LIFE ON THE EDGE OF THE OUTBACK – Jenny Sheaffe

Life is a journey. Mine has been like a ball of wool, slow to unravel, but as the ball becomes smaller it gathers pace at an alarming speed.

At the age of 24, I married and moved to the edge of the outback, an hour’s drive north of Hay, Australia, onto a property called Eurugabah. I had grown up in the bush, but where I grew up I had been surrounded by hills, which had an ever changing kaleidoscope of colour & beauty. My secondary years had been spent at boarding school in Sydney and then gaining a tertiary education also in Sydney. So I was a little ill prepared for the flat treeless Hay plains and the extremes of droughts, floods and bushfires.Jenny Sheaffe 3

My first job upon arriving at Eurugabah was to learn the names of the paddocks (Eurugabah is 80,000 acres or for those who are metric savvy 33,000 hectares). If I was to be of some help to my husband with mustering, I had to know the layout of paddocks, where troughs and mills were located. In the early days I enjoyed working with Bill, his love of cattle, sheep and kelpie dogs is infectious.

I was pregnant with our second child when Bill decided to get his pilot’s licence. Arthur Schutt a pioneer in light aircraft aviation ran a flying school at Morrabbin in Victoria. He was prepared to send up an instructor to teach Bill, if he could find 3 other students willing to learn. So our home at Eurugabah became a flying school. I can remember watching with envy them doing their “touch & goes”.

In 1975 our second daughter was born and Bill purchased a Cessna 172. It seemed silly to me to have a plane sitting in a hanger and not be able to fly it. Bill knew of my desire and as luck would have it an instructor from Swan Hill by the name of Garry Symth landed on our air strip looking for avgas and Bill asked him if  he would  be prepared to teach me to fly. So in 1978 after many nervous moments for Bill (not for me but his prized plane) I gained my Private Pilots Licence. I will not say it was easy, but I firmly believe we are capable of much more than we think.

My early diligence of learning the paddock names proved invaluable, as I was able to do windmill runs in the plane and spot for sheep and cattle. In 1979 when we lost half the property to a terrible bush fire the plane came into its own. The fire raged for a month in heavy timbered Lachlan River country. Each day the plane was flown by Bill or me to monitor the situation. PKS ( Papa Kilo Sera) earned her keep in spades.

Jenny Sheaffe 2
Shearing Sheds & Outbuildings

Our airstrip runs 24 /06 , we have no cross strip but we do have a wind sox. I can remember pleading with Bill to build a cross strip. He replied saying NO you have to manage to learn crosswind landing. On returning home one day the wind was roaring across the strip and the wind sox was billowing out . First attempt at landing, no good, go round. Second attempt I said to myself if you can not land it this time, it is off into Hay where there was a cross strip and he can pick the plane up himself!!! Land I did with very sweaty palms. Arthur Schutt talked me into joining the Women’s Pilots Association. I went to a couple of their rallies and met the most amazing pioneering group of women who had faced many obstacles on their way to learn to fly. We all shared a common bond “the freedom of soaring above the earth”.

Our daughters Kate and Christa attended a little one teacher school in the village of Booligal some 7km from Eurugabah. I did the normal run of the mill things, like President of the P&C, working on various education sub committees. In this period of time I became involved with an organization called The Isolated Children’s Parents Association ( ICPA). They represent families living in remote rural Australia in gaining an access to education for their geographically isolated kids. My first introduction to this association came when I went as a first time delegate to the NSW ICPA Conference in Broken Hill. To say it was a daunting experience would be an understatement.

I had a motion to present on the need for more qualified teachers at One Teacher Schools. We were being sent first year out teachers. The movie “Wake in Fright” had nothing on what these poor young teachers were experiencing. It was a special two days for me meeting up with other delegates from all over NSW, listening and sharing stories on the hardships of educating our bush kids. My motion was passed resoundingly and I came back to Booligal overjoyed.

The dedication of this organization to represent children living in remote rural Australia is awe inspiring. I was elected to NSW State Council of ICPA in 1985 & then to Federal Council of ICPA in 1990. I became Publicity Officer for both Councils. For two weeks each year we would journey to Sydney and Canberra to lobby the politicians on access to education for children living in remote rural Australia.

Cattle ready to be tagged and moved on to the paddocks
Cattle ready to be tagged and moved on to the paddocks

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would become a lobbyist!!! We worked together as a team and you learn to value everyone and draw on their diverse strengths, when lobbying . Parliament House in Canberra is a maze and I learnt to navigate my way around by the art works.

Leaving Bill and the girls for two weeks each year I had to become more organized. So I would bake before I left, imagine my horror, to return to find one of my meals went straight to the bin. No more Tuna Casserole for my family.!!! In 1999.

I felt it was time to retire and to move onto another phase in my life.

I am really glad for what I have learnt and experienced in my journey of life so far and being able to share this little excerpt with you on just one section, has been my pleasure.