The early days

Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Owner, Dampier Downs Station.

Fifty years ago last month my parents were married in New Zealand, my mother’s home country. For my mother, this meant moving to the Australian outback, first to the family property near Kynuna, Queensland and then to a small, undeveloped station in Queensland’s gulf country.

While today we still think we are isolated, the truth is our lives are made immeasurably easier by the technology we now have – internet, satellite phones, and solar power. The following is a small snapshot of some of the trials and tribulations my mother faced as a true pioneer of the pastoral industry.

The early days

In 1965 my new husband and I were honeymooning in Queenstown, New Zealand when we got a telegram from Peter’s father that read “600 dead. Have agistment Mary K. Come home soonest. Love Dad” So began my life in the Australian Bush.

In 1969 whilst again in severe drought we took agistment in the lower Gulf, which we subsequently purchased. So we packed up our two small girls, necessary household goods, borrowed an old caravan from friends, an army tent for a shed and arrived to take up 250 square miles of unimproved land, save for three flowing bores, a semi-permanent water hole in the Norman River and most importantly . . . grass.

5.1Enjoying a cooling dip in the Norman River.

The first job was to fence in 80 square miles then build a livable shed, yards etc. When the big day arrived to put the roof on, I was making biscuits, scones etc for smoko. The gas oven was in the awning opposite the door, one batch cooling and another browning nicely, but when I tried to open the door I found a pony’s rump jammed fast against it. Flight was enjoying his smoko immensely until Peter arrived and saved the day [and smoko] with one good whack on said rump.

Flight, the scone scoffing pony, teaching my sister to ride.

Electricity was non-existent, so we made do with carbide lamps for two years until we finally got a 32 volt lighting plant!! The outpost radio was a lifeline to the world. A kerosene fridge that had impeccable timing and would smoke as soon as Peter disappeared down the track, sometimes for days (almost impossible for me to get that wick level). We had no phone, but the radio was great company and we followed the serials avidly, Dossier on Demetrius and Nightbeat, now long gone.

No television of course so our kids never missed it. Ponies took up most of the slack, and of course that wonderful gift . . . Imagination. Many times I found them all in the car ‘driving’, usually down to Grandma’s.

Once, after an actual visit, we arrived home to find a fire had burned down a fence and our horses were all in a 255 square mile area populated with brumbies. Peter rode for two days with a saddle bag filled with dried apricots, sleeping on his saddle cloth until he cut their tracks. He recognised old Blue Bob’s track, being a half draught bronco horse it was quite distinctive. Luckily they were still altogether in one mob and he was able to bring them all home.

5.3Mustering was always a family affair. Blue Bob is the beautiful white horse in the middle. His sheer size made it possible for my father to track him through the scrub and bring all the horses home. The little chestnut in front is Robin, hands-down one of the best ponies ever bred.

Roads were very sandy but with just the right amount of rain it was quite trafficable for the eight ton truck so we would cart like mad in this window of opportunity. If the road was too dry, it would dry bog, too wet it would sink to the axle. The night we first brought it home I was following in our 4WD along the windy narrow track. The truck looked a bit like a Christmas tree all lit up with lights, but with the bends one by one the lights went out due to the ti-trees and overhanging wattle. Peter was most surprised to find he had no side lights when he got home.

Neighbours were 20, 30, and 35 miles away, and we drove a 120 mile round trip to the nearest mail drop every fortnight to pick up mail, fresh supplies, and correspondence papers. Town was a four hour drive (and 17 gates) away. Very different to life in New Zealand.

5.4Without modern infrastructure it was far more difficult to get around. This is a photo of the only visitors my mother had in the four years she spent at Trenton (plus my Dad and two sisters)

At the end of 1973, now with three girls, we decided it was time to sell and move closer to schools where the girls could have a good education.

We were actually very sorry to leave our little station, but we came away with many happy memories and stories to tell of Life in the Bush. There is no life quite like it, is there?