“Too small to work”
In 2013 and aged seventy-eight, Alf Turner was again talking about “my last year at Liveringa”; the tone of his voice sounding more definite than in previous years.
Trading good natured insults, it became clear that the general consensus among Alf’s co workers, most of them fifty years his junior, was that he should tell his story; if he could resist the temptation to tease and clown around.
For seven to eight months of each year since 2008 Alf has been a resident at Liveringa Station and operating through his business, Northern Territory Artificial Breeders Services. He provides a “Bull Testing, Preg. Testing, Spaying, Artificial Insemination, Everything; the whole works and jerks service to the station”.
His life began thousands of kilometres from the Kimberley, in Hobart Tasmania. Alf has an ability to share his story factually and precisely; an account of his early years which stirs up strong emotions for the listener.
“I was put in an orphanage in Melbourne when I was five,” he states. “At thirteen, they took me out of the orphanage; and my mother picked me up and took me to Alice Springs. It was 1948 … there were only eight hundred and forty people living in Alice Springs at the time.”
“My mother had a boyfriend who was a driller. When he saw me he said, “he’s too small to work,” so they just left me there, at Alcoota Station, 110 miles North East of Alice. The manager Bill Turner took me on and put me in the stock camp. I was nearly fourteen and by the time I was seventeen, I had four years experience and I was running the camp.”
By twenty one, Alf must have filled out a bit. His mothers’ boyfriend, now his step father, was ready to take him on and taught him how to drill. For three years Alf drilled for drought relief water holes around Alice Springs.
At the ripe old age of twenty-four, Alf was drilling at Palmer Valley Station. “The owner offered me the managers’ job, so I said, “Righto”. Alf had married and he continues, “I did seven and a half years there but my wife at that time couldn’t stand the loneliness. She wanted me to get a job as a stock inspector and that’s what I did. Went to town on a Monday and had the job by Wednesday afternoon.”
Alf’s life as a ’stockie’ was lived mainly on the Barkly and around Tennant Creek, N.T and involved vaccinating and TB testing. The skills and experiences he learned and gained were foundational for his future business ventures.
In 1984 Alf started his own business and he estimates, (more likely knows in detail) that he’s “preg. tested two and a half million cows at just about every station in the Northern Territory”. Mechanical preg. testing currently tests one cow every four seconds, and Alf’s ‘by hand’ record is five a minute. For old times sake he’d recently done some manual testing. He reports, “I was right as rain … as if I’d never left it”, then concedes, “It’s hard work!”
Another characteristic of this energetic entity is the satisfaction and enjoyment he derives from passing on his knowledge and skills to a younger generation. For fifteen years he taught Stock Reproduction at the Katherine Rural College, N.T and at Liveringa Alf has willingly taught the young ones the skills of bull testing, preg. testing and spaying.
In February of 2013 Alf was dealt a cruel blow when his Indonesian born wife Budi, died unexpectedly. She had been the vet in the forefront of the Artificial Insemination program in Indonesia, and together she and Alf had been instrumental in establishing a company supporting cottage industries in the mountain country of Indonesia; organising the distribution of 72,000 Fresian cows to 68,000 owners. Alf was passionate about the project; immersing himself with enthusiasm and generosity to ensure it’s success. He lost a large sum of investment money when the Indonesian Rupiah was devalued and his disregard for financial gain is reflected in his response. “That’s all right”.
Having married into the Indonesian culture, custom demanded certain financial contributions from Alf. However, his generosity is reflected in his willingness to fund the education of two young men from an Indonesian village. He is proud and satisfied that they became qualified mechanics.
In 2004, a tsunami hit Indonesia and during and after the catastrophic event, Alf‘s bond with the country and it‘s people was strengthened even more. Two days before the disaster, he’d been staying in a town in which friends and acquaintances subsequently lost their lives. His reaction “I’m still breathing.”
Alf’s pragmatic approach to life continues as he talks briefly about the orphanage where “you had to learn to fight to survive,” and where he suffered major injury from being thrown down stairs by a ‘carer’. Alfs’ response reveals no trace of malice or regret. “It’s been a great life; teaching the kids, the young ones. I love people, I really do.” As for his reputation for handing out a lot of cheek, he’s unrepentant … “That’s how you can live!”
Along the way, Alf has tried retirement … a ‘trial’ which lasted a month. “Bugger this doin’ nothing!”, he retorts. His plan for 2014 is to go to Darwin and stop with a mate who owns a mango farm and runs a few cattle. “I’ll go contracting again … small, odd jobs,” he promises.
That’s great Alf … and promise you’ll keep handing out the cheek? That’s how you can live.
1) Alf at his microscope