The Strzelecki Track in South Australia, Four hundred and fifty kilometres of remote and mostly wild frontier with station families and gas fields dotted along either side. South Australia the remotest and driest state with a population density of 1.5 persons per square kilometre compared to 246 in the UK. But hang on a minute! How can you have half a person? Maybe it’s because I’m forever hearing Aussie Sheilas screaming at their husbands “You’re only half the man I married!”
Out here in the dry arid conditions, families struggle to run sheep stations that are larger in size than most English counties. They battle against extreme temperatures when the mercury breaks the glass, dust storms and drought. It’s an unforgiving land, it takes no prisoners.
The Strez, still geographically remote but technology brings the outside world ever closer. The children of the track live too far away to attend normal school so they are taught via the school of the air. Technological advancement creeps along the track and lessons that use to be via crackly radio’s have been replaced by the internet. There’s no hiding in class either! Webcams have seen to that.
Thanks to Satellites, wireless and computers station managers can now keep a watchful eye over their cattle or sheep from a monitor. They can even control valves and pumps to give stock a drink all without leaving the station. (In theory)
Technology, bah humbug! The families on the track still need a reliable delivery of provisions. A newspaper, spares for the truck, a case of beer for the station hands. A welcome face, news and gossip. A human touch ensures the bush telegraph stays open? A good old fashioned parcel wrapped with brown paper and string. A birthday present for little Brad from Gran? Computers? Second Life? Virtual reality postmen! Bloody useless!
“I’m riding shotgun along the Strez, I can see smoke signals! There’s Injuns about! Their trying to cut us off at the pass! C’mon Oneten! C’monTeedeefive faster, faster, the mail must get through!”
“Eric! I’d better slow down and pull over, there’s a road train coming, can’t you see the dust it’s kicking up?” “Eh, what was that you said Alf? Sorry I was miles away”
Monday 15th August 2006 Induction day I’m a new sub contractor for Talc Alf working in his office. His office that just so happens to be one the biggest and most beautiful in the whole wide world that encompasses most of the famous Strzelecki Track. Talc Alf mailman of the track, a contractor for Australian Post. I first met Alf funnily enough outside the post office in Woop Woop a year ago. I had read and heard about him, he was after all and outback icon. He was admiring my Defender 110 TD5. He told me that he had tendered a bid to do the mail run up the Strez and was after a suitable and reliable workhorse. Yes, yes I’ve heard all your jokes about Land Rover reliability but a 110 is what Talc eventually purchased and so far (touch wood, cross fingers, hop on one leg) the mail has always got through.
Alf or Talc Alf as he is known is famous for the fine sculptures that he carves from Talc rock and his slant on the development of the alphabet. Also his design for a replacement Aussie flag should Australia ever become a Republic. He’s slightly eccentric but aren’t all great artists? It’s quite obvious after shaking hands with Alf just what rock he carves with as his hands are as soft as a babies bottom!
Alf’s contract with Australia Post stipulates that he delivers the mail twice weekly to stations about halfway along the length of the Strzelecki Track as far as Murnpeowie. Beyond here the mail is delivered by the flying postman. But hang on a minute! Alf in a Td5 engine Land Rover bombing along a corrugated dusty unsealed track has known at times to become airborne, albeit all too briefly but airborne none the less!
In case of illness Alf needs a couple of relief drivers and so he asked me. I nearly snapped his hand off! What an experience it would be, stories to write, photo’s to take, tourist pay a fortune for this!
My induction day with Alf begins by picking up the sorted mail from Woop Woop post office and calling into the local store to see if any of the station families had ordered any groceries. Next stop Copley. Calling in at the Packsaddle for any parcels, stockfeed and at Cooke’s garage for spare parts.
36km up the road once past Lyndhurst, Alf’s town, the tarmac ends and the Strez begins. We call in at the Roadhouse which is also the post office and general store. The mail is sorted into bags for each station. Alf drops off any mail for the Elsewhere hotel in Lyndhurst and picks up any slabs of beer that may have been ordered by thirsty station hands or shearers. All these little extras are above and beyond the call of duty, a “Gratis” part of the service that Alf provides, such is his friendly nature. So too is the newspaper delivery service he provides for the owner of the roadhouse in Lyndhurst and to Larry the grader driver somewhere out on the track. Just head towards the cloud of dust, flash lights and beep the horn like mad!. Talc only gets paid for delivering the mail; it’s outback mateship at its best. A favour for a favour looking after ones mate and neighbour. Sadly all too rare these days especially in the greet, cut and thrust world of metropolitan living.
Finally we head off up the track a round trip of 459km. I notice that the local Roo shooter is transferring his kill to a refrigerated truck for transportation to the city abattoirs far to the south.
Outback living, it’s a different world. By days end I will have great satisfaction knowing that I have done a good day’s work providing a vital service to those lonely families that live along the track at Mount Lyndhurst, Mount Freeling and Murnpeowie stations.
What an office Talc Alf has! Bright clear blue skies, wide open spaces, beautiful scenery. Crossing dry creek beds, Emus running alongside the truck. Wedge tailed Eagles soar above, Galah’s cockies, the odd road train. Fantastic, instant stress relief no prescription required. “Alf do I really get paid for this? Surely I should be paying you.”
FOREVER WARMING THE BENCH
Now I know what it must feel like to be forever on the subs bench for Leicester City. A year has passed since my induction. But finally Alf has given me the call to go solo on the track? He’s had to go to Adelaide for family reasons. Would I be able to cover for him? Is the Pope a catholic?
I had a great time. I took longer that Alf but then I did stop quite a bit to take photo’s take in the scenery, savour the experience, morning tea in a creek bed, you know how it is.
People must have thought that we were mad, giving up our jobs in the city. I used to work with stars you know. Nothing quite beats this.
Roll up Roll up, Outback mail tours this way only $120 a head. Billy tea and Damper all provided. The experience of a lifetime. Shake, rattle and roll along 459km of dusty outback track in a Land Rover Defender.
Land Rover reliability!! The stuff of legends. C’mon teedeefive, the mail must get through and it does!!