I’m quite gobsmacked. At myself! Doing what I have been doing for the last few years is, to me, sure proof that age can be irrelevant – you can pretty well do anything you want to do, regardless of your age. Yes, there would be limitations to that – legal and health issues would come into it. But for me – at the ripe young age of 55 (I think it was – I am now 60) I had an idea – a lightbulb moment I like to call it – a window of opportunity where I realised I could FINALLY combine two of my passions – writing and the outback. It seemed like a true light-bulb moment at the time – but, I guess I never really thought I would actually go through with it – and have such a book published. But – guess what – that is exactly what is about to happen and I don’t think anyone is more surprised than I am.
(Sorry – not quite sure what happened to the first paragraph, apart from me trying to be ‘smart’ and experimenting a bit. Won’t do that again. Hopefully you can read it enough – the rest is better, I think)
Dad’s book ‘The Sawers from Pitcairn’ was the official trigger for this book. Actually, that’s only partly true. It certainly helped but my passion/addiction for writing and for the mighty outback probably had something to do with it. This, along with a long held curiosity about the lack of knowledge and education – and interest – that many (not all) people in urban Australia and overseas seem to have about this great expanse. For example, ask many in the city about education in the outback – a lot will suggest that schools in country towns are not a lot different to those in the cities. I guess so – I don’t know much about schools in country towns either. But that’s not what I am talking about. This is about education on the stations out there – the way education is conducted on properties that are kilometres, sometimes hundreds, from the nearest public school. These children have to be educated too – but how? Some of those in the urban areas did think about it when I put it to them – but overall it went into the ‘too hard’ basket. And then – where does meat come from? Well, obviously the butcher – hang on, try the meat section in the supermarket. And milk? Again the supermarket, but from a different big fridge and it comes in a plastic or cardboard container and – hey – it comes in different flavours. Power? Fuel? Shopping? Ok, they’re lost. Don’t even bother with the too hard basket.
A combination of the lot saw me take this on – the biggest challenge of my life so far (after marriage and motherhood) – and one that I am absolutely thriving on. I feel I am ageing backwards on the whole – I began in my mid-50s and am now heading toward 61. Proving that on the whole age is no barrier. Nor is gender. Not in many things.
Once I had decided to write this book (working titles were ‘The Stations Book’ or ‘The Book on Stations’), now officially titled ‘Red Dust Dreams’, it was a matter of – where to start? I really needed a list of sheep and cattle stations throughout Australia. So I turned to GOOGLE. And kept turning to GOOGLE for a good few weeks (on and off – between other things) – I tried looking up ‘property’ – and founds heaps of real estate around the world. ‘Stations’ – I learned a lot more about 90% of the railway and coach stations around the world – and petrol stations. ‘Station Stays’ – more farm stays were revealed than anything and while that is all rural, it was not what I was looking for. ‘Landholdings’ – and a heap more until the computer got sick of me and started making its own suggestions. First was ‘entities’. Huh? ‘Entities’? Ok. I’ll try anything once. So I did – BINGO – lists of rural and remote properties nationwide. YES. After printing off most of it, I then looked at each state in turn – mainly going by the postcodes. The higher – or lower, depending which way you look at it, but number (ie 6150 was definitely suburban, whereas 6750 meant outback – not rural, but remote, in most states). Next I went through the stations bearing the relevant codes – choosing ones that were not (at that stage) station stays nor company owned. However, like some other aspects, this has changed as we have progressed along this road and now there are several station stays involved.
I have never strayed from the original focus for ‘Red Dust Dreams ‘ – the domestic side of life out there. Nor the aim – which is and always has been to try to help raise awareness about that sort of life, educating people about it, helping tourism – and as much else as possible.
Next was to send an introductory and explanatory letter to the chosen stations, along with a form for the interested ones to complete and return to me in the provided SSAE. About 20-30 were issued per state – Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT are not included because, while some do have stations, normally these are too small to be considered isolated and overall, their rainfall is much higher than in the outback. Most are near enough to towns for the children to attend their local schools and not have to rely on home-schooling (unless through choice), people can socialise and shop easily. Emergency services are more accessible. Neighbours are generally within sight from somewhere on each property. All these being aspects that those in the more remote and isolated parts of Australia do not have. Anyway – back to the letters. Many of these were ignored, which was expected but initially about four stations per state responded positively.
I then set about organising the research trips, state by state. This involved flying to the capital city in each state, then travelling by coach (normally) to the first town and, hopefully, meeting someone from each station there. On the whole I would stay for two nights and one day, mainly taking heaps of photographs and also chatting to the owners/managers and their families and staff, for those who had staff. Doing this, I worked my way around SA and NSW together, followed by Qld a few months later, a quick visit back to SA, zooming over the border to Broken Hill and then back up through the NT to Darwin. And finishing off with four trips to cover the stations in WA. For the first one, I went by train up to Kalgoorlie, hired a car there to get out to the station and back and then coached back to Perth. For the second, I drove my own car up to Exmouth and back. I was meant to visit a couple of stations east of Carnarvon but I came down with a virus of some sort and then my little car went out in sympathy. So I finished up completely missing those stations and hightailing it home instead! The third trip was to coach up to Broome, then my eldest daughter accompanied me out to a station in the Kimberley – then back to Broome and coached home again. Finally, I actually joined a coach tour to Mt Augustus – fabulous fun – and back again.
Hopefully, it will be an interesting read, fun and educational. Not all good, not all bad – just true and factual. And we are also hoping to make a documentary once the book is published – this will provide a visual presentation of the written word while also showing how the content for such a book is collected.
And now I have been nominated for two awards for my efforts – and have begun doing the occasional media interview. All very welcome.