Friday, March 20, 2009

On the farm

After my job at Allianz had finished I had a few weeks to sort myself out before the lease expired. In typical fashion I left things to the last minute :) Then the day before I managed to arrange a place working on a farm through The deal is you work around four hours a day in exchange for room and board. This suits me as I have only 3 weeks before I have to be in Sydney. The farm is called Giddy Up GeeGees and is situated a 30 minute train-ride north east of Melbourne. The stop is called Diggers Rest, named because in ye olden days it was a common pit stop for gold miners traveling between Bendigo and Melbourne. It is also famous for the first powered flight to ever take place in Australia near the turn of the 20th century. The pilot, a fellow going by the name of Harry Houdini.

When I first arrived at the farm there were a lot a people here, a bit less now. The owner is Lena and has a six year old son named Cayd. As you might have guessed from the name, Giddy Up GeesGees, it is a horse farm. (Those who didn’t, go back to class). Lena teaches riding lessons for a variety of people. There are around 30 horses on the property which is spread over 40 acres. Charlotte, Sarah, Barky were helping out at the farm. Michelle is a full-time worker here. There’s also five dogs, Moby, a big rottweiler, Max, a collie, Pillow & Sheets a pair of Yorkshire terriers and Milo a bug-eyed Chihuahua. As well as three cats, Patch, Madeline and Puss-puss, oh and a few dozen chickens! Strangely enough they mostly all get along fine, except when Milo’s tail increases to 200rpm it means she’s going to try and lick the cats’ faces, which the cats are less than impressed with and dish out a flailing paw when patience wears thin.

The work at first mainly consisted of giving Barky a hand, or a pair of hands I guess. I was mostly holding onto stuff, which he was cutting up with a grinder. Fortunately I still have all my fingers. One day it was really hot and so we all done some housework such as scrub the fly poo off the ceiling. My other jobs were spraying weed killer, a small plant grows called Padinsons Curse, which is toxic to horses, the toxin builds in their livers, so that had to be eliminated. The spraying machine has a handle to pressurize the contained, unfortunately it broke off the first time it was used. I tried to bodge it back together but it still required some awkwardness to operate. Think of pushing your left hand from your armpit down to your waist, then repeat… for days! Anyway that finished up and it was on to painting the stables. The first thing was to dust down the panels and gates. Then smooth them down a bit before painting them. But things are very dusty, so sometime you just have to paint the dirt! After a while I got the second coat and things were looking good, certainly a lot brighter than before, but how long stables remains white I wouldn’t like to guess!

At the weekend I did a couple of trips up to Bendigo, which used to be a major gold mine. I did a tour of the mine where you go down about 60m underground. This was level 2 of 17. The 17th Level is over 400m down. Down in the lift we went, to don our hard hats and lights. Then through the corridors, the guide told us about how operates and fired up some of the machines such as the very noisy drill. Actually a lot less claustrophobic than I imagined, but the initial diggers wouldn’t of had it so spacious. On the surface there are some trays set up to pan from gold, but all I found was mud and rocks.

Back above ground I went to the Chinese Museum, as word of the discovery of gold spread, immigrants flooded into Bendigo and Ballarat, while Melbourne reaped the economic benefits. As a result of this influx many Chinese arrived from Canton, as the local economy had been badly damaged by the British during the Opium Wars. Some arriving as indentured workers. Other sending money back to their families and returned. Of course, others stay and some married Australian or European woman and settled. The result was a fairly large Chinese population, resulting in a Chinese temple and bridge being built in Bendigo. The museum itself houses Loong, the oldest imperial dragon in the world, also he’s huge winding his way around the perimeter of the museum. During festivals he would be woken from his sleep by lots of noise, such as Chinese firecrackers. (I was in Melbourne during Chinese New Year and the firecrackers ARE loud!)
Then dance through the streets supported by fifty people (and fifty relief dancers).

Also in Bendigo there is some pleasant park and an old style conservatory. Through the city runs the creek, from which the output from the mine is still output, so you might find some specks of gold, but it also outputs all the rocks and mercury which is used to chemically attract the gold. Up one of the streets is the art gallery which is quite nice. Nearby is a lookout tower for great views over the city.

Another weekend I head off to explore Malmsbury. Exiting the train I walked along the platform only to find out you can’t get off, have to cross back across the tracks. The train station has an old heritage-listed building, but it’s all boarded up (maybe awaiting restoration). So I went down the road a bit and past a boarded up hotel, bit of a ghost town feel. I saw a sign for the reservoir and headed off over there, a large aqueduct and lots of channels (around 500km) carries the water onto Bendigo.

Didn’t seem too much in Malmsbury so I headed back to the train station, but I couldn’t even find a timetable. There was a sign up about changed timetables next week, it also had a phone number, so I had to phone them up (and be on hold for ages) to find out the next train didn’t leave for 90 minutes. I decided to go for another stroll, turning the other way I spotted around 10 parked cars, what is this?! I headed down to investigate further, turns out this is actually the main bit of Malmsbury around ten shops and cafes, including the famous Malmsbury Bakery where I had a tasty steak and bacon pie for lunch. The other shops are art gallery and bric-a-brac-a-knick-knack shops. Some nice painting there actually but I didn’t have any walls to hang them on! Oh yes, also a large carved wooden wombat, and a botanical garden with a few ducks, although according to some local not as many in years gone by.

Another day I headed over to the Melbourne Zoo on the north edge of the city, a quick car ride with Lena & Cayd. A big park as we were there for a almost 3 hours and I didn’t see it all. Didn’t see any ligers. A large aviary was the last thing I visited, there I spotted some Ibis, which I recognised because they like to visit the farm!