WINTON, AUSTRALIA — TWELVE years ago, David and Jane Robinson moved from the trout steams of the New England mountains to the flat, dry central Queensland plains. The Robinsons, fifth-generation farmers, ``did not want to be trapped on a tractor,'' says Mr. Robinson. So, they bought a 76,000-acre farm, called Lorraine Station, stocked it with 34,000 sheep, and learned to live off the land.
``It is a way of life, you either like it or you don't,'' says Robinson.
City folk and tourists may not want to live there, but are interested in seeing a real station. So, the Robinsons have added ``host farming'' to their business, setting up cabins and trailer facilities for people to get a feel for life in the outback. Last year, 6,000 people enjoyed the Robinsons' hospitality.
The lodgers, who sometimes help muster the sheep or repair fences, help to provide additional income for the Robinsons. With the collapse in the wool price, ``the cash flow has just about stopped,'' says Robinson. In April, they added 7,000 lambs, and are considering increasing their flock again because good rains have left plenty of grass in the paddocks.
Despite the economic crunch, there is a lot to like about the life. On a dawn horseback ride through the fields, grey galahs flit among the colibah trees. A family of kangaroos is startled and swiftly hop away. ``Bindi,'' a station sheep dog, entertains thoughts of trying to catch the bounding 'roos, but wisely decides to conserve her energy. Later, at breakfast, a young calf, abandoned by its mother, slurps down a bottle of milk then nudges ranch hands for a petting.
From April to October the temperatures are moderate during the day, sometimes dipping to freezing at night. In the summer, however, the thermometer can soar, hitting 120 degrees. Bush flies are thick, sometimes forcing stockmen to eat their lunch in the smoke of a fire. At night there are centipedes, spiders, and snakes. However, at night there are also the stars, which shine brightly without any pollution or lights nearby.
Some of the stations are remote, and can produce a feeling of isolation. On some of the large spreads, stockmen may not see anyone else for days. ``You have to like yourself,'' says Ted Egan, a Bush poet who lives in Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.