Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Compass -

View in ParlView

Outback Dames (Australian Women: Pt 2)

Sunday February 18 2007

Summary:

Australian women get up close and personal with Geraldine Doogue over dinner.

Life on the land is tough. Globalism, drought and rationalisation have forced one quarter of
farming families off the land in the past 20 years. How are Australia's rural women facing up to
such hardship? And how in the 21st century do they continue to manage isolation, health, education,
a home, marriage and raising children as well? In part two Compass joins five women for dinner in
the central Queensland town of Longreach to find out all this and more.

Story:

Hello there I'm Geraldine Doogue welcome to Compass.

Last week I had dinner with five women here in Kellyville in Sydney's north-west. To find out what
really mattered to them - and what didn't in this mad modern world we all live in. Well tonight a
completely different setting I'm off to the central Queensland town of Longreach to meet five
equally unforgettable women.

Life on the land is tough. Global forces, drought and rationalisation have forced one quarter of
farming families off the land in the past 20 years. How are Australia's rural women facing up to
such relentless hardship? How do they continue to manage isolation, health, education, a home,
marriage and raising children as well as the vexed question of succession. Tonight we join five
women for dinner in the central Queensland town of Longreach to find out all this and more.

Narr:

As night falls in the outback town of Longreach, the temperature finally drops below 40 degrees and
five women prepare to meet for dinner.

Women talking & walking to dinner:

"Oh isn't that a beautiful sunset?"

Narr:

We've arranged this dinner in order to get up close and personal, so we can delve deep into the
lives of outback women.

Narr:

Kathy has a cattle property but supplements her income with a shop in town.

Janine also has a cattle property but as the district nurse is on call 24 hours a day.

Anne's husband died 5 years ago so now she runs her property on her own.

Marg has cattle and sheep, but has been hit hard by the drought.

And newcomer to town, Alice has gambled on making the Longreach Bakery a going concern.

I've flown about two hours from Brisbane to be here. Some of them have driven about fifteen minutes
from town, others about 300 Ks from their properties, some of them are newcomers, most of them live
on and off properties. All of their lives are dominated by the six-year long drought which has made
this a very parched land indeed. So lets go and meet the outback dames.

Geraldine Doogue:

I just want to take you through a few challenges that have certainly come to other communities in
both the city and the country and to bowl up a couple of thoughts to you. I suppose particularly on
this idea of whether this town welcomes strangers so is it all fantastic as long as you're one

of us. I wonder what this town would do to people for people of a very different stripe coming to
town.

Kathy:

I think, I think generally country people are very inviting, friendly people. So if you come into
the environment with a similar positive attitude, we'll welcome you.

Alice:

If you try and segregate yourself, and do things differently and, try and not accept the culture
out here, then I think perhaps the welcome might not be as warm, but I think that would be the case
anywhere in Australia.

Anne:

They'd have to do something really, really wrong to not be accepted I feel.

Geraldine Doogue:

If you had a couple of gay blokes come out and wanted to set up a, you know a salon or something,
I'm being a bit stereotypical now aren't I, but if they decided they weren't going to hide their
light under a bushel, they were going to be who they were, would that cause trouble?

Anne:

No, I don't think so, not at all.

Geraldine Doogue:

Really?

Anne:

No, I think they would definitely be identified. And I think if they were giving a good service, if
it's a fabulous salon and we were all, all us girls let's face it, we would be fascinated anyway...

Janine:

The husbands wouldn't be amused but ...

Anne:

No they'd be horrified, but you know if they were doing a good job and they showed that they were
bringing flair to the west

Marg:

And wanted to be here...You've moved out here because this is

the lifestyle you'd think you can adjust to and you will want to have that in the back of your mind
when you move out and I think people who have got that attitude just automatically blend in and the
district welcomes you because you want to blend into the area, you don't want to change the area,
you just want to blend in with the area.

Narr:

Marg is part of the landscape of central Queensland. Her family's

been here for 3 generations, but on her 14 thousand hectare property the drought has made life a
daily struggle for survival.

Marg's been forced to take on contract bulldozing to try and make ends meet.

In a good season they'd have around 5 thousand head of sheep. Today

they're down to 400.

Marg:

We won't be able to hang on much longer out here without rain. Well within the next month I would
say if we haven't had some sort of substantial rain within the next month the few stock that we've
got here will have to go.

Narr:

Marg's place is so remote there's no mains electricity. A small solar system keeps fridges going
but to use the stove or do some ironing she has to run a fuel hungry generator.

Today Marg's husband Ken is rigging up a smaller model which should

be less expensive to run.

Marg:

OK with this now what will I be able to run toghether in the house now?

Ken:

You'll probably able to run your fridges, your freezers etc, no refrigerated air conditioning, no
hot plates, if you've got the hot water on I'd be inclined to not put on another heating element.

Marg:

Not having power does actually get to me on a regular basis. It's simple things like if I come in
from the paddock from doing something and it's stinking hot. You can't just put the air conditioner
on.

Narr:

Two years ago things became even more difficult for Marg when her

mother died.

Marg:

Every day was hard because the drought was going on and you didn't know how you were going to cope
with it all the time. But I ended up going and getting counselling which made the world of
difference well that was 18 months ago - you still sit here now and you're in the same

situation. But you're more determined now not to go down and not to let the drought get on top of
you.

Marg:

It gets very hot out here. I mean this summer we've been averaging 45 probably for the last 2.5
months. And basically the only way to cool off here during that sort of period, we've got a shower
hooked up to our overhead tank and we just go and turn it on and walk under, clothes and all and
then let what breeze there is cool you down.

Geraldine Doogue:

I know that another area of real concern here is health issues and just access to reliable doctors
and health services and given this has been a pretty delicate area, to do with foreign doctors in
Queensland, I'm well aware of that, is there a sense that health services are taken from whoever is
providing them?

Anne:

I think I'd have to say that some of the ones that can't speak English, it's very, very difficult.

Kathy:

In the home it's a huge problem, my father in law is the home, and yeah, that's a huge problem, he
said they're absolutely lovely but their communication skills aren't there.

Janine:

They fill space though, I work for Queensland Health but work under the

RFDS system...

Geraldine Doogue:

Royal Flying Doctor?

Janine:

Royal Flying Doctor system, and they have an Indian doctor, Muslim Indian doctor at the moment and
the patients are very grateful that

someone comes. And yes there is, like a communication problem, but I try very hard to facilitate
that, for them and the patient's sake.

Geraldine Doogue:

And do you think you're succeeding there? Facilitating between the

people?

Janine:

Yeah, so far.

Geraldine Doogue:

Qualified .

Janine:

It takes an effort, but when that's all you have, that's great.

Narr:

Janine is the district nurse in the tiny town of Yaraka, 300 kilometres from Longreach. Today she's
meeting the Royal Flying Doctor who comes to town once a month to see patients. For the rest of the
time, Janine runs the clinic on her own.

Janine:

I work one day a week here, but I'm on call the rest of the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a
week, which is fine. I'll probably come to town to see someone two or three times a week.

Narr:

For Janine it's the perfect job, allowing her to share with her husband 'Hawks' the running of
their cattle station just out of Yaraka.

Janine:

Working side by side on a daily basis with your partner, with your husband I think it's a good
thing. Well it is for our relationship.

If there's a disagreement oh a bit of screaming and shouting, but there's no neighbours here to
hear us. No, a bit of screaming and shouting goes a long way. We work it out.

Narr:

As the district nurse Janine has seen the effects long term drought can have on relationships.

Janine:

Women out here have to be jack-of-all-trades in that they need to keep everything running smoothly
in the household, and also be there and be quite capable to help outside too,

Narr:

Janine's only regret about living in such a remote location is the 11 hour drive it takes to see
their teenage daughters who are at boarding school.

Janine:

It still doesn't sit terribly comfortably with me. I know there isn't anything else we can do and
we chose to be here knowing that we would send if we had children we would send them to boarding
school. But I find it very difficult.

My husband's the ultimate optimist. I worry about things, but I'm certainly positive about life and
about the future.

Geraldine Doogue:

You were talking about the men were tough, you said, T U double F , does that indicate the
toughness you have when you not really tough.

Doe's it?

Anne:

Probably I'd say

Janine:

Yeah, a little bit they are tough

Anne:

I mean they're extremely proud and I think in the wrong context, the Bible says, doesn't it that
pride is a sin.

Geraldine Doogue:

Pride comes before a fall.

Anne:

And I think with respect to all the most wonderful men, particularly in the bush, I think they,
they crack hardy.

Janine:

And they break hardly.

Marg:

Yeah, underneath they are hurting just as much as we are.

Alice:

Of course they are, but...

Marg:

And they just have this image that they have to be tough, that because they are so called ' helping
us through it,' but underneath, while I've got this tough exterior we've got to try and break that
down so that they actually offload some of that pressure that they are putting on themselves so
that they can keep going through the rough times.

Janine:

God love them.

Geraldine Doogue:

Well do you still love them, that's the issue, I mean, that's... well but if you're the one that has
to do the nurturing, and no one does the nurturing of you which you're sort of alluding to the
fact...

Anne:

I have to say Geraldine that's part of our strength really

Geraldine Doogue:

Yes

Anne:

We wouldn't live here if we didn't sort of live above that a bit,

Alice:

Exactly

Anne:

I am sure...

Janine:

We have moments of weakness, but weak women don't live here.

Anne:

No...

Geraldine Doogue:

That's a devastating remark. That is...

Anne:

I don't think it's black and white, I honestly wouldn't be here. But...

Geraldine Doogue:

Janine would be.

Janine:

I think, yeah, I would. We have moments of weakness and perhaps not everyone sees everyone's
moments of weakness, but we need to be very, very strong and that's fine, that's fine to say that
you're strong women, that's fine, that's no drama.

Anne:

It's not necessarily that we're tough, or the men are tough, I think it's just the, environment,
let's face it, you become part of your environment, there's no two ways about it.

Narr:

Anne owns an 11 thousand hectare sheep and cattle station 2 hours north of Longreach. She's lived
on the land all her life.

Anne:

It's a way of life that's so different to the majority of people that live in this country.

I think it's a fantastic way of life. And I'm just really sorry that a lot more people don't come
out and experience it.

Narr:

But that way of life changed drastically for Anne when her husband Bill became ill with depression.

Anne:

Yes I was aware that he wasn't at all well. I was very aware. And just before he got really sick he
surprised himself and we talked about it.

It sort of enveloped him and he just couldn't get out of it. Out of the sort of the swamp.

Narr:

Five years ago Bill died of a heart attack and since then Anne's been running the property on her
own.

Anne:

Obviously I get very lonely without my husband. But I love the work. I find it a terrific
challenge. And yeah I have sort of I can do it and sometimes easier than other times. I get into
all sorts of corners sometimes that I have to call on other people or get some advice from someone.

Narr:

At the moment the pressure is off for Anne she's had some promising rain and her son Ruppert has
just finished boarding school and has returned home to help run the property.

Anne:

The plans for me to move on don't necessarily involve whether one of the children are going to take
over the property or not. I've got to look at it from my point of view. And if I felt it necessary
to move on now or in two years time or in five years time I feel that yeah I've got to make that
decision.

Anne:

There's some good mutton chops there'

Geraldine Doogue:

So what if someone came to you and offers to buy you out at a price that, you can't refuse and land
prices are good up here at the moment. So this could set you and your family up. Would you take the
offer and what would go into the thinking? Would you Anne?

Anne:

Right at this moment, well what's life? Where am I going to live? I've got a wonderful job, I live
living in the bush, I've got probably one of the best communities that you could ever have.

Geraldine Doogue:

But it's tough Anne?

Anne:

But that's your perception. You see and that's our problem here in the bush is that we have all
this incredible perception from someone else.

Geraldine Doogue:

I suppose one way of thinking about it is all of you, most of you grew up on farms, when they sold
did you have any say in that, like were they sold from underneath you, would you have liked to have
been brought into the decision?

Janine:

The family property that I grew up on was sold and I guess I didn't have great deal of say in it.
And I guess that's where it turns to, it becomes more of a business proposition rather than a
lifestyle proposition.

Alice:

I was devastated when my family property was sold. And I still find it hard to physically drive
past the place. However that was a decision that Mum and Dad had to make and I appreciate very much
that decision then and there. That was their place, that was their business and they made a
decision at the right time financially as well. So it was very, very sad and very hard for me to
deal with still, sometimes.

Geraldine Doogue:

And what about succession issues because that's a notoriously difficult,

thorny question in rural areas. Do any of you wrestle with that?

Kathy:

Of all the daughters in my family I was probably the one that was most involved on the property and
was guaranteed verbally something. And since marrying a catholic, we, I have been ousted a tad. So
it hurts a little. I could easily walk away and be quite hurt by it all but I'm not going to let
that happen.

Narr:

Having missed out of inheriting her family property, Kathy and her husband Gordon established their
own cattle station 80 Kilometres from Longreach. They've chosen to hang on to most of their
livestock, a major gamble that the rains will come soon.

Kathy:

This would be the toughest period of time we've been through while we've been here. We have cattle
away on agistment now, but we're starting to sell off our breeding herd which is pretty frightening
that's the thing that people like to hold most.

We want the property to stay here for our children so we're determined to hold on one way or the
other.

Narr:

Two years ago Kathy branched out into a business in town selling home decorating materials and
gifts with a coffee shop out the back.

Kathy:

Having the shop's just a wonderful escape from the hardships and the isolation of the bush. I can
come into town and leave the drought behind me and yeah enjoy the pleasures of nice things and
meeting wonderful people.

Narr:

To run the shop and to be closer to her daughters school, Kathy lives in town during the week, only
going home to the property on weekends.

Kathy:

A lot of other men out here just can't comprehend how Gordon's home alone here all week. They just
say no way in the world would I let my wife do that. So I'm so fortunate that Gordon has allowed me
to do that because it is my other passion so and I'm so grateful that he's allowed me to do that
because I think I've just got too much energy and flair or something to just sit at home here and
in the case of if this drought does take hold it's going to be a nice little something to keep us
going.

Geraldine Doogue:

Where's romance in all of this, like do you all is there any room for the candle light dinners

Janine:

There mightn't be the candlelight dinner it might be just fencing together,

it sounds terrible, but it might be, no it might be, it might be mustering a

paddock together and being successful, you know and getting them all. No really who agrees with me.
Working together is sometimes romantic.

Marg:

I do I think it's, the romantic thing is the simple little thing like you might get the arm put
around your shoulder "Well done," and you're what, he's praised me, woo hoo. I'll keep going for...

Kathy:

Our whole relationship really is based around work. It's very much revolved around work.

Geraldine Doogue:

But all of you are one of the most of surprising things is as a city person coming out here your
all obsessed with work but you used to have more hobbies didn't you, from what I read in the
coutnry, you used to have your tennis clubs, you used to have your leisure...

Anne:

We still have those to a degree, but certainly not as much. But you must remember that that
romantic era, is gone. Don't bring it back, honestly.

Kathy:

It's definitely gone but I'm not saying that I wouldn't mind it to drift back.

Anne:

If ever we had more people back to the bush. I think that's really what we should all be aiming for
and when they come back. We're not going to have lovely old fashioned Edwardian tennis parties,
let's face it, that's gone.

Kathy:

Everybody had a tennis court and it was just protocol.

Alice:

However, it's not gone, I've been invited to a couple of tennis things on properties and it was
great you take your esky and... exactly

Anne:

That's right, I don't want it to disappear, that's why I question...

Kathy:

But it's different.

Alice:

Oh it's different but it's not, it's great,

Narr:

Alice and her husband Ben are newcomers to Longreach and have

recently bought the town bakery. They've employed around twenty staff and are working hard to turn
it into a business success.

Alice:

It was a bit scary from a business point of view because it was our first

ever business. It was a bit scary. You don't have much idea what you're doing.

Narr:

So far things are going well with the opening of the new café section just two weeks away.

Alice:

Hey Dick it's Alice here from the Bakery how you going? Have you got account details for electronic
funds transfer?

Narr:

With two children under three Alice also looks after the accounts but she's having trouble hiring
good staff.

Alice:

Finding staff when you've got such a small pool of people to work from, it's just a constant
nightmare for us.

Financially obviously if things go down the gurgler then oh it will get a bit sticky. But I have a
profession to fall back on and so does Ben. So that's a bit of a saving grace.

Narr:

Having been born and bred in the bush, it's not surprising Alice feels at home in Longreach, but as
a qualified vet she has ambitions of owning property out of town.

Alice:

We like our space. There's no way I'd ever live in the city again. I'd like to get back to full
time Vet practice eventually, post bakery. The bakery is the business of the hour right now. But
after that I've still got a profession that I'd like to keep up.

Geraldine Doogue:

None of you have mentioned spirituality or religion or faith, does it not play a role is it not top
of mind.

Kathy:

No it's not top of mind, my husband comes from a very strong Catholic background and we go to
church, my children go to a catholic school, and we go to church whenever it comes to our small
little community. My brother in law has just been ordained a catholic priest, however, it doesn't,
I mean it doesn't come to the fore immediately, but it's lingering, yeah.

Geraldine Doogue:

So it does, you use it, it's a resource for you?

Kathy:

For sure, it's sitting back there. Yeah for sure.

Geraldine Doogue:

Do you pray?

Kathy:

Just quietly.

Geraldine Doogue:

Right, and it helps?

Kathy:

I'm not sure if it helps.

Geraldine Doogue:

And what about you Anne,

Anne:

Well, I think If you don't have something to hang onto, particularly in our situation, I think,
yeah, I don't know what you'd do, I can't imagine. For me anyway, that's the way I see it.

Geraldine Doogue:

So are you a regular church goer?

Anne:

Yeah, we are actually we have a minister who comes only every month to Muttaburra, from Longreach.

Geraldine Doogue:

Actually a little fairy told me that you actually went to the pub after, that was part of the
ritual, the service was followed by the, oh the real ritual.

Anne:

And why not?

Geraldine Doogue:

I just wonder whether, all of you whether the land itself becomes a sort of divine thing?

Alice:

That's my church.

Geraldine Doogue:

It is your church?

Alice:

Definitely.

Geraldine Doogue:

Do any of the rest of you think of it like that?

Anne:

I'd go along with that do a degree.

Geraldine Doogue:

I sense you are all in love with the land to be honest?

Anne:

Honestly when it rains, you honestly fall back in love totally.

Geraldine Doogue:

What dreams remain for you all in your various stages of your life? How would you describe as what
dreams remain? I'll just go around in order Alice?

Alice:

I want to get back to the land, proper, we live in a house in town which is great but for what we
are doing right now. But I really miss the bush bush, you know, and eventually, it's a means to an
end the bakery, at the moment we really want to get back to the property, But that's what

we dream about every day, that's what we are aspiring to.

Marg:

We Ken and I will get through this, the rough times that we are having now with the drought and
that. I don't know whether you would call mateship, friendship, whatever ship, and as long as that
continues on I'd be happy, yeah.

Anne:

You know I really have a dream about um, economists would say I was mad, visionaries would say I
was probably saying the right thing, but I would love to see more industry, different industry,
come to the bush.

Janine:

I'd like to hear rain on the roof, fairly shortly. I'd like to have fat finished cattle in the sale
yards, that's been a while coming.

Kathy:

I personally from here I just love being in the situation I'm in. I've got a wonderful family, a
property that just means a lot to me and if I can bridge the gap between, between our metropolitan
friends and the country people that's what it's all about.

Geraldine Doogue:

Well look it's really been a privilege to be honest to hear you all and

I thank you all very much indeed for helping to convey that to fellow Australians so thank you all
very much for being on Compass tonight.

All Women:

Thank you Geraldine.

Narr:

The Longreach district has had rain fabulous, but not enough and for some too late.

Marg has had to sell the last of her stock and she's given up bulldozing her husband working off
the farm now for income.

Janine has moved to Toowoomba west of Brisbane to be with her daughters at high school.

Kathy has moved to Longreach permanently to concentrate on her retail business but says she'll
never lose her passion for the bush.

The rain gave Anne's property a real boost she's on her own again after her son's moved to
Brisbane.

And Alice is making good progress with the bakery, adding air-conditioning, a new coffee machine
and a sandwich bar.