Evan McHugh is my guest today, talking about his latest book, Outback Stations. Of course this subject is something I’m pretty familiar with and my love of the station country is well known. You’ll probably all realise this book is firmly entrenched in my bookshelf!
While researching previous outback books, the names of certain stations kept cropping up, often with a sense that these were places that stood out. Gradually the idea of seeking out the iconic and the enormous stations in Australia evolved. I was particularly interested in finding out how they were established and how they operate today. Nowhere else will you find not one but many places that cover more than a million hectares (or 2.5 million acres in imperial measurement). By comparison, the biggest property in any other country is King Ranch, in Texas, which in 2012 covered just 334,000 hectares (slightly less than a million acres).
Eleven stations and 27002 kilometres later, not only did I realise what a good idea it had been to undertake this project, but I had been privileged to be given access to some of the secret treasures of outback Australia. Exceptional rains had turned the centre of Australia into a mixture of red dunes, blue lakes and vividly green grass. The Barkly Tableland was an ocean of pasture. The Top End with its rugged escarpments, verdant streams and savannahs was breathtakingly beautiful.
From Bowen Downs (the oldest of the stations) to Wave Hill (famed for one of the key events in Aboriginal land rights) there was plenty of history to take in. Then there were the people who live and work on these stations today. The young stockmen and stockwomen were particularly impressive. Their resilience and enthusiasm belied the impression of Gen Y as unmotivated.
Before visiting most of these stations, I deliberately did a minimum of research. From my experience researching previous books, I didn’t want preconceived ideas to get in the way of learning what’s really going on. It may have been an odd way of going about things but the result was a journey of many discoveries, none of which I will ever forget. It was enriched by the generosity of the people who opened their farm gates and gave up considerable amounts of their precious time.
It was perhaps inevitable that I would eventually realise that these places truly are special, and unique in the world. It was hard not to feel a sense of pride that they were part of an Australia unlike anywhere else in the world. And I came to realise that, while Australians are over-whelmingly city dwellers, much of our national character still traces its roots to the people and the big country outback.