Host: Yougawalla Station
Written by Jane Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Station.
‘This is the life’, I thought as I walked onto the tarmac at Broome airport heading to my ‘private’ plane with pilot and good friend Haydn Sale from Yougawalla Station. I was thrilled to discover I would be collected from Broome after initially thinking I might have to drive solo for seven hours. My response . . . “Haven’t you seen Wolf Creek!?”.
After excitedly jumping into the plane, I realised with some concern that it reminded me of my grandmother’s old 1965 Rover, chestnut dashboard, wood panelling down the side . . . and is that a choke?! . . . ‘OMG. I’ve got to get out of here!’
As the plane taxied for take-off, I shut my eyes, practiced Yoga breathing and held onto the seat for dear life. Then, all of a sudden we hit cruising altitude and I could start to un-lock my hands, look out the window and take in the beauty below.
The expanse of the Kimberley is mind blowing. It’s hard to get your head around a station that is as far as the eye can see in every direction. It’s beauty is awe-inspiring and magnificent. Yougawalla is lush and green after good rains; piled red rocks scatter the landscape with caves and crevices – the same as it would have been thousands of years ago. At sunset the sky is purple, pink, yellow, and orange while the land turns blue beneath it.
Two and a half hours later, we were greeted at the Yougawalla landing strip by one of my oldest, dearest friends, Jane Sale plus gorgeous children – Gus and Tilly. Jane and I met at about the same age Tilly is now.
After excited hugs and hellos, we jump into the 4WD and set off down a red dirt track to the house . . .
10 minutes later the homestead emerged tucked into the broad landscape and surrounded by several rocky outcrops. It consisted of a number of cubic timber modules, clustered together and linked with timber walkways and edged by a huge deck.
I am greeted by three dogs when we arrive – barking, licking and jumping with excitement at their new guest (or maybe it’s because the whole family are home again?).
‘I’ve never seen such friendly work dogs before!’. Jane and Haydn laugh. ‘They work at catching dragon flies around the pool.’ Unlike other farms I’ve been to, the dogs are the ‘lushes’ of the household. Due to the massive expanse of these stations, it’s the people on motorbikes, in cars, and helicopters that do the real work when it comes to mustering. That’s what you can’t get your head around. It’s no big deal to travel three plus hours before you start work for the day. Would you ever think of travelling from Perth to Dunsborough, and back in one day after working in 35 degree heat for eight hours? No, you’d be crazy! But here it’s just part of it. Jane shared with me that it took her over a year to come to terms with the scale . . . and still some days it surprises her.
Because I arrived on Easter Saturday, the staff had already started celebrating two days off after a hard week cleaning bores to ensure fresh, clean water for the cattle. The team are young and from all over the world – Canada, UK , Victoria, and Tasmania. The men, although young, are rugged and handsome with red dirt constantly covering their clothes and faces and the girls glow with tanned natural beauty after days spent outside. I loved that even after cleaning up before dinner, there was always remnants of red dirt in everyone’s nails. Mine included by the end of the trip.
Every meal is an occasion up at the house. Delicious roasts cooked by Jane for the staff every night, fresh from their land with vegetables flown in on the mail plane every Wednesday (How they coped without a mail plane delivery for the first 12-months after moving to Yougawalla, I will never know! Now, that’s planning). Over dinner we laugh, discuss what brought them to Yougawalla and all had an interesting and different story to tell. It’s clear that no matter what their background they all love it here and want to stay. They are passionate about the lifestyle and the quality of stock they are producing here.
It was invigorating waking up the next day with the morning light as my alarm clock. Tilly knocked on my door, like she could sense my eyes were open. I realised it was only 5.45am. Tilly and I agreed to make Jane a cup of tea in bed given it’s soooooooo early – there’s no way anyone would be awake. We snuck quietly to the kitchen . . . loe and behold the whole household is up and about. It’s action stations. Coffee is brewing. Lunch has been made and wrapped up for the team to get them through the big day ahead. I’m at least an hour behind everyone. Before I know it, they’re off to work – getting the truck ready to take to Bulka station.
As everyone leaves, a strange feeling falls upon me . . . was it guilt? How else could I feel as I stroll back to my room, put my bathers on for a morning by the pool? Quietly staring out onto the escarpment, down the hill I saw the fattest, shiniest, happiest cows I’ve ever seen, meandering to water holes with calves suckling their mothers that were just as big as they were. It’s clear they have a good life here. And it’s not just the lush environment that makes them so clearly happy and content. When you talk to Jane, Haydn or anyone who works on the station, the quality of life these cattle get is everyone’s top priority. Why wouldn’t it be – it’s their passion and their livelihood. It was only the previous week that Jane and Haydn had invested in a course for the Low Stress Stock-handling School for all their staff to ensure the best handling of their stock.
While at Yougawalla, I was lucky enough to experience a muster. Haydn and I took off at dawn and headed for Bulka station – 20mins by chopper. Bulka is very different to Yougawalla. It has natural springs and rivers everywhere so it is lush and green with much taller trees surrounding a more traditional farm house. As we land, there is a second pilot, Rex, who arrives and will assist in the muster of over 1000 cows spread across 150,000 acres. I am smiling from ear-to-ear as I meet him. “Hi, I’m Jane. It’s the first time I’ve been in a helicopter”.
“Me too” he said with a wry smile.
The skills of these pilots are incredible. The precision in which they fly these machines and move cattle with the help of bike riders and cars on the ground is awesome to watch. To me, they could have been stunt pilots in a Mission Impossible movie. After nearly seven hours, the cattle were finally in the yards ready for drafting the following day. I’d like to think I helped Hadyn somewhat by spotting a few strays hiding in the trees and scrub that day.
On my last day at the station, I watched as Jane, Haydn, and the team drafted the cattle. It requires a team of six people to split the cattle off into male, female, and strangers. What I imagined would be a relatively simple process, is quite the opposite. Concentration is high as they focus on getting all those cattle through the raceway as seamlessly as possible. It was here that I saw the work of LSS course at work.
After encouraging a group of cattle to move into one of the holding pens before entry into the raceway they settled down and stared at us. Well, all except for two ENORMOUS untagged bulls known as cleanskins, who tried to climb a fence! One of which needed Gazza to extract a hoof stuck in the railings . . . My heart-rate definitely jumped at the thought of a bull jumping into the pen I was in. And that’s exactly what I did – over the fence!
Being on the ground and being lucky enough to see the way a station functions, has opened my eyes to a lifestyle most of us take for granted. What I take with me as I leave Yougawalla, and my wonderful old and new friends, is an understanding and appreciation of where my food comes from and the back breaking work that is required to deliver it to my supermarket shelf. This is why I hope that everyone who has the opportunity to visit a station, or farm of any kind, takes that opportunity.
Enormous, heartfelt thanks to Jane, Haydn, Tilly, Gus, Eric, Robin, Angus, Lauren, Eve, Marty, Andrea, Tahlia, Gazza, and Yulia for my unforgettable adventure.