He calls himself green but jack-of-all-trades, Peter Byster, has shown how in tune he is with bush living, and the tough job our men are having at the moment, in a poem that is burning up the internet.
Written in the wake of the hugely successful 50th anniversary celebrations for the Longreach Pastoral College, it’s being acclaimed for its empathy and insight.
Peter is currently working as the manager at the Jumbuck Motel in Longreach, which experienced one of its busiest weekends of the year when 800 people were in town for the reunion.
As he greeted guests, he saw a variety of emotions, and the profound change that catching up on decades of escapades wrought in them, which affected him deeply as well.
“I had just started at the motel, last year, and there were families with all their goods on the back of a trailer, that had been foreclosed on,” he said.
“I could see the sense of loss on their faces then, and it was the same before the reunion dinner.
“People are being pushed as far as they can go, but then they made all these connections again.
“Sometimes it’s all you need. You can hang on if you have that big cold drink.”
Peter was a risk manager in the big smoke of Brisbane up until a few years ago, when the lack of work saw him heading west to take his chances.
He was confronted with all the rawness of drought when he spent six months on a property in the Ilfracombe area, where the owner was hand-feeding stock by herself.
“She really needed a hand,” Peter said.
Following that, he got a job working in Centrelink Longreach as part of its drought team, where he was confronted again with the grim reality of the lack of cashflow on the grazing and wider communities.
Understanding that people weren’t going out socially, he and his co-workers instigated dinners on properties around the region, so that it was easier for them to get together.
“We went out, cooked the meal with them and their neighbours, then we sat back and listened,” Peter said.
“I’d been in the area for two minutes – I didn’t speak their language and it would be insulting to think I could push an agenda.
“Each dinner represented 5000 square kilometres or so – there was no other way we could have covered those people effectively.”
The drought funding came to an end, but Peter has remained in the west doing a variety of jobs – working for a bakery, operating a mail run, and now, managing a motel.
Despite the hard times, he says he’s hooked on the bush – its rich history lying close to the surface, its energy, and its rhythm of life.
“I’ve not lived anywhere as connected to the environment and the seasons,” he said.
Connections are key for Peter – taking motel guests on his mail runs, or sharing the work of the local baker with children at the end of that run – and that was the key at the Pastoral College reunion.
Read Peter’s tribute to mateship here.