Travelling on dust roads and incredible heat, Jo spent a couple of nights, camping in her ute. The truck had been close to overheating. She decided to return to the life of her childhood, working on a cattle farm. The running away of her mother and a drunken father that started paying visits to her room at night, sent the young teen scurrying. Cober Pedy had given her a chance to learn skills. In a town where opals were mined, there was little else to do. Now, four years later, she was ready to present her credentials to a cattle boss. Jo had heard that cattle stat
ions on the Barklay Tablelands had a more bearable temperature than Cober Pedy. She missed working with horses and, even in Cober Pedy, she worked weekends leading tourists on horses around the town and surrounding countryside.
Now, she was at the door of Woolinbar Cattle Stations. The boss man had invited her to sit down, while his wife, affectionately known as “Ma” or “The Missus” set a mug of tea and cakes before her. George was a blunt, straight talking man, who did not suffer fools gladly. Like on a cattle station was demanding and it involved skills and comraderie, mostly in the company of men. Putting an “ignorant Sheilia” was like inviting a croc to sit around the campfire. She would be interviewed like a man and then given careful consideration. Before George would make a decision, this young woman would have to be seen by the men as having something to contribute to the cattle station, which afterall, was their home.
George came out fighting with tough questions. Jo never flinched. Even when Jo presented a tough and dismal telling of her youth, George never showed sympathy. All the men he employed had experienced the rawness of life, why should she be any different. The Missus moved away from the table, afraid that she would interfer with her husband’s strict line of questions.
Wait outside, Jo.” George had no warmth in his voice.
He turned to his wife.
“Crickey, Trish, she’s been through hell and back. Poor bugger. She melted my heart!”
“Didn’t sound like it to me, but I knew what you were doin’.
George sighed. “Trish, I don’t trust her. There’s no way a woman could have all those damn skills!”
The Missus knew what was coming – Jo would have to show George her worth or eat her words.
Through the open window the missus watched and listened.
“Dusty, saddle a stockhorse. She says she can ride. Pull out a few bulls and put her through the ropes, and get some of the lads to watch. We want to get their reactions.”
The Missus watched Jo as she easily handled the tasks. An angry bull turned on Jo, but she easily manouvered her horse and got the animal to follow the others into a holding pen. The men clapped their approval. Jo roped a calf, brought it down and tied its legs. Again, there were approving words from the men.
Jo walked over and introduced herself. One of the blokes laughed when she told him that Dusty wanted her to fix any broken car. He pointed to a rusting ute supported on jacks.
“Yer wanna try that one!”
The Missus watched Jo under the truck. ‘Those bloody bastards, every man has given up on that one!’ Then, the Missus looked at the clock. She realized that she was behind schedule. Jo would be exhausted by the time the men had put her through trials. She doubted that they would have challenged a man as much. Half an hour passed, and the Missus was just placing a tray of cooked tarts on the table, when she heard sporadic chunking and choking sounds. She crossed her fingers. Jo had got further in her work than any other man. The chunking and choking sounds continued on an ‘off’ and ‘on’ basis. Then, it happened the engine burst into full glory. The Missus rushed to the window to see Matty lift Jo clear off the ground. She had fixed his truck, the ol’ ute was shaking with delight.
“Good on ya, Jo!” The Missus yelled.
Jo turned towards the voice and waved. She liked the feel of this place. It could be a good start, even if there wasn’t a young woman in sight!