What do you picture when you think of the countryside? Serenity? Quiet? Rolling hills of green and yellow? Sheep and cattle gracefully grazing throughout the fields? Now, what do you picture when you think of Outback Queensland? The same? It’s similar. Just minus the green and yellow, and the hills and add 48 degree heat, severe drought and two border collies in the back of a ute. Saying the land is harsh around here is like calling water, slightly moist. You get to experience the tough terrain as you navigate the vast land in a 1978 diesel Toyota, screeching back into first gear every kilometre or so to drag it through a dry creak, all the time talking to the car, willing it on “You can do it girl, come on”. The lack of water only becomes apparent when the house damn is nearing empty and you have to figure out a way you are going to get water.
When you are a city dweller, you believe you can understand water shortage, why, because there is a hosepipe ban and you won’t be able to wash your car at home for the next month. If we really want to understand the horrific effects of drought, let’s cut the water supply to your house. What will you drink? How will you wash? How will you flush your toilet? What will you have to clean your dishes with, or mop your floor? A neighbour may have water? Maybe, but your neighbour lives about 100km from you and how will you get enough water back to sustain yourselves till the next decent rain storm hits? So you get a water tank. So, we need to drive into the nearest town and hire a water tanker, money. Then we must hope that someone has more than enough to give us. Until then we have a small amount of water at the bottom of the tank, but first we must siphon it out with a tube into a bucket so we can flush our toilets.
These are the conversations and questions which surround me right now. If you are lucky enough to have a bore installed on your land then you’re sorted. Endless supply of natural water straight from the earth. Shame they cost around $300,000 to install. And with the lack of feed for your stock, they are dropping dead around you, or are too malnourished to sell to the meat house. That quarter of a million is no where to be seen. It has been an unbelievable experience to witness first hand how people out here are having to prepare to be without water. Something we take for granted on an extraordinary scale!
It’s not just the drought out here that makes living difficult. Most people who own properties, have lived in the outback their entire lives. But for me, a city girl from the moment I was born, I got to see what had to be done every single day. Death. Death is a big thing out here and if you can’t handle shooting/seeing someone shoot an animal between the eyes then this may not be a place you will want to work.
Not long ago I had a job to remove an electric fence from around a (now) dried up dam. As we approached the dam, we saw a sheep stuck in the mud and a roo just to its left. The roo however was not as lucky as the sheep. It had been stuck for a couple of days by the looks of it, and the dirt which encased half it’s body was hard. The sheep however, was nearer the centre of the damn, where the ground was wet and a bit more forgiving. We pulled the sheep out, let it run off and loaded the gun. I had never shot an animal, but I was here to experience everything, and that is exactly what I did. I love animals. I hate to see animals being harmed or in pain. This poor roo, was definitely in pain, and would for sure die a slow and painful death under the harsh heat of the sun. I didn’t feel good about putting a bullet in it’s head but I didn’t feel bad. I felt indifferent. It was something that just needed to be done. This places teaches you hard lessons about life. Lessons you think you have learnt, until it comes time to pulling the trigger yourself.
A big question I have been getting since I got out here is; are their many creatures you have seen which can kill you. It’s Australia, you think everything is trying to kill you. As I was working on clearing out the troughs in one of the far paddocks, we were pulling old metal sheets away from the ground only to unearth a rotting roo, a giant lizard and a red back spider. I thought I could smell something. I had gotten very used to seeing dead animals all over the place, from cows, to sheep to roos. But the smell of death was upon me, and it wasn’t pleasant. Looking down at a half rotted roo corpse for a second, as a lizard was burying around under the earth around me, I felt some strange appreciation for nature. Each and every time I see a flock of eagles devouring a carcus on the side of the dirt track, it drills into me how beautiful the circle of life is. Yes an animal is dead, animals die. We will die too. I suppose a lot of us will come to a point and think, “what am I leaving in this world? In three generations, I won’t even be remembered!” Most of us don’t leave a huge legacy, and our memories shall only be treasured by our grandchildren. But our bodies are made of energy, whether it be liquids, solids or gas. And the beautiful thing is, energy cannot be destroyed. It just changes. It moves. It becomes something different on the outside, but all came from the same being. So, when someone/something dies, or when we die, we aren’t really going anywhere. Whatever you believe in, you can always trust in the fact that we will do good for something on this earth when we leave. From donating ourselves to science, or letting the worms find nourishment from our bodies, and the soil around us get rich for plants to grow and birds to feed. Maybe some of our biggest accomplishments happen after our deaths. Our energy just sort of floats around in one form or another. Doing good somewhere for someone, or something else. Eternally doing our part in this unexplained but beautiful universe.