People, Stories and Articles

Katie Rosenthal – Birrindudu Station, NT

When Lyle and Helen pulled into the homestead driveway at Heytesbury Cattle Company’s Birrindudu Station, NT, seventy kilometres off the Buntine Highway and a long way from the nearest town, we drove past a loading ramp. We recognised Katie Rosenthal, the station cook; wielding a paint brush and in the obvious process of revamping the ramp. A little later, having set up the Supa Float shop, we wandered down to the kitchen and found Katie preparing the evening meal. It was her third year at the station, and she’s grateful that she can wear a variety of ‘caps’, including one labelled “Painter”.

Katie Rosenthal is as open, friendly, positive and motivated a person you could hope to meet. In this mode, she confides that she joined the ranks of station cooks “with no cooking experience, apart from the cooking I’d done as a teenager at home”.

She reminds us, with characteristic vigour, that “home” is down YOUR country, Lyle and Helen, Greenmount, Toowoomba!” (South-East Qld)

Following secondary education at Clifton High School, Katie started a Bachelor of Education, Secondary studies at Sth Qld Uni. Six months later, she realized it wasn’t what she wanted and immediately “went bush”. At Sutherland Station near Richmond, Central-north Qld, she was employed as a “domestic/gardener”. She then took another adventurous step and joined the stock camp at Australian Agricultural Company’s Meteor Downs Station, near Springsure, Qld. Stock work suited her. She put in three years at Meteor Downs and then took to a travelling lifestyle, working with vet, Ced Wise. “… a lot of travel and long days,” she admits.

At the start of 2007, Katie headed back to Toowoomba, working for Andrew Cleary, a former manager at Meteor Downs. This time it was to have a go at building tanks. She endured eight months of living in an urban environment before deciding “… that was enough. I was sick of town”. The intrepid Katie returned to stock work at Byerwen Station, between Collinsville and Glenden in Qld’s Bowen Basin and then, in a giant leap of kilometres and courage, she travelled west to Roxborough Downs Station, approximately one hundred and eighty kilometres from Boulia, West Qld. At Roxborough, Katie found her fit. “The first year I was in the camp; then for the next two years it was fifty-fifty, stock camp and cooking.” The half and half arrangement was a very satisfying compromise.

At Roxborough, Katie worked harmoniously with managers, John and Kerrilyn Bryant and when they left the station in 2011, Katie felt ready for yet another move to places unknown.

Coincidentally at the time, Kerrilyn had been talking with her friend Kylie Hutley, from Birrindudu Station. As is common in Outback Station communication, the conversation went something like, KYLIE: “I’m looking for a cook; you don’t know of anyone, do you?” KERRILYN: “I’ve got a cook for you, right here!”

Katie laughs. “So I came down here… to the middle of nowhere! It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, hey?” The cultures of the two stations were very similar and Katie confirms that “… it wasn’t a big shock coming from Roxborough to here.”

She continues, “… it’s a family environment… there’s an awesome crew here and Lance and Kylie are awesome as well.”

In addition to her cook’s and painter’s caps, Katie appreciates the privilege of pulling on an Akubra and going out with Kylie on a bore run, or accompanying manager Lance Hutley and the team; helping out with bang tailing or working in the back yards. She’s impervious to the kind of teasing that usually comes from Lance’s direction. Following a day in which everyone, including Katie, is sweaty and covered with dust and cattle yard grime, he’ll comment, “Hey, you’re a bit dirty for a cook, aren’t you?”

On one occasion, an official visitor arrived at the station kitchen looking for a cuppa and expected refreshments. “Where’s your cook, mate?,” Lance was asked.

“Oh, don’t worry,” Lance replied, “she’ll be back soon mate; she’s on a bore run.”

While Katie loves being involved with the variety of “job opportunities” at Birrindudu, first and foremost she remains committed to the provision of good food for the workers. Good humoured, she brushes off the comment that she’s a good cook. “I wouldn’t say I’m a GOOD cook. I’m not spectacular… wouldn’t know how to cook a la carte and there’s a bit of trial and error happening. When I was at Roxborough, Kerrilyn always helped me out and here at Birrindudu Kylie’s the same.”

She grins. “These boys are pretty good and they don’t complain too much.” Considering a moment, Katie adds, “In the sweets department, if it’s not chocolate, they don’t really eat it much!”

At Birrindudu the kitchen/dining room area adjoins the Recreation room and while some cooks would regard this arrangement as a imposition, Katie likes it. “It’s pretty good,” she responds, cheerfully. “You can have a beer, have a drink and cook tea at the same time.”

It’s all part of a pretty relaxed, family environment, and Katie, like station cooks everywhere, plays an influential part in maintaining a positive atmosphere. Good meals are served with a smile, “… most of the time!,” Katie qualifies. In addition, her dedication to helping out with the station gardens is part of a conviction that “it’s nice for the boys to come home to green lawn; things neat and tidy. People care about where they live,” she concludes.

Katie’s appreciation for Birrindudu and what the place means to her extends beyond the station complex. “The country is really pretty down here and I don’t know how to explain it, really. There’s a bit of station politics sometimes,” she diverts, “but you don’t have to worry about it too much. I like the lifestyle; it’s relaxing, yeah.”

It’s been a few years since Katie first chose that lifestyle and while she jokes that “… the timeline is running out… not getting an younger, you know?,” she is visibly committed and energetic in fulfilling her role(s) at Birrindudu.

As we pulled out of the station driveway, twenty-four hours after our arrival, an enthusiastic wave of the paint brush was accompanied by a memorable broad smile. Katie Rosethal, Birrindudu cook: adaptable, dependable and capable, was out and about once more; wearing her painter’s cap and happily finishing the revamp of the loading ramp.

Article by Helen Kent
“Katie Rosenthal, Birrindudu Station, NT, 2014”

Image captions:

1) Katie Rosenthal

2) Bronco branding at Camooweal Drovers Festival, 2011

3) Katie Rosenthal at the homestead yards
at Birrindudu, 2014

4) Katie Rosenthal painting at Birrindudu Station