They got the job done far earlier than they expected, and one could even say their 4am wake-up may have been a little too keen.
But there is never an end to the list of jobs “station life” gives you when you first walk through the door, so 4am was probably still a good call.
Mathew Brockhurst wiped his brow, smearing sweat and bull dust across his already grubby face, his hat was resting on a cocked knee as he and his girlfriend Alice Purcell sprawled out under a tree sweaty and covered in dirt.
They had just finished processing a mob of cattle and were sharing a brief reprieve from the heat of the day.
It was around 2pm on November 4, 2021, and the harsh central Queensland sun was glaring through the leaves of the tree the couple was sitting under, casting a checked shadow over their grubby clothes.
Matt knew they still had to walk the cattle, chilling and chewing in the yard behind them, back to a waterhole and check the bores before sundown, but if they split it, they could be looking at almost an early beer.
Now, Alice was darn capable and could handle the cattle by herself. She had cut her teeth on his family’s property Larrawa Station — a few hours from Halls Creek in the Kimberley, where they met.
They they would head east to Queensland and chase an adventure of their own decided, and here they were, almost a year into that adventure, under a tree, working out who would do what job next.
“She said she’d be right with them [the cattle] and I’d said, ‘I’ll go do the bore run then’,” Matt collected.
The 24-year-old stockman had shrugged and wandered over to his motorbike, strapping on his helmet as he went.
Alice had followed behind him watching his lanky saunter.
Neither of them could ever have guessed it was the last time Matt would walk.
Just a rock on the road
An hour or two later and Matt had finally finished for the day.
The sun was still hot as ever but the wind through his shirt was keeping him cool as he cruised home on the same Honda 250 he had ridden almost every day of the nine months he had worked on the property.
“I went around the corner, and there was a rock on the road,” Matt recalled.
“I thought, ‘Oh shit’… I hit it and I went over the handlebars… I wasn’t [going] overly fast or anything.”
Matt has lived his whole life on the land and like so many, there have been plenty of close calls before.
He’d been bucked off horses, run up rails by scrub bulls and come off his fair share of bikes, but he knew almost instantly this was different.
“I hit the ground and the dust was sort of settling… I touched my leg, and I could feel it with my hand, but I couldn’t feel it with my leg,
“When you do first aid, you sort of know, once that isn’t coming back with the feeling, there’s something to do with your spinal cord.”
He lay there for two and a half hours in that Queensland summer heat, waiting for help.
“I’d said to Alice, if I’m not home by five, come looking, which is a very common thing on stations, there’s a certain time you meant to be home.”
“I was thinking flat tire, maybe bogged, there had been some rain around earlier on in the day”
Lying there waiting for Alice, Matt began making peace with his life.
“I was prepared to die out there,” he said.
“I was thinking, ‘Shit! What was the last word I said to Alice? What were the last things I said to my mum and dad and brothers?’
“I remember thinking, you know, I’ve made it this far, if I leave now with whatever I have, every moment from now on is a plus.”
They found me
When Matt was eventually found by his boss and Alice, he was severely sunburnt and dehydrated, but alive.
“I could hear ute in the distance, and I’m in the middle of the road lying flat on the ground.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh shit, this is going to be horrible, if I’ve finally made it to this point, and he comes around the corner and runs me over,'” Matt recounted.
He was eventually airlifted by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to Townsville and then moved on quickly to Brisbane.
A couple of days later, after a number of scans and operations, he was given the news he was unlikely to ever walk again.
“It was sort of water off a duck’s back. I didn’t believe him. I was probably in denial.”
“It wasn’t until a week or so later, it finally hit me.
“The nurses were saying to my mum they were waiting for me to have the realization and break down and eventually, yeah, that happened,” Matt admitted.
From day dot
By his side candidly, from the beginning when they met on his family property to now — eight months into Matt’s rehab — Alice has been there.
She’s 20 years old from Pittsworth Queensland and has already lived a full life as a ringer turned counsellor, nurse and carer.
“Still, to this day, actually, it’s still hard to believe,” Alice reflected.
“I was surprised I was so calm… when I got to him, I knew I couldn’t be worked up.
“I couldn’t be bawling my eyes out because there was a serious thing we had to deal with.”
The station they were working on had, only weeks before, put the couple through a first aid course.
“I just had to remain calm.”
Since the accident, Alice has supported Matt through everything.
“Before she was my girlfriend, and now she’s my absolute world,” Matt said with a smile.
“I would not be where I am without trying to impress her and show her that, I am capable of all this.”
Alice has sacrificed some of her own ambitions to stand by Matt through his recovery.
“I was heading off for a job when Matthew had his accident, but I just thought I’d put that on hold. I mentally couldn’t even think about work,” she explained.
“It got thrown at us that we were flying to WA for Mathew’s rehab, so going home and having to pack everything… was a lot.
“Still to this day, I don’t really know where we’re going to settle, but I just got to take it each day as it comes.”
For Alice and Matt, the road ahead is not an easy one, but one they are ready to take on together.
“He’s very special to me, he’s my best friend not just my fiancé,” Alice said.
“The wheelchair’s a barrier, it’s not the end of the world, we want to have kids, we want to do everything together… we’ll get there,” Matt added.
“It’s not the end of my life. I’m not dead.”