Kimberley cattle station Carlton Hill is one of the jewels in the crown that is the rapidly expanding consolidated pastoral company, which is riding on the back of the burgeoning live-export trade.

Story By Lara Jensen

A ring of Akubra hats glows incandescent beneath the overhead light of the Carlton Hill workshop where manager Stirling Fearon meets daily to give morning orders to his 19-strong crew. Beneath each hat brim comes a definitive nod as every jillaroo and jackaroo in turn receives instructions for the first day of the mustering season.
Today Stirling will coordinate the Garry’s Ridge muster, a straightforward introduction for new staff to learn the ropes and glean an understanding of the mechanics of working big numbers of cattle over vast tracts of land.
At Carlton Hill the clocks run ahead on Northern Territory time and today, like all others, the wheels are in motion well before sunrise. Pannikins of hot tea and coffee wash down a hearty cooked breakfast that is all over just after 6am. Cook Veda Erickson has already prepared a generous smoko and lunch to fill the saddlebags of every stockperson and today, chances are they will vanish before midday.
Stock horses are caught and saddled as the first vestiges of light brush the swollen trunks of the ancient boab trees that stand like ghostly sentinels in the pre-dawn sky. At first light, when you catch a glimpse of the majestic House Roof Hill beyond the Carlton Hill horse arena, it is easy to appreciate why acclaimed film director Baz Luhrmann chose this picturesque piece of Kimberley country in which to base the fictional Faraway Downs homestead in the epic film Australia. Carlton Hill may have served as a temporary backdrop for Hollywood stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, yet for those who love the Kimberley it remains part of a rugged landscape that is as beautiful as it can be unforgiving.
The wet season is on its way out but large areas of the 6629 square kilometres of country that collectively make up Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe stations are still inaccessible. “We have had 700 millimetres of rain since November, which is an average wet season for us,” Stirling says. “We’ll start with Garry’s Ridge on the eastern side of the homestead and move further out as soon as the country becomes dry enough to muster.” This week there will be three musters – all calves will be marked and weaners pulled off and worked using Low Stress Stockhandling (LSS) principles, and from there they will be put out on feed in Collins Creek paddock to the west of the homestead.

This story excerpt is from Issue #71

Outback Magazine: June/July 2010