By David Mayberry
Greetings Dear Reader, and let me spin you a tale. Today’s story is about Biloela, a land of cattle and other stuff, but mostly cattle. Before coming to Biloela, I have to admit that I was not looking forward to it much. I mean, sure, it’d probably be amazing like the rest of this trip, but when you see a location between Carnarvon Gorge and Heron Island where the day’s activities are “Learn about life on a working cattle station,” and “Outback recreation,” you’re not gonna be too thrilled. Oh boy guys, I get to write about a cattle station! Woopee! Yeah, so you might be able to tell that there was nothing in the way of expectations for these two days. Did they live up to it Dear Reader? Well, I’m going to spoil the next blog entry and say that Heron Island lived up to expectations. As for Biloela, you’ll have to read on. Yeah, I’m a jerk like that.
Our story begins probably where the last blog post left off. I say probably because I haven’t read the previous blog posts. You should though, because I’m sure they’re much more informative than mine. Anyway, the heroes of our story were last seen at Carnarvon Gorge, land of the Creeping Kookaburra. We woke up in our tents, as usual and set about tearing the campsite down. This time seemed to go much better than the last time, in part because we didn’t have to worry as much about the community and food tents, but also because we had a much better idea of how to work our Tetris Magic and fit the tents in the teeny bags that they go in. It was all sunny and stuff and some of the guys went shirtless as they are want to do. But then, we were done putting stuff away, and it was time to board the bus for our 479th and ½ several-hour long bus trip. We really have done a bunch of those. It makes me glad I flew up to Brisbane initially for independent week just to break the bus monotony. Onwards we went.
|We will miss you, creeping kookaburra.|
The bus ride proved to be a rather dull one. That is, until we stopped for a rest/lunch. At first glance, we were out in the boonies next to a gas station. But low and behold, within this gas station they were selling chocolate bars at 2 for $2.50. Now, that might seem pretty terrible at first, but in Australia, for chocolate bars of that size it’s a steal. They were also selling ice cream bars 2 for $6, which while not as good was still a decent value. A few blocks away from the gas station, there was even a lovely park with a playground featuring a hollow rocket ship which was tragically closed, a small zipline, one of those rope jungle gyms that are really awesome, and swings. It was a wonderful time for all involved as we played a bit on that playground. I was sad to see it go, but after more monotonous bussing we arrived in Biloela. It was a small town that we didn’t get much time to look at, because we drove right though it on our way to our actual stop 30km outside of Biloela, Kroombit. With a name like that, you have to remember that it’s pronounced, Krom-Bit, not Kroom-Bit. Or so I hear. But yes, our bus pulled up to what was the dudeiest of dude ranches to ever dude dudeiness and dudes dude. People wore hats and bandanas and it looked like the old west except we were in a bit of a forest and there was a bit less dust, and because we were on the east coast of Australia.
|Yup, that screams "Wild West" to me.|
As we got off the bus we were directed to our rooms by a friendly lady in hat and bandana to our rooms, located in log cabin-type housing. The beds were comfy and the group split into small gender groups to decide who slept with whom. Standard procedure at this point for our group. Deciding to go for a wander, I looked around our new home for the next few days and observed what was there. The main dining area was an open-walled shack, called “The Shack”. The floor was made of dust. Past The Shack there was a gift shop, then a volleyball court next to a pool. It was an odd transition. Some people went to check out the pool, including myself, and it seemed cold to me. Other people ended up swimming in it later, and it was probably refreshing. There was also an outdoor bar area next to the gift shop, which a number of our group quickly found themselves entering. To get in, you had to push through two saloon-style doors like one would expect, except they were hanging from 2 trees and you could just walk around them and ignore any sense of playing the part and submerging yourself in the atmosphere. I went through the doors once, and then walked around them subsequently. It turns out that the doors were kind of heavy or just rather difficult to get open without some force applied. I’m surprised more saloon doors in Westerns don’t slam back into the guy who just barged through them. Maybe the guys in Westerns rush through the doors fast enough to dodge the back swing. All in all, first glance was a resounding, “Alrightish” on the thrill-O-meter, with a definite yearning to go back to the playground from earlier.
|Pictured: The black dog named "Puppy." Not pictured: The brown dog named "Dog."|
Upon entering the bar, one often noticed that the prices set up were listed for both “Ringers” and “City slickers” with Ringers having a discount. To be a Ringer, one needed to wear a cowboy hat and bandana. So began attempts from our group to locate hats and bandanas among our possessions, because that’s how it goes. (Fun fact: a “Ringer” is the Australian equivalent to a cowboy. You don’t call them Cowboys at all.) We, being the group that we are, started up a poker game, because really, what else were we gonna do? Things were different this time around. Some of the players, having discerned my primary goal of obtaining all of the different colors of chip rather than winning the whole game, decided to do use a strategy I like to call, “Being rude”. Basically, instead of playing nice and normally, some players deliberately folded early on before they had to put chips in the pot specifically to ruin my day. I’m not making this up; they actually said that they were doing this to mess with me. And while they mocked my differing poker mindset I plotted my vengeance upon their evil ways. And I knew that poker would never be fun again, not while they were still playing.
|Pictured: Some of the faces of pure evil, not including the ringer in the background. He was cool.|
Also in the bar area was a large metal can that acted like a recycling bin for cans. There was a sort of fun challenge to throw your empty soda/beer can into the big can for glory. We’ll come back to that. There was also a gong above the bar that you could try to launch champagne corks at in order to succeed at something. I believe that you got the bottle free if you hit the gong with the cork, but I didn’t see it successfully done. Also, you could throw your wine bottles into a chamber to try and break them. No prize, but very cathartic. Also, there was an inflatable mechanical bull pen in the bar area. We’ll get to that later. After a long afternoon of poker with pricks, dinner began. Soup and such was served first, but many of us were still hanging out in the bar area and were thus a bit late for that. The server was very gruff, and did not improve my mood at all. Then we had the main course, some meat and veggies. As we went down the line of servers with food I obtained meat and potatoes as I like to do. When I got to the end of the line of servers, there were two things left, pumpkin and green beans. The man serving asked me if I wanted pumpkin, to which I said no, as I don’t like pumpkin. He talked about how it was grown here, but I insisted that he not give me any. When I moved over to the green beans station and repeated my not wanting any, the server put some on my plate anyway. I walked back to my seat at one of the long tables in The Shack, cursing that man and the gruff server from before. I know what you’re thinking at this point, Dear Reader. “But David, it’s just green beans! Veggies don’t hurt, right? You eat some vegetables.” Well, yes, I do eat some vegetables. But let me tell you, among those veggies that I have found to be the most repulsive and disgusting things I have consumed, green beans are pretty high up the list. Specifically, canned green beans that have the texture of Styrofoam and squeak like it when you chew them. The repulsive liquid that they spend their canned life in doesn’t help, sucking out any flavor the beans might have had in favor of nothing but sadness. I tried to eat some of the beans. They squeaked like Styrofoam and had the taste of sadness. Their presence in my mouth made me want to vomit. In the end, I couldn’t eat them all, and the ones that I could stomach hurt me on some deep level. But hey, they’re just vegetables, right? They’re harmless. They weren’t.
|The faces of those who have not just suffered.|
So after a day of travel, arriving at what seemed to be a rather dull place, an afternoon of poker with players who deliberately screwed with me for the funzies, and a gruff server and a guy who forced what tasted like canned green beans upon me, what happened next was only natural. My mind wandered, it found a dark place, and life was a nightmare. I saw visions of home in front of me. I looked around, and my brain knew that there was only happiness back home, not in this horrid land. I looked around and saw strange people that I was forced to stay with and talk to because everyone that I held close was across an ocean, playing and talking and interacting with each other, having a good time without me. My mind took all this in and presented me with a thought, the only one I could think at the time: My friends are getting by, thriving even, without me. Do they even notice me being gone anymore? Surely they’ve filled in the void left by my presence by other things, like my other friends. I mean, didn’t I remember that improv show video I watched a few weeks back? My friends were putting on a hilarious show, one that made me laugh much more than I ever have during a show I was in. Did anyone still need me (Outside of my family of course, although they did get a new dog while I was gone…)? Bad thoughts turned to worse, feelings of inadequacy and loneliness set in, and I started to drown in my despair. All around me was the sound of people talking, enjoying themselves, enjoying life. How were they able to do that? How was it possible? I was stuck, feeling homesick and crushing darkness weighing me down, until something happened.
Newton’s first law states that an object in motion stays in motion until acted upon by another force. My mind was sinking down farther and farther, and it wasn’t likely that I was going to be able to pull myself out of it until I was able to sleep or something. But then an outside force by the name of Julie, our alumni assistant to our faculty trip leader, arrived to ask me what was wrong. Most people, when asked what’s wrong at any given moment, will reply with a firmly stated “Nothing”. Others try to avoid the question in other ways and still others actually describe their problems, often in too much detail. I don’t remember the exact transcript of the conversation, but I’m reasonably certain it had an “Oh, you know…” somewhere in the beginning. I told about my homesickness, I described my rather confusing mental state, I talked about my feelings of isolation, I elaborated on the lack of hugs on this freaking trip. I was either crying a bit beforehand, or I started somewhere in the middle of my talking to Julie, but there were definitely tears. And after all was said and done, there were some inspiring words and a hug or two and a reminder that people in our group don’t hate me, even when they were pricks in poker, but actually thought I was a funny and friendly person. Eventually, the homesickness went away, at least for the moment, and it was time to continue the evening, because this was still only the first night of two at Kroombit, and stuff was about to go down.
Following dinner was a sort of party in the bar area, during which our group and some of the many other people staying at Kroombit interacted and engaged in ringer activities. Before that, the head of the cattle ranch came up and gave a talk to the other group of guests that we would later hear the second night. I didn’t listen too much, but there was definitely a short lesson on what Echidnas were and why they were special. I did try to hear the rest, I swear, but he was talking to other group and not us and outdoor acoustics suck. After he talked, he demonstrated his skill in cracking a whip, which he described as being pretty simple (Fun fact: the crack of a whip has nothing to do with the whip, but is actually the sonic boom created when the whip-tip moves really quickly around). Then, the other group was led away to engage in some whip-cracking while our group had nothing to do. Being us, some of the fellows started to engage in arm wrestling. It was a sight watching liberal arts majors heave their arm muscles for glory, but it’s never been my thing. Therefore, I soon joined the shenanigans, and it turned out that I wasn’t a complete pushover. In fact, when it comes to arm-wrestling, not being a pushover is about the only thing I can do sort of well. Having an arm comprised mostly of bone and skin probably helps with the sturdiness, but I was able to hold my own in preventing either side from gaining an advantage while arm-wrestling. The one problem was winning matches, something that I’ve never really learned, so there was a lot of standoffs that didn’t go anywhere fast. All in all, ‘twas a fun diversion.
Soon enough, other people outside our group joined in and things got to be about the same as they were. Following the whip cracking was some bush dancing, aka line dancing, because it was about the same as the line dancing I learned in middle school. The guy leading the group would demonstrate steps, and the other dancers would attempt to follow. With half of the backpackers being drunk, it was a mixed bag. I joined in for the last of the dances, and it proved to be pretty freaking easy after a couple repetitions. Good times all around. After that was bull riding, which I didn’t pay much attention to as it was only done by people in the other tourist groups. I was too busy occupied with throwing cans in the can. You see, I had been spending the entire evening throwing cans at the can only to miss each time. Anytime one of our group members finished a can of a drink, I’d obtain the can, go behind the marked line, line up a throw, toss the can, and it went in one of two directions: in line with the can, but not quite far enough, or far enough to get in the can, but just a bit to the left of it. It proved to be a task I could latch onto and keep trying over and over. The problem was that I was limited in the number of cans I could throw, since you weren’t allowed to pick up missed cans from around the big can and throw them again. I kept thinking to myself “It’s just a physics problem, there has to be a solution.” That solution did not present itself to me that night, and I eventually retired to the room and slept. The beds were actually quite comfy, much better than the too short and back pain-causing cots that we slept on at Carnarvon.
I was tragically woken up in the morning by the sounds children talking to each other. It was some small British sounding kids hanging out. I’m sure they must have been adorable, but I kind of hated them a little at the time. Attempts to return to sleep were thwarted by the girls next door waking up and beginning to talk, their voices projecting through the thin log wall and invading my ears. By that point, the other guys in my room had woken up, and being the mature and sensible people that they were, decided to protest the loud voices by farting really loudly at them, because farts are funny or something. How I did not descend into madness at that point is something I will never know.
After… that, it was time to begin the day with a nice breakfast, now that the other groups of tourists had left to go tour other places or something. The food was good, and we were keen to begin the day’s adventures. We started off the morning by hopping into the back of a truck and a ute (aka pickup) so that the leader of the ranch and one of the other workers could give us a tour of the countryside and tell us about things. Our first stop on the tour was at the recently constructed sanitation facility for recycling water and such. That was all well and go-PUPPIES!!!
|And here you thought there weren't going to be any more photos in this blog post.|
Indeed, next to the sanitary facility was a pen with PUPPIES!!! in it. These puppies were eventually going to grow up and become big white guard dogs to protect the ranch’s goats. At this stage though, they were cute and fluffy and wonderful. Having received a good dose of aaawwwwwwww, we carried on with the tour. We were taught about invasive grasses, about some lovely ferns, about cattle theft, where brands needed to be placed on cattle for effective money-making, bottle trees, fossils, and other things about ranch life. It was all very informative.
|A bottle tree. Not pictured: Other stuff.|
We arrived back at the ranch, ready for lunch. After lunch, we were presented with a choice. Yueping, our illustrious faculty leader had paid for the group to go out horseback riding and goat mustering. It promised to be a fun and exciting trip on horseback. Julie and I were the only ones to say no thanks. I don’t know why Julie said no, but I’ve ridden horses before and it really didn’t sound too thrilling. Plus, after an incident in my childhood I have a deep-ridden hatred of goats. So I didn’t go horseback riding. Apparently it was nice, slow walking, with some nice views. I have no idea about the goat-mustering, nor did I really care all that much. While they were gone, I had played a bit of cards with Julie, and learned once again that trying to teach the game Village Idiot to someone one on one just never worked out. Golf was received much more favorably, and we played a fair bit of that. Julie then went swimming. I forgot what I did at the time, but it was probably monotonous. When the group got back, there was an additional opportunity to do an activity, in this case, shooting at targets. I decided not to do it because it was kind of expensive, but a handful of people went. Apparently they were shooting actual shotguns at targets. Coby got the best score, hitting four out of five targets, so good job him. Yet again after that, it was time for dinner once more. It was much quieter this time since the other tourists had left. The gruff server seemed a bit less gruff, and nobody placed unwanted vegetables on my plate, so all in all, it was much better than the first night. Towards the end of dinner, Yueping announced that she would pay for all of us to get a chance to ride the mechanical bull, because it’s something fun to do.
|That's our Yueping!|
Everyone in the group agreed to give it a try, including myself, because sure, why not? I mean, what could go wrong?
At this point I should give you an update of how my quest to throw a can into the can was going. It was going poorly. No matter how I threw the can, it always continued to end up in the same spots next to the can. I was getting rather frustrated at this point, since it should be an easy physics problem and other people had managed it with ease. Throughout the night, I tried, again and again and again. It got to the point where me and some of the others in the group decided to screw the rules and just picked up the missed cans by the target can and just keep throwing them at the can. I threw something akin to 50 cans over those two days. I kept trying and trying, getting angrier with each failed toss. Finally, one that I threw went in. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt a tiny sense of accomplishment when I realized that I had spent close to 2 days throwing cans at a can and had only succeeded once. There was no taste of victory after that.
But anyway, we were then told the same talk by the ranch head that he had told to the other group the day before. It was full of fun facts about the area, some that we had learned that morning, along with other things like some basic echidna facts that I had known for years (Fun fact: Echidnas are monotremes, the group of mammals that lays eggs. They share that group with only the platypus). After the talk, it was time for whip cracking, and we were lead over to an area where we could try our hand at whip cracking. Groups of four or five of us would stand on stumps away from each other and each participant would be handed a whip to try cracking (After putting on eye protection of course. That’s the only part of the body that the whips can actually injure). The first few groups proved to be quite competent at whipping after trying a few times, and soon the night was filled with mini sonic booms all around. After successfully cracking the whip with their dominant hand, a participant would be asked to try it in their other hand, and if that proved to be a simple task, they would be given another whip to try cracking two at once. I received my whip thinking, “Man, this is gonna suck.” The first few tries supported my initial thought, as I ended up whipping myself several times in the foot, leg, and on the hand holding the whip, a feat that confuses me still. Eventually though, something clicked, or rather, cracked. To my good fortune, it was the whip that cracked and not some vital part of me, and after a few more tries the motions began to come together. I had discovered a rhythm of sorts to whip cracking, a beat that fit the up and down motions involved. Soon after I was instructed to switch over to my right hand (Lefty power!). This proved to be difficult at first, as I wasn’t used to using my right arm, but soon enough the pattern became similar and the beat returned. I was then given two long whips. This proved to be even more difficult than the last change, as success required both whips to crack together. The angle of your whipping was also important, and I managed to whip myself on the back with both whips at one point. Soon enough, the rhythm returned, and cracks were sounding. It actually became rather simple after a bit of practice, and though the cracks did not seem loud to me, others in the group reported that I was making some serious noise. So good times all around for whip-cracking. Even Yueping eventually got the crack to happen, though it took a fair bit of time.
It was then time for dancing, except this time with only our group. We did a number of different line dances and they were all really easy to do. It really did remind me of middle school PE, what with the dancing and some moves being shared. I think our dance instructor at the ranch was a bit drunk himself, at least when he taught only our group.
Then, finally, after all the waiting and other activities it was time. It was time for the mechanical bull riding to happen. The pen was inflated, lights were turned on, and the final activity presented itself.
|Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuummmmmmbuuuuuulllll! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)|
One at a time, everybody in the group removed their socks and shoes, along with anything in our pockets and any corrective lenses, and awkwardly flopped across the bouncy pen over to the bull. It was probably made of plastic, had no horns, and had glowing red LED lights for eyes. It looked pretty silly. The rules for bull riding are pretty simple: you must wear a hat and bandana along with some dorky ringer chaps while on the bull, you sit on the bull and hold onto a tiny rope on the back with one hand, and keep your other hand off the bull and your hat at all times. Each round lasts 8 seconds, and if you make it through the first two rounds you get to wait till everybody else has done their tries at the first two before you and anybody else who made it can try round three and maybe higher. Yueping offered a small reward to whoever rode it the longest.
As the riding began, some proved to be up to the challenge. Among them was Justin G., the apparent Glowdeo bull-riding champ back at campus, or at least I heard. He made it past the first two rounds with ease, so I don’t doubt the statement. Others proved to not be up to the challenge, but their runs were probably funnier than the victorious runs. I was one of the last to go, and soon enough, it was my turn. I slowly removed my personal belongings, donned the chaps, hat, and bandana, and prepared to do battle with the physics-filled mechanical representation of a particularly stubborn animal. As I approached it, nervousness filled my gut. Everybody in the group was cheering, waiting to see me show my stuff. Could I do it? In my head, I saw visions of me holding on for dear life, fighting to the last. I could do this. I had seen other people in round 1. Round 1 was the easy one. I could do it. Others may have failed, but I could do it.
I clambered on top of the bull with ease, unlike some of the more height-challenged people in the group. I could do this. The bull had some leather sidings to give it some texture. If I reached my legs forward I could probably wrap them around the front, which would likely be against the rules. I took hold of the tiny rope. At first glance you’d think to hold on with your dominant hand. However, your dominant hand also probably works better as a balancing hand, so I decided to use my right hand to hold on, hoping for the best. And then, it was time. I took a breath, adjusted my cowboy hat and signaled my readiness. It was time to go. And then, the bull began moving. This was not a feeling I was familiar with, and immediately I was working to try and stay on. It’s turning too fast, grip is slipping, don’t overcompensate, need to loosen up, right hand was not good ide-
I fell off at the tail end of round 1, lying on my back with my legs propped up on the bull. It kind of sucked. I felt a fair bit of pain, but it wasn’t that bad. I shook off the chaps and made my way out of the pen and retrieved my shoes. I had failed. Not just riding the bull, that wasn’t so bad, but I felt as if I had failed to live up to my own expectations. I had disappointed myself. Others said “Good job,” and such, but I didn’t feel all that good. I sat down and thought for a bit. What went wrong? For one thing, left hand>right hand for holding on. There had to be some other way to improve. I could at least have fallen off in a spectacular fashion like some people had.
Regardless, my one chance to turn out to be somehow good at bull-riding and I wasted it. Alas. With the initial rounds over, it was time for the people who actually could do this sort of thing to keep going. In the end, Coby ended up lasting the longest, so good on him. With the actual competitive part over, the people running the bull-riding presented us with a question: “Who wants another go?”
I was very surprised to find myself firmly raising my hand. Cheering started soon after, and my legs carried me back to the pen. This time, we didn’t have to waste time with the chaps, but I donned the hat and bandana anyway, and strode over to the bull, hopping on with no hesitation. I could do this. This time, success would be mine. And I’d make sure to hold on to the tiny rope with my left hand. You have to slide up on the bull to keep the rope in what is essentially your crotch area to keep it near your center of gravity, and I did so. A hat adjustment and I was ready. The man running the bull asked what round I had fallen off in, and I said round 1. He told me that he was going to set the bull for round 2. Alright, I could still do this, I knew what to expect. The bull started, I held on tight, grip was steel, hand was slipping, falling sideways, gotta hang o-
Well, that didn’t go well. Once again, still no amusing dismount, but it had to work to get me off. There was a lot more pain this time around, in both hand and inner leg areas. I struggled to my feet and made my way out again, once more feeling the disappointment. I sat down at a table and expressed my frustration by sighing. Others mentioned that it was good enough that I tried again, but after a few more people had gone, something reignited inside me, and I made my way to the pen once more. This time, we would make it past a round. This time, we were going to succeed, and this bull wouldn’t stop us. Hat and bandana on, shoes off, on the bull, left hand gripping the rope, hat adjustment, round 2 again. Go. Holding on, falling to side, holding on, readjust, falling more, gotta keep goin-
Le sigh. Curses, this just isn’t worki- oh, we made the 8 seconds before falling off? Yay. Round 3, let’s go! We got this. Just hold on for dear life again. Hat adjust, start it up. Hold on, hold on, falling, DON’T LET GO, aaaararrarararaarrggghhhhh-
Hmm. In addition to even more pain in legs and hand, there appears to be back pain as well. I made my way back to the picnic table and sighed. Encouraging words are said. At this point, I’m reasonably certain I was getting kind of crazy. I kept on mumbling, “I can do it, I can keep going” over and over, leaving my companions wondering what I was trying to prove. I had no answer for them, just the assurance that I could do it. I had passed round 2, I could keep going, I was ready again, and I entered the pen once more. I can do this, I can do this, I will do this and this bull won’t stop me, I’m tougher than it, it’s made of metal and plastic and leather, I have the stubbornness to do it. I hop on, adjust my hat and go. The ride goes well, until it spins in an unexpected way, tossing me around the front of it.
I hop back on immediately, I can keep going, and this pain is nothing. Hop on, hat adjust, go, going well, unexpected spin again, how do I deal with thi-
I lie there for a bit, pondering. I get back up and Yueping tells me that I should stop. I begrudgingly accept and exit the pen. My hand is burning, my legs are in great pain (and bruised as I soon found out), and my back is sore, but I know that I could have hopped back on and kept going as long as it took to beat it. It’s only because of the others being concerned that I stopped. As I put on my shoes once more, I wondered to myself just what I had been doing. Why the heck was I trying to ride the bull that much? There was no longer a reward to be earned, I had improved my standing and done better than a lot of others, yet I still felt compelled to try. What the heck was wrong with me? I had accomplished my goal of throwing a can into the can, I was too good for bush dancing, and whips came naturally. Maybe I wanted to be good at all of the things? But why would that be?
Eh, maybe I am way too stubborn for my own good. But I at least proved to be much more stubborn than that mechanical bull, so that counted. People started heading to bed, while others in the group went back to cracking whips. As for myself, I bought another can of Coke™ and, after drinking it, went over to the big can and lined up a shot to summarize this chapter of the trip. One last try to get an actual legitimate shot at throwing a can into the can. I prepared my shot, wound up, and let fly.
After sleeping and grabbing bags in the morning, it was off to bus to Heron Island. Yay!