Host: Eversleigh Station
Written by Jenny Underwood – Owner, Eversleigh Station.
“You’re mad! Why do you want to go to live and work way out there?” This was the reaction I received from friends when I announced that I was heading west to take up a teaching position at Cameron Downs, a one-teacher school on a cattle and sheep property, 65km south of Hughenden in north-western Qld. After 12 years of classroom teaching in a variety of schools I felt I was ready for a change.
Cameron Downs School when I arrived in 1993. The school was opened in 1967; this original school building was workers’ quarters which had been converted into a schoolroom and accommodation for the teacher. When I first arrived, I taught six pupils from three families and I had up to 16 pupils from pre-school to Year 7. Some of the children travelled up to 60km one-way to come to school.
Nowadays there is a modern air-conditioned schoolroom and a three-bedroom teacher’s residence (Coincidentally, my husband, Roger, did his primary schooling here too).
My family, however, weren’t at all surprised by my decision. I am a third-generation teacher and, although I wasn’t “from the land”, my family had always lived in rural areas. I grew up in the Lockyer Valley surrounded by farms with the one-teacher school being the focal point of the community. My father was the headmaster of the school as well as my teacher throughout my 7 years of primary education. I loved the country life and the simple upbringing and values that it brought with it.
I have never once regretted my decision to move west. City life had become too fast and impersonal for my liking; I much prefer the simple things in life and here was a golden opportunity for me to enjoy two of the things I loved teaching children and being a part of a close-knit community.
“You’ll probably land yourself a grazier and end up living out there forever!” I was told. That was the furthest thing from my mind when I arrived at Cameron Downs in 1993.
But in September 1997, I DID marry a grazier and my life headed in yet another direction. After six years at the little school I resigned from teaching in 1998 and became a “farmer’s wife”. No longer was I the teacher; I became the student and learned to look at life from a totally different “side of the fence”.
My “new” life now revolves around the myriad responsibilities of running a property. I have a good and patient teacher in my husband, Roger. He has taught me a love of the land and a respect for the livestock we raise. Each day presents a new experience, some of which can often be very challenging.
On our front verandah at Eversleigh. Roger with me and my constant companion, Dixie. Dixie is a border collie/kelpie cross and she would have been a great sheep dog except we sold our sheep not long after she came to live with us. Now she is a frustrated sheepdog who is loved by everyone who meets her.
I no longer work a five day week with circles on the calendar marking off the school holidays. Now two of the most important days are Tuesday and Friday – mail days. I have never been a keen shopper (much to my husband’s delight) so I rarely go to town, let alone “The Big Smoke”. Just about anything we need is brought out of Hughenden (100km to our north) by our obliging mailman or a neighbour. My main wardrobe is very basic, consisting mostly of workshirts, jeans, and a pair of workboots. I have a well-worn old paddock hat and a good hat for more “social” occasions.
Instead of meeting friends for coffee and a chat I love nothing more than going out into the paddock and having smoko with the cattle. Spending time and watching the cattle interact with their calves and each other brings me more pleasure than I ever thought possible. They are my “time out” – they are the best therapy I know of. We can learn so much from these gentle beasts. I am constantly amazed by them, particularly a young heifer when she gives birth to her first calf. Their innate mothering instinct is phenomenal.
I don’t have a hobby as such. I will never profess to being a gardener and I am definitely not creative when it comes to the finer arts. But I do see the beauty in nature and I spend endless hours appreciating it all through observation and the lens of my camera.
I think everyone who lives in the Bush has a story to tell. I find it easier to tell my story to family and friends through photographs. Nowadays there are endless opportunities to chronicle our daily lives with the range of media that we have readily available. It’s true when they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.