On Wooltana station, 600km north of Adelaide, Anna Nunn has overcome multiple obstacles while becoming an unexpected children’s author.

Story Gretel Sneath   Photo John Kruger

Anna Nunn grew up on a farm near Rendelsham, on SA’s Limestone Coast, but admits she wasn’t very bush savvy. “After one family camping trip in my early teens, I vowed that I was never going to the outback again – I thought I was destined for a flash PR job living in Adelaide or Melbourne,” she laughs.

When Anna announced out of the blue that she was heading north to work as a governess for a gap year before university, her parents were in shock. But the change of scenery at Billa Kalina station, north-west of Roxby Downs, was just what she needed after some tricky teenage years. Anna loved it so much that she ended up extending her stay, tackling external tertiary studies in the evening. Children’s literature was one of the few elective subjects available for remote learning, and Anna knew it would be a helpful tool in her busy bush classroom.

Anna met her husband-to-be, Justin Nunn, at a gymkhana. Justin grew up on Macumba station, north-east of Oodnadatta, and worked as a diesel fitter in WA when he wasn’t wrangling wily steers. He and Anna embarked on a long-distance relationship while she finished her public relations degree, and they eventually married and settled in Port Augusta.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t really solve the issue of separation, with Justin away for up to six weeks at a time,” Anna says. “It wasn’t a mine-based job, so the roster was somewhat erratic, and we eventually decided that the FIFO life wasn’t really the way we wanted to raise a family.”

As luck would have it, a friend was leaving his manager’s role at Wertaloona station in the north-east corner of SA. Justin successfully applied for the job, and the couple moved there in 2017 when Anna was 31 weeks pregnant.

Baby Roy rapidly learnt the art of patience as Anna juggled first-time motherhood with the demands of cooking for the workers. “My parents live 1000km away and Justin’s parents are 800km away, so there’s no ringing somebody to hold the baby when you have to prepare a meal or take a shower,” Anna says. “I just had to get on with it.” 

The days were full, but as the drought slowly took its toll on production, they began destocking. Staff were also let go, leaving fewer mouths for Anna to feed. If there was one silver lining to it all, it was the fact that she finally had a few free hours to herself. Back when she lived in town, that would have meant a 10km after-work run, but the outback tracks were atrocious. The regular rite of passage – coffee and play dates with other new mums – was also out of reach. Instead, it was just the three of them, with the same conversations on daily repeat.

“Roy, where’s your hat?”, Anna and Justin were constantly asking their ginger-haired toddler. After all, it’s very easy to lose track of your cowboy hat when your backyard is a station! It gave Anna an idea. 

On a cattle station in the outback where it is very hot and dry, there lives a little boy. 

His name is Cowboy Roy.

Anna decided to write a children’s book as a keepsake for Roy’s second birthday, telling the story of his hunt for a missing hat and the kindly animals he meets along the way. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #142

Outback Magazine: April/May 2022