The red outback – part 2

Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Lisa Sentfleben – Backpacker/Stationhand, Dampier Downs.

Lisa worked for us last season – one of our many successful backpackers. Below is her experience in her own words.

We – the boss, his sister, an English farmgirl, and me – work ten to twelve days in a row, then drive the long way through bush and desert back to Broome, to the beach, for having four days off. Well, half a day is already gone for getting there and a whole day to do the shopping for the next ten days and getting back. Distances are so different here . . . they do the six hour drive just like that, to bring us in and pick us up.

For the days off we check into a hostel at the beach. Quickly taking off the belt with the knife and the ripped shorts. Changing into a bikini, trying to cover the scratches and dirt you just can’t get off, under a beach dress. After a swim you just fall in a deep recovering sleep. It’s like being in a different world. Restaurants, camels at the beach, tourists taking pictures, traffic. After a while we meet the same people in the hostel for our days off – backpackers who are working on other stations or pearlboats on the sea (Broome is famous for it’s pearls). We understand each other. All working around this remote place in the rough outback with people marked from a life in tough conditions.

So different and far from home. I tell you more about Broome and my life in paradise. That will be the next article. Living there is like a dream made off endless sun and white sand far away frome the hustle of the world. But first we need to finish our farm work – three months for the visa to stay another year. So hop in the dusty Landcruiser 4WD – it’s going back to work.

I’m thinking how to describe a general day on the station, but a general day simply doesn’t exist. Every single day is just so different, so individual, so full of new stuff I never imagined to experience. Yeah it’s a very special job – it’s never ever getting boring.

Digging post holes (the easy way).

Usually my alarm clock rings at 5am. It’s still dark outside. I wake up sweating, feeling every muscle from the day before. I kill a few bugs crawling over my blanket. Watching a spider building a new web over my bed. The heat finally gets me up. I put my boots and the cowboy hat on ignoring the painful blisters and scratches, shuffle out of my room in the dark early morning. I open the old heavy door to the communal kitchen, boiling water for an instant coffee, and make myself comfortable on the frame outside, watching the sun rising. The stars, the sunrises, the sunsets out here are simply amazing. For five minutes you’re filled with peace, enjoying the beauty of the first light in complete silence and sipping your coffee. Quickly coming back to realty when the twelve cattle dogs leaving their cages, running and barking to the quarters, jumping up on me and making me nearly spill the coffee.

It’s time to get going anyway. I put my belt on, put my knife and gloves in my pocket, and fill up my waterbottle. Morning routine. Together with the English jillaroo we make our way through the sand towards the workshop. “Morning” our boss shouts over and giving us instructions for the first jobs. I jump in the next empty four wheel drive (they sit around everywhere), fill up the fuel with our own tank, drive over to the yard, start the tractor, and pick up a few hay bales to feed the cattle in the yard. An easy job.

Sometimes you have these days where you just drive around. Following the grader, checking watertanks and cattle all over the property, fix gates, and pick up dead animals. Where there is life, there is also death. The circle of life. Other days you cut meat and inject it with poison to prepare baits for the dingos, wild dogs which attack weak cattle. A bloody job. But still easy once you get used to cutting still warm meat from a fresh dead cow.

It’s getting hectic once we start mustering, other helicopters come around to bring all the cattle together and you drive after hordes of scrub bulls, run to shut gates while listening to other commands via the radio. Everything needs to be quick, you need to concentrate very hard not to miss anything – there is no time for questions.

After the mustering it comes to the processing. With music and every team member’s help we come together in the yard: branding, dehorning, treating cattle from early to late day after day. No grace from the hot sun. The days when the cattle are getting sold are hectic. We have to get up even earlier, get hundreds of bulls and cows on the cattle trucks, climbing around on top, shouting instructions and running to shut gates when one tries to escape. In the early morning hours it’s done. You can literally feel how everyone starts to relax. Take a break, lay down in the shade, pull the cowboy hat deeper in your face.

For all the time between the mustering and processing there are heaps of general farm duties to do: I learn how to dig deep holes with the tractor using it’s massive drill, lifting heavy metal pipes, and smashing them in the ground without killing myself. Welding, grinding, fencing, measuring, calculating, digging holes for water pipes. And in the end of the day, there’s a new paddock. And you built it. With your own hands. Take a second, be proud of the result and allow yourself to smile underneath all the sweat and dirt.

Driving yard posts.

I tell you something. The jobs are hard. And long. And you have to do it again, day after day. But it’s the greatest feeling in the world, when someone trusts in you. No doubts when they give you jobs you never never ever thought you’d be able to do. But you are. I changed tyres of a truck, cruising around in tractors, getting comfortable with every different kind of tool, finding solutions on my own when you’re far out there, fixing a tank or a motor . . . You ARE able to do so much more then you think. And my biggest thanks goes to my bosses who gave me the feeling before I even believed in myself.

Changing truck tyres.

And after all, you are all in there together. Five people smashing the work on an entire cattle station. That’s how real teamwork occurs. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be part of it. Sure, there are situations – heaps of them – where you could kill each other. There’s just no-one else around. But then you finish this damn job, hand in hand. It’s dark already, bright stars in the sky. We hop in our four wheel drives, one after the other turns it’s lights on, and we start driving our way back to the homestead, through the black night, through sand, bush and endless nothing. And you can’t help it but smile. Being exhausted to death but proud as hell. And then you arrive, barely able to keep your eyes open and your bosses words, “Good work mate, you can sleep in tomorrow, take a rest” are the most beautiful words you ever heard.

Sometimes I catch myself wishing that a camera team would come around, to show the world what these people are doing, every single day. For me it was just a three months experience, but for the Dampier Downs crew, it’s what they do their entire life, for that they earn all my respect.

To read more of Lisa’s adventures, follow her blog here