Catherine Martin Literary Award Winners

Outback Experience by Valentina Plisko

10 -12yo Catherine Martin Literary Runner up 2019

I was really excited because I was going mustering for the first time with my cousin Angus, on his farm in outback SA. I was looking forward to the smell of musty sheep, hearing the roar of the motorbikes and having the red dirt fly in my face. On the way there, I counted six snakes!

We went straight out mustering on the motorbikes. Angus went one way and I went the other – planning to meet up in the middle. I was following a fence and checking the sheep. There were a lot more pot holes than I was used to. I then heard it. It wasn’t just a slither, it was a screeching hiss and it appeared out of nowhere – a red-belly black snake, three meters long, coming straight for me! I felt the front wheel slip from underneath me and I drifted towards the snake at top speed. The wheel hit the snake and its guts went flying everywhere! Yuuuuuk! I kept riding.

I wasn’t concentrating on what was up ahead and too late, I saw it coming closer to me. It was another fence that went across the paddock. I was going too fast and it was too late to stop. My front wheel hit the fence first and I was flung off the bike and my neck hit the ground with a terrifying crunch. It felt like someone just slammed me with a softball bat and my eyes went black. That was when I realized that I would need much more than a first aid kit to fix me.

After what felt like hours later but was actually only a few minutes of lying in the dirt, I heard the sound of Angus’s motorbike. He leaped off his bike and grabbed my hand hoping I was still alive. He was relieved when he felt my pulse.

Angus called the muster pilot on the two-way radio. The pilot went to the homestead to ring the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service and he then returned with an old ripped shearing bed with a thin mattress that he found in the shed. They drove me to the closest airstrip, which took us 90 minutes. I thought I was going to die. We arrived a few minutes before the RFDS did.

The crew greeted me with a neck brace and loaded me on to the plane. The doctors checked me for internal bleeding and they gave me some pain relief.

We found out that I had fractured my neck in two places. I couldn’t speak or eat properly for a few days and I had to wear my neck brace for three months. I was lucky!

Thanks to the RFDS who saved my life and helped me realize that without them, I wouldn’t be here. Australia is a big country! If you live in an isolated area, I urge you to check if your airstrip is registered and well maintained – just in case you have to act fast. And also, watch out for snakes!

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