Drop-loos and Donkeys

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

I woke very early to the familiar sound of galahs and magpies. I rolled over and peered through the gauze wall of the shed. I was entranced by an incredible vista of rolling brown plains with waving grass. The soft pink of Flinders grass and lovely blue ironstone ridges in the background.

I gazed at the unfamiliar landscape, feeling the isolation. No sign of human habitation. We seemed to be encapsulated in a tiny bubble, in a shed, on a stony ridge in the middle of nowhere. I almost expected to see a smoke signal in the distance, connecting us to the outside world. There were certainly no telephones ringing.

The “Ridge”, as we affectionately called where the shed was built, was to become my home and offer so many happy times, but also many challenges.

I looked around. It was very much a bachelor pad. The living quarters were a corner of the machinery shed which had been gauzed. Large corrugated iron walls swung up to create an overhang, allowing the breeze, or as I would discover, gale force winds and dust, to flow through freely. Along one wall there were the three bunks in a row, a wall of wardrobes for clothes, a kitchen bench and an old, very small kerosene fridge. This was going to be interesting.

The panorama was a much better option in that moment. Enjoying the beautiful and breathtaking view I fell in love with this wonderful country. I could hear Rick chopping wood and whistling. He was pleased to be home.

“Good morning,” he called brightly,  “Did you sleep well?”

“I sure did, Rick, where is the kitchen?” I asked tentatively.

He pointed proudly outside to a half forty four gallon drum, sitting on three legs with a pile of firewood and an axe sitting alongside.

“THAT?”  I gasped in disbelief.

“Yep, it works really well, with a splash of diesel to get it going, the gas is on!”

I was nonplussed.

“So . . . where is the bathroom?”

“The drop-through is over there,” pointing one hundred yards from the shed.

My first adventure for the day was a visit to the loo! Paul and Rick had built a drop through loo, a deep hole in the ground with a tin for the loo, and toilet seat on top. This convenience was far from convenient. I made my way hurriedly for the inaugural visit.

“Just look out for redbacks on the seat, and snakes,” Rick called. I paused in my tracks but nature called and I had to continue, albeit warily.

I took a deep breath. “Jen, you camped in Morocco with conditions more primitive and dangerous than this . . . you can do this . . . you can do this . . .” In truth, Morocco was looking luxurious.

On further investigation I discovered the only refrigeration was the small, temperamental kerosene fridge. When it became impossible to light it to get it going, Rick would load it onto the back of the Toyota and take it for a rough ride, then it would go like a top, until the next time . . .

The shower was a shower rose hanging in a tree outside the shed with a bucket of water above.

“Do I have to shower there with no privacy?” I asked Rick.

“Just tell us when you are having a shower and we won’t look,” he replied. The “we” included Paul, another shareholder who lived in the shed with Rick. He was due to return in the following days.

I was to discover our hot water came from a “donkey”, in Queensland terminology. This consisted of a fire lit under a drum of water, giving us hot water quite quickly. I would find I longed for a good hot shower at the end of the day to wash off the grime and dust and to ease some aching muscles.

Oh dear, this was going to be very different from my easy life with conveniences at my home in Deniliquin. Think Morocco Jen, think Morocco . . .

 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.

To find stockists, and where to purchase the book online, visit http://www.jennyold.com/