I still call Australia home

Written by Steph Coombes, Central Station editor

In December 2017, I moved home to Australia after three seemingly-long years in the United States. I say “seemingly” because at the time it felt like forever, but now it often feels like nothing more than a distant memory, a dream that I woke from far too early.

By the time I moved home I felt well and truly torn between two countries. I loved the States, and it was home to me, but it also wasn’t. Australia has always been home, but at the same time I didn’t feel that the right opportunities were here for me. I felt like I belonged in no-man’s land – neither here nor there. Truth be told, I still feel that way sometimes.

After two years in Graduate School and a year working, it was time to come home.

And whilst that side of things has been as much fun as going to the dentist, I have to admit it’s been bloody good to be back in my “first home”. It’s been almost 9 months now and I’m surprised I don’t actually have a permanent food baby after trying my hardest to make up for 3 years without meat pies, lamingtons, Cadbury, and all the other foods I love. I’ve basically been bankrolling the entire bakery industry.

One example of the things I would make Aussies coming to America bring me … Turkish Delight, Liquorice Allsorts, Gravox … horse licorice (it was for my horses, not me!)

At first, being home felt surreal. It was as if nothing had changed. A few new shops here, those roadworks over there were finally completed, but for the most part it was the same old same old. After being landlocked for the entire time I was away, I made sure to take full advantage of living by the coast. Never one to stay still for long, I went on a little road trip down south for some photography sessions in January, and again in February to help out Tom and Annabel Curtain with their Katherine Outback Experience roadshow. It was so lovely to drive through farmland on single lane roads lined by gumtrees and gravel, and pass through small towns each with their own unique character. I spent a lot of time driving through rural America, and it’s definitely not the same. There are parts which are lovely and it absolutely depends where you are, but because the population is so much greater over there, it’s more common to pass through larger towns with fast food outlets and gas stations that are a part of a chain. It all becomes a bit generic after awhile. You have to go way out in the sticks to find those towns full of character.

This beach in Walpole, WA, is my favourite in the entire world.

I arrived home in early December 2017. By the time I headed to Newman in early Feb 2018, this is where I had been.

The whole time I had been in Perth I had been itching to get back up north. Like I said before, I didn’t think there was much in Australia for me, but I knew that if there was anything it sure as heck wasn’t going to be down south (asides from my horses Bandit and Jasper … and my family if you’re reading this!) All I wanted to do was get back to the Territory – the place that felt the most like home. However, as life would have it, I ended up in the Pilbara working for a heli-mustering company.

Just another day in the office.

I bloody loved being in the Pilbara, and truth be told I miss it a lot more than I’d like to admit. As much as I love Australia as a whole, there’s just something about being up north that feels twice as Australian. Maybe it’s because we lived in work shirts, rugby shorts and pluggers. Maybe it was the Ford Falcon ute I had to drive for work. Maybe it was the red dirt and open skies of the Pilbara, or all the FIFO workers and roadtrains hauling massive pieces of mining equipment that took up both lanes on the highway. Really it was just all the things I’d not seen once in America. The things you could only find in this country. The things that felt like home.

What was supposed to be a one month job as an extra set of hands during a busy time, turned into 3 months by the time I finally made the call to pack my bags and keep heading north. With no job lined up, I thought I’d go on a road trip to visit different stations who had written for this website. Once again life had other plans, and my friend Jane (who created this website) called me on my last day of work asking if I would come and lend a hand in the office for a few weeks. So off I wandered up the road (ok, 1600km) to Yougawalla Station in the east Kimberley.

After taking every chance I could in the States to tell people about northern Australia and cattle stations and how different and incredible our life up here was, I felt like a kid at Christmas to be going to live on a station again. The most remote I lived in America was on a 560,000 acre ranch in Wyoming, but even then it was only about 45 minutes to the local “town” that had a pub, gas station, and not much else. Casper, the nearest “real town” was only about an hour and a half away. On the other hand, Yougawalla is about 3 hours off the bitumen, all up 4 hours from the nearest town – and I can tell you now, Fitzroy Crossing and Casper are two very different towns!

Being at Yougawalla felt so familiar even though I’d only ever spent a night there previously, I’m not sure how else to describe it. It was the little things like seeing the kids do their school of the air lessons, or the weekly 20km drive to the airstrip to collect the mail and fruit & veg order, that I just really appreciated. The things that were so uniquely Australian. I wasn’t as appreciative of the 13 gates between the Yougawalla and Bulka homesteads, but hey, you can’t have everything can you? On Mother’s Day we headed off for lunch at Margaret River Station (a part of Yougawalla Pastoral Co) – but instead of climbing in a car, we climbed in a chopper. Haydo (Jane’s husband) used his chopper most days, and the heli-pad sits right in front of the house (no really, it’s about 10m from the deck). It was fairly common for me to be working in the office, and then see Haydo land the chopper and a few minutes later he’d be sitting at the next desk on his computer. Normal for people up north, not so much anywhere else.

The mail plane which also delivered the weekly fresh groceries – normal to us, but some people I told just couldn’t get their heads around it.

A regular view from the office window. I love how unimpressed Anzac looks in this photo. It’s as if he is cursing Haydo for not taking him for a fly.

In July I headed back west to Broome where I hope I’ll be based for the indefinite future. I’ve got a job working in beef cattle research and extension, and while I’m technically a “townie”, my job allows me to spend a decent amount on time on stations. Since being in the Kimberley, I’ve been able to do a lot of the things I missed while I was away. It’s been great to be able to attend all the social events and catch up with people I hadn’t seen in forever, although many of them are now sporting wedding rings and pushing prams. What I have enjoyed the most though, is being able to do things that you can really only do here. My drive to the Marble Bar races was about 600km, with only one roadhouse along the way. At 7am that morning, I came across a camel just chilling out in the middle of the road. It’s a world away from a 600km drive in the states, which would see me pass a gas station and fast food outlet at least every 20km on the interstate, and every at least every 100km if you were out in the boonies. It’s the “only in Australia” moments that make me appreciate being back, like the 900km round trip I took last weekend to visit my friend on their station. Even if said friend takes you out for a horse ride to their billabong, and then proceeds to point out all the freshwater crocodiles, and then tells you that there’s supposed to be a saltie living in there somewhere too …!

The road to the Marble Bar races.

After having lived overseas and outside of WA for almost the entire time this website has been running, I’ve been so happy to finally be able to meet the people who write these amazing stories for us in person. Barb from Kalyeeda and I have been “Facebook friends” for a few years now, and this year we finally got to be “real life friends”!

Before I moved to Yougawalla, over the 5 years Jane and I had been working together on this website, we’d only met in person 5 times! Needless to say that we were able to make up for lost time while living on the same station!

While I’ve been having a great time being home this year, I still think about America a lot. Hell, I’ve lost count of the number of times this that I’ve climbed into the passenger seat of my car before realising that the steering wheel is on the other side! Unfortunately, visas are as rare as hen’s teeth. I think America will always have a very special place in my heart, and I’ll probably go back for a lengthy visit at least once a year. It really is my second home, and where some of the most important people in my life are. But I can’t deny that not only do I currently live in the greatest country in the world, but I live in the most spectacular part of that country. And on top of that, I have a good group of friends who I want to spend my time with. What more could I really ask for? … except a US visa 😉

I have no doubt that I’ll live overseas again in this lifetime, whether it’s another 3 years or even just 3 months, but no matter where I go in the world, I’ll always call Australia home.

It’s nice to not be the odd one out anymore after being what felt like the only person in the entire country to wear workshirts and bandanas. America really needs to get onto the workshirt bandwagon!

An Aussie sunset, no filter needed!

Enjoying Canadian whiskey in a Texas glass on a warm Pilbara evening.