We mustered just after 7.00 am. It was a free range breakfast with John making coffee in a very fancy barrista style coffee making device, while tea was brewed, milk shakes, porridge and toast was made. Over the meal John allocated duties for the day. Keith, the girls and I were allocated to support (for this read hinder) John and Ann in herding some cattle to a holding area prior to them being assessed for the next week’s cattle auction.
Before we get to our days activities, just a few words on the De Rose Hill Estate. John is a third generation cattle rancher. Ann and John own the De Rose Hill station which they bought 6 years ago. They previously lived at their other property, Lyndavale, which is twice the size of De Rose Hill and where their eldest son and his girlfriend live. There is a third station, Ebenezer, which John and Ann have recently purchased. The De Rose Hill station is 7,400 square kilometres in size and they have 10,000 head of cattle. They have organic status and are justly proud of their reputation for prize beef, non aggressively farmed. They are 3 hours from the nearest town and have to be more or less self sufficient in terms of repairs etc. They have their own large petrol tank from which they supply their many vehicles with fuel. They work the station with very few people. Ben and Lily are there temporarily while they save to go travelling. Both Ben and Lily are qualified Civil Engineers. Ann has a Masters in Sustainable Land Management. Overall a very successful, charming, bright and capable family farming an unimaginably large tract of land. We were to learn that the Ghan railway line crosses their proprty and we will travel over it on the second half of our Ghan journey!
To get back to our adventure. As we left to go to the yard, the working dogs were released from their pen and joined the troup heading towards the various ‘Utes’ (utility vehicles?!) the two retired dogs travelled in the back of Ann’s truck ‘for the ride’. Ben and Lily departed for their allocated task, Keith went with John, I went with Ann and the girls were given a ‘Ute’ to themselves, Wendy driving. When everyone had topped up wuth petrol at the pump, we were off over the sandy tracks of the station, the landscape covered wuth tufty grass – either the native spiky type or buffel grass a variety introduced for cattle grazing but now seen as a menace as it is highly inflamable and a great contributor to bush fires.
Before long we were crossing the Ghan track (as predicted!) and bumping along into the middle distance. As we went along Ann got out at intervals to check water troughs or fences. My job was to hop out every time we reached a gate, open it and then secure it behind us. We probably continued like this for about 3/4 of an hour before we arrived at a location where John and Keith had also stopped. We all got out. John was cutting back a barbed wire fence and when he had finished, drew in the sand what was required of the vehicles.
Apparently we were going to come to a large group of cattle (how did he know in this vastness I thought?!). When we reached them – just where he said! – John would use his vehicle to lead them to the new location where he wanted them to be. Ann would guide them from the side and Wendy would gently urge them along from behind.
It more ot less happened as John said it would except ‘herding’ them comprised of the vehicles Keith and I were in literally careering through the brush to keep the progress of the herd in check. It was amazingly skilled driving as we bumped and swerved over the terrain to head off a splinter group trying to break off and head in another direction. The ground is basically sand and quite stoney but as we saw from the train it is covered in brushwood, clumps of grass, small trees, the not infrequent boulder and more often than not sizeable trees! There are also sneaky gullies for the unwary! Although we accelerated, turned, swerved and breaked, apparently this approach is much less stressful to the cattle than helicopters! This is as it may be, but it is certainly adrenalin producing for the would be passenger! We probably spent the best part of the morning on this task, working away until the herd were where they needed to be to ensure they were included in the following week’s round up for market.
When the task was finished Keith and John went off to complete other chores## (Keith will tell you of his adventuress later!)
The girls and I were taken off by Ann to see some aboriginal paintings on the estate and to look for wallabies. Doesn’t everyone on Fridays? We found the paintings but there were no sign of the wallabies or any kangeroos, much to Ann’s disapointment. i have come to the coclusion there aren’t any as I have by now been in Australua for more than a week and have not seen one…… By this time I was driving the support Ute with Wendy as my passenger. This was much easier said than done, not least because I have got out of the habit of changing gear since young Duke arrived, but also because Ann careers along at an amazing speed. As Wendy said the dust cloud of her vehicle proved amazingly useful to keep tabs on where she went as keeping up was a real challenge.
However, worse was to come as I failed to hit a gully at an appropriate speed to enable me to get across it and I sank the car in sand! I was mortified, particularly as it was by now after 12noon and Ann was wanting to get back to some buyers who were due at the station house at 12.30. Eeek! What a pain. Ann of course was miles ahead but as Wendy started digging us out, much to my chagrin, she backed along the track to our rescue. With great efficiency a large tow rope was produced, the towing points were identified and we were pulled out and were on our way again. How pathetic I am!
Another half an hour, a brief stop at an aboriginal water hole and we arrived back at the Station House. We ate wraps for lunch and after food and water we were all back out again. Ann had disappeared with the visitors but after a brief delay while Ben and John mended the breaks of their road train vehicle (!!) (they have their own three trailered road train lorry!) we set off to sort the stock to be sold.
Once again we had to ask how they knew the cattle would be where they thought they would be, but there they were in an enclosure with a water hole. The fencing has a very clever gating device which allows the animals in but does not allow them to get out again. So there they were, perhaps 200 head of cattle all coralled together. Mums, babies, boys and girls – all were there making a bit of a din.
Soon the road train arrived and parked up beside a ramp that led from one of the fenced off paddocks. We then watched while John assessed by eye the weight of each animal and it was either identified as being marketable or to be held back for another day. All mums and babies were held back. It was fascinating. We stood for the whole afternoon watching the process as those chosen for slaughter were guided up the ramp on to the truck to be transported back to a pen near the house in readiness for the next stage of their journey to the abbattoir.
It was all very efficient, calm, very ordered and stress free for the animals. We coud see where the station got its reputation for the way they treated their stock. It was well deserved.
At the end of the afternoon we clamboured aboard the back of one of the Utes and careered home. Four very privileged visitors who had been allowed a rare insight into the workings of a large cattle station and been treated with great tolerance and friendliness, despite our ability to add nothing but aggravation to the proceedings!
We were absolutely covered in red sand. It took three baby wipes to remove it from my face and the shower ran red for a bit….. Eventually, changed and tidied, we gathered around the large dining table for a delicious salad and, for the meat eaters among us, the produce of the stations labours, amazing steaks. These were washed down with wonderful Australian red wine. The talk flowed equally freely around the table and a good time was had by all. A game of Australian football carried the chaps off fairly early, but us ladies gracefully and greatfully adjourned to bed. What a day!