LORRAINE STATION, Australia — This is dry country, a dusty landscape where you feel you are driving across the visible curve of the Earth. You have it more or less to yourself. Kangaroos rest in the shade of the occasional eucalyptus. Emus strut beside the tracks. The Mitchell grass that feeds the thousands of sheep is a pale gray-green tufted carpet extending far beyond vision. Sun burns down from harsh blue sky. It's about 100 degrees--just the beginning of spring--and this dirt track is the private road that leads from the Lansborough Highway to the little cluster of buildings on the sheep ranch known as Lorraine Station.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 17, 1993 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Column 2 Travel Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Altered Australia--On a map of Australia that appeared in the Sept. 26 Travel Section, the states of New South Wales and Queensland were reversed. Brisbane is the capital of Queensland.
Story has it that the original owner named the station after his wife in hopes of luring her away from Melbourne. It didn't work.
I'd had my own doubts about coming here. Having fallen in love with the Australian outback two years before, I wanted a better idea of how a large station worked, but I didn't want anything phony--no dude ranch, no gussied-up showplace, no polite bed and breakfast in the bush. I wanted it real. Friends in Brisbane assured me this would be real. It was north of the Tropic of Capricorn, two days' driving west and north of Brisbane. "You won't find a Hilton there, I reckon," said someone. But, someone else added, of the owners of the station: "The Robinsons are wonderful folks; they'll make you feel at home."
Presumably this was only an expression. I didn't want to feel at home. I wanted to feel--well, I wanted to feel I was somewhere I could never be in a million years if I stayed close to home. Somewhere as foreign as the moon.
I drove on, air conditioner humming in my little rental car, radio giving me the prices paid for bulls at the Rockhampton auctions. Then I found it--a cluster of white buildings, complete with the expected corrugated water tank up on legs, and a deserted shearing shed. Bottlebrushes bloomed, and bougainvillea. Signs instructed me to park and book myself in at the squat structure that housed the dining room and bar.
Lunch was just breaking up, but there was plenty left, if I wanted. David and Jane Robinson introduced some of the other guests--a solitary Dane who spoke no English; a husband and wife from Toowoomba, near Brisbane; a granddaughter Katy from Longreach; Tracy and Pete from Redcliffe down on the coast, and a family of four who were waiting for an engine part to be delivered for the converted bus in which they wandered all over Australia.
Some guests had been out that morning. Most were planning to rest in their rooms until the midday heat had passed, and would not come out until afternoon. Tracy would sit on the step to feed the black lamb from a bottle, her brown Akubrahat keeping the sun from her face. Katy would look for George, the goanna (a large lizard known as "the last of the dinosaurs") that sometimes visited. Ole, the muscular Dane who'd spent the morning carrying steel telephone poles, would be going back for more. Tony, the Robinsons' son, had work to do--no tourist leisure for him.
Some guest rooms were in the shearers' quarters, some in newly built huts. Mine was the center room of the original homestead, a squat wooden building up on posts, like the others, with a screened veranda across the front. Tracy and Pete stood in the doorway of the next room. "Oh God," said Tracy. "I thought I'd be bored when I got here, but it's been wonderful. We have to leave tomorrow but I don't want to go."
Lorraine Station is a working farm of about 75,000 acres, with 23,000 sheep grazing in the Mitchell grass paddocks that stretch in every direction beyond the horizon. Visitors are free to lounge, to swim in the reservoir, to explore on their own, to take part in horseback-riding excursions, or to help on the farm. "Help" could be anything from milking a cow to riding out with Tony on his afternoon rounds to check on the water holes.
Across the plains you bounce in the Toyota Land Cruiser.(You will open and close any number of gates.) From the warm blue reservoir at the artesian bore, which is constantly gushing hot subterranean water, nearly 70 miles of pipe goes to the various storage "dams" that have been scooped out of the ground at locations around the property, and to the above-ground "turkey nests" that release their contents into nearby troughs for the animals to drink from.
History unrolls beneath your feet here. Red stones mark the locations of fires, where ancient bands of Aborigines passed through on hunting forays. A small hut contains the bottles and tools found in the dirt where the original homestead once stood. Nearby, the various pieces of a Model A sit leaning against one another, including an engine with "MADE IN CANADA" stamped on it.
Kangaroos (both grays and big reds) stand up to watch you pass, ears twitching. In coolabah trees along the dry creek channels, wedge-tailed eagles build nests as big and sturdy as beaver dams. A willy wagtail darts from branch to branch. White cockatoos go squawking overhead.