Full moon rising over Cardenyabba Lagoon.

Full moon rising over Cardenyabba Lagoon.

This came to me via the Westprint Friday Five, a weekly newsletter that shares all sorts of stuff about life not in the cities.  Written by a bloke called Michael in Toowoomba.  Thanks Michael, I love your thoughtful description and can really relate to it.

My definition of the “OUTBACK”

Although I’m only half way through my working life, still in my baby cradle as some may call it, I like to talk to people (older and younger) about their travels, domestic and international.

I have a friend who is a vet. You don’t know where she will be from one day to the next. It’s nothing for her to buy a plane ticket one day, pack her bags that night and be in another country the next day without too much thought or worry. I would be a nervous wreck and would need months of planning.

New Zealand was a huge leap a couple of years ago but now I feel I could just pop over for the weekend without thinking too much about it because I have been there before. If only we didn’t need money of course.

Another point is the normal routines we have – example – going to the shops to buy groceries. Some people do it every day and it takes 15 minutes – and that’s the time it takes to get in the car, drive to the shop, get your stuff, drive home and pack the stuff in the fridge.

We go about once a week but when I grew up west of Rockhampton; we would go every 6-8 weeks. Yes it’s embarrassing walking out with 5-6 trolleys to feed your large family. Especially when we had our own meat, milk, vegies and fruit that was grown on the property. What did we put into those trolleys? Spaghetti, baked beans and out of season items.

For others it’s a full day event – or even overnight. You drive the 6 hours or more, go to the doctors, pick up the pallet of barbed wire, cattle spray, some new boots, get that hydraulic ram fixed, have a chat to a neighbour because he lives so far away and you haven’t seen them for a while, etc. Then the last thing you do is pick up the groceries,pack the groceries into eskies then travel home at night when it’s cooler so that your items don’t spoil. When you get home at midnight you have to pack those 5 trolleys of groceries away in the cupboard. Too busy tomorrow to have time to pack it away then.

So my point? The outback for me is a road that I haven’t travelled, a road that you can drive where you haven’t seen anyone else on the road for a least half an hour. A road where you had to look at the map to find where it starts and where it finishes – even though it could be 500k’s between those points. A road where you need to watch out for critters sleeping on it because the bitumen is nice and warm. It’s the places where you can pull up and have a chat to someone without them wanting to leave in a hurry – because apparently they have something else better to do.

A road where you most likely come across a cattle drive and pull up to talk to the rider on the horse. Watch out for those patties – they stink when they a squashed and are usually sloppy because the cattle are excited about the new grass. A road where someone is on a tractor in the paddock and you wave to each other as you fly by – a friendly acknowledgement. He’s probably been on that tractor for a couple of days now and going around in circles is getting a bit boring. A road where it is single lane bitumen and you have to drop off the edge to pass a car with the fear of blowing a tyre on rough bitumen.

A road where you have to get right off the road because a 120 tonne road train is coming. Let’s face it – he’s bigger and will fall over if he gets off. That’s a messy sight you don’t want to see.

Don’t get me started on gravel roads, corrugations are similar to the rumble strips on the bitumen white lines they keep you awake. Don’t worry, the grader will be through next year after the wet. The ground is just way too hard at the moment.

The outback is house driveways that are more than half a kilometre long -the cattle yards and work shed look better then the house. Watch out for all those dogs. The outback is the fenced 50 acres around the house, usually called the house yard and your children get out on Saturday mornings on the two ride-on mowers to mow it.

I thought Cape York was remote bit I couldn’t get out of the dust from all the other vehicles flying by. The outback is when you hit a bump so hard you hit the roof and bite your tongue – and your nuts that you were holding (the ones that you eat off trees, shrubs and out of the ground) fly everywhere. It’s amazing the nook and crannies these things get into.

The outback is somewhere you can set up your tent, caravan, swag without someone using you tent pegs on the other side of your tent because they are so close. Whispering in the tent next door still sounds like normal talking. Outback is when you realize there are stars in the sky.

In summary – the outback will depend on someone’s travel experience, where they live, if you need to look at a map to find out where it goes and if you need a full tank of fuel and food to get there. The outback stops becoming the outback when you don’t need a map, you have travelled that road a couple of times and it seems to be another street going through another suburb to get to the shops – even though that shop is 300k’s away.

Did I mention that the outback would most likely be a little hotter?

So I guess I don’t know where the outback starts or finishes either. I would class the outback as the unknown and untravelled location. Maybe a perception, not a location.

Michael. Toowoomba

Fuel drums at Kilcowera Station

Fuel drums at Kilcowera Station


Kilcowera airstrip in Calenso Paddock

Recently, I was on our newest airstrip, the one above, walking up and down the sides poisoning the small mulga trees that were, and are, attempting to take it over again, when thousands of feet above a jet whizzed by.  It got me thinking, all those people up there drinking scotch, coffee, a beer, reading, eating, watching movies, chatting, keeping their kids happy, admiring the flight attendants – does the thought ever cross their minds that down in all that emptiness beneath them, lives are being lived, jobs being done, life and death issues are being dealt with in the small towns and on the stations, that people are earning a living down there in all that nothingness.

I love the fact that Kilcowera is open for visitors so they can see firsthand what it is like to live and work in our fairly harsh environment.  But these visitors usually have some idea about life in the bush already, they have travelled all over Australia looking at, out of the way spots such as ourselves and they keep searching out more places off the beaten track to go to.  The majority of Australians live on the coastal strip and never drive over the big hill and I reckon it ‘s these ones who would be surprised at  how much is going on beneath them as they wing their way over the continent.  Lucky ducks!

Kilcowera airstrip

Just in the last month in my area we have had major bushfires with many spotter planes and water bombers in the sky, the Royal Flying Doctor has been called in to airlift an injured volunteer firefighter ( a young girl ) to Charleville hospital and 2 vehicles have been destroyed in the blazes. Many people spent Christmas day and New years day and all days in between, out in the heat, day and night, 24 hours non stop, trying to stop the fires.

Other people are on the ground on motorbikes and horseback mustering sheep, cattle and goats, the road trains are driving back and forth with their loads of stock or freight for the towns and stations.  There are also hundreds of oil workers in the outback at any given time.

The kids are back on holidays from their boarding schools or hostels, they are on their ponies, or motor bikes or driving around in something on the place, cause all station, and most town kids can drive by the time they are 6 or 7.  And these kids are out helping Mum and Dad with the fencing, mustering, checking the waters, climbing and oiling the windmills, cleaning out troughs and wells, changing tyres and working on the cars and machinery.  There’s always plenty to do.

Spare a thought for all the people down below toiling in their gardens just to make a little oasis in the outback for themselves and their family and all the other inhabitants of the Outback – there is plenty going on down there!  Happy New Year!!

Our house at Kilcowera Station

Poddy Calves at Kilcowera

October 3, 2012

Angela with Spiderwoman

Angela with Spiderwoman

An inevitable fact of life on a station is the almost certain appearance of the Poddy Calf ( or poddy lamb!). We seem to get one or two a year.   It was all lots of fun when the girls were little and at home, to care for them – they loved them dearly.

Katherine, Angela and Wednesday

Katherine, Angela and Wednesday

The poor little things somehow lose their mother.  Occasionally she’ll die out in the paddock, sometimes during a muster the cow might leave the calf planted in the scrub and when she is taken back to the paddock she may have forgotten about the calf.  Or Mum might have gone on the truck and the calf wanders into the trough days later looking for her and finds us instead.  If it’s obvious that the calf hasn’t got a mother we’ll nab it, take it home and feed it.

And then there’s mismothering.  Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it’s the cows fault.  Most cows are great mothers but you do sometimes get some bad mothers or just a plain loopy cow.

If we are branding the calves they are put into a separate, small yard away from the cows , then branded and let straight back out to the cow who usually claims the calf, as quick as lightning.  Some of them are just about breathing down our neck as we’re putting their eartags in and the brand on their rumps!  After that it’s back out to the paddock where we hold them all together near a watering point, giving the calves and cows ample opportunity to mother up again.

But sometimes it just so happens that one or two don’t mother up and voila, we have a poddy.  They live in the chook yard while they are getting the special milk which we feed them via the big green cow and also calf pellets.  During the drought we also put the poddies in the shearers quarters yard as there was always plenty of grass for them there.

Poddies in the Shearers Quarters yard.

Poddies in the Shearers Quarters yard.

One year a neighbour gave us 8 poddies cause he couldn’t be bothered raising them.  That was about 6 years ago and since then the heifers have produced a calf each year and the steers were sold at about two years.  There was Delilah and Cinderella, so called cause they were so unfortunately ugly, Spindles had legs on her like match sticks, Rhonda named after his sister, Devondale cause it was white,  Kerry O’Brian who was white with a red patch on his cruet and Samson & Butterscotch.  We also went through a time when they were named Tuesday, Wednesday etc.

Eating their pellets.

Eating their pellets.

Years later if they are in the mob of cattle that we have yarded up they will still coming running up to us if we shake a bucket of pellets around.

And this is the current one – Sandra.

Sandra and the big green cow.

Sandra and the big green cow.

Hi to readers of my blog, I need your help!  My old, not so faithful computer died 2 days ago and I am trying to get some of my contacts back through whatever means I can.  So please, if you are a past or future visitor or simply interested in receiving our chatty and informative newsletter all about Kilcowera please send  a quick email to gtsherwin@bigpond.com to register your interest.  Cheers Toni

Station vehicles, number 2.

February 10, 2011

Out fencing at Kilcowera Station.
Out fencing at Kilcowera Station.

All this brings to mind the things we do with our Toyotas, the possibilities are endless . There are of course the obvious things: towing things, carrying things, pushing things over, driving through rough terrain, using it as a camping vehicle but over the years there have been some more interesting moments with our cars. 

Many, many times I have had the boring job of using the vehicle to pull things up via a gin pole (sorry!!!!!) – bales of wool out of the shearing shed onto the truck, thick soupy sludge out of a stock water tank that had to be cleaned out and pulling windmill gear up out of the hole when we needed to replace the pump or the columns. This is not a bad job at all as you can sit in the air con and listen to the radio but one can’t get too complacent while doing the job as things can go wrong at any time. 

Not too long ago Greg had his bulldozer blade off for some reason or another and when it was time to reattach it he needed help.  He had everthing lined up and I was to drive the Toyota.  This great heavy thing just needed a gentle nudge to get it into the right place so it would all fit again.  So low range and away we went, the thingy slid across and down into where it was supposed to go and bulldozer was together again! 

Way back when Polo was still being played in all the small towns out here, Thargomindah was having a street parade as part of it’s annual Polo Carnival.  Well, I saw a horse standing on the back of a ute in the parade.  There he was, driving down the main drag: bridle and saddle on, all his bandages on, all ready to go.  He wasn’t tied up but just perched up in the back of the Toyota.  Most of the polo ponies were used for mustering and were very well bred, quiet and manageable horses. 

Toyotas are good at pulling wires out of old fence lines: you just get the 5 or six wires and tie them onto the towball and pull away.  You can get rid of a fence fairly quickly, we often reuse the wire for another job and use the old fence posts for firewood.  You can also pay out the wires for a new fenceline from the vehicle using a spinning jenny on the back. Various parts of the car can be used for straightening steel posts or pipe or you can use it for breaking things too !  

When mustering cattle it’s handy to have a Toyota around just in case there are some bad eggs in the mob.  Sometimes a little nudge with the vehicle is all that is needed to convince a cow she should stay with the mob and not attempt to be a freedom fighter.  A neighbour of ours uses a Tojo all the time as his mustering vehicle after too many busters off his bike.  I am in total awe as to where that man can take that vehicle, he fairly crashes through the scrub – just don’t get behind him – cause he doesn’t look where he’s going! 

A few years ago we were camped on the Nullabor Plain right near the Bight so we could watch the whales sailing past.  A storm came up in the middle of the night and started lifting our tent which wasn’t held down by much, just us really.  You can’t get tent pegs in very far in that limestone ground.  So while I valiantly held the tent down from the confines of my swag, my brave husband shifted the Toyota and positioned it between us and the Great Southern Ocean and tied the tent to the vehicle.  A few hours later the wind shifted 180 degrees and he was out there again, moving the car around to the other side and reattaching the tent. It was a fairly disturbing night, and we didn’t see any whales either. 

There was a wedding on the place next door a few years ago in the cattle yard and all the wedding party arrived in Land Cruiser utes, complete with white ribbons.  The bride traipsed around in high heels and the long white dress ,the alter was made of hay bales and it was a very nice day out. The celebrations lasted about 3 days with many of the brides relatives staying here at Kilcowera.

Greg & Toni unloading the 4 wheeler at Kilcowera Station, Outback Queensland.