Arriving at McAllister

The following is an excerpt from the book McAllister, written by Jenny Old.

We drove . . . and we drove . . . and we drove.

Darkness enveloped us. I had an eerie sense we were the only people on the planet. The light from the headlights bobbing in front only showed a thin panel of the outside world. There was not a sign of human habitation. We drove for hours without any evidence of a house. I had never experienced such isolation.

When we finally turned off the Beef Road onto the dirt road to McAllister, I felt relief. Nearly there. Only forty kilometres to go. Easy . . .

The first stage of dirt road was well graded, but Rick was on night watch for cattle, pigs, or kangaroos which were appearing often. I did not detect them until it was too late, but Rick was able to pick out the movement or the flash of an eye caught in the headlights.

Then, the first gate, or wire contraption. I confidently climbed out to open it, but had to give up, it was female proof. I was pleased to return to the secure capsule of the Toyota. Apart from the throb of the vehicle, the night sounds were making me nervous. The hoot of an owl, the chillling call of the curlew and the incessant rustlings of other mysterious inhabitants in the bush.

“This is our boundary,” announced Rick, breaking the silence.

“Whoopee, nearly there,” I shouted happily from the final gate, which I did manage to open.

The road turned into a goat track, rocks, washouts, sometimes no sign of a road at all. Rick put the Toyota into four wheel drive on several occasions. At one stage I thought we were on top of a cliff (which we were!). I held my breath as we slipped and slid down the edge. Things were tense.

At last we arrived at The Shed.

“Is that it?”  I asked incredulously.

“Yup, that’s home”.

I looked at the flimsy looking structure by the light of the headlights. In the Riverina, a shed is a substantial building with four walls and usually large sliding doors to allow weather proofing and security. Not this little job. It had wings on one side propped up, and gauze around a corner for the living area. Very small.

It was pitch dark as Rick drove over to the generator to give us some light. I stood in the doorway of the shed waiting for his return. The generator was not co-operating so Rick gave up.

By the light of the headlights he found a gas light and some candles. I was exhausted. I would investigate my new home in the morning. The three bunks in a row along one of the gauzed walls looked tempting.

“Which bunk can I have?”  I asked.

“That one on the end.”

I collapsed onto it and was asleep in minutes.

At twenty-two, Jenny fell in love with Rick Old and went to live and work with him on his property, McAllister, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. There, she faced incredible hardship, living in a hut with not even basic necessities. Her only contact with the outside world was a two-way radio.

In this vast empty landscape, she battled drought, flood, fire, and cyclones. For eighteen years she and Rick struggled to stay on in the Gulf, eventually triumphantly turning McAllister into a thriving oasis.

This extraordinary story of one indomitable Australian woman is told in her own words with skill and humour. A story of the bush people and their generosity, filled with wonderful characters. Most of all, the story of one woman’s love for her man and the adventure it took her on.

McAllister, the story of Jenny Old’s amazing life in the outback, will captivate and enthrall.

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