On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

Sustainable buildling and light habitats. to transform the act of building and rethink our relationship with living things.
Transition tales. towards an ethical, sustainable and united future.
Travel dispatches. discovering the world between solo journeys and life experiences.
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15 November 2017

On Kangaroo Island

Volunteering on a small farm and change of perspective for the rest of the travel.
Bill & Tina's farm, Kangaroo Island, South Australia © Claire Blumenfeld
DISPATCH

My hasty departure from Arkaroola turned my plans upside down. Here I am again without work, without accommodation, without ideas. The only thing that I know for sure: a volunteering job (an helpX) in January 2018 in a wildlife sanctuary in Tomboye in New South Wales. But other than that it is the big void. For a few days, anxiety grips me. I came to Australia to earn money to travel to Asia. And I just closed the door at a fairly well-paid job, which I enjoyed and in a beautiful location. Was it really the right solution? But the tensions with the manager and some of the staff were too big and I couldn’t take it anymore. Once you have made a decision, good or bad, you have to go ahead, right?

So here I am back in town. The cook from Arkaroola who had to go back to Adelaide took me with him and I find myself sleeping on the couch of Alex, Maggie’s boyfriend, the young American girl with whom I sympathized in Arkaroola. I let a few days go by to try to feel better before I decide what to do. First buy a car and then go do another volunteering job (an helpX) during the month of October on Kangaroo Island. I need to change and the small island off the south coast seems to be the right solution. Kangaroo Island is a small island off Cape Jervis about 100 km south of Adelaide. According to the majority of people, it is one of the most beautiful places in South Australia. With many kangaroos and pristine sandy beaches… The island was discovered by Matthew Flinders, an English explorer in 1802 whose name was use for the Flinders Chase National Park in the west of the island. The island is sparsely populated and the life of the small population revolves mainly around agriculture.

I go around the second hand car dealers but the choice is limited especially given my budget. A last visit to a small merchant on the edge of the agglomeration and my choice stops on an old Toyota Hilux. It is a 25-year-old white pick-up with a bench seat at the front and a large covered space at the back that I can arrange as a “living room” and above all large enough to transport my bike. The price is expensive and not having time to carry out the technical control, the affair seems risky. But I take the plunge.

I arrive just on time for the ferry departure to Cape Jervis. The road from Adelaide took me longer than expected and my newly bought car had a problem in low gear. It stalls systematically. Something is wrong. I will have to see that on Kangaroo Island. The ferry crossing in the late afternoon light gives me an hour rest. Night falls in an hour and I have a little time before the kangaroos and possums arrive on the roads. Marsupials are particularly present on the roads at sunrise and sunset. The landscape of Kangaroo Island is bathed in golden light. I feel filled with joy. It is very beautiful. This does not reach the beauty of the landscapes of the Flinders Ranges but it is beautiful. I feel like a bandage settle on my heart. Maybe all this mess happened to allow me to spend time on the island? At nightfall I arrive at the home of Bill & Tina, the couple who have agreed to welcome me for the next few weeks. Annie, a three year old girl is riding a horse in the small front garden. She looks tiny on her mount. “Welcome to KI,” Bill tell me while hugging me.

I spend two quiet weeks at Bill & Tina’s small farm taking care of Annie and various farm work. Every night and morning I take care of Whiskey, the cat, Sam, the energetic young dog, Ben, the old horse with damaged teeth and the trio of hens. I do a little painting, a little maintenance of the garden and a lot of tours around the island. Bill is a gentleman in his late 60s who has lived most of his life on KI. He owns about two hundred sheep grazing in the hundreds of hectares that make up the property. Meadows, a pine forest (former logging), a few artificial water holes, several hangars and a small house. And a lot of kangaroos, possums and koalas. Bill hosts helpers most of the year. He also runs the island’s pony club and is a member of CFS, the island’s fire brigade. He is a very nice and quiet gentleman who enjoys company. And like most Australians in the countryside, he is always ready to lend a hand or to show you around.

Tina is a young Taiwanese woman. She met Bill when she came to volunteer five years ago. Since then they got married and they got Annie. Tina works in the kindergarten in Kingscote, the largest city on the island. She also works twice a week at KI Tru Thai, a food truck of Thai specialties very popular on the island. She enjoys talking about cooking, especially Asian cooking, and gives me a lot of advice regarding fruit-picking in Australia. The idea of harvesting blueberries after Kangaroo Island arose in my mind. In addition to working on the farm, I also lend a hand to KI Tru Thai when they need it in exchange for a small pay. Wash the dishes, collect customers and clear the tables. Nothing too difficult after my stay at Arkaroola. The food is good. The place is run by Tony, an Australian and Ao, a Thai. The food truck is parked in a hangar in the middle of a field and converted into an exhibition space and open restaurant. It is very nice.

With Tina’s help I start fitting out my car. Since I cannot move the driver’s seat as far as I would like, I am a bit far from the pedals. So with old things that Bill gives me, I sew a cushion to put it on my back. Tina helps me with sewing. She takes out her sewing machine and it reminds me of my mom sewing clothes many years ago. I don’t know anything about sewing and I tell myself that I should learn the basics, that would surely be useful. While helping regularly in the kitchen, Tina also shows me how to make several Asian specialties: filled buns and dimsim (very small star shaped dumplings filled with meat or vegetables). All this seemed very easy to do but not sure that on road trip or bicycle trip I will be able to do it.

Whiskey, the little black cat of the house, has a pretty fur but does not like caresses too much. She lives her little quiet life without much contact with the members of the house. With the exception of mealtime, when there is guaranteed meowing, you don’t see her much. Wildcats are considered plague on KI because they kill native animals. So domestic cats are supposed to be tied up or kept inside. Bill lets Whiskey live outside, I guess to catch mice and take care of snakes, but he put a big chain around her neck that drags her down. This is supposed to make noise and prevent her from catching birds. So she runs in a very clumsy way. The chain seems heavy around her neck and even if I understand the principle I can not help but find this a little barbaric.

The roads are all red in the streets of Parndana, the tiny town of a few houses not far from the farm. The vast majority of the roads that cross the village are tracks. On KI, there is almost no bitumen. Dust is everywhere. On one side of the road, a tiger snake is enjoying the sun. It barely escapes the wheels of the 4 × 4 in front of me. Life on KI is very peaceful. Some farms and houses scattered and all around nature made of eucalyptus, meadows, dunes and cliffs. The sea is never far away. The island is not very large, it only takes a few hours to cover it up and down. Except in some (too) touristy places, it is very quiet and only the song of birds disturbs the silence.

Every year, the Kingscote show takes place in late October on the island. A day of activities, competitions and exhibitions with fireworks at the end. The inhabitants of the island exhibit their culinary creations, the fruits and vegetables of their gardens, their artistic creations, the wool of their sheep, etc. There are prizes for the best sponge cake, the most beautiful bunch of beets, the most impressive bundle of wool, the floral arrangement, the best assortment of muffins, the best honey, etc. The prizes are just pretty ribbons and apart from recognition and personal satisfaction no rewards. People only leave with their products and the satisfaction of having won. Things are kept very simple.

As the days go by, the pace seems a little too slow at Bill & Tina. Or it is just me who’s having trouble adjusting to it. I feel like I am not doing much. I felt good the first few days but the euphoria has disappeared. The weather is not very good, Laura (another Belgian helper) is gone and Bill is tired. The hours stretch long and monotonous. A feeling of depression hangs over my head and I think a lot about Arkaroola. I miss the place. I would like to have busy days and my mind occupied in order to not constantly rehearsing the same ideas in my head. So to try to get away from it all I decide to spend a few days with Grahams, who has a honey farm. I always wanted to learn how the honey harvest is done. But according to comments on the helpX website and Bill’s comments, Grahams is quite a character. So I give myself two or three days to see how it goes before I take a decision.

The opening of the roof of the hive is always a surprise: how many propolis will there be underneath? This yellow material produced from wax and vegetable resin by bees is apparently an anti-infective. A kilo of propolis is a small treasure for Grahams. Enough to round off the end of the month. Once opening a cover, a Redback appeared to our eyes. (Redback is one of the spiders whose bite hurts the most in Australia). Another time it was a gigantic Huntsman the size of my palm (the Hunstman is a big spider, fortunately harmless to humans). To harvest honey, smoke the bees and collect the panels containing the honey, being careful not to damage those containing the nursery and the pollen crops. The honey is then peeled off the panels and collected in large barrels before being put in jars.

It is hot to die in the Martian suit that we use as a relative protection against bee stings. They do not really work by the way, I have already been bitten three times and I hear Moritz swearing for the fifth time. The little yellow and black warriors have a dart capable of piercing our combinations. And if one of them ever gets inside the suit, it is panic. I lose liters of sweat and I have only one desire: to return to the caravan which serves as a home for me and Moritz. I have been accompanying Grahams and Moritz across the island for two days to collect honey from hives scattered on various properties. It is great for exploring the surroundings, but it is so hot that I doze off half the time. And then Grahams is definitely quite a character. I think he is someone who is always ready to lend a helping hand and who works hard but who has lived all his life alone and with strong ideas that cannot be changed. Not quite the kind of person I like and even less right now with my morale a little down. And then I admit, in the end harvesting honey is not the part I prefer. And bee stings hurt a lot. I would have preferred to see the jars, the creation of the label design and the distribution around the island. But to do this you have to harvest several kilos of honey. And during my few days with Grahams, we did that. At the end of the fourth day I leave the place on a mixed feeling. At least that will have allowed me to discover the honey harvest up close.

Back at Tina & Bill’s, I go to Parndana Wildlife Park. Despite the price of the entry far too expensive I let myself be tempted. It was a good decision. I stayed there for four hours and I really liked it. There are lots of different and interesting animals. I could see cute little pygmy penguins, Yoda-like frogs, owls resembling old crumpled socks, undisturbed koalas, Cassowaries, funny birds from prehistoric times, etc. And I had a very deep exchange with a baby magpie rescued by the park after falling from its nest. He was very hungry and wanted to let me know. And then the highlight of the visit: feeding the kangaroos. I find it a little strange to transform these wild animals into sort of circus animals, but I must admit that I greatly appreciated seeing them eat in my hand. But beware, do not do this with really wild Kangaroos! Those in the park are half domesticated. In the wilderness, Kangaroos, like all wild animals, must be left in peace.

I was ready to leave, to join Adelaide, follow the Great Ocean Road and join Tasmania but my car decided otherwise. The local mechanic found the problem: an air leak in the carburetor. That is why it keeps stalling. It must be repaired, but the mechanic did not have the parts for me. They have to order it and it will take several days. Or I can have it repaired elsewhere. In the evening while I discuss with Tina about the continuation of my plans, my mind running at full speed, Bill drops the sentence that will decide the continuation of my plans until the end of November: “You know, I could find you a job by tonight and you could start tomorrow if you want. I know that some of the vineyards around need people right now ”*. I hesitate a little but rather than waiting without doing anything in Adelaide as much do it while working. And that will give me the opportunity to continue visiting the rest of the island.

It is late spring now and the vines need to be cleaned. There are too many shoots that have sprouted up everywhere. Only those located at the level of the cuttings will survive my passage. So here I am with a hat on my head and gloves on my hands to clean the rows of vines. The first vineyard where I work, Hazyblur, is a small property maintained by Mick that Tina knows well. I make my first line in two and a half hours! At the end of the day I only did seven rows. I come home at Bill & Tina a little depressed. I know I get paid by the hour but I feel like I am way too slow. The following days I take the rhythm and I finish by doing each line in forty-five minutes. Sometimes Mick comes to help. Sometimes I am alone. For nine hours. What tranquility! The week after I go to Islander Estate, a vineyard owned by a Frenchman and managed by Yale an American. The road to reach the vineyard is superb but the work is much harder than at Hazyblur. The vines are small and covered with leaves. It is much warmer and I spend my days on my knees or my back broken in half. I spend ten long and painful days there with only the two dogs guarding the vineyard as company. They are beautiful and very demanding in caresses. And while I am struggling in the heat I wonder a little worried if the blueberry harvest that I decided to do later will be as hard.

Around mid-November after two good weeks in the fields I learn that my car is finally repaired. I leave Bill and Tina thanking them for all they have done for me but not unhappy to leave. For the past few weeks I have felt a bit out of the way and we have not been communicating much. I spend two days visiting places on the island that I have not yet seen while sleeping in the back of my car which I quickly fitted out. It is damn small in there and the bike takes up a lot of space. But at least I can sleep anywhere. I leave the island on a beautiful day, leaving behind me the peaceful atmosphere to return to the continent.

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