Ross and Robyn Peatling
Unlike most of his pastoral peers, Ross Peatling comes from a long line of 'non-bush' people - but that hasn't stopped this son of an urban accountant reaching the pinnacle as far as jobs in the cattle industry go.
For the past 19 years, Ross has managed Australia's second largest pastoral property - 16,116 sq km Alexandria Station on the Barkly Tablelands. His employer, the North Australian Pastoral Company (NAPCo), is also one of the country's biggest and one of the longest serving in the game.
NAPCo was established 126 years ago, has owned Alexandria Station since day one, and has expanded rapidly over the past 19 years to boost its pastoral holdings from five to 15.
Ross Peatling was raised in the small Queensland coastal town of Childers near Bundaberg, but the bush pulled at his heartstrings from an early age and after completing Year 10 he became a foundation student at the Longreach Pastoral College in 1967.
Armed with his newfound agricultural knowledge and skills, he became a jackeroo on stations throughout central Queensland and northern NSW before landing a job with the huge Stanbroke Pastoral Company in 1972.
He started as a jackeroo at Stanbroke Station at Dajarra and after twelve months was promoted to a head stockman's position. He also worked on Stanbroke's Fort Constantine at Cloncurry and Havilah at Collinsville before leaving the company in 1980 to take up his first manager's job at the 960 sq mile Wondoola Station near Normanton in the Queensland gulf country.
A taste of the Territory followed with management postings at Mount Bundy, Elsey and Hodgson Downs Stations before he headed back across the border to Delungra in NSW to become the Twynam Pastoral Company's Livestock Coordinator at Gunnee Feedlot.
In 1991, NAPCo offered Ross his biggest break yet, the Manager's job on its sprawling Barkly 'calf factory’ - Alexandria Station.
"We run 55,000 to 60,000 head and concentrate on our own composite breed, a mix of Brahman, Shorthorn, Afrikander, Charolais and Hereford," Ross says.
"Our cattle traditionally are sent south through the Queensland channel country grower properties and then into the company feedlot, Wainui, on the Darling Downs.
"Our major outlets are the domestic market, where our beef is bought for the Woolies supermarket trade; the 100 day grain-.fed Japanese market and with cows going to the US hamburger market."
Ross, a former NTCA President and Tennant Creek Branch Chairman, and the association's current CCA representative, believes retaining good, well-trained staff is the greatest challenge facing the cattle industry today.
"It's not hard to get good people. We fill our requirements every year," he says. "But a lot come just for 12 months then head off again to go to university or agricultural colleges. Keeping them is the real problem. It's getting more and more difficult to retain good staff.
"As an industry, we have to look at a whole range of aspects that will make station jobs more attractive as long-term options. We need to look at things like better accommodation, better conditions, more attractive pay structures, EBAs and incentive payment systems. We have to sell a life on the land as a career."
He sees other industry challenges as maintaining product integrity through environmental management, quality assurance, food health and other schemes, and keeping up with scientific advances while, at the same time, 'maintaining a practical touch'.
Ross has the support of a strong and valuable partner in wife Robyn, who grew up in the Territory and who comes from a cattle station background, with time spent on Lirnbunya, Newcastle Waters, McArthur River and Rocklands Stations.
He pays tribute to Robyn for her untiring efforts to raise and educate their sons in an isolated station environment, and guide them along the path to successful tertiary studies.
Warwick, 30, has an Applied Science Degree and brother Richard, 28, an Agricultural Economics Degree. Both are currently working with cattle and, like their father, are most likely to pursue a long-term career in the rural industry.
With the boys out on their own, Robyn channels much of her energy into providing optimum living and working conditions for Alexandria's 53 valued employees.
The Peatlings have lived through dramatic changes in how things work on cattle stations, particularly in the area of communications.
"When I first got into the cattle game, we only had HF radios and they were pretty wild and erratic, "Ross says." Phones and faxes later provided much better communication lines through the 80s but the internet broadband facilities we have access to these days have made a remarkable difference and opened up a whole new world in respect to the way we can communicate and do business."
And what about plans for the future? "We want to keep breeding good cattle and train more young people to stay in the industry," Ross says.
"And then we'll head to the Darling Downs and retire to a quieter life!"
Source: Kerry Sharp