Outback cook also motherly figure

Robyn Huddleston has found her calling as a station cook in the Australian Outback. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Robyn Huddleston has found her calling as a station cook in the Australian Outback. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Robyn Huddleston reckons it’s never too late to follow your dream and she is testament to that. She works as a station cook for nine months of the year in Western Australia.

It’s been a busy and full life for Mrs Huddleston; raising her family in the ’80s while climbing through the banking ranks in the ’90s, followed by running hospitality businesses in Central Otago with late husband Brent.

In latter years when Mr Huddleston’s health declined, she became his fulltime carer while they lived in Hawea and she also worked as a cook at a nearby hunting lodge.

"After Brent died, I was at a bit of a crossroads with what to do with myself. I wasn’t sure where a woman in her 60s should belong and it took a while for me to be ready to have an adventure, but what I have found over here in Australia has blown me away and made me realise that, yes, there absolutely is a place for me."

In 2022 Mrs Huddleston took on a role as a cook for harvest drivers in Western Australia.

"I enjoyed that so much I decided I wanted to try something a little more challenging for the following year."

Last year she got a job as cook at Carlton Hill Station. She came home for a three-month break through the summer, which is the region’s rainy season, and recently returned to do another nine months.

The station covers 475,000ha and is 60km away from the town of Kununnara in the Kimberly region of Western Australia. The station breeds and finishes 15,000 to 20,000 steers and heifers each year with a staff of around 30 and often she will also cook for visitors such as vets, farriers and maintenance people.

The station’s staff will process a cattle beast once a week and stores are ordered and brought in every fortnight by truck.

"When I say 30 people, that can fluctuate depending on where the staff are. There can sometimes be a crew away at one of the mustering camps and, depending which one it is, dictates what kind of food I will send with them. If it’s one where a cooking trailer can get to and they have a fridge and freezer out there I can be more liberal with what they take as they can just take the ingredients and cook it themselves.

"If it’s a remote camp with less facilities I will pre-make meals like beef stroganoff and spaghetti bolognaise."

Back at base, Mrs Huddleston’s day begins early for either a 5am or 6am breakfast. The 9.30am smoko break is buffet-style with three savoury options such as a curry, scones, sushi, pasta and toasties or sandwiches plus sweet options and a fruit platter.

"Most don’t tend to come in for lunch or afternoon smoko; it’s generally too hot to eat at that time of day. There’s often leftovers which will all go in the fridge and if anyone is hungry for lunch they can come in and help themselves but I try to be out of the kitchen by 11.30am."

She will return later in the day to prepare and serve a large evening meal, knocking off around 8.30pm.

"Most days I wouldn’t do any less than a 10-hour day."

Most of the staff she cooks for are under the age of 30 and she enjoys the banter while they are at the table.

"It’s good to have a bit of life experience. Working here has made me realise there is a place for a mature, motherly figure for these young ones. Often they will pop their heads in and say goodbye before they head off on a mustering camp and they’ll come back in and say gidday and want to have a debrief when they return."

Mrs Huddleston’s advice for others keen to be a cook in the Australian Outback is to gain experience cooking for large groups.

"You need to be able to quantify things accurately and try and stay one step ahead. There’s always a last-minute change or extra people to feed so having frozen meals up your sleeve is a good idea," she said.

 - By Alice Scott