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 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 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.
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.
Experienced musterer Danny sits with his son Tyron around the camp table just after sunrise.
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.
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.
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 and discusses where more of the shorthorn bulls will be found during the day.
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 R22 helicopter for another day of aerial mustering.
Sam checks the tail rotars of his helicopter in the first flight of the day.
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.
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 his own routine check over the engine of his aging six-wheel drive cattle truck.
After pumping from a 20 litre drum, Danny pours a litre of oil into the cattle truck.
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 newly welded bracket on the gear rod over the engine.
Danny opens the gate of the yard to prepare to roll in a bale of feed.
Danny cuts free the plastic netting around the bale of feed.
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 located north-west of the present day station camp.
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: 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 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.
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 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 visibly begins to tire. Mick indicates that he is possibly carrying a belly full of water.
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. The bull is rolled over and pinned under the bull bar.
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 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 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 powerful back legs.
- 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 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 no time in removing the first horn tip.
With both sets of legs strapped still securely in place Mick sets about quickly removing the second horn tip with the saw.
The white bull puts up a desperate struggle to get to its feet and move off.
Both horns tips have been removed, but Mick and the team must still tag and clip the bull before loading it.
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 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 in to attach the station tag and clip the ear.
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. 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 removes the front leg straps just before the bull is hauled 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 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 morning the white bull is joined by seven other shorthorn bulls, some which also need to be tethered.
The same magnificent white bull caught in the morning is seen here in the Karunjie Station yard late in the afternoon that same day.
Mythology: Hercules was given twelve labors. The seventh was capturing the feared Cretan Bull.