Life in the Stock Camp (Blog 2 Central Station 2016)

In 2000, after three eventful years at the University of Queensland Gatton Campus where I had a hell of time playing rugby and socialising, I finished my Bachelor of Applied Science Animal Studies where I specialised in Beef Cattle, Genetics and Nutrition, handed Mum that flash piece of paper and said I’m off to the Territory!

In March 2001, I headed to Mount Sanford Station, which is about 500 kilometres south of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Here I worked in the stock camp, mustering and processing cattle. Mount Sanford Station is one of a string of stations owned by the Heytesbury Cattle Co, covering nearly 250,000 hectares with 20,000 odd head of cattle.

Walking a mob of cattle back to the yards at Mount Sanford Station

The station was managed by great people Paul and Jane Stone, who were very horse orientated.  Approximately 100 horses were broken-in (trained) here each year for all the Heytesbury properties. Martin Oakes was the resident horse-breaker together with Stephen Wells, both of whom became good mates.

Mustering mares and foals to wean and handle some of the foals for their future role on the station

I worked out in the stock camp with about eight others. It was a stark contrast from uni days, but I loved everything about it. We would get up before the sun and sit around the campfire drinking black tea and coffee. We would go mustering all day then find ourselves back around that campfire telling yarns. There was no TV or radio so we had to make our own fun.

The Cooks kitchen in the stock camp- I hear food vans are back in vogue in the big smoke!
The washing machine in the stock camp – A cement mixer and drum!
The Ringers make their own fun on a Sunday afternoon in the stock camp at Mount Sanford Station

It was here I began to pen a few songs about life working in the middle of the Territory. It wasn’t long before word got back to Martin who happens to be a very good singer/ songwriter.  He was kind enough to give me an old guitar and show me a few chords. I would practice every night out in the paddock under the stars. The other ringers weren’t shy about letting me know how irritating my efforts of stringing together a few chords were (I don’t blame them either, it would have sounded terrible). My fingers were callused and sore, but the thrill of being able to sing a song whilst playing the guitar kept me going.

Singing at the 2001 Kununurra Campdraft before I knew how to play guitar. The audience were very kind that evening!

I often passed time out mustering by singing. On this particular day I was at the lead of about 2,000 breeders and oblivious to the fact the wind was blowing towards the other ringers on the wing and tail of the mob. Later that night I was singing the same song in the old corrugated iron shower (there’s no denying everyone sounds better in the shower). I came out to find the whole stock camp gathered in listening to my wild singing!  To my surprise, the crew were great. They encouraged me to keep writing and singing and it was that very song that went to Number 1 on the Australian Country Music Charts two years later. I owe the world to those guys for their support!

My first radio interview with the ABC in Darwin. I couldn’t stop shaking!

That year Wellsie broke his leg whilst breaking-in horses.  As a result I was promoted from the stock camp to training horses as Martin Oakes’ offsider. It was certainly a challenge, and quite the experience breaking horses and handling yearlings, but the best part was writing songs with ‘Oaksie’. We both had our own round yard but as we worked we found ourselves yelling out a line for a song and then we would see who could make a rhyme from it. We would write the best lines down on the back of a horse shoe nail box and then after work with a beer and guitar, we would piece the song together. It was here with Martin the ‘Windmill Song’ came about. Funny enough, this song was inspired by a story told by one of the ringers in the stock camp as we sat around that campfire killing ourselves laughing one night.

Working on breakers with Mitch Maguire in 2002 at Mount Sanford Station
Teaching a breaker to load at Mount Sanford Station
*This blog was initially written for and published by Central Station – Stories from Australian Cattle Stations in May 2016. Some minor amendments have been made to align this blog with the present.

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