I had two phone numbers for two different jobs. Claire had just got off the ranch phone, passed it to me and I dialled the first number. A man answered in a broad deep Australian accent and I introduced myself.. “Erm so how far is the farm away from the nearest town then?’ “about 200ks” “ah, Oh! as in kilometres?” “ye..its about a 3 hour drive” “oh!, oh right ok and is there anyone else on the farm other than you?” “Ye… at the moment there’s a German bloke here, think ‘es here for another few weeks after you’d arrive – so there’ll be 3 of us.” “Right, right! ok great – great, is it ok if I call you back in 10 minutes with my decision?’ “Yeh sure”. Oh god. I had never felt more awkwardly British in my whole entire life.
200kms from the nearest town. How the bloody hell far into the Outback was that!?. Well that was a no-no. How big was this country?!! I walked into the main living room of the ranch and looked at the chalk board for the second number. My name had two jobs next to it and in my skills from the week-long farmland training I had acquired only two of the possible 5; quad biking and Horses. I had just been a huge liability with pretty much everything else. Personally, I thought my wheelies on the motorbike were pretty impressive - and I would have added ‘smiley’ and ‘can laugh at herself’ too the list to - but whatever. I dialled the number – ‘John Squire’ was his name. Hopefully this was better. Fingers crossed John had friends other than German backpackers and a supermarket that wasn’t as far away as a round trip from Manchester to Sheffield. "Hello?" "Hi there! my name is Sophie Kelly and I’m with the Outbackpackers, I’ve been given your number as you’re hiring a farmhand?’ A long pause. Then came another broad, deep - this time slightly confused - Australian accent. ‘EH? who!??’ oh god. This one doesn’t even know he’s hiring.
It turned out Mr Squire lived alone, approximately 100kms, so 2 hours – or 1 and a half ‘after a few stubbies’ – (his words) from the nearest town of 'Springsure', and about a 24 hour coach journey from Brisbane. I went over to the wall map to have a look and logically headed straight over to Western Australia. Surely after 24 hours on a coach I’d be right across the other side of the country and maybe even almost on my way to Indonesia. Well, not really. When I eventually found the teeny tiny dot indicating ‘spgsur’ – after scouring the whole of the west coast for a good 10 minutes - I’d moved only about a centimetre on the wall-sized reference map from my current location. How big was this country?!
After our confused beginning, which involved my discovery that a very strong Australian accent can actually be quite difficult to understand sometimes, John had clarified the job, and I had once again politely said I would call him back. I had put the phone down wondering where I could get the next bus back to Brisbane and the likelihood of pick up a waiting job anytime soon. This was not what I had had in mind and I was starting to feel a bit worried.
The week on the ranch had been a challenge. 10 days previously I had said a teary goodbye to my parents, watched them wave me off through to airport security (only to have me return 2 minutes later in need of some plastic bags for my liquids – we ended up saying goodbye twice and no one was quite as sad the second time around. 'ok Sophie just go now.") I was just 18 years old, had a one way ticket to Brisbane and only had the first 10 days planned. After that, I was on my own. I had a wad of C.V.s, a very nice reference letter on my excellent pot-washing skills from Margaret at the Garden centre café I’d worked in through my A-levels - and I was absolutely desperate for an adventure. 18 years in suburbia, 7 years in a girls school run by nuns – I was sobored. I had experience with horses and loved the idea of living in the wilderness and going back to the simple life for a while and Australia had it all; horses, beaches and sunshine. So I'd found a great programme where you got trained up for a week in outback living, with the company then matching you with a 'jillaroo' job (I know, I still put this on my C.V...'October 2007 - Kia Ora Farm - Jillaroo.') which could be literally anywhere in the whole of Australia. You would then get paid to live and work on an Outback ranch and it was a great way for backpackers to save money before continuing on their travels.
My mum had been terrified of letting me go and had done her best to ignore the other mums’ comments of things like ‘ohh but they don’t come back when they do that!’ and "but what about University?? if they don't go now - they never go!?' - (well I ended up going twice..so yeh.) Anyway, my Dad had spent his career going off to far away places and I'd grown up watching him travel the world with relative ease. Its wasn't unusual to ask my Mum 'where's Dad?'' "oh he's in Russia for a few days, back at the weekend" - and that was all just very normal. So after a family trip around Sri Lanka at 16, I was off - adventure was calling and that university stuff could wait.
It was 2007 so no smartphones, Facebook was still a university thing and Instagram hadn’t even been invented. The next time I’d talk to anyone I knew would be with a calling card at a payphone – I tried not to think about it too much and just got my bum on that plane.
Back in the training ranch I didn’t know what to do. I was scared and the homesickness was starting to kick in. I decided to go for a shower and think about it (and maybe have a secret cry). When I got there, the light had been left on. If anyone reading this has ever lived – or stayed in a remote area where their property is the only source of light for hundreds of miles around, the second it goes dark - you learn to switch the bloody lights off. If I wanted a shower, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be taking it alone. There were about 50 - 70 brown moths of all sizes in the small shower room, and up to 100 covering the window outside trying to get in. I had never seen anything like it in my life. I would soon come to discover, that even if you close and seal all of the windows and doors, they will still always somehow find a way to the light - Impressive really. It was a corner shower, with 2 glass doors and the uninvited moths were buzzing madly around the light directly above. Some of them had started to rest at eye level on the inside of the doors. Here we go. I got in the shower. I’m not a huge fan of moths, but they didn’t scare me as such, I just tried to think of them as butterflies that hadn't been blessed with beauty; still a good bug - just drew the short straw in the looks department . Anyway, I’d spent the day on a horse and gone for a lake swim fully clothed. I was humming – moths or no moths – I needed that shower.
Moth shower done, and after a few good chats (and a few tears) with my camp mates later, it came down to this; If I wanted to fulfill my dream of working in the Australian outback, here were my two options; 100kms from the nearest town - with 1 man, or 200kms from the nearest town - with 2 men.
I called John Squire back around 2 hours after our conversation. “So you get the bus to Tambo and I’ll meet you at the Gas Station on Sunday morning ok?” "ok".
If it came down to it – I had more chance of defending myself against one man than two – and anyway didn’t I say I’d come here for an adventure..? Well little did I know, in my moth infested shower - I was definitely going to get that.