15/06/2015 West Leichhardt Station is a 500,000 acre working cattle property in the hills to the north-east of Mt Isa, and the owners Ron and Joan Croft provide a small number of powered and unpowered sites next to the sprawling homestead. The property spans both sides of the southern end of Lake Julius Road and around the homestead itself is a lush green oasis in the desert, nestled beneath scenic rocky hills. The road in was 14kms of dusty corrugated gravel that rattled the rig because the tyre pressure was still set for bitumen. When we pulled in, Ron was out on the property but Joan welcomed us with a cuppa and a chat while we waited for Ron to get back.
There were five other campers when we arrived and it turned out many had been before and kept coming back each year because they liked the welcoming feel of the place, often staying on much longer than initially planned. We were taken on a guided tour of a small section of the property by Warren from Armidale, there on his ninth annual return visit to the station. This is one of the few places where you are able to pitch in and do some work around the property if you want to. The benefit of this is that you got to spend more time with Ron, who is a real Bushie – grown up on the property, mustered and trained with Aboriginal stockmen as a boy, took over managing the property at the age of 14 following the death of his father and, now in his 70s, knows the place like the back of his hand.
These folk were lovely to spend time with. They’ve grown up on the land and weathered droughts and floods and are still doing the hard yards to make a living in the Outback. They are genuine folk who welcome a laugh and good company after a day’s work, take hardship with a shrug and enjoy the good times when they come.
Di and I usually avoid Happy Hour gatherings, but they took on a whole new meaning each night around the roaring open BBQ at the homestead, with lots of wine and tall tales. Jamie the Ringer was a real larrikin and kept us laughing. On our first night there, Ron and Joan put on a roast beef dinner for everyone. The home-grown beef was beautiful. The following night, they served up a beaut curry and rice dinner. Next it was another roast, then barramundi and salad, then roast again. Not too many places provide that sort of hospitality to campers! Evening meals were an all-in affair around the fire or on the patio of the original homestead which was now sitting empty.
We met and formed friendships with fellow campers Warren and Ross, two long-time mates from Armidale, Mandy and Colin from Griffith, Anne and Glen from Mt Isa, Noel from no fixed address, David and Sue from Mt Isa, and farm hands Jamie and Christine, and Ivan and Nadia. And in the last few days, David and Sue arrived.
Once a month, Ron musters his cattle by helicopter. Two aerial ringers were working the choppers, and we tagged along with Ron to watch the 1,000 head of cattle come in to the yards. The tiny choppers buzzed around like dragonflies, dropping below the tree line and rising up again to move cattle out of gullies and holes and push them to the yards. Once in the yards, the fat cattle were drafted out to go off to the meatworks in Townsville or for live cattle export, while the weaners were moved to a separate weaning yard. Clean skins since the last muster were branded and strays from the neighbouring properties separated out. Wet or milking cattle were matched up with their calves and released back onto the property.
We went in to Mt Isa one day to stock up on groceries and meat which we had cryovaced so it could be stored in the fridge. The butcher failed to tell us that cryovacing can go wrong if the meat contained a bone that may puncture the bag and introduce air. While unpacking back at the station, two T-bone packs and two lamb chop packs were no longer air tight, and the meat would go off very quickly in the fridge. Next morning, it was back into town to have the leaky ones double-packed. We’ll use those packs first, just in case of another blow-out. Lesson learned – don’t cryovac meat with bones!
Although we’d planned to leave after five days, Di was very sore on the morning of departure, and we stayed on a bit more. Not that there were any complaints from either of us, it was a nice place to be. The sky had been grey and overcast all the previous day, and we’d had 3mls of rain overnight – possibly accounted for Di’s aches. Light rain continued all the next day putting another 4mls in the rain gauge. 7mls is not much but it was good to see anyway, and I said to Ron with a smile, “Well, the creeks will be up now so we can’t leave.”
We found a very small spot on top of the dam wall just a little way from our camp where we got Optus mobile reception and it was great to talk to the kids for the first time in a week.
After a stay of eight days, we left West Leichhardt Station. Ron calls the place “Home” and says that we’ll be back “cause everyone always needs to come back Home”. We sure will, just like many others do. That’s if we can get out in the morning because they keep threatening to park the grader across the grid so we have to stay on. We made some great friends, and look forward to catching up with them again and to visiting the property again.
“Men read maps better than women because only men can understand the concept of an inch equalling a hundred miles.” ― Roseanne Barr