People, Stories and Articles

Dan McIntosh – Manbulloo Station – Katherine NT

It All Started With One ‘Like’

Lyle and Helen first met Dan McIntosh at Stirling Station in Qld’s Gulf country, where he remained as station cook for three years. In 2014 we met up with him again at Coolullah Station, south of Mt Isa. At Coolullah Dan drew a cartoon-like notice on the white board promoting our visit. . We were impressed… and grateful! Since then, Dan’s unique personality, philosophy and photographic skills have brought him fame and much deserved accolade.

Dan describes himself as “the station cook and the doctor, the nurse, the mother, the preacher… you name it… everything”. He presents the list confidently and it’s clear he genuinely enjoys the different roles. That same confidence has rocketed the Manbulloo station cook to relative stardom. The ABC’s ‘Outback Stations’ book is a recent release; an amazing and comprehensive collection of captioned photos from Australia’s pastoral and agricultural life. (All this became possible when, on the 18th of March 2013, when he was station cook at Chatsworth, Station Western Qld, Dan McIntosh began a Facebook page “Station Photo’s”, to share his personal photos with friends.

“I got it all registered” he explains. “It’s funny ‘cos I made a misspelling of “Photo’s”. That’s how I thought it was spelt. I’m not that well educated.” He grins. “Bad luck, its just gotta stay like that! For the three out of the last three million who tell you it’s not spelt right I tell them, “It’s alright for you who’ve been to Kings College… I was taught in a school where there was only one teacher.”

By the end of the first week, the Facebook page, with twelve initial photos, had attracted 10,000 likes and in no time the tally reached 40,000. “I was shocked!”, Dan admits. Dan encouraged all contributors to write something about their photos… a unique feature of the webpage, and by June 2014, the website had attracted some thirty million followers; three million in Australia alone, Dan’s heart for the website and core reason for its success is expressed simply. “Every photo’s got a story”. Recognising that he needed help with the explosion of interest and popularity of the Station Photo’s website, Dan was grateful for assistance from family and friends. From the outset, Dan’s sister supported and encouraged him. “My sister is excited about it,” Dan adds, “her son Malcolm is in the book, and she came up with a catchy slogan “It all started with one like.””

The ABC Book Corporation contacted the station cook suggesting that a selection of the photos could be produced in book form. “Within a week it was on”,Dan explains. Following a rigorous selection process, photos and associated captions were chosen. While Dan is disappointed some photos didn’t make it into the ‘Outback Stations’ book, he’s satisfied that people who buy it will be exposed to “the real thing”.

For Dan McIntosh work has always been “the real thing”, and it began at age fifteen at Thylungra Station near Quilpie, QLD. “I started as ‘a rousey’ (rousabout) in the shearing sheds, and then the cook got locked up in jail one night and I had to cook a meal. That’s where the cooking game started. I had to cook for thirty-six people straight up. There were wool buyers there and it was unreal… no meat in the cool room… we had to kill four sheep for tea. The only meal I knew out of me head, after watching me mother cooking, was roast mutton, so that’s what we had… and plum pudding and custard.

That was it. I cleaned up, washed up, went to bed and thought I’d be back in the shed in the morning.

Next morning at three o’clock the boss woke me and said “The cooking job’s yours!” I went from sixteen pounds a week to one hundred and forty-seven pounds… I felt like a millionaire! After that, right up to 2004, I was at Lyndhurst Station, run by Kings Ranch. I was fourteen years there.”

Dan’s initial photography interest began in the Gulf country of QLD, around Normanton. While working at Inverleigh Station, he submitted twelve photos at the Normanton show and “I got twelve wins!”, he laughs.

Dan’s Normanton friends were impressed. He was persuaded to do the photography for a mate’s wedding. “You know, the beautiful train station at Normanton?. Oh brilliant, yeah! I was all nervous at first; you know, you’ve gotta be right up there with ‘em. Then I thought, “Well people aren’t looking at me; they’re looking at the bride and groom, and so I got into fixing up wedding photos on a computer program… doing a DVD with background music and all that.”

Dan expounds a characteristic ‘can do’ approach to the ever expanding world of technology and the art of photography in particular. His current camera is more complicated than his first. “There are all these buttons and to this day I don’t know what they are but I use ‘em anyway and if it works, it works! It’s no use talking about it all; you just figure it out as you go along.”

His unassuming comments belie the beauty and artistry of his photos. “I just take the picture and that’s it… I change the buttons around, look on the screen and think, “O yeah, that looks nice”.”

It seems more than mere coincidence that Dan and an older brother, also a keen photographer, are the grandsons of old Alfred Roberts, who was a press photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald. “I went to Sydney once in 1964 to see the old grandfather and the old grandmother”, Dan recalls. He cherishes a photo of a baby in a pram being pushed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the day the bridge was opened. “That’s my mother in that pram,” says Dan, “… the first baby to cross the bridge that day”.

At the beginning of the wave of popularity of the Station Photo’s website, every night Dan would go through all the photos and captions, typing them up and transferring them. “I’d leave their photo and caption up on the screen and I’d write the whole lot down what they said and type it back up. Then I learned this new thing, “Copy and Paste”. I reckon it was better than an electric washing machine!” He grins, “I can do it without lookin now!”

The Manbulloo cook’s determination and enthusiasm to meet the challenges of sharing his and others’ digital photography remains undaunted. “When I was cooking at Coolibah Station (NT) I got real flash and bought an iPad with one of them touch screen things. There was only a couple of other old fellas there at the time and they’d never seen one before. iPad’s are really good… brilliant camera on them… take it anywhere!”

Dan admits to sometimes wanting to throw his latest laptop out the window and then resists and perseveres. A sense of humour keeps him on track and he’s unphased by the accumulated hours of work required to keep the website updated and at the same time, keep on cooking.

In December of 2013, while cooking at Coolibah, Dan received the sad news that his Dad had died. On the morning of his Dad’s passing, Dan had a premonition when he heard “Amazing Grace” playing on a ringer’s iPhone. The young ringer was mystified about the hymn even being on the device and Dan shares that “…it was my Dad’s favourite… ‘specially played on the bagpipes.”

During 2013, Dan had made a plan. “What me and my mother were gonna do this last Christmas (2013)… we were gonna walk the Harbour Bridge. But she died on Christmas day… died a week after my Dad. Married sixty two years and one day.”

Dan and his thirteen siblings were left a non drinking legacy by their “old mother” who, according to Dan, would often say, “They should burn all the pubs down and build more churches.” A chip off the maternal block, he’s keen to dissuade the young ones from drinking too much alcohol. “It’s a bad habit, that. It’s a shame they all couldn’t see that.” However, to calm his nerves, he admits to drinking six cokes as he arrived for the cooks job at Manbulloo.

Dan’s philosophy includes a conviction that “… cooking on a station keeps you young. Some of the young ones come out with the funniest things; like how do I get the cake inside a lamington, and complaining that the cauliflower (in actual fact broccoli) is still green! You find that if they don’t like something they’ll tell you “I’m allergic to that!””

At Manbulloo and for the first time in his working career, Dan has taken on camp cooking (camping out bush with the workers when they’re mustering etc.) The introduction to this new role wasn’t without drama. “The steel stairs up to the old silver bullet (the camp kitchen) let go… so embarrassed I was. I had all the lunch in my hand and the stairs came crashing to the ground and toppled me over upside down with the lunch all over me. Couldn’t tell which was the coleslaw…!” With no photographic evidence of the incident, it was definitely a missed opportunity for ‘Station Photos’. On a more serious note Dan reports that “I was cooking out there for four nights with me shoulder dislocated.”

Dan is justifiably proud of the Station Photo’s website and the Outback Stations book, which showcases three hundred selected photos and captions depicting aspects of Australian lifestyle and psyche. His praise and appreciation is for the people who have contributed. He brings up the original photos that appeared on the website. “… first ever was from Pat O’Malley… a big storm at Ningin…,” Dan summarises, “…..took it on an iPhone. I thought he was pulling me leg… at the time I didn’t know about these iPhone things.” Next photo. “….and this one’s from Kylie Sav – she was the first woman to enter a photo.”

His passion for the project transparent, Dan reluctantly closes the laptop. There’s a hungry stockcamp to feed and it’s time for Dan McIntosh; photographer, Station Photo’s “creator”, “Outback Stations” inspiration, “the doctor, the nurse, the mother, the preacher… you name it… everything”, to put on his station cooks ‘cap’ and prepare lunch.

He smiles a crooked smile. “… it’s gonna be good.”

Dan McIntosh-Station Cook, Manbulloo Station, Katherine NT 2014.

Image captions:

1) Dan McIntosh, Manbulloo Station Cook and “Outback Stations” inspiration.

2) Lots of goodies!
A variety of morning tea for the
station workers at Manbulloo Station.

3) Dan with the ‘Outback Stations” book. “People who buy it will see the real thing.”

4) “Every photo’s got a story.”
Dan with ringers at Manbulloo Station.