Outback House: episode guide

Episode 1

Premiere: Sunday, June 12, 2005 (ABC)

Sixteen participants have been selected out of more than 5000 applicants to live the life of a squatter, his family, domestic servants and station workers. We meet our adventurous participants as they set off to undertake training in their new life. They learn how to manage stock, use the tools of the time and grow food to survive, all without the help of present-day technology.

Paul and Juli Allcorn, along with their three daughters Persephone, Pierette and Portia are the squatter family, and Glen and Kim Sheluchin take on the roles of station overseer and his wife. Genevieve Yates is the girls’ governess, and station cook is Carolina Francese. There are two maids: Claire Williams and high-school student Danielle Schaeffer. Danielle along with station hand Mal Burns, are from the local Wiradjuri tribe. Also taking the position of station hands are Peter Gordon and Adam Carter. Bernie Kennedy and Dan Hatch as the shepherds, complete the group.

Our squatter has invested heavily in the hope of making a fortune ’off the sheep’s back’. He must earn enough money in the next three months from his first wool clip to buy the land he is leasing when the Lands Act comes into force on 1 January 1862.

The bullock wagon is packed with provisions and the men leave the 21st century and set off in search of the homestead. Like their 19th century counterparts, the men have to move their stores, equipment and a mob of sheep through unknown country to a distant homestead they’ve never seen. As was the custom, the women and children follow some days later, leaving the men to find the station and make it habitable.

Almost immediately there are dramas. In his anxiety to get the mob of sheep moving, shepherd Bernie has inadvertently mixed the wethers in with the pregnant and lambing ewes. This leaves squatter Allcorn to make his first major decision: attempt to move all the sheep at the risk of losing a number of lambs, or leave them where they are in the care of junior shepherd Dan to tend the flock and protect it from foxes and other dangers.

On arrival at the abandoned homestead, the men investigate their new dwellings but the excitement of the new world is quickly overcome by class tension as the men sort out the station pecking order. Over the ever present drone of flies, friction builds and egos are challenged—as they make the place ’right’ for the women. Who has the skills to survive in the Australian outback and who is willing to share the knowledge?

The first wagonload has brought half the furniture for the main house, plus tools, clothing and enough food for one month. They’ve also brought two geese, 25 chickens and a rooster to increase the flock. Meanwhile, Dan is still tending the flock and already feeling the isolation and hardship of living off the land in 1861.

The women finally arrive at Oxley Downs, bringing a fresh perspective to the male dominated station life. But before long, problems start brewing in the kitchen too. The next three months promise to be challenging for everyone.

Episode 2

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The women have just arrived at Oxley Downs, it’s late and everyone is tired. Station life revolves around the kitchen and cook Carolina gets cracking preparing her first 1860s meal, over an open fire. Carolina takes the opportunity to mark her territory, but running the kitchen her way promptly leads to conflict with the maids and squatter’s wife, Juli. Young maid Danielle is disgruntled… having to wash up everyone’s plates is bad enough, taking orders from the domineering cook is too much for her to bear.

As the women come to grips with station life, Bernie and Peter are back on the eastern boundary, getting ready for their first big muster. The wethers are to be brought to the homestead where they’ll receive care to prevent flystrike. For Bernie, this is no big deal, but for Peter, it is his first big challenge.

Tension mounts and tempers fray both in the kitchen and out in the paddock. Juli tries to counter the growing animosity between Carolina and Danielle in the kitchen, and when squatter Paul has to intervene, he is faced with a potential disaster. Will Carolina stay or will she go?

Despite being relieved of his shepherding duties and offered a job helping around the house and garden, Dan is still struggling with 1860s life. He wants to leave and is packed and ready to go when a long-awaited letter arrives. Will it be enough to make him stay?

With Dan at the homestead, Bernie is left with the almost impossible task of keeping track of the lambs on his own. The men still don’t see eye to eye with overseer Glen, and Paul is again caught between two staff members with strong opposing opinions and he is forced to make an executive decision. It’s another big test for a new station owner and the wrong decision could jeopardise his whole enterprise.

At the end of a long day, there is some good news—leading station hand Peter Gordon announces he is to be married at Oxley Downs in a few weeks time. There is much work to be done before his fiancé Luisa’s arrival, and with Glen not willing to pitch in and help, it’s a race against time for Peter to get a home ready for his new bride.

Episode 3

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The arrival of governess Genevieve Yates brings much excitement and anticipation to Oxley Downs. Her arrival introduces a civilising influence and promises to give order and purpose to the children’s education, but most importantly, relief for the squatter’s wife. The servants are worried she might be ‘stuck up’, but the men are simply interested to see how the new lady on the station looks.

Genevieve settles into her new home and role. The lessons begin in the front parlour, but the girls don’t settle well into their new routine. She introduces order and discipline to the girls’ day, but how will they cope with the governess’s firm but fair approach to discipline?

The men are racing to finish Peter’s house, while Glen still refuses to help, and they are far from impressed. Unlike their 1860s counterparts, Paul decides to take a modern approach to the problem and invites Glen to a meeting with all the men in the barn to discuss their roles on Oxley Downs. Paul needs to establish that the men can work together for the common goal of making Oxley Downs a success but Glen is determined to do things his way and has a problem accepting there are alternatives.

Mal spots two figures walking along the fence line—it’s visitors from his and Danielle’s tribe, the Wiradjiri. They’ve come to see how their fellow tribes people are getting along, just as they would have in 1861. At only 17, Danielle finds the visit brings new hope as she struggles with station life.

Also coming to visit are nearby neighbours, the Tourles, who bring with them some much-needed advice which signals the need for the participants to work more cohesively. If this is to happen, overseer Glen and the men will need to sort out their differences.

It’s crunch time on Oxley Downs, logistically and emotionally, as some of the participants make a life-changing decision—whether to stay or to go. Their decision will have a huge impact on station life. What will the squatter do, and how will he inspire the staff to make a go of Oxley Downs?

Episode 4

Sunday, July 03, 2005

It’s a time of celebration at Oxley Downs. The station is preparing for its first wedding and with Peter’s fiancée Luisa and their parents due any day, there is much to do. The men are still building Peter’s house and preparations for the festivities are being finalised by shepherd Dan in his new role as wedding planner. Everyone is excited by the upcoming nuptials and the chance for a break from the hard slog of station life, if only for a day.

It’s a week since Glen, Kim and Carolina left, and like a true squatter’s wife of the 1860s, Juli has taken on the extra workload. Frustrated by Claire and Danielle, she lays down the law. She wants them both to work more efficiently and manage their time better, but Claire already feels hindered by the lack of freedom. There is also growing animosity between shepherds Dan and Bernie - the city boy and the country lad just don’t see eye to eye.

After weeks of anticipation, Luisa and both sets of parents arrive at the station. The tables are set, decorations are hung, the cake is made, the minister arrives and everything is ready, but storm clouds are brewing. There hasn’t been rain out here for weeks, but the unpredictable outback weather looks set to intervene...

The wedding signals a fresh start for Oxley Downs as the station prepares for the hot and busy time leading up to shearing. The men start to plan how to build the sheep wash. In the 1860s, clean wool would fetch twice as much money as wool containing dirt and lanolin, but the trouble is, they’ve never seen a sheep wash before, let alone built one.

As Peter and Luisa begin married life in 1861, one wonders what type of future awaits a young couple on the station. With the looming Robertson Land Act offering new opportunities for all, it’s time for everyone to reflect on the past and plan for the future.

Episode 5

Sunday, July 10, 2005

An urgent letter has arrived, alerting the station to the impending arrival of an important visitor: the Crown Lands Commissioner. He is coming to inspect the running of Oxley Downs, and to see if the squatter is ’a fit and proper person to lease Crown Land’, as squatter Allcorn’s 10,000-acre leasehold expires in six months.

The station is given a spit and polish and everyone is on their best behaviour. They all have to pull together to impress the VIP as the whole livelihood of Oxley Downs hinges on his visit.

There is a huge amount of work to be done if the station is to ward off failure. In the 1860s, English and French markets paid twice the price for washed wool, and for Paul and his men there’s no alternative but to build a sheep wash in the creek near the homestead, to maximise the return on the wool clip. While the men struggle to complete the sheep wash, the Commissioner of Crown Lands arrives to pass judgement on them all.

Young love is in the air as maid Claire and shepherd Bernie begin spending time together. As was the custom of the day, Bernie asks Juli’s permission for Claire to go swimming with him at the dam. With the change to the Lands Act imminent, life for young couples like Bernie and Claire after January 1862, could be irrevocably different as they are on the cusp of the great Australian dream - the possibility for any white man to own their own land, not just the privileged few.

In an instant, future possibilities are replaced by the reality of how dangerous station life can be, as governess Genevieve is taken ill and has to leave Oxley Downs and station hand/farrier Russell has a riding accident as the men begin mustering the sheep from the hills. The impact of Russ’s accident and Genevieve’s illness will be felt by everyone on the station, but despite being two staff down, the outback makes no concessions: there is much work still to be done if Oxley Downs is to succeed.

Episode 6

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Temperatures have soared in the hot, dry Australian bush and everyone is feeling the heat. With no air-conditioning, refrigeration or cold water, life on Oxley Downs is akin to living in a furnace, and the heat is so oppressive that every movement is a huge chore.

In the 19th century outback, fences were too expensive to build and stock roamed for miles. Squatter Allcorn’s 1350 sheep are scattered across 10,000 acres, but as everything depends on the first wool clip, they have to be found, washed and dried before the shearers arrive in a few days, if Oxley Downs is to be a financial success.

Jack-of-all-trades, Dan, steps in to help out in the schoolroom when word finally arrives that governess Genevieve is unable to return. Living on an isolated station away from other children and without a governess to provide a daily focus, the girls take the news particularly hard. But help is at hand as hawker Karan Singh returns a few days later with fresh provisions and new governess, Fiona Schubert.

Maids Danielle and Claire have been in constant conflict with Juli from the very beginning, and as she retires to her parlour to consult Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, Danielle makes the decision to leave. As a modern teenager, she resents the authority and discipline imposed by life in 1861 and is desperate to return to her family. Her departure will be felt by everyone, as the kitchen will be another person down and with the shearers on their way, there will be even more work to do.

Lessons begin again in the schoolroom and as Fiona has her first day on the job, the girls really put her to the test. Meanwhile, after weeks of preparation the sheep are finally all mustered and ready to be washed. Building the sheep wash has certainly tested the men’s ingenuity, but will their hard work all be for nothing as the stubborn sheep refuse to enter the water?

Episode 7

Sunday, July 24, 2005

It’s shearing time, the busiest week of the year for Oxley Downs. Station life, working from dawn to dusk seven days a week is hard enough, but now, with only six days to shear over 1300 sheep by hand, it’s all hands on deck to meet the deadline.

With unseasonal cloud cover growing, all their hard work is under threat, as shearers will not work on wet sheep. Despite Bernie’s assurances, just as the shearers are getting started, the storm clouds break and shearing is over before it’s even begun. Squatter Paul now has a

crisis on his hands as he needs over 200 sheep shorn each day if they are to get the job done in time.

The recent arrival of governess Fiona has allowed squatter’s wife Juli to indulge in her passion for painting, a pastime considered most suitable for a woman of her position. Despite this temporary break from the management of household staff, there are still problems between Juli and her maid Claire. In the lead up to Christmas, Juli has banned Claire from singing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve and Claire is most frustrated. Singing is the only thing that relieves the monotony of her daily tasks and she is fed up with constantly being told what to do.

In the 1860s shearers were paid one pound sterling for every 100 sheep they shore. It’s hard work, but good money, and the competition between shearers racing to get the top tally each day is only tempered by the incessant rain.

As the team of shearers has to move on to another station at the end of the week, they leave with only a small number of sheep shorn and squatter Allcorn is facing potential ruin. He puts pen to paper in search of more shearers, and ironically the rain has meant that a neighbour’s crew is available for his use for a few days. With three gun blade shearers from New Zealand amongst these boys, and with the weather improving, there is a chance that the wool clip may make it to market after all.

Episode 8

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The bullocky and his team arrive to take the wool clip to market. The men of Oxley Downs have filled 35 bales of wool, but loading the heavy bales that each weigh almost 300lbs onto the wagon by hand is no mean feat. Eventually four tonnes of wool are strapped to the wagon and only one hill stands between them and the wool getting to market. But disaster strikes - the shaft connecting the bullock team to the wagon snaps and everything grinds to a halt. Yet again, the fate of the entire enterprise is in the balance. If the wool doesn’t get out today, it may never leave the station.

It’s the week before Christmas and expectation is in the air. In the 1860s, shop bought presents were rare, so the girls set about making presents for everyone. It’s a time for celebration and the staff of Oxley Downs are excited by the upcoming festivities and the knowledge that all their hard work is coming to an end. The wool clip will be weighed and graded and its final value should be known in just a few days.

Financial judgment is at hand and there is a feeling of enormous personal achievement, but will Oxley Downs be a going concern? Would our 21st century pioneers have survived in 1861? How do they stack up against their forebears of the mid 19th century? Have they truly succeeded in their endeavour, or would Oxley Downs be yet another bush property that, despite best intentions and hard work, fails to make the grade?

As a typical scorching bush Christmas day dawns, the participants gather together for gift giving, special food, camaraderie and their final day at Oxley Downs, before returning to the 21st century and their modern lives.

As they pack their belongings in preparation to leave, it’s a time for reflection as our brave volunteers bid an emotional farewell to their home of the past three months. With a final look at everyone’s experiences and recollections of the dramas, trials and tribulations, it’s clear Outback House has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the men, women and children alike, and the most incredible living history lesson imaginable.