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Memories of outback waterholes, water tanks and sometimes a swimming pool were lifeline to those on the land

Saskia Mabin, Wednesday October 2, 2019 - 13:54 EST
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Sarah, Andrew and Matthew Jackson swam in the water tanks around Tirlta Station. - ABC

The landscape may be parched and dry yet for many living in the Australian outback, lazy days spent swimming are some of their fondest childhood memories.

Ian Jackson remembers frying eggs on the burning cement around his backyard pool on particularly hot summer days.

He said there was never a shortage of places to swim on Tirlta Station, the 39,000-hectare property, 100 kilometres north-east of Broken Hill, where he grew up.

"Growing up in the bush is one of the most wonderful places for kids to grow and swimming is a part of it," Mr Jackson said.

"Whenever we went out with dad around the waters or to check tanks or troughs, we were always in the tanks swimming.

"We didn't like the mud much but we got so used to it 'cause we never wore shoes or shirts or anything.

"We used to just fly straight in and when it was time to go, we'd jump out and go swimming in the next one."

Tirlta became a hub of social activity for the community of neighbouring station owners when Mr Jackson's father decided to build a tennis court and backyard pool on the property.

"Every fortnight the neighbours and everybody used to come and play tennis and the kids would swim. It was just [to] socialise and get the area together," Mr Jackson said.

More than 60 years on, the station's pool remains and Mr Jackson's children and grandchildren have learnt to swim there.

"Bush children just learn so much stuff so quickly," he said.

"Our grandkids have been driving graders and loaders for a number of years, the older ones can swim and ride motorbikes. There are so many things available to them."

Green-eyed monster

When Emma Lovis-Hotchin hears the words 'backyard pool' the first thing she thinks of is safety.

As a child growing up on Cutana, now Tikalina, Station, Ms Lovis-Hotchin's "formidable" grandmother convinced her there was something sinister lurking beneath the murky tank water.

"To frighten the bejesus out of us kids so we wouldn't go near the house tank, she told us there was this great big green monster in there," she said.

"If there wasn't an adult there, it would raise its ugly head and eat you but if there was an adult there, then it was all good.

"That technique worked absolute magic for years."

Now a mother herself, Ms Lovis-Hotchin plans to pass down the tale of the green-eyed monster to keep her three-year-old son Wyatt safe.

"It is something that I believe works," she said.

"We see in the media about these little ones who are with mum or dad and they've disappeared on a station. It's frightening — I get goosebumps just talking about it."

Waiting for rain

Ms Lovis-Hotchin said water tanks were the "lifeline of properties", not only because they sustained livestock and the homestead, but also because they were the places where unforgettable childhood memories were created.

"It's integral to the family unit," she said.

"There's always that one very, very special person — my dad was one — who will come and get the kids and say 'Come on, we're going yabbying'.

"To have those moments with the kids is just so special."

Now, in the midst of the worst drought many landowners have ever experienced in their lives, enormous water tanks — Ms Lovis-Hotchin said some were up to two houses deep — were being emptied.

"I know there are so many people out there cleaning their tanks in readiness for future rains that will come," she said.

"We know they're coming, we just don't know when.

"Unfortunately we've just got to ride it out."


© ABC 2019

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