270km flights to buy bread, $15,000 shopping bills are just facts of life on a remote Australian cattle station
Flying an aeroplane to pick up bread from the local bakery is something most Australians cannot relate to, but it is the unique reality for some who call Central Australia home.
Janet and Anthony Brook own Cordillo Downs cattle station in South Australia’s far north-east.
Managing $15,000 grocery bills, operating under a different time zone and battling the extremes of Central Australia’s weather are all part of everyday life.
But they would not have it any other way.
Cordillo Downs station runs Hereford cattle, which are certified as organic. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Attracting a new workforce
While Mr and Mrs Brook have lived at Cordillo Downs for almost 20 years, there are a number of employees on the station who have not grown up there.
While there are often several backpackers working at the station, Mrs Brook said it was getting tough finding people.
“It’s getting harder and harder as time goes on to attract people … to these more remote areas of the country,” she said.
“Expectations have changed around lifestyles and things like that.
“You have to be of a type that really likes living out in the middle of nowhere, perhaps making your own fun.
“If you’re into camping and fishing and the natural environment, it’s your ideal opportunity.”
Cordillo Downs station is so far north in South Australia, station owners run it on Queensland time. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Mrs Brook orders groceries in bulk for the station, which is 1,000 kilometres north of Adelaide, and roughly just as far away from Brisbane.
Feeding staff on a remote cattle station can be expensive, sometimes costing up to $15,000 per shop.
“It takes a little bit of organising,” Mrs Brook said.
“Especially when you get changes of staff and they’ve got different tastes and different likes.”
Working on a station
The station’s pantry has stocks to feed almost a dozen people who live at Cordillo Downs. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Despite being in South Australia, Cordillo Downs operates on Queensland time.
It is a self-imposed quirk of the station that the Brooks said helped them better operate their business.
Anthony Brook has spent his whole life living and working in remote Australia.
He said there were a few things that anyone wanting to give it a go would need.
For the uninitiated, station work can be difficult to adjust to. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
“Probably a good attitude, I think everyone would say that; a willingness to work,” he said.
“A willingness to work hard — it’s physical work, the days can be quite long and tiresome.
“When we get new staff, I often tell them it’ll take them six weeks before they actually get used to working.
“A lot of them haven’t necessarily done anything like it before.”
Cordillo Downs recently had new water troughs installed for its cattle to drink from.
While the initial work of emptying the old trough of water and removing it was done by machine, installing the new one is done entirely by hand.
“At the end of the day your body’s going to have a few aches and pains because you are working hard,” Mr Brook said.
“It takes a little while to get people to realise that’s okay, it’s perfectly normal to go home satisfied that you’ve done a good day’s work.”
Mr Brook has a pilot’s licence and often uses a small plane to fly around Cordillo Downs to check on his cattle and waterholes.
A plane is crucial for travel when living in remote parts of Australia. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
But sometimes that plane is used to fly to the nearest town, Birdsville, to buy a few loaves of bread.
That is a 270-kilometre round trip.
Challenges and rewards
Donald Struthers and Rachael Dickie are British backpackers who journeyed to Cordillo Downs to work for three months to extend their travel visas.
Both said it was the lure of experiencing a different way of Australian life that took them and their campervan to Cordillo Downs.
“We love the wide open spaces and it’s a very different thing to do,” Mr Struthers said.
“There was a lot of rocks and we drove in a little campervan we bought and it’s not built for these roads … it took us a while and it was quite a bumpy ride.
“It was a bit daunting because if we broke down we weren’t going to see anyone for hours.”
Working on a remote cattle station was an opportunity too good to miss for Scottish backpacker Donald Struthers. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Ms Dickie is the station cook and said that seeing a different side to Australian culture tested her social boundaries.
“It’s so different because you can’t just go down the pub — it’s been strange living and working at the same place, as well as [having] your social outings [there],” Ms Dickie said.
“But it’s good, we’ll have a barbeque somewhere on the property every so often.”
Neither were surprised to hear that there were issues in attracting workers to remote parts of Australia to work on stations.
“It’s pretty hard work and if you’re this remote there isn’t heaps to do,” Mr Struthers said.
“Because we’re only doing it for a short period of time, we see it as an experience.
“Be ready to work hard and bring everything that you need, because you won’t be able to buy anything when you get here … but it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s thoroughly enjoyable.”
A bush education
The Brooks’ youngest daughter Emma lives at Cordillo Downs.
Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the nearest school, Emma still has lessons five days a week.
Governess Margaret Schull moved to Cordillo Downs after teaching stints in outback Queensland. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Margaret Schull is Emma’s governess, and holds private lessons with her.
Emma said it was easy to concentrate during her home school lessons because she was the only student.
“[There’s] not too much of a crowd there and it’s much easier,” she said.
Emma will soon be heading to boarding school after she moves on to her secondary studies.
“I’m going to make a lot more friends and my two big sisters and [older brother] Harry are going to be there,” she said.
Cordillo Downs is in South Australia’s far north-east, about 1,000 kilometres from Adelaide. (ABC News: Gary-Jon Lysaght)
Mrs Schull has been teaching for almost 40 years and moved to Cordillo Downs with her husband following stints in parts of outback Queensland.
“I either wanted to be a nurse or a teacher and I thought nursing had more night shifts, so then I decided I’d go for teaching,” she said.
Mrs Schull said she made the move to Cordillo Downs after her own children had grown up and moved away.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to try something different,” she said.
“I wanted a more relaxed lifestyle.”