Cooking up hearty meals and laughter

MEAL PLANNER: Kerri Back is sharing her experiences as an outback cook on her blog Trial and Tribulations of Station Cook.
MEAL PLANNER: Kerri Back is sharing her experiences as an outback cook on her blog Trial and Tribulations of Station Cook. Kerri Back Photography

AFTER ticking a box on an internet job site, Kiwi woman Kerri Back found herself in a Skype interview with the recruiter of a Kimberley cattle station who was looking for a cook.

After accepting the job, she packed her belongings, including her dog Walter Little (a pooch named after the 80s All Black star) and headed abroad to start work on Blina Station.

Her kitchen on the 404,685.64ha cattle property, which is situated about 130km outside of Derby in Western Australia, is either in an air-conditioned room at the homestead, or a converted trailer that follows the stock team when they camp out to muster the vast property.

Since starting in April there have been kitchen triumphs and some disasters, but along the way she has kept her vivacious sense of humour.

Now her station journey is being shared on the Facebook blog Trials and Tribulations of a Station Cook, which boasts stunning photos and plenty of belly-laugh inducing stories.

The Rural Weekly caught up with Kerri to talk about blogging, the outback, and how she is handling her first year in the rugged Kimberley.


Annie Rogers, Leah Rae, Josie Lane, Stuart Marr and Josh Hickman on Blina Station.
Annie Rogers, Leah Rae, Josie Lane, Stuart Marr and Josh Hickman on Blina Station. Kerri Back Photography

How did you end up working in one of the most remote parts of Australia?

Boredom and a prolapsed disc in my back was the instigator. I had started work as a dairy farm assistant June last year and soon after calving started I hurt my back due to heavy calves and wallowing in knee-deep mud. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with the job and all the physical work involved so I had a wee gander on the internet and came upon a site that was advertising for crew for the 2016 season.

I saw the cook's job and really wasn't keen, but ticked the box anyway and then completely forgot about it.

Next thing I knew, I was having a Skype interview and the chap is looking over my CV and he asked the obvious question: "What cooking experience do you have? There's nothing on your CV".

So I told him how I had been a tour director and cooked for 52 students… I failed to mention that we fed the kids pre-cooked chooks and coleslaw. But, I figured I had fed myself most of my life and was nowhere near malnourished, so how hard could it be?

Then I was on the phone with the manager and he was explaining what was required: "I don't want anything fancy, just good hearty meals - and I don't want the crew getting scurvy… and you need to move the sprinklers on the lawn."

He mentioned the sprinklers about four times so I figured they must be really important.

What was your first impression of the outback like?

I was expecting gum trees galore... red dust and dirt and massive snakes and gigantic bugs, but I was really, really pleased and surprised to see it wasn't at all like all the experts back home were telling me. And it's flat, really, really flat... made me think of Dorothy and Toto in Kansas.

What's the property like you are working on?

Blina Station is a million-acre property that raises brahman cattle. Brahmans moo funny and smell funny. They actually remind me of Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars with their big floppy ears and juju lips.

I have a wonderful air-conditioned kitchen. I hear of so many cooks that don't have air con and it makes me a little nervous that there may be a target on my back from some other cook wanting to create a vacancy for some nicer digs to work in.


Annie Rogers on Blina Station in the Kimberley.
Annie Rogers on Blina Station in the Kimberley. Kerri Back Photography

Do you enjoy being in the Kimberley?

Sure do. I don't have a car so I don't get off the station very much but hopefully by end of the year I would have saved enough to get some wheels as this is definitely an area to be explored. I have a car back home... but that's not very helpful to me here. If anyone reading this wants to gift me a truck that would be awesome, thank you in advance.

How do you keep yourself entertained when the crew is out working and you are on your own in the bush?

I have a hammock and wine. Typically, I am up at 4am getting breakfast ready, then if the crew are in for morning tea and lunch my day is pretty well filled up with preparing food. I do get a few hours in the afternoons to myself, which typically consists of a wee nap.

If I'm really organised I will go help in the yards and do the tally sheet. I don't get in the yards and do the physical stuff for two reasons, one is I can't run since I did my back and secondly no one wants the cook hurt because then they have to cook their own food.

Has your little dog been travelling with you for a while?

I called him Walter Little after an All Black from the '80s because he is massive and fierce, as you can see by his photos.

He's six and he has travelled more than most people. He went all over New Zealand with me when I was a pot dealer and I flew him over here in May. Would you believe his flight cost more than mine? Insane. He got no movies, no snacks. Oh yeah, about that pot dealer thing… I used to sell cooking pots. Dinerite - best pots you have ever come across.

They are actually an Australian brand and I even brought some over here with me. I had to pay $150 in excess baggage but by crikey they have made my life easier here at the station.


Matt Wood follows the mob on Blina Station in the Kimberley.
Matt Wood follows the mob on Blina Station in the Kimberley. Kerri Back Photography

How would you describe your kitchen trailer?

Rustic with character.

She's been around the block a few times I can tell you that. But I just love it.

I call her Mrs Pike because of the Pikie which is an inbred gypsy.

It's amazing how you can adjust from a massive air con kitchen to a wee trailer with an oven you have to keep the door closed with an esky and bag of flour. I really like her.

How many people are you cooking for at the moment?

That is always variable. But we have 12 permanent staff and presently there is a house being built so there are extra tradies to feed.

Then you get the helicopter pilots and stock agents, vets, friends, parents... It's a nice manageable number really. I wouldn't like to cook for 20, that would freak me out.

What is the most challenging part about the job?

We basically only eat beef aside from some other type of sausages, bacon and tuna so at times it can be a bit challenging to find new ideas of how to cook meat.

When a kill is done we chop it up and write on the bag what kind of meat it is. I noticed today we have paua mince and zebra steaks. I guess somebody else is keen for something other than beef as well.

What's the most rewarding part of the job?

That would be the thank yous at the end of each meal. It gives me all the warm and fuzzies. I made some humongous creamy pastry things the other night and one of the girls saw them as she walked past the window and the next minute her face was pushed up to the window with her hands on her face, then one of the other girls came in and said 'Oh my God! It's Christmas!' Yeah, that made my day.


Walter Little is Kerri's trusted companion.
Walter Little is Kerri's trusted companion. Kerri Back Photography

Have there been any kitchen triumphs?

I made focaccia bread. That was a huge triumph as I had never attempted to make bread before. My scones never turn out. One of the guys asked what they were the one time I did make them.

I explained to him they were things you bite into that suck every bit of moisture from your mouth.

I told him the army actually ordered a whole bunch to use as missiles. So with that history I thought bread may be a disaster, but I have made it a few times now and it's getting better.

What has been your biggest kitchen disaster?

Mustard sauce.

I had made corned beef, which I loathe, so I made mustard sauce to go with it and when I tasted it… I'm not even kidding you when I say it tasted bad.

To this day I'm unsure why I even served it up.

So there it is on the servery and as each person comes in I warn them "don't eat the mustard sauce, it tastes terrible".

Well the first two thought I was joking and gave themselves lashings. Then I watched them try it. Ever seen a toddler suck a lemon? Then as the others came in and I warned them about the sauce I could see these other two mouthing for them not to eat it. It's pretty much a standing joke, and I threaten them with it from time to time.

What sort of relationship do you have with the workers in the camp?

Sometimes after dinner a few of us will sit around and have a drink and a chat, but mostly everybody is in bed by the time I leave the kitchen at 8pm. That seems really early but as there is no daylight savings here it's well dark by 6pm and then with those early starts...

Most cooks at stations get called "cookie".

I really hated that so they all call me K-Dog which is pretty funny.


The camp cook trailer at Blina Station in the Kimberley.
The camp cook trailer at Blina Station in the Kimberley. Kerri Back Photography

What's the toughest thing about cooking in the bush?

The toughest, for me, isn't probably tough at all, but I find it very nerve wracking lighting the fire outside for the hotplate when I cook steak. Because, there is a huge risk of bush fires and I'm really nervous about being responsible for burning down the Kimberley.

I don't want that on my epitaph thank you very much.

I should probably have gone to Girl I have learnt to wait until everybody is back to base before lighting it if it is windy.

Then I just ask someone else to light it and if it turns pear shaped it's their fault.

What's the best tip you would give to someone who was new to their job as a station cook?

Make sure you like your own company. The only time I get to see folk really is at meal times and sometimes if it's been a hard day they aren't very chatty as they are just plum tired.

So you really have to be okay with being on your own for long periods.

What's the most requested dish workers in the camp are asking for at the moment?

There's only one person here that requests a particular dish, and it's steak. Everybody else is just happy with what gets served up.

The favourite dish though seems to be crumbed schnitzel. Everyone loves that.

I made banana split with ice cream, fresh berries, melted chocolate and whipped cream and they were almost like kids on Christmas Day.

One girl had chocolate all over her face... It's amazing how food can make people so happy.

Topics:  cattle station outback australia rural woman

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