Melaleuca Station is being converted from a weed-infested floodplain into an important player in Australia's northern cattle industry.

Story By Kerry Sharp

Melaleuca Station was big on natural beauty but going nowhere as a pastoral enterprise when it came up for sale in 1992. Apart from an unfinished homestead and a smattering of broken-down infrastructure, 95 per cent of the property was a tangled mess of impenetrable mimosa weed, making it useless for cattle grazing.
But then came a rescue package combining the financial clout of its new owners, the Northern Territory’s pioneering Paspaley pearling family, and the technical and management skills of a self-taught floodplain grazing specialist, Tony Searle.
Today, this 300-square-kilometre chunk of Northern Territory floodplain country serves a two-pronged role as a breathtaking private wilderness retreat for its owners and a flourishing export cattle back-grounding enterprise.
An intensive 12-year mimosa-clearing campaign has systematically reclaimed much of the floodplains, and 4000 cattle or more can now graze on the native grasses there when the annual floodwaters recede. The reclamation program still has at least five years to go, but Melaleuca is already a showcase of what can be achieved with the right vision, mindset, approach and resources.
The owners have given Tony carte blanche to try whatever he believes is necessary to clean up Melaleuca for conservation purposes and also achieve profitable grazing levels. Tony hails from rural stock, as a Queensland cane farmer’s son who left home at just 15 to become a Kimberley jackaroo. He’s learnt a lot about the vagaries of the northern cattle industry since then and has no qualms about trying unconventional methods if he thinks they’ll help him meet his goals. He’s proving at Melaleuca that this approach works.
Melaleuca Station is 200 kilometres east of Darwin on the Mary River floodplains and borders World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park to its west. It lies in the Top End’s monsoon belt, which means a near-guaranteed annual rainfall from 750–1800 millimetres, mostly from December to April when the wet is in full swing. The property is 50 percent floodplain and 50 percent timbered upland country, including dense rainforest, and at the height of the wet season more than half of its lowlands are covered in up to two metres of water.

This story excerpt is from Issue #59

Outback Magazine: June/July 2008