Easter Weekend

So I’ve mentioned my roommate Mariah a few times in the blog – she invited me and Oscar to spend Easter weekend and a couple days afterwards with her and her family.  We spent Easter weekend at one of their friends’ places along the Murray River, about 3 hours north of Mariah’s farm, with all of their friends.

The Murray River

We caught the bus in the morning on Friday and were supposed to get off at Ouyen, where Mariah’s family were to pick us up.  It was a bus that went to Sydney and they would make stops at a town every half hour or so and the bus driver is supposed to tell you what the stop is and actually stop the bus for the stop, you know, because it’s a bus stop right?  Well, we switched drivers at the South Australia/Victoria border and this bus driver, we swear, didn’t speak actual English, only Australian.  We were in the back of the bus, where babies were crying all around us and the loud speaker wasn’t really working so we couldn’t hear the driver anyway – and when it got a bit after when we were supposed to get off, we start looking around trying to see something.  We had gone through a stop about a half hour earlier, we think but the guy didn’t stop the bus and no one got off, and we saw no sign saying what stop that was.  As we’re rolling up to our next stop, I see a sign that says “Ouyen 53k” back the direction we had already come. Great.  So we get off and ask the driver, who was not very nice, what we should do.  Our phones weren’t working because we were in Victoria, not South Australia, and we’re asking him why he didn’t stop the bus and why he didn’t make sure we got off because he has a list of people that are supposed to get off at each stop and he’s saying it’s not his fault, he makes sure he’s got everyone on the bus and it’s our job to get off (so technically, we could’ve had a $30 ride all the way to Sydney if we hadn’t gotten off), but then we ask for his name and he offers for us to use his phone to call our friends.

Thriving metropolis of Manangatang

Our friends’ numbers weren’t working and no one was answering, so we end up getting left in the thriving metropolis of Manangatang, trying to get up with anyone on a payphone around the corner.  There is literally nothing in this town, it looks like where I’m from.  There’s a post office and a payphone and a small bar but that’s about it.  At this point, it’s about 2 hours after we were supposed to get off at Ouyen, so we can’t even imagine what Mariah’s family is thinking or doing, if they’re waiting for us or anything.  We finally got up with Greeny, Mariah’s boyfriend, and were so incredibly relieved to hear his voice!  Everyone on the other end was laughing hysterically and they told us they’d come pick us up.  A half hour later, we were in the truck with Mariah, her mom, and Greeny and they were telling us how they had done circles of Ouyen for the past two hours, asking anyone whether some American visitors had come through, giving our descriptions to anyone they saw.  They had even gone to the police station, who started their search for us, getting up with the next bus stop to stop the bus and make sure we’d gotten off, calling the bus service to ask if we had actually gotten on the bus, so all of Victoria basically was looking for us.  Talk about a grand entrance.

Anyways, when we got to the river, everyone kind of gave us a bit of a hard time about our mistake but it was all very good humored.  There were at least 4 families, about 30 people total.  They all seem to get together every year for Easter and go to this place to camp out all weekend.  There is a house on the property – very flat, one story, with a kitchen, living spaces, and bedrooms, but that’s where the old people slept.  Everyone else slept outside in tents or under the stars in swags.

A Swag

I got to sleep in a swag – so cool!  It’s like a tent and a sleeping bag all in one bag – you unroll the bag then unzip the thing, put either sheets, a blanket and a pillow or a sleeping bag on top of the thin mattress that comes with the swag, crawl in and then zip yourself up and that’s your bed!  And it’s completely waterproof and no bugs or creatures can get inside, and much more comfortable than a sleeping bag on the ground.  When you’re done camping, you just roll everything back up till the next time.

Now, her family is real country, as well as all their friends.  They’re farmers, all live in about a 40 mile radius from each other – when we went back to Mariah’s place, she took us on a tour of the area and was pointing out the farms of everyone we had met that weekend.  They’re not redneck, just “good ‘ole boys” Australian style, which, if you don’t know what that means, is like your typical country person that’s not redneck – very friendly, knows a lot about fishing and farming and trucks and machinery and how to fix things, works with their hands, enjoys kicking back with a cold beer and his buddies on weekends, you get the picture.  And that’s basically what we did all weekend – just kicked back and hung out with everyone.  There’s a covered patio off of the house where everyone put up their lawn chairs and canvas chairs and talked all night.  We had a bonfire every night in a fire pit made from an old tractor wheel.  Dinner each day was a cookout and we had what they call “camp oven” for Easter dinner.

Camp Oven

Camp oven is basically when you dig a hole, cover the bottom of the hole with hot coals, put your roast and veggies in a cast iron pot with a lid, put that on the coals, cover the lid with hot coals then cover the top of the hole with a piece of galvanized sheet metal (they would traditionally cover the hole with dirt).  You just roast your dinner in there for hours and it gets really, really tender.  But instead of just one pot, we had 6 full of stuff – lamb roast, pork, chicken, potatoes, and other veggies – because there were so many of us.

We went fishing and kayaking everyday on the billabong right near the house, which was fun.  A billabong is some kind of pond/lake like thing that either comes off a river or feeds into it or something like that.  Basically with was just down the hill, very calm with a whole lot of fish in it.  The first day, only a couple of us were fishing, but we caught so many fish that more and more people started fishing the next two days so by the end, everyone was on the banks fishing.

Oscar’s first fish

Mariah actually caught about 7 fish in maybe 20 minutes.  We ran out of rods really fast so we were all making rods out of bamboo and some of us just took line and with a hook and threw that in the water – I caught two fish that way!  Oscar even caught his first fish, after 3 days of trying with everyone else around him reeling in fish after fish.  It almost became a joke – when someone got a fish on the line, they would go grab Oscar to come reel it in because he hadn’t caught one of his own – but by the 3rd day, he had caught his own fish.

When we went out on the kayaks the first time, Jesse, one of Mariah’s younger brothers kept trying to turn my kayak over to throw me in the water.  He kept trying and trying, so I just reach over and give him the slightest of taps and he just teeters a bit and then falls in the freezing cold water (because it’s almost winter over here, the water was really cold).  Everyone on the bank thought it was hysterical.  He then took me for a motor bike ride (absolutely terrifying! We were going down these dirt paths at like 120 kph on a motor bike! scary…) and I swear he was trying to throw me off that thing.
On Easter day, everyone got up really early and just bombarded each other with Easter eggs – the chocolate ones, not the plastic ones.  I have a whole bag full of Easter eggs now.  They’re obsessed with the chocolate eggs over here!  They have all different sizes – from very small ones all the way up to monster 1 kilo eggs.  Then we all had hot cross buns for breakfast and once everyone got a good sugar high, we all pile in the car and go down the river to watch the Mildura 100 – a water skiing race.

Beginning of the Mildura 100

Bizarre stuff – there were about 300 boats, each boat has to have 2 skiers behind it and they average 190kph (about 118mph) down the winding river.  They stagger the boats, so everyone’s just going for time but some of the boats do catch up to each other so there’ll be up to 4 boats very close to each other, each going almost 120 mph along this river with 2 skiers.  The boats would be flying down the river, literally only the engine was in the water.  We saw the race at 3 parts – close to the start, then we went to another friends’ boat at the middle section (it was a paddle boat – like those things on the Mississippi! – that the guy hand built himself, it was really cool), then we went down to the finish.  It kind of resembled a redneck carnival – or maybe more like a Nascar race.  All it was missing were the Confederate flags haha.  Did I mention I was with really country people all weekend?
Anyways, on Monday, we went back to Mariah’s place about 3 hours or so away.  It looked like the midwest – farm after farm after farm.  Grains and legumes mostly, there are some sheep farms and a few cattle, but mostly crops.  Mariah’s on about 3,000 acres and she showed us around – all the sheds with the huge equipment, their old sheep sheering shed (they used to have sheep and cattle but they sold them all) and then a lot of the “paddocks” (what they call fields).

Fields with Silos

She has two huge dogs and a small dog they use for foxing (she goes down the fox holes then barks at the foxes so Mariah’s dad follows the sound of the barking, digs down from above the barks and there’s the fox, which they grab out of the hole and, you know, shoot).  That night, we went spotlighting, which is like a modern version of a fox hunt but instead of being on horses, everyone’s in a truck.  We went with Mariah’s two dogs and her dad drove the truck but me, Oscar, and Greeny (Mariah’s boyfriend) were on the back of the truck.  It’s before planting time, so all the fields are bare and we were able to drive through the fields, Greeny scanning the area for foxes with the spotlight.  Once we saw a fox, we’d point the spotlight at it, the dogs would jump out and start sprinting after it and we’d blast along behind in the truck trying to keep the spotlight on the fox for the dogs to follow, just blazing across these fields trying to keep up, us hanging on in the back for dear life.  The truck almost acted like a third dog, helping the dogs herd the fox over to a corner where they could get it.  The dogs would then, hopefully, catch the fox at the neck and just shake it until it went limp.

“The Lake”

We caught 2 foxes and a huge hare.

The next day, we went out to Greeny’s place for another barbeque and he showed us around his farm, which looked basically the same as Mariah’s.  Around sunset, though, we piled in the car with his sisters and went down to see “the lake.”  Y’all remember all the flooding Australia has had in the past few months?  Victoria got hit from between November through March – some of the stories they had were amazing.  We saw the water lines on the trees at the Murray River, about 2 meters above the current water line.  Roads were ruined, some of the places along the creeks had to levee and sand bag their houses because of the floods.  The most amazing thing, however, was this lake.  For the past 15 years, it’s been a dry, barren expanse of bush fields but with these rains, it filled up.  It’s about 20 feet at the middle and people now water ski on “the lake.”  But before November, it wasn’t there.  The road was so wet, though, we ended up getting bogged and Greeny’s dad had to come rescue us in the tractor.
In the morning, we caught the bus from Ouyen and came back to Adelaide.  It was a really great weekend, and it felt good to be out in the country again – I can’t stand cities for too long.  It was also really great to see a part of Australia that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise, and spend time with actual Australians.
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