The Hobo Guide to the Australian Outback
If you have ever been to the outback (the enormous area in the middle of Australia, for those of you who are not enlightened), you will know that it is a place of many faces. On one hand, it is one of the most beautiful, tranquil locations on Earth; but on the other, at any next moment, you can have the brown stuff scared out of you! It’s this combination that I think makes the outback such an awesome place.
There are different ways to explore the outback. Option A would be to book a tour, pay someone to drive you around and show you the same stuff they show all the other tourists. If you are lazy, unoriginal and like to mingle with boring people, this option might be right for you. Option B would be to get there yourself, try to meet some of the locals that actually live there and plan your journey based on their advice. What I think is the best option though is a farm stay. I was lucky enough to have a friend working at a farm, so I could stay with him for free up there. I had hoped to get a job up there myself, but I didn’t have any luck. I decided to go up there anyway, if not to get a job to at least get to experience the outback in the most authentic way.
The spot my mate is working at is a small place called Albinia Farmlands, with the closest town being Rolleston 25km away. This tiny little town doesn’t really have much to offer, and primarily serves as a place of accommodation for the miners at Rolleston Coalmine (which is an impressive site, for those interested). There is one bar there called Rolleston Hotel, which is actually pretty busy when you take into consideration that there are only about 250 residents in this tiny city.
The farm I stayed at was extremely hobo friendly. I didn’t have to pay for the bed and ate for free most of the time. The family was even nice enough to let us borrow their four-wheelers and cars as much as we wanted. The only catch was that we had to help at the farm during the day. But it wasn’t really a catch, seeing as we got to do all this awesome things which almost always involved driving off-road with the four-wheelers to get there.
Most of our jobs involved cows in some way; it was after a cattle farm. We fed them, we got to pull them out of mud holes with cars (that one died from dehydration later, poor thing), but the best experience with cows was by far the newborn calf we saved cause it couldn’t suck the mothers teats due to them being fucking enormous. I haven’t really handled cows or calves before, and got pretty surprised when the farmer jumped off his four-wheeler to pick up the still very alive calve, after which he ran over and dumped it in my lap. There I attempted to grasp the extremely-unwilling-to-be-held calf for the entire hour it took us to drive home to the farm with the mother cow following us. During the trip, both my mate and I got continuously kicked and head-butted by this wanton calf whilst trying to imitate its call to keep the cow following us! After finally getting back and milking the huge cow teats so we could feed the baby, it calmed down and was as friendly as a kitten. The following days it seemed to remember us and even let us pet it as long as we approached with caution.
Besides the cows, the rest of the animal life is pretty rad. We saw kangaroos and wallabies every day. We saw emus a couple of times and lots of kookaburras. There also a shitloads of animals you don’t really want to see. Venomous snakes and spiders got too close for comfort at several occasions, especially taking into consideration that the nearest hospital is two-and-a-half hours away, and that if the wrong snake bites you, you are pretty much dead in 10 minutes. Not to mention the lack of phone coverage out there.
We were lucky enough to get New Year’s Eve off and drove to Carnarvon Gorge to do some trekking. And what a beautiful place it is! The views from Boolimba Bluff are some of the best I’ve seen. There are old Aboriginal rock paintings and my favourite, the Moss Gardens, was a welcome relief from the 45-degree heat outside. Inside the Moss Gardens it was beautiful and cool from all the running water. It also gave us a chance to fill the water bottles for the way home.
Back at the farm, we made mashed potatoes and sausage for dinner and at around 11pm went to Rolleston Hotel. There was about 30 people there, which is impressive considering the population. We had a few beers with the cowboys and miners to at least have some feeling of entering the new year. After some cold ones, we drove home slightly intoxicated to light the three glow sticks I had brought from civilisation. No fireworks, no raging drunk idiots, no one yelling “Happy New Year!” – just the silence of the night under the most beautiful starry sky you can imagine.
The rest of the days went on with hard work from 5am til about 6pm, sleeping whenever you had time off. Some days we would go out fishing and barbequing with the family at a beautiful creek nearby. But the last couple of days made the biggest impression on me. There had been a storm a few days before, and they reckoned that a lightning strike had started a bush fire. As with everything else on the farm, we were thrown into doing something we had never done before. They gave us a fire jacket each, some smoke-proof goggles and a mask. And all of a sudden, we were fire fighters of the Rural Fire Brigade.
The first day was by far the most intense, and was spent friving around rolling troughs out of the path of the fire and making sure the fire didn’t jump the fire belts we made around it. At one point, we got stuck in the middle of the fire and the only way out was to drive through it. We followed the lead car with our four-wheelers into the smoke; it got thicker and thicker to the point where we could barely see the car a metre in front of us. This was before we got our smoke masks, so we were holding our breath driving through, only breathing when we passed through tiny pockets of air. Luckily, we had the goggles and the jacket, but the lead car didn’t, so we were going painfully slow as the driver couldn’t see anything.
The heat was immense, and at one point driving past a tree that was fully ablaze, I was as scared as I’ve ever been. It felt like all the uncovered parts of our body were being scorched, and the only thoughts going through my head was that we should turn the fuck around seeing we couldn’t see anything and had no idea how long it would take us to get through. We kept going for about three minutes, but it sure as hell felt like a lot more! And upon exiting the smoke, our adrenaline levels were so high we could barely speak. It was probably the first time in my life were I’ve been seriously afraid to die.
About 2000 acres burned during the three days before the rain finally fell and put the last blazes out. Learning that this happens all the time, I have ridiculous admiration for the people who volunteer to help control the fires.
Coming to an end, I would say the best thing about the outback is that something is going on all the time. There’s always something new to do and to see – at least to me, coming from cold and wet Norway. This is probably as close as I can get to the complete opposite of back home. So my tip is to pack all the clothes you don’t mind destroying and head to the outback, turn of your phone, take a break from society and experience the real Australia first hand.
(P.s. I even got $300 from the farmer when I left to cover my travel expenses. Massive hobo win!)