Station life was hard and made harder by the isolation. The hub of any station was the homestead. Whether or not there was a ‘Missus’ to run the essential backup services for all who lived on the big properties, someone had to be responsible for the feeding, such medical care as could be given, and the provision of a place for the management to operate.
Sometimes these functions would have been performed by the owner’s or manager’s wife, sometimes by paid help. Many station cooks were male, and the boss was often the provider of health and welfare for the station hands.
The station supplies for Burke Shire were usually landed at the Burketown wharf. Initially Burns Philp had much of the trade but was replaced in the 1880s by Clifton Aplin and Company. Camel or horse transport was used to take wool into Burketown and carry supplies on the return journey.
For many properties the great distance and the transport problems meant that orders had to go in for twelve months. Typical was an order for one station in 1888, which included 2 tons of flour, l ton of common salt (meat had to be salted), 22 bags of raw sugar, 6 x 1/2 chest of tea (56 pounds), l dozen pipes and two boxes of tobacco, large amounts of bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid for making baking powder for ‘rising’ for damper, one of the bushman’s staple foods. The tartaric acid was used, and still is used in preserving.
Spices were also brought in large quantities to help vary the cooking. Fresh meat was, of course, never in short supply and could be supplemented with game. Dried fruits were important, as some stations had not much in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables, though quite a number employed gardeners.
Office supplies had to be ordered: one interesting item listed was a copying press for making copies of ink written letters, by pressure.
This was done by writing the letter in good quality ink in a letter book with special absorbent paper. It was then placed in the press with a sheet of paper under the freshly written page and pressure was applied to force the ink through to make a positive copy.
Replenishing the medicine chest was very important and a variety of drugs were in common use. Laudanum for pain, chlorodyne for diarrhoea, drugs that are not available today because they are considered too dangerous to be used by the medically untrained: ‘fever mixture’, Epsom salts and eye lotion were ordered, simple remedies for the most common ailments.
Popular proprietary lines of the day such as Holloway Ointment and Holloway Pills for the treatment of ‘inveterate ulcers, bad legs, sore breasts, sore hands, gout and rheumatism’ were kept on hand. These all purpose, internal and external applications were supplied in very attractive little ceramic pots of various shapes and sizes. Packaging was important even in those days.
For these runs, so far away from medical services, serious illness or accidents had to be borne with stoicism and such home nursing as might be provided by the more experienced bush people, and maybe from the knowledge of the Aboriginal people. The later development of the Royal Flying Doctor Service was a dramatic improvement, but in the early days there were often no other options than death.
The order would also a list a great deal of tackle and tools needed for the next twelve months of property maintenance; axe and hatchet handles, nails, horseshoes, leather for saddlery repairs, buckles, gun powder and shot, tar, needles and flat iron, are just a few of the items.
Running a station was a very large operation. It still is but with the aid of modern transport and freezers life has become a little easier.