What am I missing?

Host: Kadiaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by James Christian

It’s a difficult thing explaining to people what it is that attracts me to the bush, and why I’ve been out here for the last couple of years. As identified in earlier articles for Central Station written by both me and others, the outback is a captivating place.

Wide open spaces, no prying eyes, and freedom from the shackles of the rat race culture are some of the elements that make desert dwelling the lifestyle of choice for station folk. That isn’t to say there aren’t restrictions placed on us – far from it! ‘Work, eat, sleep, repeat’ is a maxim that defines many a life out here – a reality which isn’t so very far removed from city life, yet different enough for comparisons to be made and contrasts to exist.

Friendly neighbour.

We all fall into the trap of considering ourselves to be busy, be it juggling work, commuting, going to the gym, catching up with friends, playing touch footy and tackling pub trivia; or checking the boundary fences, monitoring the poly pipelines, repairing the yards, servicing the vehicles and observing the herd’s progress, all while keeping an eye on the power generator and homestead water bore. In both scenarios we run the risk of alienating ourselves from friends and family while we balance our priorities, certain that if we drop one task in an attempted shortcut an avalanche of problems will bury us.

In one environment we have red dust, bogan flea and itchy grubs. Entertainment comes in the form of catching flies with fencing pliers and seeing who can hold onto the steel shafted sledge hammer that’s been left in the sun for the longest. A short commute involves bouncing down a corrugated road for an hour in a Toyota held together with Cobb & Co twitches and a ratchet strap, holding the headlight switch in just the right position to make it work, knowing that a wrong turn will result in five minutes of shame and a fine payable to the spit tin. In the other environment there are dog poos, bindies and cockroaches. Cinemas, live bands, and professional sport keep the masses amused. Commuting involves being squashed like a sardine onto a train that’s running late, the other sardines plugged into and captivated by their telephones, actively ignoring the others in their environment.

Full car park.

In the bush we haven’t the luxury of mobile telephone coverage or internet out in the paddock during the day with which to communicate. Consequently, when the bush mob get together at the next big social event, be it rodeo, show or Christmas party, it’s an absolute whirlwind of tall stories, exaggerated tips and tricks, and comparisons of who’s frightened the most backpackers. The Talk It Up Cup lives large in the outback!

Recently the ABC Board made the unfortunate decision to cease shortwave radio broadcasts, so now the 97% of the land mass of the Northern Territory outside the AM broadcast range, plus significant chunks of Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia have no means of receiving news, cricket commentary, even the odd song if they’re away from the house, which most of the pastoral workforce is between sun up and sun down. Our only media option has been withdrawn so as to finance digital radio stations for people who already have AM, FM, telephone, mobile telephone, TV and internet at their fingertips throughout the day and night. Remote communities, already marginalised, have been left further behind, to be forgotten about until the next mineral deposit is found, or a nuclear waste dump is required.

As the Chinese, Russians, North Koreans and Americans get more sabre-rattly in the trouser department and the rest of the world jumps at their shadows, out here in the bush, where the dingos steal babies, we just get on with keeping fences up, filling the water tanks, and keeping the livestock alive, ignorant of the nationalistic rhetoric except for the time between eating and sleeping. The pastoral workforce, a likeminded bunch of unoriginals and aboriginals, can and will keep on keeping on, forging ahead irrespective of the purposeful lack of direction in Canberra and the coastal fringe.

I’m grateful for my 27 years’ exposure to city life. I can still cut people off in traffic without even looking, I know how to beat the beer queue at the footy stadium, and I can jaywalk like the best of them. However as with Hans Christian Andersen’s story about the Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, I know where I’d rather be.

Call it “the beach” and they’ll follow you in for a swim!

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