“A Snapshot of a good life: living in the bush” – David & Margie Daniell, McArthur River Station, Borooloola NT

Host: Kent Saddlery
Written by Helen Kent.

This story excerpt has been contributed by Lyle and Helen Kent of Kent Saddlery from their book “Stories of Australian Country People“.

Returning to the couple’s time at Walhallow, where any self-respecting crocodile would never be found, the Daniell family have accumulated memories of moments and events, which in the retelling, are accompanied by a smile, a chuckle, or an out-loud laugh. “Like the old camp cook in the second stockcamp who used to make bread,” Margie ventures, “It always had brown markings through it.” The discolouration remained a mystery, until it was realised that the old fella combined his bread-making with a habit of chewing tobacco!

“When there was a big muster, the two stockcamps would combine and the workers would eat together. The other stockcamp would always be trying to get OUR bread!,” Margie laughs out loud.

“One other time,” she continues, “someone came charging into the camp, yelling, “Buffalo, buffalo! . . . a wounded buffalo!!” David grabbed his gun and jumped in the Toyota. So then all the kids in the camp jumped in the back of the truck too and they were off chasing that buffalo. The women and I were standing there, listening to the truck roaring along, going through fences, with the kids all cooeeing in the back! We heard gun shots and yeah, David finally killed the buffalo, after going through so many fences. He jumped out to look for the old wounds on that buffalo and couldn’t find any.” David questioned the fella who’d been yelling, “Buffalo, buffalo . . . wounded buffalo!” The accused defended himself vigorously. “I never said wounded!,” he retorted, “I never said “WOUNDED” . . . I said “HAUNTED!”

“I never said “wounded” . . . I said “haunted”,” Margie repeats, chuckling.

One haunted buffalo would haunt no more.

The indigenous kids were always in the camp at Walhallow and as they and the Daniell (David and Margie’s) boys played together they all learned a variety of bush skills. Margie selects something from the collection of interest items on the table. “This is Louie’s spinifex wax,” she explains. “When spinifex burns, it melts right down and this stuff collects at the base of the plant. It’s like a glue . . . strong. The aborigines mended their spears and axe heads with it.”

David’s vast experience with horses has involved breaking in colts (young horses) in preparation for stock work, and while some accounts place the joke on him, David unashamedly records those times himself.

“I was breaking in some horses down there at Mudgerebah ” he recalls, “ . . . riding colts out in the horse paddock.” The boys were in the school room with Margie, with a view through the windows to where David was riding. “The kids were on the radio talking to their teacher when the horse started bucking. It bucked me off into a tree . . . all that gidgee . . . stunted trees and bushes you know, and those boys are looking out the window yelling a running commentary into the school radio. “ . . . and Dad just got thrown off his horse!’ ” The entertaining escapade was being broadcast to places far and wide! Margie laughs, full-on. “The kids were not that worried about their Dad, but they took off out of the school room anyway.”

For the visitor to McArthur River Station, the station complex is a luxuriant environment; the area between the main house and the kitchen/dining area shaded and dwarfed by several enormous African mahogany trees. An escarpment adjacent to the homestead reflects the morning and evening sunlight in glorious hues of tan and orange, merging to pinks and purples as day and night approaches. A short walk away, Bessie Springs, a deep waterhole fed by a magnificent waterfall, similarly reflects the changes of light and the seasons. During a good wet season, the roaring falls are fed by water accumulated from a gorge up high on the Abner Range and the dramatic scenery is a photographer’s delight.

“This is where I really got into taking photos,” Margie enthuses. “There’s so much it’s beautiful, rough-looking country lots of little springs and waterholes out the back there.” In addition to the joy of ‘shooting’ the landscape with her camera, she passionately photographs the cattle, the dogs, the wildlife, and station life. During a muster, she tries to remember to put her camera in her pocket.