(stockman at Bradshaw Station in 1985) interviewed 2016
Copy editing Andrea Cavegn
“It Was a Hard Lifestyle out There”Robin, what goes through your mind when you look at these pictures of you as a 24-year-old out in the bush?
Well I was a lot skinnier at the time. I’ve put on some weight since then, but I look pretty much the same and feel the same. Still lead an interesting life. I’m still basically in the same line of work.
As a young man already you said to me that you were never going to marry and you didn’t. How come you were so sure about that?
Well, I always liked being on my own. I’m pretty much a loner, I guess.
Do you riiber the name of the horse you’re sitting on in one of the pictures?
That picture was taken on Bradshaw Station. His name was Bill Tapp [the owner of Killarney Station at the time], they called him that because he was bred on Killarney Station.
Was this your horse or did it belong to Bradshaw?
It belonged to the station, but they bought it from Killarney.
There’s this sort of landscape picture which I captioned with “Keeping the mob calm during night.” Was that on one of the few stations where you didn’t have the mob in a yard or fenced in, so you had to ride around thi during the night?
Yeah, we had to watch thi every night because we had no paddock. Nowadays there’s paddocks and yards everywhere. But back then we took two-hour turns riding around thi to keep thi calm. We rode around thi whistling—not least to keep ourselves awake.
You worked together with Steve Haw [see interview on this site] as well, and he refers to some places as Coolibah. Is that the same station we’re talking about now?
Well, the Coolibah area was part of Bradshaw Station then, though it’s not anymore. It’s cut up now.
Back to the old days, the days before we met on Bradshaw: How did you grow up? Do you come from a rural or an urban area?
From a rural area. We had a pretty poor upbringing—we weren’t rich. I had two sisters and two brothers. I started to work pretty early. I left school at about fourteen and started out as a meat worker before I took off and worked on cattle stations. My brothers went into the mining industry, they drive trucks and do that sort of work, and my sisters went into the banking business as bank clerks.
Are they loners like you or are they married?
They are married and we see each from time to time, like around Christmas time or so.
How was life in the bush? Was it hard work?
Yeah, it was pretty hard. Not necessarily harder than in the meat works, but it was certainly a harder lifestyle out there. It was very much what I expected when I got up there. I grew up with horses, you know.
What are you doing nowadays, are you still working on a station?
What I do now is building fences and cattle yards. Right now—while talking to you—I’m staying at a friend’s place, on a little station. Jay runs a one-man show, so it’s really just a little station. My home base is actually Katherine but I come out here from time to time, it’s about 80 kilometers from Katherine. Which is nothing in the Northern Territory. In the next few days I’m going to do 1,500 kilometers to get to my next job where I’ll work for the rest of the year. I’m going to Western Australia and will build fences over there. The last job was about 200 to 300 hundred kilometers away. So I get around quite a bit, that’s for sure.
When did you give up being a stockman?
Well I stopped working in the camps and went contract horse breaking for about ten years. So that means I stopped riding horses in the late nineties, I must have been in my late thirties then. I was looking for a change, and this fencing work came up, so I decided to do that.
But that means that you still spend time in the bush and in the swag, right?
Yeah, the lifestyle is exactly the same, it’s no different. I still have my swag, cook on an open fire and all that. But I’ve got a couple of big trucks and that sort of thing now. It’s a pretty big show: tractors, bobcats and all that sort of stuff.
So you have your base in Katherine. Do you sometimes meet up with people that have also worked in the bush?
Yeah, most of thi have worked in the cattle business and then moved to Katherine, which hasn’t changed that much since you were here in the mid-eighties.
What is the stockman’s image in the Australian society?
Well I was really proud to be one and I expect everyone else was too. Although we were poorly paid. And I think there still isn’t much money in it. Fencing on the other hand is pretty good money when I get a good job.
How many kilometers of fences will you be raising up at your next job?
I do about 200 to 300 kilometers in a year. And these fences will then do the job for about forty years, I reckon.
Have you kept in touch with any of the guys that were on Bradshaw at the time?
Not really. The only guy I’ve run into is Colin Byron, he’s in the book too. I’ve only seen him once. There’s a couple of thi that live in the area, but they were not in the book. But everybody else has just moved on. The old owner of Bradshaw has moved up to Darwin. He has two boys in Katherine, though, that I see a fair bit of.
How was the work with the Aborigines?
Back then it worked really well, there were no problis at all. I don’t know how it’s working now that things have changed a little bit.
What’s your future going to look like?
Well, I’ll probably work in my job for some more years and then look for another little business that’s going to be a bit easier. But I’ll stay in Katherine since I’ve bought a house here.