This Month, I’m a Farmer

It’s a week since I got to Moree and started my ‘ideal’ job – at least as far as jobs go that I can do to fulfil my working holiday visa requirements. I’m staying on a 7000 acre farm 50km north of Moree, mainly doing gps tractor driving by day and very little by night as, being the sole employee of the farmer, I’ve got the workers’ quarters all to myself. Now as much as I quite like my own company from time to time and would happily go off for a hike into the hills or the likes and lose myself for a few days, what I’m faced with here is possibly over a month of living in solitude apart from seeing the farmer, who’s leadership skills haven’t left me exactly warming to him.

I’ll take a step back for a moment, as it’s a bit of leap for an I.T. guy to be saying he’s now taken on the role of hermit-come-farmer, and recap how I got here. Back in August I arrived in Australia on a working holiday visa, giving me a year in the country with basically no restrictions: great. The government also offers the visa for a second year to those who’ve used their first year visa, but on the condition that they’ve done 3 months (or 88 days if not all done with one employer) of farm, fishing, mining or construction work, in a regional postcode area. Now, I like to keep my options open and when I got to Australia, although I had no idea if I even would want to stay for one year, I was sure that if I did any work I’d make it count towards the second year, as hey, maybe I’d really want it after all. So, heading up the west coast, I applied for a tractor driving job – possibly the easiest type of farm work I could think of, and I have the advantage of actually having driven tractors on the farm beside my house back home – but with no luck and ended up picking mangoes in the Northern Territory through November. Down in Victoria, a few months later, I picked up some work at a berry farm, taking me up to a total of 31 days knocked off for the visa. Great, but after struggling to drag myself out of Bright for almost 3 months, I was left with a little over 3 months to find 47 days work in a country where I’d heard plenty stories about backpackers finding it hard to get work. Not one to be rushed, I dossed about in Sydney for a couple of days then checked on the government’s harvest work website, with an eye to applying for the job with the longest life expectancy and low-and-behold, posted that day, is a tractor-driving job in Moree.

So, here I am. Meeting the farmer off the train at Moree, I was getting quite excited by the figures I was hearing: a 400hp tractor – sounds fun – and a 7000 acre farm – well I know roughly how big a 20 acre field is but my imagination doesn’t really extend over a few hundred acres, so wow. Turns out it’s about 12 square miles, so if I climb the hill behind my house, most of the land I see would be part of this farm. Anyway, the first few days were pretty mundane, fixing up bits of the 18m wide sowing machine, tightening bolts, greasing bearings, cleaning up grain from the silos, that sort of thing. Mundane as it was, I could deal with that, but with by far the worst boss I’ve ever served under, I was already wondering whether I’d last much more than a week before I cracked under his constant questioning of why I didn’t do this, hadn’t done that, didn’t know how to do that, hadn’t done that quicker etc. Luckily, the forth day saw us taking the tractor and sowing machine out to the field and making a start at sowing wheat.

The reason I really wanted this job was, quite frankly, because I’m lazy. I’ve done a month of mango picking, going home with aching muscles and sore feet every day and having no time for anything between finishing eating and going to bed, so sitting on my arse in a tractor all day, and being paid a little more than I was for both the mangoes and the berry farm sounds great. And it gets better: the tractor has a gps unit that controls the steering of the tractor as it sows lengths of the field, so all I have to do is turn it at end of each row and take over briefly whenever there are trees on a row. My job is vaguely comparable to when I worked in I.T.: I sit on a chair, occasionally put my feet up when the boss isn’t looking, can listen to music, stare at a couple of computer screens occasionally, stare out the window, and every 10 minutes or do some work!

Of course the difference with my I.T. jobs is, if I was sitting on the chair doing nothing it was procrastination, whereas in the tractor, it’s because there’s nothing to do apart from look out the window to make sure the 10 tons of machinery and grain I’m towing is still there. It is a boring job, but so long as it’s boring I’m not going to whinge as I’m sure I’m earning more than a lot of people who are working a lot harder than me, and it’s bad enough being in that situation without being ungrateful for it. But, the field that I’ve been sowing for the past 4 days (yup, it’s over half a mile wide and well over a mile long) will be done tomorrow and if that means I’m back to being in the firing line of more abuse from the boss, then maybe my time as a tractor-driver will once again start to look short-lived, and maybe this month I’ll have the chance to be something other than this, maybe a fruit-picker again, or maybe just a backpacker for a while.

Finishing the Blue Mountains

Clarence Station

Now that I’d spent a few days charting the less travelled corners of the Blue Mountains, it was time to hit the main drag and see the big ticket attractions, not that I was really sure what they were. I’d came to rely on the CAMPS road atlas as, not only a great source of sleeping spots but also, having a not bad bunch of tourist attractions and beauty spots marked on it, so I made Katoomba and the Three Sisters my next stop.

Katoomba, although a quaint town, didn’t spark much interest from me on the way through – I probably could have spent a bit more time exploring it but wasn’t really in the mood at the time, and I the main reason I hate driving as a means of seeing an area is just because it’s conducive to that ‘ah, I’ll just keep driving’ attitude – and after seeing the slightly steep parking prices, any interest in seeing the Three Sisters was lost. After all that unmotivated driving, I headed round to Leura and spent a while at the quiet but quite impressive lookout at Sublime Point.

I took a drive through Mt Victoria, on the Bell Line Of Road, doubling back at Bell towards Lithgow to try to get a view of the Zig-Zag railway, but the road never seemed to open up any views of the line that I’d seen and heard a bit about. I checked out the station at Clarence then got distracted by yet more dirt road that promised some caves and camp grounds, but after maybe half an hour and a few not very well signed junctions in what felt like never-ending forest I doubled back just in case I got lost or ran out of fuel, or both.
Back on the main road, I headed east, now fairly intent on making this my last full day of driving – I think the consistently hot days, lack of showers, banter and good food combined to make getting a hot shower and a good bed to sleep in at my family’s house the next night seem like a very attractive option.

Londonderry fires

There was quiet rest area tucked just off the road at Bilpin so I had yet more 3 minute noodles there for lunch then kept going towards Richmond. I saw a lookout marked on the map on a road SW of Kurrajorong Heights but the road got a bit rough, and private, so that joined the growing list of missed or avoided attractions for the day. On the main road there was a lookout to the SE which gave an impressive view of the sprawling flatlands of the Hawkesbury Plain hundreds of metres below, as well as large bushfire and the massive plume of smoke rising from it.

Descending into the plain to Richmond, I dipped below 1000m above the sea for maybe the second time in 4 days, and the heat was borderline unbearable. After getting some supplies from Coles I closed my curtains, opened all the windows, and had a very sticky late afternoon nap in the carpark, not that I felt any better for it afterwards, or indeed for the rest of the day. Somehow I ended up deciding to drive to Hawkesbury Heights and ended up at the lookout there, which also looks down over the plain from the edge of the Blue Mountains Tablelands, to find that the bushfire I’d seen hours early was still raging but now, in the fading light flashes of fire crews’ vehicles and helicopters’ strobes could be seen everywhere around Londonderry.


If I was unsure of the severity of the fire, the dozens of other people at the lookout watching the fire, as well as fire fighting personnel confirmed that it was a bit serious. Just as the fires seemed to be getting reigned in, a big storm rolled in from the west, looking set to deal the final blow to the fires, but instead it missed the fires and even brought some previously subdued fires back to life with its draughts. As night fell, everything was eventually brought under control as I watched the brilliant lightening show head towards the distant glow of Sydney.

Now that it was dark, and I wasn’t feeling great either, the car park had to make do as my sleeping area for the night. Annoyingly the whole car park is sloped, making sleeping in the boot pretty uncomfortable, and that’s before the added humidity because of the rain all night necessitating the windows being shut. It turned out that the lookout was a popular spot with the local hoons so I had to put up with engines of varying calibres being revved outside my window for the first few hours of the night.

I wasn’t looking forward to trying to find my way back to the Bondi, in the Eastern suburbs, from the west of the city so I cut my, already short, sleep short at 4am so I could hit Sydney before Friday’s rush hour kicked in. After my sunny escape from the city on Sunday, this rainy drive in the dark before sunrise seemed like a bit of a depressing end to the trip, which only got worse when I bashed the left wing of my car into the side of a pickup truck. Half asleep, driving a car which I didn’t yet legally own and without my driving licence on me, this was not an ideal situation to be in at 6.30 in the morning, but to my disbelief the truck didn’t stop, so I kept going with the lane-change that had me in the debacle in the first place before the other driver had time to reconsider that bump he’d just felt, and that was that. The rest of the drive through the city was thankfully a lot less eventful, although I still needed to stop a few times to check where in the ridiculously big city I was before I found myself on the familiar stretch of road from Bondi Junction to the beach.