Distance-Ed-9477

It takes a minute to realise that there’s no irony intended when Kristy Sparrow says that in a good season she can be flooded in on her family’s property for three months at a time. For Kristy and her husband, Alex, the swollen rivers that isolate Malden station near Alpha in central-western Queensland mean good rainfall, which in turn means good grass and healthy growth for their Droughtmaster cattle. The inconvenience of going 12 weeks without access to a supermarket, post office, hairdresser or any other of life’s modern conveniences and services pales into insignificance alongside the prospect of a good year ahead for the Sparrows and the cattle industry at large.

LIFE ON THE FARM LIFE ON THE FARM

“Yes, being stranded on our property with often only us and the children [12-year-old twins Madelyn and Tom] is challenging,” Kristy allows. “But it does give us time to focus on the children and their education, and continue doing something that we love that gives us a fantastic lifestyle.” Alex Sparrow is Alpha born and bred and recalls a time when his hometown, population around 400, was a bustling railway hub and service centre for the surrounding grazing community. Gradually during the past 30 to 40 years, that has dwindled as the larger town of Emerald 170 kilometres to the east flourished thanks to coal mining and more diverse rural industry opportunities.

LIFE ON THE FARM

Kristy grew up on a sheep and cropping property in the NSW Riverina, trained in Melbourne as a kindergarten teacher and first came to western Queensland with the Remote Area Families Service. From bases at Charleville, Longreach and Emerald she travelled western Queensland running mobile playgroups and, along the way, learning all about the vicissitudes of life in the bush. She met Alex at a B&S (Bachelors and Spinsters ball) in Ilfracombe and the rest, as they say, is history. She and Alex were married in 2000 and they’ve lived at Malden ever since.

LIFE ON THE FARM Kristy-Sparrow-9512

When Tom and Maddy came along, Kristy was probably better qualified than most to supervise her children’s distance education, but she still lists it as one of the greatest challenges of her remote lifestyle. “It’s not fun being a mum and being a teacher, but many rural mothers don’t have any choice,” she says. “I spent the first five years of my children’s education in the classroom beside the kitchen at home, but I won’t pretend it was easy, or that I always knew when to take off one hat and put on the other. There are so few staff on most stations these days that mothers find themselves not just teaching the children, but juggling the other responsibilities of running the farm and the household … doing water runs, helping muster, keeping up with bookwork and supply orders, especially during times of drought when money is tight.”

LIFE ON THE FARM LIFE ON THE FARM

Compounding this situation is the lack of child care for isolated families, particularly in times of natural disaster. There are often up to 50 children from one service area on the waiting list for in-home care.

“Community spirit is good, there’s peace and quiet aplenty, fresh air, beautiful sunsets and starry night skies,” she adds. “The city country divide is being bridged by organisations such as Baked Relief and city people are becoming more aware of what it’s like to live in a country area. Social media has increased the rural voice, and pages such as Ask a Farmer are really good at getting the message out.

LIFE ON THE FARM

“Local communities support each other and come together when times are tough. Volunteers are the backbone of the bush. Some of the most generous, hardworking and knowledgeable people I know have rural backgrounds and I’m proud to call them my friends.”

This story was originally published in the June/ July 2014 issue of Australian Country. Keep up to date and subscribe to the magazine here.

Read more farm-life stories here.

Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography 
Ken Brass

More Like This

Douglas Blain

The Extraordinary Journey of Douglas Blain: Preserving the Past with Passion

Douglas Blain’s remarkable life has been devoted to rescuing old buildings and turning them into boutique hotels.

Outback Aussie Tours

Exploring Queensland’s Heartland with Outback Aussie Tours

Alan and Sue Smith, owners of Outback Aussie Tours have been showing Australian Country around the paddocks of Rosebank station.

Montville Mist Springwater

The Collins’ Montville Mist Springwater Success

Alli and Peter Collins juggle raising a family and running, Montville Mist Springwater from their home in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Paper Pocket Australiana

Our Top 10 Favourite Calendars and Diaries to Kick Start Your 2024

Discover Australia’s favourite range of 2024 Calendars and Diaries from Paper Pocket. Keep track of your year, organise your appointments, plan your […]

Date & Ginger Bundt Cake

Date & Ginger Bundt Cake Recipe

This date and ginger bundt cake is an adaptation of my mum’s much-loved sticky date pudding recipe.

Move to Myanbah

From Corporate Careers to Country Living: A Family’s Move to Myanbah

Jess and Hamish Webb embarked on a move to Myanbah to raise their three young children in a restored 19th-century homestead.

Tasmanian Family Farm

A Tasmanian Family Farm Built within Generations

Seven generations of the Medwin family have farmed at Black River, Tasmania. Phil and Fiona Medwin are ensuring the tradition continues.

Family business

A Sheep Farm Business Turning Whey into Spirits and More

This Tasmanian-based family has turned their common family business model on its head in pursuit of their values.

Follow Us on Instagram