Friday, June 18, 2010

Looks like home

Australia or Kansas? It is kind of hard to tell...

But it is Kingaroy, Queensland, Australia!

Stay at Bethany Cottages

April 29 - Our group of eight was picked up at McDonald's by our hosts John & Karyn Bjelke-Petersen and taken to their farm for an overnight stay. John & Karyn turned their farm into a bed and breakfast a few years ago due to interest from the community. John's father, Sir Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen, was the longest-serving Premier of the state of Queensland (similar to a state governor) from 1968-1987. Many still journey to the farm that has been in the family for more than 80 years.

John & Karyn built Bethany Cottages for guests - four modern western red cedar cottages with one or two bedrooms (one even has a spa!). As we approached the cabins, a wallaby was spotted hopping in the tall pasture grass and we jumped out to see if we could get a photo, but the speedy little guy was long gone before any of us could get our cameras out.

My sister and I were dropped off at the first cabin, named "Finches Rest." Encouraged to drop off our bags and explore the trails in the bush behind our cabin, we are assured we would be picked up later for dinner. All four couples took to the trails in hopes of seeing more wildlife. Bethany Cottages are situated on one of the highest hills in Kingaroy and the view was fantastic!

On the way to dinner, John told us he spotted a koala bear in one of the trees by their home. He stopped on the way to the main house to point it out, but the sun had set, so he was hard to see. We were excited and disappointed at the same time - so close!

They treated us to a wonderful dinner cooked by Karyn and delightful conversation throughout the evening. They told us about their farming operation, which produces beef cattle, avocados, some wheat and sorghum. We also learned much about life in Queensland and shared tidbits about life in the U.S.

In the morning, we packed our bags and waited on the front porch to be picked up for breakfast while watching finches and scrub turkeys in the yard. John brought us good news - the koala had changed trees, but was still in the area. We all piled into the cars and rushed back down the hill. Sure enough, the koala was napping in one the trees near the main house. We got to see him this time and he was very cute!

They provided a great breakfast and we talked more about their farm. Before we left on a driving tour of their operation, we looked around the main house - they have domestic and wild parrots of all different colors, horses and even a miniature pony.

This visit was definitely a highlight of the trip. We all wished we could've stayed a little longer before being taken back to McDonald's to wait for the rest of the group. We were anxious to rejoin the group and hear about the adventures of the others, but sad to find it was the last full day of our trip.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Toowoomba to Kingaroy

April 29 - Green is the theme for today!

Our first stop today is Withcott Seedlings. Withcott is a major supplier of vegetable seedlings for the East Coast of Australia. They produce more than 420 million seedlings per year and their products include: tomato, broccoli, lettuce, asparagus, rock melon, watermelon, seedless watermelon, cauliflower, pumpkin, chili, parsley, celery and echinacea. Sue Sluther and Charles Wright gave us a tour of the greenhouses, seed storage and planting operation. They told us farmers in Australia have better yields by planting seedlings rather than seeds directly into the ground. Backpackers and immigrants from African countries (especially Nigeria) are commonly hired by producers to sow the seedlings into the ground.

From Withcott, we were on to Emaho Trees, which is a wholesale export nursery joint venture of Birkdale Nursery. Barbara McGeoch, Director of Birkdale Nursery, explained how their operation went international. Their first major international project was Hong Kong Disneyland in 2001 where they helped design the landscaping and supplied the trees, shrubs and grasses. Since then they have established nurseries in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Abu Dhabi, providing landscape architects, developers, contractors and governments with a variety of trees, palms, shrubs and turf. Most trees are in the ground at a nursery for five years. Property Manager Nigel gave us a demonstration on how trees are dug up and replanted using a tree spade.

The rest of the afternoon we took a driving tour of Kingaroy (which means red ant) in the Burnett region. Leoan Woltmann of the Kewpie Group pointed out a pork processing facility, a pig farm and the Kewpie feedmill. The piggery is the only pork processing facility in Queensland. We briefly stopped to get a look at a peanut field, which is a main crop of this area. The soil here is bright red!

Two groups were dropped off at the Kingaroy McDonald's to meet our farm-stay families, while the remaining group stayed on the bus to be dropped off further down the road. My next post will be about my farm stay.