A Sense of Belonging
Hannah Hewitt, Hanging Rock Station, Charters Towers, Queensland
(as told to Paula Heelan for Graziher magazine)
I grew up on a small farm at Alton Downs, near Rockhampton in central Queensland. One of six kids, there was a lot of competition and we all had to pitch in to help. It was a fun and idyllic childhood. After high school, I took a gap year and traveled to England and Europe on a working holiday. Mum is English, so I was able to catch up with relatives and friends.
When I returned I enrolled in a three-year nursing degree at Central Queensland University and then completed a year of post-graduate in pediatric nursing. When I finished in 2009 I married Cameron. We’d known each other since high school. He proposed to me at my H-themed 21st birthday party in front of everyone. He was dressed as the Hulk, and I was a honeybee. We honeymooned in Vanuatu and then moved to Hanging Rock, an 83,000-acre cattle station, 170 kms south of Charters Towers in north Queensland where rural life began for me.
I was 22 when we arrived and I spent the first eight months settling in to station life before starting nursing shifts at the hospital in Charters Towers. I learned to fix fences, muster on horseback and bike, start pumps and to always have something cooked for smoko. The hospital staff was fabulous. Knowing I had a two-hour drive to get there, they always tried to give me a late shift followed by an early one. This meant I could drive up in the morning, do the late shift, stay the night in the quarters and then work an early shift the next morning. Then I’d do our grocery shopping, pick up any supplies Cameron needed and drive home.
[Read more of our "A Sense Of Belonging Stories in our Winter edition. More here]
After about nine months I fell pregnant with our first baby, Harry. The tiredness started to get to me so I cut back to one shift. I was also driving home in the dark and with a lot of kangaroos on the road it wasn’t ideal. Everyone thought I was mad. Then at the end of 2010 we welcomed a big wet and most of the time I couldn’t get out for my shifts because the creeks were up or the possibility of getting bogged in the vehicle. So I had to postpone working until after the baby was born.
It got so wet that year that for weeks we had to leave our car at the boundary gate and continue the rest of the 16 kilometre drive home on the washed out road on a four-wheeler bike. We were often loaded with stores and an esky. I was 35 weeks pregnant and needed to get out for baby checks.
But I loved the nursing work when I could be there. Rural nursing is so much fun. With a broad spectrum of patients coming in, there’s something different happening all the time and a lot to learn. I enjoyed using my brain – sometimes out here it can feel like it’s a bit of a mum life.
We have three children now. Harry is six, Hugo, four and Pippa is 13 months. In 2015 while pregnant again and teaching Harry I spent four months in Rockhampton to renew my nursing registration. Cam’s mother, Mandy, and my family helped mind the kids while I did some very intensive nursing. I loved getting my hands back in and picking up all my skills. It was horrible being away from Cam with only minimal visits as the property was so dry and Cam was feeding cattle at home. But the boys and I battled it out and that time gave me another five years to keep poking away at the necessary shifts I need to complete in order to stay registered. I look forward to some more nursing shifts when Pippa is a little older.
When I first moved to Hanging Rock I was lucky to have a beautiful neighbour – Natalie Kenny. It turned out Nat’s grandmother and Cam’s late grandfather are brother and sister. So we were next door to a relative! Nat invited us to their station for a barbeque and soon after to her friend’s bridal shower. She said come over and meet all the women in the district. That was one of my first outings and everyone was so friendly. It just went from there. There is always something on – a ski day, a tennis day, a birthday party or just an excuse to have a cuppa and a chat – and everyone invites you. So I found it very easy to settle in.
Until we had children, I wasn’t part of the school community and didn’t really understand it. I met lots of young mums and when they talked about Distance Education and organisations like the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, I felt a little overwhelmed. I thought, this is just all going over my head. I have no idea what this all means. How can you teach your own kid? I am not a teacher, I’m a nurse. It was daunting and I questioned whether or not I wanted to be out here when we had kids. I remember Nat saying, just make the most of it before school starts.
But soon enough it rolled around. Starting School of the Air was a whole new world and opened up a wonderful new community to me. I gained lots of new friends and we attend several mini-schools a year at the school base. That’s a great social time both for parents and children.
I started teaching Harry and Hugo, but when Pippa came along I found I couldn’t give the boys what they needed in the schoolroom. There were just too many distractions, so we made the decision to employ a governess. The job of finding someone suitable to teach your children is also a scary process. You worry about whether or not the governess will enjoy living with your family and teaching your children – and will they cope with the isolation? But we found Rachael and she settled in beautifully. We all love her and essentially, the kids adore her. We are very lucky.
I find I don’t feel isolated at all. A lot of people have asked how I can live so far out, without so many conveniences. We’re half an hour from our closest neighbour, but out here that’s nothing. You get used to long drives and actually begin to enjoy the isolation. There is always something happening. Instead of popping to grocery shop quickly for an hour or so, it’s a whole day’s outing. We go about once a fortnight and can top up the groceries via the mail truck in between town visits.
I love living in the bush. The space, the animals, the people and even the extreme weather events all make life interesting and exciting. The kids can just be kids – with plenty of space to run and be noisy. The lifestyle is amazing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Hannah's story was one of four stories, each woman telling their own story of finding "A Sense of Belonging". Published in the 2017 Winter Graziher magazine. See here.