Lightning Ridge’s Sandy Thorne is internationally renowned as a storyteller and bush poet, using humour to convey the outback to others.

Story By Sue Williams

Sandy Thorne is striding energetically backwards and forwards across the stage, the spotlight darting to keep up with her. She barely pauses for breath amid the torrent of words. Her audience in the packed theatre is hanging on to every one of them, sending wave after wave of warm laughter rolling through the room.

“So you’d like to learn the lingo of the Aussies from the bush
Where the men are tough as gidgee, far from the city push
Where the women muster blowflies in the blazing outback sun
And the children crack big mulga snakes like stockwhips, just for fun.
Where you ride all day to travel from one boundary to the next,
You’ll find the dinkum Aussies, a way out in the west.”

Sandy grins from ear to ear, for this is one of the favourite parts of her work. She loves talking, cracking jokes and reciting bush poetry on a theme that’s forever been closest to her heart: outback Australia.

“Now fair dinkum means ridgy-didge, or genuine, or true
And if you’ve made a big mistake, mate, you’ve made a blue
But if some mug bungs on a blue, he’s tried to start a fight
He’s a nong, a galah, a drongo … a ratbag al’ flamin’ right!
-- probably not the full quid – just nineteen ‘n’ six up top
-- mad as a bag of cut snakes, a few wallabies loose in his crop.”

Sandy is Australia’s first, and perhaps only, female professional yarn spinner and bush poet. This is one of the most popular of her self-penned verses, which have won her admirers not only from around Australia but from around the world.

She’s recited it in places as diverse as at home in the rough, tough New South Wales frontier town of Lightning Ridge; on the set of the David Letterman Show on New York’s Broadway; before some of Australia’s biggest cattlemen at the Beef Festival in Queensland’s Rockhampton; and in the studios of Michael Parkinson’s show in London. And she’s done it all in a style that’s seen her billed as everything from ‘Crocodile Dundish’ to ‘the oldest jillaroo in the west’.

Sandy has been bucking convention all her life. She began, at just 14 years of age in the mid-1960s, by running away from home in the suburbs of Brisbane to the wide, open spaces of the outback. She was hoping to fulfil her dream of becoming a jillaroo on a big cattle station, which she did when she found work on the remote 1350-square-kilometre Inkerman Station, north west of Normanton on the mangrove and saltwater crocodile-infested Gulf of Carpentaria. There she worked with some of the country’s toughest bushmen, and accomplished horsemen from the indigenous Kowanyama people. “Working with them was a highlight of my life,” Sandy says. “The men, especially the old fellers, were real gentlemen, and horrified that a girl wanted to ride the roughest, wildest horses on the place. But that came as naturally to me as breathing. I loved the experience of handling those big mobs of cattle which, back then, were very toey, and taking them across those huge open plains. It was such an exciting world.”

She has plenty of mementoes from those days, including a large scar on her left leg and knee from being bucked, then dragged, by her horse until she lost consciousness. When she came round, there was a gaping hole where her knee had been, full of meat ants feeding. “But I recovered!” Sandy, now 56, says. “It was just one of those things. I was always getting on mad horses that no one else would ride, and I ended up covered in scars from the top of my head to my toes. At the last count, I’ve had 174 stitches, from being dumped off, dragged, and rolled over on. Horses have done everything to me. The wild cattle were mad, absolutely mad. Then we’d go brumby running, catching and breaking in the horses that were any good.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #64

Outback Magazine: April/May 2009