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Yuin Sheep Station (Australia)

© Rodney Bolt/Daily Telegraph
Unedited copy.
This article may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.
It may not be downloaded or digitally shared.
For permission to publish or reproduce this story in any way, please contact Rodney Bolt via the Contact page on this site.

Yuin Sheep Station (Australia)

Yuin Sheep Station in western Australia sprawls across nearly half a million sun-hardened acres. That’s just a patch short of the size of Luxembourg. The adult human population is four: Rossco and Emma Foulkes-Taylor, and Rossco’s parents Michael and Jano. The sheep population tops 20,000.

At busy times of year the Foulkes-Taylors hire in a little help. They also sometimes take in the odd paying guest who’s prepared to muck in. I was on my way to Yuin to live the life of a jackaroo. Well, at least for a day or two.

At Geraldton, about 265 miles north of Perth, I hired a sturdy car, tossed my wide-brimmed bush hat on to the passenger seat, and studied the detailed directions I’d asked for: “Turn right out of the airport. Drive east for 140 kilometres, turn left, drive north for 63 kilometres, cross the river, and you’ll see the homestead”.

That proved detail enough. Within minutes of leaving the airport I was on a long straight road, with not a single building or street lamp in sight. The sun had set, and a lopsided orange moon was rising. There were more stars overhead than I had ever seen before. Insects attracted by the headlights flew headlong at the car, ending in greasy kamikaze splatters on the windscreen. Road trains – 50-metre-long pantechnicons announced by a low rumble and a dazzle of light – bore down from time to time with the insect hordes, shook the car as they roared past, and were sucked up into the night. Kangaroos bounced out of the dark bush, straight into my path. I arrived at Yuin frazzled, at way past sheep-station bedtime.

“This is where you’re camping,” announced Emma. I had visions of a tent in the back yard, but instead was shown to a cool, white-painted bower with a big, old-fashioned bed. ‘Camp’ is simply station-speak for ‘sleep’. “We’re lucky,” said Rossco. “Yuin is one of the closest stations to Geraldton. We’re almost suburban.” A mere 130 miles to do the shopping? A trifle, I thought as I climbed into bed.

We set off next morning just before five. It was still dark. Towards the end of the long Australian summer the sheep are mustered [rounded up] so that rams can be separated from ewes, and male lambs neutered. Our job for the morning was to muster the sheep from one ‘paddock’ –1,200 animals ranging free across 12,000 acres.

Emma expertly reversed a ute (‘yewt’: pick-up truck) complete with trailer out of the shed. “The first time I did this, the trailer went all over the place,” she said, “and the men just watched and laughed. It nearly made me cry. So I came back one afternoon and practised it again and again until I got it right”.

Rossco was up ahead in another vehicle with Richard and Nick, two temporary hands. Half an hour later, as a greyish pink light was seeping in to the sky, we arrived at Tardie, his parent’s homestead. Michael and Jano Foulkes-Taylor were there to meet us, and ready to go. They’re in their sixties, but very much part of the working day.

At Tardie I was assigned my own ute and trailer, and our motorcade set off for the paddock. It was nearly an hour’s drive away. The vehicles threw up long trails of red dust as the rising sun gradually brought the landscape into focus – mile after mile of prickly bushes, stumpy trees and tight knots of grass. Unseasonal rain had turned the vegetation green, the earth glowed deep red in the early morning light, and the sky was already a strong, flat blue. The countryside stretched out like a giant tricolour national flag. By the time we reached the paddock, the heat was already beginning to bite.

Not so long ago, mustering at Yuin was done on horseback. Now the Foulkes-Taylors use motorbikes, with Jano directing the show from above in a small plane, radioing instructions to the bikers. Rossco, Emma and the others rode off into the bush. My job was to put up temporary pens to contain and sort the mob [herd] when it arrived.

After the pens were up, I sat in the shade of one of the utes and waited. Doves with odd cockatoo crests hopped about in the sand. A pair of emus loped by. The heat was so intense, you could almost hear it; but the only sound was the intermittent squeak of a watering-hole windmill. Jano’s plane was a tiny white dot on the horizon. I turned on the ute two-way radio to eavesdrop on the muster:

“They’re running north-north-east.”

“Emma, they’re a kilometre away, just over that ridge to your right.”

“Richard, I’d like to know when you get them out of that thicket.”

“Nick, will you head over and join Michael. Kangaroos keep getting in front of the mob.”

Jano was evidently enjoying her role.

I must have dozed off. Suddenly I was in a fog of red dust, startled awake by the bleating of a thousand sheep and the revving of motorbikes. They’d arrived. Stupidly, I began to walk towards the mob, almost stopping it in its tracks. Rossco signalled frantically for me to arc around behind them, and my steep learning curve in sheep herding began.

They were keeping the mob tight – sheep’s heads and bodies making a single, surging, undulating lake. This is what we had to funnel into a series of increasingly smaller pens. Bikes, humans and dogs darted around the outskirts. One moment a current seemed to develop in the direction you were hoping, then a single sheep would stop dead, and the flow would move off on another course. Sudden leaks sprang out at the edges, and had to be quickly contained.

It was noisy, hot and dusty work, and at first I was pretty hopeless at it. With the sheep came a myriad flies; my mouth was coated in red dust, so that each sip of water sent an avalanche of mud down my throat. But with help from Rossco I slowly started to get the idea, and once or twice even felt a disturbingly delicious sense of power as a few hundred animals blindly obeyed my will.

By 11 o’clock, the sheep were in the first pen and it was time for ‘smoko’ (tea break). Michael made up a fire and set a billy to boil for bush tea. Emma produced corned beef sandwiches – not the nasty tinned stuff, but mouth-watering beef from their own herd that she’d boiled with spices, thinly sliced and layered on home-made bread. We sat in the scant shade of a scrubland tree. The talk was of the morning’s work, or old anecdotes about local characters – stories of Crockie and Smokin’ Joe.

Soon it was back to work, ushering pockets of sheep into the sorting pens. Then a trek back to Tardie for lunch – a fry-up of sheep’s hearts and kidneys washed down with home-made lemon cordial. “We’ll camp for a couple of hours after lunch,” Rossco announced. As a guest I was honoured with a bed. Richard and Nick slept on the verandah floor.

The others were up before me. I could hear they were discussing my morning’s efforts. “He’s not too bad,” someone said. Praise indeed!

Back at the paddock I learned how to catch lambs, and hold them up in the correct position to be neutered. Towards sundown, Michael took me on a drive to fetch a few stragglers, and I picked up on some of his bush knowledge. We broke off sticks of sandalwood (more spicily fragrant than the Indian variety), sucked on the juicy sweet tips of yum-yum leaves, and chewed on edible tree gum. We saw the giant aureate web of a golden orb spider; black wedge-tailed eagles that stand over a metre tall, and softly coloured Bourke’s parrots, which flit about shyly at sunset. Dinner waited back at Tardie, and I was sound asleep by 9pm.

Next day we tackled a different paddock. This time I got to ride a little with Rossco, flicking through scrubland after sheep, branches lashing against our legs. In response to a radio command from Jano, Nick leapt his bike over a termite mound and disappeared into the distance, while we nudged along a small group of dawdlers. One of them was lame and had a nasty canker. Rossco took a knife from his pocket and quickly slit its throat. “Poor old girl,” he said quietly as he dragged the corpse aside. But this was no place for sentiment. Living in those paddocks is like living wild.

After smoko I took some time out to go back to the Yuin homestead with Emma, where their three children were doing lessons over the ‘School of the Air’. Radio contact with the school lasts only half an hour a day – for the rest, Emma acts as home tutor. But at busy times, such as shearing and mustering, she’s needed out in the field and a retired school teacher comes to stay and help out. Henry (6½) looked me up and down. “You’re different from what I expected,” he announced. “What were you expecting?” “I thought that you’d look like the insurance salesman.”

“They’re very relaxed with adults,” said Emma later. “In a way they’re naïve, and they hang on to childhood much longer than city kids. But they have more responsibilities.” Tom (10) and Henry already drive their own ute on a 15-mile windmill-checking run.

As we talked, Emma carried on with her daily tasks. She worked slowly – it was hot – but she didn’t stop. Not for a moment. There’s a lot to do about the homestead: lunches to be made, chickens to feed, and a never-ending battle against the invasion of insects and red dust. Then there’s the lawn-mowing and constant irrigation that turns the garden into a vivid patch of green. You don’t want the desert coming all the way to your door.

“It’s a hard life,” admits Emma, “and the rewards aren’t huge. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” I could see her point. Yuin is no ‘dude ranch’ operating primarily for tourists, it’s a real, working sheep station. My visit had stripped away any romantic notions of Outback life, but it had also revealed something of its true attraction.

Fact File

Getting there

Austravel (tel 0870 055 0206, website www.austravel.com) have nine offices around the U.K. and specialise in tailor-made travel to Australia. They offer return flights to Perth for *** with an onward connection to Geraldton for an extra ***. A ten-day fly/drive package would cost ***.

Yuin Station is off the Pindar North Road in Murchison Shire, tel +61 8 9963 7982, fax +61 8 9963 7983, e-mail [email protected]. Rates are £34 per person per day, full board; maximum four people.

Yuin Sheep Station (Australia)

Yuin Sheep Station in western Australia sprawls across nearly half a million sun-hardened acres. That’s just a patch short of the size of Luxembourg. The adult human population is four: Rossco and Emma Foulkes-Taylor, and Rossco’s parents Michael and Jano. The sheep population tops 20,000.

At busy times of year the Foulkes-Taylors hire in a little help. They also sometimes take in the odd paying guest who’s prepared to muck in. I was on my way to Yuin to live the life of a jackaroo. Well, at least for a day or two.

At Geraldton, about 265 miles north of Perth, I hired a sturdy car, tossed my wide-brimmed bush hat on to the passenger seat, and studied the detailed directions I’d asked for: “Turn right out of the airport. Drive east for 140 kilometres, turn left, drive north for 63 kilometres, cross the river, and you’ll see the homestead”.

That proved detail enough. Within minutes of leaving the airport I was on a long straight road, with not a single building or street lamp in sight. The sun had set, and a lopsided orange moon was rising. There were more stars overhead than I had ever seen before. Insects attracted by the headlights flew headlong at the car, ending in greasy kamikaze splatters on the windscreen. Road trains – 50-metre-long pantechnicons announced by a low rumble and a dazzle of light – bore down from time to time with the insect hordes, shook the car as they roared past, and were sucked up into the night. Kangaroos bounced out of the dark bush, straight into my path. I arrived at Yuin frazzled, at way past sheep-station bedtime.

“This is where you’re camping,” announced Emma. I had visions of a tent in the back yard, but instead was shown to a cool, white-painted bower with a big, old-fashioned bed. ‘Camp’ is simply station-speak for ‘sleep’. “We’re lucky,” said Rossco. “Yuin is one of the closest stations to Geraldton. We’re almost suburban.” A mere 130 miles to do the shopping? A trifle, I thought as I climbed into bed.

We set off next morning just before five. It was still dark. Towards the end of the long Australian summer the sheep are mustered [rounded up] so that rams can be separated from ewes, and male lambs neutered. Our job for the morning was to muster the sheep from one ‘paddock’ –1,200 animals ranging free across 12,000 acres.

Emma expertly reversed a ute (‘yewt’: pick-up truck) complete with trailer out of the shed. “The first time I did this, the trailer went all over the place,” she said, “and the men just watched and laughed. It nearly made me cry. So I came back one afternoon and practised it again and again until I got it right”.

Rossco was up ahead in another vehicle with Richard and Nick, two temporary hands. Half an hour later, as a greyish pink light was seeping in to the sky, we arrived at Tardie, his parent’s homestead. Michael and Jano Foulkes-Taylor were there to meet us, and ready to go. They’re in their sixties, but very much part of the working day.

At Tardie I was assigned my own ute and trailer, and our motorcade set off for the paddock. It was nearly an hour’s drive away. The vehicles threw up long trails of red dust as the rising sun gradually brought the landscape into focus – mile after mile of prickly bushes, stumpy trees and tight knots of grass. Unseasonal rain had turned the vegetation green, the earth glowed deep red in the early morning light, and the sky was already a strong, flat blue. The countryside stretched out like a giant tricolour national flag. By the time we reached the paddock, the heat was already beginning to bite.

Not so long ago, mustering at Yuin was done on horseback. Now the Foulkes-Taylors use motorbikes, with Jano directing the show from above in a small plane, radioing instructions to the bikers. Rossco, Emma and the others rode off into the bush. My job was to put up temporary pens to contain and sort the mob [herd] when it arrived.

After the pens were up, I sat in the shade of one of the utes and waited. Doves with odd cockatoo crests hopped about in the sand. A pair of emus loped by. The heat was so intense, you could almost hear it; but the only sound was the intermittent squeak of a watering-hole windmill. Jano’s plane was a tiny white dot on the horizon. I turned on the ute two-way radio to eavesdrop on the muster:

“They’re running north-north-east.”

“Emma, they’re a kilometre away, just over that ridge to your right.”

“Richard, I’d like to know when you get them out of that thicket.”

“Nick, will you head over and join Michael. Kangaroos keep getting in front of the mob.”

Jano was evidently enjoying her role.

I must have dozed off. Suddenly I was in a fog of red dust, startled awake by the bleating of a thousand sheep and the revving of motorbikes. They’d arrived. Stupidly, I began to walk towards the mob, almost stopping it in its tracks. Rossco signalled frantically for me to arc around behind them, and my steep learning curve in sheep herding began.

They were keeping the mob tight – sheep’s heads and bodies making a single, surging, undulating lake. This is what we had to funnel into a series of increasingly smaller pens. Bikes, humans and dogs darted around the outskirts. One moment a current seemed to develop in the direction you were hoping, then a single sheep would stop dead, and the flow would move off on another course. Sudden leaks sprang out at the edges, and had to be quickly contained.

It was noisy, hot and dusty work, and at first I was pretty hopeless at it. With the sheep came a myriad flies; my mouth was coated in red dust, so that each sip of water sent an avalanche of mud down my throat. But with help from Rossco I slowly started to get the idea, and once or twice even felt a disturbingly delicious sense of power as a few hundred animals blindly obeyed my will.

By 11 o’clock, the sheep were in the first pen and it was time for ‘smoko’ (tea break). Michael made up a fire and set a billy to boil for bush tea. Emma produced corned beef sandwiches – not the nasty tinned stuff, but mouth-watering beef from their own herd that she’d boiled with spices, thinly sliced and layered on home-made bread. We sat in the scant shade of a scrubland tree. The talk was of the morning’s work, or old anecdotes about local characters – stories of Crockie and Smokin’ Joe.

Soon it was back to work, ushering pockets of sheep into the sorting pens. Then a trek back to Tardie for lunch – a fry-up of sheep’s hearts and kidneys washed down with home-made lemon cordial. “We’ll camp for a couple of hours after lunch,” Rossco announced. As a guest I was honoured with a bed. Richard and Nick slept on the verandah floor.

The others were up before me. I could hear they were discussing my morning’s efforts. “He’s not too bad,” someone said. Praise indeed!

Back at the paddock I learned how to catch lambs, and hold them up in the correct position to be neutered. Towards sundown, Michael took me on a drive to fetch a few stragglers, and I picked up on some of his bush knowledge. We broke off sticks of sandalwood (more spicily fragrant than the Indian variety), sucked on the juicy sweet tips of yum-yum leaves, and chewed on edible tree gum. We saw the giant aureate web of a golden orb spider; black wedge-tailed eagles that stand over a metre tall, and softly coloured Bourke’s parrots, which flit about shyly at sunset. Dinner waited back at Tardie, and I was sound asleep by 9pm.

Next day we tackled a different paddock. This time I got to ride a little with Rossco, flicking through scrubland after sheep, branches lashing against our legs. In response to a radio command from Jano, Nick leapt his bike over a termite mound and disappeared into the distance, while we nudged along a small group of dawdlers. One of them was lame and had a nasty canker. Rossco took a knife from his pocket and quickly slit its throat. “Poor old girl,” he said quietly as he dragged the corpse aside. But this was no place for sentiment. Living in those paddocks is like living wild.

After smoko I took some time out to go back to the Yuin homestead with Emma, where their three children were doing lessons over the ‘School of the Air’. Radio contact with the school lasts only half an hour a day – for the rest, Emma acts as home tutor. But at busy times, such as shearing and mustering, she’s needed out in the field and a retired school teacher comes to stay and help out. Henry (6½) looked me up and down. “You’re different from what I expected,” he announced. “What were you expecting?” “I thought that you’d look like the insurance salesman.”

“They’re very relaxed with adults,” said Emma later. “In a way they’re naïve, and they hang on to childhood much longer than city kids. But they have more responsibilities.” Tom (10) and Henry already drive their own ute on a 15-mile windmill-checking run.

As we talked, Emma carried on with her daily tasks. She worked slowly – it was hot – but she didn’t stop. Not for a moment. There’s a lot to do about the homestead: lunches to be made, chickens to feed, and a never-ending battle against the invasion of insects and red dust. Then there’s the lawn-mowing and constant irrigation that turns the garden into a vivid patch of green. You don’t want the desert coming all the way to your door.

“It’s a hard life,” admits Emma, “and the rewards aren’t huge. But at the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” I could see her point. Yuin is no ‘dude ranch’ operating primarily for tourists, it’s a real, working sheep station. My visit had stripped away any romantic notions of Outback life, but it had also revealed something of its true attraction.

© Rodney Bolt/Daily Telegraph
Unedited copy.
This article may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.
It may not be downloaded or digitally shared.
For permission to publish or reproduce this story in any way, please contact Rodney Bolt via the Contact page on this site.

© Rodney Bolt
Unedited copy.
This article may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s permission.
It may not be downloaded or digitally shared.
For permission to publish or reproduce this story in any way, please contact Rodney Bolt via the Contact page on this site.