After some fifteen months of employment as a nursing aide in Ballarat, I answered an advertisement for a worker for a dairy farm about three miles north of Wangaratta and was given the job. I loved animals so I thought things would be very good. Things were very good and I even had a horse to ride.
But, oh dear, what a dramatic life style change. Never in bed after 5 am, I began each day rounding up a sleepy herd of milkers.
Before the Buffalo River Dam was built, the winter rains and the snow melt from Hotham and Buffalo would flow down the Ovens River and flood all the river flats at North Wangaratta. That was when the horse had to swim to get the cows across the lagoon, to get them to the dairy to be milked.
There was a huge log slung across this lagoon and, if the water wasn’t over this, in preference to getting wet, I would get off the horse and walk.
One morning I had no option but to get wet as two rather irritable tiger snakes were occupying the only dry spots on the log.
Dealing with heifers with minds of their own and getting infections under my fingernails, the refrain in the morning was Lucy Jessy s**t. Oh, I hurt my fingers.
One Easter the afore mentioned heifers had to be driven by horse from Londrigan to the home farm. That pair of flighty heifers travelled the whole trip, head down, tails waving in the air. While trying to stop them from returning from where they had been driven, the horse slipped, came down on my foot and I ended up in outpatients with a badly sprained ankle.
Another time I had to bring a billy of hot tea and sandwiches to the men operating the stationary hay press. Unfortunately a falling branch made the horse jump sideways. Hot tea was splashed on her neck and I and the provisions landed on the ground.
Another time the horse got a fright and instead of letting go I was dragged along a fence’s top row of barbed wire. I still have the scars to this day, though they are a lot fainter.
When one of the horse’s foals was being broken in, my boss let go of her lead. Off she ran, between a fence and a row of feeders. ‘Stop her’, yelled the boss. I tried, but she galloped over the top of me. All I suffered from that time was a torn finger.
My favourite horse was a gentle giant of a Clydesdale called ‘Apples’. I harnessed Apples every day to a furphy to go to the local butter factory for skim milk to be fed to the pigs. Apples had to be tied up because she would drink the milk till she bloated.
All this happened years ago, but it did not stop me from marrying a dairy farmer.
Shirley Roberts, March 2017