I was living in Melbourne, Australia. At first I was working in a cafe but eventually got sacked for no other reason than everyone got sacked when the owner decided to hire all of his friends to replace us. Which, as is becoming a recurring theme with most shit things that happen to me, turned out to actually be good: it meant that I ended up getting hired on at Absolute MMA and Conditioning, where I’d been training to fight in Mixed Martial Arts. Because becoming a cage fighter is totally a legitimate career change for a 30 year old woman.
I was working with and for good people, loving my time there and enjoying the unique opportunity to see behind the scenes and learn more about the fighting community I had recently become a part of.
But in the space between getting laid off from the cafe and getting hired on at Absolute I got REAL fucking sick for pretty much an entire month.
Because when I get depressed (as I tend to when I’m lying ill and jobless in bed, knowing my bank account is threatening to go red within the space of a few weeks) at the same time I get physically sick, the two play off one another like some shitty high speed game of pong and it becomes a BAD fucking scene real fast. I started the month of October with an upper respiratory track infection and managed to end it with shingles. On my face.
If I’m being honest with myself, I never really got over that month. I’ve been learning more about the cumulative effects of stress as of late, and how long it can take to work bad shit out of your system. I had a lot of bad shit that month. It ended well, yes, but I didn’t allow myself any time to unwind from it. I just jumped back into training as soon as possible (read: as soon as my jaw stopped looking like it was about to rot off), which I hadn’t been doing ‘properly’ from the start.
When I say I wasn’t training ‘properly’, I mean to say I was neglecting to do the important other half: recovery. My diet wasn’t right for me, I wouldn’t sleep enough (or I’d sleep too much), I wasn’t taking any time to stretch, or to breathe. I was ignoring and ‘soldiering through’ any injuries, neglecting to see a masseuse, an osteo or so much as hop into an ice bath. I think I may have convinced myself that if I just kept training harder and harder I’d eventually break through the wall of pain and fatigue and come out the other side somehow superhuman.
As mentioned in the post the above two words link to, I finally wisened up and went to see someone. And I was a good bunny, and began heeding his very solid advice. But making this somewhat tricky was an external issue that needed to be dealt with: My visa.
My working holiday visa was going to expire in July. Which was still a fair ways off from early February, when I was giving this thought. Thing was, the Australian government has a scheme to entice backpackers to work in agricultural industries in rural Australia, where they’re hurting to lure people in. If you put in 3 months work in a designated area, you can get a year extension on your visa. But you need to get those 3 months in during your first visa and apply for it before you turn 31.
I turn 31 on June 7th of this year.
I was liking Melbourne. I had met good people. I felt like I’d largely spent the first 6 months in the country just getting started – making a place for myself and gathering the support structure I’d need, not only to fight professionally, but also to learn how to take care of myself while doing so. I was excited to see where this path would lead me – not only whether I could make it to the octagon or not, but how good I could feel when my diet was right, how strong I could grow when I was training my butt off and taking the time to recover as well. I didn’t think I could get my cage fight in before July and, even if I could, I didn’t want to have to dart off directly afterwards. I liked it here. I wanted to stay, at least a little while longer.
After a talk with my bosses at Absolute, it became clear that, while they’d like to keep me on, they couldn’t justify the base salary that was required to get in under a sponsorship. Which left me with the ‘regional work’ scheme mentioned above. So I did the math: I could take the month of February to give notice of leave to my current job, notice of leave to my flatmates so they could fill my room, look for work in regional Australia, tie off any loose ends in Melbourne and pack up. If I’d started work by March 4th, I’d get my 3 months in by June 4th, leaving me 3 whole days to get my visa application in in time. Totally reasonable.
I’m not going to lie, I was shitting myself with stress that entire month, which didn’t help the whole ‘get healthier’ goal. But, because I lead a charmed and fortunate existence, surrounded by people of the most excellent calibre, I was able to arrange, through the help of a teammate, a placement at a cattle station in Northern Queensland. It fell under the required postal code for the scheme, and they could guarantee me the 3 months work I needed, food and board during the time, and a small weekly salary besides to cover my costs.
Thing was, as this was all incredibly last minute, I had NO idea what sort of work I’d actually be doing, or what sort of people I’d be working for. All I had to go on was a friend saying the family employing me were friends of her sister’s, one phone conversation with the daughter of the owner, and a few brief email exchanges afterward to finalize details. I had gone all buddhist ‘no expectations’ on the situation, and tried to prepare myself for 3 months of mind-numbing house-keeping and garden work on a farm in the middle of ass-fuck nowhere for people who could, potentially, be assholes. After packing up everything I own (a fairly straight-forward task at this point in my life, to be honest) to be left in storage with the same mate who’d helped me arrange the placement, I left Melbourne on March 3rd to fly north to Townsville.
From there I hopped on a train West to Cloncurry. I met my first member of the family there – Bev picked me up from the station to drive the remaining distance (just shy of 400km) to my new home: Mellish Park.
Which is in the middle of ass-fuck nowhere, but that’s proved to be an interesting experience. I’ve never had to kill poisonous snakes to use the shower before, nor had to place orders for trivial items like toothpaste and soap whenever someones makes the odd run into town (the nearest one is over 3 hours away). I’ve never driven for 2 hours without seeing a man-made structure before.
I’ve also never seen stars like the ones that hang in the outback sky. The moon a silver, cheshire smile in a sea of black and gold unsullied by city lights. I’ve never before sat in gently swaying grass growing from red earth as shadows drift across the ground, cast by kite hawks hunting overhead. I’ve never witnessed each day end as though the gods themselves set the sky alight to burn it down, only to blow life back into the flaming embers again each and every morning.
It can break your heart, this kind of beauty.
And the family are far from assholes. They’re incredibly lovely people, and they’ve treated me as one of their own. And the work. . . . has been. . .mind-blowing. Starting off, there actually was a fair amount of house cleaning.
But I didn’t mind because in between scraping lime from showers and vacuuming cobwebs out of corners, I was driving 4WD’s through the bush, or helping to slaughter and butcher pigs, or flying over the station in a helicopter.
But then the muster started, and I was suddenly spending my days herding hundreds of cattle by horseback to be processed (drafted/branded/castrated/etc) back in the yard. Scorching sun overhead, warm wind in my hair, dodging branches and spiderwebs (sometimes successfully) as they whipped past, pursuing a stray calf on the back of a beast that could kill me, if it wanted to, but graciously allows me to instead guide it through the bush at speed. Though when we’re moving this fast I tend to let the horse do the guiding. It knows this land better than I do, it’s been here and done this longer, and I move the reins only when it’s about to run below a branch that lies above its line of vision, but directly in mine, as it would knock me from the horse’s back. POW.
I will remember my first canter until the day I die as one of the most engaging and fulfilling moments of my life. Funny thing is, I’d likely never have been able to set this experience up intentionally. It was just something I managed to fall into as I attempted to right the clusterfuck of trying to stay in the country. This is becoming a recurring pattern in my life.
1. Shitty thing happens.
2. Stress follows as I attempt to right clusterfuck with (often obscure) plan.
3. Somehow, AWESOMENESS ENSUES (though not always immediately afterward. Delays of days or years can occur between shit and satisfaction/revelation).
This has happened before and other things have occurred since that continue this trend. It is leading me to an oddly zen-like place where I have (almost) begun to embrace fuck-ups when they occur as an unavoidable step towards fortune. It is bringing me comfort. Or leading me to ruin. I haven’t yet decided which.
All I know is that my heart feels very very full in moments like the one pictured below.