I’m not going to lie, when Central Station first approached me to be a host, I was a bit hesitant about accepting the invitation as you could hardly call my 20 acre property on the outskirts of Katherine a farm, let alone a station, not to mention I’m not a fan of talking about myself. The lovely ladies at Central Station HQ convinced me otherwise so here I am sharing my story.
A bit about me – my name is Tom Curtain. I am based in the Northern Territory during the dry season (April-Nov) where I train horses with my business ‘Riverboyne Horsebreaking and Training’ and operate my tourism business ‘Katherine Outback Experience’ which showcases and celebrates life on a cattle station. During the wet season (Nov – March) I head to the south-west of WA where we plan to continue the show and training horses. I am also a singer / songwriter. My music is inspired by life on the land and the beef industry.
I thought a good place to start this series of blogs would be my childhood, and specifically those characters who have had a profound influence on my life.
My parents are both very hard working. By profession, dad was a school teacher and mum an occupational therapist. In 1980 they both put their professional careers aside and relocated our family from Mildura (Victoria) to Kingaroy in Queensland to help run mum’s family farm, a 7,000 acre beef and cropping property at the foothills of the Bunya Mountains. Farming was a little different to what we know as ‘the norm’ in the Top End. Our crops consisted of peanuts, corn, sorghum, barley, oats, navy beans and soya beans to name a few. We also bred Angus cattle and ran a small feedlot to fatten steers for the Jap-Ox market.
Me with our dogs at the front gate of the farm ‘Old Boyneside’
To diversify the farm income, in 1988 my parents started a farm-stay business which they went on to operate for 23 years. People came from all over the world to stay and experience life on the farm where they would live in the main homestead with our family of seven, or occupy the small adjacent cottage. Having strangers in the house was a good grounding for my brothers and me (although we may have thought otherwise at the time), it opened our eyes to a much wider world and limited our ability to get up to too much mischief….
Taking guests for a horse ride at the farm-stay
Mum went back to work full time in the early 90’s to help subsidise some tough years of drought and to cover the boarding school fees for my four brothers and I. Looking back on it now, they worked bloody hard to get to where they have. In the more challenging times Mum would often quote from a poster we had on the family room wall “they can because they think they can,” – sure enough they did.
Heading out on a muster at Old Boyneside
From an early age I developed a love for working with horses and cattle dogs. When I was 12, I was lucky to be able to learn from Hurley Toomey during my school holidays. Hurley was a renowned horseman in the Kingaroy district and today I still consider him one of the best. Hurley was about 80 years old and spent a great deal of time showing me different techniques and theories to overcome problem horses. I carried a notepad with me everywhere, writing down everything from what a horse did, the reasons it did it and how Hurley responded. I still reference this diary today. It was the time spent with Hurley as a 12 year old that cemented my future in the equine and beef industries.
Handling some breakers under the watchful eye of Jack
I was shipped off to boarding school in Brisbane for grades 8-12. I didn’t mind school, I had a lot of good mates and loved my sport, particularly cricket and rugby, but I missed farm life. All I wanted to do when I finished was head to a cattle station in the Territory but after forking out five years of private school fees, Mum and Dad were adamant I would be getting a degree or trade first. Now in my mid-30s and the owner of two small businesses, I can appreciate that my parents were right. Aside from the many great friendships that were forged, I have no doubt life skills gained during my years at uni have been fundamental to where I am today.
During my uni years I spent a lot of time around at Rick and Alice Greenup’s place where I learnt all about leather making as well as working horses and dogs. I loved it there and would squeeze as much knowledge from them as I could when they weren’t joking around. Rick is a very positive and hard-working person. He had this great saying “bite off more than you can chew, and chew like hell” which meant set your goals and do what it takes to achieve them. Aside from being a great life motto, this saying also inspired me to write the song ‘Chew Like Hell’ which features on my album ‘Heatwave’ (a story I will get to in Blogs 2 and 3).
Training some dogs back in 2000
I was fortunate to also work with Gary Barbour for about six months building goosenecks and truck crates. Gary would have to be one of the most inspirational blokes I have ever met. He had this ability to turbo-charge people around him with a positive attitude and had a great saying “If the mind can conceive, the body will achieve.” It was here I saw the horse arena he had built himself that inspired me to build one at my parents’ farm to break-in and train horses. I set about cutting down and de-barking trees. My brothers initially laughed at me and called me ‘Jim Craig’ from the movie ‘The Man From Snowy River’, however when they realised I was serious and wasn’t giving up, they jumped in and helped me build the 80m diameter arena, camp and round yard. Eighteen years on, it’s still standing and being used on a daily basis. For the record, they still call me Jim Craig.
My brothers and I standing in the holes we had dug for the round yard posts
My brothers and I constructing the round yard
Admiring the arena
These individuals have all had a huge influence on my life and where I am today. They showed me that a positive attitude, strong work ethic and the ability to get along with people from all walks of life are core attributes to overcome any challenge that life may throw your way. These are qualities that money can’t buy.