While I generally specialise in the editing and proofreading side of writing, I have written a couple of pieces which have been printed in varying publications in other nations.
As mentioned earlier on this site, earlier this year I had my late father's book published: 'The Sawers From Pitcairn' There is a separate page on this site devoted to this book, including a link for purchasing, should you wish to do that. I have just had a second book published also: 'Bullseye'. Again a separate page is devoted to this book.
The following is a piece about the 'Edge of the Outback' as you can see, which I wrote many years ago, in an effort to help have the mighty outback of Australia recognised and put on the map. I have decided to publish it here and hope those of you who choose to read it will enjoy it. Please note that, while Australia is metric, all measurements are in imperial as this is the way I knew them as I grew up.
EDGE OF THE OUTBACK
Mention the TRUE outback to most people, be they from another nation or Australia, and visions of a vast, barren desert, miles upon miles of virtually nothing except a bush here and maybe a tree there and plenty of red bulldust, are usually conjured up. Overall not an attractive picture, so most would think.
I was born in Adelaide, capital of South Australia, and raised on a sheep station in the north eastern pastoral district of that state. The station is 115,000 acres, which is small compared with other stations further up and out (thus the title). Our livelihood depended on Merino sheep for their wool, along with a few head of cattle. The land, which is very barren, comprises of such vegetation as salt and blue bush and mulga and gum trees, among others. Ours is among the first of the 'big' stations heading nort east of Adelaide.
Peterborough is the nearest town, being thirty two miles away. Along with my three older brothers and our cousins, I was educated, until the ripe old age of eleven, by School of the Air, based in Port Augusta, and correspondence school.
There were times when we actually did have heavy enough rains to isolate us completely but with the technology of today this no longer happens. In those days (and I am only going back thirty or so years), we had our own generator providing us with thirty two volt power, a telephone connected to a 'party-line', mail once a week and groceries monthly. The wonderful Royal Flying Doctor Service provided our medical services in emergencies.
My brother and his family were living on and managing the station until recently. With improved roads and transport my niece and nephew were able to attend the local primary school in Peterborough. Both then followed the lead of the generations before them and attended boarding school in Adelaide. While the station is still in our family, it is managed by an employed couple.
As can be gathered from the information above, rain water is very scarce. While all (or most) stations have several large concrete tanks, dam water is used for personal bathing, washing and dish washing. The water looks dreadful, like wishy washy mud, but to many, it is a real novelty to wash and swim in. We also used to swim in the tanks; in fact this was more common than swimming in the dams which usually did not have enough water in them in which to swim. However there was the very rare occasion when water was plentiful, thereby allowing us to swim in the dams and even in the creek, which was a lot of fun. When swimming in the dams you just had to be careful not to be nipped by a yabby (similar to a crayfish or lobster and just as tasty). A good deal of outback Australia's water is supplied by huge artesian basins. Our station is fortunate enough to lie over one of these.
While kangaroos are a dearly loved part of the Australian fauna, they, along with rabbits and foxes, are also a terrible menace in the outback. Our station is surrounded by a supposedly dingo-proof frence. However, it seems no-one told the kangaroos about this as they cause more damage to this fence than anything else does. In fact, dingoes are plentiful further up north and rarely venture as far south as our station, but we do get the odd stray. They rip the stock to pieces - not to eat - just for the fun of it! Rabbits, kangaroos and other pests eat the spear grass and general vegetation, what there is of it, which is food for our stock.
As children, we often rescued orphaned 'joeys' (baby kangaroos), emus, the odd kids (baby goats as most would know), lambs and calves. We also kept a carpet python snake (also known as the 'childrens' python' and completely harmless) as a 'pet' at one stage (should I say, it adopted our grass tennis court as a temporary home for a few weeks). All were released back into the wild once old and strong enough to survive alone.
Entertainment was a little different out there. Travelling over one hundred miles for any kind of social occasion was very much the norm. 'Local' towns held annual horse racing carnivals where the focus was more on local gossjp, 'high' fashion and of course, drinking, than on the races themselves. We actually had race horses at one stage, but that was well before my time.
Up to the age of eleven my only real play-mate was my cousin. Her father, along with my father, co-managed the station for many years. My cousin and I were eventually sent to different schools in Adelaide and have never really been close since. She married and remained in South Australia, not far from the station, whereas I married and now live in Perth, Western Australia.
We all learned to ride horses and motor bikes, and to drive cars (on the station only) almost before we could crawl. That just seemed to be part of life out there.
At times were were almost completely self-sufficient; raising our own chickens, cattle for their milk and its bi-products, lamb and mutton, vegetables and fruit. We even produced bread from our own ovens although this was also before my time. In those days we were fortunate enough to have an excellent cook, along with governesses and a 'cowboy'. Those days are long gone now and we no longer produce any of the above, apart from the meat. While parts of the sprawling homestead have been modernised for practicality the bread ovens have been preserved, along with our old milk separating cellar, although neither is used.
Like most stations we have a couple of 'outstations'. In better years one of these held a family of fifteen children; the other has been empty as long as I can remember. Now both stand empty.
The homestead itself is typical of many country homesteads, with huge rooms, very thick stone walls, completely surrounded by wide verandahs, huge open fireplaces and very high ceilings. This building, along with the engine room, slaughter house, shearers' quarters, shearing shed, stables and assorted other buildings, resembles a small village.
And then there are the snakes and 'creepy-crawlies'. The worst and most venomous snake is the common brown but we also have had visits from the king brown, which lives further north. Another common species is the af-mentioned carpet python, also known as the children's python, an is harmless. As for spiders, the harmless Huntsman is easily the most common and they can grow to be enormous. I am afraid that I am very much an arachnophobic and have suffered from this fear since childhood. I used to try to overcome this for the sakes of my daughters - but that didn't work - they are now worse than I am!!! They are both in their twenties, by the way. We also have the redback spider, which is a cousin of the funnelweb, although not as venomous.
Among my childhood and teen memories is one relating to a certain uncle who lived on a nearby station and who owned and flew a Tiger Moth aeroplane. This uncle used to be in the fabit of flying low over our station and dropping bags of sweets attached to tiny parachutes, for us children. This occurred annually, after he had visited the Royal Adelaide Show. We used to love chasing each other into the huge creek at the front of the homestead searching for those little parcels; a bit like an Easter egg hunt, when the dogs didn't beat us to them!! We also had an airstrip, as did and do most stations, only ours has been overgrown by salt and blue bush, although still almost usable in emergencies.
The aforementioned creek could be quite dangerous but very exciting in heavy rains. It didn't even have to be raining on the station; as long as there were heavy enough rains 'upstream', the chances were very high of our creek coming down a 'banker' (meaning a usually bone dry creeek suddenly filled to overflowing with water). I have only witnessed it once but would not have missed it. Imagine standing in a completely dry creek bed and suddenly hearing an almighty roar ... looking in that direction and seeing a huge bank of water, sometimes up to several feet deep, coming straight for you, taking all in its parth. These 'bankers' have been known to drag fences, trees, windmills, junk, animals and anything else that gets in the way, as far as the creek travels. We have found items on stations over two hundred miles away.
There really is just so much more to the magnificent Australian outback than has been mentioned here. To the eye of the uninitiated, it probably still is and always will be a vast, barren, boring, unending desert with very little, if anything, to offer ... especially compared with mountains (we have those in the outback, too), lush green pastures, rivers, waterfaals, flowers and other flora and fauna ... yes, I concede that the outback could well be considered 'ugly'. But it is not. You don't need a vivid imagination to really see the beauty out there ... there are mountains, beautiful scrubs of trees and wildflowers in abundance. Just the colours of the hills and valleys at dawn and dusk, and after rain, are spectacular in themselves. I have seen many magnificent paintings of different settings in the outback ... they cannot be imagined, they are real, just as are those of snow-capped mountains, waterfalls, rivers and forests.
The fauna of the outback is as impressive as that of the lusher areas. As previously mentioned, kangaroos abound out there, but not koalas. These gorgeous creatures are fussy eaters in that, whiule Australia has numerous types of eucalyptus trees, the koalas will only eat the leaf of one species, and this is only found in certain areas of Australia. Other fauna includes hundr eds of different sorts of lizards, snakes (both of which are reptiles) along with many other creatures, some of which are harmful, some not. emus, eagles, eaglehawks, galahs, sulpur-crested cockatoos, rosellas, cockatiels (called weeros in Western Australia), wild canaries, budgerigars to name just a few. There are also hundreds of species of smaller ground-living birdlife.
Like every nation Australia has many features of interest and much to offer the tourist, but I just feel that the outback, which really does have just so much to offer, is too oven overlooked ... or confused with farming areas. After all, the outback does make up most of the nation but still so often goes by unnoticed ... or ignored. So ... this is my little effort to help acknowledge and salute it, as deserved.
By Lannah Sawers-Diggins 1989 C