There is something so special about the Australian Outback. It’s overwhelming greatness, brutality and vastness is striking. Reflective. Honest. Isolating. Red rocky plains, distant dancing brolga’s, never ending road trains, emu’s resting in the shade of coolibah trees, towns so small and spread out that if you blink you miss them and you won’t be able to get petrol for at least another hour or two… It’s an incredible place to visit. But to live? Well, that’s an entirely different experience all together.
I never would have envisaged going to the outback to visit a sheep farm. But as it turns out, the Outback is where my brother now lives with his wife and their new born baby on the sheep station, ‘Angledool’, an hour’s drive west of Longreach. It’s the kind of place that you arrive at only after what seems like hours driving on remote dirt roads passing only bush shrubs, cattle grids and kangaroos on the way. And once you finally reach the start of the property, it feels as though you drive the same distance again before any sign of human life comes into sight. It is that remote. A trip into town is a treat, food supplies i.e ‘stores’ are stocked up and sometimes planned weeks in advance, if you are in town and it pours with rain and the channels run you can’t get home, if you are at home and it pours with rain and the channels run you can’t get into town, visiting the neighbors requires a full day, a four wheel drive and a packed lunch, the main water to the house comes from the dams and the postman doesn’t come daily, but when he does come he brings with him egg cartons and a gift for the baby and leaves with a bag of handpicked homestead grown lemons. It’s the kind of place that you hear about. That Dorothy Mackellar wrote about. Where life is fruitful in so many ways, and so difficult in many others.
I last visited ‘Angledool’ with my mum on my trip home in September to see Wade and Mary and to meet my brand new niece, Jean. We had a very special time getting to know little baby Jean and sharing home cooked meals and barnyard tales with Mary’s lovely parents, Rose and Norm, who live in the homestead cottage behind the shed and past the dear little orphan lambs. The days were warm, the nights were balmy and the mornings were fresh. The way it is in September in the outback, I guess.
The outback isn’t blessed with four seasons, just two. Wet and dry. And when I arrived it was deep in the middle of a very dry season. That meant that there was plenty of work to be done to keep the farm up to speed and running and plenty of opportunity to get out and see what it is really like to work on a sheep station.
My favourite experience was joining my mum and brother on an early morning cotton seed run to feed the sheep. We left at sunrise and the entire time I was in awe of the light and arid beauty that the land cast. I make it sound so exotic, but to be honest, for the farmers on this land getting up every day to do a cotton seed run and seeing the country so arid is tough. I don’t envy the workload that faces them every day. I can only imagine it to be frustrating, grueling and quite often heart breaking. Everyone relies on the people around them to keep their peckers up and thankfully, opportunities do arise to escape the harsh reality of it all and to avoid the distant memory of which we do not speak – rain.
One of the lighter moments from the day was when we found two woolies (sheep that had missed the previous year’s shearing, or two). They had been sneakily hiding out in one of the back paddocks. We chased them around until we could catch them, turn them over and put them in the trailer. I couldn’t stop giggling. Seeing these sheep was just so amusing. They were just so… wooly. Luckily for them, they got a haircut later that day.
This was such a highlight for me when I got to see the shearing shed in action and watched my brother and Norm shear the sheep we caught. I really admire the way sheep behave. Yes they follow one another around looking lost and sometimes do silly things, but the way they behave when being held and sheared by a human is quite unique. They become ragdolls, completely relaxed and surrendered without fighting or resisting, just hanging out and staying quiet like the little introverted creatures that they are.
It occurred to me that watching the sheep being shorn in a corrugated iron shed, driving around the property in a land rover ute, seeing my brother don his akubra hat and train his sheep dog, Jac, was just so Australian. I must be honest, without having my family as an excuse to get out and see it for myself, I may have never made the journey to western Queensland. But I am so grateful that in my past visits I have got to see a flock of green budgerigars flying in the wild, I’ve heard the complete silence that comes with the isolation at night, I took part in searching the red plains for prehistoric gem stones and I've learnt what a turkey bush is and how pretty it’s little yellow flowers are when it is in bloom. Even though my visits are short and few and far between, I consider myself very lucky to have had exposure to the country, people, animals and lifestyle that defines this part of the world.
Thank you to Wade, Mary, Jean, Rose, Norm, Lilly and Jac for sharing your life and little corner of Australia with us. The next time I put on my woolen socks and jumper, I will be even more thankful and think of you, ‘Angledool’ and your wooly sheep.