A Memoir

By Nancy, 79. Adelaide, SA

The year was 1957. I was a mere seventeen years of age. A position had presented itself as a governess on a remote cattle station northeast of Alice Springs. I had applied and was accepted to supervise two young children, one a boy of ten and a girl of eight.

After boarding the train at Adelaide railway station for The Alice I arrived and was met by the family.

Here I was a very excited and naïve young woman looking for adventure. I was full of bravado and daring ready for anything my new life would offer me.

I was told that the country was in the throes of a severe drought, but it really did not mean anything to me as having never seen the countryside before I thought that was how it was meant to look.

After school and weekends, I was soon spending every spare moment with the station hand roaming the station as he went about his work. It was sad to see the spindly trees with the leaves eaten by the cattle as far as they could reach.

The waterholes had little or no water and were very muddy. Some of the weaker cattle looking for water often became bogged in the mud. As an act of mercy they had to be shot. It was the one thing I never quite got used to and had to look away as the deed was done.

I realised that rain I had always taken for granted here in the outback was the difference between survival or going under.

I soon learnt that life in the outback can be harsh and brutal.

I did love the remoteness, the red earth, and the distant mountains which, at sunset, would change into a myriad of different colours, so very beautiful never to be forgotten.

The dust storms were something else and were quite frightening. We would see one gathering in the distance and shut all windows and doors and huddle inside.

The noise as it passed through was like thunder and even though everything was battened down, the dust still seeped through.

The lady of the house was left with the unenviable of cleaning up. The dust was so thick that even when I borrowed a book the pages were full of dust.

Many times during those months of drought we would watch the storm clouds gathering and we would wonder if they contained rain. Inevitably, we would be left disappointed as the clouds moved on.

The magical day did arrive when the dark clouds did open up and we had rain.

I realised that rain I had always taken for granted here in the outback was the difference between survival or going under.

What was so utterly amazing was waking up  the next day to a land completely transformed from red earth to a carpet of green grass growing as far as the eye could see.

I just could not believe my eyes and the realisation came to me that this how it was meant to look.

After a year I left looking for more adventure but that red earth of the outback had got in my veins and has never truly left.

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1 year ago

Hi Nancy, I very much enjoyed your story ‘A Memoir’. I’ve been fortunate to have seen much of outback Australia in my job as an air hostess with Ansett Airlines of South Australia, and reading your story, brought it back. Your portrayal was very colourful. One of my best memories was seeing Wilpena Pound at sunset, which was stunning indeed. Hopefully you’ll write on some of the other areas you visited.

Tessa Moriarty
Tessa Moriarty
1 year ago

thank you Nancy – you paint a real picture of the outback