Elsey Station, Mataranka NT

Making a Difference

Max and Mabs – it’s got a good ring to it don’t you think.

They are a mighty combination, and they’re doing a mighty job at Elsey Station, near Mataranka, Northern Territory. Elsey Station of “We of the Never Never” fame is owned by the Mangarrayi aboriginal tribe who live in the nearby Jilkmmiggnan community. The Mangarrayi have established Banibi Pty Ltd as a commercial cattle operation on their land, and Max and Mabs Gorringe are the Managers of Banibi Pty Ltd. They remember clearly the day 13 years ago when they first came to speak with the tribal elders and be interviewed for the Manager’s position.

Elsey was not operating as a cattle station at the time and the station complex was overgrown, “When we first drove through the gates, we thought “Oh my goodness!” but Max, looking a bit further saw some fat horses and thought, “This is alright, this is good!”” ollowing the interview, they went for a look around while the community people deliberated. Max said “No, I don’t think this is for us..; nope, I think we might have to look elsewhere,” and Mabs replied, “Righto.” Called back to the meeting they were told “You’ve got the job”. Max responded, “Yep, we’ll take it!” Mabs’ jaw dropped, and she thought, “Huh?!”

Two weeks later they started work at Elsey with 1000 cattle and 30kms of boundary fence done. In 2008 Elsey runs 4000 head, and 2000kms of fencing is complete, with 5345 sq. kms behind wire. Max and Mabs agree it’s been, and continues to be a challenge, but it’s been a good 13 years. Max used to get restless after about three years, but he’s still fired up and keen to keep developing areas of the station. They believe Elsey has huge potential, and the driving force behind their hard work and long term commitment is the vision and conviction that an aboriginal cattle station can run successfully.

“Go on, you’re older; your story’ll be longer!” Mabs ignores Max’s teasing and talks about her childhood on a dairy farm near Cooya in the South Burnett region of Queensland. When she was thirteen, her family shifted to the Sunshine Coast. Max chips in; “She can’t swim though – reared on the coast and can’t swim!”

Undeterred, Mabs continues. “I went to Maroochydore High School, then I got into nursing, and trained at Nambour and Royal Brisbane hospitals. At that time I saw two nursing sisters, aged 24. They were frustrated, and it was like they thought the world was against them, and I thought “If I’m not careful, I’m gonna end up like them too!” I needed to get out of my comfort zone, and decided I’d go to Quilpie hospital. It took 24 hours on the train. I was a year at Quilpie, and met Max at a party a month before I left.” Here comes Max again – “ I used to write letters every week though!” Each year for the next 5 years Mabs went to a different hospital and after that she and Max were married.

Max grew up at Windorah, far West Queensland, and his Dad was a Kidman drover. They shifted to the railhead at Quilpie where Max went to school, and then he spent two years at boarding school in Warwick. Every school holidays he worked on Mt Leonard Station or Durrie Station, or shifted his Dad’s horses from one common to the next.

“Dad wasn’t fussed on town, so he thought the rest of us should be like him.” At twelve years of age Max and his brother Scott took a mob of horses from Windorah to Quilpie. “It was good; we had to use packs, and we had one old fella with us – Wally Dare – he was a bloke that couldn’t block sheep standing in the gateway. His legs were so bowed the sheep would shoot straight through!”

Leaving school, Max came home and worked at Durham Downs. After that first year, sadly, his Dad died, he went ringing, and “ran into Mabs”. Their first venture as a married couple was brumby running at the lakes at Innamincka. They also did a year of fencing at Killarney, and worked on a Hereford stud at Legume. They moved to Toowoomba and Warwick for a year when Joshua was born, and then returned to the Channels for five years. Max always had a longing to go to the Northern Territory, and through a conversation, landed the job as overseer at Anthony Lagoon Station. This led to a move to Walhallow, where they stayed for five years. Coming to Elsey was a big draw card for Max and Mabs. Max understood there was a great opportunity for aborigines in the Northern Territory, and “we wanted to come to an aboriginal place to see if we could make a difference”.

They have made a difference. They’ve worked to improve the land, and increase cattle numbers, and provide job opportunities for young people in the Jilkmmiggnan Community. “It’s a way for them to get out working in their own environment. They’ve got the ability, they can do it.” In addition, Max and Mabs love the river, the fishing, the grass, and the lifestyle. They’ve enjoyed everywhere they’ve been, and we’re certain they’ve been appreciated, for who they are and for their desire to make a difference.

Their three children, Josh 26, Jessica 23, and Daniel 21, all spent formative years at Elsey, and there are hair-raising yarns of toddler Jess’s encounters with snakes and tall tank stands. When they first arrived at Elsey, six year old Dan immediately understood and learned the Mangarrayi language. Josh has been one of Kent Saddlery’s star customers, and we invariably meet up with him in different parts of the Northern Territory. We usually hear him before we see him!

Kent Saddlery first visited Elsey Station in 1999, and Max’s comment is “we can stock up on good quality gear. The gear we use here is usually not in the shops, and you have it. We know its good quality! The first two saddles we bought from Kent Saddlery,… we’ve still got ‘em and they’re still going well.”