Written by Jodie Grant – Florina Station.
So you have met the man of your dreams, your knight in shining armour… it just so happens that he is a cowboy. No not a concrete cowboy but a fair dinkum horse riding, cow roping, gun slinging cow boy. This is something you never expected – let’s face it, your closest encounter you’ve had to a cow is McDonalds!
Now you may also have watched every McLeod’s Daughters and let’s face it, they make it all look pretty easy: you ride on horses all day, get swept off your feet by hunky cowboys at night, and if you’re lucky you might be one of the multiple heiresses to the property because Jack McLeod couldn’t keep it in his pants.
Or you might be more of a realist and watched Keeping Up With The Joneses, now after all they tell me that is reality TV. So instead of riding your horse around your property, you joy ride in your helicopter and wrestle crocodiles for fun. Either way, it all looks like great fun, and although in both series there’s a lot of life threatening drama, all your station problems are solved by the end of the episode… now who wouldn’t want to be a station manager’s wife?!
Suddenly you’re thrown in the deep-end say goodbye to the burbs, the cafes, the lattes and the late-night shopping – actually, you can say goodbye to any form of shopping unless its online. You now start a trip across the other side of the country and drive for hours down endless dirt roads completely disoriented because, let’s face it, one rock looks just like the other out here. Depending how emotional you are as you start to panic a little and tears roll down your cheek, it suddenly hits: you actually have no idea what you are doing, you have no idea how to be a station manager’s wife/girlfriend/fiancé or whichever you may be. This is not something in your job history, there is no uni degree in it, absolutely no training… hell, you didn’t even apply for the job, your husband became a manager and you’re part of the deal! Now you are about to discover that the station manager’s wife in another title really is ‘jack of all trades’.
However, after your brief panic you remember those beautiful stone homesteads you have seen on TV, those rolling green hills, and cow boys galloping through the country side… you comfort yourself with how amazing this place will be.
So you arrive in 50 degree heat to find out the generator only runs between specific hours of the day (6am-9am, 12pm-1pm, 5pm -9pm). That’s it, 8 hours of power a day. As you walk into what is not only an original homestead built in the 1940s (in this homestead case, it fell off the truck in the 1940s), but it also looks like that was the last time any work or maintenance had ever been done to the place.
This original homestead definitely did had its own little charm… I mean, who else has a windmill column holding up their lounge room ceiling?
The adventure continues as you actually learn what being a station manager’s wife entails. My position description was (but definitely not limited too): meal planning and preparation, cooking, gardening, cleaning, first aid, administration, management of staff, firing up the donkey – oh wait, we have donkeys out here? Umm no the one that heats up your water… you mean the tap? No, we mean the donkey…hmm. Oh, and don’t forget to keep your newborn baby alive during all this.
Righto no worries I got this, you say as you think about your list of tasks. I can’t cook to save my life. Cleaning, well, I should be right. Never kept a plant alive in my life. Meat – will just make sure I do a good supermarket order. First aid – well what on earth could go wrong. The donkey still has me baffled.
I soon learn that hot water, like power (which us city folk believe is created at the flick of a switch in every house) is actually a privilege and not a right. Not every household has hot water from turning a tap; out here we need to make the hot water and this involved the donkey… no, not a real donkey but a metal barrel that the water flows through and you light a small fire underneath to heat the water, and it flows through the barrel to your taps to your bathroom, kitchen or where ever you need the hot water. Now I bet as a station manager’s wife you didn’t think you would be making hot water, didn’t see that one on McLeod’s Daughters, hey!
Ok well now you may be getting worried but it’s ok it’s all good, your resume may not fit any of the criteria – mine certainly didn’t. But as the say goes, FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT!
Well let’s say there’s a pretty quick life lesson when you see the first beast heading to the meat house hanging on tractor forks. Hmm did you miss your butchering lessons in home economics? Let’s just say station cooking puts a whole new meaning on homemade and meal prep. Yep, doesn’t matter what I cook, it’s homemade all the way down to me cutting the meat off the beast in the meat room. My meal prep involves me personally dicing, slicing or mincing as required – it doesn’t get more real than this.
For those like me who honestly has never had to cook more than bacon and mashed potato, there are lots of YouTube cooking videos out there they will be your savour. Remember though, a lot of things you will need to learn to make from scratch – forget about this pre-marinated meat and tinned sauces. Also, recipes are a good starting point but they can be your downfall; try starting to make your own adjustments and it’s ok to get it wrong – we all do. Just laugh it off, even if your dying inside, and try again tomorrow.
Gardening. Well what can I say, I am not your girl and to be honest still really not. I’m pretty good at moving sprinklers around and swearing at them as the hose pops of the tap for the fifteenth time! Try to not run over the sprinklers with the ride on lawn mower – in fact try not to run over anything with the ride on lawnmower. That loud grating sound is not supposed to happen so I’m told. I can somewhat maintain a garden and a lawn: just add water in the cooler parts of the day, but I’m probably not your girl if you want me to create a new one… but hey, there’s still time to learn new skills. YouTube, here I come.
Cleaning. Well, not much to say here. You will clean for the rest of your life and it doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be beer cans left from the night’s shenanigans while you are inside cooking smoko, washing dishes, mopping the floor with endless dust. Over mustering you get to be the first up in the morning preparing cooked breaky for the crew, and last to bed preparing smoko and cleaning up from dinner. Make sure your crew give you the credit you deserve – if you are cooking for a crew, you are the life and blood of that crew, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise because they will try! Oh, you do nothing all day long.
First aid. Well RFDS will become your best friend. On arrival at the station make sure your airstrip is in good condition and rated for day and night landing. Make sure you have an RFDS medical chest and it is fully stocked, and you understand how to read it. Order more supplies and remember you need approval and numbers for prescription items. Document any incidents, be kind to all staff – yes you do have to render first aid to those that you don’t really like all that much.
Administration. Well no one likes it but almost all work places have it, and for some reason the male species automatically passes any paperwork, phone calls, emails to you. This is particularly fun when you’re ringing to order the doovy whatsit from the right hand ram of the green tractor… Oh wait, you want to know what tractor? Well it’s the green one – oh wait, you need a number, well then you need to wait until tonight to get the number… to have the phone call all over again the next day to find out you need a number or a measurement of the doovy whatsit and then repeat!
I hate ordering parts of any kind because it always takes thirty phone calls to get everything sorted because I have no idea what I’m talking about. Every station will have its own specific admin tasks, and this will vary greatly from station to station. In general, keep track of any invoices, create and keep within budgets, cattle numbers, any maintenance work done on the station – this gives you a rough idea of the types of admin tasks that may be required of you.
Management of staff. Yeah well, this one can be really easy or really difficult. It entirely depends on your staff… stress to your staff that cattle don’t work 9-5 and still need care, even on public holidays, and they really don’t give a toss if you have a hangover from the night before. In fact, no one does.
Station work is hard, days can be long and at times you’re working into the night. On the rare occasions everything is going smoothly and nothing has broken down, there is down time. Someone once said to me that, especially on the more remote stations, some people are there purely for the adventure. You do get some that are running away from something… this proved true when I received an email from a gentleman whose cover letter included recently being released from a firearms offence and could he bring his unregistered fire arms with him?… Needless to say we didn’t take the gamble, however I give that fella points for honesty that’s for sure. The best bit of advice I think I have for staff is clear contracts and clear position descriptions, and if you’re sitting there counting your work hours then perhaps this is not the job for you.
Then if you are a mum there’s the schooling your children drama. Yeah well, if that’s what you call it. If you are lucky enough to have a governess that could be your saviour, or it could create a whole lot more work for you. This purely depends on the governess you manage to hire, so aim for a self sufficient, independent, organised and proactive governess, because if not you might as well do the job yourself. Whether you choose to have a governess or not, at some point you are going to have to be the teacher, when you’re in between govie, or your govie has some days off. Now teaching your children, I don’t know if it’s just my children, but let’s just say have lots of chocolate or wine on hand – depends on your preference really. To be really honest it’s nice being so closely involved in my children’s education and really seeing them kick goals… even if I do tear my hair out every second day.
Then there’s the boys jobs – the jobs you didn’t expect, however probably enjoy the most, but hard to squeeze in around everything else. Yes as well as being the station manager’s wife you are required to be one of the boys from time to time, whether it be driving a tractor yarding up cattle, or a full days mustering with your six month old baby by your side, or in the yards while your baby sits in the sand chewing on cow manure. Still do this day some of my best memories are the nights at stock camp by the fire, the six hours sitting still holding up cattle (while taking selfies with the baby) waiting for the rest of the mob, the cow the didn’t get away and the many that did. One important thing to remember as a station manager’s wife: yard talk gets heated at the best of times, however if you can survive working the yard with your husband you can survive anything.
Well I think that’s a good start. It certainly doesn’t cover everything. What can I say, station manager wives are special people who are expected to cope with anything thrown their way, but you know what? It would be boring any other way.
HAPPY COWBOY HUNTING GIRLS!!