National Geographic : 1991 Jan
OUTBACK IN-JOKES Rigorous life on a cattle station homestead-whereamenities are riggedup by hand-breedsa rough hewn and highly individualisticbrand of bush humor. Visitors asking to use the phone at Drysdale Station (above) are told: "It's there in the fridge, mate." What's it doing in the fridge? "Keeps it from meltin'!" At nearby Ellenbrae Station (fac ing page), where a New Age life style prevails, an outdoor tub's plumbing has been whimsically built right into a fat-trunked boab tree. NationalGeographic,January 1991 rage. I clung precariously to the roll bar of a stripped-down little four wheel-drive Suzuki while a ton of snorting Kimberley beef writhed under the front end, trying to buck the vehicle - and me - off his quak ing back. Whywasacarontopofabull, andwhywasIontopofthecar? I'd come to Drysdale River Station to partake of a bizarre ritual: bull catching. In the Kimberley, station owners let stock wander the rugged outback to feed on sparse vegetation -producing a tough but tasty beef bound mostly for export as hamburger. Once a year or so they have a muster, or roundup-bringing in as many head as they can catch. "Don't know exactly how many head we have out there," station owner John Koeyers told me. A former Port Hedland busi e e nessman ("fencing construction, made heaps o' dough, but it was boring"), he and his wife, Anne, saved up and bought this station a few years back. In Australia you buy the animals and machinery outright and lease the land and buildings from the government. "It's the life-style," John said. "Do everything yourself. Water. Plumbing. Electricity. Isn't easy, but we love it ... "This season we'll ship maybe 600 head. We've got 680,000 acres-could handle 10,000 head. But how do you bring'm in? Used horses in the old days, but today we hire helicopters to drive'm. Stray bulls we catch with these Suzuki bull buggies. "You get in there," he said, pointing to the passenger seat of the well-dented buggy-except, there was no seat, only a floor space pad ded by thin foam rubber. Soon we were bouncing through tall cane grass at high speed-or what I thought was high speed-until we spot ted a lone bull eyeing us from under a gum tree. Now I would learn about high speed. John let out a hoot and gunned the motor. The bull was off and we were after it, charging breakneck through the cane grass, mowing down small gum and wattle trees, caroming off termite mounds-one of which spewed its living contents all over us. The bull swerved madly, but the Suzuki kept on its tail. At last, bull and vehicle con verged. There was a terrific bump, and all was still. We'd stopped cold. Had we hit a rock? And where was the bull? "Got'm!" John yelled. "Come look!" He leaped out and ran to the front of the car. I peered over the roll bar. There was the bull-his wild eyes staring up at me in fury. The bull buggy was parked right over him! John grabbed a rope to tie its feet but backed off from a nasty swipe of a horn. "You sure he can't get loose?" I asked. "No worries, mate?" ohn replied, laughing.