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Talawanta, by Jack Sammon

Photo: Jack Sammon learning to ride at Talawanta 1949

When my father got back from the Second World War he took a job as manager on Talawanta Station that was situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria of Australia, a cattle station fifteen hundred square miles in area and over one hundred miles from the nearest town. The homestead was located by a picturesque billabong (water hole) covered with water lilies, abundant with waterfowl and fish and shaded by Paper Bark and Bauhinia trees. A small group of Aboriginals camped along the banks of the billabong, they being the only people living on the station apart from my family consisting of my father, mother, brother and myself. The aboriginal men worked as stockmen for my father and the women worked around the house, doing housework, tending the garden and milked the goats.

Most of the year Father would be camped out in the mustering camp away from home for months at a time working cattle out on the run, leaving Mother to look after the station homestead with only the aboriginal women and children for company. As we did not have a telephone or radio for commutation with the outside world and not having a motor vehicle we were unable to visit our nearest neighbour who lived over twenty miles away. For a woman born and raised in a big city Mother must have felt very isolated, in the first twelve months that we lived on Talawanta she did not leave the homestead or speak to an other white woman for eleven months, but Mother always said that she was too busy to feel lonely, she had to be cook, storekeeper, bookkeeper, and adjudicator in the aborigines' many family disputes as well as being a mother and a wife. Although we lived miles from civilization I remember that every evening Mother always dressed for dinner, putting on her make up and high heel shoes before sitting at a fully laid table, even when she was alone, Mother believed in keeping up her standards.

Although the life we lived on Talawanta might seem hard and primitive by today’s standards, our life was filled with much fun and laughter and we made our own entertainment. As children growing up in the bush life was one great adventure, we swam and fished in the billabong, went out on walkabout with the aboriginal families hunting for bush tucker (food) and we were always at the cattle or horse yards when the stock camp was working near the station. When the days were over and darkness enveloped the silent bush, Mother would sit and read to us by the light of a hissing carbide lamp and we would escape in to the worlds of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist or Long John Sliver.

         
Jack and Roger Sammon riding goats with Mother at Talawanta homestead 1949

One highlight of our life at Talawanta was when the mailman called, he came every two weeks from Normanton driving a old truck loaded with mail bags and stores that he delivered to the stations on his route. He also brought with him all the news from the outside world as well as the gossip. During the wet season, which lasted three or four months of the year, the mailman had to bring the mail by pack horses as the roads were too boggy and flooded for a truck to get through, once while swimming the Flinders River one of his horses was taken by a crocodile.

The time of most excitement and happiness was when the men from the stock camp returned to the station after being away for months. Fifty or so horses, with Father riding in the lead, stockwhip draped over his arm, ten or twelve horsemen behind and pack horses with their high swaying loads would materialize out of the surrounding bush, the sound of horse bells, hobble chains and camp gear jingling on the air mixed with the joyful cries of the aboriginal women and children as they ran to greet their men folk, and Mother standing on the veranda in her reserved manner watching the excitement all around her. At night the music of didgeridoo, aboriginal songs and laughter drifted up from their camp down by billabong joined with soft sounds of the sleeping bush. Mother always referred to the time spent on Talawanta as the best years of her life.

© 2001, Jack Sammon (August 22, 2001)  
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

 

Lariat Laureate Jack Sammon wrote this piece as a part of our Cowboy Memories project. You can read another story and see more photos here.  Read his poetry here at the BAR-D and on his web site.

Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of CowboyPoetry.com.

 

 

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