The job we had found was something neither of us had previously considered, but filled us with giddy excitement after getting a particularly good soaking from tropical cyclone Marcia, which had just breezed through Queensland and the north of NSW. We would be working in the desolate, dusty and dry outback – 200kms from anything – on a vast cattle station of more than 1.5 million acres (to put it into perspective, that’s an area roughly the size of Kent, England).
Getting there involved a flight into Alice Springs (the nearest town) and then a two hour drive across the desert (ending in the station’s 40km or 85km driveway –depending on which way you came from).
After getting over the overbearing heat (it really is like being in an oven), the first thing that struck us as we made our way across the outback was how green it is – I had expected an endless horizon of red dust, but it was full of small trees, dry long grass and clusters of scrub – I guess that’s why they call it ‘the bush’!
When we reached Napperby’s boundaries I was surprised by the scale of everything. Obviously I knew it would be big, but coming from the English countryside I’m used to seeing whole open fields of cows grazing; you see the boundaries and fences that separate different livestock up and it all seems quite neat and orderly. This is farming on a totally different level – you can’t see the ‘fields’ because they are so big (and you can’t even see the cows either for that matter).
Working with the cattle is tough. It’s an early start (to beat the heat) and often involves very physical activities, such as heaving massive fencing panels (that are taller than me) around in the hot sun. Then there’s the sheer amount of time it takes to get anywhere on the station. One of the furthest paddocks was two hours from the homestead so the cattlemen would sometimes end up camping out in swags under the stars instead of returning home.
Luckily for us, our jobs were to help maintain the homestead, so our cattle work would be generally limited to feeding the poddy calves!
Dale was the outdoor handyman – gardening, taking care of livestock (there were chickens, pigs and horses as well as calves) and doing general odd jobs.
I would handle the homestead cleaning, cooking for the staff and helping run a small station shop that catered for the local aboriginal community, Laramba.
So, this is where we would stay for six months. Home sweet home!