As I steamed out of the city into the Victorian bush I left Melbourne behind in a cloud of black smoke. During my not entirely un-slow journey, I was overtaken by tractors, road trains, the elderly, cement mixers and the like. NO WORRIES, for I was having dejavu after dejavu of bonny Lancashire. Green rolling hills, sheep, trees, more hills, paddocks, little sign of humanity and more sheep. What more could a Northern bumpkin ask for? So much does this part of Victoria parallel Northern England that I came to a junction where, according to the sign; Skipton was to my right and Windermere to my left… Hopefully the Australian Skipton also has a knitting festival and good pie shops.
Just like that, I began my new life and job in what is without doubt a home from home, but with more people, a general store and not one but TWO pubs just 3km down the road. People say Dunkeld is in the middle of nowhere, I say that you should go to Bashall Eaves. In the middle of nowhere or not, I love it here. I love my job; working from 7.30 until 16.30 in the great outdoors is my dream come true, I’ve never felt better.
Any old how, back to drawing out the similarities between this part of Oz and back home, but for every similarity, you just make it more Australian. As seems to be tradition internationally in the gardening and outdoor trades world, we have brew-time at 10, or ‘Smoke-o’, although no one actually smokes. Instead of protecting the trees from deer and sustainably managing squirrels, we sustainably manage possums and wallabies (how Australian is that?!). Rather than Chestnuts and Beech trees, the native woodlands are made up of Eucalyptus trees, and we shoot around in yutes and gators instead of ATV’s and Argocats.
Aside from my mind being blown by how Australian Australia actually is (say that one quickly); I’m also learning a lot, learnings that I’m counting as valuable life lessons. Possibly not as important as learning not to play with fire, but more like learning not to leave your phone in your back pocket when you go to the toilet.
As a general rule, don’t leave your window open with the light on and then your bedroom unattended. Bugs on my light bulb, bugs on my floor, bugs in my wardrobe, bugs in my bed. I crawled under my duvet after a long hard day of digging, when I received a short sharp nip on the thigh. If this happens in England, no dramas. If this happens in a country where everything can kill you: dramas. I squealed loudly and flung my duvet far across the room as I pictured redbacks crawling over my leg. I concede that three black (surprised) beetles don’t quite warrant the melodrama, but I maintain that I don’t like insects in my bed at night, poisonous or not. Moral of the story: no matter how smelly a room, never open your window.
Australia can be cold. I caught a cold in Australia. On a daily basis I wear two if not three pairs of trousers, two coats, two hats, two boots. You name it, I’m wearing two of them. To reiterate, I wear this much clothing in Australia. The theory being that if I wear two or more of everything, I’ll be immune from the the driving rain that’s attacking me from all angles whilst I’m plucking weeds from the increasingly claggy soil.
Plover birds are unnecessarily hostile and extremely annoying. A couple of these aviary animals have set up court on the… tennis… court… and if you come within 100m of their territory they start the most incessant and irritating noise, before taking to the air and dive bombing your face, and for NO good reason. I couldn’t give two hoots (ha ha) about their offspring but I still have to hide amongst the shrubbery and duck and roll between the foliage to avoid them catching a glimpse; just so they don’t start their incessant shrieking.
The impossible became possible, I can get bored with beans and tuna. If I have to eat another tin of tuna, I’m going to poke my eyes out. One more cannellini bean, and I think it’s likely that I’ll mutate into a fibrous legume.
Life goes in big round circles. In my second year at St Andrews, I had the pleasure of living with 7 others and the, experience, of living in The Thistles. The Thistles was a hockey house, handed down through the hockey generations according to tradition. Great, terrific fun. Unfortunately, even though we had the best time ever, in terms of quality accommodation it didn’t exactly take the biscuit. The front door didn’t have a lock, the carpets never didn’t look filthy, even after scrubbing. We had a severe mould problem, no heating and someone once pooed on our coffee table in the living room after a night out. Four years after leaving The Thistles, I walked into The Farmhouse and straight back into the shoes of my 18 year old self. Perhaps not as bad, but the 1970s decor takes me right back, and waiting a week for my laundry to dry makes me feel like I’m still in Fife.
You can’t trust chickens. On weekends, I’m trusted with the responsibility of collecting the eggs and taking them to the hotel kitchens. On my first Sunday, when I still wanted to prove I was capable and that I could be trusted to do things alone, a bloody chicken made its break for freedom. The wind blew the door open as I was leaving and in a flash and with a gleeful squawk, that hen entered an even bigger and wider world than its free range field-pen. Not to worry, after chasing it fruitlessly for a few minutes (living the real life Chicken Run), I reasoned that this must happen a lot, and left the stubborn chuck to fend for itself. ‘Tis natural selection.
And now for the long-awaited Mr Purple update. After tightening the alternator belt and fiddling with the battery after he started to emit the most horrendous screech after starting up, I felt confident that the Diahatsu would go at least another month before more maintenance. Alas no, a week later, the battery died for no apparent reason 30km away from home, at night, in the rain. Luckily, after doing my rounds and knocking on everyone’s car window asking for help, two lovely ladies came to my rescue with jump leads and I was able to rattle my way back down the freeway.
I’ve nearly finished my first month here, and praise be, it’s getting warmer at night. Spring is coming.