Host: Yougawalla Pastoral Co.
Written by Haydn Sale – Founder and Managing Director, Yougawalla Pastoral Company (Husband of this week’s host, Jane Sale).

“Mentor” is I believe a much over used word in today’s vernacular. There are mentoring programs for just about anything you can think of. The real meaning of mentor in my book is a person that you respect, look up to, turn to for advice, and plays a significant role in your life and development as a person. If you are lucky enough to have one of these in your life then you are very fortunate and should always hold this relationship dear to your heart.

6.1 John copyJohn Dunnicliff my mentor and dear friend 1940 – 2016.

I have had until recently the great honour and incredible good fortune to have had a person such as this in my life. The recent passing of John Dunnicliff, from Beetaloo Station in the NT, heralds a huge change in my life, for nearly 20 years he has been my friend and mentor. His death has caused me to reflect on many things lately and the one I keep coming back to is the huge impact he had on my life. With everything from business skills and principles, to lessons on how to lead your life in an honourable and decent way. A good mentor will help you through the lows and make sure you keep your feet on the ground during the highs. They help to smooth out the bumps in life and pass on hard won wisdom that only time and experience can bring. With John passing I have started to think about how I might play that role for someone else one day and in some small way repay the good deeds that have been done for me.

6.2 Me with my Father and Grandfather supporting me at a rowing competition in my school days copyMe with my Father and Grandfather supporting me at a rowing competition in my school days.

Two important men in my life, my father and my grandfather passed away in my last year of high school. For many years after this I felt a little lost, with no one to turn to or bounce things off. My mother was going through a great period of grief and change in her life (it was her father that had died as well as her husband) and I did not want to burden her with more than she was already dealing with and with my younger brother still at school. Looking back on it now it was an exciting, busy part of my life, starting out as a Jackaroo on a Riverina sheep station, but also a very lonely and sad period. I knew I wanted to be in agriculture but I was not sure where or how, as I was always told you had to have a viable farm to go home to. My Grandfather’s farm was sold after his death to help Mum financially, so I was on my own.

I went to university in New England as a stalling tactic to work out what I wanted to do and give myself a fall-back position for a professional career. It was here that I met one of John’s daughters and through my relationship with her came to meet John. What a revelation. Here was a man that didn’t work by the normal rules. A self-made man that started with nothing and was in the process of building a pastoral empire by a combination of entrepreneurial spirit, great daring, hard work, considered decisions and all tied together with a belief that you did not have to follow the norm. If you thought you could do it differently and better, go your hardest and don’t listen to the knockers. If you could not work out a way to get something done or create an opportunity then you just were not trying hard enough.

Luckily we got along very well and when I graduated from university, he offered me a job to work in his business, which at that time was running a large scale beef enterprise on King Island. I jumped at the chance and relished the next few years working for him and gleaning as much information off him as I could. He at that time was also operating a beef property at Holbrook in NSW and Cherabun station in the Kimberley. This was my introduction to the Kimberley and a large part of the reason we are where we are now. After moving on and starting my own machinery contracting business, which he encouraged greatly, and further still buying my first property, I was always looking to him for guidance. The expansion of Yougawalla Pastoral Company in later years was also in a large part due to his knowledge and continuing advice.

6.3 copyJohn Dunnicliff at Beetaloo Station on the Barkly Plains NT. Photo credit: The Australian.

I feel a huge void in my life now and am still adjusting to him not being on the end of the phone, or there for a chat or regular visits to see what he was up to. I know all things come to an end but his incredible influence on my life will never be forgotten. I hope one day I get to, and quite honestly feel an obligation to, play this role for someone else as I get older.  If I can do it half as well as he did, then I will have achieved a great thing. His passing has brought back into focus the things that are really important in life, relationships with family, friends, and the selfless acts that good people do all the time, unnoticed, to help out someone else.