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Voice of Real Australia: No shifts at the sweatshop but group chores keep farm wheels turning

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Farms are a pretty fun place to grow up, but there's always work to be done.

Farms are a pretty fun place to grow up, but there's always work to be done.

Some school lessons stick in the mind, some thankfully do not.

One class debate at Wycheproof Higher Elementary School (now P-12), in north western Victoria, during a social studies class made an impression.

The teacher, a regular physical education teacher who sported a colourful wardrobe of track suits as uniform, described poverty in Third World countries.

Despite their desperate straits, many farm families have large numbers of children.

I remember it shocked me, that's why it stuck in my mind.

Surely more mouths to feed was the last thing they needed?

Our local footy coach/teacher answered by saying it was free labour for the farm and more potential money earners as the kids grew up.

I have often thought about that.

Our Mallee farm was hardly Third World and there were no 12 hour shifts at the local sweatshop for us kids, but child labour was pretty handy all the same.

We were expected to sing for our supper, so to speak.

I recall the group chores fondly today, likely it is the passing of time.

There was no Xbox or Netflix to distract us but there were likely lots of other things we'd rather be doing.

Like most farmers, Dad had a hatred of weeds.

Variegated thistle, Bathurst Burr, Caltrop.

Not just on the farm, but on the roadsides.

HATED: Most farm kids can spot this weed from a distance, Caltrop or Bindii was shocking on bike tyres but also the bare foot lifestyle.

HATED: Most farm kids can spot this weed from a distance, Caltrop or Bindii was shocking on bike tyres but also the bare foot lifestyle.

Ploughs and sprays got most of the baddies, it was mostly where a tractor couldn't fit that the kids came in handy.

All kids on deck for the thistles, down to the shed for the hoes.

There was a rush on those, at least one of them had a splintery stick for a handle had didn't cut too well.

It was like the story of grandad's favourite axe, the handle and axe head may have been replaced over the years, but it was still grandad's and all the precious for it.

We'd follow the ute, hacking out the weeds.

No half-hearted swipes, we'd just have to come back and do it again in a few weeks.

Caltrop, or Bindii, was hated most by us kids as well, wrecked bike tyres and ruined our barefoot life.

Dad didn't want it to gain a foothold, so we attacked it as soon as it was spotted.

Mostly near the shearing shed, that was where the trucks backed in to unload.

If Dad had bought sheep from the NSW Riverina, the trucks brought Bindii with them, either on the tyres or with the sheep.

No hoes for Bindii, old kitchen knives were the go.

The prickly plants were carefully carved out of the earth and heaped in a drum for burning, paying careful attention not to drop any seeds along the way.

There were all sorts of group activities like this.

The best were those which came with cash reward, but they were rare.

Skins from the "killers", sheep butchered on the farm for personal use, were dried and stacked like a deck of cards.

When wool prices were good, we kids were given scissors and hacked the wool from some of the skins.

Mum used to tan some skins for craft she was selling, the scraps of those were set aside for the ragged removal of the wool.

When Dad would go to a sale in Kerang in northern Victoria, he would take a wheat bag along with the scraps of wool.

He would drop in to a merchant, who would weight the bag and hand over some coin.

It wasn't much when shared around, perhaps a pie and soft drink at the footy on the weekend.

We all had lots of regular work to do, from milking the cow to putting wood chips in the water heater.

Someone, usually me, had to fish out the bones from the gutters on one of the shed, I remember that job cost me dearly.

We had lots of wild cats about the house, Mum said they were first the first line of defence against snakes.

Mum was in the habit of throwing a bone to one who lived on the shed roof.

I made the mistake of trying to play with this cat one day when fishing out the bones, never again. Definitely not tame just flying claws like whizzing razor blades.

Like going bird nesting, thrusting your hands in a tree hollow to fish around for eggs and surprising a possum. Ouch.

The older you were, the bigger the job you could so, like drive the tractor - that was a big day when you graduated to that.

As I said hardly the Third World, but it is hard to see how the farm would operate the same without us kids.

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This story No shifts at the sweatshop but group chores keep farm wheels turning first appeared on The Wimmera Mail-Times.

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