Riverside Beef, Coal and Gas.

Driving into the Williams family’s Riverside Station we were imposed upon by a massive artificial horizon. The ugly overburden from our insatiable appetite for coal towered 140 metres into the dying rays of sunset such that the pristine brigalow cattle country to the east was blanketed by the black dust of darkness.

Riverside Homestead

Riverside Homestead

The Williams family is still smiling, even under the glacial encroachment of mining on their land and they have a lot to smile about. Their aggregation comprises about 158,000 ha and runs 10,000 hd of quiet productive brahman and brahman cross beef cattle on what is arguably some of the most efficient beef production in the world. Claire keeps the water flowing, Charles makes sure the nutrition is available while Holly, Allan and Jeanette keep the well oiled machine rolling. Allan tells us that he, his father, Grandfather and Great Grandfather have been developing their farming system since the mid-1800’s. The experience is evident from the infrastructure in cattle yards, fencing and dams as well as their oasis, the Riverside Homestead.

Behind Charles’s endearing smile there is method.  He informed us on Thursday evening that he had 240 head of fresh weaners to be educated by the clinic participants. “There could be a few ‘rail-shiners’ in the mob” he quips. Perfect, day one is all about stock-handling and so is weaner education.

After expelling some old habits the group used the minds of the livestock to achieve calm, steady flow around a yard and then from one yard to another. Sarah, cleverly, used our brain to trigger the release of a hormone called ghrelin to move us to the very well appointed smoko shed.

IMG_9537bWatching the video from the days successes, and otherwise, was useful and much appreciated by many who waited up late into the night. Thank you to the camera girl, Sarah.

Day two and we found Sarah on the barbeque expertly wielding the tongs over the bacon and eggs. Charles must have been there somewhere. We lost Edward Williams to the call of a bridal party but Claire and Holly started to believe there just might be some value to all this knowledge and became very enthusiastic.

Allowing our dogs to assist with the previous days exercise seemed an obvious move. But first we checked that they understood how to influence a mob to walk a figure of eight pattern. Some of the handlers led there dogs astray and some dogs needed reminding that the parts of the eye are crucial for efficient livestock movement, but, by days end, the three minds were working in unison. Human, Bovine and Canine together, a symphany, well a few cymbals falling off the stage is to be expected IMG_9541at the start of rehearsals.

Barbequed Riverside beef, salads inspired by Master Chef, more late night videos, some inappropriate jokes, a bit of a camp and more of Sarah’s bacon and eggs readied us for a day of pup starting, training cattle to handle the pressure of moving correctly through a race and the education of the last of the weaners with pressure and relief with and without dogs. One group, who shall remain anonymous, but may be in one of these photos, discovered that if they remained IMG_9544totally silent and concentrated on getting themselves into the correct position their dogs also made position. Michelle felt that she now had the tools with which to apply a lot of the concepts she had learnt from previous experience. Charles, with three of his dogs, let the weaners out into a large cooler just as the sun was setting through dust and the enlightenment that proceeds hard work and diligence.

I have some video of the weaners moving out into a kilometer long grazing laneway where they settled for a couple of hours while Charles was swearing at some machinery.

The credit for the calmness in these weaners goes partly to Alan for selecting for temperament in his cattle for many generations but also to the clinic participants who adopted a different pattern to their normal approach to working livestock. IMG_9559 Yes, we had a few excuses when the old mold was challenged but in the end the result speaks volumes.

Charles kindly drove me around part of the water run where he demonstrated his good nature by firing a warning shot at a visiting dingo. His cows are magnificent, infrastructure impressive and buffel grass abundant. However Clancy would have been disappointed because instead of:

“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.

We were rudely interrupted by concrete trucks, water spray rigs, powerlines and utes with flashing lights and I’m told the thumbnail has well and truly been dipped in coal and soon, a good dose of gas.

IMG_9562Perhaps we could devise a system to train our society to value the irreplaceable fertile clay and clay-loam soils of the bowen basin. After all, beef production is 100% renewable, coal mining is not. The local councilor, Peter Freeleagus, said when he was Mayor of the now defunct Belyando Shire  “. If we can’t build a house at the end of an existing residential street because it is earmarked for mining, does this mean that our families can look forward to a mine going up a few hundred metres from their homes? We work in the mines – we know what they’re like and we don’t want our families exposed to those sorts of environments, day-in, day-out.” Where is his concern for the Williams family, their house, their history and their livelihood?  Jeanette informed us that the recent, also defunct LNP Qld Government, changed the distance a mine can operate from rural water infrastructure from 700 metres down to 80 metres. Shame on them.

Perhaps Alan Williams summarised it best when he said “The effect hasn’t been felt yet but it’s the effect later on when people wake up and realise that all this country’s gone. And the ability to feed our population as well as anyone else, is diminishing.”

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the draglines and the dumptrucks making hurry down the street,
And the stratagem uninviting of the miner people blighting,
The landscape and the brigalow in the pursuit of compressed peet.

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Starting Pups on cattle

We just enjoyed a fantastic clinic at Konjuli, hosted by Sean and Evonne Barrett. For three days the instructors and wingmen, including the ultimate wingman: James Green) challenged all participants to consider their principles of stock-handling and dog management.

This was a particularly diligent team of men, women and children who rose to the occasion amongst heat, ‘hammer & tongs’ hangovers and camera shyness to adopt new concepts and achieve amazing results.

Peter may have won the trial by 6:00pm Sunday evening but we were all winners for the experiences of the weekend.

By the end of day one we all had a better understanding of position and hydration. Harden up crew it was only 38 degrees C in the shade and if you won’t run around there why should your dogs?

Day 2 brought the genetic makeup of our dogs into the spotlight as we now knew about the importance of being in the right position. We started these two young Kelpies, Brutus and Zoe on the cattle trained for them by the clinic students. Have a look and please comment.

Starting Pups

Do we start training our pups on the day we introduce them to livestock?

Do we need a heap of training aids, like rakes and electric collars, to make up for missing vital, early steps in our pups life?

Are we being fair to a new valuable member of our working team?

Hidden Valley, Hidden Talents.

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Sunrise at Hidden Valley Station

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.

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Gin Gin Stock Handling School

The Gin Gin district was originally settled in 1847 when Gregory Blaxland and William Forster moved into the area with sheep and cattle. The site where the town now stands was once part of the sprawling Gin Gin Station owned by Sir Thomas McIlwraith, who was Premier of Queensland three times between 1879 and 1893.

The Gin Gin district is nicknamed Wild Scotsman Country due to the capture of one of Queensland’s few bushrangers, James Alpin McPherson, in the area on 30 March 1866. McPherson, who went by the same nickname, was captured at Monduran Station, 13 km north of town. The Wild Scotsman Festival is held in Gin Gin on the third week of March each year to commemorate this event.

The name Gin Gin was derived from the original station name, which used a local Aboriginal word indicating “red soil thick scrub”. (Wikipedia)

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Wyoming/Utah USA

Behold, it came to pass that Sean and I visited with our fantastic host family, The Taylors. This is no ordinary family as the patriarch, Dr Robert, or Bob or just Doc to his friends is none other than the star of the Animal Planet’s “Emergency Vets” show, now “retired” to a fully functioning commercial cattle ranch in South West Wyoming called Lonetree.

As you can plainly see he wasn’t chosen for his good looks, but, for his skill and dedication as an Orthopedic Veterinary surgeon.

Animal Planets Meet Dr Bob

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Bonshaw, Thunderbolt, Livestock and Dogs

It is little wonder that Thunderbolt was attracted to this paradoxical border region.

Throughout his career as an outlaw he never fired his pistol in anger. In fact his demeanor towards his victims was always polite and jovial. In 1867 Thunderbolt, and a young accomplice, held up and robbed the Bonshaw store/hotel in a very non-violent and respectful way.  J.N. Roper’s Account

His “death” was just as intriguing  as it was enshrouded in a Police coverup, a suspiciously tall woman with a manly gait attending the funeral and a boat trip to USA by a Fred Ward and Sarah Shepherd. The real names of Thunderbolt and his mother.

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