More than just a Cook

Host: Blina Station
Written by Sylvia Richards – Cook, Blina.

3.1Sylvie Richards.

I was born in the summer of ’65, in the month of July. I travelled overseas from Europe to this great land in ’71 (I also sound a lot like the Highwaymen when I write).

I grew up in the outer western suburbs of Sydney, and then as a young adult moved inland to Wagga Wagga, and Albury, NSW. I eventually moved to the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, which is where I have called home for over a quarter of a century. I can’t stand cities with their bright lights and big crowds. I feel entrapped living in suburbia and like to keep to myself.

I travelled camping around Australia with my young brood of four children whenever possible. Upon becoming free of my parental duties I began to travel for work. In 2006 I cooked on Meda station in the Kimberley region of WA. It was a bit hard for me being away from my family for the first time but I soon became accustomed to my new lifestyle. I learnt a lot about the ways of the cattle industry. Eight years passed with me jumping from job to job. Mining work took me away from home for several years. Labouring work also had me travelling as did Tour Guiding. Tour Guiding is a seasonal only job, so once again I needed a steady income which is when I remembered that the cattle season would begin in April. All it took was one phone call and a visit to the office.

Here I am, three months later, cooking for the stockcamp at Blina Station, back in the Kimberley.

The work is constant with early mornings and late finishes, but if you organize yourself well, you can have a nanna nap and take a break in the middle of the day. I especially love the camping side of things. It is the main aspect which attracts me to the job. I am in my element out at camp. The best part of the stockcamp procedure is the early hours of the morning when the generator is off and all is quiet, and all you can hear are the snores of the crew, the wagging tails of the dogs, and the crackle of the campfire. And cooking quietly in the cook’s van in flickering candlelight! It is absolute bliss. I also really enjoy listening to the stories of the day’s adventures. You hear some beauties some times.

To do this job, you have to like your own company and be able to entertain yourself. For me that is easy. At camp you can snooze in the mid morning sun, or doze in the afternoon shade. If you bring a good book or two, you are set. As the holding yards are close by, the camp, you can go to watch and help all the goings on that take place there. You would never catch me in those yards with those cattle, I am rather scared of them myself!

Back at the station there is always something to do. And if all you have to worry about is what you are going to cook that night, then life’s pretty good really. The only thing that can upset your apple cart, is when the local supermarket doesn’t have what you ordered so you may be short on supplies, therefore you have to be flexible and creative. You also have to be able to work independently and produce good food and lots of it. Once you get the hang of the roster, and a bit of communication, you’re on easy street.

You need to be in a situation where you can leave your family behind, and in this day and age, what with internet and mobile phones, it’s not so bad. The crew become your surrogate family. After all you are feeding them and maintaining their health. You can feed off them by all their lovely comments about the meals. I find receiving praise and appreciation fuels my desire to produce and provide nice yummy things. And if you make a flop, you can have a laugh about it.

As the cook, especially being an older figure, you end up taking on a motherly role. My first station I had several crew members who had just left home for the first time, so you watch out for them, offer them some counselling in the first instance. You may have to be stern and pull them into line but I am very lucky, for my crew hear show me a lot of respect and are very friendly and polite.

Now apparently some cooks take offence to being called “cookie”. I myself, actually kind of like it, to me it’s a term of endearment.

If you want to go and cook on a station, you may not realise it at first, you are not “just the cook” you are actually a very important member of the team. And team is the key to the theme. You all work, live, and socialise together for a long period of time. You get to hear some really interesting stories from the workings of the day and one of my crew in particular, everyday would ask me “cookie, tell me a story”.  So one day I wrote him a little story and here it is.

The Great Aussie Outback in Northern Australian Cattle Country

Columns of red dust stirring
Rising on the horizon,
Against the dim
Blue red light of dusk

The muster
Successfully bringing in
Sixteen hundred head!
“Yard Em Up”
There’s action in the air
And on the ground
Choppers darting here and there.
Nose diving and pirouetting on the spot

An escapee
He must be got.
Rider and horse begin the chase
Believe you me, they do not trot
Faster faster, no, no, STOP!
Rider falls flat on her face.

Carbuncles, boils, and saddle pimples
Sprains and strains.
Cuts and grazes.
Swollen testicles and broken bones.
Hoof kicks, head butts and two black eyes.
They’re a tough bunch
These gutsy guys.

“Cowboy Up”
Here have some pills,
Just take ‘em.
You’ll have more thrills.

Darkness falls upon the hour.
To camp they limp.
To a cold shower
The billys boiled
The fires cranking
Their daily venture’s never spoiled
For the good old cook
Had dinner waiting.

Sylvia Richards
Blina Station Cook 2014

They asked for more, so I wrote one to pay out on our manager.

The Art of Making ‘Billy Tea’

Have Milo Tin
Fencing wire,
Make Handle.
Water in!

Take Shovel,
Make clearing.
Remove tall grass!

Select stick and twigs,
Strike a match,
Billy on fire
Sit on arse!

Crazy boil,
Tea-leaves in-
a good handful of!

Billy in one hand,
Holding crotch with the other
Akubra on.

Flip the brim
Drop your jaw,
With hanging tongue!

Now, swing that billy
Backwards thrice.
Add cold water,
To sink those leaves
They say they might.

This is how
Be as cool.
Matt Wood.

Sylvia Richards
Blina Station Cook 2014