Lyle and Helen Kent have made a life taking leather goods out to the bush, where people needed them.

Story + Photos Cormac Hanrahan 

Carrying just about everything a station worker needs, from saddles to pocketknives and leather phone pouches, Lyle and Helen Kent visit around 140 stations across Australia at a time, selling wares and taking orders. 

Between late March and August, their journey takes them from central Queensland to the Gulf, across the Barkly Tablelands to Katherine and Kununurra, down through Derby, Broome and the Pilbara, and then back across the top, down the Channel Country and into parts of South Australia, before heading home to Stanthorpe.   

Rarely spending more than a night at any one station, they typically arrive in the afternoon, catch up with the managers or owners, unpack their custom ‘truck shop’, await the arrival of workers at the end of the day, and head off to the next place in the morning.  

Hawkers were of course once common in the bush, and while a few continue to set up at rodeos and campdrafts, the Kents are the only ones still doing the rounds of the stations. “I never lose that sense of excitement about going on a station and even after all the years, driving into a new station every day, I still think it’s great,” Lyle says. “I love cattle stations, I never get sick of it.”

However, after 29 consecutive journeys, Lyle and Helen have decided the trip in 2020 will be their last. “We’ll both be 70 by then and we’ve got 14 grandchildren now, so it’ll be sad, but it’s about balancing life and spending time with family,” Lyle says. “And 30 years sounds like a pretty good number. It’s just hard to believe it’s gone so quick.”

“The welcome we get every time is amazing; we feel spoiled,” Helen says. “It has been such a privilege to be part of this community.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #128

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2020