Host: Glenforrie Station
Written by Margareta Osborn
Most people I know, when given the gift of four months long service leave, would pack a caravan and tour around Australia or at least head to the glorious beaches of sunny Queensland.
Not this family. We chose to go work a mustering season on a half million acre cattle station in the remote Pilbara region of W.A.
Crazy? Perhaps. Life changing? Absolutely.
Normally we run a beef property in the rolling foothills of Victoria’s rugged high country. Both my husband and I work ‘off-farm’ to sustain our farming dreams and provide the rural life we want for our children. Whilst my partner works a rolling shift in the energy industry, my own off-farm employment is a little more unusual. Working with one of the biggest publishing companies in the world, I write Australian women’s fiction in the sub genre popularly called ‘rural lit’ or ‘chook lit’ if you want to get a little more bogan. Bella’s Run – a No. 1 bestseller – Hope’s Road (Better Reading’s Top 100 Homegrown Reads), Mountain Ash and Rose River are some of my works and all required lots of research. Usually it’s pretty good fun, yet other times it’s just plain hard work. I think our recent Pilbara experience seesawed, on an hourly basis between the two.
Being a fifth generation farmer who has lived and worked on the land all her life, it is never really possible for me to go ‘on holiday’ and my husband is much the same. So, when a good friend mentioned she needed help for a few months on her cattle station in the remote Pilbara doing mustering, bore running, truck driving, cooking and cattle yard work, hubbie and I looked at each other and said, ‘Why not?’
Cue deep breaths, some hurried organising and a lot of crossing of fingers. Thankfully, my husbands ‘other’ employers allowed him leave, our extended family were happy to look after our farm for a few months and all fell into place surprisingly quickly. We pulled our two younger children; a boy aged twelve and a girl of ten, out of school for the term and travelled 8000km across Australia (with a trailer loaded with two motorbikes, four swags and one kelpie dog) to experience a whole new way of life.
The wild west is probably the closest I can come to describing our initial two weeks on the station. Within forty-eight hours of traversing the 100km long driveway (three and half hours from the nearest settlement) we were heading even further east out into country, I suspect, very few white men have seen before. The twelve year old got to drive his own bull wagon more than 100 km out to the satellite camp which took a few hours. The ten year old, after spending hours in the cattle truck carting mickey bulls with her dad, scored a ride in the mustering helicopter. Within just a few days, the kids were already clocking up firsts.
They were long, hard days. We told time by the moon, rising when a Lister motor cranked to life at 4.30am. We went to sleep as that same motor shuddered to stop, long after the moon rose again. Meals were cooked over an open fire, beds – our swags – rolled out under a tarp. ‘Pick a tree,’ they said, ‘That’ll be home for a few days.’ We had two small bags of clothes, four water bottles, a roll of toilet paper and a bottle of hand disinfectant to make our personal little camp cosy. And a few days turned into a couple of weeks. It’s amazing how ‘your own tree’ quickly becomes home sweet home.
I think we spent those first few weeks in a daze, wondering if we’d ever get the hang of things. Despite running our own property we were ‘Southerners’ and thus needed to be educated as to the ‘Northern’ ways doing things. It was like running up Mt Kosciusko, a very steep slope. My friend Teesh, told us new chums like us usually ‘sink or swim.’ She reassured us, we were swimming beautifully. I didn’t dare tell her the other common saying running through our heads. ‘Fake it till you make it.’
The country we were working in hadn’t been mustered for a number of years. The cattle were wild, the landscape itself untouched and beautiful. There were so many moments amongst the rough and tumble of those weeks out east, I’d loved to have caught on life’s camera and rewound. My husband rolling his first bull, our son driving his first bull wagon, our daughter laughing uncontrollably as she slid from a four wheel drive looking like tree – leaves and sticks sprouting from her hair – after a wild ride through the scrub.
There were surreal moments too. Droving cattle whilst sitting beside a debonair Frenchman from Paris, a WOOFA on holiday, come to experience the ‘real’ Australian bush. He tried to resurrect my halting schoolgirl French with a new list of words each day. And a lay preacher, who somewhere hours further east of the satellite camp, whilst we were waiting for a replacement spare tyre for a truck, gave our family a beautiful blessing. I guess any help counts even if it is totally left of field while you’re waiting for spare parts.
Tune in tomorrow for part 2!