Drought by Nancy Sortini

The year was 1957. I was a mere 17 years of age.  A position had presented itself as a governess at a remote cattle station north east of Alice Spring.  I applied and got the position to supervise two children ..  In January of that year I arrived in Alice Springs a very excited, very naïve young woman looking for adventure.  I was full of bravado and daring and ready for anything that my new life could throw at me.  They told me that the country was in the throes of a severe drought, but it meant nothing to me as having never been there before I thought that was how it was all the time.

I soon was spending every spare moment with the station hands tearing around the property.  It was sad to see the spindly trees which the cattle had eaten the leaves off as far as they could reach.  The nearly dry waterholes with little water left in them, and where the weaker of the cattle were bogged down in the surrounding mud and could not get up to get to the water.  These of course had to be shot as an act of mercy.  It was the one thing I never quite got used to  I always turned my head away as the deed was done. I soon learnt that life in the outback can be harsh and brutal.

The words of Dorothea McKellar’s poem I Love a sunburnt country, came back  to me, and I really understood for the first time what her words ‘  meant.  I loved the remoteness, the red earth, the distant mountains which I would gaze at at sunset when they changed into a myriad of distant colours.

The dust storms were something quite frightening.  We would see one gathering in the distance, shut all windows and doors and huddle inside.  The noise as it passed through was like thunder and even though everything was battened down the relentless dust seeped through every little crack it could find.  By the time it had passed  we and the house was covered in dust.  It would take the station owners wife days to get the house free of dust again.. It  amazed me that when I borrowed a book from the house that even the pages were full of  bits of red earth..

Many times in those months of drought we would watch as storm clouds gathered and would wonder if they contained rain.  Inevitably they would move on and disappointment  was shared by all.

The magical day arrived when the clouds did open and down it came, rain, something I had always taken for granted.  I realised then that it was the difference between life and death, survival or going under.  What was the most utterly amazing thing for me was waking up a few days later to a world completely transformed, from red earth to a carpet of green grass growing as far as the eye could see.  I just could not believe my eyes and realised then that this was what it was always meant to look like.

I left after a year when my contract  was up in search of more adventure.  I left behind a broken heart, and a local policeman who after he had taken me for a drivers test, had his hair turn white overnight.


Australian Donna is an open-space for women of Italian origin in Australia.

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