Liffey Valley

Adam’s just come in with today’s list, it reads “Joe: vines again”. It’s the fifth day of pruning vines in a row. But I like doing vines. Adam knows this.

It’s so much easier to stay on top of writing than trying to keep up with all the pretty places you’ve been and new friends you’ve made. So I’ll start with where I am right now… In the Liffey Valley. I get the feeling I can stay here for maybe… A month… Two months? The rest of my life? Plenty of time to catch up on my writing anyway. But where exactly is the Liffey valley and more importantly how nice is it out of 10?

The Liffey Valley lies south west of Launceston in the Northerly half of Tasmania. It’s the most classically “Australian” landscape I’ve seen in Tassie. Gum trees, vast plains of yellowing grass and blue hills in the distance. Some staples of the island remain, the weather is beautifully changeable, Scottish heather peeks through the red dirt and the grass, well… There’s grass. So you can always tell it’s not the mainland.

The clouds rise from the hills, between the trees in long plumes. Three or four on each hill. The clouds that fill the skies come from the hills surrounding the house, at first I thought they were controlled burns. But the stars. Again the stars. Every night they take my breath away; constellations, galaxies, satellites and more shooting stars than you could ever wish on.

Streams of the purest water on earth follow the wind down the hills, through a thin hose and into the house. No need for the pipes that couldn’t reach the community anyways, just free gravity fed clean water. Only in Tasmania; genuinely, Taz is the last remaining sanctuary of diphtheria free running water, possibly dysentery free. Not sure. I hope so as I’ve been drinking nothing else though there’s probably more to fear drinking with the palms of my cupped, cut and blistered hands.

I’m sitting (lying in a stuffy tent) in the belly of the valley and strong winds do well to keep the air fresh and cool, unless you’re lying in a cheap stuffy tent. Tasmania is the camping isle, how you could prison yourself in bricks and cement with air this sweet is beyond me.
Though last night was bitterly cold and there was another huntsman spider trying to get in.

Anyway. I’m wwoofing.

Weekends watching occult orgies f@*k? I hope not. Wasting wonga on Ozzy fillies? Probably. Washing windows only on Fridays? Writing while outside others frolic? Wishing war on opportunistic fiends. Yeah I’ll stop now. That last one was weak.

I’m a “willing worker on (an) organic farm”. WWOOF.

The organic farm is in Tasmania, the willing worker is yours truly and it essentially translates as unpaid labour in exchange for food, accommodation and knowledge. Knowledge of organic farms that is. Food also doesn’t quite encompass meat, or much aside from noodles and diced tomatoes. Not really selling it am I? Well a pretty girl sold it to me and I’m still not sure how. So why am I back in Tasmania instead of wwoofing in Western Australia?

Reasons to take the two hour flight back to Tasmania

I didn’t know where to go is the simple answer. I’d been in Sydney for a month and was honestly beginning to lose my grip on things, important mental faculty things. I’m not and never will be a city boy. A New Years resolution was made and more importantly kept. Plane fares were looked at and I found work in Perth, Brisbane and Cairns. However that very same night I genuinely dreamt of Tasmania. Something about a steep hill is all I remember. Woke up and just knew I had to return. Even if for just for a month.
It made sense.

Another reason being ten days was never enough, if I chucked it all in and went back to Blighty I’d be most annoyed I wouldn’t of spent more time on the apple isle.

Not to mention I left on somewhat of a sore note last time. Not that I had an actual debt, but. I could’ve done something for the actual state rather than simply being “the classic English abroad”… Wasting people’s time just for a laugh.

An elderly couple in Bellerive, one of many, helped me when I was pretty dangerously lost on my bike. I promised them some flowers.

It’s closer to heaven. Van Diemen’s land has cast a sweet smelling spell on me.

The flight cost $43. This is also a factor.

So here I am. In Tasmania. It was a bloody great choice.

There are 6 of us at the minute and only 5 beds so I’m in a tent outside the small wooden house where the family and the wwoofers stay. Which is more than preferable, 80% of the time.

As a wwoofer (crappy term I know) 6 hours of work have to be completed 6 days a week to get food and board. I personally think this is fair enough. The food ranges from tins of tomatoes to tins of spaghetti and then all the way back to tins of tomatoes again but THEM STARS SO I GUESS IT’S ALL FINE WHO NEEDS MEAT ANYWAY. I haven’t had meat for awhile now. There are no shops; anywhere.

Rising early means you can work from 7 til 1 and avoid the midday sun. A stuffy tent and the aforementioned sun makes staying in after 7 impossible anyway, thus I always avoid working from 2 til 4.

We live with (beneath) a Tasmanian family who are doing their all to become completely sustainable, fighting the opinions of the neighbours, wwoofers who feel 6 hours of work is a pisstake if they don’t give us meat and the fucking possums that nocturnally ravage the fruit trees and the fucking wombats that rip the fences that let the fucking wallabies in.
Working on the farm ties me to the fortunes and misfortunes of the property somewhat, any problems on the farms are now my problems. Wallabies smashing the vines are wallabies smashing my vines. Bees stinging the grapes, scorpions infesting the woodpiles and praying mantis (manti?) in the leaves have also become my problems. It’s strange because I thought I hated farming, now I just hate the possums. In England we struggle to shore up our gardens from foxes, rabbits and badgers. Imagine a much quicker badger who wants nothing more than a bellyful of Rhodas (rhododendrons), he can climb and jump and your garden is surrounded by 30 foot trees. The only way to grow anything is to cut down all the trees, or put a net roof on the whole garden. Both of which have to be done on all these properties.

The family consist of Adam, Ananda, Amelie and Addison. Names aside the
“The A team” are upsettingly normal for people that welcome strangers into their house. Though we, the workers, have come to the conclusion that Tasmania has the best theft deterrent on earth. Even if the Canadians made away with the spoons… Where would you ever go? No cars, busses, trains. The nearest town is a days walk, you wouldn’t make it past the opium fields 10k away before you felt the oiled chain of Adam’s STIHL saw between your shoulder-blades.

Unfortunately this is both good security against thieving backpackers… And the stuff of rural straw dogs vigilante murder massacre. No houses or roads let alone streetlights or CCTV. Let alone police. Let alone a lock on my tent flap.

Don’t get me wrong I love isolationism. But to explain myself and why I’m actually writing a blog in the early hours, jumping at every noise the gang of randy wallabies issues from the Mirkwoodesque forest 10 metres away from my tent…
Today I had an argument with those that choose to live in the hills.

And I don’t mean CJ the weed farmer, he’s lovely. Though his hatred of possums borders on some kind of fanatical extremism.

I’m taking about the rusty ute bound hillbillies. The ones that listen to waltzing Mathilda on loop, chew tobacco and spit and scream “COMMIE GREENO, BULLSHIT COMMIE SCUM” in your face.
I was inadvertently trespassing. By losing sight of the sun in the forest I’d become monumentally lost and missed the nonexistent signs. A family of 5th generation loggers initially took issue with my encroachment, then with my nationality… Then we got onto the issue of environmental conservation.

I think the fight to save the planet speaks for itself, my life I’ve been perplexed not by people’s apathy to the green movement, we’re all lazy, but perplexed by the people who actively didn’t support the environmental cause. Today I met those that hated it with a passion. Those that swore and made threats over it, even though they lived in the forest they would have themselves destroyed. Being English I didn’t even argue with them, what would it’ve done. Simply nodded and smiled while… It’s annoying.

What do I even know about Tasmania’s Green Party? They could to all intents purposes even be the “commie scum” as the angry old idiots declared.
This and some pretty shady instances in Sydney have slightly swung my view of Australians from genial warm, g’day mates to a slightly broader minded view of the populous.
Not a disfavourable view mind, just not the image of the land honoring, tanned and happy Australians I always had……….As I’m abstracted from Australia and Australians I watch them with real interest. How they talk about the “abos” (aboriginals), what they do to kill time, attitudes to politics and how they react to foreign visitors.

I still prefer them to the English though. By a country kilometre. It’s just that people of Britain may not drop one of the hanging gum trees on my tent in the night. When camping in a forest, making enemies with loggers is always a bad call.

So I distract myself from white wood sunburnt flesh green nylon crushing visions by writing.

Adam will greet me in four hours at seven in the morning with the list of each of our individual tasks for the day. I’ll have a bowl of cereal or seven because it’s all free and freewheel down the grassy hill on one of the kid’s rusty bicycles to the farm below.

For the past week I’ve been in the vineyard. Learning about vine maintenance and general wine production. It’s interesting… but more than that it’s mindless, in the meditative, disassociated, relaxing way. I can listen to manu chao, think about anything and nothing and sunbathe for six hours whilst pruning laterals, tying loose vines, securing ties and removing dead leaves.

It’s bliss. I’ll be miles away by the time the grapes are ready and 18,000 miles away by the time the wine is drinkable. But there is a strange yet simple pleasure in working for no pay with no tangible end result.

I split the hard white gum wood. The actual gum runs red like blood and when squeezed the logs spurt cloudy water out of the fresh cut. I use the axe for maybe an hour just for exercise, even cutting with the rings it’s a nightmare. Eucalyptus is a pretty damn hard wood. So we use a petrol powered splitter the makes a god awfully gorgeous noise if you cut against the grain. Like buildings falling.

Sometimes Adam leaves us in the forest and we cut down trees bigger than we should, drinking beer and poking huntsman spiders. I ate a wichety grub yesterday. Just for the pure “Straya” Sam hell of it. Imagine chewing water, string and paper.

I plant shallots, beans and corn. I kill weeds on sight. My hands are still brown from dirt and red from the sap, fingertips a mess of buried splinters and small cuts. I won’t tell you about the state of my feet. But I won’t spare you from the fact that no meat is making me a skinny little so and so. The next farm will have to be cattle.

I’m hoping that there is a next farm. Both in the fear that some dribbling lumberjack will fell a peppermint tree on my skull but also because I enjoy farming. Driving past them everyday in Lincolnshire I just tuned out to furrows and the only thing I enjoyed about tractors was overtaking them.

But even with the constant fear of a right wing attack from the treeline, I’m the healthiest and most self satisfied I’ve been in… Years? In mind and body. Travelling may be self indulgent but for the first time in awhile I wake up at six with no alarm, tanned, relatively strong and happy.

Today we made a good size oval with the ride on mower and some rope. We played innings, runs. All sorts of cricket related things; drinking home brew stout in the sunshine. I hit a six.

10 out of 10.

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2 thoughts on “Liffey Valley

  1. “I enjoy farming…”
    You see, maintaining and developing an allotment while teaching Edward Thomas went together like cheese and pickle. There is something strangely satisfying about digging repeatedly – always reminded of Heaney’s poem ‘Digging’. One can only appreciate that poem fully after spending days on end digging.
    No meat…a good thing
    Aussie attitudes…a bad thing
    I would pay good money to see you take those loggers on and see you use your charming verbal dexterity only for them to smack you one!
    “I hit a six”…not buying that.

    • Exactly that! I have only Edward Thomas as spoken word on my iPod… My exam revision! So whenever I want/need to sleep it’s always green fields and empty houses.

      I’ll have you know that I hit many a six, in backyard cricket, with a rather tiny oval.

      I’d return a comment on your blog but for some reason it’s all about football?

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