I’m quite ashamed it’s taken me this long to write about my life in a rural Australian farm town… I was trying to get all my Croatia guides done and get back in shape and then the election happened and life spun out of control and now here I am 2 months in, writing my first post. My sincerest apologies (not that anyone cares lol) but here goes a lil summary my life out here doing my farm work while living in the smallest town I think I have ever seen.
So I am working at living at a lovely lil place called the Oasis Hotel, or ‘the O’ or ‘the Oey’ as people call it (Aussies can’t leave a single name unshortened). I am one of two ‘bar maids’ as they call them out here (they always have girls – perhaps because the main clientele is male farmers) running the place with the couple who have owned the place for almost 18 years. I am the 180th backpacker to work out here or something like that, so they pretty much have a rigid system of running the place that has worked for a lot of years and a lot of backpackers.
Harrismith is about 2.5 hours Southeast of Perth, in the actual sticks. Out here 30-50 kilometers is considered ‘just down the road’ (no joke) and people come out to ‘the Oey’ from about an 80k+ radius. It’s a pretty well-known pub out here and there always seem to be people in.
Me entertaining myself on my day off by going on a massive long walk, picking flowers, and taking selfies. As you do.
Hours and My Jobs
So the other bar maid and I (we’re called bar maids because they only hire girls :P) switch off lunch/dinner and bar shifts each day/night. Oh yeah, did I mention that I actually have to cook for people out here? Like ME, alone in a kitchen, cooking actual FOOD for OTHER HUMANS that they PAY FOR. Yeah, I don’t know whose idea that was either, but its happening… strange!
We get paid weekly, which includes whatever food we want to eat/make from the kitchen and our own room in the hotel, which is rarely full. To be honest, we get a fair amount of our drinks paid for as well 😉
So one day I will work 9:30am-12pm doing the bar (sweep, mop, clean windows, vacuum, wipe everything down, etc etc) and then have a break until 4:30, where I will relieve one of the owners from working at the bar. I then work there until 6 when our kitchen opens, and do the cooking shift for anyone who wants food (including dining room meals) then go back to the bar until close.
On the next day, I will work 9:30-12 on the kitchen shift (put away dishes and baskets, fill sauces, peel and cut carrots & onion, make takeaway boxes, make chicken rolls, make gravy, ready lettuces, sweep, and mop, etc) and then cook lunches from 12-2 for anyone who orders. I then will have a break from 2-530, at which point I will work the bar shift for that night while the other gal is in the kitchen.
We do this each week except our ‘deep clean Thursdays” (my fave… not) where one of us is to deep clean the bar, and the other… the toilets. This is the one day where we have all these extra cleaning jobs and wake up an hour early to do them. There are three toilets out by the bar, and two out the back near the 4 hotel rooms we have. And I must say the men’s toilet is pretty much what nightmares are made of. We have to sweep, mop, scrub, and wipe all the toilets down. Never have I ever thought that I would literally be cleaning toilets for money while traveling, but there you go. Life experience win! I just hope I never have to step foot in the fly-ridden, spider-loving, smelly sticky men’s toilet ever again after this 😛
The bar closes at 10 on Sundays and usually Mondays and Tuesdays, and we must stay open until pretty much midnight or when everyone leaves on all the other days. This equates to quiiiiiiite long hours and a bit of a grumpy Kimmie on certain nights when there are only two old guys left in the bar, just sitting and chatting about their farms until 10pm as I stare at the wall, unable to contribute much to their conversation… but there you have it!
Country roooooooooad, take me home!
Days off // On Being Stranded in the Middle of Nowhere
We do this aforementioned schedule 6 days a week, and have one day off – Monday or Tuesday. This isn’t the most convenient thing for getting to do things on our days off, but usually we can find a farmer or friend who feels bad enough for us that they want to pick us up or take us to their farm or to a town for a little break 😛
We are usually quite stranded here, to be totally honest. It would have been smart to find some sort of car that I could take on field tripe, but most people are usually a bit busy to come and entertain us.
So, the summation of all this creates a Kimmie that is excited by the smallest of things. One that is ecstatic to go out on the farm for a change of scenery or even (gasp) get to go for a car ride somewhere.
Car rides are the best because you can go oh, so much further that I can get on my feet… judging from the fact that I have walked or run every trail or street around here in every possible direction as far as I could go, multiple times. There’s not many new things I can see on my feet. And although because of the type of person I am, I am still finding new routes and ways to explore and new things or ways to see the same things, car rides are still the pinnacle of #BarMaidLife adventure.
It doesn’t really matter where you’re going – maybe you’ll pass through (gasp) another town and get to see what that’s like (the closest one is 10k away :P) or just get to look at the pretty scenery and paddocks on paddocks on bush on paddocks of farmland. I’m like a little puppy staring out the window on the way to the dog park – it’s crazy how you really can appreciate the little things even more with a life like this!
The crops turned a golden brown not too long after this was taken – the green landscape is now yellow!
So what have I gotten up to on days off?
I have been camping on one (when a fox stole my shoe, post here), actually been down to the coast with a good friend who had an extra day before he had to be on his farm (getting my ocean fix was so much needed), been on extremely ridiculously long walks, been out to the sheep shearing sheds (a craaaazy experience – read more about sheep shearing here), been over to a tree farm where they plant little seedlings of all kinds of trees and plants to order, been to a few nearby towns, and often worked on my blog! I always plan to work loads on my blog, and end up on some sort of adventure or another instead. This is my typical life no matter where I am – forgoing the blog for more adventure and then having no time to write about it all!
Selfie with some of the O squad on a standard saturday night!
Clientele & Community
The people who come in the O are mostly farmers, and then you get some shearers, mechanics, truck drivers, or other people who live locally or may be driving between places. There’s not too much variation! Most of them live on farms or in nearby towns (aka within 80k), and I’m not gonna lie, you get a heap of very stereotypical bogans in here. It’s quite funny really. I have met the only two people I have ever met in my life with dreadlock mullets here, and the only one with a dreadlock beard. Yes, a dreadlock beard. His name is Dennis and he comes in every single day. He’s a legend.
Anyway, most people around here know each other. Alright, EVERYONE knows each other. If anyone comes in the pub who is new, Dennis walks straight over to them to find out who they are and what they’re about. The population out here is spread quite thin, so news travels fast.
And this means ANY type of news. If something happens, which is not often, everyone knows about it. Rumors, stories, someone’s toilet having a leak, someone’s header breaking down, of GOD FORBID one of the barmaids is texting one of the local boys, everyone knows about it and will discuss it at the pub. If the latter is happening, they must be getting married and each local will proceed to stir them up about it. It’s quite overwhelming really.
Strangely enough though, there’s an overwhelming number of backpackers who used to work at country pubs around here who have met their husbands here and stayed forever. Like, a lot. So every time a new backpacker comes, it’s a sort of running joke about which farmer they’re going to marry. Don’t worry though, mum and dad, everyone knows that there is no way in hell I would ever stay here forever, even for my farmer prince charming 😛
The beautiful countryside, right amidst the winter-to-spring change!
This place is not only remote, but has a different way of life entirely. It’s pretty crazy to be immersed in, really. It often seems slightly old fashioned or maybe just more simple. Farm life is all a lot of these people have really ever known, and it shows. Many of the locals around here have had a few year stint living and working in Perth, and either didn’t like it and came back out to settle in the country, or plan to go back at some point.
This is a place where topics of conversation will often be about ‘shifting paddocks,’ ‘moving sheep,’ or oats, barley, canola, wheat… you name it. AKA things I have never even considered talking about before in my entire life! Between being bored waiting for farmers to leave the bar at 930 on a Monday night, I try to sort of listen in on these conversations they have about farming – they are so passionate about it, so particular about and so enamored by it. They will talk about the perfect amounts of rain needed in the winter months to grow a perfect crop, and about which fertilizers to use on the soil at what time of year. They will curse the low temperatures that caused some crop to frost in the winter, and curse the rain that comes during harvest because you can’t harvest crop that has too high of a water content.
They actually had the worst frost this year since 1999, and the farmers are quite unhappy about it. Springtime, which is around now (October, November, early Dec) is harvest time down in Australia, where the farmers harvest the crop from the paddocks and take it over to grain bins to sell. They must match a certain quality standard to sell the grain, which has been difficult to match this year. Some farms have had over 60-70-8-% of their crop lost from frost, and I am hearing a lot of them thank goodness for sheep! They will have to take a loan out and hope for better weather next year.
It’s so hard for me to imagine a career where you can do everything perfectly and your fate still depends entirely on external forces which you cannot control – its mind blowing!
A classic farm scene – feeding sheep, with the dogs in the back of the ute, at sunset!
The last crazy different part about farming culture is the role of women/wives out here. This is one aspect of country life that I find very old fashioned. Women out here are the stay-at-home mums, the homemakers, and the child-minders. It’s very rare that a wife will accompany her husband to the pub, and if she does, she is usually minding the screaming children and making sure they don’t disturb their father while he has a few with the boys. Women will pretty much never get drunk, they might have one or maaaaaybe two if they’re feeling risky, and then probably return home to make dinner.
I have heard the regulars talk about returning home late from the pub drunk to look for their ready-made dinner in the fridge after their wives had gone to bed, or things like that…. it made me a bit queasy for a while, until one of the farmers made a good point to me about the work on the farm.
The men in the families are the ones who really do all the farming work – they are up each day moving sheep, tending to crops, planning everything out, and just running the whole farm really. Farmer wives (does’t that sounds like a good idea for a TV show?! :P) usually don’t have other jobs themselves… they kindof just help out on the farm and their main role is to be a homemaker and mind the children while their husband works to make the family money for the year. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, or particularly fair, it’s just the way things seem to be out here. Different strokes for different folks, right? I just know it could never be me!
One night when I stopped and looked around and realized I was, in fact, the only female in the entire room 😛
The bar culture here is much different than I have ever seen. It’s not a busy bar – where the bartenders are constantly moving around and fulfilling the orders of customer after customer, like I am used to in any place I have lived before. Here it is usually much less busy, and my role rather than to take orders is to basically ensure that no customers beer ever becomes empty.
Did you ever play that game ‘wack-a-mole’ when you were young? Like when the little moles would pop up out at random out of the little holes and you would have to wack them back in as fast as you could? I have decided that working here and refilling empty beers is can be likened to playing wack-a-mole, haha. Here, no one ever vocalizes to you that they have finished their beer… they just set the empty glass down and wait for you to notice it. It’s almost like a test half the time really; I feel like they sometimes want to just see how observant you are (well not really, but kindof 😛 ) You must keep an eye on everyone at the bar, and when a glass nears the bottom, you best be getting ready to refill it!
How do you know if they want another one, you may ask? Well, out here, if a cup is upright, they want another. If they are done for the night or day, they will lay their glass or bottle on it’s side – like a silent signal that they are finished and don’t need refilling anymore.
Nearly everyone smokes out here – I can honestly count on one hand the amount of people who don’t. They will come into the bar and have periodic ‘smoko’s,’ or smoke breaks, where they will disappear and leave all their stuff on the bar while they go have a ciggy, and return with an empty glass that needs prompt refilling.
Middys and Stubbies
They also have teeny tiny little half-pint sized glasses that they drink out here, called middys. Middy’s are great to keep your beer cold in the hot weather and all, but when you are a barmaid, they suck because you have to refill the beers literally twice as often. One, two, three sips and done, and I’m playing wack-a-mole faster than I even could on the actual game as a child with these silly small glasses!
At home, we call the small bottles of beer…. bottles. Here, the small bottles (regualar sized bottles really) are called stubbies. On my first day, someone came to me and asked for a “3.5 stubby” (this is a mid-strength 3.5% beer in a bottle) and I stared blankly at them and requested they speak english 😛
The other crazy thing they do out here is the customers just leave their money in a pile on the bar for me to take from for each beer/drink. When they get here, everyone just takes their money out and puts it in a little pile, usually under their wallet and packet of smokes or tobacco. When I refill their drink, I take the appropriate amount of money from their pile, and return the change back.
The whole ‘pile’ thing is good fun and all when everyone stays in the damn seats they sat in to begin with, but as more crowded nights go on, and new friends come in, different circles are made, and people move around, I am soon enough running to opposite sides of the bar to retrieve money from people’s piles.
“Mine’s the one under the brown wallet…. nope… on the other side of Dan.. nope, next one… yeah you got it.” This is a standard happening at the O. I have taken from the wrong pile before because silly Kimmie thought the pile right in front of the person was theirs. It’s pretty funny really. I tend to play a little game with myself to try and use up as much of people’s loose change as I can, and return bills in higher denominations.
It requires a pretty high amount of trust, really, just leaving your money all over the bar and having me take the right amount. But that’s the thing out here – everyone knows each other and has for their whole lives, and trusts each other. If strangers came into the bar they probably wouldn’t be so frivolous about their piles, but out in the country it really is like that!
On my night out camping, I had a little fun with the long exposures in front of the incredible stars out here!
Lastly, another different thing done out here is that people can get takeaways right from the bar. In literally a town of nine, you can’t go to the supermarket or liquor store. This is the only place around where you can get alcohol, so you can come here to get it takeaway, or, of course, for here. Each drink has a normal price and a takeaway price, in which case it must be bagged up with a little ice.
When the bar closes at night, it isn’t ‘closing time…’ it’s ‘takeaway time.’ You get people out of the country pub at midnight not by kicking them out, but by getting them to buy drinks for takeaway first, and then kicking them out. We literally call it takeaway time, and the done thing is for people to grab a 6-pack of beer or pre-mixed drinks like Jack & coke or CC & dry for takeaway.
This is pretty bad, but out here, if you are drunk or ‘pissed’ as they call it, you can’t exactly just call a taxi to freaking Harrismith. There aren’t too many cops out here, and drunk driving is unfortunately quite common. Sometimes truckeys (truck drivers) or just regular people on their way home call in on their way to get a few stubbies for the road… I have heard people say its a ‘three stubby’ drive home before!! Luckily if people are really too drunk, we put them in a room in the hotel so as not to be too dangerous. Out here, it’s honestly uncommon to even see another car on the road, which doesn’t make it okay, but just a tiny bit safer I suppose. That whole ‘RSA’ thing Australia has…. is not so much of a thing out here. More country farm culture!
I’m pretty sure this is barley… maybe wheat. (Shoot, I should know this by now)
Everyone out here tends to enjoy getting a little bit drunk. I suppose there isn’t much else to do, really! When the bar closes at midnight (or honestly something like 12:30 when we finally get everyone out the door) and everyone gets their takeaways, if it’s a Saturday night or a big night, everyone will jet off to someone’s house to continue the party.
There aren’t exactly other bars or venues to go, so you have to make your own fun. Usually this consists of either lighting a bonfire somewhere, or circling around a table with your drinks around a set of speakers and a 90’s singalong playlist.
Some nights when the bar owners are feeling it, we can have a special occasion “lock-in.’ This is when everyone ges their takeaways, you close the till, and continue drinking inside the pub. These nights are the best so I can actually enjoy a few on the other side of the bar!
For some reason out here you always tend to watch the sun rise after a night out, from someone or another’s paddock over some cheap beer. It’s good fun, but leads to a pretty rough time for us girls at work the next day when a lot of the farmers have the day off!
More Photos of my Bush Adventures
This is what harvests the crops, and it’s called a ‘header.’ It cuts the crops and separates the grain from the ‘chaff,’ or the rest of the plant. The farmers have been very busy for the past month driving these around all day; it’s very tiring!
Can you guess what this is?! It’s a herd of sheep… from the sky!! One day, we got to go flying with a crop dusting pilot – literally a pilot whose job it is to fly 5 feet over paddocks of crop to spray fertilizer on them. It was insane, as you would know if you follow me on instagram!! (@kimmconn!)
One of the 10 residents of harrismith has this ADORABLE little jack Russell named Sandy, so I have started to occasionally steal her to take on walks/runs. I might not return her one of these days!
I forgot to mention this, but Harrismith is known for its amazing diverse range of wildflowers! There are three different wildflower walking trails, and I was here just at the right time of year to see them in full bloom. I’m not sure which one this is, but it was beautiful and soft 🙂
Some more of the lovely wildflowers!
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