When I first thought I would share some stories of my travels, I thought I would talk about each trip individually, but as I wrote last night, I decided to pick out moments on those journeys instead. I like it that way, sort of carries a theme through each piece I write. I have so many stories to tell, all true, but I find if I am thinking about a particular theme, I have a whole load of related stories from various trips that really just need to be told then and there.
Today, as I have been slogging away doing housework, I have been thinking about these journeys of the past, and what to write next. I think I have a plan now !!!
Years ago, almost seems a lifetime ago, but at the same time just like yesterday, I was working as a Stockman on cattle properties in Northern Queensland. I worked for 2 different companies, a mob called R.G. Keats and Co, which owned three properties at the time, Cassilis, which was the amalgamation of 3 different properties, and was situated about 100km or so from the small township of Richmond, in the Flinders District of Northern Queensland, Pialah, which was about 100km north of Richmond, and the other, whose name escapes me right now, but it was the home base for the Keats family who owned the company. The second was Stanbroke Pastoral Company, which at the time was the biggest landholder in Australia, with many properties all over Queensland, the Northern Territory, New South Wales and I think also Western Australia. The property I worked on there was called Frankfield, about halfway between the Central Queensland town of Clermont and the Northern Queensland town of Charters Towers.
It was quite an adventure for a guy in his late teens. I grew up in Brisbane, and so this was my first real break away from the city, and also from my family. Cassilis was the first place I worked, 134,300 acres, or nearly 545 square kilometres. To put that into perspective, for my European followers Paris is 105 square kilometres, for my USA followers Manhattan is 87 square kilometres, and for my Asian followers, Kolkata ( Calcutta) is 185 square kilometres. It’s even bigger than the 160 square kilometres of the entire country of Lichtenstein !!! So a huge area of land by any stretch of the imagination.
It was a blast, even though the days were long, the pay really pitiful ( for over 60 hours a week, take home pay was about $300 Australian. ) Being out in the expansive silence, plains that never ended, and the big skies, it was truly amazing. Mustering on motorbikes, while crazy kamikaze pilots flew at ridiculously low altitudes above your head, working the cattle in the yards, and all the mundane tasks like checking windmills and dams and fixing fences, it was really a great experience. I drank too much beer and rum, and it was all just great.
I think the solitude that was the job most of the time was what I enjoyed most, as for the majority of the time, I’d be by myself, it was only during mustering or on rainy days when you were confined to the workshop doing maintenance on the machinery that you worked alongside someone else. Those rainy days taught me so much about machine maintenance, greasing up huge front end loaders and tractors, replacing burst front suspension seals on motorbikes ( used to happen all the time, going full pelt over rough ground and up and down gullies while mustering), and the great skill of being a bush mechanic. Because you are hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town, you can’t just pop down the street for a replacement part. You either have to repair the old one, or make a new one. You become very resourceful.
During this time, I traveled so much across northern Queensland, one weekend off I went down to Townsville, stayed at a flash motel, and just generally chilled out. Another weekend it was off to the Mt Isa Rodeo. Now that was quite a thing.
It had started raining at about midday the day before I planned to leave the station to go to Mt Isa, and because the road into the place was black soil, it quickly turns into such a gooey mess that driving 500metres on it fills the wheel arches of the car with mud, making steering impossible. So I left that afternoon, made it out, and drove for Mt Isa, arriving in pouring rain, in the dark, and looking for a place to stay.
Nothing. Not a single place. I went to the police station, to see if they knew of anything, and that’s when I met the great Aboriginal Liaison Officer, who was the caretaker of the local pony club. He offered the highly salubrious accommodation of a horse stall, it was dry, and out of the rain, and was freshly cleaned with a delightful layer of straw on the floor. I rolled out the swag, and was soon off into blissful sleep. The next morning, my new friend came down to see how I was, and invited me up to the house to meet his wife and daughter and to have breakfast with them. That cup of tea and warm toast was just heaven. They were just the nicest people.
The rodeo was a great experience, it begun with a street parade, lots of colour and a real festival atmosphere. Then something happened as the last float passed by where I was standing. All the local indigenous people were on the side of the road I was, on the other, the Northern Territory mob were assembled. Now, at that time, the Queensland aboriginal people and the Northern Territory ones had a bit of a feud going on. It was a case of just add an event they would all be at, and alcohol, and you can imagine what happened. As the last float moved on, they both converged on each other in the middle of the street, fists and feet flying everywhere. Needless to say, I high-tailed it out of there. Don’t know how it all turned out. The actual Rodeo was,a Rodeo.
The trip home ended up being more of an adventure. A 10km stretch of road just to the west of Richmond, where I had to turn off to go back to Cassilis, was under repair, so all the bitumen had been ripped up, it was all being re-formed, and as such was just black soil. The before mentioned rain has closed the road. So here I found myself stuck, with 2 road trains, a Greyhound bus load of travelers, and a couple of caravaners. 2 days we were stuck there, the truckies had perishable food on board, so we weren’t short of food, the railway line between Mt Isa and Townsville was beside the highway, and because they had just updated the line and replaced a whole lot of railway sleepers, we had more than enough firewood. A bad situation ended up being a great couple of days.
When I was working at Frankfield, we used to muster on horse back. Another skill to add to the ever growing list of skills was shoeing horses. Never done it before, but pretty soon became a pro.
While at Frankfield, I also got to got to the Emerald Country Music Muster, and got to see the likes of Lee Kernaghan, and that particular night, John Farnham was also playing. I big group of us went down in 2 cars, loaded with swags and booze. We all hit town, buying new boots and Akubra hats, and a couple of the blokes met up with their girlfriends, and we all set up camp in the showgrounds. Then the drinking commenced. Boy’s and Girl’s from the bush drink a lot when in town. We danced and had a ball all night long. The next morning was the Rodeo, and a couple of the boys rode, no winners, but a few bruises as trophies. I still don’t know how they did it, my hangover was epic, and they drank more than me. Obviously that day, McDonalds was the food of the day.
I think my love of outback Australia was cemented during this time. I had a love of it already, but this just made it all that more stronger. The outback is a truly magnificent, and diverse landscape.