Hi Friends, welcome back to my third and final instalment of Lessons from the West. If you missed the first two parts, you can find them here and here.
When you live on a station, food is cooked to feed the masses. You use cheap, starchy vegetables, lots of carbs and eat plenty of beef. Mrs. Boss and I would unashamedly hide the avocado (that we’d paid $7 for in town) and blueberries ($14/pack) from the workers so they didn’t devour them. The beef you eat is the one you selected from your paddock and either butchered yourself or trucked into town to the butchers. Beef comes in abundance, so when you’re trying to feed 6 hungry men, who’ve just spent 14 hours doing hard, physical work, you need to have plenty of grub on offer.
I’m not a big meat eater. I’m not fussy about the type of meat I eat, but I just don’t eat much of it. I rarely order a piece of steak or a chicken schnitzel at a restaurant and often ask for the chicken salad sans chicken, however over the course of the 12 months I developed a love for a good piece of steak. Perfectly cooked, tender and oh so tasty when paired with fresh salad and mustard. When you live and work on a cattle station and live, breath and work cattle, (Lesson 7:) steak is a staple of life.
Further to Lesson number 7, (Lesson 8:) To get through life you need tenacity and resilience, but also a hearty helping of fruitcake and steak. Never have I seen one specific industry consume so much fruitcake. Like bush people, fruitcake is tough, versatile and sustainable. It’s dense and can be wrapped in glad wrap, thrown in your pocket, withstand heat, dust and possess the flexibility to be squished and flattened, only to be pulled out hours later and still taste great. You can coat it with a slather of butter, pair it with a slab of cheese, or just eat it as is. For me, fruitcake was strictly reserved for Christmas time. It was the dessert that was still lingering around months later and our mother forced us to eat it with custard every evening and had the audacity to call it a ‘treat’. The good old humble fruitcake has certainly taken a new lease on life and all the fruit-cake-making-companies can thank the agricultural industry for keeping them in business.
One of the greatest highlights of my year in The West was all the sport I got to play. From social netball and touch, to organizing and running a regional netball carnival and competing in the well-known Hughenden Rugby 7’s, I got to try things out, be completely useless at them, but have a ball. The largest defining characteristic of these sporting events isn’t the mean bush competitive streak, but (Lesson 9:) The consumption of alcohol while competing in a sporting event isn’t merely allowed, it’s encouraged. In no other environment would your water boy be delivering you beers while playing a Rugby 7’s game, nor would you down a few bevvies with the opposition at a netball carnival.
And finally, the most important lesson of them all: (Lesson 10:) The red dust settles in your veins and finds its way to your heart.
I struggle to articulate life on the land. I struggle to form sentences that accurately portray the harsh reality, desolate solitude and indescribably beauty that wide-open spaces, remoteness and small communities bring. I feel like I could write forever and never be able to fabricate a yarn that justifies this land, nor the people that live on it. Living in the outback isn’t just about the physical location, it’s about the feeling. The feeling of welcome-ness, the sense of accomplishment after a long day and the community that engulfs you, loves you for who you are and makes you a better person. The West changed me, and I couldn’t be more pleased about that.