A Kiwi on an Aussie Outback Adventure

Host: Abingdon Downs Station
Written by Mairi Whittle, Stationhand.

We have employed a number of Kiwi’s over the years and they have been fantastic and often have returned. This is our latest kiwi sheila’s experience on Aussie outback at Abingdon.

I was lucky enough to get a job as a jillaroo on Abingdon Downs Station. I had no idea what to expect, had barely ridden a horse but was hugely excited about fulfilling a bucket list experience of being a real cowgirl!

There was a lot of time to get nervous on the looooong, straight, dusty road in, 6 hours inland from Cairns to Georgetown before an hour and half long drive way! It didn’t take me long to realise that what I used to think was a long drive was most certainly not and driving 10 hours one way to a rodeo was the norm.

First day mustering. This was moments before the cattle bolted and I very quickly learnt to hold on!

I had arrived in the time for the mustering season so I was assigned 2 ‘quiet’ horses and chucked in the deep end! Mustering days were always exciting and unpredictable. To think they used to do it all on horseback with no radios or helicopters blows my mind! Those of us on horses for the day would saddle up and load the horses on the ‘Blitz’ (the prehistoric truck), we would be driven out to where we were mustering and there we waited for the helicopter to grid the area and bring the cattle towards us. The wait time varied from 5 minutes to 5 hours, it was amazing what we would come up with to pass time – cards, I spy, penknife, cricket, roping, or sometimes a quick snooze. The horses held the cattle as they started to come together while the motorbikes would help the helicopter bring more cattle in. When we had the mob together, which could be as big as 3,000, we would walk them anywhere up to 20km back to yards. It was always a huge relief to have the mob yarded up where they would spend the night. Cracking a cold beer was a real treat after a long hot day in the saddle! The following day would be spent processing the cattle through the yards,  and a cold beer tasted just as good after a hot, dusty day in the yards!

Me and the horses loaded up and ready to head out for a days mustering.

The governess would come out in the poddy wagon with the kids, pictured here most probably laughing at us trying to contain the cattle!

Giving the horses and cows a drink on the long walk home.

It was a common and normally humorous (provided no serious injuries) occurrence when someone was charged or ‘rolled’ by an aggravated cow or weaner.  I never got rolled, thank goodness, but did manage to provide good lunch time entertainment one day out mustering. I was riding one of my ‘quiet’ horses, Charlie. We would make our lunch (corn beef sandwiches) in the morning, wrap them in newspaper to keep them ‘fresh’ and put them in our saddle bag. This particular lunch time we had all stopped and were holding the mob while we ate our lunch. I got my sandwich out and started eating it when Charlie decided he was off. He bolted on me and I remember holding on to my sandwich and trying to pull a rein round to stop him. He wasn’t stopping. Someone on the radio said ‘drop your sandwich’ as they knew it was the newspaper that was scaring him. So I did and when that newspaper hit the ground he stopped dead in his tracks and threw his rear end up sending me straight over top of him. A few motorbikes came rushing over to see if I was OK and as soon as it was clear and I was ok the laughter and jokes began. From that day on I always got off my horse to eat lunch! The rest of the afternoon mustering was pretty tender and I came away with a swollen ankle and couple of bruises but a good yarn to share round the campfire that night.

Corn beef sandwich wrapped in seemingly dangerous newspaper and the resulting kankle!

Stock camps were an absolute highlight. The packing was a day in itself – horses, saddles, quad bikes, animal food, human food, petrol, generators, clothes, insect repellent, beers, swags, mozzie nets, all loaded up and out to camp we would go (there was always something that was forgotten to be packed!). Camp consisted of 3 corrugated iron sheds, one for sleeping in, one was the kitchen and the third was a laundry, showers and toilets. Camp life was awesome, each day started with everyone crawling out of their swags and heading to the campfire, which was lit to boil the water in the billy’s and make a nice strong coffee. Each day is commenced with everyone sitting round that same campfire drinking tea or coffee and with the day ending in drinking a cold beer and debriefing the days work. I loved sleeping in (or on top of it since it was so hot!) a swag under the stars without a worry in the world, falling asleep to the sounds of the outback wildlife.

Camp life. Coffee and silence in the morning. Beer and laughter in the evenings.

Working the weaners in the camp yards for a day before their big walkback to the main homestead.

When we weren’t working we always found something to do, catching yabbies, pigging, fishing, swimming in the river, playing with the station kids, drinking beers, BBQ’s which often resulted in the guitar coming out and impromptu karaoke nights. On our days off we would sometimes head ‘out’ to civilisation, salivating the first hour and a half until we made it to the Georgetown Roadhouse for a chicken and mayo toastie and a coffee with real milk.

Cooling off after work with the crew, kids and crocs…!

The things we didn’t do also made it very easy to be content living in the outback. We didn’t have social media to judge our lives against others, we didn’t have the news to tell us of irrelevant things happening in the world, we didn’t have mirrors to worry about what we looked like, we didn’t have to think about what clothes to wear – jeans, shirt and a hat. Oh and undies for the girls but apparently not the boys!

Creepy crawlies! Snakes, goannas, cane today, f**kin flies and spiders.

It took me awhile to adapt back to life in NZ, getting strange looks when I would say “Hooley Dooley”, eating any other kind of meat other than beef, wearing skinny jeans, not having to be on alert for snakes and spiders, driving on windy roads, not needing (noisy) air con to function, listening to people complain about a 30 degree day being unbearable, not having to put on a hat and sunglasses to leave the shade and most of all not being around the people that had become like family over the long days spent working and living together.

I can never help from smiling broadly when I hear a Zac Brown Band or Slim Dusty song as I think fondly of the amazing memories, the special people and remember just how lucky I was to be a real life cowgirl on one of Australia’s great outback station!

On that same long, straight, dusty road out after an adventure of a lifetime. Thanks Abingdon!