Stocked according to the ebb and flow of its massive lakes system, Brunette Downs is the breeding beauty of the Barkly Tableland.

Story By Lara Jensen

A sea of golden Mitchell grass flanks the gravel driveway that heads west towards Brunette Downs homestead and infinity after that. In the heart of the Barkly Tableland, the 12,212-square-kilometre Brunette Downs is one of the Northern Territory’s most revered cattle stations.
For more than a century, stockmen have moved mobs of cattle over the naturally treeless black soil plains of Brunette, and many would have died with memories of that endless horizon sweeping around them. It’s a vast, uninterrupted landscape that exudes an overwhelming presence of absence, but promises and holds a bounty within.
Brunette is one of several Barkly properties owned by the Australian Agricultural Company (AAco), the largest beef cattle company in Australia with control of 7.2 million hectares (1.1 percent of Australia’s total land mass) and 485,000 cattle.
Located 350 kilometres north-east of Tennant Creek, Brunette is the Territory’s largest single pastoral lease and the jewel in the crown of AAco’s property portfolio. What sets Brunette apart from the rest is its massive ephemeral lake system that covers 20% of the property and provides valuable fattening and growing country for steers.
As Brunette is located in a shallow basin, the wet-season rain that falls on surrounding properties fills Brunette’s lake system. This comprises three lakes, the Sylvester, De Burgh and Corella, which meander towards the south-west corner of the property. About twice a decade, after exceptional rainfall, they converge to form a ‘super lake’ that can cover up to 2500sq km. The most recent occurrences were the autumn of 2001, late summer of 2009 and March this year.
As the water recedes, the extensive tracts of floodout country, dominated by bluebush, lignum, verbine and coolibah woodlands, provide a bountiful reserve of feed for cattle during the dry season. Weight gains of between 0.8-0.9 kilogram per head can be achieved per day.

This story excerpt is from Issue #77

Outback Magazine: June/July 2011