Thanks to 50 years of hard work by the self-sufficient Savage and Cook families more than 8000 cattle thrive on Suplejack Downs on the edge of the Tanami Desert.

Story By Kerry Sharp

The generator cranks up just before sunrise on Suplejack Downs and an early bird in boots and jeans flicks on the kitchen fluoro. Soon, the kettle is boiling alongside big pots of porridge and free-range eggs from the backyard chooks. A new day begins for the Cook family on Australia’s most isolated cattle station.
The 18 current residents – Letty and Bill Cook, sons Rob, Brad and Cam and wives Sarah, Bec and Leza, seven of 20 Cook grandkids and three hired station hands – converge on the main homestead for breakfast. It’s a happy, hearty, noisy start to another long working day on this successful Northern Territory cattle-breeding property at the crossroads of arid Central Australia and the lower Victoria River District (VRD).
Suplejack’s 3823 square kilometres covers an alluring landscape of rolling hills and tablelands, open plains and floodout country. The property is interspersed with at least 22 identified protein grasses including nutritious Mitchell, Flinders and oat grass; assorted edible trees and shrubs including mulga, supplejack and whitewood; and abundant soft spinifex that Bill says is “one of the best feeds you can get for keeping cattle alive when you hit a dry year”. More than 8000 cattle thrive on this country on the edge of the Tanami Desert.
With breakfast over, today’s priority is to distribute big drums of baited meat to help control the burgeoning numbers of wild dogs attacking the station’s vulnerable young calves. Government dog baiters John Burke and Tess Cooper are here to oversee the stringent official paperwork required and to inject 1080 poison into hundreds of chunks of feral horse meat cut up the day before.
“They seem to come in waves, these dogs,” Bill says. “If you can keep on top of them, they’re not that difficult to control, but when you get some of those old cunning dogs, they’re very hard to catch and they lead the younger ones and cause terrible damage to the calves.”
You know you’re heading into seriously remote country when you drive to Suplejack Downs – pioneered by Letty’s parents Bob and Lillian Savage in 1964 and named after a drought-resistant local vine tree. The station is 1000 kilometres from Darwin and as far west as you can go before crossing the Northern Territory/Western Australia border into the Kimberley.

This story excerpt is from Issue #86

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2013