Man Up

Host: White Kangaroo Station
Written by Sarah Streeter – Manager, White Kangaroo Station.

I prefer not to define myself by being a single parent. There are countless women raising their child/children on their own, whether it is due to the ending of a relationship, their partner spending weeks or even months away working, or a plethora of other circumstances. I’m no different. We are the good and bad parent. For most of the time we are the sole provider of love, comfort, sustenance, discipline, and learning for our children. Although, for this time at least, I do find myself defined by the experience of raising a child on my own whilst running a cattle property.

The acres here do not span the magnitude of millions of the properties I have had the fortune of experiencing in the Northern Territory, and I am grateful that a trip to town is less than an hour’s drive. As well as one small child, I am the guardian of close to 1000 cows, a mustering plant of horses, three kelpie working dogs, 13 chooks, one cat, and a milking cow. Those numbers have experienced natural fluctuations, sometimes with a brief tear shed. Regardless of whether I’ve been up four times in the night feeding a baby, comforting him when he is teething, or just survived a bout of household gastro, each and every one of these souls requires me to get out of bed in the morning and have them at the forefront of my thoughts for the day.

I’ve had to be creative to fit in what needs to be done around the limitations at each stage of my child’s infancy and early years. A portacot at the yards filled with toys while loading cattle trucks and a spare infant seat for going in the front of a work ute have been tools of the trade. And only on one desperate occasion has a portable DVD player come with us to buy me some time while setting up a pump on a dam, when I knew that I was pushing the boundaries with what we had already fit in the day. With some pride I can say that I can count the number of times on one hand that we’ve only had toast for tea. When things go wrong, there is no one on the end of a UHF radio to answer my calls. This too is at the forefront of my thoughts. It has required me to think on my feet, think ahead, think creatively, and think of the consequences for every action that I take. And it has made me think more of myself as a woman.

1.1 copyMy little cowboy has well and truly graduated from the portacot for the early mornings loading trucks.

 1.2 copyA well packed smoko bag, jeans, boots, and hat are all a must as we set out on a water run.

So on 14 000 acres and not a man in sight, I’ve had to “man up”.

Times have called for more strength, resilience, and pure grit than I thought possible of myself. Like finding a 200kg calf stuck in a water trough at the back of the property, jammed in under the rails that were intended for stopping such situations from happening. Unable to get traction with its feet on the bottom of a slippery trough, it had obviously been there for a couple of days or so. He was weak from the struggle, but still had enough fire in his belly to make the situation physically more difficult than it already was. It was a situation that I thought was beyond me, but really, what other option was there? So an hour or so of cutting away posts, trying to provide some strength to the calf by pulling, pushing and lifting, filling the bottom of the trough with rocks, sticks and dirt finally allowed him to get the traction he required to get his feet under himself and leap out. Bloody ungrateful sod immediately turned to me and snorted his nose before blowing past to run in the direction of the mob. I sat there in the dirt for a moment, physically spent, grateful that my little boy seems to be able to spend hours entertaining himself when need be so I can get a job done.

1.3 copyLooking over the cows.

1.4 copyAnother day, another fence broken by bulls working out their quarrels in the breeding season. 

Unwanted visitors of the scaled kind are another situation where I really would prefer that there was a burly man to hear a shriek of “Snake . . . get the gun!”. Seeing a 6ft brown snake sliding past the front steps of the house, with the neighbour’s daughters playing within metres and my own child just starting to test his legs and walk, is just the elixir to cause a chemical reaction in our brains and bodies that most mothers faced with a situation endangering their child would be familiar with.

I stop dead still and quietly, almost calmly, say “Girls, don’t move, there is a snake. Go back inside with Reid and close the doors”. Letting him go is not an option, it’s likely he’s been watering at the garden tap and will be back. Next time it may be a child who is not watching where he is stepping. In those seconds, thoughts are running through my head: “Gun? I’ve never used the 410 shotgun. Why didn’t I get Dad to show me how to shoot it? Where’s the key to the gun safe again? By the time I sort all that out this bast**d will be nowhere to be seen”. I start walking to the shed. “Seriously Sarah, what do you think you’re going to do? Use a shovel?” It seems that there are two voices in my head now. “Well that’s the only option here, isn’t it? What do they say, approach a snake from behind and it can’t get you? Or was that from the side? Why didn’t I take more notice?”

I pick up the post-hole shovel (which we use for digging dirt from deep, narrow holes when fencing) and take the short walk back to the house. “Long handle, great. Small shovel head, doesn’t give me great chances”. Ok, he’s still there, making his way slowly into the garden bed now, thankfully unaware that he has been detected. Both voices in my head are now muttering “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ” (my inner dialogue resorts to blasphemy in a crisis). One pipes up with “If you’re going to take a hit, better make it a good one girl”. I approach from behind and when I’m within about three foot of his tail he gets suspicious. I lift the shovel high above my head and bring it down, aiming about a foot back from his head, wanting to give myself the best chance of making contact. I use the side of the shovel, which gives me an extra 10cm or so of “blade” to work with. I know the first hit isn’t a good one; I just grazed him and shocked him a little. I’m committed so I go to town on him, giving half a dozen or so full swing hacks at him, not realising that the time that I was yelling like a mad woman with the effort and adrenaline behind each swing. Picture one of those horror movies where in the final scenes the terrorised woman stabs the evil killer over and over again in a blind, desperate rage. I’m glad the girls had shut the door of the house, hopefully muffling the sounds which would probably give them nightmares if they’d heard the full extent of it. I stop when the snake was a bloody pulp, chest heaving, hands shaking. A voice pipes up from some corner of my mind where it was hiding for cover and says “Well Sarah, if that wasn’t the most stupid thing you have ever done . . .”

1.5 copyI lend a hand to butcher one of our animals to fill the freezer.