By Betty Jo Gigot, Publsiher
My Gypsy Wagon column published in November 2000 pretty much summed up how much my adventures in Australia added to my life. As I write this, I can’t help but wonder about the hundreds of people I had a chance to meet and relate to. With the recent devastation of so much of the country, I can only hope all are well and recovering. The one thing I learned in my three trips Down Under – Australians are smart and tough and absolutely a joy to know. The following are excerpts from my November 2000 Gypsy Wagon.
As everyone always tells me, I have the best job in the world. All I do is travel around the world and visit with my friends … and I get paid to do it. Every trip I take and every person I meet is a joy and a memory to be savored over and over.
“High on my list of favorite memories are the 1992 and 1994 trips I took to Australia to speak at the Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) BeefEx Conference. When the invitation came to do that again in 2000, I was delighted to accept.
A Few Rules
Those of you who know me well know that I have very few hard and fast rules in life. One is that, if you are going to fly for 15 hours to get somewhere, you need to stay a while. With that in mind, longtime friend Bobbie Largent and I spent 27 days Down Under. Our travels took us to elegant Brisbane, far north Darwin, the Great Barrier Reef and Auckland, New Zealand.
My second rule, it turned out, is that if I have a choice of going to the Outback or most any other place in the world, I will go to the Outback any day. You almost have to be there to understand how vast the country is. Bob Lee, who was the director of the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association, put it best. His is the last house on the right, 3,000 miles north with not a dozen towns in between. Those 3,000 miles are red earth, scrub, millions of anthills and mile after mile of burned ground, with no speed limits and road trains made up with triple-decker cattle trucks, three to the truck.
Most of the center of the country looks like Monument Valley without the monuments.
I still cannot quite explain my total fascination with Australia. The cities are duplicated here in the United States with Brisbane being San Diego and Sydney, San Francisco. The outback was different. I think part of it has to be, 20 years ago, the countryside in Australia was like the 50’s or early 60’s in the high plains of our country. Although the feeding industry was established, the rural stations (ranches) were populated with fierce, no nonsense men and women, self-contained and dedicated to the land and their animals. I was on stations where the only water left went to the cows and places where the closest store was 500 miles away, by plane. That family bought groceries twice a year. I saw tears as mothers told of sending their teenage children off to school in town (the young ones had a governess and went to school over the radio). As one mother explained it, “part of life in the outback is the old dog waiting at the end of the airstrip for the kids to come home .”
In those days the internet was just being introduced across the country so the only communications for many of the stations was on a click radio with everyone in the territory listening in. For day to day life, tiny oasis’s with tropical flowers and banana trees sat in vast areas with slight vegetation that is fought over by kangaroos and cattle and most health issues were taken care of by using the instructions and implements in the medical trunk. But what I remember most was the unbelievable hospitality everywhere I went. I just answered my own question. It was the people. It was the people.
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