by Harriet Main
Location: Nundle, New South Wales, Australia
If there is one thing I have learnt from my travels, it’s that even the best-laid plans have a habit of going awry.
And you don’t get much further awry than finding yourself dangling over an open fire in the kitchen of a sheep station in rural NSW, Australia, attempting to stop the sweat running off forehead and into the vast cast-iron cauldron of cabbage steaming below you. It’s 40º outside and you’re preparing dinner for 120 starving people, all on your own. And you’re wearing a pair of oversized dungarees and a slightly damp shearing singlet.
When I arrived at the Dag Sheep Station, Nundle I had intended to stay a couple of days to soak up the blissful outback atmosphere of this sheep-station-cum-backpacker-hostel nestled in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range. I had been in Australia for 4 days and was following a simple enough plan of hopping up the East Coast to Cairns to soak up a bit of sun before heading back to Sydney to live a sophisticated city life.
Or so I thought.
A week after I arrived, I fell in love with a local. The fact that I had also fallen head over heels for the beautiful countryside, the enviable way of life and a potent liquor called Bundaberg Rummade it all too easy to stray from my original itinerary.
As it turned out, I didn’t leave The Dag for a year.
I started life as a roustabout, doing menial labour about the place in return for my bed and board. After a stint as a wrangler and a goldmining assistant (a job nowhere near as glamorous as it sounds), I progressed to camp-oven cook, producing the hearty tucker served to the hoards of hungry backpackers who would arrive each night aboard the Oz Experience bus.
Camp-oven cooking is no easy job. Wielding the hefty 25kilo cast-iron pots full of meat was not considered a job for a girl, especially a pommie girl, not to mention a vegetarian pommie girl.
But if life in the kitchen was gruelling – 11 hour shifts, searing temperatures, blood, sweat and certainly tears – it was also infinitely rewarding. Serving up a three-course meal to a group of people who hadn’t seen home-cooked food in many months, and seeing the plates scraped clean was well worth the cut fingers, burnt legs and aching muscles it took to get the food to the table.
If someone had told me that I would spend my year in Australia living on a sheep station, cooking immense quantities of food in such bizarre conditions I would have laughed out loud. So, you see, sometimes it’s better not to have any plans at all. Take opportunities as they arise, fulfil any dreams that you cherish – but don’t be a slave to preconceived plans and rigid itineraries. Freedom is, after all, the essence of independent travel.