Friday, 22 January 2010

“You know your mate... I'm heading in that direction and I've got three weeks spare. Do you think he still needs help?"

A text message, two emails and a game of phone tag later and I was sitting on a train at Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station. It was 8:30am on a cold, rainy Monday morning, but I was feeling prettttty good about my latest decision.

I was leaving Melbourne after just two nights and one full day, but I couldn’t wait to get going. Some of the commenters on my previous post were surprised that I didn’t give Melbourne a fair chance. But understand this: it wasn’t Melbourne I was bored of, it was backpacking. It was visiting my third city in a month. It was ticking another box. I don’t want to shop, go to cafes, drink and dance in bars or clubs with the sort of people I’d meet back home. For one, I did all that last time I was here. For two, I can do all that in London. Given me and the Boyfriend’s brief track record, there’ll be plenty of that to come in April.

I needed a break. I know that Australia has more to offer than just the backpacker scene; drinking, bus tours, taking photos of kangaroos and following everyone else to the next Lonely Planet review. And I wanted to see it. Now.

So that’s how I ended up on a train heading across into the depths of New South Wales. After five hours, I reached Wagga Wagga (pronounced Wogga Wogga). Waiting in a ute ready to whisk me away was a 32 year old stocky blonde bloke. We'd spoken once on the phone and exchanged two text messages. To say I had no idea what to expect is an understatement.

After a 40 minute drive into the middle of nowhere, he turned up a long driveway. “Here’s home” he said, as we clattered over a cattle grid and a huge, white house appeared through the trees. I was shown my room just off the large veranda, complete with TV and double bed, then the kitchen. Photographs and accolades hung on the walls, while the choice of magazines left no question as to the family’s main interest. We went back outside, where no less than 7 dogs, from Dalmation to Jack Russell, ran to greet me.

“Right, I’ll show you the rest. Hop on the back” said my host, climbing onto the dusty red quad bike on the driveway. We sped off, dogs in hot pursuit, along the orange dirt track between fields. Eventually we came to a stop. “Right, Jo Jo” he said, pulling up outside one occupied field and opening the gate, “Let’s get these puppies in.”

We spent the rest of the afternoon rounding up no less than 50 horses at breakneck speed on the quad bike, bringing them from the back fields into the yard. The polo season had just started, and it was time for the ponies – and me - to come back off holiday and into work.

‘You ever ridden a set before?’ asked my host and new boss, a professional polo player for the Australian Team and owner of “about 90” horses, 20 of whom were standing in front of me waiting to be exercised. Things were going well. I'd gone from Jo the backpacker to Jo the polo groom in just under half an hour.

When I offered to come and help the Polo Player for three weeks in exchange for accommodation and food, little did I know that everything I’ve been taught about riding in my twenty five years was about to be undone. No hat? Check. Wearing jeans? Check. No contact on the reins? Check. Steering using only pressure on the horses neck? Check. Cantering a horse around a field in 35+ degree heat, with three more tethered to each other on either side (aka, a set)? Check. Leading five horses in from a field from the back of a quad bike? Check.

6am starts and covered in a thick layer of dust at all times? Check.

Absolutely loving it?

Ahh. At long last...Check.


Lynx said...

Ooh, how jealous am I? Very!

It certainly sounds better than trying to ride in the snow and ice, like we've had to do for weeks.

Have fun!

not twitter said...

That's more like it. Something different. Very different.

Now, how much of "different" can you fit in between now and April?

Anonymous said...

I am so insanely jealous. So jealous.


Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

lynx - we're having our extremes in temperature as well. I guarantee that riding in the 43 degrees we had yesterday is just as challenging as snow and ice! :)

not twitter - And it's real as well, its not a tailor made backpacker thing, it's a real working farm where people are making a living from a sport. Its definitely different.

perp - I will :)

Huw said...

Brills Skillz.

Hails said...

So cool! I'm envious - I'll never be able to do this sort of thing, because I absolutely could not cope with the heat. 23° in the Baltics was almost too much for me, and I'm nervous about summer here in Korea. But at least I can spend most of it in an air-conditioned classroom. I couldn't do what you're doing, and I'm a little sad about that!

Glad to see you're having fun and living the dream!

Anonymous said...

Sounds bloody brilliant!

The Unbearable Banishment said...

At long last. You found it. More photos, if you can, please?

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...


Hails - You know I was really nervous about being in Oz during the summer. I'm not a hot weather person at all, my skin just used to go red and bobbly, I never did mediterranean beach holidays...I wasn't sure how I'd cope with the heat. But you do just adjust to it. So don't rule out too much, you'd be surprised how the body copes :)

PJB - It's just what i was looking for!

UB - I've got a few photos, but remembering to take my camera with me is the main issue! I will endeavor to post as many as possible.

Fen said...

ha ha sounds awesome. Except for the dust, which infiltrates everything! Enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Ah amaaaazing! Yes, lots of photos please.

32yr old stocky blonde bloke who's a professional polo player and owner of “about 90” horses... is he hot??


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