Good Monday to you. I hope your week is getting of to a wonderful start.
I woke this morning a bundle of nerves and full of butterflies. At last the time has come to share the new Outback Wife stories with you and the fabrics that go with.
There’s alot I could write about the area this year’s ladies come from by way of introduction, but really I feel it’s best to let the ladies themselves tell you about it.
I will explain though, that the Gascoyne Region of Western Australia, is not only the lowest populated region of the west, but also the most sparcely populated. (The Region is 138,000km2 with a population of only 14,500 people.) It’s a region that relies on the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) for emergency medical care, and out in the remote areas they rely on School of The Air to educate their children.
The Gascoyne has had an incredibly tough run in recent times. Not so long ago, it was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in living memory the area has ever seen. If that wasn’t horrific enough, the drought was broken by flooding of the Gascoyne River…the worst in recorded history.
What you are about to read over the coming days of this week are personal first-hand accounts of what it is to experience the extremes of outback Australia. It takes a great deal of courage to share some of the things that are included in the stories. These stories are not being shared for your sympathy. Each of these ladies has a bone-deep love for their land and are exactly where their heart yearns to be.
They are bravely sharing their stories to offer you understanding. To help bridge the gap between rural and city
Each story has been written word for word, as it was told to me. There has been no filtering of what was said and I hope by sharing the stories in this way, that it will feel very much like the women are speaking directly to you.
Not everyone ‘gets’ what Outback Wife is about. What it is that makes the fabrics truly special.
It’s the stories. It’s the people.
The rural areas of this region start on the coast, at the mouth of the Gascoyne River (Western Australia’s longest river), and that’s where our journey begins today.
The isolated rural town of Carnarvon is where we meet this year’s first Outback Wife. It’s a decent-sized town with a population of around 6,000. Here, on the banks of the river, Christine, together with her husband, runs a banana plantation.
Over this last year it’s been a real joy to get to know Christine. She has the kind of warmth and generous laughter that instantly puts you at ease. She’s not only a woman passionate about her local community and sustainable horticulture but also an avid quilter.
I was lucky enough to meet a few plantation folk while I was in Carnarvon and what really stuck with me was their humility. No matter what comes their way, be it fire, drought, flood or cyclone, they quietly ride it out and go about their business, growing their produce as best they can. Christine explained where that humility comes from when she said to me after she’d finished her story, ‘No matter what comes our way, we always know the stations are gonna be doing it tougher. So we just get on with it’.
Without any further ado, welcome to sunny Carnarvon, I’m honoured to introduce you to Christine.
“I’m born and bred here in Carnarvon. My mum was born here too. My grandfather ran the local blacksmith shop, repairing all the camel trains back in the old days. Grandma used to be a seamstress and work at the hospital. My dad came here in 1947 and bought up plantation land. War Settlement property. I grew up in town; there was only a little shed on the plantation back in those days so mum lived in town with us kids.
I went to school here too. I left when I was I was 16 and worked at the local shire in the office. I met my husband when he came to town as a plumber to work on the new hospital. I thought he was alright and he won me over. We went further up north for a few years and married up there. I always wanted to come back here though. I missed the ocean.
We came back in 79 after Cyclone Hazel. My father was still living here. By that time a bit of a house had grown out of the old shed. We leased the plantation off my dad and eventually bought it.
We’re right on the river here. The ‘upside-down river’ it’s called. It’s the longest river up here, about 865km long and Carnarvon is on the delta, which is why soils are so rich. The river only flows if we get enough rain in the catchment though. But it provides underground water the year round to irrigate. We used to be severely affected when we had droughts, but over the years, the growers here, as a community, have become really water-efficient.
When the river does run, everyone goes down to the banks to watch the first trickle come under the bridge. They come from far and wide.
In 1980 I got evacuated with my 4 month old at the time. The waters came right up to the tree line. The house was ok, but I couldn’t get home for over a week. That was a year that a lot of people lost their crops. Just about everything that was growing was lost. The river didn’t run properly again until about 84. I was pregnant again then, with my third. Everyone came again to watch the first trickle of water come down.
Years ago we both worked here on the plantation and raised the kids. I’d pick during the day and look after the kids too. We’d pack at night. When we grew tomatoes sometimes it would be 2am before we finished.
We ran a roadside honour-system stall for about 3-4 years. Lettuce through to bananas. We sold a lot of produce that way. I used to make preserves and dried mango and banana. I worked in the paddock all day, do the kid’s stuff, then work through the night. There’s no real off-season here.
Originally, most people round here made their money from beans, pumpkins and bananas. There’s 160 plantations up here and about 120 of them had bananas, now only 40 are still bananas. It’s markets. Now it’s not just growing a good product. All our crops travel over 900kms to the market down the city. I wish city folk understood how hard we work for them. I wish they knew there were people behind the food. There’s us.
It’s hard for anyone to buy a plantation property now. Everyone works so hard to make ends meet. It’s a great way of life, but income-wise its extremely hard. We are at the whim of the market. Prices have stayed the same but costs are higher, most women now have to work off-farm to supplement income.
Cyclones and flooding are a part of life up here. Sometimes you just kinda know a cyclone’s coming. Maybe its cos I’ve lived up here my whole life. I just know.
I love going out to the station country. I keep in touch with my friends out there. I love going out there during winter. It’s just so different. Simply magic. I’d love to see the water running out there before it reaches our bit of the river. Maybe one year.
It’s the people that make this town. We all pull together to get through when it gets rough. The station folk, the plantation folk and the town’s people. We all pull together. Towns like ours are what they are because people volunteer to provide services. We’re a long way from anywhere.
It’s priceless up here though, the beauty we have in our backyard.
I love the smell of freshly turned soil but most of all I love the smell of freshly fallen rain. The excitement of getting word that the river’s coming, giving hope of a good season. Water is life.
I’d love to travel one day. I’d love to see all of Australia…actually, I don’t think anyone could ever see everything in Australia.”
CHRISTINE KEARNEY, 61
Carnarvon, Western Australia