Australia: Mount Warning

I’m leaving the farm! I’m leaving the farm! Calloo, callay, I’m leaving the farm!

I decided it a couple of days ago, while elbows deep in a spiky blueberry bush. I wrestled back and forth with the decision for a long time, because the main reason I’m leaving is because the work is shit and pay is crap and I believe I deserve better. But then this angry little man on my shoulder says who do I think I am – so entitled, so pompous, so self-righteous! I should be toiling in the fields with the rest of them earning nothing, for I am no better than anyone else, and the very fact that I wish to leave shows me as the soft-as-shit entitled millennial I truly am. But then the happy little man on my other shoulder says well hang on a second, looking to better your lot in life doesn’t make you a bad person, it makes you a smart one. What the hell do you think everybody moved to America and for? It’s that big old Dream of riches and success and an easy life. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in leaving a job to look for something more, you oaf – that’s exactly what those capitalist fat-cats want you to feel!

And then the two men on either shoulder had a scuffle in the arena of my skull and, after some impressive displays of mixed martial arts, the angry man was slain (tossed over the edge of my brain to be impaled on a particularly pointy vertebrae), and I have made up my mind. I’m leaving the farm!

Oh, how a weight has been lifted. In the ten weeks I’ve been here I have made some lovely memories and enjoyed incredible new friendships, but it is time to move on. I don’t want to live in a hostel anymore, six months is long enough. I want to get my own little place in Melbourne – with electricity and running water – where I can walk around naked as a sparrow and blast my music, and I won’t have to ask anybody if I can take a shower, and I won’t have to share a kitchen with eight hundred people, and I can tidy up or make a mess, sleep on the sofa, sing and dance around and watch high definition porn at a thousand decibels while eating a kebab roaring drunk at 6am on a Tuesday morning.

I have learned a lot out here, by now. I think that the outback isn’t necessarily about what you know, it’s about how you think. It’s not something you can read in a book, it’s a mindset. Make do and mend – with whatever is to hand. I had seen fences, masonry, appliances, car, clothes, furniture and even wounds repaired without any outside assistance. I think that’s what I’ll take away with me when I leave – a small slice of the quiet country confidence of the folks out here, the calm self-assurance that whatever goes wrong, whether it be hitting a kangaroo with a car, snapping an axe in two, bursting an air mattress, chasing a mob of escaped pigs, warding off wild horses, mopping rainwater out of the bedroom or digging up ruptured sewage pipes (we have had to deal with all of these things), there is a way to solve the problem, just as long as you keep your head and look around you.

We city people are softer – I once would have argued against this but it’s true – because how can you be anything but, when you have a professional to help you with each of life’s little hiccups? Out here, whatever goes wrong, you’re on your own. The solutions aren’t always pretty, but it works. Somehow, unbelievably, it all works. I think I’ll miss the manner of the people around here, the way that every single person has calloused hands and a lined forehead and knows a little about everything. Weather patterns, animal behaviour, engineering, agriculture, mechanics, medicine – they know it all. I don’t really know what the city has to offer the countryside in return. Fashion, music and fine dining, perhaps?

We have wee little piglets at the hostel now. It happened last night; the largest sow, Polythene, gave birth to a litter of twelve piglets, some pink, some black. She looked very proud and was oinking happily all morning. Unfortunately, one little pig died the same morning because Polythene sat on it by accident, so we are down to eleven, and determined to ensure the rest survive.  We dug a little way down into the soil to make a natural nest for them, and piled up hay and old clothing items for them to snuggle up in. We also dingo-proofed the pig pen, tying chicken wire all around the outside with old corrugated iron propped against it for added protection. It’s amazing seeing the instincts of the mother kick in – beyond the slight initial cock up of sitting on her baby and squashing it. She has been digging holes for the piglets to keep them warm and has gone without eating for a day, instead spending her time patrolling the pig pen to ward potential threats (us) away.

Last weekend we climbed Mount Warning, the highest mountain in Australia after Uluru. Mt Warning is on the eastern coast, and this means that the peak of the mountain is the first place to see the sunlight of a new day in all of Australia’s unfathomable landmass. We planned the hike all week, and all was well until I went to check on the pigs in bare feet one damp night, and trod on a nail in the dark. I felt it pierce my heel with a slight pop, and hopped a metre in the air. It was quite painful. Not very, but quite. And it certainly wouldn’t do me any good on the mountain hike we were undertaking in around seven hours’ time.

We went to bed at 9pm Friday and rose at midnight. Ten of us set off from our hostel at 1am on Saturday, wrapped up in woolly jumpers and armed with flasks, headtorches, and cheese and pickle sandwiches. The usual expected time to hike the thing ranges from 90 minutes to three hours.

Seth set the pace, and marched off ahead into the undergrowth with his water bottle. I, as usual, was grossly underprepared, mostly due to the strange arrogance towards nature’s trials that I believe is bred into every Yorkshireman. After hiking to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal, I refused to believe that any hike could trouble me again. How wrong I was. Two months of binge drinking in the outback have certainly taken their toll. We hiked for one hour before I had sweat running into my eyeballs and was wrestling with my rambunctious heart to keep it inside my ribcage. Half our group had fallen far behind already. I told Seth, Ed, Antoine and Locky to head off without me, and sat for a rest on a log.

My friends’ headtorches bounced away up the track, until their light was engulfed by the rainforest gloom. I hadn’t until then realised how quiet everything was up there, how still, how total. I listened to the sound of the blood pulsing around my skull, and the nigh-inaudible rustle of leaves in the canopy, twenty metres above. I switched off my headtorch for a minute or two, and imagined what it would be like to get lost in the forest – and how I would ever survive. The dark was so thick you could have bottled it up and run an engine with it; so black and stagnant it made the queue to Berghain look like a gay pride parade. I got a little bit spooked, and began to worry that when I turned my torch back on there would be a huge gibbering animal or knife-wielding maniac stood grinning before me.

I bopped my torch back on and scurried away through the bracken to find my friends, hindered by exhaustion, driven on by a slow-cooking panic. I was comforted by passing two jolly old ladies who were gossiping in gay tones as I passed them, and bid me a friendly good morning. I caught up with my friends near the top of the mountain, at an elevation of some 1,300 metres, if I remember correctly. The last hundred metres of the hike was at perhaps a fifty degree angle, and we had to scramble up a rocky cliff face in the dark, clinging onto a freezing metal chain that had been nailed into the rock. I jovially noted at one point that we would almost certainly die if we slipped, and Ed thanked me for my positive mental attitude.

We heaved ourselves to the top of the mountain, and were shocked to find some fifty people already there, clustered together awaiting the sun. We found our own spot away from everybody else, opened celebratory beers at 5.30 in the morning, sang happy birthday to Locky (because it was his birthday), and thirty minutes later we were graced with the first sunlight in the entirety of Australia. It was very beautiful, and we played music and stayed up there under the sun’s infant warmth until we were the last ones on the mountaintop. And just like Annapurna, the climb back down was a piece of cake.

I’m determined to make the most of my last two weeks here. I’m counting the days until my escape, to be honest, but I know that I’ll be cracked in the noggin with the shovel of nostalgia the minute I rumble away up the hostel’s 5 mile driveway for the last time. I have made some very, very lovely memories here.

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Left to right: Locky, Koen, Mark, Kata, Ed, Seth, Minh, Antoine, Ben, Ya Boyyyyy

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