Run when you can
Walk if you have to
Crawl if you must
Just never give up no matter what.
I was born in 1966 under an apple tree somewhere in the idyllic outdoors. Nah, only kidding! I was actually born at a little rural town in South East Queensland, and have lived on the land all my life, mainly on isolated cattle stations. I was a rebellious child, but I guess that was the result of being abused all of my young life at any place, anywhere and anytime of the day. There were very few good years during my childhood, and I can’t remember anything that I could call fun.
I lived in what everyone on the outside thought was a perfect family, but behind closed doors it was such a different story.
So, from an early age I started planning how I was going to run away and become a rich millionaire. I never wanted to get married because if all men were like my father, they were assholes I didn’t want children because if they had a childhood like mine, it wasn’t worth it.
From a very early age, maybe four or five, I was driving machinery: by the age of 10 I was driving trucks, dozers and everything else in between. I loved machinery, loved getting my hands dirty, loved showing men that I was equal and could do it just as good as them. I liked working cattle but hated mustering.
I had virtually no education… let’s say limited. I went to school sometimes, but my parents considered work was more important than getting an education. In the first seven years of school, I only managed to get three or four of actual learning, so my reading and writing was very limited. At the time I didn’t really care, and did my best to get out of school because anything was better than being there.
True to my plan, I ran away at 14 to enter the big wide world. The first thing I did was change my name as I didn’t want to be associated with any of my family.
What a culture shock! At first I only had enough money to buy about two meals, but I became pretty good at bullshitting my way around things. I soon managed to get a job on a sheep station near Barcaldine in Central West Queensland. I worked there through the week and on weekends I would cut wood for the two local pubs for extra cash. I hit the drink, smoked, wore make-up – something I was never allowed to do – but luckily I was wise enough to not touch drugs, even though it was offered to me many times. I rebelled in true style.
One night in the pub I met this wonderful old black fella who ran shearing teams and he told me about the money a roustabout was earning. My brain swung into overdrive so the next day he took me out to a shearing shed, and using a blanket, he taught me how to throw a fleece. I joined his team and he was a wonderful mentor for many years. He was a father figure to me, very kind. He taught me many things, and one night in a drunken frenzy I told him about my childhood and my bitterness towards it all. He gently advised me: ‘Don’t carry mistakes around with you. Instead, place then under your feet and use them as stepping stones to rise above them.’
Many years later, after we lost touch, out of the blue, a busted up old Holden car swung into the property where I live now, and out popped this old man. What a wonderful surprise. As he left again, he put his hand on my arm and said, “You did well girl. Don’t ever forget those stepping stones”. That was the last time I saw him, although I am sure I feel him now and then tap me on the shoulder and say “Ha girl, wake up and remember those stepping stones.”
After 12 months working the shearing sheds, I felt like a change. Sheep were the dumbest animals god ever put on this earth, so I travelled to Emerald, a thriving town in Central Queensland, hoping to get a job in the nearby mines. I nearly succeeded, until they found out my age – bummer. So I applied for a job as a demonstrator and instructor with a company that sold Case bulldozers. I went for the interview, but what a horrible arrogant man he was: “What would a woman know – and a young one at that?”
I was used to working in a man’s world; I knew as a woman that I had to work harder, be better, to prove I was worthy of the job so I pestered this company time and again – and time and again I was given the cold shoulder.
They couldn’t understand why a young lady would want a job like this, and they could not fathom that I actually had the experience. Finally, I told the dealership personnel my motto:
I am a girl with a mind
A bitch with an attitude
And a lady with class.
Soon I got a look-in due because the company was let down by someone they had just employed. He rang me to tell me he wanted to check out if I really could drive a dozer, so we drove out to the site. It was about the size of a D10, which is a big machine, and he was trying to sell it to a mine company. (By the way, I still didn’t have a drivers licence!)
I looked over the dozer, and oh my lord it was a brand new shift stick. I had never driven one of those but I was pretty confident all would be okay and there wouldn’t be a worry. He wanted me to do this and that; dig a hole, give it a good workout etc. In two seconds I had it all worked out, thank god, as I was not going to let this dude beat me by saying I told you so.
He had driven us out to the site in his brand new burnt blue twin-cab hi-lux utility with all the bling on it, and I reckon he loved that twin-cab more than his missus.
I worked that dozer as he directed and when finished, I slowly drove it up to the back of his brand new car, lifted the blade up about 2 metres off the ground, shut the dozer down and told him to shove his dozer and his job up his ass ‘cos I didn’t need arrogant pricks in my life, and there were plenty of other jobs around, and I started to walk the kilometre back to town.
To this day I have never seen another grown man cry, grovel and suck up as he did. He was desperate; he had no idea how to work the dozer so I had him where I wanted him.
Revenge is so sweet at times. I was 16 with a big chip on my shoulder; no one messed with me and got away with it, especially men.
So, we struck a deal and my career as a dozer driver for Case began. I was flying all over the country, test driving dozers for a big company – one day in Darwin, the next in Sydney. As a young woman in a man’s world it was hard to crack, but it was worth it as this job took me anywhere and everywhere. The fellow and his family became wonderful friends and like a new family to me. It opened my eyes that there were normal people out there and that kids really did have great times if they had someone to love them, to nurture and respect them. We eventually had many laughs over my moto that got me the job.
On my wedding day years later I received a telegram saying ‘Congratulations on your wedding day. May you have a girl with a mind, a bitch with an attitude, and a husband with class. Love – from a man who knows an attitude!’
We stayed great friends until his death.
I stayed in this job for nine months on and off, between doing lots of other things from serving ice-cream to working at cattle sales yards before returning to North Queensland. My parents had gone bankrupt; the cattle station was sold so they went into gold mining on a neighbouring station. Somehow I got sucked into visiting my family and ended up driving a dump truck at the family mine. I wasn’t happy and was planning and dreaming of going to work on a cruise liner somewhere, because I was told it was a great way to travel and get paid good money.
But there was one snag. A young fellow dropped by from a nearby station and he was different from anyone else I had met. Rob was a real gentleman – caring, kind, and not judgmental. Three weeks later he asked me to marry him. Nine months later, in 1986, we got married. Twelve months later, our wonderful daughter Kerri-ann was born, and eleven months later we had our wonderful son Ashley. My world was complete.
Rob had taken over running Gilberton Station from his father, but it was still a virgin block on the Gilbert River, even though it had been in the family for many generations. Rob had big plans, fences and cattle yards to build, and much more. So we drew up a 25-year plan. Within a few years this blew out to a 50-year plan. There was a lot of work to be done but we felt as long as we had each other and the kids we could do it. Things cruised along until 1991 when I had a health scare with cervical cancer, and felt everything was slipping away before my eyes.
No bastard was going to rip anything away from me when I had just got it all, so fight it I did. During treatment and against all the odds, I fell pregnant and another wonderful daughter, Anna, was born in 1992.
Just as I was getting over the cancer treatment, and managing a new baby, another willy-willy wind storm arrived. Kerri-ann and Ashley needed to start school. Having no other choice but to do school of the air, I was about to start a whole new journey, one I was shit-scared about, but I felt more than ready to give my kids the best I could.
How was I going to do it? I had no bloody idea. What was I thinking? I could hardly read or write, let alone teach my kids. But teach them I did, with a few wonderful helpers along the way. A volunteer group called VISE (Volunteers for Isolated Students Education) entered my life and god help them, I am sure if it wasn’t for them and the help I received, I wouldn’t be here today. I would have ended up in a looney bin. We learnt together in the school room, the paddock and anywhere else in between. Through tears, fights and laughter we did it together.
Even before their school years had finished, the kids set up their own contract mustering business working on local stations. They were greatly respected for their capability from an early age, and still are today.
After school life finished and the school room doors closed in 2004 I was a free woman, or so I thought. In 2005 our nephew Tom, who was 14 at the time, came to live with us. He was getting into terrible trouble, and others couldn’t care for him. He also had a severe hearing problem. We took him on and the school room doors opened once again, much to my horror. Tom stayed with us for 18 months before finishing school and entering the work force.
Along the way I very proudly managed to complete a post graduate diploma in 2011. Then in 2013 I was privileged enough to win a place in the Australian Rural Leadership Program, which took me all over Australia and overseas. What a wonderful learning curve it was.
Ashley now lives at home about a kilometre downstream, with his beautiful wife and their son and daughter. Ashley works away contracting but also helps run the station, and hopefully within a few years he will take over from his father. Our grandkids are now the seventh generation to be on Gilberton, something we are very proud of as not too many family stations are operational any more.
Kerri-ann is has her own contract mustering business and her own Braham stud. She is a wonderful cattle woman, knows her shit and takes shit from no one: she will go a long way within the industry.
Anna is at present working in the Northern Territory with her partner doing contract mustering and fencing. They have given us more grandchildren to cherish.
The French family: Seated are Rob’s parents, Gus & Adelaide French.
Middle back – Lyn and Rob. Back right, Kerri-ann.
Seated right, Anna with her partner Joey below, and Ruby.
Left, seated, Camilla, daughter-in-law, with Ashley nursing Ellie.
Front centre, little Robert.
Photo taken Gilberton Station, in the Gilbert River bed. (Jan 2017)
In 2013 I became director of the business we call Gilberton Outback Retreat. In 2014 we opened the doors of an exclusive private luxury retreat on our property. Visitors can experience life on a remote cattle station and relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the outback. In 2016 we were very proud to receive our 5-star rating.
In the last 25 years I have done considerable amounts of voluntary work for VISE, and now do the administration for the organisation. They helped me a considerable amount through my children’s education, so I felt it was my way of giving back to such a wonderful organisation. I enjoy helping people and it is rewarding to hear simple words like ‘thank you’. I also have helped other voluntary organisations at federal level, lobbying governments for rural and remote educational needs.
I have been so fortunate. Even though I started life hating men, I now have four very special men in my life.
- My father-in-law who is my mentor in life, the family rock, and such a beautiful wise gentle person
- My husband who is the most special person, a gentle giant
- My son who is a duplicate of his father and grandfather
- Then a special little man, our grandson who is the most adorable, wise little man who I am sure has been on this earth before.
From here, who knows? I am still trying to work out how to become a millionaire! But one thing for sure I am in a good place enjoying life doing what I love with incredible family by my side. Whatever happens, I know it is up to me to make it happen. I live every day to the fullest; life has great joy and I treasure the simple things like health and family.
I have learnt this in life; it’s up to us to make it happen. If you are able to think it, your goal is reachable.