Wongajong.

Our journey to Wellington, NSW took us into the Blue Mountains and out the other side. 5 hours after departing from Coogee, Sydney we had reached our destination – Wongajong Station.

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Already we were in new territory – the paddocks were filled with green grass. We knew we weren’t heading back out to the outback, but we didn’t know what we expected the farming conditions to be like. Pleasantly surprised, we were curious to see how our experience here would compare to Lambina where we were more often farming water, not animals, due to the long drought.

Our first day saw us thrown in at the deep end. Our new employers were headed up north to Walgett and we consequently found ourselves babysitting 4 boys…by ourselves, all day. We are not strangers to childcare and have lots of experience looking after and coaching them – but this was different. We were drastically outnumbered and the boys were in their stomping ground. Everything was new.

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The boys are 6 (Max), 5 (Tom), 4 (Bill) & 1 (Joe). All very cute, full of mischief and personality. We knew we weren’t in for a quiet day and immediately set out trying our best to stick to the schedule and keep everyone busy with activities – without forgetting the major events, such as lunch and dinner. I won’t lie, it was chaos…organised chaos. Having gone from no kids one day, to inheriting four the next was a shock. Our best multi-tasking skills came into play, we did dispute the dirty nappies but thought it better to tackle the problem as a team. Baby Joe, I’m sure, was delighted to have our undivided attention. 

I knew that there would be days where I’d be caring for the children by myself and Adam would take up a more practical, outdoor role at the station. My first opportunity came at Kidzoo in Dubbo – this was the day that the ‘Kidzoo Poo’ occurred. Being a novice, but capable, nappy changer I was confident that I had the skills to master a nappy change solo. I was alone for only 40 minutes. What could go wrong? My first error was to only bring one nappy with me. My second error was to only bring one outfit – the outfit Joe was already wearing.

To set the scene for you, we were surrounded by soft play, colourful sponge shapes and ball pools for the kids to play in. Everyone was content. The boys were playing with other children who were enjoying the indoor play area as much as them, Joe was rolling around the toddler section, walking as far as he could before coming to an abrupt halt and falling to his bottom. Little did I know that with each bounce the present that was waiting for me was getting a good shake and stir.

My nostrils flared as I caught a flash of a very distinct stench. Looking over at Joe he looked content, maybe it’s not him. I got closer to do my best discreet sniff – error number 3. It was definitely Joe. I grabbed him, the spare nappy and the wipes and headed for the baby changing room, shouting to the boys to stay inside the play-zone until I’m back.

This was new. Nervously I gathered myself for the challenge, but nothing could have prepared me for what was waiting. Taking off his little trousers I saw the hint of a leak peeping out of one leg, ‘uh oh’ I thought, this could be messy…’good job I have the wipes’. Popping open his baby grow, I discovered my fate. Warm, green and liquified, Joe was caked. Peeling back each layer I could see the extent of the damage. At this point Joe had realised the gravity of the situation, and sensed my panic. He was doing his level best to do a 180 at the most critical time. Trying to find the least smeared limbs, I restrain him and get back to the matter at hand.

Doing my best not to spread it any further, I manage to roll his baby grow up towards his head and poke his head through with the least contact as possible. I caught his ears. He’s now reaching for any and every item in sight, grabbing, then pushing them off the counter. ‘Please no-one come in here now’, 1 naked baby and me who, by the state of my heart rate, is very obviously not a mother.

His ears are now glistening a lovely shade of green – and it’s in his hair. He’s crying, and rightly so. If I had poo in my hair I’d be crying too. In fact, I probably do have poo in my hair but this is no time for tears. Pull it together Steph. I opened the wipes and began cleaning up. With the first contact on skin the wipe has reached capacity on poo intake and is now just smearing. New wipe. The process begins again and repeats. 10 wipes later and we are half way to being acceptably clean given the circumstances. With all remnants off his head/neck/back/arms/legs I finally look at the damage done to his clothes. The babygrow is a write-off, as is his t-shirt. It seeped through 2 layers. The jumper and trousers are salvageable, there are areas of a questionable wet patches – your guess is as good as mine which end this came out of but we’ll be optimistic and assume it was dribble.

With the snot, drool, tears and poop all cleared out of sight he was ready to roll. Joe definitely needs a bath, and so do I. I can still smell it, it must be under my nails – surely mothers don’t do this on a daily basis. How can things go from hero to zero in a matter of minutes! Luckily, the boys didn’t miss me whilst I was in the toilets. What had felt like an eternity only turned out to be 10 minutes, but by jove was it stressful. On first sight of mum I handed Joe back and described the scenario. She wasn’t surprised nor phased by my story. Is this a regular occurrence? If babies do this often why are they allowed to leave the house, public appearances should only be made on rare occasions, it’s not worth the risk.

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Bill is 4. He is learning from his brothers quickly and is full of questions. For a 4 year old he holds a great conversation, if a little sporadic. He follows his train of thought and speaks his thoughts aloud the moment they enter his head. He’s a whirlwind when awake but the cutest possum when he’s sleeping – even more so if he’s just woken up.

Attending pre-school two days a week, he’s on the school bus for an hour before reaching home! This journey for him is exhausting, coupled with a busy day entertaining his girlfriend, he was fast asleep perched on his bus seat every afternoon. Like a little old man he’s got his chin buried deep into his chest and the relaxed face of someone who’s in a deep sleep and you can tell his eyes are in the back of his head. Everyday Max, his eldest brother would jump off the bus and leave Bill behind, so I’d climb aboard and shake him out of his slumber.

This received mixed reactions. Very confused, Bill started to pull at the bus seat cover, yanking and crying out in frustration. Confused, along with the driver and other children, I stood there trying to figure out what on earth he was doing. Eventually he said he can’t get his backpack – which I was already holding. I swiftly picked him up and put him in the car, bless him. The best day, however, was in World Book Day where he went to pre-school dressed as a Minion. Eagerly awaiting his return I made it to the bus stop early, ready and waiting. It was cute overload when the bus door opened, there he was, sleepy minion – with the face paint of a tiger! This day he lost his hat and was scrambling around his seat for it…but the driver had already put it in his bag and he’d forgotten. His brothers Max and Tom seem to be able to fight the tiredness and are full of energy through until bedtime!

Adam became very well acquainted with sheep during our visit to Wongajong, he danced more with them than I have ever had the pleasure to. Tackling sheep is an art, and one that Adam took much joy in learning. One morning we were both helping with herding the sheep into the yard and scanning the Ewe’s to check for pregnancy – then segregating the ones who looked a little peaky and giving them anti-biotic injections. To get them all in the yard and then help move them through the gates we were predominantly dogs-bodies, acting as deterrents for the sheep to avoid. I can best describe it as having a tray with water on and tipping the tray ever so slightly to move the water in a specific place. The sheep were the same. 2 steps in any direction would tip the scale and the sheep would bolt. Very handy when you got it right, catastrophic when you got it wrong. With the added help from the Sheep Dog – Vita (after the biscuit) – the sheep were in and we were funnelling the sheep through at a productive rate. Once done we walked the sheep about 1.5km down the road back to their field – though they knew our plan and so were determined to get into every crevice along the road to slow the process down. Those Ewe’s that were heavily pregnant had a hard time walking that far so were a lot more relaxed having us walk with them and motivate them along until they reached their destination.

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Towards the end of our stay at Wongajong station we were caring for a heavily pregnant Ewe who Adam and Stephen had picked up earlier in the week as she didn’t have the strength to stand and keep hydrated. Lamb day finally arrived on our last day so every half an hour I’d go out to check on her and see if I could see the hint of a lambs leg or nose peeping through. At around 5pm she was struggling and stressed so it was time to intervene. Karen took the role of midwife and I held the back legs to prevent kicking. She was one strong momma. After a while it was clear that the lambs were not fully formed, unable to find hip bones or decifer whether the lamb was breached, the bones were not strong. Lamb number one, from it’s colour and development had died up to a week prior. Lamb number two, though more formed, was also still born. Our poor ewe had struggled all day and didn’t have the chance to reap the rewards. She was tired and had no energy so her chances of survival were slim. The next morning though, she was sitting up and was more active than she had been all week. A great outcome given the circumstances.

We tried to make the most of our time in the new area and were lucky enough to be offered the family car to get ourselves into the city of Dubbo on the weekends. We took a trip to the Western Plains Zoo – the sister zoo of Taronga zoo in Sydney. This zoo was more focused on conservation and the animals were kept in very large cages, out in the open. It was good to see and we had the option to drive around the park as it was so big. We also took a trip to the local markets and found great delight in seeing all the fresh produce and livestock for sale! There were so many chickens and roosters that you couldn’t hear yourself think, plus the alpacas, goats and calves recently separated from their mothers were very vocal about this new change.

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We did see rain during our stay, which came in abundance. It was great to fill the banks for the sheep and cattle and even just get the garden a good soaking. Though, once we wished for rain, it did keep coming; resulting in a number of floods! The dirt road that leads to Dubbo became an ice rink and so one weekend we limited ourselves to a trip into the local town of Wellington instead of the city.

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Before we knew it, our stay with the Deutscher Family was over, we were heading back to Sydney on the bus to look for jobs and a place to call home for the near future. Thanks for having us!

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