Looking after 15,000 cattle is a big job. On Alderley Station in remote western Queensland, a team of station hands joins the bosses for breakfast even before the birds have started stirring.
The sound of a diesel generator that powers the station’s few houses and workshops breaks the early morning silence — a sign that the boss is awake and the workers should be too.
The generator chews through about 1200 litres of diesel a month. It’s turned off overnight, leaving the property with no power. When I got up to pee in the middle of the night I was thankful for my trusty torch.
It was 6am when I joined the team for breakfast. The station’s owners, Frank and Radha Blacket are my age. They dine with their team which isn’t that common. Often cattle station managers and bosses tend to do their own thing. But this couple is very hands on and accessible.
The work for the day was dished out at breakfast. Some of the team will spend the day putting in a cattle grid and servicing the motorbikes, while a few ringers will join the boss mustering. About 1000 cows and calves needed to be brought into the yards. It will take most of the day.
The Blackets own three properties in the Boulia region in western Queensland, totalling more than half a million hectares.
The number of cattle is forever fluctuating, with stock being bought and sold all the time.
“We run Charbray cattle because they’re versatile. They can go to live export and they can go to the southern, domestic market as well,” Mr Blacket said.
Prices dictate where the cattle are sold. The Blackets’ biggest market recently has been the live export trade.
“They’ve needed a lot of cattle and we’ve been able to supply them,” Mr Blacket said. “Sometimes they want emergency loads so we can supply them pretty quick.”
Mrs Blacket does not only spend time in the station office crunching numbers and doing deals. Like her husband, she is hands-on, often behind the wheel of a road train, trucking her cattle to market.
“We’re in a good position to be able to go to whichever market is paying the premium at the time,” she said.
Despite Alderley Station being closer to Townsville Port than Darwin, the Blackets’ cattle are exported to Indonesia from Darwin. That’s a 1,850km on a truck from the property at Boulia to Darwin Port.
The rowdy ringers.
Meal times on Alderley Station can be a fun, loud affair. The station cook, Bella, is a 21 year old studying an agribusiness degree via distance ed. She’s one hell of a cook and the ten station hands are big fans of her work. (A blog about Bella is coming.)
Most of the ringers (station hands) are young guys who love the lifestyle and sense of family at the station. They’re a rowdy mob – sitting together laughing, spinning yarns, teasing and even flirting with the guest who’s twice their age!
Dillon Fox, from Boonah in Queensland, is a carpenter by trade. Keen for a change, he joined his brother on Alderley Station five months ago and has not been fazed by the long working days on the property.
“It’s a good lifestyle. You don’t really notice it as work,” he said. “We’ll have a few days when the work slows down, go to a campdraft or something.”
Martin Bolton is helping Dillon put up a new fence. Once working in property development earthworks, he has recently taken a new career path.
“Out here we get a go at everything — cattle, welding, tyre fitting. You’ve got to be an all-rounder here,” said Marty. “It’s good to learn different things.”
Away from the wind and the hot sun, Ethan Tindale relaxes with a beer after dinner. Originally a Townsville lad, he is happy living and working in western Queensland.
“The people, the community — it’s like being a big family,” he said.
“You know everyone in town and once you get accepted here it’s a really comfortable place to live.”