30 Years Travelling the Outback

30 Years Travelling the Outback 1

2020 was to be our 30th Year Of Travelling the Outback; however, after only three station visits, covid travel restrictions prevented us from going any further and it was very disappointing to have to return in a fully stocked truck to our home base in Stanthorpe. Thankfully, 2021 was a different story!

It was satisfying and enjoyable to again greet ‘old friends’ and meet with people for the first time. It was also a time of mixed emotions, because our 30th Year Of Travelling the outback was also the last year of what has become known as ‘the Trip.’ This has involved a station stopover each day with a full schedule at each station. We usually arrive around 4pm, set up and later on pack up display tables and belt racks, attend to station worker’s shopping needs and according to a Kent Saddlery tradition, take and process a station group photo.

Multiply this daily routine by 150, add travel time of between half an hour to five or six hours and it comes to a ‘full on experience.’

We have happily and willingly regarded this daily routine as a normal part of our outback experience; however, prior to the 30th Year of Travel, that it was good and timely to make it the last ‘big’ Trip.

Knowing that we might not have the privilege of calling in at some stations again, one hundred and fifty station visits became one hundred and fifty goodbyes. This resulted in lots of lumps in our throats and the holding back of tears as we shared farewell hugs with people we had known for years and whose valued friendships we’d come to regard as very special.

It was also a nostalgic experience when numbers of people ‘came out of the woodwork’ and told us about the first time we’d met them, which was often a long time ago!

It was wonderful and fun to recognise the childhood features in the faces of some of these adults and to reminisce and share mutual stories of years gone by. In addition, we were impressed and encouraged that so many children who we met in the early years of the Trip have remained working in the cattle industry and are positive and passionate about its future and their ongoing involvement.

One of Lyle’s favourite descriptions of the outback, “Big Country, Small Community” has invariably proved itself to be true and we’re often asked questions about the whereabouts of people living in opposite sides of the country. Arising from a desire for a distinctive lifestyle and with mutual respect and friendship, these people are intrinsically connected throughout a Big Country.

Since 2001 we have compiled station group photo albums and each year we have carried with us the current photos and those from the previous 2 years. The photo album table is frequently the first ‘port of call’ when workers come to the truck shop and they crowd around the albums, searching for familiar faces.

This is often accompanied by laughter and plenty of commentary which we’ve learned to “keep to ourselves!”

Over twenty years since we began taking the station group photos, shortly after our arrival at a station one of the first questions we are usually asked is, “When do you want to take the group photo?”

In our 30 years of travel to the stations, we’ve come to believe that the station group photos are the best, most significant and meaningful thing we’ve done.

In 2022 and beyond, we encourage station people, contractors, family groups and other groups of outback people to take a photo, send it to Kent Saddlery and we’ll commit to process copies and return them to the senders.

Let’s keep the tradition going!

Knowing that our 30th Year of Travel would be our last ‘big’ Trip, we believed it was important to record some of our journey and so we arranged for a professional filming duo, Luke Funnell and Joel Harding to travel along with us for two weeks, filming several station visits and gathering representative footage of the outback; the country, the cattle and the people we meet.

It was challenging, quite exhausting at times (for them and us!) and also fun and very worthwhile. With hours of recording and some amazing photography and video footage, Luke and Joel are currently in the process of editing, compiling and producing a comprehensive account of our 30th Year of Travel and we look forward to its completion.

30 years ago in 1991, the Trip began and looking back, in one moment, it seems so long ago and in the next, it’s just like yesterday.

With a Landcruiser and work trailer packed to the hilt with gear, much of it superfluous, we set out for the Kimberley, Western Australia, with our four boys, Ben, Daniel, Jamie and Paul and Ben’s pet dog, Jock. Our oldest daughter Leah was employed in Toowoomba, Queensland and stayed behind. (Sad). Our youngest daughter Jessica was born in Derby, Western Australia, that year. (Woohoo!)

The nature of the Trip changed in those 30 years. In 1991 we stayed at five cattle stations during a period
of six months and in 2021 we visited one hundred and fifty stations in the same amount of time. Totalling approximately 3000 station visits and 750,000 kilometres travelled throughout the 30 years of travelling.

The initial Trip consisted of staying at a cattle station a month or more where Lyle (and Ben in 1991) repaired station saddles and horse gear, and other repair work was brought to them from neighbouring stations.

Within a couple of years, we began to take our own handmade saddles and gear and gradually extended travel into the Northern Territory, Queensland Gulf, western Queensland and the Pilbara, Western Australia.

Nightly stopovers replaced longer visits and the Landcruiser and trailer were superseded by a truck and two consecutive gooseneck trailers. The purpose-built Supa Float truck shop, doubling as our home away from home has, for the last fourteen years, taken us from station to station in greater comfort and improved efficiency.

After 30 years, the travel component of Kent Saddlery which has become familiar to so many cattle station people, has drawn to a close. We hold dear the friendships and memories of amazing scenery, the sharing of joys and sorrows of the outback community and appreciate so much the generous hospitality that station people have extended to us and our travelling companion Smokey the Dachshund and his predecessor, Lucy.

The unconditional willingness of outback people to help us when we had mechanical problems, to pull us out of bogs, and generally lend us a helping hand has been greatly appreciated. We remain encouraged by the support of young ringers who have come to the truck shop after a hard day’s work and have shown a keen interest in purchasing our products. We are equally impressed by their commitment to a decision to be actively involved in cattle station employment and experience.

On our annual return to stations, we’ve loved seeing how much the station children have grown in twelve months and we’ve enjoyed their company and help in unpacking and setting up the shop display. Thanks kids, you’re awesome!

In 2021, the final station visit in our 30 Years Of Travelling was at Caldervale Station near Tambo, Queensland and the Caldervale staff photo was the last station group photo to be taken. Significantly In 2001, Caldervale was the station where we took the first official Kent Saddlery station group photo!

This was impetus for us to commit to maintaining our valued connection to our outback customers and friends. We’ve always wanted to explore and enjoy more of the Big Country, so definite plans and dreams began to take shape and they continue to gather momentum as we talk about replacing the Trip with less lengthy and more relaxed outback ‘Tours.’ Sounds good to us!

Before we set out on our 2021 Trip, we discovered the following quote, which we’ve taken to heart,

“Go as far as you can see, When you get there, You can see further…”

We’ve seen “the further” and hopefully we’ll get there!

Whatever the future may hold it’s been a great privilege to be part of an amazing network of Australia-wide and never-ending friendships and we shall never forget our 30 Years of Travelling the Outback.