During the years my former husband and his brother managed the pastoral lease in the Outback, my former father-in-law continued to manage his ranching and farming interests in the state of Durango in Mexico. As a side business, he rented set locations, livestock, and equipment to a thriving film industry – those American movie companies attracted to north-central Mexico’s mountain scenery, wide open meadows, and availability of trained yet inexpensive film crews for the ever-popular westerns. He became friends with some of the day’s leading actors and actresses, John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Anthony Quinn, Ann-Margret, and Katharine Hepburn, to name a few.
Yet my father-in-law found time to visit St. Vigeon’s Station. Maybe it was to take a rest from all the “Hollywood in Durango” excitement. Or perhaps being a rancher at heart, he wanted to check on his holdings in Australia. Certainly having him with us was a highlight for me those first few months I lived in the Outback. A world traveler, he was charming and engaging. Plus, I adored him. So when he suggested we join the mustering camp for three days, I was all in. Mustering had now extended far beyond the homestead making it necessary to camp out. Before we left the next morning, I made my morning call to the Land Management agency and told them St. Vigeon’s would be off the air.
We bumped along the roadless scrub in the beat-up land rover, avoiding termite mounds. Magnetic termites*, as they are commonly called, build their mounds over time. Storing cut grass stalks underground, the insects push the earth up, forming the outer chambers as they forage beneath the surface. The skyward steeples are abandoned as the termites continue digging underground. Creatively, they fill the empty chambers with soil, generating a stronger structure. Each mound can “live” up to 100 years, as long as the queen remains alive and produces eggs. Strong and solid, the mounds can easily halt a vehicle forging a path in the scrub.
We spent the day pushing through the bush toward the Limmen Bight River. Arriving almost at dusk, we were met by Irwin, a wonderful aboriginal man who always worked the muster for us. Smiling, he informed me he’d prepare dinner. My brother-in-law made sure his dad and I were watching as Irwin began cooking. Irwin kneaded bread dough and periodically used a hand to clear the snot from his nose. Without missing a beat, he continued working the dough. I gagged. I tried not to watch after that, but I did see the dough go into a Dutch oven. Placing it in a hole he’d dug, Irwin put the oven on top of coals and covered it with more red-hot embers. He went on to cut vegetables and meat for a stew he cooked over an open fire. Never mind the profuse sweat from his brow that was seasoning the concoction.
Though I tried to take over the cooking right there, Irwin told me it would hurt his feelings if I did not partake of the banquet he was preparing.
My brother-in-law passed bowls to us full of stew. A thick slice of bread sat on top. “This is the most delicious pan de moco, booger bread, you will ever eat,” he said, laughing so hard I thought he’d spill the stew. Then he added, “Besides, eating booger bread improves your immune system.”
Not having eaten since we’d left the homestead that morning, my father-in-law and I were famished. I closed my eyes and ate, thinking it could be worse. The food could be raw…! I insisted on being camp cook the next two days.
* Amitermes meridionalis for the technically inclined.
Next installment: Surviving the Mustering Camp – Part 2
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