The Great Darling Anabranch ebbs and flows along its twisting route from Menindee to the Murray.
Story + Photos Andrew Hull
In the soft light of a golden sunset, where pink hues rise on the eastern horizon and a silver serpentine streak wends its way through the shallow hills, the hoof beat of an energetic pony beats the soft ground. Over the rising cacophony of crickets, insects and night creatures, someone is whispering, “Okay, that’s something you’ve been taught before. Okay there, here we go.”
Mick Connolly is in the horse yards on Willow Point, the property owned by the Whyte family roughly halfway along the course of the Great Darling Anabranch, at the lower end of what locals once called ‘the Lakes District’. A horse trainer and keen campdrafter, Mick is working with a new horse, getting her ready for a client. “Basically, I’ve just got to go through and see what she knows, what she has been taught,” he says. “Every reaction she makes shows me what she has learned, what she expects. Sometimes it’s just undoing the bad lessons of the past that takes all the time.”
Mick revelled at the opportunity to set up at Willow Point, with plenty of space in different country, including sandhills and floodplains. Most mornings he rides out through the hills, quietly testing the responses and decisions the horses make as he puts different challenges before them.
“It’s confidence – that’s the secret,” he says. “Getting their confidence on the ground, so they are at peace with what you are doing, and the confidence to experience new things ... It’s hard and requires patience, but it’s a rewarding thing.”
Mick’s wife Danielle is a recent addition to the Anabranch. Born and raised in Blackpool, UK, she is a freelance writer working in both Mildura, Vic, and Broken Hill, NSW, and her keen eye has helped her attune to the new, often harsh landscape. “This is a whole different climate, a different kind of country to what I am used to,” she says. “Talking with the people who lived here all their lives really gave me a good understanding of what this country needs and what it is.”
The eruption of life along the Anabranch in this rare season of abundance is nothing short of spectacular, and the colour of the mornings and evenings is something to behold. However, the stream, the flow and the life it brings isn’t always like this, as Danielle attests. “You do need to work to understand the story of this country, then accept it for what it is, and love it for what it is. It’s arid, its dry, its harsh, but if you can appreciate the beauty of that, then you will fall in love with it.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #145
Outback Magazine: October/November 2022