Guest author: Richard McSephney
What an incredible day. Departing Port Augusta, at the top of the hill turn left to West Australia, turn right to Darwin. It doesn’t matter, 3000 km either way before you see an ocean again.
This is the point at which a line has been drawn in the sand. The outback starts at the 110km speed advisory. Literally, suburban town abruptly stops and the deep red sand and mint green saltbush contrasts with the bright blue sky. You could straddle it. Outback, suburbia. Suburbia, outback. It truly is that simple.
I find myself at peace. I’m a total novice but I feel strangely belonging. I love this feeling. I feel at home. It can’t be so but that’s how I feel. I truly wish I’d known this place earlier.
The day is spent thundering up the Stuart Highway. We aim for Coober Pedy some 600 km away.
Janette has invited us to visit her on Ingomar Station about 50 km from Coober Pedy. There has been rain so our route has to be carefully orchestrated to ensure we don’t damage the road or get stuck in the soft slippery soils of the outback. Following Howard’s ute looks like attending a neatly choreographed dance as the Landcruiser slithers sideways, is carefully caught and scrabbled for grip. It feels like ice.
Dave a maintenance man on the station relays a route to ensure we make it in.
“About 40 km from Coober you’ll see an overpass. Keep the mine haul road on your left and follow a bitumen mine road for about 20 km then turn left pass a dam..”…and so the instructions go on. The homestead is about 40 km off the highway. It never used to be but the state rerouted the road and now the driveway is essentially 40 km long. Now that might sound a lot but dimensions here are of gargantuan proportions.
The cattle station has 3 airstrips and its very own atomic shelter. This is located in the prohibited Woomera area and not all that far from Maralinga where from 1956 to 1963 Britain tested a few atomic bombs. It was safe though, no chance whatsoever of the cloud drifting anywhere near Westminster! Not so for our host’s property as the earth shelter testifies! Wonder how the animals were protected?
The adjoining station Anna Creek is the largest working cattle station on earth. Anna Creek and the associated outstation, The Peake, cover 23,677 sq km of pastoral land, which will double the size of Williams Cattle Company’s holdings to some 45,000 sq km. Together, they have a capacity for 35,000 cattle. It’s larger than some European countries.
So by contrast our host’s property is a modest 1,000,000 acres! That’s twice the size of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and twice the size of Luxembourg.
The station is home to 13,500 sheep and 3,500 cattle. The logistics of running a place like this are staggering. The cattle yards are just 50 km away, with a second set 150 km away. Last week it took two helicopters 5 days to bring the cattle in. That doesn’t include the 8 ringers on motorbikes assisting.
This is not an operation for the faint hearted. Scott the new owner has great plans for improvements as the station is a bit run down and when I see the stocks of pipes, steel, trucks and machinery I can only marvel at the task ahead.
We gather wood for a fire and I’m reminded of the story of an adventurer who not that long ago met a King Brown snake whilst gathering wood. His body was found 7 years later not far from here. I shudder at the memory and look out into the dark where I hear shuffling and crackling. I call out…”You ok Howard, no sign of snakes?”
Where was I, you ask? Standing on the step of the Landcruiser holding a torch so he could find the way back, that’s where I was. Oh come on, that’s also a dangerous task. I wasn’t shirking my responsibilities, you could easily slip off and sprain your ankle.
It is a tough job and someone had to do it and to be fair it was Howard himself who planted the fear of snakes by telling me the story in the first place.
It was a very cold night and we wake early to the sound of the fleet of vehicles heading off to the far flung corners of the station to start the day’s work, for us a cruise day toward Alice.