I’m not going to say that it’s all rainbows and sparkles, I have my days where I question myself as to why I did this and start counting the hours until the weekend, but then there are the days where I can’t stop smiling and remember how lucky I am that I get to work and explore a beautiful part of the country and work in such a different environment.
My very first day as a governess there was a knock on the door of the schoolroom door. I turned my head to see my boss holding up a massive python for me to see. If you had told me then that my year on Nita Downs would be one of the best of my life I would’ve laughed and called you crazy.
To say I was nervous is an understatement – I was petrified. I was a born and raised city girl. I liked nipping out to cafes and going to the movies, loved going shopping or out to dinner with my friends. And yet when the opportunity presented itself for me to work on a half a million-acre cattle station three hours south of Broome I just knew I had to say yes. I didn’t really have any idea what to expect and don’t think I’d ever seen a real cow before but I was ready for an adventure.
My station life was a little different to many govies'; there was only the family, one station worker and I occupying the massive space. I had to mentally prepare myself for true isolation and find ways to keep occupied when not working. I read hundreds of books that year, and powered through Netflix like nobody's business. But more than anything I had fun. Sure being the govie of just one year-four student was difficult sometimes but I got to embrace my inner child like nothing else. I made more slime and baked more cakes (on a bbq) that year than in the rest of my life combined.
A typical working day started at 7.15 am when L and I would log on for ‘Morning Muster’ where all the KSOTA (Kimberley School of the Air) kids from around the region would chat and update each other on what was happening. My favourite memory of this is when the students all exclaimed in wonder upon seeing a picture of a Los Angeles traffic jam and L said “Wow! I didn’t know that many cars even existed!” I remember being struck by how alien these kids found a traffic jam when to me it was their lives that were alien. We would follow muster by a few hours of lessons; maths, science, English depending on the day and then 'smoko' at 9.30am. I have no idea why smoko is called smoko but it usually involved me convincing L to eat the breakfast he had been to tired to eat before school. We would do schoolwork until 12pm at which point L would head off to have lunch with his parents if they were on the station.
The afternoons were ours. Sometimes we did more schoolwork but usually not. We went on walks that lasted hours, dragging Bob the dog along with us. We experimented making breads and doing science projects. We read books and built lego and rode horses. Those afternoons were the best part of being a govie and easily made all the morning bargaining about schoolwork and occasional tantrums worthwhile.
I had my 20th birthday on Nita and we celebrated with a ‘killer’ and ribs for dinner. I remember how proud I was skyping my family that night and telling them – they thought I was crazy.
Things that would have scared me before began to seem normal and became good stories to whip out at parties – frogs in the toilet, a snake in the washing machine, bushfires on the horizon. I made some amazing memories that year and credit it as being a time that I really embraced myself and became independent. Driving a six-hour road trip into town for your groceries and only realising you forgot peanut butter when you get home is enough to make anyone resilient! I can only recommend being a govie – you will grow and change and make some amazing memories plus meet some of the most honest and hardworking people in the world.
I feel incredibly lucky to have lived and worked in the Kimberley for three years. This beautiful area was my first home in Australia and there will always be a part of me that wants to return.
The Kimberley is the northernmost region in Western Australia, it boarders the Northern Territory, the Pilbara (WA), the Indian Ocean and the Timor Sea. Its landscape is rugged and wild with rocky outcrops and steep gorges. The flatter, grassy plains are home to many cattle stations and pastoral leases.
The region has a unique demographic, it's home to a young workforce and a significant aboriginal population.
Over three times the size of England, the Kimberley is vast and has a population density of around 1 person per 12.5 square kilometers. To put that in context, the UK has around 3075 inhabitants for the same area. There are only six towns in the Kimberley but around 250 aboriginal communities*. The remote wildness and unspoiled beauty of the Kimberley makes it one of the world's last frontiers.
During my three years I worked on a large cattle station located an hour from Derby and approximately three hours from Broome. It was an great location, near enough to Broome to pop in for a weekend at the beach but far enough away from town to forget about civilization and embrace station life.
The cattle station was diverse in its landscape. From the homestead you would see large open flood plains totally submersed in the wet season and often still covered with water by April or May. While the water lasts it is possible to see the station's own staircase to the moon.
As you move away from the station quarters, you see levee banks running alongside nearby roads, the banks are often coated with a carpet of freshwater crocodiles, basking in the sun, who rapidly slide into the water upon your approach. The river and levee banks are also home to thousands of birds, flocks of pelicans take off at once while brolgas wander around the grazing cattle in the paddocks. Hawks circle and swoop above you as you drive along the orange dirt road crisscrossed with snake trails and wallaby tracks.
Boab trees are symbolic of the Kimberley and grew in abundance all over the station. When I first saw these bulging gnarly trees I perhaps wouldn't have descried them as beautiful but I soon fell in love with the sight of them and their their rain-signalling blossom.
I spent many weekends at the creek, seeking out shade and throwing in hand lines. I managed to catch exactly one barra over the three years. I'm not the most enthusiastic fisher, it's more about the experience (sitting back with a cold drink).
Some days we would take a boat out to explore the waterways further. To begin with I was fairly relaxed about the possibility of saltwater crocodiles. A trip to the Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park swiftly changed my attitude. Saltwater crocodiles are terrifying, enormous, sneaky killers. If one decides you take its fancy, you have next to no chance.
I only had one near encounter with a saltwater crocodile. We were out on the boat and I needed to make a quick trip to the river bank. I hopped out on a grassy bank without thinking and a few moments later waded back out to the boat. We continued on for a short while before doubling back to return home. As we passed the grassy bank we saw it was now home to an enormous saltie dozing in the sun.
Other weekends were spent heading to the pristine coastline north of Broome or exploring the station, finding new and better fishing spots or camping with friends. The evening entertainment, when not at the station social club, involved heading up one of the few hills to see the sunset, or watching a controlled bush fire blaze into the night.
There is so much to see in the Kimberley. I loved Tunnel creek, Lake Argyle, visits to Sun Cinema and Broome markets, Norvel Gallery in Derby and Geike Gorge at Fitzroy crossing. Rodeo season (roughly from July - September) is a great time to catch up with friends and neighbours while watching the exhilarating bull rides and buck jumps. The highlight to the social calendar was a day at the races in Broome, always a great excuse to scrub the red dirt away and get dressed up and hopefully win a few dollars along the way.
The Kimberley certainly draws people from all walks of life. I met many wonderful people during my time there and felt a strong sense of community spirit, even if that community is spread over an area the size of California.
While the heat is oppressive for many months of the year and the build up (around September -November) tests the tempers of even the most laid back people, the hottest months have their own charm. The station tends to be quieter and more laid back with more evenings spent at the pool or outside in the evening watching the clouds build up and hoping for a cooling downpour.
I miss watching the seasons change, having an outdoor bath full of cold water and still feeling hot, hearing the millions of bugs and crickets, the unbelievable colours the sky turns in the wet season. I miss watching the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets I've ever seen, the indigenous stories and culture that continue to pulse through the region and, of course, I miss the people I met along the way.
Aside from all of these things the Kimberley has something else to offer, something unique and powerful, a special quality that I cant quite describe but that exists all the same. The Kimberley is beautiful, exhausting, inspiring, infuriating and emotional and there is nowhere quite like it on Earth.
* This figure is a bit misleading as many are only used seasonally or currently unused, if you're interested, more information can be found here.