When I was a kid we used to have a 3 term year at school. That meant weeks and weeks and weeks of school before you got a break. I tell you, those weeks and weeks and weeks felt like years when it was getting hot (Central Queensland Summer runs hot from early October until early April some years) and the fans were hypnotising (and the boy next to you had blood noses and bladder problems)...
There was always a build up of anticipation for ages before break up day. There was always the swimming carnival to make you feel like you weren't really at school, then there was a few days of scrubbing the classroom and putting together your show pieces for your family - and then break up day.
The whole community would come in to help us "break up" at the end of the year. Big Sandy would bring in a few damper ovens and the men would dig pits and build fires - meanwhile the ladies would be in their town clothes firing up the urns and laying out the plates of slices and sandwiches. One or two dads would have found a good deal or good crop of watermelons, so they would be put in the troughs and covered with damp tea towels and we kids would be as scarce as possible - generally right at the other end of the oval playing Tackle British Bulldog or Tackle Red Rover or Tackle Soccer or Tackle Catch'n'kiss.
After lots of food was ingested, we would have sack races and egg and spoon races and 3 legged races - then we would eat more food and have parents vs kids Cricket matches - then we would eat more food and have plum dunks and apple dunks and then show our families our work, grab all our books and ports and leave for the eternity of Christmas holidays spread out before us.
Every morning we would be up early during the school holidays - without daylight savings to help us out we would be up by 5, swimming in the pool (doing laps - Dad still is a big believer in laps), feeding the horses, having our bacon and eggs (cooked by Dad - Mum had trained Dad to deliver a cup of tea and not bother her for a bit), cutting our tucker, catching and saddling the horses - and then waving bye to Mum by 7.
Every day we would muster cows and calves and drove them down to the dipyards. We'd have smoko then some would muster a second paddock while the first paddock was sorted through the yards - dry cows one way, calves in the pen, bulls out and the cows through the crush and dip (so they would be able to swim when the flood came). We learned to count by counting the cows out of the draining pen, because that is a good job for a kid.
Then the second paddock would come in and we would do the sorting all over again - and then the yards would be full.
After another smoko the fire would be started, the brands warmed up and Mum would join us with her notebooks. Each calf would be checked on Mum's mental checklist and confirmed by Dad as Stud (keepers, no castration, tagged and numbered) or Commercial (steered, earmarked and branded). Dad bred Brangus - polled cattle as he hated dehorning from his own childhood of Hereford horns (and cancer eyes, apparently).
Generally during branding, if you were too little you could play, a bit bigger and you got to put the numbers on the pliers - and a bit bigger than that you "brought the calves up" - a technical challenge regarding hind legs, butting heads (still quite hard enough without horns) and steering molten lava to your way of thinking.
After smoko we would then "mother up" - this entailed letting the calves back to their mothers and working out who belonged to who without who catching sight of you and considering you as a threat to her baby and having a serious chat to you about it. Again, still quite scary enough without horns.
Taking them all back to their paddocks was always a fairly quick trip - and if there was time Dad would organise another paddock to be mustered before sundown.
Every day was in the saddle. Every day we would get sunburned, windswept and dust drenched. Nearly every day a cow would threaten you to climbing the rails or you would have to stare down her bluff. Sometimes she wasn't bluffing.
Nearly every day there would be moments of high tension as a slide gate didn't get shut quickly enough, as a calf went through the wrong side of a fence, as a horse didn't have the hump properly out of its back and would pigroot, as the dogs got into the tucker box or the oyster bag and had a feast.
But then, every day would start with swimming. Every day we would get watermelon with smoko. Every day we would be in fresh air, on horses, singing, laughing and carrying on. And every day we would go home, feed up, have another swim, a hot bath (if you were quick enough) and a good dinner. And every day we would fall into bed and sleep immediately - until next morning.
As Dad used to say when we whinged about working in such a manner for most of our Chirstmas holidays "people pay to do this" - and it is only now that I can really understand that they were the best holidays.
(Written for Scribbet's May Write-Away Contest) - Not sure if I made deadline but it was fun to write...