After 50 years on the job, Alexandria Station truck driver Johnny Rankine is well respected as a generous mentor and a true gentleman of the bush

Story By Mark Muller

The Mitchell grass plains of the Barkly Tableland roll out like a yellow sea to the far horizon. A white Toyota rattles and clips across them, grey dust rising into the vast blue sky. There is fresh green growth on the sides of the road. Rain has recently fallen on at least part of Alexandria Station’s 1.61 million hectares. Johnny Rankine keeps a relaxed hand on the wheel, and smiles at the passing landscape. “There’s good grass in places now,” he says. “It’s nice and steady.” ‘Alex’ has been owned and managed by the North Australian Pastoral Company (NAPCO) since 1877. It’s the largest cattle station in the Northern Territory, and arguably the second largest in Australia, and therefore the world. For the past 65 years, it’s been home to the man known far and wide simply as ‘JR’. “I’ve been working for NAPCO for 50 years now, though I was probably doing bits and pieces of work before that, too. I’ve been getting paid for the past 50 years,” JR chuckles.
JR’s parents, George and Doris Rankine, were Kalkadoon people from around Mount Isa, but their families had moved to Alexandria, where they went on to raise eight children. “They lived on Alex,” he says. “But mum went to Isa to have me.” Apart from his brief hospital stay at birth and four years of schooling in Camooweal, 218 kilometres to the east, JR has lived and worked on this one property his entire life. “People ask, ‘what do you stay out here for?’ I like it. I don’t get bored – I just poke along.”
This is an oft-repeated self-assessment from JR – that he’s just “poking along”. It belies the broad and positive influence he has had on the thousands of people he has worked with since he left school at the age of 14.

This Story is from Issue #102

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sept 2015