Published: September 3rd 2006September 2nd 2006
After a seemingly endless journey westwards on the Indian Pacific Railway, I finally arrived at Rawlinna. The journey across the Nullarbor was an uneventful one to say the least. The word 'Nullarbor' derives from the Latin 'nullius arboris' meaning 'no trees' and the landscape throughout the journey is completely flat and featureless. The sheer size of this virtual nothingness is mind boggling, the view didnt change from just outside Adelaide, throughout the night and all through the next day to Rawlinna. As a rough idea of scale, England would fit twice into the Nullarbor alone. There was a brief stop at Cook before Rawlinna for the train to take on water. The tiny outback station was nothing more than an abandoned ghost town, but a chance to stretch the legs and look at the longest straight stretch of railway in the world, on which we were travelling (500km without the slightest bend), disapearing into the horizon...
Rawlinna is also an abandoned town. Once a tiny outback community serving the local mine, but after the mines closure the people have long since departed. The only thing left inhabited (and my reason for coming) is the vast Rawlinna sheep station.
I killed Skippy
Kangaroos are quick, but rifle bullets are quicker.
was met on the trains arrival and taken to the homestead, a small collection of buildings at the north of the property. A brief look around revealed how few comforts there are, even on a property of 3,500,000 acres (largest sheep station in the southern hemisphere!) due to such extreme remoteness. Every resource is in short supply, water for drinking is from rainwater tanks connected to the guttersof the buildings rooves, all other water (washing, animals drinking) is a salty bore-water pumped from caverns 400ft below the ground by windmills. Electricity is only available from a generator (diesel motor) and this only runs at certain hours. Once again the sheer scale is ridiculous (Rawlinna: 5,500sq miles, Wales: 8,000sq miles) !!! I should imagine even the largest of farms back in the UK would fail to fill one of the small paddocks at Rawlinna. Also, navigating your way around a property of such epic proportions can be interesting. Flat and featureless like the rest of the Nullarbor, the only landmarks being an occasional windmill or water tank (and even these look fairly similar!). Thankfully I never got lost there, but you could be sat in the desert for a seriously long
I killed Skippy
Got him straight through the neck, first shot!
time if you strayed from the path and lost your bearings!
The work at a sheep station certainly taught me a few skills I would never have learnt back home! My first days work involved making poisoned dog-baits from camel meat. Apparently there are tens of thousands of wild camels in Australia, and some can often be found walking along the fence line. Unlucky for them they provide a lot of meat and make perfect baits, so they occasionaly shoot one and bring it back for this purpose. The meat is cut up into dingo sized treats and put on a rack in the sun. Then a poison called '1080' is injected and the meat left to dry out. the reason '1080' poison is used, is that it is made from a plant of the Australianoutback. The indiginous species have an immunity to the poison, but wild dogs (as a later introduction to Oz) do not. The baits then get spread accross the neccessary paddocks by a hopper on an aeroplane that just chucks them out every couple of hundred feet as they fly over.
My first month was a hectic one, working long days, seven days a
Indian Pacific Railway
Train from Adelaide to Perth (via Rawlinna!)
week. The lamb marking season was upon us, and it was a brutal introduction into the world of where sheep come from before you buy a woolen jumper or nicely packaged piece of meat in the supermarket! The life of a lamb is fairly traumatic when it comes time for them to be "marked". In the interests of taste and decency, I won't expain the details of what happens to poor lamby, but I will include photos of a Swedish guy pulling out balls with his teeth !! Needless to say you appreciate a shower at the end of the day when your hands, arms, face and clothes are covered in blood!
My last five weeks were spent working form the outstation 'depot', halfway down the property. An estate agent would probably describe the jackaroos quarters as "rustic", whereas a normal person would use the term "cowshed". The showerblock left you exposed to a biting wind, and biting spiders too, the thing was crawling with redbacks! My usual drill was to briefly inspect the shower or toilet I was about to use, but otherwise not to look too hard, or it would be all too easy to find some
Indian Pacific Railway
The longest straight stretch of railway in the world !!
evil looking spiders !!
Working from depot, I spent a lot of time repairing the rickety old windmills that pump nasty, salty water out of the ground for the ungrateful bloody sheep! As the windmill turns it pumps a metal rod inside a metal collar, reaching 400ft into the ground. Needless to say that the salty water corrodes the metal fairly quickly and the rods frequently snap at some point underground. Some lucky person (which was always me) then has to get all 400ft of rods and columns back out of the hole, repair any broken ones, then put it all down again. The procedure to achieve this is as follows...
Firstly, tie down the blades to stop the mill turning. Then, attach pulleys to the top of the windmill over the bore hole. Run metal rope through the pulleys with one end attached to a hook, and the other end to the front of the ute (pickup truck). Dissasemble the water outlet at the top of the columns and attach the hook to the top of the 400 foot pipe. Reverse ute carefully and it pulls upwards into the air. From here you can take the rods
and collars apart in twenty foot lengths and lower them back out through one side of the windmill by hand (warning, heavy!). You have to trust whoever is in the ute and whever assembled the pulleys as if a collar slips or falls down it will either cut off your fingers, or land on someones head. Basically then repeat until all the twenty foot lengths are out, weld up replacement parts, and reverse the process to put back down. The job is even harder work than it sounds, the metal all rusts up and the collars some times require a lot of persuasion to come apart. Anyway, you get the rough idea, so I shall move on !!
There are an abundance of animals living off the rugged terrain of the property. If however you are an animal other than a sheep, basically there is a good chance you'll be shot! Dingos or wild dogs are the most actively hunted as they do most damage to the sheep (and net you a $100 'dingo bonus'). Kangaroos (of which there are thousands) are a general pest and knock down fences inbetween paddocks trying to jump over them. Foxes, these will
attack lambs. Rabbits, I can't remember what they do but I'm sure it's bad! Steve Irwin would be turning in his grave if he could see what goes on at a sheep station !!
Ok, I think the only thing left to cover is the day we got to do the explosives. Always a good day when you have a box full of dodgy old gelegnite and some nitroglycerine detonators rattling about on the back of the ute! The actual purpose was to install a new gate, but rocky ground prevents you digging the required depth. Solution, blow it up! The pictures should be fairly self-explanatory!
After two months, the lack of time off to recouperate, solitary life in the outstation, and an impending increase in workload made me decide enough was enough and it was time to rejoin civilisation once again. The only way in or out of Rawlinna being the Indian Pacific Railway, the choice was simple, eastwards back towards Adelaide or Sydney, or westwards to Perth on the western coast of Australia. On the toss of a coin, fate sent me west to explore Perth and to look for a bit more work in Western
Australia before continuing my travels...
After a sleepless night aboard the train I got to a rainy Perth and a hostel owner touting for business who had a car to take me straight there seemed a good bet. So now I am in Central Perth, in a fairly shoddy hostel, but its paradise compared to living at Rawlinna! The weather changed and is looking a lot sunnier now, there is fast food on tap, and the first thing I did was go and get a big greasy burger from 'Hungry Jacks' (Burger King back home), such a relief after two months of mutton for every meal !! Expect a report from Perth shortly. I have no idea what the plan is from here, but I'm sure I'll find something to entertain myself !
Thanks to the people I worked alongside at Rawlinna, wherever they are now... Ross (don't put your fingers in the pumpjack!) and Jo Wood, Dennis (grumpy old man!), Murray (likes shooting things!), Karen (you make the best cakes!), Ned (dirty old man!), and the crazy bastards: Chris (who gave you your flying license?), McGeorge (has issues!), Hugh (brokeback!), Tay (never say anything
bad about the cook!), Mike (crazy Swede!), Kyle (albino!), Jess (longtail!), Noni (why is she with McGeorge!?)
...dig hole in ground with jackhammer...
(supervision provided by 'Zap' the puppy)
There are more photos below