The Book on Stations – or the Stations Book. The research trips for this – or the first of them – is finally underway. It is all rather hard to believe still and even though I have now left Perth for this first leg, it is still just ‘hitting’ me – the commitment which I have undertaken. The sheer enormity of the challenge.
I honestly could not be happier – I am thriving on this. Here I am, a 57 year young wife and mum, taking this on – and it is making me feel that I am ageing backwards.
But before I proceed – just to give the world a bit of background about this book. I am doing something I have always wanted to do – write a book about the wonderful outback of Australia – about the people out there, their daily lives. People who are, on the whole, facing a daily ongoing struggle to live and make a living – simply trying to survive – on some of the most enormous landholdings in the world – many of which are larger than most of Europe combined. Many aspects are being included in this book – the daily lives of those people – education, health, transport, entertainment, employment, religion, politics, the Indigenous aspect and so much more. The aim of the book is my effort to try to help raise the image of the outback and to ‘educate’ the rest of Australia and the world, that there are people out there. And all that is mentioned above.
This all began a couple of years ago – after another book project failed almost before it really began, this one presented itself to me. One door closes – another opens and I couldn’t be happier about it. Now I am about to embark on what I would consider to be one of the most – if not the most amazing and exciting challenge of my life, to date. That is, after my marriage and the births of both my wonderful daughters – nothing will ever beat those events. But this? How can I describe the journey thus far? Amazing? Fantastic? Overwhelming? Yep. All these – and so much more.
The journey to date has really taken me out of my ‘comfort zone ‘ – whatever that is. Recently I have been asked quite a lot about this ‘comfort zone’ – while I am still trying to figure out exactly what it is – for me – I guess the answer is that I certainly have gone out of ‘it’ – well and truly. In fact I think it’s given up on me, on ever thinking I will return – and it simply comes with me now. To say I am having the time of my life is very very much the understatement of the year. Of the decade.
But to return to that moment, two years ago. I still vividly remember it and putting the first plan of action into progress the very next day. I decided I wanted to involve as many sheep and cattle stations nationwide as possible – at least, those that wanted to be involved. After a few days of hunting for a list of such properties, I eventually found one. I then ‘went by’ the higher postcodes of each participating state – WA, SA, NT, NSW and Qld. I literally went through each list and chose about a dozen properties from each of these states, then drafted a letter and sent it out. Many did not respond at all – which is absolutely fine – it is entirely up to them. And remembering that these people have been ‘burned’ badly in the past – by many different aspects, human and nature alike. But those who did respond, were very, very enthusiastic about the entire thing and while it has taken a long time to reach this point, all these people have been incredibly patient and only seem to be getting more enthusiastic. And now I am finding that as I describe my dream to people, I am being provided with just so many contacts and ideas – it really is snowballing.
I have spent much my ‘spare time’ in the last year sending emails and following up any ‘leads’ I have been provided with and/or discovered on the net. Anyone who might have had anything at all to do with the great outback. While doing this I have also met and have begun interviewing about twenty of the most wonderful retired pastoralists. This will continue throughout this year – once I have returned from this, the first leg of my research trips.
I flew from Perth to Adelaide this morning. And yes, I will happily admit to being more than a bit nervous – actually, make that plain terrified – this is all part of ‘leaving my comfort zone’ – as I am terrified of flying. And it doesn’t matter how many people try to reassure me that it’s far safer ‘up there’ than it is on the roads, driving. I’m scared ‘up there’, jolly scared – and that’s that! But I did it. I am here. It didn’t help that when I tried to leave the airport here – I found it has changed. Completely threw me. I had to look several times at both number plates and the huge ‘Welcome to Adelaide’ sign to reassure myself that I had taken the correct flight and was in the right place.
I leave Adelaide again, bright and early (yes I am actually enjoying the early starts) on Thursday morning to head up north to my first station, north of Port Augusta. I am there for a few days before returning to spend a day in the port itself, visiting my own old School of the Air (hereafter called SotA) base. Back to Adelaide the next day and I have a radio interview with one station and then lunch with the owner of a different station, as well as meeting a couple of other people, over the two days I am here. Another early start and up the Barrier Highway to Broken Hill. This trip is going to feel rather nostalgic as we follow the same road we used to use (and still do – my brother and sister in law – going back and forth to the station as well as the rest of us, when we can) and will be visiting some places that will certainly bring the memories back – meeting people from my past – my childhood. This part of the trip will also take me within a few ks of my own childhood station.
So I will be heading up to Broken Hill. Without looking at my ticket, I think I arrive there quite late so will stay overnight before the next super early start – onto Cobar. I have two stations out of this town – one north and one south. It seems my visit will also coincide with the social highlight of the year – the races. For me, this is just so exciting – the local horse races were very much the social event of the year as we grew up. You do have to remember these people really are isolated. For so many of them their local shop can be thousands of kilometres away. No local cinema, ‘nextdoor’ can again be hundreds of kilometres away. If someone drops in on these people, there’s no hopping down to the local shops or take-away or going to the nearest restaurant.
Anyway, I will be delving into all this as I travel and it will all be diarised in this blog. I do have a couple of other stations which I will not be visiting this trip but as both are ‘just up the track’ from ‘Pitcairn’, our family station, I will zoom up when visiting ‘Pitcairn’ at some stage. I also have a couple of others in SA.
After Cobar I travel onto Dubbo and up to Coonamble. Another couple of days there then finally back to Sydney for two nights – and home.
I will be writing, observing, photographing, interviewing solidly throughout this trip – have already begun and ‘tastes’ will be published in my blog.
But to really learn, really gain an insight into this world – you’ll just have to wait.