The cattle drive where the past meets the future - Kimberley region, Western Australia
Dust filled the air as the large mob of cattle moved across the dry land towards our camp. It was the end of the day and, after hours in the saddle, we were rewarded by a sunset that was nothing short of spectacular. I sat on my horse and watched the massive Durack Range turn a deep shade of red, while, below, the huge rock face reflected in the broad, croc-patrolled Pentecost River.
I was on a cattle drive, droving over 400 cows across the 3.5 million acre Home Valley Station, which is a gateway to the far-flung corner of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. I was here to experience what must be one of the only ‘authentic’ Australian cattle drives available to paying guests.
Home Valley Station is a working cattle station that is owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC), who bought the property on behalf of the Balanggarra people of the East Kimberley region.
Home Valley - boasting luxury tented cabin accommodation, restaurants and a fully equipped campsite for those adventurous self-drivers crossing the remote Kimberley - offer authentic three-day cattle drives, which guests can sign up to in advance. They will learn to ride a horse, control cattle, and become added hands in the role of a stockman or stockwoman.
The drive gives people an innate understanding of the outback, and fulfils all the romantic notions of what it was like for old pastoralists living in the Top End of Australia.
In addition to tourism, the station operates as a training centre for indigenous students and trainees from many communities across the Kimberley. Between April to October – the dry season in the Kimberley – courses in tourism, horsemanship, livestock handling, landscaping and other practical skills are taught at the station’s facilities.
Six years ago, Home Valley Station was a dilapidated place. The ILC purchased the property turned it around and cleverly introduced training facilities and programs for young Aboriginal men and women looking for a future in travel and agricultural work.
The training centre is now an important part of Home Valley Station and by creating this centre, the ILC have committed to helping to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. They want to build a secure and sustainable Indigenous land base now and for future generations.
Chris Fenech is General Manager of Home Valley Station. “This property is a flagship model of where the ILC can go in tourism. The ILC is an important part of tourism, they own a lot of land throughout Australia, including Ayers Rock Resorts and surrounding ground, as well as other places that could provide potential jobs for successful Home Valley trainees,” he explains.
Once Chris and his team of mentors have trained enough people to operate the station, it will be returned to the Indigenous Land Community to run, but you can’t just hand over and hope for the best, you need to create sustainability.
On-hand indigenous and non-indigenous full time staff members act as mentors to the indigenous trainees. The trainees play an integral role in the day-to-day operations at Home Valley, who would struggle to operate without them.
Since the training programs started trainees have gone on to work as air hostesses, tour guides, managers at the large Rio Tinto mines, and some have stayed in fulltime employment at Home Valley.
Head Stockman, John ‘JR’ Rodney leads the cattle drives. “As far I’m concerned guests who join our cattle drives are stockmen and part of our team. We will have the utmost courtesy and respect for our guests, and we want people to enjoy themselves but they will be encouraged to participate in every aspect of the drive, working shoulder to shoulder with experienced and trainee stockmen. Some people have ridden very little or never, we hope they fall in love with horses as much as we love them" he explains.
The idea behind the drive is to bring in wild cattle. We walk a settled herd of 400 cows for approximately 14 km a day, walking them calmly and getting them used to working with horses and people. They become ‘coacher cattle’ acting as a magnet herd to get the attention of wild cows who will integrate into the herd as we drive the cows across the station.
At night while we camp, the horses and cows are put behind portable electric fences so we don’t lose them. Instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I lay in my swag (bedroll) and count shooting stars and satellites travelling across the sky.
The cattle drive is a great window to the past and anyone who has an appreciation for Outback Australia, horse riding and stunning remote scenery should try it; it’s an achievable thing to do, even for novice horse riders.
Lisa Young (photo by: ©Lisa Young/www.lisayoung.co.uk.)