A busy few weeks:

The hot, dry wind is giving the Aussie Wide annexe a good shaking today as it swirls dust through and around the camp. The lawns and the garden are drying out as if some gigantic fan heater were directed on them at full power.

The hundreds of birds around the camp are in full song, seemingly oblivious to the wind, and since irrigation is underway on the farm, almost no machinery is in use, making the nearby workshop quieter than normal. Apart from the birds and the wind, all is peaceful which gives me a chance to reflect on the last few weeks since we last updated the blog.

We enjoyed a four day trip back to Brisbane last weekend.

It was our first time off in 6 weeks and we were really looking forward to it. It was doubtful we’d make it for a while as it’s really hard to find someone to take over cooking even if we pre-prepare everything.

Martyn came to the rescue, finding a bloke who was willing to take over for four days. We were a bit dubious as Martyn explained he’d never cooked before except “for the mates on a fishing trip”.

He came out to the farm with Martyn about an hour before we left for Brisbane and we were introduced to “Frog”. Frog was an amiable giant of a man with an easy smile and a laid back attitude. As we went through the tasks and routines with him we felt that he was the kind of bloke who couldn’t be fazed by anything and we were sure that nobody on camp would dare complain if things weren’t quite right. He refused to even take our phone number saying he’d, “give ‘em bloody vegemite sandwiches before he interrupted our days off”.

Frog works at Mt Isa Mines and was on his roster off. It was good to be able to get away knowing all would be well. Frog’s willing to do the same thing again in the future if we want some time off, which is fantastic.

We stayed on the Sunshine Coast and had the house to ourselves since David and Lacey were in New Zealand. As is normal for our Brisbane visits, it was a bit of a whirlwind of activity seeing as many family and friends as we could fit in and getting a few things we needed.

The highlight was a wonderful Father’s day breakfast at Sizzler with Ashley, Emily, Lish and our beautiful Grandson, Riley. Man, he’s growing fast!

Riley spent three hours in wide eyed wonderment smiling and taking in everything without as much as a whimper. This is one perfect baby.

We managed to get in a quick drive up to our favourite place, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, where we discovered some beautiful properties up around Bald Knob and Peachester.

As much as we loved visiting Brisbane we were still looking forward to returning to Koramba and the Aussie Wide when Monday arrived, and after a session with our accountant (the main reason for the trip) we began the drive “home”.

Driving through the spectacular Lockyer Valley is different for us these days as after our time at Koramba Cotton Farm our focus seems to be as much on the farms as the myriad of colours and contrasts thrown up by the land. There are some truly beautiful farms along the road to Warwick and we often wonder if the owners take time to be thankful for their blessings.

Leading up to the trip to Brisbane, life has consisted of 4:30am starts to cook breakfast and 8:00pm finishes after preparing dinner.

When we took over the cooking after Jacquie’s departure the camp numbers increased to 21. The farm was preparing for cotton planting in Mid-September and there’ll be more grown this year with 11,000 of Koramba’s 40,000 acres going under cultivation. This has resulted in more workers and contractors being used on the property. It also means these workers have been doing 12 hour days 7 days per week.

In the midst of cooking and cleaning we did manage to get the new garden bed prepared.

The semi-trailer full of cotton trash that was delivered to the garden bed, we spread by hand, with rake and shovel meticulously spreading it over the soil that a few days before was overgrown scrub.

An amused Dave (The farm’s supervisor) drove up in the midst of this operation with the remark, “You buggers like doin’ things the hard way don’t you. There’s a dirty big yellow bucket with a diesel engine attached to it over there, go and get that”, he said as he nodded toward the parked backhoe.

We’d been told the backhoe had a whine in the diff and we didn’t want to break it with our amateur operating skills and anyway the cotton trash was easy enough to rake out.

Toby, the Farm’s General Manager, told us about some sorghum mulch over near the machinery pad that we were welcome to use so the idea was to get some of this to lay over the cotton trash. Off we went one day down to the pad with Nissan.

We hooked up one of the large dual wheel tipper trailers and then spotted the big John Deere front end loader sitting, beckoning to be used. No one was around as everyone was on a rare day off so if we were going to get the mulch we were going to have to load it ourselves. The loader’s bucket had been removed and replaced with a lifting device so we first had to figure out how to detach this and reattach the bucket that we found over at another part of the pad.

It was many years since I’d driven a tractor and never one as big as this where the tyres were taller than me, but within a few minutes of playing with the controls and pedals I had it worked out and was able to manipulate the loading arms in the small intricate movements necessary to unhook one implement and attach another.

Actually picking up a large bale of sorghum hay that had been busted open proved a little more challenging to get the hang of, but with Kerrie directing in curious hand movements that indicated the angle the bucket needed to be to scoop up the bales, we eventually got this mastered also.

We were able to fit 3 bales onto the trailer before driving all the way back to the camp, offloading them in the right position in the garden bed and then scooting back to the pad for another load.

We managed to get 14 of the hay bales, travelling over 100 km just getting them from the pad to the camp. We then spread the whole 14 bales over the garden by hand, taxing our muscles to the maximum as we stripped away the plastic binding and moved the many tons of hay that had started to turn into a rich soil after sitting so long.

Chris telling Fintam what we were trying to accomplish.

Chris telling Fintam what we were trying to accomplish.

It was a job and a half but after it was finished the garden was covered with a thick layer of rotted down cotton trash and a thick layer of rich sorghum mulch.

Now we had to find a way to mix it all together and cultivate it into the original soil.

The difference from when we first arrived in March to now. Soon we will sow the grass seed. It's nice to see the boys having the room now to kick a football around in the back yard.

The difference from when we first arrived in March to now. Soon we will sow the grass seed. It’s nice to see the boys having the room now to kick a football around in the back yard.

One of the guys was going to get a huge John Deere tractor with an attached side buster (an equally huge ploughing type implement) to run over the garden which would have been the ultimate overkill, but all the implements were in use on the farm.

I happened to mention to Darryl, the Farm Manager, that I really needed a rotary hoe.

“I’ve got one you can use”, he said. “It needs to be attached to my little Kubota tractor but you’ll need to change the flat tyre first and you’ll need a trailer to get it from my place”.

Off we went to Darryl’s house at Trephusus, (the little community of farm managers and supervisors deep in the midst of the farm), where we found Darryl’s shed.

What a shed!

Here, sure enough was the little Kubota tractor with a number of farm implements that seemed custom made for our new garden.

In addition there was a veritable treasure trove of “mid-sized” machinery from welders to compressors. This stuff is the perfect size, too small for the farm, too big for the backyard, perfect for the small farm or large garden.

Every type of socket, wrench, bolt and nut, hose and cable imaginable was spread before us like a gardener’s Aladdin’s cave.

There was a huge ride on mower that even made the camp’s John Deere ride on seem a bit Nancy.

Tucked into a corner of the shed there was even a bloody aeroplane! An ultra-light, virtually ready to fly of which Darryl was later able to expound some stories of some of his more hair-raising flights.

After finding a jack and changing the flat tyre on the little Kubota we found Darryl’s large dual axle trailer but since there were no ramps to drive the tractor up onto the trailer we hooked up and headed for the camp to see if Shannon, the mechanic, had ramps. Of course as is usual for anything we touch it aint that easy.

One of the tyres was shredded so we had to find a spare and jack up and change this first before heading off with the empty trailer all the way back to the camp.

Yes, Shannon did have ramps so load those on and head all the way back to Trephusus again.

We then got the little tractor started and needed to change the blade that was attached to the three point linkage to the rotary hoe. Remember, all this is being done by City Slickers new to the ways of machinery and implements.

Once we got the hoe connected it was a matter of driving the tractor onto the trailer after first learning what all the levers and pedals actually did.

Up goes the little tractor onto the trailer. Success! Except, the other tyres on the trailer are now flat due to the weight of the tractor. So, it’s a matter of reversing the trailer back to the shed and firing up a compressor we’d spotted and pumping everything up.

Finally, we headed off back to the camp yet again with dual axle trailer, tractor and rotary hoe in tow. The poor old Nissan’s covered in dust and dirt and looks somewhat like a farm Ute at the moment causing Kerrie all sorts of psychological problems as normally any dirt at all would cause her to convulse in horror.

Back at the camp we parked and drove the tractor off the trailer.

Chris didn't take long to figure out Darrel's Kubota. This was a real beaut and was just the size we needed.

Chris didn’t take long to figure out Darrel’s Kubota. This was a real beaut and was just the size we needed.

I was so excited at the prospect of playing with Darryl’s little toy I got started into rotary hoeing immediately, first running over the ground with the hoe set fairly high then getting deeper and deeper until, after about four passes over the garden bed, the mulch and cotton trash was being mixed deep into the original loamy soil.

 

After it was done it was very rewarding to walk in the soft soil and be able to stick my hands deep into the garden and feel the soft rich texture. It was good to remember the overgrown scrub that covered this spot just a short time ago and there was a satisfying feeling of achievement as I manually raked the soft soil over the tractor tracks to complete the garden bed which was now virtually ready for planting.

We’ve decided to wait a little longer before planting so all possibilities of frosts is gone. We’ll also build a fence around the garden before planting to keep out the dogs, hares, kangaroos and horses.

Up against the awesome achievements of the people who carved this farm out of the bush, our little effort with the garden seems puny, but to us it’s been a great exercise enabling us to learn some new skills and have a great time doing so.

We have also had a few visitors lately. David, Lacey, Chris, Natalie’s Dad Noel, Adam and his grandad Barry. They stayed over night on their way home from the Simpson Desert trip. It was great to catch up over a camp fire and of course they had a tour of the place next morning. I think Noel would love to get out of the city and get back to wide open spaces.

The boys packing up. I think Noel and Barry are looking forward to their inner spring mattresses.

The boys packing up. I think Noel and Barry are looking forward to their inner spring mattresses.

We also had the pleasure of Ian (Skippy) and Leslie. They had been on the road for the last 2 months and were on their way home. They had a great trip from Cairns then out west down to us then home.

Ian and Leslie in front of thier van.

Ian and Leslie in front of thier van.

Martyn had told us that he had committed to shearing some sheep for one of the farmers not too far from Koramba and we decided we really wanted to see this.

Martyn is a shearer and his business “Shear Power” was originally started to provide shearers, but he hasn’t done any actual shearing for a few years.

He picked us up from the farm and off we went to Cambooya Station about 10km from Koramba.

Cambooya is a cotton farm but Greg and his wife Toni, the owners also run about 140 head of Merino sheep as well as some absolutely beautiful Texas Longhorn steers.

As we pulled up the wool shed was alive with activity and sound.

The shears were humming sheep were bleating and Greg, his wife and the shearers and roustabouts were laughing and joking as Martyn wasted no time getting straight into it.

All his past experience must have come back to him automatically as after shearing about half of the first sheep he was making long, clean sweeping cuts through the fleece as if that was all he ever did.

Watching Martyn shear was a great experience.

Watching Martyn shear was a great experience.

We were quite proud to watch the Boss as he was easily the best shearer there grabbing the huge sheep and removing them from their wool with ease.

He must have gotten through at least 30 sheep before the back and muscles started to protest.

It was a great experience listening to the sounds and watching the activity. Greg, the farmer, was entertaining as well with his quick wit and his eagerness to explain to us what was going on.

Martyn yelled out to me to come and have a go at shearing one particularly feisty animal that I wonder if he earmarked specially. After patiently showing me what to do and where to place my feet and legs I started the handpiece which felt as if it wanted to twist from my hand.

“It’s going to want to turn out of your hand so hold it this way. Just don’t touch the spikes”, Martyn said as he showed me how to hold the handpiece and then guide it along the sheep’s skin. I could fell the power of the sheep and the hotness of its throbbing body as I held it still with one arm will trying to shave it with the other.

It's alot more demanding and harder than it looks as Chris found out.

It’s alot more demanding and harder than it looks as Chris found out.

After about two minutes it was if the sheep suddenly decided, “Enough with this bloody amateur”, and decided to try and send me to the back of the woolshed with a few kicks of its powerful back legs.

It tried to get up, flailing the half shorn fleece in all directions as Martyn rushed to my aid. This is one tough job and having had this few minutes of exposure my hat once again goes off to these people like Martyn who make this farm stuff look easy.

Greg told us that his farm, Cambooya was about 10,000 acres which is about ¼ of the size of Koramba and yet he grows almost the same amount of cotton. In addition he runs his sheep and cattle. Greg is an ex Rodeo clown and I imagine him as one tough cookie, mentally as well as physically. He used to do all the mustering, shearing, docking and castrating himself until a bad back ended that a few years ago.

Toni, Greg’s wife worked nonstop in the woolshed picking up lambs, some very big, and carrying them to Greg for banding and docking.

There were almost 100 lambs that have been born in the last couple of months, almost doubling his flock and this from only one ram!

The tails are removed painlessly by inserting a rubber band round them causing them to drop off, and the males are castrated in the same manner.

Chris having a lesson from Greg on docking lambs. Toni just quitely worked along side the men sweeping and bringing lambs to Greg.

Chris having a lesson from Greg on docking lambs. Toni, his wife just quitely worked along side the men sweeping and bringing lambs to Greg.

Greg explained why docking and castrating is necessary. “We do it to improve the welfare of sheep and lambs. Faecal matter accumulates more easily on the hindquarters (breech) of a sheep or lamb if it has a long, woolly tail. Wet wool can become a breeding ground for flies. Blow flies lay their eggs in the soiled wool (or open wounds) and the eggs develop into maggots, which feed on the living flesh of the animal. This is called blow or fly strike. A serious case of flystrike is far more painful than docking. It can be a cruel way for a sheep to die. Docking protects sheep and lambs from fly strike, while having no effect on lamb mortality and production. Castration prevents unwanted and early pregnancies. It gives the breeder genetic control over his animals. Castration allows male and female lambs to be reared together, enabling later more natural weaning. It eliminates aggressive male behaviour during feeding and pasturing, lessening the risk of injury to animals and people.”

I was able to lend a hand picking up and carrying the lambs to be docked and castrated. Some of them, those that were a month or so old, were already quite large and heavy but Toni had been effortlessly picking these up and carrying them for hours.

After the last animal was shorn it was time to go back to Koramba to get dinner ready, but not before Greg drove us out to see his beloved Texas Longhorns.

Martyn and his secretary Jaala beside the Texas Longhorns.

Martyn and his secretary Jaala beside the Texas Longhorns.

As the Ute rolled up to the paddock and Greg got out, the beautiful beasts started trotting over to us. Even city folk like us could easily see the magnificence of these creatures. One in particular, Freckles, stood out as the largest, about 8 years old. Greg proudly pointed out which ones came from which mother and father and we could easily see his pride in them. “They’re great fun”, he said when asked what he would do with them.

Chris, Martyn and Greg.

Chris, Martyn and Greg.

The farm is now virtually ready for the “magic” spot in September when the ground temperature hits 16 – 18 degrees. This is the temperature required for the cotton seed to germinate. Once this occurs all stops will be pulled out to plant.

Pre planting irrigation has been going on now for about 7 days (24 hours per day) where every row on every field has received just the right amount of water that the seed needs to germinate. The intricate system of canals contain water again and it can be seen swirling down through sluice gates and out of outlets as it makes its way around the thousands of acres of land and onto the cotton rows.

We took yet another drive out to the western boundary this last weekend to see the recent changes and to catch the boys laying syphons for irrigation. These are the tubes used to syphon water from the canals that run on the high side of every field and onto the cotton.

Koramba Cotton farm continues to fascinate us.