The European woman in a long layered dress in the Australian landscape has become one of the iconic images of Australian folklore. Since the 1800s women have been joining their partners to live in the Outback to run sheep, cattle or wheat stations. Many had no idea of the difficulties and dangers which lay ahead, but showed extraordinary grit and determination.
The Outback was ‘no place for a lady’, but many rose to the challenge and, without any previous experience, created homes, raised families and helped run farms.
They had to learn to be involved in the daily running of the station. The initial stages of life here were fraught with difficulties as they tried to adapt to cooking, washing in an old-fashioned boiler as well as helping to fix fences and muster cattle.
These brave and resourceful women encountered conditions which would test their resilience and resourcefulness to the utmost: relentless heat, dust and isolation; and no doctors.
Many women lived in wooden huts or tin sheds with concrete floors, cooked on wood-fired stoves, and lacked any of the domestic appliances we take for granted today.
Their story is part of our Outback legend.
- Visit the land of the ‘Never Never’ in the Northern Territory for an insight into Jeannie Gunn’s famous book. See Elsey Station, the setting for her classic, We of the Never Never, which introduced city dwellers and foreign readers of the early 1900s to life on an Outback station. Nearby at Mataranka Springs is the relocated hut which was used in the film of the same name – an authentic replica of the simple homesteads of the day.
- Experience life on a remote cattle station run by a woman at Bullo River Station, 360 km south-west of Darwin. This is the station featured in books by Sara Henderson. Try cattle mustering or horseriding and share their half a million-acre backyard with hosts Marlee and Franz Ranacher. Hear Marlee’s stories of growing up on the property when it was run by her mother, the well-known Australian pastoralist and author Sara Henderson, who documented her struggle to manage the massive Top End cattle station after her husband died in 1985. She wrote six books in all including A Year at Bullo.
- Read Great Pioneer Women of the Outback by Susanna De Vries which profiles 10 Australian female pioneers. Building on the women’s own records and her knowledge of Australian women’s history, Susanna de Vries documents the extraordinary grit and determination it took to build lives in the Australian Outback.
- Visit the home of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air, lifelines for Outback women for decades. The Royal Flying Doctor Service bases in Alice Springs and Charleville (Queensland) are still functional and visitors are welcome to take a guided tour around the operations. Similarly, the School of the Air in Alice Springs provides visitors with a view of radio and internet lessons in action and background information on its unique services.
- See Aboriginal women make basketware and cook damper and billy tea over open fires at Manyallaluk, an Aboriginal community on a former cattle station outside Katherine in the Northern Territory.