Never send a woman to do a man’s job,” was the reaction from some macho hillbillys I’d met in a bar when announcing my employment as a farm hand in Nullawarre, Victoria. I was unimpressed to say the least. I’d met lots of backpackers, male and female, who’d thoroughly enjoyed their farm experiences. Unlike the flat caps and West Country accents I comically associate with farming in Britain, its big business in Australia. One of their largest cattle farms is six million acres – the same size as Belgium.
After the farmer’s Danish girlfriend, showed me the ropes of the 400 cattle dairy farm, she told me her visa had ended and that she was heading back to Denmark. Since the farmer’s last wife had run off with half his money he’d been in no great hurry to marry her into citizenship. Sufficed to say, of the farmers I’d met in Australia all were divorced or single.
Whether this was an occupational hazard or a matter of convenience was unclear, but with 15-hour days and no day off, it could be quite a lonely life for a spouse.
As the cows are milked, the milk is sucked into a huge vat holding 3,400 litres which is emptied by the wholesaler each evening by attaching a tube to a hole at the bottom.
One of the main things to remember is always make sure the lever to the tank is closed before milking to ensure it doesn’t pour out. At the end of milking I went into the back room to find said lever was open. The back of my neck and cheeks began to burn with shame as I watched hundreds of litres of white creamy fluid curdle in circles amongst the dirt and algae floating away down the stream alongside the dairy. I felt mocked by the saying, “there’s no use crying over spilt milk”. After a rather embarrassed confession to the farmer, I was forgiven by the phrase “what’s done is done”.
Subsequently, the little confidence I had completely disappeared and from that moment on, everything went down as well as a clown at a funeral.
I tried to get a little escapism by befriending the (only) neighbour who kindly lent me her horse for the day. The horse bucked me off in the middle of nowhere and, heavily winded, I searched for hours through woodland to retrieve it.
Not having a driving licence isn’t much of a problem on farms…as long as you pay attention.
During harvesting I drove the tractor straight through a water trough, reversed the ute into a shed and got the quad bike stuck in a ditch. I felt like Paris Hilton on The Simple Life.
The farmer, once again, was astonishingly merciful with his “what’s done is done”, an expression he seemed to bestow on me for the duration of my time there.
After three long months I’d had enough. So, my pathetic ordeal left me wondering if farming really is mans’ territory?
According to some psychologists, women think with the right side of the brain and men with the left, awarding us with skills in different areas. I doubt the farmer would be successful at my previous role of beauty consultant (but given his patient nature he’d certainly do his best).
I hope, given another chance, I would have the strength and confidence to succeed
in farming, but what’s done is done.