3. Outbacker Baaackpacker: Settling in on an 85,000 Acre Aussie Sheep Farm

dusty

During the struggle, stress and strain of willing Jenny to revive, we eventually collapsed from exhaustion like a pair of defeated soldiers on a battlefield. We arose the next morning in a crumpled heap on the car floor pushed awkwardly against the rear door, cursing ourselves for ripping out the double mattress that had once lived in the back of the car.

We had fortunately managed to reach our new employers the night before through a somewhat unconventional phone call positioned on top of the car roof. Matt had clambered high on the food boxes (chased by my plea not to squash any of my beloved cereal boxes) and called our new boss Terry by stretching the phone out as high as his arm could extend. The family told us they were staying in Broken Hill that night where Georgina’s mum lived. They were thankfully understanding and didn’t fire us for being a day late and so we agreed to meet the following day.

Stiff and practically arthritic, we tenderly emerged from the rear door feeling as though we’d been flattened by a double decker bus. Our first plan of action was to signal for help from a passing car, but we were stranded in the forsaken wilderness of Australia and the roads were desolate.

It was an agonising hour waiting for help to show. Matty hovered by the side of the road, staring blankly into the distance as though willing a truck to roar over the horizon equipped with jump leads, and maybe even a brand new functioning car free of charge (we had many wild, irrational daydreams while waiting on the side of the Australian road). When help finally showed, we were offered a swift jumpstart and soon found ourselves back on the road again, edging ever closer to Broken Hill. The remainder of the journey was surprisingly smooth; Jenny really does choose her moments to melt down but she always pulls through with unfathomable endurance. We loved her for this.

Broken Hill is an isolated mining city in the far west outback of New South Wales. It is also recognised as The Silver City and the Oasis of the West. It’s pretty much a refuge for anyone who has fallen from the face of the earth or diverted off the beaten track leaving South Australia. We met Terry and the children outside Woolworths before bulk-buying our groceries that would sustain us for a month. (Important to note, Woolworths is a large supermarket chain in Australia, not that old British store from our childhoods with copious pick’n’mix and CDs for a fiver). Trips back to the city are costly on fuel so those living in the far reaches of the outback need to stock up on food like a bear preparing for hibernation. The unpredictability of weather, heavy rainfall and flooding could leave you stranded on your own waterlogged property for a good few weeks, so its safer to stock up on too many homely supplies than too few. We squashed the last grocery bag into Jenny’s groaning, reluctant backseat, and shared Terry’s car fridge to store our chilled food that would no doubt expire and ‘bite the dust’ (to excuse the pun) before we reached the station, and we set off in convoy towards the farm.

The three hour drive to Allandy in the Land Rover was perilous. Terry and the children shot ahead in their smooth Toyota Land Cruiser, disappearing into the thick cyclone of dust that whirled behind them. Jenny chugged behind, choking on the hot outback air, striving to maintain a safe and steady speed of 100km. Three piping hot hours lapsed. I peeled my sticky skin from the leather seats that had now imprinted into my stinging thighs and I wiped the dripping moisture from the back of my neck. The constant rumbling of the car as she bounced furiously over the dirt roads, rocked my sensitive stomach, turning it over and over until I could feel the colour draining from my face. Matt wasn’t much better off; the long hours slouched behind the wheel had almost crippled him, and he spent the last hour wriggling around trying to change his posture to avoid any subsequent deformity. I offered to take over -but he wanted to get there in one piece.

bush

katalpa
Katalpa, the nearest neighbouring stations is about 17km south of Allandy

A dirt-road drive in Jenny was exhilarating as she blasted over the red soil, sweeping swirls of dust behind her. She was wild and free. We eventually trundled past a few of the neighbour’s stations and predicted we’d be there in seconds. Not quite. The nearest neighbouring station called Katalpa rested about forty minutes away. How bloody big is this country?! Terry finally turned left, broke at the gate and stepped out to push it open. Allandy is an 85,000 acre sheep farm so naturally the driveway that leads to the property is as far as the moon. Half an hour later, the station burst into view, shimmering in the mid-afternoon sun. Enveloped by a great silver fence that wraps around the property and bordered by thick arid grass, a disused tennis court, two stunning John Deere tractors, a vibrant yellow bulldozer, enormous gurgling water tanks and an immense fuel container, it was it’s own paradise, built and prepared for outback living. We took in our surroundings, astounded and overwhelmed by it all.

tractors

john-deer

We were guided through another sliding gate and led to a colossal open shed that lived on the right. Adjacent was the spacious cottage that became our living quarters for the next couple of months, and the main family home beamed from the left. We fell in love with Allandy the moment we arrived.

Our first job was to use the air compressor to blast off the red dust that had graced Jenny with a new ginger do, and coated the inside of the carseats and our copious bags of food with a sprinkle of the outback. Georgina, who had already arrived back at the station a few hours before, helped us to settle in to the cottage straight away. Our accommodation was a charming little house with a large double bedroom and our own private kitchen, bathroom and lounge area. It was perfect! (I miss it so much Georgina and Terry, and the more I write about it, the more I wish Matt and I could return!)

twister
Whirling dust and outback twisters
pirate
Full of laughter and lots of creative dress-ups! My work day was either spent as a pirate, a super-witch or an olympic outback athlete chasing them around the yard

The children, Emmett and Violet pranced into the cottage to showcase their stylish new trainers with flashing lights on the heels. It was a good bonding moment as I used to own a pair myself (didn’t we all?!) It was at that moment that I learned about Emmett’s mind-blowing infatuation with superheroes and fantasy – you could argue that most boys his age love a good Batman movie, but Emmett is exceptional. He is a seriously devoted fan with a bright imagination and a clever, witty sense of humour. His confidence and creative play ideas often rendered me speechless and inspired, that I often wondered how much of a little genius he’d grow to be if he was already designing original superhero characters and names at the age of five! (Watch out Marvel Comics!) His little sister Violet tended to adopt Emmett’s patterns of behaviour and interests, and often fancied herself the super-girl sidekick. She is a bright spark too and later proved to be a legendary puzzle solver. I was soon to discover that the two of them were inseparable. Over the next few months, we would share many unforgettable, hilarious adventures together (real and imaginative!)

Welcome to Allandy, our new home for the next few months. Gazing out beyond the yard, three red kangaroos frolicked in the paddock, chasing the setting sun and cherishing their freedom in this capacious, wild haven. Finally at peace with Australian nature (a clear paradox; Australia’s nature is anything but peaceful) and feeling light and free as the ‘roos that roamed, we were delighted and excited to finally experience rural living in such an extreme and extraordinary part of the world.

sunrise-allandy
Nothing compares to the golden sunsets outback

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