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Family stations:
When Jim McDonald had a farm...

Bob and Don McDonald (standing) with their father Jim at the family's Brightlands Station near Cloncurry.
Bob and Don McDonald (standing) with their father Jim at the family's Brightlands Station near Cloncurry.

Story Sue Neales
Photos Andrew Rankin

It is a near-freezing night out in the scrub country south of Cloncurry and the dust billowing from the Malbon railway cattle yards under a full moon makes the ringers shifting the mob look like ghostly apparitions in a swirling mist.

But lanky Don McDonald is no wispy spectre. Moving quickly to keep warm and to speed the tedious railway trucking process, he strides up and down the loading ramp, quietly but determinedly coaxing stock onto the train.

There's not many men of Don McDonald's stature and influence who can be found out in the outback cold in the midst of the dust and noise of a midnight cattle-loading, working as hard as any of his young team of ringers, stockmen and jillaroos.

But for Don, 59, joint director of the massive McDonald family MDH Pastoral Company and former federal National Party president, the size and value of the family's pastoral holdings aren't the main motivation.

In any case, most of the assets are tied up in the McDonald's 11 Queensland cattle stations spread across four geographical groupings in the State (see map), gradually acquired and improved during the past 54 years by his father, Jim, now 93, and more lately by Don and his business partner and brother, Bob, 54.

Image There may be 130,000 head of cattle on the properties, a turnoff of 25,000 grown steers and speyed cows sent to the abattoirs and live cattle ships each year, and a ranking as the tenth biggest cattle producer in the nation.

Yet Don McDonald, clearly uncomfortable discussing the value of the enterprise, is adamant that neither money nor a desire to be the biggest cattlemen in the country have ever been ambitions.

"Most people on the land don't have a burning passion to make money. We certainly don't, although obviously we couldn't survive without a profit motive," he says over an early-morning coffee at his oasis-like homestead on Devoncourt, still bleary-eyed from sending the night cattle-train off to the Mackay abattoir.

"It's much more about the satisfaction of still being a family enterprise, running an efficient operation, improving quality and seeing a good turn off of well-fattened animals at the end," he explains. Story end

Full story: Issue 19, October/ November 2001

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