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Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 15 - 01 of 02 (Raw)

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IN 00:00:00 OUT 00:18:24
Trish FitzSimons
Rhonda Hill
Griffith Film School
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15 - 01 of 02
5 June 2000
(Tape 15_BC_DV) It’s Tape 15 for camera. We’re still in the middle of Tape 7, I think it is, for DAT. It’s Trish FitzSimons recording, Erica Addis on camera, 5 June and we’re interviewing Rhonda Alexander in June Jackson’s lounge room. Okay, so Rhonda, what do you see as the most important environmental issues facing the Channel Country and what kind of local activities are you involved in to address those needs?
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 15 - 01 of 02
Work Childhood
PTA refers to Part A of Tape 15
Keywords created by Ashleigh in reference to what is on the tape.
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Rhonda Alexander
End of Interview with Rhonda Alexander. Tape 2 of 2 No obvious faults in footage.
part of:
Braided Channels of History Recording & Transcript - 15 - 01 of 02
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15_BC_DV_PTA_ALEXANDER-raw.txt — 16 KB

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                              5 June 2000
                           (Tape 15_BC_DV)

It’s Tape 15 for camera. We’re still in the middle of Tape 7, I think it is, for
        DAT. It’s Trish FitzSimons recording, Erica Addis on camera, 5 June
        and we’re interviewing Rhonda Alexander in June Jackson’s lounge

        Okay, so Rhonda, what do you see as the most important environmental
        issues facing the Channel Country and what kind of local activities are you
        involved in to address those needs?

R       At the moment I think it would be chemicals and woody weeds. Probably
        woody weeds to start with because there are a lot of woody weeds coming
        down the channels and because cattle … there’s far more movement of cattle
        and sheep, and also of road trains, shifting stock around, that they can
        actually get the seed and bring it into this area very easily, and without us
        knowing. And then, apart from clogging up the rivers and that, and the
        country, when you want to export cattle or sheep out of the country you can’t
        get them out because of the …                    bur has a bur on it about this
        size and you’ve got to get a stock inspector in to go right through it. So with
        the Channel Country at the moment, I would say woody weeds is probably
        one of the biggest problems. Chemicals is another one because a lot of them
        want to spray these sort of things and if you’ve got cattle or sheep that are
        organically grown, you cannot have chemicals of any sort around them for
        the export trade. And then the other thing, possibly, is the management of
        your stock, that you don’t have too many stock on that you eat out the
        property, or eat out the country. Introduction of exotic grasses, things like
        that which will actually take over from the native grasses is another thing
        that’s going to be a problem. And if you get into the Cooper which will
        come up no doubt, with Sandy Kidd, is the harnessing of water and at the
        moment we’re now looking at a draft paper for water management in the
        Georgina and Diamantina catchment and we haven’t finished that yet. We’re
        just looking at it at the moment, because we don’t have a problem with the
        water, whereas in the Cooper they actually have licences for the water and
    they want to grow cotton in the area, and cotton brings with it chemicals and
    other insects, stuff like that.

I   So tell me the range of organisations, you listed them off before, that you’ve
    been involved with.

R   Well, there’s the ICPA which is Isolated Children’s Parents Association,
    which is probably one of the most important ones of all because that’s the
    education of our children and I’ve been with … well I started our branch up
    25 years ago and I’m President at the moment, and that’s for geographically
    isolated children. It’s getting them an education that is equivalent to children
    in the city. No better, just equivalent to what they’ve got. I’m Secretary of
    our Landcare group which covers 142,000 square kilometres. I’m Vice-
    President of our Georgina-Diamantina Catchment which comes into the Lake
    Eyre Basin. In other words, we sort of have to look after the Lake Eyre itself
    and that basin is one-sixth of Australia. There was a time when they were
    going to try and lock it up as National Heritage and we fought like anything
    not to, so what we do now is we’re monitoring the rivers, we’re looking after
    the woody weeds, doing everything like that so that we can go back to the
    government and say ‘Look, we are doing this. We are looking after our land
    and we’re going to go on doing it’. So we’re really fighting for that at the
    moment. I’m Secretary of the Historical Society, Secretary of the Camp
    Draft. What else is there?

    No, no, I’m not in the Golf Club. And President of the PCAP for this
    western area, Priority Country Area Program.

I   Somebody has put to me the idea that often in rural areas it’s the women that
    particularly take the running on environmental questions, and certainly on
    the small farm I grew up on, it was my mother that was much stronger on
    that stuff than my father. Do you think that’s a general thing here or are you
    working as much with men as with women on these environmental
R   I would say that I’m working with more men but the women would be as
    strong, if not stronger, and the coordinator for the whole Lake Eyre Basin is a

I   Who’s that and where’s she based?

R   She’s Kate Andrews from Longreach. But on a whole, no, I think on a whole
    women are probably the stronger ones but it could be because they may have
    a little more time. Like my husband couldn’t come in today for the meeting
    because he’s working. So the women are taking up where the men can’t
    actually go, even though they want to. So it becomes a partner thing.

I   Now it’s interesting. You’re the manager of land. Well, your husband’s the
    manager and clearly you’re incredibly involved in the management. I guess
    two questions I’d have about that. One is, put very bluntly, what drives you
    to look after somebody else’s land? You know, like I guess the land belongs
    to the shareholders of NAPCO.

R   It’s got nothing to do with NAPCO. I just like the land. Full stop. It just has
    something about it. You know, you can go outside, even just to empty the
    pot of tea outside on the trees. At Marion, where I empty the tea out you
    look over the river and up to the hills, and it’s beautiful. You just stand there
    and look at it. And that’s just … I see that every day, five times a day, just
    when I do the meals. No, it’s just the land. It has nothing to do with
    NAPCO. But then I do go back to NAPCO and say ‘Right, we’ve got to do
    this, this and this’ and it mostly works.

I   And is the fact that you’re not on a wage individually for that, because that’s
    obviously vital work, actually, for the shareholders of NAPCO, is looking
    after this resource – and I’m not suggesting that’s why you’re doing it. I hear
    what you’re saying. But is the fact of not being on a wage for doing that
    work, does that rankle?

R   No. No. What does rankle is that I’m not treated as a partner with my
    husband. I’d rather be paid … I would rather my husband and I were paid as
    a team. We’re not. My husband is paid as the manager and he’s expected to
         do everything with the books, the managing and that. The wife looks after
         the mundane things such as the house and the garden and things like that.
         So, yes. No I’d rather see it as a teamwork thing.

I        It’s not the first time I’ve heard this opinion put. Is there any kind of
         movement to try and edge the companies in this direction or do you feel …
         like, together with other wives from the company, for instance, is there any
         push that it should be like a management team?

R        Yes. NAPCO wives are all shoving – hard. I don’t think we’re getting too
         far at the moment but because I know there are other companies that have
         already moved that way and it does seem to be a happier environment.

I        So which are the companies that have started to do that?

R        AA Company is the one that I know of in particular. And Kidmans are sort
         of looking at it.     But, yeah, there are other big properties.       I think
         [Hightsbury??] did look at it too but I’m not really sure because I haven’t had
         much to do with them lately. But I know AA, the manager and his wife are
         employed as a team and, yes, NAPCO wives are shoving very hard but we’re
         not getting too far, I don’t think.

I        Would it ever be the case that a man be employed as a manager if he was not
         married, with his wife?

R        Yes.

I        Single men are employed?


R        Yes. And sometimes it works. I don’t think it’s always to the good of the
         homestead area but then that’s a priority, I think, NAPCO and some
         companies have got to look at, is what do they want. Do they want the
         profits which come off the land and a single manager can certainly do that,
         no problems at all, because he does have his head stockman, he has his men
    and everything like that.      But, bring it to the other side, which is the
    homestead area. Does that go down the hill so that you’ve got rundown
    areas, homestead areas, whatever you want, which, yeah, I don’t think it’s to
    the best of the company, or even to the rural area, full stop.

I   Is there anything – I know you need to get away – is there anything I haven’t
    asked you about that you feel passionate about for a general audience to
    understand about what drives women of the Channel Country? Or you? You
    know, that’s probably too big a question. You. Is there anything I haven’t
    asked you about that seems really central to your life and what drives you?

R   The country. The life. Community. Your children. Ummm, and I guess I
    just can’t sit down and see things happen. I’ve got to get in there and sort it
    out. But I’m not what you’d call a person who rushes there and says ‘We’ve
    got to do this’. I like to listen to everyone else’s opinion and sort it all out
    like that.

I   You’re a good committee worker?

R   Probably. I seem to be there a bit. And, no, I think it’s just the life, full stop.
    I just love the life because I like stock work even. I used to do a lot of stock
    work but then once I had my third child I sort of felt ‘Oh, okay, I’d better
    come home and teach him’, whereas with the older two, I used to take them
    and teach them in the vehicle or sit them in the laundry and teach them there,
    or take them with me down the creek, wherever I was going. So they were a
    part of me, more so than my younger one, in that they had a wider vision of
    what was going on, whereas the younger one … I don’t know whether it was
    old age or laziness or what, but anyway he sort of had more formal education
    at home and I don’t think it’s done any better for him. In other words, I’m
    not in agreeance with putting kids in a classroom completely. I think they
    need to get out and be practical and look after themselves. So that’s my way
    of saying … teaching kids is get them into the practical side of the world and
    then they can actually see the environment as well. And they can hear Mum
    and Dad talking about ‘Oh, the country’s getting a bit dry, isn’t it? We’d
    better get those cattle out of this paddock’, things like that. Whereas, if
    they’re in the classroom, they’re not actually seeing it and I think that’s
    where they’re losing out, and I would say that’s what I did with my younger
    child. He’s lost out on the practical side. He’s had the formal education.

I   Last question. Floods, droughts, dust storms. Tell me the biggest stories,
    like the biggest issues you’ve had to deal with of crises and events from this
    climate and environment.

R   There isn’t any, I guess. I suppose … a little boy died in my arms eight years
    ago and there was just my son and myself there. My husband was away.
    There was no men on the station. From a motorbike accident. The Flying
    Doctor wouldn’t come down because he was dead, or had died while they
    were en route, and they said no it wasn’t their job any more. That would
    probably be the biggest thing that changed my life around, in that just to get
    in there and get something done. And the other time, I guess, was … I’ve
    never, ever worried about my children in the fact that if they got sick or
    anything like that, because I always thought ‘Oh, well, I can cope with it’.
    And they didn’t get sick much. So isolation wasn’t a big issue there, with
    my children when they were babies. I think that was probably the biggest
    one, in the fact that I was by myself, but I’ve kicked myself into gear and
    I’ve got going again, and I keep thinking to myself ‘Well, what would he
    have liked me to do? What can I do for him because he’s not here any
    more?’ So I get on with that, and the other thing is my husband crashed his
    plane two years ago. So that threw me into a bit of a flat spin, and he got out
    and he said … I was fixing him up on the floor and he said ‘Well, do this.
    Have you packed my bag yet?’ and I thought ‘Oh, yeah, righto. You’re
    okay. You’re going to live’ and that was it. So, yes. And looking after the
    men. You can strangle them one day and kick them up the bum the next day
    and then if they get sick, well you look after them.

    Oh, and we lost Bobby Moses. How long ago was that? He was a white
    man that was incredible. He was an alcoholic, the worst alcoholic you could
    ever imagine. He absolutely adored my kids and would do anything for us.
    He got on the grog and he went to a man and said ‘There’s a million dollars
    in there. Would you look after that?’ He had nothing in his hand and that
    person that he went to couldn’t see that he needed help, and he perished, and
    we’ve never found him. And, yes, that’s probably the saddest.

I   He was murdered?

R   No, he wasn’t murdered. He perished. Because he wandered off in the DTs.
    But he did go to someone and say something that was extraordinary and the
    person that he said it to didn’t realise that he was in the DTs and that he
    needed help, and that person didn’t advise anyone, with the result that Bobby
    Moses just went off into the country and just perished, and we’ve never
    found him to this day. So that’s probably the saddest thing.

I   And so this was one of the workers on Marion?

R   Yes.

I   So as the manager’s wife, you probably, although you couldn’t have done
    anything, took it to heart in some way?

R   Mmmm. It was sad because we haven’t found him yet. We haven’t actually
    put him to rest, you know. Those are the sort of things. Those are the sad
    things. With Matt, Matt’s the little boy that died. He’s the sort of a person,
    that it’s something that’s got me going.

I   This is not … you were with Liz and … this is not Liz’s Matt?

R   Yes.

I   Matt died in your arms?

R   Yes. And my younger son, David, he was the one that brought him home
    and he was an absolute incredible child, my son. He sat with Matt the whole
    time. But that to me is a challenge to do something for Matt. And then
    there’s … and my husband was just ‘I’ll strangle you now’, because he sort
    of crashed the plane and then he started telling me what to do. So, no, I
    suppose those are the three things, apart from my little grandkid and kids
    getting married and giving you grey hairs. All those things but I think
    they’re all pretty normal.
I    Well you’d better get back and cook for them there men. That was fantastic.
     Thank you very much.

R    By the clock, oh yeah.

I    Okay. So just tell me your schedule from now till you go to sleep, Rhonda.
     What are you going to do?

R    I’m going to drive home, which is about three-quarters of an hour and,
     hopefully, the stew’s okay. Thicken the stew. Put the vegetables on for,
     what, nine of us, and make a pudding for them. And then after tea, wash up.

I    What sort of pud?

R    Don’t know yet. I’ve got to get home and do it. And probably get something
     ready for breakfast and then I’ll probably go to bed about 10 o’clock because
     I’ll do a few things in the house and that’s about it for tonight. And then
     tomorrow morning it’ll probably be … I’m not sure whether it’ll be 6 o’clock
     breakfast or half past six breakfast, and lunches enough for the boys.

I    So your husband will tell you what time he needs breakfast to suit the work

R    Yes. And that’s okay. Like, we can start at half past five some mornings.
     Half past six is our general time but he’ll just come in and say ‘We’ll need
     breakfast at so and so time and all the boys want lunches today’ or ‘All the
     boys will be home for lunch today’, things like that. And then out of the blue
     he’ll say ‘And you’d better cut some lunch for me too’.

I    Okay.