Ashley and Karen’s Aussie Adventure

For the past five years Ashley and Karen Schaefer have lived an unusual life. They have driven the length and breadth of the country, worked in the remotest of locations, and learned about diverse languages and customs. And what is more; there is no rent or mortgage to pay. Some of their friends cannot understand their choice, but they would not have it any other way.

In 2016 Ashley and Karen Shaefer were tired of running their own business in Mackay and Townsville and were looking for a change. Their priorities shifted with the passing of Ashley’s father, a sugar cane farmer whose dream it had been to drive around Australia. “He died before getting the chance to do the trip he’d always planned. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to us,” says Ashley. So the couple sold their home and business, bought a caravan, and hit the road.

“Many people leave their trip of a lifetime until too late. We wanted to have plenty of energy that would still allow for us to work, explore, and do some fishing too!” says Karen.

Katherine & Sugar Cane Image

Photos
Top: “I have a hero. I call him Dad” inscribed into Ashley’s father’s sugar cane tool.
Bottom: Edith Falls, near Katherine.

If you’ve got a caravan, you’ve got a home

– Ashley Schaefer

The plan was to see the country, stop occasionally where they found work, and live in their new home-on-wheels. It all fell into place, with the couple finding management work quickly at a caravan park, and then helping the administration of a mango farm. The only problem? The couple were not making enough to cover their expenses. Luckily, they met someone who had experience working in remote communities.

Soon the couple were working for Outback Stores and enjoying the benefits of a good salary, free accommodation, and seven weeks annual leave to spend exploring the country in their caravan. Thanks to the diverse locations in which Outback Stores operates, they have seen far more of the country than would have been possible while towing a caravan. In five years they have worked at remote communities in Central Australia (Yuendumu, Imanpa, Santa Teresa, Willowra), Western Australia (Jigalong and Warmun Roadhouse) and the Top End (Beswick, Bulman, Ngukurr and Groote Island).

Karen and Ashley say that the best part of this job is learning about different cultures and exploring parts of the country most people never get the chance to see. Karen appreciates learning things about Australian history that she was never taught in school, like how the rabbit-proof fence affected those families near the community of Jigalong.

Ashley and Karen in Car Photo

Photos
Top: Karen and Ashley on the road.
Bottom: Wild flowers of the Australian desert.

If you like a challenge and are ready to learn about the culture of Australia, then this is a great way to do it.

– Karen Schaefer

The couple agree that the top qualities for a remote store manager are patience, understanding, an ability to multi-task, and a willingness to adapt to any situation. Karen adds that working in remote communities is not for everyone, “But if you like a challenge and are ready to learn about the culture of Australia, then this is a great way to do it.”

A surprise bonus of their remote store work are the friendships they have made over the years, both with other store managers and community members. “There’s something about sharing these unusual life experiences that creates a really strong bond. We’ve made friends for life” says Karen.

So would they recommend this combination of remote community work and caravanning?

“It’s a great combination. The job allows you to save money and plan your next trip, and the caravan allows you the freedom to move how you want”, says Ashley.

The couple have recently returned from a five week trip to the East Coast, where they spent time visiting family and friends, as well as doing some fishing.

They are currently the store managers of Yuendumu community, almost 300 km north-west of Alice Springs, where they are enjoying the cool desert weather at the moment. However another caravan adventure is never far from their minds and they are already making plans. The next destination? Driving down through Western Australia and across the Nullarbor Plain…after that, who knows!

Ashley and Karen in Car Photo
Ashley and Karen in Car Photo
Ashley and Karen in Car Photo

Photos
Top: Visiting Uluru.
Middle: Karen working at the mango farm.
Bottom: With Outback Stores colleagues in Yuendumu community.