This is a tough environment in which to survive or even just eke out a living. It is desert, minimal topsoil, little grows. Water is extremely valuable, 60mm fell last year in total. The vast size of the stations is necessary to sustain enough for cattle to live off. There is little to spare and sustenance is not always easily available. The supermarket is an hour and a half away, after negotiating the 15km dirt track to reach the highway, so the fuel required must be added to the shopping bill. For a young couple starting out in a life together, you need all the help you can get. Jake and Frankie are 24 with their first child due in 14 weeks. They are mortgaged up to the hilt but are tough and hard-working, making the most of opportunities to earn money and obtain assistance, hence taking Workawayers like us.
The freezer supply of meat was rapidly depleting. Jake hadn’t been able to find any feral animals in recent days. This level of hunting is vital on two accounts, one is to provide food, particularly if you are feeding guests/workers. Also, these animals eat the scarce and valuable grass as well as drinking the precious water. The larger they are the more they consume so the likes of brumbies, donkeys, camels and, of course, kangaroos do have a sizeable appetite.
The other morning we had been left with a couple of jobs to do whilst F&J went to check on some wells and put a parcel in the post. That involved leaving it in the mailbox at the end of the drive for the Greyhound bus driver to pick up on their way past, when noticing the raised orange cone, particularly if there was no post to deliver. This mail service income is, apparently, greater than the passenger side of the business.
We’d just put the kettle on for another cup of coffee before starting work when Frankie came rushing back. Jake had shot a camel and did we want to come and help deal with it? Entering into the lifestyle of an outback station and particularly as we were going to be beneficiaries, we didn’t hesitate. Grabbing a few more sharp knives we jumped into the truck. They had come across a group of camels a few hundred yards off the road about 5km out from the homestead. Jake is particularly good at spotting these animals who blend so well into the environment, enhanced by the curvature of their hump, which he says makes the difference as opposed to cattle and horses whose straight backs are incongruous in nature so more conspicuous.
Jake had started the butchering process but handed over the tools for us to learn on the job! Skinning was the first task which we managed without puncturing the rapidly inflating gut. There is little use for the hide or coat out here although Frankie melts the hump fat and blends it into a super moisturising cream. Jake then took over the actual jointing as this was a valuable commodity, not to be messed up by amateurs. The front legs and joints from the hind as well as the fillet from either side of spine were expertly excised and tossed in to the back of the truck which had been lined with bushes to minimise the mess. He then precoded to extract the true fillet from inside the pelvis which is something to look forward to. A few ribs were chucked in the back for the dogs to enjoy later.
The joints and limbs were skewered and hung in the cold room with one joint from the side of the spine put aside to have as steaks for tea. I was presented with what I think was rump, to cut into long thin slithers to smoke for jerky. The removal of all the gristle, tendons and any other ‘white’ bits took a large chunk of the afternoon but once they’d been cut and had salt, garlic powder and peppersteak seasoning rubbed in they were ready for the smoker. Another of Jake’s simple but effective home-made devices. Fortunately I had sliced so much that there is plenty left for a second session but these tasted rather good for a first attempt and we will not go hungry for at least 2 weeks now!