Our ongoing outback life is ever changing and ever growing. The animals are getting older and wiser, so are we. There is still so much to learn. Everyday is different, something new will pop up that is useful to know, whether its a new way to tie a reliable knot, how to cook ribs outback style (on a old iron spring bed on an open camp fire) or learning which items in the scrap yard are good for reclamation!
It’s difficult to communicate the lifestyle differences between living in the outback vs. suburban or city living. We definitely take things for granted. Here, drinking water is collected from rain water, put through a reverse osmosis process and can be accessed through a tap just outside the house. The water that comes through the taps in the house is salt water so isn’t suitable for drinking, or even watering the plants. Though it has a simple fix, of all the houses we have stayed at, easy access to drinking water is something you don’t even think about until it’s not available. Although, ultimately it only adds an additional few steps before making a cup of tea!
Being on a 1 million acre cattle station means we are quite a distance from civilisation, people and technology. There is internet, and a landline phone but if you want mobile signal you need to travel 100km into town in order to pick up a few bars! My 3G mobile has been made redundant, it is useful only for Facebook and a few games of candy crush. Our Aussie pay as you go phones serve absolutely no purpose here and are only charged if there’s a chance of going into town. The School of the Air does provide the boys with a computer, internet via a large satellite and all the equipment and stationary you could wish for as a child. Their education doesn’t stop just because they live in the outback!
It was great to have the kids back at the station, and with the addition of Baby Eleanor to the pack the house was much busier!
We have had Adam’s 24th birthday whilst being here, an outback birthday is somewhat non-existent, life just goes on. The animals still need to be fed and there’s still work to do. To celebrate we couldn’t go out for a meal, or go for drinks or find any candles for the cake. It was basic, but also penny saving! Grandma Kerri made a delicious huge chocolate cake so we spent following week finishing that off! I handmade a birthday banner and luckily a few cards had arrived before the 8th June, as did my gift – a swiss army knife (I also got him a fly veil, but it is yet to make an appearance for some reason..). The main present was greatly received and was put to use immediately. In true Adam fashion he was back in the house within 2 hours with blood pouring from his palm as the knife had sliced a little too well through the pipe and had continued on through his palm. A wipe down with iodine and a quick patch up with butterfly stitches we were en route to Marla, 100km away, to see the nurse in search for some stitches. Luckily we are all up to date with our tetanus shots otherwise we would be struggling.
The good thing about outback medical treatment is that it is free. So we saw the nurse immediately – there’s no queue seeing as the population of Marla is 72 – in fact, we called the nurse on her mobile and she drove over from her nearby home and unlocked the nurse cabin to let us in! She wasn’t confident in putting stitches in due to her only previously stitching 3 times in her career. Unfortunately the medical glue had recently expired so there was no glue either! Instead, she opened up, cleaned out and re-attached butterfly stitches, then patched it over. She was kind enough to give us enough supplies to warrant a weeks worth of dressing changes. We also left with a packet of anti-biotic pills to be taken on double dosage due to all the other cuts, barbed wire scratches and splinters that Adam was already bearing and highly susceptible to infection. The slice has healed very nicely and it resisted infection so Adam’s just left with a scar to remind him of how careful to be next time!
On more successful, injury free days Adam is busy working all over the station, building gates, digging trenches, climbing ladders to fix windmills, running fences (taking old wooden ones down and installing new barbed wire fences). In his ‘spare’ time I managed to grab him to help make some new chook nesting boxes. We went off to the scrap yard and found some old metal tins, a bull bar from the front of a car and with a lesson in welding Adam built the boxes no problem! The chickens needed a little persuasion to lay in their new spot – fresh hay and a dummy egg to make them think they’ve laid there before. The cold weather isn’t helping but they are getting more used to it everyday, some days much better than others, hopefully in a few weeks when it’s warmer they’ll be back up to their usual egg count. Catching the chickens is a sport in itself. We did this a few consecutive nights after one of the ducks went missing – we suspected a dingo had a midnight feast. So to protect the chickens we chase them up into the corner of their pen and can lock them into an area that has a roof where the dingo can’t access them. There’s always that one chicken that will escape your clutches though, it’s like it knows the rules of dodgeball. These chickens also favour some altitude – if you can’t count 20 on the ground, you can guarantee they are perched up in the trees!
After a couple of weeks it was time once again to get another killer. If you read our previous post you’ll be familiar with the process – except this time the butchery happened whilst the beast was hanging from a butchers hook off the front of the backhoe. This once again was an art form and Grandpa Alan showed off his skillset by perfectly dissecting each cut of meat from the bones. The animal was skinned and beheaded prior to the butchering process. Photos to follow for those of you that are squeamish…
With the skin and head left at the dump to perish, the smell of the rotting flesh attracts birds. A flock of wedge tail eagles were circling the dump for a few hours so I headed over to take a closer look at the big birds. Of course, like a total rookie I drove over and the noise of the vehicle scared nearly all the birds away. Crows included. All but one eagle flew off to safety, and this lone eagle stayed perched on a heap of rocks just long enough for me to get a good photo of him.
In the outback, everything is outback. It reminds us of being in America in that everything is bigger and bulkier. Grocery shops are in bulk because once you’re back on the station, you’re a day trip away from the supermarket. To pop to the shops it’s 100km away in Marla where you’ll pay triple the price than any other shops. For the absolute essentials you definitely buy in bulk; long-life milk, bread (for freezing) and toilet roll! TV adverts are 100% geared towards an outback lifestyle with water tanks, fairdinkum gifts (we’ve no idea what this means either), camping equipment for desert dwellers and all the tyres you could wish for. All advertised boasting Sydney prices…which as the 5th most expensive city in the world, I’m not sure is a good thing.
If you want something that you don’t have, you need to order it online to be delivered to a PO Box in Alice Springs (450km away) and then it must arrive there before 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon, otherwise it won’t get loaded onto the mail plane in time for Wednesday’s afternoon drop off! Planning ahead is vital. One week I ordered a few things from separate places, along with Adam’s birthday parcel from his Mum and cards arriving, together we filled the mail bag and everyone was disappointed there was nothing exciting for them to open! Apparently its a big thing to get a parcel delivered in the outback!
The weather in the second half of our outback experience has shown us rain! We never thought we’d be glad to have rain but it was great for the environment and a fresh start for morale and tasks around the station. It rained through the night and we hadn’t been prepared so Snowy was like a drowned rat when we woke up. It continued to rain through the morning and into the afternoon. As the day continued we observed the ground being unable to absorb the water and puddles increasing in size and causing flooding in all those important areas that you want to walk through. After the rain we saw so many grass shoots popping up, leaves on trees were so much greener and bushes were thriving from the much needed drink! Though it rained for nearly 24 hours, it can never rain enough here. The puddles quickly dried up and whilst the new greenery was good to see it didn’t last long with all the hungry bellies out in the station. A couple of weeks later a storm rolled through, totally out of the blue, thunder, lightening and all. It was a good top up for the grass and trees. Adam experienced the rain a little differently, he was sat on the back of a ute at the time. As they continued to drive, however, the rain would start and stop as they covered the km’s back to the homestead – loosing his cap in the wind as they went! After a few weeks the cap wasn’t found and Big Alan concluded that a dingo has probably taken it! Adam and I went out to do the desert run, a good month later, and found the cap lying in the road…complete with a new cow pat design!
But the weather can quickly change for the better and gives us beautiful sunsets nearly every night!
We are lucky to have been here for a 3 month duration as it’s been long enough to see some of the smaller animals grow and develop personalities. Snowy has grown stronger, he has a specific moo that when you hear you know it’s him – though recently his voice has lowered somewhat so maybe his voice has broken! He’s also made best friends with Andrew a Hereford breed who is very small in height but well endowed…they roam around the homestead together, if you see one of them you can guarantee the other isn’t far behind. Snowy’s milk powder has now run out and so the weening begins. Initially he went down to grain for breakfast and milk for dinner, he would turn up at 5pm on the dot every night ready and waiting (and mooing) for his bucket. He still turns up now, but is most put out by the bucket of grain he gets instead of a healthy portion of milk! At $200 per bag, and he’s had 2, it’s not an efficient way of keeping him fed. Gill says he’ll keep coming back for a week or so until he learns that the milk has gone, then he’ll make his own arrangements with the other poddy calves – usually Grandma Kerri will feed the group some grain each evening, he’ll have to start joining in with the rest!
It’s strange to think how big and fast they grow…here’s a prime example! NB. This is not Snowy.
There’s always that extra vigilance you have when looking after animals that aren’t your own. Especially as the family were away I was extra careful that all the animals around the house were fed, watered, dry and comfortable. Most of the cats around the place are 50% ferrel, which you can tell by a little point that they have on their ears. However, one of the cats on the homestead is 100% ferrel and was found young by one of Marks brothers Jake. Jake has since moved onto his own station and left ‘DogCat’ behind. He’s called this because he thinks he’s a dog. When we walk the dogs, he comes with us and he follows the dogs around and relaxes with them on the lawn. Despite his calm nature around dogs he can be very territorial with other cats – we found this out the hard way with Fergus the 15 year old cat! They got into a big fight that left Fergus bleeding, limping and in total shock as he’d spent the day sunbathing before being pounced on! Everybody knows that a cat will go off to die, so when Fergus never returned that evening I had a minor heart attack.
Ever since I’ve known Adam he’s always been partial to a push up or pull up. He’s gone out of his way here to find a way of still getting his quota in, regardless of the machinery/equipment/rusty old contraption he finds. Thus, one afternoon we headed to the scrap yard and had a wander around. After trying out a few items he found his piece and back to the house it came to be set up outside the door of the cabin to form his outback gym.
In the scrap yard there are plenty of old vehicles, gates, caravans. All things that at some point can be put to good use….but until then they will wait (somewhat similar to our back garden at home). What made us laugh were the vehicles with bullet holes, and the vehicles so old that they have been stripped of all their worth.
I was lucky to take a trip to Christmas Well with Grandma Kerri, Auntie Jacinda, her 9 month old and the boys. This involved about a 2 hour car journey each way with lots of little people in the car to keep entertained! After exhausting all jokes, riddles and travel car games we had travelled over half way and stopped to search for Big Alan’s Leather-man knife which he’s placed on the bonnet of his ute, forgotten about and driven off. It wouldn’t be much of an issue if it wasn’t worth $300! With no knife in sight we continued on towards Christmas Well to check the tank and trough and to have a picnic in the dry creek. I also took the opportunity to take a photo of an aged Fordson tractor to show dad back at home (who thinks it’s still fixable and he could get going again). We stopped to have a search at Crystal Hill which has natural quartz gems growing and you can find them twinkling in all shapes and sizes just lying on the dirt. We found a bunch each and I found one that had flecks of gold colour in it, after checking with Mathew (Marks brother), who’s pretty much a gold expert and has an extensive collection of his own, he thinks it may just be an impurity in a crack in the crystal.
One recent event that I wasn’t expecting is a cow hanging in a tree. The cow was a killer and was already shot and ready for butchering, however, as it’s a very large, very heavy animal it’s impossible to get onto the back of a ute without permanently injuring yourself. With the help of a winch and some delicate climbing from Whack, the cow was lifted onto the strongest branch and elegantly placed onto the back of the truck without much sweat at all. The concept of a cow in a tree was bizarre to me, and seeing it first hand was even more strange, but it makes sense because what else could be done to get it on the truck without damaging the meat? Once dead the meat cannot bruise as there is no blood flow so there are few risks in this technique – mostly only to Whack who was perched in a very dry tree that could easily snap under the heavy weight of a cow! Photo warning…
Since arriving Adam has learnt to ride a motorbike…and so has not left the seat of one for 3 months. He says he feels like he’s in The Place Beyond the Pines movie when riding along the dirt roads, through trees, over rocks and through creeks. The primary use for bikes on the station is for mustering – gathering the cattle in one paddock and herding them to another paddock or trough/bank of water. Here’s a link to show an example of a nearby station mustering their cattle at Eagle Rock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJGOi7tQLUg
Adam, Whack and I have been busy at the boundary fence line, rebuilding an old fence that was originally built by one old station hand over 50 years ago. Each post is a wooden post, that would have needed to be cut down, have a 1ft deep hole dug, and carted 70km to the outer extremes of the station on the back of an old truck – then installed by one man single handedly. Quite impressive! As it’s been there for 50 years there are areas that are now standing sideways, as the poles have been pushed out of the ground by water movements in creeks and general weathering. We are replacing the fence posts that are no longer serving a purpose, with new iron pickets. This requires me travelling along the fence in the station fencing buggy (that looks like a tank), while Adam walks along and prepares the next picket. The buggy has a number of different mod-cons attached to it to help make the process much faster. Hammering each picket into the rocky ground by hand would be very time consuming and heavy on the body. Along with pushing trees that have grown around the barbed wire and make it impossible to rebuild the weakened areas. Axing away the shrubs and thorny Mulga bushes is also part of the job and has meant that any and all items of clothing worn will definitely be ripped, torn and punctured by either the barb or flailing sticks. The job is a big one, running along the boundary of the station and 20km long, the fence seems to continue on into the abyss, we get roughly 2-3km per day. When the ground is sandy, the pickets are very easy to hammer into the ground, but you have to replace more fence posts as they are in loose ground. You also have a tougher time as there are more trees in the sand as there has been more water and the roots can spread. When it’s rocky you have much fewer trees, and fewer fence posts are loose, but that does mean the new iron pickets struggle to hammer into the tough rocks so you spend nearly 5 times as long on each picket! Whilst you’re out on the boundary there is very little around you except trees, rocks, sand and more rocks. Usually you can keep the car with you as you progress, within which a rifle is kept at all times – just incase any wild dogs approach! The views we saw when progressing through the kilometres were fantastic and definitely helped motivate us – there’s very few jobs with this kind of perk!
Along the route to the fence line you travel pretty much back to Marla, which means you travel through many parts of the station and see a lot of wildlife on the morning commute. Lots of Emu’s, hundreds of Kangaroo’s and often Dingos. It’s important when you see a dingo that you try to shoot it, they are very damaging to cattle and cause problems all over. Whack told us that they often eat the back legs of a calf as it’s being born…then they have a meal waiting for them once the rest of the body is born. Whack is a good shot and usually will hit the target. To increase the chance of a dingo sighting, you can shoot a kangaroo or two to entice the dogs out into the open for a feast. They can smell the flesh from miles away. One day Adam was out with the others and they shot a kangaroo, but just before it was shot she threw her joey out of the pouch. Almost immediately an eagle swooped down and snatched the joey off the ground – he must have been watching the whole thing and was poised waiting for his meal. Adam said it was bizarre to see and it all happened so fast but that it was a great example of Mother Nature at her best.
There is not much news here in the Outback, the headline is usually drought related. Last week we got a call from the local police informing us that an aboriginal man was on the run from Oodnadatta (150km away), and is wanted for the rape and murder of a woman, and that we are to keep an eye out incase he comes through the station. We had seen and heard nothing until a few days later Big Alan received a call from the neighbouring cattle station with an urgent request to fly over in the gyrocopter to help search for the wanted man. By the time he arrived, the guy had been caught. He began his journey on a stolen motorbike and only made it 50km before running out of fuel. He continued his journey on foot. Hamilton station first knew something was wrong at 4am when the station truck was broken into and set the dogs off. Luckily, and just by chance, the station had a detective staying with them overnight on his way through to somewhere else, so the hunt could start as soon as dawn broke (and everyone had finished their breakfast). Apparently, the dogs barking had startled the man and he had once again set off and started walking. By the time he was found he had walked 10km. It turns out the guy was wearing UGG boots of all things so his footprints were markedly different to any others in the bush. He was cunningly walking on the large rocks which made his prints difficult to follow – unfortunately for him, the guy they had tracing his steps was his cousin! Small world. At some point one UGG boot had worn through so he had begun walking on the softer ground and leaving even better footprints. Consequently, he was easily caught.
Gill was kind enough to take us to Coober Pedy for a day trip, 325km from Lambina. Coober Pedy is the opal capital of the world, there are mines everywhere. Opal was first found here in 1915, by men that were prospecting for gold and had set up camp and were in search of water. Instead, they found pieces of opal on the surface and within 8 days they had pegged the first claim for opal. The town has been mined for 100 years since (subject to opal’s price booms). The town now has a population of 3500, but this is a rough estimate because the majority of houses are underground and therefore people are hard to keep track of. The empty dugouts that are no longer in use have been transformed into homes – each home will have a front door and front garden visible from overground, then the house usually backs into a hill and will be covered by the natural landscape. This lifestyle keeps the people out of the summer desert heat and keeps them cool. It’s possible to live underground due to the stable ground that Coober Pedy has as it’s strength prevents it from collapsing – in some areas the surface of the ground is compared to the moons surface as it has many similarities. Mad Max was filmed here, as was Pitch Black! The space ship used on set is still positioned in the town.
We got another killer before we left, so that makes 4 for the duration we were here. It’s still amazing to see, and you do become immune to it the more you see the process happen! There’s always a new method of butchering the cow and different equipment used each time!
Here are some of the horses that live on the station…most of them are ex-race horses who are getting on in age and just live in the wild now. We had them in the yard so that Big Alan could prepare Thompson to be ridden at the Oodnadatta Bronco Branding that takes place the weekend that we leave so we couldn’t go with them which was a shame!
Just before leaving we did a quick desert run to check tanks and troughs around the north side of the home station where the ground is soft sand. It was like a journey around the jobs that Adam and I have been working on so we took a few photos of the finished masterpieces; 6km pipeline & new tank/trough, solar powered tank & trough…
We were treated to a flight in the Gyro on our last morning and it was fantastic to see Lambina Station from above!
We are very grateful to both Big Alan & Kerri, and Mark & Gill, for having us for such a great length of time. We’ve learnt so much and will always be grateful to them for showing us a way of living in Australia that we would never have experienced without them. We set off now for Adelaide, 1200km overnight on the Greyhound bus!