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Cattle being rounded up for trucking kick up a storm.
Bob Lockhart, a head stockman, skilfully cuts out cattle.
Not so much a station as an 800-horse town where back-breaking work goes into making it the
^Showplace of the North'
In terms of might and muscle, Brunette
Downs, Northern Territory, packs a punch as one of the country's mammoth pastoral properties.
lt's frequently tagged "Showplace of
And yet you won't find the cattle inspected by Mercedes. You won't find the head stockmen's wives dripping diamonds or the main homestead awash with champagne and a nightly succes- sion of black tie dinners for visiting "veeps."
What you will find is that, if it is a showplace for anything, it's a showplace
for hard work!
Anyone under the impression that the hardworking Aussie vaporized years ago along with the "bronzed digger" can take heart. A small, slogging nucleus still waves the flag high in the far north.
lt's back-breaking work. Literally. Many of the men at Brunette Downs have distinctive walks, the result of "done in" backs. "There are so many busted backs on this place an orthopaedic surgeon could come up here and have a ball," says the vet, Doug Cluer.
Brunette Downs is not so much a station as an 800-horse town. That's the horse tally along with 56,000 head of branded stock and a small harmonious population of Aborigines and whites.
The property has its own water and
The rugged Australia!
power, mechanical workshop, school- teacher, full time saddle maker, full time grader (who works constantly on the station's 5600 kilometres of graded roads), clinic sister, laboratory, general store, pilot and aircraft - even its own drive-in picture show.
Jim Bone completes the self contained picture. The man saves thousands of dollars as the station's Mr
Fixit. Jim fixes everything from massive
four-wheeled drive vehicles to air con-
ditioners, door bells, and all types of electric appliances.
The visitor can be forgiven for thinking that the entire set-up is a Lucy Walker plot! This prolific writer of outback romantic novels surely MUST have been inspired under the trellised brilliantly coloured bougainvillea around the gracious old homestead at Brunette. There's the handsome station manager and his beautiful wife, the charming English office manager, the dashing bookkeeper, the debonair vet, the attractive governess, the young English girl taking up her first job as secretary, the rugged head stockmen and the amiable cook.
We adored the amiable cook, Herbert Arthur Foulston - alias Pommie Bob. A former British butcher from Sheffield, Bob is the station's longest serving employee. He has been at Brunette
Downs for 17 years and his name is a household word throughout the Terri- tory. Letters addressed "Pommie Bob, Northern Territory" invariably find him. He bakes the best bread imaginable (we brought home souvenir loaves) and the aura of the man is such that when royalty visits Brunette, royalty meets Pommie Bob, not vice versa.
While the main entertaining is done in the lovely homestead, the most pres- tigious entertaining goes on in the Brunette Downs Country Club, of which Pommie Bob is chairman. Not every visitor is accorded Country Club privi- lege. The Weekly was lucky.
lt's a country Country Club indeed - just a 3.6 metre (12ft) square room (an offshoot from Pommie Bob's kitchen and
the men's dining quarters). A doubled
blue sheet serves as a tablecloth on a battered table. The chairs are benches.
Thirty people constitute a very full
"Attendance at daily meetings by members is compulsory, others by invitation only," the club's charter says, further stipulating that anyone can be thrown out - forcibly - for "cook baiting, rejection of corned beef, dislike of beetroot, requesting a glass or child praising."
There's after dinner sport at the Country Club - Indian wrestling and
Photographs are by Ern McQuillan.
is alive and well in
beer-can plastic shredding. Take the plastic rings that fit around the tops of half a dozen beer cans, fold them into one circle and pull like blazes to see if you can snap them in one go. lt's tougher than you think. The head stockman of number one camp, Max Priest, and the vet, Doug Cluer, are the two recognized experts.
For most months except during the wet season, from dawn till dark seven days a week, Brunette Downs hums with activity.
The King Ranch Australian partner- ship took over Brunette in 1958 at a price nudging over $1 million. More than $2 million has since been ploughed into improvements and anyone wanting to buy the place today wouldn't get much change from $6 million.
"Beef breeds tough boys" is one of the Territory's slogans and at the helm of this spread in the rugged Barkly Tablelands is 36-year-old (appropriately tough) Ken Warriner, former Gympie boy, jackaroo, drover and manager of two other King Ranch properties, Mt House and Glenroy, before taking on Brunette Downs.
He doesn't see himself as a mod- ern-day Sir Sidney Kidman (Australia's famous "Cattle King" who died in 1935), just as a man who has taken on a challenge. "If you can run this place,
you can run any pastoral property in Australia," he says.
What does he love most about Brunette? "The Santa Gertrudis cattle," he says. "They're ideally suited to the climate and conditions. They're the top herd I've seen anywhere in the world." For anywhere, include Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, the US, South Africa, Kenya, Ireland and England.
Everything about Brunette Downs is big. That includes costs.
"We're cutting costs by aerial muster- ing and using aircraft for bore inspection work, cutting down on four-wheeled drive vehicles, using road trains to transport cattle, and trying hard to make a profit," he says.
lt costs Brunette around $10 to produce a beast and $31 to transport it to the meatworks at Cape River several hundred kilometres away.
The work load at Brunette doesn't slacken. Cattle are dipped, drafted, TB tested, horn-trimmed and trucked in a never ending process.
The detergent- dip is 100 percent effective to this stage in preventing ticks and buffalo fly. But big beef bellyaches about an enforced Saturday bath - 550kg (12001b) of bull goes in head first and hates every minute of it!
Cattle are continually tested for the control and eradication of TB and
An aerial view of the homestead area. Ken Warriner: taken on a challenge.
brucellosis (a disease resulting in abortions in newly infected animals).
Then there is ear tagging (so stockmen know which paddock cattle belong to), horn-trimming (so cattle won't tear and bruise each other during transport).
After this comes branding (the run- ning W is the King Ranch Australian brand, and an axe head the original Brunette Downs brand) and drafting - that's the time when stockmen can really demonstrate their skill on quality horseflesh cutting out cattle.
Horse trainer Col McClelland works all year to keep the two stock camps (a total of 26 men) supplied. Each stock-
man needs five horses - three for mustering, one for yarding up and one for cutting out.
In terms of hard work, cattle, horses and size, Brunette Downs IS spectacu- lar. But like any great production, it's only as good as the people who contribute to it. lt's the Showplace of the
i North, indeed!
- JILL BOWEN I