Pilbara adventures

Host: Glenforrie Station
Written Justine – Cook, Glenforrie Station.

“What if I’m not up to standard? What will happen?”, I enquired, and Teesh, the Glenflorrie station manager, replied with “As long as you are willing to give it a go, we’ll keep you round”. That was all the reassurance I needed to accept the position, along with the fact that travelling and cooking are my two greatest passions, so I packed my bags and flew 4000+ kilometres to live with the Grey’s, in the west Pilbara.

My year has been filled with ups, downs, highs, lows, unforgettable and some forgettable moments, with the most amazing friends and, now family, I could ask for.

While I spend the majority of my time in the kitchen baking treats, biscuits, slices, cakes, dinners, and desserts, I am not just the cook on Glenflorrie Station. In a recent post Teesh said I was our “cook, buggy driver, stock worker, scribe, house keeper, secretary and gardener”, and what better way to tell everyone about Glenflorrie and its staff, than the cook’s memories.

I have played nurse on numerous occasions, from Craig coming in with a burnt hand from fuel, to Flash, when he had a shard of metal in his eye, and Teesh with an almost cut off thumb nail. The craziest medic story is from when we were out retrieving bulls one night and Craig was side swiped by a bulls’ horn. The horn clipped his head, split his forehead skin and produced plenty of blood. He looked like he’d just stepped out of a horror show. I wrapped him up as best I could in a head bandage, gave him a couple of Panadol and off he rode ready to locate the next tied up bull.

Un-seasonal wet weather during winter had us rained in, so we started a project. We ripped down the wall in the portables to make a recreational room area and after working on it for days, scraping paint, replacing walls, doors and windows, and painting the walls we’d had enough and Teesh said “It’s one of those things that you know you shouldn’t start because it’s going to take longer than you imagined.” I added painter to my resume here but it’s still not finished now. Maybe next year’s project, Teesh?

In August, I was lucky enough to have my parents visit from Victoria. They spent a week travelling across the bottom of WA until I called them one night saying we were mustering on Friday. They arrived Thursday night ready for muster the next day. Since Mum, Dad, and I were tailing the mob down the laneway back to the yards we had the slower aspect of the mob and even after years of moving stock around our farm, Dad still complained about how slow they walked. After mustering and processing finished, I was allowed a week off. We packed the car and stayed overnight on the station then explored around Chinaman’s hut (a slate hand-built house) and Talga pool on the way back, while checking mills as we went. Out of the station we visited Karijini National Park (add it to your bucket list, it’s a must see), Marble Bar, walked along 80 Mile beach and enjoyed tea in Point Samson. It was a much-needed break before returning to three weeks of back to back mustering.

image2-2-copyFollowing Mum and Dad while visiting and exploring Karijini National Park.

image2-3-copy Chinaman’s hut – hand built out of slate rocks surrounding the site.

I’ve helped in the yards with scribing and computer work, working the race, penning up, and have learnt how to move cattle using my body, its movements and direction, and my hands and voice. I helped Teesh with a calving heifer and helped Abby on numerous occasions with feeding, moving or bringing home poddy calves. I’ve learnt the ins and outs of cutting up a beast, a fresh kill allowed Abby and I a late-night butchering 101 class and we learnt the cuts of meat from one which had been hanging, which for me was like naming and viewing the muscles of the human body. I’ve tailed cattle back down the laneway and during our last muster I was given the opportunity to lead cattle while droving. I was nervous beyond measure but after a little while got the hang of it and a couple of photos. While working with the cattle, you’ll have favourite cows/calves and bulls. Stroppy always keeps a watchful eye over the girls in the yards while he happily munches on grass and hay, or Serena at Ballard’s Yards, who just wants you to reach that perfect spot for the perfect scratch.

image2-4-copyLeading the mob for the 1st time. 

image2-5-copySerena enjoying a scratch from Abby.

image2-6-copyRod assisting Craig while cutting up a beast.

My partner in crime has been Abby, whom I spent majority of my time living and learning this lifestyle with. I joined her during my down times to help with runs to fill Avgas drums and collect the mail, and runs to fix fences where we often stumbled across the most beautiful views on Glenflorrie. We attended the Winning Gymkhana together and partied until the AM, (well I did anyway) making new friends and plenty of memories. Susan, Abby, and I went searching for the station’s six horses in a paddock which is the size of my family farm at home but instead dense with scrub, bushes, and trees. After searching majority of the afternoon, we had seen plenty of bush turkey, many fresh horse tracks, six cattle but unfortunately no horses. Sneaky devils. “Another time,” we all agreed.

Since working here I’ve become better at driving in different conditions, sand, hills, and dust all while towing god knows what behind me. Note: If you think you’re right to drive on after bull dust has settled, wait ten seconds, and then some before you go again. I got better at tracking and looking out for markers, such as star pickets (steelies, warratahs) and old fences and deciphering mud maps. Sometimes even your favourite buggy which you hope to gosh you don’t break because that’s all you’ve got, will overheat mid muster or you’ll pop two tyres and miss out on the best part of yarding up.

­­­­­­Something generally goes wrong at least once a muster. The most memorable muster for everything going sour was Tom’s/Claypan. We had approximately 600 cattle trotting from Claypan’s towards the Tom’s mill. Susan and I were ready to catch Abby’s lead and slow them but they had other ideas. No slowing at all they turned on the lead and blew back on the tail towards Claypan, made it back to Claypan’s mill without being swayed by two buggies, two bikes, and a chopper. It was all excitement in the beginning but then they drove like model citizens (or cattle) back to Tom’s mill for yarding up.

At Blue Billy we had a stubborn cow which didn’t want to go into the forcing yard. Craig ended up getting his bike in there to move her but she dashed around the side of him, had Flash against a fence in the bush yard and Teesh standing on top of the trough filming. Since Teesh was in perfect line of sight the cow went straight for her on the trough which she almost fell from. On our north end muster a total of four choppers were used to muster. The first chopper overheated, so another one arrived the next day. A few days later a no-show chopper from overheating again meant mustering was delayed, so we entertained ourselves in the shade of the tank. Then during mustering Bruce’s chopper was down due to magneto so another was flown in from a close by muster to finish the day off for us. Patience is key.

We all have our favourite hills on sections of road which hold spectacular views of shrubs, bushes, and wild flowers. My favourite memory will always be my first ever and now most memorable chopper ride of my life. I was literally like a kid at Christmas. I was excited and nervous all wrapped in one. The take off was smooth and we sailed across the station adjacent to Mt Florrie in all its glory. Once we landed I felt so weightless and on top of the world and the whole experience felt so surreal but I will never forget a minute of it for as long as I live.

image2-7-copyMt Florrie in all its glory during my flight.

Note: take your time, slow down and enjoy every minute of your time working, playing, and exploring our wonderful country because your time will slip by so quickly.