Where it all started

Host: Katherine Outback Experience
Written by Annabel McLarty – Owner, Katherine Outback Experience.

How Tom and I met is something we regularly laugh about with friends. It is a story that has probably been told a few times on Central Station now – girl meets boy, falls in love, throws in her successful career and city life to move to the outback. That’s pretty much my story – just with a few extra twists.

Tom and I at the Roper River in Mataranka, about an hour south of Katherine in the NT.

Long story short, Tom was attempting to hitchhike to a campdraft in the southwest of WA. He contacted a mutual friend when he got to Pinjarra who told him to stay put whilst he made a call. That call was to my dad, asking if he could pick Tom up and take him to Mayanup Campdraft with him the following day, about three hours south.

I had been in council and project meetings all day and was dressed to the nines (if I do say myself). I remember the day well as not only did I have a win for my client, but never before had I been in a council meeting where a member of the public had abused the mayor (these meetings can be very dry).

Visiting Nitmiluk Gorge in Katherine on a stunning dry season evening.

After a long and eventful day at work, followed by the 1.5hr drive back to the farm in peak hour traffic, naturally I was hanging for a wine! I was surprised to walk in to find Tom sitting at the kitchen table. I knew of Tom, I knew he was a good campdrafter and a country music singer, but I wasn’t really into country music. I didn’t pay too much attention to him as I was busy sorting out that wine and to be honest, I had assumed he would have tabs on himself . . .

Legend picking up Tom’s hat during a Katherine Outback Experience show. Photo Credit: Edwina Robertson.

How wrong I was. I got to know Tom during the three hour trip in the truck, sitting between him and dad on the way to Mayanup Campdraft. I quickly came to learn he was pretty down to earth, humble, and had a cheeky sense of humour. We became friends and remained in contact over the following months. This friendship soon turned into something more.

Me competing at Mayanup Campdraft the weekend I met Tom.

The first year of our relationship was long distance. I was based in Perth and Tom was based in Katherine. We managed a few short trips to visit each other – conveniently planned around the northern and southern Campdraft calendars.

That summer Tom relocated to the south west of WA to keep breaking and training horses and to be closer to his kids. The wet season in the Top End is hot and wet which makes it difficult from a welfare perspective to work outdoors and with livestock, so it made sense to head south for a few months where the summer is dry and mild.

Photo of Tom and I with Jos ‘The Ghan’s most photographed man’ on our recent trip from Adelaide to Darwin..

Although still living and working in Perth, I was becoming more and more involved in the businesses – ‘Katherine Outback Experience’ and ‘Riverboyne Horsebreaking and Training’. I had taken on the administration roles of the social media pages to assist Tom with growing the online network. It was during this time we received a call from Great Southern Rail about the possibility of The Ghan train visiting the show twice a week. The team advised they would be in Katherine in February to visit the show. This was music to our ears – the only problem was it coincided with the Tamworth Landmark Classic Equine Sale that Tom was committed to attending.

Tom training his liberty horses to lie down. It’s a bit of a running joke that Tom spends all day training horses and dogs (Tom’s other business is Riverboyne Horsebreaking and Training), and I spend all day training Tom.

We had to work out a way to impress Great Southern Rail and really showcase our product without actually performing the show, let alone being there to show them around the site. As we didn’t have funds to employ the expertise of professionals, we spent many late nights in front of the laptop pulling together a detailed brochure about the show, our story, our goals and future plans. We knew the opportunity to work with The Ghan would open new doors, and would be the beginning of an exciting new adventure for us both.