Adjusting to life in the Top End

Host: Mt Bundy Station
Written by Sue Witham – Owner, Mt Bundy Station.

If you have read our previous blog, you are probably waiting to see how our new life was working out . . .

Well, the sulking teenagers got the better of us and seriously I was going to poke someone in the eye with a fork soon! We eventually gave them the choice of going back to boarding school in WA as we still had some family left there and it was a support base that we knew we could rely upon if needed. With children that far away from you they appreciate a familiar face to pick them up for a weekend out. We would only see them on school holidays or if we flew down to WA to catch up. Our eldest daughter Bec was heading into year 11, so she chose to go back to a different school in Perth but was happy to be back near her mates as there was no one her age in the district. It wasn’t an easy decision for us as we had wanted the family to be together in our new start and anyone who has ever sent a child off to boarding school knows the heartache that brings.

Ben, our son, was in year nine and was keen to never return to boarding school. He had an opportunity to start school in Darwin and travel each day via a car pool system 50km to the nearest bus. Then bus onto Darwin. He was busy helping his dad build the cattle numbers and repair the fencing. He had slid happily into the NT lifestyle of rodeos, camp-draft’s, motorbikes, and bulls and heading to the city was the last thing on his mind. He was going to be a helicopter mustering pilot!

Ben at Taminmin 2.1Ben showing cattle at Taminmin.

Life entertaining guests and building a market in a tough industry was busy and draining. We soon got the hang of it though and our three children were exposed to a huge range of guests from every country and could converse happily with the best of them, informing them of crocodile safety, snake catching, and bull chasing stories. Ben was often surrounded by a gaggle of bug eyed tourists vying for a photo with this tall handsome cowboy wearing a black hat and RM Williams buckle. The eldest daughter, Bec, on returning home for school holidays, was even heard to say “gee it’s actually quite nice here isn’t it”. Kasey, the youngest, got smart and collected her pocket money as the cute little red headed cow girl cracking a whip. They all jumped in on bikes and horses whenever the slight mention of moving any cattle was on offer.

Ben and his Dog 2.2Ben and his dog.

We had built the business up to a point where we could now employ some further staff, we were busy and guests wanted something else to do. We created a monster and began offering horse treks. We eventually brought our five Quarter Horse mares up from WA. They were meant to arrive just after us in July, while they could adjust to the temperature increase slowly in the dry season. After a delay with the horse transport they eventually had arrived in the hottest time of year in the Top End “the Build Up” i.e. late October, wearing their woolliest winter coats! The kids spent the next two weeks holding a hose over them and locking them in the shade with a sprinkler while the temperatures reached around 40c and the humidity sat around 80% .They sat there and puffed with their eyes bulging, the flies biting them, wondering what the heck they had done to deserve this lifestyle. We began the treks in 2008 and once the “Australia” movie had come out we were overwhelmed with folks wanting to gallop across the flood plains like Hugh and Nicole.

kids on horses 2.3The kids on their trusty steeds.

We used our sturdy little quarter horse/stock horse steeds for mustering and quickly realised that these tough bred horses were the only horses that would with stand the climate – hot and dry or hot and wet! We eventually over the next few years bought in and bred another 30 horses to service the horse treks. We employed staff especially to help with the treks along with myself and the older kids to guide. This occupation tends to take up a lot of time and money! We offered one hour to three day treks and had fantastic country to ride in. Keeping people on top of the horses was the hard part! Keeping the horses and guides sane was almost impossible. Although we have met and developed life-long friendships with some amazing people on these treks.

Kasey and Caila leading a trek 2.4Kasey and Caila leading trek.

The cattle management in the Top End was another huge learning curve and although we thought we had done our homework we were shocked at the harshness of the country in a bad year and growth rates and production suffered. Between the Dingos causing damage to our calves and the Ironwood poisoning (a local tree) we lost cattle at the start. We bought in lightweight cattle and the idea is to sell them later when the market is right and they are fat. Sounds good in theory. Just when we had it worked out, we had some good sales, the business was zooming along, the 2011 Export Ban hit and a tragedy turned our life upside down.

Hang in there for the next blog!