I have met some incredible women in the Outback, and their stories never cease to amaze. Many are doing it on their own and they’re doing it into their senior years. An age by which many of us would have already retired. But this is not the case not for Margaret.
Margaret is one remarkable woman. Hers is a story of resilience and hard work. And at 74, she is fighting fit. I’m inspired by Margaret’s resolve to persevere in the face of hardship, and to overcome some of the toughest challenges life’s thrown at her.
It’s tough living out bush. But thanks to our amazing volunteers, friendship, respite and helping hands are never too far away for people like Margaret.
That’s why I’m writing to you today. We need to raise $195,000 this autumn to continue our vital services. Your gift today will ensure practical care is available to people in remote Australia when they need it most.
“It was heartbreaking to sell them to slaughter (but) I ran out of water and feed.”
Margaret lives on a cattle and goat station 100km west of Tamworth, New South Wales. Her dream was to run an exporting business with her husband, so they bought Rowan Leigh twenty years ago after their children had left the nest. Now widowed, Margaret described to me that keeping her stock alive the past few years – all on her own – has been challenging and daunting.
At one stage, it was costing $2,400 per month to get enough water and feed just to keep her cattle alive. As money became tight, Margaret faced a very difficult decision…
“My cows were in calf when I eventually ran out of water and feed,” she told me. “I dearly love my animals – I’m kind to them and they’re cared for – but I had no choice.”
“When they were loaded onto the truck, they just stood there, looking back at me. It was heartbreaking to sell.”
As an animal lover, with three horses of my own, my heart ached for Margaret. I couldn’t bear to say goodbye to even one of my animals, let alone a herd I had raised myself.
But there was hope appearing along the horizon. Towards the end of last year, the heavens opened up and rain poured over Rowan Leigh. With the land turning green again, Margaret’s animals naturally began to wander further out onto the property. She knew she needed to make sure her fencing was in order to keep her animals safe. But she was on her own.
Thankfully, a good friend referred Margaret to Outback Links, and we organised two of our amazing volunteers, Laurence and Andrew, to repair worn and damaged fences, as well as complete some odd jobs around the home that had fallen by the wayside.
With our volunteers on hand, much of the fencing work was completed and Margaret regained more use of her paddocks. Apart from the practical support she received, Margaret told me she really valued the company and friendship of our two volunteers.
“The volunteers have been wonderful,” Margaret said. “The blokes helped with the fencing and gave me a hand with feeding.”
“We joked and laughed. We shared meals together. They feel just like family, and still ring me to this day.”
We are receiving growing calls for support from people in remote Australia either struggling with ongoing drought or recovering from recent disasters. Like Margaret, many are doing it on their own, in isolation. But with a gift of $30 or $50 today, you can bring practical care to people out bush when they need it most.
Realising a dream, only for tragedy to strike
As Margaret and I spoke, I felt a strong sense of determination in this woman. I wondered about her resilience and asked what’s given her the strength to persevere through so much hardship. So she took me back to the early days at Rowan Leigh.
Margaret said it was only a year in, just as they completed renovations on their ‘forever home’, when tragedy first struck.
As they were fencing at the back of the property, they noticed a plume of smoke rising from over the hill. It was coming from the house!
Rushing back as fast as they could, Margaret and her husband arrived to a devastating scene. Their beautiful home was ablaze. Desperate, Margaret braved the fire in an attempt to save precious keepsakes. But she was too late.
The heat was intense. The ceiling collapsed. And all their belongings went up in flames…
“When you lose everything…it breaks your spirit.”
Margaret told me she and her husband lived in the shearing shed while they fought for insurance money. It was an agonising five-year struggle.
There were no facilities after the house burned down. For bathi ng, they used a ‘solar shower’, which was basically a bag hung up in the woolshed. And a simple pan in the grain shed made for a toilet.
“When you lose everything, and you’re left with only the clothe s on your back, it breaks your spirit,” Margaret told me. “And I think that’s what eventually broke my husband…”
One morning, Margaret woke to weaners making a ruckus outside t he shed, and went looking for him. She found her husband on the ground. He was dead.
“I tried to resuscitate him but I couldn’t bring him around,” s he said. “He’d gone too cold.”
“Whether he called out, I’ll never know, because I wouldn’t hav e been able to hear from all the noise of the weaners. He must’ve gotten up in the night to use the toilet when it happened.”
Hearing this story left me heartbroken. I cannot imagine losing everything to fire, suffering five long years essentially homeless, and then losing my husband before we had the chance to rebuild our life together. But this was Margaret’s reality.
“I had no husband, no house, none of the ‘normal stuff’, all whi le trying to get on my feet,” she told me. “I accepted I couldn’t change what happened. I couldn’ t replace a life. It was challenging and it was heartbreaking, but I told myself that I needed to keep going.”
I then understood. All these challenges made Margaret the determined and resilient woman she is today. I felt so inspired.
Vital respite to look after her health
Margaret revealed to me that cholesterol issues run in her family, so she has to monitor her levels. To do this, she needs to fast for 12 hours. But at the same time, in order to get through her day-to-day on the farm, she needs to make sure she’s had enough to eat.
“At my age, if I fast for 12 hours then return to work on the paddocks, I could faint from exhaustion,” Margaret explained. “Out there, on my own, that would be the end for me.”
It’s a scary thought. But this is the harsh reality for many out bush. It can be hard to find help when it’s needed most. I’m so grateful that our wonderful volunteers can be there.
With Laurence and Andrew on hand, Margaret was able to go into town to see the doctor while they looked after feeding. And it gave her a chance to get some much-needed rest when she returned.
Hearing her story reminded me of how often we city folk might take medical appointments for granted. Many of us can manage a few hours away from work or even take a whole day off if needed. But as Margaret described to me, this is a luxury no one can afford in remote Australia.
Your gift of $30 or $50, or a generous $100 today will help people like Margaret stay on the land longer while still looking after their health. You donation, large or small, will make a big difference to the lives of people out bush.
Jannine Jackson, National Director