A look around Koramba Farm

The evenings in the mess hall at Koramba Cotton Farm continue to be a lively and cheerful place with the crew glad to be over another hot 10 hour day. The latest ritual seems to be that they all come into the kitchen as soon as they arrive home to see what’s for dinner.

Last night they were plotting ways to keep us here for more than the six weeks and they thought that simply stealing the wheels to the Aussie Wide would be the most effective way.

Don’t want to harp on about it too much but the appreciation for the meals and the few little extras we put on for them is overwhelming.
Every one of these people has an interesting story, such as Roni who is from Finland. He’s been over here for just a few weeks to visit his father and decided to work his way around Australia. We’d never seen Roni smile nor heard him talk till Kerrie sat down beside him in the mess room and he really opened up. Since then he has been smiling and talking all the time. He has a motor bike which he will disappear on for a couple of days at a time and cover massive distances before returning to the farm.

We decided to drive out to Trefusis which was once a farm in its own right but was taken over by Koramba. Trefusis has a few of the 16 houses on the property where some of the farm’s managers and permanent employees live.
It is only accessible by way of a narrow black soil road that runs along the top of a series of irrigation channels.

 

The canal system is ingenious

The canal system is ingenious

 

Access around the farm is via the tops of the irrigation chanels

Access around the farm is via the tops of the irrigation chanels

 

These channels are fascinating and they are monument to the incredible ingenuity and resourcefulness of the farms owners.

Cotton requires masses of water, much more than conventional crops like wheat and so to provide this colossal volume of water thousands of acres of the farm have been dug out by excavators and dozers and the dirt scarped to form the sides of man made lakes. They are designed to capture water from run off, directly from rain and from pumping. There are 4 of them which hold a staggering 25,000 megalitres of water which will irrigate 2/3 of the annual cotton production of approximately 45000 bales. The price per bale last year was $1000.00!

25,000 megalitres of water in 4 man made lakes

25,000 megalitres of water in 4 man made lakes!

 

Everything about the irrigation system on the farm is big, like the huge pumps that move the water around and the diesel engines that drive them.

Huge deisel pumps to move the water around

Huge deisel pumps to move the water around

Water is pumped from these lakes into channels which a designed with lasers so they transport the water all round the many thousands of acres planted with cotton.

Pumping into irrigation channels

Pumping into irrigation channels

As the pumps work huge whirlpools of swirling water are caused as the hundreds of thousands of litres of life giving water disappear through sluice gates on its way to the precious cotton. At the moment huge volumes of water are being pumped from two of the dams into the other two. This is because of evaporation. Water in a half full dam will evaporate faster that the water from a full dam so the water from the four partially full dams will be pumped making two full ones that will considerably slow evaporation.

Man, there have been geniuses at work here.

Even the empty channels are fascinating because in these you can see the work that’s gone in to their construction and the depth of them.

 

Huge volumes of water pour through sluice gates causing whirlpools

Huge volumes of water pour through sluice gates causing whirlpools

Massive pipes carry the water under roads, and through the sluice gates to be fed to smaller channels where plastic pipes are used to direct the water to the rows of cotton plants which are planted on top of “mini channels”. This is where the large volumes of water end up, soaking the roots of the cotton plants. The channels are designed to not only introduce water to the plants but to get rid of it quickly as the cotton will die with too much soaking.

 

Irrigated water ends up theses furrows between the rows of cotton. Roots are watered but not allowed to soak.

Irrigated water ends up theses furrows between the rows of cotton. Roots are watered but not allowed to soak

 

An empty canal with is underground pipe system

An empty canal with is underground pipe system

 

The cotton is currently in its final stage before it will be harvested in what will be a frenzy of activity that will involve many workers and the powering up of many millions of dollars worth of complex machinery.

The cotton bushes are higher than a human and are full of green pods that are now beginning to explode open revealing four tufts of pure white, super soft cotton. Each cotton ball has a seed inside which will be removed at the Gin. Once the plant has opened all its pods to release its snowy cotton balls it will die and this is when the harvesters will come through the paddocks. We have been invied to sit in these to watch the harvest first hand.

A sea of cotton as far as the eye can see and still less than 1/4 of the farm

A sea of cotton as far as the eye can see and still less than 1/4 of the farm

The cotton plants are as tall as us

The cotton plants are as tall as us

The pods are starting to crack opening to release the cotton

The pods are starting to crack opening to release the cotton

Countless millions of these pods are now releasing the cotton balls ready to harvest

Countless millions of these pods are now releasing the cotton balls ready to harvest

 

The yard is where the millions of dollars in machinery sits silent in waiting for its own function to be performed at the correct time.

There are nine headers which will soon be chomping through thousands of acres of white paddocks separating the cotton balls from the now dead bushes. Each of these headers is worth about $500,000 to buy.

The Cotton Pickers ready to go

The Cotton Pickers ready to go

There are nine cotton Module Builders which are about 9 meters long, 4 meters high and 3 meters wide. It works similarly to a garbage truck. When loading the cotton from the cotton picker into the module builder it will be distributed as evenly as possible. After loading the cotton into the module builder, a hydraulic compactor moves up and down along the length of the machine. This process is repeated every time that a cotton picker is unloaded into the module builder until a module is built up and discharged through the tailgate of the machine after which it will be transported to the Gin for processing.

The Module Builders getting close to working again

The Module Builders getting close to working again

A Module Builder up close

A Module Builder up close

A module of cotton before transportation to the Gin for processing

A module of cotton before transportation to the Gin for processing

In addition the farm has two new Pickers which don’t require module builders, they do the lot themselves dramatically reducung labour costs and increasing efficiency.

Koramba Cotton Farm has its own gin.

The Gin - Soon this yard will be full of cotton modules waiting to be processed.

The Gin – Soon this yard will be full of cotton modules waiting to be processed.

It processes about 130,000 bales of cotton per season of with about 45,000 bales from Koramba itself. It is a massive building that we have not yet seen inside but we hope to see how it works during the up and coming harvest.

The cotton is then transported by truck to the markets around the world and every truck passes over Koramba’s own weighbridge where precise weights are recorded.

 

Hundreds of trucks will soon pass over this weighbridge

Hundreds of trucks will soon pass over this weighbridge

The Gin is about 4 km from the camp and as we made our way back we passed two Red Belly Black snakes which is a sobering thought since the little caravan park where the Aussie Wide sits is next to a paddock which probably has ore tan its share of critters.

The rather deadly Red Belly Black snake crossing in front of us - Quite a few in these parts

The rather deadly Red Belly Black snake crossing in front of us – Quite a few in these parts

This place gets just get more interesting every day.

More from Koramba Farm

Jackie, the cook awoke Sunday morning looking quite crook so we offered to take over the cooking as from Sunday. We don’t officially start work here till Monday and we’re supposed to start cooking on Thursday morning but we’ve already been working since we got here so we’re pretty much in the loop now.

There are two garden beds out in the camp area and we wanted to get some plants started. We bought some seedlings on a run into Moree so we decided to dig over the garden beds and plant.

The soil out here is the notorious Black Soil of which many songs have been sung and stories have been told. It is impassable by humans
either by wheel or foot after rain and is rock hard after being baked by the sun for awhile.

Our garden beds were at the latter stage.

With only my small mini shovel and a star picket as garden tools we dug over the rock (I mean soil) and dug in some hay. We would drive the star picket in as far as we could then lever it up then smash it up with the shovel.

I’m sure the farm’s inhabitants thought we were nutters.

There is easily $50,000,000 worth of equipment on the property but no garden fork, shovel or rake.

The garden was eventually planted and after two days it looks like it will survive. We planted carrots, cabbage, cauli, broccoli, snow peas, lettuce, onions and some herbs. They’ll probably start to yield fruit the day we leave.

We’ve been attacking the kitchen and mess hall as well to try to get it up to an acceptable level of cleanliness before we start.

Not a bad kitchen to work in but come Thursday we will be getting a gernie in to wash down the walls and windows.

Not a bad kitchen to work in but come Thursday we will be getting a gernie in to wash down the walls and windows.

 

One plate cleaned, 5 to go on the stove top, then Chris can start on the oven.

One plate cleaned, 5 to go on the stove top, then Chris can start on the oven.

The cold room’s shelving was collapsing and as a consequence goods were piled in cartons on the floor making it stupidly difficult to get at things and rotate stock. We pulled everything out ripped out the ropes and star pickets that were propping everything up and with a decent length of number 8 fencing wire and some pliers I was able to remodel the coolroom shelves to an acceptable sturdiness. Kerrie scrubbed the shelves and the walls and we sorted out the conglomeration of bits and pieces.

We forgot to take a photo of the cool room before we cleaned it out.

We forgot to take a photo of the cool room before we cleaned it out.

We’re now satisfied that we have a coolroom we can work with.

We started cleaning the stove top which is going to be a long task and we reorganized the vegetables that were lying around, some were actually sprouting and growing in their boxes.

When we take over on Thursday we’ll get the rest of the kitchen done.

The first night we cooked we prepared what we thought was a “minimum standard” meal of chicken breast fillet that we made into a cacciatore, Roasted herbed potatoes, Steamed Broccoli, Fresh Honeyed Carrots, Garlic Bread, Pesto Pasta and Sticky Date Pudding and Fresh Cream for Dessert.

We simply could not believe the reaction to the meal. To a man they were mesmerised by it and I’ve no idea why, it was just a good but plain meal.

Fuccundo, a really pleasant young Portuguese bloke was running through the camp yelling, “Food revolution, Food revolution”.

They couldn’t believe that they could have chicken AND some pasta AND dessert.

It was a real pleasure to cook dinner for this crew of young fellas (and one young lady).

I told Jackie I would cook for the next four days until she left so she could shake off a persistent cold before she travelled down south for her 6 weeks off.

On entering the kitchen at 4:00am next morning I was absolutely overjoyed to find a handwritten note left on the counter – “Lovely Dinner. Thanks!! From: Everybody.”

What a wonderful introduction to our job.

What a wonderful introduction to our job.

 

The crew here are an exceptional bunch of young people. Every one of them has great manners, and they’re all pleasant and courteous.

Sunday night’s meal was no different but this time we had a succession of questions we had to answer as the young folk wanted to know all about us, where we had learned to cook and what we were doing. Kerrie was in her element chatting first to one then to the other, then to the whole group, except she found it really difficult to understand the Irishmen who are really broad and there’s more Irishmen that any other nationality.

Fucundo was again running around with his, “Food Revolution”, cry and the whole camp seemed to be a buzz of contented conversation and laughing.

The Irishmen are threatening to “Review our Contract” as they say we are not to leave after 6 weeks.

It's wonderful to hear all the nationalities joking and chatting around the tables.

It’s wonderful to hear all the nationalities joking and chatting around the tables.

 

One of the Farm Managers, Dave, came in to see if we needed anything and it was great to have this obviously tough and hard man showing such a willingness to assist in any way possible.

I had been on my feet from 3:45am till about 8:00pm and this was a bit of a shock to the system but we couldn’t help thanking God for guiding us here to give us the steady build up we needed physically to get back into the routine of cooking both in preparation for the rest of the time here
and then for the exciting outback job with Sandrifter in May.

Kerrie gave me one of her Magic Woman Touch foot massages before we watched a movie and settled down to finish off a great and rewarding
day.

A look at the camp:

Just a couple of shots of the camp site.

Across the car park to work.

Across the car park to work.

The Car/Van park at the back of the Donga’s.

The single donga's around the central community area. Toilet and showers top right.

The single donga’s around the central community area. Toilet and showers top right.

Pretty messy around this area as there is no cleaner at the moment. I will be doing this but haven’t said anything yet until Martyn comes out to show me what areas I will have to do. He did say that I don’t have to service their rooms as they do that.

Looking at the dining room with the kitchen to the left hand side.

Looking at the dining room with the kitchen to the left hand side.

The kitchen. We have bought seedlings to put in the veggie garden.

The kitchen. We have bought seedlings to put in the veggie garden.

 

The gym area.

The gym area.

The laundry with 2 washing machine. I'm glad I have my own in the van.

The laundry with 2 washing machine. I’m glad I have my own in the van.

The entry to the camp.

The entry to the camp.

We have offered to do the mowing while waiting to start work in the kitchen. The girl who normally does it has pulled a muscle in her shoulder. The grass is quiet high at the moment from all the rain and as the area has snakes, it will also benefit us to get the grass down.

Life at Koramba Cotton Farm

Jackie had got away early Thursday for Goondiwindi (Gundy to the locals) for a service on her car before going on holidays.

She had bought her car from one of the back-packers when he left and she’s slowly doing it up. Cars here are pretty scarce. Soong, one of the casuals had a car but loaned it to another of the workers one night. No licence and didn’t know how to drive in Australia. The story is, he was going too fast, swerved to miss a pig and hit a tree. Soong was paid back and another “bomb” was purchased.

The only boyfriend/girlfriend couple have an old station wagon and one other kid from Dalby, who doesn’t have a licence yet, has an old Patrol that he drives everywhere at breakneck speed.

They only have one speed, (flat out), in all the vehicles and you can hear them coming home 1 km away. At the moment the day shift travel the 4km down the road in one car and the night shift use the other.

They start their day down at the weight bridge for the usual pre work meeting and then head off to where the’re are working.

No one wears seatbelts as they are used to getting in and out of farm vehicles, so when Chris went down to the office with Jackie yesterday it stood out as he automatically put his seatbelt on. Jackie has now started to “practice putting hers on” before she heads away.

Most comment that they reach Gundy, 100km away before they realise they haven’t got their seatbelts on and they have to use indicators.

You have to get a picture of the space out here to understand. There’s one road out of here, turn left and travel 22km to Talwood, turn right for 13km to Boomi. Each town has a pub but Boomi has one with pokies, each town has a general store which includes the post office and the closest policeman is in Garah 57km away. We have decided it’s probably safer to stay off the roads at night . When they do go to the pub, they drive home and as one told us, it took him 2 hrs to get the 13km home the other night as he kept driving off the road.

The property runs from the river which is the NSW/QLD boarder and along the road to Boomi and then approximately 50km inland as you can see from this Google map. It is 40,000 acres and about 160 sq km. In addition to cotton they also grow wheat. There’s about 9,000 acres currently planted in cotton that will be ready for harvest in a few weeks. They lost quite a lot of the crop in the recent floods.

There are about 10 managers and supervisors living in various houses on the property and it is possible to have up to 80 workers at various times.

A rough out line of Koramba property.

A rough out line of Koramba property.

A closer look at the camp and then 4 km down the road to the weigh station.

A closer look at the camp and then 4 km down the road to the weigh station.

 

So after clearing breakfast, Chris and I headed the 111km to Moree. We needed to get a couple of things and Chris wanted to check out the suppliers that they currently use.

Chris is working on giving Martyn our boss an updated,  fully costed menu and stock sheet. Martyn asked Chris to do that this week before the take over. Martyn was planning to come out and run through everything but unfortunately, his 32yr old sister passed away the other day from a heart attack.

So Chris will have everything ready for him when stock take is done Tuesday.

At the moment Jackie just cooks anything she wants as there is no costed menu. She has no idea on other costs that relate to a catering budget including her wages and ALC’s. Jackie assumes if you get $25 from each person per day that’s what you can spend.

( Colin, you can imagine what was going through Chris’s head as she is purchasing Chicken Kiev at $110 a box for 11-12 people.)

Unfortunately when you live out here you can’t look around for the most competitive supplier. You have to take the ones that will deliver to you. Unless you have a refrigerated van don’t
think you can drive in and pick up a weeks supply of meat, juice, bread, fruit and veg and other commodities in your own ute.   It’s 100km + to the nearest large town and only Moree has a catering supplier. Any of the bigger suppliers are 300km away and wouldn’t come out weekly for this small order.

So with our few items purchased and a quick lunch at the RSL we headed back home.

Day 1 at Koramba Farm

We were a bit lazy getting away from Goondiwindi on the trip out to Koramba Cotton Farm and we certainly paid for it.

If we’d left an hour earlier we would have missed the cloudburst that hit us halfway along the 100 km trip.

The roads and the ground, already waterlogged from the recent rains that flooded north Western New South Wales and dumped 2/3 more water on the area than the entire yearly rainfall, were flooding within half an hour.

An earlier departure would also have enabled us to get onto the farm and set up the caravan in the dry. Alas it was not so.

Slipping and sliding in deep mud the Nissan hauled the Aussie Wide into the little caravan park area on the farm at the rear of the camp site. It was my job to jump out of the car into the ankle deep mud with the rain beating down and totally saturating me in seconds, and find someone for instructions on where to park.

The mud oozed through the crocs I was wearing and into my feet and up through my toes as I tramped up to the row of dongers that was the camp. I was in search of Jackie the cook who we were there to replace while she was on holiday for 6 weeks in what would be her first days off in 10 months.

Spotting a door open I headed over toward it and was aghast as I experienced my first encounter with Jackie – half naked, getting dressed in her room with her door wide open. I don’t know who got the biggest shock me or her.

I was sort of mesmarised there for a moment till she requested I move round the side for a minute.

I was full of apologies, SHE was full of apologies and we were both laughing as she explained that, “Bloody Hell, No-one’s ever around durin’ the day mate so I leave me door open. Sorry Mate”!

After introductions I went to park the caravan after Jackie’s directions of, “Park anywhere ya like, mate”.

The mud dried out in a few days but it was slip and slide for a while.

The mud dried out in a few days but it was slip and slide for a while.

We backed the van into a spot that seemed the driest but was still flooded and covered with the lovely thick ooze, unhooked, got into some dry clothes and headed for the kitchen.

The camp was a collection of older style dongers arranged around a quadrangle with tables and chairs in the middle for recreation and the Kitchen and Mess room further back surrounded by grass and pavers.

The crew of 11 young male workers and one young female was split into a night shift and a day shift for the intensive irrigation that was currently being carried out on the 160 square kilometres of cotton.

Night shift is 7pm to 7am and day shift 7am to 7pm with each crew coming to the mess room half an hour after the previous one.

The crew consists of a couple of Irishmen, a Korean a Portuguese and two Swedes with the rest Aussies.

They’re a nice, pleasant bunch with good manners and very friendly.

After getting the feel of the kitchen and how it all runs and serving the evening meal and helping Jackie clean up, we headed back through the mud to the Aussie Wide and settled in for the night. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the mud was already starting to dry out after just a couple of hours. We’ll set things up a bit better when the ground dries out more.

"Kiwi" is our neighbour to the left, Steve is on our right (haven't met him yet)

“Kiwi” is our neighbour to the left, Steve is on our right (haven’t met him yet)

Bing the "Mechanic's Dog" but really belongs to everyone.

Bing the “Mechanic’s Dog” but really belongs to everyone.

 

I'm right in the tunnel pulling out annex, too lazy to go around the other side and my lovely husband is taking photo's...men!

I’m right in the tunnel pulling out annex, too lazy to go around the other side and my lovely husband is taking photo’s…men!

Bing wasn't in the least bit concerned as we put up the annex around him.

Bing wasn’t in the least bit concerned as we put up the annex around him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were over to help with breakfast at 5:00am next morning and helped Jackie prep up as she scurried around cooking breakfast in her pyjamas!

The day shift left and the night shift returned covered in mud from their night working on the irrigation lines.

The camp is very basic but sufficient for the short 3 month stays that most of the workers seem to be employed for before moving on.

The kitchen has no more than the most fundamental equipment and utensils and could benefit greatly from a good clean and some reorganising, but it does the job required of it which is supplying 3 meals per day, 7 days per week 365 days per year for between 10 and 35 people.

We grabbed a snooze through the day and found it pleasant as the sun was shining, drying out the ground rapidly, a cool breeze wafted
through the van and the whole area was quiet with only the sound of the wind, the birds and the occasional dog barking or the rare passing of a farm vehicle.

Speaking of dogs, there are a number hanging round. Bing is a huge black thing that has made the camp his home and is very friendly. He seems to hang about the van a lot maybe because, apart from Jackie, we’re the only humans in the near vicinity during the day. All the dogs are very friendly and are no problem at all.

We met Jess who is the full time Safety Officer for the farm and also seems to be a useful general hand. She’s an extremely pleasant lass who’s always smiling and has a lovely easy going nature that seems as if nothing could stop the smile. I was taken up to the farm office to be shown the paper work processes  and she showed me a package she’d just received which she was excited about. It was a new radiator for her Nissan Patrol Ute. I asked her if she was going to get the farm’s mechanic to fit it for her and she looked at me as if to say, “What planet are you from”? “Na, I’ll do it myself”, she said.

Jess’s father is one of the Farm Managers, Darryl, and we had the pleasure of meeting him later in the day. A huge bloke with massive rock hard hands and an ancient, sweat encrusted hat that sits upon a head with a rugged face that seemed as used to smiling as much as his daughter. He was extremely helpful and when we told him we were interested in looking over the farm he told us we were most welcome just let someone know. He even offered to give us a guided tour.

Another huge man with an extremely pleasant easy going nature is “Kiwi” who is our next door neighbour, living in his own van.

These people are just so down to earth and friendly and everyone we’ve met has gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and to ensure we settle in ok.

We commented to Daryl that we thought the young crew of workers would be more rowdy and he smiled as he told us he “works em too hard for that”.

We’re going to like it here.

We're set up now for the next 7 weeks.

We’re set up now for the next 7 weeks.