It’s dark and you want the light on. You flick the switch. Hey presto – light. Or – if it doesn’t switch on, you are a tad frustrated. It means one of several things – you haven’t paid the power bill, or there’s a blackout for some reason – or the globe’s gone. Whatever, you are frustrated – because you have taken it for granted that by flicking that swtich – light naturally comes on. Same with a tap – you want water, you turn the tap on. Again – magic. Water pours out. You turn the tap one way, the water warms up. Turn it the other, it cools down. Turn the tap off – the water stops. But again – you’ve taken it for granted that there will be water coming through that tap. And if neither the light switch works or water does not come through that tap, you are not happy – over to the telephone to ring for help. Dial the right number and your call will go through. Again, taken for granted. Later you want to go to the shop – just up the road. You get into the car, naturally expecting that the engine will start with the turn of the key. And it if doesn’t – that temper isn’t improving but nothing for it except to ring the local automobile club or garage and get help as quickly as possible.
Later on, as you are preparing for dinner in the evening, after a hard day at the office or doing whatever you’ve been doing – suddenly visitors arrive unannounced. Looks like they’re here for dinner too – you put on a brave smile and throw on a bit of extra for them – or if you haven’t got that extra, quickly call someone to grab whatever’s needed from the shop. Or – if worst comes to worst – one of the many takeaway places or nearby restaurants to the rescue.
All inconvenient? Absolutely. BUT at least such services and utilities are nearby and are convenient – along with all the emergency services.
Now, we are talking about populated areas. And the story could not be more different hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres away – in the outback. In Australia anyway. The people, particularly the women, out there do it tough – make no mistake. They are unique – they literally struggle on a daily basis – simply to survive. Against almost insurmountable odds – both natural and human. It seems that no matter which way they turn, they hit another brick wall. It’s almost more normal for their taps not to produce anything more than a billow of red dust – because there isn’t any water – these people are usually in drought conditions. As for the light – well, in many cases, while a lot of these areas are now connected to the ‘mains’, there are still a lot that aren’t and they have to rely on their own generators. So if the light falters – the globe might have gone but it usually does mean that the generator needs to be restarted – and sometimes this has happened because it needs to be refuelled. No hopping down to the nearest petrol station out here – it means another long trip into the nearest town or depot to restock fuel. Communication out there has come a long way and telephones are pretty good now – but even then, if you have to call for help – it’s a long time coming, if ever. Distances are too big.
This is the mighty outback of Australia – and its people. Many of the men have been born in country hospitals (some on the stations themselves) and have spent their entire lives out there – bar perhaps a few years at boarding school, having been educated for their primary years by the School of the Air and, in its way, correspondence. But that’s about it. As for the women, a great many of them have originated from either capital cities, or country towns – some from farms and others again from foreign shores – all to live in that pure isolation out there. These are those amazing women, young and old, who have to learn very quickly to adapt. Some do. Some don’t. The allure, novelty and romance of the outback soon wears off and some find that the isolation and loneliness is just too much for them. They find that they cannot handle it after all. Many go out there to work as governesses and marry one of their employer’s neighbours or another local.
But such is the life in the outback. And it applies to every age – from newborns through to those wonderful elderly people who possibly should have retired but love it too much and refuse to move away.