After the back breaking job of digging up a septic tank with my third hosts (after which the wife took pity on me and gave me some very easy watering and seed planting to do), I was fortunate enough to have two fantastic experiences with my next couple of stays.
First up was Rain, Hayne and Shine in Bittern, just a few stops out from the end of the Frankston line (on the diesel train). Sue, Ian and their staff look after all sorts of donated and reared animals and do "mobile farm" visits, as well as the farm itself being open to visitors 364 days of the year. Their home was a warm and happy place where the WWOOFers are treated as an extended, international family - which included two Swedish sisters and two Korean boys practising their English while I was there.
And the animals... oh, the animals! Travelling as I am at the tail-end of an incredibly bountiful and wet Spring, the country is bursting with life and growth, and the farm was no exception. It was brimming with gorgeous creatures who were used to being handled by lots of grubby little hands, so it was absolute heaven for me - bottle feeding calves and lambs, playing with the hilarious and nibbly kids (the cheekiest of whom I seriously thought about sneaking home in my Samsonite), catching silky chooks, holding tiny fluffy bunnies, feeding a baby magpie whose mother had abandoned it (probably because she couldn't take any more of it's unceasing demands for a constant supply of worms and crushed snails), and walking the dingoes. Yes, dingoes. As in, the ones that ate Meryl Streep's bay-bey.
After a quick break back at home, I was off again - this time to French Island, a short ferry ride from Stony Point (or Cowes on Philip Island). After a little hiccup with the ferry - Melbourne transport have helpfully arranged to have the ferry leave just a few minutes prior to the train arriving, so that you can watch it sail away from the comfort of the jetty - I arrived and was welcomed by my hosts, two amazing, pioneering and inspirational women in their late fifties who run a farm where they keep llamas and alpacas and grow olives.
French Island is such an interesting place. First of all, the population is around 90 (90!!), with 70% of the island being National Parkland. Secondly, even though it is a couple of hours from Melbourne city, it feels like a very remote outpost - there is no power and no water; in fact no council and no police. I guess that might make some people nervous, but I enjoyed the slightly lawless feel of the place and the self-sufficient, adventurous and community-minded spirit of the people who live there.
The farmhouse I stayed at runs on solar and wind power, with diesel generators for back-up in Autumn, and they have a composting toilet which, for the record, was cleaner and less smelly than a conventional flush toilet. Every day there are fresh eggs from the hens, fresh unpasturised milk from the jersey cow down the road, and fresh food direct from the garden. They wake early, work hard but at a managable pace, eat well, care for their animals beautifully, are active in their community, and live their lives mindfully.
Jane and Alison showed me that a "life well lived" can be crafted and nurtured and made, with nothing more than good intentions, careful thought and a bit of work.
Definitely worth putting up with the mosquitoes/charging bulls for.