Written by Steph Coombes – Central Station editor
I’m known to my friends for my shocking lack of direction. And, in my old age I’ve come to learn to laugh at myself and the silly things I’ve done, rather than shrink away in embarrassment as I used to do. So, I’ve decided to share a few stories to demonstrate why you should never utter the words “just follow your nose” to me. Please note, I’ve taken a few creative liberties with this story.
I like to think that there are two types of people in this world- ‘book smart’ people and ‘life smart’ people.
Book smart people are those kids who did really well in class at school, the smarty pants. The life smart people were just… well… ‘life smart’. They could build things, fix cars and most importantly they had a strong sense of direction.
Now I’m not saying I’m a little miss smarty pants but I can admit that I am definitely NOT life smart and my sense of direction makes the cast of Gilligan’s Island look like geniuses.
I mean… I’ve driven across Australia how many times now? East to West to East to North to South, from city to station and back to the city again. I never got lost once.
Then I got lost THREE TIMES within the space of the first round of muster.
As if the boss didn’t already think I was a certified city girl, now I am considered an actual liability.
The first time was an honest mistake – scouts honour. The contract chopper pilots headed out around 6am to do the first homestead muster, with the rest of the crew heading out in buggies and on bikes once we got those magic words over the two way radio “Yeah boys, we’ve got the first mob ready to go.”
My first muster for the season! I was giddy with glee. This was it, Claire McLeod eat your heart out, I was the cowgirl now!
Apparently the boss didn’t think so.
“You just stay back here and clean up the camp will yer? Make sure the fire ‘as been put out, the meats back in the fridge and the plates ‘ave been washed. Then head out along the western track and meet up with us. Turn left at the 2 Mile bore and then turn right onto a road ‘bout 10km down the track.”
“2 Mile… yep…” I nod weakly in agreement as I start internally reciting a speech about gender equality and the role of a woman on a station. This is not how my first muster was supposed to go.
“2 Mile – the first tank yer hit on the road. The road is the one at the front gate… then it’s a black tank, solar panel with a broken windmill” The Boss stares me down like ‘got it Blondie?’
“Yep – got it” I nod more confidently this time, my rage subsiding. Maybe I was taking this all the wrong way. Maybe this was the boss’ way of showing me that he thought I ready to drive the station roads without supervision. Maybe I was getting my ‘station licence’!
Or maybe not.
I clean the stock camp in about 5 minutes, with the quality of my work ensuring the boss will either never ask me to do this task again or put me on permanent ‘stock camp bitch’ duty before jumping into my buggy and setting off.
I can feel the grin on my face growing as the wind rushes through my hair. The 2-way crackles to life – it’s the chopper pilots. The others are too far away for me to hear, but the choppers have special radios that reach me on the ground. This is it!
I turn left at the black tank with the broken windmill and the solar panels and do a little fist pump in the privacy of my buggy. Ok – it was a big fist pump and an even bigger squeal.
So far so good.
The speedometer in my car doesn’t work, along with the windows, the radio, the heating and the aircon. I start guestimating how far I’ve gone…. I should hit this road any minute right?
“Aha!” I call out to no one – there it is! I see tracks veering off to the right so I too veer off, excited to see how many cattle the crew has by now. As I get further and further down the track, I realise the tracks have stopped. Completely stopped.
I go back to retrace my tracks. Now I can’t tell which tracks are mine and which ones I were following. Nothing.
I pick up the two way and take a deep breath. “Has anyone got a copy?” I call to the crew “Umm… I can’t seem to find you guys”.
“Hello? Has ANYONE got a copy” I try to keep the panic out of my voice.
“Is that you Steph? Where are you now?” one of the pilots crackles over the 2 way.
Well if I knew I wouldn’t be calling you would I? I think to myself, instead calling back “I’m about a kilometre in from that right hand turn I was supposed to take” realising at the moment that it was the super hot single pilot who has answered my call. Oh god.
“I’m not too far from there, I’ll come get ya” he calls back.
Ohhh… night in shining armour perhaps? I wonder if he’ll have to land to check that I’m alright or maybe I’m just pushing my luck?
I pull up and idle in my buggy. 5 minutes go past… then 10. How slow are these helicopters anyway?
“Steph – I’m at the turnoff and I cant see you?” the radio crackles to life again.
“Hang on!” I offer trying to be helpful (and maybe redeem myself just a little bit) “I’ll just zip back to the main road”.
Zip back? Really?
I hit the main track and call “I’m here!”
“Ahhhhhh…. no your not” he replies.
Whaaaaat? This. can. not. be. happening.
“How about you do a few burnouts and raise some dust so I can see you?” he suggests.
At this point my dignity is already in tatters – there is no way that I am revealing that I have no idea how to do burnouts. I mean, what kind of bogan did he think I was?
I start racing up and down the main road slamming on the brakes at random and pulling the wheel hard left and right spinning the buggy around, creating more whiplash than dust.
“No I still cant see you, let me fly around a bit”
Ten minutes later I hear “Yep got you now, hey boys she’s about 15km before the turn off”
15 kilometers? What the hell? I guess its called guestimation for a reason.
Turns out the “track” I followed was indeed one set of tyre tracks from when Mick had gone to take a crap earlier. So glad I didn’t find it. By the time I found the rest of the mob I’d eaten my morning smoko, fruit and lunch and it was only 10am. Worst part is… this would be the first time the chopper had to rescue me that day.
Yes I got lost twice in one day, but I can only reveal so much humiliation at a time.