The New Model

Host: Kalyeeda Station
Written by Barbara Camp

“She’s proper rooted this time, Barb. There’s no coming back”

“But what do you mean? She’s always rooted! It’s her constant state of running! she’s been rooted for as long as you’ve had her! She’s had more lives than the cat! Surely we can fix her! We can always fix her!”

“Not this time. Her chassis is twisted. This is the end.”

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me.”

“Barb – my catcher is dead.”

My husband James has had his Bullcatcher since he was 17 years old. An old short wheelbase Landcruiser from 1984 – its older than he is. The bar work is modelled on his dad’s catcher which has been around since the days Peter chased wild cattle around the Kimberley in the early 80s. I’ve seen both these men and both these catchers pull out some incredible feats of driving be it against beast or terrain. They can scale any creek, roll any scrubber, push or pull any other vehicle out of trouble and wheel any mob.

Peter and James working their catchers together to turn a rogue bull.

These custom-made station machines are iconic and a staple of any muster.  But more than that – we use them for everything. We use them for fencing. We take them out with a firebug to do backburning. They hold water and any tiny, tired calves that need rescued on long walks.

They are also constantly in a state of disrepair.

It’s not really surprising considering they are used for the roughest of rough jobs. They bounce around all over the bush. I can’t count how many things were lost through the rusted hold in the driver’s side footwell of James’ beast – until the tail of his $400 kangaroo leather whip to the gaping abyss and it snaked around the tail shaft resulting in a French-horn shaped handle, a fair bit of swearing and a quick gusset weld to patch up the rusted hole.

This was a rather exquisite handcrafted stockwhip. Was.

We are meticulous about maintaining vehicles mechanically – the oil and radiator fluid is checked daily and the seats swept out (trying not to push the dirt into the hole around where one of the springs has pushed through the canvas – we’ll get around to replacing that one day, I’m sure). And it’s lucky we are because James’ catcher in particular is in a constant state of just-about canned-fruited. But it just keeps on going.

The thing about living so remote is that you don’t always have access to a mechanic, or maybe the mechanic does not have the parts you need to fix such an old, out of spec vehicle. But we always need the catcher! There is never a time where we can do without her so she is always dodgy’d up and sent back out like a wounded soldier. Through the dry she battles the bovines, though the wet she takes on the elements as the only machine capable of getting around half of the fence lines.

She’s been put on her side in a particularly exciting yard up, flipped back over and carried on going. She’s been spun, slammed against trees, stuck in sand, stuck in mud, stuck in creeks, started an epic bush-fire with her dodgy extractors… I remember one particular season where we could never go anywhere without taking a spare jerry of fuel because she was literally burning a litre a minute. On cold mornings you had to go down to warm her up a good ten minutes before you wanted to leave. Another season she would only work with the choke pulled out exactly a third of the way to run without stalling. Another time we did two thirds of the walk in reverse gear after she jammed up going forwards.

One of my strongest memories of the old catcher was when I had only recently met a 19 year old James Camp. In the throes of young love I thought there was nothing he couldn’t do. We were out together in a paddock we had recently moved a mob of our breeder cows to and lo and behold what did we find but a hairy, horny scrub bull putting the moves on our good-looking ladies.

I hung on tight in the passenger seat as he and James battled it out, pulling out some fairly impressive feats of driving prowess. Finally he rolled the imposter to the ground and safely pinned his shoulders and impressive horns under the sturdy barwork and leaving his back legs free so he had access to castrate the unwanted Casanova while muggings here sat on the beast’s flank and attempted to hang on to a back leg and keep it out of his way. Talk about an adrenalin rush.

‘Wow – that was pretty full on’ I remember commenting, trying to play it cool, when we jumped back in the catcher and prepared to release the former bull.

‘Yeah. It was a bit more hectic than I thought. That’s the first time I’ve done that myself.’

Um, thanks for not mentioning that beforehand, Dear.

Solid and strong and tough enough to take on the nastiest of scrubbers and look after the whole crew.

I think probably every piece of her has been replaced at one time or another with the possible exception of the bodywork and the chassis. Every time we think she’s running perfectly something else will break down, but we always fix her back up.

Apparently not this time.

Ironically, the last fix’er’up James did was to finally strengthen up the barwork and fix the dodgy tailgate that kept on popping open. He finished this job just before he left Kalyeeda for the season to head into town to work there for the wet. A couple of weeks later he got the call from his dad. Not to name and shame anyone but a certain young hopper had taken the catcher out to check the fence around the river – one of our more wild lines. The foliage around the river is dense, lush and green. If we care not careful the whole thing is swallowed by Nungoora Burr and wild Passionfruit. When I talk about scrub on that line I mean trees ranging from skinny little saplings to gums with a 10ft girth. We had to clear a few of these monsters to put the line in and at that size there was no hope of pulling them from the ground completely so the stumps were left at shoulder height.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

Our young hopper, slightly distracted by the prospect of heading out of the station to a party that night hit one of these gargantuan stumps head on and travelling at a fair speed. I did not witness the carnage but this time the catcher did not limp home.

Peter brought her shell back to the station but said he didn’t have the heart to check out how extensive the damage was. Well, what he actually said had far more threats of bodily harm to our young hopper. He decided he should leave assessing the damage until (a) our likely lad had left the station for the season and (b) he had calmed down enough to walk past the catcher without his blood pressure rising dangerously.

It turned out (b) never happened, so the poor old girl sat gently mouldering in the shed until James went back near the end of the wet to do some burning and cast his eye over the place.

That was when he delivered the blow.

It seemed so unfair! After everything that battlewagon had been through she had been undone by a stump!

All sentimentality aside (and that, as you can no doubt tell from my rambling is not easy to do), this left a massive hole in Kalyeeda’s core team. We have a range of transport options and use them all for different roles – from horses to bikes and prime movers to dozers. Land-cruisers? We’ve got a plethora – but we only had one catcher (like Frankenstein’s monster, James’s Dad’s poor old yellow beast has been resting in the shed for the past three seasons waiting for a new engine to bring her back to life) and now she was dead. What would we use to replace this old dinosaur that has always been there to pull us out of trouble? Or sometimes push and maybe side-swipe us out of trouble depending on the situation.

Times have changed, ladies and gentlemen. Kalyeeda station has reached into the modern era. Replacing the 30 year old, heavy as can be Landcruisers of the old days we are now running a brand spanking new CanAm ATV and the difference could not be more stark.

This girl? She’s fast and modern. There will be no rust on her sleek plastic bodywork. She has two keys – one for the boss (when you turn her on she says ‘Welcome, Peter!” on her super smart digital display) that allows you to drive at a terrifying 120kms/hour, the other limited to a steady 60. She has nets to hold you in the sides – nets!! And bucket seats! She has a canopy on her roll-bar and a half-windshield to protect you from the scrub!

A week in the workshop and she has been kitted out with some fairly hard-core bar work and looks every inch a ‘badass little buggy’ as James describes her.

The old girl and her new replacement.

And this is where – as much as I think she’s beautiful – I’m struggling to accept the newest member to our mustering team because of how little she is. She’s so small and dainty compared to the old catchers! I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen James steering a reluctant old cow back into the mob at full gallop by driving along the side of her and using the armour to direct her around. If you tried that in this catcher you would be pushing against the beast’s kneecaps and her head would be above yours.

‘Times have changed, Barb. We don’t have wild cattle any more. We won’t need to do that half as often.’

Admittedly the top picture is a bit more representative of our herd structure these days but something like the friendly on the bottom pops up every so often.

Famous last words, I reckon. What are the chances that the very first muster of the year the choppers pull in the biggest scrub bull you ever did see from the river?

“We’ll just have to change our driving style”. He tells me when I post this one “Adapt to the new circumstances”.

This girl’s a lot smoother and more nimble in the paddock, I’m told. Not to mention faster and – here’s the clincher – more reliable. Hell, she even has working headlights! No more constant break downs and endless list of things to fix with this machine! I’m still unsure if this makes me more confident to go out for a hard day in her compared to the sturdy old catcher.

But the season has not yet begun and she is yet untried. She may be half the size and weight of her predecessor but her with a bit of luck her nimbleness and – let’s face it- likelihood of her not being perpetually one scrape away from the scrap yard will work in her favour. Maybe next year I will be writing a blog about her epic successes at the end of a busy season.

Watch this space.