Cattle station life

Looking after 15,000 cattle is a big job. On Alderley Station in remote western Queensland, a team of station hands joins the bosses for breakfast even before the birds have started stirring.

The sound of a diesel generator that powers the station’s few houses and workshops breaks the early morning silence — a sign that the boss is awake and the workers should be too.

The generator chews through about 1200 litres of diesel a month. It’s turned off overnight, leaving the property with no power. When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I was thankful for my trusty torch.

It was 6am when I joined the team for breakfast. The station’s owners, Frank and Radha Blacket are my age. They dine with their team which isn’t that common. Often cattle station managers and bosses tend to do their own thing. But this couple is very hands on and accessible.

The work for the day was dished out at breakfast. Some of the team will spend the day putting in a cattle grid and servicing the motorbikes, while a few ringers will join the boss mustering. About 1000 cows and calves needed to be brought into the yards. It will take most of the day.

The Blackets own three properties in the Boulia region in western Queensland, totalling more than half a million hectares.

The number of cattle is forever fluctuating, with stock being bought and sold all the time.

“We run Charbray cattle because they’re versatile. They can go to live export and they can go to the southern, domestic market as well,” Mr Blacket said.

Prices dictate where the cattle are sold. The Blackets’ biggest market recently has been the live export trade.

“They’ve needed a lot of cattle and we’ve been able to supply them,” Mr Blacket said. “Sometimes they want emergency loads so we can supply them pretty quick.”

Mrs Blacket does not only spend time in the station office crunching numbers and doing deals. Like her husband, she is hands-on, often behind the wheel of a road train, trucking her cattle to market.

“We’re in a good position to be able to go to whichever market is paying the premium at the time,” she said.

Despite Alderley Station being closer to Townsville Port than Darwin, the Blackets’ cattle are exported to Indonesia from Darwin. That’s a 1,850km on a truck from the property at Boulia to Darwin Port.

The rowdy ringers.

Meal times on Alderley Station can be a fun, loud affair. The station cook, Bella, is a 21 year old studying an agribusiness degree via distance ed. She’s one hell of a cook and the ten station hands are big fans of her work. (A blog about Bella is coming.)

Most of the ringers (station hands) are young guys who love the lifestyle and sense of family at the station. They’re a rowdy mob – sitting together laughing, spinning yarns, teasing and even flirting with the guest who’s twice their age!

Dillon Fox, from Boonah in Queensland, is a carpenter by trade. Keen for a change, he joined his brother on Alderley Station five months ago and has not been fazed by the long working days on the property.

“It’s a good lifestyle. You don’t really notice it as work,” he said. “We’ll have a few days when the work slows down, go to a campdraft or something.”

Martin Bolton is helping Dillon put up a new fence. Once working in property development earthworks, he has recently taken a new career path.

“Out here we get a go at everything — cattle, welding, tyre fitting. You’ve got to be an all-rounder here,” said Marty. “It’s good to learn different things.”

Away from the wind and the hot sun, Ethan Tindale relaxes with a beer after dinner. Originally a Townsville lad, he is happy living and working in western Queensland.

“The people, the community — it’s like being a big family,” he said.

“You know everyone in town and once you get accepted here it’s a really comfortable place to live.”

 

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Travel trip #1. Always sit at the bar.

“I’ll have a scotch and coke, thanks. And a story.”

People who sit at the bar after ordering their drink or meal are either locals or travellers who are up for a chat. Both are a source of information, adventure, amusement or frustration.

I met the owner of the Tatts Hotel in Winton 18 months ago when I sat at his bar. Three strangers, also bar-sitting travellers, and the boss ended up having a rather large night.

Paul immediately recognised me on my return this week. He’s lost 12 kilos since I last saw him so he wasn’t as familiar to me. He quickly sidled up to me and the chatting began, right where we left off. About 60, he’s the best publican I’ve ever met – he’s a ‘people man’. The pub’s steaks are easily the best pub steaks in the country, his staff the most efficient, the pub is character-filled, and his friendly, welcoming ways earns every repeat customer he gets. And there are a lot of them. Myself included.

He buried his wife, aged 56, just a couple of years ago. Always an active, smart, worldly chap, he continues to travel and pursue his hard core extreme interests, dodgy knees ‘n all.

Paul’s just returned from a caving expedition in Borneo. He didn’t see daylight for three days. He, his guide, and two others climbed and abseiled within a series of 55 metre high caves lined with bats and with a carpet of cockroaches. His enclosed suit fended off the shit of thousands and thousands of bats, his pack held everything he needed for three days, including port. You see, he was tethered from the cave ceiling to sleep. (The cockroaches make it impossible to sleep at the bottom of a cave.) After making a rope cradle for a bed and, without any cushioning or pillow, the port would help him sleep.

Knowing Paul would not let his screwed knees stop his adventurous endeavours, a young, innovative sports doctor worked with his stubborn client to ensure he’d make the trip. A weight loss program and controversial platelet injections directly into knee did the trick.

A similar regime (but increased six-fold) will be in place next year when he tackles Borneo’s most difficult and highest peaks and, after that, Galapagos.

Not bad for an ol’ western Queensland publican, eh?

Put the Tattersalls Hotel in Winton on your bucket list. Order a steak (medium rare) and make sure you sit at the bar because that’s were the stories are. image

A camel tow

When Glenn Bainbridge from Winton in far western Queensland noticed his six camels had been in the good paddock for too long he decided they needed some exercise.

So he and wife Sue hitched them up to a homemade wagon and hit the road.

Pulled by Teddy and Blondie, the cart is packed with everything the Bainbridges need for a few months on the road.

Four other camels tied to the wagon will take turns pulling it.

Just a few days into the journey the destination remains unknown.

“Just going on a trip, a working holiday, there’s no time limit, maybe Alice Spring or may change our minds. We don’t know,” Mr Bainbridge said.

While the camels adjust to life on the road and get fitter they will travel up to 25 kilometres each day, however that will increase soon.

“In their peak they’ll be doing 30 kilometres in six hours.”

Mr Bainbridge admitted the interest his camels attracted from passing traffic could be difficult to manage.

“If I hear a car coming up behind us we pull off and let them pass.

“I try not to stop because if I stopped for everybody I’d never get anywhere.”imageimageimage

A good night’s sleep : No Bull

imageThe amount you pay for a motel room is directly proportional to the said motel room’s wall thickness.

When you quit your job you have become mindful of expenditure. While planning to sleep in my swag or a tent most nights, I simply couldn’t be arsed setting up a campsite in the dark and while tired. I treated myself to a motel room.

And what a treat it has been!

Paper thin walls meant I was woken by a woman discussing bread. I went to sleep to the sounds of a guy talking on his phone. He kept on thanking his caller for ringing. Over and over.

I can feel every spring as I lie on this mattress. The sheets are white, crisp and clean though. It’s always with trepidation that I slowly peel back the sheet, as if waiting for something to jump out at me.

There’s no carpet, nor even a little cake of soap, in this highway motel. It’s on the main drag into Rockhampton, Australia’s beef capital.

I’m looking forward to heading west towards Longreach today, for it means I’ll be able to roll out my swag tonight. And I know who has been between my sheets.

Serendipity

imageserendipity: “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

My little adventure was off to a slow start. A late night/early morning drinking and chatting meant my northern departure was delayed. After driving the most boring road in the country (the Bruce Highway) for five and a half hours I’d had enough. I checked into a dodgy motel in Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton.

200km behind schedule and a little knackered I walked into the Great Western Hotel, a brilliant pub with the heads of stuffed bulls ‘decorating’ the walls as well as dozens of photos of bull riders in action. Out the back is a huge bull riding arena. I think you’d struggle to find a vegetarian meal in this pub.

I instantly recognised a guy at the bar. I worked with him 16 years ago. “Lisa!,” he excitedly said as he opened his arms. A hug from him was quite a treat. He is a favourite of many. A kind, gentle nature, sparkling eyes, and a genuine smile has always made the girls swoon. Now in his mid-40s, with a peppering of grey, he still makes the girls swoon. SWOON.

A 15 minute chat followed as we stood at the bar, him with a lemon lime and bitters, me with a scotch. He’d just finished walking across the Simpson desert, fundraising for YoungCare. He and his adult son rode motorbikes around Cambodia – his son decided to stay. Mr Swoon plans on retiring soon, moving down to the coast with his new partner, and going off the grid. His prognosis is two-eight years, thanks to a brain tumour.

He told me of his adventure plans. Among them are Cradle Mountain and Everest.

“You’ve got to live life, Lisa.”

I smiled and nodded. Yes, yes you do.

Knickers clutter: practical or nostalgic?

imageClutter: a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way : a crowded or disordered collection of things.

Getting rid of most of your possessions is a taxing task that leaves you wondering if you own them or do those possessions own you.

Packing ‘your life’ into boxes that must fit into a single 4WD is like fitting my size 14 arse into size 10 knickers. No matter how much I try it’s still not practical or comfortable, nor is it necessary. I’ve reached an age where I’ve realised no one really cares how big my arse is and, if they do, they’re not my kind of people anyway.

If you had to pack your life into a vehicle, what would you take and what would you sell on Gumtree or give to the Salvos? And if you had 32 pairs of knickers would you pack them all?

While I’m still coming to terms to the ridiculousness of that number, I’ve likened my assorted range of knickers to my eclectic group of friends.

There are the trusty, faded, comfy ones that don’t let you down; the frivolous, frilly, pretty ones that only see the light of day on special occasions; the uncomfortable g-strings that you don’t really like but you’ve got to grin and bear them because they’re practical. There are the knickers that used to fit but you (and your ever expanding middle aged arse) have grown out of; and then there are the undies that you just can’t throw out because they’re part of your history (Come on. Don’t deny there’s at least one pair in your drawer that holds a memory).

Ridding yourself of possessions and underwear is an exploration of self and what’s important to you.

For the record, for me, trusty and comfy wins every time.

Let’s have a count. How many knickers do you have? Which pair is your favourite? Why?

Gumtree or dumbtree?

imageGumtree is an online selling system that is an eye-opening indictment of your local community. There are people among us who blatantly disregard the common elements of a polite and decent society while trying to score a bargain and therefore reign superior.

I sold every piece of furniture in the above photo via Gumtree, much of it just three months old. This is what I learned while doing so…

If you want to become ‘at one’ with Gumtree you have to abide by these basic rules:

At no stage be polite. When contacting a seller always get straight to the point. And, while you’re at at, forget any form of punctuation.

Haggle, even if the price placed on an item is exorbitantly cheap. Three month old furniture in perfect condition offered for half price is not a bargain. Make sure you attempt to screw the seller for ever dollar you possibly can. They owe you, after all.

If the seller refuses to negotiate on her as-new, half priced furniture you have every right to behave like a child, stomp your feet and walk out of the apartment in a huff.

If the advertised article is offered at no cost you should expect free delivery as well.

In conclusion, if you use Gumtree to buy anything, all elements of human decency are null and void.