2012, People, Stories and Articles

Don Harris – More than a Mechanic & Wendy Bailey – More than a Nurse

Meda Station, Kimberley WA

Friendship, hospitality and a helping hand have consistently been offered during the twenty one years of our travels, so we enjoy an opportunity to sing the praises of Don “more that a mechanic” Harris, and Wendy “more than a nurse” Bailey, who for most of each year since 2003, have made Meda Station their home.

Our first meeting with Don gave us a distinct impression that the mechanical state of our truck and gooseneck was of equal, or more importance than we were! With “eagle eyes”, Don checks out any vehicle that drives by the station workshop. He than “swoops” to admonish, educate, and invariably offer assistance if needed. We figure he can spot fret marks on a wheel nut from a mile away, and his ability to get to the cause of any mechanical problem is remarkable, and renowned.

Labelling it, “Preventative Maintenance,” Don explains….. “better to do that loose wheel nut up now than have to replace it with studs on the side of the road somewhere.” His voice gains momentum “ Maintenance is a big thing on stations, and drivers; it’s controlling the people who drive….. how fast they go, and where they go. They can be bits of shockers.”

Born in Leeton NSW, schooled in Adelaide , and shifted to Broome in 1980, Don’s passion for all things mechanical started with fixing his own push bike. His first job was fitting Air Conditioners, and he then moved pretty quickly to driving road trains. Along the way Don spent eighteen months working at Argyle Diamond Mine. “It wasn’t much fun; digging a pile of dirt every day.” He also mowed roadside grass for a while, and he grins. “That was a good way to see the country at five miles an hour.” Don’s experience driving road trains has helped to establish his reputation as the pedantic mechanic. “Driving on dirt, you’re always out checking to see what might fall off next.”

For Don and Wendy, the main drawcards for living in the West Kimberley are the weather, and the people, or as Don puts it “the lack of people.” Wendy laughs……. “We keep coming back, go away, come back, go away and come back!”

Narrogen, South of Perth is Wendy’s home town, and apart from some time spent being a “switchie” (switch board operator), Wendy’s main job and calling has been nursing, mostly based in Derby, 40ks from Meda. In 2009 and 2010 Wendy decided to instigate a career change, and took up cooking for the Meda Stock Camp. “It was good fun out there with the kids…… a break from nursing. I needed it. After those two years though it made me realize that “nursing isn’t so bad!” Wendy currently co-manages a Primary Health Care Clinic in Derby, and enjoys the privilege of weekends off, plus the opportunity to travel to clinics along the picturesque Gibb River Road.

Genuine concern for the young people in the Meda stockcamp keeps Don and Wendy in contact with each years’ intake, and Wendy, whose two sons have both worked at Meda, sees it this way. “They could be your own kids, somewhere else”. With this in mind, the couple see themselves as “a couple of olds; a steadier influence around the place.” Don is also willing to teach anyone who is keen to learn some of the skills he’s learned over the years. He’s had a couple of “apprentices” who’ve qualified as “keen,” and Don is proud of their ability to fly up a windmill, help fix an engine, pull a bore and assist with maintenance jobs around the station. Don grins. “Two of them were girls. They were so good, they’ll go on to better things.” Don’s continual quest for ways to do things better, and an uncanny ability to “look from the outside in” has resulted in some innovative changes at Meda. All around the station, the existing galvanised water pipe in windmill columns is gradually being replaced by class 18 High Pressure PVC piping, helping to cope with the constant battle with rust and shale build-up in the pipes.

For rest and recreation, the couple enjoy sitting on the riverbank, savouring the peace and quiet. However, Don’s Time Management awareness means that he frequently finds it necessary to “just go and top up a couple of windmill oils……. seeing we’re already out here!” Wendy is resigned to the fact that “a day out often turns into a bore run.” She doesn’t really mind, and smiles broadly. “We always find something interesting.” In addition Wendy is an avid gardener, and their home is surrounded by lush greenery and flowers. An ingenious watering system, devised by Don, serves to revive both plants and people.

The couple still travel to different places in the South over the Wet, and return to Meda when the time is right. Equipped with thirty plus years worth of skills and experience, they continue to encourage and assist everyone at Meda with friendship and support.

Don’s first job was fitting air conditioners, and in a case of “once learned, never forgotten,” he’d recently fitted an air con n the old Mac truck, and the grader……. “to make them a bit more liveable.”

It’s a casual remark which reflects the heart of a man who, in reality, regards the comfort and safety of people maybe slightly more important that the mechanical state of a vehicle!

Image caption:

1) Don servicing our Hino