Destination – Karunjie Station ‘Bull Catching’

cropped-karunjie1.jpg

Karunjie Station is a remote cattle station located in the eastern Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Below is a short story about how Craig Hodges came to stay on the station for a couple of days with a group of bull catchers in early October 2008.

karunjie-station-on-the-australian-map

Karunjie Station Group

Karunjie Station Group

Pictured above: Back Row (left to right) Mick Stanley (Boss), Leanne Hodgkin (Cook & Mick’s partner), ‘Old Matey’ (Robert Eggleton – Musterer), Danny (Musterer, although he also referred to himself as a Ringer too at times) and Tyron (Danny’s son who was spending time with his father). Front Row (left to right) Sam Chisholm (Helicopter Pilot) & Benjermin ‘Ben’ Wharton (Project Advisor with the Indigenous Land Corporation)

karunjie-station-sign-at-entrance-8th-oct-08

Background Story

  • Karunjie Station is an historic cattle station that runs an unknown number of Australian shorthorn cattle.
  • Formerly known as Pentecost Downs, Karunjie Station is now owned and operated by the Indigenous Land Corporation. It is closed to the general public, unlike its sister station Home Valley Station which is a popular tourist haven located on the Pentecost River less than 100 kilometres to the north-east.
  • The station itself has a strange feel to it. No one has lived there fulltime for what appears to decades. A few dwellings stand empty. As with other stations there is no homestead or central location where visitors can anchor themselves. Apparently the last people to live and work the station walked off in the 1960s. Available stories suggest it had become unviable. Various maps of the region attest to this and will often mark the station as being ‘abandoned’.
  • There is for this reason also a sense that Karunjie has moved closer to returning to the wild state it once must have been before the cattlemen brought horses, fences and roads.
  • Conservationist would surely delight to hear such news, as I am sure some Aboriginal elders might as well. Yet hundreds of shorthorn cattle still roam the land and they are now joined by feral donkeys.
  • Cane toads sadly are perhaps only a few years off, if they westward movement cannot be held at the Western Australian/Northern Territory border.

    .

    Unscheduled Visit

    How I came to stay on the station is somewhat unusual and fortuitous.

    I was not originally setting out to visit a cattle station during my travels. I just did not have the right contacts. Instead the plan was to travel the Gibb River Road and camp where I could along the way. As it happened I was invited to stay at Karunjie after assisting Old Matey, one of the bull catchers working on Karunjie Station.

    Old Matey had stopped on the side of the Gibb River Road a few kilometres short of the Karunjie Station entrance.

    Stopping to see if he needed a hand, I learnt that his vehicle had broken a steering rod and he had narrowly missed a dangerous accident when it veered off of the side of the road. Somewhat ironically he was on his return from the Home Valley station where he had been repairing another engine rod for one of the cattle trucks.

    Seeing that he was in a bind and unable to repair the rod on his own, I offered to take a message to his mates back at the camp where they were the would be waiting for him.

    karunjie-country-from-the-air-9th-oct-08

    One of the few moments I saw Danny resting. Here he is sitting at the Karunjie Station camp table early in the morning before mustering starts.

    Experienced musterer Danny sits with his son Tyron around the camp table just after sunrise.

    Colours in the sky hang over the helicopter parked next to the Karunjie Station camp ready for another day of aerial mustering.

    A swirl of colours hang in the sky over the R22 helicopter. The temporary landing pad is conveniently located a stones throw from the Karunjie Station camp.

    The converted kitchen caravan is the centre of the Karunjie Station camp were everyone gathers morning and night for meals and conversation about the day.

    This converted caravan is the camp kitchen. It is the centre of much the day-to-day camp activity. Everyone gathers here morning and night to share meals, relax and enjoy conversation about the day. Perhaps surprisingly station guests and visitors are not uncommon.

    Station supplies come in bulk and in the morning it is up to everyone to help themselves.

    Stapple station supplies come in bulk. In the morning it is up to everyone to help themselves to breakfast and hot drinks.

    'Old Matey' (Roger Eggleton) puffs on his morning cigarette whilst discussing where more of the shorthorn bulls will be found during the day.

    'Old Matey' (Roger Eggleton) puffs on his morning cigarette and discusses where more of the shorthorn bulls will be found during the day.

    Ben reading quietly around the camp table in the morning light.

    Ben works with the Indigenous Land Corporation. He is a project advisor who has been sent to learn about managing the station. Here he takes a moment to read quietly around the camp table in the early morning light.

    Young helicopter pilot Sam prepares to move off to check over his helicopter for another day of aerial mustering.

    Young helicopter pilot Sam prepares to move off to check over his R22 helicopter for another day of aerial mustering.

    Sam checks the tail rotars of his helicopter before the first flight of the day.

    Sam checks the tail rotars of his helicopter in the first flight of the day.

    Old Matey and Mick lower the bonnet on the bull catcher after the routine check of fuel, oil and water is made.

    Long time work colleagues, Old Matey and Mick, lift the bonnet on the bull catcher. They make a routine check, looking over the air filter and oil and water levels.

    Mick works minus three fingers on his right hand. He lost them in an accident when using a pulley to load cattle.

    With seemingly little hinderance - even with the finest of jobs - Mick works minus three fingers on his right hand. He recounted how some years ago he lost them in an accident when someone thoughtlessly gave the call to use a pulley by his hand to load cattle.

    Danny begins a routine check over the engine of his cattle truck.

    Danny begins his own routine check over the engine of his aging six-wheel drive cattle truck.

    Danny pours a litre of engine oil into the cattle truck.

    After pumping from a 20 litre drum, Danny pours a litre of oil into the cattle truck.

    Old Matey leans over the engine of the cattle truck to attach a recently repaired gear rod.

    Old Matey leans over into the narrow engine bay of the second cattle truck to re-attach a recently repaired gear rod.

    Old Matey lines up the bracket for the gear rod over the engine of the cattle truck.

    Old Matey lines up the newly welded bracket on the gear rod over the engine.

    Danny opens the gate of the yard to prepare to roll feed in.

    Danny opens the gate of the yard to prepare to roll in a bale of feed.

    Danny rolls bales of feed into the pen.

    Danny cuts free the plastic netting around the bale of feed.

    Mick Stanley is the boss of the mustering operation at Karunjie Station. He is in charge of capturing as many shorthorn bulls as possible before the start of the wet season.

    With everyone ready to go, Mick Stanley drives off for the morning's first bull catch. As the boss of the mustering operation at Karunjie Station, he is in charge of capturing as many shorthorn bulls as possible before the start of the wet season.

    Mick drives out past the old Durack airstrip north-west of the station camp to find the firt shorthorn bulls.

    Mick drives out past the old Durack airstrip located north-west of the present day station camp.

    Mick & Ben in the bull catcher preparing to chase down another shorthorn bull.

    Mick & Ben in the bull catcher listening to reports from Sam flying overhead in the helicopter. They prepare to chase down another shorthorn bull.

    Station Vehicles

    Station Vehicles: The heavily modified Toyota 'bull catcher' on the left is parked alongside one of the two red six-wheel drive 'cattle trucks' on the right. Each cattle truck can carry around eight to nine bulls at anyone time.

    Old climbs back up into the cattle truck to follow the bull catcher to where the bulls have been spotted by Sam overhead in the helicopter.

    Old Matey climbs back up into the cattle truck ready to follow the bull catcher to where the bulls have been spotted by Sam overhead in the helicopter.

    The mustering helicopter passes low overhead in pursuit of a large white shorthorn bull.

    The mustering helicopter passes low overhead in pursuit of a large white shorthorn bull.

    Sam is at full concentration when flying the helicopter at low altitudes required to muster.

    Sam is all concentration when flying the R22 helicopter, especially when he comes down to the low altitudes often required for successful aerial mustering work.

    A large white shorthorn bull is spotted from the air by the helicopter and skillfully brought out onto the open ground and "parked" for the bull catcher to chase.

    A large white shorthorn bull is spotted from the air by the helicopter and skillfully brought out onto open ground. Sam "parks" the bull for the Mick in the bull catcher to chase and knock over.

    After several minutes of running at full speed the white bull begins to tire. He is possibly carrying a bellyfull of water.

    After several minutes of running at full speed the white bull visibly begins to tire. Mick indicates that he is possibly carrying a belly full of water.

    Lifting the front of the vehicle, this powerful white shorthorn bull puts up a valiant fight. The front of the vehicle is repeated rammed for several bone rattling moments.

    Lifting the front of the vehicle, this powerful shorthorn bull puts up a fight. The front of the vehicle is repeated rammed and lifted for several bone-rattling moments.

    Mick eventually manages to knock him with the front tyres and roll him over and pin him under the bull bar.

    Mick eventually manages to knock him with the front tyres. The bull is rolled over and pinned under the bull bar.

    Leaping from the bull catcher, Mick runs around to check if the bull securely pinned. He covers the bull's eyes and sets about strapping the legs.

    Leaping from the driver's seat of the bull catcher, Mick runs around to check if the bull is securely pinned. When he sees that he is, he immediately covers the bull's eyes and sets about strapping the legs.

    Mick works fast and places his shoe over the eye of the bull to reduce the risk of being gouged by the horn.

    Mick works fast and places his shoe over the eye of the bull to reduce the very real risk of being gouged by the horn of the bull as it tries to break free and get to its feet.

    With only the front legs stapped, we returned to the white bull after some time to pin it down again to strap the back legs ready to load onto the cattle truck.

    With only the front legs strapped at this stage, Mick returns to the white bull to pin it down again. This time it needs to be pinned in order to strap the back legs. This is still very dangerous, but necessary if they want to load the bull onto the cattle truck.

    Once the head of the bull is satisfactorily pinned, Mick sets about strapping the back legs.

    Once the head of the bull is satisfactorily pinned, Mick sets about strapping the powerful back legs.

    A few minutes after landing, Sam hitches a ride on the back of the cattle truck to where the next bull is tethered.
    Landing his helicopter in clearings throughout the day, Sam hitches a ride on the back of a cattle truck to help Mick and the team load the bulls.
    Attached to the side of the bull catcher the horn tip saw is used interchangably with large sheers to remove horn tips.

    Attached to the side of the Mick's bull catcher is this saw. It is used interchangably with large sheers to remove horn tips.

     With Mick steading the head of the bull, Sam wastes not time in removing the first horn tip.

    With Mick steading the head of the bull, Sam wastes no time in removing the first horn tip.

    With both sets of legs strapped Mick sets about quickly removing the horn tips with the saw.

    With both sets of legs strapped still securely in place Mick sets about quickly removing the second horn tip with the saw.

    Mick looks on as the white bull puts up a desperate struggle to move off.

    The white bull puts up a desperate struggle to get to its feet and move off.

    Both horns tips have been removed, but the musterers must still make sure the bull does not get to its feet.

    Both horns tips have been removed, but Mick and the team must still tag and clip the bull before loading it.

    Whilst be has only been around a few days, he is given the task of holding the bull steady with a 'mungandai' hold.

    Whilst Ben has only been on Karunjie Station for a few days, he is given the task of holding the bull steady with a 'mungandai' grip.

    Danny's young son was very observant and always kept a sensible distance from the bulls before they were tethered and secured.

    Danny's observant young son, Tyron, decides to keep a sensible distance from the bulls even after they have been securely tethered.

     Mick once agains steadies the bull while Sam moves into tag and clip the ear.

    Mick once agains steadies the bull while Sam moves in to attach the station tag and clip the ear.

    Ben holds the white bull steady with a firm grip on his tail before it is attached to a cable and winched into the back of the cattle truck.

    Ben holds the white bull steady with a firm grip on his tail while the cable is readied to haul the bull into the cattle truck.

    With the cable fastened around the horns of the bull it is slowly guided and hauled up the ramp into the cattle truck.

    With the cable fastened around the horns of the bull it is slowly guided and hauled up the ramp into the cattle truck. The cable is passed through a pulley in the cattle truck before being attached to the front of the second cattle truck. As the truck is reversed the bull is hauled up the ramp into the back of the truck.

    Danny is removing the leg straps just before the bull is hauled into the cattle truck.

    Danny removes the front leg straps just before the bull is hauled into the cattle truck.

    The bull gets to its feet after being successfully loaded into the cattle truck.

    Once completely inside the cattle truck, the cable is removed from around the horns of the bull. Here it gets to its feet after being successfully loaded.

    With aggressive shorthorn bulls it is often necessary to tether them in the back of the cattle trucks to prevent them from fighting and damaging one another.

    With aggressive shorthorn bulls it is often necessary to tether them while they are in the back of the cattle trucks. This is done primarily to prevent them from fighting and damaging one another.

    Later in the day the white bull joined by seven other shorthorn bulls, some which are also tethered.

    Later in the morning the white bull is joined by seven other shorthorn bulls, some which also need to be tethered.

    The magnificent white bull caught in the morning is seen here in the Karunjie Station yard.

    The same magnificent white bull caught in the morning is seen here in the Karunjie Station yard late in the afternoon that same day.

    Hercules you may recall was given twelve labors. The seventh was capturing the feared Cretan Bull.

    Mythology: Hercules was given twelve labors. The seventh was capturing the feared Cretan Bull.

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    31 Responses to “Destination – Karunjie Station ‘Bull Catching’”

    1. G’day Craig,

      Great Blog mate. I saw it on ‘Ringers from The Top End’ Facebook site. My name is Steve Truman and I’m the founder of Australia’s largest online community Agmates with over 10,000 members across rural & regional Australia.

      Craig I have published an article about your blog and have ‘copied’ 3 of your photos to give our readers a taste of what is on your blog. I’ve linked through to your Blog and urged our readers to go and have a look.

      Here is the link to the article:
      http://www.agmates.com/blog/2008/12/26/bull-catching-at-karunjie-satation-kimberley-western-australia/

      Agmates has just launched our Community on Facebook. Please feel free to join the group and post your stuff anytime you like.

      great stuff.

      Cheers,
      Your Agmate – Steve
      http://www.agmates.com

      • craighodges Says:

        Steve,

        Pleased to hear from you.

        Thrilled to read the article in Agmates and see the Karunjie Station photos up there for your readers to enjoy. I am currently working on a number of drafts for stories about my time spent on Karunjie Station and would like to get them published along with a few photos. Should you be able to assist with introductions, or ideas Steve, it would be greatly appreciated.

        Feel free to whack up any of the photos posted on the blog on Agmates. Ultimately, I would be delighted to be invited out to other stations around Australia to complete similar photo essays, so the more exposure the better with your readers. My motorbike is parked in Broome, and I’ve got (very) itchy feet down here in Melbourne…

        Look forward to joining the Agmates group on Facebook.

        Have a great new year.

        Kind Regards,

        Craig

    2. Great stuff Craig,

      An excellent insight into what these bull catching camps are like … and glad to have the Mick Stanley shot as the Cracker Shot Of The Week on the RINGERS FROM THE TOP END Facebook Group …

      http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4069018047

      Very Best for 2009,

      Simon (Founder RFTTE)

    3. craighodges Says:

      Simon,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      I am thrilled to see a shot of the Northern Territory’s Mick Stanley up there as the “Cracker Shot of the Week” on Ringers From The Top End (RFTTE). He is a top bloke, as they all were on Karunjie Station. Mick works hard, is a fair boss and is always happy to share his knowledge with those around him.

      I was lucky to meet him, and it only came about after helping out one of his team with a breakdown on the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley. Mick was appreciative of the assistance I gave at the time and made me feel welcome every moment I was on the station.

      At one stage they joked they were down a Ringer and offered me a chance to join them. I considered it, but instead I stuck around and photographed their day-to-day working lives. It must have been unusual to have a guy running around with a camera, especially one oblivious at times to the danger I was putting myself in to “get a good shot” of them going about their work.

      Simon, I look forward to contributing more to the RFTTE Facebook Group and all the best for the New Year!

      Kind Regards,

      Craig

    4. […] To see more station photos click here on Karunjie Station “Bull Catching” Photos. […]

    5. Myrt Stanley Says:

      Hi Craig…
      it’s Micky’s daughter here, I was woundering if there was any chance of getting a copy of the photos? At the moment dad is at Manyallaluk catching buffalo and is moving on to the Katherine gorge soon…

      i Really love the photos and the one with the stumpy fingers, thats the true man haha

      • craighodges Says:

        Hi Myrtle,
        Thanks for the comment. You have very good timing, as I have just returned to Katherine for a week after 2 1/2 months in East Arnhem Land. Would be happy to arrange to send you digital copies of images of your dad at Karunjie.
        Email me: craiglesliehodges@yahoo.com.au
        Kind Regards,
        Craig

        • Hey craig
          its connor white here um just wondering do you still do a bit of bullcatching these day?? If you do where abouts are you doing it now
          cheers
          connor

    6. Tony Beilby Says:

      I visited Karunjie Station in 2005 and again in 2006 whilst working for at the Argyle Diamond mine. The purpose of the visit was to witness the property that was once part owned by an uncle of my brother-in-law. I believe they were the last owners before ILC. My brother-in-law was up there inthe late 70’s with his uncle who with 2 other partners owned Karunjie and Home Valley. I am not sure what year they left/sold the place but at a guess i would say early 80’s. I found the experience of simply driving over the place rewarding. The way it is now is how it should stay, returning to it’s natural state despite the cattle and donkeys. Hopefully the ILC will leave it to return to a previous condition, peaceful.

      • Hi Tony,

        I am the tour guide for Home Valley Station (and the Karunjie and Durack River outstations), and I would love to exchange information, and particularly with your brother-in-law’s uncle if he were willing. The ILC purchased the property in 1999 from Ian Sinnamon. Is this your brother-in-law’s uncle? Or perhaps if it was in the 1970s it may have been Kevin Stansby, the previous owner? If it was neither of these gents, then perhaps you would be good enough to fill the gap.

        In any case I would love to hear from you. Tartan_alien@hotmail.com

    7. Craig:

      I’ve mailed you a copy of “The Bull Catchers” about my years in the Top End catching bulls and buffalos (1966-68) on Meneling, Mt.Bundy, Wildman, Annaburroo, Marrakai, Oolloo, and the Daly River Aboriginal Reserve. Looks like the boys are still doing it the way it was taught me by the infamous Max Sargent of Meneling Station and Colin Howells of Mt. Bundy.

      The book is doing well in the US, but I’m looking for a publisher or distributor in Australia. Eager to hear your comments since you now know what “bull catching” is about.

      • Anne Anderson Says:

        Jim…my uncle was Colin Howells.Has your book many references to him?

        • Jon Wilson Says:

          Anne, I knew Colin well while he was at Bees Creek and operating out at Bullman and would love to hear if he is still with us. Sincerely, Jon Wilson

      • michael ray Says:

        Jim, I crewed a yacht to the US in the early eighties for a Colin Howells who had been a croc hunter and abattoir owner in the territory – would that be the same bloke in your book. The yacht was Nimrod 2 (Darwin). Regards Michael Ray

    8. Claire Tylee Says:

      Hi Craig,

      Your article was interesting and informative! My partner and friend are desperately keen to do some bull catching for even a month! How can we make contacts or get in on this adventure? Our friend has done it in Australia but unfortunately his contact passed away a few years ago…not from bull catching or so im told….I hope.

      Cheers,
      Claire

      New Zealand

      Please email me on clairetylee@hotmail.com

    9. Horrified Says:

      OMG! that id just horrible! look at the blood running down the bulls horrn. the horn is alive on the inside and the feel of the end of the horn being sawed off is the same feeling as if someone was sawing off the end of your finger. STOP THIS CRUEL TREATMENT OF BULLS!!!!!!!

      • INCORRECT, DARLING! A bull’s hohrns do have blood vessels but no nerves. Imagine two bulls butting heads if their horns contained nerves. Goats and sheep are the same. Horn cells are very similar to hair cells, and cutting the tips of a bull’s horns off is about as painful to the bull as you trimming your hair. Quit yer squeamish bellyachin’!

    10. Gidday what mean site. Brought bcak heaps of memories. I used to live a VRD (NT) late in the 1980s and used to go bull catching with the boys.
      Mustering, and work at the works on the kill floor.
      Its exactly how you guys did it. on your site .

      I may have to go back for a road trip one day real soon. I now live in NZ and nothing like that over here.

      Cheers FE

    11. Craig,

      “THE BULL CATCHERS” is now available in all e-formats from SMASHWORDS.COM and Kindle from Amazon.com. The photos now follow each appropriate chapter, unlike the printed version. Cost is only $4.00

    12. Marcus Hiam Says:

      I did a 4WD trip through Karunjie a few years back. Went out to White Gum Yard where Scotty Salmond received his fatal injuries. A beautiful and Unique part of the Kimberley that I long to return to.

    13. Hi Craig
      Great Blog
      I was living at Karunjie in 1990 and 1991 during the dry season, it is great to see the good old country. I had some wonderful time there and enjoyed the many great waterholes along the durack river. I used to go out to do some bullcatching and which I had a better camera in does days. The pics dont look as dusty as I remember it. 🙂

      Cheers C

      • Hi Caroline,

        I hope the website notifies you that I have replied to your post, as I see it was some time ago that you commented. I am working as the tour guide for Home Valley Station, and would love to learn more about the Karunjie outstation, which I believe would have been owned by Ian Sinnamon at the time you were there. Additionally, if anyone else reads this post and has additional info (particularly historic) on Kurunjie, Durak River or Home Valley Stations, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you.

        My email is tartan_alien@hotmail.com. Please get in touch.

    14. Wow, amazing pictures. They really give you a feel for how tough and resilent these bull catchers are. It looks hot but they look like they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. All the best!

    15. dan saltmer Says:

      Hey Craig, its Danny great job with the pics and story..It is a great life, and was glad you rode up haha even if it was a bit unusual seeing a bike come puttin down the road,,lol..

    16. Hugh McClymont Says:

      I used to be on Bedford Downs in the late 80’s/early 90’s, recently went
      back to the old “Kija” country. The wet season this year has certainly been good to the country, springs & creeks still flowing in August! Certainly makes one feel a might nostalgic 🙂

    17. Lindsay Vine Says:

      Hello – Do you have any contact details for the guys at Karunjie Station? If you do can you email me?

      lindsay@beachhousepictures.com

      Cheers!

    18. That’s sick. What the heck is wrong with the human species!? Why would anyone enjoy doing this to animals. SICK!

      • You have absolutely no idea do you. What they are doing in the pictures is actually helping the bulls! Would you rather them get horned in the gut by another bull because it wasnt tipped? No you wouldnt. I have been there and seen that and I tell you now it is not bloody cruel!

    19. I lived in Point Stewart Station in the 1980. The buffalo catchers were all different back then but the same was done and then taken to the meat works it is now changed there and has turned into a caravan park or place to stay like backpackers. Back when i lived there it was mainly caravans and 1 classroom 4 all of us that went to school young 2 0ld and 1 teacher little shop to purchase things and they had a cook that use to start early to prepare food for workers. The buffaloe use to come in and eat my mum’s corn and one family lived on a double decker bus. One guy woke up one morning with a snake nibbling on his big toe. Frogs always in the toilet and a giant lizard that was like a pet that was always walking around the lawn and bats.

    20. Hi. I was just reminiscing about old times and googled ” Karunjie ” and found this site. I was working as a pilot for the then owner of Karunjie in 1963 . It was totally a primitive homestead then , just one dirt floor house with 1 bedroom and a kitchen. I spent 6 months there and after I got used to the rough conditions really enjoyed my time there. Unfortunately I did not own a camera so don’t have any photos. Lots of stories though.

    21. Hello Craig,
      Just been watching We of the Never Never, and watching this brought back some memories. So I did a bit of fossicking on google re Karunjie and came up with your blog. Thought you might like to know my ex husband and his brother were stationed on Karunjie approx December – January 1973 to manage the property and doing what you did re the cattle etc. Their father had some sort of financial interest in it with other investors. Never got to see it myself and don’t know what the outcome of its ownership was other than its now owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation.

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