What an exciting day! It was busy at school, and the day only got better after classes were over! I was invited to take part in a culture and industry that I had never had interactions with, except for at the breakfast table and when my coffee needs to be supplemented.
After school, and three great lessons, I was invited to join Sandie, another science teacher at BSC, to her family’s dairy farm just north of Lindenow, in an area by the name of Wuk Wuk. I know what you’re thinking- Kyle at a dairy farm, what the hell is he doing there? This was an experience that I will never forget and was so rewarding (I would recommend anyone to take part in it at least once in their life). I had never been to a dairy farm, let alone take part in a few of the jobs associated with this mega-Australian industry, so it was hard to imagine what to expect
The Australian dairy industry has a gross value of $4 billion, Australia’s third largest rural industry, behind wheat and beef. Fifty percent of the dairy is exported, ranking Australia the world’s third largest dairy exporter. Victoria, specifically Gippsland, has the highest concentration of dairy farms in the country, and I was lucky enough to see one today!
Sandie picked me up after my last class from school to take me to see another part of Australia’s rural industrial culture. I am not much of a farm person, mostly because I didn’t grow up on one and never felt inclined to take a closer look at one. The only time I’ve ever spent on a farm has been at my Aunt Donna and Uncle Frank’s farm in Pennsylvania on a few Thanksgivings as a young kid. I really had no idea what to expect...
Australia is one of those places where you drive around with your jaw in your lap and your eyes are fixated on the next bend in the road, preparing for the view to come. You could drive around, especially in East Gippsland, and anticipate beautiful views around the next bend, only to find more stunning scenery around each gum tree laden bend in the road. Sandie drove me from Bairnsdale toward Lindenow, driving up and down hills, each one having a characteristic view of the Mitchell River valley, full of lush vegetation and farm industry.
After a short drive west, we arrived at the 80-acre farm where the family dairy farm is situated, perched atop of a hill, overlooking the Mitchell River and the valley, with the Great Dividing Range in the distance to the West. I arrived unprepared, of course, without gumboots, and in shorts. It had rained for much of the day, until we arrived at the farm when it cleared and the sun started to peer out from the grey clouds. Thankfully, Sandie's son had a pair of twelve’s that I could fit into so I didn’t have to ruin my runners. The gumboots would come in handy!
After parking the car at the house and exchanging footwear, we headed to the milking shed, a short walk back up the dirt road, passing day to week old calves and what seemed to be the maternity ward of the farm, with heifers and cows about to burst with new life. We arrived at the milking shed to find Sandie's son and another bloke working on opposite ends of the rotary milking apparatus. Luckily, I arrived at the beginning of the process. The rotary had 60 stalls, each one was temporary home for the cows as they were milked and given a chance to feed on the crushed grain in the trough facing the center of the great rotor.
The cows lined up on one side, pushing each other, anxious to be milked and have a feed. I was surprised that they didn’t have to be enticed to enter the stalls. Once each cow entered, Sandie's son cleaned the teats and attached a teatcup, part of the milking unit, to each. The teatcups have a constant vacuum pressure, allowing the cows to be milked quickly and efficiently. The vacuum also keeps the apparatus attached to each cow until all the milk is removed, when the teatcups detach to prevent the delicate teat tissue from chaffing. The cows are milked as they rotate around the circle, until they exit, just prior to making a full pass, near the entrance.
From the teatcups, the milk entered into a few stainless steel pipes where it was collected with the rest of the milk from the other cows and transferred through a heat exchanger, where it cooled before being stored in a refrigerated holding tank. The holding tank at Sandie's farm holds 18,500 liters of milk.
Lucky for me, Sandie and her son made sure I had the experience attaching the teatcups to a few of the cows. Fortunately, with each cow’s excrement exits just over my head, none of them shit on me! If I had a list of things to do before my life retired, “milking a cow” may have not been at the top of the list, but I’m happy to be able to check that one off anyways!
A few of the cows seemed to be infected with mastitis, a bacterial infection associated with dairy cattle. Sandie showed me the difference between milk from a healthy cow and milk from a cow with this udder tissue infection. The milk from the infected cows was not as opaque, more watery, and saturated with clots throughout the liquid. The cows were marked with paint to indicate the infection was found, and were milked into a separate container to be discarded. Sandie's son treated these cows with an antibiotic, and indicated to me that the milk would not be viable for sale until the drug residues had cleared from the cow’s system.
After helping corral the finished cattle toward the pastures of the farm, Sandie and I started closing off the gates to the entrance ramp, pushing the stragglers toward the entrance to the rotary. A few of the cows were curious of me and seemed to be somewhat skittish. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about getting kicked. I wasn’t, but it wouldn’t have taken much for a few of them to take a cheap shot.
Next, with some fresh warm milk that had been set aside, Sandie took me to feed the calves. They seemed to be even more curious and were anxious to feed. We poured the milk into containers with malleable plastic teats on the sides, allowing each calf to have an equal amount to feed on. What a great experience! Once they warmed up to me, they had no issues with my petting them and a few of them even tried to suckle on my fingers. If I needed to teach them to suckle, I may have needed my fingers, but I think they were just hungry!
As the time on the farm came to an end, the sun started to set in the west over the Great Dividing Range in the distance, changing the sky to a bright pink and orange color. I’ve seen some amazing sunsets since I’ve been here, but nothing like the one I saw in Wak Wak. I really didn’t want to leave!
After helping with some of the clean up work, I headed to the house to wipe the manure and other cow juices from my hands (surprisingly, I didn’t get a whole lot of milk on me, just poop) and took one last look at the setting sun and the view of the valley before heading back to Bairnsdale. I would never want to own a dairy farm, let alone work at one for more than a few hours at a time, but the sunset could easily be an incentive to come out for the evening to help with a few chores.
With a fresh sample from the holding tank, Sandie and I left, driving up to the end of the property line, where we crossed the Wuk Wuk Bridge, traversing the Mitchell River, and found our way through Lindenow on the way back home. According to Sandie, the bridge used to be covered in boards and was very raggedy before being renovated. The bumper sticker on the back of her car (a few years old) said, “Wuk Wuk Bridge is Wuked,” further explaining the need to construct a new bridge only a few years back.
When I drink milk from now on, I will remember today, having gained so much more respect for the dairy industry and the people who put in the timeless hours to get the job done.
Sandie's enthusiasm about her farm and her willingness to go out of her way to share a different part of rural, East Gippsland culture, reaffirmed my notions about the nature of Australians- they are very proud of their possessions and the land they live on. It is one thing to be patriotic, like many people are at home, or at least portray to be, and another to feel so strongly about your culture, that you feel so inclined to share everything you have and know if someone from the outside (an argument well developed from my experiences here, maybe for another time). I thank Sandie for this great opportunity and for sharing part of her Australia with me!
Tomorrow is ANZAC Day and another opportunity to dive deeper into Australian culture; I can’t wait!
Friday was the last day in Sydney and was the final day of my adventures with my parents in Australia. Two weeks really goes by fast when you don’t have too much time to stop and reflect on everything that you are doing. My reflection has been in the form of this blog, and it is barely enough to express my thoughts about everything I am seeing and doing. There is just so much to do here and so much to see!
We awoke somewhat later on Friday, around 8, to start our final day. We decided to take the train over to Central Station from Kirribilli. The day was beautiful and the weather was just right. The temperature was barely over 20 degrees, and the breeze was constant. As we made our way over the bridge, we talked about what we wanted to do to fill up our final day.
We decided to walk south into the city and see where we ended up. We finally ended up, passing shop after shop, at the Sydney Eye. We were curious to see what was at the base of Sydney’s tallest structure. We headed into the building where the tower juts out from the ground and headed up a few floors. We arrived at the entrance to the tower and were not too impressed. We didn’t even consider taking the $30 lift up to the top. It was so uninviting and there was no one around to give us any information. Disappointed, we walked around the food court next to the expensive elevators and sat down to a cuppa.
Content with the caffeine fix, we headed back outside and headed toward the tram station to take us to lunch. I was really keen to head back to the Sydney Fish Market one last time to eat and check out the day’s catch. Once there, we scattered to various areas of the market. My mom went to one stand where she picked up salt and pepper squid and chips, my dad headed to the bakery to get some bread and then to get oysters at one of the stands, and I headed to one of the stalls to pick up something new to try.
I decided to pick up some uni (usually translated from Korean as “sea urchin roe”) and some abalone sashimi, two things that I had never tried before. To be precise, the sea urchin roe also came attached to the gonads but I won’t elaborate too much on this. After we all picked out something to eat, we reconvened outside with a Carlton Drought.
I was really excited to dig into the two dishes. I started with the abalone, a delicacy in many parts of the world. The gastropod was unlike any that I had ever had before. I’ve eaten snails, conch, and periwinkle before, but unlike the abalone in front of me on Friday, had all been cooked prior to being served to me. The abalone was tough and very hard to chew. The flavor was of the ocean water it came from, more than likely, and was easy to stomach. It was good, but I certainly wouldn’t rush back to have it again. It certainly wouldn’t be worth the stresses of getting a special license to harvest them.
Next was the uni. It was prepared raw and looked like slimy orange rind on the plate, with the consistency of custard. Having watched Anthony Bourdain eat and enjoy this delicacy, I was really excited to give it a go. I ate each piece with a bit of sourdough bread and thoroughly enjoyed every little bit! I was really surprised at the light consistency and flavor; it didn’t have the overpowering seawater taste that I had expected. Unlike the abalone, I would definitely have this again anytime!
Content with our final Sydney Fish Market experience of the trip, and full stomachs, we headed back to the tram to get the ferry back to Kirribilli. On the way out of the fish market, we passed a stand selling servings of spicy salt and pepper fried white baitfish. I had to have some! I stopped and bought a serving, consisting of more than 75 small fried whole fish. They appealed to me because it isn’t everyday that you see whole fish served to eat whole in one bite. They were delicious and were really hard to share! I would prefer these over a side dish of chips any meal!
We took the ferry home to Kirribilli from Pyrmont Bay but had to wait half an hour for the ferry to get to the Pyrmont Bay wharf. Waiting around at the wharf was entertaining. My parents and I arrived at the wharf early and chose a seat to wait for the ferry. What we observed was both appalling and humorous. About ten minutes before the ferry arrived, two women along with three children arrived at the wharf; one of the children was in a pram fast asleep. The other two children were running around the wharf freely, oblivious to the two women they were with. The young girl (no onlder than 5) started playing on the railings leading down to the wharf platform. She started rolling around on the rails showing off to the young boy with her, of a similar age. The boy started pointing at the girl while staring under the girl’s dress. Thinking nothing of it, our eyes wandered around the rest of Darling Harbour. As I turned around, I noticed this young boy’s private parts were out in full view of the 20 or so people waiting on the wharf, shouting at the girl, “look at mine, look at mine!” At this point it was clear that the young girl was not wearing any underwear and the boy was pointing and staring at her private parts. I had no idea what to say or think; should I notify this young boy’s mom to tell her that he was feloniously expressing himself to the young girl? Should I tell her that her son was primitively showing off his genitalia to the young girl? Luckily, I didn’t have to say anything, since the mother was hinted to her son’s behavior with the laughs and chuckles from the crowd on the wharf. The mother, somewhat embarrassed, put away her phone that she had been playing on for the past few minutes, and directed the young boy to put his penis back in his pants. Australia is a very amazing country and in many ways out-does America but this just went to show me that there are oblivious parents all over the world!
Back to the blog! Rather than waiting until the end of the day to pack, we headed back to Kirribilli to get our stuff ready to go for the Saturday morning. After taking an hour or so to organize our stuff, we made one final decision- what to do that evening! We really enjoyed the rides on the ferries and being on the water, so we decided to take the half hour trip out to Manly, to spend the rest of the day. This was a fantastic decision!
The ferry took us through the harbor out to Manly, where we disembarked and started walking towards the beach. Realizing that we hadn’t picked up enough souvenirs to bring home, we did some shopping along the way. The beach was crowded, full of surfers and sunbathers soaking up the last rays of the day, but the views of the Pacific were certainly not disrupted.
Thirsty for a beer, we headed to Hotel Steyne, at the end of The Corso, across the North Steyne Road from the waterfront. We chose to sit at the window in the corner of the pub overlooking the beach walkway and the Pacific. We eventually had our final meal in Sydney here, overlooking the beautiful colors in the sky as the sun started to set in the west. We all agreed that this was the best place to finish up my Australian adventure to New South Whales, and my parents’ first adventure to Australia.
The ferry ride home was somewhat bittersweet. It was our last time on the ferry and we would have to leave for the airport in the morning, but the ride into the heart of the city was astonishing. We hadn’t taken the ferry into the city at night from this direction, so it was a great opportunity to take our final pictures of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge; we must have taken more than 200 pictures of the two landmarks from various angles and at different times of the day!
Saturday morning, we woke up early to get to the airport so my parents could check into their flight early. I didn’t pity them knowing I would have to make the same arduous journey across the pond back home in a few weeks, but it was sad to see them go. I thoroughly enjoyed the past two weeks with them and am anxious to hear about their future trips back to Oz; I know they’ll come back sometime soon!
After saying goodbye, I hopped on the bus to take me to the domestic terminal to catch my flight to Melbourne. To put it short, I was the first to check in, the first to board, the first to disembark, the first to the baggage claim, and the first out the door! It couldn’t have been a better 2-hour trip! Domenic and Sheryl met me at the airport and took me back to Bairnsdale; what would I do without them!
I’m really happy to spend my final two weeks here in East Gippsland; I love it here more than all of the other places that I’ve been! I love the openness of the area and the proximity to the ocean and the lakes; how couldn’t anyone complain!
What a thrill to be finally here, living in my new home for the next few months. My host family is extremely kind and has set me up in a spare bedroom. Both of them work at the school and have a lot of teaching experience; there will be a lot to learn!
Bairnsdale is East Gippsland's government center and has a population of just under 12,000 people. The city is located on the Mitchell River which leads into Lake King. It is a prime location for anglers and fishermen. Seems like my kind of place!
Students who attend the government school, Bairnsdale Secondary College, come from up to 80 km away or 2 hours on bus. The school is only about a kilometer from the house I am staying at which will make transportation very easy to and from. I will be working in the new science building which hasn't officially opened yet but has been in use for the past year. It is equipped with new technologies such as smart boards and various pieces of science equipment.
I will be going into the school on monday with new teachers to get acquainted with the new setting and faculty. I am really looking forward to meeting my cooperating teachers and cannot wait to meet my new students. I really hope they don't make too much fun of my "unusual" accent! School will start on wednesday for me when I will go in to help set up the school and the classrooms where I will be teaching. Students will be coming during the following days.
Today, I plan to get into town to see what Bairnsdale has to offer. I also need to pick up some toiletries at the market since I already ran through the 1.5 oz of soap I was allowed to bring onto the plane. I will also have to check out the local bait and tackle shop to see about a fishing license!