Alexandria Station, NT – Ross and Robyn Peatling

“Finding your Tribe”

(SNOW DAY IN STANTHORPE – In 2015 Robyn Peatling, her son, daughter-in-law, and kids made the trip to Stanthorpe to see the snow and dropped in to see us at the Saddlery. See pics at

For Ross and Robyn Peatling, 2009 marked their 19th year at Alexandria, and Ross comments “It might be 39, if superannuation keeps going the way it is!” For the couple this possibility doesn’t seem all that daunting. Ross is often asked, “How did you get Robyn to come and live out in the bush?”, and he explains that for them it’s the other way round. “I’m the son of a company accountant, and why I first went bush, I’ve no idea!”

Robyn was born while her parents were managing ‘Limbunya Station’ in the Northern Territory. They’d left Queensland in 1954, her Dad working for Vesteys as a Head Stockman at Gordon Downs, VRD, then Limbunya. The family returned to Queensland, but the pull of the Territory lured them back; this time to Newcastle Waters, during which time Robyn spent 10 years away at boarding schools in Alice Springs and Charters Towers. She’s an unashamedly Outback person … “I absolutely love it, I love the life, the people, and the space!”

Ross did have some childhood experiences around cattle – going out with family friends who were butchers, and mustering on their properties. It was enough incentive for him to enrol at Longreach Pastoral College in 1967, which was the foundation year. Following that, he began work as a ringer at Strathdarr Station, North West of Longreach for the Hooker Pastoral Co., and worked on ‘Balarang’, a sheep and cattle property near Moree, New South Wales.

After that time he “had a meeting with myself about sheep, and decided to try cattle!” In 1972, he began with Stanbroke Pastoral Co. at ‘Stanbroke’ at Duchess where he advanced to Head Stockman. It was here that he met Robyn (maybe a determining factor in Ross’s decision to stay out bush?) He then transferred to ‘Fort Constantine’ near Cloncurry, and ‘Havilah’ near Collinsville. In 1980, he became Manager at ‘Wondoola’, in North Queensland, staying until 1987. He and Robyn then spent time at Mt Bundy, Elsey and Hodson Downs (Northern Territory) before shifting to a New South Wales feedlot. In January 1991, they made the journey to Alexandria, and it has been their home ever since.

From a management perspective, Ross and Robyn are grateful for a “core of exceptional staff” who have continued working at Alex for numbers of years. Ross talks about Rod Strachan, who in the early 90’s talked about ‘Finding your tribe’, and its obvious that numbers of people have come to regard the place and people at Alexandria as their ‘tribe’. The length of their stay at Alexandria is not only an indication of their love for the country, but also their satisfaction with working for NAPCO. Ross typically uses straight shooting language, and states, “Good company! They (NAPCO) are excellent to work for … family owned to the 6th generation, down to earth, progressive, and the quiet achievers … a good mob. There’s continuity; they just get in and do it.” Robyn adds, “they’re very sound; genuine people who allow us freedom to do other things.”

Concerning Alexandria, Ross continues, “It’s a very good property … all useable, all good country.” Alexandria paddocks are easily recognisable; the cattle come in all colours – greys, blacks, brindles and browns, and Ross endorses Alexandria’s composite breeding program. During the 2008 drought, Alexandria carried and maintained breeder numbers, a record number of calves were born, and their grower bulls made weight gains. Geographically, Alexandria, Barkly Tablelands, is pretty much as flat as a table top, and is probably not the most exciting country for a young ringer who might be looking for some wild rides up hills and down gullies. Robyn recognises this and comments “…its good to chase wild cattle at some stage in your life!” However, from the management point of view, Alexandria is ideal for ease of mustering, and the challenge is “to do things that make life interesting”.

Alexandria Station covers a vast area, and operates in conjunction with two outstations, Gallipoli and Soudan. This arrangement works well, promoting efficiencies, allowing for extra training, and providing promotional opportunities for workers wanting to make a career in the cattle industry.

Robyn is proactive in the provision and planning for services for women living on the Barkly, and is involved in initiatives for better health services; supporting Bernadette Burke(Brunette Downs) in the running of an annual women’s weekend at ‘The Bark Hut’ (The Barkly Roadhouse). They endeavour to include local people among the guest speakers, and in 2009, Margie Maclean, a remote-area nurse with 30 years of experience, spoke to the group telling wonderful stories of her involvement in setting up a clinic at Wave Hill in the 1960’s. “Its great for women to hear great speakers, and get together … room together, and talk all night … girl stuff!” As the women from Alex drive past the yards on their way to the Women’s Day they resolve “… enough talking about the station … we don’t want to hear about work … this is our time!”

The couple have multi memories of their time at the station. Robyn recalls a ‘medical story’ which involved a ringer spraying the long drop (toilet) out at the stock camp with a full can of pest spray to get rid of red back spiders. Returning at dusk to check the long drop, he lit a cigarette lighter …. KABOOM!!! The toilet was destroyed, and thankfully one ringer suffered only superficial burns. He also suffered a name change from Chris to ‘Crisp’!

A major memory highlight for Ross goes back to 1992, when 18 000 head of cattle, 10 mobs in all, were walked off Alex, and headed South to the Channel Country ‘til the feedlots could take them. In a well planned exercise, 4500 left the yards within 24 hours, 1800 one morning with a drover, 900 on trucks that afternoon and 1800 the next morning with another drover; probably a record number of cattle moved off one place, at one time.

Ross and Robyn’s two sons, Warwick and Richard, spent formative years at Alexandria, before boarding school and then Uni, studying Science and Economics respectively. Both men have worked at Alexandria as head stockmen, and Richard is currently working alongside Ray Ferguson “Fergie”, the Manager at Galipoli. Ross reflects, “… they’re my best thing, those 2 boys.”

During his 19 years at Alex, Ross has gained a reputation for some (sometimes blunt!) one liners, and although he often wishes he’d written them down, he admits that they are “mostly unprintable”.

Not to be beaten by the women having their exclusive time at the Barkly Roadhouse, some of the men from Alex have established an annual trip to somewhere. Dubbed ‘The Grumpy Old Men”, in 2008 they travelled to Darwin for the Darwin Cup and by all accounts enjoyed a hilarious time! In 2009, they plan to venture into the big smoke of Sydney. Ross is reminding himself to remind ‘Fergie’, an avid collector of knives, that “he’d better not forget to take his knife belt off!”

2010 will be a significant year for Ross and Robyn Peatling; representing 20 years of service to Alexandria, the Barkly Tablelands community, and beyond. There are many stories which could be told confirming that all who’ve lived and worked at Alexandria have realistically, found their tribe.