27th January- 4th July
The drive down took about 10 hours and Nath drove like 7 of them. We were pretty nervous about what to expect from farming. It was a different feeling as all our travelling has been in our control. If we haven't liked something we have known it's our choice to move on and do what we like. With the farming, if we didn't like it and wanted to leave that would mean that we definitely weren't getting our 2nd year visa as we wouldn't have enough time to try another farm as we were already very tight for time. It was a strange feeling for us both. We didn't really stop to see anything on the way down, but then again we didn't really see anything that we wanted to stop at.
We got to the farm about 7pm and met the farmer, David Hotchkin at his potato shed. He then took us to our accommodation, a three bedroom house on another farmers land, who we would also work for- David Blackshaw. The house was very dusty and dirty when we got there as nobody had lived there for quite some time. We would have the house to ourselves for a while before other workers arrived. The first night was awful and we considered leaving. The house felt like an old haunted house, there were strange noises, we were in the middle of nowhere, it was dirty and we didn't have anything- no sheets, quilts, pillows, no food in for breakfast either and not many lights in the house. We barely slept a wink that night, with our towels over us in a creepy room. Nath definitely wanted to leave too but we decided to stick it out and see what happened. We worked the next morning until lunch time. I was on the grading table with 2 other backpackers and one local, Kath, who had worked there for about 35 years. I had to pick out any bad potatoes from the conveyor and chuck it away. Nath was on large potatoes, where he had to sort out the large ones to see if they were the correct size to go through or not. It was a big operation at the shed. 2 people at the beginning of the conveyer picking out mud, then the large, then they go through the wash, then down to us on the grading table, then they either go into bins or straight into the truck if it had arrived. We spent the whole weekend on our hands and knees scrubbing and cleaning and getting rid of cobwebs, cleaning the whole place up. It looked pretty alright once it was all done. We got fresh bedding, sorted our room out with a double wardrobe, double bed, a TV and DVD player. We felt much better once it was all done!
Thorpdale is a tiny town in LaTrobe Valley, Baw Baw Country, Gippsland with a population of around 200 and declining. It is around 300m above sea level and the area is surrounded by the Strzelecki Ranges. From our house you could see Mount Baw Baw, the local mountain, which in winter was a ski field. It was a lovely picturesque area! When we were there, at the beginning we were in summer and it was often in the 30s, sometimes 40 degrees. When we left it was winter and got down to -1 with frost on the car and it was very very cold, especially in that big old house with no central heating! We had a nice wood burning fire in the living room but it didn't really heat the full house. We often had toasted marshmallows that we kept in a jar above the fire.
We had the house to ourselves for the first month and a half which was lovely! It was still fairly quiet then as we were just in the shed grading. The end of March was when it picked up because we went outside on the harvesters. It was two people to a harvester that was pulled by a tractor and we had 3 harvesters. Tash and Aidan, who were Aussies from Tully, Queensland and travelling Australia, came in March. They originally stayed in their trailer tent in the garden but it soon got cold and within a couple of weeks they moved into the house with us. They both worked for James, another farmer in the area, I ended up doing two shifts for him and Nath did one. The same weekend a Dutch girl called Tanika moved in and worked for Hotchie first and then James. She was a nightmare, she was rude and spoke about us 4 to the other house (and got caught). I had a few confrontations with her and eventually in June she was told to move out after we told the farmers everything she had been doing. She was seeing a guy from the other house who was a thief and things from our house were going missing, like food and toiletries, and I came home one day and caught Tanika going through our 4s cupboard and using things. I've never not got on with somebody so much in my life. I really couldn't stand her and it make it very hard to be happy while living with her! There was also a friend of hers, Tim , that lived with us for a couple of months too but he kept himself to himself. There was another house of workers on James's farm where about 6 people lived, but we didn't really socialise together, most of them were nice though, two of the original backpackers at Hotchkins with us, Johan and Mariam were lovely.
We became very good friends with Tash and Aidan and we all practically did everything together! They had never seen snow so when it started snowing at Baw Baw we went up for a roll around and some lunch which was very exciting for them. It was lovely- they were so excited! Me and Nath also went up Baw Baw in summer when it was nice and walked to the peak- there were off road mountain bike races on whilst we were there which was good. We spent most weekends relaxing with Tash and Aidan, cooking meals for each other and having our weekend family meal! We had a good few nights at the local pub- the Travellers Rest, where the pub had been in the family for about 100 years, with Jonny Bantock running the pub now. He was so lovely Jonny. We met quite a lot of the locals who were very friendly and we had some really good laughs and made good memories! We went to watch the local footy (AFL) for the ANZAC day game which was a very good day. It was a lovely clear day and they did a crisp drop from Bill's aeroplane onto the field. Us four ended up turning it into a messy day and the next day at work I had to run off from the table 3 times to be sick and had a carrier bag with me on the back of the harvester! Aidan did the same thing after a night that we had at the pub and he was spewing out of the back of the tractor all day! We had a weekend of having a smoke together too which was funny!
With Tash and Aidan we also went bowling (Mariam came too) and we went for a day out at Farm World, a local festival every year that sells everything farms, from animals to massive machinery and much more. They had fun stuff like sheep dog trials and we had a funny day! Aidan's dad and stepmum came to visit whilst we were all on the farm, Allan and Christine they were called. It was too cold outside to stay in the van so Aidan asked if they could stay in the house. We were pretty anxious thinking it would be weird living with two people, especially parents, in an already crowded house. Well our fears turned out to be absolutely nothing to worry about. By the end of their stay we didn't want them to leave! They were two of the nicest people we have met. We cooked dinner for each other, Allan made lovely homemade pizza, Christine was always baking so she made some yummy treats. They were so brilliant and they all made us feel included even though it was their family time and they hadn't seen each other in ages. It really was a pleasure to meet them!
Me and Nath went on a few days trips whilst we were there. We visited Wilson's Promontory National Park and climbed Mount Oberon, which gave lovely views of the coastline and the park. It was one of the nicest views in Australia I've had so far, excluding the barrier reef. There were lovely white sandy beaches, clear blue water, and the southern most point in mainland Australia. We also visited squeaky beach, that was suppose to squeak when you walk on it from the rounded grains of quartz. Well to Naths amusement I tried my hardest and I couldn't get a squeak out of it!
We took a day trip to Mornington and had a walk along the beach with the beach boxes, we also visited Philip Island, we drove around the full island stopping at all the points of interest and then we went and saw the penguins. We visited all the towns around Thropdale and had a walk around them all (Mirboo North, Morewell, Moe, Traralagon). We went to an Italian festival in Mirboo too which was nice. It had a big Italian settlement and they celebrated that every year. Hotchie told us about the Big Dipper- a road in Childers, the next village over, that has basically two massive dips in it! He told us to go for it as quick as we could, so that's what we did. It was very funny! We went back again once in our car and again in Aidan's big yute! Aidan took us off roading in his 4 wheel drive yute too, which was hilarious. On the way down into Moe he just turned off the road onto private land down a massive mud track, then we went through the quarry and back up the hill on the way back home, getting stuck in a bush and knocking his wind mirror off!
Laurie and Sinead came to visit us from Melbourne for a full weekend during our time there which was nice. Sinead had obviously lived in Thorpie and knew everyone as she was the one who got us the job from her farm work the year before. She was like a little local celeb in the pub as she pretty much lived there! We had drinks at ours and then went to the pub both nights, one of the nights we had a meal with Blackie too. After the second night we went back to Rose's house, which wasn't too far from ours. We polished off a bottle a vodka and whatever else we drank at the pub all night. It was a questionable drive home from Nath. It was a good weekend with them to catch up and drink ourselves silly.
It's not something we ever do, drink driving, but in Thorpie we didn't have any other option if we wanted to go to the pub. There were no taxies, obviously no public transport, and no other way around! It wasn't ideal, but at least there it was common around there and there was no police station in Thorpie. We took it in turns really, Aidan drove a few times when he was there and then me and Nath would both do it when it was us. We were only a one minute drive up the hill but still not something we liked doing at all! But we were okay anyway! Apart from Aidan's driving, which went a bit off-road after one night (we were on the land of the other house at James's farm though so not on the public road).
Our first year visa ended on 26th May 2016 and we decided to apply for it about a week or two early. We had worked the three month or 88 days of farm work but we hadn't done full days, so they didn't all count. Technically if they wanted to be funny about it and check everything then we hadn't done enough. I was so scared but we thought whatever happened, happened, and we would do something else if we didn't get it. We didn't have to attach our evidence straight away, just fill in the application form, similar to first year one, and submit it online. We got a notification stating it had been submitted and granting us a bridging visa for if our first year visa ran out before a decision was made. Literally 2 minutes later an email came through to say that we had been granted our second year visa!!! We were so excited but shocked as we wasn't even sure if we were going to get it, and definitely not that quick. We thought it would take a while and we couldn't even celebrate as we were working in the morning! Happy happy days though!! And they never even asked for any evidence! Most people wouldn't be carrying on working on the farm when they get their second year as there is no need, but no us! We stayed for another 2 months!
We had some tough days working at the farm, but mostly it was just repetitive. The heat wasn't too bad as we were outside on the back on the harvester and the shed was always cool when we were inside. Winter however was very cold! It got down into minuses, the car froze over and it even slightly snowed in Thorpie for the first time in years! I wore 8 layers to work and I was still cold, especially in the shed. Because of the water from the washer it made it colder and we were obviously stood in one spot for hours. No matter what we just couldn't warm up. We ended up with very numb hands and feet! Hotchie's harvesters were fine and never too full on mud, only on the odd day, but Blackie's were a different story. He harvested mostly weeds and mud I reckon! It was pretty funny! We had one of the toughest but funniest days on his harvester, there was nothing else to do but laugh. He thought it would be a good idea to keep going into the night, it was pitch black, with not really any light for us on the back on the harvester to even see what we were doing. The stars looked amazing though! There was me and Nath on the back of the harvester, Blackie driving the harvester tractor, Bainy the bin chaser driver and Cerry was between driving the other tractor and jumping on the back to help me and Nath. There was literally just mud in the bins, hardly any potatoes. The weeds coming through were ridiculous and it kept jamming the machine. Cerry ended up stood on the harvester jabbing it with a metal pole to stop it getting jammed and me and Nath were trying to rag all the weeds out of the machine and chuck them out, there was just so much though! It really was funny! Blackie was happy to plod along with his bins full of weeds until the harvester broke. We are pretty sure that Cerry broke one of the spokes with the metal pole so we could all go home! One of the funniest days at work on the farm! Blackie is just nutty!
We got on well with the farmers, David and Jen had three kids and everyone was lovely. We met Hotchie's wife and Ben's girlfriend before we left. David Blackie and his family took me and Nath out for a meal to say thank you for our work, which was so lovely of them! It really made us feel appreciated and we had a nice meal at the pub. It was the same weekend that Sinead and Laurie were up so they came along too. Then before Hotchie went on holiday to the UK he brought us out for a meal too with his family to the pub, which again was so nice! We were the only ones from the season that went out with then and were offered to go out for a meal with them, which made it extra special. We loved our time at the farm, and the local community feel and the people we worked for, so it was so nice for it to be reciprocated and for them to express their gratitude. We were the longest standing people to work on Hotchie's farm (backpacker wise). We stayed for 5 and a half month- 2 month longer than needed for the visa! But we thought why not, we liked living in Thorpie, the work and money was okay and it suited our time frame to move on and helped both farms out so they didn't have to look for more people. We got on well with everyone we worked with, it was really nice once the other backpackers had gone and we actually got to know the full time workers. Before we left Blackie and his family invited us up to his house, after taking us out for the meal too. We bought both farmers wine and chocolate- Hotchie was over the moon! Blackie and Jen bought us both presents too. They got Nath a Thorpie AFL body warmer which he really wanted, and they got me a lovely Pandora bracelet that had three Aussie charms on it. I couldn't believe it! I knew it wasn't cheap at all and it was just so thoughtful! It had an Aussie flag, a kangaroo and a koala on. It was soo nice of them, I loved it!
I felt pretty emotional leaving the farm. We were always so worried about what farm life would be like and if we would get our visa, but it all turned out to be amazing. We loved our time there, once we adjusted to country life and living in the house. I loved the community feel, I loved waking up on a morning and seeing beautiful rolling hills and countryside, and I loved the people we worked for. It's the best experience I have had during travelling and I am so glad we decided to do it and ended up in Thorpie. We also ended up meeting two of the most nutty, down to earth, and very similar to ourselves, people that we will always be in contact with (Tash and Aidan that is). It truly was an amazing experience that I will never forget! And we got our second year visa, so roll on another year of Aussie fun!!