Saying goodbye to McAllister

The following is an excerpt from the book McAllister, written by Jenny Old.

I allowed myself a few moments of contemplation. I had planted and ‘mowed’ my first patch of lawn with shears, now I looked out on a vast, lush, green lawn surrounding the homestead.

I strolled under my first poincianna tree and subsequent fruit trees, now matured, offering shade and abundant fruit.

As I walked through my home for the last time, it seemed to be saying: “Why are you leaving me?”

We had made the bricks, and agonised over the design of the original, simple five roomed house we built ourselves. In stages we extended; the schoolroom, guest rooms, dining room, large recreational area, offices, creating the large, accommodating, and graceful homestead that was today.

The painting jobs, the thrill of our first floor covering, honan matting on the living room floor after two years of concrete. Then tiles on the bathroom floors. All done ourselves. Each little step gave us pleasure. Bean bags made by us, were our first furniture. Later two lounge chairs, more comfort for my parents who gave them to us.

We had come a long way from a shed and a mud oven. We had created a beautiful home set in tranquil gardens. I could look back with great pride. It was a real, unique home.

I hoped the new inhabitants would appreciate it, and enjoy it as much as we did. We had provided a haven for family and friends, and the hundreds of visitors, many of whom we did not know before they came to visit.

I said goodbye to the caretaker, with a few final instructions, even though I had written everything down for the smooth running of the house.

I put my last bits and pieces in the dual cab and drove down the airstrip. My vision was a blur as the tears flowed

I stepped out to open the first gate at the end of the airstrip. The milking cows were there looking at me expectantly, hoping to escape. For a fleeting moment I thought of leaving the gate open.

I looked back. Glimpses of the trees we had planted, tall and lush. The oasis we had planned. The tennis court with tall lights. The roof of the Gidyea Hut, shining in the sunshine.  It seemed to be calling, “Come back . . . don’t leave  us!”

Who would remember to prune the bougainvillea in December and March to create a mass of colour? Who would remember to check the tank was full for showers at night? Who would remember to switch the booster on for the hot water on cloudy days when the solar panel did not work well.

This felt like a bad dream. I wanted to wake up.

“Pull yourself together,” I told myself.

Another deep breath. Onto the next gate, past the one thousand head of weaners I had helped Rick to handle and quieten. They felt like family to me, and I was abandoning them.

I was sobbing and feeling very alone, but I needed to be alone to bid my final goodbye to the animals, and the home I had created and loved. This was time for me, just me.

Over the “Jump Up” with its stunning view across the downs, the brown and golden hues of softly waving  grasses, the soft pink of the Flinders grass, the silvery blue of the silver box trees, the redness of the anthills all melding into a soft landscape.

The outback at its best.

The tears flowed.

“Don’t look back, keep going”.

The final gate. I reflected on my arrival, eighteen years previously. This gate was a monster I could not open. I recalled my nervous anticipation at what lay ahead in this unknown country with the man I loved. I had no idea if there was any future for me with him. So many unknowns and uncertainties.

I had met the many challenges presented to me. I had beaten my fears. I was a very different person now. I closed the gate behind me for the last time.

The familiar Beef Road, the cluster of anthills so familiar at our turnoff. How many thousands of trips had I driven on this road? So many memories.

I loved this country. I thought I would be here forever. I had met many exceptional people who inspired me. My children were privileged to have grown up in a free and healthy environment, to accept all people for who they were, no matter their background, colour, or age. They had learned to love and appreciate the land,and nature with all her ups and downs.

My time at McAllister would always be the most special time of my life. I would not have missed it for anything.

 At twenty-two, Jenny fell in love with Rick Old and went to live and work with him on his property, McAllister, in the Gulf of Carpentaria. There, she faced incredible hardship, living in a hut with not even basic necessities. Her only contact with the outside world was a two-way radio.

In this vast empty landscape, she battled drought, flood, fire, and cyclones. For eighteen years she and Rick struggled to stay on in the Gulf, eventually triumphantly turning McAllister into a thriving oasis.

This extraordinary story of one indomitable Australian woman is told in her own words with skill and humour. A story of the bush people and their generosity, filled with wonderful characters. Most of all, the story of one woman’s love for her man and the adventure it took her on.

McAllister, the story of Jenny Old’s amazing life in the outback, will captivate and enthrall.

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