Ausnew Home Care | Emma Jackson swapped the United Kingdom for a Cape

Emma Jackson swapped the United Kingdom for a Cape York Peninsula shack without doors

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In a corrugated station house near the tip of Australia, English-born Emma Jackson is busy serving bacon and eggs to her four hungry children.

It's only 8am on a sweltering hot day in the Far North Queensland bush and already she's fed the horses down at the yards, rounded up a recalcitrant bull and completed a salt lick run for the 3,000 head of cattle on Wolverton Station, in Cape York Peninsula.

Emma is no wilting English rose, but she admits swapping Manchester's city lights for a "gunyah in the gully" — the red, tin shack that inspired a John Williamson song — took some getting used to.

"Being a concrete girl, with walls and doors, it's very much open, you've got no windows, there's curtains instead of doors, nothing is really sealed," Emma said. 

"You've got cockroaches and toads, snakes, feral animals can get in.

A red corrugated iron house nestled in bushland. Ausnew Home Care, NDIS registered provider, My Aged Care
The Jackson family home inspired John Williamson to write Granny's Little Gunyah.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Emma, her husband Neville and their four children live together in the home that was built by Neville's family more than five decades ago, along with their then-fledgling cattle operation.

She ended up in the region after answering a job advertisement for the Archer River Roadhouse and it was there she met her future husband, grazier Neville Jackson, from the nearby Wolverton Station.

"There was just something there — Neville has an incredible connection to the land, and being from north Manchester, you don't see that," Emma said.

14-year-old Ryan Jackson in Cairns Hospital with a bandage on his arm.
14-year-old Ryan Jackson in Cairns Hospital after being attacked by a scrub python while sleeping at the family's cattle station.(Supplied: Emma Jackson)

The family has had to overcome many challenges over the years, like the time Cyclone Trevor tore through the area in 2019 or when their son Ryan was bitten hundreds of times by a three-metre scrub python.

A man smiles at the camera
The death of Dillon Jackson sparked the Conquer the Corrugations walk in Cape York Peninsula. (Supplied: Debbie Jackson)

But all that paled when Emma's 18-year-old nephew, Dillon Jackson, took his own life on the family property.

Dillon's mum, Debbie Jackson, who also lives on Wolverton Station with her husband Kevin Jackson, was left devastated.

"Our world fell apart. Our lives all changed. In one split second he was gone. Shock, denial," Debbie said.

Dillon had been receiving professional help at the time of his death in 2014, but the family will always wonder if more could have been done.

"He struggled a bit with life on the station, but that was mainly to do with the Aspergers, because the sounds of the motorbike and everything would start to make them feel a bit daunted and confusion would set in," Debbie said.

Determined not to let Dillon be forgotten, Debbie asked her sister-in-law Emma if something could be done.

"I said to Emma [that] it would be good to honour him in some way because suicide is such, it's just got such a stigma," Debbie said.

"So, when Emma said let's do a walk to remember him, I said yes."

Debbie and Kevin Jackson Dilly's Bar
Debbie and Kevin Jackson lost their son, Dillon Jackson, to suicide. A bar in his name was built on the family property at Wolverton Station in Cape York Peninsula. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Conquering the Corrugations in life

Emma Jackson started the Conquer the Corrugations charity walk in 2015, a year after her nephew's death.

Participants walk 42 kilometres along the hot, dry and dusty Peninsula Development Road over two days, starting near the small community of Coen.

A drone shot of people walking along a dirt road
Hundreds of people attended the most recent Conquer the Corrugations event. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

It started with a couple of dozen friends and family, but this year, 250 people turned up for the gruelling slog.

Almost all the participants have been touched by mental health issues in some way.

The mayor of the Napranum Aboriginal Shire Council, Janita Motton, lost her brother Jeffrey to suicide about eight years ago.

Conquer crowd shot
Walkers cover 42 kilometres over two days in hot, dusty conditions. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

It's her fourth Conquer the Corrugations.

"Every time we come to this event, it's very touching, " Ms Motton said.

The people on the walk are a colourful bunch.

Many are wearing fairy wings, there's a woman dressed as a bride and a mum pushing a double pram along the dusty, corrugated road.

A group of people stand behind a 15 kilometre sign
The Conquer the Corrugations walk aims to raise awareness about mental health issues. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Weipa participant Narelle Delay said while she struggled with the heat, it was an opportunity to reflect.

"I think about my nan who suffered from depression terribly in her life and yeah, all the corrugations represent tough parts of your life," Narelle said.

A group of indigenous people from Napranum smile at the camera
Members of the Cape York Indigenous community of Napranum participate in the Conquer the Corrugation walk each year. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

"You will have a dip and a dusthole and that's what life is … sometimes you have smooth sailing on the bitumen, the road is very similar to life I think."

Making a difference in the bush

Emma Jackson has seen the walk she established transform lives.

"I've heard it probably half a dozen times, where someone has said to me, 'Emma, Conquer the Corrugations saved my life,'" she said.

"They've been at a point of near end, and Conquer has saved them." 

Emma wears many hats, chairing the local Cape York Natural Resource Management Group, as well as more than a dozen other NRM groups across the country.

A woman stares out the kitchen window of a shack
Emma Jackson in the kitchen of her home at Wolverton Station in Cape York Peninsula.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Her days are long and dirty, but she loves living in the gunyah by the gully, and the closeness that brings. 

"We're a family that live together, we can hear each other, we can see each other, we can smell what the next person is doing," Emma said.

"There's no going upstairs, shutting the door and isolating yourself.

"We are all connected."

A woman patting a horse
English-born Emma Jackson moved to Wolverton Station in the middle of Cape York, after meeting her grazier husband, Neville Jackson.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter )
Source: ABC

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