On time at the station

Posted: September 13, 2012 in Heavy Duty Trucks

Cummins Signature 600 engines are at the heart of Newcastle Waters’ C508 Kenworths

As a crimson sun starts to rise above the seemingly endless expanse, Banjo Paterson’s evocative line – “there was movement at the station” – makes the jump from bush verse to reality.

We’re at one of the Northern Territory’s far-flung cattle stations, Newcastle Waters, which occupies a vast and ancient land.

A century ago many stockmen would have died with memories of this endless horizon sweeping around them, of seemingly empty plains stretching out forever.

Today, there may be a vision of nothingness, but Newcastle Waters and its two outstations – Dungowan and Ucharonidge – run 90,000 head of cattle on a sprawling 5.7 million acres (2.3 million hectares).

With the first whisper of daylight, manager Angus Mitchell is meeting with station hands, organising the day’s work with a calm persistence.

There’s movement at the station, and during the day Newcastle Waters’ three roadtrains will be on the property, punching through the great emptiness, plumes of dust marking their progress.

Newcastle Waters is one of 19 properties owned by Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC), once part of the empire of the man with a reputation bigger than a Brahman   bull – Kerry Packer.

At one stage Packer was Australia’s second largest cattle producer and fifth largest rural landowner.

The Packer family sold 90 per cent of CPC in 2009 to British private equity firm Terra Firma while allowing Ken Warriner, boss of the Packer cattle empire, to keep a 10 per cent holding. Today, Warriner is chairman of CPC.

CPC’s properties cover more than 14.3 million acres (5.8 million hectares) and are responsible for the management of over 360,000 head of cattle in northern Australia.

Newcastle Waters, 700 km south of Darwin, was first stocked with cattle in 1883. A homestead was built the same year, the same homestead occupied today by manager Angus Mitchell, his wife Fiona, and children Charlie, 6, and Lucy, 4.

Today, the 90,000 head of cattle on the open plains, flood country and timbered sandhills of Newcastle Waters and its two outstations include 40,000 commercial Brahman and Charbray breeding cows.

Newcastle Waters also operates the largest Brahman stud in the world with 4,500 quality cows supplying 1000 to1200 bulls annually for the company’s northern properties.

Around 30,000 head of cattle are turned off annually — most go to seven CPC properties in Queensland for fattening and breeding – while 30,000 head are moved internally.

Day-to-day operations at Newcastle Waters are run by a staff of 40, and the station’s famous ‘wine glass’ brand, in use since the late1800s, identifies all stud and commercial cattle from the property.

Angus Mitchell… “If every one of our suppliers was like Cummins we’d be a lot better off.”

Angus Mitchell has had a lifetime of work in the cattle industry. He grew up on his family’s property near Armidale in NSW, then gained experience as a jackaroo and head stockman at several cattle stations in Queensland.

He managed Carlton Hill, near Kununurra in WA, for five years before moving to Newcastle Waters where he has been manager for eight years.

The station’s substantial inventory includes three roadtrains, two C508 Kenworths powered by Cummins Signature 600 EGR engines that operate between CPC properties, and an old Mack SuperLiner that works solely within the station.

Angus makes one thing clear: “I’m passionate about trucks…I like working them hard.”

The ability of suppliers to support their product in Newcastle Waters’ remote environment often tests the patience of Angus Mitchell.

“If every one of our suppliers was like Cummins we’d be a lot better off,” he states emphatically. “No one matches Cummins for support.

“If we’ve got a problem here at, say, lunchtime, Cummins will have a technician on a plane and at the station before dark.”

He adds that since he has been at Newcastle Waters “we’ve never been caught on the side of the road with cattle on”.

The roadtrains are run as a separate business entity so that cost of operation can be closely monitored.

Adam (‘Hoggie’) Hogg and Tony (‘Wilson’) Wilson pilot the Kenworths and their pride in the equipment is evident when you inspect the immaculate interiors of their trucks.

Hoggie is also well versed in the intricacies of the Cummins Signature engine, having worked for Cummins Penrith (Sydney) as a technician.

“When it’s clean sailing these Signatures will pull six decks of cattle all day at 100 km/h,” the two men tell us. “However, when there’s a big wind on the Barkly Tableland top speed can be pulled back to 70 km/h.”

In a moment of reflection, Hoggie says the job “is not about the money, it’s about the lifestyle”.  He wanted to travel and the Newcastle Waters job has given him that opportunity.

Newcastle Waters and its two outstations run 90,000 head of cattle.

A typical working day for Angus Mitchell is 6 am to 10 pm. Every morning he pilots one of the Newcastle Waters’ three planes, visiting the stock camps on the station.

His wife Fiona plays a valuable support role in the smooth running of the station. Their Newcastle Waters experience has included the birth of their two children, Charlie and Lucy.

“Station life is great for bringing up kids,” Angus tells us.

It’s now late afternoon and we sip a beer as Angus talks with authority about the carbon tax, renewable energy, and other topics affecting the cattle industry.

The windsock on the station’s airstrip flutters ever so slightly, silhouetted against another magical sunset. Another day nearly over at Newcastle Waters.

Comments are closed.