Mac and Gayle Shann have built a thriving horse and cattle breeding business on their station, Cantaur Park, and with the help of family and friends, They’re living their dream.

Story By Paula Heelan

Cantaur Park has been on the edge of a monsoon trough playing havoc in far north Queensland for a month. Unlike further north, Cantaur hasn’t been receiving torrential, flooding rain, but the days have been grey and misting with enough rain to intensify the green landscape, heighten the grass and soak the ground. Today, there’s a break in the weather. Sun streaks are casting shades of blue across the landscape and a cool easterly wind is drying the damp. Mac Shann, with employees Mick Bradford and Julianne Leadley, is grabbing the opportunity to bring in the first mob to begin the season’s branding. Weather permitting; the next few weeks will be hectic and productive.

A few hours into the muster they are moving through brigalow, ironbark and buffel country not far from the Suttor River, which opportunely provides Cantaur Park with 12 kilometres of river frontage. Dark clouds have re-formed and suddenly a downpour drenches the mustering team. As they push the cattle through the boggy ground, the muster is slowed considerably.

While the district was in serious drought when Mac and his wife, Gayle, first came to Cantaur Park in 2000, better seasons returned in 2004 and since then the property’s condition and productivity have turned around. With more than 2500 head of cattle, Mac and Gayle run a commercial and stud herd of Droughtmaster cattle as well as a horse stud. They run about 1000 breeders, including 100 registered cows, and keep about 80 stud and commercial bull calves each year to be sold.

In 2000 when Gayle’s father, Alan Atkinson, bought Cantaur Park and offered Mac and Gayle the chance to manage the property, it was a dream come true. They could begin their lives together on the land and for the first time build their own business. While the property, 350km west of Mackay, was considerably smaller than the vast family properties each had grown up on, at 13,000 hectares it was manageable for the two to run independently, only needing to bring in contractors a few times a year. This, they agreed, was ideal. But in 2002, when Gayle suffered horrific injuries when caught in a post-hole digger, their way of life altered dramatically. Among multiple injuries, Gayle lost her right arm, the use of her left arm and still endures constant pain.

Despite an incredibly challenging time since then, Mac and Gayle have continued to build their cattle and horse-breeding business with great success. By taking on her caring role and making modifications to both the house and the yards, Gayle says Mac enabled them to stay at Cantaur. “It’s a huge job for him, but we’ve figured out how to make it work,” she says. “We just wanted to get our lives back to as normal as possible. And with Mick and Julianne (who are both so capable) joining us, we have been able to continue to manage and expand our operation.”

When talking about their business, Mac and Gayle’s passion for their cattle and horse work and long-term plans is palpable. Gayle handles some of the bookwork, keeps records on computer, books mares in and talks to clients, selects and classes the cattle, runs the website, musters on her quad bike, drives the station vehicles and helps out in the yards. “I love being able to contribute to the day-to-day work,” she says. “It’s really important to me to be able to take part.” The days for all four at Cantaur Park are generally fairly full, working on property improvements or stock work. “We usually discuss what needs to be done at dinner each night and then meet at the shed each morning,” Mac says. “Sometimes we work together, at other times we go our separate ways to do whatever needs to be done.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #65

Outback Magazine: June/July 2009