Sunrise at Hidden Valley Station alludes to the intricacies of this large tract of pastoral cattle country. At first glance there is a hint of an outline, then, the longer you stay light begins to fill in some of the mystery. On a late Thursday evening, Gehan, his young son, Ravi, Knox and I dodged the last corrugation to be greeted by Bronte’s welcoming grin. She had come looking for us along the driveway, perhaps fearing we had discovered a new sinkhole or concerned that Gehan had found yet another diversion to the 10 hour trip we had made from Darwin.
David and Jenny James have developed the Station from a dry block back in the mid 90’s to a functioning, fenced and watered cattle business running in excess of 6000 breeders plus associated dry stock. A series of well planned laneways and fenced off water areas, called water squares, assist with the stock management. They have also invested a lot of training into their two resident young offspring: Bronte is extremely capable of planning and processing all of the necessary duties required to run such an expansive operation, whilst Roley adds flying the station aircraft to his list of talents.
The whole James clan are to be commended for the mentoring effort they so conscientiously adhere to with their staff. Chelsea, from Birmingham, cooks with a smile for the whole crew with Jenny’s careful guidance, Tiny, the 6 ft 4 inch monster from Denmark toils in the workshop closely guided by Roley, Sav, a french exchange student attends all field days with the family and is hungry for rural knowledge, whilst Blonde and Ashleigh, who coincidentally, come from west of Ipswich, Qld. are experienced beyond their young years and can weld, muster, fix bores, repair motors and lend their hands to all of the challenges of keeping a vast rural enterprise on the rails. Billy, a proud aboriginal stockman, has just joined the crew and they are all richer for his experience and judgement.
We were graciously joined by a couple of gentlemen of the bush: Otto, from only 100kms away and Cameron traveled a mere 300 + Kms to attend his first dog school.
As we only had three days to cover a lot of stockhandling with and without dogs we started out with a small challenge moving fresh, uneducated cattle from yard to yard. Jen is an avid student of the Bud Williams school of stock handling so, with her experience assisted by the diagrams she has painstakingly drawn and laminated, everyone quickly adjusted to the new approach. We also noticed that the training job on the current crop of weaners, solely Jens responsibility, was second to none. She humbly attributes this to David’s selection for temperament over the past 40 years and she may have a point judging by the fresh cattle we were working, however, Jen, and her dogs, were achieving a great result.
We moved on to the topic of genetics. A topic very important in working dogs especially when they are asked to perform out of site of the handler for most of the time.
We noticed that some dogs, Chief and Rock in this series, worked outside their stock, offered amber light before switching to red and then gave relief. Others, Monty and Megs failed to get themselves out of the drive section of a beasts eye no matter where it was traveling.
All students and dogs spent some quality time improving their call around stock and learning the true meaning of balance. Gehan explained and demonstrated his highly developed but simple weaner education method with the three day program culminating with the trial. 20 minutes each, of absolute poetry in livestock handling was keenly contested with Bronte winning the ultimate contest. Her prize, an 8 week old pup: Tracker Gillie. Congratulations Bronte.
When the school was over our chief photographer and philosophical adviser, Knox went to work customising Jens pack toward more mental balance with some diligent “eyes are a camera” sessions and recommending a few changes to the kennels and exercise routines. David very kindly showed us around some of the clever watering systems and, of course, the cattle.
Our final test was to help muster the steers for an export order with Chief and Rock. David reckons:”it went as well as any muster I have seen” so it must have been alright.
Ravi, Knox Gehan and I feel honoured to have been welcomed into the inner circle of Hidden Valley for a week we will cherish forever.
All photos taken by Knox Hart.