Archive for January, 2011

The cast (and a thank you)

I’ve gone on about how great it’s been to visit my Nuffield friends, but special mention has to be made to the families who’ve not only put up with a random English girl turning up on their doorstep, but made me feel incredibly welcome.

Aside from giving up their beds, doing my washing, and cooking for me, they’ve been responsible for teaching me how to ride a quad bike, introducing me to hunstman spiders (thanks, Hugh and George), and teaching me how to dance like a ballerina.

The Nuffield kids
I’d like to think that by playing with New Holland tractors, reading with a British accent, dancing to Miley and being covered in My Little Ponies, that I’ve made lots of little friends along the way too.

A special mention has to go to 18-month-old Allie for being the only person in three months to get my name right. My Farmers Weekly chums will attest to how much I love being mistakenly called Carolyn…

I’ve also made a few four-legged friends on my travels too.

The Nuffield Pets
The offer still stands to give Chelsea a home – I reckon she’d love Vauxhall. I could probably find a home for Sam too – my freezer’s pretty empty right now…

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The end is nigh

So this is it.

After three countries, 101 days, 41 different towns and cities, seven changes in time zone and more than 100 blog posts, I’m on my way home.

I’ve met some amazing people along the way, visited incredible farms and businesses, and seen some amazing scenery.

I’ve nearly been kidnapped, driven around a Grand Prix track, been eaten by fish, and got my own back by catching my own.

I’ve been run into, dined on kangaroo, been mistakenly married-off and baked in a bikini on Christmas day.

The end

I’ve also seen some huge extremes in weather and seen first-hand the start of one of the biggest disasters in recent Australian history. To say it’s been a bit crazy is a huge understatement.

I’m not sure I was able to say the same for India, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit sad to be leaving Australia. As much as Mr Poultry World rubbishes the place, I’ve really loved it.

Going back to chilly England and back to FW Towers is going to be really tough (as is having my Tim Tam supply cut off), but I’m looking forward to having access to more than four pairs of shoes and no longer living out of a suitcase. And seeing friends and family, I s’pose.

I hope those of you who’ve bothered reading this as I’ve gone along haven’t been too bored, or confused by my sense of humour. A big thank you to those who have commented, emailed or got in touch on Twitter – it’s been great to have your company along the way.

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Don’t you love lazy Tuesdays…

A water slide:

Water slide
Climbing in rock pools:

Meelup
And a beach-side barbeque special guest (even if the locals did insist on spoling his presence with all the ‘vermin’ nonsense):

Kookaburra
Not a bad way to spend a lazy January afternoon, eh?

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Jelly bum

When it comes to the sea, I’m a massive girly wimp.

Whichever ocean I’m in I freak out about the thought that – regardless of distance – somewhere in the water there are sharks. And jelly fish. And those hideous scary anglers with massive teeth.

DeepSeaAngler

Heck, I’m even scared of seaweed.

Which is why going in the shark and killer-jellyfish-infested waters of Western Australia (as so perfectly illustrated by the photo below) has been a bit of an issue.

Scary water
As I’ve swum in rivers which were probably home to a few crocs, I realise my sea-fear is a bit ridiculous.

So today I decided to pluck up the courage to venture into the water. I was sensible, mind you – assured of my safety my a certain person, I did a few panicky lengths of breast-stroke in the area netted-off to protect people from sharks and stinging jelly fish.

Having duped me about so many other things, I should’ve known better than to trust the claims that nothing can get through the stinger nets.

Because as I was leaving the water, I foolishy attempted to readjust my bikini to make sure I wasn’t going to give an entire beach-full of people a terrifying sight – and in the process I trapped a jellyfish against my backside.

By the time I’d freed the little monster and waddled back to the beach house, my left buttock was on fire and had gained an inch in size. It turns out I’m one of the lucky few who has a reaction to jelly-fish stings.

So that’s it for my sea-swimming career. From now on the closest I’m getting to the sea is through a packet of sea salt. At least now though I can say I’m being a girly wimp for a reason.

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Water, water everywhere

Some more flood photos, this time from a friend of a friend’s farm near Rockhampton, another of the areas to have taken a battering this week:

Moving cattle in the flood waters
Flood waters
Note the pig on the shed roof on this one:

Pig on roof
Swimming bulls
Most of the flood waters have receded now and the clean-up operations are underway. It’s impressive to see on the news shows how much help people are being given – some towns are already looking pretty tidy and there are supplies of fresh food finally making their way in. Unfortunately from pictures like this you get the impression it’s going to take a lot longer for agriculture in the state to recover.

Queensland flood-recovery donation

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How the floods have hit farmers

I’ve had a go at describing what the floods are like over in Queensland, but this email I received today from past Nuffield scholar Ronald Thompson gives a better impression of what farmers are going through over in the worst-hit areas.

Ronald farms near Chinchilla, about 300km north-west of Brisbane. Chinchilla was just getting back on its feet after being flooded in December, but this week saw all the clean-up work left in tatters after 7.4 metre flood waters tore through the town. The photo is from the first floods last month.

chinchilla flood

Hello to all,

This is an update to inform you all of what has happened over the last 3 months and more particularly 3 weeks and 3 days. We are safe, the house is fine and all are well. We have lost 80% of the winter crop and have no summer crop in. It is hard to believe but we have not had enough dry days to get the crop in. We have foregone a great peanut contract and the area that would normally have them has had water over it 6 or8 times in the last 8 weeks.

I have spent the last 10 days cleaning up the floods in Chinchilla and Condamine only to have a flood come through higher than before. Two days ago we had 185mm in under 4 hours which saw our irrigation dam with 1.4m of free board go within 125mm of going over the top. It was frightening, though the by washes handled it. The water behind our house over-topped the house dam and came within 8m of the house. We have lost fences and large areas of soil near the dams, though the zero till has stood up well in comparison to other properties.

At this stage we have lost a years income and the next income will be December from the 2011 wheat crop. Our bank is supporting us though I am nervous about our ability to get through. I have a management job with Origin energy on their properties so at least we can live day to day.

We are so much better off than many friends who have nothing left and have lost friends in the floods. The enormity of all this is worse than anything Queensland has experienced before. In our area roads, bridges and the rail is washed out. There is talk of it costing the state $5 billion, that is a joke, I would but it closer to $50 billion. With in the vicinity of 50000 businesses and people affected it has to be more.

In Chinchilla, our supermarkets have closed their doors due to going broke so there is only a corner shop for 2500 people. There is no food in Chinchilla, Miles, and Roma. There is no infrastructure to get the food to anywhere out here. This means that a massive effort will be needed to feed the people. This is a disaster on a scale that has not ever been seen before. The flow on effect to the economy should but the brakes on any further interest rate rises in the short term.

It is amazing to have endured 10 years of severe drought including 2006 when we had 152mm for the year to this when we had 152mm in 2 hours last Monday! The irony is that the flood may be what finally cripples us. Thank you to all those who have called and the support mentally has been fantastic.

Cheers

Ronald

Thanks to Ronald for letting me publish this, and for the loan of the photo.

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Spuds at Spud’s

I’ve come to the conclusion I’ll have to start wearing platform shoes if I spend any more time on farms.

I understand the need for giant cars when you’re driving across bumpy and muddy terrain, but does the clutch on four-wheel drive cars really have to be so toe-stretchingly far from the seat?

I’d borrowed Ed’s Jeep to drive a few kilometres down the road to visit sheep farmer, potato grower and fishing coach, Vaughan.
And despite being rammed up against the windscreen, my titchy hobbit legs could barely reach the pedals.

I’d had to slide of my seat and propel myself into the foot-well to be able to change from first to second gear, and not trusting myself to manage the same feat to get into third, I ended up driving the whole way to Vaughan’s farm at 30km.

Potato planting
Vaughan grows potatoes on 1000 acres for Western Potatoes. WP is the last of Australia’s agricultural markets which is still regulated, which means Vaughan has a secure price of about $360/t and a guaranteed market for his produce.

The retailers are still as picky in what they will accept and the kind of spuds they want Vaughan to grow, but he doesn’t have to have any direct dealings with them when it comes to securing contracts.

It’s a system that suits Vaughan as it takes the headache out of marketing crops and gives him spare time to go and play cricket or watch people catch giant fish. It does make potato production a rather elitist industry though as it’s very difficult for new entrants who can’t afford the expensive growers’ licences to grow spuds commercially.

Vaughan's fields
Anyway, Vaughan was seeding yesterday so he invited me along to help, or rather, talk at him in the tractor for a couple of hours while he made very straight, non-GPS-aided lines in his paddocks.

He plants on a three-year rotation of clover pasture which he ploughs into the soil in the spring, but the dirt still needs the help of a tonne of fertiliser per acre once the spuds are in the ground.

His soils were some of the better, red-type I’ve seen, with plenty of clay, but despite being irrigated earlier in the day it still looked as dry as anything to me. Now the seeds are in he’ll irrigate with an inch of water every three days, the water taken from his ground-source allowance.

Spuds
Probably keen to restore silence to his John Deere, after a few laps of the paddock Vaughan dropped me back at the Jeep to make the drive back home.

I had the good sense to wait until he’d pulled out of the yard before I attempted my graceful ‘footwell bounce’ to put the thing in gear, and eventually I managed to amble along back to Ed’s place.

Admittedly it was slightly embarrassing when I got overtaken by the golf carts which are used by local winery workers to trundle through the vines, but seeing as the Jeep windows are tinted I figured it’d be Ed who’ll get the reputation for being a terrible driver…

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A natural fisherwoman pt2

I still look uncomfortable, but I’m definitely getting better:

Me and my fishy
I had no idea what I was doing, but it seems I’m pretty good at sea fishing.

You should see the bruises I have on my leg from yanking it out of the sea though. My arms are still wobbling from the fear I’d accidentally captured a Great White.

Fishin'

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Floody hell

I’ve mentioned the rain and floods several times over the past few weeks and months, but things have started to get scary over here in Australia.

This is Toowoomba, where I drove through in December:

Towoomba flood
Over the past couple of days, Toowoomba has received as much rainfall in an hour as many states get in the whole year. About 50 people have so far been reported missing in the region, 12 have died and millions of dollars’ worth of damage has been caused to buildings, roads and vehicles.

Towoomba flood 2
The latest lot of rain has fallen on already-saturated land, so the water is flowing over vast swathes of the Murray-Darling river basin without soaking in.

Towoomba flood 3
It’s having a disastrous effect on farms in the region too. Not only has the relatively thin top soil been washed away, but it’s caused untold damage to sugar cane and wheat. Latest estimates say losses to farmers in southern Queensland could be $500m. There are already reports of food running out and the price of what food does remain is apparently shooting through the roof.

Fingers crossed all my friends and the people I met in Queensland are managing to stay dry. Thinking of you all x

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I scream, you scream…

I spent today hanging out with two fat cows.

I’m not being rude – that’s the name of Kate (Ed’s wife) and her friend’s ice cream company, and this morning I pretended to assist in whipping up a batch of mint-choc-chip.

Two Fat Cows icecream

I’ve been really surprised since I’ve been in Australia how few farm shops and farm-based food products I’ve seen. Other than in central Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, I haven’t really seen any regional produce or premium food shops.

I’ve talked to a few farmers about it and they said that it was predominantly because Australia is too large to produce regional produce – an argument I don’t necessarily agree with.

They also say that consumers shop differently here than in the UK. It’s pretty normal for a shopping mall to have a large Coles or Woolworths supermarket with a butchers, greengrocers and bakers right next door. Bread, fruit and meat still seems to be something people want to buy from a specialist retailer, and the assumption is that the produce bought from there will be fairly local and of high-quality.

But in this part of Western Australia, it seems farmers (particularly their wives) have cottoned on to the fact that the state has a strong regional identity and there is a huge tourist trade they could be tapping into.

As well as plenty of farm shops, there are a number of people, like Kate and Sue, who are producing premium products from the stuff produced on their farms.

Kate and Sue started selling their ice cream towards the end of last year after spending several months teaching themselves how to make icecream and researching the frozen dairy market.

They decided to start producing a premium ice cream made from entirely natural products – including milk from Ed’s cows.

icecream
The pair have been quite lucky in the respect that Sue used to be a graphic designer, so she understands the importance of branding.
They are both pretty savvy in understanding what their clientele want as well, so they have plumped for high-quality packaging which – while it costs them more to produce – adds to the character of the product and allows them to sell it at a premium.

They are now selling the icecream to farm shops in the area, as well as by the scoop at farmers markets and shows. They have also started pasteurising their own milk, and are selling a litre of Ed’s milk for $2.50 – a considerable mark-up on Ed’s cost of production.

After being today’s official taste-tester, I can definitely give my thumbs up to the mint-choc-chip anyway. And the banana chocolate swirl. And the almond praline. And the peanut butter fudge. I get all the hared jobs, don’t I…

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