Interview with Jacqueline Hancock, an entrepreneur, mother, and Outback Local
How long have you lived in the Australian Outback?
I first moved from the Barossa Valley to Uluru (Ayres Rock Resort) in 1996 after having just returned to Australia from Zambia. From Uluru I moved to Woomera in 1997 and then to Carnarvon, WA in 1999. In 2000, I had my first child and moved back to the Barossa Valley and stayed there for six years. In November 2006, we moved to Quorn in the Flinders Ranges and are currently still living there. So twelve years all up.
As an Australian, what do consider the start of the outback?
A tough question, almost like “how long is a piece of string”? Someone from the ‘Big Smoke’ (the city) would define this much differently than someone who lives rurally, and you will find that each state has it’s own definition. A city dweller tends to think anything more than an hour’s drive from the CBD is “outback”.
Most of the mob up my way would tell you that Port Augusta is the place where the outback and Ranges meet the sea. Port Augusta (population around 13,000) is the town that sits in the middle of Australia on the road that links our continent from East to West and South to North. I live just over the Flinders Ranges, 30 km inland from Port Augusta. You have to cross the top of Spencer gulf via a small bridge in the heart of this town to move from east to west.
My home town of Quorn marks the spot where farmland gives way to sheep and cattle country. It is on the edge of the arable land, so technically the outback begins North, East and West of our town.
Has the outback ever made it into your house?
Good heavens, when doesn’t it invade our space? There are approximately 10,000 flies for every resident in Australia and the closer to the outback you get, the more you find. Hence the good ol’ Aussie salute: a constant swiping across your face come late spring until late autumn. Spiders, centipedes and other numerous creepy crawlies are a daily fact of life. It always pays to have your thong at the ready to squish something. We get small geckos inside and they are welcome to eat whatever crawls their way.
As I write this, I have a family of magpies in the front yard, and mum Maggie, perched on my son’s bike, is eyeballing me through the lounge window trying to convince me that it is time to share my roast lamb with her. She greets me most mornings and evenings this time of year trying to scrounge some morsel to feed her noisy young brood.
Our front yard is often host to stray horses, sheep, feral rabbits, echidnas, Kangaroos, and the odd feral goat. Of course in summer the reptiles are plentiful. We have a couple of resident Sleepy lizards, and are often visited by Blue tongues, Bearded dragons, skinks, and Brown Snakes, which are plentiful and highly venomous. I usually try to grab my camera when they visit but if hubby is home he grabs the spade.
For those who aren’t sure: A magpie is a type of bird, an echidna is a type of anteater, and a skink is a kind of lizard.
Has the population in your town changed much since you've lived there?
The population of Quorn has grown slightly since I arrived in 2006. Some people choose to live here rather than in Port Augusta due to the low crime rates and freedom that comes with a small country town. There have been some good friends who have moved away in this time, too. Most moved to access better education for their kids and others for work reasons. About 30 - 40% of people in town work in Port Augusta and have the pleasure of driving through the amazing Pichi Richi Pass each day on the way to and from work.
Are there certain household rules that your children have to abide by in order to stay safe and healthy in the outback?
We don’t “cotton ball” our kids, so the rules are just the basic: keep your fly screen on your window instead of using it for an extra door, make sure you shut the bloody front door cause mum is sick of the blow flies attacking dinner, and try not to fall off your horse or your bike when doing stunts. We also teach our kids how to pick up lizards safely to rescue them from the dog and we do encourage them to leave the snakes alone. If we are lucky they will also remember to wash their hands before eating.
Your bio is very impressive: You’ve worked as a fruit picker, laboratory manager, a cook in the Army, and you’ve built your own cleaning and gardening business, and as a hobby you hunt and fish. Do you think living in the outback has made you such a strong and versatile person?
I think in part being self reliant and versatile is an Australian Country attitude, which just takes on some steroids when you move to the wild outback. Outback Aussies take pride in being able to "make do," "make their own fun," and to fix just about any bloody thing with nothing more than a piece of fencing wire!
Whilst I have not always lived in the outback I have nearly always lived in the country surrounded by farms and vineyards. I first started working for my Aunty at age seven doing the milk-round with her – yep I am old enough to remember when milk was delivered to your door in the early hours of the morning; and yes, we even had fresh cow’s milk in billy cans, which we picked up from the dairy the evening before. I can remember being so excited to be old enough to actually work, and from there I went on to serve in their shop and then work for other family members who had market gardens, vineyards, and orchards, all this whilst still at school.
Moving from the Barossa to the outback was really just a way to escape the encroaching city with all of it’s political correctness and fascination for consumerism. I find suburban living is superficial and non-challenging (yes I have lived in the city a couple of times). You often don’t know your neighbours and you loose contact quickly with the natural rhythm of biological life. Can you imagine me discussing bagging a couple of rabbits, knocking off a feral fox or goat over dinner surrounded by young city mums? I can tell you it does not go down all that well. I often ask them where they think their steak comes from; after all someone had to raise them, dip them, ship them, and, yes, kill them.
What kind of animals do you hunt? Are there certain animals that you personally refuse to hunt or that are illegal to hunt? Are there certain animals that the state encourages you to hunt due to overpopulation?
We actually usually call our hunting trips "spot lighting," as most of it is done at night. We limit ourselves to shooting feral animals that put our natural biodiversity at risk. I actually don’t enjoy killing for killing’s sake, but I take pleasure in putting meat on our table while at the same time helping to rid the outback of pests such as rabbit and feral goat. If we are lucky we might also shoot some foxes or feral cats. I am yet not able to brag that I have bagged a feral dog (dingo).
It is illegal to shoot Australian native fauna without a permit. We have licensed “Roo shooters” who are able to take so many animals per year and each is allotted a geographical area where they can hunt for commercial reasons. Indigenous people are also allowed to hunt native animals in certain areas of our state.
I imagine having a garden in the outback would be a lot of work. How many hours does it take to maintain a garden? What kind of plants are typically grown?
Most homes in my town have a mixture of native and introduced plants; many also have a veggie patch. The native species would outnumber the introduced. We have a semi arid climate here so you can grow a great variety but not tropical or alpine plants.
The extremes of temperature and lack of rain are the two biggest headaches for any outback gardener. Where I live, we get heavy frosts sporadically throughout winter and feral heat in summer. The last financial year saw lows in winter hit -6℃ and I lost a few native plants as we had several severe frost days in a row. The last summer also saw us swelter through weeks of temps from 38 to 44℃.
Most country people like to have a veggie garden and even on the remote sheep and cattle stations, you will find brave hearts trying to outdo nature and produce something edible to put on the table. However, the biggest headache in the outback is access to decent water.
In Quorn, to grow a decent veggie patch in summer you need to erect shade houses and have access to good water. In South Australia, nearly every house has at least one rain water tank. We have four. Our town water is Bore Water, high in minerals, which can cause saline conditions in soil if used excessively over time.
You mentioned you like “just hanging out in the bush.” How often do you venture out into the bush? Do you take your whole family with you?
Whilst I live right on the edge of town with a view of Devil’s Peak and farmland, “hanging out in the bush” is more than taking my dog for a walk down my dusty dirt road. The bush to me is being far enough away from houses and people that you can’t see or hear them. Luckily for me, that is only a ten minute drive away. Running my own business these last couple of years has resulted in me not having enough time to take that ten minute drive very often and frankly that is a right "pain in the ass."
I try to take a couple of extended trips, four to six days off twice a year, to indulge in my favorite passion of photography, and I was successful in this endeavor by exploring Umberatanna Station in the Northern Flinders with my hubby. It is unusual for me to take family away on photography trips as I am up at least an hour before dawn each day to catch the sunrise and the "golden hour," when photos capture that amazing first light experience. You can’t entertain kids and set up tripods in the dark simultaneously. Trust me I have tried.
We do usually try to have a couple times a year to get away as a family, however my kids enjoy horse riding and generally playing outdoors so they experience it to some degree daily. You will often find them playing cricket on the dirt road out in the front of our house in summer, or kicking the footy in winter and we usually see Kangaroos, Emus, Wedge Tail Eagles, and much more on the way to school each day.
Can you describe your favorite moment out in the bush?
First and last light (sunrise and sunset) are my favorite moments, especially when there is a storm brewing. It’s hard to pick an especially favorite time as each day in the outback presents you with something wonderful if you know how to look for it. However, if I had to pick one it would be in the Gawler Ranges on Yardea Station at Easter time five years ago. I got up pre-dawn and there was a thunder storm brewing and the sky was just so totally amazing I captured my first decent lightning photo and some top sunrise pics. The whole family slept through it.
How deep in the outback have you gone?
My journeys have been far and wide and have covered six states. In Western Australia I lived in Carnarvon and covered the coast from just above Perth to Coral Bay with a couple of trips to the Kennedy Ranges.
In the Northern Territory, I have been to Uluru where I worked as a Chef for nine months and got to see Kata Juta (Olga’s), King Canyon, and Alice Springs.
In Queensland, I have traveled the Channel Country as far as Quilpie and Charliville, taking in Yowah, Toompine, and Duck Creek to name a few.
In New South Wales, I have traveled from Broken Hill to Glen Innis in the New England Ranges via the Darling River and then back down through Coonabarabran, Cobar, Broken Hill, and home via Peterborough.
Of course in my own home state, I have just about seen it all. Gawler Ranges, Woomera, Andamooka, nearly the whole West Coast from Port Lincoln to Ceduna, as well as having traveled the Nullabor to WA. I have been to Tarcoola, Kingoonya, Coober Pedy, Innaminka, and the whole of the Flinders Ranges.
Any close calls or scary moments?
I have stumbled upon brown snakes, been caught in amazing storms, on bridges watching huge gum trees smash into the pylons as they are hurled down swollen flooding creeks, stuck on rocky ledges wondering why I tried to bring my camera up with me, bogged in sand dunes and had a backside full of prickly spinifex whilst taking a "squat" but I can’t call any of them scary, just all good fun.
Do you see a big difference between the people living on the coast of Australia and those living in the outback?
Much of the coast of Australia is outback once you move away from the cities in SA, WA, and NT. The ones living by the coast just get to do more fishing. Lucky bugga’s.
Do you think you would ever move away from the outback?
In my life following my wonderful Saviour, anything is possible and has been. You never know, I could be in Israel this time next year! I wonder what their outback is like?
If you enjoyed this post, check out Chris's Australian and internation adventures at http://www.AussieOnTheRoad.com/.
Jacqueline Hancock is a mother of two challenging but wonderful kids - seems they are as independent and adventurous as their mother. She is passionate about her relationship with Yeshua Hameshiach; loves her country, especially the wild places and the outback; and has thousands of photos from her travels. She has worked in a range of jobs from fruit picking, retail, laboratory manager at Penfold Wines and Saltram Wines, Cook in the Army, Chef at Uluru, Aged Care work, web design, and she built her own cleaning and gardening business with five employees.
To visit Jacqueline's blog about life in the outback, click here: www.OutbackJack.info.
Jacqueline also has photography for sale here: http://www.redbubble.com/people/outbackjack?ref=breadcrumb.