner was gone though, that bird was just plain vicious. If I opened the cage to feed him, he would go for my feet and try to bite me. He always watched me in a careful way, looking where he could attack, going for the fingers if he was close enough, circling his food bowl, daring me to go in. By the end of my stay I would just throw the seeds through the bars and pour the water from the outside, insulting him under my breath while he was just giving me his satisfied smile.

But the camel farm gave me some serious Outback credit. Ridding a camel in the red sand at sunset, callused hands from working the shovel so hard, endless talks with Marcus about their aboriginal friends, red dust over all of my clothes that will never ever leave. For a split second, I was part of that forgotten rough world, and it felt powerful.

 

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