IT'S not a bigger house, a flash car or an extravagant holiday that Margaret Pegler seeks if she ever wins lotto.

"Our numbers are down lower than they've been for years and years and years," she says of the 2800 sheep and 500 cattle now on the drought-stricken Trinidad Station.

"There was always more money in sheep than cattle, but the dingoes are making it very difficult now.

"I'd love to win Gold Lotto so we can fence it all in properly and keep the dogs out."

Her sentiment is not surprising when you hear Margaret talk about the place she has called home since 1958.

Nestled into her green armchair, which is covered with a colourful crocheted rug, with one leg hanging over the side, she is more than comfortable with her lot in life.

"I've loved every minute and I'd like it all over again," the 81-year-old said. "I just love it."

Margaret, 17, was working at nearby Thylungra Station as a mothers' help when she met her late husband Don.

They moved to Trinidad - a family property about 200km north of Quilpie in south-western Queensland - soon after they married.

After beginning with just 250 sheep on 23,000ha, they had grown the flock to about 8000 on 106,000ha when Don passed in 1999.

The homestead garden is like a mirage - many shades of green with dots of red, pink and purple amid a sea of red dirt on mostly barren countryside.

But it is real, and it's the product of Margaret's dedicated toil for more than 50 years.

"It makes a house a home," she said.

"When you go out and it's dry, but you come home and see something green, it lifts your spirits.

"It's very dry, but I've seen worse than this.

"When you've got an average rainfall of 11.5 inches a year, you know you're not in a high rainfall area, so you don't stock very heavily.

"We've got a friend that says a blade of grass you can see is a blade wasted. Well, that's not our philosophy.

"We always try to look after the country because I always maintained that if you looked after the country it'd look after you."


Margaret Pegler, 81, has created an oasis in the outback with her garden at Trinidad Station, 200km north of Quilpie. Photo Rae Wilson / Newsdesk
Margaret Pegler, 81, has created an oasis in the outback with her garden at Trinidad Station, 200km north of Quilpie. Photo Rae Wilson / Newsdesk Rae Wilson

Margaret, who lived in a tent until age seven, did most of her growing up in Mungalalah, between Charleville and Roma, where she was one of about 40 kids at a one-teacher school.

"These days they place too much emphasis on education, but actually you should learn something every day when you're living," she said.

"If you're interested in something, you'll learn it no matter what age you are."

Margaret has 20 grandchildren - aged four to 33 - and nine great-grandkids, thanks to her six children.

"But if it hadn't been for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, we would have only had three of them," she said.

The eldest two, Susan and John, suffered horrific stomach illnesses, while Timothy, the fourth child, was about 15 months old when he picked up a dog's bone the doctor presumed was "just the right state of rotten".

The doctor, on a call-out near Cunnamulla, planned to fly out the next day.

"While I was watching him, he went from very flushed to white as anything," she said.

"For some reason - I don't know why - I said, 'Tomorrow will be too late'."


These are photos taken in 1958 when she first moved there. Snaps taken of photo albums.
These are photos taken in 1958 when she first moved there. Snaps taken of photo albums.

With a temperature hovering around 40°C and Charleville hospital staff not sure Tim would make it, the next 72 hours were tough for the Peglers.

"They saved him, thank goodness," she said.

Margaret had her own flying doctors experience, too, after a snake bite while picking cucumbers.

"It clung onto my finger and I flipped him off," she said.

"I told Don to chop my finger off for me and he wouldn't."

The doctor did not think one shot of tiger snake anti-venom - the only one available back in 1969, Margaret says - would hold her.

"A second shot nearly wiped me out," she said.

A chap who heard the drama over the air later called to say the fang markings, about 2cm apart, meant the snake - likely a brown or a mulga - would have been about 2m long.

From an old radio to a party line where everyone knew everyone else's business, Margaret said the communication advances were the biggest changes in her lifetime.

"We came here with just a three-watt transceiver. When Don went out, I had no idea when he'd be home or if he was okay. If the kids were sick, I had no way of letting him know," she said.

But then the party line was hooked up in 1969 and 1970 - with pros and cons.

"When I was pregnant with Susan … I was sick all day. I just vomited and vomited," she said.

"Don called up on the radio to see if Tim O'Leary, who was the doctor then, could help.

"Tim asked, 'Could she be pregnant?' and Don said, 'I s'pose so'.

"Everybody used to listen to the medicals. So the whole back country knew."

Trinidad now has a repeater on the hill and UHF radios in every vehicle in case anything goes wrong.

Looking back on photographs of the Trinidad homestead in 1958 compared to now, it's easy to see how much love Margaret has poured into her outback oasis.

"I'd never been here before and I had my glory box with all my linens and that sort of thing," she said of her dusk arrival all those years ago.

"All the time there was this horrible smell everywhere.

"In the morning we got up and there was a dead kangaroo out here in the garden, and a dead cow in the trough down here.

"There was a terrible drought on when we came here.

"But I wouldn't have swapped this life for anything."


1958, when Margaret first moved to Trinidad Station.
1958, when Margaret first moved to Trinidad Station.

Robyn, Margaret's fifth child, and Susan live in Chinchilla, Tim is near Winton, and Andrew, the third born, is near Yaraka.

John has a farm in Tasmania while Wendy, the "bonus" sixth, and her husband Peter now manage Trinidad.

"It didn't seem so hectic at the time, but looking back I think it must have been," Margaret said, in her broad, country tone.

"But you handle whatever life gives you.

"When we used to go out mustering, we would just take the kids in the old jeep with us.

"One time we were pulling scrub and we had the two big tractors with the chain between us.

"We'd pull for a bit and then Don would hop out of his tractor and run back to the vehicle where all the kids were and drive it along a bit further ahead of us.

"We always kept them within sight.

"They learned to work and be part of the family unit right from the word go."

Margaret has surrounded herself with beautiful trinkets and tokens. Many are handmade gifts from her grandchildren.

One sign shows the family clearly has a sense of humour about outback living.

"You can write in the dust but please don't date it."

Margaret's Apple Shortcake recipe


250g butter

1 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups self-raising flour

2 eggs 

 440g tin of pie apple or about 2 or 3 apples.

APPLE MIXTURE: Cook apples with sugar and maybe a little lemon juice, but minimal water. Add pinch of ground cloves if desired.

METHOD: Cream butter and sugar, add eggs. Add flour. Line bottom of greased tin with mixture. Add hot apple mixture, then cover with pats of shortcake mixture. Cook in moderate oven.

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