© Janet Lane, 2023. Image: Cement crossing before the bridge was built at Fitzroy Crossing, 1930s, State Library of W.A.
Image: The swollen Fitzroy River spreads across floodplains around the town of Fitzroy Crossing, abc.net.au, 2017
Next morning we walked to the Fitzroy River. Normally the bridge is high above it, but now a raging yellow torrent gushed over it. Trucks and cars stranded either side. Hmm. How to get to Gogo – which meant crossing the bridge and going a few miles on the other side?
Choppers were plonked down wherever there was a bit of dry ground, on all angles. Some giant ones, and there was even one on wheels it was so big. We asked around but there were no choppers available for hire. Heck. So near, yet so far. We returned to the policeman’s house and Gopher rang Gogo. They kindly said they’d send their little mustering chopper out for us but we’d have to fly one at a time and take little luggage, as it was small. And to wait down at the oval (from memory). Yay. Getting there!
It was my first time in such a little chopper or indeed any chopper – there were no doors – just a curved strip of clear glass over the front and plenty of fresh air. Tiny. You felt as if you’d fall out. The saddle which came with me as Gopher was heavier and had three bags, was shoved under my legs. The pilot was a lovely, tall, slim laconic chap originally from Queensland who was the stockman on the station – the mustering all done by chopper – once done by dozens of men and horses. He’d got his chopper licence in the hope it would pay more than being a ringer but too many others had the same idea, so no more money but anyway easier work. Comforting to know he was an experienced horseman in case we needed help. Well, me anyway. Gopher was a ringer himself. And best of all the pilot didn’t feel the need to scare a middle-aged woman with crazy flying feats. I’d been in small planes when deer hunting in NZ for a living when young when that’s happened, and it’s bloody awful to be polite. All good.
As it turned out the pilot had more faith in us getting some horses than Harry, the station owner. You wonder how people asses you. Appearance or conversation? Or both? I was middle aged, unfit, slightly overweight and from Tasmania i.e. a cold climate – you’d have to be fairly optimistic to think I could go to the hot Kimberley to muster brumbies. I wasn’t too sure myself but had to get it done and get back to my beloved children! We had a week. I did have some horse experience, as a little positive. Gopher was much younger than me and very fit, he did body building so had an impressive outline like The Incredible Hulk, and oozed confidence.
The heat was oppressive and all my clothes were black which didn’t help! Something I hadn’t thought of, and even if I had, couldn’t have done anything about. I did bring my only pair of molies (moleskins) but as they are thick, realised that was a bad move too. Oh well these little things are nothing. Just get the horses and get home.
We were given a very good room each at the single man’s quarters on Gogo, with ensuite. Really good of the station, thank you. It was a lovely place, clean and fresh and well cared for. We were the only ones there apart from the pilot-stockman. Many empty rooms in the workers quarters. Big solar panels on the roofs of the buildings, the first I’d ever seen. Yes this is some time ago.
Image: The cool shaded environment surrounding the historic Go Go Station homestead at Fitzroy Crossing, WA, kentsaddlery.com.au
The heat was so intense that one was in a muck sweat simply getting dressed after a shower! There was a bit of a porch out the front but nothing could stop the insane heat, being a cold climate person it was suffocating. Such is life, and one never complains to those who live there, as they’ve chosen it.
We ate in the airy clean mess and Harry ate with us, which was nice, and very good of him to feed us. He was to be paid for the horses we got, a fair price agreed on by he and Gopher – I wasn’t getting anything as it was a love job to save some W.A. Walers, Gopher was getting all the money which was fair enough as he was doing all the organising – but as Harry didn’t think we’d get any horses, it was very decent of him to put us up until we failed in our mission. There was a cook, which always seems posh. Old stone buildings nearby and old trees (boabs and others sorry I don’t know the names) kept things from getting too hot there.
Harry refused to say my name at all, obviously he thought we’d fail at getting the brumbies and were being extremely foolhardy, as it turned out he’d instructed the chopper pilot to go up each day and look for our bodies. So among other names such as Sue, Mary, Wotsyername, Agatha and Henrietta, he called me the Man In Black. I took all this in good heart, and said oh yes I like Johnny Cash too – and it’s Janet (for the umpteenth time.) As I’d worked in remote areas before I’d met most of the types. In fact Harry was ok, as thank God he didn’t chase you around and that’s all a female asks in those places. I respected him as you could tell he was a good sort of chap, and look at the trouble he was going to, to have a pair of dreamers there who thought they’d get a few brumbies for pets and pay him for them. One clearly an older unfit woman who was melting in the heat. It was a dry station too – no grog allowed – which is reassuring to a female, although the places that have a ration of one or two cans of beer a day, if you want, are even better, ha. Harry himself enjoyed a large whisky each evening in front of us. Fair enough. Joan likes whisky but if she drinks it she gets aggro so a good thing he didn’t offer me any, not that I told him that. When Harry discovered, after asking bluntly, that Gopher and myself, Jennifer, had a strictly business relationship and absolutely nothing else, he seemed to lighten up a bit. Goodness, surely he didn’t think…? Gopher and I got along but strictly platonic; in fact as time passed we became heartily sick of each other, although in those remote jobs one just needs to grin and put up with them, as they do you. We remained civil throughout. Just thought a lot. Ha!
Harry was a good conversationalist, he seemed decent despite not remembering my name although at least he called me female names and not insults, ha, and he had a wealth of horse experience too. He was originally from Sydney area and helped start up the first Pony Club there. He loved jump horses and had trained, owned and ridden many, and sold some which became famous jumpers. When he first got Gogo he had big horse plants for mustering and broke most of the horses in himself. Whereas a good temperament with a horse is paramount with me, with Harry it was the opposite, he said dirty horses jumped better. I disagreed but we could disagree politely and that’s always a good thing. Gopher, as we walked back to our rooms after dinner, told me some stories about Harry’s riding feats and breaking of rogues, and yes I was impressed. He was fearless, brave and never gave up. Good, I hoped I would emulate that courage. Flying from Tas to the top of WA with 20 cents and no other way to get home if the plane back was missed, seemed a good start, ha! Not that they knew that. Courage comes in all forms, some being stupidity, ha.
Tossed and turned all night as it was too hot to sleep. First thing next morning we went to the big old stone store house, so cool! To choose a saddle for me. Amazing to see neat rows and rows of them on saddle racks, tiered up the white washed stone walls, and bridles too. I picked out one that looked ok, didn’t want an expensive looking one nor anything too bomby, mind you they were all well cared for, amazing how many there were, dozens of stock saddles from all eras. I was used to riding in anything so a super deep seat and massive knee pads weren’t essential at all. Anyway the one I chose met with approval, Harry nodded, Mary could have that one. Gopher discussed saddles for a bit as he remembered every one in the place. His own was very expensive looking, deep seat, high knee pads and beautiful leather.
Outside the store was a tap, and out of it came the most beautiful cold water. I think the pipe went down to Tasmania. Kind of Harry to lend me a saddle, as I must say, I’d been wondering where to borrow one or if I’d have to ride bareback! But when I’d picked up a small old saddle bag he said put it back Jessica. Not needed. Oh sorry, is it a special one? No, no saddle bag needed. I explained I needed to put my water bottle in something. No Rosie, no-one carries water on Gogo. Temperature was in the high 30’s. Is this some sort of Kimberley tough guy thing? Ok, no point arguing but heckity heck heck and heck again. I filled up with as much water as I could get in.
Then we were taken one at a time in the chopper with our saddles and no water and no saddle bags and no tin mugs (pannikins to some) for getting water – out to the back of Gogo, a long way off. The place was over a million acres or so. Even if it was half that, a big place. You know, huge. Gigantic. About three times the size of Tasmania. Yes ok but you know what I mean. Were we to catch a horse or what? Sleep on the ground on the way back? One didn’t like to ask these questions.
(See GoGo Adventures part 3 for more!)