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  G'day Eh?

by Troy Spencer

(Editor's note: Troy offered to write an account of his stay in Saskatchewan after finding our zine on the Web -- he's another foreign visitor who loves Saskatchewan. It was only after he sent us the story that we discovered a campfire accident caused by a careless Saskatchewan friend here left him blind in one eye. He didn't bother mentioning the incident because the friend is "a great bloke".)

Troy Spencer
Troy Spencer

AVENEL, AUSTRALIA -- As a young fella, I enjoyed a country upbringing in a quiet town named Avenel, in southern Australia. Avenel is a farming community, surviving predominantly on fat lambs, wool growing and beef cattle. I always dreamed that I would travel when I was old enough, and so when I turned 20, I was on my way to visit the Canadian prairies. I have been fascinated with broad-acre farming since I was young, and I could think of no better place than Saskatchewan to learn the ropes. That was back in 1994.

I landed in Vancouver, and spent a day there before I jumped on my first Greyhound bus, destination Swift Current. I sat with some Saskatchewan locals and as we talked, I learned about mule deer, porcupine and all about the landscape that forms the largest grain belt in the world.

Once I was in Saskatchewan, I could see the whole horizon in every direction. I saw men and women on horses, wearing large cowboy hats and herding Hereford cattle. I was in my element. This was the kind of lifestyle I wanted to experience. I wanted to get on a horse and start working as soon as possible, even though I did not know Western-style horse riding (because of the British influence in Australia).

I had arranged with the Caswell family, of Bracken, to take me on as a farm hand for a few months - I knew Daren Caswell from a visit he made to Australia. I had obtained a Young Australian Working Holiday Visa back at home. It allowed me to work full time anywhere in Canada for 12 months. Because of our association with the Commonwealth, the two countries encourage people between the ages of 18 and 28 to visit and work with each other.

When the sun came up after my first night on the farm near Bracken, located in the Val Marie district of southwestern Saskatchewan, I ventured outside to find a busy family. Each member was doing his or her own thing, but they were only too willing to let me join in.

The smell in the air was different from home. I put this down to the two different extremes that our countries have - the deep frost that occurs in Saskatchewan compared to the melting heat of home. Things at home don't last long, especially paint, timber or anything that burns easily. Everything that I looked at on the Caswell's farm had been around a long time, including the fences. Around Avenel, it is not uncommon to see charcoal-black, fire-licked fence posts.

The ground in Avenel has changed over time and our top soil now is quite shallow. I could smell moist earth in Saskatchewan, which is something of a rarity at home. I noticed there were no fire prone trees such as our very common eucalyptus tree. Instead, there were open fields and planted trees around the houses. Even the rocks are different. The ones I found on the farm in Saskatchewan were rounded because of glacial movement many years ago. The rocks in Avenel are volcanic, and sharp.

It does not snow where I live in Australia, and the summer heat can reach 45 degrees Celsius. The sun felt much softer on my face in Saskatchewan, and the birds were singing unfamiliar songs. We have lots of trees around Avenel and they attract many birds, including parrots of all colours. I loved listening to the birds around Bracken. It reminded me that I was far from home and on a real journey.

During my four-month stay at the farm, I helped sow Durham wheat, canola and alfalfa - the farm was so big. On my days off, I checked out tipi rings and buffalo jumps left by the First Nations People. I felt like I was a part of the place. Before long, I was playing on a local slow pitch team on the occasional weekend. It was much different than the cricket that I am used to at home.

Rodeo is a big event in Shaunavon.
- courtesy Shaunavon Tourism Committee
Rodeo is a big event in Shaunavon.

I visited Shaunavon occasionally and I enjoyed attending rodeos and rodeo dances. I met some fantastic people there and learned how to do the 'two-step'. I found many similarities in cultures (especially where having a few beers was concerned!). Barbecues in backyards were very popular (just like at home), and I came to spend a lot of time with a fantastic group of friends who were always kind enough to invite me to everything that was going on, including birthday parties, water skiing trips and best of all, a hootenanny in the hills near Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.

I cannot explain in words just how much fun I had there. The boys from Shaunavon packed me up in a Ford F250 with a silver trailer loaded with food, drink and camping equipment. I experienced country music face to face, and did quite a bit of dancing. Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park was fantastic, and amazing. Whatever happened all those years ago to have left that piece of land untouched, must have been awesome.

Although I could have stayed in the rural area for my entire stay, I wanted to check out urban life in Saskatchewan. I moved to Saskatoon and fell in love with the City of Bridges. I would have to say that it is a sister city to Melbourne, only smaller in scale. Saskatoon, like Melbourne, is a very friendly place. Socializing and making friends on the bus actually happens in both these places. I made other new friends, straight away, through work and contacts from Shaunavon.

I walked the tree-lined streets through autumn, and as the air got cooler Halloween arrived. We do not celebrate Halloween in Australia, although, many Canadian soldiers visiting our army and airforce bases encourage children to bob for apples and to go trick or treating.

Trick or treating was very new to me, and I did not care that I was too old because I would never have the opportunity again. So my friends dressed me up and off I went.

People had no idea what I was saying at first, what with the accent and all. Because I'd been in Canada for quite a while by then, I didn't notice my own accent until I spoke to my parents. Boy, did they sound funny to me. I had no idea how we Aussies sound to everyone else. Canadians have an accent. It is different from that of the British or the Aussies, and slightly different from the U.S., eh!

I visited Wanuskewin Heritage Park and tried food cooked by First Nations People. I visited the Saskatoon Forestry Farm every second Monday and learned about the indigenous animals. I really loved the wolves and the coyotes. I also said 'hello' to the little Australian black-tailed wallaby that lived there. I wondered if he recognized my accent.

I walked to Broadway and drank real coffee - everyone at home drinks tea or instant coffee. I ate at the old, red, double-decker bus downtown and went to The 'Pat' Hotel for a beer. What a great city.

I worked at the Saskatoon S.P.C.A. It was nice to have pets around me, because I missed my own very much. Two beagles and a horse were very lonely back in Avenel during my stay in Saskatchewan.

I worked as a kennel attendant, and it was here where the staff thought it was in my best interest to have my first snow bath. I learned how to make 'snow angels' and forgot to plug in my car's block heater when I was at work! I could have worked there forever. Everyone took me in and made me love them all, and I keep in touch with them when I can. I really miss Saskatchewan.

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