Meet the Mates

Here are a number of ‘Mates’ sharing their historic associations with the Country. This being the area from the Kimberley in Western Australia through to Camooweal in Queensland, via the VRD (Victoria River Downs), Top Springs, the Murranji Track, and Newcastle Waters (the Ridge).

Roger Steele AM worked across Northern Australia for 17 years (from 1952-1969) droving and cattle stations. He writes about his droving days here.

Roger Steele As first NT Minister for Primary Industry July 1978 I acknowledge the men and women of the Outback, the workers, including the Aboriginal stockmen and the outback women; they all worked and lived in difficult and isolated circumstances.

When I look back, I can’t believe I did the things that I am about to tell you. I imagine, or perhaps dream about my earlier life because it’s so far removed from life as it is today, or even my life during the past 35 to 40 years. Did my stories come from a dream? An Outback Dream perhaps…

Droving cattle or sheep has been a practice for centuries. Although most students of today would be unfamiliar with the word and the practice.

My story covers my own droving experiences across Northern Australia, from when I commenced working cattle in 1952 until I finished working as a cattleman in 1969. It was 17 years of hot, dry, dusty  cattle movements working, quite often, with the Aboriginal pastoral workers in remote areas of Australia’s northern outback.

The following is an abbreviated contribution from the legendary Ted Egan AO, and former Administrator of the Northern Territory. 

Ted EganOne of our great hopes is to get appropriate future recognition for the tiny town of Newcastle Waters.  It is not widely known that in the turbulent 1920s, it was decreed that the “Capital” of Northern Australia would be created at Newcastle Waters.  Although that never eventuated, Newcastle Waters retains an interesting place on our historic timetable. 

Being immensely interested in Australian history. I was lucky to be appointed Teacher at Newcastle Waters in 1965. My 22 pupils included three of my own, plus the remainder of Aboriginal kids from the nearby cattle station.  I also conducted Parent Evening Classes. It was a year of great fun, great achievement. I lived with my family in the wonderful old Police Station, which sadly was demolished after we left. What a pity. 

 In its halcyon days, 1880-1950, Newcastle Waters was the junction – the crossroads – for the various stock routes over which hundreds of thousands of cattle were “overlanded”, firstly to enable the huge cattle empires – called “stations” – to its north to be validated via stocking; secondly, to enable the stock raised on those stations to be walked annually, by drovers, to various southern markets. The very important pub at Newcastle Waters was called “The Junction” has been owned by many fascinating proprietors. The Northern Territory oversaw the biggest movements of stock the world has ever known. The characters involved in that movement were larger than life and they deserve to be recognised.

Jimmy Dalton, brother of Frank, is also a Foundation Member of the Mates of the Murranji. This is his history and experiences in Murranji Country - the area from the VRD, Top Springs, Wave Hill (Kalkarindji), the Murranji Track and Newcastle Waters (the ‘Ridge’).

Les Hiddins and Jimmy DaltonI first arrived in Hooker Creek as a pimply faced 16 year old school boy, circa 1978.  I had come up from Melbourne on school holidays to visit Brother Frank and his fiancé, Lorraine.  They were running the store at the time and had offered me a bit of pocket money to come and work for them. What an eye opener it was.

The adventure began with the drive in Franks Ford Ute from Darwin Airport to Top Springs. We left Darwin just before dusk and I remember seeing full blood Aboriginal men for the first time; out near the Coomalie Airstrip. I recall being surprised and Frank looking at me only to say, “Bloody Tourist!”.

The Stuart Highway was single lane for the most part. Whenever a road train was coming our way, Frank peeled off to the side only to be showered by flying rocks and debris anyway. We did the obligatory pub crawl stopping at most Pubs down the track before refuelling at Katherine and heading into, for me, the great unknown.

The following is a contribution from Foundation Member of the Mates of the Murranji, Frank Dalton. Frank is well remembered as the mine-host of Frank’s Bar and Grill at Wave Hill and the convenor of the annual Wave Hill Cricket Matches.

Frank met, and married Lorraine, a Grand Daughter of the legendary ‘Boss Drover’ – Matt Savage. Ted Egan’s song (from his Overlanders album) Matt Savage – The Boss Drover is a fantastic tribute to the Man and other legendary Drovers of the Murranji Track.

Frank and Lorraine DaltonI arrived in the Territory as a 19 year old, working for BHP on Groote Eylandt after which I travelled overseas before returning to Hooker Creek (Lajamanu) on the edge of the Tanami Desert.

I was working for a construction company building the health clinic and school and celebrated my 21st Birthday, sharing a Darwin Stubby with a mate, even though it was a ‘dry camp’.

It was there that I met Lorraine Carter (my future wife) who had traveled to help out at the store before returning to Alice Springs to pursue a career in Veterinary Science.

It was years before Lorraine returned to the ‘Alice’!!!