Meet Kate McMaster, wife to Aaron and mother to three beautiful boys. Kate’s great-grandfather Charles Chalmers came to Central Australia in 1921 with his wife and four children. They travelled for more than 2300km from Queensland, with a horse drawn covered wagon, 400 sheep, 13 horses and a few goats. Kate is proud that her boys are being raised in the most family fun part of Australia.
Kate proud to follow in Cora's footsteps - Kate McMaster's Story
Charles Oberland Chalmers, who family and friends referred to mostly as C.O., was a man of strong convictions who didn’t subscribe to populist thinking. In 1921, C.O. resigned from his post as a School Principal and packed up his life in Mungindi, New South Wales with his wife Cora and four young children for a new beginning in Central Australia. This move was made during a time in Australia when the winds of settlement were sweeping away from the country and into the cities. Outback Australia was considered ‘no man’s land’ and certainly not a place fit for women and children. It was a huge gamble, but C.O. had faith that this was where the future of the Chalmers family lay. So C.O. jumped on a horse with 11 year-old Jean and eight year-old Mac riding beside him as they drove 400 sheep, a small herd of goats and 13 horses. Cora was driving the wagon with 4 year-old Don and 2 year-old Jessie beside her. Beneath the wagon were five squawking bantams in a coop. It took them two years and over 2300km to make it to Central Australia. From there, they took up lease of a block of land which they named MacDonald Downs after their two sons and thus began the pioneering legacy of the Chalmers family.
Kate McMaster, wife to Aaron and mother to Will, Tom and Mac is a descendant of C.O. and Cora. She is their great-granddaughter and fourth generation Centralian. Growing up on Atula Station, along the Plenty Highway, Kate was brought up with strong work ethics and an appreciation of the land. Teachings that were handed down by C.O. and Cora to their descendants. Her childhood was spent playing imaginatively in the creek with kids from the stock camp and taking lessons from School of the Air via a bush radio.
“Being a student of School of the Air was the best thing in the world. I loved the flexibility of working when you wanted, how you wanted. My father was listening to the very first broadcast in 1951, I was a student and now two of my boys do School of the Air on the computer”
This distinctive way of learning gave Kate, who is now a qualified teacher, a passion for education. During her teens, Kate went to boarding school in Queensland, followed by university then New Zealand, where she met and married Aaron. After seven years overseas, destiny arrived in the form of a phone call and she wholeheartedly accepted the chance of a lifetime.
“Dad rang and said we’ve just bought Gemtree, would you like to come and run it for us? Aaron and I both went YES down the phone! And since we moved back here, we just haven’t looked back because it was such a wonderful opportunity and great place for our kids to grow up; they’ve got social opportunities, the beauty of the bush, the reality of the outback – it’s all here”
Gemtree Tourist Park sits along Plenty Highway, 140km northeast of Alice Springs. And it is here where Kate has rediscovered her home, her sense of belonging.
“I love the rugged beauty; I love the freedom and opportunities out here. Everything just envelops you – the sky, the shadows at different times of the days, the colours, the howling of dingos. Out here you can really hear the night”
Life for Kate and her family is adventurous and bustling. Gemtree consists of a caravan park, a gem room, gem tours where visitors go fossicking, camp oven dinners with history show, a mini supermarket, nature trails and events including the annual Outback Bling and Black Ball. Kate is also her boys’ tutor so much of her time is dedicatedly spent in their School of the Air classroom. She is passionate about the work they do out at Gemtree but also raising her boys to appreciate the simple things in life.
“Mac turned six recently. I bought him, Tom and myself a ukulele each and we’ve been sitting down by the fire playing and singing – you don’t need bells and whistles to make memories. Out here, our kids learn to appreciate everything so much more because nothing is taken for granted. They understand that we can’t get to Coles every day and when we do - you’ve got to make those strawberries last”
As a mother to three boys, Kate believes Central Australia is the best place to raise children. Attractions such as Standley Chasm, Rainbow Valley and Ellery Creek
Big Hole are perfect for day trips and events like the Harts Range Races and Alice Springs Show have become family traditions. And living along the Plenty Highway, Kate feels blessed that there are such strong family networks with longstanding histories.
Central Australia has come a long way since the early 20th century when it was deemed a harsh place to live, let alone raise a family. It’s the early pioneering women like Cora Chalmers who set a stellar example for successive generations of outback women. Kate believes there are two key ingredients.
“Resilience and humour are the primary qualities of a pioneering woman. Cora was not an outback woman at the start of her journey but she trusted her man and put so much faith into him. Up until the day that she got into the wagon, she had domestic help to do her hair. But she weathered it all and in the end not only did she learn how to bake bread in a camp oven, build a homestead out of nothing but she also learnt how to do her own hair”.
Fact: Cora Crescent and Chalmers Crescent in Gillen, Alice Springs were named in honour of Kate’s great grandparents.