Kamilaroi, QLD Gulf – Michael and Amanda Johnson

“Working with good people”

Kitchens are often regarded as the hub of life on a cattle station, so it wasn’t unusual to sit and talk with Michael and Amanda in the Kamilaroi Station kitchen. Built in the 1920’s, a few cracks are evident in the plastered walls. Amanda has discovered a letter written by a 1940’s manager to the head office, requesting that the building be demolished because of the cracks appearing in the walls. Thankfully, 70 years on this heritage building is reserved and going strong. If those walls could talk, what stories they would tell!

Michael and Amanda are part of a “wave” of young people and families who in the last 10 years have taken up employment and management positions in the cattle industry. Michael and Amanda have three children;William 4, Lachlan 2, and Matilda, 8 months, and Michael is enthusiastic when he comments that “We’re surrounded by a lot of great people; young people and families. The location is great; remote, and yet close enough to Karumba on the coast, and Lawn Hill National Park; ideal places to enjoy a few days “get away” with friends.”

Michael grew up in Toowoomba, Qld, and always felt connected to the bush; riding horses and usually being around a few cows. In Year 12, he spent two weeks offork Experience at Bulloo Downs (South West Qld), and applied for a job there in 1997, with Stanbroke Pastoral Co. He stayed for two years, then moved to Augustus Downs (Qld Gulf) for a further three years. In mid 2000, at 21 years of age, he took up the position of head stockman at Augustus Downs.

Amanda lived in Bourke (West NSW) til she was 14, and then shifted with her parents to Hay (South NSW) where she completed high school. She then became a jillaroo on a sheep, cattle and cropping farm midway between Hay and Balranald, NSW.Wanting to spread her wings and armed with a phone number from a friend, she contacted the Manager (Chris Towne) at Augustus Downs, and arrived there at Easter 1999. She worked in the stock camp, then became the station cook, and met Michael. They laugh …. “the rest is history!”

Their history included three years at Augustus, twelve months at Fort Constantine (QLD Gulf) in 2002; Michael as overseer, and Amanda as cook; then twelve months at Minnie Downs where Michael achieved his first management position. “That was enjoyable….We got to start something there…just the two of us.” Following eight more months at Barkly Downs, QLD, Michael and Amanda came to Kamilaroi in May, 2004.

We met this inspirational couple when they were at Augustus Downs, and are impressed with Michael’s dramatic rise from ringer to Management positions in six short years. Michael is quick to respond… “We worked with really good people; it counts for a lot, doesn’t it?”

The couple love being at Kamilaroi. “There’s a bit of everything, rivers, and diverse country.” Cattle work is concentrated on breeding and backgrounding, and Michael uses horses as much as possible in handling the cattle. He maintains that… “because of health and safety regulations, horses are getting safer for their riders, and its’ a lot better for the cattle…. cattle worked with horses are a lot calmer.” Michael is also keen to maintain a ‘camping out’ policy at appropriate times.

Through the initial time of adjustment at Kamilaroi, Michael and Amanda have worked diligently and are now reaping the benefits. They appreciate “ the good staff who return for another round”, and have deliberately adopted a philosophy of “learning from each other in the work place.” They actively receive and encourage new ideas from their staff, maintaining that “you should never get set in your own ways.”

Amanda is determined to ‘Walk the Talk’ and has personally committed to further education. After becoming a Mum for the third time she thought, “Yes, I’ll do some study!” Consequently, she’s enrolled externally at Armidale University in a Diploma in the Sciences, majoring in National Resource Management.With the help of a nanny, Amanda is thriving on the challenge. “It gives me an opportunity to take a step back, take a breather and I have some time for a few hours a day.”

William, Lachlan and Matilda have all been born into life at Kamilaroi, and as we talked,William was waiting for a quart pot ‘cup of tea’ to cool. He loves to be with his Dad whenever possible, and has all the gear he needs for ‘work’. As we arrived at Kamileroi and began to set up, he told his Mum that we’d parked in a different spot from 2008(correct!), and then asked, “Are we going to the little shop in the dark?” Amanda adds, “He loves everything “in the dark”…like BBQ’s, Cane Toad catching and camping out.”

Its clear that the Johnsons love their involvement in the industry and the lifestyle of their choosing. They are a quietly enthusiastic team of two who work effectively in a desire to achieve a standard of excellence for the station and the cattle. They place a high priority on a good working relationship with the staff, and successfully combine these commitments with nurturing and developing the lives of their three young children.

They’re content to be in the North of Australia and Michael believes that “It’s still the big driver of the industry…with many opportunities for development.”