From Belgium to the bush
Tourists get a taste of country life
MONTO racecourse was host to a couple of unlikely guests for the 90th annual race day at the weekend.
Simon Houwen and Annelies Claeys hail from the small town of Roeselare, in northwest Belgium, a world away from the North Burnett.
Mr Houwen, 28, an engineer, and Ms Claeys, 29, a school teacher, are backpacking around Australia in an old Toyota Hiace Hi-Top, and recently landed jobs as farmhands on a cattle property outside Monto.
Only in town a few weeks, they had no idea what to expect.
It was the perfect bush initiation and, although slightly under-dressed, the two said they were having a ball soaking up the “special atmosphere” at their first country race meeting.
“It’s so Aussie,” Ms Claeys said.
“It feels very authentic, these are the country’s roots.
“Everyone here knows each other and it’s lovely to see they are passionate about their community.”
On their first trip to Australia, the couple said it was unlike anything they had experienced before.
“It’s an amazing country, we love it – the animals, the nature and the weather,” Mr Houwen said. “The people are very nice, and helpful.
“Monto is like a town out of a Western movie.”
The pair’s Aussie adventure has been a shock to the system in more ways than one.
Not least of which is getting accustomed to the 45-minute journey into town.
“For us in Belgium, if you say you ‘live in the middle of nowhere,’ you might have to drive 20 minutes to the closest city,” Ms Claeys said.
“Back home, 45 minutes in the car and you would be in a different country.”
The Australian government offers foreigners 12-month extensions to their Working Holiday Visa for completing 88 days of work in a regional area. Outback Queensland is a popular destination for backpackers seeking seasonal work.
While part-time farm labour doesn’t pay as well as their trained professions, the couple said it was all part of the “enriching” experience and allowed them to spend more time travelling.
CULTURE SHOCK: Belgian couple Simon Houwen and Annelies Claeys at the Monto races.