Moving 4,000km – sight unseen

Host: Katherine Outback Experience
Written by Annabel McLarty – Owner, Katherine Outback Experience.

In March 2017 we received the exciting news from Great Southern Rail that they were impressed with our product and from early May would be offering passengers travelling on The Ghan train the option to visit Katherine Outback Experience shows during their four hour stopover in Katherine. This news instantly changed everything for Katherine Outback Experience. Overnight the number of shows performed per week increased from three shows, to anywhere from six to nine shows a week. For the first time, the tourism component of the business became the priority, ahead of horse-breaking and training.

Tom providing a demonstration of the Riverboyne Working Dog team during a Katherine Outback Experience show. The spectacular evening sunsets in the Top End are an added bonus for guests!

It was time to really step things up and I knew Tom couldn’t do it on his own so I made the decision to move to Katherine – sight unseen!  It’s important to note here that I’m a pretty measured person, career orientated, and always looking at ways to decrease risk. This was flipping crazy, moving 4,000km away interstate for love and not knowing if there would even be enough work for me.

I arrived in Katherine in late April. Tom and I had four days to get the site spick and span before the first tour group with The Ghan arrived. To complicate things, we both arrived with head colds – a consequence of a busy month of packing, running the Boar Swamp Campdraft in WA, and finishing off the breakers. It didn’t help that we also relocated from a delightful 25 degrees to 40 degrees!

We were fortunate though to have the support and assistance of Tom’s friends and family to get the site in order after the wet season.

Kids and I feeding the poddy calf during a Katherine Outback Experience show.

Although there are two houses on the property, these were rented out to help with cash flow. This meant we were living in the shed – a 4x4m room to be precise. This doubled as my office when it became too hot or too windy, or when the flies were too thick to do paper work in the kitchen/lounge area – which happens to be outdoors.

We didn’t have internet for the first three weeks following a mix up with Telstra. It still amuses me when customer service officers in Sydney or Melbourne advise a parcel “should arrive in the next day or two.” I’m always quick to add “you mean the next week or two!

Trev taking the best seat in the house atop of Rhapsody during a Katherine Outback Experience Show.

Trips to the bathroom were quite the adventure after dark. They usually involved negotiating cane toads and tree frogs, and hoping there wasn’t a snake around the corner. It was not uncommon for a frog to be in the toilet and on the odd occasion for a frog to jump on you whilst having a shower. Fortunately frogs have never really worried me otherwise I might have been in strife.

Despite my old boss checking in on a weekly basis for the first six weeks asking if I was coming home yet – it was evident there was a role for me in the business.

I had a lot to learn in a very short time. This included setting up and learning to use the online tour reservation and accounting systems, getting my head around tax, super, payroll, BAS and bookkeeping, liaising with tour companies and guests, and overseeing employees – just to name a few. This of course was in addition to assisting with the preparation, running and pack-up of shows, planning lunches and dinners for the crew and ensuring food stocks are maintained. Fortunately for us, we are only ten minutes from town.

Legend and Tom during a Katherine Outback Experience show attempting to serenade guests.’ Legend has just about perfected rolling out the swag and then taking a nap on it.  Photo credit: Edwina Robertson.

The first show was an eye opener. We were battling the elements of 36 degrees and an average age demographic of 70 years old. To be honest, I had never actually seen the show before this point. I’m not sure what we would have done if Tom’s parents hadn’t been there to help out for the first few weeks. With guest numbers double what we had anticipated; we knew we couldn’t do this on our own.

The following week we had a huge amount of overnight rain. Fortunately the rain had subsided by the time the guests arrived however when red dirt gets wet – it gets slippery! We spent the morning running around like headless chooks cutting up old carpet and spreading hay over the muddy patches in an attempt to decrease the chance of any mishap. We were relieved they all made it back on the bus without a hiccup – that was until the bus went to leave and had become bogged in the mud.

Quick thinking meant pulling the bus out with the horse truck – an ‘outback experience’ these guests won’t forget in a hurry!

Throughout the season there were numerous hiccups. However with hard work, a positive outlook, and some creativity, we were sure we could overcome the challenges and we did. We learnt how important it is to be surrounded by optimistic people, to laugh at our own misfortunes, and not dwell on the things out of our control.

One of my favourite photos from 2016 taken during a Katherine Outback Experience show.