Baking on the Barkly

Host: Helen Springs Station
Written by Bron Cooke and Justine Reynolds – Station Cooks, Helen Springs and Brunchilly Station.

Bron Cooke

My name is Bron Cooke and I have been the station cook at Helen Springs since September 2014. This is my second time round working on stations and second time on the Barkly Downs. For the past six years I have been living in Kununurra in the East Kimberley, and every year since I left working in the industry, I’ve said ‘I think I’ve gotta go back – just to get it out of my system’. So here I am again.

In my previous life, things were a bit different. I am a born and bred city girl, hairdresser by trade, and I would never have left the house without my hair, makeup, and nails done and I would never ever have drunk a beer. And could I cook? Nope! Everything went in the oven, got cranked on high and came out crispy and black. Anyway so my sister and I decided to go on an around Australia trip. Six weeks they said . . . she’ll never last out there without her hair dryer and nail polish roughing it in the bush! So 13 years later – here I am, cutting up meat,, cooking for anywhere up to 25, and baking my little heart away successfully without everything turning into little black crispy numbers!

I learnt this phrase a while back from one of my old bosses which I think sums up the biggest key to being a good cook – ‘Prior preparation prevents piss poor performance’. Being super organised in the kitchen makes my life so much easier. I have always got a freezer full of smoko’s and menu planning keeps my week organised and cuts down on food waste. I will admit that I do have a bit of an OCD with my meat freezer. Everything has to be packed flat, packed neat, double bagged, and labelled. And if you don’t put it in it’s correct, labelled spot, I am going to get very upset! Anyway, being super organised also gives me the chance to get out and about a bit, go for a ride, do the town run, hang out in the world’s best veggie garden, or get out taking photos for my small photography business ‘Mustering the Kimberley’.

Some days (actually – probably most days) I really wonder why this job is titled ‘Station cook’. Why not ‘Station dish washer upperer extraordinaire ’ . . . because I swear that the majority of the job is washing the bloody dishes. It’s like I just finish the washing up, turn around for two seconds and the sink is full again! (and you wonder why the cook gets cranky when you leave a teaspoon in the sink!) It’s never ending! Anyway – I learnt pretty quickly when I started out to just start with the bigger mixing bowl coz you know what – you’re gonna need it!

I guess one of the most challenging parts of the job is trying to keep a good variety of meals coming – which can be tricky when you have got beef, beef, beef, and a bit more beef to work with. Though thanks to technology I am lucky enough to have Wi-Fi in my kitchen so when I am lacking a bit of motivation – I just google it. It’s lucky that everyone is more than happy to be a guinea pig and will soon let you know if they like it or not.

Over the years I have done most aspects of station work. My very first job on a station was a couple of months of painting houses, I’ve also been the gardener, domestic, camp cook, admin, and spent a fair bit of time working in the stock camps. Although the days are long, being the first one up and last to bed – I am pretty happy in my kitchen with my coffee, cook books, and music cranked up. I am really enjoying being back in the industry and back in the kitchen.

 Justine Reynolds

Hello, my name is Justine. Here I am at the ripe old age of 49 going full circle and following my heart to end up as a station cook in the NT at Brunchilly Station.

20 years ago I set off on a journey to the top end with my partner and two kids. I think once this red dirt gets into your veins you are destined to return. I have always been a hairdresser and a mum, but my kids have long since left home and unfortunately my partner of 30 years passed away several years ago, so for the first time in a long time I was my own person.

My desire to be in the top end was taking over me so I jumped on the computer to see what was out there. I’ve always been pretty capable [we had 50 acres] driving tractors, mowing the house paddock, fencing etc, but with age against me knew that the stock camp might be too much so I thought being a cook might just work. Wow how wonderful and fulfilling this job is! I’m learning new skills such as butchering, and I still get to jump on the mower which breaks it up. The satisfaction of knowing that my little contribution helps is a great feeling.

Having a healthy home cooked meal at the end of the day and yummy smokos, and of course a good hearty breakfast, well the smiles and thanks from all the staff mean the world, and of course I am always here if they need to off load their troubles. I absolutely love this place and this job.

6.1Bron and Justine having a laugh!!Bron and Justine having a laugh!! 

6.2Bron doing the neverending washing up..Bron doing the neverending washing up . . .

6.3Justine cooking in Brunchilly kitchenJustine cooking in the Brunchilly kitchen.

6.4Helen Springs Kitchen dining areaHelen Springs Kitchen dining area.

6.5helen Springs StoreHelen Springs Store.

6.6Photo taken by Bron titled After the musterPhoto taken by Bron titled ‘After the muster’.