My fascination with the traditional outback world began over 50 years ago when I was a little kid on my family’s Queensland cattle property two-and-a-half hours from the closest small town and over 800 kilometres from the nearest big city – Rockhampton!
Things have changed a lot since then but now they’re coming full circle and even the authorities are starting to recognise the wisdom the old fellas had in the way they did things. And when I talk about ‘old fellas’ I mean both the pioneers, the brave men and women who settled in territory that was quite unfamiliar to them, and Indigenous Australians who’d been taught thousands of years of wisdom since they were kids.
Back when I was young, we had Indigenous stockmen who lived with their families in camps nearby. I spent a lot of time with them and my dad was happy for me to go riding with them. Dad always thought carefully about what suited the land; he was among the first group of Australians to introduce American Brahman cattle because they can thrive in harsh environments that are just too tough for the breeds Australia had long relied on. He really valued the Indigenous people’s knowledge and the help the old fellas gave him in working with unpredictable conditions.
I did many a day on horseback riding the boundary fences with a coil of wire over my shoulder. Our job was to keep riding that dingo fencing and fix the holes where kangaroos or other animals had dug underneath. I’d have my lunch in my saddle-bag and a quart pot to make tea over the campfire. Out there all day, a long way from anywhere, riding for hours and hours, you’d notice all the birds and bush animals, and all the changes in nature.
The Indigenous uncles pointed out Jacky lizards, the hollows where parrots made their nests and different animal behaviour. They’d know when it was going to be an early summer or a drought and where we needed to burn off. They’d say, “We need to be burning this now, the bush is telling us we are going to get bad lighting here come spring”. They saw the signs and they were never wrong.
One day, when we were riding along a creek, old Uncle Arthur said, “Can you smell something? There’s something here somewhere”. He kept pretending to look even though he’d already seen the koala just above our heads in a nearby tree. He wanted me to spot it for myself. The uncles taught us to use all of our senses to notice everything the bush was warning us about – both present and coming events – and what was in our presence at the time.
About 30-40 years ago, we lost a lot of that. Government shut the camps and moved the Indigenous people to the towns. We replaced the dingo fencing with barbed wire and poison. We forgot how to manage fire. There was more and more red-tape, and lots of theories from people who thought they knew.
As a grazier, I’m passionate about caring for our outback land and making sure it is properly managed. I want us to be able to pass it on to future generations for food production and wool growing, and to inspire others with its natural wonders.
That’s one of the reasons I’m so aware the changes made in the name of ‘progress’ haven’t worked. Graziers have been losing millions of dollars a year through the damage the wild dogs and wild pigs do. Important knowledge of this country has been lost.
Then, just the other day, I did a three-day agricultural marketing course and all they talked about was the way we did things in the 1950s!
But my family and I have already gone back to the past to create our future. At our Nogo Station near Longreach, we’ve completed 100 kilometres of exclusion fencing and we ride the boundaries again.
I’m teaching my kids and grandkids and we are sharing what we know, keeping the old stories alive and also helping visitors reconnect with this beautiful land.
We bought historic Nogo Station five years ago – it was already five years into a drought and that drought is still with us! It is a second property for our family because I wanted somewhere close enough to town where we could have a working station that we could invite visitors to immerse themselves in this wonderful outback world.
I wanted guests to be able to come and experience it all for real – to see it, hear it, taste it – and to live the adventure of being out on the plains amongst the cattle, sheep, wildlife and nature – all of the things I experienced with my father and men like Uncle Arthur. I wanted to share the things the old folks knew and for those who experienced it to feel proud of their heritage and the things they can pass on.
Not so long ago, we had a little kid here with his father. While hosting our Outback Pioneers Nogo Station Experience, I noticed a Jacky lizard sitting on a log. He was sitting up high, pointing to the south-west, which means a moisture change in the atmosphere. I pointed this out to the kid and showed him the mares’ tail clouds low in the outback sky, which also mean that rain is on the way. He was intrigued.
Then a bit further down the track we saw another Jacky lizard, and then another. Very soon, he was spotting them and we’d seen five by the time we got to Harry Redford’s Camp. He went away with a different take on life to what he came with.
Another time, on our open-top station safari, we might see 10 or 12 eagle hawks circling. If you’re a stockman, you’d go to that spot and maybe there would be a cow having a calf or an animal in trouble.
These are the secrets of the outback we love to share with our guests. Mother Nature has something new and incredible for us every day. Maybe we’ll see the feral camels or emus with their young, probably a mob of roos, perhaps some wild donkeys …
My family continues to manage the land with much of the wisdom passed down through the generations. We have modern machinery, of course, but we still respect the land and what it can tell us. Whether it’s my daughter Abigail growing a traditional homestead kitchen garden or the boys going out on the water run to check the water sources for stock, there are many things that haven’t changed since Mum and Dad were farming.
I love to be able to share all this with visitors and give them a taste of our real-life experience. They get to deeply understand this remote way of life, where every day is a mix of hardship and humour, of struggle and survival – and a celebration of Australia’s unique outback heritage.
I know that over-60s travellers today are keen for an adventure and want to get up close and be part of it all. So many of our ‘city cousins’ (and some of our bush ones) are hungry for nature, and it’s amazing how much just a few days here can change you. It’s the little things you’ll remember – the moment of wonder when you spot a shy bush creature, the shafts of sunshine through the dust in the historic shearing sheds, flocks of corellas, the smell of the gidgee wood burning on the campfire. And of course the big things too – the huge night sky with more stars than you’ve even seen, the wild landscapes and the sunsets that soak the wide horizon in glowing colours.
I warmly invite you to come visit us here at Nogo Station to really live this experience for yourself – and bring your grandkids!
Step into pioneers’ shoes and discover the past, present and future of outback Queensland. You’ll go on Nogo Station safari across the plains, cruise on the Thomson River at sunset, have a stockman’s dinner under the stars, ride the Cobb & Co stagecoach and stay in 4-star pioneer-themed accommodation in the heritage heart of Longreach.