Man vs Wild

G’Day Mob,

I am going to start calling these long posts Beer Blogs. Instead of just scanning over all the words, go and grab a beer or a wine or a cuppa or whatever takes your fancy, and settle in for a good, long natter.

A couple of years ago I busted my knee in a hockey game and subsequently required surgery. Having a knee encased in a full leg brace is not particularly amenable to farm work so during my convalescence Brian and I got some free labour from a young bloke named Jack. He was 17 and loved nothing more than surfing and fishing on the coast. This is how he adjusted to life at Rocky Springs:

Jack, all long haired surfie, rolled into Coolatai on the night of Slim’s 50th birthday at the pub. Slim had been drinking steins (one litre glasses of beer) since 4pm and was in immaculate form so Jack was dragged into the public bar for handshakes and raucous humour. Slim and the boys commented that he would need to bulk up, and after saying the long hair would have to go, Slim’s wife grinned and said “Oh, he’s a cutie”. Welcome to Coolatai Jack.

Jack and Coolatai are now firm friends.

Jack’s first job, on reaching the farm, was to re-set the mouse traps and this he embarked upon with enthusiasm, giving us a tally of kills each morning. Then after ensuring his bedroom was mouse, and more importantly rat, proof he ventured to his bathroom where his second job was to remove the frogs from the shower.

Then it was outside to meet the semi-domesticated animals. Bo bounded up to the usual exclamation of “gee, he’s a big dog”, Clyde leapt straight into his arms and Wag and Spy barked and raced around. With Bonnie it was love at first sight. But Bonnie initially had to share Jack’s affections with Desley who he had first met seven years ago, and who I suspect will always be his first love.

Jack and his childhood sweetheart - Desley

Jack and his childhood sweetheart – Desley

Cobey just laid his ears back and amongst the mayhem was a spotted pig.

With me maddingly confined to the house Jack became Brian’s offsider and his education in the myriad of farm skills began. Day One was straight into the cattle yards: drafting, drenching, tagging, de-horning, castrating, and then mustering and moving mobs away.

Brian, Jack and the ponies head off for another day in the paddock.

Brian, Jack and the ponies head off for another day in the paddock.

In the weeks that followed there was more mustering, cattle sales, pregnancy testing, stripping old fences, building new fences, quad riding, bike riding, tractor driving, ploughing, trucking cattle, firewood runs, chauffeur driving for the invalid, whipper-snipping, kennel construction, shovelling cottonseed meal, tyre repairs and other jobs to numerous to continue to list here.

Fishing and surfing were replaced with pig stalking and dog jumping. The spotted pig was a very fat feral living with the horses and would have looked mighty fine in the freezer.

Desley and the fat feral pig

Desley and the fat feral pig

Jack became fixated on assisting that transition to the cold place. The pig had Jack’s measure though. It would be smugly sitting with the horses when he went to get them for work in the morning and at night would boldly share their feed. Jack turned the old round-yard near the house into an oversized pen and using his new cattle skills attempted to “draft” the pig. The pig, having no cattle skills of its own, merely charged the closing gate – almost knocking Jack over in the process.

The Incredible Climbing Clyde came second to a whippet at the mini-dog high jumps at the Warialda Show two years ago and in April he was keen for a rematch. Wanting to involve Jack, I suggested he train Bonnie. Well, the show was a bit of a fizzer with only three entries and no whippet. We quickly knocked out the wimpy terrier and Bonnie and Clyde tied for first place.

But Jack was inspired. The Coolatai Vintage Tractor Pull was on a month later so we set about organising a jump complete with a fancy dress for the less athletic canines. The Brilliant Bouncing Bonnie and her committed trainer went into lockdown – afternoons were spent on practice jumps in the sheep weather shed, evenings were spent with pampering on the couch and if not for house rules nights would have been spent sleeping together.

Jack’s attitude towards my other dogs took on a derogatory tone. Bo became “dumb” and Clyde, after one over-zealous feeding frenzy, became “wombat”.

“Bon Jovi my princess” was praised and further pampered. At the Tractor Pull Bonnie was dressed in fetching white lace

Jack and Bonnie prepare for competition

Jack and Bonnie prepare for competition

while Clyde strutted before the girls in his “Mongrel Mob” denims.

While Clyde was thinking of girls and not jumping

While Clyde was thinking of girls and not jumping

Costumes were quickly discarded, however, before the main event. My Incredible Climbing Clyde had his mind on the job but unfortunately it wasn’t the jumping job and we were embarrassed out of the placings. Bonnie, the smallest dog by far, leapt every jump with Jack’s encouragement and to the amazement of the gathered crowd, cleared 1m 12cm to win 20kg of dog biscuits.

To say her trainer was cocky would be an understatement. Bonnie continued to receive constant attention for the duration of Jack’s stay.

While successful with Bonnie, Jack was challenged by the spotted pig. He would see other pigs while mustering and when the opportunity presented we sent him piggin’ one night with some of the local lads. Brian and I were expecting him to be late home and were just relaxing into the quiet when he returned hyped up on tales of chasing pigs with armoured dogs, running through the dark and “sticken ‘em”. His eyes may have been fevered with excitement but his body was exhausted and as he talked he slipped further and further down the couch till he was near asleep.

Pig-chasin' can wear a bloke out

Pig-chasin’ can wear a bloke out

Jack charmed Coolatai. Whether at the show, the tractor pull, the pub or the tennis, he would sit and talk to anyone. He discussed campdrafting with Ian, the pronunciation of Merimbula with Al, argued with Graham over the division of the two new Scottish backpackers, suggested Vince get his cattle off the road, heard of the town’s history from Joan, talked family with Jen and agricultural economics with Slim – just prior to asking him about his youngest daughter.

He went on farm visits: bobcats and tractors with Col, GPS guided sowing and headers with Paddy and prime Hereford bulls with Ian. I think Brian and I may have wrecked his day at Ian’s though. While he was away we caught a piglet with the foxies and sent him the photo.

Jack never shuts up but doesn’t say much either and Brian and I were left wondering how long we would be enjoying his company and his free labour. Ok, so we weren’t paying him but as a 17-year-old boy he would have cut-out his wages in tucker anyway. We could only guess that he would be at Rocky until the snow season lured him south or he caught the spotted pig.

And so it came one afternoon that Brian ran out of excuses and with Jack dancing around once again excited because the pig was in the round yard, “Dead Eye Dick” (Jack’s expression) shot it and the two blokes set about dressing it by torch light. The next day the meat was butchered and finally added to the freezer. The boy from the coast had completed his introduction to farm life and was ready to return to the land of fish and surf.

Bonnie is coming to terms with life post-pampering.

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7 responses to “Man vs Wild

  1. Pigs seem like they are a whole different game to manage. My southern cousins had a few pigs named Yoohoo, Charlotte and Wilbur. Wilbur left Charlotte with a litter of piglets and took off across the county for parts unknown. He was later found to be living in a haystack in another farmer’s field. A cow had been nosing too close to his lair in the stack, and he bit the cow on the nose. Hideout discovered, he took off, never to be seen again . Probably ended up in someone’s freezer.

    • Lavinia you have such a talent for animal stories such as this, and the one about the cat waiting for the gopher to come up the bath plug-hole – I’m still laughing about that one. And I like your descriptions – the Chisel Tooth Tribe – maybe we need to import a gopher 🙂

  2. The Chisel-Tooth Tribe – I looked this up – I remember my mother used the term to describe squirrels and various other animals with gnawing incisors. It is also the title of a book (I’m sure that is where she got it from), The Chisel-Tooth Tribe, by Wilfrid Swancourt Bronson (1894-1985). He authored a number of such books.

    • And I just thought it was your lovely way with words!

      • Would love to claim those very accurately descriptive few words, but can’t. We didn’t have that book in house, but did have Ernest Thompson Seton’s “Wild Animals I Have Known” , which made a big impression on me. I still have that book. As a child reading it, I felt as though I was one of the animals in his stories.

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