Passing muster

Thursday 16 June, 2016

For more than 130 years Hamelin Station Reserve has been a pastoral station, home to sheep and goats. Its new future as a conservation property meant removing stock. A lot of it. Brian Wake and Jock Isdale were the men for the job.

Former Hamelin owner Brian Wake and manager of nearby Tamala Station Ron Reid, rounding up stock. Photo by Marie Lochman.
Former Hamelin owner Brian Wake and manager of nearby Tamala Station Ron Reid, rounding up stock. Photo by Marie Lochman.
Summer on Hamelin is relentless. Temperatures soar and the sun is unforgiving. Even the property’s 115 species of birds remain quiet in the warmer months, searching for respite. But for Jock Isdale and Brian Wake, there is still work to be done. Each day they lead a small team who brave the summer heat and head into Hamelin’s enormous paddocks to muster the property’s remaining stock.

Hamelin was first settled in the 1870s and its artesian bore was the first in the area, eventually contributing to the birth of pastoralism. It led to 130 years of farming on the property, primarily in sheep and goats.

Breaking with this rich pastoral history is gruelling work. When Hamelin operated as a fully fledged station, checking its water bores was a 200km round trip, conducted twice a week.

Hamelin was first settled in the 1870s and its artesian bore was the first in the area, eventually contributing to the birth of pastoralism.

Brian and Jock saved the mustering for summer when the stock will be drinking more regularly – at least every three or four days. But the distance and terrain make for perennial challenges.

“Each paddock is 8km by 8km – which is larger than most farms,” says Jock. “There’s no way you can adequately go through the paddocks by foot or mechanical means.”

Photo by Marie Lochman.
Photo by Marie Lochman.
Instead, Jock and Brian use the stock’s natural inclination for water to muster the animals. Gathered around the property’s 17 water points will be flocks of sheep and goats. A yard is established at a specific water point allowing stock to enter but not allowing them to leave, essentially trapping them in one location.

The stock is then either transported or walked back to the station, drafted, and sold. More than 17,000 animals have been mustered since late 2015, leaving very few on the property.

For the two men, the mustering serves as a farewell to a property they have known and loved for years. Brian and Mary Wake were the previous owners and cared deeply for Hamelin since purchasing it in 1978. Jock and his wife Annie were the original Station Stay managers and were responsible for setting up the original tent and caravan sites. Each feel a deep connection to this remarkable landscape.

“I still tell people that part of my soul is here,” Jock says nostalgically. “I remember receiving a letter from a young girl who had looked at the stars while she was staying at Hamelin and she said it was one of the nicest nights she’d ever had. It’s moving to know that you’ve helped people form such strong memories.”

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