Outback Wife

Outback Wife – Mary


I met Mary about 20 years ago and I’ve admired her ever since.

A nurse before she married, she has spent the years since working alongside her husband.

When I made the drive out to write Mary’s story, I was greeted by homemade pumpkin soup simmering on the wood fire stove, and the smell of freshly baked bread (made with flour ground from her own grain). Warm and welcoming, just like Mary.

We spent the day together, talking about all of the things and when Mary spoke of her wedding day, she brought her wedding dress out for me to see. I wish I’d taken a photo of it.

I’m so grateful to Mary for sharing her story as it gives yet another perspective, looking back, as she and her husband hand their farm over to the next generation.

Mary is one of the kindest and humble people I know, and is someone I have long aspired to be more like.

She taught me to throw and skirt a fleece in the shearing shed, and once upon a time, even tried to teach me how to milk a cow. I failed the milking lesson, but passed the wool handling one, which has come in handy in the years since (just lucky we don’t have any milking cows here).

I’m honoured to introduce you to Mary.


I was a farmer’s daughter. My dad he worked and worked, and my mum, she used to keep the house. One time she went out to the paddock to pull a sheep stuck in a dam. My dad told her to never do that again, she wasn’t to work the paddocks.

I always wanted to marry a farmer. I pictured sewing pretty green check curtains and keeping the house, like my mum.

How times changed, because it was different for me. Being a farmer’s wife is nothing like it was being a farmer’s daughter.

I met him in the store and there was such a connection. He reckons I walked out of that store backwards because I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

The day we married it was so hot. 45 degrees (114F). I made my wedding dress. Long sleeves. Lace. As high up the neck as I could get it. The fabric was so stiff and scratchy and it didn’t breathe. It was so hot. Everyone still talks about how it was the hottest day. But I didn’t feel it. I didn’t notice. I was so happy. Up in the clouds.

Those first few months after our wedding, I worked. We picked poison and mallee roots out in the paddocks. It was my first job when we got home. We didn’t discuss what I would do when we married. I assumed I’d sit at home and sew those check curtains and bake scones. I remember one day being out picking the mallee roots on my own and I cried. I don’t think the blokes understand sometimes. I had romantic thoughts. I guess I was rather naïve. But I wanted to look after my man. I wanted to support him. It was hard in those days. I think it made me stronger.


I did sew those green check curtains, and a pink pair too. They didn’t get noticed though. We worked so hard. I remember rousting in the shearing shed with morning sickness. Running outside to be sick then running back in to keep working. It seems a bit silly now, but it’s just what I did.

I’ve worked the farm and kept the house. I drive the tractors, all the machinery, milk the cow and grind our wheat. I had to learn how to drive all the machinery. The first time I got told to sit on it, put it in second gear, and go…and keep it straight. What if something goes wrong? If lights flash? Stop. I’ll be back in a few hours.

The only work I’ve never done on the farm is chopping wood. I knew if I did it, I’d be doing it forever. I’ll bring it in, but I won’t chop it.

I remember when we had our first son. I thought we’d return home from the hospital and romantically walk in together as a family. But we stopped out the paddock on the way so he could collect the tractor. I drove myself home. It’s funny how I had so many dreams.

Back when the boys were little, driving to take food to the shearers, or out to work in the paddocks, I’d put the baby in a cardboard box on the passenger seat.

As they grew, the kids always helped with whatever work was being done. We’ve never owned a TV, yet there’s been no such word as ‘bored’. They’d be off the school bus each day, grab an apple and off they’d go, to the shed or out the paddock. It’s a great way to raise kids, so much space, so much to do.

We’ve raised so many lambs over the years. I’ve never driven past one on the ground without bringing it home, keeping it in a box by the wood stove and stuffing milk down it. The kids loved the joeys too. Generally as they grew the ‘roos all stayed around and would bring mates back.

Our life has always revolved around the farm. Now it’s time for the next generation to take over. We’re about to have more freedom. I love it though, the farm, and looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. I love the work and the life. Being here on our own. It was hard but it made me fit and healthy. I look at our photos…so many memories. We weren’t flowing in money but we made do.

Now I’m older and about to retire. I’m looking forward to going out to coffee and being served, and doing some volunteer work.

It’s been a hard life, plenty of tears, but so many wonderful memories. It’s harder now, in a different way. Farming is a different battle now and it’s time for the next generation to have their turn.  


‘Bringalong’ Western Australia



9 thoughts on “Outback Wife – Mary

  1. It only took me two paragraphs to know who Mary was. She really is one of a kind. We met through her daughter in law and I’ve decided next time I head out to Bringalong I will be taking a suitcase and bringing her home with me. She is one of a dying breed, a breed I hope she passes on to her daughters in law and granddaughters; kindness, gentleness, Godliness and hopefulness when all the odds are stacked against her. Thank you for taking the time to write this. xx


  2. Mary is my Mother-In-law, and she is an amazing woman. I tell everyone I won the Mother-In-Law lottery! The first time I met her, she was cooking lunch (in her wood stove, bread from the grain she ground herself) for the men who were harvesting. She asked if I wanted to help take the lunch out. After setting up lunch on a table cloth on the tailgate on back of the ute, she hopped on the header and off she went so they wouldn’t miss any time while they were eating lunch. I told my husband to be that I hoped he understood that I could never be like his mother. She was super woman, and I was not super woman! She is amazing, and I love her so much.


  3. Well done Cathi, a wonderful story about Aunty Mary. She is a real gem in the often harsh wheatbelt. She has a kindness and gentleness about her that is surprising for such a strong woman. A real inspiration!


  4. Mary is the most wonderful woman! I met her when I moved to her home town to teach, she was one of our school RE teachers and was the most welcoming presence. My class of children loved her and looked forward to her visit each week.
    One night, during my first harvest, I was invited out to go for a ride on the header with her son and stay for dinner (she volunteered his services). When she got home Mary had a minor conniption at the meal he was trying to cook and promptly took over.
    I miss her very much now that I’m back in Perth


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