2016 in review

Host: Katherine Outback Experience
Written by Annabel McLarty – Owner, Katherine Outback Experience.

I am writing this from carriage 9B on The Ghan train, following a few glasses of champagne, somewhere between Port Augusta and Alice Springs. Tom and I are sitting here looking out the window, watching the stunning central Australian colours flash past, and the odd Hereford, reflecting on the past 12 months.

Tom and I at Marla Station, the first stopover on Great Southern Rail’s ‘The Ghan Train’ when heading north from Adelaide to Darwin.

It’s hard to believe just two years earlier, Tom had hit the lowest point in his life. His children were living 4,000km away and he didn’t know how he was going to pay his next bill. He was working up to 16 hour days in an attempt to make ends meet.

Although there is still a long way to go, including a sizeable mortgage and loans to pay off – it is exciting to reflect on what we have achieved together over the past 12 months.

We put a lot of time into improving the aesthetics and feel of the site. Thanks to a grant from Tourism NT, we started the season with brand new grandstand seating and shade sails which significantly improved the comfort for guests. We pulled down old fences and built new yards for the petting zoo. We extended the lawn area and upgraded the merchandise display. The old brown towel Tom used to display his CD’s upon was replaced with hessian table clothes, bunches of native flowers, coffee table books and a pamper pack for guests.

Upgraded merchandise display from the old brown towel Tom previously used as a table cloth.

Serving fruit and cake platters to guests travelling on The Ghan.

As previously mentioned, we implemented a whole raft of new administrative processes and procedures to improve the running of the business.

We also hosted two live music evenings under the stars. We get a number of musicians passing through whilst on tour, staying a night or two. Tom’s been in their position, and knows how difficult it is to make a living from touring.

In 2015 a mate of Tom’s by the name of Jo Ahern was touring with Bill Chambers (Casey Chambers’ dad) and Harry Hookey when they dropped in at Tom’s show. This then turned into a jamming session that went well into the early hours of the morning. Harry contacted Tom in early 2016 to say he was coming through and asked if there was any chance of doing a gig while he was there. This is where it all began. We joined forces with some local artists including Katie Oliver and Bernie Flynn, and enjoyed a wonderful dry season evening of live music under the stars.

The previous year Tom had written a song with seven times Golden Guitar winner Luke O’Shea while he was travelling through the Top End with his family. Although ‘Never Never Land’ was recorded in March, the film clip wasn’t filmed until September which culminated in a second concert with support acts from Queensland singer/ songwriter El Cosgrove and local legend Lee Hubble.

Always looking at new opportunities, in September we hosted our first long table dinner. We were lucky to have a French Pastry Chef working with us at the time who was a phenomenal cook.

The setup for the long table dinner we hosted at Katherine Outback Experience

In addition to operating anywhere from six to nine shows a week, Tom was also training at least six horses a month for clients and preparing other horses for sale.

We did get a few weekends off to compete at campdrafts where we were both fortunate to have some success. We also got away for a few station weddings, one of which we had to drive 13 hours straight in order to make it home before the sun went down and to prepare for a 9:00am show the following morning (it’s dangerous to drive after dark in the Top End in small vehicles due to cattle and buffalo on the road). We hit the road around 3:30am the morning after the wedding. Within an hour of us leaving, the remaining guests had been rained-in following some unseasonal rain – I don’t think they were too upset about having to spend the next few days fishing on the Fitzroy River.

Central Station Host’s Raine and Potter of Farrcombe Contracting’s wedding at Coolibah Station near Victoria River – one of the most spectacular backdrops to an outback wedding!

We finished the show in Katherine in late October before packing up the truck with 12 horses and 13 dogs and making the 4,000km journey back down to the south west of WA for the summer. We were on a strict timeframe to get back to Pinjarra a few weeks before the Wellard Star of the West Campdraft on our farm, in which I was the Event Secretary.

In mid-December we received exciting news that a Planning Application to host the show in Dunsborough had been approved. A week later, on 17 December, we opened the show. Just to put into perspective how busy we have been – we have been down here for two months now and I haven’t even had a chance to go to the beach!

In addition to the ongoing support of Pryde’s Easifeed, we more recently joined forces with Cobber Dog Food, Hi-Tech Ag Solutions and TPM Saddles. Hi-Tech Ag generously sponsored a dust suppressant wetting agent which has gone to great use in the show to keep the dust at bay. We are also now working with TPM Saddles. Both Tom and I compete in TPM Saddles and can’t speak highly enough of the quality of the saddle and the professionalism of the TPM team. For anyone in the market for a stock saddle, be sure to speak with TPM and let them know we sent you to receive a complimentary TPM bridle with your purchase (be sure to quote: TC3001).

Kids enjoying learning about the station animals during a family day hosted by Katherine Outback Experience.

With all the excitement, 2016 did present its challenges however as previously mentioned, we have learnt not to dwell on those things. Although there is still a long way to go, we are well aware we wouldn’t be where we are without the support of family, friends, and even strangers who believe in what we are doing. There are too many to name, but we are incredibly grateful to all those who have helped us and hope one day to return the favours.