Good morning! Firstly, quick thank you to those who have taken the time to leave comments for the ladies. It can be daunting to offer your story to people you don’t know, so my sincere thanks for the comments of acknowledgement across social media and here. It means alot.
Our next Outback Wife is Aggie, a lady passionate about rural and remote education, and her family. In the July school holidays Lee and I took our kids to Coral Bay up north for our first family holiday and on the way home we popped into Aggie’s station and camped a night there. The kids adored her and we’re now being pestered as to ‘when can we visit Aggie again?’
She’s one of those very special ladies who seems to always know just the thing to say at just the right time to make a person feel valued or comforted. Her positivity is infectious and I think anyone that can call Aggie a friend is blessed indeed.
I’m so very honoured to introduce you to Aggie.
“I was born and raised in Port Hedland. Did my schooling there. Then I came here. That was it really.
I was a young mother at 19 when I came here to his family’s station. I followed my heart really. I was about 16 years old when he first asked me out. We were kinda childhood sweethearts. He worked at stations near where I lived. I can’t believe I’ve been here that long. When I first got here it was really isolating. Having left my family, coming here, starting out, I was definitely judged for being an unwed mother. I remember like it was yesterday. Being judged. It was hard enough being a young mum, let alone being judged for being unwed. So the first few years were rough.
For a long time I didn’t know what my role was here. It was quite difficult until my baby started School Of The Air. That’s when I found my calling. Teaching. Educating my own. Once I found that, the judgment didn’t matter so much, my confidence grew. I had a purpose. It was really important to me to do that the best I could. To be the best teacher I could be for my kids. I never had a uni degree. You’re either going to sink or swim. So I swam.
A lot of women out here, they’ve given up a lot to move out to their husband’s property. It’s hard for them to establish that social network, to make a place for themselves. When you’re young, that’s hard. Moving here, my mum was 640kms away, I could visit her twice a year. But without that modeling, that mentoring support, it was hard. For the first two years I sat in the cottage thinking “I don’t want to be here”. I can’t believe how many women go into farming or station environments and the mother-in-law is unsupportive, unaccepting, jealous or resentful. It does your head in. It’s a real issue in the bush. The challenge is living with them. I had those troubles. It made me sad really.
Having my kids, when the time came, he’d drop me off near the hospital a couple of weeks before to wait for the baby to come. I was always overdue, so we knew when they’d induce. He’d come in the night before, stay for the birth, and then take the other kids we had home and come back in five days to pick me up. It was just the way it was. He was busy at home and had things to do. It was just the way it was.
It was my father-in-law that took me under his wing a bit and taught me wool production. This land had always been sheep until the wool market died in the 80s. By 2000 we were out. It was a really difficult transition. So expensive. All the infrastructure had to change. Extremely expensive. We used to run 30,000 Australian Merinos. We were close enough to the coast that the dogs weren’t too bad…only in the last four years have they started moving in. We run around 6000 cattle now. We bait trap and shoot for wild dogs now. And have a dogger that goes from station to station. We try and keep numbers down. We went from two dogs a year to at least 22.
When we ran sheep I used to work in the shearing shed, and on weekends, when I wasn’t teaching the kids and running the house. For a lot of years there was no money, so I was doing everything I could and we’d just get a house girl in two months a year during muster and shearing to help. You learn to cope.
Just before we went out of sheep we had Cyclone Vance. We were away at the time. We came back to the devastation. I think I only cried once. There was no point in crying. We couldn’t drive in, we had to walk the driveway and swim the creek to get in. We had to hang onto the fence so we didn’t get swept downstream. We walked in and half the hangar roof was in the front yard. The store block roof was ripped off. Every roof except one was gone. The strength of the wind made a double-deck cattle crate fly 100m over a sheep fence without damaging the fence. Just devastation as far as you could see. Not a single leaf left on the gum trees. Every single one blown off. Over a 15-year period we’ve slowly replaced the roofs and buildings. Cattle prices were crap and having to keep one at boarding school, it’s expensive, so we couldn’t afford to repair everything at once. It’s been little by little.
I always try to look for a positive in every situation. I figure the station needed a new roof and well… now it was gonna get one.
He loved his sheep but the writing was on the wall. The prices just weren’t there. Sometimes you’ve just gotta move with the times. Everybody did. They all did round here. Went from sheep to cattle. Cattle you don’t have to shear for a start and the intro of chopper mustering made the annual muster much quicker. Heaps of people have to drive their mill runs, we’re lucky to have two planes, so we fly. Our place is 750,000acres. The planes make it easier
Out here we don’t have easy access to so many services. As a mum I’ve had to develop and learn skills depending on what situation arises. I look back now and I don’t know how I did it. One of my babies had Speech Dyspraxia. The speechy was 250kms away; we only saw them once every three months. I had to become a speechy. I did that research myself. I just became one. Its what you do. It’s just the way it is. We couldn’t see a pro every day so I did it myself.
It’s amazing how you cope in the bush, honey.
I’m capable and I can do anything here, but I like to soften it by wearing a dress and makeup when I go to town. You still have to be a woman. It’s about the soul; dressing up when you go to town. You put the lippy on. God yeah honey.
I host a Christmas here ya know. I adopt all the orphans round here, Christmas Eve. This last, I had 17. It ranges from 15-25. Any orphans; people without family; I bring them in. No one should spend Christmas alone.
The muster is exciting and 30 years on I still love it. Since we own and operate, I love that I have a choice to do as much or as little as I want now, but I tend to go boots and all. Last year I was in a buggy for muster; that’s how I usually go. All the yard work. Loading cattle. Anything that’s required. I love it. The long days. I like to see what we’re producing. The outcome of a year’s work to see the outcomes of our effort.
When we muster, he flies the plane and we all have 2-ways so he tells us instructions from the air; what position to be in and what to do. The fastest blokes go out and get the cattle and bring them into the mob. I’m the main mob gal (it’s called the ‘coacher mob’). And as the blokes are feeding cattle in, if they have trouble, they’ll call me and I’ll persuade it to go in. I have a good success rate. I had a boy last year under the assumption that I hadn’t done this before. I said, “Honey, I think I’ve done this before…since before you were born!”
I was devastated when my first went to boarding. I was pretty inconsolable. My firstborn 1,200kms away. But you get on with it. You cope. You count down the days until school holidays. There’s an art to parenting over the phone. I think I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. I think I got better as I went along. The biggest lesson I learnt was not to react.
It was when my kids were all at boarding, bout five years ago that I got the empty nest feels. I was depressed. I think it’s that one door closes and I wasn’t sure where there next one was to open. For 27 years I’d had children at home. I was wondering what my role was now. It’s an adjustment. You have your babies and your life changes or whatever, you do School Of The Air and your life changes again, then the last baby goes off to board and your life changes again. And I thought, “What’s my role in life?” It takes a lot of adjusting.
That’s when I thought about mentoring others; mum’s at home doing School Of The Air. I do a lot of work with rural and remote education now. Not every mum makes a good teacher and I could see a gap there. Some of them really needed mentoring. Especially new mum’s coming into the district or just starting School Of The Air, they’re the ones I target. So after 21 years of teaching my kids, I offer myself as a resource and support. I believe in paying it forward and that’s why I do it. There’s no money, it’s just me and what I know, offering support.
Hopefully one of my boys comes back to the station. If not, we’ll sell it. Not much you can do. But if they come back, we’d move but still help them in busy times. Aww, and you know, I’m gonna be the best mother-in-law you ever seen honey. If they ask me for help, I’ll help them. I think we’ll retire down south. Just south of Perth. Dunno really.
I think the thing I’d love people to know, whether they’re in the city, or on a farm or on a station. You can do anything. Absoloutely anything you put your heart into. Just believe in yourself. As women, we should encourage and support each other. Never be afraid to put your hand up if your feel you’re drowning. Young ones; don’t be afraid to ask for help, us older ones, we’ve been through it and we have empathy, we know what you face.
He’s gorgeous my man. He’s very quiet, he’s hardworking, he’s very loving. He just loves his family and his Aggie. He still takes me for motorbike rides. I sit on the back. It’s been happening for 15 years. We grab a beer and go look at some cows on the motorbike. That’s what I say, ‘Find me some cows honey’.”
AGGIE FORRESTER, 49
‘Winning Pool Station’, Western Australia