The Vegetarian Backpacker

Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by Barb Camp – Station Hand, Kalyeeda Station.

Hi everyone,

My name is Barb, I’m a 27 and live on Kalyeeda Station in the East Kimberley with my husband, James and his family – the Camps. We raise Brahman cross cattle for sale primarily via live export on the our 120,000 hectare property that spans from the edge of the Great Sandy Desert to the frontage of the Fitzroy River.

1.1Myself and James heading in from blocking up cattle around a billabong.

But before I tell you a bit about my life at Kalyeeda let me introduce you to the girl I was when I first arrived at Kalyeeda, because she was very different . . .

Until I was 20 I lived in Edinburgh, capital city of Scotland and had been a vegetarian since I was 10 years old. I had just finished a degree in Equine Science and wanted to work in researching thoroughbred horses, but first I thought I would do a years backpacking.

So, when my cousin mentioned she would like to travel to Australia, I thought “why not?” We had the working holiday visa sorted in two weeks, booked our flights, and merrily headed over to the other side of the world where the first job I was offered was in the middle of nowhere mustering cows on horseback. My only previous experience with cows was riding past them in little fields on my horse, or occasionally being chased by them if I had jumped the wrong gate. But the whole point of this travelling malarkey was to try something different, right? It was a seasonal job – only three months. What could possibly go wrong?

Culture shock is an under statement. I arrived in Broome – home of blue skies and turquoise waters, and was picked up by good looking, burly cowboy type boy who loaded me and my backpack into a busted old ute piled up and roped down with unidentified lumps of car innards, unexplained lengths of pipe, and enough canned goods to feed an army for a year (or so I thought!). He drove me out past the end of sealed roads and mobile reception to dirt tracks and ant beds. We drove four hours out towards the centre of Australia and a very different life.

My first weeks of station life was a blur of new experiences – finding lots of things I’d never done before or even considered doing before and living in the most bizarre circumstances. There were no walls on the ‘house’ that myself and the other dozen or so workers stayed in. We had green see-through shadecloth for walls and a tin roof. The boys slept on stretcher beds and swags out in the shed. My pampered city self had never experienced anything like this.

1.2Before we got air conditioned dongas at Kalyeeda it was much cooler to sleep out in the open to catch a bit of a breeze.

I’ll be honest – I hated it. The life was hard. I was terrified, out of my depth, and felt utterly useless. If something breaks or goes wrong when you’re hours out from the nearest expert you have to fix it yourself. I had never even changed a flat tyre, forget about having a clue how to service a motor. Sure, I knew how to look and see if my farrier at home had done good job shoeing my horse’s feet, but I didn’t have a clue how to do it myself.

1.3Shoeing horses was just one of the skills I picked up on the station.

1.4Camille and I servicing the homestead generator. Proper regular maintenance of the equipment is essential to keep it running well. If the generator breaks down then we have no power to the whole station.

But I learned, oh how I learned. When you are hours away from civilization and something goes wrong you cannot call for back up – it’s up to you and the crew you work in to fix it. If the generator you rely on for power stops in the middle of the night, it’s up to you in the dark to figure out why and fix it. If a pipe connecting the windmill to the bore has sprung a leak then there’s 500 head of cattle relying on you to notice and fix it before they perish. Life was a constant challenge. I learned some awesome skills, but more importantly, I met some of the most inspiring people put on the earth.

These Kimberley station types – they’re a breed unto themselves. These men and women can problem-solve their way out of any situation. They think big and dream bigger and are always looking for ways nature and man can work together to survive in one of the toughest, wildest places on earth.

They have a sense of humour and irony like you wouldn’t believe – and they need it because when things go wrong out here they can go very wrong, but you still have to pick yourself up and carry on because there’s always a job that needs done and thousands of animals relying on you to do it.

1.5Peter Camp, my father in law is a true example of the Kimberley cattleman.

Seven years later I’m a different to that sheltered, slightly naïve vegetarian who came out here for an adventure. The good-looking cowboy who picked me up from the airport all these years ago is now my husband, and I’ve been lucky enough to be absorbed into his family and their life.

I’ve been a part of the whole picture of the raising of beef cattle. I’ve raised them from orphan poddy calves sucking milk off your finger, though to having my ribs bruised by the horns of a cleanskin bull as I sat on my horse (and wasn’t I lucky that was all I got from that encounter).

I’ve caught, killed, and prepared my own meat literally from paddock to plate, and then been lucky enough to follow our cows beyond that to Indonesia to see the whole story of this industry that has become my life. My vegetarianism rapidly became a thing of the past when I came out here – I learned that respecting and loving animals is about how you deal with them when they’re alive, not what you do with them when they’re dead.

I know what it’s like to ride a bucking horse at the rodeo, and experienced the awesome power of the wet season floods and the responsibility of trying to move your stock to safe ground before its too late. I’ve seen the heart break drought and watching animals you’ve fought to keep happy and healthy get weakened and stuck in bogs as water holes dry up, and I’ve felt the fear of watching a raging bush fire you’re trying to fight turn with the wind and head straight towards a Ute full of your friends.

Life out here isn’t always easy, but it’s full of passion and promise. For the next week, I want to share some of what I’ve learned as an outsider coming in to this life, because I think there’s nothing else like it in the world.

1.6Long days and hard work are a part of station life, but we’re lucky to live it for moments like this.