People, Stories and Articles

Lloyd and Wendy Hick – Thorntonia Station, Camooweal, QLD

“Looking at the horizon”

How does a striking, petite brunette from the US of A, come to meet a sturdy, fair headed ‘bushie’ born and bred at Julia Creek, Qld, Australia?

The answer is found in the following… and by no means full account of Lloyd and Wendy Hick, who in 2014 celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary. The combination of cultures has resulted in a mutually beneficial relationship, with only occasional differences of opinion arising from the influences of their respective Aussie and American heritage.

Lloyd’s childhood home was Bezuma, a sheep and cattle property near Julia Creek, West Qld. From Year 2 to Year 6 he and his older brother, Brett, attended school in Julia Creek; going home on weekends. He was then enrolled at All Souls Boarding School in Charters Towers, Qld and he confirms that, “I loved it. I wasn’t good at anything and I played everything.” Following school, he returned to Bezuma for twelve months, then spread his wings a little and headed south for a year, working for the Pratt family and “freezing” around Stanthorpe, south-east Qld. Then, boomerang-like, he returned to Bezuma, where he stayed for a few more years.

In 1989 Lloyd took twelve months off and travelled with a mate to the US of A. They arrived in the States with recommendations from Ray Hunt, a well recognised US horse trainer who had conducted clinics in Australia. He’d told Lloyd that Aussies with practical experience and knowledge of horses would be assured of work in the US, and so it was that Lloyd landed a job at a polo horse training complex. “All the same,” Lloyd admits, “… we largely bluffed our way into something we knew nothing about!” So it was that Lloyd met Wendy for the first time. “That was interesting,” he discloses with a slow grin. “Wendy was my boss. I put a fair bit of hard work and effort into trying to get a wage rise and got a wife instead!”

Introducing her American childhood background, Wendy is quick with some home-grown US humour. “I grew up on a little property called Washington DC,” she quips. Her first five years were lived at Manassas, Virginia, just out of Washington DC. Her Dad’s work then took the family to Chicago; home until she and Lloyd were married; at which time, the change of address was dramatic; …transformed from “just out of Washington DC” to “Bezuma, just out of Julia Creek, far West Qld, Australia”. Later, it would become “Thorntonia, just out of Camooweal via Mt Isa, Qld, Australia”.

Although Wendy has spent twenty plus years in Australia, to Australian ears at least she has retained a distinctive American accent and she describes herself as a child. “I was one of those mad horse-crazy girls! I grew up loving horses and when I was a teenager, my parents finally gave in to my persistent requests and let me have riding lessons. It kept going from there. I had a lot of jobs… riding for trainers and riding in shows for various horse owners.” She plays down any suggestion of natural riding ability. “I don’t know that it’s natural ability at all. If it’s something you love and something you’re passionate about, that’s why you do it.”

She progressed to a management role in a polo horse training complex. At the same time she was studying Corporate Business Administration at University and the ‘hands on’ horse work at the training complex harmonised well with research projects associated with her university studies.

Then, along came her knight in shining armour? Whoa! …Not Quite! Lloyd is gallantly honest. “She didn’t like me much (at first). A lot of hard work went into it!” Lloyd was impressed with his boss. “She was a down-to-earth young lady… not frightened of hard work and very dedicated to her job… the perfect sort of person I was looking for.”

As Lloyd continued with his holiday employment, he and Wendy discovered they had compatible personalities and similar interests and Wendy noted that Lloyd “cared about the job… cared about the horses”. Wendy admits at that stage in her life she was more concerned about the horses than the social scene. For Lloyd, the experience of working at the polo complex was part of “a great time of travel. No responsibilities; a good time in life to see different things”. He stayed four to five months, then travelled around North America where he “enjoyed the terrific country and met terrific people”. He continued on to Europe for a few months, returning to spend Christmas in the US with his “good friend, Wendy”.

During 1990, Wendy planned to fly to London to meet up with Lloyd. Her commitment to the friendship was tested when she received a message from Lloyd.. “..not going to be there. I’m in Austria… skiing!”

“Stood me up!,” she retorts, and Lloyd’s only defence is an enthusiastic description of “a very good snow skiing Austrian mountain”.

Commitment intact, Wendy then planned to visit Lloyd, in Australia. It seems that a test of Wendy’s endurance and character was underway and Lloyd advised her, “Don’t come in the Winter… everyone thinks it’s beautiful. Come at the hottest, worst time, when it’s hot, dry and dusty!”

She came; for one Christmas, …and then another, and she loved Julia Creek. “It was completely different from anything I’d experienced,” Wendy remembers, “and the people were just lovely. Everyone was genuinely friendly, interested and wanted to say ‘Hello’. I’d come from a horse show world… highly competitive; and it never bothered me, but to go from that world to the kind of friends you make in a country town was really wonderful!”

She continued to appreciate the welcoming environment. “I was amazed the first time I went to a Campdraft. Some of the best campdrafters were there and they were coming up and asking me how I was going in the competition. I couldn’t believe people could be so nice.” Pausing, she adds, “Lloyd was like that too … genuine and sincere.”

Lloyd and Wendy were married in May of 1992. A house was shifted to Bezuma, where they settled. Six months later, the sheep and wool industry suffered a major downturn and the family decided to move into cattle in a bigger way. Thorntonia Station had come on to the market and they went to look at it. Although there were some doubts, the family became convinced that they should purchase Thorntonia. Lloyd outlines the scenario. “It was run down, it suited our budget and we were up for the challenge.”

The estate agent was confident. “In ten years you won’t know yourselves,” he informed them cheerfully. “Ten YEARS!” Wendy interjects. “There should be a stipulation on ten years!”

Lloyd and Wendy began a stouthearted cleanup. There was a basically solid home that “needed a bit of energy to clean” and work began immediately on restoring twenty six of the thirty bores which had ceased to be operational. Fencing was a priority… the place had been overrun with brumbies and most of the fences had been knocked down.

Floods, droughts, bushfires, cane toads, buffalo and snakes came, went and returned yet again and the agent’s words took on double meaning. In terms of progress, his encouragement, “In ten years time, you won’t know yourselves,” rang true, and Lloyd and Wendy DID know themselves a whole lot better; especially about their ability to persevere.

Beyond the initial ten years, focus and effort has been put into waters, fencing and paddock improvements, herd dynamics and productivity, and Lloyd and Wendy are satisfied that the hard work is paying off. “We think we’ve got a pretty competitive herd of cattle at the moment,” Lloyd summarises.

Most happily during those first ten years, the family dynamic changed, with the arrival of their two sons. Adam was born in 1995 and Zach in 1997. “That turned life on its head,” Wendy smiles, and in the same breath adds, “I can’t think of a better place to raise children.”

Wendy, with Lloyd’s encouragement and support, chose to take on the role of Home Tutor for the duration of Adam and Zach’s primary school years. Their 24/7 contract with their Mum resulted in an “inheritance” of their Mother’s distinctive American accent. Wendy became actively involved with the local branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association (ICPA) and her interest and involvement extended to the Mt Isa School of the Air Parents and Citizens Association. Her passion was to promote quality education and support for isolated students and families; “maintaining a voice for children out here”. As Adam and Zach have moved on to secondary and tertiary education away from home, Wendy has maintained her involvement with these organisations and remains dedicated to the cause of worthwhile education in the bush. “It’s extremely interesting,” she enthuses. With years of practical experience as a Home Tutor and participation in the organising bodies as a foundation, in 2014 she held one of the two Vice President positions of the Qld ICPA.

Lloyd and Wendy have a generationally inclusive approach to the ongoing benefits and challenges associated with “living a life on the land” and are convinced that the future of the cattle industry and quality education for young people are intrinsically linked.

Lloyd is adamant that “we need the young ones to be educated … thinking outside the box”. Optimistic, he believes that “we’re coming out of a tough time and it’s a competitive and exciting time for the rural industry”.

Considering their future at Thorntonia, Lloyd is reflective about necessary changes. “There are some not-so-good things. There are more choppers and bikes than we’d like because we’re compelled to work the cattle faster; mainly to fit in with buyer schedules… less people, less time…,” he adds, regretfully.

For Wendy, the transitional adjustments from her American cultural experience to an Outback Aussie culture have been multifaceted.

At Julia Creek, Wendy discovered “a strong sense of community… smaller properties, lots of events, lots of children. At Thorntonia, it was more isolated and spread out and it took longer to get to know people.” Thorntonia is 190km from Mt Isa, 108km from Camooweal and 120km from Gregory Downs with not much in between except rocks, grass and trees. Lloyd and Wendy were (and are) grateful for “terrific neighbours like Lindsay and Margaret Miller at Undilla. It’s really important to have good neighbours when you’re so isolated.”

Multiple considerations arise for the Hicks and other cattle producers like them, as they look forward to the future of the industry and back to past experiences; living and planning each day, with the best outcomes in mind.

Lloyd and Wendy Hick are justifiably proud of what they’ve done at Thorntonia and Lloyd is enthusiastic. “There’s lots more to do,” he adds. While they embrace the significance of generational bonds; formed and strengthened by the tough and good times of life lived on the land, Lloyd and Wendy are united in their conviction regarding their family’s involvement with Thorntonia. “We plan to stay ’til the boys know what they want to do and there’s no expectation for them to come back… certainly not ‘til they’ve been and done something else and have had time to think about it.”

Lloyd is inspired and gains perspective when he describes his Dad, Ray Hick, who celebrated his 78th birthday in 2014. “He still catches a horse most mornings and rides out to check his bullocks.”

Lloyd and his older brother Brett, have laughingly agreed, “We can’t stop ‘til Dad stops!”

Lloyd believes his Dad still has a heart to keep expanding, and it’s evident that Lloyd and Wendy stand in spirit with the older man. There’s a united vision… “looking at the horizon. There might be something out there.”

Article by Helen Kent
“Lloyd and Wendy Hick, Thorntonia Station, Camooweal, QLD, 2014”

Image captions:

1) Lloyd and Wendy with
(L-R) Zach and Adam

2) Thorntonia sign

3) Cattle in Thorntonia yards

4) Lloyd at Thorntonia Yards

5) Trip to Camooweal- Zach, Adam and Lloyd

6) Dinner camp at Thorntonia

7) Mustering, Thorntonia

8) Lloyd with Cujo at Thornton River

9) Thornton River