Flamin Bushies

My Life Story

Tension filled the air. We were at the front gate. I was not sure what was going to happen next. I said to the kids, “There’s a chain on the back of the ute. If he tries to attack us, you can use that, boys”. Here we were, only 36 km from the nearest town, miles from any help or so it seemed especially if some crazy pulled a gun on us. We lived nearly at the end of an isolated dirt road. The nearest help wasn’t even within cooee distance.
Our property of over 5,000 acres was set in a heavily timbered mountainous country. On the back boundary, it was like living in no man’s land. I’d only ridden the boundary fence once and only got three-quarters of the way around. By 3 pm, I reckoned it was time to head home. I turned towards home where the fence line went down sheer rock, steel posts holding it up. If I’d left it too late, we’d probably be stuck out there on some dangerous precipice or dark would beat us and we’d lose our way. I had the youngest with me. He was on a quiet horse but when we’d go down the mountains, his saddle would keep slipping up on the horse’s neck. No crupper. That would’ve helped. Anyway, blow me down as we turned downhill for home, and the saddle slipped again. They say patience is a virtue but I don’t think I was especially endowed with a lot of it. “Not again, mate,” I yelled. I stopped and we got that problem sorted out and then headed for home giving the horses free rein. My water bottle still had a good amount of water. It felt so heavy so just near home, I tossed it into the bushes. Strange thing to do but it lightened my load. Home at last! We turned the horses out. Never again!! I’m not riding that boundary ever again. And I never have but I have done sections of it.
I was the third daughter of a hardworking farmer. I was also the apple of my father’s eye. Perhaps, it was because we had the same love of the bush. In the blood, they say. I left home at the tender age of 16, almost 17 to work out west as a jillaroo. There were no Ag Colleges in those days. I answered an ad in Country Life. The wages were $10 a week and keep. “Yes, I’m experienced,” I said. I’d worked on dad’s farm and ridden since I was five. I still had quite a bit to learn.
It was a grain and cattle property. There was the boss, no wife in sight, and a married man working on the property. We had to bag wheat out of the silo and also work in the cattle yards. The cattle were mad Brahman cross with long horns. They obviously didn’t believe in tipping horns on this property. I managed to stay alive by staying out of the yards.
They had horses but they didn’t tell me the nature of one beast. I went out riding one day to check on the sheep. We’d had a big rain and the mob of ewes and lambs were bogged in the mud. I remember cantering this big chestnut along the 6-foot-high dingo netting fence. He just got faster and faster and in my mind, I screamed, “We are out of control”. There was no one around and by this time, we were in a flat gallop. He had the bit in his mouth and he was taking me to a certain death I thought. I tried to turn him into the dingo fence but he was a big powerful chestnut horse. Eventually, with an angel’s help I’m sure, I turned him and brought him to a halt. You can rest assured, we never got into a trot after that. Eventually, we came upon the ewes and their poor lambs stuck in the mud. It was heartbreaking to see the poor little helpless lambs standing there while the crows swooped down and literally picked their eyes out. Yes, they were still alive. I’ve never liked those black scavengers from that day to this.
Being young, adventurous, and daring, I was quite excited and it was thought a bit of fun to go out at night shooting roos. We had excellent spotties, lit up the whole world you thought. We piled on the back of the ute. We saw a room on the banks of the dam. We had him in the light so they gave me the 243 with a scope on it. “C’mon, you have a go”. I aimed, held steady, and pulled the trigger. I got him. What a mess! I can still see him. These days, I’ve got too soft. I’m not much of a shooter. Feel too sorry for the little blighters.
I didn’t last too long in that place. I got itchy feet. You could call me, not the travellin’ man but the travellin’ woman. I was young and all of life was before me.
I thought I’d go further west and to a bigger property. I answered another ad and ended up on a big spread about 150 miles from the nearest town. I was very experienced now, or so I thought. In this place, there was the boss and his wife and kids, another jillaroo, one old stockman, and a younger one with an aboriginal wife. There was also a cook and we had to dress for dinner after a hard day’s ride in the saddle. Being the last and the greenest recruit, I had the job of getting and milking the house cows every morning before dawn broke. Do you think I could find those old girls? I’m sure they knew I was looking for them and they deliberately hid up the gullies. I’d eventually hear the bell and find them and then off we’d go flat strap down to the bales. It was a race now. I had to have them milked before breakfast. We never had house cows when I grew up so squeeze and squirt in the dark was an experience I’d rather forget.
Breakfast was a big meal and then it was down to the yards to saddle up. My team of horses, about 5 in all were all broken in brumbies. Well, you wished they were all broken in. I always use to say if I put the five together, I’d get one good horse. I was the greenhorn and not used to these horses who put their heads down or pig rooted to try and unseat you. One day we were all ready to go out mustering and I managed to become the laughingstock. My horse put its head down at the gate to the house and I promptly ended up on the ground beside him. Of course, you can’t let them know if you’re hurting. You stand up with great dignity and painful effort and remount vowing in your mind never to be made a fool of again by any silly pig-headed horse.
One day the boss told me I had to ride the boundary fence. That sounds simple but it was a property of hundreds of square miles. I was doing one fence line. So armed with my pliers, I set off diligently mending the fence as I went. I didn’t think of any danger nor was I worried about the lonesome ride. It never occurred to me that you would have a cut-off time to get back to the homestead before dark. I finished the long stretch and turned towards home near sunset. To get home, I needed to go diagonally across the middle of the paddock. By the time nightfall came, I was sure I was lost so I gave the old grey horse its head. I had a lot of faith in that horse and I was singing as I went along, “Give me lands, lots of lands under starry skies above, don’t fence me in”. After riding for what seemed like hours, we struck a fence line that I knew was a holding paddock. “You beauty. You got me home,” I shouted. I arrived back at 10.20 pm. All the lights were out. No one seemed worried. They were all in bed asleep. As I lay my head on the pillow I thought to myself,” I sure don’t need any rocking tonight.”
Mustering had to be done up the back of the property so plans were put into place to prepare for a camp. We were sleeping out in the bush. All the food was prepared. Pack horses were brought in and loaded. The stock horses were saddled. After a day’s ride out, we set up camp just on the side of a gully but fairly well-sheltered. Great stories were floating around the campfire that night. They cautioned me about snakes crawling into my sleeping bag at night or rather led me on when they saw the fear written all over my face. I decided that the safest way to sleep was with my boots on.
I had a good night’s sleep and woke to find there was nothing sinister curled up beside me. After a good breakfast, the horses were saddled and we took off mustering. We came across wild brumbies, their faces to the wind, there long tails flowing out behind them as they galloped nervously around us. We came across cattle. I cantered around a big longhorn, scrubber bull. He turned and charged. I galloped full pelt away. I turned to see and there he was, down in the back legs. He’d been eating the soft leaves of the Zamia and it’d given him the rickets. They used to get so wild these rickety cattle. I think they felt so helpless and they were probably often fighting for their life with the wild dingoes.
We went to town every three months. I remember the boss put us up in the local pub. It wasn’t a bad old place in those days. I remember while there I met up with the local stock and station agent. They called him “steak and eggs”. Why? He always ordered steak and eggs for breakfast. Even though we spent an evening together, about all I can remember is his name. I guess I was rather amused by that name.
I tossed that job in. I was never one to stay in the same place for too long. Was I bored or did I have an inherited restless nature? I wanted something more out of life. A few questions flashed into my mind. What does make the world go round? Who put us here? I dismissed them as quickly as they came. Everyone had their down days including me.
I took another job on a racehorse stud. I had to look after the yearlings and prepare them for sale. My day started at about 3.00 am. We had to muck out all the stables and then lunge all the yearlings in the round yard. It wasn’t a bad job actually. I remember one day I had to lead a stallion down to the round yard. I had him pretty firmly held on the lead rope but he reared and the rope just slipped at lightning speed through my hand creating a painful rope burn. My hand became infected and swollen. I put the horse cream on it but this seemed to have little effect so I ended up at the local hospital and they gave me some antibiotics. This cleaned it up.
One night, the housekeeper and I went in to town. I needed something to perk me up, make me feel good. I wasn’t quite of age but I went round to the back door of the local pub and asked for a bottle of rum. They sold it to me which I thought was rather nice of them. I drank it but consumed a bit too much to make the drive home. The housekeeper came to my rescue and drove my little car home with me on the back floor and in the back seat singing merrily away. It was somewhat hard to get out of bed at 3.00 am the next morning.
One night while at the stud I was confronted, yes, in my face was a burning question. I don’t know why but I had this kind of encounter. This person called God that my parents believed in, what was I going to do with Him? Well, I thought, “I’ve had a good time in my life. I’ve lived life to the full but there’s still, like an emptiness inside me.” I strongly felt like I had to do something, like make a decision now and I felt that if I didn’t do it then I would never do it. I did. I actually decided to believe that God was real and that He could be personal to me.
The most amazing thing happened. I went out and looked into the starry heavens and it was as if I’d never seen the stars before in my life. They were lit up in a brilliant display. The emptiness just fell out of me and I felt at one with my Creator. It was as if I’d changed. I actually felt like a brand new person. The housekeeper and I were talking. I was telling her of my new experience. She said, “I don’t need to do what you did.” She was older than me, a nice person and I respected her opinion.
The time came for us to go to the yearling sales. I was to go down and look after the horses prior to the sale. I’d been burning the candle at both ends. I’d found new friends and I was spending too much time with them and getting home too late. On the drive down, I was so tired, I kept running off the road. I thought, “I’d better stop at this servo or I mightn’t make it”. I said brightly to the lady behind the counter. What do the truckies take to keep awake? She told me and I said, “I’ll have one thankyou”. It worked. I was bright-eyed for the rest of the trip.
I go to the big showgrounds where the sales were held and put my gear into the caravan they’d given me to stay in. My young sister met me. We planned to have a bit of time together. A lot of my spare time was spent grooming and preparing the yearlings. I remember one grey filly really well. She left a lasting impression on me in the shape of her back hoof prints. I was in her stable standing quite close behind her grooming and she let fly straight into my stomach. Wow! It knocked the wind out of me. I doubled over in pain and cursed as I stumbled out into the alleyway of the long line of stables. I looked around to see if anyone heard me but they all seemed to be going about their business as usual unaware of the drama.
Don’t remember the prices that the yearlings bought. They probably made thousands but no credit would be given to this stable hand. My life, however, was about to take an interesting turn in almost, the opposite direction.
Anyone who owned horses attracted me. That’s why I ended up friends with the local preacher’s family. They had an ex-trotter and a little palomino pony with an attitude.  I didn’t have my own and was only too pleased to give these horses some exercises.  It took a bit of getting used to the trotter. He was a big bay thoroughbred and it took great effort to break him from the trot…an almost impossible task.
I think this preacher man looked at me as a young girl needing a bit of direction in life and so it wasn’t long before he took me up to the local hospital and encouraged me to apply for training as a general nurse.  Surprisingly enough, with little education, I was accepted as a trainee.  From the dusty old cattle yards to the sparkling, sterile environment of a hospital ward. Could this jillaroo handle it?
What a totally different environment.  When I talked to the formidable Matron of the hospital, I had to stand up straight with my hands behind my back plus not an item of my clothing was to be out of place. That included my little white cap with no stripes on it.  Stripes meant you were second or third year.  There was no first-name basis and definitely no talking back.  I didn’t like the sterile environment or some of my senior nurses who told me I was ‘far too slow’.  Ugh!  I longed for those wide-open spaces that I loved.
Our studies were done at the end of a shift or on our ‘days off’.  I remember having a very late night before one of my lectures and actually falling asleep during the lecture.  The tutor who was a nursing sister asked me if I was interested in the topic.  I said, ‘yes’, tongue in cheek, and with great difficulty tried to keep my eyes open for the rest of that long, boring lecture.
I was enamoured with my newfound faith in God and at any and every opportunity would tell my patients about Him. One strikingly, beautiful 16-year-old girl stands out in my memory. I was there in the theatre when they operated and was then placed in the same ward to care for her.  We developed a friendship and sometimes she would visit me at the nurse’s quarters.  When the time was drawing close for her to leave this world, the other staff told me that she was lying on her bed, singing hymns to God.
It was a big day and a momentous occasion when I graduated as a Registered General Nurse.  I actually made it, this dyed in the wool country girl.  However, life was about to take yet another turn.
I seemed to have momentarily forgotten about the ‘wide open spaces’ and believed with all my heart that it was my ‘calling’ in life to dedicate myself to the preaching of the Gospel. On completion of my nursing training much to the Matron’s dismay, I entered Christian ministry. After being trained by another Pastor I began to teach seminars to lay people on how they could share their faith in God.  This was fulfilling and I enjoyed it however the ‘powers that be’ decided that they would send me for 6 months to the Philippines for further training. While there I actually ended up training in the university side of the ministry rather than the community.
The Philippines was under martial law so when I arrived it was to see army men standing around in strategic spots with machine guns.  The house where I stayed had a 12 foot high brick fence with embedded, broken glass along the top of the bricks and we entered by a locked gate. There was 17 other people from all over Asia staying in the same house.  I was the only tall,white person.  My first room was upstairs, all double-decker bunks but I couldn’t fit in the bed.  It was too small.  I was changed to another room with one other person and I had a low, single bed with lovely cane furniture. It was unusual living in a house with people of all different languages, hearing them speak but not understanding a word that was said. They all spoke English but lapsed naturally into their own tongue. But possibly the most difficult thing of all was adapting to the food. I didn’t want to cause a fuss so I didn’t complain but then again I didn’t eat.  You see, we had rice for breakfast, rice for dinner and rice for tea in a variation of ways.  One day, I was horrified to see a fish on my plate with eyes bulging out. It was normal for them but not for me.  After a while, I actually developed malnutrition and it was then that I communicated and the cooks took my dietary needs into consideration.
Filipinos are beautiful, warm, and happy people.  I have very fond memories of them laughing and singing and we enjoyed some very happy times together.  In the evenings, I would hear the streams of guitar music on the warm evening breeze.  On the streets, they would sell their national flower, the sampaguita woven into a beautiful necklace.  It has the most exquisite perfume.
During the day, I would catch the local bus out to the University of the Philippines which in those days boasted a population of 10,000 students.  Hour after hour, I would talk to the students about Jesus, pointing them in the direction of the cross.  Their hearts were so soft toward the Gospel and it was easy to communicate with them.
It was not easy to return home after my six months in the Philippines.  I had given these people my heart and I loved them, but in return I must. When my feet first hit Australian soil, I was staggered to see the affluence of Australia in comparison to the Philippines.  I had left a people behind with so little material but they were so rich in so many other ways, happy and bubbling over with laughter.  Australians on the other hand seemed to have so much material but depression appeared to be eating at the heart of the people.
Because I had trained in the university ministry, I was sent off to the big metropolis of Sydney. I was content with this and lived in an apartment in a not-so-safe area but never the less in walking distance of the university.
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