How a Special Breed of Women Survive and Thrive in the Australian Outback
Stories abound from the past of women that followed their men into the outback, living and raising children under canvas shelters or in makeshift huts and in the harshest imaginable conditions. Granted, things have changed a lot since the old days, but it still takes a special kind of woman to cope with the the isolation and demands of the outback, and to make a good life there. In this program, we hear from two remarkable women – speaking about their experiences following a major fire in the Port Lincoln region of South Australia, and about the effects of prolonged drought on one family in rural Victoria.
Listen to the Podcast
Duration 27′ 50″
First Broadcast – Week Beginning Monday 12 June 2013
Janet (surname withheld)
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Dr John Ashfield
Women of outback Australia have a legendary reputation for their resilience, resourcefulness, and commitment to family and community. Granted, they no longer have to conduct domestic life under canvas on dusty and sun parched outback tracks, or make Galah edible to feed hungry mouths! Yet life in modern times still throws up hardships enough to test even the most toughened and spirited women.
Though life these days for women on the land, is much less about enduring physical adversity (although drought, fire and flood remain ever present threats), it still doesn’t escape the perennial burdens of practical, financial and family pressures. Menfolk certainly worry about these things too, but even their worry becomes another worry for women, whose usual role means carrying much of the emotional load, and working hard to keep spirits up and relationships functional – which is no mean feat.
Interminable BAS statements, school runs, feeding shearers, catering for community events, off-farm work, managing and coordinating tasks around their husbands, is not the half of it. For women who have given up life in a town or city to live on the land, unexpected challenges may await: loneliness of isolation, contending with suspicious in-laws (worried about a claim against assets – in the event of relationship breakdown), interminable dust, perhaps being able to shop only once each month – involving a journey of hours, and managing the dilemma of being a mother and teacher for the children; all may be added unexpectedly as items in the job description.
Not uncommonly, and made conspicuous during the last drought, women can downplay signals of their own simmering vulnerability, in a stoical bid to do their best and hold things together at home – hoping for happier and easier times. And though this isn’t right or wrong (it just is), it does suggest a vital imperative: to keep women’s need of nurture, support, and being valued in focus – and to affirm them by celebrating not just what they do so perseveringly, but who they are – and the admirable wonderful stuff of which so many of them are made.
At the end of the day, as many women will tell you, despite the demands of ‘life outback’, they experience a special sense of community and belonging. They are drawn into a bond with the land, and come to know its profound stillness and the delights of its wildlife. With its unique mantle of sun and sky, with wind and rain and seasons, it offers special moments and simple pleasures, – a way of life, available nowhere else.
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