Yesterday we discovered that our right back wheel had only two loose bolts left… So it almost falls of! But here we are, in the middle of the desert some 50 km’s from the next civilisation, hardly any passenger and no means of communication. What can we do? Wait a day in the shade of a tree with temperatures around 45° and hope someone passes? Or keep driving and hope we can reach the cattle station to ask some help.
We choose the last option, so we leave our campsite, head on the dirt road and drive at 15 km/h. Underway we check all the time if our bolts and wheel are still on… Some 4h later we arrive at the Maryvale station, safe but with an entirely ruined back wheel. This will probably become a good laugh over the next years by the locals. “The car that reached us with a loose back wheel.” Everyone wonders how we drove these 50 km’s. Nevertheless, we’re safe!
After some chatting, thinking and negotiating, we receive the offer they will repair our car at their other station in the MacDonnell Ranges. In exchange we’re supposed to work a week for it, but with a muster planned for next weekend we’re excited to give that a try.
So tomorrow they’ll load our car on the truck, bring us with some other equipment to the Bushe St, where the car can be repaired. Once again we’re stunned by the hospitality and problem solved thinking of the Aussies.
That night we relax with a good barbie, still touched by the turn of the events!
Early morning we help the truck loading with some stuff for the muster. Quads, motorbikes, helicopter fuel, a couple of empty drums and a petrol tank. So we mount the road train, after wondering 4 months how these look inside, we’re now in one. We install us on the drivers bed and start enjoying this unexpected experience.
From then we drive to Alice Springs, to gather more fuel… 2000 l for the truck, 4000 l for the station generator and 2000 l helicopter fuel. Ouch, these numbers make us dazzle. We just help to load and unload the drums with helicopter fuel on and off the truck. Fully reloaded we drive into the Ranges and around 4 pm we arrive at the station. That evening we release the broken wheel from Janis, meet some other backpackers, celebrate someone’s birthday and enjoy once more the generosity of a cattle station.
The next couple of days we help with the preparation for the muster, set up the temporarily fences, check gates, refill the fuel supplies and some other stuff. All this in temperatures of 45 degrees, so sometimes we feel burned and cooked alive.
At these temperatures it is also important to check the bores and refill some drinking tubs for the cows. One of these days we already taste working with the cattle, when we transport them from inside a fence and load them on a truck, sorting each single animal. During the night the cows moved into the fence for drinking and through the lock gate, they can only enter. Never seen cows that much moving as during that day, but sometimes they charge and head to us. So we really need to be quick or these animals will hurt us! Quite an adrenaline job and sometimes also hard to see how these panicking animals are treated!
And then… Saterday… Mustering day… We’re quite curious what it will be all about, but the morning passes with only waiting. The two choppers – small helicopters – already left early to gather the cattle and drive them to the temporarily fences. The riders – on motorbikes and trucks – only get in for the last part. Until noon all stays quiet, but then a radio call comes that the choppers need the riders and all of a sudden everyone jumps into action. 3 motorbikes and 4 trucks roar into life and drive to the selected spot.
There it is still waiting till the cattle arrives, but once we see the first cows appear, they are pushed into the necessary direction. For the two choppers an easier task, but on bikes and trucks it stays quite tricky. Trees, big holes and an uneven terrain makes it often impassable for us. At the other hands, the animals are pretty fast. With some three riders chasing them, they still manage to escape. An unforgettable experience for either of us. We feel like in a roller coaster, only nicer! After some hours driving, all the animals are gathered into the temporarily fences. Job done! What a day… And tomorrow we get another ride.
On Sunday the choppers leave again early and we head to the fences, to start sorting the cattle… After the first time, the animals stay fearful, especially such a big mob of some 300 animals.
During the work, the primal fear diminishes and I start to feel a little more comfortable between them.
But then we receive a message from the choppers, leave our job and once again the engines roar into life. We start chasing the animals between numerous trees, push two really huge bulls forward and then… STOP… 2 flat tyres, with only one spare we need help from the others, but that’s for after the gathering. So for us it is done, snif. Too early.
In the space between two gatherings, we repair the tyres and then wait once again till the cattle arrives. The many trees make it this time difficult, so we have to wait quite a time. When the cattle appears and we start chasing again, we receive the order to close the fences again. To make the animals pass, some fences are put down and after the passage these need to be restored. With one destroyed by the cattle, we have to stay quite a while and arrive after the action. What a pity! Twice a ruined adventure… But we learned some new skills at the other hand.
Next morning we start again early with the sorting of the animals. This time it goes better, but the last 50 or so animals prove to be hard. When we gather them, the animals always start and try to charge. With plenty of space they see more options and try harder.
All goes well, however in the end one mad cow makes it quite scary as a job. Luckily all ends well and the temporarily fence is emptied. A full day work proves to be rewarding!
The next couple of days the sorting goes on, but this time at the Marla Bowl. Firstly all the animals are sorted in a couple of paddocks. The ones to be sold in two paddocks, the Brahmans and the calves in another three. All other animals are set free.
After this sorting, the ones to be sold need to be earmarked and dehorned. For us this makes not that much difference from the days before, we don’t have to do these jobs, so it stays handling the fences and make some animals enter or exit. On friday morning all these animals are finished and put on two truckload transports to Townsville – QLD – in total 286 animals. Most of them end as hamburger meat for McDonalds and other fast food giants… What a pity if you look at these beautiful animals and realise what stress and fear their last days are meant to be. It is hard to see them suffer inside the fences, while they are normally such friendly, lovely and especially curious animals. Most of their time they simply watch you working with their big brown eyes. Curious about what you’re all doing. In the beginning this is scary, but you soon get accustomed to it and know they won’t do anything.
With these truckloads filled, our adventure of the muster also ends… Yesterday they repaired our car and now it is time to leave the station. The sorting, marking, injection with hormones and castration of the calves will not be our part anymore. Perhaps we’ve seen enough, this part will probably be too cruel when you realise you carry these small, fluffy calves in your arms.
So we pack our stuff, receive a big share of pocket money and leave for Alice Springs.
We cross once more the unsealed road from Bushy Park and head from then to the city.