I am in bus like Christopher McCandless in the movie into the wild. It is my room for the next few days. I am in the middle of nowhere, at the Coppock’s property, the family who hosts me at the Waite River Station. It is a cattle station, a little one covering 1500 hectares (3700 acres) with 1500 cattle, 300 camels, several goats and few hens; lost in the big nothingness of the Australian outback, the red center, 220km North-East of Alice Springs.
Craig, the 30 years old son, picked me up at the backpackers in Alice. We took the Stuart Highway to the North on 80km, passed the tropic of Capricorn, turned to the East on 70km then to the North again for 70km of dirt road. We met an Aboriginal family on the track who was waiting there for a while, the car out of gas. We have been the first people to pass there for 6 hours. In exchange of $20, Craig gave them 20l of fuel.
Once at the station, I met Allan the patriarch, his wife Sue, two german girls “helpers” like me, Marie-Anne, the Philippine Craig’s wife and her two brothers arrived few days ago. Including me, we are five helpers. The landscape is hopelessly flat, the great Australian fuck all, some cows, some camels, plenty of birds and a caged Cockatoo who says “hello”. A beautiful scenery, lost in the Australian red center. The Coppocks also keep a shop for the Aboriginal communities around, the first one being 20km far from the station. The first evening, Allan showed me his pet, a Thorny Devil, a beautiful lizard straight from the outback wilderness.
The following day has been a lazy and boring one. I follow the two german girls around to do some little stuff. One guy would be enough. I have got nothing to do. I don’t find my place and I have got the feeling to disturb. I don’t want to spend two weeks there like that. The afternoon is getting better and brings some fun. Allan picked us up on the property to take some photos. The government uses this shots to track the evolution of the bush every year. The farm is trully huge. I can’t imagine the size, beyond the eyes can see. I spent the afternoon on the tray of the 4wd. It was funny 30min after what I burnt.
Sunday, we waked up earlier to kill two goats. We caught them, put them on the ground and cut their head with a knive (Craig’s part). After we cut up them, my first time. I let the evisceration at Craig. Next ? Nothing… It’s Sunday, everybody is lazy and the temperature is crazy, 25°C at 4am, more than 40°C in the shadow during the day. The water for my personal use grows up, maybe more than 5l per day.
After only two days, I feel lost, without my ordinary digital link… I know I can live without but I have to be active. The inactivity turns this experience into a jail. It’s like an ocean, the station a ship lost in the middle. The captain enjoys, he can go where he wants. But I’m a basic crew, I go round in circle, ask if there are something to do, try to be active… But nothing, and with the heat, it’s worse. Just the big nothingness of the great australian fuck all… And I can’t walk anywhere, there’re nothing around… I watch some movie in the bus, the electric fan one meter of me. This bus is an oven.
The host family has no time for me. Sue is busy with her grandchildren, Allan works alone and Craig with his wife’s brothers. The two German girls have some little stuff, not a lot of work either. The following day is better, I’ve some work. However, I ask to Sue if I can leave Wednesday. No worries. The afternoon, we follow Allan again to take some photos, and I drive. Allan doesn’t trust me. He had some bad experience with few male helpers who lost the control of the 4wd… alone, it should be funny to play with the 4wd on the tracks, but I can’t lose the two german girls in the tray of the car. As on the snow, my driving has to be smooth… lot of fun.
It’s a good year for the Coppocks, it rained a lot few weeks ago, they feel good. They move the cattle work date. I want to see that. The following day, we leave to a cattle pen to separate the calfs, the cows with horns, and the other cows. The two first groups are loaded into a truck to another special cattle pen. It’s violent. The Coppocks use a kind of big taser to move the cattle into a corridor. The calfs feel trapped and scream.
At the end of the corridor, they’re stopped and put on the ground. My job with a Philippine guy, is to hold the legs of the calfs. During this time, Craig castrates them with a scalpel, brands them, tags their ear and cuts a part. The calfs struggle and howl with pain, the tongue outside. We do that with about thirty calfs. The temperature is really hot, we’re in sweat, some dust in our eyes, some flies in our ears and our nose. After, it’s the turn of the cows with horns. They move into another corridor, to a special door. My job is to open and close the door to block the head of the cows to cut the horns, the Craig’s job. I’ve never heard a cow howl, and never seen a cow struggle with pain. One of them stays blocked in the door, her legs in the air, she can’t breathe in and chokes. Allan and Craig dismantle the door quicly to liberate her. She stays still few times before to leave. Cattle worker is too violent for me.
Wednesday morning, I leave the Coppock with Craig to Alice Springs. I’m glad to have had this experience, and glad to leave it.
Correcting are welcome