Host: Dampier Downs Station
Written by Anne Marie Huey – Owner, Dampier Downs Station.
A lot happened in 2015. Our infrastructure development plan is well and truly underway with the completion of many new paddocks that will allow us to implement better herd management strategies. New bores are pumping and additional pipe-lines have enabled us to open fresh country for grazing. Regenerative work on eroded areas has begun, which will allow the landscape to repair itself over time. But perhaps the most exciting – and potentially revolutionary – change was the arrival of our very own (well, the bank’s) helicopter.
A new bore – always a welcome sight. Photo credit: Carl Bennett, Kimberley Water.
While this may sound rather extravagant to the uninitiated, it has proven to be a complete game-changer for our business. Believe me, this is no status symbol used to pop in and out of town or for scenic joy flights. Instead, this deceptively fragile-looking machine is a bona fide workhorse that proves its value every time it is wheeled out of the hangar (or converted shipping container to be exact).
Lima Lima Delta – our new workhorse.
Late in the dry season it was a God-send when we had out of control bushfires burning on every front. Being able to fly over the fires and thereby track their progress meant we could target our fire-fighting efforts where they were really needed. We were also able to coordinate with the neighbours and relevant government agencies, which resulted in a couple of fires being stopped before they reached us.
Surveying a fire scar while new fires burn on the horizon.
As we had a late start to the wet season the helicopter allowed us to keep an eye on the feed situation. While in previous years we have only been able to make a best estimate based on what we can see from the few tracks, being able to fly over country that would otherwise be inaccessible provided invaluable information. When the rains didn’t eventuate we were able to trap cattle and truck them to other areas of the property that had received early showers and had more grass.
When we did manage to get under a few storms, the helicopter again proved its worth by allowing us to access bores on the far side of some very boggy creeks. This meant we could keep water pumping where it was needed without having to resort to bog mats and shovels just to get there. Trust me, there is nothing more exasperating than having to dig yourself out of the mud to access another part of the property that is bone dry.
While a storm drops life-giving rain on one part of the country, other parts remain mercilessly dry.
And as much as he may deny it, Mike loves having a helicopter. Never is this more obvious than after I have rattled along a corrugated dirt road for two and half hours to collect him after he has dropped the helicopter off for a service, only to have him moan about all the things he can’t do without it. Seriously, it’s been twenty minutes! Slug it out on the ground with the rest of us for a few days.
Of course, the helicopter is also invaluable when it comes to working cattle. Whether it is moving a mob onto a new water and fresh feed or a full-scale muster, helicopters have revolutionised the cattle industry.
Helicopter mustering had a bad reputation for a long while. Back in the 1980s, the decision was made to not use helicopters on Dampier Downs as it was too hard on cattle and largely ineffective. For us, everything changed when we saw Anthea Henwood using low-stress stock handling principles in the sky. These days, the better pilots are just as on-board with these practices as the crew on the ground.
While it may not make for exciting television viewing, there is nothing more satisfying than watching a mob of cattle walk calmly into the yard after a successful helicopter muster. Well-used helicopters provide yet another important tool for a modern, progressive beef sector. While we do value the old bush traditions and there will always be a place for the trusty stock horse and loyal working dog, when it comes to the future the sky really is the limit.
And it is the gift that keeps on giving. I complained that everyone else was using the cap I kept under the seat, so Mike organised this as a Christmas gift for me (it reads “Rotor Bunny”). I can guarantee no-one else will ever co-opt it. I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you wish for. P.S. Christmas lunch was cancelled.