Wisdom and experience combine with youth and energy on the Victoria River District’s Killarney station to underpin long-term professional and personal growth. 

Story + Photos Mark Muller  

A fat yellow moon tiger-striped by clouds sits on the horizon. The small band of young ringers rest patiently in their saddles, waiting for more light to seep into the day. Once they can see, they begin to gently push cattle out of the holding paddock around Willa Dam on Birrimba station and begin the long, gentle walk to BJ’s Yards on neighbouring Killarney station to add to the numbers already there. It’s 6.20 in the morning. Breakfast was served in the Killarney kitchen three hours earlier. Horses had been saddled and loaded in the dark before the quiet, dusty two-hour drive to Willa. “It’s all about the cattle,” Killarney’s assistant manager Michael Stanley says. “The cattle in BJ’s have already been in the yards for 12 hours now. It’ll be 24 hours by the time they’re all processed. We want to have them in the yards for as little time as possible, so they can mother-up. Also, they have a ruminant bug in their belly. After a while it’ll start passing through them and then they have to make more, so the less of that that happens the better. As soon as there’s enough light to see, we’ve got to be ready to work.”

Looking after cattle, looking after horses and building teams of people who are always ready to work are central to life on Jumbuck Pastoral’s Killarney station, which is run as one operation in conjunction with Birrimba station. The signature Victoria River District property lies some 280km south-west of Katherine, covers 541,400ha and carries around 40,000 head of prime Brahmans. It’s a property rich in history and one that Jumbuck’s joint managing directors Callum and Jock MacLachlan were glad to be able to take on in 2014. “It’s got a pretty rich history,” Callum says. “It’s rare to get hold of such a good place – people tend to hang on to them, so we were lucky to be able to secure Killarney when the opportunity came up.”

Once part of Victoria River Downs, Killarney station was established in 1953 on the traditional lands of the Karangpurru, Bilinara and Mudburra people by NT identities Eric Izod and Ivor Hall. The legendary Bill Tapp took over the title to the place in 1962, having paid a then-record £90,000 for the privilege. Elders held Killarney briefly in 1991 and folded in Birrimba to create the current aggregation, before passing it on to Brian Oxenford’s Western Grazing Company that same year. In 2001, Wallco Pastoral Company – which was primarily Dutch-backed but included among its shareholders John Quintana and Indonesian and Filipino interests – assumed the lease. Wallco ran into financial trouble in 2012, opening the gate for Jumbuck.

The full version of this story was published in both OUTBACK magazine and the 2021 edition of our special one-shot magazine OUTBACK Stations.

This story excerpt is from Issue #139

Outback Magazine: October/November 2021