Kevin Bishop – Tanbar Station, Channel Country QLD

Kevin Bishop - Tanbar Station, Channel Country QLD 1

“Let the young ones have a go!”

Lyle and Helen’s association with Kevin Bishop goes back to the mid 90’s, and in 2013 it was time to highlight some of his life’s story. He is one of a few dedicated stockmen and women who have made cattle station work a full time career; people who deserve praise for their valuable contribution to the industry. Kevin’s weather beaten face holds a ready smile; the reminiscing and reflections are entertaining and enlightening.

Kevin was born in Chinchilla, Qld in 1956. “There was a drought on” he tells, “Dad and Mum were droving Grandad Bishop’s dairy cattle between Chinchilla and Tara. I came early; spent the first five weeks of my life sleeping in an apple box. When the drought broke, flood water came rushing down the river bed and through the melon hole where we were camped. Uncle Dawson told me that the apple box, and me ‘on board’, was floating away down the river. They had to act quickly to save me. Never have been a swimmer,” he grins.

“Growing up, I spent a lot of time on ‘Binbinette’, my grandfather’s property near Wallumbilla. Dad was a stud bull groom in the Tara area and we spent ten or so years there. When I left school, Mum wanted me to get a butchers apprenticeship. I couldn’t get one, so I went with Uncle Archie contract mustering and breaking in horses. After that I wandered out West … that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

Work with horses and cattle has dominated Kevin’s life and his first job on a big place was at King Ranch’s Barkly Downs Station, N.T, from 1978 to 1982. “They were big camps back then … fourteen, fifteen, sixteen men in the stock camp; mainly camping out.”

After Barkly Downs, Kevin returned home and “got myself married … which only lasted four, five years, so then I went straight back to the Territory”. Following a season at Moolooloo and needing more work, Kevin was advised to phone Gavin Hoad, Manager at Wave Hill Station. Kevin remembers launching into a monologue explaining that he was forty two years old and no youngster and clearly recalls Gavin‘s reply. “I don’t care how old you are … get your butt out here.”

“I had an eight year working partnership with ‘the Hoad’”, Kevin sums up, “… a good bloke and one of the hardest and fairest men I’ve worked for.” At Wave Hill Kevin acquired skills in a variety of roles including headstockman, bore runner / mechanic, fencer and truck driver. He has remained as an employee of the Western Grazing Company for most of the time, working at Rocklands and Magowra Stations and coming to Tanbar in 2011. In 1991 Kevin worked at Keeroongooloo with a young manager by the name of Craig Lasker, so Tanbar is familiar country

With forty years of experience behind him, Kevin is content to be described as “a station hand”. Laughing, he points out “on my payslip I’m an ‘Advanced Stockman’ … advancing on the way out, or way down, or something!” On the flip side, those years have left lasting impressions and definite insights that only a man with Kevin’s experience could lay claim to. He is adamant that “a lot of stockmen left the industry in the 1970’s cattle depression and we’ve never caught up with the gap. Now the mines compete with the cattle industry for workers. It’s better money, but all my life it was never about the money: I love the cattle station lifestyle.”

Working with a team of mainly young people, Kevin is optimistic about their place in the industry. “They’re decent young people … they just have to work their way to a standard … gotta put in the hard yards. Some of them come believing the books must be right. Then they realize that sometimes things just don’t work like in the book, they discover that the cattle haven’t read the book!There’s some real fancy talk now … it’s really just different words for stock sense – the same things we’ve been doing for years. I tell the young ones, “Don’t just take my word for it. Go to the next place and the next place … over the years you’ll take on a dozen teachings and you’ll develop your own style of doing things.”

It’s clear this Advanced Stockman is passionate about connecting a new generation of stockmen and women to the industry and the lifestyle. “I like good horses and I love good cattle“, he continues. “Today’s cattle are well bred, quieter, and the stations have quality horses. Get the young people up to a standard and the cattle industry should be pumping.

I’m fifty-seven now and there’s not that many more years left in me and it’s the younger people who keep me young. I’ve rode a lot of good horses … a lot of bad ones too, and age has told me to stay off and let the young ones have a go!”

Along the way this wirey, accomplished ’station hand’ is relieved that “there’s been lots of accidents and a few broken bones but no serious injury”. He recalls one particular incident; a collision between Keith, his horse, and a cow. “There were ten legs in the air, and I heard someone yelling, “Well he’s dead, he’s gotta be dead!” From within the ten leg tangle came a plaintive cry, “Aw, I’m alright,” and the cowboy emerged … to ride another day.

Typically, the conversation has been accompanied by laughter and a cloud of cigarette smoke; his story revealing Kevin’s wholehearted preference for an Outback lifestyle.

“I’ve got nothing against cites or anything like that, but people out here are still the best people … easy going; a breed of their own. When the works on, its on, but then you might just pull up for half an hour for a cup of tea. I’ve given my life to it and absolutely love it.”

Image caption:

1) Kevin at Bentley Station, 1982