September 30, 2017

WWOOF Life: Stalking Baby Cows

One of the things I really want to experience while I'm WWOOFing is a cow birth. Don't ask me why it's just on my wish list. When I mentioned this to my hosts in the Tablelands, Phil broke the news that cows typically hide when they are giving birth and will emerge a few days later after the baby has been cleaned and is able to get around on its own. The only time he gets involved is if there's an issue with the mother or the baby, and that's only if he finds out... remember the cow is hiding! So the possibility of me witnessing a cow birth is pretty slim, but I got really lucky and was able to see a newborn before it was introduced to the herd!

How beautiful is that animal?

I was falling behind, too busy looking for snakes.

September 25, 2017

WWOOF Life: I'm a Cattle Musterer

My second WWOOF placement was on a cattle range in Ravenshoe, a small town in the Tablelands region west of Cairns. (The town is pronounced ravens-hoe; you read raven-shoe didn't you?) This was my first experience with cattle and on day one I was thrown into the fire like I knew what I was doing. And it was great! My first day was by far the busiest and longest, but easily the most rewarding of the 2+ weeks I spent there.

I had messaged the hosts a few days before I arrived to confirm bus times, and they ended their reply with, "We're scheduled to move some cattle Saturday, so timing is perfect." Uh huh, sounds great, totally know what you mean. My host Phil picked me up from the bus stop Friday evening and we got right to work early Saturday.  Phil drove us out to their biggest property, roughly 7,000 acres in the small town of Mt. Garnet. As we drove out to the property I was told we have to ween some of the bigger calves off their mothers in order for them to become self-sufficient and so the mothers can put some weight back on. Great, easy... we'll just grab the little tikes and put them in a playpen or something. When we finally drive up to the holding paddock in the middle of the property, there are 300+ cows roaming around and looking a little irritated. I'm at a complete loss at how I'm supposed to help.

Single file line, please!

When there are big jobs like this, Phil will contract other farmers to come and help out for a few days. Luckily a local bloke, Ian, was already there with two horses and four dogs in tow. One of the first things he said to me was, "You fine taking a horse?" Good lord, these people are trusting with their animals and equipment!

September 17, 2017

Visiting Archer Point in Cooktown

Archer Point in north Queensland is one of my favorites hideouts in Australia so far. John took us here for on an afternoon field trip and I would gladly spend every afternoon here. About 20km south of Cooktown, Archer Point is maintained by the Aboriginal community Yuku Baja Miluku. The official territory is over 22,000 hectares but all you need to worry about it the coastline.

To get to the beach you drive through the national forest within Archer Point, and you've reached the beach when you see campers and old vans which look like they came straight from Woodstock parked in the sand. Look beyond the campers and you'll see perfectly clear water, fine white sand, and coastal rainforest. It's the picture of paradise.

So Queensland.

Let me stay forever.

The only downside?

September 4, 2017

Bushwalking Along the Abandoned Cooktown Railroad

Up in Rossville, we were given an opportunity to join a group of locals on one of their weekend bush walks. The group gets together every few months to hike new trails and camp out. It was an amazing opportunity and I learned a lot from the locals I got to speak to. An 80-year-old named John led the hike, and he knows the bush like the back of his hand. He crushed the entire group, walking twice anyone else's pace.

One of the bushwalkers arranged access to an old cattle station along the former Cooktown Railroad. The property is owned by a local Aboriginal family and is closed to public access. The family occupied the station until about 1970 and at that point decided to move somewhere closer to civilization. About 5 km into the hike we came across the old homestead, which bears flood stains halfway up the walls and has the wood stove still in place. When the family left, they were operating on kerosene lamps and rainwater pumps. The dirt roads through the property were a lost cause in the wet season. The family would leave a car where the roads were manageable and transfer to a horse and buggy to make it up to the house.

Our fearless guide John with a children's python. Sick. • Old railroad tunnel completed in 1891. 
Today the area is traveled maybe a few times a year when the family comes out to slash vehicle paths. In a four-wheel drive truck, it took us roughly 30 minutes from the public road to our campsite. And the old homestead was another 30 minutes from our campsite. That means their driveway would take an hour to traverse! You’d never want to leave your house! Hearing stories of their lifestyle made me think of the early 1900s, not fifty years ago. Long story short, we were in a very remote bush territory.