Imagine a child in a giant desert and all you can see for miles are skinny, prickly-looking trees and red-toned dusty hills. Upon walking out the door to the farmhouse they're living in, they see livestock, grain mills, and silos. When they reach the edge of the property they stop by a small watering hole used for the cows, but as they stop they hear a subtle hiss. What's their next step?
These are the situations that Australian farmer kids are taught to deal with every day. In Australia, to farm is not just an activity, but a way of life. For the kids of farmers, that way of life is a challenge filled with the reward of being part of a working agricultural operation, precaution as they navigate the dangers that can infringe on their everyday life, and the new experiences that come with living town-lengths away from others. Australian farmer kids are expected to follow a set of strict rules that are created and put in place for their safety since they spend their lives growing up in one of the most dangerous environments. In a country where venomous bites come from anything as small as spiders to as large as a poisonous bush or tree, being aware of their surroundings and memorizing a wealth of knowledge when it comes to navigating the Outback is key to their survival -- especially when the nearest medic may be a 90 minute plane ride away. It's not easy living the farm life in the outback, but it does come with a rewarding experience and hard work that will make for stronger future farmer generations. Overall? Australian farmer kids love what they do and know no other life than that of the Outback.
15 Four-Wheelers Are Farm Equipment, Not For Fun
The rules of growing up on an Australian farm may seem strict but they're only in place for the safety of the kids living on them. Without these rules, the risk of injury goes up drastically, and another one of those rules involves staying of four-wheelers. Off-roading is known as a fun and oftentimes rewarding hobby in places such as the United States where trails are created specifically for that purpose. However, in Australia, off-roading comes with a major risk for kids under the age of 15.
Tractors are used strictly for farm work, and ATVs and motorbikes are simply a mode of faster transportation to different areas of the farm.
The terrain of the Australian Outback and the farms that reside on it are not conducive to a save off-roading experience, especially when medical help is over an hour away. This isn't to say kids can't have fun on off-road vehicles, but there are definitely some strict rules to follow when operating one! Most farms require parents to follow through steps that include making sure the vehicle is short enough so that their child's feet can touch the ground when straddling the bike especially if they're under 16, the throttle needs to be adjusted to limit that maximum speed, and it's recommended that specific areas can be designated for off-roading to create a safer space for kids to play. And if your child doesn't have a helmet and correct riding boots? Forget it!
14 Horse Riding Is Natural And Necessary
On The Good Life Farm, a farm property located in Chum Creek, horse riding is very much a part of life working and living on agricultural land. The farm's mission is to help at-risk youth from the suburbs of Melbourne through farm work. One of the chores kids staying on the farm are required to do is taking care of the animals and livestock which, of course, means getting up close and personal with them. In Queensland, getting from place to place with a horse and buggy was at one point the only method of reliable transportation Aussies had. Now with the modernization and perfecting of cars, buses, and trains, it's a thing of the past -- unless, that is, you live on a farm.
Horseback riding is as natural to some Australian kids as driving a car or running is to others, and something most kids learn to get comfortable with at an early age.
Learning to ride a horse not only gives them a way to travel but also gives them the responsibility of taking care of another living creature and an appreciation for the work that goes into keeping that animal healthy. It's a crucial part of living on a farm and teaches kids at a young age how to respect horses and learn proper safety when around the gentle giants. For Good Life owner Lesley Porter, the care of her horses also goes much further beyond that: "That’s what I created this place is for. To introduce kids to animals. To save lives."
13 Fun And Games Isn't A Foreign Concept
Just because rules on an Australian farm are strict for kids growing up on them, doesn't mean they don't have their share of fun! The Outback can offer plenty of fun activities that can help kids forget about the dangerous environment around them, and give them a chance to appreciate where they live and the farm they help to take care of. Campfires are a big part of living in a desert terrain and can help maintain fond bonding moments among families and make lasting memories for friends who travel the distance to visit. Queensland, in particular, holds some allure that you'll only find in the Outback, including sand surfing.
That's right: Surfing without the water. Because of the sandy hills in Australia's Outback, people have found fun ways to navigate down their slippery slopes without the use of any water at all -- just find a smooth board and slide on down!
It's a fun break from the hard work that a farm can require but if kids aren't in the mood to run up and down a sandhill, once it gets dark out, stargazing becomes quite a unique experience as well. Without the light pollution the average city has, or any lights at all, stargazers will get a tremendous star show that you wouldn't normally see in a city like Sydney. It's just one more perk of living on an Outback farm that farmer kids have access to every day.
12 Don't Make Friends With The Livestock
The idea of having a pig for a pet is wonderful and cute, but that doesn't cut it in the Australian Outback.
On a farm, everything is raised and grown with the intention of food or profit, and livestock is no different. Kids are of course required to tend to farm animals depending on their age and responsibility, but that doesn't mean farm animals are pets.
Chickens are required for egg-laying and many young children have the chore of going around collecting eggs which is one of the simpler tasks. As they get older, they're allowed to care for larger animals as they begin to understand the responsibility that comes with each. Cows and pigs are required to be fed and milked if on a dairy farm, and kids care for their animals without getting too attached if they know where the next meal is coming from. One animal exception is the goat, if farms have goats on the pasture then they're used for the milk and occasionally become the pet of the farm, as is the case for one Outback farmer child named John, who enjoys dressing his tiny goats in tracksuits in preparation for colder weather. Who says farm life can't be the most adorable thing you've ever seen?
11 "Safe Play Area": The Kiddie Table Of The Farm
We all remember being six years old and not being able to sit at the "big kids" or "adult" table for family dinners, whether it was because there was an abundance of little kids or the table itself was too big for you. The "Safe Play Area" in Australia is similar in the sense that since the farm as a whole is too mature and dangerous for children, a separate area must be designated for just child play.
Because there are so many risks surround the farm (farm dams, machinery, potentially dangerous animals, hazardous materials, and chemicals), a safe play area is a spot on a farm that's usually fenced off with a "child resistant".
This fencing follows the same rules as pool fencing to keep kids safely inside of it and prevent anything dangerous from finding it's way inside. It's also a life-saver with multiple kids when parents are often working the farm and doing housework; kids are able to be watched while being kept safe. The psychology behind this on the farm is that the fence teaches kids that the farm as a whole contains dangers that are harmful to them; it breaks up and designates areas between their (safe) home, their safe play area, and the rest of the farm and its hazards. Kids are taught this at a young age so that by the time the fence is ready to be taken down, they've successfully understood where they can go and where they shouldn't. Activities are often added to the safe play area, such as sand pits, swings, and other adventurous toys that they'll associate with their safe space. And we thought putting together a playpen in the living room was difficult!
10 Down Under, Swimming Isn't Recreational
When we see a body of water on a 90-degree day, most of us immediately think "yes, swimming hole!" In Australia, that way of thinking can get you seriously injured or worse. At a young age, most kids are carefree and don't yet have a concept of safety which is why rules begin early on an Outback farm. It's necessary for farms to have farm dams, especially in a desert setting, as these dams provide the water it takes to both irrigate and lend hydration to livestock and is occasionally used for domestic purposes. According to ozewex.org, Australia is home to nearly two million dams, which contain roughly eight million ML (about 2,114 gallons) of water. These dams may look like inviting watering holes, but farmer kids are taught to steer clear of them.
Since they're responsible for catching water coming downstream, there's no way of knowing how deep they can be or even more anxiety-inducing, what venomous animals and dangerous insects have taken root around them.
The common rules on the farm for activity near dams are to keep children away from them until they're old enough to understand, and holding hands is non-negotiable when out and about on the farmland.
9 Safety Starts As A Toddler
In Australia, child safety falls on the parents and is their responsibility to keep their children safe on their farmland homes. Toddlers are seen as any child under five years old and are strongly cautioned away from any aspect of the farm without an adult. They're not allowed near any type of farming machinery or within the vicinity of farm work, as they "cannot be relied upon to follow rules and children under this age cannot understand the concepts of rules or safety", according to the University of Sydney's Child Safety on Farms handbook. Children aged five to nine are considered "young children" according to the handbook, and while they may understand basic rules and are encouraged to take on smaller responsibilities. The responsibilities of a young child include feeding the smaller animals, collecting eggs from hens, occasionally using small hand tools, and watering farm plants. Young children are still not left alone unsupervised, however, since being easily distracted is still a threat. The oldest age range of children is during the years of ten to fourteen, where they can have the most responsibility a child can take on: beginning to use powered pieces of machinery such as the lawnmower and small power tools.
8 Work For Your Food
It's no secret that farms are usually self-sufficient. In the Outback, a trip to the grocery store normally isn't an option considering the closest might be hundreds of miles away. Once again, The Good Life Farm is a great example of what real farming and agriculture in Australia are like.
Kids are made well aware of where their food comes from and that they play a major role in helping to prep and cook it.
Melbourne natives staying on the farm learn the process from, quite literally, the ground up. When it comes to cooking their food, firewood collection is the first step. Porter teaches kids how to find it and gather it to create a fire efficient enough to cook their meals and provide enough heat to cook food for everyone. It's considered "Grassroots Healing" to teach these kids how to become independent and self-sufficient, relying only on themselves and their knowledge of the Great Outdoors (or Outback, in this case) to give them the sustenance they so need. Porter says she's "old school": "I'll tell them how it is, and I'll stick to it. They need to know there are consequences: no firewood, no fire, no lunch. It's how life is." This applies to farm life in general; it takes hard work and a lot of effort but the end result is one of complete fulfillment and accomplishment.
7 Awareness Is Everything
Accidents happen, and this is especially true with kids. One place that accidents should be avoided with tremendous care, though, is on a farm in the Outback. Since farms are all too often isolated from nearby towns and neighbors, making a trip to the emergency room is definitely not an option.
First aid begins at home, but the key to avoiding the need for that at all is practicing awareness on the farm. In most cases, farms have an extensive first-aid kit as well as someone who specializes in how to use it.
From a young age of a toddler, kids are taught boundaries. The use of a safe play area plays a huge role in this practice and teaches kids the importance of using caution when they're outside of their home. The farm can hold dangers to kids such as animals they've yet to have experience with, large machinery and tractors that can pose a risk to them, dams that may be deeper than expected and murkier than most watering holes, as well as chemicals that pose bodily harm to them. Among the farm, risks are snakes and insects that have the capacity to land a venomous strike on anything that comes too close, which is a "danger, Will Robinson!" sign to kids who have yet to learn the ins and outs of their farmland.
6 Everyone Plays A Part
The rules of living on a farm are finite, but they do offer a benefit to the kids who follow them. Rules give them structure, but also allow them to be a major part of farm life because they learn how to respect and interact with the world around them. While most kids are taught how to look both ways before crossing the street or how to rake leaves and bag them, farmer kids are taught how to feed animals, collect eggs, milk cows and goats, and ride horses. Each one of their chores isn't just simply a check on their to-do list, it's one more way of ensuring their farm is successful, efficient, and ensuring their survival in the Outback.
Everyone plays a role in farm life no matter how small, and most farmer kids grow up with the notion that every responsibility they have is important and appreciated in the grand scheme of farm life.
They'll learn from their parents and grandparents that everything they're doing was done for generations prior and it'll give a sense of pride to follow in those footsteps. With every new rule learned comes a new responsibility for the life of an Australian farmer kid.
5 Risk Assessment Isn't Just For Insurance
It sounds a bit funny for a farm in the middle of a dry desert to be conducting a risk assessment...But it's not what you think it is. Before coming up with rules for living on a farm, parents must first assess the risks not for insurance purposes, but for their children. Australia follows a code of Work Health and Safety laws (WHS) that allow farm owners to seek out all the potential risks and hazards to health that come with living and working on a farm. The process, explained step-by-step by Safe Work Australia, is as follows: the identification of potential risks and causes, assessing the risk and figuring out the worst-case scenario and potential outcome(s) along with likelihood, controlling the risks through an effective measure, and finally, reviewing the control methods put into place.
Compared to common house rules like picking up after yourself, folding clothes and putting them away, rinsing dishes off after dinner, this process may seem like an extensive length to go to for a farmhouse.
Without the rules, a farm in the Outback becomes an unsafe and unprepared place. It's just one more precaution that keeps kids safe in the long run, rules need to be created somehow!
4 Sometimes School Is Virtual
We've got four words for you: School of the Air. You may be thinking, "Wait, what? Australian farmer kids need to attend school on airplanes?" Alas, it's nothing like that. School of the Air is a cool name for a high-tech virtual school that's saving farmer kids' educations all around the Australian Outback. For one eight-year-old named Jack, his closest school is 300 kilometers (roughly 186 miles) away from the cattle farm he lives on. Obviously, it would be crazy to bring kids back and forth on an over three-hour drive for their education, which is why School of the Air is such an amazing thing for farmer kids. Jack's typical school day consists of waking up early to help with any farm chores, having breakfast by 7 AM, and by 8 AM, he's sitting in front of his home computer, microphone in hand, awaiting his teacher and the rest of his classmates. The process, referred to as Interactive Distant Learning, is allowing children everywhere the access they need to get a great education from the comfort of their own home.
There are seven half-hour lessons that make up Jack's school week, in addition to Monday morning "assemblies" that are broadcasting via the high-frequency radio supplied to families by the Australian Government.
In addition to the radio, the Australian Government also foots the cost of each child enrolled in the School of the Air. Considering the cost is double that of which a standard education costs, this is a miraculous program that's providing a quality education to many kids who wouldn't have one without it. With no flight risk, that's one rule that is dubbed awesome.
3 Isolation Doesn't Always Mean Loneliness
Making friends is certainly difficult when your closest neighbor is over one-hundred miles away, but the Pooncarie Children's Outreach program is doing what they can to change that. School of the Air may be a rule for farmer kids, but socializing is something that should be considered a fun and voluntary experience -- unless you don't live near anyone to socialize with. It's because of this that parents take their kids to Pooncarie once a month, and for them and their kids, it's well worth the hefty drive to get there.
The once-a-month school day has up to 40 kids who can learn how to acquire a skill, play together, or just learn something new.
Their activities include but aren't limited to learning art, playing sports with other kids, or just simply learning how to socialize. "It's amazing watching my own kids and everyone else's by the end of the term they get to the gate and off they run," says parent Amy Withers in an interview with Australia's ABC News. Being friendly and initiating a conversation with someone is something many of us take for granted as it comes naturally, but for life as an Australian farmer kid, it's something that needs to be learned and encouraged.
2 Proceeding With Caution Is Law
As kids on the farm get older, they're entrusted with more and more responsibility. While it may sound overwhelming to an outsider of the Australian farm, for farmer kids it's just a part of life. One of the biggest rules on the farm is to listen to their parents or the caretakers who watch them. Breaking this rule doesn't just mean punishment and being grounded for a week. While many kids decline to clean their room and get a week without television, if Australian farmer kids decline to listen to their parents and go somewhere they shouldn't, do something they were told not to, or forget something that was stressed to them, it could mean serious harm to them or the others working on the farm.
Their world is full of farm equipment and animals that pose a potential hazard to them, and regardless of the rules they're taught from a young age, if their parents ask them to do something, they need to do it no questions asked.
When it comes down to operating under what they know and have learned or listening to what their parents tell them at the current time, the choice is simple: Listen to what you're told and do what you're asked.
1 Child Psychology Dictates Farm Life
Don't get the wrong idea, just because Australian farmer kids seem to have a simple life working a farm, there's a lot that goes in raising a child in that atmosphere and doing it in the safest way possible. Australia has guidelines that are put in place by programs such as Farmsafe Australia Inc. and Safe Work Australia that break down the guidelines to when a child is ready to work on a farm, what they're ready to do depending on their age, and how to help them learn. This provides a solid guideline for parents raising farmer kids on how to advise and teach them the safest ways of going about the farm. In addition to learning rules, child psych plays a role in what children need on the farm as well. Isolation is a common feeling and while farm rules are restrictive and necessary, parents sometimes need help providing kids with what they need to fill the void that isolation can cause. RICE (Remote & Isolated Children's Exercise Inc.) helps to combat the feeling of loneliness and isolation kids may feel by offering toys and library resources, health, wellbeing care, and play days to families raising children in the Outback. Parents of farmer kids have the difficult task of balancing farm work and strict rules with the fun and playtime that kids need at a young age, but luckily they're not doing it alone!
References: rice.org.au, farmsafe.org.au, safeworkaustralia.gov.au, betterhealth.vic.gov.au, abc.net.au, australian-children.com, blog.queensland.com, katherinebrightaustralia.com, theage.com.au, sydney.edu.au, australian-children.com, nytimes.com, ozewax.org, qgso.qld.gov.au