Victoria River Downs, NT

Attitude and a Sense of Responsibility

Mark and Julie Clifford have a long association with Victoria River Downs, and Mark comments, “We’ve never really wandered far from this little pocket of country. It’s a pleasure to muster, and you can’t go past the rock formations and the gorge.”

Mark grew up at Lake McQuarie near Newcastle, New South Wales; an area of hobby farms and market gardens. As a teenager, he had a yearning to go and work in the bush, … somewhere. In 1981 he got to the Northern Territory and found a job at Moolooloo, an outstation of Victoria River Downs. In 1982, Julie came to work at Moolooloo, and they fell in love. Julie was from Darwin, and had worked on fishing, charter, and pearling boats, before deciding she’d give the bush a go. She enrolled at Katherine Rural College, and was among the first intake of students.

There was a question on the college application form; ‘What are you like with animals?’ The skipper, her employer at the time, ticked ‘Excellent’. Julie chuckles, “We had a boat cat.”

Mark and Julie were married in 1986, and Mark became Head Stockman at Montejinni. ollowing this they spent seven years managing at Willeroo, and short stints of time at Camfield, Wave Hill, and Pigeon Hole. rom 1995 to ’97 they went back to VRD, then shifted once more to Moolooloo until the 2004 season when they were transferred to Birrindudu. In late 2006 they returned to familiar territory when Mark was appointed General Manager of VRD. By 2008 they’d accumulated 13 years of employment with Heytesbury, and Julie says, “It’s noteworthy that Mark came up here and started on stations knowing nothing, and now he’s General Manager.” Mark believes that “Up here the opportunities are endless; it’s really about attitude and a sense of responsibility.”

VRD is the base for Helimuster, so there is always a lot of activity around the station. VRD works in conjunction with three neighbouring Heytesbury stations: Pigeon Hole, Mt Sanford, and Moolooloo, and each station operates independently. The VRD stock camp is known as Centre Camp, and the four places each run the same size breeder herd, have their own separate brands and grow out their own replacement heifers and steers. Mark is committed to working cattle as quietly and steady as he can. “I’ve always been fond of going out (with horses), blocking cattle up, walking them home, and taking time to muster a paddock, but in this day and age it‘s acompromise; doing the best for the cattle in the time we have.”

Their family is a high priority for Mark and Julie, and Kathleen, Mark, Amy, Jack and Luke have all been born and raised on stations. Jack’s arrival into the world coincided with the 1998 Katherine flood. Julie had to be airlifted from Katherine to the Tindal RAA base, where Jack was born in an exercise room. The staff brought champagne and a cigar to celebrate the first baby born at Tindal.

Mark and Julie provide an extended family atmosphere at VRD. Mark says “Life goes on and we take things in our stride. We meet lots of people; I like people and find them interesting”.

We have special memories of visits to Moolooloo when the Cliffords were there. Our Jessica loved going to sleep over with Kathleen and Amy – when they were all ‘little’, and we’ll never forget the sight of Jack and Luke in nappies and big felt hats.

Regarding their 13 year association with Kent Saddlery, Mark says “We look forward to you coming. You’re a great company; just a great service. When everyone keeps asking, When’s Lyle and Helen Kent coming? … we say Keep your needs ‘til they come because they’ve got the saddlery and all the gear. We certainly don’t look forward to the day you retire and stop doing it!”

Nor do we, Mark, nor do we!