Updated: May 2, 2021
Chapter one can be found here...
The morning was bitterly cold, the sun still hidden in the fog, it sure didn't feel like Australia. She hands me a black plastic pole, about a metre in length; “For the bulls.” Without hesitation, she sets off, walking with purpose, back hunched, her own black stick dragging along the ground. I follow her past the patch of barren trees, naked branches scratching the barn, drawing my attention to the rotting structure. I thought it was pretty strange given there was no wind. We get to the paddock, two large dark shapes are barely visible through the morning mist. “We need to get them in the yard, put them through the run and feed them.” Opening the gate, we step in. Not feeling much protection with the flimsy plastic in my hand, I just keep her in between me and the beasts.
One is staring right at me, the other couldn't be less concerned. “They won't hurt you, they're still young.” This does nothing to comfort me. Their names; M7 and M12 give them a lifeless, robotic quality. Despite their young age, these guys weigh in at almost three tonnes combined. I remark that they at least don't have horns, to which she replies that that doesn't matter, the impact of their heads alone will kill you or at least knock you over for them to trample on you, crushing you to death. Armed with this information, and my plastic stick, I am told to get into position.
She moves behind M7 and with a sharp barked order, the bull turns to her, she raises the stick and he turns back. She ushers him along, and with M7 moving, M12 falls in line. She turns to me; “Go on, take over.” The bulls have stopped at this point, both look at me as I walk tentatively towards them. I try my hand at the weakest imitation of her commands, the bulls barely even flinch. I try using the stick, assuming this is what must move them. Waving it at them proved as useful as well, trying to move a bull with a plastic stick. She tells me I have to be authoritative and show them who is boss. I decide to go all in, what's the worst that could happen.
This time I bark the order at them, combined with a more confident swinging of the stick, lo and behold, the bulls start to move. Just when I thought I had nailed it, M12 stopped. No matter, I'll just show him who's in charge again. A sharp exhale and a shake of the head indicates he does not want to move. I look round to her, in the hope she steps in or at least, throw me another keyword to use. “Hurry up, this shouldn't take this long.” I try again, and this time, M12 shows more displeasure in my attempts to move him. I couldn't help but notice he looked like he was limping in his back leg. I attempt to point it out to her but she dismisses me as trying to make excuses.
I step forward once again, raising my stick, shouting louder, this time it does do something. He turns his hulking frame round to me square on, beats the ground with his hoof, exhales sharply and starts to lurch forward. That's all I need to see before I turn and bolt for the fence. I hear her shout something but my only concern is how I'm going to outrun a bull. I happened to only be a couple of metres from the barbed wire fence, self preservation kicked in and powered by pure adrenaline I vault clean over, landing on the other side in a breathless heap.
This, I am told, will be my main duties over the course of the next three months. She failed to mention this at any point in the phone call. Leading the bulls from the paddock in the morning to the yard, feed them before leading them back out again. Twice a day.
Receiving zero sympathy, she simply tells me to get back in and she'll move them with me. Displeased with how much time has been wasted so far, she doesn't hold anything back and I see just how she commands these creatures. Letting out an even harsher raspy growl, and subsequently hitting the bulls with the stick every time they look like they're about to disobey, both bulls are led to the steel structure.
The steel pen is divided into two sections, with the 'crush' used to contain and restrain cattle for vaccinations, vet checks and tagging. The heavy duty structure uses hydraulics to trap the cattle by the shoulders, secured by steel gates all around, they're not going anywhere. Leading the cattle through the narrow steel run and it's all about timing to catch them. Pull the lever too late and they force themselves through the other side, too early and you don't catch them.
It was the morning feed, both bulls were in the yard. M12 was extra grouchy. Attempting to herd him in from behind, he suddenly stopped. Turning round slowly, he exhaled heavily through his nostrils, his eyes fixing on mine. Dropping his head to the ground, I knew what was coming next. Kicking the dirt a few times, snorting, he started to shift his huge frame forward. In a moment of primal madness which had no grounds in rational thought, I threw my arms up, let out a weird panicked noise and stepped forward to meet the hulking beast square on, kicking him in the nose with my steel toe-capped boots. The 500kg bull stopped dead in his tracks, backed up, a combination of confusion and shock glazed over his dead black eyes, he turned round and continued without complaint. “Good on ya, mate”, she shouted from the other side of the yard, “Thought you were a goner.” I slumped back against the steel fence, still unsure what had happened.
This was my life for the following three months; dealing with temperamental, quick-tempered, easily angered and unpredictable creatures, and that was just the owner of the farm. The bulls turned out to be the least of my troubles.
The owner of the farm; a small, fragile looking, 64 year-old woman, resembled something in between a tortoise and Gollum, complete with a temper so bad, you never knew where you stood. It did not take long to understand that anything you did wrong, she would not only flip out so incredulously and unwarranted, but she'd proceed to attack and belittle whoever was in the firing line. This happened frequently and ranged from insignificant events such as leaving the milk out of the fridge (ignoring the fact that it was a cool 9 degrees inside), to wrongly identifying a cow from 100 metres.
These encounters left me on more occasions than I care to recall, genuinely thinking I'm losing my mind. The sheer energy that was required to stay sane, as sane as I think I was anyway, had been overwhelming. Never before in my life have I had to fight an endless struggle against such malice and insanity. During my time, three other hapless workers came and went, unable to cope with the relentless wave of abuse and mood swings. Unfortunately for me, with only a 2 day window before my visa ended, I had no choice but to stay and complete the mandatory three months to earn an extra nine months in Australia. Is it really worth it?
Continue to Chapter Three