Contracting with kids

Host: NKL Contracting
Written by Kayde Jayne Lehman – Owner, NKL Contracting.

Stepping out of your swag beside a camp fire and breathing in the sweet smell of silence before sipping on a hot coffee and saddling up to spend the day on your horse doing what you love. Rewind – that was about four years ago before we had kids, we are waking up a little differently these days and let me tell you the sweet smell of silence has packed it’s bags and hit the road.

Walking cattle while contracting on Montejinni Station, eight months pregnant with Harley.

Smack bang in the middle of mustering season we welcomed our first little ball of energy, Harley. It was the year of 2013 and Katherine Hospital was a four hour drive from where we were running a mustering crew on Montejinni Station for Wild Contracting. The first few days of being new parents were surprisingly nothing like taking home a new puppy and as I sat on the end of my hospital bed placing an online food order to pick up before heading back to camp, I quickly realised that life goes on.

Harley, four months old nose-bagging the horses at camp on Delamere Station N.T.

A year had passed living in our gooseneck and we had managed to keep our child alive without a single parenting book. Life was good and an easy baby lulled us into a false sense of belief that having another one would be bliss . . . I found out I was pregnant again on Harley’s first birthday, and at the time we were running a camp for THB Contracting on Tipperary Station. We had sold our gooseneck and were living in a tent. Yep life was looking like I had always imagined and trying to hide a pregnancy while cooking for your crew was like trying to hide a bull in a china shop.

One year old Harley and I having breakfast around the fire at Tabletop Yards, Tipperary Station N.T.

Our camp/kitchen/shower at Tabletop Yards, Tipperary Station, N.T.

After feasting on prawns at Christmas on the floodplains of Litchfield Station, we packed up our F250 and headed south to Tamworth for a friend’s wedding. The car had been having some issues but the air con breaking down on the 3000km trip was the last straw and at 5am as we drove through drought stricken Longreach with the stench of dead kangaroos wafting through our open windows we decided we needed something more reliable. The Christmas holidays were over and as I held the steering wheel of our first brand new Landcruiser I breathed in that new car smell as we began our trip back to N.T.

March 2015 had us straight back into contracting with a crew of our own. We had bought all of the gear off THB and continued the contract mustering work at Tipperary but with baby number two due two weeks into starting, Harley and I were forced to wait it out closer to town while Nat and the crew got stuck into mustering.

It was four days before my due date and I hadn’t been able to reach Nat on the sat phone for two days, we had no one lined up to take Harley when I went into labour and our usual style of winging it was taking a toll on my emotional pregnant brain. After a short, crackly conversation with Nat that afternoon the phone cut out and there was silence. I had given him a mouthful for not having the sat phone on him so I was unsure whether it was a simple faulty connection or the more likely case that he may have hung up on me, either way he made a surprise visit to us that night at the Katherine Cattle Yards where we had been staying with friends. 

As I crawled around the ground like a mad old cow chasing Harley my waters broke. It stopped me in my tracks and as I sat very cross legged on the floor I wondered how I would get out of this situation without the room full of people knowing I had just wet my pants! After what felt like an eternity the workers had all dwindled away and I was able to signal Nat. We threw Harley into bed with our mate George and his girlfriend Alex on the way to the hospital and hoped for the best.

Four days after Jace was born we were in the car and headed back to our camp and crew at Tipperary . . . I will never forget that first week fumbling through mother hood again in the humid N.T wet season surrounded by long grass and sleeping in stretchers. The N.T wet season subsided but so did the work, and after a few weeks fencing we returned to the Pilbara for a couple of months to muster Milgun and Prairie Station, two properties that were run by one family with a nice line of quality red santas. The short stint in the Pilbara had us back in the tent as it wasn’t worth carting our gear over there for the few months but after finding a baby brown snake in the bed and having a six inch centipede crawl over Harley, this was going to be the last time.

Harley feeding himself and the dogs,  Newcastle Waters, N.T.

Harley having his daytime nap on the camp stretcher at Fosters Yard, Tipperary Station, N.T.  This was they first year we started contracting for ourselves.

Five day old Jace having a nap while we cut up meat at camp. Foster’s Yards, Tipperary Station N.T. 

The following year after an intense Katherine wet season we were back in the Pilbara, this time with all of our gear. We had picked up work from March until early December and as the boys grew older and were able to get more involved in the work, it had become obvious to me that this lifestyle we had created was the perfect start to life we had wanted for our kids. Good immune systems were built from high volumes of dirt eaten over the course of the years,  I had many a time caught them drinking out of the dogs water buckets, and with no TV to distract them, their explorations often had me searching for them the majority of the day and I am too embarrassed to admit the places I have found them . . .

 Our basic camp set up at Prairie Station, near Newman in the Pilbara W.A.

Keeping warm in the Pilbara while waiting for dinner to cook and the crew to arrive home. Noreena Downs Station, W.A.

The kids having a yarn with the chopper pilot and manager after yarding up a mob into panel yards, Noreena Downs Station, W.A.

Kids and contracting has, at times, driven us to exhaustion and my mental state was always questionable, but our contracting days has been and will be some of the best memories we could have created for our kids and if I had the choice, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.