Adrian – the hillbilly bull catching bloke

Host: Annaburroo Station
Written by Barb Phillips – Manager, Annaburroo Station.

Our first impressions of each other were ‘not much’.

Adrian had separated from his wife and detested women. He had no time for small talk, he was there to get a job done and get out of there; Adrian was a man on a mission.

I thought Adrian was ‘rough as guts’ to look at in his ripped sleeveless shirt, backwards cap, and MULLET!

Adrian thought I was some prim princess, a wannabe, a city slicker that sent cattle text messages instead of getting up on them and making them do what needed to be done. He was right in a lot of ways, and boy I have learned a lot since delving into his world of bull catching and contract mustering.

Adrian is fourth generation Katherine born and bred. After a few stints away at agricultural college in Ravenshoe, QLD (they kept sending him home), he was back on the family farm at Ironwood Brahman Stud.

Adrian’s grandfather Lindsay ‘Flip’ Phillips (OAM) was in charge of seed production at the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) in Katherine and was a book of knowledge on crops and pastures of the north. Adrian’s father Robert Phillips had a great love of red Brahman cattle and spent years developing a tropically adapted and highly fertile herd while at Ironwood Station. Both Flip and Robert had a tremendous influence on Adrian’s understanding of pasture, nutrition, cattle, and hard work in the northern pastoral industry.

Adrian left school pretty early heading to night school to improve his arithmetic while working as an apprentice butcher. At 18 he was the youngest boner in the Katherine meatworks, earning just enough to support his young family. Not surprisingly, Adrian’s love of animals and the bush meant he was out every weekend and some nights, pet-meating, pigging, or cutting didgeridoos to earn some extra cash. He then went to Florina Station where he began bull catching for himself.

2 1 copyAdrian and son Michael pigging, Katherine region, NT.

2 2 copyBull catching on Mullen’s Ridge, Florina Station, NT.

2 3 copyBuffalo caught on Ironwood station, Katherine, NT.

Adrian had a very special gelding called ‘Chestnut’ upon which he used to ride down into the Daly River and tease scrub bulls. He would annoy them so much that they would chase him out of the river and onto the flat and as this little 14 hand pony lapped around in a circle — the scrub bull right behind him — Adrian would cue the horse to drop back in his gait. As the bull came alongside, Adrian would grab the bull’s tail and throw him. That good old ‘Chestnut’ would then walk straight up so Adrian could undo the bull straps hanging around his neck and tie the bull.

Adrian stockpiled these bulls and sold them to the Katherine meatworks. He soon had enough cash to purchase an old short-wheel-base Toyota and a trailer. This was a game changer as he could then roll the bulls, tie a bag to the closest tree, and go for the next bull. As long as he had enough fuel, he could go until the trailer was full. The plastic bags lit up in the spotlights of his Toyota when he went to pick the cattle up late into the night.

Adrian had by this time found his passion in bull catching. By the time I had met him he had caught cattle and buffalo on many stations including Florina, Napier Valley, King River, Wongalara, and Conways.

2 4 copyAdrian and Carl at King River station, Katherine, NT.

He had managed to accumulate enough money by 2000 to travel down to Queensland to do his chopper licence in Caloundra. After attempting to bribe every man and his dog, and sitting the theory test seven times, HE PASSED. He returned to the Northern Territory flying for Brisk Contracting based at Killarney Station with John Quintana. Several years later, Adrian and I leased a helicopter and started catching together. If I wasn’t mentally tough at that stage, I was by the end! We had great staff and a mix of stockmen working with us.

2 5 copyShorthorn bull caught at Florina Station, NT.

2 6 copyLoading bulls, Conways Station, NT.

2 7 copyYarding animals, Mainoru Station, NT.

2 8 copyFamily supplement run, Yeltu Park, Katherine, NT.

2 9 copyLeading hand Jay King with Harrison and Jess, Katherine, NT.

2 10 copyCatching buffalo, Mountain Valley Station, NT.

We had a great run on the places we caught and watched the market closely always talking with agents, producers, pilots, and road train drivers to keep up with industry news. Nothing, however, would prepare us for the imposition of the live export ban in June 2011. Everything stopped. It was too risky to keep catching. We sold our own cattle. We were stopped in our tracks.