Updated: Nov 14, 2020
I could just stay on, nobody will know. I'll just stay quiet, ride this bus all the way through to Byron where a better life surely awaits me, a life that could just pick up where it left off. I might not get the second year working holiday visa, another year in Australia, but I could sure as hell enjoy the last three months at least. Any notion of this fantasy was soon put to bed as a gruff voice comes over the intercom; the burly bus driver calling my name, leaving me no choice but to disembark. Picking my bags up from under the bus I take a look at my bleak surroundings; a drab town without a soul in sight. The number of liquor stores you can count from a stand still is a good indicator to the kind of town you're in. I counted four, not too bad for rural New South Wales. As the bus hisses and pulls away, I cannot shake the feeling I should still be on it.
6:27am, it's dark, the sun still not stirring and I need a coffee. Walking through the desolate town, past boarded up stores and broken benches, I don't see a soul until I come across a cafe yet to open, at least there is movement. A dead-eyed barista is carting tables outside, I ask him what time they open and he just gestures to grab a seat. I order a $5 coffee and still wonder what the hell I'm doing here, is this going to be worth an extra year here? Watching the world slowly rise and the sun creeping over the grey exteriors of storefronts, I think of a hundred and one things I could do instead of this. Three coffees later and before a viable escape route presents itself, a beaten up Toyota Corolla pulls up in front of the cafe.
A small, fragile looking woman exits, torn and stained clothes hang loosely from her skeletal frame. A tattered blue cap bearing some worn out logo sits on wiry grey hair. Picking my bags up I head towards the car. Hands filled with several bags of trash of unidentified nature, and before an introduction is even allowed, she hands me one of them and tells me to get rid of it. Looking around, I oblige and place the rancid smelling sack in a nearby bin, not even bothering to ask of its contents. Chucking my bags in the car, I take one last look around and step in.
The long drive to the farm was uneventful, conversation was kept to a minimum with the odd grumble from her and outburst of anger at other drivers filled in the gaps. She then details my farm duties; looking after the herd and fixing a few things around the property, beats fruit picking surely. She goes on about how she hasn't been able to find help for quite some time, since the last guy unexpectedly had to leave, a grudge she still bears. The small town gave way to more natural surroundings; endless fields and trees occupying both sides. An hour into the journey and the one small patch of civilisation we came across, in the form of a general store, devoid of life, came and went. The tall trees reaching over the road, gripping each other tightly, forming a canopy over the winding desolate road, everything felt darker now. We slowed down and turned left, we had arrived.
“Open the gate" she barked at me. I stepped out and hopping over the small fence, fiddling with the key hidden in a nearby tree, I unlocked the huge iron padlock and swung the gate open. The car rolled through, “Now close it.” Driving up the long dirt road, passing disused sheds and paddocks with no signs of life. Crossing a small, rickety bridge, the herd finally came into view. A mass of dark blocked the road. Frantically beeping the horn, the black sea slowly parted and we drive between them all. Dead-eyed stares followed me as the car rolled through and up the road. Crossing underneath an old railway track, another gate blocks the path, security seemed tight around here.
Pulling into view of the farm house, the wooden ground floor structure greeted me with all the warmth of an abattoir. The worn down, rustic look of the place in some circles could be desired, but this is no intentional aesthetic, this could be Ed Gein's holiday home. The verandah is covered in barbed wire, wooden stakes and scrap metal, the odd axe thrown in to keep up appearances. Pulling into the car port, I step out and start for the house. Navigating my way through the death trap, something small was making its way through the debris. A white cat, as fragile and frail as its owner, rubs itself against my legs, a strained attempt at a meow is let out. “That's mine, she has AIDs, probably hasn't got long left.” Not even bothering to further question that, I walk through the front door.
A musty smell immediately hits me, the aroma of dust and disuse clings to the air. The kitchen, dining room and lounge all in the same open plan room. The dining room table directly in front of the door was covered with newspapers, overflowing ash trays and scraps of paper, I couldn't even see the surface. “Just go through and find a room, there shouldn't be anyone else here.” I walk through the kitchen, the once white floor is a dull grey, the once white fridge is now covered with scribbled notes, faded business cards and out of date vouchers.
The dark hallway joins from the kitchen, leading down a windowless corridor to the heart of the house. Faded wallpaper hangs off the walls, unchanged for the last forty years. The only light coming from a hanging fixture gives out a dim, yellow hue. I peer into the first room on my left. Immediately greeted by a large portrait of a cow on the far wall, looking down I see several dark, brownish stains on the carpet, I move on. Left with the last room on the right, I take it. The single bed is tucked in the corner, a window above the rickety bed frame. Despite the fact that it is still daytime, you couldn't tell from the window. Cobwebs occupy the entire frame, thick strands of web, heavy and woven over each other over many years. Peering closer, the remains of food uneaten entombed under years of dust and debris. I drop my bags on the floor and lie down on the bed, I close my eyes.
A sharp knock on the door stirs me from a deep sleep. A second, more aggressive knock is followed by a shout telling me to get ready and to come outside now. I look up to the window, a hollowed out husk of a spider stares back at me instead of sunshine, my watch says 5:30. Pulling on my boots and grabbing my shirt, I head outside into the cold morning. Day one.