Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Despite all the difficulties, they love and appreciate their station in the outback

Sizzling heat, water problems, hordes of flies , lack of mobile communications, many hours away from settlements and no cultural entertainment. Such is the life of Australian farmers, which they would not exchange for any blessings of civilization. Why – the correspondent of Vokrug Sveta found out.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

The dashboard is covered with a thin layer of red dust. The air traffic controller gives permission to take off, and the Cessna easily scatters. The roofs of Port Augusta are left behind, and the boundless red desert rolls over us with the inevitability of an oceanic tide. We are about 200 meters above the ground, and sometimes among the sparse vegetation I notice galloping kangaroos, and the pilot shows me a couple of emus walking leisurely.

We slightly gain height above the mountain range, curved like a giant lizard in the middle of an endless plain, and descend again: we keep our course along a dirt road. It takes about an hour, and here we are almost there. Runway ahead. But what is it? She is busy… with a herd of sheep! The pilot flies the plane very low over the runway, the noise of the propeller frightens the animals, and they scatter. On the second attempt, we land…

I get out of the somehow air-conditioned cockpit, a wave of heat hits my face. As if you open the oven door in which the leg of lamb is baked.

The landing strip overlooks the farm: a squat, large-roofed house surrounded by greenery, small outbuildings here and there.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in a deserted Australian outback

I'm in a real Australian outback, east of the Flinders Ridge. The meaning of the word “outback” & nbsp; is the end of the world, the backyard. “Behind the black stump” – say the Australians about these places. Something like our “in the middle of nowhere.” There is a version that black (burnt in fires) stumps used to serve as road signs in this wilderness.

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Australian greeting

Station Wirrealpa(translated from the Aboriginal & nbsp; – “on the open plain”) belongs to Warren and Barbara Farger. I was lucky: Warren's brother, Darrell, who runs a farm next door (50 kilometers away), was just in town on business and agreed to drop me here in his Cessna, otherwise I would have been shaking for four hours off-road.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Stations in Australia are called land holdings of impressive size (thus, the area of ​​the Farger farm  is about 1600 km², about two Singapore). The pastures here are so scarce that only large areas can provide the cattle with the necessary amount of pasture. The government gives such plots of land to farmers on a 99-year lease.

Barbara, a slender, strong woman of about 65 with a weathered, tanned face, shows me her garden oasis: a bright green lawn framed by flowering palm trees and acacias.

“We water from the well. The well is shallow, 45 meters, – says the hostess. – And for drinking we use rainwater, it is cleaner. See the corrugated iron vats under the gutters? The larger the roof area, the more water collected… From 1990 to 2010, we experienced the longest and most difficult drought in our memory. Even the groundwater level has dropped dramatically. We had to get rid of the livestock. We used to have 11,000–12,000 sheep and 1,000 cows. And now there are only 800 sheep and 200 cows.”

When talking to me, Barbara seems to be actively gesturing, but in fact she is chasing away the flies. The characteristic wave of the hand from the face on the continent is called the “Australian salute” (aussie salute, or australian wave). “Something flies roamed today,” & nbsp; – the owner of the farm notes without any irritation.

Annoying insects fly into the nose and mouth, climb under the glasses of sunglasses, sit on the same places on the skin a hundred times with the persistence of drug addicts. Well, experienced friends back in Adelaide provided me with a special net, similar to a shopping bag without a bottom. I put it on Panama. By the way, the original Australian anti-fly device is a hat with strings hanging from its brim with pieces of cork at the ends. Their swaying frightens away flies.

And only at sunset, importunate Diptera finally fall asleep. True, and people go to bed early here, as is customary among villagers all over the world …

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Riding on a sheep's back

And the day begins on the farm before dawn. Already at six in the morning, a delicious aroma wafts through the house: Barb bakes bread and scones for breakfast. Today is a big day at the station – sheep shearing. Perhaps the most important event in the life of an outback.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Shearers come to breakfast with us – five young guys who arrived the night before. They spent the night in a shed: it's hard to get to work by half past seven when you're driving hundreds of miles, and on a bad road.

I finally meet the owner. Warren was very busy yesterday, checking the readiness of the sheep and the shearing equipment. By his appearance, you can immediately tell that a person is constantly busy with hard physical labor in the fresh air.

The guys dealt with fried eggs and bacon in a businesslike way. For coffee, Barb serves scones and traditional strawberry jam, takes cream from the refrigerator. The Fargers have three refrigerators plus one large freezer. Products are bought at least a month in advance: after all, it takes a whole day to get to the supermarket and back.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Shearers rise from the table: at 7:20, it's time to get to work. On the way to the shearing shed, Warren shares his process with me. Surprisingly, scientific and technological progress has hardly improved it in any way. Everything is still done almost by hand.

The work of shearers  is a kind of acrobatics. One of them, Bob, shows me his flexibility by leaning forward and placing his palms on the floor with ease. To ease the load on the back during the haircut, special equipment was invented: chain swings (slings) hang from the crossbar under the ceiling, as it were, instead of a seat they have a wide soft lining. The shearer adjusts the “swing” to fit his height and lies on his stomach, bending over the sheep.

But not everyone uses slings: it slows down work, and “time is money” is not just a saying here, because most often shearers work at a rate of a hundred. For example, for shearing hundreds of sheep with the usual thickness of wool, the shearer receives 310 Australian dollars (about 18 thousand rubles). At the same time, shearing one sheep usually takes two to three minutes.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Certified wool sorters arrive from a neighboring farm: an elderly man and a middle-aged woman. Their task is to distribute and classify the wool before packaging depending on the length, thickness, purity, etc.

“The day before shearing, the sheep need to be gathered from the pastures into the paddocks in front of the barn,” says Warren. “And first you still need to find where they graze. Barbara and I are on motorcycles, we have two shepherd dogs with us. At such distances and temperatures, cattle should not be driven too quickly, otherwise the animals will die of fatigue. wool.

In the corral in front of the barn, shaggy, dirty-brown merinos crowd. It is hard to believe, but this barn is a historical monument: it is over 100 years old. “We are the third generation of Fargers shearing their sheep here,” says Warren, not without pride. And the very first Farger appeared in these places in 1860 -digging copper ore.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

At Warren's farm, sheep are sheared with traditional machine shears, the blades of which are driven by a diesel rotary unit. A flexible sleeve runs from the rotating shaft to the shears. The shearers work quickly, almost without speaking, removing the wool from the sheep very close to the skin, with a single fleece. Each sheep receives 3.5–4.5 kg of wool.

It is simply amazing how cleverly the guys manage heavy animals (the weight of a sheep reaches 100 kg, and a ram – up to 160 kg), turning them over on their backs and clamping them between their legs. The most dangerous & nbsp; is a haircut in the throat area (and the wool there is usually of very good quality): an accidental wound can be fatal for an animal.

Sheared lambs, counting, are released. Suddenly thin and white, they run out to freedom, jumping high with excitement.

The sheared fleece is thrown inside down on a special sorting table with a table top made of parallel slats spaced 5–7 cm apart. Small curls and other woolen debris are thus sifted onto the floor.

The sorted wool is weighed, then crushed with a hydraulic press and packed in bales. Warren stencils each bag with the name Wirrealpa and the appropriate wool grade, then splatters with paint. The bale is ready for sale.

The working day of the shearers consists of four sessions of two hours each. At noon – lunch. Barb brings oversized sandwiches, water and lemon. It's unbearably hot, but it doesn't seem to bother the guys at all. Got used to it.

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Today Warren has another urgent matter&nbsp ;- check the pump that pumps water from the well to the animal drinker about 10 kilometers from the house: the other day it was suspiciously noisy. And if something happens to the pump, the cattle will die of thirst. A cow needs at least 35–40 liters of water per day, and a sheep up to ten.

I'm asking Warren to be my escort. After a couple of kilometers on the dirt road, at a leaky white barrel that serves as a road sign, we turn off-road. The car is tossed over holes and potholes, sometimes we climb up at an angle of 45 degrees.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

On our way there are dried up riverbeds, along which thick-set eucalyptus trees froze. As if cut with a huge knife, the rocks expose layers corresponding to all geological eras in order. Warren shows me the fossils, the footprints of creatures that lived 500 million years ago in the warm sea that covered this area.

And here is the well. The pump pumping water from it is driven by a windmill. Water enters the cement tank connected to the drinker through a float (similar to the toilet bowl principle). We see several drinking cows: there is water, everything is in order.

Like most farmers here, the Fargers raise cows exclusively for sale. They don’t milk or slaughter even for themselves: Warren and Barb are no longer young, and they don’t need any additional work. Milk and beef are bought in the supermarket. “Before selling, I have to take the cows for several months to more fertile land, to a farm with my friends north of Adelaide, so that they eat juicy grass, gain fat,” says Warren.

Here not get fat. Around the earth is brick-colored, dotted with rare thorny bushes. The Australians call this area the word “bush”, (bush – “bush” in English).

From looking at the mountains on the horizon and the eagles in the sky, I am distracted by the quiet rustling nearby – a snake! Light brown, with a wrist thickness, more than two meters in length. I scream, numb with horror. Warren reacts instantly, but when he sees the reptile, he says: the royal brown snake stings only in self-defense… stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback “Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback” />

It turns out that the outback has its own ambulance, and it's called the Royal Air Medical Service (Royal Flying Doctor Service). She can be summoned by radio. Medics arrive on the same Cessnas. On each farm, regardless of the presence of its own aircraft, an unpaved runway has been built. “In which case, you will be taken to the hospital faster than in Moscow due to your traffic jams!” Warren says. “But you must not make a mistake yourself. Dress appropriately, for example. Tight jeans, high socks and boots are our usual clothes here, despite the heat. You have to be able to treat wounds yourself, apply stitches – Barbara graduated from first aid courses. And I “doctor” all our equipment: most of the breakdowns are within my power … ”

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In the land of real men

The evening brings a long-awaited coolness and an incredibly beautiful sunset. Before finally disappearing, the sun scans the sky with a purple beam of light, like a searchlight. Blue twilight floods the expanse, blurring a full 360-degree horizon.

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Thousands of bright stars flare up above my head, and the entire vast space of the outback seems to dissolve in the universe filled with the incessant singing of crickets…

The windows of Farger's house glow cozily in the dark. A cool breeze brings the aroma of lamb ribs to the barbecue. The hosts and I sit around a mighty wooden table over a glass of fragrant South Australian Riesling and laugh at Warren's story about his trip to the Soviet Union in the 1970s (the main memory is how the black marketers persuaded Farger to sell the jeans he was wearing).

Suddenly, a guest appears on the threshold – Dave, a dingo hunter. In Australia, there is a state program to regulate the number of wild animals brought to the continent. Wild dogs cause damage not only to livestock, but also to authentic fauna. Dave drove around the area in a car and scattered poison baits, but he blew a tire. Warren goes to help, and I torture Barbara how they manage not to feel alone in this wilderness.

“You city dwellers are complaining about the forced lockdown due to the pandemic. And we have chosen such a life for ourselves,” says the hostess. – So crowded, as today, when shearing sheep, we have once a year. And the rest of the time Warren and I are here alone. And it's perfect for us.”

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Both sons of the Fargers have long grown up, have families and live in cities. By the way, they received their primary education remotely, at the famous Australian radio school School Of The Air, which turned 70 in 2021. In the past, it was really taught with the help of two-way radio, but it was replaced by the Internet (via satellite dishes). Nevertheless, the name “radio school” has been preserved.

Warren returns for tea, having donated his spare tire to Dave. “This is our rule: do everything you can to help a traveler who comes to you,” says the owner, seeing my surprise. “Because in our conditions, indifference can cost a person his life.”

“Nature is harsh here,” continues Barb, “but, perhaps, we depend on nature alone. And they learned to cope with her whims. And we will never tire of rejoicing in her beauty. Otherwise, we like that we work for ourselves: our own businessmen, agronomists, livestock breeders, environmentalists and managers.

“Have you heard the saying: 'Where men have always been men and sheep just cowardly sheep'? adds Warren. This is about our region.”

Wirrealpa Station, Outback, South Australia

Outback area 5.6 million km² (70% of the continent)
Population ~ 500,000 people (2% of Australia's population)
Population density 0.01 person/km²

Australia area 7,692,024 km² (6th in world)
Population ~ 26 500 000 people (53rd)
Population density 3.5/km²

Behind the black stump: how farmers live in the deserted Australian outback

Sightseeing: Icara-Flinders Ranges National Park, Wilpena Pound Mountain Amphitheater, RidgeElder Range, Brachina Gorge, Arkaroo cave with Aboriginal rock paintings.
Traditional dishes: roast lamb, baked leg of lamb, Australian lamb and rosemary pie.
Traditional drinks: wines from South Australian vineyards, beer.
Souvenirs: Aboriginal cultural items, traditional hat akubra, kangaroo leather goods.

DISTANCE from Moscow to Port Augusta ~ 13,550 km (from 20 hours in flight excluding transfers)
TIME< /strong> ahead of Moscow by 6.5 hours in summer, by 7.5 hours in winter
VISA Russian citizens need
CURRENCY Australian dollar (10 AUD ~ 6 ,7 USD)


Natasha Bryson

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