In my early 20’s I moved to California to live the dream. I got a job at Roy’s at Pebble Beach, pandying to rich assholes and trying to save up money to go back to college. I had very few commitments and so, when some Concierge that I vaguely knew announced that he was looking for someone to accompany him to Australia to work on farms, I forgot the whole ‘higher education’ thing and plonked down all of my hard-earned cash in exchange for some adventure!
We signed up for the WWOOF program, which gave us a booklet filled with the contact info and specific requirements of all participating farms. When we arrived in Sydney, we took a day to acclimate, then started calling around until someone agreed to take us in.
We stayed with Jim and Jenny for about four days, during which I learned some valuable lessons:
1) My traveling companion was the first of many California men I would meet over the years that are total and complete disappointments with no work ethic whatsoever;
2) Australia does, in fact, get cold. Really, really fucking cold;
3) A three-sided carport converted into sleeping quarters will do jack toward protecting you from said cold, no matter how many spider nest-infested moldy quilts you pile on top of yourself;
4) When the water you are drinking is collected from rain barrels and contains barely-visible swimming organisms in it, don’t take your hosts’ cheeky assurances that the water is perfectly fine, and the swimmers will provide you with extra protein;
5) Cows are very heavy. If they fall over and can’t get back up, save yourself hours of trouble and just grab the shotgun.
Sparing all of the treacherous details of the first few days of that visit – like the sun-up to sun-down hours we had to work (despite the WWOOF guidebook rules); Jim going all cray and yelling at us on Day 3 about how we were lazy fat Americans; cutting my hands when trying to unroll then re-roll barbed wire, then having to build a rock wall after – I’ll just get to our final day, Day 4.
All was pleasant and normal in the cow shed our hosts had spruced up and called their home. We had our breakfast of homemade meat sausages and then were treated to one last walk around the property while we waited for the hour on which our coach (that’s Australian for ‘bus’) would be rolling by to collect us.
Around this time my stomach started rumbling a little.
The Australian countryside really is breathtaking. The weather that early afternoon was fine and we donned our shorts happily – since that was all we’d brought to wear and for once we weren’t suffering from frostbite as a result. We felt energized and happy as fuck to be getting out of there. So when we heard a cow mooing in distress off in the distance, we didn’t hesitate to run ahead and lend a hand to one last task.
The cow was on its side, kicking and stuck in some thick mud by a rusty barbed-wire fence. Behind it was a mostly-unborn calf, which had suffocated in its mother’s birth canal when she hadn’t been able to push it all the way out. I looked over to see my traveling companion go very white, then miraculously reach around to pull out a pristine pair of work gloves from his back pocket. I had never seen such gloves, and in fact this was how he’d gotten out of most physical labor that involved dirt or sharp edges. Never mind that I didn’t have gloves either, and had just been using my bare hands like anyone else would have.
At this point my stomach began feeling a little bit crampy.
Jim walked around the ailing cow and with a tug pulled the dead calf out, along with a wet suctioning sound and a decent amount of blood, then flopped it at my feet. “Hoh! Um…heh,” I said. Swallowed. “Poor…thing.” It was still snugly ensconced in its milky sac, I could see its head thrown back, mouth agape, inside.
“Let’s get the mother up then” Jim said matter-of-factly.
We pushed. We pulled. We pushed and pulled. We got some logs and tried a lever system. We found some rope and attempted a pulley system. That mama was not moving. Meanwhile the mud was getting more slippery with all of our tramping on it, mixing with the cow shit that poured out of her every few minutes. I should add that every time I pushed – I fell. Every time I pulled – I fell. You get the idea. I was covered in mud, cow excrement, and bovine afterbirth.
Having spent the last few days on a farm with no running water, this last fact didn’t really register with me. Especially because once we’d decided our efforts were in vain and the cow would have to be shot (before the coyotes got to her), we realized we needed to rush back to catch our coach. We walked back quietly but quickly, feeling unnerved by our failure. Equally distracting for me was the fact that my colon was now in full painful cramping Watch-Out-Because-This-Is-Happening diarrhea preparation.
With our coach only moments away I made it into the outhouse and will not go into the details of what happened there. Just knowing what goes on in crudely-built outhouses in the country is enough, I’m sure. The whole ‘no running water’ thing was not a charming quirk of this farm anymore.
When I was finished I stumbled out, wiping my hands on my shorts, and feeling as though I’d just been turned inside-out. I made it to the road just in time to climb onto the coach, where I found a seat next to a polite young farmer. Seeing me clutching my legs to my chest and shivering, he offered me the use of his large denim jacket, which I took and used as a blanket. Australians are such nice people.
I dozed until I felt the need to very carefully put my legs down, then very carefully twist in my seat to see if there was a bathroom aboard. Just as I was contemplating the possible repercussions of walking to the front and asking the driver to stop the coach so I didn’t shit my pants, he began pulling into a small dark town.
I tried to politely elbow my way to the front of the coach, with no success. Within a few minutes I found myself in the middle of a line of women waiting to use the one available toilet, where I leaned against the cinder block wall, contorting my legs into a pretzel twist and clenching my ass cheeks together with intense, focused concentration. I began breathing deeply, tears came to my eyes. I’m pretty sure I whimpered. Looking back, I can’t believe no one noticed this and offered up her place in line. Probably because all those women could see that whoever went after me was going to have to deal with one hot shitty mess.
After I finally had my turn with the toilet, I opened the stall door, spent, and looked up to see a line of wide eyes and thinly drawn mouths. Those ladies were not pleased. I almost backed into the stall again – not because I could tell they wanted to kill me, but because I was almost sure I felt another wave of rainwater protein-building liquid making it’s way toward my butt. Instead I decided to get some fresh air, in hopes of being able to wait until the last woman had had her turn.
I got about halfway down the block before it hit me. Clutching my stomach, I walked into the liquor store and, as casually as I could, asked if they might have a bathroom. The friendly backwoods clerk looked me up and down – hiking boots, hairy legs, shorts, mud (or was it?) smeared t-shirt, oversized denim jacket – and slowly pointed his thumb toward the back of the store.
I took special care to walk very upright and normal. When I found the tiny bathroom I collapsed onto the toilet and did more of the above-mentioned activity. Afterward, I could tell that was it. No more. Thank god.
I walked out, said thank you, and again made it back onto the coach just in time. I returned to my seat next to the young man whose coat I still wore. He very subtly tried to inch away from me. I don’t blame him. At this point I can’t really even describe what I smelled like to you. I mean, if ‘Dead Calf, Cow Shit and Diarrhea’ aren’t accurate enough descriptors for you, I’m not sure how to help.
When we finally got to our destination, my traveling companion nudged me awake as he walked by to exit. I stood up, took off the denim jacket that now reeked of me, in all my glory, and handed it back to its owner. He looked at it and I could tell that he was contemplating telling me to just keep it rather than have to touch it.
In the end he took it back. Australians really are such nice people.