The former athletic gate on Kilcowera Station

The former athletic gate on Kilcowera Station

I always have a bit of a giggle to myself when the odd visitor whinges about the gates on the drive into Kilcowera.  All three of them.  There has been many a suggestion about putting ramps or grids in to make the experience more user friendly.  Hard luck!  The middle gate on the way in was a real doozy – unless you knew just how to treat it, it would give the unwary a pretty good workout.  You bring one side to the middle, head over to the other half and by the time you have it in the middle the first half has swung open again.  We in the bush call these athletic gates. Rest easy – it is perfectly balanced now and operates in a perfectly boring and mundane manner. One chap commented it was worth the camping fee just to watch his wife doing battle with it!

Back in the eighties there were 14 gates on the road to town.  But being young and enthusiastic this didn’t deter us one iota.  After all the bloke always drove and the missus and the kids did the gates!  The only exception was if the missus was getting a bit long in the tooth or was done up in her finery and had high heels on.  But this was a rarity.  The other exception was when the missus had to both, drive home in the dark and do the gates because himself had a load on and was snoring in the seat next to her!

We had one gate not too far from the house at the back of the horse paddock, made of wire and logs.  I swear it was the heaviest and most cumbersome gate ever invented.  Only a few years ago Greg replaced it with a swinging gate so our visitors had an easier time with it.  But I know the ulterior motive was so the bloody thing would be shut properly, not in some half baked way because they couldn’t work out what to do with it!

This is something we have noticed over the years – people can undo a gate, but getting it back together the correct way is much more challenging!  I suppose we all have our fields of expertise.

Dingo Barrier Fence workers, Outback accommodation, Kilcowera Station

Dingo Barrier Fence workers, Outback accommodation, Kilcowera Station

Doing a water run on the place also entails opening and shutting lots of them – sometimes up to  twenty ! The Dingo Barrier Fence boys have perfected the art of not going through anymore gates than they have to on their inspections of the fence.  After all they don’t have to pay for the fuel and it’s not their car they are driving.  They will drive 10 times the distance to get somewhere and to get out of opening and shutting a gate.  And there are always two of them, so it’s not like it’s one bloke has to open the gate, get back in the car, drive through and shut the gate.

We just live with them, they don’t bother us too much, the gates are there, they need to be open and shut and that’s all there is to it.

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Hay to be unloaded at the cattleyards.

Hay to be unloaded at the cattleyards.

Well, it’s mustering time again and that means buying some hay to feed them as we move them through the yards and into new paddocks.  The newly weaned weaners stay in the yard for a week or so and get taken through the yards 3 or 4 times to educate them and get to eat some yummy hay every evening.  The cattle that we will be selling also get fed in the yards for a few days until we have enough of them to fill the truck.  We usually buy our hay from St George which is 600 km away so the freight is super expensive as is the hay.

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We had a bit of a quandary this time – the trailer was bigger than usual and so there was a third layer of hay stacked up.  How to unload it????  The poor old Fordson was not up to the challenge – the hay was just too high and too heavy at 600 kg per bale.  Soo, it was all shoulders to the hay ( except little old me ) J  Apparently I’m a bit of a light weight……..

Feeding the hay out for the weaners at Kilcowera Station.

Feeding the hay out for the weaners at Kilcowera Station.

……..  Anyway the job took most of the day, rolling the hay off and the using the old tractor to stack it up, then an electric fence around it to keep the passing trade out.

 

Medical chest at Kilcowera Station

Medical chest at Kilcowera Station

Most properties have a medical chest which is issued from the nearest Royal Flying Doctor base, in our case it’s Charleville. In the event of an emergency or someone getting crook we ring the RFDS and speak to a doctor who can prescribe drugs from out of the chest. We go through the contents twice a year and send an application off for any drugs that have reached their expiry date.

The RFDS is a truly wonderful service for not only us who live on the properties but for many of the small towns who don’t have a resident doctor. The Flying Doctor and various other nurses and specialists do clinics several times a month in those little towns for both the locals and visitors to the area.

We are also never far from medical assistance as the RFDS flys to properties in emergencies and takes the patient straight through to the nearest suitable hospital – in our case either Brisbane, Toowoomba or Sydney.

The first drawer of the chest

The first drawer of the chest

Looking down our longest airstrip, most of  those little plants are woody weeds.

Looking down our longest airstrip, most of those little plants are woody weeds.

Not long after Greg and I tied the knot in 1980 we did the prudent thing and put an airstrip in – it was about 900 meters long, wide enough and did us well enough for the first 10 years or so.  Then we decided to learn to fly and buy a plane, so a second strip was put in – a cross strip for the first one.  This one was 1200 meters long and very wide, to really comply with RFDS standards.  Now both of these airstrips are in the most mongrely sandy country and 10 mls of rain renders them unusable, but that’s where they are and that’s where the hangar is so that’s that!  We have put another on in about 10 kilometers from the house on much better country and so far I have used it a couple of times and visitors have used it as well.  It’s east – west and about 1300 meters long.

But back to the original ones, when we put the second strip in I had this 1200 meters by about 30 or 40 wide to pick up sticks from!  So every day I would put an hour or two in marching up and down with a rake and buckets doing the stick trick.  Our two girls were aged about 8 and 6 and woe  betide them if they ever said they were bored or had nothing to do!  Off we would go to the airstrip, picking up sticks, telling stories and making up riddles to jolly them along!

Also our flying instructer seemed to have a hatie on the big long strip and even if the wind favoured it, he would often insist we land on the shorter one.  I think it was because it was so long we really didn’t have to try too hard  to land in the first quarter of the strip and pull up in a timely manner.  We could just plonk her down halfway along and still have stacks of room in front of us.  They like to make things hard for the poor little trainee!  But still my first solo flight ranks right up there in my top 4 life experiences!  NEVER forget your first solo, do you?  Just looking over at that seat next to you, that is empty, makes you feel very alone!

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But the maintenance of our airstrips is never ending.  We very rarely grade them as the country is too sandy and we would just end up with an enormous gully, but we do drag them with an assortment of things – old steel, wagon wheel rims are the best thing.  We try to do this just before it rains, so that they “set” nice and hard.  But as often as not it doesn’t rain and all we get is wind and then it’s heartbreaking to see the airstrips just blowing away and the more this happens the lower they get compared to the surrounding country and erosion by both wind and water is a very real problem.  Also during very dry times we can’t let visitors use the strip as they would more than likely bog their planes in the dust and dirt.  I still use it but my plane is very light and I know just where to go and where not to go on the airstrips!

After we get rain the woody weeds and the paddy melons come up all over both of them, so I’m out there with axe, shovel, and poison trying to control them ( kill them!!! ).  And that’s where I am at right now, there are gazillions of little woody weeds out there that I have to eliminate.  The smaller they are the less poison I’ve got to use ( it’s very expensive ), it’s just finding the time to do the enormous job which is difficult.

Up, up and away!

 

 

 

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