That Gum You Like

In which Dave gets to Melbourne

Posted in Melbourne by Dave on September 26, 2009

Hola Amigos,

I know that it’s been a while, but forgive me, it’s been kinda chaotic. Also I keep screwing myself over with this thing, because if I let it go for a few days, I’m always daunted by the amount of time it’ll take to write and upload an update, so I put it off, which obviously makes it even harder the next time. But whatever. Here we go.

So after my day at the races I spent three more days with the Body’s out in the QLD, where Simon finally really put me to work at Tarrawonga. Sunday was a flashback to my landscaping past, as I spent most of the day destroying a massive hedge that had taken over one of the fences in the Body’s yard. Then, during the week, I helped Simon with “mustering”. Mustering involved me driving an ATV around the ranch, driving about 300 cattle from one fenced off chunk of field (AKA a “paddock”) to another. Apparently the cattle had devoured most of the edible scrub in their existing paddock and we were driving them into one of fresh oats. It was actually a pretty fun job, driving an ATV was pretty sweet, and the cattle were stupid and hilarious. I thought that driving these massive crowds of huge animals would be difficult and perhaps a little intimidating, but cows are real dumb and responded pretty well to me driving the ATV nearly into them over and over and over. So it took two days to finally get all the cows into the new paddock, as many of them were resistant to moving or got separated from their calves, and jumped the fence back into the original field.

On Wednesday we moved another herd of cattle, this time into the cattle yards, as they were being sold that day. This time, instead of the ATV I was driving the Ute, which gave me access to the radio, which in turn gave me access to the jewel of information that it was Bruce Springsteen’s 60th birthday. I know, holy shit. In a fortuitous coincidence, the only tape in the Ute was Born to Run, and even though I’m no fan of the Boss, I couldn’t fight against fate. Besides, my only other option was 106 Hot Country. So, for me, the definitive moment of my visit to the Body ranch was driving cattle while blasting Born to Run with the windows down. Seemed appropriate, somehow. (For the record, Born to Run pretty much sucks, but Thunder Road is impossible not to sing along to with all the heart you got.)

After driving the cattle into the yards, I got to see the beginning of the process of sorting them into varying grades before I had to go. The yards were a complex maze of fences and gates, and sorting them was a nutty process that’s I can’t possibly describe in any sort of convincing detail. Let’s just say it involved hitting the cattle with plastic pipes to keep them from ramming into you. Pretty much all I got. But I had to leave shortly after the process began, to begin what would turn into a hilariously drawn out bummer of a travel experience. Before I get into that though, I feel like I should wrap up the whole cattling experience somehow.

Although I obviously didn’t really get a feel for the ranching life in the five days I was there, the time I spent there left somewhat of a weird taste in my mouth (although that easily could have been the dust storm that came up on the day I left). As far as my feelings about eating steak, they remain essentially unchanged. At this point, I remain unconvinced that raising cattle like this is particularly inhumane. They basically are on vacation from the day they’re born until the day they die, and the people who own them are entirely focused on keeping them fat and happy. And at this point in the evolution of cows, they’re as helpless as zoo animals, and an existence in the wild would be a complete disaster. Is it sad that they’ve been domesticated to that extent? Maybe. But probably not. As far as the life they’re living in this situation, it seems pretty ideal. Okay, sure, they’re not “free” but honestly, I don’t think that distinction really means anything to cows. I’m still gonna eat steak, even having seen the face behind the plate, or whatever the hell those PETA ads were on about. I could easily see myself being a vegetarian someday, but certainly not for moral reasons.

The thing that stuck with me the most, and left me the most confused about my whole experience though, is the life that these ranchers live. It seems like a touch-and-go business, one that is left largely up to unpredictable factors like rainfall and the ever variable grain and steak prices. Many of the people I encountered, though, seemed to fall into the category of “gentleman farmers”, people who farmed because they liked it, and had money to back them up in case everything fell apart. Simon didn’t really fall into this category, I don’t think, but the general cultural feel I got out there was one of land=wealth=entitlement. And everyone out there has buttloads of land. It just seemed that I had dropped into a very weird world of intense isolation from the general populace, where everyone was preoccupied with the things that affected them directly, and not much concerned with society at large. It’s a life that left me confused, with my only certainty that it’s not for me. It’s not even that I have a problem with insulating yourself from the wider world, which is something that I see the romance in quite clearly, but more the combination of that isolation with a community of wealth and entitlement.

Having said all that, everyone I encountered was incredibly nice and gracious, and couldn’t have been more welcoming to this snobby jerk who’s left them to criticize the life they life. I don’t want to give the impression that these people were anything but fantastic in person, but I also can’t deny the culture shock that I experienced.

ANYWAY, I left the Body’s on wednesday and began my travel adventure to Melbourne. I started with a crowded, double-layover Greyhound trip to the Brisbane airport. Greyhounds out here are classier than in the states, but still draw the kind of people who are looking for cheap transportation, i.e. young people and grungy old boozehounds. But the Greyhound was pretty painless, I spent most of the time listening to Dirty Mind on repeat and reading As I Lay Dying.

I arrived at the Brisbane airport around 7pm, and went to check in for my flight that left at 6am the next morning. Of course, as soon I went up to the desk, I was informed that I couldn’t check in overnight and would have to wait until about 430 the next morning. I wasn’t about to take a cab into the city and pay for a hotel, so I cozied up in the ludicrously uncomfortable baggage claim waiting area and watched something like 7 episodes of the X-files. I didn’t particularly trust my neighbors and had too much stuff strewn about me to get some proper sleep, so I relied on the escapades of Mulder and Scully to keep me awake (not a difficult proposition (Question: Is X-files the theme of this blog so far? I seem to find a way to mention my obsession with it in every post. Still, I stand by its greatness.))

So around 430, I went to check my baggage, only to be told I was about 4kg overweight and that it was going to cost me 40 dollars. I suppose that’s what I get for bringing a box of books, but c’mon. My next encounter with the delightful Qantas people was when they confiscated my deodorant, toothpaste, and shaving cream at the security check. I’m still not really sure why, I didn’t have any problem bringing that on the plane on my flight over here, but I guess there was the danger that I was planning on not smelling and looking like a hobo on my flight to Melbourne. Oh well.

But I do have to say that once up in the air, Qantas was a great airline to fly on. They fed me breakfast and lunch, gave me unlimited coffee and free newspapers (which unfortunately follow the general trend over here of having totally bullshit crosswords) and were generally pretty nice. I landed in Melbourne to find it rainy and about 30 degrees colder than it had been in Queensland. After a bus into the city and a cab ride where the cabbie and I had to pore over a map for 10 minutes to find the apartment I’m staying in, only to discover it was a 3 minute walk from the bus station, I arrived at my apartment at about noon on thursday.

After meeting the fiancee and girlfriend of the two dudes who work at the plant where I start on monday I went off into the city. Didn’t do a whole hell of a lot aside from drink coffee and get lost, but already I really like Melbourne. It’s a little bit expensive, but it has everything you could ever want in a city, as well as a seemingly limitless number of weird neighborhoods to explore. At this point I hadn’t slept in about 24 hours, so I went back to the apartment and napped before meeting the two dudes, and had dinner with everyone, including two other Americans employed by the plant. Everybody is really really nice and it’s been great to hear American accents and to live with people who are equally confused by the difference between Rugby League, Rugby Union, and the AFL. Also, my apartment is killer, with an incredible view of the main downtown area. My internet is a little sketchy do properly do photos, but I’ll do a photo post later, where you can see the incredible view from my 15th floor balcony. When I do that I’ll also show you my hilarious closet/room where I’m living, which although small and windowless, it’s perfect for what I need (i.e. it has a bed).

Friday I slept in, had a delicious breakfast at a cafe nearby (hint to future travelers: all bacon is canadian bacon, and these people do not believe in homefries.) and went off to the ACMI (Australian Center for the Moving Image) which kept my record of free museums at 100%. The museum was really really awesome, with two aggressively experimental exhibits, Remixing Hollywood and a survey of the work of Len Lye, a New Zealand filmmaker. Len Lye apparently pioneered the technique of painting directly onto film, and although that work hasn’t aged particularly well in the 80 or so years since it was made, it was still really cool to see. Lye also apparently worked a lot with scratching onto film, and the three I saw in the exhibit were incredible. Particularly “Free Radicals” which I could watch for days. Remixing Hollywood was also fantastic, with films by Martin Arnold, Virgil Widrich, and Peter Tscherkassy, none of whom I’d heard of or seen anything by, but it was all really good. So yeah, the ACMI was definitely my best museum visit since getting to Australia, and if you’re ever in Melbourne, it’s definitely worth a visit. After my stop there, I just went back to the apartment and enjoyed my view and passed out early.

Today all I’ve done is travel over to Richmond, one of the dozens of Melbourne suburbs that are basically in the city and go to the awesome Picture Search Video, where I opened an account and got some flix. It’s currently about 130 here, and the AFL (more rugby) Grand Final starts in a half hour, so I think I’ll join the rest of the Melbourne population in watching that. Seriously, people here are going insane, I had to walk through a parade yesterday to get to the ACMI, and nearly everyone has either a red and white (Saint Kilda Saints) or blue and white (Geelong(I think) Cats) striped scarf. I expect nearly the entire city plans on getting tanked and screaming like idiots, so it should be a great day to get a feel for the place.

Like I said, my internet is too slow to upload photos or tunes, but I’m on the hunt for an internet cafe, so a media post is forthcoming.


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In which Dave goes to the QLD

Posted in Queensland by Dave on September 20, 2009

Hey Guys,

I know it’s been a few days, but I’ve been crazy busy since the last time I updated this thing. Took the train from Sydney to Brisbane, a fourteen hour expedition in which I ended up falling asleep in the fetal position on the floor after trying every possible position on the seats themselves. The train was populated mostly by loud, drunk, crazy people, including one woman who kept insisting that “she knew me from somewhere”. Pro-Tip: if you’re going to try and pick up somebody at least thirty years younger than you, on a train at five in the morning, spitting on them as you talk is probably not going to help matters.

I got to Brisbane around 7:00am Thursday, and my Greyhound left at 7:30. So my impressions of the city were limited to the Transit Station, which was basically a dirty, garish mall. The Greyhound from Brisbane to Roma was pretty painless, including a meal stop at a gas station where the food choices were limited to either A.) Fried Chicken B.) Chicken Fingers or C.) Chicken-Flavored Chips (fries). Having had nothing to eat since I left Sydney the previous afternoon, I got a generous helping of all three, topped off with a big ‘ol bottle of Coke.

You guys. Coke in Australia is like Coke from Mexico. Anyone worth their salt when it comes to Cola knows that in Mexico they use Cane Sugar instead of High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and also knows that yes, it makes a difference. In the states the only place you can find this ambrosia is in a select few bodegas scattered around the country. That or Texas. But here in Australia, the nectar is standard issue. Suffice to say I will be imbibing far more frequently than I ever would. Thus far, this is the only culinary item where the Aussie version is significantly superior to it’s US counterpart. Go Coke.

ANYWAY, Simon’s wife Katrina picked me up at the bus station in Roma, and took me out to the ranch, known as Tarrawonga, which is about a thirty minute drive outside town. Tarrawonga is an enormous property, and it’s one of three that Simon owns, along with Tallah and Kynoch, which he’s purchased since I arrived on Thursday. Altogether, I think the properties total at something like 15,000 acres, on which Simon raises his 1500 head of cattle. After an early dinner and sleep on Thursday evening, I woke up at about 630 with the Body family. Simon and Katrina’s two sons, Peter and Ted, ages 7 and 9 respectively, don’t let the family sleep much past 7, and Simon likes to be up early– before the heat kicks in.

We spent the morning checking the cattle in Simon’s “Ute” (AKA pickup truck), and taking a tour of the property. Raising 1500 cattle is an intense business, and I arrived at an interesting time for Simon. Along with buying Kynoch, he’s currently engaged in trying to sell 300 steers (at roughly $1.95/kg) and 300 heifers (at roughly $1.70/kg), which will be his big sale for the year. Usually he waits longer to sell, he says, but the drought that’s running train on the rest of Australia has struck here, and Tarrawonga has gotten about a third of it’s usual rainfall. This lack of rain has stunted the growth of the oats Simon uses to fatten the cattle, and he’s trying to close the sale before he runs out of oats to feed them.

Coming back from our foray into town (where Simon had to sign some papers regarding his property deal, and I took the opportunity to check out greater metropolitan Roma), we ran into one of Simon’s neighbors, Cossi, who pointed out we had a flat tire. After helping us fix it, Cossi shoved off, but not before Simon convinced him to come over for drinks later, or as Cossi put it, “tellin’ lies on the veranda”. As I would shortly learn, in Queensland the weekend is serious business.

Seriously, if there’s anybody out there who thinks they’re skilled in the art of consuming vast quantities of beer, I invite them to come try their hand in the flatlands of Queensland. After Cossi’s arrival that evening Simon got started, and as much as I tried to keep up, I quickly gave up at trying to match and just watched in awe…

Enter the Surat Races, the following day. We left the house Saturday morning at around 10:00 (not before Simon had warned me that shorts were not acceptable race-wear, despite the 80 degree heat) and went over to one of Simon and Katrina’s friends’ house, where they dropped off the kids and met the bus that was going to shuttle a crew from the neighboring area off to the Surat, about 45 minutes away. Before going to the house, I had thought the shuttle idea was simply to cut down on the number of cars going or something, but after Simon’s friend Warrick (probably spelled wrong, sorry) offered me a beer at 10:30 in the morning I figured out it was because the most important part of the Surat Races was most definitely not the horses.

My day at the races was excellent. Within ten minutes I had been nicknamed Clark Kent (I suppose it’s the glasses) and had lost fifty bucks (damn you Craiglea Tambo!), and begun trying valiantly to drown my sorrows in the delicious XXXX Bitter, the most popular option amongst the crew I had arrived with. Any moment where I wasn’t actively drinking a beer I was asked if I needed another one, and the one time I turned down the offer I was asked if I would like to henceforth be referred to as “Clark Cunt the Yank Bitch” and quickly learned my lesson. After a 8 hours of socializing, drinking, gambling, drinking, dancing, and more drinking, we loaded back on the bus and listened to the Rugby League game on the radio on the way back to Roma.

See that one in the back there? Yeah.

See that one in the back there? Yeah.

The debatable greatness of Rugby, AKA “footy” is a subject for another post, after I’ve seen more than one complete game, but I will take this moment to offer a word of warning to any americans planning to come out here. Be prepared to defend American Football (AKA “gridiron”). As soon as the Rugby game came on the radio, everyone in the bus used the opportunity to rag on football, and thus americans, and thus me. Example exchange:

“Oy Clark? why are you americans such pussies when it comes to hitting each other?”
“**Awkward laugh** I dunno”
“You should play Rugby mate, make a man out of you”
“Yeah, I suppose”
“You suppose! You suppose! C’mon, gridiron is a game for kids. You americans are a bunch of cunts”

But seriously, Rugby is kinda stupid. It’s really repetitive and predictable and mostly pretty slow moving and futile. Not that I really like football either, but watching Rugby is kinda like watching somebody trying to knock down a tree with their head.

I got home Saturday night mostly unscathed, and spent most of today helping Simon and Katrina out in their yard. It turns out I’ll only be here for the rest of the week before I head to Melbourne, and hopefully this week will be a good chance to get a better feel for the cattle business, but so far, my visit to rural Queensland has been a blast.

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