Home sweet swag

Host: Yarrie Station
Written by – Leanna Gubbels, Station Hand, Yarrie Station.

My name is Leanna Gubbels aka “Nebraska.” Little did I know what was in store for me when I stepped off the plane in Port Hedland after flying over twenty-four hours half way around the world from my little town of Laurel, Nebraska (U.S.) to spend my summer, or the Pilbara’s winter, at a cattle station near a town I had never heard of with people I had never met. But first I had to find my ride out there. Lucky for me, Panze Coppin could easily spot the lost blonde American through the crowd of people at the airport. Since most of the car ride back to the station was dark, I didn’t get much of a view other than the back of my eyelids (it had been a long day) so it was still pretty surreal about what I had just gotten myself into.

3.1Calcutta and I.

Two years ago, a friend of mine had done an internship through his Uni that landed him here at Yarrie Station. Always wanting to go to Australia myself, I asked him about it, and got in contact with the station manager Annabelle Coppin. Being a pre-veterinary student at my Uni, the same internship that my friend had gone through was not available, but if I could find a way out there, Annabelle said I would be welcomed at the station. Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip work for that summer (2013), but after finding out the offer still stood for the upcoming year, I started making plans to come out . . . including double shifts at the nursing home over Christmas break (what joy.)

Now, six months later, I was unpacking my gear (only half of which I used since I quickly found out my dressier clothes would rarely see daylight with all the work to be done) at the Yarrie Homestead. Getting up early for work was something I could deal with, but a lot of things I was told to do resulted in a deer-in-the-headlights look since we had different names for things (at the yards “taps” were our “hydrants” and you turn them on differently so I even struggled with turning on a hose at first.)

I am very thankful for how patient Annabelle and everyone else were with me even though I’m sure they were thinking I had never gotten my hands dirty or seen cattle before with some of the misunderstandings this “language barrier” had. I had in fact grown up on a farm with cattle (not near as many), goats, pigs, chickens (I later learned this is what “chucks” were), horses, and crops (corn, alfalfa or “lucerne,” soybeans, oats.) Not to mention, I regularly tried to get in on the wrong side of the ute and then had to re-learn how to drive a manual since we’re backwards in America and most of our vehicles are automatics.


3.3My “Cave” at Annabelle’s Camp.

After a few musters and a couple weeks at stock camp (we also don’t have swags or billy cans back in the States, but I soon learned to cherish both), I was finally coming around and getting in the way less. My favourite days are when we muster. The last one we had, I found myself crawling out of my swag at 4:30 AM to attempt to get myself ready in the dark (at least it wasn’t as windy as it was at earlier musters.) Since I’m not very coordinated in the morning, putting my boots on usually involves me falling into the trees near my camp a few time . . . a down fall of my otherwise perfect campsite. I then meander over to the horse floats to prepare feeds (soaked lupins, meal mix, and molasses) for our noble steeds that are lucky enough to tote us around for the day as we chase down cantankerous spey cows that decide to detour off through the kanji “forests” for their own enjoyment.

3.4Main Camp at Annabelle’s.

Once the horses are fed, I wander back down to the main camp for breaky and grab the rest of the gear I will need for the day. Once the sun starts coming up (usually around six), those of us that are riding that day head back up to the horses waiting in their pens to be saddled then loaded onto the horse truck. On this particular day, after dropping off Moya in her position on one creek, Panze and I began our drive to where we would be stationed for the day until . . . the crate of the horse truck decides to get wedged on a tree. After trying to back off the branch while avoiding the bank near the front of the truck we had to wind around in the first place, we had to call in the one and only Wizard to try to help.

Arriving in his “chariot” aka bullbuggy, he makes the call to saw the branch off, but since the chainsaw was back at camp, Panze and I unload the horses there and head off on a high-speed trail ride to the position we were meant to be in. The rest of the day went pretty smooth, and we soon had all the cattle headed back to the yards at Annabelle’s camp. The muster before I had torn my jeans open on a kanji tree, and just as we were nearing camp I was thinking I would make it through the muster without that happening again . . . and I was right . . . my shirt took the blow this time. Upon getting tangled up in a kanji tree and ripping my shirt, I had also managed to squeeze in too close to the cattle causing them to shoot off in front of me . . . and a good scolding over the radio from Panze.

3.5Alic’s co-pilot Huey.

I quickly tried to scramble out of the bush on my horse (Cinco for this muster,) while getting out of the way of Alic in his buggy as Annabelle and Sara brought around the helicopters to once again pop the cattle back in place for me to direct in towards the yards. Once the cattle were back in line to head to the yards, we were able to yard up without any more break aways. We then take the horses down to let the cattle out from the previous muster and then head up to the horse float to unsaddle and feed for the night (lupins, meal mix, molasses, and a side of chaff for dinner). Sara and I head back the yards to feed the little orphan calf “Curly Top” who we adopted from the last muster as well.

3.6Curly Top.

The night ends with everyone gathered around the campfire for a home-made/ home-grown meal and some good hearted banter before we each go off to our own camps, and I go back to my little “cave” for the night for a good night’s sleep for yard work the next day.

3.7The noble Cinco aka “Pocket Rocket” staring down some cattle at the river.

It has been an amazing experience being here in the Pilbara and mustering. I have met some of the most wonderful people and learned so much. I hope I am able to return to do it all over again (with less hiccups this time.) As I was dozing off in the back of the Troopy on the way to Yarrie when I first arrived at Port Hedland, I never thought I would be able to find a new family on the other side of the world so much like those at home, and definitely count meeting each of them a blessing.

3.8My new “bro” Sara and myself.