Embracing Opportunity: Erika Marsh took a bold leap when she moved to the bush

Erika Marsh took a bold leap when she moved to the bush, say yes to every invitation. That was the sage advice Erika Marsh accepted when she moved from all that was familiar in Brisbane almost 1200 kilometres north-west to Longreach in outback Queensland.

The newly graduated speech pathologist had grown up in Brisbane and studied at the University of Queensland before she took on the challenge of a remote placement. “I always knew I wanted to try the bush,” she says. “Unlike many of my classmates who chose to stay in the city, I was keen to give it a go. I did a six-week placement in Mount Isa while I was at uni and, encouraged by that, I applied for a job at Longreach. The first six months were a bit hard as I adjusted to being so far from family and friends. But I embraced the opportunities that were offered and pretty soon I made some great friends and felt at home.”

If the then 23-year-old was daunted by the prospect of driving solo to hold clinics in towns such as Alpha, 250km to the east, or Winton, 180km to the west, she doesn’t recall it. “I guess I may have been a bit nervous, but it was part of the adventure,” Erika says. “There were also flying trips to Birdsville and Bedourie with medical, allied health and education guidance staff, so I got to see a lot of the country.” Along the way, she met her husband, David, who had grown up on Warrandaroo station near Muttaburra to the north-east of Longreach. Like most bush kids, he’d gone away to boarding school in the south before returning to work on stations in northern Queensland and eventually coming back to the Central West, where he established Marsh Rural Earthmoving, which provides dam sinking and maintenance, pipe laying, timber work and grading services.

Embracing Opportunity: Erika Marsh took a bold leap when she moved to the bush

In 2015, David and Erika, with their then one-year-old daughter Abigail (Abby), moved to Rio station not far from Longreach. Since then, they’ve added Alexander (Xanda), now aged six, Robert (Bobbie), four, and, last year, baby Edward (Ted) to their family. “We’re lucky that Longreach is a big enough centre to have several GPs who do obstetrics, so all of our babies have been born in town,” Erika says. “In smaller towns, people often have to go to the city for births, which would have been very difficult for our family.” The Marshes are also fortunate that they live close enough to town for the children to go to school there, though inevitably they will have to travel for further education. Meanwhile, they are growing up with all the privileges a country childhood affords, endless space to play and roam and a solid understanding of fluctuating seasons and how food and fibre are produced.

They have pets and poddy calves Coco and Triple Zero — so called because he was rescued by a visiting police officer and paramedic — to feed and care for as well as other responsibilities for helping out on-farm. David, who grew up with sheep and Brahman cattle on his family property has introduced a herd of Wagyu, a Japanese breed of beef cattle famed for its rich marbling and tenderness. When David and Erika moved to Rio, they inherited a sprawling early-1900s homestead, which had been much modified through the years by previous owners. They’ve recently completed a year-long renovation, to open up spaces and make it more suitable for contemporary living. “In the end, we kept the ceilings and floors and pretty much refreshed everything in between,” Erika explains.

Embracing Opportunity: Erika Marsh took a bold leap when she moved to the bush

“We opened up the lounge area to the kitchen and removed windows from the enclosed verandahs. We were lucky to have the services of builder Brett Simpson from Roma, who worked with us to create bright, airy spaces.” The interiors feature polished floorboards and loads of space for displaying souvenirs from travels and “interesting” finds such as bottles and other bush memorabilia David has dug up in the course of his work. There are also reminders of his childhood home in the overhead gear from a shearing shed that’s mounted in a breezeway, as well as station stencils and a Brahman outline hat rack on the verandah. When the Marshes arrived at Rio, the homestead was not well supplied with water, so the garden was minimal. “Dave was well positioned to fix that,” Erika observes.“We now have a big dam, which means the house and garden have plenty of water.”

Although Erika says she was not previously a gardener, David’s mother has a beautiful garden and helped with cuttings and advice. Through trial and error, they now have a gorgeous green space around the house, a complete haven from the sometimes harsh reality of the surrounding paddocks, with rustic sculptures dotted between the lawn and the trees. “I know we’re lucky to have all this,” Erika says as she watches the children enjoying the adventure play equipment David built from a disused tank stand. “I’m not sure what I envisaged when I left uni, but I’m truly grateful I heeded the advice, accepted those invitations and embraced every opportunity.”

Photography by Ken Brass

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