When I first started working in the Outback, nearly everyone I met remarked on the stark contrast between my old life in NYC and my new life in the rural Australian Outback. True enough, I swapped skyscrapers for boab trees, and a subway commute for a two-minute shuffle from my room to the kitchen – and somehow, the transition was seamless for me.
Here’s what a typical day in my life looked like, living and working in the Australian Outback —
I’ve never been a morning person, but I’ve come to adore the gentle warmth and chirping birds that greet me just after sunrise in the Kimberley. On weekday work days, I intentionally set my alarm so that I have just enough time (12 minutes) to stumble half-asleep over to the toilet block, back to my donga to throw on my hideously oversized navy blue polo shirt and khaki shorts that are a tad too tight for my muscular thighs, and down the driveway to the Steakhouse kitchen to work the breakfast and lunch shifts. On an ideal day, I’ll wake up to a flat white coffee that I’ve innocently conditioned our French waiter to have ready for me within 5 minutes of my walking in, and get to work on assembling the 20-50 sandwiches that will be sold that day to tour groups and shop customers. These mornings are peaceful, save for sporadic interludes of our French chef singing, humming, or whistling a song that I always seem to know instantly, and the French waiter dancing through our kitchen to fill a tea pot or drop off some dirty dishes. Even though I often roll my eyes at their antics, I know I’ll remember them fondly when I look back on this time. That, and getting to sample the most incredible Bircher Muesli there ever was on a near-daily basis (which I’m determined to recreate once I leave here).
After breakfast service, I sneak into the bar area to play with the espresso machine. It’s not part of the kitchen hand job description, but I’ve managed to fulfill my secret dream of learning how to make coffee drinks (albeit not consistently well). This is far and away my favorite part of the work day. Then I typically take a break to grab lunch back at the staff mess, fielding no less than 5 “how are you going?”-s from fellow staff I encounter along the way. Lunchtime entertainment often involves our adorable resident Asian toddler trotting around pantless and chasing the chooks, a healthy distraction from checking email on my iPhone.
The walk to the kitchen.
By late morning, the rest of our team rolls in to prep for lunch and our mellow energy is replaced by a more urgent one that has me toggling between dish bitching and assisting the chefs with food prep. I slice roast beef, I wash lunch plates; I assemble a couple of fruit platters for the afternoon gorge cruises, I wash bowls and containers; I pick parsley, I mow through 5 stacks of dishes that have piled up (because parsley picking takes TOO DAMN LONG). And in-between all of that, the chefs will have me running back and forth to the cold room to fetch various foodstuffs, or to the staff mess to fill buckets with ice.
When the lunch storm passes, I’m left alone to clean up the mess. I begrudgingly tackle the dirty bowls and containers the chefs used to prep raw meat, bread fish, and cook bacon, knowing I’m taking entirely too long to scrub a single pan clean but unwilling to do a half-arsed job at it. Once my dirty dish queue hits zero, I move on to the floor: the same one on which I learned how to mop just a couple months ago (yep, I managed to make it the first 30 years of my life without ever having mopped a single floor).
When the clock strikes shift end, I bolt out of the kitchen and head straight into the shower to wash the sweat and kitchen grime off my skin. Nothing is allowed to happen until I’m clean and in plainclothes again (The Rules, according to Lindsay). Every day starting in late afternoon, there’s classic rock music blasting from The Swamp and a small group of staff hanging out getting progressively less sober outside my room. I can never concentrate with that ruckus, so I amble out to the bar and reception area on the other side of the Steakhouse, armed with my coffee mug and Macbook Air.
My version of Happy Hour entails a big ass cup of coffee, preferably prepared by one of our better baristas and topped with a pretty foam art design. I grab a table and aim to get some writing done for a couple hours, but inevitably I’ll be interrupted by guests asking me if the wifi works, and fellow staff teasing me about always being on my laptop (and likely judging me). But I’m a honey badger, so I give no shits what people think of me here, and I keep on writing and caffeinating because it makes me happy – just as I do no matter where I am in the world.
I’ve strategically placed myself at a table facing the sun, in prime position to watch it go down around 5:30pm. The actual setting of the sun isn’t so dramatic here; it’s the 10-20 minutes that follow, when the cloudless, sunless sky ignites with bright orange and purple hues, that make it a show worth watching every night.
By now, the nightly live music has kicked off. I wrap up my work to the the guitarist crooning “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” and scoot back to the staff village for dinner. Meals are prepared hot for us every night at the mess, and are so unbelievably delicious that most everyone here has complained of gaining weight from eating so well here. One of my favorites is the light-on-cheese, heavy-on-meat lasagna, followed closely by the lightly spicy laksa (though I tend to feel a little nauseous after eating it, so maybe not). I like to linger at dinner and catch up with everyone on what they did on their day off, or what interesting guests they served or led on a tour, or what cool camping trip they’re planning. In the evening, I’ll either retreat to my room to catch up on photo editing or claim the tv room and chain watch Friends and How I Met Your Mother for a few hours on FOXTEL. And because I’ve turned into a granny, I’ll pass out around 10pm.