On my way to Wanaaring, n/west NSW.
The statistics are humbling- 1.3 million acres, (the largest privately owned land holding in Australia), 30,000 head of sheep, 6000 head of cattle. The boundary fences are approximately 80kmx80km. It takes 3 days simply to drive around the property and is situated north west of Wanaaring towards the Hamilton gate on the NSW/QLD border.
To put it in perspective- It's the size of the Sydney basin. The owner, Peter is 75, his only help comes from his son, Mick, a couple of employees, a team of dogs and a few motorbikes. His partner, Wendy, maintains the house, cooks for the men and looks after the residential gardens, shopping. Hard workers are difficult to find now.
The day begins on sun up and ends on sundown, except for Wendy, who works late into the evening. Her work is vital and she does not stop.. Peter himself has worked on Thurloo since he was 13, and will be buried there. A big man, tall, strong and capable of out working any of his staff. He moves with the ease of a man who has spent years in the saddle. (For my American readers- John Wayne comes to mind.) He defies his age.
After 12 hours of driving a cold beer at Wanaaring pub was most welcome.
Two Irish backpackers came to work at Thurloo, they arrived, burst into tears and hitched back after one day. It's not easy and it's not for everyone. I wondered even more how the men and women coped with the massive change arriving from England and Ireland all those years ago. I guess the tears from the two backpackers says enough.
The end of a day is celebrated with 2 beers at the bar, and the evening meal with a glass of wine or a scotch. Its "Old School", and marvelous. Peter sits at the head of the table, and, as I was taught, I waited until he was served before I started. At the end of the meal a pot of tea, and a chat. The table is re-set for the following day.
Who needs a map when you have a road sign like this?
The simple courtesies that are so important in a harsh environment.Its my view that Thurloo is in the top 5% of finishing stations in Australia. By that I mean to put weight and shine on a beast its 75% the property and 25% the owner or manager. Thurloos cattle are in superb condition as too are the sheep. Quote " Some blokes are into the plant and equipment to run their place. I'm not. I work for the animals they are my priority".
Peters attitude is clearly on display. Even a mob of horses are in excellent shape. I think Peter is a little humble when he credits himself with only 25% of the result.In asking him how he manages to do all of this, he replied "Oh well, there is a ton of other work that has to be done, but you just have to put it on the back burner because you cannot get staff and so you have to do most of everything yourself". "The greatest help in the last 50 years has been the motorbike, the UHF radio and poly pipe."
I asked Peter what he enjoyed most- " Showing the young blokes what hard work is". And he does. In the peak of the season Gyro copters are used to assist in mustering. I guess the mining boom has taken the staff away.You will never see men work as overseer for much of their life on one property as Jim Cotter did on Boorara. Now they come and go.
Thurloo Downs "driveway"
Wendy took me out to the mailbox- 100kph across the terrain where there is bearly any indication of a track. Like Peter she was born to it. The groceries are delivered by mail and there is a load swap..on the side of the red road, a road thats as wide as a 4 lane highway.As I said- It is a harsh place but there is an incredible softness too.
The Berrawinia creek is home to water rats, fish, and the bird life is fabulous. Yet only a few hundred yards away from this is the read sand and soil. The colours- this contrast the rich blue of the sky, the red of the soil the yellow of the grasses and the variety of greens are a rich backdrop to this beautiful place.
To be continued...