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.
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.
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 at 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 totally 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. 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.
Perhaps 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.