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A revolution beyond the Black Stump m
BRUNETTE DOWNS HAS ALL MOD CONS NOW
They no longer boil the billy at the travelling stock camps on Brunette Downs, in the Northern Territory. For in this vast 4750-square-mile cattle station the old outback ways are passing and a new life is beginning.
ITS a life of mobile
canteens and ice-cream for tea for the stockmen out mustering on the giant, dusty downs; and
of electric coffee percolators, rotary clothes-hoists, washing machines, and running hot
water for their wives and families back at the home stead.
In fact a revolution is
occurring the other side of the Black Stump, and Bru nette Downs is leading the
Set in the sub-artesian
basin of the Barkly Table land, 226 miles from the nearest town, Tennant Creek, Brunette has always been recognised as one of the best improved properties in the Territory.
Four years ago King Ranch Pastoral Company, of which Robert J. Kleberg, American millionaire and
Texas cattle king, is a direc tor, bought it from the Australian - owned Gulf
Cattle Co. Pty. Ltd.
Already the new owners have spent approximately £500,000 on improvements, including new buildings. Only the original homestead and the corrugated - iron station store have been retained.
Three and a half thou sand miles of new roads
have been graded within the
property. A hundred new airstrips have been made. Fifty-six new artesian water bores have been sunk. And hundreds of drought-resis tant Santa Gertrudis cattle have been introduced.
"The aim in spending this money," explained Mr. Peter Baillieu, the managing director of the company, "is to increase beef production by decreasing^ losses. And already this has been achieved. The year we
bought the property 25,000 cattle had perished in the drought. Now, with 96 artesian bores working and
within the property, our losses are virtually neg ligible."
Yet, gigantic as this new improvement scheme is,
Brunette Station from the
air looks lonely and tiny? just a cluster of grey roofs
huddled near the bend of Brunette Creek and sur
rounded by a flat grey nothingness.
This country is so feature less, so lacking in focal points that cattlemen develop long sight. It is so lacking in
natural shelter that even
kangaroos prefer not to live
And it is only when your plane lands on the airstrip in
front of the old homestead
and taxis through the gate
into the new settlement that
you begin to comprehend the scale and energy of the place.
The inhabitants?approxi mately 35 whites and 120 aborigines live there ? are
keen to show visitors how
they live in the "compound,"
which is laid out like a small town. New wooden houses for married staff are ranged in a street. The "public buildings" are grouped in the centre.
First stop for the visitor is usually die new blue painted school for aboriginal
Here, in a large, comfojt a b 1 e schoolroom, Mrs. Thelma de Louth, wife of the station bookkeeper, teaches reading, writing, arithmetic, sewing, and gardening to some 24 children, whose parents and uncles and aunts are employed on the station.
School hours are from 7.30
in the morning till 12.30, six days a week. "The school is air-conditioned, but even then it gets too hot for the piccaninnies in the
summer to have school in
the afternoons," explained
Mrs. de Louth.
Proudly she pointed out Continued overleaf
OUTBACK SCHOOLTEACHER Mrs. Thelma de Loulh teaches the three "ft*" to aboriginal children who live on the station. The class room, which is air-conditioned, holds 24 pupils, aged five to 15.
BRUNETTE DOWNS HEADQUARTERS, hub of Australia's third largest cattle property, from the air (picture by Adastra Aerial Sur veys). Married staff's cottages back on to Brunette Creek. Hospital, school, offices, workshops, and men's quarters are in the compound. The V-shaped airstrip converges at upper left; at upoer right is a "turkey* s-nest" dam. In top picture the homestead is in foreground.
THE HOMESTEAD, built for the Gulf Cattle Co. Pty. Ltd., which was owned by the White family of IS.S.W., is the only original large
building left on the property. Manager's family live there.
Life can be comfortable
north of Capricorn
from page 33
that this school for abo Sriiies is the first privately too one in the Northern Territory.
It is subsidised by the fjp\ ment, which supplies toothbrushes, soap, and apri ts and milk for "smoko."
"The children shower and brush their teeth and comb their hair before they come to school," she added, point ing out the two new ablution blocb?one for boys and one for girls?beside the school
There's usually a rush to get to school, for the first one there may ring the "bell" ?a gong made from a piece 6f resonant piping ? and comp-iition is keen.
School holidays are taken after the "Wet" in the summer, when the aboriginal families go "walkabout" for a month. But this year there were no holidays. The chil dren didn't want to leave school and their parents had to go walkabout without them.
"I was* terribly thrilled when I found they had stayed.' said Mrs. de Louth. "It as though someone had given me a bouquet."
Mi de Louth came with her isband to Brunette
us ago from Bowral, near Sydney, where Mr. de Louth was bookkeeping for
the late Sam Hordern.
"At first I thought it would be dreadful right up here, she said. "But you adapt vourself and despite
the harshness of the climate ?in ie summer the tem perate- is often up to 112
degrees for weeks ? you can keep very healthy if you eat the right food and wear the right clothing.
"You adapt yourself to the isolation, too. Although there is no telephone here, there are commercial planes coming in with mail and passengers twice a week, there is the wireless for emergencies, and, for interest and things to do, there's always something happening right here."
Like most of the married members of the staff on the
station, Mrs. de Louth grows nearly all her own vegetables in the back garden of her neat three-bedroomed cottage in the compound.
"We can only grow things in the winter, though," she
explained. "In summer time the heat scorches plants as though it were frost and all our perishable vegetables have to come by plane from the south. So we plant seeds
in the autumn instead of the
Helping her with the gardening is Daisy, a lubra, who is married to one of the aboriginal stock em ployees. And in the house there's Topsy, whom Mrs. de Louth has taught to work the washing-machine and the
Daisy and Topsy live with the other aborigines in cor rugated-iron houses behind the compound. New abo riginal accommodation is planned, but already finished and functioning is their com
STATION COOK Bob Foulsion, above, bakes an av erage 36 loaves a day in his diese! fuel oven. AT RWHT, one of the new cot tages, belonging to a married member of the staff. New homes are being planned for the aboriginal Workmen's families.
munal dining-room in which three meals a day are served. There are plastic flowers on the dining-tables.
These dining facilities are the first of their type on a Territory property.
"Before, there was the usual 'dry rations' scheme,"' explained Mr. Reg Geddes, the manager of Brunette, "whereby aboriginal families are given their food once a
week to cook themselves. But
invariably there's none left by the end of the week. Also, under the tribal system, the old men get most of the food and the children nearly
starve. With the new com
munal dining-room, everyone is fed every day."'
Another "first" in the
Territory is the newly com
pleted hospital. It has two double wards for aborigines, one ward for whites, an air conditioned apartment for the registered sister, Miss Billie Stewart, and a fully equipped clinic.
The new men's quarters and staff quarters ? two large wooden blocks in the centre of the compound with solar water-heating ? are pretty revolutionary, too.' There, the atmosphere is
At the back of the men's
quarters at any time of the day you can find Bob Foulston, who, as station cook, is one of the most im portant men on the property.
Flelped by four lubras, Bob
cooks three substantial meals
and two "smokos" for up to 45 men a day. He also does all the butchering on the property and bakes 36 double loaves of bread a day.
When I met him he was
making the week's sausages
?701b. of them?in a kitchen that was out of this world. His refrigerator, which covers one wall of the kitchen, contained eight and a half carcasses of beef. It was a walk-in, walk-out fridge.
Bob started out in life as a commercial butcher, found he could cook, and has been cooking for stations through out Queensland and the Territory for the past 12 years. "Conditions have never been so good as they are here," he said.
Bob's pride in his kitchen is surpassed only by that of Vince Kelly, who is in charge of the new mobile canteen with Number One stock camp. (There are two canteens, one with each stock camp.)
To find Vince and the
stock camp, we drove some
60 miles from the homestead to stockyards where the men were shoeing their broncos in preparation for three months out in the open, mustering.
There beside the dusty, noisy stockyards was parked the mobile canteen, gleaming silver in the 80-degrec winter sun. Towed by a jeep, it
travels with the men.
Costing approximately £2C00, this canteen was built in Brisbane on the lines of those used on cattle ranches in Texas, and adapted to
It is fly-proof and con tains a six-burner bottled-gas stove, an oven capable of handling 16 loaves of bread in one batch, electric light, hot-water service, a hot and cold shower, a large refrig erator, a bunk for the cook,
and two rubbish-tins.
''It's a beauty," said
"I've got the best job on the property," he added. '"While all the boys are out getting dusty riding buck jumpers, I'm here in the cool sipping cups of tea."
Vince, tall laconic Queens lander, used to be a ringer himself until he good naturedly stepped into the job of camp cook, when the
station was short of one.
"No one else wanted to do it," he added. "It was a killer. You would be up all night waiting for your bread
to rise in the wood embers. . It used to take an hour and a half to get the billy boil ing. Finding wood for the fires in this downs country
is a killer."
Now it takes Vince only half an hour to have a two course dinner cooked. His variety of dishes has in creased, too, mainly due to the refrigerator.
"This canteen makes
sense," said Vince seriously. "Before we were killing a
steer twice a week for meat.
Now, with the fridge, we need only kill every second week. At this rate, the canteen should pay for itself in a couple of years."
On the way back from the stock camp, we saw a swirl ing dust cloud on the hori zon. "That must be 'Grader Jack,' " I was told.
Jack Donald?or "Grader Jack" as he is known throughout the north?alone was responsible for grading Brunette's new thousands of miles of road and for mak ing the new airstrips beside
the water bores.
With his enormous yellow grader, a trailer carrying food and water, a caravan and six bantam hens, Grader Jack lives and works out on
NEW MOBILE CANTEEN of No. 1 stock camp travels with stockmen. Here some stop for "smofco" in the shade of the canteen flap. They spend month* at a time out in the open.
"GRADER JACK" DONALD, a well-known identity in the north, with his caravan and trailer, which are his home. He grades the
property's thousands of miles of roads.
NEW QUARTERS for single men are cool and spacious. The building is on high concrete piles for protection from white ants. Raised
outline on roof is a solar water-heater.
the downs for months at a time.
He never goes near civil isation if he can help it? except for a week during June when the Brunette
races are held. "I'm more
contented by myself," he
said. "Out here I can eat
and sleep when I like. I can't sleep in a house at the station any more. There's too much noise."
For company he has his chickens, which he keeps in a coop he has built under neath his trailer, and he is immensely proud of the way they lay fresh eggs for his breakfast every day of the week, and the way they don't
With his chickens, his modern caravan with gas stove and refrigerator, and the wide, wide spaces, Grader Jack seems to have all he wants in life.
"I've been a grader for 15
years now," said Jack, "and it's getting better all the
time. There have been some
rough times on the road. I put in the first road from Alice to Gordon Downs, W.A., across the desert and it was 100 miles between water supplies."
But Grader Jack, with his contentment in his lonely life, is one of a dying breed of Territory men. Younger men want and need their wives, families, and reason able comfort in order to battle the flies, heat, and emptiness.
"As far as we can see," said Mr. Baillieu, "there's nothing on earth to tempt reasonable white men to settle north of the Tropic of Capricorn unless you can give them the comforts and modern facilities that you get in or near the cities down
"And sooner or later those comforts will have to come everywhere in the Terri tory."