After making the decision to leave Sydney, I wasted no time at all. I booked the Greyhound Bus to Newcastle and the connection train that would take me to Tamworth where I would be collected at 9am on Monday morning to attend the Leconfield Jillaroo School! Yee haa!! :)
I stayed at the YHA in Newcastle, which was a very short walk from the bus station and was a welcome sight after the hostel in Sydney. The Newcastle YHA was converted from an old 'gentleman's club' and still retains a lot of the grandeur. From open fires to wood panelled walls and a grand staircase. But the most important thing...the rooms were clean and comfortable (I even had a view of the ocean from my room!).
Newcastle was a pretty little town, if a little odd in it's layout! But as long as you have the weather on your side, then it's nice to walk down along the foreshore, along the beach and out to the lighthouse at Nobby's Point.
However, it's easy to see all of the main sights in one day - no matter what the Lonely Planet Guide says!!
So my second day in Newcastle was a bit boring. Add to that fact that it was also tipping it down!! Not a good combo!!
Thankfully, Sunday morning came and I trundled off with all my bags in tow to catch my train to Tamworth.
This involved getting a city link train to Broadmeadow and changing there to a country link train out to Tamworth. The train journey from Broadmeadow is a relatively painless 4 ½ hours and I arrived in Tamworth at around 5pm.
Tamworth is a small town where you could walk around wearing your cowboy boots, hat and a checked shirt and nobody would bat an eyelid! After all, Tamworth is the home town of country!! :)
I checked in at the YHA here which was very conveniently located directly across the train station!
This hostel was weird! Whilst the main door lead to the reception, downstairs kitchen, dining area and some stairs leading to some dorm rooms and another kitchen. My dorm was accessible by going down the side alley which lead to the patio garden area and the laundry. There were some stairs leading up from the patio so that we had access to the bathrooms etc...but generally a rather strange set up! Thankfully I was only staying for one night!!
Monday morning at about 8.30am I lugged my bags round to reception to wait for my transfer out to Leconfield. It was here that I met the other 5 girls that I would be spending the week with. (6 is apparently pretty small in terms of numbers for this school! In the warmer months you'd be looking at a class of around 20-25 people instead!!)
Tim arrived at about 9am, packed our bags into his rickety old bus and we set off on the 1 ½ hour drive up to the farm. There were moments during this journey where the hills got so steep that we were beginning to think that we might have to get out and push the bus the rest of the way...but thankfully it made it!
We pulled into Leconfield and were shown to the shed that would be our home for the next 5 days. We chose our bunks, stashed our bags and then headed outside to the campfire to meet the team and enjoy our first billy can of tea!
Once we had met everyone, we were shown round the farm and given our chores for the week - it was a case of mucking in with everything from cleaning the bathroom to washing dishes!
Following lunch we were taken over to the stables and allocated our horses for the week. My horse was Blue Eye, a huge 8 year old stud with a love of eating and a dislike of early mornings! We were going to get on well!!
We were then shown how to saddle them up and put on their bridals ready for riding. Slight problem here.....I couldn't reach up high enough to get the saddle on! Oh the joys of being short!
Once everyone was ready we headed to the arena to go over the very basics (going forwards, backwards, left and right!) and once they were happy that at least had some control over our horses we headed out for a trek, which was good.....but very very wet since it hadn't stopped raining all day!!
So, when we got back, the first thing we did was change into some dry clothes and put the wet ones to dry in front of the beast (the wood burning heater in the shed).
We spent our first evening enjoying a campfire cooked meal followed by traditional campfire toasted marshmallows! I felt like a kid again! :)
We woke up to our first full day at Leconfield to the sounds of 'Save a horse (ride a cowboy)' - a song that will forever remind me of my time on the farm.
We crawled out of bed, into clothes and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Following breakfast, it was time to head out to the paddock to catch the horses....problem......what did my horse look like again??!
We took them back to the stables, groomed and saddled them ready for the afternoon. Then came our first lesson with Tim on Natural Horsemanship which relies on you thinking like a horse, not like a predator and playing the kind of games with your horse that horses use in the wild to form their pecking order. By playing these games and by remembering the 4 things that horses need (security, comfort, food and play) you can get your horse doing what you want with very little effort!
Then it was on to how to shoe a horse with Justin. We got to help out on some of the sections (mainly the filing and pulling off the old shoe).
Next on the lesson agenda......lassoing and whip cracking. This was so funny because we were all pretty terrible at it at the start - thankfully for us, we had some free time in the following days to practice and perfect these skills.
Following lunch we practiced some of the Natural Horsemanship games with our horses, learned how to trot and canter and then headed out to muster the sheep into a small paddock near the shearing shed. Now, the mustering was the easy bit...trying to catch a sheep....that's not so easy! After being dragged along through the mud, we finally managed to catch a ewe and between the 6 of us, walked her up to the shearing shed. Next came the actual shearing....kinda scary, but as one girl put it...oddly like shaving your legs!! :o)
Marijke and I decided to go rural and sleep outside in swags which are surprisingly warm and comfy and it was quite an experience sleeping outside under the stars (which you could see tonnes of since there was no light pollution to speak of!)
The next day was given over to pasture improvement (aka....weeding!). So, armed with our hoes and collection bags we headed off up the nearest hill having been shown the weed that we were looking to get rid of.
We spent about an hour or so doing this before heading back to make sandwiches for a packed lunch.
Then it was time to jump into the back of the ute (something I've always wanted to do!!) and head up to the top of the farm. It was slightly cramped on the way up there, with 6 women, 3 dogs and a whole lot of maintenance gear. 2 of us ended up standing up in the back of the ute to make room for the others - health and safety? HA!
Following lunch we split into 2 groups. Marijke and I ended up going with Tim and Kit to fell trees and fix fences - which was hard work...and a good laugh! After all, it's not every day you get let loose with an axe and a crow bar!!
Dinner that evening was a welcome sight and following dinner, we spent time playing games round the camp fire and having a laugh.
Day 4 day the farm was the big cattle muster. After catching and saddling our horses, we headed out on a 2 hour ride to the top of the farm (close to where we had been the day before) collecting the cows as we went. Spread out in a horseshoe around the cattle to stop them from bolting, it was our job to make enough noise to keep them moving! So with much wooping and yelling, we managed to get all the cattle into the pen. Time to stop for a well deserved lunch break before the real fun began.......cattle wrestling!! Admittedly we were only wrestling the calves, but they were pretty big calves by this point and only Marijke and I were brave enough (or maybe stupid enough) to have a go! After much sliding around in the mud, being dragged along by the calf, we finally managed to catch it, tip it and secure it by one person holding its head and the other person holding it's back legs.
Next came the lesson on how to mark, brand, tag and castrate the poor w***s. The castration was over and done with pretty quickly and the removed balls thrown unceremoniously into Justin's upturned hat to be saved for the BBQ that night (I've never been so happy to be vegetarian!)
The last day at Leconfield was more of a 'have fun' day instead of a 'work day'.
We headed out to catch the horses for the last time and took them back to the stable. There we were taught how to wax the saddles to maintain them and keep them supple. However, the melted wax we used smelt of pig...and so did we by the end of the project!!
Once this was complete we saddled the horses and headed to the arena to play games and have races on horseback. We also headed out to do some cantering practice. Then it was time to say goodbye to our horses and release them back into the paddock before heading back to the shed to change and pack ready for the journey back to Tamworth in the rickety little bus!
An awesome experience - I would do it again in a heartbeat!!!