Another huge loss

We lost the Farm Supervisor, Dave Reardon last Wednesday.

Nobody is irreplaceable but some people are incredibly difficult to replace.

Occasionally there are those whose output and influence is never ever duplicated, even though they are replaced. This larger than life man was one of these.

Dave Reardon

Dave received a respect from his people that other supervisors and managers long for but few ever really enjoy.

No matter how hard you worked and regardless of what you did, he did more.

Dave was one helluva tough cookie, yet at the same time he had a sensitive, softer side that was hidden very well – until you got to know him.

You needed a parental guidance warning before getting into a conversation with him as his choice of words and phrases were colourful at best and if you were ever unfortunate enough to find yourself on the receiving end of one of his tongue lashings you were very careful not to repeat the actions that bought it on.

Philip, one of the young Irish backpackers would have us in fits of laughter in the evenings at meal time when he would mimic how Dave had got up him during the day. It would fair dinkum sound like Dave was in the room. As funny as it was it was impossible not to see the respect that went along with the mimicking.

I looked up to Dave and held great respect for him.

He was one of the reasons we enjoyed Koramba so much because he had this knack of seemingly breaking all the rules without breaking them. He seemed to be beyond the excessive and ridiculous health and safety laws which drive our workforce into taking less and less responsibility for their own safety. He expected you to look out for yourself. He demanded you use common sense both in life in general and at work and he had precious little time for people who wouldn’t take responsibility for their own actions.

I loved our frequent long conversations about the farm and in particular his take on people. This bloke could take a tiny Estonian girl with very little English and turn her into one of the best tractor operators around.

The stories of the people he helped and the so called down and outers whose lives he swung around are quite legendary in the area.


He represented to me a time that is fast disappearing, when men had to be tough, resilient and unafraid and it was imperative that you backed your own skill and never relied on others to do what you should do yourself.

Dave knew how to operate, maintain and repair almost every machine on virtually any farm and was skilled in handling stock as well as a whole range of farming practices. How could you ever replace such broad experience? He was so confident in his own knowledge and experience it didn’t ever matter who he was talking to, he would take over.

A number of farmers in the area who had the privilege of Dave’s help relate how that although they owned the farm, when Dave walked onto the property you temporarily gave ownership over to him.

He just took over – but it was with the confidence of his absolute certainty that he knew what to do – in any situation.

He was a heavy smoker and loved his XXXX Gold very much.

It was hilarious a couple of weeks ago at the evening meal in the mess room. Dave decided to mow his lawn while it was still light and as the backpackers crowded against the mess room windows, which look straight onto Dave’s house, they were treated to a deft display of how to operate a ride on mower with a XXXX Gold in one hand and a cigarette in the other. With his sun seasoned leathery skin, his unruly dark hair with its patches of grey and his unshaven face and the inevitable stubbies, which were his uniform, it was a sight which all of us will remember fondly when we think of the man.

He came over to the camp one day to talk and he told me how Bev, his wife, had left the water pump on and flooded underneath the house. He told me how he “got right up her” telling her off in no uncertain terms. He finished by adding, “Just as well she was asleep!” About ½ an hour later his phone rang and it was Bev. “Hello Darling”, he said in the timid little voice he used with her, “Yes Dear, No worries Darling,” I heard him say.

It was a treat to see how this little lady could cause this tough, hard living, hardworking bloke to melt so easily.

This farm is about 40,000 acres and yet it never ceased to amaze me how Dave seemed to be everywhere at once. He always seemed to be wherever I was, whether it was the Weighbridge, the Machinery pad, the Workshop, the Camp or down the farthest reaches of the farm, he always seemed to be there, either directing someone or manually carrying out a task himself. He seemed to be able to concentrate on twenty things at once.

Studies should have been performed on the man to find out how so many tasks could be worked on at once, how one man could be so damned productive!

Dave was 4 months older than me and at 61 and with his passing this now makes me the oldest man on the farm, a dubious honour indeed.

The man left us all to wonder how we’d all cope without him, especially Kerrie and I as he really did make our job of running the camp easy. All we had to do was ask and he produced everything we needed immediately.

It was him who told me to grab any machine I wanted, from tractors to Bulldozers, learn how to operate it and then use it. It was he (often with the help of his young protégé Shannon the Mechanic) who fixed the toilets when the pipes blocked up, changed the gas once a week, got the rubbish removed and got us whatever we needed for the camp and best of all, told us he trusted our judgement on what was needed and just go ahead and do it.

Dave had a heart attack while down at the Machinery pad and many of the young workers tried frantically for an hour to revive him but to no avail.

The family decided to hold a memorial service here at the camp on Sunday as they thought it fitting that he was sent off amidst the simple, basic surroundings of the farm from which he often remarked he’d never leave alive. It was a wise decision which I’m sure Dave would have thoroughly approved of.

As Phil, one of the local farmers said, “He died as he wanted to – on the farm, in the open air with his boots on.”

As I try to come to terms with the fact that Dave’s Landcruiser will no longer pass by my window 10 times a day at breakneck speed as it struggles to keep up with his demanding schedule, I realise that this man meant even more to me personally than I imagined. Funny how it takes a person’s passing to make you realise how much they meant to you.

Koramba and the last year:

Well we’ve been at Koramba now for over a year (apart from the 6 weeks in Alice Springs). Has it changed or has it changed us?

Cosmetically we think so. All the dongers have been painted thanks to Lauren,

 

She did get some paint on the Dongers but most on herself.

She did get some paint on the Dongers but most on herself.

the bathrooms are still being done up (only the floor covering to go) which has been a great blessing. The girls now have their own shower instead of having to put out a “shower in use” sign while using the men’s.

But the biggest change is the grounds. You don’t see the change as you go along but when you go back over the old photo’s it stands out.

 

The entry to the grounds with the veggie garden.

The entry to the grounds with the veggie garden.

Around the mess hall.

Around the mess hall.

 

The sand is from the new pipes for the septic system. We will have to get that levelled out when the yard dries out from the rain we have been having.

The sand is from the new pipes for the septic system. We will have to get that levelled out when the yard dries out from the rain we have been having.

The car park

The car park

The common area outside the dongers

The common area outside the dongers

I’m afraid the garden is in need of TLC. But with all the flooding around the mosquitoes will carry a small child away (some of the roads are still cut off). Aerogad is making a fortune out here. Miss a spot and you will be scratching. It’s quite a feat to go to the toilets as there are exposed body parts that that don’t get sprayed so we have ended up taking the insect spray with us to the loo.

 

They told us this black soil will grow anything, I now we’ll and truly believe it. I have been watering the garden through the summer heat every day and getting normal size veggies, but when it rains the veggies grow at an unbelievable rate. This is a normal zucchini now look at this one that is 5 days old after rain. Here is a squash. One squash feeds 5 people.

We couldn't pick these fast enough to eat them all.

We couldn’t pick these fast enough to eat them all.

 

Normal size Zucchini on the right and one of ours after 5 days.

Normal size Zucchini on the right and one of ours after 5 days.

The same seems to affect the cotton. The cotton was much higher this time last year but it seems some farmers prefer to keep the cotton low. More productivity. We will wait and see what their bales per acre are compared to last year.

 

At Valentines day we had 5 couples and I knew the boys wouldn’t do much as they were working 12hr days. So I bought the girls chocolate roses and the boys got chocolate hearts. They also loved the dessert of Chocolate fondue with different fruit and marshmallows.

Valentines Day 2013 with so many partners we gave out Chocolate rose's to the girls and Chocolate hearts to the boys. Dessert was chocolate fondue which they all had fun eating.

Valentines Day 2013 with so many partners we gave out Chocolate rose’s to the girls and Chocolate hearts to the boys. Dessert was chocolate fondue which they all had fun eating

 

People come and people go and some even come back again like us. Our latest returning couple are Lauri and Ingrid. This couple was here when we first arrived back in March and we always thought Ingrid was a great inspiration. Here was this tiny women who ended up driving the tractors “better than most men” as quoted by Dave the supervisor. Lauri, her partner drove one of the pickers last year. So when the farm was working out who would drive these million dollar machines again they rang Lauri up and asked them to come back for this season.

 

It was great to see them arrive with their smiling faces and I must say their English is perfect now. So at the moment we have 6 from Estonia, 1 from Finland, 3 Aussies, 4 Irish and 2 more Aussie’s will be coming next week to drive the trucks.

 

We believe the cotton harvest will start next week so it’ full on again. Because everyone will be busy we have decided not to come back home until after harvest. With up to 3 shifts it’s easier for Chris and I to do it.

We Lose “Junior”

We lost the camp dog, Junior last week.

As far as dogs go Junior wasn’t pretty.

He was a big, clumsy looking animal who seemed to outgrow his skin.

His gangly, long legs ended at four massive paws that were similar in size to a man’s hand.

The jet black short hair that coated 90% of his body was broken with only a couple of small patches of white but these were often hard to discern under the layers of mud from the nearby reservoir that he loved to swim in and the grease and oil from the machinery over at the workshop were he would often be found shading himself under a tractor or truck.

This large ungainly body sported many scars, cuts and holes, the result of his lately found passion for hunting down wild pigs that were often three times his size.

Bing never missed an opportunity to go pigging and eventually Junior enjoyed it too.

Bing never missed an opportunity to go pigging and eventually Junior enjoyed it too.

No, Junior certainly wasn’t pretty but he had a character and a nature that seemed to attract people like a magnet. With humans he was the most gentle and loving animal and every backpacker and farm worker felt that he was special to Junior.

This was an identical nature to Bing, his grandfather, the other gentle giant of a dog that was an inhabitant of the camp when we first arrived and who we lost a couple of months ago. Since the two dogs were strikingly similar in appearance and nature, the name Junior (Junior Bing) was bestowed on him.

Junior and Grandad Bing - Both now gone

Junior as a puppy with Grandad Bing – Both now gone

From a very small puppy he would sleep under my desk while I was working on the computer often wrapping himself around my feet. This never stopped and as he grew large he’d bring an awful smell into the office with him, (the result of his wanderings around every nook and cranny of the farm), and still crash down over the top of my feet.

During the heat of the summer, as the temperature hit the high 40’s, Junior would scratch and whimper at the office door until I softened and let him in to the air-conditioning. When it was time to leave, either because I had to go to work in the kitchen, or his smell became too much, I would need to literally drag him out of the office.

One 46 deg night with no power some decided to sleep out side. Junior was right there to offer comfort and safety to those who needed it.

One 46 deg night with no power some decided to sleep out side. Junior was right there to offer comfort and safety to those who needed it.

While still a puppy this intelligent animal learned to unzip the caravan annexe and would sleep the night in our laundry basket on top of the dirty clothes. When he got too big for the basket he’d curl up on our camp chair or just spread himself over the annex floor.

This extremely loving animal became quite dear to Kerrie and me, quite an achievement for Junior as we’re certainly not dog lovers.

So one day I was going for a walk around the top of the huge reservoir #1 when I spotted Junior running toward me from some escapade that only he would ever know about. As he came to me he turned around and started walking with me.

His back came up to my upper thigh and as we walked I talked to him and ruffled his huge floppy ears and he would take my hand gently in his mouth as he trotted contentedly beside me.

We walked on around the reservoir for a couple of hours like this with the dog never leaving my side.

It was about half way around the other side of the reservoir that our walk was interrupted by the appearance of a huge King Brown snake.

It was without fear of either Junior or myself and it would rear up as Junior got anywhere near it.

I kept calling him away, and he would come to my side only to go back to the snake as it seemed to follow us around the track.

Presently he made an all-out lunge for the snake grabbing him near the head and shaking it wildly in his mouth.

The snake was obviously hurt by this attack and when Junior finally dropped it the thing slithered toward the bank of the reservoir and headed to the water below.  Junior now had an obsession with it and followed it into the water as I still tried in vain to call him back. He repeatedly attacked it until it appeared dead, floating on top of the water without muscle movement.

Junior seemed proud of his achievement and kept going into the water and bashing the seemingly lifeless snake with his huge paw. It was almost as if he wanted the snake to continue the game.

As he grabbed the reptile once more in his moth the thing reared up with a last breath attack and hit Junior at least three times before another final violent shaking did for the snake.

I think Junior would have been bitten at least ten times during this attack.

He finally obeyed my yelling to “Come on” when he tired of the game and waded to the water’s edge to get up the bank. As he reached the edge of the bank another snake, a small Red Bellied Black, slither past directly in front of Junior. He went for it violently but this this time the Black hit him at least three times on the nose and face before scurrying away unharmed.

Junior went down almost immediately. Was it the build-up of venom from the King Brown finally taking effect or was it the renewed introduction of a different type of venom from the Black Snake? I don’t know.

He lay partly in the water, his body unmoving except for a whimpering and an occasional ugly screech.

I went down to the water and tried to pull him out but he was a dead weight and far too heavy and I couldn’t get a foot hold in the soft mud.

Foolishly I had left my phone at home as I never intended to walk for so long and that side of the reservoir is quite remote and off the beaten track for the farm vehicles. I decide to head back to the workshop as quickly as I could to get Shannon’s gun and a ute and I would have been quite prepared to put that dog out of it’s obvious pain and suffering.

I felt rooted to that spot however, and I thought Junior would not last the hour or so it would take me to get to the workshop and back. I decided to wait with him and talk with him while he was still breathing. I just didn’t want to die there alone.

After about half an hour of talking to him an amazing thing happened!

His head, with his mouth now frothy with saliva, began to move and his eyes began to flicker.

I began to encourage him to “Come on, get up”.

Eventually he propped himself up on his forelegs and I was able to help him by pulling him up the bank a little.

To my absolute astonishment he staggered the rest of the way up the bank to my constant encouragement. He flopped down on the track and I patted and talked to him until eventually he sat up and then stood, very shakily, on those huge paws.

I walked slowly back the way we had come walking backwards, calling him, until he finally started a shaky walk. Within about 15 minutes he began to walk much stronger, and then this evolved to a walk which was normal. He would periodically jump into the reservoir and cover his whole body with water, taking huge gulps before jumping out seemingly completely unaffected by his ordeal.

Within half an hour or so he was trotting perfectly normally back toward the workshop. He would be way in the distance and then stop and wait for me to catch up before trotting off again.

By the time I got to the workshop I couldn’t find him so I assumed he was under a tractor somewhere shading himself after his walk as was normally the case.

I was elated that this wonderful dog had survived such an ordeal.

I told Kerrie the story and we took off in the car to get a photo of the dead King Brown.

The brown snake that took the life of our friend.

The brown snake that took the life of our friend.

That evening Junior didn’t turn up for his dinner outside the mess room as he always did without fail and we assumed he had gone out with Shannon.

By the morning he was still nowhere to be found and eventually Shannon found his lifeless body still under one of the tractors from where he probably never moved after he made it to the workshop.

How could the death of a dog be so moving to non-dog lovers like Kerrie and I? I know this, Junior will always be a huge part of the many memories we’ll cherish from the time we spent at Koramba Cotton Farm.

 

What ever was happening Junior was in the middle of it.

What ever was happening Junior was in the middle of it.