Setting the scene at Carlton Hill

27 Jul, 2014 02:00 AM
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Nat McKechnie (left), with husband and Carlton Hill station manager Stuart
My day-to-day job is overseeing the running of the whole station
Nat McKechnie (left), with husband and Carlton Hill station manager Stuart "Squirrel" McKechnie and their two children Archie and Beatrix.

The ranges of Carlton Hill station provided the perfect backdrop for the 2008 film, Australia.

The 450,000 hectare station, which runs 45,000 head of cattle, is located two hours north of Kununurra.

The ranges, Boab trees and rugged Australian beauty of Carlton Hill was captured in 'Australia', with scenes filmed at the homestead, yards and the station's plains.

The Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC)-owned station, which also includes the neighbouring Ivanhoe station, is home to Stuart "Squirrel" McKechnie, his wife Nat and their two children Beatrix and Archie.

The station currently supplies live export cattle into Asia, mainly to Indonesia and Malaysia.

Originally from the Goondiwindi district in New South Wales, Squirrel grew up on his family property, but headed into northern cattle country not long after finishing school.

He joined CPC in 1992 as a jackaroo in the Humbert River stock camp, where he did two seasons in the Northern Territory and in Queensland.

Squirrel said he has now been in the north and involved in the industry for more than 22 years.

He first came to Carlton Hill in 1994 as the head stockman and stayed for several years before relocating to be the manager of Manbulloo in 2001, where he met his wife Nat.

In 2005, the newlyweds got offered the opportunity to come back to Carlton Hill, with Squirrel offered the manager's position.

They said it was an opportunity they couldn't pass up.

They stayed at Carlton Hill for a few years before moving to Auvergne in 2009 to experience the operations of another station within the company.

But Carlton Hill kept calling them back, so Squirrel, now with a young family, moved back, again as the station manager.

Carlton Hill has 90 horses, 23 staff, not including contractors, their stock camps and machinery operators.

"My day-to-day job is overseeing the running of the whole station," Squirrel said.

"I fly the plane from our airstrip at the homestead to the stock camps around the station and also to Ivanhoe.

"Sometimes I drive, if I have time, so I can have a good look at the land and if they need help with the muster I will help out with the plane."

The station is split by a 35km stretch of the Ord River as it winds its way from Lake Argyle to the Cambridge Gulf.

"Last year we did more than 100km of fencing towards Wyndham, we call it the tri-nation project, which is aimed to get cattle through the wet season on boats in March," Squirrel said.

"Other properties, which have access to a highway within the group have done it, and what it means is that we are now supplying for the March export.

"Normally we can't access our paddocks until the end of May up here, but this means we can get cattle out in March."

Squirrel said although this won't create supply all year round, they will be able to tap into a premium market.

"We will still have a gap from September through to the end of February, but it means we have access to premium markets in March," Squirrel said.

Squirrel said they are growing about 20,000 Brahman breeders plus steers and heifers for live export through Darwin and the Wyndham Port into South East Asia.

While Squirrel and his family never got to meet actors Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman when 'Australia' was being filmed, they said it was amazing to see the set of the movie homestead and a few scenes being shot.

"It was amazing to see the detail of the set and the efforts they go to," Nat said.

"They built the whole homestead and yards out by the hill, which we can see from our doorstep.

"We never got to meet the cast, but we did have the opportunity to watch a few scenes being filmed which was nice."

The station may have perfect backdrops but it also has a long history.

It was originally leased by the Durack family in 1893.

The family sold their Carlton Hill lease a year later to concentrate on developing Ivanhoe.

Then in the 1950s, large areas of the properties were requisitioned by the WA Government for development of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.

Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe then joined the Consolidated Pastoral Company in 1992.

Neighbouring Spirit Hill, which adjoins Ivanhoe, is owned by the NT Government.

It was also owned by the Durack family. This property is partially leased by CPC and is run in conjunction with Carlton Hill and Ivanhoe.

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