My Life in the Outback

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Australian Wildfires Rekindle my Memories of the Northern Territory

(Thanks to my Readers who suggested this blog series about my life in Australia)

News reports of wildfires spreading unspeakable sorrow on the families, wildlife, and landscape of that unique continent revived my memories of the years I spent in Australia, a country informally called an island-continent. Barely past my nineteenth birthday, I dropped out of college, leaving family and friends in northern Mexico for the unknown life of a newlywed in the Outback of the Northern Territory.

No, I was not a mail order bride. Given the unchartered adventures I’d navigate the next four years, I might as well have been.

My new home, St. Vigeon’s Station, was over 500 air miles from Darwin. By land, it was a grueling 18-hour drive, first over the Stuart highway, and later over furrowed red clay roads. From Darwin through the towns of Katherine and Mataranka, the landscape our Land Rover traversed was mostly arid, dry, and boring. Only later would I discover some of the most beautiful scenery and bird species in the country – what is now the Kakadu National Park, a site of enormous fauna and flora diversity – tucked a short distance away from our route. Arnhem Land, the huge aboriginal reserve, lay beyond Kakadu, and stretched to the Arafura Sea to the north and the Gulf of Carpentaria to the east. Arnhem Land’s southern border stopped on the north banks of the Roper River. My destination was a hilltop house with a corrugated tin roof on the south banks of the Roper, headquarters for St. Vigeon’s Station. By Australian standards, its 2,630 square miles made it a medium-sized cattle station. After my arrival, the population on the station, the Aussie word for ranch, increased to a total of twelve permanent residents. (See map-the area inside green line was St. Vigeon’s Station).

My former husband came from a ranching family in central Mexico. My former father-in-law anticipated the Mexican government’s nationalization of several large industries and redistribution of farm and ranch land. Also predicting that those actions would bring a devaluation of the peso and runaway inflation, he looked for overseas opportunities at a time Australia was in the hunt for investors willing to lease land and develop it in ventures, including trapping “wild” cattle running rampant in the Outback and supplying the export business of both beef and buffalo meat to the expanding Japanese market. (A future blog will carry more on domesticated cattle that became feral in the “bush”).

There is much to write about Australia. So I’ll fast forward here. I did a bit of research to see what’s become of St. Vigeon’s. I found a blog written in 2014 by a travel group who discovered the ruins of St. Vigeon’s. Archaeological ruins? I had no idea I’d lived in a place destined to become an archaeological site. Does that make me a relic? The travelers further concluded the homestead had served as a mission.

A mission? I laughed out loud. St. Vigeon’s population would swell to about 20 people at the height of the cattle mustering season, otherwise known as The Dry, when extra ranch hands were hired to “trap” wild cattle and load them directly onto a commercial trailer and drive them to Darwin. To whom were the missionaries going to proselytize? Alligators sunning on the banks of the Roper River? Cockatoos flying overhead? Kangaroos hopping around? Certainly not people, for there were not many around after my former father-in-law sold the land lease to absentee owners.

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Photos: Panoramic of Australian Rocks, Cockatoo, and Map – Public domain

Stay tuned, more to come – future subjects in this series:

  • Mustering Season (trapping “wild” cattle, using an airplane to scare them out of the bush and into the open)
  • Learning from the Native Australians how to “Read the Ground”

Contest Question: Is Australia informally called an island or a continent?

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