Volunteering at Wartaka Station
With the celebration of International Volunteer Day yesterday, we are excited to share this story written by Outback Links volunteer Jenny Rossiter about her experience of lending a hand at Wartaka Station in South Australia. We thank all our volunteers for the wonderful job they do.
A new Tonka grader was in the back of the red-dust coated four wheel drive Toyota. It was the sole subject of conversation coming from the boys in the back seat and was even more exciting than having lunch at McDonalds!
I had just alighted from the Premier Stateliner coach from Adelaide to Port Augusta. The next nine days would be spent at Wartaka - a sheep station 75km inland from Port Augusta, and a complete change of
scenery for a beach-loving city girl. Country life had long held an allure for me and now I had the opportunity to put myself in that picture as an Outback Links volunteer lending a hand to Lucy and Craig McTaggart and their two boys Dougal and Jock.
We stopped for lunch and groceries and then left Port Augusta behind. After 50km on the bitumen and 25 on the dirt we reached Wartaka. The homestead was built close to the edge of the 769sq km property. I was given a tour of the lovely old home, school room and guest cottage.
The boys were keen to drag me outside and play with the grader. A circular tank, full of
beautiful beach sand, stood next to the cubby, but the red dirt was where the
real road work happened. The new grader was put to work in the midst of other road machinery. Later, I was introduced to Dad’s grader, Jack the pony and the boys’ cats, Buzz and Woody. I also loved the Toy Story movies and it seemed to be a sign that I had come to the right place.
One city girl mistake was to call Dad’s Toyota a truck, for several days running. Each time I was corrected. ‘That’s not a truck, that’s a car,’ the boys would tell me. It was a few days later that I met Dad’s real truck and was offered a ride. The boys and I climbed
into the cab of the big Mack truck. We watched out the rear window as Craig slopped lots of grease around and then
skilfully reversed the Mack cab onto the trailer. Over the next few days I watched the grader and the Mack truck at work digging trenches and laying pipe.
The second day of my stay was Lucy’s birthday. I helped the boys make birthday cards and they each had a turn cooking with me while the other played with the beloved grader. Dougal made ‘chocolate mountain cakes’ – they rose really well in the middle! When Jock came in from his work on the roads, he chopped lots of fresh figs and we invented a sticky fig pudding with butterscotch sauce for the birthday dinner. The boys had their tea at 5pm followed by birthday cake with sparklers. They decorated the table with flowers and chocolate hearts and somehow left the scene of excitement to go to bed. Adult dinner was at 8pm. I got the first indication of Craig’s talent in the kitchen when he whipped up Fillet Mignon wrapped in bacon with cheesy mash, zucchini and honey carrots. On other occasions we had succulent steaks and saltbush mutton.
A drive from one side of the property to the other checking water levels in troughs and tanks was a good way to see the variety in vegetation and learn there’s more than one way to close a gate! I saw the Woolshed and met the old grader. The poor ole girl had a flat. We picnicked on the side of Woolshed dam and the boys went ‘fishing’ for yabbies with long sticks.
The next day Lucy asked if I could look after the boys while she did some preparation for the coming term of home schooling. She suggested a visit to the crutching shed. The boys rode bikes and I walked or ran to stay with them. We played a version of chasey that involved being a sheep or sheep dog, opening and closing gates and lots of running. The afternoon was spent driving trucks and graders, with a brief break for making some funny creatures out of wool and trying not to hot glue gun our fingers together.
It was interesting to contemplate our different perceptions of the outback. I felt far removed from civilisation in this place of red dust. Lucy had admiration for those who were more isolated and unable to shop in town or enjoy the benefits of a one-day-a-week classroom school and accessible medical treatment. She did not feel isolated on her “suburban bush station”.
Sunday was picnic day. We took two vehicles, two barbeques, meat and bread and headed for Lucy’s favourite paddock - Margoon. It was a rough road route that briefly halted the Toyota at a steep angle. What can I say about sausages, onions and chops cooked on old saw blades and eaten in a tree-lined stony creek bed? Sensational!
On the last night we noticed a flash of lightning from our warm sanctuary near the fire. Lucy had just been out to the tank to replenish our drinking water and said, ‘Looks like a good sunset.’ So off I went, camera in hand. Far away the rain was falling from gray and purple monstrous clouds. The horizon filled with flame colours as the sun went down. The grey-green vegetation, weathered wood heap and the fire in the sky created a pallet of colours that was mesmerizing. Soon the colours had volume as the thunder came closer. Infrequent lightning added to the drama. A lucky press at the right time captured a flash of lightning hitting the ground. Craig’s headlights approached the house and drops of rain started falling. It was time to leave the expanse of performing nature and head for shelter.
The food was always superb, but on this last night Craig outdid himself and cooked Port Lincoln whiting – floured, fried and lightly smeared with béarnaise sauce. It was the best fish I have tasted. It seems the finest fish is to be found at a sheep station.
There were so many blessings in being an Outback Links volunteer at Wartaka. I was welcomed into family life. It was fantastic being in the great outback. The stone buildings, old vehicles and spectacular expanses of sky all formed a photographer’s paradise. My shadow was a five-year-old budding photographer who always wanted to borrow my camera. He took some great shots! The intuitive statement of his work boots standing on red dust summed up the experience beautifully. It was about work, being part of the environment, sharing skills, experience and willingness to learn. It was a privilege to walk in some other shoes at Wartaka.
Story written by Jenny Rossiter. Photos taken by Jenny Rossiter and Dougal McTaggart.
Photo captions: 1. A storm rolling in over Wartaka station. 2. Dougal and Jock McTaggart. 3. Having a picnic in Margoon paddock. 4. Dougal McTaggart's photo of his work boots.