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The Barkly's classy brunette

Brunette Downs is the Northern Territory's largest single pastoral lease, and one of northern Australia's most progressive stations. The Santa Gertrudis herd introduced 40 years ago by then US owner, King Ranch, still forms the basis of a formidable stud and commercial herd. But what distinguishes Brunette Downs is its lake country - and a new emphasis on staff training.

Story & photos Fiona Lake

Image The flat, naturally treeless black soil plains stretch uninterrupted in every direction as the Brunette Downs chopper heads towards D13 bore at the back of the vast Barkly Tableland station's 741sq km Number One Lake paddock.

Soon, the greens and silvers of Brunette's massive lake system, that distinguishes the Northern Territory's largest pastoral lease from many others, appear in the west.

Lake Sylvester is still splitting the paddock in half, so only the south-eastern side will be covered today.

Chopper pilot Tom Quilty's work starts high and well away from the cattle.

He brings the chopper closer only when necessary to convince the uncooperative, occasionally radioing the three motorbike riders below to sit on the tail of a small mob, enabling the chopper to move away and find more cattle.

Gradually, scattered groups of cattle amalgamate, converging on X17 bore where four horsemen and coachers wait patiently.

ImageWith more than 5000 steers together, skilled manoeuvring on the ground and in the air is needed, and when the cattle settle, a mass of red bodies funnels through the gate into a holding paddock.

Horsemen are on the tail and corners, motorbikes working the wings. The back half of the mob is cut off and left to wait until tomorrow, while the others head for the yards. Story end

Full story: Issue 15, February/ March 2001

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