The four wheel drive disappeared into the distance. I was now alone and panicked. Soon I would be the only human for hundreds of kilometres. Although I hadn’t technically been abandoned, I had been left to run an Australian cattle station. I had no experience and no idea how I was going to cope.
I had only arrived on the property 24 hours earlier. The owners, Sarah and Shaun had foolishly believed that after a quick tour I would be capable of caring for their 2000 beef cattle, six dogs and two horses. Before they departed I had tried to communicate my concerns. I had never owned a dog or dealt with a horse and I didn’t even eat beef, let alone know how to look after the live version. For a moment Sarah looked apprehensive, but Shaun patted her on the shoulder and casually announced, ‘She’ll be right!’
I highly doubted it.
I was just a backpacker looking for some work in-between exploring the country. Although I wanted people to see past my highlighted hair and girly ways, this was a little too far in the opposite direction. However, like it or not, the station was now my responsibility for the next week. I had no choice but to get on with things.
My first job, on a list that included, rugging horses, checking reservoir pumps and baking bread, was to move a herd of cattle. Shaun had given me a demonstration the previous day and admittedly he’d made it look easy. With the farm map in hand I headed to the shed and jumped on the quad bike. At least they hadn’t expected me to ride a horse.
I managed to start the thing first time and even felt a flash of adrenaline as I headed down the track. It wasn’t every day a girl from a built up suburb of Kent got to drive such an unusual mode of transport. Nervously I bumped and weaved along the muddy trail, while some-how keeping control of the bike. Having survived the first kilometre, my anxiety began to dissolve and I started to enjoy the ride. The air had a pureness about it and I inhaled deeply. Duck’s Meadow wasn’t your usual dirt and dust station. I was surrounded by lush, green fields and hilly picturesque views that could have rivalled the Yorkshire Dales. Except the Dales don’t have clouds of exotic coloured birds or kookaburras making laugh like calls from up in the trees.
Suddenly, my mind was jerked back to the task at hand, as a kangaroo shot out from the bush. For a few magical seconds it bounded alongside me before turning into the shrubbery. I couldn’t believe my luck. What an incredible encounter and how very, very Aussie. Cattle stations, kookaburras, parrots and roos; this was fast turning into a Walt Disney film.
And then I saw them. The colour didn’t so much as drain from my face, rather it dropped straight to my feet as pure terror ebbed through me. Across the paddock were hundreds upon hundreds of cattle, all pounding, galloping, thumping and thundering towards me. Oh Fuck!
Thankfully between the mob and my current location stood the electric fence which I seriously hoped would stop them. It did. And so, at a much slower pace and with a lot more caution, I continued on. Shaun had informed me that this herd consisted of two year old stock, the cattle equivalent of teenagers. It seemed they had the attitude to match. They stood en mass, varying from black, brown or white to a muddle of all three, huffing, puffing and snorting loudly. There was a mix of males and females. The evil looking, pointy horns made it easy to distinguish between the two. I had been told the herd would be excited to see me. They were moved on a regular basis and had learnt the sound of the bike meant a fresh field of food. However, the cows which Shaun and I had mustered the previous day had been older females and a little more tranquil to say the least. They certainly hadn’t greeted us with this much vigour.
I had been instructed to park the quad a good distance from the gate in case it made the animals too nervous to come through. Nervous! These things were practically baying for blood. Moos, moans, cries and what can only be described as screams, erupted from the crowd as they stamped their feet in frustration. I ducked under a fence and stood in a triangle of space which was surrounded by three electrified gates. The first field held the new grazing ground, the second lead off across the station, while the third held the cows. The electric gates were a thin strip of tape which looked like those used to cordon off crime scenes. Thankfully the farm version had a rubber handle and a hook on each end which would allow me to disconnect it from the supply without being electrocuted. I would then pull the tape back across to the opposite fence post. First I would open the gate which lead through to the new field and then do the same for the one with the cattle behind it. The creatures would apparently wander through into their new pastures enthused by the prospect of tasty grassland. The problem was that this lot didn’t look like they were in the mood for wandering. They looked as if they were ready to stampede.
My main concern was that as soon as I unhooked the tape the herd would trample me before I had chance to reach the adjacent post. The noise and aggression was increasing by the second. I approached the gate on foot as 500 pairs of eyes watched my every move. The deadly horns upon the fiery males looked even more terrifying up close. As if sensing my fear the bull closest to me let out an almighty shriek. The pressure was on and I was too scared to keep them waiting any longer, yet too scared to move.
In the end I had no choice. Grabbing the rubber handle I fumbled before finally disconnecting the tape and hurrying across. My heart pounded in my chest, surely any second now I would be crushed. But some-how I managed to complete the crossing alive. Relieved I leaned on the post trying to catch my breath. For a split second I really thought everything was going to be alright. Then, to my horror the cattle heaved forward, ignored the open field of grass and broke straight through the third fence. NO! NO! NO! Powerless to stop them I looked on as the entire herd poured through the forbidden gate and vanished over the horizon.
This is the opening chapter of Kangaroos and Chaos. Buy my copy now